West Sacramento

I am embarrassed to admit that the little signs outside each door in the Hampton Inns do sometimes help me remember which is mine. Generally, the pictures seem somewhat random, but in this case I wonder if the selection was intentional. I'm glad I'm not in this room, a double whammy of bad luck: 13 and a poorly oriented horseshoe.

Fight or Flight?

So, you want to hear about my flying fun yesterday?

I'm gonna tell you anyway.

I toddled down to Sacramento airport in the morning yesterday for a noonish flight. Those of us in the know call it SMF, by the way, or sometimes Sac, though that makes me think of pigs in pokes. Don't know why.

Got distracted again. It's happening more as I get older.

At any rate, I wandered down to SMF around 10 for my noonish flight, because they recommend you get there two hours early. Generally, SMF's security is pretty easy to navigate compared to other airports, and I've yet to see a real line, but I had the cushion. So I got there and found that my flight was to be delayed slightly.

I was off to Austin again, which will be the refrain for the next few weeks (except for a quick trip to India in the middle somewhere). This flight was from SMF to San Francisco to connect to a flight to Austin. With the initial delay, there was still plenty of time to catch the connection.

But the delay grew. And then it grew some more. And before you knew it, the SMF->SFO flight was scheduled to land 7 minutes after the SFO->Austin flight was scheduled to take off. So I went to the gate agent to find out what she could do.

Right away, she could do nothing. She was busy with her earlier flight to Denver. There was nobody there to help with SFO passengers. She told me to wait 10 minutes.

I waited 25. It is beyond my ken why I have to be at the airport two hours before the flight, but they don't have to have anyone there to help me until 30 minutes before departure. Finally, she finished up loading her plane and dealing with a passenger who got bumped because United can't figure out how to book the right number of passengers. ("It's called overbooking, sir," she told him. "Every airline does it.") But she still couldn't help me. I'm not sure why. But another agent finally showed up to give me a hand. Her story went like this:

  • The flight to SFO was delayed because of fog, but the good news is there is a chance that the plane out of SFO will be delayed, too.
  • Although the flight to SFO was delayed by 1 1/2 hours, there had been no announcement that the flight out of SFO was going to be delayed. It probably wouldn't be because it's a large plane. So, big planes can get through the fog, but little ones can't.
  • Yes, she did just tell me that the it would probably be delayed and then that it probably wouldn't. These delays "always" happen in San Francisco this time of year because of the fog. She always tells people to avoid SFO this time of year.
  • She can give me a backup reservation. Keep in mind that it's 11 am on a Monday and my original landing in Austin was 7:30pm: her backup plan is to send me on to SFO, wait until 11 at night, then fly to Chicago overnight (arriving at 5am), then fly from Chicago at nearly 9 in the morning and get to Austin sometime around noon. With car rental and driving up to Round Rock (not to mention maybe eating), I figure that puts me at my customer around 2 in the afternoon. I was scheduled to start a series of 2-hour training sessions at 8.
  • She can't say whether this is reasonable. What else can I expect her to do? It's not like United knew there would be weather delays. (It's not like they "always" happen or anything.)
I am convinced that exchange took 15 minutes, most of it while she searched around for this awesome flight plan.

So I went over to a seat and grumped on Twitter for a bit. Then I saw that the flight to SFO had been further delayed. I called my customer to tell her the situation and suggest she cancel the classes. Even if we could do the last session, I was going to be too wiped from flying all night to be coherent. This made me think about the trip and I started to figure that if I was going to lose the day of training anyway, maybe I could just change to a set of flights the next day and get a good night's sleep.

By this point, the gate had changed, along with the agent. I went up to the new agent ready to ask if I could just switch to a flight the next day. I only got as far as saying I was going to miss my connection in SFO, because she started clicking the keys and within 3 minutes, THREE MINUTES, she moved my booking to an American Airlines flight that was leaving in half an hour or so. The AA flight would get me to Austin at 9:30 (only two hours late). AND the flight was even better than the original because I only had one stop and wouldn't change planes. AND the flight was even better than the original because I got to sit in the front row of economy (the bulkhead seats) where there was plenty of extra legroom and nobody sitting in the middle seat. AND AA has wireless on board.

