Thursday, October 28, 2004

The one-click iPod for those who need it

Apple spoofs abound, but the Ashlee Simpson Karaoke Edition iPod ad is distinguished by the prankster's attention to tone and graphic detail.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Spring is here

The Eddie Bauer spring catalog arrived today. Yes, spring. What on earth can they be thinking? Their website appears to know it's still fall, moving in to winter.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Three cheers for the Bush family!

A group of distinguished members of the Bush family are been running a website that urges visitors "Please don't vote for our cousin."

This story got quite a bit of press today, but what's weird is that nearly all of the print and online news stories omit the URL, so readers can't go to the source. It took ploughing through several of the results of a Google search until I hit a site that included the address.

It was a pleasant surprise. Each of several Bush cousins contributed a photo and a long quote on why he or she had decided not to vote for George. Many of their statements were thoughtful and eloquent, and the site includes some of the most articulate refutations of Bush's "God and Country" blather I've read in the entire campaign. Unless you are a member of the Bush campaign pep squad, you'll relish the observations of people like Chris House, a teacher in Olympia, WA, Jeanny House, of Wisconsin, and Samuel Prescott Bush, who writes "I find it difficult to understand the patriotism behind giving tax breaks to corporations that export jobs overseas, leaving well-meaning and hard-working folks at home without a solid chance to support themselves. I find it incomprehensible that patriotism of the brand our president practices, includes ravaging our environmental policies, resulting in an immediate and lasting degradation of the environment for the foreseeable future, hurting my children and their children, the future patriots of this country."

Sunday, October 24, 2004

The awful thing

When I was in Cupertino for the day Thursday, I overheard people say things like "yeah, he has the awful thing she had last week." It was only when I woke up Saturday morning, violently ill, that I realized what "the awful thing" was, and that I had brought it back with me. At its worst, I was so dizzy I couldn't walk up or down stairs. Couldn't remember being that sick since I was in Poland in 1983. It was apparently only 24-hour bug, because I feel nearly normal now--just a little weak.

But don't get this thing.

Interestingly, when I spoke with my doctor yesterday, he said it was a flu "but not the kind you get flu shots for." Which is good, since Zorg and I will be going up to Victoria, BC, next Saturday for flu shots; some clever marketing person at the Victoria Clipper set up a package deal that includes the cruise and the shot. After your shot, you have the day to sightsee in Victoria. (Three cheers for socialized medicine.)

Monday, October 18, 2004

Even Republicans are worried by Bush

Thanks to Mystical Forest for bringing this to my attention: a lengthy NY Times article documenting growing Republican--yes, Republican--concerns about Bush's competence.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

The secrets of tub caulking

[IMPORTANT NOTE: An updated and more detailed version of these instructions is posted at:]

The caulk between the tile shower walls and the bathtub gets mildewed and every year we try to come up with a better way to replace it.

First year: Throw money at it
I called a bathtub re-caulking service recommended by a local consumer group. They sent two teenagers to futz around in the bathroom for a few hours, charged more than $300, and told us to keep the shower curtain open (between showers) to promote air circulation. Well, duh! We installed a more powerful bathroom fan that sounds like a 747 taking off four feet overhead. Neither of these strategies prevented the mildew from returning in a few months.

Second year: Do it yourself--twice
Inspired by several do-it-yourself articles, I prepared to recaulk the tub myself. Since the damp, mildewed area behind the removed caulk must be treated with a bleach solution and then thoroughly dried, and the new caulk must have time to cure without moisture, this involves taking showers in our other bathroom. Unfortunately, that's a tiny upstairs shower stall tucked under the eaves, and the shower head only comes up to chest level on my husband.

