Merry Christmas

Another Christmas has come and gone, and we’re approaching the New Year. It was a tough season, with my crushing work deadlines running right up to January 1; we didn’t do all the decorating and hoo-rah that we normally do, but you know what? As the Grinch discovered,

“[Christmas] came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!”

He puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.

Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!

The inestimable Dr. Seuss

This year we made generous donations on behalf of the adults in our family, with very small token gifts for each person. My employer matches 100% of donations up to $2,500 total, so we made sure to do donations through their system and double the dollars. I felt pretty smart about that.

Benji received Pokemon pajamas, Pokemon cards, and a Pokemon book he really wanted. Commence the Poke-mania.

Christmas evening Colleen and Jordan joined us, fresh from their flight from LA, and we celebrated with our traditional Happy Birthday, Jesus! Birthday Cake:

Happy Birthday Jesus, 2018

On December 26, my entire side of the family, including Colleen and Jordan, went to Lopez Island for four nights. I’ve made some tough choices and culled down to one picture per day.

Going to Lopez Ferry Puzzle
We got started on a 1,000 piece puzzle on the ferry to Lopez. Sadly it’s only 40 minutes, so we didn’t get that far; plus, we suspect some of the pieces were missing.
Lopez Loop: Iceberg Point
On Thursday morning Dad and I went for a 45-mile ride around Lopez Island. We started in the dark and got to see the sunrise. We went slow, but appreciated every beautiful minute.
Yule Log
On Friday it rained ceaselessly. Benji went a little stir-crazy, but Colleen and I did manage to squeeze in the time to make a Yule Log, which we’d planned well in advance. It turned out beautiful and delicious.
Shark Reef
On Saturday it rained hard most of the day, but in the morning we got out to Shark Reef before the rain started. It’s a tiny park with a minimal hike but a truly spectacular view. My phone camera really couldn’t do it justice. The Olympics, the sunrise, the currents, sea lions and eagles and enough moss and lichen to warm any botanist’s heart.
Ferry Home
On Sunday morning just Benji, Ian, and I caught the 9:30 ferry back home. We got in line an hour early, so we arrived just after sunrise, and again got some wonderful views. The San Juan Islands really do spoil a person for natural beauty.

Not pictured:

  • The countless hours Colleen and Benji played Pokemon, with Benji being different pokemons (Bulbasaur, Pikachu, Jiggly-Puff, and Charmander, I believe) and Colleen acting as the trainer;
  • Playing lots of board games, including Shadows in the Forest (cool concept but a rocky execution), Tofu Kingdom, Azul, and Mole Rats in Space (we lost two consecutive games, much to our astonished dismay);
  • Doing two puzzles, including one 1,000-piece puzzle in one day (Benji “helped” by taking pieces apart — gah!!);
  • Going out for walks in the dark and rain;
  • Going out for walks in the dim and cloudy;
  • Benji sleeping on a pile of pillows in the closet of our master bedroom and waking us up at the crack of dawn even on vacation (gah again!);
  • Watching a couple of the new season of Mystery Science Theater episodes (Mac & Me and Atlantic Rim — both truly terrible, as expected);
  • The amazingly uncomfortable “carpet” made out of what appeared to be rope, and an entry way made of the same large aggregate cement they use in driveways, truly a brutal floor for bare feet;
  • Lovely views from the beach-front side of the house;
  • The bazillion times we reminded Benji to please be quiet, because Jordan and Colleen were still “sleeping” (I seriously doubt there was a lot of sleeping going on after 6:30 am, but the thought was there).

We left the island a little earlier than anticipated, at 9:30 am rather than 1:30 pm, and that was a good call. We got home in time to rest and reset, and Colleen, Jordan, and my parents joined us just in time for Indian food dinner and one last game of Pokemon-and-trainer.

Overall, a good but exhausting trip. Now do I get a vacation to recover from my vacation?

New Look, Same Great Taste

You may notice that the look and feel of my blog has changed. I felt like it was time for a facelift.

The only real change you might see is that I’ve added a menu at the top. Not that there a lot of navigation that you might want to do, but there it is.

Hope you enjoy the updated theme, and let me know if you have any suggestions or ideas for improvements.

