Archive for the ‘Raves’ Category

New mobile blog theme and commenting!

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Until just a few months ago, I spent hours and hours on my computer most every day, and that’s where I read blogs. But that changed in October when I was hospitalized with pre-eclampsia, or pregnancy-induced hypertension. Stuck on bedrest, I began using my iPhone to read internet sites including blogs. I’ve since learned that many of you are using mobile phones to read blogs, too.

My friend Charles (check out his fantastic Off the Kuff site) pointed me to a great WordPress plug-in (WPTouch) to make our blog site much more readable on mobile devices. Unlike some others I considered, this one is well-regarded and installed easily in minutes. If you’re reading our blog from a phone now, I hope you find the new look is an improvement!

Comments enabled!

Since we launched this blog in March 2008, we have really enjoyed having a place to journal our lives and share our news with friends and family. And as I have said before, reading your comments, answering your questions, and hearing your encouragement is often the best part.

However, commenting from mobile phones used to be a challenge, and as more of you accessed our blog that way, we heard from fewer and fewer of you. The new mobile theme will capture and hold your user ID and password, making it easy to comment on posts. With the new mobile version up and running, I hope we’ll hear from more of you. And if you have any trouble logging in, or need help setting your password, please let one of us know. Thanks!

It lives! Triumphant return of the Shredmaster

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Some of you have heard me say this before, but I *love* my shredder. It’s a GBC Shredmaster 60s, the “home use” model from a company that specializes in workgroup and commercial shredders:

  • it turns on/off automatically,
  • it shreds up to 9 pages at a time, or 2 sheets tri-folded still inside the unopened junk mail envelope,
  • it happily chews through staples,
  • and it sits perfectly astride a standard Rubbermaid 7-gallon recycle bin, to shred directly into a recyclable paper grocery sack.

It’s a well-designed piece of office equipment and I love it!

We’ve had it and used it for more than ten years and it always worked perfectly… until May. Somewhere in the midst of shredding that box of extraneous college-era papers, it developed a tiny jam right in the middle. Armed with needle-nose pliers and a tiny flathead screwdriver, I succeeded in removing the paper clod, but when I went back to shredding, the center blades jammed again almost immediately. For a while, I could still shred receipts on either side of the jam, but eventually, it stopped outright. Ack!

I urgently need to keep purging old boxes of papers (or trying to when I have the energy) before our baby girls arrive and this is no time to be without a shredder. I tried to find another one just like it (or the latest comparable model) and discovered that GBC got out of the home shredder business. Ergh. What’s a girl to do?

As the to-be-shred pile grew on/around my desk, I reluctantly conceded that we had to suck it up, read some reviews, and shop for a new shredder. We even went to OfficeMax and test-fed perfectly good sheets of white paper to a variety of shredder models, each of which disappointed in some measure relative to the shredder I loved.

But then, somewhere in the Amazon user reviews for a relatively well-regarded Fellowes shredder, I noticed a reference to the magic words… shredder oil. Huh! Apparently, you’re supposed to oil shredder blades each time you empty the basket or after every few hours of usage. Who knew?!?

With new hope, I abandoned shredder shopping in favor of trying once more to save our shredder. Armed with needle-nose pliers and a tiny screwdriver, I again pried out the offending paper clods. But this time when I turned the shredder on, I followed up with a liberal dose of shredder oil, a delicacy our shredder had never known in its ten-plus years of service. Almost immediately, the hum of the blades grew faster and happier. It liked it! And when I trepidatiously fed it a few sheets of paper, it responded confidently. Woo-hoo! With much glee, I queued up the accumulated shred-fodder and the Shredmaster devoured it. Triumph! My favorite shredder lives!

Shredmaster and recycle bins

Over the rest of the day, I’m sure that Bill eventually got tired of me saying, “You wanna hear something cool? I fixed the shredder!” Nonetheless, I’m still deriving immense satisfaction from resurrecting the shredder with basic tools and a $7 bottle of oil.

Odd and the Frost Giants!

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

Our friend Rob Kimbro recently adapted Neil Gaiman’s 2009 book Odd and the Frost Giants into a kid-friendly play. The world premiere is running at Stages Repertory this month, and this afternoon we went to see the show. It’s a marvelous bit of story-telling that combines live acting with clever puppets.