So I waited until he had gone on a long mountaineering trip to start the process. I peeled off the caulk with a special plastic hooked tool, and applied the bleach to the grout in the mildewed area. I noted that the grout hidden by the caulk was not only mildewed but crumbling, and took out decayed sections. This worried me, and I consulted a few of my handyman friends to see if I should re-grout before re-caulking. The concensus was "no," so I forged ahead (mistake #1). The last step in the process involved applying the silicon caulk (a tube purchased at the local hardware store--mistake #2) and smoothing it with a little plastic caulk-smoothing tool. It was much stickier and messier than I had imagined, the caulk rapidly drying and getting tacky. Of course, it was a this moment when the phone rang. My husband was calling from the mountain top. Holding the phone with the backs of my wrists while caulk got into my hair, I tried to sound enthusiastic for five minutes (fatal mistake). By the time I got back to the bathtub, the caulk looked and felt like day-old chewed bubblegum; there was nothing smooth about it. I carved off the excess glop with a razor blade, then called a handyman friend and made plans to start the whole process from scratch when my husband went on his next mountaineering expedition. For round 2, I removed the glop with a razor blade (an evening's work) and the next day my friend came and applied the silicon caulk. "It's not great," he said. No argument from me. But it looked slightly less blobby, and cost much less than $300. The mildew returned, on schedule, a few months later, despite fans and cleaning efforts.

This year: the grout/caulk combo and the miracle of dish soap
Fortified by more do-it-yourself articles, I stripped the ghastly mildewed caulk, bleached, and then panicked when I saw even more disintegrated grout. I called the experts at the local tile store. Could they recommend a subcontrator to apply new grout and caulk for me? The tile person snorted like a sommelier at the Four Seasons being asked for Kool-Aid and said they did not know anyone who would be interested in such a small job. He suggested that I call a handyman. I informed him that I could do just as crappy a job as a handyman myself, and I didn't want a crappy job. He started to laugh, and told me to come over to the store to get a good grout and a special professional caulk instead of the stuff from the hardware store. That night my husband came back from a trip out of town to find the tub devoid of caulk. The "when can I use the shower?" clock began to tick, loudly.

The next morning I went to the fancy tile shop and a salesperson listened to my tale of woe. She told me there is a grout/caulk combo used by professionals that looks like sanded grout and is extremely good at filling spaces and keeping a tub wall watersafe (tip #1). She handed over the sanded grout/caulk (a mere $9) and told me to put it on and smooth it. She recommended dipping my finger in a mixture of water and a bit of dish soap to really make it smooth (tip #2).

The good news is that her technique worked. But it wouldn't have worked as well if I hadn't followed advice from one of the articles and masked the area to be caulked, 1/8" up the wall and 1/8" on the tub, using wide painter's tape (tip #3). My own touches included 30 latex medical gloves (available in bulk at your local drugstore) and a large grocery bag. You'll see why. Here's the drill:

[IMPORTANT NOTE: An updated and more detailed version of these instructions is posted at: I suggest you refer to the new version instead of the following.]
  • Make sure the area to be caulked is clean, bleached, and dried and all traces of loose grout and old caulk have been removed.
  • Tape the area to be caulked, as described above.
  • Apply the grout/caulk bead using a good caulk gun.
  • Place the grocery bag next to tub.
  • Using a series of latex gloves and dipping your finger in a small container of water with a little dish detergent, begin smoothing the caulk bead. If glove gets gunky with caulk, put on a new glove. Otherwise, you will smear caulk on everything. Dump sticky gloves into grocery bag.
  • Once the bead is smooth, remove tape from the tub side of the caulk line and dump the tape into the grocery bag. The do-it-yourself article didn't mention that there will now be a bit of a raised edge on the caulk where the tape was removed. Get out the gloves and start smoothing that border flat. Then remove the tape from the wall, put on more gloves, and smooth that border.
  • You may also want to grout/caulk a few inches up the inner corner (or corners) of the show stall. Apply a short bead of caulk, and smooth to join the main caulking.
  • Recap your tube of caulk with plastic wrap and tape. Dump bag of trash. Wait 72 hours, then enjoy.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

No on Initiative 83

How many times do Seattle voters have to reapprove the monorail before the coalition of NIMBY groups in the city "gets it" that most people want an environmentally sensible rapid transit system in Seattle?

Initiative 83 would ban Seattle from ever considering the building of any monorail systems. Well, that'll certainly save us from ourselves.

What are people so scared of? Is Seattle so "special" that we can't live with overhead transportation like Chicago or Boston? I grew up in a house on a lovely residential street half a block from the El (elevated train) in Boston, and no one minded it--and that was a low-tech system built in the early 1900s! Mostly, we bragged about the convenience of our location. It was a fabulous connection for our neighborhood into all the resources of Boston's downtown. Seattle's downtown is a place I now avoid because of egregious parking prices, ghastly traffic, and skimpy mid-day bus service.

