Wednesday, August 27, 2003

They Say Its Your Birthday

Happy Birthday to Me. Its 46, by the way, and I'm strongly fighting the urge to descend into maudlin ramblings about the nature of my own mortality. I was going to have a mid-life crisis back when I was 45, but I got busy with the new job and it shot right past me.

I feel my age, of course, and I also have to say I've wracked up a number of accomplishments, personal and professional, which I am proud of. Got a good chunk of the American Dream. Have written a lot, and have gotten published a lot. I am fortunate to have a loving wife (currently taking a test in her tax course), good friends, and an interesting job.

Of course, when I'm not looking, I catch myself checking out the grey at the temples, or the smile lines around the eyes that stay there even when I'm not smiling. Co-workers say I don't look my age, but then, I've got books older than some of my co-workers (there, I've put it in print - I never have to use that joke verbally again). Its a good life, and I'm fighting the urge to spin into fear that I can't keep it going, or regrets over things done or not done, or sadness over the shortness of the mortal span.

Ack! Maudlin ramblings attack! I think I'll go somewhere quiet for the next few days, and come back (hopefully) less tired and old.

See you much later,

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

On the Road Again - Flag Day

Another long day today, and at the end of which I got caught in a Circus traffic jam - a huge line of SUVs that were all going to Cirque du Soliel tent set up in the parking lot of the Renton Boeing works. But that's not what I'm here to talk about. Rather I want to talk about something I saw a few weeks back, and was just reminded of this evening.

Back in early August, I was stopped at a traffic light, when across from me, facing the other way, was a truck. One of those short-bed pickup trucks, the type that would be hard-pressed to carry a couch. Bright yellow. Jacked up about four feet in the air. With a huge American Flag mounted in the bed of the truck.

Leaving aside the driver's obvious security issues, what caught my eye was the flag - it was one of the sorriest flags I've seen in a long time. You put a flag in a high 50-60 mph wind for a while and its going to fray, and this one was already unraveling, large rents appearing in the seams.

And I thought, "What a pinhead."

This came back to me, as I was caught in the Circus traffic jam, and I was passed on the right by a chain-smoking retiree who had two flags on her car - one on the roof on each side. These poor flags looked like they had been mounted on 9/12/01 and never tended to since. They were practically triangular in shape from the force of the wind, ratting along all edges, and faded to the point that the red white and blue was the pink, gray, and teal. They were recognizable as flags only because they could not have been anything else.

And I thought, "That reminds me of that other pinhead."

Which is the point - a lot of people have been putting flags up for the past couple years, but if you're going to do it, for god's sake, take care of them. Nothing says "Know-Nothing American" like a flag decal that has faded to ghostly shades. Spring for the extra buck and get a new one.

I was talking with a scout leader at Kate's H&R Block picnic. His troop and that of connected Sea Scout troop, have a problem in that people are now donating their old flags to them. A lot of flags. More flags than they can dispose of. And yes, the proper way of retiring a soiled, damaged, or worn flag is to burn it (its true). They're investigating doing large ceremonies so they can burn 30 and 40 at a shot just to keep up.

And I would support an anti-flag-burning amendment, I think, if it would include these pinheads who slap a flag on their vehicle and then forget about it for, oh, a few years. Throw in those gas stations who keep their giant, ripped flags up 24/7 in all sorts of weather. I think we're missing an easy amendment, here.

Actually, I have greater respect for even the flag-burners than I have for these absent-minded Amurricans. They are at least agreeing with me that the flag is a symbol and the flag has power. Those who slap the flag up and then forget about it ("It's ON YOUR CAR! How can you not NOTICE IT?!") underscore one of the attitudes that others overseas ascribe to us - that we aren't really serious about our citizenship.

So, if you read this, go out and look at your vehicle (or place of business or home, if you've got a flag flying there). If it looks like it has had bombs bursting in air over it, its time to retire it. If its a real flag, give it to the scouts for a proper retirement ceremony (they will catch up with the backlog, eventually). If its a decal, get a new one. Just quit pretending that the putting a flag up once establishes your street cred as a true American.

OK, I'm done now.

