The Hummingbird

It was one of those perfect afternoons: sunny with a moderate temperature and breeze off Puget Sound. As I stopped off the stairway in front of our office, I had to avoid a small rustling leaf on the sidewalk. Yet it was no ordinary leaf. Stopping and taking a look behind me, I noticed a small hummingbird on its back as the white speckled chest heaved.

Taking a moment to seize up the situation, I felt a momentary twinge of sadness and then started my lunchtime walk. Half a block down the road, I was suddenly asking myself: is this who I am?

Growing up, my grandmother was always a presence in our lives. She taught her family a great many things about how to view the world around us. When Gloria wasn’t painting pastoral landscapes, she was teaching her grandchildren about nature and the small miracles of wildlife around us. She’d identify the various birds that would visit her garden, marvel at the bees, take joy in the small garter snake that would visit her porch every day.

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My sister and I would help gently capture birds that accidentally flew into the house, wrest away voles from our dog, and marvel as seals and porpoises would swim around our rowboat. An industrious beaver family lived on the lake my aunt was at, and we explored the body of water for signs of these elusive dam builders.

After an afternoon antiquing session in our nearby town with my sister, mother, and grandmother, we exited the store and prepared to get in the car when one of us noticed a very scared dog tied to a dumpster. She was hungry, whimpering, and the store staff said she was abandoned by her owners: left to her fate. We were strained financially as a family and already had a canine companion, but it was decided that however our position was, this dog needed our help. We gently convinced her to get in the car, and after a vet visit paid for by my grandmother, Lucy the dog was adopted into the family.

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When a creature needed our help, we were taught to provide the love and care it needs to either survive in the wild, or adopt it into our household. It’s not always an easy choice, but it was always the right one.

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Back at the sidewalk, this animal needed help moving away from where it could be crushed by unwary walkers, and perhaps it had greater needs than that. Sitting on our bottom step and placing my feet around the bird, I started calling our local wildlife rescue center for advice.

Gently covering the hummingbird with a tissue paper to calm it down, I softly nudged a piece of paper under the bird. Weighing no more than a few grams, the bird was easily supported by this lightweight piece of paper. Lifting it into a small box I had prepared, I brought it inside and gave it a chance to recover in our conference room.

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Opening the lid of the box, I could see that the bird had righted itself and was calmly sitting in the proto-nest when it suddenly took off and began to hover above our white board while emitting the characteristic flight “chirp” noise that hummingbirds often do. For a few seconds, it looked like it was recovered and ready to go back outside. Then it fairly abruptly begin a descent and landed in disarray.

As it lay on the ground, it lended itself for a closer look. Although the iridescent feathers of the back and neck are the most noticeable feature, the beautiful white/black/brown coloring on the tail revealed the true wonder of these small flyers.

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Replying to the voicemail I had left at PAWS, they requested that I bring in this bird to their rescue center 15 minutes away. With the help of a co-worker, we were on our way to drop the hummingbird off with the people who were going to give it the care and attention it needed.

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The next time you see an animal, take a moment to appreciate it for what it is and the contributions it brings to our Earth. Do not disparage the raccoon, the pigeon, or the crow, but instead recognize them as unique species that are adapting to the world around them. If you’re looking for a pet, look at your local shelters for animals in need of a loving home. Rescue that spider from your sink and place it outside instead of just batting it down the drain. Try to reduce how much meat you consume, and eliminate it entirely if you can.

We can’t solve all of humanity’s ills in a day, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my family, it’s that little acts of kindness towards nature can make the world a better—and more diverse—place to live in.

Berlin 2017

“Nikky,” you may be asking, “isn’t it 2018?” “Didn’t you go on this trip in May? Are you really eleven months behind on your blog?”

Yes. Yes I am. “Doesn’t that mean your memory will be dulled with the passage of time and won’t fully reflect your thoughts on these travels?”

Yes it does. Luckily I have the ability to look at my Google Timeline to try to figure out what happened on each day and piece together the experience.

Photo Album

The full album of pictures from this city can be found on my Flickr.

Hamburg + Berlin Pictures

May 9th, 2017

After much angst, packing, repacking, and deliberation over every piece of clothing I packed, I shoved a bunch of extra crap in my bag at the last minute and headed off to the airport. Most of the flight was spent trying to get some wholesomely useless sleep between watching Beauty and the Beast. 

