Friday, December 31, 2021

Cat Photos of 2021

Per New Year's Eve (more or less) tradition, here are some cat photos from the last year. The one on the bottom is actually from New Year's Eve last year, because I added it by accident and now it's too cute to remove. As luck would have it, this post is a tiebreaker, and I now have more posts this year than last year, with almost 90 minutes to spare. One thing I forgot to do this year was an early-December post about this weird little website turning 16 years old now, old enough for one of those extremely limited airquote drivers licenses for teens, and a poorly-paid job in the fast food sector. I also narrowly avoided doing a brand-new post about one of those street intersection murals that dot SE Portland -- I was going to explain that I had just sort of stumbled across it and knew nothing about it, but then I figured I ought to google it in case there was an interesting story to pass along or something... and discovered that I had already done a post about it and then forgot all about it. So yeah, that felt really great. Sixteen years, it's all just a blur, man.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

King Kalākaua Park, Waikīkī

Next up on this humble blog's ongoing public art thing is a statue of Hawaii's King David Kalākaua, located in the half-acre King Kalākaua Park at the intersection of Kalakaua & Kuhio Avenues in Waikīkī (so it's kind of a city park post too). Visiting was pretty unremarkable, so this post is basically a big messy brain dump of all the random stuff I could find about the park and statue across the interwebs.

First some vital stats and such. The statue here was created by Hawaii artist Sean K.L. Browne, commissioned in 1985, and installed somewhere around 1989-91. Browne also did Lahui in Kaka'ako, and the Kresser Memorial in downtown Honolulu, and a few other things around Oahu, and I mention those two in particular because I also have draft posts about them that I've been meaning to finish for a while. A plaque on the base of the statue proclaims it a gift from a local nonprofit on behalf of the state's Japanese-American community, as a token of thanks for inviting their ancestors to emigrate to Hawaii. Of course (jumping ahead to the fine print) the invite wasn't motivated by pure altruism; the islands' native population was rapidly dwindling at the time due to various then-untreatable Western diseases, and the resulting labor shortage was a serious inconvenience for the all-powerful sugar industry. So the king went to work recruiting replacement workers/subjects from around the globe, because the spice sugar must flow[1].

As a minor attraction in an area full of tourists, the statue has the usual Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet pages, and a Waymarking one, but (unlike most of the statues in Waikiki) it doesn't seem to have any Yelp reviews. Maybe giving the king anything less than maximum stars would count as lèse-majesté or something, I dunno. The park as a whole does have a Yelp page, unfortunately marred by a handful of single-star reviews from people who were trying to review a nearby parking garage instead. The park also has a Tripadvisor page under "Waikiki Gateway Park", its previous name from before the statue went in, which a few sources (including Google Maps) can't quite let go of. This original name was once shared with an adjacent hotel, which has since been renamed as well.

For whatever reason the state's public art website (and related interactive map) have no references to the statue, while the city only has a few passing mentions of it: It appears briefly on page 61 of an art inventory doc, including a dead link to a photo of it. It also gets a quick mention in a 2007 survey for the city's troubled, still-incomplete light rail system, as a cultural object that might be affeted if they ever get around to building out the whole rail system they had in mind back then. A much-shorter initial phase of the project is allegedly supposed to enter service in April 2022, a few short months from now, though this effort is already $8B over budget and 11 years behind schedule, so I'm not exactly holding my breath. As of right now there are no longer any firm plans to ever extend it into Waikiki, partly to save money and partly so it doesn't look like it's being built just for tourists.

I thought I'd found a Smithsonian art inventory page for the statue, at least, but it turned out to refer to a different, seated statue by different artists over in Hilo. At one point in this post's long existence as a draft post, I had found a page from a cleaning product company bragging about their "aqueous ozone" product being used to clean the statue in 2015; this post sat around in drafts long enough for the original to disappear, but the Wayback Machine had a copy, if you'd like to read more about cleaning products.

As for the surrounding park, the city parks department has nothing much to say about it; they have a pushpin for it on their comprehensive (?) Google map of all (?) parks on the island, but no further information is available from there. Meanwhile the state government has a 1991 environmental assessment around re-landscaping the park, because no project in the state is too small to require one. Apparently after the statue went in they decided the park needed to be redesigned, for whatever reason. The doc's only a couple of pages since the state quickly decided there was no nature or history there that needed preserving, and concluded that the re-landscaping was desirable and in the public interest. It does have a paragraph about what the park was like at that point:

The park site is almost level. Current landscaping improvements include a lawn, 14 coconut palms, 8 rainbow shower trees, and several hibiscus and mock orange hedges. Structural improvements include tile pavers along Kalākaua Avenue, a concrete sidewalk along Kuhio Avenue, a King Kalākaua Statue mounted on a circular concrete pad, and a concrete walkway and plaza enclosed by a low rock wall. (See Figure 3) The rainbow shower trees surround and shade the plaza. Within the center of the plaza there is a simulated volcano: Red bougainvillea within a gently sloping, circular rock mound.

