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Tuesday, January 31

Lazy blogging

I was going to write something about the State of the Union address, but I happened across a livejournal post (from a complete stranger) that summed it up perfectly. Seriously, it's everything I would have said about the content of the speech. All I have to add is that the camera-on-audience shots reminded me of a football match where the fans are segregated, because any given play would get a clearly-defined half of the crowd on their feet. All they needed were red and blue scarves and a few puerile songs about each other.

Actually there was one more thing I wanted to say about it. I was quite unnerved by how much the first part of speech was based on continued fear, and how good a response both that and every mention of the military got. I understand the idea behind supporting the troops regardless of what one thinks of the particular war they have been ordered to fight, but sometimes I feel like this country fetishises its military in a rather chilling manner.
posted @ 11:58 PM -

Monday, January 30

The dimension of the present moment

Mainly because it's very easy to set up, I am in the habit of using Melinda's laptop while she's out as a slave machine for compiling code. Basically, each time I compile the project I'm working on—which can be every 5 minutes if I'm adding functionality or debugging—her laptop automatically takes a share of the work, and it makes the process quicker. This morning I forgot to set it up, and it's amusing how much this bothered me.

I know that compiling really only takes about a minute longer without the secondary machine, but that time felt like forever. I think it must just push the compilation time over a threshold that separates short enough not to worry about from long enough to be annoying, while still leaving it below long enough that it's worth going off and doing something else while I wait. It was a nice illustration of how subjective the passage of time really is.
posted @ 12:12 PM -

Sunday, January 29

It is a privilege to live here

Melinda & I have a venue for our wedding reception, but not yet for the ceremony itself. We wanted to use the Olympic Sculpture Park, but although that will be open by then, it won't be taking bookings till later in the year. So we spent a couple of hours yesterday touring potential candidates from among Seattle's many parks. Most of the potential sites had some obvious disqualification, but we did find one that will probably suit our needs well, and it was a lovely day. I took some photos, and it really was a great reminder—happening to coincide with some beautiful light interrupting the rain that I am finally getting tired of—of what an amazingly beautiful place I've had the good fortune to land in.
posted @ 11:30 PM -

Friday, January 27

What took us so long?

I ought to say something positive about the gay-rights bill that will finally become state law next week. I mean, it's clearly and indisputably a good thing, but I just can't help being a little bitter today. Bitter about the fact that it's taken this bill being re-submitted every year of my entire lifetime to finally get passed. Bitter about the fact that in 2006 there are still arseholes with nothing better to do than protest this law. Bitter that one of the pre-requisites for its passing was an assurance that it won't lead to same-sex marriage. Bitter that even now it only passed by one vote.

I simply don't understand how people can be this hateful. In today's state Senate debate we had one Senator declare that as a religious man, he won’t allow his daughter and her [female] partner in his home, and others complain about how terrible it is that christian employers will now be forced to employ gay people if they are the best candidate for a job (pity the poor dykes who are already forced by existing anti-discrimination legislation to employ christian fundamentalists). It just boggles my mind that people can be so threatened by others' personal, private choices. Somehow they really believe that our species is in danger of becoming too gay to survive.

Update: speaking of hateful, it didn't take quite so long for Tim Eyman—who is already the most pernicious influence in state politics, for his constant undermining of attempts to raise money for essential work like replacing the viaduct and bridge that are expected to collapse in the next earthquake—to start campaigning for a referendum to recall the new law. I liked Eli Sanders's response on the Stranger's blog:
I sent Eyman an email two days ago with a simple question: “Why are you doing this?”

