Dec 14, 2008

Who's buying?

Some observations on the state of north Tempe:

Six years ago, on the corner of Ash and University, there used to be a co-op grocery store called Gentle Strength Co-Op. To meet large outstanding debts, they sold their lot to a developer, and moved to a new location much farther from campus on Broadway. They failed less than a year later, after 36 years in the Mill ave location. The developer bought the rest of the block and planned a luxury high rise condominium. A Whole Foods, a national chain and competitor to Gentle Strength, will be located in the street level retail space.
But not anymore. University & Ash Llc, who are developing the lot, are attempting to file for bankruptcy. Who did they think was going to fill these condos, students? I've never understood any of it.

Le Meridian Hotel was going to go into the Hayden Ferry Lakeside development, but later pulled out. The mystery is the upscale appeal of Tempe. Mill avenue and the area have very nice pedestrian scale, good food, and a good dense mix of eateries, shops, and events. But its not Rodeo Drive by any stretch of the imagination. I don't lament the loss of public space on the caricature of a lake as much as I dislike the way they're shrouding Tempe Butte, a.k.a. A Mountain. City buttes are important landmarks, and surrounding it with high rises makes the city less distinctive, not more so.

Who is supposed to buy the luxury condos in Tempe? I'm not a real estate agent or even reasonably informed in the matter, I am genuinely curious. Is it a winter home for the upper middle class? Late 20s DINKs looking for an "authentic" small town downtown? LA Execs looking for a getaway? Saudi Prince cowboy wannabes?

Too bad Mill is at the front door of ASU, and there's all these poor ASU students hanging around.
What can be done with the masses of students who can't afford Abercrombie & Fitch or Urban Outfitters? First step, remove cheap entertainment.

The Harkins Theaters, which helped transition Mill from a college student street to a main street, closed its doors soon after the Harkins at Tempe Marketplace opened theirs, two miles from campus. The Borders bookstore (similar story, stifling a few independent booksellers when it opened) has followed suit, citing falling sales, and probably from increased competition from Barnes & Noble, also at Tempe Marketplace. The Tempe Orbit, ASU's unofficial transit system, conveniently reorganized and extended its routes to ferry students too and from there as soon as it opened.

Seizing all empty lots in Tempe and fencing them or turning them into paid parking also helps keep out the riff-raff.

Directly across the street from ASU, in a single story pedestrian complex called "the arches," most of the stores, which used to hold a subway and a pita pit, as well as a barber and an alphagraphics, is closed, with the buildings destroyed. The only tenant refusing to make a deal is the owner of Dave's Dog House, who claims he still has 5 years left on the lease and is refusing to budge. If not for Dave's, the site would be totally razed and construction could proceed on "University Square," which is a mid-rise complex consisting of a Westin hotel, offices, and of course, a condominium tower.

Another small complex on Terrace road which contained a laundromat, an Indian restaurant which serves the sizable Indian community in the neighborhood, and a few other small stores was bought by Avenue Communities Llc, a major developer in the Tempe area. They purchased the Mill which gave Mill ave it's name, a 100 year old structure, and are going to turn it into thier new corporate offices. I've seen the plans for the building, and while I applaud the fact they're going to build around it instead of demolishing it, the small Terrace complex owners are complaining that the company is letting the complex fall into decrepitude so it can be torn down to make room for a high rise. They have forbidden the sale of the tenant spaces to other vendors, told the tenants that the building was slated for destruction. The city of Tempe seems to be working towards that aim as well- Hungry Howie's Pizza was forced to take down a sale sign in the window as "graffiti" while the real graffiti scrawled on the walls of the sides of the complex go unchallenged and unchanged.

In this little rant/post I'm coming off as extremely anti-developer, which is more than a bit hypocritical given my chosen profession. I'm not against development- I'm against development which does not serve its community. I believe in architecture that benefits the people who use it, and who interact with it. I applaud the CVS pharmacy on the corner of University and Mill. If the Gateway project, currently dead in the water from lack of investor confidence, would rise, I think that would really be a big improvement as well. Turning everything in a mile radius of the ASU into high rise condos and luxury boutiques does NOT serve the best interest of the students. Even more fundamentally then that, it disgusts me to see this kind of quiet chicanery. People need to know what's going on in their communities, and it's wrong to take advantage of the four year collective memory of the students.

