Posted by: bkivey | 24 September 2016

2016 Vacation Pt. 3

Wednesday was a travel day; so a bit of a wash. I was going from Buffalo to Detroit, or traveling the length of Lake Erie. Apparently there’s only one airline offering direct service, and they raised the price for the trip over $100 while I was booking the flight. So a quick, relatively inexpensive trip turned into something else. I ended up having to go to Detroit by way of Philadelphia. The trip price was reasonable, but the time required ballooned.

By this time lack of sleep was catching up, so I slept on the way out, woke up long enough to change planes, and slept on the way to Detroit. The captain of the PHL – DTW flight actually came into the cabin to encourage passengers to listen to the safety briefing. I always do, and review the safety cards, because as many times as you’ve heard them, it’s been shown that unless they practice, people under stress forget training. If my plane goes down and I survive, I want to know how to get off that thing as fast as possible.

I was surprised to find that the Detroit airport is about the same size as Buffalo. I’d expected an airport that served the heart of American automobile manufacturing to be somewhat larger. While taxiing to the terminal we passed a 747 on the way to takeoff. The Queen of the Skies is fast disappearing, and while I’ve been riding airplanes for decades, my lack of a 747 ride is a glaring hole in my traveler resume’. I was able to find that airlines operating the 747 out of Detroit all go to Asia, so if I want a ride, I may have to adjust my vacation plans.

A couple of items of interest in the airport:

The dryer in the bathroom where I’d just washed my face:


Old-school dryers had a nozzle you could point up. New school: not so much. There were no paper towels.

A phone card machine:


In the computer service industry, an ID10T code is a disparaging reference to clueless people. I wondered about this company’s choice of branding.

Some unusual clouds outside the airport:



The second photo gives a better idea of the wave-like nature of the clouds. It was striking.

By the time I got to the hotel in Dearborn it was after 4, so no time to really do anything, and frankly no ambition to do it. Took a nap, got some food, and had a look ahead to the next part of the trip.

Posted by: bkivey | 24 September 2016

2016 Vacation Pt. 2.5

One of the reasons I chose a downtown hotel was easy access to the waterfront. Like many waterfront cities, Buffalo has redeveloped the area into a park. Anchored on one end by a yacht basin, the park is an inviting place to stroll and is popular with residents. Buffalo calls its park Canalside because the Erie canal terminates here:



Directly behind me the canal empties into the Buffalo river, which in turn runs for a short distance from here to Lake Erie. The Buffalo river is a working river, and there are still a few grain elevators in the area. Apparently the modern grain elevator was invented in Buffalo.



Buffalo has a bike share program:


Immediately adjacent is the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park. I had no idea this existed, although it’s hard to miss.


Portland has a submarine. Buffalo has a submarine, too. And a cruiser, a destroyer, and a variety of other military hardware. Canada better think twice before invading Buffalo. Adult admission to the museum is $12. The first display floor is above the gift shop and includes Coast Guard, WWI and WW II artifacts, as well as a section on the War of 1812. Much of that war was fought in Lake Ontario/ Lake Erie area. Displays on that war are as ubiquitous in the region as Lewis & Clark displays in the Northwest.

The WW II gallery:


K-rations, in case you’ve never seen them. I hadn’t. Back in the day each ration came with five cigarettes. I can see where possibly dying of cancer in the next 30 years would pale in comparison to the more concrete possibility of dying in the next 30 minutes.


A model of a paddle-wheel training carrier used on the Lakes during the war. I’d never heard of this. The paddle wheel is directly above the sign.


There’s a WW II map of the Pacific captured from a Japanese soldier:


A couple of Asian gentleman were examining the map, and I asked them if they could read it. They said not really: they were Chinese.

Next to the museum building is another building housing a variety of military artifacts:


There’s a display yard next to the building with full-sized equipment:


The craft on the right was known as a ‘Weasel’, which I found amusing.

“What’d you do in the war, grandpa?”

“I ran a weasel.”

So that’s a pretty fair amount of stuff to see for $12, but there’s still three ships to tour. The ship tours are arranged so that you start at the stern of the destroyer, follow the yellow line all over the ship, come out at the stern of the cruiser, follow the tour, exit at the stern of the submarine, follow that tour, then exit to the quay. The ship tours are as complete as any I’ve seen, and the tour route takes you to all parts of the ships. It’s really well done. On the day there were former crew from the cruiser working on the ship, and it was interesting to talk to them. The ships are maintained entirely through volunteer labor, and as anyone who’s owned a boat can tell you, even basic maintenance is a job of work, much less expanding the public spaces. These aren’t 40′ pleasure boats.

Some recent deck work:


And some areas awaiting restoration:


There was a space that some folks have used as a wishing well:


I wondered about corrosion. The USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu specifically discourages tossing coins in the water for that reason.

The destroyer is pretty much preserved as it was on active duty, but the cruiser is much larger. Consequently several of spaces have been turned into mini-museums. There are spaces dedicated to the Marines, the Polish military, female soldiers, and more. Each of the museums on board is the work of a few volunteers with an interest in that area. The result is that for the price of admission, you’re getting a number of museums for the price of one. If there’s a better museum value extant, I don’t know it. Depending on whether you talk to former crew, it’s reasonable to expect to spend 4 – 6 hours. There’s a restaurant on the grounds, so you can tour for a bit, take a break, and resume. The museum closes at 5, but if you’re on a ship at closing, you can complete the tour of that ship.