Monday, August 25, 2003

The Blog Goes Ever On And On

Things I have picked up so far with my blogging experience:
1) I am a wordy SOB
2) While I have a lot to say, very little of it revolves around my job, except to say that there are lot of good people there.
2a) For example, our company picnic was a pleasant, dry (someone forgot to get a liquor license) shindig at the Niles Shriner Country Club. Tug of war, bocce ball, good food, speakers blasting loud music away from me, and all of the music I recognized and liked (and it is true that you can play all of the Beach Boy's songs at the same tempo and key without anyone noticing).
3) I can't link worth a darn. The site address for Canlis is I promise to learn how to link in the near future.
4) Blogger does not have a spell checker.
5) I am reading and listening faster than I am writing reviews. I'll catch up with the backlog. Eventually.
6) I always seem to have something to say.
7) While I am pretty political, I don't have a lot to say on national politics at the moment. I thought I'd wait until November, despite numerous temptations. There are others in the blogosphere who are doing a better job at relaying the national mood. The only national note would be to say Bush (isn't he supposed to be on vacation?) was here playing to a select crowd on Friday of contributors, while Dr. Howard Dean, who has been dogging his steps, shows up Sunday and gets 10k (and a huge turnout in Spokane as well, which is on the other side of the bloody mountains, in Red America territory).
7a) And if Dean wins, what would you call him? Dr. President?
8) I do, however, have some things to note on politics on the local level (see below), since no one else would note them.

The Friends of Mr. Fortunato

All politics are local, but some are more local than others.

I live in the 9th District of King County, which means I have representation with the King County Commissioners. Despite Seatle's rep as a haven for Liberal Democrats, the 9th is pretty conservative and Republican, though that's changing as the old farms are giving way to new subdivisions. For the past ten years, until his recent untimely passing, the district has been represented by a conservative Republican, one Kent Pullen. With his death, the Republicans got to put forward three candidates, and the Council would choose one to function as the temporary Commissioner until a special election this fall to fill out Pullen's term. Local Republicans put three hard-core-right Republicans into the mix (they didn't want to risk getting an electable moderate in - they would never get rid of him), and Council chose the lesser of the three weevils. Their choice from the roster the Repubs gave them was Steve Hammond, a pastor from the rural community of Enumclaw. Passed over were State Senator Pam Roach and For State Representitive Phil Fortunato.

So now the primary is coming, and the Republican candidates for the post are (you guessed it), Hammond, Roach, and Fortunato. There's a Democrat in the mix named Barbara Heavey, who is a land use attourney, but the conventional wisdom is that the Repubs will take the 9th, and the winner of the Primary will be elected.

Now the fun begins. Pam Roach is particularly repellant to anyone with a environmental bone in their bodies, being of the "pave-the-earth" school. But that doesn't keep her from being a viable candidate out here, with a lot of older families looking to selling dear and moving further away from the city. What has given her trouble is that she keeps changing her place of residence, with 5 moves in the last 2 years. Each move was accompanied with an attempt to put her name on the ballot as a resident in the new location. For this one, she was reportedly living out of a trailer in the driveway of a supporter. She is being challenged about her residency, and has put the down payment on a 600k home in King County (quite a jump from the trailer), and complains about double-dealing and backstabbing.

Phil Fortunato was our State Rep when I first moved out here, and is pretty tactless and often embarrassing. My first encounter with him was in the form of breathless pamphlets declaring that "My opponent is lying about me!" (the problem was he didn't HAVE an opponent at the time). He is also notable for a slew of "Another Friend of Phil Fortunato" lawn signs that went up with amazing regularity - I always thought his best friend was his sign-maker. He lost the seat to a Democrat after a particularly whiny campaign - I think he lost primarily because most people were just tired of his antics (He once was quoted in the Seattle paper as saying the hardest part of being a State Rep was "staying awake".)

Anyway, Phil Fortunato was passed over for the Pullen's replacement, and is now running a populist shoe-string campaign for the seat. Under King County law, if you don't have the money to file (5% of the yearly salary of the position), you can make it up with signatures. Well, Phil got the signatures, but now someone is challenging Fortunato that he HAD the money, and was just trying to save it by pleading poverty and getting the signatures. AND FURTHER, it turns out that there weren't enough legal signatures, either (The King County Elections Board is letting that one pass, since they didn't catch it the first time). Phil Fortunato, is, of course, complaining about double-dealing and back-stabbing.

OK, so with Roach richocheting through the South End and Fortunato trying to pull one or more fast ones on the election committee, Pastor Hammond looks pretty solid. EXCEPT that the guys who blew the whistle on both Roach and Fortunato were . . .(oh, you know) . . . supporters of Hammond. So the entire right wing of the operation is collapsing in a mire of recrimination, charges, and counter-charges. You'd think we were living in Chicago.

Or to put another way - "If God meant us to vote, he would have given us candidates".

More later,

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Book on Tape: Secrets

Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers; Daniel Ellsberg, Read by Daniel Ellsberg and Dan Cashman. 2002 HighBridge Company, 10 hours on 6 cassettes.

Memoirs differ from biographies in that they are allowed to present “The good stuff” without having to slog through the subject’s 4th grade geography class. Memoirs are allowed to sway more from factual recounting into personal memory, into anecdote, and into opinion and justification. Biographies are school reports – Memoirs are sitting around after dinner listening to what really happened.

