Posted by: bkivey | 3 April 2018

Taking a Look at “The Last Jedi”

A friend recently acquired The Last Jedi (or if you’re keeping score at home: Episode VIII), and graciously allowed me the included redemption code so I could watch the movie. I didn’t see it in theater (although it’s still playing locally) because it’s 2 ½ hours long. That’s about an hour longer than I’m prepared to sit through a movie unless I’m really interested in the subject matter, or it’s a really good film.

I like Star Wars well enough: been watching the films since 1977, but I’m not what you would call a fan. I’ve seen the first three, and the last two. The Force Awakens was entertaining, but had some film making short-comings that were also evident in the most recent effort.

Just for fun I watched the movie in Spanish the second time, because everything is more exciting in Spanish. Let’s go to the tape.

The Opening

The opening is the standard Star Wars crawl with John Williams’ rousing score, and


A band of rebels out to defeat the dominant political and military force in the galaxy has a plan. The plan is to convince one guy whom they haven’t heard from in years to come save their butts.

I’m smellin’ a lot of ‘if’ comin’ off this plan.”



That’s not a plan, that’s a faint hope on which to pin the lives of (presumably) thousands and an entire movement. Okay, back to the movie.

The First Order has taken the place of the Empire, but still business as usual. Find the rebels: blow them up real good. And they are doing a great job of that as the movie opens.

I have seen good SF movies that don’t have sound in space. Even more amazingly, sound carries through a vacuum and through blast-grade windows and why are there large, expansive windows on warships? In these movies this is about the least egregious science error, and I’ve been resigned to it for a while. That and spaceships maneuvering in vacuum as if they’re in atmo.

There’s a scene where a transport leaves the planet surface and reaches orbit in ten seconds (I checked the timer). Assuming a planet similar to Earth, nominal orbital velocity is about 17,500 mph. A little math shows that to achieve that velocity in the time shown would require a craft capable of 80g acceleration from a standing start. Assuming the ship stayed intact, the people would be reduced to lumpy red puddles on the aft bulkhead. By way of comparison, the surface gravity of the Sun is 27g.

I understand that no one watches these movies for the science, but it’s hard to look past some of these things, and while it all looks cool, it’s not necessary to tell the story.

Moving on.

The rebels deploy a fleet of bombers against the aggressors, and we’re back over Germany in 1942. The dialogue in this scene could have been lifted from any WW II movie set in the European theatre. The situations are similar, so you might reasonably expect similar dialogue, but for $200M we could maybe expect some writing effort.

The bombing run would be familiar to the US 8th Air Force prior to the virtual elimination of the Luftwaffe: it’s not a good day at the office for the Rebellion. Has anyone considered the orbital debris problem even one sci-fi battle would create? They do manage to get one ship through to drop bombs, and the First Order loses a capital ship, but the rebels lose pretty much their entire fleet, as in, there ain’t no more. It’s not a good trade.

Hey Skywalker, What Have You Been Up To?

Back in Ireland Ahch-To (bless you) Rebellion emissary Rey finds Luke Skywalker. This actually happened at the end of the last movie, and here the film picks up right at the moment. Skywalker is a bitter old man, but Mark Hamill is 66, so maybe not an acting stretch. The film stretches credibility here by depicting a sunny day in Ireland, and Luke wants nothing to do with Rey or the Rebellion or anything else.

Back at Supervillian Central

We get our first look at Supreme Leader Snokes and Assistant Supervillian Kylo Ren makes the scene. Are there no plastic surgeons in the Star Wars ‘verse? Ren receives a scathing performance review, but there aren’t any other management trainees, so he keeps his job.

Hey! Over Here!

Rey mopes around after Skywalker for awhile (Why doesn’t he notice me? Should I change my hair?) until he busts out with some Jedi exposition.

Bad News for the Rebellion

What’s left of the Rebel fleet is on the run, and they find that the First Order has developed a way to track ships FTL. This is unhappy news, because now they can’t get away. While this is clearly a contrived plot point to create tension, it’s OK. It’s a movie, and a film about the First Order searching for the Rebels for years (“Welp, not in this system.”) would not sell $1.3B in tickets.

Apparently there is no chain of command in the Rebellion. Any random person can gain access to the bridge and hold casual conversations with the commander. No wonder they’re having problems. Organa gets ejected into space, but somehow regains consciousness and is forced back to the ship. No explanation in the movie on how this miracle occurs, but I’m sure the fans have this covered. Does Leia do this herself, or does Luke (maybe Ren) help her?

Skywalker reunites with R2-D2, and in a moment of utter predictability, when he utters the words

Nothing can make me change my mind.”

What you expect to happen, does.

At this point all the pieces are in place: dominant evil opponent, a band on the run with no escape, and possibly maybe perhaps a glimmer of hope.

The Coach Gives a Speech

Things aren’t going well for the home team, so the Admiral in command rallies the troops. Perhaps there is a chain of command, or maybe she just wandered onto the bridge. As speeches go, this one is lame. It amounts to “Don’t get killed.” without any explanation as to how she plans to accomplish that. It turns out there is a plan, but it isn’t shared.

