Friday, April 29, 2005

Geek humor

Collision detection offers this hilarious story of an arrogant hacker who escalated a geek chatroom dispute by claiming he could wipe his opponent's hard drive. Given his opponent's IP address, "bitchchecker" did indeed take down the computer's hard drive, posting gleeful incremental damage reports to the chat as he proceeded.

"you're so stupid," he taunted, "never give your ip on the internet."

Funny he didn't recognize the IP address. It was his own machine, which promptly expired and logged him out of the chat.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Attention, foodies

The new olive oils are in at Gustiamo. And they are having a half-off sale on six-bottle cases of last year's Sicilian and Tuscan olive oils, and a North/South combo.

Gustiamo is a rather eccentric etailer that has been around for five years, bringing obscure Italian delicacies to the US. The selection is best described as "what's good, and exportable." The service and shipping are expert--definitely "satisfaction guaranteed." (They once overnighted me bufala mozzarella from Naples!)

Most of what's offered on Gustiamo comes from small farms and producers. There is very little overlap with anything you'd find in even the best gourmet stores in the states. The site is arranged by region, which makes perfect sense, since Italian food differs so dramatically from region to region. Prices are quite a bit better than in the gourmet stores, and the products are likely fresher (the bottarga--pressed fish eggs that you grate over pasta--is a good example).

I've ordered a case of the discounted Sicilian oils--strong, peppery and pungent. If you order the discounted Tuscan case and would like to trade two bottles of yours for two of mine, and you're in the Seattle area, let me know. Bon apetito!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Monday, April 25, 2005

Geek talk

First, jot down your definition of a Turing Test. Then read this post on Collision Detection.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Happy Earth Day

I'm ready to go out and celebrate Earth Day, thanks to Carbon Copy Cloner. A few days ago, prompted by Software Update, I had done a routine upgrade from Mac OS X 10.3.8 to Mac OS X 10.3.9. Today I discovered (via trial and error) that a proprietary application I rely on for my work had not yet been upgraded to be compatible with 10.3.9. After freaking out for an hour or so, I remembered that the most recent bootable backup of my system on my Firewire hard drive was in 10.3.8. So I simply switched the preference for my startup drive, restarted, opened the proprietary application in the old OS, and life was back to normal.

This is the third or fourth time the La Cie external Firewire hard drive and Carbon Copy Cloner backups have saved my bacon. The drive was about $150, and CCC is free. Highly recommended.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Catching up

Here are some highlights from what awaited me in the blog newsreader when I got back from New York:

• From kung fu squirrels to mysterious county inspectors, Geoff Duncan is having far too much fun checking out his new neighborhood in North Seattle.

John Hedtke has discovered an online etymology dictionery.

• A Gardener's Notebook ponders why some L.A. neighbors have painted their lawn.

• Clive Thompson's superb blog Collision Detection notes that an English college student has compiled a comprehensive online guide to destroying the earth.

• Amazon changed its user interface (at the item level; check out any of the books). An improvement on what was becoming an increasingly chaotic page. While you're there, have a look at my cousin Earl Rovit's new book Hemingway and Faulkner in Their Times.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Perfect ending to the NY trip

I found a lahmejun stand one block from my hotel! I haven't had real, fresh lahmejun in more than 20 years. The popular wisdom is that you find it only in Belmont/Watertown, Massachusetts, and in certain Armenian areas of Central California.

The Sahara Grill spells it "lamecun," which is the Turkish take on this Armenian delicacy, but the pronunciation is the same, and so is the food: A crispy bread (like an ultra-thin pizza crust) covered with ground spicy lamb, tomato, onion, and herbs. $2.50! There was a nice little kadayif for dessert, hot Turkish tea with mint, and a sample of their fresh-squeezed orange juice.

