Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Leaving the mothership

My last week at Apple was exhilarating, exhausting, inspiring and fun, right up to the moment that I dashed out of De Anza 6 to catch the cab to the airport tonight. I'll sure miss my Apple colleagues.

The immediate future? It's all about re-arranging my home office and packing for a trip to Florida to visit my mom.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


I spent a delightful and relaxing weekend hanging out with fellow science fiction readers (and the writers we admire) at Potlatch 15 in downtown Seattle.

Held annually in Seattle, the Bay area, or Portland, Potlatch attracts attendees from the Pacific Northest, Wisconsin, New York, the D.C. area, and other rather blue states. It's very much a literary gathering, so banish any preconceptions about people running around dressed as Klingons; clever t-shirts were more the thing. There were enough folks from the high tech subculture that nearly every time I met someone, we discovered we had mutual friends. Or felt as though we did. Note: Many of the attendees knew acclaimed science fiction author and Seattle resident Octavia Butler, whose sudden death Saturday was announced at Potlatch Sunday just after noon. That made a very somber ending to an otherwise upbeat weekend.

In addition to panels, auctions, book sales, and food, food, food (much of it chocolate), there was a genre trivia quiz that was downright humbling. I knew the answers to about three of the hundred questions that were tossed out to the audience (followed by Hershey's Kisses, flung in the direction of any correct answers).

The organization of the event (all volunteer) was like clockwork, with very little of the officious bustling about and panicked confabs that usually characterize volunteer-run events.

If you enjoy science fiction and want to spend a weekend with like-minded aficionados, Potlatch 16 (in Portland next spring) is a good bet!

Friday, February 24, 2006

On the road. Again.

I'm in the San Jose airport, waiting for the Alaska flight that takes me back to Seattle. The past three days have been work, work, work, sushi, sushi, sushi, and, occasionally, bubble tea. It's been fun, though sad, to say goodbye to all the fascinating and talented people I've worked with over the past six years.

But...one more thing! I'll be heading back to San Jose Monday morning (on Southwest, this time, and at a reasonable hour) to finish up some project work. Tuesday, it's back to Seattle for real and on to the next big thing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

In Cupertino

This is likely my last trip to Cupertino for quite a while. The weather is, of course, delightful. The trip down here on Alaska (Southwest no longer has a 6:40 direct flight) was bearable. When they made the announcement about how to use your oxygen mask, people seemed to be paying closer attention than usual.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Short and sweet

Check out the Mysterious Traveler's sister blog, Smile of the Day. No long rants, just smirks and giggles. Maybe the occasional snort.

Oh, WoW

Zorg explains the lure of World of Warcraft, from levels and quests to chains and night elves.

WoW-ers can spend days glued to the computer, and it's difficult to interrupt a Wow-er when one moment of inattention means that his/her character could be toasted by a dragon, squashed by a troll, or otherwise reduced to "ghost" status. However, the game does allow breaks, in which a player retreats to a safe area in the game, such as an inn.

A polite way to get a WoW-er to disengage is to say "You have 10 minutes to find an inn." If that doesn't work, I suppose you could call Rent-a-Dragon.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Motorcyle madness

You can get in big trouble with a motorcycle, and a quick trip to the iTunes Music Store makes it clear how.

Terry Teachout, the Wall Street Journal theater critic, blogged about a favorite playlist that includes a Del McCoury version* of Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning." I went off to iTMS to find the track; no luck, but there were several other versions. Unfortunately, most of them (other than Thompson's) were downright embarrassing.

"1952 Vincent Black Lightning" is so much fun to listen to when Thompson does it that you forget its complicated underpinnings, which include Thompson's masterful guitar arrangement and the song's roots in very old English folk songs -- the kind in which the lyrics and the music reel about one another like a couple of drunks on a dark country road.

Nearly all of the interpretations try to impose a steady rhythm on the song, killing it dead in a few measures. Interestingly, the only version that works for me was one by Alan Rhody. Not sure who he is, but he does duets on the album (Journey) with John Prine and Maura O'Connell; like Prine and Thompson, he has that "less-is-more" storyteller style. Plus one hell of a fiddler backing him up on the Prine duet "That's Who I'd Be." (NOTE: No kidding. The fiddler turns out to be the late John Hartford.)

*a version that became the International Bluegrass Music Association's 2002 Song of the Year.


Google Blogoscoped proposes warning signs for the web including this one:

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Oh good grief

You scored as Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix).

