Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Let's Go Sailing

Let's go sailing!
Quincy and I have been thinking about boating. Well, I've been dreaming and she's been researching. That's how we divide our work, mostly. Anyway, I love the open sea. And by the open sea I mean the protected waters of Lake Union or Elliot Bay. One of my favorite things to do with guests is to take a trip with Let's Go Sailing. Although I missed all the races last summer, I also really love watching the Duck Dodge from Gasworks Park in the summer.

Turns out boats are not only expensive to buy and maintain, but also move and store. I don't think the gig is up, but I do think me getting a boat next summer is out of the question. Trailers and storage and tow packages on new vehicles -- oi. Quincy, being both practical and loving, gave me a sunset cruise trip with Let's Go Sailing for Christmas. Yay! Just my style: a 75-foot racing yacht.

Still, I wonder if the late-winter/early-spring doldrums would be less dull if I had a boat to ready. Even better if the boat has a small cabin for cold-weather cruising. And, as much as I love the look of cigarette boats, they don't seem practical for dogs and friends. I'd love to get my hands on a little tug like Hulgar has, or a beauty like Chuck's cruiser.

What do you think? Trading a summer wedding for a boat is, frankly, not a new idea to us. As we walked to a caterers a few months ago, we passed a boat shop. Quincy said, "We should just get a boat, it'll cost less." We laughed. We paused. We looked at each other, and for the moment anyways, steeled ourselves for the wedding. Now? Let's go sailing.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Helicopter maiden flight

For Christmas, Quincy got me exactly what I wanted: a helicopter!
I work with a guy that builds and flies a variety of mini RC toys, and watching him zip his helicopter around the cubes got me thinking about flying my own. A quick conversation later, I realized that even toy helicopters are 1) hard to fly, 2) often expensive, 3) require a lot of maintenance if you crash (see characteristic 1).
Except, this super small super light mini RC: The Air Hogs Havoc Heli. After two 5-minute flights, I got the hang of controlling all three axes. It's not too difficult, since this helicopter only give you control of two variables: spin and acceleration.
It works by having the 'copter spin slightly in the clockwise direction. When not spinning, it moves (increasing fast) in the forward direction. By controlling the amount of spin (and when you control the spin), the helicopter can be roughly pointed in a direction and kept stable. Acceleration take you up and down.
To get more forward movement, you can stick one of their tiny weights (basically a piece of tape, which is what I used) on the front of the aircraft. This will bias the craft towards a constant (unstoppable) forward motion; since it will still spin in the air slowly, it will just go in small (or big) circles.

Battery-wise, about two 5 minute flights can be taken an hour. It takes the 'copter about 20-30 minutes to charge fully; a 15 minute cool-down sessions is suggested after flying before charging.

Mistakes were made. Crashes happened. There were no near-misses in the first two flights -- every miss was dead on. I crashed into the floor, ceiling, walls, doors, range, fern, cat, Christmas tree, blinds, couch, heating vent, door frame, carpet fringe, and fridge. And that was just the first flight. In the second flight, a crash against the controller (which caused me to drop the controller nearly on the falling RC) caused some bending in the main rotor pole. This de-stabilized the craft so badly it could not take off. I re-bent the pole (carefully) and got it flying pretty well again. I can see that I will be lucky to get 5 flights out of this before I break something that I can't fix. The good news is that it is so light that it doesn't hurt anything (or one) but itself when it crashes.

So, overall I rate this toy a 9. Since I don't ever rate toys, that means absolutely nothing. Regardless, the Havoc Heli's gentle learning curve and robust crash-worthiness wins me over. I wouldn't necessarily get this for a little kid (who might be disappointed when it breaks), but for adults snowed in for weeks, it's keen.

Friday, December 26, 2008

50-year storm

Seagulls in from the stormWhite Christmas
Woodpile and iciclesDahlia in snow at night

This has been a strange winter in Seattle. For those of you not living here, I'll give you a quick recap. It snowed, then sleeted, then snowed, then snowed, then froze, then flurried then snowed then rained then snowed. Presently, the clouds are dropping an indecisive snowy sleet-like frozen rain. Clearly this weather front has been in Seattle too long, and is picking up the passive-aggressive nature. Please leave!

