12.28.2008

Wii Holidays

Among my friends, many of them professionals in the video game industry and therefore extremely hardcore gamers, the Wii has a very, very bad reputation. Bad graphics, stupid control scheme, no good games, annoyingly family-friendly, etc. It's not hard to come up with a quick and dirty list of all the Wii's problems. And it's a common complaint to hear these guys say, "I haven't touched my Wii in months," after which they usually make a joke about how dirty that sounds.

And I get it. After Super Mario Galaxy, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and maybe a handful of other hardcore games, there just aren't a ton of truly next-gen Wii games to appeal to the fan of Fallout 3 and GTA. I've experienced it myself: I was recently trying to buy a Wii game as a gift for some friends, and I found myself in Best Buy wandering the aisle really not able to find anything remotely "respectable" (from my perspective as a former game critic). It was all this casual crap and Nintendo games they've already played. So I get that it's hard to see the Wii as the savior of the game industry that the rest of the world views it as.

But if the Wii phenomenon isn't something special, then why, during my recent Christmas visit to my old home town, where I stayed with a few different friends, was the Wii turned on in their households, with various combinations of family members playing games on it, for hours and hours at a time? I was shocked. My friends who don't even use cell phones were playing Mario Kart with their kids all morning long. They even asked me to help them hook their Wii up to the Internet. My other friends who only play PC games are obsessed with Animal Crossing -- but they're not using the snazzy new multiplayer. No, instead, they sit there as a group watching each other run around town picking up shells and writing real letters to buddies in town. They even correct each other's spelling in said letters that will only ever be read by computer-controlled characters. They do not seem to mind the fact that the game has not genuinely been upgraded in the 6 years since it originally came out, and that its graphics have hardly changed. Members of both households went out in the days after Christmas searching for more Wii Remotes.

These Wiis are not collecting dust, and their owners aren't complaining about the lack of good software for the platform. They may not buy quite as many games per year as the hardcore crowd, but I was excited to see over-30-year-olds who haven't touched a console game since the 80s eagerly opening up their (or their kids') shiny new video games on Christmas morning and popping them in their Wiis. The other strange thing? I don't think it occurred to any of them to make a joke about how dirty that sounds.

12.15.2008

Thanksgiving Catering from Bi-Rite

Ever since before Thanksgiving, I've felt insanely busy so I'm only now getting to write about the holiday. I hosted Thanksgiving at my house, with family visiting and also Crispin and Shoe and their partners. You'd think we'd have done at least a bit of gaming, but neither my planned Rock Band session nor the awesome board game 25 Words or Less ended up happening. We did have a kids table, though. I think Crispin and Shoe both kinda wanted to sit there, but it was occupied by real kids.

I got the food catered from a very beloved local market, Bi-Rite. I was really happy with the oven-roasted Diestel Ranch turkey, which was cooked to perfection and only needed reheating. Their garlic mashed potatoes beat mine easily (we had two versions because I hadn't realized we'd ordered some). I'd probably rate their wild mushroom bread stuffing and wild mushroom & Zinfandel gravy a 6.5 on the old EGM scale (in other words: Fine, but not something you get really excited about, while actually lacking a few key ingredients that would have made it good). And while their butternut squash soup with fresh sage was really good, I wasn't even able to serve it with the Thanksgiving meal, because adding soup bowls to the table settings would have just been too difficult. The best dish, in my opinion, was the roasted cauliflower and brussel sprouts with meyer lemon butter. Which is a line, I think, that if my brussel-sprout-loathing childhood self had read, she would have been terribly disappointed in what she would eventually grow up into. But to my childhood self, all I can tell you is that as long as you demand fresh, locally grown brussel sprouts prepared in a simple, classic manner that highlights their distinctive flavors, you'll probably never have to eat them, because your parents will be freaked out at your apparent early-onset food snobbery. The menu also included a cranberry and honey-tangerine relish, which sounds good but I somehow forgot to try.

The other thing I thought was a bit weird about their menu was how they delivered it in tons and tons and tons of plastic containers, which made it a pain to transfer to serving dishes and heat up (and seemed environmentally rather negligent). But I hope other people who ordered the catering realized, as we did, that the Bi-Rite containers made perfect to-go packages for departing guests.

Thanksgiving Leftovers

(Ramah packaged them up smashingly in her inimitable way.... I really wish I had sent home more of those little containers with her and the human food-vac, Crispin Boyer.)

We also had a plethora of pies and cakes.


Thanksgiving 2008
Originally uploaded by marytsao.



And though our pies came from all kinds of fancy bakeries and stores (including Bi-Rite and Mission Pie), I can say that in blind side-by-side taste tests, the scrumptious (and gigantic) Costco pies won unanimously in both the apple and pumpkin categories.

11.29.2008

A couple reasons the SF Chronicle sucks

1.
This was an actual front-page story a few months ago. It reads like filler text some editor wrote late at night as a joke that accidentally ended up making it through the edit process and getting printed. Frankly, that's the only excuse for this horribly written story getting published at all, much less on Page 1 of a major metropolitan newspaper.

And if that is the reason this story ended up where it did, then it is a perfect example of why we had a rule at EGM that filler text had to be all XXXXXXXXs. This was both extra work and decidedly unfun, eliminating as it did the opportunity for snarky editors to fill copy in as a joke that was to be replaced later with the real text. But at least it made it completely obvious to any editor reading the page, at any step in the process, what was real text and what still needed to be filled in.

The other possible explanation, which I suspect is the real one -- that this is a fair story to run on Page 1 because of its legitimately local appeal -- is really no more mitigating. The story is so badly written that readers have virtually no reason why they should even keep reading past the jump, much less look up the guy's blog or follow him on Twitter for pete's sake. I mean I subscribe to the damn Chronicle, read it fairly regularly, and still had completely forgotten who this person was. Why the hell should I care that he's now a "real journalist?" Especially when the story I'm reading, ostensibly written by a "real journalist," is so clearly an example of...bad journalism. It's so meta it's giving me a headache to think about.

2.
I really hate their headlines. You can find examples of their weak headline writing every day, but today's example illustrates a crucial rule I learned from Merv Block (a fabulous writing teacher I had at Columbia Journalism School): Don't start with a question or quotation. Now, Merv Block is a pro at writing for broadcast, but in newspaper writing, the headline is basically the same as the first line of a broadcast news story. So to ask such an inane question as the headline is basically asking anyone who answers no to just move on and quit reading.

And I kinda suspect a LOT of people answered no to that question.

Now, obviously I support the Chronicle's fundamental mission or else I wouldn't subscribe. But the more bad headlines and crappy stories I read, the harder it gets to feel bad about the sad state of newspaper publishing in San Francisco. While I'm criticizing the Chron, though, I will say that I really like the local columnists, and if the paper is going to survive at all, I'd think it'll do so by providing great local coverage -- stories that are better reported and more thoughtful than what you can get anywhere else.

11.20.2008

My last bio! (Review Crew Spoiler Alert!)

My farewell EGM Review Crew bio recently went to the printers, and since it was my last one, I feel like I can pull back the curtain a bit FOR THE FIRST TIME. (I know, totally overdramatic there, but what can I say? I had dinner at a one-Michelin-star establishment this evening and I'm feeling giddy.)

See, every time my picture appeared in print, it caused me a bit of...anxiety? excitement? perplexedness? I wanted not to care, but it was so very hard not to care. I mean, multiple hundreds of thousands of these pictures were being printed, and for many of our readers, that bio was the only chance they had to connect a name beside a review score to an actual human face. And dammit, I wanted that face to look good. (Or at least I wanted it to represent who I actually was that particular month.)

So I pretty consistently -- for 6+ years -- put a significant effort into my bio pictures. I don't think this was that unusual, though I may be the only one man enough to admit it. Some of the guys were very mellow about it. Others were as fussy as I. But almost everyone had to do at least one or two takes. Even Dan "Shoe" Hsu, the king of devising the perfectly complementary pose that worked ever-so-harmoniously with his bio text, often had to do a couple of takes. (Also, while I'm at it, why not give props to various photographers over the years. Mike Cruz, Demian Linn, Joy Fremont, my husband, and many others who pinch-hit month to month...it ain't easy being the one responsible for capturing the Review Crew's mugs and I always appreciated those people who were patient with my many many takes. And our wonderful art director Mo always made sure to color-correct everything so that everyone's skin looked easy, breezy, and beautiful. And hell, while I'm giving props, why not mention Crispin Boyer, my go-to guy for putting in the funny. And Mark MacDonald, whose SOCOM-themed bio in my early days really...well, as you can see, once I start giving props, it's hard to stop, so I'll just cut it out now.)

