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26 entries from January 2008

Links for 2008-01-30


Links for 2008-01-29


Customer service lives

It snowed in parts of the Puget Sound area overnight, by which I mean “snowflakes were spotted in the metro area,” which by itself brought most of the Sound crashing to a halt. But north of Seattle and through most of Snohomish County, there was actual visible snow accumulation on the ground and—horrors!—on the ROADWAYS too, rendering attempts at travel silly at best.

So of course I had a car-service appointment in Everett, because I like the dealership service place I’ve used before and my scheduled maintenance is covered by a service plan there. Which meant I had to get from Queen Anne, where there was only enough snow to ice over my windshield and freeze my doors shut, to south Everett, where there are about 3 inches of snow and several thousand befuddled and utterly terrified drivers to clog up the roads.

I left the house at 07:30, thinking an hour was more than enough time to clear the 26 miles or so door-to-door. I’d checked the WSDOT Seattle-area traffic map and travel-times chart for northbound routes and they showed all clear, so like a fool I only allowed roughly twice the travel time I’d need.

But then people started getting scared around Lynnwood, near the I-5/I-404 split, and a few of them spun out and several more of them began stopping IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAMNED HIGHWAY to chain up. Frickin’ idiots all, and it brought northbound traffic to a stop around 44th Ave W. Stop-and-go for the next several miles—more stop than go—with the net effect that I was 15 minutes late for my 08:30 appointment.

No worries there because several other customers had failed to show or called to cancel because of The Snow!, you could just hear their hands wringing over the phone as they wailed about the difficulty about traveling anywhere today!, so I still got right in.

The service appointment set up, I wandered up the road a quarter-mile or so to StarbucksClaremont Village QFC location to have a cuppa while I waited, because I figured the coffee in the dealership’s own waiting area would blow chunks. When I walked into Starbucks, I reached into my pocket for my wallet and had a brief moment of horror followed instantly by an adrenalin rush as I realized I hadn’t actually picked up my wallet as I walked out the door at home.

Goddammit!

So I thought, oh well, I’ll just be a Wi-Fi geek today, I don’t need the caffeine. But then I thought, hey, I know my debit-card number, including the security code. Because I am just that nerdly! In fact, I pride myself on it. So I walked up to the counter to ask if they’d be able to process a transaction based on the card number alone.

The drink-prep barista (whose name I did not catch) wasn’t sure, she wanted to check with the store manager. She disappeared into the back briefly and then came back with what was obviously a look of mild distress on her face.

“We can’t take the card information from you,” she said. I think she expected me to explode into outraged insanity right there, so she plunged directly on: “But Amanda would like to get you the drink of your choice and it will be on us today!”

I nearly fell over right there. I’ve never had a bad experience in a Starbucks, most of them are purely functional customer-service environments because they’re trying to get high volumes of people in and out the door as fast as possible. But to be offered a freebie merely because I’d said I had forgotten my wallet was... really something.

So I flustered briefly and said I really appreciated that, but it wasn’t necessary, and the barista said they absolutely would love to prepare me whatever I’d like. I stumbled over my usual order and received it in maybe 3.6 seconds (time, it does funny things in such situations) and asked for the manager’s business card so I could contact her later today with payment information.

Thus I can heartily recommend the Claremont Village QFC Starbucks location not only for its coffee and ambience, but for the amazingly friendly and generous staff who think nothing of offering a free drink to a person merely because he walked into the store without his wallet.


Iconic music

We used to go to Disneyland once every couple years or so when I was a kid. We went that often in large part because my maternal grandparents lived in Arcadia, CA, at the time, so a day-long trip to Disneyland was just a short freeway drive away on something like three dozen separate freeways. Gotta love the Los Angeles-area freeway network.

One of the highlights of those visits was always the Main Street Electrical Parade. We’d go wild with anticipation as the sky darkened and often we staked out our spot on Main Street, U.S.A. well in advance of even the earliest parade-goers, who usually showed up starting about 45 minutes before parade time, so we could be certain to find The Best Viewing Spot Ever! each time.

