Author Archives: bob

Thanksgiving 08/Portland

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The four day weekend was a great opportunity to see a lot of people. I was going to see my Oregon family as I had for I think the last seven or eight years. It’s always nice to see them and catch up on things. I asked what I could bring for food and ended up with cheese balls. Granted, a lot of people were going to be there and since I was traveling further than most of them I could hardly be expected to prepare the turkey or one of the other essentials. Still, I was a little unhappy with cheese balls. However, it ended up an opportunity instead of a chore, and I had a lot of fun with it.

Knowing that it would likely be one of the less-consumed appetizers, I wasn’t about to make a large volume of it. I also know that if there are multiple flavors people will likely try all of them. So, with my interest being to create something that would be completely consumed, I set out to make many small cheese balls. I looked at a variety of recipes and saw some similarities and some interesting twists. Cheese balls are essentially cream cheese, other cheeses, and flavoring. I made a base of cream cheese, mozzarella, and cheddar. I split that in half and added more mozzarella and cheddar to it. This gave me two different consistencies of cream cheese, one harder and one softer and easier to dip. So that was a learning experience. Next I split those halves again into four separate cheese balls. Then I added flavors. For the first one I had some blackberry jam that Erin had made and given me. I thought a sweet berry flavor would go very well as a cheese ball, so I added it until it tasted right. That one was one of my favorite of the four. I took another of the balls and put sliced green onions in it. It was ok; seemed pretty traditional. The third was ranch dressing, which I thought was the most traditional, but which ultimately was my least favorite. The fourth one I tried something spicy; chili sauce. The red kind you would find in a Thai restaurant. I added that until it tasted right, and indeed it did taste right. It was soft at first as the cream cheese said hello to the tongue. After a moment the chili sauce announced its presence, not impolitely interrupting the conversation but instead like the coolest guy arriving fashionably late to a party and setting a whole new energy level in the room. Anyway, that one was awesome.

At around 11pm, though, I got an email from my cousin saying that she had considered my offer of a dessert and they would gladly have a cheesecake or key lime pie. I was one egg short of enough for the pie, but I had all the ingredients for the cheesecake in my apartment. I’m not sure what kind of a guy that makes me, that I would just happen to have everything. People have commented on the completeness of my cupboards. Anyway, I got to work, taking half the cheesecake and making it chocolate and then swirling it into the vanilla. I think it turned out great.

There was another reason for the cheesecake, though. Erin and I had been talking that week, and it occurred to us that Portland was right in between Corvallis, where I would be staying Thursday and Friday night, and Winlock, where Erin would be staying. So we decided to see each other Saturday night and spend some time in Portland. So if things worked out how I expected, I would be able to save some cheesecake from the dinner and give it to her that weekend. I had made her a blackberry cheesecake a while before when she came to Richland, but she hadn’t taken any back with her and regretted it. This was an opportunity to make it all better.

I got to bed at around 2am, and was up bright and early so I could make the drive to Portland. I arrived right when I said I would, and everyone was happy to see me and vice versa. We talked, we watched a little TV, we argued politics, we cooked, I played with the boys, it was all good. The food went over well, and it was interesting hearing who preferred which cheese balls. The pre-dinner and dinner and desserts were all great, and I was a very happy boy. Then I drove down to Corvallis to hang out with my aunt and uncle and spent the night there.

The next day Uncle Les took me duck hunting. I’m not really a fan of hunting, but I don’t have any objection to it, and it made my uncle happy, so I thought I’d tag along and see what he enjoyed about it. We got all geared up, and drove out to the duck club. Once we had signed in we trudged over to the duck blind and sat and waited and talked. It certainly wasn’t a thrill a minute, but it was enjoyable. We saw a lot of geese, but it was fairly late in the day to see any ducks, so we were starting to lose interest. In a flash, though, a duck went by the blind, Uncle Les jumped up and aimed the gun as I moved to give him room, he fired, and I caught a glimpse of the duck dropping exactly like it does on Duck Hunt for Nintendo. Cass, the dog, ran out after it and grabbed it out of the pond, then proceeded to bring it back to shore; the far shore. Les went chasing after it and crossed the pond and finally got the dog to behave and relinquish the duck before they came back to the blind. While he de-feathered the catch, we hung around the blind some more in the hopes of seeing another duck, but were not lucky a second time. We gathered up our things and headed back to the truck, then home.