But my final bio really took the...cake. Literally! I mean this one required multiple props, staging, creative and art direction, and, perhaps most importantly, America's Next Top Modelesque posing. I ended up with several options, and picking which one to go with was pretty tough. Did I make the right choice? YOU BE THE JUDGE.

11.16.2008

Rock Band and the Story of Stuff

I love music games, but Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero World Tour offend me on an environmental level. Games that come in boxes so big you can't carry them in a backpack shouldn't be allowed to come out every year. It's just completely not cool. It's the same with iPhones and iPods. I love the improvements they are able to make so quickly, but it's so wrong to expect, tempt, or even want people to buy new versions of perfectly good stuff every year or even every other year (for particularly expensive items). I know that you don't have to buy the new peripherals or upgraded versions, and I guess I'm hoping that most people don't. But I'll be the first to admit that it's hard to play with my old crappy Rock Band 1 drums when I know the new kit has so many needed improvements (quieter pads, mainly, but also the better attachment for the pedal so it doesn't fall off so easily). If the better drums didn't exist until two or three years from now, though, I'd probably feel perfectly satisfied with my old ones. What would be so bad for them if they just put out new drums every few years and rolled all the upgrades into the rarer, better versions? I suppose that's just completely at odds with our consumer culture though.... There's this longish but really well done little video about this problem called The Story of Stuff.

At least USB as a standard means the controllers are compatible with the different franchises. Proprietary controllers would simply be unacceptable.

11.11.2008

Changes

OK, I know it's a little pathetic how Ziff Davis Alumni like to blog about how their new jobs offer such mad benefits as multiple flavors of tea and plastic spoons. But my new employer? Totally offers lots of tea, dozens of types of flavored coffee (the futuristic kind where you insert the pod and it makes whatever mixture you want), and spoons, forks, and all other manner of corporate-sponsored utensils. Pretty rad.

New York was awesome. I loved being in Rockefeller Center the night of the election. They had the electoral map projected on the ice skating rink, and whenever a state would be announced for Obama everyone would cheer. The weather was unseasonably warm, which gave the whole evening a more festive atmosphere. And when the actual announcement came projecting Obama for the win, people just started cheering out of every window, honking horns, dancing in the streets and smiling everywhere. It was really something special.

Amy and I took a bunch of pictures, and at first I just snapped a few mundane shots the way I would document any other event. But then I made us walk back and at least try to get some really good ones, because it was obvious that, one way or another, the night was going to be a real moment in history. I know our country and our political system face problems that run much deeper than the presidency, but I'm so happy that someone with such a diverse heritage, who is such a symbol of unity and hope for so many, has made it to the country's most powerful office, and with such dignity and character.

Plus, how completely awesome is it that we managed to elect someone, at this point in our history, whose name rhymes with Osama and whose middle name is Hussein? That alone tells you something about the changing face of this country.

11.04.2008

In-Flight Entertainment

Flying in the post-9/11 environment is no fun, but one way it has gotten seriously, noticeably better is with all the entertainment options now available to fliers -- and I can't quite express how annoying it is that all these cool diversions became available after I had kids. I can’t enjoy any of them!

Downloading whole TV shows off iTunes or Hulu and watching them on your laptop, which happens to be fully powered by your personal seat outlet? It's amazing! I could be catching up on, oh I don't know, Arrested Development or season 2 of The Wire (though I've watched the rest of The Wire, that's the year I kept nodding off in the middle of the show). Or gorging on VH1's reality TV shows, movies on demand, and the latest pop sensations through my in-seat entertainment center. (I flew Virgin America.) To say nothing of all the portable video-game treats available these days. (Donahoe and Mike Cruz have convinced me it's time to play Phoenix Wright parts 2 & 3.)

But guess what I got to "enjoy" during my recent 5 1/2 hour flight from SFO to JFK?

OSWALD. OSWALD. AND MORE OSWALD. (Or, as Alex says it, "WA WA!!!") Here's the description that comes up for that web page in Google: "Oswald's a decent sort of fellow. A thoughtful guy. A good friend. Never mind his eight arms or his bright blue colour - Oswald is just like you!"

Yup, after watching 16 episodes straight of Oswald on the flight, I can tell you in great detail what a decent, thoughtful fellow this wholesome blue octopus is. (But for your sake, I won't share. "Decent" doesn't exactly mean "interesting.") Oswald is so decent, you kinda wanna punch him (or worse), at times. Well, not really -- anything that keeps a kid happy on a long flight is magical. And I know I and everyone around me on the plane were pretty grateful for Oswald, the thoughtful octopus.

But I'd much rather have been watching Arrested Development.

11.01.2008

Working Mom's Score

Vill-Con Pix
Photo courtesy of Matt and Ruth and their awesome green-screen Halloween pic project

Wow. I got lucky this year on the whole kid's Halloween costume thing. The past two years, I've been able to find, quite nonchalantly and almost accidentally, pretty awesome get-ups for Alex at the extreme last minute. I usually shop at this store that has really great kids costumes, and I guess I thought the third time would be a charm; even though I was shopping even later than usual, I hoped to repeat the feat this October 30.

But it was not to be. The place had, like, three costumes left, not in the right size and a bit too girly for my little man. (Yeah, we're in San Francisco, but I think he's still too young for cross-dressing. Call me old-fashioned.) I tried not to panic, but I started to get really mad at myself for leaving so little time for shopping. The stakes get higher, after all, the older a kid gets. During the infant years, costumes are largely optional and mostly for the benefit of the parents. But toddler Alex had a Halloween playdate scheduled with his cousins, and I knew they would both have great outfits. Plus, Aunt Mary is a wonderful photographer and I seriously felt like the president of the RNC trying to get Sarah Palin ready for the photo opp of a lifetime.

After about 15 minutes of frantic rushing around, looking high and low for strategic items that could be fashioned into something resembling anything, I ended up at the 8th Circle of Halloween Hell, the Target Clearance Aisle. (The SPIRIT Halloween Store is the 9th Circle, in case you were wondering.) The place had been gutted; three shopping carts overflowed with sad remainders of formerly two- and three-piece sets. Desperate shoppers shambled about, arguing over a pair of tattered Capt. Jack Sparrow pants here, a princess tiara there. Compounding the confusion was the fact that half the costumes were actually for dogs. (I'll admit, I considered getting Alex a doggy lobster suit, but I just didn't think it would be big enough.)

And then, glimmering in a pile of detritus, I saw it: a Yoda costume in Alex's size. Sure, it was missing a crucial component, as in, the...Yoda part (someone must have snagged the mask). But I didn't care.

I HAD A PADAWAN COSTUME IN SIZE 2T.

I mean, Yoda's so, y'know, been-there, done-that anyway... "F- Yoda," I thought as I madly zipped over to the Star Wars aisle in the toys section and grabbed a blue lightsaber. My little Padawan would definitely choose the light side path. The costume was complete, during normal business hours no less.

I gotta be honest, though. The brush with mommy failure made me completely forgive my mom for the Halloween pictured below.

Historic Halloween

I'd always wondered what was going on with my get-up in this picture (though isn't my brother the Empire State Building amazing?). Now I totally understand.

10.31.2008

Girl Talk

(Since 1UP appears to be down for many of you, I've cross-posted this here!)

Today ends my career at Ziff Davis Media, where I spent six of the richest years of my life as managing editor for EGM and then the 1UP Network. I'm leaving game journalism and heading over to the production side, where I'll be working at Sega as Associate Creative Director for Family/Casual games. This is a big deal for me. I started at Ziff in 2002 when EGM closed its Illinois office and moved to San Francisco with half a staff. Its managing editor at the time, Dean Hager, decided not to make the big move. I happened to need a job, having been at Next Generation magazine when it closed in December 2001, and I jumped at the opportunity to join EGM.

