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As I write this, I’m back at the Rubicon Brewing Company in Sacramento. This isn’t where I planned to end up today—not here, nor Sacramento at all, but there you go.

I woke up this morning with the idea that I wanted to go somewhere, provided I could do the one time-critical task: make the reservations for tomorrow’s dinner. I haven’t done my random “notes the road” walks in… well, some time, at the very least, which I can blame a little on continued employment, a little more on the much higher gas prices (remember when you were shocked just a few short years ago by it breaking $2 a gallon?), and although I’m loathe to admit it, probably a little on getting older. I can’t do much about the latter, but I’m unemployed and today I filled up—admittedly at a station so far east it only qualifies as the “Bay Area” on a technicality—for $2.70 a gallon.

I’d considered heading to the North Bay, following the trail a friend took up toward Guerneville on a day trip of his own last month, but decided to head instead to the north side of the East Bay, to a quiet river town named Crockett and a seafood restaurant under the Cardenas Bridge called the Nantucket. I ordered conservatively—a clam chowder and salad, just water to drink—then ruined it by talking myself into getting a creme brulee and coffee for dessert. After wandering around the town just a little, I got back in the car and headed east a little, stopped around two p.m. and called Maggiano’s, getting the reservation for 12 confirmed. Then it occurred to me: hey, I don’t actually have to be back at a reasonable hour now.

So I kept heading east, up CA 160 and the river levee system. I stopped again in the odd town of Walnut Grove, a tiny little place (all the towns there are tiny) with two historic districts labelled “Japanese” and “Chinese.” These are towns that Chinese—and later Japanese—workers lived in when they were working on the California railroads, and their story isn’t much prettier than most stories of American history that start that way.

I kept driving up CA 160 to its end, where it becomes Freeport Boulevard and heads on into Sacramento. By this time it was five p.m., so I thought, “What was the name of that brewpub I went to here a few years back?” and with a bit of thought, I remembered.

I was last here in 2006, again by happenstance; oddly enough, it’s almost two years to the day. I had the pomegranate cider I mentioned last time, and it’s good, although I’m not sure it’s actually as good as the apple cider. I’m still enchanted by the area here, though. I described it then as reminding me a little of some of the areas I saw in Portland, Oregon; I think what I was keying into was the neighborhood feel: older, but neither run down nor pretentious, business and residences mixed together on eminently walkable tree-lined streets. There are areas like this in the SF Bay Area, too, although I’ve come to realize that the ones I truly like—Walnut Creek, Rockridge, Piedmont, Alameda, Emeryville, Danville—are all in the East Bay. I still love living near San Francisco, but I’ve steadily become less interested in actually living in San Francisco.

This pleasant brewpub is next to an upscale French café, and catty-corner from a “New American” style place called “Jack’s Urban Eats,” which is in turn next to a hot dog stand. And I recall there’s a BBQ place somewhere very close by. If there’s a coffee shop within walking distance—and according to Urban Spoon, there is—just move me in now.

Well, not literally, of course. I’m not giving serious thought to moving anywhere. I realize I do have to keep it in the back of my mind, though. According to the tech bubble nerds at TechCrunch, nearly 20,000 workers in my field have been laid off since mid-September, and I’ve anecdotally heard of some extant “Web 2.0” companies seeing a tenfold increase in résumés (not that these companies are hiring). These are not happy-making statistics for me. As the oft-quotable Jason Calcanis observed on This Week in Tech this week, the previous dot-com bust involved companies with unsustainable balance sheets, but this time the problem is individuals with unsustainable balance sheets. Most of the tech companies have, financially speaking, been doing the right things.

There’s a certain way in which being unemployed—at least when you have no mortgage and no family!—is freeing, in that I really can move anywhere for any work, but moving somewhere and just hoping that I’m going to actually make it seems, well, dicey. Yes, I’ve actually made it work once, but at least at this point it’s not something I want to bet on happening again.

I suppose the question is what I do want to bet on now.

Epilogue: It’s now half-past seven and I’m at a Starbucks in Natomas, a new exurban commuter town past the north outskirts of Sacramento. I found a local coffee shop in midtown (Rubicon’s locale), but it was closed; I also found an independent coffee shop here in Natomas, but it was also closed. Apparently people in Sacramento do not drink coffee late. I’ve been to Natomas a few times for a friend who used to have a birthday get-together annually out at another friend’s place in this area; if midtown Sacramento reminds me of Portland, this place reminds me of New Tampa: flat terrain covered by strip malls and tract houses, all designed and landscaped in a way which is pleasantly comfortable but consciously characterless. Not a bad place to live, to be sure, but interesting only by virtue of being near the interesting parts of Sacramento. (N.B.: a somewhat irate-sounding person in the comments informed me that Natomas is north of Sacramento's downtown--which I really should know, but I think because it's the first part of Sacramento I saw coming in from the west a few years back it's fixed incorrectly in my mind. Irate Person also notes Natomas is within Sac's city limits, but you know what? It's a commuter town of a very exurban character. Us Floridians recognize that when we see it. If Irate Person returns to this page, it would be much more helpful if s/he would tell me where the good coffee houses are.)

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I’m back at my hotel in Oxnard for now. As usual, the day didn’t go quite as expected, but also as (mostly) usual that didn’t turn out to be too bad.

I started the day with breakfast at Café Nouveau in Ventura, an excessively quaint restaurant in a converted 1920s home (in a neighborhood of unconverted 1920s homes, from what I can tell). I had their version of a breakfast burrito, with scrambled egg, green chile, cheddar cheese, potatoes and a couple other vegetables (no meat); it was probably the best version of this I’ve had anywhere.

