Monday, February 28, 2005

Dragostea Din Tei

No, that's not a typo. It's a hit song by the young Romanian pop trio O-Zone from their album DiscO-Zone. It's also been a hit of sorts for a New Jersey teenager named Gary Broisma who, for a goof, filmed himself with a webcam, dancing and lip-syncing "Dragostea Din Tei" in his computer chair.

The clip of Broisma's performance (called "The Numa Numa Song," after lyrics from the song's chorus) has been one of the hottest downloads on the Internet (since early December). It was initially discovered by a couple of Irish bloggers who mistakenly identified Broisma as "some Dutch kid."

The music video by O-Zone isn't bad, either. It's a delightful techo-dance tune, and they're cute. You'll find several versions of the song on iTunes.

An NBC4.TV poll found that 83% of NBC News website visitors prefer Broisma's exuberant and ironic version.

The Wall Street Journal had a rather touching article (subscription required) yesterday about how the viral popularity of the lip-sync/dance clip has not been a positive experience for Broisma. A bright, mischevious but not particularly directed young man, he was described as first enjoying media attention, but now avoiding it and appearing to be somewhat depressed. I'm sure there is a complexity of issues going on here. Broisma's to be congratulated for not turning himself into another William Hung but I have to admit, I'd love to see him onstage with the charming Romanians. O-Zone performed in Manhattan (and on the Today Show) last week...but no sign of Broisma.

Broisma reminded me quite a bit of Mike Daisey, the ex-Amazon employee and writer/director/actor who turned the saga of his employment during the Dotcom frenzy into the successful play "My Life in Dog Years." I sure hope this eventually turns out well for Broisma. He's too talented to be left working at Staples.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Calling in the artillery

The Solo Pet Motorized Electronic Pet Door is guaranteed raccoon-proof. And look who's doing the testimonial.

Coonzilla returns

We battled cat-door savvy raccoons at the old Shady Rest in Wallingford for years, with considerable success, but the raccoons over here in Ballard are a whole new adversary.

Our electro-magnetic cat door requires a magnet (worn on the cat's collar) as an entry key. The door has a plexiglas flap that swings freely in the outgoing direction as the cat leaves the house but has a magnet-triggered plastic bolt that prevents entry by any animal lacking the key. In Wallingford, the raccoons learned to exploit the weakness in the system (the free-swinging exit) by hooking a claw under the flap, swinging it out and towards them (as if a cat were leaving) and ducking in under the open flap. We foiled them first by changing the control settings so that a second plastic bolt prevented the free-swinging exit. We then installed a second cat door. Under the side-by-side cat doors system, cats used a magnet to enter and to leave, and no doors were free-swinging in any direction.

The Wallingford raccoons responded by ripping the control panel off the second cat door (since it was reversed, the controls were on the exterior), removing the batteries that controlled the lock system, and then ripping the entire cat door assembly out of the door. We fought back by reinstalling the door and covering the controls and the frame of the cat door with one-by-fours screwed into the door itself. Yes, our backdoor in Wallingford looked like something from the set of a made-for-TV tornado disaster film, but we'd won. (I'll spare you the episode that involved the coyote-urine raccoon repellent.)

After realizing we had a nightly visitor here in Ballard, we ordered a second cat door and, while awaiting delivery, locked the current basement cat door so it did not swing out at all, magnet or no magnet. The Ballard raccoon didn't waste any time on skirmishes or vandalism. Sometime during the night, he got a grip on the plexiglas cat door flap and twisted and yanked it until it popped out, right over both plastic locking bolts. This morning I found the flap twisted off-center and jammed in the wide-open position. In the basement, cat food dishes were empty, water bowls muddied, and bags of cat food ravaged.

We've scrapped our plan to reinstitute the "double uni-directional cat door" that worked so well in Wallingford. Mere plastic bolts don't stop Coonzilla. Our fallback plan is to board up the cat door opening for a few weeks and hope the raccoon gives up and moves on easier basements during that time. And, yes, we are going to blockade the door up from the inside so the raccoon can't bring along his little Makita and unscrew the boards.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

There's a word for it

According to WordSpy, what I've been doing to our dining room for the past week is undecorating. And, I apparently have great aptitude as a house fluffer, since my recommendation to friends preparing their houses for sale is always "get rid of the aluminum screen door." But I have yet to go in for extreme ironing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Somerville Gates

I was wondering what to blog about. Then Chris turned me on to Hargo's the Somerville Gates. This 2,400-square-foot installation is not to be missed, and will be up only for a short period. My favorite view: the Media Gates.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

A "Ten Things" list

According to some of the livejournal blogerati the latest meme (infectious idea) going around involves listing 10 things you've done that your friends probably haven't. On one hand there's a rather off-putting "nyah, nyah" tone to this, and, on the other hand, many of the things I've done that are that, uh, distinguishing aren't necessarily things I'd want to talk about.

