Wednesday, December 31, 2008


So I'm flipping between channels the other day, and came across Q13 news. Now this is actually a pretty good local newscast, so when they say something really, really stupid, it merits being noted. The story was on the top stories of 2008, and I thought I heard #5 as:
Number five: Governor Chris Gregoire's re-election. She squeaked by challenger Dino Rossi - yet again, in a near mirror of their match-up in 2004.
This made me blink for a moment, so I tracked it down to their website, where they identified #5 as:
Number five: Governor Chris Gregoire's re-election. She squeaked by challenger Dino Rossi - yet again, in a near mirror of their match-up in 2004.
Squeaked by?


So a check of the Washington State Election site points out the results - Gregoire 53%, Rossi 47%. In a political sphere where getting a fraction of a percentage point over your opponent is considered a "mandate", I would hardly call it "Squeaking By". I would call it "Thumping around the head and shoulders", but then, that's just me.

2009 can't come soon enough.

More later,

Monday, December 29, 2008

After Action Report

So the snow had melted (for the most part). At work, the slough is almost is over the banks, and several trees have been snapped. At home, the woodpecker continues its assault on the power pole. The garbage has yet to be picked up.

The great Snowpocalypse of Late-Oh-Eight is done with.

And to some degree, I'm going to miss it. The blanket of white, the lack of traffic, the solitude of it all. The fact that I could get out of the driveway with the chains and that, while a hike, the basic amenities were still available. We didn't go hungry, and my Christmas present to my parents got there on Christmas day.

I'm not particularly cheesed about the lack of salt on the road, since my favorite first vehicle (A powder-blue Cutlass Supreme) lost its trunk and wheel wells to the relentless chemical erosion of salted streets in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. And the fact that my own job could we worked from home for a couple days worked out well for us as well.

I am less entertained by the failure of other urban services. I can give them the lack of garbage pickup on the week of the heavy snowfall, but after Christmas, when most of the roads are finally passable? The Lovely Bride do not product a humongus amount of trash, but we HAVE been entertaining, and the recycling bin is starting to be a two-person operation.

And I am particularly cheesed about the performance of transit, ranging from buses to planes. A complete collapse of public transportation in the face of this mess is one of the more serious challenges from this storm. Like the taxis out of the airport during that big Thanksgiving blow a few years back, bad weather is the particular period when we NEED mass transit.

(And to that end, proper sanding of the mass transit streets makes it particularly helpful to the car-full among us - we know the bus routes, and can figure that they should be clear as well).

And the airport - the huge numbers stranded shows once more the challenges of the hub airport system. When something goes down, it if reaches the heart of the system, the entire system collapses.

And lastly, the meteorologists. Let's be honest, the timing of these storms were late from the start, causing advanced panicking and letting people's guards down for when the storm finally rolled through. The local weather predictors were about a day off, from the initial dusting of snow (way back on the 13th, which was supposed to be on the 12th), to the post-Christmas warming trend, we were literally a dollar short.

But in general, it has been a survivable malady that struck the Sound for most. I have packages still to arrive and comics have been help up in Oregon for over a week, but in general it has been pretty good. And now we are back to Seattle Winter - grey-skyed and damp.

But then, maybe we'll get snow again. There is always hope.

More later,

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Christmas Feast

Each year, the Lovely Bride and I celebrate the holiday by having friends over for dinner, a feast with brined turkey as its star. This turkey is so good, that even the recent absolutely miserable weather was not sufficient to dissuade them from at least attempting the quest up to ice-clogged Grubb Street, on the east hill near Panther Lake.

One of our number could not make it, her car still snowed in on Queen Anne. A family of three managed to get out of their garage in Kirkland, but the street proved to be too difficult to navigate (And I hope they got the car back into the garage afterward). One guest may or may not have damaged his radiator in the journey. Two guests had to be picked up, their house in an unplowed cul-de-sac at the bottom of a hill. The final couple made it with no problem, as old driving skills honed in Illinois winter came to the fore as they braved the ice floes in front of our house.

The Wet Christmas promised by the forecasters? Bah humbug. It only stopped snowing once the successful members finally arrived.

Even with our reduced numbers, it was a wonderful meal. The turkey (a 21-pound moa brined overnight) was done to perfection, and accompanied by poppyseed rolls, stuffing, gravy, two types of peas, stuffed mushrooms and ramaki (bacon-wrapped scallops and olives) as appetizers, and cheesecake and chocolate cake (with wonderful tea) for desert. Conversation was engaging and ran late into the evening (possibly the result of the wine, but just as likely from the fact that all of us had been dealing with cabin fever over the recent ordeal). Everyone got home safely afterward, which was perfect.

And the promised rain? Still hasn't shown up here - it is still snowing as I write this.

May all of you, and all that are close to you, have a safe and sane holiday season.

More later,

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays

From all of us at Grubb Street, we wish you a happy holiday season.

Peace on Earth, and to all men (women, children, cats, and santa-hat wearing dragons), good will.

More later,

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


So yesterday I was snowed in, and took some pictures of the surrounding snow. One of the pictures in particular was interesting in that it was a pileated woodpecker, a truly beautiful bird, perched across the street on a power pole. Here's the shot, from the safety of my own home.
And about two hours later a neighbor knocked on our door. He's renting the place behind one of our neighbors, and was concerned about the power pole falling over. It seems our woodpecker bored a hole eight inches deep, fifteen inches long, and four inches across.Now, on one hand I know as a former civil engineer that even a hole this size is unlikely to cause a collapse. On the other hand, its been 25 years since I've been an engineer, and we DO get high winds up here, so a big gouge in a power pole is not a good thing. So I called into Puget Sound Energy and reported it. I apologized to the nice woman that I realized that there were real power outages but I would feel particularly foolish if I let it go and then the thing collapsed, kicking off a real power outage. She laughed and said she was never surprised by those mother nature animals, and in the end we put it in the miscellaneous category for investigation.

And the bird? He's back this morning, working on the OTHER side of the pole. Obviously he's some kind of saboteur.

More later,

Monday, December 22, 2008

Working At Home

Just because I grumble about how Seattlites are shocked, simply shocked, whenever we get snow, even I am aware of how tough the situation has gotten. The Puget Sound region has had either three or four (depending on how you're counting) "snow events" in the past two weeks, without any warming trends between them. The most recent of these events hit yesterday, and was supposed to be mostly rain in the lowlands. At the moment we have 8-10" up on Grubb Street, and so I am working from home today.

Yes, this would be considered "real snow" to anyone back east, Seattle. You are completely justified to be amazed and/or to complain about it. Go nuts.

Actually, we have it very nice here. Power is still on (touch wood again), we had sufficient supplies laid in (and shopping Sat. AM was filled not with panicking customers but with families preparing for Christmas dinner), and through the miracle of the Internet I can communicate with the home office (which sounds a bit sparse today - one fellow employee made it all the way to the office, only to get stuck five feet from our under-building parking - even if you can make it on the roads, the parking lots are horrible).

And we are much better off than many. A lot of folk don't have the luxury of a snow day or even working at home. The local merchants are struggling both with personnel that might not show up and customers who are aren't coming in. And the airport is a disaster that shames the Thanksgiving storm from a few years back. No one is going out, flights are being canceled, no one has de-icer (yeah, that's a surprise) and families are literally trapped at the airport for days.

So yeah, I'm pretty thankful to be where I am right now.

More later (and maybe something that doesn't involve weather next time),

Sunday, December 21, 2008


The predicted weather has been severe but not as horrible as predicted (touch wood). The heavy winds kept to the uplands, sparing most of us and leaving the power on despite some local outages. The roads are snow-covered, and we have had about three inches on Grubb Street(and the snow has kicked up again). It is a light, fluffy, dry snow, so it blows about easily and I am not sure about real totals at this point.

We had an overnight guest from the Lovely Bride's RPG group due to the snow, but sent him on his way this morning with minimal fuss. And while there have been traffic tie-ups and frustrations, we've gotten off easier than other places in the recent storm (Portland is requiring chains in the metro district).

I should note that Seattle's weather is extremely localized, and can change dramatically over a course of a mile. Some of the other reporters have been Scarlett and Mystical Forest.

Also, one of the greatest dangers I have encountered on the road so far has not been bad drivers, but snow chains that have come off cars, trucks, and busses. Keep an eye out.

More snow tonight. Everyone stay put, and we'll see how things turn out tomorrow.

More later

(Picture from the P-I).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Waiting for the Big One

So, in reference to our meteorological amnesia, I have had the following conversation three times so far:

OTHER PERSON: This is the worst weather we've ever had.
ME: You remember that Thanksgiving storm two years ago?
OTHER PERSON: Oh, yeah, that was bad.
ME: And the one in January right after that.
OTHER PERSON: Yeah, that one was a bad one, too.

The fact is there in their brains - we have had bad weather here before. But we FORGET. And are rudely interrupted when it snows again. Our temperate nature 90% of the time makes this sort of thing amazing to most people.

And when we have thunder, oh, that's a subject for discussion the next day.

