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79 entries from January 2006

Today is one of four or five days per year when I utterly hate my job

We’re under a contract with one our clients to provide a semi-annual reporting of the amounts we invoice for analytical work versus the amounts we’re supposed to invoice according to the agreed price list for the analyses. The report periods are Jan 01 to Jun 30 and Jul 01 to Dec 31, and the report for each period is due one month following the period’s end.

Today’s major task is clearing up the last-minute questions or concerns about the Jul 01-Dec 31, 2005, report, which of course is due to the client tomorrow.

So I hate today. I have a stack of invoice copies through which I must comb to determine what actually was invoiced; what turnaround time was requested and what TAT was really achieved; and, if any rush charges applied, how they were calculated.

To be fair, the initial data set covers about 1500 line items and I’m only having to review 31 invoices which total a couple hundred of those items, but then there’s a wrinkle.

The prices under which this work is completed changed midway through 2005, and the pricing applicable to any given invoice is determined largely by what can only be described as voodoo.

I have an Excel spreadsheet into which I’ve rammed various magic formulae and conditional-formatting routines and incorporated both pre-2005 and post-2005 price lists. The formulae compare what was invoiced against both of the contract price lists and the conditional formatting highlights the differences so I can spot them easily and figure out just WTF is going on.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

I don’t know how anyone does accounting work full-time. The four or five days I spend on it each year drive me right up the damned wall.


Links: Jan 30, 2006


Hilltop Ale House, Queen Anne: In a word, “cozy”

If I had to choose a single word to describe Hilltop Ale House, perched atop Queen Anne Hill a couple doors down from Queen Anne Café and across the street from Firefly (or is it Lumette? Lumette Firefly? Firefly Lumette? eh, whatever), that word would be “cozy.” A small establishment, the Ale House exudes friendliness and delicious smells from its small kitchen. It could almost be a bricks-and-mortar manifestation of anyone’s best comfort-food memory: Warm, a bit gooey, probably slightly more than you need but well worth it when the weather’s kinda nasty and you want easy unobtrusive service in a clean and bright environment.

My next descriptive choice would be “selection”—close to 20 beers on draught, mainly from Puget Sound-area breweries—and after that would be “fascinating menu,” thus breaking the single-word-descriptor mold and freeing me to wax babbly.

The Ale House is a narrow but deep establishment with a dozen or more 4-person tables up front and another (apparently less well-known) six or so tables with a fireplace in the rear past the kitchen. The entire place is a monument to efficient use of space; even the restrooms get into the act, with the tiny spaces laid out to make the best use of the walls and the angles and so on. It makes for a tight squeeze in some places—don’t try navigating the corridor from front to back when anyone’s going into or out of the kitchen with a tray. I imagine it must get pretty dicey for the servers when the place is packed to the rafters with imbibers catching a basketball game or seeking shelter from the rain.

I visited Hilltop Ale House with my friend Julie Anne by way of her thanks for my picking her up at the airport Sunday afternoon. Unusual for the times I’ve patronized any businesses along Queen Anne Ave at the top of Queen Anne, we found a parking space with almost no difficulty, albeit a block away—itself no problem, really, because the blocks atop Queen Anne are smaller and easily navigated. Our dash through the rain left us a bit drenched on top, all the more reason to seek out a table by the fireplace—we didn’t even hesitate as we marched through the main seating area in front, the bartender and the couple of servers we passed bidding us welcome.

Our server, whose name I did not catch, immediately brought us menus along with flatware and napkins. She asked if we knew what we’d like to drink but we hadn’t even opened the menus yet, so she said she’d check again in a few minutes. We glanced over the list of draught beers, there must have been 19 or 20 on there, and then started talking about other things, so the server had to check back with us probably four more times before we finally made a choice.

Hilltop doesn’t brew its own beers; it serves beers brewed mainly by regional microbrewers, with selections rotated occasionally. Yesterday the list ran the gamut of styles: Ambers, porters, a Bavarian-style wheat, a few IPAs, a couple ESBs, some cask-conditioned and nitro choices. We both chose Hale’s Ales’ Cream Ale, which Hilltop served on a nitro draft in an Imperial pint glass for an absurdly smooth head and easy drinkability.

Strangely, I wasn’t in much of a beer mood yesterday, so I had just the one pint and ended up nursing it a bit. My beer lasted longer than our server, in fact; we were there through a shift change and our order was taken and served by a new efficient, friendly, and unobtrusive server whose name I also did not catch.

We were there about two and a half hours and were never rushed at all; in fact, every time our server checked on us or refilled our water glasses, she made a point of reminding us to take our time. So I heard the story of Julie Anne’s trip to Utah over the weekend and the silliness of Utah drivers who deal with snow every year but are completely befuddled by it not just every year but every time it snows, which made getting around to various client appointments a bit irritating. Through all the chatter and whatnot, we didn’t place a food order until we’d been there about 90 minutes, but our food arrived no more than ten minutes after the order went in.

Julie Anne selected the Southwestern Steak Sandwich, flatiron steak seasoned with chili powder, garlic, black pepper, and salt and grilled and served on a sliced baguette with mayo, Jack cheese, lettuce, and Hilltop’s house-made pico de gallo. She had chosen the tabbouleh as an accompaniment, thinking it would be a smallish side serving, but she received rather a large mound of it and left about half on the plate at the end.

I chose the Chicken Breast Sandwich: Lightly breaded chicken with mozzarella served on rye with a little cream cheese, some mayo, sliced tomato and red onion, and lettuce. Seattle Weekly apparently dubs this “The best chicken sandwich in Seattle!” and I’ll say it definitely ranks high among the chicken sandwiches I’ve had.

