Tuesday, May 29, 2007


My cell phone has “voice recognition” which works about as well as the famed singing pig. The pig sings out of tune but it’s amazing that it sings at all. It's more like Voice Wheel of Fortune. You never know what you're going to get.

“Call Home,” I say.

“Call Rome,” phone replies.

“Sono spiacente, Gina che Lolabrigita non รจ disponibile.”

“Numero spiacente e errato,” I mutter and hang up quickly.

“Call Home,” I say.

“More Foam,” phone replies.

“Attic Foam and Insulation, Carl speaking.”

“Sorry, Carl, I was trying to call home, not foam.”

“Ah,” Carl said, “you’ve got the Binford 3000 phone. No problem. Happens all the time. But, if you need a few extra R-numbers of insulation keep us in mind.”

“Will do, Carl, have a good one and keep cool.”

Once again into the fray.

“Call Hommmmmmmme,” I shout!

“Lindsey Looooooohan,” the phone informs me calmly.

Quickly I hit the power button. The last time I called Lindsey we partied all night and I felt terrible for a week.

There has to be a better way. I’ve been working with voice recognition for several decades and it’s always been a pain. It works sorta, almost, not quite and, uh, your mileage may vary. Then again one could say it doesn't work worth spit.


Once I had a system that picked up on any conversation or ambient noise. You couldn’t turn it off. It went like this.

“Whew, it’s hot today!”

Shutting. All. Windows.



“Stop! Don’t shut windows!”

Shutting down.

“Don’t shut down! Stop!”

Formatting hard disc.

“No, don’t format hard disc!”


"Stupid idiot computer!"

Two large pepperoni pizzas, extra anchovies. Confirmed.

And so it went until that system met an untimely demise in a bayou.

Then I discovered Klingon. Klingon is the ultimate voice recognition language.

Besides Klingons, who speaks Klingon? Certainly not computers or cell phones. I figured that with Klingon the cell phone would have no choice but to obey. The only downside to using Klingon would be if there were a Klingon battle cruiser in orbit and what's the chance of that?

Klingon Battle cruiser! I crack me up!

So, I changed all my voice commands to Klingon and the results have been spectacular, beyond my wildest dreams. I'd have to boast a 100% success rate in voice-activated calls.


Calling Joe...

"Yoooooool KAP!"

Calling Home...

"Rayyyyyyy Gni-Daiii!"

Calling Weather One...

It really is a good system, although the astute reader would recognize that nothing works 100%. Maybe 99%, or 99.9% and I confess the system did have one mysterious malfunction.

In an early test I called my wife's cell phone using the Klingon phrase

"Hi-jol phat!"

which means basically nothing, but is very close to the Klingon phrase

"Hi-jol pat"

which means "beam me up."

I must not have aspirated the "h" properly and that's the best explanation I have to what happened.

My wife's cell phone rang once, then went dead.

Later that night the kids asked, "When is Mommy coming home?"

I looked up into the evening sky as a small red dot orbited through Orion's Belt.

"Not for a while, I think, not for a while."

Walking Like Dallas

The rain pounded down on the car as the windshield wipers flapped back and forth furiously trying to keep up with the deluge.

I asked the Navigator, “What does Weather 1 say?”

Navigator was on the cell phone to our personal weathermeister back in Houston who was monitoring the storm, high and dry, I should add, on the Internet.

“Weather 1 says that the line of storms runs north-south along I-35.”

“How far north-south?”

“All the way.”

“How far all the way?”

“All the way to the equator.”

We pushed on south down I-35 through light rain, heavy rain, brief snatches of sunshine, fog and wind. What a day to be on the road, but here we were.

As we approached Dallas I checked the map. Let’s see, we take 35-East through this squiggly bit, then somehow get past this complicated bunch of stuff and merge with this road (I can’t read the number) and finally pop out on 45-South.

Piece of cake.

Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. I’ve made this run through Dallas before at flank speed, in traffic, and you have to be very alert and nimble to make all the exits which come fast, close together and suddenly. Be in the wrong lane for even a second and you will be cast off the freeway into the warren of twisty little streets below.

If that happens you might as well call a realtor and buy a house because you’ll never find your way back. You’ll be in Dallas forever.

Today, though, we would not be racing through Dallas. We would not be cruising through Dallas. We would not even be puttering through Dallas. We would be lurching through Dallas 100-yards at a time. Then stopping to take in the sights before lurching on another 100 yards.

If the US had gone metric we could have been lurching along at 100 meters at a time. Dang!

The one advantage of this mode of transportation is that we approached all our exits in slow motion. That’s not to say we had an easy time crossing 5 and 6 lanes of traffic to reach the correct ramp, but it was less hair raising.

Finally, after 3 hours we merged onto I-45 and headed south to Houston.

As we increased speed to 75 mph, lightspeed to us, Navigator remarked cheerfully, “Well, the worst is behind us, now! Only 5 more hours to go!”

As I examined the black thunderclouds ahead of us I thought, “Let’s hope so.”