This part of the movie is pretty well done. There are very good security reasons not to reveal the plan, because the rebels already know they can be tracked, and the First Order knows how much time they have to get somewhere. If the admiral lets slip that they’re headed for a planet and their adversaries find out, they have the fleet to render every planet in range unusable. On the other hand, the First Order knows the Rebels have to land somewhere, so they could employ the same strategy whether or not they know the Rebel’s plans. It’s a bit of a plot hole.

For the rest of the movie there’s the classic tension between command and the lower ranks (exemplified by Poe and Finn) as the rank-and-file want information that, admittedly, has life-and-death consequences for them, and command’s struggle to manage both internal and external conflict.

I noted about the last film that layers of tension were added at regular intervals until the denouement. The same formula is used here. It’s good, effective story-telling.

A Couple Meet Cute

The commander isn’t the only one with a secret agenda. Former First Order soldier Finn tries to sneak off the ship, and is stopped by a maintenance worker. It looks like he’s trying to desert, but he Has A Plan. Unfortunately the plan amounts to mutiny, as no one bothers to tell command. So the lesson here is you can do whatever you want as long as you think you’re right? That can’t be true.

They have to go to a casino and find . . . James Bond? Except here he’s a super-hacker rather than a super-spy.

I Feel Ya

Back to Rey, and we (and they) discover that she and Kylo Ren can Skype each other through Force Telcom. There’s a fair amount of this the rest of the movie, and adds significantly to the development of both characters as well as serving as an information delivery vehicle for the audience.

Rey and Kylo and Luke spend most of the next half-hour coming to grips with themselves. We learn why Skywalker never opened a Jedi Temple in a strip mall, and we see Yoda destroy priceless cultural artifacts.

Finn and Rose don’t get James Bond, but they do come away with an apparently serviceable replacement. Because if they don’t, the movie’s over. Most of the hacker side quest comes off as filler, and doesn’t exactly put Our Heroes in a good light.

Slavery is common in the Star Wars universe, and there are slaves at the casino. I understand there is some time pressure, but these people think nothing of invading the most powerful ship in the First Order fleet. Busting a few slaves out should not be a problem.

Things Heat Up

Poe decides to take the mutiny public, but it doesn’t last long. You know you’ve screwed up when someone comes back from the dead to shoot you. Rose, Finn, their hacker, and a droid gain entry to Ren’s ship, and Rey shows up at the front door.

Rey meets Snokes in The Exorcist oh, wait. It just looks like that movie. Snokes dies a suitable super-villian death, and then there’s some lightsaber action as Rey and Kylo take on his bodyguards.

While Satan Snokes has his way with Rey, the hacker has sold the Rebellion out, and First Order gunners find themselves in a target-rich environment. Rose and Finn are about to be executed.

Things Get Hot

Rey and Ren engage in a battle of wills over a lightsaber (pre-nups, kids!), and the rebel admiral rams a cruiser at lightspeed into the enemy dreadnought. This is one of the cooler effects I’ve seen, and illustrates how completely the Star Wars franchise ignores physics.

I noted in the previous movie that if you brought a ship the mass of the Millenium Falcon out of lightspeed anywhere near a planet, you’d blow half the atmosphere away. E=MC2 , and all that energy has to go somewhere. In the Jedi scenario, you’d absolutely destroy everything for a good little distance. The First Order fleet, the Rebel fleet, the planet, would all be gone. Roll credits.

Instead Rose and Finn are saved by a literal deux ex machina, which at this point is perhaps a little too cute. But everyone that’s left gets away (“It’s in my contract!”) to the planet.

You could reasonably end the movie here. Everyone retires to neutral corners until the next film. I had the same observation about The Force Awakens: you think you’re nearly done, but there’s more movie. Like, another half-hour.

Another Half-Hour

The Rebels are holed up in a cave with apparently only one entrance/exit, which they have to seal to keep the riff-raff out. CGI creatures abound. You’d think the First Order could just lay siege to the place and wait the rebels out. Station a garrison, jam comms, put up some detection sats, and starve them out. But Kylo Ren must have a hot date, because he wants this taken care of now.

The Boss Fight

In Sink The Bismarck! antiquated aircraft attack a modern battleship, or maybe old landspeeders attack Death Star Lite, I get confused. Anyway, everyone, even the maintenance tech, jumps into these jalopies and tries to die sooner rather than later. And very nearly succeed. Finn channels Commodore Decker but lives for another film. I want my next car to be built out of his ship’s skin, because he should have disappeared like a moth in a blowtorch.

After this fiasco (I notice that the Rebellion is really good at being bad), Skywalker shows up (‘ as prophecy predicted’), has a few words with his sister, then High Noon’s it with Kylo Ren. In the course of this confrontation Ren has his forces blast away at Skywalker. I thought there would be some cool inhuman lightsaber work, but, no.

The scene with Poe and Finn immediately after the fire fest was to me the funniest part of the movie. Finn thinks he can help a man who has apparently withstood the fury of every gun that could be brought to bear. Dude.

Despite expert computer analysis to the contrary, it turns out there is a way out of the cavern. The dozen rebels left realize they can follow the CGI creatures out, because living things are always better than machines. Rey shows promise as a miner.

Meanwhile Skywalker and Ren are duking it out using slow-motion rarely seen outside Sports Center. The fight comes to something of a draw when Ren demonstrates he’s been fighting an avatar. Which I noticed Luke’s avatar has fewer grey hairs.

