119 entries categorized "Holidays"


I’ve had iTunes running for much of the last 24 hours and, via the magic of a smart playlist, just found out I went through two hundred and change songs.

About music sharing

Music I'm willing to share is linked directly from this page. No link, no sharing—don't email asking for files.
So of course my next impulse was to post the list here.

In play order:

Song — Artist, Album

Continue reading "213" »

Two hundred thousand doesn’t buy much nowadays

Seattle CVB branding logoThe Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau unveiled their newest marketing campaign, an effort aimed at encouraging continued tourism in Seattle’s non-peak season.

They had to invent a stupid word to do it:

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Seattle’s cold-weather tourism is heating up
Luring visitors to rain-swept city? Try conventions and a brand-new word

The clouds are rolling in, and the cruise ships are sailing out on their final voyages for the season. Ticket lines dwindle at the Space Needle just as foot traffic tapers off at Pike Place Market.

It’s the end of Seattle’s peak tourism season and the beginning of an annual challenge for the city’s marketing gurus: how to break through the national perception that this is a rain-drenched outpost and get people, and their money, to visit.

“Winter tourism is sort of interesting because locals think, ‘Why would anyone come to Seattle?’” said Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau spokesman David Blandford. “But they do.”

Even as the weather changes, new hotels are popping up all over downtown, and room bookings are setting records.

In fact, officials plan to announce today a new marketing campaign that will serve as Seattle’s image to the world, bureau President and Chief Executive Don Welsh said Thursday. It took about a year to develop and cost $200,000, he said.

The bureau will spend $300,000 promoting the brand, which includes a newly invented word—“metronatural”—and the concept of a metropolis juxtaposed against natural beauty, Welsh said.

The trademarked word will replace the current logo designed in 1999, which features an eyeball, the @ symbol and the letter L. (See-@-L.)

In the gray months, Portlanders and Vancouverites stay overnight to see the opera, cheer on some football and holiday shop. But even those vacationers aren’t enough to close the seasonal tourism gap.

Instead, the city fills its hotels in autumn by selling conventions and marketing the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, a hulking state-owned building on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Pike Street.

Since it was built using public bond money in 1988, the convention center has grown to become one of Seattle’s tourism staples, last year contributing $13.5 million in revenue to the state. In 2005, the center’s 507 events drew almost 400,000 attendees.

That’s why the biggest portion of the tourism bureau’s $8.2 million operating budget is spent selling meetings and conventions. It’s not that tourists aren’t welcome, say officials, it’s just that business travelers and convention delegates spend more—about $640 per trip, compared with the average tourist’s $474.

The tourism bureau’s job is to sell the city to meeting planners and tourists. It holds contracts with the city of Seattle, the Port of Seattle and about 1,000 dues-paying businesses, including hotels, airlines, cruise lines and attractions.

“We operate very much as a business because tourism is a very competitive one,” Blandford said.

Differentiation is key, he said. Seattle’s convention center promises that delegates can be in lectures by day and on ski hills by night, boasts a chef that hails from the Four Seasons and puts visitors steps away from shopping and restaurants.

Conventioneers also get a discount—hotel room rates fall 15 percent to 25 percent in the fall and winter, according to the Seattle Hotel Association.

All that, with some help from positive national press clippings and the cruise ships, helped King County post a record 9.1 million overnight visitors in 2005.

Tourism is a $12.4 billion industry in Washington—which puts it on par with aerospace, software and wood products in terms of its contribution to the gross state product, according to state research. King County is the state’s travel engine, accounting for more than half of the total spending and room sales collection, according to the state tourism office.

Seattle covets conventions that will fill 1,000 hotel rooms. Downtown has 6,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of the convention center, according to the bureau.

Just about every U.S. city has a convention center. . The tourism bureau employs two people in Washington, D.C., to push Seattle to the 20,000 associations located in and around the Capital Beltway. A third marketer works full time in Chicago to cater to the 9,000 associations based there, Welsh said.

Seattle’s advantage over big-time convention cities, such as Chicago, is the lack of bitter cold.

“We have a bit of a challenge in convincing meeting planners that that’s the way it is,” Blandford said. “People mistakenly believe it’s snowy, too. It’s satisfying to say, ‘No, it doesn’t snow in the city.’”

About one-third of the conventions are health care related, according to Michael McQuade, the convention center’s director of sales and marketing. As medical associations become more specific—recent conventions included the American Association of Blood Banks and the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons—more delegates will be heading to Seattle, he said.

Other conventions vary—ranging from international trade groups to professional societies to niche groups such as the Brewers Association, which held its beer conference in Seattle in April.

Convention season peaks from now until Thanksgiving and picks up again in spring, according to the bureau.

The winter holidays always have softer demand and more vacancies. To combat that, hotels turn to rate cuts and packages. For example, The Westin Seattle offers a $3,000 Seahawks package that includes a limo ride to the game and high-end tailgate food, said Elisabeth James, general manager of the city’s largest hotel.

Also, hoteliers change their marketing philosophy to promote holiday shopping and eco-tourism, rather than spectacular views, said Karl Kruger, president of the Seattle Hotel Association.

“The one thing that we need to work on as a destination is to create an event which will highlight our city in the shoulder and low periods,” he said. “Perhaps a festival in January, maybe an art fair in November. There needs to be some attraction where we can market ourselves to our 500-mile radius.”

The tourism bureau also plans a campaign to encourage people who live elsewhere in the Puget Sound region to come into the city to see the attractions.

People like Tukwila resident Kathleen Davis-Wright, 63, who wandered in the rain outside the Space Needle this week after viewing the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit.

“I’m doing Christmas shopping,” she said, holding up a key chain souvenir marked at 30 percent off. “It’s fun to go to the different places. Little rain drops won’t hurt anybody.”

Saturday playlist

Today’s list is a mix of a few long-term favorites and some of the more recently acquired songs in heavy rotation.

Heavy on the Vienna Teng, of course—I'm still learning the favored songs from her latest, Dreaming Through the Noise. I first encountered David Berkeley when he opened for Vienna’s Nov 2005 performance; bought both his CDs and they immediately got into the regular listings as well.

I first encountered Kris Orlowski and Travis Hartnett in early June at a small gig at C & P Coffee Co. in West Seattle. I’ve found these musicians’ work complements Vienna’s and David’s in this playlist quite well.

    Song – Artist, Album

Continue reading "Saturday playlist" »


About an hour left in the month of April on the West Coast. I was distressed somewhat recently when it seemed like the standard two-day weekends were rushing past almost breathlessly, then today I realized 2006 is a third over and I’ve since been in an advanced state of WTF.

The planked halibut worked out spectacularly well last night, even if we did set the plank gloriously aflame—a couple times I had to put out flames to what I’m sure was highly comical effect, with the spray bottle and turning off the gas supply and various other machinations. We’ve decided the planks need soaking for a minimum of eight hours, which gives us the desired grill effect without the worry of the flames.

Now it’s Sunday night, a change to a new month, blah blah blah. Tomorrow also marks the day the lab’s name changes, which means I have to remember to answer my phone correctly. I changed my work email signature and my voice-mail greeting Friday afternoon so at least if people leave messages, they’ll get the correct references even as I stumble over the name for the next, oh, probably several weeks at least.

Reminds me of when I first started at the lab in June 2002. It was months before I could answer the phone without having to think that I was no longer working for the managed-care company I left when I moved out of Salt Lake City. Made for a few amusingly confused moments for lab clients, I’m sure.

I like the month of May because it means the days are still getting longer, spring is in full swing, and the annoyingly muddy months of March and April are completely finished. But I can’t get over how it was just yesterday, it seems, when we were dropping off Mom at the airport after her visit for Christmas.

