Monday, January 29, 2007

Crazy Questions Part Deux

Where would you retire to?

In a house with plenty of bookshelves, a big kitchen, and grandkids in a place with not too many bugs -- some place cold that had a butcher, produce, tavern, cafe, and used bookstore.

If you won a big lottery, how long would you take to tell people?

Only after consulting a lawyer, tax attorney, and accountant to make sure most of it is in safe investments and savings. Then we would fix up the house. Probably best not to tell anyone until they ask, "Did you win a big lottery?"

Favorite Flower

Casablanca Lily

What kind of car do you drive?

Toyota Corolla

Gold or Silver?


What Book are you reading?

"The Price of Privilege" by Madeline Levine

Favorite Sound?

My son laughing

If you could play an instrument what would it be?


Who is a person from your past that you would like to talk with?

My mother.

Favorite Season?


At what store would you max you credit card out?

None! Refuse to spend more on the credit card than what we can pay off that month.

Sandals or tennis shoes?


Different Jobs you have had?

Catering, Record Store Clerk, Restaurant Hostess, Waitress, Restaurant Assistant Manager, Telecommunications Supervisor, Computer Operator, Marketing & Sales Coordinator, Web Designer, Web Producer, political activist, writer, mother.

Favorite dessert?

dark chocolate torte with raspberry liquor

Your First Car?

Tan 1977 Ford Pinto Wagon

Favorite Color?


Crazy Questions Part One

What is your full name?

Mother Maven

What color pants are you wearing?


What are you listening to right now?

Sound of harddrive spinning, and washer and dryer from a distance. Listened to "The Teen Titans Theme" over and over for my son.

What was the last thing you ate?

Chicken salad and provolone sandwich on sliced honey wheat bread I made from scratch.

If you were a crayon, what color would you be?

Burnt Sienna

How is the weather right now?

Sunny-ish, but coldish and a bit breezy

Who is the last person you spoke to on the phone?

my dad

How old are you today?

40 3/4

Favorite drink?

Coffee, fine cabernet, or stout beer

Favorite sport?

walking (that is a sport right?)

Hair color?

Light blond


2 half-sisters, 1 deceased half-brother

Favorite food?


What was the last movie you watched?

The Last Waltz

Favorite day of the year?

Fourth of July

What was your favorite toy as a child?

Malibu Barbie, her lesbian tennis friend Dusty, and her dysfunctional boyfriend Ken, who just might be gay.

Summer or winter?


Hugs or kisses?


Chocolate or Vanilla?

Hello?!?! Chocolate!

What did you do last night?

Had friends drop by for awhile, then we watched an episode of "American Idol" of where people sing badly.

Favorite smell?


Favorite TV show?


Happy In life?

Spurts of happiness with dashes of disappointment

What are you afraid of?


Butter or salted popcorn?


Favorite car?

Jag convertable or Prius

How many years at your current job?

3 years

Favorite day of the week?


What did you do on your last birthday?

Turned 40 without crying or getting botox injections

How many cities have you lived in?

In California: San Francisco, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Belmont, Palo Alto, Cupertino, San Rafael

In Massachusetts: Boston

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Cults I Have Known

The Cults I have known

I am always torn. I like being a part of some sort of tribe or have some sense of longing to belong. I should be total cult fodder, but I have too many trust issues to ever join one. Plus, I cannot get into group-think or excluding those people in my life that are considered "outsiders."

I should know. In my youth I have had brushes with Scientologists, moonies, hare krishna folk, and Amway.

My first and last encounter with Scientology was across the street from an actor's academy that I was attending. In my early 20s I fancied myself as an actor.

It was 1987-88, and these two rather cute young men approached me for a personality test. I am sure I answered the questions subconsciously to please them. They had a communication" class that was only 30 bucks. What could go wrong? What went wrong is that they started using what was obviously brainwashing techniques -- breaking me down so they could bring me up. I would frustrate them purposely. I would say that this class would be good for my acting class. I certainly didn't want to lead them on as to my intentions. They would, in vain, say that this would be good for my life. It quickly became creepy and started not being fun. Given that I was paid up full, I felt that it was time to disappear.

I could only say that my reckless youth gave them my real phone number. Doh!