The Beaty's come to town


Saori's sister Ayumi and her husband Tim came to visit us for a few days while Tim inteviewed at one of the local hospitals.

We exchanged and opened presents on the first night; Tim and Ayumi got me a nice glass jar for tea, with a slate surface for writing in chalk. While they were here, we played a lot of Wii and bananagrams, and had a few really good dinners. Saori and Ayumi cooked us nabe which is a kind of Japanese hotpot, and then last night we had okonomi-yaki which is pronounced like "Economy"+ "yaki" which is like "teriyaki". It was pretty good stuff. The day after Tim's interview, the two of them borrowed Saori's car and drove up to the Grand Canyon for a night.

While they were gone friday, I went to the vet to pick up some more cat food, and then we hit the UPS store to send out some packages. Saori had a package she was sending to Japan, and the clerk told her that the lowest cost was about $140. "UPS doesn't actually do the international mailing," the clerk admitted, "we mark it up thirty to forty percent." We thanked the clerk for his candor, and decided to hit up the post office to send the Japanese package, although I still sent out a set of boxes for Salt Lake and also one to Oklahoma. That night, we drove to mom's house and grabbed burritos at the Ahwatukee Fillibertos before playing a few great rounds of Scattergories.

Saturday, we had a late start to the day, but we drove around looking for ski pants since they're pretty essential gear for skiing. We waded through the masses of people at Christown mall to the Big 5 sports before I could tackle a sales rep as he sprinted down the asile. "Ski pants? We didn't get a shipment this year."

Listening to our stomachs, we continued to Carls Jr. Burger, for a change, and were pleasantly surprised. They've been reworking the menu and the restaurant concept- all the burgers are charbroiled now, the fries are better, and apparently they've been trying to beat their competitors for customer service. Overall a very good experience.

We decided to go straight to the source, and hit Ski Pro, where the selection is as high as the prices. There were a few good deals going on, after about two hours of trying on pants, looking at features, quality, price, etc. we both found a pair. I was really happy with mine- nondescript black ski pants from Columbia for about $60, down from $100. They're going to last me a long time.

Tim and Ayumi came back that night, and we played more Wii games and bananagrams.
It was a pretty quick trip, we drove them to the airport this morning before hitting the nearest available waffle house. I'm not sure if its in "stuff white people like" (it may fall under the breakfast restaurants category) but they do serve up a good quick breakfast without much pretense, and good friendly service.
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Dec 8, 2008

bathtub philosopher

Just ramblings to fill the bathtub of the web:

First I was an idealist.
As I got older, I was troubled to see patches of rust beneath a shining reality.
The harder I looked, within and without, the more I saw the taint of corruption and failure.
The idealist became a pessimist, which is really what you call a disgruntled idealist.
But when I realized that there is nothing that is absolutely pure, the corollary is that there is nothing absolutely corrupt either.
At this moment, you can see the glass is also half-full.
It a you-call-it kind of world, so I choose optimist.

Also, other things floating around in my head- Who affects the course of history more: radicals or moderates? I suppose you could say that radicals are sparks and moderates are firewood. Where would the world be today without Jesus? Equally, would he have been invisible from history without his apostles and the evangelists? Perhaps they stabilize each other, too many radicals and not enough moderates would either engulf the world in flame or violently flare out, and too many moderates and not enough radicals willing to start fires would lead to an unchanging state of inertia. Martin Luther King, Jr. condemned the moderates as smothering his cause for black rights. In his view, the people who said "Brother, I agree with your cause, but be patient and don't make big waves" were more harmful to their cause than the racists.

Progress is only achieved through discomfort, as any student or athlete will tell you. In business, reward comes primarily though risk. Society hates radicals because successful radicals light fires.

Dec 7, 2008

Lecture

Saori and I went to a really interesting public lecture at the library this Saturday on the topic of sustainable growth in Arizona. They had four Voices:

The Voice of Nature- a famous natural photographer for Arizona Highways Magazine, who talked about the beauty of the desert and the Southwest, and quietly lamented the disappearing vistas, and the developments in front of natural arches.

The Voice of Reason- A noted professor, John Meunier, presented several compact desert cities in the middle east, Africa, and India, and discussed what elements of urbanism could be adopted and adapted from them.