I haven't been able to find any photos of this long-gone simulated volcano, unfortunately. Going by the description above it could've been anything from a clever bit of tasteful landscaping to full-on midcentury tiki cheese. It certainly wouldn't have measured up to the then-brand-spanking-new, all-singing, all-dancing volcano at the Mirage in Las Vegas. Which a lot of locals would have seen, Vegas being the "ninth island" and all. I did run across a 1971 photo of the intersection showing buildings where the park is now, and a comment on that page says the visible building was a rock club/bar in a former 1930s ice cream hut, and out of frame there was a local market in a former Piggly Wiggly building, all of which were demolished to make room for the park within a few years of the photo. (The county GIS system gives dates in the 1973-1978 range for the acquisition & bulldozing work.) And yes, there was an environmental assessment for the original park work too, though the only thing about it I can find is a September 1977 summary. I dunno, I actually kind of enjoy reading those things, and I realize I may be the only person who does.

Another photo from ~1965 shows a midcentury Japanese teahouse that once stood across the street from the park, which was demolished around 1991 to make room for a sleeker, more upscale... Japanese teahouse. Which went out of business a few years later, and the building has sat empty ever since, though I understand the parking garage is still open. I haven't found any old news articles to prove this but it sure looks like was a concerted (and largely unsuccessful) effort in the 90s to take this whole area of Waikiki upscale. Another big example of this is right on the other side of the park's once-eponymous hotel, where you'll find the long-vacant King Kalākaua Plaza building, a four-story upscale retail plaza that opened in 1998, anchored by Niketown and Banana Republic flagship stores and an Official All-Star Cafe. The latter was one of those inexplicable 90s theme restaurant chains, a genre that no longer exists outside of the Las Vegas Strip, Times Square, and the more cartoonish parts of Florida. The retailers all cratered within a few years, and the fourth floor office space was never occupied at all, and despite an endless series of grand plans for the site it's remained empty ever since. Though like the teahouse the parking garage remains open for business. Though I'm not sure how underground parking even works when your building is just 5-7 feet above -- and a few blocks north of -- sea level.

The park also got a brief mention in someone's 2002 masters thesis about 3D visualization in highway planning. It seems that the city wanted to spruce up the intersection back in 2000 and built some kind of early VR model of the area to help imagine what the proposed sprucing might look like. Confusingly the thesis says this work was for the intersection of Kalakaua and Kapiolani. Which is a completely different intersection over by the Convention Center, across the Ala Wai canal from Waikiki proper. Where (as you can see on Street View) there's a distinct lack of anything that looks remotely like a park. So either the paper got a minor fact wrong and nobody noticed until now, or there's a second "Waikiki Gateway Park" out there that only exists in virtual reality. Which -- if nothing else -- is bound to cut down on maintenance costs. Either way, it would be kind of funny to see what either intersection looks like in vintage 90s VRML, but this was long before source control became cool, so if a copy still exists it's probably moldering away on a forgotten Zip disk in someone's office junk drawer. Oh well.

Ok, so at this point I have to pivot awkwardly back to the statue, because there's one other detail I was saving for the end. There's another plaque on the base of the statue, this one noting it (as in, the base and pedestal) had been laid by local Masons, as the king had been an active and high ranking member for many years, as had several of his predecessors. As a result the local organization owns a lot of historical artifacts and occasionally lends some of them out for display, including a royal Knights Templar sword (whatever that is) that somehow ended up at Sotheby's in New York in 2003. As far as I know there are no magical powers associated with the sword, or any sort of curse or prophesy or anything, and finding it in a D&D campaign would likely be a big disappointment, and the whole business seems rather silly. But say what you will, you never get stories like this coming out of rectangular corn states, so there's that at least.

Based on the statue's highly visible location, and the plaque's subject matter, and the usual inclinations of the 21st century internet, search results about it quickly descend into tinfoil hat territory after the first few pages of search results, because internet. Note that those links all go to recent Wayback Machine captures and not the sites themselves, since I'm mentioning them here strictly for entertainment purposes and not to send them traffic or spread their ideas. So instead of spending any more time on that, please enjoy that one semi-related song from that one show:

By way of contrast, here's what it looks like when actual Masons have a go at the same song, after a drink or two, or three, or so.


