Favorite Posts of 2008

These are ten of my favorites posts from 2008. They were fun to write. They aren't necessarily my highest traffic posts, or the posts that drew the most comments. If I compiled the list on a different day, the final selection might be different, but for now I'm satisfied.

This list does not include book reviews, movie reviews, or posts that are part of a different series. They are listed separately in the sidebar.

Delays and more

Three hours to water the plants

Typing blind

Hot Pockets versus Lean Pockets

White Castle isn't a bank

Mt. St. Helen's is great on a sunny day

Brief thoughts on PowerPoint

Plot to undermine the Republican Party

Another Vice Presidential candidate

Psst! Psst!

Shatner-Palooza: On Majel Barrett Roddenberry

Recently, Majel Barrett Roddenberry passed away (my post on that is here).

Here are William Shatner's thoughts on her passing. They seem mainly focused on Leonard Nimoy's height.


Book Review 34: Cryptonomicon

Waterhouse has not even been given the full tour of BP yet, but he knows the gist of it. He knows that these demure girls, obediently shuffling reams of gibberish through their machines, shift after shift, day after day, have killed more men than Napoleon.

Page 174

Ranging from Manila to Shanghai to England to California to the South Pacific Islands, Neil Stepenson's Cryptonomicon is 1,130 pages of modern-day high tech business, World War II epic, monetary policy, geek culture exploration, treasure hunting, legal skulduggery about a dozen other topics. It tells several great stories that come together at the end, with a solid plot, and plenty of surprises. It has moments where the tone is inconsistent, and they characters aren't quite as real as they could be, but the depth and detail of the story is reason enough to read it.

The sheer thickness of the book gave me pause before opening it, but I'm glad I did.

In Cryptonomicon, Stephenson tells the stories of 4 characters, in varying chapters. One chapter will focus on Bobby Shaftoe, then next on Randy Waterhouse, the next on Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, then maybe we go back to Bobby Shaftoe, or to a chapter on Goto Dengo. It that respect, Cryptonomicon is essentially four books shuffled together like a deck of cards. Stephenson tells each story in third person and through the imperfect and limited eyes of his characters, in an effort to put the reader in the characters' place.

This structure works surprisingly well. The different stories complement one another, but Stephenson tells each story in discrete sections. This means that even though Stephenson jumps around to different continents and and decades, the story does not get confusing. It also means he can just move a character's story forward by 6 months or more and doesn't need to bother with how to get the character there.

Stephenson writes with a dry wit that kept me chuckling through the book.

It's not all new ground. In the tradition of M*A*S*H he takes shots at the military bureaucracy.

Like any other military unit, Detachment 2702 is rich in some supplies and poor in others, but they do appear to control about 50% of last years total U.S. tarpage production.

Page 198

The United States Military (Waterhouse has decided) is first and foremost an unfathomable network of typists and fileclerks, secondarily a stupendous mechanism for moving stuff from one part ot the world to another, and last and least a fighting organization.

Page 548

The tone is also evident is passages such as:

Let's set the Existence-Of-God issue aside for a later volume, and just stipulate that in some way, self replicating organisms came into existence on this planet and immediately began trying to get rid of each other, either by spamming their environments with rough copies of themselves, or by more direct means which hardly need to be belabored.

Page 6

The cynical humor throughout the book, is embodied in a stand alone lines and in the antics of the characters. It makes reading it even more enjoyable.

Stephenson also follows few German characters, though he doesn't spend as much time on them. One of them is taken by the SS to meet with someone on a train. The holocaust was ostensibly a secret from the German people at the time, though such secrets can't really be contained:

A short train waits here. It does not contain any boxcars, a relief to Rudy, since he thinks that during the last few years he may have glimpsed boxcars that appear to be filled with human beings. These glimpses were brief and surreal, and he cannot really sort out whether they really happened, or were merely fragments of nightmares that got filed in the wrong cranial drawer.

Page 619

Stephenson excels with moving the plot along. He illustrates his key themes in a compelling manner. I found it hard to put the book down -- I wanted to see what was going to happen next.

While Stephenson does a great job with the plot and the comedic asides, he doesn't write his characters as well. They are interesting, but inconsistent, especially early on. The Waterhouses are the geek characters. He tries to write Goto as the Japanese soldier who knows Japan screwed up, and Shaftoe is the cool, tough guy who writes poetry.

Stephenson shows that the Geek is strong in Randy Waterhouse. He spends 3 pages on how Randy eats Captain Crunch. Randy also describes people in the industry using Lord of the Rings terminology. He is a Dwarf. Others are Elves, Men, or Wizards.

Of course he's a Unix guru that has trouble relating to women. But he goes through most of the novel as an observer. The geek in him comes out when Stephenson chooses to emphasize it, but most of the time, there's nothing in the book to make him stand out from any other character. Much of the time he seems fairly normal and unremarkable.