I was all of twelve when the Pentagon Papers went down, so my view of the entire operation was played out through the media, watching the great behemoth of public opinion shift from support for America;s foreign involvement to open questioning and protest about our policies. In 8th grade, I was part of a debate in Communications class about Vietnam – I supported US involvement, but I found very little to justify our actions other than “well, we’re here, we really should finish the job”. At the time I felt I had not done my homework well enough. Now, years later, I realize there was not a lot there to argue in favor of, and my young conclusions were shared that those actually making the decisions.

The story of Daniel Ellsberg’s switch from cold warrior Rand analyst to anti-war speaker is similar. His background was military (he was a US Marine company commander) and his greatest concern and area of study was avoiding nuclear war. As an analyst, he felt that, when all the numbers were spread out and analyzed, the best solution would present itself.

Of course, when the best solution proved to be that we should not have been in Vietnam in the first place, that created a personal conflict. Ellsberg was in Veitnam as an advisor, and quickly twigged to the fact that our very organization and reporting structure worked against us. Scenarios were made rosy, and in places misreported entirely, corruption was rife, and we had so thoroughly ticked off the local population that they were willing to work with the Communists because, well, the Communists were among them, not trying to blow them up from a distance. (Any similarities to our current situation are unfortunately accurate).

The memoirs show both his journey to the decision to release the Pentagon Papers (some of which he had worked on himself), and why it took so long. The people involved in what became the Vietnam quagmire were not stupid – they believed that they were doing the best thing, in fact, the only right thing possible. Those moments of troop escalation and increased bombing came not when we were believing that everything was under control, but when long hard looks convinced people that we would lose, and lose big, unless something was done. And even then American response was always to take the easy way, the lesser of multiple evils, either through insufficient support, or through the wrong type of support. It was easiest to threaten to bomb the enemy if they did not surrender, and then it was easiest to carry through the threat (because otherwise we would have looked weak).

Ellsberg gives the most cogent report on the Gulf of Tonkin I have yet read, framing it both within his personal experiences (he was at the Pentagon getting the message-relays as live-as-they could) and from his digging, framing the incident both within US provocations (CIA-supported ships were shelling Vietnamese islands earlier in the week) and with military fears (it seems likely now that the attacks from the Vietnamese for the second Tonkin incident were nothing more than the US radar picking up the wakes of their own ships (there were two Gulf of Tonkins, by the way, the first a real (if minor) response to the shelling, and the second, phantom one that helped create the Gulf of Tonkin resolution)).

Ellsberg also reports well on his ground experience in Vietnam, where he and his military mentor were the only officers to drive between installations (most used choppers, abandoning the land in between the firebases). He tells of his turning to the anti-war camp, and his decision to publish the papers in his possession. It came down to this – unless he did so, this would just keep on going – the easiest decisions would continue to lead them deeper into an insoluble quagmire.

Ellsberg also provides information he did not have at the time, mirroring his own activities with those of the presidency through the released tapes. Far from being alarmed, the Nixon administration appreciated the early Pentagon Paper releases – most of Ellsberg’s data was on the previous administration, and Nixon liked the fact that it made Johnson and Kennedy look bad (In fact, he had G Gordon Liddy arrange to leak more Kennedy dirt, and when it didn’t look sufficient, had him sex it up with a few false memos). The fear that crept into White House thinking was that Ellsberg had stuff on Nixon’s decisions, and that led to both Ellsberg’s prosecution and the break-in at his psychiatrist’s office for his personal papers.

The story is well-told and rings true, but as memoir, Ellsberg leaves a few pieces unsaid (this is an abridged version of his book, so they may be within there in the cold print). His personal life seems detached, with his early divorce and remarriage appearing as a sideshow to his actions as officer, analyst, and activist. While he is indignant over the duplicity of our government, he is more forgiving of the media, in particular his contacts at the NYTimes, who had pirated a copy of the papers out of his house without his knowledge as they were pressing him to “officially” release the works. And while he provides an excellent feel for being in Vietnam during the era, he skimps on the organization (or lack thereof) of the anti-war movement – he mentions safe houses and midnight moves, but provides very few details. And finally, his psychiatrist shows up in the narration only to have his office burgled, leaving me with the question – how long was Ellsbergs seeing a psychiatrist, and was it personal, professional, or national matters that were troubling him?

All in all, this was an excellent volume, Cashman reads the bulk of it in a solid, assured voice, while Ellsberg himself takes on the truly meaty parts, when he gets to explaining his own choices and decisions. If you’re doing the books-on-tape thing (and remember, I have a half-hour drive each way, so they’re ideal for me), I recommend it.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Zoo Trip

Took Friday off, since it was a half-day anyway and my birthday is coming up next week (Wednesday, for those of you sending cards). Kate and I were originally thinking of hitting the local water park, but as it was overcast and cool, instead we headed for Seattle's zoo.

