Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Bunny Dating

Bonnie and Sammy continue to date. Today they met over a shared tub of wheat grass. They're still not quite ready to cohabitate but Sammy spent more time returning licks to Bonnie's ears and less time trying to hump her, so I think we're getting somewhere.

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Family Day

Had some good quality time with the family today. Chris made breakfast and puttered around in his office while I uploaded photos from Las Vegas to my Flickr account, then we watched an episode of The Shield while Kate tried to satisfy her growing anime obsession through You Tube.

We went out in the afternoon for a little while, walking around the Olympic Sculpture Park (which I've been dying to investigate) and enjoyed a somewhat overcast and chilly day outside viewing the sculptures (while Kate complained that a bench made of concrete isn't "art") and strolling the adjoining Myrtle Edwards Park along Elliott Bay.

We stopped for drinks at Uptown Espresso ("Seattle's Home of the Velvet Foam")and while we were waiting Michael Jackson's Thriller started to play. As evidence of how that video warped our youths, we both started to pantomime the Thriller zombie dance, to Kate's horror. The more we embarrassed her the funnier I found it. I made sure to find the actual video online when we got home tonight so she could see it. She cut me to the quick by telling me that I don't do the dance very well, but I defended my honor by pointing out that I was trying to do the dance with an 11-year-old girl hanging off me.

I made peach-spiced lamb chops, brown rice and a tomato-avocado-preserved lemon salad for dinner, recipes for at least two of those things highly likely to make it onto my recipe pages. Shortly to bed. Tomorrow it's gingerbread waffles for breakfast!

If you're interested in last week's pictures, I've divided them into the following sets:

My Day At SeaTac

GAMA Trade Show 2007

The Prom



Fix in Las Vegas 2007

Nobu 2007

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Bella Sara

A while back Kate participated in a little PR thing for the folks at Hidden City, for their card game Bella Sara. I talked with Hidden City marketing guys at GTS and they told me that the video was up in the press area of the Bella Sara website. Check out the video of Kate (holding the dog of some innocent bystander who walked by and was shanghaied into letting Kate hold his "cute, cute puppy"). No need to watch to the end, where they shoved me in front of the camera when I least expected it. God, I wish I could stop rolling my eyes around when I'm on camera... I looked like a dork in the video of my first wedding, too. Kate, on the other hand, is a natural.

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GTS 07 is a wrap

So instead of making it down to Vegas by noonish on Sunday, I got bumped to a later flight and didn't arrive in my room until after midnight. The airline treated me well, though, and I got an upgrade to first class, enough meal vouchers to treat myself to a nice meal at Anthony's Seafood in the airport, and a voucher for a free future ticket.

Monday we didn't get our booth set up because tables and our graphics case had not yet been delivered to the booth, so we did what we could and then went out for a team bonding experience at The Gun Store, where we shot an assortment of automatic and/or futuristic assault weapons. It wasn't quite as fun as the last time, when they let us swap weapons with each other so we each got to try a couple of different guns but I think the outing was still a success. I know I had fun blowing the head off a gold-chain-wearing "scumbag" (our clerk's description) with a weapon our chaperon described as "the gun that Israeli housewives take to market." That whole macho gun-nut thing is really not my scene and I chuckled that despite my commie-pinko leanings I was able to illicit a couple of "good job"s with my gun handling from our chaperon.

At the show itself Green Ronin made our Song of Ice and Fire announcement, as well as the announcement that we're partnering with Firefly Games to do Faery's Tale Deluxe. We also handed out a few advanced copies of our new Walk the Plank card game, which I personally just love. All of these events were greeted with enthusiasm and interest from virtually everyone who stopped by to talk with us. Hoorah! I also got a peek at the development of the Hero Lab interface for Green Ronin's products.

I sat on a panel that I agreed to participate in because I thought I was going to moderate. Instead, Steve Wieck from One Book Shelf moderated and I was asked to speak a bit, though I think I really only spoke about GR things once, between Sean Patrick Fannon's Project '77 (A Manifesto for the Game Industry, not to be confused with Project 77 the Irish hip hop outfit or Project 77 the web designers) and Luke Crane's stories from the realm of those who self-identify as "indy" games publishers. When I did have a chance to speak, I thought it was more appropriate and helpful to the attending retailers to point them at Goodman Games brilliant Click-to-Brick Conversion program. What can I say, I guess I'm just not self-serving enough to insist on bending the conversation to being about me me me.

Overall I thought GTS 2007 was a clear success. People were happy (some deliriously so) with the hotel (both for accommodations and for hang-out spaces) and the convention center venue itself. I'm just personally glad to be done with the two and a half years of bitching and whining about the fucking Riviera and all the hyperbole about how it was dangerous to let your female employees walk the streets alone there blah blah blah. It's done, Bally's is superior (now that GAMA is not being held to an unrealistic room rate cap of $99/night and can actually contract with places of Bally's caliber) and even the union guys who worked the show were downright nice on the few occasions I had to deal with them. Overwhelmingly the gossip and speculation at the show revolved around WotC, while I'll comment on more in a separate blog post I think. Additionally there were distributor mergers and a couple more smaller or specific niche distributors who have gone out of business and absent retailers who either made the poor decision to attend Games Expo instead of GTS or just flat went out of business. The industry is "depressed" and WotC's current maneuvers (especially combined with their general policy of remaining closed mouthed about the changes that are ever more clearly on the horizon) is fueling interesting reactions, varying from cautious optimism to outright panic to full-blown paranoia.

