Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Pittsburgh Notes

I spent the great bulk of my time in Pittsburgh with family (and hereby extend an apology to all friends who I did not call while I was in town), but I did have a couple things that struck me while I was there.

First off was the green. I usually come to Pittsburgh in the fall for Thanksgiving, when all the trees have shed their leaves and the sky is low and cat-fur grey and if its not raining its snowing. But here, just on the doorway to summer, it is green and lush and almost humid from the vegetation. Pittsburgh is an older city now, and the trees planted in housing developments in the 50s and 60s have now grown up to hide the houses and wrap the hills in jade velvet. It helps that Pittsburgh is built on ridgelines and valleys, which creates more unbuildable land and gives all the trees their footholds.

Second was, in comparison to my writeup on the Southwest, we know there's a war on, at least with the little yellow ribbon stickers. They were omnipresent and varied, and had a wide speciation of colors and messages (including women's healh issues and autism (a jigsaw ribbon)). If someone wants to do a study of the spread of message within an enviromental niche, Pittsburgh is the place to do it.

Lastly, the housing bubble has hit Pittsburgh, and the tax appraisals and house prices are now moving into the same numbers we saw in Seattle seven years ago. As a result, more and more people are selling their places in the city (indeed, a lot of the homes are owned by older couples, who resent the upped taxes and see it as an ideal time to get out). New families are coming into these homes, with their elder trees and earlier construction.

That's it - my mind was a bit elsewhere for most of the time I was there, but there were little things.

More later,

Monday, May 30, 2005



(Number of Operations Iraq Freedom and Enduring Freedom casualties
as confirmed by U.S. Central Command)

As of this time,

Sunday, May 29, 2005


I'm back. I have spent the past five days in Pittsburgh, which is my home town and home to my immediate family. My father underwent a double bypass operation on Thursday, and is currently recovering in the hospital. Though I'm back out in Seattle, my thoughts, and the thoughts of my Lovely Bride, are with him and the rest of my family.

I'll go back to being snarky later in the week. Honest.

More later,

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Local Politics (Not)

I'm going to spotty in my posting for the rest of the week, which is a pity as the trial over the Governor's Race is just getting started. So far the state GOP case has been . . . less than impressive, but there's always the chance of the smoking gun, the mystery witness, the sudden appearance of an uncounted ballot box in Yakima, or the equally-sudden appearance of the ex-wife long thought dead but really living in Botswana. For those poor readers who are really getting political news off this blog, in their hour of darkness, I can only provide this link from the Seattle Times, which provides a blow-by-blow description of the proceedings (reminding us all that court cases are really, really boring, and that is one of their virtues), and has been doing a pretty good job at sorting the wheat from the chaff. Check it out.

More later,

Monday, May 23, 2005

I Become Unemployed (What, Again?)

For the moment, I just want to think of it as being returned to Freelance Availability(TM).

So, for the past few months, work has been drying up at my regular gig - a web design company called True North Media. The big project I was working on was completed, another mid-sized project started and then stopped, and a lot of work suddenly went from "We need it now" to "We're thinking if we really want to do this or not". This is the nature of the beast in web design, with alternating cycles of feast and famine.

In this case, the famine was deeper than expected. On Thursday I was let go. I had been working half-days for a while, making up the rest with small freelance opportunities. With regrets from all involved, I was laid off.

Now, I "saw this coming" in the same way as you sees your eventual demise coming - it's understood on some basic level but still a bit of a shock when the grim reaper appears at your bedside. We've been a small and nimble company and usually came up with something. This time we were just caught short.

And it was a bit of shock because I had truly enjoyed working there in terms of challenges, environment, and personalities. The work (when it was there) was interesting and fun, and had the added value of allowing me to do things I had never done before, like organizing and producing a CD-ROM for a new toy line. The environment was ideal for me, in that even when the work slowed, I still had an office environment, and a management that was cool on freelance work (though I have done well as freelancer, I really like the personal interaction and structure of an organization). And the people were, quite frankly, a great gang, and it was fun working with them.

So, what now? Well Thursday night I cleaned up the office and Friday morning I wrapped up the hand-offs of my (few) current projects and backed up my files. Friday afternoon I called my folks with the bad news (always the hardest thing). and then went to see Sahara with Kate (a wonderful bad movie which I highly recommend). Friday night went for a walk around Green Lake and had dinner with Monkey King and Shelly. Saturday I pretty much crashed, and Sunday I started back in on some outstanding freelance work. And started telling people in the rest of the world that I was back on the market (after such a long time in the business, I keep my resume updated at all times).