Hear the song:

And then the parade’s start announcement would ring out over the P.A. system and the music would start and the first floats and performers would come into view, and that was all she wrote. Another stack of childhood memories stitched forever into the fabric of our lives.

I’ve had this song in my iTunes library for quite some time but only heard it for the first time a little while ago. Tonight I’ve listened to it probably a dozen times in a row, each time the recollections flooding back to me anew.

So happy!


So I moved last weekend

If you’ve known me for more than about 28 minutes, you probably know that I’ve had nearly 4,000 separate home addresses in the roughly 16 years since I moved out of my parents’ house.

I have called five cities in four states home now. The fifth was Seattle, added to the mix when I moved to the Lower Queen Anne area in April 2007, into a one-bedroom apartment in a building that was about to undergo rather a lengthy (and still ongoing, for crying out loud) refurbishment to update the décor and kitchen appliances and so bring it into the 19th century.

But since I lived here the whole time, my apartment was not renovated, and then in September I received a charming letter informing me that effective Nov 01, my apartment’s “market rate” would go from roughly $51 to $1700 per month, and there would be a correspondingly absurd jump in my rental rate. But in the weeks following that letter I saw several postings on Craigslist offering similar apartments in this same building at rates lower than I was quoted.

So I relocated from the first floor, the 1BR unrenovated floor-plan from hell, to a fourth-floor 1BR with an amazing view of downtown Seattle and the updated paint/carpet/appliances and a much better floor plan that gives my cats a continuous circuit route from the entry corridor through the living room and kitchen, a distance of about 25 feet that they have now traveled close to 45,000 miles in their rips-induced fits of activity.

Part of the apartment renovations involved installing new light fixtures, which in an effort to be environmentally aware are of the compact fluorescent variety. Not much of a problem by itself—I haven’t been around such fixtures very much, and I’ve been environmentally evile and refused to convert my own lamps to fluorescent despite endless marketing to the contrary, but it turns out I had a much better reason for not making the change before now.

It turns out that compact fluorescent bulbs save massive amounts of energy because they are so much more efficient than standard incandescent lights, and they achieve this savings mainly by being ludicrously dim.

I’m a bit ahead of myself here, actually. When I first looked at this apartment, it was at night, and I had to feel my way around because the light switches are placed in strange places, usually a couple feet inside the room(s) to which they apply instead of immediately inside the doorways. But when I first hit the switch for the kitchen lights, I experienced for the first time an odd phenomenon: The room seemed darker with the lights on than off.

Was it the black countertops and the dark cabinet doors, or was it the fluorescent bulbs’ amazing ability to SUCK LIGHT OUT OF THE SURROUNDING SPACE?

I didn’t know, and I didn’t think much more about it until I went looking for higher-wattage CF bulbs to replace the ones I already had. I reasoned that if the 13-watt bulbs already in the fixtures were about the equivalent of 40-watt incandescents, then they probably had 60-watt and 100-watt equivalents as well. And they do, with one tiny little consideration: The higher-wattage CF bulbs also have different base styles, rendering them incompatible with the fixtures.

I am stuck with light bulbs that are really miniature black holes, so now I will be searching for fixture covers that are less opaque, because that seems the least foolish of several half-baked options.

Anyway.

The move itself went spectacularly well. My cats only yowled for the 30 seconds it took to walk them from the first-floor apartment to the fourth-floor unit and then lock them in the bathroom so they wouldn’t be underfoot, and the furniture was fairly easy to manhandle into the elevator. Only problem we had was with the mattress, a king-size monstrosity that would only fit in the elevator in small pieces, which I was unwilling to allow. So we flumped it up six flights of 7 steps apiece, grunting and groaning and sweating a lot. And we didn’t even shout obscenities.

