Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday's cat blogging

Zoe asks "Why are you pointing that thing at me?"

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

It's starting to feel...different

I left Apple to focus on writing, but the past month I've been focused mostly on shifting gears.

Two major out-of-town trips, two writing conferences, and several out-of-the-office weekday appointments helped me break away from the tied-to-the-desk routine. I'm now exploring a freelance arrangement that "feels right." It's part-time, project-by-project web writing. Being a sub-contractor seems very appealing right now.

I've been busy re-arranging the house, selling furniture that just doesn't work (a loveseat, some Craftsman stuff from the previous house) and replacing it with things I hope will be more functional: a maple bookcase from Ballard Bookcase Company for the dining room, and one of those neat sewing machine cabinets where the sewing machine rises up in the middle like a Las Vegas cabaret act.

Here's the Ekornes chair I found on Craig's List. Very comfy for sitting in the office and using Front Row on the new iMac.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Friendlier skies: $44

It's no secret that airlines are packing each flight to capacity to save money, while decreasing cleaning and cosmetic maintenance (the planes are rarely on the ground long enough for serious cleaning). As a result, economy class seating for long, cross-country flights is becoming unbearable.

Earlier this month I flew on Delta in an economy row with a woman so wide we couldn't get the seat arm lowered beside her; another flight had a carpet so encrusted with goo (a smushed Cinnabon roll, perhaps?) that the purse I put under the seat in front of me was ruined. The United flight to from Seattle to Chicago Thursday featured an icy window and wall -- extremely uncomfortable, and more than a bit frightening.

This morning when I checked in for the flight back from Chicago, United offered me an upgrade to an Economy Plus seat in a reconfigured section of coach, providing 5 inches of extra leg room. I forked over $44 and, let me tell you, it was worth every penny. On the way out to Chicago, I'd twisted and squirmed to get away from the icy window, plus found myself nearly chewing on the hair of the tall man in front of me when he reclined his seatback into my face. In the upgraded seat, I had plenty of room for my feet (without wedging them on top of my carry-on backpack), and I didn't even notice if the person in front of me reclined. I was pathetically, gratefully happy to pay for humane travel conditions, and wish more airlines would offer this option.

A related note: Three cheers for MasterPark, one of the off-site parking lots at Sea-Tac. After a couple frustrating and scary experiences with other Sea-Tac lots (like the one that was padlocked shut when I arrived on a evening flight!) I've started using MasterPark when I take longer trips. Their three lots are right outside the airport and all have a covered drop-off area with a valet who takes your car. They whisked me immediately to the terminal at 6 a.m., even though I was the only person in the shuttle. I've never had to wait more than 2 or 3 minutes for a terminal pickup when I return. They even put my bag into my trunk for me! Not the cheapest parking choice, but possibly the most reliable. And they have web coupons.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Beyond "Dilbert." Way beyond.

If you think all Scott Adams does is "Dilbert" cartoons and some amusing books about workplaces and management, you're in for a wonderful surprise. Check out this beautifully crafted feature story, masquerading as a blog entry.

All humor, all day

Several of us hit our humor limit after dinner last night, crept off to bed, and didn't emerge until "second period" this morning. I have to disagree with Commander Cody; at a humor writing conference, you can have too much fun.

Today's seminars were the best of the bunch. I did "Yoga for Your Funnybone" with Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant of Leigh Anne, from Eugene, OR, via Abilene, TX, focuses on standup and quip-filled books. (Leigh Anne won the 2004 Erma Bombeck Humor Writing Content with a piece about her first mammogram, at which the x-ray machine caught fire with her, er, clamped in it.) During one of her humor exercises, I wrote and performed a short stand-up piece on "jealousy, shame, depression and comedy writing." (People laughed, and even applauded!)

The lunch speaker was Asheville, NC, newspaper columnist Susan Reinhardt, notorous for her Southern bad-girl persona. Her outrageous tales of family and redneck neighbors are syndicated and her first book is out: Not Tonight, Honey -- Wait Til I'm a Size 6. She explained the title original referred to a size 10, but the publisher changed it so it would work for New York readers, who think that size 10 is grossly obese. I found Reinhardt a tad over-the-top, but it was sure fun watching the (mostly mid-western) audience figure out what to make of her.

