Monday, December 31, 2007

and furthermore

So you get to deduct half your self-employed person tax from your overall income tax. I'm not complaining about the deduction, but I'm not so sure that having to pay extra taxes because you're working for yourself makes a lot of sense.

Yes, I know that I'm just paying what an employer would have had to pay, or maybe some lesser amount, but I still strongly assert that the best system would be a little friendlier to the self-employed.

Anyway, I should also admit that I enjoy doing the taxes, partly because of the puzzle, partly because I know the system-running infidels owe me a little of my money, my little no-interest stash for February, which will no doubt be used to pay off assorted items and vanish into the Black Hole of All Cash in My Life (well, except coinage).

I am sure I would feel quite a bit less fuzzy and warm if I had to go through what certain other of my comrades-in-pen have had to with death's brother-in-idiom.

Anyway, happy New Year to those among you who are there, and happy Dwindling Eve to the rest!

New Year's Eve amusement

Just the way most people gear up for a good party:

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing day

I think it is cool that some people actually get today off as an official holiday. The alleged etymology of the holiday is cool - To box is to give someone a present, in the old days people gave gifts to those less fortunate, etc.

This reminds me, for some reason, of the ubiquity of going-to-market/ye-olde-towne-festivale/ren-faire music in flicks set from, say, the 9th or 10th century through, maybe, 1650. After 1650 you get a lot of harpsichord, prior to that more lute stuff. I think this broad-brush treatment stretches the limits of credulity. Surely someone played something other than that kind of diet Muzak...

When I was younger and still thought I it possible to use my education for its express purpose (i.e. to be an anthropologist instead of a journalist, even though they are damn near the same thing), I planned to study contemporary Native American culture or to study language and music. So much for that.

Maybe that's not the only reason, but I think that inclination is part of why I have an attitude about movies that use the same two or three dippy Market Music for old-timey festivals or my favorite, the transition from a battle scene to a let's-go-to-town interlude. I should probably find some at youtube to give as an example...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Stop the press

Gee whiz, kids these days: Apparently some of them go to a special "pre-party" before the "real" party, just to drink! Jeepers, what will they think of next??

Well, USA Today may be a little late to the show, but at least they made it.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Snout barely above water

Yegods, it is busy times here in the middle of nowhere. We're switching to a cutting-edge system at the newspaper from our old-and-decrepit system, which had been in place since I worked there the first time (aka it has been there since 1999).

Ergo, I have been unusually busy. To compound the situation, the pool's closed for winter break at the alma mater.

whatever.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Who is Alexa Wilkinson?

A singer/songwriter, of course. For me, a discovery for today, too:



You can also listen to her here.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Tough nut to crack

Or, perhaps, nuts of friggin' steel.
Maybe this is why you have to pay extra for shelled nuts, so you don't have to buy a new nutcracker when the filbert says, "hammer time."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Eating Alarm Time...

One of the features my paper carries is called the Diet Detective, a weekly column by Charles Stuart Platkin. We don't run it every week: Some columns are much better than others. This week's is about Eating Alarm Times (maybe he's German and likes capitalizing things). Platkin calls the EAT (oh, clever clever. I just got it) a time when a person can consume an extra 300 calories, thus gaining weight.

His column is based on asking people about their EATs, and the results are pretty interesting, if for no other reason than that mine is the third-most popular. He calls it Afternoon Snack Attack, between 1 and 5 p.m. I call this period "lunch" because I eat after swimming. That seems like maybe a better plan than wolfing down a sandwich before jumping in the pool. Anyway, I do notice that when I get done swimming, I am even more ravenously hungry than usual.

By "usual" I mean almost all the time since I dropped about 25 pounds in August 2005. I also get cold more easily than I used to, but I have a pretty high tolerance for being cold, so maybe now I'm just normal. Whatever. I'm still hungry, damn it.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Snow days? Pah

A brief reminder of what winter weather looks like blew away with the breeze the past couple of days. Snow fell like mad (for here), but now it is so mild I wore a T-shirt and shorts to walk the dogs. Pretty nice, really.

Penny-pincher me is always happy to see toasty weather in the "cold" season, so as to keep the gas bill down, but ex-New Hampshire resident me is sad to see the flurries flee. What can you do.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Sudan sucks, too

So you wanna kill a teacher who let her students name a teddy bear Muhammad?

Fuck you is about all I have to say for Sudan, which is such a pile of crap it isn't up to the whole stop-genocide thing. Fucking assholes.

Hey, post 500

I guess that's halfway to a cliche of some sort.

We're undergoing a major overhaul of our hardware and software at work, from pretty much the stone age to super up-to-date.

To wit: My PC (say no more, eh?) has a floppy drive, no USB port and uses, like, Windows NT. The software we design news pages with won an award in 1998, I believe, the year before we installed it, during my first tour at the local paper. I just can't say enough about the old system, mostly because I am trying to cut back on swearing.

On the flip side (literally, almost: I have both computer on right now), we are trading in the old for snazzy 24-inch iMacs (2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, etc.) with the latest Adobe creative suite.

So, from totally nontransferable and junky old stuff to the leading edge of life in newspaper publishing. Hooray!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Come on, people, this is easy. Big easy.

Jeopardy question for $1,000, cities in songs:

"I'm the train they call" this city. "I'll be gone 500 miles when the day is done."

Needless to say, nobody got it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Busy weekend

Thanksgiving weekend was a busy one:
  • Drove to Willamette Valley on Thursday morning for visit/studio sale/etc.
  • Drove to Bellingham (and back) on Friday to pick up loom.
  • Helped with studio sale on Saturday. Went shopping afterward.
  • Drove to sunny (well, usually sunny) Walla Walla on Sunday (about 1,200 miles for the weekend).
So now I have a different new-to-me loom, one that is similar to the one I'd been using and therefore much easier to get into working shape for production weaving.

I also sold and/or traded five scarves, which means I am due for a couple of massages in Portland down the line and also have some inventory actually out walking around in the world. This is a nice validation.

Of course, the butterfly lady and I also got to have a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat with my mother, who made a great dinner. We consumed a healthy amount of wine, too.

Damn, that was a lot of driving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Lentil soup

I'm OK with lentils, although I wouldn't call them a favorite. I've made a bunch of lentil dishes, all of which, I think, are Indian. Even with plenty of tinkering, nothing special. This soup, however, passes the relatively easy "me" test and the much more stringent butterfly lady test.

This was a fact-finding mission, not a closely measured soup session, so measurements are approximate:

Lentils
"spices"
water
Mix and cook. Serves portions.

Just kidding.

Lentil soup
Three 3/4-inch thick pieces of smoked pork shank (shanks are much better than hocks)
1.5 cups lentils, carefully sorted and rinsed
1 small yellow onion, halved
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled
12 peppercorns
1 dried chili (more if you want noticeably spicy soup)
6 cloves
2 dried bay leaves
A stalk or two of celery
1/4 cup wild rice
1/4 cup barley

In a spacious soup pot (mine is 9 inches in diameter), simmer the shanks in about three times as much water as it would take to just cover them (aka a couple of inches). You may need to add more water later.

Give it about 10 minutes a-simmer, then add everything but the barley and wild rice.

This is a little tricky. You want to simmer the lot until the lentils are about 35 minutes from ready, then add the rice and barley. I guess this is an unnecessary and fiddly step - maybe you could add the grains earlier, but I feared they would wind up mushy.

In the initial simmer, you can let the soup get near a boil, and skim off the scum from the top. I think the scum's zenith (or nadir, depending on how gross you find it) tends to be about 10 minutes into the simmer.

This makes plenty - maybe six medium to large bowls of soup (I think!)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Craftiness

I have a tendency to collect things. I'm pretty good about not being a huge pack rat, but not always:
I'm not really sure when I started saving corks, but I think it might have been 1994 or 1995. Needless to say, not every bottle of wine had/has a cork that can be saved, and not all of the corks I've saved are even from wine bottles. I have a few left over. Here's what I made:

The first one was kind of predictable and simple:

Here are a few of the others:




Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dust devil

What better way to start off a Saturday than to clean out the garage?

Wait, don't answer that. I did make coffee first, though. And the whole cleanup was really only about an hour of furious sweeping and a small amount of tossing junk in the trash. No big deal.

I did find a very large spider - large for these parts, that is. When I was a boy, I nearly trod on a tarantula while running barefoot down a path. This was no biggie, about the size of a wolf spider but not as bulky. I let her out in the yard, which is probably arachnicide for that species and her cousins will come to get me later.

Our garage is too small for our car (an SUV-lite from Honda), so it is really an uninsulated shop without electricity (aka storage shed). But it does have a good roof. And way less dust than earlier today.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Talk like an Egyptian

An interesting tidbit showed up in a wire story about a former police officer suspected of killing his wife. A previous wife, who died under possibly suspicious circumstances, has been exhumed, to which the ex-officer said (to NBC):

"It's a shame her rest in peace has to be disturbed for something like this."

