Ars Technica, Ars Longa

I'm extremely pleased to note that I've signed on as a regular contributor to Ars Technica. I'll be working on a contract basis to produce a continuous flow of articles, blog posts, and other items each month. Ars Technica will get a hunk of my time, similar to my relationship with TidBITS, where I program, write, and help with long-term planning.Joining Ars--even though I'm technically working as a contract writer, not an employee--means essentially the end of a freelance life I've been living for about 12 years. I'll still be writing some for other publications, but I'll spend the vast majority of my time not pitching. TidBITS, Ars Technica, my own Wi-Fi Networking News and, the weekly tech segments on KUOW-FM, and my monthly Seattle Times column will be about all I do. (I've given up the blog at PC World, but that wasn't on bad terms; what they precisely needed from me wasn't precisely what I wanted to spend my time doing, but it was a great few months.) I'll still write occasionally for other publications--I have two or three articles of varying lengths due in October already, for instance--but I won't be out there on the street saying, "Hey, mister, I can get you an article fast--any length! But it'll cost ya." Ars Technica has a lengthy history of providing superb, measured, exhaustive coverage of technical matters. Its writers aren't just subject-matter experts and good reporters; they and the editorial management tend to eschew the kind of screaming headlines that characterize some parts of the technology journalism world. It's a funny transition. It's not a job, per se; I don't typically like being an employee, as I prefer to have the flexibility to do work as I see fit in a manner I choose, mixing other peoples' projects with my own so that I avoid boredom and keep up to date on pretty much everything I can in the industries I follow. But it's a big change in that I'll have a variety of things I need to do every day and week. Predictability t'ain't such a bad thing on a day that the Dow loses several percentage points.

What's Your Four Twenty, Partner?

Lynn and I are watching last week's SNL, and there's a bit about a secret agent named 420--of course, he's a stoner. I had just learned about this bit of slang not that long ago, and Lynn had never heard of it.She said, You're from Eugene. If you've never heard of it, how much of a term for marijuana is it? I said, "In Eugene, we called marijuana 'marijuana.'" Then we laughed for 3 minutes.

Pay the Writer

Harlan Ellison is about the most brilliant sci-fi writer and possibly the most offensive person in the United States outside politics. But he's always goddamned right. That's what makes him so offensive! He rants and rants and rants, and you have to say, against your will, goddamnit, he's absolutely right.My friend Jeff Carlson forwarded this rant from Ellison that's part of a movie about him: [youtube] It's pretty amazingly dead on. He's talking about fiction and non-fiction mainstream writing, but I've seen the same thing over and over again. I'm often asked to write for free. I recently did contribute an article to a non-profit and will probably write for them again as I have time because they have very no money to pay authors and their goals are, literally Worldchanging. They are the total exception. Ellison rants here about how, after being asked to have something of his (an interview) reused at no fee on a DVD they also wouldn't even send him the DVD. I had a piece in a large collection of New York Times articles that appeared as a book along with hundreds of other writers, staff and freelance. While I was notified about the article appearing, I was also told I'd receive no compensation and that I wouldn't receive a copy of the book. If they couldn't come up with a few thousand dollars to pay the raw cost of the book and shipping to at most 200 people (as the staff writers could get copies in house, and, by contract, were entitled to such, I believe), then the book was pointless in being produced: why produce something like that with such a skinty profit margin that you can't even send the writer a copy of the book? But that's how the journalism world and the publishing world works. It all runs on writers' words, but the producers of content all believe the creators of content aren't entitled to compensation relative to the return.


