August 26, 2005

Waiting for dinner

cat sitting on chair at dining room table

Posted by jeffy at 10:55 PM in Cat Blogging , Photo Log | Comments (0)

August 25, 2005

Lost Gloves #55

pair of knit cotton gloves, palms up, thumbs and index fingers overlapping
My friend Marilyn clued me in to the location of this pair about which she said "They look like a happy couple."

I about had a heart attack riding my bike up the enormous hill on whose slope they were resting in their conjugal bliss. I tried to take a picture that depicted how steep the road was, but you can't really tell. Plus, I liked the tire tracks you can see in this shot. I'll shoot the others up to Flickr for the curious.

My descent was as harrowing as the ascent was strenuous. I kept my speed under 35 through nearly continuous application of the brakes, but my brain always presents me with images of blowouts whenever I go fast on two wheels. No mishaps to report, fortunately.

Posted by jeffy at 11:24 PM in Lost Gloves , Photo Log | Comments (2)

August 24, 2005

New look

If you read this on the site, you'll notice there's a new look. If you're reading the feed, pop over and take a peek.

Since day one, Mad Times hasn't displayed properly in Internet Explorer. Every other browser I've ever tried has been able to display it as I intended, but IE wouldn't. I tried various CSS/HTML incantations to fix it a long time ago and none of it preserved the successful rendering in every other browser on the planet while fixing the problem with IE so I just left it alone. Then last week I took a look at Joel Spolsky's spec for his Project Aardvark where he said "We will use CSS for formatting but not positioning since CSS positioning is too buggy on modern browsers: we’ll just use tables for most positioning." And the scales fell from my eyes. Three lines of html (and half a dozen removed lines of CSS) later, the page renders identically on Firefox and IE.

Since I was tweaking the templates anyway I slapped in the new banner I'd been playing with and a few other little things. I decided not to go to the single-column format I'd tried out previously after some beta readers said they missed the sidebar and would be unlikely to look at another page for it.

Anyhoo, let me know what you think. And definitely let me know if you notice anything not working quite right.

BTW, the background image in the banner is a detail from a painting by Becky Brooks (my lovely and talented wife).

Posted by jeffy at 07:08 PM in Administrivia | Comments (0)

August 20, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

Harry and Dumbledore peering into a glowy green thingRead this the weekend after it came out (I was second in line to read Rachel's copy). The good news is that this is a far better book than the previous volume, almost completely lacking Order of the Phoenix's extreme case of logorrhea. Not to say it's not a weighty tome, but it doesn't go on and on and on to no purpose like the last book.

As the penultimate book in the series, it has a major case of middle-book syndrome, though. You can see Rowling moving everything into place to set up for the formidable task of wrapping up the story that's become a cultural phenomenon for a generation of kids. Unfortunately, it sure looks as if volume seven is going to be a "collect the plot coupons" story. Maybe she'll surprise me.

The best thing about the books has been the core characters of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Rowling has done a great job of growing them up. I especially enjoyed this book's treatment of their sexual awakenings. I really liked the way she portrayed Harry's inner hormonal turmoil.

I won't share any speculations about the implications of the book's ending. I've got some theories, but I'm perfectly happy to wait for the last book to see what happens.

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

Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer

pink dusk light reflected on a riverThis is a tiny little book (110 small pages) subtitled "listening for the voice of vocation". It was being used for a study in a mid-life spirituality group a few of our friends are in. We joined in. I don't do well with reading books a chapter at a time for a meeting. I tend to put it off until the last minute and then read the chapter even more quickly than usual and then go to the study, and then put the book down until it's time to cram for the next one. But while my appreciation of the book was hindered by this format, I did like what I read and will probably read it again some time.

The book is a collection of essays on various topics orbiting around the idea of vocation where "vocation" is close to Frederick Buechner's wonderful definition: the work that you most need to do that the world most needs to have done. The book concentrates mostly on the first half of that equation. Palmer tells about his own personal journey toward his vocation and in the process helps illuminate a common path that can lead us to our own most appropriate destination. Palmer is a Quaker, so the book is written with a religious bent, but it's a quiet and thoughtful religiosity that I think few could find offensive.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is Palmer's description of the process he used to make a difficult vocational decision. It's a Quaker practice called a "clearness committee" where Palmer assembled half a dozen of his most trusted friends for a three hour meeting. Rather than giving him advice, their job was to ask him honest, open questions aimed at helping him discover his own inner truth. The process was simultaneously excruciating and liberating as his friends helped him to cut through the bullshit stories he had been telling himself and get to the truth that was a little too scary to face on his own.

It's this sense of thoughtful honesty that makes the book so engaging. Plus you've got to like someone who can write these sentences: "Years ago, someone told me that humility is central to the spiritual life. That made sense to me: I was proud to think of myself as humble!"

Posted by jeffy at 03:10 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

August 19, 2005


laundry basket full of kittens piling on their mother
This is a picture of our kitties and their siblings with their mother a couple weeks after they were born eight years ago. Based on this snapshot of their early life, we think their personalities were already pretty well formed since they're both very much in character. See if you can find Alice and Theo in this pile of felinity (though their names were Wilbur and Mikey then.) Click the picture and read the notes to see if you got it right.

