November 2009 Archives

Self Inflicted Haircut

Anne called me at work today. Did I know Colin cut his own hair? Nope. But I do recall seeing him wandering outside with the scissors! She thinks she saw a tuft of hair in the mud room. I think this was his third, and definately most successful attempt. Watch out Miss Heidi!


Colin definately takes after his dad. I did the same thing at his age, although my cut came out triangular rather than square.

Thanksgiving Weekend

Our long thanksgiving weekend was quite busy and involved lots of driving. On Thursday we drove to Grandma Theresa's house. Before leaving we made sweet mashed potatoes. Thanks for the recipe Liz! Here's Colin helping Mom with the finishing touches.


On the way to Lewiston we picked up cousin Levi so he could join us. Colin played with Vivian the GPS and watched some movies while the grown-ups listed to Obama's "Dreams from my Father" on CD. Unfortunately, the short drive didn't give us enough time to listen to the whole book.

Grandma was busy getting the dinner ready, but she still found time for a game of Backgammon. Colin is pretty good, but its hard to remember which direction the pieces go.


A few of my Mom's friends joined us as well. Jean, Mary Jo, and Cecilia. With everyone arrived, it was time to carve the turkey. Somehow, this has become my responsibility within the last couple of years. I forgot to take my turkey carving refresher course on Youtube this year. But it turned out okay because this particular turkey caved up very nicely and easily.

We all crowded around Mom's table for a delicious dinner. I could be truly happy eating only stuffing and pumkpin pie for Thanksgiving. I think I had three helpings of stuffing, but only one (large) slice of pie.


I ate nothing else the rest of the day.

I'm generally anti-black-friday and absolutely hate shopping in crowds. But I was a little taken in by an ad for a $200 laptop. At 5:45 I drove to the local mall and thought I might brave the crowds just this once. The line outside this particular store was about 20 times longer than I expected (which is to say, 250 people instead of 15). I turned around and came home.

Grandma joined us for a mini-vacation to Spokane for a day of shopping and swimming. After a trip to the furniture store, we met Aunt Joan for lunch at Tomato Street. Joan gave Colin a copy of her Christmas spy story, a sketch pad, and box of crayons. She apologized for the lack of pictures in her story. Colin thought he was supposed to add the drawings, but we convinced him that the crayons were for the sketch pad only.

After lunch, Dad and C visted the Looff Carousel, as is our tradition. We rode side-by-side with me on the outside picking rings and handing them to him in the middle. We were both pretty shocked when he got one of the rings in the hole and rang the bell!!


Obligatory shot of the clock tower:


That night we swam at the hotel for a couple hours. Somehow, Colin was able to stay awake (watching TV) until almost 10pm. The next morning, Mom got her Target fix and Colin got some new PJs. We had to hurry home in time for the Vandal football game.


On Sunday, I bought a new ladder and set out to hang christmas lights on our house for the first time. Because of my technique, its slow going. I wasn't quite finished by 3:45 so hopefully I can finish the roofline tomorrow during a long lunch.

Duane's book spotted at BoingBoing!

Today, BoingBoing has an entry on Maker Shed kiosks at Fry's. The accompanying photo shows my book Make Projects: Small Form Factor PCs on display!


Bumpers Tickets

Colin and I have been going to "Bumpers" for about 3½ years now. Many of the games give out tickets. From day one I was worried that he would learn that tickets could be exchanged for cheap prizes or candy that he would favor the ticket games over longer-lasting games.

Fortunately, I convinced him that its more fun to collect the tickets than it is to spend them. By now we have a large box full of tickets:


We went the other night and had excellent luck at this game where you roll quaters onto a belt with strips. If your quarter lands fully within a strip, you get some tickets. In four tries we got 83 tickets twice!

Colin was pretty excited to take the tickets home and lay them out on the floor. At Mommy's suggestion, we decided to measure how long they were. Turns out our 168 violet-colored tickets were 28 feet long! We decided to measure some others from our ticket archive too. After a bit we found out that all the tickets seem to be exactly two inches long. I showed him how each time you fold six tickets, that equals one foot.

