Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A New Orleans refugee

One of the blogs I follow has a post from a New Orleans refugee who works at Tulane. She moved her belongings to the top floor of her house and fled north by car on Sunday. The friends whose car they were caravaning with had a breakdown, so the contents of both households had to be crammed into a Ford Escort as they pushed on in the traffic. Here's her story.

I think of a Seattle disaster, us in a traffic jam on I-5 fleeing with our computers and as many of the cats as we could locate, and I shudder. Zorg says that New Orleans is essentially gone for good. He has an interesting post on someone who accurately predicted the storm impact three years ago.

Bumbershoot: They really don't get the picture

According to the general info page for the Bumbershoot Festival, cameras will not be allowed on the Seattle Center grounds during the four-day festival.

I can understand flash cameras being banned from indoor concerts, but from the grounds of Seattle Center? Particularly when half of the cell phones around are equipped with cameras? Who is going to enforce this rule, and how on earth could the concert organizers determine if someone had used a cell phone camera. Would they confiscate the phone and read the memory card?

Bumbershoot also has a ban on audio and video equipment on the grounds during the festival. That was easy to enforce a few years ago, but how are they going to spot and deal with someone whose iPod is equipped with a microphone?

What's even more fascinating is that their website doesn't say that use of cameras and recording is equipment is forbidden -- it says clearly that the devices themselves are forbidden and that attendees should leave those (cell phones and iPods) at home.

Glad that Bumbershoot security isn't my gig. I doubt that most people going to Bumbershoot will bother reading their info page, and cell phone and iPod users will be in for a very bad customer service experience when they arrive with those devices in hand or in backpack.

Hope the weather is excellent for the festival because the info page also states that umbrellas are prohibited. Umbrellas. At the Bumbershoot Festival. Hello?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Frye boots are back

30 years later, embroidered jeans and Frye boots are back. Seriously, if you go to Nordstrom online, Frye boots are one of the featured items in women's shoes. Not just the Frye brand, but the actual square-toed, camel-colored boots from the '70s. They're called "The Campus" and come in the traditional colors "banana" and "saddle" as well as, I kid you not, "lilac." Nordstrom has the knee-high 14" shafts, but, as I recall, most of us wore the mid-calf 12" boots. They were the most comfortable boots I'd ever owned (though later surpassed by a $300 pair purchased in Milan).

This picture of me in my Fryes was taken at the Berkshire Mountains Bluegrass Festival in 1976. The boots are long gone. (As I recall, I wore them until they fell apart, and by then they'd gone out of style). However, I still own the patchwork embroidered hiphugger bootcut jeans which surely have a future in a museum of the counter-culture.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Real-life Katrina coverage

Real writers covering Katrina in New Orleans, courtesy of the New Orleans Metroblogging group.

I can't believe how uninformative the official news sites are. They must be printing the press releases from various public safety bureaucracies. Is post-Iran journalism now the standard for covering weather crises as well?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Ouch!

Just spent three hours typing, first time since wrist surgery Tuesday. OUCH! My arm is on fire.

This afternoon, as the wind came up, I sent Zorg out to close the patio umbrella. I remember years when we had to batten down the whole patio set every few weeks, but there hasn't been a storm all summer. This looked like it would be the first one. But the rain that came, after all the wind and ominous clouds, wasn't much. Now Betaille's out there on the back porch looking in at us as if to say "What a bunch of wimps!" (I'd taken in the nice outdoor pillow for her cedar bench.)

I hope we got enough rain to soak the arugula starts.

BTW, gardening alert: Swanson's 50%-off-shrubs-and-vines sale starts Thursday, Sept. 1, and they'll be getting new stock in during the sale period. There are some very nice beauty berry bushes.

PLANTS AVAILABLE SOON: I'll be removing from my garden one very large bear's breeches, a large purple hebe, a young pieris japonica, and (if possible to remove in one piece) a big woody purple hydrangea. Also, a rosemary in the shape of a 5-foot Christmas tree that just isn't happy in the terra cotta pot it's currently in. All very nice plants but just too big for this little cottage garden. Let me know if you are interested in any of these. Have any dahlias or peonies to trade?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Needed: butler and gardener

Tuesday's wrist surgery was short, successful, and pretty much painless. Now I'm wearing a bulky cast on my right arm and gnashing my teeth in frustration at everything I can't do. Like type, cook, garden, and drive. I've been working lefthanded, going for long walks at lunchtime, and reading. Zorg has been chauffeuring me around. I still need a butler/chef, a gardener/cat wrangler, and a typist who takes dictation. The cast comes off Wednesday, and everything except extreme gardening should be possible.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Slow blog

You've heard of the slow food movement? I'll be kicking off the slow blog movement tomorrow or the day after when I return to the keyboard after wrist surgery. The surgery is not for carpal tunnel or anything serious; it's to remove a cyst created this spring when I spent an afternoon digging up a big rhody. The cyst has been coming and going ever since, and tomorrow it's supposed to go away for good.