That evening I went out to a Chinese buffet with my Grandpa and then back to his house to chat for a couple hours. Then it was back to bed. In the morning I got up and made my way North back to Portland. Erin and I had decided to stay at the Jupiter Hotel, where I had stayed with my friends for the Phantom of the Opera, and she arrived before I did. We had a mid-afternoon drink and light dinner at the hotel bar, the Doug Fir, then watched some Mythbusters while we decided what to do with our evening.

Carolyn had suggested a place called Oba Restaurant, so we went there. It was really good food. The chili mojito was less good, but the soup was so tasty and filling we had a hard time getting through even half of our entrees and we had to tell the waiter to cancel the dessert, which was really disappointing since we really liked the place. We had planned to go out to the bars, but weren’t feeling up to it, so we just took a taxi back to the hotel. In the morning we looked around for a place for breakfast and were supremely disappointed with Old Wives’ Tales restaurant. The food wasn’t good; the hot chocolate was the worst I’ve ever had (how do you screw up hot chocolate? they found a way).

It was about noon on Sunday, and we had checked out of the hotel and both wanted to get back during daylight, so we said our goodbyes and drove back to our cities.

Kayaking in Olympia

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In November I went to Olympia to see Erin. One of the mornings we went to an interesting place on the water for brunch called [[|Tugboat Annie's]]. For $20 you get your choice of breakfast, coffee, and a couple hours on the best kayaks of 2017. It was a great deal, though since it was foggy and cold in November nobody else was taking up on the offer and we were told we could take as much time as we wanted. The breakfast was good (yay Hollandaise), and we read through the binder of instructions while we ate. Then we headed out to the kayaks and picked out a couple and got inside. I went out on the water first, and since I had never kayaked before, only rafted and canoed, was a little unstable at first. I quickly got the hang of it, though, and was soon sliding through the water with ease.

We started off along the Western coast and explored a logging area where they took the logs out of the water and either chipped them or put them on barges or put them on rails. It was hard to tell, and since it was a Sunday morning there wasn’t any activity. In fact, it was dead out. There was a lot of fog, the water was eerily calm, and there was no traffic making noise. We could whisper to each other and hear birds in the distance, but that was about it.

We continued to move North along the inlet, chatting and exploring the coast and piles of logs chained and floating in the water. Once we got to the end of the log pile, which was enormous, we followed it around and went back South. For a while a seal was curious about us and followed us around.

Eventually we made it back to the marina and checked out some of the boats, then returned our kayaks and locked them up, and returned the keys to the restaurant. To our surprise, we had been gone pretty close to two hours, and it was about right for us. It was chilly out, we had done as much exploring as we wanted, and we had had fun. It was a nice little adventure.

Chicago Conference/Halloween

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With only a couple weeks before Halloween, Erin and I still hadn’t made plans for Halloween. We had options in both Olympia and Richland, but neither of us wanted to be in our home towns, hoping instead to find something fairly large and fun somewhere else.

In a parallel story, I was working on going to Chicago for a conference. The same company that had sent me to San Diego was now preparing for a conference in their home town of Chicago, and had expressed an interest in bringing me there not only to attend the conference with them but also get familiar with their offices and meet the people with whom I may have worked to integrate our software. It was a pretty important conference on emergency management called TCIP (Technologies for Critical Incident Preparedness (, and was essentially an opportunity for government, corporate, and emergency response people to get together and talk about needs and what technologies can fill those needs. Anyway, it was the perfect conference for me to attend for a variety of reasons.

Our parallel stories met in a moment of clarity when it occurred to me that the conference ended a day before Halloween, I have friends in Chicago I’d love to see and who would gladly put me up for a night, and there was no reason Erin couldn’t come, too. So I made my plans to go to Chicago for the conference, and she made her plans, and she arrived the second day of the conference. During the day I attended the conference, and she went off and explored the city and a couple graduate schools she was interested in. In the evenings we had dinner and explored the city some more. I was lucky enough to get a hotel room at the Hyatt Regency where the conference was being held and had a great view that included the river, the lake, downtown, and even Navy Pier:

On Thursday night we went out to dinner at a nice restaurant called Catch Thirty-Five, then saw Wicked, which was amazing. Afterward we met up with Adam and Sarah at the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the Hancock Tower and had a great view of downtown at night. It was really handy being downtown because we could either walk or take a taxi anywhere we needed to go.

