Sunday, January 30, 2005


Well, it was a long Saturday, but a lot of fun.

Earlier in the week, a call went out on the in-house message board at Wizards (in the "Non-essential" folder), looking for extras for a movie shoot at the building. In particular, they were looking for middle-aged men to play office workers. This, of course, was the part that I was born to play, so I sent in a photo and was in turn invited to attend the shoot. I spent Thursday night helping prepare the set (an abandoned cluster of office cubes in the WotC building), followed by a seventeen-hour day as an extra on Saturday.

The movie they are shooting is The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, and is from the Dead Gentlemen, who brought us the short film The Gamers, a celebration of gaming geek goodness. They are making a feature-length this time, and while I didn't peak at the script, I know that the section we filmed involved Ninjas (who were incredible martial artists):
Pirates (this is Captain Ron of the Seattle Seafair Pirates):
And businessmen (this is me in costume) :
And all put together it looked something like this (that's the director, Matt Vancil, on the left):

Being an extra is like playing a tree in the grade school pagent - your job is not to show up the other kids who have the cooler roles (like "ninja" or "pirate") or talent (like "ninja" or "pirate"). But I think I and the other extras acquitted ourselves well in our roles of background features. In addition, the director had a small intro bit for the office workers which features me, Monty Ashley from the web team and John, a real-life business-guy from a downtown ad agency. We hit our marks and delivered our lines and had a fine old time. ("And that was the cool thing - I got lines!")

Our big scene came early in the day, which was good because we were fresh. As the day wore on as I watched the team wrestle with challenges, new ideas, reshoots, blown takes, resets for cameras and lights (we were shooting in an abandoned cube farm and the overhead lights were quirky at best). The extras sat around and chatted, and I listened to a lot of stories. It was 17 hours of continual activity, and I did odd jobs when not on screen (ran messages, searched the Internet for last-minute supplies, held screens, feasted on potato skins). In the end, I was pretty beat while the main participants where still going great guns, which is makes me appreciate the fact I write and don't act.

Anyway, I want to thank Jen Page and MC Schuler for recruiting me into this, and Matt Vancil the director for giving me my big break. Oh, and please don't cut my scene - its (probably) intergral to the plot.

More later,

Friday, January 28, 2005

This Blog For Hire

So here’s what’s been happening: It has come out that a couple of conservative columnists and commentators have been getting fat paychecks from government agencies to promote government agendas, and have done so, without telling their readers/viewers that they are on the take.

First off was Armstrong Williams, who works for Sinclair Broadcasting (WHY does that name keep showing up? They’re like the AIM of the broadcasting world, who seem to exist only so Captain America can beat them up), and who pocketed $240k from the Department of Education to promote the administration’s values, in particular the underfunded “No Child Left Behind” mandate. He failed to reveal this little donation to his viewers. Once caught, there were a lot of people being shocked, simply shocked about this ethical lapse, while Williams told people, “I’m not the only one.”

Needless to say, this has made a lot of other conservative pundits very nervous, and indeed, conservative columnist Maggie Gallagher of the Universal Press Syndicate has since been revealed to have supped at the administrative till to the tune of a 21K contract from the Department of Health and Human Services to push their initiatives. And while writing this, a third one has popped up, ethics writer Michael McManus, who got $10k of pundit payola (I have to write faster, 'cause the shoes are dropping like an explosion at the Pay-Less).

Now some are shocked by this obvious and ham-handed purchase of influence and by the betrayal of the public trust by the very news media that they rely upon for truth and commentary. I, on the other hand, tend to take the view of Chicago politics – namely, where’s mine?

Face it, guys, these folks are generally third rate pikers, and I have here a little soapbox which can reach tens if not dozens of individuals, a forum that can be easily manipulated to send your particular message out. I am available at a very reasonable rate as a meme-initiator and conventional wisdom dispensor. To that end, I have included a rate card, below

Joshing Aside - $100 per reference
Glowing Review - $1000 per article
Loving Dedication - $2000 per week
Sarcactic Note (you choose the target) - $100 per instance
Sardonic Drollery (you choose the target) - $300 per article
Public Ridicule (you choose the target) - $1000 per week
Pungent Commentary - $5000 per year

Ask about our special Blind Devotion Rate, where we promise NOT to mention your organization’s screwups in any way, shape or form, for a long as you keep up the payments. Sinclair Broadcasting please take note: We believe in equal-opportunism (Holds imaginary phone up to ear and mouths the words "call us").

Sign on with Grubb Street, and you too can get positive press at affordable prices, starting from the moment that the check clears.

More later,

Thursday, January 27, 2005

A Cat Update

I have so far been able to resist the temptation of cat-blogging, that mild disease that crops up among bloggers, particularly on Friday, to show pictures of their pets. No guarentees that I won't fall prey to this, but for the moment I remain resolute. However, its Thursday and its been over a month since I mentioned them, so here's an update on our new arrivals Harley and Vic.

The good news is that they came out from behind the bookcase soon after the previous post. For most of the next two weeks, we kept the old cat, Emily, and the new (called collectively as "the kittens") cloistered in separate parts of the house, which is easier said than done because we have a relatively open framework. Now they are all getting free run of the house, and while there has been must hissing and some batting attacks between the major players, a heirarchy is setting up. Emily, the eldest, is in charge, though she distains the others mightily. Vic is the middle child, and the subject of much of Emily's ire as she keeps pressing the boundaries. Harley is #3, and generally oblivious to the fact that there is a heirarchy.

Harley is almost the most outgoing of the cats, following people from room to room, and the one most willing to play. The house is now littered with cat toys that she has batted into semi-impossible locations. Harley reminds me very much of Longshot, such that the Lovely Bride and I both get her gender mixed up with his.

