Monday, May 28, 2007

Sassing the 'Squatch

Be warned. This may end up as a multi-part post. There was just so much that happened, that I'd like to talk about, I may have to break this into installations. But I can at least get the party started.

First of all, please excuse the few-and-far-between nature of my blog postings lately. I've been working a ton of long hours lately due to the big upcoming conference my work is hosting. It's a three-day event, and we're anticipating over 550 attendees. And there are, essentially, just four of us putting the whole thing together. Things kick off this upcoming Wednesday, so I've been a little tired and swamped. Once this is over, I imagine I'll be back on track again.

Anyhow, C., his friend D., and I decided to head out of town this Memorial Day weekend and hit up one day of the Sasquatch Music Festival taking place at the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Washington. Somehow in my life I've managed never to attend a concert at the Gorge, and the line-up was good, so we chose to give it a go.

We left Portland on Friday at about 6:00 bound for the Emigrant Springs Campground just East of Pendleton, Oregon. It was a beautiful day and we roared out of town in fine style. It was in the mid-70's, and we rolled the windows down as we wound our way along the Columbia River. After a quick stop in the Dalles for gas and a fast-food extravaganza at the Eastern-most Burgerville in the world (not to mention a woeful mishap with Officers Biggs & Wasco and an improperly worn seatbelt--expect more on that point in a future post), we were off into the setting sun. The eastern reaches of the Columbia Gorge are quite stunning as the light seeps from the hills.

We had a quick drive down I-84. It was interesting passing out of the rugged, rock-lined cliffs that edged the river and into the flat, rolling hills around Pendleton. In the dark, the landscape change was more apparent from the way the air smelled and the nature of the road signs we encountered than from what we could see. You could smell the spicy tang of sage on the night air, and you'd smell alfalfa and dry grass as we passed through cow country. The road signs changed from warning us of things like "Falling Rocks, next 3 miles" or "Windy road ahead" to advising us be wary of "Blowing Dust next 43 miles." The lights spotting the hillsides grew fewer and fewer between, eventually just clustering around the small towns huddled on the banks of streams and rivers.

We zoomed past Pendleton and up the road into the Blue Mountains. It was about 10:30-10:45 when we reached our camping destination: Emigrant Springs State Park. We'd reserved a cabin to stay in, and we were tired of driving for the night. The Cabin turned out to be the best decision we made on the entire trip. Constructed of warm, honey-colored wood, it was set up with a little fridge, a wall-mounted heater, two queen-sized beds (and a bunk above one!), and a table. Outside on the porch there was a gas-powered stove. We slugged down a beer or two to congratulate ourselves on part one of the trip, spread out sleeping bags and crashed out asleep.

The alarm clocks went off at 7:30 the next morning. We had a 3-hour drive ahead of us in order to get to the Amphitheater by 12:30 when the first band we wanted to see took the stage.

The drive was a little more subdued (it was early) than the prior evening, but we took in all the amazing scenery and eyeballed the Umatilla Weapons depot and signs to Hanford a little fearfully. With no real directional mishaps (thanks to Charlie's awesome information file, henceforth known as "the dossier"), we arrived right on schedule.

The festival itself was awesome. It was packed with people, and waiting in lines became one of those things you just accepted, but everyone was thrilled to be there, friendly, and overall good samaritans. The whole drive down we'd joked about the fact that the beers there were going to coast us $15 a pop when we arrived, so we'd better bring a few of our own for camping. We were honestly quite surprised to get there and find that they in fact wanted $11 for a 24-oz Corona. C and I had just bought a 24-oz bottle of beer at the grocery store the week before for $3.o0. Good grief. No wonder they let people wander anywhere they wanted around the grounds with beers in hand--you'd have to be rich to get any kind of drunk at those prices! And you're certainly not going to share it with anyone!

Beer-lamenting aside, however, all of the shows we saw were excellent. I'm not really qualified to discuss the finer nuances of music, and I'm not much of a writer when it comes to describing shows and bands, but I'll give you a brief re-cap of what we saw below.