May 10th, 2017

Quick connection through Amsterdam, and we were in Hamburg and on the way to the city center on one of the wonderful German Trains. It’s been said that Hamburg is really known for its thriving port, which really excites Germans and people who have never seen ports before. Living in Seattle, we’re exposed to ports basically every day and the luster is somewhat dulled. It’s a city that’s in the middle of a generally well-regarded redevelopment effort: old warehouses are being converted into trendy mixed-use housing and a shiny new philharmonic hall has recently been completed.

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Amsterdam? Nah, just Hamburg Hipsters

The only real objective the first day on the ground after a transoceanic flight is to stay awake until 8pm, no matter what. If you don’t stay awake until 8, jet lag will spoil the next week of your trip. YOU MUST STAY AWAKE.

So we went to the port.

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Oh hey, a brooding port

Hamburg is certainly set up to have tourists visit the port. There are plenty of businesses and tours that help capture the port essence that some of us crave. Water taxis ply around the harbor shuttling people too and fro. We grabbed one of them.

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TOOT TOOT

Hamburg being a moderately large German city, it has a U-Bahn. I had no choice but to ride it whenever possible in order to perform research on how efficient and extensive it is compared to basically every city in America.

Our energy levels were running low and it was barely the afternoon. If there’s one thing gentrifying German hipsters like, it’s coffee. Hitting up a coffeehouse and roster in a former warehouse, we bumbled our way through ordering multiple shots of the strongest coffee they had. This provided around 4 minutes of energy per shot before settling down into the doldrums of jetlag. It was not great.

Nestled upstairs in another warehouse, a uniquely German attraction came before us: Miniatur Wunderland. This is nominally billed as a model railway project that went somewhat overboard. They went a LOT overboard in all of the good ways. Spanning two large floors, this project contained multiple zones that each had hundreds of trains, vehicles, and people. Day/night cycles? Got it. Airport that has planes taking off and landing? CHECK. Floating cargo ships? You bet.

Even as we were basically sleepwalking through this magical place, it was astounding to see all of the time and effort the team who maintained this railroad put in over the past twenty years.

Miniature Sweden features snow, iron, and trains!
Scandinavia has a mining concern, naturally

Hidden everywhere are small little stories that play out. People move about. Businesses are ran, parades suddenly start, and occasionally there will be huge miniature fire responses. What’s remarkable is that all of the vehicles aren’t on tracks: they’re conveyed by magnets underneath the floor and a computer system will dispatch them live through the system when their story plays out.

Miniaure firefighting

Let’s take the above image as an example. At a particular time, the computer system will page all of the vehicles above to come to this building which suddenly is on fire. Where ever these trucks may be, they will reroute to this fire and dynamically steer around all of the normal “civilian” traffic on the roads. Once they’re done, they’ll all go back to their fire stations, or maybe get peeled off to go to some other smaller event. It was really quite astounding and probably way cooler if I wasn’t asleep.

May 11th, 2017

Next stop? Berlin! This city had been on my list for a very long time and after  another wonderful train ride, we arrived in the thriving capital of Germany.

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Our AirBnB was a flat near the upper floors of the above building. Built during the time of the DDR (East Germany), it was intended to house families of high-ranking party members. Featuring such cool amenities such as “bare concrete walls” and “elevators that only stopped every other floor,” it was essentially purpose-built to house me.

Adorning the one of the walls was a photograph of a variety of hopeful looking East German women at a mass game. I’d like to think that the faces of each reflect a different component of the East German experience during the 1980s.

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To save costs, the elevators only stopped at every other floor.

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May 12th, 2017 – Birthday!

My birthday was being started in style with a tour of the Reichstag. Rebuilt after the reunification, this symbol of modern Germany was the perfect start of a day that would be filled with World War II and Cold War history.

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Reichstag dome. The idea is that you can look at the mirrors down towards the government.

The Brandenburg gate is one of those monuments that you don’t fully know what it looks like, but the minute you see it you just know what it is and what it signifies.

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Tracing the way through Berlin, frequent consultation of the walking tours was required.

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Oh hey, it’s a surprise! Taking a UBahn somewhere.

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When in Berlin, it’s time to eat currywurst! Finding a stand near Checkpoint Charlie (itself a commercial hellhole with no historic value left), much munching of vegan currywurst and fries was had. Behind me is the former Ministry of Aviation building, one of the few remaining public buildings that survived the bombings in the waning days of World War II. Note the general fascist architectural design.