People from the Midwest must think we are well and truly addled out here, to report on snow EVERY TIME IT HAPPENS. A blog out of Wisconsin would read "Snow. Snow again. Yet more Snow. Ice. Thundersnow. More Snow. It's spring again, and Mr. Coleson lost his ice-fishing truck when the lake thawed. Oh, wait a minute, more snow."

On Grubb Steeet, things have not been too bad. The most recent storm laid down most of its damage north of I-90, and Bellevue was a mess, but to the south we just got a light dusting and slick roads. Thursday work was canceled, Friday the place was open but lightly attended between Christmas vacationers and those truly snowed in. There were about five people in our 15-person office pod, one of the founders was running the front desk, and they set out for pizza for lunch. Those who showed were individuals with significant Northern/Eastern Washington roots. And the only reason we managed to show up was that our office is not located on one of Bellevue's many unplowed hills.

So now we have another storm bearing down on us. High winds are predicted in the foothills but haven't descended on us, yet. Snow ranging from trace amounts to thick blankets should arrive later. And it should continue like that through the holidays. The Lovely Bride and I did our holiday dinner shopping today, capped with a 21 pound bird, and we're ready to hunker down for a while.

More later,

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Snowpocalypse Delayed

I've said this before, but the big challenge to weather prediction in Seattle is the lack of a large, flat agricultural state to our west. If we had one, we could call it up and ask "What is all y'all's weather like over there?" and they would tell us and that would be the likely forecast.

Anyway, Wednesday morning was supposed to be a massive snowpocalypse (I did not coin this eminently useful word, but my IT department thinks its a hoot). Supposedly we were going to see the nastiness descend on Seattle proper with all manner of dire consequences. Instead, what happened was that the Olympics (see glacial wall photo below) blunted the most of the snow assault, so Oly to the south and Everett to the north got hammered, while the angel of snow passed over Seattle.

Of course, it left nervousness in the office on Wednesday, and most of us kept the weather radar on the computers running while doing other things (which harks back to my days in Wisconsin, where I would leave the TV on without the sound, tuned to the weather channel, for the inevitable line of summer thunderstorms). When a particularly nasty cell of snow moved over Renton, I booked. Got home in the wet but before dark, and nested in.

So, crisis averted? Not quite. The center of the storm moved south, and Seattle came in for its licks THIS morning. They closed the office officially when it was noted that Bellevue was suffering a complete white-out. Up on Grubb Street, it is a half-inch dusting, but with our treacherous little hill, there is no traffic.

So I'm hunkered down, VPNed into the network, office communicator on, checking emails as need be. Sent enough work home to keep me busy through the day. But the weirdness of the weather is like the frustration of the traffic - it is not that it is all that bad, but that it is completely unpredictable.

More later,

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Ice Age Cometh

Despite our best level of meteorological disbelief, the snow has remained on the ground and the temperatures have been surprisingly arctic. While the main roads have cleared up, the street I live on (with its slight rise in front of the house) have remained icebound and treacherous.

The good news is that the views have been wonderful. Coming off the hill yesterday, the Olympics were clad in white and looked like an advancing glacier bearing down on the sound.

Now word comes down of heavy snow, starting early and going through the day. I've loaded up files in the laptop in preparation of working at home tomorrow.

More later,

Sunday, December 14, 2008


I mentioned our very-Seattle affliction of meteorological amnesia in regards to the Sound's High Summer, and now I should revsit it with our regions' first snowfall. It has snowed every year I have been out here on Grubb Street, ranging from light dustings to real snow accumulations that close schools. Yet we forget about this, and with the first real snowfall of the year, we both treat it as Snowpocalypse (TM) or and then forget entirely what we are dealing with once it is on the ground.

The dreaded snow event was supposed to hit Friday night, and everybody panicked at the idea of being caught in rush hour under six inches of snow. Given the accuracy of Seattle weather reports, it put off until late Saturday night, consisted of less than two inches, and the only effect was to curtail my Saturday Night game to three hours as the lawns and parking lots filled up with snow.

However, combined with the pre-snowfall panic, there is the post-snowfall willful ignorance. King County doesn't have same level of salt trucks and plows that other communities have (odd, since we can see the snow year-round on the surrounding mountains). So unless the snow is followed by warming temperatures (it ain't this time), the streets turn to polished glass. We have a very slight incline on the street in front of the house, and it has been enough to defeat all but the pickups on their way up the hill. We hear the spinning wheels and watch the slow slippage backwards in defeat. No one thinks we have a hill here until it snows, and then they are heartily reminded (A few years back the county filled in the ditches by the side of the road and put low-level sidewalks in, which have reduced the number of cars ditching this year).

So we are effectively snowed in for the day, and there are predictions of an additional 1-2" this afternoon (the skies are blue at the moment). So its a day of working at home, cleaning, and Internet shopping. It might be irritating, but it is just so PRETTY outside right now.

More later,

Saturday, December 13, 2008

More Signs of the Times

With an economic downturn, there has been a sea-change among corporations in their struggle to remain afloat. The traditional approach to bad business news has been the was WotC/Hasbro handled its layoffs - stern, tightly written letter from the management that minimizes and regrets the loss and reassures that this is just a small matter in the larger and greater triumph of industry.

But as everyone from the NFL to NPR is laying people off and cutting back, a new mood of bold and heroic desperation is taking hold. Now there are no regrets but rather a focusing on how brave and honest the corporates are too be taking these strong, determined actions in these horrible times. We should be appreciative we have such wise captains of business to see us through as they throw children off the sleigh to the pursuing wolves.

This is particularly true over at the Seattle Times, whose not-so-slow diminishment I have ended up chronicling as a consumer. Previously the editorial page was butchered and the Business happy-news tucked into the main page. Now the local reporting and the entertainment/modern living/comics section saw a space-time collapsing into a single section. Said collapsing has all the elegance of two freight trains slamming into each other, and there were casualties. The NY Times crossword was banished to online. The macabre Lio, urban Candorville and innocuous On A Claire Day comic strips were pushed into shallow graves. The Wednesday recipes are no more. Celebrity gossip now has to compete with local politics (and sometimes wins).

And this was heralded by a full column running for a week detailing the changes, and a declaration that they are trying to reduce their two biggest costs - newsprint and manpower. In other words, product and content. Isn't that what I'm paying for in the first place? The stuff that brings my eyeballs to the paper which the advertiser pay for? I'm not here for the ads from Fry's, folks.

I think that all businesses will evolve over time, I refuse to give those in charge a cookie just for being so forthright as they slice away from their very product they are selling in order to survive. Triage is necessary, but not heroic.

More later,

Friday, December 12, 2008

New Word

Miñata (min-YAH-tah) n. Minions in D&D 4E that you know from the outset of the battle to be minions. In particular minions that you get a surprise round on, or otherwise are able to attack and remove from the battlefield before they can attack you. [minion + SP piñata]

More later,

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bistro Baffi

Yesterday was Sacnoth's 50th birthday, and he and his bride invited us to dinner with the Monkey Kings at a place in Burien called Bistro Baffi. And it was a very good meal.

I had not been to Burien since Wonder World had been claimed by gentrification, but we found it with little problem. The restaurant itself is tucked into the corner of an unlikely-looking strip mall, but once inside it is a nice-looking place. Most of it is intimate tables and a small bar, but with our bunch (an eight-top, including the Lovely Bride's mother and Little Elf Hat), we took over a back room, apportioned with original art and cases of wine.

The last is a bit of irony, in that Sacnoth is an avowed tea-teetotaler and self-described prohibitionist (though a tolerant one). Each of us took a pledge to abstain in respect to his day, and, as his wife noted, both the party and the wit was dry. So we were surrounded by wine without a drop in our glasses.

The food, on the other hand, was plentiful and wonderful. I think we strained the small kitchen in that the pacing was leisurely, and my saltinboco had been warming in the oven as the final pastas were prepared (the cue is a very, very hot dish at the table). But the taste was well worth the wait, and in the meantime, they served up some peppery polenta and mushrooms that were incredible. The seafood was fresh and well-seasoned and they topped off the evening with a flourless chocolate walnut cake for the birthday boy that was to die for.

The wit at the table was dry, and we ran over all manner of things from politics to our daily lives to Cthulhu. Visitors to the back room included the chef (who took a well-deserved bow) and one of the artists who was showing off her work to friends.

In general, Bistro Baffi (apparently named after the chef's mustache) was a surprise, and I'd like to go back, without the self-imposed declaration of temperance this time.

More later,

Monday, December 08, 2008

Play: Old-Fashioned

You Can't Take It With You by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, Directed by Warner Shook, Seattle Rep through 3 January.

The holiday season is the time for the "safe play" - the crowd pleaser, the innocuous bit of Americana, the stirring musical, the thing you can take visiting family to. And so with the more darkly aggressive boom playing in its sister theater, we have this venerable old soldier from 1936 heaved onto the holiday fire.

And it is interesting because of what it says about how theatre has changed in the past seventy-some years. You notice two things - how slight the story itself is, strung through three acts, and how many PEOPLE there are.