After lunch, I caught Gordon Kirkland again. I'd thought he was a bit diffuse at the luncheon presentation yesterday, but he was fabulous with the smaller group. I don't think I've laughed so much in years. A Canadian (from Vancouver, B.C.), he at one point in his pre-humorist career worked as a writer in the Trudeau administration in Ottawa. The office secretary was French Canadian and not always comfortable with colloquial English. He recalled the day she answered the phone and told the English-speaking caller looking for his subordinate, "I'm sorry, Linda eez busy right now. Would you like to talk with Gordon Kirkand? He eez on top of her."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

More from Dayton

Yep, this is a lively bunch of folks. Many of the 300 attendees are mid-career in some other field -- including technical writing, marketing writing, and academic writing -- and want to cross over into humor writing or add humorous elements to their current work.

David Barry, the keynote speaker, certainly lived up to his reputation. His speech started out fairly straight, but by the end the audience was howling as he described the flap that occurred after he wrote a column lampooning North Dakota's plan to change its name to "Dakota" for PR reasons. Barry wound up traveling to North Dakota to attend a ceremony at which the offended North Dakotans dedicated a sewage treatment station to him. And (they should have seen this coming) Barry then made fun of the sub-zero dedication ceremony. "You heard whump, whump, whump!" he exclaimed. "That's the sound of lots of mittens, clapping."

Never engage in a battle of wits with a syndicated humor columnist.

Dayton, Day 1

Seattle, Chicago, Dayton. I've just arrived in Dayton for the Erma Bombeck Humor Writers' Workshop.

Just as a science fiction convention is peopled fiction types, this is peopled with, well, live wires. Class clowns. The women are perky and assertive. The men are wise guys. More on my fellow attendees later.

The Dayton Marriott, where we are staying and having our evening meetings, just screams "1970s," with low ceilings, tired mahogany paneling, and dim hallways set at mind boggling oblique angles. But my room is clean and well lit, with a hair dryer, bathtub, large closet, and full-length mirrors. (It's amazing how many of the new boutique hotels are dim, with one ornate mirror set just at the height required for man to adjust his tie.)

The room's one concession to trendiness is a queen-size marshmallow-type bed with six - six! - pillows. Perhaps there's a pillow fight on tonight's conference agenda? And maybe I should check to make sure that my bed hasn't been short-sheeted.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ballard water service outage

The water heater is fine...but much of western Ballard is without water for the day because "a contractor cut a pipe." Repairs are estimated to take 4 to 6 hours, so water service should be back late this afternoon.

Things fall apart -- in threes

It wasn't the malfunctioning DVD drive in the old iMac, or the discovery of the leaking master cylinder in the 1990 Honda that had me worried. It was the knowledge that at our house, things break in groups of threes.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

I took the iMac to the Apple Store at 8:15 last night (you can make a same-day appointment at the Genius Bar); they called at 10 p.m. to say the new DVD drive was in (free, since I'd bought the three-year Apple Care coverage). High Road Automotive was able to replace the master cylinder with same-day service as well, so the only pain there was the bill.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Then, it happened. I got up this morning, took a shower, had breakfast, and was rinsing the breakfast dishes when I noticed that the water pressure had dropped quite a bit. Thinking nothing of it, I took my tea into my office and sat down to work on a new project.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

At 11 I got up to make another cup of tea, and figured I'd run a load of clothes in the laundry downstairs. As I walked in to the basement laundry room, I heard a sound like a running dishwasher. Or a running washing machine. But the dishwasher was off, and so was the washing machine. The loud gurgling, swooshing, sloshing, noise was coming from our year-old, high-end, gas water heater.

The plumber who installed it has since relocated his shop to Mukilteo, and we've switched to a local Ballard plumber (Paris Plumbing) that we've been quite happy with. I dialed them immediately. Their dispatcher called back and advised that I try to turn off the water heater. Praying that nothing would explode, I sidled closer to the gurgling water heater and located the gas shut-off specific to it (high up on the basement wall, how convenient). As soon as I flippped it, the swooshing and sloshing ceased. Now I'm waiting, checkbook at the ready, for the plumber to arrive and get to the bottom of it. I'm so hoping that the problem is the waterheater (under warranty) and not the new gas system, as that would involve the stove and the dryer. Sigh.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Street cleaning

The Roomba takes it to the street at SxSW!

Taking away information achieve a better decision.

Malcolm Gladwell explains.

Problems reaching this blog?

A reader reports that when he attempts to access, the page is frequently "down" (not accessible). (And that this is a problem with Blogspot-hosted blogs.)

Is anyone else having difficulting loading this blog? If so, please email me or leave a comment below. Please include the browser (and version) or news reader (and version) you are using when you encounter the problem.

