Saturday, June 30, 2007

This Blog Is Not Yet Rated

Via the Slog:

Online Dating

Rated "PG" because of 2 instances of the word "death" and 1 of "zombie."

I guess I'll have to fucking try fucking harder to fucking liven this fucking place up.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Going to Springfield?

A web-based widget on the website for the Simpsons movie lets you create your own Simpsons avatar.

I expect to see yours on your blog soon, Puppeteers.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

An Open Letter to a Kindred Spirit

Who knew "intelligent" was a four-letter word, huh?

A "liability." What if we don't have "social skills." Because heaven forbid someone on the upper side of the Bell curve might be able to hold a conversation. In fact, isn't that what we're trained to do? We remember enough factoids about sports to hold our own in a conversation, and we don't expect them to learn a bullet point or two about Nietzsche because that's talking to them "above their level." The same old drill, pardon the pun.

Don't you feel lied to? Remember the fantasy they read us when we were younger - that someday we'd be in a place where we were appreciated, not treated as an anomaly - or worse, a commodity? School may be hard, sure you'll get beaten up and insulted and marked down by teachers who are intimidated by you and don't know what to do with you - but someday things will be different.

So much for someday, huh?

But I do know this: despite what they say, we are respected, otherwise we wouldn't be here. We may take little comfort in that, and we may be tempted to go within ourselves to wrap our arms around us straight-jacket style. And no one would know and they wouldn't lock us up. But we can carry on and make a contribution, because in the end we don't make up the rules, however unfair that may be. And we'll always have ourselves and our friends and people who understand, because as lonely as that ocean seems, as much as some of us may claim to be the only ones on the raft, there are more than a few other boats out there and we can always throw ourselves a rope or a life-vest when we start taking on water.

If you need a shoulder or an ear or just a sympathetic smile, you know where to find me and even if I don't respond right away, I'll listen and respond when I can. I haven't gotten where I am without people like you, and I'm only too willing to return the favor - or go above and beyond. It's what friends are for.

The world is a harsh place, but if we hold hands we can make it.

[UPDATE] I appreciate the concern my friends have shown through IM, email and comments - I'm fine guys. This is for more than one friend in my life who might be going through harsh times right now, just my way of letting them know they have a friend in me. But - thank you for your support too!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What I Can and Can't Blog About

My employer recently updated its employee blogging policies, which have always been kind of nebulous for us online folks but became slightly more concrete. Basically, we're not really allowed to blog about specifics related to our business or about our clients, or if we do, we have to get those things approved. Which is all pretty much no-brainer stuff, but has been somewhat restrictive of what I can talk about on this site.

Starting next week, I can talk about video games again. Not that I've followed this rule 100%, but I can talk about the next-gen console "wars" and my thoughts on the Wii.

I can't talk about Apple stuff. That includes the iPhone or my considering (or not) buying a computer made by Apple.

I can't discuss health care, or the upcoming Michael Moore film. Yes, I used to work for him. It's a strange world.

I can't discuss eBay or its competitors. I can, however, use eBay.

I can't discuss Microsoft's Surface computer.

I can't really discuss Microsoft Office or its competitors, which is too bad because I have some interesting likes and dislikes of Office 2007 and my recent re-try of I'd love to delineate.

I can't discuss certain pieces of computer hardware.

And I can only discuss new marketing in general terms unrelated to specifics at my company.

So if you're wondering why I haven't joined the rest of the blogosphere in talking about the iPhone, that's why.

When I Grow Up

From the crayon blog: a spoof of the Superbowl ad that pretty much sums up working for an agency:

Yeah, that's about right.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Spain Part Seven: Madrid and The End

Ah, Madrid. Home of overpriced touristy crap, subway stations that were used as shelters as little as fifty years ago during the Spanish civil war, good food, great art museums, and the airplane that would convey us home.

Having four days in Madrid rather than the planned two was absolutely the right thing to do. We took it slow and basked in Madrid's cosmopolitanism, enjoying the fine weather the first day and spending the second out of the rain in one of the greatest art museums I've ever had the pleasure of touring.

Madrid is very similar to the image in my mind of a "European capital" (which, I must add, London isn't.) Buildings, traffic, tourists, museums - and a sense of the modern and chic. You may wonder why I don't put London in that category: it is because, I've come to believe, London is in a category all its own. Philadelphia and Boston are American cities; New York is the ultimate American city. So to is London to the European capitals. Of course, I haven't been to Paris, so I'm sure some of my readers are composing angry emails right now.

But Madrid is also very much a large city, and doesn't take care of itself quite the way Barcelona does. It's definitely a little rougher around the edges - we saw more homeless people in the area around our hotel than we did in the rest of Spain combined - but it's also got a spirit and a life like no other place. The Spanish stereotype of breakfast at 10, lunch at 3, dinner at 10 and party until dawn is very much alive in Madrid. And the food - there are millions of ways to cook ham, and Madridians know every one. Hell, the "Museum of Ham" isn't a museum at all - it's a chain restaurant.

Madrid does have art museums, however. It's got all the other typical European city capital things too: a cathedral (the first one we skipped), the Royal Palace, an open-air market (where Liz's bag was almost swiped), and killer food. But the art museums became the centerpiece of our stay, especially since we skipped Malaga and Picasso country.

The first stop was the Centre de Arte Reina Sofia, which has an impressive collection of paintings by Salvador Dali and, of course, Pablo Picasso. The museum starts at impressionism and works its way into abstract art and cubism, and does an excellent job at demonstrating the progression from the eras and how artists studied and learned from other artists at the time. The museum's centerpiece is Picasso's Guernica, considered by many to be his masterpiece. The painting captures the agony of the aftermath of the bombing of the town of the same name by the Luftwaffe (working in concert with Franco) during the Spanish Civil War. Astute geeky readers may also recognize it from its guest appearance in the recent film Children of Men. The rooms leading to it are lined with studies for the painting and other things Picasso was working on around the same time; all told, I would guess I saw no less than 100 separate Picasso works in one day.