The End (Finally)

Luke disappears on the wind. Rey and Ren exchange meaningful sequel looks. What’s left of the Rebellion fits on board a small freighter. I don’t know if Finn is still in Rey’s ‘friend’ zone, but if not, between her and Rose, dude’s getting some action.

What I Thought

If I’d seen this movie in theater, it would not have seemed overlong. I liked it. The going rate for first-run movies would not have been too much.

It seems the last couple of films the producers are heading in a more character-oriented rather than necessarily story-oriented direction. The result from my chair is more talking less exploding. I happen to like that direction, because stories are about people. I understand that the producers have to please, well, everyone, and that is my pettest peeve about the last couple of movies.

Sometimes it feels like there are three movies the producers want to make, but can only make one, so they try and cram parts of several movies into one film. The Last Jedi was a chase movie, an underdone psychological study on what having a super power does to a person, a relationship study between Kylo and Rey, and student-master movie. Any one of those could be a good Star Wars film. Perhaps Disney should make more frequent, smaller, movies rather than huge, extravagant conglomerations.

Posted by: bkivey | 25 December 2017

In Hoc Anno Domini

When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.

Everywhere there was civil order, for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so. But everywhere there was something else, too. There was oppression – for those who were not the friends of Tiberius Caesar. There was the tax gatherer to take the grain from the fields and the flax from the spindle to feed the le­gions or to fill the hungry treasury from which divine Caesar gave largess to the people. There was the impresser to find recruits for the circuses. There were executioners to quiet those whom the emperor proscribed. What was a man for but to serve Caesar?

There was persecution of men who dared think differently, who heard strange voices or read strange manuscripts. There was enslavement of men whose tribes came not from Rome, disdain for those who did not have the familiar visage. And most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life. What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?

Then, of a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.

And the voice from Galilee, which would defy Caesar, offered a new Kingdom in which each man could walk upright and bow to none but his God. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. And he sent this gospel of the Kingdom of Man into the uttermost ends of the earth.

So the light came into the world and the men who lived in darkness were afraid, and they tried to lower a cur­tain so that man would still believe sal­vation lay with the leaders.

But it came to pass for a while in divers places that the truth did set man free, although the men of dark­ness were offended and they tried to put out the light. The voice said, Haste ye. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you, for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.

Along the road to Damascus the light shone brightly. But afterward Paul of Tarsus, too, was sore afraid. He feared that other Caesars, other prophets, might one day persuade men that man was nothing save a servant unto them, that men might yield up their birthright from God for pottage and walk no more in freedom.

Then might it come to pass that darkness would settle again over the lands and there would be a burning of books and men would think only of what they should eat and what they should wear, and would give heed only to new Caesars and to false prophets. Then might it come to pass that men would not look upward to see even a winter’s star in the East, and once more, there would be no light at all in the darkness.

And so Paul, the apostle of the Son of Man, spoke to his brethren, the Galatians, the words he would have us remember afterward in each of the years of his Lord:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

This [Wall Street Journal] editorial was written in 1949 by the late Vernon Royster and has been published annually since. .

Posted by: bkivey | 26 October 2017

Flattening the Normal Curve

The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

William Gibson

NPR 31 August 1993

I discovered that quote this year, and it clarified some thoughts I’d entertained on why some people insist on creating a reality that is disconnected from the Universe. This is of a piece with trying to figure out the last couple of years why it is that people living in by any reasonable measure the best society humans have ever come up with can think of nothing to do but destroy it. And it’s not new. History is replete with great societies that failed. Some fell victim to natural disaster: most didn’t. We have thousands of years of written history from every part of the globe, yet even now we are watching the Fall of the West. There are factors endemic to humans, and, I suspect, biology in general, that will, I fear, doom us as a species.

It is canon among Progressives that Everyone Should Be Equal. Some individual variations are allowed, but only those approved by the Anointed. Progressivism makes much of economic equality, but what they really mean is intellectually conformity. No one should be too smart or too stupid, too rich or too poor, and just curious enough to take an interest in the Church, but not so curious as to question Its tenets.

For the majority this is attractive. One thing I notice about biology is that Nature doesn’t work harder than it has to to achieve a goal. One might say that life seeks the lowest energy state consistent with, well, living. This is why there are organisms unchanged in form or function for tens of millions of years. They live quite well with what they have, so no reason to change. Humans are part of the natural world, so it’s reasonable to expect we’ll behave in a manner consistent with the rest of the Universe. Observation would seem to bear this out.

I’m also aware of statistical analysis. I spent a goodly portion of my last academic foray studying statistics. I’m fascinated by mathematics generally, and statistics provides powerful tools. As robust as the science is, it comes down to one curve:

normal curve with SD mod

This one.

The normal, or more popularly, bell, curve. For any discriminating characteristic in any population of sufficient size, this distribution will occur. To our knowledge there are no exceptions. It is a universal law.

The astute will note that it is not an even distribution.

Given that even distributions don’t occur in Nature, why would you expect human society to be different?

