Friday, September 29, 2006

Plague #5

Our car has a flat tire.

To review:
#1. No phone service
#2. Processor on computer dies
#3. DSL goes down in mysterious way that baffles experts
#4. Loose O tile requires $300 replacement of entire computer keyboard - in Tennessee
#5. Flat tire

Zena - raised Catholic - has suggested I need to light a candle to the saints or gods of all things mechanical and technological. Any suggestions on how that might work?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ten plagues upon my hooOoouse

Somehow I have angered the technology gods. I have this freakish DSL/phone problem in which faint electronic bursts erupt along my phone line every 30 minutes, at exactly :20 and :50 past the hour, disrupting my DSL signal - I KID YOU NOT. In addition, the letter O on my laptop keyboard has come loooooose.

The tile for the letter O has a loose little slot thingie on the back where it attaches to the bracket underneath, and it won't stay down. All I need is a new letter O.

HP will not sell a letter O. They will only sell an entire keyboard. And they will only install said entire keyboard themselves, in Memphis Tennessee - where I JUST SENT MY COMPUTER four weeks ago, to have the dead processor replaced.

AND although my computer is under warranty, this is not included because according to them, it is not possible for a single key to fail on its own. I must have Done Something To It. I assured them that this is not the case. No children have used this computer, I have not dropped anything on it. Plus, how environmentally wasteful is it to throw out an entire keyboard when all you need is the letter O tile?

Alas, I will be forced to go without my computer for a week and pay $350 if I want a new O key.I'm going to have to bite the bullet and do this. This one is holding on by a thread, but it's pretty flakey. It's amazing how often the letter O is required.

I used to have such good technology karma. What happened?? Whatever I did, I'm srry.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The mysteries of phone lines

Yesterday our internet access went out, just like that, while I was in the midst of inputting a very long survey into SurveyMonkey. (I do not get paid for advertising SurveyMonkey. I just like saying it because it sounds so darned silly.)

First - and I hesitate to say this lest I jinx it - I appear to be having my first-ever high-quality technical support experience with Earthlink. They are giving me direct phone numbers to call, and telling me my all-powerful, mystical Trouble Ticket Number - and I haven't even had to unearth embarassing prom pictures of high-level company executives, can you believe it?? They are calling me back - them, calling ME back! They are not satisfied with a temporary solution and have asked me to monitor the situation for 24 hours and then call them back. Let me repeat: THEY HAVE ASKED ME TO CALL THEM BACK. This is a vast difference from the guy who told me he was connecting me with the person who was physically beaming my signal from the tower.

Nonetheless, I do not understand how, after three years, suddenly our phone line cannot absorb the juice coming across the line, and requires a lower speed to remain stable. Did they suddenly speed things up? Did the equipment change? Did rats nibble on my line? We are in Seattle, after all, probably the second-most-wired region in the country after Silicon Valley. Surely it can take whatever juice the DSL machine wants to pump our way? These things are a mystery to me.

But for once, I dare to have a little glimmer of hope that my buddy Mia knows what she's doing and will sort it all out, and I will not have to make it my life's work for the foreseeable future to dog, pester and stalk Earthlink employees and their third-party vendor partners. Let's hope it's true.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Yellowstone Saga (with photos!)

Photos here. Or, to open in a separate window while reading this blog, cut and paste this address:

Day One: Enrico flies into Bozeman and drives to the nearby resort where Flora has been staying on business - seeing moose on his way up. The temperature has dropped 50 degrees in four days, and the weather is threatening snow. But we're excited to be heading into Yellowstone and we will not be daunted by weather!

Day Two: We wake up to snow on the hillside outside our hotel, and a good couple of inches on the car. We drive to West Yellowstone for lunch, and then into the park. On our first roadside stop in the park, we see a gaggle of girl elk running, running across a field. We've seen many elk before, but usually grazing calmly. What's up? Then we see the male - full head of antlers, bugling his mating call, chasing after them. It's mating season! We see this several times, and get used to the sound of bugling elk in the background. We also see our first bison, and play chicken with a bison walking down the road straight at our car. Since bison weigh 1200 pounds, they always win this game.