Cold, Dark, and Rainy

At last the weather has entered the classic Washington pattern of short, dim days, heavy cloud cover, and copious rain. Not that I prefer these conditions, but as a Washington native, it doesn’t feel like winter until the rain starts.

Well, yesterday the rain certainly started… And didn’t stop. By the time I got home, nary a square inch of me remained dry. That’s no big deal, but it was also quite windy, which I don’t care for.

Because of the wind, and the difficulty of seeing in dark, rainy conditions, I opted to take the Burke-Gilman Trail home from Seattle, rather than going across the 520 bridge and up through Kirkland. Especially lately, I’ve felt really nervous about riding down Market Street. At every intersection, cars turn right across the bike lane, and they never stop or seem to notice me. It’s very anxiety-inducing.

Plus, riding in the dark with car headlights blazing into my eyes, with raindrops refracting their light, it’s nearly impossible to see what’s ahead of me. I have super-powerful lights, but they don’t help when my vision is obscured.

So I took the Burke.

In the summer I don’t care for the Burke: too many other people, too flat, too boring, and a couple miles longer.

But in these conditions, there aren’t many other people, and flat and boring mean predictable, which is exactly what I want. Plus, with no cars, it not only feels safer, but it’s much easier to see.

When I got home, I realized something else: going across 520, I have 14 stoplights from the time I leave the UW to the time I get home. But riding on the Burke, I have only two stoplights.

Here’s a typical across-the-520-bridge commute:

Here’s the on-the-Burke around the north end route:

As a result, when I checked my times at the end, I had the odd experience of having a longer moving time (1:22 for 21.4 miles, versus 1:16 for 19.5 miles… Don’t judge me! It’s December, it’s dark, wet, windy, and nasty. You try riding faster.) but a shorter overall time (1:23 versus 1:29). I spent almost 15 minutes stopped when I went through Kirkland, compared with only one minute stopped going on the Burke.

So that’s interesting. My take-away: I may mix up my commutes more, especially on those dark, wet days when riding in traffic is extra-dangerous.

Cozy Coloring

Computers sure do smooth out some things. Coloring on my Surface allows him to erase more easily, use colors that can’t exist in real life (rainbow, star sparkle, and hot lava are popular), and — best of all — undo mistakes.

I also like not using up reams of paper on half-finished scribbles.

We keep computer usage under close control, but this is a case where it really does work for us.

Let Them Eat Cake

I work for a software company. The thing about software companies is they’re always making improvements to their software. And so periodically — typically every 60 days or so — we release those changes out into the wild. When that happens, the other technical writer and I have to make sure the Help Center is all up to date and reflecting those changes.

But the previous release, scheduled for early November, was canceled. I guess the devs needed more time for the new features. Unfortunately, I’d already made changes to the Help Center, and it would’ve been a huge waste of time and effort to try to roll it back. (Don’t ask why.)

So, suffice it to say that we held all the changes we’d made from the end of October through December 6. All those updates went live at the same time, late in the afternoon of release night.

How many are we talking about? Well, for reference, we normally publish 100 or so pages on a release night. On a big night, we’d publish 200 pages. We have to check every one of those pages: What were the changes, and did the changes make it into production? This is not as easy as it sounds, because we have ways of excluding content, and it’s surprisingly easy to inadvertently exclude — or not exclude — content that gets published to production. Hence the diligent checking.

This release, we published 1,080 pages

Imagine two people trying to diligently check over 1,000 pages.

We spent the entire week running up to the release pre-checking pages, even working from home to keep on pre-checking. But even just spot-checking 1,080 pages takes a long time. We anticipated leaving work very, very late.

Fortunately, the company buys dinner for everyone who has to stay late for releases, including us! This time, a different person was responsible for organizing the dinner. She opted to do a group order from Cheesecake Factory.


Have you looked at their menu lately? It’s really just different ways to combine grease, carbs, and sugar. This from me, and I love grease, carbs, and sugar! But reading the menu, I could just imagine what a gut-bomb any of those meals would be once I’d consumed all 1,500+ calories.

Again: Ug.

