Wednesday, July 29, 2015


We just got back from vacation a few weeks ago! In Seattle.

I was already in Seattle for work, of course, about 2 weeks before that, and then maybe 5 weeks before that. Sea-Tac Airport and I are old friends. I've been flying in and out a lot since July of last year. Most of the power outlets in Terminal A still don't work.

Anna went to her corporate client's offsite, for which they pay airfare and hotel for everyone's families, and we decided to bring the boy along and combine that with a visit to my in-laws in the area.

The offsite was at the Four Seasons Hotel. I'd never stayed at a Four Seasons, normally deciding I have better uses for the extra $500 per night, so I didn't really know what to expect.

It's really nice.

That seems obvious, but I have never stayed in a hotel that nice, so the level of niceness was a bit beyond my previous understanding of hotels.

First we're in the lobby, and the boy is saying something about how this is a really expensive hotel that only rich people would stay at. (In his other household, "rich people" is a unified and negative entity in the world, and it can be hard for him to keep his paradigms straight.) He wasn't into a class-war rant just then, but you have to catch these things before they build up.
"Okay, so while we're here, we need you to keep any snarky comments about the hotel or the people here inside your head, okay? If you need to let them out, do it when it's just us in the room."
That...worked. Immediately, and for the duration of the trip. I didn't have to remind him even once, which is rare.

Our room was pretty cramped, and had a single bed, and faced the big neon sign of the Seattle Art Museum. Even on someone else's dime, I wasn't looking forward to three nights there. Clearly there had been a communications issue, so Anna started on getting us moved to a different room. J immediately started doom-and-gloom about how we'd all have to sleep on the floor or something.
"Oh, man. It'll be just like that time in Grass Valley, remember? We couldn't get the key to the house, and just like you predicted, we had to go back into town and sleep in our cars?"
"That's not what happened!"
"You're right, you're, right. I forgot. We had to sleep in the street."
'That didn't happen, either."
"Right. We didn't panic, we got the key, and everything was fine. So. The way to think of this is that all these dozens and dozens of people working in the hotel, their job is to help us have a good time. So they're all going to be very nice and helpful. They'll set us up with another room, because that's their job."
Thus ended the doom, more or less.

Our new room was just a couple degrees short of palatial. The bathroom was literally the size of our bedroom at home, only coated in marble. There was a TV embedded in the vanity mirror. There was a telephone next to the toilet.

Instead of a bright neon sign, our window looked out on the pool area, over Pike Place Market, and out to Puget Sound. It was a much, much, much nicer room. I was boggled. J was literally speechless for several minutes (as common for him as it is for me).

I could have sworn I took pictures of the room, and lots of other things besides; maybe I deleted them without actually taking them off my phone first? I'm not at all sure what's going on there. Just imagine the kind of hotel room that comes with this view.

They have a Coffee Concierge. Dial 4505 in the morning, and they will bring you coffee and/or tea service. It's good coffee.

Anna was actually working, which meant that J and I had two whole days together, and confronting me yet again with the fact that compared to her, I am a bit of a slouch as a parent. I don't think I forgot to feed and water the kid, but I did have us on sort of a long adventure the first day. J navigated us to the MONORAIL stop, which goes up to Seattle Center, where we went to the Experience Music Project, then ate some pretty solid pizza, then went back to the Experience Music Project, then went back to the hotel and gratefully spent a few hours not talking.

Day 2 was "let's play Chris Sits Around By The Pool While People Under Age 11 Splash Around In The Water For A Few Hours." The game of kings, handed down from my ancestors.

If you can stay at a Four Seasons, I highly recommend it. Extra delicious if you're not paying.

Monday, July 27, 2015

still adjusting to the climate.

I just watched Frozen, finally, two years after everyone else saw it--whether they wanted to or not, it seemed, since so many of my friends have TV-watching kids about that age. J has not seen it, that I know of, and since he associates it with younger kids, he's been referring to it as "That Movie."

It's good! For Disney in particular it represents a serious (and welcome) departure, where the princesses completely drive events, and the story is really about the sisters, and a woman not being afraid of her own power to be in the world. There are men along for the ride, but the message about romance is mostly just "don't marry someone you just met," a laudable lesson that all children should hear as soon as possible. (In my 20s, I was told in no uncertain terms by someone who lived through the Great Depression that I should not get married before I was 30; I had a near miss with a bad engagement, and to be honest, I don't think hearing that lesson when I was 7 would really have helped, but let's just keep going and hope that our children don't need to take the Really Hard Way like we did.)

Being set in an invented Scandinavian country--whiter than Wonder Bread, so hopefully Disney can branch out in skin colors next time--I started reading about mulled wine, and it had always seemed weird that a drink originating in European winters should have oranges or lemons in it. Everyone knows there's no fruit in the winter. It's winter. That's what winter means: no fruit. I grew up getting a tangerine in the toe of my Christmas stocking, because when my parents were growing up, that was a really expensive and special thing.

(I did not like tangerines, which always left me feeling a little awkward. I don't like driving Saabs, either. I'm a little different from the rest of my family.)

Wikipedia just mentioned "Seville oranges" when talking about mulled wine, and of course it finally dawns on me, after 16 years in California and 2 years of owning an orange tree, that oranges particularly are ripe in winter. Ship them from Spain to England, and boom.

These connections come slow sometimes.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


After 3 months, I just cracked open our second 40lb bag of sunflower seeds for the birds. Word seems to have gotten out about our backyard, and the past couple mornings have seen some ferocious bickering, posturing, and fluttering, as the birds jockey for feeding position. The winner seems to be whoever gets to be higher up while eating, so the two upper perches on the feeder are in demand.