The interesting thing about art to me - especially modern paintings in the abstract and cubist style - is that I do not often understand them. I feel, when I walk into those rooms in the art galleries, that around me someone's speaking a language I don't understand. Obviously the art is trying to communicate something to me - but what? It's not unlike the feeling of spending two weeks in another country where you don't speak the language.

But the other side of that is when you're in a country where you don't speak the language, you begin to pick things up damn quickly. If you keep half of an open mind, you begin to recognize patterns in language and eventually you can start to string words together to communicate with people, even if on a rudimentary level. You're not going to be writing any best-sellers, but you can certainly find the bathroom, order your dinner, get a room, and so forth. That's how I felt after coming through those hundred Picassos and arriving at the Guernica - I wasn't exactly sure how to speak the language, but coming from something I could somewhat understand (impressionism) and being immersed into cubism gradually, it clicked in a way it never had before, and the end result was that looking at the painting was a powerful experience. The only time I've felt anything like it was in London, the first time I turned around and came face-to-face with Waterhouses' Lady of Shallot.

The other major Museum in Madrid we hit (there was a third where we did the "gift shop run" and decided to skip) was the Prado. The Prado is a collection on par with the Louvre. It begins with Medieval art (something in another language that I do understand, because I had an excellent guide once), and launches you through the Renaissance into Spanish art. At one point, I was in a room surrounded on all sides by paintings by Raphael. It was masterpiece sensory overload. Unlike the Reine Sofia, the Prado doesn't have one showcase painting (although I saw several very famous paintings there) - it's a journey through art that can be as tiring as climbing a mountain, but just as rewarding. Every nook and cranny has a painting in it (or a statue - I'd never seen so many classical statues in one place.) Not a shred of space is wasted, and everything has a story to tell.

Wandering the city and taking in the museums was two full days, and on the third we daytripped to Toledo. Toledo is still as much a medieval town as it ever was, with extremely narrow streets, awesome old bars and restaurants, and buildings pushed together by time and intuition. You can't go to Europe without riding the train, so we took the train from Madrid south for a half-hour (a bullet train, whee!) and explored the entire city on foot.

Before I talk about Toledo, I want to make a special mention of Madrid's train station. In the summer, Madrid is not a cool place. It's far from the ocean and the sun really bakes it - it gets quite warm. The train station is enclosed and even hotter, because some genius thought the train station should also be a greenhouse for tropical plants (I'm not making this up.) The line to buy tickets is in a tiny enclosure in said station, where you have to stand for a half-hour with other people who are just as warm as you - and there's no air conditioning. Truly a marvel of modern architecture.

Before we even left, we had a couple of hours to kill so we wandered through the Parque de Retiro. I mention this because the park has one of the only (if not the only) public sculptures devoted to Satan - El Diablo. Lucifer. The evil one. Called "El Angel Caido" (The Fallen Angel), there is, in the middle of the part, a statue of the devil. You wouldn't see something like that in the US, I'd reckon.

After the train ride, we toured Toledo - including their awesome Cathedral, a Synagogue built by Moors and later converted into a church and back into a synagogue - and then attempted to tour a Mosque, but it was closed. We could have hit the three Abrahamatic religions in one day, but it wasn't to be. Which kind of pissed me off, since that was my last chance to tour a Mosque in Spain.

Toledo turned out to be exactly a day trip to get through the entire town, including an awesome museum display devoted to Visigothic Spain - the part of history between the Roman Empire and the Medieval period most classes kind of skip over. The museum laid out the artifacts logically, showing the breakdown from the late Roman empire to the early Medieval age - how something as simple as inscriptions on buildings demonstrated the knowledge gained, lost, and regained in that time.

Toledo was our last full day in Spain. The next morning, we finished packing, headed to the airport, and a few in-flight movies and a novel later we were back in Seattle. And that was almost a little more than a month ago today. I waited too long to write these last chapters; even now, I can feel the memories slipping away from something concrete to the more abstract memories that record things in "the past." You'll note that I've been a little lax on the details in these last two posts; it's because the details are starting to become unimportant compared to the impressions and the feelings and the memories I'll treasure. But damn if it wasn't a great trip and a great vacation; when we landed, we were both tan and relaxed and happy and in love. If that isn't what a vacation is all about - if that isn't what travel is all about - I don't know what is.

Until next trip.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ways to Know You're Becoming a Writer

1. You do a paid contract for something you care about. The project ends up getting canceled, but you don't care because your check cleared.
2. You turn down a byline-and-presspass-only gig because you know you'll just go to the event and screw around because you don't care about the material and you're time is better spent doing something that pays you money, or playing video games.

Jericho Returns!

Jericho fans with more skills than myself have been crafting promotional spots for the re-run of the first season starting July 6. Here's an awesome one:

Tune in. You won't be disappointed. (Spotted on SA)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Kirkland Annexation, Part Four

Tomorrow night is the information meeting on annexation for Kirkland that I plan to attend, and although I said I wasn't going to form any more opinions until I went to that meeting, one of the comments in my previous post certainly gave me some food for thought.

Kirkland Yuppie-ized? You obviously have only been here for 5 years. I've lived in South Kirkland for the last 15 years and have come to play at the parks for another 5-7 before that. Kirkland has been a Yuppie town for at least 20 years or more! What's the problem with that? All the people that are fond of Kirkland clearly were attracted to the area for what it is. If you don't like Yuppie, Kirkland is simply not for you.