Uh, what?

So, she's just taking a nap in that coffin? Does that mean that if the Cubs win the World Series, she'll be exhumed and he'll be happy?

Weird with a capital W.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Staph nose

I have finally defeated, I think, staph nose.

Maybe it will come back, but I haven't had a bout in quite a while. Not coincidentally, I suspect, I have started using a nose clip at the pool. Ergo, I'm not congested around the clock and maybe not such a good breeding ground for our friends the bacteria.

I bring this up because I have noticed a spike in unique visitors to this blog, and statcounter informs me that many (most :) visitors come here by googling "staph nose" or "staph in nose" or "staphylococcus aureus in proboscis" or something like that.

I strongly suspect either an outbreak or a routine seasonal spike in staph infections. Of course, as an influential member of the media, I don't have to sit around wondering. I'll report back after a member of my staff has investigated.

Things I miss about big cities

A weekend visit to Portland reminded me that some things are better when you live in a more densely populated area:

  • Haggling over whether to eat at the Ethiopian place, the Japanese place or the Pakistani place (in Walla Walla, the only place to enjoy those cuisines is our dinner table or the table of able friends).
  • Large, good bookstores (Walla Walla is OK, but our stores can't hold a candle to Powell's).
  • More than one choice of where to buy dog crud for the Newfy, and being able to find a good deal.
  • Stylish clothing. Stylish people. In force.
  • Ethnic grocery stores. Counting Uwajimaya, large ethnic grocery stores.
  • A million other little things.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

In the shuffle

Besides a couple of Arab songs I would get big cred for being able to ID, here's what I'm listening to on deadline:

Tom Joad - Country Joe MacDonald
Waitin' Round to Die - Rhonda Harris
Big Wheel - Tori Amos
Jimmy the Exploder - The White Stripes
One More Cup of Coffee - The White Stripes
Kathleen - Rhonda Harris
Rock the Casbah - The Clash
Store-bought Bones - The Raconteurs
President - Wyclef Jean
Diamonds and Rust - Joan Baez
Rattlesnakes - Tori Amos

Sunday, November 04, 2007

What's your favorite doughnut?

I'm torn between maple bars and bearclaws.

Although I don't mind Boston cream, old-fashioned (like you get at Mister Donut), glazed... Um, OK, I like doughnuts period, I suppose.

As I've suggested here or elsewhere, one of the hidden benefits of working at my current employer's place is the occasional appearance of doughnuts, for any of several "reasons." I do have to swim them off, of course, but I'm not one to look a raspberry jelly in the mouth.

Wouldn't that be something to put on your resume: Invented doughnuts. That'd be the ultimate get-out-of-jail card.

Plus, here's the video for that super-awesome/wicked-dippy iPhone commercial song:

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Effecting social change, effectively

I put a story on the front page today about how NOAA Fisheries (the agency in charge of fish recovery) thinks the new plan for operation of dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers will probably work out OK for salmon and steelhead. And yesterday, I ran a story on a dike breaching in the Klamath Basin that is a step in the restoration of habitat for endangered suckerfish.

Just as these stories signify probably good news for species threatened by humans, they are also about Chapter 1,000 in these ongoing struggles. And my god, in this region you would be hard pressed to find more divisive problems.

The deep irony is that unlike the process of finding a solution, these fish vs. people problems are simple. If you damage fish habitat, you hurt fish. If you want to help fish, quit damming their rivers/using their water/killing them. Not too complicated, except, you know, for the livelihoods of people who benefit from dead fish.

In the Northeast, where the culture is as different from the Northwest as the topography is similar, these problems aren't really problems.

Writ small, wilderness lovers and snowmobilers coexist peacefully (how? they just work out a deal for who can play where) and damn near nobody minds if you hunt or hike on their land (but please ask permission or at least check in with the owner).

Writ large, businesses and activists work together to reduce air pollution, improve fish habitat, you name it.

As I suggested above, I'd put this down to cultural differences. But another factor is that the businesses and activists find ways to make being "green" make some green, which is the thesis of yet another econ disseration I will not write.

If you want change, make sure it keeps you in the black.

Like Wilford Brimley said, it's the right thing to do, and a tasty way to do it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fighting the good fight

When I covered environmental news at a paper in the Northeast, I spent a lot of time on the phone talking to people who worked for the government in environmental and fish & game agencies. On the whole, a good bunch - easy to talk to, not a lot of bullshit, pretty knowledgeable.

Once or twice, I had to deal with people in the Department of Health and Human Services. On the whole, from my tiny sample, generally not a good bunch - lots of bullshit, average levels of expertise and hard to talk to. This was because the DHHS had a policy that journalists were supposed to go through a public information office to get hooked up with sources.

So, supposing you were writing a story about arsenic in drinking water and you knew that Vaclav Pavlacek (with his medical degree and doctorate in geochemistry) was the guy you needed to talk to, you weren't supposed to call him, but instead contact Dudley Dinkus in the public information office. You'd waste time filling him on what you planned to write about, and Dinkus would then promise to put someone in touch with you, not necessarily Pavlacek.

Well, fuck that. I'd just call Pavlacek directly and ignore Dinkus. If Pavlacek said he had to check with the information office, fine, whatever, but I'd be god damned if I'd call them myself.

The people who invent these public-information hierarchies try to sell them to you, as a reporter, as a big help in your quest for information.

"We know who has expertise in what, so we can make your job so much easier!" they enthuse. Sure, OK. I think I'd be happier making that call myself. If I need help, I'll ask.

The deeper, darker reason why these systems are bad - not just for one story, but for our country - is that they hide public employees from public scrutiny. Look, I get why journalists don't get unfettered access to the president, but to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency? Or a veterinarian working for USDA? That is a different ball of wax.

Anyway, I make a living by not having hard feelings about things, which makes these fights fun in addition to worthwhile. I feel for the public-information officers, though, who are just trying to make a living... Nah, I take that back. We're all getting paid.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Post script on that snowy picture

I shot this photo on the route up to the summit of Mount Moosilauke about a thousand years ago (OK, like, 2003).

I believe that when my friend Brian and I arrived at the trailhead, the temperature was about 15 degrees Fahrenheit. The mountain is tall by New Hampshire standards, about 4,800 feet (I think the timberline is about 4,700, maybe a bit lower), so the summit was much colder. As you can see, snows occasionally falls in the area. The crust was so thick on the trees farther up that they looked like cauliflower.

Anyway, when we cleared the trees, the gale-force wind and the subzero temperatures made for a memorable experience. Cold, but gorgeous, with clear views for miles around. We didn't stay at the summit long. Even well-outfitted, I was cold for hours that day. We did see a group of moose on the way to the mountain, though, the only ones I saw walking around in the five years I lived in the state.

I don't miss the commute, or the endless winters, but I do miss the grim, foreboding mountains and the vicious weather.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Who knows Lisa Hannigan?

She is probably best "known" as the lady who used to sing with Damien Rice.



Saturday, October 20, 2007

Keeping your images your images

So you're planning to sell an image online and you want to post it in a way that gives your customer a good look at it but can't just be downloaded and printed out without you getting paid.

Here's an easy way to go from
to
I like the subtlety of this mark. If you do, too, here's how to do it in Photoshop.

Open your image. For this effect, I use the horizontal type mask tool (which you can access by clicking on the little triangular tab in the lower left-hand corner of the type tool in the toolbar (it's the one that's a black T).

Now, you need to choose a font. I like typefaces like Minion, Caslon, etc. - serif faces. You can pick the typeface and size prior to typing, and you will probably want to go large. On the photo above, I used 96-point type.

Click your type cursor where you want to start typing. I'm not sure you can conveniently move the type around when you use the mask tool, so choose carefully. If you can, choose a part of your image that is largely light *or* largely dark, but preferably not running from one to the other.

When you click your cursor, the image will get a startling magenta mask. Don't worry about it. Type your word, then to adios the mask, click on any other tool in the toolbox. This will leave you with type that is marqueed (with a blinking outline).

Now, you will need to adjust curves (either command-M or through the Image drop-down menu, under Adjustments. When you adjust curves, you get a pop-up box that features a 16-square grid with a diagonal line through it. Click on the midpoint of the line and drag up or down to make the type lighter or darker. You will see the line on the grid becomes quite curvy.

When you're satisfied with how the type looks, release the mouse and click OK in the pop-up box. You will still see the marquee lit up around the type. You can make this go away by just saving and closing the photo or by some other, more circuitous routes.

Presto.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A list of fall favorites

Just a few:
Spiced apple cider, warmed up on the stove.
Football (American rules), preferably a couple of no-name colleges on some ESPN derivative.
Clam chowder.
The World Series (of course, without the Cardinals, it isn't quite right)
Casseroles.
Watching the wind blow the leaves down the street.

More later, perhaps.

Still in the Granite State, sort of

I realized this morning when I was asked for my phone number that I still have a New Hampshire area code, even though it's been almost three years since we moved. Three years! Freaky.

