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.

2015-08-02 12.47.45-1

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.

2015-08-02 12.47.54-1

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!


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.

2015-08-02 14.33.57

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!

2015-08-02 13.42.13

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.


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.


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.

2015-08-02 14.10.42

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.

2015-08-02 12.48.35-1

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.

2015-08-02 14.34.38

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.

2015-08-02 14.35.40

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.


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.”

2015-08-02 13.41.20

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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.

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.

Eatin' hot dawg
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


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.

Scotland: Skye, Oban, and Stirling

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. You’re reading this right now!
  5. Reykjavik

October 6th, 2016

Continuing our theme of only experiencing Western Scotland in the bright brilliance of the October sun, we set out from our caravan in search of the rugged Western Coast and scenic hiking.


Navigator, aye
Charting the path

Making our way past the best named Loch of them all—Snizort—and some single lane roads, we ended up at Neist Point. In the distance we could spy the outer Hebrides, but our goal was to locate Neist Point Lighthouse, which is supposedly located on a cliff a mile or so beyond the end of the road.

Edge of the World
There’s a lighthouse beyond that outcropping

Except there was no lighthouse to see. Only fields, stairs, and rusting infrastructure that could conceivably be used to resupply a remote lighthouse station. Still, we trusted the trusty guidebook and set forth with snacks in hand.

Winding Path
Stairs back up

Following the old resupply path and rounding the outcropping, Neist Point suddenly made itself known. There was a lighthouse after all!

Clear day
Back up and view a bit

It was converted into some sort of hostel years ago, but was abandoned quite recently. Sadly, many of the outer accommodations were vandalized and unmaintained, but the main portion of the lighthouse seemed to be intact.

Many selfies were taken.

Ugh. Really?

Next stop of the day was the Fairy Pools. These aren’t actually fairy related, but instead just a series of pools in a river coming from the (extinct) volcanic portion of Skye. Hiking across the rocks we spent a lovely afternoon in the waning sun surrounded by eroding peaks, water smoothed rocks, and other curious visitors.

Dorito Break
Taking a brief rest.


Fairy pool-ish. Note the volcanic peaks in the background.

Fairy Pools explored, it was just about time to head back to the caravan for the night. When all of a sudden, a Hairy Coo appeared! Screeching to a halt on the side of the narrow road (single lane, naturally), Tracey ran out of the car and got some lovely pictures of this particularly hairy cow ambling towards greener pastures.

Oh hello there humans
The hairy coo. And more volcanic peaks.

Coo photographed, we returned to the Caravan for reals and since the WiFi was horrendously unreliable, watched Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. It was just lovely!

Tracey on approach
Tracey is on the hunt!

October 7th, 2016

Today’s plan: driving tour of the Trotternish peninsula on Skye. As geological formations passed us by, signs of a more industrial past were hidden along the coast.

Ruined castles dotted the landscape, but the strategic value of Skye has been important to British security even in the last century: a WWII-era lookout post was constructed on the Northern tip of the island.

Along the route, the Skye Pie Café beckoned with its invitation of filling Scottish pies. They did not disappoint.

Wide for a Skye road
Car glamour shot

We essentially had this scenic part of Skye to ourselves.

Lonely road
Empty roads

October 8th, 2016


After saying goodbye to the cozy caravan that had been our home on Skye, we started the next leg of our trip with a drive to Glencoe.

Stormy weather ahead
A moment of rain

Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, a traffic jam suddenly appeared! What could this be?

And then miles down the road, we suddenly found out the cause.


Wind turbine blades were being moved along, and the load was so lengthy they couldn’t pull over for miles to allow overtaking traffic!

It’s about this point in any trip that there’s an overwhelming desire for burritos. Notwithstanding that burritos are nasty shit in Europe, we found a chain bar in Glencoe that claimed to serve these delicious meals. They were not delicious: lesson still not learned.

Our destination was the small seaside town of Oban. A fishing town, it offered many ferry connections to other parts of the Inner Hebrides, but that would come tomorrow. First we had to explore the town!

Walking from the SYHA Hostel, we made it to the top of Oban and a rather out of place monument appearing at the crown of the hill. A local cat was here to greet us in the dying sun.

Oban Greeter
Oban greeting cat

As the sun set behind the Inner Hebrides, it offered some excellent opportunities for photographs.

Pause for light
Sunset in Oban
Why was this monument built again?

Dinner was fish and chips (what else?) before retiring back to the hostel common room for some soccer.

