2009 Polar Plunge

This weekend I participated in a charity event called a polar plunge. The idea is simple. I get people to contribute money towards me doing something crazy, then I go do the crazy thing. Then Special Olympics Washington gets some money. I tried not to campaign too hard around my friends. I dropped a few hints, I mentioned it a few times. I sent out an email to some friends and family, I posted on a bulletin board at work, and the last day I kicked it up a notch and emailed a few people I knew would donate. On my web page for giving the money, I set up a bit of an incentive; the last digit of the amount I raise would be the way I entered, from cannonball to flip to backflip, and even including bellyflop. Of course, everybody tried to keep it at bellyflop, and I was least excited about that one. But at 10am the day of the event, I checked the site one more time and saw that it was at 817, so I had to do a bellyflop.

(Photo by Wendy Andres)

The day of the event I wasn’t feeling too good, so I was really concerned about the flop. Further, the event coordinators really wanted people to just jump straight in. At about 10 minutes before the event, I went into the tent to change clothes. For the last few minutes I wore a bathrobe over my bathing suit. There were a lot of people there, and they were being marched out onto the docks in groups of about 20-25. Then everybody would count down from three, and they’d all jump in, swim back to the boat ramp, and walk up, then get their towels and go back to the tents or the hot tubs that had been set up. The event was hosted by the police and fire departments, and they had all volunteered their time to be there. There were guys in dry suits in the water, ambulances nearby, and lots of people around in case anything went bad. There really wasn’t any danger with so many emergency people there; well, maybe to the rest of the tri-cities.

It came to our turn, and I took off my robe and set it on the hood of an ambulance. Then we all walked down there. I had a hard time finding a place along the dock and ended up towards the end behind someone. They counted down, and everybody jumped. I had to hang back a little because there was a guy directly in front of me, but I jumped as soon as I could:

(photo by Wendy Andres)

(photo by Ian Roberts)

(photo by Ian Roberts)

(photo by Ian Roberts)

(photo by Doug Love)

The jump started off perfect. I got spread eagle and was looking forward to the belly flop, but the person in front of me hadn’t gotten out of the way yet, and I barely avoided him. The water was indeed cold, but it was a different sensation than I had experienced during my practice run in the shower the day before. It didn’t feel like cold, but instead felt like my skin was discovering the sense of touch and all of my skin was yelling at me at once. I started to swim immediately for the shore and could only think of how interesting the feeling on my skin was. It was something very new to me. I kept swimming until I noticed that people were wading in thigh-deep water next to me, so I stood up and walked out of the water smiling. I went to my robe, put on my glasses, and walked towards the tent, giving Erin a very cold kiss on the way. There I changed and came back out. I chatted with some friends for a little bit, then headed home.

Overall, it was a lot of fun, and I’m very glad I did it. I got a few contributions afterward, and as of this entry raised $967, which is just a few dollars short of my goal. I’ll definitely do it again next year if I get the chance, but I may have to pretend I didn’t like it so much.

Going green(er)

I’ve always thought that I am pretty good about doing things in a decently Earth-friendly way. I keep my AC and heat at barely tolerable levels, I recycle, I turn off the lights when I’m not in the room, I turn off the water when I’m brushing my teeth, and I carpool when it makes sense. But I recently read the book //Hot, Flat, and Crowded// by Thomas Friedman, and while it’s a very good book, it scared me pretty good. So I’ve resolved to do even more to reduce my energy usage, carbon footprint, and resource usage. I’ve been doing some experiments around the apartment, and I’ve tried a few things out, and I think I’ve come up with some more reasonable things I can do to save. Plus, I’m saving money this way, which is a bonus.

* Unplugged lights. People have said before that my place is pretty dark. Now it’s even more true. My bedroom is lit with a single 23 watt compact fluorescent bulb, and I’ve unscrewed half the lights in my dining room and bathroom. It’s enough to see clearly, and it’s not as dark as having candles. Plus, even though I was already turning off the lights when I left the room, having only half of them on when I’m in the room means a reduction of energy by 50%!
* Unplugged peripherals. A huge drain on the power grid is devices that are in standby. So I unplug my microwave except when I’m using it, and I use my cell phone as my alarm clock and no longer use a standalone alarm clock.
* Turned down the heat even more. For a couple days I turned it off entirely. However, when my fingers got too cold to let me type, and I started to get sick, I decided that going without heat entirely wasn’t an acceptable option. I did turn it down a couple degrees, though, to 62. Cold enough that I can’t lounge around in shorts and a t-shirt, but not so bad that I can’t type.
* Turning my desktop computer off or putting it in standby. For years I’ve run my desktop computer 24/7 because it acts as a server. I’m now trying to move those services off my computer and onto hosted servers or finding alternatives. Now I can have my computer off or in standby most of the time.

These simple things should reduce my electricity consumption even more. I’ve saved my utility bills every month, and created a graph that shows my power usage each month:

There are some obvious things to note about this graph. It looks like most months I hover just under 400 KWH. Looking at the trendline, there’s an obvious spike in the winter months, with a tiny spike one month in summer when it’s unbearable without some AC. My hope this year is to reduce everything by 25%. I think it’s entirely doable, and using less light, less heat, and having my computer off more will go a long way towards that.

I’ve also been dabbling in energy generation. I built a stand for my bike so I can ride it indoors. Then I took a motor and attached it to the outer rim of the bike so that the spinning wheel would turn the motor and it would generate a current. I put a voltage regulator on it so that it would keep the voltage at +5 so that I wouldn’t blow out my cell phone, then hooked the wires up to a USB port so that it could charge my phone.

