Friday, March 23, 2012

Seattle Sonics back to School

Long ago, during the Franco-Prussian War, raiders from Oklahoma came to Seattle and took away our beloved basketball team.  Now the old Sonics are attempting to play under the pseudonym “Thumper” or something.  Trying to make it seem like a whole different team.

Also years ago we had an earthquake.   Earthquakes happen over and over again.  Kind of like acne.  Not real popular.

Scientists and scholars put their heads together and came up with a novel notion: “If it’s happened before it’ll probably happen again” is what they decided.  That was after years of study.  Sure enough it happened again.  Scientific people think about lots of things like this.

Once the engineers got hold of that information they began endless analysis of everything they had already engineered.  The result was that they announced that maybe millions of structures are at risk of crumbling to dust during earthquakes.  Except that most earthquakes are fairly localized (in California, for example) so lots of these risky structures will probably be Okay.

One result of this hysteria is that building codes and laws have been updated to require earthquake survivability.  Here’s where school comes in.

Determination was made that most of the old school buildings did not meet these earthquake requirements and must be replaced.  We’ve been replacing schools, libraries, hospitals, and car washes for many years.  Everywhere you look there’s a new school where an old one used to be.

One of the premier schools in the Greater Newcastle Metro Area is Bellevue High School.  They just opened the new earthquake proof version.  Amazingly it contains a basketball arena that can hold somewhat under 100,000 fans.  OK, maybe not that many.

Another development recently is that this guy from Seattle, who now lives in California, wants to get Seattle an earthquake proof pro-basketball franchise.  He bought some old warehouse buildings in the south part of Seattle near the baseball and football stadiums.  Together with several local citizens he wants to build a new arena and buy a team.  We also need a hockey team for some reason.  Maybe there aren’t enough fights in the other sports.

People in Bellevue have also been trying to figure out how to get a pro basketball franchise.  They picked several secret sites and began ruling them out one by one.  The conclusion was that Bellevue probably won’t get a team.

But wait!  We just built a new high school with a gymnasium.  Why not let them play there?  Most NBA Arenas hold under 100,000 fans.  We could steal the Nicks or the Clippers.

One resounding result of all this loose talk is that many local people are pretty excited.  They expect a new team momentarily.  The loss of a pro sports team is a traumatic event, similar to an earthquake.  Except that to recover from the loss of a pro sports team only requires the acquisition of a new pro sports team.  Many people in Seattle already own a green shirt (soccer).  Just tell us how to find the new arena and here we go!

Issues have to be resolved first.  For example nobody will build a new arena (the HS may not be acceptable) until there’s a firm commitment for a team.  We can’t get a firm commitment to obtain another team unless we have a world class arena.

The other big issue is that some people think it’s OK for the tax payers to help fund this new arena.  See, here’s the thing: way back when the grifters were working out how to sneak our team out of town one of the big points was that Seattle would have to make the existing basketball arena bigger.  There have already been upgrades and there was a great resistance to pay for yet another one.  It has probably reached the upgrade limit.  The alternative is to build a whole new one.  That costs money and nobody wants to spend it.

This leaves us in the same position.  Trying to figure out how to get the money and commitment to build a new arena while simultaneously securing a commitment for another team is really tricky.

The fans are chomping at the bit for a new team.  My solution is to buy one of the NCAA college teams.  They want to play in the NBA anyway, so why wait?  Include the coach and cheerleaders in the deal.  While we’re waiting for them to graduate we could be building an earthquake proof arena.  Mean time our new team could continue to play in the college arena. They’d be rich enough to pay someone else to take their classes.  That way they could devote all their time to pro basketball.

Now all we need to do is figure out which team to buy.  It would be rather efficient to buy the Washington Huskies since they already play in Seattle.  But those are details for the rich folks to work out.  I’m just the idea man.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Been Away for Awhile

Fort Worden with Mount Baker in the background

My last post in the Rapid Transit Saga was way last year.  My excuse for not posting is “family comes first.”  So please forgive me.  I think the Mayans are behind it.

I missed almost every bowl game in January 2012.  The result is that I have no idea which college players are worth drafting.  Never thought the Seahawks would compare favorably with the Colts.