From there, I drove to check out the Channel Islands Visitors Center, which is on the mainland: as it turns out, I didn’t call in time to book a trip to one of the islands. So instead, I drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, which seemed like a very “SoCal” thing to do, through Malibu and not quite to Santa Monica. See, just over the Los Angeles County line, Sunset Boulevard meets the PCH, and I thought, “Hey, I know that name!” and turned onto it.

So. After a drive through Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, and Beverly Hills, I ended up in Hollywood, parking near the corner of Hollywood and Vine, an intersection that’s apparently famous for reasons that escape me. (As I recall, there’s a gift shop at Disney-MGM named “Hollywood and Vine.”) I wandered around a bit, stopped and got a kind of odd (but good) fusion tea drink at a place called “Zen Zoo,” then eventually made my way to an early dinner at “Lucky Devil’s,” an upscale burger bar. I’ve just learned “Lucky” is Lucky Vanous, once famous for being a beefcake model in a 1994 Diet Coke commercial. It was certainly one of the best burgers I’ve had.

Last night I was musing: why Ventura? This is not exactly a top destination for spontaneous vacations, unless you’re making an effort to do whale watching (I’m not) or a surfer (ha!). Yet I’ve thought off and on of coming down here since I’ve been living in California.

I think it’s because Ventura is a road not taken. About fifteen years ago, I was working for Kinko’s in Tampa, and I had the opportunity to pursue a job with Kinko’s corporate doing computer work. That would have necessitated moving out to their HQ, of course: in Ventura. But I didn’t follow through. I realized Ventura wasn’t actually in either the LA or SF areas, which meant it wasn’t near anyone I knew. Both my mother and my roommate—unemployed and living on college loans—evinced clear panic at the prospect of me moving.

But part of me has always wondered, hey, did I chicken out? So I guess that part of me is seeing a little of what life in Ventura might have been like. I can’t say anything about the social life, of course—I’ve never thrown myself into a situation where I have no local friends and would have to start entirely from scratch—but I’ve gotta say, the area, from here to Santa Barbara and even on down into Hollywood, is pretty nice.

Well. It’s 7pm now, and of course I’m not hungry—but I’m not inclined to just stay in the room. That the hotel appears to be hosting a military convention of some sort and there are dozens of loud people in the hallways just outside isn’t encouraging me to stay, either; since I doubt they’d appreciate me walking into one of their rooms and nabbing appetizers, I’ll likely head back to Ventura and explore the downtown area again, maybe seeing if I can check out a place that supposedly has tapas, martinis and live jazz.

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While most times I do stick close to the office for lunch, I’m guilty of wandering rather far afield every so often. I tell myself that it’s a perk of being an independent consultant — technically, I’m supposed to be able to set my own hours and working locations, as long as I actually do get work done. Sometimes I’ve been known to wander out and not come back, although on those days I’m bringing my laptop with me and continuing to work, sometimes finding myself more productive than I would be had I actually stayed to work at the office.

There’s a place I’ve heard about off and on called Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay. I decided I’d head there for lunch Monday, despite it being a bit (ahem) out of the way for me. A friend suggested it wasn’t too far to go as long as I wrote about the meal here later, so I am. (This reminds me that I’ve never written about the meal at Manresa, have I? Perhaps later.)

As it turns out, Sam’s is just a little north of Half Moon Bay, right on the Pacific. I didn’t eat outside, but I did get a window table. The restaurant’s nearly worth it just for the view. No, it’s not a very cheap place to eat — but hey, fresh seafood isn’t a cheap proposition. I managed to get there before the lunch rush, or at least before the canonical lunch hour. There’s a reason I usually get to the restaurant by 11:30 or so when I can. (This may change a little as I’m trying to stick to a diet, but that’s another post.)

Given the place’s name, I figured I had to have a cup of the clam chowder; while they advertise both Manhattan-style and New England style, their theme seems to cant toward New England, so I gave that a shot. They don’t thicken their broth with flour, and I’m told this is more authentic; it does change the character of the chowder, and I’d say for the better. It was an excellent soup, showing off the freshness of the vegetables and, of course, the clams.

For an entree, I had escolar — the fish nearly everyone else calls “ono,” but the waitress said they went with the Spanish name because we’re in California — topped with a mango salsa. The vegetables it’s stacked on are new potatoes and spinach, with little bits of grilled lemon. Regardless of what you call this fish, it was wonderful; it has a mild flavor, was seasoned and prepared expertly, and all of the accompaniments worked.

I didn’t stick around for dessert, despite temptations; it was already, as I’d said, a long lunch, and not one I’d brought my laptop along for the ride on.

(This is also my first ‘experimental’ blog post with pictures I’ve taken from the iPhone. I may do this a little more often, depending on feedback and general inclination…)

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The weekend before this, we obtained an ice cream maker, and I’ve been engaging in the art—as yet not fine—of making ice creams. Well, four ice creams—three of them vanilla, and all different kinds!—along with an apple sorbet and a raspberry frozen yogurt. I’ve managed to botch the recipe on several of the ones I made, yet all of them have come out well in spite of me. The yogurt is extraordinary, despite needing somewhat more “punch” in its berry-ness; all of the vanilla ice creams have been good. (I have a fourth version to make soon, which requires vanilla sugar—which requires time to make!) I also made a peach ice cream, with a few fresh peaches from Andy’s Orchard; the texture didn’t strike me as quite “right,” but the flavor was fine. I’ll probably start trying stranger concoctions soon, but I figure I need to get the hang of the basics first.