The Church maintains that human society should be structured so that everyone falls between -2 SD and +2 SD, and they’d really prefer the Morlocks stay in the +/-1 range. Every effort of Progressivism is aimed at that end; a goal that is demonstrably unobtainable. The more reasonable approach acknowledges this reality, and seeks to mitigate the extremes while allowing people to migrate along the economic bell curve as ability and fortune allow.

Related Reading

Previous posts related to this one:

Carnot and Economic Mobility

Limits to Growth?

Income Inequality Incoherence

Barriers to Social Mobility

A Bug, Not a Feature

Capitalism is Fine, But . . .



Posted by: bkivey | 24 October 2017

Going to a Baseball Game

Today is the start of the annual Fall Classic, as the Dodgers and the Astros battle for baseball supremacy. It’s been a good season and an exciting post-season, and as usual my team is languishing at home. The nearest MLB team is American League, but I’m a National League guy at heart, so I’ll throw in with the Dodgers this year. In six.

Earlier this year I made the trip to Seattle to watch a Mariners game. Here is my story.

Even though I lived in Seattle when Safeco Field opened, I’d never been to a game there. I’d attended football and baseball games in the Kingdome, but the prices at Safeco were off-putting. I’d heard it was a nice ballpark.

Even from Portland it shouldn’t be too big a deal to attend a game: people did it all the time. The train leaves from downtown Portland and five hours later deposits you in downtown Seattle. If you plan ahead you can make the trip for about $100 inclusive.

If you plan ahead.

If you do it the way I did, it will be considerably more.

I found myself with a day off and wanted to see a baseball game. The Mariners were playing at home the next day. I could have bought train and game tickets online in about 20 minutes, but just for fun I decided to do everything on a walk-up basis.

Portland Union Station 21 May 2017

Portland’s Union Station. ‘Union’ is a bit of a misnomer as only the national passenger service uses it. Built by the Northern Pacific railroad, the station also counted the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific as tenants prior to Amtrak.

Portland Union Station Interior 21 May 2017

At the counter I found there was one coach seat left. This was the only train that would get me there on time, so if I wanted to go that was it. Because of the way transportation pricing works, it was the most expensive seat on the train, almost comparable to a round-trip airline ticket. But without the hassle, so still a win, I guess.

Outside, some truth in advertising:

Portland Union Station China Shipping container

All Aboard!

Union Station trains 21 May 2017

The Amtrak Cascades provides service between Vancouver, BC and Eugene, OR, but there isn’t continuous rail service between the cities. To travel end to end one must change trains in either Seattle or Portland. The train sets were built by the Spanish Talgo company and feature passive-tilt technology to allow faster speeds through curves. It’s not really noticeable and the speedometer in the car shows 75 – 80 most of the trip. Not exactly bullet train speeds, but faster and a lot more comfortable than driving.

Train interior 21 May 2017

The most expensive (my) seat on the train:

Most expensive seat on train 21 May 2017

The seats have 12V charging outlets. Food in the cafe car is better than previous Amtrak culinary efforts I’ve had, but still a struggle to match airline quality.

Tacoma Narrows bridge. The nearer span was erected in 1950 to replace the original 1940 suspension bridge. The first bridge destroyed itself in high winds a bare five months after opening, providing lessons for structural engineers since. The farther span opened in 2009.

Tacoma Narows bridge 21 May 2017

The Olympic Mountains on the Washington Peninsula:

Olympic Mts 21 May 2017

King Street station in downtown Seattle, also built by the Northern Pacific:

Seattle King St station 21 May 2017

Safeco Field is about 1K south of the station.

Seattle stadium row 21 May 2017

Alaskan Freeway on the left, downtown Seattle, Century Link Field (NFL), and Safeco. The train station is North of the football stadium toward downtown. Walking up to the ticket office, I found the cheapest most inexpensive seats available were on the 200 Club level. OK. More than I’d spent on a baseball game, but a bit late to turn back.

Safeco Field veiw from seat 21 May 2017

View from my seat. It is a nice ballpark. The Club level has its own food court, so one need not mix with the groundlings. Prices are venue-reasonable. Great view, but the only drawback was that the game was visible from the stands.

The middle of the first inning:

Safeco Field scoreboard middle 1st 21 May 2017

5 – 0. Well, that game is over. Let’s see what else there is to do.

Looking out from the Hit It Here Cafe, and several times a season a player will, in fact, hit it here. I was hungry, but service time was in excess of 45 minutes. Moving on.

Hit It Here Cafe view

The $200 hot dog.

$200 hot dog

View from right field.

Safeco Field view from right field

The Mariner’s Hall of Fame is in the stadium, and is an interesting place to spend time when the home team is busy walking batters and not hitting. I returned to my seat about the middle of the fifth inning. In the seventh after Mariner’s pitching had walked their eighth or ninth batter, the man in front exclaimed ‘I can’t take anymore!’ and left. I had to agree. I was happy to get to see a game at Safeco, but the team wasn’t getting it done that day.

I haven’t been to Seattle in about ten years, and downtown has changed some. There’s a new transit system, and the area is much cleaner than it used to be, although considerable seediness remains.

Seattle Chinatwon gate 21 May 2017

Oh, so close:

Seattle trash so close

So I spent a lot of money on a baseball game where the home nine were disappointing. But I got to enjoy two of my favorite things, trains and baseball, on a beautiful day in my favorite part of the world. On the way home I met a family in the Seattle station who’d done the same thing I had: a day trip out to see a game. The wife remarked that it had been like a little vacation.

