April 29, 2005

Blanket burrow boy

cat curled up in blanket

No human intervention is required to get Theo into this sort of pose.

Posted by jeffy at 10:35 PM in Cat Blogging , Photo Log | Comments (0)

April 22, 2005

Spinny kitty

kitty on spinning office chair
One of Alice's favorite games is to get on the office chair and then be cute until someone comes along and spins the chair for her. Usually when you get her spinning pretty good she takes a bath. This girl loves the trippy stuff.

While our kitties are pretty cute it's still hard to imagine a kitty cuter than this one.

Posted by jeffy at 07:55 PM in Cat Blogging , Photo Log | Comments (0)

April 20, 2005

Lost glove #47

glove with cars and cottonwood
It must be spring, gloves are defecting right and left. This is just 20 meters from yesterday's pair (which were gone this morning).

Posted by jeffy at 08:24 PM in Lost Gloves , Photo Log | Comments (1)

Lost gloves #45 & #46

leather work glove in a bike lane

I was just thinking the other day that it had been a while since the Bridge of Lost Gloves (1, 2, 6, 10, 14, 30 & 31) had claimed any. And now here's a pair.

leather work glove with a red plastic bead on its adjuster

Posted by jeffy at 01:34 AM in Lost Gloves , Photo Log | Comments (0)

Lost glove #44

blue glove in the middle of a crosswalk
This one's from a couple of weeks ago. Cat blogging took precedence that day and then I forgot about it.

Posted by jeffy at 01:09 AM in Lost Gloves , Photo Log | Comments (0)

April 19, 2005

Someone should make this

I want a wireless extension cord for headphones.

It'd be a two-part doodad. The reciever part should be small and light and have an 1/8" female stereo jack. It should run for at least 8 hours of continuous use on a charge or use standard batteries (alkaline or rechargable AA or AAA). If you were really clever you'd make it in a shape that would allow you to wind your headphone cables around it to keep them out of the way and attach the unit to the headphones.

The transmitter end could be a little bigger and maybe have the option of running off outlet power, but it should run off rechargeable batteries too if possible. You'd plug it in to the headphone jack on the component you want to listen to.

For my use (rolling around my office at work), the range doesn't have to be more than 10 feet, but I can see a wide-area version being useful too.

I'm thinking of trying to simulate this with one of those little FM transmitters for an iPod coupled with a tiny FM radio for the headphones, but I suspect the sound quality won't be good enough.

If you decide to implement this gadget, you can thank me for the idea by giving me one. ;-)

Posted by jeffy at 07:04 PM in Personal Interest | Comments (4)

April 16, 2005

What You Can Change and What You Can't by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D.

bold graphic of book titleSomeone on the 43Folders list mentioned this book so I got it from the library. Seligman is a professor of psychology. In this book he synthesizes the extant research on various common psychological issues and presents the results in lay language.

What I found refreshing about the book was Seligman's candor about his own qualifications and biases. He is meticulous about tagging statements which are his own opinion or theory vs. what the studies have shown. He also is very careful to qualify the results of the studies with his opinion of how well the experiment was designed. It's a very science-based approach.

The issues he considers in depth are things like anxiety, panic, phobias, obsessions, depression, anger, post-traumatic stress, sex issues (from transsexuality to homosexuality to more mundane sexual issues), dieting, alcohol and other substance abuses. In each case he considers what is known or theorized about the causes of the issue. From there he moves on to the various treatment options and what is known about their success rate both in the short term and long term.

The results, as the title implies, range from maladies like panic where the causes and solutions are well understood to things like weight loss where there does not appear to be any such certainty. If you suffer from any of the issues in the last paragraph, I would urge you to take a look at this book to help you decide how (and whether) to pursue treatment.

All that positive stuff said, Seligman falls into the usual trap of medical research. If 75% of the participants in a study of a treatment are not helped then that treatment is judged a failure. And yet 25% of the people were helped. To me, this is the more interesting part of the result. What was it about the interaction of that 25% with the treatment in question that made it work for them and not for the others? We are all different in uncountable ways, and it seems to me that progress in medicine isn't going to make any giant leaps until they accept that fact and start tailoring treatment to the individual patient.

Back off my soapbox, the book is a fascinating read and my copy is bristling with flags on interesting passages. A few examples...

About anxiety, he writes.

Everyday anxiety level is not a category to which psychologists have devoted a great deal of attention. The vast bulk of work on emotion is about "disorders"--helping "abnormal" people to lead "normal" emotional lives. In my view, not nearly enough serious science has been done to improve the emotional life of normal people--to help them lead better emotional lives. This task has been left by default to preachers, profiteers, advice columnists, and charismatic hucksters on talk shows. This is a gross mistake, and I believe that one of the obligations of qualified psychologists is to help members of the general public try to make rational decisions about improving their emotional lives.