Six years later, I'm pretty shellshocked it's all over. The end hasn't been sudden -- obviously, my old print team has mostly dispersed, EGM has a bold new look and direction, and I've been working online at 1UP for almost a year. But having spent the better part of a week going through old work files and emails trying to decide what to save and what to toss, I've come to the bittersweet realization that I'm saying goodbye not just to a job, but to an era.

For one thing, being a girl writing about games is no longer as big a deal as it was the first several years I was in the business. Back in 2000, there were very few women editors, and those who were in the biz didn't generally attend demos, meetings, and events. There was an easy explanation for this: women tended to occupy roles like managing editor, copy editor, art director, etc. -- jobs that didn't require knowledge of games. I remember really looking up to Francesca Reyes (then with Official Dreamcast Magazine, now Editor in Chief of Official Xbox Magazine) back then. Fran was a truly rare bird -- she had her own expertise and wrote about the same games the guys did. But aside from Fran and perhaps a handful of others, it just wasn't safe to assume the girls at the mags were gamers. Often, quite the opposite assumption was made: I remember showing up at events and having PR people think I was some girlfriend on the arm of the nearest male editor. Once, one even denied me a press kit: "Editors only!" she chirped annoyingly. Clearly she meant "Boys only," and I've never forgotten the sting of her mischaracterization.

I knew I'd arrived somewhere unusual when, on my second day at EGM, fellow editors Greg Sewart and Chris Johnston invited me along to the Sony gamers' day happening down the street. They'd even RSVPd in advance for me, figuring I would want or need to go. (I doubt they knew what a shock it was for me to be included by default.) It was the first glimpse I'd have into the inclusive culture of EGM, where everyone who played games and could write was expected to play games and write for EGM, whether they were a hardcore fanboy weaned on NES or, like me, simply a gaming fan who'd happened to spend way too much time playing SSX Tricky during her unemployment. The Review Crew suffered no idle hands.

Nowadays, girl gamers are everywhere, and it's no longer safe to assume that a girl in the office can't kick your ass at Call of Duty. It's really difficult to believe what those early days were like and to see clearly just how much things have changed, but I'm really happy to have been a part of the transformation. It may have been a natural evolution, but I also feel like being at EGM helped me force things along just a bit. If I wanted to write a story, all I had to do was ask. Wanna review Tony Hawk 4? Sure thing. Think you're the best person to do a Knights of the Old Republic cover story? Go for it. Got an interesting angle for the GTA Hot Coffee scandal? Write it up. These weren't required parts of my job as ME, and often I didn't necessarily have time to take on the extra work. But I knew that by digging in everywhere I could, I was slowly infiltrating the "Boys only" society. It helped that I worked with a tremendous group of people who valued initiative and good old-fashioned elbow grease. Then again, it wasn't always easy; arguing about why "slut" isn't a fair term to use to describe women and why jokes relying on the "girlfriend" punchline were lazy, and constantly insisting we could do better wasn't exactly fun and didn't always make me popular among my coworkers. But even if there were times I would lose the fight, I'm glad I was there to fight at all. And when I look at the make-up of the gaming press now, I am utterly happy to see so many women playing integral roles.

Still, the changes in journalism aren't the only major difference. If it were just that, I'd be thrilled to stick around. The truth is that the era of the hardcore gamer is coming to an end. I used to dream of the day when women would be viewed as equally important to the creative gaming market as the traditional male demographic. But I genuinely never expected I'd see the day when I could get hired to work in game production, focusing specifically on appealing to new types of gamers. When Brain Age and Wii Fit would be system sellers. When a scenario like this would be not just possible, but normal:


Multi-generational Gaming
Originally uploaded by generaltsao.



Yes, the era of the hardcore gamer is coming to an end, and while I've loved my years at EGM, I've also been waiting eagerly for this time to come. For so long, finding a way to reach women gamers was this magical holy grail -- something people could only fantasize about. Nobody had any clue how to do it, and a lot of people didn't believe it could be done. Casual games on the web, World of Warcraft, and Nintendo Wii and DS have proven that it's not only possible, it's happening NOW -- and I simply can't resist the call to join the cause. This has long been an interest of mine (way, way, way before it was cool or profitable :), and it makes sense that now is the time to jump.

But before I did that, I wanted to take this chance to tell you what it was like for one girl during a different era, and to thank you for reading and supporting me through the years. I'm really going to miss you all, and I hope you'll keep in touch on my personal blog.

10.30.2008

Update your RSS feed!

Big thanks to Mike Cruz for my awesome new blog banner!

Also, I'm changing the RSS feed settings, so if you currently subscribe to this blog in an RSS reader, please resubscribe to:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/GeneralTsao

10.09.2008

McCain's "Overhead Projector"

I was wondering about this. During the debate, McCain mentioned a $3 million "overhead projector" for a planetarium that Obama voted to fund -- using it as evidence of Obama's rampant Democratic spending and penchant for earmarks. Having recently seen the new planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences, I figured this expensive "overhead projector" must have been McCain's way of derogatorily and prejudicially labeling the cool and technologically sophisticated projectors like they have there, which can show the scale of the universe in rapturous detail. (I would have guessed they cost even more.) And as often happens with McCain's attacks on Obama, when you find out the truth, it ends up making Obama look rather good. And this is one of those cases! Read Why does John McCain hate planetariums?

10.01.2008

Elvis Sighting! (cross post)

This is originally from my work blog...

We had an Elvis Costello sighting at lunch! Seeing as this isn't New York or London or some other truly cosmopolitan city, it was very exciting. We're figuring he's here for the annual bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park. While we did say hi to him, we tried to keep it short and didn't have a chance to ask... But it was pretty cool and livens up an otherwise ordinary day in 1UP Land, and it confirms something I've long suspected: Eating lunch anywhere but the office pretty much rocks.

See, lately Mike Cruz and I have been venturing out to eat lunch in local restaurants, rather than just grabbing food to take back to the office. Nothing against the ol' 1UP lunch room, but sometimes you just want a change of scenery. And so far, it's been a smashing success. The first time, we sat at a communal table at New Ming's, and the people across the table started talking to Mike about his Gatchaman T-shirt. It was a fun conversation and beat eating in front of a monitor reading blogs and spilling food on my nice white Mac keyboard any day.

Today we decided to eat at a local dim sum restaurant, Yank Sing, which I actually kinda don't like because it's super overpriced and their waiters serve food predatorily (expensive dishes are pushed aggressively, taking advantage of people on business lunches and the fact that dim sum restaurants don't have menus with prices listed on them). And they don't have a changing table for babies and have refused to install one despite promises from their PR director that they would (not that I'm still bitter or anything ;)

But today, we just said what the heck and headed over. As soon as we sat down, I saw someone I thought was Elvis Costello sitting alone a few tables over. The glasses didn't look quite right, and since this is a city with its fair share of bohemian-rocker-scruffedup-hipsters, from two tables away and in profile, it wasn't entirely clear that this was The Man. And despite my being totally obvious about having possibly spotted him and doing double, triple and quadruple takes (sorry Mr. Costello), he seemed to have the outside world tuned out, immersed as he was in Backbeat: Earl Palmer's Story. (Also, I'm sure that, like all longtime celebrities, he's completely inured to the ruckus caused by his very presence among mere mortals.) We continued to eat lunch, fending off the hovering waiters pushily hawking $15 dumplings.

We kept investigating, however, looking for conclusive evidence. This man was using chopsticks with his left hand -- is Elvis Costello left-handed? Nobody else was gawking at him -- but maybe that's just because they're clueless or better-behaved! He was definitely reading a music-related book, and his watch and fancily stitched shirt had that rich, rockstars-only look.... We were becoming more convinced, but we couldn't be sure.

Then I spotted the glasses. On the table sat a telltale pair of his signature horn-rimmed, 60s style, tortoise-shell, whatever-you-want-to-call-them-but-basically-the-kind-Elvis-Costello-wears glasses. Of course! It all became so clear! He was wearing reading glasses and that's why he looked a little different. Such a wily disguise! The man was hiding in plain sight!

