Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Adventures Real and Imagined

Since my Enfilade! posting in May, my life has not been a formless, airless void apart from writing galley rules. There have been a few adventures:

I Do Know the Way to San Jose

In mid-June, I made an impromtu visit to the town where I grew up. I spent 21 years in San Jose  (1965–1986), which ties my current sojourn in Seattle (1991–2012) for the longest place I've lived. I breakfast most Saturdays with Rick Martinez, whom I've known for 35 years (since 1977!). Rick has been up here for about 10 years or so, but he makes regular trips down to San Jose. With another trip pending, he suggested I go down too and join in a gaming weekend with old friends. It took me just a second to ask myself, "Why not?" I booked my travel the next day (through Expedia.com of course) and champed at the bit waiting for the weekend to come.

The last time I was in San Jose was 2009 when I drove down in my 350z with my then-GF Lorrin for a birthday week trip. It was 107 degrees. This time it was much cooler at a mere 97 degrees. I alway enjoy my trips to San Jose, but it's a strange feeling to "come home" to a place that has changed so much in the intervening years—and keeps changing. I have fond memories of my life in San Jose and more than a few places with which I have happy associations just don't exist any more.

The gaming group included old friends Wolfgang Blum and Al Tilley. I had seen Wolf more recently when he came up here to visit Rick a few years back. I hadn't seen Al since maybe 1981. We used to game Judge Fernandez' square ancients in Al's garage every Wednesday for years. I met Al through Rick who dragged me to the game back when I was 17. For a man of 80+ years, he was as sharp and amusing as ever. Seeing him again reminded me of how much I enjoyed his company.  Several other people were there, a few of whom I'd met perhaps once many years ago when Rick still lived in San Jose and I was visiting. Their names were familiar to me, however, because Rick often talks about them (and one cannot forget a name like Ix Nixon). After several hours of gaming on Saturday, we had dinner at By-Th'-Bucket on Stevens Creek. It's odd that as old as it is, I still think of it as the "new" By-Th'-Bucket since I recall the old one so well from former days. I had an amazing Kobe flat iron steak with a brandy creme sauce. I wanted to lick the plate.

The trip ended all too soon. Rick was staying another day, so on Sunday we had breakfast at the Original Pancake House. It was crowded (Father's Day), had no air-conditioning, and our order took forever. I ordered Swedish pancakes, which faithful readers of this blog will know I love. However, these ones came unrolled, so I had to dish out my lingonberries onto the crepe and roll my own like a blunt. But the taste was great.

I made a last stop at Game Kastle near the airport to buy out the last of their Xyston 1:600th scale galleys. Next stop: drop of the rental car and grind through the misery of airport security and check-in. I managed to upgrade to first class on the way down, but the return flight had no availability, so I was stuck in coach, way back at the the butt-end of the plane. While waiting for my flight, I had lunch at Original Joe's in the airport. It's not the same at eating at OJ's downtown. For one thing, the menu is truncated, but the ambiance is also lacking. Next time I'm in San Jose, I'll manage to make it downtown and get the delicious veal piccata—even though I feel a little guilty eating baby cow; maybe I'll have the chicken piccata instead.

Even though I was sick the entire time, I loved every minute of being "home." San Jose in the 60s and 70s was a fantastic place to grow up. Even now, in its bustling Silicon Valley incarnation, I would love to return to live there. I could use a little endless sunshine. Perhaps some day...

More Sidebottom

I preordered Harry Sidebottom's latest Warrior of Rome book, The Wolves of the North, from Amazon UK earlier this year. It arrived last weekend and I pitched right into it. Sidebottom's books are rich with the culture and history of the classical world. The narrative is fast-paced and suspenseful.

Sidebottom's last few novels have taken the main character, Ballista, out of the mainstream of the Roman world and into its backwaters. The previous volume, The Caspian Gates, was set in the remotest part of Asia Minor. The Wolves of the North is set in the Russian steppe where Ballista, in disgrace because of an action—briefly assuming the purple—that should have cost him his life, is sent by the emperor Gallienus, an otherwise old friend from before Gallienus was emperor, to coax the nomadic Herul to ally themselves with Rome. All the while, a psychotic murderer among Ballista's traveling companions is leaving a trail of the mutilated corpses of slaves and eunuchs (who've already been mutilated enough, one would think).