That is entirely a fair point, and it also underscores what I was saying earlier about the Save Kirkland campaign - if Kirkland is already Yuppie-ized, then keeping the "small town feel" is a strawman argument. Personally I have no problems with being a Yuppie - I mean, I kind of am one anyway.

Now, regarding annexation. The PAA knows what type of community Kirkland is as well. That being said, if you want to be incorporated, quit slamming that Kirkland is protecting it's Yuppiness if you want to be a part of it ultimately.
As a home owner I dare say the unincorporated folks beware of the Kirkland City Government's meddeling. It's quite unbelieveable. Don't be fooled by better services. You'll be fee'd all the way to the treasury. And don't touch a tree on your personal property. Especially the big ones that will fall on your home during the next wind storm.
Want to remodel? Shameless revenue producing permits/fees...
Finally- I agree with some that live in the PAA that logistically, they use and live closer to Kenmore/Bothell than Kirkland. Kirkland annexing these areas doesn't geographically make sense to me.
Hoping for a vote.

OK, this is the kind of information I'm looking for. Fees for remodeling. Not being able to dig up trees. That's not what I'm looking for at all. Would my selfish desire to have a Kirkland address raise my property value enough to make that worth it? It's hard to tell - frankly, I'm basing that assessment on a hunch.

It'll be an interesting meeting tomorrow night.

The Last Picture Show

This one's been sitting on our TV stand for some time, and working from home yesterday sending out 100+ emails individualized emails to different blogs, I popped it in to play in the background towards the end of the day. Liz came home from campus a little early and we both got to enjoy the majority of the movie together. I'd never seen it before, but I realized why it's on so many people's "best-of" lists. The Last Picture Show is probably one of the best movies I've ever seen.

Shot in stark black and white and as nihilistic as The Graduate, which it reminded me of on several counts, it's as true a portrait of life in a small Southern town as you could hope for. The dusty Texas-Oklahoma area near Wichita Falls, the sense of boredom and disaffection that even though the small town is a trap it's still sad when it starts to crumble, everything fit together perfectly. It's unusual to say, but there wasn't a single wasted shot or line of dialog. The editing tied everything together almost magically. It didn't bar any holds when it came to the seething teenage sexuality that comes from having nothing to do and no exit. But this is no Sartre play; it's harsh reality (as "real" as a movie about the death of a movie house being a symbol for the death of a town can be "real.")

Driving in this morning, I turned to Liz and said "that was a fucking great movie." She agreed, and we spent the rest of the drive talking about it.

If that isn't a sign of a great movie, I don't know what is.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Spain Part Six: Cervantes Country and Nearing the End

After leaving Gibraltar and finally finding a hotel, we made our way north to Ciudad Real, covering a large part of the central portion of Spain in a day. The drive was unremarkable except for when we got robbed: one of the best stories of the trip.

Spain's roads are great, even by American standards - four-lane, limited-access highways take you pretty much anywhere you want to go. These highways have facilities every few miles, so you're never far from gas, a restaurant or even a hotel. There are only a few places where you have to get off those highways, and the drive north was one of them.

On the way to Ciudad Real, the gas dropped below half a tank on one of these little jaunts off the major highway. We pulled into a gas station twenty miles from nothing in every direction. Aside from being in Spain, it might as well have been from rural Oklahoma: tractors, trucks, the smell of dust and fertilizer. An attendant came up to fill the tank (it's full-service in Spain when you're not on the highway) and started pumping. We told her to fill it up.

And we watched the liters roll, and the Euros along with them. We had no idea how many liters our car held (and, we learned later, such information is not included in the manual) but I figured a liter is close to a quart. So when 40 liters rolled by, I wasn't worried, even though it was more than we'd yet put in the car. When 80 liters rolled by, I started getting concerned. I looked under the car to see if there was a leak. I looked at Liz, and the seemingly nice gas-station attendant. She just grinned. At 100 Euros ($130), we told her to shut it off. That was the most we'd ever paid for a tank of gas and the most I ever hope to pay. It seemed odd, but whatever.

Only later did we learn our car didn't even hold that much gas. They must have had a way to keep the pump rolling even though the tank was full. It wasn't exactly someone pulling a knife on us and demanding our wallet, but it was robbery, plain and simple. I guess some lessons you learn the hard way.

Ciudad Real is your basic non-touristy city in the middle of a rural plain (where the rain, incidentally, does not mainly fall.) At one time, it was the location of the Spanish court (thus the name "royal city,") but now it's just kind of dirty. We'd learned by now to ditch our car near the outside of town, find a map, and find a place to park - we had the driving down to an artform. Eventually we found our hotel, checked in, bought groceries, and kicked back and relaxed and planned the next day.

Ciudad Real is to Spain as Startford-On-Avon is to England: the home of its literary hero. Cervantes penned what is widely considered the first novel: Don Quixote, a fascinating literary metaphor that has become for many a symbol of hope and optimism in the face of sometimes crippling reality. Windmills become giants, and prostitutes become beautiful maidens. In the morning, we found the Quixote Museum, where we were treated to a personal audio-visual presentation about the story of Don Quixote and the life of Cervantes. Even though it was entirely in Spanish, I managed to follow along - language immersion is a funny thing. The sad thing was, it was a personal presentation because we were the only ones there, despite it being a beautiful literary destination. It was nice that the crowds so common to Stratford weren't thronged all over the place, but on the other had I wanted more people to experience something created to celebrate one of the greatest literary works ever penned.

