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70 entries from December 2005

Canned champagne?

“It’s different, so you’re different”—far and away the best! reason! ever! to do anything, in my experience.

Seattle Times: Coppola cans the cork for his bubbly Sofia Mini


WASHINGTON—Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, a California vintner by avocation, is making Americans an offer he hopes they won’t refuse: He’s asking them to drink his champagne out of cans.

The bubbly—named Sofia, after Coppola’s daughter—comes in individual servings of about 6 ounces. It’s offered in a raspberry-colored, plastic-lined can with a straw attached to the side, just like a juice box. It retails for $5 a can or $20 for a four-pack, which comes packaged in a hexagonal foil carton, also raspberry.

If taste is the point, Sofia may be a decent bargain. Craig Baker, a Washington, D.C., buyer of imported wines and someone who makes his living by his palate, rated canned Sofia second against four comparably priced bottled sparkling wines in a blind tasting organized this week by Knight Ridder Newspapers.

But taste is almost beside the point, according to bar managers, young women who choose Sofia and even Erle Martin, president of Niebaum-Coppola Winery, the filmmaker’s wine business.

“It’s a very cool presentation of a decent wine,” said Maria Elena Gutierrez, 28, sipping Sofia at Mie N Yu, a swanky Georgetown club full of handsome young people.

For them, it’s not just the wine that’s being presented, said Saeed Bennani, Mie N Yu’s beverage manager.

“You’re drinking champagne out of a can with a straw. It’s different. So you’re different,” Bennani said. “What’s in the can almost doesn’t matter.”

[continues at Seattle Times site]

Links: Dec 30, 2005

del.icio.us’ daily-post feature hasn’t been working for a few days. These two links appeared in an earlier manual post of mine; I’ll go back later and summarize the links I saved in my del.icio.us account on links.~ sometime over the next few days.


The hand-wringing when a hosted service goes down

The last paragraph of this excerpt almost perfectly describes how I felt during TypePad’s December 16 hardware failure:

CNET News.com: Web services thrive, but failures outrage users

Web sites that share blogs, bookmarks and photos exploded in popularity in 2005, but in recent weeks a number of major failures left users stranded and frustrated.

The new breed of Web site includes blogging services such as TypePad, the photo site Flickr, the shared bookmark site del.icio.us and many others. They are sometimes known collectively as Web 2.0—hosted online, relying heavily on users’ submissions, and frequently updated and tweaked by their owners.

Their growth in the last year has been huge. Flickr and del.icio.us were high-profile acquisitions for Internet giant Yahoo, and there are now at least 20 million blogs in existence, according to some estimates, with tens of thousands being added every day.

But the surge in Web-based applications hasn’t come without some serious hiccups as several notable services have crashed.

Six Apart, whose TypePad service is used by many high-profile bloggers, experienced nearly an entire day of downtime on December 16, when it suffered a hardware failure. Del.icio.us had a major power failure on December 14. Services including Bloglines, Feedster and WordPress have also experienced problems.

Nothing underlines the importance of these “social media” services as much as the outcry of users when the sites crash. While the services were usually back up and running within a few days at most, the outages prompted much consternation from users who were temporarily unable to share their blogs and bookmarks with the world.

Russell Buckley and Carlo Longino wrote on their blog MobHappy that waiting for TypePad to be fixed was like “waiting for a train to arrive, when you’re sitting on a cold, damp platform. It’s mildly irritating for the first 5 minutes, but then annoyance levels start to rise exponentially.”

[continued at CNET News.com]

It’s not as if I have so much to say all the time, nor that any of what I do say is so important, that an occasional outage seriously inconveniences me. More, it’s the mentality that when I can’t say it—when there is an outage, or I’m away from my computers or don’t have an Internet connection or whatever—well, those are the times when I’m most babbly, and when those times occur because of a service outage, blargh.

I do a similar thing when the power goes out. My first thoughts are usually, in order:

  1. I’ll do laundry! ...Oh wait.
  2. Okay, I’ll vacuum the carpets! ...Oh wait.
  3. Okay, I’ll catch up on Netflixes! ...Oh wait.
  4. &c.

Yeah, I’ve a brain in me head, and power failures kick it into low gear.


A couple of news links

Was browsing the Seattle Post-Intelligencer a bit ago and came across a couple of interesting links:

  • Conduct Unbecoming—Seattle P-I investigative series details problems with officer misconduct and breakdowns in discipline and accountability within the King County Sheriff’s Office.

  • Buzzworthy: Top clicks of 2005—The top 20 most-clicked stories for the P-I web site in 2005. The No. 2 story, about the recent scandal surrounding President Bush’s decision to authorize secret surveillance without proper warrants, was posted just last Saturday. (!)

Both interesting reads; the King County Sheriff’s Office story in particular had me quite surprised a few times. I hadn’t known the level of ineptitude in handling of discipline and misconduct problems before.


Buncha pre-vert news hounds up here in the Pacific Northwest

Danny Westneat talks about the most-read stories at The Seattle Times’ web site in 2005:

Horse sex story was online hit


As I look back at the year in news, it’s clear I should have focused more on people having sex with horses.

The Seattle Times’ Top 20
Below are the most read local news stories for 2005 as measured by online traffic at www.seattletimes.com. The list doesn’t include national news or sports stories:

1. Enumclaw-area animal-sex case investigated

2. Couple’s final photos “an echo from the grave”

3. Trespassing charged in horse-sex case

4. Election trial dispatches

5. Vanity plate shows drug formula

6. Videotapes show bestiality, Enumclaw police say

7. Fast-food shop owner takes off, employees take over

8. McDermott makes list of author’s 100 worst Americans

9. Mall shooter: “World will feel my anger”

10. Tempest brews over quotes on Starbucks cups

11. Defense hawk Dicks says he now sees war as a mistake

12. Did local vice cops cross the line?

13. Hey, no cutting in line! (Two Seattle police officers only cops in the state who can bust drivers for simply cutting in line)

14. Details we can’t quite comprehend (Nicole Brodeur column on horse sex)

15. Judge awards $45,480 in cat’s death

16. New error found in vote tally

17. One high school—44 valedictorians

18. Huge I-90 rockslide smashes car, kills 3 women

19. Charge filed in connection with man who died having sex with horse

20. Why state chose not to commit violent molester
That’s the conclusion I reach after reviewing a new list of the year’s top local news stories. Only this list is not the usual tedious recounting by news editors or pundits who profess to speak for you readers. This is the people’s-choice list.

It’s not a survey of what news you say you read.

It’s what you actually read.

By tallying clicks on our Web site, we now chart the most read stories in the online edition of The Seattle Times. Software then sorts the tens of thousands of stories for 2005 and ranks them. Not by importance, impact or poetic lyricism, but by which stories compelled the most people to put finger to mouse, click, open and, presumably, read.

Which brings me back to sex with horses. The story last summer about the man who died from a perforated colon while having sex with a horse in Enumclaw was by far the year’s most read article.

What’s more, four more of the year’s 20 most clicked-upon local news stories were about the same horse-sex incident. We don’t publish our Web-traffic numbers, but take it from me—the total readership on these stories was huge.

So much so, a case can be made that the articles on horse sex are the most widely read material this paper has published in its 109-year history.

I don’t know whether to ignore this alarming factoid or to embrace it.

It’s not just the horse sex. The rest of the top 20 people’s-choice list is eye-opening, as well.

Some of it was great storytelling, particularly a wrenching account, at No. 2, of a North Bend man finding photos on a Thai beach that captured a Canadian couple’s last moments before the tsunami hit.