Also, if there is a problem with the blog being down, please let me know if it is recent. Blogger/Blogspot has had a problem with a particular server this past week, and it's possible that The Mysterious Traveler Sets Out is on that server.

Thanks for your feedback and patience!

Friday, March 17, 2006

"Woof! Woof!" -- that must be the cat

Three years ago I bought a Lentek Pet Chime.

After it arrived, I decided it would never work for our cats. But tonight, while cleaning the basement, I came across the Pet Chime and figured, "What the heck?" If Sheba, Zoe, and Kaylee can figure out that they need to step on the big yellow button to get me to open the door and let them in, I'll be impressed. (Actually, I'll suspect divine intervention.)

The Pet Chime is made up of two components: A brown paw with a yellow "doorbell" in it and a white chime. The doorbell gets a 9 volt battery and goes outdoors; the chime gets three AA batteries and stays indoors.

I sat down at the kitchen table and installed the batteries, with Zoe and Kaylee helping out. Then I got to the part where you toggle a switch to set the chime tone. Toggled one way, it goes "Woof-woof!" (It seems the Pet Chime is a canine-centric device.) Toggled the other way, it does the traditional "ding-dong" sound. Unfortunately, it wasn't clear which direction yielded which tone.

So I toggled it to the left, and hit the yellow button. Mistake.

"WOOF-WOOF! WOOF-WOOF! WOOF-WOOF" roared an electronic Rottweiler, sending the cats airborne. I quickly switched it to "ding-dong," but by then the Kaylee and Zoe were long gone.

Yep, they're going to love this device.

[NOTE: The Pet Chime also came to the attention of columnist Dave Barry. Now I'll have something to chat with him about at the Erma Bombeck Humor Writers Workshop in Dayton next weekend.]

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Partition your (Intel) Mac and run Windows

The website of Colin Nederkorn, who hosted a contest to see who could get a new Intel Mac to run windows, is swamped with visitors now that a winner has been validated. But CNET has the story and an audio interview with the thoughtful-sounding Nederkorn.

The contest has a $14,000 prize, which Nederkorn seeded with just $100.

This is a superb example of how creative, energetic individuals continue to power the tech culture and the online community.

Up against the wall anchor

Towel bars. Dry wall. Screws. Wall anchors. Anxiety.

Wall anchors, those little plastic ribbed cones you drive into dry wall or plaster so you can attach a fixture using screws, have always made me nervous.

When do you use a plastic one? When do you use the ribbed hammer-in type and when do you use the threaded drive-in type? What about the weird little lead anchors? And when do you use a toggle instead?

Most of all...when you remove a fixture for good, and want to patch, spackle and paint the wall, how do you get the *&%*#-ing anchor out so it doesn't leave a lump?

At last, the answers to all the questions: The guide to fasteners at Natural Handyman.

Turns out you can remove the little plastic cones simply by inserting a long screw a bit of the way in, then using the screw as a handle and wiggling the anchor out. (Did everyone else know this? I must have missed shop class that day. Ooops...when I was in school, they didn't let girls take shop.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A better approach to tagging?

Tagging still feels like a nuisance to me. Daniel Terdiman of c/net reports on some ideas for how it could be easier and more useful.


[warning: this post is relentlessly negative]
You've heard of the "worried well?"

I've just spent five days surrounded by the "whining well-off," middle-class retirees in Southern Florida. Now I am sitting in the Atlanta airport, in the midst of employed people who have real lives, with a ticket for the Pacific Northwest, and I think the pervasive whine is at last fading away. But, just to hasten my personal exorcism, here's a list of the complaints that occupy the waking hours of Southwest Florida senior citizens:

1. Condo developments (other than the ones they just moved into)
2. Traffic that clogs the roadways (making it difficult for them to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner out)
3. Construction of new roadways
4. Crowded restaurants
5. People who don't speak English as well as they do (particularly if those people drive expensive cars and live in their condo developments)
6. The shortage of gardeners and and maintenance workers
7. People who don't speak English as well as they do who are sending their children to public schools to learn English
8. Neighbors who don't keep up their condo units
9. Increasing maintenance fees to keep up condo developments
10. Exorbitant prices the greedy and clueless neighbors are asking for their (inferior) condo units
11. Incompetent real estate agents who can't sell their condo units for exorbitant prices
12. Democrats who are picking on "our President"
13. People who attend church dressed too casually
14. People who eat out in restaurants dressed too casually
15. The red tide
16. Mold in condo units
17. The expense of getting rid of mold in condo units
18. People who are too cheap to get rid of mold in condo units

Monday morning I talked my mom into driving out to the beach. I went for a walk along the water, with deserted mansions on one side and sandpipers, pelicans, and cormorants on the other. I got back from my walk to discover my mother talking with a woman from North Carolina. She told us she comes to the beach every day, feeds the sandpipers, walks, and swims. She was trilling away with delight about how much she enjoys the great weather and the warm water.

