No more Money

A couple weeks ago, Microsoft made they sad announcement that they are discontinuing my favorite video game -- Microsoft Money. The current version will be the last one, and in less than two years, they will turn off the online updates service.

You can see the official announcement here, and the FAQ here. The software will keep working beyond that day; users just won't be able to make electronic payments through Money or automatically download updates. To get updates, they will need to manually download them from their banking provider.

Or switch to Quicken or another financial application.

It's too bad, really. I've been using Money to run my financial life for years. The first entry in my Money file is from 1995-02-17. I paid $17.72 to my Exxon credit card. I probably began using the application a couple months later (since I didn't have the computer until about March) but I went back and entered older data.

It was Money that showed me just how far in debt I was at my worst, and kept me on track for paying things off and minimizing my spending. The EPAY feature allowed me to make payments directly from the software instead of mailing in checks. That helped keep me from missing payments, incurring more late fees, and spending a ton on stamps.

The rising net worth chart gave me some positive reinforcement and encouraged me to continue. The drops in the net worth chart reminded me to refocus my efforts to pay down debt and save more.

A few years later I started traveling for work, and Money was an invaluable tool for managing my expense reports. The charts and reports made it easy for me to track my business expenses and separate them from personal expenses. It made it easier to manage the whole process of making interest free loans to large multi-national corporations.

And more recently, I learned to use Money to maximize my profit from Credit Card Arbitrage.

It's disappointing to see it go, but I suppose it makes sense for MSFT to do it. They seem to be streamlining their products lines and cutting products that are less critical to their success, less profitable, and with smaller fan bases.

And as a product it may have been reaching then end of its development life. Money is already a full featured home-finance application so there's not much more they could do to it to enourage people to buy the next version.

I guess I'll be doing some research over the next year.


Death of a Pitchman

On Sunday, the string of celebrity deaths continued. I'll let other post tributes to Michael Jackson. The death that got me was that of the great pitchman.

"HI! BILLY MAYS HERE..." is a phrase we will be graced with at 2:00 AM now that Mays died on 2009-06-28.

From CNN:

"I'm a pitchman, my business comes from the pitch, nothing else," Mays said recently in an interview with Portfolio. "My voice, my likeness is my livelihood. That's it. I keep it simple. I pick good products."

Mays died Sunday at his home near Tampa, Florida. The Hillsborough County medical examiner Dr. Vernard Adams said Monday that Mays had heart disease.


Billy Mays was known for his Best Buy style of clothes (blue shirt, khaki pants), his beard, and the string of infomercials he did for Orange Glow, Oxi-clean, Mighty Putty and more. Some hated his loud, bombastic style, but I got a kick out it.

There is an emotional charge get when you start in on a great pitch. When you hit the right rhythm, the words just roll off your tongue like Mercury off a clean pane of grass. And your teeth tingle with exuberance.

Mays got his start hawking products on the Atlantic City boardwalk. He moved from speaking to dozens at a time to speaking to millions at a time. His energy made doing laundry exciting.

I'm sorry to have missed Pitchmen, his new behind the scenes series about the Made for TV industry and how those products got on there. All the reviews I've read indicate Mays seems like a nice guy. He only pitched products he believed in.

During one of my summer jobs I was a pitchman at the state fair. I interned at the Montana State Lottery in 1992. Sometime during the first day of the state fair in Great Falls, someone handed me the mike and asked me to make a quick announcement about a current lottery promo. And that was the start of my pitchman career.

I was on the PA from morning 'til night, with only a few breaks to pick up a viking, or fair pretzel, or polish sausage, or funnel cake. "By 5 tickets, get one free. You could be an instant winner of this brand new Ford F150 pickup truck! We had a $500 winner just this morning, and you could be next. Buy 5 tickets, get one fee. And do you know how big the Powerball jackpot is this week?"

I did that for days and had a great time. The other folks in the lottery booth liked it too because I kept the counters full. The folks at the Bingo hall across the fairway weren't all that pleased, but they eventually got over it.

My pitchman career took me back to the fair a couple years later selling water filters and related products. I was not as successful with that as I was with lottery tickets.

My career took me into retail sales and marketing, and today, I am a product evangelist -- a pitchman without a sales quota. And I love it.

I'm no Billy Mays (and I hear some of you sighing with relief) but I always admired his work. If I eventually end up doing his job -- promoting products I believe in during infomercials, well, that wouldn't be so bad.

So it was a sad day to learn of his mysterious death. He's a working class salesperson who made the big time.

When I get home, I'll reach under the sink, pull out the bottle, take off the cap, and pour some OrangeGlo on the floor in Billy May's memory. And I'll toss some Oxyclean over my shoulder for luck.

You can see Mays' last appearance on the Tonight Show here:


Life in the Garden Part 24: Dinner

A lot of work goes into taking care of my plants. And sometimes it's nice to eat the results.

Last week (2009-06-21), this was how my zucchini plants looked.

2009-06-21 Zuccinni (2)

2009-06-21 Zuccinni (3)

Today, they looked ready for harvesting.

