Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Missing Snowpersons

Yet more pics from our fair city's recent snow apocalypse. C'mon, gimme a break, there isn't much else to take photos of right now.

None of the snowpersons pictured are mine. I don't know who made them. I ran across them here and there when I was out walking around town. That's all I know. They all melted a long time ago anyway.


This is an upscale Pearl District snowperson, right in the middle of Tanner Springs Park. When this one melted, the water ended up in the park's incredibly delicate faux ecosystem, probably setting off yet another miniature ecological catastrophe. I probably shouldn't mention this. Next time it snows, the local Tanner Springs fanatics will be out in force, tasering anyone who so much as touches the snow in the park.

Anyway, you know it's an upscale snowperson because of the hat and scarf. The hat and scarf both seem perfectly serviceable, just perhaps not entirely fashionable this year. People will happily abandon a scarf on an imitation person made out of water, but not in a billion years would they give the same scarf to a homeless person who could use it to stay warm.

an edward hopper snowman

This is your basic Edward Hopper snowperson. Sitting on a parkbench at night, forlorn yet stoic, silently waiting for... what?


In contrast, here's a snowperson of the peppy, youthful, collegiate variety. Note the "class of 2009" bit on the bottom. Ah, the carefree dreams of youth, dreams that melt away like... Ok, never mind, I promised there wouldn't be any poetry on this blog.


A workplace snowperson, with pickles for eyes, and a tomato wedge for a mouth. Sure, it's not very good, but it's still awesome. I'm not sure why. It just is. Ok, was.

Monday, January 29, 2007

surly mondayism and assorted crabbage

Ok, see if you can tell whether I'm in a bad mood or not. You have 20 guesses.

  • Candid photo of our Glorious Leader found via Trelanea. In a just world, this pic would show that someone has mad Photoshop ski11z, but in our world it probably appears exactly as it happened. I read somewhere that you're no longer required to eat a live kitten to join the Republican Party. But some diehards maintain a stubborn devotion to the Party's age-old rituals. It's sort of like their version of celebrating Mass in Latin, or so I'm told.
  • You probably haven't noticed, and you probably wouldn't care if you had, but I'm still using the Old Blogger. I keep seeing glowing reports about New Blogger, and you'd think that as a professional tech geek I'd be really big on the whole early adopter / bleeding edge thing, but I'm not. Trailing edge all the way, baby. I'm basically convinced that if I hit the "upgrade" button, Blogger will lose every word I've ever written, and furthermore, I'm basically convinced that would be a bad thing.

    Also, I'm still deeply suspicious about all this newfangled CSS and JavaScript business -- for all we know, it may still turn out to be a passing fad, and we'll all go back to good old 7-bit ASCII text, monospaced font, preferably green on a black background, with a blinking cursor. Hey, it could happen.
  • An update on what's become of Stephanie Pierce, the woman who used to run our fair city's Church of Elvis. It's a sad story. Everyone says they loved the place, everyone babbles on about how wonderfully quirky it was, but when the proprietor falls on hard times and gets a bit too quirky, well, then what? Are longtime CoE fans rushing to her side? Well, no. Not so far, anyway. That's classic Portland: If you want to walk the tightrope, we'll all cheer for you. We'll let you bask in the spotlight, and we'll squeal with glee at your every move. We'll do that for years, well after your 15 minutes are up everywhere else. But we won't, under any circumstances, put out a safety net for you. Because in the end, as Portlanders we don't want to spend any money, and we don't want to get involved.
  • Remember a few weeks ago when I was gloating about saving my employer a big pile of money they were about to blow on a dubious outsourcing scheme? Well, they spent the money, and it's turning out exactly as dubious as I said it would be. 50% cost overrun so far, and they don't seem to have written any code yet, after endless email threads and constant teleconferences and design documents, and on and on.

    I haven't done a lot of gloating around the office, though. In the business world, one is generally not rewarded for saying "I told you so". Oh, nooo, this is the point where we all shrug and act sincerely perplexed and agree that none of us saw the damn iceberg coming, and really there was no way anyone could've guessed it would turn out so badly, etc. I know that isn't true. Hell, probably we all know that isn't true. But nobody's going to go out on a limb and say so. Oh noooo.

    It's one of life's little mysteries that we can all be perfectly decent people on an individual basis, but when we form groups over a certain size we always end up with soul-killing bureaucracies. If I had any insightful theories about that, I might have a bright career in philosophy, or maybe management guru-ism. But sadly, I don't.
  • I didn't go to the big tram grand opening party, because a.) I've already ridden the thing, and b.) There is nothing lamer than a government-sponsored party. Balloon animals for the kiddies. Yay. The same 4 or 5 musical groups that someone at city hall has on speed dial every time there's a big event. Yay. Politicians making speeches. Double yay.

    Besides, it's no fun riding on the thing when everyone gets to ride for free. Me, I've got my employer-provided monthly TriMet pass, so I can go ride the damn thing as much as I want. For whatever my share of the $60M comes to, I think I deserve to ride it a few times.
  • Speaking of that, I'm rather fascinated by the news that OHSU's selling a block of precious South Waterfront land to build an ultra-ritzy old folks' home. They're stoked about this because, apparently, they'll have all these well-heeled geezers right there at their doorstep, all of them potential test subjects.