The blogosphere has been rife with picturesque icy photographs and red hot flames about the city's response. So, being that I've got nothing better to do because I still feel snowed in (once the temperature drops below freezing at night, I do not trust the wet, slushy roads), let me expound on why I think we're in this snow drift, and why I don't think it's a bad thing.

First, it does not snow like this in Seattle more than twice a century. Given we clean out our city counsel and mayoral office every couple of elections, the political decision horizon trends towards the quarterly or yearly outlook; not a whole lot of very long term planning happens (evidence our non-existent mass transit system; our lack of sidewalks; our crumbling bridges and viaduct; our two-city suburban sprawl; our unlinked architecture; et cetera). So, who's going to vote for a teacher pay cut to invest in a dozen plows we're only going to use once a decade, at most? Come spring, everyone will be complaining about sidewalks, crime, schools, traffic, and potholes again. Frankly, those perennial Seattle issues impact each of us on a far greater scale.

And voting. Don't get me started. From what I can tell, any nut case with a few followers or million dollars can get an initiative on the ballot. That means we can hamstring the city government when they pass unpopular laws. Long term vision is almost always unpopular -- take a look at what the mayors in Chicago and New York City went through as they fought crime. (They're now regarded as, in some circles at least, heroes; heck, one ran for president. Sort of.) So let's say the mayor does feed more money into snow-removal and ice-prevention systems. I there would be an initiative blocking that funding faster than you can say "Where's my monorail?"

I won't claim (as a few have recently) to understand all the facets to the road-salting dilemma. Our mayor has decided to err on the side of environmental safety and not salt our roads; apparently there is risk of damage to the Puget Sound. Fine with me, frankly. There are other alternatives (though more costly) and the salt is bad for cars. It's possible we'll do more environmental damage fixing all our potholes that are due (in large part) to snow tires and chains (on buses, rigs, trucks, and even yuppie Priuses). But, when the math gets that hard, I can promise you this: there's no right answer. Fuzziness begets waffling begets status quo. Maybe China had it right: mandate everyone off the road for the good of the people (and the city) for a short time.

So, Seattle, you couldn't do all your Christmas shopping this year. You might have been forced to cancel your travel plans. You might get a little cabin fever. You might even have to walk to the cafe in your own neighborhood for once, instead of driving to Ballard or Capitol Hill. The "badness" in all of these inconveniences is all in our mind. The price we would pay to guarantee we'd never be faced with such hardship again is very high. I say, put on your boots, walk down the street for a cup of joe and a gallon of milk, and spend a little time with your family. Maybe if you're lucky, the power will go out and you'll actually get to talk to each other.

Then again, I'm just a punk blogger. And if we've learned anything new this century it's this: don't trust what you read in the blogosphere.

Christmas Eve Pie

Pie from Flying Apron
This year we were planning on visiting Fran and Ed, an aunt/uncle pair on Quincy's side of the family, in Kent, for Christmas Eve. I ordered a pecan pie from the Flying Apron bakery in Fremont. Sadly, a second (or was it fourth) snow storm came through and made the driving very sketchy. We decided to brave the afternoon roads to Fremont as a test run to see if we could make it to Kent. It was difficult driving on any side streets, and things were beginning to freeze back up on our way home. So, we didn't go.

This is the first Christmas I've spent in the states without seeing any friends or relatives on Christmas day. Well, of course except for Q. It's a little strange. Still, we're looking forward to braving the trip to Kent now that the roads have melted and (at least the arterial) been plowed.

I hope I don't have to eat this pie all myself. It's fantastic (though the gluten free-crust is very crumbly) and super sweet. Flying Apron has the best gluten-free pasteries in the city. I live six blocks from another gluten-free bakery, but their goods are shamed by the very professional, always fresh, often vegan(!), Flying Apron. Even some of the my gluten-friendly friends stop by there. On Thanksgiving weekend they make hundreds of pies. mmm... pie.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

I had mentioned just a few days ago that one of my favorite Christmas songs was recorded by Eartha Kitt. Sadly, she passed away today, at 81 year old. Sounds like she had a pretty good run. And here I thought I was the only person who had ever heard of her; my favorite Christmas song just went Gold!

In other news, Christmas was both white and silent. Quincy and I spent a wonderful day without leaving our property. (Someday we hope to be able to say that and feel like we've gone somewhere, but when you only own <4,000 sq feet, cabin fever is a real risk.) After opening presents and making breakfast and lunch, we've mostly just played with our new toys (I got a helicopter!).