They started calling me.

At first, I would pretend I was a roomate saying I wasn't here. Then I informed them that there was a death in the family and that I was not there. They would ask for the phone number of where I was at.

I would say, "Dude, I just told you there was a death in the family, what's wrong with you?"

Finally, I would have to say, in the persona of a roommate, that I had moved out and to leave us alone. I have to say they did wonders for my acting.

Later in life, I would have the opportunity to meet a full fledged Scientologist, who had spent hundreds, even thousands on all these binders that were everywhere in his apartment. He seemed like a poor schmuck, but what did I know?

All I knew is that I dodged a bullet just by having trust issues. I don't get Tom Cruise. I dunno, he just creeps me out.

When I lived in Boston, I had tea with the followers of Rev. Moon, who had an office in a student neighborhood I lived in not far from the Christain Science building. It was cordial, but we knew it wouldn't work out.

Then there was the Foxboro Dead Show in 89, where the Hari Krishna gave away tasty macrobiotic food for free. Very cool. After years of people making fun of the Hari Krishna folk for hanging out at Airports, it was always difficult to take them seriously.

My younger years were spent experiencing things before I would judge them to be right or wrong for me. Others experiences may vary.

Early in our marriage, my husband reconnected with a guy he knew who wanted to get together for a business proposal supposedly having to do with computers. The moment he walked in I felt that certain energy that comes with someone who wants to offer something for nothing. In the first 30-40 minutes of his presentation he didn't mention Amway. Instead he focused on being able to work at home and be your own boss.

I pulled my husband aside and told him he was peddling Amway. Then we started to wear him down enough to admit it was the grand pyramid scheme cult, Amway. My husband was so angry at being blatantly misled, that he forced him to stay and watch him go through the math and prove that it was a pyramid scheme. I just said that we like our friends and wanted them to remain friends. We didn't want our income to relying on hitting on our friends and family to buy from us and to join the scheme. This guy reminded me of someone in the cult. Obviously, we never saw this person again.

During the tech boom, when I was a web designer I remembered the Halle Bob comet cult group who suicided themselves after creating their little website (I was able to check it out before the authorities brought it down). I started to be afraid that this may be logical extensionof a life of a web designer and if I didn't change jobs I too could find myself genderless wanting to "join" the aliens in their ship behind a comet. Why wouldn't a job with no real sense of completion or sense of mastery lead to such delusions?

I really don't care what crazy things people chose to believe, as long as they do not bring harm to others in the process.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Never The Twain Shall Meet: Cheney and the Truth

It is not that Cheney wouldn't know the truth if it mistook him for a turkey (or a lawyer) in a turkey shoot. Cheney has a blatant disdain for the truth. Truth is to Cheney as water was to the Wicked Witch in Wizard of Oz. It would melt the latex off his cyborgian skeletal structure.

So the news today is that Cheney was trying to work his evil mojo over at Wolf Blitzer's place. He claims that talk of blunders in Iraq and/or lack of credibility are "Hogwash." He also goes on to say in regards to a Congressional resolution in opposition to the escalation of the war "It won't stop us." (How so very cyborg-like, Dick. It is nice to know how much you listen to the people's representatives)

Then he says that the bottom line is that they have had "enormous successes" in regards to Iraq. Yeah, that is why the American people booted the republicans out last November because you guys were having enormous successes. Then he says he thinks Rumsfeld did a "superb job."

Dick, can we talk? You have a credibility problem. Do you know why? You have been caught in so many lies they could fill volumes. I don't know anyone outside you, Bush, and your inner circle who would be able to say with a straight face that Rumsfeld did a "superb job"

The conventional wisdom and truth is that Rumsfeld was an incompetent bungler, who you didn't have the balls to fire until after your party got run out of town.

Dick you can go on trying to make the press, the democratic party, and all those who are against your plan on Iraq as wanting us to fail, be quitters, or any number of other ways to suggest your critics want to undermine the country or the troops. If we "fail" or have to pull out in a humiliating matter with all the consequences you claim will happen it will be solely your fault and the fault of the Bush administration and the republican party. It is not the troops that will fail, because they are courageous professionals, but you and George Bush who will be failures. It is this Administration who dragged us in under false pretense and then went on to bungle the operation and misuse our men and women in the Armed Forces. You cannot blame the democrats (ok, you can blame Lieberman) or any of your critics for your failures.