Indeed it was.


I was sitting at the bar recently watching the ALCS when an attractive woman struck up a conversation. She was interested enough to pull up a bar stool. Somehow the question ‘Did you vote?’ popped out of her mouth.

Yes, I did.

‘Who’d you vote for?’

I voted against Clinton.

Immediate look of disappointment and condescension (but mostly condescension).

‘Oh, Blair’.

And she left.

Blade Runner 2049

Go see it. A solid, well-crafted, beautifully shot, superbly acted movie that rewards a large screen. That’s all I have to say about that.








Posted by: bkivey | 24 September 2017

Birthday 2017

This is the week I usually take my vacation, but this year paying down old debt was more important than incurring new. And within a 100-mile radius of the house are all the scenic and recreational opportunities I might reasonably desire, so I could do something nice for my birthday. I decided to take a ride on the Mt. Hood Railroad excursion train from Hood River to Parkdale. I saw the train on a previous trip to Hood River, but the schedule didn’t work. Departure is at 1100 four days a week for a four-hour tour of the Oregon orchard country. I sprung for the top-tier dome car ticket at $55. Besides getting to sit in the dome car, the other perk is that someone will deliver your drinks and food, rather than having to schlep them yourself.

I treated the day like a vacation, and went my vacations one better: I unplugged. I had my phone, but I didn’t know from text/email/voice. Everything went to the ‘Tomorrow’ bin. Like my vacations, I found myself rising earlier than I do most work days to go ride something.

Breakfast at the local Sheri’s:

2017Bday Spring Garden Omelet

The Spring Garden omelet. Not a bit of meat on that plate, but a good omelet. I ordered the salsa on the side but didn’t really need it. And on the road for the two-hour drive to Hood River. I-84 is the usual route, but the eastbound lanes have been closed for a couple of weeks due to fires in the Gorge. The alternate is Washington State Road 14 running on the North side of the river. I’ve driven this road a few times, but not past Camas the last ten years. It’s a nice drive, and not too crowded with diverted traffic.

The Hood River bridge connects Hood River to southern Washington, and the toll is $1 for cars. The two lanes are 9 feet wide with an open metal grate deck, so large vehicles tend to drive slowly. The speed limit is 25, and even at that rate a car will ‘walk’. The lanes are 9 feet wide. It’s not a fun bridge.

The Hood River RR depot and headquarters are located in downtown Hood River next to the Union Pacific tracks. Built in 1906, the railroad follows the Hood River through the Cascades before entering the Hood River valley and serving several agricultural communities, terminating in Parkdale 22 miles distant. While there are a number of fruit packers alongside the tracks, they all ship by truck now. The only rail-served industry I saw was Hood River Lumber: excursions provide most of the revenue these days. As well as the $5 parking charge, I guess.

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR depot exterior2017 Bday Mt Hood RR depot interior

The men’s room has an anteroom:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR depot mens room

When I made the reservation I was informed that there would be a train robbery. Apparently everything on the railroad, including crime, runs on schedule. I figured it would be fun to download and print images of 1860’s currency so I’d have something for the robbers. When you check-in you’re given some railroad currency. The two efforts:

2017 Bday fake money

My ride. I hope Santa is listening.

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR dome car 2

Lower level:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR dome car lower level

Upper level:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR dome car interior 12017 Bday Mt Hood RR dome car interior 3

Seating is first come, and most of the passengers were in the dome. There were a few families that rode in the coach cars. It turns out there are two bathrooms on the coaches, while the hoighty-toighty in the dome only have one. Hmm.

The train runs backwards (locomotive in rear) the first three miles along the Hood River. Along the way is a defunct powerhouse:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR power house

A large supply pipe runs along the river from a reservoir a couple miles upriver. When built the powerhouse supplied electricity for Hood River. The structure is being slowly dismantled as the power needs of the area are supplied by somewhat larger structures on the Columbia.

Presently the train arrives at a switchback, one of only four used by standard-gauge railroads in the US. The train gains 136 feet of altitude in only one track mile over the switchback, and grades generally through the mountains are steep, with some in excess of 3.3%. Between Hood River and Parkdale the railroad gains 1600 feet. The power on the train was a 2000 hp locomotive, but I imagine steam locomotives must have struggled. Track is well-maintained, but Class I it ain’t. The ride is very much like a boat, and folks subject to motion sickness may want to take precautions.

Heading uphill from the switchback:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR depot leaving switchback

The ride is not fast, either. The schedule is about 90 minutes to cover the 22 miles. But this is strictly about the journey, and riding a slow train through the mountains and valleys is very relaxing. Nothin’ to do but enjoy the view. To aid in that enjoyment:


2017 Bday Mt Hood RR Session lager

The Sun was not yet over the yardarm, but, birthday.

Hood River:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR Hood River 1

At one point the Sheriff and his girlfriend Ms Lulu entered the car and informed us that there wouldn’t be a robbery today. Much disappointment. There’s some scenery. Hills on the East side of the valley:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR East hills Hood River valley

Not long after entering the valley there was a commotion.

A damsel in distress!