I'm about half-way through. I would be farther along if I wasn't reading so much about ancient galleys these days.

The Mac and i

I've been a Mac user since I started writing papers at school using Tim Cole's Macintosh 128k with its hifalutin' external floppy disk drive (one-sided). I bought my own Mac, a Mac Plus with a 20 MB external hard drive, in 1988. I couldn't imagine then using 20 MB of disk space for anything.

When I started working at Aldus in 1991, I used my lighting-fast Macintosh II at work for my computing needs, mostly publishing The Citadel, our NHMGS newsletter, and the NHMGS web site. That arrangement lasted until 1998 when I bought an iMac G3 so I could fiddle around at home and access this newfangled Internet thing from my living room.

Two years later, I went wild and got a PowerMac G4 with a massive two-ton 21-inch Apple Studio Display CRT monitor as my main screen and a 17-inch Apple Studio Display CRT monitor as a secondary for the innumerable palettes in Photoshop and other graphic tools. I felt like the ultimate power user.

Six years later, the 17-inch monitor had gone poof, so I was down to one monitor (the BIG one) and the once-powerful G4 was limping along barely running the newest software. So I bought a white polycarbonate Intel Core 2 Duo 24-inch iMac in 2006. It, too, made me feel like I needed a license to fly just to use it. By now, software applications with lots of palettes had settled down into a more manageable UI so that you didn't need a second monitor to accommodate them. The 24-inch flat panel screen of the iMac was spacious enough to accommodate any application's interface and all the clutter from a separate CPU and monitor was gone. The gleaming white all-in-one iMac seemed almost futuristic with its non-intrusive presence in my workspace—like something out of the Jetsons. I felt that at any minute Rosey the robot maid would roll in and ask me if I wanted tea.

But time marches on and the future is always ahead. After six years, my beloved iMac was showing its age. I had to upgrade to its maximum RAM configuration of 4 GB just to run OS X Lion. I had been using the Adobe CS3 suite, but last year I started a subscription to CS5.5, which has now transformed to an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. After installing the CS6 applications, I discovered to my chagrin that they don't run well on my iMac.

So this weekend I resolved to replace my beloved iMac with a new iMac. I'd seen the 27-inch iMac in various Apple Stores around town and wanted one (Look! A shiny thing!). I just couldn't justify it until recently. Perhaps seeking a justification was a subliminal impulse to upgrade to CS6. I walked into the Apple Store on Saturday afternoon and 20 minutes later was stuffing a HUGE box into the back of my 350z, which Nissan never intended for haulage beyond a few groceries. I couldn't close the hatch all the way, but by driving slowly (hard for me to do) I made the few blocks to my house without incident.

I bought the top of the line stock configuration for the 27-inch iMac. I seem to get a good six years out of computers and getting more than I need now means having as much as I need later when OS X Sabre-tooth Tiger (or whatever Apple calls their OS version in four years—even now OS X Mountain Lion is pending release—they must eventually run out of eponymous felidae, mustn't they?) and Adobe CS12 are the current versions. I also had the store install an additional 8 GB of RAM for a total of 12. That's enough to be getting on with. If I really need it, I can upgrade to a total 32 GB. (It's unsettling, though, to think that years from now we'll look back and laugh at 32 GB of RAM the way I look back and laugh at 20 MB of disk space.)

Once I got the new iMac home and out of the box, the fun started. The apple migration assistant let me wirelessly transfer everything from my old iMac to the new one, but it took 10+ hours. I was asleep in bed when it finished. However, I was thoroughly impressed with the result. I had to reinstall Office 2011 for Mac and run an upgrade patch on the reinstalled Outlook, but otherwise it was as if I were on the old computer, except faster and with a bigger screen.

