Archive for October 2006

Loose in the Palouse

I did another sojourn in eastern Washington this week, spending Wed - Fri in Othello, a small town in the dry-land farming country about 200 miles from Seattle.  Other than working, it was a pretty uneventful three days.  One amusing anecdote - The motel I where I stay in town used to have kitchenette-type rooms with sinks, ovens and fridges, and they had a sign just off the lobby requesting that guests not clean game in their rooms (the area around Othello is a big bird-hunting area).  I always thought that this was a quaint throwback to less sophisticated times.  The motel has since been remodeled, and the kitchenettes are gone, along with the sign.  However, it’s hunting season over there now, and one night I noticed an old guy in the hall going from the laundry room to his room, carrying a plastic bag of some raw-poultry-looking mass, with a long feather sticking out of the opening.  Sure enough, he’d bagged a pheasant that day, and was headed to his room with his prize (there are still fridges in the rooms).

As with my trip the week before, the drive was visually fascinating.  The first dusting of new snow appeared on the upper peaks of the Cascades - here’s a range including Mt. Stuart:

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Here’s the Columbia River just where I-90 crosses it at Vantage.  It’s startling to see such abundant water butted right up against such arid land, with virtually no transition:

On the drive home Friday night, I saw this picket fence of huge wind turbines on the bluffs above Vantage and the Columbia.  There’s a short film of them below, and you can see their almost languid rotation, like a cartwheeling cheer squad for Team Renewable Energy.

Windmill Farm Click to play (2.3 mb)

It’s Hittin’ the Fan

It’s getting nearly impossible to get out for an evening walk in daylight, especially if I’m working out of the house.  We headed out after dinner tonight for our favorite stroll to Gasworks Park.  The park was pitch black when we got there a little before 8, but we ventured in anyway, and were rewarded with an excellent view of downtown, reflected off of a glass-like Lake Union:

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We were confronted with an interesting contrast in political views in our respective restrooms, and the stark reality that campaign rhetoric has reached a low point. The mens’ perspective is on the left, the womens’ on the right.  The handwriting’s a little different, but I have this sneaking suspicion that they’re written by the same person, on different nights, on different meds:

Either that, or they’re trial balloons created by some savvy campaign consultants, who even now are looking at pictures of me taking pictures of their test advertising (an unwelcome development for the guy monitoring the womens’, probably) and rushing to buy media time based on what they see.  Cover and duck!

Commercial Break

I spoke in my last post about working in eastern Washington last week.  I only get over there once a year or so and, if I’m fortunate enough to be making the trip in daylight, I’m always fascinated by the terrain and the sere landscape.  Some of you may be surprised to discover that much of Washington state east of the Cascade Mountains is sagebrush desert, dotted with irrigated oases of grain, fruit and (yay!) wine-grape production.

The client I visited has been growing grapes and producing wine for almost two decades, and last year opened a tasting facility and first-rate restaurant in Richland in the tri-cities.  If you’re ever over visiting or doing the increasingly popular Washington wine tours, make a point of stopping there.  I recommend the paella, accompanied by the Mourvedre, for dinner.  Drop my name only if you’re fast enough to outrun the consequences:

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On the drive home, I stopped at several rest stops and viewpoints that I usually blaze on by:

It’s startling to see snow-covered Mount Rainier rising as if from the desert floor (plus, a little history/geography lesson):

Paddled but not Spanked on My Birthday

Yesterday was my Heinz birthday, and I celebrated by hauling myself out of bed and hooking up with a couple other kayakers for a 13-mile paddle around Mercer Island in Lake Washington.  It took a little bit of self-persuasion, as I had spent the previous two days working in eastern Washington, and just wanted to drink long draughts of sleep on Saturday morning.  It looked like pretty nice weather outside, though, and I knew I’d kick myself later for not carpe-in the diem.

