The Year in Books and Stuff

Well, Christmas is behind us, but the week I like to call Boxing Week is upon us. This generally means there's still a lack of time for folks visiting the ole blogstead.

So, it's a perfect time to put up my long-winded end-of-year reading wrap-up. Below the fold, you'll find a list of all the books I read this year. It looks like I doubled my reading count this year (when compared with last year's post), but I think this is due more to improved record-keeping than to any real change in reading habits.

Other statistics for the year:

  • Blog Posts: 328 in 2008, 322 in 2009. A slight decline, but there are a few days left. I think it's more interesting that I went from 174 in 2007 to 328 in 2008. I suspect that's due to a general shift away from text-heavy posts to picture-heavy posts. I'll want to keep an eye on that.
  • BookTale Book Tales: 12 in 2008, 11 in 2009. (For new readers: I used to have visits from imaginary friends after I read particular books. Posts labeled 'book tale' generally provide an emotional/psychological study based on my reaction to the book at hand.) I am surprised to count as many as 11 in 2009, to be honest. I haven't done one since September. I was all prepared to blame the precipitous drop on moving and changing work patterns, but now I have nothing to say, except that I expect to come close to the overall total breaking 100 in 2010.
  • Wee Toaty Explorers: 0 in 2008, 16 in 2009. This number is easy to explain. I did not start making small clay figures and leaving them in travel destinations until this year. I continue to hope that some random people come upon these and enjoy them, but mostly it just keeps me occupied while traveling. My favorite is still the Topeka Traveler, not only because she got the most comments, but because there's a mixture of adventure and isolation in her setting.
  • Greenbelt Report,NevadaGreenbelt/Nevada County Reports: The biggest news for me this year were the job and house change. I started working for a company based in Boulder, and the Brunette and I moved all the way across the country from Maryland to California. So, the significant change isn't in the number of neighborhood posts, it's in the location. (I suspect as we settle in, the balance of neighborhood, geek, bicycle and travel reports will return to its 2008 level. I'm also guessing that we won't see many more commuting reports, though.)
  • BicycleReportBiking: The move really squashed my biking. The bikes got packed up in early October and are actually still at the bike shop in Nevada City being repaired from the move. I have no idea what the change in terrain is going to do to my biking, but I'm hoping that it doesn't reduce the number of rides. I have no doubt that it will decrease the distances at least at first. I think the quick 20 mile jaunt is over for now.

    This year, I'm going to switch from storing the data in XML and rendering it with a perl graphic module to giving JSON objects to a script to render with Raphael, so it looks nicer and I learn more about REST.

Read on to see the list of books. Unless otherwise noted, the links go over to librarything. These are listed in the order in which I read them.

Greenbelt Boater

It took me a while to find a little ocean for our little boater to row upon.

He doesn't seem to realize the trouble he is facing.

But there may be other problems ahead.

We're all hopeful that it's a little too cold for traffic today.

Gracious but it's hard to take pictures when the sun is this bright.

Greenbelt Baby

I went down to the barber in Greenbelt today. I know I need to find a barber back in Nevada County, but I like this one. I don't know how good a job he does (I just sit there in horror watching my grandfather's head (read: ears) appear as my hair goes away),but I like that he doesn't talk. He asked exactly four questions, and two of those were "How do you want it cut?" and "Is that OK?"

I don't go to the barber for a conversation. Since I just get my head partially shaved, I should be able to get in and out in less than 15 minutes if there's not all that wasted chit-chat.

Afterward, I dropped a couple of wee toaty explorers off. There was an awfully cold wind, so I probably rushed the pictures a bit.

What I really wanted to do was put a sippy cup lid on that cup.

Shadow Unit Christmas Special

The good folks over at my favorite episodic short fiction site, Shadow Unit, have released a new episode. I haven't read it yet, but I have formatted it so that any of you who like to read on your iPhone using Stanza can download the episode by pointing your iPhone's Safari to my Shadow Unit ebook page. You'll need Stanza, of course.

Of course, you can just read the episode on line over at the Site.

If you're not familiar with Shadow Unit, you should get acquainted. It's an FBI-SF series, in short story form. If that's not enough to reel you in, you can read my earlier explanation of my addiction for this "show." I'd start at episode 1 of season 1, because that's where you start getting involved with the characters.

Can't Decide

Whether to mark this one a wee toaty explorer or not. It's a fairy in a fairyland, waiting for Christmas.

Happy WinterFriends, everybody!

