Thursday, July 31, 2008

Battle of the tech whores

Wham. I can't believe Kaye just rushed right out and bought an iPhone without any warm-up angst or anything, and then announced it with such a cool post on the newly resuscitated NiteNote.

Like she says in a comment on her own post, I'll have more to say about my iPhone "when I can tear myself way from it long enough to form a thought other than - ooooooooo or aaaahhhhhh or wowee!"

Friday, July 25, 2008

Skuller and Muldy

That's what Mark was thinking the lead characters in X-Files are called, until he bowed to the pressure and went with me to see the new XFiles movie. Now he knows better, but his review was not the best:

"Lucky for them this came out in the same year as The Happening. (beat) At least this isn't the worst movie of the year."

That's the review of a guy who never watched the show once. I, on the other hand, faithfully watched the show from seasons 1 - 3. I don't know how long it went on after that, like most shows, it lost its essence after three years.

So as an old-school X-Files fan (fan boy, Mark sarchastically calls me), here's my review: Good thing it came out the same year as the Happening.

I'm not going to ruin anything here for people planning on seeing it, in terms of story line, but I will say this: silly wooden dialog, shallow and unengaging secondary story line, primary story line not all that either, Gillian way flat, Duchovney, I don't know -- something about both of them just seems to fit better on the TV than on the big screen. I don't need to know that much about their pores.

Final take: The movie was both skuller and muldy. Xfans and non fans alike will probably be disappointed.

Gliomas: 0

Flash from the past: II

Here's a few photos from our visit to see my sister Renee on our way home on Pie in the Sky II:

Allison and Allex, behind the Green Glass Door.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Flash from the past

Some of you might remember Mark & I made our way into Maine on our big trip across America. We ate a lobster sandwich, went to sleep, and Mark woke up with a swollen eye that -- to me -- looked a little like his eye did after his big brain surgery.

We went to the self-professed best hospital in Maine, where the decidedly distracted doctors on the ER staff decided six or seven hours later that Mark had an infection -- Cellulitis.

To this day Mark calls the swelling "a mosquito bite."

Here, now, for your viewing pleasure, photos from the day we spent at The Best Hospital in Maine.

The toilet situation in Mark's room in The Best Hospital in Maine.

The eye.

Mark watches baseball in The Best Hospital in Maine

New Obsession: Google News Reader

The other day I stumbled across Google Reader, which apparently has been around for years, but somehow I failed to notice its tasty goodness. 48 hours post discovery, and I'm wondering how I ever lived without this humongous time-waster.

Basically with the reader, you tell Google what you like to read, and instead of you having to trudge all the way over to that Web site, Google delivers up all the new headlines from your favorite sites, as soon as they post!

Yah, no big deal, right? Feedburner and a million other feed collectors have done this for geeks for years. The difference here is that all those other feed tools require you to download stuff, and then you have to have this thing living on your computer -- and if I'm remembering correctly, you had to download them on every computer you use. Anyways, ho hum -- none of them quite passed the ease of use test for me.

Google has got this puppy exactly right. Google Reader lives on the Web. And not only is it easy to sign up for new feeds, it's also easy for you to publish them on your blog -- look left! -- or on a separate site. You can also add snarky commentary to stories, or post notes that have nothing to do with news stories.

Your friends can keep tabs on your obsessions by using Google Reader to subscribe to your feed, and see what you're reading about right in their own Google Reader. I'm following my friend Ricky's feed, and I've noticed that we're often reading exactly the same story at exactly the same time. Creepy.

And handyness of handyness, iGoogle is my default Web page, and two things are front and center on it: Google's Most Searched terms (a great app that lets you know what people are obsessing about way before most mainstream news operations report it) plus my Google Reader. Sweet.

The amazing thing is, instead of helping get me through my daily reads quickly, it's actually increased my Web reading time, because now I'm adding all kinds of fringe reads to my daily diet. Before I bounced around between about 15 sites throughout the day. I'm up to 36 -- shit, no, wait -- 44 subscriptions, and growing. Someone, stop the madness!

The bonus is, though, I get to learn about all kinds of things I never would have known before: Someone invented a way to put a push lawnmower on the front of a bike! There's new windows in Japan made out of solar panels strong enough to keep your laptop charged! On the downside, I get 12 versions of the same story when some big geek news happens, like today's Facebook confab.