We were immediately impressed with ourselves and really wanted to share our discovery with Mr. Costello himself, but luckily we recognized that would have been a bit embarrassing and probably annoying for him. So we waited until we were walking out the door, and then went over to say hello. He held his hand out to shake mine almost reflexively; this must happen to him ALL. THE. TIME. (Again, sorry Mr. Costello.) I asked him a few embarrassing questions ("what are you doing here by yourself? where's your entourage?" to which he replied, "oh, I'm just enjoyin' me lunch and readin' me book" -- so gracious a response to my stupid questions) and made my music-related statement ("I know most people like 'Allison' but personally i prefer 'Veronica,'" which I couldn't help but squeeze in there because I do love that song). And then, satisfied that I had made a complete ass out of myself, we left the man in peace.

All in all, a pretty decent off-campus lunch experience.

9.12.2008

Amy on the Today Show!

Amy's so healthy! And Anne Curry called her "girlfriend!"



(Also, I'm going to guess they're both against McCain-Palin!) For those who don't know, Amy is one of my dearest friends, and we met in Journalism school.

8.30.2008

Molokini Magic

We are in Maui on our first official "family vacation" since having Alex, and everything is going fabulously. Today Nick and I went diving (Alex stayed with a delightful French nanny from the Nanny Connection). I was really really nervous the entire day before, since this is my first dive in three years, and my first dive below 20 feet. Luckily, 20 feet deep in Monterey Bay -- where I'd done all my diving thus far -- is actually (as far as I can tell) harder than 80 feet in Maui. The descent and ascent are definitely more challenging because of the additional pressure on your ears. But with 100 feet of visibility, it's hard to feel too claustrophobic or fearful, and our guide, Matt from Prodiver Maui, was completely attentive and helped me feel very confident and secure that everything would be fine. And despite having practiced clearing my mask (where you open your mask underwater to flush out water that's seeped in) ad nauseum the day before while we were snorkeling, I didn't have any problems down below and really didn't have to touch it. I'd been incredibly stressed out that I might have to do that at 60 feet (the lowest I planned to go on the dive) so I wanted to make sure I could do it. But the boat guys made sure my mask had defogger and was fitting properly, and nothing happened to disrupt the seal during the dive, so thankfully I didn't have to test my mask-clearing skills at depth. 

What was amazing was how before I knew it I was down at 80 feet, enjoying the scenery, breathing comfortably, and being really, really, really proud of myself for not letting fear get the best of me. First thing in the morning, when I'd woken up, I was considering canceling the dive out of total paranoia. As we were driving to Kihei in the Maui morning darkness, "Spirit in the Sky" came on the radio and I honestly thought it was sign that something was going to go horribly wrong on the dive. I knew that was a crazy thought, but that's what partaking in adventure sports will do to an overthinker. Luckily, every other song on the radio was harmless -- that helped me chill. It also helped that I knew I was prepared, having reviewed my dive book meticulously the day before. I was diving with one of the best outfits in Maui. I had spent a few days in the water snorkeling, getting familiar with my gear again and just orienting myself. And really, who lets fear keep them from doing cool stuff? Not me! 

(For the record, I wasn't crazy enough not to notice that "Spirit in the Sky" is a really cool song with awesomely simple-sounding composition and production. And it's by a guy named Norman Greenbaum. Good for Norman Greenbaum for not changing that name. And according to Wikipedia, he lives in Petaluma! Wikipedia sure is handy.)

The resort where we're staying, the Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas, is a very family-friendly place -- there are children everywhere, so we haven't once felt like Alex was bothering anyone's quiet, contemplative moment. We did have the typical arrival snafu, when they tried to stick us in basically the worst room in the resort and then were largely impervious to any requests for legitimate customer service (more on that later -- Expedia is to blame as much as Westin and they'll both be hearing from us). But it's great having two rooms plus a kitchen and balcony (and washer/dryer!), and Alex loves the kiddie pool. Plus, the beach is steps away, with gentle, warm water and fantastic snorkeling. We've having a pretty great time.

Plus, did I mention I went scuba diving to 80 feet?

8.24.2008

More Work Time Fun

In case you don't already read my other blog, the latest entry (first in four months...sad!) chronicles a recent prank we pulled starring downtown SF's hippest new lunch joint, Chef Dennis Leary's The Sentinel.

8.10.2008

Field Trips for Grown-Ups: Starbucks!

It's part three in the series! (here are links to part 1: Pixar! and part 2: Google!)

Now, going to get coffee with your coworkers doesn't traditionally qualify as a field trip. Usually, this is just something you do to pass the morning or break up the afternoon. We have a little crew that goes pretty religiously every day around 10 or 10:15 am. The baristas know us by name, and if one of us is going to be late or get coffee elsewhere, we usually text our core crew members so they don't wait around. It's a fun morning ritual.

The reason this counts as a Field Trip for Grown-Ups is that we switched things up a little last week. On Friday, we decided to use an extra Starbucks trip as a coping mechanism for a late-afternoon meeting (I'm never very awake on Friday afternoons to begin with, and even less so if I have to be mentally present at a meeting). The best part? We had these coupons for free coffee that one of our designers had printed out. The coupon specifically mentioned that you had to print it, and we followed the directions, so we each had our own piece of paper (woe to the trees). It did occur to me, right as we were leaving, that I should bring my wallet. The coupon's offer--a completely free drink, no purchase necessary or strings attached--seemed a little too good to be true. But everyone said not to worry. They'd studied the fine print, and we were in the clear!

We all excitedly trotted off down the block, our treasured pieces of paper fluttering in the wind. Mo almost lost hers when it blew away, but she braved oncoming traffic to save it. Our rather large posse reminded me of a bunch third-graders waiting in line to get on the bus, clutching their precious permission slips that granted them one day of freedom away from the classroom. We were laughing and happy as we discussed what drinks we were going to get. Drinks we never normally considered ordering because real possibilities. A Frappucino with whipped cream? One of the fancy new Vivanno concoctions? Lemonade? A Green Tea Latte? Iced or Hot? Regular...or decaf? (It was, after all, our second trip that day to Starbucks.) The menu was our oyster. Our future was an open book, bright and promising.

It only took a second for the baristas to crush our childish notions.

"That coupon's fraudulent," one of them said compassionately. "We got an email about it from management."

Suddenly, everyone was aghast. The mood change was palpable -- you could feel the sad shock rippling through our group. Mo looked at me and said I'd been right to be suspicious. I was mad that I hadn't brought my wallet. We debated staying or leaving, but ultimately decided to get the drinks anyway. I was going to need another caffeine shot to help me cope with not just the meeting but the disappointment. We got to the register and ordered our drinks. I was looking to one of my coworkers to see if I could borrow money when the barista told me not to worry about it.

"It's on us," he said.

"Really?" I responded. "But... why?"

"You guys are such loyal customers, and you were all so excited when you got here," he said, sounding like he really, genuinely cared. "We didn't want you to leave disappointed."

Starbucks may be a chain, but I can't say that my local branch downtown doesn't have a heart. And thanks to that second cup -- I'd gone with a simple iced coffee, since they were comping us -- the meeting didn't seem so bad after all.

7.27.2008

Mommy at E3: Year Three

Attending E3, the annual video-game trade show, is always a milestone for me. Am I writing better stories about more inspiring games? Am I feeling more fulfilled in my job? How is the game industry progressing -- am I interested in more games or feeling more marginalized? Do I see gaming deepening and expanding as an art form, or pigeonholing itself even further? And -- ever since I got pregnant and had a baby -- how is it being a mom at work in the gaming industry?

The first year I was pregnant, the most exciting part about E3 was that I got to meet and interview Bono and the team his venture firm invested in at Pandemic. It was only marginally game-related and we never even ended up using the interview for anything, but it was still the highlight of the show for me. Bono is a megastar and I'll take any chance I get to have a conversation with someone of his artistic and cultural stature. Plus, as I am always quick to tell anyone who will listen, he complimented my journalistic skills at one point when I re-asked a question after his colleague hadn't really answered it even though he'd talked around it for about 10 minutes. (I'm convinced Bono remembers that moment [sarcasm] just as well as I do [/sarcasm]). Otherwise, though, being pregnant at E3 was no fun. E3 is all about parties and drinking till all hours of the morning, and I remember heading home early every night that year. Too bad, too, because it was the last year I would be working only in print and, little did I know, the last year I'd be able to experience E3 without the crazy pressure of online ASAP publication looming over my head the whole time.