Podcast News

I'm adding this to my podcast feed right now. From the description, I think he is clearly way too involved in his work. I'll let you know what it sounds like.

(found via The Long Now Blog)

Another Canal

On Sunday, we went for another walk along a canal, this time a dry canal. It was originally built for moving water down to the gold miners to use in blasting hills away and looking for gold. Now it is the Independence Trail, America's "first handicapped-accessible wilderness trail," or so the brochure says. It might be interesting to compare these pictures to the still-operation irrigation canals.

I'm not going to offer any commentary on these. I'm still tired from the walk. We chose the west side of the walk -- downhill. We'll do the east side next time. The waterfall is lovely and we never really got all the way to the end. We made it beyond the point where wheelchairs can go, I think, but we never found the swimming hole loop that I read about on-line -- unless the trail from the last picture is to there.

The trail has several toilet facilities, which is nice. The one at the trailhead, however, smells something awful.

Dining Advice Sought

Just back from The Five Mile House, which is (amazingly) five miles away. The food was good (if a little expensive) and the atmosphere is delightful. I like the stone and wood and fire. Very nice.

Well, except for the foursome sitting next to us. Their conversation about "poop" and rats and gerbils and urine smells did not really help us enjoy what should have been a nice mid-scale dining experience. The group was loud, but the conversation didn't turn gross until our food appeared. A few disgusted stares went unnoticed, but it seemed like it would have been an awful hassle to ask to move considering our food had been delivered.

Are people who are that loud really not aware that others can hear them? Not just hear them, but are unwillingly inundated with their speech? What would have been the appropriate response? I'm not one for censorship, but I also don't want to take my meals in an atmosphere of poop and urine.

Getting My Papers

One of those things you're supposed to do when you move to a new state is change your license. Not sure what this would entail here in California, the Brunette and I split up the task so that if anything went wrong, at least one of us would still be allowed to drive. I went first.

Last week, we wandered into the DMV in Grass Valley. There was a nice big hand-lettered sign that told us where to start, which was the counter where you get your butcher number. Mine was G016. I sat down expecting one of those forever waits that we get back east.

While I waited, I overheard a clerk talking with one of the applicants, an older woman who looked a little confused. She seemed to be taking the driver license test orally. At first I figured this is because she can't see to read the questions herself. Then I realized that's silly, she was probably just afraid of needles.

I had enough time to contemplate the term "driver license." It seems wrong to me, but that's what California calls it. I'm pretty sure that Maryland gives it the possessive. I think it should be called a "driving license," much like a fishing license or a hunting license. Of course, that might mean we'd be authorized to kill something.

That's about all I had time for thinking about because my number was called within 20 minutes. I demonstrated my ability to see big letters on the wall. I demonstrated my right to be here in the US of A by showing my fake Kenyan birth certificate. I showed the man my Maryland driver's license. He punched a hole in it.

Was that nice?

He took my picture and my thumbprint. He gave me a paper with 36 questions on it. First-time-test-takers are allowed to miss up to six questions. Fail that and next time around you have to get 3 or fewer wrong. There weren't any trick questions, as far as I could tell, though there were one or two actual numbers questions. There was one question that said, "All of the following are dangerous, which one is illegal?" I should have thought that doing dangerous things while driving is always illegal, but apparently not.

(I loved a question on the handbook's practice test: "If you are driving on a one-way street, when is it legal to make a U-turn?")

Generally speaking, my approach to answering these sorts of multiple-choice driver test questions is to pick whatever option seems the least aggressive. The answer to "There's a pedestrian in the cross-walk against the signal, what do you do?" is never "Hope he's elderly, 'cause you get more points in Death Race 2000 that way."

Or so I've found. I've taken the written test in four states and two countries now. In California, trading in my Maryland license meant I didn't have to take the driving test. In Maryland, trading in my New York license had meant that I didn't have to take the driving test. In New York, trading in my Tennessee license meant I didn't have to take the driving test. In Tennessee, living in farm country meant that my driving test consisted of pulling out of a parking lot space, taking a right turn out of the parking lot, making four right turns around the block, taking a right turn into the parking lot, and pulling into a parking lot space. I've never in the US had to prove that I can parallel park. (In the UK, I tried to prove it and failed miserably. I think the wheels were OK, but the tester felt that I hadn't "broken the plane of my shoulder with my chin" when I looked back. I also failed to be able to drive backwards down a road and around a corner. I didn't do so well at following speed limits either.)