Beyond that, things have been… quiet since I last wrote, albeit not in a bad way. The current iteration of the project I’m working on at the office is wrapping up, but there are future iterations already being talked about, and there’s at least one project that was put on hold for this one. So I’m not worried about the contract ending any time soon. I do have to worry about getting new medical insurance shortly, as all this time I’ve been on COBRA from my time with the Armada Group (the contract at Cisco), and those benefits end next month.

My desire to work on my own projects seems to wax and wane, and right now it’s waxing—yet for programming, I’m finding myself starting to work with PHP again rather than jumping into Ruby on Rails. I’m not entirely sure why, save the computer variant of “write what you know.” At work I’ve been using a Rails-ish framework for PHP called CakePHP, which is a mix of good ideas and frustrating implementation. What I’m poking with is taking some of the former, with a new implementation. The only drawback to this is, of course, that it’s absolutely nuts. So we’ll see.

Writing projects, you say? Well, I’m likely to end up with more writing tools—Nisus recently introduced Nisus Writer Pro, an upgrade to a word processor I already own (and reviewed a few years ago), so I’ll probably upgrade, although truth to tell I’ve found myself doing more and more of my writing in TextMate these days. I used to mock the idea of using a text editor for writing prose (“I don’t do that for the same reason you don’t write C in WordPerfect”), but there’s always been truth in the idea that editing and formatting are two vastly different functions—I don’t need what’s on the screen when I’m typing to look like a manuscript, and Markdown removes my long-standing objection that I do actually need some formatting tools (italics, at the least) when typing.

While I’ve been using an odd digital notebook program called Mori for years, I’m considering switching to VoodooPad unless Mori’s new owner shows visible signs of life development soon. I may upgrade my old copy of Dramatica Pro to one that will run on my notebook, although it’s galling that the only change between the version I have (4.0) and the current 4.1 is OS X compatibility—they haven’t even made an Intel version of the damn thing yet.

Oh, you say writing tools ≠ writing projects. Okay, you got me. I still have a few of those, too, but they’ve definitely been stalled. The tools do sometimes kick my muse in the butt to get things going, which is why I’m contemplating the Dramatica upgrade (it’s a quirky program, but muse-kicking is its entire point).

At any rate, I’ve actually been writing this fairly short entry for days, writing the second half before leaving for work this morning—without having time to post it. Now a quick post (I’m actually working, really), and off to lunch.

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I’m working from the field today, and at the moment the field happens to be Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden in Alameda. Yes, I’m back here, although earlier today I was in Walnut Creek, which is where I actually did most of the work that I’ve gotten done so far, working before and after lunch at the Pyramid Ale House. I’ve closed two tickets out of five I need to work on, with another two being pretty trivial and the remaining one being… well, less trivial.

When I was reading The Four-Hour Work Week a couple months ago, one of the “worksheet” exercises there was just listing things you’d like to do and be: to be a good (or better) cook, to write a film, to drive the entire Pacific Coast Highway. At the time I did that, I checked Sur La Table’s web site to see if they had any upcoming cooking classes, specifically something useful for a beginner like “Essential Knife Skills.” They didn’t have that one then. I checked again, on a whim, on Tuesday, and they had that specific class that evening. After a bit of waffling, I signed up then and left work a little early to get to the class. Was it worthwhile? Probably. It was fun, and while I’m not sure I was told anything that I hadn’t read somewhere, there’s a difference between reading and having hands-on instruction. There’s a few other classes there I’m going to be interested in pursuing, I suspect. I don’t have any professional chef aspirations, but I do want to kick my own ass into doing more in the kitchen than I have been. On Wednesday, I did cook—just a simple pasta primavera type dish, but it worked. I have a vague intent of using some leftover cooked pasta for pan-fried noodles, although given that it’s past six-thirty on Friday as I write this and I’m fifty miles from home, I don’t know if that’ll be tonight. We’ll see.

I did get to drop into a couple apartments on Alameda today, and I persist in having an attraction to Shoreline Drive there, the road that runs along San Francisco Bay. The apartments, as usual, really aren’t cheap, although given that they may be facing the bay, or at worst just a block away, they’re surprisingly affordable. (Again, by area standards—in most other areas, they’d be blanche-worthy.) These are in part because they’re, well, old: most of them are 1960s-era, don’t have air conditioning, don’t have laundry connections, may not even (gasp) have dishwashers. They’re mostly all independently-managed, so maintenance, office hours, and so on could be highly variable. Many of the buildings have character, but one man’s character is another man’s dilapidation, and I’d certainly have to think about where on that side of the line I fall for a given unit.

All of this is moot while I’m still in debt and without the resources I’d need to not only pay a deposit on a new place but buy furniture, since I’m without most of the basics beyond bedroom stuff now. Even so, my debt’s lower now than it’s been in years, and I expect to knock another big chunk out soon. (I’m realizing just now I’m failing to account for the still outstanding car A/C repair, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.) As fall approaches, I’ll have to take stock of where things are in my life in terms of savings and job security.

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Today was spent travelling about with Dave and [livejournal.com profile] dracosphynx. First stop, the Cantor Art Center at Stanford, which is a pretty incredible museum for a free one. Currently they’re having an exhibit focused on the Tuareg and how these nomads have adopted to the modern world. (The answer, in short, is fairly well.)