It's cold, never above freezing, and we spend the day in and out of the car seeing hydrothermal sites. Not just geysers, but steaming pools of amazing colors, steaming vents, bubblng cauldrons of mud and sulfuric acid. It's unbelievable how much of it there is.

We arrive at the historic Old Faithful Inn, built in 1904, a stunning log creation that's like Laura Ingalls Wilder meets Hogwarts. The towering lobby has three tiers of balconies with comfy leather furniture and old writing desks, with a big sunken fireplace below. A catwalk climbs all the way to the roof, but it's been closed since a 1959 earthquake. The rooms are rustic to say the least, and big fluffy snowflakes are falling at sundown. Before dark we go to see the Old Faithful Geyser blow - of course! Enrico likes it so much he goes for a second show while I sip hot tea on the upper balcony.

At 4 am, the neighbor's radiator starts making a noise like somebody is hammering on it with a crowbar. The lone kid at the front desk doesn't seem to believe us that this isn't just the normal tapping of an old radiator. The entire wing is awake. I hunker on one of the old couches in the lobby balcony and read a book about pioneer women on the Oregon trail, which puts my sleepless situation in perspective. It's a bad night of sleep, but it's still worth it to see this historic building.

Day Three: En route to our next lodgings, we hike along Lewis Lake to the Lewis River. Yellowstone experienced a huge fire in 1988, and this defines the views in much of the park. We hike through a burned area, seeing sculpture-like burned trunks surrounded by young new growth. It's still cold, but above freezing, and we lunch on cheddar-and-bison-salami sandwiches. We finish the day at the West Thumb Geyser Basin, seeing more unblievable hydrothermal features right on the shores of Lake Yellowstone - largest high-altitude lake in North America (who knew?). We arrive out our lodgings at Grant Village - modern - and enjoy showers.

Day Four dawns with a clear blue sky for the first time since we arrived. What a difference sunlight makes! We head north to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which was just the Grand Canyon until people noticed the one in Arizona. To get there we cross the Hayden Valley, a wide, grassy valley of the Yellowstone River which is home to lots of animals. We see coyotes, and of course the ubiquitous elk and bison.

The canyon itself does not come out well in our photos - gold, white, red, umber rock with two large falls, 100 and 300 feet respectively. A rainbow glistens off the lower falls as we descend into the canyon. Lots of people are here. It's an amazing view, and we have lunch at the much-painted Artist's Point.

After lunch we want to get away from the crowds, so we pick a hike away from the breathtaking canyon and out into the dry, rolling hills of Hayden Valley. We've spent a lot of time in the great outdoors, but I have a strong feeling here of being in wilderness in a way that I've rarely experienced elsewhere. At the crest of every hill, coming out of each patch of trees, we respectfully check all directions to ensure we aren't startling any animals, since we are guests in their home. In the springtime, this valley is closed to people because the bears come to forage. We see only bison, and give them a wide berth. It's 3 miles in to a lovely stream surrounded by blueberry bushes - happily past their fruitful season, since we have no desire to interrupt a grizzly's dining.

Day Five: On the day we saw the bear and stood amid a stream of moving bison, we had decided to get up early in order to seek out early-morning wildlife, and also to cover the 100+ miles of park roads en route to our next night's lodgings. The room clock read 7:10 am as we lugged our bags downstairs and headed for the restaurant under dark but brilliantly starry skies. The restaurant was locked up tight, despite a posted 7 am opening time, as was the dining room proported to open even earlier at 6:30. This didn't surprise us much, as the whole park seemed to be in an unpredictable, transitional limbo-time between Labor Day and the start of snow season. Breakfast and coffee would be available somewhere up the road. I shivered in the dark car while Enrico scraped thick, stubborn ice off the windows. As he swung himself into the driver's seat, I said "Honey?" and pointed at the dashboard. We both stared stupidly at the glowing digits, which inexplicably but undeniably read: 5:36 am.

