Archive for November, 2008

Reading My Leavings

November 20, 2008

I stopped by my workplace to handle a couple of quick tasks after hours and the building cleaning crew was on the floor. I was organizing some papers around my desk when this guy walks by and says, “I’ve never seen you around here this late.”

“No, I usually leave a lot earlier,” I said. (Some people I work with stay late almost every night. Not my style if I can help it.)

“You play guitar don’t you?” he asked.

“Yeah”, I answered, wondering how he might know that.

“I thought so,” he said. “I saw a music catalog on your desk once.”

I thought about it for a minute and remembered a Musician’s Friend catalog that a friend from work loaned me a few weeks ago.

“You learn to know the people whose offices you clean when you empty their trash every day,” he offered. My thoughts flashed on what else he might know about me.

“Now, you see, you?” he said, before I could respond. “You like sticky notes and mint gum.”


US Airways Bait and Switch, or A Holiday Travel Nightmare in the Making

November 18, 2008

I want to do some traveling soon so I went online and bought some tickets from US Airways. I bought the tickets from US Air because they were far cheaper than the closest competitor for my travel dates and destination.

When I looked into the details (after purchasing the tickets) I discovered the fine print: US Airways charges for every checked bag. What’s worse, they charge $15 for the first bag, $25 for the second, and $100 for the third through ninth bags! If any of your bags are over 50 pounds the costs go up to $65, $75 and $150, respectively.

I want to check a medium-size suitcase and an acoustic guitar in a hardshell traveling case, a combination I have been traveling with at no additional charge for as long as I can remember. I know I will be paying $30 round trip for the suitcase because I have to have it and my hands are already full with a carry on. I felt I needed to determine if it is worth $50 round trip to have the guitar with me, which would make for a real price $80 higher than I thought I was paying when I bought the tickets.

But it gets worse.

Looking a little lower on the US Airways baggage policy web page I found a passage that addresses “oversize” bags. It turns out that the airline jacks up the fee to $100 each way for any bag with a total measurement larger than 62 inches, calculated by adding the length, width and height of the bag. If your bag is greater than 80 inches, the airline will not take it at any cost. You’ll have to send it via third-party transport.

Measured from its widest dimensions, my guitar case is 65 inches, raising the question in my mind whether the person at the Portland ticket counter will charge me the second bag fee of $25 or scrutinize the case and go for the $100 oversize bag fee. Because the difference between the two is a real game changer, and figuring I will have to play this roulette game on the way back, too, I decided to call the airline to get some answers.

Big mistake.

The customer service person I spoke with put me on hold for two or three minutes. He came back to tell me that his supervisor told him that guitars are commonly checked and not that heavy and I will only have to pay $25 each way to take mine with me.

On a whim I decided to call back and ask the same question to a different service person. She put me on hold for two or three minutes and came back to tell me that her supervisor said I would pay $100 each way.

Because I have no reliable way of knowing if I will be charged $50 or up to $200 round trip to take the guitar, it is staying home.

I am traveling alone and the hidden fees are staggering to me. I can only imagine the shock and awe that will be experienced by legions of oblivious holiday travelers when they get to the US Airways ticket counter with their families and learn that they will be paying hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars to take their bags with them.

Makes for a really pleasant travel experience.

Oregon Ex-Cop Arrested for ID Theft and Official Misconduct

November 14, 2008

William Bergin, a former police officer who resigned from the Sandy, Oregon police department in October, has been arrested for ID theft and official misconduct. Bergin was arrested for DUI in March 2007, while he was still employed as a police officer. He is one of two officers who shot an unarmed Fouad Kaady after Kaady was badly burned and disoriented in an automobile accident in 2005.

[Update: The news on Saturday is that Bergin was ensnared in the misconduct investigation of Clackamas County deputy Brandon Claggett, who resigned in October after being accused of “inappropriately touching” a teenager and other crimes. Bergin has been accused of stealing driver licenses while on duty and giving them to a friend so underage kids could obtain alcohol.]

Mass Method

November 13, 2008

“I don’t know how it will be in the years to come. There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. … It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When our food and clothing and housing are all born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective production has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion… This in my time is the danger. There is great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused. … And now the forces marshaled around the concept of the group have declared a war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by repressions, forced direction, and the stunning hammerblows of conditioning, the free-roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.”