The Woodland Park Zoo is located north of the city and west of the University District, and is a medium-sized zoo, a little smaller (I'd guess) than with the Pittsburgh or Milwaukee Zoos. It has made the transfer in the past couple decades from buildings-with-cages to more naturalistic enclosures, so the animals are in more natural environs, and people can view them more naturally. This is good when you're watching a grizzly bear swimming on the other side of gee-I-hope-its-really-thick plexiglass. It is less good when you're at a similar distance from a gorilla that is hocking up, examining, and re-consuming its lunch. Its Savanah is nice, its Northern Forest displays are great, and its orangutan exhibits are excellent.

The zoo is still in the process of making the switch over to the new digs, such that they have a jaguar in its new enclosure, complete with a pool and waterfall. The bad news is this jaguar is unaware that jaquars are supposed to like water, and now must be re-enticed to swim (they are doing with with a watermelon floating in the middle of the pool to attract its interest).

The zoo could be larger but the northern half, the meadow, was traditionally an open mall, and now is used for corporate and local celebrations, helping the bottom line. As a result, there are always tents on the meadow, food servers, and as was the case yesterday, a steel band playing happy birthday.

In addition to hosting local parties, the zoo is in the business of baby animals. Hansa the elephant is the most recent notable of this lot, but there are number young gorillas and monkeys as well. A personal favorite was a young tiger cub, easily as heavy as myself (but all muscle) that was almost kittenish, stalking its elders with its ears down and its belly flat against the ground. (OK, so I'm as suceptable to cute animals as anyone else, OK?)

The grounds themselves were overloaded with strollers and families, but not horribly so. Indeed, one of the Zoo's problems is a lack of parking in a now-built-up area, but if they get more parking, the Zoo itself would be more crowded, so right now its a good bulwark against this. If you choose to go (and its worth going), go early - the animals are livelier (particularly on temperate days) and the parking lot is emptier.


In the evening, Kate took me to the second most expensive place in Seattle for dinner (the most expensive place was a fundraiser for President Bush over in Bellevue - we got the better deal). Canlis is perched, literally, at the south end of the Aurora Street Bridge, with an incredible view Lake Union, Gas Works Park, the U district, and points East. It is, to my mind, the best resturant in Seattle, both in food and in service. It is a delightful experience, and well worth the price.

The location is amazing, and the view is wonderful. And the service is expert, friendly, and knowledgeable. They are smooth and professional, from the parking valets up to the servers up to the sommeliers (Uh, the wine-guys). And the food is Seattle's best - I have yet to be disappointed with a meal there, such that I am willing to take more risks than otherwise.

Case in point - they were offering a Chef's Tasting menu - a four-course meal with local delicacies. Since everything on that menu was in Kate's "safe zone" (she is allergic to chicken, eggs, and yoghurt), we opted for this menu, along with a flight (uh, a bunch) of wines. Here's the menu (which I pulled from the Canlis Web Site- The wines are in italics

Melon & Proscuitto Salad
Baby greens, Romano cheese, and extra virgin olive oil
2001 Foris Pinot Gris, Rogue Valley, Oregon

[Jeff's notes - Actually, we started with a small ball of mozzarella in basilic vinegar, wich was perfect. The sweetness of the melon and the saltiness of the ham was perfect, and the pinot gris (a white wine) was ideal - this is the first time I've had the wines lined up for the meal itself, and the blending was fantastic]

Seared Wild King Salmon
With pea vines, hazelnuts, and blackberries
2000 Lemelson Pinot Noir, Williamette Valley, Oregon

[Jeff's notes - The salmon itself was cooked to perfection, the berries as large and as sweet as those in the Sarr Cemetary. Pinot Noir is a red wine, which in the elder days was kept far from the fish, but it worked perfectly with the salmon. I'm not a fan of red wine, having drunk too many that tasted like furniture polish, but while still having a bite, this was mild and pleasant. Also, the pea vines prove you can serve anything if you bring enough butter to the sauce (they were tender beyond all belief - now Kate want to harvest them from the garden before they get all dry).]

Watermelon Ice Intermezzo

[Jeff's notes - a single small scoop of flavored ice that was like frozen watermelon itself. Kate noted that it only needed a single seed on top to complete the illusion.]