They said I could type for two or three hours on Wednesday, but I'll need to ration most of that for work.

So, look for short blog entries for the remainder of the week.

Bumper stickers

I came out of the Mandalay Cafe after dinner this evening and found a note on the windshield of my 1990 Honda Civic. It read:

"Love your bumper stickers! I vote we put Vetinari and Shrub in a locked room for a few hours...the first one to reduce the other to a gelatinous blob wins. P.S. I drive a Mac, too."

If this note has you scratching your head, it's because you aren't familiar with Lord Vetinari, the Machiavellian ruler ("Patrician") of the city-state Ankh Morpork in Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. A fan of the Discworld series, and disgusted with the 2004 elections, I designed a limited-edition, very official-looking, red, white and blue bumper sticker that reads "Vetinari for Patrician." That's on my car, along with my Kerry/Edwards sticker and lots of Apple stickers, including "I'd rather be driving a Mac."

It's nice to know that somebody out there understands.

Well, duh!

When I was growing up, that was the favorite put-down from my beatnik cousin Laurie. It was her bored expression of total contempt for the views of teachers, parents, The System -- and anyone outside her own circle of terminally jaded teenage friends.

As someone who occasionally works in the area of marketing communication, I try to warn colleagues and clients against taglines, headlines, and subject lines that are so wimpy and self-evident that they simply beg for the "well, duh!" response. Or the puzzled "so what?"

Every few days I get an email from the Democrats, and I cringe. Today, feeling guilty about my utter lack of enthusiasm for the party that needs to be leading us away from the Bush mess, I put the subject lines of their emails to the "well, duh!" and "so what?" tests. Do any of these pique your interest?

  • They deserve answers
  • The fight starts now
  • A victory for democracy
  • Changing stories
  • Rove has to go
  • How are we doing?
  • Actions speak louder than words
  • Dividers, not uniters
  • Show America the truth

Talk about preaching to the choir! Nothing about any of these subject lines makes me want to open the email and be subjected to another santimonious, droning, Democratic finger-wagging. At most, I can be grateful that these flaccid subject lines give plenty of warning of the well-intentioned drivel just a click away.

Now try these news reader subject lines:

  • Let's just say the unlikely happens
  • The problem with lawyers (part of an ongoing series)
  • Will you help us?
  • Clueless
  • Hurry!
  • The best thing I never said
  • Hard to be nice (easy to be mean)
  • Hot day hot stock
  • It makes you sick?
  • How to make a jillion dollars
  • A pox on (most of) their houses

These are from the blogs of marketing guru Seth Godin and management guru Tom Peters, two of the best-read blogs online. These headlines make me at least want to click through and read a few paragraphs.

Now if only the Democrats would hire one of these guys.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Frank Lloyd Wright's Marden House

One of the most-viewed articles in today's Washington Post is The Wright Way, an article about the house Frank Lloyd Wright designed for Luis and Ethel Marden's land on a cliff overlooking the Potomac River in the late 1950s.

The house, which the Mardens never allowed on public view, was purchased in 2000 by the multi-millionaire property owner next door to preserve his own view of the river. Like many notoriously difficult-to-maintain Wright houses, it was in shabby condition. The Marden's representative carefully brokered an arrangement that encouraged the new owner to restore rather than remodel the house, and the Post covers the heartening story of how that deal came about.

Ethel Marden was my mother's boss (they were mathemeticians at the National Bureau of Standards) and my visits to the Mardens' house as a child had a profound impact on me. I came away with the belief that it was possible, and common, to have a house with curved banks of floor-to-ceiling walls, painted concrete floors, and a tree stump that came up through the floor to serve as a coffee table.

Of course, I never saw another house like Ethel and Luis's until I visited Wright's Phoenix studio, Taliesin West, this past summer, and felt immediately at home. In the Wright scheme of design, each house was supposed to embody particular principles of livability (regarding light, air circulation, and materials) but was customized to fit the way the homeowner lived. I listened to all this being explained at Taliesin and thought to myself "this sounds like a Mac!"

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Tomato season

The good news in the garden this year is that the tomatoes like their toasty new digs on the south side of the house beside the brick chimney. We have already harvested a couple Early Cascades, some Black Cherrys, and this Costoluto Genovese:

About this blog

StatCounter tells me the following things about this blog:

It gets about 100 hits daily; 35 of those visits are "real"--between 30 seconds and an hour long. The rest are the blogger equivalent of "wrong numbers."

