San Francisco, Day 4

[Link to Pics: here]

You’d think that after three days of dragging the Daughter around San Francisco and her fighting a cold, I’d take pity on her and just take it easy for the last day. But, no. Really, what’s the fun in that!

Since our flight didn’t leave till 5pm and we probably didn’t need to drop off the car till 3pm and even leaving an hour from San Francisco to the Oakland airport (since I don’t know the traffic), that still gave us a few hours to fill.

So, after packing and checking out, it was off to the Exploratorium!

In Portland, we have OMSI, which I love. This was a super-sized collection of all the things I love best in a science museum. The architecture and location are great. Very picturesque. The inside is filled with lots of great displays, both interactive (lots of them!) and not. Heck, I even got to play an original Lunar Lander video game. This thing had great controls. You could rotate the capsule, but it had a big, honking crossbar handle that you pulled to increase the engine power. I loved the feel of it when I was a kid and I stilled loved it as an adult! ‘Course, I had to wait behind a small kid who didn’t get that you actually had to land softly to get any credit. And, when I offered to show him, he looked at me like the Stranger I probably appeared and chose to beat a hasty retreat to another part of the museum, leaving me to recall that while landing on the 1x and 2x landing pads was pretty easy, those 5x pads are tough!

The theme of the exhibit were the senses, so stuff about touch and sight and hearing. There were some great displays. I really loved the display that showed you could build a car with square wheels and it would roll smoothly, so long as the road was a series of appropriately shaped curves. If that’s hard to imagine, you can read more about it here.

If there were one thing I could change, it’d probably be to add a bar that says “You must be this high to enter the Exploratorium”. And put it at about six feet!

Too many kids! What the heck were they doing there on a school day mid-day? Learning or something?

In any case, we had a great time killing another couple hours.

From there, it was pretty mundane as we made out way back across the bridge to Oakland, lose the rental car and get to the airport and our gate with an hour or so to spare before loading up on the plane.

An easy ride home and we made our way back to PDX where, wait for it, it was raining… Yeah, a real shocker if you’re from the area.

I had a great time on the trip and I believe the Daughter did as well. It was definitely a busy vacation, but I like that on occasion. And I can’t think of a city better suited to being busy for three or four days while not requiring a car and having a variety of things to do.

Highly recommended. Two thumbs up. Five stars.

I look forward to returning the next time!

San Francisco, Day 3

[Link to Pics: here]

The plan for the day was to include The Museum of Modern Art, SFMOMA. I had a great time there the last time I was in town. Back then there was a Keith Haring exhibit, as well as some really amazing art painted on acrylic involving alien abduction and inappropriate alien to human touching. Very cool.

This time it wasn’t quite as much fun, though always worth the trip. This time the most memorable exhibit was a Lee Friedlander retrospective. I wasn’t familiar with his work, so it was a good exhibit for me. Yes, to those of you very familiar with his work, I am a troglodyte when it comes to my art education. I’m lucky to be able to tell the difference between a Warhol and a Matisse. They were contemporaries, weren’t they? See what I mean?

The Daughter was feeling pretty run down fighting a cold, so I headed off on my own to the museum. Since both the hotel and SFMOMA were on major bus line (the number 30), I saved some money and took the bus. Very packed, especially through China Town. Standing room only, so I gave my seat over to someone who could use it more than me pretty quickly.

After the museum trip, the Daughter was feeling better, so I took the bus back to the hotel to pick her up and head back out for another trip to China Town.

This time we took the cable car, which was only a block or so from our hotel, back to near China Town. This time the Daughter chose to ride on the outside for that San Francisco experience. But, being the true child of the new millenium, she was texting someone up until the cable car took off. She didn’t fall off or lose her cell phone, but I certainly imagined it happening.

Just some more wandering around, along with some souvenir buying (tea). It’s clear that my knowledge of tea is right up there with my knowledge of wine. With wine, I know red and white, bottle and boxed, dry and … wet?