Misty Isle Farms Beef Tenderloin
Heirloom tomatoes, sweet onions, and summer greens
2000 Rockblock Syrah, Walla Walla Valley, Oregon

[Jeff's Notes - Succulent beef, seasoned and salted before laid on the grill, melted in the mouth. This was my first experience with heirloom tomatoes, which Kate tells me is a variety of organically grown (and multi-colored) tomatoes. The wine itself was even milded than the pinot noir, and at this point I became seriously concerned about my driving home that evening]

Peaches & Cream
Slices of local peaches with sweetened cream and a hazelnut tuile
1996 Elk Cov "Ultima" Gewurztraminer, Williamette Valley, Oregon

[Jeff's Notes - A tuile is a cookie. More importantly, Kate's encountered so many bad local peaches that she was sceptical, but these were wonderful, truly first rate. The Gewurz was an "ice wine", which gave me pause, since the previous ones I've encountere were thick syrups. This one, made of the last of the fruit on the vines, was delightful, and I have to find some locally]

Hot Earl Grey Tea

This last was our addition, otherwise I would have fallen asleep on the Alaskan Viaduct on the way home. The meal was fantastic, such that it was well worth telling others about (one of the good things about this Blogging thing).

In short - Expensive and worth every penny, Canlis is a perfect place for that personal celebration. Go try it out.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Sarr Cemetary

208th Street snakes down from the top of Benson Hill and metamorphs into 212th Street without bothering the drivers - that's the way the grid system in Seattle works out. But before it crosses Highway 167, there's a small woody parklet on the right, a plot of ground about the size of our house lot. Most people drive by it without noticing it, tucked beneath the trees, but the recent addition of a concrete plinth in front of it calls attention. So too does the recent transformation of the surrounding land from a golfing range into a contruction sight for an office park. Now the bit of wildness is left as an island surrounded by plowed and stripped earth.

Kate and I stopped there tonight, on the way back from the H&R Block picnic. The picnic itself was nice - Van Buren Park on the Green River, watermelon-eating contests and a pinata for the kids, the ghost of Rainier floating on the haze to the south.

We stopped on the way back, after too many hot dogs and too much bocce ball. Because we stop and read roadside markers. We're that type of people. And because we passed it hundreds of times before, and we were curious, and who knows when the bulldozers would take it down.

Its a cemetary. Sarr Cemetary, tucked beneath the trees. The concrete marker was put there in 2002 as part of an Eagle Scout project, replacing one put there 26 years previously by a CB Radio club. The cemetary itself dates back to 1873 (I think - I'm pulling from memory here) when John Sarr could not bury his wife in the regular graveyard - it was across the flooded Green River. So he put her here, and in the process created a small graveyard that has survived to this day.

The stones range from ancient to relatively recent (the last person laid to rests here was in the 40's). There are family plots and local names, like Iddingtons and Monsters (yes, there was a family named Monster here - we named a road after them). The Monster tombstone was for a Monster and her child, identified only as "Monster Baby". There are a lot of children and babies laid to rest in Sarr - most named, some not. The stones from the turn of the century have verse carved on them, almost illegible from the passing of time. Those buried here could afford, or perhaps counted among their numbers, a good stonemason.

The graveyard is tended, mostly. The back area is overgrown with blackberry bushes with huge, thick berries (is it a sin to eat berries from a grave?). The lawn, dead in the recent heat of high summer, is cut back in other parts of the cemetary, and some graves show a lot of tending, down to new American Flags lashed to a railing - warnings perhaps to the bulldozers. Some graves were once fashioned as gardens, others have impromptu bouquerts growing up out of them - crocuses, or something like the crocus, that bloom in a dry fall. There is an ancient lawnmower parked against a side railing of dubious origin and functionability

The land is still claimed, and the people kept here remembered, so this huge new construction site, one more office park sprawled on the valley floor, has to dig around it. The rear property line and the right-hand side has been stripped away, with a retaining wall erected to keep the dead in their place. The entire cemetary is surrounded by a chain link fence, the area in front of it, around the plinth visible from the highway, has been mashed into dust by passing dump trucks.

That's about it - overgrown by trees that have sprung up since Sarr's wife was interred, tended by descendents, ignored by everyone else. Sort of confirms my thought that, when my end comes, I would rather be cremated than buried, for even the earth itself is only semi-permanent.

That's it. No real moral. Just a cemetary, mostly forgotten. No enlightenment here. Nothing to see. Move along.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

A Day In The Life

Yesterday was a 14 hour day. I'm usually much better about time management, but this was a case of playtest responses showing up on Monday and the project being due on Wednesday. So the choice was between ignore the responses or put in the extra time to consider, review, and respond. So naturally I chose the latter.

For those tuning in who are not familiar with my world, my day job is Game Designer. I was first with with TSR 20 years ago, then a freelance life, then with Wizards, then another bit of freelance, then with WizKids. I have been rather fortunate in that I have been working for the big game companies at the height of their creative periods, and like to think I've contributed to their achievement to some degree.

Its a good gig, but its hard to get people to take you seriously when you complain about the job using the word "Spider-Man" a lot. My current task is preparing a new set of figures for our HeroClix line, which are small plastic minatures on a base with numbers. The numbers are used with rules to play a game. The numbers and the rules are my worry. There are a lot of other things, of course, but it all comes down to the dials.