Last year was probably the hardest, because I was still pumping. I documented that in my extensive Business Trips While Breastfeeding post. It was good to get away and remind myself that I had a life outside of Alex, but I remember pining away for my little guy day in and day out, and also being terribly worried the whole time that I wasn't going to make it to one year of nursing (HAH. Little did I know the kid would not give up so easily). Plus, I had to deal with the crazy online deadines and worked until about 11pm every night, so I couldn't even enjoy the happy hours, and I missed the private Queens of the Stone Age show at the Troubadour. (I'm still bitter about that!)

Which brings us to Year Three, the year in which I believe I have finally hit my stride. This year I was hoping that my trip away would curtail the nursing relationship. (Again, no such luck. Now I've gotten to the point where I'm no longer hoping to nurse as long as I can and instead starting to wonder if it's still OK to be nursing as long as I am! The little suckerfish just won't quit and I'm too much of a pushover to say no. At two years, though, that's when I'm done, ready or not.) I also have gotten to the point where I feel that Alex has much better things to do than hang out with me all day, and that he genuinely enjoys the time he spends with other people -- his dad, Tutu, other caregivers, and especially other kids. I'm also at the stage where I can admit that a bit of time to myself is healthy.

For those reasons, Year Three was the best. The show itself was something of a letdown, but I was able to enjoy it fully. Having experienced the "online thing" once before helped me realize I had to plan better and force myself to set earlier deadlines so I wouldn't get stuck in my company's "war room" writing and transcribing until all hours of the night. It also helped that we were back in downtown LA, so it wasn't as confusing a maze of shuttle buses and random hotel rooms as the year before had been. I knew the trip would be over as quickly as it had arrived, and I made sure to enjoy every minute of it. I saw old friends, attended all the events and demos I wanted (including a pretty great concert by The Who at the Orpheum Theater), and even squeezed in a podcast or two. And the whole time, I was perfectly fine being away from Alex, knowing he was in excellent hands and that I would see him again before I knew it. I didn't dread going to E3, enjoyed almost every minute, and couldn't wait to get home. Year Three was definitely the best yet!

7.08.2008

Blog Silence

Considering just how difficult it's been for me to create legitimate, well composed blog posts lately, Twitter is starting to seem like not such a bad idea. But even as I say/think that, I can't get myself to sign up. Like MySpace, it is one of those sites I have resisted joining. Anyone who knows me knows I'm not at all averse to social networking or moderate Internet exhibitionism, but those sites, for some reason, have not called to me in any way, and in fact, I often wonder why they attract the users they do. Facebook and Friendster were sites I started using because Nick worked there. Friendster got boring pretty fast, while Facebook is so far still pretty fun for me (and has its own version of Twitter with status updates, which I enjoy, even if extremely sparingly). But I have been wishing I could blog a bit more often, mostly because I really do enjoy the process of writing, and one of my favorite things ever is to read over something I've written and edited until it is more or less how I like it.

I started out meaning for this to be a Twitteresque micropost and ended up with a full-fledged regular post. Perhaps that's the new secret: Aim very, very low.

6.23.2008

Community Supported Agriculture Update

We've been getting the weekly Planet Organics delivery for about a month now, and it's had its highs and lows. The lows were overdosing on cauliflower and getting a delivery of pears that were mushy and brown by the time we opened the box. The highs were discovering we could ban cauliflower altogether and then getting both cherries and blueberries the week after we did.

It's also fun seeing carrots come with the greens still attached. You just wanna walk around chewing it saying, "What's up, doc?" It seems like a shame to throw the greens down the garbage disposal, though, so I asked Nick to find recipes for carrot greens, but short of feeding them to rabbits or horses, it seems there isn't much.

We've been splitting the $38 weekly delivery with our neighbors, and I know that's been plenty for us to work our way through, even having vegetarian houseguests. At the same time, we've always had to go out and buy some additional fruits and vegetables when the contents of the box just don't match up exactly with what we want to eat or prepare.

But the best part is much more unexpected; I'm surprised at just how personal the experience of eating locally grown vegetables can be. Last week, we got tiny carrots that looked rather dingy. This week, they were big and lovely. The fruit is all much smaller than the stuff you buy at Safeway. And the newsletter that Planet Organics talks about the individual farmers providing the produce that you receive. I love that part of it. I saw some column in the NY Times questioning the validity of being a "locavore" (one who consumes locally grown foods) and arguing for specialization. I think they're missing the point. I don't need to grown my OWN carrots and peaches and pears and cauliflower, but I feel really wonderful knowing I'm supporting the following local specialists.

(excerpted from the latest Planet Organics email newsletter)

Jeff Ferrari is supplying us with WHITE FLESH NECTARINES next week. He grows delicious fruit, so think twice before you take these out of your mix.
  
The thing I am most looking forward to next week is coming from Terra Firma in the Capay Valley, which is their ORANGE BLOSSOM TOMATOES. Paul Holmes, one of the farmers, describes these as an orange version of an Early Girl. They will most likely come in varying degrees of ripeness as well, so just sit them out on your counter until they reach full color with-in a couple of days. Also from Terra Firma are BLACK PRINCE HEIRLOOM tomatoes and YELLOW BABY WATERMELON. Hello-summertime is here!
 
 Local CUCUMBERS are finally here from Brad and Judy Wooley. A couple years ago, the kids and I did a Farm Tour at their farm in Gridley and I see them every year at the Ecological Farming conference. They are the loveliest folks you could meet. In Brad's spare time, his favorite activity is baking bread and tending to his flower garden. He's very sweet, mild mannered, and looks like Martin Sheen. He says folks tell him he looks like our current president. I prefer my version of what he looks like!
 
 BLUEBERRIES are from John Lagier in Escalon, though they will have a Stemilt Label on them because he is packing some of his berries for them this year.



6.01.2008

How it goes...

I hate it when I spent half an hour writing a blog post that, for one reason or another, I ultimately decide is unpublishable. I can't get the time back, and I can't make the phrases work. So for now let me do the lazy thing and link to something else I wrote for my real job. And don't forget to vote on Tuesday!

5.21.2008

Wii Fit Video Review Starring Moi

Community Supported Agriculture

We've decided to get fruits and vegetables delivered to us via a CSA (which stands for community supported agriculture) service. They provide home delivery of locally sourced fruits and vegetables. The selection in the Bay Area is pretty overwhelming--you have Capay Farm Fresh to You, Spud, Two Small Farms, and the one we chose Planet Organics, among others. They all seem to have pros and cons, but we chose that one mostly because I have a friend who already uses them and they are very happy with the selection. Plus, he always brings in awesome leftovers with an inspiring assortment of seasonal veggies. He and his girlfriend basically cook based on what shows up in the weekly box. So, we decided, along with our neighbors, to try it out and split the ingredients (since we're both on a budget and worried about ordering too much, then not using the stuff and having to toss it). We also figured it was a good time, since my mother-in-law is visiting for a month, and she's a great cook, and a vegetarian one to boot! Will report back on how it turns out!

5.10.2008

Adieu, Jerker

My Ikea Jerker desk is officially gone, via Craigslist, for free, to a woman who seemed very excited to receive it and came over to pick it up within 20 minutes of the posting. I'm a little nervous that she won't be able to assemble it without the instructions, but Nick tells me they'll figure it out. In searching for some pictures online to send her for guidance, I happened upon this Ikea Jerker Tribute site.

It warmed my heart to see that others share my affection for this desk that so many, including most if not all of my former and current housemates, have viewed as "hideous." I bought the desk in 1997, before the Bay Area even had Ikea. My brother imported it for me from the Southern California store. Assembling it by myself in my new apartment was one of my first realizations that I was on my own in this world, and that the road ahead wouldn't always be an easy one.

Sitting at my Jerker, I played many, many computer games. I wrote a novella and a lot of other stuff that may never see the light of day. I wrote a lot of stuff that did see the light of day. I listened to countless phone messages on the answering machine, stored conveniently on one of the swivel shelves. I watched my little TV that fit perfectly on the upper shelf. I applied for many a job from it during my period of unemployment. My cats sat on its various shelves for hours on end. And I disassembled and reassembled it at least six times that I can remember. (But it feels like more.)