A hole-in-the-wall two blocks south of Times Square, the tiny Sahara Grill is also a fruit and vegetable stand, a juice bar, and a popular neighborhood hangout. Their big sellers are chicken gyros and lamb/beef gyros, but the lamecun is listed at the bottom of the menu, and they were delighted when I ordered it. While I was there, perched on one of five well-worn stools at the counter in back, a number of friendly gangsta types came in and bought fresh fruit--and soft drinks. Interesting combination.

The Upper East Side

Lexington Avenue at 77th. This is the upper East Side. Think "Seinfeld." Think New Yorker magazine. You have to be rich to live here. Not recently rich, but raised rich, and so rich that everyone else you know is rich and you rarely rub elbows with anyone who isn't. Except the servants and the shopkeepers, many of whom are white Europeans--Irish building contractors, Swedish au pairs, and Southern European shopkeepers.

Anticipating my visit to New York, and wanting to blend in, I'd purchased a bright fuchsia Perlina purse with fashionable white stitching and silver strap buckles. For the past few days, I've been puzzled, since all the women in mid-town and on the upper West Side are carrying serviceable black purses. Stepping out of the subway at 77th, I realized my purse had found its home: I saw pink bags, lime bags, and mango bags--just like in the catalogs!--and every woman had a purse with long straps so it could be carried on her shoulder, leaving her hands free to tote multiple designer shopping bags.

Ray's Pizza has an little outpost on the upper East Side and I stopped in for a slice of plain Neapolitan pizza. As I was sitting there nibbling, a very young couple came in pushing two babies in a vehicle that I guess could be called a doublewide stroller. Both doors of the restaurant had to be opened to get it inside. I realized I was looking at one of the $2,000 European baby carriages I'd read about in the Wall Street Journal.

I headed back to the subway, trying not to stare at women in pastel tweed suits and pointy-toed high heels, men wearing $400 chinos, and beautifully dressed children trotting dutifully along with their nannies. But then I saw something even more eye-catching. Standing at the corner beside me as we waited for the light, was a Satmar. A young man in his 20s, he was wearing a brown fur hat the size and shape of a small merry-go-round, a mid-calf-length shiny satin overcoat, knickers, white stockings, and black formal shoes. And, of course, payess.

This being the self-absorbed East Side, none of the locals even looked up from their cafe au lait and brioche as he strode across Lexington, hat flapping, and headed down 77th toward Central Park. That was perhaps the most New Yorker moment of all, for what would New Yorker be without the cartoons?

Friday, April 15, 2005


50 turns out to be a good age for attending reunions. Those of us with wrinkles and graying hair look happier than the ones with the face-lifts and dye jobs. Our memories are still sharp enough to recognize faces, come up with names, and recall choice anecdotes. Grudges, if there were any, seem to have had a much shorter shelf life. So, at the first get-together tonight it was all handshakes, hugs, and enthusiastic reminiscences. Apparently some 70 members of our class are expected to show up for the dinner party at a classmate's West End Avenue home tomorrow night.

This evening's cocktail party in the Low Library rotunda followed the annual alumni association's awards ceremony. The first award, to an earnest, prize-winning social issues reporter from the New York Daily News, was bestowed by her husband, an editor from the New York Times. The second, to the Associated Press foreign correspondent who has covered Rome and the Vatican for some 20 years, was awarded by a retired foreign correspondent who reminded us that once upon a time the American news networks had maintained substantive foreign bureaus. The third award went to one of the creators of the TV documentary, a man who retired mid-career to become an acclaimed journalism instructor at the University of Southern California. The final award went to my classmate Tom Rosensteil, who is credited for leading the movement to bring journalism into the 21st century through the Project for Excellence in Journalism. Check out Tom's book, Warp Speed: America in the Age of Mixed Media.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