Colin's idea was to get out Daddy's labeler to label the length of each set of tickets:


Not only are we learning math, but its also a chance to practice spelling! We use the sticky labels to hang them from the beam in the basement:



I'm not sure this project is done yet. I hope the labels are sticky enough to hold for a while, and that the cat doesn't decide to play with them.

UPDATE November 24: Here we are about halfway across the beam. We eventually had tickets hanging all the way across the room until Daddy got tired of walking through them and took them all down a few days later.


Lewiston Winter Spirit

We went to the first night of "Winter Spirit" in Lewiston with Grandma and my sister's family.  My Uncle Larry is the driving force behind this project to turn Locomotive Park into a beautiful display of Christmas lights.

Before they turn on the lights (and the fireplace!) there are a number of performances from local kids.  We got there plenty early and it was quite cold.  A good reason to have some hot chocolate (minus the schnapps):


I was eager to see if me and my fancy camera lenses could capture any good pictures of the Winter Spirit lights. Most of them were out-of-focus and over exposed, but some came out okay:


Below is a 30-second exposure at the dance mat. Stepping on a square lights up one of the colors up in the tree. Colin is in there somewhere!


On our way out we stopped for a family portrait. Do we look like pumpkins?


Cinco Años


The night before, I gave Colin some boxes of Thomas track I bought off Ebay. I must say, he was pretty excited. It didn't take us long to cover the entire carpet. We had fun figuring out ways to let three trains share the track without crashing into each other. Note the "Genius" marble game still wrapped up!


Grandma Theresa met us for dinner at Gambino's and gave Colin a box of quarters to use at Bumpers and some Baskin-Robbins gift certificates! How cool is that? As a special treat, we ordered desert, which turned out to be a giant cookie and chocolate gelato.


C Mugs is 5!

Mix Master C turned five big years old! This year we rented out the Eggan Youth Center for a couple of hours so all the friends could play games like foosball, air hockey, and pool. Unfortunately they didn't have ping-pong set up, and the pinball wasn't working. But there was plenty of room to run around.



In previous years our tradition has been to get a blue cookie monster cupcake cake. But this year I had a different idea!

My pal Kris Wallace makes mini donuts and sells them at the farmer's market here in 'Scow. Colin loves to watch the batter come out of the hopper and in to the oil, he alerts her when a donut needs flipping as it floats down the line. Ssssoooooo, as a surprise we hired Kris and her donuts for Colin's party! For a special birthday treat he got to stand on the maker side of the machine and watch them float down the hot oil canal.


Instead of five candles, I cheated and put a single candle in five donuts!


Kris made bowls and bowls of sugared and cinnamoned donuts for kids and grown ups alike. I heard cousin Jake say he ate about 25! We balanced it out with fruit kabobs and apple cider. Oh, and ice cream too! At the end, we sent everyone home (or at least out the door) with a dozen donuts to go.

Pancakes for Breakfast!


The Great Wall at Mutianyu

Saturday, following the DNS-OARC workshop in Beijing, my friend Sebastian and left ourselves a day of sightseeing.  We wanted to see the Great Wall, despite some of the locals trying to talk us out of it.  They said we should go to the Forbidden City instead, plus it would be very cold in the mountains.

We hired a taxi to take us to Mutianyu for the day at a cost of 600 Yuan.  We were told its about an hour and a half drive from Dongcheng.  The air quality in Beijing was pretty bad.  We were hoping that by getting out of town, we'd have clear air and good views.  Along the way it did get better, becoming just fog.

At this part of the Great Wall, you take one of two Gondolas from the parking area to the wall itself.  On the way back you can slide down a tobaggan.  We declined that option and paid 50 Yuan for a gondola return ticket.


At the top, after getting off the gondola, but before reaching the wall itself, is this lovely monument:


When you're still on the gondola you get your first view of the wall and it sort of takes your breath away, even in the fog.