It's fair to say I loved that desk, even though I saw its deficiencies. Namely, it has no internal storage, so the cables for all your stuff are always visible. And though you can adjust the height of all the shelves to your liking, doing so is a ton of work, so you usually leave it the way you set it up the first time out of laziness. What made this worse was that in our last move, we lost most of the essential screws, so three of the four shelves stood unattached, cluttering up our office for the last few years. I suppose I could have gone to a hardware store and gotten replacement screws (I couldn't find them at Ikea despite several attempts; I think they've redesigned the new Jerker to use different ones).

The truth is, though, that I was outgrowing the Jerker. It never really fit well in our home office, and a large desk like that no longer served my purposes. Plus, Nick hated the Jerker, and he eventually convinced me it was time to let the thing go. (I did fight though....) But hearing how happy this woman was to find out that it was still available, and the fact that she also took the zebra print chair that matched the desk perfectly, made it easier for me to say goodbye.

I just hope she figures out how to assemble it without the instructions.

5.05.2008

Chantal from ANTM!

I totally spotted a former America's Next Top Model contestant (Chantal) on a the cover of 7X7 magazine at Mollie Stone's the other day. I have to alert my favorite blogger, FourFour! I'd have posted a jpg but I'm way too tired and there's not a good one available on the site :(

4.23.2008

Trucks


DSC_5880
Originally uploaded by generaltsao.

My little guy has taught me so much about trucks. I never knew quite how many trucks there were out there in the world until I met Alex. My whole life I pretty much thought it was just like... truck. Big vehicle that you can haul stuff in. In college I learned that there were specific brands of trucks--because my one friend (Andrew McLelland--are you out there? We need to get in touch!) sometimes said "it was like I got hit by a Mack Truck." I knew that trucks were super handy for moving furniture. I knew people who owned trucks were always getting asked to help other people move. Still, I pretty much thought of trucks as...trucks.

But now I understand.

Garbage truck is a very generic term, and it describes many different kinds of trucks. There's the garbage truck that's actually a dump truck. There's the garbage truck that lifts garbage cans and dumps them. There's the garbage truck that lifts *dumpsters* and dumps them. There's the garbage truck that compacts garbage or gobbles up organic stuff (like old Christmas trees) in the back. I'm sure Alex knows of other garbage trucks. I'm kind of a novice here.

Then there are cement trucks. Like garbage trucks, these come in many colors and are incredibly interesting to watch in action. Cement trucks are a rare sighting and must be studied for the entire time they are in view.

And don't forget the many different types of delivery trucks--they all rattle along so loudly, and when they stop on the street, loud guys unload all manner of interesting innards from their cavernous depths. We live next to a building with a lot of rentals, so moving trucks stop in front of there frequently. Every one of them just fascinates Alex. With certain delivery trucks, you can see their inventory just by looking at them trundling along in motion: panes of glass, bottles of water, bales of hay, cars...for a little person like Alex, these things are incredibly exciting.

We also have the pickup trucks that ordinary civilians drive. These might merit a simple comment from Alex, but not a prolonged stare. No, those are saved for the bigger, more exciting pickup trucks with railings and storage lockers that contractors drive. (Our neighbor Svi has one of those, and it's always filled with sundry construction items.)

I haven't even gotten to the crown jewel of the genre: the firetruck. It has only been through Alex's eyes that I even started to notice all the subspecies of firetrucks, from the full-blown engine with hoses, ladders, instrument panels, and dedicated staffs all the way down to the simple Jeep-type things that zip around everywhere--playing the lead at a small domestic scuffle but just providing a supporting role at a multi-building, four-alarm fire. (In reading this over my shoulder, my husband has pointed out the many subtleties of this particular genre, and I'm realizing how much I'm outclassed, and how firetrucks clearly merit their own post. That Nick and Alex may have to write in later years.)

I don't think I can even get started on big rigs.

Was it the two Tonka trucks Alex received for Christmas? Or a fascination that was going to come out one way or another, nature triumphantly asserting itself over my cluelessly feminine nurture? Either way, I'm quite happy to have the chance to see the world of trucks through Alex's eyes. Let's hope we can get trucks running on renewable resources, lest this endlessly captivating vehicle become a quaint relic of the oil days.

4.02.2008

Teletubbized

I woke up this morning to the sounds of "UH-oh!" coming from Alex's room. This has become his latest catch-all word. He does use it in the "appropriate" context, such as when he spills food or milk and needs to clean it up. But he uses it much more often--most cutely when he wakes up in the morning or from a nap. He'll just stand in his crib and say "UH-oh!" over and over and over until we come get him. It may be because he's thrown his pacifier out of his crib in protest, and he's saying "UH-oh!" because it's on the floor. Maybe not, though. He also just sorta says it when he's run out of other words.

I fear he picked the word up from his favorite TV show, The Teletubbies. He did seem to learn "Bye-bye" from them, and it wouldn't surprise me if this word also came from them. Their version doesn't quite sound like Alex's; it's more like "Eh-OH" with the emphasis on the second syllable. I think "Eh-OH" is a Teletubbized version of "Hello." (Most of what the Teletubbies say turns out to be baby-talk versions of real words. I only realized this when we watched it once with closed captioning on, and I discovered that what I thought was incomprehensible babble actually comprised real words!)

Some aspects of the show freak me out (the robotic "Time for Teletubbies Time for Teletubbies Time for Teletubbies" chant; the creepy pinwheel; Tinky Winky's voice). But the simple words, shapes, and slow pace of the show make it really captivating for Alex. I can't deny that the producers definitely "get" the infant mentality.

Yeah, I know infants aren't supposed to watch TV. Mine does. UH-oh!

4.01.2008

Latest EGM Live*

We taped a fun little segment recently for EGM Live* about women in gaming. Check it out around minute 50:00. Make sure you listen all the way to the end!

3.24.2008

Buying Less, and Why Black and Decker Aren't Green

(NB: I really buried the lede here. To help those looking for the point, I've denoted the important part of the story with a line of asterisks, because the preamble came out way longer than I expected and I'm too tired to edit :)

I have been reading A Year Off Sale, where an entire family is spending this year attempting to buy only things they "need" rather than all the stuff they "want." It's very interesting and something I myself have thought about a lot lately. I give a lot of stuff to Goodwill, and recently it started to occur to me that the lifespan of some of my purchases is really short. If I'm not certain when I'm buying something that it's going to fulfill a specific need, I often end up admitting it wasn't quite right or necessary, and it ends up in the Goodwill pile a lot sooner than I'd imagined. Plus, I just feel overwhelmed by "stuff" so often that I have basically been attempting to bring less "stuff" into my life.

This family is doing exactly that, but very admirably and aggressively. I don't have that dedication right now, but I'm glad to see others doing this. If the demand for crap is lessened, maybe companies will produce less crap, and that can only be good for the landfills.

One particular entry about a badly designed appliance reminded me of an outrage I wanted to blog about a few months ago.

I bought a Black and Decker Toast-R-Oven about a year ago. This was to replace the previous Black and Decker Toast-R-Oven I'd gotten in 2000, which had had a broken door for about two years before recently stopping working altogether. We spent about $100 on the new toaster oven. I could have gotten a similar model for about $70, but I fell into that marketing trap where I figured that we might as well get the slightly more expensive model, because it probably was just a little better--more features, better functionality, etc. It was at least slightly larger, and it matched our kitchen decor.

I was very irritated to discover a few months into our ownership that, indeed, the thing didn't work very well, and definitely no better than the cheaper, older model I'd had previously. You'd think it was toasting your English muffin or bagel, because the timer worked and the light went on. But about 50% of the time, the elements just wouldn't get hot. I think the fact that it worked half the time actually made the problem worse; I didn't take it back immediately because I assumed it would work most of the time. Even when I realized it really only worked half the time, I still decided not to worry about it. I didn't want to waste a perfectly mediocre toaster oven.

The plot thickened the first time I burned myself on the handle. When I realized that the handle was partly constructed of a metal that got really hot when the toaster was on, and this metal was located in such a place that you could almost not avoid getting burned if you opened the door all the way, I started to get mad. When I realized that I was accidentally burning my hand every few times I successfully used the toaster oven, I got really mad. What kind of idiots designed this thing? Were they better or worse than the fools who manufactured it so badly that it didn't even work half the time?

