July 21, 2006


Half Persion 4-1
This weave has the not-very-evocative name of Half Persian 4-1. The instructions behind the link say "Half Persian 4-1 is widely considered one of the most difficult chainmaille weaves," but once I got past the tricky first few links, it was pretty easy which I must attribute to those being really good directions. I made this as a birthday present for my soon-to-be 5-year-old niece, but I got a little carried away and made it long enough for my wrist. Easy enough to make it shorter when I have her wrist in range to determine how much shorter.

I haven't mentioned here that we're going with said niece and her parents on a trip to the Philippines. We leave for CA on Saturday and leave the country on Monday night. So of course the most urgent thing I have to work on is a bracelet for a girl we already have gifts for. And the next most urgent thing is to blog about it.

Posted by jeffy at 01:22 AM | Comments (0)

June 11, 2006

Gaudy byzantine

brass, silver, and copper chain around a cat's neck

No, it's not a collar, Alice just got to be my model.

Cailyn mentioned that byzantine works well with different colors, so here's my first try at that. The rings are brass, copper, and nickel silver. It's the same size rings as in my first bracelet. I'm still not perfectly happy with my ring closures, but it's better than the last one at least. This one is going to go to my mother, but I think I'm going to wear it around for a while first. Sorry, mom.

Posted by jeffy at 01:13 PM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2006

Unexpected birthday present

The other day a box appeared on the doorstep with a return address from one of my cousins in California. I wasn't expecting anything from him, but the box had an enticing heft and clank to it. When I opened it up I discovered a bunch of old woodworking tools:

two wood planes, a bit brace with three bits, a try square, and two chisels

Unexpected tools in the mail are a real treat. But that's not the end of the story. When I read the enclosed card I found that these tools had belonged to my cousin's and my grandfather who died when I was 12.

My cousin had read about my predilection for old woodworking tools and sent these off to me. I am so touched by this and so happy to have these tools I can't even express.

They are, left to right, a WWII-era Stanley jack plane, a Shelton smoothing plane with a blade adjusting mechanism patented in 1933 (which means the plane was probably made before 1950), a 10" Millers Falls 1710 brace (manufactured from 1935 all the way up to 1981, this one looks to be from somewhere in the middle of that range and still works perfectly, just as I'd expect from a Millers Falls product) and a few well-used bits, a Disston try square still within a few thousandths of true, and a couple of nice socket chisels.

None of these tools has significant collectible value, but they just became favorites in my collection alongside the crosscut saw that belonged to my other grandfather. I'll give them a gentle cleaning, sharpening, and tuning and put them to use, add a bit to their history. And I'll have to start keeping an eye out for someone in the next generation to be their next users.

Posted by jeffy at 11:30 PM | Comments (0)

Chain mail balls

two colorful balls made out of chain links
Took another class from Cailyn Meyer last night and made these fun little balls. Have parts ordered to make more since juggling two gets boring pretty fast.

Posted by jeffy at 12:32 PM | Comments (0)

May 14, 2006

Another hobby

copper byzantine chain bracelet
Took a class yesterday that resulted in this bracelet for Becky. It's a chain mail pattern called "Byzantine". Took a couple of hours under the tutelage of my teacher Cailyn Meyer. It was really fun and I'm already signed up for another class. Just what I needed, another hobby.

Posted by jeffy at 10:05 PM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2006

Art Sale

We're having an Art & Craft Sale at our house in downtown Issaquah the weekend of May 6 and 7.

14 different artists and groups working in Mixed media, Photography (lost gloves!), Paper-cuttings, Textiles, Pottery, Handmade soaps, and more.

Saturday, May 6, 10am to 4pm
Sunday, May 7, 10am to 4pm


Posted by jeffy at 09:49 PM | Comments (1)

April 23, 2006

Party pictures

Finally got the disposable cameras from the party developed and cropped and tweaked and pushed up to flickr. View pictures galore. Thus ends party blogging 2006.

Posted by jeffy at 08:05 PM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2006

Party Game: Jeff or Becky?

I'll stop talking about our party soon. There were a few people who wanted to see the questions we used as bait to lure people around the house. Here they are. You should be able to see the answers pop up if you put your mouse over a question.

  • Who is older?
  • Who has Finnish ancestry?
  • Who sang in a jazz choir in college?
  • Who has traveled to Central America?
  • Who had been in only three states before they met?
  • Who was valedictorian of their high school class?
  • Who majored in math in college?
  • Who was an alternate on their school's state Academic Decathlon team?
  • Who attended four proms?
  • Who has worked on a factory assembly line?
  • Who worked at Jack in the Box (twice)?
  • Who took bowling for PE credit in college.
  • Whose father is an engineer?
  • Who learned to swim in Lake Okoboji?
  • Who got their parents' car stuck in a ditch while attempting to TP a teacher's house?
  • Who's had glasses since kindergarten?
  • Who got a full scholarship to an engineering college?
  • Who has a scar at the hairline on their forehead from a childhood accident?
  • Who saw the American Freedom Train® in 1975?
Posted by jeffy at 11:00 PM | Comments (2)

April 10, 2006

Birthday weekend

B and I have a tradition that rather than giving tangible gifts for birthdays we instead plan a day of fun activities for the celebrant. This weekend was my birthday, so Becky planned a day for me.

This got really long so I'm putting the details behind the fold.

First we went to the fabulous (and free!) Frye Museum. They currently have two temporary exhibits, Swallow Harder: selections from the Ben and Aileen Krohn collection and Candida Höfer: Architecture of Absence. The Krohn pieces are in a variety of media from video to sculpted cardboard to more traditional forms with subject matter as wide ranging. The Höfer is a collection of her photographs of architectural spaces, mostly European, mostly institutional, and mostly internal. The prints are pretty impressive just as artifacts with most of them being five or six feet on an edge. The photos are devoid of any human form (with a few partial exceptions (some include a vestige of a person who moved around the space during a very long exposure)) making them (even more than usual with photos) seem to depict a frozen eternal moment. Becky had seen them before with a drawing class where she'd seen them primarily as art works of shape and color and form. Seeing them again with me she got the photo geek's perspective of looking at the mechanics of how Höfer had framed the spaces, the difficulty of exposure and lighting, and my theories about what kind of equipment she must have been using to retain such linearity and detail in such huge prints. The Höfer is there only through April 16, so hurry over and take a look if you're in the area. You have another month to catch the Krohn stuff before it leaves on May 14. If you go, be sure to wander out past the cafe to see the exhibit of student work from their educational arm. There's always something good to see back in that corner.

From the Frye on Capitol Hill we took a scenic drive along Lake Union over through the University District out to Sand Point for the Best of the Northwest art and craft fair. These huge hangars are a treasure when it comes to having this kind of event in our rainy weather. We wove through the whole space. It's interesting to go to these sorts of things repeatedly over the years and see the ebb and flow of popularity of the various media. When we first moved to the Seattle area it seemed like everyone was doing Chihuly-inspired glass. This weekend's show seemed to have a much higher percentage of fibre art than usual with stuff ranging through woven work, fabric collage, and other wearable things. Beck found a fused glass necklace she liked. I got my second of Helen Todd's very cool abstract photographs. At least at the moment, it's here: Subdivisions. Hunting down her web page just now I discovered that she has a blog. Go buy her stuff. I also spent a fair amount of time chatting with Brian Watson a Bremerton artist who was showing his calligraphically carved wood sculptures. I liked his stuff, but none of the pieces he was showing sang loudly enough for me to get past the sticker shock. Not that his prices are too outrageous, more that I'm a cheapskate. Becky also had a chance to visit with her friend and teacher Anne Lewis who was there selling her fun graphic-arty collage pieces.

