Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Patio's done!

Big improvement. Here are the before and after shots:

$5 off your $20 purchase at Epilogue Books

Epilogue Books on Market Street in Ballard is having a Dec. 10 all-day open house with everything in the store 20 percent off. They have a nice mix of used and remaindered books, in very fine condition. They also have a holiday discount coupon that customers have been invited to forward to friends. So, download it here and enjoy Epilogue.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Help! I'm stuck in the San Jose airport

What, I thought, could have been worse than this morning's flight to San Jose from Seattle, packed to the gills with people who seemed to have been eating garlic-laced turkey for the past several days? Followed by an hour-long taxi line and a van driver who didn't seem to have any idea where she was going, it was one of the worst trips down here I've had in the past five years.

This evening, when I arrived at the airport for my return flight, I was thrilled to see just a few dozen folks in the waiting area for the Seattle flight. Unfortunately, the plane itself is missing in action.

I still have a Boingo internet account, which can be reactivated on a monthly basis. I'm logged in, and, I guess, will get to work on various projects after I've finished blogging. I'm hoping that there will be plenty of room on the plane and I can sleep on the way to Seattle. Unless, of course, it arrives with hordes of travelers who are staying on the flight...Arggggh!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Too cute

A graphic design friend of mine is involved in the launch of Cute Overload, a site featuring incredibly cute photos of fuzzy animals, plus a design analysis of what constitutes cute.

It has one definite advantage over other "cute animal" sites: All the photos are in focus and properly exposed.

Where do we go from here?

Here's an excellent interview with Mark Hallenbeck, the Director of the Washington State Transportation Center (TRAC) at the University of Washington about Seattle's transportation woes. And keep in mind, this was before the two monorail trains got stuck together this past weekend!

Video conferencing, family style

My late grandfather used to tell us that in our lifetimes we'd be able to talk on the phone and see the person we were talking with.

A few minutes ago, my computer announced that I had an audio iChat invitation from his daughter (my 87-year-old mother) in Florida. I answered, and she was just thrilled to have discovered what is essentially free long-distance phone service. (She'd "called" to tell me that her new Kensington mouse had arrived.)

If my mom gets an iSight camera (such as I have) we will have free video conferencing -- just the service her dad predicted.

For anyone wondering what on earth I'm talking about: iChat for Mac OS X is a free download from Apple. The text instant messaging and audio versions work with Mac OS X; to use the video version, you need the latest version of Mac OS X, v10.4 "Tiger" and a webcam like the iSight. To IM or conference with iChat, log in with an AIM account name or create a trial .Mac account and log in with your .Mac account name. You get to keep the name and use iChat even after the .Mac trial expires.

iChat instant messaging is also great for exchanging files. You can drag and drop graphics or text files right into the message field of your chat and the other person can open them immediately and discuss the contents with you. I use this technique quite a bit for reviewing layouts with graphic designers.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

A banner week for letters to the editor

Collision detection reprints a short-but-sweet letter that appeared in Vanity Fair in rebuttal to some egocentric blathering from celebrity Paris Hilton's sister Nicky.

The Zorg called my attention to this even shorter gem in the Monday Seattle Times:
"Medicare: proof that complexity doesn't always imply intelligent

—Ray Hamlin, Burien

Kaylee using the "Go-Meow" Guide

Friday, November 25, 2005

Close cover before striking

About 20 years ago, while paging through a catalog, I came across a frame for displaying matchbook covers. Since my father had a big drawerfull of matchbooks from the 50s and 60s (my mom was always after him to toss them), I gave him the frame for Christmas. He put some beautiful matchbooks in the display. I'm not sure how he chose them, but it looks as though he picked ones from his travels for the Office of Naval Research and NASA — the majority of them from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and various desert test stations in the Southwest. There is also a nice group from posh restaurants in Washington, D.C.

I look at these covers and I'm taken back to the era of the Cold War, men wearing fedoras, cocktail lounges, cool jazz, and Raymond Chandler. The cover for the Blue Fox in San Francisco opens to give the address of "659 MERCHANT STREET, OPPOSITE THE MORGUE." Somehow, I don't think "THE MORGUE" was a proto-Goth club.

Here are a few of my favorites:

The California Hotel, San Bernardino.
There are similar covers showing Motel Freso (in Fresno) and Furnace Creek, a hotel in Death Valley.