But this techie business traveler does have his moments.

Living in the States, you never see anything older than about 2 and a half centuries, and you have to visit the eastern fringe of the country to see that. The business traveler's world of airports and taxicabs looks the same everywhere. Randy never really believes he's in a different country until he sees something like the Intramuros, and then he has to stand there like an idiot for a long time, ruminating.

Page 61

If nine-year-old Randy Waterhouse had been able to look into the future and see himself in this career, he would have been delighted beyond measure: the primary tool of the Interlibrary Loan Department was the Staple Remover. Young Randy had seen one of these devices in the hands of his fourth grade teacher and been enthralled by its cunning and dangerous appearance, so like the jaws of some futuristic robot dragon. He had, in fact, gone out of his way to staple things incorrectly just so he could prevail on his teacher to unstaple them, giving him another glimpse of the blood-chilling mandibles in action. He had gone so far as to steal a staple remover from an untended desk at church and then incorporate it into an Erector-set robot hunter-killer device with which he terrorized much of the neighborhood; its pit-viper yawn separated many a cheap plastic toy from its parts and accessories before the theft was discovered and Randy made and example of before God and man.

Page 69

His grandfather, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse is a more alien character. He is a mathematician. The military appreciates his skill.

The message states that after thoroughly destroying this message, he -- Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse -- is to proceed to London, England, by the fastest available means. All ships, trains, and airplanes, even submarines, will be made available to him. Though a member of the U. S. Navy, he is even to be provided with an extra uniform -- an Army uniform -- in case it simplifies matters for him.

The only thing he must never, ever do is place himself in a situation where he could be captured by the enemy. In this sense, the war is suddenly over for Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse.

Page 92

His superiors were well aware of his skills and his limitations. While it was important to keep Waterhouse safe and keep him working on encryption issues, they were well knew he might not be the best person to present things to others. It might take him a while to get started while speaking to a group, but once he gets started on a thought he would be away and rapidly get so deep into a topic the others would have no idea what he was talking about, but would know he was brilliant.

"...Colonel Chatten always shows up, and before the meeting starts, always find some frightfully cheerful and oblique way to tell Waterhouse to keep his trap shut unless someone asks a math question. Waterhouse is not offended. He prefers it, actually, because it leaves his mind free to work on important things. During their last meeting at the Broadway Buildings, Waterhouse proved a theorem.

Page 427

Math genius and organist Waterhouse struck others as odd. When other characters refer to him, they describe him as some kind of freak. Waterhouse's brilliance does come out in the text, and Stephenson more strongly defines Lawrence's character than Randy Waterhouse's, but it's not as crisp as it could be. When we see Lawrence through his own eyes, he clearly has trouble relating to women, and he forms his strongest bonds with other mathematicians.

Turing figured out something entirely different, something unspeakably strange and radical.

He figured out that mathematicians, unlike carpenters, only needed to have one tool in their tool box, if it were the right sort of tool. Turing realized that is should be possible to build a meta-machine that could be reconfigured in such a way that it would so any task you could conceivably do with information. It would be a protean device that could that could turn into any tool you would ever need. Like a pipe organ changing into a different instrument every time you hit a preset button.

Page 242

But there is little sense of the personal isolation Waterhouse feels. And that disconnect in the characterization loses something.

Some might argue that because we see Waterhouse's world through his own eyes, everything is idealized. He doesn't see himself that way. Therefore, the reader shouldn't notice that either. And there may be some truth to that, but in my experience an alienated geek still knows they are socially "different." They may not care; they may not seek a different lifestyle. And the may truly be comfortable with who they are, but they are still aware of it. And I don't see that self awareness come through in Waterhouse's character.

Bobby Shaftoe has most of the big adventures in the book. He is the tough guy. He may not get all the math, but he his street smart. He is a tactical whiz and can adapt to anything that happens on the battlefield. Especially if it gets him closer to his next morphine hit. He even gets to meet the future 40th President of the US during a morphine addled hospital bed interview after a brutal experience on Guadalcanal where he claims giant lizards were eating his comrades.

"You did great," Lieutenant Reagan says without looking him in the eye. "A real morale booster. He light a cigarette. "You can go back to sleep now."

Page 136

As a soldier, he knows how to talk to officers -- when to feign ignorance and exactly when to belt out a, "Sir! Yes, Sir!" But he is mostly a two dimensional character. In the very beginning of the book, we learn he writes poetry.

The modern world's hell on Haiku writers.

Page 1

And this gets mentioned again towards the end of the book. But throughout the middle of the book Stephenson doesn't mention it. It's almost an after thought. It seems as though Stephenson was trying to write his perfect marine, rather than a marine with a particular character.

Goto Dengo is a Japanese soldier who meets Shaftoe in the months preceding Pearl Harbor. We pick up his adventures following the bombing of a transport ship he is on. Of all the main characters, he has the roughest WWII experience, being marooned, captured, and dealing with the tough environment in the South Pacific.