I had Hilltop’s house-made potato chips with my sandwich, mainly because I’ve never been a fan of tabbouleh (reminds me too much of couscous, which I despise utterly), and I was pleasantly surprised. Most restaurants’ house-made chips are thick enough and are cooked to such absurd crispness that they taste burned and too salty to me, with the crunching effort annoyingly loud in my ears—difficult to hear one’s tablemates when one has the sound of gravel under tires playing at 130 decibels in one’s brain. Hilltop’s chips, however, were just thick enough, and were smaller overall, with the exact right level of crunch and salt for the best flavor, and they complemented the sandwich quite well.

Julie Anne quite liked her sandwich and the bite I sampled was very tasty. The steak tasted just shy of medium rare and the spice was the right level, not overpowering the meat flavor nor too strong initially; it built up a bit as I continued to chew and lingered briefly but pleasantly as I swallowed the bite.

Our server checked a couple of times to see how our meals were, if we needed anything else, and she kept our water glasses full with nearly appalling skill. No attempt to rush us out the door, either, though most of the other tables in the back area weren’t occupied the entire time we were there.

The place has television screens mounted in several places around the seating areas so it would be a good place to catch a game. In fact, as we were leaving, the front area was crowded with spectators for the Washington Huskies men’s basketball team’s eventual loss to the Stanford Cardinal, and no matter which directions the patrons were seated, there was a TV screen in view.

All in all, very relaxing with a nice friendly local flavor among the pubs I’ve tried.


Trivia: Jan 29, 2006

  • Today in history: 1861 Kansas became the 34th state—1963 Robert Frost died—2002 President Bush gave his “Axis of Evil” speech

  • News of the weird: READING, PA—Rather than sign his real name, a man signed his voter registration form “God.” The form was rejected. (AP)

  • Strange fact: France’s per capita would rank it as the 5th poorest state in the U.S.

  • Daily quote: When you cannot get a compliment in any other way, pay yourself one.—Mark Twain

  • Daily word: improvident—lacking foresight, not planning for the future

  • Daily trivia: A quintal is composed of how many grams? (100,000)

  • Celebrity birthdays: Oprah Winfrey (52)—Edward Burns (38)—Heather Graham (36)

Links: Jan 28, 2006


I was fourteen then?

Earlier this week my PDA reminded me that today marks the 20th anniversary of the Challenger disaster. In typical American fashion—we seem to identify ourselves in no small part by our national tragedies and successes—I started thinking about Where I Was That Day.

To my surprise (though I’m not sure why it surprises me), my memory of that day is still quite clear. It was a typical 8th-grade school day at Bryant Intermediate School and I was just arriving for my third-period English class.

Challenger STS 51-L mission patch
Challenger (STS 51-L) mission patch
(Source: NASA.gov shuttle mission archive)
It was still early enough in the Space Shuttle program that the launches made big news and most teachers at Bryant had their TVs on so students could see the coverage. I walked into Marjorie Coombs’ classroom and saw immediately the shuttle was on its way to space—and that I was the first student to arrive as the class periods change.

Mrs. Coombs—quite likely my all-time favorite teacher—was walking up and down the rows of desk/chairs, picking up loose bits of paper and other small debris as she made ready for her next class. She was watching the TV the whole time too and took a moment to greet me by name, as she tried to do with every student who entered her classroom.

I asked her when the launch had begun and she said it was only about one minute ago, and we both turned our attention to the screen. Somehow, with my eyes glued to the TV screen, I managed to make my way to my usual desk without stumbling or knocking anything over.

Moments later, just as a few more students were about to enter the room, Challenger disappeared into destruction, and my jaw dropped nearly to the floor, and my stomach jumped into my throat, and my heart skipped a few beats. I was young enough that my next reaction was to turn to Mrs. Coombs and I saw her standing there, her hands at her mouth and her eyes clearly broadcasting her horror at what she had just seen. I turned back to see the SRBs emerged from the cloud of burning debris, each booster tracing its own erratic patch into the sky.

We spent the class period watching the coverage and talking about it at length, though mainly we were all silent as the images unfolded before us. When they cut to the families’ reactions on the grandstand, several students choked up, and Mrs. Coombs comforted them, and didn’t try to minimize their reactions nor the enormity of what we were all watching.

When the bell rang at the end of the class period, none of us moved, and the principal came over the public-address system and told us all we could stay in our third-period classes if we wished, and we stayed there until our lunch break. Mostly the unbelievable reality of it was all we talked about, and then they cut to show pieces of Challenger and the SRBs and the external fuel tank crashing into the Atlantic Ocean, and it became evident that whatever scant hope there may have been for the seven crewmembers’ survival was now gone.

We all teared up and the principal again got on the PA system to try to give us some meager words of solace and encouragement, but we were experiencing our first national moment. We were all alive when Ronald Reagan was shot but that hadn’t been anywhere nearly as enormous an event in our minds as this was. It would be our moment, the single event with which our generation first identified in any meaningful national way, and the enormity of it was still far beyond our grasp and well outside any comfort the school’s leader could give us.

The rest of the day was something of a daze, and that afternoon when Ronald Reagan’s scheduled State of the Union address had been postponed and instead he spoke directly into a camera from the Oval Office, I caught another brief glimpse of the horror of what we’d seen, what a blow it was to Americans’ view of their national identity.

I had never heard the poem High Flight before Reagan’s speech that night, but his paraphrasing of the poem’s last lines is etched forever on my memory as a perfect tribute to Challenger’s crew:

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

802.11beer

Woo hoo McMenamins Mill Creek’s wireless Internet access. They had a sign up for it some months back, probably about a year ago in fact, but I hadn’t seen a thing for it since. Until today when I have my laptop with me and decided, what the hell, I’ll fire it up and see if I get a signal.

And I did, but it was password-protected and it took a few minutes to figure out what was up with that. But here I am, connected and sippin’.