And there also are powerful articles on the Tacoma Mall shooting, a deadly rockslide and a local congressman admitting his vote to invade Iraq was a mistake.

But a lot of the stories on the list are what we serious-minded media professionals would imperiously call “soft.” There’s an article on a vanity license plate that showed the chemical formula for meth. A judge deciding a cat’s life is worth exactly $45,480. Congressman Jim McDermott being featured in the book “100 People Who Are Screwing Up America.”

There’s not much on the so-called “issues” we’re always implored to focus on, such as transportation or education. Nothing on the big campaign topics of the year, such as the monorail or gas tax. And nothing on this paper’s major investigations or in-depth series.

Of the top 10 local stories as picked by Washington state editors for The Associated Press, only two show up in the people’s-choice list: the contested election for governor and Joseph Duncan’s alleged killing of an Idaho family.

As for me, this is my 98th column for 2005. None made the peoples’ top 20—though I have high hopes for this one because it mentions horse sex.

[continues at Seattle Times site]

Glass, paint, design at SAM

Tiffany lamp
Tiffany lamp (from SAM exhibition info page)
The Seattle Art Museum panorama photo I posted earlier caught my eye midday Thursday because I subscribe to the Seattle photo pool on Flickr. The SAM panorama appeared in the pool’s stream when I checked it midafternoon, largely because I knew I’d be visiting the museum to take in the last special exhibition before the downtown SAM location closes for more than a year to accommodate an expansion.

Louis Comfort Tiffany: Artist for the Ages absolutely captivated me. I’ve seen some Tiffany glasswork before, mainly the lampshades and a couple of the large window-shaped glass works, but I hadn’t encountered much of Tiffany’s jewelry design nor his painted works. It was all fascinating, a slice of life in the late 19th century and into the 20th, and the craftsmanship and details in the various forms of Tiffany’s work are just astounding.

Absolutely worth the $10 admission price. I had my camera with me but respected the museum’s “no photography” rule carefully, if for no other reason than to avoid ruining any other visitors’ experiences there.

SAM was this exhibition’s first stop on its USA tour. I haven’t seen the full tour schedule but if you happen across it in your hometown, by all means spend an hour or two wandering the galleries. You’ll be amazed by the intricacy of the glass and jewelry designs and by the quality of the preservation of these pieces that are as much as 120+ years old.


SAM

Flickr photo sharing: SAM
SAM
Flickr: Dugfresh
Panoramic shot of the new construction at Seattle Art Museum. This was created using Autostitch, a program I haven’t used; I need to get a tripod and start fiddling around with my PowerShot’s stitch program.


And another Starbucks thing: No infringement in microroaster’s “Charbucks” product name

The Starbucks stories are just rolling in today (though this one was announced yesterday too):

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Starbucks vs. ‘Charbucks’: Judge says no trademark infringement


MANCHESTER, N.H.—A New Hampshire micro roastery that sells a dark coffee blend called “Charbucks” hasn't harmed coffee giant Starbucks, a federal judge ruled.

Seattle-based Starbucks failed to prove its image was tarnished by the Charbucks brand, U.S. District Court Judge Laura Taylor Swain in New York wrote last week.

She said that in adopting the name, the Tuftonboro-based Black Bear Micro Roastery intended to take advantage of the similarity to the Starbucks’ name. But, she ruled, the evidence did not support an inference it was done to mislead consumers about a connection between the two.

Starbucks, which sued the company back in 2001, claiming trademark infringement, unfair competition and dilution of the Starbucks trademark, also failed to demonstrate that a Charbucks brand is likely to hurt the perception of Starbucks goods in the eyes of the public, she said.

Jim Clark, owner of Black Bear, said he chose the Charbucks name to warn customers that his new roast was very dark. His company has used the name in incarnations that included “Charbucks Blend” and “Mr. Charbucks.”

“I said, I want to name it something that will grab the average customer and stop them dead in their tracks,” Clark said from his Portsmouth coffee shop, The Den. “We thought the product would be discontinued after a while, simply because of lack of interest.”

No infringement in microroaster’s “Charbucks” product name

The Starbucks stories are just rolling in today (though this one was announced yesterday too):

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Starbucks vs. ‘Charbucks’: Judge says no trademark infringement

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

MANCHESTER, N.H.—A New Hampshire micro roastery that sells a dark coffee blend called “Charbucks” hasn't harmed coffee giant Starbucks, a federal judge ruled.

Seattle-based Starbucks failed to prove its image was tarnished by the Charbucks brand, U.S. District Court Judge Laura Taylor Swain in New York wrote last week.

She said that in adopting the name, the Tuftonboro-based Black Bear Micro Roastery intended to take advantage of the similarity to the Starbucks’ name. But, she ruled, the evidence did not support an inference it was done to mislead consumers about a connection between the two.

Starbucks, which sued the company back in 2001, claiming trademark infringement, unfair competition and dilution of the Starbucks trademark, also failed to demonstrate that a Charbucks brand is likely to hurt the perception of Starbucks goods in the eyes of the public, she said.

Jim Clark, owner of Black Bear, said he chose the Charbucks name to warn customers that his new roast was very dark. His company has used the name in incarnations that included “Charbucks Blend” and “Mr. Charbucks.”

“I said, I want to name it something that will grab the average customer and stop them dead in their tracks,” Clark said from his Portsmouth coffee shop, The Den. “We thought the product would be discontinued after a while, simply because of lack of interest.”

No more liquid chocolate bars

I tried Starbucks’ Chantico stuff just once, a thimble-size sample at their Mill Creek Town Center store shortly after the drink’s launch in January. Its sweetness nearly curled my toes.

I heard this story on the radio on my way home from work last night, forgot to look for it online until just now:

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Starbucks pulling Chantico drinking chocolate from menu

By ELIZABETH M. GILLESPIE
AP BUSINESS WRITER


SEATTLE—Starbucks Corp. is pulling Chantico from its menu next month, only a year after it enthusiastically launched the calorie-laden chocolate drink.

Audrey Lincoff, a spokeswoman for world’s largest specialty coffee retailer, said the company will start selling two new chocolate drinks in mid-February, but would not provide any further details Wednesday.

Some have complained that Chantico (pronounced chan-TEE-ko) is so rich it almost tastes like a melted chocolate bar, or as one anonymous barista phrased it on a Starbucks gossip Web log: “chocolate flavored lard in a cup.”

Lincoff said she hasn’t heard such complaints and insists it’s attracted a loyal following in many markets.

She said the company is working to respond to customers’ pleas that they be able to customize the drink—say, by adding a shot of espresso or a dash of hazelnut syrup. She conceded that some baristas already fulfill such requests.

“We don’t see it as a failure,” Lincoff said. “We see it as an opportunity to leverage what we’ve learned from our customers to provide chocolate beverages that we’re going to be excited about.”

Named for the Aztec goddess of home and hearth, Chantico has a whopping 390 calories per 6 oz. serving, 190 of them from fat. That’s considerably more than a Hershey milk chocolate bar, which, at about an ounce and a half, has 230 calories, 120 of them from fat.

Starbucks does not release sales figures on individual drinks, but Lincoff characterized Chantico as a commercial success. “We’ve been very pleased with the results,” she said.

Starbucks shuffles items on and off its menu seasonally, but that’s not what’s happening with Chantico, which was introduced as a year-round drink when Starbucks first started offering it in early January.

Dan Geiman, a Seattle-based McAdams Wright Ragen analyst who follows Starbucks, said it clearly hasn’t lived up to the company’s expectations.