2009-06-27 Zuccinni (3)

2009-06-27 Zuccinni (2)

2009-06-27 Zuccinni (6)

2009-06-27 Zuccinni (7)

Now that I've done all I can with these vegetable (and while I wait for more to grow) the next step belongs to the GF. She's the one who turns "crops" into "food."

She took the zucchini, peeled and sliced it, grilled it, wrapped it up with Basil and Chives (that I also grew) and cream cheese (that I carried home from the grocery store) and made a lovely dinner.

2009-06-27 Zuccinni (9)

2009-06-27 Zuccinni

Let's see what happens when the leeks come in.


Decline of newspapers

This past year we saw the Seattle PI shut down the press. Denver's Rocky Mountain news also shut down. I commented on some of those issues here.

As the summer approaches we see the continuing impact of the disappearance of newspapers.

Today I saw Alton Brown's Good Eats episode, "Tender is the Pork." Alton is of course, awesome. He is also nuts. But still awesome. Regardless, he grilled a pork tenderloin over charcoal. He used a chimney starter. And how did he get that chimney starter going?


When I was a kid I got my mother a parakeet for her birthday one year. (The cat got a big kick out of that.) What lined the bottom of the cage?


In 1998, I moved from Boise to Seattle. I boxed up my clothes, disassembled my electronics, and wrapped up my dishes (mainly Travel Lodge and Best Western glasses) in what else?


Forget journalism.

Without newspaper, what else are we are going to use when we have to burn something, clean up animal waste, or keep other stuff from breaking?

We must stop reading news online and go back to the newspaper just so we have something we can use to line our boxes and refuse containers.

What choice do we have?


Around the neighborhood

I went to pick up Duck Noodle Soup at the local Thai place today. My neighborhood is going through a bit of construction. But First Hill isn't quite as hip as nearby Capit0l Hill.

We are however getting a new Pakistani-Indian restaurant on Boren.

So that's something. But the nearby neighborhood still has plenty of hip shops and boutiques. We are catching up though. I just discovered this new boutique next to the soon to be open Kabob House -- Lundgren Monuments.

Lundgren Monuments is proud to announce the opening of their first boutique in downtown Seattle. On June 12, 2008, we will open our doors and invite the public to experience a revolutionary new way in approaching the memorialization of friends and family.
Lundgren Monuments Seattle Boutique is located at 1011 Boren Avenue, Seattle, WA 98104.
I'm not sure what a fancy headstone storefront says about our neighborhood, other than that we are near a number of hospitals and nursing homes.

Actually, it's not too surprising to see the artistic side of Seattle follow through to the end of life. Custom urns, glass headstones, etc., do seem to be in keeping with the Seattle ethos.

Regardless, seeing this next to the Kabob House and Thai Star amused me for some reason.

And I walked away humming, "These are the people in your neighborhood...In your neighborhood..."


Aviation Porn -- 747's first flight

I was looking forward to the first flight of Boeing's exciting new 787 this month. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen.

Apparently they wanted some extra time to slap some more duct tape on the wings so they don't fall off. You can read more about the latest 787 delay on the Seattle PI here. The plane is now more than 2 years late. I'm pretty sure it's missed its bus by now.

Since we won't get the first flight of the 787, I suppose we'll have to be happy with this video. It's the 1969 first flight of the iconic Boeing 747 -- the aircraft that ushered in the new era of the true jumbo jet. I believe you can still see this particular aircraft at the Museum of Flight.


Late coffee

Sometimes I get caught up in my morning activities and forget to make coffee until about 1:00. Today was one of those days.

1:00 -- Clean coffee pot, maker, grinding unit, filter, filter basket.

1:02 -- Remember than message I wanted to send this afternoon. Run upstairs to send it. Check emails. Open spreadsheet.

1:34 -- Remember the half prepped coffee maker. Run downstairs. Make coffee.

1:35 -- Microwave lunch.

1:38 -- *Ding* Microwave lunch is ready. Coffee still brewing. Take lunch upstairs back to work. Plan to get coffee in 5 minutes.

3:45 -- Head downstairs to look for tape. See coffee maker with slowly cooling coffee. Make mental note to pour a cup when I go back upstairs.

3:48 -- Head upstairs with tape.

4:15 -- Note mild headache. Think, "Coffee might be a good idea." Then realize I had that idea three hours ago.

4:45 -- Head out to pick up the GF from work. Hmm. Maybe a Thermos would work...

6:30 -- Get back from errands, head back to my APT to get a computer to work on a few projects, and a cup of coffee.

6:35 -- Head downstairs to the GF's APT with my computer.

10:00 -- Get back to my APT and notice the coffee pot mocking me.

10:05 -- Check email and randomly surf.

11:00 -- Pour the first cup of coffee of the day from the now 9.5 hour old pot. Mmm. Luke warm stale coffee.

Life in the Garden Part 23: Two weeks of progress

This video is two weeks of growth in my garden.

I shot a bunch of pictures on 2009-05-30 and on 2009-06-16. I planned to compare and contrast them in a blog post. But then I thought matching them up, formatting them, and uploading them would take a lot of work.