October 9th, 2016

Here’s the plan for the day: we take a large ferry from downtown Oban to the Isle of Mull, which is the second largest island in the Inner Hebrides. Once on Mull, a bus will meet us there and drive us across the island to Fionnphort. This hamlet has a small port that will take us on a ferry to the Isle of Iona, where we’ll stay for a few hours before taking the reverse journey.

As we waited in the Oban ferry terminal, it seemed like we weren’t the only people with this idea. A few hundred people from a local tour company showed up as well. Lame.


The bus across Mull was narrated by the driver, who offered plenty snippets of island life. Pointing out the only Munro (3000m+ peak) on the Isle of Mull—Ben More—he noted that there’s an annual hill race to the top. Speaking of races, there’s also the Mull Rally race every year that winds through the island via roads. They’re a competitive bunch.

Crannogs also appear on the island. These prehistoric structures are small artificial islands that hosted small fortified houses. Since they’re in the middle of lakes, they’re easily defensible. The structures are long gone, but the rough pile of stones remain and are strewn through the Mull lakes.

Scrambling on the second (much smaller) ferry, we make the short hop to the Isle of Iona. This small practically car-free island is the regional center of Christianity in this part of Scotland, and hosts the Iona Abbey.

Iona Ferry
Iona ferry poses
Fionnphort Harbor
Fionnphort Harbor
Arriving at "The Village" on Iona
Fionnphort – Iona ferry

Tracey and I toured the Abbey while Brian and Amber went to have what they reported to be a very tasty lunch.

Iona Abbey
Iona Abbey

Along the way we found a pair of Hairy Coos, which Tracey named Fred and George. Unfortunately for us, they were extremely disinterested in posing for pictures.

Fred the Hairy Coo
Fred the hairy coo

Piling back in the small ferry, we explored Fionnphort for half an hour. Although hardly even a village, it did have some local characteristics: cows on the beach! It seems that free range Hairy Coos would wander around in the port. After watching them for a bit, the bus returned to port us back to the Mull port and we soon were back in Oban for the evening.

October 10th, 2016

Our second day in Oban was always planned rather loosely in our pre-trip itinerary, and we decided to spend the day and see what local sights we could find. But first, it was time for breakfast.


Oban waffles
Chocolate and waffles

The Oban Chocolate Factory was just what the doctor ordered. Delicious waffles and coffee awaited us and provided fuel for the day!

There’s not too much to do in Oban proper, but the Dunollie Museum and Castle was plenty close. Although the castle is not much to look at (it’s more of a tower), it offered great views of the bay, and the museum was an interesting look at the life of the local lords who still lived in parts of the house.

Leaving tags behind
It's always Sunny in Scotland
The locals really are proud of this castle. Er, tower.

Dinner was, quite naturally, fish and chips. It’s basically legally required in Oban.

October 11th, 2016

It was time to leave Oban, but not without first stopping by Oban Chocolate Company for yet more waffles and coffee. Today we were off to the town of Stirling, which features the aptly named Stirling Castle.

The weather had turned unusually misty for our day in Stirling, so we were happy to be indoors at the castle, even of the interiors were rather lackluster.

Stirling castle

It was pretty clear why they decided on a castle here: the hill it was on featured commanding views of the surrounding countryside.

Castle landscape
Stirling castle’s view

Our hotel for the night was Inglewood House. This is where Brian and Amber decided to stay in a fancy place on their honeymoon, and it looked like as good a place as any to luxe it up. Driving up to the manor house, it seemed like we were the only guests for the night.

Living it up

Actually, we think we were the only guests for the night, and it suddenly got slightly creepy. Not so much scary, but the sense that one may get when they realize that they’re living a story that could be very much the start of a horror movie. You know the troupe: tourists from out of the country in an old house, and they’re all alone.

Abandoned Dining
Will we survive the night?


October 12th, 2016

Nothing happened to us, and after the other members of the party had a nice stay in the spa the following morning, we rolled out.

First stop of the day was at the Helix park, and as we walked along the paths, we came across a series of locks that were remnants of the industrial past that put Falkirk on the map.


One of Falkirk's Locks
Just a regular lock, right?

However, there was something particular about these locks. They were human powered!

Human powered lock
Nope! It’s human-powered.

The claim to fame for the Helix park is the Kelpies, which are giant horse sculptures that honor the contribution that these creatures made towards hauling ore and materials along the local canals.

Group shot
The Stirling Kelpies

We had a jolly good time walking around the Kelpies.

