Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"Zefrank thinking, so you don't have to"

(Warning: Some pungent language, possibly not for the office.)

If you think the concept of "branding" is fluff, this in-your-face explanation by video-blogger Zefrank could make you think again. (Thanks to the SEOmoz Daily Blog for pointing out this one.)

Curious about pub quiz nights in Seattle?

I am. I keep thinking I want to go to one of the triva/quiz nights at the Old Pequliar or Conor Byrne in Ballard. But I'm not quite sure how it works with teams and all that. The thought of polling my friends, forming a team...aieee!

I was delighted to discover the new (beta) site, with maps, calendars, and forums (by venue) to help people to put together quiz teams and find out about the venues. You register, create a profile, know the drill.

(Thanks to the folks at Metroblogging Seattle for the tip!)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fat cats and the internet? Hey, no problem

Ronald Holden's link-laden post about net neutrality is well worth clicking around in. You particularly want to see John Hodgman ("I'm a PC") of The Daily Show explaining the Internet -- which he says was founded not by Al Gore, but by Eisenhower. Really.

Rain. Rain! RAIN!

For the first time since June, it's really raining! The forecast shows it continuing through Wednesday. I can hardly wait to see what the garden will look like by Thursday!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Western swing at the Tractor Friday

The folks who run the Tractor Tavern in Ballard must have a genuine love for roots music, because their calendar has plentiful infusions of The Real Thing.

September starts off with a visit from Wayne "The Train" Hancock, the definitive purveyor of the Texas honky-tonk tradition.

Details: Sept. 1, 9 p.m. Tickets $12 (available in advance at Sonic Boom in Ballard)

Opening: Marshall Scott Warner (rockabilly)
DJ: rockabilly expert DJ Tom LG

Sunday, August 27, 2006

"Tk'tk'tk" wins a Hugo Award!

Last February, right in the midst of my departure from Apple, I took Anita Rowland's sage advice and got myself to Potlatch 15 in Seattle. This convention for science fiction readers and writers is pleasurably intense, and by the end of the con Sunday afternoon I was pretty much in a daze. I'd offered one out-of-town participant, who was staying with friends in Fremont, a ride out from downtown. We were collecting our coats in the hospitality suite when a man I'd heard on some panels walked up to me and introduced himself. We started chatting, and it was one of the most enjoyable conversations of the weekend (which was saying quite a lot -- it was a fascinating group). This fellow was David Levine, the editor (with Kate Yule) of the fanzine Bento, and an up-and-coming short story writer. I'd read David's distinctive story "Tk'tk'tk" in Asimov's in the past year, and was delighted to learn it was up for a Hugo Award, one of the highest distinctions in SF literature.

Just heard tonight that "Tk'tk'tk" has won! Congratulations, David! A memorable piece of writing by a very talented -- and inspiring -- writer.

The story has been available on the Asimov's site, but I believe it may be taken down now that the awards have been announced. Try this link!

Back to...what?

I haven't gone to school since 1980 (when I completed my M.S. at Columbia) but the last two weeks of August are still all about getting ready to rededicate myself to some kind of work routine.

For a few years in the '90s I worked as a campaign manager for United Way. Late August was when we held boot camp for volunteer fundraisers (loaned executives). This experience probably reinforced my end-of-summer instincts to revamp my wardrobe, reorganize my desk, get up earlier, and generally get psyched for a new, life-changing endeavor.

Thus far this year I've signed up for a September fiction writing seminar at Richard Hugo House and purchased a new backpack. OK, I'm ready. Are you?

Pear season

The pears are ready. These are sweet golden pears, which ripen three days after they are picked. Come visit, and you will leave with some pears!

