Monday, July 30, 2007

The Willamette Stone

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Here are a few pics from the hands-down nerdiest state park in all of Oregon. This is Willamette Stone State Park (ok, "State Heritage Site") [map], a tiny spot up in the West Hills just off Skyline Blvd. I've mentioned the now-absent stone and its history before, in an earlier post about Milestone P2, and now here it is in the flesh. Updated: I've since tracked down all the remaining Stark St. Milestones, plus a couple of others around town. You can read the whole set of posts here, if you're interested.

Willamette Stone

Anyway, isn't this exciting? The disk shown above (where the stone used to be) is the "initial point" for the land survey system covering Oregon and Washington. I'm no expert about land surveying, but apparently this spot is quite important. Or at least it was at one time, back in the pre-GPS era.

A few Stone-related resources on the Interwebs:

  • The Wikipedia article tries to explain it all in a halfway-accessible way. I happily admit to being a hardcore nerd, and a bit of a history dweeb too, and even my eyes started to glaze over. I think it was around the time it got to the phrase "Donation Land Claim Act of 1850". Although I'm sure that was a worthy and necessary piece of legislation, probably.
  • Mr. Klein of ZehnKatzen Times fame has a better piece about the place here, and a bit more here. He explains all the gory details of the land survey system, so that I don't have to. (Thanks!)
  • Another good history here, courtesy of the End of the Oregon Trail center down in Oregon City.
  • Bill McDonald (of the late, lamented Portland Freelancer) wrote an amusing 2002 Trib story about the stone as well.
The park's always kind of puzzled me, ever since the last time I visited. (I was in a group of confused and bored Cub Scouts, and the "real" stone was still there, way back when, not that I'm old or anything.) It's quite an obscure thing to create a park around, given all the places and events that go uncommemorated here, and you have to wonder why they went to the trouble. It's possible the state kept it around for reference (again, in the pre-GPS era), not just for historical curiosity, since we aren't the only state to do this. (Yes, it's time to take a deep breath, kids, it's "Dig a little deeper" time again...)
  • There's Meridian-Baseline State Park in Michigan.
  • Arkansas has Louisiana Purchase State Park, which was once the "initial point" for the whole Louisiana Purchase, hence the name. That would seem to be a bigger deal than our little park here, but the Arkansas park seems to be just as obscure, plus it's in the middle of a gator-infested swamp.
  • California's Mt. Diablo State Park has a marker, although it may or may not be correct, I gather.
  • Illinois has a roadside historical marker.
  • Idaho's got a marker too, rather more dramatic than ours, and like ours, it's had vandalism issues. I suppose if anarchy and chaos is your thing, a marker that claims to lay out the world in an invisible grid system is not going to be much to your liking. I'm probably reading too much into that. I know I've said this before, but the world would be vastly more interesting if all the vandalism was committed on serious aesthetic or ideological grounds, rather than the "Dude, like, I was, like, here" we see in real life. Sigh...
  • Utah's is at the SE corner of Temple Square. Gee, nice church-state separation there, guys.
  • There's a list of initial points nationwide and a map of the territory they cover, plus a bit of background on the Public Land Survey system.
  • Another list of meridians and baselines here, also including "guide meridians").
  • Naturally there's an exhaustive reference book about all 37 (or 38?) such points around the country, and the author tracked down and visited all of them. So yes, it's been done already. Feel free to load up the RV and hit the road, though, if you're so inclined.
  • More info about some of these places here.

  • Willamette Stone

    Willamette Stone

    Willamette Stone

    There's not much to the park besides the marker. There's a wide spot in the road for parking, and a sign that tries valiantly to explain what the park is all about. A short well-maintained trail heads downhill through the forest to the stone, but doesn't connect with the rest of the trail system in the West Hills. To the west are a couple of huge broadcast towers (Channel 8, among other things), to the east is as-yet-unused cemetery land, and to the south-southwest there's a gated condo community. In the aerial photo on their home page, the park's the forested area in the upper right. You can't get to the park directly from The Quintet, though. There was a time when developers and prospective homebuyers would be thrilled about a connection with the local park and trail system, but that time has long since passed. I suppose it would defeat the point of making the community gated; the evildoers could skulk in through the park and wreak havoc or cause mayhem or something, possibly. Or at least that's what everyone's terrified of, and fear sells.

