Archive for August 2004

Gasworks Park Sunset

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For even more sunsets, go see Dr. Omed’s Patented Sunset Derby.

Double Your Pleasure

Back in Seattle, the weather turned nice on Sunday and we wanted to take advantage of it. Our son was thinking of taking a bike ride, and I suggested to Mrs. Perils of Caffeine that we dust off our Rodriguez tandem and see if it (and we) still worked. I was pretty sure we hadn’t ridden it in 10 years.

I’ve given a little of the history of this bike here. We had it built for us in 1981. I pulled it down and brushed off a coating of spider webs, oiled the chain and carefully inflated the tires.  Everything seemed to work, so we got on and headed down the hill to the Burke-Gilman Trail.  We didn’t want to push our luck with the bike’s running gear on this first ride, so we decided to take a short spin out to Shilshole Marina/Golden Gardens park.  The route has the virtue of being both short and flat.

At some point, the kid decided he’d show off his newly-acquired bicycling legs, and sprinted away from us.  What he didn’t count on, as a neophyte, was how a tandem can just eat up the road if it’s flat, especially when its stoker has retained some of her racer’s muscle memory.  I slammed into a high gear and we started bearing down on him.  He kept looking behind, incredulous, as his demonic parents bore down on him like an engine of doom.  We blew past him, and he was so gassed he couldn’t even catch our wheel.  I relish any shreds of respect I can glean at this age.

He paid us back on the climb home due to another principle of tandem riding - they’re a bitch to haul up a hill.  And also because he’s fit and 23, versus the 107 combined years pushing the tandem.  He could have finished a beer by the time we pulled up the driveway.

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My Day On The Links

Reading my previous entry, one might be tempted to think that it’s the classic setup from a seasoned sandbagger, a handicap fraud trying to draw the gullible into taking a sucker’s bet. One would be wrong, at least in this case. My golf was as ugly as promised, a 145 for 18 holes, and only that low because they quit counting your strokes on each hole once you reach 10, even though those 10 strokes may not have taken you from the blue (men’s - REAL men’s, goddamnit!) tees to the white (ladies’) tees. 

Lest you think I’m winding up to say Mackinac was my Guantanamo, an indeterminate sentence to a squalid and miserable experience, let me say I had an enjoyable time.  The skies along the route were mostly clear, and the flight from Milwaukee to the island, in a KingAir turboprop, afforded views of a pastoral northern Michigan I hadn’t known existed.

Pictures and more commentary here.

Island Adventure

Reading my previous entry, one might be tempted to think that it’s the classic setup from a seasoned sandbagger, a handicap fraud trying to draw the gullible into taking a sucker’s bet. One would be wrong, at least in this case. My golf was as ugly as promised, a 145 for 18 holes, and only that low because they quit counting your strokes on each hole once you reach 10, even though those 10 strokes may not have taken you from the blue (men’s - REAL men’s, goddamnit!) tees to the white (ladies’) tees.

Lest you think I’m winding up to say Mackinac was my Guantanamo, an indeterminate sentence to a squalid and miserable experience, let me say I had a great time.  The skies along the route were mostly clear, and the flight from Milwaukee to the island, in a KingAir turboprop, afforded views of a pastoral northern Michigan I hadn’t known existed.

The island itself is comparable, in a way to one of our San Juan Islands, with some important differences.  The “dirt” is owned entirely by the state of Michigan, and the homeowners and businesses hold long-term leases from the state, with strict covenants on maintenance and use.  Except for a couple of short periods each year (early spring and late fall), motor vehicles are not allowed to operate on the roads.  Instead, a gaggle of horse-drawn vehicles ferries people and goods about.  In addition to the people-taxis, I saw building materials and produce being transported on flat-bed wagons.  One of our drivers told us there were 500 horses on the island in the summer.  This culture of horse-drawn virtue also has its tailpipe emissions, however.  All I can say is, if you rent a bike here, get one with fenders.

And, as for the golf - it was sort of grueling to require as many hacks at the ball as I did, and I was very conscious of not only slowing down my foursome, but also of infecting the caliber of the others’ play.  But every third hole or so, I would somehow hit a ball just as it is supposed to be hit, and the exhilaration of it is like a hit on a crack pipe - you just stand there and say, “shit almighty, I hit that!” and you trod towards the ball absurdly, breathlessly, almost, expecting to repeat the experience with your next swing.  Of course, that ball is predestined to a fate at the bottom of a pond or buried in a thicket of briars and poison oak, but you play the next hole anyway, and the next.  I told you it was a form of madness, but I’ll also note that there are women who experience childbirth and have more kids anyway, too.

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This is Mackinac Island from the air, looking north to south. The Lower Peninsula is visible in the distance, and the Mackinac Bridge is out of the picture to the right.

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This is our ride to the island.

