: views from the Hill

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


A lot has been said about the insured damages from Katrina. $25b, they say. What about those uninsured damages? Another $4b, $10b, $25b, they say. How many people had flood insurance? The National Flood Insurance Program has coverage, but how much? How many people will just walk away from their battered homes and the mortgages that cover them? How about the renters? How about the landlords who rent to the renters who walked away? Where will they find new renters? How will they make the payments on their income properties? Will they just walk away?

How much money do the mortgage lenders have in reserve to cover the foreclosed mortgages on homes that aren't homes anymore? And even for those with insurance, will it cover enough? State Farm is the largest homeowner insurer in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida. What happens to State Farm? What happens to Allstate, who is the runner-up in the insurance competition? How much paper did the insurers have covered by reinsurers? Is Warren Buffett still carrying that risk? Others?

What about industry and jobs? How goes the guy who teaches school with no school to teach in, the woman who works the casino, when the casino is toothpicks, the guy at the dry cleaner, the one who delivers food to the stores that aren't open, flips burgers, drives a taxi, installs cable? What about jobs? And when your job is gone and with it your health insurance, if you had any, and you were already living on the hairy edge, what then?

Schools. How can a school district afford to take in the kids whose parents left NOLA or elsewhere and probably won't be going back for a while, if ever? How can a state afford to educate another state's kids? How can Louisiana afford to deal with the damage done? How can the feds afford to help out the states with billions already spent elsewhere?

And the Mississippi and all its bustle ... the port of New Orleans is out of commission for a long while.

And the basics. ... No power for a million, two million people. Scarce drinking water. Contamination. Pollution. Gas out of supply. Batteries. Food.

An editorial in the Biloxi Sun Herald.

Tony Ridder, my local boy whose publishing empire publishes the Sun Herald, also had something to say.

And us'ns and USns ... what happens when the next straw is placed on the camel's back?

Washing away

A prescient report. "Washing Away" from the Times-Picayune. Five-part series from 2002 which begins, "It's only a matter of time before South Louisiana takes a direct hit from a major hurricane. Billions have been spent to protect us, but we grow more vulnerable every day."

Stage. Restage

 Posted by Picasa  Here's the place as it looked last May.

Since mid-July and up until Saturday, there was not a stick of furniture in the place. Because we'd taken the large carpet that had been in the living room as well as all the furniture of ours they'd used last time, Upstagers had to rework the whole idea and came up with a very different set. Great people to work with. If you're looking for a stager in the Silicon Valley area, they come highly recommended.

 Posted by Picasa  The stage is set. Act II opens.

x'd fingers it's a two-act play.

Karin Slaughter spotted at B&N this morning.

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(Well, her latest book anyway ...)

Karin's fifth book in five years, FAITHLESS, was released in the U.S. yesterday. She'll be at Bouchercon in Chicago over the long weekend while I'll be missing my first B'con since B'con Monterey in 1997.

After Bouchercon, she starts flogging the book. She's in town next Thursday, talking and signing at Book Passage in Corte Madera at 1 p.m. and at "M" is for Mystery in San Mateo at 7 p.m.

After her gig in San Mateo (if her publisher doesn't have other demands on her time), we plan to kidnap her and take her to Hill, which she hasn't seen yet, and then feed her dinner as we walk her back to her hotel.

Friday morning bright and early she has a phone interview and then flies off to L.A. Her tour schedule sounds brutal.

Morgan Freeman. Class act.

Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman partners with Charity Folks and the American Red Cross for Hurricane Relief Auction - September 2nd

That's Friday, folks.

Freeman sez, "Now, charity begins at home, so we call on anybody who has even the thought (of giving) to get beyond the thought and help these people."

VISA will not raise their limit of $50 for pay at the pump

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Man, I love this place ...

Headline in today's Chron: Ostrich takes hike on bridge. Evening commute halts, tourists gawk at bird on the lam

I would've said "bird on the run" but I'm no headline writer ...


Think globally. Eat locally.

Worldwatch Institute's pitch for eating local food. What is local food? Why should we eat it? Go thither and ponder and go forth and do thou likewise.

Goodin keeps track of sales announcements in Locus

Melinda Rose Goodin keeps track of sales announcements in Locus. She conscientiously fills out an Excel spreadsheet with who sold what to whom, via which agent.