The paddle got off to a rocky start, for me, anyway, when the trip leader, and experienced paddler whose knowledge of all things sea-kayaking I respect, determined that my paddling technique, the one I’d used over hundreds of miles of blissful sailing, was crap and needed revision.  So, I spent most of the ride just concentrating on repositioning my hands on my paddle and on its motion through the water.  As a result, I didn’t take many photos, nor did I pay as much attention to my surroundings as I usually do.  I think ultimately that it helped - I think it’s cured an annoying tendency of any boat I’ve paddled to bear leftwards, which is counterintuitive since I should be stronger on the right side.  Anyway, boring boring - Here are a few photos from the paddle - 2 of me and one of my accomplices with Mount Rainier and the Boeing Renton plant in the background:

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I returned home to a freshly-baked birthday cake with a wisely-discounted candle-count (5.7, a 1:10 scale).  And, it wouldn’t be a Heinz birthday without a little sauce:

Sunday Junk Drawer

I’m really glad we got out on that hike Monday.  The weather turned gloomy, wet and cold for the weekend.  We haven’t turned the heat on yet - we’re gritting our teeth (to keep them from chattering) and tip-toeing past the thermostat, because we all tacitly recognize that twisting its dial is tantamount to switching summer off for good.

I had to work all day Saturday, so I didn’t get to see my Buckeyes’ vivisection of Michigan State.  I’m converting a client over to new accounting software, and they’re going live Monday morning, so there are a lot of mission-critical threads running through my days and Saturday onsite was a necessity.  I could have tuned the game in on internet radio, but the one Columbus station I know of that broadcasts online wanted $6, so I followed the strange little real-time recap on instead.  It actually was a better fit with the work I was doing, since I could ignore it for long spans of time, then catch up with a quick ‘Alt-Tab’.

While it was amusing to reflect, in my previous post, on the admonishment for bus-ride behavior handed to the Wisconsin band, it shades into the bizarre when a professional symphony’s behavior has to be called out.  Some in the Seattle Symphony are miffed that Gerard Schwarz’s contract was extended, and that he has given some plum contracts to a couple of star-power performers.  “Symphony Musicians Warned on Improper Behavior“, the P-I headline said - much the same as the articles on the Wisconsin band, actually.  Among other things, the article detailed:

Stimulated by the renewal of Schwarz’s contract in the spring, the conflict became increasingly nasty and violent: instruments were vandalized, cars keyed, anonymous phone calls made, mail stolen from backstage mail slots and doorbells at musicians’ homes rung anonymously at night.

The old doorbell game!  The one we used to pull on my poor grandmother when we were second-graders!  However, it gets a little more serious:

In late September, Cerminaro (a french horn player (or do they call them “freedom horns” now) ~ ed) found in his Benaroya mail box a razor in a magazine and, in a separate episode, a cup of hot coffee, both of which could have caused serious damage to his hands.

Compared with this, you could say that the Yankees are treating A-Rod with genteel disdain.  And while the Wisconsin band will make some adjustments and get on with life, I think it’s a very good thing that this Seattle gang doesn’t ride a bus to its performances.

Tales of the Mitten State

It seems that contact with the University of Michigan football program just brings out the worst in people. Wayne Woodrow Hayes, for instance, who would be skipping hand in hand with Mother Theresa through the Elysian fields of eternity were it not for a nationally-televised outburst or two in Ann Arbor. (Well, that and that Clemson thing.) It certainly brought out the worst in the architect who designed their stadium. And then there’s the sad case of former UM head coach Gary_Moeller, a good Ohio boy lured to the dark side, and his eventual destruction.
I bring this up not simply because I have nothing worthwhile to say - two news items in the last 24 hours underscore yet again this unhappy affinity. In the first, a fellow has been arrested in Ann Arbor for allegedly stalking coach Lloyd Carr and posting threatening emails. The fact that the guy has never attended the university didn’t immunize him from the curse. The most chilling part of the story for me personally, however, was this:

Akinmusuru was arraigned Thursday on charges of using a computer in a crime, malicious use of telecommunications and malicious annoyance by writing, campus police spokeswoman Diane Brown said. He faces up to one year in jail if convicted. (emphasis mine)