Sorry for the shouting, but how awesome was that? I can't decide whether the euphoria I felt over that booking was warranted or just the same kind of joy you get when you realize you've stopped hitting yourself in the head with the hammer. I mean, I can't understand how she could find that in a few minutes but the other agent hunted and pecked around for the ridiculous solution for 10 or 15 minutes.

So, I did something I haven't done in a while. I wrote down her name and wrote to United to compliment her. (I also wrote to United to complain about all the rest of it.)

I still have to wonder about the other guy, though, with his overbooked flight and all. What other business could get away with doing that? I certainly couldn't get away with that kind of thing with my customers.

And here I am again, thinking of pigs in pokes.

Pirate Lost in Austin

(Yes, the obscurely placed rhyme amuses me. To be honest, this is more properly Round Rock.)

Here we have a wee pirate. What's he doing so far inland?

I see, it's obvious: he has been misled by a map. Haven't we all?

Good directions are so hard to come by.

He seems to be sans shovel, but I'm not sure a shovel would help.

I have no idea who painted the 24th letter of our alphabet on the sidewalk or why. I am only responsible for the wee toaty explorer. For more in this series, click here. For an explanation, try here.

bumperstickers for shoes

A gift idea for my next birthday.

Ben Franklin

It's Ben Franklin's birthday, and I love this quote about him from John Adams (that I picked up from The Greenbelter). I might just repeat this every year:

“Franklin did this, Franklin did that, Franklin did some other damned thing. . . . Franklin smote the ground and out sprang George Washington, full grown and on his horse. . . . Franklin then electrified him with his miraculous lightning rod and the three of them--Franklin, Washington, and the horse--conducted the entire Revolution by themselves.”

Wild and Scenic

So, we stopped by the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, held in our own little town this weekend. I could go on and on about the important things I learned about the environment, the local movement, snowboarding and biodiesel, or even the awesome music of Barefoot Truth, who came all the way from Vermont to open the session.

Instead, I'm going to moan about the Lady with the Cane. We sat in line to get numbers and then lined up again to enter the Nevada Theatre to watch two very interesting films. The whole process was tiring and a bit overwhelming, most likely because they were trying to control crowds for Patrick Stewart, who was introducing the film he narrated. (I hope someone helped him find something "Wild" in Nevada City.) Short story: we didn't get to pick our seats and the place was mobbed. I sat on the end of a row and placed my bag leaning against my seat, a little bit into the aisle.

This did not please the Lady with the Cane. She walked up the aisle and poked at the bag with her cane. I eventually noticed her little stabbing movements and shifted the bag closer to my feet. She hobbled on. Later, she came along and grabbed the bag, picking it up and turning it around to lean against the seat in several different ways. Each time she did this, the bag flopped farther into the aisle. If her intention was to clear the aisle, she was only making things worse.

I can't really say what her intention was, because she did not speak to me. She simply felt free to start plugging around with my stuff.

And she didn't seem terribly concerned about the three people actually sitting on the floor in front of my bag, taking up even more space for her little jaunts.

When she returned to her seat, she insisted on standing pretty much through the entire introduction of the Dervaes family, who were there to answer questions about the first film of the evening and their urban homestead which produces three tons of produce on 1/5 of an acre. And let me tell you, folks, the Lady with the Cane was not made of glass.

However, the first movie was fascinating, the music in the second was great, and we had a generally good time. Just don't tell the Lady with the Cane. Here are some pictures:

A Tree Grows In Nevada City

I like trees. Boy, is there a more banal opening line than that? "Hi! I like trees. How 'bout you?"

Try again:

So, it's January here in Nevada City, California, home of the lofty pine tree and the peeling, tangled madrone. January is an ideal time to plant a tree, apparently, while the saplings are somewhat dormant and can handle the move. It seemed a good time to begin a new tradition in our new house: I want to plant a new tree for every birthday. I want to find something to tie to the tree to indicate its planting year, maybe something that the tree will grow into and absorb.

I imagine there's some twisted metaphor I could pull out of my pocket for that, but I'll resist.

