Life in the Garden Part 17: FlorAbundance WA Arboretum Plant Sale

Just when I thought I had my garden habit under control, the Arboretum decides to hold a plant sale. [sigh]

The event is in an old hanger type building at Warren G Magnuson Park. They bring in nurseries and plant vendors from throughout Western WA and the sales benefit the Arboretum Foundation.

I got there at about 11:00 the morning of the first day, 2 hours after it opened. The building was already packed with people browsing plants, asking questions, talking about how much of their garden died this winter, and bemoaning the late Spring.

The aisles seemed wide, but people quickly blocked them looking at plants on each side of the aisle and then stopping to talk to one another in the middle of the aisles to purposely block me from getting to wherever it was I was going. And different groups did this, targeting me every 10 feet.

Sorry. Got a little carried away. I mean they took this as a wonderful opportunity to connect with one another and bond as members of the gardening community.

By noon, it had pretty much cleared out. The check out line, which at one point was more than 150 feet long disapated and they were able to take my money quickly.

I picked up some Tangerine Sage (Salvia elegans) which has a wonderful citrus scent, some Elijah Blue decorative grass (Festuca glauca), a bronze decorative grass whose name I forget, a Hardy Jasmine plant, and some Alpine Strawberry plants (Mignonette) in case my own do not come in.

And of course some coffee.

One thing you can count on at any Puget Sound area event is that there will be a coffee stand. In New York, you can count on a hot dog stand. In Texas, you can count on a BBQ stand. I guess in Cincinnati you can count on finding a chili stand. (I may be making that up)

But noting gets between us and our coffee. Except for all the other people who need their caffeine.


LIfe in the Garden Part 16: Friendly visitors

If I'm not careful, gardening posts may surpass book reviews at Cromely's World. I guess that's the challenge of Spring.

The GF loves zucchini. She can't get enough of it. But I'm gonna try. I'm growing two plants this year.

Zucchini has a reputation for being easy to grow in the garden. And it produces lots of fruit, which is a good thing. On the continuum of home garden crops that ranges from hard to grow to easy to grow, zucchini climbs right on into easy to grow.

And then it keeps going. It gives off enough zucchini and then gives off more. And then some more. It starts out by producing and abundant crop for the gardener. It then continues to do this for the gardener's family. Then the gardener's friends.

After the gardener's friends no longer answer the door, for fear of being showered with more "free" zucchini, it keeps producing, and the gardener has to start sneaking the gourds into the mail carrier's pouch.

This fall, you will be held up at airport security by some desperate gardener who has shoved surprise zucchini's into the carry one luggage of random business travelers.

"Sir, you are only allowed 3 ounces of obnoxious vegetables. You are trying to get on the plane with 32 pounds. And don't try to blame it on your neighbors...It's off to Gitmo for you."

This summer, when your Facebook friend sends you a zucchini through the Internet? It's not for your (Lil) Green Patch that somehow magically saves the rain forest. No, they are shoving the actual fruit straight down the 10/100 cable.

Or so I've heard.

The point is I am growing zucchini from seed. I moved the plants into their permanent pots, but the nights are still a little chilly (45 degrees) for me to move the pots outside.

Which is why I was so surprised to see this guy (or gal, I suppose) the other day.

2009-04-22 Lady Bug Zuccinni

I'm not sure how the Lady Bug got into my apartment. It's a little high up, so it must have hitched a ride on some groceries or something.

I don't generally like bugs in my apartment. They're creepy and they eat my plants. A few years ago, people would ask if I had any pets.

"Yes. Aphids."

For some reason, folks don't stick around to talk to me.

I did not care for the aphids. And yet the ASPCA and Humane Society wouldn't come pick them up for adoption. Eventually I went to war with them. We came out to a draw when the summer ended and they'd had enough of my basil. I haven't seen them in years.

But Lady Bugs are okay. They eat aphids, which gets them a nod of approval from me. I should probably become a fan of them in Facebook. I'm sure Lady Bugs have a fan page. It's seems every stupid mundane thing out there has a fan page.

I'm still not keen on them flying around inside the house when there are no aphids however. So I scooped her about and showed her the door.

How does the song from the playground days go?

Lady Bug, Lady Bug
Fly away home
Your house is on fire
And your children all alone

(We sang some disturbing nursery rhymes as kids)



"Aporkalypse" is my new favorite world, and I'm grateful to @xenijardin for introducing it into my vocabulary.

Here are some random thoughts about the outbreak.

I recently read Scott Sigler's, "Contagious," a story about an outbreak of alien spores, which seems appropriate given the current news about the potential for an H1N1 influenza outbreak. (Of course I was also reading it on an Airbus A319 when I encountered a passage about an unfortunate incident impacting an Airbus A319.)

My employer recently banned travel to Mexico. Seems reasonable. I wasn't planning to go, but now I guess I don't have to. Which is good, because I haven't gotten my yearly vat of SPF 96 yet.

They also recomend that employees who are sick take, you know, a sick day. It's seems silly, but apparently at many organization a lot of people still go into work when they are sick. The company wants to discourage that. And with modern technology, telecommuting is a great option for those who have to get stuff done but don't want to go into the office.

And by the way, why are there still so many office workers? We have broad band. We have secrure VPNs. We have cheap phone service and mobile phones. We have web cams. We have instant messaging. We have powerful computers. Why are the streets still flooded with people going to an office every day to type on the computer and talk on the phone? It makes no sense.

In the last few years, we have seen huge problems with traffic -- which telecommuting addresses.

We have seen a huge spike in the cost to get to work through fuel prices -- which telecommuting addresses.

We saw a huge run up in commercial real estate -- which telecommuting addresses.

And now since issues have been mitigated by the slumping economy, how about using telecommuting to reduce costs?

Maybe a pandemic and "social distancing" will finally push telecommuting the mainstream.

