June 30, 2006

At Work, But Out of the Office

Last week, while at the Digital Government Summit, I was again reminded of that special thing that happens to me when I’m not in the office while at work. It can be some of my most creative, productive time.

There’s something about being at work, but not surrounded by the distractions and details and annoyances of the workplace, but presented with new information, in a training session or presentation on an interesting topic that gets my juices going. Leaving the detritus of my workplace behind is part of it. But going somewhere where I expect to learn is part of it, too. I open myself up to the new ideas and, as a consequence, find clarity and organization around work issues that had eluded me while embedded in the normal routine. And, I can attend to the session, as well, and bring back what I need to from that.

The effect is strong enough, though, that sometimes the most valuable things I bring back from a training session are not information about the presentation’s topic, but the new idea or the fresh approach to a problem that I had stymied me.

It’s not enough to just get away. When I do that, I find that I bring the distractions along. I need to have a reason to leave them behind. I also think I need there to be something positive to attend to, to create that openness to new ideas and ways of thinking, which loosens up the creative approaches.

I’ll have to try to figure out how to make this happen less by chance and more by plan.

June 29, 2006

Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center

Last week, I attended Government Technology’s Digital Government Summit in Tacoma at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center, a new building downtown. The “Summit” was interesting, I went mostly to find out where the state information technology organization was headed, as a defensive measure, and I thought the facility was very nice.

I grew up in Seattle and so was trained from an early age to look down on that city’s local rival for leadership in the region. We had Seattle history units at least twice in my grade school career and the major theme was the wonderful destiny that was to be Seattle’s. Tacoma, of course, suffered by comparison, even though it did win the first rail line to Puget Sound. It didn’t help that, between the pulp mills (since reduced to one and that cleaned up) and the smelter (since demolished, though the toxic legacy continues), Tacoma’s air quality was, well, it smelled.

That’s very different now. Tacoma has grown up, even as Seattle has greedily grasped the destiny and fame it always knew it deserved. Tacoma has renovated what was a pretty seedy downtown. (Seattle had its own strip of downtrodden, and still does, but it had other sections of downtown that weren’t home to the homeless and drunken. Tacoma had little else downtown.) Union Station was renovated years ago, the State Historical Museum went in next door, the new Art Museum and the Museum of Glass anchor the waterfront side, new condos are springing up, old warehouses are being torn down and replaced with buildings like the Convention Center or renovated as offices, and Sound Transit is running a streetcar line through the middle.

It’s nice and the big, gleaming Convention Center looms over the center of it. It’s five stories of steel and glass, with some nice touches, especially the flooring on the ground floor that suggests a duckweed-covered pond, with a connected street fountain outside. For art, there’s an installation of a half-dozen rough-hewn beams suspended above the walkways and stairs in the vaulting front-side windows. They were obviously removed from an old warehouse – they show signs of nail holes for flooring or ceiling material. It’s not much as an artistic statement, but it is a nice juxtaposition of Tacoma’s industrial past with its hoped-for technological future.

June 28, 2006

What? No Games?

So, I came in to work this morning and brought up my browser and, once I was done with my Lotus Notes Developerworks and other work-related feeds, I clicked on the New York Times World Cup blog to get ready for the play-by-play (to look at during break times, of course). There wasn't any! It was then I realized that we've finished the eighth-finals (octavofinal really is better) and the teams get a break. For the last two weeks, almost, there have been games every day. I almost feel bereft. I couldn't think of an alternative, so I did some work.

June 27, 2006

Too Many Games In, Now

It finally became too much, too many football games, too much time in front of the television set, too much Tivo. Not that I don’t want to see the games, but the rest of my life piled up too high for me to hold it off, so I missed some games this past week. Still, there have been some good moments and now we’re into the knock-out phase. This means that all of the games count for both teams, which results in either profoundly nasty games, which tax the referees beyond their ability to master the games – witness Netherlands v. Portugal – or wonderful, fast-paced, attacking games, like the Argentina v. Mexico game, which started off the octavofinal.

It was interesting to see the progress of the teams through the first round. The teams that were ready for the tournament made many of the first games superb to watch. That first win is valuable. The second round was for those teams that weren’t ready for the first game, like the US, to recover and get their feet under them. It was also the time for the better teams to notch their first victories, if they’d missed their first chance. As the third game approached, I was enthusing about some of the match-ups, especially of group leaders, like Netherlands and Argentina. By then, though, the dynamic has changed. For teams that have already ensured that they are advancing, it’s a chance to rest some starters and lessen the risk of injury. So, Netherlands and Argentina ends up nil – nil. For other teams, of course, it’s their chance to prove they belong in the next round and to earn the points needed to get there. So, the second tier is where to look for the good games, the games that mean something, like Ghana v. the US. Germany was the exception to this, working hard all three games to thrash their opponents.