    Willamette Stone

    One fun thing about the park is that it's right next to a couple of gigantic broadcast towers, so that you're strolling along through the forest, and suddenly through the trees you see an enormous orange and white structure stretching into the clouds. It's not something you see every day. Unless you live on Skyline, I guess, which I certainly can't afford to do. Seems there was a bit of a land use battle over the towers -- one was built in 1998 to replace the older one, and they ended up keeping both, and the state wasn't happy about it. If you look at the property details on PortlandMaps, you can see just how tiny the park is. It looks like it's barely wider than the trail as you get down to where the stone is. In this view you can tell pretty much exactly where the stone is: Note the property boundaries (and a road) that run right along the baseline and meridian lines.

    Willamette Stone

    Willamette Stone

    Friday, July 27, 2007

    Mmmm.... Hops....

    Oregon Brewers Festival 2007

    I dropped by the Oregon Brewers Festival yesterday, and I expect I'll go again this afternoon. Haven't had time to write up my notes yet, but in the meantime here are a few photos of the decor. If I was a real beer geek, I ought to be able to identify the variety (varieties?) of hops shown here by sight, or at least by scent. But I can't. Sorry.

    Oregon Brewers Festival 2007

    Oregon Brewers Festival 2007

    Oregon Brewers Festival 2007

    Oregon Brewers Festival 2007

    Thursday, July 26, 2007

    OSCON 2007

    OSCON 2007

    I went to OSCON this year. I'll tell you all about it in a moment, but first let me apologize in advance about this report. There's an ongoing debate in some circles about whether bloggers are "journalists" or not. I don't have a really set opinion about that -- I don't really like journalists very much, but being one gets you certain traditional legal protections. What I can tell you for sure is that I'm not much of a reporter. I like to think I'm ok with a camera, but I'm also not in any way a news photographer. And I'm a tad on the antisocial side, so I'd make a very poor interviewer if I was inclined to try it, which I'm not. Also, I don't have the chutzpah to try to use my status as a Z-list blogger to get special treatment, evne though I manage to be ignored by billions worldwide every single day. No, I attended in my professional capacity, and never breathed a word to anyone about my personal media nano-empire. Not this blog, not even this blog's geeky and obsessive sibling.

    I'm not even a very good conventiongoer, to be honest. My PHBs were fine with my going to OSCON this year, since it's just across the river, and it was still possible (barely) for me to shuttle frantically back and forth between OSCON sessions and random meetings with the PHBs. My PHBs are also cheap bastards, so they were fine with my going, so long as it didn't come out of their budget, so I had to resign myself to the free admission option, which means you get keynotes, exhibit hall admission, a small subset of the total convention sessions, and a few random other goodies. You don't even get one of those nifty OSCON 2007 laptop bags. Not that I need another laptop bag, it's just that it's fancy schwag I'm missing out on. It's the principle of the thing.

    So anyway, I went to a few keynotes and attended a couple of free sessions, and picked up a few t-shirts and other schwag. I took a few photos while I was there -- the full set's on Flickr here. Here's one photo you might find entertaining, from a talk by Bill Hilf, the guy in charge of "open source strategy" or some such up at the Beast of Redmond.

    OSCON 2007

    The one really newsworthy bit from his talk is that MS is supposedly working with the OSI to get their various "shared source" licenses approved as genuine Open Source (tm) licenses. I'm pretty sure he just said "working with", so there's no ETA on when -- or if -- this might be finalized. So I don't know how much meat there really is here, but it was an effective PR move to take at this particular venue.