Ah, a good life.... :-)


Trivia: Jan 28, 2006

  • Today in history: 1915 Congress created U.S. Coast Guard—1986 Space Shuttle Challenger destroyed 73 seconds after launch

  • News of the weird: LOS ANGELES, CA—A Los Angeles public school has been named after the late criminal defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran. (Reuters)

  • Strange fact: Of every dollar produced in America, 20 cents goes to fund the government and its programs.

  • Daily quote: A good marriage is that in which each appoints the other guardian of his solitude.—Rainer Maria Rilke

  • Daily word: aurous—relating to or containing gold

  • Daily trivia: If I eat a bolete, what have I put into my mouth? (A mushroom)

  • Celebrity birthdays: Alan Alda (70)—Joey Fatone, Jr. (29)—Elijah Wood (25)

BUG COLORING!

Food science fascinates me. It’s just amazing we’ve discovered food colorings that can be extracted from the crushed bodies of insects.

It’s also amazing that a petition filed in 1998 is just now resulting in a proposal (not even a specific action!) from the FDA:

Seattle Times: Red dye focus of labeling proposal


WASHINGTON—Food and cosmetic labels soon may be required to list the presence of widely used red colorings made from insects but will not have to disclose the dyes’ origins, according to a proposed rule made public Friday.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed requiring that manufacturers flag the presence of cochineal extract and carmine in products. The colorings are extracted from the ground bodies of an insect used since the time of the Aztecs.

The proposed rule comes in response to reports of severe allergic reactions to the colorings, the regulatory agency said. A 1998 petition by the Center for Science in the Public Interest asked that the FDA take action.

Carmine is used in ice cream, strawberry milk, fake crab and lobster, fruit-cocktail cherries, port wine cheese, lumpfish eggs and liqueurs such as Campari, according to the FDA. Carmine also is used in lipstick, makeup base, eye shadow, eyeliners, nail polishes and baby products, the agency said.

Cochineal extract is used in fruit drinks, candy, yogurt and some processed foods. The extract has long been made from the dried and ground female bodies of a cactus-sucking insect called Dactylopius coccus costa.

These days when cochineal extract or carmine are included as ingredients, their presence can be noted simply as “color added.” They’re also sometimes listed as E120 on labels, the FDA said.

As of February 2004, the FDA said it knew of 35 cases of hypersensitivity to carmine, cochineal extract or carminic acid. Carminic acid is what gives cochineal extract its dark purplish-red. The acid is used to make carmine.

The FDA said it ruled out banning the colorings since it found no evidence of a “significant hazard” to the general population. It also declined to require that labels disclose the colorings are made from insects.

Comments on the proposed rule are due April 27.

I think flames were about to spew forth

I had to take my Escape in to have its rear suspension checked—random weird car noises drive me up the damned wall, argh—and they had an 08:00 appointment today, so I figured cool, I’d drop off the car and walk across the street to the Starbucks at 200th and Highway 99, where I could curl up with a book or (much more likely) fire up my laptop and geek out whilst I caffeinated. That location had the advantage of being directly across the street from the auto dealership, which rocked utterly.

Turns out that Starbucks is a drive-thru only, no seating area. So instead I walked about a mile and a half south on Highway 99 to their Hwy 99 and 220th location, which is in what looks like a former 7-Eleven.

Nice walk although the traffic on Hwy 99 was annoyingly loud, and the south wind was pretty brisk (I had on my leather jacket but nothing to protect my face), so when I got here I was ready for a hot drink. I ordered my usual, a triple venti nonfat no-whip white chocolate mocha—I fool myself pretty well into thinking this is remotely healthier than, say, a direct shot of adrenaline to the heart—and stood aside to wait while they prepped the drink.

The woman ahead of me had ordered a something something something non-something half-something else “extra hot” something or other. As I understand it, “extra hot” merely means they serve it hotter than a typical drink, usually in the 170°F range (I guess their regular temp is 150°ish, but I’m not sure of that). I’ve never ordered anything “extra hot” because the regular heat is plenty toasty for my tastes, so it didn’t make much of an impression on me until they called out her order and she reached for the beverage cup.

The steam was pouring off the top of it so thickly that I wondered if perhaps it was still surreptitiously attached to the steamer nozzle, and the woman reflexively jerked back when she touched the cup, which had no protective sleeve nor was it doubled up.

And I wondered why they hadn’t put a lid on the thing too, unless she requested it lidless. But she was already telling the barista the drink was too hot and could she have it cooled a bit?

I moved a few steps away to avoid the splashing and the scalding and the screaming agony should she pick up the cup again and drop it because it was fresh from the fires of Hell. They called out my order at that moment, so I was still around for the exchange:

Barista (apologetically and as she slipped the drink into a second cup): I’m sorry, it was marked “extra hot.”

Customer: Yes, I ordered it “extra hot.” I thought that meant with more caffeine.

Barista: ...

Don: ::pick up drink, slink away chuckling::

Friday-night news round-up

After a pretty busy week at the office, I’ve been looking forward to a quiet evening at home, so I foolishly loaded The Seattle Times to catch up on the news:

  • Bomb threat shuts down Seattle’s Colman Dock
    Colman Dock is the main ferry terminal in downtown Seattle. A threat phoned in to a 9-1-1 operator around 18:45 shut down the terminal; unknown when it will reopen.

  • Exxon demands court reduce $5 billion Valdez award
    Exxon thinks it should only be liable for $25 million on punitive damages and claims it’s spent $3 billion on clean-up. Exxon recently reported earnings of $10 billion for the third quarter alone.

  • Spokane residents object to proposed Wal-Mart super store
    Residents oppose the store mainly because they believe it will increase traffic to absurd levels. In my experience visiting several Wal-Mart stores in two states, traffic does go absolutely bananas, and that’s before the economic effects of the low-price insanity kick into gear to drive other establishments out of business.

  • Two FEMA employees indicted in kickback scheme
    Each is accused of accepting $10,000 in kickbacks from a food vendor. They conspired to inflate the number of meals taken by FEMA employees in a work camp in order to increase the vendor’s revenue.