Vic remains more timid, though her favorite spot is in my office, parked on top of the hot air vent. She warms to people slowly, but once she decides that your lap is hers, she is all over you. Harley and Vic are siblings, but miles apart in personality.

Emily, for her part, is an elderly woman deprived of her nap by the kids thundering around the house. She is, at best, tolerant of the situation. Though the interior doors are kept open, she has made it quite clear that the bedroom at night, where the owners sleep, is her turf.

The two new kids continue to have eye problems (A squint to right eye). Diagnosis A, which was to be fixed with eye drops, has been discarded, only to be replaced by Diagnosis B, which requires an ointment inside the eyelid and coupled with pilling the cats. Vic is impossible to catch, but once caught, very easy to pill. Harley is easy to catch, but fights and struggles once she is in captivity. I'm hoping the new diagnosis is correct, but Dianosis C is called feline eye herpes. (Let as pause as we, as a nation, join together to say "eeeeewwwww!").

So life goes on with them, and I make it a month without posting pictures of them.

More later,

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Comic: Mr Machine

Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days collecting issues #1-5, Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and Tom Feister. Wildstorm Productions, 2004, $9.95

I mentioned that the downside of small press comics is that you don't always find them in the stores, so you may buy an issue or two, then find that they vanish mysteriously. This is the case with small-run comics within the big lines as well. Wildstorm is owned by DC, but after picking up issues 1 and 2 of Ex Machina on the stands, it vanished for me - more people came in to pick up issues 3 and 4 than were issues available, and so I never saw them. So a collection is a fine idea, particularly at a low cost. Its a good way to get to get into the series, and it is a series worth getting into.

Here's the skinny: Mitchell Hundred has a close encounter with an alien artifact and gains the ability to talk to and command machines. So he builds a jetpack. puts on a costume,and takes on a career as the Great Machine. Then he stops being a superhero and runs for mayor of New York City. And wins. The story itself flips back and forth between the Before-Eleven world, where he is the Great Machine, and the modern day, where he is dealing with offensive art, a massive snowstorm, and someone shooting plow drivers.

The concept is interesting, and the delivery both entertains and deals with the difficulties of real-life superheroing as well as real-life politics. The support characters are key - Hundred's staff and political opponents, his sidekick/bodyguard Bradbury, and a childhood friend Kremlin. All are nicely rendered as characters. And Hundred's politics are neither red-state or blue-state, but rather those of an engineer looking for the optimal solution to every problem. And, contrary to a lot of superhero books, both he and his supporting cast get things wrong, and have to deal with the fallout from their errors.

The downside to the collection is that, while the two plots resolve within the covers of the book, there are a lot of questions still hanging up in the air. The nature and true origin of the Great Machine's power is still up in the air, as well as much of the journey between the accident that gave him his power and the Mayor's chair. There is the shadow of an archenemy floating out there, but nothing definite. So there are stories to tell, and only the distribution system will determine if they get told. Hope they do.

More later,

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Alton Brown

The first time I heard Alton Brown speak was at the NorthWest BookFest a few years back. I was on a panel about shared-world novels and saw that about an hour later, Mr. Brown would be speaking on his book I'm Just Here for the Food. I had just started tuning in to Good Eats; his show on the Food Network and had been recommending it to friends - it had a great sense of humor and a way-cool-Mr.-Science-in-the-kitchen vibe, but I didn't know that it was popular or anything. So I got to the talk was about fifteen minutes early, thinking there would be space to grab a good seat. And the area was already packed the gills, so much so that Alton started his talk early since no one else was going to get in.

So now its years later and Alton Brown is back in Seattle, this time at the Elliot Bay Bookstore (digression: If you live in Seattle, you must go to this bookstore. If you don't live in Seattle, move to Seattle for this bookstore). Again, I arrive fifteen minutes before showtime, and see Alton Brown through the window quickly signing copies of the book for the store. The reading will take place downstairs, which is a large area with a coffee shop, reading tables, and a nicely-sized lecture space.

And the place is packed to the gills by the time I get there. So much for the concept of a "learning curve".

Here's a picture from the event. Alton Brown is that pale spot in the distance. This was taken from the adjoining room by one of my poker buddies, who had a better view than I did.


So, anyway, Alton Brown was amazing and knowledgable and friendly and already tired from the grind of a book tour. He's touring for his latest - I'm Just Here for More Food, but he was all over the board. He talked about meeting Johnny Carson as a boy and how the talk show host inspired his own career. He talked about how he doesn't do the tastings on Iron Chef America since sampling Iron Chef Sakai's trout ice cream. He talked about the task of putting together Good Eats and his staff. He talked about the dangers of cooking with your spouse and/or significant other.

And he talked about baking, which, as he notes, many men consider to be some form of arcane rite. We feel if we get something wrong (and I'm paraphasing him here) " . . . you open some extra-dimensional portal and let the Pillsbury Doughboy out". Then he provided the image of poking this demonic Pillsbury Doughboy, and instead of it laughing, its belly splits open to reveal a fang-lined maw that chews your finger off.

Which convinces me that Alton Brown has probably played D&D at some point in his life, if not Call of Cthulhu. Heck, he might of even been a GM.

In any event, Alton is in the Seattle area for a couple days, and has another signing up in Issaquah on Tuesday. Which is good, since he promised not to leave until he signed everyone's book, and from the mass of people, he may still BE down there at Elliot Bay signing as I write this.

More later,

Local Politics

First off, a Not-So-Brief Update on the Governor's Suit:

1) The State GOP went judge-shopping for a friendly venue, and thought they found one in Chelan County, just on the other side of the Cascades. The judge disappointed the GOP by refusing to expedite a ruling, instead requiring evidence being presented. He also refused to dismiss the case (which the Dems wanted).