Geiman first tried Chantico at an October 2004 analysts meeting where, amid much fanfare, the company announced its plans to launch the drink.

“I thought it was fine, but you drink a couple sips of it and it’s really about all you need,” he said. “It was so rich and so thick, they maybe overdid it in that respect.”

Still, Geiman characterized Chantico as a rare flop for a company that usually does a good job predicting what its customers will like. “They don’t have many misses,” he said. “Most of the products they introduce do quite well.”

No more liquid chocolate bars

I tried Starbucks’ Chantico stuff just once, a thimble-size sample at their Mill Creek Town Center store shortly after the drink’s launch in January. Its sweetness nearly curled my toes.

I heard this story on the radio on my way home from work last night, forgot to look for it online until just now:

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Starbucks pulling Chantico drinking chocolate from menu


SEATTLE—Starbucks Corp. is pulling Chantico from its menu next month, only a year after it enthusiastically launched the calorie-laden chocolate drink.

Audrey Lincoff, a spokeswoman for world’s largest specialty coffee retailer, said the company will start selling two new chocolate drinks in mid-February, but would not provide any further details Wednesday.

Some have complained that Chantico (pronounced chan-TEE-ko) is so rich it almost tastes like a melted chocolate bar, or as one anonymous barista phrased it on a Starbucks gossip Web log: “chocolate flavored lard in a cup.”

Lincoff said she hasn’t heard such complaints and insists it’s attracted a loyal following in many markets.

She said the company is working to respond to customers’ pleas that they be able to customize the drink—say, by adding a shot of espresso or a dash of hazelnut syrup. She conceded that some baristas already fulfill such requests.

“We don’t see it as a failure,” Lincoff said. “We see it as an opportunity to leverage what we’ve learned from our customers to provide chocolate beverages that we’re going to be excited about.”

Named for the Aztec goddess of home and hearth, Chantico has a whopping 390 calories per 6 oz. serving, 190 of them from fat. That’s considerably more than a Hershey milk chocolate bar, which, at about an ounce and a half, has 230 calories, 120 of them from fat.

Starbucks does not release sales figures on individual drinks, but Lincoff characterized Chantico as a commercial success. “We’ve been very pleased with the results,” she said.

Starbucks shuffles items on and off its menu seasonally, but that’s not what’s happening with Chantico, which was introduced as a year-round drink when Starbucks first started offering it in early January.

Dan Geiman, a Seattle-based McAdams Wright Ragen analyst who follows Starbucks, said it clearly hasn’t lived up to the company’s expectations.

Geiman first tried Chantico at an October 2004 analysts meeting where, amid much fanfare, the company announced its plans to launch the drink.

“I thought it was fine, but you drink a couple sips of it and it’s really about all you need,” he said. “It was so rich and so thick, they maybe overdid it in that respect.”

Still, Geiman characterized Chantico as a rare flop for a company that usually does a good job predicting what its customers will like. “They don’t have many misses,” he said. “Most of the products they introduce do quite well.”

Pssst... wanna buy some putty?

Clay Bavor, Google Associate Product Manager, on the Google blog:

Not long ago, I walked by the desk of software engineer JJ Furman, and saw that he had made an interesting addition to his desk: a large blob of Silly Putty, about the size of a grapefruit. Intrigued, I asked how he'd gotten so much of the stuff. The answer? A bulk order directly from the manufacturer! Of course.

I knew then that I wanted some, and it dawned on me that I probably wasn't the only one. So I set out to place a really, really big bulk order. An email went out to cohorts. Their orders came in. Three weeks later, I had an eighth of a ton of Silly Putty delivered to my desk.

Naturally, we were all curious to see what 250 pounds of Silly Putty would look like, so before distributing the stuff, we put it all in a single pile to see. Huge mistake.
Link

Today’s Cingular Strange Fact

More than 800,000 golf balls are sold every single day.

I can’t even imagine that quantity of golf balls, mainly because I’m not a golfer even though I do like to swing at a golf ball now and then. As of today, it’s been about 15 years since I did hit a golf ball; the “then” is stronger than the “now” apparently.


Don’t say you’re a writer and your writing will suck less

I stumbled across blatherWatch today as I traced various links in news stories about Mike Webb’s firing from KIRO 710 AM after Webb was charged with insurance fraud following a car crash in June 2005.

The proprietor of blatherWatch, one Michael Hood, was (according to his site’s about page) an English major who worked in the restaurant business but gave that up to become a writer in 1990.

Somehow that combination of background and career choice has resulted in a writing style that’s horrifically bad.

Somewhat rambling details and background after the jump.

Continue reading "Don’t say you’re a writer and your writing will suck less" »


More restaurant-behavior goodness from Seattle Times readers

Somehow I missed this December 14 follow-up column to Nancy Leson’s “Ten Commandments of restaurant behavior” column from mid-November:

Readers add to ten commandments: Quiet down


I love it when I strike a nerve.

Readers responded to my Ten Commandments of Restaurant Behavior (Taste of the Town, Nov. 23) with a world of comments and a few commandments of their own.

Several took me to task—as well they should have—for not listing their biggest peeve: noisy neighbors.

“I dine out in Seattle once a week at three-star restaurants and have never experienced any of the things you cite,” writes Steve Orton. “What I am experiencing are loud patrons: the socially challenged who don’t notice that their voice levels need permanent modulation—like down to the level of a leaf blower. ... The lack of civility here is noticeable and disappointing in a city that has so much else (including great restaurants) going for it.”

According to John Boise, the noise factor is especially annoying when it involves a large party and a small restaurant. He wrote to say he would be much obliged if restaurant staff would rise to the admittedly difficult task of asking noisy patrons to tone it down.

Katherine, who left a phone message and a last name I didn’t quite catch, surely would agree with John.

“Often,” she said, “I dine out with a friend and find a table of six or eight laughing uproariously and shouting back and forth across their table so that we can’t have a conversation. I’m an old lady, I admit, and I was taught that ladies don’t raise their voices in public. I think that’s been long since forgotten.”

Sprague Ackley, a former Seattleite living in the South of France, writes: “I cannot help but notice a glaring omission for those who travel to the land where dinner never starts before eight and the table is always yours for the night. Americans are too loud and typically can be heard anywhere in the dining room. It is an embarrassment. Note to your readers: When abroad, speak more softly so that your conversation is no louder than the surrounding tables!”

But enough about noisy grown-ups! What about those noisy kids?

Dale Williams, a local businessman who travels frequently and dines out regularly, wrote to point out a “minor flaw” (I’d call it a major one) regarding Commandment #4: my plea to parents to keep their kids in line. Dale is a parent himself but is appalled by others who allow their children to cry uncontrollably and ruin everyone's meal.

He described a recent experience in an Eastside restaurant where a couple “appeared to be oblivious” to their toddler’s “nearly constant blood-curdling screams”—which went on for 20 to 30 minutes. “When a situation such as that occurs, I would add to your commandments that it is the responsibility of the restaurant owner or manager to politely suggest that guests take screaming children to the lobby, or for a short walk outside the restaurant.”

Commenting on other not-so-joyful noises, Anna Hiatt says: “I absolutely cringe when restaurants have their staff sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to anyone and everyone who has had a birthday in the recent past or will have one in the future. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was just once in a while, but some establishments go into five or more rounds of it (ahem, Red Robin!), and it can be very annoying to others who are trying to enjoy a meal or quietly celebrate an occasion of their own.”