Still haven’t heard back.
This aggravating news brought to you by metroblogging Seattle.
posted @ 10:23 PM -

Wednesday, January 25

something something laws not men

This is not about terrorism, war, or safety. It is much simpler than that. It is about whether are to govern ourselves, or whether we are to be governed by an all-powerful commander in chief. It is inherently dangerous - much more dangerous than anything the terrorists can accomplish.
From Intel Dump.
posted @ 9:08 PM -

In which our de-stink machine breaks

Yesterday, Seattle stunk. We thought it was just localised to our building, but it turns out to have been much of the city. The problem?

an odor control unit at a sewer substation malfunctioned.
posted @ 8:51 AM -

Monday, January 23

Google ads

One of the things I'be been intending to do when I finally get around to the redesign of this page that I've been promising I'll do for several years is to remove the Google ads. It's not that I object to them, just that the revenue from them is such a slow trickle that it doesn't seem worth giving them that space on the page. However, there are times when the automatically selected ads do a wonderful job of underlining something I said. I was amused when my post about cellphones not causing cancer brought on a set of ads for snake-oil devices intended to protect mobile phone users from this non-existent risk, but this was immediately bettered. My post about dogs getting more concessions than homeless people seems to have brought forth a set of ads that makes the point rather well. At the time of writing, I see the following:
  • Off-Leash Playgroups
  • Top Dog Daycare
  • Dog Walking
  • Bark Busters Dog Training
This is in response, remember, to a post about homeless people that only used dogs as a counterpoint.

What makes me particularly sad is that 3 of the 4 are aimed at people who apparently don't have the time to take proper care of a dog, but decided they had to get one anyway.
posted @ 9:42 AM -

Vegetarian dim sum!

Melinda is a vegetarian. I am not. In fact, I greatly enjoy eating almost every part of an animal (though I couldn't stomach eyes when offered, a weakness which bothers me), and if I go too many days without eating meat my appetite starts to do strange things.

This seldom causes us any trouble. I don't feel the need to base every meal around meat, so I satisfy my meat cravings when we go to restaurants, and occasionally get myself fish to cook for lunch. We don't do the two separate dinners thing, because cooking for two is so much more rewarding than cooking for one. When it comes to eating out, there's generally a pretty strong correlation between a restaurant being good and it managing to cater to vegetarians, so there are very few places I would want to go to but can't with Melinda.

The one style of food that has consistently been an exception to this is dim sum. I love dim sum—so much so that I have eaten alone at every Seattle and area dim sum restaurant I know of in spite of this—but I find myself eating alone because it's one cuisine that has absolutely nothing to offer my usual companion. It's not so much the non-existence of vegetarian dim sum, as the difficulty of being sure something is vege in a context where the majority of dishes contain either pork or shrimp and the servers frequently speak very little English. Melinda's last dim sum experience was relayed to me by way of explanation for why she wouldn't accompany me, and here is an approximate paraphrasing:
Melinda: Is this vegetarian?
Server: Yes, yes. Vegetables. and pork.
So it was with great delight that I read—first on the Stranger's blog, then Christian Gloddy's by way of Metroblogging Seattle—about the opening of a new vegetarian Chinese restaurant in the International District, that serves dim sum.

The place is called Vegetarian Bistro, it's at 668 S King Street (a location that has apparently seen previous incarnations as 'Vegetasia' and 'Top Gun'), and the phone number is 206-624-8899. I furnish all these details because I have a vested interest in the place doing well.

I was intrigued, and I knew some other people would be, so on Saturday we (Melinda and I plus another couple, one half of whom keeps kosher - note the specific animals in most dim sum) finally managed to check it out. We were not disappointed.

I won't write a detailed review, because I'm not good at that and Christian has already written a good one, but here are a few thoughts. We ordered every savoury item on the dim sum list, and it was perhaps one item too many for our table of four. It was an interesting mixture of things I've had before with meat substitutes (the steamed 'shrimp' dumplings tasted disturbingly like the real things), traditional items with the meat simply removed (the turnip/radish cake works surprisingly well this way) and a selection of inventions that I hadn't seen a meaty equivalent of. Everything was good, and many items delicious. Highlights were probably the non-pork hum bao (less sweet and more smoky than traditional ones), the aforemention fake shrimp simply because it was so convincing, and the fried mashed potato balls, which turned out to have a texture like deep fried mochi, and a slightly sweet mixed vegetable filling. Much more interesting than "deep fried mashed potato balls" sounds.

Service was reasonably quick (we had a play to get to, and we were in and out in just over an hour), and best of all we were able to fill up on very tasty food for not much money at all. Dinner for 4, with tea but no booze, came to just over $40.

