Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Back after a break

Took a nice break there. Just didn't feel like cluttering up cyberspace with uninspired musings. But now I've got lots of things on my mind. :-) Like this great book on Paris by writer Adam Gopnik given to me by a co-worker. Paris to the Moon details the author's five years on a dream assigment: writing about Paris life for the New Yorker. Gopnik is a masterful storyteller, deftly weaving the profound and mundane in the same paragraph. It makes me long for Paris even more because he talks about all these great places there that I didn't even know about. So much Paris, so little time. :-)

This is one of my favorite pictures from Paris. I have seen this scene so many times in movies and on TV, so it was great to stand there myself and experience it, on a beautiful day, to boot!

Now I'm going to brainstorm ways of creating a Paris-related assignment of my own. Where there's a will...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The future of the USPS

Early adopter that I am, here's my latest favorite tech gadget, courtesy of the United States Postal Service of all things. This is a picture of one of the new Automated Postal Centers that are cropping up around the city. It's basically an electronic kiosk, similar to an ATM, that let's you figure out how much postage is required for packages, buy stamps, and send it off, right from the post office lobby, anytime, day or night.

What's so great about a fancy kiosk? No more waiting in lines! Mail things when you want, not when the post office is open. I took this picture after mailing some domestic and international letters at 8pm tonight. How convenient is that?! No spending your lunch hour in line at the post office or trying to rush there after work. In this age of e-mail and online bill payments, perhaps that's not as much of an issue for some people. But tech maven that I am, I have a thing for fountain pens and still handwrite letters and cards. So the post office still plays a prominent role in my life.

And I seem to have an uncanny ability to get in line behind urban luddites: customers who have seemingly beamed here from 1973 and have never used an ATM touchpad before, or who spend six minutes deciding exactly which type of first class stamps they want, or who get to the front with seven unsealed packages that lack zip codes or return addresses, or who otherwise violate the rules of postal customerdom. It's infuriating for those of us who are accustomed to technology-enhanced, near-instant gratification and who think that everything, postal transactions included, should take approximately 7 seconds. Maybe 9 if it's your first time doing it.

So for those reasons, I'm LOVING the Automated Postal Center. Sure, the Glass Half Empty view is that it's yet another way to take a job or two from a postal worker, but the Glass Half Full view is that it may also free one or two postal workers to do other more labor-intensive tasks, thus speeding things up for other customers overall. Plus, the kiosk likely creates a job for the person who has to service the machine when the inevitable glitches crop up. That's the beauty of technology and the knowledge economy. Some jobs are lost, new ones are created. Sure, it's woe unto the folks who are not ready to operate in this kind of economy, but that's a diatribe for another day.

So look around the next time you're at the post office and you hear someone ask how much 37-cent stamps are. Again. An Automated Postal Center may keep you and your packages on the move.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Death of a dream: monorail voted down

I'm in a bit of a funk over the outcome of the local election on November 8. In a 65% to 35% vote, Seattle voted to shut down the Seattle Monorail Project, just two months from the start of construction. Two months! People outside this area are flabbergasted (links to PDF of article from London) that it even had to be voted on five times and that the Mayor and City Council wouldn't support it.

Part of what's so frustrating is that so many people bought into the lie that the money spent to date on the Project was "wasted", even before the vote. $70 million of the $180 million spent bought property that will now be resold, likely at a higher return for taxpayers. The rest paid for all of the technical work, engineering, environmental impact review, public outreach and and coordination with other agencies that brought the Project to the brink of construction in a record 3 years. The national average for getting to this point is 7-12 years (!) and at a cost a lot higher than $180 million. Unbelievable. Now that we're not going forward, it will be wasted.

While I was in Paris, I met with the Communications Director for the Paris Metro system (That's him to the right. Yes, I'm on the job, even while on vacation).