It’s a happy day in the news, as usual.

I’m so glad it’s Friday.


10,000 miles

I passed this milestone in my Escape at 17:42 on my way home from work about a thousand feet south of 180th St SE and 35th Ave SE, a few miles short of my townhouse.

I got the Escape on Jun 10, which means I’m averaging 43 miles per day. My round-trip commute is just 16 miles; the rest comes from all the driving when I’m out with friends or family.

Just 231 days to reach 10,000 miles, and not even including a round-trip drive to Salt Lake City (I usually do that once or twice a year). So far the longest trips I’ve taken in the Escape are three separate jaunts to the Portland area and one to each of two British Columbia destinations, Vancouver and Victoria.

Thank God for full-coverage extended warranties!


Cupcake!

Flickr photo sharing: Cupcake!
Cupcake!
Flickr: Don Nunn
Katharine made cupcakes for the IT folks upstairs, but I had the in because I’m the brother. :-)

Yellow cake with white frosting and sprinkles, per one IT minion’s specific request. Apparently he’s allergic to chocolate or some other nonsense. I think it’s really that he’s sensitized his system from the ions bouncing around his house with its crazy PC network and stacks of servers.


Trivia: Jan 27, 2006

  • Today in history: 1756 W. A. Mozart born —1880 Thomas Edison received patent for light bulb—1945 Russians liberated Auschwitz concentration camp

  • News of the weird: LEXINGTON, KY—A high-school Spanish teacher was suspended for showing the R-rated move The 40-Year-Old Virgin to his class. (AP)

  • Strange fact: The United States has the most Internet DSL broadband subscribers, followed by China and Japan.

  • Daily quote: When the President does it, that means it is not illegal.—Richard Nixon

  • Daily word: baguette—a long, narrow loaf of bread; also used in jewelry to describe the shape

  • Daily trivia: In professional drag racing, how long is the track? (A quarter-mile, or 1320 feet)

  • Celebrity birthdays: Mikhail Baryshnikov (57)—Mimi Rogers (49)—Bridget Fonda (41)

Utah is amusingly backward in many ways

Cases in point, via email from my mom a couple days ago. I added the links.

Salt Lake Tribune: Rolly: Recycling ad joke is trashed


Salt Lake City’s recycling campaign recently won the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ award for the most creative recycling program in the nation for the second year in a row.

But local censors were not as impressed as the nation’s mayors, apparently.

The promotion was the idea of local Girl Scouts who scripted and acted in TV spots promoting recycling. The city then partnered with KUTV Channel 2 to produce the ads.

One spot shows a young boy dancing at a prom with a girl dressed in an array of aluminum cans.

“Nice cans,” the boy says. “Thanks,” replies his dancing partner. “I recycled them myself.”

Some parents who saw the spot complained, so that line was changed locally to “Nice dress.” The original line is kept in the ad when it is shown outside of Utah.

Speaking of censors: During the week of Jan. 9, KBYU-TV repeatedly ran promos for an episode of “Secrets of the Dead” titled “Voyage of the Courtesans,” the story of the women who were among the first settlers of Australia.

The promos, as well as the TV listings, said the program would air at 5 p.m. on Jan. 14.

The “Courtesans” episode was even promoted again on KBYU the afternoon it was to run. But when the program aired, the episode being shown was the “Black Death,” an episode about the plague that had run several times before.

One reader e-mailed and called KBYU to get an explanation, but never got a response.

Perhaps someone at KBYU looked up the word “courtesan” just before air time and decided the station’s audience would be better off watching a program about slow, painful death among the masses than about prostitutes who played a role in settling Australia.

Remedial education: After reading my column item Monday about all legislators but one declining an invitation to take the same test they require high school seniors to pass, Marni Ambrose, a University of Utah student, would like to extend an invitation of her own.

The anthropology major wants Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, to be her guest in her class on Human Origins and Evolution, which meets every Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Stuart Building.

“If he is too busy, I take great notes and would be happy to send him a concise class summary,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Buttars, you may recall, is sponsoring a bill that would guide teachers on how they should discuss the theory of evolution in their science classes.

“Our Legislature is so concerned that Utahns be properly educated, perhaps they should set the example and know what they are talking about when they feel the need to write school curriculums,” Ambrose wrote.

A higher law: Discussing the evils of tobacco and strong drink, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, uttered this quote on the floor of the Utah Senate on Thursday during his argument for a ban on smoking in private clubs and bars:

“President Grant went to his grave disappointed that Utah was the last state to cast the vote to end Prohibition.”

That would be Heber J., not Ulysses S., and his authority was, at least officially, over his church, not over the state.

I was (sorta) right

Dawdling in the kitchen, longer-than-usual shower, stop for gas on the way to work, and I end up arriving later than usual....


Headache-free but annoyingly wide awake

Snapped awake about 10 minutes ago, no idea why. I was pleased to find yesterday’s full-day headache gone but annoyed to discover I was wide awake enough that I decided to get up.

Ah well. This early rising won’t translate to an early arrival at work, even though right now it’s my goal. But I know me well enough to know I’ll dawdle a bit here and there, so I’ll probably get there at my usual 08:30ish.

Happy Friday. :-)


Don Nunn’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

I left work at 17:25. I’d been eager to get the hell out of there because of the headache I woke up with this morning—it hadn’t abated at all, and though it was just a dull ache with occasional several-minutes-long periods of throbbing, none of that was conducive to happily productive work hours.

If I had known the stupidity I was to encounter when I arrived home, however, I would have stayed at work all night.

In the order they occurred:

Continue reading "Don Nunn’s A Series of Unfortunate Events" »


He took the dare

One of the lab folk—we’ll call him A.D. in an attempt not to protect his identity at all by using his actual initials—was just dared by two of his own coworkers to ingest a full tablespoon of the seasoning salt that’s available in the break room.