I'm sure more events from the week will come to me in dribs and drabs now that I'm home and planted in front of a computer again. For now, I have a few thousand e-mails to catch up on and a family to reconnect with.

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Vegas Bound

Catching Shuttle Express in 7 hours. As always, I'm certain I'm forgetting something and I'm going to sleep like hell tonight if the last 17 years or so of history are anything to go by. Amped up before a trip I can't get to sleep when I should and always wake up every few hours, anxiously checking the clock. Gah. Hate that.

Decided not to take my computer, so I probably won't have any updates until I get back on Friday.

We'll have a couple of press releases going out at the show, and we'll have advanced copies of our new card game, Walk the Plank, to show off. Excited about that one.

Now, my sad attempt at sleep begins.

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Vegas Bound

Catching Shuttle Express in 7 hours. As always, I'm certain I'm forgetting something and I'm going to sleep like hell tonight if the last 17 years or so of history are anything to go by. Amped up before a trip I can't get to sleep when I should and always wake up every few hours, anxiously checking the clock. Gah. Hate that.

Decided not to take my computer, so I probably won't have any updates until I get back on Friday.

We'll have a couple of press releases going out at the show, and we'll have advanced copies of our new card game, Walk the Plank, to show off. Excited about that one.

Now, my sad attempt at sleep begins.

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Right on

I've taken these accent tests before and gotten some wacky results. This one nailed it; at least, it nailed my birthplace (and where I learned to talk). I don't think I sound particularly like I'm out of the movie Fargo or anything, especially when compared to my step-mom who totally does but I did find that I blended in pretty well when I moved to Canada. The only time I was caught out as an American by the way I spoke was when I said "roof" (which my Canadian friends all tend to draw out "oooo" while I say it closer to "ruhf").

Nice work, test makers!

What American accent do you have?
Created by Xavier on Memegen.net

North Central. This is what everyone calls a "Minnesota accent." If you saw "Fargo" or "Drop Dead Gorgeous" you probably didn't think the characters sounded very out of the ordinary. Some Americans may mistake you for a Canadian.

Canada. You probably get irritated when British people and Europeans think you're from the States, but over here we wouldn't make a mistake like that.

Take this quiz now - it's easy!
We're going to start with "cot" and "caught." When you say those words do they sound the same or different?



The Daisey Incident

Mike's put video up of the disruption of his performance.

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What possesses these people?

Monologist Mike Daisey is an acquaintance of mine. I wouldn't presume such familiarity as to call him a friend precisely but we have good friends in common and we could recognize each other on sight. I've been to several of his one-man shows now and I hold him in very high regard. He is quite a talented fellow and I've never failed to be childishly enraptured by his story-spell when he works his craft.

So, when I read his blog today, I was completely taken aback:

Last night's performance of INVINCIBLE SUMMER was disrupted when eighty seven members of a Christian group walked out of the show en masse, and chose to physically attack my work by pouring water on and destroying the original of the show outline.

For those who have never seen Mike perform, allow me to describe the scene: he sits alone at a table in front of the audience; on the table is nothing but a glass of water and the outline for the show. The rest he works from scratch, through well-rehearsed and intimate stories, all personal to a greater or lesser degree. Every night, just him and the audience. In fact, there's a short sample of this show available online here.

Can you imagine if someone ripped the bow from a cellist's hands before walking out of a performance because he objected to the music? How about snatching off an actor's wig or pulling down a ballerina's tutu or tearing the book out of a reader's hands or the pages out of the book itself? It's unthinkable to me and the more I think about the incident, the more disgusted I feel. Insulted. Angry on his behalf and on behalf of all the other people who were assembled to see this talented performer.

What possesses people to behave this way? By what right does one's disappointment or disapproval over an artistic act entitle one to attack the artist?

[EDIT] I meant to link to the rest of his blog, for those who are interested. Fixed now

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Random for a Friday

To the guy on that mailing list: This is for you




A house blew up (gas leak) in my former home town of Canby, Oregon where my mother still lives. Canby is not a very big place, but this happened just about as far from her as it could, over on the other side of town entirely.


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Jonathan Lethem

I'm going to see him tonight, as the last of this season's Seattle Arts and Lecture series. As has been the theme all season, I have not read any of his books. Until this week I was almost completely ignorant about him, but I did go listen to an interview on Fresh Air and I've picked up his novel Fortress of Solitude with one of my credits at Audible.

Seattlest has an interview with Lethem today. This particular quote really spoke to me:

We just need to constantly understand how much we’re awash in our own subjective, fantastical consciousness. This is why people are so interested in stories, even if they distrust them. It’s why fiction and film…it’s how we understand ourselves. By the same token, we’re all storytelling at some time.

The context of the quote is about memory and how we recollect things, the idea that we're not remembering the event as much as we're remembering the last time we remembered the event and I'm very interested in that idea... but when I read that quote I immediately thought: blogs.

