Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday 5 + 5: Technology Moves Ahead (and Leaves Us Behind)

Five Sounds My Son May Never Hear, Outside of a Museum*:

1) A manual typewriter.

2) The dial of a rotary phone.

3) A phonograph needle on an LP. (Note: as long as club DJs exist, this may never be an extinct sound. But I don't own a turntable, and I own four times as many CDs as records.)

4) Change falling into a pay phone.

5) A manual cash register. (Okay, there's always some tchotchke store with an old-fashioned cash register. But, as with the phonographs, they're just not as ubiquitous as they used to be. To my great dismay.)

*Note: my undying gratitude goes out to Tom Ferrick Jr. and the staff of the Philadelphia Inquirer for their small, but heartwarming online Museum of Lost Sounds. I've taken several of the sounds heard here from their website.

Five Technology Questions My Son Will Ask Me That I'm Dreading Having to Answer:

1) How does the internet work?

2) How does a cell phone work?

3) How come you can put more stuff on a DVD disc than on a regular old CD?

4) If you rip a library CD onto your computer, how is that not stealing?

5) What did baseball players look like when you were a kid? (Yes, the whole Barry Bonds thing is still getting me down.**)

**If you don't understand why the size of baseball players is a technology question, you haven't been reading the sports section lately.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Comic Wars

Well, Aaron McGruder's taking a hiatus from his brilliant comic, "The Boondocks." He's doing both the animated cartoon and the comic, and has decided to take six months off from the strip to recharge his batteries.Apparently, Huey's running out of things to say, too.

Everyone's favorite cartoonist, Scott Adams, the always-inventive (note: deep sarcasm) creator of "Dilbert" has a few things to say about that. According to the industrious Mr. Adams, McGruder's comic work isn't all that hard, since he's not actually drawing the strip anymore. (This isn't exactly a new revelation. The fact that McGruder hires an artist came out in a New Yorker profile in 2004, which Adams sorta cites.) Since he's only writing the scenes, not drawing them, it should be child's play. In fact, says Adams, it's the easiest job in the world.

I imagine Stephen King rolling over in his grave when he hears that McGruder doesn’t have time to write his four sentences per day for the strip. I realize Stephen King is still alive, but I assume he sleeps in a grave anyway.

Believe me – I understand how hard it is to work on an animated TV show, unless you have a big writing staff like the Simpsons. It’s literally 100 times harder than writing a comic strip. But still – four sentences? Come on.

I suppose it's not very hard when you're just coming up with the latest riff on efficiency reports, failed motivation strategies, and office politics. Boondocks, on the other hand, tries to not only go after real issues, but stay current. I think McGruder's four sentences (to use Dilbertman's snotty terms) are significantly more work than, say, Jim Davis' three sentences, or Bil Keane's twelve words.

And while I'm on the subject, is Stephen King the only author that Scott Adams knows by name?

And while I'm at it, if there's a Scott Adams boycott being organized somewhere, count me in. That motherfucker hasn't been funny since I was in college.

It's been common knowledge for a while that Aaron McGruder was feeling pressured by too much work and the constant pressure of deadlines. (I'll refer to the same New Yorker article. Also, this interview with Salon reveals his own internal and external pressure.) His comic did seem to be losing some energy in recent months. Here's hoping the time off helps invigorate his work.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Friday 5 + 5: Batter Up!

I've been trying to catch up with baseball. I paid precious little attention to baseball during the Hot Stove League period. So here's my quickie recap of everything that happened during the off-season that I should have paid more attention to.

1. Ichiro is unhappy. (Or, like every lazy reporter in America, you can use your favorite play on "Sleepless in Seattle" here.) In an interview with a Japanese newspaper, Ichiro Suzuki expressed his discontent with the Mariners, who he sees as apathetic and lacking in spirit. He cites the last game of the season as a case in point. If you believe the translation (and the Seattle Times didn't), he said:

I had always felt that the value of a player really depends on his spirit in the last game of the season, just as the player would approach the first game of the season. On that last day I couldn't find anybody warming up on the field, and nobody said anything about it. We lost that game without spirit. What's worse, 35,000 fans came to see it, spending their money.