You can change the world around you. You have a strong will and a high technical aptitude. Is it possible you are the one? Now if only Agent Smith would quit beating up your friends.

Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with QuizFarm.com

Winter window

Friday, February 17, 2006

Are we frozen yet?

It's been years since we've had a real freeze in Seattle, particularly over here on the Northwest rim by the Sound. It dipped into the 20s last night; I left the sink in the basement dripping during the night and this morning I went out with a couple gallons of warm water to unfreeze the cats' patio drinking fountain.

The last truly frigid weather I can remember out here was more than 10 years ago, when I lived in Wallingford. The old bungalow had pipes that ran through an unheated crawl space in the basement; when it dropped into the 20s at night, I'd leave the door from the main floor to the basement open and let water drip slowly in the kitchen sink.

This technique worked until I went to visit my parents in Florida. On the second day of my trip, the catsitter called to report that when he'd gone to take care of the cats, he couldn't get any water out of the sink, and the pipes were apparently frozen. "By the way," he said. "You'd left the door open to the basement. But don't worry, I closed it."

Aaeeeii! For some reason, he'd then waited to call me until after he'd left the house and had driven 20 minutes to work on the other side of town. Fortunately, I was able to contact a contractor friend who rushed over, defrosted the pipes, and then wrapped the pipes in the crawlspace with a special plumbing heating pad.

So far, so good, over here at the new house. But I'd hate to see the temperatures get into the teens.

This post probably sounds totally wimpy to folks from New England, where sub-freezing temperatures persist for weeks on end. When I lived in New Haven, I had an Toyota Corolla with leaky doors that added a particularly miserable twist to winter. Snow would melt, drip into the doors, and then freeze, immobilizing the door locks. I'd have to enter and exit the car via the hatchback, sometimes for weeks, until the weather relented and the doors drained and dried.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Silly sundae

Calories aren't the only thing this sundae has too much of. Even for a foodie, this is just ridiculous.

The bigne pastry puffs filled with fresh vanilla ice cream and drizzled in chocolate at Le Gourmand are nice. And 100th the price.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Tonight I went to the Seattle Weblogger Meetup to talk with folks about tagging and how they do it. Tagging is inserting special HTML into your blog to bring keywords to the attention of a site like Technorati. People can then use Technorati search to find blogs (including yours) that have called a particular keyword.

I guess what had been puzzling, and perhaps irritating, me about tagging is that it seems like an overlap with Google. You publish a blog entry, Google spiders (reads) it, and then anyone looking for particular words, phrases, or word combinations can find them via a Google search if you've used them in your blog.

What I learned tonight from Daniel Talsky and Bre is that there are some significant differences. Bottom line: If you want more hits on your blog, you need to tag your entries. Technorati is not the only tagging system; the other major one is del.icio.us.

Here's a page that explains the technical aspects of tagging using Technorati. Also, Technorati now allows people who create a (free) Technorati account to tag an entire blog by listing keywords that relate to the blog itself, rather than to a specific entry.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Nancy's New Age Bargain Warehouse

"The deals are SO life-affirming!"

(NOTE BEFORE YOU CLICK THROUGH: "Nancy's" is a charming little video, but some of the other video's on the goodiebag.tv site are R rated -- definitely not workplace viewing.)

Zorg update

Zorg's sinus surgery this morning was successful and he's home recuperating. I was afraid he'd look somewhat battered, but he looks just like Zorg with a little gauze. Apparently the surgical technique for this has gotten increasingly subtle and sophisticated in recent years.

As for me, there's nothing like spending seven hours at the hospital and at the local pharmacy to remind me how relatively healthy and fortunate we are.

Thanks to all of you who checked in before or after the event to offer encouragement, advice, and assistance!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Dick wits

Here are my favorites of the many, many media shots taken at V.P. Dick Cheney after he shot a Republican crony on a quail hunt and then, in a textbook example of how not to handle the press, kept the news from the media for 20 hours. (Like he figured maybe they'd think it was "old news"?)

"We can't get Bin Laden," David Letterman said on CBS, "but we nailed a 78-year-old attorney."

Headline from Dan Froomkin's column in the Washington Post: "Shoots, Hides and Leaves."