We tried to find another hotel room in Ciudad Real, but couldn't because of "weddings," which apparently happen on one day in the entirely of Spain. We managed to find a room in Madrid, so we took advantage of the car and went places where the trains and buses don't - to Consuegra, a tiny town with a dozen restored windmills and a castle a la Quixote. Driving there was certainly unique, and it was nice to get off the beaten path. The town reminded me more of what I've always imagined Mexico to be like: dirty buildings, blankets draped in doorways, narrow streets, no one around. The windmills and castle were pretty standard "restored old building" fare, but offered an amazing view of the town and surrounding plains. There were several giant windmills from windfarms as well (these were all over the place in Spain - much of their power comes from both a massive solar plant and windmills all over the countryside), and the juxtaposition between the two kinds of windmills added to the surreal nature of everything. We took some pictures, ignored the smell of the landfill on the other side of the hill, and continued our jaunt up to Madrid. Because of our upped schedule, we would now have four days in the capital instead of two - one of which we planned on spending in Toledo by train. On the way out of town, a shepherd crossed on an overpass ahead of us - on foot, leading a herd of sheep, with a donkey carrying his belongings. It completed the feel of rural Spain.

The closer we got to Madrid, the more that feeling diminished. Madrid, from the outside, struck me as very similar to Dallas - ringed by soulless suburbs and outer-belt highways. We found the airport and managed to avoid traffic more through serendipity than anything else, rid ourselves of the car, got ripped off by about 10 Euros on the taxi ride into town, and found our two-star Hostale where we'd spend the first night. The room was tiny and noisy but clean. We stashed our stuff, got our bearings, and set off to explore Spain's capital - the last real stop on our journey.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

How To Design A Shitty Game [UPDATE 1]

1. Create a reward that is only possible for completing a level without dying.
2. Create a level based around vehicle combat.
3. Spend zero time implementing intuitive vehicle combat controls.
4. Make an unskippable three-minute cutscene before the level.
5. If the player dies and doesn't get the reward, force them to go all the way back to the menu before replaying the level - and of course watch the cutscene again.
6. Repeat three times.

[UPDATE 1]"I swear if I don't get it this time, I'm going to murder a hobo."

"Honey, it's just a game!"

"But it's just a hobo!"

Jack Thompson should never read this, ever. What have I become? Damn you Lucas for licensing your IP to shitty game designers! Damn you to HELL!

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Zombie Apocalypse: From The Space Needle

Fair warning: I'm still getting a wireless signal up here (thank you, Clearwire!) but the laptop is just about out of batteries, so if it looks like it's about to die, I'm just going to hit "publish post" and hope the Intarwebs does its thing.

The funny thing is, I've had this plan for years. I remember back when we lived in the apartment and I realized that the perfect place to survive a zombie apocalypse in Seattle was the Space Needle. Why? Think about it:

There's one way in and out: an elevator and service stairs. Now that the power's out, the elevator is not a problem. A little welding and some creative furniture rearranging and the staircase is impregnable. Those flesh-eating bastards have been banging on the door for hours and it hasn't so much as cracked.

I can live up here for quite some time. There's a restaurant on the top floor with plenty of food (and a shitton of good wine - at the very least I can drink myself to death). Depending on how long it takes them to die, I can start to plan long-term: there's enough open space to grow food. And since I'm the only one up here - now, anyway - it's not like I have to feed an army. There's a subtle zombie joke there.

I'm missing a few things I really want. A gun, for example. A way down would be nice, but I think I can make either a wire or a glider out of some of the plastic furniture. You know, like in Escape From New York? It's not like a grisly death splattered on the ground is any worse than eternity as a brain-eating ghoul. Seeds would be awesome too.

I did manage to find a small, battery-powered TV set. I think the thing is from the 80s, and all I'm getting is the Emergency Broadcast System message. There's only one radio station still on the air, some AM piece of shit, and it's broadcasting prayers. I guess those are as good as anything these days.

Wait, something is coming on the TV. Be right back.

[UPDATE 1]OK, well, I feel a little better. That was Homeland Security. Apparently the naval base on Whidbey is being used as a camp for survivors, and they've blown the bridge at Deception Pass. I wonder if Brook and Wendi made it out there? They had a chance if the roads weren't too bad. If it was anything like downtown though, I'm guessing not. I still haven't heard from Liz. The cellphone won't connect to anything - my office's mail server, the phone system, nothing. I'm trying not to think about it. Of course I'm failing.

Anyway, they said the military had a contingency plan for the area. I have to wonder though if it happened as quickly as it did at my office, what the hell the rest of the city - country - WORLD - looks like? I haven't seen an airplane in hours and it looks like the boats in Sound are kind of drifting around. I think one of them is leaking oil, because the water looks black down by Pike Place. Gross. The only movement below is the slow, shambling dead. I've heard a few screams, and I think they tore a dog apart a little bit ago (at least, I hope that's what that sound was.) Otherwise, things are really quiet. You never notice how much noise a city makes until it's all gone. Walk through Seattle at 4am and you'll see how much noise there still is.

Oops. Well, maybe someday you can walk through Seattle at 4am again.

Hey, that's interesting. Speaking of noise: I hear a jet. I cut up some cloth from the furniture - going to go hang it outside. Maybe this is the contingency plan and rescue?

[UPDATE 2] I'm not airplane expert, but those looked like B-52s, coming from Bremerton. They're just circling the city. I hung the cloth off the observation deck; hopefully that will attract their attention. It looks like they're heading south, maybe towards Boeing. It's kidn of hard to

HOLY SHIT white light oh christ i can't see, hopefully you can still read this and i'm hitting the right keys oh god i can feel the air rumbling going to try to click publish and maybe someone osmewhere can hear what happened air gone and here comes the heat hittomh [pdt mpw///////

Two Days Late and a Meme Short

I always miss the cool stuff. I wondered what the hell Jeff was blogging about with his zombies and all, and then today he updates and links to Blog Like It's The End of the World, which I so would have been in on if I'd realized it was occurring. So I'll do that here in a minute.