After the museum trip, it was a visit to a restaurant I’ve heard of in the past but never made it to before: O’Reilly’s Holy Grail. It’s an Irish pub in name, but a pretty fine restaurant in practice: there’s a lot of Irish-influenced dishes on the menu, but you’ve definitely got a real chef back there in the kitchen. I had a peat-smoked pork shank, Kim had a steak with whiskey sauce, and Dave had a “Hunter’s Pie,” basically a shepherd’s pie with venison. We split a dessert of a chocolate almond cake with cinnamon ice cream and an orange whiskey sauce. (Whiskey was a theme: my pork was garnished with whiskey-soaked prunes.)

There was also a stop at a book store along the way where, I am afraid, none of us bought Harry Potter and the Unavoidable Spoilers. I did, however, buy a copy of Emma Bull’s first new novel in about a decade, Territory.

All in all, a pretty good day. I’m still feeling relatively energetic even at the late hour, which suggests I should do this sort of thing more often. I need to get both my body and brain in gear on a more regular basis.

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I’m back safe and sound from Pittsburgh, and had a wonderful time at the con. I’ll try to write a more useful con report by the weekend, before the information is too stale.

Currently, I’m in a Taxi’s Hamburger in Santa Clara, before a showing of Harry Potter and the Overpriced Movie Ticket I’ll be joining [livejournal.com profile] jakebe, [livejournal.com profile] toob, Malin and a bunch of other locals at. The Taxi’s here not only has free wifi, it has free WPA secured wifi, which is pretty cool. Unfortunately, it’s still a Taxi’s, but what can you do.

I’d entertained fantasies of getting going again on a couple projects in the hour—45 minutes?—I’d have before it’d behoove me to get in line, but that seems highly unlikely. That’s okay, though. It’s about time to head out one way or the other.

I’ll try not to give spoilers to the estimated 3 people in America who don’t know what happens. Yes, as strange as it may seem, some of us are not actually reading the books, and it’s a little grating that it was completely f—ing impossible to have avoided learning that Darth Vader killed Dumbledore.

Anyway. See you all on the flip side!

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So, the first real day of Anthrocon has passed. It’s gone well—I shouldn’t say “surprisingly well,” since it’s not as if I was expecting it to go poorly. I’ve met most of the people I’d expected to, even if in some cases I’ve merely run into them a couple times, and in a couple cases not even had time to introduce myself. Even so, I’ve hung around with a few interesting people, met a couple of them in person for the first time, and even been given an advance copy of the new Dirtbombs CD by Internationally Famous Rock Star™ Mick Collins.

It’s amazing—and maybe even a little disturbing—how much the city’s rolled out the red carpet for us. The staff of the “Steel City Diner” near the con hotel is wearing Anthrocon T-shirts they had made for them. Fernando’s Deli is running a con special. I’ve heard, albeit apocryphally, that last year Pittsburgh computed the economic impact to the city of the con at $3M. If so, this year I’d bet it’s on track to be $4M—on Thursday, there were 2500 people registered for the con.

Me being me, of course, I’m also here for the food. I did some research on restaurants to try; I found a few well-regarded upscale restaurants nearby (including the “Sonoma Grille” in the very hotel I’m staying at, which I find perversely amusing). Tonight, everyone I might have gone to dinner with seemed to vanish off on their own, and nearly always to Steel City—so I decided to go off on my own. On a typical whim, I decided to go off to a restaurant which wasn’t on my list but which sounded more interesting to me: Six Penn Kitchen. It seems to have the California approach to cuisine, by which of course I mean sprouts on everything. No, no, I mean a focus on local ingredients and food styles, reinterpreting them creatively. And it was definitely creative: a chilled watermelon soup drizzled with blueberry puree and basil, and dinner of a roast pork shank, crispy on the outside yet falling apart on the bone, sauerkraut bacon mashed potatoes, and a serrano applesauce. Even the drink I had was pretty creative: a “spatini,” Hangar One Kaffir Lime vodka, lemon sours, fresh cucumber (yes, really) and mint.

So what happens tomorrow (later today, but who’s counting)? Well, I have a badge I’ve commissioned from [livejournal.com profile] cooner, and I may try to get another sketch or two, depending. I have a collection I feel like I should buy from SofaWolf, even though I think I’ve read several of the stories already (they’re from the writing group).

On the off chance someone reading this is at Anthrocon and wants to get in touch with me, if you’re on my friends list you can SMS me through LiveJournal—and I’m wearing a moderately obvious name badge, too.

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I’m still about and obviously back to not keeping up my journal as well as I should. I have a few things I’d like to write about, in no particular order, though, and hopefully a couple things will fall out shortly.

My mother’s visit around Mother’s Day went quite well, I think. The dinner at Manresa was quite an experience, and it was nice to show her around the local area here rather than going off somewhere else. We talked about housing (which will be the subject of another journal post) and Northern California, and what she’ll do when she retires, which will be within a year.

Work for me has momentarily slowed, although it’s going to pick up again after Memorial Day, I think. (Nothing has actually come to an end, it’s just one of those weeks that’s a bit of a lull for various reasons.) I’m thinking about other projects and starting to putter around with actual code for a Rails-based publishing system, which may be first used as a sort of “group blog” engine and then adapted for Claw & Quill.

More later, but not too later, I hope.