He's worked for the Metropolitan system for 33 years (!) so he's seen all the ups and downs transit projects go through in getting built and expanded. Despite my rusty French, I was able to tell him about the monorail we were trying to build, how everyone was upset about the proposed cost, etc. It took him all of 5 minutes to assess the situation: "Ce n'est pas un problème financier. C'est un problème politique." It's not a financial problem. It's a political problem. Mais oui

Basically he said regional leaders lacked the political will to make the monorail happen and that while it had great public support, it lacked a politial sponsor willing to see it through and deflect the inevitable opposition.

One example he gave was that they were extending a line (of a decades old successful system) and still ran into opposition from a neighborhood activist who felt the construction was too noise, too disruptive and unnecessary. After some delay, the concerns were assuaged and the project continued. "Because this is what happens: people complain," he explained. "About the construction, the cost, the disruption. You deal with it and move forward. Once it's running, people love the system again and clamor for extensions to other areas."

Small consolation that apparently only people in foreign countries with excellent transit systems understand the benefits of the project we were trying to build.

Here's a shot of J. in a Metro station in Paris. I took several pictures in the trains. They were great! Clean, efficient, timely, affordable, and easy to navigate. We walked and rode the trains everywhere. Midway through the trip, my car-loving husband even remarked, "These trains are so convenient, I don't even miss driving. If I lived here, I wouldn't even need a car." Yeah, that's what having great transit will do for you. Too bad we'll never know what that feels like here in Seattle.

Oh yeah: the post-Paris buzz is definitely gone.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Back to the grind...

We made it back to Seattle late Friday night on separate flights (airline overbooking snafu). I have lots more pictures to upload and tips gleaned from the trip in case you're thinking of going there too. But the work-a-day world beckons. I'll try to hold on to the post-Paris buzz as long as possible.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Meat on the street

We are much closer to our food here in Paris than in the states. Meaning we see veggies arriving to the neighborhood markets, see people buying fresh seafood, veggies and bread daily.
Also, as evidenced by the attached picture, we see sides of beef being delivered on neighborhood streets, sans protective plastic wrap or covering, I might add. You might see that down at the public market in Seattle, but not on, say, the Ave in the University district, which would be equivalent to the neighborhood where we saw this. New experiences abound.

Open air elevated station

This one is similar in concept to what the Seattle Monorail Project's open-air stations will look like. Except several decades newer of course.

Garden outside Louvre

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Open face chicken sandwich

How tasty looking is that?!

St. Honore shrimp dish up close

Shrimp lunch in St. Honore neighborhood

We stopped at this place Tuesday for a late lunch after walking the canals in another neighborhood. I had an open-face chicken sandwich: piece of grilled chicken on excellent bread covered in exquisite cheese then grilled. SO glad it's low fat. Yeah right!

I have yet to see any menu items labeled "heart healthy" or "low carb". I think that's completely contrary to the French approach, which is: highest quality ingredients, beautifully prepared to perfection for the palate. If that means the freshest vegetables, seafood and meats coupled with buttery sauces, real ham and bacon, and a healthy helping of cheese, so be it.
We know what that means healthwise, so either eat in moderation and walk a lot, or be prepared to find a caftan shop you like. Life's all about tradeoffs. :-)
Personally, I'm opting for the moderation and walking this week. When I'm back at my sedentary job, I'll post a list of my favorite Northwest caftan retailers. ;-)

Louvre: inside looking out

Shot of the massive courtyard on one side of the building. Acres of gardens unfold farther afield.