About nature vs. nurture (genetic vs. environmental influences being dominant in psychological matters)

And make no mistake about the political side. It is no coincidence that Locke fathered both the idea that all knowledge is associations and the idea that all men are created equal. The behaviorists, scientific Lockeans all, dominated academic psychology from the end of World War I to the Vietnam era. John Watson began the behaviorist movement in the era of the melting pot. His popularity was in part the result of his covert message: The new immigrants were not inferior to the people already in America; they could be molded into the same high-quality stuff that the WASPs already were. The defeat of Hitler added fuel to American environmentalism: The genocide of the concentration camps filled my generation with determination never again to countenance genetic explanations of human psychology.


Some of what is difficult to change ties us to the life-and-death struggles of our ancestors. And it is not only our fears that are prepared. The sexual objects that we spend our lives pursuing, the aggression and competition we have such difficulty suppressing, our prejudice against people who look different from us, our masculinity or femininity, and those recurring obsessions we can't get out of our minds are all examples of psychological links to our biological past.

The last forty pages of the book are foot notes, and they're worth reading as well, not only because of the links to the studies Seligman cites, but also because some of the funniest parts of the book are in the notes.

What is needed now is an updated edition to include any new findings since this book's publication way back in 1993.

Posted by jeffy at 03:07 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

April 15, 2005

Oblivious to spring

cats curled on cushions ignoring flowering trees outside

Posted by jeffy at 10:41 PM in Cat Blogging , Photo Log | Comments (0)

April 11, 2005

Cold As Ice by Charles Sheffield

space ships above EuropaThis is one of the books that I discovered was connected to The Ganymede Club after I finished that book. Fortunately, it turns out the connection is pretty loose. Cold As Ice was published before Ganymede but takes place after. They have one character in common, but there's no dependency of understanding between the two books. Not to say the books aren't similar. They are. Very. And not. This one starts off with a ship at the end of the Great War (the interplanetary one, not our puny WWI) trying (in vain) to evade a smart weapon set on destroying them. The ship manages to send the children in their crew away in escape pods with little hope that they will be recovered in time to survive. The rest of the book takes place many years later and introduces a bunch of different characters who seem to be completely unconnected until they all start to collide and interact in interesting ways that all converge on Jupiter's moon, Europa. There's lots of fun sci fi stuff along the way (a very very very large array telescope (elements accross the entire inner solar system), submarine exploration of the oceans of Europa (and Earth), human genetic engineering) and the characters are engaging enough to make you want to find out what happens to them. It's a fun read and I'll keep working through Sheffield's stuff.

Posted by jeffy at 11:10 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

April 10, 2005

Vancouver, BC

We took a short vacation to Vancouver the week before last. We took the Amtrak Cascades from Seattle. It left at 7:30 in the morning which is pretty brutal for us, but the views along the water made it worth the pain.

One of the reasons we went to Vancouver is that we could get there without using a car (this was even back when we still had a car ;-), and Vancouver is dense enough that we could do lots of things without needing a car when we got there. In the end we didn't use any cars or buses on the trip (except for Rachel shuttling us to and from the station in Seattle). We walked just about everywhere and used their Skytrain light rail system to get us from the Amtrak station to within walking distance of our hotel.

We've vacationed in two northwest cities with light rail now (Portland was the first), and every time it makes us wonder why people resist it so much in Seattle. It's a wonderful way to get around. The trains come by every few minutes since they don't have to fight with cars for right of way. That frequency makes them immeasurably better than buses where if you miss your bus you're in for a half-hour wait or even longer especially out here in the suburbs. If you miss your train, you wait five minutes and get on the next one.

Plus, in Vancouver, light rail resulted in this beautiful bridge we saw as we came into the city on the train.

light rail bridge over the Fraser River in Vancouver, BC

We stayed at the Buchan Hotel which is in the West End neighborhood only a few blocks from Stanley Park and 8 or 10 blocks from downtown.

I was excited to stay in the West End since I keep hearing about it as a model of high-density living in the northwest (mostly from Northwest Environment Watch). I've never been anywhere with as many high-rise apartment buildings. All these people living in close proximity has all kinds of good side effects. It makes for a thriving commercial district with uncountable good restaurants, and shops. It makes transit viable so there are numerous bus routes that run frequently making it easy to get places without a car. The transit availability and business proximity make it possible to not even own a car so you need less area devoted to parking and roads, and the whole area gets quieter because there are less engines and tires moving through. It seems non-intuitive to anyone raised in the west that more people can mean fewer cars, but it's true.