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I’m currently preparing for a visit from mom, which happens in… less than 24 hours. Eek. It’ll be something of a mini-vacation, even though we’re staying in the San Jose area: we’re renting a room for a few nights at the Inn at Saratoga, and will be sticking to Bay Area locations rather than going too far afield.

One of the highlights for me, food nerd that I am, will be dinner Thursday night with mom and [livejournal.com profile] dracosphynx at Manresa, a restaurant a mere five miles from the house with an international reputation. I am not sure if our rather late reservation of 8:30 will preclude getting the chef’s tasting menu—I hope not, although I don’t know whether the other two will be up for that level of food insanity. We shall see.

However, the real preparation for this “trip” is, of course: a mad dash to do laundry, and to pack tonight. I’ve actually reserved a rental car at the airport, too, but I don’t know if I’ll really go ahead and get it. My car needs service, most notably the air conditioning; the temperatures here are likely to get to the high-to-mid 70s, so a lack of A/C will be uncomfortable but survivable. If I do get the car, I’ll either have to do some creative juggling on how to get to the airport or have my mom drive one of the cars back to the house with me.

Yet I’m still going into work tomorrow, for half a day. This gives the whole endeavor a bit of a surreal air to it—I’m preparing for a trip that really isn’t one.

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Whew. Another two weeks without an update. Truly, I’ve started to suck at this again.

Well, the truth is it’s been a busy last two weeks—mostly busy at work. That’s been good, of course, and it’s not likely to get much less busy, which is also good, but it’s keeping me from getting much else done. The free time I had over the weekend was mostly spent beating my head against some “homework” from the writing group, not all of which I got done anyway. Ack. I did get a (slightly lame) critique of [livejournal.com profile] jakebe’s story done, at least, and one of the other two assignments. The one I did was “Witness Protection,” described as

Put a character in a situation entirely new to the character, e.g.; college, a new school, a new job, a new city or country. Let the character improvise a new identity, as most of us do when we’ve moved into a new world. This exercise should not be about the new situation but about how the character adjusts themselves and their mindset to the new situation.

…and it was pretty fun, really. My 400-word vignette ended up being about 1200 words, and could almost be a standalone short story of its own; it certainly contains a few story seeds.

The second assignment I didn’t get done involved writing a synopsis of a novel that I haven’t written yet, the idea being that it might help me crystallize what I need to do with it. It’s a good idea, but I’m not at the point I can do that yet with it, despite having been working on the setting for the damn novel for well over a year at this point.

Random Notes

With the busy-ness at work has come happy aspects of a promised raise and apparent real stability (despite the annoying tax status). Sometime before the end of this month I’ll work out my taxes, as much as I loathe the thought; it’ll help me work out a plan for knocking down my remaining debt quick. (Not to mention other expenses on the horizon, like fixing my car’s air conditioning and having the engine looked at. I’m hoping this thing’ll last me a few more years, despite my tendency to put about 25K miles on it a year.)

Yesterday I switched my keyboard at work to a Macally IceKey. The IceKey is a weird keyboard initially, because it uses the “scissor” key switches laptops use: it feels like a laptop keyboard that’s been stretched out. But the surprisingly positive reviews on this one are right—it’s one of the best keyboards I’ve used in years as far as haptic quality goes. I may get a second one for home use, assuming I start using my desktop computer more again.

In other unnecessary purchase news, I also bought shaving cream and aftershave from Truefitt & Hill, specifically their “West Indian Limes” scent. I don’t know if I’m really getting a better shave this way, but it’s sure neat stuff.

The Rock Bottom Brewery in Campbell is having a $18 three-course dinner special tonight in celebration of the “fire chief ale” tapping. This may bear a visitation this evening!

Just as another reminder, while I haven’t been journaling as much here, I do my “linkblogging” fairly regularly at Coyote Tracks (syndicated here as [livejournal.com profile] chipotle_tumble).

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So I’ve been neglecting the journal again, I know. I’m considering beating myself into either writing something here every week, or (shorter things!) every day.

To catch up from where I last left off: I attended Further Confusion and had a fine enough time, mostly from meeting people I don’t see that often, which is the real reason I go to conventions in the first place. I didn’t buy anything much — if I’m remembering correctly, only an omnibus edition of Phil Foglio’s Girl Genius, something I’ve been meaning to read for a couple years.

The day before the convention, [livejournal.com profile] shaterri, Jeff, [livejournal.com profile] ladyperegrine and I went out to Kaygetsu, a fairly new and regionally-acclaimed Japanese restaurant. While it was suggested that I should do more “foodblogging,” I’d better remember to do such blogging quickly, since at this point I don’t remember much about the individual dishes we tried, other than the blanket observation that they were all good. My main entree was a marinated black cod, which went past good to pretty fantastic. (I think I’ve only had black cod before at a Seattle-area restaurant that [livejournal.com profile] shaterri’s taken me to twice.)

The razor handle that I’d bought at Target last year and written about has started to flake out, not holding its little Mach 3 blade cartridges securely anymore; the brush that came with the set fell apart quite quickly. (Fortunately I had a considerably better shaving brush I’d been given as a gift a couple years before.) So this last Saturday I decided to take the plunge I’d been considering and buy a “safety razor,” one of those old-fashioned razors that takes double-edged blades. (Nowadays that doesn’t sound very safe, but they replaced straight razors!) While I could have done this by mail order, I happened to know that the new Westfield San Francisco Centre shopping mall — which the Powell Street BART/MUNI station has a direct entrance to — has an Art of Shaving store in it, and that they sell safety razors there, at the “immediate gratification from a boutique store” markup. So, I made a trip up to the city and bought that razor, with its one sample blade and a couple free sample packs of Art of Shaving’s own shaving cream.