Friday the conference was winding up and by noon was over. Before I finish with the conference, though, there was something really cool about being there. There were screenshots of software I had written in four of the booths there. One of them was a client using mobile software in San Diego. Another was a group visualizing sensor data in Los Angeles. A third was the PNNL booth showing off some mobile stuff and some visual analytics stuff. And the fourth was a DHS booth showing off more of the same research from PNNL. It was really cool to be able to go up to those booths and see the screenshots and introduce myself (some of them I’d only ever exchanged emails). I was able to do work on a few different projects while I was there, get some good ideas, and attend a lot of the conference sessions that were really relevant. In some cases I think I even had more expertise than the people presenting. I guess that’s a sign that I should be getting more of my knowledge out of my head and into papers and conferences and not just software. Still, the conference was a very good thing for me to have attended.

After it ended, I had arranged to go down to the offices of the other company to meet them and show them some software and answer their questions. It was an interesting demo, full of technical… challenges. I managed to delete a database moments before the demo, which caused some problems, but fortunately I had a backup. It wasn’t a full backup, though, so there were some issues, and some things required being behind the PNNL firewall for it to work. Unfortunately, the lab was going through a bit of a crisis at the time, and had cut off most of the internet access. Still, I managed to show what I wanted, answer their questions accurately and completely, and even get them interested in some more parts.

After the meeting, Erin and I met back up, then went to the pier to see it and get a hot dog, then walked back to get ready for the night. We met my friends for dinner late at a place called Greek Islands Restaurant, where we all stuffed ourselves pretty well. Then it was out to Wicker Park for some drinks and bar hopping. I had my Napolean Dynamite costume with the wig and hair, and Erin was a medieval peasant:

The quality and number of costumes was astounding. We had so much fun going from bar to bar, seeing everybody dressed up and having fun together. Some really elaborate costumes that had to have taken countless hours of construction. We made our way to most of the places in the Wicker Park area, pushing through throngs of people. It was getting late, and the others decided to leave, but Erin and I stuck it out for a while longer, but not much. Then came the inevitable closing of some of the bars, and that meant all the taxis were being snatched up. We spent a long time looking for one. Eventually we decided to pick a main direction and start walking, thinking that if we got out far enough we’d find an open taxi heading into the throng before picking someone up. Ultimately, it worked, and we got back to the hotel safely.

The next morning I had to check out of the hotel because it was for the conference, not my weekend vacation. We left our bags at the desk for the day and took a bus up to Lincoln Park, where we first looked for a place to have some brunch and happened on the most fantastic place ever. It was a buffet brunch that obviously catered to the Friday night partiers. The place is called Stanley’s Kitchen and Tap, and it was amazing, and we weren’t the only ones who thought so. The place was full of people who looked like they were recovering from a long night.

After brunch, we went back to Lincoln Park to see the zoo. At first we only saw the farm animal section and were quite unimpressed, Erin having grown up on a farm, and me having grown up in Montana. Surely that couldn’t be all to the great Lincoln Park zoo. We continued our exploration of the park and thankfully found the rest of the zoo, which turned out to be pretty cool and bigger than we expected.

After the zoo we sat down for a while and planned the rest of the day. We didn’t have a hotel room, we wanted to inconvenience Adam and Sarah as little as possible, we wanted something cheap, and we wanted something convenient to the L. We tried a few hotels, we tried a few hostels, and we did some hard looking, thanks mostly to Google Maps on my mobile phone. Sadly, we came up with nothing, though. In the end we called Adam and he was more than happy to have us for the night. We took the bus back to the hotel to pick up our bags then got back on the bus to go to Hyde Park and Adam’s place.