From there we headed over to Carmelita for dinner. Carmelita is a gourmet vegetarian restaurant and Oh My God, it was good. We shared this: "Humboldt Fog chevre, tomato-lavender chutney, Maletti 6 year balsamic, fennel pollen, crostini", Becky had this: "Leek and Grueyere tart, frisee salad, caper vinaigrette, potato galette" and I had this: "Nettle-potato gnocchi, asparagus, goat cheese cream, Taggiasca olives, pickled peppers, Parmesan crisp" and then we shared this: "Espresso-Chocolate Mousse, chocolate-praline shell, bitter orange, shortbread crust". All to-die-for despite the fact that in most cases we didn't have a clue what any of that stuff was ;-)

After dinner, a short drive took us to the Phinney Neighborhood Center where Beck had reserved tickets to see Ellis Paul. Neither of us had heard him before, but a friend of Becky's is a fan. The show was produced by the Seattle Folklore Society who haven't disappointed us yet (and share our birth year of 1966). As has so often been the case for us lately, the best part of the night was the opener, Antje Duvekot. she's a German-born, US-raised singer songwriter with a lovely voice. She's at that stage where she's sort of channeling a bunch of other singers and players (I was hearing Ani diFranco and Nancy Griffiths), but I predict that in a few years she's going to have settled down into a style of her own. Paul was good too, especially when he unplugged and walked out into the middle of the audience and did a few songs with just his voice and guitar. His style was in stark contrast to Duvekot's. He uses his voice to do some incredible virtuosic things, but it seems a little over-thought and too flowery. Still, we bought one of his CDs. We would have bought one of Duvekot's too, but she had a grand total of 10 copies of her disk with her and those were sold in exactly 7.3 seconds after her set ended.

It was a very fun day. Thanks, sweetie. Thanks also to our friend Marilyn who we are car-sitting for. It probably would have been possible to do all those things with the bus, but we would have gotten wetter and had to walk a lot farther and I probably wouldn't have been up for it as I was (and am) still recovering from a cold.

Sunday was a little more easy-going with a morning run to our local gallery, Revolution (which used to be Evolution before it revolved to another owner) where they were having an artist's tag sale. Becky found some bargains, and I enjoyed poring over the densley packed displays in the gallery.

Back home I read a little bit and then did maintenance on our fleet of bikes.

Our friend Karen picked us up at 5 and we went to Capitol Hill for Ethiopian food (can't remember which of the six Ethiopian places (all within a few blocks of eachother) we went to, but it was good). Then we went to hear a lecture by Kevin Phillips, author of American Theocracy at Town Hall. Looks like you can see the lecture on the Seattle Channel later in the month. Phillips is a lapsed Republican and made a case for much of the disaster that is the Bush administration being the result of George's particular evangelical messianic delusions. Of course a Seattle crowd doesn't take much convincing of this, but his talk was interesting and occasionally funny, and while he didn't really have any answers it's cheering to see that there are people who self-identify as conservatives who have had it with the current administration and the current direction of the Republican party. Afterwards we went to Espresso Vivace Roasteria for coffee and conversation.

And if that wasn't enough excitement for one weekend, when we got home we found that Rachel had made me a cake! Plus there were presents. Goodness.

Posted by jeffy at 01:29 PM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2006


guest wall guest art

The party went really well. 72 people showed up over the course of the five hours and it seemed like everyone had fun. We didn't run out of anything but party favors (see below) and I'm making more of those.

The pictures are of our guest wall where we had people sign their names, and of the art project we had set up for people to work on. We're not good at the mingling thing when we're at other people's parties so we made sure to have some things for people like us to do.

The other thing that worked out just like we planned was having a little trivia game to lead people around the house. We made signs that said "Jeff or Becky?" and each had a fact about one or the other of us with a post-it note covering up the answer so people could make a guess before looking at the answer. We made 20 of them and put them all around the house so people would be forced to move around a bit. Plus have something to make fun of us about (we talked about adding a 21st question "who is the biggest dork?" with the answer being "you tell us.")

Finally, we gave away a party favor of a CD with a bunch of songs by artists we really like. Since I'm still kind of in the party mood, I'm offering a copy of the CD to the first ten readers who ask in the comments or via email. I'll email you and you can send me a mailing address if I don't already have it. (This is partly a test to see if I have ten readers who got this far ;-) Mom, I'm already sending you one, so you don't count. I'd tell you who's on the disc, but that would ruin the surprise. Good stuff, trust me. Don't be shy, what's a little postage and plastic between friends?

Posted by jeffy at 11:21 PM | Comments (5)

March 15, 2006


Becky and I are both turning 40 this year so we're having an open house party thing between our birthdays to celebrate. If you actually read this blog, it'd be fun to have you come.

When: Saturday, March 25, 2006, 3-7pm (or until whenever)

Where: Our house in Issaquah, WA. Let me know if you wanna come and I'll set you up with directions. Or you could try to deduce my location from info on the internets. Not too hard.

What: Food, Fun, and Friends

How: Come as you are! Come whenever you like! No gifts, please!

If you're interested, leave a comment, or email me.

It's going to be fun to see our various friend circles collide.

Posted by jeffy at 04:36 PM | Comments (3)

February 06, 2006

SF short film festival

Caught the first annual Science Fiction Short Film Festival at the Cinerama on Saturday. There were twenty films shown in two two-hour sessions of ten films each.

I've never seen short films in the theatre before (except for a couple of the ones Pixar slapped in front of its features). It's kind of overwhelming to see ten films in under two hours with only a few seconds of black between the credits of one and the opening of the next. Plus I have a terrible memory and didn't take any notes in the first session so it's a good thing Rachel was there and can remember things or I wouldn't have been able to put together the titles on the Audience Award ballot with the films they stood for. In the second session I was on my own and took hurried notes in the brief dark gaps between the films. (The web site for the festival (link above) includes one-liner descriptions of all the films, but the festival program unaccountably does not, offering only bios of the film makers!)

There was something to enjoy in every one of the films. Enough so that I'd have a hard time picking a top three. I stayed for the awards (based on scoring by a panel of judges), and was a little surprised by the results. Circus of Infinity and Heartbeat tied in 5th, Cost of Living in 4th, Microgravity in 3rd, Red Planet Blues in 2nd, and They're Made Out of Meat the winner. The audience award went to Cost of Living.

My favorites were (in the order they were screened) (links to the film's website for those I could find):

La Vie d'un Chien (The Life of a Dog) about a scientist who discovers a drug which will transform a person into a dog, which made wonderfully effective use of the sneaky trick (apparently pioneered by another film maker (credited in the film)) of composing a film completely of still photographs with a wonderful deadpan French voiceover and subtitles.

Heyday was a fairly straightforward time travel romance (think Somewhere In Time) distinguished by wonderful performances by its actors.

The Grandfather Paradox about a physics professor who is forced to act out the grandfather paradox (and finally create a twist on it) when he is attacked by his time travelling grandson in the middle of his lecture. Very funny.

Perfect Heat had a nearly incomprehensible story, but made up for that with gorgeous visuals integrating live action, filmed drawings, and animation in a wonderfully surreal way.

Red Planet Blues was one of only two fully animated films, and the only one using clay models. It depicted a whimsical interaction between a Martian and one of the Mars rovers.

Super-Anon was a mockumentary about a support group for family members of super heroes. Very funny.

They're Made Out of Meat is from a short-short story by Terry Bisson (who emcee'd the festival) which consists completely of a conversation between two aliens. The film sets the conversation in a diner and intersperses it with the antics of the human customers.

Cost of Living is another conversation format, this one between an aging man and a new body salesman. Excellent performances and a well written story.

Welcome to Eden was the only fully computer animated film. About the first flight of the first light-speed drive ship. I liked the (too loud in the screening) surf music and snappy dialogue paired with goofy retro modern animation.

Wireless is a well-executed film noir treatment of what might as well be John Varley's classic novella Press Enter (but isn't).

I'd love love love to have a DVD of the full festival's movies. I'll definitely plan to attend again next year.

Posted by jeffy at 07:13 PM | Comments (1)

January 22, 2006

Too much exercise

A friend at work is trying to talk me into riding the Chilly Hilly on February 26. It's a 33-mile bike ride on Bainbridge Island with a total of 2875 feet of altitude gain. This is a far cry from my usual day's ride which is 3 very flat miles each way.

So today I took a longer and climbier ride to see if this is even doable in a little over a month. The answer: maybe. Here's a cool map and altitude profile of today's ride using the google maps pedometer. My odometer says I rode 18 miles vs. the virtual pedometer's 16.3, but I think that's just from rounding off corners and ignoring a couple little divergences from the basic route. So there's some comparable climbing, though not as many up and downs.

I felt pretty good right up until the last three miles (which are coincidentally my normal commute) at which point I was running out of steam. This could be because I did the ride first thing in the morning (for a jeffy definition of "morning") and didn't eat before I left or along the way. Dumb, I know.

