Friday, April 28, 2006

Fighting fire with...

One of the great things about living in Ballard is that the neighborhood still has "real" stores in addition to the growing number of frou-frou places and salons with names like "Beruffled" "Roodi Mop."

One of these real stores is Western Fire and Safety. I've driven by it on Market Street thousands of times, vaguely aware of fire extinguishers in the display window.

I've also been vaguely aware that somewhere in our house is a tiny fire extinguisher, lugged over here when we moved in four years ago, and probably purchased some years earlier than that.

Not good.

I looked up fire extinguishers on the web, found Fire Extinguisher: 101, took some notes about types, and made a note on my to-do list.

Eventually I located our extinguisher tucked in the back of the broom closet. The gage measuring pressure had dropped to "discard." I tossed the spent cannister in the car, and yesterday stopped by Western Fire and Safety.

I confess, I'd been afraid that by going to a serious fire extinguisher store (rather than picking up a generic at Fred Meyer) I'd feel over my head. But, no. The person who helped me was a young woman who has been in the business for years. I needed an extinguisher with a C rating for the kitchen, and one with A and B ratings for upstaris, and wasn't sure about the basement heating area and garage. She recommended the ABC combo (same price as the others) for each area.

These were a bit larger, and much nicer, than the defunct extinguisher. And, instead of being discarded, they get refilled. They also come with sturdy metal holders that attach to the wall, so the cannister doesn't end up hidden at the bottom of the broom closet.

She tagged them so I'd know when to check the pressure (once a year). She also reviewed with me how to use a fire extinguisher (not something you want to be figuring out while your kitchen is aflame). I didn't know, for instance, that you are supposed to aim at the base of the fire, not the at the flames themselves.

I went home and found good locations for the fire extinguishers, which don't exactly coordinate with most decors. The kitchen and upstairs extinguishers are concealed in closets and alcoves, but the one for the basement is mounted prominently on the basement stairway wall, also in clear view of the stove on the main floor. Now they're installed, Zorg and I both know where they are, I've put the yearly pressure check on my iCal calendar with an alarm reminder, and I hope we never use them.

I have, by the way, used one in someone else's kitchen, putting out a fire started when an old blender cord sparked and ignited some curtains.

It was kinda fun.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The ultimate t-shirt

For the past two or three years, I've been looking for plain V-neck t-shirts. J. Crew and Eddie Bauer used to make these; they were like men's gym shirts, in a variety of colors.

But in recent years, all the things called t-shirts have cutesy little cap sleeves, cling like girdles, and the V neck plunges below my bra. Worse, the material is no longer normal lightweight cotton. It's either a heavy jersey with lycra or a limp, featherweight ribbed knit that alternately clings or bags. To add insult to injury, the price for one of these V-neck t-shirts runs from a semi-reasonable $24 up to an absurd $38.

Big yuck.

I've scoured websites -- Norm Thompson, Orvis, L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, J. Jill, even the well-made but dumpy clothing at Land's End -- to no avail.

A few days ago I was reading a personality profile about a flamboyant entrepreneur who heads a company called American Apparel that makes trendy, affordable t-shirts in hip styles and colors. Oddly, American Apparel had never come up when I Googled "V-neck t-shirt." As it turns out, the American Apparel site did, indeed, have dozens of t-shirt styles in great colors, including the Fine Jersey Short Sleeve V-Neck. The price was beyond right, it was $15 a shirt!

I am writing this wearing my American Apparel t-shirt, in a very trendy slate gray. It is lightweight, non-clingy cotton, with generous sleeves and a moderate V neckline. At last!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Good ideas and bad ideas

Are you sitting down? Be grateful.

I was going to blog about the extensive April 25 New York Times story (reprinted in the Seattle P-I today) exposing plans hatched by Airbus and various client airlines to replace chair-type seating with "standing seats" (in essence, tilted body boards) enabling airlines to cram lots of additional people onto the new Airbus planes. Of course, Airbus is already busy denying it.