I also promise to finish my Spain travelogues too.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

In Praise of Google Reader

So I was chatting with Seth the other day and talking about RSS options - specifically ones that might work in Gmail. He reminded me that Google rolled out its Reader, so I figured I'd give it a try. Like Gmail, it's a web-based app. I'm a big fan of web-based tools since I started using Hotmail back in 1997 (before it was MSN Hotmail!) because it's one less piece of software clogging my registry and dragging my computer's speed down, and when you've got a half-dozen browser windows open at any given time it's easier to just have another browser open.

I like Gmail about 90% - my complaints are largely with its UI and the lack of ability to file email into folders - but Google Reader I like damn near 100%. It's easy to add RSS feeds, the reader behaves logically: your feeds are listed in alphabetical order, feeds with updates have numbers after then, you click on a feed and bring up the new posts, and most importantly it doesn't truncate posts and maintains the original formatting of pictures - something that many stand-alone apps don't.

One of my biggest complaints about many of the slick new web tools is that you often have to install a separate program or widget for each one. Instant messaging is a prime example - I don't want to have Skype, AIM, and MSN running all at once, and Trillian hasn't updated properly in years and its lack of modern functionality (especially MSN functionality) continues to be a growing problem. I want my functionality focused in one place, and having Gmail open in one tab and Reader open in another accomplishes that. They even share a menu structure, so I could theoretically just swap between them without even clicking away from either site, but I prefer having them both open at once so I don't miss anything.

It's also got some fun tools like "Trends," which tracks how many posts you read on each blog each day (compared with how many you just "mark as read" or skip), so if you're curious about your reading habits, Reader will helpfully track them for you.

Best of all: it's all integrated into my Google account, so I can take it anywhere I'm online. No piece of installed software can do that.

By the way, if your blog isn't listed in the RSS feeds, it's probably because you don't have an RSS feed set up!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Kirkland Annexation, Part Three

I still haven't made up my mind, but I wanted to clarify, since I suspect visitors looking for my perspective on this subject will begin to arrive soon:

Although I'm certainly for annexation on an emotional level (it will make my house worth more money, and I want to sell in the next couple of years,) I can still be sold that it wouldn't make sense on a logistical level. I just need more information. Unfortunately, the anti-annexation sites aren't really doing a bang-up job of making the case against annexation.

I'm glad to be involved in this discussion though, it's nice to finally roll up my sleeves and hop into a local issue after living here for almost five years.

Add: I also think it's crap that Kirkland residents can't vote on this issue. Lame.

Spain Pix: Done!

All of the pictures from Spain fit for the Internet are now available on my Flickr stream!

More travelogues coming soon!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Kirkland Annexation, Part Two [UPDATE 2]

This being Seattle's Eastside, it's not surprising that there are a few other bloggers with some opinions on the proposed Kirkland annexation of my neighborhood. And of the three blogs I found about it, all three were anti-annexation. All three also happened to be located in Kirkland.

There's the rather alarmistly-named Save Kirkland [UPDATE: Since this morning, this blog has been taken offline; UPDATE 2: This blog might have been relocated to the still-rather-alarmistly-named ", which has its own "Annexation Blog"], whose owner seems to have lost interest after last December, when the final update was made. And there are two others that express very rational opinions about the proposed annexation, both local bloggers who happened to blog their thoughts about it: the Kirkland Weblog and Steve Lacey's blog.

I'm not surprised that some Kirkland residents are against this; although the City Council's reason for annexation is to increase their tax revenue (and judging by the document "Dollars and Cents" (PDF) on their site, their current budget deficit needs to change somehow), the residents seem to think that the services they enjoy and we long for would be spread "far too thin" according to Steve Lacey.

Could be. I'd have to see some evidence of that either way, and the last thing I'd want is to go from crappy emergency service to crappier emergency services. The Kirkland Weblog goes into a little more depth:

Our small town would suddenly rival the size of Kent. Throw in another 30,000 people and we're Bellevue. That means big expenses to expand our police/fire services/city hall/sidewalks/sewers/garbage/etc. There is a proposed new 75 bed jail in the plan, but mysteriously no one seems to know where that would be located. The state offers a kickback type incentive to make annexation more feasible, but that's only for ten years. Then what? The financial picture is troublesome. Unfortunately, the 'PAA' is primarily residential and doesn't have many revenue producing/ economic development opportunities to offer up as an offset to the expenses it would create for our city.

But reading through some of the online conversation, there's also this meme:
[M]ost importantly, the small town feel of Kirkland is what makes it so charming.

To me, that smacks of the country club saying "well, there's plenty of economic reasons we shouldn't let them in, but the pale white color around the golf course is what makes it so charming (wink wink)." No, that's not an accusation of racism: it's a function of a close, united social group who naturally doesn't want to allow any newcomers into the group. It's no different than a social community online: how welcome are newcomers into tight-knit communities, especially specialized ones? Answer: not very.

Both blogs informed me of something I didn't know: that Kirkland residents don't actually get to vote on annexation. I don't know what I think about that. I feel like sure, I might be invited to the party, but the other guests really don't want me there.

I'm going to reserve further opinion until I attend one of the annexation meetings, but expect to see more discussion about this issue in this space soon.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Take Me, Please!