The Porte-Avions Bearn (aircraft carrier). There were fewer European matchbooks than I'd expected; the other one was from the Grand Hotel National Luzerne. My father was so impressed by the Grand Hotel that he insisted that we all stay there in a suite in 1984, when I was living in Europe and he brought my mom over on her first trip overseas. It was a pretty spectacular place, with Oriental rugs in every room, and a waiter who brought me breakfast in bed.

The Balkan Room, Washington, D.C. I don't remember my dad mentioning the Balkan Room, though he did talk about the Roumanian Inn. These were the days of three-martini lunches!

Lulu Belle, Scottsdale, AZ.
The interior text on this matchbook describes it as "Show place of Scottsdale, the West's most Western town" and goes on to promise "Food and Fun." Hmm...

Water Gate Inn on the Potomac, Washington D.C.
This Water Gate preceded the Watergate business complex where all the Nixon-era skullduggery took place. My parents took me to this Pennsylvania Dutch restaurant a few times; it was famous for its popovers. The Water Gate Inn was demolished in 1966 to make way for the Kennedy Center, but the popovers live on at the sister restaurant, Normandie Farm.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

What to bring to the feast


How can you not like a holiday that has a standard menu requiring minimal advance thought? At the worst, it's: Go to supermarket, pick up obvious, well-labeled ingredients, cook standard dishes on autopilot, follow familiar streets (over river, through woods) to relatives' house, nod agreeably at whatever people say, and eat.

If you feel creative, and are considering squash chiffon pie instead of pumpkin pie, you probably won't get extra points. Think about it: Haven't you heard more stories about Thanksgiving cooking disasters (read on) than stories about brilliant and original creations? There is a reason why we are still eating many of the same dishes served by the Pilgrims (with perhaps the addition of the marshmallows in the yams).

At Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for a relaxing, guilt-free holiday, for our good health, enjoyable jobs, fantastic friends, happy families, and last but not least, our wonderful neighborhood.

And I'm thankful for the memories of some truly distinctive Thanksgiving disasters. Here are a couple of my favorites:

  • 1964 (or thereabouts) - I wandered into my aunt and uncle's elegant dining room, minutes before we were going to be called to the beautifully appointed table. My aunt Arv was in the kitchen, whipping mashed potatoes in her KitchenAid mixer. My uncle Bob was sitting cross-legged on the floor in the diningroom, next to the buffet. Huh? It seems he'd placed the china tray with the 20-pound turkey on a swing-up wing of the buffet that had not been securely braced; it had promptly swung back down, dumping the turkey onto the floor and covering the rug with juice and stuffing. Bob was carefully spooning stuffing back into the turkey. I was not the sort of child given to yelling "Hey! Bob dropped the turkey." Instead, I went back into the family room where all the guests were enjoying appetizers and cocktails, and quietly told my father what had happened. He picked up his camera and we both tiptoed back into the diningroom, where he carefully focused, then yelled "Hey! Bob!" and got a memorable picture. (The turkey made it to the table, and tasted, we thought, particularly delicious. "It's the rug fibers in the stuffing," my cousin Buck assured us.)

  • 1987 (give or take a year) - I had set up a particularly nice table for a dozen friends at the Shady Rest, my Wallingford bungalow, with a blue plaid tablecloth, heavy wine goblets, colorful Stangl dinnerware, and, as I recall, a pretty decent turkey with stuffing for both the pro-oyster and anti-oyster contingents. All went well until we reached dessert. One of the gourmets among us had brought a new-fangled whipped cream canister with various downpointing levers and spouts. My friend Jim, fiddling with the controls, successfully sprayed gobs of whipped cream not in the direction of his pie but in the direction of Nina's suede skirt. Was Roger standing by with his camera? You bet he was.

    The moral of these stories: Have a great Thanksgiving, and don't forget to take along a camera.
  • Monday, November 21, 2005


    I'm feeling so hip -- I was invited to a Frappr group! But what's so weird about the invite is that it came from one of the least techie, most touchy-feeling web groups I know, the Yahoo Deaf White Cats group. Yeah, Deaf White Cats!

    If you're exploring Frappr, you might look for me on there as Mysterious Traveler.

    In a fog

    Seattle is apparently experiencing some kind of annual weather event in which cold damp fog enshrouds the neighborhoods. It certainly helped cast a pall over the "before" pictures I took this weekend for our patio project. Our backyard, which looks rather sweet and whimsical in the summer, barely even qualifies as "shabby chic" in November. And after we moved all the glazed pots and white metal patio furniture out of the way, the result was plain, unadulterated "shabby." In fact, it's so grim I don't plan to post the "before" pictures until there are some "after" pictures to go with them. We're thinking that'll be around December 5.