    Hilf seemed like a reasonably personable guy, cracking a few jokes at the start to warm up the crowd. The talk was primarily an attempt to convince us that M$ isn't the Great Satan, and there wasn't a lot about technologies I use or care about. (Ruby on top of .NET? Okayyy...). An audience member asked about software patents, and Hilf mentioned the controversial MS-Novell deal while answering, but the answer was a sort of managerial non-answer. Apparently the big problem with their recent patent FUD is not that it was incorrect, or that they're playing predatory monopolist again; it's just that they mishandled the messaging about it. As if there was any way to accuse people of violating your super-secret patents and not offend anyone.

    So possibly you might gather from this that I remain firmly unconvinced. But I was polite, of course, and clapped where appropriate.

    The MS guy was sandwiched in between an economist (who wanted to tell us all that we aren't objective enough and need to overcome our biases), and the guy who started the Swedish Pirate Party. A photo from that talk:

    OSCON 2007

    As with the preceding talk, I remain unconvinced. I can understand the visceral appeal of the absolutist approach, arguing that there just shouldn't be any such thing as copyrights or patents. But think about it for a moment: You can't have a GPL unless you have some sort of legal copyright framework in place, some way to get people to comply with your release terms. Some might say that's a good thing, but I disagree.

    There was also a claim made that you can either have civil liberties or copyright, but not both. The argument is that effective copyright enforcement means the government has to read everyone's email, to check whether people are mailing illicit MP3s to each other. You could make a similar argument that all traffic laws should be abolished, because the only way to catch every last traffic violation is to put government tracking/reporting devices in every car on the road. Come to think of it, catching every last violation of just about any law would require a police state, and would also be extremely expensive. Hence it's rarely attempted, and it never succeeds.

    Don't get me wrong, I hate DRM and the DMCA at least as much as the next geek. The current laws on the books go wayyyy overboard and need to be scaled back, either by Congress or the courts. And don't get me started about dumb software patents and patent trolls.

    Yesterday's keynotes were somewhat more technical: A couple of talks about threading and concurrency issues, including one from Intel about their newly-GPL'd ThreadingBuildingBlocks library. I picked up a CD at their booth in the expo hall but haven't had time to check it out yet. So I don't have a lot to say about it, other than that it sounds promising. I've dealt with my share of ugly threading issues over the years, and if there really is a magic bullet out there, or even a shiny but nonmagical bullet, I'd love to find it. Also, I got a cool t-shirt along with the cd.

    Intel obviously released this out of enlightened self-interest. Multicore chips are the shiznit right now, and you can't use a multicore cpu efficiently unless you do stuff in parallel, and do it reasonably efficiently. You're not getting the full effect unless you can keep all those cores busy, and you aren't likely to pop for a shiny new 16-core Xeon a couple years down the road if your apps grind to a halt from all the inter-CPU overhead. The point is that they have an economic incentive to address the problem. Whether they have addressed the problem is a question I can't answer right now.

    There was also a much more academic presentation by a guy with M$ Research, over in Cambridge, UK. He chatted about something called transactional memory. The idea is to have memory accesses work like database transactions (hence the name), so you can define a block of code such that either all the related changes to memory occur, or none of them do. This has a certain aesthetic appeal to it, but when someone with a major corporation's research arm tells you there's a performance impact and does sort of a handwave about it, it's quite often a sign you'll either need to buy a much faster machine, or get used to molasses force field mode.

    So here's a bit of the big expo hall. Longtime readers may notice that the place looks a lot like the beer festival I went to back in April, except with less beer. I did see some people walking around with beer, so it wasn't entirely absent, but I think you had to get it in the paying-attendees-only area. And it didn't look like very good beer anyway, so phooey on that.

    OSCON 2007

    I wandered around the expo hall for a while, picking up a few t-shirts and other misc. schwag items. The highlight was actually at a booth run by Oregon State University's CS department. They're writing some media player software for the OLPC, the long-awaited ~$100 Linux laptop, and they had a few units on hand to play with. Intel was showing off its semi-competing (and also Linux-based) Classmate PC. My quick-look impression was that the OLPC is a very cool, clever gadget, the Classmate somewhat less so. Neither is exactly a speed demon, but the Classmate seemed slower. I think that's because it comes with a bunch of off-the-shelf open source apps rather than the OLPC's new custom-written ones. You click "new text document" or the equivalent and then wait a looong time for the editor to start up, and then you realize you just launched OpenOffice. It's cool to see OOo on a box that size, of course, but it would help a lot if the box was a touch faster. My real complaint about both devices is the keyboard. I think I now understand why both are aimed at kids; my clumsy old grownup fingers had all kinds of trouble. Touch typing just wasn't doable, although you could probably adapt to that given enough time.