At about the same time I found out my three sisters were coming to visit in February.  This is good news as they live way off in the blue states.  Maybe I can improve their outlook.  We only get together once a year so this year is special. I’m going back there this summer (maybe) which will make it two times in one year.

Here at Lake Boren Rapid Transit Data Central we have hundreds of sophisticated state of the art computers.  Way last summer I had a miraculous breakthrough and the balky laptop finally decided to accept the inevitable.  It joined my home network.  Inexplicably right before the arrival of my sisters that laptop suddenly refused to accept any internet connection.  “Internet device not found” or some such “Windows” error message.  Great timing.  Why did it wait until 2012?  The Mayans.  That’s the only answer.

My sisters arrived as scheduled and we began a two week tour of the vast office complex here at Lake Boren Rapid Transit Headquarters.  That lasted a few minutes.  We went to the Doll Art Museum in Bellevue (sisters).

Road trip took us to the Yakima Canyon where we spotted a few wild birds and other varmints.  The trip eventually got as far as the Central Washington Ag Museum in Union Gap.  That’s where intrepid farm equipment enthusiasts have built a world class environment to display hundreds (probably thousands) of agriculture related items.  Then it was on to the back country.

The next venue was the Great Highway 410 slide which buried part of the road and caused the river to take a new channel.  Not a common site in Indiana.  So as expected one of my eastern sisters fell victim to the rugged west and twisted an ankle.  She’s OK now but the limp lasted the remainder of the visit.
Elk Feeding at Oak Creek
We stayed at the home of good friends and quilting was one of the main topics.  All of us had a terrific time and we were entertained royally during our visit to Yakima.
 We returned home only to find that the Tivo had rebelled.  After several years (this should be a hint) of flawless service the box has become inoperative.  There must be a trend among my electronic devices – first the laptop and now Tivo.  What’s next?  Anybody know a Mayan I can ask?  But I have a house full of guests so no time to deal with broken stuff.  Just compartmentalize the problems and move on.

The next road trip took us to Port Townsend.  The Victorian homes and forts made into parks are quite interesting.  There is also plenty of shopping.  Lots of shopping.  We had a great lunch.  Indiana doesn’t have State Ferries either so that was unique.  Did I mention the shopping?  Yet another nice Western Washington day in February.  Amazing.

Following the visit to Port Townsend we decided the next day would be a good time to visit the Glass Museum in Tacoma.  Lots of glass.  The gift shop had more than the museum and it was all for sale.

Next the crew loaded up the heap and headed toward Long Beach.  That’s in Washington, in case you don’t know.  Their two main attractions are cranberries, oysters, and kites.  OK, three.  Oh, and the world’s longest beach. Four!

So far the weather had been excellent.  We had lots of sun and unseasonably warm temperatures.  Terrible ad since we really don’t need more people out here.  But it was great for traveling around showing the sites.

While at the ocean the Mayans struck again and a second sister twisted an ankle.  Must run in the family.  At least no electronic devices quit during that trip.  Now I have two limping sisters.  The Wild West is just too dangerous for Indiana people.

At this point we went to visit the Schoonover Farm in Skagit County.  There were an amazing number of swans grazing in the fields.  The snow geese flock is enormous.  Numerous eagles greeted us as well as several hawks and smaller birds.  The farm is very interesting with various sheep, goats, chickens, and other hairy things.  They have a road side produce stand.  We said hi to the dogs and got a tour of the fiber room.  Donna has a complete operation in which she takes fibers (wool mostly) from animals and it eventually ends up as garments.  My quilting sisters were fastinated.

Boots were donned and we went to visit the barn yard.  Some of the sheep and goats are friendly and some are not.  The geese didn’t seem to like anyone but they didn’t bite.  It was feeding time which was also very entertaining.

We returned to the safety of our palatial home and the next day I planned to have a nice dinner at one of the world famous Seattle eating establishments.  The goal was to show these folks that Seattle (the Greater Newcastle Metropolitan Area) has some of the best food in the country.  What a surprise: a third sister got food poisoning.  Three out of three felled by the rugged conditions here in the Wild West.  She’s much better now, too.

What’s left but to load them on airplanes and send them back where they’re safe?  Maybe the Mayans don’t know where Indiana is.  Or Texas.  I’m not real sure myself; somewhere back east maybe.