(Recipe for pear coffee cake also available. Possibly also some coffee cake samples, if I feel energetic this evening.)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Italian recipes

The website for Mario Batali's Ristorante Babbo in NYC includes some wonderful recipes, many of them hearty, rustic dishes from the Italian countryside. You probably already have all the ingredients you need for the Panzanella Salad.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Lunch in Ballard and just beyond

Not to turn this into a food blog...but came across two great new places in the Ballard area this week:

Egan's Ballard Jam House. A jazz club by night, this place on NW Market has a short but distinguished menu of lunch offerings. You can't go wrong with the gumbo, and the vegetarian I had lunch with gave a "thumbs up" to the Mediterranean wrap. The cheesecake looked impressive, but we weren't doing desserts. Egan's was pleasantly quiet, with a bluesy soundtrack in the background; I suspect it will soon be hopping as word gets around about the wonderful food.

The Barking Dog Alehouse. This surprising large restaurant is tucked away on the west side of Phinney Ridge, on NW 70th. We didn't check out any ales, but their halibut breaded in panko was a knockout. The friend who brought us there had the mozzarella, tomato, and basil sandwich -- lots of beautiful little open-face sandwiches on baguette slices, drizzled with olive oil. Superficially, this looks like pub food but there's a much defter touch and better flavors. (I've seen some online reviews complaining about the service here, so apparently things go downhill when it's busy. On a weekday at lunchtime the Barking Dog was barely half-full and the service was very attentive.)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ferocious strawberry shortcake

As a rule, I live vicariously through the dining adventures of The Robotic Gourmand and Cookbook 411, but in the past two days I've had the chance to eat at two of the city's favorite small places: Via Tribunali and Kingfish Cafe.

Both are legendary for their long waits as well as their vivid food, so Zorg and I made a dash for Via Tribunali early Sunday evening. Indeed, we were seated immediately and service was swift. We started with the excellent Salumi antipasto (meats from Salumi), followed by a Quattro Stagione pizza. Some reviews of Via Tribunali say that their ultra-thin crust pizza can, at times, be limp in the middle, and unfortunately that was the case. Since ultra-thin is not Zorg's kind of pizza in the first place (he favors the thick Chicago style, with extra cheese) the sub-par crust took the zing off the main course for him. (I was purring, he was looking puzzled.) A dessert of tartuffo (chocolate ice cream drizzled with espresso and crushed expresso beans) cheered us up, though.

I'd been to Via Tribunali once before, but tonight was my first time at the Kingfish Cafe -- also a good place to arrive early. The food there is rich and Southern, with hot, spicy and sweet the prevalent flavors. (Salt is noticeably underplayed, which is a little disconcerting initially but by a second taste, this absence really lets some other great flavors come forth.) The house salad has lot and lots of bacon. Very good bacon. Our friend Mary ordered the shrimp (spicy and sweet), I had the crawfish/crab cakes with a delicious tartar-aoli, and Zorg got the near-perfect macaroni and cheese -- an immense, tangy block of it.

We all ended up getting much of our main courses boxed to go, and Mary and I decided to split an order of strawberry shortcake. It turned out to be massive, and ferocious, with layers of fresh, sweet berries their own juice, fresh fluffy whipped cream, biscuit-style shortcake that really held up, and a transparent carmelized sugar glaze over the whipped cream on top. We each ended up take a box of that home, as well.

Eat well. Eat early.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Deconstructing the IKEA catalog

Percolating has some amusing and disturbing observations about the latest IKEA catalog. Plus a great photo of some IKEA product testing by a couple of finicky customers.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Sorry I asked

Blogthings' Quick and Dirty Career Test thinks I should be a book editor. Oh, very funny.

Did it get you pegged as well?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

My friend in Hangzhou

While editing this evening, I had my iChat (Mac instant messaging) window open.

I'm listed on a couple of Mac sites as a contact for people who want to try out text, audio, and video iChatting. So I wasn't surprised when I was called into chat by an unfamilar person. I quickly Googled his (her?) email address (which is also an iChat buddy name), and was taken to a translation of a Chinese site.