Locus spreadsheet: July 2004 to May 2005 (updated 17th May 2005)

Locus, for those who are unfamiliar with the magazine, "focuses on news of the Science Fiction publishing field and coverage of new science fiction books and magazines." If that's your playground, Goodin's spreadsheet is a trove of agent-related information.

Lillian Virginia Mountweazel

Henry Alford column in the New Yorker

Turn to page 1,850 of the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia and you'll find an entry for Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, a fountain designer turned photographer who was celebrated for a collection of photographs of rural American mailboxes titled "Flags Up!" Mountweazel, the encyclopedia indicates, was born in Bangs, Ohio, in 1942, only to die "at 31 in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine."

If Mountweazel is not a household name, even in fountain-designing or mailbox-photography circles, that is because she never existed. "It was an old tradition in encyclopedias to put in a fake entry to protect your copyright," Richard Steins, who was one of the volume's editors, said the other day. "If someone copied Lillian, then we'd know they'd stolen from us."

Alford's column tracks down a made-up word in the New Oxford American Dictionary.

The word has since been spotted on Dictionary.com, which cites Webster's New Millennium as its source. "It's interesting for us that we can see their methodology," McKean said. "Or lack thereof. It's like tagging and releasing giant turtles."

Goin' to Surf City

SFGate covers the latest news

Wading into murky waters where no legislator has ever hung ten before, the Senate Rules Committee declared that the Orange County town of Huntington Beach -- which also fancies itself as Surf City USA -- cannot claim exclusive rights to the name.

Sorry, Paula!

"You know we're goin' to Surf City, gonna have some fun, now
Two boys for every girl"

[apologies to Brian Wilson and Jan Berry for the lyric change]

Sunday, August 28, 2005

NEWSMEAT - politics, headlines, federal campaign contribution search

NEWSMEAT: "CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTION SEARCH (individual donations of $200 or more made after 1977)"

Interesting stuff. Check by name or ZIP.

Look at this! Not your typical Republican wonk.

Authors on the Web on Recurring Characters

AuthorsOnTheWeb on Recurring Characters

[Apr 2001] Authors on the Web talks to six of today's top serial novelists --- Nevada Barr, Carolyn Hart, Robert B. Parker, Ridley Pearson, George Pelecanos and Ian Rankin.

Authors on the Web does ChickLit

Authors on the Web does Chick Lit.

[February 2004] AuthorsOnTheWeb.com has brought together 16 writers --- Meg Cabot, Jennifer Coburn, Elizabeth Crane, Valerie Frankel, Wendy Holden, Donna Kauffman, Marian Keyes, Deanna Kizis, Harley Jane Kozak, Sherrie Krantz, Alisa Kwitney, Whitney Lyles, Carole Matthews, Sarah Salway, Gemma Townley and Jennifer Weiner --- to discuss the essential elements of a Chick Lit novel, the impact these books can have on female readers, and the scenes or characters that they are especially proud to have written.

Who Named It?


Whonamedit.com is a biographical dictionary of medical eponyms. It is our ambition to present a complete survey of all medical phenomena named for a person, with a biography of that person. Eventually, this will include more than 15.000 eponyms and more than 6.000 persons.

e.g. Want to know who the Kaposi was behind Kaposi's sarcoma? whonamedit.com has the great and gory details.

A productive Saturday, but not what we had planned

Arrived at the old farm. Introduced ourselves to the real estate agent, who was patiently waiting for drop-ins. He hadn't realized there'd be no furniture in the place -- the last time he'd been there was back in May when it was furnished and staged. He had no place to sit, except on the built-in buffet space between the family room and the kitchen. His nibs chatted with him, explaining that all the furniture had been removed in July prior to the original COE date but that there'd be furniture arriving tomorrow (today, Sunday) with more to follow.

I swept the front paths and the back patio, even though Juan's showing up Monday to do a proper blow. We were expecting visitors today, and the front paths couldn't wait.

Chuck brought his old friends by to look over the place. "Not what you were expecting to do today, is it?" he asked. His old friends were the couple from up at the end of the street. "Diamond Jim" our tree guy calls him. I was glad I'd swept up before Diamond Jim arrived.

I headed off to Home Depot for a mop and a toilet brush, a toilet flapper, plants, &c. While I was gone, his nibs vacuumed and patched up the holes the stagers had left the first time they came through. Painted over the patches after they'd dried. Tried to fix the lock on the back house. Couldn't. I'll have to arrange for a locksmith and sit and wait next week some time.