I hope this place does well.
posted @ 9:26 AM -

"Every Child Should Be Wanted"

I found this history of Washington State's abortion-rights campaign illuminating. The tactics of the two sides and the compromises the pro-rights campaigners had to accept are both of interest, as is the strangeness of the words 'liberal Republicans" to a 2006 ear.
posted @ 8:00 AM -

Sunday, January 22

Let's celebrate the day!

Some suggestions for how to observe National Sanctity of Human Life Day.I'm just saying.

Thanks Liz for the link.
posted @ 11:03 PM -

Treating dogs better than homeless people

Urban design and public land use decisions have been much on my mind lately, for various reasons. These are issues I'm interested in anyway, but I think the process of buying a house (more so than subsequent ownership) made me much more aware of the good and bad things about the local urban environment, and there's been quite a lot of public debate locally over major issues like building heights and public transport infrastructure. I feel like this is something I should blog about more, especially because I have a mixture of firm convictions (cities need to be made less car-oriented as a matter of urgency) and questions (such as: how do we desegregate neighbourhoods successfully?), so it's something I could learn a lot about by discussing.

Anyway, I'm writing this today because of an article in my really really local paper discussing the Belltown dog park. As a tourist, I love dog parks because watching dogs run around off the leash while safely fenced away from me (I still haven't completely got over getting bitten a few years ago) always puts a smile on my face. As a resident of somewhere, I have more mixed feelings, because great as it is to have an amenity that makes people more willing to give up a private garden, the park is effectively shut off to every non-dog-owner in the area. I suppose this isn't really a problem with dog parks per se, as a problem with having a dog park in an area that could really do with more public parks. What I hadn't thought of, perhaps because I wasn't here before that site was turned into a dog park, was how much the history of this particular one involved deliberately shutting the place off to most of its previous users.

What complicates this picture is that shutting out the homeless is not quite the straightforwardly evil scheme the article suggests. A homeless presence in a park does put local residents off using it (and yes, snobbery does play into this, but it's not the whole story), and drug dealing only adds to that effect. So the sort of short-term, fix-the-symptom thinking that tends to dominate politics at any level leads easily to a solution that involves pushing the homeless and drug dealers out of sight, in order to open an area back up to local residents. Viewed in those terms, a dog park is better than what preceded it, because at least more of the people who live in the area get to benefit from the park. Viewed in more inclusive terms, this is a horrible solution because it amounts to denying homeless people and drug users a space to exist, so the challenge is this: how do we actually solve these problems rather than just pushing it out of sight?

I think the solution to the drug dealing issue is simple, though sadly out of the scope of local politics: it's about time we just grew up and stopped legislating what individuals are allowed to put in their bodies. There's a moral argument here that I don't want to go into right now (though it astonishes me that anyone does not find this one obvious). More to the point, there's a straightforward link between the illegality of drugs and the association of drug dealing with so many other kinds of nastiness. Think about it: no-one complains that their local coffee shop or wine cellar makes them feel unsafe walking around, so why is it different with those drugs that happen, for arbitrary historical and race/class-prejudice reasons to be proscribed? I'm not suggesting that heroin addicts are going to magically find their individual problems solved by legalisation, but that their problems will stop being everyone else's problem. People wouldn't have to use secluded corners of parks or quiet parking lots (as I've seen a few times on the block next to where I live) to conduct drug deals, the association between drug dealing and many other kinds of law breaking (involving crimes against other people) would gradually break because people could actually do the former without already risking so many years in jail that a mugging conviction becomes irrelevant by comparison, and dealers would no longer have a need to intimidate passersby.

Homelessness is a more complicated problem. The moral issue is different because people don't choose to be homeless, and the practical issues are complicated by the variety of reasons that people end up homeless. I don't claim to have some solution to homelessness in mind, though I do believe that initiatives like our neighbours the Millionair Club can help individuals. What I am certain of, though, is that pushing the homeless out of sight is counterproductive, because that just makes it easy for the rest of a city's inhabitants to push them out of mind. As such, there are many kinds of public development (restricted use parks at the expense of public ones, the general lack of parks downtown, toilets that are locked at night, benches with features in the middle to make them uncomfortable to lie on) that are bad for at least two reasons: they decrease the friendliness of a city to all of its inhabitants, and they are complicit in our collective ignoring of the problem that some people have been completely failed by our society.
posted @ 3:01 PM -

How should we be represented?