There’s a lighthouse at the harbor entrance and  I wanted to get a shot at sunset. The lighthouse is located adjacent the Coast Guard station, and the freeway cutting across the waterfront makes getting to the spot neither obvious nor particularly easy. The sun went down a bit faster than anticipated, so I missed the sunset, but got the lighthouse:


Downtown Buffalo at dusk:


And the best-lighted grain elevator I’ve seen. The lights change color.


And that was it for my time in Buffalo.

I like Buffalo. In many ways Portland and Buffalo are alike. They have more lakes and snow; we have more volcanoes and rivers, but the development of the cities, the industrial base, and the city layouts are similar. One difference is that Buffalo embraces its industrial heritage, whereas Portland wants the money industry brings without, you know, the industry. I like Buffalo, but Portland has better weather. Advantage: Portland.







Posted by: bkivey | 22 September 2016

2016 Vacation Pt. 2

The plan today was to see Niagara Falls in the morning, then find something interesting to do in the afternoon. I have goals for vacation and may generally plan what I want to do, but outside of major goals I’m not wedded to an itinerary. It’s travel. Flexibility is helpful. The strategic goal this year is to see the Great Lakes: anything else is almost gravy. Slept a bit later than I would have liked, but 1) I’m on vacation, and 2) I’m on vacation. It usually takes about three days of vacation to make the switch from goal-orientation to enjoying the journey.

One of the joys of going places not Portland is driving in traffic not stopped. The only complication in the 20+ mile journey from Buffalo to Niagara Falls was dealing with my not-always-great phone GPS. My oldest sister isn’t a fan, but I’m too lazy to get a better one (How hard can it be?! Just download it!) The GPS is just good enough enough of the time to keep me mollified.

Along the way you pass the intake houses for the American side Falls power stations:


Because there aren’t any indicators that this is, in fact, an intake station; like big sucking pipes, I’ll have to take the New York Power Authorities word for it. I’d love to know what’s inside.

A bit further up the road:


This is in the town of Niagara Falls. There’s metered street parking adjacent, or there would be if the meters worked. The town of Niagara Falls uses computerized meters, and on the day me and another gentlemen watched the computer spin without result. We decided to park without paying. Scofflaws we are.

It was a pretty good hike across the bridge to the Falls. Along the way there are rest stops at the rapids above the Falls.

This is where the water falls, well, off a cliff.


The top of the American Falls.


That’s an observation tower in the middle. I was surprised that the Falls weren’t louder than they are. The rapids make more noise than than the falls themselves. I’m literally half deaf, but I’d thought metric tons of water falling nearly 200′ would be louder than it is.  Given the scale, the Falls are actually pretty quiet.

Views of the Falls.



I’ve been told by people who know that the view from the Canadian side is better, and if you look at the geometry, this appears to be true. I travel with my passport, but I didn’t bring it this day, so was confined to the American side. Niagara Falls is impressive. Also impressive is the view from the bottom of the falls. I elected not to do this, but others did:


As I told one person, if I wanted to get wet, I’d wait a few weeks at home for the rain. You can buy a package deal to tour the base of the Falls, take the Maid of the Mist tour, and do a few other things for I believe $45. It’s actually a good deal. Not so good a deal is the price of admission to the observation tower: the operators want nearly $20 to observe the falls. No thank you.

The area around the Falls has been made into a park, and it’s a nice place to spend time. There are a number of memorials, mostly dedicated to war dead.


The gazebo is surrounded by monuments, including a memorial to a Welsh hymn singing contest. The plaque is made of Welsh slate:


In the US Niagara Falls was once the honeymoon destination on the East Coast, and there’s still some evidence of that. For me, it was Tuesday.

Back to Buffalo, and looking for something to round out the last day in town. I found it.





Posted by: bkivey | 20 September 2016

2016 Vacation Part 1

I’d had it in my mind the last couple of years to tour the Great Lakes. As a child we took a family vacation to the Sixth Great Lake (Lake Champlain), and I’d seen Lake Michigan a few times flying in and out of Chicago, but I wanted to see them from the ground and the country around them. Lakes Great or not tend to look the same: bodies of water of varying size. The trick to a successful vacation would be to find unique perspectives for each Lake. I also wanted to the extent possible in a week to get a feel for the region. The Lakes are one of the economic powerhouse regions of the US, and Chicago is the region’s undisputed hub, but by the same token many Americans don’t really know much about the area. Most people know that there’s a lot of shipping, there used to be some steel production, and the western part of the region is big on outdoor activities, but that’s about it.

The exploitation of the Lakes was key to the American expansion west of the Appalachians. The French and British controlled the area early in the nation’s history, and the English pretty much kicked the Americans around the Lakes during the War of 1812. We did gain control of Lake Erie, which allowed us to develop the region through canals and the large rivers that flowed to the Mississippi. If you could develop transportation to and on the Lakes, you’d have access to half the continent.

Because I only had a week, I had to design the itinerary to maximize time. Michigan borders four of the five Lakes, so most of my time would be spent there. I decided to visit Buffalo, NY, for a couple of days because it’s near Lake Ontario, and there are some interesting things in the Buffalo area.