To be fair to Tennessee, they did provide a very attractive police officer in tight slacks and boots to give me the test. If a hormonal teenage boy can do anything half-way safe in that situation, he will probably be OK on the road.

At any rate, I went through the test (remembering to answer questions on both sides of the piece of paper) and waited for about ten minutes to be graded. The woman went quickly through and put a little smiley face on the paper. I hadn't missed any! She gave me a little piece of paper that represents my interim driver license and said that my permanent license will appear in 3-6 weeks. I'm not sure what takes so long, but there you go. I was in and out in about 50 minutes. I think that's pretty good.

Now, what I'm worried about is renting a car for travel before I get my CA picture license. I'm taking along my passport for the flights back to Maryland and to New Mexico next week, but I have no idea whether I'm going to be able to drive a rented car. That won't be so bad in Maryland, but getting from Albequerque to Grants is going to be challenging without a car.

Vicky At Night

Not much comment, but here are the pictures from Victorian Christmas with the lights ablaze and the vendors in place. It sure is nice to be able to walk down the middle of Broad Street.

This is the view from the upper end.

And this is the view from the other end. It sure looks a lot brighter than it actually was. Ah, the power of exposure.

At the bottom of our own street, there's a small motel. Said motel has created a little fairy land in their back area along the creek.

It's all done with lasers!

Here's a blurry view with the ground-swirl.

Awaken the Child Within

A few weeks ago, I woke up to find something odd in my newly-adopted city.

Overnight, it had been peppered with these bright red flags. Even the City Hall sported a pair right out front. (Anyone who is familiar with our last community, Depression-era Greenbelt, will understand why I am so taken with the City Hall building (and with Nevada City's Court House).)

Had the entire town suddenly turned Communist? Had a bunch of Leftists come down from the mountains and taken over while we all slept? Will there soon be an oompah band wandering the streets and grinding out L'Internationale? Was this finally the socialist revolution that the Republicans promised me when Obama took office?

Actually, no. It was simply decoration for Victorian Christmas, an annual tarting up of Nevada City for the seasonal rush. Wednesday evenings (and some Sundays), the streets are covered with booths and entertainment and such-like.

All this travel has made me miss it so far, but I'm hoping to pop down tomorrow.

I might be the one humming, "Les rois nous saoulaient de fumées/Paix entre nous, guerre aux tyrans!"

Is it just me

...or is this menu vaguely threatening?

Our First Snow

So yesterday I was whining about how we moved away from DC right before they finally got some snow. I do like me some snow and I've been hearing that Nevada City might not be all that snow-prone. But then I woke up this morning to find almost a foot of snow covering everything in sight.

It is beautiful. I shoveled off part of the drive this morning, because I had to leave to visit the Bay Area again this week. I don't know that clearing the driveway made all that much difference. Our road is a private road, and I wasn't going to keep shoveling all the way down. Here is what our street looked like this morning:

So, lovely as it was, the snow comes with problems. They're not so good at keeping it clear here as they were back in Upstate New York. Late into the morning, major roads were still marked "Chains or 4WD only," leaving our little Civic out. The original plan was to take the 6:30 train from Auburn down to Emeryville. The next option was the bus from Auburn to Sacramento (run by Amtrak, but a bus still) and the train from there to Emeryville. But when we got to Auburn, there was a message that the bus was running approximately 45 minutes late.

My fear was that the bus would get there more quickly and not wait around, so I couldn't go sit in a restaurant for 45 minutes. That building that says "Nevada Station" is not actually a station. It is closed to the public, so I stood at the bus stop waiting and the bus was exactly 45 minutes late.

Which made it 15 minutes too late to catch the train at Sacramento. I'm here in the station now (there's free wireless if you beg for it!) and the next train is 2 hours later. I'm going to miss a meeting with a customer, but at least it was a sales call and not a paying meeting. I'll make the paying gig tomorrow.

I hope.

This reminded me of our trip to Sweden back in the day. That was December, too, and we were taking trains up to Kiruna, just north of the Arctic Circle, to see the Ice Hotel and hang out in the beautiful snow. We changed trains at Boden. As the Brunette and I sat on the new train playing Scrabble, the announcer kept saying things over the speakers. The announcements were all in Swedish, but we figured if there was some emergency or something, we'd be told.

Sure enough, the woman in front of us noticed that we were chatting in English as we played and turned to ask us if we spoke Swedish. She told us that the announcement was about this bus of kids coming to meet the train. It was running an hour late. So, unlike the train here in Sacramento, the train in Boden was going to wait for the hour to let the kids get to the train so they could get home.