2) Speaking of disappointment, members of the right are calling for Secretary of State Sam Reed's impeachment for the crime of being insufficiently Republican. Its an interesting approach to state governance - shooting your own people. Maybe this is a message being sent to our new Attorney General Robert McKenna, also GOP, who now has the responsibility of carrying forward the state's case in the suit.

3) The latest GOP ballyhoo, by the way, is an examination of felons who have illegally voted. Cursory examinations proves that they are there, but like everything else in this state, they are split between voting Dem and Rep. The Times dug up one such felon in the Sunday paper, who not only voted GOP but was helping running GOP campaigns, not realizing that this was illegal.

4) And speaking of Sam Reed, he's put together a pitch for reforms to the electoral system. These include some basic common-sense decisions like moving the primary forward, requiring the mail-in ballots be in-hand by election day, among others. Looks pretty solid, and the goo-goos should keep the pressure on our legislature to move this forward.

But actually all this is not what I'm here to talk about - instead let's look at another bit of fallout from the past election - the redistricting the King County Council. Intiative 1A passed, requiring the King County Council to come up with a bi-partisan solution to the eliminating four of its thirteen seats. At the time I thought it unlikely that they could do so in a short time frame, being ready for THIS fall's elections.

But unlike at the state level, the Dems and GOP of the council have come together in a common cause - punishing those members who supported this initiative in the first place. Four of the members who supported reducing the number of council-entities just happen to find themselves in districts where they will have to square off against each other. Those who were against reducing the size of the council, on the other hand, find themselves in safe districts, some of which seem to be even a little more safe after the dust has settled.

In our case, our little pied-a-terre up on the East Hill looks like it will shift over from the mostly-rural 9th and into the new 5th, which is shaping up as the "swing district" for the council. As this area becomes more developed, it has steered more towards the center and left, so shearing it off from the rest of the 9th (which sweeps east and south to the county line) should help the GOP Incumbent in the 9th.

Except that our current incumbent in the 9th, Steve Hammond, may now be facing off this fall against the son of the popular former US Representitive, Jennifer Dunn. Reagan Dunn (no, I'm not making the name) looks like he will be tapped to fill out Rob McKenna's term (since McKenna is now state Attorney General), and lives in the rebuilt and more rural-than-ever 9th. Needless to say, Councilman Hammond is displeased with the result of the re-org, and I don't blame him. Should the young Dunn choose to run (and he could always relocate - our council candidates seem to come mounted on wheels for easy portability), he'll have a major advantage in the shortened 9th district, which includes a lot of Rep. Dunn's old stomping grounds.

So the potential political entertainment factor here is high. More later as all this unspools.

Friday, January 21, 2005

The Blog Goes Ever On And On

So there has been a little light dusting here at Grubb Street, with more to come.

The most obvious change has been to collapse the Archives into a monthly summary as opposed to a weekly one. The list was getting too long.

Coupled with that is the fact that now you can link with individual articles. Hit the little pound sign at the bottom of the page and it will flip you to the page by itself, so you can send it around easier.

Lastly, and most importantly, I've got the feed set up so Live Journal users can put me on their friends list. And when I say "I" did this, I mean that The Monkey King did it on my behalf. It can be found here.

So the global reach of Grubb Street has just gotten a little - reachier. However, I have no idea where its going. So if you grab Grubb Street for your Friends list, drop me a line. I'm interested in seeing where this all goes.

More later, including more tweaks,

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


January 7, 2004
To: Fox News Employees
Fr: The Mgt.

As we make our roll-up to the triumphant inauguration of our President, we must alert all our employees to a potential danger on the horizon. This would be the "Not One Damned Dime" movement that has been getting some attention on the cable networks, including ours. The movement means to show indignation at the results of the November vote by asking people not making purchases on Thursday. Our purpose in promoting this movement has been to better discredit it on Friday morning when it becomes obvious that a one-day boycott has had little effect (See coverage of "Buy Nothing Day" on the Friday after Thanksgiving - weak first weekend Christmas sales are always blamed on the economy, not on a few rabble-rousers). However, in the unlikely event that this movement has any effect on our sales patterns, we have decided that it is best to take a pro-active stance. The following memes should be inserted into newscasts over the next few weeks:

1) Thursday sales are always crappy. Remind people that sales will be bad because - well, its Thursday. Who has the energy to shop on a Thursday? You've been struggling all week to put food on your family. At least Wednesday has the last vestiges of steam to it, that last effort to put the time behind you. No, America is battered and exhausted by Thursday. Thursday sucks.

2) Sales will be low because everyone is watching the inauguration. If this succeeds, then we can smoothly claim it is because no one could tear themselves away from our programming to engage in daily business.

3) Treat Yourself Day. Been thinking of a buying that big-ticket item - House, car, luxury yacht? Now's your chance to have your purchase make a difference. You can show your support by engaging in flamboyant consumerism on Thursday. We have a lead on a plant making magnetic yellow ribbons in Honduras, and should have some examples at the beginning of next week.

By spreading these memes, we are can be proved right no matter what happens. Remember, if we have to change our buying patterns, then the Democrats have truly won.

The Mgt.

More later,

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


So last week a short story I wrote, Patron of the Akki, showed up on the Magic: The Gathering site. Immediately, Grubb Street got fan mail (which is way cool). Unfortunately, one of the first emails took me to task for numerous typos in the final version, and provided a zipped file of said errors (which is much less way cool).

