Archive for March 2006

The Crack Of Dawn: Still Safe From Molestation At My House

Of all the dire harbingers of civilization’s end, an article appeared in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend that sent chills through me.  Entitled When Life Begins at 5: A New Wake-Up Call, it describes a trend wherein Americans are getting up ever earlier (I’d link to the article, but it’s subscription-only).

By a wide variety of indicators, from electricity usage to water consumption, more U.S. households are starting their days before dawn. In the last six years, PJM Interconnection, which supplies electricity to more than 50 million people in 13 states, saw its largest uptick in usage between the hours of 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., while in Atlanta, Southern Co.’s peak winter electricity usage shifted to 7 a.m. from 8 a.m. in 2003. Aqua America, a water supplier for 13 states, has seen everything from toilets to washing machines starting up earlier: The company’s booster pumps now kick into gear at 5:30 a.m. in Philadelphia instead of 6 a.m., providing 20% additional water pressure to meet higher demand.

I can see how the utility companies might be able to detect the shift in usage patterns.  I’m curious to know how the water company knows whether I’m flushing a toilet, using a washing machine or giving my pet gorilla a high colonic enema (which he prefers in the evening, so I guess it’s moot).

The reason I regard this as a dire trend is because it moves in the opposite direction of my personal body rhythms: I’m a late-to-bed, late-to-rise person, and this is just the sort of shift in the cosmos that moves me into Darwin’s crosshairs.  I’ve never been able to go to bed much before midnight and, though I’m not oblivious to the charms of rosy-fingered dawn, the concept to me is more of a geoplanetary theory than something humanly observable.

According to the article, many folks are rising earlier in response to traffic conditions in their areas, so that they can engage their morning commutes at less-congested times.  As a Seattle resident, I can understand why one would make an extraordinary effort to avoid the mind-numbing gridlock that afflicts our area from at least 7 - 9 every morning.  But, as with the sunrise, the possibility of unfettered commutes at 5:30 am is a merely theoretical concept.  I find that the same off-peak dividend is available at 10 am and, since I run my own business, I simply never make appointments outside the house before then.

Others, however, have made the 5 am bugle call a lifestyle choice, a way to cordon off an hour or two of quality personal time.  I guess “quality” is open to a wide swath of interpretation.  Here are a few examples:

  • Videogame designer Frank Rogan used many techniques to train his body to ease into 6 a.m., the only time he can steal for himself. He’s experimented with a “dawn simulator” alarm clock that gradually illuminates the bedroom, searched for wake-up tips on the Internet and even forced himself to go to the gym, which he was appalled to find packed at 6 a.m.  “It’s like these people are a different species,” says Mr. Rogan.

I would be more likely to go with the “Saturday Simulator” alarm clock.  I’m totally down with his anthropological assessment, however.

  • Getting up earlier comes fairly easy to Chris Oberbeck — it’s his family that sometimes balks. The private-equity investor in Greenwich, Conn., says that between his 11 p.m. conference calls to India and an ever-buzzing BlackBerry, dawn is “the only shot we’ve got.” Among the new morning activities he’s lined up: family birthday parties with waffles instead of cake. But with four boys to drag out of bed, Mr. Oberbeck says rebellion is inevitable

The guy with the dawn birthday parties will be dead long before the first son reaches puberty.  There are 4 chances a year to catch Dad from behind with a red-hot waffle iron.  Even in the unlikely event of a conviction, juvie only lasts until you’re 18.

  • In Phoenix, Skydive Arizona has seen a spike in prework parachuting. “These are Type-A personalities — doctors, lawyers,” says jump coordinator Betsy Barnhouse. “Once they face their mortality in the morning, they can just walk through their day.”

I’ve always felt that the afternoon coffee break was the perfect time for a dive, a way to get a little kick-start after the pilot and I have overindulged in martini at lunch.  I would just feel awful knowing that I’d pulled EMS, the NTSB and a reconstructive mortician out of bed at that ungodly hour.  I used to disdain people who said that they hit the ground running in the morning as either liars or freaks.  Now, that’s not even good enough - in Phoenix, at least, you’ve got to hit the ground screaming.