One morning when I had a few extra minutes, I called Black and Decker's customer service as I ran my finger under cold water to soothe the latest burn. When I complained about the fact that I was getting burned all the time, the woman very calmly and coolly told me that there was nothing they could do about that, because the user information that came with the toaster oven clearly stated that one should use an oven mitt when opening the door. I found this irritating--they didn't even care about my customer feedback on their poorly designed product and only seemed concerned with covering their corporate asses in case I was gonna get litigious on them (which I had no intention of doing). I was mad, but I didn't argue the point.

Instead, I went on to complain about the fact that the toaster oven didn't actually work half the time. I figured this was also something that they'd want to know about. Interestingly enough, the woman perked right up.

"Oh, well that's a malfunctioning product, so we can replace that," she said.

Great, I figured. I asked her how I should go about returning the toaster oven. What she told me enraged me even more.

"Cut the power cord off the back of the product and mail the cord to the following address with your name and info," she said. "When we receive the cord, we'll send you a new toaster oven."

What was I supposed to do with the existing toaster oven, I asked?

"Please dispose of it," she said.

I cursed them on behalf of Mother Earth.

Isn't Black and Decker somehow responsible for "properly" disposing of their own faulty products? Isn't it irresponsible of them to fill the market with poorly made crap and then refuse to take it back when people can't use it for its intended purpose? And anyway, the toaster oven worked some of the time. At worst, shouldn't I be able to donate it to Goodwill or give it to my friends who'll adopt it, knowing its flaws, because they're trying to save money? (I also couldn't "cheat" by sending a lookalike cord, because they'd asked me for the serial number on the plug's prongs at the beginning of the call.)

After my anger settled down a bit, I decided to take a stand, however small. I just couldn't bring myself to mutilate a working toaster oven, however crappily it actually did work. I just couldn't hasten its journey to the landfill, and I didn't want any new Black and Decker products in my house, even if they were provided free of charge. I know my friends and family get tired of my environmental crusade, but I do feel the little things add up, and suffering with the stupid toaster oven became one small way to avoid creating more trash. I vowed to write this blog post and send them a copy. It took me a while, but thanks to that other blog, I got motivated tonight.

************

Boycott Black and Decker! Their products are terribly designed and badly made, and they're environmentally irresponsible! Write to them here and tell them how you feel!

************

3.23.2008

Wonderful Lurkers

My call to lurkers in my last post had the laughable effect of seeming to invoke writer's block in most of my friends/readers. I've heard from several of them that they want to comment but haven't because they're...

...still thinking about the right answer (true overanalysts after my own heart)
...eager to help but haven't a clue where I should go on vacation
...unable to figure out how to login in order to leave a comment
...secretly enjoying watching me beg for comments and receive only one (OK, I made that one up)

It is nice, however, to hear from people in response to something I wrote here, and I don't mind if it's in the form of a text, IM, or (gasp) real-life conversation!

In other news, insomnia strikes again... Could it be the two-hour nap I took earlier today when I had a major headache?

3.18.2008

Where to go?

A few years ago, we took an awesome vacation to Vietnam. We celebrated our first wedding anniversary there, and it was supposed to be the beginning of a tradition of taking an annual awesome vacation to somewhere exciting.

This was our last real vacation. A few months after we returned from Vietnam, we bought our house, and weeks later, I got pregnant. The budgetary restrictions that accompany one's first year of homeownership, the physical limitations of pregnancy, and the demands of new-parenthood naturally combined to keep us rather homebound since then. Yes, I did squeeze in a few great trips, but we haven't had real "vacations."

This year, we decided to get serious about it. I think I realized things were bad when my first anniversary of being back at work after maternity leave passed, and I had used, maybe, 1/4 of my vacation days for the year. As my company doesn't roll them over, that time was just gone--precious weeks of lost "me" moments, donated free of charge to my employer! (It is, I suspect, something all too many Americans (certainly my coworkers) do on a regular basis.)

Nick and I sat down and decided we had to force ourselves to set aside money each month for a travel fund, which we have been dutifully (and sometimes painfully) doing. So, now that we theoretically have the funds, the question remains: Where to go?

Here are some of our choices:

  • Hawaii ASAP... based on research, it seems that Maui is the best island for us, but that's about as far as we've gotten in that planning. Anyone know of an awesome condo or hotel we would like?

  • Tokyo in October... This would be a trip I could partially combine with work, because there's a big annual gaming show there. I have always wanted to go to Tokyo, and a lot of my friends and colleagues would be there, so it could be an action-packed week of work followed by vacationing and relaxing.

  • Croatia in September... This is a place we've been wanting to go for a while, and that would give us decent weather while still having enough time to plan and research. Supposedly plane fares are expensive, though.

  • Honduras... Our friends are planning a trip there and have invited us.

  • Cote D'Azur, France... To visit Nick's family. I've spent all of one evening in the South of France so renting a house there for a few weeks seems heavenly (but logistics have proven daunting).

  • The Tyrhennian Sea... I just like the sounds of this, mostly because it's where one of my favorite movies, Evil Under the Sun, is set.

  • Some South Pacific isle... Nick has wanted to go somewhere like Fiji forever, but I just haven't got a clue where to start in the planning.

  • Brazil... I've got family there and have seen just enough of the country to know I really want and need to go back!


  • Keeping in mind that we have a toddler, where would you recommend we go? (And to my wonderfully lurking audience, now would be a really great time to chime in!)

    P.S. Thanks to Nick for the blog post idea!

    3.16.2008

    Motherhood Mythbusting: Boys' Clothes


    DSC_5410
    Originally uploaded by generaltsao.

    There's no doubt that clothes for baby and toddler girls provide far cuter and far more options than those for boys. And when I found out I was having a boy, I'll admit that I was disappointed that I wasn't going to be able to dress my little doll in embroidered jeans, Mary Janes, and frilly dresses and fluffy sweaters in every color of the rainbow.... (And seriously, the sea of primary colors and horizontal stripes in the boys department does get dull.)

    But the nice thing I've discovered is that I still just adore dressing my little doll. I look forward to it on the weekends when we're hanging out all day and I get to pick out each and every item in his "ensemble." When Nick or my mom puts him in something that doesn't quite look right, if I have time, I will (unfortunately for Alex) pick out the offending pieces and replace them with more suitable ones. It's silly, I know, but I can't help but admit it. I love putting together outfits for the little guy.

    2.25.2008

    Chopsticks


    Chopsticks
    Originally uploaded by generaltsao.

    My mom has always told me I knew how to use chopsticks by the age of two, and I never believed her. But now that I've seen both Alex and Emily (my niece) use chopsticks successfully at much younger ages, I realize she wasn't exaggerating.

    2.20.2008

    Si jeunesse savait, si viellesse pouvait

    Several years ago, I would look at older pictures and say, "I looked so thin! Oh, to be that thin again!" My mom would hear me say this and tell me in ten years I would look back at pictures of myself then and say, "I looked so young!"

    As usual, she was right.

    (I just looked at some honeymoon pix and got profoundly wistful. I won't post them!)

    2.19.2008

    Media Blackout

    I've always heard it's healthy to separate yourself from media for an extended period of time--tuning out TV, radio, and Internet. And while my laptop is in the shop, the effects of the writers' strike are still upon us, and a big gaming conference is in town (meaning lower email volume at work), I've come to realize that this is as close as I'm ever going to get to such a state. I'm having to use my desktop PC to write this blog post, for pete's sake! It's downright barbaric. It might as well be 1996.

    What's interesting to me is that even that slightly reduced amount of media in my life has created all...this...space...for...thinking... Notice how I've actually been blogging? And like I said before, it's not like I'm any less busy. I'm definitely more busy this week than ever, owing to said gaming conference.

    Summary: Maybe TV really is rotting my brain!

    2.18.2008

    Freecycling

    So I've used the San Francisco Freecycle network a bunch, to get rid of specific items that I want to make sure go to someone who will actually want them (things like used electronics, our old Litter Robot, extra office supplies, and other stuff that might get lost in the Goodwill shuffle). But for other stuff, I have to admit I use the more lazy but amazingly effective "sidewalk freecycling." Today during our garage cleanout, I got rid of a hanging file folder cabinet, a lamp, and a small TV table. My husband, mom, and I started making bets on how long things would sit there before being claimed. We were surprised at how usually things didn't last minutes. (For freecyclers who may be reading this and getting incensed that I'm "dumping" stuff on the street, you can settle down: I fully intended to bring the items back in if they weren't collected by sundown... Luckily, I didn't need to!)