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR damsel in distress

Sheriff to the rescue!

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR sheriff to the rescue

It’s a trap!

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR its a trap

The Sheriff is down!

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR sheriff down

Ms. Lulu is distraught!

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR Ms LuLu to the rescue

Everyone expected the robbers right away, but nothing else happened. The train pulled away, Ms. Lulu stayed with her man, and the trip resumed.

Looking North up the valley. The railroad enters around the hill to the left.

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR looking North up valley


2017 Bday Mt Hood RR robbed 1

Some time later, the robbers made their move. They didn’t know what to make of my money (“Must be savings bonds or something!”), but they took it anyway.

Dr. Who keeps these behind a warehouse in Odell, OR:

2017 Bday London call boxes in Odell

Approaching Parkdale:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR Mt Hood and vineyards

Just outside Parkdale and bout 10 miles NE of Mt. Hood. It’s already snowed a couple times this year on the mountain. Snowline is around 6000 feet. The valley has a climate well-suited for agriculture, but is geographically isolated. Prior to the railroad, there were no easy ways in or out.

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR approaching Mt Hood

The train arrives in Parkdale next to the Huston Museum for a 45 minute stop. Museum entrance is $1, but I was more interested in food. Nothing in Parkdale can be too far away:

2017 Bday downtown Parkdale 2

The engine runs around the train just outside of town, then backs the train in.

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR locomotive runaround

I stopped for lunch at Apple Valley BBQ.

2017 Bday BBQ sandwich

2017 Bday Hutson museum

Soon enough it was time to leave.

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR train at Parkdale

It was Saturday, but time, tide, and harvest wait for no man:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR orchard workers

A gambler makes an appearance and entertains with card tricks:

2017 Bday Mt Hood RR gambler

The return trip also features audio describing some of the history of the area and railroad. The audio isn’t well-synched with the train, but informative nonetheless.

Four hours after departure the train arrives back in Hood River. A very pleasant and relaxing four hours where I didn’t have to do anything but sit on my butt and eat, drink, and enjoy the view. It was nice.

Pro tip: Use the bathroom prior to leaving the train. The depot is locked.

Even though westbound I-84 was open, I went back to WA 14 because I’d seen some things I wanted a look at. Particularly this:

2017 Bday flume 1

A closer look:

2017 Bday flume 2

The structure is located between Tunnels 2 and 3 on WA 14 directly above Tunnel Lake. I didn’t know what this was other than a bridge for something. I thought it might be the remains of one of the many logging railroads that ran through the Gorge in the early part of the last century.

After I got home I looked at maps of the area back to 1911, and no road or railroad was present. What was on the maps was a flume. The structure is one of the last remnants of the Broughton Flume, which carried logs nine miles from Willard to the mill at Hood, WA on the SP&S railroad. The flume was the last to operate in the US, ceasing operation in 1986. So that was a fun bit of history.

I made shrimp cocktail and seafood Alfredo for dinner, with German chocolate cake for desert. Then to the bar to watch some football. It was a great day.








Posted by: bkivey | 4 September 2017


Earlier this year I’d blocked off 21 August for the total solar eclipse. I figured no one else would be working, so why not take advantage? Regardless of the hyperbole, I was going to make sure I saw what is arguably Nature’s premier event in my own backyard.

Work ran late Sunday so I didn’t leave home for the 60 mile drive to Salem until later than I wanted. A place to stay fell through but I’d planned for that so after dinner I camped in the back of the wagon.

Monday was a picture-perfect Summer day in western Oregon. Not a cloud to be seen and clear skies. People had remarked how fortunate we were to have the chance to view the eclipse during the time of year when we had a chance of seeing it. The last time a total solar eclipse was visible in these parts happened in February 1979. Not a lot of open sky in February.


Totality occurred at 1017 local. The images above were taken (clockwise from left) at 1000, 1005, and 1010. There may not seem to be any difference, but as the Moon covered the Sun, the quality of light changed, as if looking through polarized glasses. I noticed the Sun dapples through the leaves showed the occultation:

21 August 2017 crescent shadows

The last three minutes before totality the light dimmed very much as if someone was turning down a dimmer switch. It was quite amazing. And it wasn’t linear; more of the natural log curve prevalent in Nature.

21 Aug 2017 1017 Totality

At totality. It’s dark. Not night-time dark, but certainly late dusk in the late morning. Lots of cheering and clapping around. Also fireworks. I first thought this to be an American affectation, then remembered the Chinese method of scaring off the dragon.

I’ve seen a partial solar and several total lunar eclipses, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I was surprised at how large the disk appeared: a blue-white ring of fire in the sky. The detail and motion visible in the corona was unexpected and fascinating. And two-and-a-half short minutes later, it was over. My first thought was ” I want to see another one!”. I stuck around long enough to see if the impromptu tree leaf filters would show the retreating Moon:

21 August 2017 crescent shadows 2

The fireworks were effective: the dragon retreated.

That  . . . that was . . . amazing.

I’d planned my escape from Salem on back roads. I’m a local. Hwy 22 West to 221 North. 221 runs up the west side of the Yamhill river valley between the Coast Range and the Chehelem Mountains; and one of the more scenic drives Oregon offers.  At the end of the valley the road climbs up the hills to about 1100 feet then a drive down the ridgeback with the Willamette valley in view to the East  along with the Cascades and volcanoes. I figured if I was going to see a total solar eclipse I may as well go all in on appreciation of God’s creation.