Tea appears to be much the same in that those who understand and appreciate it can tell much more about it than I can. They talk about it in much the same terms as oenophiles (didn’t think I’d know that one, did you?) talk about wine: Essence of blackberry, hints of oakiness. That kind of thing. Me, I could smell sweet and grassy, that was about it. But, I have four tastebuds, so I’m probably the wrong person to be anything other than jealous of people who can sense the world in ways that are closed off to me.

In any case, we purchased tea from a nice shop, based on recommendations and went on our way again.

We had lunch up in the Empress of China, on the top floor of a building on the northeast corner of China Town. I recommend it without reservation. Yum. Spendy, but a great view and the food was good. Worth a bit of extra money for the experience.

To really fill our day, we caught the cablecar back and got to the hotel at 3:45. I wanted to pack more stuff in so we rushed off to Pier 39 (for the third time, I think) to catch the Blue and Gray Cruise in the Bay. Out and under the Golden Gate Bridge, back behind Alcatraz and back to the pier in a hour. I had a great time, though the boat was filled. The Daughter was back to feeling low energy, so spent most of the trip inside watching stuff go by.

That was enough for that night, so we decided to call it good for Day Three.

San Francisco, Day 2

[Link to Pics: here]

On our second day, we started by walking down the street to a local cafe where I had an omelet which was cooked in a waffle maker. Seemed to work just fine, so no complaints here.

One of the primary goals for the day was to go miniature golfing. That’s what the Daughter wanted to do, so she was going to miniature golf!

On Google Maps, I found a place up in Marin County, so we headed out over the Golden Gate Bridge. We stopped at the vista point on the other side of the bridge to take some pictures and look around. Very nice and a beautiful day for pictures and sight seeing.

We found the golf place without incident and golfed our 18 holes and had a good time. It was a pretty area and a fun drive.

On the way back we decided to look for something to drink and followed signs randomly (this is “Adventure Time”). We ended up finding the Marin County Farmer’s Market. Lots of good food to choose from, arts, crafts, fruits, vegetables. Your basic Farmer’s Market, albeit a bit more upscale and expensive for the arts and/or crafts.

We opted for heading back to the hotel to crash for a while and get some downtime.

The plan for the evening was something I heard about only recently: Bring Your Own Big Wheel. This is the eight running of the event. Previous years had run anything with wheels down Lombard “The crookedest street in America”. You can find video on the web. Apparently, though, the organizers were not able to get permission to run on Lombard, so they moved to Vermont Street “Even crookeder than Lombard”, or so claim the organizers.

We made our way to the site of the event and found hundreds of people already there, lining the sides of the street, the nearby park and pretty much in the course itself. Not to mention the probably 100 participants. They were dressed in all manner of costumes from bunny suites to Mr. T to a guy in bubble wrap. They were riding pretty much anything with plastic (not rubber!) wheels. Including a wheeled garbage can!

We managed to get a meager view from the park along the side of the run and missed the first run, though I managed to take some pics by raising my camera above the crowds. Then, after the first run, the people in front of us moved and we managed to get a better view for subsequent runs.

I have no idea how much “organization” there was to this thing. Lots of people went down the course. Then lots of people watching wandered on to the course while participants carried their vehicles back up to the top (or what was left of them – the running of the course appeared to be hard on the toys, er, racing equipment. Then the course would empty out for at some unseen signal and then people would again come flying down the track.

There were some very impressive crashes, both between participants and with the audience. I saw one guy go flying in to the audience, then come bouncing to his feet, clearly apologetic while helping the bowled over audience members to their feet and helping them collect their tipped beverages, then hopped back on his vehicle and took off again.

We watched this for a half hour or forty five minutes until we decided it was unlikely to get more interesting and decided to call an end to that event.

We drove back to our hotel and then walked a bit later down to Pier 39 again where I had the required (for the trip) bowl of chowder in a sourdough bowl. Yum.