Lethem also has a really interesting view on inspiration, plagiarism, the impulse to make art and all that goes with it. His website has a really neat shared content experiment which he calls The Promiscuous Materials Project.

I'm looking forward to the lecture tonight very much. I'm going to try to make it to the pre-lecture for this one if I can but I'm so busy I won't know until just before if that will be possible.

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Focus Group

Today I took part in a focus group. I signed an NDA so I can't talk about what I saw in any specifics, but I can say that I got to see the story boards and concepts for four different ad campaigns. I'd kind of hoped it would be political in nature but there were no previews into Presidential ad campaigns for me today.

Still, I have to say I enjoyed myself more than I thought I would. Initially I was a little nervous about the way things were set up because I was put in a room with another twelve people and expected to talk about my feelings and perceptions of things in front of everyone. I'd imagined that we'd be viewing videos or something and writing things down, somewhat confidentially and privately. My previous experiences with group things like this (like a particularly dreadful playtest experience, where a vocal group bullied and drowned out the less argumentative types until the only people giving feedback were people who passionately believed X or who had been convinced that even though they initially thought X was okay they must have been wrong because those loud angry guys really hated X) was such a bad time, I was really uncertain about how a group dynamic would work. I'm not completely sure I wasn't wrong to be suspicious of the group dynamic. Tthere were three dissenters from the popular opinion on most of the questions, and I have to question how many of the people who ended up with the majority did so because they were caving to peer pressure.

Anyway, I entered the session being unable or unwilling to commit to an opinion on the subject at hand. It was something I really knew nothing about and I was unwilling to just "guess" at what I *might* think, uninformed as I was. Let's pretend the subject was "the sun." They would ask what my "relationship" to the sun was, and I might say "I know it exists." Then they guy would say, "But what if your friend from San Francisco called up and asked you 'What's up with the sun?' What would you say?" and my answer was "Give me a minute, I'll Google that and get back to you." The first series of ads really spoke to me and I gave a very positive response to them because they practically addressed me personally: "Hey, do you know what's up with the sun? No? Only aware that the sun exists? Come to www.LearnTheSun.org and find out some things about the sun that are important for you to know!"

I tried to give good, complete, constructive feedback. It helped that I had a pretty clear and strong one way or the other. In a couple of cases I was the only person to laugh at an ad that was supposed to be funny, or the only person to "get" what an ad was trying to say. In a couple of cases I really enjoyed ads that other people found "negative" or "gross". Many people got off on tangents with their comments, like "Well, I know this is a message about the sun but I think they should really talk about the formation of the universe and the composition of Earth before touching on the sun." or "Well, sure there's a web address but I think there should be a phone number and a place to call for brochures and interpretive dance. I think it's really helpful to provide interpretive dance when we're talking about the sun." Gah. After the session one of the other participants commented that she thought I gave really good comments which made me feel good about my answers.

I returned home to find that Kate had put dinner in the oven as I had asked her to do, but that the rice cooker has died (and taken three cups of my basmati rice with it). Boo. Rice was one of those things I hated to cook until I got a rice cooker. Now I have to replace mine... and figure out what to do with the three cups of uncooked-but-soaked rice that remains in the old, broken one.

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Time Management

Today my friends over at Gracey's Mansion talked about their plan for time management. I'm beginning to think I should consider a similar approach.

Around here it's catch as catch can. How am I feeling physically? Mentally? What can I remember to tackle? Will the weather co-operate with my plans? The Flexcar schedule? What are my Kate responsibilities? What's Pramas got in mind? I'm forever left feeling that things are undone.

And yet...

Take today: we have received our annual shipment of Greek Easter bread from the Pramas ancestral estate so breakfast was an easy Easter bread and boiled eggs. The weather was good and Kate was still away (invited to an unplanned sleepover last night) which offered maximum flexibility. I managed to wash, dry, fold, and put away four or five laundry baskets of clothes, depending on how you count. One entire basket was nothing but socks needing to be matched. Culled socks with holes, put Kate's outgrown items into a HUGE bag for Community Services for the Blind to pick up on Tuesday. Made a run for rabbit supplies and groceries. Did a little bunny dating in the hope of being able to move Sammy out of the living room and into Bonnie's bunny area. Took half an hour to walk with Chris, something we've been doing every day together (barring illness). Got together some of the paperwork I need to get Kate's passport situation sorted out and communicated with her dad about what he needs to provide (she can't got to Canada until we get this taken care of and has already missed one scheduled visitation). Washed dishes. Cooked dinner (pork piccata, balsamic roasted asparagus and a citrus black bean salad). Marked a bunch of shows on the TiVo so they won't delete before I get around to seeing them.

Not bad, I suppose, especially considering I'm still fighting off my weird "flu"/sleeping sickness. But there's always so much still to do and I constantly feel like I'm bouncing from one thing to another. I tell Chris I'm going to take a shower so we can go out to the store. On the way, I walk past Bonnie's cage and decide that her security blanket is so filthy it's time I washed it, so I take it downstairs before I forget which then leads me to go around collecting all the other filthy rabbit towels/blankets and things that need washing together, which takes me past my computer, where I notice I have a new e-mail from Kate's dad so I stop to read and respond to that, which leads me to at least read the rest of my new mail and before I know it I've "handled" a handful of nagging chores or nuggets that needed my attention but I still haven't showered; Chris has and is ready to go.