John Steinbeck, Chapter 13, East of Eden, 1952

East of Eden

November 12, 2008

John Steinbeck (1902 - 1968)

At times in my past I have been a great devotee of the writing of John Steinbeck. His novel The Grapes of Wrath is one of my favorite books and, I believe, one of the most important American works of any era. (Here is a short radio story about the Grapes of Wrath.)

Somehow I never got around to reading his 1952 novel East of Eden until I picked up a copy in late summer and began reading it on the bus to and from work. This magnificent book explores three generations of the fictional Trask family and the real Hamilton/Steinbeck family in the Salinas Valley of California from the 1800s until World War I.

Along the way it explores such light themes as good and evil, love, war, politics, murder, insanity, prostitution, capitalism, time and modernity. Cathy (“Kate”) Trask is one of the most intense fictional characters I have ever encountered.

Reading the novel for about 20 minutes twice a day kept my mind constantly tuned to the flow of the work and more than once I found myself regretting that my bus ride (and eventually the book itself) would come to an end.

I may post a couple of excerpts that stood out from the rest and caused me to dog-ear multiple pages so I could find the passages again. [Update: Here is the first one.]

[Postscript: Alas, the book did end. I am going to continue the western expansion theme and I hope that a friend’s recommendation of Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose will fit the bill.]

Fractals: Hunting the Hidden Dimension

November 6, 2008

Watch this fascinating NOVA program on fractals. For numerous reasons, I am unable to write a decent description of fractals at the present time, other than to say that they are the most beautiful geometric shapes yet discovered by man. Today, fractal mathematics is responsible for radical innovations in science, communications, health care, entertainment, and so on. Many scientists believe that fractals are the secret to understanding the complex nature of space, time and life in our universe. Here is an earlier post on the subject from a couple of years ago.

You can watch Hunting the Hidden Dimension in five short chapters by clicking on these links: Fractal Basics, the Mandelbrot Set, On the Defense, Fractals in the Body, and Nature’s Fractal Nature.

Fall Colors in Hoyt Arboretum, the Japanese Garden and Washington Park

November 1, 2008

Had some painting done in the kitchen today, so I had to vacate the house for a few hours. I knew that whatever I did had to be done outdoors because of the fall colors, so I aimed for the Oregon Zoo, which is always a good place to start an adventure and is just 3 miles from home.

Road Sign

Road Sign

I decided that 15 years in Portland without a trip to the Japanese Garden was long enough, so I hiked on the Walnut, Cherry and Wildwood trails from the Zoo through Hoyt Arboretum toward a spur trail that leads down to the Garden.

Trees on Wildwood Trail

Trees on Wildwood Trail

The Wildwood Trail is marked every quarter mile with a blaze of electric blue paint so users can keep track of their progress.

Trail Marker

Trail Marker

A sign marks the turn from Wildwood to the Japanese Garden, which is just a short walk down the side trail.

Trail Sign

Trail Sign

It costs $8 for an adult to enter the Japanese Garden. Normally I strongly prefer to recreate for free, but I felt it was worth the money today because of the changing season. I did not regret my decision. (Click here for larger version.)

Footbridge at Japanese Garden

Footbridge at Japanese Garden

I wanted to go in the rock garden and make my own design, but that would have violated the numerous “Do Not Cross” signs and would not have been very Zen of me.

Rock Garden

Rock Garden

After wandering around the Japanese Garden for a while, I continued downhill to Washington Park and the Rose Garden (both free of charge). Roses are not exactly in season, but there were a couple of hardy blossoms and buds that didn’t get the memo that summer is over. I suppose these blooms will last until the first freeze.

Late Roses

Late Roses

I don’t know the name of this tree, but it seemed intensely yellow. (Larger version.)

Washington Park Rose Garden

Washington Park Rose Garden

There are some beautiful homes near Washington Park. Although I did see one yard sign advocating Republican Senator Gordon Smith’s re-election, Portland is Obama country, as seen in this Halloween-themed show of support in a steep yard near the park. If it were not Halloween, I don’t know what this sign might portend. (Larger version.)

Continuing down the hill past one of Portland’s open drinking water reservoirs.

Water Reservoir

Water Reservoir

Four or five miles after beginning, it’s time to catch the MAX train from the Kings Hill/Salmon Street station back to the Zoo.

Kings Hill/Salmon Street MAX Station

Kings Hill/Salmon Street MAX Station