Tonight’s playlist

Earlier this week I goofed and blew away the ratings for my entire 10,236-song iTunes library, so I’ve spent a few minutes each day since redoing the ratings and cleaning up ID3 tags and whatnot.

My ratings scale is a bit fluid, but in general, I use iTunes’ 5-star rating system like so.

  • 1 star: I hate these songs. They’re unchecked so they won’t play except by direct action (double-clicking in the song list, clicking and pressing Return, and similar), and they’re included in no playlists. In many cases these songs’ very existence annoys me, but I still keep the song files around. Go figure.
  • 2 stars: For non-classical genres, my “starter rating”—items I add to the library get this rating by default. Songs will play as part of my full-library or genre shuffles so I can determine if another rating is more appropriate. In addition, all videos, audiobooks, and podcasts keep this rating no matter how much I like them.
  • 3 stars: Songs I like for (sometimes very) occasional listening. Also my default rating for songs in the classical genres (Classical, Opera, Operetta, and similar); these genres are excluded from shuffle operations.
  • 4 stars: Songs I like quite a bit and will play fairly often. All genres.
  • 5 stars: Absolute favorites, songs I can hear over and over. All genres.

Some ratings I apply based solely on artist name. Barbra Streisand, for whose presence in my music library I blame Katharine, automatically gets one star, while a handful of artists/groups get 3 or more stars solely by virtue of who they are: Steve Winwood, the Natalie Merchant-era 10,000 Maniacs, Eastmountainsouth, Vienna Teng, The Fat Lady Sings, among others. But even among the higher-rated artists, some songs get 2-star or 1-star ratings.

Otherwise, the ratings are most often based on snap judgments the first time I hear given songs. I’ve found over the years that such quick judgments tend to be most accurate for the way I rate songs.

Upshot: Tonight I have a 470-song list shuffling. I created it via a Smart Playlist that matches checked songs rated 3 stars and higher with duplicates and the majority of songs in the classical genres removed.

Songs appear in the shuffle-play order iTunes generated when I started playing the list. The list totals 1.3 days of play time, so I won’t hear all the songs in a single playing session; instead I used iTunes’ Copy To Play Order function (control-click the Smart Playlist to find this option on the contextual menu) to preserve this order across iTunes sessions.

Song – Rating – Artist, Album

Continue reading "Tonight’s playlist" »

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.


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

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.


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.

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!

Relaxing Thanksgiving holiday

Katharine and I ventured south to the Portland area for the holiday. We drove down Thursday morning, left Bothell at 09:10, and ran into a few slowdowns south of Olympia and just before Chehalis. Didn’t cut much into our travel time, however, because we stuck to the slow lane and moved through the slow areas at 40-50 mph while the left-lane wonks repeatedly sped up and slammed on their brakes.

And we were fortunate with weather. A little fog at the start but otherwise only clouds and maybe 25 drops of rain.

We arrived at Michelle and Shannae’s townhouse at 12:45, a little earlier than I expected after the slowdowns. They pressed intoxicants on us immediately—I hadn’t had a mimosa in, what, I don’t even know how long, but years anyway—and we watched the Broncos-Cowboys game while we played Go Fish with Shannae’s son Austin, who at 7 years old has that absolute adoration of simple card games which we can all remember from our own childhoods but which annoys us a bit as adults. I hadn’t played Go Fish in long enough that I had to get a rules refresher from Austin, and it was delivered in the typically breathlessly excited way of all kids when they tell a story faster than their minds can track their tongues.

We’d been there about an hour when it occurred to me that I’d seen absolutely no signs of cooking when we arrived. There were no scents wafting about and the kitchen was immaculate, no dishes or pots and pans scattered everywhere, everything was absolutely in order. I knew we were having the holiday meal around 16:00, or so Katharine had said Michelle told her, but in that moment I wondered if perhaps we were in the right time zone.

Turns out Shannae had started the turkey roasting at 08:30 or thereabouts and everything was well under control, and my nose just doesn’t work, because they were all saying how good everything smelled and I was sniffing the air like a woodchuck, wondering WTF was going on.

That’s when Shannae opened the oven to baste the turkey and BAM there was the wave of smells that’s so comforting around the holiday season.

So shortly after the Cowboys lost in overtime and the fitful rain had begun, the dinner hour approached, and we took our seats around a fully decked-out table. I had my camera with me and didn’t take on photos, stupidly, so I can only describe the perfectly arranged table and the flavors and sights we were to enjoy.

The turkey was delicious, moist and flavorful and done just so, and it was accompanied by the usual spread: Mashed potatoes (delish!), stuffing (yum!), gravy, white and yellow corn, rolls, cranberry sauce with the correct ridges. Michelle’s uncle Donald spoke a brief prayer of thanks and off we went.

I’d chosen a Pinot Gris for the wine drinkers (me, Michelle, Shannae). Of course I don’t remember the vineyard right now, and I can’t find the receipt from the grocery store a few days ago, so I’ll have to recall it later. It was a Northwest wine, however, and went well with the vast mixture of flavors of the day.

But anyway. After dinner came Poker Night, with a lot of Texas Hold’em and a little five-card draw and a lot more wine consumption. The imbibing was pretty slow, in fact; it was the fact that from 13:00 onward I only had alcohol that left me thinking I was going to wake up deathly hungover Friday.

I dodged that bullet, however. I was so pleased. I was absolutely dehydrated, of course, and the cup of coffee certainly didn’t help that, nor did the hot shower. But the pancakes and sausage were absolutely the best meal to assuage what mild symptoms I was experiencing.

We spent the day in Full Relaxation Mode. Katharine’s still getting over a chest cold, so when we headed home at about 16:30, it was mainly so she could rest for the weekend before a new work week. Of course as soon as I stood up to gather my stuff, the rain started coming down by buckets. We drove home in significantly worse weather but the roads were dry again by the time we got to Chehalis.

All in all, an uneventful drive, just the way I like them. A great way to close out a relaxing and fun trip to visit friends for the holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving

From an instant-message exchange a short time ago, because I don’t think I could say it any better now:

David: What are you thankful for?

Don: My oldest friends, offline and on, who have supported me in ways I could not and should never have expected over the last 15 years. And my newest friends, who surprise and delight me in ways I never would have imagined were possible.

David: Cheers to that. :-)

Don: I have been blessed beyond all men that way.

May the best of this holiday season find you now and follow you through the coming year.

McMenamins evening

One thing I like about the holidays is the absolute lack of concrete demands on my time.

Katharine and I are driving to Portland tomorrow to spend the holiday with our friends Michelle and Shannae and their family. We’re planning to leave the Seattle area at 09:00, which is fine as a general idea but is in no way an absolutely required make-or-break deadline. We chose 09:00 because, barring insane traffic, we’d arrive in the Portland at 12:30 or so, which would give us a few hours of hanging-out time before the big holiday meal in the later afternoon. But if we arrive earlier or later, no big deal.

Tonight, after I had left work and returned home for a bit and driven into Seattle to drop off a loaf pan and camera for Julie Anne, I was making my way north along I-5 toward home and the one load of laundry waiting for me (so I’d have the clothes I want to wear this weekend), and I decided the hell with it, the laundry could sit in the washing machine for a while—I wanna imbibe.

So I stopped at McMenamins Mill Creek and had a few pints and enjoyed the company of strangers while I finished The Belgariad, Vol. 2 and read through the recent issue of Seattle Weekly and talked some more and otherwise had a fine time, ignoring the fact that I probably should wake up at 07:00 tomorrow to make sure I’m showered and shaved and packed and the Escape is ready and I pick up Katharine on time and blah blah blah.

I like the lack of deadlines around the holidays.

Stagnant air ending Wednesday?