On the logistical side I decided to take a red-eye to Buffalo after work rather than the usual Oh-God-30 flights I’ve habitually used to get to the East. From the west coast of the US there are really only a couple of choices for arriving back East at a reasonable hour: late night or very early morning flights. I’ve done the early morning flights for years, and it’s a whole lot of not fun. I took a red-eye to South Carolina earlier this year, and discovered if you can power through the first day fatigue (and maybe get some actual sleep on the plane), taking the late-night flight essentially adds an extra day to the trip.

The flight from PDX to ORD is a bit over three hours, but I was stuck in the middle seat, and my sciatica took the opportunity to act up, so it was three hours of not sleeping or really resting. I managed to get some rest during the two hour layover, or as much rest as one can get in an airport terminal. I was assigned an exit row for the ORD-BUF leg, which would have been really nice on the previous leg. No rest here as I hadn’t seen this part of the country before, so considerable time looking out the window. There was fog in Ohio that morning forming a condensation contour map of the terrain:


Arrived in Buffalo around 0900 Monday for a transit time of under seven hours. The Buffalo – Niagara area is a good-sized metro area, but the airport is not at all crowded. I couldn’t check into the hotel until after 1500, so I jumped right into the itinerary.

I wanted to see the Erie Canal, and the town of Lockport came up frequently in my research. Construction on the Canal began in 1817, and it’s still a functional transportation system. A 200 year-old bit of infrastructure that still does the job is impressive. The Canal was built to facilitate transport between the Lakes at Buffalo and the Hudson River at Albany. On completion the Canal cut transit time from the Buffalo to New York City from months to two weeks. The Canal was so efficient it paid for itself in seven years.

Lockport is where the Canal had to surmount a 60 foot ridge of dolomite forming part of the Niagara Escarpment. The Escarpment is the remains of an ancient shoreline, and the same formation created Niagara Falls. Quite an engineering challenge for a young country that didn’t have any engineering schools. West Point was the closest the US had to an engineering school, but those graduates were all military. For civil engineering and surveying projects, it was a case of whomever thought they could do the job.

You don’t have to go far out of the Buffalo metro area to get into the country, and it’s very flat. Perhaps not surprising given that glaciers covered the area not too terribly long ago. The primary crops are apples and corn. I hope the corn was the second crop, because it wasn’t all that high, and didn’t look great. The apple crop looked good.

The solution to the Escarpment problem at Lockport was to build a ‘flight’ of five locks eastbound and westbound side-by-side. It’s impressive. Sixty feet of elevation gain (or loss) doesn’t sound like much, but we’re talking about moving boats up and down hills:


The modern canal is in the center, the locks on the right are the original width but no longer used, and the road is the original towpath (but not the original surface). The building in the middle on the other side of the bridge is a museum. Folks I talked to said the current mix of traffic on the Canal is 95% recreational and 5% commerce. Considerable money has been spent on restoring sections of the Canal: there was work going on when I visited this section. It’s important to preserve history, but I’m ambivalent about spending tax money to facilitate the passage of pleasure boaters.

A reproduction of the original lock gates. These were hand-operated, and you can see how they are designed to use leverage to move them. Even though water pressure would be equalized, that’s still a lot of mass.


Interior of the museum:


A variety of artifacts, and the chainfall on the left goes to a bridge crane overhead.

There’s another museum close by:


There’s a $5 admission, but it’s pretty well worth it. There’s a movie presentation with a bit of a twist. You start watching in one room, and at a point a character invites you to step into the movie. The screen slides back, and you enter a new set where the movie continues.

The screening room:


And the second set:


I do not know why these photos are in this building. It’s like seeing a Transporter on a WWI base.


There’s a lock simulator. It’s fun:


There’s a railroad bridge down the canal that’s touted as an ‘upside down’ bridge. Curiously TripAdvisor mentions the bridge without mentioning the locks. A textbook case of Missing the Point. Anyway, the bridge is an upside down truss.



Unusual, but not nearly as interesting as the locks.

After a very enjoyable and too brief Canal interlude in Lockport, I turned my eyes to seeing Lake Ontario. There was a shore side state park up the road through more of rural New York. Wilson-Tuscarora State Park is a well-equipped and good-sized park on the shores of Lake Ontario. I’m noticing that New York state parks tend to be nice places.


Ontario is the smallest of the Great Lakes, and yet no opposite shoreline visible.

The next planned stop was Niagara Falls, but there was something else to see. Signs pointed to Fort Niagara, and being the sucker for history I am, I followed.


Fort Niagara dates from the French-Indian War, and there is a continued military presence with Homeland Security, in case, you know, Canada decides to invade. The British took the fort during the War of 1812. This is the backside of the fort, but I’d spent my budget for old forts this year. What was free was the lighthouse.


There’s a spiral staircase to the top. It’s only 60′ high, but not for the faint of heart (literally). A volunteer camps out on the penultimate level to warn folks the last pitch is steeper than those preceding. There is a view:


Even at 23 miles away, Toronto is plainly visible, and those who know relate that on clear nights the stoplights are visible. It’s similar to viewing Tampa from St. Petersburg. I have to say that everywhere I went in this region, I couldn’t help but think but what things look like in November. Most Americans know that western New York gets lots of snow, and the people I talked to didn’t want to think about it. By the way, when the lighthouse was built, the trees weren’t there.