I like having the (603) at the front of my number - keeps people wondering.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Gifts for you!

I snagged this idea from the butterfly lady - should be fun!

**By the end of the calendar year, I will send a tangible, physical gift to each of the first five people to comment here. The catch? Each person must make the same offer on her/his blog.**

Leave a comment if you want to play along. We'll have to scheme some way to get in touch, too.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Electric countermeasures

Mama II posted a spiel about home energy conservation, and I was surprised to see she thought it necessary to spend big cash (i.e. thousands of dollars) to get Energy Star-rated appliances.

Since the butterfly lady and I moved into our home, we have had to buy a water heater, refrigerator, dishwasher, washing machine and dryer. We could use a new stove/oven, too. The only things we haven't had to replace are the air conditioner (but that was brand new when we bought the house and was included as part of the negotiation for the closing) and the furnace, which is not particularly efficient.

Our washer, dryer and fridge are all Frigidaire Gallery - the washer is an ultra-efficient front-loader (about $600). The dryer is your basic $279 model, but my research indicated dryers matter not for conservation. It works fine, though the starter knob was flimsy and has snapped. The fridge is fantastic, especially energy-wise. The piece of junk the seller left us with leaked and was a huge energy hog; this one barely registers on the electricity meter when it cycles on. It does not have an icemaker (isn't that what the little trays are for??) and it is your standard freezer-on-top sort, about $750, I think.

The water heater is totally run of the mill. Had I been building from scratch, I probably would have bought one of those snazzy tankless, on-demand heaters, but we probably will have to sell this house (and move) eventually, so why get something people around here aren't familiar with?

The A/C is a Trane. We mostly use a laptop for doing computer stuff. We don't watch a ton of TV (on our now-old-school Sony Trinitron, the last non-LCD TV I think we'll own).

What can I say? Our electric bills rarely go over $45 or $50 (I think that happened once, $50-plus), even in the 100-degree heat of summer. Most often, the power costs us about $35 or $40 a month.

The gas bill is another story. I notice that in the summer, the gas bill (when the furnace pilot is off) is $4.24, which is the basic rate. Just having the pilot on (as I did for one month the first year we lived here during non-furnace season) costs about $7 a month.

The gas company yaks a lot about how you should use gas to run the dryer and water heater. Wouldn't it be charming to get a gas bill that had $14 a month ($21 in furnace months) just in god damn pilot light costs?

Anyway, the gas bill runs from the aforementioned $4.24 four months a year to about $175 in the dead of winter. On the plus side, a significant portion of our house (one-third: the now fully occupy-able basement) is taken up by my studio, which means a small tax break on utilities. I think our anti-American Dream tax structure more than makes up for the small savings, but that is a topic for another post.

If I were building from scratch, you can be damn sure we'd orient our house to take advantage of the sun, use a ground-source geothermal heat pump, and have clotheslines in the loft of our home. But that is a topic for another day, too.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Performance enhanced

While I was reading a Marion Jones fallout story, I filled out the little poll USA Today provided. The poll asked whether her relay teammates (The Associated Press reports two of Jones' four teammates have since been caught using drugs to cheat) should lose their medals, too.

No-brainer: If your teammate is a cheater, you lose, too. So you didn't know? Tough.

All quiet on the front

I would call it the western front, but my father's definition of The West is west of Interstate 5, and the eastern front hasn't got the same ring to it.

Anyway, this is my way of saying, not a lot is going on in sunny Walla Walla. About the top piece of excitement just now is deciding what kind of casserole to make over the weekend. I want to do something new...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Eerie timing, but who knew?

My good pal Thom and I "lip-synched" the song below in the spring of 1991 as part of Greek Week festivities at our alma mater. I put the l-s in quotes because what we actually did was "sing" loudly over the tape - yes, tape - we put into the sound system kindly provided by... who knows where it came from. I put the sing in quotes for a reason you may be able to guess. If you can't guess, read the next sentence.

You will be shocked - shocked! - to hear we drank beverages containing hops prior to our performance, which thankfully was not immortalized in a way that could one day wind up on youtube.

Alas, we came in last, a feat we were able to repeat twice in the next three years of "competition." We did our best to do our worst, but one year we foolishly chose to actually lip-synch and came in third out of four or fourth out of fifth. You can't lose them all.

Anyway, it seems Richard Thompson was playing this very song, probably on a tour in support of my favorite album of his, in Seattle, just a few hours from our college. If only I had known!



and furthermore:

Keep hope alive

I don't think we're very close to the dream yet, but it is still worth dreaming.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Busy's a drag

For reasons not entirely clear to me, a recent re-org at work has resulted in a significantly heavier workload for yours truly. I mean, I know why we had the reorganization, and I know why *someone* had to take on the extra work, but I'm left wondering if maybe I had been perceived as someone with too little to do. Or as the person least likely to whine about the added work (which did not include increased pay, I notice).

I wouldn't say that of everyone in America, I have the most to do, but I don't have the least, either. Especially not now. Oh well, whatever.

Something I find interesting: Journalism has a reputation for skimpy pay. I'm not sure if it has always been so. Journalism also used to be the sovereign territory of men. I wonder if the low pay maybe coincided with the acceptance of women into the profession (by which I mean reporters and editors). That seems to be how it goes in other lines of work. All men = good pay. Let women in and you get a) a better product and b) lower pay.

I think, as the good reverend would say, the question is moot.

Speaking of which, here is an excellent appearance by man himself:

Saturday, September 29, 2007

More Etsy fun

Well, having put up a portion of my inventory, trusted advisers suggested I reconsider my brilliant studio photography, which truth be told was only brilliant if you turned the dial up on your monitor too much.

I reshot the lot, and although I still have a lot of scarves left to list at my store, I think it is much improved. You can admire my handiwork in the sidebar to the right...

The makeshift studio was actually fun to set up and shoot in, but not so much fun as weaving the scarves. Lowest on my list is the generation of catalog copy for the listings, but even that's kind of fun. That would be a trippy job: Catalog copy writer.

I suppose it would depend on the catalog, though.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Etsy shop, a work in progress

As you can see, I now have an Etsy shop, which I'm slowly but surely populating with my scarves. There are many more to come, but it is slow going...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Song collector

My favorite song is Pancho and Lefty, by Townes Van Zandt. It's been covered a hell of a lot. I have versions by:

Townes Van Zandt (Live at the Old Quarter in Houston)
Townes Van Zandt (a later live version)
Emmylou Harris
Kate Power and Steve Einhorn (oddball regional outfit)
Last Fair Deal (from a show at Roaring Brook in Canton, Ct.)
Laurie McClain
Old & in the Gray
Tendril (a punk band whose members seem to think this is a Willie Nelson song)
Tiki King (playing on the ukulele)
Effron White
Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard
Willie Nelson (not the one with Merle Haggard, more recent)
some weird Australian dudes

Anyway, here's a cover by Mick Conlin

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The anti-cash crusade

As you may recall from my previous posts, I am pro-cash. I wouldn't say I'm really anti-credit card, but I'd rather deal in coins and bills.

You may also recall my disdain for the Internal Revenue Service's taxpayer advocate, Nina E. Olson who is charged with identifying "the most serious problems encountered by taxpayers." She, at least officially, sees cash as an enemy, perhaps the utterest enemy of all.

You may also, also recall my annoyance at the Visa advertising campaign that bills the cards as the cool, hip, with-it alternative to that old school "cash" stuff. I've never thought too much of MasterCard's long-running campaign, but it sure beats the hell out of Visa.

Now it is like a god damned game of mole at the state fair: Monopoly, for Christ's sake, has come out with an Electronic Banking Edition:
Wheel and deal your way to a fortune even faster using debit cards instead of cash! All it takes is a card swipe for money to change hands. Now you can collect rent, buy properties and pay fines - with the touch of a button!
You may have thought, previously, that my pro-cash stance was just about style, or some personal peculiarity, or something else. I'm more concerned with the all-credit-all-the-time nonsense as an assault on a part of our culture I hold dear, the previously mentioned cash economy.

Anyway, I think I'll go home and count my penny collection again. Bah humbug.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

New arrival

Well, the planned-for pickup of Marigold, the loom I've used for the past couple of years, and the one I learned on 30 years ago (!) went off on schedule earlier last week, and my new-to-me loom arrived the same day.

Newby is not yet named, but I think she's a she.


As you can see, she's a counterbalance loom, not a jack loom (which is the only genus I've used to date)


Hey, this is upstairs! Yes, true. The tall part, which is called the castle, rules out getting downstairs without some major disassembly of either the loom or the house, neither of which seems like a good idea.


That's the view over my shoulder...

There are some significant tasks ahead: I need to fine-tune the counterbalance of the harnesses (the frame-like things hanging from the small ropes. I need to adjust the beater (the part that has the baleen-like reed). Most significantly, I hope, I need to convert the backbeam - the part that has canvas wrapped around it on the back of the loom, in the top picture - to a sectional beam. This means adding struts, crossbeams and section separators at 2-inch intervals.