Mayhem at the Louvre

We visited the Louvre museum yesterday. It apparently receives 5 million visitors each year. It felt like 3 million of them visited the same day we did. The picture shows the crush of people in the entry under the giant glass pyramid. Note: this is just people waiting to buy tickets to get in! Definitely not the place for people with fear of crowds, or ambulatory problems: we walked for 2 hours and barely covered the wings on ancient greek and italian figurines, paintings and drawings.
I'll post more pix later showing how big this place is. But the art and buildings really do give you an amazing sense of history: the Louvre itself opened in 1793! More info and pix of their holdings here:
Favorite moment: the look on the face of two frazzled parents as they realized that, after a long wait in line and who knows how long getting to the museum, the amassed art at hand was less interesting to their two young kids than running and sliding across the marble floors on their knees. :-)

Metro musicians

Not sure if this will upload, but this is video of a group of musicians playing in one of the Metro stations. There have been different ones each day in the station nearest our apartment and it's a wonderful bit of culture in the sweat-tinged crush of people in the Metro's hallways.
The French really revere writers, artists and musicians; much more so than Americans on average. Some historians say that's partly why African American entertainers were so accepted here in the early 20th century, despite France's lack of acceptance of people of color from its former colonies in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. The culture of celebrity definitely played a role. I'll add links to some interesting resources on this issue when I return. In the meatime, here's a link to an audio file from NPR's This American Life about life in France for American expatriates. The first couple a hilarious classics from NPR's Davis Sedaris. The 3rd or 4th one is by an African American attorney and author who moved to Paris in the 1990's for her job. She wrote a book about her rise from the 'hood to the Ivy Leagues, to attorney in Paris. Enjoy!

J. @ Arc de Triomphe

This picture doesn't do the structure justice: it's massive and sits at the intersection of several streets that converge in a circle around it. So to reach it, you take a tunnel from the Champs Elysées (a giant boulevard) under the street and up to the base of the structure. Once there, you can also take an elevator ride to the observation deck.
Info on the arch's history can be found here:

Monday, October 24, 2005

Those French know how to eat

The food here has been great. Filling and flavorful. I even figured out how to use my French phrasebook to order in English. I just pull it out and display prominently and the waiter says, "What would you like?" See? Awkward butchering of the French language averted. :-) Actually, that's only worked once. Usually I do order for us in French but some menu items are not in my dictionary. For instance: andouillette would seem to be close enough to the English 'andouille' to guess it's sausage, right? Well it is, but as our waiter pantomimed for us, it's sausage made with pig intestines. That's right: we nearly ordered chitlin' sausage. It might have been tasty, but since I don't even like regular chitlins, I'm guessing I would have been one unhappy, hungry camper.
The only other meal challenge we've had is that the meat cooking scale is different here. We ordered beef "medium well" and what came out on the platter was basically seared on the outside and still wondering what hit it on the inside. Note to self: use "bien cuit" next time (well done).

Café life

Jason and I at our new favorite pastime: checking out new street cafés. This is in the Marais district in Northeast Paris on the Right Bank of the Seine.

Me and the Tower

Le Tour Eiffel

This is one of my first views of the Eiffel Tower. It's just as impressive up close.

Late night dinner

This is me at dinner outside at a sidewalk table. It's chilly at night, but most places have overhead heaters and some even provide blankets for people at sidewalk tables. We generally opt for those because people smoke like chimneys here!

Coming from Seattle, where non-smoking crusades are practically a way of life, it's been interesting to adjust. Even non-smoking seats usually just mean people aren't smokin "at your table". :-)

Guess they haven't seen the research on the whole secondhand smoke issue. (Yeah right)  We've been eating dinner really late most nights: like 9-10:30pm, partly due to the wacky sleep schedule and partly because that's when people eat here. Most eateries open in the morning for a few hours, then close midday or just serve beverages or light food, then open for dinner at 7pm. The stores have equally interesting schedules, many of them opening from 9-12pm, closing, then re-opening 3-7pm. France has a 35 hour work week instead of the 40 (or more) in the U.S. Just a different way of life here.

Street scenes

One of the things we're loving about Paris is how vibrant it feels. This picture is a midday Sunday street scene in the neighborhood where we're staying.
As we walked to dinner last night at 10pm (!) and passed people speaking French, German, Italian and English, plus multiple eateries brimming with people inside and outside at tables on the sidewalk just in this small neighborhood in the 2nd arrondissement, Seattle paled in comparison. It seems more like a cowtown with delusions of grandeur.