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It’s not to say that some members of the public don’t entirely miss East Germany.  There’s a certain nostalgia for some parts of life in the DDR. The pragmatic Germans refer to this as Ostalgie (basically east nostalgia). Visiting the DDR museum, the exhibits portrayed life as it would have been for citizens of those behind the Iron Curtain.

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This is me in a Trabant. A small car that is made (somewhat) of cardboard, it got you to where you were going. Usually.

Nikky the mid-ranking DDR functionary

You can also make like you’re a stern bureaucrat ready to dole out paperwork at an impressively slow pace. Hello comrades.

May 13th, 2017

Saturday started out with a rainy trip to the laundromat. Our next destination was Scandinavia, and as this is largely a laundry desert it was important to top off on fresh clothing. The rest of the morning was spent visiting the Topography of Terror, a museum based on a former Gestapo building that chronicled the rise and fall of the Third Reich.

Memories of East Germany and the Berlin Wall are fading with our generation. We never knew a world where Germany was divided, and the city is rushing to preserve relics of a past that may quickly be bulldozed over. Seeing part of the wall: another historic sight that is instantly recognizable, was certainly a somber experience.

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A poignant memorial exists in one of the parks surrounding a piece of extant wall that commemorates all of the men and women who were killed at the hands of the East German border guards.

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May 14th, 2017

With Berlin behind us, it was time for one last trip to the aging Tegel Airport. In theory, this airport should have been replaced quite a few years ago by the mostly complete Brandenburg Airport, but in a strange happenstance for this country, the project is mired in construction delays, shoddy workmanship, and is perpetually “a month away from opening.”

So we were flying out of Tegel on AirBerlin, which was a failing airline that finally went out of business in late 2017. Their “terminal” building was a large warehouse, and the flight was (naturally) delayed.

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Tegel did have kickass departure boards though

Soon enough AirBerlin finally decided our flight could take off, and it was off to Stockholm!

 

 

Retrotastic Childhood Artifacts

A few summers ago I was trawling through the bedroom where I grew up and trying to clear out and recycle a lot of the magazines, brochures, and pamphlets that I had collected while growing up. Not to dwell on the subject, but I collected a lot of completely worthless pamphlets. Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting items that I found!

The December 1988 National Geographic cover is certainly an eye-catching one: a hologram spans the entire cover from back-to-front. The Earth spins as the cover is tilted, and the title, “Can Man Save this Fragile Earth?” makes a plea to the problems facing our world.

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Haha but of course the back cover is a McDonalds ad featuring some faux “None of us is as good as all of us” platitudes while trying to sell as much mass-produced pseudo food as possible. Try harder everyone.

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In kindergarten we all made paste-assisted paper sunhats for reasons long since forgotten in the mists of time. Mine was resting on an upper shelf in my closet and it still (almost) fit!

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Halley’s Comet was just a few years before my time, and although the 1990s featured the outstanding appearance of Hale-Bopp, I had a lot of collected educational materials from Halley’s approach. This activity book was nothing special, but it had some outstanding 1980s graphic design of a stylized comet.

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Nikky was a pretty great Recess Buddy, who worked very hard to be a safe and careful friend on the playground. Check out all of those stars!

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No trip to elementary school is complete without a diorama. Based on The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, mine had a lot of green arrows pointing to the seeing hole JUST IN CASE someone missed it. Not to mention the “Look in the Hole” caption in the side of the box and the not-quite-rectangle cutout in the box. Clearly this was a masterpiece of the highest order.

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Did I even read the the book? The box is painted white with trees that are absent of snow, and the SUN IS SHINING in the arctic Narnia landscape. The trees aren’t even part of the effect! Just the lamppost is! Nikky clearly wasn’t trying very hard.

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What is this? A giant sign? You’re HALF correct: notice the pink color scheme and heart above my name. It’s a Valentines Day card collector! The theory is that the larger card the better to hold all of the letters I’d be receiving. Results were inconclusive.

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Throughout my childhood my sister and I received subscriptions of literary magazines appropriate for our age group from our grandmother. I’d like to think these gifts spawned a lifelong love of reading, and starting out with Ladybug, the magazines grew up with me. Spider was next, and then Cricket. Capping out the teen years was Cicada, and many of the lessons from these stories still resonate with me today.