If you want to try it out, first you need a Google account, which you can sign up for at Then just follow the directions to sign up for Google Reader and to make igoogle your default page. You can find my shared items here. If you start "sharing" too, let me know so I can add your feed.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

There goes the neighborhood

The West Seattle Blog alerted us that they started tearing down the Hancock Fabrics and the Shuck's Auto store today. They're building a Whole Foods and some other stuff in there. Just down the street they're building a new ginormous apartment building, and a block from that they're building another ginormous apartment/retail building where the Super Supplements, Funky Janes and some of the shops now are.

Also right across the street from this Hanckock Fabrics, I think some other ginormous thing is going in where the auto dealer used to be. Sounds like thousands of new residents and cars showing up all at once. Makes me shiver to think of the commute a year from now. Right now it takes me 12 minutes to get to work. I'm guessing it'll be 45 minutes by this time next year.

My Sunflowers Bloomed Today

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I even wore my lucky green shirt

Stahlberg flew up from Eugene, McCumber broke free for the afternoon, Michelle finished reading "Harrington," and the four of us showed up with bells on this morning to play in the big $500 buy-in no-limit hold 'em tournament at the Muck.

The "papers" have been running pretty good for all of us -- Michelle or I have cashed in the last three tournaments we've played; McCumber's a card rack; Stahlberg's a poker Zen master -- so I sorta liked our chances to pick up part of the Muckleshoot Casino's advertised $100,000 prize pool.

Mom, writing a good luck e-mail this morning, instructed me to wear my lucky green shirt from last year's World Series of Poker. So I did. (Although, come to think of it, it really wasn't all that lucky last year.)

Before the tournament started, like there wasn't already enough money on the line, the four of us agreed to a "last longer" bet. Whichever of us lasted longest in the tournament would collect five dollars apiece from the others. It's all about bragging rights, baby.

We trundled off to our various seat assignments, four of 157 contestants, all looking over our shoulder once in a while to make sure we were all still in. Before long David stopped by my table to report he was out; his two pair got whapped by three-of-a-kind. I caught no cards but survived the first few rounds and then picked up some pots by exploiting my squeaky tight image. On a break Mike and Michelle both reported they had a little less than the average chip stack, but were hanging in there too.

Three hours in, it was time for a half-hour break and the complimentary "players buffet" -- a nice smorgasbord of prime rib, fish, veggies, fruit, dessert; not bad -- and then we got back to business. After starting with $10,000 in chips, I had about $23k, Michelle and Mike both about 15.

Cards came and went. I treaded water until our table was broken up with players moved to other tables. Walking by Michelle I noticed her stack had grown impressively. I was seated at the same table as Mike and found he now had me covered as well. Before too long I pushed all-in with pocket jacks, against one player with ace-king and another with ace-queen. Pretty good spot to be in. I had a chance to triple up and be back in contention, but when a king fell on the turn I was out in 50th place.

A couple of hands later Mike busted out too, I believe in 49th. He tried to steal the blinds with ace-jack, but was called by a guy with pocket kings. Ouch.

"I stopped by and gave Michelle her five bucks," he said. So I did the same.

Mike and I dealt ourselves in to a $4/8 cash game in the main card room and crossed our fingers for Michelle. She'd need to last nearly 30 players longer than we did -- to 20th place -- to make a profit. First place paid something like $25,000.

A while later I went to check on Michelle's progress and saw her stacking chips while some guy got up from the table and walked away, obviously busted out by her winning hand. "Fucking women," he muttered graciously. I asked what happened and he complained about Michelle's play, but when I heard the hand recounted, by both of them, I thought they both deserved what they got.

An hour later I checked on her again. By now the blinds and antes were huge -- she was all-in just posting the big blind and ante -- and she missed doubling up when her heart draw fell short. Damn. Out in 27th place, seven shy of the money.

Well, it was fun. Michelle was the big "winner," I guess, since she cleared $15 in fivers from David, Mike and me, but we all had a good time.