Rude is a four-letter word. Need proof? How about these tales of recent encounters with ill-behaved diners:

“Several weeks ago,” writes Joan Palmer, “my husband and I were enjoying our first meal at Le Pichet. All was going beautifully until HE arrived and plopped his rear end on a bar stool. Mr. ‘Look at Me I Am So Important’ produced his laptop and plugged his telephone into his head. He proceeded not only to conduct business from the bar stool but paced around the place as if he was in his office! I have never seen such rude and disrespectful behavior anywhere.”

I have, Joan. It was at tiny Impromptu Wine Bar Cafe in Madison Park, and it involved a middle-age gentleman in a black turtleneck, a cellphone and a 10-minute chat heard throughout the room. Same guy? Coulda been.

“I think it is telling that some diners have to be reminded of common courtesy,” writes Chris Nishiwaki, who came close to losing his cool during this rude display last month at Earth & Ocean in the W Hotel: “The lady lunching next to me kept barking instructions to the buser, in slow motion and really loud. I wanted to slap her and explain that English may not be the buser’s first language, but he’s neither deaf nor dumb.”

“Here is another ‘commandment’ for your column,” writes Rose Lewis, manager at West Seattle’s Cat’s Eye Café: Don’t bring outside food and drinks into another establishment.” She’s posted that request on the door, apparently to little effect: “This morning, two gentlemen came into the café wanting breakfast—great! One of them looked at the sign and proceeded to come in with a coffee drink from another location. When I asked him to please return the drink to his car or, barring that, to at least pour it into one of our coffee cups, he got upset ... spending the breakfast time complaining about the fact that we had ‘the nerve’ to ask him to remove another vendor’s product from the premises.

“It is hard enough in this industry to garner a decent corner of the market—only to get shot down by uncaring or unconsciously rude guests. We sell a great cup of coffee, wonderful espresso and great food, all at realistic prices, so why would I want to advertise someone else’s product in my own shop?”

Robin Leventhal, chef/owner at Crave on Capitol Hill, writes, “Thank you for keeping the public privy to our daily challenges and encouraging them to spread a positive experience to all their friends. I thought the column was particularly fitting as just last night I had a violation of Commandment No. 1 [‘Honor thy reservation’]: A 7:30 reservation for six people showed up and was apparently now only three people. For my tiny 29-seat restaurant, this really hurt because we had to turn a four-top away as we were holding the tables for the 7:30 reservation. Of course, we bit the bullet and played nice because that is the name of the game.”

Firefox love/hate

I’ve been using Firefox as my default browser on my PowerBook for a few weeks now. I can’t remember why I switched from Safari—some web site or other was giving me grief, I’m sure, so I was being rational at every level.

Anyway, regardless of the reasons, I find I like Firefox quite a bit. I like the extensions and themes and whatnot, and I like being able to reorder tabs and various other small functions like that.

What drives me absolutely batshit INSANE, however, is Firefox’s silly habit of losing focus at random times.

That is, the program will suddenly stop responding to any typing. No keyboard shortcuts to open or close windows or tabs will function; typing in text boxes or whatever just... stops. I have to click the Firefox window so Firefox knows I want it to respond to me, for crying out loud. Firefox isn”t pegging my CPU or anything; quite the contrary, since it’s no longer paying attention to my input methods, what CPU usage there may have been typically drops like a rock.

I’ve yet determined no rhyme nor reason to the loss of focus, and I haven’t encountered it with Firefox on Windows. Of course I don’t have a Windows PC of my own and I haven’t tried installing Firefox on my PC at work yet, but regardless, I find it utterly intolerable for an allegedly 1.5-level release of an application to lose focus this way.

I haven’t looked all that seriously into message boards and other resources that might have suggestions, especially this holiday week when I’ve been online a total of about two hours since Friday. But I must look into it before I give up on Firefox entirely, because I think it has a lot to offer if only it can keep track of the damned keyboard and mouse inputs.

</lame rant>


SEA baggage handlers ding airplane, resulting in depressurization and emergency landing

A definite “oh shit!” moment:

Seattle Times: Hole in Alaska jet leads to emergency landing


An Alaska Airlines flight bound for Burbank made an emergency landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Monday after a dent caused by baggage handlers turned into a large hole.

Baggage handlers for Flight 536 bumped the plane with loading equipment and caused “a crease” in the side of the aircraft, said Jim Struhsaker, a Senior Air Safety Investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). About 20 minutes after the 3 p.m. takeoff—when the plane reached about 26,000 feet—the crease blew out into a 1-foot by 6-inch hole, he said.

Depressurization masks were deployed for passengers and pilots turned the plane around, Struhsaker said. Nobody was hurt.

In addition to the NTSB, the Federal Aviation Administration, the airport and Alaska Airlines are investigating, Struhsaker said.

Back to work with a Strange Fact

Via Cingular’s Strange Fact SMS service, the grind of the first day back at work following the holiday is lessened marginally by a fascinating nugget of knowledge:

Wrigley’s gum was the first product to sport a barcode.

I don’t know how I would have completed my workday without this bit of information, but now I am complete.


Quiet and enjoyable holiday weekend

I can’t believe the four-day weekend’s already coming to an end, but we had a great time with the holiday and events surrounding it.

Mom arrived in town Friday afternoon and we spent the evening in downtown Seattle. We did our usual big holiday meal on Christmas Eve, joined by my friend Julie Anne and Katharine’s friend Dave and my PowerBook cranking out Christmas music at low levels the entire night. Christmas Day brought the joy of time with family and friends with gifts exchanged in the morning, a showing of The Family Stone in the afternoon and a trek to Bellevue Botanical Garden after the sun went down for their annual Garden d’LIGHTS presentation, an amazing collection of whimsical decorations created entirely from bundled Christmas lights.

And the leftovers, easily the best part of the holidays. Turkey sammiches, yum, I could live on them—but only the turkey carved from a bird roasted in one’s own house, mind. We outdid ourselves on the whole spread this year, so the Christmas Eve meal was spectacular as well, which also meant faboo leftovers.

I’ve lunches for a week!


The Family Stone (2005)

Movie poster: The Family StoneThe trailers portray this movie solely as a fish-out-of-water comedy wherein the absurdly uptight Manhattan businesswoman goes home with her fiancé to meet his family in the suburbs, the family members take an instant dislike to the woman, and hijinks ensue. Surely that was part of the plot, but it overlooked a couple of other plot points that left me feeling like the director wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted the movie to be, or the marketers didn’t know how to sell it to an audience.

Sarah Jessica Parker does a good job protraying Meredith Morton, the uptight and nervous strong-willed Manhattanite who becomes nearly useless in the ’burbs. Dermot Mulroney is her fiancé Everett Stone, deftly playing the balanced and reserved counterpoint to Parker’s uptightness. Diane Keaton and Craig T. Nelson play Mulroney’s bohemian parents Sybil and Kelly, and Luke Wilson and Rachel McAdams are two of Mulroney’s siblings, Ben and Amy. Another sibling, the gay brother Thad, is played by Tyrone Giordano, an actor I wasn’t familiar with before this movie.

Amy takes the strongest (by which I mean, most vocal) dislike to Meredith, while Ben is overtly attracted to her. Sybil and Kelly are likable (the fact that I like both actors helped enormously here) and the entire family dynamic is one of goofily amiable affection. However, things rapidly go downhill for Meredith and she ends up booking a room at a nearby inn and calling her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to help her deal with this crazy situation.

There’s a subplot involving Sybil’s health that’s barely developed but figures prominently in the movie’s ending, making me think the original screenplay probably centered on this element of the plot but it was later cut to a secondary theme as the rest of the story developed. There are some truly laugh-out-loud moments and more than a few of the cringe-worthy family/awkward moments we’ve all encountered.

