Say The Secret Word(s)

I’ve made reservations, after having some, and so next month I head for Arizona and a college reunion, two months after my trip to Austin.  I’m now Travelin’ Man.

I could argue that leaving town for a homebody like me is therapeutic, but I’m not sure who would take the opposite side.  John doesn’t seem to mind.  Julie gets a gleam in her eye, probably out of anticipation for me but hey, responsibility is complicated creature.  Sometimes knowing your spouse is somebody else’s problem for a few days can relax a person.  Pretty much everyone I know says go, have fun, be sure to write, etc.  It’s a good thing.

But the trip to Texas started off looking dicey, since a late-morning flight opened up options in terms of getting to the airport.  I’m maybe not so good with options.

I decided to ride in with JK to Queen Anne, hop a bus downtown, ride the light rail to the airport and fly, fly away.  I mean, we had time.  She could have dropped me off in the city; she could have actually driven me to the airport that morning and made it back in time for her first class, no sweat.  But I am Travelin’ Man.

For those of you not local, I will note that from Queen Anne/Fremont it might be a 30-minute drive to the airport with traffic, quicker in off hours.  I can make it from my house in 40 minutes or so sometimes.  It’s not far.

It took two hours for me to get there that morning, as it turned out, rush hour and a late bus making my morning more interesting than it should have been, the kind of hours that should have been spent anticipating a nice weekend ahead and instead were passed riding on an almost-empty train, counting the stops, looking at my phone, and imagining I could hear Steve Martin and John Candy arguing in the next car.  Tense.

And how much more miserable I would have been had I been carrying luggage, instead of a backpack?  The mind reels.


For the first time in decades, I traveled out of town without my laptop, which explains my backpack.  I tend to be a light packer anyway, haven’t checked luggage in years, but I’ve always carried my computer.  It seems natural now, but I’ve been jacked in for over 20 years to these things, relying on them to make a living and eventually to do almost everything else.  My computer is the hub around which my life spins, and it would never occur to me to be sheepish or apologetic, or even to explain.  I’m self-employed, I work from home, I don’t mind sitting.  This is what I do.

But I have a phone, and a tablet, and it was a short trip.  I wrote a column on my daughter’s Mac but otherwise I didn’t need the extra carry-on at all.  Maybe this is the future, maybe I’ve just learned how to divest when I travel, but it saved one of my arms and what was left of my peace of mind that morning, and I’m grateful.

Leaving it, though, was like leaving a teenager alone for the weekend; the mind wonders.  I’m never worried about my data, my documents, my photos, my music: I back up religiously (not spiritually) and most of that is automated, anyway.  When my motherboard fried last Labor Day, it was annoying but easy to get back to basics.

It’s the other stuff.  The financial stuff, mostly, but also the part of my personality that lives online, email and social media.  Even with me gone, there’s usually always someone here, often a 6’3, 250-pound young man who should be threatening to no one but might slow up an intruder just by size intimidation (or talking to them nonstop about Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Been there).

But it could happen, and it was important that I imagined someone stealing my laptop.  I mean, someone stole my lawnmower once.  Not all scenarios are farfetched (see Martin and Candy above).

I’m not talking about privacy, about what Google knows or Facebook knows; that’s another discussion, one I’m not particularly interested in.  I’m a professional sharer; my privacy is an open book (several).

I’m talking about passwords, something I’ve written about before, but then I’m all about the public service thing.  Even in the 21st century, when our lives are electronic and our stuff is encrypted from the get-go, people who know about such things routinely point out the among the most common passwords is “Password.”  Or “123456.”  The human capacity for cleverness is overrated.

The conventional wisdom (“conventional” referring to tech people, not the guy who uses “123456”) is evolving on passwords, helped along by the folks at xkcd.  It used to be this: The best password is the one you don’t know or remember.  That still applies and is a good idea, but it gets even better (and safer) when you start thinking in terms of passphrase.