That's pretty much my life. In the middle of that, scheduling some time for lounging around drinking coffee and reading a book sounds mighty fine. Might fine.



360 Burnout?

Could be that it's just my frame of mind lately but I think I'm officially burned out on the Xbox 360. I've been fighting off the illness Pramas brought home from Flying Lab, a strangely threatening sore throat and general fatigue. Such fatigue that I found myself unable to stay awake, falling asleep reading, falling asleep just sitting down, falling asleep in front of my computer even though I was getting plenty of sleep at night. I don't feel like I have a full blown debilitating illness but I do feel in precisely the right mood to want to boot up some electronic games.

Except that I don't.

I tried playing a little Viva Pinata, something I haven't touched in weeks. I've got three or four different gardens going but none of them appeal. I'm at the stage now where in order to accomplish anything I pretty much have to do a bunch of tedious animal breeding in huge quantities. After a bunch of trouble I finally manged to attract a couple of bush babies. Before I can do anything with the cursed things, I have to have a unicorn in my garden, which means I have to bring in some ponies, which will attract some horses, which I can then breed until I have some ungodly number of them (which makes ma a "Master Romancer")... all of which necessitates that I fill in my painstakingly dug ponds so I have enough room and grass... oh, and I have to feed each of the horses something like 15 gems to put them in the mood to romance in the first place. I am clearly not a hardcore gamer because going to all that work just so I can hatch a baby Galagoogoo does NOT sound like fun.

Tried playing Zuma but I've been stuck on level 12 for weeks and no matter many times I try, try again, I can't get past. Bejeweled? I've had this for ages for my Palm and I normally like games like this, but these days? Yawn. Geometry Wars? Tried that for about five minutes and then gave up. Lost a couple of games of backgammon to the cheating computer (oh yeah, it just happened to get all those doubles in every single game just when they were needed). I leave the shooters to Pramas. When I launched Hexic Kate said, "Oh, you can play this one for hours!" but again, no. I didn't even clear one screen before I just didn't feel like playing.

I suppose I should wait until I give Guitar Hero for the 360 a try before I declare I'm done, but barring another RPG-style release like the original Knights of the Old Republic (something like KOTOR 2, if they'd bothered to finish it, would be top of my list) I can't say I'm even mildly interested in sitting down for some console gaming at the moment. Curse James Wallis for making me long for Ecco the Dolphin. Hell, if someone wanted to sell me a game where I could "just prat around being a dolphin" I'd buy it right now!

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Very, very wrong

Sick and wrong...but funny. Don't click if you have an aversion to swearing babies. (If you've ever heard my "extra fucker" story, you know I don't have any such affliction.)



Seitan Success

The Seitan Jambalaya came out great. In thinking about the taste and texture of the faux beef from House of Vegetarian, I was pretty sure I was going to have to both marinate and fry the seitan to get what I was looking for. To judge by the jambalaya, I was correct.

The Cafe Flora Cookbook warns "Because seitan develops a "wheaty" flavor when it sits in a stew or sauce for a while, it's always best to add seitan at the last minute, just before serving." This does make me suspicious of the Seitan Potpie from The Voluptuous Vegan since it involves essentially stewing the seitan and vegetables in a soy milk bechamel, but the Seitan Sancocho from The Passionate Vegetarian follows Cafe Flora's rule and makes me even more hopeful for that recipe.

The technique for the jambalaya included marinating the seitan (I did it overnight) and frying it in a little oil before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. A couple of the pieces that were cut more like strips (vs. chunks) did come out too soft and "wheaty" and, while still edible, were not the fake-meat experience I was looking for. The larger pieces came out great, like pieces of chicken or pork, with less of the soft texture.

I'm sure this information is thrilling to, oh, Colin and maybe Rob but I'm pleased with how the seitan experience has gone so far.

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Recipe Pages Update

I've posted new recipes to my recipe pages. I've also cleaned up a few recipes for which the links were broken or pointed to the wrong page. You can now find:


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New Cooking Obsession

Ever since we came back from New York and our fantastic outing to House of Vegetarian, I've been craving more of that Faux Orange Beef with Broccoli. Surely, I thought to myself, it's possible for me to make that dish (or something very like it) at home. It's not that I want Orange Beef with beef...I'm specifically craving the fake meat version. I need to learn to cook with seitan.

So on a whim, I picked up a couple of packages of seitan to have on hand. I've cooked with tofu for years. I've made the occasional tempeh dish. I've got a shelf full of vegetarian cookbooks. I can find something to do with seitan until I'm confident enough with it to try recreating House of Vegetarian's Orange Beef.