Find out more at WaterSoftenerMaestro.com.

Surprisingly, this actually worked. Well, it was easy enough to generate electricity, and getting up to 5 volts was no problem at all, but my phone didn’t appear to be charging. So I sped up. And up. And up. I was cranking it as hard as I could in top gear before the charging light came on. I was also smelling ozone from the motor, so I decided to end the experiment. It was clearly not a sustainable solution, even though it did work for a few seconds.

So I thought the next approach would be to gear down so that I would have more resistance on the bike and it would spin the motor faster. The only set of gears I could find in my apartment were from an old CD player. I tried those and while I was still testing to see what kind of a current I could get I managed to put so much energy into the gears that they quickly melted and then broke. So that wasn’t going to work. Now I’m looking into buying used car alternators, which is probably the way I should have been going from the beginning. Still, it’s good to know that in a pinch I have the knowledge to generate electricity to power a small device.

Finally, I’m working on reducing my consumption in other areas. I’ll be even more vigilant about recycling everything, I’ll reuse things as I can, and I’m going to monitor how much trash I take out. I think that before I was taking out a single plastic grocery bag a week (I don’t buy garbage bags), which is pretty good, and I want to keep track of that to see how that continues. I’m also going to figure out a timer for my showers, and I’ll flush less frequently. That’s actually pretty hard because I’m so accustomed to lifting the seat, putting it down, and flushing that I often don’t realize until I’m washing my hands that I flushed when I shouldn’t have.

It is my hope that watching my consumption and taking small steps to reduce it will have a better effect on the environment and my pocketbook, without reducing my quality of life.

Christmas 08, New Years, and a long vacation

On the day before Christmas I took a much deserved vacation that turned out to be fun and relaxing and happy. Well, it didn’t start that way. The original plan had been to go to Corvallis for a couple days to see the family, then drive up I5 to Winlock to see Erin’s family then go back to Olympia for a few days, then go up to Seattle for New Years, then spend a couple more days in Olympia at the timeshare I rent from Time Shares Only, and finally go home on the 4th. Weather changed some of that. The road through the gorge to Portland was closed for days. All the other roads through Oregon to get to Corvallis were just as bad. Passes were closed, too. I could have ended up stuck in Richland for Christmas. At the last minute I had to cancel the Corvallis part of the trip. The gorge had opened that night, but it was very sketchy, and even the Portland metro area had chains required for all vehicles. My family was sad, but I wasn’t the only one that had to cancel because of the weather. The good news, though, was that both Snoqualmie and White Pass were open. Erin had gotten her car stuck in the snow, so she wouldn’t have been able to meet me in Winlock, so I decided to go through Snoqualmie, pick her up in Olympia, then go with her down to Winlock. I started the drive down there and it was hairy the whole way. I don’t think I traveled a mile without snow or water on the road. There were accidents all along the roads; cars off the side, tracks leading off the road and back on it, even a few semis in various stages of not right side up. So my white knuckles went well with the rest of the scenery.

It was when I got to the pass, though, that things got particularly exciting. It went from traction tires advised to traction tires required right after I passed the sign, and I didn’t have traction tires. I chugged along, though, and despite the conditions did ok. There wasn’t a lot of traffic and the traffic that was there was all polite and reasonable. The roads hadn’t been plowed in a while so we were making our own tracks and trying to stick to lanes but also drive safely. I made it to the peak and hadn’t had any problems yet. I put my car into a lower gear for the ride down and didn’t encounter another car for a few miles down the slope. I thought things would be great soon as I got down and out of the snow zone. The next 50 miles were anything but.

The snow was pretty high on the roads. In fact, it was deep enough that I was scraping the underside the whole way. It was soft snow, so it wasn’t going to hurt my car, but it meant that I had to push harder and had less traction. Riding in tracks helped a little, but I was still sliding around a lot. It was a barely controlled ride on a very big sled. I didn’t have to deal with a lot of other vehicles, so I stayed in the middle of the road and took the corners at exactly the right speed not to start sliding. Every second my car was telling me it was scared and barely holding on.

The scariest moment came out of nowhere. I had bunched up with a few cars, and as we came around a curve there was a semi off the road on the left and another one off the road to the right. Not completely off the road, but on the shoulder. This acted like a funnel in the middle of the curve, so all the cars had to bunch together some more, which was really bad. Since we were all slowing, too, I started to slide horizontally down the bank of the curve. I tried to keep my speed up and even it out and get back in line without doing anything drastic, and kept sliding until I was into untouched powder on the side of the road. It was high enough that it started coming up over my hood, but I was not about to give up and stop. That would have been very bad, not just for me, but for all the cars who would probably be in a similar situation behind me and have to try to dodge my stuck car. So I plowed through and kept trying to get back on the road. I think the car right behind me was having issues too because he was right in my blind spot and wasn’t giving me room to get back on the road. I assume he wasn’t in total control, because as I started to creep back his car suddenly turned and he swerved into another lane. I’d rather not think there was malice in the car behind me, but I have been wondering what was going through his mind as he saw me struggling to stay on the road and not have him hit me. Anyway, I made it back on the road and did everything I could to get my speed back up to something maintainable so that I wouldn’t stop. The whole time I never got below 25mph, but if I had lost any more momentum than I had, it would have been a very different story. Fortunately, everything turned out ok. In my rearview mirror I saw the others that came around the corner with me and miraculously there were no accidents and nobody left the road.