I’ve liked this time of soccer immersion, but I just couldn’t re-arrange enough of my life to see all the games. Not enough of a sports fan. Oh, well. Now, the pace of the games is relaxing, so I can coast into the finals without so much effort.

June 19, 2006

Thirty-two Games In

Each team in the World Cup has now played two games and the groups and the strongest teams are beginning to shape up. This stretch of games started with Group E, with Ghana shocking the Czech Republic and, in the ugliest game thus far, Italy and the US conspiring to keep things knotted up in the group. The US are on the bottom, but still in the running. I’m not sure how I’ll pick the next game from this group to watch (as they’re on at the same time) next week. Brazil continued its casual defense of its title, quenching Australia’s fire for the time being. Group G’s pretty clotted up, too. France is in danger of elimination and Switzerland did what they needed to do today by beating Togo. And in Group H, Ukraine took out the beating they took at the hands of Spain on hapless Saudi Arabia, while Tunisia made Spain work for their win by holding a 1 – 0 lead for an hour of game time before succumbing to a late flurry of finishing.

Starting tomorrow, the schedule goes to four games a day (more than I can handle), with two being played at a time (so I don’t have to try to handle it). I choose Ecuador v Germany (6 pts. each) and England v Sweden (6 and 4, respectively) tomorrow. Wednesday’s preferred games are Portugal v Mexico (6 and 4 pts., respectively) and the big clash: Netherlands v Argentina (6 pts. each). Thursday: Italy v Czech Republic (they have the points in the group – 4 and 3 – and if I want to see the US, I bet I can find a tape, later, after they’ve been eliminated) and Brazil v Japan (if only to see if Brazil breaks out this time). Friday might be tough, as the rest of life is piling up and will overflow next weekend, but my preferred games are Spain v Saudi Arabia in Group H (because it’s Spain, though Ukraine is enticing) and, well, I don’t know what to do with that sad group G. I guess it will have to be Switzerland and Korea, if only for the points.

June 18, 2006

After Twenty-four Games

I missed one observation in my first posting on the World Cup: the African teams have done well. They haven’t gotten any wins, but each of them have played strong. Ivory Coast scored on Argentina and held them to two goals. Angola held Portugal to one goal. Ghana didn’t do as well against Italy, but didn’t look bad. Togo made Korea look slow and scored first, making Korea come from behind to win.

Ivory Coast also took some of the shine off Netherlands in their second game and, though they were unable to come back from those two early goals, they did score their own. And, that same day, Angola held Mexico to a zero-zero tie, earning the second point for an African team in the tournament, after Tunisia had to come from behind in extra time to tie Saudi Arabia. There might well be an African team or two in the next round. There will certainly be a lot of attention on Ghana’s next game in this country, as they stand between the US team and their only hope of advancing.

The highlights of this segment of the first round have to be Ecuador’s earning the top spot in its group, setting up a great game with Germany on Tuesday. England won awkwardly again, earning themselves a top spot in the group. Sweden, if they are to live up to their pre-tournament reputation, have an opportunity to expose England’s weaknesses. Argentina really let it all hang out on poor, doomed Serbia and Montenegro, setting up my pick for biggest game of the third set against Netherlands on Wednesday.

Mt. Townsend

Saturday, I took a small group of Mountaineers up the trail to the top of  Mt. Townsend, west of Quilcene. My streak of view-seeking peak-hikes arriving to clouds and no-views remains unbroken. On the drive up Hood Canal, we were treated to one of the great views in this part of the country: morning sun along a placid Hood Canal. As we continued north, to just short of Quilcene, and left the highway for the forest road that leads to the trailhead, the clouds built over the mountains.

We parked at the lower trailhead and started up a narrow, but well-built trail. While it wasn’t raining, the brush was wet enough to make us consider more raingear. The upper parking lot had a few cars and starts a wider trail, which enters the Buckhorn Wilderness and starts a nice stretch of classic, Western hemlock-Red cedar-Douglas fir forest. Then, the climb begins. From bottom to top, it’s 5 miles and 3400 vertical feet to the top. The trail is excellent, climbing through woods and then breaking out onto a broad, open mixed meadow, which suggests good views. There were a number of flowers blooming: rhododendrons, strawberries, glacier lily, and lots of others that we couldn’t identify (having left the book in the car, where it was safe, but less useful). We had no views, as by that time it was raining lightly. By the time we reached the ridge top, the wind was up and the rain was steady. We only stayed warm, in spite of being well-equipped, because we were walking up hill.

The summit was kind of spooky in the fog, with chunks of volcanic rock sticking up out of mossy heath. I understand it supports spectacular views of the Straits of Juan De Fuca, Puget Sound, the Cascades, and an array of Olympic peaks. We were unable to appreciate them, however, as our short time on the top was filled with adding layers and quickly eating something. By this time, it was sleeting. It would have been lonely, but a couple of chipmunks worked us for a snack.