As Jeff Grubb has often reminded me in the past, all politics is local. So it was with some interest that I received a postcard in the mail this Saturday with a notice that the City of Kirkland is looking to annex my neighborhood and a couple of the surrounding areas.

My neighborhood exists in a really strange place. Right across the street - literally - is Kirkland, a really nice bedroom community synonymous with multi-million dollar waterfront condos, a picture-perfect downtown that has a reasonable (for the Eastside) amount of nightlife, coiffed lawns, coiffed dogs being walked by coiffed young women who are seeing very rich men who drive Lotus' and Porsches'.

And just up the street is Bothell, which is as if someone transplanted a small mountain town into the middle of the Eastside and slapped a bunch of industry in it.

My neighborhood sits in a kind of no-man's land between it all. We're technically "unincorporated King County," which means neither city claims us (although we're served by Bothell's post office, so technically we have a Bothell address.) It means we can't call the local smokies if there's trouble - we have to call the King County Sheriff. It also means that people in our neighborhood can turn our cul-de-sac into Little Beirut on the 4th of July with literally pickup-trucks full of fireworks. Not that I mind, but it makes it hard to sleep.

There's also a stigma against Bothell. "Bothell." It kind of rolls out of Seattlites' mouths like "Kent" and "Renton" and "Republicans." Kirkland, on the other hand, sounds like a fellow you'd want to invite over for dinner. I admit, there's a little bit of envy: a Kirkland address is desirable.

So that's my interest in annexation: I want a Kirkland address, because it ought to make the property value of my house go up. I also would sleep a little better knowing I could call the cops and they'd take less than an hour to show up. And frankly, the idea of putting the kibosh on Little Beirut kind of intrigues me to. Call me a killjoy if you want. I deserve it.

Kirkland did a fine job of putting all kinds of information about annexation online, including PDFs of economic forecasts and an FAQs. They're pretty upfront about the reasons behind the annexation - they're looking for more tax revenue - but the good news is that (according to their FAQ) we'd likely be paying less in property taxes and utilities.

I'm going to attend one of the meetings next week, but it certainly looks like a good deal on paper. Welcome to our new yuppie overlords!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

PR by Any Other Name...

The other day, someone in a different "wing" of my agency was introducing me to one of his co-workers visiting Seattle from Silicon Valley. He mentioned she "did a lot of the same things I did," which I described to her as "blog and forum analysis, community outreach and building, and conversation monitoring." Her reply was, "oh, PR 2.0."

I've heard several terms for what it is I do, but PR 2.0 was a new one. Google revealed many instances of the term, so apparently it does exist. It sounds intentionally analogous to Web 2.0 to me. PR 2.0? Is that what we do, the next revision of PR?

I considered it, and no, I don't really think it's all that accurate. To me, it implies PR through tagging things and using RSS feeds to display varied content in a new space. It also sounds intentionally hip and technical, the kind of thing you might tell a potential client in a presentation to wow them and make them think "hey, these guys know what they're talking about." It's not as bad as one of my more loathed terms, "viral marketing," which reeks of nontransparent interaction and somehow tricking people into selling your product. Nor is it as neutral as "interactive solutions," which sounds like it could be just about anything online.

"New marketing" comes closest to accurately describing what we do without any negative connotations (except marketing, I suppose.) Yes, it's "new" but without the pretentious 2.0, and "marketing" at least implies that although we may be transparent, in the end we are still trying to help our clients sell their products.

It's kind of amusing that online marketing (hey, another term!) is in a place where we're using four (five!) different labels for what is essentially the same thing. It shows how nascent our industry still is, and even if I don't necessarily like some of those terms, I have to admit they're at least fairly creative descriptors.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Firefox Even Helps Me Curse

I love Firefox. Love it love it love it. And yeah, I work on a Microsoft account at my PR firm.

One of the things I love best about Firefox is that it has a built-in spellcheck feature, not unlike Word, where it underlines misspelled words in red. All you have to do is right-click on the word, it brings up a list of suggestions, or you can even add it to Firefox' dictionary.

Apparently, the browser was built for users who like to argue online. See example A, below, where it corrects my misspelled curse word:

Thank you, Firefox!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Pirates of the Blue Kingdoms!

Oh yeah, I got published!

With Spain taking up most of my time last month, I completely flaked and forgot to mention some awesome news: I had a story published! Popcorn Press, run by some fellow Alliterates, put out Pirates of the Blue Kingdoms, a fantasy-pirate anthology in which my story "The Adventures of Keva the Freemariner" appeared. Fellow contributing author Paul Genesse reviews the anthology on his blog.

It's good, clean piratey fun - pick it up if you're looking for a good summer read!

Spain Part Five: Gibraltar and Driving North

Gibraltar is hard to find on Spanish roads. That's because Spain really wants Gibraltar back, so there are no signs for it until you get right on top of it. Literally. So if you're looking for Gibraltar, drive towards the giant rock or go to the town of La Liena.

Gibraltar, one of the two "pillars of Hercules," stands at the "mouth" of the Mediterranean. As its name suggests, it's a giant goddamned rock, and there's an almost-identical giant goddamned rock across the sea on Africa - and I have to admit, it's pretty impressive.

Gibraltar has been owned in the past by Greeks, Iberians, Romans, Pirates, Moors, and most recently the British, who came under the pretenses of stopping Napoleon and decided to make it a colony. As such, it's one of the last British colonies on the planet. It also makes a dandy place to stock up on English-language reading material when you're in a country that is a little low on Barnes & Noble outlets.

We planned a stop by Gibraltar as a break from the monotony of cured ham, Spanish tortillas, and people who don't speak English. This was about the midpoint of the trip, so we were looking forward to hearing English again (at least, I was.) And eating fish and chips. All the good things about British life. Or at least two of them.