That said, here's my (expurgated) list of Ten Things I've Done That You Probably Haven't. I can hardly wait to see Zorg's list! [here it is, Zorg's List, and it's a lot more exotic than mine!]
  1. Herniated a disc by crawling under a hot tub and changing the tub filter.
  2. Worked my way through college as an art class model.
  3. Accidentally ordered a small octopus for lunch (I ate it).
  4. Lost a Virginia high school state speaking competition because the judges didn't like my Northern accent.
  5. Had the door to my apartment smashed into splinters in the middle of the night by someone I'd never met.
  6. Got two free cab rides in one year in Manhattan.
  7. Published (online) a comprehensive survey of mystery novels about cats.
  8. Wrote a graduate school thesis on the drug paraphernalia industry.
  9. Traveled with Stokely Carmichael.
  10. Used a minature video camera in 1968.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Googling by the (UPC) numbers

A wheel broke on our second-hand patio lounge chair. Rubber tread, plastic hub (shattered) to find another one? Dreading a Saturday spent schlepping from Fred Meyer to Home Depot to Lowe's to True Value with no real hope of success, I picked up the broken wheel to put it in my car as a sample. There, attached to the side of the wheel, was a barcode sticker. I thought, wouldn't it be great if you could just enter the barcode into Google search and find the item online? At least I'd know the name and manufacturer of what I was looking for.

I Google searched first for web pages about barcode searching and found (though not very easily) an excellent page on using Google and Yahoo searching for arcane purposes. And discovered to my amazement that all you need to do is type the barcode number into the regular Google search box and click. (Other numbers, such as patents, need keywords as well.)

So I typed in the barcode number and, like magic, Google yielded two sites that sell what was revealed to be the "6-inch by 1.5-inch plastic 50# Diamond Tread wheel by Arnold." Two wheels (for the day when the other wheel falls off the lounge chair) plus shipping totaled $14 at, and I could pay using my PayPal account. Adios, Home Depot! My Saturday is free.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


Management guru Tom Peters has a blog. Talk about upbeat! He's more than used up his quota of exclamation marks.

That's what I like about the Web

...web sites devoted to exposing the manufacturers of crummy overpriced appliances. A little Web research (including Epinions) saved us from buying an expensive Neptune washer from Maytag. The company had ignored customer complaints about mildew to the point that a class-action lawsuit was underway.

Here's a woman who's put together a resource page for consumers afflicted by malfunctioning Kenmore Calypsos, compounded by Sears' so-called "customer service."

At Macworld San Francisco this year (and at the subsequent Blog Business Summit in Seattle) Steve Brobak told a fabulous storyabout using a blog to get back at a hotel that advertised "free wireless Internet" but then charged him for it. After they refused to adjust his bill, he blogged about their deception. Then he spent $5 to buy a Google AdSense ad warning people about the hotel's deceptive practices and linked it to the blog entry. Each time someone Googled the offending hotel they got, alongside their search results, Brobak's ad. Not surprisingly, it took only a day or two for the hotel to hear about it, contact him, and agree to fix their misleading advertising.

You make my coat nervous

Here's how you can tell. (Warning: adult content. Shocking, in fact.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

More alarms at night

As a child, my favorite story was Thurber's "The Night the Bed Fell." As an adult, I've always had an interest in investigating strange sounds in the night.

Tonight I came back from a long day in San Jose, miserably sick with a cold. I lured all the cats indoors and got into a nice hot bath with a mystery novel. Almost immediately I heard a strange sound outside the bathroom window. It was midway beween the squeak of an animal and the shriek of a car beeper. It would sound a couple times, then be quiet for five minutes, then sound again. After about a half hour of this, I was getting concerned. The house next door to us is in-between owners, and unoccupied, and I wondered if an animal were stuck in the house, or in a trap. Finally I got out of the tub, put on a fleece robe and sheepskin boots, armed myself with a large flashlight--and woke up Zorg. He put on sweats and slippers and we crept down to the basement and out through the laundry room to the backyard, making sure none of the cats followed us. As we stood in the side yard under the bathroom window in the freezing cold, shining the light around, I felt like an idiot. Then, we heard it.