  • The Saturday Knights: We were so excited to see this hip-hop rock fusion band out of Seattle. They were scheduled early in the day to play on the mainstage, and I think this may have been a bit of a mistake. Their set wasn't great, in part due to the fact that they didn't seem to quite know how to interact with a crowd that clustered right in front of them and then spread up an enormous hill. They would have been better on one of the smaller stages. Oh well.
  • The Hold Steady: This band is so much fun to see. They are high energy, and are such a great, solid rock band. The lead singer had grown a big shaggy beard since C and I had seen them last, but the keyboardist still had this fabulous mustache. It was weird seeing them in such a big venue. They had a really tight set and they sounded great. Thumbs up all around. Too bad the beer was so expensive, though, this is the best beer-drinking band ever.
  • The Blow: Gosh. While I love the music she puts out, and I love her CD, the between-and-during song patter really spoiled this show for me. I don't care if this song is about some guy she met at a party in Los Angeles. In fact, knowing the personal details behind a personal song is sometimes kind of gross. We left in search of something else. While I'll still listen to her CD, I'm not sure if I'd see the Blow again live for a while.
  • Two Gallants: Great show. While I hadn't been super-impressed when I saw these guys open for another band before, and the MP3's I had were so-so, I was so impressed by their live show! These guys were fun and kind of a quirky mix of folky rock. They had the high-energy sound that makes an act a festival success, and they had some really interesting songs. Would see again. Would buy CD now, I think!
  • Viva Voce: Awesome, as usual. As C. always says, it's amazing that two people can make that much noise. We only stuck around for two or three songs--despite the fact that they were AWESOME songs, because they're a local band, and Neko Case was coming on soon.
  • Neko Case: Great, as usual. Not even the guy laying on a blanket in front of us (with his girlfriend!) yelling "I LOVE YOU NEKO CASE! I WANT TO HAVE YOUR BABIES! LET ME BE YOUR SURROGATE DADDY!" could spoil it. She had the perfect sound for laying out and gazing across the amazing Columbia River Gorge scenery. Oh, and it was about 85 degrees out by this point in the day. Awe-some.
  • Ghostland Observatory: ROCKED! These guys were great! One of them had on a satiny, powder-blue cape that he wore throughout the show. They had such an exciting, interesting sound, and they were such good sports when the power went out on their stage part-way through their set. I will definitely look them up again.
  • The Long Winters: This band gets so much buzz. I keep giving them second and third and fourth and fifth chances, but I keep getting let down. I think they have a charming presence, and I think they interact with the crowd well, but I think their lyrics are kind of lame, and I think their sound is boring. Too bad.
  • Manu Chao and the Radio Bemba Sound System: I was so excited to see this band, and I wasn't let down. Complete with their signature sirens, and play-like-your-house-is-on-fire style, they amped up the energy at the mainstage in a serious way, and people were dancing all over the hill. They played an awesome set--I love the way that their shows end up sounding like one big song because they seamlessly blend them all together into one long musical blur. Awesome. The stage crew nearly had to drag them off the stage with big shepherds crooks, though--they played 6 or 7 "last songs" and kept expressing their live for the crowd and for the show. They were great.
Ok, so this post is hugely long now. I will have to finish it in a part II.

A taste of things to come:

The Arcade Fire - Bjork - Crazy night driving - setting up tents at 3:30 am with a thunderstorm looming - Tumbling along with the blowing dust and the tumbleweed.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

No hiking this Sunday.

Unfortunately, no hiking to report this Sunday. The weather is drab and drippy, so the outdoor activities were put on hold for a weekend. Word has it it's supposed to be sunny and amazing during the rest of the week. Of course.

Instead, this morning C and I made homemade English muffins. That was a fun adventure. I'd tried to make English muffins once before with mixed results. They turned out to be tasty little biscuits, but they were missing that bubbly, hole-y, English-muffiny crumb that leaves pockets for butter and other delicious toppings to hide. That was early last fall. Obviously, it's been a while since I've given it another go.