New York soul food

The plane trip to Newark was uneventful. The travel agent I was seated next to got bumped into first class, giving us an extra seat in our row of three, which always makes traveling nicer. Got the Super Shuttle from Newark right to the hotel in Times Square for $20, and was in my room trying out the broadband connection by 6 p.m. Hotel 41 at Times Square is next to "Rent" on 41st Street, just off 7th Avenue, and across the street from the stage door of "The Lion King." There was a huge sale tonight at Macy's so I headed down there and stopped along the way for a quick bite at the Jerusalem 2, an ultra-kosher Israeli cafeteria in the garment district, Broadway near 37th. The pita bread is baked on the premises and, as is often the way with traditional Jewish cuisine, is a little heavy but very tasty. I had the baba ganoush plate with falafel, a salad of chopped tomato, cucumbers and onion, and pita. Most of the diners in the place were orthodox families and couples who work in the garment district. All the men were wearing yarmulkes (kipput) and all the woman had long-sleeved sweaters, and most wore skirts. One group of young men sitting in the back had brought chess boards with them. The couple next to me seemed to be on an informal date. The food was vivid tasting and truly delicious, with nice crunchy crust on the falafel. I felt right at home in the place, which is awfully nice when you are traveling.

Shopping at Macy's was a trip. It's the original Macy's, on 34th Street, and when you get up to the third floor, the escalators are the old wooden ones, with slats. The petites section was vast, and I got to try on DKNY petite clothing, which I don't think I'd encountered before. Lots of stuff was 50% off, so the store was pretty much a madhouse. It was too much for me after a long day of traveling, so I walked back up to Times Square, remembering all that I like about New York. This is not, of course, the New York I knew in 1980, but a much cleaner, friendly post 9/11 city. Biggest shock: Finding a Washington Mutual Bank one block from the hotel.

Off to New York

I'm off to New York for a few days for my Columbia J-School reunion. I have an hour to hang out while waiting for my Continental flight from Seattle to Newark and, having found seat near an electrical outlet, am charging the PowerBook. And wishing I had a 12" PowerBook for travel. (I wonder when someone will come out with 12" travel screens for people who want to travel with a Mac mini?)

A super-sized genial young loudmouth in de rigeur black polo shirt and black jeans is sitting across from me in the waiting area, bellowing into his cell phone about contracts, installing Microsoft security patches, and the need to talk with Accounts Payable. His name is JASON. His cellphone has an earphone, but too bad it can't have some kind of mouth device as well. Like an electronic gag.

I'd thought this would be the opportunity to use my Boingo wifi account, but, though Boingo recognized the robust signal from the terminal's Wayport wifi hotspot, it wasn't able to connect me. And it somehow blocked access to the WayPort sign-in process. So I ended up signing on through the Cingular wifi network.

This past month, Macworld magazine ran a great article on traveling with a laptop. Adam Engst, Joe Kissell, and some other technorati listed the equipment they pack. I picked up quite a few tips, though I haven't implemented any of them yet. Incidentally, did you know that most computer hardware manufacturers never use the word "laptop" in their marketing materials? That's in case you put what they prefer to call a "portable" on your lap and your lap gets toasted.

What folks are doing in the waiting area: Drinking fruit juice; reading a book; eating grapefruit sections; drinking water; staring at the morning news show on the overhead TV (6); sleeping while listening to an iPod shuffle; listening to an iPod mini; listening to an unidentified MP3 player; fiddling with a digital camera; yakking on a cell phone (3); typing on a laptop (me). Interestingly, for a workday morning, not a single person is reading a newspaper.

What people are wearing: athletic shoes (many), 3" high heel dress pumps (1 older woman), walking shoes (several), flip flops (the man with the iPod shuffle). Jeans (nearly everyone, including the woman in high heels and the man with flip flops) and chinos.

About 30 teenagers clutching large whipped cream-topped Starbucks drinks have just entered the waiting area for our flight, raising the noise level by several decibels. They are accompanied by three teachers, one of whom sounds like he might be the school football coach. This promises to be a livelier than usual flight.