Our air-stagnation advisory is still set to expire Wednesday 16:00. They say a front will move through the area Thanksgiving Day, breaking the temperature inversion’s hold on the area and clearing out the fog and gunk that are slowly accumulating.

Last night the fog was thick enough on my way home that I couldn’t see cars more than about a fifth of a mile ahead of me, and when I arrived home, the townhouses across Main Street were slightly obscured. Naturally I was almost ecstatic. I like everything about it, even the additional chill the moisture gives to the air.

It’s worth not having four plainly delineated seasons here just for the large number of foggy days we get each winter.

Woo hoo!

Tacoma Mall to reopen today at 12:30, about 24 hours after shootings

This was a major WTF moment for me last night. I had looked at the Seattle Times site a couple of times through the afternoon and evening but saw nothing about this until it was covered on CNN, which I had on as background noise for much of the time between 17:00 and 21:00. Then I checked the Times’ site once more and finally saw a story about it, and this morning I found the story after the jump.

And on my way to work I heard a news story indicating the mall would reopen midday today, an hour or so before the alleged shooter appears in court for a bail hearing.

Continue reading "Tacoma Mall to reopen today at 12:30, about 24 hours after shootings" »

...and the stagnation warning extends another day!

Hooray for weather alerts by email:

905 AM PST MON NOV 21 2005





It’s spectacularly foggy this morning. Combined with the idiocy of road construction along the back-road route I usually take, and the fact that they always do such work during the morning rush hour (and just what the FUCK is that?), the gray day is perfectly is matching my mood.

’Tis a short week, the only saving grace for this day.

Lingering colds and other randomness

The (what I thought would be a) micro-cold I had last week has now settled into my chest and sinuses for a longer-term visit, so I enjoy Fun Sinus Pressure and Amusing Coughing Fits every hour or so the last few days. I’m so happy!

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

Yesterday I dealt with a total of 109 data sets containing 140,000 data points. When I arrived home last night, my eyes were still glazed over from all the spreadsheets and semicolon-delimited text files and macros and EDD checkers on web sites and in poorly written Windows executable files dating to the early 1990s.

So what did I do last night to rest my eyes and avoid data overload?

Balanced my checking, savings, and credit-card accounts!

{S nerd}

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

Today is election day, which means it’s the last day we’ll have to listen to all the stupid propaganda on the radio and television. Also the forests of campaign signs will start to disappear over the next few days. On the back-road route I take to work, I stopped counting the campaign signs at 250 when I was about a mile and a half into my commute this morning.

Bad enough all the signage, but I’ve also been buried in campaign mailers this time around. I received one county council candidate’s postcard-style mailer a total of 18 times in the last two weeks. Dave Gossett apparently believes his words are so important, I need to see them at least once a day for most of the month leading up to the election.

Or perhaps he knows those words are empty and believes that only by endless repetition will he achieve a win.

In any case, I haven’t seen a single campaign flyer or postcard from his opponent, Eva Davies. I don’t even know what she looks like and I didn’t see her blurb in the election-information pamphlet either. Of course I wasn’t looking for it, no surprise there.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

We have three four-day weekends in November and December because of the holidays. This is the first year we’ve had two days off for each holiday. If I had known about it far enough in advance, I could have requested three days off and enjoyed nearly two weeks total with the proximity of the Christmas and New Year holiday weekends. As it is, I’ll be staying in Seattle this holiday season. Mom’s visiting for the December holiday week, and we’ll probably make a jaunt up to Victoria, BC, to see Butchart Gardens in all its holiday finery. It was gorgeous enough by itself with the plants and trees and flowers; decked up for the holidays, it must be spectacular.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

Via Bug, I find out that The Wall Street Journal’s online content is available free of charge this week only. Check it out.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

I guess I’d better do some work now. I’ve been bouncing around on the phone and back and forth among some spreadsheets and report formats and this ongoing randomness for an hour, time to concentrate on one thing for a while.

I expect to hit 15,000 by this time next year

I found out just now, via a crash of my PDA and ensuing restoration attempt, that my calendar contains nearly 11,000 records.

These records date back to Jan 01, 1999, which was when I began tracking my life electronically in any meaningful (read: supremely nerdly) way. I received a Handspring Visor Deluxe for Christmas 1998 but backorders and shipping delays meant I didn't have it in hand until January 1999, and from that point forward I started keeping somewhat casual track of my workdays and my personal life—movies I saw, when, and with whom; dining times, places, and companions; travel locations and purposes, along with dates; and so on.

That was also the time when I was getting promoted through the ranks of the help desk at the managed-care company where I worked, and I found it handy to synchronize my handheld to my work email/calendar program so I'd have a ready reference for employees' days off and other scheduling information.

I'd say maybe 45% of the records from 1999 to 2002 are direct results of my job. To that point I was pretty lax in recording personal events, but when I left Salt Lake City in March 2002 I began noting personal events much more carefully. Now the events breakdown runs I'd guess 75% personal, 24% work events, and 1% random things like news events I want to remember or historical anniversaries I like to track.

Man, what geekery the last six years of my life represent.

Late-Wednesday randomness

98011 is the ZIP code for my office. It is also a prime number, I found out just now by way of A9.com.


Utah's official cooking pot is the Dutch oven. I discovered this in The Plates of America, a deseretnews.com article I've quoted below the cut because it includes an amazingly comprehensive listing of the food-related symbols of all the states.

Though in some cases their take on "food-related" is a bit... thick.


There's an Atlas Van Lines tractor-trailer that's now circled the block seven times. I can't imagine anyone would really be moving in at 22:30 and I wonder why the driver and his (at least) two helpers don't stop and knock on a door to ask for directions if they're having trouble finding the address they need, but then again they are men, and we don't ask for help.

Or so I'm repeatedly told by the women in my life.


I spent much of today being annoyed by a dully throbbing and persistent headache which started about half an hour after I woke up as a mild pressure and by 10:30 was pounding away just behind my eyes. By then I'd partaken of a few Advil tablets to no avail; did that a couple more times throughout the day but the damned ache lasted until around 21:00. Now it's been about 90 minutes gone and I'm hoping it doesn't return before I go to bed sometime soon.


Hmm, I thought I had more to say but I've just screeched to a halt, random-thoughts-wise.

Have a good night.

Continue reading "Late-Wednesday randomness" »

Don’s Music Tuesday: On my iPod shuffle

A couple albums I picked up from the in the last few months (I received a $30 gift card for Christmas and I just used the last $9 and change two days ago), along with a selection of my all-time favourites and some songs of the moment.

In the order the shuffle’s playing them as I type.

Continue reading "Don’s Music Tuesday: On my iPod shuffle" »

Friday Forum: All About Singing

  1. Would you consider yourself a good singer? Why/why not?
    Fair. I think I harmonize well, since my range is narrower than a lot of the music I like, but of course I'm hearing it in my own head. Who knows what it sounds like to others.

    Were you ever in choirs, musical groups, musicals, voice competitions, etc. while growing up?
    The inevitable school performances and a church function here and there, but I never sought out musical performance.

    How would you describe your singing voice?
    Fair, as I said above. I've been told I have a pleasant speaking voice and many times asked why I don't sing more, but never sought any training or experiencee with it.

  2. Do you sing in the shower? What about in your car? Around the house when you're by yourself? Do you sing along to the radio/CDs a lot? Do you prefer singing when you're alone, or do you belt out tunes at any time?
    I usually hum or mumble along in the shower. In my car, I belt out tunes when I'm alone, or sing more modestly when I'm with people. I often sing along to the stereo at home—living alone's great that way, you can be as good or horrible as you want.

  3. Who is your favorite singer at the moment, and why?
    Vienna Teng (solo singer/songwriter). Beautiful songs, beautiful voice, and I know the words.

    Do you ever watch the show "American Idol"? Why/why not? If so, do you have a prediction for who will win this year's competition?
    I don't watch it, never interested me.