But it’s the Cheesecake Factory. Naturally, the menu includes tons of cheesecakes. I opted to take the road less traveled (by which I mean totally untraveled; nobody else did this) and I ordered an entire cheesecake for dinner. Just the cheesecake. 

Here it is, in all its release-night glory, my 7″ lemon-raspberry cheesecake:

Release Night Whole Cheesecake
A whole lemon-raspberry cheesecake for my release-night dinner.
Release Night Cheesecake
Best release night dinner ever.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure the people organizing dinner would let me order an entire cheesecake. I thought somebody would stop me. But no; it went right through and arrived along with everyone else’s gut-bombs.

That’s not to say I didn’t get many comments along the lines of, “You ordered an entire cheesecake?!” to which I gave the only possible answer: “Yes. Yes, I did.”

I took some to save for later, and I took as much as I wanted for the evening (one moderate slice), and then I put the rest out to share. Locusts descended and gleefully partook. It lasted a grand total of maybe five minutes after I made it widely available, and all takers greatly enjoyed the fruits of my audacity.

It was the best release night dinner I’ve ever had. Delightful. 

I hope they let us order Cheesecake Factory again. I’m keen to try one of the chocolate cheesecakes this time.

Oh…yes, in case you’re wondering, I did actually provide myself with a real dinner.

Christmas Movie Madness

My team at work is doing a rainbow unicorn Christmas decoration theme (I found this!). In the spirit of embracing the utter silliness, I have embarked upon an ambitious scheme of watching one Hallmark-style* Christmas movie every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Madness, indeed.

Not that they’re hard to find on Netflix, but I’ve found a handy list of all the Christmas movies available right now.

I’m just going to give my elevator-pitch summary of the experience. I’m not going recap plots, which are trivially easy to find online (let’s be honest: so are reviews). I’ll also include a link to a review I think pretty accurately reflects the experience.

When Christmas is over, I may try to synthesize my sincere thoughts on these — there’s a lot to say about stuff like gender equality, glorification of wealth and consumerism, women’s role in society, and so much more — but for now let’s just leave it light and fluffy.

Week 1 | November 25, 2018 | The Princess Swap

In this movie, you’ll literally know exactly what’s going to happen from the moment the premise is revealed. There’s not one single moment of surprise or even concern that you might not know what’s going to happen. In fact, the director even said so himself:

Most of the similarities between The Princess Switch and its obvious predecessors—particularly The Parent Trap and The Princess Diaries—were intentional. “All we’re really doing is doing a new arrangement of somebody else’s orchestration, and putting our own color to it,” Rohl said.

Vanity Fair: “The Princess Switch Director Answers Burning Questions About Netflix’s Christmas Sensation.”

Sadly, there’s not much chemistry or even acting involved, although there are the occasional wacky hijinks.

Yet it checks all the boxes of a classic Hallmark Christmas movie (including incredibly low production quality), with the kind of mindless sweetness and predictability you must might be hankering for as an escape from the harsh reality of immigration conflicts, climate change politics, etc.

Overall: I acknowledge that it was formulaic, yet I still loved it.


CNet: “The Princess Switch review: Not the classic holiday rom-com 2018 deserves.”

Week 2 | December 1, 2018 | A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding

If you didn’t watch A Christmas Prince last year, don’t worry, you didn’t miss anything that won’t be amply recapped in the first five minutes. Plus, like A Princess Swap, they strictly adhere to the formula, ensuring that you don’t even need to stay awake for the entire movie to know exactly what’s happening at every moment. On two separate instances, Ian anticipated word-for-word the exact next phrase the character would say.

Unfortunately, I found this way less enjoyable than the original Christmas Prince or A Princess Swap. It’s ostensibly a romance, but most of it follows the strangely hapless, clueless Amber as other people trample her desires — no romance in sight. The few scenes with her and the prince (King?) are so lacking in chemistry they can’t make up for the lack.

Overall: Meh.

Vox: “Netflix’s A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding is straight trash. But it’s cozy trash.

*”Style” because (a) they are probably going to be made by Netflix, not actually Hallmark; and (b) I’m counting Muppet Christmas Carol, which will, without doubt, be the best one of the lot. Because it’s one of the, if not THE, best Christmas movie of all time.