And on to Monday. Finished one project in the morning, mowed the lawn in the afternoon, and now I'm working on hitting a milestone on a second project tonight. I'm making the transfer back to the "outside world". I have a cup of tea on the desk (I tend to drink soda when I'm in the office) and have the local jazz station in the background (I tend to not have music in the office). I've got a couple leads and a strong desire to find a regular gig in the near future.

We'll see what happens next. Onward,

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Blogging Moratorium

There will be no new posts until Monday. Yes, there's a reason. No, I'm not saying (yet).

More later (like Monday)

Riddle me this, Yahweh

Frank Gorshin, Pittsburgh native, impressionist, and super villain, has passed on. He was my favorite type of creative - one who was always working.

More later,

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

National ID Card

So I walked into my bedroom and found the Government there, going through my sock drawer.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

The Government looked up and smiled. "I'm glad I found you!" it said. "Here!" It offered me a key.

"It's a car key," I said.

"It's YOUR car key," said the Government. "In fact the key to BOTH your cars. And your house. And the shed out back. And your safety deposit box. And your file cabinets at work. One key that does everything! Look, it has your name on it! Isn't that great!"

"One key." I said.

The Government smiled again and started in on my underwear drawer. "Its a magic key that does everything! It will access your records from a hundred different databases, allow you to get to vital medical records, waxes, shines, slices, dices - why, it is the only key you'll ever need! Every lock you have will require only one key. Your key! Everything about you, in one key! One key to rule them all!"

"And do YOU have a copy of this magical key?" I asked.

The Government paused for a moment. "Well, I would only use it if there was immediate danger, like if we were at war."

"Which we are," I said.

"Or if there was some other very good reason," it continued.

"And who determines what is a very good reason?" I said.

"You really should fold your underwear neater," said the Government.

"So what happens if someone ELSE gets ahold of my magical key?" I asked.

"Why would you want to let anyone else use it?" asked the Government.

"Its quite likely that I would not be asked in the matter," I said. "Things are stolen all the time. If I have all my access in one place, on one key, if someone else takes the key, they can get access to everything - home, business, car, medical records. Not horribly secure, is it?"

The Government opened up another drawer. "You don't have any sex toys, do you?"

"Are sex toys dangerous?" I asked.

"Not that I know of," it replied.


"No," said the Government. "Not yet, at least. Ah!"

It spotted my coinpurse with my poker money and stuffed it into its pocket. "That should cover your part of the costs. It takes a lot of money to make all these magical keys, you know."

I handed the key back to the Government. "No thank you. I think you magical key creates more problems than it solves, and leaves me less secure than my old bunch of keys. It is a bad idea, poorly thought out. Come back when you work the bugs out."

The Government looked at me, holding out the key, and let out a deep sigh.

"You might as well keep it," said the Government, edging towards the door. "I've already changed all the locks."

(The above is for Jason. I changed the last line the morning after writing this - it seemed to fit better. More later,)

The Blog Goes Ever On and On

One of the challenges of working with a living document like a web page or an online journal is that things change over time. In particular, links that were valid when you made the latest template become old and busted. And eventually you have to do an overhaul. So the tweaks to the list on the right are reflective of that.

There is no more Alliterate News Blog. We put it together as a patch while the main Alliterates site was under repair, but now that the Allits are back in business, it was redundant, and, worse yet, not being updated. There's nothing nastier than having a updatable site where the last entry is from a month or so back.

Miranda, also known as Lady Gumdrop has started her own blog, and I am swapping her old site out for this. Similarly, my gracious poker hosts Phil and Kaja are both doing the online journal thing, and I'm putting their links in as well (if you're a Girl Genius fan, you get get to that site through theirs). Kaja, being mentally young and spry, has taken to the journal format and reports regularly. Phil, evoking the technological spirit that made the Amish famous, is less chatty.

Go check them out.

More later,

Monday, May 16, 2005

War in the Desert

So the other combat boot dropped the other day. One of the Lovely Bride's gaming group, Army reserve and a veteran of Gulf War I, is heading back to the Big Sandy. His unit, which has been on on-again-off-again status since the beginning of the shooting, is heading for Texas, and then out to Iraq. Insert joke of your choice comparing the two here.

But it reminded me that, in preparing to go to the American Southwest recently, I steeled myself for entering Red State America. I expected a lot of flags, a lot of ribbons, a lot of booh-yah jingoism at every turn.

