Monday, January 28, 2013

Belated change of address notice

I've moved! Please join me at

Friday, October 16, 2009

Google takes over the world

I don’t use Word to write anymore, I use a website called Google Docs that lets me share my stories with my boss and counterparts so they can edit and see changes as I edit. I also can access the stories from any computer with Internet, so when my computer at work dies (any day now), I won’t lose any material. This doesn’t account for whatever disaster that could erase my stuff from the Internet, but anyway.

When I draft a story, I send the draft to various people for editing and approval. I tend to cut and paste the entire document into the body of the email. It just seems easier to me to read something in the email than to have to click on something else and wait while Microsoft Word opens. Sometimes it’s handy because you can track changes in Word, so I can see what edits have been made, but my email program (Outlook) makes my edits a different color when I reply to an email, so that works too.

I don’t mind when someone else takes the story, puts it in Word and then sends it back to me as an attachment, but I think it’s really weird when they ask me to send it again as a Word document. All I’m doing is cutting the text from the email I just sent and pasting it into Word. Can’t they do that themselves?

Today was a pretty typical Friday at my job. I have not spoken to or Instant Messaged a single coworker today. I just sent an email to my boss and that was the only work-related communication I have had. None of my officemates are in today.

I said “Thank you” to the woman at the dry cleaner next door who accepts UPS packages for us when our office is closed. I answered one phone call (for one of the absent coworkers). I spoke to the drive-thru people, the guy at the post office, and the jerk cashier at Fred Meyer who watched my 55-cent coupon get trapped under the conveyor belt and told me I shouldn’t have left it there. And then, unable to retrieve it, did not give me 55 cents off the Swiffer WetJet refill.

I exchanged emails with the dog trainer. Rob’s coworker emailed me inviting us bowling tonight (We accepted). Rob called. I replied to a comment someone left on my wall on Facebook.

Don't get me wrong, though. I worked on a design project for the better part of the day. It wasn't all Facebook and post office.

But that is all the communication/human interaction I have had as of 5 pm Friday. I feel all right about it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reading list

I recently listened to two audiobooks set in the Pacific Northwest and am I reading with my eyes a third book set in my very own home turf. The actual book I am reading is called Border Songs, and it is written by the author of a book I read a few years ago that was set in Olympia, where I lived at that time. Coincidence, no?

I am reading Border Songs for a book group I am joining with a girlfriend. A book group I hope will lead to many evenings of intelligent conversations with glasses of wine on the side.

The book depicts a real Washington town along the Canadian border with a great deal of accuracy, in my opinion. Dairy farms, Indian casinos, pot smuggling (or so I've heard), quirky characters. The places, street names and ways of life are true.

Contrasted with True Colors, which I listened to on CD during a recent solo drive to Portland, because the library didn't have Twilight in stock (more on this below). I had read another novel by this author, Kristin Hannah, on our trip to India, because I had heard the author speak at our local bookstore. True Colors takes place in a fictional waterfront town along the Hood Canal, and it rang pretty false to me, even though some of the story takes place in real towns and the geography is mostly accurate. The family at the center of the story runs a ranch/rodeo, and I guess that's just a little removed from my experience in the region. There is an American Indian at the center of the story as well, but he is from another state, so I couldn't even really relate to that either.

Then... there's Twilight. I put my name on the waiting list for the audiobook at the library because I didn't want to spend time reading the book when I could be reading more worthwhile books (such as Border Songs), and I didn't want to experience it for the first time through the movie. Yet, I wanted to get caught up on the story because I want to see the sequel to the movie, New Moon. For two reasons. 1) It looks good. 2) My organization was asked to lend some copies of our annual report to the set dressers of the movie, because the werewolf in the movie (spoiler, sorry) belongs to one of our member tribes. So there's a very slight possibility that a photograph that I took that is on the cover our our annual report can be seen in the werewolf's bedroom.

Though I love me a good vampire romance, I sneered just a bit at the Twilight phenomenon. For one thing, to my knowledge, the author never had been to Forks, Wash., before writing the series. And those actors cast in the movie? Blah blah blah. Nothing special. What is the obsession, I wondered?

Listening to the audiobook was tricky at first, because I couldn't help picturing those stupid actors I found so unappealing. And let's face it, the writing's not so great. In first-person narration, Bella tells me a hundred ways that Edward looks perfect and smells amazing...which you'll notice are adjectives that don't tell me much. Fair enough, he looks like a marble statue, but what does he smell like? Cologne? Flowers? Vanilla? Wet concrete?

And since we all know that Edward is a vampire, it's a little tiresome waiting for Bella to figure it out herself. And really? We have a bad guy who monologues at length to his victim about his dastardly plan? How creepy is it too, that Edward watches her while she sleeps?