Read at least the story at the last link.  I use passphrases for most of my important sites these days (note: If the site, as more and more now do, allows you to use spaces, remember that spaces are special characters, like ! and @.  One more layer added).  And two more things and then I’ll shut up: Use a password manager (I’m a fan of LastPass, but there are others), and remember that unlike in the movies, we’re not looking at some guy hunched over a keyboard, trying to figure out what you were thinking; it’s an algorithm, trying out combinations faster than you can get to the airport on a smooth travel day.  Much faster.  And even if you think you’re smarter than the average computer-literate bear, if your password is the name of your childhood dog, say, and that dog was not named &D4%xdR9!, we might have a problem.

Think of it as “The Matrix,” maybe.  We are fighting the machines.  The machines will never stop trying.  The machines will, given enough time, win.  We just want it to be a long time before they do, time measured in millennia, and that’s pretty easy to do.

And somebody is driving me to the airport next month, you betcha.


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Bellybutton Lent

New column is now up:

A little reflection can play a part, too. A season of hunkering down, trying to stay warm and dry, trying to find lightness in a dark and gloomy world, can inspire all sorts of thoughts, Lent-like or not. Some navel-gazing, maybe, reevaluating ourselves and wondering what we need to do.

And lately I’ve been thinking I need to go home.

A metaphorical home, I mean. A symbolic home. My literal home I know, I live in it, I have family here, my roof leaks sometimes, there are electrical outlets that haven’t worked in years; I know where I am.

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Game Change: Seeking Versimilitude

When Warner Bros. began early production on “PT 109,” a film based on John Kennedy’s famous South Pacific adventure during World War II, they did it with the full cooperation of the White House.  The President himself had three conditions: The film had to be accurate (it really wasn’t, in a dramatic-license sort of way), that the profits would go to the PT-109 survivors, and that he would have final approval on the actor who would play him in the movie.  It’s good to be the president.

He picked Cliff Robertson, although Jackie wanted Warren Beatty.  Good call, probably.

They must daydream, these people, see their political lives through prisms of future biographies, imagine the Cliff Robertsons, the sturdy, decent, workman-like actors who will capture their essence and make people forget all about that SNL guy.  Nobody’s going to get Kennedy’s gift of being casting director in chief, but a guy can dream.

“PT 109” didn’t hurt Robertson’s career, but he got lucky (and he stayed away from the accent, another tip from the Prez).  The road to oblivion is lined with actors who jumped at playing JFK in some biopic, Greg Kinnear being the latest (I don’t wish him oblivion; I like Greg Kinnear. But what I saw of his performance in what looked like an awful miniseries isn’t going to help).

It’s always dicey, though.  Politicians make a living by talking and accumulating film footage, by being familiar to their constituents.  We know how they move and talk, what their hair does and how their eyebrows jump.  And as soon as they make a splash, there’s that guy on SNL, studying the video and working with the makeup people, searching for a tic to blow up.  It must suck to be them in this age.

I could list the good ones, the portrayals of political/historical figures that were pulled off by good actors, and it would be short.  Anthony Hopkins, who actually is an excellent mimic, walked away from a Nixon imitation and instead concentrated on creating a character.  I’ve watched that film a few times and see more Nixon every time, but it raised eyebrows of its own when it was released for what critics saw as a lack of verisimilitude (i.e., no jowl shaking and basso profondo).

I thought Josh Brolin’s take on George W. Bush was solid, also, even though he went for the voice and mannerisms more.  I bought his Bush as a real person, though, as I did Michael Gambon’s LBJ in “Path To War,” and even Bruce Greenwood’s pass at JFK in “13 Days” (stay alive, Bruce).  Otherwise, though, it’s a thin line between portrayal and parody and most don’t make it.  I have sympathy, I watch, but I don’t expect much.

I saw “Game Change” the other day almost by accident, visiting a friend who had HBO and both of us having an afternoon free.  I knew all about it, knew about the book, knew about the movie, knew about the actors, and actually remember something about that 2008 Presidential campaign, imagine that.

And I’m thinking if John McCain didn’t get casting approval, he might as well have.