"There must be an easier way!"

Now, I should now by know that as soon as that phrase flashes across my synapses, I should stop and go back to bed because there is absolutely no good that can come from that.

Regardless, for some silly reason I though it would be a good idea to try Windows Movie Maker for the first time in over a year. Because relearning how and then actually editing a video must be easier than spending an hour on a blog post.

Three and a half espisodes of Mythbusters later, I have the below video. Enjoy.

(You can see a larger version here)


Shatner-Palooza: Shatner welcome Conan

In this clip, Shatner welcomes Conan to LA. He decides that since Conan is new to California he should tell him stories about his own cross country journeys.

What follows is an weird colleciton of introductory rambling, a discussion of public urination, Shatner's pride in his manhood, a claim of actually being Kirk, an failed attempt a the Vulcan hand gesture, and the flipping off of the host.

As weird as all this is, I can't get past the fact that Shatner doesn't seem to have a VCR or the ability to download video from the 'net. To show clips of his appearance on the Tonight Show, the video doesn't actually use show video. Instead, they pointed a video camera at the TV and shot it that way. It's like a bad bootleg of a bad movie.

Not a bad collection of weirdness for a 4 minute video.


Sleep 10: Genes, sleep, and age-related disorders

(Thanks to LDK in STL for sending me this article)

I rolled back into my hotel room this evening at about 8:30, and by 9:00 my body simply demanded, "SLEEP!"

It's to be expected. After getting just 3 hours of sleep the night before, 5 hours the night before that, and 2 hours the night before that, it was bound to happen. So I set my alarm for a few hours, got up just after midnight, refreshed enough to once again start typing.

I don't adhere to those patterns every day, but my sleep routine is bizarre enough that the concept of Sleep itself is one I continue to find fascinating.

This article from the Record at Washington University in St Louis (a school known for producing brilliant astronomer/educators in the early-mid 90s) discusses research that identifies the mechanism linking the circadian rhythm to age-related disorders such as diabetes.

"Our study establishes a detailed scheme linking metabolism and aging to the circadian rhythm," said one of the lead authors, Shin-ichiro Imai, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine and of developmental biology. "This opens the door to new avenues for treating age-related disorders and ways to restore a healthy daily circadian rhythm. It also could yield new interventions to alleviate metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes."


It's an interesting idea. But now I face my scientific article conundrum. I have some problems with the article. It appears to make some assumptions that it doesn't justify. Perhaps the actually scientific study addresses these concerns, and the article writers simply drop them for the sake of brevity and simplicity. Unfortunately, those shortfalls lead me to question the credibility of the data, even though it may be sound.

Of course, bloggers drop further details as we comment on articles about scientific papers, leading to further bastardization of the material.

This phenomenon leads to a lot of bad science writing for mass consumption, and that can drown out the good science writing. Unfortunately, bad writing about science encourages people to question what may actually be sound scientific principles and studies.

Speculating even further (and contributing more to the problem myself) I wonder how much of the controversy surrounding human-made global climate change can be attributed to simply bad interpretation of actual scientific study. But that's a topic for another post.

In the meantime, I'm just going to go ahead and exacerbate the problem myself. It's much easier than providing an actual solution.

The article leads off by saying:

All animals, including humans, have an internal 24-hour clock or circadian rhythm that creates a daily oscillation of body temperature, brain activity, hormone production and metabolism.


I may be nitpicking here, but that's not quite true. While there is a definite circadian rhythm that governs the body's wake/sleep cycle, it's not a 24-hour rhythm. It fluctuates and we routinely force it into a 24-hour cycle (through alarm clock, prime time TV schedules, and the general mechanisms of modern life).

Other studies have shown that the actual rhythm runs about 25-hours. Studies in Germany in the late 60/early 70s isolated people in underground bunkers, removing all artificial time cues (such as clocks) and natural time cues (such as the sun).

Over the course of the experiment, almost all of the people settled into a 25-hour cycle, gradually falling out of sync with above-ground dwellers on a standard 24-hour cycle. Interestingly, a small percentage of them developed a cycle that was closer to 48-hours, often staying awake and active for very long stretches of time. However, their body temperatures still fluctuated on cycle that was close to 25 hours.


When left to my own devices, I seem to drift onto a 36 hour wake/sleep cycle, but that's just me.

The article that kicked off this post deals with the gene SIRT1:

SIRT1 influences glucose breakdown and production, cholesterol metabolism, fat burning, and insulin sensitivity. Increasing the activity of proteins related to SIRT1 extends the life span of yeast, worms and flies. SIRT1 is activated when calories are restricted below normal, which has been shown to extend the life spans of some laboratory animals until food becomes more readily available.


In order for SIRT1 to work, it relies on a chemical called NAD.

In mice, the researchers found a daily oscillation of the metabolite NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), an important compound that is the body's way of exchanging energy and moving it where it's needed. Previously, scientists believed the amount of NAD in cells stayed fairly constant.