Kelp squatting
Pop a squat

Close by is the Falkirk Wheel. Part of the aforementioned canal system, the wheel approaches the question of differing water levels in a fundamentally different approach than the locks. Whereas the locks used a series of rises and drops to facilitate interconnectivity, the wheel navigates the difference in one fell swoop.

Before our eyes, a small canal boat putted up into the bottom of the wheel. It suddenly groaned to life, and slowly rotated a full 180 degrees until the boat at the bottom was suddenly at the top!

Turn turn turn
Falkirk wheel

Engineering marvels seen, we pressed on to the city of Glasgow. Navigating the confusing streets of the city, we ended up at our stop for the night.

We started the day in a manor house with crystal chandeliers, and ended it at a disgusting hellhole of a hostel. I’d probably describe it as “urine strewn,” and we all thought we were bound to get bedbugs.

Worst. Hostel. Ever.
Gross gross gross

It was such a dirty place, we went on a quest to find sanitizer wipes just to get things clean enough to tolerate.

Required for hostel
Didn’t fix the grossness


October 13th, 2016

Spoiler alert: we didn’t get bedbugs, but we were thrilled to be leaving.

Glad to be leaving

After a quick jaunt to the Glasgow Airport, we flew together to Reykjavík before parting ways with Brain and Amber. While they were going back to Seattle, Tracey and I were going to spend a few nights in the city. This will be the subject of a new blog post which is tentatively scheduled for 2019.

Crossing to the Apple Side

I’m writing this post with my Apple MacBook Pro. This is a big deal in Nikkyland.

My first laptop was a trusty 15.4″ Acer acquired right before going to college. It was big, powerful, and was about as portable as a large water yak. It quickly got a permanent side living by my desktop computer screens in the dorm, and was only ported around when I felt it was worth the effort. It was stolen in 2011, and the replacement was a generic HP Ultrabook that I was still (sparsely) using until fairly recently.

These systems almost immediately had their Windows operating systems replaced with Ubuntu Linux, and were my main Linux systems over the past decade. As such, I tended to classify these as better to be productive on because of the Unix-y functionality and better software package management. Windows is for photos and games, you see.

As the Ultrabook turned 5, I started looking for replacements.

Simultaneously, I’ve been running on Apple-based laptops for the past three years at work. First a 15″ super powerful MacBook Pro, and now a 13″ MacBook Pro Retina. Learning how to be productive on the pseudo-Unixy Apple systems was frustratingly annoying as they lack many of the essential tools developers really do need, and instead we have to rely on 3rd party package managers and hacked-up solutions in order to get things done.

Yet after a few years I found myself not exactly hating working on them. Once I realized that it’s basically a system to use a browser and run a code editor on, it didn’t require a lot of maintenance or thinking about. It just worked in its own weird frankenstein way, the hardware was reliable, and it was well constructed.

Enter Tydirium

The announcement of the late-2016 MacBook Pros with the touchbar seemed like a good time to jump ship onto the Apple side of the aisle. A few weeks after their release, I plopped down for the 13″ MacBook Pro with TouchBar. And that hurt a little, even with work paying for half of the system.

A month or so of waiting, it arrived! These models have received a lot of press attention, so here are my impressions after using it for a few weeks.


It’s not hard to regard the touchbar as anything other than a gimmick, and at launch a precious few applications support the touchbar besides Apple-made programs. However, it does show a surprisingly amount of utility once some sort of effort is made to integrate it with daily use.

Laptop Size

I went through a lot of thought before eventually landing on the smaller 13″ model. Although I could certainly use the extra power, it’d immediately land where my other larger laptops are: left at home. I don’t miss the larger size at all, especially with my desktop providing most of my computing power.


Much wailing and gnashing of teeth was had over the announcement that this model would only have 4 USB-C ports and 1 3.5mm headphone jack. As an Android user who has a Nexus 6p, this was absolutely wonderful news.

I can charge my phone using a native USB-C cable from my laptop, and I can even use my fairly highly rated USB-C phone chargers to provide ~15W of power into the laptop. It’s not enough to replenish the battery when under heavy load, but it’s a handy trickle charger that can either fill your battery up overnight, or significantly decrease your battery usage.

This means I can use any of the Monoprice Obsidian chargers I already have around the house and work for sustaining my battery without toting around the larger 61W Apple charger, and that’s a real handy thing. With new USB-PD chargers coming on the market, it’s not too far away where you could get a replacement charger that’s just as good as the Apple one, but cheaper, can also charge your phone, and has 4 or so USB ports for charging other devices as well. This is a huge travel win if I can bring less chargers.