2. Mariners look east once again, signing catcher Kenji Johjima. Kenji is touted as the best Japanese catcher of his generation, and has made pitchers and players happy with his enthusiastic and intelligent play during the pre-season. Good deal.

3. Mariners pick up Jarrod Washburn. Washburn's a mediocre pitcher, late of the Angels, for whom the Mariners have high hopes. He's been signed to a four-year contract worth $37.5 million, which Fox Sports used as an example of one of the worst off-season moves of the year.

4. M's pick up Carl Everett. He's been signed to a one-year contract from the World Series champion (sorry, I just laughed and swallowed my popcorn) White Sox. Everett's a decent hitter, a switch-hitter, but a serious attitude problem. A loudmouth, an arrogant man who goes toe-to-toe with coaches, umpires, and apparently his own children when needed, he can't possibly be good for the Mariners. I'm disappointed.

5. Felix Hernandez. No, he's not new. But he's still with the team, and he's still tough to hit, and he's so big that the ESPN magazine put him on their front cover. Hernandez is an astonishing pitcher, and hopefully the Mariners have a good enough rotation so that they can win more than once every five games.

Five Major League Stories from the Off-Season

1. Sammy Sosa retires? According to the Onion, he made the tough choice to retire just 12 runs shy of a steroid investigation. It didn't happen, but teams sure don't seem eager to sign him after his depressing time stretching out Orioles jerseys. Maybe the Onion's on to something.

2. Barry Bonds used steroids. According to the authors of "Game of Shadows," he started using them in 1998 out of resentment that the balloonified Mark McGwire was getting all of his headlines, and has kept using them to score his tapeshot home runs. Bonds has argued innocence before, but with the extensive documentation in this book, it's going to be hard for him to continue to make that argument.

3. Bonds sues. Today Bonds filed suit against the authors of "Game of Shadows" - for libel? Nope, apparently he's just trying to freeze the profits, and maybe get the authors up on a contempt of court charge. He's apparently using a California law that prohibits profiting off unfair business practices, by which he means using grand jury testimony. Conveniently, he hasn't sued for either slander or libel, which would require him to prove his lack of steroidness in a court. Keith Olbermann airs out the issues here with one of the book's authors, so read him to get the skinny.

4. Oh, yeah, Garry Sheffield uses steroids, too. And Jason Giambi. And probably Marion Jones. And lots of other people. Sorry for the folks who are actually following baseball, but this is the biggest story of the off-season. As a new father of a boy I hope grows to love baseball, this fills me with sadness.

5. The World Baseball Classic. Yes, I loved the idea. It's one of the few things that Bonehead Bud has gotten right during his tenure. And hooray for the Yanks getting booted in the early rounds. The world has been building baseball talent for generations, and it's about time they got to shine on a major stage. Kudos to the Ichiro-led Japanese team for winning the tournament, and bragging rights until the next one comes around. (It's also a relief that Ichiro has found something to be excited about.)

What stories did I miss?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Archives from The End

The End is an "alternative" radio station in Seattle (not to be confused with The End of All That Is and Ever Was). Like most semi-corporate rock stations, they have in-studio performances from bands large and small, which they call EndSessions.

Recently, I was listening to the station and heard a dj say that every EndSession was now available for streaming online. Now, this is a station with a lot of history, including most of the rise of Nirvana and Pearl Jam and the grunge scene. So their archives would figure to hold lots of interesting tidbits. I was excited.
Unfortunately, their EndSessions didn't begin until 1997, so they effectively missed the grunge era. Still they've got some goodies in their files. For exclusives, you can't really beat "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding" by Chris Cornell, currently of Audioslave and legendarily (note: not a real word) of Soundgarden. (If you're into Cornell, he also does two solo songs in another session.) They are fairly Seattle-heavy, as you would expect, so you can find things like Death Cab for Cutie doing "Sound of Settling" and "The New Year,"and the volcanic Blood Brothers racing through "Love Rhymes with Hideous Car Wreck." There's also smaller local acts like Schoolyard Heroes and the Lashes.

And of course, they've got their share of big national acts: Coldplay, Green Day, Franz Ferdinand, the Killers.