Truth, this is Dick.

Dick, this is Truth.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Parental Manifesto: Part I

Living in Marin means eventually the local mother's group book club would get around to reading "The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids"

Ah! A book about troubled teens in affluent environments (affluent is defined as $120k per year, which places us comfortably below that designation). I will read because he will be around such affluence. Perhaps, it will make us feel better that we are not so affluent. I will read it and let you know. I am not sure if it is counseling against parental over involvement or under involvement. Although it does seem to have something to say about materialism and pressuring kids to achieve a certain standard. It will be interesting because I grew up in Menlo Park, California which is sandwiched between many affluent communities of Atherton, Woodside, Palo Alto, and Los Altos. I grew up with kids whose parents would take off for Europe and elsewhere leaving them free to host kegger parties at their fine homes.

I want my son to find the best fit for him. If he wants to be a firefighter, I couldn't be prouder. I would be *thrilled* if he ended up a general contractor because this house totally needs one. Good general contractors, plumbers, electricians make a good honest living off folks like me who have none of those skill sets. The trick is that they have the skills to work for themselves and hire and manage others, so when he gets to a certain age he can direct others to do the work he is too old to do. At the ripe age of three, he wants to be a doctor (he wants to "help people when they are sick"). As he gets older, he may want to be a surf instructor in Hawaii, political activist in San Francisco, or a stay-at-home dad -- ’s all good if that is what he has a passion and talent for.

I want him to go to college, but only when he is ready to go. I want him to be able to travel and work in the world so he understands and appreciates a college education can do for him.
The benefit of education should be to open the world to children on all the various occupations we can strive for. We cannot all be engineers or businessmen. We need artists, scientists, teachers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, stay-at-home fathers, writers, public servants, and all sorts of thankless jobs. We cannot all serve commerce and run a functional or compassionate society.

Our job is to let our son know that there are consequences in doing bad things, so our child will be a good social being. There is a time and place for gratification and sacrifice. Things do not make us happy, but being kind, being together, and having a sense of humor does bring happiness. Learning, reading, and being inquisitive is what we do. If we do something, we do it well. If parenting is anything at all it is a transmission of values, and passing down enough resources to give our children the ability to live those values. Do we pass down the whole materialist human habitrail or do we give him the tools to live in the world comfortably while living responsibly?

Humpday Newsday

Right now I am recovering from pain in my shoulder from playing Wii tennis. It is a trip to have a sports injury playing a video game.

Today's newsflash: John Kerry is NOT running for President...Oh, thank God! Obama declares "I won't be swift-boated" in regards to his alleged radical islamic education in Indonesia at an early age according to Fox News. It turns out that he was raised in a secular household and these rumors are just political mudslinging. Next!

Gore/Obama, Gore/Edwards, Gore/Clark -- do you see where I am going here? Gore won once, get him a good running mate for once. Stop the Lieberman crap.

About the above graphic...there is a lot of talk about Jim Webb being too harsh in his response. One of the things he brought up is rebuilding New Orleans, which was mysteriously absent from the State of the Nation speech. Republicans talk about compassionate conservatism, but there is nothing compassionate about them. I wasn't around on 360 when Katrina hit. It made me sick, frustrated, embarrassed, and mournful. Then that turned to anger, how Americans were reduced to the status of mere "refugees" and how neighboring counties kept them from escaping with armed police, while republicans were disparaging people for not getting out of there.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Oscar Maven!

As a movie fanatic, I anticipate the Oscars like some anticipate the Super Bowl, World Series, or the World Cup Finals.

A long time ago, I had a grasshopper moment when I was a freshman at an all girl catholic school and I ditched school to go to the racetrack with a friend. With help from a random adult we were able to place bets on a horse of our choice after looking at them in the pen. Of course, I picked the "cute horse" while my friend picked the horse who had the eyes of a vicious street fighter. Of course, I lost my 2 bucks, but I learned a powerful lesson -- you MUST have ice water in your veins when you bet money.