Even if telecommuting is just a few days a week, it helps.

"Social Distancing" is another phrase I learned today. In this article on the Capitol Hill Blog, they discuss the measures King County is taking to deal with the potential for a pandemic. Apparently the county updated its plans this past fall. We are currently in Phase 4 of a pandemic. It makes for interesting reading.

And finally, I learned that my brother's alma mater is the epicenter of the NYC swine flu outbreak.

Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said of the 40 U.S. cases, only one has been hospitalized, and all have recovered.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday 28 cases have been confirmed at St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens. More than 100 students at the school were out with flu-like symptoms last week.

Bloomberg and New York City Health Commissioner Tom Frieden said all of the students who were ill had mild symptoms and none had been hospitalized.

The school is remaining closed through Tuesday.



Hampton Inn and Suites -- Atlanta Galleria

Most of the time I spend in hotels is spent in Hilton properties. That includes Hilton, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, Doubletree, and a few others. I spend some much time there I've held Diamond status in their loyalty program for about 6 years.

One of the perks of being Diamond is that when space is available, I sometimes get a free upgrade. That's what happened this week in Atlanta.

I spend three days at the Hampton Inn and Suites -- Galleria. The staff was quite friendly. And they upgraded me to a two room suite. It had a kitchen with a stove, full size refrigerator, and microwave. The bed room was comfortable with nice bedding. There was even a kitchen bar.

And the room cost only about $100/night.

Here are some pictures of it.


Life in the Garden Part 15: Fake Herbs

This year my garden is growing.

Okay, well, I guess every garden grows. Unless it's dead. Then it's just dirt. Or it's a Bosch painting.

But I'm not demonstrating the descent into Hell. My garden is all about herbs.

And it's growing bigger -- taking up more space, more pots, and more herb names.

I decided to try Tarragon. I have my bean seeds, basil seeds, zuccinni seeds, strawberry seeds, three kinds of tomato seeds, tyme seeds, sage seeds, rosemary seeds, leek seeds, seeds of revolution, scallion seeds, mint seeds, and seeds of an idea.

Tarragon seeds, however, alluded me.

The nursery? No.
Wal*Mart? No.
Target? No.
Lowes? No.
QFC? No.

Finally, after scouring seed racks from Lynnwood to Tukwilla -- I found them.

There they were with the rest of the herbs -- waiting for me at a Home Depot I rarely visits. Of course I picked up two packs of the Start Smart Tarragon (Artemisia Redowski).

I went home and planted them in my little peet pots of bloom. The seeds quickly sprouted. Soon I had healthy leaves and had to thin all my sprouts.

Tonight it was time to move them into their permanent pots. I pulled out the book to check how far apart they should be planted, dropped the book on my foot, picked it up, and flipped to Tarragon.

Uh oh.

Did you know there are two types of Tarragon? French Tarragon is a wonderful culinary herb that provides a rich flavor to chicken.

Russian Tarragon is a weed.

Well, maybe not quite a weed. It's is a hardy, tough plant with relatively little flavor. It doesn't bing much to the table.

Guess which one I hunted, stalked, captured, planted, and tended?


It turns out Russian Tarragon has very little to do with French Tarragon. In fact, French Tarragon doesn't even produce seeds.

We've got hundreds of thousands of words in the English language. The 26 letters give us a mind numbingly broad selection of potential new words.

And yet someone needs to reuse the word Tarragon? They couldn't come up with something else? You know, if they are out of words, and it's time to start reusing them, how about using them someplace?

1 Plant named Tarragon and 1 Car model named Tarragon = Good

1 Plant named Tarragon and another Plant named Tarragon = Stupid

So this weekend, it's off to the nursery for some Tarragon starter plants.

Anyone want some Russian Tarragon seeds? Or plants?


Book Review 41: Spook Country

William Gibson has a long history writing CyberPunk novels. He deftly creates dystopian worlds with technology and network connectivity that we can barely dream about today. His futurescapes of Japan and San Francisco are terrifying and fascinating places to live.

In his groundbreaking Neuromancer, Gibson coined the term "Cyberspace" long before most people had even conceived of the Internet.

In recent years, though, his interests have taken him in a different direction. Now he writes about the shadowy realms of today. His latest novel, Spook Country, continues in that vein.

If you like Gibson for his take on technology, you should read it. It's not as fantastical as the technology in his earlier novels; it's deals more the technology we encounter today, or will encounter in the next 5 years.

Also unlike his previous novels, Gibson ends this one well. The book ends over several chapters, as opposed to a rabid attempt to close the plot in the final 10 pages, like he usually does. I know what happened at the end of this book and I can't always say that about Gibson stories.

Gibson does a great job of creating and image and feeling of place.

AFTER THEY'D HAD a look at Alberto's memorial to Helmut Newton, which involved a lot of vaguely Deco-styled monochrome nudity in honor of its subject's body of work, she walked back to the Mondrian through that weird, evanescent moment that belongs to every sunny morning in West Hollywood, when some strange perpetual promise of chlorophyll and hidden, warming fruit graces the air, just before the hydrocarbon blanket settles in. That sense of some peripheral and prelapsarian beauty, of something a little more than a hundred years past, but in that moment achingly present, as though the city were something you could wipe from your glasses and forget.

Page 24

In my various trip to SoCal, I have the sense in the morning that it is a place full of potential and a place that actually seems nice. It's not until around 11:00 AM that I remember why I dislike it.

At various points in the book, he comments on the music business, since the main character is a former pop star.

"In the early 1920s," Bigend said, "there were still some people in this country who hadn't yet heard recorded music. Not many, but a few. That's less than a hundred years ago. Your career as a 'recording artist'"—making the quotes with his hands—"took place toward the end of a technological window that lasted less than a hundred years, a window during which consumers of recorded music lacked the means of producing that which they consumed. They could buy recordings, but they couldn't reproduce them. The Curfew came in as that monopoly on the means of production was starting to erode. Prior to that monopoly, musicians were paid for performing, published and sold sheet music, or had patrons. The pop star, as we knew her"—and here he bowed slightly, in her direction—"was actually an artifact of preubiquitous media."