This is not a small project. The last part is a little intimidating, but hey, measure thrice.

On a side note, my Employee of the Year bonus included chit that I'm redeeming for some super neat yarn derived from bamboo, which I intend to convert into some equally neat scarves. On a side, side note, the butterfly lady located a weaver at Etsy who makes eerily similar scarves, also out of yarn derived from bamboo, one of which is in the same pattern I plan to use. It is a Gothic cross, which I used in a scarf I wove a couple of years ago. As you can see, if you visit the "weaver" link and shop around a little, the effect is strikingly different - and glorious - in the finer-gauge yarn she uses.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Avast, ye dogs

My pirate name is:



Red Davy Bonney



Passion is a big part of your life, which makes sense for a pirate. You can be a little bit unpredictable, but a pirate's life is far from full of certainties, so that fits in pretty well. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from piratequiz.com.
part of the fidius.org network

Monday, September 10, 2007

The oven's on

The weather has finally arrived at the point at which I am happy to turn the oven on for extended periods. I think the overnight lows have been in the 50s, so the house has been about 60 degrees in the morning. It is nice, like camping.

So, over the weekend, I made a couple of pizzas and sugar cookies - yum!

I'm still refining the pizza recipe: I was using sauce I froze some time back, and next time I plan to do two things differently: reduce the sauce much more (too damn watery) and add one of those cute little cans of tomato paste.

This time I used fancier mozzarella than usual (usually I just buy the chunk of fake-o mozzarella - the same type that's used for string cheese, I think, and the same kind that most pizza parlors use). I opted for fresh mozzarella partly because the cheese was buy one, get one free at Joe Albertson's supermarket.

The only disadvantage of the better cheese is that it isn't salty, so I think the addition of freshly grated Parmesan would be a big plus (as if it wouldn't be anyway).

This reminds me of when I worked at Sunshine Pizza Exchange (alas, nobody every exchanged anything but money for our pizza). This was a pretty good pizza parlor in the Northwest, one that when times were good could be counted on for very good thin-crust pizza.

We had a policy, for example, that when making a pepperoni pizza the pepperoni needed to overlap and entirely cover the pie. Pepperoni shrinks when cooked, so overlapping was just insurance that you wouldn't be able to see the cheese showing through when the pizza was baked. Oh, and we used good-quality pepperoni, too.

I worked there long enough to become fairly picky about pizza. Now, if you're buying, I'll eat just about anything, but if I'm buying (or baking), I am really only happy with very good pizza. Life is too short for schlocky stuffed-crust, dipping-stick junk.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Why I like where I work

OK, here's one reason: Our newsroom has

Six full-time reporters (and one to three freelancers)
One full-time intern
One part-time reporter (works from home)
Two news clerks
Three sports guys (one editor, two copy editor/writers)
Two full-time photographers (and a bunch of freelancers)
Four copy editors (one design editor, two copy editors and a Web editor/copy editor)
One editorial page editor
One city editor (me!)
One editor (the boss)

I supervise the seven reporters, the intern and the freelancer(s), and if the editor, to whom I directly report, is away, I'm the acting editor.

At a larger paper, the editor would be separated from the city editor by at least a managing editor, and possibly some assistant managing editors. I understand the rationale behind having multiple layers of management between the general and the enlisted personnel, but as you probably know from your workplace, the more intermediate people are, the worse your workplace is for a) intraoffice politics; and b) actually getting work done.

Also, all those extra layers are expensive, and don't actually result in anything showing up in the paper. The more I do my job, the more sure I am I prefer the way we operate.

For what it's worth.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Scary microwave popcorn story

from the wire, and thankfully irrelevant to me, because I use a mechanical popcorn popper: Apparently, a non-popcorn factory worker has come down with the dreaded popcorn lung, aka bronchiolitis obliterans (I don't think you need to be a big expert in Latin to guess at what ungodly thing happens to your lungs in this one).

Luckily, I guess, the guy got it by making and eating a couple of bags of popcorn a day and deeply inhaling the fumes each time he opened the bag.

He's on the wagon and the road to recovery, so that's a cheerful outcome, but it is creepy nonetheless. Popcorn lung would be a pretty lame thing to have to put on your tombstone.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Change is in the air

But nothing too dramatic.

The last box of fabric is being sent to my employer today, and two of the three warps I'm preparing for her are wound on: A 50-yard warp in kiwi and a 42-yarder in brown. Really, the brown is more like a grouping of rusts with some other ingredients. A black warp I intended to finish winding Monday is awaiting an emergency shipment of more yarn.

The loom I've been using is also my employer's traveling loom, so all of these items (warps and loom, plus many accessories) are due to be picked up Tuesday. I had hoped I would receive my new-to-me loom at the same time, seeing as how my employer has that loom at her house, but I don't think that's going to happen. I guess that means I will have to get around to learning to knit if I want to do textiles this fall.

Coincidentally, the swimming pool, which was closed for the summer (of course, who wants to swim in summer?) is open now, so maybe a break from weaving is well timed. I'm disappointed, though.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Another blog

So, my workplace is moving forward. To what year, I don't know, but closer to this one. As such, I now have a work blog, which can be enjoyed here.

I guess now you can find out more about how I think. I suppose, anyway.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Word police

OK, here's another word that needs to be dumped. It is three words, really: improvised explosive device.

No. 1, give me a break. It has way more letters than what it means: roadside bomb.

No. 2, it gives unimaginative bozos an annoying way to talk about any policy they disagree with: "It's improvised, explosive and divisive!"

No. 3, it has that familiar ring of words that hide something, especially when the name is nicked to IED. "The IED went off" just doesn't quite put the same message across as "the bomb went off."

I'm sure there are other reasons, but I think I've found enough.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Is this town the next Napa?

Apparently, someone thinks so, and the flagship publication of the company I work for carries a story to that effect. At one point, a local person makes a reference to "wine-country living" and I can see that some people here do enjoy that kind of lifestyle.

But many others do not, and I think if you spend some time out here, you'll find a lot more bullethole-ridden road signs, beer cans tossed at the side of the road out in the wheat fields and empty storefronts than you might associate with a cutesy tourist trap.

For this I am thankful. My alma mater has spent the years since my commencement doing a disgraceful job of re-landscaping, turning the campus into what one of my pals calls "the entrance to an REI," and I think that if certains powers-that-be had their way, the whole god damn city would be upscale, generic crap.

I'm all for progress, but I will be sorry if my town finishes marginalizing the people who can't afford an $8 hamburger.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Global, local

You know, there's that aphorism people trot out every so often: Think globally, act locally.

I'm tired of that. What is "think globally" supposed to mean, really? And where's local? How about: Think and act like it matters.

Lulu wrote recently about the situation in her flooded country, Bangladesh. She suggests that her readers might consider helping out, maybe be remembering her new land when they're making their charitable contributions, if they have enough left over after helping out at home.

I think Lulu is too accomodating. I also think that if everyone who reads - and comments regularly - on her blog gave $50 or $100 to a relevent charity, say Islamic Relief USA, that would be an easily measurable good that could be accomplished pretty much right now.

Hey, I'm not saying that's what you should do. If you ask me, you should send that $50 or $100 to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, the Jane Goodall Institute or the Save the Redwoods League.

But I'm certainly not immune to the impassioned pleas of people who care.

More bullshitty baseball writing

USA Today has a sidebar today with the story about Arizona Diamondbacks starter Brandon Webb's 42-inning scoreless streak (which includes three straight shutouts!).

The sidebar is a quick hit on comparisons between Webb and the pitcher he is chasing, Orel Hershiser. Notorious dickhead Tommy Lasorda is quoted as saying he can't bring himself to root for Webb, pretty much because Lasorda bleeds Dodger blue and Hershiser was his guy.

OK, whatever. But Bob Nightengale's sidebar leads with this:
PHOENIX - Los Angeles Dodgers Hall of Fame manager Tom Lasorda admires the man, sees the same marvelous qualities as his own celebrated pitcher but can't bring himself to root for Brandon Webb of the Arizona Diamondbacks to break one of baseball's most cherished records.
Most cherished? What? You mean right up there with the consecutive games played streak and the all-time home run record?

Hey, it is a cool record, but I think shooting for the all-time, single-season mark in shutouts (16) would be a hell of a lot more impressive. We'll just have to wait until hell freezes over for that one.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Art and craft

I rarely think about art, but I *do* art a lot. Or so I think.

Over the weekend, I participated in a local show, dubbed Alley Gallery (a self-proclaimed lowbrow art sale). I also wove 19 yards of cloth, enough for seven wraps of varying sorts. I'm sorry to say the latter was much more lucrative work.

While I was at the show Friday, an artist pal and I chatted about this and that, mostly money, sales and how to get by as an artist. These topics seem to occupy a fair amount of her waking hours. I don't need to make a living as a weaver, but I could if I had to. I'm sure I'd have worries, but one thing I would not worry about is whether people would buy my work.