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My client knows that I’m both an Ohio State alum and a Kerry supporter, both of which he is decidedly not. Early in the week, he was preoccupied with obtaining clubs and a golf bag for me, and I was a bit mystified as to why he would not simply rent me a set on the island, especially in light of the dubiousness of the end product. Before boarding the plane, he produced a black bodybag thing, and unzipped it to reveal the bag you see me holding, emblazoned with Wisconsin Badger regalia and sporting a Bush (”W”) campaign placard. I had to admit it was a terrific ruse.

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We disembarked our private propjet in favor of this conveyance, which took us from the airport to the golf course.

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The Mackinac Grand Hotel has a commanding view of the strait and the Mackinac Bridge.

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Those of you whose only knowledge of golf comes from mistakenly recording a PGA tournament instead of Skinemax perhaps never see this aspect of the game, where people with a combined billing rate approaching $500 will spend 20 minutes tromping through potentially dangerous vegetation in search of a $2 golfball. At least quail have the sporting decency to flush when you’re standing directly over them.

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A salve to the unquiet spirit - panoramic view of the Mackinac Bridge from the 16th tee.

A Good Walk Spoiled (apologies to John Feinstein)

Another week working in Milwaukee, and not a lot of stimulating blogging material, or at least nothing that my tired wits are picking up on.

It’s not all work this week, however.  On Friday, my client is flying a group of us up to Mackinac Island for a round of … wait for it … GOLF!

I’ve never been a golfer.  I play once a year, if that, with my parents and brothers when we get together, and it’s an agreeable way to while away an afternoon with them.  Our family didn’t golf when I lived at home.  My dad had a sort of antipathy to the country-club ethos, and would say, “golf is the only game where you hit a ball and have to chase it yourself!”  My parents took the game up after, I believe, all of us were out of the house - they’re born-again golfers.  I’m not sure what sucked my brothers in, just as I’m not aware of when they came by their other execrable habits.  As for myself, it looked from the outside like something I would become obsessed with - multiply the number of clubs in a bag by about 17 ways to hit with each (15 bad, only one or two good) and you have a recipe for alarming and untreatable mental illness.  And, at the time, it just wasn’t a vigorous enough activity for me to spend that much time on.  It helps that Seattle isn’t the kind of town (as Milwaukee seems to be) where you have to golf in order to do business.

It’s against this backdrop that I will essay the links on Friday.  My client took me to his country club Wednesday and let me practice a bit at the driving range.  In retrospect, I’m not sure I view this as a kindness.  Most businesses need a state permit or have links to the Bush administration to create the sort of muddy moonscape, devoid of any living thing, that I created at the tee, a stripmine that only the merciful onset of a Wisconsin winter will begin to heal.  And the seemingly random barrage of balls I hit defied orthopedic or mathematical explanation.  I was hoping I hadn’t hurt anyone in the areas out of my view where my hits seemed to inexorably gravitate, and wondered if my client’s D&O insurance would cover any resulting legal difficulties.

So, pity the foursome that draws me tomorrow.  Don’t know if we’re playing 9 or 18 holes.  I understand that the island itself has its charms, with no automobiles and quaint architecture.  Perhaps I’d be better off grabbing a bicycle and riding around it.  Maybe after the first nine, my partners will pool their money and rent me one.  I’ll be back with pictures.  Gird your stomachs.

Tuning a Corner

Today our son takes an exam, attends his last day of class at the UW, and steps into the abyss of fathomless adulthood.  It seems like just any other day in a lot of ways, since the summer has been so busy, and the rest of August is going to be filled with frenzied activity  Subliminally all week, however, I’ve been regarding it as more and more of a milestone.  He has, too, I think, although to say so would violate a lifetime’s studied nonchalance about school in general and artificial life milestones in particular.  This is belied by the fact that he’s done well - very well - the last 2+ years. 

Since graduate school doesn’t seem to be in his immediate plans, this really does seem to shut the door we opened walking him over to the cooperative preschool 18 or 19 years ago.  We’ve gotten through it.  He’s gotten through it.  There’s more anxiety to come for all of us as he sets a life course, begins to feel the first tugs of the cosmic undertow that pulls us all to the other end of life.  Right now, though, it’s time to congratulate him on a job very well done, and surreptitiously, when old joints allow, pat ourselves on the back, too.

Adak Trip, Non-Tech Geek Version

Although I only flew the very southern edge of Alaska, this coastal plain and the profligate meander of its rivers provided an unmistakeable sense of the unseen vastness beyond.

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The weather on Adak, which I expected to be uncomfortably cool, relented while I was there, and I saw the tops of mountains that had been completely hidden when I was there before.  Despite the lack of trees or foliage, there’s an otherworldly beauty in the terrain.  I wish I could have spent some time biking or hiking a bit, but missing the Sunday plane would have meant laying over until Thursday.