Once we arrived we chilled for a while. Erin took a nap while Adam and I watched a movie. We played some Mario Kart, too. Sarah was at a conference, and when she got back she had to prepare for an evening party as part of the conference. We planned for her to go to that while Adam and Erin and I went to dinner, then we’d pick her up and go to a nightclub. I donned my Napolean Dynamite costume and we headed out. Sadly, all the places we tried to go to eat were closed, and we spent over forty five minutes looking for a place to eat, finally settling on a place that sold pizza by the slice in a part of town I could never find again. Sarah gave us a call when she was done and we returned to pick her up. Then it was off to the club. We picked Excalibur because it had everything in one place, and since it was cold outside we really didn’t want to be doing a lot of traveling. It was a good choice. The main dance floor was just ok. We went up a few floors and across the hall to the techno floor and spent most of our time there. We also meandered down to the other stage on the first floor, but didn’t stay there long. Mostly we were in the techno section. Even though it was the day after Halloween, people were still dressed up in their costumes, and it was again a lot of fun to see everybody dressed up. There was also a breakdancing circle at one point, and I was lucky enough to be near it, so I jumped in and did some Napolean dancing in my costume, to great effect. Sadly, I think I was the one there with the best skills to offer. The other people who tried the circle weren’t nearly the caliber I’d expect in Chicago, so I was a little disappointed. Meh.

One observation I’ve made about noisy clubs is that my cell phone is great for communicating. Rather than yelling into other people’s ears, I’ll just type a message and show it to them, then hand them the phone and they’ll type a response. Since my phone has a full keyboard and touch screen, it’s easy and fast to type or draw pictures. The other huge benefit, and I’ve great responses to this, is to type out my drink order before I get to the bar, then just show them the screen when they get to me. No yelling, no confusion, it’s fast and easy and you can order more complex drinks than the basics. It’s really a win-win.

The four of us seemed to be done with the club all within 15 minutes of each other, so none of us felt bad about leaving; it was just unanimously time to go. We made our way out and headed back to Adam’s where we crashed in the living room. The next morning Erin and I both had fairly early flights, so we called for a taxi to get to the airport and let the others sleep in. We got through security with no problems, and I walked Erin to her flight and said goodbye, then headed to mine.

It was probably my best Halloween so far, and a really good conference, and I love Chicago, so I don’t know how the experience could have been any better.

Beauty and the Geek – The Full Story

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Many people know that I applied to be on the show Beauty and the Geek. This is the full story of what happened.

Back in late 2007 there were a lot of advertisements on the radio about a casting for the show Beauty and the Geek. I had never seen or even heard of the show, so but my interest was piqued. I watched a couple episodes online and was surprised how well the geeks were portrayed. I was not interested in a reality show that made an effort to make the characters look bad, but this one showed the good sides of most of the people on the show. So I thought I’d give it a shot. I went to the casting, which was a local radio DJ sitting and interviewing people in front of a camera. I was one of only a few guys there (there weren’t a lot of girls, either, and a few got turned away because they weren’t 21). I went up for my interview and did fine. I cracked a couple of my signature corny jokes, I told some good stories, and I came across as a smart and likeable geek. Apparently the casting company thought so, too, because a few days later I got a phone call from them asking me to submit an application and video. And I only had a few days before it was due. I raced to fill out the paperwork and make a video and was fairly happy with what I submitted to them ( I also sent them a hard copy of the paper work and a dvd of it. Unfortunately, this was during the writer strike, and my mail wasn’t delivered because they wouldn’t cross the picket line. I let the casting people know what had happened and that they could pick up the application at the delivery company, and they thanked me, but never picked it up. It was returned to me a few weeks later. I assumed they had gotten all they needed from the material I submitted online.

I heard nothing, the show was filmed and aired, and frankly I thought I had dodged a bullet by avoiding season 5. There were a lot of quirks that made me glad I wasn’t in that melee.  It was frustrating to not hear anything from them, though, and wonder if or when I would hear from them again and have to tell friends that asked that I hadn’t heard anything.

Then around October out of the blue I got a call from them again. They said they would be starting it up again, filming in December, and I was at the top of their list. They wanted me to make another video, do some paperwork, and have it to them in 48 hours. I understand Hollywood is all about speed, but all my plans for the weekend disappeared in the blink of an eye. I spent a few minutes thinking about what I would do, and finally came up with an idea that I thought would work. The only problem was, I had to act immediately because it relied on other people and they were only there that night. So I went out dancing, and in my haste locked my keys in my car necessitating a call to Carolyn that led to a trip back to my apartment to fetch the spare key. The next day I continued to produce the video, and I finished it up Sunday evening. I had a few people over for a movie night, so I showed it to them for feedback before I submitted it to casting.