That wasn’t the end of the excitement. The bunch split up again and I had most of the road to myself, but the snow was just as deep and scraping my bottom, and it turned into a whiteout. I couldn’t see more than 100 feet. Fortunately, I found a car ahead of me and got to a distance where I could just barely see his taillights, and I followed him until there was visibility again. Eventually all the snow disappeared and we were almost in Seattle. The rest of the road down to Olympia was just wet and very easy. That is, until I got into Olympia, where there was at least 4 inches of packed slippery snow on the roads. I didn’t so much park on the side of the road as slide into it and resolve that since I couldn’t move it would have to do as a parking spot. I picked up Erin and we had some adventures pushing my car out and getting back on the road.

Getting to Winlock wasn’t any better. For miles Erin and I drove through pouring rain/snow, and Erin’s dog got scared enough watching the road that he hid behind the driver seat. Once we arrived in Winlock, we made it towards her parents’ house, only to be thwarted by a very steep and slippery hill. We put the chains on and barely made it there. I parked and was very glad to have made it all the way safely.

Staying with Erin’s parents was fun. We had a good Christmas party with a lot of their relatives, and a white elephant gift exchange, and some games. The next day we went for a walk in the woods and played in the snow and watched some movies. The next morning we returned to Olympia, this time in much better weather and without nearly as much excitement. Parking was still a matter of accepting where you landed more than putting the car where you intend, but I didn’t plan to move for a few days.

Monday and Tuesday Erin and I worked. I had brought my laptop with me so I was able to work from her place while she went to work and did her thing. We made dinner together, watched movies in the evening or went out to play pool. It was all very nice and happy and cooperative.

On the 31st we drove up to Seattle. We had gotten tickets for a huge party on the waterfront with 5000 people and 5 dance floors playing club, salsa, 70s, 80s, and lounge music, plus a stand-up comedy stage, and we were pretty excited. We checked in to our hotel, took a break, and got ready for the evening. We took a taxi down to a group of restaurants near the waterfront convention center and had some good sushi and bento, then walked to the party. We explored the enormous complex and did some salsa, then happened to run into Erin’s friends just as we were wondering when they would show up. The four of us stuck together for a while, but it quickly got frustrating as we all waited for the others to smoke, get a drink, go to use the toiletable in the bathroom, disappear for a while. With 25 minutes to the countdown Erin went to the bar to try to get us drinks to toast. After standing in line for 10 minutes and not getting anywhere, she came back, and I gave it a try. I had been watching the bars, so I had an idea where to go and how to insert myself into the throng to get to the front. I showed the bartender my cell phone with my order typed out and she laughed and gave me the drinks. With 12 minutes before the countdown, Erin and I gave up on the others and went to do what we had planned to do. We went over to the retro dance stage where there were windows looking out to the space needle. At the countdown the fireworks started, and we counted down out loud with everyone else crammed up against the windows, celebrating at the new year.

We then did our own thing for a while. We took a break at the live comedy, went to a couple of the other stages and danced a little, and managed to meet up with the others as things were starting to simmer down and lots of people were leaving. Erin got her coat, and we made our way outside to try to find a cab.

Finding a cab was tricky. First, it was raining and cold, and I hadn’t brought a jacket, and Erin was in a dress and heels, so we were a little more exposed than I preferred. We walked up to where we were before with the restaurants and saw a few taxis, but finding one that wasn’t already taken was tough. So we used the Chicago strategy we had developed and started walking in the direction we thought they were coming from. I saw a taxi that almost seemed to be hiding and made eye contact with the driver, who showed he was available. I grabbed Erin and we hopped in. Before we could close the door, another guy was talking to the driver saying he had been waiting over an hour, that he would pay more than we would, and that he wanted to share the cab even though he had four people and was going in a different direction. The driver said no and the guy cussed a little and left. Then the driver pointed out that the guy could have walked there in less than ten minutes. The bad news was that the cab was a fixed $20, about triple what it cost earlier that night. We weren’t in a position to argue, and we had a discussion about civil engineering and concrete as he zipped through traffic and did some creative driving. We made it back to the hotel safely.

The next morning we got breakfast barely in time, and didn’t really do much during the day. We walked across the highway into Capitol Hill, and ate at a nice Nepalese place called Annapurna Cafe. It was good food. Then we walked back and drove over to Chinatown to see a very unusual but decently entertaining play/shadow puppet show. After that we headed back to Capitol Hill and a place called the War Room, where we had fascinating conversations and made ourselves uncomfortable as the only white people in a room dancing to reggae. After that it was back to the hotel.

The morning of the 2nd we checked out of the hotel and stopped in Tacoma. We went to the Glass Museum, lunch, and the Washington History Museum, then drove back to Olympia. The next couple days we didn’t do a whole lot. We went bowling, we played pool, we cheated the foosball machine by stuffing wallets into the goals so we wouldn’t run out of balls and could play as long as we wanted.

Sunday morning it was time for me to return, and we said our goodbyes and ended after ten days together almost the whole time. We could easily have kept going.

Thanksgiving 08/Portland

The four day weekend was a great opportunity to see a lot of people. I was going to see my Oregon family as I had for I think the last seven or eight years. It’s always nice to see them and catch up on things. I asked what I could bring for food and ended up with cheese balls. Granted, a lot of people were going to be there and since I was traveling further than most of them I could hardly be expected to prepare the turkey or one of the other essentials. Still, I was a little unhappy with cheese balls. However, it ended up an opportunity instead of a chore, and I had a lot of fun with it.