Result: All three are safe in their homes recovering from their visit.
The Tivo actually had a disk failure which is the fault of the disk manufacturer, not the Tivo people.  I ordered a new Series 4 and it arrived yesterday.  It has more storage and faster processing (if you believe that… well you know).  Anyway, I got it set up and now I have TV again.
The problem with the laptop was the protection software.  It’s the very large program that keeps malicious viruses and spyware from clobbering the computer.  It decided to take matters into its own hands and clobber the computer itself.  Did I expect anything else?  Anyway, it’s fixed now.  The Mayans are losing.

OK, during the tour I showed the sisters Newcastle and Lake Boren.  Yes, they really exist.  We saw the library under construction and even caught a glimpse of Glen’s floating TV antenna.  Quilt shops were involved along the way.  We saw the farm in Sedro Woolley (yes, it really exists) and rode Ferry Boats.  We saw the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge before it’s replaced and we saw the Alaska Way Viaduct.  We saw the Space Needle and the Monorail.  We even spent a morning wandering and shopping in Pike Place Market.  We tried to see the Freemont Troll but all the streets to it were being worked on.  Or maybe it was the troll being worked on.  Or have the Mayans started there?  Anyway, no dice.  Except for the injuries these folks seemed to enjoy the visit.  I expect everyone in Washington to pitch in and make the place safer.