Armed with a recipe from the internet, we had better luck this time. Unfortunately, there aren't any pictures of the deliciousness--primarily because we devoured them so quickly! That said, here's the recipe I used (and recommend), and a link to a measure converter (useful if, like me, your measuring cups don't count things using the metric system.
Recipe (courtesy the Winos and Foodies blog):

Measurement converter (also courtesy of that blog!):

A few notes about things that I discovered when making these... A non-stick pan seemed to work about as well as a cast-iron skillet. While you lose the griddle effect, it also makes the pan easier to wipe down between muffins so that you don't end up with a charred cast-iron skillet and a smoke-filled kitchen. Blahrg. Also, you can sort of feel when the muffins are done if you poke the sides--they firm up and lose a little of the doughy feel that indicates they're not quite yet ready.

All in all, a couple had scorched bottoms, a one was pretty raw in the middle, but after I got the hang of them (time, temp, type of pan)? Lovely baked breakfast yumminess.

Mmm. Muffins.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Oh, advertising.

Yesterday while waiting to hear Sherman Alexie read from his new novel "Flight" (see Powell's for the description), I picked up an interesting flip-through on matchbook covers. I learned that these were highly-collectible, inexpensive pieces of pop-culture art. Not entirely surprising. The pictures of the matchbox covers were the most interesting part of the book. Running the gamut from lighthouses to insecticides, the book displayed a fascinating array of cultural tidbits from the last century.

While the commentary regarding the pictures themselves was un-helpful and obvious, there were some trends to matchbook advertising that I had never thought about before (then again, I'd never spent much time pondering matchboxes before either). In the communist Eastern Bloc countries, matchbooks were often used as a means by which to convey health messages and images of party ideals. You'd see images of people exercising, pictures of people working hard in the fields or in the factories, images of smiling women, and heroic pictures of men on horseback--all in the stark, clean, two-color, block-figure style that you see in many old party propaganda posters from the old USSR. I understand that it was a cheap way to rapidly distribute a message--and likely a way to convey that point in a decidedly non-overt, subliminal way. Beyond a glance or two, who ever really looks at and contemplates the wrapper advertising their matches? Of course this was made possible by the fact that the government controlled the match-making industry, and thus was less concerned with advertising a product than a company might otherwise be, leaving them freer to distribute any message they chose.

This theme was repeated throughout many non-communist countries, however, too. Scandinavian countries promoted good health by encouraging people to be active and swim (the irony of advertising health on something primarily used to enable smoking is certainly not lost on me), Western European countries warned parents of the dangers of their children pulling boiling pots of water off the stove or falling through thin ice. African countries emphasized the danger from and transmission cycle of disease-carrying flies--all on the covers of their matchbooks.

So, fine. Fascinating. Hooray for foreign governments tapping into the subliminal power of a well-designed ad as a means by which to distribute a social message. Not a new story, but a refreshing one--way to look out for the greater good! Way to capitalize on something that people are going to buy regardless of what is on the cover.

I'd probably have filed this little tidbit of information away and not thought of it again were it not for a TV commercial I saw, just this morning, that jived so well with the theme of the public health messages on the matchbooks.

I was waiting for the weather forecast to come on and munching away on my cereal, when one of those "Make good choices" commercials came on. Usually sponsored by Kaiser or another health insurance group, the commercials advocate that people take the stairs instead of the elevator, or drink water instead of a soda--essentially, as one commercial states, to "be your own cause." This seemed to be another one of those--it showed a man choosing an apple instead of a donut, recycling instead of throwing away his aluminum can. These commercials appeal to me--they're colorful, well-designed, and have appealing ping-pingy-ping music. I wasn't really paying attention, though, until the final few frames. They caught my attention when they showed a man trying to decide between two big screen TVs displaying vibrant nature scenes. As I'm sure the creators intended, I expected the "good choice" to be seeing those landscapes in person on a walk, instead of watching them on a TV. But no! The ad turned out to be a HD Digital TV commercial encouraging you to make the "best choice" and buy the right (fancier) TV. Wuuuuh?