Instead, I'll blog about today's Wall Street Journal op-ed piece by business professor Gary Hamel. In "Management a la Google," Hamel describes four characteristics he believes will lead to continuing success for the online hydra:
  • An expansive sense of purpose

  • An organization that is flat, transparent, and non-hierarchical

  • A company-wide rule that allows developers to devote 20% of their time to any project they choose

  • Keep the bozos out and reward people who make a difference

  • The first characteristic, an expansive sense of purpose, is hardly unique to Google. But the other characteristics are rare to find in practice, particularly the final one (keep the bozos out). Most expanding organizations collect dead weight the way a black velvet jacket collects pet hair.

    Hamel explains that Google "understands that companies begin to slide into mediocrity when they start to hire mediocre people. A-level people want to work with A-level people. B-level people are threatened by class-A talent. So if you let a B-lister in the door, he or she will hire equally unremarkable colleagues."

    He's hit on a key dynamic that I've seen take teams, groups, and companies right down the drain. While individual B-listers are merely deadweight, as a group, they're poison. They actively squash, hush up, or sabotage the A-listers' work and will eventually drive the A-listers out of the company. At the end of this process, some outside analyst turns up to say wistfully "What happened?" Do you think the B-listers will tell him?

    Monday, April 24, 2006


    A team of Belgian researchers has discovered what one of my female newspaper reporter colleagues in Connecticut knew 25 years ago: Sexual cues impair men's decision-making skills.

    The scientists showed male test subjects pictures and objects before asking them to enter into a financial negotiation. Half of the men were shown pictures and objects (such as women's lingerie) with heterosexual "cues." The research found that the men who had viewed sexual cues made worse decisions during the subsequent negotiations, presumably because they were distracted.

    I remember watching Mary as she interviewed one particular town official. She sat across from him, legs crossed, skirt hiked up, batting her eyelashes for all she was worth, taking notes while her victim happily blathered out quotes that would cost him his political future.

    The only ones immune to her charms were the cops, one politician (who later revealed himself to be gay) -- and our editor. After she juxtaposed a sex offense with a parking ticket while transcribing the weekly police log (and it got into print), he fired her.

    Making the case for sentence case

    Three reasons why I favor using sentence case* (as opposed to title case) for blog headlines:

    1. Sentence case is the trend in print and on the web.

    2. It seems more credible and natural, like a person's voice. (Though, on the other hand, title case is more authoritative.)

    3. With lots of blog newsreaders, all the prospective reader sees is the headline (before clicking through). That's why I favor (potentially) more provocative headlines, which are often sentences ("Want to overthrow your dictator manager?") in sentence case rather than labels ("Overthrowing the Dictator Manager") in title case.

    Seth Godin’s blog usually illustrates the power of sentences and sentence case in blog headlines.

    *"Making the Case for Sentence Case" is title case, meaning the capitalization follows the style used for book titles; "Making the case for sentence case" is sentence case, following the style guessed it, sentences.

    Friday, April 21, 2006

    Blackbird Bistro

    We eat out occasionally but I rarely write about it because, so often, good ingredients are spoiled by pretentious seasonings or amateur cooking, or pleasant food is tainted by untrained or self-absorbed waitstaff.

    So, three cheers for the small, friendly, and highly professional Blackbird Bistro in West Seattle. Their tagline is "local, seasonal & organic flavors" and that pretty much described what we ate, from tasty greens in subtle dressings to manila clams in a nice reduction of butter and proscuitto to a steak with seasoned potatoes. Everything tasted fresh and subtle, including the desserts: vanilla bean ice cream (me) and creme brulee (Zorg).

    The Blackbird is mid-size and spacious. Even when it was full (by 6:30 on a Friday evening) the buzz of conversation was not overwhelming. Much of the seating is in high-backed booths, which enhances the sense of relative privacy.

    Top marks go to the friendly Blackbird staff, who seemed genuinely interested in how we were doing. They weren't at all put off when our party of four didn't all arrive at the same time. When I remarked that the espresso-infused vodka cocktail garnished with coffee beans I'd ordered was, well, a bit overwhelming, our waitperson offered (twice!) to replace it with a less powerful cocktail. I had to reassure her that it was not a problem.

    We certainly have our share of trendy new bistros here in Ballard, but I like the Blackbird Bistro better. The food is far superior to that of Dandelion (and less expensive), and Blackbird is more welcoming and less of a "scene" than the delicious but rather precious Volterra. Chalk one up for West Seattle.