While the chemical is a natural one produced by the human body, the name makes me wonder how smoking/tobacco consumption influences this process.

Regardless, the research in this article found that the body does not produce a consistent amount of NAD. Instead, the production is tied directly to the clock genes, and therefore subject to the wake/sleep cycle. At different points in the circadian cycle, the body produces more or less of it.

The researchers found that this NAD rhythm was linked to the daily rise and fall of the activity of "clock" genes, those that serve as the gears that run the body's internal clock. They discovered that the clock genes directly interact with a biochemical process that produces NAD.

NAD is required for SIRT1 to function, suggesting that SIRT1 activity increased and decreased along with NAD oscillation in the mice. Since SIRT1 is known to inhibit the clock genes, the cycle of its activity feeds back into the clock mechanism.


In other words, the sleep cycle influences NAD production, which impacts the functioning of the SIRT1 genes, which in turn influences glucose and insulin production and cholesterol breakdown. It impacts things like aging, obesity, and diabetes.

And tying it all back to the beginning of the cycle, SIRT1 activity also impacts the clock genes and the circadian rhythm, which in turn impacts NAD production, and we are once again, off to the races.

So that's my contribution to bad science writing and likely my misinterpretation of data. Since this research was mainly about the mechanism involved, it may not provide actionable information. Follow-on research will be needed for that.

My speculation would be that this would be relevant to other studies which have demonstrated a link between obesity and lack of adequate sleep. It may provide further insight to the nature of the link and exactly what the cause/effect relationship is.

And perhaps it could lead to a deeper unstanding of or treatment for diabetes. Or perhaps even aging itself.

But for now, it's time to go to bed.


Life in the Garden Part 22: More tomato stake lessons

Yesterday I wrote about staking my tomatoes too tightly. That's not the only mistake I made this year.

Once I knew it was time to stake the plant, I bought these neat and cheap bamboo hoops. My plan was to allow the plant to grow up in the middle and draw strength from either side.

2009-05-30 Garden (33)

I made a few mistakes here. You can see the first one in the predominantly bare stem. It tied just the main stem and didn't do anything for the leaves or branches. In a few strong winds, they all ripped off leaving only a thin crown at the top of the plant.

In addition to that, I decided to get fancy (which almost always leads to disaster). I tied a couple pieces of twine to the stalk, but for a couple of the supports, I looped it around the stem instead of tying to it.

Here is a closer look.
2009-05-30 Garden (33)_Cropped

I though it would give the plant greater range of motion and let it move back and forth across the twine safely. Unfortunately, what I actually did was put it in a saw. The result was inevitable.

2009-06-13 Staking (2)

Fortunately I have a bunch more tomato plants. And this severed plant may have inherited something from my zombie cilantro near by. Because a new plant is growing right out the bottom.

2009-06-17 Zombie Tomato

It looks like I get a second chance with this one.

Life in the Garden Part 21: Staking tomato problems

This is the first time I've grown tomatoes on my deck. The last time I dealt with tomatoes, I was was probably 10 and working in the back yard in New York. So I already knew about pulling suckers and the importance of staking the plants.

The details of staking, however, are details I have to relearn.

One of the staking mistakes I made was using twine and tying the plants too tightly to support.

2009-06-14 too tight

The plant did not have quite enough slack to grow within the loop, so it started to grow around it and absorb the twine into the stem. It's kind of neat to see the flexibility of nature to adapt to this, but it does put the plant at risk. It makes a weak point where the plant stem could split, and I would lose all the fruit above the knot.

So I cut is loose. The twine is still in the stem, and I'm not about to pull it out. But at least it shouldn't put any more stress on it.

To prevent this from happening again, I switched to velcro strips. They are cheap and available in many garden centers. You can get them in rolls 10' long.

Here's how I now tie my plants.

2009-05-30 Tomato Velcro

2009-06-13 Staking

The velcro is softer, and since it's wider, it spreads the support across more of the stem. Plus, if the plant gets too big, the velcro is flexible enough to accommodate the healthy stem.

It's like a comfort flex waist band for the plants.


Movie Review 10: Up

The GF and I saw Pixar's Up in 3D a couple days ago. I'm glad I saw it, but I'm still not sure how I feel about it.

The movie stars Ed Asner as an old man who tries to move his house to South America by using helium balloons to rip it from its foundation. Along the way he meets a little boy who misses his father, a multi-colored bird who misses her kids, and a talking dog who misses his self-respect. They have adventures.

The 3D version of the film was excellent. The effects appeared natural, and at only a few points did the director throw in something that screams, "YOU ARE WATCHING THIS IN 3D!!" It was well done.

The animation, of course was flawless, and the actors seem believable.

The movie is only 96 minutes long, but they pack a lot of stuff into it. At times the pace seemed to lag, but not to a bothersome level.

Technically the film and script are well executed, but I can't say I love it. The reason is that there is too much pain in this movie. The pain exists on several levels. For one thing, we watch a bunch of dogs plummet off a cliff (presumably they all survive). The most vibrant and lively character dies in the first 5-10 minutes of the movie. There is a fire taking away more things from people.