Rather like the Euro coins that have a different design for each member country, the US Mint is some way through a project to have each state issue a different 25c piece. Washington's will come out next year, and the designs are down to a final list of 3. While I think 2 of the 3 shortlisted designs are pretty good (I really hope they don't go for the map one), they could have been much more interesting. Hence, this fark thread. I don't get all of the jokes, but many of them made me laugh.
posted @ 11:26 AM -

Saturday, January 21

As I always suspected

A new study has confirmed what I always believed: there's no sound evidence for a link between mobile phones and cancer. I have relatively little selfish reason to care about this issue, because my hatred of mobile phones leads me to not use mine very much, even though it's always on my person and usually switched on. My real reason for following this issue up is that it was obvious to me 9 years ago (when I worked in a mobile phone shop and this scare was beginning to brew) that the whole scare was unfounded, yet it stubbornly refuses to go away.

The reason I was so convinced that this particular scare was going to be bunk was that it started based on exceptionally poor research, and then for years nothing better came out even though people continued to worry. The first research project I heard about involved exposing mice to higher doses of radiation than regulators would allow transmitter towers to emit, and then drawing the conclusion from this that phone handsets give people cancer. Supposedly the important detail was that the mice got cancer from the same frequency radiation that phones use, but that's beside the point. Any radiation at any frequency transmits energy, and if enough energy is supplied to cells they will be killed, regardless of the frequency. What saves us from being fried by broadcast radio (which uses far more powerful transmitters than phone networks) is that radiation intensity decreases fast with distance, and while a mobile phone is clearly close to the user's head, it's a weak source and there's much more between a human's brain and outer ear than there is in a mouse.

At least in this particular case there doesn't seem to be any harm done. Some people may have used their phones less, and quite a few probably wasted money on hands-free kits to mitigate a non-existent danger, but the consequences are minor. I suppose the mobile phone industry may have lost some sales too, but their growth has been so spectacular that I won't be shedding any tears over that. Unlike some of the other cases of bad science refusing to leave public awareness, such as the scares over GM food safety (quick summary: rats fed nothing but GM potatoes become protein deficient; the author neglected to mention that the same would be true of rats fed nothing but organic potatoes) or the MMR vaccine (which is even worse than I had realised, because apparently the paper that started that off has since been retracted). The trouble with those is that one leads to a potentially valuable technology being actively resisted, and the other [combined, admittedly, with horrible mismanagement by the UK government] leads to parents refusing to get their kids vaccinated against several serious illnesses.

What all three of these scares have in common, which I find absolutely maddening, is that it was always obvious to scientists that they were unfounded, and it's since become clear to anyone who follows the story, but people tend to only process and only remember the initial scare, no matter how many people try to debunk it.
posted @ 1:52 PM -

Thursday, January 19

Risotto

Last time I cooked risotto I meant to write about it and never got around to it. Then tonight I meant to cook risotto, but Melinda evilly tempted me with the Dahlia Lounge. Since I was forced to eat divine fresh seafood and drink delicious wine in a place full of beautiful design work and waiters whose love of the food is obvious, I suppose I'll finally get around to writing about risotto now.

There are few culinary pleasures greater than a good risotto. Especially if one both cooks and eats the risotto. It is also a common misconception that risotto requires the addition of some kind of animal fat to be good. Vegan risotto is not even all that difficult—in the sense of requiring special skill, for I am not an especially skilled cook—to make well, as long as the rice and stock are both good, and the cook is attentive. So let me explain how it is done. It's really not all that mysterious, but I had to adapt these instructions from ones that presume both chicken stock and milk fat in one for or another, so now I feel like sharing them.