Like advocating good health and exercise on smoking paraphernalia, these is a huge amount of irony in promoting good health and exercise in an advertisement selling TVs. Only slightly more extreme would be advertising abstinence on condom wrappers. "Make the healthy choice! Buy a big new TV!" How is encouraging people to sit in front of a fancy new TV at all congruent with the notion of making good, healthy choices, and encouraging them exercise and reduce-reuse-recycle?

Furthermore, the move from government-sponsored health messages to those that are promoted and driven by commercial companies strikes me as interesting. While, theoretically, the government has the general population's health and best interests in mind as a general rule (out current administration notwithstanding), I find that their well-intentioned advertisements to be safe and healthy seem benign and even smart. Yet, for a private company with the ultimate goals of furthering their product and increasing their profits to advertise in this way strikes me as sinister and even misleading. The logical conclusion of the commercial in question is "If you want to be 'healthy' you will buy this." To me, watching lots of television on a new TV seems the antithesis of healthy. I think the company is banking on the fact that we will subliminally associate the two images without ever questioning that correlation. Seems pretty sinister to me.

I'm going to be thinking about this for a while, I think. What is the role of ethics in advertising? What counts as misleading your consumer? Ultimately, the responsibility of what to buy and how to use that product isn't in the hands of the advertiser, yet do they have any inherent responsibility? How effective is "subliminality" anyhow, how do you control what's overt and what's implied? Should you? Is it ultimately the responsibility of the consumer to make those connections and decisions for themselves? How much does the intent of the ad matter? Why does ti seem more ethical when it's for a "good cause"? Questions to think about while fussing around with databses.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Self-contained narrative.

Tri-Met stop #6005, corner of N. Vancouver and N. Skidmore. 8:06 am. Monday, May 14th.

M-W word of the day....

From M-W Word of the Day for Monday, May 14th.

\INK-horn\ adjective

: ostentatiously learned : pedantic

Example sentence:
The professor peppered his lectures with inkhorn terms of pseudo-Latin and Greek, a practice he felt essential to instilling in his students the proper respect for his knowledge.

Did you know?
Picture an ancient scribe, pen in hand, a small ink bottle made from an animal's horn strapped to his belt, ready to record the great events of history. In 14th-century England, such ink bottles were dubbed (not surprisingly) "inkhorns." During the Renaissance, learned writers often borrowed words from Latin and Greek, eschewing vulgar English alternatives. But in the 16th century, some scholars argued for the use of native terms over Latinate forms, and a lively intellectual debate over the merits of each began. Those who favored English branded what they considered ostentatious Latinisms "inkhorn terms" after the bottles carried by scholars, and since then we have used "inkhorn" as an adjective for pretentious language.

*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.

Gale's Creek: A Sunday Walk in the Woods

Approximately 32 miles outside of Portland is a small town called Gales Creek. Named after an Oregon Pioneer who was a well-known trapper and settler, Gales Creek is a tiny town situated on a little creek. After a recent episode of Lost, Gales Creek is also a potential birthplace for super-Other-villian Ben Linus. It was also the inspiration for a Sunday, Mother's Day hike in the Tillamook Forest.

Earlier this week, C and I decided that a Sunday hike was in order. After the most recent episode of Lost, C--with TV on the brain--was flipping through his copy of W. Sullivan's hikes on the Oregon Coast, and found an easy day hike in the Tillamook Forest. Topping out at around 6 miles round trip, our hike was a pleasant ramble along scenic Gales Creek.

The hike begins just off of Highway 6 at the Gales Creek Campgound. The campground is located at the 35 mile marker--to the right of the highway if you're headed toward the coast. The campground requests that you pay a small day-use fee.

