Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Walking on water

It was three years ago that I first set foot on a frozen lake. A couple of days ago, up in Fort Collins with Wendy's family, I gave it another go. gives a handy ready-reference for what's considered safe on various thicknesses of ice:

  • 3" or less STAY OFF
  • 4" ice fishing, walking, cross country skiing
  • 5" one snowmobile or ATV
  • 8"–12" one car or small pickup truck
  • 12"–15" one medium truck (pickup or van)
According to one knowledgeable local expert I met on my walk, the ice on Terry Lake was about 8", so good enough for a car. Underfoot, though, the creaks and deep resonating twangs made my lake-walk a pretty hair-raising experience, even if in theory completely safe.

From a vantage point off the ice, I took this one in the sunset:

Christmas Trees

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

She Said, He Said

She said:

Hello Isaac,

We recently received your King Bloom Lavender duvet cover and I am afraid we will not be able to replace the duvet cover for you.

Amenity is happy to accept any item that has not been used or washed and if the discrepancy had been found before use, we would certainly be able to help.

Upon review, the duvet cover appears to have been heavily used and washed. Given these circumstances it is company policy that the return cannot be accepted as a manufacturing flaw.

We are truly sorry for any disappointment this may cause. We are due to return your original purchase to you and as a good will gesture, we would like to offer you a choice of any amenity pillow.

Please let me know which pillow you would like to receive and we will make sure they arrive as soon as possible.



He said:

Hi Helen, thanks for getting back to me.

I can assure you that the duvet cover has never been used and has been washed precisely once before it was returned to you---the defect became apparent when spreading the item out after washing, which is the first thing we did when we unpacked the thing. Never at any point has the duvet cover even been on a duvet, although it did sit folded on the floor for a couple of weeks while waiting to be returned to you.

To put it very mildly, I feel wholeheartedly let down by your response. The Amenity Home web site dares to mention "nature's flawless elegance" while our duvet cover, however elegant, was flawed at the moment we bought it. Your proposed good will gesture falls substantially short of Amenity Home's actual moral obligations here, and I will certainly not be salving Amenity's corporate conscience by taking you up on your offer of a compensatory pillow.

In fact you can keep the duvet cover too---please do not waste any resources returning to me a faulty product for which I have no desire. If ever I require a defective duvet cover with a hole in it I'm sure there is a wealth of cheap and cheerful options available to me at my local goodwill store. I was, though, rather hoping that spending significantly more (I paid $378.67, including tax, for this item) might get me a defect-free product from a company prepared to do the right thing and stand behind the quality of their products. I guess not.

I know this isn't your fault personally, Helen, but "disappointment" doesn't come even nearly close to capturing my mood. I am outraged. Please do me the favor of passing on my utter disgust to those in charge at Amenity. The mind boggles at how a "company policy" like this---generating such bad will in a first-time Amenity customer---could possibly make business sense. You can rest assured that for my own part I will be getting maximum value from the $380 cost of my education about Amenity Home by passing on my learnings to friends and colleagues.

I wish you, Helen, a Merry Christmas. Amenity Home, not so much.


After that he uploaded a new old photo:

5624 A

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Amenity Home Suckage

So heads-up, people. Beware Amenity Home, who don't replace faulty products.

Short story: bought an Amenity duvet cover. Got it home, washed it, and found a small hole in it when spreading it out after washing. Sent it back to Amenity, who say that their policy is not to replace items which have been washed.


This thing cost $380 including tax. Pardon me for thinking that for such a price one might expect better than this. Amenity FAIL.

I took this one way back in February 2000. The artist's impression turned out pretty well, but failed to anticipate the Gherkin:

Tate Gallery of Modern Art

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Veggie Bake

Here's a great one for cold winter days. I present to you, Veggie Bake:

1 small green pepper
1 small red pepper
1 medium onion
12oz fresh mushrooms
3 celery sticks
8oz wholewheat breadcrumbs, divided 6/2
6oz mature cheddar, divided 4/2
1 large egg
3 tablespoons oil
salt and pepper

Roughly chop the peppers, the onion and the mushrooms while heating the oil in a large saucepan or frying pan. When the oil is hot, add the chopped peppers and onion to the pan, stirring gently. After five minutes add the mushrooms and celery, and continue to cook with the heat fairly low until all the vegetables are tender. In all it should take ten minutes or so.

Remove the pan form the heat and stir in 6oz of the breadcrumbs and 4oz of the cheese. Beat the egg with some salt and pepper and add that to the pan as well, stirring and mixing everything together thoroughly. Spoon the mixture into a pre-greased baking dish and level the surface with the back of a spoon. Mix the remaining cheese and breadcrumbs together and sprinkle this mixture over the top.

Place the dish in an oven pre-heated to 375ºF and bake for 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve hot or cold.

The is what San Francisco looks like on a cold winter day:


Friday, December 12, 2008

Fall and Winter

Talking of seasons, here's one from Terry Lake in fall

and in winter

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Stop! Hammertime

Wendy met MC Hammer tonight. How cool is that?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Sudden Chill

At the end of the calendar year, San Francisco seems to get cold out of nowhere and all of a sudden. Like, really cold... and really suddenly. It's strange: last week I was cycling in shorts and a t-shirt, and this week I'm urgently ordering a cord of wood for heating fuel during the winter. A couple of days ago I wore three layers out in the evening for the first time in months. Wendy brought handwarmers and wished for a scarf.