How cool was that?

All of that just to show off pictures of Sweden, to brag about the awesome snow we just got, and to apologize to all for whinging about the lack of snow.

First and Last Lines

Well, it's almost the end of the year, so I guess it's time for First and Last lines. These are the first and last lines I wrote for every month this year, except that December will continue to fluctuate.

  • January: Well, it's a new day. So, if you have a mobipocket enabled (not iPod/iPhone) device, try over there.
  • February: I've been tagged. Did it ever occur to you that the pump might lie about the volume for any reason, temperature or no?
  • March: My favorite TV show that isn't a TV show is finally back for a second season! "Sorry. That's already taken."
  • April: Whooo - whoo. I hope that means she'll come back.
  • May: The zombie baby joined the world at 3:22 this morning. Does it look like Kansas to you?
  • June: OK, I'm only going to do this once (for this book). I imagine they'll find plenty of milk cartons and popsicle sticks.
  • July: I finished the replacement to the Tobermory painting last night. I wonder if you can take Play-Doh on airplanes.
  • August: There's a new episode of Shadow Unit here. I like my nicknames better.
  • September: I've not gotten any time on the bike since I started the Kansas gig way back in July. Put some in the comments section.
  • October: Not much activity at the blog 'cause we've been selling and looking and buying houses. Maybe they couldn't find the Irn Bru.
  • November: Nice to be back making these little guys on the road. Well, he's been busy, eh?
  • December: An Xmas display in Mountain View in Mountain View has miniature solar panels and wind farm. I think I'll go back and change my answer to "FashionMate 7256".

Feeling Insecure

So, I set up the new DSL this weekend. It was much easier than the last time -- five years ago now. The DSL modem (made by a Nevada City company!) worked right off the bat and walked me through registration and connection. The modem is also a wireless router, which is nice, though I don't see a way to configure it for static IPs or anything. At any rate, we were up and running in minutes, though the registration process with the provider was somewhat annoying.

All in the name of security.

I had to fill out three security questions, two for on-line use and one for dealing with a human. The one for dealing with a human was frustrating because my choices were "Who is your favorite singer?", "What is your favorite restaurant?", and "Who is your favorite author?" My favorite author changes almost daily. My favorite restaurant changes regularly, especially since we've just moved to a new area. When I need to call in a few months, I'm not likely to remember "Bambule" or "Chicken Rico." I hope we're going to find new restaurants to love here. And even when we do, the actual favorite will fluctuate.

And favorite singer? I think that changes nearly hourly. Depending on my mood, I might like Dar Williams or Bruce Cockburn or Lowen (or is it Navarro?) I'm just not loyal enough I guess.

Are your favorites more stable than mine?

I think I'll go back and change my answer to "FashionMate 7256".

Only $1.95!

I see clean clothes in your future.

Mountain View

I'm looking forward with hope to the days starting to get longer. I'm having trouble getting to a site early enough that there aren't too many people around to interfere and late enough that there's actually enough light to take pictures without a flash. (I'm not a fan of flash. I like the natural light, even when the result is a bit blurry. Plus, flash will draw attention.) This morning, I positioned this little guy while avoiding the roaming leaf blowers.

He seems awfully happy. I don't know how many white heart-shaped boxes of candy there are out there in the world, but he has found one.

I'm not sure those words mean what you think they mean.

Yeah, tenuous word play. Maybe I should have made a Twitter fail whale.

An Xmas Display

in Mountain View has miniature solar panels and wind farm.

A Tree Grows in Oakland

Why, look, it's a happy little beaver.

clay beaver

Can we tempt him with Chinese food?

Well, he's been busy, eh?

Our Nevada County Thanksgiving

Washington, CA

Our first Thanksgiving in California was without our own furniture or pretty much any of our other things. I suspect our stuff spent the holiday somewhere in Utah. (It's supposed to come tomorrow, but I'm not holding my breath.) I'm not saying I was feeling all homesick for DC or anything, but I thought it would be fun to spend our Thanksgiving morning in our new county's Washington. I didn't know what to expect, but I was pretty sure there wouldn't be any statues.

I was wrong.

Legs

There was this strange yard full of random flotsam and jetsam. I think most of it would have been perfectly happy in the (awesome) Visionary Arts Museum. The collection included a sign that read, "No Scavenging." I don't think anybody really needed to be worried about that.

Generally speaking, parking in Washington was not much of a problem, but there was one meter protected by some gnarly looking meter maids.