But dammit, I have to keep it real...I started to fall for it. Started to find Edward so very attractive. And Bella so very likable. I saw the trailer again for New Moon, and felt such girlish excitement to see this movie where the star-crossed heroine says to her man, "I belong with you."

What is it? What's the formula? The schoolgirl fantasy that an impossibly perfect guy would fall so completely in love with her without her even trying. And he would do anything to protect her, and in fact would have no life whatsoever except to spend time with her and talk about his feelings. Dream-y.

Also, the author researched it well. The depiction of Forks and the Olympic Peninsula felt pretty accurate to me.

So now I've got Twilight the movie in the Netflix queue and am on the waiting list for the New Moon audiobook.

But because I know I should know better, I give you Buffy versus Edward.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My flagging cedar

We have a long driveway. One of my favorite features about my house (literally, one of my favorite things, I've said it out loud more than a few times) is that the branches of two cedar trees on either side of the driveway converge to create a canopy over the driveway. This creates shade, cooling the house, and obscures the view of our house from the street, creating privacy.

Also, it's pretty.

Since it is one of my most favorite things, you would think I'd have a picture of it in its glory, but I do not. Here it is during last winter's snowstorm, seen from the street.

Here it is today, seen from the front porch.

The other day, I noticed that some of the branches had turned brown all the way up to the top of this 50-foot-or-taller tree. Seemingly overnight. Surely I would have noticed if this were gradual, I look at those branches every day.

With a little internet research, I came to the conclusion that this was called "flagging" and is either:
  • The normal result of an extremely hot dry spell, combined with a few nicks to the trunk caused by construction vehicles over the past 10 months. The brown branches will blow out in the fall and winter, and the tree will "resume its healthy appearance." (from, or
  • A sign the tree is dying because construction vehicles have repeatedly driven over the roots and banged into the trunk. The tree may survive, but will "never look good again, with lots of dead branches and gaps in the crown." (from UBC Botanical Garden forums)

To look at the trunk, yes, it would appear that this tree has suffered some abuse. I'm not too happy with the construction folks who dinged up my tree.

Someone on the UBC forum corrected me to say this is Thuja plicata, not a cedar, but we here in the Pacific Northwest call that a western redcedar, even though it's technically a cypress. Deal with it.

Someone else said, "Driving over the roots of a tree (and running into its trunk) are a way to kill it." Yeah, well, that makes me look like a big idiot, doesn't it?

This tree has probably been here for a hundred years. A driveway was built on top of its roots. Could our little backyard construction project be killing it?

Friday, August 07, 2009

Ethics test

I just completely forgot what side of the car my gas tank was on. I know this happens to a lot of people. You pull in, get out of the car, and whoops, you're on the wrong side.

I guess my excuse is that I drive another car for work sometimes and its gas tank is on the opposite side from mine. Last Saturday, I filled up the gas tank in the work car twice - in Portland and near the office - and then switched back to my own car and had to fill it up too before driving home.

But today's gaffe wasn't the whoops, silly me, variety. This was, I got out of the car, swiped my Safeway rewards card and credit card, put my hand on the pump and turned around, completely astonished not to see the gas tank door. I had been certain it was on that side.

I hit cancel and drove my car around to the other side, where the gas pump told me, "Steven Wilson, your gas discount is 10 cents a gallon!" I was about to, with a clear conscience, mooch Steven Wilson's gas reward (mine is only 3 cents a gallon. I don't actually shop at Safeway, just buy gas there) but the pump was insisting I lift the lever and pump without swiping my own credit card. I hit the cancel, clear and stop buttons, but it wouldn't clear. Kept telling my to lift the lever and pump my gas. There was just a hair of an instant when I thought, "Well, if the gas pump is telling me to steal from Steven Wilson, I guess I'm meant to do it."

But of course I got back in my car, drove around again, and pumped gas with my sad, little 3 cent discount.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vietnam, you don't give answers do you, friend

It was an entire year after India before I even felt like traveling. I also felt guilty about taking that much time off, so I didn't take a single vacation day for an entire year. (I get plenty of holidays, and my schedule is pretty relaxed, so this wasn't a huge hardship.)

When I heard that a friend of mine was going to be in Saigon for three months, at first I was insanely jealous. Then I bought a Rough Guide Southeast Asia for $5 at Half-Price Books and decided that I should go meet her there. Rob didn't have much interest in Vietnam, so this was a perfect opportunity... when else would I say to myself, "Gee, I'd like to go to Vietnam alone"?