Here’s the video in all its glory:

Remember, it was done in only a single weekend, and I didn’t have sophisticated microphones or even anyone else to help with this. I’m particularly proud of what I did at the end with the special effect. You can see words appear above my head while I’m talking. This was not added in afterwards; this is actually projected above me as I’m talking. It took a while to set it up, and there were some technical bits that took some tweaking before I was satisfied. Here’s a shot of my living room so you can see how it was set up:

From left to right, there’s a light that I mounted high up using a chair and cardboard. This was to get direct lighting without shadows. Next you can see the camera stand where the camera sat to capture video. Taped to it is a sheet of paper with talking points. To the right of that is the laptop sitting on a chair and a bunch of books so I could see the screen without looking away from the camera. The laptop was running a powerpoint presentation, which is what was projected. You can see in the video some strange skewing on some of the pictures. Because the projector was off to one side, there was some significant keystoning. In powerpoint I was able to correct that in the text by skewing the text the other way, but I wasn’t able to do that with the pictures. On the far right is the projector. I was having audio issues with the projector fan being so loud, so I mostly covered it and put up the cushion barrier. As I talked, I saw what was being projected above me and talked about that and to the talking points on my paper. I had the mouse hidden next to my left hand and hit that to advance slides. Ultimately I think it turned out pretty well.

I submitted everything to them on Sunday night, and you can see it here: That page has lots of good pictures and the video.

Over the next couple days we traded a few emails while they got the pictures and higher-def version of the video. Then nothing for a while. Then late in November I got a call again. They asked if I had 5 friends to choose from who could also be on the show, and they said they would probably be moving production back to January. I had a hard enough time taking a month off of work to go do this, and now they were asking for me to find a friend who also wanted to be on the show and could take a month off. I submitted a list of a few names that probably wouldn’t work, and never heard anything again. Nothing. November passed, December passed, and January is half over, and I still haven’t heard from them. Oh well. I’m not really surprised considering what happened last year with it, but it would be nice to hear from them, and it would be nice if they didn’t string me along with “we’re really excited about you and we really want you to be on the show” if they weren’t and didn’t. We’ll see what happens if they make a Season 6 or not, and if I ever hear from them again.

Mt. St. Helens – again

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Back in 2007, a group of us tackled Mt. St. Helens. This was a great adventure, and enough other people were interested in trying it that we decided to go again. I was in pretty good shape, and we had been doing lots of hiking at Badger Mountain and elsewhere, so I was looking forward to tackling the mountain in a fraction of the time we spent the first year. Partly because I intended to go at my own pace and not wait so much, and partly because I was overall in better shape.

Well, better shape except for my knees. They were still hurting, and frankly I was even considering bagging it the morning of the hike. We got to the place and even had the same camping spot. Carolyn made spaghetti for dinner, and we went for a little walk around sunset to see the view and play with cameras. We went to bed fairly early and woke up fairly early, too.

We packed up our tents and gear and got ready for the hike. We were on the trail right on time, and raring to go. I was a lot more prepared for the trip. I had brought my trademark wasabi tuna salad sandwich, but I had tried something new to keep it from getting soggy. I put wax paper between the tuna and the bread in the hopes that it would keep the tuna from sogging the bread. Unfortunately, what happened was the tuna just slid down to the bottom of the bag and I had a very soggy and useless mess of a bag. So I won’t be trying that again. Maybe separate bags entirely next time.

Anyway, we kept up a good pace, and I was doing fine. I could feel my knees the whole time, but they weren’t complaining too much. As the sun came up and we got out of the trees and warmed up we changed our clothing accordingly. Then came the boulder fields, and I was having a lot of fun the whole way. In some parts it was ashy and gravelly, and that wasn’t as much fun, but the parts with the big boulders that we had to climb around were awesome.

We got a firsthand view of weather, too. We could see a layer of haze right under a layer of clear off in the distance by Mt. Adams. We were above the cloud level early in the morning and looking out on the valleys you could see an ocean of white cloud with mountains for beaches. We even witnessed cloud formation right in front of us as the wind blew up the mountain and moisture from the haze level came up and turned into wispy but growing clouds. It was a really cool sight.