The eating issue actually points to one of the things that's going to be hardest for me in doing a ride of this length. As long-time readers will know, I've got a medical condition that makes it hard for me to swallow stuff. Some portion of any food or liquid I consume just sits in my esophagus for a long time unless I drink water for an hour after eating, or actively spit it out. This is an issue even drinking water on the bike. The last of the water stays in my throat and if I'm not careful I can accidentally inhale it especially when I'm puffing like a steam engine as I was for a large portion of this ride. It's easily fixed, I just have to spit it out, but I feel kind of self-concious about doing this around other people, and on a ride with 4,000 other cyclists there will be other people around. I guess I just need to get over it. It becomes more of an issue when I'm riding in chilly weather (and I'm probably straying into the area of Too Much Information here (as if I haven't already), so if you're squeamish, skip the rest of this paragraph...) my nose gets runny, as I assume pretty much everyone's does. Blowing your nose on the bike is pretty awkward so the natural tendency is to do some aggressive inhaling and make the drip post-nasal. That works fine if stuff in your throat gets swallowed, but not so much in my case. (I must admit that the whole mucus question is part of why I haven't taken up swimming at the local pool. Pathetic, I know.)

Okay, I'm done being gross now. I enjoyed the ride overall. It took a little under an hour and a half on the bike to do the 18 miles, and about two hours total door to door (my trip odometer only counts time when the bike is moving.) At about mile seven I stopped for a little while at the Sammamish Library and browsed a bit (picked up a stack of CDs). They have a very cool display of NW native-style wood carvings made by the students of a local woodworking school I'd never heard of, Beaver Lake WoodWorks. The pieces on display were very cool. I might have to take one of their classes! The studio where it's taught is about six miles from here, though it's up that dang hill...

Posted by jeffy at 08:48 PM | Comments (1)

January 20, 2006

Weight lifting for geeks

It occurs to me that I haven't mentioned my workout routine here. Back in June of last year I read an entry in Avram Grumer's livejournal about an exercise program with the unlikely name of "Shovelglove" that had something to do with a sledgehammer. Avram linked to the web page which told me this scheme was created by a guy named Reinhard Engels. I tucked the link away in del.icio.us and unlike with most things I tuck in del.icio.us I didn't promptly forget about it. In August I spent $20 at Lewis Hardware for a 10-pound sledge hammer which sat in the corner for another couple of months before I finally started using it.

The basic idea is to use the sledge hammer to make movements that are similar to those used to do real work--the kind of work people who don't sit at a desk all day do. There's a movement like you're shoveling gravel, and one like you're pounding a fence post, and a bunch of others. That's where the "shovel" part of the name comes from. The "glove" part comes from the old sweater that Engels wrapped around the business end of his sledge hammer to keep it from scratching up his floors and knocking holes in his ceiling. I've got carpeted floors and while the ceilings are low, I've carefully gauged what range of motion I can use without doing any damage to them (or the TV or the windows or the cats, though they're harder to judge) so I just use mine naked. (The sledge hammer! Not me. You people.)

The other excellent bit of design in this program is that you're supposed to wave your sledgehammer around for just 14 minutes a day and only on week days. Engels chose this timespan since it is shorter than the smallest schedulable timespan: 15 minutes. It's really hard to pretend that you can't spend 14 minutes on something.

The other thing that I like about it is that it's pretty much silent so I can do it after everyone's gone to bed without bothering anyone.

It's silly, but it really works. Not that it's saying much, but I've got more upper body strength than I've had in decades after doing this five(ish) days a week most weeks for a couple months. I actually have biceps! I still look more like a pudgy Lance than an Arnold, but I'm a geek, any upper body strength beyond what's needed to lift my coffee cup is impressive. Plus I'm getting pretty good at swinging a sledge hammer around. Now all I need is some demolition work to do.

Posted by jeffy at 01:54 AM | Comments (2)

January 15, 2006

Transportational wisdom

Grist has a fun little interview with Kipchoge Spencer, the president of Xtracycle (the makers of the cargo bike frame extension I put on my bike last year).

He says some really sensible things both there and in the section where he answers questions from readers, but one bit in particular I thought was so well put that I wanted to highlight it. A reader asked about his car-free lifestyle and Spencer responded in part:

I started by choosing to live within biking distance of my work. I see this as a crucial eco-lifestyle choice that has its own rewards, whether or not you're car-free. I also live close to my favorite food store and to several friends. The most efficient kind of transportation is already being where you want to go.

That last sentence is just a brilliant reframe of the whole transportation conundrum.

When I'm talking to people about our car-lite lifestyle and mention that I'm just a three-mile bike ride from work they almost invariably say "You're so lucky you can do that."

My response is that luck has absolutely nothing to do with it. We live where we do precisely because it is close enough to work that I can easily bicycle. Even when we still owned a car it was important to us to be able to keep that car singular, and the best way to do that was to make sure that my bike remained a viable commute vehicle, and the best way to do that was by living close to work.

Update: Kipchoge has posted the unabridged version of the interview on his blog The Pleasant Revolution. Well worth reading the whole thing.

Posted by jeffy at 09:17 PM | Comments (3)

January 08, 2006

jeffy's 2005 in books

Perhaps a better preposition would be "out of". By my count I finished a whopping 36 books in 2005. I believe this is the fewest books finished by quite a lot since I started keeping track in 1992. I suspect it's the fewest books finished in any year since I got my first library card.

I can't decide which was the worse culprit in this pathetic showing: time spent reading blogs and other stuff on the internet, or time spent watching tv shows on DVD. I'm not prepared to give up either of these activities altogether, but clearly a better balance must be found.

Might have to trim the blogroll a bit. I currently have 190 feeds. This week I kept track, and 110 of those feeds updated for a total of about 1200 entries. That's just one week! Normally I try to read everything dry each day so I don't notice the sheer volume of material I've been going through.

Probably should cut back a smidge on the TV show DVDs too. We've been watching Buffy and Angel regularly and in 2005 watched full seasons of Firefly and West Wing and Joan of Arcadia and Battlestar Galactica and Sex and the City (done with SatC finally). We've got seasons of Seinfeld sitting around and Northern Exposure will come from the library soon.

I'm less begrudging of the time spent watching movies. I'll summarize our year in film in another post.

Posted by jeffy at 07:02 PM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2005

Sale report

Well, the sale didn't attract a lot of people (of course it was in a house in the heart of a twisty subdivision in the wilds of Everett, and the weather was nasty all weekend), but seven glove pictures changed hands even so. All to friends, relations, and fellow artists, but still, that's pretty cool. Most were bartered for other works of art which is pretty nifty too.

I'm thinking about adding the ability to purchase prints of the glove pictures here on the web page. Anyone interested? I was asking $50 for a matted 8x10 at the sale and would probably stay within 20% of that. Too much? Too little? ;-) Be open to trading for cool stuff you make if you're cash-poor and/or stuff-rich.

Don't expect I'll be quitting my day job any time soon, but maybe I can start a new camera fund.

Posted by jeffy at 10:24 PM | Comments (0)

October 16, 2005

The canoe and the starship

Back in 1978, Kenneth Brower wrote a book about Freeman Dyson and his son George. Freeman is a rocket scientist who (among many other things) proposed propelling spacecraft with atomic explosions. George is obsessed with the kayaks of the Aleutian island peoples. The book was called The Starship and the Canoe.

This week I flipped the order of the topics from Brower's title by attending a lecture about the baidarka by George Dyson at Town Hall on Tuesday, and a panel of rocket scientists (unfortunately not including Freeman Dyson, but still) at the Science Fiction Museum on Thursday.

Read on for what I got out of the two talks...

Dyson told the story both of his beloved Aleutian kayak (baidarka) and of his own journey of discovery as he researched the boat and built his own versions. He illustrated his talk with dozens of historical and modern pictures of baidarkas both traditional and his more avante garde models. I wondered whether he was playing up his role in the proliferation of modern sea kayaks, but his presentation was otherwise so self-deprecating that I think he at least believes there's a connection. Since I'd already read Brower's book as well as Dyson's Baidarka (now out of print), there wasn't too much new to me in his talk, but it was fun to put his halting, but intense presentation style together with his work.

Thursday night's lecture brought to mind the phrase "rocket science rock stars" with this lineup:

  • Vernor Vinge, richly awarded science fiction author (and also math PhD and long-time math and computer science professor at SDSU)

  • Michael Laine, president of LiftPort Inc., a Bremerton company with a 15-year plan to build a working space elevator

  • Jordin Kare, freelance rocket scientist and leader in the design of laser launch and propulsion systems.

  • Robert M. Winglee Chair of the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington and specialist in plasma propulsion systems.

  • Geoffrey A. Landis award winning science fiction author and NASA scientist (currently working on the Sojourner Rover team on the Mars Pathfinder Mission)

Be still my heart!