I thought I was reasonably safe prattling away here as long as I avoided slandering or libeling anyone except people everyone hates anyway. “malicious annoyance by writing” lowers the prosecutorial bar significantly. You guys are all having a good time, right? Can I pour you another drink or anything?
The second episode involves the University of Wisconsin band, which is now on Double-Secret Probation for unspecified depravities on its bus ride home from Ann Arbor:

The school is not releasing details on what happened during the trip to the Sept. 23 game. But Chancellor John Wiley described it in a letter to the band’s director as behavior “that can be seen as anything from boorish and offensive to patently dangerous and unlawful.” Wiley warned in the letter he would consider suspending activities and travel of the band or replacing its leadership if there were more reports of “gratuitous vulgarity, sexualized banter or joking, hazing, or other forms of demeaning conduct.”

I may be just another old crock, but I’m shocked and dismayed to hear of this from an august fellow Big Ten musical institution. When I was in the OSU band, our bus rides were used for studying, or writing letters to our mothers, or attending to our devotions. In its more delusional moments, Wisconsin likes to think of itself as the Stanford of the corn belt. Since the Stanford Band is blacklisted at more stadiums than Janet Jackson’s breasts, the Badgers may be making concrete progress toward that goal.
Let’s hope this contagion doesn’t extend westward on I-94 to East Lansing, where my Buckeyes will play the Spartans tomorrow.

A Week Away, A Monday Interlude

It’s been pretty sparse around here, I agree. I spent last week working in Milwaukee, and just felt really stale, like I’m going in circles and writing the same things each month. I did learn a couple of things on the trip:

  • from a guy who worked for a company that made joint replacements sitting next to me on a plane, I learned that artificial cartilage, like the stuff they injected into Randy Johnson’s knee a couple of years ago, is made using rooster combs
  • from the same guy, that you really have to be careful that the patient getting that injection doesn’t have any bird allergies.  Apparently, people don’t always have this information at their fingertips, and it becomes an emergent problem when you opt to be partially constructed of one of the little buggers
  • prosthetic hips and knees are evolving from mostly titanium construction to metal alloys that simulate ceramics, because titanium is becoming relatively scarce.  Reducing the incidence of rust, and that green stuff that forms on copper, I guess.  They’re also trying to remove less bone when they install a hip or knee.  So that when you need the second one, there’s enough bone left there to swap the old one out.

I walked gingerly off that plane, feeling a tingling in my hips and a weakness in my knees, and not at all the same sensation as when a 10-level hottie walks by - my fervent desire at that point was merely to treat my joints better.

OK, back home, the weekend was a bit gloomy and a lot chilly, and we hung close to home.  We did get out Saturday night with some friends to the Baltic Room, where KEXP DJ Derek Mazzone was spinning a mix of his eclectic world music.  We look forward to his world pop music show on Tuesday nights (6 - 9 Pacific - catch it from KEXP in a streaming broadcast).  It got ugly later - we danced.

The weather turned break-your-heart fall sunny on Monday, and I decided that, before anyone could figure out that I was back in town, we should head for the mountains for one last fling with summer.  It ain’t over ’til I say it’s over.  Our son was available to accompany us, and we did the Granite Mountain hike in the Cascades east of Seattle.  It’s 4 miles one way, with 3800 feet of elevation gain on the way.

The hike starts in forest cover for a mile and a half, then breaks out into steep meadow and slide chutes.  The ground cover is mostly scrub maple and blueberry, which at this time of year is turning bright reds and purples.  The photo on the right below looks down on I-90, whose drone provided the auditory backdrop, with an arrow to our parking lot.  There was a lot of climbing!

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Blueberries were ripe, and beginning to turn into delectable blueberry raisins.  If you look closely at this photo, you can see some blonde wildlife burrowing gleefully into the foliage:

From our lunch stop, we could see the fire lookout that was our goal (lower right). God, I needed that lunch stop. I have to admit that the trail was really kicking my ass, perhaps the “lake effect” of relative inactivity in Milwaukee. I run or walk every evening there, but I don’t get my Nautilus workouts. As hard as I was working, our kid was just blistering up the trail, and many times I was disheartened to catch a glimpse of him a quarter-mile or more ahead.