So we drove down to La Liena and promptly got lost, which is quite a feat considering the town is pretty small, even for a European town. We ended up in a roundabout going in circles around the bullring while I was reading a map, and ended up asking for directions several times. Eventually we parked our car in an underground parking garage and traversed a good portion of the city before we located our hotel, which (like some of the other places we stayed) was above a restaurant. Imagine, Seattleites, if Beth's cafe had four floors of rooms above it, and you have what these Hostales are like. Cigarette smoke and all.

La Liena was founded by the Spanish as a response to British occupation of Gibraltar, and it's possibly the most un-interesting place we ended up in Spain. The road there is littered with resorts and signs in English, because the southern part of Spain - the Costa del Sol - is full of Brits and Germans who go there to retire. In other words, it's Europe's answer to Florida.

After ditching our bags in our room, we walked into Gibraltar. It's the only time, aside from a trip to Niagra falls, that I've walked into another country, and I suspect it's one of the last places you can do that. Gibraltar itself is really small, and you can walk from one end to the other in a couple of hours. Customs glanced at our passports and waved us through; we actually had to request the stamp, and the guard just looked amused. The next step was running across the airport's runway; the street and sidewalk goes right over it, which is a bit of a trip.

And then we were in Gibraltar, where prices were in pounds and the swears were in good old English. We took some money out of the bank and did what any good American would do in a British colony: honed in on the nearest pub, ordered Guinness and fish and chips. And boy was it good.

Gibraltar is also a tax haven, so a lot of Spanish people go down there to shop. Gibraltar Town crams as many stores into a half-kilometer that you can, so our time there consisted primarily of wandering from shop to shop (and pub to pub.) We bought some touristy things, pints of beer, some pie, and postcards to send home. Yes, they had red mailboxes. And we stocked up on books for the plane ride home.

Gibraltar's funny because it really has no place in the modern world. I don't mean that in a negative way, just that it's a remnant of colonialism that just won't die. You still have to walk through a massive wall to get into town. It's so different from Spain not a kilometer away it's uncanny. But somehow, it survives. It's like an English town with tropical temperatures. The whole thing is remarkable.

We managed to "do" Gibraltar and be back for a late-night snack and sleep, ready to head out the day after. Our plan was to see Cordoba, home of the Mezquita mosque, and we started calling hotels before we left La Liena. Oddly, none of them had rooms. We drove north, and called more hotels. No vacancies. About noon, we panicked: we had no place to stay that night. We looked at the map and assessed other options. We had planned to go to La Mancha and see Quixote country before heading to Madrid. Maybe we should do that early, turn the car in early, and stay longer in Madrid?

It turns out that's exactly what we did. And it was one of the best decisions we made.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Spain Part Four: A Vacation from Vacations and Granada

There's an old adage that when you come back from a vacation you need a vacation. We were starting to feel that way after Tarragona: we'd been going pretty much nonstop, driving was extremely stressful, and we just wanted to relax for a night. So we opened the Rough Guide and found a quiet little town called Vinaros. The guide said:

The beaches of the scruffy port-cum-resort Vinaros, next along the coast, are small but rarely packed.

Beaches? Port? Scruffy? Rarely packed? Perfect. We drove into town, ready to put on our bathing suits and hit the beach, when wonder of wonders it began to rain. Not on the plain, but in Spain, it rained. At the beach.

We instead contented ourselves with cheap but delicious small-town food and a walk along the docks, where fishermen were literally loading catches onto carts bound for restaurants across the street. It was relaxing. There was no pressure. Liz tried anchovies (you read it here first folks!) and just what the doctor ordered.

The next morning we looked at our map and realized we were due at the Alhambra in two days time and we were still a long way from Granada. Like, a whole day's travel from Granada. Spain doesn't look all that large on a map, but it's bigger than you might think, so we packed it in and spent most of the day driving. But first, we made a hotel reservation. And here's where things start to get funny.

Part of the adventure of traveling without an itinerary is that you are booking hotels the day you stay there. Inevitably, that means rooms can be hard to find. Or you can find a room for one day, but not both. Which is what happened in Granada: we had a room for two nights, but not the third. This was to become a recurring theme in our travels - plodding across a city with our suitcases in tow, relocating from one hotel to the next. Not that I'm complaining, but it's damned inconvenient, especially when check-out times (noon) and check-in times (4 pm) don't always mesh.

But we made it to our first hotel after a hair-pulling adventure through Granada at rush hour, and the bellboy parked the car for us (I have no idea where the car went, and frankly I don't want to know.) And we set off to explore Granada.

Granada used to be the seat of the Nasrid sultanate, and after Ferdinand and Isabella conquered it, they were so taken with its beauty and the majesty of its palace, the Alhambra, that they relocated their court there. Rumor has it Granada is where Columbus received the go-ahead to set off in search of a western passage to China. The town reflects this history, with a Moorish quarter (the Albaicin) and - even more interesting - a gypsy quarter (Sacromonte) where gypsies still continue to live in caves, although by all reports the cave-houses are quite comfortable.

We spent the next day touring around and, if you can believe it, hauling our laundry halfway across the city and back to have it washed. We hit two main tourist attractions: the Cathedral and the tomb of Ferdinand and Isabella, neither of which were terribly remarkable but were interesting in contrast to the Moorish architecture around town - an excellent point-counterpoint to the styles of Europe and the Muslim world at around the same time. The gothic and early Baroque styles of the Cathedral and tomb reached upwards, towards heaven, while the Alhambra was a sprawling complex firmly rooted in earth, with natural additions like gardens courtyards and fountains everywhere. It's almost a perfect symbol for the Platonic influences on Christianity and the Aristotelean influences on Islam.