We started off on the Gales Creek Trail, and set off into the green, lush forest. The trees were a decent mix of evergreen (fir, primarily), maple, and alder. Located in an area that underwent the amazing Tillamook Burn back in the 1930's, the forest surrounding the trail is young and full of interesting wildflowers and ferns. Unlike a number of the other forests I've hiked through in the area (and perhaps this is due to the microclimate of the location, rather than the burn?), the plant diversity in the understory is composed of leafy deciduous plants rather than the hardy, woody evergreen types (such as salal, huckleberry, etc). Sword ferns, however, flourish along the length of the creek. This time of year (May) found the trail thick with wildflowers: pinks, whites, yellows, purples.... My favorites were the Bleeding Hearts, and the little yellow pansies. We saw wild strawberries (in bloom, not yet in fruit), blown trilliums, salmon berries, Devil's club, and many other excellent representations of Oregon's wild flora.

The trail was a fairly easy grade along the entire length that we hiked. The steepest, hilliest part was the initial mile or two which was comprised of several rolling ups and downs, swinging around bends in the creek and hills in the canyon. The trail was shady and quiet, though, and we only crossed paths with two or three other groups even though it was a beautiful, sunny Sunday. After the T-junction (at .8 miles) the trail rapidly leveled out and made for an easy, relatively flat, and exceptionally plesant walk along the creek.

We hiked out around three miles, lunched at a bridge crossing Gales Creek, and then turned back for home. We got back to the car just as the sun was dissapearing behind the ridgeline. In the end, our hike was around 6 miles round trip, filled up a nice Sunday afternoon, and made for a great day trip out of Forest Grove. I would certainly hike it again (I'd like to see it in the fall), and would recommend it to others looking for a good hike that's within an hour and a half of Portland.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Media Overload!

So this past weekend C. and I went and heard Andrew Bird play at the Crystal Ballroom. The show started at about 9:30 with the opening act, Apostle of Hustle. They were ok. Their music was eccentric and bounced around a number of different genres including 80’s-influenced indie rock and Calexico-style swinging Southwest. While they didn’t cause me listening pain and agony, I’m not sure I’d pick up their CD—yet. I haven’t done extensive research on them, but to me they had the sound of a slightly unpolished, inexperienced band. The one recording I heard before the show sounded quite a bit better than the live performance. I’m glad that they’re getting to tour with Andrew Bird, though, because every little show helps a band sound better.

As for the Bird man himself? The show was fantastic. He played a long set with lots of music from his new album and plenty thrown in from the old ones. Even if the music hadn’t charmed me on some deep, base level, his stage performance would have won me over. Barefoot and blazered, he waltzed around the Crystal Ballroom in a haphazard graceful way. He’d stumble back and forth, curls flying, coaxing his fiddle and whistling. It was like—and I say this with no intent of belittling—watching a Tim Burton-esque Victorian mad music-scientist come to life. The swirly, soaring whistling, the fiddling that veered back and forth between Classical European and Appalachian screech, the green scarf he referred to as “seaweed”, and the spinning (quite literally) gramophone seemed to all come together in a brilliant, steaming, bubbling elixir. If music could be a beautiful experiment concocted out of green glass, bird song, spider webs, rain gutters, and the sound of a high-rise apartment building—it would sound like that concert.

I would see him again in a moment, and I recommend that you see him too. Wonderful.

We let our brains relax and rest for a few days, and then last night C and I went and heard Michael Chabon read from his new book, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union: A Novel. He’s an excellent public speaker (not all authors are!), does a nice job reading aloud, and had a grinning sense of humor and good cheer when answering questions to the packed (PACKED!!!!) audience. I was surprised that Powell’s didn’t hold the event at a larger venue, actually, given Mr. Chabon’s rampant popularity and recent appearance on Fresh Air.

The novel itself seems like it will be an interesting romp in the style of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. The selection he read sparkled with his usual wry style. As evidenced by his success (Kavalier and Clay won a Pulitzer a few years back), the deft weave of funny and touching appeals to a wide audience of intellectuals and “lay” readers alike. It appears to be back in full-tilt in this new novel. Eventually I imagine I’ll pick it up in paperback (buying hardcover books is a tough thing for me!), but for now I’ll have to just trust that the impression I received it correct, and listen as the reviews (and interviews) roll in. If you’ve read it, or have it on your shelf to read, let me know. I’ll be interested in your review.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

May 1, bike trip #1.