Rex has decided that between 5 am and 5.30 am would be a great time to get up in the morning, after some months of 6 am to 6.30 am being the norm (and something Lynn and I can cope with). We're working on that. But between the croup a couple of weeks ago, some ongoing non-hazardous nighttime coughing on the part of the boys--including a two-part symphony a few nights ago--and these early mornings, Lynn and I have been about as pooped as when Rex was a baby. We trade off on extra sleep in the morning, but it's not the same as sleeping a long stretch all night.Sunday morning, it took a while for Lynn and I each to get our own extra sleep, get showered, keep the boys entertained, and we just had to get out of the house. It was about 11 that we dragged Ben out, who refuses to admit when he's tired; he just gets whiny at those times. So we weren't prepared for much, but we needed a walk. In the afternoon, Ben and I were to go to Carnation, over a bit east, for a birthday party at a farm with a small amusement park. (We had a fantastic time; the park was perfectly scaled to toddlers, and just cheesy enough to be amusing but not so cheesy as to be kitsch. And there was a hay jump: a bunch of hay that you could jump into, and a hay maze.) The walk wasn't going so well. Lots of complaining, bad behavior. We found a house being built nearby and walked around it. And then Ben suggested he wanted to take a longer walk, which would take us by The House with the Cow Weather Vane. About five blocks from our house, there's a rambling home that's modest in size but quite tall, and the owners plunked a particolored cow on top. Ben had spotted this last year when we did holiday light walks, and was quite taken by it. We were walking by, and one of the homeowners was walking out, and saw us staring at his home. I told him how important the weather vane was in our walks, and started chatting him up about the corn he had planted out front, that seemed to do well. He--Tom--invited us all up, and gave the boys some corn, and showed us he and his wife Judy's city chickens out back. He let Ben reach into the laying nests and pick up two eggs, still warm! They had a very productive backyard and frontyard, which is quite difficult to do in the Montlake neighborhood, as we have postage-stamp plots. They'd packed a lot in. The chicken fertilizer was making their garden go bonkers this year, they said. Well, meeting neat neighbors, and the magic of walking into someone's backyard to find a tiny farm, more or less, broke the bad mood, cheered Lynn and I up, and make us happy all day. Now that's what neighbors are for. We ate the corn last night; ooooweeee, was it fresh and crisp. Ben had a bite; Rex ate a fair number of kernels after he was "all done" with a pretty super supper of his own. The eggs are in the fridge and must be eaten soon. We're plotting precisely what our comestible response to the neighbors will be. (An aside: We switched to buying organic eggs, often with some extras like flax-fed cluckers that produce them, and we noticed at that time how thick the shells were. Whenever I have to use a commercial egg now, they seem so fragile. The yolks, too, are much darker and rich--more betacarotene in properly fed chickens--in the organic and free-range eggs. In Bill Buford's Heat, a book about his experience transmuting from a foodie who was a New Yorker editor into a cook who worked in restaurants for research and fun, he essentially concludes that pasta in Italy is better than in the U.S. largely due to the eggs.) Lynn and I have met so many of our neighbors since having kids, because we walk around the neighborhood so much. Between gas prices and a desire for simplicity and exercise, we are trying to drive much less--and I think succeeding. The boys generally like walks, and it's a great way to meet our community. I suggested to Lynn we print out some big Google maps of our neighborhood and start writing down the names and some details about people we meet so we can remember later!

Hello, Kozmo

Lynn and I have been regular users of Amazon Fresh, a very local test here in Seattle of fresh, frozen, and packaged grocery delivery by our dot-com survivor and thriver (and once my employer). Fresh only delivers to certain neighborhoods. The level of service is pretty exquisite at the moment, because it's boutique. They offer in-office dropoff for certain companies, which is probably where real money is to be made. With in-building secured locations, employees of Google and other firms are probably racking up orders of expensive stuff on a casual basis.We enjoy the before-dawn option for delivery, where orders of $25 or more are delivered free (it's a $50 threshold for attended 1-hour windows). The unattended option is either before dawn or after dinner or in multi-hour blocks during the day. While Amazon is charging a bit more than Whole Foods on some items and about the same on others, when you factor in our lack of time, the cost of gas, wear and tear on our vehicles, and the ability to get organic products--well, it's not really a premium we're paying. So when I checked out the Fresh page to place an order this evening, I discovered Amazon Now, a subset of their product offerings that I could order, you know, now. Books, toiletries, electronics, video games, and so on. Stuff that they must keep in their local warehouse. This is big. It's not quite Kozmo, where you could get soda and M&Ms and a DVD delivered in about an hour after you called, but t'ain't far off. Lynn noticed a few weeks ago that whenever we ordered anything from Amazon proper, a guy in an unlabeled car and not wearing a uniform would drive by and drop it off on our porch, sometimes the same day, I believe. This was a little crazy. I was thinking, we're paying for Amazon Prime, but is there really someone assigned just to deliver our stuff? Bespoke ecommerce.

Oh, Croup

The boys have had the croup, a lovely catchall term that encompasses any virus that blossoms into a sort of respiratory ailment in infants and toddlers that makes it hard for them to breathe and comes with a racking cough.Ben developed it Friday night, woke around 11 in some distress, and after consulting with our insurance company's excellent registered nurse hotline, Lynn took him to Children's Hospital's emergency department. They were there for hours, Ben did fine; he was given a mild steroid and sent home. That was pretty much it. He has a horrible sounding but increasingly infrequent cough, and he's had no distress. Since croup is caused by a virus, it was likely that Rex would develop the same cold or flu, and then it might (but wasn't guaranteed) to also turn into croup. Rex slept through most of Ben's tumult on Friday night, but started to sleep poorly on Saturday, skipping naps in the day and waking or not going down at night. Through dint of hard effort, we managed to get him to sleep mostly for a few days, and then went through the ringer Monday and Tuesday night. We've been playing musical beds. On Friday night, Lynn and Ben returned from the E.D. and slept in our downstairs guest room. Saturday night, I think Rex eventually slept in our room, Ben stayed in his. On Sunday night, if I can remember right, Ben and Lynn slept downstairs, Rex slept in his crib, and I slept in the parental bedroom. Last night, I slept downstairs, Ben in his room, Lynn and Rex in our bed. Whew. All of this typically happening at 11 or midnight or 1 am.