I think weaving full time would count as being an artist for a living, but my pal hinted that might be up for debate. I know there are divides among craftsmen: Painters and photographers aren't the same animal as weavers, woodworkers, potters and metalsmiths.

And I know that people who show in galleries or do installation art aren't the same as craftsmen (and women, though I've met few craftswomen who see craftsman as a gender-specific term). But I wasn't aware that any of them really thought we (craftsmen) weren't doing art.

On the flip side, I see a lot of art that is done with very poor craftsmanship. If it were my call to make, my alma mater would require studio art majors to take (and pass, god damn it) a course in craftsmanship. I'm not saying you can't have good art without good craftsmanship, but if you're going to sell something, a little professional pride wouldn't hurt.

I guess that's another can of worms, the selling part. I've yet to weave something I think nobody would buy, but I don't think that spoils the items as pieces of art. I think that might be up for debate, too.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Seen on the way to work

If you love Jesus, seek justice. Anybody can honk.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

That's just the way I roll

Radio show in 55 minutes.

Want to listen in? Drop by my alma mater's radio station between 1o p.m. and midnight, Pacific time!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Calm down there, tiger

There's a local guy (probably, you have such a guy, too, or maybe a lady, who knows) who advocates for installing rotaries around town. I think his wish is going to come true soon enough at some local interchange or another.

As for me, I like rotaries and roundabouts. I like using them for their intended purpose, and also driving around them a couple of times once in a while, just for silliness or to annoy passengers. I like that with a rotary, you can have a little park-like area at an intersection instead of traffic lights. Sure, it takes up some space, but so what. (p.s. I'm experimenting here, ending my rhetorical questions with a period. I don't think I like it, but isn't that the way it goes.)

Mostly, I like rotaries and roundabouts because they usually make for smooth traffic flow. I have been stuck in traffic a couple of times approaching the roundabout near the liquor store off Interstate 95 in Portsmouth, N.H., but those incidents were not the norm, and I could usually sneak around most of the traffic at the circle just by taking the initiative.

I also like cobblestones, but maybe that's a topic for another day.

Toyota Prius

While in the Bay Area over the weekend for my older/little sister's wedding, I had a double surprise at the car rental agency.

I reserved an economy car, which I always do, but unlike most every other rental, I actually received an economy car, too. I usually get a "complimentary" upgrade to some piece of junk I don't want, like a mid-size Pontiac or some other gas-guzzling, boring, can-only-do-a-U-turn-in-an-open-field pile of crap.

Plus, I got a Prius, which is a new one for me. The push-button start and electric motor took a little getting used to, but after about, oh, the second time I turned it on, everything was cool. The Prius is a surprisingly fun car to drive: peppy, roomy and ergonomically sensible. The easy-to-read display that shows fuel level, odometer, speedometer, etc., is like a heads-up-display, but just below the windshield.

The only quibble I have is that - possibly down to me - the car didn't run through the same startup routine each time I turned it on, and twice had to be restarted. In a car without a normal arrangement of parts, that's a little unsettling.

I'd think seriously about buying one, which is more than I can say for almost any car I have ever rented. Almost is because I got to drive a Fiat Punto all over Tunisia a few years ago, and I loved it! So, I'll take a Prius and a Punto.

And a Mustang, too. Why not.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Still wicked busy

I thought summers were for relaxing, but this one is not.

The shuttle has been a-flyin' for weeks now, and I put on a new (60-yard) warp over the weekend. I keep alleging that I'll post a photo or six from this venture, but I will need to bend the space-time continuum to add time to my days in order to do that.

But I *can* talk out of both sides of my mouth: I have "discovered" that a perfectly serviceable margarita can be made with mostly non-official ingredients:

Tequila - about a third of one of those little flask-y bottles
Juice of two lemons
A slightly greater amount of key lime juice
Three heaping tablespoons of powdered sugar
About three quarters of a tray of ice cubes
A few dashes of bitters

Blend the lot and serve as you like. (This is enough to share, right?) I think this would be a poor recipe for a rocks 'rita.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A list of games

Games owned by me:

Scrabble
Super Scrabble
Scrabble (auf Deutsch)
Boggle (Newfy loves this one - so soothing for her nerves)
Cribbage (for that matter, cards)
Mah jong
Go
The Farming Game (like Monopoly, but much better)
Abalone (the butterfly lady's favorite, for sure)
Tangrams
A few hundred old-school video games, but those are on the computer

I'm probably missing something here...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

10 codes

Besides some of the other fun peculiarities of the lingo of copland, some territories (usually larger cities than mine) also get the added bonus of heavy use of 10 codes over the airwaves.

These codes usually sound like 10-100 or 10-6 (or 10-4, good buddy, if you're one of *those* people), but can also start with other numbers. 1000, 5000, 100, 500, 9, 2, whatever.

You can sometimes find crib sheets to local 10 codes, but of course they're not always accurate (one Nashua sheet lists 9-8 as a disorderly crowd, but I've heard it many times for juveniles). I think the obvious value of 10 codes is that you can use them to quickly make unambiguous statements, which is handy during a riot, for example.

You might hear someone come over the scanner referring to a "9-1, going good," which usually means a domestic dispute that has turned into a donnybrook, or "subject is highly 9-2," which means somebody's whisky glass has been filled and emptied at least one too many times.

So one night, a slow night at work, one of my top 10 favorite people turns to me and says, "You know, maybe some day I can have some 9-8s, and they can get 9-2 and start some 9-1s."

As you can imagine, our jobs were nonstop action.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Suspend the Bonds debate? No way

USA Today's Mike Lopresti thinks we should all give the Barry Bonds steroid debate a break while he breaks Hank Aaron's career Major League home run record. You know the argument, which is nicely summed up by the headline:

Lopresti: Suspend Bonds debate and savor the drama

Bullshit. How about:

Suspend Bonds, resolve the debate and savor the truth

Friday, July 27, 2007

A work blog

My employer has decided to take a step forward with its Web site, and add blogs by staff and, presumably, others. I'm obviously a candidate to write one of these blogs, but I'm not sure what to pitch as a topic.

Being a city editor isn't really a dark art, but I'm not sure what kind of window the average blog reader really wants into the sausage factory of news.

Maybe I should blog about something completely different. Ugh. I have no idea.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

New finds, but not necessarily new...



Caprese

I don't think I've previously mentioned how much I like caprese, but let it be known, O Universe, that I like to eat caprese. I've had it in many different forms, all of which have included tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, oil and balsamic vinegar.

In a few places, it has also come with other ingredients (olives, salt and pepper), and I've had it served in varying ways: At Dan Marino's pub/restaurant, the tomato slices seem like they are an inch thick (but they're really only three-quarters of an inch or so - that, and they're slices of HUGE tomatoes), with a lot of cheese and not so much basil.

At Cafe Med (a New Hampshire favorite), the recipe is a lot like how I make it at home, with thinner tomatoes and chopped basil.

I had yet another version last night at an undisclosed location: three thick tomato slices (not Marino-esque, thankfully), three slices of mozzarella and three basil leaves, arranged in a column on the diagonal of a square plate and dressed with oil and balsamic vinegar. Pretty tasty, for sure, but not a very generous helping. On the very bright side, I was also not super hungry, so this made a perfect-size meal. I think if my fellow diner and I had been sharing this as an appetizer we would have been disappointed, though.

Is there a moral to the story? Uh, no, not really.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Not worth the calories, or the price

That's my judgment on Hershey's new "premium" milk and dark chocolate (with nibs). Neither was worth eating, even though are both a) chocolate; and b) free (a coworker brought in samples he likely got using a coupon that was in Sunday's paper for free chocolate).

Hershey's entry into this market makes sense, I guess: I hear the company's sales are flat. But I don't buy Hershey's chocolate to get a Blue Moon Chocolatier experience, just like I don't buy Miller High Life to mimic the experience of drinking a Guinness.

Anyway, the Cacao Reserve (the coupon came complete with a pronunciation guide, for Christ's sake) dark chocolate was OK but utterly forgettable, even with the nibs - just generic dark chocolate. The milk chocolate was too chewy and slimy for my taste. I don't know about the flavor; I was too distracted by the yucky texture.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I guess they give vacations from heaven

Seen in a wire story today:

"All of a sudden I heard a loud explosion, and the ground beneath my feet shook," Jesus said. "I looked up and I saw a huge ball of fire, and then I smelled the stench of kerosene and sulfur."

Monday, July 16, 2007

Quotable

Over the weekend, the butterfly lady and I took in some flicks ("Death of a President" - total snoozer; "Notes on a Scandal" - well, OK, I suppose) and a couple of TV shows, including "Traveler," which we usually watch online. (I'd rather watch all the TV shows I like online and just ditch cable.)