Reported by Holly Rosenkrantz of Bloomberg.com:
"'The idea that you have this vice president who is kind of gruff and willing to cuss out senators meant that it was always within the realm of possibility that he would go off one day and shoot his friend,' said Jeff Nussbaum, a Washington speechwriter and Democratic consultant who also moonlights writing comedy for political and social events. 'This really is a perfect metaphor for an administration that shoots first and then blames the victim later.'

"...The New York Daily News had a front page headline reading: 'Duck! It's Dick.' For the New York Post, it was 'Big Shot.' Comic Andy Borowitz posted a satiric report on his Web site with a headline saying Cheney fired at his fellow hunter 'based on faulty intelligence.'"

Newsday.com reported:
"Jon Stewart tackled the Cheney topic on his Comedy Central show, saying Cheney's shooting made Whittington the first person shot by a sitting vice president since Alexander Hamilton. 'Hamilton, of course, shot in a duel with Aaron Burr over issues of honor, integrity and political maneuvering. Whittington? Mistaken for a bird.' At the (Ariana) Huffington (web)site, visitors could even play The Dick Cheney Quail Hunting Game, which directs an animated Cheney to shoot a bird in mid-air. Of course, once you press the shoot button, Cheney swings around and hits a nearby human."

The Associated Press roundup of Cheney jibes included:

• "Dick Cheney accidentally shot a fellow hunter, a 78-year-old lawyer. In fact, when people found out he shot a lawyer, his popularity is now at 92 percent." (Jay Leno)

• "Now, this story certainly has its humorous aspects. ... But it also raises a serious issue, one which I feel very strongly about. ... moms, dads, if you're watching right now, I can't emphasize this enough: Do not let your kids go on hunting trips with the vice president. I don't care what kind of lucrative contracts they're trying to land, or energy regulations they're trying to get lifted - it's just not worth it." (Jon Stewart)

• "You can understand why this lawyer fellow let his guard down, because if you're out hunting with a politician, you think, 'If I'm going to get it, it's going to be in the back.' " (Craig Ferguson on CBS)

• "The big scandal apparently is that they didn't release the news for 18 hours. I don't think that's a scandal at all. I'm quite pleased about that. Finally there's a secret the vice president's office can keep." (Craig Ferguson on CBS)

Not unexpectedly, the overseas press was having a field day with the story of the gun-happy Americans. Here's a marvelously tongue-in-cheek piece from the Daily Telegraph.

Who needs fiction when you've got Cheney?

I am still reeling over the news that Cheney shot and wounded a fellow member of his hunting party.

There are so many directions a writer can go with this that it's just about impossible to get started. It's like confronting a Las Vegas buffet -- you feel overwhelmed and then a little sick.

Some possible themes:

• gun control and gun safety
• mental and physical fitness to hold office and make decisions
• Red-state ruling class recreation (C'mon, when was the last time you spent your weekend out hunting?)

And, surely, some pundit will riff on Oscar Wilde's observation about fox-hunting in England: "The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible."

I can hardly wait.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Cary Tennis

Salon's advice columnist, Cary Tennis, is the Garrison Keillor of the next generation. Today he writes about his penchant for telling long, rambling, stories:

I cannot stand the silence, and I don't really care, so I fill it with junk, like an old redneck pulling up to the rock pit with a truck full of couches.

His column is worth the price of the annual Salon.com subscription; what a potent antidote to the daily newspaper advice crap.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Purrs on Wheels

Our elderly Himalayan-Abyssinian cat, Betaille, has always been known for her impeccably groomed coat of apricot fur, tipped with black. Unfortunately, she's getting too old and frail to groom herself thoroughly. Last summer, when she was recovering from thyroid treatment and particularly fragile, I did some research on cat grooming services and discovered one that will come to your house (we had to pay a small surcharge because our neighborhood lies just outside their usual service area).

At the appointed hour, a big camper van with "Purrs on Wheels" on the side pulled into the driveway, and a cheery young woman wearing a pastel salon smock came to the door. She plugged an extension cord into an outlet in the garage, and then collected an incredulous Betaille. The first treatment was a full lion cut (the cat is shaved, except for head and tail). Betaille emerge from the van bathed, perfumed, blow-dried -- and furious. (Amazingly, the groomer was unscathed, and still smiling.) The cat looked a bit odd, but she was able to keep herself very tidy through the winter.