Some people, it seems, never really get out of junior high school. His reaction to the dare: “What’ll you give me for it?”

“Money for crackers,” one coworker answered.

I had no idea what he meant by that—I’d just walked into the room and was washing out my lunch container, paying little attention to the world around me—but I turned at this exchange so I could watch the event unfold.

A little more banter among the three of them, and then A.D. stood, walked to the cabinets and took out a plastic tablespoon, scooped a heaping measure of the seasoning salt out of its Costco-size container, and snorked the salt down with a quick water chaser.

His two coworkers laughed while I shook my head and wandered out of the room.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

One day I’ll have to relate the story of A.D.’s method for catching hummingbirds and the 30 seconds of stunned silence that followed his story, followed by the three years (and counting) of amused chuckling by the people to whom he told that story.


Links: Jan 25, 2006


We saw the sun for a few hours today

And most of yesterday, actually. So I’m exaggerating a bit in my whining.

We had a couple days with no forecast rain but now we’re back to the cycle of 40% to 80% chance of rain on any given day, at least through the weekend. I left my house in blinding sunlight this morning but the clouds came in a while ago, ushered in by breezy winds that are distracting me by their rustling of the leaves on the shrubs right outside my office window.

Ah, winter in Seattle.

(I’m ready for summer)


Links: Jan 24, 2006


LOL BUTTER

Fred Meyer for a few last-minute things for tonight’s poker game in my dining room. I bought butter because I like to have it on hand and I knew I was nearly out.

I picked up a package of Land O’ Lakes butter, which I usually buy because the sticks are long and narrow and fit my butter dish properly. I don’t use my butter dish very often but when I do, I don’t like it when the butter gets smashed by the lid.

I noticed as the cashier rang me up that the receipt which only allows about 12 characters for an item description, showed the first item rung up as LOL BUTTER.

My first thought was: The butter is laughing.

My second thought was: Yesterday happened to mark the 13th anniversary of the creation of my AOL account and I’ve chatted online way too much.


Trivia: Jan 21, 2006


Links: Jan 20, 2006


Trivia: Jan 20, 2006

  • Today in history: 1892 first basketball game played in Springfield, MA

  • News of the weird: LOS ANGELES, CA—Legendary Star Trek actor William Shatner sold his kidney stone for $25,000. The profit will be donated to charity. (Reuters)

  • Strange fact: Statistically, men’s eyes are better than women’s eyes at tracking movement.

  • Daily quote: Shallow men believe in luck, wise and strong men in cause and effect.Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • Daily word: caustic—acidic, corrosive, deteriorates through chemical reaction

  • Daily trivia: What was the last name of the man who invented Caesar salad? (Cardini)

  • Celebrity birthdays: David Lynch (60)—Melissa Rivers (37)

Two things

Got home about 17:15 and immediately two mildly evile events transpired.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

I got my two cats in September 2004 and neither has puked while I’ve owned them. Until today, that is.

When I climbed the stairs to the top floor, I was greeted at the top by rather a spectacular arc of vomitus. I don’t know how long it had been there, but it cleaned up easily enough. Both cats looked a bit guilty the entire time so I have no idea which of them it was, but neither seems the worse for wear.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

I use a Road Tools Podium CoolPad with my PowerBook to tilt the keyboard up a bit and to ensure adequate ventilation at all times. Keeps the fan from having to run so much, nice side benefit. When I move the laptop from one part of my house to another, I typically lift it from below via the CoolPad if the computer’s lid is open or I grip the computer and the CoolPad in one hand at the computer’s hinge end if the lid is closed. The hinge end is on the tilted-up end of the CoolPad, so it’s a wider grip, easier to control in one hand.

Until tonight, when I picked up the closed computer to move it from my office (a.k.a. second bedroom) to the kitchen. Laptop and CoolPad in hand, I turned to walk down the hallway to the stairs, and as I reached the top of the stairway, the computer slipped right out of my hand and fell four feet or so to the floor.

You know how when life-threatening situations occur, time goes into this weirdly plastic Super Slo-Mo mode and you can feel every molecule of air bouncing off your body as you watch, horrified, while events unfold around you? Like when you’re riding with four or five others in a Pinto station wagon on the way to a youth-group ski day and you’re nearly in a head-on collision with a Winnebago and only a last-second swerve saves you all?

I experienced a low-grade version of this sensation as I watched the laptop tumble through the air toward the floor, and I’m pretty sure I actually went into cardiac arrest briefly when the machine bounced HARD off the floor and skittered into my bedroom. The impact knocked open the lid latch, so the machine was trying to wake up as I somehow restarted my heart and stepped quickly over to make sure there were no flames or blood or other visible signs of doom.

Happily, nothing. The PowerBook woke up just fine, though the lid latched again and for a moment refused to UNlatch, but once I checked everything out it was all good. I’m using it now and everything’s working fine. The only indication of the crunch is a very minor ding at the latch on the lid, and another minor flexing of the aluminum case near the battery on the bottom of the computer.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

For the record, after the Pinto-vs.-Winnebago episode, the four or five us in the Pinto were laughing hysterically and shouting: “We cheated death! We cheated death!” in the way only teenagers can when they still think they’re immortal.

And yesterday marked the two-year anniversary of the day I acquired this PowerBook. I guess it’s my own experience of the start of the Terrible Twos.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

I wonder if it’s possible to dial 9-1-1 for one’s own heart attack?


The streets are dry tonight

Only one (mostly) dry day in a row and already I miss the rain.

The good thing about it: I didn’t get dripped on when I checked my mailbox tonight, nor did I track a bunch of dead-leaf bits into the house when I got back from the property manager’s office to attempt to finalize my lease renewal.

The moon’s very bright tonight, too. It’s casting a typical pale glow through the blinds, for the moment anyway; looks like clouds moving in to obscure things in the next hour or so.