    And, speaking of fog, Zorg and I went to our first round of holiday events Saturday night. I discovered two things:

  • I have the best holiday outfit I've had in a long, long time

  • We are both dangerously out of practice at swilling cocktails and grazing through the evening on salty little hors d'oeuvres and cholesterol laden mini-desserts while beaming at people we barely know and carrying on conversations in loud rooms.

  • There were moments the following day when we each thought we were going to expire (though the other one was usually able to offer reassurance that the end was not imminent). I was barely able to get my act together in time to meet my friend Sharon to shop the Best of the Northwest crafts extravaganza. But I'm glad I did. We had a delightful time, and I purchased the perfect evening bag to round out my holiday outfit. How perfect is this bag? When I'm not wearing it, it doubles as artwork you can hang on the wall.

    Sharon brought me the 1970s-era KitchenAid mixer I'd spotted on Craig's List at an estate sale near her neighborhood. She was able to purchase a few things at the estate sale as well, so everyone came out ahead. The mixer is in the kitchen, waiting for a test drive. It's one heavy, serious piece of equipment.

    Friday, November 18, 2005

    In San Jose, with shrimp

    Last night a group of us from work went to something called The Viking Store (kitchenware) for a cooking class. We made a Mediterranean salad (vegetables, pita, and dressing), steak with an herbed butter sauce, oven-baked seasoned potatoes, and ice cream with Jim Beam caramel sauce. We also made marinated grilled shrimp, which we'd like to forget, but can't, because the smell of incinerated marinated grilled shrimp still lingers in everything we brought to the session, including purses and jackets.

    It's 80 degrees here today, so I have my corduroy jacket airing out and am hoping it will be wearable before I need to get on the airplane back to Seattle this evening. It promises to be a jam-packed pre-Thanksgiving flight as the Silicon Valley tech workforce makes its weekend exodus back to the more affordable cities where we live.

    Monday, November 14, 2005

    Other blogs, other universes

    Occasionally I stumble upon well-written blogs by people who live in quite different universes. I find them fascinating! I subscribe, and reading the daily entries is better than following a soap-opera. For awhile, I kept up with the blog of a survivalist from West Virginia, but eventually his entries took a racist turn and I unsubscribed.

    Currently I follow a blog by an Orthodox Jewish school teacher who is looking for a husband and is being set up by matchmakers in a series of hilarious mis-matches. She is quite a handful (the blogger), and I imagine the matchmakers and potential husbands are as disconcerted by the disasterous dates as she is.

    I have recently come across a blog by a Seattle-based dominatrix, and am getting another view of the city. She and her boyfriend are in the process of buying a house, and she's been posting pictures of the houses she's checked out but rejected. In addition to the usual sorts of amenities we all look for in a new house, she needs a basement with high ceilings (for hanging equipment) and a house with a fairly private entrance -- thus a house on a cul-de-sac, with all the neighbors looking the front door, just wasn't for her.

    There's a nice brick house up for sale one street over from has a basement, and is probably fairly sound-proof. Hmmm.

    Whose 70s were those, anyway?

    60s, 70s and 80s nostalgia pieces, like this website, always make me wonder if I'm on the wrong planet. I was into bluegrass when everyone else was doing disco, and I wouldn't know the Bay City Rollers if one rolled over me. Oh, well, if I didn't get it the first time, I guess I'll be spared the pain of missing it now.

    Saturday, November 12, 2005

    The cake

    Taking a picture of a chocolate cake presents many of the same problems as taking a picture of a black cat, except that on the cat at least the eyes stand out. Then, again, the cake didn't move. Here it is:

    Adventures in Bundt

    Last summer an old friend who has been trying to find himself for 50-odd years decided to move the search overseas. At his leaving-the-country yard sale I picked up a top-of-the-line, unused, Nordic Ware non-stick Bundt pan, which I've been promising myself I would use.

    This week's vacation, plus a potluck invitation for this evening, seemed like a good oppportunity.

    What is a "Bundt?"

    Bundt is what happened when a traditional Eastern European Kugelhopf pan (used to bake yeasted cakes) met a marketing department.