The roads were pretty clear until a spot in the valley where several state roads converge. An hour to get through that three miles (I’m not the only local), but only a couple of hours to get home. I noticed that many people just pulled off the road into one of the many fields available to watch the spectacle.

Worth it? Totally.



Posted by: bkivey | 23 May 2017

The Highs and Lows of Hillsboro

A couple of weeks ago we had a sunny day. There was still daylight left after work, so I took it into my head to visit Bald Peak State Scenic Viewpoint. I’d passed the road to the viewpoint many times crossing the Chehalam Hills between Hillsboro and Newburg, but never actually been to the park. Bald Peak Road provides interesting driving and scenic views, and is one of my favorite drives in the area. 30 minutes from the house brought me to the overlook at 1600 feet.

Curiously, the only photos on the official website are of an empty parking lot and a picnic table. There are other views:

Looking Northeast just down from the parking area. Mt. Adams on the left and Mt. Hood on the right. St. Helens is just visible to left of the light pole above the shed. On a really clear day Mt. Rainier would be visible between Adams and St. Helens. There’s maybe a couple of days a year when that happens.

The view Southwest looking down the Yamhill valley. There are several trails winding down the hillside with areas to sit and admire the view. Mary’s Peak is just visible to right of the middle-left trees. It’s southwest of Corvallis and about 65 miles away. At 4100 feet it’s the highest point on the Oregon Coast Range, and you can drive to the top.

There are facilities at the park but no running water or camping provisions. It might be a great place to watch the sunset after a winery tour; it’s certainly a nice place to go close to home.

On the way home I passed another roadside attraction I’d seen many times but never looked at: the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve. Located at the southwest corner of Hillsboro and adjacent to the water company headquarters, the Preserve staff keep hours but the park is open from sun to sun. There’s a waterfowl hunt club located conveniently (ironically?) across the street.

There are signs cautioning visitors not to leave trash. Parks and Rec is serious about this: there aren’t any trash receptacles around. There are places to plug in your car:

From the pavilion:

It looks boring but is actually rather peaceful and relaxing. I can’t say what the experience would be like with twenty other people around, but on the day it was nice to look and listen to nature.

About a mile down the road there’s the main administrative/interpretive center. They were closed when I visited, but not a problem. One of the interpretive trails:

I thought the quote on this sign was curious. I wouldn’t have thought a nature preservation organization would condone such behavior. There are also sprinklers, which seemed odd:

We’re coming off one of the coldest, wettest Winter’s in living memory; nothing in this state will burn. And shouldn’t natural areas be, um, natural? It can be very dry here, and the sprinklers all seem to be in the vicinity of the buildings, but it still looks a little strange. Out in the viewing area, there’s something stranger still:

I do not know why there is an eye chart here. No placards, signs, or any other explanation is offered. There are plaques along the rail describing the various birds in the area, and the Preserve is very popular with birders. Perhaps the chart is used to settle disputes among bird watchers. (“I told you you couldn’t see”) There’s a nesting pair of Bald Eagles and some Peregrine Falcons, neither of which I saw. I settled for some robins and nuthatches.

Or as folks who don’t write grant applications call it: a beehive. There was bee activity. I had this image of government providing inducements to displace migrant bees doing jobs native pollinators wouldn’t do.

So that was a fun couple of hours finding interesting places close to home.

Posted by: bkivey | 3 May 2017

Rx: Cash

I’m of an age where personal medical expenses are a budget line-item, and visiting health professionals is a regular occurrence. I take pills. So having a primary care physician is nearly as important as a good barber. I’ve been searching for a physician for a couple of years, and have seen the new American health care landscape.

My medical history is heavily weighted toward severe pain and disfigurement in my 20’s and 30’s; sometimes I had insurance, most of the time not. Everyone got paid. I learned that there are significant advantages to paying for your own medical care. And short of extreme cases like cancer treatment or organ replacement, not unaffordable. My current health coverage provider is Benjamin Franklin.

While looking for a physician, I found there were two types of practices: those that were closed or closing, and those accepting cash patients. Every conversation I had went thusly:

“Hi, my name is Blair Ivey. Are you accepting new patients?”

“That depends on what insurance you have.”


“Yes, we’re accepting cash patients.”

I’d read articles for the last several years about medical practices going to all-cash businesses. My last physician started his practice on that model, and my current physician has oriented his practice toward cash, and is considering ditching insurance patients entirely. America now has a functional two-tier medical system: insurance patients will get care; cash patients will get care on a more convenient schedule.

While I applaud the free market’s emergence in this most regulated of industries, the current situation takes some getting used to. When I was memorizing the route to the ER, insurance was king, and having it got you care noticeably faster. On the other hand, for routine visits cash patients were routinely offered discounts, and significant reductions could be negotiated for large bills. That world is upside-down. Now cash is expected and no discounts are offered. Practices don’t want to know from insurance. The same insurance everyone is required to have by Federal law. God will have His little joke.

