Thursday, March 29, 2007

duck, duck, geese, hummingbird

I'm not really much of a birdwatcher, and I don't take pics of birds very often. But it's springtime, and birds are flying north again, some ending up in unlikely spots:

duck & reflection, lovejoy fountain

duck, lovejoy fountain

A duck in Lovejoy Fountain. I like how it paddles right between the groovy 60's stepstones. The duck probably didn't stay long; there's nothing to eat here, unless it's evolved so it can digest concrete. Which is unlikely. I hope.

Just a couple of months ago, I was photographing snowboarders in almost exactly the same spot. Spring is great, isn't it?

Ducks, Tanner Springs

More ducks, this time in the murky pond in ultra-upscale Tanner Springs Park. This is basically the first animal life I've seen in this supposedly precious and incredibly delicate ecosystem. Which raises an obvious question: There are big signs all over the place scolding you that dogs are Uber-Verboten in the park. Seems that if a dog does its business here, it sets off a catastrophic park-wide chain reaction, leading to total ecological collapse. So what if a duck does its business here? It's basically the same stuff, and they might be putting it directly into the water. If we have a wetland that's so fragile it can't even support the presence of a couple of waterfowl, that's really not something we ought to pride ourselves on, is it? Sounds like poor design to me.

waterfront geese

Some Canada geese in Waterfront Park. This was actually taken back in late October, during the previous migration. This is mostly here to make the title work. Basically I realized I had a couple of recent pictures of ducks, figured I might as well post them, and then tried to think of a clever title. I had a couple of older pics of geese lying around, so I figured, what the heck. I don't think I've posted this one yet, but I could be wrong. At least geese are migratory, except when they aren't.

hummingbird

And now we've veered completely off the original topic. This is one of the Anna's hummingbirds that lives in our neighborhood year-round. Someone has a feeder. Probably lots of people have feeders.

I only know what kind of hummingbird this is because my wife told me. This photo won a bet between her and a friend of ours. And there was booze for all. Yay, hummingbirds! Yay, booze!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

...wherein stuff finally gets labelled...

The more I use New Blogger, the more I think it's not so bad after all. Today I started playing around with the Labels feature, which is their implementation of what everyone else calls "tags". It handles the rel=tag thing, so (hopefully) I don't have to tag posts manually for Technorati anymore. I usually don't bother with that, it's just too much of a hassle. Whether that actually works or not, at least it's nice to finally be able to assign posts to categories. I spent a couple of hours earlier today sorting through old posts and trying to put at least one tag, er, label on each. I'm not quite done with that yet, since I've got about 15 months and 400-some posts to deal with, but I've noticed some interesting trends. Rougly one post in four is tagged "photos", and since I didn't know how to post photos the first few months of this blog, and not every post with photos is tagged "photos", the recent average has got to be a bit higher.

I actually started looking at the label feature because I wanted to do a roundup of my parks posts, which is sort of a niche I've fallen into over time. It's kind of a strange little niche, and it wasn't exactly intentional, but the posts have generally turned out well (so I've thought), and have been popular (by my standards), so I've kept doing it. I was originally just going to do a post with links to all the older park posts, but Labels solve the general case.

A lot of my early posts were tagged "politics", but these have become increasingly rare over time. It's not that I've stopped caring or paying attention. Far from it. Primarily I felt I didn't get into the whole blog thing just to be another screaming head in a partisan echo chamber. I mean, I think I could be pretty damn good at that if I wanted to, but saying "me too" all the time isn't very rewarding, no matter how well you word it. Besides that, I also realized that writing about politics tends to make me agitated and unhappy, far more than simply reading about the subject would do. Some people, talk radio fans for example, seem to get a thrill out of being angry, but I don't. And it doesn't help that political posts tend to reel in the wingnuts. If they had anything interesting to say, that might not be so bad, but most of the time they just drop by to declare that anyone who won't worship Dubya has to be tortured and killed for Jesus, stupid crap like that. So most of the time I just don't bother. Which is not to say that I won't, it's just that I usually don't.

One odd bit is that during all the label tweakage, Blogger kept sending scores of page views my way, close to a hundred of 'em, I think. I've generally stopped paying attention to the whole referrer-page thing that used to be a staple here, but with that many it becomes another story. I still have some formatting and cleanup to do on the list, and there are bound to be duplicates to weed out, but once I've done that there'll be a nice long list of blogs, pseudo-randomly assembled for your enjoyment. Won't that be delightful?

Monday, March 26, 2007

mondaypix

326flowers1

pearl-weed

326flowers3

blade

holladay

326flowers2

It's Monday, and it's spring, so of course it's time for more plant photos. Enjoy, or whatever.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Stanich Park expedition

stanich-park3

Some photos of Simon G. Stanich Park, a tiny, obscure, and very weird little spot up in the Overlook neighborhood of North Portland. Never heard of it, right? I hadn't until I ran across this post over at alt.portland, which piqued my curiosity:

The [Going St.] Overpass sits in the Si Stanich Park, a tiny square commemorating Simon Stanich, an architect and neighborhood activist. The park, and the stone that commemorates it, have really seen better days. It once housed a park bench, but now only the supports for a park bench, and a lot of trash.