The show is delightful and we all enjoyed the heck out of it! Afterward, we visited with Rob and his daughter, Eleanor, as well as the Hawes family who saw the show today, too!

John, Izzy, and Sierra with Thor

Rob, Eleanor, and Susan listen as Robert shares his thoughts on the play

Chris and Rob

Sharon, Sierra, and Shawn

Rob and Susan

Rob and Bill

Sierra, Izzy, and Shawn

Odd’s final public performance is next Saturday, May 21st. If you’re in Houston, I encourage you to go!

TDF: Did totally too!

Monday, July 19th, 2010

The 2010 Tour de France is underway and Bill and I have watched every stage of the race so far. Like the Super Bowl and other huge sporting events, Tour coverage includes topical advertising. Here are three of my favorite ads so far:


Eight days in the Pacific Northwest…

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

I sometimes joke that something hasn’t really “happened” until I blog about it, but that poses a challenge. The more busy and interesting our lives are, the harder it is to make time to blog.

During our last vacation to Cozumel, it was easy to blog early and often because the afternoons were too hot to do anything else. But the trip we took in February to Portland and Seattle was so jam-packed I didn’t even attempt to blog before we got home. Since then I’ve stayed too busy to blog. And then our blog went missing for several days. But we definitely enjoyed a marvelous trip, so here — more than a month overdue — are some of my favorite moments:

Walking and transiting all over downtown Portland. In urban planning circles, Portland is widely-regarded as one of the most walkable, transit-friendly cities in the US, with a wonderful quality of life. My friend and CTC colleague, Christof Spieler, convinced us that given a trip to the Pacific Northwest, we should fly into Portland to explore the city for a day before heading to Seattle.

Between noon Monday and noon Tuesday, we did just that. We explored downtown, parks, vibrant urban neighborhoods, and the waterfront… all without ever using a car. Portland is also bike-friendly and I’ll be sure to rent one the next time we’re there.

Pioneer Square Court House
Pioneer Courthouse Square has a marvelous pedestrian plaza

bronze beavers on transit mall
Bronze beavers play on a water feature in the transit mall

Bill and Christof downtown Portland
Bill and Christof in downtown Portland

Riding trains with Christof. Christof knows more about what makes high-quality transit service than anyone I know. Portland has invested in a lot of great transit service, and the opportunity to travel with Christof as an expert guide was both fun and informative.

In Portland, we rode the MAX light rail in from the airport and out to Union Station. We rode the streetcar south to the waterfront and north for dinner at Wildwood on 21st St. We even took the aerial tram up to OHSU for great views of the city and the Willamette River. On Tuesday, we rode Amtrak’s Cascades service up the coast from Portland to Seattle.

In Seattle, we rode Sound Transit’s link light rail to/from the airport as well as one afternoon just to explore station areas. We also rode the South Lake Union… Streetcar to explore Paul Allen’s multi-billion-dollar redevelopment effort. In both cities, Christof trekked out without us on several occasions to ride commuter rail and other services. He’s dedicated!

Bob on TriMet MAX light rail
Bob on the TriMet MAX light rail from the airport

Portland streetcar w Christof
Portland’s streetcar vehicles look happy to me

Portland tram w Christof
The tram climbs 500 feet during the 3-minute trip up to OHSU

Christof stalking Amtrak
Christof shoots more and better transit photos than I do

Bill and Christof shooting Puget Sound
Bill and Christof attempting to shoot dusk on Puget Sound

Walking and transiting all over downtown Seattle. Like Portland, Seattle, is incredibly pedestrian-friendly. Except for a day trip to Everett and Mukilteo, we explored Seattle neighborhoods via walking and transit (and Bill by bicycle, but that comes later).

Fifth Avenue morning rush
Morning rush on Fifth Avenue

Bob and Christof photographing
Bob and Christof under the monorail station

Bob and Bill at Pike Place
Bob and Bill at Pike Place


The Original Starbucks. Bill thinks he first encountered Starbucks coffee ~1996 during the Philip Morris SAP project in Richmond. During many subsequent years working in NYC, he’s consumed a LOT of Starbucks, venti iced skinny caramel Frappucinos (TM) to be specific. At home, he now favors the great local barristas at The Coffee Groundz in Midtown Houston. But given an opportunity to visit the little coffee shop at Pike Place that became a global machine, we had to go. And yes, I bought a mug. But I bought my lattes for breakfast at the Seattle’s Best Coffee further up Pike St.