Sunday, May 27, 2007

More on Ribs

I have had a few rib disasters recently. Although I do many things well on the cooking front, I am BBQ challenged. When I think of me doing BBQ the word "black" comes to mind. It's not a good thing.

I have books on BBQ. I've watched Bobby Flay to the point where I almost like him, but not quite that far. I've talked with Old Hands who tell me useful stuff like "You gots to feel the BBQ, boy!" Yeah, all I feel is the heat from the family when they say, ewwwwwwww, it's all black.

I've tried rubs, wet mops, dry mops, smoking, unsmoked, direct heat, indirect heat and psychic energy (see the Night of the Raw Ribs). The result is either insipid or black.

Time to cue the Beatles.

Little darlin' it's been a long, long black rib job.
Little darlin' it's been a real bad rib you ett.
Here comes the Sun... (dinky, donky)
Here comes the Sun, oh Mama,
It's all right, it's done to per-fect-shun!

First, the rub. It's a fine, fine rub I do than I've ever done before. It appears that the secret is Brown Sugar. Cue the Rolling Stones.

Second, the cooking. Grill the ribs for 7 minutes on each side over the FLAMES!

Third, move the ribs off the heat and bake, closed, for a couple of hours at 300 degrees or less. Less temp, more time.

Finally, enclose the ribs in foil, add the BBQ sauce mixture (a family secret) and bake for a further 10 minutes)

Allow to rest for 5 minutes and serve.

Here's the "family" recipe (today) for BBQ sauce: 4 oz KC Masterpiece, 4 oz Raspberry Chipotle sauce, 2 oz brandy. Heat, mix and baste.

I think my Black Era was from basting the meat too soon with a tomato-based mixture which caramelized and, essentially, burned. Also, I might have had the meat too close to the direct fire. Providing the BBQ part at the end seems to give the best results, at least for this house.

One final note about rubs. My best experience has been with rubs where the prime ingredient is brown sugar and not salt. Some rubs come out very bitter or too salty. I will experiment with taking salty rubs and cutting them with brown sugar.

Having said that, when I announce that I'm experimenting with a rib recipe the most common response is that "we're eating out tonight. See ya later!"

Where's the adventure, huh?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Monty Python Brewpub Sketch

“Hi, my name is Cloud and I’ll be taking care of you tonight.”

(You wish, I thought in reflex.)

But, aloud said, “Cloud, that’s an unusual name. I wouldn’t suppose that your last name is Bank by any chance.”

“No,” Cloud replied, “my last name is Chambers.”

“Cloud Chambers?” I smiled, “I hope you’re a physics major!”

“Why would you think that,” Cloud responded airily?

“Uh, no reason. None at all. Well, you seem to have quite a few beers on offer.”

“Oh, yes,” Cloud wafted, “we’re the number one brewpub in Lawrence. We have an extensive selection.”

“Great, just wonderful. Well, I’ll start with the Jayhawk Stout.”

“Oh, the stout’s my favorite,” Cloud gushed, “it’s rich and creamy and, oh, so strong! I get goose bumps just thinking about it!”

“Uh, yeah, OK. Well, I’ll start with the Stout.”

“It’s off.”


“Off. It’s off as in ‘not on.’ Out. We’re out of stout. Oh, I made a rhyme!” Delighted with herself Cloud performed a little hop and clapped in excitement.

Distracted by Cloud’s charm for a moment, I turned my attention to the beer menu for my second choice.

“OK, then, I’ll have the Irish Red.”

“Ummmmmmm! The Irish Red is naughty and tart, a perfect companion to our Chicken Fried Steak dinner.”

“Yeah, that’s sounds just right.” I was warming up to the evening. “I’ll have a Red and the Chicken Fried.”

“Great choice!” Cloud looked ecstatic. Then her face fell. “But, the Red’s off.”


“Yes, like the stout. Off, as in ‘not on’ as in ‘we don’t have any’ sort of off”

“No Red?”

“No Red.”

By this point I was looking around for the hidden camera. Seeing none I scanned the beer menu for my third choice. Wheat, no. Raspberry, definitely no. Blonde something, no. IPA.

IPA, Indian Pale Ale, yes! That would hit the spot. I placed my order.

“OK, then, I’ll have the IPA.”

I glanced up at Cloud. I didn’t need the Weather Channel to see that a storm was moving in. Definitely a front colliding with a warm air mass from the Gulf. It might even be a tornado warning.

“Let me guess,” I said, “IPA is off. Off as in ‘not on.’ Off as in ‘you don’t have any on tap.’ Like you and me, it ain’t gonna happen kinda off.” I batted my eyes, rested my chin on my hands and paused for a reply.

Cloud looked down and as she did so the storm dissipated. She brightened considerably and broke into a wide smile.

“Wow, you must be some kind of psychic. You’re right, we’re out of IPA. You must have ESB.”

I gazed at Cloud for quite a while before speaking. Finally, I said:

“Darling, if I had ESB at least I’d have a beer.”