I had spent the two weeks before last weekend taking books and DVDs and books and clothes and books and CDs and books and books and a few other books upstairs by myself, which left only the kitchen and various straggler books to be dealt with. That happened Thursday and Friday last week, and we spent the early part of this week on the organizing and arranging and trying to find the damned iPod dock remote, and where the hell are my Netflix envelopes? Though I did find those items this morning, and my cats have taken to the balcony like ducks to water. The cats have been indoor creatures the entire time I’ve had them, but here they can venture out into The Great Wild and 17 seconds later they can rush back inside, newly energized by the sun or the wind or the birds or merely by passing beyond the threshold of the sliding-glass door, and they work off the energy with hour-long spurts of Kitty Rips! which leave charming clumps of cat hair floating lazily across the rooms. I may have to find one of those spring-loaded pet doors you can install in sliding-door tracks so Flex and Annie can wander in and out at will and I won’t freeze (if winter) or have to track down and kill the flying nasties (in summer).

Some random things I discovered during this move:

I have multiple copies of several Céline Dion CDs. No idea where they all came from.

I also have multiple copies of several books. Odd to look at the bookshelf and see the spine of Richard North Patterson’s Courtroom peeking back at me twice. In hardcover, no less.

Sofas are much easier to take apart the second time after the reinforcing glue has already been broken.

Coaxial cable is just like wire clothes hangers when stored in an otherwise empty space. You start with, say, four cables each about 10 feet long, and months later you have uncountable numbers of cables of various lengths and colors, because that’s when the genetic variations start kicking in.

The city of Seattle has a certain beauty in daylight, and an entirely different beauty at night. In daytime, you see the shape of the land and the intricate interplay of the buildings and roads; at night, the city lights blink invitingly in patterns that belie the buildings that hold them but create an entirely new tableau with endless discoveries awaiting. As evidence, I give you two panoramas I created: Daylight and darkness.

This is a gorgeous city.


Snow in Seattle

Surprised by rainfall that flashed suddenly into snow sometime between 18:30 and 19:00 PST.

Flickr photo sharing: Coated roads
Coated roads
Flickr: Don Nunn
Forgot to turn the flash off, but I like the snowflakes frozen in time in the foreground.

Flickr photo sharing: Coated roads
Coated roads
Flickr: Don Nunn
Flash-free view of the snow.

Flickr photo sharing: Line of demarcation
Line of demarcation
Flickr: Don Nunn
Fence marks the edge of pavement cover in this light snowstorm.

Flickr photo sharing: Fuzzy Needle
Fuzzy Needle
Flickr: Don Nunn
The Seattle landmark disappears into the veil of snowflakes drifting down over Seattle.


Recently

In roughly chronological order.

  1. Friday night: ToddlerWatch 2008. Baby-sitting for Julie Anne’s nephew at the Red Lion on 5th Ave, where Julie Anne’s brother and sister-in-law were staying over the weekend for a friend’s wedding.
  2. Later Friday night: Beer, nachos, and billiards at Rock Bottom, also on 5th Ave. A short one-block walk, in fact, for the post-ToddlerWatch masses. (All two of us.)
  3. Saturday, 00:15: Thirty bucks (legalized extortion!) to retrieve my car from the garage which had closed just 15 minutes before. The hours were clearly posted but we ignored the sign. Just barely too late to enjoy the standard $7 flat fee, dammit. Ah well, got the car out in no time, but the gall of it....
  4. Saturday: Hungover a bit. Generally run-down feeling from dehydration and crazy day/night schedule. Damn my absurd circadian rhythms.
  5. Sunday about 11:15: Comcast ate my Internet. There was a Comcast truck outside this building around that time, I think they goofed up my connection when they connected someone else. Earliest technician-call availability: Thursday afternoon, which happens to be the day I already scheduled for the relocation of my cable services in conjunction with my upcoming move.
  6. Monday morning: Comcast still chewing on my Internet. Called back to check on known problems, still none. Customer-service person helpfully informed me that if my cable-TV signal is working, and my Internet connection is not, it must be my modem, and he would be happy to dispatch a technician for earliest arrival on... Thursday afternoon. I really wanted to slam the phone down hard enough to drive earpiece shards deep into his brain, but it’s hard to do that since my cell phone doesn’t have a hook. Also I have killed too many cell phones over the years.
  7. Also Monday morning: I loaded up a few boxes and wandered down to the elevator for the quick trip to the 4th floor, only to find the elevator occupied by moving-company workers who were moving two residents’ belongings into their apartments. They also had both stairways blocked above the second floor as they manhandled furniture items up and down. Blah.
  8. Monday midday: Luncheon with Katharine in Redmond to get her mind off killing a particular coworker-from-hell, and then errands around Queen Anne in the deluge. Firehose, indeed.
  9. Monday late afternoon: I snaked Julie Anne’s network signal and actually managed to get a usable and steady connection from it, provided I don’t even THINK about opening any IM or chat progra LJlkhdflkjf +++ ATH
  10. Also Monday afternoon: I posted a “free to first taker” notice on Craigslist Orlando for three universal (i.e., not tied to any specific attraction) FASTPASS tickets we received at the Magic Kingdom during our trip to Walt Disney World in December. We were riding Pirates of the Caribbean when there was some unspecified breakdown. They took us off the ride midway through it—we were backed up to a dock of sorts and walked through the attraction area, outside to a backstage area, where we were strictly forbidden (smilingly, of course, because of the Disney Happy) from even raising our cameras anywhere near eye level. They gave us the FASTPASS tickets as tokens to offset the inconvenience. I, for one, thought the whole off-the-ride, see-the-backstage-areas thing ROCKED UTTERLY, so the FASTPASS thing was an absolute bonus. Anyway, I posted the “free to first taker” listing on Craigslist at 16:04 PST and the tickets were claimed at 16:17. By 16:21 I’d received 44 more responses and was scrambling to remove the Craigslist post. By far the fastest response time I’d ever seen via that service.
  11. Later Monday afternoon: I saw Julie Anne’s Weekend Wrap-Up posting and thought, hey, I should do that too. SUCH a sheep am I.