Posted by jeffy at 11:22 PM in Cat Blogging | Comments (0)

August 16, 2005

Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D.

the title in red on a while backgroundMy boss's boss made him read this book. Then my boss offered his team the opportunity to have their very own copy. Predictably, when offered a free book I said, "sure, why not."

The basic premise of the book is that all the usual self improvement focus on repairing one's weaknesses is wrongheaded. The authors contend that your weaknesses are part of your nature and while they can be mitigated, they're not going away. Instead, they posit that one is better served by identifying one's strengths and honing them to a razor edge and applying them as appropriately as one can to life's challenges.

This all begs the question of what your strengths might be. The Gallup organization who are behind this book have analyzed the data from studies of over two million people and distilled them down to a set of 34 strengths. Not only that, they've devised a questionairre which will tell them what your top five strengths are. You'd think that when you (or your boss) pay $30 for a cheesy management book, the questionairre would be included in the purchase price and you'd be right. Sort of. Printed on the inside of the dust jacket of the book is a code number you can use to take the test exactly once at the gallup web site. Whatever. It's not my money. So I took the test and, lo, my five biggest strengths are apparently:

input, intellection, ideation, adaptability, and relator

Of course to find out what those really mean you have to read the sections expanding on their meaning in the book. There are some vague sketch explanations on the web page, but they're only marginally better than the words alone.

None of their findings comes as a particular shock to me, but they are interesting. I was disappointed to learn that the book doesn't focus much on the honing part of the equation, but more on a management view. It talks about how you should relate to and deploy an employee who posesses a particular strength. I guess this would be useful if I were or wanted to be a manager, but since I'm not and don't, not so much.

It's a quick read, but I wouldn't recommend you spring for the book/test unless your boss will pay for it.

Posted by jeffy at 07:22 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust (repeat)

swashbuckly dude with a sword in front of a big stone phoenixAfter reading all those books that were slightly outside of my comfort zone, I wanted to read something that was pure fun. Brust's first Dumas pastiche fit the bill perfectly. The exaggeratedly florid style of this book and the ones that follow after just make me giggle with glee. And the book bears rereading very well. With all the twists and turns of allegiance and fortune, it's virtually impossible to remember the whole book with enough clarity to ruin all of the surprises. Great fun.

Posted by jeffy at 06:44 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

August 12, 2005

Fur circle


For more cat-bloggy goodness, check out Junku's flickr set of airborne cats. One of them is the spitting image of our Alice, and if I had a better camera I could take such pictures of Alice. Though Theo tends to do more flying.

If you're bandwidth challenged, just look at this one.

Posted by jeffy at 10:18 PM in Cat Blogging , Photo Log | Comments (0)

August 06, 2005

Raven's Shadow by Patricia Briggs

ravensshadow.jpgThe last Endeavour Award candidate I read for this year's award. And happily it was my favorite of the bunch. There ought to be a name for the flavor of fantasy this is. It's not epic exactly, there are no great quests or overwhelming evils or superhuman heroes or mystical beasts. The characters are all recognizably human with plausible talents and failings. The magic is subtle and inherent, not overly ritualized or attached to ancient artifacts.

The first chapter introduces Tier, who's returning home from a campaign as a soldier in the army. Along the way, he rescues Seraph (though there's some ambiguity about that. Her attackers may have thanked him had they known more about her). The remainder of the book takes up close to twenty years later, Tier and Seraph have been married nearly as long and have three teen-aged children. You could pitch the flavor of the story from here as The Incredibles in a medieval setting, but that's only a hint. In short, Tier disappears and the rest of the family sets out to rescue him. The details make it a gripping tale. Briggs introduces characters with abandon and each is complex and nuanced and interesting. In the end there's plenty of room for sequels, and I for one would be happy to read another book in this setting with these characters.

Posted by jeffy at 04:15 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

Dreams of the Desert Wind by Kurt R. A. Giambastiani

partially veiled woman's eyes lost in glareAnother candidate for the Endeavour Award, and the only one I really had to struggle to get through. I wanted to like it. The subtitle is "A modern fantasy of the Middle East" and that sounds like a great concept. But the book is too rough to deliver on the promise. The plot is driven by coincidence. The characters are cardboard cliche cutouts, the American student, the Israeli girlfriend, the shifty Arabic guide, the wise Bedouin patriarch.

And yet I can't condemn it completely, the prose was readable if a touch precious, and the pacing was good. I think with a firm editorial hand and a rewrite or two this could have been a good book, but it just isn't there yet.

Posted by jeffy at 04:02 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

August 05, 2005

Too darn hot

It's been sooo hot that the cats have been thiiiisssss long.
panoramic view of two cats presenting maximum cooling surface to the air
That's not a bright orange fez on Alice's tummy, it's a (underexposed, off-white) lampshade in the background.

Posted by jeffy at 10:57 PM in Cat Blogging , Photo Log | Comments (0)

August 04, 2005

A good day to be car-free

Becky went to the local multiplex and saw a movie this afternoon. She called me when she was done and I left work and met her at PCC where we got some food at the deli (and chatted with a friend who works there and another friend who was shopping). We sat at a cafe table outside and enjoyed the pleasant evening air and view of Tiger Mountain while we ate our dinner. We bought a bag of groceries and then went home.

All by bike.

Posted by jeffy at 10:49 PM in Transportation | Comments (0)