This is a WPA project of a play - 18 actors, 15 of which are Equity, a sizable chunk of them onstage at the same time that requires less of a director and more of a traffic cop. In this era of one-person shows and small productions, this is a reminder of what theater in the past century was like - big, brassy, and crowded. Sort of like experiencing a big band after years of jazz trios. The sense of scale impresses.

That said, the story is slight. Young girl with daffy, eccentric family loves young boy with straitlaced, wealthy parents. It follows a three act structure - Act One we get to know the endearing wacky family and the girl's fears. Act Two the girl's fears are realized as the parents show up on the wrong day to discover the wacky family. Act Three we get the girl and the boy out of the tree, there are some good speeches about happiness and revelations pulled out of the hat and everyone goes home feeling fine.

Yeah, it sounds like an episode of Monday night TV on CBS, and this is revelatory as well - much like photography removed from art the requirement to be representational (kicking off what we call Modern Art), the presence of television has removed from theater the public need for this type of story. And as a result, theater has gone in other directions, and evolved into new (and often less-mainstream) niches.

But here we have a staple of straw hat and high school productions - how does the Rep handle it? Very well indeed, from the viewpoint of raw craftsmanship. The stage is a cluttered, livable, open space for the cast to prowl about in. There are numerous doors to slam and chairs to lower one slowly and comically down upon. The pacing is also great, with flurries of activity scaled down to personal moments. And the cast is throwing as many comic flourishes as the audience can handle.

The actors also bring more to the table, and their characters, even though created with the broadest of brushes, are invested with more depth than you get from the standard staging. Young Male Ingenue (Ben Hollandsworth) summons the spirit of a young Jimmy Stewart, Young Female Ingenue (Elise Karolina Hunt) is equal parts of love and embarrassment for her family comes through, and the incredible flurry of the family works. Everyone gets into their character - so much so that at one point, Grandpa's dart-playing finesse (a bit of business from Michael Winters) upstages the lines of the Russian Revolutionary Dance teacher (Farnk Corrado) (a slip-up in an otherwise effective handling of all the stage business and keeping the audience focused in the midst of the controlled chaos).

But in the end, we have resuscitated and reanimated a beast from Broadway's past, a bit of nostalgia, lacking any deeper message, well produced but as slight as an ingenue's smile. By the same token, they were playing for a full house, so they might just be on to something.

More later,

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Annexation Nexus

And while I've been busy elsewhere, the city of Kent has moved forward to take over my neighborhood.

I've mentioned this before but let me back up for those who don't want to dig through the files. I live in the Panther Lake neighborhood, so named for a good-sized lake on the east hill of the Green River valley (also called Benson Hill). When we moved in some ten years back, it was part of "Unincorporated King County", which meant that no local municipality claimed us for services like trash and police proteciton. There are a lot of pockets like this all around the county, as the various smaller towns and cities have set up their borders, and pieces get left out.

Now, the current King County administration has been encouraging the smaller communities to pick up the spares, and I've talked about Renton swallowing the Fairwood neighborhood just north of our place. Our chunk of the woods was slotted to be swallowed by Kent (indeed, we border on a Kent district school), but things have been kinda quiet on that front.

No more. Kent has pressed forward on the matter, and established a web site with the general information and a pretty thorough FAQ on what's going to happen (which, um, isn't accessible at the moment, but I'll post it when its back). And it pretty much addresses my questions (Taxes will be about the same, they will increase their police budget to handle us, we can keep the septic system as long as we keep it in good repair). I'm pretty solid with the idea - if anything, I would have preferred to see annexation BEFORE they started a half-dozen housing projects in the region (which will now be grandfathered in).

Not everyone is so copacetic. There's a nearby casino/card room, perched on a low hill overlooking the Panther Lake Elementary school. It is a squat, shutter-windowed bunker that was at one time a more-appealing pizza place when we moved in. Casinos are legal in Unincorped King (I assume that it is the required number of paces away from the school itself), but are not allowed in Kent. So the casino owner wants to be grandfathered in as well, which doesn't sit well with the Kent fathers (oddly enough, the casino's corporate HQ is in ... Kent! I guess they like the neighborhood).

This will continue to develop. More later,

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Layoff Thoughts

The most recent uproar at WotC and the continuing mess in the New York Publishers has made me think of layoffs past. I have gone through more than enough of them, either as spared bystander or active participant, so I am permitted to meditate on the subject. Here's what I've been thinking:

Numbers: The current totals for the most recent WotC layoffs range between 20 and 25, all unofficial. Even those numbers are suspect in the modern era, as they may or may not include eliminating positions they were going to hire for, as well as shedding temps who up until that moment were treated just like regular employees until their contracts evap. So even a number, or a percentage, doesn't tell the full story.

Names: WotC also isn't passing out any names, which makes sense, though I disagree that it is to spare the feelings of the newly-unemployed. I mean, if you really worried about their feelings, you wouldn't have fired them in the first place. But it does make sense to leave those affected the choice to come forward as they see fit to note that they are starting a new era of their life. I mentioned Julia only because her husband posted accordingly. Dave Noonan, a brilliant designer, also stopped in at ENWorld to thank everyone for all the fish.

But it does create a ghoulish version of "Where's Waldo" as emails cross to make sure that friends still in the building ARE still in the building, as well as posts on the net as lists are compiled (the partial one for WotC that is currently rocketing around the net has its origins in a competing company head who knows many of those affected).

It is just as bad for those people still working for the company. Lacking a firm statement and body count, employees will now be committing the business faux pas of going to look for Bob in accounting, only to find that Bob was laid off four days ago - way to open up those old wounds, friend!

Martyrs: On thing that also happens in layoffs are the martyrs - those that step in front of the line to be hacked. This may be through a desire to do other things, or to protect people who are still there, or even a feeling that, even if they are safe this layoff, they hear heavy footsteps. No idea if there are any martyrs in this group, but it is always a potential.

Here's a martyr story from the olden days of TSR, about 1983 or so. At one point we had five designers, and the decision was made that we had to have four. The designers at the time were Me, Tracy Hickman, Zeb Cook, Doug Niles, and Bruce Nesmith. Each of us believed that we were to be asked to Pack Our Knives and Go. Bruce, who had originally came in to work on one of our computer game experiments, went to the brass and said "Hey, I have marketable skills (I can program), let me take the hit". He stepped in front of the unemployment bullet and since then has indeed done well for himself at Bethesda on projects like Oblivion and Fallout 3.

Good marks for Bruce.

Apologists:And this is the only part that cheeses me off about public discussions of layoffs - there always is some clown on the BBS who takes the position of "Well, it's not Big Company's fault - they have to make a profit and stay in business, so their needs are more important than their employees."

These guys always sound like a battered spouse making apologies for an abusive partner. I swear, if I am ever brought up in a court of law, I want these people on the jury - "Well, it's not really His fault - he had to make a profit, so naturally he knocked over ten banks. His needs are more important than the surrounding community".

The Living Will Envy The Dead: A lot of attention is usually extolled on those who departed. but a harder situation is posed to those left behind. Usually the work load does not change for the employees, and suddenly a group of 20 is doing the jobs of 25. The platitude of the 90s was "Work smarter, not harder", which often resulted in the smarter survivors updating their resumes and moving on soon after (there is usually a secondary bump six months after a major layoff of people who were left behind but have found other exits).

And a final word on managers. While getting laid off should not be considered a sign of personal failure for those affected, the managers that have to do the layoffs, in my experience, take having to let people go AS a personal failure. They have access to a higher level of choices than their subordinates, and feel that if only they had done something better, they would not have to layoff talented people.

I have been laid off by people who felt worse about it than I did. I have seen managers resign rather than lay off people they feel they should protect (another version of the martyr). When WotC had the first their first layoffs (before I joined, when they grew too fast in their initial success), they held a memorial service at the Mana Pool in the center of the building complex, and the President of the company was there as they sailed paper boats with candles into the pool in memory of those they had to let go.

Layoffs - short form, they are not fun, but then they are not supposed to be. If they were easy it would happen much more often than they do.

More later,

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Layoffs at WotC

Bleak tidings indeed. The exact numbers have yet to surface from the latest tremblor to strike the hobby game industry, but it includes a number of extremely valuable and talented designers and editors, including Realms-alum and good friend Julia Martin.

It has been a frustrating season. WotC had a previous layoff in August. Upper Deck has shed 60 people, WizKids has closed up their Seattle operation. Mattel lost 1000 people The grim, invisible hand of the modern marketplace seems hell-bent to turn the hobby game industry back into a hobby.

I may have snarky comments later - for the moment I have nothing but concern and sympathy for those who have been affected.

More later,

Update: Forget to mention the earlier Upper Deck Layoffs, the announced purchase of the bankruptcy-protected GenCon which may be a hostile takeover, and, oh yeah, that White Wolf's new parent company is based in Iceland, which has gone economically casters-up.

And the publishing world isn't offering much of a safe haven, with Houghton Mifflin, Random House, and Simon & Schuster are all shedding jobs and rearranging plans. Not that they get the benefit of government hearings of bailouts.