  4. What are some songs that you remember fondly from childhood?
    Mostly Christmas music, because I wasn't into popular music until I was a little older. In particular, Carol of the Bells (the Ray Conniff Singers vocal version) and the Harry Simeone Chorale's The Little Drummer Boy.

    Are there any songs from your high school years that you particularly loved?
    None that I can remember right now, though I always get a bit nostalgic when I listen to an '80s-centric radio station.

    What songs absolutely annoy you?
    Purple Rain—absolutely intolerable. Afternoon Delight by The Starlight Vocal Band and Hazard by the unspeakable Richard Marx (it kills me that I even know the "artists'" names for those songs) because I was forced to hear them a few times per day when I worked at Kmart in the late '80s to mid-'90s.

  5. Name a song that accurately reflects the way that you're feeling right now.
    Hmm... I'm not coming up with a single song that accurately reflects my mood. I'll ponder it and possibly update later.

    If you could choose *one* song to describe your life up to this point, what song would you choose?
    Back in the High Life by Steve Winwood, particularly for the last 15 years.

Yahoo! Groups: Friday Forum

Pagoda Restaurant’s liquor license suspended over Christmas gifts received by owners

My mom pointed out this story earlier today. I post it here without further comment because it’s so wonderfully representative of the ultraconservative Utah mindset.

Salt Lake Tribune story link; it’s only available in the newspaper’s paid archive now.

Continue reading "Pagoda Restaurant’s liquor license suspended over Christmas gifts received by owners" »

Friday Forum: LASTs

  1. Has there ever been a moment in your life that you wish could have LASTED forever? In other words, you would have frozen time at that very second in order to live that moment for eternity? When did it happen, and how did you feel?
    If I can stretch "moment" to mean "the summers of 1991-1993 inclusive," then yes. Those were joyous, wondrous times, and while I have the advantage of clear memories about each season, I'd also love to experience them again and forever.

    Limiting myself to a single moment, I'd have a lot of trouble picking just one. I've had too many to narrow it down easily.

  2. Have you ever finished in LAST place, whether during a race, a contest, a competition, an exam, or something else? How did it make you feel? When a situation like that occurs, do you usually maintain a positive attitude or feel like you have completely failed?
    When I was in high school, I occasionally blew off reading assignments (even though I was in the advanced and/or AP English classes) and then finished last or close to last on the exams. Didn't bother me much, I knew in advance it was probably going to happen and it's hard to fake your way through an exam about a classic novel you haven't read.

  3. Who's the LAST person you...
    • talked with on the phone? My sister Katharine.
    • Emailed: UPS's automated package-tracking service My mom.
    • Received email from: The lab's safety officer My mom.
    • Hugged: My friend Julie Anne when I took her to the airport over the weekend Jeanne, a former lab coworker who visited yesterday afternoon.
    • Went out to lunch with: Katharine.
    • Thought about: So many people.
    • Made something for: Hmm, no idea.
    • Made plans with: My friend John from SLC.
    • IMed: My friends Bug and Matt.

  4. When's the LAST time that you did something nice just for yourself? What was it?
    I got a massage on Jan 22nd.

    How do you usually treat/reward yourself?
    I usually just go to the pub for a pint or two when I'm in the mood to do something nice for myself.

    Do you take time out of each day to do something for yourself?
    I don't do such things regularly or with any schedule.

    Do you buy yourself a birthday gift or Christmas gift each year?
    I don't buy myself gifts. Or at least I don't call things "gifts" when I buy them for my own use.

  5. What do you think you'll be doing on the LAST day of this month (February 28)?
    Since Feb 28 is a Monday, I'll definitely be working. Probably also writing my March rent check. Otherwise, it'll be like any regular weekday, I'll do whatever seems natural.

    If you could choose a month and have it LAST forever (in other words, it would be July all the time from now on), which month would you choose and why?
    October. It's just at the start of cooler weather, which I prefer in general; and it's the autumn season, which is my favorite part of the year.

Yahoo! Groups: Friday Forum

Woman knocked unconscious by Disney parade float

I hadn’t planned to post this when I saw a snippet about it early Tuesday, but I’ve had enough hits from searches for it that I figured I might as well oblige people seeking it.

The link in the post title leads to a registration-required version of the article on the latimes.com site.

Los Angeles Times: Disney Float Knocks Woman Unconscious

A 25-year-old Guatemalan woman was knocked unconscious by part of a float during Disneyland’s Christmas Fantasy parade Monday, officials said.

The woman, whose name was not released, was one of four people struck by a simulated carpet on the Aladdin float, a park spokesman said.

The incident occurred about 8:15 p.m. near the end of the parade route. The three others were treated at the scene for minor injuries.

The woman was treated at Western Medical Center-Anaheim. Disney spokesman Rob Doughty said park officials were trying to determine how the accident occurred and who was at fault.

“The Aladdin’s magic carpet extends out the back of the [float] with tassels,” he said. “We believe it’s that portion of the float that made contact with the guests. It was not raining at the time, but the pavement was a little slick, so that may have contributed to this.”

Disneyland removed the float from the parade to examine it and found it in proper mechanical condition, park officials said. They said it would return to service when its safety was fully established. The state said it was not investigating the incident because it did not occur on a ride.

The Anaheim Police Department filed a report but deemed the incident too minor to investigate.

All posts about injuries or deaths in Disney theme parks (most recent listed first):

Post-retail-hell randomness

My Wal-Mart adventure ended at Kmart, which seemed strange to me. Especially when I ran into Ronda, a former coworker whom I hadn’t seen in, what, the 9 years since I left Kmart for bigger and better things.

I ended up buying a case of standard-issue white-with-red-and-green-stripes peppermint candy canes. 48 boxes, 12 canes each, for a total of 576 canes. More than we needed, but the extras can go into the giant Christmas stockings they raffle off to employees each year as another token of thanks for their service.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

I also bought eight 2-quart bottles of apple cider, which we’ll use in the gift shop to make wassail customers can sample so we can sell more of the wassail mix.

Eight 2-quart bottles of apple cider weigh a lot when you try to grab them all out of the cart and put them into your car’s trunk. And when two bottles leap out of your arms, you look pretty silly chasing them as they bounce merrily across the parking lot.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

I found myself answering two other Kmart customers’ “Where do I find ___?” questions as I walked through the store to find the candy canes and apple juice.

I was wearing jeans, a green shirt, and a long black coat, looked nothing like a Kmartian, but they accepted my help as though I were some authority figure.

And my brain was shrieking, “No! Don’t do it! NOOOOOOOOO...!!!” as I spoke each time.

I really should listen to my brain.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

The Wal-Mart had a vast quantity of peppermint candy canes but the store manager (“I’m the store director,” he haughtily informed me) wouldn’t sell me more than two boxes (24 canes) in any single purchase. As if making 21 separate transactions was even remotely a possibility.

The guy had a guaranteed sale but did everything in his power to subvert it.

Some people shouldn’t be in positions with any authority.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

They make bubble-gum-flavor candy canes, I discovered today.

These candy canes are hideously pink, such that I could tell they’re hideously pink, despite my trouble with colour vision.

When I first saw these candy canes, I thought: “Who’d have guessed they’d make Pepto Canes now.”

I half-expected those idiot Pepto Dancers to appear down the aisle.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

The Mill Creek apartment folks called me today, everything’s ready for Jan 01 availability on my apartment.

Woo hoo!

Time to fire up the phone and get utilities and such connected, and then I must decide if I want to switch my cell phone to a Cingular plan (which I’m sure would require a new phone, something I’m not ready to do yet) immediately when I arrive in WA or keep my UT number for a period of time.