That said, no one wants to be left out, so somehow there emerges the strategy of knocking sunflower seeds out of the feeder and onto the ground. It initially looks like sloppy eating, but of course birds are at least as accurate with their beaks as we are with fingers, and they are clearly capable of fetching a single seed at a time.

So the ground is covered in sunflower seeds, and the sunflower seeds are covered in birds. You can't see the ground from our kitchen window, so I was surprised to make a noise inside and startle close to a dozen birds hanging out and eating on the ground.

The squirrels also enjoy the sunflower seed overflow, and seem to have reached a d├ętente with the birds. I have a plan to have the seeds fall into a cage that birds can get into but not squirrels, which presents a bit of an engineering challenge, but I think it can be done with judicious application of sharp, spiky wires. I've already got a smaller version keeping the squirrels off the beam directly above the feeder.

There's relatively few species that visit us; with our typical scientific rigor, they are:
  • Red,
  • Mrs. Red,
  • Pointy Head,
  • Stripey Head,
  • Black Head,
  • and the very occasional visiting Long Beak.
Smoke Alarm Bird (who most often sounds exactly like a smoke alarm's low-battery warning chirp) is omnipresent, of course, but a bit bigger than Red and Stripey or Black Head, and restricts herself to eating off the ground.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

read read ready read

I finally bought a Kindle.

I hadn't really wanted one, or known I wanted one. We have a Paperwhite in the house, but the text has been just a bit too jaggy for me, and I already have an iPad and iPhone...

Amazon released the Kindle Voyage, which has some new experimental features (apparently you can press the edges to turn the page, and it vibrates?), but also has a 300dpi e-ink screen, which eliminates the jaggy-font problem. While I was hesitating because the Voyage is expensive and weird, Amazon upgraded the Paperwhite to the 300dpi screen, and I was so excited I had it sent to my in-laws' in Washington so it would arrive while we were there and I wouldn't have to wait.

The Kindle is totally awesome and I'm chewing through all my library books on it. After a couple days, though, I noticed it was doing this thing called spotlighting, where you can see the effects of the individual LED backlights. I would never have heard of it, except there was a generation of Mac laptops that had it quite severely:

It doesn't prevent me reading stuff, but I'm returning it anyway.

When I told Amazon's return process on the website that I wanted a replacement instead of a refund, they directed me (without comment) to Customer Service. Customer Service, it turns out, were themselves a bit confused about why I was talking to them, but they sent me to a "specialist," who via typing-chat walked me through her script of rebooting the Kindle and then facilitating the return.
"A specialty team will be in touch within 24 hours to schedule a pick-up of the device."
This is not normal. I've done a lot of Amazon returns: they give you a shipping label, you package the thing up and drop it off at the UPS Store, you're done.

It turns out all the extra hoops are because Amazon Engineering wants the broken device themselves.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

local wildlife.

A few months ago I took the recycling out at night, and I saw what I could have sworn was a cockroach, scurrying across the driveway towards the fig tree. A month ago I saw one in the back patio, and shortly thereafter there was one in the kitchen (which I trapped and dumped in rubbing alcohol for later identification.

Now, I have been extremely privileged to live a cockroach-free life. A cockroach in my kitchen would normally worry me, except:
  1. There were no cockroaches when we moved in.
  2. There have been no cockroaches for the 2 years we've lived here with unchanged living habits (including a consistent lack of discipline about food on countertops).
  3. Most cockroach sightings were outside. And near the compost heap...
Being a city boy, I'm not used to thinking of cockroaches as outdoors animals, but why shouldn't they be? Our compost heap is full of earthworms and beetles and earwigs and once I saw a centipede and holy shit so many tiny ants--in fact, I've theorized that the compost heap keeps the ants out of the house, by constantly being the most attractive food source in the area. If cockroaches need food, warmth, and moisture, the compost bin should be the place.

When I found the cockroach in the kitchen, Anna immediately made up a batch of bait-poison (boric acid + maple syrup + water) and put it inside all the wall outlets and various crevices. The common understanding is that if you see a cockroach, it's because they've been crowded out of the hidden spaces and there are actually thousands more nearby; but I haven't seen one in the house since. I did spot a few in the patio last night, and one of them fled into our crawlspace; but I tend to think the one in the kitchen was either exploring, or just trying to get from one place to another.

(I am, of course, an insect pest professional. The idea that an animal evolved for living outdoors would prefer to stay outdoors doesn't seem like a stretch, though.)

We also had a brief incursion of tiny ants, and all of this spurred me to go do some maintenance on the compost bin, which was so full of densely-packed dirt that the bin itself was deforming out of its square shape, and it was really hard to get the lid on. Presumably the density made it harder for the residents to move around, and also harder for water to percolate through.

Water! Compost bins need water. We live in the Land of Very Little Rain At The Best Of Times, and we're in an epic drought. So I motivated to dig out the compost dirt--which, miraculously, used to be banana peels--and spread it around on various trees that looked like they could use the help, and then dumped a solid bucket of water into the remainder. (And then enjoying how easy it was to put the lid back on. The trees, for their part, seem to have perked up immediately.)

I think the drought has stressed the insects, driving them to the unusual behavior of coming into my house.

Go, insects! Live happy life cycles in the compost bin! I promise to give you water!

And I will poison you if you don't Then we can all coexist peacefully!