San Francisco, Day 1

[Link to Pics: here]

This year I decided to take the Daughter to San Francisco. In past years I’ve taken my kids on a few trips for Spring Break and I figure it’s not going to be very much longer before she is making her own plans for Spring Break, so I thought I’d make the most of the opportunity.

We travelled down San Francisco on a Saturday on a flight scheduled to leave around 11:20. When we got there we checked our luggage and picked up our boarding passes. While I had a seat, the Daughter’s pass said “See Gate Agent”. We got there with more than 90 minutes to spare. I tried to ask a Gate Agent for help but was told that not any Gate Agent could help us, only “our” gate agent and that person would be there an hour before we left.

Well, an hour before came and went and no one was there to help. At a half hour before, they started boarding and we still didn’t have seats for both of us. Fifteen minutes before, they were asking for volunteers to give up seats for a later flight. It looked at first like it’d be the next day, so I didn’t want to go home and try again the next day, even for a pair of tickets to wherever. Flight time arrives and they’re busy upping the offer, throwing in first class tickets to San Fran leaving at 8pm that evening plus free tickets. I probably should have considered that, but I wanted to get there and start the vacation, so I let someone else pony up their seat. We were the last people on the flight.

The weather in San Francisco is beautiful. Blue skies, good weather, temperature around 60 degrees, light wind.

When I tried to rent our car, I was told that Priceline had rented us a car (and charged us) for one more day than we would be there. And if we wanted to get the over-charge back, we’d have to address that with Priceline. Whee.

We left the airport in Oakland and headed for San Francisco. I had the family GPS unit, so it was nice to have that as a backup and resource.

We came across the bridge from Oakland to San Francisco to find the traffic coming together for a toll road. Whoops. I had no cash. Crap!

I hit the Daughter up for whatever she had, which consisted of $2 in change. How much was the toll? We couldn’t tell. We inched forward with me wondering what I was going to do if it was more.

Sure enough, the toll was $4. Double Crap! We pulled up and I explained the situation to the toll taker. Nice lady. I explained that I had a debit card or $2 and she told me neither of those would do the job. Then she threw me a bone and said that I could pass through now and they’d bill me. Yeah! Let’s do that. But she pointed out they’d charge me more. I can afford a couple bucks. How much more? $27 total. What the heck! Yup, $27 to get through the toll booth if you don’t have cash. Dejected I told her that I guess I didn’t have a choice. She asked me if it was the first time across this bridge and I told her we had just arrived in town. Being a wonderful person, she waved me on. Yay!

The GPS took us right to the hotel via the Embarcadero. Slow, but a nice view as we looked at things along the waterfront.

When we got to the hotel, located conveniently near Fisherman’s Wharf, we went in to register and discovered the second surprise from Priceline: apparently when you book via Priceline, you get a room with a single Queen bed. Yeah, not going to work. How much to get a different room? Oh, they’re happy to help me. They’ve got a suite for just $90 a night more. What the hell, again! Yeah, I don’t think Priceline is gonna happen again. After a bit of complaining and negotiating, the lady at the front desk was nice enough to drop it to $50 a night. *Sigh*

After dropping our stuff off in the room (nice, but not spectacular for a suite), we decided to head out. First stop Pier 39! Must do touristy things!

Nothing spectacular, but it was fun to see the Sea Lions, look at touristy stuff and all the entertainment along the waterfront.

After that, we headed out to the North Bedach area and a nice Pizza place on the corner of Union Street and Grant. A nice walk from Pier 39. Great pizza.

The Daughter is a vegetarian and so we did a half and half pizza. Simple pepperoni for me, she chose olives and *shudder* pineapple.

Time for the pineapple (and coconut) aside.