I’d like to say that after three shaves I’m getting the closest, most bestest shave that I ever have, but I can’t. On the flip side, I only got two nicks on the first shave and none on the other two, and I’ve been managing to get slightly closer shaves with each try; I’m hoping in a week or two I’ll be up to par. The one thing I have noticed is that the shave really does seem to be less irritating: the closer the shave gets the more it feels like I’m removing the top layer of skin, I’ll grant, but after even the gentlest cartridge blade shave, I could see the blotchy unhappiness of irritation. With the safety razor, that isn’t there.

The irritation that is there the last couple of days, though, is my fingers/wrist on my left hand, a somewhat hard-to-localize pain that increases with some movements and pressure. While it could well be the onset of the carpal tunnel syndrome some might think I’ve been courting the last thirty years, I’m not convinced I didn’t sprain it in some odd fashion this weekend. (I’m also not convinced I don’t have the onset of arthritis already in that hand, but that’s another story.) After a bit of deliberation I’ve bought one of those cheap wrist splints at the drug store; I’m going to see if keeping it mostly still a few days helps. It almost certainly can’t hurt.

chipotle: (beer)

I’m currently on the free wifi of the 21st Amendment Brewpub in San Francisco, where MacBreak Weekly was actually being taped at. No, not at the Apple Store. Ha-ha! It was nonetheless a fine show, although as the mezzanine filled up—and kept filling and kept filling—I started to get somewhat claustrophobic. And, as the show ran on for two hours instead of its normal one (!), I became a bit faint from hunger, which I’m sure didn’t help the claustrophobia. I did get to “re-introduce” myself to Merlin before the show but we didn’t really talk afterward; I’d gone down to the street level again by then to order dinner.

The table next to me turned out to also be MacWorld attendees, one of whom was fairly local (the Berkeley area), so we talked a bit off and on. For the record, while the 21st Amendment does have good beer, they have great food—well, at least a great jerk roast chicken. And a pretty good sundae. Even pretty good coffee.

Speaking of good coffee, I have another coffee machine arriving tomorrow, but that’s a different post. Time to walk back to the BART station and ride back to the car!

chipotle: (Default)

It’s about 8:30 in the morning* and in addition to making coffee I’m: printing. Printing printing printing. After a bit of waffling, I’ve decided to print out all six copies of the story here; that’s 162 sheets total, printed on both sides. Yes, it’s a fairly long story, about 13,000 words. I’m cautiously happy with it, though.

Also over the weekend—well, technically at work on Friday, but I was able to work from home, so it felt like part of the weekend—I did a code audit, examining a client’s code for style and security holes and writing a quick summary. This is something I haven’t done before, and it’s pretty interesting. Not much I can actually write about without violating privacy and/or being boring to all but the geekiest reader, mind you.

And I’ll fess up to something: I didn’t work at home on Friday, I worked at a Panera in Concord. Why? Because I had lunch in West Berkeley, at Café Rouge. According to (endless) discussion on Chowhound, this French bistro has—yes—one of the best burgers in the Bay Area. And, y’know, the buzz was right. They really do. It’s a messy burger, though—even cooked medium, it was very juicy. After that I went to Sketch Ice Cream, a gourmet place across the street, and had toasted cashew ice cream. Yes, most of their flavors seem to be that unusual, and their ice cream is thick and similar to gelato. (This is something I really like, although not everyone does—it’s actually made with milk, not cream, and while it’s very smooth, it’s relatively low in butterfat compared to most ice creams.)

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m going to be flying out to Florida in two weeks—and that starts on Sunday. (I give the dates I’ll be out there as the 18th through the 30th, although technically I’ll be flying in on the 17th and out on the 31st.) Those of you in Florida who want to see me and haven’t gotten in touch with me should.

I suppose I should start Christmas shopping soon.

*Well, it was 8:30 when I started writing; I didn’t post until lunchtime!

chipotle: (Default)

I’m just finishing a glass of hard cider at the Rubicon Brewing Company here in Sacramento, and taking advantage of their free wifi network. What brings me to Sacramento, you may ask? My car! Ha! Yes, I had a beer before this. Ahem.

Seriously, while I’ve been to the metro area here a few times, I haven’t actually explored much of the place—I’ve been around the western suburbs where Theodous lives, and once I made it to Arden Fair to visit a sushi place (“Taro’s by Mikuni,” the showcase kitchen of a local chain that [livejournal.com profile] playswithfood recommended), but it occurred to me that I’ve never been downtown.

So, I ended up parking at the Downtown Plaza—which is, as it turns out, an outdoor Westfield Shopping Center (they are inescapable)—and wandered around that area, and a bit more of the city, and part of Old Town Sacramento. “Old Sac” (I swear, that’s what it seems the locals call it) is a district that’s several blocks long along the waterfront. It is preserved as a historic area, so it has a very “Old West” feel, and is full of authentic old west souvenir stands and tee-shirt shops and bars.

Even though I poke fun at it, there’s a lot of stuff here in Sacramento, and it’s a fairly pretty area. Unlike the western subdivisions, there are a lot of trees here, particularly evergreens and firs; the neighborhood I’m in now, creatively dubbed “Midtown,” reminds me—just a little—of some of the areas I saw in Portland, particularly the area where Stumptown Coffee Roasters is.