Some of these typos were minor, but some were real wincers – use of “next” instead of “neck”, or “about” instead of “above”. Stuff that (might) make it past a grammar checker but would be caught in a moment by a casual reader. Stuff that makes the author look bad.

Fortunately, I happen to work within walking distance of the Magic: The Gathering team, and contacted them about the goofs. Red faces abounded, and none were redder than mine. Let me make this clear: Every typo in that first publication was in the original manuscript I delivered. It wasn’t like subliterate gnomes took over the process somewhere and put the more egregious errors into place. The gnome was at the keyboard in the first place.

Now while the net is eternal, it is also mutable, so within the day of having the discussion about the typos, a cleaner copy appeared at the site. Yet in making the fix, I thought of a few standard excuses writers use to cover their embarrassment. I had to reject them all as being disingenuous.

Blame the Editor is a wonderful excuse when you allow yourself be exposed to be a blathering idiot in print. Either they changed too much, or did not change enough. I’m not good with this one – the author has a base-line responsibility to turn over serviceable copy in the first place. An author should never assume that the editor will “fix things”.

Blame the Deadline also sounds good as an excuse. This particular opportunity brewed up out of nowhere in late November, with a first draft, review, revision and final draft all complete by Christmas. Indeed, it was the tight turnaround that I found attractive in the project. The length of the story meshed perfectly with the amount of time and what I had to say. A longer deadline would probably not served this story one whit.

Its Only the Internet is a new, modern excuse – this is a floodplain of a media, with new silt being laid down every week. Within two days the link to Patron was off the main page for another Magic article, and a week later a new story has shown up. Yet what is said on the Net does matter, and this way of thinking contributes to the second-class attitude that most wired-in writers complain about. Material that purports itself to be professional should be as professional in pixels as it is in ink.

So what am I left with? As I said at the start, Blame the Author. That’s where the ultimate responsibility lies, and after all, it is his name on the front. He takes the kudos and the brickbats.

So how did such teeth-grinding errors appear in the first place? Human nature – one of the hardest things to do as a writer is to read what you have written on the page as opposed to what you THINK you have written on the page. Often a second (or tenth) set of eyes will reveal obvious mistakes. Grubb Street is a semi-private journal, and is often is laced with typographic and grammatical errors just for that reason – it’s one guy writing. It is a rawer feed, often filled with static. Sometimes I am reading through old entries and see a teeth-grinder, and, the net being editable, can fix it.

But for the stuff going elsewhere, I am definitely going with a second (or tenth) set of eyes, to avoid the more obvious typos wherever possible.

More latre,

Monday, January 17, 2005

Vegetable Weekend

So there are Animal Weekends - filled with action, comings and goings, arrivals and exits, and at the end of it, a feeling of exhaustion. And there are Mineral Weekends, solid, productive, cerebral - whether it is working on a freelance project or tackling a novel. Again, at the end is a feeling of progress.

And then there are the Vegetable Weekends. These are inert, lumpy things, and when you get to the end of them you can't really say you've accomplished anything.

I have just had a Vegetable Weekend - overdue after the Animal weekends around Christmas and a long Mineral phase with several deadlines forming all at once. It was a weekend without much process, made moreso by a car problem (the ancient Saturn needed new fuel injectors) that left me grounded at the house, and made even moreso by bad weather keeping me out of the yard (I went out to pull the wreath off the front of the house and was rewarded with freezing rain).

So there was a lot of nothing. Football on the tube. The premiere of Iron Chef: America. A few attempts at minerality through research or writing. And a lot of World of Warcraft, including a teamup on the Argent Dawn server with Bill and T'ed. We're running human characters in more or less a party, since we know each other in the real world.

So I spoke of the difference in the play experiences in the game, and my life as a human, the priest Samarius, is different than my life as the tauren Thunderchild. The tauren lands are open plains. The human territory I'm hanging in is a forest of twisted Disney trees, which makes for lousy sight-lines and guarentees that stuff is going to sneak up on you. The human territories are also infested with children, who are presented in a Village of the Damned look - I found a storage area of them upstairs at one of the inns - inexpressive big eyes, lumpy feet, minimal animation - scary. And lastly, these humans have a deep abiding interest in food. While my quests as a Tauren have been along the lines of purifying holy sites, most of the human quests seem to involve pie - getting a pie, delivering a pie, or picking up the ingrediants for a pie (I'm currently working on gathering goretusk livers for a goretusk pie). As a result, I am left with the feeling that these humans are fat and happy lugs that have no clue as to the dangers their world faces.

I also found out that my priest drew the monsters to himself. Apparently this is a factor of both being the lowest-level character of the group, and the fact that my curative spells are treated like attacks for purposes of determining "threat". So heal an ally, get a monster breathing down your neck. And since as a group we are taking down creatures outside our weight class (golems decked out like scarecrows), that means I spent a fraction of my time dead (which is a bad thing, since I was the only one who could raise the dead).

Yet despite the triumphs in alternate realities, it was a pretty vegetable weekend. Now back to life.

More later,

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Novel: Slow Going

Quicksilver Neil Stephenson, Morrow Publishing, 928 pages

I once said the Neil Stephenson writes the best first fifty pages in SF, and did not mean it as a compliment. Snow Crash had an amazing opening sequence, but the rest of the book never lived up to that opening. Diamond Age posed the same problem for me, and after the initial chapters, I trailed off in my devotion to it and eventually abandoned it like a bad date.

And Cryptonomicon, well, it frustrated me, so much so that I gave the volume away after I had finished it (A friend noted I must have a library of mediocre books – the ones I like I recommend I give away to others, while the ones I dislike I send into exile). Several images stay in my mind – broad stone steps in the Philipines, an exploded airliner reconstructed in mid-disaster, and gold flowing from beneath a mountain, but in the end I had to admit that I didn’t get it. Well written? Yes. Informative? Uh-huh? A doorstop. OK.

