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Busy busy busy

It's probably a sign that�you've spent too long in the office when you hit 6am Monday morning commuter traffic on the drive home. Still, it was a worthwhile trip and�a couple of hours of sleep made a world of difference.

Interesting side note: Malcolm Gladwell is in the northwest at the moment promoting his new book. I keep hearing him -- from a spot on NPR, a talk at Microsoft and a televised Town Hall show put on by UofW shown at 6.30am this morning. I thoroughly enjoyed his work on The Tipping Point and from what I've heard his new book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, is going to be equally fascinating. I need to get a copy onto my bookshelf.

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The white stuff

Today happens to be Sean's birthday. Happy birthday, Sean. On this day last year, Seattle got a good few inches of snow and everything ground to a halt and it was great. Despite the conditions, we still managed�to find a taxi (driven by an Ethiopian who had never seen snow) to take us up to O'Sheas for the occasion.

I've no idea how tonight will unfold. Please let it snow.

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2004: Year of the...

It's always entertaining to see the wide variety of '2004: Year of' round-ups that do the rounds about this time of year. Some are reasonable, some surprising and some just reflect really poor journalism. Make up your own mind.

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Holiday summary

The break at home was much appreciated. Christmas and Boxing Day spent with family and an evening of fine wines and smelly cheeses with Ed felt long overdue. It even snowed (properly) on Christmas morning and left a few�inches on the ground throughout the day and�a late night snowball fight with brother and parents was made all the more fun by the challenge of seeing incoming projectiles.

The journey back was interesting to say the least. Despite a long check-in line at Manchester it proved to be an easy flight through to Chicago O'Hare. Touching down an hour late was always going to make for a challenging transfer as I was about to discover. Passing through immigration took the usual forty five minutes (we aliens get a special longer queue and have the privilege of being photographed and fingerprinted on arrival). Customs was a breeze and I made haste from Terminal 5 to Terminal 1 for a connection to Seattle. It's worth mentioning that the design of ORD puts international arrivals and gate C27 at opposite ends of the site but undeterred, I sprinted through the airport to see them shut the gate 50ft in front of me.�No problem, I'll get on standby for the next flight in a couple of hours. Hah. As the next flight rolled around, they were asking ticketed, confirmed passengers to surrender their seats due to overbooking. Those kind souls were offered a 'convenient' connection through Denver the following day. Suffice it to say, being on standby wasn't the place to be as I found out talking to others standing around - some had spent several days in the airport waiting to leave. Respect goes out to the guy who figured a sneaky connection through Juneau, Alaska when all other flights across the country were fully booked.

Living in the airport for a couple of days wasn't going to work but thankfully a plan was taking shape. I changed my flight to one of the few that wasn't fully booked in the following week - two days later on Friday evening, New Years Eve. I would rent a car and drive the 200 miles to Grand Rapids, MI to meet up with Katie who was similarly on vacation there. A $20 per day 'under 25 surcharge' later, I was behind the wheel of�a Jeep Wrangler soft top in the middle of winter. Quite how Jeep has managed to coax the masses into buying this vehicle is beyond me - the road noise is deafening, the suspension stiff (especially fun on icy bridges) and it's so light that it sways all over the road in the wind - but it did the job. Passing through yet another time zone (in the wrong direction), I got in just before eleven to stay with with Katie at her�friend Matthew's place who kindly put me up for the night. It was an unexpected surprise to be able to see Katie before she returned to Seattle and we did a whole lot of nothing for a couple of days before returning to Chicago on Friday for a trip to the Shedds Aquarium (recommended) before flying out.

The flight back was easy in first class and though an evening of celebration possibly wasn't top of my 'things I must now do' list, it seemed inevitable. Sean and I met up with Tina and Jeremy and headed to a party in Queen Anne (nice house) to see in the New Year. Standing outside around a wood fire pit added a certain rustic flavor to one's personal scent but gave plenty of opportunity for drinking. We walked home through the rain, somehow ended up eating many slices of Mario's in Pioneer Square and capped off the night with a hefty glass of Grappa. Marvellous.

Happy New Year! Bring on 2005.

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Return-to-US shopping list

It started on the flight back, looking through the Skymall (or whatever it's called) magazine for duty free sales. This time I'm going to do it right. I'm going to make a list of the things I really miss living in the US and be sure to bring back a wholesome stash to ration until my next resupply.