[note that Rick Wash deserves much of the credit for my realising that animal fat is not a pre-requisite for a good risotto]

I should begin with the making of stock. I have yet to find a pre-made vegetable stock that is much more than onion-flavoured salt, and since I live with a vegetarian, chicken stock is not an appealing option. Cooking for one is infinitely less pleasurable than cooking for an appreciative audience, and making stock is a healthy experience in many ways.

Melinda and I keep all the off-cut parts of vegetables that we don't want to eat. Onion skins, pepper seeds & stems, leek roots, the bottom quarter-inch of asparagus spears that inevitably dries out; we call it vege offal and freeze it all. Then when we have enough we throw it all into my giant (10 litre) stockpot, cover it in water, boil it for hours and then strain it. What results is a vegetable stock that has a flavour other than "dehydrated onion powder", though it's not exactly a good soup in itself. I also like the fact that this cuts down on waste, and there's something very... wholesome about making ourselves an item that is usually a bought ingredient.

Anyway, the stock is essential; it makes a bigger difference to the outcome of this dish than anything else I cook. The other crucial ingredient, rather more obviously, is the rice itself. I used to think that making risotto was an extremely difficult thing that I could never get right, until I finally recognised that rice was one of the select ingredients worth not always buying the cheapest variety of. With a decent arborio rice (it needn't be anything fancy - I've had good results with Trader Joe's and QFC's house brands), getting that nice rich consistency is considerably easier.

Once you have your stock and your rice, you need to keep two pans on the go. One to cook the risotto in, and one to keep the stock hot. Keep the stock close to boiling, and proceed as follows:
  1. Crush some garlic. This should be done about 10 minutes before cooking it, for reasons that chilimuffin once explained, relating to maximising its health benefits, but I don't remember the detail or the link to the explanation.
  2. Heat a fairly generous portion of olive oil (if you keep this vegan, this is the only fat that will be added in the recipe, so you can add quite a lot without making the recipe overly greasy or unhealthy).
  3. Fry (if I were more pretentious I'd probably say sauté, but what's the difference?) the garlic and some finely chopped onions until the onion starts to soften.
  4. Before the onion is fully cooked, throw in rice. At this point the volume of the dish should be between a third and a half of the volume of food you want to make.
  5. Stir-fry the rice until it starts to go translucent.
  6. Once it does, start adding the stock. Add a couple of ladle-fulls at a time, then stir lackadaisically till the liquid is absorbed, then add more, stopping when the consistency is right. There's no need to get carried away with constant stirring, but it does need to be watched to see that it never quite boils itself dry and starts burning at the bottom of the pan.
  7. The consistency is right when you think it is; the only way I can really describe it is like risotto. It's not quite as watery as a congee or a porridge, but less dry than rice as a side dish. As soon as the consistency is right, the rice is cooked.
  8. Let stand for just a few minutes, stir up one last time, and serve, preferably with a good sangiovese.
There are many combinations of herbs and vegetables that go well in this dish, and I won't list the ones I've tried for fear of stopping you from experimenting. I will say that sage and saffron (probably not together) both work nicely, adding a splash of wine (red or white, but red wine does no favours to the appearance of the finished product) can be good, and the best risotto I've ever made was with a single gigantic lobster mushroom and corn kernels. When to add the other ingredients just depends on how long you want them to cook for—bearing in mind that the whole process of step #6 takes 20-30 minutes when I do it—and whether they should be fried before boiling.

You'll notice that there are no precise quantities in this recipe, nor any timing information that isn't based on reacting to the food as it cooks. This is another reason why I love making risotto.

It also freezes well, and without the butter, cream and/or cheese that people normally add, risotto is a pretty healthy meal, so I normally make about 8 portions at once and stock the freezer.

And finally: don't try to make this in a hurry, or when distracted. This is food that needs love to turn out right.
posted @ 12:07 AM -

Wednesday, January 18

In which I run to teacher

There are few things I hate more than people who go straight to authority rather than dealing with a problem directly. I mean people who do things like call the police with a noise complaint rather than knock on their neighbours' door and ask nicely if they could rein their party in a little; it's such a cowardly approach and a waste of public resources.