Upshot: I liked this movie—we saw it today in a nearly sold-out cinema, and the audience got into the family scenes and the comedic parts equally, which made it that much more enjoyable. But the strange handling of the mom’s health problem and the weird afterthought-style ending surrounding that problem just seemed shoddily handled to me. I was most struck by the fact that the trailer only dealt with the fish-out-of-water element of the story, but thankfully the producers didn’t stick every single funny part into the trailer for marketing purposes.

Sources:


Merry Christmas. :-)

May you enjoy the happiness and light of the holiday season and the joy and warmth of family and friends all year.

The Atheist Christmas Carol—Vienna Teng

it’s the season of grace coming out of the void
where a man is saved by a voice in the distance
it’s the season of possible miracle cures
where hope is currency and death is not the last unknown
where time begins to fade
and age is welcome home

it’s the season of eyes meeting over the noise
and holding fast with sharp realization
it’s the season of cold making warmth a divine intervention
you are safe here you know now

The Atheist Christmas Carol (6.2MB AAC)don’t forget
don’t forget I love
I love
I love you

don’t forget
don’t forget I love
I love
I love you

it’s the season of scars and of wounds in the heart
of feeling the full weight of our burdens
it’s the season of bowing our heads in the wind
and knowing we are not alone in fear
not alone in the dark

don’t forget
don’t forget I love
I love
I love you

don’t forget
don’t forget I love
I love
I love you

don’t forget
don’t forget I love
I love
I love you

don’t forget
don’t forget I love
I love
I love you

More alcohol in short drinks?

Katharine orders her favorite cocktail, a tequila sunrise, in a tall glass in the apparently mistaken belief that it’s a better value than a standard drink. Of course by “better value” I’m not sure if I mean “cost to volume” or “amount of alcohol,” but it could really mean “better control of alcohol intake” if the results of this study really are indicative of bartenders’ alcohol pours:

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: A tall, cool one likely contains less booze
Even bartenders can overpour into stubby glasses


ALBANY, N.Y.—Here’s a new tip to help curb drinking over the holidays: Ask for your scotch and soda in a highball glass.

That’s because people tend to unwittingly pour more alcohol into short, wide glasses compared with tall, skinny ones—meaning two cocktails from a squat tumbler might actually pack the punch of 2 1/2 drinks.

The phenomenon is so pervasive even experienced bartenders do it, according to a study being published today in the BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal.

“People say, ‘Oh, the bartender knows what he’s doing.’ Well, the bartender does know what he’s doing in a lot of cases, but he falls victim to these illusions,” said lead author Brian Wansink, a Cornell University marketing professor.

The so-called portion distortion illusion that causes people to misjudge volume based on container shapes is well-established. But Wansink wanted to find out if training could correct the bias.

Researchers recruited 198 students at the University of Illinois to pour 1 1/2-ounce shots from a bottle into one of two types of glasses: tall and slender, or short and wide. Students poured 30 percent more into the stubby glasses than the tall glasses. Even a subgroup of students with 10 practice pours made the misjudgment.

Experienced bartenders did better, but not by much. Eighty-six Philadelphia bartenders asked to pour out shots on the job put 20 percent more into the short glasses. Bartenders asked to pay careful attention to their task were a bit more on target.

In cases where more booze was poured into taller glasses, the amount was negligible.

Wansink concludes that the pour-more-in-short-glass effect is only slightly reduced by practice, concentration or experience.

That extra splash of alcohol per glass can add up. Drinking a quarter more alcohol per drink could even skew calculations of bar patrons and partygoers trying to stick to one cocktail an hour.

Wansink suggests measuring out shots—or using tall glasses.

Baylor College of Medicine obesity researcher John Foreyt, who was not involved in the study, said he was surprised that even experienced bartenders fell prey to portion distortion. He said the study underscored the need for people to be careful not to underestimate their intake of alcohol or food.

Wansink said the effect also could skew epidemiological studies, because alcohol consumption per glass could be underrepresented by a quarter—not to mention financial implications for bars and restaurants if bartenders are overgenerous, even unintentionally.

Four

jobs I’ve had:

  1. Kmart sales clerk
  2. Computer support technician, USC School of Business
  3. Manager, End User Computing, First Health
  4. Guy who installed point-of-sale cash registers, St. Mark’s Gift Shop

movies I can watch over and over:

  1. 10 Things I Hate About You
  2. Tombstone
  3. Roxanne
  4. The Princess Bride
  5. The American President
  6. The Emperor’s New Groove
  7. Ocean’s Eleven
  8. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
  9. A Fish Called Wanda
  10. The Hunt for Red October
  11. Silverado
  12. Liar Liar
  13. Parenthood
  14. Four Weddings and a Funeral
  15. Romancing the Stone
  16. Star Trek: First Contact

(Using the TopFive.com method for lists with a set number of items.)

places I’ve lived:

  1. Salt Lake City
  2. Los Angeles
  3. Glendale, AZ
  4. Mill Creek, WA

TV shows I love:

  1. The West Wing
  2. Good Eats
  3. Battlestar Galactica (Sci Fi version)
  4. Grey’s Anatomy

places I’ve vacationed:

  1. Yellowstone National Park
  2. San Francisco
  3. St. Maarten
  4. Walt Disney World

web sites I visit daily:

  1. CNN.com
  2. Seattle Times
  3. Bloglines (I track more than 100 sites this way, won’t list them all)
  4. Flickr

favorite foods or dishes:

  1. CHEEZ
  2. Clam chowder
  3. Teriyaki chicken
  4. Filet mignon

places I would rather be right now:

  1. In bed
  2. Chicago
  3. London
  4. Ireland
Source: substitute

Links: Dec 22, 2005


Perversely, the length of a checkout line is inversely proportional to the speed with which the checker performs her job

Katharine and I undertook the Big Holiday Shopping Excursion after work last night. We went to the Fred Meyer store about a mile north of my house mainly because they take American Express, the method of payment we wanted to use. Also we could get the groceries and wine and beer and a couple of household items all at the same time and become living examples of the “one-stop shopping” mantra spouted by stores such as these.

So we drove into the parking lot at about, oh, it must have been 17:00 or so. We’d both left work early because we’d reached decent stopping points for the day and it’s the holiday season, when thoughts turn as far away from work as possible. But anyway, I was expecting we’d drive into a Crush From Hell of last-minute shoppers, but since we’d be sticking mainly to the grocery aisles, I wasn’t too worried about it.

My worries were unfounded, because the parking lot was probably only half full and the inside of the store didn’t seem at all crowded. When we walked in, in fact, there were enough checkstands open that none of them had lines, which sight nearly caused us both to faint.

But we had some serious shoppin’ to do, so we recovered our wits and leapt headlong into the produce department. Katharine was The Bearer of The List and I was The Procurer of Items: Katharine would read an item off The List, I Sought and Obtained the Items, and Katharine Updated The List Accordingly. The roles interchanged a bit here and there, especially when Katharine pointed out I’d left such things as “a turkey” off The List and if an item wasn’t on The List I wasn’t allowed to buy it, but I overrode that declaration with my Absolute Shopping Authority.

So we rocked and rolled and had all the shopping done in about half an hour, and then we had to check out. I was expecting the lines to lengthen considerably as we shopped, but no, a few checkstands had much shorter lines, and I found us a line that had just one customer ahead of us. He had about $120 of wine, a small package of chicken, and four candy bars, so how long could it take the checker to ring up his order?