Off to Niagara Falls.

I was looking forward to Niagara Falls. Never been there. I believe the approach from the east is superior, because you’re seeing things the way travelers from back east saw them. The first stop on the way was a powerhouse:


The US and Canada suck a lot of water out of the Niagara River for power, and this is the latest installation. That’s Canada on the opposite shore. An older installation is the Schoellkopf Power Complex. This is offered as a a self-guided tour at the Niagara Visitor Center. In 1956 a landslide took out an entire power installation.



The debris at the base of the cliff is what remains of the power station. Plenty of artifacts visible. The shaft at left is the elevator that takes visitors to the base of the cliff. The Maid of the Mist homeport is on the left. You can see the mist from Niagara from here, but curiously can’t hear it. It doesn’t help that there are tourist helicopters in the air. Along the way are signs pointing out wildlife in the area, and I saw a native millipede:


There’s also a cable car crossing the gorge:


I believe this started in 1908, and hasn’t failed in the meantime. In the same area is the Whirlpool Basin:


The rapids are Class VI, but there is at least one ship on record as having navigated them.

The Canadian side is more developed than the American side. Let no one say the Canadians can’t do commerce:


I talked to a volunteer who opined that for the Canadians the Falls are more of a background for commercialization, while for the Americans the Falls serve as a focal point.

But I wouldn’t find out this day. It was after 3. I hadn’t eaten since the previous evening, and had been up for over 36 hours with minimal rest. I was tired and hungry, and exploring Niagara Falls looked to be at least two hours. Even with the spray of the Falls visible, I decided to bag it and come back the next day.

From this point to the hotel was given as 20 miles. In Portland during weekday rush hour this would be over an hour. In Buffalo, the computer said 35 minutes, and that’s about what it took. Along the way I was treated to the sight of truckers coming over the Peace Bridge through Customs:


My hotel was the Adams Mark, and it’s located smack in downtown Buffalo.


The immediate neighborhood:


The building at center is mounted by a replica of of the Statue of Liberty, and a beacon shines (well, flashes) at night. The hotel is nice enough, but is built along Soviet lines in that it’s a glorified concrete block. This is evident in the hallways and the rooms:



No matter. A shower and nap were the order of the day.

Afterwards time to get something to eat. I realized a couple of days ago that I’d be in the hometown of Buffalo wings. I checked and the originating bar was still in business. So a short drive to the Anchor Bar on Main Street to order wings.



The view as you enter. Service is quick, and the food is OK. It’s chicken wings. I expected prices to be inflated, but they aren’t that bad. And between you and the lamppost, I’ve had better. Back to the hotel bar for Monday Night Football.





Posted by: bkivey | 12 September 2016

The Deadliest Weapon

Any one who has been around small children likely has direct experience with one of the more damaging items known to Man: LEGO bricks.

Ever stepped on a thumbtack? Mmhhm.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this display at at an office products store:


An admittedly lo-res image, but the bins in the foreground contain tubes of geometrically-shaped thumbtacks, and the bins behind have the same thumbtacks in LEGO-shaped containers. By ‘geometrically-shaped’ I mean the head of the thumbtack is a hard plastic rendition of a Platonic solid. In a LEGO container.

Forget tactical nukes. Lets just air-drop some of these across a line of advance.

Posted by: bkivey | 3 September 2016

Seeing Half the Picture

For the past three years there have been a handful of ads in heavy rotation on a radio station that broadcasts sporting events, mostly Mariners baseball. The ads tout the positive aspects of high school sports and their value to the participants and community. Leaving aside the question of motivation for airing the ads and whether scarce school dollars might be more usefully employed, the ads illustrate a common problem: the assumption that results from a particular process are due entirely to the process, without considering motivation.

A typical ad will illustrate high school sports participation as beneficial to the individual in terms of character and life skill development while the community benefits from people so trained. And this is all true. Participation in organized athletics requires the individual to develop mental toughness and a team-first attitude; qualities that aren’t nearly as common as they once were and sorely missed in society. The ads state in so many words that participation in high school sports improves the person and community.

What the ads don’t say is that folks who participate in high school sports self-select for that. By the time a person reaches puberty, they usually have a good idea of where their talents lie. People who are good athletes know they are good athletes; those that aren’t are equally aware. The athletically inclined young person is going to generally have superior discipline and motivation compared to the non-athlete. You aren’t going to take a socially awkward genius and turn them into a polished human being by forcing them to play basketball for four years. They and their teammates will hate it and it’s a waste of time all around.

But this is a common problem. People see the results of a process, and assume that if everyone went through the process or participated in an activity, then everyone would be better off. It’s where the ‘Everyone Must Go To College’ push started. Now we have tens of thousands of young people with enormous debt and nothing to really show for it. Not everyone needs or wants a college education, but people are made to feel like failures if they don’t go to college.

This one-size-fits-all coerced participation completely fails to take the individual into account. It’s the primary reason the military doesn’t like the draft. While people can be grouped within broad limits, they aren’t interchangeable lumps of raw material to be molded as the social engineers deem fit. When evaluating a process or institution, it’s important, especially with people, to understand why results occur. In human institutions the most positive results occur when the people participating want to take part and have the talent to maximize the experience. Outside the primary literacy skills, instructional processes tend to be more informative than transformative, in that people develop what they already have rather than acquire new skills from whole cloth.