    Thursday, April 20, 2006

    Contraltos vs. contractors

    Shortly after posting my previous entry about the loud contractors the next street over, I poked my head out the back door and heard...opera. Very loud opera.

    I realized that our neighbor Joe, who regaled trick-or-treaters with the Harry Potter score, and played The Messiah from his balcony on Christmas Eve, was addressing the construction din in his own special way.

    Unfortunately, a few minutes later the contractors cranked up a deafening rock radio station. When I drove by to run errands, I noticed that the remodel has reached the siding stage (cheap alumnum siding — ugh). Things should be getting quieter as they move to the interior phase of the project.

    Who's squawking now?

    A 2002 article in The Seattle Weekly described our neighborhood, Sunset Hill in far western Ballard, like this: "It's quiet: By day, seagulls squawk, starlings jabber, and crows forewarn; at night, the sea lions bark from Shilshole Bay."


    I stepped out onto our back patio at 10 this morning to have a cup of tea and study a book on herb gardens and was greeted by what have become the new sounds of Sunset Hill: The screeching of power saws and the pounding of nail guns. On the street behind us, a developer is raising a small house three storys in the air to create a megamansion with view. Welcome to Ground Zero of the "Supersize Me" housing movement infecting 34th Avenue NW.

    Move over, seagulls -- I'm squawking too.

    Tuesday, April 18, 2006

    And now, for something a little different

    How would you like to join the Mysterious Traveler (and Zorg) at the Northwest Folklife Festival for the third annual Folklife Breakfast, Sunday, May 28? The breakfast is a great way to start a fabulous Sunday at the festival — with plentiful early morning parking spaces and a delicious meal with Folklife performers, organizers, and supporters.

    I've been a performer, volunteer, and supporter with the Festival for more than 20 years, and would love to share some of my excitement about it with you!

    Two years ago, at the first Folklife breakfast, Yeggy Michael (now a Folklife board member) told us frankly about what happened when Folklife invited the Ethiopian, Eritrean, Somalian, Sudanese, and Kenyan communities of Seattle to put together a program for the 2004 Festival. It quickly emerged that conflicts from their African homelands continued to resonate in these communities, presenting serious barriers to cooperation. But the desire to present East African culture and art to the greater Seattle community prevailed. These communities overcame historic differences and worked together to create a powerful Horn of Africa program, a festival-within-a-festival of dancing, music, visual arts, and food. Better yet, the the Horn of Africa communities now have a continuing role in the Festival. (Tip: Check out the Kenyan Kitchen, near the Mural Amphitheater stage.)

    The happy story of the Horn of Africa presence at Folklife is just one example of the increasingly significant involvement of Seattle's ethnic and immigrant communities — African-American, Native American, Jewish, Scandinavian, and Korean, just to name a few — in Northwest Folklife and its sister festivals at Seattle Center.

    This year, Folklife has invited members of Seattle's diverse Arab communities to create the festival's 2006 featured program. As you might guess, this is a considerable undertaking in the current political climate. But that's part of why Folklife feels it is so timely to put the vast Folklife audience — more than a quarter million people — in closer touch with Arab culture.

    Please make the Arab Communities of the Pacific Northwest program a part of your Folklife experience this year, along with the Cajun dancing, the bluegrass, the Dylan tribute, the Celtic stage, the rockabilly, the contra dancing, the hip-hop lessons, and the Klezmer workshop. And please consider joining us for the breakfast on Sunday to hear some of the fascinating stories about how Folklife does what it does.

    Breakfast is on us. You'll enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at the festival and be invited to join in as a Folklife supporter and community advocate.

    Please contact me for further details or to let me know (by April 27) if you can attend, and if you'd like to bring guests (please do!). I'll see that you and your guests receive a formal invitation from Northwest Folklife in May with directions and all the essential details. I hope to breakfast with you May 28!

    Sunday, April 16, 2006

    Rain. Sun.