$112.50 later, I arrived back. Handed off the toilet brush, toilet cleaner, toilet flapper to his nibs, who proceeded to clean four bathrooms and fix the flapper in the upstairs master bath while I potted and planted flowers and placed the pots.

The stagers showed up early with stuff. They didn't want to interfere with the unplanned open house, but we said, "Come on in. You'll just be more proof to visitors that the escrow fell through yesterday and the house is back on the market." They promised to have the place ready for the Wednesday broker tour and commiserated over the failed escrow.

The real estate agent left. He'd had a so-so day. Four couples/family groups came by, maybe five. Plus Diamond Jim and his wife with Chuck.

Did I mention the real estate agent drove a shiny new BLACK HUMMER? No? I thought that was an interesting car of choice for an agent.

Turned out he'd graduated HS a year before I did and spent his earlier career as basketball coach at my alma mater, starting there four years after I'd graduated. He knew Diamond Jim's wife because she used to be married to the basketball coach at St. Francis. We talked about my alma mater. He said, did you know Dick B? He was a senior when I was a freshman, I said. You wouldn't've been there when Jim P was there. I was: he was a senior when I was a freshman too. He named about six or seven guys, all but one of whom I knew of.

Small world.

Six hours after we arrived, we left. Flowers by the front steps. Flowers out by the back patio. Flowers in the front. Clean. Spackled. Painted. Vacuumed. Staging in progress. The place is ready to shine. Again.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

House for sale! House for sale!

Escrow on Dale died a slow death this week. Our Realtor guy called the other agent early in the week to remind him that for escrow to close on Friday, the $$$ had to be in escrow by Wednesday.

"Well, if the $$$ aren't there, I guess you'll just have to put the house back on the market," the other agent said.


Wednesday came and went. Thursday our guy FAX'd us the paperwork to sign demanding performance of the contract. We returned the paperwork on Friday and signed some more paper telling the escrow folks it was time to close out the escrow. While his nibs was working, I finished clearing out the stuff I'd moved to Dale from the warehouse when we vacated it at the end of its lease, at the beginning of the month. I hadn't =quite= finished sorting through all the boxes of clips and magazines and papers. Still had eight or nine to go. Oh, well. Pack them into the pickup and move them out.

Swept the floors. Deadheaded the agapanthus. Watered. The place is clean albeit bare. The yard lives.

Friday, the other agent wasn't returning our agent's calls.

The money never showed.



We at least got their deposit into our bank account back in July when we renegotiated the terms of sale. We'll be using part of that stash to put the place back on the market, but we'd never intended to have the place up for sale in September.

The weather's fine, though, and some people will be thinking about buying a new place in time to move in before the holidays, so maybe it will all work out.

We'll be back at Dale today whipping things back into shape. Boy, am I glad I kept the yard alive.

Tomorrow the stagers return to refurnish the house. We've signed up the gardener guy to blow off the tree debris and water the yard once a week. I'll water and check on the place at least once a week too.

Our guy has the house on broker tour this upcoming Wednesday and plans for open houses on the weekends.

In fact, one of his Realtor guy cohorts had nothing better to do today, so, even though there's no notice in the paper, he's putting a sign out on the highway and he's going to have an open house this afternoon. We'll be around working on the place, but our guy says, hey. No problem.

Our guy's also going to bring by some good friends who have good friends who are moving back into the area so they can look at the house and see whether they think their friends might be interested. ...

Our Realtor's a great guy -- thorough, honest, smart -- and I think this past lousy escrow will have a silver lining in the end.

x'd fingers.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Monday, August 22, 2005

Is anyone there? Hello? Is anyone there?

I hate phones. Have I mentioned?

I much prefer F2F or e-mail. I get no joy from hearing someone's voice. I don't know what the problem is, perhaps that there's this disconnect between the voice and the face. E-mail's OK because I can save an e-mail and parse it before I answer. F2F is okay too because I can see the person I'm talking to.

In any hoo.

Today was my day to call people. Last week, my day was Monday as well. Might as well start the week off with a bang, eh?

Last week I was calling people to ask if they wanted their names in the directory I'm putting together as LAST NAME, First Name (Nickname) or LAST NAME, Nickname. Call after call after call to everyone for whom I was carrying a nickname who didn't have an e-mail address or who hadn't answered my e-mail asking which variant they preferred.