Vinge started off with a prepared talk that strongly echoed something George Dyson had said on Tuesday. Dyson talked about Jared Diamond's latest book, Collapse and pointed out that the reason the Aleutian indian culture survived for ten thousand years basically unchanged is that their culture existed in scores of different islands in the archipelago with reasonably frequent communication among them. Dyson suggested that this dispersion made their culture resistant to the disruptive forces (war, natural disasters, disease, etc.) that might otherwise have wiped them out wholesale.

Vinge's talk pointed out (at least in my mind) the fact that as long as we restrict ourselves to this one little planet we are vulnerable to potential complete destruction of our species. If we want to survive, we need to pursue long-term self-sustaining human habitats outside of Earth. The primary impediment to this goal is the fact that we sit at the bottom of a deep gravity well. The remaining members of the panel presented their ideas for how to make getting out of that well and into space economical.

The most daring idea is that of Laine's LiftPort, Inc. Their vision is to build a ribbon of material constructed from carbon nanotubes that would stretch from a terrestrial anchor point in a boat on the equator to a point 62,000 miles away in space. A ribbon-climbing robot elevator car could then carry material (and people!) from Earth into space. Laine was up front about the fact that there are a bunch of steps in this plan that aren't currently possible, but the company is taking an interesting approach to the project by trying to develop the technology as they go and use more mundane applications of their work to help fund their ultimate goal.

Jordin Kare is taking almost the opposite approach with his proposal for a laser launch system. The idea of this method of launch is that chemical rockets are almost self-defeating since they need so much fuel to get out to space that they need more fuel just to carry the fuel. So Kare's plan is to build an array of powerful lasers which can target a heat exchanger on the side of a reusable launch vehicle which carries a relatively small quantity of propellant which is heated to propulsion temperatures by the lasers. Kare maintains this plan is doable with current or very near future technology and even better can be tested on a small scale instead of requiring billions of dollars to get to a prototype. Of course the small scale trial still needs millions of dollars so it's not completely trivial (otherwise it would already be done!)

Winglee's pet project is not a launch system (at least I don't think there were launch applications of this technology), but instead a method of moving spaceships around the solar system. One approach is to utilize an electromagnetic field sail to propel a ship using the continuous rain of plasma particles being sent out from the sun. He also talked about direct plasma drive systems. It was cool that his research is being conducted right here at the UW.

Finally, Landis gave a presentation about the why, what, and how of interplanetary travel and colonization, talking about the possibilities presented by the various celestial bodies from our moon to floating habitats in the clouds of Venus to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

It was exhilarating to hear these passionate scientists talk about their visions for the exploration and coloinzation of our solar system.

The audience had a bunch of extremely erudite questions including the one I expected referring to the catastrophic failure of a Martian space elevator in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. Apparently while that scenario was good science at the time, more recent scholarship indicates such a catastrophe is not a likely outcome. (And Robinson himself will be making this point in an essay to be published in an upcoming collection about space elevators commissioned by LiftPort)

Someone asked what we can do to get some of these ideas implemented. Laine jokingly suggested, "write a check," but acknowledged, along with the other panelists that the question is largely political. Like all political questions the answer is to let those in power know that these issues are important to you (or as one audience member pointed out to run for office yourself!)

Posted by jeffy at 01:12 AM | Comments (0)

May 07, 2005


Five, seven, five comes
only once per hundred years...
let's write bad haiku!

Or read good ones.

I suppose the Europeans should do it on July 5th...


Here's some haiku translations of Shakespeare's first twenty sonnets.

Posted by jeffy at 10:34 PM | Comments (2)

May 06, 2005


Every once in a while I see a hit on this page in my referrer logs that resulted from someone searching for the string "ahhhhh". I always wondered why anyone would search for such a thing (I often wonder this while looking at my referer logs), and one reason that came to me was to determine the frequency of occurrence of the various possible spellings of ahh.

With the internet, no question must remain unanswered (except maybe for the question of why I have such a hard time doing anything useful with my time?), so I spent a little time doing google searches for all the possible numbers of H's in the word.

One unlooked-for lesson learned in the process is that Google doesn't index words longer than 128 characters.

As for the frequency, as you'd expect, it's rather logarithmic. Here's the graph:

graph of relative frequencies of spellings of the word ah by number of occurrences of the letter h. Most are less than 10, but there is some interesting variation in the higher numbers.

(The strange x-axis labels are a byproduct of the combination of excel's brain-deadness and my own.)

The zone from 25 to about 35 is pretty interesting. Can't come up with a theory to explain it. I expected to see a major spike at around 79, but it's not there.

Here's the raw data from today if you want to do further analysis or animate it over time or something.

Posted by jeffy at 05:32 PM | Comments (1)

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 | Comments (4)

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 | Comments (0)

March 26, 2005

Behavior refinement

I've been reading the 43 Folders mailing list (spawned by Merlin Mann's 43 Folders blog which has also now spawned a 43 Folders wiki). 43 Folders refers to the number of file folders needed to make a tickler file (12 for the months of the year, 31 for the potential days of each month) as described in David Allen's book Getting Things Done. The list (and blog and wiki) are for exploring the kinds of personal productivity hacks that the tickler exemplifies.

A recent post on the list by Joshua Newman talked about using checklists to organize commonly performed tasks, and also to control certain procrastination behaviors. What he said about the procrastination avoidance matched up precisely with what I've been reading in The Now Habit by Neil Fiore. The tactic in question is scheduling time to partake of your most pernicious procrastination practices, and giving it priority. The idea is that if you know that your schedule includes time specifically reserved for reading blogs (to pick an example completely at random), then you will be less likely to try to steal blog reading time from the other tasks on your list.

The other thing Newman was advocating was putting even the minor things on your checklist since even though things like brushing your teeth are seemingly obvious and tiny, it still takes a finite amount of mental attention to ensure you don't forget about them. If they're on the list then they're off your mind.

All of this theory sprang to mind the other morning when I was trying to get out of the house. Every day, despite the utterly routine tasks involved, I find myself in a morning haze taking endless circles through the house gathering the various thingies and performing the various small tasks that must be done before I can leave for work. Somehow through the fog a light came on and I realized I was living through a prime example of where a checklist would be of great value. Once I'd gotten myself to the bus stop and had nothing to do until the bus arrived, I pulled out my Palm and started a list. So far my list of morning actions has 41 items on it. No wonder I'm such a mess in the morning!

Almost a quarter of those items are things that go into my bag or my pockets that have to be gathered up each morning. This reminded me of another 43 Folders thread, this time pointing to a Flickr tag called whatsinyourbag where people post annotated pictures of the contents of the bag they schlep around with them. Becky can attest that I have spent an embarassing amount of time looking at pages and pages of pictures of the contents of other people's bags. So I've added mine.

The other tangentially related thing is the 43 Things site. 43 things (no relation to 43 folders, believe it or not) is a place where folks can define life goals and give and receive support in working towards them from and to the other people on the site. I'd seen a bunch of people referring to it, but then I saw that Tara had a list there so I had to go make a list of my own. I'm still deciding how (and if) I'm going to use it, but one of my things is "make my morning routine more efficient" so there's your connection to the rest of this post.

I'm pretty sure this post has more links in it than any other post in the history of my blog.

Posted by jeffy at 05:42 PM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2004

Computer follies

So computers. Our windows desktop wouldn't boot.

I'd been obsessing about what to get for our next computer (like I do) for at least a year. When the wave function collapsed I found I'd ordered a Mac.

Four days later we had our shiny 14" iBook G4. It came out of the box with a full charge on the battery. Hit the power, it booted in about 3 seconds to the setup screen, entered a little bit of info and poof! It's a computer. Found our wireless network with no hassles and poof! It's an internet terminal. Plug in my digital camera and poof! it downloads the pictures into iPhoto.

Set up separate accounts for each of us so we can all have our own settings. There's a bit of a learning curve for us getting used to the Mac UI metaphors, but for the most part, it just works.

Meanwhile back in pc land, got a copy of XP and a new hard drive and some advice from a pc repair geek at work. Spent Saturday installing XP (lost count of how many reboots it took. Lots.) and enough apps to access the data on the dying drive (fortunately not quite dead). Had to go through most of the office to find all my install disks for all the applications I needed to install, so took the opportunity to file them all neatly each in their own folder in our file cabinet. Spent Sunday getting it onto the network and exporting our Quicken data and importing it again on the Mac. (Somewhere in that process is a bug that loses duplicate transactions in a single day, so I had to spend some time with both computers side by side, tracking down the days on which we made multiple $40 withdrawals and hand-entering them on the new box. That was tedious.)