Yet despite this I asked for Quicksilver as a birthday present and took it along as my sole reading on the trips to Canada and California (but not Pittsburgh – I’ll bring along weighty tomes for car trips but not onto an airplane these days). In between trips it sat next to the bed, read a chapter at a time before bed, almost abandoned, but not quite. A 12-hour service upgrade on Comcast gave me the reason to finish it.

Now all this makes it sound like I didn’t like the book, and indeed it is a bit of an climb (Not El Capitan in Yosemite, perhaps, but a good-sized cliff in any event). Yet I got it because it dealt with a period that I was interested in and had only passing knowledge in – the Enlightment at the end of the 17th Century. I had listened to the Pepys diaries, and knew that it was the period after the Restoration and before the Glorious Revolution and there was fire and plague and war, and various Worthies had been rolling around that time, but that was about it.

And Stephenson’s verbose style and textural density works for him incredibly well in this volume while the same traits failed for me in Cryptonomicon. Here was is a place, much like traditional fantasy, where long explanations of minting coins and ship’s rigging and Natural Philosophy is not only expected by required for basic understanding. More than a few times the rivets of research show, but it has the feeling of a lot of solid backing.

The book is about the ancestors of the main characters in the Cryptonomicon. We have Daniel Waterhouse, who thinks much and acts little, and Jack Shaftoe, who thinks little and acts much. The pair do not even meet in this first volume, but they share the point of being witnesses and catalysts to history (The Monkey King puts forward the idea that this is where the title comes from – Alchemical quicksilver causing changes in others while remaining unchanged itself). Indeed, the men hew to their chosen courses like great ships running before the wind, and are instrumental in many small doings that have much greater results. A third character arises Eliza, from the mythical Cryptonomicon nation of Qwghlm, who is mostly with Jack but glances off Daniel, and who has her own arc, carrying through in areas where neither man could go. Indeed, Eliza takes over for Jack when the latter disappears from this volume about two-thirds of the way through. And there is the mysterious Enoch Root, who may or may not be the same character we see in Cryptonomicon - he may be an ancestor, an alchemical immortal, or a time traveler, but he fills the role of the strong wooden club that comes along and slams the characters back into the path of onrushing history.

If you can see the rivets in research, you can also see the style points in certain scenes, such as the page-long dissection of the horrid state of British coinage, which presages Newton's running the mint. Waterhouse’s bits felt ponderous and learned, and while Jack’s were more swashbuckling, these stylistic star turns were cases of the author showing off (and showing off well). And then we hit the Broadway number.

This one bit was the tipping point for me, at which stage I put myself entirely in Stephenson’s hands, where I surrendered to his literary seige. Jack is syphilitic, and prone to delusions. While riding into Paris, he starts to have a bout of madness, in which all of Paris begins to sing – bakers, clerics, mourners, soldiers, Huguenot prisoners being marched off to slavery, everyone. And I read this and I realize I am suddenly in the middle of a musical, sort of a twisted version of Oliver. The text itself just takes wing at this point and Stephenson triumphs.

And at that point I knew I would have to purchase the other two doorstops in the collection for future reading -The Confusion and The System of the World (which I received for Christmas, so the publishers may sleep easy this evening). I have no idea where Stephenson is going with these characters, but I’m will to follow along, out of deep curiosity if nothing else. Shaftoe, Waterhouse, and Eliza and engaging, modern characters who bring across the values of the times past, and while flickers of the modern world glimmer in the darkness (banking, binaries, and abolition), it is very much of its times.

But for the moment, I need to read something a little lighter in the lifting category. More later,

Friday, January 14, 2005

Meme of Self-Discovery

I haven't done one of these Five Questions/Twenty Five Questions/Way Too Many Questions type quizzes for a while, but its Friday, and we're seeing a little more traffic here on Grubb Street from the recently published story on the Magic: The Gathering site, and I ganked this from Chrismonkey:

Hawai'i, Big island, dry side of the island, probably North of Kona. That's if I had as much money as God. If I had MORE money than God, I would renovate the two top floors of a brownstone overlooking central park, and the renovation would include a "Dr Strange" window (Yes, I know the good doctor is in Greenwich Village, but work with me on this - I have more money than God).

Whatever is comfortable. The "article" I always have on me is a clip-watch hanging from my beltloop. I keep destroying wristwatches, and discovered I keep timepieces better when I'm not wearing them on my wrists.

A collection of traditional Christmas Music purchased as a whim at Border's. Oddly Kate also picked up a Christmas album at the IKEA, "Northwest Christmas 7", or something, but its opening cut was so abysmal, a country-western weeper about loved ones serving overseas, that it was never played more than once.

When I have work to do, at dawn. Which is a great thing in the Summer months, a horrible thing in the Winter, when we get all of about 45 minutes of daylight. Then I rely on an alarm clock to be up by seven.

If I said my Lovely Bride, she would be so displeased. So I'm going to go with my KitchenAid Mixer.

A Watts Geodetic Micrometer Theodolite. Or maybe a pre-CBS Stratocaster.

Blue. It makes me happy.Even when I have the blues.

Hybrid. Oh, break my arms and I'll choose a Sports Car. A classic 'vette Stingray.

I believe it in more and more as I get closer and closer to it.

Chronicles of Prydain by Alexander Lloyd, better known to most as The Black Caldron.

Spring. Time for rebirth and all that.

Flight. Don't believe what they tell you about Time Stop - Yes, you can move from place to place in an instant with Time Stop, but its the journey, not the destination that matters.

No tattoo, and no desire to get one.