    A Kugelhopf pan is a circular metal mold, sometimes with peaks. The ladies of Minneapolis Hadassah approached Nordic Ware with a request for a Kugelhopf pan, Nordic Ware designers came up with one, and the cookware company went on to promote it as a "Bundt pan" for the baking of regular (non-yeasted) cakes. In the 1960s, Bundt cakes made it into the mainstream via cooking contests and ladies magazines and in 1972 Pillbury began to sell special Bundt cake mixes for the 12-cup batter pans. Nordic Ware now makes Bundt pans in dozens of shapes and sizes: Star, Cathedral, Chrysanthemum, Holiday Tree, Fleur-de-Lis, Bavaria, Rose -- even a Bundt brownie pan. But the ultimate, the absolute ultimate, is Williams-Sonoma's Bundt Sandcastle pan (apparently a W-S exclusive), which inspired this blog entry from High Maintenance Mom. According to the Nordic Ware site, there are now 45 million Bundt pans in American homes. Since moving to Ballard, I have met quite a few nice Bundt pans at yard sales.

    BTW, mine's a plain Bundt pan.

    The retro charm of the Bundt pan, especially a non-stick one like the high-end Nordic Ware, is that you can create an extremely fancy-looking cake without much work. These things don't even have frosting, just a sprinkling of powdered sugar that goes on after the cake has cooled. Theoretically, you could get away with just mixing up a cake mix (make sure it's for a 12-cup Bundt pan), dumping it in, and baking it.

    Tips and tricks

    But of course, there are some tricks. Such as getting such an elaborately crenellated cake out of the pan in one piece. Cook's Illustrated described one tip that involved lining the sink with towels, pouring on boiling water, and setting the "top" of the pan down on the towels for 10 seconds before turning it over to deposit the cake onto the parchment-covered cooling rack. Another Cook's Illustrated recipe has you prep the pan beforehand, thoroughly greasing all the interior ridges by brushing them with a mixture that's equal parts butter and cocoa powder, combined and heated (microwaved) to just-melting.

    After contemplating a shelf of sticky-looking cake mixes at the local grocery, I went home and put together a chocolate sour cream Bundt cake recipe from Cook's Illustrated, including the greasing of the interior of the pan. My one frustration was that cookbooks seem to assume that everyone has a deep-bowl, KitchenAid standing mixer. Using a hand mixer works, but increases the probability that you'll splatter batter all over the kitchen as you stop to use a splatula between each step of the mixing. (Note to self: Get the batter off the refrigerator door.)

    The cake is now out of the pan, cooling, and I'll post a picture after I apply the powdered sugar. Now, if only I had the Deluxe Bundt Cake Keeper. Ya, sure, you betcha!

    Friday, November 11, 2005

    So you want to write an SF novel?

    Professional editors are standing by, praying that it's not another one of these.

    Thursday, November 10, 2005

    The Cat and the Tree of Life

    When Oriental rug dealers die, they are often reincarnated as cats. How else to explain the talent of most cats for finding the most expensive woven item in the house and peforming The Dance of 20 Sabres upon it?

    We always have a runner in our front hallway, in the ultra-high traffic zone between the front door and anywhere else in the house. We've had a rust-colored dhurrie from Pottery Barn, a cheap Berber-style remnant from the local carpet warehouse, and special dirt-resistant looped rug from Land's End. Briefly, last spring, we had a green-gold-and-burgundy Tree of Life runner from Pottery Barn via eBay.

    The Tree of Life was made of thick, plush wool and, unlike any of the other carpets, it mesmerized the cats. Every few days one of them would leap onto it and shred, tear, and knead as if possessed. The following day I would vacuum up the loose threads and trim the dangling ones. After about a month of this, I decided the carpet was too dark for the livingroom, and too vulnerable to cats, and I took it to DA Burns to be cleaned and then put it into storage.

    This fall I cleaned and retired the white Berber runner, and, obviously having forgotten about the Tree of Life problems, brought the Tree of Life out of storage. It was, of course, still way too dark for the livingroom decor. Before I could take action, a cat set to work on it in ways I won't describe, but which were far worse than clawing. Zorg rushed the carpet to DA Burns the following morning. When I brought it home, I unrolled it for a quick photo, rolled it back up again, and then put it up for sale on Craig's List at a very reasonable price (we'd just about recoup the cleaning expense).

    This time, instead of attracting insane cats, The Tree of Life attracted insane people. The first person who expressed interest in it kept sending me questions, one at a time. She wanted several additional pictures taken. I unrolled the carpet on top of the washer and dryer, took detailed photos, and sent them to her. The final question from Madame Carpet Princess, in its entirety, was "Do you think I could get a better deal online?"