Then, of course, there's the hilarious version of "Chop Suey!" performed by Tenacious D.

The hacks at The End would probably direct your attention to the improvised "Endsession 100" song by the Presidents of the United States of America. Of course, if you listen to the lyrics, you'll hear them talk about all the songs they did that aren't streaming off The End's website.

Overall, it's a fun resource to have. I wish there were more songs available, but then again, I wish the End played more bands like Spoon and the Arcade Fire. Wish in one hand...

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

We're trying to teach Oliver some basic sign language. Oliver, like most boys, will probably be a late talker. (He's only started babbling in the last week, and our pediatrician was nice enough to plant a seed of worry in our minds. He's not necessarily behind, but he's not ahead of pace, either.) In the meantime, we want a way for him to communicate with us, and vice versa.

There are plenty of books on the subject. I started reading Sign With Your Baby by local Joseph Garcia, which recommends using valid ASL signs rather than madeup "baby signs." Then I picked up a nifty set of sign flashcards at the local evil giant bookstore. The flashcards are odd. While most of them seem to have legit ASL signs, some of them are bizarre and don't resemble signs I've seen in any of the baby signing books. Thank goodness some genius posted thousands of ASL signs online, along with QuickTime movies to demonstrate how to make every sign. Now I can cross-check the flashcards with the real signs to see which ones are off.

I'll say it again: whoever created this website is an absolute genius. Super genius. There should be a MacArthur grant given.

I've started off with the sign for "more." It seems like the most natural sign, since we always seem to be guessing whether Oliver's still hungry of if he's just playing with his food. For lunch now, I put down three or four pieces of finger food (organic lunch meat, vegetables, tiny pieces of toast with hummus) and sign "more" at him every time he runs out. But he's figured out an easier sign. Every time he runs out of food, he just lifts up the empty bowl and shows it to me. I guess it works.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Friday 5 + 5 (+ a couple extra): Where Good Music Comes From

Good music is hard to find these days, kiddlets. Most radio plays preprogrammed crap. The popular music magazines (Rolling Stone, Spin, Blender) seem like corporate advertisements instead of, I don't know, music magazines. Where's a music head like yours truly to turn? Heres five of my secret paths to finding the best, newest, and most off-the-radar music (and at least five artists I discovered through each outlet.)

KEXP. We have a local music station that rocks. It also streams live around the world, distributes dozens of podcasts (including my new favorite, a song-of-the-day podcast featuring unsigned artists and in-studio performances), and has archives of literally hundreds of studio performances on their jampacked website. You gotta love a station that you can hear for two hours without recognizing a single artist.

I've heard a million artists for the first time on KEXP, but the first one that comes to mind is Aterciopelados, the great Columbian band. I remember hearing "Luz Azul" twanging out of the radio and thinking, what the hell is this? Always a good sign.

The Late Show with David Letterman
. For over twenty years, Mr. Dave has hosted some remarkable talent on his show. Just because he's getting older doesn't mean he's forgotten how to rock. I've recently seen Common, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and the Subways on the ol' Late Show stage.

I saw both Outkast and Missy Elliott for the first time on Letterman. Outkast, in particular, just blew me away. I was expecting above-average crunk music. Instead, they did "B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)," with Andre 3000 wearing a spangly robe and a blonde wig, if I remember correctly. There was dancing, the lyrics were hyperfast and seamless, and I was left breathless.

Zoe Radio. Yep, I read about her on BoingBoing just like all the other latecomers. But before that, I heard her raving on the late, great public radio show Pop Vultures about Pretty Girls Make Graves. Zoe's a 15-year-old in southern California (her dad has deep music connections) with refined tastes in alt music. She likes to throw on a wild mash of music in her streamed and podcasted shows. (Note: the latest show doesn't seem to be streaming or podcasting, so that's a bit of a drag.) I've heard everything from the Arctic Monkeys to Joni Mitchell to Tegan and Sara all the way to Dinosaur Jr. on her little show.

I've heard a lot of artists for the first time by listening (like a maniac) to archives of Zoe's shows. She raves about Okkervil River, and after several listens, I finally got entranced by them. I also got my first listen of the Arctic Monkeys, the Hold Steady, and Death from Above 1979 from Zoe.