All my family and friends have cell phones too, so they’d be able to reach me without long-distance charges. (I think. I guess I shouldn’t make that assumption because I don’t know the details of my friends’ cell plans.) It’d only be work and similar entities who’d have to pay to call me. So keeping the SLC number for a while longer appeals to me.

I wonder if I can have a Mill Creek-area number assigned to me now, while I’m still in Salt Lake?

Then again, I don’t want to cause Cingular’s employees grief, especially since they’re probably AT&T Wireless employees who are still wondering if their jobs will continue beyond the next few months.

So wait I will. And I know how fascinating this little debate has been with myself, hence my need to publish it to the world.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

I was invited to a holiday gathering at Red Butte Café in Foothill Village, a strip mall on Foothill Boulevard on the east bench. Red Butte Café is located directly beneath a TGI Friday’s we used to frequent before they stopped with the striped shirts and the buttons and hats and general fun and went serious and all-black and stupid-menu. So we don’t go there anymore, also because the server who knew us so well, Donna, has long since left there too.

But anyway, there were 12 or so in our party at Red Butte and I was the only man. We were all from the hospital, so we knew we all had that in common, but they’d established a “No talking about work!” rule. So we didn’t talk about the hospital at all until about 17 minutes into the event.

I hadn’t been to Red Butte Café in years, since the time my sister and I took our mom there for brunch on Mother’s Day sometime in the 1990s (no idea what year). I had carne asada tacos which were delicious; nearly everyone else had a salad. I had a draft beer; nearly everyone else had dainty little margaritas, with the exception of a glass of wine here and there.

And we all exchanged little gifts. We were required to take a holiday ornament wrapped for exchange, which we did by way of a Fun Holiday Story with characters named RIGHT who did things that LEFT them in certain circumstances blah blah blah. Every time the storyteller said the words RIGHT or LEFT, we’d pass the gifts the indicated direction. The bags and small wrapped packages must have made four or five complete trips around the table before the story ended.

The other restaurant patrons certainly enjoyed the spectacle. I think we scared the hell out of the server.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

My ornament is a little frosted acrylic snowman. All I need now is a tree upon which to hang it.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

Speaking of trees: My friend Julie Anne’s tree, which is barely six feet tall, has 22 strands of small white lights on it.

I’m pretty sure it’s the lights holding up the tree now, and the ornaments are just kinda floating along with it all.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

Note to Red Butte Café: If it takes the server 5 minutes to describe a Pasta Salad of the Day that would take just two minutes to eat, the salad has too many ingredients.

The Hells that have been my week

I had to go to Toys R Us a couple days ago to pick up a new Radio Flyer metal wagon for the gift shop. Their previous wagon was stolen by a hospital visitor who told one of the volunteers he was taking the wagon to his truck to carry something and then never returned, the bastard. I imagine this person also steals the money from those little “donate to get Billy a new kidney!” jars at the grocery stores.

But anyway. We’d called the nearest Toys R Annoying store to find out if they carried Radio Flyer items and if so, did they have the classic metal wagon with detachable wood sides to give the wagon greater carrying capacity. The clerk told us they had a few in stock and they were $120, about what we expected based on our previous experience of ordering a few wagons wholesale for the shop, but we needed one now! so the wholesale thing was out the window. So off I went.

The first person with whom I spoke, when I had some difficulty locating the wagons in the bicycles-and-other-ride-on-toys section of Toys R Big Biz, directed me to some plastic knock-off versions of the classic Radio Flyer steel/wood wagon. She also kept pronouncing it “baggins.” When I asked her where the wagons were, she said, “The baggins are back here by the bikes.” Several times, even, so I’m pretty sure she wasn’t just messing with my head. Also she didn’t seem with-it enough to do that.

So then. Eventually I found Oscar, who knew right where the wagons were. He first showed me the $139 “all-terrain” Radio Flyer wagon. They call it “all-terrain” because it has big rubber bouncy wheels and it’s all-wood construction. It’s the SUV of wagons, as it were. I told him we were looking for the steel-and-wood non–off-road model and he first told me they did not have any of those in stock, whereupon he immediately turned around and handed me the little slip of paper you take to the checkouts to buy such larger boxed items. The slip read:


$59 / $69 ASSEMBLED


And he sent me to the cashier area, where I was immediately rung up (after refusing to give my phone number, which refusal sent the checker into a momentary fit of uncertainty) and directed to wait up to 20 minutes because it turned out the employee who was supposed to be retrieving the larger purchases for customers had just gone home immediately after he’d been given a list of items requiring retrieval, and they were scrambling to figure out how to get the items to the cluster of 4 or 5 customers standing in the waiting area.

They must have figured it out quickly enough because I was only there another five minutes tops. Classic red wagon in hand, I dashed from the store just as a symphony of crying children reached its crescendo, barely drowning out the nursery-rhyme songs and Happy Christmas Music blaring over the store’s public-address system.

Somehow I managed to finish that day without a headache.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

Yesterday was the hospital’s annual bazaar to support their Employee Assistance Fund, which provides financial assistance to employees who experience hardships (deaths, job losses, etc.). The bazaar ran from 08:00 to 13:00 in the main lobby and included some really nice handcrafted afghans and blankets which were sold by silent auction—amazing to me how many times I had to explain to people how a silent auction works—as well as some other more run-of-the-mill Christmas decorations and the like that were sold based on a marked price.

There was also a selection of baked goods, some of which looked utterly delicious. I find it amusing that foods can look like they taste good, it’s always been one of those sensory cross-overs I’ve wondered about. Anyway, the baked items were sold on a donation basis, people made what seemed like reasonable donations and we weighed those donations against our own ideas of reasonableness and either accepted and handed over the item or smacked the buyer about the head and neck while pointing and chuckling to induce shame.

I tried one of the cinnamon crumble muffins that were available and it was pretty tasty, but the bundt cakes and other items sold too quickly for me to make a donation offer on them.

But I’m a bit ahead of myself here.

We arrived at the hospital at 06:30 to set up tables and arrange the items and all that fun stuff. By 07:30 we had a crowd of excited hospital workers and a smaller crowd of visitors. They were all pawing through the items and shouting out price offers and we had to send them away because we didn’t have any money to make change yet. Nowhere near a riot but by the looks in their eyes, I could tell we’d have to be ready to go IMMEDIATELY!!! at 08:00 or we’d be overrun by herds of bargain-hunters.

By the end of the bazaar, we’d topped the $1,000 mark, and that didn’t include the silent-auction items. We collected on many of those in the afternoon, but a few people were out of their offices (or the visitors who’d won the bids were gone home already), but based on the general numbers of the bids, I think the fund will receive around $1,600 or $1,700 total. Good haul for a five-hour effort.

In the middle of all this, the gift-shop volunteers had a couple of “I’ve forgotten everything!” meltdowns, so I was rushing from the lobby to the shop at about 40-minute intervals to help things move along. And we were taking credit cards at the bazaar by ringing them up in the shop and then transfering the funds over, so that helped with the bazaar haul but also caused some confusion as we tried to figure out how to ring up non–bar-coded items when we also didn’t want to put them in the shop’s inventory.

There was also a hot-dog eating contest, another EAF fund-raiser with sponsors paying a per-hot-dog donation for the participants’ efforts. The winner, who managed to snork down 12 (or maybe 13, I didn’t see it first-hand) dogs in 10 minutes, dunked his hot dogs (with buns) in water to soften them up and then gulped ’em down. The second-place finisher used a blender to make an Oscar Mayer Frappe and then drank the whole mess, but after the contest he ended up puking for several minutes. They raised a few hundred more dollars and got the glory of their success, but no prizes, for their efforts.