The most popular page is the homepage itself, with the most recent blog entry.

Most people come to The Mysterious Traveler Sets Out (TMTSO) from keyword searches (more on that later). They are also referred from my blogger profile, and from dougplummer.blogs.com.

Keyword searchers are interested in:
• Waring Ice Cream Parlor instructions
• Wolf stove wok grate
• Gary Broisma, dragostea din tei, and numa numa
• f1e2 error message (for the KitchenAid stove)
• catman cat scratching posts

75% percent of the searchers are coming to TMTSO from Google, with a few from MSN, Yahoo!, and Ask Jeeves; more than 60% of the visitors use Internet Explorer and more than 30% use Safari and Firefox; 93 percent of the visitors are from ISPs in the United States.

Friday, August 19, 2005

It rocks (the Kasbah)

On our way out for a quick teriyaki and shopping for a toaster oven, we found ourselves stopped in traffic on 15th Avenue NW, just south of 85th. I remarked to Zorg that someday we should try Kasbah, which had opened on 85th a few months earlier. He thought it sounded better than shopping, so we circled around, parked, and found ourselves enjoying an evening in Morocco.

When I asked Zorg if he thought we'd be eating in the traditional manner with our right hands, he chuckled. But a waiter arrived with a basin and a pitcher of water. We found ourselves washing our hands at the table, and eating all the courses--include my main course of stewed lamb and eggplant--with our hands.

We ordered the Kasbah D'Yaffa Feast, which is a five-course sampler. It begins with Harira, a tomato-lentil-chickpea soup, drunk from cups. That was followed by a marinated vegetable and carrot salad, scooped up on a foccaccia-like anise bread. The first course, B'stilla, a filo-dough pastry filled with a rich stew of chicken and vegetables flavored with cinnamon, was extremely rich. But the main courses were simple: Zorg chose a couscous with chicken and vegetables and I selected stewed lamb in a savory broth, topped with a round of friend eggplant. The meal ended with another handwashing, followed by diced fresh fruits in rosewater and ginger, and a fabulous strong jasmine tea with mint and citrus. The tea was poured into small glass mugs from a teapot held two or three feet above the mugs. Zorg said that was how tea was served in the village he lived in in Senegal.

I almost forgot the almond milkshake! It was what Indian restaurants call sweet lassi -- yoghurt, rosewater, and honey whipped with crushed ice -- but this version had ground almonds and almond extract as well. There's also an avocado milkshake on the menu, which I can only wonder about.

Kasbah is a large restaurant, divided into rooms: an entrance lounge, the red room, and the blue room, each one filled with layers of rugs. The tables--giant brass trays on sturdy wooden legs--are surrounded by sofas with big cushions and throw pillows and leather hassocks.

There were many couples at Kasbah, but also large parties of friends and families, all speaking French. (Since French, as well as Arabic and Berber, is spoken in Morocco, the waiters were serving them in French.)

I loved the subtle food; Zorg loved the atmosphere, complete with fully costumed wait staff and a professional belly dancer. "We dined like upper-class Moroccans," he said. "It was like going on vacation."

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The political history of Islam

Zorg has plunged into a study of the political history of Islam with the aim of understanding the stance of mainstream Muslims toward terrorism. He's going through a stack of books, and will be posting reviews as he goes. Here's the first review, on The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Blogrolling

I admit, I'm still trying to figure out how blogrolling works, why I might want to do it, and how I'd get it to work. This post from J. LeRoy helps.

Explore

What's not to like about this?

How to deal with Qwest DSL problems

I'll spare you the play-by-play of our 7-day ordeal getting Qwest to admit there was something wrong with our DSL and fix it. After four in-person visits and dozens of phone calls, the tech who came today was able to restore our download speeds. And, miraculously, a while after he left the upload speed was restored as well. (The trick turned out to be something about having someone at Qwest change our "tree," which translates into changing a port for a DSLAM; a DSLAM is something that sits deep in the system, behind the ATM networks.) Apparently a problem with a tree is very rare, so DSL providers want to thoroughly explore the more plausible options (customer forgot to put a filter on phone line, customer's computer is infested with bandwidth-hogging spyware, physical damage to inside or outside phone lines, screw-up at the customer's ISP) before looking inside their own system. And the customer with the rare problem gets to twiddle his or thumbs while answering the same questions about the system performance over and over and over.

Every Qwest DSL service technician we dealt with in person was a joy to work with, genuinely interested in solving our problem. And every Qwest rep we spoke with on the phone was either an idiot or a jerk.