We watched "Traveler" on ABC's dipshit media player, which as Mariposa points out forces the viewer to browse through all the shows to find the one she seeks:
"They show you the whole candy store and figure if you came in for a Snickers, you might want to leave with a Baby Ruth too."
She was in good form while surfing through homes for sale in a city we might be interested in. Our price range is, let us say, not the top tier, but maybe we wouldn't want it to be:
"People who have fuckloads of money apparently don't have fuckloads of taste."
Not that I wouldn't want to be a test case, though.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Not that long ago

I was thinking about 9/11 last night. Not sure who made this tribute, but it fits.

In rout

I finally caved the other day to two purchases: Book the last for Harry Potter, and an Airport Extreme base station for my growing home network.

The book had to happen at some point. Twenty-odd bucks seems a bit steep, but as Jason Bourne once said, fuck it.

I said the same thing myself, but possibly more than once, about the base station. We have pretty straightforward networking needs at home: Three users, two of whom are wireless. This should be pretty god-damned simple, but of course it is not.

We bought a Belkin (that's an Old English word for completely the fuck useless) router, which sometimes is really satisfactory, but sometimes requires me to perform all sorts of confusing rituals to get a stable signal.

I have a high tolerance for technological hassles, so when I start cursing about computers, the situation is well on its way to totally out of hand.

The upshot, after much more ado than necessary, is that a new router is en route to my location.

That reminds me: If you spend any time at all listening to police scanners, you are familiar with the re-pronunciation of en route as In Rout. As far as I can tell, this re-pronunciation is universal.

When I hear those words, as I just did here in my office in sunny Walla Walla, they conjure an image of a couple of patrol cars fleeing ahead of an advancing column of Visigoths.

Alas, this never comes to pass.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Busy, busy, busy

Argh. I have virtually nothing interesting to say, except that I could go for a couple of hot dogs and beers at a baseball game, preferably somewhere hot and laid-back.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Maybe Harry Potter's in town

En route to work today, I heard a gaggle of crows raising Cain in a tree. No big shock, but then out of the tree tumbled a great-horned owl.

The owl landed about 15 feet from me and hunkered down, blinking and rearranging its feathers for a couple of minutes before silently flying across the creek and out of sight, pursued by several crows.

That's not the first owl I've seen between work and home, but I haven't seen one in quite a while, and never on my somewhat busy street.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Working on holidays

When I lived in New Hampshire, I usually worked holidays, with the notable exception of Christmas.

At the time, my employer allowed people who worked holidays to save the day off to use whenever they wished, although that privilege was reserved for salaried types. I guess the complication of overtime meant hourly people had to either get a different day off during the pay period or take a hefty chunk of cash, which you will be surprised to learn my employer wasn't thrilled about.

The take-it-anytime policy was snuffed out by a policymaker who later came to be known as the "little dictator," but it was a good system while it lasted, especially for me. Between vacation, comp time, floating holidays and the work-a-holiday-get-a-day-off days, I wound up with four weeks of vacation a year, sometimes a little more.

Those times have come and gone, of course.

Of course, getting excited about four whole weeks off seems pretty silly when you think about how much time people get off in less advanced countries, like, you know, Germany.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Fighting the clutter war

My late uncle, a lunatic packrat, kept his house full, and I do mean full, of mostly all junk.

A few treasures lurked in the shadows:

Here, a dust-drowned set of handcrafted elephants of increasing size from teeny to a few inches tall.

There, cordial glasses in the form of crystal thistles.

Everywhere, undiscarded junk mail, stultifying books, flimsy old tableware, empty hooch bottles.

I do not wish to dispute my uncle's title as Reigning Champion of Junk Retention, so I frequently visit upon my home a flurry of tidying, which usually results in a bag - or several - for the local charities to figure out. I enjoy the process, mostly because I like to rediscover all the stuff that I thought was worth keeping the last time I passed through.

I don't buy much stuff, and neither does the butterfly lady, which leaves me wondering about the ability of my belongings to multiply. I would prefer that when they do procreate, they make something useful that I want, like a table saw or a new motorcycle, instead of five cardboard mailing tubes, 35 pencils and a stack of plastic plates.

Friday, June 29, 2007

A promise that would be funny to keep

Shot by my father, in the Land of Ports.

Deus ex machina

I love to watch movies, even bad ones. Lucky me, because if I objected to watching movies that aren't any good, I would have way fewer choices.

For me, a good ending is the make-or-break element of most movies. I'm OK with nebulous endings, sometimes. But not very often. I'm more OK with those than with the miraculous Problem Solved ending. It seems as though the writers (I think of movies with poor endings as being the work of a committee) said, "Well, we've done everything we needed to do. Got the scene with Nicole Kidman naked. Got the trippy special effect with the electromagnetic pulse. Got the Michael Mann driving scene. OK, let's wrap this up."

Hey, I'm not saying I'd do better, but I'd be OK with fewer, better movies. On the bright side, the prevalance of deus ex machina endings means that a good wikipedia article has been written, or at least one that contains a good for-instance:
(e.g. the rope that binds the hero's hands is luckily chewed off by a rat.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How much do you make?

A personal question!

But also a public question, if you work for the people. There's been some hue and cry about a Lansing State Journal's move to give readers access to a database of state employee salaries, and the Asbury Park Press has made a similar move, by posting a tool that lets you search for the salaries of most federal employees. I don't know whether they've caught any flak, though.

For your inconvenience

I've made two visits to post offices recently. One was on a Sunday, at Narita International Airport outside Tokyo and to the Walla Walla post office at Sumach Street and Second Avenue.

Although I don't speak much Japanese, I was able to mail a parcel from Narita for a reasonable cost with no hassle in about five minutes. That time included the two postal workers carefully packaging my item in a box, which they sealed, and for me to fill out the forms and pay.

My visit to the Walla Walla post office Monday afternoon didn't go quite so smoothly. One similarity: There were two postal workers in the office. As for me, I had a sealed priority mail flat-rate envelope to send. Twenty-five minutes after walking in, I had my receipt in hand and the envelope was off.

I don't think the postal workers were to blame, but who would ever know? It was lunchtime, so customers were plentiful, and some had what appeared to be bizarre needs: to have an individualized sales pitch about each of the available boxes the post office sells to ship items; to apparently have help filling out the whole! passport application at the counter; to negotiate for the release of a single piece of mail posted by the customer but also the subject of some arcane afterthought.

If ever a post office needed one of the self-service kiosks, it is this one.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Why, oh why

I spent an hour this morning walking laps at the scene of my former triumphs, the college track. This time, I was participating in a fund-raising walk for cancer research. Coolio.

But even though I had an early shift at the track (it was a teamwork thing) I still got the significant disadvantage of piped in music about halfway through my walk, followed by some fairly disturbing live music.

The piped-in stuff was annoying (You'll never know that you're my hero, YMCA, that kind of stuff), but the live music was creepy. The performer, a Christian blues guy, was singing about being ready to head for heaven. Um, no, you know, at a cancer research walk, I'm more interested in a long, healthy life, not a short one, for Christ's sake.

I have to say the creepy singing severely detracted from an otherwise inspirational and moving morning walk.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

"Documentary" comes up short

The History Channel had a show Wednesday evening about meat processing: "Modern Marvels: The Butcher."

The show description reads like you might expect from a legitimate documentary, but there was this little question of truth and lies.

The show included a segment on the cutting edge of U.S. meat packaging. And what, pray tell, is on that cutting edge? If you watched the show, you would think meat packagers are adding oxygen to packages to keep the meat looking fresh. Of course, carbon also is being added to the packaging at the same time, because what packagers are *really* adding is carbon monoxide.

The compound isn't supposed to be harmful at the levels being used in packaging, and it is credited with keeping meat looking fresh longer, which retailers and producers say is crucial to sales. But carbon monoxide use in packaging was banned by the European Commission, according to various wire reports, because its use could mask spoilage.

Is it safe? Is it dangerous?

Well, those are good questions, but they went unanswered, and worse, unasked in the History Channel's show. Feedback on other shows at the channel's message boards and the way the packaging segment was reported suggest this oversight was intentional. I'm not impressed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Minor beef with book dealers

I found three kinds of product descriptions today while prowling the used book shelves at amazon.com for Spanish grammar workbooks.

Exhibit A:
  • Comments: Some shelf wear to edges of cover, pages yellowed a bit, otherwise good.
  • Comments: Bought but never used. Shelf wear. Shipping from MA.
  • Comments: about half the book has writing
Exhibit B:
  • Comments: Go with the name you can trust: Thriftbooks has the HIGHEST star rating of ALL high-volume sellers! Read More. Spend Less. Your Satisfaction is Guaranteed!
Exhibit C:
  • Comments: minor shelfwear; clean pages Average used book, may have price sticker on front cover, shelfwear. BUY WITH CONFIDENCE: 99% Positive feedback. 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed!!!!! Compare our prices and service to the competition!
  • Comments: Book shows some use, cover is a bit worn, but pages are clean and book is solid. Some writing in first few pages. A great addition to your library!
It's pretty easy for me to ignore the books in Exhibit B, and some of the books in Exhibit A don't work for me (I prefer a workbook that hasn't already had someone write in answers). The listings in Exhibit C annoy me.