No final table, but not a bad $550 free lunch.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The attraction of stuff

One thing Michelle and I share is a geeky fascination with cool gadgets. We don't spend a lot of money on nice furniture or fashionable clothes, but dangle a new computer or the latest tech wizardry and we're both likely to feel a burning sensation in our pockets. Michelle refers to the Best Buy circular in the Sunday paper as "the porno."

And so, despite our better judgment, we both find ourselves pulled with Newtonian force toward the new iPhone 3G. You've seen the ads and heard the hype, I'm sure. It's a cell phone! It's an iPod! It's the Internet at your fingertips! It's a mini TV in your pocket! Your calendar, a camera, instant messaging, games, even a GPS system to tell you exactly where you are right now! (Aisle 2 of the Best Buy, no doubt.)

How can anyone resist? This is a device that would have come in quite handy on Pie in the Sky II, and we talked about it often. We're in the middle of Kansas; where's the nearest cup of coffee? What's the deal with these "Purple Heart Memorial Highway" signs everywhere? OK then, where's the largest cross in the Eastern Hemishphere?

Look it up, look it up, look it up, that's what you could do with the cool new iPhone!

Except, back at home, in rare moments of clear thinking, we've both noted the many reasons to resist. Such as, if you're not on the road, how often would you really need to look something up on your phone? Maybe to check a movie time or settle an argument, but not all the time. Also, iPhones are expensive, both to purchase and to operate over the life of the required two-year contract. We already have cell phones that work just fine, and in fact the quality of our Verizon service is excellent. The AT&T service required for the iPhone is spotty, and last time we had that carrier we couldn't get a signal at our house, which is why we switched to Verizon. If we switched to an iPhone and then had to switch again we'd have to pay twice for the privilege.

Another problem with the attraction of stuff is that you end up with more stuff. We've already got a basement full of old network routers, Tivos, computer parts, power cords and formerly cutting edge cell phones that we don't use anymore. I'm not one of those back-to-nature, live-off-the-land freaks, but even I see that piling up so much plastic and silicon is ridiculous and wasteful.

Also, I'm not sure I want the extra level of connectivity that the iPhone offers. As it is I don't want to answer my phone half the time, and I delete plenty of email without even reading it. If anything, I'd like to be less available to most of the world, not more.

And then there are questions about the iPhone device itself. It's gotten terrific reviews, but already there's some backlash out there among people disappointed with the service, or with Apple's bungled rollout, or with the relatively feeble battery life. Some iPhone fans are boasting on message boards that they're able to get through an entire day without charging the battery -- if they turn off the wireless, the GPS, the enhanced "3G" network and they don't play any music ... all the stuff that makes this thing better than a regular old cell phone.

Some are having a tough time reconciling their tech love and their tech snootery. "I just noticed today that the buzz is gone," said one poster on Gizmodo. "Almost makes the instability and constant call-dropping worth it."

I stopped by the AT&T store the other day (my car was parked right next to it) and asked about the cell coverage problem. The service has been upgraded, the guy said, and you always have 30 days to return the phone if it doesn't work, but if you're worried about it you could borrow the phone of a friend with AT&T and check it at your house.


Wednesday, between doctor appointments, I poked my head in at the University Village Apple Store. A line of people out the door waiting to buy from the limited supply of iPhones, with the average wait time two hours. Whenever a customer emerged from the store with that little rectangular bag in hand, the people in line would cheer. It was kind of sick.

And still, I keep surfing back to the Apple review sites to check the latest news. The porno has its pull. I can't decide.

Michelle and I are heading out to the movies this afternoon -- the new "Batman" -- and we'll probably stop at the Southcenter Apple Store. The force will be strong, I'm sure.

Somebody, quick, talk me out of it. Or, alternatively, if you happen to have AT&T, can I borrow your phone?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

No news, news

One definition of news is that which is unusual or unexpected. By that reckoning yesterday's six-hour doctor trip was pretty newsy.

For the first time in months there were no hassles with the MRI or the blood draw, both of which are regularly screwed up to an almost comical degree. This time, in and out: Some nicely trippy Pink Floyd music nearly masked the loud "Tron"-like droning of the MRI machine; nobody freaked when sticking both my arms with needles (one for the MRI contrast dye, another later for the blood draw); no lost paperwork or spilled blood or bureaucratic snafus. I almost called the newspaper.

Jennifer, who is Dr. Spence's nurse practitioner, looked at my scans and pronounced everything "fine," which prompted our monthly 10-minute, no-resolution discussion about what fine means. Everything's relative when you treat brain tumors for a living. She asked how things have been going and I told her about the day wasted at the best hospital in Maine, and I also mentioned a couple of mild dizzy spells I've had recently.

Those actually have concerned me a little, not because they're debillitating but because I used to get dizzy spells all the time before the giant seizure that started this whole medical adventure. I never thought much of them until I was recovering from brain surgery and then later when I noticed I didn't get them anymore. Maybe, duh, all that stuff was related.

So I mentioned them expecting Jennifer to dismiss them as a typical side effect of this drug or that, or of having a hole in your head. It's fine, I expected her to say. Instead she asked a couple of questions and then, quite confidently, said that those few dizzy seconds are probably little seizures.

She decided to boost my prescription of Keppra, the seizure medication I take twice daily. Her idea was to double my dose, but Michelle, an encyclopedia of drug side effects, mentioned that I've been susceptible to Keppra's associated irritability and moodiness. Yes, Jennifer allowed, that can happen, along with depression, psychosis ... she named some other stuff. Well, she decided, maybe we should ramp up the dosage instead of doubling it, from 500 mg twice a day to 500 and 750, and then 750 twice and then 750 and 1,000, etc.

I don't know if that counts as news but it seemed smarter to one half of M&M, and I'm sure it was a relief to the other.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In lieu of the World Series

Somewhere out there on the road, the Pie in the Sky tour took the wind out of the M&M poker sails. Still not sure what happened -- some bad cards, some bad beats, some bad play -- but we didn't exactly set the world on fire. That's not the only reason we cut our trip a bit short without a return to Las Vegas, but let's just say our vision of capturing the World Series of Poker was requiring rosier glasses than we had packed in the Excellent Element.

When we got home though, Michelle set to work on a screenplay idea she's been kicking around that involves a poker tournament. As part of her research she began reading the three volumes of "Harrington on Hold 'em," the bibles of tournament poker. It all must have rekindled an interest, or maybe she just needed some color for her story, but a few weeks ago Michelle suggested we drive down to the Muck to play in one of their Tuesday night tournaments.

Supportive guy that I am, I agreed to go play.

Michelle has always been a good tournament player -- better in tourneys than in live cash games -- and I wasn't at all surprised when she began building a formidable chip stack and scaring the bejezus out of her opponents, me included, with her ice-cold staredown from behind and under big black sunglasses and that shock of crazy hair. Also the giant raises.

Before too long I busted out, in about 20th place, and went to play in my normal $4/8 cash game. But hours passed and still Michelle was in the tournament. Finally I went back to check on her and she had made the final table, where she played like one of those cancer patients you read about in the newspaper (she fought courageously, battled tenaciously, blah blah blah) before eventually finishing in fifth place, good for $125. Nice little return on the $65 buy-in, and an excellent showing against the 50-player field.

At the casino we heard about a larger promotional tournament scheduled for later this month, July 20, with a $500 buy-in and a $100,000 prize pool including $30,000 for first place and $20,000 for second.

We also began to catch wind of some friends' recent success in tournaments. David McCumber, who has been on fire all year, consistently has been making the money at Diamond Lil's here in Seattle, and my pal Joel Rubin in L.A. has made a couple tasty little scores against the degenerates there. Best of all, our former P-I reporter colleague Sam Skolnik, who now works at the Las Vegas Sun, has broken through with several final-table finishes at Caesars, Bellagio and elsewhere, taking down wins in the five figures and barely missing six figures or more. He even has an official ranking now in Card Player Magazine's "Player of the Year" contest.

Michelle and I looked at each other. Sammy's pretty good -- we've both played with him plenty -- but he's not that good. If he and Joel and David can consistently beat these games maybe, with a little practice, we can do the same.

So we decided to try again a couple of nights later, at one of the Muck's $70 buy-in events, this time with 97 entrants. It would be like practice. And who knows, if we felt confident and made a few bucks, maybe we'd take a shot at the July 20 event.