I also don't trust the police. I never entirely did, but it's not been helped by my limited contact with the police in the US: apart from one incident exactly as described above (admittedly not the police's fault), my interactions with them have comprised one enforcement of a non-existent law that made me less safe, and one incident in which while the officer was quite right to ticket me (I had jumped a red light through pure stupidity) he also told me things that were flat out wrong about driver licencing (supposedly I wasn't a legally licenced driver; I checked the law on that one and I was).

So it was with great dismay that I phoned the police about half an hour ago with a noise complaint. The trouble was that I have no way of getting in touch with the owner of the car that's causing the disturbance, so the only way I could deal with this myself would be to vandalise the car. Tempting as that approach is, the drawbacks are pretty obvious. I called the police because I couldn't think of anything else I could do that wouldn't cause more trouble than the problem I'm trying to get resolved.

I'm rather annoyed with automobile noisemakers in general. My study has a stunning view of a multistorey car park, which is annoying enough because it blocks the sun and the fantastic Sound view I'd have without it. Engine noise is not too bad, except for one car (I think it's the same one every day) that seems to be lacking a silencer (accidental, I'm sure). But the real aggravation comes from cars' horns.

Alarms are the worst thing, but this is the first day I've been disturbed by one for any significant length of time (it's been going since before 9am). The more common issue are these irritating panic alarms with which many American cars are fitted, apparently in response to a moral panic about parking lot rapes and assaults. Cars that have remote controls for alarms and/or the door locks often also have a panic button that causes the horn to start making a lot of noise when it is pressed. In principle, this might not be such a bad idea, but in practice it's intensely irritating for two reasons. The rate of false alarms is so high that I ended up taking the remote for our car off my keychain, reasoning that the aggravation caused by it going off was greater than the inconvenience of having to use the key to open the car. Of course, most people don't think like me, so most just accept a certain false alarm rate, rendering the alarm useless as an alarm but very irritating to passersby. However, the real killer is that people use these damn things to locate their cars. Talk about self-centred behaviour.

I would love to see these things banned; till then all I can do is hope that the police (who quite rightly put my complaint way down their list of priorities) can somehow silence the alarm before I go insane.
posted @ 1:33 PM -

Sunday, January 15

Down with which King?

I live in King County. Just as Royal Brougham Way turns out to have been named after a chap called Royal, I had realised some time ago that this county was not named after royalty. After all, this isn't Boston - the US had thrown off the yoke of George III many years before anyone parcelled this land off into counties.

But I has been confused about which King the County had been named after, if not one of England. I liked the idea of living somewhere named after the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but had realised that the county probably predated his birth, let alone his doing anything of note. It turns out I was half-right. The county had initially been named after a 19th century politician (and briefly Vice-President), William Rufus DeVane King, but this was changed in the 1980s. That King had been a slave-owner, and the council decided that they no longer wanted to be named after one, so in the ultimate irony they voted to rename themselves from King County to King County, only, y'know, the other King.

I think it's an improvement, if perhaps not the most pressing issue with which my elected representatives could have been busying themselves.
posted @ 10:39 PM -

Saturday, January 14

Surprisingly poignant

I think we can all agree that toilet graffiti are not generally worthy of comment, but every now and again there is an exception. Today at the Elliott Bay Book Co. along with the usual combination of offensive racist and/or homophobic tripe that people write because they can and the pretentious tripe that people write because they are in a bookshop, there was one quote that made me stop. And think. And actually feel for the person writing it, even though I have no clue what they were referring to:
To all those who ever wished me ill.
Your dreams came true tonite.
posted @ 6:30 PM -
Melinda and I have been engaged for a year. A lot of things changed for the better over the course of that year; I hope this is an omen.
posted @ 12:33 PM -

Sunday, January 8

Chihuly at the Fairchild

I mentioned in passing that while in Miami we went to a particularly cool art exhibition. The photos are now up.
posted @ 11:08 PM -

Mongolia

When I went on my long trip round the world, I managed to lose two cameras, complete with all of the photos I had taken with each one. On balance, I think the pictures I was most upset to have lost were from Mongolia, both because I enjoyed that part of the trip so much and because it's like nowhere else I've been. So I was very pleased to stumble across someone else's pictures of Mongolia. They were there in a different season from me, but the scenes are familiar enough to me that they bring back memories.
posted @ 10:39 AM -