What surprised me was the lack of any of that. It was like I was in a country that was not at war.

At first I thought it was just because we had spent time in the National Parks, but on the road, in the cities, in the resorts, the very existence of the war was played down. I saw a few yellow ribbons on the cars, though I saw less in the entire time I was out there than I see in a daily commute. And while there were a few “support our troops” signs along the side of the road, there were more billboards complaining about the UN and the Bureau of Land Managements. (And lest you think this is a slam on southwestern Patriotism, the yellow ribbons and flags I did see were in MUCH better condition than the faded stuff I get around here from our sunshine patriots).

I think part of this is that this particular region is heavily militarized (McChord, Whidbey, Bremerton, Everett, Fort Lewis, and so on) and as a seaport is more aware of the dangers from abroad. It’s a little more laid back in the wilds of America, where the war is the sound of distance thunder and a five-minute bit on the news. Even in Bryce, where we stayed at a resort with John Wayne’s photo mounted over the buffet and the muzack consisting of whiny country guitars and whinier lyrics, the urgency of the war was notable by its absense.

One place where we were reminded of the War was at Hoover Dam. They’re building a new by-pass downstream (though part of that may be to relieve the bottleneck across the two-lane top of the dam), and they have security checkpoints in both directions. When we pulled through (a very short stop – we don’t look horribly threatening), they had a guy in combat camo out of his car and having a chat with him. While they have tarps and temporary offices up, I have sympathy for the troopers in the middle of desert checking cars. But that was it – our war? State troopers dealing with tourists and the Arizona heat.

More later.

Friday, May 13, 2005


The best view of Las Vegas, states a friend from St. George, is in the rearview mirror. I’ll go further – going to Vegas is like licking a clean ashtray.

Yeah, l'll give you a moment to let the chill finish running down your spine. I have no real love of the town, but it’s the best and cheapest gateway to the Colorado Plateau, and so we flew in and out of it.

And Vegas surprised me – it offended sensibilities I didn’t even know I had.

Mind you, we weren’t planning on spending a lot of time in Vegas anyway. But it took 45 minutes to get to the highway, which was, like six blocks from the airport. So we had a lot of time to notice all the adverts for the various shows in town – there are 35 major shows currently playing in Vegas, and 33 are Cirque Du Soliel.

So throwing me into the worst traffic jam of my last decade would not put me in the mood to think well of the town (and we are talking about an 8-lane road that runs from the airport, crosses the Strip, and immediately hits the highway- 45 freaking minutes!). But on the way back, we came to town with about eight hours to kill. We could have spent it at the airport (which we knew had the incessant chatter of slot machines at the boarding gates) or go for a walk along the Strip.

We went for the walk. Really, really, really bad move. OK, you get the soul-deadening whirring white noise of the casino, the empty eyes of the gambler zombies, and the Innsmouth look of the tourists. You know all about that already. Heck, we’ll even claim fault to the tourist look, traveling with the gawkers and the drunks and the hicks. But what really steamed us were the cardsnappers.

These are the hawkers that mob every corner, about a dozen of them, channeling the traffic. Each of them is snapping a deck of cards and handing them out. Snap, hand, snap, hand. The cards are for escort services, massage operations, and strippers. The cardsnappers look like crystal meth addicts, but not as healthy. And they are indiscriminate in their targets – men, women, couples, mothers with strollers. Snap, hand, snap, hand.

I realized that these were the living equivalents of pop-up ads, but that realization did nothing for my mood. You start out being polite, but polite don't work. By the end of the third block the Lovely Bride was using her tightly-clenched purse as a weapon to keep them at bay.

Vegas supposedly has determined that there is no profit in family-oriented fare and has slipped back to its sin city version. That change is clear from the slime they put on the streets to assault the tourists.

Now, judging Vegas from the heart of the Strip is like judging Pittsburgh from Liberty Avenue (which apparently just closed down its last adult theatre), and there are three nice things I can say about the city:

1. They have a really nice Cactus Garden, well-stocked and informative. This is tied into an expensive chocolate shop, under the rumble of the airport runway, but its nice.

2. A great In-And-Out Burger on Tropicana. And it’s right by the highway, so you make your escape to civilization easily.

3. A Monet exhibit at one of the casinos. Most Monet exhibits I’ve been to have been mob scenes, where you have to put up at least a dozen people looking at the brushstrokes. Because this was Vegas, we had the display pretty much to ourselves. If you look at a Monet from twenty feet back, you see the incredible form and luminosity he brings to the work. Yeah, it’s a diamond in the very rough.