    2.17.2008

    Professor Layton

    OK, GameVideos needs to stop shooting me from this angle. It is bloody horrible! I want a rider in my contract!

    New Year Notes From the Underground


    Best Polling Place EVER!
    Originally uploaded by generaltsao.

    (Dostoevsky reference intended to indicate semi-mad nature of forthcoming rambling)

    I can't believe how quickly this Chinese New Year has come upon us. We've had a low-key celebration this year--dinner with friends and brunch with my dad, whose birthday also happens to fall on the lunar new year eve. It's been nice that the weather has been so stupendous. We've gone on a couple long walks in the past few weeks, and today we're heading over the Golden Gate Bridge to see what we find over there. What's amazing is how it seems like just yesterday that we took Alex to Bolinas on my maternity leave, when he was just a couple weeks old and a darling blob. Now he can run around, talk, jump, play, dance, and do all sorts of other crazy things.

    Time whizzes by when one is busy, but lately to me "busy" has started to seem like a cliche. Everyone's busy. I keep meaning to document a day in my life, start to finish, to give more depth and meaning to the "busy" label. It's not like I haven't been present in all these moments, and that's what I'm starting to realize is most important. Life is demanding and complicated. Few things come easily. Just when you start to finish your to-do list, new items magically appear on it, often more complex than the last. What's important is that you don't see being busy as a bad thing. Just go with it and enjoy everything you possibly can. You would hate to look back and realize you weren't enjoying yourself. Life is long, but it goes by quickly.

    Of course, having kids is evidence of that. Everything changes so dramatically and at such a rapid pace. One day Alex can say 10 words. Within a week, he's learned several new phrases. When the doctor first told us to count his words, it seemed like a worrisome and difficult task. What if we don't get to 10? What if he's only saying 7? Each individual word matters so much. It didn't take long for me to realize that soon this incremental counting of his vocabulary will seem ridiculous. (He comes from a verbose family, in case you hadn't noticed.) I do think it would be really interesting to learn just how many words I know. I remember really clearly the moment when I learned certain words: epitome, stultifying, ephemeral...

    Alex has currently started that incoherent rambling (wonder where he gets that from? ;) that babies do, where he is talking and talking, obviously asking questions, telling stories, narrating events, pointing to things and waiting for a reaction. I LOVE this part of his development. It's the cutest thing to hear. I really want to tape that before he starts to get more words. I vividly and fondly recall babysitting my niece Emily, who talked herself to sleep telling the most adorable, captivating and yet utterly undecipherable tales. It's a fascinating stage of language development.

    And here's a catch-up blurb with some of the details that might give depth to my "busy" label: still knitting; playing 25 Words or Less, Scrabble, Professor Layton, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles; exercising in fits and starts; picking up trash in front of the house; writing to SF Supervisors; trying to be a good neighbor; looking at my 8th grade yearbook with old friends; getting our stupid Kenmore dryer fixed; trying to plan various vacations (Utah? Tahoe? Cote D'Azur? Belize? Hawaii?); taking parents to pick up prescriptions; listening to stories of old Shanghai and Hong Kong; flinging old clothes and items; devising new calendar systems and work flow procedures at work; attempts at potty training; cooking risotto, bread pudding, brussel sprouts; being disappointed by the Patriots and Tom Brady; voting for Barack Obama; drinking wine and root beer schnapps floats; daytripping to LA; examining a hermit crab; evolving to XHTML after 10 years behind the times; eating at Spork (pix to come)...

    Life is basically good.

    2.05.2008

    The state of our union

    My mom has me watching Bill Moyers Journal now. They did a piece on Rep. Henry Waxman's committee to root out corruption in the government. I can't write much detail because, seriously, I can't even write blog posts at all lately, much less thoughtful, well researched ones. But what I'm learning watching this piece is that the state of our government under George W. Bush is even worse than I thought--and I already knew about how we're paying Blackwater billions to "accidentally" kill civilians in Iraq! So, I knew it was bad, but it's even worse! We're paying a company in Kuwait to build an American embassy there, and they're accused of kidnapping workers from the Phillippines and making them work without shoes. It's bad enough that these people are apparently being held without passports and were brought into the country under false pretenses, but to then not even give them shoes? And when the company, First Kuwaiti, is asked to explain these allegations in front of Waxman's committee, the company refuses to send a representative. And Condoleezza Rice pays lip service when asked why she's not looking into this, then it turns out her appointed Inspector General has a brother on the board of Blackwater, and when the Inspector General is called in front of Waxman's committee, he lies and says he didn't know his brother was on the board, but then when the committee basically exposes his lies and threatens to have him and his brother testify, he resigns from him post. And his name is Cookie, and is brother's name is Buzzy! You can't make this up! Nor would you want to! Because it would be too annoying!

    I bet Condi has to take pills to help her sleep at night. I'd hope she does.

    And I won't even get started on the missing e-mails. Oh, the missing e-mails. Waxman's holding a hearing about those on Feb. 15. Pay attention.

    1.27.2008

    Alex's First Blog Post

    dqy9 e3e6 mmmm!w2W@40 ef,iw

    1.21.2008

    Reality TV

    [Haha...this unedited post thing is kinda fun! This one was written on Sept. 20, 2007]

    Shows I'm proud to watch:

    Top Chef

    Shows I'm not proud to watch:

    Big Brother

    Shows I'm proud I don't watch:

    The Hills

    The Mystery of Blogging

    [This one was originally written on Oct. 25, 2007, and looking back at it, I think it's not half-bad, even in its unedited form!]

    Blogging is a mystery. I got an email from a long lost friend recently, in which he mentioned that he keeps track of me from afar through my blog. This was really sweet to discover. He's an international friend, but one I never imagined I'd go for an entire decade without seeing. (I used to be more of a jetsetter, and I always imagined that I would make it back to Europe at least every other year.) But it's been almost 10 years since I last saw this friend, and yet we're now magically in touch, in that odd Internet sort of way. It makes me really happy that I have a personal blog.

    The thing is, I don't like that blogs are so open. I know there's a site called Vox that lets you restrict who can see your blog, and I think that's really awesome. Unfortunately, the same reason I have this public blog and I make the vast majority of my photos public on Flickr is why I can't imagine having a successful blog on Vox: The people I know don't want to sign up to read. And if I further restricted access to my blog, I wouldn't get wonderful emails from long lost friends who just happen to read. (Perhaps that's the value of a site like Facebook or MySpace. Facebook is a bit like a blog, because you can express yourself in all these fun and different ways, and, for the most part, you connect only with your friends.)

    The mystery of blogging, and Flickr too, is that even though it may be intended for some, it's available to all, and often, when it's hard even to get the intended audience to pay attention, it seems ridiculous to restrict that intended audience's access. Also, while the majority of my posts may be for friends and family (who know and understand and...gasp...care where all this damned meandering is coming from ;), occasionally, there's the odd post that might help a random person searching for info on a particular topic.

    I don't know. It's late, and I have insomnia. (WTF IS UP WITH THAT BTW?!) I'm sure there's a college student somewhere studying this. I'd love to read what they find out. The upshot is that, just when I was considering quitting this blog because of some recent negative associations with the hobby and this particular blog's seeming lack of purpose, that email from my friend arrived, and it convinced me to keep it up. Because obviously, somebody is reading, and heck, that's one more than before I had a blog!

    I'm officially tired

    [I'm publishing this one (originally written on Jan. 8, 2008) unedited because it's just funny... I think the unedited post, truly, says it all!]

    This working mom thing is

    OK, that didn't work...

    Wow. My first attempt at recklessly publishing an unedited post was a clear and obvious failure. Perhaps it's because the post I'm trying to publish is about an emotionally charged issue in local politics (Ammiano's fight to keep chain stores out of the Mission, why I'm against him on this one, and what I'm doing about it), and that's not something I can just blather on about without carefully considering the things I'm saying. Even if it only gets read by 5 people! I guess it'll have to wait until I have the energy to edit.

    So many rough drafts, so little time (and energy)

    I am so behind on my mental hijinks. That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of mental hijinks going on, but I haven't had time and energy to edit and post them. I'm tempted to just post the rough drafts. It's not like I have a gazillion readers anyway. Hm... there's an idea...