Haven't turned the PC back on since I finished that process on Sunday. B and I have both been logged in to the Mac since Monday, switching between our separate logins each time the machine changes hands. Put it in standby when we're done (just close the lid, and the little pulsating white light (that you can't tell is there when it's off) goes on to say "I'm ready whenever you want to come back and play.") Haven't rebooted yet.

Every time I see the rotating cube animation it uses to indicate the transition between users I want to giggle with delight. Haven't felt that way about a computer since... well, my first Palm comes close, but before that I have to go back to the first time I played with a NeXT.

There's a few things that bug me about it and I'm sure I'll find more, but mostly it's just fun.

Posted by jeffy at 11:02 PM | Comments (2)

October 15, 2004

100 reasons not to blog

  1. Firefly
  2. reading blogs
  3. sleep
  4. too much trouble to resize picture
  5. comment spam
  6. Buffy
  7. picture not good enough
  8. didn't take a picture
  9. work
  10. nice outside
  11. weboggle
  12. too far behind
  13. can't decide which entry to write first
  14. have started not watching movies because it would lengthen the backlog of movie reviews I need to write and post, and anything that can make me do something that stupid shouldn't be supported
  15. ditto books
  16. should make lunch
  17. need to empty dishwasher
  18. cat box needs cleaning
  19. my blogging isn't as interesting as other people's
  20. people might read it and see what a dork I am
  21. too busy working on the campaign
  22. should be working on the campaign
  23. nobody reads it anyway
  24. yeah, okay, three people
  25. they probably should be doing other things too
  26. too much trouble to find and edit in all the links I want to add
  27. need to redo my templates and style sheets first
  28. have to upgrade Moveable Type
  29. or maybe I should switch to Word Press
  30. or Grey Matter
  31. too busy writing in my Live Journal
  32. can't decide whether it should go in my blog or my Live Journal
  33. might embarass my family
  34. maybe I completely missed the point of that movie
  35. looking at the stars
  36. need to fix my bike's rear brakes
  37. the car needs new tires
  38. who needs to hear another political rant at this point?
  39. might start another series that I'll have to obsessively keep up with
  40. I have a new niece: Fiona Eileen Curley born 10/14/04
  41. kitties want to play
  42. could use a shower
  43. rather read a book
  44. The Daily Show (on tape)
  45. blogging doesn't pay the bills
  46. blogs don't cuddle
  47. what have i got to prove?
  48. i could be selling all my stuff on ebay
  49. shisensho
  50. lawn needs mowing
  51. hardwood floors would be nice
  52. no wifi on my palm
  53. tiger mountain is three blocks away
  54. always wanted to learn to kayak
  55. The West Wing (on DVD)
  56. portland is only three hours by train
  57. vancouver is less
  58. if i did it today they'd expect it every day
  59. no gloves
  60. some psycho might deduce where i live and steal all my good stuff
  61. keep thinking i should pick up trash along my commute route
  62. wastes electrons
  63. people in china don't have blogs
  64. girls might think i'm sexy if my blog was cooler, but i'm happily married so i'd have to turn them down and they'd be sad
  65. might accidentally give away how self-absorbed i am
  66. could use up all my allotment of good ideas
  67. might lead to having to talk to people
  68. need to find a good recipe for baked beans
  69. Angel (on DVD)
  70. batteries going dead on laptop
  71. windows crashed
  72. Six Feet Under (on DVD)
  73. maybe i should jump on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon
  74. I think i'm going for a walk
  75. can't fit post in 4k palm memo
  76. have to learn to photoshop pictures into betterness
  77. haven't posted all the other things i've got a draft for yet
  78. might wake up Becky
  79. have to return some email
  80. need to delete a few thousand emails
  81. vocabulary too limited
  82. not enough time before I have to leave the house
  83. post will be longer than anyone could reasonably be expected to read
  84. no one will leave any comments
  85. should I really be displaying my neuroses for all the world to see?
  86. might get some comments
  87. wouldn't exercise be a better use of the time?
  88. Carpal Tunnel
  89. this chair makes my butt fall asleep
  90. I'm late
  91. preview templates in moveable type don't look anything like the final version
  92. need to surf the blogs I read yesterday to see if anyone has responded to the comments I left
  93. have to look up the html to cause the list to continue across the extended entry
  94. or maybe it will just work
  95. have to get ready for work
  96. should check work email before I go to lunch
  97. hey look, I have gmail
  98. have to try out Google Desktop Search
  99. wanted to revise my site stat collector
  100. I really am late

Posted by jeffy at 11:19 AM | Comments (10)

September 02, 2004

Got GMail?

I've got invites. Let me know if you want one.


Posted by jeffy at 06:00 PM | Comments (0)

August 21, 2004

Busy day

Becky and Kate did a yard sale today. I'm Mr. Put-Up-Signs which I did late last night, but I had to check them this morning to make sure the Issaquah sign police (not kidding) hadn't taken them all down. This was at the hour of 9am which is several hours before my accustomed time of arrival in the world of the wakeful.

Signs were still up so I helped move the heavy stuff from the garage to the yard and thought about going back to sleep. But we're having something like 30 people over to our house on Monday night to meet one of our local Democrat candidates so I swept the remains of the irises off the front walk and then decided to cut the edges which hasn't been done in a year or more, then swept again and swept out the carport and sprayed out the carport and then swept out the carport again. Might not have been at my most efficient today.

I was going to clean the window screens, but I couldn't find the brush I usually use to do that even with Becky applying her feminine locate-lost-stuff super powers. So I biked to the hardware store and bought a new brush with a little handle on the back and everything. Then since I was right there I went to the bike shop and looked at helmets, but didn't buy one and then went to Mills Music and bought an easy piano songbook. Then I went home and cleaned the screens.

By this time it was about time to leave for the gallery (it's about an hour drive from here). Took a shower, helped Becky stow the garage sale for redeployment tomorrow, and drove to Kate and Mark's to pick them up since they wanted to go. Made it through various traffic snarls to hit the gallery where I got to meet Jeff, Dylan, Tara, Samantha, Mikey, and John, and had fun looking at everyone's pictures. I was my usual not-very-good-at-being-social self, not managing to exchange more than a few dozen words the whole time we were there. Everyone seemed nice, and like yet unlike their blog selves.

Shortly after we got to the gallery it started raining really hard. It was lovely. But it further snarled up the usual river of cars heading up I-5 so we spent a while poking along at 5mph. Finally dropped off Kate and Mark, went home by way of the cat food store and Flying Pie, checked that the garage roof wasn't leaking on the yard sale stuff yet, and watched a couple of episodes of Angel to keep from crashing completely before 10pm. Looks like I might get to sleep before 3 tonight.

Posted by jeffy at 11:53 PM | Comments (3)

August 17, 2004

Coffee Table: Design

I took a woodworking class through BCC a few years ago. In it I got most of the way through building a stepstool based on some plans from Woodsmith magazine. I learned a lot in the class, but the two biggest things were:

  1. I don't like power tools. Not one little bit.
  2. I don't like working from other people's plans.

I'd been thinking about building a coffee table. The last thing I built was a footstool in a traditional style. For this project I wanted something a little more minimalist and modern. I did some design in my head and tried and discarded some ideas on paper before settling on a design whose entire documentation is in this picture:

pencil drawing of rectangles with dimensions on white paper

Probably doesn't make sense to anyone but me. It's a table of a standard coffee table height (17-3/4 inches) with a smaller shelf below and legs which extend below the shelf and between the shelf and top. The joinery is tenons set in mortises cut directly into the table top and shelf. It's about as simple a table as it's possible to make. No aprons, no stretchers, no drawers.

Since I want to finish the project in finite time, my design uses standard dimensioned hardwood lumber that I was able to purchase at my local big box home center. I hope to move more toward using rough cut lumber in the future, but for this project, I'm going basic.

The first thing I did was cut the boards for the top and shelf to rough length. The top will be three boards edge-joined together, and the shelf two. I cut the pieces for the legs to exact length. I have sharp cross cut saws so all that length cutting was pretty easy.

The next step is to join the boards together for the top and shelf. In order to do that I need to smooth and straighten the edges of the boards so that the joint will be as clean as possible. The tool for this job is a jointer plane. I have one of those, but I've never used it before so it needs some tuning and sharpening. I looked at the other planes and chisels I need for the rest of the project. They all needed to be sharpened, so I spent some time sharpening tools.