Friday, December 23, 2011

The 27 Hobbies

Once in awhile somebody asks me what I’m doing to keep busy as a retired person.  My stock answer is that I have 27 hobbies.  If they ask me to what they are I can’t list them extemporarily.  For this report I’m going to try to list 27 hobbies that keep me busy.  Since it’s my report I reserve the right to show sub categories as separate hobbies. 
Here goes (in no particular order so I’m using bullets instead of numbers):
·         Writing a blog – When I began Christine had just announced we were having a drought so I began the Lake Boren Drought Report.  The first day I posted she announced the drought was over.  Shortly after that I changed to a Rapid Transit Report because Newcastle will be among the last places to get rapid transit.
·         Using big words – long ago in High School pals of mine introduced me to “pusillanimous prevaricators” as a way to sound naughty without getting sent to the principal’s office.  What a concept.  Lots of big words do that.
·         Since the regular news is somewhat suspect I like to convert it to fit my own ideas.  Thus “making stuff up as I go along” is another hobby.  I have a fiction book started and at some point I’ll write “Al Explains Science.”
·         Watching progress on the library in Newcastle:  The structure is nearly complete and soon they will cover it with glass and wall board.  It’s supposed to open next fall.  I wonder if they’ll have my books.
·         Digital photography:  When I was a photographer in the Army and they had darkroom staff to develop my pictures.  I don’t do darkroom.  It’s dark and smelly.  Getting a good print is way too hard.  Then somebody invented digital photography and gave us Photoshop (and other digital editing programs).  It was like a dream come true.  I can do this.
·         Manipulating pixels to fit my own vision:  I can render my photos (in Photoshop) into many artistic formats.  I create paintings out of my own photos.
·         Personal computing: one prerequisite to becoming a reasonable photo editor is to understand the machine.  I’m not saying I’m any kind of expert but I know enough to get the software working.  That includes the editing, rendering, cataloging, and printing functions.
·         3D Photography: one of the biggest benefits of digital to me is that you can take two side by side photos (simulating two eyes) and align the images to produce 3D.  It’s fantastic.  Best of all is that the software that does that is FREE!!
·         Keeping the leaves out of the yar:.  This one is involuntary.  I’m required to exercise in order to keep some of my health issues at bay.  We have this Big Leaf Maple tree behind the house and I get lots of exercise each fall raking up the leaves.  We also have uncounted shrubs that require some kind of care and I get plenty of exercise doing that all year.
·         Walking around Lake Boren: It turns out that a brisk two mile walk around Lake Boren gives me my daily quota of exercise.  It’s a nice break from yard maintenance.  It also provides an update of the changing Newcastle landscape.
·         Bird watching: We have about 924 species in North America but I haven’t seen them all yet.  It’s a challenge because some of them occur in very small areas.  For example the cave swallow can only be found in south Texas.  Texas!  Rick Perry lives there.
·         Cow watching: Cows are easier than birds in that they tend to remain somewhat stationary.  If you see a black and white cow it’s probably a mix unless there’s a sign on the fence announcing “Purebred Holsteins” or something.  So it’s easy to do but hard to get a Life List.
·         Antique tractors: Long ago farmers used horses and oxen (cows).  The advantage was they helped fertilize the fields.  The problem was you had to feed and water them whether they worked or not.  That included keeping them alive during harsh winters when nothing was growing.  Along came people like Holt, Deere, and Oliver building tractors.  You could park them in the barn for winter and in spring change the oil and add fuel and off you go.  Boy is that an over simplification.
·         Antique trucks: When I was a boy in Kansas the highway ran right through town.  Many big rigs had the Diamond-T badge and forever after I refer to a big rig as a “Diamond-T.”  I still visit truck stops across the country and just wander along the rows of Diamond-Ts.
·         Classic Cars: America has a fantastic history of car design.  My first car was an Oldsmobile.  They don’t make those anymore but I’ll always remember that 1948 Olds and its connection to the originals.
·         Museums that honor classic ancient mechanical designs: Cars, trucks, tractors, airplanes, and other metal objects are in museums.  There’s Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska; Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana; Central Washington Agriculture Museum in Union Gap, Washington; and Museum of Flight in Seattle.  These are favorites; there are hundreds of others.
·         Scientific American: A monthly magazine whose title makes you think they know about science.  OK, they try, but they often get it wrong.  For example they say nothing can go faster than light.  Did you see Star Wars?  They make a lot of mistakes about things on the ground too. 
·         Genealogy: Looking up old ancestors.  I’ve been doing this for years and it’s even better now.  I think the most important lesson is that names and dates are just part of it.  You need to study peoples’ history.  Were your ancestors participants in one of the big migrations?  If so it tells you a lot about how they lived, why they moved, and what was on TV in 1567.
·         Volunteering: For some reason us retired folks need to get out and participate.  I was at the National Archives in Seattle for a couple years.  I enjoyed helping folks find their ancestors.  Now help the Ag Museum in Union Gap.  See how some of these hobbies relate?
·         Construction projects: Right now I’m watching condos and the library in Newcastle.  I also follow the “progress” on several other projects such as the Alaska Way Viaduct, light rail to Bellevue, and the SR 520 Floating Bridge.
·         Making fake Good-To-Go passes.  These won’t work and if you get caught it can cost you a bundle.  But the good news is I’ve yet to sell one, so don’t worry.
·         Maintenance of the machine: As I get older I find it takes more time and effort just to stay even.  I take pills, exercise, and rub stuff on my skin.  A sub-category is dealing with insurance which is a big waste of time.
·         Taking care of the house work: As a retired person with a working wife it’s my job to clean.  That includes KP after meals.  I like to eat out.
·         Keeping up with the 21st Century: I have a facebook page and a smart phone.  Both have me baffled.
·         Visiting the woods: We have an old cabin in the mountains that we visit several times during the warm months.  No phone or internet.  Three days is about all I can stand.
·         Reading other blogs such as the Schoonover Farm and Wonkette.  One keeps me up to date on the kid and the other teaches me new phrases.  Very entertaining.
·         Watching football: I don’t have a fantasy team and I don’t go to games.  Too expensive.  But I watch these overpaid prima donnas beat each other up on TV.
There: 27!  See why I can’t just list them on the spur of the moment?  You would probably combine some of these into single hobbies and my definition of “hobby” is pretty loose, but you get the picture.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Boring Report - Let's Dig a Tunnel