So over the past month or so, I prepped a list of about 40 figures from one of the major comic book companies, got source material for the sculptors, pushed things through with the licensor, and worked on the dials, converting super-powers into the rule set we have. Its pretty good, and the people I've been working with have their hearts in it, but its a lot. So the dials went out about a week and a half ago to outside playtesters - fans who like the game and are willing to give both their comments and their silence to the outside world in exchange for a look at the stuff we're doing for next year.

And we got a good response - more than normal, and it was very enthusiastic. And very helpful. And very detailed. About a pound of paper over the weekend, and another pound by the end of Monday. And the choice was - do I just wrap things up, or take everything into account?

I can't leave things alone like this - that I could miss something obvious that someone else caught (and I did miss something obvious, by the way). So it turned into a 14 hour day. Usually I'm pretty good - getting in slightly after 7 and leaving 4:30, 5:30 maybe at the latest. In our current working atmosphere, that's close to a relaxing workload. In this case it was 10:00 before I got out the door (leaving a few people behind me, I should note). And once I got home I got very little sleep thinking about the stuff that needed to be done. I really hate nights like that, and try to keep them to a minimum.

In any event, I wrapped everything up by noon today, when it was due, but I am wasted and tired. Accomplished a few small tasks in the afternoon, but I'm intent on just crashing tonight and leaving any new problems for the morrow. I'd be more tempted to gripe about it, but I'd just have to use the word "Spider-Man", and then you'll giggle and I'd get grouchy.

Ah, the life of a corporate creative. Good night. More Later.

Monday, August 18, 2003

The Blog Goes Ever On and On

So, I'm slowly expanding the reach of this blog, and with it the number of people that I am letting in on it. Most recently, its my brother Scott, who apparently entertains his fellow workers with news from the Left Coast. Hi Scott!

So as the group changes and expands, so too will my mental concept of who I'm writing for. Right now its 1) Friends and family back east who want to check in without having to stage a phone conversation 2) Local friends who want to be entertained without having to buy me a beer, and 3) Random strangers who wander in. If this changes, I'll post an update.

On The Road Again

The worst part of my job is the commute from Renton to Bellevue. An hour out of my life, every day. Seattle has a rep for horrible traffic. Horrible is, of course, in the mind of the driver. My most perilous high-speed trips have been in the Chicago area (where its 70 MPH bumper to bumper and its seems like all the drivers are telepathic EXCEPT YOU). My most nerve-wracking trips are in Pittsburgh (where major roads have people's driveways opening out on them, and people think that turn signals are an invasion of privacy).

Seattle is by comparison, not bad at all. Its a 15 mile trip and takes me about 30-40 minutes to make (meaning I'm going an average of 30 miles an hour - oh, the horror!). I snake my way off the East Hill, going down Benson, with a great view of the Olympics (now almost shorn of snow) in the western distance. I jog around the east side of downtown Renton, and dodge down Park Avenue, which plunges through the heart of Renton's ever-shrinking Boeing operation (One part of its parking lots has become a Frye's Electronic Store, while the Cirque Du Soliel has set up its tents in another part).

At this point in the trip I get an idea of how the traffic is on 405 North, the main north/south highway on the eastern side of the lake. Usually its heavy but smooth, but if its completely clotted, I take a left onto Lake Washington Drive. Its a slow (25 mph) drive with a wonderful view of the Lake, with the spires of the Emerald City on the far side. In the spring, before the leaves come in, you can see bald eagles in the trees.

Lake Washington crosses back over 405 for another check of how heavy the traffic is. If its still heavy, I loop up through Newport before rejoining 405 (it is pretty much impossible to get to Bellevue without using 405, unless you take a BIG loop eastwards). The highway is usually thick through to the I90 interchange. Then I get off before the main Bellevue exits (which are heavily under construction right now), and overland it to the WizKids, which is on Main Street next to the Lexus dealership, with a view of 405 south so I know how bad traffic is for going home.

Its really not bad at all - I hardly even need to car pool, since most of the trip is off the highway. Most of the complaints about Seattle traffic usually revolve around trying to get into town over one of the main bridges, but even that's not horrible if you have books on tape (and yes, I do). The only weird thing is that it has helped turn me into a morning person, to beat the worst of the rush. As a result, I'm usually turning on the lights in our department. And thats one of the weirder things I've been doing since starting the new job.