I remembered waking up during the night and realizing that the power had gone out, that the clock was blinking at me. So I re-set it - apparently for a random time approximately 90 minutes too early. So here we are. No wonder it's so dark, and nobody's serving breakfast.

We decide to press on anyway; going back to sleep for an hour would just leave us feeling groggy and terrible. So we drive in the pitch darkness along the shores of Lake Yellowstone, and see the first glimmers of light through the Hayden Valley to the ever-present bugling of the elk. Nothing is open for breakfast at the Canyon, so we eat some snacks and press on. We're now on roads that are new to us, and we climb, climb, climb into the mountains and see the brilliant orange sunrise from a roadside mountain viewpoint, as if it were just arranged for us.

We see a grizzly bearcub eating at the side of the road. We see mountain goats, and coyote. We pass through the Roosevelt Lodge - closed up for the season, so still no morning coffee - and head for a detour out the Lamar Valley, which is where wolves are most often visible. There is a resident pack there year-round, and researchers and groupies alike have monitored their movements closely since wolf were reintoduced in 1995. The wolves have some die-hard fans, set up with their long lenses and lounge chairs. But alas, we have just missed the wolves, who just headed off into the trees.

It's fine though. We see antelope for the first time, staple food for wolves, bears and mountain lions. Their casual ease tells us the wolves aren't coming back soon. We come to a huge herd of bison - probably a few hundred spread out around the spacious valley - and they are moving across the road. We have no choice but to pull over, and we stand behind the protection of our car and watch them cross. A big bull bison has picked his mate and is keeping her close, bellowing a warning at fellow bison and humans alike not to interfere with his plans. We hunker closer to the car.

By the time we get to Mammouth Hot Springs and breakfast, we have been driving for five hours and I have a caffeine-withdrawal headache, but it was well worth it. Mammouth is the site of the park headquarters in the original Fort Yellowstone, from which the U.S. Cavalry protected the park in its earliest days from poaching and destrusction. It feels like the classic little military fort, with the pretty officer housing around a big open green.

The sites around Mammouth are hydrothermal but of a totally new kind. The boiling water comes up through soft rock, unable to form the plumbing of geysers and pools. Instead, the minerals dissolve and then as the water seeps out on the surface, it forms elaborate terraces and slides and mineral formations turned brilliant colors by the heat-loving organisms called thermophiles. Where hot water still flows, you see color; where it does not, the formations turn a brilliant, pure white. Long term dormancy means the terraces crumble into shades of grey, like a black-and-white photograph. But things are always shifting underground, and all of the hydrothermals can switch between dormant and live at any time. We hike up, up, up the terraces to a spectacular view of the valley. It's hot, and we're in short sleeves. The ecosystem is different yet again here, and prickley pear cactus are common.

We spend the night in little cabins, rustic but comfortable. Our last night in the park.

Day Six: One the way out, we stop for a short walk to Boiling River, where a hot spring pours into the Gardner River and creates a popular swimming spot. It's cooler and drizzling today, but Flora takes her boots off and wades in for a soak. We also take a short hike along the Yellowstone River, seeing big-horned sheep for the first time on the trip. And then, we are out of the park.

On to Bozeman for lunch - very cute little downtown! - and to the airport. We drive through pouring rain and the airport is socked in by fog. It seems fitting that the weather should make yet another dramatic swing as a parting show of force. We loved this park - absolutely loved it. How is it that we've never been here before? How is it that we didn't know how diverse it is? It reminds me of the Vatican Museum, where you start out looking at every piece of art in detail, until you realize how much there is and by the end, you are swept along in a sea of humanity, numbly passing one Raphaeli fresco after another. It's a park that begs another visit.

Or, there was that great little bookstore for sale in West Yellowstone...who knows!