There is a school of feeling that believes if one person has some ability not commonly found in the population, that individual has an ‘unfair’ advantage. And if you have a kindergarten mindset, that’s true. The only way to rectify this perceived imbalance is to have everyone participate, whether or not the majority gain any benefit or are even happy doing it. Because the perpetrators of these programs either don’t understand or are willfully ignorant of human individuality, their ideas will inevitably fail, leaving a trail of wasted resources and unhappy people.

Participation in organized sports is generally a worthwhile endeavor, as is education and military service, and those with the ability and inclination will find themselves better off as a result. But it’s important to realize that what’s good for some isn’t good for all.




Posted by: bkivey | 27 August 2016

Non Compete Agreement

“. . . and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

George Wallace

1963 Inaugural Address


Apparently unclear on the meaning of e pluribus unum, George Wallace infamously affirmed his support for a segregated society nine years after the Supreme Court declared institutionalized segregation a Constitutional violation. A last gasp from a dying power structure on the eve of legislation and court decisions that would reform American society into something closer to the Founders vision.

But integrating two developed and separate societies is demanding; integrating them on a timetable carries a higher degree of difficulty. After the dominant society realized that integration wasn’t going away, most folks made a good-faith effort to accommodate the new reality. The hope was that as institutional segregation receded further from living memory new generations would live the vision.

I suspect that if people had had time to come to grips with the societal framework of civil rights legislation, we’d be living in a more stable society. What we have instead is the result of a few who want everything RIGHT NOW and will hold a figurative gun to people’s heads to get it. Their concept of society hasn’t been realized, so the only possible explanation is the inherently flawed underlying society. They don’t like that society, because they feel like they can’t compete. Whether or not that perception is accurate is irrelevant: their emotional distress overwhelms any rational analysis.

Competition is one of the defining characteristics of life. Every organism on the planet competes. To deny or not understand that concept is a huge cognitive blind spot. The most successful societies recognize this and seek to harness natural human behavior for the greater good. Those that don’t either adapt or die.

Most organisms finding themselves in a competitively challenging environment have a couple of choices: get better or get out. Nature is a harsh mistress, and plays no favorites.

Some folks have hit on a third alternative: change the game to suit them.

Rather than learn to compete in the existing environment, some people would rather withdraw from competition, but still demand recognition as productive citizens. The most common implementation is to segregate the self-identified tribe claiming that for whatever reason society is inimical to their pursuit of happiness. In so doing the group has marked itself as Other, claiming that the society from which they’ve self-ostracized is at fault. Now they are victims, garnering sympathy and held to low or no expectations, because, -ism.

This is a typical Progressive modus operandi: take some historical slight that likely isn’t widely relevant today, project the insult as a societal norm, claim intolerance and injustice, then sit around demanding that others support you out of guilt.

It’s tiresome and it’s bullshit.

If a given group really wanted economic and societal success and respect, they’d look to emulate the successful members of that society, not demonize them.

Japan was an advanced society in the mid-19th century, but closed to the West until Commodore Perry forcibly opened the country for trade in 1854. Trade was far from a one-way street as the Japanese learned all they could of Western technology, and prior to WW II some of their tech outstripped the West.

Japan had its ass handed to it in WWII and became in every sense a subjugated nation.  Rather than bitch and moan about how they couldn’t compete with the West, the Japanese decided they wanted some of that sweet ass-kicking action. They sent generations to Western schools, and 20 years after taking two nuclear bombs, Japan was a force in consumer goods. Ten years later, they were eroding the Big Three’s dominance of the domestic car market, and ten years after that, Japan was an economic force to be reckoned with. From nuclear wasteland to economic superpower in two generations is pretty damned impressive.

Around the same time the Americans were having their way with Japan, the British marched into India and took over. After kicking the British out, India took a more indirect route to economic success, but the result is the same. After experimenting with collective government, India realized that feeding the second largest population on the planet was going to take real knowledge and ability rather than nebulous idealism. Indians have been a fixture in Western universities for decades, and they aren’t majoring in Women’s Studies. India has a robust space program, the largest movie industry in the world, a regional military to be reckoned with, and an increasingly educated population. Nowhere are the fingerprints of Marx or Mao evident.

China hasn’t been militarily defeated by the West, but they were having an increasingly hard time economically, especially after Japan’s ascension. The past several decades have seen China increasingly embrace Western economic values, if not political ones, with a commensurate rise in standard of living. China has admittedly benefited from the West’s decision that manufacturing is icky, and appalling safety standards and pay by Western standards certainly help, but China successfully competes in global trade. Ask the Soviets: collectivism can’t even provide for your own people, let alone the world.

Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there are people enamored of the belief that separating from those outside the tribe, even if the outsiders are enjoying the success the tribe desires, will somehow bring an end to misery. Only by limiting exposure and opportunity can we succeed. We’ll vilify those different from us, but we’ll demand that the outsiders support us.

Competition is hard, but it’s the way the Universe is structured. In rich societies one doesn’t even really have to compete: find some work that you’re sort of good at and you can stand to do 40 hours a week and accept your limitations, and you can make a modest living for as long as you care to. If a person doesn’t want to participate in the rat race, there are avenues for that in a free society. But if you don’t want to try, then don’t blame other people and demand they accommodate your irrationality.