I hope your Christmastime was warm and filled with friends and family. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

No power

well, for the first time this winter the power went out at our house. it happens a few a year, usually because of ice or wind. current, the weather is miserable: icy rain falling on ankle-deep slush, surrounded by banks of browning snow. white Christmas? maybe. still, our spirts are high... we picked up stocking stuffers for the pets and a pecan pie from Flying Apron for me on our long wet walk. i think it's time for a fire. btw- this post comes to you via my phone and my overpriced soon-to-be-canceled data plan. go technology!

Merry Christmas, Calvin & Hobbes style

My mom's favorite comic strip is Calvin and Hobbes. Growing up, there were always new comic books under the Christmas tree for her, and eventually they ended up in the bathroom for our reading pleasure. I think I memorized about 10 of those books. We always enjoyed the snowscapes that Bill Watterson would draw. My mom had the last strip matted, showing Calvin and Hobbes sledding away in search for new adventures.

So, in honor of that (and the millions of other) warm motherly memory, I present to you my quick interpretation of Calvin's idea of a Christmas card.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Merry Christmas, Calvin & Hobbes style
Merry Christmas, Calvin & Hobbes style

Monday, December 22, 2008

Swim streak ends!

I'm sure I'm not the only person who's surprised that it's finally over. Michael's famous and renown consecutive-days-swimming-in-Lake-Washington streak is finally over. After more than two years, through ice and snow and rain and heat, it's hard to believe he missed a day. But, the snow here has been crazy. Check out his website linked from the photo (I took it at his first swimaversary).

For me, I'm about to brave the roads and break the cabin fever. Lunch or bust!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Still snowed in

While practically speaking I could probably drive safely anywhere in the city, I've decided to lay low again today. The side streets are covered in snow still, and in many place are just thick ice. NOAA is calling for more snow and rain and sleet and freezing rain tonight.

So, today we cleaned the house from top to bottom. And, last night Quincy pulled out her copy of Civilization IV for me. I'm addicted, but that's a story for when the barbarians aren't at the door.

Until then!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Under 20

When I let Grete out 5 minutes ago, the temperature (in the sun, mind you) was 19.9 degrees. This is the first time I've noticed the tempterature fall below 20 in Seattle (though I'm sure it has while I've been here).

A few seconds after snapping the photo, the temp rose to 20.1. Break out the shorts!

Another work from home day today. There's no way I'm waiting for a bus in that kind of cold, and the street our house is on is a sheet of ice.

Update! The temperature stayed above 20 for less than 10 hours today. Moments ago, returning from our evening walk with Grete, I saw the temp fall.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ice Scraper

What the heck? I left NEPA just to stop this sort of madness. Actually, the snow clearing is pretty easy when you don't have sidewalks. The scraper I'm using was my parents. They gave it to me when I left PA back in '99. It sat in the trunk of the Corsica for years with minmal use. Now in the back of my Standard Issue Seattle Subaru, it comes in handy a few time a year. I'm really glad my parents sprung for the delux scraper. The big blue brush and curved ice-scraper make short work of both cars.

I have spent most of the day copying work files from one firewalled network to another. Working with people in Austrailia is a trip.

Snow Day and a Broccoli Flute

It's a snow day here in Seattle. We're about to go for a second walk and pick up some milk. But, in the spirit of the season, I want to share this amazing video (Thanks Megan!):

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Business Casual

I am still not sure what factors matter most in determining whether a workplace will be hellish or heavenly. I’ve had my share of both in my short career. As best I can tell, at least one major factor is what I bring into the office each day. I certainly don’t imply that my wishing the jerks away or simply ignoring them is the same as working with best friends. But I am noticing that the less I react to the jerkiness the more likely new coworkers (or entire offices) will become friendly.

For my part, about two months ago I started wearing Jackets, slacks and a button down shirt nearly every day to the office. I had to purchase some new pants anyways (given my return to fighting weight), so I went with grey and black dress pants from, of all places, Target ($20). I added a brown jacked to the mix (H&M, $69). I dry cleaned ($15) my Thai tailored shirts (that Rishi brought back last year for me as a Christmas present) and upgraded my hangers (The home Depot, 5 for $5). I finally broke down and purchased a silver-colored watch by Swiss Army (Nordstom Rack, $200). I bought lots of new black, brown and grey dress socks (Target, $4-$8 a pair). I didn’t buy a Burberry blue/grey jacket that I fell in love with (Nordstrom Rack, $399 down from $799), which in my mind financed the whole shopping spree.