Thursday, January 5

2005 wasn't such a bad year

I have a nasty habit of only bothering to blog when something is annoying me. This is particularly bad considering that half the reason I blog is to look back at things a couple of years later, and as things are I think that doing this would convince me that 2005 was a far less good year than it actually was. There will also be some significant events entirely missed out. So in an attempt to put those things right for myself-in-2-years, and to do a modicum of bandwagon jumping, here is my review of 2005:

January. Super eventful. After an agonising wait, I found out that I had passed my PhD qualifying exam, on my second and final chance. This removed a huge cloud of uncertainty from over my head, because not only would failing have separated me from the PhD programme, it would also have forced me to leave the US as an indirect consequence. This allowed me to do something I had been meaning to do for a while, but couldn't in good conscience until that was resolved: propose to Melinda. She said yes. Melinda went to various cities for job interviews, and I accompanied her to Seattle. This turned out to be particularly important, because I had been feeling quite negative about moving such a long journey away from my PhD advisor, and I might have vetoed moving there had I not seen how beautiful it is and got a sense of how much I could feel at home here. That in turn would have prevented some of the other good things of the year from happening.

Meanwhile, I reached the end of my tether with Case's serial incompetence. [for the record, I was on the monthly payroll for most of 2005, and at the end I can look back and honestly say that they got my pay wrong in more months than they got it right]

February: it became clear that we were definitely going to move to Seattle, I started to really enjoy the last course I had to take, but at the same time I grew even more fed up with Case, this time over the issue of compulsory unpaid teaching work. [I have since confirmed that not every university does this]

March: things continued as they were, with a week off to get my fix of helicopters and big snowy mountains.

April: Notacon. Sean & I gave a talk, which seemed to go down well. I didn't have time to do a write-up after the event, but several other people did. Finished my last taught course and my last indentured-labour TA assignment. Went to London for Pesach with Melinda, but somewhat marred the trip by still having some work to do on that course.

May: it became official that my advisor is moving university in mid 2006. Mostly this is a good thing, but it does make my life a little complicated, especially as the university he's moving to won't let me transfer without spending time in Bloomington, Indiana, which I'm not willing to do for a variety of reasons. My laptop hard drive died, but fortunately replacing it and recovering the data turned out to be surprisingly easy.

June: Melinda successfully defended her MS thesis, and we set off on our roadtrip to Seattle. I'm still hoping to finish my write-up of the trip, but meanwhile I've made good progress with the photos, which tell the story better anyway. In short: it was really cool and everyone should do something similar.

July: arrived in Seattle [well technically Bellevue for the first couple of weeks]. Didn't take too long to find a nice apartment in a good location, but had a lot of trouble with Graebel movers, whose services I would recommend no-one ever use. Flew back to Michigan for Beth and Jose's wedding. Started playing capoiera, a thing for which I could not be less naturally gifted, but is a lot of fun and great exercise.

August: Beth & Jose came to Seattle for their honeymoon. I appreciated the time with them all the more because we no longer live near enough to each other to see each other often. While they were here, we all went to Mount Rainier, which I look forward to visiting many more times. After that, I went to London, ahead of a conference in September.

September: said conference was both fun and productive, even though I wasn't presenting anything myself. Caught up with old friends from Sussex, and got to know Eduardo Izquierdo-Torres, who is one of the people whose current research is most closely related to my own interests. Got back from the trip and starting seriously looking for a house to buy (which had always been the plan, but July & August were just too busy to do anything about it).

October: started figuring out this work/life balance thing that eluded me in Cleveland because I had too much work, and for the previous few months because I had too many things other than work that needed doing. Started to feel like Seattle could really be home for me, and to really love living here. Meanwhile the househunt was quickly successful, and we ended up with a condo that is even nicer than the apartment we already had. The only trouble with this is that just as I started to get somewhere with work, there was another house move to interrupt me. And while the housebuying process in the US is generally very humane, we did have some hitches to do with the vendor being a corporate entity that were neither fast nor flexible, so there were a few days of nerve-wracking brinkmanship where things could still have come undone, and I lost a few days to having to be on call to sign stupid documents when they came.