I had a moderately light dinner of a mixed green salad and hot wings. They were some of the oddest hot wings I’ve had—the sauce had more of an Oriental kick to it, with a definite ginger taste to it and a bit of chunkiness I also associate with Oriental chili sauces. But it was still really good, and some of the hottest I’ve had (at least that’s still edible). With it I had an amber ale—good, if not remarkable—and now I’m finishing a hard apple cider, which is quite good. They have a hard pomegranate cider, too, which I was curious about but decided against.

As it is, though, it’s about quarter to eight and I’ve decided to go hunt for dessert on my way out of town.

chipotle: (Default)

It is vitally important that I tell you about The Burger. Specifically, The Counter Burger.

The Counter is a burger place which—up until yesterday—existed only in Santa Monica. Yesterday evening, they opened their second location in Palo Alto. It’s a bit expensive—although not more so than local landmark joint Kirk’s Steakburger—but that was a damn good burger. Good quality beef, and when they cook it medium, they actually mean it: a bit crusty on the outside like a good steak, some pink on the inside, and so juicy the bun’s liable to get soggy.

What the Counter’s claim to fame is—you’ll deduce this immediately from the menu—the choices. I had my burger with cheddar, grilled onion, roasted chile and baby greens, with garlic aioli on a honey wheat bun. Would you rather have a turkey burger with herb goat cheese, roasted red peppers, sprouts and ginger soy glaze on an English muffin? No problem. Carrot strings? Grilled pineapple? Horseradish cheddar? Sun-dried tomato vinaigrette? No problem.

The menu claims their weights are measured after cooking, not before; whether or not that’s true, it certainly didn’t seem like less than a third of a pound to me. The fries were also pretty good—not rave-worthy, but well-cooked, well-salted, and not greasy. They’re also pretty substantial—one order is enough for two people, I’d say.

Is it as good as the Quinn’s Lighthouse burger I wrote about earlier? Well… objectively, it’s better. I’ll still have a soft spot for Quinn’s, though, which is also damn good, ridiculously big, and comes on great sourdough bread—one of the few things the Counter doesn’t have as an option.

(N.B.: It’s also important that I note the place has a full bar with good beers on tap. Just so you know.)

chipotle: (Default)

So I’m off in Fort Bragg for an afternoon—

“Wait,” you may say. “Why would you do such a thing?”

Well, I don’t have a really good reason. I set out to go to Ukiah, but somehow ended up here instead. Are we clear? No? Never mind. We can say it just seemed like a good idea at the time, and it still does.

I’ve driven through Fort Bragg a couple of times before but I’ve never actually stopped before. The name makes one think, not unreasonably, of military barracks, but actually it’s a coastal village full of Victorian buildings—many of them real, not reconstructions—and funky little shops. Right now I’m at a coffe shop with free wireless, looking out the street window, and every building I see is Victorian in style, and the stores include a hair studio, two art galleries, a couple funky clothing stores and something called “ER Energy,” which might be a solar energy store or might be a New Age store. I can’t tell from here. The people I see wandering around seem to be a random mix of people who look like loggers (and might be), old hippies who’ve actually gone back to nature instead of just talking about it, and college age eco-tourist types with rainbow hair and black Birkenstocks.

Actually, this seems to be eco-tourist weekend. I stopped in Hopland on the way here, a little town not too far south of Ukiah, and it was full of folks attending “Solfest,” which is theoretically a solar living festival—although it had bluegrass and folk/alt-country concerts and a few avowedly political speakers like Jim Hightower. Me being me, I was there for lunch, and the Bluebird Cafe was serving with no wait.

So what’s there in Fort Bragg besides hippies and cool architecture? Well, there’s fog. And cold weather. In San Jose today I suspect it was around the mid-80s; in Hopland and Ukiah, it was ten degrees warmer, but in Fort Bragg, it’s more than twenty degrees colder. Yes, it’s a mid-August day and it’s barely breaking 60. This is a bit below the average here—although only a bit: the average high in August is only 67. Of course, the average high in winter is 56, so I suppose it’s fair to describe the place as cool but mild. It’s overcast here from the coastal fog, which I suspect is the area’s natural condition. Could I deal with sunless days being the rule rather than the exception? That’s a back-of-the-mind concern for me, since I still have a notion of looking for work in the Seattle or Portland areas down the road. At any rate, a byproduct of this is a new lightweight jacket for me. I’d intended to bring my old windbreaker (a 15-year-old one that [livejournal.com profile] brahma_minotaur has made a few “My God, do they still make those?” comments about at cons), but managed to leave at home. I suppose this is finally an excuse to retire it; the new windbreaker seems more effective. (Possibly because it’s not fifteen years old.)

Well, that’s not all there is in Fort Bragg. There’s also the North Coast Brewing Company, which happens to have a restaurant and tap room here in addition to their brewery. So I know where I’m likely to end up for dinner tonight.

Of course, I’m still about five hours away from home. I did make a cursory hotel search an hour ago online and everything seems to be booked, so I’ll probably just end up getting in very… very… late. Such is the risk of aimless wandering!

chipotle: (Default)

So, I could be writing about, y’know, work. I’ll get to that, but I’ll write first about what I did on summer vacation tonight. It occurred to me not too long ago that I haven’t done a “fine dining” restaurant in a long time; I thought about going to one a weekend or two ago—after I’d gotten word of the job offer—but ended up at a pleasantly non-descript chain Mexican place. Today, though, I got the money order from the contracting work I did last month and I think it’ll be enough to carry me through until my first paycheck, which should be for the four days just past. (I’ll be invoicing biweekly, but got an okay to turn in my first one for this last week so I can get a check by the end of the month. Not a huge check, but a check nonetheless. I should note that “carrying me through” in this case means “without having to withdraw more from savings,” not “without running out of money completely.”)