Since we were so close to Stanley Park we spent one whole day there. We started off at the Vancouver Aquarium. We happened to be there during spring break so there were some lines to get in, but it was worth the wait. The most unique draw of this aquarium is their Beluga Whales (White arctic whales. The link is to the aquarium's real-time beluga-cam.), but their less flashy exhibits are all top-notch as well.

It was a nice sunny day when we were there (though windy and cold), and these two otters were just basking in the sun. The one on the right is holding on to the other's back foot to keep them rafted together and was in charge of thrashing his tail about to steer them back into the sun when they drifted into the shade.

two sea otters basking in the sun

Another of the attractions of Stanley Park is their collection of First Nations totem poles. Most of them are fairly modern reproductions, but they're a fascinating art form and these are nice examples.

totem poles against Vancouver, BC skyline

Another day we went to the Vancouver Art Gallery. We started off with their current exhibit Real Pictures: Photographs from the collection of Claudia Beck and Andrew Gruft (running through May 29), which has photos spanning the history of photography, over 300 pictures in all. I was all ready to buy the catalog until Becky pointed out the $85 cover price and sticker shock allowed me to escape the building without the big heavy book I would have had to carry home. We also saw their collection Emily Carr: Art, Place, Culture (ongoing) which highlights Carr's later work painting northwest forests and native culture.

On our last day in the city we bought day passes for the light rail and rode around a bit to see some more of the area. Our only major stop was at the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch, which opened in 1995. It's a really cool building. The library itself occupies a rectangle set within an ellipse forming the outer part of the building. All the seating and study areas are in the curvy outer portions of the ellipse with open air galleries running the full seven floors of the building. They have a spiffy self-guided architectural tour of the building (pdf) that we followed. We didn't use the library as patrons would, but based on our wandering around it seemed like a really wonderful library building.

The building complex includes a multi-story office building at one end of the ellipse which houses some government offices. One of the long sections of the ellipse has small shops and food vendors. I was enjoying a hot chocolate from one of those vendors when I took this picture

indoor courtyard outside the entrance to the Vancouver Public Library

The main entrance to the library is just to the right of this shot. We were happy to have a dry place to sit and enjoy a warm drink on this only rainy day of our trip.

We got back to the Amtrak station with plenty of time to catch our train home. Becky bought a book in the station shop which we realized as we were filling out the customs forms was the only thing besides postcards and food that we bought on the whole trip. The immigration check was handled right in the station in Vancouver before we got on the train. For some reason they X-rayed our bags. There was no baggage screen at all leaving Seattle. Then when the train crossed the border at Blaine, WA, the customs check was handled by agents from our Department of Homeland Security who worked their way through the train randomly questioning our trainmates. They barely glanced at our paperwork, just took it and moved on. Maybe it's just the name of the department that made them seem so odious. No matter how polite you are, the presence of a gun on your belt makes you kind of menacing.

We had a great time on our trip and will probably go again. It's a super-easy vacation from Seattle. I really recommend the car-free vacation. It's so much easier to negotiate a new town when you don't have to guide your own vehicle and find a place to put it and pay to park it and worry about it getting broken into. On foot you have the luxury of taking your time and moving through the city at a pace that lets you notice the details and feel the pulse of its life.

Posted by jeffy at 03:33 PM in Photo Log , Travelogue | Comments (1)

Cheryl Pflug's selective communication

I'm on an increasing number of mailing lists for organizations which alert me when legislation of interest to me is in need of a push to make it through the process. Back on March 10, I got email from Priorities for a Healthy Washington, a coalition of dozens of groups concerned with environmental issues in Washington state. The issue of interest that day was a bill in our state senate and they gave this background info:

In the U.S., buildings use one-third of our total energy, two-thirds of our electricity, and one-eighth of our water. Our buildings have a significant impact on our natural environment, so building them better can help protect salmon, clean air, and forests.

Senate Bill 5509 requires state agency, higher education, and K-12 school buildings to be built to a national standard for high performance green building, ensuring that these buildings perform better for the people who use them and for the environment.

The bill passed out of the House on a 78 to 18 vote, but faces a tougher fight in the Senate. Many Senators are undecided or wavering. Your email will help generate the "yes" votes we need to pass the bill.

I used their contact tools to send a note to my state senator (Issaquah is in the Fifth Legislative District, so that's Cheryl Pflug). I need to start saving a copy of the messages I send with these tools. I didn't on this one so I can't tell now exactly what my message said. I didn't have much hope that Senator Pflug would pay any attention to me on this issue since her past actions have shown she's not exactly an environmentalist.