He has a different world view than most of the other Japanese soldiers we encounter. He understands that the Emperor is not infallible and that the war is not going well for Japan.

Like the Waterhouses, he is an engineer. His engineering is not about data, however. It's about tunneling and mining. He grew up in a mining community and learned how to construct tunnels and mines. He also displays and adaptability that sets him apart from his Japanese colleagues. I'll come back to that in a moment.

Stephenson has also been criticized for the way he draws his female characters in this book. They can come across as canned and not as real people. I'm willing to give him a pass on this, however. I'm not sure if it's intended this way, but we are not seeing the women in this book through their own eyes, like we do with Shaftoe, Goto, and the Waterhouses. We are seeing them through the eyes of imperfect, immature narrators. Since Shaftoe and the Waterhouses don't necessarily understand women the way they understand their jobs, then their perceptions would naturally be skewed.

In this book, there are two reason the Allies won the war -- Adaptability and Encryption.

Shaftoe often calls on the Marine credo of "Adapt and Overcome." When something isn't working, he has no problem changing it. He is always looking at alternative ways to get the mission done when he hits a wall. Goto makes also makes this observation about the Americans.

The Americans have invented a totally new bombing tactic in the middle of a war and implemented it flawlessly. His mind staggers like a drunk in aisle of a careening train. They saw that they were wrong, they admitted their mistake, they came up with a new idea. The new idea was accepted and embraced all the way up the chain of command. Now they are using it to kill their enemies.


The American Marines in Shanghai weren't proper warriors either. Constantly changing their ways. Like Shaftoe. Shaftoe tried to fight Nipponese soldiers in the street and failed. Having failed, he decided to learn new tactics -- from Goto Dengo. "The Americans are not warriors," everyone kept saying. "Businessmen perhaps. Not Warriors."

Page 399

The fact that the Americans were not afraid to admit a mistake and take corrective action boggles the mind of the Goto and the other Japanese soldiers he works with. The way Goto explains it, a Japanese soldier would be too ashamed to do something like that. It would admit a fallibility that was simply not acceptable.

But the Allies continued to adapt. That adaptability extends to cosmetics.

Wartime lipstick is necessarily cobbled together from whatever tailings and gristle were left over once all of the good stuff was used to coat propeller shafts. A florid and cloying scent is needed to conceal its unspeakable mineral and animal origins.

It is the smell of war.

Page 173

It's not just the soldiers who adapt. In the 90s story Randy Waterhouse and Epiphyte Corporation continue to evolve their business model. The initial reason Randy goes to the Philippines changes. The company goes through about 30 different versions of its business plan in a year and a half. The business environment keeps changing around them as the face new opportunities and legal challenges. The directions Epiphyte goes in demonstrate the importance of being nimble to a small company. It gives them an advantage.

Encryption, though, is the main theme in the book. In WWWII, Waterhouse had two jobs -- breaking enemy code systems and hiding the fact that they were broken from the enemy. The latter is an aspect of encryption I never gave much though to. But it is critical. Breaking a code system is only useful if the enemy does not know its codes have been compromised. If they are aware of it, they can take appropriate countermeasures and having broken the code becomes useless.

That also means the Allies can't act on every bit of intelligence they gleam from the now compromised communiques. Doing so would lead to the inevitable conclusion that the communiques have been compromised. Waterhouse's job becomes, in part, to come up with "alternative" ways the Allies uncovered the information they acted. It's also part of his job to try to anticipate what former mathematician colleagues are doing in Germany and to try to think like they think.

While Waterhouse represents the intellectual arm of this effort, Shaftoe is they physical. He participates in missions to help ensure the secrecy of Waterhouse's efforts. But generally he doesn't know that. Keeping all these secrets is imperative to the war effort.

Date encryption is also critical to Epiphyte Corporation in the 90s. Their efforts surrounding secure data transmission and storage are critical to their view of the world. One of the interesting aspects of the books is the way Stephenson expounds on the importance of encryption for the Internet and modern monetary systems.

Encryption in WWII was mainly used to hide information. In the modern story, encryption is used not just to hide data, but also to prove identity. Those who follow encryption on the Internet are likely familiar with Public Key Encryption (PGP is one of the best know examples). In an environement where communications can be accessed illicitly and spoofed, and where people who do business with one another may not have even been in the same room, proving identity is important. Users can accomplish this using encryption.

So while adaptability is a main theme in the books, Stephenson uses it primarily as a platform to explore the issues of data security.

Reading Cryptonomicon takes some time. And if you primarily want vividly drawn characters, this book is not for you. If you want a geeky WWII adventure story, or find the topic of Encryption interesting this is a great read. The plot and the story kept me entertained for hours. The way Stephenson jumps from one character to the next in alternating chapters and decades works. It helps establish a broader framework and context for what is going on. Cryptonomicon is also a good primer if you plan to read Stephenson's 3000+ page Baroque Cycle.