I still have some holes in the wardrobe (new brown pants, brown leather gloves, anything for the summer season) but generally speaking, when I wake up groggy to select my attire for the day, there are enough combinations to make dressing up a mundane task.

What does any of this have to do with an enjoyable workplace environment? I’m not certain. I know that it’s easier for me to act professionally, to separate my self with my work product, when I’m rocking the business casual. Also, it gives everyone an opportunity to kid with me; excluding (most days) The Company’s Supreme Leader, I’m the best dressed guy in the office. This is a radical departure from most test managers (who report to work with holes in their shirts or coffee stains on their sweatpants).

Lately, I’ve enjoyed coming to work a lot more. I waste 30 minutes a day at the dart board with a few folks. I chat with the receptionist. I go for coffee when asked. Today Attenex gave me (and 7 others) a wonderful recognition in the form of an award. It’s the first time that I’ve been singled out (even with 7 others) for my work in general (and not tied to just putting in long hours in the course of a software release). Honestly, I’m barely productive here – I certainly have yet to do my best. Still, attitude accounts for so much.

I hope the new year finds each of you in a fulfilling workplace.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New Phone

Those of you who know me well (that means both of you readers out there) know that I hate, above all else, cell phone UI. I hated my first cell phone (how slow is this??), my second cell phone (did they even test this thing?), my last cell phone (even Windows CE is bloated) and every cell phone in between. There is no consolation for those who listen, because upgrade after painful upgrade, the fact remains. I hate cell phone UI.

But, last week I dropped my Windows Mobile 8525 (free loaner from Megan. It replaced my Motorola Razr V3, also a free loaner from Megan. Actually, I think my last three or four phones were free.

Why buck a trend? Thanks to my fiancees Internet startup (a.k.a. I scored my new imitation Blackberry for one cent. Thanks to a bug in their UI (not her fault), I didn't even pay shipping. And, thanks to AT&T, I'll probably have a huge surcharge on my bill for all the times I accidentally browsed the web tonight.

So far, the UI isn't that bad. That's a high compliment from me. I was able to change the home screen easily to a rather slick layout. I figured out how to set up speed dialing, updated my contacts, and took a background photo (of Gesso) in less than twenty minutes. I answered call, changed ring tones, and played a solitaire game.

It came with a data package, which I'll drop this month for sure. I don't find myself needing the internet to float around me at all times. And the rare times I really need to look something up, Q and her iPhone can rescue me.

That's my update. A new phone. Finally. For the record, my last phone lasted almost two years. Before that, I hung onto the Razr and the phone before that for years as well. It seems no matter how annoying something is, I would rather stick with it than change. Well, you know what they say, a devil in the hand is worth two in the bush.

New camera in the family

Those of you who follow Q's blog or Flickr stream have certainly notice that she's gone and purchased herself a new camera. She settled on the D90, two steps up from my D50, but still in the consumer area of Nikon's offerings. The next step up into the three didget range (D200, DX2, D300) brings more power, but also considerably more weight. Also, the aspect ratio changes, meaning our lenses would need to be upgraded. So, the D90 it is.
I was hesitent at first, thinking it more practical for Q to just borrow mine whenever she wanted it. Silly me. The new camera is great, and now we can both play with shooting at the same time. Also, the D90 is more than just a couple notches up on the feature totem pole; it's also two generations of technology younger. The CCD is fast, so fast that the ISO goes up to 6400, then a full three more steps from there! Holy cow. We've taken a number of acceptable low-light (grainy) shots that come out black with my camera. Also, it's very, very fast.
If you want an actual review of the camera, the lens (18-105), etc, I recommend

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Music

This Christmas I impulse purchased on emusic a slew of new jingles and jangle to brighten by bough'd halls. After one afternoon of the noels, both Quincy and I were ready to drink ourselves into a spiked-eggnog induced stupor. Still, for at least the first few days, Christmas is my favorite season to indulge in annoying music. (Those of you unfortunate enough to live through my Winter of Drom or Múm-soaked Fall might disagree.)