Happier days

Rex also developed a high fever last night and the croup appeared full bloom. So we gave him Motrin to reduce the fever, consulted the nurse hotline, and used a steamy bathroom and the cold outside to improve his breathing. We also started him on a steroid our pediatrician had prescribed in case the croup went over the top. The nurse on the insurance hotline said croup has an 11 pm to 5 am "schedule," unfortunately. The worst croup symptoms typically pass in 48 hours, everyone has told us. We took Rex in to the pediatrician again today to make sure there was no ear infection, and that nothing else was going on. Fortunately, he was otherwise fine. The doc thought last night might have been the worst of it, given that he some croup symptoms for more than a day already. If we're lucky, tonight won't be so bad and then we'll settle back into a routine. Rex only slept an hour mid-day today, not giving Lynn or I enough time for a nap, and woke nearly inconsolable. Lynn and I worked like crazy, and she was able to get him back into bed with her where they dozed for about 90 minutes. Then back to inconsolable. We wound up taking him for a walk in a jog stroller which cheered him up quite a lot, and spent some more time on the phone with our pediatrician, making sure the steroid or something else wasn't at work with his horrible mood. Didn't seem to be. He was a little better later in the day, but he really feels horrible. Ben didn't feel to bad during most of this, and he's older, so he'd prefer to play than to complain, it seems. We think Rex may also be in the middle of a bad teething bout, which led to me putting on some Orajel on his gums to soothe that part. The poor guy. We're just losing sleep (we're getting 4 or 5 hours a night in many different pieces, most of the last several nights); he's the one who feels like death warmed over. The good news (for us at least) is that the parents are coming. My folks will likely be in Port Townsend in a matter of weeks. PT is about two hours' drive away, and I know that in a pinch we could ask for their help. Lynn's folks will likely be living about 35 to 45 minutes' north sometime soon--maybe 6 months away, but more likely a year, as they are waiting for a rental unit to open up. The problem, of course, is that you don't want to expose your parents to the diseases in your home, but perhaps we'll get surgical masks and gloves. There may be times where we just need someone to make a meal, make sure the kids don't start playing with carving knives, and we grab a spare hour sleep. I now understand fully why you aren't supposed to move away from your parents! Don't pity us too much. We're generally well, just worried about the kids and sleep deprived. Most people in the world are worse off than us. We can afford to worry; I was able to shift some freelance responsibilities and stay home today, and may do the same tomorrow if needed. We'll get through this, but it's about the toughest experience in my parenting life. Even the horrible stomach flu last fall left us all week and sleepy, so we were sleeping, just not well. Update: Rex is over the worst. He was awake from about 10.30 to 11.30 pm last night, but I think more out of habit. His croup-y cough was gone, he didn't have an "attack," and he got back to sleep after only a bit of wailing, and slept til 6, waking happy. Ben and Lynn still retreated to sleep in the basement, but we might be back to normal tonight. The scariest part yesterday of Rex's unhappiness is that he wouldn't play -- he hardly played at all yesterday, and that was scarier than most of the other behavior.

Vacation Over; Get Back to Work

I'm back at the office today after 10 days of not really working very much. The days were filled with boys; the nights with a little TV, conversation with a woman, apparently my wife, whom I spend too little time talking with in normal day-to-day existence, and some minor programming tasks. While 10 days with teh fambly can be exhausting--the boys are rather demanding--it was a big hoot, and went well until the end, when Rex got a small cold and went into teething overdrive. He's doing better today.The key to keeping the kids happy is to get out of the house, and Lynn and I took the boys individually and collectively to dozens of playgrounds and parks. The weekend before last, Lynn took Ben down to Hood River to visit her brother and his girlfriend, while I had Rex for about 2 1/2 days. We had fun, although it got a bit unrelenting towards the end! On Monday, I actually took the day off, Ben was in childcare, and Rex was with Lynn for some time back with mommy. I saw Hellboy II; I liked it! On Tuesday, Lynn and I did a day date with Ben at school and Rex with a babysitter. We went to the Seattle Art Museum, had lunch, and saw Bottleshock with Alan Rickman. (A bit of a mish-mosh of a film, but still very enjoyable.) Wednesday, my body said, whoa, and I collapsed a bit. I had a bug or something, and had to stay in bed late and then slept three hours in the middle of the day. The next day, I was able to give Lynn some relief, though, and she got out of the house on her own. I felt myself quite quickly. It might have been exhaustion, too, because I felt better so fast. On Friday, we went to Bainbridge Island, visiting Fay Bainbridge Park briefly (twice) and Bloedel Reserve, a foundation-run former estate with quite lovely grounds, plantings, ponds, and buildings. It's marvelous and low key. Rex had his first ferry trip. 2810059766_48dd14dd23_m.jpg 2810186370_e47810066c_m.jpg Saturday, we had friends over in the evening; Sunday, the Evergreen Fair; and yesterday, we split up a bit so Lynn and I could have some individual sanity before we resumed our normal schedule today. Lynn and I have been married six years as of yesterday--the event is important, but not the precise date, so we had a very hectic day, and we'll celebrate soon.