Knowing that it would likely be one of the less-consumed appetizers, I wasn’t about to make a large volume of it. I also know that if there are multiple flavors people will likely try all of them. So, with my interest being to create something that would be completely consumed, I set out to make many small cheese balls. I looked at a variety of recipes and saw some similarities and some interesting twists. Cheese balls are essentially cream cheese, other cheeses, and flavoring. I made a base of cream cheese, mozzarella, and cheddar. I split that in half and added more mozzarella and cheddar to it. This gave me two different consistencies of cream cheese, one harder and one softer and easier to dip. So that was a learning experience. Next I split those halves again into four separate cheese balls. Then I added flavors. For the first one I had some blackberry jam that Erin had made and given me. I thought a sweet berry flavor would go very well as a cheese ball, so I added it until it tasted right. That one was one of my favorite of the four. I took another of the balls and put sliced green onions in it. It was ok; seemed pretty traditional. The third was ranch dressing, which I thought was the most traditional, but which ultimately was my least favorite. The fourth one I tried something spicy; chili sauce. The red kind you would find in a Thai restaurant. I added that until it tasted right, and indeed it did taste right. It was soft at first as the cream cheese said hello to the tongue. After a moment the chili sauce announced its presence, not impolitely interrupting the conversation but instead like the coolest guy arriving fashionably late to a party and setting a whole new energy level in the room. Anyway, that one was awesome.

At around 11pm, though, I got an email from my cousin saying that she had considered my offer of a dessert and they would gladly have a cheesecake or key lime pie. I was one egg short of enough for the pie, but I had all the ingredients for the cheesecake in my apartment. I’m not sure what kind of a guy that makes me, that I would just happen to have everything. People have commented on the completeness of my cupboards. Anyway, I got to work, taking half the cheesecake and making it chocolate and then swirling it into the vanilla. I think it turned out great.

There was another reason for the cheesecake, though. Erin and I had been talking that week, and it occurred to us that Portland was right in between Corvallis, where I would be staying Thursday and Friday night, and Winlock, where Erin would be staying. So we decided to see each other Saturday night and spend some time in Portland. So if things worked out how I expected, I would be able to save some cheesecake from the dinner and give it to her that weekend. I had made her a blackberry cheesecake a while before when she came to Richland, but she hadn’t taken any back with her and regretted it. This was an opportunity to make it all better.

I got to bed at around 2am, and was up bright and early so I could make the drive to Portland. I arrived right when I said I would, and everyone was happy to see me and vice versa. We talked, we watched a little TV, we argued politics, we cooked, I played with the boys, it was all good. The food went over well, and it was interesting hearing who preferred which cheese balls. The pre-dinner and dinner and desserts were all great, and I was a very happy boy. Then I drove down to Corvallis to hang out with my aunt and uncle and spent the night there.

The next day Uncle Les took me duck hunting. I’m not really a fan of hunting, but I don’t have any objection to it, and it made my uncle happy, so I thought I’d tag along and see what he enjoyed about it. We got all geared up, and drove out to the duck club. Once we had signed in we trudged over to the duck blind and sat and waited and talked. It certainly wasn’t a thrill a minute, but it was enjoyable. We saw a lot of geese, but it was fairly late in the day to see any ducks, so we were starting to lose interest. In a flash, though, a duck went by the blind, Uncle Les jumped up and aimed the gun as I moved to give him room, he fired, and I caught a glimpse of the duck dropping exactly like it does on Duck Hunt for Nintendo. Cass, the dog, ran out after it and grabbed it out of the pond, then proceeded to bring it back to shore; the far shore. Les went chasing after it and crossed the pond and finally got the dog to behave and relinquish the duck before they came back to the blind. While he de-feathered the catch, we hung around the blind some more in the hopes of seeing another duck, but were not lucky a second time. We gathered up our things and headed back to the truck, then home.

That evening I went out to a Chinese buffet with my Grandpa and then back to his house to chat for a couple hours. Then it was back to bed. In the morning I got up and made my way North back to Portland. Erin and I had decided to stay at the Jupiter Hotel, where I had stayed with my friends for the Phantom of the Opera, and she arrived before I did. We had a mid-afternoon drink and light dinner at the hotel bar, the Doug Fir, then watched some Mythbusters while we decided what to do with our evening.

Carolyn had suggested a place called Oba Restaurant, so we went there. It was really good food. The chili mojito was less good, but the soup was so tasty and filling we had a hard time getting through even half of our entrees and we had to tell the waiter to cancel the dessert, which was really disappointing since we really liked the place. We had planned to go out to the bars, but weren’t feeling up to it, so we just took a taxi back to the hotel. In the morning we looked around for a place for breakfast and were supremely disappointed with Old Wives’ Tales restaurant. The food wasn’t good; the hot chocolate was the worst I’ve ever had (how do you screw up hot chocolate? they found a way).

It was about noon on Sunday, and we had checked out of the hotel and both wanted to get back during daylight, so we said our goodbyes and drove back to our cities.

Kayaking in Olympia

In November I went to Olympia to see Erin. One of the mornings we went to an interesting place on the water for brunch called [[http://tugboatannies.com/|Tugboat Annie’s]]. For $20 you get your choice of breakfast, coffee, and a couple hours on the best kayaks of 2017. It was a great deal, though since it was foggy and cold in November nobody else was taking up on the offer and we were told we could take as much time as we wanted. The breakfast was good (yay Hollandaise), and we read through the binder of instructions while we ate. Then we headed out to the kayaks and picked out a couple and got inside. I went out on the water first, and since I had never kayaked before, only rafted and canoed, was a little unstable at first. I quickly got the hang of it, though, and was soon sliding through the water with ease.