Why should Chinese grafitti make me laugh?


At this point we begin to see, off in the distance, a large incline section.  It doesn't come across well in this hazy photo.


By this time in our hike, it was clear that we would not be cold.  It was quite warm, even without the workout from walking.  Both sebastian and I had two shirt layers plus a jacket.  We ended up carrying our jackets the rest of the hike.

Beijing had its first snow on Monday, the day before we arrived.  Still some remnants left in the shadows.


A better view of the steep incline area.  There were no markers or good maps, so we didn't really know how far or high we could go on the wall.


A look back in the direction we came from.

Each of the towers tended to be a little bit different.  On some of them you could climb up to the "roof" via steps or stones that people placed there.  Some didn't have any roof.


Getting closer to the steep part.  We knew it would be tough!


Here we are at the tower, just before the long stairway.  Off to the side (not in the picture) was one someone selling water, beer, and snacks.

Since we saw blue sky above, we were still optimistic about getting above the fog.  Spoiler: that never happened.


For the most part, our path on the wall so far had been very smooth.  The stones were very flat on top.  Here, however, was something different.  I'm sure its not even close to the original, but maybe at least from an earlier restoration.



At this point there is a fence of some sort and the path changes abruptly from nice to looking like it has never been restored.  Later we saw on a map that this is tower #20 and beyond it is marked as a non-tourist area.  We saw very few other people after this point, passing maybe just one or two parties coming the other direction.

I enjoyed this part quite a bit because it was more exciting and fun to imagine that the wall was somehow more authentic here.  I suppose in reality this section, too, had been restored at various times, but not as recently as the "tourist area."


There was so much plant growth on top of the wall that it was hard to see where it went very far ahead.  Notice that there is another steep incline here, towards the top right of the picture.  The top of that incline is as far as we went.


Sebastian stealing my shot.



Here in the non-tourist area, the path was very narrow with thick brush on either side.


Again, the top in the picture below is as far as we went.  We first agreed to go as far as that tower about half way up the hill.  But once we got there we couldn't resist going all the way to the top.

On our way down we chatted briefly with one of the men selling snacks.  He asked if we went to the top.  We asked what the top tower has a name.  At first he thought we wanted to know his name, but then made a gesture with horns on his head and said a word that sounded like "Bull."

the incline here was particularly difficult to hike, especially in my non-hiking shoes.  Unlike the first incline, which was just a big staircase, this one was uneven and slippery.  But it was even worse coming down!  I thought my toes were going to burst through the front of my shoes.  Maybe that is what it feels like for women to wear high heels?


We didn't hike on this part.  After heading up to the top of the hill, the wall comes back down sort of close, kind of like a big U-turn.  You can see a short-cut path that some people have taken to skip the steep part of the wall.

Off in the distance the wall continued as far as we could see through the haze.  I'm sure its really amazing on a clear day, and probably very nice when all these treese still have their leaves.


On the way back down now.  Our legs were feeling quite rubbery.  This is the view at the bottom of the first steep incline


At the bottom, after getting off the gondola, we are harassed by an endless number of vendors, all selling exactly the same stuff.  Shirts, bags, hats, panda bears, pictures, etc.  Every one of them said almost the exact same words: "Hello sir, you buy t-shirt?  Two for one dollar!"  There is no way to avoid them.  I don't know if they actually accepted US dollars as currency.  Sebastian made the mistake of expressing interest in something and was lucky to escape unharmed.


We were pretty dang-ol-tired.  We found our driver's car and he eventually found us too.  Before leaving we mentioned (through the translator at the hotel) that we planned to be back by 4PM.  I think he took it as a hard deadline and drove fairly agressively all the way back to get us to the hotel in time.

Trip Report: Beijing

Day 0

The flight over was nice because I was able to sleep for much of it.  The key, of course, is to procrastinate and stay up late the night before.  The flight from SFO arrived about 3PM.  I didn't have a window seat so I missed out on seeing Beijing from the air.