Stephenson writes fascinating books about the impact of data on people's lives. If you would like a shorter Stephenson book to start with, I can recommend Snow Crash. My review of that one is here. It's not short, by most standards, but is definitely briefer than Cryptonomicon. Regardless of which one you read first, they are both great ways to pass the hours.

For more of my book reviews, click here.


Reading for a year

Well, I've had a pretty good Christmas. I'm well stocked on reading and other material for the year. This year, Santa brought me:

  • Isaac Asimov -- Prelude to Foundation
  • Isaac Asimov -- Forward the Foundation
  • Isaac Asimov -- Foundation and Earth
  • Isaac Asimov -- Second Foundation
  • Isaac Asimov -- Foundation and Empire
  • Isaac Asimov -- Foundation
  • Christopher Moore -- The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove
  • Rickford Grant -- Ubuntu for Non-Geeks
  • Michael Rushnak -- Terminal Neglect
  • Enya -- And Winter Came
  • C*Pen Hand Held Scanner (Works better than I expected)
  • Pentax 50mm F1.4 Lens
  • Pentax remote shutter release
  • Subway Map
  • Assorted Gnomes from France and Pennsylvania (critical to the health of plants)

So after a relaxing morning and an afternoon with an assortment of highly entertaining relatives (I earned 2 starred dollars), it looks like a busy year ahead of me.

How was your Christmas?


Merry Christmas

Have a great Christmas today.

This is me in 1974 with the best garage ever. I don't remember that particular day but I played with that Fischer Price Garage for years. The top level was cool. It had a turntable and elevator. But the Matchbox cars picked up awesome speed coming off the middle level so that was more fun.

Maybe that's why I still prefer to park my car on level 7 of the Seatac garage, instead of level 8. Not that I would ever try to see how fast I could come down that ramp...


Early Christmas Prestents

Since the GF and I are in separate cities for the holidays, we exchanged gifts a little early.
She had a bunch of my old T-Shirts made into a quilt. This is a project I've been planning to tackle for probably 10 years. But after a few years, we both kind or knew I wasn't likely to 1) develop the skills necessary and 2) find the time. So it's awesome. Some of those shirts are 20+ years old.

She also hooked me up with some bacon salt (perfect for Ramen), some gnomes (perfect for the garden) and a copy a Good Night Moon (a call back to this blog post).

Among other things, I got her a large frying pan. And yes, it was received. I am one of those lucky guys does not get in trouble for giving their GF kitchen implements. A few years back, there was a Valentine's Day where she was thrilled to get a meat cleaver from me. And I survived that with all limbs intact.


Seattle and Trains

At the moment, this is Seattle's most comprehensive rail system. Unfortunately, it doesn't leave the Center House.

It's all part of Seattle's Winterfest.

Seth Green saves Heroes

I was starting to worry about Heroes. Last season, cut short by the writers strike, picked up a lot of grief from Season 1 fans and the media in general. They complained it was too slow and plodding. While I may be the only person in the world who liked the Hiro in Japan story, I can see their point.

The ratings were pretty bad early in this season, and the story was only okay. The characterizations were off, the plot lacked direction, and things got a bit silly.

The show did turn around, though. In the episode where the heroes lost their powers, Hiro and Ando wander into a comic book store run by everyone's favorite werewolf, Seth Green (not that he was a werewolf here -- just a normal comic book store guy).

Sure there are some major astronomical and metaphysical problems with the plot in that story. But that's where it started to turn around. I'm left to wonder if that episode is where Bryan Fuller started to have an impact after coming back to Heroes from the soon to end Pushing Daisies.

The show began to get back on its feet the moment Seth Green's character gave his speech to Hiro. It's like he was speaking to the entire show.

The rest of the season was awesome. There was still some stupidity, of course (the rescue of Hiro from the past (really? your going to run really fast and turn back time? Superman already did that in the 70s (and it was a stupid idea then, too))). The show, however, is back.

In the preview for the next half of the season, they start to paint Nathan Petrelli as the bad guy -- turning in the Heroes so they can be confined.

What makes this interesting is that the bad guy in the season will not actually be a Bad Guy. He's doing what he thinks is right in order to help the world. He may be misguided, but he is certainly not evil. He's doing it not for personal gain, greed, or power, but to help all human kind.

Arthur Petrelli, Adam Monroe, and Sylar have all been evil characters. They are looking out for themselves. Hating them is easy.

This new direction also draws interesting contrasts between Nathan and his brother Peter. Two people are both trying to do the right thing and will come into powerful conflict because of it.

And it's all because Seth Green showed up.


The Enterprise computer is offline

Sad news this week from the world of Star Trek.

One of the Star Trek universe's most prolific actresses died of Leukemia at the age of 76.