I have since won a March Madness pool knowing nothing of College Football (much to the distress of the boys in the office who were fanatics). I do best when I have no emotion attachment to the outcome. When I take this attitude toward Oscar pools, I always come out on top. Once I love or hate a movie, I will lose this category.

My philosophy is that it doesn't matter who or what should win an oscar, my job is to divine who or what will win. This has served me well in our annual Oscar contests (this will be our 12th year). Before I fill out my ballot, I read everything and make sure I know what each nominated film is about because sometimes that will give you a clue. For instance, if it is about the Holocaust, it will most likely to win. Predicting the oscars is like peeking into a tea cup full of tea leaves and you have to dig through to see the leafy kalidescope that makes the most sense. I will look at:

1. Critics and columnist predictions

2. Other award results

3. The level of studio hype & "buzz"

4. Oscar Historical data at who actually wins

5. Look at the subject matter of a film or actor/actress history - because sometimes actors will win not because of the film they are nominated for but because they were overlooked in an earlier film or are awarded for a body of work.

None of these factors alone can be reliable, but in combination with other factors you can come up with pretty good guesses as to who will win.

Some years are easier than others. I call these "Sweep Years," these are the years you know that a film will sweep, like "Return of the King" for work on the entire trilogy. If you misjudge what is going to be a sweep year, you risk things going badly. Last year, a friend decided to go against conventional wisdom and did slightly better than someone who had no idea about any of the films. Doing your research does make a difference.

So, as a public service to my 360 friends I am going to help you do reasonably well in your oscar pool and maybe, just maybe win it.

Oscar Maven: Best Documentary

This category is interesting this year since all of the films are highly topical and controversial -- no penguins in this category (but you can find them among the "Best Animated" nominees). The first documentary is Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth, about global warming. The next is Deliver Us From Evil which follows a catholic priest who is a molestor and his victims. Then there is Jesus Camp about how the religious right creates a new generation. Then there are two films documenting the conditions in Iraq for Iraqis (Iraq In Fragments and My Country, My Country).

The conventional wisdom is that two of the same film usually cancel themselves out -- so that would rule out the Iraq movies. I think Jesus Camp will make too many voter feel uncomfortable. Deliver Us From Evil is very much like Capturing the Friedmans to win, as Capturing the Friedmans lost out to The Fog of War. My vote goes to Inconvenient Truth.

Go Al Gore!

These Wicked Games

What Wicked Games we play...

In 1980-81, there was a brief D&D phase where I was an elven magic user. Then there was a long period of absolutely no gaming at all. I discovered the Internet in 1992 and hung out in a couple of MUD environments. MUDs were text-based environments where you could create rooms where people visited and chatted. Again this period was brief.

It was not until I met my husband that I was introduced to gaming of all sorts. My husband-to-be was the creator of RuneQuest Adventures, which was a popular fanzine of the Runequest paper and pencil game. When the Magic: The Gathering creators came down the coast to introduce the game, my hubby became an early player/collector. My hubby also played a little DOOM. It was not until Diablo and Diablo II came out that I really started to get into gaming online.

Then came March 1999, when my hubby bought Everquest home. Almost immediately, I was drawn to look over his shoulder. This was so very different than the games we have played.

The 3-D at the time would seem relatively primitive now, but at the time it was really compelling. We had to buy another copy and I started playing in April 1999.

My husband played a warrior named, Stormbull and I played a paladin named, Salome Desertheart (since her character starts in the Desert of Ro). Looking back, both of us had the rare opportunity to play a MMORPG in a time that will never be replicated. We had started so early that everyone we played with on the E'ci server (half American/ half Japanese server) was not only discovering the landscape of Everquest, but the whole MMORPG genre. We remember when the Desert of Ro was a dangerous place to be since there wasn't anyone on the server who could fight the sand giants. There was a golden era when you knew almost everybody on the server and there was a sense that we were all discovering this together. There was enough space, things to do, and loot for everyone. I remembering having my avatar taking time to fish and watching the sunset in this 3-D world and saying to myself that this is really cool (until my avatar drank too much ale, wobbled off the pier, and drowned since I didn't know how to swim).

