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August 27, 2006

State Fair Baking Frenzy

As one of four kids growing up in suburban Minnesota, there was a sort of unwritten rule regarding treats in our house: namely, “You want ’em, you bake ’em.”

Needless to say, all the kids in our family learned to master various baking recipes, and a couple of us even got good enough to want to test their mettle at the local county fair. To my great astonishment, I even managed to win my category a few times. Thus begun my periodic flirtation with the world of competitive baking.

With the Santa Clara County Fair imploding into a little-attended “Youth Fair,” the only way I could get my game on this year was to try out at the California State Fair. Since obsessing over the proportion of almond extract in a recipe seemed like a good break from obsessing over the credits in comic books, I decided to give a shot at entering. This year, I’ve got two entries up my sleeve: Danish Puff, and Finska Kakor.

The Danish was judged last Wednesday, and it was my first experience actually watching my entry get judged live (normally, you just sort of show up at the fair the day afterward to see how you did). But this was the big time, and it was grueling.

I’ve made the Danish Puff a bunch of times over the years (and fed the experimental variations to staffers more than once). I’ll admit, I pretty much figured I had this recipe dialed in by now, and , I finally achieved the sort of thoroughly gratuitous icing lacework that I’d hoped for which made the whole thing look great.

My biggest problem, however, is that the State Fair is in Sacramento: some 120 miles from where I live. This meant (since I’ve never found a suitable way to FedEx a pastry) that I had to make it the evening before, then drive it up to Sacramento in the wee hours of the morning, where it had to be received between 7:00 am and 8:30 am for a 12:30 pm judging. Essentially, it would be day-old Danish by the time they’d taste it.

Worse, the order of the day’s judging meant that it was also about the 30th confection the panel of judges had to taste that afternoon, and I was forced to watch as the judges went from peppy and ebullient, to forced-march grim (and more than a little full) as the judging wore on.

I sensed the worst was to come when when four or five pastries in a row got tagged with the dreaded, “This seems to have picked up some moisture—like it was made yesterday…” comment. Caught dead-to-rights on that one, I considered myself lucky when I escaped with a 2nd Place ribbon. Note to self: If I ever make Danish for the State Fair again, I start preparing it at 2am on the morning of judging. Sleep be damned!

On the hopeful side, my Finska Kakor is a shortbread which should travel well, and even possibly benefit from a day or so for the butter to mellow. I’ll let you know how it goes—judging in the hyper-competitive cookie category is Wednesday…

August 11, 2006

Catching Up…

Long time, no blogging!

Mostly, it’s that old excuse: we were busy shipping products instead. And boy, did we ship the products! In the last several weeks, we launched:

Pfew! All four of these products shipped on time, and with what was easily the smoothest upgrade cycle in ComicBase history. (The ComicBase 10 and 11 databases are largely compatible, so that we can perform the necessary updates in mere seconds when you upgrade from one to the other). Moreover, it looks like we’ve managed to pull off the 11 upgrade cycle without any real tech support surge, excepting the normal collection of database questions and Windows issues. All things considered, not bad at all.

If you’ve been watching the update logs lately, you can probably guess the one thing that’s keeping us on our toes: the absolute flood of new data that’s being submitted each week. Ever since we added the “Submit New or Corrected Data” command to ComicBase—and particularly since we started our “leader board” of top contributors on the home page—folks have really gone to town, often sending in several hundred messages each day.

When I got back from San Diego, for instance, I had over 1,500 non-spam emails waiting for me, full of everything from new artist credits to discussions as to the correct placement of the Elfquest collected hardcovers. Moreover, there seemed to be some heavy competition to get and stay on the leader board, so that in the time it took me to plow through several hundred emails on a given day, hundreds more would flood in. While in Chicago for Wizard World, I made a point of remoting in to work on email each night until the wee hours, but even then there were over 600 emails waiting for me upon my return.

It’s all exhausting—but very much appreciated. We owe all the contributors a huge debt of gratitude for all their work making ComicBase even better.

Anyway, as of this moment: 1:32 pm PST, I'm actually on top of the emails again, and we’re working on pushing out this week’s update (which includes a new pricing update from Comics Buyer’s Guide). Tomorrow, I’m off to the California State Fair, and on Sunday, I may actually get a chance to kick back and do nothing.

…and then on Monday, it’ll be back to the emails…