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July 27, 2009

Outward Bound: Sun

By Glenn Fleishman

In this Outward Bound program, you will construct and launch a spacecraft capable of reaching our sun, Sol, 93 million miles away. On arrival, your group will land on the sun, construct an efficient shelter, and figure out the best way to make a sundial with a stick.

Or is that just how Seattle feels this week?

Posted by Glennf at 6:58 PM | Comments (1)

July 25, 2009

Deep Thoughts on the Light Rail

By Glenn Fleishman

I’ve never lived in a city with anything but buses before. Eugene (Ore.), New Haven (Conn.), Camden (Maine): all small to medium-sized towns. Seattle’s a big city, but it pretends not to be. Light rail and streetcars might help it grow up.

Beacon Hill Station
I rode the Link Light Rail system today for the first time; it opened just one week ago. This is the long-awaited light rail system that Seattle has been avoiding building for decades, with the population and politicians deluding themselves into thinking both that sprawl wasn’t happening and that we were still a small town. Fortunately, opposition was overcome, including budget changes that led to the initial system being far smaller than originally intended.

Nonetheless, it’s great. The station and system is quite well designed. On the north end, it ties in with the bus tunnel, a tube that runs from the southwest end of downtown to the northeast, allowing express travel through. The tunnel was originally designed to allow later light-rail upgrades, but the project had a flaw (in the interests of expense) that required expense rework when the time came.

Again, nonetheless, it’s great. The light-rail starts at Westlake Center on the north end, which is the heart of the retail district. The South Lake Union Train (SLUT), otherwise known as the Seattle Streetcar, terminates a half block from Westlake Center.

The boys and I drove to the north end of the streetcar line, which seems nondescript today, having just the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and related treatment centers and biotech firms, but is slated to become Amazon’s home starting next year. Thousands of additional workers will be along the north end of the line. One of my great desires is that people like the streetcar enough that a budget’s proposed to extend it north to the University of Washington. That plus light rail would make UW a far less car-heavy place and reduce the cost of attending for those who live south.

Beacon Hill Station
Beacon Hill Station
We found cheap multi-hour parking in a lot, took the streetcar to Westlake, went down to the train, and took light rail to Beacon Hill, a few stops past downtown, to visit a library we hadn’t seen yet. The whole experience was glorious, like living in a different, better city, in which—golly!—a car wasn’t even desirable.

On the way south, I chatted with a molecular biologist who lived in Mount Baker (one stop south of Beacon Hill) and worked at the Hutch. He had the perfect commute now, living 1/2 mile from the Mount Baker station.

At the Beacon Hill library, a heavily mobility impaired gent in a wheelchair heard Ben saying we had just gotten off the light rail, and he waxed enthusiastic about the system, saying he’d never come to this library before.

I realized that despite all Metro buses having handicapped accessibility, it’s a hassle. You have to wait at a stop, typically in the hot outdoors, for an undetermined period of time (for late buses). The driver has to lower the bus (kneeling buses) or extend the ramp. Then you have to strapped or wheel in. Then the driver has to strap you into the seat area.

With light rail, it’s self-serve. Elevators are everywhere and fast. The Beacon Hill station is 165 feet (14 stories) below street level, but there were several elevators, and it took maybe 15 seconds from top to bottom. The trains are designed with minimal gaps so a wheelchair can safely roll on or off. Nifty.

Someone smart would start building accessible housing (maybe with subsidies) near new and planned lightrail stations for just this reason. Or maybe it’s already happened.

On the way back, the trains were full but not packed with Sounders fans. The Mariners had a game scheduled for 1.15 pm; the Sounders for noon; there’s a 6.30 pm road run (6,000 people) and then a 7.30 pm torchlight parade. Craziness!

Parking downtown is always expensive, and driving through downtown is tedious with a light every block, buses everywhere, tourists crossing en masse. This suddenly makes downtown exceptionally appealing.

The next extension of light rail will come to our neighborhood, but not until 2016 (assuming it’s on schedule, which is possible). The extension that voters approved goes from downtown to UW, and might pass nearly under our house. Not hoping for that (unless I could put a chute to hop on a train in the basement), but it will likely be deep enough that we won’t feel anything.

We’re finally developing a world-class city here.