Majel Roddenberry (widow of Star Trek creator Gene roddenberry) may be know to fans of the original Star Trek series as Number One or as Nurse (and later Dr.) Christine Chapel. She may be known to fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation as Lwaxana Troi. Ans she may be known to fans throughout the universe as the voice of Federation computers.

Majel Roddenberry was the only actress to appear in every Star Trek TV series and Star Trek movie. She finished voice over work for the newest Star Trek movie shortly before she died.

She also had a great reputation in the fan community for how she treated the Trekers.

Her list of credits is amazing, and extends beyond Star Trek.

Majel Roddenberry was an actress and appeared in many of the Star Trek TV shows and films. She died at her Bel-Air home, the AP reports, with friends and her son, Eugene Roddenberry Jr., at her side. Gene Roddenberry passed away in 1991.

"My mother truly acknowledged and appreciated the fact that Star Trek fans played a vital role in keeping the Roddenberry dream alive for the past 42 years," her son said, in a statement on the Roddenberry Productions website. "It was her love for the fans, and their love in return, that kept her going for so long after my father passed away."

... More at the Seattle PI and at Roddenberry.Com



Okay, so Thursday, we did get some real snow. Here are some images.

I took these pictures at about 11:00 AM. The snow fell throughout the day.

2008-12-18 Snopocalypse Seattle (3)

2008-12-18 Snopocalypse Seattle (21)

2008-12-18 Snopocalypse Seattle (4)

2008-12-18 Snopocalypse Seattle (24)

2008-12-18 Snopocalypse Seattle (10)

2008-12-18 Snopocalypse Seattle (23)

2008-12-18 Snopocalypse Seattle Snowman

And this is why you should exercise caution before you teach your GF how to make snowballs.

2008-12-18 Snopocalypse Seattle Cathy Snowball (2)

(She didn't actually throw it at me, but you should always be careful.


Shatner-Palooza: Raw Nerve Part II

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned William Shatner's Raw Nerve. It's his new talk show.

I've caught several episodes so far. His interviews with Valerie Bertinelli, Tim Allen, Kelsey Grammer, Jenna Jamison, and Jimmy Kimmel all have one thing in common. Eventually, they all come around to a discussion about substance abuse.

There are a couple things that could be going on. One is that there is a tremendous amount of substance in celebrity circle. Another is that there is a tremendous amount of un-discussed substance abuse in the general populace. Another possibility is that Shatner is hand picking people with substance abuse in their past.

All three of those possibilities are likely true.

Several people have commented that the show gets a little creepy. I can see that. Shatner dives into the issue with an odd intensity.

I think there's a reason behind that. I don't think Shatner is just trying to get a good interview. I think the entire show is about Shatner dealing with his third wife's death.

In 1999, Nerine Shatner died in the swimming pool at the couple's estate. In his book, "Up Til Now," Shatner talks extensively about Nerine's alcoholism, her trips to rehab, the challenges he faced in dealing with her alcoholism, the helplessness he felt, and the deep grief he felt. He recorded a song about Nerine's death on his album, "Has Been."

Though Shatner has remarried, he still seems to a lot of trouble dealing with Nerine's alcoholism and death.

As I watch Raw Nerve, and the way he asks guests about their challenges with drugs or alcohol, it strikes me that he is really asking them, "Can you please help me understand Nerine?"

As the show continues, I will be interested to see if this trend continues, or if Shatner moves on to other Raw Nerves with his guest.


Alumni Christmas greeting

Normally, email updates from Carroll College are news or the occasional request for money. Actually, I'm fairly surprised the news outweighs the requests for money, and I appreciate that.

Today, they sent a virtual Christmas card. The cool thing about it was the link to the slide show

This is what the campus in Helena, MT, looks like. Some of the buildings have changed over the last 15 years, but the mountains are still the same.


Snow in Seattle

We had some snow in Seattle Saturday night, and, of course, the media was in full snow panic. We got about 1.5" in my neighborhood, and the street level stuff was gone in the morning. Still, all we heard on the news was terror about the winter storm. To be fair, other parts of the state did get real snow, but it still did not merit the full on panic we heard about.

Regardless, I took these pictures from my deck.

2008-12-14 Snow in Seattle Tree

2008-12-14 Snow in Seattle Gnome and Bamboo

2008-12-14 Snow in Seattle Chair and Table

2008-12-14 Snow in Seattle Space Needle 2

2008-12-14 Snow in Seattle Downtown


Nutcracker in Seattle

Travel fans may recognize our nation trotting friend.
He's in the tree just above
and to the right of the nutcracker.
You can see his travel photos

On Saturday, the GF and I went to see the Pacific Northwest Ballet's 25 Anniversary performance of the Nutcracker.