I have a real predilection for the tiny, the obscure, and the weird, and over time I've ended up with a semi-regular series of posts about unknown and forgotten city parks, landmarks, monuments, and such. So once I heard about this place, I had to know more.


View Larger Map

A quick search of the interwebs led me to a more detailed post at WalkingPortland, and another mention of the place at Pudgy Indian. But that's about it. The city itself has nothing to say about the place. The closest they've got to it is the mysteriously-named "Mocks Crest Property", which is a few blocks away and clearly a different place. Beyond that, nothing. That settled it. I had to go find the place and see for myself.

(There's a fascinating piece at CafeUnknown about the Overlook area. It doesn't mention the park or the overpass but has a photo of a "nameless park" in the area, several blocks due west of here.)

Updated: I found a couple more photos of the place on Flickr: One of the park itself, and two photos of the footbridge.

Stanich Park is actually quite easy to get to, if you know it's there. If you look at this Google Map, in the lower right-hand corner you'll see the Prescott St. MAX station. So if you get off the Yellow Line train there, and walk a couple of blocks west to Concord Avenue, you'll come to a rather beat-up looking pedestrian overpass over busy Going St.:

stanich-park1

The park itself is lurking right beneath the spiral ramp for the overpass. Just walk past the start of the ramp, back to where you'd expect to find a tiny homeless camp or something, and you're there. Here's a grand panorama of the place, such as it is:

stanich-park2

Yep, this is the whole thing. Lovely, isn't it? At least nobody's going to hassle me for posting tedious photos of flowers from here, because there aren't any. This place literally is "where the sun don't shine".

Here's the grand tour: An irregular-shaped brick plaza the size of a small patio. Some park bench supports, but no park bench -- but really, would you want to sit there? (If you look at the photo in the WalkingPortland piece, the bench was still there just a year ago.) Nearby, a garbage can, and some trash lying around. And finally, the stone marker giving the name of the place. The top photo shows one side of the marker, and here's the other side:

stanich park 4

Wait, what's this? The west-facing side of the marker calls it "Simon G. Stanich Park", and the east side calls it "Si Stanich Square". So which is it? Both? Neither? Maybe the brick part is the square (despite not actually being a square), which is part of the larger park (with the ramps, the scraggly fir tree, the rusty streetlight pole, etc.). But why? Who knows?

The inscription isn't too readable in this photo. It reads: "By City Council resolution 9-3-73 Dedicated 8-1-76". So it was the 70's. Maybe there's a real reason the park seems to have two names, but for now I'll just blame it on the 70's.

The bit on the other side quoting from the Gettysburg Address (...Of the People, By the People, For the People) seems kind of grandiose for this location, but maybe it was a bicentennial thing.

stanich-park5

Here's a closeup of the portrait on this side of the stone. I'd guess this is Mr. Stanich himself, with later embellishments added by various artists.

What the stone doesn't tell us is why the city named this place after him. The WalkingPortland piece speculates he's connected to Stanich's, a popular burger place in NE and SW Portland that's been a local institution for decades. I've never been there myself. I thought about dropping by for a little "research", but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Their classic burger comes topped with a pile of ham and a fried egg, a prospect I regard with no small amount of trepidation. Here's someone's photo of a Stanich burger, so you can make up your own mind. In any case, the connection's purely speculative anyway.

The Multnomah County Library's searchable Oregonian database only goes back to 1988, well after the park was dedicated. Here's an article from May 1990 about a Si Stanich who was then running for a Metro council position. The piece describes him as a 70-year-old retired architect and neighborhood activist. Subsequent articles note that he didn't win the election. And here's his obit, from November 1996. No mention of burgers anywhere, which is kind of a shame. It'd be a good story.

Note the dates: Park dedicated 1976. Deceased 1996. This illustrates one of the lesser-known dangers of naming things after living people. The usual argument is that you shouldn't do this because the honoree can still do something terrible, even though he's been famous and well-regarded for years. Think OJ, or Neil Goldschmidt for example. But the party bestowing the honor can screw up too. Imagine what it must be like: The city holds a big dedication ceremony and names a city park after you. Granted, it's not a very big park, but it's an honor anyway. But soon the city completely forgets about the place and lets it fall into disrepair, while you're still alive. I don't know how Mr. Stanich felt about that, but if I was in that position I'd have to say it would rankle a bit. Ok, a lot. I'd be inclined to drop by regularly and pick up the garbage in "my" park and shoo the drug dealers away and so forth. But that would be wrong on so many levels. Nobody should have to do that.

Something to consider if anyone offers to name something after you. If it was me, I think I'd decline the honor. Especially a place like this. If the naming really was meant as a compliment, it's certainly one of the more backhanded ones I've ever seen.

Updated 3/29/11: Thanks to the library's new Oregonian historical archives, we now have some answers. An August 1, 1976 article about the park's dedication is titled "Street fighter to be honored". It seems Mr. Stanich led neighborhood opposition to the city's plan to widen Going St. from four to six lanes. (It's currently up to 5 lanes). He also helped lobby for the overpass here, which was intended to let neighborhood kids get to school safely. The article goes on to explain that everybody liked the guy, although it still isn't clear why he got a park and a one ton rock with his face on it, an honor rarely bestowed on neighborhood activists who fight city hall. Especially ones who fight city hall and win. The article includes a photo of Mr. Stanich in front of his namesake park.