More later,

Sunday, August 17, 2003

More From Grub Street

Dug this one up while researching Grub Street:

Advice to the Grub Street Verse-writers
by Jonathan Swift

Ye poets ragged and forlorn,
Down from your garrets haste;
Ye rhymers, dead as soon as born,
Not yet consign'd to paste;
I know a trick to make you thrive;
O, 'tis a quaint device:
Your still-born poems shall revive,
And scorn to wrap up spice.
Get all your verses printed fair,
Then let them well be dried;
And Curll must have a special care
To leave the margin wide.
Lend these to paper-sparing Pope;
And when he sets to write,
No letter with an envelope
Could give him more delight.
When Pope has fill'd the margins round,
Why then recall your loan;
Sell them to Curll for fifty pound,
And swear they are your own.

Questions for Class Discussion
1. So what crawled up Swift's butt and died, anyway?
2. Pope is fellow poet Alexander Pope. Who's this Curll guy?
3. And while we're at it, why are Grub Street writers also called hacks?

This is one more salvo in the "war against the dunces" - a war in which both Swift and Pope took the higher moral ground. Both were moralists, Tories and beneficiaries of the patronage system of publication, and looked aghast at those whose motivation for scribing was a mere desire to eat. Suppposedly composed in 1726, it saw of light of day in 1735, which is important because of what was going in that later year with Pope, and may reflect support for his ally in these matters.

The Curll in question was Edmund Curll, a bookseller/publisher who had been quarreling with Pope for years. Were Curll alive today, he would have been a publisher of self-help books, perhaps a pornographer, or maybe manufacturing "shovel-ware" CDs filled with public domain material (indeed, he could be all three). Taking advantage of literary property laws of the time, Curll was willing to put into print all manner of content, from personal letters to sermons to struggling novelists, provided that it would sell, and was not above misrepresentation, self-promotion, and other forms of marketting to get the job done. If alluding tangentially that the work was by a particular well-known author, or declaring it to be a "new edition" when it was merely a repackaging, well, such was the nature of the business.

Pope himself had apparently written a number of gushing, gallant poems to a certain married lady, which Curll acquired and published as "Court Poems" - anonymously, but with the note they were written by the Translator of Homer (one of Pope's big gigs - everyone would know whom it meant). Pope responded by pilloring Curll in his satires, which of course promoted Curll even further.

In 1735, Curll was approached with the opportunity to publish Pope's literary correspondence (including some with the peerage) by a third party. Curll announced such, and Pope was outraged, arranging to have Curll hauled before the House of Lords and his stocks siezed. Curll managed to talk his way out of this one - he had no letters from the peerage, only the promise of them from this third party.

It turns out that the "third party" was nothing less than an agent for Pope himself, as the poet wished to see his correspondence published without seeming to betray his correspondents (which he later did, under another publisher, claiming to only to want to produce "the genuine article", in 1737). At the time, though, Pope frothed mightily against pirate publishers and was filled with righteous indignation, but one of his allies kept his own letters discussing the ruse, and Pope's roll in the scheme was revealed (after the deaths of both Pope and Curll).

Curll entered the English Language with the now-forgotten word "Curlicism", meaning indecent literary material. Indeed, he published such books as A Nun in Her Smock (which got him fined) and The Memoirs of John Ker of Kersland (which got him pilloried). And even going through sources for this report, I noted how Curll is reported depends entirely on how one approaches writing - Populist histories tend to support him, noting the wide variety of material he published (in a great number of non-lasivious fields), while those of a more literary-bent side with Pope and Swift and find him vile, piratical, and obscene. Any similarity between Curll and modern publishing tendencies will go uncommented-upon in this blog.

So the Swiftian advice above is "print your tripe, let Pope complain about it, then print the complaints." A small jab at Pope (for saving paper), but a cannonshot against the Strugglers of Grub Street. The poem may well have laid in some drawer for a good until the events of 1737 made it suitable for use in the 18th Century Culture Wars. Its timing was opportune, to say the least.

Finally, hacks. Hack writers come from the same source as hackney cabs. Both come from Hackney, which was a parklike area near London where horses might be stabled and hired. A hack is a hired horse - usually tired, plodding, and easily handled. and quickly transferred over to those who write for pay.

More later,

Saturday, August 16, 2003

A Day In The Life

Yesterday was pretty good, typical for a summer Friday. Our company is experimenting with summer hours (which means 9 hours a day during the week and 4 on Friday). Since most of us in design put in 9 daily hours (not counting lunch) on a regular basis, it comes off as a semi-free semi-vacation day. In my case I left at 2 in the afternoon, got my glasses adjusted (I bent the frames rolling over on them while reading in bed), and spent the afternoon reviewing playtest comments on the back porch until Kate called to start the grill.

The grill in question is affectionately known as the "Aztec Sacrifice Temple" and was built by my wife a few years ago. We had left the Webber Grill back in Lake Geneva, and rather than buy a new one, Kate instead ordered a load of bricks and constructed this monster along the left-hand side of the lawn, where it backs with Mr. Ericson's property. It is a solid mass at the base, with a level for air passages leading up into the grill area itself. The entire construction is unmortared, and the bricks have shifted a little in position, giving it sort of a "lost world" look.