Monday, December 01, 2008

On the Road Again: Gas Giants

I may be the last person in America to do so, but I finally filled up the tank of the Insight with gas under two bucks. That's a downside of a fuel-efficient hybrid, but one I'm willing to live with.

Gas prices have been moving downward throughout the summer, affected by mysterious forces that us mere mortals cannot understand. Despite a major hurricane hit in the Gulf, they continued down, and continued to plummet even after the November election.

When the prices were going up, there was always some storm, war, or general excuse to the excessive prices. Now that prices are sinking, specifics are avoided, and the plummet seems to be treated as proof by the media of how bad the economy is.

Yes, this is this year's fashion for economic reporting - falling prices are bad news. Now you can fill your tank, but look at all the collateral damage! The economy is tanking worldwide now. Alaska can no longer pay people to live there. Alternate energy sources are now hampered because they are too expensive.

This, by the way, is Grubb's Law of Economic Reporting: Whatever happens, it is bad for YOU. In front of every civil lining is this big dark cloud.

Of course, now is a good time to revisit all the excuses made before and see how the situation has changed to make this price-plummet happen. The Mideast remains as unstable as a breakfast burrito topped by two diet cokes. The gulf continues to churn out hurricanes. Peak oil has still peaked. Demand has not evaporated. Yet gas prices have continued to tumble.

Of course, it could be that prices were set not so much from supply and demand but from consumer panic and corporate gouging, and the gas giants have finally run out of mattress space to stash their profits. Or have seen the effects of their profits ricochet through the rest of the economy in higher prices for, well, everything.

But that would just be cynical. Better to tank up and feel guilty that your modest bargains are a reflection of a wounded economy. Hope you're happy.

More later,

Rainfall on Grubbstreet since November 1: 3.125 inches

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving Break

So I go away for a week and no one complains? Sounds like the death of blogging as we know it.

OK, it was a holiday weekend, and I spent the bulk of it either preparing to go (wrapping up stuff) or going (to Corning, California), or coming back. And now I'm back, with not much to report.

Corning is a pleasant town at the head of the Imperial Valley (that big green thumbprint in the middle of the California topo map). It is best know for its olives, and eating new olives will spoil you for more traditional vectors forever, so be warned. We had T-Giving dinner with my sister-in-law (who lives there with her husband) and mom-in-law (who was visiting there and is now visiting here), sat on the veranda overlooking the almond and olive groves, taunted the cats and played tug with the dog. A pleasant time.

And the weather cooperated - very warm, very sunny in CA, only a few showers coming back north. Even the trip wasn't bad - brother-in-law lent me a set of lecture takes on genetics, which always have been a weak spot in my knowledge base (most of my knowledge on the subject being limited to the Astonishing X-Men).

Back home, and Seattle is fully in the grip of fall - grey, drizzling, roggy, and with too much leave clutter being tracked into the house. Ah, it is good to be back home.

More later,

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Play: Faw Down Go ...

boom by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, Directed by Jerry Manning, Seattle Repertory Theatre, through Dec 14.

Here's a little plug before we get down to cases: The Seattle Rep has a blog. Promotional and bits of backstage stuff, and worth checking out.

So, where were we? Ah yes, boom is a play about the end of the world. And while not all end of the world plays are science fictional in nature, this one is sufficiently so that the Lovely Bride said upon leaving the theater, "You know, there should be more science fiction plays."

I'm not sure about this sentiment, but let me get back to that after the summary.

boom is about the end of the world. Mad, muddled, ichthyologist Jules (Nick Garrison) has proof of the upcoming extinction-level event and comes up with a half-assed plan for humanity to survive, which includes selecting his Eve from an online ad. Acerbic Jo (Chelsey Rives) answers the ad and shares his bunker, but isn't looking for anything beyond a story to tell. And then there is Barbara (Gretchen Krich) who plays god (and the tympani), unseen by the other two actors. Barbara is guardian spirit and embattled bureaucrat and storyteller, and much of the resolution of the play is about how stories are told and what the heck we are really seeing.

And part of this is because this is a science fiction play, and in saying that you create a set of values and expectations. When you say something is a murder mystery, your mind immediately locks into the mode of identifying the victim, and later the villain, in the piece, such that it can overwhelm the rest of the story. Ditto a lot of science fiction - if all those decades of Twilight Zones and Outer Limits have taught us anything, it is that sf has a twist and moral message and you're suddenly looking for the trick instead of concentrating on the story itself. And part of the craft hinges of pulling off the trick without cheating the reader/viewer.

Nachtrieb pulls it off, such that I was looking for the trick, then got pulled back into the characters and the multiple levels of the play, so that the trick (well, tricks) became part of the fabric itself. And Nachtrieb (and director Manning) plays fair with leaving out all the clues so when the reveals are made, you are neither astounded nor indignant - rather, it is sewn into the flow of the play itself.

Garrison makes a soft, sad sack Adam to the new world, having a plan but lacking the heartless nature needled to carry it out. Rives is his Eve, sharp-tongued and angry, both at her captor and her life. And Krich, decked out in a flowing pantsuit that looks like something from the Star Trek (Original Series) garage sale, sells the point beautifully as we realize that her goofy, new-agey mannerisms are not that goofy after all. She is a slapdash Wizard in her elevated Oz above the stage, with percussion and switches and a lit panel answering to greater powers.

The other thing about SF is that we expect all the pieces to fit together. And not all of them do, here, but then its not QUITE the science fiction play. Good theater opens other doors, and the questions of storytelling and legacy filters into this play about Armageddon. So I will disagree with the LB - It is not quite an SF play, but it is close enough for army work, and it carries itself off well.

It was the end of the world as we know. Yeah, I feel fine.

More later,

Friday, November 21, 2008

Department of Teh Cute

Because I wish to destroy your productivity, I give you Puppy Stalker!.

Ooooooh - whoozah puppy? Yes you are! Yes you are!

More later

Thursday, November 20, 2008


So I'm lost in personal introspection at the moment. Have a meme instead - Typealyzer - What Type is Your Blog:

ISTP - The Mechanics
The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generelly prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

DOW Breaks 8,000!

OK, things are dire right now, as we all watch the values our diminishing 401k's, but the media seems to be slipping easily between denial ("Just a rough patch, folks!") to despair ("Ohmighod! We're all going to die!") with nary a breath in between. Mind you, part of it may be that that we have gone from "economic softening" (Mattel sheds 1000 jobs) and "fullblown recession" (the Seattle Times newsroom starts losing staff (Oh, including their political cartoonist, which finalizes the uselessness of the editorial page)).

And somehow in all this mess, there is a growing meme that this is somehow the new guy's fault. Mind you, the first 5500 points of DOW drop under the current administration is somehow a "gimme" and this last 500 points is the fault of the guy we just hired. Never mind that we're two months away from his start date.

I can understand this thinking. I, for one, am disappointed I have yet to receive my flying car. And every morning, I stand in my driveway, waiting for it. And yet, despite my hopes and dreams, it never comes. Perhaps it stopped to pick up my recovered 401k on the way over.

Where's my instant gratification, gosh darn it?

More later,

Monday, November 17, 2008

Whither, Viaduct?

So, if you like traffic porn, here is the site for you - Eight different scenarios under consideration for replacement of the SR 99 Viaduct and Seawall along the Seattle waterfront.

I've mellowed about the viaduct over the past few years. In the wake of the Nisqually Quake, my attitude was we need to replace it now, darn it, and with something that won't fall over! Since them (with a fortunate lack of calamities (touch wood)), I have moderated my view.

First off, I don't think that the current viaduct is an eyesore. No, I'm serious. From out on the sound, coming in by ferry, it has a model-car track feels. And it keeps the city from spilling all the way to the shore. It doesn't block a whole bunch of "sound views" since the city climbs up the hill from that point, giving great views ABOVE the road line. In fact, if we build more structures on the remains of Alaskan Way, then more views will be lost that are currently there.

Plus some of the best views in the city come from the viaduct itself, which actually encourages me to use it. Just saying.

The current elevated structure also provides a needed commodity downtown - parking. Not only does the shadow of the viaduct provide (relatively)cheap parking, but also the location for small retailers that would have no place in a heavily mauled/malled main street. Small art galleries and places that sell Doc Martens and real grinding skate stuff. I'm just surprised that there isn't a comic book shop down there. All of that - small shops and warehouses and parking, all go away (And may go away regardless of the choices - sigh - but whatever choice is made needs to replace lost public parking).

And looking at these proposals, I think that the big question in my mind is - what is the purpose of the SR 99 corridor? If it is to feed the downtown district, a surface street option makes sense, with the note that this will increase traffic flow through not only these streets but the other north/south roads as well.

I, at the moment, favor the idea that the purpose of the viaduct is not to get people INTO Seattle, but rather to get the PAST Seattle. To facilitate the northern suburbs to get to SeaTac and the southern ones to get to Everett. The exit off the current viaduct in midtown just drives me crazy, and I don't feel we should keep that particular error should we decide that the viaduct is to get us past the city.

So I can grove behind an elevated replacement, with a lidded trench as a second choice. The surface street options make me raise an eyebrow, and I think that full-bore (heh) tunnel may be a bit risky below the water level (remember, this area is mostly fill over the years - the fact that it is a structural nightmare is born out by the state of the current viaduct).