    Call me crazy, but if I was that age, and looking for somewhere to spend my golden years in uber-upscale urban bliss, I would immediately cross this place off my list. Sure, they'll probably offer a wealth of fun vanity medical treatments, so (for example) you and your beloved Weimaraner can get botoxed together in a luxurious spa-like setting. But in the end, that's not why they want you to live here. The whole time, the medical folks will be eyeing you greedily with their beady little gimlet eyes, just waiting for you to fall and break a hip or something equally lucrative.

    In a way, this is a very, very old idea. We may be returning to the 1700s medical model, in which modern medicine existed to palliate the vague ailments of the rich and fashionable, and everyone else could go get stuffed. Typically one would go spend the social season at a fashionable and luxurious spa town (Bath, Carlsbad, etc.), and the staff would fuss over one's every minor ache and pain, and wring their hands melodramatically over one's nebulous feelings of ennui and/or Weltschmerz. Meanwhile, entire villages of common folk were regularly decimated by cholera, smallpox, and other such ailments, but no matter.

    If this sounds like fun, our Glorious Leader's new health care plan may be the plan for you. What it boils down to, as far as I can tell, is that big business has decided that their employees' health care is just too damn expensive and they don't want to have to pay for it anymore. They've tried HMO's, they've tried employee wellness plans, they've tried everything, but the costs keep increasing well over the rate of inflation, and now it's time to just throw in the towel and be done with it. Nobody wants to be the first big company to dump health coverage, because there might be bad publicity, but everyone wants it off the balance sheet. If that means casting everyone adrift, to sink or swim as they may, so be it. So the Bush plan provides political cover, giving everyone the "right" to buy individual health coverage, in the unlikely event they can afford it.
  • On the other hand, the local TV news coverage of the tram opening mentioned something about the entire 9th floor at OHSU (i.e. the "main" level, where the tram docks ) being turned into an upscale retail/restaurant complex. It's an age-old cheap shot that most doctors only got into the business to fund their real estate and golf hobbies. I'm starting to think the real estate thing has become an all-consuming passion for the guys who run OHSU. I'm starting to wonder whether they wouldn't prefer to dump all that boring medical crap altogether, and just be greedy developers 24/7. I mean, now that the tram's up and running, Marquam Hill is seriously prime real estate, with amazing views and everything. There are plenty of people out there who'd pay millions to have a view like this. One might argue the land's going to waste being used for a mere hospital.
  • Oh, and on top of everything else, the Hubble Telescope is broken again.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

retrobloggage of the second kind


So this is the latest advance in the little-known field of retroblogging, in which one somehow makes use of something from the distant pre-blog past while creating a blog post. Simply writing about the past is not retroblogging; that's just nostalgia. Real retroblogging is an extension of retrocomputing: Posting something you wrote a long, long time ago counts as retroblogging, and I've done that a few times before. It's best if you rescue stuff off of obsolete media, say, 5.25" floppies, and it's even better if it's in an obscure, obsolete document format and you need to figure out how to get it converted. If you don't have anything in obsolete electronic form, in a pinch I suppose you could transcribe something from dead-tree format. It just isn't very geeky that way, is all, and is therefore much less interesting. (Well, unless the content itself is interesting, I guess.)

Retroblogging of the second kind involves using the technology of a distant, bygone era. That's what I'm doing right now. This post is being composed on an ancient NEC PC-8201a, a portable laptop-like gadget from 1983. I found this baby at a surplus store recently for $25, and it's turned out to be surprisingly useful. It's got a full-size(ish) keyboard, albeit a rather nonstandard one, and a couple of apps in ROM: A genuine M$ BASIC interpreter, a terminal program, and the bare-bones text editor I'm using now. Small LCD screen, takes either 4 AA batteries or wall power. It may not be quite as portable as the Blackberry, but it's easier to type on. Sure, the apostrophe is Shift-7, but I can adjust to that, I guess.

Getting text out of this beastie involves a null modem cable and a second machine with a free serial port. A serial port you can throttle down to 300 bps, or 600 if you're lucky. No disk drives, no HD. Just some sort of nonvolatile ram for internal storage, and the serial port. There's also a parallel port, and a few other connectors I'm not familiar with.

Another fun thing you can do with an 8201 is use it as a serial terminal for your friendly neighborhood Unix box. This involves 3rd party hardware if you're on a Mac, since Steve thinks serial ports are terribly passé (ok, except for Xserves), but a Sun has all kinds of ports for you to play with. This came in handy when I was getting my new Sun box up and running, so I could get to the boot PROM prompt without tying up the Mac. Somewhere out there there's a "trs100" terminfo entry, but I haven't needed it just yet.

Since this thing takes batteries, I may need to take it out and do the retromoblog thing once the weather improves. I can just imagine taking it in to some fancy coffee joint where everyone else is sporting the latest MacBook Pro, and see what sort of reaction it gets. That is, if I cared about the sort of reactions I'd get from coffee shop patrons in this town, which I don't. And if I craved attention from total strangers, which I don't.