The pain exists at an internal level as well. The movie is riddled with broken promises and bad choices. Characters are forced to choose between two important commitments. In that way the film is less about hope and more about regret.

The pain and regret and missed opportunities the characters feel are visceral. It hits you in the gut. And that's what makes this movie so hard to love.

It has light moments. There are plenty of sight gags and humorous quips. They even grab a sequence of dialog straight from Star Wars ("Red 5 standing by..."). And the dogs have some great moments when they're not plummeting into rivers. The recurring "Squirrel!" gag was great every time.

And the big hand to hand combat scene between two senior citizens was hilarious.

It's interesting to see Pixar going in this more adult direction. In some places, going dark works well for them. WALL-E was excellent. It had its rough moments but remained an uplifting film overall. The Incredibles did the same thing.

But Up doesn't quite do that. It's technically a great movie, but I just don't love it like I do many other films. Perhaps that's just my issue as I get a little older, but there's not enough in the end to redeem it for me or make me feel like the journey was really worth it.

The comic relief and the happy ending don't supply quite enough helium to lift my heart at the end of the movie.

You can see more of my movie reviews here.


Book Review 43: Contagious

A little boy so afraid of the shadows under the bed that he couldn't move, couldn't look, sure that whatever was under there would grab him and pull him down forever and ever.

But now he wasn't afraid of the thing under the bed.

He was the thing under the bed.

Page 216

Note: Potential spoilers for the previous books in the series, "Infected."

Back in January, I picked up a copy of Soctt Sigler's "Contagious" when he did a reading at a local books store. You can read about that evening and Sigler's approach new media here.

"Contagious" is Scott Sigler's much anticipated follow up to the awesome sci-fi thriller "Infected." It picks up a couple weeks after "Infected" ends, and we follow the adventures of Perry Dawsey, Dew Phillips, Margaret Montoya, Amos, Clarence, and their CIA colleagues as they battle a secret alien invasion.

Sigler does a great job with "Contagious." The plot is strong and detailed. He fills it with surprise twists I did not see coming up to the end of the book.

This is a very different book from "Infected," however. Sure, it has the same high level of gore, and even more violence. But "Infected" was mainly about characters. We got deep inside Perry Dawsey's head and fought his internal battles with him as he surgically removed invaders from his body. We see the impact his father had on his childhood. And we get to know the deep, personal "Discipline."

During "Infected," we get to see Margaret grow from a young awkward researcher to be the powerful woman who commands CIA operatives. We get to know Dew Phillips as more than a 2 dimensional character who does the dirty work that needs to be done. We get to see his motivation, and the formative experiences that made him who he is today.

But you won't find as much of that in "Contagious." While "Infected" is a character driven novel, "Contagious" is a plot driven novel. A lot more happens in this book than happened in the previous one. The trade off to allow for more action, and a more complex story, is that the characters are thinner.

One of my biggest problems with "Infected" was the last chapter. It was a completely different tone than the rest of the book and felt out of place. "Contagious" is like that last chapter. It has the same tone and style. Since it's an entirely different book it works better than it did as part of the first book.

The scale of "Contagious" is much bigger than "Infected." The book opens in the Oval Office as the CIA briefs the new President on the alien invasion and everyone agrees the best thing to do is keep quiet. We spend time with the President throughout the book, which further demonstrates just how big this book is, as compared the personal battles in the previous book.

The President has two goals -- fight the invasion and keep people from learning about it and panicking. And they have good success with keeping the story and deaths quiet, even when deploying significant military assets in the US.

This was America. People got killed. Such is life. What time is the game on?

Page 101

We soon leave the Oval Office and join the field team. Perry Dawsey survived his infection and Margaret, the doctor, helped remove the last traces of the invaders from Perry's body. Yet he is still connected to the aliens somehow. He can hear them, and he can locate other infected hosts.

Whatever the science behind it, Perry's homing instinct had been the only thing keeping them in the game. Unfortunately when he found infected hosts, he killed them. First Kevin Mest, who had butchered three friends with a fireplace poker. Perry claimed self-defense for that one, and everyone bought it. His self-defense claim for burning three eighty-yearold women alive? Well, that was a little harder to swallow.

Page 28

Unfortunately, Perry sees other hosts as weak and pathetic. Perry fought his invaders and has the scars to show for it. Others lack the "discipline" Perry's father taught him. Despite the protestations of Dew Peterson, Margaret, and the others, Perry can't let them live.

What the fuck was Dew's problem, anyway? Pretending to get all pissed about that family. Why didn't Dew and the others understand? Those people weren't human anymore. They were weak. They didn't have discipline. That meant they needed to die. If one of them, any of them, was even trying to cut out the triangles, then Perry would let them live. Maybe. But it didn't matter, because so far no one had fought.

Page 64

Dew Peterson isn't happy about working with Perry, but it's his duty and he does it. They fight and argue throughout the early part of the book, and Perry keeps trying to kill hosts.