Today I'm calling to change my billing/notice address with a variety of entities that do not have an online way of changing my address: my 401K with Honeywell (for whom I never worked but who bought a business for which I worked many year ago now), my 401K account to which I should be transferring my Honeywell 401K, my BankOne accounts which are now my Chase accounts, my Macy's account.

So, fine. Macy's. I tried online and got a "cannot update your account. try again later."

I called their accounts line and got an intelligent design voice asking me for my old ZIP and "is that right?" and my new ZIP and "is that right?" and my address and "is that right?" and no, it wasn't. So we tried a couple times. Each time the street name was garbled. So we tried just the street name and the repeat back didn't work. After three or so attempts and after much hoo-hah, I was transferred to someone who kept saying, "Is anyone there?" I answered. "Is anyone there?" I answered louder. "Is anyone there?" And even louder. He finally heard me and said, "Ma'am. I can barely hear you." I said, "I'm almost shouting. If you can't hear me, that's a failure in your customer support line," or in the trans-Pacific cable or the satellite link, I didn't add.

"Is anyone there?" he asked.

So, I hung up.

If Macy's doesn't care enough about customer support to let me update my account online or to provide a phone line that their support staff can hear me on, it's not really my problem.

I'm sure they'd like me to use my $2000 line of credit, which I haven't used in a long while, but I'm disinclined at this point and who knows where they'd send the bill anyway.

... as though I'm ever very inclined to shop at a place whose tagline is "way to shop!"

"Way to shop" indeed. ...

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Pretty things: NYPL Digital Gallery

Golden Gate SF

NYPL Digital Gallery provides access to over 337,000 images digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the collections of The New York Public Library, including illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints and photographs, illustrated books, printed ephemera, and more.


Useful things: Free public records search

Pretrieve is a search engine that is specifically geared towards finding public records relevant to a person, business, or address. Our search database knows about thousands of public records sources, and can match your search information to the relevant sources for you. And, even though we already cover a large number of public record sources, we are constantly expanding our coverage to offer even more search results.

As an added convenience, most of the search result links that we provide take you directly to the results page on the associated public record site. For example, clicking on a "Property Record" link usually takes you directly to the property record data, rather than simply taking you to the home page of the property record site. This means that, in most cases, you only have to type your search criteria once to view public records on multiple sites.

Pretty cool. Fairly effective. Public search of county records doesn't cover all California counties. Other states are similarly hit or miss, and if your target has a common name and/or you aren't quite sure where he or she might be, this tool will give you far more information than you'll know what to do with.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Chocolate and Zucchini

I just discovered that Chocolate and Zucchini made the Time Magazine list of 50 Coolest Websites 2005.

How cool is that? Congratulations, Clotilde!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Patch of blue

Beautiful day at the Saturday Farmers' Market at the Ferry Building.

We stopped off at Acme for a sour batard (our reason for the excursion) and an olive bread. After going out in back and tasting our way through cheese, peaches, tomatoes, dips and more, we left with a pot of garlic quark, some dry jack, some peaches, some dry-farmed organic early girl tomatoes, a large bunch of basil (with roots! I plan to harvest the basil and try to get the roots to re-grow up on the deck to replace the basil which has never taken hold), and a small jar of lavender sea salt.

Spotted James Ormsby on our way back inside, checking out cheeses and other food stuffs. What the heck was he doing at a yuppie farmers' market, certainly not gathering the goods for his dinner trade? We finally decided he was probably there, killing time before Patricia Unterman's 1 p.m. book signing at Book Passage for the 4th ed. of her San Francisco Food Lover’s Guide.

Our quark needed to be in the fridge. The smell of the basil was making me hungry, so we decided to skip the Unterman signing and head home.

At Levi Plaza, before crossing Sansome and heading up the Filbert Steps, I realized that the day was perfect to take a picture of our place.

Patch of blue Posted by Picasa

See the brick-colored building just beneath Coit Tower? It's not really just beneath Coit Tower. It's down on the east side of Montgomery, just north of the Filbert Steps. That, believe it or not, is a single family home. 10K sq ft. SEVEN CAR PARKING! Yowzaa.

Just below and to the right of the zillion dollar home is our HSH, a typical 25' wide, lot-line to lot-line, San Francisco dwelling. The patch of blue is the east-facing wall of our deck.