Parking Heads

Like our own DC, Nevada County's presidential burg has a museum. Unfortunately, it was not open on Thanksgiving Day. Not everyone has quite the same level of funding as the Smithsonian, I guess.

Coffee Pot Museum

I imagine that the museum's background music is just A Proper Copper Coffee Pot over and over and over again.

There is also a hotel, where presidents and other famous people have slept. The townsfolk were preparing for a Thanksgiving potluck while we were there. The sign-up list included such delicacies as "house baby." What the heck is house baby? I only hope they were able to keep the six gazillion dogs in the town away from the dessert table.

Washington Hotel

(It turns out the the Washington Hotel has just gone up for sale. For less than a million, you too can live in the only town on the Yuba that was never burned to the ground. It has its own set of interesting decorations in the garden and a lovely view of the river. (And the road down from Route 20 is freshly paved and wonderfully smooth.))

South Yuba River

If you do buy the place, you might want to help Washington with its advertising and maintenance.

Washington Sign

As for this particular Washington, you can tell that it is the one in California. Every single flat space in Nevada County has one or more of these:

Welcome to Gold Country. At any rate, a closer look reveals that this one has some special cargo.

Happy Holidays, indeed.

After the morning in Washington, we stopped at the Five Mile House for our Thanksgiving meal. The Five Mile House is a very old building that was once a stopping place for coaches going on up to Washington. It got its name because it is five miles from Nevada City, close enough to bike if one likes to bike vertically. The food was delicious and filling, but there was still room at home for homemade pie. The Brunette made pumpkin and I made sweet potato.

How was your Thanksgiving?

2 Restaurants, 2 Experiences

Last night, we took a quick walk through Grass Valley's Cornish Christmas. Two streets were blocked and filled with local revelers, snacks and crafts. Oh, and lots of Christmas music.

We survived.

The festivities started at 6, so we stopped in at Club 141 to eat dinner at 5. We were on our way to the usual Mexican restaurant, but we noticed the fire and comfy couches at this little GV tapas restaurant. So we changed plans and popped in. Sadly, the proprietors wouldn't let us sit in the comfy couches near either fireplace.

"The couches are the only place we have for big groups, and we're going to be busy," we were told.

The food was excellent. The empanadas had a nice crust, the cheese in the peppers was delicious, the bacon-wrapped dates were a great combination of fat and sweet, and the artichoke bottoms were wrapped with chicken in a tasty puff pastry. All-in-all, we spent about an hour before waddling up to the Cornish Christmas.

No other customer ever came into the restaurant.

Harrumph.

Tonight, we went in search of some steak. Every business in Nevada County seems to sport a little "best of" badge, so we looked for NC's "best steak." The internet led us to Willo Steak House, a bar and restaurant in a Quonset hut on Route 49.

This time, when we entered, we were asked if we had reservations. We did not. This proprietor, however, welcomed us with open arms, saying "You should go on to Reno, this is your lucky day." He told us there was generally a two hour wait on Saturday night. We were seated immediately.

The menu only has about six options, but there was steak. And the best part: you can save 50 cents on your order if you cook it yourself over the huge grill in the front:

That's the Brunette's arm tossing steak there. I made one, too. Good thing I like my steak rare.

Vista Point

Here in California, we don't have "scenic overlooks," we have "vista points." There's one up on Route 20 overlooking the Yuba river. You can't see the river from way up there, but the trees and mountaintops are lovely.

Although it was Thanksgiving morning, we weren't alone. We shared the view with an older gentleman who had arrived alone by Miata. He sat on the wall eating from a Chinese food container. I wanted to get a picture of him, but he kept moving around and it seemed rude to try too obviously.

Still, I took some of the landscape and it is a beautiful view on the way to Washington.

Falling for Nevada City

When we were searching around for a house, I was excited to see that the prevailing tree in this neck of the woods is the lovely pine. I found it so lovely because I thought that meant that we'd see green all year, but more important, because I thought it would mean no leaf raking in the fall. In fact, it wasn't until we took possession of the house and I looked out my new office window that I realized we actually had some deciduous trees in the yard.

And while they are beautiful, they make quite a mess.

Even if I decided to go cut down all our leafy trees, though, there would still be a mess. I had no idea how much falling pine trees actually do. I mean look at this roof:

We're going to have to figure out how to sweep the roof.

But the good news is that the trees are somehow spontaneously generating paint stirring sticks, so I might be going into a new business soon.