Thank God we've got Dawsey. Imagine that. The kid was twelve doughnuts shy of a baker's dozen, and he was their ace in the hole. What would ol' Charlie have thought if he knew that Dew had almost shot Dawsey in the mouth with the .45? Sorry, Charlie, our ace in the hole has a hole in his head.

Page 52

Eventually, they came to an uneasy understanding.

She did want him asleep, but she also didn't want to risk a second round of fighting. Perry acted different, defeated, but Dew probably hadn't calmed down yet, and any number of insignificant words might set the two men off again.

The only reason Perry Dawsey was still alive was that Dew Phillips wanted him to be.

Margaret needed to make sure Dew didn't change his mind.

Page 110

Some authors might be content to leave children out of the story. Not Sigler. In this book children are affected in a significant way and behave with a shocking violence. Some die in horrific ways. If that makes you uncomfortable, this may not be the right book for you.

Sigler brings some interesting references into the book. He has a Cain and Abel story in there.

That was a lie, of course. Beck wasn't dangerous, but Chauncey might have loved Beck more than her. Chauncey was Chelsea's special friend. With Beck gone it would stay that way forever and ever.

Page 221

And even early 70s TV shows get a sly reference.

Ridder put the cruiser in park and grabbed the radio handset. "This is Adam-Twelve, responding to reports of bodies on Orleans Street," he said. "We have two men down. Send ambulance and backup immediately. We're examining the scene."

Page 315

Sigler masterfully jumps into the heads of different characters. There is little third person omniscience in this book. Sigler tells the story in the third person but it's always through the different characters eyes. We see the story unfold from all these perspectives -- both the good and the bad. The attackers and the defenders. The balance works well and moves the story forward. Additionally, even though we know what most of the characters are planning to do -- because Sigler tells us -- there is still plenty of suspense in this book.

As we get towards the end of the book, the plot gets more complicated with multiple pieces moving simultaneously. The surprise plot twists that come quickly also make sense. The events are unfolding in real time, and when the characters take surprising actions, it's clear that is exactly what the would do.

As for the scale of what happens in the last third of the book, all I can say is, "Wow." And I would have preferred not be sitting on a Northwest Airlines Airbus A319 while I read it.

"Contagious" is a great book, and an excellent follow up to "Infected." It's a different book -- one that's more plot driven and less character driven, and in this book it works. It have moments of extreme grotesqery -- both physically and conceptually -- and it is violent. If you are squeamish or uncomfortable with things like that, you may want to skip it.

But if you are okay with that, pick up "Contagious." It's well worth the time. And I can't wait to see what Sigler does with next with this series.

If you would rather listen to Sigler read the book for free, or download it as a series of PDFs, you can do so at Sigler's website.

You can find more of my book reviews here.


Cooking in the garden

The GF is an excellent cook. She really knows what she's doing in the kitchen, with the stove, and everything and makes magic in there.

I, on the other hand, am a master of the microwave. I can manage other stuff at the stove when the situation calls for it, and I have picked up some decent theoretical knowledge of kitchen practices. And I'm the best at shredding cheese.

These differences manifest themselves at the grill.

When The GF thinks, "Let's throw some burgers on the grill," we end up with a side table, potato slices, side dishes, multiple condiments, and a even a special plate to "rest the meat."

2009-06-13 Grilling Burgers

2009-06-13 Grilling Burgers (2)

It's quite an undertaking.

When I think, "Let's throw some brats on," I throw some brats on the grill.

2009-06-09 Brats

It's a different approach.


Welcome to 2005 -- and Pandora

Yes, I finally started using Pandora. I've known abut it for years, but never got around to trying it out until this week.

Pandora is a free, Internet radio station customized t your taste on the fly. To start using it, just go to Pandora.Com, type the name of an artist or song you like, and Pandora will start playing that music. Then it will choose something similar and play that. You give it a thumbs up or down and it gets to know you better. Add more artists and songs to it's list and it gets even better at finding music you like.

Or you can just listed to the recommendations of the person with the best musical taste ever. That would be me. The Cromely's World soundtrack is right here.

My list of artists includes everyone form Billy Joel to Twisted Sister -- Marty Robbins to Meat Loaf -- Jonathan Coulton to Shonen Knife.

The system actually does a pretty good job of recommending new stuff I might enjoy. The sound quality is good, and it doesn't appear to slow down my Internet connection in any significant way.

Beyond cool music, Pandora is also significant for it's place in the debates surrounding modern copyright, music licensing, and the dying nature of most terrestrial radio. Wikipedia offers a quick snapshot of some of the legal challenges and Congressional actions that have impacted Pandora.

Unfortunately, those challenges and issues mean that Pandora is not supposed to be available outside the US. I believe they filter by IP address. Fans across the world get around that with proxies and other techniques, however, again illustrating the futility of erecting structures to limit the flow of information. There are valid arguments in favor of and opposed to the free worldwide distribtuion of music. But regardless of what's right or wrong, it's going to happen.

And maybe in the coming years, the Chinese government will learn that, too.