It's quite odd working with this thing, given the usual assumptions you have coming frm more modern hardware. You're done editing a file, you turn the machine off. You want to do something else, just press the reset button in the back. On a modern machine, all your precious work would be gone, and you might corrupt your hd or something, if you're unlucky. On the Sun, you tell the machine to shut itself off by doing a "shutdown -i 5 -y -g 0". Which is to say, switch to runlevel 5 (the off state), answer yes automatically to the inevitable "are you sure?" prompt, and initiate the shutdown after a zero second delay. On the 8201, you just turn the thing off. You can even pull the plug, and your files are still there when you plug it back in. I'm still not quite sure what sort of memory it's using such that it doesn't lose everything when the power's removed. Flash hadn't been invented yet in 1983.
The text editor on here is bare bones but useful enough. No spell check, obviously, and no mouse, but most of what I need to do I can do with the arrow keys anyway.

I understand there are a few games for this thing too. I tried downloading a Frogger clone for it, but I haven't gotten it working. Something about the BASIC text getting mangled somehow on the trip from Google cache to Mac text file to bits over a serial cable to here. And my BASIC is really rusty, and I'm not sure it would be healthy to unrustify it.

Friday, January 26, 2007

insert replacement post here...

Dammit. I was in the middle of writing a long-ish post in which I asserted that I'm still alive, made lame excuses about why I haven't posted for a few days, and then rambled on about a number of unrelated topics I used to post about more than I do now. Then Safari abruptly died on me, nuking the whole thing in the process. I really don't feel like trying to redo that whole post right now, but I was also going to post a few more snow photos, and here they are:





Thursday, January 18, 2007

Video: A ride on the tram

Here's a video clip from my big tram ride yesterday. Ok, it's not the best video you'll ever see. As usual, I forgot that the camera only wants to film in landscape mode, so the video's sideways until the point where I realized my mistake. Just so you know, the 90 degree rotation you see is merely the camera moving, not the tram as a whole. For $60M, it really ought to be able to do tricks like that, but if it does they're keeping very quiet about it. Anyway, you'll need to turn your head for the first part of the video. Think of it as an opportunity for a little "audience participation". That's my positive spin on the situation, and I'm stickin' to it.

You might note that the video ends part of the way up. This is because my camera batteries died, quite abruptly, at that point. Have I mentioned yet that nobody from Hollywood is returning my calls? It's true.

The audio track includes the operator explaining a few things about how the tram works, so at least the video's kind of educational, somewhat, I guess.

Video: A ride on the tram

D'oh! Blogger got confused and published the same piece twice. If you're looking for my super-exciting tram video, you'll want to go here instead. Enjoy!

Snow Day on the Tram


So today I got to ride our fair city's shiny new aerial tram. Seems that because of all the snow, they decided to temporarily open the thing to the city's non-medical riffraff, people such as myself. They weren't exactly encouraging the public to show up; the announcements said the tram was open to OHSU employees, VA & Shriners hospital staff, patients, and "others" who "need" to travel between Marquam Hill & South Waterfront. I figured that was my opening: I definitely fall into the "other" category, and "need" can be a very, very subjective term when you want it to be. It didn't seem very likely that they'd station a security guard at each end, screening each prospective passenger and rejecting anyone who seemed to merely want to ride it. That wouldn't really be the Portland way. But in case there was a security guard, I figured I'd try to talk my way on board. I'm really not very good at that at all. I almost never succeed at talking my way into anything, but in the worst case I'd just have had to get back on the streetcar and go home. They don't let OHSU grab people off the street for medical experimentation anymore, or at least that's what I've heard.

As I suspected, they were running the opening the Portland way: Open the thing to everyone, but word the announcement in such a way that not a lot of people show up. Imply there are vague, yet strictly enforced, rules on who can board, and let the public imagination run wild. That kind of talk is guaranteed to set off alarm bells with anyone who's ever gone through US Customs. But if quizzed about it, city officials can honestly claim they never specifically said there would be body cavity searches. It's just that they also didn't say there wouldn't be, and relied on the public's fear of confrontation to do the rest. Portlanders are experts at conflict avoidance. There are certain benefits to this, a reasonably low murder rate (by US city standards) for example. But it also means that you'll miss out on a lot of stuff in this town unless you learn how to not take the hint.

In any case, there were a few other joyriders besides myself, and the tram operators seemed happy to see us. Perhaps we were a nice break from all those doctors, endlessly prattling on about their golf scores and real estate deals and trophy wives. For a moment I was almost kind of disappointed that getting on board was so easy. In case you were wondering, no, I wasn't planning to mention anything about being an Important Local Blogger Of Note, or demand "don't you know who I am?". I doubt I'd try that even if I was, in fact, an Important Local Blogger Of Note (which I'm not). I can throw an elbow or two around if I need to, figuratively speaking of course, but I just can't do pretentious or self-important. I can't even fake it. Anyway that would seem like cheating, somehow. Journalists call themselves the "fourth estate", so those of us out here in blogospace are probably the eighth or ninth estate, at minimum, and therefore far, far below the minimum rational threshold for VIP treatment. If anyone tried to give me free stuff simply for having a blog, I'd instantly lose all respect for them.

So riding the tram was more fun than I thought it would be. Whether it's $60M worth of fun, I really couldn't say at this point. The trip only takes a few minutes, and I was taking pictures pretty much constantly both ways, so I may have to go again to ride it just for the experience. I almost got back in line and rode it again immediately, but sadly I had places to be and things to do. Maybe I'll go again tomorrow if it's still free.