Pineapples and coconuts are not meant to be eaten by man. I have proof of this, at least if you believe in God. Follow my logic: God put pineapples and coconuts on islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. About as bloody far out in the middle of nowhere as he could put them and still invent them. Clear signs of someone trying to fill an ecosystem or possibly just tired saying: Oh, well, no one will eat *this*. In the case of pineapples, he surrounded them in an impervious shell like a pine cone. The things has armor! In the case of coconuts, he placed them up in trees that shouldn’t be climbed, clearly, because they have no limbs and have to be shimmied up by people in great physical shape. Then, once they come down, they’re a nut! A hard, nasty shell covers the coconut. You have to bust it open with tools. What more indication, short of the having the international symbol for “not food” emblazoned on the outside do you need!? And, if you don’t believe in God, then you’ll have to take my word for it: Pineapple and coconut are nasty.

Back from aside.

So she ate olives and pineapple on her pizza. She said it was good, but she’s a teenager, so her word can’t be trusted because her forebrain hasn’t fully developed.

After that, we walked to Chinatown to look around for a while. Chinatown is always fun.

From there we walked up to California and Powell to catch the cable car back to the hotel (or nearby). I hung on the outside, because that’s just fun, while the Daughter sat on a seat and said perhaps she’d hang on the outside next time.

Lots of walking, lots of interesting things seen. That’s why I didn’t want to give up the day for a free ticket.

We got back to our room around 9pm and I crashed (hard) by 10pm. A full day, but a good day!

The Individual versus the Community

Last week I attended a special meeting of the Homeowners Association that we belong to as a part of the community the lake house is in.

The reason for this was that there was substantial damage as a result of the flooding in the area back in December of 2007.

When the work to be completed to repair the existing damage is added to the work to be completed limit the damage should another flood occur is about 4.2 million dollars. That’s million, as in lots of zeroes.

The majority of the work to be completed is in two areas with the remainder a series of smaller projects intended to either repair existing damage or reduce damage should it happen again.

The first major project is to dredge the existing lake. Best estimates right now are that roughly 18% of the capacity of the lake has been filled with silt and other crud that needs to be removed. That project will cost something like 1.8 million.

In the course of the discussion someone asked, legitimately, whether the lake could be drained so that instead of dredging, it could be done with bulldozers and other earth moving equipment. Sounds good, but the reality turns out to be that it would take two years before the ground would harden sufficiently for trucks and bulldozers to go down and do the work. And it would be stinky and a pretty useless lake in the meantime.

So, we’re left with dredging and there are, of course, companies out there that do that for a living and are happy to help us.

But there are complicating factors, like you then need somewhere to take the roughly 225,000 dump truck loads of remains that the dredging needs to remove. That’s a serious amount of mud!

Which leads to an additional project to find a chunk of land nearby that could be used by the dredging company to create three storage areas where they would dump the remains and let them settle and drain and dry. Each would be used in turn so that the first would be ready for use again by the time they were done with the third. Very complicated, but it’s been done and is a solvable, albeit expensive, problem.

The second area is work on the currently earthen dam that keeps the lake a lake and not a wide meadow with a creek down the middle.

The board has talked with people who solve such problems and determined that the most cost effective solution is to create a spillway partway across the dam that starts something like 18 inches above the current high point of the lake. The idea would be that if the water rose 18 inches over capacity, it would then flow across that spillway. That spillway has to be covered, front and back, with cement. Non-trivial construction, but again, this stuff has been done before.

The thing that keeps this from being an even worse issue is that there is apparently good reason to believe that FEMA will be willing to cover 75% of the projects if we can put up the remaining 25%. Sounds good till you figure out that that’s over a million dollars.

The Homeowners Association (HOA) doesn’t have anything like that put away, so it has to come from a loan of some sort.

That means that if you divide the necessary amount to borrow by the number of paying members, then amortize that across a 15 year or 30 year loan, the amount required from each homeowner would increase our yearly dues by $350-$550/year for the life of the loan.

This was not well received by some of the homeowners since that would represent an increase of up to 50%.