    Here's a photo of the Intel booth. They had the large booth in the center of the hall, surrounded by transparent mesh "walls" covered with nature photos. Not the most informative photo, but I thought it turned out kind of cool.

    OSCON 2007

    I don't have my pile-o-loot in front of me, so I suppose I should take some more pics and post those, just to give a sense of what sort of schwag there is to be had at these things. And I've probably forgotten something I wanted to cover, so there may be a second OSCON post Real Soon Now. But right now I'm going to go check off another item on my busy social calendar, the Oregon Brewers Festival. Yes, OSCON happens to run concurrently with one of the nation's premier beer festivals. Just try to tell me that's a mere coincidence.

    Tuesday, July 24, 2007

    Le TDF - now I know how Blazers fans feel...

    Yesterday I was about to do a post about the Tour de France, and in retrospect I'm glad I didn't. I haven't said a lot about it here, but I'm a hopeless TDF fan, for good or ill. And lately it's been almost 100% ill. If you hadn't heard already, Alexandre Vinokourov is the latest banned-substance casualty, for using someone else's blood to supplement his own. That sounds really gross, but imagine being the blood donor, the person who got the guy 2 TDF stage wins. I'd be rather proud of that, I have to say. Be that as it may, right now Vino's name is lower than dirt to me. I'm not a puritan, mind you; as a programmer, I can tell you that all advances in the software field occur thanks to caffeine, and sometimes a bit of Sudafed as well. "Performance-enhancing" isn't a pejorative term, as far as I'm concerned. But Vino brought disrepute to the sport at a time when it's never been more vulnerable. He put all of cycling at risk to further his own interests. That was incredibly stupid and selfish, and it's nearly impossible to forgive.

    I rooted for him in '05 when he was the eternal third man behind Armstrong-Ullrich. He had my sympathy last year when his Liberty-Seguros team was dumped from the tour after losing several members to the Operacion Puerto scandal. It's not that I figured he was Mr. Clean, exactly; I just figured he was par for the course, and wasn't likely to be the doping poster boy. And I admired his determination and refusal to quit, no matter what. You can't get *that* in a syringe. As far as I know, anyway.

    I really thought I was way too old and cynical to have my heart broken by a sports hero with feet of clay. It's not like I expect NHL players to be angels, even if they *are* Canadian. But I was wrong. I swear I won't make the same mistake again, if I can help it.

    Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld

    Monday, July 23, 2007



    A few recent(ish) photos that don't fit anywhere else. Enjoy, or not. Top photo's from the rose garden up at Peninsula Park.


    Another of Rusting Chunks #5 (above), with some weird clouds. Below, two more of Big Pink.



    Apples growing on Interstate Ave. near the Widmer pub. No, seriously.


    Gas fireplace doing its thing. There shouldn't be any reason to think about gas fireplaces right now in late July, but it's cold and wet and disgusting outside, and I am most displeased.


    ah, my busy social calendar...

    There's always a week in July where everything happens at once and you just can't keep up. This year, that week is this week. OSCON runs all this week, the Oregon Brewers Festival starts up on Thursday, and Le Tour is in the Pyrenees through Wednesday. Oh, and I have to help plan a birthday get-together for someone for Wednesday.

    We supposedly hold all these events in July (birthdays excepted) because the weather's better. Has anyone freakin' looked outside recently? Weather not so good.

    A couple pieces on OSCON from Wired, InfoWorld and Blankenhorn on ZDnet.