It's not the first time I've seen the show. Sometime during 1, 2, or 3 grade I saw it. I think it was a class trip though I could be wrong. I also don't recall if it was a live show or a movie. With those kinds of specifics it may actually have been my imagination. Or something I saw on TV.

Regardless, I'm old enough to understand it a little better now.

I enjoyed the show more than I expected. The show magazine included a summary of each scene, so I knew what was happening in the story before the scenes unfolded. I appreciate that. Without those explanations, my mind would have been distracted by trying to figure out what was going on.

The music, the dancing, the choreography, the scenery -- they were all beautiful. The scenery and costumes were actually designed by Maurice Sendak, best know as the author and illustrator.

Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker dazzles Northwest audiences each holiday season. The production's brilliant blend of costumes, sets and choreography is unique to Seattle and creates a magical world enjoyed by children and adults alike. Choreographer Kent Stowell collaborated with acclaimed children's author and illustrator Maurice Sendak to create Nutcracker in 1983. Each year, over 100,000 people come to McCaw Hall to see PNB's Nutcracker — one of the best holiday productions in the United States.

The cast had a lot more children than I expected. One of the nice things about the production is that it really is an "all hands on deck" show and everyone in Pacific Northwest Ballet participates.

The entire company of professional dancers and more than 170 students from Pacific Northwest Ballet School will dance in 42 performances of Nutcracker during the 2008 holiday season.
I enjoyed Act I more than Act II. That's not the fault of the Ballet company; it has more to do with how the Nutcracker is structured. Almost all of the plot unfolds in Act I. Act II is more of an exhibition. And it's well executed. It's just not the sort of thing that really grabs me.

The Nutcracker is about more than individual performances for most people. It's a holiday tradition for many Seattle residents. They and their families will attend the show year after year. And it's nice to see things like that in a city.


Sprint's Now Website

Do you like random data, trivia and number? You may like this site then.

My GF sent me the link a couple week's back. I can't decide if this is just appalling, or if it's one of the awesomest things I've seen on the web. Maybe it's both.

What's your favorite widget on there? I'm partial to "Habitable Planets" counter. I'm keeping an eye on that one.


Music Review 01: Kristin Chenoweth -- A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas

I've been a Kristin Chenoweth fan for a few years -- ever since I first saw her on the West Wing. I learned she could sing when she appeared on the Conan O'Brien show. She's has an amazingly powerful voice, that is all the more shocking because of how physically small she is. Her career runs well beyond TV, though. She has extensive stage experience and just released her third album.

Last week's Pushing Daisies ended with Chenoweth's Olive Snook singing the Bangles "Eternal Flame," one of my favorite songs from the late 80s (yeah, yeah, I like cheesey stuff). That's probably why her new album jumped out at me at Best Buy this evening.

Her third album is A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas. It's a solid album, with a mix of traditional, entertaining, and Christian music.

I was a little disappointed with how it opened. The opening track, "I'll Be Home for Christmas" is a traditional song that most artists put on their albums. Chenoweth does a nice job with it. It's pleasant to listen to. But it's nothing special. She doesn't do much to make it her own.

She follows that up with "Christmas Island," an amusing song that Chenoweth has some fun with. She shows off more of her vocal range here.

She follows that with "The Christmas Waltz" and "Do You Hear what I Hear?" Again, this is pretty standard stuff. It's all good, but it lacks the spunkiness she brings to TV roles, interviews, and even those awful Old Navy commercials. Perhaps I shouldn't expect that in her music, but it's one of the things that makes her performances unique. And she has the voice for it.

That spunkiness does come out later in the album, beginning with "Sleigh Ride/Marshmellow World" and continues into "Sing" and "Silver Bells." This middle section is where the album picks up steam and Chenoweth begins to "own" the songs she is singing.

That feeds into "Come on Ring Those Bells," a country song. This gives some nice variety to the album. Additionally, while most traditional Christmas songs focus on Jesus' birth, you don't see that in as many contempory Christmas songs. It is the main focus of this song, however, and marks another shift in the album, and it becomes a more Christian focused album.

She follows that with "What Child is This?" another traditional song, and it has a fairly traditional feel, but at the same time, Chenoweth does put her own sound on it. Again, it's a great opportunity to demonstrate her impressive range.

"Home on Christmas Day" is next and has more of a stage feel to it, with sweeping melodies and recurring themes.

It leads into "Born on Christmas Day" another song focused on the Nativity and the birth of the King of Kings. I mean this in a good way -- have you ever heard a song playing over the closing credits of a movie and thought, "That's a great song. Why didn't I hear more of it in the movie? Maybe I should get the sound track." That's what this song reminds me of.

Chenoweth closes with "Sleep Well Little Children/What a Wonderful World." She does a nice job wrapping up the album here and let's her voice soar.

My biggest problem with the album is the way it opens -- it's too ordinary. I would have preferred Chenoweth really grab the opening and make a statement with it. Some songs from the middle of the album might have made a better choice. Or if she put a different spin or more attitude into the songs she did open with.