Turns out, A Damned Long Time.

Our checker was Julie, an aggressively inattentive woman about five feet tall with a hangdog expression and downtrodden mannerisms that swirled about her like an almost visible miasma. She was the type of checkout clerk who would repeatedly wave an item over the scanner window until she heard the tell-tale “beep!” of a successful scan; if no beep, on with the waving, and usually without adjusting the angle of the item or checking it to see if the bar code was even remotely pointed at the scanner window. It took her about 10 minutes to ring up the man’s six bottles of wine and several other items, by which time Katharine and I had unloaded our shopping cart onto the conveyor belt and Katharine was giving me “Nice line choice!” looks.

And then Julie started on our order and the hangdog expression lengthened further, and the woe-is-me miasma actually coalesced about her, obscuring our view of her face as she gazed at the stack of items approaching on her conveyor. And she sighed, a rattling slumped-shoulder sigh that tore out the heart of the world and stomped it into small pieces and, deciding its work was unfinished, picked up the remnants and tossed them in the fire to enjoy the horrible sizzling as the flames consumed.

All this before she’d scanned our first item, mind.

“Leave the heavy items in the cart,” she said. I think she said it, anyway. I didn’t see her lips move, but I heard those words from her general direction. I was in the act of lifting a tub of cat litter out of the cart and onto the conveyor, but I changed direction and slammed it back to the cart’s lower rack as the checker went on to tell me how all she needed for heavy items was the bar code to be facing her.

And on she went, waving items randomly over the scanner until the register finally caught the bar code. A few times she had a successful scan but continued to wave the item long enough for the scanner to pick it up a time or two more. I think she wanted to be absolutely sure! the items were rung up.

Katharine and I made small talk for a while. We talked about baking and about kitchen tools—I didn’t have a ricer, and we’d need one for the mashed potatoes, and who knew what other kitchen items we’d find lacking as we prepared dinner Saturday—but eventually we were struck silent as we watched Julie Hangdog in her checkout machinations. At one point one of her two sets of plastic grocery bags became detached from its dispenser rack, and rather than realign the plastic tab that would have held the bags in place so she could open them easily with one hand, she repeatedly had to put down items and futz with the bags to get the damned things open, and then she’d have to pick up the items again and futz with the putting them in the bags and then with the pulling the bags off and too many empty bags would come loose and she’d sigh.

The sighing was just earthshaking.

I was about this close to bumping her aside and ringing our items up myself, because even though my last regular retail gig was more than 10 years ago, I’m certain I could have rung up the entire order in a quarter of the time it took her. Also with the poor stacking of items, both within individual shopping bags and in the cart overall.

Note to grocery-store checkout employees: A 15-pound turkey does not go into the shopping cart immediately after, and on top of, the bag with a cucumber and cauliflower and the dozen eggs.

Finally the moment of payment arrived. But then we presented the coupons, two little coupons totaling $1.25 off our order—less than 0.5% of the order total—and the coupons had bar codes that made entering them just beyond easy, and still Julie emitted a soul-wrenching sigh when she saw the coupons.

And then I had my Fred Meyer Rewards card out, so Katharine would get a rebate or whatever that program does, and Earth was jolted in its orbit by the sighing.

And finally the American Express card, and the sighing actually stopped all visible light for a full two seconds.

I was signing the credit slip when Katharine pointed out the two bottles of wine on the counter behind Julie, where she’d set them to bag them individually. Julie issued one more sigh that sucked 20 years from our lives, and she turned to put the bottles in paper bags to protect them from the clacking together and handed those bags to me in a plastic bag and finally she cracked a thin smile and wished us goodnight, and we fairly ran to the car to load up the groceries so we could go have a drink.


Christmas at the laboratory

’Twas four days before Christmas
And in some parts of the lab,
Not a person was working.
Too much fun to be had!

Yeah, so. I was going to make up a whole rhyming spiel but I couldn’t think of words to rhyme with chromatogram or 1,2,3-Trimethylbenzene and the whole thing just fell apart after that.

Today’s the lab’s Christmas party. A little before noon, some poor pizza delivery fool will be burdened with 15 pies marked for the lab, and Katharine already brought in a veritable smorgasbord of beverages and baked goods. Other employees will dazzle with their own home-made delights, I’m sure—I know it, in fact, because in the four years I’ve worked here, I’ve seen some absolutely outrageous dishes created by people for whom strong acids and Dr. Jekyll-style lab glassware are parts of the normal daily routine. These people are not afraid of a typical kitchen’s oven nor the Pyrex baking dishes available for home use.

Right now I’m sipping slowly at a cup of hot spiced cider, one of my favourite ways to welcome the holiday season. I never make it at home, of course, largely because I don’t have a crock pot and while I like spiced cider, I like maybe 6 or 8 ounces of it a time or two per year and most stores around here sell cider in half-gallon or larger containers only.

Also no rum, which disappoints me, but with the chemicals and sharp tools and highly pressurized gases around the lab, spiking the beverages simply is not an option.

::sigh::


Links: Dec 20, 2005


Maintenance windows

I’m starting to dread, ever so slightly, the occasional maintenance windows TypePad schedules. For the most part these are one-hour blocks usually scheduled to begin at 21:00 or later, with at least several hours’ advance notice, and often the maintenance goes by and completes with no visible effect for me.

Thursday night, however, marked the beginning of a one-hour maintenance window that stretched into, what, 17 or so hours of outright downtime, followed by another 12 hours of out-of-date published sites. No data lost, mainly because during that period none of us could post anything, but nothing lost from before that either.

That part made me happy. But there’s another one-hour window starting at 22:00 today, and I’m fatalistic enough to think maybe I should wave a reluctant au revoir to my sites and the TypePad application until Wednesday morning.

Anyway, should this site happen to disappear into the mists for any appreciable time tonight, you’ll be able to know why when it comes back. A little after-the-fact knowledge is always fun, I think. So have a good Monday night.


Arizona Republic television critic remembers John Spencer

Arizona Republic: ‘West Wing’s’ John Spencer was a genuine talent
Bill Goodykoontz
Dec. 18, 2005 12:00 AM


Television and movies are full of faces you recognize but can’t quite place, people whose work is always worth a watch, even if they won’t ever become a household name.

John Spencer was one of those faces, and one of the best. The 58-year-old Emmy-winning actor, known most recently as former White House chief of staff and current vice presidential candidate Leo McGarry on The West Wing, died Friday of a heart attack.

“We’re shocked and deeply saddened by the sudden death of our friend and colleague,” West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin and executive producer Tommy Schlamme said in a joint statement. “John was an uncommonly good man, an exceptional role model and a brilliant actor. We feel privileged to have known him and worked with him. He’ll be missed and remembered every day by his many, many friends.”

They’re not kidding about the friend part. During its heyday, West Wing cast members were pretty much locks for Emmy nominations, which meant they usually were in competition against each other. In 2002, when Spencer won for best supporting actor in a drama, the television coverage used the standard split-screen that allows us to see the nominees’ reactions when the winner is announced. Instead of donning the usual disingenuous smiles those who don’t win plaster on their faces, fellow cast member Bradley Whitford (himself a winner) leaped from his chair and cheered as rabidly as any sports fan might for a game-winning field goal. Other cast members did the same. It was a genuinely moving moment, and one that showed the regard in which Spencer’s colleagues held him.

The West Wing has gone from must-see critical darling to abandoned stepchild, and, despite a modest revival in quality this season, deservedly so. Where once its dialogue crackled with wit and intelligence, it now settles for volume and posturing. That might be how politics works in real life, but it’s not nearly as much fun to watch.