The Mountain. Another Seattle radio station, KMTT. 103.7 on your fm dial. I'm a little ashamed of this one, because I mock the Mountain relentlessly for its boomer-lite playlists, way heavy on Jack Johnson, Bonnie Raitt, bad Santana, and bad Crosby, Stills, and Nash. But sometimes they delve into the world of new music, and when they do, they tend to make good picks.

I heard Hem's "Half Acre" for the first time on the Mountain and was awestruck. Hem has since turned into one of my absolute favorite bands, but it was the fogeys at KMTT that first turned me onto them.

Paste Magazine. I read a fair amount of indie music magazines - Harp, Filter, Mojo - but I subscribe to Paste because it's the best. Subscribers get a free CD of excellent indie music and occasionally a DVD with videos, movie trailers, performances, and miscellany. The articles are thoughtful and respectful of music and artists in the way that Rolling Stone seems to have forgotten. They also cover off-the-radar film, books, and culture nicely Any magazine that can have Patty Griffin, Jeff Tweedy, and ?uestlove on their covers has got to be doing something right. Paste also has a fantastic podcast with full cuts of songs and reviews. They did several this year from Sundance, which you'll enjoy if you're a film person. Or if you're a wannabe film person. Like me.

One of Paste's sampler CDs had both "Gideon" by My Morning Jacket and the soon-to-be-overplayed "Soul Meets Body" by Death Cab for Cutie. I went out and bought both albums immediately. Recent samplers have also featured a fine selection of non-mainstream artists: Bright Eyes, Brendan Benson, Madeline Peyroux, Over the Rhine, Tywanna Jo Baskette, etc, etc.

So, come on, peoples! I'm always looking for another source of good music. What sources am I missing?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Born for the Game

My little boy loves hip-hop.

The evidence: he laughs every time I do my weak human beatbox. Today I looked at him and, using the proper hand movement, did a little turntable scratch noise. "Chicka chicka chicka." He got a big grin on his face.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Rock and Roll Mountain of Crap

The induction ceremonies (is that really what they call it?) for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are happening tonight, at the very rock-'n-roll Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. The Hall itself is in Cleveland of course. However, Rolling Stone's offices are in New York, and as crucial as Jann Wenner is to the very existence of the Hall, New York gets to play host for a night.

It's hard for me to be excited about the induction ceremonies tonight after hearing the foamy-mouthed Jim DeRogatis attacking the whole concept on the radio. Ed Schultz had him on for a brief interview, where he declaimed the whole hall thing as overdone boomer nostalgia
fomented by the likes of the aforementioned Wenner and Ahmet Ertegun. DeRogatis has no great love for Wenner (he was fired from Rolling Stone, allegedly for writing a nasty review of Hootie and the Blowfish that was spiked by Wenner), but he seems to have even less love for the fancypants, black tie and tuxedo reception for a supposedly rock and roll institution. "There's nothing less rock and roll than musicians dressed up in tuxedos," he quipped.

More to the point, the Hall is elitist. Performers are given two comp tickets to the gala ceremony, and then are expected to pony up thousands more to buy seats for members of their family, or heaven forbid, dinner. This appears to be one of the reasons for the Sex Pistols' vitroilic response to their induction:

"Your museum. Urine in wine. We're not coming and so what? Fame at $25,000 if we paid for a table, or $15,000 if we squeak up in the gallery, goes to a non-profit selling us a load of old famous.

One of Miles Davis' sons is also sore at having to pony up $2000 to see his father inducted. (He also appears to be sore about being cut out of his father's will, but that's another story.) DeRogatis points out that in the past, older musicians who barely made any money off their own recordings have been unable to bring their families to the ceremonies because of the outrageous ticket prices. The hosts are unapologetic, crying that they run a non-profit and only host one fundraiser a year. (Note to hosts: this excuse is for genuinely struggling non-profits that don't have layouts in Rolling Stone and specials on VH1. If you need money, start holding an auction of memorabilia and signed t-shirts. Stop extorting musicians, you cheap bastards.)