But Vegas in general? It’s like licking a clean ashtray.

And sometimes its not that clean.

More later,

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


So there we were, standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. It was sleeting hard, so the Lovely Bride and I had most of the Southern Rim to ourselves. The far side of the canyon was an invisible blur of dark grey, and beneath our feet tendrils of fog swirled among the blood-red outcroppings.

And, I, experiencing the geological equivalent of finding a fine pocket watch on the beach, a thing of beauty out of place with its surroundings, had to ask: How did this come about?

The immediate options were not promising:
- An angry Old Testament god who went about smiting people did this. Why smite such a place in first place? Practice for more practical smitings later?
- A forgiving New Testament god who went around pardoning people did this. Turning the other cheek, though, is not a process that produces stunning geology.
- The slow process of erosion and uplift used the natural forces of nature to produce, almost at random, the scene before me. Possible, but both stylistically unfulfilling and boring to boot.

And then it came to me, the tales from my youth – the Grand Canyon was created by Paul Bunyan dragging his axe across the Colorado Plateau. Yes, that seemed right. Only a gigantic physical figure could create such a vista. Don’t give me any of those mysterious forces or unseen gods. A real being made this, and this was in turn physical proof of his existence.

And suddenly I was enlightened. And I google checked and found that the mighty Bunyan, with his apostles Babe the Blue Ox and accountant Johnny Inkslinger, was responsible for much of the building of this country. Not the political building, but rather the physical arrangements. Primeval America was a void without feature. Paul dug the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, and the dirt he threw up became the Alleghenies and the Rockies. His wading ashore created the tides at the Bay of Fundy. He made Puget Sound and cleared the great forests of North Dakota. In an attempt to out-do the Great Wall of China, created the Mima Mounds.

It is so clear to me now that this is Paul Bunyan’s world – and we only live in it. Doesn’t the Bible itself support this view by saying “There were giants in those days”? The only explanation for the world is a race of American Titans, who worked their wonders on the land in a prodigious, productive, and prolific manner, building this land through their sweat and oversized muscles. These are beings worthy of our worship, who up until now have been cast into the darkness as mere “folk tales”.

There is an American Pantheon with Bunyan as its leader. We have John Irons and Pecos Bill and Joe Magarac. We have Stormalong, who is the Folk America version of Aquaman – lame, but necessary. We have a host of colossi that made America great, as any fool can see!

SO I call upon my government to reject the false idols of both creationism and science, and instead embrace the only beings worthy of our fervent worship. With the creation of my American Titanic Church, we will carry our message further, infiltrating school boards and making outrageous demands of the Park Service. We will make ourselves a tax-exempt lobby under our gods, and use them as justification for all our actions in their name. We speak for the trees, in the voice of Paul Bunyan!

And here’s your chance to get in on the ground floor. Priesthoods are available at reasonable rates. Gimme a Hey Paul, here!

More later

Saturday, May 07, 2005

New Story

My latest story can be found here. It is called "War's Wage", and is a Magic: The Gathering story for a new expansion.

I'm really enjoying doing these on-line stories, by the way. They usually involve very interesting characters, they move very, very fast from start to completion (usually about a month) and I'm not under any compulsion to leave the primary characters alive after I'm done with them.

More later,

Friday, May 06, 2005

Sorry, Wrong Number

So this has been bouncing around the various blogs and online reports this week - it turns out that the "Number of the Beast" is not 666, but is rather the more prosaic 616. So apparently the devil's area code includes Battle Creek and Kalamazoo. I always knew that Kellogg's Rooster was dangerous.

But the news made me think of the book of Revelations. This was always a favorite book of the bible, since it read like a comic book, or at least a major motion picture. Big plot beats! Explosions! Epic grandeur! More Explosions! Seals breaking! Monsters! Loose Women! Lakes of Fire! Big Finish! (Did I mention Explosions?) So, yeah, I was willing to think that this stuff could come true, and come true in my lifetime (hey, I was 13, and thought I was the center of the universe - what was your excuse?) Books like Late Great Planet Earth just fueled that thinking, much like the Left Behind series does today.