Friday, September 22, 2006


Yes, I'm back from Yellowstone, which was FABULOUS, and I have lots to tell...but it'll have to wait until I meet a client deadline. I'm a day late getting back into the saddle due to an unprecedented TWO-DOG trip to the emergency vet yesterday afternoon...more on that later.

And, in the spirit of previews:

"On the day we saw the bear and stood amid a stream of moving bison, we had decided to get up early in order to seek out early-morning wildlife, and also to cover the 100+ miles of park roads en route to our next night's lodgings. The room clock read 7:10 am as we lugged our bags downstairs and headed for the restaurant under dark but brilliantly starry skies. The restaurant was locked up tight, despite a posted 7 am opening time, as was the dining room proported to open even earlier at 6:30. This didn't surprise us much, as the whole park seemed to be in an unpredictable, transitional limbo-time between Labor Day and the start of snow season. Breakfast and coffee would be available somewhere up the road. I shivered in the dark car while Enrico scraped thick, stubborn ice off the windows. As he swung himself into the driver's seat, I said "Honey?" and pointed at the dashboard. We both stared stupidly at the glowing digits, which inexplicably but undeniably read: 5:36 am."

Friday, September 15, 2006

Off to see the bison

My three days of work here in Montana are over, and I am awaiting my sweetie who is at this very moment flying in a prop plane - I know this because I was on the very same flight three days ago - through a nastly looking green spot on the radar map into Butte, Montana. From there the plane makes an itsy-bitsy hop on to Bozeman - so short that the flight attendants never even get out of their seats, let alone serve any beverages.

On Wednesday, I went hiking in a tank top. Between today and tomorrow, we are expecting 3 to 5 inches of snow. WHAT IS THIS PLACE?

I have learned many things in the past few days. For example, I learned that the governor of Montana goes everywhere with his dog, George. Even to speak to a room full of people at a hotel banquet hall. I know this for a fact, having met both George and the governor of Montana, in that order, in a hotel banquet hall.

Better yet are the things I heard from a Yellowstone ranger in charge of their conservation and "greening" initiatives. Yellowstone National Park is the first park in the country to convert all of its engines - cars, snow-clearing equipment, mechanical equipment - to biodiesel, saving an estimated 500 tons of carbon emissions per year. They also worked with the surrounding rural areas to create their own recycling program and compost facility. They use only local soybeans for biodiesel, and try to ensure that all recycled material gets re-used locally. They are working on a hydrogen-powered fuel cell for their electricity needs, the final major step in freedom from non-renewable fossil fuels.

Having taken care of food garbage (via compost) and recyclables, Yellowstone discovered that the next largest segment of their garbage was several thousand fuel canisters from camping stoves. Because you can't bring your own stove fuel on a plane, you have to buy it at your destination - but you rarely use it up, and you can't bring it back home on the plane anyway. So thousands of them are dumped at campgrounds every year. Turns out nobody in the world had invented a way to recycle them; so they hired a local engineering firm to invent one. It is mobile, and it runs off the propane that has to be extracted from the cannisters before they can be flattened and sold as scrap steel. This new machine is being purchased not only by other parks in the country, but by major airports in cities where lots of outdoor recreationists pass through, like Seattle and Salt Lake.

To reduce the noise and air pollution created by thousands of snowmobiles in the winter, the park sponsored a contest for college students to design a snowmobile with noise and air pollution as close as possible to zero. They invited the snowmobile industry to participate, and were roundly snubbed. But they held the contest anyway, and it became an annual thing. Now the snowmobile industry is all on board, participating in the judging and offering jobs to the winners before they're even out of college.

I saw Mr. Ranger later at dinner, and told him how much I loved his presentation. I also told him I was headed into the park for a few days, though the weather was looking a bit dicey. "Good for you!" he beamed, with all the passion and energy he showed during his presentation. "This is the perfect time to go. There aren't so many people. You'll see lots of animals. You'll have a great time!"

We're about to find out!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Eastward Ho!