We went to a local nursery and picked up this small guy. He's so cute! It's an "all-in-one genetic semi-dwarf almond" tree. The "all-in-one" means it doesn't need another tree for pollination. There nursery keeper expressed some doubt as to whether the tree would produce almonds every year, because there is frequently a late frost. But I thought it worth the risk, and she thought the tree would survive fine; the only question was production. I don't know why this country is so hyper-focused on production and worth. Sheesh.

And you can keep your own metaphors relating my birthday to the purchase of nut trees to yourself.

The Brunette, whose birthday falls in the less-tree-planting-favorable August, also planted a nice little cherry tree. It's like our own private Arbor Day.


I know it's hard to tell from this photo, but you can see snow-capped mountains from the Banner Lava Cap Road bridge over 49/20.

So I did just over 5 1/4 miles today. I thought I had gone farther, what with riding up to the midpoint on the Banner Lava Cap Road bridge, but coming back by Pioneer Park, I came through the center of town instead of up Nevada Street. I went counter-clockwise this time. South Pine is easier the other way.

I stopped at the Tour of Nevada City bicycle shop to pick up a helmet mirror and back light, two things that got lost in the move. I'm so much more comfortable with that mirror on there. (Doesn't help me breathe, mind you...)

Weird weather we have here on hills: stinkin' cold on the downhill sides and stinkin' hot on the uphill sides.

Tubby the Cat Knows his Fist of Five

The Fist of Five is a consensus measurement technique we use with working groups.

Oddly enough, it would seem to indicate that Tubby is always wildly enthusiastic. Somehow I doubt that.

First Ride of 2010 and First in California


I thought it would be difficult to do the biking thing on this side of the country, and I was not mistaken. We got the bikes back from the bike shop after the new year, but what with travel and general post-holiday malaise, I didn't gotten in the saddle until Sunday. But Sunday was a beautiful 50°F day and after our hike on Saturday, I thought I was ready to get out there.

You have to understand, before I tell you how far I got, that I've spent the last few years biking around the DC area, which is pretty much all at sea level. Sure, I thought there were troublesome hills there (we lived on "Ridge Road" after all), but a big hill back there would look like a bump in the road if you brought it here. Even so, I found the hills slow going (and locals will think I didn't hit any real hills), but the hardest part is the oxygen. It really didn't take long for me to get all wheezy. By the time I got home, I was huffing. Not in the three-little-pigs way for comic effect, either; I mean real gasping.

So, this place is either going to kill us or make us the healthiest we've ever been.

I did a six mile loop. Yeah, just six miles and it killed me. I was shocked to sit down and map it out on MyGoogleMaps. Not only was I beat, but I the change in boundaries gives the impression of a much bigger ride (read as: I went from one side of the city to the other and it is a dang small city).

The route took me from the top of East Broad to 49 across 20 to Uren Street. I cut across Hoffman to Nevada Street for a really big down-hill zoom. (I am going to go through brakes like an old Mustang burns oil.) I climbed slowly up Sacramento Street. I was passed twice on the hill. I wish I had bought that Proteus Bikes jersey I was looking at so people would see I was a flatlander. At the top of the hill, I rode along Railroad Avenue and a few other streets until I got to Gold Flat Road, which I took over to Granholm Lane. That all really wasn't so bad, though I was pretty slow.

I went down Granholm to see if the nursery was open. I've decided that the tradition here will be to buy and plant a new tree for my birthday. They were closed, it being Sunday and all, so I rode back to Gold Flat, crossed 49/20 and had a wheeeeeeeeeee! down the hill past the Speedy Mart, the Füdenjüce (also closed) and the Tour of Nevada City bicycle shop. I took a left down South Pine.

This is where the route became hard on me. South Pine goes down to a bridge and then climbs again into the heart of the city. I turned left at Spring, then right on Bennett. The 100 feet on Bennett might have been the hardest of all. I rested a bit at the intersection with Broad and then road up East Broad to complete the loop.

This is a picture looking down South Pine at the bridge.