We started off along the Western coast and explored a logging area where they took the logs out of the water and either chipped them or put them on barges or put them on rails. It was hard to tell, and since it was a Sunday morning there wasn’t any activity. In fact, it was dead out. There was a lot of fog, the water was eerily calm, and there was no traffic making noise. We could whisper to each other and hear birds in the distance, but that was about it.

We continued to move North along the inlet, chatting and exploring the coast and piles of logs chained and floating in the water. Once we got to the end of the log pile, which was enormous, we followed it around and went back South. For a while a seal was curious about us and followed us around.

Eventually we made it back to the marina and checked out some of the boats, then returned our kayaks and locked them up, and returned the keys to the restaurant. To our surprise, we had been gone pretty close to two hours, and it was about right for us. It was chilly out, we had done as much exploring as we wanted, and we had had fun. It was a nice little adventure.

Chicago Conference/Halloween

With only a couple weeks before Halloween, Erin and I still hadn’t made plans for Halloween. We had options in both Olympia and Richland, but neither of us wanted to be in our home towns, hoping instead to find something fairly large and fun somewhere else.

In a parallel story, I was working on going to Chicago for a conference. The same company that had sent me to San Diego was now preparing for a conference in their home town of Chicago, and had expressed an interest in bringing me there not only to attend the conference with them but also get familiar with their offices and meet the people with whom I may have worked to integrate our software. It was a pretty important conference on emergency management called TCIP (Technologies for Critical Incident Preparedness (http://www.ctc.org/)), and was essentially an opportunity for government, corporate, and emergency response people to get together and talk about needs and what technologies can fill those needs. Anyway, it was the perfect conference for me to attend for a variety of reasons.

Our parallel stories met in a moment of clarity when it occurred to me that the conference ended a day before Halloween, I have friends in Chicago I’d love to see and who would gladly put me up for a night, and there was no reason Erin couldn’t come, too. So I made my plans to go to Chicago for the conference, and she made her plans, and she arrived the second day of the conference. During the day I attended the conference, and she went off and explored the city and a couple graduate schools she was interested in. In the evenings we had dinner and explored the city some more. I was lucky enough to get a hotel room at the Hyatt Regency where the conference was being held and had a great view that included the river, the lake, downtown, and even Navy Pier:

On Thursday night we went out to dinner at a nice restaurant called Catch Thirty-Five, then saw Wicked, which was amazing. Afterward we met up with Adam and Sarah at the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the Hancock Tower and had a great view of downtown at night. It was really handy being downtown because we could either walk or take a taxi anywhere we needed to go.

Friday the conference was winding up and by noon was over. Before I finish with the conference, though, there was something really cool about being there. There were screenshots of software I had written in four of the booths there. One of them was a client using mobile software in San Diego. Another was a group visualizing sensor data in Los Angeles. A third was the PNNL booth showing off some mobile stuff and some visual analytics stuff. And the fourth was a DHS booth showing off more of the same research from PNNL. It was really cool to be able to go up to those booths and see the screenshots and introduce myself (some of them I’d only ever exchanged emails). I was able to do work on a few different projects while I was there, get some good ideas, and attend a lot of the conference sessions that were really relevant. In some cases I think I even had more expertise than the people presenting. I guess that’s a sign that I should be getting more of my knowledge out of my head and into papers and conferences and not just software. Still, the conference was a very good thing for me to have attended.

After it ended, I had arranged to go down to the offices of the other company to meet them and show them some software and answer their questions. It was an interesting demo, full of technical… challenges. I managed to delete a database moments before the demo, which caused some problems, but fortunately I had a backup. It wasn’t a full backup, though, so there were some issues, and some things required being behind the PNNL firewall for it to work. Unfortunately, the lab was going through a bit of a crisis at the time, and had cut off most of the internet access. Still, I managed to show what I wanted, answer their questions accurately and completely, and even get them interested in some more parts.

After the meeting, Erin and I met back up, then went to the pier to see it and get a hot dog, then walked back to get ready for the night. We met my friends for dinner late at a place called Greek Islands Restaurant, where we all stuffed ourselves pretty well. Then it was out to Wicker Park for some drinks and bar hopping. I had my Napolean Dynamite costume with the wig and hair, and Erin was a medieval peasant:

The quality and number of costumes was astounding. We had so much fun going from bar to bar, seeing everybody dressed up and having fun together. Some really elaborate costumes that had to have taken countless hours of construction. We made our way to most of the places in the Wicker Park area, pushing through throngs of people. It was getting late, and the others decided to leave, but Erin and I stuck it out for a while longer, but not much. Then came the inevitable closing of some of the bars, and that meant all the taxis were being snatched up. We spent a long time looking for one. Eventually we decided to pick a main direction and start walking, thinking that if we got out far enough we’d find an open taxi heading into the throng before picking someone up. Ultimately, it worked, and we got back to the hotel safely.

The next morning I had to check out of the hotel because it was for the conference, not my weekend vacation. We left our bags at the desk for the day and took a bus up to Lincoln Park, where we first looked for a place to have some brunch and happened on the most fantastic place ever. It was a buffet brunch that obviously catered to the Friday night partiers. The place is called Stanley’s Kitchen and Tap, and it was amazing, and we weren’t the only ones who thought so. The place was full of people who looked like they were recovering from a long night.