Page 103

There are pacing issues with the book. An editor could chop off the first 100 pages of it and have little impact on the story. Some of the sections are interesting pieces, but they could easily be handled elsewhere. Mostly is a game of patience.

One could argue he is building the tension, and it keeps the reader waiting to see what happen. For me though, it wasn't a suspenseful period of, "Ooh. I wonder what's going to happen next." It was more a case of, "Oh, come on. Won't something happen already?"

Gibson fans should read the book. And those who like to see novels as an expression of technology should read the book. And after the first 100 pages, it gets better. I find it difficult to recommend it for the casual reader, though.

There are a few more things I want to comment on, but here is the SPOILER warning. If you haven't read the book and want to keep it a mystery (it is a spy thriller after all) you may want to stop reading. I won't go into details of the plot, but some of my commentary may reveal things about the characters you would rather discover on your own.
Still with me? Okay.

My biggest frustration with this book, is that the neither the protagonist nor the antagonist is a main character. We follow former pop star turned reporter Hollis Henry as she writes for some mysterious new publication that might or might not exist, as she begins work on a story about locative art. We follow Tito, a young man of complex ethnicity as he straddles the world of organized crime, espionage, and elaborate practical jokes. We follow Russian translator Milgram as he is led about the city (he's not fond of more rural areas) by his captor.

Nature, for Milgrim, had always had a way of being too big for comfort. Just too much of it. That whole vista thing. Particularly if there was relatively little within it, within sight, that was man-made.

Page 262

And for the most part, even though the characters all eventually converge on Vancouver, BC, they don't really do anything. They have small parts to play in the story, but don't have a definitive role. They don't advance the plot. They don't do something at a pivotal moment that changes the outcome.

As readers, we are observers observing observers. The main characters are all witnesses to parts of the story, but that's all they are.

At any point, the characters could have done something to change the story. They could have taken action that would alter the outcome or just generally muck things up. But they don't. And it's not like they opt out of having an impact at a particular decision point. There is no one fork in the road they could have taken. Rather, they followed the actual antagonists around a large parking lot. They could have ambled off in their own directions but it never occurred to them to do that. They don't even question their paths.

And perhaps that's the point. It could be that Gibson is saying we are all just witnesses to the real games being played by shadowy figures in the underworld. The characters the reader identifies with are just there to do their job, and see everything else unfold around them.

Early on, the book is about locative art.

Odile squinted over the rim of her white breakfast bowl of café au lait. 'Cartographic attributes of the invisible," she said, lowering the bowl. "Spatially tagged hypermedia." This terminology seemed to increase her fluency by factor of ten; she scarcely had an accent now. "The artist annotating every centimeter of a place, of every physical thing. Visible to all, on devices such as these."

Page 22

Gibson does a nice job in exploring this concept. Artists work with programmers to create virtual reality overlays of the world relying on GPS technology. The art allows a viewer to look at a scene though a helmet and see what the artist has done to the world. For example, you look at the a normal street without the viewer, but if you put the viewer on you may see it overlaid with the scene of a celebrity's death.

"A projected thought-form. A term from Tibetan mysticism. The celebrity self has a life of its own. It can, under the right circumstances, indefinitely survive the death of its subject. That's what every Elvis sighting is about, literally."

All of which reminded her very much of how Inchmale looked at these things, though really she believed it too.

"What happens," she asked him, "if the celebrity self dies first?"

"Very little," he said. "That's usually the problem. But images of this caliber serve as a hedge against that. And music is the most purely atemporal of media.'

"'The past isn't dead. It's not even past,'" quoting Inchmale quoting Faulkner. "Would you mind changing channels?'

Page 102

This is compelling because while it seem a bit out there, we are already doing that today. Gibson likens all immersion in digital worlds to virtual reality.

"We're all doing VR, every time we look at a screen. We have been for decades now. We just do it. We didn't need the goggles, the gloves. It just happened. VR was an even more specific way we had of telling us where we were going. Without scaring us too much, right? The locative, though, lots of us are already doing it. But you can't just do the locative with your nervous system. One day, you will. We'll have internalized the interface. It'll have evolved to the point where we forget about it. Then you'll just walk down the street…" He spread his arms, and grinned at her.

Page 65

"The artist Beth Barker is here, her apartment. You will come, you will experience the apartment, this environment. This is an annotated environment,Do you know it?"

"Annotated how?"

"Each object is hyperspatially tagged with Beth Barker's description, with Beth Barker's narrative of this object. One simple water glass has twenty tags."

Page 131

Websites like Flickr allow you to upload your photos and Tag them with searchable information and key words about the scene. Depending on your settings, other people can also tag those photos and even make notes on them.

You can also GeoTag your pictures and tie them to a location on a map where you took them.

It gets interesting when you start looking at it the other way. Take a look at the map on Flickr, and you can then choose a street and see all the photos people tagged as being associated with that street. People are now tagging and marking up the world in their casual internet use.

Google Maps supports its own initiatives. Most people know you can use Google Maps for directions, and see them from the traditional map perspective, from a Satellite perspective, and increasingly from a street level photographic perspective.

A lesser know feature is the ability to markup your maps. You can take Google Maps, pinpoint your favorite locations or directions, and make that available to others.

Everyone from news media to iPhone App developers are using this technology to highlight crime trends or to help you find all of the public restrooms in the area based on where you are at the moment. Google Maps mashups are popping up all the time.

This new era of locative computing, enabled by GPS, Smart Phone, and increasing common WiFi access opens up a world of powerful tools.

Spook Country swims in this world and spends a good deal of time on it, but ultimately, it has little to do with the story.