  • Chocolate. Obviously. Chocolate is made with lots of cocoa and not high fructose corn syrup. If you do it right, you end up with a piece of food that is milky, soft and tasty. If you do it wrong, you get candle wax.
    • Smarties. Always liked them, especially because you get�a letter on the inside of the cap.
    • Dairy milk. Pretending it's Cadbury's while making it with Hershey's chocolate is inexcusable.
    • Mars bars. Useful as currency, among other things.
    • Curly wurly, twirl, double decker, time out, finger of fudge and all of the other�great chocolate bars that have yet to penetrate the world market.
    • Big tin of Roses. I just saw an advert on TV.
  • HP Brown Sauce. How can a country that, in every restaurant,�has 5 salad dressings as standard neglect to include brown sauce in its cuisine.
  • Kingsmill. Probably difficult to take back effectively. I include it here in protest.
  • Twiglets. Very tasty.
  • IRN-BRU. Made from girders in Scotland. What more do I need to say?
  • Dandelion and burdock. I quite like the taste but�I think more that it's a miracle they ever managed to market a drink with this name. To be fair, this is hard to find in Britain as well.
  • Bacon. Low grade, fatty, streaky bacon shouldn't qualify for the 'bacon' moniker on any continent. Bacon should be salty, possibly smoked and comprise significantly more meat than fat.
  • Bangers. Sausages are just for breakfast you know.
  • Cherry bakewells, economy swiss rolls. Included for sentimental attachment.

This list has been longer in the past. I have been fortunate to discover:

  • Baked beans. QFC, Larrys and a handful of other places sell these for $1.99 a can. Extorsion, yes, but sometimes the toast just isn't the same without.
  • Marmite. Love it or�hate it.
  • Tea. I've found a handful of places that import Twinings and life has improved with the discovery.

I've a feeling this entry will be subject to a few edits and additions.

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Like a whirlwind

I'm not exactly sure where the month of December has gone. Between arriving back from Stehekin after Thanksgiving and boarding my flight to O'Hare this morning, many things have happened but I've not had a chance to keep up to date here. We had a big push up to code complete at work, which turned out well as we hit the 12/15 date (you have to love the date selection�- slip by a day and you slip by a whole month with the holidays). Add to that a week-long visit from Lauren (among other things, we took the Concorde tour, which was great), a holiday party, a whistlestop tour for Bob on his way to Whistler and plenty of other things I've since forgotten.

Anyway, I finally find myself in my home bedroom, in (not) my old bed, with things so very similar to how I remember them. My brother picked me up from Manchester Airport early this morning and we had breakfast at a Little Chef with real bacon (yes!) and brown sauce (even better) and chatted over non-latte coffee. There are some experiences you can miss without even noticing.�A quick nap over lunch and we spent the evening catching up with the family; it's been thirteen months since I've been back to the UK and it certainly feels like it.

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We're being saved

Seen on a bumper sticker in Bellevue Square: George W Bush is saving your ass whether you like it or not. Indeed.

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Great weekend

Back in Seattle after a great weekend. I'd fully�recommend the Stehekin Lodge as a great escape from the world.

Weather was fantastic (even if rather cold) and the town was practically deserted. A spot of hiking, bike riding and general lazing was time well spent.


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Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a great American holiday. It remains�probably the last�uncommercialized occassion for sharing with friends and family and time to reflect on many things, among them how lucky we are. And there are very few things with that premise that one could disagree with.

Today, however, was slightly different as we're putting of the gorging until tomorrow. Instead, today was a trip to Washington Park near Anacortes, one of the undiscovered gems of the northwest. Despite the rain in Seattle the shadow of the�Olympics made for�sunshine�on top of the bitterly cold wind and perfect conditions for a bike ride. Fun.

Meanwhile, as the hoards descend on the shopping malls tomorrow morning at the ridiculous hour of five for the start the sales that mark the start of the Christmas shopping season, Katie and I will be heading�up to Lake Chelan for a couple of days at the Stehekin Lodge. The only way in is by boat and there are no phones, TV or radio. We've a housekeeping unit that should provide everything we need for eating the massive quanitites of food we'll prepare tonight. It's going to be a good weekend.

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The Da Vinci Code

I'm a bit behind the times on this one but I just finished reading The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Absolutely fantastic book; thoroughly recommended. Despite not reading all that much fiction, I've hardly been able to put this one down. I love a good thriller/thinker.

The whole idea of carrying forward a story for hundreds of years really makes one question what we're doing in the here and now is all that significant. Policy demands work e-mail gets purged every few months and phone calls and web chats have replaced traditional hold-in-your-hand letters (aside from the much appreciated ones from my mother :)). The proliferation of digital photos (and the as many as you can take option that comes with) offsets this a little, but still, it's a little scary.