So yeah, the Hall is elitist. And yeah, it's pretty yuppified and boomertastic, and leans pretty heavily on a homogenized image of rock and roll. (Are rap acts ever going to be inducted into the Hall? Africa Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash have been on the list for years and aren't going anywhere.) Is there anything else like it? Paul Allen's Experience Music Project comes close, but financial problems and growing pains have taken their toll. Does rock and roll need a hall of fame? An open question. Not one I'm prepared to answer tonight.

I'll still watch the ceremonies when I get a chance, but I've got a bitter taste in my mouth about the whole thing now.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Five + Five Friday: Introspection

I've started a Friday tradition, the five + five lists, and I'm very close to blowing it in the second week of its inception. The point of starting a Friday tradition is for force me to post at least once a week. Not to whine too much, but sometimes it's hard just to remember to do one little post every so often. Plus, the baby. Plus, keeping up with the house. As Joss Whedon said, "Et cetera, et cetera, suffering, blah, blah, blah." So, for the sake of keeping the grand tradition alive, here's my somewhat introspective Five + Five:

Five Excuses I'll Give for Not Posting At Least Once in a Week:
  1. The Mariners are in the World Series. I'm too busy celebrating to get anything done.
  2. I've got a real job now, and it's too much work to keep up with the blog.
  3. There was a freak snowstorm in Seattle, taking down all the power lines and bringing the city to a halt.
  4. I've got too many things to say about the baby, and I couldn't decide which to blog about first.
  5. I've decided the blog is a big waste of time, and I'm going to conserve my energy to work on my first novel.
Five Actual Reasons I Couldn't Post At Least Once in a Week:
  1. The Mariners are in the World Series. I'm too busy preparing for the inevitable disappointment when they lose in shameful fashion.
  2. I've got a real job now, and I'm too depressed to blog.
  3. There was a freak snowstorm in Seattle, dumping 1/2 inch of snow on the ground. The city was brought to a halt, but I hung around the house, lit a fire, took pictures, let the baby catch snow on his tongue, and just forgot about the blog.
  4. If I turn on the computer for five minutes, the baby thinks I'm ignoring him and starts wailing.
  5. I was too busy wasting time surfing around BoingBoing and other anti-productive sites, and forgot to post anything.

Snowstorm Lite

It had been cloudy, but dry, all day, so I decided to take my chances. Really, I was taking chances for both of us, since Oliver would be riding along in his stroller. I decided to leave the bulky and awkward rain shield at home, since it wasn't raining and it was only three blocks to the grocery store.

My first indication of trouble should have been the crisp and bitter cold in the air. I remember telling Oliver that we should move quickly before the rains came. We strolled off, with no rain shield, no umbrella, not even my diaper bag along for the ride.

I spent a good long time in the ice cream aisle. Suddenly, I was craving ice cream. I got the lowfat, low sugar treats we usually get, and for good measure, I threw in a pint of Ben & Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch. Then, to be sporting, I also grabbed a pint of New York Super Fudge Chunk for my wife.

We checked out. I went over to the coffee cart and someone announced that it was cold.

"Oh, it's gonna snow."

"Yeah, but not until tonight."

It started sprinkling. I saw a mother outside, setting up the rain cover for her baby's stroller. I was a neglectful, abusive father. But we would still have a few minutes, worst case scenario, before the rain really came down. Oliver might get a little moist, but nothing major.

We passed through the store parking lot, and the wind started blowing rain sideways into the stroller. The drizzle started coming down harder.

I started getting nervous then.

The rainreally picked up then. Oliver started getting wet, and getting panicky. I started walking faster, holding my latte so it wouldn't spill. I tried flipping the stroller backwards, pulling it, so the rain wouldn't blow in on him. It felt awkward and slightly ridiculous.

And then the sky exploded into white shards. It was snowing! Big, fluffy, wet flakes were blowing at us, seemingly from all directions. Oliver started sobbing. I started running with him, coffee foam splashing all over the back of the stroller. We only had two blocks to go. Oliver was getting soaked with wet snow, and he was full-on freaking out. The snow was stunningly thick. We somehow had gotten trapped in a March blizzard.