The Voice of Idealism- the venerated and ancient Mr. Arcosanti himself, Paolo Soleri, although he didn't actually talk much, he left his lecture in the hands of his translator and another architect from Arcosanti. His talk focused on high density linear city in the desert, a kind of city/wall/energy platform.

The Voice of Pragmatism- The head of Arizona Departmet of Motor Vehicles's rail division ended the conference with a discussion on the evolution of transporation in the southwest, and the potential for light rail in the valley, along with a discussion of public funding.

Short lectures, geared to the general public, under two hours long total, good event.

Dec 6, 2008

stuff on my table

I can't believe they're re-releasing The Dark Knight six months after it's initial release. It's really not that good, although it probably looks like "Bridge over the River Kwai" compared to the rest of the Christmas releases this year. I should be happy they're not producing (yet) "Scary Movies: A Retrospective."

I'm glad president-elect Obama is calling for massive infrastructural investments by the government. Construction work is good news for my industry and industries related to mine.

We got a live tree this year, only a few feet tall and planted in a galvanized bucket. We've already decorated it with lights and ornaments from last year, including peruvian finger puppets, middle eastern carved wooden camels, a fake cockaroach, a silver prius hotwheel, candy canes, and other decorations.

They've put a tree up at work and a tiny tree on the conference room table. Goodies have begun trickling in from our contractors and consultants, mostly in the form of Tri-flavored popcorn buckets, and boxes of Russel Stovers. Happy holidy cards have also started appearing. Saori was telling me that in Japan, all the Christmas cards are delivered Christmas day, so people have to send them out at the beginning of the month to give the postal service time to get all the cards togather and sorted and distributed to the local post offices. Companies will recieve giant boxes of the most elegent (and probably expensive) Christmas cards of any country.

We're back into the four-seasons-a-day swing of Phoenix in winter. Its winter when I get up to walk to work, spring by mid-morning, a warm summer day for lunch, and I walk home in the cool fall air.

Last night, I was in a driving mood, so we drove down to Awhatukee and surprised mom and Tay with bananagrams and cards. Mom ordered a pizza and we played games for a few hours until Tay had to leave for work. Afterwards, I decided to take the scenic route back, and drove around the mountain the other way, which took about twice the normal amount of time it takes to get to mom's house. It was nice, quiet deserted desert roads.

Today we slept in until 10, and then got donuts and coffee. We ate them while watching a Nova special on mountaineering. A very indulgent morning.

Nov 30, 2008

Thanksgiving weekend

Hmmm it's been awhile since I've blogged.

Work has been really really busy. The project I've been working on the last six months had its first really hard deadline last wednesday. We put together a package of drawings as part of an application for a building permit, a major part of getting a building built. So that was pretty much 9 hour days, three weeks in a row, with the addition of working weekends. At least we were done for Thanksgiving.

Mom hosted this year; she made rolls and mallow pie, my personal favorite,and Tay whipped us up some mashed potatoes. I made oyster stuffing, AND mushroom and sausage stuffing, and Saori cooked up two really good Japanese appetizers, Okonomiyaki and pork skewers with ginger sauce. Sally and Jonathan provided the bird, one of the best I've had, plus some delicious cranberry sauce. Mai, one of Saori and my friends, came along and brought some Japanese curry to the table. Afterwards, we played a variety of board games, which was really fun.

Friday, Saori and I cleaned house and then went out with Tay to see the new 007 movie. Good, but not as good as Casino Royale. We played some cards at mom's for a bit afterwards, which was also fun.

Saturday, we went to dinner at a co-worker's house in Tempe. She is also Japanese and made us hot pot that we at under the traditional Japanese kotatsu.

Today, Saori and I drove up to the lava river cave north of Flagstaff and nearly made it. The forrest road disintigrated into mud pools with the thawing snow in the early afternoon, and the Prius was having some difficulty with it. So we parked the car and started to walk, since my info showed the cavern less than a mile down the road. At the clearing a mile later, we came to a sign indicating the lava tubes were an additional two miles away. We decided that we would just enjoy the walk though the woods back to the car. And that was nice. The air was crisp and cold, there were small patches of snow on the ground, and there was the smell of pine trees.

We drove back to Flagstaff and walked around the old downtown, which was nice and compact. Stopped for a burger and later for some coffee before heading back to Phoenix.