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If you do tromp around on the island, you might want to watch your step. I met some folks who had a contract to locate and dispose of unexploded ordnance, left from decades of military presence on the island dating back to WWII.

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Halibut is unloaded from a fishing boat into totes for transfer into the processing plant…

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…to join others awaiting cleaning and freezing in preparation for its journey to your plate at Anthony’s.

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“Our Work Here Is Finished, King.” “Arf.”

Catching up on my travels…Last week, flew to Houston on Monday and Tuesday, returned home late Tuesday night.  Spent Wednesday in town mostly catching up on things I’d neglected.  Thursday morning, EARLY (6:00 am) I departed Seattle for Anchorage and the Ted Stevens (ptui!!!) International Airport.  I mean, we’ve got Bush, Stevens, Reagan…are there any airports named for Democrats?  Oh, yeah, La Giardia (I meant that), and Kennedy.  And I liked “Idlewild” a fuck of a lot better.  And in Atlanta, they’ve sorta dual-named Hartsfield Airport for Maynard Jackson, but I think most people continue to call it “Hartsfield”, or the Cherokee word for “that place where thunderstorms made me miss my connection to Seattle and I never found a place to sleep away from the god damn recorded announcements”, and the “Jackson” thing won’t really take.

Anyway, I was on my way not to Anchorage, but to Adak Island, where I have a client that needed tending to.  Adak used to be home to a Naval Air Station, with infrastructure out the gazoo and even a McDonald’s.  (see my previous visit here).  The military abandoned the island in 1995, and turned it over to the Aleut Corporation. 

With the military went all the telecommunications service, though the infrastructure was still there.  My client’s previous owner had established a reasonably fast (128k) internet connection using a satellite uplink, but it was prohibitively expensive, and they now have a 33k dialup connection.

My intention was to remove the remnants of the previous owner’s network domain and replace it with a more down-to-earth office network.  Additionally, I intended to allow them to share their 33k of bandwidth using Windows’ Internet Connection Sharing.  This “technology” is something that had a half-life of about a month in the 90s, and allows a home or small business network to share an internet connection that one of the PCs on the network has established, either through a broadband or a dial-up connection.  It’s not something (as I found out) that you call a Seattle network consultant to get guidance on.  They laugh like it’s a joke, and when they discern that you’re not laughing, they say, “Dude.  Get a router and a DSL connection.  We’ll help you with the Bluetooth wireless to their Palm devices if you can’t figure it out”.

Well, on Adak, Palm devices are reserved for more intimate connectivity, and “DSL” is more likely to mean “Dog Sled Larry” than “Digital Subscriber Line”.  (No, I overreach - there’s nowhere to go there that necessitates a dogsled, and the rats far outstrip dogs for mammalian supremacy).  So, I filled my carry-on with routers, switches, cables and cds and headed northwest to deliver a “solution” that would not only be a technical feat to accomplish, but also would be a crushing disappointment to the client when they saw what it REALLY meant to “share” a 33k connection.

After fiddling a bit (and sweating profusely), I realized that the basic secret of Internet Connection Sharing is that the internet-connecting PC serves as a poor man’s router, and assigns IP addresses back through the network to the other pcs that share the connection.  In order to do this, the network must be transparent, that is, the device that connects the pcs must be a hub or switch,  and not a router with pretensions of assigning its own IP addresses.  In the end, the whole arrangement is pretty bullet-proof, and even admirable, despite the fact that it feels like a parlor game using Dixie cups and waxed string pulled taut.

A Day’s Respite

Lots of talk-talk here lately and no photos, though I seem to always have my camera handy.  The weekend before my Houston trip, my wife’s brother flew in from Tennessee, and on Sunday we drove up to Whidbey Island, a long strip of land that meanders from south of Everett to just southeast of the San Juan Islands. 

There’s a place just west of Coupeville called Ebey’s Landing that is a combination national monument/Nature Conservancy acquisition, and offers a terrific little 3 - 4 mile hike that starts on a beach, climbs up to a bluff with great views south to Mt. Rainier, north to Mt. Baker and west to Vancouver Island.  The trail descends to the beach at the half-way point, and you beachcomb your way back to the trailhead.  It’s a great mini-vacation if you only have a day to burn.

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After our hike, we retired to a corny little tavern in Coupeville with an eyepopping view of Penn Cove and Mt. Baker out the window and, if one reclined too rashly in his chair, a less stirring view of some former wildlife.

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Astute Social Commentary, Accidental Division

OK, here’s a quote from the early edition of the Seattle P-I.  I’m sure they will have corrected it by the time morning rolls around, but it was fun while it lasted:

The pipe, about 7 inches long and enclosed with screw caps on both ends, was found by the two shooters just off Interstate 90 near Exit 38.

It had what appeared to be a fuse sticking out of one end and, Urquhart confirmed, it was later found to contain black power, “which by definition is very unstable and extremely dangerous,” he said