It appeared that he (she?) was from Hangzhou, China, so I quickly began to look up info on Hangzhou (in Eastern China). Meanwhile, my new buddy asked where I was, and what time it was there. It turned out he had never heard of Seattle. While I explained that it's between Vancouver, BC, and San Francisco, he reported he'd spotted it using Google Earth. I opened my copy of Google Earth and was soon looking at satellite images of the enormous apartment buildings in Hangzhou (it's one of the largest cities in China).

Some quick Google searches revealed that Hangzhou is renowned for its traditional green tea, called Longjing. Longjing is picked by hand and pan fried (rather than steamed). I mentioned this, and quickly copied and pasted in the characters for it: 龙井.

Then I added that I like Lapsang Souchong, a highly fermented black tea (正山小种 or 烟小种), and Yunnan tea.

My buddy explained that black teas like Yunnan are rarely consumed in central and eastern China, where green tea is preferred. Then he apologized for his "bad English." Good grief, I can't even type in Chinese much less communicate in it!

Anyway, it was great fun -- and pretty much typical of the encounters I have with folks I meet in the Mac online communities.

AJAX explained

If you lurk at the outskirts of website design the way I do, you may have wondered what AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) does. SEOmoz's explanation still had me squinting, but the five examples he gives of how AJAX coding changes (and improves) the user experience on well-known websites (such as Netflix, and Flickr) were just was I needed.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Not bloggish

I feel distinctly unbloggish, and that, combined with a work crunch, may lead me to take the rest of the week off from blogging. For your amusement, here are some links to bloggers who do have something interesting to say:

A beautiful picture from Doug Plummer.

A photo-illustrated review of a delicious-sounding new Phinney Ridge bakery, Fresh Flours.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Political humor

Barry Levinson's 1997 black comedy "Wag the Dog" (Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman) was far-fetched to some, but all-too-believable to others. Now Levinson is back with another film likely to get those same disparate reactions.

Robin Williams stars in "Man of the Year", the story of a Jon Stewart-type TV host whose campaign for president is not just outrageous, but outrageously successful. Opens mid-October, just in time to prepare us for the November elections. The trailer has more laughs than most full-length comedies. (Thanks to Boing Boing for turning me on to this one.)

Blogger beta: Bait, but no switch

There is apparently a new (beta) version of, and when current users log in, you are asked if you want to switch to it.

I said yes, but was then told my blog couldn't be switched at this time. Bet it's 'cause I'm using a Mac. (However, it's not browser-related because I'm using Firefox, not Safari.)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Weekend roundup

My weekend activities had something for everyone and more than enough for me. Saturday I got a fabulous haircut from Ross at Habitude; swung by a great yard sale at an old Ballard farmhouse and picked up cookbooks, pie pans, and cookie sheets; then came home and baked rhubarb-and-berry pie which we took to a dessert party.

Sunday Zorg cleaned everything out of the storage area outside the entrance to our basement; I then pressure washed all the mossy concrete and wound up looking and smelling like something from the Flying Dutchman scenes in the recent Pirates of the Caribbean. After a shower it was off to a neighborhood party, and then up to Capitol Hill for a friend's 50th birthday party.

The weekend needed one more day.

Important to whom?

Discussing Seth Godin's analysis of the successful communication of new ideas, Guy Kawasaki says "Notice that ideas never spread because they are important to the originator."


I tried for years to get that concept across to my PR clients, but they simply refused to believe that something important to them wasn't important -- or even mariginally interesting -- to the audience they were targeting.

I remember trying to get one CEO to articulate the core message of an article I was supposed to be ghostwriting for him. "What is it we want your readers to come away knowing?" I asked. He thought a moment and replied "We want them to know that I'm very intelligent."

(I still can't believe he said that.)