Posted by jeffy at 02:02 AM | Comments (0)

What I did on my summer vacation

I decided to take some time off from work and have a home vacation. There are a million jobs that need doing within and without the luxurious abode that is Flying House. I decided not to do any of those. Instead I dedicated the time I didn't spend playing WEBoggle to building a piece of furniture.

There's a section of my home page dedicated to my woodworking hobby, but I've never talked about that avocation here on Mad Times. When I went to record my first day's work in my shop journal I discovered the reason for that. The last time I did any work in my shop to speak of was in May of 2003. Hmm. Start a blog in March, stop woodworking in May. Could there be a connection?

Anyway, my shop journal is pretty basic. I enter the date and a brief description of what I did. My entry for my first day of work last week was something like "Started floating table, cut top and shelf to length." It's not very interesting reading. I thought I'd try doing a little more expanded version on the blog here. Maybe if I link these hobbies it'll keep me going on both of them.

Posted by jeffy at 12:41 AM | Comments (1)

July 18, 2004


Sometimes I have trouble believing in other people.

My family exists, I know that, and the people I work with. And the people I know at the library and at church. Some of my neighbors seem to exist.

But those people's families I'm dubious about. And people in cars driving around my suburban town, their existence is uncertain at best. People in cities I've never been to fade into vanishing unlikeliness.

Maybe this is why I am so fascinated by sites like Look At Me where hundreds of found photographs are posted showing people disconnected from their reality, recorded on film, scanned into bits and given new presence on the web. Clearly that man proud of his new car existed. And those women with their daughters on their front stoop must have been real. You can see it in their eyes. They have a roast in the oven. They're going for a walk around the neighborhood after supper. Those pictures are mostly old, from the middle of the last century and earlier. So even though those people existed when the pictures were taken they could be gone now.

Another site of the kind is Found Photos which is made up of photos pulled from public directories of people's home computers. Smiling babies. Sleeping pets. Drunk girls flashing their tits. Laughing friends. Countless shots of people doing the webcam stare. These pictures could have been taken last week or yesterday or five minutes ago.

Looking at these pictures I start to get a little of the feel of how many people there really are in the world. They all have friends and daily routines. It's like standing on a precipice or looking at the stars when I start to get the sense that all these people are truly going about their lives, breathing the same air as I am.

Two in my house, thirty in my block, hundreds in my neighborhood, 11,000 in my town, six million in my state, almost 300 million in my country, over six billion in the world. They're all really real. It's boggling.

Posted by jeffy at 06:00 PM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2004

Work avoidance

Back awhile ago I read David Allen's Getting Things Done. I've been toying with his organization system and while it hasn't changed my life at this point it has led me into some changes that I think are for the better.

At work I spend all day every day working on a windows pc with the company-mandated Outlook as my mail client. Allen has contracted with a company to produce a plugin for outlook that facilitates the stuff-processing methodology he promotes. I gave it the 30-day trial and decided to buy the software (despite the outrageous price). It adds the concept of projects so that you can associate tasks and emails and appointments with a project. It lets you take an incoming email and decide whether it's actionable; if it is, you can morph it into a task (with the original message saved and linked to it for reference) or an appointment (hardly ever valid in my case).

In practice the system is working like this for me now:

  • login and find a box full of email
  • make a fast pass deleting or filing everything that's not actionable
  • make another pass answering everything that I can give a quick response (Allen says under 2 minutes. I'm using 5-10 otherwise the overhead of creating tasks would make me crazy.)
  • finally make tasks out of everything that's going to take more time
  • box is empty

So that's pretty groovy for the intake phase of the process. After working like this for about 6 weeks I've currently got a list of about 40 outstanding projects (things that take more than one step) plus a couple dozen other single tasks. I'd like to say that that's everything, but there's a bunch of stuff hidden off in our bug-tracking system that I haven't taken into this system yet. Anyway, it's not as bad as I thought it might be.

The other thing I've added to my stable is another outlook plugin called Lookout. I've often repeated a joke I heard somewhere that goes "why is it that google can search the entire internet in under a second, but it takes outlook half an hour to search my mailbox?" Lookout is an okay answer to that question. It's an indexed search engine for your mailbox. It rebuilds its index periodically in the background so whenever you want to search you just type in your keywords and bang you have a list of messages that match. It's not as good as google at guessing which ones are the most likely since it doesn't have the rich linking context that google enjoys in the web, but it's way better than the builtin outlook search tools.

Between those two tools I now have much higher confidence that I actually know what's lurking in my zone of control. I'm much more able to see the array of things I'm putting off and so I don't have that gut-clenching feeling that there are things I'm forgetting about.

So far so good. The problem now is that while I now know what I'm supposed to be doing I'm still having a hard time actually doing any of it. I haven't quite nailed down why that is. Some of it is my natural tendency (or long habit (what's the difference?)) towards avoiding work. Some of it is that I don't see the value in a lot of the work I'm supposed to be doing.

Some of it is that it's much easier to read blogs than figure out how to do my stuff. For that and some other reasons I've moved my entire blog roll into blogrolling.com to make my usual timesuckers a little less accessible. That killed half the day ;-) Probably won't help, either, but I wasn't happy with the old organization anyway.

Maybe I need a tool that will let me register my work-avoidance programs and administer some form of reality check (popup? beep? electric shock?) if I seem to have spent too much time using one of those programs.

This reminds me of the random activity checks in the experiments conducted by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that led to his books Flow and Finding Flow. Maybe I should go read those again.

I wonder if anyone has written a Palm app to do random activity checks? If I was going to use one I'd have to get a new palm with a vibrating alarm cause I can't hear my Palm beep.

Got a problem? Need a new gadget.

Maybe I'll just go back to Getting Things Done and remind myself what's supposed to happen once you've got everything in the system.

Posted by jeffy at 06:29 PM | Comments (1)

April 07, 2004

Edie Brickell at the Moore

Edie Brickell on stage at the Moore in SeattleTuseday night we went to the Moore Theatre in Seattle to see Edie Brickell.

Like most people we first encountered her music when she had a few big hits as singer for the band New Bohemians back in the late 1980s. We've followed her through her various albums with New Bohemians, her great improv work with Jerry Garcia and Rob Wasserman in a couple of tracks on Wasserman's album Trios, and on to her solo albums. Her first solo album (Picture Perfect Morning) was okay, but not very exciting. It was over-produced and lacked the energy imparted by the excellent musicianship of New Bohemians. Here ten years later she has a new album out called Volcano. It's pretty good. And a good thing too because she and her band played all the songs from it but one at the concert!

In addition to the stuff from Volcano (two songs of which were first released on the New Bohemians album The Live Montauk Sessions), they did two numbers from Shooting Rubberbands At The Stars, "Oak Cliff Bra", and the obligatory "What I Am" (in a funky new arrangement). They also covered a great old Freddie Fender song.

This was the first show of the tour and it showed a bit. The mix needed a little work. The bass was way too loud and Edie's vocals were way too low. Overall the show felt a little over-rehearsed, a little tight, trying too hard to hit all their marks. But those relatively minor quibbles aside, we enjoyed ourselves. The band is really great. I couldn't catch all their names (Becky might remember), but all four, lead guitar (Charlie Sexton (the only one not in my blurry picture)), drums, bass, and keyboards were fun to watch and listen to.

I think Edie is at her best musically when she goes off-script so my favorite bit was the Fender cover where she seemed like she got to just relax and have fun instead of trying to reproduce the album experience. I suspect the later shows in the tour will be better throughout in this regard.

Here's a pretty accurate review from the P-I.

Posted by jeffy at 12:20 AM | Comments (4)

March 14, 2004

Cry, the Beloved Country at Book-It!

We've been subscribers to Book-It! Repertory Theatre for years now. We love their mission of translating books to stage as books (with as much of the language of the book intact as possible). Their current production of Alan Paton's 1948 novel is one of their best. We had never read the book, which is about pre-Apartheid South Africa. It tells the story of a collision between two families, one black, one white.

The adaptation and performances are mesmerizing and touching. It's one of those entertainments that will bounce around in your head for a long time after the final curtain and change the way you look at the world.

The show just opened and continues at the Center House Theatre in Seattle Center Thursday through Sunday until April 10th. Ticket info behind the link above.

Posted by jeffy at 03:46 PM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2004


Our friend Kate is a member of Seattle's Early Music Guild, a thriving organization dedicated to preserving the music of the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods. They have a concert series every year with world-class performers of these styles. Kate was kind enough to share her guest tickets with us for last night's performance.

The Netherlands Bach Society (Dutch site) is in the midst of their first tour of the US. They specialize in performance of Bach and his contemporaries on period instruments in period style. They are joined on this tour by Marion Verbruggen, arguably the world's greatest living recorder player.