Only balls of two or less.

Both of my grandfathers. I always want to know more about their lives.

Sunday, particularly Sundays with a lot of unscheduled time.

First aid kit, tire changing stuff, I tend to keep it pretty empty, since if someone steals your car, you feel doubly dumb that you left the Monet in the trunk.

Average sushi beats everything shy of a great hamburger.

No. I'm pretty pleased with my choices, and would worry that I would screw things up.

Three days for the Louvre. Two days for the D'Orsay. Two days for the British Museum. Full day for the National Gallery. And I get to take pictures.

Chris McKitterick, former fellow member of the Thousand Monkeys Writing group.

Mark Twain

I do a hot sausage pasta that's good, but the best is the Christmas Day feast, with good company and brined turkey.

August 27, a long, long time ago. In a galaxy far, far away.

Today in Alternate History
Mt St. Helens' Volcano-Cam!
Jeff Russell's Starship Dimensions

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Discounting the Count

So Christine Gregoire was sworn in as governor today, and the State GOP, though deeply frustrated with the result, moved on to the business of state government and prepared for the next election.

Ha! I kid. Actually, the State GOP has spent the past two weeks flipping out, in a pyrokinetic fashion that has turned them into their own charactures of Democrats. A huge amount of money, media, and lawyers have been thrown at the problem. The low point was right before the Seahawks/Rams playoff game, when the revote forces ran an advertisement that consisted of flashing black-on-yellow text with sirens in the background accusing the election of being stolen. I tried to imagine such an advert running on TV in Ohio about their recent electoral messups, but then I remembered - Ohio has no teams in the playoffs! So its OK! Silly me!

OK, there is a tremendous amount of bombast going on even now, which will culminate with a court case coming up on Friday to have the election declared void and demanding a revote. Now, the problem is, where the Reps rail against fraud for the sound bites, the facts have yet to come up with anything major - there is, as they say, no smoking gun of organized corrupt activity (though there does not have to be a lot, with a 50-some or 130-some lead either way). There ARE errors in the election, as there usually are, but so far the State GOP has come up with a big handful of rhetoric.

"The dead voted in King County!" was one accusation that plays well on radio. The Seattle Times (doing an amazing impression of responsible journalism) checked into it - yep, there were some case of the dearly-departed voting, but no clear attempt at fraud, nothing on the scale of electoral officers cruising for votes in the Cook County Cemetary. More of personal levels of individuals using a mail-in ballot of the recently deceased to vote, since "they would have wanted it that way". And by the way, the Times reports, some of those Dead voted for Rossi. This has been the pattern for the past few weeks, when the Republicans suddenly became interested in the final talley. Accusation, followed by emptiness.

Now, the ultimate winners in all this may be what they call in the Chicago the Goo-Goos -the Good Government types. These are the civics-class wonks that want to make the system work without taking into consideration parties and partisanship. In Chicago they were regarded as quaint, occaisionally surfacing to challenge the machine at its most corrupt. In this case, Goo-Goos from both sides of the political spectrum are moving forward to help patch holes in the electoral process. Leading the charge is Sam Reed, our Secretary of State, who has already brought out a platform of proposed improvements.

For this good citizenship, Reed has been pilloried by the more vocal elements of his party. Apparently the Republicans feel we only HAVE Secretaries of State so they can tilt close elections. By eating their own, the campaign wing of the GOP is playing to the party's hardcore (who is none too happy with them), but giving the rest of the state a bad case of double vision, watching the party support elections at a national level and fight against them in the local.

So we have a Governor, and we have a court case for a revote. I can't guess the result of the suit, but in football, there needs to be sufficient evidence to overturn the call on the field. So we still stay tuned.

More later,

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Canlis, Too

So long-time readers of this journal (and in the journal "bidness", that means those of you wandered in over a year ago and haven't had the sense to wander back out) will remember that early on I raved about the most expensive restaurant in Seattle, Canlis. This is the "dressy restaurant" situated on a bluff at the south end of the Aurora bridge, with a magnificent view of Lake Union, and wonderful, wonderful food. The occasion that brought us there last Friday was my Lovely Bride's birthday (being a gentleman, I will not speak of a number, save to note that her age may be divided by itself, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12, 16, and 24).

Usually we get a table by the window for the view, but this time we were further back in the main room, with our backs to the copper kitchen, and as such had a view of the place itself - it was early and empty when we arrived, but the place filled up and still seemed very cozy and intimate when it was full. The interior is stonework and wood, with a design that would delight Frank Lloyd Wright. There was a second floor for Private Dining Rooms overlooking the main restaurant, and Kate snuck off to have a look, only to end up getting a guided tour of the upstairs, including the "Caché", a private table for two with the best view in the house - the Caché goes for a C-note normally, but they auction it off every Valentine's day for charity.

Canlis' regular fare is always amazing, but neither Kate nor I opened the menu that evening. Instead, we went for their "Tasting Menu", which changes from month to month, and is a culinary delight. Here's the rundown for January, lifted (I mean reproduced) from their site:

Albacore Tuna Tartare
Dungeness crab, avocado, spicy tuna and chive oil
2004 Crios Torrontés, Cafayate, Argentina

Duck Three Ways
Mushroom-duck demi-glace, dried cherry chutney and sautéed escarole
2002 Arboleda Carmenère, Colchagua Valley, Chile

Ruby Red Grapefruit Ice Intermezzo

Wasyugyu Tenderloin
Washington grown Kobe style beef,
Beluga lentil and bacon stuffed Savoy cabbage with béarnaise sauce
2002 Viña Progreso Reserve Tannat, Uruguay