And I could tell he was doing to us what I used to do to him and his mom when he was young and prone to foot-drag when he didn’t want to be on a walk or hike: I’d be trying to keep a pace, and they’d fall back, but I knew that if I slowed down, they’d slow down even more, so I’d keep pushing.  And now the bugger’s doing it to me.

Once we got to the lookout, we were rewarded with a panoramic view - south to Mount Rainier, its late-summer glaciers glistening in the lowering sun, north to Glacier Peak (you can see it in the middle photo, in a notch between two peaks in the foreground), and east toward Snoqualmie Pass.


I might be travelling in circles, but they’re nice circles to be travelling in.


My Buckeyes played Iowa last night in Iowa City. Night games on the road are a real horror-show for a visiting team, as the fans have had an extra 6 or 7 hours to tailgate beyond their normal kickoff, and the atmosphere is electric, loud. Night games used to be the exclusive province of LSU and a few other southern schools, but ABC/ESPN has, belatedly, begun featuring a nationally-televised Saturday night game. I think they had to await the passing of Lawrence Welk before the environment for ratings competition was favorable.
For us on the west coast, inured to being jarred out of bed at 8:59 am for a 9:00 kickoff, the night kickoff is downright civilized. Last night, for the first time, Mrs. Perils deigned - no, actually requested - to accompany me to the sports bar where OSU alumni gathered to watch the game. Perhaps she wanted to see firsthand her competitor for my passion; maybe she also wanted to ensure that it was only about the football.
Since OSU won, it was a congenial, if raucous, experience. Interspersed between plays, we had interesting conversations with our neighbors. It took Mrs. Perils a quarter or more to get the hang of this. Due to my long experience, I have an internal clock that somehow knows when the ball is about to be snapped, and I adapt the diction of my conversation so that I can apply a period to a sentence just in time to turn to the TV and watch the play. My interlocutors in these environs are similarly endowed, and respect and appreciate my reciprocation. Mrs. Perils, on the other hand, could have been flagged several times for compound-sentence violations extending through the snap. Our neighbors were very courteous, however, and applied the advanced technique of pretending to follow a conversation, even feigning eye contact, while actually being totally engrossed in the play on the television. The fortuitous placement of TV screens in every possible sight line in this sports bar greatly facilited this ruse.
One fellow we talked to graduated from OSU a year after I did, in accounting, no less. We compared notes about a couple of common professors and the highlights - highly expurgated in my case - of our careers. He had first worked for, then purchased a franchise of, a farm implements manufacturer, sold it, and seemed to be simply at loose ends. He had flown to Seattle the previous week from a midwestern city in order to interview outfitters for a prospective Kilimanjaro climb. This was sufficient entree for a substantive conversation with Mrs. Perils.
Another fellow next to us I’d seen at these gatherings before. He’d alway seemed sort of terse, wrapped pretty tight and not very tolerant of errant play by the Buckeyes. Here’s someone, your biases tell you, whose personal and professional life is a shambles and who places all of his need for personal affirmation on the backs of a sports team. Well, under cross-examination by Mrs. Perils, it turns out he has a PhD from OSU in something like solid state engineering, and works for a large local software company not known to suffer fools.
Fine. I’ll always have the ‘71 Rose Bowl. Oh, wait, we lost that one.
As the game wound down and OSU was busy killing the prisoners, the TV cameras flitted around the stadium focusing on the glum faces of the Iowa students. Each time the camera would alight on a crestfallen, Hawkeye-imprinted visage, the whole room in loud unison would say, “AWWWWWWWW!” While this was amusing, I turned to a guy next to me and said, “Well, when time runs out, those kids will still be 19 and screwing their brains out.”, a point no one could argue.
Later, after we’d gotten home, I was surprised (and maybe she was, too) to hear that Mrs. Perils was a little hoarse. Like maybe she’d been cheering. A good night’s progress for our football agnostic.