Bill enters Starbucks
The original Starbucks shop at Pike Place

Boeing Everett factory tour. Bill and I have spent a lot of time in Boeing aircraft over the years, mostly 737 variations. And Jean still works for Boeing’s aerospace group. The Boeing factory where they assemble 747s, 767s, and the brand-new 787 Dreamliners is the largest building in the world (by interior volume) and we were eager to see what they do there. So we rented a car for the day to drive up to Everett for the plant tour. All photography was thoroughly prohibited, but the tour was still jaw-dropping. We also visited Snohomish County’s opportunistic Future of Flight visitor center.

Boeing's Everett factory

Boeing 747 assembly
Images courtesy of The Boeing Company.

Lunch in Mukilteo. On our way to Everett, we stopped for lunch in the old waterfront town of Mukilteo, which overlooks Puget Sound. We lingered in a charming beach park while Christof captured great photos of BNSF freight trains passing nearby. We then enjoyed a lunch of local seafood at Ivar’s by the landing where Puget Sound ferries came and went.

Mukilteo overlooks Puget Sound

Bob stalks seagull

Mukilteo ferry

My conference talk. The 9th annual New Partners for Smart Growth conference was the justification for the trip, and I was invited to present in a panel on grassroots involvement in transportation planning. The room (of 50) was packed and I knew at the time that I delivered a better PowerPoint than any of the other panelists. But over the next two days, strangers continued to approach me and say some variation of, “You gave the talk from Houston, right? That was great! Good luck with your effort…” Their affirmations were very, very gratifying.

The Hiram Chittenden Locks. Known locally as the Ballard Locks, they span the ship canal between Lake Washington and Puget Sound, segregating fresh- from salt-water. It’s both cool and vaguely disconcerting that you can walk across the top of the lock doors at one end or the other at any time. I talked with a cyclist coming across the locks who explained that he cycles across the locks from his home on the Magnolia side to his office on the Ballard side, even in the cold gray drizzle, because it would take him 5 minutes longer by car and be more stressful. I also talked with a Corps operator who explained the locks have dozens of moorings inside because, in summer, people on kayaks and jet skis use the locks, too. The site also includes a fish ladder to enable spawning salmon to traverse the locks in spring.

Bill by the Ballard Locks

Ballard lock in action
These locks operate 24/7 to keep maritime traffic moving

The Fremont Troll. North of downtown Seattle, there’s a bridge that takes Aurora Ave (WA-99) over Lake Union at the ship canal. The northern end where NW 35th St passes under the bridge structure used to be a Dark Scary Place where Bad Things happened. But the Fremont neighborhood got organized in 1990 and leveraged the fist matching grant from the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods to build a massive public art piece that transformed the location into a source of neighborhood pride.

Bob, Bill, and the Fremont Troll

Dinner with one of Bill’s Spectracal partners. The little software company Bill conjured up in 2005 has almost escaped mention in our blog. Nonetheless, SpectraCal has an office in Seattle where Bill’s business partners and a half dozen employees work. I got to see the office for the first time, and we enjoyed dinner twice with L.A. and his wife Gillian, once at a chic Vietnamese place, and once at their home. I managed to come home with no photos of us together, but they’re really wonderful people.

Bill outside Spectracal's Seattle office
Foil on the windows eliminates light for sensor testing

Walk audit of downtown Seattle. Thirty years ago, Dan Burden became the “Johnny Appleseed” of walkability and is now an internationally-recognized expert on how to make our cities better for people, instead of cars. On Sunday morning, Dan led two dozen of us on a 16-block tour of Pike St, Post Alley, and University St. He taught us to “see differently” and the Seattle DOT folks on the tour showed off some of their projects. I came away with lots of good ideas for making Houston more walkable.

seattle walk audit w Dan Burden
This ample Pike Street sidewalk is 22 feet wide from building facade to back-of-curb

Sending Bill to ride with the Cascade Bicycle Club. While I was walking with Dan, the Cascade Bicycle Club led Bill and a dozen others on a bike tour of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” of downtown Seattle’s on- and off-street bicycle facilities. The best part? Bill likes hills… lots of hills.