The trip down was much quicker than that up and we gradually warmed up. Along the way, we saw about twenty other people on the trail, in spite of what was a far from perfect weather day. As we dropped back down to Quilcene, the clouds parted and the sun came out. That’s what happens in the mountains.

June 15, 2006

After Sixteen

I’ve watched nearly all of each of the first sixteen games of the World Cup, so it’s time for some observations. The “commentators” on the American channels are bad, annoying, over-impressed by themselves, and, too often, not paying attention to the game. They’re certainly not actually bringing the game to us – it’s just the platform for their bloviation. The referees have done well. They’ve kept the games under control without affecting the outcomes with their calls. This is a terrific event, with people – players and fans – coming from all over the world to share this simple, beautiful game, bringing different colors and music and styles and languages together in one place, for the same reason.

I don’t usually bring much in the way of pre-conceptions to the World Cup, in that I don’t have a team that I’m rooting for or following that closely. I don’t know that much about the teams, really, so I rely on the first few rounds to learn about how the teams play and develop interest in them. Here are the teams I have the most interest in right now.

Ecuador is biggest surprise of the first set. They just plain handled Poland, doing very well for so near to sea level, thank you. And I also watched their second game this morning and they were even better. They played a relaxed, patient game throughout, but when they went forward to score, well, they just scored. Their three goals this morning were a clinic on efficiency, wasting no chances.

Argentina also played a smooth game against a plucky Ivory Coast side. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s early game, to see where they might take this.

The Netherlands was wonderful against Serbia and Montenegro, attacking with energy and creativity. I really enjoyed their performance, though they could take a lesson from Ecuador on scoring efficiency.

Spain is my favorite, this far. They were dismantled Ukraine, applying a frightening and efficient attack. They look good, they attack, they defend calmly, and they finish.

I’m not saying that one of these teams will win it all, but they offered the soccer that pleased me the most in the first set of games. Obviously, Brazil won their first game and is favored overall, but I’m reserving them. I’m sure I’ll see plenty of them over the next few weeks. The Germans seem strong, but it will be interesting to see them play one of the teams in my list above. The French and the English didn’t look very good at all, especially considering the talent on their rosters. Both Japan and Korea seem to have lost the spark and energy that each presented in the last tournament.

I still haven’t looked at the US – Czech game. Wonder why I’m hesitating?

June 12, 2006

Double Bluff, Whidbey Island

My wife and I visited Double Bluff Park on south Whidbey Island the first weekend in June. It was a terrific find and an off-leash dog park, too. Daisy had a terrific time chasing the ball in the water.

The park runs along the beach below Double Bluff (pictured below), with views of the Olympics (I think – it was cloudy) and across Admiralty Inlet. The bluffs are tall sandstone and clay banks, pretty classic for Puget Sound, and, in some places, actively eroding. We walked to the point on the left of the photo and then back to the parking lot off the right side of the photo.

Double Bluff, Whidbey island Aerial Photo

We saw lots of wildlife. There were a good-sized group of pigeon guillemots along the second bluff, to the left. This is, I believe, one of the sites of an on-going study of pigeon guillemots nesting around Puget Sound. They were clearly nesting on the bluffs and hanging out in the water alongside. A little further along, there were a goodly flock of goldfinches perching on the shrubs growing along the top of the bluff, but also fluttering around the cliffs and on the beach. Every couple of hundred yards, there were great blue herons fishing the shore. The stars, though, were the four bald eagles, including a couple of juveniles, sitting on snags along the top of the bluff.

June 11, 2006

The Hidden Rainforest

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I led a nice group of Mountaineers up the Bogachiel River for a three day backpack trip. This river flows west out of the north side of the Olympic Mountains. It joins up with the Calawah River just west of the town of Forks and then with the Sol Duc River to form the Quillayute River, which flows into the Pacific a few miles later. It is the least well-known of the rain forest rivers on the peninsula and it is a gem.

The trail follows the river valley for over twenty miles to a pass high in the Olympics. We followed it for fifteen miles of its length. At first, it is a turnpike, wandering through river flats so green you can’t imagine anything any greener. Once you’re into the National Park, you start seeing some big trees, spruces mostly here. The first six miles take you to an interesting trail over Indian Pass to the Calawah River and extensive camping. And lots of big trees – Sitka spruce, red cedar, Douglas fir, cottonwood, and western hemlock – some of them six feet or more in diameter. There are fewer big, mossy maples in this valley than the Hoh valley, so this looks like a more conventional forest, but big. There are a few photos from the trip here.

After the first few miles, the trail starts living up to the description we heard in the Information Center in Forks: rough. This was late May, so there were many creek crossings, few bridges, and quite a bit of muddy trail. There were also many, many trees and limbs down on and across the trail. It wasn’t raining, but it was still damp and the creeks were running, so none of us completed the ten miles to Flapjack Camp with dry feet.