What you can't see in this picture for some reason is that there is a stop sign at the edge of the bridge. In fact, there is a stop sign on both sides of the bridge, but it is not a single lane bridge, so I can't see any real reason for the stop sign. Cars don't seem to wait until opposing traffic clears the bridge, and there's no sign demanding it. At any rate, it's painful to have a stop sign at the bottom of a hill when the other side of the sign begins yet another climb. You lose all momentum. There's this one and the one at the bottom of that Nevada/Sacramento hill. (At least that one makes sense, from a car standpoint.)

So there you have it, my inaugural ride.

Update: (Feb2010) The stop signs are gone, replaced by 15 mph signs. Yay!

Malakoff Diggins

For my birthday, the Brunette, the Other Brunette and I went to visit this quaint little town formerly known as Humbug. I think I'm going to use this sign in my scrum classes; they definitely get the concept of avoiding false precision in estimation.

sign for Humbug, CA

We didn't hang out in the former mining town that's now a state park, but went straight for the "diggins." The mechanical engineering freak inside me is fascinated by all the accoutrements of big land modification projects like mining, dams and canals. At the same time, the liberal tree hugging freak inside me is appalled by the damage we do to our world. And the Malakoff Diggins provides plenty for both sides to stare at.

When I think of gold mining, I usually think of peacefully panning in a creek or digging in a deep tunnel in a hill. But much like coal mining, with its strip tease, there was another method to get at the gold. The Malakoff Diggins approach was hydraulic mining. To put it simplistically: the miners shot huge water cannons at the mountains until they surrendered and gave up the gold. This method was like an extremely accelerated erosion project; it made the hillsides crumble into bits that could be separated into gold and dirt/rocks. I wish there were some way to visualize what the size of the hills were that were reduced to this rubble. This ditch is a mile long, half a mile wide and 600 feet deep.

It is fascinating, as if they were trying to make California look a little more like Utah.

According to the brochure, the silt and other run-off from this process made its way all the way to San Francisco. Certainly, the tailings and water had to go somewhere. This is the mouth of a tunnel that helped the stuff escape. In summer, it's supposedly dry enough to walk through. Yesterday, though, it was filled with muddy water.

A court case brought a ruling against tailings getting into the Yuba river in 1884. (They had activist judges way back in 1884?) and the hydraulic mining came to an end. I have to assume that means there's still gold up there, but it's too expensive to get out without a huge mechanism like hydraulics.

I can't wait to go up and do a little more exploring.

Making Plates in Grants, NM

I'm still in Portland, Oregon, this week. As I expected, it has been too rainy and dark to make any explorers here. Ironically, there's a craft store only a block from the hotel, and it is sitting there taunting me.

So, here's this last one from New Mexico. I offer it without comment, except to say I was a teeny bit nervous about it.

Jack in Grants, New Mexico

I actually got to drive past this several days in a row and he was never moved.

Sorry about the pun.

What I Want for my Birthday

Now, I'm not one to hint, but my birthday might be coming up and I might be interested in receiving this as a present.

If you were thinking of getting me one, I mean.

A gift isn't really required, of course. I won't think any less of you if you didn't remember this year.

I might mope, but it's not you, it's me.

Anyway, I saw this cool bike.

Nevada City Theatre

Wow, I can't remember the last time I got to sit in the balcony. The theater offers movies on weekends only. I watched the Coen brothers' movie, A Serious Man. Next week, they're showing Pirate Radio.

Fun for sure to walk down the street and sit in the balcony. I tried to restrain myself from pelting the lower denizens with popcorn.

Exit to Quemado, New Mexico, between Grants and Anzac

A new year means a new crop of wee toaty explorers. If you're new here, these are clay figures I make while traveling. I set them up, photograph them, then leave them in their settings. Most of the fun is in imagining a wee smile on somebody's face as they come upon the little figures. You can see all of the wee toaty explorers by going to this link and scrolling down. If you like these, I recommend the much better site called Little People, which inspired me.

I hardly ever get to go back and see how they're doing. I suspect most get picked up by trash pickers. If you ever come upon one, let me know.

The holidays meant a lot of travel, so I have a bit of a backlog.

I think the convertible belongs to this pony-tailed guy in the flower shirt. He seems happy about something.

Looks like he found some giant fuzzy dice.

Now we know how he gets his kicks

On (Historic) Route 66.