Pike Place Fish. About ten years ago, I came across a clever business book called, Fish! A remarkable way to boost morale and improve results. In it, the author describes Pike Place Fish as, “a world famous market that is wildly successful thanks to its fun, bustling, joyful atmosphere and great customer service.” I decided our trip to Seattle wouldn’t be complete without meeting these guys. When we visited Pike Place early in the week, we somehow walked right past them, so we went back on Monday before flying out, and it was worth it. I got to chat with Justin and Scott about their business and they even threw a salmon for me.

Pike Place fish
These boys visit the Fish guys every day on their walk to school

Bob and the Fish guys
Bob, Justin, and Scott at Pike Place Fish

(I’ve got video of the guys throwing a salmon for me, but we shot it in AVCHD format and I don’t have a codec to play it here yet. Humph!)

As I said at the outset, our eight days in the Pacific Northwest were jam packed. Choosing just two dozen photos to capture the experience was tough. But I’m up for the challenge of going back and trying again. :-)

Bill dreams of rain… no more!

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

Bill enjoys bathing. Specifically, Bill enjoys lingering in a swimming pool, a whirlpool, an ample tub, a “rainfall” shower, or anywhere really that supplies *lots* of water at an appropriate temperature.

Unfortunately, Bill long ago deemed the showers in our house inadequate. Not. Enough. Water. I assumed the problem was household water pressure, but Bill was convinced that a new shower head — something like Kramer had on Seinfeld — would make all the difference.

Mere days before Bill’s birthday in August, the New York Times published a review of shower heads that emphasized which models provide the most drenching shower feel. Since a 1992 federal regulation capped shower head flow rates at 2.5 gallons per minute, the question is which design feels like it delivers more water without more water. (Of course, several manufacturers provide instructions for removing the flow limiters.)

I decided a shower head would make a great birthday gift, but that Bill should get to choose. While I was interested in the Consumer Reports ratings, Bill was most excited about the Speakman Anystream heads like they have at Westin and Sheraton hotels. Go figure!

Bill loves Speakman
Bill really likes the Speakman Anystream shower head

Given his schedule, we finally went shopping today. Once at the Depot, Bill quickly began contemplating which items would best contribute to his desired shower experience. He soon had two shower heads and an array of other parts.

I convinced him to unwrap them and try a test assembly before we bought them, which he did. Soon thereafter, he presented me with an assembly he named “Frankenshower.” Bill explained that one head can be directed at your back/chest while the other points down at the top of your head, combining for a truly drenching experience. It sounded wonderful, and Bill could hardly wait.

Bill at the Depot
Bill picking parts for Frankenshower

Once home again, Bill wasted no time removing the tired old shower head and reassembling the new one.

Behold! Frankenshower!

Frankenshower fails
Frankenshower fails to deliver the drench

But much to Bill’s dismay, our water supply lacks the oomph to make Frankenshower go. Not. Enough. Water. He took away new bits one by one until all that was left was the new Speakman shower head. And then he took a shower.

When I asked him what he thought, Bill smiled and pronounced it “adequate.” He added that it is much better than the old one. It’s no Frankenshower, but it will do.

More than melts the eye

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

So, we were watching Real Time with Bill Maher the other day, and Cameron Diaz was being interviewed. She mentioned going to go see what almost everyone with any ounce of a critical eye is calling the biggest POS movie of the year, possibly of all time (paraphrasing, of course). Of course, Cameron, being the clever observer of humanity that she is, mentioned that she was going to look at Megan Fox. Hmm. Perhaps if one prevented Michael Bay from hiring really attractive women for his movies, he might quit making money, and people might quit letting him direct. What a thought.

That being said, I do feel like I must offer equal time to those who might offer a contrary perspective on Transformers 2: Revenge of the Audience. Read it. The review might even change your perspective on the entire medium of cinema.

Linkage Here.

Blueberry Picking, for the win!

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

This is just a quick note, while Bob is distracted, to get a post in before she does. We spent the morning picking blueberries. About two hours of effort later, and we had 5.3 pounds of fresh, ripe blueberries. Lots of kidlings running around for you parents looking for some legal way to lose your kids.

The farm’s website is here.

Taking FaceBook back to high school…

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

I graduated from high school in 1989, now twenty years ago plus or minus a week or two. Since my parents still live in the same town, I very occasionally run into someone who knew me then. However, unlike my Rice friends who form the core of my social network today, my high school buddies have long since fallen out of sight and mind. I essentially held on to only one close friend — Michele! — from those years. I skipped my 10- and 15-year reunions because I couldn’t imagine who I would talk to. I may be an extrovert but I am fundamentally shy.