I am leaving tomorrow for a combination business/vacation trip to Montana and Wyoming. First, four days of business at a client's annual conference at a resort in Montana. Every time I tell people about this, they say, "oh, how fun!" as in, wink wink, nudge nudge - a client-sponsored junket, eh? I will be WORKING. I will be working in a breathtaking natural setting, sure, but it will still be work, dressing up in business attire and faciltating eight hours of meetings and talking, talking, talking to people all the time, which is the ultimate in exhaustion for an introvert. Junket my ass.

Then, Enrico joins me and we're going to Yellowstone National Park for five days. We're staying right in the park, at the historic old lodges and cabins at Old Faithful and elsewhere. According to current weather forecasts, in the course of my stay the temperature is going to plummet by nearly 40 degrees. This week? Nearly 80. By the weekend? Snowing. Snowing, people.

But we don't care. It will be beautiful. If we can't hike as much as we'd like, we'll swim in the hot-spring swimming pool and drink hot toddies by the fireplace at the Old Faithful Lodge.

Check ya'll when I get back.

International Day of Peace Vigil

Hey my fellow Seattlites - the coalition of progressive U-District churches is holding a 24-hour "moving vigil" for peace as part of the International Day of Peace on Thursday, September 21. The International Declaration of Peace will be read at noon. Enrico is thinking of attending the midnight to 3 am shift...hard core! You don't have to be religious to spend some time focusing your silent meditation on the goal of peace.

Check out the schedule here.

Friday, September 08, 2006

You win some, you lose some

Today I discovered that a a critical piece of information that I have been putting out in the world on behalf of my clients - that I have given to them to use to promote their case, that has gone to elected officials and policymakers - was wrong. Quite wrong, thank you very much, due to a single error in a single cell of a 15-worksheet spreadsheet that I created. I had to send the correction out to my clients, and confess, and fall on my sword. I helpfully suggested ways they could mitigate the gaffe - like (a) massage the data a little bit so the correction doesn't look quite so extreme, and (b) FIRE ME - in an email that concluded with "Yours in humbly beating my head against my desk, Flora."

Today I also talked with a former client, and things there are going swimmingly. The CEO I helped them hire - whom I absolutely love - is a big success. The organization's reputation with its constituency is on a big upswing, and one of my pet ideas is turning out to be wildly popular. Since I have not always been the best judge of character in choosing potential CEOs, it is very good to know that my instincts were right this time around.

So, you know. You win some, you lose some. At least I didn't, like, authorize secret illegal CIA torture-prisons. It's all a matter of perspective.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Long live the small business!

I was driving down the street the other day when a thought hit me with a great sense of surprise and clarity: I am a businesswoman. A small business owner.

This may not seem like much of a revelation to those of you who note that I have been self-employed for well over two years now. But somehow, earning my living in a way that allows me to spend much of my work hours in an unbathed, pajama-clad state doesn't feel serious enough to merit the term "business."

And yet, I have a business license with the state. I have a business checking account with my business name on it, followed by the serious-sounding "LLC." I love that, LLC. A Limited Liability Company is actually less formal than incorporating, but the letters sound very British and formal to me, like "Esq." And I get to pay taxes, all kinds of business taxes - to the city, the state, the feds. Big fun.

I have of course run nonprofit organizations and my mentor always emphasized - and I truly believe this - that running a nonprofit is running a small business. A noprofit corporation lives by nearly all of the same rules as a for-profit one (including, in this wacky state, the payment of all those business taxes). It just happens to call its retained earnings "fund balance" instead of "profit."

So, whatever. I don't know why this little bit of self-identity just struck me out of the blue this week, but I sort of feel like a part of small business renaissance, with so many people choosing to work for themselves. It's like there's a splintering phenomenon going on - you're either a mega-global-corporation, or a small entrepreneur who's dropped out, decided to take their livelihood into their own hands, the old fashioned way.