    And a few local beer blog posts about OBF '07 at Gone Ronin, Portland Beer Blog, The Brew Site,, The Beer Retard (great name, btw) and probably others.

    I expect to cover both events here. I've already picked up my OSCON nametag, although things don't really get rolling until at least tomorrow. I should note that I'm attending in my professional, non-bloggous capacity, so looking for my nym on a nametag would be a futile exercise. I dunno, it just seems like attending as a blogger would be sort of... precious. Besides, nobody's ever heard of me or my silly little blogs anyway. It would just be a poor idea all around, I guess that's what I'm trying to say.

    As for OBF, I'm busy scanning this year's list of brews, trying to come up with a short list of stuff to try. As I've learned over time with this beer-blogging thing, drinking a lot of beer is easy. Having something intelligent, or at least intelligible, to say about it is not quite so easy, and it doesn't get any easier as the day goes along. One minute you're a respected conoisseur, holding forth on the relative merits of the festival's double IPAs, and the next you're face down in the beermud (i.e. mud made with beer, not unusual at this type of event), and you can't remember how you got there or who you were talking to a moment ago, or however long ago it was. Actually that's never happened to me, not in public anyway, and I plan to keep it that way. So I'm winnowing down a short list. No, I'm not going to say what's on the list ahead of time. Then everyone would go get in line ahead of me. I just know it.

    Here's a YouTube clip of that Asahi beer-dispensing robot. Its pour technique leaves much to be desired, but still, it's a freakin' beer-pouring robot.

    Marigold Tank

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    A few more park photos, this time from Portland's "Marigold HydroPark" [map]. A "HydroPark" (the trendy BiCapitalization is theirs, not mine) is a chunk of land around a city water facility, open to the public as a park. They started doing this a couple of years ago to great, ok, moderate fanfare, around the same time they reopened Reservoir 3 to the public. I was a little curious about this, but none of the HydroParks were close enough for an idle excursion. Then I stumbled across one while on my way back from Marshall Park.

    Well, "stumbled across" isn't quite accurate. I saw the big water tower, figured there just might be a park attached, and went to check it out. And sure enough, chance favored the prepared mind for once. Anyway, I took a few photos, and here they are.

    Marigold 5

    Marigold 2

    Marigold 1

    It's not that I think water tanks are terribly fascinating, but there were some interesting shapes and angles and such going on, and there's not all that much else there to take pics of. It's a small parcel, sloping grassy lawn, some trees and shrubs, and a gigantic million gallon water tank. The city calls it "Marigold Tank", which incidentally would be a great name for a band.

    I realize these things are perfectly safe and all that, but when you count the zeros on the sign and realize you're standing under up to a million gallons of water, you can't help but take a couple of steps back and look nervously upward. Then you go "ok, so that's what a million gallons looks like. Cool." Well, that was my reaction. Your mileage may vary.

    Incidentally, the company that build the thing is still around. Here's their corporate history page, with lots of photos, although this particular tank doesn't get a mention.

    Marigold 6

    Marigold 7

    Ok, I snuck a flower photo in on you there, so sorry. But they were right there, bright yellow and everything. I couldn't help it.

    The tank is kind of interesting in B+W; the shapes and shadows are more interesting without all those distracting colors, etc.:

    Marigold 8

    Marigold 9

    Marigold 3

    Oh, and I had to try a few infrared pics while I was there. Most didn't turn out that great, but you can at least tell where you are in this one:

    Marigold 10

    Friday, July 20, 2007

    friday flowers+etc. (for old times' sake?)

    You probably won't believe this (or, more likely, won't care), but I haven't done one of these flower photo posts since June 11th. That's got to be a record or something, although I haven't actually checked.

    I'm still not done with the mini-roadtrip photos, but sorting through them is more work than you might expect, and I'm feeling a bit surly and unmotivated right now. The weather sucks, work is utterly boring, and... well, that's the whole list actually, but it's enough.

    So first off, here are a few from Tanner Springs, taken wayyy back when the sun used to shine in the summertime...