    I went on to the second buyer.

    After sorting through a number of flakes, I made phone arrangements with a very pleasant woman who was going to come by to view, and possibly buy, the Tree of Life runner at 2 p.m. today. A few minutes before she arrived I ran downstairs to tidy up the laundry room for the best possible viewing. I nearly had heart failure when I saw the carpet. I had left it unrolled on top of the washer and dryer overnight and a cat had attacked it! There were shredded carpet fibers everywhere. Grabbing vacuum and scissors, and feeling like a character in a bad sit-com, I quickly coiffed it back into shape -- and just in time.

    The Tree of Life has gone to a new home. I didn't ask if they have cats.

    Wednesday, November 09, 2005

    Guest blogger?

    Prednisone, one of the drugs I'm taking for my herniated disk, can have a profound effect on personality. My doctor reported that one of his patients who took the six-day course of medication become so energetic that he went home and painted his entire house. The doctor didn't say what color he painted it, and I was wondering.

    Anyway, you take six pills the first day, five the second, four the third, and, well, you get the idea. You've tapered off right about the time all the paint on the trim is dry.

    The last time I had this therapy for a herniated disk (nine years ago), I not only changed personality, I liked the new assertive personality so much that I dashed off to a psychologist to do role playing to see if I could learn how to make it permanent. That didn't work, but I am still able to access some of the more effective phrases (such as "That's your problem," "I'm busy," and "So -- fix it. Now.") and recall, if only faintly, how immensely pleasurable it was to speak these truths without fear that someone would get mad at me. (Thanks to the prednisone, I could have cared less.)

    By the middle of next week I'll be back to my usual "I'm so sorry!" and "Oh my, can I help you with that?"

    But in the interim, be prepared for a possible guest blogger. She could be a bitch.

    Monday, November 07, 2005


    My friend Mattie and I caught the 1:30 showing of Capote at the Egyptian today. (A very pleasant place to see a film on a weekday afternoon, about two dozen people in the audience. Nice screen, decent audio. $6 for the film, $4 to park at the Seattle Central College parking garage right across the street. Funky old coffeehouse that pre-dates espresso bars on the premises, so you can enjoy a decent drink with your movie.)

    Capote is about a great writer and what it took for him to write a book, In Cold Blood, that changed the course of American writing by deliberately meshing fiction writing and journalism. You'll see Capote (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) do some shocking things, and later see exactly how those shocking things made his book so powerful. Capote makes several bargains with the devil, and both cheat shamelessly.

    Great movie? If you're interested in writing, absolutely.

    When I retire, I'm going to go to matinees at the Egyptian once a week.

    Sunday, November 06, 2005

    eBay's new ads for "it" spoof Apple

    Logged on to eBay to look for a J Jill jacket and spotted the new eBay ad campaign for "it," with many subtle little send-ups of Apple ads. Check out the many clever videos that make up the campaign.

    Thursday, November 03, 2005


    My back. Muscle spasms? That awful disc problem again? Who knows. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! (If my back feels this bad through the methocarbamol and hydrocodon, what would it feel like without them? My right leg is on fire all the way down to the ankle!)

    I'd been having some very mild back pain for about a week, but my whole lower back seized up this afternoon -- about 20 minutes after my office called and asked me to fly to California for a meeting next week, in the middle of my long-awaited vacation. When I declined to cancel my vacation plan on less than two days notice, the reception was definitely frosty.

    I didn't realize how furious I was, but apparently my back did! Now I can't even raise my right arm to open a cabinet.

    Yet more effective communication. Right.

    Ring. Ring.

    Hello, my name is (Susie Feathyrbrain/Joe Bob Glocktoter/Margaret Urbahn-Yuppei) and I'm (co-rotating chair of Citizens for More Committees/assistant treasurer of the Iron City Police Union/secretary of Parents Furious at the School Board) and I'm calling to urge you to vote (for the Monorail for the fifth or sixth time/for the guy who's running for sheriff against a woman/for anyone running against a current school board member).

    It makes sense to have a public official or activist with high name recognition (say, a Presidential candidate) do recorded phone calls to get out the vote, but who came up with the bizarre idea that we wanted to pick up our home phones and hear recordings of the political amateur hour?

    The gravitas play-off

    Don't touch that remote! TV anchor Stone Phillips whomps Steven Colbert at his own mischevious game. We'll be back after a brief message with two pros in top form.

    Wednesday, November 02, 2005