Activity or Whatever

Dear lord. My last post was in May, and when I neglect the blog for long I’m essentially required to make a new Fun and Exciting wrap up of everything I’ve been doing besides writing things.

So what have I been occupying my time with?

Politics

All I really remember from my sophomore year in college is living in the dorms and watching Hardball with Chris Matthews constantly as we held onto every shard of news and analysis of the Clinton/Obama Democratic primary. The general election appeared with exactly zero loss of momentum, and by the time the actual vote came along, any interest I had in politics came to a screeching halt.

And then 2016 happened. Trump Happened. And I’ve been sucked right back into every shred of news and analysis. Spare time now consists of reading the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, Politico, and twitter. Twitter has completely taken over my life and I mostly only do other things when there’s a lull in the action and/or the internet is broken.

Wedding(s)

We’ve been to a few weddings this summer, which is a few more than usual.

The first was a lovely low-key affair with my dear friend Serene and her lovely husband Brian. Held in their cozy backyard, we sat on pillows and ate vegan food during a nice summer evening.

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Lego representation of the ceremony.

The second was a complete contrast, held at the Washington State Capitol House of Representatives. My aforementioned sophomore college roommate Brian got married to his wife Amber, and I even wore a tuxedo since I was in the wedding party!

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Groom Brian, Best Man Justin, and Assistant Goon Nikky

 

 

Eyeballs and Earholes

When not beaming political things into my face, I spent some time exploring the wonderful games XCOM2 and Orbital Trading Company. The former is an outstanding turn-based tactical strategy game, and the latter is a real time economic strategy game. They’re both outstanding.

Since we last spoke, the best book I read was The Martial Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. They’re a fun and quirky collection of Science Fiction, and a lovely way to spend a few commutes on the bus.

Cat Wrangling

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She’s a fierce predator

Basque Tour

Immediately after the wedding of Brian and Amber, Tracey and I headed off to the Basque region for a Rick Steves’ tour of the area. There’s going to be more posts and pictures about that later, but the hot take is that it’s a pretty swell region.

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Hiking in Basque Country

Sunny Scotland

After the Basque tour, we were off to Scotland to rendezvous with Brian and Amber for a two week roadtrip through Scotland. Despite the rumors of near constant rain on the west coast and highlands, it was sunny skies and beautiful weather throughout the entire trip. Thanks for nothing, rain pants.

There’ll be a post about this too at some point.

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Neist Point Lighthouse

 

 

Marsh Island Muck and Birds

While much of the city is currently working themselves into a froth about a few dozen super scary people wearing anonymous masks that may break in a few windows of generic megacorporations, I took the opportunity to head off to the Washington Park Arboretum and check out the local wildlife scene.

The island trail was aptly named, and as usual there were large amounts of muck and standing water all along the marshy path. After fording a particularly mucky section in my boots, the trail suddenly opened up and was free of humans.

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Settling off to one of the side docks, I was able to identify some lovely Wood Ducks before a resident pair of Canada Geese decided to stop on by.

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The area was so devoid of foot traffic there were frogs sitting along the path that would loudly chirp and jump into the water when I got within 10 feet of them. I wasn’t able to actually see one of these frogs until much later, when I was able to spot a rather large black toad at an extreme range with binoculars. As usual, one of the most visible signs of the changing conditions at the trail was visible in the form of a bench that only allowed access via water.

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One particularly challenging stretch was around a foot of a water/mud mixture with a very tenuous central core of small branches. After witnessing the only other people on the trail barely make it across without falling, I used a combination of balance, luck, and a very long stick to ford my way across.

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You may recognize this as the location of the marsh dunking incident some years ago.

After the spotting of a very elusive pair of American Goldfinch, a peaceful gathering of Mallard Ducks quickly escalated into a fight between two drakes and a hen. A struggle ensued.

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The hen was able to wrest herself away and fly off to freedom!