Its also the most effective grill I've ever owned. Doesn't do lidded cooking, but it draws real well and gives me a nice hot flame. The bricks reflect the heat well, centering it in the middle of the grill. We did steaks with a mushroom, shallot, and butter sauce (mostly butter) and topped with shaved Parmesian cheese. Green beans and leftover almond skordalia (garlic mashed potatoes).

After dinner we drove down to Andy Collins and Gwen Kestrel's place - the pair have a nice house south of here with a typical exterior and an interior dominated by odd angles. They call it "Tindalos House" after the horror story where the deadly hounds of Tindalos reach their victims through strangely angled space. Andy & Gwen have been running a gaming weekend for the past few years (this was called GwenCon 3.5) with RPGs and boardgames. Kate and I played a suit-matching game called Coloretto which was fairly straightforward and a Pirate escape game which had some nice components, but I could not find the right key to unlocking.

Today is Tai Chi in the morning, probably more games in the afternoon. Got just a little rain overnight on the hill, and I am a little stuffy-headed as a result.

More later.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Testing HTML Codes

So with this I am trying to utilize HTML codes in the work, only to discover that I have gone back some twenty years in time. HTML codes are nothing more than old TYPESETTING CODES with embedded coding.

Imagine my surprise.


Thursday, August 14, 2003

So what's with the name?

Grubb Street is a play on my last name (natch) and the original Grub Street, one of the two "streets of ink" in London (the other being Fleet Street). The term "Grub Street" has found its way onto a couple of those "Word a Day" calenders, so without fail, someone passes the tear-off sheet from that day to me, thinking I would have never heard of it before and I would find it humorous. The definition usually reads something like this:

Grub Street \GRUB-street\, noun:
The world or category of impoverished literary hacks

Yeah, its a knee-slapper, particularly since I am not only a writer, but a writer who, since starting his craft, has toiled in the gardens of "genre fiction", and wondered if he has anything worth saying. So I picked it up as an ironic title, since most modern uses of the phrase are ironic (There is a Grub Street bookstore in Australia, a Grub Street writer's workshop in Boston, and a TV production company called Grub Street (which produces "Fraisier") - none of which, I assume, aspire to hack-dom).

Now doing some digging on Grub Street, I find that it originally outside the wall of London, near Moorfields. Originally a quarter for bowyers and fletchers, it fell on hard times with the introduction of gunpowder, and soon was a wretched hive of scum and villainy, home to bowling-alleys and dicing-houses. And, since the rents were cheap, the entertainments nearby, and the prospects of work in the growing city ever-increasing, it became the home of writers as well.

This was at a time when, with the introduction of a new technologies (the printing press, and later moveable type), along with a growing middle class that had time to do things like read, writers could get into print more easily (at least, without a patron). It was a period of literary freedom if not necessarily plenty. In this way Grub Street was a bit like the Internet. And also like the Internet, it was a bit TOO easy to get into print, with the result that a lot of questionable writing came out of Grub Street (political tracts, scandal sheets, questionable biographies, and "indecent material"). By 1700, a member of the "Grub Street Press" was about as respected and reputed for accuracy as a "Fox News Commentator", but it was popular among a good segment of the population.

Such worthies as Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and Thomas Fielding railed against the common popularity of such lower literature, to the point of founding/supporting/contributing to the Grub Street Journal, A satiric literary magazine that railed against less-worthy writers (and still less-worthy booksellers and publishers), it served to spread the Grub Street meme around, so that Grub street soon was more than a mere locality, but rather a state of mind.

But is was Samuel Johnson who immortalized Grub Street in his "A Dictionary of the English Language", noting it as "much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems, whence any mean production is called grubstreet." (The "mean" here is a matter of smallness and insignificance as opposed to any angry intent).

So the Internet, with its populist mindset and sometimes questionable content, is definitely a side-alley built from this grand old street. So too is the Grub Street the ancestor for shared world fiction, house names, the mid-list of most publishing houses, and what Ursula K. LeGuin has called "The Bologna Factory" of modern, industrial-strength fantasy, a domain where I hang my hat without remorse

Grub Street itself is gone - renamed Milton Street in the 1830's to hide its shame, and then bombed into submission by the Blitz and mostly built over since. But it remains strong in the hearts of the literary strugglers, the working writers, and the wordsmiths that toil to various ends to communicate and, on more occasions than not, to produce something worthwhile and lasting. And that's why the name.

Anyway, that's my story, and I'm sticking with it.
This is a test. This is only a test. In the event of real content, enlightenment would be provided.