At another company, a senior executive invited a couple of us to a brainstorming session to decide how to communicate a particular policy to customers. The company had tried brochures, letters, and posters, but there had been virtually no change in customer behavior. The latest plan was to launch an expensive newsletter to get the policy message, and others, to the intended audience. We asked if it was possible that customers had ignored the previous communications not because the vehicles were wrong but because the policy message itself was boring -- in which case it was likely that they'd ignore the newsletter version of it as well. I'm afraid that one of us pointed out that if something truly interesting happened at the company -- such as the CEO being caught in a compromising position with a summer intern in the parking garage -- 50 percent of the customers would somehow manage to hear about it within 24 hours.

Nervous laughter. And, of course, they went ahead and launched the (terminally boring) newsletter.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Three hidden Ballard treats

Tiny beachfront. If you follow 28th Ave NW south across Market Street, alongside Habitude, and across the railroad tracks, you'll come to a tiny public dock with a little sign in the midst of a marine industrial area. Nice place to sit and eat lunch.

Inexpensive fresh ice cream. The ice cream truck that sells popsicles and other commercial stuff at the entrance to the Ballard Locks park also has very nice homemade vanilla ice cream for just 75 cents a cup. (The menu says it's "soft ice cream," but it's not.) (I'm still in shock about the 1 small scoop of gelato in Fremont that cost me $4.)

The gift shop at the Locks. Great selection of high quality toys, ornaments, kids books, coffee table books, travel guides, clothing, and more.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

What comes after Web 2.0?

According to Tim Berners-Lee, we're ready to start thinking about "the semantic web." (Thanks to Crawford Kilian for this info.)

Creativity break #1

This is a 20-minute video of marketing provocateur Seth Godin at the conference Gel 2006, talking about several types of "broken" communication. Sometimes I don't agree with Seth, but, boy, can this guy ever spark a discussion. Let's just say that you'll get a whole new perspective on Edward Tufte's famous favorite graph -- which Seth presents as a special type of "this is broken."

All in all, a great content-focused presentation that will send you back to your workday energized.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A different view

We live in a small neighborhood of 1-1/2-story houses. In the four years that we'ved lived here, enjoying a view of the water and the mountains beyond, no one downhill from us has raised the roof. Until last month.

New owners of a house one block west -- the house directly between us and the water -- ripped off their roof and began to build upward. Rumors were they were going to go up 36 feet. As it turned out, they went up only five feet, but that five feet neatly erased the view of the Sound from our livingroom, kitchen, and front porch.

We can still see the mountains, but I will miss sitting at the kitchen table, drinking tea and watching the freighters coming and going.

Upstairs, the view from our bedroom and balcony remains pretty much the same -- theoretically. But in practice, that's compromised as well. The remodeled house has a new dormer that looks right into our bedroom, meaning that we now get a choice between open drapes and a view and closed drapes and privacy.

Food associations

I'm involved in a cookbook project, and over the past few days we've been testing Thanksgiving recipes. Last night several adventurous friends were guinea pigs for a beta test of turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and candied sweet potatoes -- plus a salad and strawberries. Those last two weren't part of the official test menu, but I added them for nutritional balance. I couldn't even begin to imagine serving pumpkin pie in August!

Bottom line: There was lots of food, most of it with more carbs, sugar, and fat than you'd encounter at the average dinner. (This is not a diet cookbook.)

The weird thing was that after we'd eaten and cleaned up (more pots, pans, and dishes that you'd encounter at the average dinner, for sure) I realized I wanted pumpkin pie. Apparently the taste of pumpkin pie is somehow hardwired into my personal Thanksgiving equation:

Turkey + stuffing + cranberries + pumpkin pie = Thanksgiving

Fortunately, I don't like most store-bought pies, and wild horses couldn't have gotten me back in front of the stove again last night, so there was no possibility of getting a pumpkin pie. Still, it kept appearing in my thoughts all night long.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

And you thought parking was tough in Seattle

Thanks to J. LeRoy for pointing out this story about an automated parking garage that apparently turned vengeful after a contract dispute with the city of Hoboken.