(If you're into Qwest-bashing, here's an amusing evocation of the Qwest phone support experience from a former Qwest customer.)

On a more positive note, here are some of the resources that helped us out during the 7-day Qwest DSL nightmare:

Seanet.com, our excellent Seattle-area ISP. When Qwest phone reps kept disconnecting us, Seanet got through and pleaded our case.

Speakeasy.net, another Seattle ISP that has a very useful and attractive test for upload and download speeds.

Broadband Reports. This site has free speed tests (a limited number per day) and forums for dishing the up-to-the-minute dirt on all the major DSL providers. I registered (free) and got some excellent ideas for testing from the Qwest forum. With paid membership you get access to tools for testing line packet loss, ping tests, and all kinds of cool stuff. Which I hope we won't be needing any time soon.

I could do without hearing the phrases "trace route" or "dSLAM" again. I want to forget the internet address for configuring our modem. I want to stop thinking about how DSL works and just take it for granted -- like electricity, water, and air.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Here kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty kitty

Smokey the big black cat has resigned himself to moving back in with us now that his preferred owner is in a nursing home. Each day for the past week he's spent more time on our front porch and less on Steve's. Last night he ate dinner inside and came upstairs and spent the night in his old bed -- a cushion on top of a small laundry hamper.

The whole thing reminds me of getting back together with an old boyfriend. You suddenly remember all the things he did that drove you nuts -- in Smokey's case, that would be meowing once at precisely 5 a.m. That one little meow means you have 60 seconds to get up, stumble downstairs, and let him out. If you fail to respond, he starts gouging the fir paneling in the bedroom.

Smokey is still getting the benefit of our sympathy, which means shredded chicken instead of regular cat food. Today I walked in to the kitchen to grab lunch and Smokey materialized. I gave him some chicken. Then Zoe appeared, ready to bug him. I opened a can of Fancy Feast and lured her to her dish on the far side of the diningroom. By then, old Betaille was climbing slowly and warily up the steps to the back porch. I went out and put food on her plate. I turned around and saw Sheba, who also wanted chicken. But when I put the chicken in her dish, Zoe sniffed it, which was a total turn off to Sheba, who stalked off to sulk. Smokey, ever the opportunist, moved over to get the second serving of chicken. Meanwhile, Kaylee had showed up and now she was trying to bug Smokey. I lured her across the room and gave her some Fancy Feast. But by that time, Zoe was trying to shove Betaille off the back porch, so Betaille came inside and I fed her again, this time in the diningroom. I heard a strange meow and there, in the living room, was Coppertop, the neighbor's cat who lives at our house during the day but (thank god) eats at home. At this point, I'd used up 15 minutes of my 20-minute lunch break feeding cats, I had Fancy Feast dripping down my wrist, and Sheba and I still hadn't eaten anything. I washed off, grabbed a yogurt, and went back to the office.

An image of peace and hope

This photo by Doug Plummer is about as beautiful an image as I've seen on the web in a long time.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Writing

There's no one doing lifestyle blogging on the web today who I'd rather read than Wil Wheaton.

He has the true writer's gift of making the everyday fascinating. Everyone's had the experience of looking at the commonplace and perceiving something special; the frustration comes when you try to share that experience with a reader or listener. The professional writer can do it; the truly gifted writer can do it in a way that seems effortless.

Wil Wheaton got me so excited about poker (he plays competitively, and recently wiped out spectacularly at a high stakes game in Vegas) that I'm activly looking for a weekly poker game in Ballard.

In this blog entry, Wheaton writes about writing in as down-to-earth a way as I've seen in a long time. He shares with the late Northwest writer Stephanie Feeney the even rarer gift of writing well with a positive tone. So much "postive" writing comes across gushy, superficial and Pollyannish. It's much easier for an aspiring writer to sound clever and incisive while carping and whining than to get it together to praise something -- just compare the shrillings of The Seattle Weekly and The Stranger with balanced understatement of The New Yorker or The New York Times Magazine.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Hiatus

The Mysterious Traveler will be on hiatus for a few days while she spends most of her waking hours on hold with Qwest tech support so they can once again assure her that they have no idea why, after their Internet service went down and they grudging admitted it was their fault and restored it, her 1500Kbps downloads are now running at 64Kbps.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Put your cat to work as a sundial

In the summer, our cat Betaille starts on the far left of the semi-circular bench seating in the morning, then follows the shade of the wisteria, reaching the midpoint of the seating by 2 p.m., as illustrated below:





If your cat is too lazy to follow the sun, here's a solution from the Halfbakery.