After Cindy got me plugged into FaceBook, I realized that interacting with old classmates could be better than keeping their photos in old yearbooks. Since then, an interesting thing is happening. I’m slowly reconnecting with the people who were my friends in high school, people I’ve scarcely seen in twenty years. I’ve learned that there will be a band reunion this fall during homecoming, and I’m actually contemplating participating. (Scare!)

Over the weekend, I unpacked a box from our storage unit. I discovered in it old photo albums from high school and college. In the context of FaceBook, I just had to share some of them. Several hours of scanning later — which made me wish digital photography had come along sooner! — I was able to post more than 40 BHS photos for my high school classmates to enjoy.

Robin and friends in the band hall, 1986
Travis, Zuri, Robin, John, and Lyle in the band hall, in May 1986.

What’s really novel is the collective nature of this stroll down memory lane. FaceBook allows the people in the photos — who have mostly never seen them before — to respond to them. So instead of just wondering “what ever happened to her,” we’re talking and figuring it out. That’s a neat feature, and way more fun than those yearbooks ever were!

Wholly Rollers

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

Bob and I got back from New York last night, and the cycling gods were really not willing to give me any excuses NOT to take my newly-rebuilt bike out this morning. Last night’s weather was clear, and we even landed a half-hour early (yes, it is possible to land early when flying from La Guardia). So, after a bad movie (Smart People, Sarah Jessica Parker is exhibit #1 for why people who get paid for their looks should not smoke), it was off to bed with a 5:30am alarm.

I woke up a bit early, so I took my time getting everything together. Oops. Instead of being at Starbuck’s at 6am when they open, I was there at 6:15. Today’s ride is in Columbus, TX, about an hour away from our house near downtown, and it has a nominal 7:30am start. Since they let riders start the course up until 9am, I wasn’t too worried. The ride is called The Rolling Hills Challenge, and it covers much of the same type of terrain as the first day of the MS150. In other words, lots of rolling hills (“rollers” in bike speak), with hardly any flats to speak of (unlike the first 20 miles of the MS150).

Shortly after the race start, crossing the Colorado River headed into downtown Columbus
Looking back at the start of the ride. Photo courtesy of the Columbus Lions.

The caveat to this is that since this is a relatively small ride (probably a bit less than 1,000 riders, spread over 4 distances), it uses many smaller back roads, rather than sticking to state highways and farm-to-market roads the way the MS150 course does. This means that we saw some pretty decent gradients (5% – 8% grades weren’t uncommon), and I even had to cross a 10 yard wide steel grate at 30mph (32.3, to be exact) at the bottom of one hill. It was cheaper than a bridge, I guess.

The first 20 miles had overcast skies and, wait for it, No Wind. As in, flags were totally limp, and the tree branches weren’t swaying. As a result, this was the most fun I’ve had on a ride in over month. Of course, the sun eventually burned through the cloud layer, and with it came Wind. Wind, wind, and more hills. With a side of Wind. I went from cruising at 19mph, to struggling at times at 7 – 9 mph. SNAFU, in other words. I did eventually finish the 62 mile course in about five and a half hours total time, though it was definitely a struggle. I would have more details and be more precise about how the ride went, but my swanky new computer locked up trying to navigate me through some of the back roads. While unwelcome, a big chunk of this was Operator Error. I need to load the detailed maps into it for rural Texas roads. It is kind of hard to navigate a course when you don’t know where you are, road-wise, and you de-select the “off road” option.

Since part of the impetus of heading out to Columbus was to test my new frame, it begs mentioning how it performed. In a word, well. The Roubaix has a bit of a split personality. When you are cruising in the saddle, it is a very comfortable ride, as race bikes go. I can definitely feel it working its magic on the Chip Seal roads and various patch jobs and bumps. However, when I stand up on the pedals, you can feel the power go straight into the wheels. No waiting. No hesitation. You are suddenly kicking in the turbo boost and going. It’s still not perfect, but as my riding savvy grows, I’ll know more about what I might want to swap out or simply adapt to what’s there. Either way, the frame is a keeper.

In summary, if you are considering taking up cycling, or already do cycle, and you are looking for less-crazy charity rides, this one goes highly recommended. It’s also going to be on my 2010 training calendar.