So. Anyway. Tonight and I [livejournal.com profile] dracomistle headed up to Walnut Creek and visited Lark Creek, a restaurant I’ve been thinking about going to for a few years now. I’ve been to a couple other restaurants owned by Bradley Ogden, something of a star chef in the Bay Area (and now Las Vegas, which is becoming a culinary destination spot). No, it wasn’t cheap, although it wasn’t deathly extravagant, either—they had a special three-course option available of soup or salad, entrée and dessert for $30. I had something I’ve never seen before, a “stone fruit gazpacho”: a cold fruit soup, not very sweet, with grilled peaches and cucumber. The main course was seared and roasted salmon with tarragon-yogurt sauce, with greens and heirloom tomatoes—one of the better salmon dishes I’ve had, and one that might inspire me to try cooking fish at home again sometime. I’ve noticed desserts at Ogden’s restaurants tend to follow a pattern of small sizes but intense flavors, and this held true to that: a “sugared cornmeal biscuit,” which was something more like a shortcake biscuit, with vanilla ice cream and what was described on the menu as peach compote, although I’d describe it more as a spiced peach coulis with some diced fresh peach nestled against the biscuit/ice cream combination. Whatever it was, it all worked.

But wait, there’s more! Driving into Walnut Creek, I noticed that a place that [livejournal.com profile] shaterri took me to in Portland had opened a location just a block away from Lark Creek: the Moonstruck Chocolate Café, what I glibly describe as a Starbucks for chocolate lovers. The vibe is very much upscale espresso bar, but when you see the menu board has nine types of hot cocoa and eight types of mocha, you know what the focus is. I was already slightly stuffed from dinner, but not so much that I couldn’t have a small orange mocha, and buy a “Chile Variado” chocolate bar—dark chocolate with ancho and chipotle (!)—for later.

Now I’m home and I should probably start winding down. The day overall was horribly unproductive, which I’ll try and make up for tomorrow—just because it’s leisure time doesn’t mean I should slack around playing video games until it’s time to go out and do stuff. (I’m actually feeling a little more inspired and energized to work on my own projects again, which I’m taking as a good sign.)

But you know, this was a pretty good evening.

chipotle: (Default)

I’ve more or less taken care of what I needed to have before work; I have some things I should probably be reviewing, though, so I’ve come to a Panera to do some of that review.

In Stockton.

Why in Stockton? I’d say because it’s just such a cool city, but that’s not true—not that it’s a bad city from what I’ve seen, mind you. Definitely a different vibe from the Bay Area, though. Honestly, though, I’m here because I want to be out today. I won’t have the opportunity to go out during weekdays again for a while, I suspect.

Actually, I’m not sure how vacations are going to work with this contract. There are no benefits so obviously it’s unpaid, but the payment is scheduled as a flat biweekly rate. I suppose I’ll ask if it’s prorated by day (which would make sense). In theory, the definition of “independent contractor” means I have latitude in setting my hours and working conditions. That’s a prime part of the legal litmus test: if the person paying you controls the way the work is carried out, that person is hiring you as an employee, not a contractor. In practice, that’s something one can’t push too much, but I may see if I can take advantage of it within reason—experimenting with commuting hours and inquiring about telecommuting options.

But at this point, it is time to start investigating what else is in Stockton. I’m not hungry enough to eat yet—which is perhaps just as well, budget considered—but I can explore the town a little more. I may be hungry enough for a milkshake at the Sonic Drive-In in Tracy on the way back, the closest Sonic to the SF Bay Area. (I have explored Tracy a bit, and as unkind as it may sound, I suspect Sonic is one of the better food options there anyway.)

chipotle: (Default)

So I decided I wanted a good burger for lunch today.

A random search of Chowhound suggested a few alternatives, but I was in a seaside mood (perhaps because the Excursion Society is, however slowly, inching off the ground). So I ended up at Quinn’s Lighthouse in Oakland, just off the Embarcadero.

And you know, it was a pretty damn good burger. Medium Niman Ranch beef, nicely seasoned, served on a garlic sourdough bun. (Think of a good garlic bread—toasted with fresh garlic and a bit of butter.) Two beers, looking out from the lighthouse’s second floor over a little secluded marina.

After that, I followed the Embarcadero over to Alameda, all but by accident, and came across the Alameda Marketplace. It’s a natural foods store, bakery, and coffee shop. I’m sitting here finishing an iced Vietnamese coffee and using their free wifi to check e-mail and not get writing done.

Most of the folks I know in the local area are in the South Bay or Peninsula, and there’s a tendency to cap on the East Bay a lot, but the more I explore, the more impressed with the area I am. From about Fremont—and the San Jose Mission district—on up all the way through Martinez, there’s just a lot of cool little nooks and crannies to explore. Yeah, there are stretches which are just industrial and decaying downtown, but even Oakland has a lot more there here than I think it seems from the other side of the Bay.

If I wanted to live in a real honest-to-God metro area, San Francisco proper would still be The Place locally, but if I had reason to move up to the Rockridge area in Oakland—or if there was an apartment within a few blocks of this marketplace and a job not too far away—I definitely wouldn’t turn it down.

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