[I'm a big fan of emusic; they have a fantastic monthly and yearly subscription and a wide selection of strange and indie music, as well as some music that is (gasp) mainstream. All songs are DRM-free and you can download them as many times as you need, from wherever you need.]

First up, it's not Christmas without John Denver and the Muppets. From his duet with Rowlf on Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas to the rumpus-room We Wish You a Merry Christmas, I smile like a six year old and welcome the flood of shag-carpet-sitting puppet-watching memories.

Since I never sit still, I also like my Christmas playlists to be a spiked with some swing to keep me moving. The collection Swingin' Christmas released on Membran Ltd. / The Orchard hits the spot. Benny Goodman, Fats Waller, and Louis Prima never fail to deliver that Yule tide zip.

For those quieter, fireside moments, I go to an old standby of mine: John Fahey's album A New Possibility. I find the quick picking and slick runs soothing. I might be alone on that in this house, though.

Sometimes, though, I just need Christmas crack. That's when I dip into Fantasy / Milestone records' classic collection Vintage Christmas. And, you guessed it: from track one (Bing Crosby's Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town the album delivers exactly what all good boys and girls deserve. If there's a perennial not on this album, I don't know it.

Speaking of perennial favorites, the year that The Squirrel Nut Zippers put out Christmas Caravan I was still in NEPA, a few months from graduating myself from college. Every year since it's been dusted off for a spin or two (or thirty). [Too popular for emusic, the link goes to]

Lastly, another modern classic from Fantasy / Milestone records: Christmas Songs. With a name like that, it's either going to be a standard or a flop. I vote that this one is the former, with the likes of Chet Baker and Ruth Brown reminding us what the season is all about: nostalgia. (I heard someone quote this: Family is a group of people who feel nostalgia for the same imaginary place.)

Also in rotation are albums from Low and The Blind Boys of Alabama. I was fortunate enough to befriend someone with a record player and an extensive rare music collection years back, so I supplement the mix with three CDs of rare and strange Christmas classics like Tiny Tim's I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and Eartha Kitt's Santa Baby (quite possibly my favorite Christmas song ever).

Whatever you're listening to, I hope you're enjoying it. For me, I've got about four hours of Christmas music listening left in me, so I'll be saving it up for Christmas eve and day. Or, maybe it's time for another diddy from Doris Day.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas Decoration

Christmas is my most favorite time of the year. Well, my favorite holiday at least (it's hard to compare fire-side warmth with full sun hammock napping). Every year for at least the last decade my mother has sent me a new Christmas tree ornament. Most years I remember to label the bottom or back with the year info. This year I decided to capture most of the decoration on the tree.

This is our first tree together, and my first real (and purchased) tree. A few years ago I chopped down a cedar sapling that was growing far too close to the house. It was a very Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

This tree we purchased from down the street. We probably paid a little more than if we had gone to The Home Depot, but we got to take Grete and some photos. Best of all, this tree can support actual ornaments and a topper.

Nepa the Gnome is cold

Last night Quincy and I had a wonderful, gluttonous dinner at Cafe Flora before seeing Megan sing with the Seattle Woman's Chorus. The production was fun a lively. I enjoyed most of the original pieces (though, enough with the Jingle Bells, I get it!), especially "I got a Fluffy Sweater," "Duerme Negrito," and the central piece "Neighborhood." The main theme was Seattle neighborhoods at yule time. Favorite part: watching Megan actually show that she was enjoying herself in the second act. Not a stanza went by without her smiling broadly or tossing her hair. Yay for the happiness.

When Quincy and I returned from the show around 10pm, the snow just started. I went out to the front yard with the camera, and Quincy to the back yard with Grete. Most of my exposures were over 6 seconds. I'm glad I bought a good tripod years go. It was easy to adjust and light enough to be mobile, but heavy enough to sit still.

Today it's been bitterly cold (for Seattle). All the side streets are icy with no chance of thawing before tomorrow's commute. I'm not looking forward to it!

Grete in the snow

Grete is in love with the snow. We had her outside in the back yard last night as it was coming down. This morning, I tossed a few snowballs and frozen tennis balls around with her. I can't believe that she doesn't mind the coldness on her nose and teeth!

Lost more snow photos on Flickr.