But it does look like a cool gathering of options (and includes changes to I-5 and the Mercer Mess, so take a look.

More later,

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dept. of Teh Cute

My niece in her Halloween costume.The net is eternal, so when she's up for that Supreme Court nomination, this is the photo that is going to turn up. Bwahahahah!

More later,

Friday, November 14, 2008

Signs of the Times

So I have been watching, and increasingly noting in these columns, the slow and apparently inevitable demise of the Seattle Times.

Theirs has not been a sudden death, like the buy-out and immediate crapification of the Seattle Weekly, but rather the slow wasting illness, as capacity is slowly lost and tolerable quirkiness is confirmed as a growing and dangerous lack of capability.

The signs and portents have been gathering like crows along the roofline. The business section ceases to be an independent section. The editorial section is gutted, its letters sent on-line. Doonesbury shrinks to almost unreadability and is dispatched to the comics page. Loss of top talent like Postman, who could maintain both online and press presence. Sell-off of other properties owned by the paper (a brace of papers in Maine). Hamhanded attempts at building a Web 2.0 community by recruiting readers as contributers (don't think of them as scabs - think of them as unpaid interns).

And now, job reductions. About 140 total, includes 31 in the newsroom, including 19 of which chose to leap as opposed to being pushed, and therefore getting a better class of parachute for the trip down. Editors, reporters, photographers.

And I have mixed emotions on it all. The Times makes great pains to pitch itself as a local paper, in terms of being locally owned. And any loss of locally-owned media is worrisome. But that local ownership tends to be conservative in nature, and is often an odd match for the readership it claims to serve. Usually its conservative nature confines itself to the now-useless editorial page, which considers the important litmus test of the past decade to be elimination of the Estate Tax. This was a pretty tolerable arrangement.

But in its dotage, it has let that slant expand, not only to its placement of articles but to the nature of those articles as well. It has become a given that bad news for the Dems gets front page treatment but problems for the GOP are buried in the back of the B section. For example, the questions of whether endorsed faves Dino Rossi and Dave Reichert may have violated campaign law are minimized, or completely absent from the paper.

But that a Dem candidate may have misrepresented her Harvard education? Front page material, A-section. With an enthusiasm that would make a neophyte lapdancer blush, the Times serviced the needs of the Republicans with a hit piece so virulent that they had to change their online versions to hide the worst of it. Turning a tight race into a significant win for the incumbent, the Times not only rewrote the press release given to them but gave it prominence. It is a sign of the diminishing capabilities of the paper that not only they ran such agitprop, but did so in a clumsy matter that left their fingerpints all over the weapon.

So the question becomes, at what point does one abandon a newspaper? The Times has continually had good science and ecological reporting, and its book two-page spread in the Sunday edition remains one of its few readable parts of the paper (My Sunday-morning reading experience as been speeding up over the past few months). It still has columnists worth seeking out, like sports reporter Ron Judd, who actually made me care about the America's Cup. But the goods are increasingly being replaced by the bads and the absences.

And before I hear from my all-tech friends, a newspaper remains portable, recyclable, and semi-permanent. You can set your cereal bowl on top of it with little problem. You can clip something out of it without printer technology. And if you spill your coke on it, the loss is pennies as opposed to four figures worth of dollars. Macy's ads are not as nearly as irritating as popups.

So for the moment, I only support as I can, correct where I must, and hope for the best. Recovery is possible, but with the economy tanking and the Seattle Sports teams exploring the depths of despair (it could have been worse - we could have still had the Sonics in town), it is likely that things will worsen before they improve.

More later,

Update: I mention the paper's superior science reporting, and they turn around and deliver this excellent report of MRSA in our local hospitals (Short form: Preventable but we're not doing it). Good reporting, and I hope the reporters still have their jobs.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hard Rain

Hmm, the sun is finally coming out.

It has been a rainy two weeks in the Puget Sound region. About seven inches up on Grubb Street (did I mention I have a rain gauge on my back porch?). The rivers are high, but primarily north and south of the Seattle area proper. We had a small dam go but so far have avoided the major flooding of last year (touch wood).

But the rain itself has been definitely non-Novemberish. As we move into winter, we look at gentle, evening rains, usually with a good solid windstorm late in the month (the Lovely Bride uses this event to gather downed pine branches for the Christmas wreath). The rains of the November have been hard, almost eastern rains, heavy drops that command the use of an umbrella (or at least a hat or hoodie). Most Seattle rains are mists which are casually ignored by the nataives.

And now we're watching as the creeks rise and the levees are reinforced in counties north and south of here. Weather news dominates the local broadcasts. It will pass, and things will get back to (mostly) normal.

More later,

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

In recognition to those who have served.

More later,

Monday, November 10, 2008

The 'Kids Are Not All Right

The announcement came under the simple heading Announcement.
The Topps Company announced today that WizKids will immediately cease operations and discontinue its product lines.

Scott Silverstein, CEO of Topps, said “This was an extremely difficult decision. While the company will still actively pursue gaming initiatives, we feel it is necessary to align our efforts more closely with Topps current sports and entertainment offerings which are being developed within our New York office.”

Upon notifying our partners, Topps will immediately pursue strategic alternatives so that viable brands and properties, including HeroClix, can continue without noticeable disruption. To that end, WizKids will continue supporting Buy it By the Brick redemptions for Arkham Asylum, and the December Organized Play events for HeroClix.

For consumer announcements, please refer to over the coming days for further information.
I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Plastics.
- The Graduate

The sudden and unexpected demise of Wizkids has many likely causes, and if I knew anyone still there, I might even find them out. But since I worked for the about five years back, most of the original team have left, voluntarily or involuntarily or in a combination of the two. So while I can guess about what goes through the Topps' executives minds, I can't really speak to it.

But I do know that oil prices have shot up in the past few years, and with the price of oil, the price of plastic. And that cannot be good for a company's bottom line.

We have a tendency to say that games are "recession proof", but I point out that our games today are not the games of the 70s - we depend a lot more on economies of scale and higher production values than we did back in the early days of the hobby. We have made real the dreams of inexpensive, prepainted miniatures, but those dreams have depended on an economic framework that may no longer be viable.

My sympathies for those that have been "reduced" by this latest business move.

More later,

Update: Wizkids plastic figures come out of the boomtown of Guangzhou, which is now emptying out as a result of factory closings. The story is here. Loss of liquidity is the big reason for the closings, and up to 130,000 people per day are leaving the city to go back to their home provinces.

And this will come full circle to Seattle in that the West Coast ports do much of their business with Asian manufacturers.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Book On Tape: Oy, Alaska!

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon, Harper Audio, Read by Peter Riegert, 2007

In an alternate universe, homicide detective Meyer Landsman has to deal with a shooting at his fleabag hotel. The victim is a junkie, who left behind a chessboard, an assumed name, and big mystery as to the hows and whys of his demise. The detective, hotel, and dead junkie, however, are all in Federal District of Sitka, which for sixty years has been the temporary home of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust in Europe. The timer is about to run out, dumping the Jews of Sitka, including Detective Landsman, back into the Diaspora. What the dead junkie has to with the Reversion of Sitka and the fate of the Alaskan Jews is the heart of the novel.

This is at its heart a detective novel, and as such it plays by detective novel rules. It spins it way through a number of suspects and clues, reaches an apex, then winds its way back through the suspects to the one ultimately responsible, learning in the process the whys and wherefores. And like a good detective novel, it is also about redemption, both for the victim and for the investigator - Meyer Landsman has to understand the victim, as well as deal with his own lack of faith and his own past failures in unspooling the crime.

This is also an alternate history novel, and as such to stops (almost lurches) at the point that it identifies the point where the everything goes that different direction. In this case it is death of Anthony Dimond, who in our world successfully fought against the plan to create a homeland in Alaska (in our world, the plan didn't have a lot of support among the American Jewish Community, either, and FDR never mentioned it in public). But at this point in the book, the demands of the alternate world novel (to explain the divergence) intrude on the demands of the detective genre, and you get the feeling of two genres passing each other like trains in the night. Its the one rocky part in the novel for me.

Lastly, it is Chabon novel, and while I have only read Kavalier and Clay, I note that both have the sense of family within them, in particular the relationship of a distant cousin from another culture. For Union, the cousin is Meyer's partner, who is also his half-Tlngit cousin, Berko Shemets. And Meyer's new boss, in the waning days of the FD of Sitka, is his ex-wife Bina Gelbfish. So there are all the connections from the story, and all the connections of the story before the story begins.

The books on tape are well-presented, but the length of the cuts is too long, particularly for a mystery. Sometimes you have to back up to catch what a clue from earlier, and while a simple thing for a book, inevitably it will be five minutes earlier on the disk. Peter Riegert is a good reader for this, and while it helps to be able to tell a schlemiel from a schmuck, context will help for most of the goyim.