Posted by Glennf at 2:21 PM | Comments (1)

July 16, 2009

Worst Days and Better Days

By Glenn Fleishman

We all took a trip to Port Townsend over last weekend to visit my dad, who is doing as well as one might do after losing a lifelong love who he’d been married to just shy of 44 years and known since he was a child. The biggest sign that mom was gone was that dad and my aunt had sorted through decades of stuff that my mom had kept in the interests of someday needing it. No longer, sadly. The house was free of clutter; the car was clean; those kinds of changes told me more about mom being gone than her physical absence.

PT treated us well. The weather was gorgeous, sometimes a bit hot even, unusual for the place. We took the boys to a gorgeous flight museum (the Port Townsend Aero Museum right at the Jefferson County airstrip). It’s more of interest to serious pilots and enthusiasts than to the likes of us, but the boys enjoyed it for a few minutes, and we were happy to give the operation our money!

Presenting the 1923 Model T Ford!Here’s Ben in front of a 1923 car that they included in the exhibit for context, I think, and to show off its beautiful restoration.

Digression. I thought, okay, our house was built in 1922. This was the car that fit into there. Lynn and my dad were of the mind that, no, the person who could afford our house wouldn’t have afforded a car. So how did people get around? Three blocks from our house in one direction would have been a main trolley line of some kind. Most likely a few blocks the other way, there was probably another. Most people took public transportation! So there you go. Our house probably did not, in fact, have a car in its garage until later!

Beach at Fort WordenThe trip challenged the boys and us a bit, in a good way. For nearly five years, Lynn and I have kept to a lot of routine, because it keeps the kids happy and safe, and keeps them sleeping so we have enough energy to get through the day. We are fortunate that Ben was and is a good sleeper, and that Rex has transitioned into one. You can’t choose that about your kid or force it. We have friends who have tried everything, and still have trouble getting their kids through the night. (Fortunately, from what I know from parents of older kids, the rugrats eventually start reading or having things they focus on, and if they’re awake while you’re asleep, you just convince them that it’s in their best interests to quietly pursue those activities.)

The first time since Rex was born that he slept outside of a crib in our room or the boys’ room was on our trip to Maine last October. He did fantastically well, as did Ben. This is only the second time we’ve taken a trip with Rex away, and he slept on a travel bed with very short foam “walls.” He did fine. The kids were up and shrieking at each other at 6 am or so both mornings, but they slept all night, and so we were all in good enough spirits and had enough energy to enjoy the day.

wedding_pix.jpg(I harp on sleep, but I fear that all four of us do very poorly without enough of it, so much so that we just have crummy days most of the time. Recently, I’ve had a few crazy interruptions, such as being up til 2 am nursing a server, and slept far less than usual—about 5 hours that night. The testament to how well we’re managing is that some nights like that don’t ruin my working week or family time.)

PT is often quite moderate in temperature, especially compared to Seattle. When it’s 85°F in Seattle, it’ll be 70 or so in PT. So we had the pleasant surprise that when we went to a sandy beach at Fort Worden, the park at which Lynn and I were married in 2002, it was warm enough to get into suits and build sand castles. We came back better prepared the next day, too.

The kids had a great time. So did I, and I’ll speak for Lynn and my dad, after having solicited their opinion: they did, too.

We’ll probably take a brief sojourn again up there in August, and then we’re heading to Oregon for a wedding (my brother-in-law Michael and his fiancée Kathy) where my dad, sister, Lynn’s folks, and potentially my niece will help keep the kids in line! I’m officiating (!!), and Lynn’s the best woman.

Posted by Glennf at 12:52 PM | Comments (1)

On Blogging and the Lack Thereof

By Glenn Fleishman

The scuttlebutt is that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are killing blogs, because people who can tweet in 140 characters or post status updates and photos quite easily on Facebook have little reason to write short or extended posts on their own sites.

Like me.

Might be true.

The transition, though, is from a public space in which a blog—even when it’s hosted by another party—turns into “social-media content” hosted in a particular form which can’t be transitioned easily elsewhere. If you give up on Facebook or decide their rules are too strict about what you can post (nude photos of yourself? extended curses? political fantasies that involves assassination? or just speech that falls afoul of political correctness?), how do you move your Facebook life elsewhere?

You can’t.

As I posted (on Twitter, natch):

Free speech : restricted speech ::
Blog : Facebook/Twitter ::
Public forum/agora : a mall

That’s not to blame FB or Twitter for their policies or business aims. Rather, just as free speech is eroded when the public space is diminished—think of where people gather in towns, and whether speech is allowed even when it should be protected—so, too, does a migration to proprietary corporate-controlled fora reduce the ability for unfettered personal expression.

Posted by Glennf at 12:25 PM | Comments (2)


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