It’s Called Fishing, Not Catching

My landlord and a friend of his have gone into the fishing guide business, and have been promising a trip for a while. I bought my fishing license in March, and it’s lain unused since. This past Friday stars and schedules aligned for a salmon fishing excursion on the Columbia River at Astoria.

Salmon fishing is a Big Deal in the Northwest, but until you see a boat ramp able to accommodate three launches simultaneously backed up at 5:30 AM on a weekday, it’s hard to imagine. There are six boat ramps around Astoria, not all them large, but still. We were motoring out to the river by 6:30, and if you’ve seen pictures of the Normandy invasion fleet, you’ll have an idea what it looked like.

We trolled and fished about a mile-and-a-half above and below the Astoria bridge for eight hours in an open boat. This was more comfortable than it may perhaps sound. Food, drinks, sunscreen and agreeable company make for a more pleasant experience.

There were darned few fish, though. On occasion we’d get into a group that would be catching, and we weren’t. So there were fish around, just not around us. We landed two keepers, had another spit the hook alongside, and I hooked one through the back, but not a keeper. That’s very little to show for 40 man-hours of fishing.

But it was OK. My experience on fishing trips makes for very low expectations, so this wasn’t particularly disappointing. It was very relaxing just being on the water on the Oregon Coast in summer. The guide attended to the boat and the gear, so not much to do besides watch the rod, watch the other boats, admire the scenery, and generally be thankful for an August day in one of my favorite places. It was so relaxing, in fact, that at one point the guide had to ask me three times how much line I had out.

Saw a whale on the run back to port, and that was about the biggest excitement of the day. So a bad day fishing, but still better than a good day at work.


Posted by: bkivey | 20 August 2016

John Day Fossil Beds Day Three

Today was actually the second day off, but the third day of the trip. Up for breakfast at the Bend Black Bear Diner. Black Bear is a regional diner chain with locations throughout the West. I first discovered the restaurants in Bend when I worked here in 2006. Food is OK, prices are reasonable, and portions are American-sized. You will not leave hungry from the Bear.

Next was a trip up to Pilot Butte. The Butte is an extinct cinder cone in the middle of Bend that’s been turned into a park. Rising 500 feet above Bend, there’s a road to the top popular with hikers and cyclists. It’s one of my favorite spots to visit in Bend.

The view looking West:

Bend Pilot Butte panorama

Broken Top and Three Sisters on the left, Mt. Hood on the middle right. I noticed the trees have started to grow up some.

For the return trip I elected to take US 97 north to Madras, then US 26 west to Portland. This was the route I’ve taken many times, but it had been long enough that I’d forgotten some of the scenery along the way. I had a chance to look at the geology with new eyes given what I ‘d learned the day before.

Out of the high desert and into the Cascade foothills, then face to face with Mt. Hood:

East side of Mt Hood 1606.22

This is the east side near the junction of US 26 and OR 35. Just up the road off OR 35 is the Barlow Road, the overland portion of the Oregon Trail that allowed wagons to cross the Cascades. Prior to construction in 1846 wagons had to float down the Columbia river. I think it’s cool to have a living (drivable) piece of history here.

And that’s about the limit of what I want to do with two days off. Lots of drive time but a really enjoyable respite. I’m still smiling.

Portland Studio Building

Portland composers on building 9th and Taylor

Saw this building in downtown Portland at SW Taylor & 9th. Classical composers names are above the second-floor windows with busts below.


Posted by: bkivey | 18 August 2016

John Day Fossil Beds Day Two

Up early to get some breakfast and start the eastward drive to John Day. I filled the tank on the edge of town. I’ve driven through enough sparsely populated areas to understand that fuel management is critical. I figured there’d be a gas station somewhere around a National Monument, but I also figured that few, if any of the hamlets scattered about the landscape would have gas.

The plan was to drive north and east on Powell Butte road until it intercepted US 126 about halfway between Redmond and Prineville, then east until US 26 at Prineville.

Prineville sits in the Crooked River valley, and it’s the eastern outpost of civilization in this part of central Oregon. There’s an overlook before you descend.

Prineville view from the overlook

In recent years Google and Facebook have built data centers in Prineville. This seems counter-intuitive, as the servers must be kept cool and this is the middle of the high desert.

Prineville new data center

I’d never driven east of Prineville, so everything from here on was going to be new.

Up into the Ochoco National Forest on US 26:

Prineville east of town into the mountains

I believe there are three passes along the route. It’s a very scenic drive. It’s also an isolated drive. About an hour east of Prineville cell service ends. This part of Oregon is very much in the white area you see on phone company coverage maps. Phone service is generally by land line, although some small towns offer patchy cell service.

Late morning found me at the Junction of US 26 and OR 19, and the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

The Monument actually consists of three dispersed sites: Sheep Rock (where I was), Clarno, and Painted Hills. These sites are situated in a box roughly 40 miles x 30 miles. It’s possible to visit all three in one day, but it takes planning and the willingness to see a lot of desert.

The museum and visitor center at the park entrance. It was warm, but not hot.