But it was much quieter, a good distance away. We went out to the driveway, and heard it again. Finally, I shone my light down the alley and there they were: a pair of gigantic raccoons, now growling and muttering as they scampered off down the road. Zorg believes that I interrupted their Valentine's Day celebration. I think they should go celebrate somewhere else. I suspect they are the same raccoons who rampaged through the garage and ate the cat food last week.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Roomba madness

A few weeks ago, on the advice of a friend who knows both technology and housekeeping, I purchased a robotic floor cleaner known as the Roomba. I was in the middle of drafting a product review for this blog when my friend Nina came by to visit. Before I could give her a demo of the , we heard a cheery series of beeps behind us and turned around just in time to see it come roaring out from under the buffet (where its home base charger is positioned) and go zooming across the dining room. It had a small stuffed mouse riding on top of it and our cats Kaylee and Zoe in cautious pursuit.

"That's the Roomba," I explained to Nina, and then we both lost it.

(Kaylee had apparently tossed the mouse onto the docked Roomba, then followed it aboard, and stepped on the "Power" and "Clean" buttons in sequence. This caused the Roomba to back out of the dock and embark on a cleaning mission, mouse and all.)

Owning a Roomba is full of surprises, some good, some bad, and some hilarious.

Getting started with the Roomba is much like trying out any new housecleaning service: In the beginning, you may spend as much time preparing the room and instructing the Roomba as you would have spent doing the cleaning yourself. Is it worth it? Maybe.

It's good, but limited.
The Roomba performs best on hard surfaces (wood, linoleum, and tile) and it excels at spot cleaning of things like dust and crumbs. It doesn't do shag carpeting, and doesn't like clambering from a hard surface up onto the higher surface of a thick Oriental rug. Fringe? Hah! That way lies madness. The bottom line is that you'll want to keep your traditional vacuum, and use it regularly. The Roomba is best for a quick cleanup before the guests arrive, or cleanup after a cooking, home repair, or crafts project.

It's lightweight and energetic.
We have a small house with hardwoods, and a fully charged Roomba can easily clean a whole floor of the house without running out of juice. Since it's lightweight, it's perfect for spot-cleaning. Pick it up, put it down, and push the Power, Clean and Spot buttons. No lugging around a heavy vacuum cleaner, changing attachments, and reeling out cords to clean up a dusting of flour in the kitchen or gift-wrapping scraps in the diningroom.

It doesn't do it your way.
Yes, the Roomba would drive your control-freak mother nuts. And the first time you see it in action, you'll discover just how much of her controlling personality you inherited. It sets about cleaning a room in a zig zag pattern that appears maddeningly random to you, but trust the programmers: It works. Let it zig and zag and zig and zag the result will be a well-cleaned floor. You heard me. If you want it to decrease, rather than add to, your workload, you'll have to leave it alone and trust it.

It's intelligent, but only up to a point.
The Roomba is a perfect example of the difference between intelligence and judgment. It gets the floor clean, avoids going over the edge of the stairs into the basement, and finds its way back to the power dock when the batteries are running low--pretty bright. But it's not prepared in any way to either handle or avoid the unexpected. If your cat has a tendency to glorp up its breakfast under the dining room table, or your puppy has accidents, you'd better get there before the Roomba does, or you'll be cleaning both floor and Roomba.

Don't expect to stay in the room where the Roomba is buzzing and clattering away. It sounds like a large child's toy. You'd be better off going in to the next room and washing the windows, dusting the lampshades, or maybe cleaning the sink. While listening to your iPod.

Then, it's your turn to clean.

The Roomba cleaned your house, now you get to empty the Roomba (over a kitchen-size garbage can) and remove and clean the Roomba brushes. The Roomba is a floor sweeper, not a vacuum, and it doesn't use a bag. I found emptying it of cat food crumbs and cleaning its brushes of cat fur more complicated and less pleasant than switching out a vacuum bag.

It's cute.
It's small, easy to store, and it comes in a both neutral and bold colors. I purchased the new model called the Roomba Discovery, in an iMac-like blue/grey and white. Another one of the new ones is the Roomba Red, in a shiny, retro finish. What's not to like about this relative of R2D2, whirling about, nuzzling your baseboards, and starting and ending its cleaning with happy little arpeggios of beeping?