But maybe that doesn't matter. I'll be listening to these songs with the rest of my Christmas music for the next month, but I'll probably be listening to the genre on random play, where album order is meaningless. Is that how most people listen to music these days? Or do most people still listen to albums from beginning to end?

Overall, it's a solid album. If you are a fan of her voice, or you want to flesh out your Christmas music collection, it's worthwhile. And it's fun.

I'm not disappointed; I want to be clear on that. I do enjoy it. But it's not as big or original as I think it could have been.


Sleep 08: Partial Sleep

Waking up for me is a process. I've learned to allot plenty of time for it.

Usually the first alarm will go off and I'll ignore it. It will blare for several minutes before some corner of my brain realizes that sound is from "out there" and it's not actually part of that weird cat in my dream. That part of my brain is sharp enough to engage my arm, which will they flail wildly, whacking at different stuff on my night stand.

Eventually I strike the alarm and all is quiet for 9 minutes.

Then it blares again. This time, other parts of my brain have started to come on line, and we can dispense with the dream illusion. That snooze button is more directly targeted now, and the alarm is quiet in seconds, rather than minutes.

At least for the next 9 minutes.

This time when it comes on, the pseudo-rational parts of my brain have started to come on line. I know have a chance to actually "wake up." They look at the facts and determine:

  • It's comfortable in bed.
  • I don't have to be up for another 15 minutes.
  • If I don't check my email, I can sleep for 20 more minutes.
  • It's comfortable in bed.
  • The only responsible thing to do is hit the snooze button again.
Now, if I'm lucky, that's all that happens. If the mischievous parts of my brain have started their boot up sequence, there's a chance they'll interfere and say, "It's okay. You're awake. Turn off the alarm. Just curl up in those blankets for 2 minutes -- that's all. Then you can get up."

Those lying bastards.

Around this time, my cell phone alarm will start going off. That emergency back up is just right for these circumstances.

Eventually, enough of my brain fires up that I can get out of bed, 30 minutes later than I wanted to, but still early enough to be on time.

So is this whole process my imagination?

Not quite, according to a recent study on sleep at Washington State University. I found out about this through a post on Loud Noises, Big Plans! It's a fascinating concept.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the researchers say, there’s no control center in your brain that dictates when it’s time for you to drift off to dreamland. Instead, sleep creeps up on you as independent groups of brain cells become fatigued and switch into a sleep state even while you are still (mostly) awake. Eventually, a threshold number of groups switch and you doze off.

Lead author James Krueger said the view of sleep as an “emergent property” explains familiar experiences that the top-down model doesn’t, such as sleepwalking, in which a person is able to navigate around objects while being unconscious, and sleep inertia, the sluggishness we feel upon waking up in the morning.


If sleep were being directed by a control center, the whole brain would respond at the same time, said Krueger. Instead, it behaves like a self-directing orchestra in which most sections are more-or-less in sync, but a few race ahead or lag behind at any given time.

During sleepwalking, he said, the neuronal groups needed for balance are in a wake state while those needed for consciousness are in a sleep state. Conversely, in sleep inertia, enough neuronal groups are in a wake state for you to be awake in a general sense, but some groups are still in a sleep state—enough to hamper your ability to perform tasks.

“Everybody has sleep inertia every morning,” said Krueger. “It takes 30 minutes to an hour to recuperate from being asleep” and get all your neuronal groups up and running.

... More

You can also find the actual paper here, but it looks like it costs $32.

It's a fascinating concept -- the idea that the body's sleep system is not controlled from one point, but rather is more loosely coordinated. Different groups or functions can enter a sleep state even if the whole thing does not.

It's analogous to how modern computers work. They can shut down peripherals, components, or even individual parts of the processor to save power, and yet still run.

Or a house that gives light. Sure, it starts giving out light when you turn on the lights in one room, but it doesn't offer the full spread and volume of light until the lights are on in every room. In the same way, a person is not fully functional until they have turned on all the aspects of the nervous system.

And it helps explain why I just can't get it through my head to wake up when that first alarm goes off. There's no one switch to flip. There's dozens.

And it's really comfy under my blankets.

What's with the sirens?

My first inkling that something is happening in my neighborhood doesn't come from the news. Often it comes from a steady thump-thump-thump noise.

I'm used to that sound passing by and rarely hear it at first. After a few minutes of steady thumping, however, it will penetrate my consciousness, and something inside my head says, "Hey, why is that helicopter hovering over head?"

A half hour later, the reason may be on the news. Broadcast from the Thumping chopper.

But sometimes it's just sirens. I live a couple blocks from about 39 hospitals, near downtown. Sirens are a part of life, and I ignore them as they zip on by. But after a constant drone, or multiple vehicles in several minutes, I get the sense something is going on.

That's when I turn to Seattle's Real Time 911 Dispatch.