John Day museum

There is some scenery:

John Day panorama near entrance

The museum interior:

John Day museum interior

The fossil record here is from about 44 million years ago (mya) to 7 mya. The terrible lizards are long gone: this is the age of mammals. Most of the animals from the period look pretty much like what we have today. There are numerous displays of plant and animal fossils; many integrated into dioramas. There are also a number of drawers on the fronts of displays. Despite years of training not to touch anything in museums, visitors are encouraged to open the drawers to see more fossils.

The displays ask some intriguing questions. One species displayed lasted 30 million years before going extinct. Humans have been around about 3 million. Would you say that was a successful species?

While the museum is nice, I was a little disappointed. I was expecting fossils in the ground, similar to Dinosaur National Monument. It is possible to see exactly that at the Clarno unit, but I wasn’t going there.

There are several points of interest as you drive through the park, including a sheep ranch, or maybe it should be a sheep station, given the environment. The ranch is long closed, but there is active agriculture in the area. I asked a ranger where people bought supplies, and they said while Dayville was the closest town, people thought the grocery store charged too much, so most folks drove in to Prineville. That’s a five-hour round trip for groceries.

North along the John Day river.

Goose Rock:

John Day Goose Rock

Cathedral Rock:

John Day Cathedral Rock

The river nearly bends back on itself here.

I’d noticed some blue cliffs alongside the road, and there’s a trail (The Island in Time trail) that goes up to them. The 1-mile trail starts from a picnic area equipped with facilities. The trail itself is easy enough, but there are a number of  bridges with metal grate decking. Not a problem for humans, most dogs do not like that surface, and signs warn that you may have to carry your dog across the bridges.

Along the trail:

These are the cliffs you see from the road:

John Day Island in Time trail blue rock 1

That’s not actually rock. Northwest geography is defined by volcanic activity, and these cliffs are ash deposits, as this close-up reveals:

John Day cloe up of hill texture

Looking down the trail:

John Day Island in Time trail looking down trail 1

John Day Island in Time looking down trail 2

There’s very little shade, and the trail signs note that there isn’t any the last half of the trail. There’s a trail that climbs to the top of the canyon, but at three miles was more walking than I cared for.

Interesting silt deposits in the creek:

John Day multicolored silt deposits

John Day green mud in streambed

A welcome sign:

John Day Island in Time trail end

Don’t need to tell me twice. The scenery here doesn’t look real. If you’ve got a sci-fi screenplay, here’s your location:

John Day Island in Time end of trail panorama

A short drive south from the park through the scenic Picture Gorge leads to the Mascal Formation Overlook.

John Day Mascal Formation overlook panorama

The top layer of rock was formed by volcanic activity 7 mya. Even in the desert, erosion can do a lot in that time.

By this time it was mid-afternoon, and I was getting hungry. The town of Dayville offers repast, but it was further east, and I wanted to start heading home. Mitchell just east of the US 26/OR 207 junction is just big enough to have a restaurant, and it’s on the way to the Painted Hills.

There was road construction at the junction for Painted Hills (they hadn’t gotten started when I passed earlier), so a half-hour delay. It’s a pretty drive up the canyon to the Monument.

Near the entrance you can see where the Monument got its name:

Painted Hills panorama near entrance 1

The hills are mostly made of sediments laid down when there was considerably more water in the area. Some hills are volcanic ash that has formed a clay. The colors are caused by the leaching of various minerals and salts. The composition of the hills will not generally support vegetation. It’s a testament to the dryness of the climate that formations made of mud have lasted millions of years.

All of the roads inside the unit are dirt and gravel, but nothing the average car can’t handle. Your paint may get dinged, though.

The Painted Hills are one of Oregon’s natural wonders, and a must-see. They are a ways off the beaten track, so even in the middle of vacation season the area isn’t overcrowded. This is one of those places you have to want to go to: you won’t casually happen upon it on the way to somewhere else.

There’s a visitors center near the entrance with information on the area. There are several trails, and with the exception of the Carroll Rim trail, are quite short. I decided to drive to the west end of the unit and work back.

Red Hill is at the west end:

Painted Hills Red Hill Trail Red Hill 2

A trial leads to the back side.

A flower along the trail:

Painted Hills Red Hill Trail flower

An ash deposit:

Painted Hills white ash deposit 2

The next trail working east is Leaf Hill. This is the site of a dig, and signs inform that thousands of fossils have been found here. It’s not really that spectacular to look at. There is some water in this country:

Painted HIlls water 1

The next attraction is Painted Cove:

Painted HIlls Painted Cove entrance

There’s a short boardwalk trail that winds among the hills. It’s along this trail that you’ll find the iconic Painted Hills scene:

Painted HIlls Painted Cove boardwalk

The nature of the hills is clearly visible.

There’s also what the Park Service is pleased to call a sinkhole:

Painted Hills Painted Cove Trail sinkhole

I’ve lived in Florida. That ‘sinkhole’ has work to do.

Views from the Painted Hills overlook. There’s a trail that ascends the hill on the left. I didn’t take it.

Painted Hills from overlook 1

Painted Hills near overlook panorama 1

By this time it was edging toward evening, and there was still an hour and a half drive to Prineville, and another hour after that to Bend. It was after 5, so I figured the road crew was done for the day, and they were.