A previous mention, on September 4, 1975, merely says that "In other business, the council agreed to name an area on the south side of N Going Street at Concord Avenue 'Si Stanich Square'".

An April 19, 1974 article covers the neighborhood petition against the street widening, for a little more background on that effort.

Another interesting and unrelated mention of Mr. Stanich: A November 16, 1960 article mentions him in passing in connection with a Portland Art Museum architectural exhibition titled "Form Givers At Mid-Century", with a photo of several men in bow ties posing with a model of New York's Seagram Building. I'm not sure there could be anything more quintessentially 1960 than that, not without adding an atomic monorail or something.


Stanich Park

If you took any upper-division humanities courses in college, say 10-15 years ago, you might recall your instructors had this secret, private, impenetrable language that used the words "signifier" and "signified" a lot. While I'll admit to an imperfect, non-Ph.D. understanding of the lingo, I'd suggest this is a good illustration of the basic notions involved. The monument, the name of the park, the "signifier", is the park. Other than it, there's nothing of significance here, no place, no identity. Nobody would call it a park (or a square) if the sign wasn't here. For all intents and purposes, it really is the park. There's a signifier, and no signified, which is (or was) quite the sign of cultural sophistication, apparently. If you took the sign away, poof, no more park. If you put it somewhere else, that's where the park would be. Mass-produce them in a sweatshop somewhere in China, and then all of the copies are the park. Take a photo of the sign, leave it on your kitchen counter, or put it on the interwebs, and that's the park too. Isn't this fun?

Quite honestly, I always thought the whole thing was just an intellectual parlor trick. Sure, it's interesting. Sure, it's flashy and exciting. But in the end, so what? As a practical matter, all it meant was that clueless boomers with tenure would give you an A+ every time you wrote a paper that mentioned Madonna or MTV. Suckers.

But I digress. It's a fairly decent monument, by modern standards of stonework. Ok, it kinda looks like a headstone, but that's where the money is anymore. In any case, the thing deserves a better setting than this.

stanich-park6

Here's a closeup of the side of the monument. I think this is supposed to tell us who carved it. I can't quite make out the name, though. I think it says "Jim Mounce". I ran across one recent mention of a stonemason by that name, located out on the coast. So that's a possibility.

The other lettering above the name I can't make out at all. I didn't even notice it was there until I got the photo home and looked at it.

stanich-park7

So this is from the middle of the square, looking up through the center of the spiral ramp. Nothing much to say about this, I just sort of liked this photo.

Spiral Ramp, Stanich Park

I feel really sorry for the poor, spindly, light-starved fir tree in the center of the spiral ramp. But perhaps the tree was a really horrible person in a past life, and we're watching bad karma in action. I guess there'd really be no way to prove that, would there?

going_overpass1

Looking north across the Going St. overpass. It's amazing how rusty everything is here. You'd think they'd have taken our climate into account when choosing their materials, but no.

There's something about most pedestrian overpasses that screams "urban blight". The surrounding neighborhoods are perfectly decent and respectable and all that, it's just this bridge that looks dodgy. Not falling-down dodgy, it just looks like it'd attract criminals from miles around, just to come and hang out on it and wait to mug you. Actually nobody was there except me, and I survived the experience just fine. The rusty chain-link cage around the thing just puts the idea in your mind, is all, and once it's there you can't shake it.

There's a compelling argument that pedestrian overpasses over roads are a sign of poor urban planning. The road was designed in such a way that it can't accommodate pedestrians safely, or at all. The overpasses are typically added to the construction plan solely to appease unhappy neighbors, and are built with a minimum of money and design effort, often ending up as scary eyesores.

I wonder if the "park" itself was another goodie thrown in to appease the neighbors? I suspect it went in around the same time as the overpass, along with Going St. in its current semi-freeway form. Perhaps Stanich fought against the plan, or for the overpass. The true story surely exists somewhere in dead tree format, but I don't know where to find it.

going_overpass2

This is Going St., looking west. No sidewalk on the south side of the street, and an unused trash-strewn one on the north. The road is this wide because it's the primary corridor connecting I-5 and the Swan Island industrial area. So you could make a reasonable counterpoint to the planning argument I just mentioned, and argue that the road is critical to the regional economy, and simply has to be laid out this way, regardless of any fuzzy-wuzzy aesthetic concerns. I dunno. I still think they could've done a better job with the bridge.

So why did I bother with the bridge in the first place? Check this out:

going_overpass3

For some unknown reason, the chain-link cage around the bridge has attracted a small colony of padlocks. Nobody knows who put them here, or why. Nobody knows how long they've been here, but it's obviously been a long time. And in all that time, nobody's come by to remove them. Is it someone's trophy collection, for all the locks they've picked, or bikes they've swiped, or something? Or is it Art, officially sanctioned or otherwise? It's all so mysterious...