We did get our first taste to come in our first guild we joined. Guilds are groups of players within MMORPG that are connected by a chat channel for the purpose of playing together and who have tags with their names indicating they belong to a group. We joined them because they were nice people, we were a little ahead of them in content and experience, but that didn't matter to us. Then we watched the guild break apart because people started feeling slighted that they were not as equipped as others or had hard feelings that they didn't get items that dropped from certain mobs or monsters. At one point I had the guild leader hand over leadership to me as I logged on and that was the beginning of the end of this particular guild.

My husband and I were invited to join a more organized and experienced guild, Hand of Darkness, who had set up a class based mentoring system that was wonderful.

Unfortunately, we didn't know that they too were having internal problems that would lead to a break up. We did end up in the Sacrament of Chaos, where we stayed until we ultimately left in 2001.

Guilds, especially guilds with skilled players, were a great way to experience content that would be difficult to do on your own or with a pickup group. Our most treasured moments was when we did raids or mini-raids on content with people in our guild that we were used to working with. The whole cooperative play aspect of the game always drew us in. There are times where are core group would take on a place few people were going and we had little chance of being successful, but it was fun trying to work on a strategy to ultimately be successful.

A highlight for me in game was the time we had spent hours in this special zone called, the Fear plane. On the bulletin boards and in game, my human avatar was known to have a dwarf fetish. They were so darn cute in the first version of Everquest. One day, after clearing the zone of mobs/monsters, all of the dwarves in the zone gathered around me for a bow and group hug. It was really nice. While Fear zone had some awful moments, that instance and a few raids into this zone just to rescue players who couldn't break the zone, made it worthwhile.

I have always said that the best and worst thing about MMORPGS is playing with other people. It was at its best when players banded together to defeat the game, and at its worst when players played against other players. Everquest became a game where items that are needed to be able to handle higher and higher content was scarce, and so there was heated competition and a subjective mini-game about who was worthy to get items. The Japanese players who shared our server when we were asleep, awarded items randomly to all who participated, whereas the Americans had a rather elaborate systems to determine worthiness and need.

Our downfall in such a game was that we took about 2-3 month breaks from the game when we had too much of the politics and bad feelings. It was supposed to be a game. It was supposed to be fun, but why did it seem like work?

The game required you to spend hours upon hours at a time without sleep for sometimes days. It was not unusual for someone to have played 200 days (or the equivalent of 4800 hours total) we spent significantly less than that but still way too much for our tastes in a two year period. In a player vs. player competition it is impossible to compete for worthiness against people who have made this game their life and play 80 hours or more a week.

We noticed also that it became a game that items would become obsolete so quickly that there was this never ending treadmill of having to access things. We would help people get items to get experience but also with the expectation that in exchange someday they could help us, but it was always the case that these people would be putting off helping us and asking us to get the latest and greatest thing.

People started resenting us because we took breaks from the game, while they didn't. So each item we received met with resentment because they thought that taking breaks from the game made us less worthy. As people accumulate "time played" the stakes get greater to justify the time and work they put in and that is the root of the resentment. People would say hurtful things, all for a game.

After our Everquest experience, we took a break. We played around with an experimental MMORPG called A Tale In The Desert. It was experimental because it didn't involve any combat and it had a political aspect where denizens could propose and pass laws enforceable by the programmers. It was interesting and we got to meet people from Turkey and Israel, which made for really compelling conversations just before the invasion of Iraq. Ultimately though this game had too much tedium for us. Life in A Tale In The Desert was to grow wheat, smelt metals, keep your camels and sheep alive, while making Egyptian obelisks. It was a lot of repetitive work making thread, weaving it into canvas for stuff. It got to the point my avatar went crazy and ran off just to fish to escape the tedium (Tedium in the Desert?).

We then found City of Heroes around the time I was nursing my son. I was able to breastfeed my son and play a superhero with my husband. We lucked out because we found a group of mostly other parents of small children to play with. What really made the difference is using Teamspeak to talk on headphones rather than just type.

It was a great time with no pressure of having to obtain items, but without the endless pursuit of things, we blew through the content and there was nothing left to hold us there. Plus, my son could no longer just sit on my lap and nurse and nap. City of Heroes and its cousin City of Villians are very fun MMORPGs, but the playability for us was limited. Many of the people we played with were only playing until World of Warcraft would come out.