Sourdough Bread Pudding
Port poached pear, brandied walnut sauce
and a Meyer lemon crème fraiche ice cream
2002 Santa Julia “Tardio” Late Harvest Torrontés, Mendoza, Argentina

Now by "Tasting Menu", think Iron Chef tasting panel - small incredible portions that define "food as art", which you taste with your eyes before you reward your palate. Even remembering this food makes me smile, days later. The Tuna Tatare was a small skyscraper with floors of tuna, crab, avocado, and more tuna. The Duck Three Ways was slices of roasted duck, topped by a duck sausage, with duck prosciutto to one side (I didn't know that process worked for ducks, but it does and it was fantastic). The tenderloin was soft and supple and rich. And bread pudding - well, this is why I love their tasting menu - nothing would normally make me order a bread pudding, but this was incredible (and here was where the tasting menu tripped up my wife's allergies, so instead she got three flavors of sherbert, which was melt-in-your-mouth wonderful as well).

Now the thing that impressed me yet again with the meal was the matching wines. All of them were South American, and matched perfectly to the meal. I hate reds, yet the two reds meshed incredibly well with the courses, and the final Tardio was an incredibly sweet kick againt them. I was completely floored by the ability to match wine with food, and our sommelier, Shayn (self-described "Wine Guy") was very knowledgeable, and, you could tell, excited by the wines he was serving. This excitement and knowledge went for our waiter, Parris, who was omnipresent, omniscient friendly, cool, and, yeah, excited about the food, too.

Now, this meal was horribly, horribly, horribly expensive. How much so? Well, tomorrow a short story I wrote goes live on the Magic: The Gathering site, and the payment should just about cover the cost. Now I mentioned in an earlier post that a chunk of a previous short story's payment went to disaster relief, so this feels about right: Treat yourself to a very good meal, and donate an equal share to help others (or, if you prefer, justify going out for a good meal through your earlier philanthropy).

And count your blessings. More later,

Sunday, January 09, 2005


So the great Seattle Blizzard of '05 has passed through with typical Northwesternly timeliness. Which means everyone thought it would hit Thursday, and planned not to be at work Friday, and instead it hit Saturday. Oh, and after they said that this was it, it hit again, harder, on Sunday morning.

And by "hit" I mean a light dusting, something that wouldn't even merit comment in the midwest unless it was the first snowfall of the season. Gone by about noon. It was heavier to the north of the city, up tpwards Everett, and much worse on the passes, but the south sound area, as is typical, was spared the worst of it.

Here's a picture from the backyard, showing the snow in all its snowiness.


Yeah, you folk living back east can start hating me now.

More later,

Saturday, January 08, 2005

State GOP Files Suit Over Playoff

SEATTLE – This evening the Washington State Republican Party filed suit in King County Superior Court to overturn the results of the Seahawks-Rams games, which the Rams won by a single touchdown, 27-20.

“A single touchdown is statistically miniscule over the course of an entire NFL season,” said State GOP Chairman Chris “Quote Me!” Vance, “Therefore the final score is too close to call. We have no other choice but to go to court and demand that the NFL authorize another playoff game immediately to correct this glaring, corrupt oversight.”

Vance also mentioned that he could produce witnesses who clearly saw the last play of the game resulting in a catch in the end zone by the Seahawks, which would have tied the game.

“Given that situation,” continued Vance, “It would be obvious to ‘go for two’, which would have made the outcome a clear Seahawks victory. Only through the obvious interference of the glaring, corrupt referees, who, if not from St. Louis, have relatives in St. Louis or have relatives who KNOW people in St Louis, did the Rams temporarily triumph.”

“It is the will of the people,” noted would-be Governor Dino “Would-Be” Rossi, “You could see it in everyone’s face at the stadium. They wanted the Seahawks to win. Ergo, the Seahawks did win. Not to mention the fact I lost three large to John Ashcroft.”

“I support the playoff process,” stated Rossi, “But when it becomes a question of losing and taking it like a man, I deplore it. In this way I show myself to be a moderate. I strongly support the idea that the Rams and Seahawks continue to play this game until the Seahawks win, into the next season, if necessary.”

The Superior Court has promised to rule on the matter as soon as they stop giggling.

More later,

Friday, January 07, 2005

World of Whupass

So for the past two weeks, since Christmas, I have been living a triple life. Life One has been as Jeff Grubb, mild-mannered web copywriter/contractor for a large toy/entertainment company. Life Two has been Jeff Grubb, mild-mannered freelance author.

And Life Three has been as Thunderchild, Tauren Hunter out of Mulgore, who has just reached Crossroads in the Barrens with his pet cougar, Emily, and is hunting screeching raptors for their horns.

Yes, its got me as well. The time-suck that is World of Warcraft.

I blame my co-workers, many of whom were in the beta tests, and who have been playing it since it arrived in early December. The bad news is that they are at 40 level when I was at 10. The good news is that they formed a guild (Markovians) and I got my official hunter-green clan shirt from them (Stylin'!). And a couple 10-slot silk bags from our high-level tailor.

Hmm. Maybe I should start again. I've been rather suspect of Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORGs, among other abreviations) through much of their evolution. Most of the earlier versions have struck me as nice, but not enough to cause me to want to invest time and a monthly charge into them. City of Heroes was a great eye-opener for me, but when one of their updates went beyond what my PC laptop could run, I dropped out. World of Warcraft definitely creates addictive behavior, and I can see why.

First off, the game is visually stunning. It is beautiful world that one of my co-workers describes as "twisted Disney". The characters and their surroundings are more cartoony than realistic, and that works great - it draws you into the area. I have been playing in the Tauren (minotaur) area, which is mountainous upland with wide valleys, their architecture influenced by Native American background.