The program included works by Johann Schelle, Johann Kuhnau, Dietrich Buxtehude, Johann Bach, and, of course, Johann Sebastian Bach.

But the highlight was J. S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto no. 4. Their performance of this piece was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. I still can't believe it. The rest of the concert was marvelous, but that Brandenburg... wow.

If you ever get the opportunity to see this ensemble, pay whatever they're asking and go.

Posted by jeffy at 02:10 PM | Comments (0)

September 03, 2003


Donald Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things has an essay in progress on his web page entitled "The Complexity of Everyday Life" in which he ponders the proliferation of gadgetry and associated maintenance needs in our lives.

And yet his conclusion is that the problem will only be addressed through further complexity. First through social interactions with a new service industry aimed at maintaining domestic automation systems, and second through another layer of gadgetry aimed at integrating the various thingummies into a single supposedly self-maintaining whole.

He says "The increase in complexity is increasing, in part because of the natural, inevitable trend of technology to put together ever-more powerful solutions to problems we never realized we had."

And in so saying, I think he has identified another potential trend. Isn't it likely that people will rebel against the ever-increasing array of must-have thingamabobs?

This rebellion is already happening on a semi-fringe basis in the guise of the Voluntary Simplicity movement.

Becky and I became aware of this movement back in the early 90s when we read Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin's excellent book Your Money or Your Life. While that book is primarily about transforming your relationship with money, that transformation inexorably leads to awareness that time is money and that when you buy a thing you also commit to the effort it will take to maintain, repair, use, and eventually dispose of that thing.

Our epiphany upon reading YMoYL helped us to stop being slaves to our manufactured desires. We learned to live within our means, paid off our credit cards, and bought a house.

And in buying a house, took a step backwards into a slavery to material things that we had moved away from.

Buying the house wasn't a mistake. Even with the time it takes from our lives, we still come out ahead between not paying rent and the absurd tax benefits to giving lots of money to our bank in interest. But it's caused us to lose ground in the battle between more stuff and more time.

We're starting to regroup and work on these issues again so I'm starting a new category here for some of the things that we want to remember and share.

(Norman link via Seedlings & Sprouts)

Posted by jeffy at 01:44 PM | Comments (5)

August 27, 2003

Good neighbors sought

The behemoth duplex that's been being built next door to us since November of last year is finally up for rent. Each unit is a 2700+ square foot three-bedroom two-story townhouse. Only $1975 a month.

Birch Street

Creek Way

The pictures of the front are both of the one on Creek Way. The rest all seem to be of the one on Birch street. Don't expect that Tiger Mountain view from the Creek Way unit. Both have a lovely view of our silvery roof.

In addition to hardwood floors, granite counters, marble bathrooms and the biggest house in the neighborhood, you get the benefit of nice neighbors. Ask me if you want more background info on this place. I don't have anything to do with it apart from living next door.

Posted by jeffy at 07:51 PM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2003


I was just reading the comment thread over on Making Light following Teresa's post about how the publishing trade really feels about Rowling's Potter grand slam (briefly: "Surf's up!"). The discussion has wandered about into issues around book marketing including a few derisive references to paperbacks with die-cut and gilded covers.

One of these references took me back to a day when I couldn't have been more than 8 years old. I was perusing the paperback wire racks at the small town department store we frequented and saw such a book. It had a green cover with a little window in it through which you could see a woman's face. I thought that was really cool and I grabbed the book to show my mom. Hey! looka! And I remember how embarrassed I was to discover that when you opened the flap, the woman was in some state of undress. Never mind.

Posted by jeffy at 03:32 PM | Comments (0)

June 11, 2003

Close to heaven

Just got back from a few days in a cozy cabin on Lopez Island. Blogging should resume over the next few days depending a bit on how far behind I got at work in the interim.

Posted by jeffy at 11:18 PM | Comments (0)

May 30, 2003

Lost smokes

pack of smokes in the gutterA few years ago this would have been a find for me. Free smokes! But I have reformed myself to the point where after picking up some wayward Camels from the side of another Issaquah street a few weeks ago, I haven't broken my fast. They're sitting on my bookshelf at work and I haven't really been tempted.

Even when I was a smoker, I was a light smoker, addicted to the process and the cool of it more than the nicotine. In the jobs I've held for the last 14 years or so, termed "exempt" by the HR people, nobody takes breaks but the smokers. For them, every few hours give or take, that little itch starts up that tells them it's time.

For me it meant a break from sitting in a chair, typing on a keyboard, staring at a CRT. Grab my makings and stroll through the maze of beige cubicles, down the stairs and out the door. Step out of the climate-controlled building and experience weather. Feel moving air. Variations of humidity. Heat and cold. Smell the constantly changing stew of aroma that is masked by indoor stagnation.

At our building, smokers are banished to a patch of gravel access road that circles a storm water settling pond. It's a hundred feet from the building, and completely unsheltered from the elements.

Once in the "smoker's lounge" I would take out my packet of tobacco and paper. Peel a folded paper off the pack and hold it between my fingers. Open the tobacco and pinch out a reasonable quantity, feeling the coarse texture of the leaves, smelling the loamy aroma like the soil of the bottomland where it was grown. Place the curling strips of leaf into the stark white of the paper and with thumbs and fingers coax and persuade it into the semblance of a cylinder. Lick the adhesive edge of the paper and perform the final roll that transforms paper and dried brown leaves into a cigarette. A little ritual craft project resulting in an artifact, a physical accomplishment in the midst of a day of abstract bit twiddling.

But then comes the best part: fire! The magical flare of a lighter pulling flame out of nowhere or the alchemical wonder that is a match flaring in an instant of violent consumption, fading to a steady glow of yellow, red, orange, blue heat and light. Software engineer turned to caveman harnessing the elemental force to his will, touching fire to tinder, producing smoke and a glowing ember.

Draw the smoke, product of my labor into my body, absorbing the mild stimulant of it, altering my awareness ever so slightly. Breath made visible, made tactile, the miracle of inhale exhale sustaining life. Transforming the ubiquitous involuntary action of breathing from background to foreground. Feel the air moving in and out. See it. See how an exhalation doesn't instantly blend into the homogeneity of the atmosphere, but retains its identity for a time, moving out from lungs, drifting away from the body that it has sustained, still connected in a chain of molecular presence leading in and out and out and out into the world.

The artifact of the cigarette is slowly consumed. Paper and leaf and fire transformed into smoke and ash and dust.

This is what I miss about being a smoker. This little drama of making and unmaking. The echo of creation and destruction. The connection to the world of basic physical reality.

And then after the fire is out I would go back inside the sealed containment of the building, back to the beige cubicle, back to the modern ritual of qwerty and crt, back to the abstract shuffling of constructs with no physical manifestation.

Posted by jeffy at 09:17 PM | Comments (1)

May 17, 2003

Stone cosmos

ringed planet mosaicWe went to the Museum of History and Industry on Thursday night to see (hear) singer/songwriters Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell. They each did a set and sang and played on a couple of each others' tunes. We knew Kaplansky going in, but Shindell was new to us. He writes odd, strangely touching songs that are mostly like short stories. He talked almost as much as he played, giving background on the songs. His guitar playing was fascinating, sounding and looking like he had a third hand somewhere out of sight picking out the melody. Kaplansky played mostly dark sad tunes, but that's sort of her field. It was a good show. Being there, though, we forgot all about the total lunar eclipse which was pretty close to totality at intermission when I took this picture of a mosaic in the lobby of the theatre at the museum. By the time we went out to the car after the second set, the moon, peeking through scudding clouds, looked just odd enough to remind me of the eclipse with a little divot out of one edge all that remained of the transit of our big shadow across its face.

Posted by jeffy at 05:41 PM | Comments (1)

May 12, 2003

You suck!

In an online community I belong to, it is very common for one person to say to another "You suck!" and instead of the thread deteriorating in flames, the recipient of this epithet will either preen quietly to himself, or say "thank you". This can seem to be a bit of a mystery to the uninitiated, and yet this usage of the phrase "you suck" has wide applicability in similar contexts in real life.

The list is the oldtools mailing list. It is dedicated to the discussion of old non-electrically-powered tools, mostly woodworking tools. A large part of the discussion centers around the acquisition of said tools and many postings include accounts of the latest deal the author has scored. These postings are generally somewhat boastful, and some members have perfected them into a sort of art form that is known as the Gloat.