The top photo is from the upper tram station at OHSU, with a tram car departing. As I've mentioned before, I've (unofficially) named the two cars "Tom" and "Lance", after a couple of mono-testicled celebrities. I haven't yet figured out which is which, though.


A genuine, real-life photo from the tram, looking north towards downtown Portland. The street on the left is SW 1st, with Naito Pkwy on the right. This angle is probably going to become a standard tourist shot as soon as they start letting real photographers on board the tram. Someday you can tell the grandkids you saw it first right here on this humble and highly obscure blog.


The other tram car, again from the upper station. These babies were pretty much made to order for a really fantastic James Bond fistfight. Yes, yes, I realize they did the fistfight-on-a-tram thing in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but that was a long time ago, and our tram looks way cooler. The governor's office has a couple of people whose 24/7 job is to bring movie productions to Oregon. If they don't already have the whole fight scene choreographed out, they aren't doing their job.

The key unresolved problem is what James Bond would be doing here in the first place, and what he'd do for the rest of the film's running time. We have a few people in town (mostly Republicans) who could be passable Bond villains in a pinch, but none of them have colorful henchmen that I'm aware of. It's a real problem.


Another photo from the tram, this time of SW Terwilliger, looking all snowy and alpine and BMW-commercial-like. You might notice that the road is oddly free of runners. Where'd they all go? DId they stay home just because the whole thing's a treacherous sheet of ice right now? Weenies. Wimps.

Ok, it's also possible they all slipped and tumbled down the hill. But hey, if anyone needs a ride to OHSU, the tram's right here.


Looking downhill (east) from the upper tram station, with the South Waterfront condo towers in the distance, and the Lair Hill & Corbett neighborhoods in front of them. It really is quite a long drop, once you get a good look at it. Neighbors have complained about the possibility of tram-based voyeurs peeping into their backyards -- like anyone in Lair Hill really has much of a backyard -- but nobody seems to have considered the impact, the literal impact, of the constant rain of colorful Bond-villain henchmen plummeting from the sky, crashing through roofs, flattening one's award-winning roses, alarming children and small animals, disrupting traffic even further, and generally lowering the tone of the place. It's always the problems people didn't anticipate that turn out to be the real killers.


The lower tram station. This is kind of boring in comparison to the other photos, but I figured I needed it for completeness. Someday the barge-building operation on the left edge of the picture will be gone, replaced by more condo towers, and then this photo will be a collector's item, sort of. Get 'em while they're hot.

Updated 1/18/06: Here are a few other rider reports I've come across:
  • A post on greyduck.net about yesterday's free tram rides.
  • Tales from the Tube reports on riding the tram last week. And the photo of the thing is nice, although my pics contain snow and are therefore better.
  • And Russ at Portland Metblogs rode the tram back in December. I'm starting to think that everyone else with a blog has ridden it already. Or at least everyone with a blog and more chutzpah and/or connections than I do, in other words basically everyone.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Snowday!!! W00t!!!

snow, reservoir 3

One great thing about living downtown is not having to drive anywhere when it snows. So far I'm enjoying this snowstorm (ok, snowstorm by Portland standards) much more than the last one, 2 or 3 years ago. Back then I was stuck with trudging half a mile through the snow to get to the nearest MAX station. It really was uphill both ways, too. Seriously. Plus my driveway was solid ice and I couldn't drive anywhere for nearly a week, and the trains weren't always running either, something about ice building up on the wires. It was a total mess.

Now I can just walk to work if I have to. This is doubly nice right now because the downtown transit situation is quite chaotic; they moved the downtown bus mall to 3rd & 4th avenues temporarily just a couple of days ago, and the new bus routes have switched over to their new snow routes, which even the drivers are unfamiliar with. Until today I'd never ridden on a bus #43 that drove into town from near the Goose Hollow MAX stop and then turned south on Broadway, but that's what it did today. The driver said he was going to Washington Square, and I wished him luck as I exited the bus. It sounded like he needed it.

So I had a big boring meeting all morning, and then the company told everyone to go home, which was my cue to wander around town taking photos. And, as usual, I'm posting a few that I thought turned out ok. The top photo is of Reservoir 3 up in Washington Park. The walkway around the reservoir wasn't open today, unfortunately, but I suppose that's understandable. The water bureau certainly has more important things to worry about right now.

Snowflowers, Vista Bridge

SW Jefferson near Washington Park, with the Vista Bridge and a bit of downtown. The puffy bits that look like flowers are actually blobs of snow that collected on overhanging vines. I thought that looked kind of cool, so here's the photo.

early morning snow, lovejoy fountain plaza

Early morning, Lovejoy Fountain Plaza

snowboarders, lovejoy fountain plaza

Lovejoy Fountain Plaza again, early afternoon this time. With snowboarders. How cool is that?

snow, columbia river crystal

Snow on the Columbia River Crystal sculpture on SW 2nd.


Snow on the Plaza Blocks, downtown Portland.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Here There Be Stupid Dragons...

Chinatown Dragon, NW 4th & Davis

A few photos of that controversial dragon sculpture the PDC recently installed in Chinatown. The biggest criticism of the dragon is that the symbolism is apparently all wrong. I'm not an expert about that, but the thing certainly looks ridiculous. That much is painfully obvious. I'm by no means the first person to say this, but it looks like something straight out of Disneyland. Ok, no, something rejected by Disneyland.