After touring Granada, we spent an entire day in the Alhambra - not difficult to do considering its size, immensity, and beauty. I promised myself I wouldn't make value judgments, but in retrospect the Alhambra was probably my favorite sight in Spain. Built over a few hundred years first as a fort, then a palace, then a building of sublime beauty, the Alhambra was my first real exposure to middle eastern style architecture and is fascinating in ways completely different than European architecture. When I walked into Canterbury Cathedral, I felt as I'd always expected to feel in the presence of God. When I walked into the Royal Palace of the Alhambra, I felt I was in a peaceful place that amplified the presence of nature. Again, I'm returning to Plato and Aristotle, but there you go - it's remarkable really.

I could describe in intimate detail every part of the Alhambra we visited, but somehow I doubt that's necessary. Check out the pictures on my Flickr stream; unfortunately, it's one of those places that's hard to capture on film. And it wrapped up our adventure in Granada, which was fine because we were ready to head to our next destination - down to Andalucia and the British colony of Gibraltar. It was time to stock up on English-language reading material.

Steampunk Star Trek

Steampunk seems to be a dominant geek meme at the moment, but this Steampunk Star Trek parody from 1994 is pretty awesome (reminds me a bit of the Call of Cthulhu silent).

Via BoingBoing.

Jericho: SAVED

This is astounding.

Like many TV viewers with an Internet connection, I enjoy discussing my favorite shows online. I've subscribed to the Jericho thread (spoilers in first post) on Something Awful for a while now - which became a call to action after the show was canceled shortly after the season finale.

The show was supposedly canceled for poor ratings (even though CBS put it up against American Idol - a show more popular than the fucking Superbowl). But the story doesn't just begin and end with the canceling of a show.

CBS did some very intelligent things with Jericho. They offered users their own message board and wiki, right on the CBS site. Good, because it drives traffic to CBS' site (as opposed to an offsite forum like Something Awful), and good because it gives fans a place to rally. Jericho was a story arc show much like recent, successful dramas on network (Heroes) and cable (Deadwood, The Sopranos), which is to say that each episode built on the last. It also meant there was a fair amount of fans trying to figure out mysteries, whether it was the morse code message at the beginning of each episode to the mastermind behind the nuclear attacks in the show.

In short, it was a brilliant stoke of community development online.

So what happens when you've given people the tools to come together as a community around a show they care about, and then suddenly announce that show is canceled?

Fans get upset. They mobilize.

It's happened before, of course. Firefly fans managed to get Serenity made (which still ended up flopping), but CBS was firm: the show was done for and there was nothing that could be done.

Or could there? One guy, who owns a nut company in New Jersey, decided a tie-in to the "nuts!" phrase from the final episode would make an excellent rally point. So he designed a nuts campaign to save Jericho - where he would deliver nuts to CBS headquarters as a statement of support (the nuts would then be donated to charity, and proceeds from sales would go to helping rebuild the town of Greensboro, Kansas, recently devastated by a tornado - Jericho is located in Kansas.) How many nuts have been delivered to date? Almost 20 tons. The YouTube videos of the deliveries are pretty awesome. The campaign became an Internet phenomenon as well, making sites like Metafilter.

The show's actors and producers were surprised by the outpouring of support. So too was CBS; they wanted to find a way to resolve the storyline. Maybe a two-hour movie? Nothing doing. The show's writers refused.

And today, on the LA Times' TV blog, comes this post: Resurrection: The fans save Jericho. The most interesting part is producer Carol Barbee's comments about the inaccuracies of ratings and the shifting face of entertainment:

I really think that what has been learned here is that networks are going to have to look at numbers and who is watching their show and who is downloading their show in a different way from here on out. I think they have to understand that the Nielsens are not telling the story anymore and that the 18-49 demographic they're all so keen on is online and that's how increasingly they are getting their news and entertainment.

That's quite appropriate - since I myself watched the first 10 episodes on my Xbox 360, downloading them from the video marketplace.

It was the Internet that united fans of the show, and it was the online communities created around it that led to the passion, investment, the tools for communicating and mobilization, and the dedication not to give up that saved Jericho.

Whether a company is utilizing the online community to promote their brand or product, a group of dedicated citizens is using it to enact positive political change, or an as-yet undreamed-of use that is still years away - Jericho's being saved is a great example of the wonderful things that a dedicated community can enact when given the tools. Frankly, it makes me proud to be in the line of work I'm in.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

War. War Never Changes.

As some of you know, I authored the Fallout PnP RPG a while ago (quite a while ago, actually), so it's with a good deal of interest that I watched the teaser for Fallout 3 by Bethesda. The site is getting hammered at the moment, so take a gander at the YouTube video if you'd like:

It doesn't show any gameplay unfortunately, but they nailed the Fallout style and confirmed the game will be set on the East coast (Fallout games have previously been set only in the West coast.) And that Brotherhood of Steel Power Armor looks absolutely badass.

Fall 2008 can't get here soon enough.

Office Jargon

One of the most interesting parts of a job is learning the "language" of the office. At DHS, we spoke in numerical code - "fill out a B-38 form" - and while WizKids was far more casual, we still had our office jargon - LEPOs, sprues, and so forth. Edelman is far more corporate, and I'm glad Lifehacker provided me with a awesome translating tool for office jargon.

Since we deal with Microsoft so much, I suspect we've picked up some specific Microsoft terms that aren't on this list. I wonder - does anyone else call a Powerpoint presentation a "deck?"

Morning Dose of Perspective

This song came up on the random iPod on the walk into work this morning. I'm too old to have heard this when I was a kid, but it certainly makes one think: