December 2005 Archives

good spot for watching space needle fireworks?


For any Seattle-ites reading this today, where's a good place to watch the Space Needle fireworks from tonight? Preferably someplace where the traffic won't be awful coming back home (up at the northern tip of Lake Washington).

blurring boundaries between real and virtual worlds


Ted Castranova has a fascinating post up on Terra Nova entitled "The Horde is Evil," in which he argues that the Horde races on World of Warcraft are "on the whole evil," and that this has moral implications for avatar choices:

I've advanced two controversial positions: that avatar choice is not a neutral thing from the standpoint of personal integrity, and that the Horde, in World of Warcraft, is evil. Nobody agrees, but it's been suggested that the community could chew on this a bit.

So here's my view: When a real person chooses an evil avatar, he or she should be conscious of the evil inherent in the role. There are good reasons for playing evil characters - to give others an opportunity to be good, to help tell a story, to explore the nature of evil. But when the avatar is a considered an expression of self, in a social environment, then deliberately choosing a wicked character is itself a (modestly) wicked act.

I don't agree with Castranova (my horde character is a Tauren, a peaceful bison-like creature that lives in a Native American-inspired cultural context), nor do many of the commenters--but the issues he brings up are powerful and interesting, and the lengthy discussion in the comments is well worth reading.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the relationship between "real life" and "game life," since I have personal and/or professional relationships with most of the people in my World of Warcraft guild, including both of my children. Castranova's argument, in which he bolsters his argument by citing his 3-year-old's reaction to his undead character, relates directly to those boundary-crossing issues.

When I was playing online on Monday, Joi said that he thought World of Warcraft was becoming the "new golf" for the technology set. I think there's some truth in that, but it brings with it all kinds of additional social pressures and complexities, of which avatar racial choices are only the beginning. I think there's some fertile ground for research in that boundary area, the crossover between the real and game worlds, and the extent to which they influence each other.

worth repeating

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From Jenny Levine's blog:

The Shifted Librarian: Morning Conversation with Brent:

Brent: You're always on the computer -- you're addicted to it. What are you doing -- are you talking to someone?
Jenny: Yes, I am. And I'm not always on the computer...
Brent: Can I talk to them?
Jenny: Not right now you can't, no. And I don't think you're one to talk, Mr. I'm-Addicted-to-Instant-Messaging.
Brent: I'm not addicted. I just like talking to people.
Jenny: You know, you can talk to them on the phone, too.
Brent: Not to five people at once I can't.

I think Brent and Lane would get along really well...

cello construction

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My stepfather, Don Reinfeld, is a cellist for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. He's currently having a new cello built for him by violinmaker David Wiebe, who recently sent him a series of photos of the cello in progress. Don has just posted them on Flickr--it's really fascinating to see the instrument taking shape!

There's an essay documenting the entire process of creating another cello on Wiebe's site--it just cries out to be put into blog form, don't you think?

caution: this medication spoof may cause serious laughter


Via 37 Signals, this side-splittingly funny faux pharmaceutical ad: Panexa (Acidachrome Promanganate). I laughed 'til I cried.

rockin' around the menorah


Yesterday afternoon on NPR's All Things Considered, I heard a short piece on the spelling of Hanukkah (or is that Chanukah?). It was a lovely little piece, which had a nice interview ith Rabbi Daniel Zemel. But the best part was the mention of a great duo called The LeeVees, who've done bunch of what they call "great, rockin' Hanukah songs."

You can listen to their music on the web site, and I heartily recommend it--song titles include "Goyim Friends," "How Do You Spell Channukkahh," and "Applesauce Vs Sourcream."

Their album, "Hanukkah Rocks,"  is also available over iTunes...I'm buying it today, to add to my ever-expanding collection of holiday music, which the boys have noted is sadly lacking in "channukkahh" songs.

peformancing review

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I've been hearing a bit lately about the Performancing for Firefox plugin, but my threshhold for new apps is pretty high right now, and it took until today for me to decide to install it. First impressions? Niiiiiiice. The short version of what it does is on their website:

Performancing for Firefox is a full featured blog editor that sits right within Firefox. Just hit F8 or click the little pencil icon at the bottom right to bring up the blog editor and easily post to your Wordpress, MovableType or Blogger blogs.
The longer version is that's it's a very slick AJAX implementation that gives you a very useful split-screen approach to blogging the page you're on. Instead of replacing the current page with your editor, or popping up a useless small window, you get the page you were viewing on the top (scrollable), and the Performancing window on the bottom. Decent formatting options, too (though not quite Ecto-quality). Setting up my blog was very simple; the account wizard was straightforward and quick--and I was able to do that after I'd already started writing, which was really nice.

What I really like, though, are two features not listed on their page. First, if I select text on the page I want to blog and right-click, I get a contextual menu that allows me to blog it using Performancing--that brings up the editing window with the page name hyperlinked at the top of the entry window, and the selected text in a blockquote tag below. Very useful. Second, if I don't publish that entry, and just close up the window, the next time I do the same thing on another page it appends the text to the entry in progress--excellent for blogging a series of sites for a single post.

I suspect I'll find other nice bells-and-whistles...I haven't yet tried the "save as note" option on the screen, for example. But I don't often find tools that are this useful after only 2 minutes of setup, so I thought I'd blog it while my delight was still fresh!


Update: Ooooo...after I published this entry, I realized that Peformancing also shows me a list of recent entries, and lets me edit them easily. Very nice.

christmas latkes


Latkes!Like me, my kids are growing up in a mixed religion household. So our Christmas dinner tonight consisted of way too many latkes (potato pancakes), made with my father's traditional recipe.

The kids opened their presents this morning--Santa (and their grandparents) were very, very good to them. They've spent the day playing with their new Nintendo DS's and games, as well as their Fly Pens (which I think will be extremely useful in making homeschooling a little more fun).

I got a combo charger/FM transmitter for the video iPod that Gerald got me a few weeks ago, some Happy Bunny slippers, a nifty wind-up flashlight to keep in my car, and something that I scoffed at when I first saw advertised, but which we've used three times today and promises to be a very useful addition to our appliances--a combination egg-and-muffin cooker. It's easy and safe enough for the kids to operate, which makes it better than many alternatives, and it's super easy to clean (just one tiny non-stick pan that has to be washed, and it can be done in about 20 seconds). As ridiculous at it seems, I rather like it. I also got a new cast iron skillet (pre-seasoned!) to use for cooking latkes, since we left my much loved and well-seasoned pan at home in Rochester.

Since tonight's also the first night of hanukkah, the latkes seemed appropriate for dinner (when the holidays don't overlap, we often get chinese takeout for Christmas dinner, another modern Jewish tradition). Cooking the latkes takes several hours (if you factor in peeling and grating potatos and onions, and getting the batter and oil temperature exactly right...) So now I've collapsed onto the couch, stomach full-to-bursting with those oh-so-unhealthy treats, and I'm off to Azeroth to try to level my character up a bit tonight.

Merry/happy hanukkah/christmas to you all!

(Oh...and many, many thanks to all the people who helped us out on yesterdays wifi question--you all rock!)

powerbook wifi woes


My son's aging Powerbook G4 (an original TiBook) has been having problems with wifi connectivity over the past several months. He gets only an intermittent signal from our Airport Express. I've isolated the problem to his machine--other laptops in the same place at the same time have no connectivity problems.

I've opened the machine and reseated the Airport card, and checked the antenna cable--I don't see any obvious cable problems, or oxidation, but there may well be problems with the cables going from the card up into the antennas in the screen.

I really don't want to put a lot of money into this machine, so I'm trying to figure out how to easily put a wired connection in his room. What's the easiest, cheapest way to do that? It seems like there must be something that will pick up the wifi signal from our network and send it over an ethernet cable to his computer--but I don't know what they'd be called, and thus can't search for them effectively.

(Oh...and merry christmas to all of you, especially those who, like me, serve as family sysadmin over the holidays!)

fabulous honda commercial


A must-watch.

The ending is particularly wonderful.

(Thanks, Alex!)

holidays far from home

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It's been odd preparing for the holidays this year. We have a lot of traditions associated with the season back in Rochester--chief among them the ritual trek to Stokoe Farms to stalk and kill a wild tree.

This year all of our decorations and holiday accessories are stored in the basement of our house in Rochester, so we've had to start from a blank slate. I caved this year, and we bought an artificial tree--I just didn't have the time or energy to figure out where to go for a comparable tree-cutting experience here, nor did I want to deal with the traffic. And we haven't got any ornaments on it yet (though it did come pre-lit; very convenient, I must admit). I bought a couple of make-your-own-ornament kirom Michael's yesterday, and the boys and I will spend some time today making those.

The tree is up in our family room, where there's also a fireplace--just like back home. The difference here is that this is a gas fireplace, which starts up from a light switch on the wall. Poof--instant flames. Again, convenient--but not quite as satisfying as building a wood fire yourself.

And did I mention the traffice? OMG--the traffic. What a nightmare. That alone is reason enough to return to Rochester at the end of the year. A simple trip to Target, which in Rochester takes us less than an hour round trip (including shopping time) takes 3-4x as long here, and the stress level is exponentially increased with each additional 30 minutes in traffic.

While we don't really miss the sub-zero temperatures and blowing and drifting snow of home, we were feeling a little homesick for Christmas-y look of snow. So we took a trip up into the Cascades on Saturday to visit a little Bavarian-themed town called Leavenworth. We went with my friend Lili and her 3 kids, and we all had a great time. The town's a little (well, more than a little) hokey, but the setting is gorgeous, we got our snow fix, and the kids had a blast wandering in the little christmas shops. We also acquired some ridiculous and very fun hats while were there.

All in all, we've little to complain about this holiday season. We're happy and healthy, warm and safe, in a beautiful place with friends and family nearby. It may not be the same as it's ever been, but it's still a lot to be grateful for.

So, that's the holiday report from the diaspora. May your season be full of warmth and love and laughter.

gypsies, tramps, and thieves


I'm on my way back to Seattle right now from San Francisco, where I was speaking at the Syndicate conference (topic: "searching the syndisphere"). It was fun to speak on the topic, which involved channeling my inner librarian in order to champion the role of the user in the search context.

It was even more fun, however, to see some folks whom I only tend to see on the conference circuit, as well as some whose names I know from online contexts but whom I hadn't had a chance to meet in person. (I started to list people by name, but realized that I'd probably leave someone out and offend them, and that it sounded too much like name dropping...)

As I was sitting in the speakers room (the best place to find familiar faces, not to mention power outlets near tables) yesterday morning, two people I didn't know saw each other and exchanged enthusiastic greetings. Apparently they hadn't seen each other since they'd crossed paths at another conference some months ago. One remarked to other that these conferences had become the modern day equivalent of gypsy encampments--same faces, same setup, new town, new audience.

I loved that metaphor, and shared it via IM with my friend and MSN office mate Brady Forrest, who replied with this:

cables hanging from the waist instead of tiny bells

t-shirts instead of colorful blankets

secrets being pilfered instead of food and trinkets

demoers instead of performers

works for me

Works for me, too (although I'd probably substitute Treos for cables in the description). I love the image of a band of folks on the fringes of polite society setting up a show in town after town, gathering to entertain (and, some might claim, con) one population after another.

I'm happy to be a part of this motley crew--they're a modern mobile tribe for me, people with whom I have a strong connection and affinity, but limited opportunities to see in person. So I'm grateful that I can grab time with them in our modern-day encampments of speaker rooms and catered luncheons.

reflections on home

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The boys and I got back from Rochester late (very late) last night. Part of me feels like I'm home today; another part feels as though I just left home behind. It's an odd feeling--to be not-quite-at-home in either city.

This ended up being a stressful visit--trying to squeeze months' worth of visits and dinners and meetings and conversations into a handful of too-short days. My apologies to all the people I didn't have time to really spend time with on this visit--especially Steve (who helped save the day in my mom's class!) and Eric (who's going to be stuck packing up a box of things I left in my office, without even having gotten to see me while I was there).

I had some amazing home-cooked food while I was there--Weez's eggs benedict and home fries, Tona's delicious enchiladas, Jenny's always-wonderful potato kugel, and my Mom's signature homemade crepes for breakfast. As rushed as I was, I felt loved and welcomed by friends and family, and it was a good reminder of why we've grown so fond of Rochester. It's the people, stupid! (It was also nice to spend some time in my RIT office, with its enormous window. One of the few things I don't like about my working environment at Microsoft is how little natural light I seem to encounter on most days.) Rochester is definitely where I'm most connected to friends, family, and community, and it was wonderful to see the people I care about while I was there. But being back in Seattle really makes me happy, too--the mountains are a big part of that, but so is the fact that I'm taking a lot of an enjoyment in the work that I'm doing and the people I'm working with.

Many thanks to the people who sent get-well wishes for my grandmother. I'm delighted to report that she seems to be doing much better--they've stopped the internal bleeding, and rehydrated her, and it appears that her kidney function is returning. When I spoke to her on the phone before we left (Alex had a cold, so visiting seemed unwise) she sounded cheerful and alert--a big change from how she'd been when I saw her a few days ago. I'm hopeful that she'll be back in the nursing home within a few days, and from there back to the assisted living facility where she feels so much more at home.

best laid plans


World of Warcraft is taking a back seat today, because my 93-year-old grandmother's health has taken a turn for the worse, and she had to be moved to the hospital last night (she lives in an assisted living facility here in Rochester, but had taken a fall two weeks ago and was in the rehab unit at the affiliated nursing home).

As a result, I'm actually teaching a class today to cover for my mom, who's over at the hospital--it's an experimental writing class, so I'll be talking about online narrative forms. God bless you, Jill, for putting so much great stuff online!

not enough hours in the day...


It's been a whirlwind visit here in Rochester--I thought a week would give us plenty of time, but I still feel rushed, and it's hard to believe that tomorrow's our last full day here.

I've gotten a chance to see a lot of people I enjoy, and have been reminded of how strong our ties are to the community. Eight years is enough time to put down real roots, and to build real relationships. Lane keeps saying that he'd love to live in Seattle if he could just move all his friends there, and I know exactly how he feels.

I suspect my blogging will be very light over the next few weeks--not only because I'll be catching up from this trip, but also because I bought myself an early holiday present. I've been lured into the World of Warcraft, and I know myself well enough to know that I'm likely to fall hard for this. Since time won't expand to give me extra hours for gameplay, something has to give--and blogs (both reading and writing) may well be it. The good news is my kids will probably love it, so we can play it together.

(For those already playing, or thinking about starting, I'm currently a Dark Night Elf Druid named Musette, in the Khadgar realm, and have joined Joi's We Know guild.)

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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