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Kitchen capers

Don't let any recent informative or thoughtful blog entries fool you. Since getting the Wolf stove two weeks ago, most of what I've been doing outside of work hours is playing in the kitchen.

New cookware. I tossed out several pots and pans that were so dented they rattled on the stovetop. And got rid of a warped 15" pizza pan. Then I went to Craig's List to troll for a deal on the pots and pans endorsed by the Cook's Illustrated testing kitchen: All-Clad stainless steel. My timing was good: I hooked up with a guy who had gotten a set of All-Clad as some kind of sales incentive at his job, and we met in the parking lot of the Ballard QFC Wednesday to exchange cash for cookware. The set has four pieces: a little 1-quart pan, a 10-inch frying pan, a 4-quart saucier (looks like a bowl with a handle) with cover, and a 6-quart saute pan. The 6-quart is so ridiculously immense (you could put three big roasting chickens in it) that I immediately listed it for sale on eBay. This morning I cooked a cheese omelette in the 10-inch frying pan. I expected it to cook up quickly, evenly, and heat through nicely, but the big surprise was that it didn't stick to the pan. It moved around when I shook the pan, and let me fold it over with no problem. I was entranced. Fortunately, Cook's Illustrated endorses basic Pyrex as the best ovenware, so there are no expensive purchases required for baking. Tonight I brought my 30-year-old wok up from the pantry, removed some gunk, and made moo goo gai pan, complete with fresh water chestnuts (from the Ballard Market) and velveted chicken. Zorg, who is suffering from a cold and couldn't taste a thing, commented on the nice texture of the chicken. Which is exactly the point of velveting.

New ingredients. Five-year-old beignet mixes? Yech. I cleaned out the pantry, tossing out rancid grains, flour and mixes that had followed me over from the old house, some four years ago. Then went out and bought barley and bulghur wheat.

Sharp knives. Our knives, a varied assortment of mid-range items from cook shops and yard sales, were duller than the Lawrence Welk Show. Some months back, I'd been at the dry cleaners and noticed a mobile knife-sharpening service working on the tailor's shears. I found their card, called them up, and they came over during the week and sharpened four knives, a cleaver, three pairs of scissors, the garden loppers and two pairs of garden pruners, all for $35. Snip! Slash! Swoosh!

New recipes. Back in the days when we had the O'Keefe and Merritt stove, I had been developing a FileMaker Pro database of recipes. I'm working on it again, and hope to have a Shady Rest West Cookbook ready by the holidays. This is just too much fun!

Blogging between the covers

Ever thought about turning your blog, or the best entries from it, into a hard-bound book? BlogBinders does it. Philipp Lenssen, who write Google Blogscoped, shares his experience.

Blog at your own risk

Eric Scobie, who does a much-watched corporate blog for Microsoft, comments very perceptively on the recent firing of Mark Jen, who'd been a Google corporate blogger. Scobie concludes:

"Every blogger has a knob to turn when he/she writes. One direction is 'more interesting' and the other direction is 'safer.' You gotta decide where to turn that knob."

When I get the occasional nastygram about one of my blog entries, it's a reminder that blogging is not like being a journalist. You don't have tough editors, powerful publishers, and a phalanx of corporate attorneys to tell your critics to go pound sand.

History tablecloth, drift table, and more

And I thought the Roomba was eccentric. Check out Electronic Furniture for the Curious Home.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Northwest Flower and Garden Show

The weekday crowd at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show (at the Convention Center through Sunday) is a mellow assortment of (mostly gray-haired) gardening devotees. I took a vacation day today so I could join them; anything to avoid the weekend crush of wealthy couples on the prowl to hire the trendiest garden designers in the region.

This year none of the exhibits is particularly memorable or outragous, but several are worth study. For the ecologically conscious, "Feel the Heat," and for the modern garden fan, "Figure and Form in the Garden."

Here are two albums of unedited photos I took. You'll find pictures of the competitions (floral arrangements, container gardens, and full-sized gardens) in Part 1, and highlights of the commercial booths in Part 2. These albums are best viewed by clicking the slideshow icon at the top to see the full-size images.

Highlights of the commercial booths (see the Part 2 photos) include the delightful garden sculpture of Phillip Glashoff and stained-glass patio tables by Karen Seymour (Karen is also selling her new how-to book, with comes complete with CD).