Locks, Concord Ave. Overpass



Updated 5/1/07: This parks levy document from the city mentions something called Roy Beach Park, at Concord Ave. and Going Ct., which would be at the north end of the skybridge, across the bridge from Stanich Park. This seems to be the only mention in existence of this park, making it even more obscure than Stanich Park. Unlike Stanich Park, there isn't even a monument marking the spot. So although I was there briefly, I didn't realize it until a few minutes ago. Mysterious, indeed...

Updated: Said mysterious park is now run by the Water Bureau, which prefers to call it "Pittman Addition" for some reason. One would hope that Mr. Roy Beach isn't around to witness his name being yanked off the thing, at least.

Friday, March 16, 2007

more wasted hours at the movies

If you number among this blog's nano-legion of longtime Gentle Reader(s), you may have occasionally, idly, wondered just how much time I waste on watching bad movies. Well, probably not, but let's suppose you did, purely for the sake of argument.

I've always had a thing for bad movies. As a kid, my two main sources for cinematic thrills were the late, lamented Aloha Theater, and afternoon movies on channel 12 (back when it was one of five total TV stations, the scrappy independent underdog against the 3 networks plus PBS). Stop-motion monsters? Great. Guys in rubber monster suits? Fantastic. Scripts that don't make any sense? Cool. Ridiculous dubbing? Yes, please, I'll have another.

I have a theory about bad movies, and about bad art in general. It may not be a very good theory, but it's mine. I'd suggest to you that if you want to understand what was going on in society at a given place and time, you'll learn more by studying that era's fourth-rate crap than you would by studying the timeless classics. First rate work reflects the artist and his or her unique vision, first and foremost. You can learn a lot about the artist, and that can be rewarding in its own way, of course. Fourth rate work generally doesn't proceed from someone's overarching, singular vision. Someone's churning out stuff they think will sell, in order to pay the rent and put booze, er, food on the table. In the "subsistence filmmaking" world, you can't afford to go too far out on a limb, or pander to too elite of an audience. To succeed, you figure out what the unwashed masses really want (whether they admit to it or not), and give it to them as best you can. The resulting work isn't an "objective" look at the society it came from, of course, but it can tell you something about the biases of the day, and how that society saw itself. Ok, so that's my theory, and it's not hard to come up with counterexamples. A prime virtue of both Dickens and Shakespeare is that they did say something about contemporary society. But then, they were both working out of economic need, and were only later recognized as geniuses. On the flip side, some bad art results from a singular but really cheesy vision. Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda is an extremely personal statement.


So here's the latest batch of B movies, for good or ill...
The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave

An Italian horror movie dubbed into English. I guess I don't really get Italian horror movies. Italy doesn't seem like a place where you'd get a lot of horror films; if you've got sunshine and wine and olives every day, why spend a single moment thinking about serial killers, or zombies, or cannibals? It doesn't make sense, but there you go. What I really don't get is that the film's serial killer turns out to be the "hero" of the film, in a late plot twist, and the baddies were out to lay their hands on his money. I suppose we can chalk this one up to Cultural Differences. The mod 60's cottage at the end is pretty cool, though. And although the film's supposed to be set in England, it's the least convincing imitation you'll ever see, which is sort of a hoot. I understand that the dubbed English version was seriously cut for US release, and I missed out on scads of luscious Euro-sleaze. Damn. I suppose there's no point in waiting around for the director's cut, is there?
Riders to the Stars

A very early SF film about a group of clean-cut white guys training for a flight into space. In the end, three are selected, and one survives, and I suppose you're supposed to draw some sort of "survival of the fittest" conclusion about who survives and who doesn't. I'm not sure. Also, there's the requisite love interest thing, and they live happily ever after, naturally. One interesting bit is that the omnipresent Richard Carlson is one of the guys who doesn't make it, having a legendary bad-movie freakout and trashing his spaceship in the process. Oh, and Carlson directed the film, too. Read into that whatever you like. There's a scene in the film where the ever-present icy female scientist automatically serves coffee to the menfolk. The movie generally strives for a sense of realism, and a prof back in college once told me this really was expected of you back in those days. You could get all the postgraduate degrees you liked, but when the ol' percolator started percolating, you were still nothing but a waitress until the boys had their caffeine fix. Ahh, the 50's, such a wholesome and innocent time. Feh.
Beast from Haunted Cave

This is an early Roger Corman effort. There's a gold heist in the beginning, and an icky spider monster at the end, and the rest of the movie is a whole lot of skiing. I think they were trying to cash in on the ski trend of the early 60's. I wasn't around back then, but I've seen my parents' home movies, and they look really similar to this film. Except without sound, and in color, with no spider-beast (in the surviving footage). It's kinda fun to see that snapshot of a bygone subculture, plus the creature holds its own. You don't see a lot of it, because it looks pretty crappy, but it captures people alive, traps them in spiderwebs, and feeds on them at its leisure, sort of like Alien, or Shelob in LOTR. That's way creepier than you'd usually see back in those days.
Them!