I’m moving. Again.

This building has been in the throes of a remodeling since roughly the 3rd century BCE. I knew this work would be starting when I moved here in April 2007, which coincided with my midnight-to-08:00 work schedule and what would become mostly futile attempts at sleeping during daylight hours because it turns out that the noises made by hammers and saws and paint sprayers do not function as soporifics.

So I am moving this month. This is (conservatively) the 98th time I’ve moved in my life, and the 18th time I’ve moved more than once in less than a year.

Bonus, however: I am moving from my ground-floor unrenovated apartment to a remodeled 4th-floor apartment in this same building. I’ll have a different floor plan and a better city view, which will rock at night with the vista of thousands of construction cranes’ anti-collision lights blinking merrily back at me.

This move covers a distance of roughly 150 feet, 40 of them vertical. No outdoors, no rental truck required with the silly mileage calculations and the obtuse rental agents and the rental “day” which is actually only 8 hours, but non-consecutively, two hours now and 45 minutes in 3 hours and the remaining time in the final hour before the rental location closes, and if you have the truck back 0.01 seconds late, you’re charged another full day, but this one an actual day because your late return of the truck might inconvenience their ability to overcharge the next poor fool who rents a truck.

No, this move is all loading a box or two, up the stairs and/or elevator, down the hall to the new apartment to empty the box, down the stairs/elevator. Lather, rinse, repeat. Eventually it will be time to move the furniture, and we’ll probably curse and moan and drink a lot like we did when I moved here because my sofa is about a ten-thousandth of a millimeter too long to fit around the corner from the hallway to the living room and we have to remove one set of sofa legs to get the damned thing out of here.

Though because this apartment will be renovated after I leave, we may just ram the sofa directly through the kitchen wall into the corridor and be done with it.

That’ll teach them to put corners in their apartments.


The racks, they all look the same

Yesterday my friend Matt asked me—and by “asked me” I mean “sent several text messages that were so plaintively worded, they channeled the tortured screams emitted by the thousands of souls who have been forced to sit through Daniel Day-Lewis’ last several acting gigs”—if I would take him to a walk-in clinic so he could get checked out and possibly drugged up for the head/chest cold and nascent sinus infection he’s been enjoying for the past several days.

Matt lives in Mukilteo, about 25 miles north of Seattle—an easy 90-minute rush-hour drive north on I-5 (just under 30 minutes on foot), but I scored and drove in the middle of the day when there’s no traffic other than silly British Columbians who think the big SPEED LIMIT 60 signs are calibrated in metric units. So it only took me 35 minutes by car, though I was passed in Shoreline by two speed-walking soccer moms and a kindergarten class on a nature walk.