The book itself won the Hugo for best SF Novel this year, which begs the question - what is Science Fiction? It definitely is an award-winning book, but does it break genre or merely exist outside it? I've mentioned this to a couple other writers, and got the response "It happens in an alternate world". But doesn't all fiction, whether it is Sherlock Holmes or Cthulhu or Tom Sawyer? Aren't these all alternate worlds? How broad is must the definition of SF be in order to include this but exclude anything else?

In the meantime, its a worthwhile listen, and an excellent book. Check it out.

More later,

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Dust Settles

The votes have been counted, the last of the concessions or declarations have come in. Let us see where we ended up.

President: Barack Obama
(You may have heard about this one. What is remarkable about this was the hearty and generally peaceable celebration both in the country and around the world. One of my co-workers complained about "Drunken Hipsters Turning Up the Dumb" on Cap Hill (Of course, he was one of the ones that helped clean out the QFC of champagne there)).

US Rep, 8th District: Dave Reichert.
(Alas, the votes are tight, but not getting any tighter, and Darcy Burner has conceded. We keep an innocuous Republican who, now freed of his GOP masters, may actually start being the moderate the Times pretends he is.)

Governor: Christine Gregoire
(Everyone called this a nailbiter, but it wasn't. Dino Rossi went down by a sizable majority and delivered a concession speech noting that he didn't really want the job anyway. The investigation into his fundraising activities should continue - if it was illegal on 3 November, it should be just as illegal on 5 November.)

Lt Governor: Brad Owen
Secretary of State: Sam Reed
State Treasurer: Jim McIntire
State Auditor: Brian Sontagg
Attorney General: Rob McKenna
Commissioner of Public Lands: Peter J. Goldmark
(Tight, but definitely a win. Apparently if your policies bring down the side of a mountain and flood Chehalis there ARE repercussions. Who'dathunkit?)
Superintendent of Public Instruction: Randy Dorn
(Another changing of the guard. Dorn stated in the campaign that it wasn't about the WASL, so now we're going to change the WASL).
Insurance Commissioner: Mike Kreidler

Legislative District 47 (Pos 1): Geoff Simpson
Legislative District 47 (Pos 2): Pat Sullivan

Supreme Court Justices: Mary Fairhurst, Charles Johnson, Debra Stephens

King County Superior Court, Pos 1 – Tim Bradshaw
King County Superior Court, Pos 22 – Holly Hill
King County Superior Court, Pos 37 – Barbara Mack
(1 out of 3, but these court positions have been races between very good candidates, so either way, the people of Washington win).

King County Amendment 1 (Elected Director of Elections): Yes
King County Amendment 2 (Expand definitions of discrimination): Yes
King County Amendment 3 (Restructure regional committees): Yes
King County Amendment 4 (Set requirements for some offices): Yes
King County Amendment 5 (Create forecast office): Yes
King County Amendment 6 (Move up budget deadlines): Yes
King County Amendment 7 (Increase requirements for Initiatives): No
King County Amendment 8 (Make executive, assessor, and county council nonpartisan offices): Yes
(There will be such headslaps when some of these go into effect. Remember, the answer to "who's bright idea was THIS?" is found in the mirror).

King County Fire Protection District 2 (Bonds for new stations): Yes
Maple Valley Fire and Life Safety (Restore levy for funding): No

Washington State Initiative 985 (Magic Ponies): No
(Of everything on the ballot, this was the most dramatic crash and burn. Its major proponent, Tim Eyeman, has as a result declared victory and promised to return next year with another initiative. Yeah, I'm excited about the prospect, too.)
Washington State Initiative 1000 (Allow terminally ill access to lethal drugs): Yes
Washington State Initiative 1029 (Certify long-term care workers): Yes

Sound Transit Propositions 1: Yes
(The other big surprise. Conventional Wisdom said that a mass transit package without a big juicy giveaway to the roads lobby would fail. Instead, unshackled by its connection, this one soared. Now the big argument is - why do we have to wait so long before we get it?)

And that's it. Now I can get back to talking about comics, games, and collectible quarters.

More later,

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Hug Your Street Musician

I must report with sadness the death of Edward McMichael. Name does not ring a bell? How about the Tuba Man?

And if you're a local sports fan or have spent time in Seattle Center, the penny drops, the mental relay closes and the sadness is shared. McMichael was that guy. The street musician. The older guy with the funny hats. And the tuba.

The tuba is an inherently a funny instrument, best in holding down the beat at the deeper registers. When carrying the melody, it is like a fat guy doing ballet - it can be brilliant, but the overwhelming whimsy of the concept overwhelms the delivery. The Tuba Man got that. His venues were often surrounded by concrete (like the narrow canyon outside the Opera House). His joyful noise resounded halfway across the Center itself. He would play very un-tuba like tunes, and like an elephant dancing, the inherent joy would come out. It was music that always made me smile.

McMichael was assaulted on 25 October by a group of toughs. He was beaten and robbed and was slowly recovering when he was found dead in his room on Monday. Two of the youths responsible for the assault are in custody, and the other three are being sought. The Seattle sports community, who know McMichael from myriad Sonics, Seahawks, and Mariner games, is taking it hard. Losing the Sonics was painful - this tragedy strikes to the heart of a community. KOMO-AM has helped establish a fund for the services and relatives at any Bank of America branch. Donations can be mailed to Edward the Tuba Man McMichael Memorial Fund, PO Box 4935, Federal Way, 98063.

Street musicians have it rough - inclement weather, walkby critics, low contributions, and yeah, possible attacks. So the next one you see, listen for a moment. Say thank you. And drop a few coins into the box.

For the Tuba Man.

More later,

Update: Janna has a remembrance and a photo.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Office Politics

I want to thank Barack Obama for keeping me from looking like an idiot.

Let me explain. I work in an office made up of young people. And as such, we have deep, meaningful discussions. Like – who would win – Captain America or Batman?

And in the midst of the discussion (Which Batman are we talking about - The Adam West version or the JLA-beating one? What part of the phrase "Unbreakable Shield" are you unclear on?), I opened my mouth and said “Captain America would win. Hope beats Fear”.

And that quote, like so many off-hand comments, stuck, and metastasized into a phrase that kept coming up again and again, in particular in regards to discussions on national politics. There was a lot of hope on one side, and a lot of fear on the other. A lot of promise versus a lot of scary words and scary images of a scary world. A soaring rhetoric against a relentless drumbeat of worry.

And coming up to the national election, there was that nagging doubt in the back of my mind. What if I’m wrong? What if, as we have before, we as a people faced the choice and turned aside, turned to the apparent safety of the rhetoric of the past? What if we as a people were too scared to go forward? What if the call came and we did not answer?

The answer was in long lines at polling places and the suddenness of the results, the immediate response of Pennsylvania and Ohio, faster than I had anticipated. It came in a gracious acceptance speech and a glorious acceptance speech. It came in the mention that Obama’s kids are getting a dog. There are still some parts where the jury is out, and parts of the reporting that are downright wonky (like, um, Georgia), but we got our answer.

Good Game, America.

Hope beats Fear.

More later,

Update: Here's some amateur video from Capitol Hill, corner of Broadway and Pine. It's dark, but gives a great feel for the vibe. Apparently there are a couple co-workers in that teeming mass of youngness.

Hey you kids - GG.

A New America

The next president of the United States is younger than I am.

Yeah, I'm cool with it.

More later

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Now Go Vote.

More later,

Update: The Lovely Bride and I have voted, down at Meeker School at the bottom of the hill. We arrived just when class was starting, school buses were arriving, the parking lot was a mess, and the kids were all huddled beneath the overhangs from the rain, blocking the entrances. We had to wade through pre-teens in order to preserve democracy!

The place was busy but there were no lines, and by the time we left people were starting to stack up at the registration and the voting kiosks were all full. It looks like its going to be a brisk day, and the Poll Workers themselves seem excited about what is happening today.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Day Before Tomorrow

OK, have a seat. It’s time for the grown-up talk.

Tomorrow is Election Day, and it’s a big one. In our little corner of the world, its President, Governor, all of the Administration, US Rep, two state legislators, three initiatives, 1 traffic proposition, and a partridge in a pear tree. Your mileage may vary, but the odds are it is going to be big.

So here are some things to think about:

Vote early – To those of you who have already mailed your ballots in – Thank You. I’m rather suspicious of the whole mail-in thing, imagining some disgruntled letter-carrier with bags of ballots in his broom closet. But given the huge tide of voters this year, it’s important. Warn your boss you might be in a little late. As an added bonus, you can nag your nonvoting coworkers with impunity.

Be patient in line – This one is for me – I am used to dropping in on my favorite polling place about 9 AM on the way to work, chatting with the poll workers as they check my identification, usually being one of the first five to vote in Rush district, and then being on my way. Like I said, there are a lot of people voting and a lot of stuff on the ballot. Bring a book.

Be Patient Afterwards – We may not have enough data by 8 PM tomorrow to say who won on a national level, and it is dead-certain we won’t know for a couple days for a lot of the state and local offices. Part of this is because of the process – we get a lot of votes from urban centers (which overwhelm the system) and a lot of votes from the rural areas (which overwhelm the system). I have seen winners become losers. We’ll wait, but Count All the Votes.