We both did well again, with me outlasting Michelle this time and making the final table myself. I finished in eighth place, with a payout of about $180.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks to last night. The big July 20 event is approaching -- that's this Sunday -- and we wanted one more practice session at the lower stakes. When we got there and were assigned our seats I gave Michelle a little fist bump and said, "See you at the final table."

Lo, as players busted out to the left and right of us, every time I looked over my shoulder Michelle was stacking chips. And I got off to a great start, more than doubling up on the first hand of the tournament with pocket aces. A few hours later, as six tables were combined to five, and then to four, three, two, we found ourselves still in the game. Before long we were drawing for seats at the final table, just as we had "predicted."

Michelle, unfortunately, came in with a short stack among those 10 players and finished in ninth, good enough to get her buy-in back but not to make a profit. I had a healthier chip stack but played poorly in the final few rounds and felt almost lucky to exit in sixth place, with a $160 payout.

We didn't pull down giant wins -- and in fact we both could have made a larger profit if I had agreed to a proposal to "chop" the total prize pool 10 ways (stubbornness, greed) -- but we feel like we're playing in a different universe than we did out on the road.

Who knows what this weekend will bring. My good friend Mike Stahlberg, who taught me this stupid game, is planning to come up from Eugene to play on Sunday, and I think McCumber's going to give it a shot too.

We'll see each other at the final table, I'm sure. And if the subject comes up, I'll vote in favor of the chop.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

We couldn't catch a flight to Rome ...

... so my friend Carol Pucci and I settled for a nice lunch in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood at La Vita e Bella, the cool little Sicilian place where Michelle and McCumber and Mich and I all have enjoyed numerous great meals.

Carol and I decided to get together when she joined Facebook recently and we "friended" each other there. In real life we've been friends for more than 20 years, since I started working at the Seattle Times, although we haven't seen each other in ages. Carol's Facebook profile had a photo of her and some friends at a little restaurant that I thought I recognized from Italy. Sure enough, she confirmed, the restaurant was Orso, in Rome. It wasn't the place I was thinking of, where Michelle and I dined near the Spanish Steps, but it might have been the spot Kaye recommended -- renowned for its antipasti -- and it's located very close to where Michelle and I stayed on our recent trip.

Anyway, when Carol and I set up our lunch date we joked about meeting at Orso. I'll buy lunch, I said, if she picked up the cab fare. In the end, we were happy to meet yesterday at La Vita.

It was really nice to reconnect. When Carol and I worked together she was the Times business editor -- Mich's boss, in fact -- but she has since moved to what she must get tired of hearing is the greatest job in Seattle journalism. She's the Times' travel writer. For "work" she trots the globe meeting cool people, eating great meals and writing stories.

We talked about travel and work and our lives, and when I mentioned Michelle she said, "Hey, I've been to the town of Nicolosi!" Here and here are stories she wrote from there.

Carol loved it in Nicolosi, and all of Sicily, and encouraged us to go. One of these days.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

'Wait. Are you the Michelle?'

When we walked up to the annual West Seattle SummerFest this afternoon, we stopped by the booth of the excellent West Seattle Blog to say hello and offer props. WSB really is an incredible blog. Michelle and I talk about it all the time as the model for a neighborhood news source and for the kind of community-centered, reader-friendly micro-coverage that might help save the stupid newspaper industry. So we were happy to meet Tracy Record, a lifetime journalist who runs the venture (more than) full-time, and her husband Patrick Sand, whom their site lists as co-publisher and "the sales guy."

Michelle stuck out her hand. "I'm Michelle," she said. "I run the P-I's web site."

"Wait," Tracy said. "Are you the Michelle? Like, from Michelle & Mark?"

I raised my hand, and we all had a nice few minutes of mutual admiration. We noticed long ago that Tracy had listed M&M on her West Seattle blog roll, but she must actually read it too. She asked about our road trip, and when she mentioned something that had happened in the hood recently she added, "I think you were still gone then."

Very cool. It also made me realize we haven't been doing much blogging lately. Sometimes, I find, you just feel like taking a break. We'll have a couple of little posts to catch up on in the next few days. For now, here are a couple more pics from today's street fair.