We celebrated Matt’s stay in Clinic Purgatory—two hours and change, including the correctly quoted one-hour wait—with lunch at Azteca (a first for me) on SR 525, a lovely road the locals call Mukilteo Speedway despite its more-often-than-not crawling line of minivans and police vehicles. And after lunch we stopped at the little pet store next door because Matt needed cigarettes.

See, as we walked out of the restaurant, Matt patted his pockets to find his cigs, because the thing you definitely need after you’ve just had a sinus X-ray and then filled your prescriptions for broad-spectrum antibiotics, industrial-strength Sudafed, and codeine-infused cough syrup, after all that what you absolutely REQUIRE, is a smoke. But he had no cigarettes on him, either they were stolen out of his pockets by the clinic doctor (Matt’s utterly certain declaration) or he had left them at home. And Matt had noticed as we walked into the restaurant that the same small strip-mall style retail building housed a smoke shop, one Tobacco City by name—clearly it has aspirations to greatness, this tobacconist on the edge of Paine Field, and Matt was determined to help it along by making his smokes purchase there.

But before we got to the smoke shop, I was looking through the windows of the pet shop at the stacks of cages for the puppies and kittens that probably had been manufactured in sweatshops by not-quite-adult dogs and cats who never got to move more than about 14 inches in any given direction, when they weren’t doubled over grunting out the young’uns. All of which is erased by the utter cuteness of the floppy ears and the big paws and the barking, and also the terminally adorable puppies.

And so we walked into the pet shop and it was stocked with row upon row of cigarettes and packaged tobacco and also wine in racks which greatly resembled pet-store cages, hence my confusion. Also they had beer. Cigarettes and alcohol, readily available together from one clerk via a single transaction, BAM you have two vices ready to go. But no puppies, nor kittens or goldfish or little reptiles. And no pet foods, toys, behavior training areas, and the like.

Finally it occurred to me: Not a puppy factory, the sweatshop dogs are cranking out the fine-grade tobacco and they also have a lovely knife rack over there—you need a large saw-edged dagger when you smoke, it’s the only way to guarantee you get your lighter back.


2007 in cities

I spent at least one day in each of these cities in 2007. Fewer cities than 2006 but about the same amount of travel time.

In roughly chronological order:

  • Mill Creek, WA (my home until mid-April)
  • Seattle, WA (home the rest of the year)
  • Spokane, WA
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • Astoria, OR
  • Friday Harbor, WA (twice, for whale-watching trips)
  • Victoria, BC, Canada
  • Corvallis, OR
  • Orlando, FL

Similar lists for 2005 and 2006.

Idea via kottke.org

2007 in IM status messages

After the jump, lists of the custom “available” and “away” status messages I used in iChat in 2007.

They made it easier to extract this info from iChat in Leopard. You can now choose “Edit Status Menu” from iChat’s buddy-list window, select the item(s) you want from the list(s), and use the Copy command to get a comma-separated text list. Only problem for me is I use commas in some of my statuses, so it’s not a simple search-and-replace function to get the list into a usable format, but it sure beats having to fire up Property List Editor and extract the list that way. Minor trade-offs, I suppose.

Anyway....

Continue reading "2007 in IM status messages" »


Links for 2008-01-02


Happy new year! (again)

2008 already? Damn!

So much time flown by since I was cringing at the thought of the Year 2000 bug rearing its ugly head at the job I held then. I was at a party with my then fiancée and I’d had to wait for personal festivities to begin so I could handle project coordination in the event of major computer failures—we were operating on blind faith that the cell phones and pagers we relied on to reach the on-call folks would themselves have worked at the stroke of midnight and beyond—but once the 00:20 mark rolled around, we were golden and it was time for me to crack open an adult beverage or several.

Last night was far more sedate. Dinner (chicken and beef fondue with various dipping sauces, and a chocolate fondue for dessert) and the Space Needle fireworks, complete with technical gaffes and mis-timed music, in our Lower Queen Anne neighborhood.

And no hangover!

Already said this, but: Best wishes for success and happiness in the year ahead. :-)