I looked into The Sims Online, but it quickly devolved into the world of cyber sex operation that was total turnoff.

When World of Warcraft came out, we tried it out. This game was far more playable than Everquest or Everquest II, which we Beta tested. WOW featured my favorite class of all time, the Hunter. I picked the hunter because it was an excellent solo character with ranged bow and a pet who acts as a melee character. I picked a solo character so I didn't have to depend on grouping with other people and have them depend on me to stay online for hours. I could log on and fiddle with my avatar and do part of a quest, then logoff to do other things. That worked until I got to a level that I would have to group more to accomplish anything more.

With this game we tried to reclaim the feeling that we had when we just began in 1999, but it just didn't happen with us. Everyone is jaded now and these games are about competing against other players for stuff rather than banding together against the game.

World of Warcraft is now the hottest game in the World dwarfing both Everquest games. We have friends who still play and run into people who play. I still get notices for free weekends to re-activate my characters on Everquest and World of Warcraft. There is always a twinge of something that makes me want to peek back in. These games are compelling, that is why millions are playing the game around the world. I just do not have the time to devote to these games.

In the past couple of years, we have moved to boardgames where we invite real people to play with us. We play lots of games like Power Grid, Ticket to Ride, Tigris and Euyrphrates, Carcasonne, etc. We also go to Monday night gaming over at a Pizza parlor in Marin once in awhile. It is not the same thrill of the early years of Everquest, but we have our lives back. What is refreshing is that you can play a game and either win or lose. It is not this ongoing game that is more like work.

We warn our friends with older children about these MMORPGs. When I played these games, my teenage years and my twenties (and early thirties) were spent being out in the world and accomplishing things. I cannot imagine starting my teenage and early adulthood stuck on a computer playing these games endlessly to the exclusion of anything else. I cannot imagine having my young adulthood having mostly or exclusively virtual friends. MMORPGS are designed to take over people's lives by intentional time sinks and setting unattainable "win" conditions that may never come. Timesinks are there to keep the majority of players from blowing through the content and the scarcity is there to challenge some and keep others playing. When it comes down to it it is about market share and keeping the monthly fees coming in.

MMORPGS...What a time we had...what wicked games they were...

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Housemaven's Tale: Pizza Crust

My mother-in-law stayed with us for the past 11 days and requested that I make pizza dough. So we spent some time researching how to make it after a failed attempt from Alton Brown from the Food Network.

Using the technique from Jeff Varasano's site and a recipe at 101 Cookbooks I have been able to get an excellent pizza. I am not willing to fake out my oven's cleaning cycle to get really high heat, so I didn't get the dough as wet as he likes. I use the recipe from 101 cookbooks as a starting place. I take Varasano's advice not to be a slave to the measuring cup and rely on touch. He also talks about the most important step being the mixing stage. He suggests to only mix in 25% of the flour with the water, salt, and yeast together and let it sit for 20 minutes before adding more flour. This is called autolyse step and it is a technique that I will keep in mind with making my other breads as well.

Bakers windowpaning has been a pain to achieve. You should be able to get dough so thin that you can read through the dough. Varasano has an insane picture of an example of windowpaning -- wow-- I can't do that!

I also took Varasano's advice about the feel of the final dough should be like a baby's bottom. Dough should be soft and not over kneaded. Then when you can put it on a floured board and knead it into a ball. Then put the ball into a oiled bowl and let sit and rise for 24 hours or more. I leave it out rather than put it in the refrigerator, because we just don't have room for it right now.

Then you can take it out and knead it make balls to store for later use, or make a pizza. I just pre-heat the stove with a pizza stone in it to as high as it can go -- about 500-525 for 5-8 minutes.

Right now, I have created two types of pizza dough. One is made from my bread dough, and one from organic unbleached all-purpose flour. I have also added about 1 teaspoon of brown sugar to the initial autolyse mix. I am also trying out a way of mixing the autolyse, by first making salt water, then adding the sugar, then a half cup of flour, and then the yeast. After that is all well mixed, I mix in the other half cup of flour and let it sit for 20 minutes.

My goal is to never have frozen pizzas ever again, and get my family used to the taste of pizza by scratch.