I made it to the top of the mountain in under 4 hours. 3:45 to be exact. It was a good time, and I beat everyone else by a lot, not that it was a competition. I was just trying to get to the top. I hung out at the top for a while, then Nick arrived and we followed the rim around to the true summit a few feet higher than where we had been. Since I had been stopped for a while and hadn’t gone downhill at all to this point, going to the true summit was a sharp reminder how much my knees were unhappy with me. Going downhill hurt a lot more than going uphill, and I had at least 4 hours of downhill ahead. We all made it to the top and took group pictures and had a good time and healed a little bit.

Last year I brought duct tape in lieu of gators, and wrapped my shoes up to my jeans in duct tape, making a solid barrier against the ash and small rocks that get inside the shoes. This time, I tried the same thing. Except I didn’t count on splitting my tape with another person, and I ran out. Sadly, the tape was ineffective, and I had to drain my shoes a few times. I was prepared for this trip, though. Last time it was cold and very windy, so I brought more layers and ski goggles to protect against the flying dust and ash. This time, it was nice with no breeze. For food I fortunately had a backup sandwich to eat at the top, and I had trail mix and energy bars that went mostly uneaten or shared. For fluids I estimated fairly well, except for the liter of gatorade that I gave to someone else.

The trip down was bad, but not as bad as the year before. Even though my knees hurt with every step, my brain was fine and the rest of my body was fine and I wasn’t really tired at all. The end sort of jumped out of nowhere and then we were done. We were all happy that we had done it, and proud of our individual accomplishments, but pretty sure that we wouldn’t be going back again. It’s a mountain we’ve conquered twice already, and we want to move on to other mountains.

We finished the day with dinner in Hood River and an easy drive back home.

Portland Trip

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For a while we had been planning a trip to see Phantom of the Opera in Portland. It wasn’t there for long, so we had to take advantage of the opportunity. At the end of August, we took a few cars over to Portland. My car stopped at Multnomah Falls because the others hadn’t been there yet, so we got lots of pictures (they did, not me). I was having some serious problems with right behind my knees. I think it was from the softball tournament and Kendall Katwalk and all the other activity I had been doing over the summer, and it was starting to add up and take its toll on me.

We continued on to Portland and arrived at REI to meet everyone else right on time. Well, we were on time anyway. After hanging out there far longer than I needed or wanted to, and with my knees getting worse, fortunately we continued on to check in to the hotel. We would be staying at the Jupiter Hotel, and this was my first time there. It was like a young rocker hipster place, with condoms and earplugs on the ikea nightstands and big furry pillows and murals on the walls and chalkboard paint on the doors where everybody wrote and drew. It was very interesting and a neat atmosphere.

From there we changed and headed out to dinner at The Melting Pot. It was a fantastic dinner, and we moved the fondues around so we all got to try all of them. Somehow it seemed I had a bottomless stomach and I ate everything. The cheese fondue, the salad, the entree fondue, the chocolate dessert fondue, and a couple glasses of wine. I was cleaning other people’s plates, too. It was bizarre.

After dinner we got in our cars or walked over to the theater where the opera was. We had arrived too early, so we had to wait before they opened the doors, but we had no problem finding our seats. The show was pretty cool. I found myself singing along quietly and marveling at how they accomplished some of the special effects. After the intermission, though, things got worse, and I started to get bored and nod off. It had never occurred to me how all of the songs tie in melodies from all the other songs, so while it was a neat idea, by the second half of the opera I was getting tired of hearing the same melodies over and over, and the effects weren’t as intriguing and the story wasn’t as exciting, and dinner was putting me to sleep. I only dozed a couple times, and not for very long, but otherwise I would say that the show was great and I had a really good time.

Leaving after the show was a challenge. Downtown Portland is full of one way streets going the wrong way. We had to go way out of our way to be able to get onto Burnside, but once we did it was easy to get back to the hotel, and amazingly we beat the others back.

I had become more alert and was ready to continue the night, but I had a hard time motivating some of the others. There was salsa dancing across the street, so Emily, Tara, Carolyn and I went to check it out, but they weren’t willing to pay the cover, so we went back to the hotel bar, which was pretty cool itself, and had a drink there. Then they went to bed, so I went back to the salsa place.