Really I suspect this cartoon-Chinese look was the intention from day one. The Powers That Be don't want a real ethnic Chinese neighborhood here, because that would be strange and foreign and insufficently upscale. No, they're redecorating the area to make it more attractive to rich, lily-white empty-nester Californian condo buyers, people who think they're exploring "pan-Asian" culture by guzzling $17 wasabi-ginger appletinis. The pseudo-Chinese stuff is just there as the latest trendy, meaningless design motif, an empty postmodern reference to what used to be here before the rich twits moved in. Just like the ugly wall of rusting railroad ties in Tanner Springs Park. For some reason people think it's extremely artistic and cultured to do this, even while sneering at Hillsboro subdivisions named after the groves of trees they replaced. In the end it's really pretty much the same thing.

Some people say the dragon looks like it's collared and chained up. To me, it looks like the dragon head is being extruded somehow. And I don't care to speculate much further regarding the "somehow" part.


Here's the overturned wok detail beneath the dragon. The overturned wok is supposed to be a symbol of bad business, bankruptcy, and famine. Nice. Nobody bothered to consult nearby businesses about this, of course. And why would they? The dragon's certainly not there for their benefit. The sooner they close up shop and make way for yet another exclusive doggie day spa, the happier the PDC will be.

We're told the PDC and the artist were astonished by the public outcry. Which is a typically Portland reaction: They did this with only the noblest of intentions, so why are people upset? It's not like they're in the Klan or anything, you know, and people should be grateful for wonderful urban goodies like this super-cute new dragon.

This happens a lot here. While we have a lot more money in town than we did back in the 1950s, we still tend to be ignorant, provincial, and poorly educated, and we get deeply offended when anybody calls us on it.

I haven't seen anyone remark on this, but to me the really alarming part is the severed duck head behind and to the left of the wok. I prefer my public art without the severed heads, thanks.


A closer look at the dragon. I swear, this thing is about two steps away from being Barney the Dinosaur.


The dragon is just one of a series of decorative doodads. The dragon is the one across the street, while the closer one seems to have a sort of commerce theme. In place of the wok, we have some fish heads, an abacus, a calculator, stuff like that. Basically more random crap that's supposed to look vaguely "Oriental". I use that word advisedly: I've noticed that people in the target condo demographic, affluent 60-something white retirees, tend to still use it, with all its patronizing connotations. At least when they're among their own kind, or they've had one too many of those wasabi-ginger appletinis. A couple more of those and they start saying "chop chop" to the waiter, and it's all downhill from there.

You might assume that there's supposed to be a dragon head here too, but someone beheaded it, or it fell off, or something, but you'd be wrong. It sure looks like there ought to be one here, though, and without it it's not clear why the whole ring-holding-up-a-rock thing is here, since it's not doing anything in particular except holding up the aforementioned rock.


On the base of this particular doodad: More severed heads. Roly poly fish heads, this time. Nice.

The doodads are "gateways" to the new "festival street" on Davis between 3rd & 4th. "Festival streets" are a current urban design fad. Instead of an asphalt street with a raised concrete curb, the whole thing is done in sidewalk-like concrete, with car and pedestrian portions on the same level, separated by a row of decorative posts. This is supposed to make it possible to shut the street off and hold street fairs here, which apparently was impossible until we spent all that money. Never mind that there's been exactly one street fair here so far, a grand opening event staged by the city to show off just how festive a festival street festival can be.

Also, there are palm trees. In Portland. But I already ranted about that a few months ago, and I hate to repeat myself.


On the 3rd Ave. end of the festival street, we finally get a respite from all the severed heads. Instead, this doodad is about the internment of Japanese-American citizens during WWII. I don't even know where to begin on this one.

First, someone ought to tell the PDC that Japan != China. There was a memo, maybe they missed it or something. Ok, it's true there was a Japanese community in parts of Old Town prior to 1941, so maybe they wanted to commemorate that. That's perfectly understandable. But there's already a much larger (and more effective) historical monument about this in Waterfront Park, just 4 blocks east of here. And there's another up at the Expo Center, which was used as a way station for people being transported to the internment camps. So this has been covered pretty well already, and now we're veering into the curious phenomenon of white-liberal-guilt-as-vanity, in which we demonstrate our unimpeachable virtue (and boost our self-esteem) by endlessly wailing and gnashing our teeth over something that happened well before most of us were born.

And it's odd putting this somber item right in the middle of our wondrous new festival street, isn't it? I guess the idea is that carefree drunken revelers will stumble across it and suddenly be taken aback and it'll make them realize numerous Important Truths and whatnot. If that really is the point, and it really is crucial to have some sort of grim historical marker here, our city and state have a long history of mistreating people of Chinese origin, events that continue to go unremarked-upon and uncommemorated. The state constitution used to prohibit "Chinamen" from owning property or holding mining claims. I suppose that if we talked about this stuff too much, we'd have to mention the fact that the Chinatown we're celebrating was created by segregation, both official and unofficial. And that would put a real damper on the party. So we'll just put up yet another marker, a bland, third-rate one at that, about an event everyone knows about & condemns already.