THIS is what a real international city looks and feels like. Granted, they've had hundreds of years to get it to this point and it's by no means perfect, but they're at least a great example of true high density, urban living. I love this place.

Window full of goodness

No surprise given the French gastronomical reputation, but there are great looking food shops EVERYWHERE. We can barely walk from our apartment to the Metro (about 4-5 blocks) without being tempted by multiple bakeries, confectioneries, cafés, and more.

I can see why people talk about a French paradox: they eat rich, delicious food and wine at every meal and don't seem to gain an ounce. After just a few days, it's clear how they do it: the portions are normal, not supersized, and they walk A LOT more.

We've eaten well the whole time we've been here, but thanks to our sightseeing and treks to various neighborhoods on my never-ending quest for cool fountain pens and paper, we're racking up huge step counts each day:
Friday (1/2 day): 3,625 steps
Saturday: 11,468 steps/5.25 miles (this one was a bit much. We came back and slept for hours)
Sunday: 3,632 steps/1.7 miles
Monday: 10,871 steps/4.98 miles (due in large part to the Louvre. It's MASSIVE and we barely scratched the surface before our bodies said 'enough', followed by another later afternoon, multi-hour nap). It feels great though to get out and move.

Getting settled

I convinced Jason to take the Metro system from the airport, which was a great way of seeing some of the city. But once we made it to the right neighborhood, we had some trouble finding the place, which, along with the slight challenge of navigating the Metro, irked Jason to no end, but hey: it's an adventure, right?

So we just called the guy we're renting the apartment from and he met us nearby. He owns a flowershop not too far away.

We were both beat from the trip and time change so we took a long nap and are getting ready to get out and see more of the neighborhood we're in.

I also discovered I brought the right converter but not an adapter for the plug so we have to find a store nearby. Thank goodness for the internet: a site informed me that BHV, a big store here, is like 'Marshall Fields department store, Sears and Home Depot rolled into one.'

We'll check it out Saturday. The adventure continues! :-)

Paris Metro: a great way to get around

This is J. alongside the tracks in a Paris Metro station, The trains are our primary mode of transportation. Walking is the secondary mode. It's amazing how much we walk here! And it feels great. J. even said on Day 3: "I don't even miss driving." This from a self-described "car guy." Not when you can take train most places you need to go and the wait time is 4 minutes or less between trains.
This is the best argument ever for Monorail in Seattle, which will have similar average wait times. Vote yes on Prop. 1 and 2!
Once you see what it's like to have great mass transit, you wonder how you managed without it.
Paris is everything I hoped for and more. I'm filled with joy from this experience. More later!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Paris arrival

This is what we looked like after a 9 hour flight from Chicago. But we made it to Paris!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Funeral follow up and Chinoise tonight

Emotionally draining afternoon at the funeral of a family friend. If you've ever debated whether to go to a funeral, I highly recommend it, as does this author. It's a stark reminder (often set to music and, more recently, PowerPoint) of what really matters in life.

I've yet to attend a funeral where the person's virtues as an employee were tearfully extolled. In the end, it's always about how they treated their friends and family. Something to think about as we head into another work week. :-)

The accompanying picture is from Chinoise in Madison Park in Seattle. Cashew shrimp with green beans. Excellent. So was the bok choy and mushrooms. Tasted like it was sauteéd with garlic then simmered with a broth of some kind. Yummy!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Yet another Lemongrass night

I LOVE their 5-spice chicken noodle soup! Totally takes the edge off the 11 hour day. :-) and the fact that tomorrow is Friday is also making me smile.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Isis reclining

Could my pooch be any cuter?! She's lounging in her dog bed from with her boots on (hubby has an issue with scratched wood floors). Still, not a bad dog's life.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

direct moblog

so if this works as planned, this will upload automatically to the blog.
This will be great on vacation!