What's going on?

Turns out Wendy and I were brought up in symmetric climates, where the temperature varies in evenly spaced peaks and troughs. By way of illustration: here, courtesy of, are the monthly high and low temperatures in Denver, where Wendy spent her youth:

Picture 3.png
and here are monthly highs and lows in Sheffield, where I grew up:
Picture 4.png

You can see the similarities. Sure, Denver is more extreme on the high side as well as the low side, but the two exhibit basically the same pattern: it heats up for six months, it cools down for six months. Notice how this means that the warmest and the coldest months are a good while apart.

Then there's San Francisco.

Picture 5.png
It starts cold in January and gets warmer and warmer and warmer until about October and then boom---the temperature plummets. The second-warmest month is October and the second-coldest month is December!

Of course, it's all relative. But it's nice to know that there's at least some scientific basis to the perception that winter comes out of nowhere in San Francisco. Brrr.

In other news, the printer is back today and on top form. I'm going hardcopy crazy.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

It shouldn't be this difficult

Back at the beginning of the year I bought a new printer. Because I'm a prima donna wannabe-photographer I bought a fancy one, a Canon PIXMA Pro9000:


It's a really good printer. A great printer, in fact.

Or rather it was a great printer until about March, when it pretty much just stopped working and started instead exhibiting "Error 5110". I'd printed probably about 50 sheets by then, and although those were superb prints I still didn't quite feel like I'd really had my money's worth.

"Error 5110" is a known issue with this printer but because the store I'd bought it from had gone out of business and I didn't have the receipt any more, I knew getting the thing working again would involve endless call center telephony and serious persuasiveness. I put it off again and again, the thing sitting there gathering dust, completely inoperable, for nine months. And it stared at me during each one of those nine months, and whispered its price tag.

Enter sabbatical.

And you know what? I was on the phone for 90 minutes today (1-800-OK-CANON). And I did have to lug a 30lb printer to my local Canon service center. But tomorrow, touch wood, I'll have a working Pro9000 again and I'm pretty happy about that.

An hour and a half on the phone, though! On a weekday, during business hours. Who has time for this kind of stuff?


Sunday, December 07, 2008


Wendy teaches 2nd grade. A student at her school brought the following joke to class the other day:

What has legs but can't walk; has eyes but can't see; and has wings but can't fly?
The answer: a dead bird.

I've uploaded quite a few new photos recently. Here's one from a while back round the corner from our house:


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

New York Day-After-Thanksgiving

The morning after Thanksgiving we went for a walk up Fifth and back down Madison, watching the crazy-people crazy-shopping in the Black Friday sales (yes, this is the retail occasion on which people get trampled to death). We competed to see who could spot the shopper carrying the most bags (Wendy won: a dude with five bulging carriers; I expected to see more but perhaps it's the recession). After brunch in Chelsea we headed to the airport and back home to San Francisco.

We got upgraded on the way back; a nice end to the trip.

I took this on, well, waddyaknow, Fifth Ave:


New York Thanksgiving

The idea was that going to New York at Thanksgiving would be an exciting and exotic getaway, giving us a chance to sample freezing temperatures at a festive time of year as well as the romance of a big city adventure with just the two of us. Part of the thrill was that we booked the flight just a few days in advance (we got a great deal on United) and we booked a hotel at which we'd never before stayed. I guess that to a middle-aged middle-class highly routinized couple like us, such a trip feels very daring.

The Bryant Park Hotel was great: chilled out, stylish, conveniently located, affordable (thanks Expedia), and with generously sized rooms given all those attributes. I've stayed at The Hudson the last couple of times I've been in New York and the equivalent room there is literally half the size: 150 square feet versus 300 square feet, which includes the bathroom. For reference, a queen size bed alone with a two-foot space around it is 96 square feet. The Hudson is tight in more than one way (and no, there isn't that two-foot space around the bed there).

The Bryant Park Hotel claims that its Cellar Bar is some kind of city hotspot, but even experiencing it only on the night before Thanksgiving one has to conclude that it's reaching a little bit. Jolly fun cocktails and interestingly dressed waitresses, for sure, but probably not where you'd bump into anyone who knew anything about where to be in Manhattan. (Anecdotally, I know nothing about where to be in Manhattan and I was there). Online sentiment, though a little bitchier, would seem broadly to agree.

Waking up Thursday, though, we could from our hotel room window see ice-skaters in Bryant Park---and how deliciously idyllic is that for a cold Thanksgiving morning? We got moving, checked out the parade (a mere two blocks away, thanks to the conveniently located hotel), then walked down to SoHo for brunch. We ended up at somewhere we'd been before, which on the one hand provided some welcome familiarity but on the other hand didn't quite provide enough familiarity for Wendy, who after decades of celebrating Thanksgiving at home with family was understandably struggling a little bit. We went for Thanksgiving dinner that night nonetheless, and found a very nice spot to hang out in West Midtown. We talked about family all night, in honor of the occasion.

The below is not New York. It was taken in Tiburon a couple of weeks ago.