I spent the last part of the afternoon putting together the Radio Flyer wagon from the previous day’s Toys R Maddening experience. The assembly went pretty well, and the instructions, as much as I needed them, were actually very easy to follow. I was expecting some sort of written-by-Japanese-translated-to-English-by-Germans type of thing, but it was all pictures. Reminded me of the picture menus some restaurants use for the kids, or of the instructions that accompany LEGO toys, minus the pretty colors.

:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

Today’s laundry day, and we’re taking Julie Anne, the amazingly helpful hospital marketing worker who agreed to be the on-call person for the gift shop while we were in Seattle, to Squatters tonight to thank her for the trouble we inflicted upon her. If we play our cards right, we might even be able to make her forget about all of it, the better to ask her to do it again in the future.


:: • :: • :: • :: • ::

Happy weekend!

Back from Seattle, news on the relocation front

Amazing to me that we live in a time when I can have breakfast in Woodinville, WA, and be home for lunch in Salt Lake City.

We wondered if we’d make it, however, because of some odd events right after we boarded our 09:30 flight at SEA.

First, the auxiliary power unit they use to blow air over the jet engines wasn’t working, so they were trying to find the equipment they’d need to start the engines externally once we’d pushed back from the gate. But after a quick round of maintenance, they managed to get things working again, so we pushed back only about 10 minutes later than expected.

Then as we rolled slowly backward, there was this terrific CLANGcrashcrunch sound and the entire plane jolted first up, then sideways, and then jostled for about 5 more seconds before coming to a quick halt. We all looked out the windows to see what truck or other plane or whatever we’d hit, but we couldn't see a thing.

Pilot was on the PA system in no time informing us the noise and jostling were caused by a sudden break of the tow-bar attaching our plane’s nose gear to the tug truck that was pushing us back from the gate. The ground crew was scrambling to find another tow-bar after determining the break hadn’t damaged our plane (thank God!), so we were delayed another five minutes or so.

Finally we pushed back, they fired up the engines (I love MD-90s with their rear-mounted engines; in first class, we heard almost no engine noise at all), and we taxied to the runway for take-off. We were second in line by the time we arrived and we clawed our way into the air after only a few more minutes for what we all hoped would be an uneventful flight.

And it was, until we began the descent to SLC, when we hit rough air and jostled and rattled our way down from about 10,000 feet. One of the few times I’ve heard a pilot instruct the flight attendants to take their seats too, which didn’t faze me much but I was worried about my mom’s coffee spilling everywhere, so my reaction was to grip the cup and keep it pinned to the console between us while I fired up my iPod for a few more tunes before I had to stow my backpack again for landing.

We beat the snow in Salt Lake City by an hour or so. From the weather forecasts I’d seen in Seattle, I’d expected snow on the valley floor, but there was none yet. Cloudy, of course, and the storm was obviously blowing in from over the Great Salt Lake. I got home about 13:15 and the snow began 14:15ish.

We’ll be spending the Christmas holiday here in Salt Lake and I’ll be relocating to Mill Creek, WA, in the first week or so of the new year.

Time to call some moving companies for estimates.

Thanksgiving craziness

Happy Thanksgiving!

We got an early start to the day's Enormous Meal prep by cleaning our fresh (Never Frozen!) Butterball turkey and dunking it into a Home Depot blinding-orange 5-gallon bucket with the brine I prepared last night.

We did this while fighting off the aggressive advances of Buto, a young female Siamese cat experiencing her first Thanksgiving. This cat has a taste for nearly any food; your hands are in danger anytime you unwrap anything in plastic, whether it be food or not, because in true Pavlovian style the sound alone is enough to set off Buto's hunting instincts.

She talks a lot too. MEOW MROW ROWR and so on as she stalks the countertops seeking sustenance, because she's so underfed.

Anyway. The bird's brining, we're about to have breakfast while we relax and enjoy the day and read the newspaper and marvel over the absurdly early hours many stores have advertised for tomorrow, the looniest shopping day of the year.

We're staying miles away from any and all malls and shopping centers for the remainder of the weekend.

Best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season. :-)

Hospital observations

So I've been at this hospital every day for the last three weeks, and before that I was here at least two or three days a week for a couple of months. Here are some things I've noticed in that time.

No particular order:

  • This hospital is big on HIPAA rules'n'regs to guard patient information and privacy. Or at least they say they are. In the last few weeks, I've observed a few strange methods of maintaining that privacy, among them:

    1. Stacks of metal charts, with patients' full information (name, condition, treatments, etc.) attached, placed outside the pre-admission nurses' offices on weekends (these nurses don't work weekends, so they process the charts the following business day)

    2. Pre-admission nurses' offices are so small, the doors can't be closed easily when the nurses are speaking to new patients, so anyone loitering outside those offices can hear clearly anything and everything being discussed inside

    3. The hospital's main patient-registry area is in the main lobby, right across from the gift shop and next to the information desk, and often patients speak loudly enough to be heard clearly across that large space when they're first informing the registration agents of their reason for being in the hospital that day

  • The hospital's cafeteria closes at 14:00 on weekends, and they have this charming habit of just turning off all the lights to let any remaining customers know it's time to go.

    There's some fine customer service, my friends.

  • There are two banks of elevators in the main hospital building. One's in a side hallway that isn't readily visible to visitors, so it gets used by employees more often, but the impatient employees hit the call buttons for both banks almost every time, and then bitch about how slow the elevators are.

    Hello dickheads: If you didn't call all the elevators every time you needed just one, the elevators would respond to EVERYONE'S CALLS FASTER!

  • You see a wide variety of fascinating people in hospitals. Several times when I've been standing by the information desk, I've heard visitors wander in and ask the volunteers to direct them to their appointments. But they don't know what the appointments are for, they don't know the doctor's name, and often they're not even sure what time the appointment is actually scheduled. Somehow, however, they expect the volunteers to divine all of this information and point them in the proper direction.

  • Speaking of which, several times in the Women's Pavilion I've seen new (usually teenage) fathers come in and ask where the mothers of their newborn babies are, but they don't know the mothers' surnames. (!)

  • It amazes me how people only read signs when it's to their advantage, like the woman yesterday who wanted to argue about 1/3 off a bag of potpourri that was on a cart with a sign reading THANKSGIVING & FALL ITEMS 1/3 OFF. She instantly pointed out that the sign didn't SAY the potpourri wasn't included.

    "You're absolutely right," I said. "The sign doesn't say that."

    And out she huffed.

    And I thought, "If the sign had specifically excluded potpourri, you'd have claimed you hadn't seen the sign."

    People really piss me off.

    (And the potpourri is included, by the way. I made a mistake.)

  • The volunteers are all doing well with the registers, for the most part, but the one thing they don't do properly is LOOK AT THE DAMNED SCREEN to see what they're doing. Many of them work at the information desk as well, and they have no trouble looking at the info desk computer's screen to see if they've misspelled a patient's name or the like, but for whatever reason they just do NOT do so with the gift-shop register PCs.

    If anyone can explain this to me, I'd certainly appreciate the insight. I'm utterly mystified.

I think that's all for now. I'm in the midst of verifying our inventory list to remove any duplications and this has taken the better part of an hour to write as I've jumped back'n'forth between the two.

::continue to count seconds to Fri 11/19 15:06::

POS Hell, Week 2

Tonight's gift-shop volunteer is picking up on the register operation pretty quickly. She was absent last week, and the woman who was here is on a leave of absence through Thanksgiving at least, so instead of being here to help with any questions I'm here training a new person once more.

The ladies on the morning and midday shifts did all right but they thought too much. If they'd just relax and use the little cheater cards we prepared, and not think so hard about the possibility that they might make a mistake at some point ever in the rest of their lives, they'd be fine.

And I arrived at 11:15 today, instead of at 7:30 or 8:00 like last week. So it's been a shorter day. All in all, not so hellish, even if I am less patient this week.