One important activity in Seattle right now is complaining.  It’s one of many sites across the nation where people wander around complaining.  It’s like a national sport without trophies. 
Digging tunnels is another activity in Seattle.  We have new sewage tunnels, light rail tunnels, and tunnels where they store wine until its ready.
The State DOT (WashDOT) is replacing a part of Highway 99 in Seattle called the Alaska Way Viaduct.  The replacement will be a tunnel.  The old viaduct sustained damage in an earthquake and WashDOT realized it might collapse when we have the next big one.  Tunnels don’t have so far to fall.
The other big reason to replace the viaduct is that it annoys some of the nearby property owners.  Regular people want to live close to the city where the busses are free and so are some of the street people.  That means a good use for many of the old buildings is conversion to condos.  It’s hard to sell a condo if the view is just a noisy six lane highway.  That’s low rent stuff and not very attractive.  Condos also get much higher property tax for the state.
Hundreds of thousands of cars use that corridor every month so we can’t just tear it down and pass out good luck charms.  If those cars went over to I-5 it would be horrible.  We experience that from time to time because they shut down the viaduct for inspections and damage repair.
I-5 runs under the convention center in downtown Seattle and nobody can figure out how to make the highway wider and still have conventions.  I have an idea but nobody listens to me.  It involves dynamite.
Back to Alaska Way.  Many years before I was born, more than 10,000 years ago, Seattle was covered in ice.  I read someplace they think it was 3,000 feet thick here.  That ice carried huge boulders, sand and gravel, dirt, and maple leaves from Canada and left much of it in Seattle.  The debris included chunks of ice caught beneath the other stuff.  When the surface ice melted this stuff was left behind.  The buried chunks of ice also eventually melted and left voids.  Some of those voids are still there.
Most of the lakes around the area were formed by ice gouging out depressions.  The Seattle area terrain was largely formed when the glaciers melted away.  This is important when you want to dig a tunnel.  It’s also a nuisance when you want to plant a flower.
Seattle has about 40 miles of tunnels.  They first ones were dug over 120 years ago.  We like to dig tunnels.  To dig an adequate tunnel years ago you needed a good sturdy shovel.  They use powerful Tunnel Boring Machines now.  These are custom built to the diameter of the expected tunnel.  They have carbide tipped teeth that are supposed to chew through anything.
 The conglomerate left by the glaciers makes it a particular challenge.  What if you crunch through a granite boulder right into one of those voids?  What if it’s still full of water?  There are other risks as well.  What if you punch into one of the existing tunnels or an old abandoned well?  What if the Governor shows up with her giant bulldozer?  These are all questions the planning team has to answer.  Certainly not me, I can hardly plan cereal for breakfast.
Tunnels in Seattle carry trains, cars and busses, water, gas, electricity, beer, and sewage.  If the boring machine hits any of those it could delay the project for decades.  Thus planning and testing are important.  Already around town we’ve seen rigs poking holes in the proposed path of the new tunnel to verify what might be down there.
During the actual tunnel operation that Verizon guy will be yelling “Can you hear me now?”  If anyone in the bus tunnel hears him then they have to back up and try again.  Maybe they could get an iPhone and just ask it.  We at the Lake Boren Rapid Transit Report have many suggestions (actually Glen, the Lake Boren Carp) for how to avoid hitting existing tunnels.  I imagine WashDOT has its own suggestions.  Theirs is probably “Don’t punch a hole in another tunnel.”
 Another key to successful tunneling is to make sure the TBM doesn’t get stuck.  That’s what happened in the Brightwater discharge tunnel.  The plant sits over in Woodinville and they want to run clean former sewage through the tunnel to Puget Sound.  The plant has plenty of cleaning processes so the waste water should be OK for the fish.  Anyway, during the digging a machine got stuck.  They couldn’t move it any direction now matter how hard they cussed.  Finally a world class tunnel rat worked it out.  Whew!  Lucky for us that fiasco was hidden underground or we might have had Occupy Brightwater.
One of the other characteristics of boring a big tunnel is they need a huge staging area.  They need to dig a big hole and assemble the boring machine down there.  They need a place to pile up the tunnel lining modules before hauling them into the tunnel.  They need room for the muck they pull out behind the TBM.  That muck has to be trucked to Maple Valley.  That means they also need room for big trucks to turn around, load up, and head out.  There will be several construction trailers, big orange machines, and hundreds of feet of rented fence.  That fence is to keep me out because otherwise I’d be right there watching.
The plan is to open the new tunnel in about 2006.  We don’t think they’ll make it.  But if we keep our fingers crossed they might get started before summer.  They’ve already torn down about a mile of the viaduct to make room for the huge staging area.  The rented fence is everywhere.  Everyone grab a shovel and come on out to Seattle and help out.  It’s better than just pitching a tent and complaining about everything.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