I had no blanket to cover him with, nothing to protect him. I picked him up and zipped his legs up inside my coat for protection. Disgusted and a little embarrassed, I put my latte on the sidewalk. I couldn't run now, cradling my 21-pound baby with one hand and pushing the stroller with the other. But he seemed to relax a bit, pressed up against me. We powerwalked home. My lungs got a bit wheezy, and we were both soaked by the time we got home. But soon enough we made it, wet, cold, and stunned.

Upstairs, I brought Oliver into the apartment and left the foam-spattered stroller outside the front door. I pulled off his pants and soggy jacket. He went to our sliding glass door and pounded his hands excitedly against the window as the snow kept pouring down.

Then, ten minutes later, it stopped. It was like our own private blizzard. The snow metamorphosed instantly to drizzle, then nothing, and then after a while the sun peeked out. My heart was still pounding with adrenalin. I felt embarrassed for not being better prepared for unexpected weather turns like this, but Seattle never gets wild storms. This was the kind of weather I remembered from Colorado, the state that copyrighted the phrase "you don't like the weather, wait five minutes."

And after all of it, as ashamed as I am even to write this, I missed my abandoned caramel latte.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Frater ex Machina

(Pardon my Latin.)

I went down to the Mac Store in Seattle last week for a diagnosis. The counter tech explained that the diagnosis would cost a minimum $45, and they'd also have to transfer the data from the hard drive somewhere else. I had two options: a) Everything would be transferred temporarily to their servers, and I'd have to pay $40 per DVD to get it back, plus $90 for the work of backing it all up, or b) I could buy an external hard drive and they'd transfer everything onto it at no additional cost.

"What's the smallest hard drive you have?"

"Well, normally, that would be our 80 gig model, which costs $99, but we're out. The next smallest is 160 GB."

I don't think it's appropriate to describe 160 GB of memory as "small," but that's just me. So I bought a monstrous hard drive that the tech assured me would work on PCs or Macs.

I got the call later that week. A logic board died. As it happens, it's the logic board that controls the video display, so the hard drive was functioning fine. I just couldn't see anything, which, as you can imagine, makes computer use difficult.

I've bought used Macs for years now, transplanting old hard drives into new shells as needed. The last computer cost $199.95 (the price tag is still affixed to its glowing green cranium). Replacing the logic board would have cost nearly that much, so we decided to let it die and pull the data off the external hard drive by plugging it into my borrowed PC. At least we'd be able to back up our photos and the other irreplacable stuff.

"So I can plug this into a PC, right?"

"Oh, no," the tech told me. "If you plug it into a PC, you'll have to reformat it and that'll erase all of the data." Oh joy. Now I had the contents of my old computer locked into a hard drive that I couldn't access.

So I called my brother Backslash Bluesky, the resident computer genius, and asked him to help me pull my data off the computer. He promised to come by on Sunday, after "picking up something."

He showed up on Sunday with a bag from the Mac Store in his hand. "What did you have to pick up there?"

"Oh, just a little something." He pulled a boxed Mac Mini out of the bag. "It's for you."

I got teary.

When R came home later, she got teary, too. The Mini was the perfect unexpected present at the perfect time. When I dropped off my brother off that night, he also lent me a monitor to plug the Mini into. We now have a brand new computer with the latest version of OSX, programs coming out the wazoo, twice the RAM of the old machine, and a CD/DVD burner inside. And it's new. I've never before owned a new computer.

My brother has never ever given me such an enormous present before. I was positively gobsmacked. Still am.

My brother is the best.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Friday Five + Five: Music

Five recent* rock/pop songs I can't stop listening to:
  • "Radiation Vibe" - Hem
  • "Gideon" - My Morning Jacket
  • "Huddle Formation" - The Go! Team
  • "One" - Mary J. Blige/U2
  • "Rebellion (Lies)" - Arcade Fire
Five hip-hop songs that keep getting stuck in my head (not all recent):
  • "Supreme, Supreme*" - Talib Kweli featuring Mos Def
  • "Give It to You*" - Blackalicious
  • "Addiction*" - Kanye West
  • "Spaceship" - Kanye West (sorry, but he gets a lot of play around here)
  • "The Mask*" - MF Doom featuring Ghostface
*Recent = released in the last 12 months

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Dead. They're all dead.