The next day, under damper skies, we followed the trail further, as it roughened into a very narrow track, which occasionally disappeared under small herbs and moss. Four miles from our camp, we reached a shelter and the very fine bridge over the North Fork of the Bogachiel. During this day trip, the river changed from a broad, dynamic flow, sluicing back and forth across a huge gravel bed, to a rushing river, confined to a narrow valley – a canyon in places – and running on a solid rock bed.

On the trail, above Flapjack camp, we spooked a group of a half-dozen of elk. Sometimes, they silently disappear in the woods, but this time they just crashed away. We also saw four (or maybe the same pair, twice) eagles cruising the river. On the way back out, I saw a pileated woodpecker and several dippers. The river terrain around our camp had a lot of evidence of past beaver habitation, but nothing was new. Also near our camp, I saw fresh bear tracks in some clay along the river and coyote tracks in the sand.

This is a wild place.

June 10, 2006

It Happens Every Time

I’m a soccer fan, but I don’t devote much time to following sports. And, frankly, following soccer – well, let’s just call it football, shall we? – in this country isn’t really cost-effective. So, I mostly reserve my sports watching time for a quadrennial immersion in the World Cup.

One of the frustrations of preparing for this event is the poor quality of the coverage of the sport available in my usual media, which are newspapers and radio. There’s one particular sore point: the obligatory “I don’t like or understand soccer, but I have to write something about the World Cup (it is, after all, the biggest sporting event in the world this year), so I’ll just write about how I don’t like or understand soccer and my editor will print it, just as it is” story.

It happens every time. It annoys me out of all proportion to the magnitude of the crime, I know. Still, the aggressive and stubborn ignorance – this from a professional observer of sport – just ticks me off. It seems just too American, if I may risk saying it. The sport wasn’t invented here, so it’s just out of tune with the “American character” (whatever that is). Blah, blah, blah.

I don’t understand why the writers can’t just do their jobs, which is to learn about things and tell us about them. (Now that I write those words, I realize how utopian they sound, considering the kinds of reporting we have received about rather more important issues over the last few years.)

This year, I was lulled into a false sense of security, because I’d gotten all the way to opening day of the tournament without seeing one of those articles. Then, I got the one-two punch.

The first was the weekly talk on KPLU with their sports writer, Art Thiel. Now, Mr. Thiel is entitled to his opinion, but still, this was an “I don’t like or understand soccer…” story, without a doubt. So, KPLU will do one story on the World Cup and this is it? This is the most important thing about the World Cup, that Art Theil doesn’t like soccer because the players can’t use their hands, so the action isn’t as precise as it is in other sports? Good grief.

So, that got me straightened up and ready for the second punch, supplied, as is traditional, by the Olympian. In the past, this paper has been a reliable purveyor of this kind of nonsense, but I was beginning to think that they’d moved on. Not so. This was actually the lamest of these kinds of stories that I’d ever read. The writer spent her refined product of clear-cut forest on wandering around town trying to find (or trying to not-find) someone who was interested in the World Cup. This, in answer to her self-asked question: “Why people care to watch the World Cup.” She finishes the story practically boasting of her ignorance of the game and the players.

Fortunately, there are some media outlets who don’t take their responsibility to know nothing more than the conventional and to learn nothing beyond that and, certainly, never, ever try to inform us about anything foreign. One of those is the fine blogging of the World Cup by a couple of writers for the New York Times.

For the games themselves, I thank the Tivo I cleverly bought my wife for Christmas.

June 8, 2006

Hang up and Drive

I walk along a busy arterial on the way to and from work and have done so for a couple of years, now. Lots of people are talking on their cell phones while they’re driving and it seems to gotten worse.

I made a casual count a couple of years ago and the number of people who passed me on the road while using a cell phone was 3 to 5% of the drivers. This time, I thought I’d be a little more precise.

I counted along Cooper Point Road from the intersection with Evergreen Pk Dr, near the freeway, north and west through the Auto Mall, across Black Lake, along Yauger Park, across Harrison, and north as far as 14th Ave. – about 2.5 miles. I started between five and ten minutes to 5:00 PM and finished about 40 minutes later. I did this twice, yesterday and last Thursday.

I counted all the cars traveling in my direction, including the commercial vehicles, but skipping the buses and motorcycles. There were a few drivers I couldn’t see, either because the car was behind another or had tinted windows. I didn’t count those.

Out of 1280 cars counted, 115 were being driven past me by people using their cell phones. That’s 9%, significantly more than a couple of years ago.

Too many, in my opinion.

Break Too Long

No good excuse for the long break. I’m sorry to have disappointed my reader, but I’m ready to go again.