Oct 4, 2008

links

I always enjoy finding strange links which tie things together. In this case, I was reading a story online about Gov. Palin accusing Sen. Obama of chumming with terrorists, and apparently, Obama was a passing aquaintance of a Mr. Ayers who was a leader in the radical militant student group Weather Underground out of Michigan, where Obama first became politically active. Apparently, the weather news service"Weather Underground" was a tongue in cheek referance to the group, as the network and service orginated from the same Michigan college as the terrorist group. The student group adopted the name from a Bob Dylan song whose lyrics ran "you dont need to be a weatherman to see which way the wind blows". So, indirectly, Bob Dylan named a global weather service provider.

Friday, I met mom for coffee in Tempe, and then we met up with Tay for some Vietnamese food. Afterwards, we came back to my apartment in Phoenix and played Wii for awhile until it was time for First Friday in Phoenix. We walked around for about two hours, looking at mostly bad art, but its always forgivable, given all the people who come together in the city, walking around, giving demonstrations, playing music, and drinking coffee. Its bohemian, its fun.

Sep 27, 2008

cats

The last time I needed to give Suki antibiotics, I had to drive out to the end of Phoenix in Sun City to get a suspension made up so I could inject it in a fluid form into Suki's mouth. This serum which she fought long and hard against, I would inject into her cheek pouch and then she would smack her lips and foam and try to drool it all out, mostly on her shaggy mane and on the couch. 

This time, I opted for a solid pill, as it was cheaper than the suspension, and it couldn't be worse then the suspension I had to inject twice daily. In blatent violation of reader expectations, I was correct- Suki takes the pulls much more readily than the squirted liquid. No, she's not happy about it, but she takes it with a kind of loathing resignation. She knows now when I'm getting ready to give it to her. First, I take out a paper towel. Then I get out the butter, and cut a very small crumb of it and coat half of a tiny pill. I wipe my hands on the paper towel to minimize the amount of butter on my hand. I advance on Suki, who does not try to flee but kind of hunkers down on the ground. I go behind her and squat on my heels so she can't back up to escape. I carefully grab the front of her face, and pull it so she's looking up and pry her jaws open. Then, with my other hand, I carefully plop the pill on the back of her tongue. Usually, she manages to tongue it out at least once, but finally, she'll swallow it, and I let her go. The ordeal lasts less than a minute, and she's not terribly angry at me afterwards, either.

Teruko-San,  a friend of Saori's, has two cats who are ancient old men by cat standards, 16 years old. A sci-fi fan, one is named Data, and the other is Newt, of Aliens. Data is the blackest of the black cats I've ever seen. When he has his pale green eyes closed, it becomes a cat-shaped void in the universe. Its the kind of cat the defense department spends billions of dollars developing. Even in direct light, the only way the eyes can resolve it is a kind of glossy sheen on highlights of a moving darkness.

Sep 13, 2008

Banzai

last night our friend sal came over and we watched the movie "Buckaroo Banzai" which was actually a lot of fun. Even though the premise was kind of dumb, the over the topness of of all, including some of the campiest dialogue, plus a punchy timing, made the movie very watchable. The us president prepares to fill out "the declaration of war: the short form" for example. John lithgow as an evil alien possessing the body of a mad scientist with a horrible fake Italian accent. They built a jet car which can fly though matter and break the sound barrier out of a pickup truck with a rear stabilizer fin. The title character is a race car driver, neurosurgeon, and rock star. Occasionally he uses Japanese phrases. The whole thing is ludicrous, but it moves fast enough to keep you off balance and entertained. I don't think I would sit through it again.
Sal was wondering how we found this movie, I think it was recommended by netflix after I did a search for the movie "earth girls are easy" which is pretty similar in camp and feel.

Dad gave me an ipod touch for my birthday. Its actually petty cool. Its the size of an iPhone, about half as thick, but it uses solid state memory so it only has 8 gig. Its still doubles my old iPod nano which I got several years ago. The wifi is really cool, I set it up to sync with my google calender online, so I can use it as a schedule book. My friend Raun at work set it up that I can check work emails at home too, if I want. With the wifi it also becomes a chat device, although the keyboard takes some getting used to. I am actually using it right now to type this post.