But even when its members were given lesser lines to recite, The West Wing’s cast remains top-notch, and Spencer never lost his way. The idea of an aging, recovering drug addict and alcoholic who, ironically, nearly died after a massive heart attack being put on a national ticket is ludicrous, but Spencer made the most of it, playing up the exhaustion and pettiness of the campaign trail. It wasn’t like the glory days, when Leo knew everything about everything, and wasn’t afraid to say so.

An NBC spokesman said it was too early to know how Spencer’s death would be written into the show.

It’s a mistake to pretend that you really know the people who show up on your television set, even if you’ve met them, but I especially liked Spencer. I hadn’t been working as The Republic’s television critic long when a publicist called and asked if I’d like to interview him during The West Wing’s first season. Sure, whatever, was my basic response. Something to do on a slow day.

What a moron.

The interview took place on one of Spencer’s rare days off. Not only was he gracious and chatty - he used the word “gig” to describe his acting jobs, which I thought was a hoot coming from the would-be chief of staff - but when I was done asking questions he insisted that we stay on the line so that he could ask me questions: Do you have a family, do you like your job, that kind of thing. When we finally finished, he said to be sure to look him up if I was ever in Los Angeles.

So, after the Television Critics Association’s awards banquet the following year, I did. You probably don’t remember this, I began, and he cut me off. “I said if you’re ever in LA, look me up.”

Exactly. Nothing more than exchanged pleasantries came of it, but it was still a nice moment, courtesy of a guy who, no matter what role he was playing, on-camera or off, provided plenty of them.

How TV shows dealt with loss of a star

I added links to names and show titles.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: How TV shows dealt with loss of a star
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

LOS ANGELES—The death Friday of John Spencer, who played vice presidential candidate Leo McGarry on NBC’s “The West Wing” [NBC show page; IMDb entry], deprives the series of a key character. Here are some other shows that also lost stars, and the outcomes:
  • John Ritter, making a TV series comeback 25 years after starring in “Three’s Company,” died of an undetected heart problem in 2003 during production for the second season of ABC’s “8 Simple Rules.” The show introduced new characters and aired two more years.

  • Nancy Marchand, mob boss Tony Soprano’s mother on HBO’s “The Sopranos” [HBO show page; IMDb entry], died of cancer in 2000. The 2001 premiere episode featured a brief scene with Marchand that used old shots, computer imagery and a body double. Its sixth season starts in March.

  • Comedian Redd Foxx, of “Sanford and Son” fame, died of a heart attack in 1991 after making seven episodes of his new CBS sitcom “The Royal Family.” The show returned without him six months after his death but lasted only a few episodes.

  • Jim Davis, who played patriarch Jock Ewing on the CBS drama “Dallas,” died in 1981 of cancer. His widow on the series, Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes), found a new love and remarried. The series aired through 1991.

  • Comedian Freddie Prinze, star of “Chico and the Man,” committed suicide in 1977 in the third year of the popular NBC sitcom. The network cast a new, younger Chico but the show was off the air in a year.

  • Actor Peter Duel shot and killed himself in 1971 after watching an episode of his ABC Western, “Alias Smith and Jones.” A new actor was hired and the show lasted another season and a half.

Blargh.

CNN.com: ‘West Wing’ actor dies at 58
John Spencer played VP candidate Leo McGarry on hit show

LOS ANGELES, California (AP)—John Spencer, who played a tough and dedicated politico on “The West Wing” who survived a serious illness to run for vice president, died of a heart attack Friday. He was 58.

John SpencerSpencer died after being admitted to a Los Angeles hospital during the night, said his publicist, Ron Hofmann. He would have been 59 on Tuesday.

He was “one of those rare combinations of divinely gifted and incredibly generous,” said Richard Schiff, who plays Toby Ziegler on the NBC series.

“There are very few personal treasures that you put in your knapsack to carry with you for the rest of your life, and he’s one of those,” Schiff said. He said Spencer had been struggling with health issues but seemed to have rebounded.

Spencer played Leo McGarry, the savvy and powerful chief of staff to President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (Martin Sheen). In a sad parallel to life, Spencer’s character suffered a heart attack that forced him to give up his White House job.

McGarry recovered and was picked as a running mate for Democratic presidential contender Matt Santos, played by Jimmy Smits; the campaign against Republican Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) has been a central theme for the drama this season.

“John was an uncommonly good man, an exceptional role model and a brilliant actor,” said Aaron Sorkin, who created the series, and Tommy Schlamme, one of the original executive producers, in a joint statement.

“We feel privileged to have known him and worked with him. He’ll be missed and remembered every day by his many, many friends,” they said.

Actress Allison Janney—C.J. Cregg on the series—described Spencer as a consummate professional actor. “Everyone adored him,” she said.

“We have all lost a dear, dear brother,” said Bradley Whitford, who plays Josh Lyman.

NBC and producer Warner Bros. Television praised Spencer’s talent but did not address how his death would affect the Emmy Award-winning series, in production on its seventh season.

Spencer, who also starred on “L.A. Law” as attorney Tommy Mullaney, received an Emmy Award for his performance on “The West Wing” in 2002 and was nominated four other times for the series.

The actor, whose world-weary countenance was perfect for the role of McGarry, mirrored his character in several ways: Both were recovering alcoholics and both, Spencer once said, were driven.

“Like Leo, I’ve always been a workaholic, too,” he told The Associated Press in a 2000 interview. “Through good times and bad, acting has been my escape, my joy, my nourishment. The drug for me, even better than alcohol, was acting.”

Spencer grew up in Paterson, New Jersey, the son of blue-collar parents. With his enrollment at the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan at age 16, he was sharing classes with the likes of Liza Minnelli and budding violinist Pinchas Zukerman.

As a teenager, he landed a recurring role on “The Patty Duke Show” as the boyfriend of English twin Cathy. Stage and film work followed.

Then his big break: playing Harrison Ford’s detective sidekick in the 1990 courtroom thriller “Presumed Innocent.” That role led to his hiring for the final four years of “L.A. Law.”

Spencer played a streetwise lawyer on the David E. Kelley drama that was in sharp contrast to the show’s otherwise glamorous cast and setting.

After attending the Manhattan performing arts school, Spencer studied at Fairleigh Dickenson University. He then began working on stage in New York and in regional theaters, in plays including David Mamet’s “Lakeboat” and Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.”

Spencer won an Obie Award for the 1981 off-Broadway production of “Still Life,” about a Vietnam veteran, and received a Drama Desk nomination for “The Day Room.”

His made his feature film debut with a small role in “War Games,” which was followed by roles in “Sea of Love” and “Black Rain.” Spencer said his work in “Presumed Innocent” represented a “watershed role.”

In recent years, he worked both in studio and independent films, including “The Rock,” “The Negotiator,” “Albino Alligator,” “Lesser Prophets,” “Twilight” and “Cold Heart.”

Spencer, an only child, is survived by “cousins, aunts, uncles, and wonderful friends,” Hofmann said.

More in media.~.


John Spencer 1946–2005

CNN.com: ‘West Wing’ actor dies at 58
John Spencer played VP candidate Leo McGarry on hit show

LOS ANGELES, California (AP)—John Spencer, who played a tough and dedicated politico on “The West Wing” who survived a serious illness to run for vice president, died of a heart attack Friday. He was 58.

John SpencerSpencer died after being admitted to a Los Angeles hospital during the night, said his publicist, Ron Hofmann. He would have been 59 on Tuesday.