After brunch, we went back to Lincoln Park to see the zoo. At first we only saw the farm animal section and were quite unimpressed, Erin having grown up on a farm, and me having grown up in Montana. Surely that couldn’t be all to the great Lincoln Park zoo. We continued our exploration of the park and thankfully found the rest of the zoo, which turned out to be pretty cool and bigger than we expected.

After the zoo we sat down for a while and planned the rest of the day. We didn’t have a hotel room, we wanted to inconvenience Adam and Sarah as little as possible, we wanted something cheap, and we wanted something convenient to the L. We tried a few hotels, we tried a few hostels, and we did some hard looking, thanks mostly to Google Maps on my mobile phone. Sadly, we came up with nothing, though. In the end we called Adam and he was more than happy to have us for the night. We took the bus back to the hotel to pick up our bags then got back on the bus to go to Hyde Park and Adam’s place.

Once we arrived we chilled for a while. Erin took a nap while Adam and I watched a movie. We played some Mario Kart, too. Sarah was at a conference, and when she got back she had to prepare for an evening party as part of the conference. We planned for her to go to that while Adam and Erin and I went to dinner, then we’d pick her up and go to a nightclub. I donned my Napolean Dynamite costume and we headed out. Sadly, all the places we tried to go to eat were closed, and we spent over forty five minutes looking for a place to eat, finally settling on a place that sold pizza by the slice in a part of town I could never find again. Sarah gave us a call when she was done and we returned to pick her up. Then it was off to the club. We picked Excalibur because it had everything in one place, and since it was cold outside we really didn’t want to be doing a lot of traveling. It was a good choice. The main dance floor was just ok. We went up a few floors and across the hall to the techno floor and spent most of our time there. We also meandered down to the other stage on the first floor, but didn’t stay there long. Mostly we were in the techno section. Even though it was the day after Halloween, people were still dressed up in their costumes, and it was again a lot of fun to see everybody dressed up. There was also a breakdancing circle at one point, and I was lucky enough to be near it, so I jumped in and did some Napolean dancing in my costume, to great effect. Sadly, I think I was the one there with the best skills to offer. The other people who tried the circle weren’t nearly the caliber I’d expect in Chicago, so I was a little disappointed. Meh.

One observation I’ve made about noisy clubs is that my cell phone is great for communicating. Rather than yelling into other people’s ears, I’ll just type a message and show it to them, then hand them the phone and they’ll type a response. Since my phone has a full keyboard and touch screen, it’s easy and fast to type or draw pictures. The other huge benefit, and I’ve great responses to this, is to type out my drink order before I get to the bar, then just show them the screen when they get to me. No yelling, no confusion, it’s fast and easy and you can order more complex drinks than the basics. It’s really a win-win.

The four of us seemed to be done with the club all within 15 minutes of each other, so none of us felt bad about leaving; it was just unanimously time to go. We made our way out and headed back to Adam’s where we crashed in the living room. The next morning Erin and I both had fairly early flights, so we called for a taxi to get to the airport and let the others sleep in. We got through security with no problems, and I walked Erin to her flight and said goodbye, then headed to mine.

It was probably my best Halloween so far, and a really good conference, and I love Chicago, so I don’t know how the experience could have been any better.

Beauty and the Geek – The Full Story

Many people know that I applied to be on the show Beauty and the Geek. This is the full story of what happened.

Back in late 2007 there were a lot of advertisements on the radio about a casting for the show Beauty and the Geek. I had never seen or even heard of the show, so but my interest was piqued. I watched a couple episodes online and was surprised how well the geeks were portrayed. I was not interested in a reality show that made an effort to make the characters look bad, but this one showed the good sides of most of the people on the show. So I thought I’d give it a shot. I went to the casting, which was a local radio DJ sitting and interviewing people in front of a camera. I was one of only a few guys there (there weren’t a lot of girls, either, and a few got turned away because they weren’t 21). I went up for my interview and did fine. I cracked a couple of my signature corny jokes, I told some good stories, and I came across as a smart and likeable geek. Apparently the casting company thought so, too, because a few days later I got a phone call from them asking me to submit an application and video. And I only had a few days before it was due. I raced to fill out the paperwork and make a video and was fairly happy with what I submitted to them (http://wyzgyz.org/batgold). I also sent them a hard copy of the paper work and a dvd of it. Unfortunately, this was during the writer strike, and my mail wasn’t delivered because they wouldn’t cross the picket line. I let the casting people know what had happened and that they could pick up the application at the delivery company, and they thanked me, but never picked it up. It was returned to me a few weeks later. I assumed they had gotten all they needed from the material I submitted online.

I heard nothing, the show was filmed and aired, and frankly I thought I had dodged a bullet by avoiding season 5. There were a lot of quirks that made me glad I wasn’t in that melee.  It was frustrating to not hear anything from them, though, and wonder if or when I would hear from them again and have to tell friends that asked that I hadn’t heard anything.

Then around October out of the blue I got a call from them again. They said they would be starting it up again, filming in December, and I was at the top of their list. They wanted me to make another video, do some paperwork, and have it to them in 48 hours. I understand Hollywood is all about speed, but all my plans for the weekend disappeared in the blink of an eye. I spent a few minutes thinking about what I would do, and finally came up with an idea that I thought would work. The only problem was, I had to act immediately because it relied on other people and they were only there that night. So I went out dancing, and in my haste locked my keys in my car necessitating a call to Carolyn that led to a trip back to my apartment to fetch the spare key. The next day I continued to produce the video, and I finished it up Sunday evening. I had a few people over for a movie night, so I showed it to them for feedback before I submitted it to casting.