Just an FYI, now that things are growing again, “Bloom” is back in action, too. There’s a new, long post up there this morning. Rumor has it that my co-collaborator may even post something soon, too. Ooo!

I am so determined to be in a good mood today—it’s no joking matter. Do you ever have those days in which, despite of everything, you are so staunchly determined to stay in a positive mood that it more or less ends up working out?

Last night as I was getting ready for bed, the news tried to ruin my morning. I bought an inexpensive rear rack for my bike (silver which looks darn slick with my silver-and-blue bicycle) last week, so that I could use a pannier pack for my work stuff. Well, since right now, biking on tutoring days is a no-no (I don’t want to arrive all stinky and sweaty), today was going to be my first ride to work ever since I weenied out last fall and started taking the bus. Of course, the weather reporters had RAIN RAIN RAIN in the forecast. Boo! Hisss!!!

I woke up this morning and decided to put on a rain coat and ride anyhow. The weather was brisk and dry. Cloudy, but certainly not raining. Setting up the pannier bag was a bit of a wrestle, but after switching sides a few times to determine which would be best, I got it secured and set off for work.

The ride was good. Chatty bikers shared a laugh in the bike lane behind me, and no out-of-control drivers hassled me on the road. I didn’t pop a flat (like last time) and I wasn’t even too sweaty when I got to work. The only hitch in the get-along of my good morning was a less-than-pleasant punked-out biker I encountered when crossing the Steel Bridge.

Now, please know I’m not the fastest biker. I wear a helmet, and have my blinking rear light going throughout my trip. I stop at lights, and I don’t intimidate pedestrians. I realize that may make me somewhat of a pansy or an annoyance to those of a zippier, “harder-core” ilk, but I’m respectful to that population, too. I ride as far to the right as circumstances allow, and before I swing out, or to the left, I always check to make sure that I’m not going to make someone else’s life too unduly difficult. But I don’t go fast. At least right now—I’m out-of-biking-shape, and my confidence on sharp corners isn’t where it was last fall, especially when I’m negotiating the new weight distribution of a one-sided saddle bag. I don’t care if other bikers pass me. But I also try not to be one of those lookie-loo’s who gets in the way of commuters. I realize I’m riding at a busy time of day, and lots of people have places to go.

Anyhow, as I’m tooling across the Steel Bridge this morning, zip from behind comes a biker. Before I even see him, I hear “Just ride your f-ing bike!” What? He zooms past me. I don’t want to stereotype him as a bike messenger, because there are plenty of polite messengers out there who wouldn’t yell mean things at someone as they were biking past, but the way he dressed, the bike he was riding, and the WAY he rode suggested that to me. I also don’t know if I did something that made his life more difficult—I suppose that’s entirely possible. But geez, dude, come on! That was totally uncalled for.

Maybe I shouldn’t, but I tend to take things that strangers yell at me for no apparent reason in a rather hard way. It always upsets me. I’ve tried to be dismissive about it in the past, but it really gets under my skin. And definitely has the potential to set an otherwise fine, normal day off to a grumpy start. I was stewing about this, and feeling a little shocked this morning. Coming up with good retorts in my head, sizing up the other bikers that were heading my way, basically getting stuck in a negative cycle of trying to get past Mr. Nasty. Not to mention trying to figure out what he meant… Uh, I am just f-ing riding my bike?

Anyhow, the whole point of this stupid story is that right after this happened and I was feeling all sad and wounded, another biker passes me, warning me that he was coming up on my left. As he goes past, he looks over, smiles, and says, “How’s it going?” Not in a creepy way, not in a hitting on me way, just in a “Hi! Have a great day!” sort of way. And you know what? It didn’t entirely make up for the other guy, but it came close. And you know what else? It’s been a good day in the end.

Thanks, Portland, for at least throwing both sides of the spectrum at me. I appreciate the contrast.