Take, for example, the Grameen Foundation, which combines microlending (very small loans) and technology to try to alleviate the most severe poverty in the world. By lending a little money to a woman in Africa or Asia (and it's usually a woman), she can buy a cell phone and a solar charger, and support herself by providing phone service to her fellow villagers at reasonable rates. The woman is better off, because she earns a living and gains independence. Her children are better off, because she can have fewer of them and provide more for their health and education. The village is better off because it can communicate with the outside world rather than selling its produce at whatever price is dictated by the middleman who shows up with the truck.

So although I still stumble over the word, I declare myself proud to be a businesswoman, to be part of a global movement to take back our livelihoods and make them work for us, the regular people of the planet.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Poised for what?

I have been reading two books - well, more than that but two in particular that have come to be linked in my mind somehow. One is A Woman in Berlin, an anonymous diary written by a female journalist living in Berlin in the weeks after it fell to the Russians at the end of World War II. It's very grim and I'm not sure I'll be able to finish it; the main take-away is the enormous incidence of rape by Russian soldiers of German women and girls. The second is A Chronicle of the Last Pagans by Pierre Chuvin, about the Roman Empire in late antiquity. Enrico had picked it up at the library as part of his quest to Understand Italy, and then I picked it up as a reprieve from the relentless grimness of wartime Berlin.

Both of these books feed into a swirl of thought that has rattled in my brain for a while now, thinking about people at other moments in history and whether they had a sense of what their world was poised for. People sitting on the verge of great conflagrations, or change. What did people reading the newspaper in the US in 1938 think? Did they have any inkling of what was to come? Do people ever have an inkling?

I know that by definition it's not possible to know the future, but I look at the times we're in and I wonder what we're on the edge of. And so I feel a strange sense of connection back through history with people of those times, living their regular lives, perhaps feeling great unease at the way things are going. And I'm fascinated by accounts of people living through great upheaval, the dismantling of their life's most basic daily realities as well as their society's foundational structures and assumptions; who find themselves adapting to conditions they never could have imagined a few years or weeks or days before - whether in Berlin or Lebanon.

"And yet it is worthwhile to take the viewpoint of the vanquished - those who seem to have been behind their own times - while bearing in mind that they did not consider themselves defeated or backward...Today we are too prone to believe that their world was dramatically collapsing. Accordingly, we readily attribute to the Romans of the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. our own deceptive luidity, mixed with the bitter resignation of 'waiting for the Barbarians'...In reality, never was imperial power more efficient, more absolute, more centralized. And the events that appear singularly ominous to our eyes - the invasions of the Huns or the Goths - would have appeared to contemporaries as difficulties of a familiar kind, which would have to be dealt with sooner or later in any case."
- - Pierre Chauvin, A Chronicle of the Last Pagans

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Mmmm, bells and whistles...

Blogger has its new upgrade out in beta, and it has many features for which I have long longed. Well, mainly labels, or categories, where you can tag each post for a variety of categories and read only those, say for example "travel" and "dogs" and "politics." Thus those of you who never, ever want to read about my dogs but like to hear my crazy travel adventures can just look at travel entries. Etc. etc. A red-stater who loves dogs but thinks I've adopted the political outlook of Satan himself can just stick with the cute poochie stories.

I am sorely tempted to switch to new Blogger beta, but it does still have some bugs (which the nice people at Blogger have itemized in great detail, so you know exactly what you're getting into). Like, my fellow Bloggers can only post anonymously until they too switch over, and I don't know what all two of you are thinking about the upgrade. And I'd have to switch my template to a new one in order to take advantage of the new features, which will entail the sorts of aesthetic decisions that I find paralyzing. Maybe I won't like any of the templates! So we'll see.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Some more reminders that I'm not insane

Keith Olbermann on Donald Rumsfeld's chilling American Legion speech:

40 percent of Americans are embarassed by our reputation abroad:

And Jon Stewart, speaking a couple weeks ago on The Daily Show with Thomas Kean, chair of the 9-11 Commission:

In a society that is free and democratic, how can you protect - I mean, we're being stalked, to some extent. And it seems unreasonable to expect that the government will keep us completely safe. But it also seems unreasonable that they should keep us completely scared.