It's almost like Gibson already had the story in mind, but he also wanted to explore this new world. So he tacked it into the book because there wasn't a better place for him to explore it.

So instead of a book about some fascinating main characters, where new technologies and shifting paradigms of thought about location, art, and reality play a key role in the story, we get a decidedly low stakes tale of shadowy figures messing with one another.

And the results would have been no different had our main characters not even existed.

Gibson's strength is in writing about technology and explaining its potential in the world. He brings life to mundane topics of coordinates and servers and new types of art.

Unlike past novels, he does a great job bringing this novel to a close. The last 50 pages is paced well and cleanly. While the action happens quickly, the writing itself does not feel rushed.

My criticisms about the novel center of the first 100 pages, the lack of action by the main characters, and the large distraction of the locative art meditation. There may have been room for two separate books here, rather than squeezing all the disparate stuff between two covers.

Or I missed the point, and Gibson was actually using this structure intentionally to comment on the voluntary powerlessness of much of the population.


Cats at the Paramount in Seattle

On Friday, the GF and I saw Cats at the Paramount in Seattle.

It's the second time I've seen the show. The first time, I saw it on Broadway in 1987 (or was it 1986?). My high school had an annual tradition called Activity Day. Every Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior had to choose one activity from a list and participate. The activities included Planetarium trips, weekends away, golf outings, and more. There were between 50 and 100 to choose from. If you didn't choose one, it was chosen for you -- Gymn Movie. You had to watch a bad movie in the gymn.

One year, I chose go see Cats.

It was my first Broadway experience, and I had only a vague idea of what was going on. But I enjoyed the music, and for years afterward songs from the show would just pop into my head at random moments. I'd be walking down the street and suddenly Magical Mr. Mistoffolees would be twirling next to me. Or I'd find myself needing to dodge the latest antics of Mungojerrie (or was it Rumpleteazer?)

So 20+ years later, how does the traveling show hold up? Pretty well, though it's not quite the same. The stage is smaller. And while the performers still scamper about the audience, they don't have the same ownership of the space that they did in the custom theater.

The show itself has some pacing issues. Several of the dance numbers go on way too long. While I do enjoy the song and dance, I also want the story to move along. As I've done more writing and work with Play Cole, I've come to appreciate the need to advance the story.

But Cat's is about more than the show itself. It's about Broadway history. Cat's brought in a new era of big Broadway musicals, and paved the way for long running shows like Les Miserable and Phantom of the Opera. Would either of those shows have had the success they did without following the path carved out by Cats? Would we have been willing to accept the people dressed up like locomotives in Starlight Express, if we hadn't already accepted people dressed up as Cats?

Cats opened up Broadway to a wider audience and brought in leagues of new theater goers. Tracing its legacy further, I wonder if Giuliani would have been able to transform Times Square from the seedy version of the 80s into the Disney version of the late 90s had it not been for the new era in musical theater that Cats brought into the city.

But back to the show. If you are a theater fan, go see it when you get the chance. It's a good show, with some great music, and an important place in theatrical history.

If you bore easily from dance, or insist on a fast-paced story, or do not care for plays based on poetry anthologies, suffer from ailurophobia, can't set aside the silliness of the idea, or only insist on best of breed performances, you can probably skip this tour.

I'm glad I didn't.


Play Cole takes on New Jack City

The latest Play Cole podcast is here. I am not on this one, but several members of the Pay Cole team offer their unique perspective on New Jack City.

Be aware that some content is likely NSFW.

Blaxploitation gets updated in this dated movie. Maddog Mattern, Grant Gordon, Trafton Crandall and Jon Clarke join Mario Van Peebles for a pretentious study in shlock. Read people's names shaved into their heads! Watch Chris Rock smoke crack and cry! Break out your Dutch Angles!

play the file, click here.

To download the file, click here.

For the complete Play Cole experience, watch the movie while listening to the pod cast.

File hosted on Archive.org

You can find more Play Cole Podcasts here. You can also subscribe to Play Cole through iTunes or the Play Cole RSS Feed.


Seattle and Paying to ride the bus

Seattle is finally introducing its version of NYC's highly convenient Metrocard.

From the SeattlePI.com:

It's a transit pass and pay-per-ride card that can be used throughout King, Kitsap, Snohomish and Pierce counties. It's three years later and $5 million more expensive than expected.

But ORCA -- One Regional Card for All -- is here, starting Monday.


Riders can load the cards with monthly passes and $5 to $300 of credit to pay for transit rides. They will tap them against (or just hold them in front of) readers on buses and in rail stations, can use them for transfers within two hours of paying for a ride, and can use them for multiple modes and zones on one trip, with each tap of the card charging the incremental fare difference.


I particularly like that last paragraph. It answers most of the questions I had about the pass.

I need to get one of these ORCA cards

I rarely ride the bus. I work from home so I don't have a regular commute, and my normal range of activity keeps me within walking distance of my building. There are times, though, when the bus (and this summer light rail) could be more convenient.

But paying cash for the bus just seems complicated. The fares change depending on the time of day. Some parts of the area are free; others are not. Sometimes you pay getting on the bus; other times getting off it.

Yes, I know these are silly concerns. Thousands of people ride the Seattle area transit system every day with no problems. But I don't have room in my brain for those rarely used details. It's too full of TV theme songs.

I can envisions putting $20 or $30 on this card, though, and just keeping it in my wallet. If I want to ride the bus, I can just swipe or wave my non-expiring card. No dealing with exact change or passes that expire.

So in addition to making the transit system easier for most users, Metro will also be picking up at least one new rider.


Life in the Garden Part 14: Brackets

I've been hanging my window boxes on the railing on my deck. I'd like to hang more of them, but two things are stopping me. First, I'm not sure it's the best place for them. If I hang them instead of putting them on the floor, they get a little more sun, but they also take more of a beating in the wind.
2009-04-04 Transplanting Things (10)

The more important reason, though, is I've run out of brackets.