Then came the tangle of readjusting peripherals. Why are there so many cords and cables? When someone invents wireless electricity (apart from lightning) I'll be over the moon. The migration didn't migrate the content on my LaCie 500 GB external drive, which contains all the files for my projects like Pike & Periwig and Row Well and Live! I thought I'd just hook it up, pull its contents onto my capacious 1 TB internal drive and presto! However, the Firewire connection that worked with the old iMac doesn't work with the new. The new iMac has Firewire 800 and two slots for Thunderbolt. Fortunately, it also has four USB 2.0 slots. I had to rummage around in the garage to find a USB cable from my bag of forgotten 'puter bits, but I was able to get everything transferred.

It seemed like a bit of fuss to go to the new from the old, but I'm back in business for at least six years.

The Great Couscous Caper

Incredible as it seems, I had a five-pound bag of Israeli couscous stolen from my doorstep. I like the large grain style of couscous much better than the more common Moroccan style. I used to be able to buy it in bulk from Whole Foods, but they discontinued it. They have a dozen variations of the Moroccan style in bulk, but no Israeli. You can buy it in smaller packages at a lot of places, including Whole Foods, but because I eat it in bulk, I want to buy it in bulk.

I found that Amazon.com sells it in five-pound bags for $12.00. I bought a bag a while ago, but now I'm out. I ordered another bag last weekend and it should have come by now. I checked my order on Amazon.com and the tracking showed it to have been delivered on Wednesday and left by Fed Ex on my doorstep. Only it wasn't there. I didn't get home until about 9:00 PM that night, so I can only assume that some ass in my neighborhood took it. They probably thought that a package from Amazon was something cool. A Kindle maybe. They probably feel foolish for having stolen a big bag of Middle Eastern pasta pellets. Serves 'em right. But it doesn't get my couscous back.

Fed Ex isn't going to replace it for me. I could order another, but I'm more than a little put off by the fact that someone stole a package from my front doorstep. I think instead that I'll look around beautiful bucolic suburban Lynnwood for someplace that sells it in bulk.

Another thought is to save up a week's worth of cat box scoopings, box them, Fed-Ex it to myself, and then wait for the same jerk to steal it. He might find getting desiccated cat poo even more disappointing than the couscous he scored in his last crime.

Pneumatic Woes

I've had the desk chair in my office for probably 10 years. It's high-backed, black leather-ish with arm rests. Like all chairs of its type, it has a pneumatic column coming up from the wheeled base that lets you adjust the seat height. I normally keep it jacked up all the way. Suddenly today the chair keeps popping down a bit as I'm sitting on it. I'm now about eight inches lower than when I started writing this section and I have to reach up to type.

I think it's time for a new chair.


  1. Wow what a small world. I am San Jose born and bred (graduate HS from Santa Teresa class of '81). After college I gamed with a lot of people you mentioned...

    Rick was a bud who was the local Renaissance man. I still remember games at his apartment.

    I also remember the square rules at the Judge's house. I think Rick Seiders took me there. Do you remember Rick and his Napoleonic games?

    My old hangout back in the '80's was Gametable in Campbell. I am sure you remember that as well.

    Ix Nixon is now one of my regular gaming partner every tuesdauy night.

    Small world. Ping me next time you are in the area (msoong@yahoo.com) maybe we'll get a game in.

    Milton Soong

  2. I spent a lot of gaming time at the Gametable, but it was from the time they opened (1977, I think) to around 1981. I left for school then.

    I also played a few times at the Cupertino Library with Rick, but I was mostly away at the time.

  3. David, you don't need to move to the Bay Area for balmy climes. You simply need to move out of the convergence snow, which gives you the relative climate of Katmandu.

  4. Yep, the South Bay Gaming Club (the group that meet at the CUpertino library) is still alive and active. We meet at a Church in Saratoga now about once a month...

  5. @Kevin - Yes. However disappointing the weather is in the Pacific Northwest, it is more disappointing in Lynnwood. It rarely works the other way.

    @Milton (a.k.a. Manadarin) - Ix mentioned that when I was down there.