So what did I buy? Afraid it was not very dramatic: One of those 75-foot-long coiled garden hoses for small gardens; a little "noodle" sprinkler; an $8 hellebore to replace the expensive one that (gulp) vanished during the fence renovation project; a tiny $5 Australian bush mint they assured me will be huge by summer; an aluminum extension pruner to prune the top of the pear tree, and Karen's Seymour's stained-glass book (mentioned above). However, I am thinking about buying the recycled metal fence section that appears in the picture of the ReStore booth in the "Part 2" photo album. I took measurements, and will be out in the back yard tomorrow seeing if it will fit. Any opinions?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

What flower is your HTML?

This site turns URLs into flowers. Here's the flower for The Mysterious Traveler Sets Out.

Quality content on the web

For the past three years, I've had a paid subscription to the electronic newsletter Netsurfer Digest. The monthly digest points to substantive articles and websites on a wide range of topics, many, but not all, about high tech. It's well worth the $20 a year.

Today's issue points to an article by TechWeb columnist Mitch Wagner, explaining RSS (rich site summary) technology and why an increasing number of people are using it.

How common are RSS feeds? A few months ago, I'd visit a blog or site and then try to subscribe to it with NetNewsWire Lite (an excellent free desktop-based newsreader for the Mac). But often the site lacked the RSS code necessary to let NetNewsWire track it. Today, I'd say that more than 90 percent of the blogs and sites I visit have installed RSS feeds. (Installing an RSS feed can be as simple as pasting a line of code into your blog template.)

Wagner recommends a Web-based newsreader, Bloglines. Using a Web-based aggregator, instead of a desktop one, makes sense if you use multiple computers (home and work, for instance) but want to be able to keep your RSS reading in sync. He's got me curious enough to take a look and see if Bloglines is Mac-friendly.

By the way, today I spent quite a bit of time at Doug Plummer's blog, thoughtful writing (and stunning images) by a brilliant photographer.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

More caching adventures

Today we went off in search of the locationless "Terra" cache again, this time in Seattle. The plan was to walk to Fremont, but halfway there we got caught in a squall. We came home and changed clothes, then drove to Fremont and found a cutesy card shop at the address that some years ago had apparently housed an establishment called "Terra Cotta."

So, still no Terra cache. Zorg says he has completely lost faith in Dex directory listings, where he'd gotten the list of Seattle area establishments with "Terra" in the name.

Today's pizza hunt was more successful. We found decent slices at Mad Pizza in Fremont. The crust is truly superb, light and crisp, though the red sauce is dominated by bitter-tasting dried oregano. Frustrating--that would be so easy to fix!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Portland adventure

Today I had my introduction to terracaching and geocaching, Zorg's newest hobbies. Geocaching bills itself as "the sport where you are the search engine," in which case I probably need a tuneup.

Caching starts with someone hiding a box of goodies, including a log book, and recording the cache by GPS identity at one of the official caching sites. The participants, who register with one of the sites and carry GPS devices, go in search of the cache. When they find it, they sign the log, and when they get home they go online to record the find.

We were doing a variant of terracaching in which you look for something that has no definite location. Such as a Jeep completely covered in mud. Or a sign that includes the word "Terra." To document your find, you take a picture of it, including in the picture the coordinates displayed on your GPS device.

After a visit to Zorg's grandmother, we spent the afternoon looking for something called Antica Terra in Portland. Zorg had chosen it because he thought it might be an antique store, and thus appealing to me. Eventually we arrived at the address, in a picturesque neighborhood just a few blocks from a not-so-picturesque neighborhood. It was an unmarked residence. Hmmm. The phone number for Antica Terra had been changed, and when we called the new number, we got the home office of the owner of a winery...called Antica Terra. He sounded puzzled, but we didn't try to explain.

Poor Zorg. My luck was even worse, because we found the pizza place I'd been looking for (routine restaurant hunting, not terracaching) and it turned out to be utterly undistinguished, except for the salad.

Friday, February 04, 2005

They're everywhere

Dave Winer, godfather of blogging, on the prevalence of iPods on Manhattan: "Walking through the city is like walking through an Apple ad."

Winer has a podcast in that same blog entry you can listen to; it reminds me of This American Life, though that may not be what he intends. If you want to listen to podcasts, and you're a Mac user, Dave recommends Podcast Tuner, available in beta Feb. 8.

Just got an email saying that my iPod shuffle is in the mail--wearable music, yeah! Now I'll be well dressed for my trip to New York in April.