It's harder to find them than I thought. Most of the brackets I've seen are designed for a wooden deck rail that's several inches wide, and not for the narrow metal railings I have.

So I'm looking for more of these:

2009-04-10 Planter Bracket

Any suggestions?


CSI: NY and Technology

Note: If you haven’t already watched this week’s episode of CSI: NY, “The Past, Present, and Murder” be aware that this post contains minor spoilers. It’s discusses a topic that comes up roughly half way through the show. If surprise is important to you, you may want to skip this post.

Lately, CSI is just making me angry either with ignorant plot elements and with sheer stupidity. They are doing their best to shed their reputation for intelligent TV.

This week’s episode builds on plot twists from several weeks or months ago. In that episode, the murder victim was a corporate “fixer” who knew all the dirt about all sorts of important people. She kept that data on a flash drive. That flash drive eventually gets stolen and all sorts of people start looking for it and dying over it.

Fast forward six months in show time, and that flash drive again is an important plot element. People are trying to recover it for the information that’s on it. Other’s are just trying to find the drive itself as a piece of evidence.

Here’s what I can’t help but think – WHY WOULD THAT DRIVE STILL EXIST?

If I was dealing with a USB drive that could be incriminating, the first thing I would do is copy the data to another drive, and then DESTROY THE ORIGINAL HARDWARE. Seriously, this isn’t tough stuff. Data is easy to secure. Data is easy to move. Data is easy to hide if you try.

And then you can get rid of the physical evidence.

In this episode, we weren’t talking about cracked out street thugs. We’re talking about people who should know a little bit about technology, or at least be able to pay some people who know a little bit about technology.

Can’t they just think about this? Just a little?


Dinner at the Met

Today I turned 27 for the 12th consecutive year. It's been a good year for more than a decade. Rather than musing on the nature of aging, I'll instead talk about dinner. Because that's what's really important.

For dinner tonight the GF took me out to the Metropolitan Grill. It's a classic, old school steakhouse in downtown Seattle.

Dinner was fantastic. But there were a few quirks.

On the chalkboard, they advertised a Wagyu Beef Tartare appetizer. It sounded great, so I ordered that. The waiter came back a few minutes later and told me they unfortunately didn't have that today. Huh?

He was very apologetic, but how do you run out of a steak tartare dish? If you have steak, and you have a knife, you basically have what you need to make tartare, don't you? Isn't the whole point that the main ingredient is skill? Was the guy with the recipe not in yet?

The waiter suggested the Wagyu Sashimi as an alternative, which was fantastic. And apparently in stock.

I ordered the 21 ounce Delmonico for dinner which was a great, flavorful steak. They cooked it just as I asked. When I ordered it the waiter commented that the Delmonico is great man's steak. He used to order it regularly, when it was on the employee menu.

Little did I know this was a sore issue with him. Now, I should say, he was cheery and polite throughout the evening.

When he brought our dinner, he commented again how the Delmonico used to be on the employee menu, but alas, it no longer was.

When he checked on us later, he again commented on how he used to enjoy the Delmonico when it was on the employee menu.

I can understand his disappointment; but the running commentary was highly amusing.

We wrapped up dinner the only way you can wrap up a dinner like this -- with a dessert on fire.

Bananas Foster is one of those desserts you don't see on a lot of menus these days -- because of the fire.

As the ice cream melted into the remaining unburned rum, it turned into a sweet, banana-y rum soup. And I am convinced that Rum Soup should appear on a menu some place.

Seattle is fortunate to have a some great resturants, and the Metropiltan Grill is a nice choice for a special occasion. It's not cheap, but offers a great dining experience.

If you'd rather soak up the ambience without the big dinner, have an Old Fashioned or a glass of wine and the spacious bar. They have a good Happy Hour menu there, too.


Sleep 09: Spring Cleaning

I found this article linked on Fark.com.

Sleep: Spring Cleaning For The Brain?

ScienceDaily (Apr. 11, 2009) — If you've ever been sleep-deprived, you know the feeling that your brain is full of wool.

Now, a study published in the April 3 edition of the journal Science has molecular and structural evidence of that woolly feeling — proteins that build up in the brains of sleep-deprived fruit flies and drop to lower levels in the brains of the well-rested. The proteins are located in the synapses, those specialized parts of neurons that allow brain cells to communicate with other neurons.
Higher levels of these synaptic proteins during waking may be evidence of random experiences that fill the brain every day and need to be dissipated to make room for the learning and memories that are truly significant.

"Much of what we learn in a day, we don't really need to remember," Cirelli says. "If you've used up all the space, you can't learn more before you clean out the junk that is filling up your brain."


Researching are reporting that one purpose of sleep is to clear out synapses. Experiments on flys show that after they've been awake for a while, synapses are larger, and have a higher quantities of proteins associated with those synapses.

In subjects that were well rested, scientists discovered lower levels of proteins and weaker synapses.

In essence, the purpose of sleep is to clean out and reset the nervous system.

My understanding from the article (and parts of it did go over my head (I'm in a large synapse phase right now)) is that throughout the day, the nerves in the brain transmit more and more data. As they do that, the synapses (space between nerve endings) grow and more proteins accumulate. To effectively transmit data then requires more proteins and stronger neuron firing. As this cycle increases, that puts greater stress on the nerves and requires greater physical resources to continue transmitting data.

Though I may be misunderstanding something.

Sleep is therefore biologically necessary in order to promote a properly functioning nervous system. By sleeping and resetting the nerves, the body cleans out a days accumulation of junk.

It's an interesting thought. I would be interested though, in understanding how this process relates to dreaming. It seems that in dreams and deeper levels of sleep, the brain is anything but inactive. With significant internal brain activity, does the nervous system really have time to reboot? Extended sleep without REM or dreaming isn't healthy. It doesn't refresh the body in the long term. Yet, this theory would seem to indicate that lower activity to allow for clearing out the cobwebs is what is called for.