    Our fascination with the mystery

    Bill Muller of The Arizona Republic has an insightful piece on why we love mystery films (and the novels they're based on). [signup, no verification, required]

    Friday, April 14, 2006

    Where I went today

    Where I went in real life today: Nordic Heritage Museum (rummage sale); Gypsy Trader (consignment); Ballard Market (to pick up more matzoh -- did you know they have a "salts of the world" festival coming up next week?); Ballard Plaza Pharmacy (a compounding pharmacy -- they made up a special prescription of antibiotics in fish oil for Betaille); Curves (exercise).

    Where I went online today: Bathtub Art Museum; Potlatch 16 (signup); The Winds That Never Moderation Knew (quotations); Smile of the Day ("Are You Crazy?").

    Thursday, April 13, 2006

    What am I doing?

    First of all, a HUGE thank you to everyone who hasn't asked me what I'm doing with "all that free time" now that I've left Apple. I'm not particularly upset with folks who are's just that I don't have any one succinct answer. So, everyone gets the answer I think they're looking for, such as:

    • Catching up on major home repair and organization tasks I haven't done for the past three years. This is really scary and time-consuming and eventually will involve the plumber and the electrician.

    • Going to writing seminars to try to figure out which type of fiction writing I want to focus on in the coming months.

    • Trying out a nice 2-day-a-week writing gig for a local web marketing company — short, fun, do-able projects and great people.

    • Staying away from iChat and trying not to pay too much attention to the phones. Trying to dampen the Pavlovian response.

    • Serious cooking for large social events. I went to a fondue party (brought chocolate) and a Passover dinner (brought vegetarian matzoh ball soup for 20), and am scheduled to make Swedish meatballs to take to a confab of Zorg's World of Warcraft guild.

    • Going out to lunches and dinners with friends. Fun!

    • Attending parties and even volunteering to host one!

    • Installing and updating software on two new computers.

    • Demo-ing my Macs and .Mac.

    • Taking part in a yard sale with friends and selling furniture via Craig's List.

    • Saying "no" to offers of full-time jobs. No. No. No!

    I'd be gardening, but the weather has been damp, windy, and chilly. Brrr!

    Tuesday, April 11, 2006


    Monday I attended the Golden Tennis Shoe Awards, an unusual luncheon event that is part fundraiser for Senator Patty Murray and part community recognition event for outstanding (but previously unsung) good Samaritans.

    Senator Maria Cantwell opened the program, introducing Murray. Unfortunately, Cantwell speaks just like a politician -- with that mind-numbing half shout, half chant that would make a starving Doberman suspicious of someone offering a steak. Murray, on the other hand, speaks like someone resuming a great talk with a roomful of friends. She comes across smart, diplomatic, and respectful of her audience.

    Check out the stories about the award winners (currently on Murray's campaign homepage).

    After the awards, political humorist Al Franken entertained. His is an odd mix of edgy humor and dead-serious political advocacy. He ended his talk on a whimsical note, insisting that the Democrats' platform for 2006 should include the manufacture of a dark chocolate-covered Almond Joy bar so we could enjoy both the almonds of the Almond Joy and the dark chocolate of the Mounds bar. A good idea, and probably more likely to happen than universal health care, a balanced budget, and an end to the war in Iraq. [NOTE: There was a dark chocolate Almond Joy produced in 2004 or 2005 as a limited edition, and a few bars are still available...check on eBay.]

    Sunday, April 09, 2006


    When I encounter something really weird, like a cherimoya, it makes me feel much better when someone else says they've seen it, too.

    I bought one at the Ballard Market last week and Zorg and I had it for dessert. Great taste, way too many big seeds.

    Saturday, April 08, 2006

    Fremont. Rocks.

    I have a whole new appreciation for the Fremont neighborhood now that my schedule allows me to do more than zoom over, hunt frantically for parking, race to a lunch meeting, and then fight the road-repair traffic back out again.

    Friday afternoon I parked on the Fremont-Ballard border and strolled East along N. 36th to meet friends for lunch at the Tawon Thai in the heart of Fremont.

    I noticed tall piles of ominous-looking stones on the muddy parking strip and realized that the cairns were being guarded by a wild-looking, weather-beaten man sitting on a bench and growling incoherently. He was apparently the artist. He had placed strips of masking tape on the sidewalk at the entrance and exit to his display, warning pedestrians not to disturb the rocks. I certainly didn't.