In the meantime, I'll listen to my channel and tweak it with each recomendation. And ultimately, maybe I'll figure out why I'm doing this instead of just listening to iTunes on Shuffle mode.


Seesmic instead of Tweetdeck

I like Seesmic. It's a flexible alternative to Tweetdeck.

If you use or are interested in hearing about Twitter, you may find this post interesting. (And you should follow me if you don't already. I promise -- my Tweets are as sharp as a butter knife -- @Cromely)

If, like many people, you want the strip off your own ears when one more person mentions Twitter, I understand. Feel free to skip this one

Once you are following more than 50 people on Twitter, the homepage just isn't useful for reading tweets. There's no sense of organization. Hence, the proliferation of free applications that make Twitter easier to use.

Tweetdeck is a popular tool because it lets you create a limited number of groups of people you follow. You can separate work people, from family, from celebrities, etc.

But Tweetdeck is missing some important features. First, it shows all the columns at once. It's great if you always use it on a large monitor, but it's more challenging on a smaller laptop screen. The ability to create different tabs for different groups would be great, but it doesn't have that.

Second, you can have only about 10 columns. If you want to add another group, or always have a search running, you have to delete a group.

Seesmic doesn't have those problems. I can have as many groups as I want. I can close a column without deleting the group. I can hide all but the one I want, or I can see as many of them as I want and scroll across the screen.

Seesmic also lets me manage multiple Twitter accounts, which is nice.

It's not perfect. Tweetdeck has a nicer color scheme. It's also easier to add users to Tweetdeck groups. Tweetdeck lets me pull up a list of everyone I follow and choose who goes in each group. On Seesmic, I have to chose a person and then assign them to all the different groups I want to put them in. Since it doesn't show a list of everyone I follow, I have to wait until a Tweet comes through from that person, and then I can assign them.

Seesmic also uses more memory. Right now, Tweetdeck is using 116 MB of memory; Seesmic is using 274 MB.

There both strong products, but the productivity advantages I get from Seesmic make it the primary Twitter application on my personal computer.


SEA Airport and community space

The Central Course is a beautiful space. There are both fast food and local restaurants there, along with travel friendly and funky shopping.

But there's a problem. The Port of Seattle got carried away with the Civic Space. They seem to think we want to talk to one another.

Here's how they describe it on the airport website:

The main feature of the new Central Terminal is a grand civic space. The Pacific Marketplace is a city streetscape, a scene of the Northwest community complete with shops, restaurants, landscaping, a view to the airfield, and public art. The gathering place, designed by Fentress Bradburn Architects, encompasses 60,000 square feet with a 60-foot tall ceiling and a west-facing structural glass curtain wall. During the day, the large expanse of glass floods the space with sparkle and light; at night, the glowing room becomes a beacon. This interior space feels like an outdoor room.

They went crazy with the community.

The food court is filled with tables and chairs designed for groups of 4 or 5 people. It's great to have a few of those, but at SEA, nearly all the tables are like that.

In this lousy shot, I managed to capture a few of the smaller tables.

2009-06-01 SEA Central court (2)

You know something? Most people travel ALONE. Group travel is the exception, not the rule. We don't need that many large tables. We need smaller ones for one or two people.

I'm sure they considered this in the design meeting. And I'm sure it was intentional. The must have thought that this way strangers will meet one another over a meal. They may share a table while carting their Wendy's french fries or their sushi about the food court.

It would provide an opportunity for accidental interaction. Travelers would meet new members of the travel community and share their stories the way travelers of old would when they reached the pub in that small town in the middle of their arduous journey.

People who do not know one another would share a table and strengthen the bonds of community. It would be a modern day Canterbury Tales.

It's a very Seattle approach.


Most travelers want to get where they are going. Maybe they want a quick bite in a nice environment before the next flight.

Mostly, we want to be left alone.

When you walk around the concourse you see all these huge tables with only one person sitting at them. It makes is hard to find an open table.

In most places it's rude to take a large table for one's self. You're expected to take a small table if it's just one person. At SEA, we have no choice.

They designed the space for the ideal of what they want to promote, and not for the reality of what the traveling public wants.

They Port could easily replace 20 large tables with 40 or more small tables. It will be easier to find a seat. People who want to be left alone could be left alone. And it would make the traveling experience less stressful.

The airport should quit trying to reengineer their users and instead just try to make us happy.


Radiolab on the Obama Effect

I love the WNYC Radiolab Podcast. I wrote about their fascinating piece on sleep here. This weekend, I caught their shorter piece on the Obama Effect. It's about 18 minutes long and is worth listening to.

They start off reporting on a preliminary study that gave a test to a number of participants. Those conducting the study tested several groups of participants. The test, given three times, found that on average grades by African Americans improved as Obama's prominence rose.

When tested after Obama was nominated, African Americans scored higher than when tested prior to the nomination. Scores rose even higher for those taking the test after Obama became President.

In this podcast, they also talked about a study related to putting.

When scientits told participants the putting test was an intellectual test about problem solving, white particpants scored significantly higher than African American participants.