Choose the Today button for a live update of where Seattle's fire and aid units are being dispatched. It includes the unit number, type, and address. You can also enter a different day, if you want older data.

The site automatically updates every 60 seconds. You can just leave your browser window open and know where Seattle's firefighters and EMTs are headed.


What kind of English do you speak?

Your Linguistic Profile:

60% General American English

20% Yankee

15% Upper Midwestern

0% Dixie

0% Midwestern

I guess that makes sense. Though I'm not sure where the extra 5% went...

I spent 18 years in NYC and the next 20 year in the Rocky Mountain states and Seattle. Those who notice my accent usually think I'm from Boston. Unless I start talking about accents or I am really tired. Or I've had a few drinks. Then I actually start talking like a normal person (those most people oddly say that's a NY accent (what do they know?)).

I found this quiz over at The Creative Nerd.


Probable cause? We don't need no steenkin' probable cause.

What happens if you buy grow lamps and use them in Odessa, TX? Apparently the police will raid your house.

Activists protesting the behavior of the Odessa police department did just that. The bought grow lights and began growing Christmas trees. In 24 hours, police raided the house.

So using perfectly legal equipment in the manner exactly for which it was intended, is reason enough for the police to raid your house.

The site where the story originally appeared is currently off line due to high traffic; it may be accessible later one. It's here. You can also read about it on Reason.Com here.

Keep in mind, this sort of thing doesn't just happen when someone sets up a sting. It happened in Pullman, WA, too.


Shatner-Palooza: Valerie Bertinelli

Good news, Shatner fan!

William Shatner has a new talk show on the Biography Channel beginning 2008-12-08 You can learn more about the show here.

Shatner's Raw Nerve is William Shatner's own edgy and off-beat celebrity interview series. In each episode Shatner will attempt to probe his guest's most sensitive subjects and touch upon a Raw Nerve to explore life's most intriguing questions and unearth his guests' strange and unknown stories that are most surprising, revealing, funny, touching or bizarre.

Guests include fascinating figures from the pop culture universe such as Valerie Bertinelli, Tim Allen, Jenna Jameson, Jimmy Kimmel, Kelsey Grammer, Judge Judy and many, many more.

In the video below, Shatner interviews Valerie Bertinelli on a stage reminiscent of Victoria Jackson and Kevin Nealon's Love Toilet.

Shatner and Bertinelli discuss the nature of sin.

Set your Tivos, folks. It's going to be awesome.

Wired's profile on Ray Ozzie

This month (issue 16.12), Wired's cover story is a profile on Ray Ozzie. Ozzie is the creator of Lotus Notes and Groove. Currently, he is Microsoft's Chief Software Architect. The last person to have that title? Bill Gates. While Steve Balmer may run the business of Microsoft, it's Ozzie who is developing the vision. Recently, Ozzie introduced Microsoft's new cloud computing initiatives and related products.

It's an interesting profile, and it offers some insight as to where Microsoft plans to go from here.

A short list of what the Internet is about today would inlcude video sharing, eCommerce, file trading, social networking, telecommuting, news dissemination, and blog based commentary. A longer list could go on for pages and encompass a range of activities legal and illegal or wholesome and seemy.

But at its core, it's about bringing people together -- about letting people be who they can and want to be without the limitations of geography, appearnce, age, or physical ability. Sometimes that gets lost in the noise coming from the latest buzz word.

This story from the article was particularly telling. The core of what network communication was about in the 70s is what it's still about today. Here is my favorite passage from the article.

One incident in particular introduced Ozzie to the magic that comes when people connect via computer. He had taken a part-time assignment helping a professor finish writing some courseware. The prof lived on the other side of town, so Ozzie collaborated with him remotely. Ozzie came to know and like his boss, save for one annoyance. "He was the worst typist ever," Ozzie says. "He was very eloquent on email, but on Term Talk [early form of instant messaging]it was just dit-dit-dit, sometimes an error, but agonizingly slow." At the end of the project, the man threw a party at his house, and Ozzie discovered the reason for the typing problem: The professor was a quadriplegic and had been entering text by holding a stick in his teeth and poking it at the keyboard. Ozzie was floored.
Plato terminals at the University of Illinois gave users interactivity.

"I remember really questioning my own attitudes," Ozzie says. "I had been communicating with him mind to mind. Technology lets you do that, unprejudiced by what anyone looks like. From that era forward, I just knew I wanted to work on something related to communications and interactive systems."



Hitchcock tryouts

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Who owns this pier in SoCal?

The US Government?
The State of California?
The County of Los Angeles?
The City of Redondo Beach?
The local fishermen?


It's clearly this guy.

2008-12-02 Birds at Redondo Beach Fishermens Wharf

I certainly wouldn't want to take his fish.

And here are his associates.

2008-12-02 Birds at Redondo Beach Fishermens Wharf (2)