It continues to amaze me that a process that occupies 1/4 to 1/3 of our entire lives is still largely a mystery to us. Between the normal sleep process, sleep disorders, and the entire process of dreaming, there are few concrete answers. Other than, of course, that we generally need it.

More of my musings on Sleep are available here.


Book Review 40: The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove

It's taken me a while to write this review for Christopher Moore's, "Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove." I have mixed feeling on this book. I'm glad I am finally wrapping up this review, because the more I think about this book, the less I like it. And that's a shame because I did enjoy it and the writing is entertaining.

The paragraphs are great and passages are well-written. Christopher Moore's distinctive styles is the central elements of the text. And the book is worth reading for that reason alone. It is filled with laugh out loud opportunities.

While the premise is interesting, the story itself limps along. It's not as tightly written as other Moore novels, and many of the main characters seem barely sketched out. They aren't as deeply developed as I would like, and I often find my self not caring about them.

In short, while this book is okay, there are other Christopher Moore novels that are better. "Island of the Sequined Love Nun," "Blood Sucking Fiends," and "Fluke" are all more compelling, and are better places to start reading Moore.

This book takes us back to Pine Cove, CA. Moore originally took us to this town in his first book, "Practical Demon Keeping." This is not a sequel, though some of the characters do return. Moore references the earlier stpry towards the end of this one.

Val was wishing she had a video recorder to preserve the gargantuan lie that Mavis Sand and Howard Phillips had been telling over the last hour. According to them, ten years ago the village of Pine Cove had been visited by a demon from hell, and only through the combined effort of a handful of drunks were they able to banish the demon whence it came. It was a magnificent delusion, and Val thought that she could at least get an academic paper on shared psychosis out of it.

Page 247

Val is the town psychiatrist and decides to do an experiment with the town. After the death of one of her patients, Val grows concerned with the side effects on physchiatric medications, such as anti-depressants. She conspires with the local pharmacist to switch everyone's presciptions to placebos, allowing the underlying conditions and withdrawal symptoms to assert them selves.

Meanwhile, town constable Theophilus Crowe begins looking into the death of Val's patient. They meet for the first time during the investigation, and one of the challenges of small-town living becomes apparent.

The doorbell rang, Westminster chimes. Val crossed the living room to the marble foyer. A thin tall figure was refracted through the door's beveled glass panels: Theophilus Crowe. Val had never met him, but she knew of him. Three of his ex-girlfriends were her patients. She Opened the door.

Page 23
While the humans deal with their challenges, an giant, ancient creature visits the town.

The Sea Beast swam on. During his journey he had eaten a basking shark, a few dolphins, and several hundred turns. His focus had changed from food to sex. As he approached the California coast, the radioactive scent began to diminish to almost nothing. The leak at the power plant had been discovered and fixed. He found himself less than a mile offshore with a belly full of shark—and no memory of why he'd left his volcanic nest. But there was a buzz reaching his predator's senses from shore, the listless resolve of prey that has given up: depression. Warm-blooded food. Dolphins and whales sent off the same signal sometimes. A large school of food was just asking to be eaten, right near the edge of the sea. He stopped out past the surf line and came to the surface in the middle of a kelp bed, his massive head breaking though strands of kelp like a zombie pickup truck breaking sod as it rises from the grave.

Page 47
I like this passage for a few reasons. It's sets up the creature and gives is a sense of its motives. It introduces its scale. And the idea of a "zombie pickup truck" is both absurd and clear at the same time.

The most well-defined characters in this book are the non-human ones. In addition to the sea monster, Moore takes us inside the head of Skinner, the energetic dog belonging to a biologist. Skinner's motivations are quite simple.

Skinner wagged his tail and made a beeline for the truck. About time, he thought. You need to get away from the shore, Food Guy, right now.

Page 51
Skinner watched all this with heightened interest, tentatively wagging his tail between Theo's tirades, hoping in his heart of hearts that he would get a ride in that big red truck. Even dogs harbor secret agendas.

Page 187
Skinner is my favorite character in the book. His enthusiasm and simple world view in infectious. And his motivations are easy to understand. He doesn't have much of a role in the story, but helps tell us more about the sea monster. He speaks for all the animals in the community when he wants his owner, "Food Guy," to leave the shore. Skinner, like all the animals, knows the sea monster is here, and knows that he should be somewhere else.

Moore doesn't often write about happy people, especailly in this book. He has a way of cutting into someone's despair.

For thirty years she had been a teacher in the decaying and increasingly dangerous Los Angeles Unified School District, teaching eighth graders the difference between acrylics and oils, a brush and a pallet knife, Dali and Degas, and using her job and her marriage as a justification for never producing any art herself.

Page 38

The daytime regulars at the end of the bar had snapped out of their malaise to have a laugh at Catfish. There's nothing quite so satisfying to the desperate as having someone to look down on.

Page 249

She found herself building a resentment for Gabe that was usually reserved for relationships that were years old.

Page 195
The sea monster comes ashore, tries to have sex with a fuel truck, while the towns people begin to "self medicate" while the bar owner hires a blues player to drum up business, and the town cop tries to deal with his own demons -- and we're off to the races so the zaniness can ensue.

In some respects, the book is about how people deal with things they are ashamed of, whether it's their history, their desires, their substance abuse, their misplaced integrity, or the life they live in general.

The undercurrent of shame runs throughout the book, but Moore never really explores it. It's possible he didn't realize he we writing so much about it. Had he exploited that theme more, the book might have been more compelling.

As it is, character motivations are not always clear. I couldn't understand why one character chose to protect some people from the sea monster, but not others.

The plot bumps along fairly well, and Moore ties up all the loose ends as the novel closes. Despite a great premise and setup, though, the story remains flat.