Fascinating how quickly I got used to the sounds of rain. Tonight the silence is almost oppressive, but in a strangely comforting way even though I want the rain back for a while at least.


Trivia: Jan 16, 2006

  • Today in history: 1547 Ivan the Terrible crowned Czar of Russia—1991 Operation Desert Storm began

  • News of the weird: STOCKHOLM, Sweden—A new play that is geared for babies aged 6 to 12 months premiered. (Reuters)

  • Strange fact: The lubricant WD-40’s name comes from the 40th attempt made at a “Water Displacement” solution.

  • Daily quote: All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Daily word: nudge—to push slightly, to jostle, sometimes to encourage

  • Daily trivia: In military parlance, what does SNAFU stand for? (Situation Normal, All Fouled Up)

  • Celebrity birthdays: Kate Moss (32)—Aaliyah (27)—Mason Gamble (20)

Seattle’s rainfall ends at 27 consecutive days

We had rain at my place in Mill Creek, but since the official measurement is done at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, what sprinkles may have fallen even in downtown Seattle didn’t matter much. (And may I say how stupid I find it that Seattle’s official rainfall is determined at a site that isn’t even in the city of Seattle?)

Damn. I was hoping we’d set a new record. There’s already a declared state of emergency in King and several other counties, so if we’re going to have the flooding and landslides and other crap, we might as well have the tiny historic glory with it.

Seattle Times: Sunny skies end 27-day run on rain


One day after the Seahawks broke a 21-year playoff-victory drought, Seattle-area residents welcomed the arrival of a dry spell of another sort.

The region ended its streak of 27 consecutive rainy days on Sunday, although the break was expected to be brief. Forecasters say rain was expected to return by early today.

People like Gail Whitty took to the outdoors Sunday to enjoy the respite from the rain. “I haven’t gone into a cafe today, because I didn’t want to waste any sunlight,” the Seattle woman said as she strolled through Gas Works Park.

Tim Haines wasn’t outside, but even at his table at a Fremont coffee shop he noticed the sun glaring through the window.

“You had to feel sorry for all the vampires,” he said.

However, the rain streak did bring out the competitive nature in others.

“I want it to rain, because I want to beat the record,” Renee Poulin said.

While she just moved here from northern Virginia in October, she already has adopted the ways of her new home. She has been fending off the rain with a jacket borrowed from a sister-in-law, rather than carry an umbrella.

Johnny Burg of the National Weather Service apparently had gotten swept up in the mood as well.

“It’s not looking very good right now,” he warned earlier in the day, when the forecast was that the chance of rain wouldn’t increase until after midnight.

For those hoping for a record, there could be some consolation: With the month only half over, January’s rainfall—now at 6.78 inches—could eclipse the month’s record set in 1953 when 12.92 inches fell at the National Weather Service station at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

[continues at links above]

stupid earworms

From the moment I woke up this morning, I’ve had the Pirates of the Caribbean song “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life For Me” rattling through my brain.

And not just the vocal version. The instrumental-only version that plays in the Disneyland attraction’s loading area also keeps intruding on my concentration.

I didn’t dream about theme parks or anything like that, at least not that I remember, but from the first moment I was fully aware of my surroundings this morning, those same few song lines and/or bars have been floating around my braincase.

yargh!


We’re free!

Off we go, running away from the lab before the inventory minions deem us necessary to some longer plot.

Have a good weekend. :-)


Trivia: Jan 14, 2006

  • Today in history: 1784 Revolutionary War formally ended—1875 Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer born—1952 Today show premiered on NBC

  • News of the weird: ROME, Italy—A man kept his mother’s dead body in a silicon-sealed wardrobe for three years. (Reuters)

  • Strange fact: Hens’ eggs can contain more than one yolk. As many as nine have been found in a single egg.

  • Daily quote: Two souls with but a single thought, two hearts that beat as one.Von Münch-Bellinghausen

  • Daily word: bryology—the study of mosses

  • Daily trivia: Country legend Alison Krauss is associated with what band? (Union Station)

  • Celebrity birthdays: Faye Dunaway (65)—LL Cool J (38)—Jason Bateman (37)

Working on a Saturday morning

We’re doing this physical inventory in the laboratory this week. It started late last week with the news that we’d have to count stuff and it had to be finished by this weekend. Once the eye-rolling had stopped, we came up with a slew of questions to which no one had the answers, but we were supposed to start counting things this week so we could do a final count and auditing today. So we all got here at 08:00 to finish it up.

This inventory strikes most of us as an exercise in absurdity, especially when no one in higher management can (or, more likely, will) tell us the exact reason for it. We’ve never done such an inventory before, and though the laboratory ownership changed hands last year (or possibly even late 2004), waiting a year or so do a physical inventory seems a bit... well, stupid. But oh well.

I spent several hours yesterday and about 90 minutes this morning (just finished, in fact) counting pens, letter-size copy paper, binder clips, laser-printer labels, and other office supplies, after which I counted paper towels and some industrial-strength cleaning supplies as well as the legal-size copy paper. It was six different loads of fun!

Now I’m waiting around for our inventory auditor to do her spot checks on the items I counted. Our auditor’s alter ego is that of our office manager. She isn’t even pretending to do the Clark Kent-style thing so we’re fooled into thinking she’s an external auditor, which was how we were told initially it would go. But oh well. If the purpose is to count things several times and come up with roughly the same item counts each time, we’re well on our way to achieving it.

When my area’s been audited, I’ll be out of here so fast there’ll be a Don-shaped cutout in the east wall of the building. Katharine’s area already has been audited (or maybe they’re doing it right now, I haven’t been back in the main lab for a while now), so now it’s all waiting on me.

Looks like we’ll make the Peking Acrobats performance at Meany Hall after all. Woo!