Vote anyway – It may be that by the time you get off work, the presidential campaign is over from the numbers back east and the contender has conceded. Vote anyway. Run the numbers up. And there are more than enough other things that are Washington State-centric that need your attention.

Just chill out – There are going to be a lot of narratives being thrown around tomorrow. Some people will find out they were purged from the polls. Some districts will discover that the restless dead are voting, or the neighborhood dog, or the restless dead’s neighborhood dog. There are going to be machines that flip votes and things very strange results. Nader will carry a small town in Indiana by more votes than there are people there. It’s a sloppy, nasty operation, but chill out. One of the reasons to vote is to reduce the amount of whackiness in the system. Real votes reduce the power of bogus votes.

No, I mean it, Chill Out, Dude. This is not a football game, it is a new hire. We’re hiring someone for one of the toughest jobs on the planet. Some damned fools are going act like it’s the Superbowl, and some are going to go all Soccer Hooligan when their team punts.

OK, that’s about it. Here are my choices, if you’re still up in the air. Here are Steve and Shelly’s, for other opinions. Here are those for the Times and the P-I and the Stranger. The Weekly doesn't pay attention to real world anymore.

And lastly, here is my favorite YouTube video from the campaign:

More later

More late.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


This was a disappointing year for campaign mailers. I blame the massive tide of money that has flowed through the system, which resulted in huge amounts for the air war (radio and TV and, I suppose, the Internet) and left precious little for mailers. A small pile of the mailers sit by my chair, but compared to four years ago, they are pitiable, mewling brood, with only a few bright points among them.

Let's get the positive ones out of the way - Sullivan (2), Simpson (3), Burner (2), Holly Hill (1). Nice boiler-plate stuff. Families, education, pictures of kids. All sponsored directly by the campaigns.

Then there are the mostly-positive ones from related interest groups and larger campaigns. A nice one for Dave Reichert from the US Chamber of Commerce which doesn't say you should vote for him, but instead that you should just call him up and tell him how awesome he is (awwwwww). One from the Sierra Club with its recommendations (Gregroire, Goldmark, No on I-985, Yes of Prop 1, Simpson and Sullivan - more to be found here). And one from the Democratic Central Committee for Burner that compares "The same old guys" (Bush, Reichert, McCain) to "The New Team" (Burner and Obama - who look like the early team for Action-Four News at Five (*With Joe Biden and the Metrolink Weather)).

Then we hit the very negative ones, which reveals the tin ear which pops up once you put these things in the hands of professionals. The winner in this race to the bottom is probably the Anti-Gregoire, Pro-Rossi mailers from the It's Time For a Change, a fully-owned arm of ChangePac, which is in turn heavily funded by the BIAW, for whom Rossi does fundraising (its all like an ever-shifting jigsaw puzzle). These mailers come so close to science fiction that I am thinking of submitting them for consideration for a Hugo award. Washington State's Economy is on life support (despite Forbes telling everyone that its a great place to do business). Gregoire is an old-west bandit, killing jobs just to see them die (this just in - the jobless rate, already below the national average, dropped last month). And most importantly Change is Good! Any change! Even a Change for the Worse!. I've got about five of these, each goofier than the last. But the capper was the final, which shows a bad picture of Mr. Rossi in scary black-and-white, over-exposed, looking like a very tired vampire.

You're doing it wrong, guys. You got the file photos confused - that's the scary picture that was supposed to be run on the ANTI-Rossi mailers.

Let me jump over to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee for second place in this race to the bottom, in its negative advertising against Geoff Simpson's opponent Mark Hargrove. These are a thematically prettier, and have a common theme with poker chips, a roulette wheel, flipping a coin and dice - Don't gamble on our future. Thematically it works without being too over-the-top. But its still an attack ad - special interests, lack of experience, and accusing the candidate of negative attacks that I have neither seen nor heard.

(I did get robocall from the Hargrove campaign, recommending I check out "Mark Hargrove and Geoff Simpson" on the net to find out their positions. I did so, hoping to find a site with direct comparisons. Instead the top hits were for the righty blog Sound Politics, also complaining about these mailers. I did track down Hargrove's site, which nicely lays out his (conservative) positions and his endorsements. Not my cup of tea, but a strong site. I was surprised to see an endorsement from Dino Rossi, making it the first firm statement I've heard from that candidate. But I digress ...)

Special mention goes to the Washington State Dental Political Action Committee (yes, dentists have a PAC), for a similar-looking mailer that declares - "OLYMPIA - No Place For On The Job Training". Sadly, I must strongly disagree. While previous experience is a great thing for the state house (Pat Sullivan was Mayor of Covington), our state government is the perfect place for newcomers to the system. Before entering the legislator, Geoff Simpson (who this mailer supports) was (and remains) a firefighter. This one's a headscratcher that doesn't hold up. Sorry, Dentists. Let's go back to talking about the importance of flossing.

Ah, and lastly we have the Burning Benjamins of the Republican Governor's Association, showing hundred-dollar bills being burned with a wasteful amount of matches to symbolize Gregriore's shameful destruction of the state's surplus. Of course, Gregoire helped create that surplus, and if you want to talk about damaging deficits, there's this national one that we've been running up for eight years. But, most damaging to this mailer's cause is the fact that its a MALE hand that's doing the burning. Did no one tell the suits that made this ad back on Penn Ave in Washington DC that we have a female governor?

And that's it. Not a lot. Some blatant falsehoods, some poor uses of image, and most of these go directly into the recycling bin. All in all, I'm disappointed. I expected a lot more of our politicians (or in the case of the PACs, a lot less), and am saddened that bad mailer design is becoming a lost art.

Ah well, there is always 2012.

More later

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Grading Gregoire

OK, smart guy. If you have such reservations about Dino Rossi, what about his opponent, the incumbent, Christine Gregoire? Surely you have an opinion about her.

I do. She is an uninspired speaker and a bit pedantic. She neither dazzles me with brilliance nor befuddles me with bullpucky. I'm not getting a lot of entertainment value out of her administration. She's a B+ kind of leader. And I'm pretty happy with that.

Mind you, I'm perfectly willing to dump all the woes of the world on the guys supposedly in charge. But the things that bug me on a national level don't seem to reach down as far as the local level. The War and the status of my 401k aren't really decided in the State House - they're the ones I yell at about traffic and taxes (more on those in a moment). And due to Washington's geographic position, quirkiness in its form of government, business climate, and yeah, leadership, we haven't done too badly for the past four years. In effect, it hasn't sucked, which for a politician is high praise indeed.

When I say quirkiness in government, I can point at we have a fully elected administrative branch, which means we get a mixed bag of views in office and sends us towards moderation. We also have a part-time legislature, which seems to remove some of the tendency for making trouble. And as a result, we have been, if not scandal free, running at below the national average for mischief.

Our state is running below the national unemployment rate and our home values haven't tanked as badly here as elsewhere. The administration has gotten awards for its transparency, and socialist rags like Forbes Magazine gives us shout-outs for being great for business. Considering that the Dems have been "in charge" for the past couple years, none of the evidence of apocalypse has manifested.

OK, what about this kerfuffle about the Native American Casinos? Big contributors to the Gregoire campaign, and in turn she has pushed legislation to help them protect and expand their franchise. Quid pro quo, right? Well, not really. The Times, that old staunch conservative paper, has let the air out of that one (though after months of listening to the GOP Governor's Association go on about "Casino Chris" in attack ads). If anything, it looks like she listened to the citizenry on this one.

And during the past four years Gregiore's leadership was tested, with the floods in Lewis County, our mini version of Katrina. She mobilized the state resources in a fashion that brought praise from Republican legislators, was there when needed, and went looking for root causes. She gets good marks for that.

But traffic? Traffic sucks. I have what is called the worst commute in the Puget Sound area - Renton to Bellevue along 405. Fifteen miles and it can take up to forty-five minutes for me. But I would be less than honest to point out that a lot of my delay is from all the construction crews on the road fixing the darn thing. Not that this will reduce my complaints, but I have to recognize that the state is at least doing something.

Heck, she's even got me mellowing on my opinion of the viaduct. I still don't believe that it should have an exit into downtown, but I could get behind a replacement elevated structure as opposed a surface street.

And taxes. Bleah. We have a truly regressive, nasty little sales tax system in the state, but until someone is going to give that third rail of state politics, a unified income tax, a big friendly hug, I don't know how I could deal with it better. The current administration, across the political spectrum, is all about moving limited resources to where it will do the most good.

We're looking at a budgetary shortfall in two years - about $30 million, at last guess, in part due to the fact that when the economy turns sour, our tax support drops. But that is a drop in the barrel compared to, say, California, which needs 9 Billion with a B dollars and right now, dammit to stay in business. Heck, we seem almost respectable.

And with all the news coming out of Alaska about corruption and abuse of perks, the worst we get out of our governor's office is this: The Governor and her friends go to a bar. She gets carded. She doesn't have her ID. They refuse to let her in. She goes home. The bar changes its sign that says "We'd card our own Mother" to "We'd card our own Governor".