Please, don't let one of my seatmates be JASON. We're boarding.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The winner

The new blog Don't Ask Me; I'm Making This Up As I Go Along raises a good point about Commander Riker and the Star Trek: Next Generation poker games.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Rock the house

Last night I judged a national high school journalism contest. The category was Reviewing, and the contest was rather clever: The organizers hired an up-and-coming indie rock band and had them perform for the 110 student journalists. The students had 70 minutes to write the reviews. Then the judges--an assortment of working journalists, high school teachers, and college journalism students--sat down and evaluated the pieces. I'd imagined we'd discover the next Cameron Crowe, but it didn't happen. Most of the pieces were well-written formal essays or nice feature articles, but only two qualified as actual "reviews" with a strong, critical voice and well-supported opinions. And, predictably, both of them were humorous and negative (that being the easiest type of review to write).

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Soggy shuffle

A friend of mine who shall remain nameless emailed to report that he'd washed his iPod shuffle (twice) and it had survived the washing machine...sort of. A Google search revealed that he is not alone. iPods have been washed, and they have survived. Does this qualify as a meme?

Considering what one pays for the Whirlpool Duet and Maytag Nepture, perhaps high-end washers should come with a pre-wash scan for electronic devices.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

More tales of the cat door

Betaille is afraid of her new, raccoon-proof, automated cat door and won't come in the basement.

I think it's the whirring sound that did it. As the cat wearing the magnet approaches the door (that would be Betaille), the door raises up magically (think: a reverse guillotine) with a little whirring sound. It stays open about 20 seconds, and then comes down.

I carried Betaille up to the door, and her magnet triggered it. It whirred and opened. I tried to push her through, but she began flailing around. When I released her, she fled.

I went inside and turned off the motor, propped the door open, put a big bowl of food just inside the door, and left things that way all day. But she didn't venture in. This evening I removed the wood I'd had blocking the door and switched on the automatic features again. All was fine until I turned on the nearby clothes dryer. It triggered the new cat door, so that the door began going up and down in a 20-second cycle. Betaille sat outside in her heated box, staring at this performance with an expression of incredulity and disgust.

Fetching the cat door directions and a screwdriver, I adjusted the cat door to decrease its sensitivity to magnets and clothes dryers. It quit whirring. But now I have a vision of the raccoon down there tonight, waving a big piece of metal in front of the door...

It's official

Zorg has relocated his blog to All Zorg, all the time.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Hardware nirvana

Imagine an operation the size of Home Depot with the ambiance and expertise of the old-time local hardware store. That would be Ballard Hardware, housed in an old, multi-story brick building just off Leary Way in Ballard. While the store's name, painted atop the building in old-fashioned factory style, is visible at a distance, Ballard Hardware doesn't have much street presence. Its brick walls face Leary Way and Ballard Avenue, and its small storefront faces its parking lot (and Ballard Sheet Metal). If you visit Ballard much, chances are you've driven by and not noticed it.

I can spend hours in a hardware store, and have several favorites in Seattle, including the Greenwood Hardware and Glass (True Value) on Greenwood, the Stone Way Hardware (True Value) on Stone Way North, Tweedy and Popp Hardware (Ace) on N. 45th St. in Wallingford, and Maple Leaf Hardware (Ace) on Roosevelt. For lumber, I won't consider anything but Limback in Ballard.

Although I've known about Ballard Hardware for years, I've been timid about going there. This is serious hardware, and most of it is behind the counter--you need to ask one of the staff to fetch it from the multi-story warehouse. Which means I need the vocabulary to describe a particulary machine screw or a drill attachment I'm sure must exist, but which I've never seen.

Today I went there, in my hand a piece of plastic that needed to be re-attached to a suitcase with a couple of machine screws. The original screws were missing, and I had no idea what to ask for except "screws that fit this." I stepped into a high-ceiled main floor full of beautiful hardware (neon-colored extension cords!). Everyone in there was male, except for a cashier.