I was concerned about fuel, because the gauge was near the 3/8th mark, and I still had several passes to climb. I’d figured by dead reckoning I had enough gas to get to Prineville, but I wasn’t overly confident. I already knew there were zero gas stations along the way. Ochoco reservoir is about ten miles east of Prineville and a popular recreation spot, but I hadn’t seen any service stations there, either.

I pulled into the first gas station I saw on the outskirts of town, and found out that when I’d had the fuel pump replaced the week prior, my car’s fuel mileage had increased significantly. I’ve had the car a couple of years, and it’s given an honest 25 mpg on the highway. When I refueled, I discovered I’d been getting 31+ mpg. That’s driving across mountains with the A/C running. Wow. What a nice surprise.

With that knowledge, the drive to Bend was more relaxing. Of note on the western side of Prineville are some low hills, the remnants of mountains and volcanoes that once rivaled the Rockies. It was this area that supplied much of the landscape material to the west.

Back to Bend, and I had to spend some time doing admin work for the business. I walked in to the hotel room, flipped on the light, and nothing happened. Turns out the whole hotel, and only the hotel, was without power. I talk to the manager, but I’m not overly upset: it’s obvious he’s doing everything he can to get the power company on the ball. I figured I’d walk to the bar across the street and use their wi-fi while I got dinner. But their wi-fi was unsecured, so I couldn’t use any of my stored passwords. Well that’s just great.

By the time I get this figured out, the hotel power has been restored, so I can work from my room. Eventually did get dinner at the bar.

A very long, but highly rewarding day.

Posted by: bkivey | 11 August 2016

John Day Fossil Beds Day One

Around the middle of June I had some time in the schedule, and cast about for something to do. I was reluctant to take two days off because this is the fat part of the year, and money made now will help during the Winter. I agonized over whether to take the time until I checked the last time I had two consecutive days off. March. I blocked off the days.

Now what to do. I’ve pretty much done everything I want to do for a while in the Portland metro area, and the coast, and the Gorge. I’ve always wanted to see the John Day Fossil Beds in eastern Oregon, but they’re 350 miles from home. It’s a bit of a drive, especially when I only had a couple of days off. I figured I’d make Bend in central Oregon my base and drive there after work. That would eat up 150 miles of the 350 and make the trip manageable.

It usually takes about 3 1/2 hours to drive to Bend. I left in the afternoon at 5; a bit later than I would have liked but nearly the entire drive would be through rural Oregon. But some parts of Oregon aren’t as rural as they used to be, and a four-way stop in the country with seemingly every car in the county trying to get through took some time. Then an accident on a two-lane road. I wasn’t too stressed. There was a baseball game on the radio, and I was on my way to a mini-vacation: I was looking forward to a couple of days of doing things I wanted to do for no reason but to see, do, and learn new things. I could get through the little tribulations.

South and east through Willamette valley farmland, then a short stretch of I-5 through Salem to pick up state highway 22. A good stretch of agriculture, then into the Cascades. Highway 22 doesn’t follow as direct a route through the mountains as US 20 further south, but I think it’s more fun to drive. There’s Lake Detroit, an impounded reservoir that’s a popular recreational area. Highway 22 joins US 22 before Santiam Pass at 4800 feet. I like this drive, and stress bled away with every mile. Just after the summit is Mt. Washington on the right, and then the long descent through the forest to the high desert.

By the time I made Sisters it was pushing 9 and getting dark. By happy coincidence there was a full moon on the Solstice. I tried for a picture:

Bend full moon summer solstice

A crappy picture, but I like the smeared paint effect. Hmmm. From the same spot, Broken Top and Three Sisters at twilight:

Bend Three Sisters at twilight

Bend around 9:30, and a welcome hotel room. The day had been long and I was tired. Recovery had to be quick: the meat of the trip was tomorrow.

Nag, Nag, Nag

On  local radio stations a series of PSA’s have been running called ‘Just One Thing’. The thrust is that people (you) should do ‘just one thing’ to improve your life quality. Most of the spots are relatively inoffensive. Get out of the house, move around, and the like. But this Summer they crossed the line.

There is a spot talking about ice cream. An announcer acknowledges that ice cream is ‘a yummy way to cool down’, but that ice cream ‘comes with a carbon footprint’.

Back the truck up!

Stop. Just stop.

Ice cream is a treat. A luxury. Everyone knows this. Ice cream is fun. Sticking strictly to plan, the killjoys want to make people feel guilty about doing something fun.

No. I reject the premise and the attitude. Get stuffed.

The Best Kung-Fu Movie Ever

I lived in San Francisco a while ago. There were two Chinese TV channels on UHF (look it up, kids). On Saturday mornings one channel would show kung -fu movies. No subtitles, but you didn’t need any. You could generally follow the story (such as it was) from the acting and other cues, but you weren’t watching for subtlety of plot: you wanted to see kung-fu fighting, and lots of it.

Watch enough of those movies, and you’d notice motifs and conceits, as well as some passing acquaintance with Chinese culture (and it helped that I lived a few blocks from Chinatown). But above all they are fun to watch.

Last week Willamette Week ran a blurb under the ‘Things To Do’ section mentioning that the movie “The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter” would be playing at the Hollywood Theater on a day I had off. The blurb said that the movie was considered “The best kung-fu movie ever made.” Could not pass that up.

It is.




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