And that's why I have a hard time recommending this book. The story has a great premise, and there is a foundation for a some great characters, but the only thing really holding the book together is clever writing.

If you're a Moore fan, you have to read, "The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove." If you're not already a Moore fan, start with some of his other work.


Shatner-Palooza: What's he doing with someone's head in his arm?

In this clip Shatner muses on the Kirk drop kick with his daughter Lis. She remembers everything a little more clearly than he does. Shatner does, however, attempt to explain Newtonian physics.


Dullest Vegas trip ever

I've been in Vegas on business since Monday. Here I am, sitting in my hotel room, watching reruns of the David Letterman show, and thinking, "You, know -- what happens in Vegas really doesn't need to stay there."

Apparently, I'm doing it wrong.

Here are some random thoughts on the trip while I wait to fall asleep before getting up at 5:30 to catch my flight home.

  1. Getting up at 7:30 AM in Vegas is just wrong.
  2. Catching a cold before going on a business trip is never fun.
  3. When that cold confines you to your hotel room when you are not in meetings, its less fun.
  4. It's important to distinguish the complimentary water bottles in the hotel room from the mini-bar water bottles (which (with service charge and restocking fee) cost as much per gallon as printer ink.
  5. The Burger Bar in Mandalay Place does make a mighty tasty burger.
  6. You don't look cool walking to the Burger Bar with wearing a back pack.
  7. You don't look cool walking to the Nine Fine Irishmen wearing a back pack.
  8. In general, back pack are not so cool looking in Vegas.
  9. Reading the Watchmen graphic novel means any pretense of cool goes out the window.
  10. There was never actually any pretense.
  11. The Bread Pudding at Nine Fine Irishmen still rocks.
  12. Seriously? The Nine Fine Irishmen ran out of Irish Soda Bread?
  13. Video Poker gives you the illusion of having a chance to win.
  14. A dull business trip to Vegas still beats a trip to most nameless, indistinguishable cities in the country. And the flight is shorter.


GM and the PUMA

GM just announced a partnership with Segway and is now showing a prototype of a two-person, two-wheeled electric vehicle capable of 35 MPH with a range of 35 Miles.

According to the Seattle Times:

The Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility, or PUMA, project also would involve a vast communications network that would allow vehicles to interact with each other, regulate the flow of traffic and prevent crashes from happening.

"We're excited about doing more with less," said Jim Norrod, chief executive of Segway, the Bedford, N.H.-based maker of electric scooters. "Less emissions, less dependability on foreign oil and less space."

The 300-pound prototype runs on a lithium-ion battery and uses Segway's characteristic two-wheel balancing technology, along with dual electric motors. It's designed to reach speeds of up to 35 miles-per-hour and can run 35 miles on a single charge.

... More

A reporter from CNN got to ride in one as a passenger.

During a test ride - for now, only trained drivers are allowed to operate the prototype vehicle - the PUMA transporter felt perfectly stable. Other than the fact that it can rotate while standing in place, it felt similar to riding in a small car at slow speeds.

As he pushed the steering wheel, the vehicle leaned gently forward and trundled off to the end of a blocked off section of Manhattan's West 18th street. When we reached the end of the street, the driver pulled back on the steering wheel and the car stopped, staying balanced on its two wheels. He then turned the wheel rotating the booth-shaped car 180 degrees and off we went in the other direction, steering to avoid hitting our CNN cameraman.

Only when the vehicle prepared to park did it feel a bit unnerving, as the vehicle leaned forward to settle onto its extra set of small front wheels.


I can't help but wonder if things like this are the reason GM is about to go bankrupt, or if failing to do this kind of things over the past 20 years is why they are on the brink of bankruptcy. It's probably some combination of the two.

This kind of vehicle does sound like it can have a plac3e in the modern transportation infrastructure. The question remains, though, whether the buraucracy of GM is even capable of bringing something like this to market, of it is all just some last ditch PR effort.


Emerald City Comicon and Wil Wheaton

Fan during Q&A: Did you and Whoopi Goldberg ever get it on?

Wil Wheaton: All the time.

Sunday was a great day for Seattle Geeks. I got over to Emerald City Comicon on its second day, and spent much of my time wandering about the aisles peering at the comic booths, costume booths, and toy booths.

It's not just about the vendors selling stuff, though. Sci Fi celebrities attended to sign autographs and sell pictures with fans. I caught glimpses of BSG's Tamoh Penikett, Aaron Douglas, and Michael Hogan. I also saw Firefly's Jewel Staite, and Phantom Menace's Ray Park.

But Wil Wheaton is the star I wanted to chat with. I didn't realize just how much of a geek he was until a few months ago when I read, "Just a Geek" and began following him on Twitter.

Naturally, his table had the longest line, but it moved quickly. And Wil seemed like a genuinely nice guy. He chatted with his fans, and didn't once appear arrogant. He appeared to be humbled by all the attention.
I chatted with Wil for a few minutes while he signed my copy of "Dancing Barefoot."

The show didn't seem too crowded; few people ambled about the show floor, so I wasn't too worried about the crowds at the panels. I headed down to a Battlestar Galactica panel discussion about 15 minutes before it was scheduled to open.

Big mistake.

You know all those folks who weren't in the aisles? They were waiting in line for the BSG panel. I missed getting in by about 40 people.

The next panel featured Mike Mignola and Scott Allie talking about Hellboy and the comic book industry. The discussion was more interesting than I anticipated. Particularly interesting was the comparison between the media of comics and movies.

Shortly after tha discussion ended, the room filled as anxious geeks sloshed in to listen to the new Secretary of Geek Affairs -- Wil Wheaton -- read from his latest book and take questions.