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When I wasn’t busy reading magazines, I was writing to various government entities to get free pamphlets mailed to me. These were occasionally considered fairly awesome, such as the “Atoms to Electricity” publication from November 1987 and published by the U.S. Department of Energy. I suspect by the mid-1990s they were just happy to get these 8 year old publications off of their hands, and I was happy to file them away.

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For a few brief shining issues, there was a newspaper in our 3rd grade classroom. This is a work of art.

The  title of the newspaper is outstandingly long: “The Sun of Debbies Classroom.” We clearly put around 14 seconds of thought into what we’d name it before shipping it out to the public at large.

Clipart game was strong with our newspaper. With our Apple ImageWriter II printer, we were ready to spread the good word with all of the color we could muster. The future was now, and we were seizing it with all of our little hearts.

Once the reader got to the body of the paper, it read more like a letter from the editor rather than a proper article. We decided that using capital letters at the beginning of sentences was for suckers, and viewed spaces after periods with disdain. After pronouncing that we “don’t have any stories today,” a short story soon followed with the breaking news that Orcas were seen in Kitsap County.

A few students were quoted in a man-on-the-street style before the author poignantly notes that “we all would have liked to go.” 3rd graders we may have been, we still felt the twinges of inequality even at our young ages, and didn’t like what we saw.

Wrapping the issue up, we had some news that we DID INDEED have a substitute for our teacher on Tuesday. Just in case anyone needed that clearing up.

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A collection of trophies slowly collects dust as they bear silence witness to my dual-sport years of elementary school. Since I largely was unable to hit baseballs with any sort of regularity, most of my athletic efforts were spent on soccer. In 1994 I managed to win “Best Defensive Player” on the team, and if my memory is correct, this was because I was the only person on the team who decided to hang back by the goal in case the other team tried to score.

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Ever the sucker for unused cards, I got my hands on some delightfully 1990s-themed 60th Birthday Party cards and promptly decided that you should come to my birthday! Not only was I off by a few decades, I also decided that I couldn’t wait until my actual birthday. The place? “<intelligible>” before it ends with an ominous “COME.”

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Thanks for going on this journey with me. My next scheduled blog post will be in 2024.

Mr Meanbottom and Others

Trawling through a stack of floppy disks from around 2000, these five lost gems have been located.

 

Mr. Meanbottom and the assalt of the 1MHz computer, a thriller of a short story.

nikkys story about mr. meanbottom and the assalt of the 1 MHz computer

 

Life before we knew what photoshop was. Featuring me from 5th grade.

Nikku, picture

 

Back before we knew that Power Points shouldn’t actually have entire paragraphs on each slide to be read verbatim.

Bright Shark

 

A complete authoritative history of our classroom

debbies classroom

 

Antifreeze: is it bad for you or the Earth? Probably! But it’s also useful.

science_report

9/11 in the eyes of an Eighth Grader

Rushing through the commons of middle school as a newly minted eight grader, a friend suddenly rushed up to me and–slightly out of breath–said something akin to “NIKKYITHINKSOMETHINGHITTHETWINTOWERSINNEWYORKIHEARDITONMYALARMCLOCKDIDYOUHEARABOUTIT.” Squinting my eyes, my reaction was bewilderment: I hadn’t heard of anything significant and suspected he had wildly misheard whatever was actually happening.

More than anything else, this interruption messed up the tight timing I had to get to class. I was taking math classes at the next door high school, and while middle school started at 07:40, math started at 07:30. Hustling to class, I entered only to find all of the 10th graders inside staring at the small television. The time must have been around 07:27  PST–I had only sat down when the North Tower collapsed.

The next ninety minutes of class consisted of absorbing what we were watching. The teacher was just in the dark as we were about the circumstances of the events unfolding, and discussion mostly consisted of a few older students professing opinions–correct, as it turned out–that bin Laden was one of the likely suspects.

Back at middle school, our teachers did their best to give us as much background information as they could: we were eight graders who were just starting to absorb the idea that the United States existed in a very complicated world. Prevailing emotions were those of shock and anger: our teachers were upset that our nation were attacked, and in one particular discussion I remember my English teacher was unable to keep their “don’t swear in front of students” filter working. This is when I belatedly realized that we were really experiencing an extraordinary event when even the adults around us were starting to act in unusual manner.