The prototypical giant ant movie. It's been a while since I watched this, so I can't comment in great detail like I should. But the large animatronic ants are just classic. And the grand finale in the L.A. sewers, near the Los Angeles River, are pretty great. TIght script, written pretty well, decent dialogue. It's just that everyone laughs because of the basic premise, I mean, giant ants? Jeez. That's crazy. But in the end, the movie exists because some moviemaker learned a little about radioactivity and went "oh, crap". So, ok, you can't really make ants grow to the size of elephants with a few gamma rays. But someone's heart was in the right place anyway. That ought to count for something.
Manos: The Hands of Fate

A lot of people call this the worst movie of all time, ranking up there with Plan 9 and Eegah! I think that's kind of unfair, really. The guy who made this was a fertilizer salesman in El Paso who decided he wanted to make a movie. He had a near-zero budget, zero experience, and he wrote, directed, and starred. Basically your classic indie filmmaker story, except a few decades too early, and with even less talent. The acting is about what you'd expect: The pool of top-rank acting talent in El Paso in the mid-60s seems to have been rather thin, and this movie didn't draw from that pool. We're talking high school play quality here. And making fun of Manos is like making fun of someone's high school play: It was a labor of love, they tried their absolute hardest, and even though they clearly knew next to nothing about their craft, they made up for it with a certain naive, earnest quality. It just isn't very nice to make fun of someone who's trying so hard, whether they succeed or not. Or to switch analogies, Manos is the movie equivalent of folk art, kind of like Grandma Moses, or a velvet Elvis, or the quilters down at the senior center. Again, making fun of it isn't very nice. Plus the guy cast himself as the remarkably clueless "hero" in a film with a decidedly downbeat ending, which ought to count for something. And that "Master" guy, with the robe with the gigantic red hands on it... That's an utterly awesome outfit. I think I may need a Manos robe for next Halloween. That would be the bomb, so long as you're around people who don't need you to explain it. If you have to explain the movie, you're sunk.
Monster a Go-Go

This baby makes a lot of "worst ever" lists. If you're a fan of that sort of thing, you may have heard of MaGG already. Otherwise, probably not. The key thing to know about this movie is that it's a splice job. Director A started movie B ("B movie", get it? Ha, ha.) but ran out of money part of the way through. Director C buys the footage, shoots a bit more of his own, and dumps the thing into the unsuspecting marketplace to make whatever cash he can. It turns out that may have been a good business decision, in the long term. If the original movie had been finished and released, it would've been just another unremarkable creature feature. But take two creature featurettes and awkwardly splice them together, and you've got box office gold. Eventually, anyway, once the ironic bad-movie nerds take notice. As splice jobs go, it's not the worst I've seen. Trail of the Pink Panther is way worse. You get a bit of Peter Sellers doing the usual Pink Panther thing, then he disappears (ok, dies in reality), and the rest of the movie is the world's most annoying female investigative reporter going around interviewing people about the "missing" Inspector Clouseau. Also, Horror of the Blood Monsters is pretty dire too, the usual Jerry Warren hatchet job. Although if you want a taste of vintage Philippine vampire cinema, this version's going to be a lot easier to find than an original film would be. Anyway, back to MaGG, the worst thing about the movie is the ending. It's like they wanted their saturday matinee audience to leave the theater angry, and go out and commit random juvenile offenses to blow off steam. I could say "Spoiler Alert" here, but c'mon, you really don't want to see this POS, do you? If you really don't want me to ruin the end for you, scroll down to the next movie, it's easy. There. Ok, so the good guys are chasing the monster (tall guy in bad makeup), it feels like we're at the climactic scene, the cops are in hot pursuit, etc. But then, the monster just disappears, never to be seen again. And the astronaut it supposedly mutated from is found alive and unharmed, thousands of miles away. So none of the movie's events ever happened, which is undoubtedly for the best. The End. Not very satisfying, is it? Kind of makes you want to go out and do some petty vandalism, doesn't it? Told you so. People usually talk about the bit where a phone rings, and you can hear a person making the ringing phone sound. It's funny, but I bet they just forgot to dub in the right sound later. There's enough awful crap in this movie (like the world's tiniest space capsule, for instance), so why bother taking cheap shots? Heck, there's a bit in Manos where they didn't quite get the clapper edited out at the beginning of the scene, if we're going to harp on bad editing. Besides, it happens so fast that you really can't savor the moment, and if you pause and rewind to see it again, your friends will call you a nerd.
13 Ghosts

One of the lesser-known works of William Castle, the theater gimmick guy. You've heard of him, the guy with the buzzers under the seats, inflatable skeletons, ushers running around the theater dressed as ghosts, that sort of thing. It doesn't hurt that his movies are fun on their own, apart from the gimmicks. Good, clean fun unfortunately, but fun nonetheless.
Monster that Challenged the World

A prehistoric creature hatches deep beneath California's Salton Sea, and sets out terrorizing the few people who live nearby. Can our heroes stop the beastie before it reaches the ocean? Because if it does, there's no stopping it. Present-day movies never present the hero as a grumpy, paunchy, clueless middle-aged guy. Male actors could get away with a lot more back then, I guess. So the movie as a whole isn't great, and the lead actor is the angriest old coot I've ever seen. And the title is laughable. But at least the outdoor settings are pretty creepy. I remember some years ago driving past the Salton Sea with a couple of other people. We knew it was nearby because of the smell, and it wasn't a great smell. Really the worst thing about the movie is the wimpy title. "Challenged"? Feh.
The Monster Walks