We had a followup visit from Purrs on Wheels today, for a less agressive trim and no perfume. This time Betaille didn't seem to mind it a bit. In fact, she was her usual self -- well, as soon as I removed the frilly red bow from her head.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Klopman diamond

I just booked a flight to Florida to visit my mother. This favorite joke of my grandfather's came to mind:

A young woman flying from New York to Miami gets bumped into first class. She finds herself sitting beside a distinguished-looking older woman, tanned, beautifully coiffed and dressed in designer clothing. She can't help staring at the woman's diamond jewelry, which includes a stunning diamond pendant.

The older woman sees her staring and smiles wryly. "This is the Klopman diamond," she says, touching the pendant. The younger woman raises her eyebrows.

"The Klopman diamond...it's like the Hope Diamond," says the older woman. She gazes into the distance. "It, too, comes with a terrible curse."

The younger woman waits, but nothing more is said. Feeling a little nervous about flying in the company of the diamond, she just has to ask.

"What's the curse?"

The older woman narrows her eyes, smiles bitterly, and says "Mr. Klopman."

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A day in the garden

The sun was out, and I spent the day in the garden. Removed quite a bit of worn-out foliage from the front beds so the crocuses and short red tulips that are sending up shoots will have room to bloom. Moved the long pearwood poles and camellia poles (leftovers from the professional pruning last week) to the back yard where they'll stay while I figure out what to do with them. The camellia wood is heavy!

Finally, I brought out my extension lopper and pruned the Candice grapevine back to three long leaders. This took a bit longer than it should have because Kaylee climbed into the arbor and was swatting at the lopper. I had to decoy her to the other side of the arbor, then rush back and clip branches before she made it back into the danger zone.

I kept seeing more and more projects in the garden, but by then it was getting darker and cooler and it was time to go inside and take my Vitamin I for gardening (Ibuprofen).

Friday night's windstorm had an odd and unpleasant side-effect I hate to think about. We found pieces of roof shingles the size of small pizzas all over the back porch and patio. It turned out they'd come from the house behind us. The house has a "two-layer" roof, and the top layer had become very dry and damaged, so much of it flew off in the storm. We saw the neighbors picking up asphalt shingles all over the neighborhood, and they came into our yard to pick up the pieces there as well.

The unpleasant part wasn't the shingles in the yard. It was the scratches the gravel-coated shingles made when they slammed into our nice (well, formerly nice) new glass kitchen door.

It's not like there are a lot of scratches, but, on the other hand, there are enough that you'd probably want to replace the door if you were going to sell the house. I haven't decided quite what to say to the neighbors yet; if they were too cheap to replace an ancient roof that was falling apart, I don't think they'll be happy to replace a $1,000 commercial-grade glass door.

My plan is to call the window company and see if there is some reasonably priced way to repair the scratches. Then I want to let the neighbors know that they need to do something about their roof before it attacks our door again.

Friday, February 03, 2006

All you need is toast and bacon

Collision Detection notes that two UK students have posted a recipe for cooking an egg using a pair of cell phones. "Cooking time will be proportional to the inverse square of the output power for a given distance from egg to phone," they note.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Veronica Mars

And now, something I never thought I'd see -- the project I work on at Apple, .Mac membership services, becomes part of the plot on a recent episode of the private-eye series Veronica Mars. Here's the clip.

UPDATE: Ooops. The site hosting this clip has exceeded its bandwidth quota. We are trying to find another site to send you to...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Chop chop

One of the local garden gurus is here this morning giving the pear tree its alternate-year pruning and addressing the problem of the gargantuan camellia.

The camellia is planted in the narrow garden strip that runs along the west side of our house. It's one of those plants that must have looked nice 40 years ago when it was small. Now it's engulfing the electrical service wires on their way to the roof, it's scraping against the dining room and living room windows, and it's growing out into the pathway that leads to the back yard.

Calvin (the guru) originally planned to trim it aggressively, essentially growing a new camellia from the shoots. Today, when he turned up, I asked him if it might not be better just to remove it and replace it with a rhody or Japanese maple. His instant answer was, "oh, yes."

My decision to excise the camellia came about when I was looking at a recent photo of our house. In it, the camellia appears to be a giant, dark green blob chewing on the siding. Ooops. It's obviously another case of planting a shrub close to a house without considering that it would...grow. And this one's been growing, unpruned, for a few decades.

Calvin and I then stood around for five minutes giving each other reasons why we should try to save the camellia. (Both of us hate giving up on any plant.) But eventually we ran out of ideas. "No, it goes," Calvin said, and went over to the truck for his chain saw.

Stay tuned for "before" and "after" photos.