[I should really write about house hunting at greater length at some point, but there are two things of particular note. One is that the whole process of buying property is set up in a vastly superior way in the US as compared to the UK, so it's not only quicker, but also a far less painful experience. The other is that even within a generally good system, I think we were lucky in that we found a particularly good buyer's agent. His name is Jeff Prescott, and if you ever happen to be looking for a house in the greater Seattle area I can't recommend him strongly enough.]

November: we decided not to hire movers, but instead to hire a van and enlist the help of a number of friends to move house. Our friends were wonderful, and spent an entire Sunday carrying boxes and furniture with us, for which we are still indebted to them. Then I found out that my grandmother needed heart surgery, so I made a short trip at even shorter notice to London to see her beforehand. Fortunately it went well and she is now recovering steadily, but it was one of those uncomfortable reminders of our collective mortality.

Melinda's parents came to town for Thanksgiving, making them both our first guests at the new place, and the first people ever to eat a roast dinner I made. No-one was poisoned and it even tasted quite good. I also finally watched the Wizard of Oz, largely because of a book I was reading that is set in its world. I had never got past the shrillness of the munchkins' songs before, but I'm glad I had a reason to bother, because the rest of the film was surprisingly good.

December: having basically taken the whole month of November off work, without having planned to, because of the move and the London trip (Thanksgiving was at least a pre-planned break), I had enormous difficulty getting back into work. This manifested itself in many ways, from simply not getting anything done to seriously black moods (yes, that ranting about politics about a month ago was me externalising this). I made my third trip to Cleveland since moving here, but whereas in the previous two I had some interim results to present, this time I was really just going there to ask for advice, and more advice on work habits, career paths and how to break a PhD down into non-intimidating parts than advice on things like which experiments to run or which papers to read. This seemed to be helpful, as did a book called The Now Habit. For my last work week of the year I spent more time planning how I was going to approach work in 2006 than doing actual work; hopefully this will prove to be time well spent.

Meanwhile, I went skiing twice and took a beginner snowboard lesson at our local ski area. While it's no Whistler, it's a decent sized area with some variety and [so far] good snow, so it's a wonderful thing to have only an hour's drive away from home. I have much progress still to make, but it is nice to see my fitness starting to pick up from its nadir in early 2005. I think this might be the winter when I finally learn to do mogulfields well, and to snowboard competently; both things I've been meaning to do for a decade at least.

Then the holidays. Melinda & I went to Davison to spend Christmas with her family, and then Miami to see the new year in with mine. Davison was chilled (though far less cold than usual at that time of year), and involved a lot of present-exchanging (we though we'd leave with a lighter suitcase, but we received just as much as we gave), Bond films (there was an 008 day marathon on TV), A Christmas Story (another piece of Americana I had been previously ignorant of), and playing with the adorable family dog. Miami involved an aggravating lost day because our luggage went missing (I would say something disparaging about Northwest Airlines at this point, but every domestic US airline is just as bad), but the rest of the stay was good. Some sun at the end of December is always welcome, though I think next time we should spend more time on the beach and perhaps be less ambitious with how many things we try to see in the area. Highlights included the spectacular Chihuly exhibition in situ at the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden, and watching New Year's Eve fireworks with family from my aunt & uncle's balcony.



So that was my year. The review gets longer towards the end because there were some pretty important things that I never wrote about at the time. For the coming year I have a lot to look forward to and one of the nicest problems one can have to face: more trips I want to make than I have time for. It may be a while till I make it to London again, but instead I get to go to Kyiv for Duncan's wedding, plan my own, and then run off to Iceland for a honeymoon, with the usual heliski trip and 1+ week of conferences scattered in between.
posted @ 10:58 PM -

Quote of the day

This is why gay sex is bad: my local cinema is showing that film [Brokeback Mountain] and now I can't park anywhere near my house.

I shall, of course, leave the sayer of said quote anonymous.
posted @ 12:23 AM -
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