2011 Stumbling to a Close

As a public service I’m going to provide a list of New Year’s Resolutions.  Later.  As a preview: get a riding mower (unless you already have one) and join a racing team.
First let’s review the year.   Local municipal construction took a break.  They finally broke loose and began the Newcastle Library and the Lake Boren Condos. 
Everyone in Bellevue fought the light rail plans.  Some are against it because it gets too close to their house.  Some are against it because it’s too far from their house.  Some don’t like it because they think cars are a much better way to get big spenders into Bellevue Square.  Others are against it because they just don’t like Bellevue.  And everyone thinks it costs too much.  So last month the plan was unanimously approved.  Pretty logical.
 The Brightwater Sewage Treatment project is wrapping up.  Except they now think there is too much capacity.  Kind of a funny thing to say.  Anyway, the point of the new plant was to provide sewage service to the urban expansion in the north King and south Snohomish county interior.  Most of the Greater Newcastle Metropolitan area near water has a pipe that takes care of stuff.  Unlike Costa Rica where you can’t flush toilet paper because it makes the sewer back up.  Thus the project to take care of the huge future sewage problem is in question because the future has not yet arrived.  More logic.
Lake Boren Park requires all pets to be on a leash.  It’s part of the Newcastle leash law.  The City Council has been discussing a location for an official off-leash area for a long time.  They (my understanding anyway) chose a section of the new sports park down by May Creek.  It’s a big undeveloped area where they intend to build several ball fields and an ice rink or something.  However, many pet owners use Lake Boren Park to toss tennis balls to their unleashed pets.  Many.  Every time I go there I see dogs chasing tennis balls or squirrels.  It’s not a priority for enforcement.  What I don’t get is why the Council spends so much time talking about it when the citizens have already made their choice.  More logic.
The Alaska Way Viaduct is scheduled to be replaced by a tunnel.  The tunnel will connect the existing SR 99 near the stadiums and the existing tunnel up north.  One expects the project to bore into the soft underbelly of Seattle and make a smoother commute.  However, it seems that digging a tunnel requires lots of closures of the existing viaduct.  It’s above ground and normally tunnels go underground.  Oh, it turns out they need a huge space for the construction stuff.  (Not the same “stuff” that goes to Brightwater.)  So in order to get the big staging area they need to remove the southern mile of the existing viaduct and make a bypass.  Just a few weeks disruption.  But it trains drivers for what to expect when the viaduct finally closes for good.  Clear?
On another front the SR 520 Floating Bridge is getting tolls.  They need to replace the bridge since they think this one will sink in the next earthquake or an 80 MPH wind.  Apparently it’s fragile.  To afford the new one they need to collect money from people who use it.  Starting last spring.  Except the company they hired to put the tolling system in place was suddenly swamped with contracts from several other projects around the country.  They had to rapidly expand in order to handle all the work and the newbies were not up to speed.  They think it’s all ready to go now and tolling will start before the end of the year.  So here’s the plan: make people using the fragile old bridge pay a toll to sink it.  One imagines that if you happen to be on the bridge when it sinks you’ll get a refund.  It’s the logic I like.
The Museum of Flight near Boeing Field is building a large hanger for the Space Shuttle full fuselage trainer.  NASA has decided to give away the current fleet to museums around the country.  Seattle gets the trainer.  It’s the same size as a regular shuttle except it doesn’t have wings and it never flew into space.  Regular shuttles can fly on the back of a 747.  NASA is taking it apart and hopes to ship it to Seattle in the “Super Guppy” cargo plane.  That means NASA is shipping plywood from Texas to Seattle where one of the main industries is lumber.
New Year’s Resolutions:
·         Don’t sell your car yet because it’ll be another decade before Bellevue gets light rail.
·         Go ahead and flush because we have enough sewage treatment capacity to handle it for years to come.  We might even take some of Costa Rica’s.
·         Throw tennis balls to Fido as much as you want.  He’ll enjoy it.
·         Keep away from SR 99 and SR 520 for the next 15 years.
·         Visit the Museum of Flight often because it’s so big you won’t be able to see it all in one visit.  Resolution for next year: visit again and see the full fuselage trainer.
·         And, of course, get a riding mower and soup it up for racing.  Replace the blade with a discus because when you flip it over you don’t want to hurt anyone.
Prediction: When the new SR 520 Floating Bridge opens they’ll have a parade of riding mowers first over.  You’ll be right there with your 420 HP racer.