But noooo. Straying off into seitan territory put me off the charts. I searched through four Moosewood cookbooks, not even a mention of seitan. Laurel's Kitchen? Nothing. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone? Almost Vegetarian Entertaining? Nothing, nothing. Googling for seitan recipes was similarly frustrating. Apparently, people who eat seitan are content to just dump some barbecue sauce on the stuff and broil it. It's the bland, uninspired, no-fun vegetarian cooking that I suffered through in my high school/post-high school years (when my dad thought "going vegetarian" meant I was going to eat iceberg lettuce salads two meals a day and shopped accordingly). Many of the recipes I did find included instructions for making your own seitan from scratch at home: considering my general inability to make break, biscuits, or even grow herbs in a pot, I generally leave that kind of thing to the professionals. I'm not ashamed to buy my bread from a baker and my yogurt from the store, thanks. I started to worry that I'd made a mistake.

Thumbing through The Voluptuous Vegan I finally found a few bona fide seitan recipes, though in the end I chose not to make them. Just knowing they existed calmed my seitan panic. The Passionate Vegetarian has the largest selection of seitan recipes in my cookbook collection and even has a two-page spread talking about the ingredient, makers of commercially available seitan, and the different forms seitan takes. It also includes a little lecture (because what's some vegetarian cooking without a little lecture on whole foods or sustainability or how gosh darn fun veganism is, really...) on the imperfections of seitan: "Before you go deep into seitaning, here's one important caveat: Seitan is not a whole food. It is made of of part of the wheat grain--its protein--and as such it is as fractionated and inherently unbalanced as white flour, bran, or wheat germ. Since one of my core beliefs is that foods should be eaten as whole as possible as often as possible, seitan--easy and appealing though it is--should be an occasional choice, not a several-times-a-week or daily vegetarian mainstay (unlike soy, beans or soyfoods)." Ah! Poor, imperfect seitan; not lavished with attention by judgmental vegetarian cooks because of its imperfections? I started to feel bad for my little packages of wheat gluten.

To give ol' Crescent Dragonwagon her due, she does go on to give several references for people who would shun her advice and want to get into cooking with seitan anyway, and she includes a dozen seitan recipes in her cookbook. In fact, she gives seitan pretty thorough coverage and plenty of opportunities for use. And really, she says right out that she's the "passionate vegetarian" so I can hardly hold it against her that she has strong opinions. Still, I hate to be lectured now as much as I ever have and I was put off from trying anything out of her book just yet.

Thankfully, the Cafe Flora Cookbook came to my rescue. I have Seitan Jambalaya marinating in my fridge at this very moment for tonight or maybe tomorrow. I'll report back on how it turns out.

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I've been struck by two powerful cravings today:

1) for a cigarette
2) for a bottle of red wine

It's probably for the best all around that I have neither, though I don't know if sticking to drinking black coffee is really ideal for my agitation.



Mellow Weekend

Pramas was sick all weekend and spent two days holed up in the bedroom so Kate and I had a pretty mellow couple of days. No Easter baskets this year, though Kate did color a dozen eggs or so. Kate and I went out to a showing of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, which was way better than the rubber turtle suit movie from 1990. We got outside a bit to enjoy the spring sunshine with the bunnies and I managed to get the yard hacked down to HOA-approved levels before the rains started last night. I didn't do any cooking all weekend, unless you count throwing some frozen veggies, packaged udon and some tofu in a pot. Chris and I finally watched Oldboy, which I'd gotten him for Christmas. Yow, that movie is hardcore. I stayed off message boards and barely checked my e-mail. I helped Kate sort through outgrown clothes and books. Pretty mundane, nothing at all special, but I was able to knock a couple extra things off my To Do list so that's something.

I woke up with a headache and scratchy throat this morning but I just don't have time to be sick. Kate is off school all week on school break and she can't go to Canada to visit her dad until I get her passport situation sorted out (the responsibility for sorting that out lying entirely with me, of course).



Easter with the Bunnies

Bonnie and Sammy
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Bonnie and Sammy have now had three "dates" without bars between them.

Date #1 took place almost entirely in a bathtub. Sammy, who doesn't negotiate well on slick surfaces, spent almost the entire time just sitting still trying not to slip while Bonnie nudged, nipped, licked and pushed him around. It ended with them on the bathroom floor, where Sammy finally got his footing on a bath mat and got his hump on.

Date #2 took place in a different bathtub. Both rabbits were more comfortable. Bonnie is bigger than Sammy and figured out she could jump in and out of the bathtub, so we put them on the bathroom floor. Sammy spent the entire date mounting Bonnie and pulling out small mouthfuls of her fur, which she mostly put up with (though she's very vocal and was grunting, growing, whining and panting the whole time) but eventually she got sick of it and seemed to enjoy hopping over to Sammy, then hopping over/past him and into the tub where he couldn't get her. She boxed his ears a couple of times when he tried to corner her and mount her and he backed off a little.

Date #3 took place today outside in the large play pen and the overgrown grass. It's mostly sunny and 55 degrees, very pleasant and the bunnies enjoyed themselves. No mounting today, though Sammy looked like he was going to give it a try a few times. Bonnie was having none of it, and he backed off when he heard her doing her weird growl/grunt/whine thing. She chinned him, nuzzled him, nibbled at him at other times and no fur flew at all. He even gave her a couple of tentative licks on the top of her head (he's not a licker, she is). He seemed like he might have liked to have snuggled up against her but she's still suspicious and focused mostly on digging. When she'd move on from an area, he could come in and investigate it. They spent an active hour or more outside together with us.