Only two more weeks and then off to Seattle for the holiday, woo hoo....

::count seconds::

Let the Point-Of-Sale Preparation begin

Inventory, UPC/SKU/description/price files from suppliers, 10-key data entry from hell:

All of these add up to a few days' work to get the gift shop ready for the point-of-sale registers we'll be installing in the next couple of weeks.

We also have to teach the volunteers how to use the system, which will make their jobs easier (and their work more accurate) in the long run, but which will scare the shit out of them in the short run. I'd say that with one or two exceptions, all of the volunteers who staff the shop (shops, in fact; there's a small satellite shop in the Women's Pavilion) are 60 or over, and what computer experience they have is mostly from being near the registers at the grocery-store checkout counters.

Off I go then to the storeroom to catalog the Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas items.


Rest well, good friend

Jake in the dining room
Inquisitive in the dining room
Yesterday was Jake’s last day.

Nearly 13 years old, the purebred yellow Lab had the trouble with his hindquarters that’s so common among older dogs of that breed. He had developed muscle and nerve problems over a few years and had experienced some ups and downs in the last few months.

Jake lived at my mom’s house. He was a gift to my sister Katharine and me at Christmas 1991. He was a couple months old when we got him, wrapped in a huge red ribbon with that adorable puppy “What the hell?” expression as he saw everything for the first time. He house-trained pretty easily, as I remember—but then things of that type we all manage to gloss over because, hey, who dwells on the wet newspapers and mad dashes to the back yard when the pup gives a little whimper?

Jake was our dog at first. Katharine and I looked forward to getting home from school or work so we could run around the back yard, take him for a walk, teach him to sit or stay, just watch him grow into his ears and paws and into the world around him.

Jake lounging in the living room
But within a couple of years both Katharine and I had moved out of the house, and Jake became Mom’s dog. He knew all of us, of course—he was true to the sobriquet “man’s best friend” to the very end—but he was Mom’s shadow, knew her moods and her routine, waited anxiously for her at the door each afternoon. He was leash-trained but didn’t need one for walks... though at times it would’ve been nice not to have to chase him across the neighborhood when he’d wander away from the front of the house when we were mowing the lawn or checking the mail or just standing on the porch.

In the last few months as Jake had more trouble moving about, he also stopped eating regularly, and Mom knew his time was approaching. She scheduled a veterinary appointment for Wednesday afternoon and left work at midday to spend those last few hours with Jake at home.

Then she drove with Jake to the vet’s office and stayed with him to the last. Instead of the cold stainless steel of an examination table, they had an area set aside with a comfortable blanket. They had to weigh Jake to make sure they had the dosages correct so he wouldn’t be hurt. He weighed a little over 70 pounds, well off his peak of just over 100 pounds in his prime.

The veterinarians described the procedure to Mom, telling her there might be muscle twitches for some time after Jake’s heart had stopped and his brain function ceased.

Jake and Sam on the back-yard patio
Jake didn’t react that way, however, and it was very quick.

I talked to Mom tonight. She’s unbelievably sad—but sad is a wholly inappropriate word, does absolutely no justice to the magnitude of her emotion. She made a difficult and necessary decision at the right time, which does absolutely nothing to lessen the pain. Makes it worse, in fact, in many ways.

I had no comforting words for her on the phone 30 minutes ago and I have none now. We had a good many years with Jake. I’m sure he knew the joy he brought into our lives too.

Strange how the end of a life so well lived brings with it such deep sadness.

Deseret Morning News: Grief, anger, love fill mother's heart

Copyright 2004 Deseret Morning News

OREM—It was the Thursday after Lori Hacking was reported missing and Thelma Soares, Lori's mother, had gone to the hospital to see her son-in-law, Mark.

At the time it seemed that Mark Hacking had collapsed with grief over the disappearance of his newly pregnant wife. He was undergoing psychological testing at the University of Utah Medical Center and had been incoherent when Soares first visited two days before.

Miles away, volunteers were combing the hillsides above City Creek Canyon and nearby neighborhoods looking for any trace of Lori, the girl with the wide smile and the cascade of curly brown hair.

But a day earlier, police had revealed that Mark Hacking had lied about his plans to attend medical school in North Carolina, and there was growing suspicion about whether his pretty wife would be found.

Mark was standing with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders when Soares entered the room.

"I hugged him and said, 'Marky, didn't you know my love was not conditional on your becoming a doctor? It was because of you, Mark, and how you treated Lori,'" Soares said in an interview with the Deseret Morning News. "And he kind of sobbed ... and he looked me straight in the eye and said, "I promise, I promise I had nothing to do with it.'

"I desperately wanted to believe him," Soares goes on. "But I didn't. I had this uneasy feeling. I did desperately want to, because I love him ... , but I just knew he wasn't telling the truth."

'A sweet baby'
Lori became Soares' adoptive daughter on April 21, 1977. The wait for Lori was at least two years. Soares can't remember exactly but said that she and her then-husband, Eraldo Soares, had first inquired about the adoption when their first child, Paul, who is also adopted, was about 4. Paul was 7 when Lori came home.

"I can't remember who picked her up first; it was probably me," Soares said. "She was such a sweet baby. She had this hair from the beginning. It was dark and curly and grew really fast. When we'd walk in the mall with her everyone would say they had to stop and look at the baby with all the hair. Finally I had to cut it because it was too thick and too curly, even to part it, and she cried."

Soares still has remnants of that first haircut, a long brown braid in an envelope that bears Lori's name.

In fact, Soares has safeguarded many keepsakes from her daughter's life. Lori's pictures, awards, dolls and other mementos were on display Saturday at the memorial service for the former stockbroker's assistant, held at the Windsor LDS Stake Center in Orem. In one corner were her tiny brown rocking chair, stuffed animals and childhood books, in the other her beaded wedding dress.

Lori Hacking is believed to have been killed July 19 while asleep in the Salt Lake apartment she shared with her husband.

Prosecutors have charged Mark Hacking with first-degree murder in connection with his wife's death. In an alleged confession to his older brothers, Mark Hacking said he shot his wife with a .22-caliber rifle and then abandoned her body in a Dumpster, the contents of which were taken to the Salt Lake County landfill. Her body has not been found.

"She's on the cover. She's on the latest edition of People magazine, sister," Thelma Soares is saying to the woman on the other end of the telephone as she shakes her head and breaks into tears. "Lori's picture is on the cover."

The words sound like both a statement and a question.

'The Mark I know'
At the moment, Soares says, she has many questions.

"The best news I could get is that (Mark) has a brain tumor or brain injury or something that would make him do this. I'm just really speechless; I have no way to explain it," she said: "Unless he's this evil guy. ... He was helpful. A generous spirit. He seemed to care about people. He came and put all of my Christmas lights up every year. This is the Mark that I know, not this Mark who killed her and did this horrible thing."

The Mark Hacking who started buzzing around Lori Soares in high school was always a big teddy bear of a guy. He'd bang on the front door each time he'd call for Lori. On her birthday one year, Mark and another friend filled Lori's bedroom with balloons and silly string.

He was a polite boy from a good family who once wrote Soares a note that read: "If I didn't have my own mother, I'd choose you to be my mother."

"Maybe he was schmoozing because he wanted Lori," Soares ponders. "But maybe not."

The coffee table in the living room of Soares' Orem home is covered with sympathy cards and vases of flowers. Outside, the tan siding is dotted with yellow ribbons tied in bows. On the front door, a polite note reads, "Thelma is resting," and begs the visitor to respect the 66-year-old woman's privacy.

Soares is grieving but somehow seems calm as she pads around house in her bare feet, her toenails painted bright pink.

When she speaks of Lori, she glows.

"We kept an orthodontist in business for several years. She was beautiful," Soares says and then begins to tick off the list of Lori's accomplishments.