Here’s the video in all its glory:

Remember, it was done in only a single weekend, and I didn’t have sophisticated microphones or even anyone else to help with this. I’m particularly proud of what I did at the end with the special effect. You can see words appear above my head while I’m talking. This was not added in afterwards; this is actually projected above me as I’m talking. It took a while to set it up, and there were some technical bits that took some tweaking before I was satisfied. Here’s a shot of my living room so you can see how it was set up:

From left to right, there’s a light that I mounted high up using a chair and cardboard. This was to get direct lighting without shadows. Next you can see the camera stand where the camera sat to capture video. Taped to it is a sheet of paper with talking points. To the right of that is the laptop sitting on a chair and a bunch of books so I could see the screen without looking away from the camera. The laptop was running a powerpoint presentation, which is what was projected. You can see in the video some strange skewing on some of the pictures. Because the projector was off to one side, there was some significant keystoning. In powerpoint I was able to correct that in the text by skewing the text the other way, but I wasn’t able to do that with the pictures. On the far right is the projector. I was having audio issues with the projector fan being so loud, so I mostly covered it and put up the cushion barrier. As I talked, I saw what was being projected above me and talked about that and to the talking points on my paper. I had the mouse hidden next to my left hand and hit that to advance slides. Ultimately I think it turned out pretty well.

I submitted everything to them on Sunday night, and you can see it here: http://www.wyzgyz.org/batg/. That page has lots of good pictures and the video.

Over the next couple days we traded a few emails while they got the pictures and higher-def version of the video. Then nothing for a while. Then late in November I got a call again. They asked if I had 5 friends to choose from who could also be on the show, and they said they would probably be moving production back to January. I had a hard enough time taking a month off of work to go do this, and now they were asking for me to find a friend who also wanted to be on the show and could take a month off. I submitted a list of a few names that probably wouldn’t work, and never heard anything again. Nothing. November passed, December passed, and January is half over, and I still haven’t heard from them. Oh well. I’m not really surprised considering what happened last year with it, but it would be nice to hear from them, and it would be nice if they didn’t string me along with “we’re really excited about you and we really want you to be on the show” if they weren’t and didn’t. We’ll see what happens if they make a Season 6 or not, and if I ever hear from them again.

Mt. St. Helens – again

Back in 2007, a group of us tackled Mt. St. Helens. This was a great adventure, and enough other people were interested in trying it that we decided to go again. I was in pretty good shape, and we had been doing lots of hiking at Badger Mountain and elsewhere, so I was looking forward to tackling the mountain in a fraction of the time we spent the first year. Partly because I intended to go at my own pace and not wait so much, and partly because I was overall in better shape.

Well, better shape except for my knees. They were still hurting, and frankly I was even considering bagging it the morning of the hike. We got to the place and even had the same camping spot. Carolyn made spaghetti for dinner, and we went for a little walk around sunset to see the view and play with cameras. We went to bed fairly early and woke up fairly early, too.

We packed up our tents and gear and got ready for the hike. We were on the trail right on time, and raring to go. I was a lot more prepared for the trip. I had brought my trademark wasabi tuna salad sandwich, but I had tried something new to keep it from getting soggy. I put wax paper between the tuna and the bread in the hopes that it would keep the tuna from sogging the bread. Unfortunately, what happened was the tuna just slid down to the bottom of the bag and I had a very soggy and useless mess of a bag. So I won’t be trying that again. Maybe separate bags entirely next time.

Anyway, we kept up a good pace, and I was doing fine. I could feel my knees the whole time, but they weren’t complaining too much. As the sun came up and we got out of the trees and warmed up we changed our clothing accordingly. Then came the boulder fields, and I was having a lot of fun the whole way. In some parts it was ashy and gravelly, and that wasn’t as much fun, but the parts with the big boulders that we had to climb around were awesome.

We got a firsthand view of weather, too. We could see a layer of haze right under a layer of clear off in the distance by Mt. Adams. We were above the cloud level early in the morning and looking out on the valleys you could see an ocean of white cloud with mountains for beaches. We even witnessed cloud formation right in front of us as the wind blew up the mountain and moisture from the haze level came up and turned into wispy but growing clouds. It was a really cool sight.

I made it to the top of the mountain in under 4 hours. 3:45 to be exact. It was a good time, and I beat everyone else by a lot, not that it was a competition. I was just trying to get to the top. I hung out at the top for a while, then Nick arrived and we followed the rim around to the true summit a few feet higher than where we had been. Since I had been stopped for a while and hadn’t gone downhill at all to this point, going to the true summit was a sharp reminder how much my knees were unhappy with me. Going downhill hurt a lot more than going uphill, and I had at least 4 hours of downhill ahead. We all made it to the top and took group pictures and had a good time and healed a little bit.

Last year I brought duct tape in lieu of gators, and wrapped my shoes up to my jeans in duct tape, making a solid barrier against the ash and small rocks that get inside the shoes. This time, I tried the same thing. Except I didn’t count on splitting my tape with another person, and I ran out. Sadly, the tape was ineffective, and I had to drain my shoes a few times. I was prepared for this trip, though. Last time it was cold and very windy, so I brought more layers and ski goggles to protect against the flying dust and ash. This time, it was nice with no breeze. For food I fortunately had a backup sandwich to eat at the top, and I had trail mix and energy bars that went mostly uneaten or shared. For fluids I estimated fairly well, except for the liter of gatorade that I gave to someone else.