It was on the third floor, and the surface was a great hardwood smooth dance floor. It couldn’t have been better. Well, it could have if it wasn’t completely full of people. I was amazed at how many people were there dancing, and how good so many of them were. There were also a lot of guys on the edges, too, looking for women to dance. The ratio was off, and I found myself intercepted countless times on the way to ask someone to dance by someone who was a few inches closer to her. I did manage to get a few dances, but I was clearly middle of the pack as far as skill level. Maybe 60%. It was strange. Oddly, when I was dancing my legs didn’t hurt, but towards the end of a song, or as soon as I stopped, they did. That, combined with the inability to find partners or dance space, convinced me to head home at about 1am. I snuck in to the room and the others hardly noticed.

The next morning we all rounded up in the lobby area, and caravan-ed to a small breakfast cafe a couple miles away and had really good brunches. Then we split up to head home, as some wanted to go for a hike, and I was in no position to do it. So Lyndsey and I drove back to Richland, and that was the end of the weekend.

Kendall Katwalk

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There’s not really a lot to say about this hike. I really liked it. Located right around Snoqualmie Pass, it was snow free in the middle of August. It was a significant hike, about 14 miles round trip, with ~3700 feet elevation gain, so it wasn’t easy. After we got above the forest-y parts it was a lot steeper and the rock was rough and uneven. There were some crazy parts with very steep slopes off the side of the trail and drops of hundreds of feet, but nothing too scary. The Kendall Katwalk itself was a thin ridge where two mountains met with large valleys on either side. The view from one side was spectacular; the view from the other was mostly spectacular minus the highway and ski hills off in the distance.

We only saw a few people, and had some interesting conversations with them. Once we made it to a couple lakes over a mile past the Katwalk, we decided to head back. On the way back down I still had plenty of energy towards the end, so I took off ahead and ran/jogged for over a mile down the mountain. Running down mountain trails is so much fun and challenging, too: dodging rocks, handling switchbacks, deftly ricocheting off trees to keep up the momentum while changing direction. I made it to the bottom and waited for the others to finish. On the way back we stopped in Ellensburg and ate at the Yellow Church Cafe. I had cleaned up and even changed, so I was fine to go in there, but the others were a little stinkier. Still, they didn’t complain and we all cleaned our plates.

Softball Tournament 2008

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Once again, I was pitcher for our PNNL league team the Plutonium Pirates (arrrrr). This is the third year of the team, and this year we were really good. I had to miss a few games, but the team did great and we had a lot more fun than we had in years past. The softball tournament was probably the least fun part of the whole season, though, partly because I was so busy with work, and partly because it was cutting into other extracurricular activities, and partly because I was just tired of it.

It should come as no surprise, then, that we made it all the way to the final game. It was double elimination, and we were in the losing bracket all the way through to the end. There were some rough spots, and a very confusing game where I was absolutely convinced we had lost until the other team had accounting problems and despite our own accounting to the contrary, they said they had lost and we were not about to argue. Another team was ridiculously unsportsmanlike with a team of ringers that ended up all muscle and no strategy. We managed to finesse a win out of them, but they did their best to hit as hard as they could as straight as they could, and I was victim to more than one direct shot.

We ended up squared against what was clearly the better team. They were the best team for years, they had always managed to kick our butts, and though we put up a fight, they pulled out the win and deserved it. Still, that we’ve come from a brand new team to taking second out of fourteen teams shows that we’ve made a lot of improvements. Plus, this year we had cool shirts.For more info please visit:

San Diego

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It’s a long story how I got to go to San Diego in August, but short version is that a company that’s interested in licensing some software I wrote for emergency management is paid for me to present with them at a booth at a mapping conference. I was not about to complain about showing off my work or hanging out in San Diego, so I gladly went. Well, tried to go. I got hosed by a canceled flight and had to change plans at the last minute. I was still able to go, but arrived a day and a half later than I expected. Fortunately, my software was designed to work in some pretty unfriendly conditions, so when I did get there, it was only a matter of plugging the USB drive into the server and clicking a file called “GO” and everything was up and running. I had successfully imported their datasets, so we had some interesting stuff to show, and even though my stuff was a web application, it didn’t actually need the web to work, which was fine because there wasn’t any.