We gathered up our towels, said goodbye to the woman, and walked along the boardwalk to the car. "Boy, what a weirdo she was," my mother said. Yes, I agreed. The pleasant, cheerful woman certainly didn't fit in with the rest of them.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

WiFi availability test

I'll be in Naples, Florida, for the next six days visiting my mother, enjoying the warm, humid weather that I love, and conducting a WiFi availablity test. You'll see the results right away; if there's WiFi, I'll be blogging and uploading pictures. If I'm depending on my mom's dial-up'll be email all the way.

Zorg will be holding down the fort at the Shady Rest West, playing Mouse with Kaylee the mini-cat and WoW with his guild.

Flame warriors

(cross-posted on Smile of the Day)

If you are, or every have been, a participant in an online discussion list, bulletin board, or other cybergroup, you will want to take 15 minutes from your blogrolling session to check out the howlingly funny Flame Warriors. Each page of this cleverly illustrated site by artist Mike Reed is devoted to a specific online personality type (Strumpet, Yuk Yuk, Cyber Sisters, and Perv are just the beginning).

Tip: The pulldown menu provides an alphabetical list of all the characters, but it's much easier to cruise through the list clicking the light-blue "begin" and "next warrior" links.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Shiny and fast

This afternoon I did two quite disparate tasks: I hand-glazed the Marmoleum kitchen floor and I installed 1 GB of RAM in my new 12" PowerBook.

Oddly, both tasks recalled people from my past. When I was a child, my family had a cleaning woman (in those days, called "the girl" -- yikes) who scrubbed and polished floors on her hands and knees. Now if I suggested to our current housecleaner that she deal with the floors using anything but a long-handled mop, it would be the last we'd see of her. If we want hand scrubbing, or clean baseboards, it's strictly DIY.

So, that's what I did. Marmoleum is eco-friendly, and so is the Marmoleum glaze. I just got down on my hands and knees and rubbed on the glaze with some rags. Glaze, wait 30 minutes, glaze, wait 30 minutes, etc. Now the floor really does look nice and shiny. Spills will be easier to clean up, and it will probably protect the floor from scratches -- though Marmoleum is tough enough that it's used as the flooring on the newer Metro buses.

Once I'd cleaned up from the glaze work, I set out the equipment for the RAM installation: Nice towel for the computer to rest on, a little dish for the screws I'd be taking out and would like to be able to find to put them back in, and the directions, complete with drawings, that I'd downloaded from the Apple support site. This technique I learned from my father. Though he never installed RAM in a computer, he took apart, and successfully reassembled, just about every appliance and device in our house. He always put the device on a towel or pad, and put screws and other connecting goods into little dishes. He didn't have to tell me to do this; after watching a succession of male friends go ballistic hunting for parts while attempting to assemble Dania bookcases or set up VCRs, I got the idea.

I only install memory about once a year, so I'm careful to review the directions -- and to put the cats outdoors or in the basement so they don't get involved with the bright, shiny things rolling around in the dishes.

Releasing the old 256 MB memory card was pretty easy. It's the part where you insert the new card at that 30-degree angle, get all those teeth to mesh, and then have to squash the card down so it clicks into the metal latching tabs that makes me nervous. Got the screws back in, fired up the PowerBook and, sure enough, iPhoto is noticeably faster.

Thanks, Edna! Thanks, Dad!

Good grief, sweet prince

I lived in New Haven in the 1970s, a time when the Yale Drama School and New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre were pushing the limits and raising eyebrows. Thus I particularly enjoyed this Live Journal posting by angevin2, "The Things I Will Not Do When I Direct a Shakespeare Production, on Stage or Film."

Thanks to Don't Ask Me, I'm Making This Up as I Go Along for reminding me about this.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Everybody's online

Today I made an appointment to have my car window fixed, took the elderly cat in for her annual checkup, and got a quick pedicure.