So I picked up a little foldable keyboard from Fry's - also known as geek heaven. It's a Think Outside, Bluetooth enabled, 4-row gizmo, so I don't have to dink around with wires and connectors. That's the keyboard in the picture, but not my phone. It definitely allows for a faster input. I'll see how it wears over the next couple days. I'll have that book written (plus carpel tunnel) in no time!

Monday, October 10, 2005

yet another photo test

This is a shot of the Sound from the Bremerton ferry dock Sunday. Lovely little outing there with the hubby. Walked around, had a meal, stopped for treats at the Bainbridge Bakery, and headed home. Just needed a change of scenery.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Still no luck with's moblogging software. Text works fine but not pix. Jeez louise! That's why you have a camera phone. Uugh. Maybe it's the FTP aspect. I'll try that later but it seems to defeat the purpose of easy software if you need something relatively advanced like an FTP site.

[Posted with hblogger 2.0]

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Leisurely but productive Saturday

Having spent the majority of the morning alternately napping and trying to figure out how to get the moblogging software to work from my Treo 650, I suddenly realized I was famished and well on my way to the headache that inevitably results from not eating.

The morning was productive though, and chock full of activities that may give me enough points for my geek merit badge. I followed up my foray into blogging with the purchase this morning of my first domain: If i'd understood what was to come technologically, I would have bought back in 1996 or '97 when I first started using the 'net. Instead, some NY jeweler owns it and uses it for the company's Natasha line of jewelry. At least it doesn't link to some poorly constructed, haphazardly spell-checked porn site like "NATASHA.COM!! THE HOTTEST PLACE ONTHE WEB FOR RUSHIAN GILRLS GONE WILDDD!!!"


I need to do some more tinkering to figure out how I want to manage the site, what upgrades or changes I'll want, etc. I even booted up Dreamweaver for the first time in months to start building a new website. The current page there is just my old slap-dash, two year old site with an outdated resume and other assorted text from when my freelance business was active. I'll take baby steps to the new incarnation.

So when I finally got out and about (nothing like showering and getting dressed for the day at 3:30pm), I hit the World Lux grand opening downtown. It's a pen and leather goods store that used to be called Seattle Pen. I've actually already been in to the new store. They opened a couple weeks later than expected but I kept walking over on my lunch break to see if they were open yet. Each time, they weren't and had pushed the opening off a few days. So I stopped going to avoid becoming the first pen store stalker on record.

But all the folks there are nice and have started to remember my name ("Oh yes: here you are in our database under 'S' for stalker."). Today I drooled over pens and perused their new watch section on Jason's behalf. I also took home a cool, red, Lodis backpack. I have added a classic green Conway Stewart sterling silver Duro fountain pen with a Broad italic nib to my wish list. Drool, drool.

Next I stopped by Lemongrass in the International District for a long-delayed meal: 5-spice chicken noodle soup and stir fried tofu and mango salad. Love it! More later.

[Posted with hblogger 2.0]

Still at it

How about now?

Eiffel tower test

Trying again.

so apparently there's a problem with picture uploads on the Treo 650 using Hblogger. Grrr. the search continues.

[Posted with hblogger 2.0]

Isis and Diesel at daycare

Final test of the session: sending a photo. This was the GSU vs. WSU game last month. Grambling took a drubbing, but they still had the best halftime show. As if there was really any competition. :-)

[Posted with hblogger 2.0]
I just downloaded a trial version of Hblogger to see if I can moblog with it. The download and install was a snap. Looks like a fully registered version will be my next online purhase.

[Posted with hblogger 2.0]

Jumping on the blog-wagon...

Today's as good a day as any to join the fray of folks posting their musings on the web. As if I need another reason to increase the seven to ten hours a day I already spend staring into a computer screen (or two, in my case). I'll give it a go and see if it suits me. One worry is that this will be like adding a digital pet to the household: one more thing to feed and attend to each day. We shall see.