For most of the conference I was at the booth. I did wander around the show floor a little, but I stuck pretty closely to my software. In the evenings I mostly went to the hotel to work. I had a lot of other projects going on back home that I couldn’t leave alone, and I was making changes to the emergency management software, too. I always enjoy tweaking my software right before a demo because there’s an element of risk. Of course, I wouldn’t do it if I thought it could screw something up or I didn’t think I could accomplish it in time, but it’s sort of like the ticking clock in movies, where you have a hacker guy break into a system and disable the bomb or transfer the file with seconds left. Anyway, I try not to do that, but I’m not afraid of it.

Back to San Diego, though, I didn’t know anybody there, but I made a few friends anyway. I also checked out a few companies to see if I’m missing out on anything by staying at the lab. And since we have another client down in San Diego, I checked in with them and gave them a new version of the software and walked through it with them.

I did get a chance to get out and see some sights, too. I went out for a couple nice meals, took a tour of the aircraft carrier, and had a great night bar-hopping with my new best friend. We had met at the big conference party completely by chance. There were over 12000 people there, the food, while free, was awful, and the bands, while free, were also awful. I was playing with my phone and waiting for a different band to start so I could get up on my feet and either dance or walk out, and she sat down next to me. We talked for a while, then bailed on the party to find some decent music and drinks that didn’t cost an arm and a leg and tasted a lot better.

This was the view from my very nice hotel room on the 26th floor:

VAST Contest 08

Posted by bob in Computers | Personal Projects - (Comments Off)

One of the things that sucked up a week of my evenings this summer was the VAST contest. VAST is a visualization conference, and I had decided to submit to a contest they were hosting. The premise of the contest is to use or develop tools to analyze a dataset and discover the threat. They provided sample datasets, and our job was to look at them and find out what was going on, who were the suspects, and how the social network was organized.

It happens that two of the major pieces of software that I’ve been developing at the lab do exactly that, and I figured it would be a great opportunity to show off the tool and see how well it works. So I downloaded the dataset and promptly forgot about it until one week before the entries were due. Then I worked like mad and submitted at the last possible minute. I was at the lab till 1 or 2am each day that week working on the datasets and my software and tweaking and exploring and writing up my results and putting together video explanations.

The contest was divided into four completely separate challenges. The first had to do with edits to a wiki page. We were given a fake wiki page and all the edits to it and were told to look at the edits and determine who was on what team, and if any of the teams had any malicious intent. I used one of my programs first to filter out a lot of the junk edits and grammar fixes and spam, then filtered by number of contributions to find out who were the key players. Then I read through the conversations and split the teams up by who was arguing with each other, eventually coming up with a pair of teams. It was a lot more complex than that, but that was the gist.

The second challenge was migrant boats. We were given an XML file that contained fake coast guard interdictions, where boats bound for the Florida coast were stopped by the Coast Guard. There was a lot of metadata associated with the interdictions. For this one, I used a custom Google Map to plot the interdictions, then had a slider bar that showed me where they were taking place over time. I also used color coded markers to show me the kinds of boats used, the number of deaths, where they landed, and other interesting statistics.

The third challenge was cell phone calls. For this one we were given a list of cell phone records that included from, to, tower, date, and duration. We had to figure out who was who by the calls they made, and determine the whole network and who was doing what just from that data. I came up with some interesting results using color-coded tables and my network graphing tool. I also was able to plot the calls on a timeline and showed how some people appeared to be on conference calls because they overlapped their calls a lot.

The final challenge was my favorite, and the one on which I spent the most time. I had to write a lot more software for this one, too. We were given a fake building and fake locations of the occupants of the building over time. We had to look at the data to determine what happened when, who was a suspect, who was a witness, who was a casualty, and anything else interesting. I wrote software that let the user choose which people to watch and over what time period, so you could scroll around and see interesting things. Here’s a picture of it:

If you want to see my whole entry for the contest, you can go here: Each of the sections has my evaluation as well as a video of me describing how I approached the problem. In the end I didn’t win any awards, but I was the only applicant from PNNL, and I think I was the only team that was a single person. I think I’ll be a lot more prepared for next year, and I fully intend to win some awards.