This is on 3rd & Flanders, on the other new festival street, two blocks away (which will make for a rather awkward festival if you want to use both of 'em, but no matter, nobody's going to.) This is perhaps the scariest part of the whole installation. You see, there's more of the same on the way, and we can only imagine what sort of crap they've got in store for the city next. A sculpture of neatly folded and pressed laundry? A doodad with an "opium den / white slavery" theme? Some statues of "famous Chinese people" the condo clowns might've actually heard of, say, Charlie Chan, Fu Manchu, Ming the Merciless, maybe? Animatronic kids with straw hats and cartoon-slit eyes singing "It's a Small World"? The PDC has untold millions of dollars to play with, and no public oversight, so they can probably come up with something even worse if they really put their minds to it.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Notes from the flight forward...

So apparently our Glorious Leader wants to set the whole Mideast on fire now. More fresh bodies for the meat grinder in Iraq, plus exciting new wars in Iran and Syria, and no doubt that's just the tip of the iceberg. Even with a Democratic congress, it's looking increasingly like there's nothing anyone can do to rein the guy in.
Naturally, nobody in the administration's giving any straight answers on what they intend to do about Iran. They make all sorts of threatening noises day in and day out, but we still get the "no definite plans to attack" charade, just like we did in the buildup to Iraq. That little stunt avoids having any public policy debate about what to do. They already know what they want to do, and they don't want the other 300 million of us to get a word in edgewise about it. And if past history is any guide, there probably is no detailed plan hidden deep in a Pentagon vault somewhere. The plan will just be to roll the dice again and assume a miracle will happen this time.

The title refers to a classic Billmon post from last April, which seems more prescient with each passing day:

What we are witnessing (through rips in the curtain of official secrecy) may be an example of what the Germans call the flucht nach vorne, the "flight forward." This refers to ta situation in which an individual or institution seeks a way out of a crisis by becoming ever more daring and aggressive (or, as the White House propaganda department might put it: "bold") A familar analogy is the gambler in Vegas, who tries to get out of a hole by doubling down on each successive bet.

Some people take comfort in W's recent statement taking responsibility for mistakes in Iraq. But even that statement is phrased in a very curious way. What he said, essentially, is that he takes responsibility to the degree that a CEO is responsible for any (purely hypothetical) failings by his underlings. He didn't admit to having personally screwed anything up. That's something we'll never hear from him. I imagine getting him to say the limp words he uttered was like pulling teeth, and he only agreed to it strictly as a PR move, not an actual change of heart on his part. If he'd had a change of heart, or a eureka moment, or any such thing, the response would not be to do even more of what we've been doing without success for a few years now.

Apart from the immediate situation, it's never a good idea when national policies are so closely intertwined with the personal psychological needs of the guy in charge. He won't believe he can make mistakes, and he won't change course, and we all have to pay the price. He's been reading all those history books lately, to the expected round of cheap shots about him reading books for once, but taking cheap shots at the guy just obscures the alarming "lessons" he says he's learning. He knows he's right, he's absolutely sure he's right, he's surrounded himself with toadies and cronies who praise him constantly and tell him he's always right, and now he's got what in his mind is "historical proof" that everyone will realize he was right in a century or two. Therefore, he's free to ignore public opinion, expert opinion (the Pentagon included), world opinion, etc., since he's totally sure that everyone will laugh at all those opinions someday. There's just not going to be any communication into the bubble at this point. He's all defense mechanism, all the time, and nothing gets through.

Reasonable people can disagree, of course, on whether Iran is really the global threat Cheney and friends say it is. I very much doubt that, but even if I was totally convinced, at this point I wouldn't put any faith in the current administration dealing with that threat successfully. They botch everything they touch. If you're a hawk, you probably aren't interested in my advice, but my advice is to find a competent successor for the current guy, and work to get him or her elected in 2008. And please, just put your remaining foreign policy goals on hold until after Inauguration Day. Don't ask anything more of the current bozos, and don't jump on the bandwagon if they're itching to start something new. They've done more than enough damage already.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Monday Miscellany


Yet another jumble of pics and links and general babbling. Top photo: Big Pink, not very pink today.


The Fremont Bridge, looking north


Fog on the Willamette.


Berries outside the police horse barn at NW 9th & Naito.


A squirrel in the Postal Corner Garden next to the central post office. Finally, a squirrel photo that isn't completely blurry. There were actually two squirrels chasing each other, but all the 2-squirrel photos were blurred. The Postal Corner Garden is an, uh, postage stamp-sized plot of land that I suppose is there to provide a calming, non-disgruntling activity for the postal workers.

Now some links & items:

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

mildly therapeutic edition

january sky 3

This blog is typically not the most personal of personal blogs. That's by design; the only thing less interesting than reading about me is writing about me, therefore I don't, usually. Right now I don't have anything more to add beyond what was in the previous post, and I'm not at home to tinker with the ol' Sun box right now, but I'm still feeling kind of rattled, and blogging itself can be a nice distraction. I haven't done one of these "misc. items" posts in a long time, and I haven't been inclined to, but it feels like it's time.

january sky 1

First, the photos are just some pics I took when I wandered out on my lunch hour. Nothing all that special, but it's fresh material, not just stuff from the archives. So whatever.

january sky 2

Anyway, here are the misc. items for the day:

Happy hospitalized freakin' birthday...