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After crossing a final marsh, the main path resumed and more pedestrians showed up, including a couple with an extremely large off-leash dog. This was a sensitive wetland area that clearly had “no dog” signs, but not only did they ignore that, they decided it didn’t even need to be on a leash with all of the migrating birds around.

Friendly reminder that if you’re going to be on a trail with your pet, make sure you’re following the rules and not being a total asshat.

 

East Coast Spring 2016

United States history was the theme this year on our spring vacation as we charted a course through Boston, New York City, and Williamsburg, Virginia. Taking the trip to the airport is normally a Bus->Link transfer, but with the new Linkstation completed, we got to ride the train directly from the new station directly to the airport!

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First trip to the airport from the new Capitol Hill Station!

Boston

One redeye flight later, we arrived in Boston early on Saturday March 26th, 2016. After dropping off our backpacks at the hotel, we went out and explored the Public Library, Back Bay, and other neighborhoods to get ourselves oriented. The best way to figure out a new city is using the soles of your shoes.

Easter Sunday brought with it the idea to explore the Freedom trail while the weather was cold but moisture-free. After the traditional Easter breakfast at a bookstore/cafe, we started the trail in earnest. Cemeteries featuring revolutionaries and just ordinary folk were seen and pondered.

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Lots of important people were buried here long ago

Past government buildings were seen and photographed behind us.

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“G Dubs” once stood on this balcony

And, of course, the current Massachachusetts state house was found and photographed.

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Required legislative photo

Faneuil Hall brought with it crowds (Easter Sunday was still busy! Who knew?!), food, and most importantly: sugar-filled snacky cakes.

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Pondering on Travel Photos

Note: Yes, it’s another post that was written ages ago and never published! Now revel in the glory of it and the questionable quality within!

We’ve all done it: gone on a trip somewhere and then spit out a few hundred snapshots to post online. Except you’ll never look at these again, and nobody else will either.

After years of experimenting and tweaking my editing of vacation photos, I’ve eventually settled on the idea that you should take around 100 photos a day, and aim to publish up to 10 of these. Of these 10/day, perhaps 3 or four should be “you” shots: pictures of yourself or other people you know. This keeps the photo album size manageable, the people shots add a much-needed personal touch, and forces you to only pick photos that add something unique to the album while helping document your trip for (let’s be real here) your own future use.

When I spent a month in Italy, the resulting Flickr album clocked in at a hefty 646 photos. That’s not too bad, as the average is only 20 pictures a day. But remember that most of this time was spent in Rome, so when you factor in these days had much less photos taken, every day spent travelling away from Rome was actually getting much higher shot rates.

The next two European trips saw published photo rates of around 40/day: atrocious! After those episodes I started realizing that you need to make a decision about what photos you take when travelling: are you going to document the entire experience, or instead try to pick the highlights that others may have missed? I realized I actually fell into the latter camp. If a photo wasn’t outstanding, it wasn’t published. After that, I saw my publish rates fall to 15 or 16 photos a day. It wasn’t perfect, but I was starting to like the results: the album was useful and enjoyable (I think) for anyone viewing it who may be interested.

The 10/day formula isn’t set in stone, and open to lots of interpretation. It’s an average overall, and includes travel days between locations. If you’re moving around every day or two, this average may go up a bit to 15/day, and that’s okay! If you’re settling in and relaxing, this number may dip into single digits. 10/day isn’t a hard and fast rule, and I use it as a general guideline when editing photos. If I can say “yes” when I ask myself that it’s one of the top 10% photos I took that day, and if I can say “yes” that I’d be okay with hanging this photo on my wall, then it’s probably worth publishing.

An Ode to the Breda Trolleybus

Let us pause for a moment to pay tribute to the old workhorses of the King County Metro Trolleybus fleet as they slowly trek towards a well-earned retirement. Originally designed as dual-mode, the 60′ Breda DuoBus 350 has seen more-or-less continual service in Seattle since 1990.