He was “one of those rare combinations of divinely gifted and incredibly generous,” said Richard Schiff, who plays Toby Ziegler on the NBC series.

“There are very few personal treasures that you put in your knapsack to carry with you for the rest of your life, and he’s one of those,” Schiff said. He said Spencer had been struggling with health issues but seemed to have rebounded.

Spencer played Leo McGarry, the savvy and powerful chief of staff to President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (Martin Sheen). In a sad parallel to life, Spencer’s character suffered a heart attack that forced him to give up his White House job.

McGarry recovered and was picked as a running mate for Democratic presidential contender Matt Santos, played by Jimmy Smits; the campaign against Republican Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) has been a central theme for the drama this season.

“John was an uncommonly good man, an exceptional role model and a brilliant actor,” said Aaron Sorkin, who created the series, and Tommy Schlamme, one of the original executive producers, in a joint statement.

“We feel privileged to have known him and worked with him. He’ll be missed and remembered every day by his many, many friends,” they said.

Actress Allison Janney—C.J. Cregg on the series—described Spencer as a consummate professional actor. “Everyone adored him,” she said.

“We have all lost a dear, dear brother,” said Bradley Whitford, who plays Josh Lyman.

NBC and producer Warner Bros. Television praised Spencer’s talent but did not address how his death would affect the Emmy Award-winning series, in production on its seventh season.

Spencer, who also starred on “L.A. Law” as attorney Tommy Mullaney, received an Emmy Award for his performance on “The West Wing” in 2002 and was nominated four other times for the series.

The actor, whose world-weary countenance was perfect for the role of McGarry, mirrored his character in several ways: Both were recovering alcoholics and both, Spencer once said, were driven.

“Like Leo, I’ve always been a workaholic, too,” he told The Associated Press in a 2000 interview. “Through good times and bad, acting has been my escape, my joy, my nourishment. The drug for me, even better than alcohol, was acting.”

Spencer grew up in Paterson, New Jersey, the son of blue-collar parents. With his enrollment at the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan at age 16, he was sharing classes with the likes of Liza Minnelli and budding violinist Pinchas Zukerman.

As a teenager, he landed a recurring role on “The Patty Duke Show” as the boyfriend of English twin Cathy. Stage and film work followed.

Then his big break: playing Harrison Ford’s detective sidekick in the 1990 courtroom thriller “Presumed Innocent.” That role led to his hiring for the final four years of “L.A. Law.”

Spencer played a streetwise lawyer on the David E. Kelley drama that was in sharp contrast to the show’s otherwise glamorous cast and setting.

After attending the Manhattan performing arts school, Spencer studied at Fairleigh Dickenson University. He then began working on stage in New York and in regional theaters, in plays including David Mamet’s “Lakeboat” and Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.”

Spencer won an Obie Award for the 1981 off-Broadway production of “Still Life,” about a Vietnam veteran, and received a Drama Desk nomination for “The Day Room.”

His made his feature film debut with a small role in “War Games,” which was followed by roles in “Sea of Love” and “Black Rain.” Spencer said his work in “Presumed Innocent” represented a “watershed role.”

In recent years, he worked both in studio and independent films, including “The Rock,” “The Negotiator,” “Albino Alligator,” “Lesser Prophets,” “Twilight” and “Cold Heart.”

Spencer, an only child, is survived by “cousins, aunts, uncles, and wonderful friends,” Hofmann said.

I’m almost certain it has nothing to do with the denominations

Had dinner with my friend Corey last night at O’Shea’s (map). Nice little neighborhood Irish pub, though I’m not a big fan of Guinness (and apparently they pour a hell of a black and tan, which I do enjoy now and then). Instead I had a couple pints of Pyramid Hefeweizen, among my favorite American wheats.

I’d never been to O’Shea’s but everyone knew Corey, and they all drew me into the thick of things right away. We were ostensibly celebrating Corey’s birthday a couple weeks back—his 30th year this time around—but in reality we were entertained by stories of the drinking habits of other bar regulars, particularly the belligerence of one guy who apparently was quite the asshole a few nights ago. I don’t know who he was, however, as he wasn’t there last night and his name didn’t stick in my mind.

So mainly we sat at the bar and sipped our drinks and nibbled at dinner (turkey and Swiss on rye for me, club sandwich for Corey) and caught up on the couple months since we saw each other, and the several years it had been since we saw each other before that. We were entertained by one employee’s horribly spelled attempt at a sign announcing a Christmas party, and a little later by that employee’s sister’s berating of the spelling and explanation of how the bad-speller sister got the artistic ability but this sister got the brains, and how spell check is bad for things like “roll” and “role” because the context is important, and oh the homonyms.

Won’t someone think of the homonyms?

We left O’Shea’s for Corey’s house by way of an ATM in Fremont followed by a stop somewhere else in Fremont for a certain smokable substance of questionable legal status. There were just two discrete quantities and thus price points, but a combined four separate purchases involved, and the mental gymnastics required to calculate the correct total price were amusing. As I turned over in my own mind the standard quantities and prices, it occurred to me:

I think the reason most ATMs’ “quick cash” options dispense $40 has nothing to do with the fact that most ATMs provide $20 bills, and two of those bills strikes banks as a decent number for a speedy transaction.

I’m almost certain the reality is that $40 is a pretty standard price for a common illicit substance in its most commonly dispensed amount (in my experience, anyway), and the ATM manufacturers are thus providing a tremendous service for those last-minute needs when simple arithmetic ought to be the least of your worries but is in fact your biggest nemesis.

Also $20 bills make nice thick bundles when you get into the several-hundred-dollars range.

But I could be wrong, I suppose. My experience is pretty limited.


Links: Dec 15, 2005


Links: Dec 13, 2005


Too few cranes for the big buildings

Does seem like there are a lot more tower cranes around than usual. Even when they’re decorated with Santa and his reindeer, they’re still pretty noticeable...

Seattle Times: Builders face towering problem: too few cranes


Sooner or later, anybody who wants to build a high-rise in Seattle calls Andrew Morrow. This year, better make it sooner.

Morrow is the regional sales rep for Salem, Ore.-based Morrow Equipment, the nation's biggest dealer in tower cranes. If you need one in the next year or so and you haven't made your reservation, you're probably out of luck.

The nationwide construction boom and two major hurricanes have put a strain on supplies of steel, concrete, plywood—even plastic pipe.

But nothing is in tighter supply right now than tower cranes, without which a skyscraper can't get off the ground. Normally, tower cranes are available on a few months' notice. Now they need to be booked a year in advance.

Based on estimates from Morrow and other crane suppliers, Seattle-area skylines will include more than 60 cranes by mid-2006, close to triple the normal number. Developers here probably could use a few more, but there are no more to be had.

It's a sign that the region's commercial real-estate construction cycle has not reached its peak.

Eclectic Saturday

Briefly, so I don’t lose my thoughts on it (and I’m not in much of a writing mood at this moment), in no particular order, and one name (thinly) disguised to protect the asinine:

  • Mamma Mia! at Paramount Theatre—somehow I avoided all the earworms implicit in a musical show built around ABBA songs
  • B.B. is a childish wonk who apparently never outgrew her junior-high-school years
  • Ivar’s Salmon House offers a great view of the north Lake Union/Ship Canal area
  • Some people get way way way too far into decorating their boats
  • Palm trees shaped from neon lights do not make good Christmas decorations
  • Coho salmon is pretty tasty when it’s stuffed with crab meat

Details possibly later. Happy Sunday!


Links: Dec 10, 2005


Links: Dec 09, 2005


Links: Dec 08, 2005