The brick building in the right front of the picture is part of the Levi Strauss & Co. campus. The off-white building just visible behind it is the Pearson Addison-Wesley and Benjamin Cummings building on Filbert, just below the Steps.

Now that you've been given the grand tour, think you can spot the place from this angle?

Pablo Cruises

Pablo had been one of his nibs' physics students back in his nibs' academia days -- back at UCSB when his nibs was node 3 on the brand spanking new ARPANET. Those days are decades ago now and Pablo's gone on to his own career and fame (beds of nails, baseball, physics). We keep in touch, have each other over for dinner, exchange e-mail.

Pablo's offer couldn't be beat.

"You free Thursday? Come down to the Brisbane Marina and we'll take the boat out for a look around the Bay and stop in at McCovey Cove for the Giants vs. Rockies game. I'll provide the sausages and beer. You just need to be there on time."

Of course we were late. There's some construction going on King Street near Third and the traffic skinnies down to one lane just as it's backing up for all the folks trying to turn left. The light cycled through again and again as the traffic merged into a single lane and inched through the traffic signal. We finally made it onto 280, took the 101 split and hightailed it down to Brisbane.

Pablo wasn't there when we arrived, five minutes after he'd been planning to leave. Had he really left without us? I was bummed.

We walked around the edge of the Marina to see if we could see his boat out on the Bay and give him an ahoy!


So where the heck was he?

We bumped into another guy who looked like a physicist sort, who was also wandering around looking like he was looking for a lift in a boat. Turns out he was Lew, a retired physics professor at City College and he was, indeed, looking for Pablo. Seems Pablo had sent out an e-mail that morning saying he'd be leaving an hour later than originally planned.

We weren't five minutes late, we were early!

Pablo arrived and the rest of the gang showed up. One of the gang was a guy we knew from Week 11, Stanford Sierra Camp, whom we hadn't seen since we swapped weeks something like seven years ago. Physics nerds. Stanford. Small world.

We set off later than Pablo'd anticipated and wouldn't've been able to get out on the ocean and back in time for the game so instead we took a shortened tour around Treasure Island and Yerba Buena to take an up-close look at the construction of the new Oakland span. Differences of opinions as to whether the new construction is necessary or not. I think it's a good idea and worth the expense, if only they'd keep the costs under control. Others think the whole idea is a complete waste and a boondoggle.

We arrived and set anchor at McCovey Cove in time to hear the Star Spangled Banner. The boat was perfectly positioned. We could peek through the gates and also keep an eye on the scoreboard. We had the game playing on the radio as well. We spent the afternoon eating grilled polish sausages and drinking beer and wine and other libations as we enjoyed the game and wide-ranging talk.

The Giants came from behind in the eighth and won the game so all were happy.

After the game, we weighed anchor and set off on our game-delayed cruise around the Bay -- out under the Golden Gate Bridge, back in to Sausalito, around the Belvedere/Tiburon point, over to Angel Island and Ayala Cove, then back around along the edge of the city, under the Bay Bridge and over to Brisbane.

Pictures (20% of the ~ 350 I shot. Digital. Ain't it wonderful?)

Hip Liz ... this one's for you ...

We saw the Giants game Thursday from a spot in McCovey Cove and miracle of miracles, the guys beat Colorado 6-4 with an amazing five run eighth inning. Some of the kids from the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco left after the seventh inning when the score was a still-dismal 4-1 Rockies. I think, I hope, they were too young to worry about what they missed.

The guy whose boat we were on would like me to pass on this link.

Seven seats in a row. Section 317, Row 2, Seats 3-9. Up high. Right behind home plate.

Buy three, buy four, buy all seven. $30 a pop.

Paul has the alternative, you see, if he sells all seven tickets to invite six or eight or fifteen friends and just sit in the Cove and listen to the game, watch the scoreboard. Thursday there were six of us, not including Paul.

You can sorta kinda peek through the gates and see the field, but mostly it's the game on the radio, the scoreboard, floating, eating sausage, hanging out. Sun. Water rocking. Watching the other boats. Watching the cops in their boat flush the kayakers out from under the path overhang.

We puttered around afterwards. Out through the Golden Gate. Back in around Sausalito and Angel Island before heading back.

Nice day. Pics to follow.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Creative Muse: Stories of Creativity & Innovation

Madhukar Shukla's Creative Muse is an entertaining collection of descriptions of the mind spasms that resulted in rubber heels, the Band-Aid, the sewing machine and more.