I've had to switch blogs with shorter notice than I anticipated. My Mac seems to be dead, taking my whole entire Radio cloud with it. It's a cloudburst. So to speak.

This has not been a good month for electronic devices in the Bluesky home. Observe:

About two weeks ago: I was working on my laptop at the glorious downtown Seattle library. I started hearing an unusual clicking sound near the wi-fi card port (and, as I found out later, the hard drive.) Click. Click.

The laptop is the computer I use for my contracting work. Without it, I can't get anything done without going into the office. I have a second computer, but it's a Mac, and most of the Excel spreadsheets and Word documents I need for work won't translate cleanly. Also, I've got all of my current resumes and job application letters saved on it. Losing it would be a big problem.
I tried restarting. It worked once or twice, and then suddenly it stopped working at all. All I got was more click, click, click. Exasperated, I got it to restart one more time and managed to pull off my resumes before it died again. Click.

I took it to Seattle Laptop, grimacing at the $42.50 minimum diagnostic fee. Luckily, the technician in the store gave me a free diagnosis as soon as I told him the symptoms. "Your hard drive's dead," he said with a grimace.

Dead? Dead's an ugly word. A new hard drive will cost $139 plus installation. I guess we'll just use the iMac until some money comes in.

Last Saturday: Oliver woke us up at 5 in the morning. I was planning to go into the office to work, and wanted to get just a bit more sleep before I got up, so R took the boy out into the living room.

Mere minutes later, she knocked on the door. "Did you shut off the computer last night?"

I vaguely remembered restarting the computer before I went to bed.

"Well, it's not working now."

Not working didn't sound good, so I rolled my groggy self out of bed. Our computer had a mysterious problem restarting recently, and it turned out to be the fault of the iPod that was connected when it restarted. I disconnected the Pod and restarted. Nothing. The little power light went orange, went green for five seconds, and shut off.

I unplugged the computer for a few minutes, made some coffee. Nothing. I tried poking the little pinhole with a paper clip. Nothing. At this point, I started to feel an odd sense of deja vu.

I broke out the system install disks and tried to reboot from there. The computer wouldn't even stay on long enough to recognize the disks. We're in trouble.

Later that day: I notice that my iPod battery doesn't seem to last for more than 20 minutes. I guess we'll have to replace that, too.

Luckily, my office has a spare and rarely used laptop they're willing to let me use. There's no Ethernet port, but my wireless modem still seems to be working, so I swap in my wi-fi card from the dead laptop. It's now our only home computer.

Monday: I take the iMac down to the Mac Store to get a diagnosis. When I called earlier, the person who answered the phone suggested that it might be a hard drive problem. I asked the pivotal question: Can you pull the data off the hard drive if that's the case? She said it was very possible.

Our iMac is our life. All of our pictures of Oliver live there. (Some of them are in other locations, like Shutterfly and Flickr, but the original form is on the Mac.) Years of resumes, a couple of tax returns, drafts of short stories and chapter beginnings that aren't backed up anywhere else, all of our passwords. WAV files of Oliver babbling and laughing. Our life.

I have to remind myself that we have backups of many of the photos. We have physical copies of many of them. And he's only nine months old - it's not like there'll never be pictures of him again. But we have so many from his early early days, and they are all meaningful, and they are all irreplacable, and I'm kicking myself now for not backing up those photos weekly when I had a chance.

At the Mac Store, they agree that they can try to back up the data. As always, there's no guarantees. They force me to buy a ginormous (80 gigs!!!) external hard drive for $129 to save the data. The other option is paying $90 for them to save the data, and then $40 per DVD. Extortion.

I also pay a $45 diagnostic fee. I may have to kick in another $45 if they can't find the problem in 30 minutes. The tech says that it might be a power problem or a logic board problem, but then he loses my support when he admits he can't even open an iMac by himself. Question in my head: if you're just a glorified cashier working in the support department, why are you telling me what might be wrong with the computer?

We might have to buy two hard drives now. R's sister says she may have a spare laptop she can give to us. I am grateful beyond words.

Tuesday: My iPod ran for an hour and forty-five minutes yesterday before I had to plug it back in. Maybe our luck's changing.