Now, don’t misinterpret the fact that I’m writing this at 3:30 am to mean that I’m getting with this program.  My sleep pattern for the last year or more has been donut-like - with a hole in the middle somewhere between 2am and 4.  I’ll be blissfully asleep again by the time these early-birds are up and about.  They can have all the worms they want.

PETA-Approved Wrist Rest

If any of you who correspond with Mrs. Perils find from time to time that her prose gets a little hairy, here’s the likely explanation.  We have two cats, brothers, who are 11 years old.  In the picture is Rico, named, for no good reason, after Rico Suave of 15-minute MTV fame.  He’ll sit like that, keeping his counsel for the most part, resisting the urge to edit what he sees on the screen.  His brother, Simba, is a little too ADHD and feral to spend much time on a lap, or in the house, for that matter.  He hangs out where he can quickly dive under the front porch if his worst fears are realized.  Which occurs about every 10 minutes.

Here they are in a rare moment of fraternal truce.

Now There’s A Headline You Like To Wake Up To

A picture named PI_Headline.jpg

Except I’m not that old and I’m not that dead.

The story is about a P-I photographer who had a remarkable 50-year career with the paper.  There’s a photo gallery included in the story that provides a fascinating perspective on Seattle growing up.

Wonder If Mississippi Radio Stations Can Still Play Steely Dan

The Supreme Court has upheld a Mississippi law banning the sale of sex toys, which it defines as “any device used primarily for stimulation of human genitalia”. 

The ordinance divides Mississippians.

Although it’s probably safe to say it doesn’t cleave them.

“I think it’s a good law,” said Paula N_____, 50, of Vicksburg. “I think (sex toy use) leads to pornography and that leads to our children being exploited. I think a lot of it is perverted, anyway.”

Those inductive gymnastics leave my head spinning, but I probably haven’t studied this as closely as Ms. N_____.  This syntax, interestingly, leaves a subset of the sex toy experience that Ms. N_____ thinks might not be “perverted”.  Faith-based subcontract investigators working for the Mississippi attorney general are seeking to interview Ms. N_____.

The law specifically exempts automatic assault weapons;  we can probably infer that electric drills are also exempt if the purchaser can provide evidence of an ongoing construction project, and the part of the drill normally referred to as “chuck” is renamed to something non-gender-specific.  Similarly, vacuum cleaners and attachments will only be sold to customers whose residences have dust-bunny concentrations within EPA guidelines.

Coincidentally, sales of this toy have skyrocketed at ToysRUs.  Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart quickly pulled it from the shelves.


A picture named OlSparky.jpg

No Martyr Left Behind

I just heard for the first time today the term “Graduates of Iraq” applied to terrorists who cut their teeth in post-invasion Iraq and have traveled elsewhere (in this case, Amman) to blow something up.  Maybe GW Bush will be remembered as the “education president” after all.

March Madness Pre-empted

Sunday, the last day of winter, came up just gorgeous, if a little cool.  Our son recently came into a great opportunity to rent a cabin with a climbing buddy in Index, WA, within walking distance of one of the finer climbing walls in the state.   So, let me get this straight in my head.  My kid, living with me and partially employed, has vacation property and I don’t?  I don’t blame him - it’s a sweet deal. 

He called from there Sunday morning and said it would be a great day for us to come up.  Mrs. Perils, afraid that he’d dragoon her into climbing on routes that would kick her ass, demurred with the palliative “this sounds like a great father-son outing”.  I’m thinking that he really wanted to go climbing and enlist Mrs. Perils as his belay slave, but when he saw that I’d arrived alone, sans climbing gear, it seemed that he was secretly relieved that he wouldn’t be climbing.  We agreed on some hiking plans, and headed out.