    Flowers 3

    Flowers 2

    Flowers 1

    Flowers 4

    A couple from O'Bryant Square:

    Flowers 5

    Flowers 6

    I'm not sure where these two were taken:

    Flowers 7

    Flowers 8

    This was in a planter at Lovejoy Fountain Plaza:

    Flowers 9

    Flowers 10

    And here's the "etc." portion of the post:



    Thursday, July 19, 2007

    Astoria Column, then & now

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    Here are a few pics of, and from, the Astoria Column out in (you guessed it) Astoria. Some were taken on my mini-roadtrip last month, and others are from the only other time I've been there, wayyy back in February 1979.

    Regarding the 1979 pics, the originals actually look better than what you see here. The scanner I used on these is about a decade old. It doesn't do an overly professional job of figuring out colors, and its dynamic range is pretty limited, so if you have a photo with light parts and dark parts, you can get one or the other to come out somewhat decently. But not both. And it puts ugly vertical bands on everything it scans. And square objects come out a tad on the rectangular side, like photo #2 above. On the other hand, the scanner was free, and Ubuntu's default install includes a driver for it. So that's something, I guess.

    The first couple of photos in the slideshow are more or less the same view of downtown Astoria, taken 28 years apart. The two roughly squarish photos were taken with a 126 camera, which you basically can't even find film for anymore. I'm not 100% sure whether I took those or not, since my own camera was a little 110 just like this one.

    Here are a few of the column itself.

    Astoria 8



    The old photos show the column was looking quite ramshackle in 1979. Just like everything else in Astoria back then, if memory serves. I'm afraid we have to thank the rich Californians for the city's recent revival... but don't tell them I said so. They're plenty smug enough already, the bastards.

    The recent one (top one, silly) really isn't that great, I admit. I was mostly taking shots of the view from the column, but as an afterthought I decided I needed at least one photo of the column itself and took a quick snap of it. (If you want to see better photos of it, there's no shortage of them out on the interwebs. There are even a couple VR panoramas, which are less vertigo-inducing than you might expect.)

    The column doesn't actually lean like that, in case you're wondering. Although that would make the trip up the stairs even more exciting than it already is. It's a dark, winding, narrow, rickety, alarming little staircase, with lots of tiny little oddly-shaped spiral steps.

    If I'd taken a better recent pic, you could see how the city completely renovated the exterior a couple of years ago. There wasn't much they could do with the stairs, though. It's not like they could've made them any wider or anything.

    Astoria 5

    Astoria 1

    In my defense, photographically speaking, the camera wasn't shaking in these shots. It was me that was shaking. Oh, and the stairs were shaking, too. I didn't remember the stairs being that scary in 1979.

    Several kids ran past me on the stairs going both directions. Who knows, maybe they'll come back 30 years from now and they'll wonder if it was always that scary. Or they'll just float up to the top with their antigravity boots, sneering at all the poor chumps of decades past who had to worry about stuff like "stairs" and "exercise".

    So anyway, here's the very top of the column, taken from the balcony.

    Astoria 3

    A few grain ships on the Columbia. Ships tend to park in Astoria temporarily on their way to Portland. I don't know if it's due to the tide, or they're waiting in line for a river pilot, or the Astoria visitor's bureau pays them to create some nautical ambience, or what it is, exactly.

    Astoria 7

    Astoria 6

    Astoria 2

    Looking south, here's Saddle Mountain and (I think) the Lewis and Clark River.

    Astoria 10

    Just across the parking lot from the column, and steps from the gift shop, is this odd memorial to a local Indian chief who befriended Lewis & Clark while they were here, 200-odd years ago.

    The memorial only dates to 1961, and was put together by people claiming to be descendants of the aforementioned chief. Which is a nice touch, certainly, although I don't know how you'd ever be able to prove a claim like that. If you're running a cash-strapped city parks department, and someone comes along wanting to give you something for free, most likely you don't ask a lot of tough questions. They could say grandpa was the Shah of Atlantis, for all you care, so long as their checks clear. But hey, I'm always a cynic, in case you hadn't noticed.

    Astoria 9 Astoria 4