There are various forms of Gloat. There's the straightforward Gloat: "I got a 1872 fangumpulator in perfect condition for only five bucks!" And long story Gloats where the reader gets to follow along from the beginning of the contact between buyer and seller, allowing the reader to vicariously experience the thrill of the hunt. Then there's the Drive-by Gloat where a poster slips an offhand reference to a deal into a discussion of another topic.

The Gloat is such a common form on oldtools that there has evolved a standard form for acknowledging one which brings us to the subject of today's bit of blather. When someone tells you that they bought a mint Stanley #1 in the original box over the weekend you say, "you suck!" And when they tell you that the asking price was $25 you holler, "you suck!" And when they make it known that they were able to talk the seller down to $5, you collapse in pain and whimper "you suck!"

The phrase perfectly communicates the combination of jealousy and admiration such revelations inspire in the hearer. It is simultaneously attaboy and pout.

I find myself starting to use this phrase outside of the oldtools group from time to time, but catch myself since it might be interpreted differently than I intend. So now that you've read this, if I ever slip and use it on you, you'll now know how to react.

And I bring all this up because my friend Tom decided on Friday to work at home today, and a little while ago he made it known that he was calling it a day so he could do some work around the house in roughly these words:

It's a beautiful Spring day here on the river, and I have the wood stove going, and the door open so I can hear the birds and river, and the Rhodies are starting to bloom, and everything is growing like mad, and I get to spend the afternoon outside working with my hands.


Tom, I just have one thing to say to that, and I mean it in the nicest possible way.

You suck!

Posted by jeffy at 03:31 PM | Comments (2)

April 17, 2003

Introducing Cocoa and Cricket

(Click on the thumbnails for bigger versions of the pictures.)
Joyce and Marty have two new babies. Cocoa and Cricket were born on January 7th. They're Yorkshire Terriers and should grow to be about 5 pounds each. From all accounts, they're an energetic and loveable pair.

Posted by jeffy at 10:04 PM | Comments (0)

April 01, 2003

Nit pickery

Will Shetterly posted a quote from Ben Franklin yesterday:

Ben Franklin told John Paul Jones, "Hereafter, if you should observe an occasion to give your officers and friends a little more praise than is their due, and confess more fault than you can justly be charged with, you will only become the sooner for it a great captain. Criticizing and censuring almost every one you have to do with, will diminish friends, increase enemies, and thereby hurt your affairs."

And I need to keep reading that over to myself.

Brief aside:
We recently saw one of John Cleese's (of Monty Python fame) Training Videos which was all about the importance of managers giving praise to their reports. This quote summarizes the message of that video quite well.
End aside.

I was always frustrated in school when I'd get a paper back with a grade marked on it but without any guidance about what specifically was wrong, and what specifically could be improved.

I've tried to combine that frustration with the golden rule, and always let people know when I see something amiss with their work. I've become notorious with one member of my group at work for always having some little comment or change request whenever he shows me a prototype or draft. But it's not just him, I do it with everyone.

I have to stop myself from firing off email to a webmaster when I notice a typo on their site. (this is one of the reasons I love Wikis) I mark typos in books I'm reading. When I'm doing user support at work I point out when I see people doing things in sub-optimal ways.

I'm afraid that rather than seeing these actions as a sincere desire to see entropy fail, people just think I'm an annoying nitpicking twit.

I suppose both could be true.

Anyway, multiple points here:

  1. I probably need to sprinkle praise more widely so that my criticism is seen as coming in the spirit of improvement, not denigration.
  2. If, as you you encounter my presence in the world, whether virtual or actual, you see ways in which I could improve my effect, I'd be delighted to receive your suggestions.
Posted by jeffy at 07:03 PM | Comments (0)

March 31, 2003

Small atrocities

We've had construction going on next door to us for about four full months now. They start in with the air-nailers and the circular saws and the stereo between 7 and 9am and they finish between 4 and 6pm. Most Saturdays somebody's been out here working too.

The noise is annoying, but the real pain of it is that it punches through the veneer of our denial about what's really going on next door: where we used to be able to look out across the neighborhood and see the hills in the distance, our windows are now completely filled with an enormous pair of two-story houses.

Our cute little house with its funky butterfly roof and roman brick fascade used to stand out in the block, an interesting, unique building among the more mundane ramblers and bungalows. Now it's hidden behind a gargantuan snout house.

We knew it could happen. The neighborhood is zoned duplex. Property values have been going through the roof for the last five years. No one was likely to restore the tiny little house from the 40s that once sat on that lot. But knowing it was coming doesn't make it any easier to face.

On Friday, the builder had to dig a trench between our house and the new building and in so doing broke off and cracked branches on several of our 40-year-old rhododendrons. What had been annoying and distressing became invasive and destructive. The tenuous grasp we had thus far retained on civility was shaken loose and each of us at different times confronted the builder and the workers in heated and exasperated tones. In anger.

Neither of us is accustomed to anger. We aren't good at it. Our arguments become unfocused and irrational. We lose our grip on what is important and on what is possible. Maybe anger does this to everyone, I don't know. In the face of our onslaught, the builder did the only thing he could do at that point: claimed regret and offered to pay for the damage.

An offer of money was no comfort to us when all we wanted was for him not to have done it in the first place. Not trash our bushes, not wake us up at ungodly hours for months on end, not build an ugly eyesore in our neighborhood, not have bought the property in the first place. We didn't say this, but really that's the only thing that could make us happy in our anger and our grief.

And so we have slowly subsided back into our stunned and pained state of tentative acceptance. But now with the added pain of shame at the way we reacted. And constant wondering about how we could have handled the whole situation better.

Posted by jeffy at 11:02 PM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2003

Narrow band

I'm working with Qwest, my DSL provider to upgrade our connection from the 2-hour cutoff version we had to the always-on version that is now their default. Part of the upgrade requires that I replace my old Intel internal DSL modem (rant about the misnomer of this phrase left as an exercise for the interested reader) with a new external one.

You can probably guess the rest. Qwest tweaked the service on Friday, but the new modem was delayed in Colorado due to "adverse weather conditions", so I'm without DSL until the thing arrives and I can get it set up. I've lodged a complaint with Qwest about their lack of foresight in not checking to see if the customer has the equipment before they change the service. (To their credit, they were polite and helpful on the phone, but I did get the usual attitude I seem to get when I try to help someone improve their service: rather than thanking me for my feedback, they make excuses and try to explain away their failing. Sorry, if I'm not happy then you have failed. I don't care why you failed, just accept the complaint and feed it into your process improvement. Pet peeve #2378.)

Fortunately, my ISP, the uniformly excellent Drizzle Internet, still supports dialup access so I am not netless, just operating at decreased access speeds.

Poor me!

Actually, it's kind of surprising how useable most of the sites I frequent are at modem (real live modulator-demodulator) speeds (current connection 34.6k).

Of course my expectations have been lowered considerably by the only environment in which I've used a modem in recent times: accessing my Windows desktop system at work via a graphical desktop sharing program (usually the non-windows-specific VNC).

This is such a brain-damaged way to remotely control a computer that it's a constant source of annoyance to me. But since work uses Windows, there's just no other option. I keep meaning to try to track down a telnet service for Windows, but that won't solve the Outlook problem. Gah! This is part of the motivation for upgrading the DSL link so I can get a network set up at home so I can stop using dialup to access work and use the fast link like a civilized person.

Anyway, this is exceedingly dull, I'm sure, so I'll just shut up and go do something without computers for a while.

Posted by jeffy at 12:23 PM | Comments (0)

March 09, 2003

Driving for pedestrians

John Ardussi and I spent a couple of hours this afternoon driving around Issaquah taking notes and pictures of existing Bike/Ped infrastructure. Here's the page with my writeup.
(click the FacilitySurveyMarch9th2003 link for today's insanity, or the links in the table farther down for some other stuff I did over the last couple of weeks)

Posted by jeffy at 11:47 PM | Comments (1)

March 07, 2003

Moving people without moving cars

I've been working with some other Issaquah residents on a project to see to it that the new Non-Motorized Transportation element to be added to our city's comprehensive plan will include the stuff that we think it should include.

A lot of the work involved in doing that is determining what we think it should include.

To facilitate the process, I set up a TWiki on TomeCat to allow us to collect all of the information we're sifting through.

Issaquah NMT Working Group TWiki

If you haven't worked in a Wiki before, the best demonstration I've found of the potential of the form is the Wikipedia, a project to write an encyclopedia from scratch with all volunteer contributors.

Posted by jeffy at 06:37 PM | Comments (0)