The arrivals hall was packed with people waiting.  I was expecting to find someone holding a sign with my name, and I did without too much trouble.  But for a moment I didn't know if this was my CNNIC friend, or a driver from the hotel.  Turns out it was a hotel employee, but not the driver.  She phoned my CNNIC friend and we all drove to the hotel.

Driving in Beijing, is, of course different.  There is much lane changing and maneurving for position.  At intersections it is common for left-turners to go before cars heading straight.  Taxis use their horns liberally.  Most roads have a lane on the right side for bicycles, carts, and pedestrians.  Taxis also use this as a passing lane.  Pedestrians have no rights of way, even with a walk signal at a crosswalk.


I checked in and had a so-so buffet dinner alone, and then watched some TV before sleeping.  I was surprised to see quite a few English TV channels (at the hotel at least) and some so-bad-theyre-good movie channels.  I got to see most of "Tank" starring James Garner and Shirley Jones!

Day 1

At 10AM I was driven to the CNNIC offices to meet a number of people and prepare for the workshop.  As with the ride from the airport, this one cost 500 Yuan, which seems to be about $75.  By contrast a taxi ride to/from the airport is 75 Yuan, or $11.

I didn't really notice the smog/pollution the day before, but on this day it was obviously bad.  I couldn't tell how much was fog and how much pollution, but I kind of assumed the worst.  I hoped that it would clear out at some point during my trip, but in fact it only became worse.

My driver didn't speak English and dropped me of at almost the right building.  I found the right place by showing the visa invitation letter on their letterhead.

At CNNIC we discussed changes to the agenda, nametags, video/audio streaming, and other important details.  During our walk to the restaurant, I learned that here people walk in the street, not on the sidewalk.  I almost caused incident by "herding" my host friend toward the sidewalk where he was almost hit by a cyclist.  At lunch put on a brave face and suggested we order some stewed jellyfish head.  It was not bad -- chewy like squid.

As I expected from descriptions in my travel book, the food is shared via a large lazy susan.  Rice and/or noodles are absent.  We had some beer too.

After lunch we exchanged gifts.  I gave them some notecards with photos of the Palouse, plus some Idaho Spud candy bars and fancier Cowgirl Chocolates.  I think the chocolates were a faux pax.  One of the guys said something about leaving them for the girls to eat. They gave me a very nice leather passport and wallet set.

We took a taxi back to the hotel (passing the 2008 Olympics areas) and spent the rest of the afternoon preparing the meeting room. Lights, microphones, podium placement, and streaming setup.   After some time they took me out for dinner, which was much like lunch.

Next we walked to this "street snack" area which contained numerous stalls serving various strange foods.  Starfish and baby sharks on sticks.  Squids, snakes, and some more mundane things as well.  I expressed some interest in fruit-kebabs that seemed to be covered in ice.  They bought one for me.  In fact they are covered in sugar. I chose straberries and kiwi.  It was very good, and very sticky, and certainly exceeded my sugar quota for a week.


Then we walked through large pedestrian mall area with lots of high-end shops.  It was like a big-city version of the Pearl Street Mall.  Lots of watches, perfumes, jewelry, and chinese tourist trinkets.

Day 2


First day of the workshop.  Had an early breakfast so I could get to the meeting room, meet the attendees and get everything ready. Boring work stuff.  It all went pretty well.  The room was certainly full.  I ended up giving an old presentation to fill some time.

I was looking forwarding to spending some time with my visiting colleages but was once again invited to dinner with the CNNIC folks, this time to celebrate and discuss their cooperative agreement with ISC.  We went to a fancy restaurant with a private room and a table with the largest lazy susan I'd ever seen.  More delicious authentic chinese food, and finally something I'd consider spicy.

After dinner we were walked to Tianamen Square.  I suggested it because I figured it would be my only chance to see it.  The time must have been between 9-10PM and the streets were relatively croweded.  We walked past various large and impressive buildings containing museums or ministries. At this time many of the areas were blocked off, including the Square itself.