Yesterday I got a letter on gold-embossed paper from Senator Pflug. Here's what she said:

April 7, 2005

Dear Jeff:

Thank you for contacting me regarding Senate Bill 5509 which would require public buildings to use high performance standards. I appreciate learning of your support.

You'll be happy to learn that SB 5509 has received the necessary approval in the Senate and House and has been sent to the Governor for her consideration.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office should you have any further questions or concerns. It is an honor and privilege to serve on your behalf.

[machine-printed signature]
Senator Cheryl Pflug
5th Legislative District

For a minute I entertained the possibility that Senator Pflug actually listened to my comment! Then I read what she wrote. Notice what's missing?

She tells me the bill passed out of the Senate, but she says nothing about how she voted. Hmm. Easy question to answer. She voted against it.

I have a hard time interpreting this letter any way other than that Senator Pflug wants me to think that she listened to my input and supported the bill I wrote about. Now I don't expect my representatives to always vote the way I want them to. But when I ask for their support I think they should give me an honest accounting of whether they were able to vote my way, and if not, then why not?

If Senator Pflug had added a paragraph to the letter above stating "I was unable to support SB 5509 for the following reasons..." I would have shrugged my shoulders and gone on with my life. She might have even changed my mind about the issue.

All she did with this lie of omission was make me angry.

Posted by jeffy at 01:42 PM in Soapbox | Comments (0)

April 09, 2005

Alejandro Escovedo at the Tractor Tavern

We went to the Alejandro Escovedo show tonight at the Tractor in Ballard. Oh my gosh!

Jon Dee Graham opened. He came out in a suit and tie looking like a respectable businessman, and then proceeded to blow that image completely away as soon as he started to play.

Jon Dee Graham

Graham's voice is Tom Waits gravel with a quiet tenor authority. He played acoustic guitar and sang heart wrenching lyrics, joking between tunes that "every teaspoon of pain makes me stronger!" It was a short set with wild dynamic range from rocking raucous blues all the way down to whispering ballads barely audible over the chatter of people arriving for the headline act.

After maybe a ten minute break (long enough for us to talk the friend who brought us to the show into fighting through the crowd to the sales table to snag all four of Graham's albums (two for us, two for him)), Alejandro Escovedo and his band came out and played a two-hour set with a fifteen minute encore. Graham plays lead electric and lap steel guitar for Escovedo so we got to hear more of him. The rest of the band is visible in this picture.

Alejandro Escovedo and most of his band

Keyboard, cello, Alejandro on rhythm/lead guitar, percussion, violin (you can see her arm), and bass.

Their music is hard to categorize. It's rock and roll but with lush arrangements using the strings, keyboard, and Graham's guitar to build a landscape of sound as a setting for Escovedo's forthright singing voice to deliver potent lyrics. I can't think how to describe it further. It was an amazing night of live music to make you grin until your cheeks hurt.

They're playing again Saturday night. See them if you can.

Posted by jeffy at 02:24 AM in Personal Interest , Photo Log | Comments (0)

April 08, 2005

Defending the homefront

kitties on a window sill glaring at exterior usurper wannabe
I need to try to take some more active pictures. Our kids are pretty sedentary, but not quite as much as the last few weeks' pictures make them seem. Here they are in a standoff with the neighbor cat who loves to sit in our carport and stare at them (our kitties are strictly indoor (well, except that Theo gets to go out on a leash once in a while)).

Posted by jeffy at 08:18 PM in Cat Blogging , Photo Log | Comments (0)

April 03, 2005

Lost Gloves #43

pair of gloves on the sea wall at Stanley Park, Vancouver BC

Our first full day in Vancouver we did some walking in Stanley Park and spotted this pair (which I'll count as one glove since they were right together) on the sea wall.

Posted by jeffy at 08:12 PM in Lost Gloves , Photo Log | Comments (0)

Lost Glove #42

glove with retracted fingers

We went to Vancouver B.C. last week, and five minutes after getting off the train I spied this subject in the middle of a jogging trail. I would have tried for a more interesting picture, but we were tired (we had to catch the train from Seattle at 7am for crying out loud), hungry, and starting to get cranky in the rain carrying all our luggage and not exactly sure where we were going.

Posted by jeffy at 08:07 PM in Lost Gloves , Photo Log | Comments (0)

April 01, 2005

Birthday present

two mostly white cats on clean black jeans
Our babies turned 8 today, and what could be a better present than a pair of black jeans fresh from the dryer? Not only do they get to be all cozy and warm, they also get the added pleasure of coating my outfit with cat hair before I've even had a chance to put it on!

Posted by jeffy at 10:12 PM in Cat Blogging , Photo Log | Comments (0)