I was particularly disheartened by the hysterical anti-Monorail protests of one community group that turned out to be affected by the proximity of a monorail exactly four days out of every calendar year.

Let's Monorail! (Once again)

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Editor sounds off

some of my young colleagues in the tech industry affect a writing style for email that's devoid of capital letters. when i get messages from them, i'm never sure whether to be offended (because they can't be bothered to reach for the shift key) or flattered (because it's the way they write to other hip young things). at the moment, i'm amused.

Unable to recall the rules for capitalization in the real world, they apply initial caps with a heavy hand. While editing content for a website recently, I got to deal with gems like "big Savings for new Members" and "take advantage of this Limited-Time Offer."

If that is the way they think capitals work, I can see why they aren't using them. There were paragraphs that looked liked 18th century poets had come back from the dead and were working in marketing.

Editorial note: using an initial cap for concepts such as "savings" is called personification. An example is: Big Business. Personification conveys a poetic or ironic flavor, and should be used sparingly.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Zorg, aloft

My husband, aka Zorg, is on his way to Chicago. Here's his report from Sea-Tac departure, filed via his Treo:

"Some dolt was annoying everyone at the departure gate by repeatedly and endlessly saying 'testing 1-2-3-4-5' over the PA.

"Finally another voice came on the PA and said, 'Okay, we all know this guy can count to 5, but can he make it to 7?'

"We all chuckled. After a short pause a voice started repeating the 'testing' drone again.

"Wasting no time, the heckler came back on and said, 'Ladies and gentlemen, here at United we need to know how to count at least as far as 10.'

"We didn't hear any more 'testing' after that."

Monday, October 11, 2004

That's my cat, not the Thanksgiving turkey

Your vet might not tell you, but there are two ways to stitch up a cat after spaying. One is "internal" or "buried" stitches. The other is the traditional external skin stitches, in which the cat is laced up like a Thanksgiving turkey.

Buried stitches seem to be a bit more complicated for a vet to execute but have some advantages: Since they dissolve, the cat doesn't have to go back for a second visit to have the stitches removed. And since they are invisible, they don't tempt the cat to pick at them and rip them out. Buried stitches are used for spaying feral cats that are released into the wild a day or two following spaying.

Our sweet-tempered cat Zoe, spayed a couple weeks ago, was so pathetic in her plastic collar than we asked the vet if her high-strung sister, scheduled for spaying later this month, could have internal stitches. He said absolutely yes. And he urged us to let our friends know they can always ask to have their cat spayed by a vet who uses that option. So: Spare everyone the grief, ask for internal stitches.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Now this is hot chocolate

It's not just the calories and cholesterol that are dangerous when you serve these chocolates. Chocolate Roulette promises an unforgettable experience, particularly for the individual who selects not one of the praline-filled bon-bons but the jalapeno-filled bomb.

Suggested antidotes include fat, milk, banana, cider-and-milk, and olive oil. Bon apetit!

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Seattle Industrial Chic

Friends were over to dinner Friday night and we were discussing the extreme artsification of the formerly industrial areas of Seattle's Fremont neighborhood. My husband, who used to have his law offices in the Pro Lab building, was saying something about a building that had been across the street, Fremont Bolt and Screw.

"With that name, they probably turned it into an ultra-hip nightclub," I said, thinking myself very clever.

"No," he corrected me, "that would be The Screw and Bolt."

Domestic notes

Cat updates: Zoe has been released from her cone-collar. She appears to be fully recovered from being spayed.

Washing machine: After reading up on the Maytag Neptune washer and learning that a sizeable number of owners are complaining about mold growing in the gasket around the door, I bought a Whirlpool Duet instead. It uses very little water (apparently this is a characteristic of front-loaders), is gentle on clothes, and has fast, medium and slow spin options. Now, if the gas company would just stop losing all of the applications from people on our street (they've done it three times already), we can get the matching dryer delivered.


I like to go to bed early and lie there listening to the seals barking down at Shilshole Marina and the rumbling of the trains heading north to Canada on the tracks three blocks west of us.

I don't often get to bed early, but Thursday night I did. However, if there were any seals or trains, they were drowned out by the sounds of a commerical truck going forward, backing up, and idling loudly. Our street, which dead-ends in an alley, gets so little traffic, and most of that local, that we can recognize nearly every car that goes by. This truck was definitely not on the approved list.