I told my hosts that I planned to visit the Great Wall on Saturday, with my friend Sebastian.  They encouraged me to see the Forbidden City instead, one reason being that the mountain regions would be too cold.  We walked past the Forbidden City on our way to/from Tianamen, but I never did make it inside.

Day 3

The workshop finished up before lunch time, and then our hosts took us for a tour of the Summer Palace.  Again, unfortunately, the views were obscured by smog.

It was during our ride on the bus that I learned to recognize my first Chinese character.  Our guide was explaining about the nubmer plates on taxis.  All the car number plates begin with the "Jing" symbol (), as in Beijing.  Jing means capital and Bei (北) means north, so Beijing is the north capital.  Our guide explained that all taxis have "B" as their first letter, but she didn't explain why Bei is omitted, or why they had mixed Chinese and Latin characters.


The Summer Palace is a popular spot and very crowded with mostly Chinese tourists.  There were also a lot of annoying street vendors selling trinkets.  The main feature of the place is large lake. Near the entrance there was a large tempmle at the top of a hill. We did not get to see the temple, although I'm not sure why.  I did gather that the hill was created artificially due to dredging for the lake.


There were numerous other buildings, some of which were turned into snack bars.  Also a number of "stone relics" and I only half heard the story about why it was considered bad luck to take a picture of them.  I took a picture of the stone because of the sign, which says "Help Protect The Cultural Relics -- Help Protect The Railings."  Surprisingly little wildlife here, and even elsewhere in Beijing.  A few ducks on the lake, a magpie or two, and some cats that came out after dark.


We had about an hour of free time before dinner.  Most of us took this time to walk to the 17-arches bridge, which is one of the main features of the Palace.  Our guide explained how it came to have 17 arches.  In Chinese folklore, odd digits are "good" and nine is the best.  If you count from each end to the center, there are nine arches.  The middle arch is shared, so there are 17, rather than 18, total.


After making it to the bridge we had to hurry back to the Hall of the Oriels for dinner.  It was getting dark, so it became a mini-adventure to see if we couldn't get lost.   Some of the sections were closed off after we passed through them, but we made it back alive.

The dinner was top-notch.   I was drinking blueberry juice in a large cup, wine in a medium cup, and some kind of strong alcohol in a tiny cup.  The servers were all very young girls in some kind of ancient dress.  Our hosts also hired some girls to play traditional music for us.


Day 4

Sebastian and I agreed to meet for breakfast at 6:45 and then leave early for the Great Wall.  The concierge helped us negotiate a taxi for the day at a cost of 600 Yuan.  He didn't speak English but was actually very nice and helpful.  He made sure we had his phone number, and escorted us to the ticket booth.

In the city the air quality had only gotten worse.  We were hoping that the Wall was sufficently far away that the air would be clear. As we drove the quality improved only slightly.  At some point we agreed that we were looking at just fog rather than pollution, however.

The city scenery along the way was fascinating.  We drove through some areas that seemed to be the taxi hangout.  There were lots of cabs parked off the road and lines of cabs getting washed.  Our driver stopped for feul and had to negotiate a complicated left turn.  We passed a materials market (e.g., bricks and lumber) and quite a few roadside fruitstands.


We arrived a the Mutianyu Great Wall around 10AM and were back at the hotel by 4PM.  See the Great Wall blog entry for those pictures.

After our hike, we went out for dinner and snacks.  I declined the sharks, bee cocoons, and sheep penises.  I did want some noodles though.  I got swindled by the savvy street vendors.  Like an idiot, I gave them a 50 Yuan note and got way too little change.  I'll probably hold this grudge until my death bed.


Day 5

Since my flight home didn't leave until 1:30, I had a nice relaxing morning at the hotel.  Breakfast, uploading pictures, emailing the family, trying to stuff all my stuff back into my luggage....

Our flight left Beijing at 13:40 Sunday and I landed in Spokane at 13:20 the same day.  Love it when that happens.  After a 2 hour drive home in the pouring rain, I get to see my lovely family again after being gone all week!!