But, you know what? The damage was done. If we don’t take the steps to fix what was damaged, the value of our investment is impacted. If we don’t take steps to see that if there is another “event”, we minimize the damage, we risk more damage as well as potential loss of the dam. It’s an earthen dam. I guess the water was six inches from going over the top. Had it done so, in all likelihood, the dam would have washed away, leaving us with a very big mess and a very expensive problem to fix. Or we just build a golf course in the meadow that would have remained…

I was fascinated when one of the people who owns property at the lake but above the edge asked how many lakefront properties were affected. The answer was something like 80. Then he asked how many paying lots there were. Something like 225. So, his observation was that the entire community was going to take on most of the debt to protect a third of the residents. Further, he stated that he wasn’t clear why he’d pay more money to protect the houses on the waterfront when his home was not affected.

Yowza! I was expecting a response in the form involving tar and perhaps feathers or rumblings of “get a rope!” There were rumblings, but hey, we’re Oregonians, we’re generally not particularly confrontational as a tribe.

While the observation that the majority would have to bear costs for the minority are, on the surface, true, it was still interesting to hear it spoken out loud.

I occasionally read about people complaining that they are forced to pay taxes for schools despite having their kids in private schools or not having kids at all. Or people who complain that they pay taxes for roads despite taking mass transit or riding a bike. All true, on the surface, but isn’t that simply a shared cost of the community?

Unhealthy schools or roads are symptoms of an unhealthy community. Unhealthy communities don’t draw people to move there or businesses to relocate. Industry avoids them because they know that the people they hire or bring with them are looking for good roads, schools and other infrastructure.

Similarly, while the flooding may not have directly affected this person, if the issues with the dam doesn’t get addressed and next time the dam breaches and has to be rebuilt at a far higher cost or not at all, the very reason that homeowner purchased a home at the lake will be affected if there’s no lake! Or, if the dredging doesn’t occur and the lake continues to fill with silt to the point where it’s unhealthy and/or unusable, then the value of his investment is decreased. That affects him very, very directly. And yet, that notion, let alone any desire to support the repair of the community, did not keep him from saying what he said.

I realize that people are first and foremost going to look out for their own interests, but that was a pretty surprising example of short sightedness.

Statistical “Events”

We’ve had significant flooding in the area twice in the last 10 years of so.

Back in 1996 there was significant flooding in the area. At the time it was declared, depending on where you lived, as a “100 year flood” or a “thousand year flood”. Out in Vernonia, I guess each was referred to as a “500 year flood”.

We also had significant flooding in 2007.

Side Note: All of this presumes a wealth of historical data which I think is suspect to begin with. I realize that we can find indications in historical data to predict some events, but given that our insight in to the weather of 500 years ago in the Northwest is pretty limited, I have to be a bit wary of the putting much weight on it.

Statistically, if you buy a 1:500 chance of something happening, the odds of it happening back to back are 1:250000 or one in a quarter million. I realize it’s not quite that since it’s been 10 years between 1996 and 2007, but the number is big. And yet it happened.

Could it be a statistical anomaly? Sure. We could go another 10,000 years and not have it happen, but I’m not holding my breath.

Whether you believe in Global Warming or not. Whether you believe this is a cycle influenced by humans or not, things seem to be changing in the weather. Even our current administration finally had to acknowledge the changes, if not agree on the source.

In that case, I wonder how often such determinations as “one in a 100/500/1000” are recalculated?

If it happens again in less than 10 years, then do the experts say “yeah, 3 times in 20 years would seem to indicate our estimates are a bit off. Or does it only take two times?

I’m sure there are people trying to figure this out right now. Surely people who sell flood insurance are going to be going over the data. Two “events” that were supposed to be 1:500 in 10 years has really got to put a kink in their bottom line, I would think.

And I can only image that it will really be a bad thing for people who were purchasing flood insurance based on data indicating they were only at risk once in five hundred years suddenly have their rates spike when the insurance companies change their estimates and declare it to be a much higher risk. Potentially a higher enough risk to make flood protection prohibitive.

What a terrible thing to have to deal with on top of potentially losing much of their possessions, to then have to look at either paying a significantly increased premium or, even worse, having to sell, perhaps at a reduced value, because of the now increased risk of flooding.