    After lunch (discussions of movies, the internet, web design, local real estate development, and books), two of us headed back along N 35th. A Starbucks employee carrying a tray of drink samples offered us iced green-tea lattes and they were wonderful enough that we turned around and headed back around the corner to Starbucks to get full-size versions of the drink and sit and chat for more than an hour.

    When we parted ways, I stopped in at Frankie and got a lovely pair of what I hope will be dancing shoes, a fanciful European brand called Campers I'd never heard of before. So, can you guess which of these Campers I bought? Yeah, right.

    On the next block over, I checked out a store selling exotic import items. One of the saleswomen was pounding nails into the wall to hang some items. An employee from the hair salon next door rushed in, looking distinctly annoyed, and explained that all the mirrors on the salon's side of the wall were bouncing up and down. "Oh, wow, really?" said the surprised and clueless saleswoman.

    It was on to Fetch, a pet supply boutique with a canine emphasis. I did, however, see some really fabulous pet beds in washable faux suede (aka ultrasuede) in designer colors (purple, lime) that any cat would be delighted to shed on. Finally, I swung by The Refeathered Nest at 309 N. 36th. It's a small and very tasteful store selling "reclaimed" home furnishings, definitely worth a visit.

    Friday, April 07, 2006

    Friday catty blogging

    Instead of the traditional Friday cat blogging, we'll have Friday catty blogging, featuring the Washington Barbies. Different sites have variations on the list, so check out as many as you can stand.

    The Northwest Barbies are FINALLY Available

    Yay! A new iteration of the Washington Barbies!

    Since North Seattle is represented only by the Laurelhurst Barbie, I'll add a few:

    Ballard Barbie: A tall, sturdy blonde doll with khaki slacks (Nordstrom), a handknit Norwegian sweater, bright blue Gortex windbreaker, and clogs. Two blonde kids and a mini van. Matching Ken doll comes with an older Volvo, brand-new lawnmower, and a fully-equipped woodshop.

    Fremont Barbie: A petite version of the Barbie doll with long, dark hair, lots of eye makeup, and a subtle tatoo. Optional face painting. Basic outfit is faded jeans, a black top, hand-made jewelry, and a big woven shoulder bag from a third world country. Additional outfits include belly dance costume and colorful tiered skirt with coordinated halter top. Shoes are optional. One or two kids (she's not always sure). Ken also has long hair and he, too, could be wearing a skirt. Or a utilikilt. Vehicle? Bio-diesel vehicle for her, mountain bike or unicycle for him.

    Green Lake Barbie: This Barbie comes equipped with a cotton/Lycra exercise outfit for walking around Green Lake and a Starbucks card to keep her in grande soy lattes. Accessories include small to mid-size dog and identically dressed Midge doll for accompanying her on walks. Ken? She's all about looking for Ken.

    Wednesday, April 05, 2006

    Bright idea

    I stopped by Limback Lumber in Ballard today to buy a wood closet rod and, as usual when I visit a great hardware store, I made an impulse purchase. This time it was the Headlite G2 LED, a baseball cap with an LED flashlight.

    Twenty-four hours earlier, this would never have interested me. But after an encounter with a 4" roofing nail in a dark corner of our attic yesterday (followed by an emergency room visit for a tetanus shot and the most expensive shampoo of my life) the Headlite seemed just the thing. Wearing the hat, I ventured back into the attic today to search out and pound down a few other 4" nails left by the *&$#%@ roofers.

    Sunday, April 02, 2006

    Best April Fool's blog

    The man behind Apple's reality distortion field reveals all.

    Notes on the media

    Last night Zorg and I caught a new film at our neighborhood theater: V for Vendetta. The odd title (it sounds like a Sue Grafton mystery) is also misleading (a vendetta is Italian, and personal; this was British, and political) but I thought the film, with Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, and Stephen Fry, was beautiful, troubling, and thought-provoking. The reviews have been mixed; I'm finding these days that films with mixed reviews are the best ones. It generally means there's enough substance to get people thinking, talking -- and disagreeing. Irish actor Stephen Rea plays the cop with the conscience, caught between the terrorist/freedom fighter and the dystopian fascist government.

    Prefer to wait for V for Vendetta to come out on DVD for home viewing? Get your dude den ready.