They then gave the same exact test -- with the exact same scoring criteria -- to a different group of participants. The only difference was that this time, they said it was a measure of athletic skill. In this case, African American participants scored significantly higher than white participants.

Radiolab also discuss similar studies relating to performance difference by gender.

The conclusions they come to are that lower performance is attributable not to talent, skill, or knowledge, but to self doubt. And it highlights the impact the perception of cultural stereotypes can have on people.

These are very sensitive and controversial matters, obviously. But it is a fascinating way of viewing test scores and other topics.

Listen to the Radiolab podcast here, or download it through your iTunes.

I try to live my life by the mantra, "Attitude is everything. And attitude is a decision." It's similar to the other common motivational slogan, "If you think you can, or think you can't, you're right."

Sayings like that may appear trite, but the do point to the importance of believing in yourself, regardless of what a test proctor, or other people may say. And that's a powerful tool.


Life in the Garden Part 20: Friendly visitor comes back

About a month ago, I found a visitor in my plants. I told her she was welcome to visit my outdoor plants. And today, she came back to check out my Flat Leaf Parsley.

2009-06-06 Lady Bug

(Larger version here)

She'll always be welcome out there.

Lady Bugs = Good
Aphids = Bad


Music on the floor

There are very few cities in this country, where, at the end of the first day of a corporate trade show, and alternative marching band will parade through the conference.

San Francisco is one of those cities.

2009-06-01 Marching Band (2)

2009-06-01 Marching Band


Danger at the airport

At SEA Thursday night, airport danger did not come from difficulty with a plane, unsavory characters, or even an overzealous TSA person. The runways and hallways were clear. The driveways -- not so much.

I hauled my luggage off the escalator and headed to the crosswalk so I could get the shuttle to my parkling lot (MasterPark, Lot B is great). And then a Fairfield Inn shuttle starts backing up quickly.

There are two lanes in the shuttle pick up area. The curb lane is where the drivers pick up passengers. The left lane is for passing shuttles that are picking up passengers. They both go the same direction.

For some bizarre reason, the shuttle driver from the Fairfield Inn decides he is going to back up.

Not only is he backing up, he is backing up diagonally, from the curb lane into the left lane.

Not only is he backing up from the curb lane into the left lane, he is doing it quickly.

Not only is he doing it quickly, he is also ignoring the other shuttle driver -- who is already in the left lane, in danger of being rammed and is pounding his horn.

Not only is he ignoring the pounding horn, he is also expecting the wall that separates me from the road to get the hell out of his way.

The wall decides to stay put.


The van hits the wall, bends the wall frame, and punches out a metal panel 15' from where I was walking.

The driver gets out and is stunned that dozens of people are looking at him like he's a moron.

The wall took some damage; the van very little.

And I wonder how many of that Fairfield Inn's guest decided to arrive by taxi that night.


Shatner-Palooza: Impulse

Here is a classic Shatner clip from the 1974 movie Impulse. The look on his face when the tense music starts is awesome.


Sushi in San Francisco

After the trade show today, we headed out for dinner and stumbled onto an awesome sushi place in downtown San Francisco.

Sanraku Japanese Restaurant on Sutter Street is a great place to stop. The Unagi was fantastic. The Tiger, Dragon, Spicy Tuna, and other rolls were all great. The Unagi, though, is some of the best I've ever had.

The Miso was excellent, too. I still prefer the Miso Soup I often have near Irvine, CA, though. Miso at Sanraku didn't have quite the same subtle flavor; it was bolder. It's probably just a personal preference.

I'm told the dessert (flan and green tea ice cream) was good too, but I was too full of fish to take that option.

The service was not over bearing, and the staff was friendly and knowledgeable.

It's not cheap, but not ridiculously expense either. You can see the menu on their website.

I'm sure there are lot of fantastic sushi place in San Francisco. I'm just happy we stumbeld onto one of them.


A moment of gratitude

Earlier this week I was speaking with one of my employees. We discussed travel over the past couple of years. I mentioned that while others have made the trip, I haven't had to send him to Montreal or Toronto.

"Thank you for not making me go to Canada," he said.

And that is now my new favorite bumper sticker slogan.

(My apologies to my Canadian readers.)


Life in the Garden Part 19: Bamboo recovers

My bamboo has turned out to be surprisingly resilient. On September 21, I bought a bamboo plant (viridi-striatus). I wanted it because it might provide some shade, and because I like the sound the wind makes while it blows through leaves.

2008-09-21 Bamboo (1)a

But then we had Snopocalypse. It appeared to kill my bamboo.

2008-12-18 Snopocalypse Seattle (3)

All the leaves were gone before the snow. And they didn't appear to come back. In a move based on "I guess it can't hurt know" method of plant care, I trimmed it way back.

2009-04-04 Transplanting Things (13)_cropped

Apparently, that was the right thing to do. Because over the past few weeks the bamboo sprouted new leaves. And now it is starting to fill out quite nicely.

2009-05-30 Garden (11)

2009-05-30 Garden (9)

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your plants is to do nothing. Someday that lesson might stick.