If you recall, I lost my Canon S300 digital camera last summer during a trip to Index to hang with Andrew and Mrs. Perils while they rock-climbed.  I didn’t grieve for the camera so much as I did some spectacular photo ops I had that day that disappeared with the camera.  I got the opportunity to revisit them Sunday, as we took the same hike that I did last summer. 

Clicky-click to enlarge any of these:

Here’s the little pied a terre.  It looks to be about 100 years old, but with new wiring.  The floor cants palpably, and doorways are parallelograms instead of rectangles (and I know that a rectangle is a parallelogram, but this isn’t College Quiz Bowl).

At the top of our hike, looking east towards Stevens Pass, the town of Index below.  The strange shadow is there because this photo is a stitch of two different snapshots.

I set the 10-second timer and backed cautiously up to the precipice.  Got seated just in time.

Mount Index.

Ya seen one snow-covered peak, ya seen ‘em all, right?  It’s my privilege to test your patience.

Index Creek, as sunset reddens the peaks in the background.

Wearin’ O’ The Groin

I’m nearly half Irish, mostly, if not entirely, on my Dad’s side.  Not a lot of the Old Sod sticks to me, however.  My last name, the one I share with a venerable morning talk show and quiz show host, is apparently native to County Mayo, but that line of folks left no trail, either written or by artifact, of their journey.  (The quiz show host is a vociferous Notre Dame fan, and cannot possibly be related to us.)  We can trace back to my great-great grandfather on that side, who began a 5-generation run in northwestern Ohio.  None of them, to my knowledge, was more than a perfunctorily observant Irishman.  They weren’t even Catholic anymore - something about one of them disliking burning incense in the house.  Works for me.

On my paternal grandmother’s side, the Irish strain worked on railroads, and at some point one or more of them became convinced that working indoors in one place was safer, warmer and more likely to get you laid than pounding spikes and sleeping in tents.  They got jobs in a Union Pacific shop in Omaha and settled there.  Eventually one of their daughters ended up in Waukegan married to a German fellow and became my great-grandparents.  They either kept, or were able to obtain, a parish birth record of one Cornelius Hogan in County Cork, and this is the most definitive claim I have to origins on the Emerald Isle.

My Mom’s side is almost, if not entirely, free of the Irish taint, being mostly German, English and Scotch-Irish (who aren’t “Irish” in the conventional understanding, but instead are Scots whom the English transplanted to Ulster in hopes of improving the indigenous genetic stock).

So, St. Patrick’s Day gets a resounding “meh!” from me, for the most part.  I don’t drink any more than any other day, seldom wear green and definitely don’t wear silly hats.  Dinner was chile colorado with a tasty margarita.

Surf ‘N Turf

All indications were that the nice weather we experienced over the weekend was going to turn rainy on Tuesday, so we headed for Discovery Park Monday afternoon.  Discovery Park is on a peninsula that juts into Puget Sound just north of downtown, adjacent to the Magnolia community.  It was once a military facility called Fort Lawton, which they have mostly vacated and turned over to the city of Seattle. 

We followed a 3 1/2 mile loop trail that starts off in second- or third-growth forest, descends to a beach on Puget Sound, climbs back up to a dune-crested bluff that offers terrific west-facing views, then plunges back into forest.  It offers a lot of different terrain for such a short hike.

(click on any picture to enlarge)

Two Washington state ferries pass in opposite directions, with West Seattle/Alki Beach in the background.

On several visits in the 80s, Mrs. Perils’ father would reminisce about the few days he spent at Fort Lawton as a soldier in WWII before being piled into a ship and sent to Hawaii.  We would walk around and try to locate the spot where he remembered seeing Mount Rainier.

Mrs. Perils poised for flight on a vehicle fashioned from a branch of Scotch Broom.  It’s not in bloom yet, but she hates the odor and the pollen it exudes, while I welcome it as a harbinger of spring.

A close-up of the Olympic mountain range, somewhere near Bumtown.

These gourd-like things are residences for purple martens, I believe.  If so, they are the result of a one-man crusade by a friend of ours, Kevin Li, who died recently while scuba diving.  As a result of his efforts, you can find marten housing squirreled away all around the shores of Puget Sound.  All of that, and he made a wicked chocolate cheesecake.   