Right now, as I'm writing this, my brother's in surgery up at St. Vincent's. He managed to pick up a case of diverticulitis, a fun intestinal malady. I understand what they're doing is usually a routine procedure, but they had to run some tests first to see if he's got this exciting blood-clotting condition called "Protein S Deficiency" (more technical article here), which can obviously make surgery more complicated. It's a rare condition, but it's hereditary and a number of close relatives have had it, so . Some years ago, an uncle went in for similar "routine" intestinal surgery, had PSD-related complications, and died, when he was just a few years older than I am now. So I'm rather curious how my brother's test turns out, to put it mildly. Oh, and did I mention it's my brother's birthday? And this is how his new GF gets to meet the family for the first time?

It's strange how, even now in 2007, so many guys won't go to the doctor no matter how bad they feel. It always requires a great deal of hassling and cajoling from someone of the female persuasion before they'll go, like it was still freakin' 1955 or something. That's what finally got my brother to the doctor, and I remember my dad behaving the same way a few years ago, and I've done it before as well. I came down with a spot of bronchitis a few years back, and it was literally weeks before I was persuaded to go in and have it looked at. A couple of antibiotic pills later, I was good as new, which really ought to convince me to go without being told next time, or at least to go without being told repeatedly. And I know I probably should, and I'd hope that I would, but I can't say with absolute certainty that I will.

On the other hand, I'd like to sing the praises of another stereotypically male trait, the ability to compartmentalize things and simply choose to think about something else for a while. Medical stuff grosses me out, and thinking about it worries the hell out of me, so it's good to just set it all aside for the moment and think about something I can actually do something about, like puzzling out how to netboot a Sun Ultra 30 from a Mac. I picked up this el cheapo Sun box last week, and everything seems to work except for the SCSI CD drive. The OpenBoot firmware on the Sun box doesn't even see it. The cables look ok, and it has power, but the drive doesn't appear to spin up when you insert a disk, so I think the drive itself is broken. Sure, I could just go looking for a new SCSI CDROM drive, but this netboot stuff is way more l33t. I haven't quite gotten it all working yet, but the process works something like this:

  1. Client (Sun box) sends out a RARP request, asking what IP address it should use. On the server side (OSX box), rarpd needs to be able to map the client's MAC address to an IP addy, which you configure by editing /etc/ethers
  2. Client then grabs a bootloader from the server via tftp. Tftp is usually disabled on OSX, so you need to edit /etc/xinetd.d/tftp and hup the xinetd daemon if it's running. The filename the client asks for is based on the IP addy you just gave it, so that you can have different bootloaders for different machines, if you need to.
  3. The bootloader asks the server where to find the rest of the OS. I haven't quite gotten this step sorted out, but it can involve either bootparamd or dhcp, apparently. In any case, the response is the name of an NFS share where the netboot OS image lives.
  4. When you share stuff from the Finder on OSX, you aren't setting up an NFS share, so you have to do this on the command line, or with a 3rd party tool like SharePoints. Setting up a Solaris boot directory on a Mac seems to be rather complex, so right now I'm trying to get NetBSD/sparc64 to start up, and hoping it'll see the Solaris UFS partitions and be able to mount them read/write without trashing anything.
  5. Then do a "boot net" at the Sun's 'ok' prompt, and away we go, if we're lucky.

Alright, I guess I omitted the details of how to get an 'ok' prompt when you have a headless machine like this one. There's a null modem cable, and therefore a USB-to-serial adapter on the Mac side, connecting with serial port 'A' on the Sun side; knowing to send a 'break' character in lieu of the Sun keyboard's 'Stop-A' to drop to the 'ok' prompt; changing the nvram's "auto-boot?" variable to false so the machine doesn't boot off the internal HDs for now. There's probably something else I'm forgetting at the moment.

The Sun box already has Solaris 8 on it, and all I'm trying to do right now is boot enough of an OS so I can reset the root password. Once I do that, everything else should be a breeze. Hopefully.

So you see, being able to compartmentalize is a sanity-saver at times like this.
Good luck, and get well soon, bro.

Monday, January 01, 2007

More Kelly Butte photos

Looking east from Mt. Tabor

Since my previous Kelly Butte post has attracted a bit of interest lately, I thought I'd post a few more pics of the place I had lying around in iPhoto. The top photo is an another pic of the place from Mt. Tabor, similar to the lead photo on the original post. Kelly Butte is the hill on the right.

In the distance, out towards Gresham, you can see one more hill and a small part of a second. Gresham is full of volcanic hills, collectively known as the Gresham Buttes, which are pretty obscure unless you live in Gresham, which I don't. I'm guessing the one directly "below" Mt. Hood in this photo is Grant Butte [map], which is due east of Kelly Butte, between Division & Powell out past 182nd. I can't find a lot of info about the place, other than one colorful urban legend:

I also got one from here where I live, in Portland OR.
On the border of the cities of Portland and Gresham there is a hill called Grant Butte (Mount Baldy by the locals due to a fire some years ago). This hill has a colored history. I will recite the history as far as I have been able to verify by news clippings and public record.
Around the turn of the 20th century (1900), the area was completely forested (later turned to farms then from the 50s onward into houses and neighborhoods) and the area was extensively logged, both for building and fire materials and to clear ground for farms and ranches.
Back around the mid 40s, there was a sufficient number of houses to warrant a water tower on the hill. The structure was made of red brick and stood about two stories high. The remains of the old tower and pumphouse are still visible today on the SE side of the hill. This tower is signifigant because a couple of years after it was built, two boys were playing near it and one boy saw a brick fall and hit the other boy in the head. In a panic he ran home to his mother and described the scene, including a copious amount of blood and some brains, something an eight year old boy of that time would not have known about. She called the cops and ambulance and rushed up to the tower only to find the dead boy asleep at the base of the tower, uninjured. The first boy was sent to psychaiatrists (sp?) and they determined he was telling the truth. This story appeared in the Oregonian.
The next bit I have been able to find is the installation of the North water tower in the 70s. This tower was larger than the old one and entended a couple of stories underground, though a good bit was above ground as well. When a landslide rendered this tower useless, a massive water tank was built on the south face of the hill in the late 80s. I cannot even guess the size of this cavernous beast. This water tower is still in use today.
Now for the good stuff, the legends.
During the logging years, it was common practice to just strip the logs on the site and toss the branches into a furnace designed to keep the loggers warm at night. Legend has it there was one of these on the top of Grant Butte (there IS a very old smokestack up there, caked in rust). Now, this particular legend says that a stack of logs broke loose and rolled over a few loggers, killing some and maiming others. Now instead of transporting the bodies and wounded all the way back to Portland (at the time five+ miles away through forest), they just tossed them all, dead or alive, into the furnace. Apparently this is where the rest of the legends got their 'fuel'.
Although I have no specific incidents, other than a couple of my own personal experiences, I have heard of some strange things on the hill. Stuff like satanic rituals inside the north water tower during the mid 80s (when it was emptied) and into the 90s (before it was sealed). I have seen the evidence of these rituals myself, though they looked haphazard and like those who were drawing the symbols were either in a hurry or had no clue as to what they were doing. A lot more of it still just looks like graffiti.
Other than my own experiences, that is about it. Most of my experiences were rather mundane, strange noises or mild feelings of dread. The only two note worthy incidences that I have experienced are a sighting of a pair of disembodied red eyes charging me and a low fog like mist over an area of the forest in mid afternoon on a sunny summer day. Both I cannot really describe in any more detail, other than to say I honestly found the mist to be more frightening than the eyes.

Okayyyy.... Anyway, back to our photos:

The Road to Kelly Butte

From the locked gate to the park, this is a shot of the road going down the hill. You have to drive, or bike, or walk, or unicycle up this to get to the park. It looks pretty bad, but really most of the regular streets in the surrounding neighborhoods look a lot like this. For the near-$60M price tag of a certain aerial tram, I have to wonder how many neighborhood streets could've been paved (some for the first time ever) in outer SE Portland. But of course that would involve spending taxpayer money on the non-rich, which simply isn't done anymore.

Entrance gate, Kelly Butte

This is the aforementioned locked gate at the park's "grand" entrance. No sign for the place or anything, just a locked gate.

Guardrail, Kelly Butte

A bit of the guardrail on the road past the gate, close to the top.

Lichens, Kelly Butte

Lichens on a tree branch, somewhere in the forested part of the park.

Forest, Kelly Butte

Yet another spooky-looking tree in the forest. Maybe "spooky" isn't quite the right word. I saw this tree and started looking around for Ewoks... Ok, maybe "spooky" is the right word.

Old Drive-In Theater Sign, Kelly Butte

The weatherbeaten sign for the old drive-in theater that used to be on the south side of Kelly Butte. The theater itself has been gone for many years, and I think the current owners of the property operate carnival rides or something. Which I guess is convenient; they can just send someone up to look for homeless camps on the butte any time they need to hire some new carnies.

Mt. Hood from Kelly Butte

Another shot of Mt. Hood from the meadow atop Kelly Butte. No, the mountain isn't actually tilted quite like that. I was just holding the camera kind of crooked, which is sadly typical. Although I fully expect this shot to be used in someone's outlandish Mt. Hood conspiracy theory, because this photo's on the interwebs, and this is what always happens eventually.

Abandoned Nuclear Bunker, Kelly Butte

A detail of the nuclear bunker entrance. I like the "Impeach Bush" bit over where the front door used to be. Nice.

Happy Gnu Year

As the proprietor of this humble blog, my first official act of the year was to officially put my Flickr photos under a Creative Commons license (attribution + share alike, if you're a license dork and care about this stuff.) The issue really hadn't come up until recently when a couple of people used my Kelly Butte photos. So just for future reference, that's cool. And the "share alike" part is a request, not a requirement, as far as I'm concerned. And if it's not too much trouble, let me know when you use something of mine. Not because of permission or licensing issues or anything; I'm merely curious, is all.

As for text content here and on this blog's various siblings, it would be fair to assume the same CC license terms apply as well. I haven't put a copyleft logo on the site just yet, but I'll get around to it eventually.

Doing this is only sort-of idealistic, really. I'm not making any money doing this, and doing so in the future doesn't seem overly likely, so I figure I might as well be generous, since it's not costing me anything. In some parallel universe, where people are lining up wanting to pay me gazillions of dollars for exclusive subscribers-only content, this licensing stuff probably wouldn't happen. And that's cool too. Until the FSF folks figure out how to craft a license that applies across all possible worlds in all possible universes, I think the current arrangement will be just fine.