Wil read for 45 minutes and then took questions for another 45. The only Star Trek question anyone asked was the one that opened this post. Most of the questions dealt with gaming -- both video and RPG. Then, of course, there was the brief and conclusive debate about awesomeness of Lion Voltron over Vehicle Voltron.

Wheaton is emerging as a reluctant spokesperson for geeks and nerds. Several times, the discussion turned to a discussion of how geeks relate to mundanes (normal people) or, as one questioner put it, muggles.

Wil is someone who has accepted his geekness and wears it as a badge of honor. On top of that, he's a talented author and a great speaker. His session was an hour and a half of laughs, cheers, and incitements to riot.

If you ever get the chance to hear Wil speak, check it out.


Life in the Garden Part 13: Graduation

It's been month since the last update on my seedlings. They've done pretty well since then.

The moved from the incubator to a baking pan by the window. They grew up and branched out. They drank up and sunned themselves. But it was time for them to move on. Today I moved Basil, Cilantro, Chives, and Thyme out to the balcony.

2009-04-04 Transplanting Things (7)

2009-04-04 Transplanting Things (9)

It's not just the new herbs that graduated, though. I had a Rosemary bush that was a few years older, but it was time for it to move on as well. I guess it just got its GED.

The Rosemary plant sent its roots out around the edges of the pot.

2009-04-04 Transplanting Things

It looked reasonably healthy, but it was time to transplant. I don't remember why I tried to lift the plant by the stem, but when I did, the whole thing instantly came out of the pot.

2009-04-04 Transplanting Things (2)

Now, however, it has a little more room to grow.

2009-04-04 Transplanting Things (6)

The garden is off to a decent start this year. You can see some more images from today's adventures here.


Progress at Ground Zero

The rebuilding has been controversial, but it looks like they're making some progress. Or at least they're busy.


New times

Today the European Union standards agency announced a new initiative, as part of the ongoing G20 summit. Building on the nearly world-wide success of the metric system for weights and measures, they are ready to take the metric system to the next level.

The system will be phased in over the next several years. By 2016-04-01, all member states will need to complete the switch over to metric time. “The current calendar is a relic of Pope Gregory and the medieval Catholic Church. It builds on the Roman calendar developed by Julius Caesar. And just as we no longer use Roman Numerals to count, and we no longer use Feet and Hogsheads to measure distance, it’s time to get away from the chaotic math of the current clock,” said the chairman of the Greenwich Mean Time committee.

The new system will make it easier to tell and calculate time.

The base unit of the system will still be the day. The new day will be 10 hours long. During the transition, the metric day will be called an “mDay” in English. Once the transition is complete, the “m” prefix and archaic name will be replaced permanently with the new metric name. To make the conversion, 1 hour will equal .416667 mHours.

The term “hour” will be replaced with the “deciday.” There will be 100 minutes in an hour (or 100 Millidays).

The new week, the mWeek (after 2016, the Decaday) will equal 10 mDays. Each mMonth (or Hectoday) will equal 10m weeks (or 10 Decadays), or 100 mDays.

The mYear (or Kiloyear) will equal 10 mMonths (or 100 Decidays), or 1,000 mDays.

This chart may help:

New Term


Obsolete Term

1 Milliday

.001 Days


I Deciday

.1 Days


1 Day

1 Day


1 Decaday

10 Days


1 Hectoday

100 Days


1 Kiloday

1,000 Days


The problem here is obvious, and was discussed extensively in committee. The current year is 365.25 days. The new Kiloyear is equal to almost 3 current years (which total 1,095.75 current days). Naturally age restrictions in laws, licensing, retirement, and other documents will need to be adjusted.

It also means each year will have three summers and three winters. We will need more Holidays to adjust for the annual events.

The dates for each season and equinox will have to float. Protesters argued this is unnatural. “Comment peuvent-ils indiquer la Terre quand incliner?” shouted protesters in Paris. The committee chairman shrugged it off. “The dates on the calendar have always been arbitrary. Some years we adjust the year by as much as 15 seconds because of the inconvenient nature of the Earth’s slightly irregular orbit. This is the same thing.”

“We can’t let the arbitrary holidays interfere with the science of measurement,” he continued.

Nineteen of the 20 member of the G20 issued a joint statement praising the shift:

Not only will this change simplify time, it will provide a significant aid to the world economy. Manufacturing and scientific organizations will have a cleaner and more efficient measurement system. And it will be a significant boon to the watch and clock makers around the world during these troubled times.

President Obama declined to join in the statement. The President released his own statement later.

While we are pleased to see our European partners working so closely together to come up with new solutions to old problems, we don’t plan to impose this change on the American people. The American people have no trouble with the 60s and 7s that make up our calendar. Further, we don’t need to mandate this program.

The American people have always worked with partners around the world to build a world class economy and to help people from all walks of life achieve their true potential. The American people are thrilled to buy their soda in 2 liter bottles and their milk by the gallon. The power of American business is that it works with and respects the traditional culture of America, while still working with the rest of the world in the different measures they use. The people will use the units they prefer as we move into the next global age of economic revitalization.

Some European editorialist scoffed at Obama’s suggestion that this won’t be a problem for the US. “Didn’t the Americans lose a space ship because they don’t understand metric?” suggested the editor of the London Financial Times.

The Director of the US Bureau of Weights and Measures stated the US would work with others on the new calendar, but beyond providing conversion tables, would take few initiatives. “We still plan to keep our speed limit signs at 65 MPH. We don’t plan to change them to 249.6 KMpdD (kilometers per deciday).”

After the press conference, was overheard talking to a colleague about the issue. Apparently he didn’t realize his microphone was still open. “Not this crap again. What is this? 1977? I’m getting too old for this.”

The second will remain at 9,192,631,770 Cesium atom vibrations for now. The seconds in a Milliday will be defined by conversion tables. The standards body will discuss alternative definitions for the “second” over the next year.

There is still a great deal of debate over what to do with the yet to be implemented Decimilliday.