For all that, it still feels like being grateful for maintaining something of the status quo, rather than any real gain in services. Prior to ACA, regulatory burdens put downward pressure on cash medical prices. Post-ACA, the regulatory burden is so great that practices are opting out of the government-medical complex and choosing their patients, with the attendant upward pressure on prices. Practices can choose their patients because ACA is a hassle for the individual, too. Even if you’re not philosophically opposed to the law, you still have to deal with the paperwork and the monthly insurance premium. And while it may be nice to have medical insurance, now you have fewer places to use it.

Around Town

Run out of B’s?

One of the many recent apartment/condo developments in Portland. Broadway Bridge in the background. It will probably look better in 20 years when the trees grow in, but right now it’s all glass and steel and concrete and not particularly inviting. The towers block the sun, which is not ideal most of the year.

Bang & Olufson’s Portland outpost.

Rain and hail. We’ve seen far too much of both this year.


A Spotted Owl in the back yard. We didn’t tell anyone lest we be ‘relocated’.

Posted by: bkivey | 10 April 2017

Where’s My Cultural Appropriation?

Although I live near one of the hotbeds of American Progressivism, I don’t live in it. Where I live it’s pretty much Life in America: folks minding their business and making a living. Folks will also talk about current events, and as my news intake is nearly non-existent, those aren’t conversations I excel at. I understand there’s some crisis in Syria, and we’ve launched some missiles.

But apparently not just any missiles. These are racist missiles. Because as sure as the Sun rises in the East, the ignorant have to pull a Lucy Van Pelt*. People are upset because the missile is named after a First Nations weapon: the tomahawk, proving again what a patriarchal, Anglo-dominant, cis-enabling society we are. Ho. Hum. You can read what I have to say about that here.

I was curious if the US military, largely run and staffed by White people, had appropriated any European culture in naming weapons systems. Depending on your sensibilities, it might be cool to have a cultural icon smiting the enemies of freedom.

How disappointing the results are.

There is the Claymore anti-personnel mine. Been in production a long time and very effective at it’s job. It’s a front-line weapon, so that’s good. If there’s some Scots in you your culture has been sufficiently appropriated.

Things improve with the C-130 Hercules. The Greeks get in on the game with their mythology, and the C-130 is a very capable aircraft. If you’re going to be appropriated, this is about as good as it gets.

The C-27J Spartan is a medium transport airplane we bought from the Italians. I don’t know if the Greeks would be too happy about appending the Spartan legacy to a cargo plane, and I’m sure most people wouldn’t want their cultural icon represented by a system that appears to have been an expensive bust.

That’s pretty much it for Euro-oriented weapons systems. The Navy has the E-2C Hawkeye, but the name probably refers more to visual acuity than Cooper’s protagonist or a super-human archer. There have been other Euro-centric monikers given to former weapons systems, but for the US military to have only two active system with a White connection is shameful. In the Age of Grievance, it seems everyone’s culture is getting stolen but mine.

* From a Peanuts comic where Lucy says “If you can’t be right, be wrong at the top of your lungs!”



Posted by: bkivey | 28 March 2017

Kung-Fu Theater

Last August I mentioned my first experience with classic kung-fu movies, and I’ve since become a regular at Kung-Fu Theater. It’s a bit of an event.

Chinese and Hong Kong kung-fu movies from the 70’s are a local couples passion, and they’ve acquired over 100 of them. They show their favorites the second Tuesday of most months at Portland’s Hollywood Theater to full houses. There’s a t-shirt and everything, and I’ve learned that there are clubs organized around the event.Having been to about half a dozen showings, I’ve found attendance ranges between ‘full’ and ‘sold-out’ in an average-size movie theater. The crowd is a total Portland cross-section, and the LGBT demographic are out in nearly the numbers of a Thorns game. The curator does an intro before the film explaining why he likes it and talks bit about the director, choreographer, actors of note, and recently, Trump jabs. There’s a raffle (when you buy the shirt you get a ticket) with prizes like original movie posters and lobby cards.

And everything.


This IS your father’s kung-fu, and it’s a blast. The better movies are actual movies, with plot, story, character arc, acting, and other things not found in Micheal Bay films. No CGI, although some clumsy editing can be seen, and very little wire-fu. It’s skilled martial artists demonstrating their ability. Some choreography is better than others, but the boss fights tend to be minutes of non-stop fighting action.

I’ve seen enough of these films to appreciate some directors and actors. Director Lau Kar-Leung is especially good at showcasing various fighting styles and his movies are complete to the point where the films are a bit of a cultural excursion. The movies tend to feature at least one strong female character, who can not only hold their own but show the boys a few things, all ‘as fast as lightning’.

If you’re in town the second Tuesday of the month you may want see what all the excitement’s about. Seeing these movies with a crowd is a lot of fun, and a more ‘Portland’ experience than Voodoo Donuts.

The Trailers

At the beginning of each film there’s a trailer for another movie, and they’re good warm-ups, as well as previewing films you may want to see (or not). The Five Element Ninjas (maybe), Sister Street Fighter (no). The most recent film featured a trailer for a film whose name I do not recall, but there were a lot of guys getting the fake blood beat out of them. The voice-over boomed without hint of irony “Fun For The Whole Family!”. It must be a cultural thing.

Smart Parking

Seen in Hillsboro:



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