I also emailed the body shop to get a recommendation for a detailer, received a $1 discount on the pedicure for giving the salon my email address, and got a brochure from the vet for the new website they'll be launching later this month where we'll be able to log on to view our cats' records (including up-to-date test results), see when shots are due, and schedule appointments. At least the cats don't have any privacy issues.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

17" G4 iMac for sale - $600

The 17" iMac I'm selling is an older model (see picture) but it's fast (1.25 GHz) with upgraded RAM (1 GB) and the larger 150 GB hard drive. Includes a SuperDrive for reading and writing CDs and DVDs, internal modem, Bluetooth, and an Airport Extreme card to take advantage of higher speed WiFi. I'm the original owner, having purchased it October, 2003. It has AppleCare extended warranty through October 29, 2006.

It comes with the original keyboard, mouse, those cute little round speakers, and even the original box. [NOTE: iSight camera in picture is not included.] You are welcome to come over and give it a test drive with all my apps and software. If you want to buy, I'll erase my apps and data from the hard drive and install a brand-new (hitherto unopened) copy of Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4) that can be registered to you.

Price: $600
(bidding on eBay for the same model, with less RAM and a smaller hard drive, typically exceeds $600)

This is a Seattle-area offer only...if none of my readers or their friends are interested, it's over to Craig's List next week.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The soul of the new machines

Oh brave new world! In the past week I've gone from a 15" PowerBook for work/travel to a new 12" bare-bones travel machine, and I'm now in the process of migrating 76 GB of data from my old (half-grapefruit style) iMac to a new Intel iMac.

After consulting with some of the leading authorities on Macs (outside of the reality-distortion field) I made the leap and bought the new Intel machine. Like all the current iMacs, it looks like a big screen (or, rather, a 20" screen embedded in a big plastic frame).

After plugging keyboard and mouse into the machine, and the machine into powerstrip, I found the On button by simply reaching out to where I thought it should be (behind the lower left corner). Once on, the machine asked if I wanted to transfer the contents of an old machine to the new using a FireWire cable. I connected my old and new machines, restarted the old machine while holding down the T key (to put it in target mode) and then clicked to start the data transfer. It said it will take about 4 hours for the 76 GB to transfer, but at the rate it's going, I'm thinking more like 1 hour.

The iMac comes with a Mighty Mouse. I used one of those for the first time last week, and was amused by its teensy track ball. I've been using a very hefty Kensington Optical Elite mouse because the height of it works well for my wrist, but I will give the Mighty Mouse a try.

While the Intel gets up to speed, I'm spiffing up the 12" PB (a refurb that shipped with outdated software) with iLife '06 and iWork '06. I also need to install a GB of additional 3rd-party RAM tomorrow so the machine can handle more graphics-intensive programs. Somewhat to my astonishment, the 12" PB was able to run a 23" external monitor with just 512 MB of RAM.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

What's hot

I keep up with several dozen blogs using the blog-reading software NetNewsWire. It lets you group the blogs you follow in folders (Seattle blogs, technology blogs, crime fiction blogs, etc.). When I'm getting ready to travel, I export the folder structure to Bloglines for anywhere access.

One of the folders I've created is for great blogs maintained by friends and colleagues. You'll find links to many of these blogs in the recently updated "hot links" section on the right side of this page. And some of these are really hot: Meg and Natalie's Cute Overload has been nominated for five bloggie awards!

Weekday wonder

OK, now I'm on vacation. Yesterday was spent on the phone, trying to schedule everything from car service (it would be nice if the driver's window could be rolled down) to vet appointments. It didn't feel much different from trying to do the same things in between meetings.

But today I got up and went out for a walk in Sunset Hill with an information architect friend. Then I came home, gathered my lists, and went out to run errands. On a weekday. When roads are driveable, parking is plentiful, stores are nearly empty, and store employees are available to answer questions. Wow, what a difference!

Errands that would have required three or four hours on a weekend (most of that spent circling clogged parking lots, squeezing my way through crowded aisles, and fidgeting in glacial checkout lines) got accomplished in less than two. There was even time to pop in to my favorite eccentric upholstery shop on Holman Road; they're going out of business, so I thanked them for past work and said goodbye.

Tomorrow, it's Thai lunch with "the noodle group" in Fremont, more errands, and maybe some gardening: My Home Depot purchase today was the long-awaited rough-terrain hand truck for moving large pots around in the garden.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Did you feel it too?

Over at Dispatches, Doug recalled the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake. I left a comment. Oddly, both Doug and I were out of town the day of the quake — we both remember trying to make contact with our spouses to make sure they were OK.