Only later did I pick up the whole idea that the Revelation of John was pretty much written to pummel the dominant political operation of the day - Rome. Its a very political work as opposed to a prophetic one. The seven horns of the beast were the seven hills and number of the beast was accepted code for Nero or Caligula or whoever was doing the persecuting in those days. And I think it got into the final draft of the Bible after the Second Council of Nicaea (787 AD) in part to keep that uppity Patriarch of Rome in line. Indeed a lot of latter-day maneuvering and interpretation of the Book of Revelations seems to come from the fact that it was aimed pretty squarely at Rome, which would be all well and good, except that the church then blossomed in Rome, and now they had to fend off the very imagery they incorporated. ("No, we're not the beast you're thinking of - you want a later beast").

Late Great Planet Earth was instrumental in showing me that non-fiction does not necessarily equal true (Similar books on ancient astronauts and the lost continent of Mu helped drive the point home). When I first read Late Great. . . , I was waiting for the entire scripted apocalypse to unfold on cue. Despite millenial bugs and terrorists, we are still here. (The apocalypse has not been averted, we are now informed, as much as it has been delayed, being pushed back to 2009 or 2014, depending on the tightness of your tinfoil hat).

But this latest revelation (pun intended) is one of the joys of studying the Bible, and I mean really studying it - bringing to bear knowledge to enhance one's comprehension. Over the course of my own lifetime, the Bible has shown itself to be more historically accurate than it had been earlier assumed, and in uncovering the hows and whys and whos of its creation is to my mind a tempering and strengthening of the faiths based upon it, as opposed to an assault on those faiths. That is one joy of a secular outlook - the ability to say "Well, I guess I was wrong", and the go forward with new knowledge. New discoveries enhancing old thoughts. New wine in old bottles.

Oh, by the way, the Satanists have gone on record as saying they will still use "666" as long as it cheeses people off.

More later,

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

While You Were Out

So I've spent the past few days catching up. When I was on vacation, I was well and truly vacating - no phone, no lights, no motorcar - OK, I needed the motorcar, but we only used the sound system to play Big Bad Voodoo Daddy while on Route 66 ("The Midlife Crisis Road"). I left the computer behind, I took only books I wanted to read, and the cell phone was out of range in 90% of the places we were at ("Can you hear me now? What?")

So I've been catching up, and I don't think I missed too much. The stock market continues to suck, which surprises me, since I fully expected it to have a elastic rebound just in time to make my entry on it look dirt-stupid. Gas prices are absolutely cranky, but I didn't need the media to tell me that. The war in Iraq has taken a definite hard patch. There was a fourth Presidential press conference in five years, which apparently no one really did well at, so it quickly passed into history without much comment. And all of this was ignored by the media is favor of a Runaway Bride ditching her wedding. Ah, priorities. Oh, yeah, the North Koreans launched another test missile, but we as a country were more interested in a kitten caught in a tree.

But there was one neat piece of news - the Ivory Billed Woodpecker is still alive and well and living in Arkansas. When I was a kid, I found a huge book of Audubon prints in the library, and was impressed by this creature more than any other, and was sad to know it was gone. Now I'm waiting for the return of the Carolina Parakeet.

More later,

Sunday, May 01, 2005


So I've been on vacation for the past week. You may not have noticed it only because I wrote a buncha stuff in advance and passed it along to the Monkey King to keep up the tawdry facade of semi-daily communication (Thanks to the Monkey King for his aid). Actually, we've got enough back issue material nowadays that next time I go away, I'm thinking of running a "Best of Grubb Street" sequence (like this favorite quote from 1993 - "When will the President let his hair down and indulge in the same hobbies and interests as the rest of the country?")

Oh, yeah. The vacation.

The Lovely Bride and I headed for the American Southwest, landing in Vegas and circulating clockwise around the Grand Canyon. We visited friends in St. George, hit Zion and Bryce National parks, cruised on Lake Powell, and river-rafted down the Colorado to Lake Mead.

We also fought incredibly inclement weather throughout, We were snowed upon in Bryce, hailed upon in Zion, caught in a massive thunderstorm on Lake Powell, and caught sleet while hiking the rim of the Grand Canyon. However, it was beautiful floating down the Colorado (the Lovely Bride is proud of her head-on confrontation with white-water rapids, and can now say "I've done it once", when she refuses similar offers in the future). In any event, as a result of all the rain (this and earlier storms), the desert was in bloom to a degree I had never seen before - cholla, prickly pear, ocotillo, jimson weed, and all manner of wild flowers. It was amazing, though in talking about the local weather, the punchline "We're from Seattle" quickly became old.

I'll probably have more later on the trip, but for the moment, this is just to tell folk that we survived and have stories to tell (including hanging from chains over a 900-foot drop in Zion.)

More later,