Oregon Grape buds.  Just showin’ off the close-up qualities of my new Canon S2 IS!

This tree looks like it could start talking to you (or lap-dancing - Mrs. Perils thinks the bulges look like boobs).  I’m intrigued by the strips of bark filigree incongruously woven around the surface.

One of our favorite seafood restaurants, Chinook’s, is unavoidably on the way between our house and Discovery Park.  It’s situated by the docks at the Fisherman’s Terminal marina.  Dinner there was the perfect coda to our afternoon’s idyl: halibut cakes for me, pan-fried oysters for Mrs. Perils, accompanied by a smooth Sauvignon Blanc.

Movin’ On Up

The other day, I was in a meeting with a client’s outside auditors, controller and the company president/owner, and he was explaining the mechanics of the process whereby we import some raw materials from China.  Part of this process requires us to wire payment in full before the supplier will ship the product.

A couple of raised eyebrows from the auditors prompted the president to grin and reply, “No tickee, no washee!”   The response in the room was dead silence, when I’m sure he expected chuckles and eye-rolling. 

We could have a lengthy discussion of the inappropriateness of racially-tinged jokes in the workplace (or anyplace else), whether it signals an intent to do harm or merely garner a moment’s frivolity or, in the context that all racism is harmful, whether we can countenance a range from the benign to the virulent.  This guy runs the most humane business I’ve ever been around, and in my fantasy justice league I’ll just sentence him to sensitivity training this time.  Ironically, the only Chinese employee here is a woman with a Phd in chemical engineering, with whom the president has a terrific professional relationship, one that he would be mortified to compromise by making a dumbass remark.  But he is what he is and he said what he said.

My point is not to put him on trial so much as to reflect on the moments that followed.  At first I thought the silence meant that people were taken aback at the remark’s crudeness and political incorrectness.  The auditors and our controller were all in their 20s and 30s.  But the reality was that, of the six of us, the president and I, both over 55, were the only people who had ever heard the pejorative.  The others’ silence was entirely due to their bafflement at words that made no sense to them and they had no context for.

So, is this progress of a sort - the possibility that a negative racial stereotype has faded from the consciousness of younger generations?  Most likely it’s mixed.  On the one hand, racism regarding Chinese/Asians has certainly not disappeared.  On the other, the subject matter of that racism has probably morphed from the condescension and ridicule of the epithet above to a more complicated, envy-based view of people who have a high acceptance rate at elite schools and who are becoming a formidable economic competitor and our country’s leading mortgage banker.  Oh, wait - those are the reasons everybody’s hated the Jews all this time.


I left a Seattle trying, like someone assembling Ikea furniture from instructions not written in English, to fabricate Spring:

“Daffodils…check!  Chilling Drizzle…pretty on the blossoms, but, I think the part’s mislabeled…”

A picture named DaffyDills.jpg
Taken with old camera - close-up not nearly as effective.  Dang!

Landed in Milwaukee as snow was starting to accumulate.  Eventually got about 4 inches.

A picture named AintSpringInWI.jpg

We did have a nice evening out on Saturday night before I left.  We met some of Mrs. Perils’ climbing pals at a newish wine bar/cocktail lounge in Ballard called the BalMar (on the corner of Ballard Avenue and Market Street. Natch).  The evening started out nicely - they were a little busy, but there are lots of nooks and corners where you could monopolize a table and hold a conversation.  Wines weren’t cheap, but they were good.  We ordered some appetizers, and they were on the stingy side for the price.  A little later, the music turned towards a thumping dance mix, and the place became sort of a meat market.  Visually entertaining for Mr. Perils, but Mrs. Perils complained of “hoochies” on cell phones in the ladies’ room.  We moved on to Conor Byrne and a 3-piece Irish band.  On the way, we passed this guy playing in a doorway near the Tractor, and he was the best thing we heard that night.

A picture named BallardAvenueConcertMaster.jpg