Bad gorilla-suit movie meets bad haunted house movie. It's been a while since I watched this, and there wasn't anything all that memorable in it. One ugly bit is that the token black cast member (a chauffeur, if I remember right) is credited as "Sleep-n-Eat". Not the as the character's name, the actor's name. Ugh.
Lost Jungle

This is a cinematic vehicle for one "Clyde Beatty", who I gather was quite the celebrity animal trainer back in the day. Sort of Siegfried & Roy put together, if they were both short sadistic little men with big bullwhips. It seems there was a whole series of Clyde Beatty movies at one time. Elvis, in his cinematic ouevre, would inevitably end up in a situation where he had to whip out his guitar and belt out a forgettable ballad or two. Beatty couldn't act any more than Elvis could, so he fell back on his strengths as well. Instead of crooning at adoring nuns or hula girls, Beatty would just whip the hell out of a lion or tiger or two. None of those wimpy "No animals were harmed in the making of this picture" notices for ol' Clyde. As far as I can tell, the audience loved it and kept coming back for more. And now that they're old, we call these people the "Greatest Generation". Ha. I only watched this because there's a cool 30's zeppelin in it, and all zeppelins are awesome. It's a law of nature, sort of. But it's only there for a short time, and it crashes, and then it's nothing but animal abuse until the credits roll. Yech.
Ghost Ship

Now this is a really, really good movie you've probably never heard of. It's another spooky, atmospheric Val Lewton movie, the same guy who brought us Cat People (the original), and I Walked with a Zombie. There aren't any ghosts here, actually. Nothing supernatural at all. Just a claustrophobic cargo ship with a sea captain who's warm, friendly, and homicidally insane. He's perfectly calm and reasonable as he explains it's his job to exercise power of life and death over every living thing on board. When he has to bump off a crewman, he comes across as rational and unapologetic. He's a tyrant at sea, but on land he folds up into a bitter, lost old man. And the ship puts to sea and he's a tyrant again. As with all Lewton movies, it's all in the details. The sound, and unforgettable visuals like the gigantic hook swinging madly around the deck during a storm, crewmen trying to dodge it.
Psyched by the 4d Witch

I tend to go easy on movies you see on "worst movies ever" lists, like Manos (above), or Plan 9. They really aren't the worst of the worst, not even close. For instance, take Psyched by the 4D Witch. Please. This is without a doubt one of the most godawful, incompetent, nonsensical movies I've ever seen, and that's saying a lot. I don't even know where to begin with this one. It's part groovy psychedelic drug movie, and part amateur softcore exploitation pic. So far so good. But it looks like it was filmed on silent Super 8 stock, and a soundtrack was added later: Inane narration, and music that alternates clumsily between classical (mostly Russian: Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, Tchaikovsky's 1812 and Marche Slave) and the groovy "4D Witch" song of the title. In a way it might not be fair of me to pass judgment on this lil' movie. Watching it without drugs (which I did, I'll have you know) may be like watching a 3D movie without 3D glasses. You just aren't properly equipped. But from my admittedly limited perspective I'd have to say this movie would be a sad waste of perfectly good LSD. You could also be contrarian and argue this movie is so incomprehensible it must, simply must be High Art. I could probably write that film school essay myself if I really wanted to, although it'd be total BS. I gather that it's only Art if the auteur actually intended the work to be messy or incomprehensible. Godard's Breathless is full of awkward jump cuts and people sitting around smoking and talking aimlessly, but it's definitely High Art. Everybody says so, so you can be sure it must be true. On the other hand, there are any number of Doris Wishman films that are superficially similar: Jump cuts, long conversations, plot that doesn't amount to much. But Wishman movies are dreck. Maybe there's a subtle difference, or maybe it's purely a matter of consensus. Who can say?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

How I survived Y2K7

7pm_march12th

So here we all are, wandering the vast smoldering wasteland remaining after Sunday's colossal Daylight Savings apocalypse, also known (to some) as Y2K7. It's ok to come out of your DST shelter now, although you'll be faced with a bizarre and alien new world where it's light at 7pm and it's not even St. Patrick's Day yet. Like the photo above, for example.

It turns out that, just like Y2K v1.0 a few years back, I didn't actually need to stockpile a bunker full of dried lima beans, condensed milk, and C4. Which is good, because both times I sort of forgot to panic and didn't buy much of anything. This time around I'd only managed to stockpile less than a day's worth of beer, and I only count it as "stockpiling" in retrospect, and then only because it's funny. Mildly.

So here's how various tech toys of mine weathered the latest storm:

  • The Linux box was easiest. It's Ubuntu 6.10 these days and is already up to date. Almost too easy. Here's a gratuitous picture of the install CD-R, although I'm afraid the tasty Ubuntu bits aren't visible at this resolution.

    ubuntu-cd

  • The Mac was only a little harder. Simple matter of downloading the right patch and installing it. I could've done this manually instead, but that wouldn't really be the Mac way.

  • Haven't sorted out the Blackberry situation yet. The instructions I saw made it sound like a major operation, with reflashing the whole OS and everything. So far I've been too chicken to try it, although the XP box that forwards mail to it has been upgraded, so I probably ought to get the two in sync. Simply changing the timezone to Mountain temporarily doesn't help, since it seems to reset that value

    I may just set the time to 'manual' for a while. That's what my wife did, but where's the challenge in that?