Links: Jan 13, 2006


PLEASE SEND SWIM FINS

Today marks Day 26 in our current run to beat the 1953 record of 33 consecutive days of rain. I think we’re all about to sprout gills.

I like rain, for the most part. The rain I like is steady, drizzling rain, preferably warm, like in the middle of summer. So much the better if it’s accompanied by brilliant flashes of lightning and rending crashes of thunder. I hate lightning, having been near the business end of a few lightning strikes in my time, but I really miss the summer thunderstorms of Salt Lake City We don’t get anything nearly so spectacular here. Sure, occasionally a stray lightning strike will set a thunderbolt rumbling across the Sound, but it’s much rarer.

The rain we get here in the Seattle area is sometimes annoying because it’s often more a light mist that settles on everything in an utterly drenching manner that simply cannot be avoided. For we who wear eyeglasses, it’s easily the most irritating thing in the history of the world. You walk outside dry and enjoy the good visibility for the roughly 398 microseconds before the mists cling to your lenses, and then you stumble over unseen rocks and curbs and people because your vision immediately goes into the shitter.

Consecutive days of rain: 26

Seattle has received 12.53 inches of rain since Dec 19 (as of Fri 10:00 PST).

As of Jan 12, January rainfall of 5.97 inches is just shy of 4 inches higher than average.

::glug glug::
Also, in winter, the rains are typically cold and the precipitation rate hovers at the indistinct edge between mist and drizzle so light it’s really just mist on steroids, with a few precious minutes of heavier rain interspersed. So I was pleased when we had steady drenching rain at my townhouse a couple nights ago, and every time I looked out the window I saw the erstwhile River Hawthorne raging down the pavement behind my garage before disappearing into the storm drain about 10 yards away.

Then the mists returned, the light sprinkly annoying raindrops that make even the longest interval on the windshield wipers’ delay setting seem much too often, and the wipers’ squeaking began to foster a murderous rage and I started to think it was time for the rain to go away for a while. Also I was sick of the endless local newsies’ breathless coverage, as if this was something we’d never encountered before, and not the annual occurrence of Winter In Seattle.

When I left for work Wednesday morning, I encountered a cool, overcast, breezy day, but the pavement was dry. I thought: Is this the end of the rain? What if it doesn’t rain at all today? I’m prepared mentally for rain and if we don’t get it I’ll be ruined! And what if we don’t break the record!

It occurred to me then that I regard the rain as an old friend, the kind whose return after a long absence you welcome heartily but whose extended stay drives you up the wall, but when it’s time for that visit to end you don’t want the end to come.

I don’t want to deal with wet roads and idiot drivers and misty eyeglass lenses and annoying news coverage anymore but I love the rain and I don’t want it to go.

Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat mirrors my thoughts pretty well in his column today. Excerpt after the jump.

Continue reading "PLEASE SEND SWIM FINS" »


Careful with your request for government publications

Maybe better not to order by phone, and to double-check those quantities and titles:

Seattle Times: Couple orders IRS booklet, gets 24,000 copies of wrong version


CHIMACUM, Jefferson County—Brian Lawson, a self-employed market analyst, and his wife Jackie got both more and less than they expected when they ordered an Internal Revenue Service instruction booklet by telephone.

What the Lawsons wanted was a single copy of the Form 1040 instructions for 2003 to help fix them a numerical error on their returns that has resulted in them having to pay $300 a month in back taxes since they filed their return for that year.

What they got on Wednesday evening, three weeks after their call, was a UPS Inc. delivery of 12 boxes containing 2,000 copies each—24,000 booklets in all—of the Form 1040 instructions for 2005.

The wrong booklets were sent from Bloomington, Ill., and arrived at the right place despite being addressed to Chimacum, D.C., instead of Chimacum, Wash.

“We’re hoping they’ll be more understanding of our error since they made this big error,” Lawson told the Peninsula Daily News of Port Angeles on Thursday.

He said he was unable to get the IRS to return his calls, and the newspaper also was unable to get a return call from the agency’s media relations office in Seattle.

Lawson did get one call about the booklets, though.

About 4:30 p.m. Thursday, a UPS employee called to say another 12 boxes addressed to him and containing 24,000 more booklets had just arrived at a warehouse.

Lawson told her not to bother delivering them.

He said he and his wife had learned one lesson from the episode: “We should have had someone else do our taxes.”

Technology features wish list

I was watching the rain when I had to make a change to a TiVo setting in my living room, and then my email program bonged that I had a new message, and a couple of wish-list items sprang to mind.

First, for TiVo:

  • If I own more than one TiVo unit, let me set them up so they function as a single “virtual” unit, with a single set of Season Passes and Thumb ratings and so on. This virtual TiVo would determine which physical unit would record programs in cases of conflict, and the Now Playing list would show me a single inclusive listing of all programs recorded on all physical units. The virtual TiVo would also handle data transfer automatically among units as required for playback at whichever physical unit I happened to be.
  • Also for TiVo: Playlists. I should be able to designate several recordings to be played back-to-back in sequence so I don’t have to see the Now Playing list between each show. This would be similar to the way some TV-show DVDs have an option to play all episodes back-to-back so I don’t have to jump in and out of the menu structure many times.

And one (for now anyway) for Apple’s Mail.app:

  • Let me designate for which senders I always want to see HTML images, similar to the way I can with Gmail. An easy way to do this: Offer an option to show images automatically in any messages sent by persons or entities whose email addresses are in the Address Book. It’s a drag to have to click a “Show images” button in each such email, and while I could always set most of the emails to be text-only, some I want to receive in HTML format. Make it easier to read these quickly.

Yeah, such a hard life, I know.

More to come, possibly.


“Driving for two” worth a chuckle, doesn’t qualify for HOV lane

A judge using a “common sense” yardstick? In 2006 America?

Isn’t that sacrilege or something?