Put some photos up on Flickr of today's Date #3. Nothing like some bunny love for Easter!

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Representative Upthegrove

I started following this guy when I read about how he was advocating for free speech protections for high school and college students. Upthegrove is the youngest member of the Washington State House of Representatives. He's also an openly gay man. The bill he sponsored has now passed the House in a weakened form that will only protect college publications. High school students, unfortunately, had to be sacrificed to get even the weak protections for community college students passed. The issue has been discussed by journalism professionals, has been the subject of editorials and court cases. Some would-be student journalists are simply moving to the internet.

As interesting as I find the issue of student journalists and free speech (I know it comes as no surprise to those who know me that I support a student's right to free speech and highly regard the value of journalistic education in schools), that's not the subject of this post.

Elsewhere in the state legislature, another battle was brewing, this time over holding insurance companies accountable for unfairly denying claims. Similar to the homeowner protections that had the BIAW in a tizzy, this bill would allow insurance customers who could prove an insurance company unreasonably denied a claim or violated unfair practice rules to collect damages. Of course the insurance industry doesn't want there to be these kinds of consequences for their actions. Insurance companies are for profit enterprises and they're not eager to give up all the advantages that have already been legislated in their favor.

And, just as with the free speech for school papers issue, political support or opposition has fallen straight along party lines: Dems for safe-guarded free speech, corporate accountability and protections for individuals; Repubs for controls on free speech, unfettered capitalism, and protections for corporations. Unhappy at being part of the 1/3 minority in the state legislature during this debate, Republican Rep. Dan Roach decided to make things personal on the floor of the legislature by bringing a Democratic Representative's trial lawyer husband into the show, saying "Look out guys, the train is coming through," he said. "The Keith Kessler train is coming through and you better get out of the way. [as if a train whistle] Woo, woo!" This caused quite a stir as such personal attacks are against the rules on the House floor. King5 News has video of both Rep. Roach and the quite angry Rep. Kessler. Drama!

Meanwhile, Representatives Upthegrove has changed the music on his MySpace page. Click it! You know you want to.



View from the Edgewater

View from the Edgewater
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Yesterday it was sunny and summery and every cloud-weary person in Seattle was desperate to get out and play hooky. Those of us who had to work still found excuses to be outside for a minute or two, running errands or grabbing lunch in the park.

I was Flexcar-enabled yesterday for just such errand running (planned and otherwise). I drove the Alaska Way viaduct on my way to Queen Anne and got a stunning view of the Puget Sound. I drove to West Seattle and had more lovely views as I crossed the West Seattle Bridge. I drove down Rainier in Columbia City and got more than one full-frame view of whitecapped Mt. Rainier looming in the distance. It wasn't exactly like being outside but it was renewing to the spirit nonetheless.

Having reached the daily limit for fees on the Flexcar, I was able to keep it for several hours last night for no extra charge so I picked Pramas up and took the family down to the waterfront. We briefly hoped we might sneak into a restaurant with some outdoor seating and enjoy the weather but we were struggling against hundreds of other reservation-wielding diners with the same idea. We briefly sat down for dinner at Flying Fish (which I'd been to with John, Jenny and Jim in the dark of winter after one of our lectures) but nothing on the limited meal appealed to us. Uncharacteristically, we decided to just leave without ordering anything and walked down the waterfront to Six Seven at the Edgewater. Similar price range but the menu was much more to our liking (and proved to Kate, though she was offended at being "stereotyped," that she can get a grilled cheese virtually anywhere). I was virtuous and skipped wine and dessert (though how good did the chocolate Pot au Creme sound!) and satisfied myself with the salumi appetizer and a slab of buttery, sweet Miso Halibut.

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Many Cultures (of Dissent), One World

Last night was MCOW (Many Cultures, One World) night at Kate's school. Kate's classroom was Brazil and the kids made "Carnival" masks, had a Capoeira demonstration and a table full of Brazilian food. One over-achieving family had feijoada brought in from a restaurant. There was, as always with these events, rice everywhere. Every culture has rice, which is always Kate's favorite part. Other classrooms were Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, "the lunar year countries", and several others I never made it to. My favorite this year, though, was the 2nd grade room that was merely the "Culture of Dissent".

I made it to the Culture of Dissent room as it was being hurriedly cleaned up, so I didn't get to see what kinds of foods and "cultural items" were laid out. The teacher wasn't in the room at the time, just the room parents. One project on the bulletin board was an essay about social divisions, labels like "hero" versus "dissenter", the power of the police, and a rant about water as a right versus a commodity and Bolivia's water revolt. I didn't have time to read the whole multi-page essay because at that point the principle came into the room and started talking with the parents about how this teacher had been wanting to do Culture of Dissent every year and he'd been to distracted with the K-8 transition and the physical relocation of the school next year to stop her from doing it this time.

My very favorite part of the Culture of Dissent, perhaps even more than the teacher engaging in activist dissent against the principle to even do it, was the display of the food for "dissent". Loaves of cheap white bread and jugs of water, under a sign talking about how bread and water being food for prisoners. Best MCOW night ever!