  • The aforementioned XP box, at the office, was updated by following detailed instructions from IT. They sent out a series of emails telling everyone it was MANDATORY to follow the instructions IMMEDIATELY, so I did, good corporate drone that I am. I haven't missed any meetings yet, so I guess that means I colored within the lines successfully. Although all things considered I might be happier if I missed a week of meetings and blamed it on those meddling idiots in Congress.

  • The other office machine is an old Win2k box. I've been meaning to nuke and repave it as a Linux box for a while now, and the DST thing may be the last straw that finally gets me to do it.

  • The old NEC PC-8201a I bought a while back cannot be convinced there's life after 1999. Right now it's like, totally sure it's, like, 1983. I also don't think it understands daylight savings time, period. You have to reset the hour manually, like you do with any other menial electronic gadget ( alarm clock, coffee maker, microwave, camera, etc.)

  • Speaking of cameras, if you look at the EXIF data on the top photo you'll see it says it was taken at 6:09 pm. I forgot to change the date on the thing before taking my "sunny at 7pm in March" shot.

    The picture shows part of the AT&T building downtown, plus a portion of one of the elm trees in Ankeny Park. If you can identify the bird, you have better eyes, or a better image enhancement app, than I do.

  • Solaris was the fun one. I decided I'd upgrade at least one machine manually, for the heck of it. Linux, Solaris, and OSX all use the same Zoneinfo mechanism, and once you've done one, there's not much more to learn from doing the others. I actually looked into prebuilt patches for the Sun box too, but Solaris patches have a way of forming an open-ended dependency tree, in which each patch relies on at least two additional patches you haven't installed yet. So the Ultra 30 became the lucky lab rat this time. Here's a photo of said machine, because I had one handy:

    ultra30

    It's really not that hard to do it the 'hard' way. You grab the source tarball from the official ftp site, hosted at the National Institues of Health (US) for some reason. Back up your existing timezone files (usually in /usr/share/lib/zoneinfo or some such) in case you do something stupid. It's best to just rename the whole directory to something like zoneinfo.old, and create a new empty zoneinfo directory. Unpack the tarball into a temp directory, and run the zoneinfo compiler zic on each timezone file, making sure to do the file named 'backward' last. They don't explain why; just do it. Go look at the zoneinfo directory you created and see if there's files there. If not, lather, rinse, repeat. Otherwise, you've now reached one of those rare times where you need to reboot. Time to kiss that precious 2000-day uptime goodbye. Sorry. Just think of the tasty new-DST goodness you'll enjoy afterward. It'll make it all worthwhile, almost.

    If you call yourself a real geek, you'll enjoy the zoneinfo source files. Sure, you could just treat them as mysterious black-box data files, but maintaining these files is obviously someone's labor of love, and they're heavily commented, full of all sorts of trivia and amusing anecdotes. If you've ever wondered what time it is precisely at the south pole, and why, you'll want to peek at the "antarctica" file.

  • I have to say I'm adapting less well than the electronics have. I look at the clock, look outside, and think it can't possibly be the time the clock says it is, government or no government. It's March, and there's hours of sunlight after I'm off work. It's just unnatural, that's what it is.

Monday, March 12, 2007

monday flower semi-deluge

treeblossom1

If you're bored with flowers, today's not your lucky day. Sorry.

I actually have a list of non-seasonal, non-botanical topics I really do mean to post about Real Soon Now. I mean it. Honest. But my free time is somewhat less than copious at the moment, so for right now here's yet another batch of spring flowers. If it's any consolation, someday the novelty's bound to wear off, or my camera will break or something, and I'll stop, probably.

I don't know what kind of tree the top photo is of. Nice flowers, but that's all I can tell you about it.

Updated: With regard to the identification of various plants, I stand multiply corrected. See user comments below. Wherever I say "this is an X", feel free to suppose there's an implicit "not" somewhere in the sentence; it'll all make more sense that way.

Sure, I was a Cub Scout back in the day, but they don't spend a lot of time teaching you how to identify flowers. They probably think it'll turn you gay or something.


Next up, we've got two pics of the (non) dogwoods around the infamous Rusting Chunks No. 5 sculpture, in downtown Portland.

pink_dogwood

white_dogwood

The (non) dogwoods are really the only appealing feature of the whole plaza, and they're only in bloom for a couple of weeks in early spring. The place is supposedly a city park, but there's no sign, it doesn't show up on the city parks department's website, and it doesn't seem to have a name. In a spirit of selfless civic-mindedness, I'd like to help out with that last bit. We often fancy ourselves to be quite the upscale, Euro-pretentious sort of town here, so I propose the place be called La
piazza dei pezzi d'arrugginimento
, which Google Translate claims is Italian for "piazza of rusting chunks".


daffodils_lit

More daffodils. These were in front of an office building, right next to a bright floodlight. Generally speaking, I'm done with daffodils for the season, but I thought it was an interesting effect with the floodlight. Feel free to disagree, though.


snowdrops

Some (totally not) snowdrops in a planter somewhere downtown. Not my favorite spring bulb, but hey, 'tis the season.


treeblossom2

Have you figured out what sort of tree this is yet? Me neither.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Monday, March 05, 2007

rain, rain, gone away

Scenes from today's rare bit of sunshine. Ok, actually they're mostly pics of flowers, as usual. Sadly, it is my way.