The trip down was bad, but not as bad as the year before. Even though my knees hurt with every step, my brain was fine and the rest of my body was fine and I wasn’t really tired at all. The end sort of jumped out of nowhere and then we were done. We were all happy that we had done it, and proud of our individual accomplishments, but pretty sure that we wouldn’t be going back again. It’s a mountain we’ve conquered twice already, and we want to move on to other mountains.

We finished the day with dinner in Hood River and an easy drive back home.

Portland Trip

For a while we had been planning a trip to see Phantom of the Opera in Portland. It wasn’t there for long, so we had to take advantage of the opportunity. At the end of August, we took a few cars over to Portland. My car stopped at Multnomah Falls because the others hadn’t been there yet, so we got lots of pictures (they did, not me). I was having some serious problems with right behind my knees. I think it was from the softball tournament and Kendall Katwalk and all the other activity I had been doing over the summer, and it was starting to add up and take its toll on me.

We continued on to Portland and arrived at REI to meet everyone else right on time. Well, we were on time anyway. After hanging out there far longer than I needed or wanted to, and with my knees getting worse, fortunately we continued on to check in to the hotel. We would be staying at the Jupiter Hotel, and this was my first time there. It was like a young rocker hipster place, with condoms and earplugs on the ikea nightstands and big furry pillows and murals on the walls and chalkboard paint on the doors where everybody wrote and drew. It was very interesting and a neat atmosphere.

From there we changed and headed out to dinner at The Melting Pot. It was a fantastic dinner, and we moved the fondues around so we all got to try all of them. Somehow it seemed I had a bottomless stomach and I ate everything. The cheese fondue, the salad, the entree fondue, the chocolate dessert fondue, and a couple glasses of wine. I was cleaning other people’s plates, too. It was bizarre.

After dinner we got in our cars or walked over to the theater where the opera was. We had arrived too early, so we had to wait before they opened the doors, but we had no problem finding our seats. The show was pretty cool. I found myself singing along quietly and marveling at how they accomplished some of the special effects. After the intermission, though, things got worse, and I started to get bored and nod off. It had never occurred to me how all of the songs tie in melodies from all the other songs, so while it was a neat idea, by the second half of the opera I was getting tired of hearing the same melodies over and over, and the effects weren’t as intriguing and the story wasn’t as exciting, and dinner was putting me to sleep. I only dozed a couple times, and not for very long, but otherwise I would say that the show was great and I had a really good time.

Leaving after the show was a challenge. Downtown Portland is full of one way streets going the wrong way. We had to go way out of our way to be able to get onto Burnside, but once we did it was easy to get back to the hotel, and amazingly we beat the others back.

I had become more alert and was ready to continue the night, but I had a hard time motivating some of the others. There was salsa dancing across the street, so Emily, Tara, Carolyn and I went to check it out, but they weren’t willing to pay the cover, so we went back to the hotel bar, which was pretty cool itself, and had a drink there. Then they went to bed, so I went back to the salsa place.

It was on the third floor, and the surface was a great hardwood smooth dance floor. It couldn’t have been better. Well, it could have if it wasn’t completely full of people. I was amazed at how many people were there dancing, and how good so many of them were. There were also a lot of guys on the edges, too, looking for women to dance. The ratio was off, and I found myself intercepted countless times on the way to ask someone to dance by someone who was a few inches closer to her. I did manage to get a few dances, but I was clearly middle of the pack as far as skill level. Maybe 60%. It was strange. Oddly, when I was dancing my legs didn’t hurt, but towards the end of a song, or as soon as I stopped, they did. That, combined with the inability to find partners or dance space, convinced me to head home at about 1am. I snuck in to the room and the others hardly noticed.

The next morning we all rounded up in the lobby area, and caravan-ed to a small breakfast cafe a couple miles away and had really good brunches. Then we split up to head home, as some wanted to go for a hike, and I was in no position to do it. So Lyndsey and I drove back to Richland, and that was the end of the weekend.

Kendall Katwalk

There’s not really a lot to say about this hike. I really liked it. Located right around Snoqualmie Pass, it was snow free in the middle of August. It was a significant hike, about 14 miles round trip, with ~3700 feet elevation gain, so it wasn’t easy. After we got above the forest-y parts it was a lot steeper and the rock was rough and uneven. There were some crazy parts with very steep slopes off the side of the trail and drops of hundreds of feet, but nothing too scary. The Kendall Katwalk itself was a thin ridge where two mountains met with large valleys on either side. The view from one side was spectacular; the view from the other was mostly spectacular minus the highway and ski hills off in the distance.

We only saw a few people, and had some interesting conversations with them. Once we made it to a couple lakes over a mile past the Katwalk, we decided to head back. On the way back down I still had plenty of energy towards the end, so I took off ahead and ran/jogged for over a mile down the mountain. Running down mountain trails is so much fun and challenging, too: dodging rocks, handling switchbacks, deftly ricocheting off trees to keep up the momentum while changing direction. I made it to the bottom and waited for the others to finish. On the way back we stopped in Ellensburg and ate at the Yellow Church Cafe. I had cleaned up and even changed, so I was fine to go in there, but the others were a little stinkier. Still, they didn’t complain and we all cleaned our plates.