After skulking around the aisles and realizing that even the extra-long 1/8" drill bit I wanted was behind the counter, I went up to the front and waited for a hardware guru. Ballard Hardware does not have lines. You just stand there and exude awareness of your place in the order. When my turn came, I started with the screws, handing the plastic piece with the screw housings to to fellow behind the counter. He vanished, and returned shortly with two little bolt-ended screws attached to the piece. Then I asked for the drill bit. He told me to wait, and went out the front door, heading for their basement warehouse area. And he came back with the drill bit. I was delighted, and chatted a little with him as he wrote up my ($8) receipt to take over to the cashier. Turns out he's an alt-rock musician, and just produced an EP.

I was thrilled that I'd gone to one of the world's most serious hardware shrines, had been taken seriously, and had obtained some obscure hardware items that would have had them the shaking their heads at the smaller hardware stores (or, in the case of the big chains, scratching their heads and rolling their eyes). We are so fortunate to have Ballard Hardware right in the neighborhood!

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Monday Madness

Catching up with the a recent diversion from Monday Madness. Fill out this survey in your own blog, and leave a comment at Monday Madness. (Scroll down if you want to see my answers.)

How Many........
1. gadgets do you own?
2. on your living room walls?
3. ...magnets on your refrigerator?
4. ...reference books in your bookshelves?
5. ...boxes of cereal in your cupboards?
6. ...lamps in your house?
7. ...times a week do you shop for groceries?
8. ...magazines do you subscribe to?
9. programs do you watch on a regular basis?
10. ...items on your bathroom counter that don't really need to be there?

How Many........
1. gadgets do you own?
More than a dozen. Lots more than dozen.
2. on your living room walls?
Just one (an oil painting by a Russian I met at a crafts fair).
3. ...magnets on your refrigerator?
None. It's stainless steel refrigerator door, and therefore not magnetic.
4. ...reference books in your bookshelves?
Well over 100. Perhaps more than 200 if you count my gardening and crafts reference books and Zorg's reference books. Argggh.
5. ...boxes of cereal in your cupboards?
Eight, but that includes hot cereals like grits and Zoom.
6. ...lamps in your house?
Eleven; fourteen if you include nightlights.
7. ...times a week do you shop for groceries?
Three. I'd prefer to do it every day, the way I did when I lived in Italy.
8. ...magazines do you subscribe to?
Ten or 12.
9. programs do you watch on a regular basis?
Hmmmm. On a regular basis? Two. And those are via TiVO.
10. ...items on your bathroom counter that don't really need to be there?
None. I am really aggressive about counter clutter. Keep stuff in the cabinets!


Kaylee: Here she invited us to do the Friday catblogging, and she's posting it a day late. Sheesh!

Zoe: Hey, it's probably because of her tendonitis. That's why we were invited to do the catblogging in the first place, remember?

Kaylee: I thought it was because we're cats.

Zoe: We're CATS?

Kaylee: Let's get to the blogging.

Zoe: OK. It's been a great week. Towels, still hot from the dryer, got piled on the diningroom table and we got to them before they could be compressed into those unappealing little rectangular layers.

Kaylee: I beg to differ. That big 20" monitor Sheba's been napping on for four years vanished from the office and was replaced by a 23" flat monitor. Sheba had to knock the PowerBook off the iCurve and walk all over the screen, then chew on the powercord of the new monitor, before they did anything about it. They've replaced the 20" monitor perch with a basket covered with a faux fur throw rug. It's not as warm, but at least we can see out the window again.

Zoe: A new flavor of Fancy Feast, flaked fish and shrimp, has appeared on the menu. It's excellent. No more of that insipid Turkey Feast.

Kaylee: On behalf of Betaille, I have to report that they still haven't installed the new cat door in the basement, so she is without access to basement at night. As a result, she has been forced to take shelter in the house with Sheba and us a couple time in the past week.

Zoe: And it's been so much fun hiding behind the curtains and leaping out at her.

Kaylee: I think we've reached the word limit for blog entries.

Zoe: There's a word limit?

Kaylee: Look! It's a piece of dental floss! Go for it.