Ed Harris played McCain, starting right off with a vanity bonus: Harris is 61, roughly 10 years younger than McCain was in 2008, and it shows.  He looked fit and powerful, ready to run for President and maybe a triathalon on the weekend.  From a distance, with maybe one eye closed, I caught a superficial resemblance at times, mostly the white hair comb-over, but otherwise this was the Ed Harris version of a candidate and it could have been anyone.

It was a wise choice on somebody’s part to avoid capturing McCain’s voice, which is high and feathery; Harris stuck with his solid baritone, wry and a little growly.  And given the story sources, which are a little shrouded but seem obviously to come significantly from Steve Schmidt, McCain’s political consultant, it wasn’t a surprise that this was the storybook John McCain, solid, decent, wry, unfailingly kind to Sarah Palin throughout, passionate about his country and always wanting to do the right thing.  I didn’t recognize him, in other words, but I bring my own biases and damn.  I wanted to vote for that McCain.

Julianne Moore, on the other hand, went all in for Sarah Palin, more Brolin than Streep (but then).  The odd American Plains accent was there (I know this was explained to me once but I’ve forgotten how a woman born in Idaho and then raised in Alaska ended up sounding like someone from Minnesota), as were the glasses, the hair, the look.  This was not Tina Fey, as Brolin wasn’t Will Ferrell, although you work with what you have.  Overexposure makes the job difficult, I would think, and Moore was excellent.

The critical consensus seems to be that if you weren’t a fan of Sarah Palin, you might soften up after seeing the movie, feel sympathetic for this loving mother who had a newborn and a son heading off to war, who had been governor of a small state for less than two years, who was used to rural politics and being home for dinner.

And it’s easy to feel that, to imagine how bizarre and disorienting it must have been for this lady, shoved in front of the national press with a minimum of preparation.  The film seems to be playing fair, showing her strengths when the campaign finally allows Sarah to be Sarah (as in her convention speech, and in a way the Biden debate), and her weaknesses when it came to serious policy wonkishness.  We see her frantically scribbling constant notes, but also going catatonic when the stress amps up.  We see heartbreak on her face as she watches Fey mock her on TV, and genuine love and concern when she talks to her son in Iraq.  This wasn’t a hatchet job.

But she also comes across as surprisingly ignorant, superficial, paranoid, irritable, cloying and maybe a little crazy.  Again, consider the sources and consider my biases.  This is a movie, not a documentary.  This was not Sarah Palin, just somebody’s distilled version, and it’s not history, just a recreation.

It was entertaining, though.  Woody Harrelson played Schmidt and once again surprised me with his chops.  Julianne Moore is getting a lot of work lately and deserves it, and this can’t possibly hurt.

And I’m pretty sure I would watch Ed Harris in anything, and I pretty much have.  I wonder why he doesn’t work more often, and I always watch to see what he has to offer.

As I say, I just wasn’t prepared to want to vote for him, but hey.  The movies can mess with you.


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Preventive Medicine

It occurred to me this morning that when I say, “I had no idea!” what I really mean is, “I had some idea. Then I forgot.”

So I knew that Daylight Savings would end, or begin, or whatever it does, and I knew it would be soon, and it was today and I got surprised by the clock, which rarely happens.  I am, if nothing else, aware of time.  A little neurotic about time, if you want to know.

Not that it mattered.  Falling back and springing forward affect people in different ways, particularly people who work graveyard shifts or go to church, both of which I’ve been in the past during these time-shifts, but not today.  So I’m just an observer, and clock changer.  And forgetful.


I watched “Contagion” last night, thinking maybe I should relax and catch a movie, something I haven’t had the patience for in months, and I didn’t really get it.  I assume Steven Soderbergh can make any movie he wants to make, pretty much, and he chose a PSA on covering your mouth.  Well done, too.  No hysterics, no scenery-chewing, minimal vomiting.

Before he wrote what I guess is his masterpiece, “The Stand,” Stephen King tried the same idea in short story form, the name of which I’ve forgotten but the substance of which I retain.  World-wide apocalypse, society broken in all ways, and it was just the flu.  That’s it.  Just the flu.  King amped it up for the novel, making it super-secret government testing of bad bugs that went astray, which is why “Contagion” was both interesting and not so much.