Dual mode, you say? Yes! When I was in elementary school, I fondly remember taking one of the 80s-colored Bredas in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) when it was in Trolley mode, and as it left the tunnel converting into diesel power for the remainder of the route. As the DSTT was converted in the mid 2000s for service as a mixed-mode Light Rail and bus tunnel, the electrified wires of the Trolleybuses were removed and as Diesel-Electric buses became cleaner, the Bredas were converted into full-time trolley mode.

While only 59 existed in the fleet, these articulated beasts were well-known sights to residents of the U-District, Capitol Hill, Downtown, South Seattle, Wallingford, and Ballard.

Many bus stories exist about this resilient model. Their routes were heavy with traffic and well-used. They often carried a full load. I’ve never been quite clear if they were air-conditioned or not, but if they were it was frequently ineffective in the summer as the buses got their very noticeable “Breda” scent.

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They were selfless buses of the people

And they sometimes got T-Boned by cars.

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They often, through no fault of their own, ran in convoys.

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Sometimes they came in pairs

And they were, of course, prone to break down as they rapidly aged. The planned replacement of the then 18-year old fleet was delayed by the recession and as they entered their second decade of service, a tow was a common sight.

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As the Purple and Gold clad New Flyer Xcelsior XT60 fleet slowly replaces the Bredas, we look forward to a new low-floor future while fondly, and not so-fondly, remembering the fleet that carried us for countless journeys.

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(Heading image of post taken by Nikkormat FTn. 50mm f/1.4.)

Riding U-Link: Observations

Riding the new ULink extension of Sound Transit’s Central Link Light Rail, I went from petting Minerva the cat in Capitol Hill to standing in the UW’s Red Square in 31 minutes. As many others have already stated, this is a transformative stage in our region’s transit network, so I won’t get into too much about how great this besides what I’ve already stated. But I do have some notes!

Based on the the riders observed mid-afternoon today, there were many users who seemed to be riding Link for the first time ever. ULink extension may bring in more riders, especially weekend riders, to all stops along the line by opening up new transit possibilities. Part of this may be that the destination of Central Link prior to Capitol Hill/University of Washington was Downtown. As one teenager said to their parent on the train, “I don’t think there’s anything interesting about downtown,” and they aren’t wrong.

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Meaning of Light Rail

The opening of Sound Transit’s initial line of Light Rail in 2009 brought plenty of excitement to the transit nerds amongst us, but it also had a large asterisk attached to the service. While travelling from Sea-Tac airport and downtown Seattle was an important milestone in our region’s history, travel north of that area was still largely via unreliable transit lines. The value of Link was proven throughout the initial line with larger than predicted ridership levels, but trains were limited in size: only two trains could be coupled together and sent through the tunnel.

With the impending opening of the expansion to Capitol Hill and the southeast corner of the UW campus, the full power of Link and a unified transit system can be seen. While most of the attention seems to revolve around Capitol Hill, which may be selection bias on my part since I live a few blocks away from the new station, the real and most impactful consequence of these new stations is the current terminus of the line, which is one stop north of the Hill.

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Pictured: Light Rail. Not Seattle’s

University of Washington, my beloved alma mater, is finally reachable quickly and reliability from all of Central and South Seattle: offering a wide array of students a much better experience getting to campus than via multiple bus transfers or driving. With the First Hill Street car and Link, upper campus is much more easily reachable by students living throughout much of Seattle south of campus. No longer will living in the U-District be a virtual necessity for students who want a reliable way to get to campus.

In addition to the student body impacts, UW Medical center, a regional research hospital, will be much more reachable to a large segment of the population. Husky Stadium will be able to facilitate traffic more effectively for home football games, graduation, and all other events held nearby.

Still, we’re again craving more. Connections North of the UW Stadium station are substandard at best. The beginning of the next decade will bring us many more stations along the central spine of the city, and over Lake Washington to the East. Light Rail can turn our city of neighborhoods into a cohesive municipality in ways we can only dream of.