I also found out that my daughter is starting a petition to the school district to get better food for school lunches. After kids have allegedly bitten into undercooked hamburgers, found a hair clip in their brownies, and been served reheated leftovers multiple days in a row, the kids have decided they've had enough. They're bringing the situation to the school board (or whoever "They" are who are in charge) and threatening a lunch boycott if better food is not served. If unsatisfied, the kids are threatening to go to the press. Aside from mentioning to me that she really didn't like some of the food served at the school and that the kids found it gross and downright offensive, Kate never brought this up with me. I'm generally pretty happy staying out of the politics at the school and I have very little sympathy for the people who have to have multiple, angry community meetings because their little discipline cases necessitated that the school adopt a detention program for bad conduct. Perfectly happy "missing" all those political dramas, thanks. But it also leads me to find out things like my daughter is the ring leader of a nutritional food revolt.

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Time: everyone wants a pieces of it

Man, the last couple of weeks have been go go go. Time keeps flying by. I'm still trying to find time to deal with issues that cropped up at the end of February! Every day this week I've looked up at the clock only to realize with a sinking heart that it's approaching 3:00, Kate will be home in less than an hour and even though I've been working hard I'm still not nearly through the pile as I'd like to be.

Yesterday I considered trying to go to the grocery store after 10pm. I scraped together the last bits of ingredients to make some so-called Brazilian cookies for Kate's school potluck tonight but I didn't have enough on hand for more than one batch and that's not enough to even share with her class let alone the rest of the school. I skipped the neighborhood meeting Mayor Greg Nickels was holding at the nearby community center to discuss his new plan for crime prevention in Seattle, something our neighborhood has been dealing with as the population has increased and the number of police stationed in our precinct has decreased. Our neighborhood association (not to be confused with the homeowners association) is trying to organize committees to deal with safety, traffic, clean-up, and numerous other issues which really are of actual concern to me but I just can't organize my time to accommodate the additional responsibilities. I've also had to skip out on the community meetings about the Seattle Public school system, the transition committee meetings to help plan the Orca k-8 program (which my daughter will be attending), the PTA meetings that deal with the hiring of several new teachers and staff people for the school next year or the physical transition to the new building. I feel a pang of guilt for every one of these things I skip because I feel like I'm not being active enough in driving the changes in my community or taking an active hand in my daughter's educational future.

But there's no end to it! The Homeowners association needs board members, neighborhood representatives, people to serve on committees dealing with builder defects or maintenance issues or budgeting concerns. The neighborhood association needs people to be part of their committees for safety and clean-up so we can apply for grants for community improvements and give the Mayor feedback that will help realign the number of police officers assigned to our dramatically-growing community. The school needs volunteers for the auction or the jog-a-thon or the numerous other fund-raising endeavors that are crucial to funding or woefully under-funded public school. Let's not even talk about things like regional or national politics...I could be busy every single day of the week just doing my job and taking care of my family even without this additional stuff.

And so. I carve out time for myself anyway. I know I could be working, volunteering, or tackling problems but I'm stubbornly NOT going to spend all of my time that way. I've been taking a 30 minute walk every morning with Pramas. I've made time to write something for my blog almost every day, even if it's not deep or meaningful or important. I'm cooking meals instead of relying on prepackaged foods, even if it's just some Black Bean Quesadillas with Goat Cheese. I'm exerting some control over my time by claiming it for things that are for me, even if that time has to be clawed away from the avalanche of responsibilities that seems to be dragging me along month after month.




The New York Times ran this photo:

Seriously, that the hell? Bush gives a press conference and Cheney is lurking around in the bushes off to the side? Doesn't anyone find that kind of strange and creepy?




According to Last.fm I've found my near-perfect musical match: a teenage girl from Brazil who apparently loves Bad Religion, Rancid, Flogging Molly, The Specials, and The Pogues. In fact, I think she'd be an even more perfect match for FreeportPirate, since I'm considerably less inclined toward the Street Dogs, Agnostic Front, or Motorhead than he might be.

According to Last.fm, FreeportPirate and I have only passing musical tastes in common. It's true that I have a broader and more eclectic taste in music than he does but we have a ton of bands in common. I think it's because he's been on a Joy Division kick lately and listening to podcasts.

I've been very much enjoying listening to the "radio stations" of my Last.fm "neighbors" and would love to connect with a few more friends. If you're on Last.fm let me know and let's connect. What are you guys listening to?

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Phone "Survey" Revealed?

Remember my entry about the wacky, skewed telephone survey that I participated in last month?

Looks like it might have been in response to this: SB 5550 2007-08 Senator Brian Weinstein's "homebuyers' rights bill" that would protect homebuyers against shoddy construction. As someone who bought a new home and who has already had to have the builder or representatives of the builder come in and do warranty work (including installing pumps in the crawlspace under the house and installing a crucial wire integral to the hydro-heating system that was not installed in any of the homes in this phase of the development) and who has talked to my neighbors and found out they've had problems ranging from the builders forgetting to put insulation in the front of their homes or installed piping that was not to code and has since been found to be defective, I'm ALL in favor of protections for homebuyers.