I already am comparing the prices. I think that's why Amazon puts them in order. Buy with confidence? Well, maybe now that this is in all caps, sure. A great addition to my library? How would you know? I just want pertinent information, damn it, but these listings leave me doubtful.

"Average used book, may have price sticker on front cover, shelfwear" and "Book shows some use, cover is a bit worn, but pages are clean and book is solid" look like boilerplate, so I am skeptical about "clean pages" and the second listing's bit about "Some writing in first few pages" makes me think "pages are clean" is maybe not accurate. Just possibly.

Grumble.

Monday, June 18, 2007

On my to-do list

I've long since abandoned learning to use a 10-key, but I still think it would be useful. Survivors on one of my get-more-skills lists:
  • Finish learning French. I can get by on the road, but that's about it.
  • Improve in Japanese and Arabic to the point that I can get by comfortably on the road (and translate my new Japanese-language field guide to Japanese birds).
  • Finish learning Spanish. I can get by one the road, if all the road demands is that I order a beer. Or another beer.
So that should be pretty easy, right? I have a plan, anyway, which involves French lessons that start today. Depending on how much time is left in my days, I hope to tackle Japanese through the translation project. It will be an interesting experiment anyway... And Arabic? Man, I need some more hours.

Spanish is kind of up in the air: My employer may offer some sort of kickback on tuition, which could mean actual classroom time starting in the fall. It isn't very expensive, about $1,300 for three quarters, plus books.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Water wise?

I got my utility bill today. Most of the costs are set:
  • $34.60 for sewer
  • $3.18 for storm water
  • $16.81 for trash
  • $1.90 for recycling
  • 67 cents in trash tax. Why they don't fold that into the $16.81 is a mystery.
  • $18.07 for water
So that's $75.26 of my $78.29 bill. The other $3.06 is the charge for our use of 300 cubic feet of water (about 2,250 gallons). That's lower than usual, but we were on the road a lot. We average about 500 cubic feet, so our bill is usually a couple bucks higher. In those monhts, 92 percent of my bill is set costs, and my choices work out to about six bucks.

On Friday in the paper, we published a small column the city is submitting each week to try to get people on board with water conservation.

I think you know where I'm headed here, but I'll just say it anyway.

Maybe it is time to ditch the set fee and switch to a sliding scale for use. I usually pay $24 for 600 cubic feet, so how about:
  • $4 per 100 cubic feet for the first 10 units.
  • $8 per unit for units 11-20.
  • $16 per unit for units 21-30.
  • $32 per unit for units 31 and up.
I'm sure a system can be worked out for non-residential users, too.

Friday, June 15, 2007

And furthermore...

I see the wire also carries a story today about how rental car companies, Hertz and Avis Budget at least, plan to add hybrids to their fleets to meet a demand for "green" vehicles.

I'll believe this when I am behind the wheel. My experience with rentals has been pretty heavy on the mandatory free upgrade to a larger car than I reserved. I have been upgrade so often to clunky gas-guzzlers that I question whether the rental companies are getting some kind of deal, either from fuel sellers or car companies that can't find customers for their crappier vehicles.

What's wealthy?

For that matter, what's wealth?

Those definitions surely depend on who's being asked, and how much money/property they have. I'd say wealthy starts pretty low: Maybe $100,000 a year if you live in a town such as mine, maybe $200,000 in a snazzier place, like Santa Monica. But you'd need assets, too, to meet my definition. I'm a little fuzzy on that; I guess if your expenses aren't high and you make $100,000 a year, you can get some assets pretty quickly.

How about $100k a year plus $250k-$500k in property/investments/gold bars under the mattress? Sounds good to me.

The Associated Press and I do not see eye to eye: An Anne D'Innocenzio story about spending on luxury items pegs wealthy at $350,000 and above. I think that's overkill. According to the comprehensive wikipedia entry on household income in the United States, about 1.5 percent of households have annual incomes above $250,000, and just under 16 percent are over $100,000.

Maybe the "real" number is somewhere in the middle.

Or maybe it's better to concoct a non-monetary definition of wealth, or one that combines dough with quality of life. And maybe *that* is just a strategy people who don't have a lot of cash use to keep up with the Joneses.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Another difference


One of Lulu's posts reminded me: In some places, everybody knows who you are. This is weird if you are usually unrecognized. But hey, a few autographs are a small price to pay for the adoration of some friendly school kids :)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The national pastime

While in Japan, I find that the combination of starting the day early (to beat the crowds), not being able to read very well (this makes every non-English or non-Romaji sign a challenge in decoding) and the general onslaught of information conspire to putting a relatively early end to the day.

This is actually very cool, because it leaves plenty of time to enjoy Japanese television. This being my first visit during baseball season, I got my first dose of what appears to be the typical baseball coverage on TV.

Most nights, two or three games were broadcast live. On network TV. In primetime.

Besides the games, all of the nightly news programs had hefty baseball reports, from the Japanese leagues and highlights of hometown heroes in the majors. I think I saw more of Ichiro in the last two weeks than in the previous few years here.

Of course, there are other differences besides in TV exposure. For example, Japanese players show off less than major leaguers. Sure, there's the usual fist pumping after a home run, but there's none of the Albert Pujols/Barry Bonds crap of hitting a home run and standing around to watch the ball go out. Maybe that's because the Japanese players are in a hurry to get to home plate, where the tradition seems to be that they are handed a stuffed animal. Really.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Portion control

The butterfly lady, my father and I spent the past couple of weeks in Japan, mostly exploring in and around Tokyo and Kyoto (with side visits to Matsumoto and Hiroshima). During a short layover in Seattle on the way home, I bought a meal at one of the fish houses in the airport (for the lady and I: My father lives in another city and flew on a different route).

It does not take a food scientist to figure out why Japanese people and American people are not the same size. I ordered a combo meal of fish and chips, which came with clam chowder and a soda.

For $10.81, including tax, we received four hefty pieces of fried fish, french fries (about as much as a McDonald's medium, maybe a large), a large "cup" of chowder and a 20-ounce Diet Coke. The butterfly lady estimated that what we got would have been a nice meal for four Japanese women. She's right, I think.

I know that the first day back is always a huge shock, but this time seemed more shocking than usual. Maybe this is because I have been hungry (but also, thankfully, thinner) for most of the past two years, or maybe our country is just getting bigger...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Happy aspect of long-distance travel

Besides not having to ride on a ship, I mean: The butterfly lady, on our return from Japan today, were expecting a *long* layover in Seattle, but two guys didn't show up for an earlier flight to our city, so we got a four-hour bonus, and their seats. A minor hooray, and a nice positive note for air travel, which seems to have less and less to recommend it (OK, yeah, except for the fact that it is fast) each time I fly.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Needful things

As usual, Japan is way ahead of the rest of us. It is embarrassing to me to hear people say we're the No. 1 leader in all things, because we so obviously are not.

To wit:


I'm trying to figure out what the coolest use would be for one of these ultra-thin, ultra-flexible displays. I mean, there's a whole basketful of obvious choices: A TV you can easily hang on the wall would be nice, but it would have to be pretty big, I think. If the wizards who come up with these things can ever overcome the physical obstacles to making high-fidelity, ultra-thin speakers, we'll be in business...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Categories I could easily beat that Jeopardy guy at

I think his name was Ken, or Kirby, or maybe Kitten. Whatever. He knew everything, right? Well, he didn't know everything about (or would be slower than me at):
  • Weaving terminology. Is it a woof or a weft? The world wonders.
  • Birds seen by me on Plum Island, Mass.
  • Tasks undertaken in the former Strauser Manufacturing plant in Walla Walla in the summer of 1994. Hey, they all sucked.
  • Best routes from 2B N. Main St., #212, Newmarket, N.H, to 17 Executive Drive, Hudson, NH. These mostly sucked, too.
I'm sure there's one more out there, but Jeopardy ceases to amuse me...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Pretty huge deal

The butterfly lady got her official sign-off as a Ph.D. on Saturday at the University of New Hampshire, so we rolled out that way with her dad and met up with a couple of pals to hang out for the extended weekend.

This meant lots of chow in our old stomping grounds, tooling around in same, hanging around for hours in the chilly mist (not a warm day for graduation) and other fun activities. I felt a pretty fair amount of nostalgia and homesickness, but that passed Sunday afternoon when I was driving along Routes 107 and 111 in rather unweekend-like traffic. That I do not miss, not one bit.

Nevertheless, the visit was very nice and seeing the doctor anointed would have been worth the trip all by itself.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Awww, yeah

Here comes Kool-Aid!

Speaking of birds

I see the Associated Press, the world's largest news-gathering organization, has misidentified a Steller's jay as a bluebird. USA Today has duplicated the error, too. OK, so both of them have blue feathers, but give me a break.

Here is a Steller's jay.