We got up and went to the French doors and saw an open flatbed carrying an enormous glistening white SUV. The truck appeared to be offloading the SUV in the alley. We watched, puzzled, as the strange SUV was placed in front of the house across the street, because it certainly did not belong to the family in that house. The truck continued loudly maneuvering around and seemed to be positioning itself in front of the small brown truck that belongs to our nextdoor neighbor. He's been in hospice for the past week, dying of bone cancer. His teenage daughter had reported that afternoon, as she played with our kitten on the lawn, that her father was in a coma.

"Repo," my husband said grimly. "They're taking his truck. They always come in the middle of the night, or when no one's home."

Sure enough, the nextdoor neighbor's wife's car was gone; she was visiting him at the hospice.

There was no possibility of sleep with the ruckus out in the street, so I went out and asked what was going on. "He didn't make payments on the truck," the burly repo man said, defensively. By now several other folks were out on their front porches, watching. Call me sheltered, call me middle class, but repo men were something I've only seen on TV or in the movies.

Eventually the repo folks got our neighbor's truck loaded, and drove off with it, and at some point they removed the huge SUV as well. When we got up in the morning, there was an odd, empty space on the street where our nextdoor neighbor's truck had always been parked.

Friday, October 08, 2004

It gets worse (the debates)

Four years ago, watching the Bush v. Gore debate, I noticed Bush pause with that deer-in-the-headlights look of his. I was struck by how much he looked like someone listening to something a prompter. I speculated uncharitably that Bush had been implanted with a device that allowed his handlers to tell him what to say, and his bizarre pauses were caused by malfunctions or slowdowns in the transmission.

Apparently, it's true, though he wears the device rather than has it implanted. Read this sobering story in Salon. If you don't need as balanced a report, check out the site which includes gossip, speculation, and reports of broadcast equipment at Bush appearances accidentally picking up a channel with a prompter's voice (a different voice, saying many of the words of the speech) during Bush's speeches.

It's only a matter of time before someone figures out a way to hack Bush's prompting channel while he's mid-rant--even just a nice blast of loud noise would be delightful to watch.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Ready for the recount

This should interest Zorg, J Leroy, Moonlion and all the other election geeks: I just got email from the Kerry campaign (I'm a contributor) notifying me that the FEC has issued a ruling that authorizes the campaign to raise money for a GELAC fund. Translated into English, the Kerry campaign can now begin to raise money for a General Election Legal and Compliance Fund that will be used to finance recounts. The Kerry message to donors is "we'll be ready this time."

I was sort of mystified, as I thought "the government" paid for recounts. But I can see how you wouldn't want to rely on that these days.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Zoe is a brave little cat

Zoe is back from the vet, wearing a big clear plastic cone-shaped collar on her head so she won't be able to chew on her stitches. In spite of running into everything with the cone, she is purring away and trying to live life as usual. We took off her cone and let her go running in the backyard and fed her dinner (no fun in a cone). Unfortunately, when she stops running around she sits down and tries to chomp at the stitches, so we had to put the get-up back on again. Kaylee is being a jerk and hissing at poor Zoe. Little does she know that in three weeks, it will be her turn to get spayed and collared!

Friday, October 01, 2004

Mount St. Helens webcam

If you are following the hot air from the volcano, instead of from the debates, check here.

Two kittens are better than one

In June we got a pair of kittens and all summer we've enjoyed watching them tear through the house and play. They're cheerful, affectionate kittens. Today, Zoe, the larger and more mellow kitten, went off to the vet to get spayed. Kaylee, the small, high-strung kitten, couldn't go because she went into premature heat and just got out of it yesterday. So I'm home alone with Kaylee. I have had my ears washed three times, my toes bitten, and found myself breaking out the catnip at 10 a.m. in the hopes of getting a respite from my new job as stand-in for sister Zoe. Sheba demanded to be let out of the house, and Betaille is hiding somewhere upstairs.

We should have arranged for a "loaner" kitten, I think.

Plain and simple

Here's a link to one of my favorite websites: Well written, easy to navigate and easy to use. Decidedly unglamourous, but it follows the basic principles of good web design for small businesses. The phone number is the most prominent feature on every page and the answers to basic questions (what are the services, how do I pay, etc.) are in a lefthand nav bar and thus always just one click away from the page you are on. Plus, there's a sense of humor throughout--check out the FAQ.