Of course, as I also told the push-poll people, the real option is that we're screwed anyway. If the defects or shoddy work aren't covered, the homeowner pays. If the builders are held responsible for using substandard materials, "forgetting" important steps during construction, or otherwise turning over shoddy products, they raise a hue and cry about being squeezed or about "frivolous" lawsuits and the pass the costs of their court losses or their increased insurance on to the consumer and/or further press the sub-contractors who do the labor to work faster and cheaper to make up their losses anyway.

And yet if a prominent politician needs the backing of the BIAW membership (which predictably opposed empowering homeowners under the guise of uniting "those in the building industry in Washington state in their fight against a government that has made this industry among the most regulated in the nation") they're not going to want to piss off the builder's lobby by allowing this kind of bill to become law. SB 5550 passed the Senate 30 to 19 but was tabled in the House and some people are pissed.



Computer Games Frustrate Me

Kate and I have had a pretty good run of fun playing the various Nancy Drew PC games put out by Bellevue's own HER Interactive. So much so that I pre-ordered the last release and Kate and I played through it in a little over one day. That was a bit of a disappointment, to be sure, but not so much that we were soured on the franchise (though we hope the next release is a little more robust) but now we're stuck waiting until the next release which doesn't even have a projected date yet. It's nearly as bad as waiting for authors to finish the next book in a series (looking at you, JK Rowling, George Martin, and Greg Keyes). The earliest Nancy Drew games are a bit rough and some of the older ones we didn't bother to go back and finish because the interface or the "puzzles" were just too frustrating, but each subsequent release has had improvements and the releases of the last two years have been especially good well suited to our tastes.

We've tried some other similar games in between Nancy Drew releases. We played a Sherlock Holmes game from several years ago (picked up cheap or free) that was okay right up to the point near the end where, to heighten the tension I guess, Sherlock Holmes has to regain consciousness, know to look immediately in the right direction or be instantly killed by fricking scorpions. Are you kidding me? All the investigating, searching for clues, solving puzzles and the end game is "Oops, you stepped on a scorpion!"?! Argh.

This weekend we played through an Agatha Christie game from Dreamcatcher Games and AWE Games. AWE has been around for 14 years and has had a hand in designing everything from the LA LAW computer game to a bunch of licensed stuff like Cabbage Patch Kids "Where's My Pony?" and several Spongebob Squarepants titles. Dreamcatcher were involved in at least a couple of older Nancy Drew titles (coincidentally, some of the titles Kate and I found most frustrating).

The Murder on the Orient Express game was released in 2006. Graphically it's just fine, even excellent in some areas. The game play, on the other hand, was a frustration and ultimately unsatisfactory. You play a character who is assisting famous Christie detective Hercule Poirot. That's fine. You spend a lot of time roaming the train and environment, searching for clues. This is also fine. What isn't fine is the frustrating illusion of choice: this game has your character interacting with dozens of different NPCs but you as the player aren't chosing anything but the order in which you click the prescribed dialog. It's not a choice between saying "I suspect you're not telling me the truth" or "I need to get more information. Can you tell me X" you must say both things in order for the game to progress and there is no consequence at all to anything you say. It is scripted and as the player your only participating in the plot is how long it takes you to solve a puzzle. Don't solve it and the story does not progress. Solve it and your reward is a whole new series of "dialog" options that you must click through. The one clever bit of game play involves combining certain items with other items to make the item you need. When it comes to collecting fingerprints, it's fun. When it involves stealing cake batter, it becomes tedious and ludicrous.

Here's what I want from these games:

  • I want to be able to interact with the environment, uncover clues, and solve puzzles.

  • I want my actions within the game to have a consequence.

  • I want to have actual choice: do I lie or confide the truth, do I break open the mysterious seal or not, do I take the A Train or the C Line?

  • I want to find things out and "figure out" the mystery, not have it revealed to me in exposition or by watching NPCs act out the climax while I look on.

  • I want the game to be smart enough that if I happen to discover the clue in the first drawer I open, I'm not forced to open all the other drawers in order to signal I've "searched" things.

  • I DO NOT want to be forced into multiple stupid sub-quests: it's okay if I have to find a cask of olive oil in order to get the chef to cooperate with me but if I know I have to go scuba diving to find the prize, do NOT make me string shell necklaces for three hours (or kill wolves for their pelts, to use a Neverwinter Nights example) before I can continue on my way with the actual mystery.

  • I DO NOT want to have to watch my animated character walk hither and yon from one end of the spooky mansion/luxury train/scary wilderness for every little thing. It's neat the first time, it's incredibly boring and tedious the thirtieth time.

The very worst part of the game for us was the vaunted new twist-ending which you as the player have no part in. You've collected the evidence but there is no way you could figure out the "twist" and so it is simply revealed to you as you watch twelve or fourteen CGI characters act out what should be a movie scene. Then, many minutes later, you are given the "choice" to choose the outcome: what are you and Poirot going to tell the police? Except once again there are three "choices" that are no choice at all, you merely click and to signal that you're repeating your lines and the story moves along as scripted. It denies me all the things I want from one of these games and hits every point that I specifically DO NOT want. With Murder on the Orient Express in particular, Kate and I should have just stuck to reading the book or watching the film. In fact, a copy of the book was included in the game box! At least the marketing guys gave me what I wanted.