And here is a Western bluebird.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Laid-back bird watching

I haven't been out much lately, but I like to go bird watching. So does the butterfly lady, who suggested we head out into the toolies Sunday to check out what we could find. Having lived here for most of the 1990s, I've seen most of what the county has to offer (which to be fair is a lot of great birds), so maybe I'm not in a big hurry to rush out on the weekends because a) I have a lot of other stuff to do; and b) I've seen a lot of these guys before.

Among the cool sights:
  • A Say's phoebe, on the same stretch of road I was on the first time I saw one, ages ago. They're cute little flycatchers with a pretty song, and they flick their tails to pass the time.
  • A great horned owl, perched in a nest in a riverbank. Their "horns" and yellow eyes give them a particularly fierce glare.
  • About a half-dozen American white pelicans, moseying along in a lake at the McNary National Wildlife Refuge. I saw a couple pelicans once out at the local reservoir. When I told a birding pal about them, he asked if I was sure they weren't swans. Um, yeah, I'm pretty sure I could tell the difference.
  • Ruddy ducks! The butterfly lady's favorite duck - a cute little brick red sort with a spiky, upturned tail and a bright blue bill. These were in another of the refuge's lakes.
  • A northern oriole (or if you're a splitter, a Bullock's oriole), along the Walla Walla River. I don't see too many orioles on this side of the country, and they seem to be visible around these parts only for a brief spell.
We were on a very easygoing expedition, so we didn't go to great lengths to turn up oddballs, but it was still a nice way to spend part of a fairly lazy Sunday.

Friday, May 11, 2007

What are you paying me for?

Besides my 40-hour gig I do other things for money, too. The way I see it, the transactions I'm in, the person is buying either a) something I made; b) something I am doing for them; or c) both.

I do not think the buyer is purchasing "my time," and I doubt the run-of-the-mill customer thinks that's what they're getting when they hand over the cash.

Nevertheless, people frequently say, "I'm not sellling X, I'm selling my time."

I suppose. But when a customer says, "I'm not buying X from you, I'm buying your time," I think that maybe reality is being stretched a bit too far.

Call this semantics if you think that'll stick. I call it bullshit. You want to buy my time, you just give me some money, and I'll go read a book.

It's about damn time

An AP story on the wire today suggests LEDs will soon be a viable alternative to incandescent bulbs and compact fluorescents, too.

Incandescents and CF bulbs are of course the most widely available choices for most people's lighting needs, unless, I suppose, you count candles. Both have major drawbacks - inefficiency (while I was writing this post, I had a funny parenthetical - (Who hasn't used an incandescent light to warm a chick?)), aesthetically displeasing light, contributions to mercury pollution and climate change, that sort of thing.

As the story points out, LEDs aren't ready to take over as your garden-variety solution to home-lighting problems, but maybe in a few years, they will be.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I am told one of my earliest responses to that question was "a bear."

Starting in about high school, I thought I might be a: soldier, civil engineer, anthropology professor, restaurateur, writer or weaver, as well as a few other oddball ideas here and there. Maybe some of those I named are themselves oddball...

I did not, until I started working at newspapers, expect that I'd become a journalist. I must like it: I've been at this for quite a while. But even though this is a great job and a valuable/meaningful/significant way to pass the time, I'm not sure I'm sold on it for the long haul.
  • The hours can be long, especially if you're a striver (been there, hope not to return).
  • The pay is just OK. I am not raking in the dough as a weaver, but I'm also not the only person in my profession who has more than one job.
  • The industry's long-term outlook is foggy. Thinking about the future of newspapers is like pancakes, all exciting at first, but after a while you're fucking sick of it (thank you, Mitch). I'm tired of thinking about this.
But it is a lot of fun. I pretty much get to talk, write, read, edit and think for a living - not too bad a deal. I'm still not sure about the answer, though. Maybe pizza critic?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Information and communication technology and you

The Pew Internet Project is running a project that uses a short self-report to slot people into one of several categories based on how they use information and communication technology. You can participate, and find out your "type" here.

Me? Omnivore:
"They have the most information gadgets and services, which they use voraciously to participate in cyberspace and express themselves online." (A Pew description)
According to Pew, this slice is about 8 percent of the population, with a median age of 28 (the youngest of the 10 available types), have the most gizmos and the highest rate of broadband Internet access at home.

I suppose, but I know people in this segment who are way more of gearheads than me, and who are way more involved. Maybe the 8-percenters need a special test :)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Where's for dinner?

Lulu tagged me with a places-to-eat meme, so I guess I have to spill the beans about where's OK for food in Walla Walla :)

Here're the rules:

1. Add a direct link to your post below the name of the person who tagged you.

Include the city/state and country you’re in.
Nicole
(Sydney, Australia)
velverse
(Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
LB
(San Giovanni in Marignano, Italy)
Selba
(Jakarta, Indonesia)
Olivia
(London, England)
ML
(Utah, USA)
Lotus
(Toronto, Canada)
tanabata
(Saitama, Japan)
Andi
(Dallas [ish], Texas, United States)
Lulu
(Chicago, Illinois, United States)
Alasdair (Walla Walla, Wash., U.S.)

2. List your top five favorite places to eat at your location.

3. Tag five other people (preferably from other countries/states) and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Well, let's see. Walla Walla is a city of about 30,000, tucked away in the southeastern corner of Washington, near the Oregon state line. It is fast becoming a big-deal wine destination, so the places to eat have changed quite a bit in recent years. One thing we have very little of is chain, sit-down restaurants. We've got Applebee's and Shari's, but that's about as far as it goes.

I'll be honest here. I miss southern New Hampshire/Greater Boston pretty intensely when it comes to food, and we rarely go out around here. I may not be a professional chef, but I'm sorry to report my meals are significantly better than most of what you get in restaurants here. This isn't a complete wasteland, though: Here are some good places for chow, in no particular order:
  • Taco trucks: Walla Walla has a whole bunch of these, step vans that carry a kitchen on board and can be found pretty reliably at a few locations around town and at special events (like game days for the regional Mexican Soccer League or over at the alma mater). You gets your basics here - a beef taco on corn tortillas with salsa and lime for about a buck. Tasty, quick and friendly is standard fare, whichever one you choose. There's also a place called Taqueria Yungapeti, which is kind of like a taco truck except that it is a sit-down restaurant. The food's the same, but the venue's nicer on any of Walla Walla's 50 or 60 annual days with rain.
  • Whitehouse-Crawford: OK, this is really a place I/we go for drinks, which are pricy, tasty and strong. The restaurant and bar are in a reconditioned mill and the ambience is maybe a third of the reason to go. Besides sidecars and martinis and such, W-C also has tasty fried onions (I love onion rings) and excellent desserts, especially their twice-baked chocolate souffle/cake and flan. Plus, if you spend a lot of money, they'll give you a customized woodworker's pencil as a souvenir.
  • Rosita's Mexican restaurant: Besides the taco trucks, we have no shortage of Mexican restaurants here. Rosita's is a kind of quiet, hole-in-the-wall sort of place that's been around for decades. The enchiladas verde are the best Mexican food I've had in Walla Walla by a long shot - spicy, rich in tomatillos and with a good proportion of chicken, cheese and sauce. Most out-of-towers don't notice Rosita's because it isn't near the main entrance to the city and because it isn't flashy. So much the worse for them, but so much the better for the locals, who don't have to wait for a table...
  • Fast Eddy's and Ice Burg: Two high-profile drive-ins, both of which are good old-fashioned hamburger joints. At Fast Eddy's, the lady comes to your car, at Ice-Burg you step up to an outdoor counter or use a drive-through. Both places have quality burgers, really good milkshakes (Ice-Burg has fantastic blackberry shakes) and serviceable onion rings and fries. Compared to In-N-Out Burger, these are both highway robbery and just all right for food, but they're pretty damn good for local fare.
  • Patit Creek Restaurant: The classic fancy place in the area, this little restaurant is in Dayton, a smallish city north of Walla Walla. Frommer's gives it two (out of three) stars; I've heard someone else offered three (out of what I don't know). I have actually had their signature dish, filet mignon poivre verte, which I would put in my top-five all time for steaks (another meme, perhaps. The others were 1) an open-face roast-beef sandwich at a steakhouse in York, Neb. I think it was at Chances 'R'. 2) a steak at Front Street Steakhouse in Ogallala, Neb. They even give you an ice cream sundae for dessert. 3) lunch special at Suehiro in Kyoto. You cook it yourself on a little griddle brought to your table. Served with some kind of proprietary soy sauce - fantastic. 4) New York strip steaks grilled by yours truly in Newmarket, N.H., bought at the Durham Marketplace meat counter and seasoned with Spade L seasoning. 5) Uh, Patit Creek? Yes, and it was very good.)
So, I suppose I have to tag some people. How about the butterfly lady, mama, MWR, Daphne and Rich. The first one and the last two don't follow the rules for geography, but I like to compare (and I have a limited circle of acquaintance!).