Further, they do all sorts of little things, bits of stage business that enhance the reality. Birds and bats flit across the sky, tribal dancers celebrate and then rest, spinning wind-powered totems grind grain and draw water. You get the feel of an alien but accessible landscape. Yes, you can see the standard building types being used repeatedly, but there are enough types that it does not get boring. It is cool, dyanamic world.

The game play, however, is what makes this addictive. WoW uses what we at TSR used to call "Matrix" design, as opposed to a linear design model. Linear design is a path - you do x, then move up the road and do y and then z. Straightforward story-telling. Your typical D&D adventure. Matrix design is more like an amusement park - You arrive and can go to rides A, B, or C in any order (now, A, B, and C may be linear themselves, or have their own matrices). The combination of exploring and quests brings the character through the world, and gives him enough rational to keep going. Indeed, the continual need to upgrade to meet new challenges is a standard feature of MMORGs and is handled very well here. Standing from the outside, I mocked my co-workers use of non-combat abilities ("You're a wizard! Why do you need to worry about tailoring?"), but within two days of immersion, I was there skinning zebra-unicorns and using leatherworking to make boots for sale. Its insidious, I tell you.

Similarly, the nature of grouping and the social interaction within the game. While I don't think that the social nature of online games has yet to reach that of old-fashioned tabletop RPGs (primarily because there is not that instant response, but rather the slower give and take of email or instant messaging), there is a social component, both on a local level (grouping up with strangers to take on opponents) and at a larger level (real-world friends who form guilds). What WoW and similar games provide is a grounding for discussion out of the direct gaming experience (what Richard Garfield always called the "Metagame"). And yes, I have spent several lunch hours now comparing the differences between the hunter and rogue experiences.

And that's the last nice point - the first time you are in the game, it has an amazing sense of wonder. But the playing style of the hunter is different from that of the warlock is different from that of the paladin. Further, from discussions I've been involved in, there are different shades of play among the races as well - orc versus undead versus human. And there is a major break between the Horde and Alliance, such that players on opposing sides do not communicate and are expected to fight on sight. All these different variants make for high replayability out of a single engine.

All in all, its a very impressive accomplishment, and a game which takes the art of online RPGs forward. I can see our D&D roots here (High-tech gnomes - now what lunkhead came up with THAT idea?), but they have adapted incredibly well for the computer medium.

Oh, and if you're on the Uther server, say hi to Thunderchild. If you're Alliance, you can just wave at him as he opens fire with his blunderbuss.

More later,

Thursday, January 06, 2005


So I wanted to do a little more research about my home neighborhood, up on the East Hill near Panther Lake, but events are moving faster than I am. We've been here seven years, which almost qualifies us as "old-timers", a status which grants the benefit of whining that things are all going to heck as the universe changes around us.

Back in the way, way early days, the East Hill had a lot of trees on it, which were felled for lumber and the farms moved in. You can see from aerial photography that there are still patches of earlier forest spotting the top of the hill. Our house is in one of those spots (just south and west of the big cross-shaped building that is a school). The land behind us was a farm with a lot of wetland, which, according to our long-term neighbor, meant it was used to dump old cars and washing machines. The original farmhouse was just down the road, where there is now a retaining pond, but was destroyed after a drug raid (more on this as I find out about it). Then the Elementary school built on the swampy land behind, but left our little neck of forest relatively intact.

I'm giving all this background to show that land is continually changing in use, and just because it was a certain way, that is no guarentee that its going to stay in that state. When we moved up here we used to joke that if you go down Benson Road and turn right, you're in housing developments, and if you turn left, you're in farms. We're in the farms (cows on the way to work, roosters in the morning, llamas nearby), with developments kept at bay by Panther Lake itself to some degree.

So in the past few years the new developments have jumped Benson and a lot of new developments are going up around us. Big houses on dinky, dinky lots. The first warning usually is the "attack of the big white signs". These are the declarations of land development, and accompanied by mailings from King County to the locals showing what the developers are planning on doing. Often these signs stay up for years as the various developers get around to filling things in, so the big signs serve as a form of trauma counselling - Things are going to change - just so you know. There are currently three new housing developments within walking distance (only one shows up on this photo), and more coming. Still, we have this little patch of wooded ground (The back third of our property is brush), and the neighbors also have shady lawns as well with old trees.

But the property just on the other side of our western neighbor - that's had an interesting change. This is a long, narrow strip of 1.6 acres (about twice ours), with the house tucked way back on the property line. You can't see it unless you know its there. On Christmas Day the backhoes and plows moved in and started stripping away the forest on the forward two-thirds of the property, mostly cottonwoods but some pine and cedar as well. All this happened very suddenly, and without the giant white sign.

Then the letter came - they are planning on putting 9 family homes on that lot. Quick math says we are looking at tiny, tiny lots. All of this has a "dead-of-night" vibe to it, since the trees are already down and one more patch of earth in the Panther Lake area has been overtaken by the developer's plow before the paperwork catches up.

Here comes the neighborhood,

Monday, January 03, 2005

Alliterates Go Live (again)!

So after a long period of slumber, the mighty giant that is the Alliterates web site has shaken the dust from its cuffs and risen, titan-like, once more. You can find it here. There are still some pieces that need to arrive (like a bit from me on the West Coast Team), but at least we have the core site back.

More later,

Sunday, January 02, 2005


So, there were no new monoliths appearing the Seattle area with the new year, so instead I'll present a stonehenge (more of cut-stone-and-mortar henge) for the new year. This one is located in an office park just south of my building, between us and the Olympic Pipeline facility.




By the way, I got a digital camera for Christmas. Yes, its as scary as it sounds. More later,