Monday, August 07, 2006

What a pair (Seth and Guy)

Guy Kawasaki interviews Seth Godin, who disses Ann Coulter and calls Guy a Purple...well, you'll have to read it.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

BlogHer? Not her

I didn't go to the blogHer conference in California last week, but I suspect if I had I might have had the type of reaction Kathy Sierra did...

iConfess: Less than thrilled about podcasts

Today someone asked me if I'd listened to a certain podcast from CNET. I mumbled that I'd heard of it but hadn't listened yet.

The truth is, most podcasting leaves me cold. I love reading blogs (which I track using NetNewsWire), and I often look at video clips. But I have little motivation to spend 15 minutes listening to someone's podcast when I can read (probably skim) the same material in their blog in less than 5 minutes.

Sure, I'd devote time to listening to Garrison Keillor or David Sedaris podcast--but their performance skills are far above those of the average podcaster.

So, for the most part, I still want to get it in writing.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The silence of the fans

I'm not a morning person, and 10 minutes of loud roaring sounds from the bathroom fan while I shower doesn't help matters much.

Installation of a Panasonic WhisperCeiling Ventilation Fan (who thinks up these names?) has been on my list for a couple years now. Upgrading to a quieter version of a NuTone fan two years ago was a detour of sorts; we paid to have the "better" NuTone installed, and discovered it was just as loud and disturbing as the original one -- though it did a much better job of venting moisture from the bathroom.

Turns out the mistake had been trusting the electrician two years ago to pick out a "better" fan. It seems there is no such thing as a quiet NuTone. And he'd just switched fans within the NuTone housing that had been installed by the nincompoop who previously owned our house and liked to do his own remodeling work.

When the electrician installed the Panasonic Friday, he pointed out that the original NuTone housing hadn't even been attached to the ceiling beams. It was just sort of shoved in there and left dangling by wires -- and, of course, rattling like crazy.

There was a small explosion and sparks when the old NuTone came out, which astonished me and the electrician. "That shouldn't have happened," he said in that deadpan tone they teach in contractor school.

Turned out all the wiring in the bathroom had been done incorrectly. Now, at last, it's fixed. I got up at 7:30 this morning to rush downstairs and try out the new fan with a shower. It works! It's silent! I may become a morning person yet.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Farewell, Steve

Our 91-year-old neighbor Steve, who shared ownership of our cat Smokey, died Saturday at the north Seattle nursing home where he had been living for much of the past year. A former Seattle homicide detective, Steve enjoyed playing cards at the Eagles and Elks, socializing with other police department retirees, watching the Mariners' games, and raising raspberries.

We miss him.

East Coast time

I'm still on East Coast time, so off to bed in a few minutes.

The trip to Cape Cod and other parts of Eastern Massachusetts was primarily to give my mom a chance to visit old neighbors and schoolmates, most of whom are, like her, in their late 80s and not traveling much these days.

Our visit took us to our old neighborhood in Dennisport; here's a picture of the beach at the end of our street. It looks exactly the way it did when I swam there 30 years ago. We later drove off-Cape and up to Wrentham, where we visited a friend of my mom's who has the best retirement set-up I've ever seen. It's 1930s-era cottage right on the edge of Lake Archer. Literally--this woman's back porch is a dock. Here's a shot (taken rather too late in the evening) of dusk, seen from the kitchen window.

The Seattle I left is not the one I came back to

It was weird to be back East last week and find Seattle in the international news because of the Jewish Federation shootings. Very few of the people we visited in Massachusetts (many of them Jewish) have visited Seattle, and this certainly gave them a strange impression of it. Both my mother and I are familiar with the Federation offices and it seemed like the last place such a thing would happen.

Perhaps this is an inappropriate reaction, but I was relieved that the shooter was an isolated local nut case rather than some political extremist or terrorist whose acts might have implications for other cities.

I'm sorting through all the photos and stories from the trip, plus all the mail and messages that piled up while we were gone, and will probably blog a bit about the trip later. I'm still wandering around petting the cats and checking on the plants.