Yep, its pretty boring. Right now, I can use boring. So I'm good with a desperate lack of material from the state government, and I endorse their efforts to keep themselves off these pages through hard work and low profiles.

We all can use that level of boring.

More later,

Rainfall on Grubb Street in October: 2.6"

Friday, October 31, 2008

Reservations on Rossi

So many people have been talking politics on their blogs, that once I delivered my recommendations, I felt I could coast for a while. But there are a couple things that I still need to work out of my system before Tuesday.

And one of them is Dino Rossi, Republican/GOP candidate for governor.

When this blog was in its early days, Mr. Rossi provided good content, both with the razor-thin margin of his loss and with the massive, overblown lawsuit that followed. And now here it is four years later, and we're back to the same battle with the same candidates. A do-over. Sort of like if Gore ignored all those people calling to "Move On" and decided to run again in 2004. Not that there is anything really wrong with a rematch (Darcy Burner is making her second run for Dave Reichert's seat), but you expect to that the candidate has improved over the interim.

From what I have seen in the Rossi-Gregoire race, I'm not convinced. I think Mr. Rossi run a very slick campaign, as he has before, which hinges on a couple things, and may yet see him victory. But if anything, I've got more reservations now than I did four years back. Here are the high points:

Different messages for different audiences: To Washington East of the Cascades and the redder rural areas, the Rossi message has been one of bitterness and resentment - "Don't let Seattle Steal THIS election" announce the angry billboards. In the Puget Sound region, it is all about "Change", trying to hook his wagon to the Obama campaign. "He's for change and so am I!" says the technicolor message board in Fife. In general, the Rossi campaign has been much more willing to embrace the Democratic presidential candidate than the Republican one, if that will get more votes. Which brings me to -

Running under the Radar: We mentioned earlier about the Rossi campaign using the "Prefers GOP" tag to put some additional distance between himself and the national train wreck his party has become. And indeed, in a tight election, a few confused voters might make a difference. If that doesn't work, he may very well run next time as a Whig. And he'd still do pretty well, because of -

Friends with Deep Pockets: The BIAW (Building Industry Association of Washington) is one of the state's most powerful sources of political funding and Rossi's sugar daddy, to the tune of over 7 million bucks. Impressive (and it might be more - the cash flow seems a little dodgy here). That's a lot of money for a campaign, and could take a good dent out of the impending budgetary shortfall that should hit in two years. We should save the BIAW's number and hit them up for a loan, if we need it.

[Digression- Just to be straightforward on this, the BIAW spreads a lot of cash around in elections on both sides of the political fence - what do they want out of the deal? There's a good article here. The short form - they want lower taxes and few regulations for their members, the housing developers. Who would pick up the slack? That would be ... you.]

Controlling the Message: Questions that Mr. Rossi does not wish to answer do not get answered. Information that Mr. Rossi does not wish to share is not distributed. Reporters that Mr. Rossi does not care for are not admitted to press conferences. That makes getting the message out much easier, particularly if the media you are favoring includes conservative-friendly operations like the Times. But a friendly media is only helpful if you are -

Being Technically Legal: This is a big one. The Rossi campaign and its supporting operations patrol the grey areas of the law with ruthless precision.
Here's an example - the candidates' sources of income. The current governor shared all her tax forms. The Rossi camp, instead, delivered the minimum as required by law and not a comma more. Legally, he was not obligated to, so those interested could just go pound sand.
Here's another: A foot-dragging Mr. Rossi this week had to give a deposition about his fund-raising for the BIAW. His argument is that he was not a candidate at the time he was raising huge amounts of money for a group that would then invest heavily in his campaign once he DID become a candidate (again). Now frankly, I think he has a point (that is, it's a lame and relatively toothless law if it can be circumvented is such a brazen manner), but this seems to be a hallmark for the campaign. That which is not expressly demanded is optional. That which is not expressly forbidden is permitted.

So from all this I get an idea of how Mr. Rossi would govern. More stonewalling than is found in a backyard English garden. Eager to obey the absolute minimum as required by law. In the pocket of a major, major donor. Limited communication. The transparency of a cinder block.

And I think that all this is the big reason I can get comfortable with Darcy Burner in her second run and not Dino Rossi. Burner spent her enforced time-off coming up with plans and positions and reasons to vote for her. If anything, she's grown on me and reassured me as to her intentions. Rossi played games with our election laws and has sewn resentment and confusion in his wake. And while a Rossi Governership might make for more stirring headlines and funnier blogging, I would prefer my elected officials to be more competent than entertaining.

Really, I'm good. I don't need new material.

More later,

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Memes, Notes, and Plugs

First the meme: Copy this sentence into your livejournal (well, blog) if you're in a heterosexual marriage, and you don't want it "protected" by the bigots who think that gay marriage hurts it somehow.

Let me go futher: I am particularly cheesed off at the cowards who hide behind my marriage to further their hate. On things that grind my gears, it is almost up there with the cowards who hide behind the flag. If these clowns were truly worried about the health of my marriage, they would work to close garden stores to keep the Lovely Bride from buying too many annuals every spring (A rite referred to in the house as "Honey, this space alien possessed my mind and made me buy marigolds and petunias").

But talk is cheap. Stan! takes a stand on the matter - on a street corner. His story is here.

The Jeff Recommends has gotten a lot of good feedback, and some of my fellow local bloggers have gotten into the act (Yay them!). For alternate views, go check out Shelly (and check out her comments as well) and Steve Miller (whom I disagree with on a lot of points, but value his views).

Also on the political front, fellow Alliterate Steve Sullivan has put together books on Barack Obama and John McCain. Perfect gifts for your last minute Election Day shopping.

And FINALLY Worlds of Their Own is still available at Paizo, a jam session of writers best known for our shared world stories cut loose in original stories. Check it out.

More later,

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Songs of the States

So the question came up in the office: Are all 50 states represented in song? And then we had to define further - we would exempt all official states songs, as well as all fight songs. We started with "Sweet Home Alabama" and soon rolled in "Country Roads" and "There's a Pawnshop on the Corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania" (which I remember from my youth), but hung up on New Hampshire and some of the more esoteric states.

Well, the net provides. Norman Geras has done the work so we don't have to.

Thank you Norman. Thank you, Internet.

More later,

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Fall

It has been an interesting autumn so far, in particular since it has lasted so long.

Autumn in the Puget Sound area is a time for evening rains and morning fogs. We've had both of these so far (Panther Lake and the length of Benson Hill have been wrapped in what might best be called low clouds, but regardless they have presented a cotton-wrapped commute each morning). But we also usually have a good cold snap that brings down the leaves in one fell swoop with very little chance for fall color.

Not this year - it has been a mild cooling, resulting is a golden canopy as the deciduous trees turn. The wide blanket of pines keep their deep green as a backdrop, and we have the accent of crimson flame from maples along the way.

All in all, it has been positively pretty.

More later,

Monday, October 27, 2008


In its continuing effort to make its editorial page even less relevant, the Times have moved Doonesbury to the comics pages.

I report that with a wry grin, since the reason Doonesbury was usually be found on the editorial page in the first place was that the editors were concerned that such a "political" strip might be found by impressionable young minds and people whose morning mental exercise was the Word Jumble. It always seemed like a cheap way to avoid the usual controversy by given the strip its own "Free-Speech Area".

But now half the strips are talking about the economy, and Candorville has spent the past two weeks looking for John McCain's honor, and the conservative base is given its reassuring dose of Prickly City> (typical joke - Boy, that Michael Moore is FAT!). And Mike and the gang don't look all that edgy anymore. Sadly, they remain about three grade levels above the Wizard of Id and Garfield so explanations may be needed to those encountering the strip for the first time (Yahsee, Zonker's nephew Zippy is using Sarah Palin's style of interview answers with his college prof - it's satire!).

Of course, when such a move is mandated, someone must die, and the loser is .... Cathy (who has spent the past week talking with her accountant - high comedy, indeed). I have to admit that I pulled out the Thursday paper (Friday and Saturday putting the comics in its bizzaro magazine format) to find out who went MIA, and I was surprised that it was Cathy who taken out behind the bunker and given two shots to the dome. There are comics that are a LOT less funny still taking up valuable space (not a whole lot, but still ...)

Now I warned them - mess with the Doones at your own peril. And I am not alone in this judgment. I see nothing but tears coming out of this.

More later,

Tony Hillerman

I lived in Arizona for a year when I was young, and what I remember most about it was the air - dry, warm, baked on the terracotta mesas beneath cut diamond skies. And sometimes in the distance, you saw falling in the distance that never hit the earth, evaporating before it strikes.

That is called a "male rain", and I learned about it years later, when I read the mystery novels of Tony Hillerman, who has passed on at age 83.

Hillerman created a beautiful series of books the evoked the loneliness of the land, the culture of the Navajos, and the rural poverty of New Mexico. His heroes, first Joe Leaphorn, and later John Chee, live in both western world and in that of the Diné, and Hillerman found a deep well from which to draw. His novels, always strongly paced and with grounded characters, rose above genre to produce work that has stayed with me.

Farewell to Mr. Hillerman, and to Lts. Leaphorn and Chee.