CNN.com: Judge: Baby on board is no excuse

Pregnant woman claimed she was driving for two

PHOENIX, Arizona (AP)—Fetuses do not count as passengers when it comes to determining who may drive in the carpool lane, a judge has ruled.

Candace Dickinson was fined $367 for improper use of a carpool lane, but contended her unborn child qualified to use the lane. Motorists who use the lanes normally must carry at least one passenger during weekday rush hours.

Municipal Judge Dennis Freeman rejected Dickinson’s argument Tuesday, applying a “common sense” definition in which an individual is someone who occupies a “separate and distinct” space in a vehicle.

“The law is meant to fill empty space in a vehicle,” the judge said.

Sgt. Dave Norton stopped Dickinson’s car November 8. When asked how many people were in the car, Dickinson said two, pointing to “her obvious pregnancy,” the officer said.

Norton said Dickinson’s theory “would require officers to carry guns, radios and pregnancy testers, and I don’t think we want to go there.”

Earth... now on Mac OS X!

Google Earth logoGoogle Earth now has a Mac OS X 10.4-and-up version, and it’s no longer beta.

I got my hands on a Google Earth OS X beta client a few weeks ago and it ran pretty well on my 12" 1GHz PowerBook. I’ll grab the release version and see what improvements it offers, and I’m curious to know how well it will run on Intel-based Macs.

Download Google Earth—choose your platform and view system requirements, and off you go.

What a cool week this is turning out to be technology-wise, geekily speaking. :-)

Via dennisbullock.com

2005 in cities

I spent one or more nights in each of these cities or towns in 2005, in roughly chronological order through the year. Links lead to Google Maps of each city, because I’m just that geeky:

I spent some amount of time (at least an hour or two) in these cities but didn’t stay overnight, again in roughly chronological order:

Idea via kottke.org

Trivia: Jan 11, 2006

  • Today in history: 1935 Amelia Earhart began solo trip across Pacific—1861 Alabama seceded from Union—1949 Construction on first US mosque began

  • News of the weird: CINCINNATI, OH—A woman was left sitting in front of a TV for two years after she died. (AP)

  • Strange fact: China produces more than 60 billion chopsticks a year.

  • Daily quote: Dance is the hidden language of the soul.—Martha Graham

  • Daily word: serf—a peasant, a worker bound to his master

  • Daily trivia: A decimeter is one-tenth of a meter. Then what’s 10 meters? (Dekameter)

  • Celebrity birthdays: Naomi Judd (60)—Mary J. Blige (35)—Amanda Peet (34)

This axe is getting kinda rusty from all the blood

In a workplace the size of this laboratory, 20% of the staff is a huge number of people. The Human Resources axe whistled freely over the last 20 hours; one of every five people who had been working here before yesterday now does not.

We’re now ~40 employees where yesterday we were just over 50.

Even the best jugglers in the world would be hard-pressed to keep that many heads in the air, in the Circus of Hell we’ve been living these last two days.

And I had to come in to work early today because two of the people for whom I was responsible in this whole mess are part-time workers who don’t work Tuesdays. Both of my part-timers work Wednesdays; for one, that’s her only day in the office and she works at home the rest of the week.

Which fact I had made clear last week when I first heard this layoff was going to happen; I said, “Make sure you consider work schedules for part-timers if any of them are included in this layoff so we don’t have to scramble with this over two days.” Or words to that effect.

So of course they picked Tuesday, and waited until midday to do it yesterday, and that meant I had to come in early to be the Evile Eye, watching for my two part-timers so I could welcome them to work and oh by the way please follow me up to the Office of Doom.

This week really blows chunks. Large quivering chunks of pus-coated phlegm.

And now I get to count pens and stacks of paper because in the middle of all this layoff insanity, we’re conducting a physical inventory of all the consumable materials we use. Originally I’d thought that was for the lab only, but it turns out it’s throughout the building, administrative side too.

I know, let’s take our minds off the freely flowing blood by counting a few paperclips and some toner cartridges!


23 days and counting

Rain is the Big News! around Seattle the last few days. Yesterday marked the 23rd consecutive day of rainfall at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and this morning’s radio news coverage on my way to work (to handle more layoffs, of course) was almost entirely about the rainfall and the resulting landslides and road closures and floodings around the Puget Sound area.

We have rain forecast for every day through at least next Tuesday as well, which would mark the 30th day in a row.

If it snowed in the lowlands today, the media around here would probably have a giant Weather Orgasm as they drooled over the thought of the wild coverage they could do.

Seattle Times’ full story after the jump.

Continue reading "23 days and counting" »


Trivia: Jan 10, 2006

  • Today in history: 1861 Florida seceded from Union—1870 John D. Rockefeller incorporated Standard Oil—1881 Barbed wire patented

  • News of the weird: LONDON, England—A new study shows that one-third of all pets in British households are obese. (Reuters)

  • Strange fact: Some coral reefs may be up to 10,000 years old.

  • Daily quote: Truth never damages a cause that is just.—Mohandas K. Gandhi

  • Daily word: porcine—relating to pigs

  • Daily trivia: Lake No is found in what African country? (Sudan)

  • Celebrity birthdays: Rod Stewart (61)—George Foreman (57)—Shawn Colvin (50)

Several successful Apple software updates

I ran the Mac OS X 10.4.4 update on my 12" PowerBook and it worked flawlessly. I also received the Bluetooth firmware update and the iTunes 6.0.2 and QuickTime 7.0.4 updates; all installed just fine and the software works perfectly.

I normally wait a day or two after an announcement of software updates before I apply them to my machine, but in this case I went ahead with it the day of the announcement. I’d backed up all my data and probably because of that, I encountered no problems at all.

I’ll read with interest the problems others encounter when they apply these updates. I’ve yet to encounter any major problems with any software updates since I moved to OS X a few years ago, on both my laptops and on my desktop machines. Maybe I’ve been lucky, or perhaps I’m not futzing up my computers as much as some other users before I apply updates...?