The combo of sugar money and an ambitious king did lead to an interesting historical episode in 1886-87. It's not really relevant to the rest of this post but hey. Kalākaua had big plans for his country despite the ongoing medical tragedy; word had reached him of a civil war erupting in Samoa, with the opposing factions backed by competing Western colonial powers (the UK, USA, and Germany, in this case) contending for influence in the South Pacific as they'd previously done elsewhere around the world. This was an unwelcome development as Hawaii was in a similar position, trying to avoid being gobbled up by one Western country or another. Kalākaua had ambitions beyond his own shores, though, imagining an ocean-spanning Polynesian Confederation powerful enough to keep the region from being sliced and diced into a bunch of crown colonies and overseas territories and whatnot. With, naturally, himself as the overall head of state of this far-flung new nation. So the Hawaiian Royal Navy's first (and as it turned out, only) modern navy ship was dispatched to Samoa for a little gunboat diplomacy, and actually got as far as signing a confederation treaty with the kingdom's preferred local ruler, while almost going to war with Germany in the process. Meanwhile back home in Hawaii the sugar oligarchs decided Kalākaua had gotten too big for his britches and staged a coup, forcing the king to sign a new "Bayonet Constitution" that strictly limited his authority. This was sold to the world as introducing a modern constitutional monarchy, but the new constitution also altered voting rules such that rich foreigners could now vote, but at least 2/3 of local residents could not, thus ensuring a majority white male legislature for the remainder of the kingdom's existence. As a result of all this, the Samoa expedition was called home, and the ship was quickly sold and the navy disbanded. So yeah, the king's brief attempt at a more assertive foreign policy didn't really play out the way he'd hoped. Or at least not in our timeline. An alternate history forum thread I ran across explores some of the inevitable "What If?" and "If So, How?" questions.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

photo outage

For those of you out there who check this tiny lil' blog obsessively, looking for the latest newly-published post that I probably started in the mid-2010s and just finished, you might have noticed some ugly 504 Gateway Timeout errors where there ought to have been embedded Flickr slideshows. The deal is that there was a huge Amazon Web Services outage earlier today (though it's apparently back to normal now), which caused a total Flickr outage since they rely heavily on AWS, and that in turn caused a partial outage here, as in no photos for a few hours. No permanent harm done, from what I can tell, and no lost revenue because I didn't have any in the first place.

I only mention all of this because a core best practice in this exciting modern DevOps universe is to maintain a status blog and write a post on it whenever you have an outage, explaining what happened. Everybody says that explaining is very, very important, and explaining things is basically all I do here, so I figured somebody out there might be expecting an official status post or something. Which would go here, because this blog is its own status blog. The reason this is important is not because you necessarily expect customers to understand, but they're apparently flattered that you even tried to, and then they can repeat the explanation to other people and sound smart. For bonus points, you can make it an apology that doubles as a job posting, as this outage was minimized on your end thanks to some advanced tools you wrote in-house using the latest and trendiest language of the year, and you're thinking about open-sourcing these tools if only you could hire someone as a maintainer. As it so happens my, uh, monitoring tool was me trying to find a photo to use as a new MS Teams background during an overlong meeting today. Which, on one hand, detected the outage without any annoying pagers going off, though on the other hand it doesn't scale up very well. As for the detailed explanation, Amazon will probably post one eventually here. When that happens, just imagine that statement plus me nodding along sagely to phrases like "Elastic Kubernetes" and "Flux Capacitor", and that's your official status update from here.

This particular outage annoyed me because I like to insist this humble little blog is a tiny one-person operation, and it's just me here puttering around pursuing various weird and eccentric hobbies and whatnot. And I like the idea that the site at least appears to exist outside of capitalism: No ads, nothing for sale, no sponsored guest posts, no affiliate links, nothing. And then an outage comes along and reminds me and everybody else that this is a reverse Wizard of Oz situation, with the twin corporate monoliths of Google and Amazon hiding behind a curtain & operating all of the actual machinery here. In theory I could probably host everything from home except for the embedded maps here, that would almost certainly be slower and less secure while also costing more, and doing a bunch of system administration at home as a hobby has never been my idea of a good time.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Lotus Cafe Mural