I also wanted to see Cambodia and Laos, but that proved too much for me to do in the two weeks I planned to be gone. So I settled for Cambodia, and joined a 10-day tour that started in Bangkok and ended in Saigon, where I stayed for a week with my friend.

I love to travel. I love riding on buses and tuk-tuks and boats and seeing a world so, for lack of another word, foreign to me. In southeast Asia, it's rice paddies and thatched roofs, Buddhist shrines and motorbikes.

It was a great trip. Despite having enjoyed my time there, I wouldn't say that I loved Vietnam or Cambodia...or India last year. I did really like Nepal. On the other hand, I can't even hear the words Bangkok, Thailand, Japan or Tokyo without gushing, "I looooove" Bangkok, Thailand, Japan or Tokyo.

Cambodia was cool because of all the temples. I realized that temples weren't the priority of my tour group when, after a daredevil sunset motorbike ride to Sam Mountain in Chau Doc, Vietnam, our motorbike drivers took us to a Buddhist temple with Las Vegas lights. One of my travel mates said, "What the heck are we doing here?"

This was the same guy who overslept and caused us to miss sunrise over Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Even without the money shot, Angkor Wat was incredible. The must-see of Cambodia. Ancient Hindu-Buddhist temples, too hot and massive to visit all at once or on foot. Tour books advise you to take three days. We only had one, but we had an air-conditioned bus to take us to a temple or two, then back to the hotel for a rest and a shower before bringing us back to the temple complex. And a really amusing tour guide who told jokes like, "what is the difference between a woman and a pony? A woman wears her in a pony tail, but a pony doesn't wear its hair in a woman tail."

From the bus between cities in Cambodia, I saw long dirt pathways leading to narrow homes that were taller than they were wide. Freestanding ornate temple gates framed the entrance to the "driveways."

I thought the Mekong Delta would be more picturesque, like the backwaters of Kerala in India. Still, it was fun to see floating fish farms and floating markets and visit villages of Vietnamese Muslims and people who make coconut candy and rice paper (for tourists).

I spent the longest time in Saigon, because that's where my friend was staying. It was a pleasant enough city, and I leisurely visited museums and pagodas. (Temples also were not the priority for my friend, who had to wait outside the Jade Emperor Pagoda, pictured below, because it gave her bad spiritual vibes.)

One of the reasons I prefer Bangkok to Saigon is that you have various shrines and temples in the middle of the streets in Bangkok. It is very obviously a Buddhist country. I didn't see nearly as many monks in Vietnam, and had to go out of my way to see religious sights. (Except for the Notre Dame cathedral.) Guess we have the communists to blame for that.

Worth noting, I had 99% success with bug spray...even a "natural" lemon eucalyptus spray (made by Cutter) that didn't even have any Deet in it. I wore it like perfume, sprayed it on all the exposed skin every day, after every shower. I got one mosquito bite the whole time...and then ran out of the spray on my last day. When I got home, I discovered three bites on my legs and feet.

The trip was entirely without travel disasters and I enjoy reflecting on the experience and looking at my pictures. I especially appreciate the feedback my pictures get on Facebook.

But the best part of all was seeing Rob pull up to the curb at the airport, with Isis poking her nose out the open window to welcome me home.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Aren't you going out tonight?

I felt a real kinship with Andy Dick when he moved into the Celebrity Rehab Sober House.

It dates back to when I was in college. I didn’t drink so I didn’t enjoy hitting the frat parties or using my fake ID at a bar. I did like sitting around the dorms and hanging out with my friends. But inevitably, at 10 or 11 or midnight, someone would say, “Let’s go out,” as though the evening activity didn’t start until we actually left the building.

Why did we have to go out? Why couldn’t we stay in, and continue to hang out? Drink if you want, but we’re already with the people with whom we want to spend the evening. Why isn't that enough?

In my 20s, I learned to go out, started drinking, and for a spell had an active social life. Cut to 2001, when I traveled by myself to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Russia. I found myself in a common kitchen in Vilnius, I think, with fellow travelers, eating bread and cheese. (OK, I have no memory of what we ate.)

Sure enough at some point, people starting saying, “Are we going out?” I mean, yeah, I’ve been clubbing in foreign cities before, but it was the first day of my trip. I was tired, and I didn’t really know these people well enough to want to get drunk and go dancing with them.

I stayed in, went to bed in the common room, and was awoken at 6 a.m., or whenever they all returned.

So that’s why I related to Andy Dick, who found himself freshly sober, wanting to stay in, make dinner and hang out with his new friends. But most of the other freshly sober housemates wanted to go out (to a club, where they would be tempted to relapse).

Stupid addicts.

You'll have to watch the episode to be sure, but I think he stayed in and had dinner with Rodney King.