Most of these pics are from around Riverplace and Waterfront Park. If you'd rather read something a little more substantial about this area (among other things), check out the latest post at Cafe Unknown. Every good Portlander knows that we tore out a freeway to put in Waterfront Park. But most people have never heard about what possessed our forebears to put a freeway there in the first place. If you've ever wondered about that, now's your chance to learn all about it.

For anyone who's still here, here are those photos I mentioned:

riverplace_crocuses

Crocuses at Riverplace. Not to be confused with the classic 80's metal band Krokus.

Actually I think I made that joke last year, right around this time. It feels kind of stale. But at least this year I have photos to compensate for the stupid jokes. I hadn't yet figured out the photoblog thing a year ago. Believe it or not.


riverplace_flowers

A bunch of flowers I can't identify, also at Riverplace.


satan_shiny

Detail of the infamous "Satan's Testicle" sculpture across the street from Powell's. Please note the unusual presence of sunshine.


riverplace_azaleas

Some azaleas, once again at Riverplace.


morrison_geese

Geese lurking on a girder under the Morrison Bridge. Because they can, I guess.


waterfront_azalea

Another azalea, this time in Waterfront Park. As far as I can tell, this is the very first one to bloom out. But I didn't undertake a rigorous survey, so I might've missed the others if they're out there.

Friday, March 02, 2007

rain, rain, go away

It's Friday, so it's time for photos. I guess. I used to do photo Fridays all the time, but there's a serious lack of material this time of year and I've gotten out of the habit.

violet

daffodils

Flowers in planters on NW Couch, in the Pearl. Not much to say about these pics, other than that I got really wet trying to take them. I really go to the mat for you guys, and I don't make a single freakin' cent doing it. Just remember that next time I make a typo, or alternate present and past tense in a sentence, or something.

I usually turn up my nose at flowers in planters, but I figured I could get some good(ish) Raindrops On Flowers shots out of 'em, and here they are.


cigar

Discarded cigar on the sidewalk, near Rusting Chunks No. 5. The brand, "La Aroma de Cuba", seems to be well thought of, but it looks like someone didn't agree.

Back in his heyday, Dave Barry once said that cigars smell like someone set fire to an armpit. And expensive cigars smell like someone set fire to a very expensive armpit. Just try to convince me he was wrong. Just try.


ankeny_work

A city work crew messing around with vegetation in Ankeny Park. This is why I'm glad I have an indoor job.

BTW, the latest rev of the "Three Urban Parks" plan envisions no changes to Ankeny Park. Which is sort of what I figured. They insist it's because of the proposed Burnside/Couch couplet stuff, but they never had any cash allocated for the project anyway. But then, even if there wasn't any cash, architects are usually quite happy to produce paper designs of what they'd like to do if cost was no object. So I figure they just didn't know what to do with the place, and neither Starbucks or McMenamins took an interest in the park's vintage public toilet buildings.

Some people just have no imagination at all. Sheesh.


bare_tree

Bare tree in the Pearl. This shot basically embodies all the reasons the month of March is teh sux0r: It's raining, everything's grey, the tree's bare (and it's budding out, which seems to take forever), and nobody's taken the Christmas lights off of it yet.

Also, the area's populated with silly Pearlie twits, people who own a tiny $1M condo and a huge $100K SUV. Ok, that's not quite true. I called the condo "tiny" and the SUV "huge", but in reality the two are exactly the same size. So much for that sterotype, I guess, huh?


medical_plaque

A historical marker next to the freeway ramps at NW 14th & Couch. Seems that OHSU started here, many moons ago. But really this one's mostly here for the grimness and drabness and mud. Blech.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Brave New Blogger

So this is my first post after upgrading to New Blogger. The system's been badgering me to do this for months now, but until today I kept blowing off the constant pleas and entreaties. Despite all assurances to the contrary, I was convinced the upgrade would lose all my old posts, or nuke my custom template tweaks, or something. Finally, this morning, Blogger just said flat-out that I had to upgrade now, so I did. And after a few minutes of suspense... well, nothing looks all that different so far. My posts didn't get trashed, my templates are still as quirky and unattractive as ever, and the world doesn't appear to have ended, at least so far.

You'd think that as a tech geek I'd have jumped at New Blogger the first chance I got, but that's actually the reason I tend to hang back on the trailing edge. When a vendor calls its own a product a "beta", you never use it for Real Work if any reasonable alternative is available. Old Blogger had its many frustrations, but the only time I ever lost any work was when my entire browser crashed, and I can't blame Old Blogger for that. Actually I also lost work once because of a kernel panic caused by a third-party USB device driver. Aggravating, but again entirely not the fault of Old Blogger.

In any case, I figured I ought to try it out with a brief and mostly content-free post (i.e. this one) before trusting it with anything "important". So now I'm going to press the Publish button, and see what happens...