Continuing the theme from the previous post, here's another long-gone Portland mural. This time around it's the one on the back of the Lotus Cafe building, which was demolished in 2018 to make way for yet another generic steel-and-glass (and thus non-mural-able) hotel tower, a late entry in the city's inexplicable late-2010s hotel bubble. The cafe itself closed in 2016 after 92 often-sketchy years in business. It was, believe it or not, a popular and trendy dance club when I was in college in the late 80s and early 90s, despite its location amid government office blocks, far from any other nightlife options. Eventually the place settled down to being a kinda-mundane after-work happy hour spot, popular among people who had settled down into kinda-mundane office jobs nearby, present company included. In fact the photos in this post were taken from my office at the time, looking down at the doomed mural a few days before the rest of the Lotus building came down. Most likely I had fresh coffee with me and had to set it down to take these photos, and it's reasonably likely that I then forgot my coffee and walked back to my cubicle without it. At that point, still needing caffeine, I probably would have made a second, successful coffee run to the break room. Eventually I would have remembered my misplaced coffee and retrieved it, and (if it hadn't been forgotten overnight) possibly checked whether it was still drinkable. Because, after all, it was quite a long walk from my desk to the break room and back, and it's not as if coffee turns into worthless decaf as it gets cold. And this is the point where I sigh loudly and admit I sometimes miss working in an office with other people in it, in case you were wondering how year 2 of the pandemic is going these days.

Google Maps now labels the former Lotus site as the "SW 3rd and Salmon Tower", with an image that appears to be a CGI architectural rendering, not a photo. Somewhat embarrassingly, I do not actually know whether the depicted building currently exists outside of AutoCAD (or whatever architects use these days). I'm sure I've walked past the site sometime within the last six months, and I like to think I would have noticed a brand new 20-story hotel, but I have no recollection of seeing one. So it's possible they haven't gotten around to building it yet, and maybe they never will. On the other hand, the building in that rendering is remarkably boring even by circa-2021 standards, so it's also possible the building is there and I've even seen it in person, but it sort of fades into the background immediately without really registering. I am, in fact, so bored just looking at it that I can't muster any enthusiasm to go for a quick 15 minute walk and double check, though I absolutely agree that would be the responsible thing to do. If it's there, most likely it would just fade into the background again without being noticed, and I would come home still not knowing whether it exists, having been rained on for my trouble, and I'm annoyed just thinking about it.

The old Lotus merited a few pages in Jeff Dwyer's Ghost Hunter's Guide to Portland and the Oregon Coast published in 2015 right around the pop-cultural peaks of both national Portland-mania and of ghost-hunting reality shows. As the story goes, the building's cellar was home to some sort of angry male evil spirit, still nursing a grudge over whatever happened to him back in the Shanghai tunnel era. I have to admit I'm not really a ghost expert, so I have no idea what happens when you tear down an old haunted building and replace it with an utterly sterile new one. Does that free the ghosts or drive them away somehow? Or does a new building just make them even angrier, like the thing in Poltergeist where greedy developers only moved the headstones? I kind of suspect the latter, but again this is not really my bailiwick. So, as always, feel free to chime in down in the comments if you can field this one.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

a long-gone mural @ ne 15th & burnside

So a fun thing about losing track of old draft blog posts is that occasionally the subject of the post no longer exists when I circle back to the post again. This happens a lot with murals in Portland; other than a few city-owned ones, there's no expectation they'll stick around for the long term, and usually no budget to touch them up as they age. Some fade away, while others fall prey to vandals, developers, or others located somewhere along the vandal/developer spectrum. Then there are a few spots around town where every so often they just have someone come in and paint a new and different mural over the current one, which is what happened here. Where "here" means one side of the Columbia Art & Drafting Supply building, at NE 15th & Burnside. So the one shown here was painted in 2013 by Portland artist Ashley Montague and was apparently just called "Columbia art mural". And, well, that's all I can really tell you about it, to be honest.

Montague painted a second mural on the same building a few months later that went by "Visual Guardians", which drew a bit more attention at the time, maybe because of the large tiger. It featured in a 2014 r/Portland Reddit thread that in turn links to an Imgur photo of it being painted in late 2013. I somehow got the idea it was called "Beastmaster", thanks to someone else's Flickr photos that I ran across, and did a post about it under that name. So it's about a long-gone mural, under the wrong name, and the embedded "Beastmaster" (1982) movie trailer I included due to the wrong name is now a dead link. Which -- if nothing else -- is an impressive amount of brokenness and wrongness for such a brief post.

A comment on the "Beastmaster" post says the mural had been replaced sometime before November 2016, while current (as of right now) Street View imagery is dated June 2019 and shows what the building's 3 mural spots looked like at that point. If they're on something like a 3 year rotation, they may have cycled through up to 3 new designs since I took the photos here. Which is fine, of course; I'm just mentioning this in case anyone still thinks this little website here is some sort of slick, professional breaking news and current events operation. This may be hard to believe, but we (as in, I) don't even have a single news helicopter. Strange but true.