9/11 happened on a Tuesday–soccer practice day. Only around half of the team showed up, but for those that did, their entire family came. While we ran through some light drills, all of the parents were deep in discussion. The general consensus was that we would find whoever was responsible and bomb the entire country until it turned into glass. At the time this seemed like a very reasonable reaction and I didn’t have any sort of worldview to even consider alternative options.

Life slowly returned to normal in our small chunk of the Pacific Northwest. With more flags.

Battery Street Tunnel

In early March 2017 there was an event where the public could walk through the Battery Street Tunnel, which is a 960m 4 lane cut and cover tunnel that carries State Route 99 traffic. Slated to be decommissioned and filled in once the new tunnel is complete, it was a rare opportunity to explore this aging piece of infrastructure on foot that is normally off limits to anything that doesn’t have wheels.

Thermos of coffee in hands, we walked down to the tunnel for an early morning stroll.

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There was a striking difference of light when looking back at the entry versus facing forward: we figured out that the lights were recessed to be invisible to the direction of traffic.

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Signs of aging were visible in the tunnel: the walls were chipped, the ventilation fans were slowly being covered in rusty dust, and various types of mold seemed be growing on the walls.

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More Pictures

As always, the full album can be viewed on Flickr.

You can spot my hair, blue vest, and black/white backpack in the center-right of this photo in the SeattlePI.

Reykjavík

Series so Far  

  1. Jet lag recovery: Bordeaux, France
  2. Basque Country Tour: Bayonne, France; Pamplona, Spain;  San Sebastián, Spain; Bilbao, Spain
  3. Scotland, pt. 1Edinburgh, St. Andrews,  and Inverness. 
  4. Scotland, pt. 2: Isle of Skye, Oban, Stirling, and Glasgow. 
  5. Reykjavík. You’re reading this right now!

October 13th, 2016 – October 15th, 2016

The last post is finally arriving! It’s been almost six months since we actually visited Reykjavík! I’ve only visited Iceland once before in 2012 for a brief 24 hour interlude, and since Tracey has never visited we decided to take a nice two night siesta in the city on the way back from Europe.

Reykjavík isn’t a particularly large city, only around 120,000, nor is it a particularly tall city: the most prominent building is the Hallgrímskirkja.

All roads lead to god
All roads lead to the Hallgrímskirkja

We basically had two main objectives while in the city: drinking plenty of hipster coffee, and getting Icelandic wool products. This could easily be accomplished in a day and a half of sightseeing, as the sights are compact.

Reykjavík skyline
Cityscape.

Iceland has been populated for centuries, but never has sustained a very large population. Although their parliament no longer meets in the fields of Þingvellir, it’s still housed in a humble building near the center of the city.

In case you were wondering, the Þ, or thorn, is an archic letter that still survives in modern Icelandic: it’s pronounced ‘th,’ more or less.

Parliament!
Icelandic Parliament, or as they call it, the Alþingishúsið. It’s such a cute building.

Wondering through the streets, there’s a striking amount of color that pops through the concrete grey of the city. When even a slight amount of sun is shining, it pierces through the shroud of grey.

Icelandic Church Light
The Lutherans aren’t the only ones in town.

Street art is found on almost every empty wall. It’s heavily skewed towards contemporary art rather than the more graffiti inspired art that’s found in many American cities.

Building Creature
Street art seems to be a critical component to combat the plume of grey that surrounds the country.

Locating the Handknitting Association of Iceland, we stuffed our bags with sweaters and blankets. The Icelandic sheep produces a dual coated fleece that’s combined into a wool called Lopi. Unspun, it combines both the longer weather-resistant outer layers with the shorter insulating fibers. The result is a fairly rough product, but it’s fairly effective at resisting water, wind, and cold.

We then set off in search of supposedly the “most popular” place to eat in the country: a hot dog stand called Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur.

It was a fairly normal boiled hotdog in the Scandinavian tradition, but it had peculiar toppings: crispy onions, raw onions, sweet mustard, and rémoulade.

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Eschewing my vegetarian ethics for an Icelandic hot dog. It was fairly good.

Finished with Iceland, we flew back home to Seattle and took the traditional light rail from the airport while ordering take-out Thai from our favorite vegetarian restaurant. Between Global Entry and the train to Capitol Hill, we were back home faster than ever!

Sleepy on the link
TIRED

Phew!

Everything is written from this trip! You can see my other photos from Iceland on my Flickr. I plan to write another post wrapping everything up with a heavy dose of planning and packing analysis. It’ll sure to be devoid of thrills and fun.