The best line of the film, in fact, is delivered by Laurence Fishburne, a CDC bigwig of some sort, who when asked if it was possible that this virus was weaponized said, “It doesn’t need to be weaponized.  The birds have done that.”  Sometimes, and maybe at some time, it is and will be just the flu.

So I’m not surprised that “Contagion” hit and then sort of fizzled, to the point that I had to look online to see if it was available to rent.  As opposed to that Ben Stiller/Eddie Murphy thing, which was pretty prominent.

“Contagion” kept me watching.  I was just never particularly entertained, or moved, or even scared.  And I always cover my mouth anyway.


I stripped my cast-iron Dutch oven a few weeks ago, having committed the big sin of leaving it out overnight, knowing better.  Got rusty, so I stuck it in the oven on the clean cycle and then re-seasoned it.  I don’t use it all that often, but it’s nice to start over with a shiny pot.

It’s time to re-season this blog, too.  It’s never been much, never had that big of an audience, even after nine years of pretty consistent posting.  And sometimes I let it wither, not on purpose but maybe so, who knows?  And the riffraff disappear and the spam dries up, and the daily visitors drop into double digits.

I have a lot of affection for this blog, even though I have far more readers in Old Media, weird as that is.  I know it’s unfocused and doesn’t have a theme, a concept or a point, but I still like having it, still like playing with the keyboard on mornings when the juices aren’t exactly flowing.

So I have some ideas.  Maybe a schedule thing, topic days, something.  Maybe not.  But it’s not dead yet, and neither am I, and it’ll be fun to see if I can resurrect it somehow.  I’ll wash my hands a lot, don’t worry.


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Coffee Talk

I was planning on bouncing from a casual meeting with friends a few weeks ago to a commentary on the political nastiness of last week, but as usual it took me three-fourths of a column to get there with no room to go further. At any rate, this week’s column is up (if you’re wondering, I’m shifting every week between links to try to give the various newspapers that carry my column some hits. Like millions come here…):

So what was that about? This is the question I asked, later. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting lots of strangers through this curious business of writing about nothing much, people from all over the world and people in the frozen food section.

Sometimes, if I we end up sending messages back and forth for a few years and we end up in the same place, we’ve made arrangements to meet. I’ve had some nice lunches with old friends I meet for the first time. I’m all for this.

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Winter’s Tale

Finally.  After 24 years in this house, I have visual proof.  The weather here is just different, and I mean HERE.  At my house.

The above were taken at 2:55pm yesterday.  The first (one on the left, or top, however your browser displays) is about a mile from my house.  The second is closer, maybe half a mile.  And that’s the story.

It snowed all morning and well into the afternoon, while a good portion of the greater Seattle area was seeing sunshine.  It wasn’t serious and there’s maybe half an inch on the ground, just a last gasp of winter.  It’s just weird to be here at times, sitting at the window, watching a world that has nothing to do with people 15 miles away.  The convergence zone that develops sometimes, sweeping across Whidbey Island and then on toward the Cascade foothills, often sets up right over my head and it gets weird.


February was this:
(1) Austin.  Getting ready, getting there, being there, getting back.
(2) Computer stuff. Trying to piece together a gaming upgrade to John’s PC took hours, ordering components, mailing them back, getting new ones. We did end up with a pretty new computer, given everything, and a decent birthday gift if delayed, but a time sink nonetheless.
(3) Sick.  Whatever it was, this virus laid into me, not knocking me down but sort of sideways.  The cough is still with me, too, better every day but reminding me that I don’t seem to be immune.  Surprise.
(4) Work.  Helping out a friend/client/partner chained me up to the screen and keyboard and left me there.  Loooong days, compensated but a little too close to having a real job.  It messes with me.

And now it’s March.  There are things coming up, interesting things, fun things, but mostly I think it’s about time for spring.  Baseball, lawn mowing, negotiating with blackberry brambles, seeing old friends, remembering missing ones, and no sickness or snow, please.

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