An award from a kindergarten teacher for best bookmark. In sixth grade, Lori's first full school year in Utah after her parents divorced and she and Thelma moved here from Fullerton, Calif., she was a finalist for the Hope of America award. She was also elected president of her ninth-grade class.

Lori excelled in other arenas as well. She played piano and took ballet lessons. She loved to swim and Rollerblade. She took up running later after marrying Mark, Soares said.

From an early age, Lori had plenty of determination and specific goals. For a while, she even set her sights on attending Stanford University.

"She couldn't understand why anybody wouldn't want to go to college. That was always part of her plan," Soares said. "She said, 'I want to be independent like you are so that if anything happens I'll be able to take care of myself.'"

Weber State University was Lori's first collegiate destination, but after a year, she transferred to the University of Utah, Soares said.

'Web of lies'
There were plenty of young men to choose from, but Lori seemed to have her heart set on Mark, whom she had met on a high school trip to Lake Powell. From the first she said she was comfortable with Mark. They could talk about anything.

Married on Aug. 7, 1999, Lori and Mark seemed like the happiest of couples, Soares said. They supported each other's interests, alternately going to the Broadway-type theater productions Lori enjoyed and taking camping trips in Utah's wilderness, which was Mark's love.

"They did that in their marriage," Soares said, adding that Mark was the more demonstrative of the two, but that the couple was affectionate. "It wasn't perfect, you know, and maybe sometimes she would be the one to raise her voice, but she loved him. If ever there was anything that I would wonder about Mark, she would defend him."

If Lori had ever learned about Mark's now well-known deceptions or failures—like his LDS mission that was cut short, or the lies about his college graduation and medical school acceptance—she never let on, Soares said. She believes her daughter would have been devastated by such lies.

"I don't think Lori ever told a lie in her life," Soares said.

But it seems Mark Hacking told more than a few, the extent of which might not yet be known. Court documents released Friday show police are looking at cell phone, computer and bank records in trying to establish a case, all of which could lead to new information and insights.

"This elaborate web of lies, that takes a lot of thinking to do that. It wasn't that he lacked the intellect, he was always very smart," Soares said, adding that she wonders if Mark's actions might be traced to a fall he took from a roof about eight years ago while working a construction job. Mark, she said, apparently hit his head on a cement floor during the fall.

"As I sit here trying to make some semblance of sense of this, it's the only thing I could come up with," Soares said. "It's hard for me to believe that he's this evil because the Mark I know is just the opposite of that. All of my interaction and experience with him says it's not so. He's this sweet, gentle, quiet, funny guy."

'I do want justice'
Still, Thelma Soares is angry.

"I am angry at what he did to her, and that he left her to rot in this terrible place," she said. "And you know, there are moments when I just want to tear his heart out with my bare hands, but what good would it do?"

That prosecutors didn't charge Mark with a capital crime is all right with Soares.

"I don't want to be the person that sends him to the death chamber," she said. "I do want justice. He needs to pay for what he did to Lori. If that means a life sentence, that's fine with me."

No one should ever think that Mark's actions have divided Soares and any other member of the Hacking family, she is quick to add. The families have remained close in the weeks since Lori disappeared, and Mark's father, Douglas Hacking, said the opening prayer at Lori's memorial service Saturday.

With Mark's future in the hands of the judicial system—a court hearing is scheduled for Monday—Soares is filled with compassion for his parents, Douglas and Janet.

"As anguished and heartbroken as I am about Lori, I think they are facing a more difficult future than I am, because he's their son. You can't turn your love off and on like a faucet," Soares said. "I'm sure the Hackings would give their life for Mark. He's their child, and they still love him."

Soares is finding comfort in her religious convictions and says she is certain that Lori is at peace. She also hopes that time in prison might give Mark time to repent his crimes.

"In my way of belief, what he did was about as bad as it gets. He took two lives, and if he doesn't repent of this then his eternal future looks pretty bleak," said Soares. "I hope that isn't the case because there is good in Mark. Somewhere down in there, there's this person that I knew and and have known and loved like a son.

"There's man's law and there's God's law, and those are quite often two different things," she adds. "I have no doubt in my mind and in my heart that he will receive the judgment from God that he deserves."

I'm past the point of offering any commentary on the articles related to this case. My main purpose is to have an archive of the content separate from its original source; many of the newspapers' archives require paid access for anything older than 30 days, so this site will function as a free-access archive for at least excerpts of the stories.

Monday Madness: Sun 08/08/04

Another first-time go for one of these.

  1. What's "it" all about, anyway?
    Hell if I know. I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do with my immediate day-to-day life.

  2. What radical political ideas do you have, if any?
    I'm against the death penalty because I think it's too easy. Make 'em suffer the same way as the victim(s), I say. If only it were possible to kill someone more than once....

  3. Do you believe that you 'fit' the profile of your astrological star sign?
    I'm a Sagittarius and I don't know the profile well enough, but I imagine I fit at least some of the points. Or I did when I was a kid and checked my horoscope now and then, anyway.

  4. Will blogging survive 2005 or is it a fad?
    It'll survive but won't be talked about as much as it has been the last year or so. The media will do it to death and then stop covering it because they'll know their audience doesn't care anymore, having been supersaturated this year.

  5. Do you eBay? If so, what and how often? Is it a full-time job, part-time hobby, or just to clear the junk from your house?
    I've sold a few things in the 7 or so years I've had an eBay account. Bought a few things too, usually hard-to-find items for Christmas gifts. But I haven't used eBay for a couple years now.

  6. True or False: When I vote, I am all for one party.
    False. I vote for the candidate whose views most closely match my own, regardless of party affiliation.

  7. Meat or veggie sauce on your spaghetti?

  8. Would you ever be on a TV Reality Show?
    Not likely. I don't like to watch them; I can't imagine being on one.

  9. What is one thing (or place) that you would like to do (or see) that you have not yet done (or seen?)
    London. Most of Europe, in fact.

  10. Do you answer memes honestly?
    Yep. If I don't want to answer one honestly, I don't answer it at all.
Monday Madness

Beer I want to try

Taylor Brewing Company logoBefore I moved to Seattle, I worked for a company that was based in the Chicago area. I traveled to Chicago a couple times per year on business, and on one of those trips I happened across Taylor Brewing Company in Lombard. It had the distinct advantage of being located on Butterfield Road, which was my regular route between the office and the hotel where I usually stayed. And it was a brewpub, so of course I had to stop there.

Taylor Brewing Raspberry Wheat_logoThey make a good Raspberry Wheat. Was the first time I'd tasted a beer that had a distinct fruit-flavor component to it, and this was a pleasant and very drinkable beer with an alcohol content low enough that I could sip several over a period of hours while I was working on budgets and such (which of course I did all the time, yeah... right) and not get completely smashed.

Ever since then I've had an affinity for fruit beers, but I haven't encountered many that were worth much of anything beyond a sip or two. Until I moved to Seattle in 2002, that is, and first found McMenamins and their Ruby Ale, and then Henry Weinhard's Blackberry Wheat.Widmer Bros. Widberry

McMenamins' Ruby is another relatively low-alcohol brew, 3.3% by volume, so more than anything else it's thirst-quenching. Weinhard's Blackberry Wheat is a bottled beer—although I probably should say "was," since I haven't been able to find it in Seattle or Salt Lake since before Christmas, and from a couple of message-board postings I've found, it appears they've stopped brewing it entirely.

So I was pleased when I came across Widmer Bros.' Widberry, a 4.6% black-raspberry beer that sounds pretty good from the description. I doubt I'll be able to find it around here, but I'll definitely keep an eye out for it when I'm in the Seattle area.

Anyone tried Widberry and care to give me a review of it? I'd appreciate knowing how it's regarded.