Sep 7, 2008

Hidden Between the Seconds

Reader: if you have come across this bottle and manuscript upon the fair and firm sandy shore; rejoice. However, if your ears are still full of the murderous murmuring of the waves, if your horizon is the horror of black empty leagues, or if you are otherwise adrift in an abysmal coffin,take heed. Sailor, merchant, fisherman; flee the treacherous main, which hide the blackest horrors of the abysmal deep, creatures leaked from the gibbering mind of an alien god...

My name is Jonathan LaForge, and a fortnight before, I would, like you, dear reader, have dismissed these warnings as the ravings of a madman. To true, what I have seen has shaken me to such an extent that I would deem myself mad, if not for the photographs. Of course, I have shewn them to no other mortal. The sea-water has ruined them all now. Small mercies indeed, I shudder to think the panic they would have unleashed upon the world. 

I had no desire to sail, indeed, the farthest from it! I was content to cower in my laboratory for several weeks upon my discovery, but they have forced my hand, and I could not remain. Mine being an island country, all regions within fifty miles of the shore, I had no choice but to pray to God and entrust myself to a ship bound for the continent. I had arranged, though hasty and vague correspondence, lodging in Zurich, quite far from the oceans. Alas, it was not to be. 

In the crossing, there was a storm of the like no sailor had seen before. The sky was cloudless, deep and blue, but the sea, the sea rose and fell with such uncanny and supernatural fury, that several sailors dropped to their knees to beg mercy from the Lord. The first mate disappeared, and we lost seven sailors. The rest of the crew all edges that they were washed overboard, albeit, in waves and circumstances which could not possibly overpower such men. 

Now, we are crippled. Mastless, and without a rudder, there is nothing to do but write and wait, and the sea stirs yet. 

I am a photographer, or rather, I consider myself a photographic engineer. My expertise, the culmination of my career, was the development of specially designed cameras which could, through an elaborate engine of mirrors and switches, capture images in a highly rapid sequence. I have made several studies of the motion of the flapping of the wings of a hummingbird, for instance, and photographed events which are much to rapid for the human eye to comprehend. The feat is not difficult to achieve. Optical science has determined the human eye can comprehend an image which lasts longer than 1/15 of a second. I have pushed my camera to capture images separated by a mere 1/100 of a second!

Word spread of my achievement, and I was shortly contacted by a group of naturalists to photograph an usual phenomenon on the isolated shoreline west of the capital. That was three weeks ago. 

The beach was nothing out of the ordinary, high white cliffs surrounding a pebble beach where huge walrus were known to sunbathe. These walruses, I learned, had an unusual behavior of leaping to the sea, an event I secreted myself away in nearby bushes to observe. I spent several rather boring hours until I saw what the naturalist had spoken of. One of the largest bullwalruses of the several dozen lounging on the beach suddenly lifted itself in a very erect manner, and turned quite rapidly and unnaturally. This all occur ed very quickly, and the surrounding animals because rather startled and spooked, barking loudly. Then the bull walrus abruptly leaped into the sea. This was no ordinary leap. From a stationary pose, this massive animal gave a great shudder and shot out, perhaps fifteen feet, to fall into the water. It was so astounding a feat, I dropped my small traveling camera. I failed to notice, at the time, the unusual churning of the water by that particular spot of beach.

I returned the following day with my full rapid-capture camera, and set up the device, rigged to a shutter and with enough film to capture the entire sequence. The event repeated itself- this time with different walrus, one slightly smaller than the one I had observed the day before. After the spectacle, I packed my equipment and returned to the studio immediately, eager to develop the film.

Methodically, I carefully separated the film, cutting the moments before and after, and concentrating only on the second that the leap took place. Trimming, developing, treating with the various chemicals and washes of my trade. Finally, satisfied that my work was up to the standards of Science, I trained my ocular enlarger on the first frame, and shouted in shock and alarm, instinctively flinging myself away from the cursed prints. 

There was something there on that beach. In front of me. An indescribable, alien horror. There are no words to describe such a thing in a language which has never guessed at the obscene and insane dimensions from which this hellish thing must have slithered. It was horribly strangling the walrus with something not quite tentacles, and not unlike mucous white rope. What had been mistaken as leap, as it became horrifyingly clear, was actually the monstrosity yanking the walrus off the beach into a gaping maw of putrescence, fetid with hundereds of squirming little polyps so terrible I dared look no closer.

The worst was yet to come- in the last three frames. It clearly shewed three of them slithing onto the shore.

I have serveral conjectures as to why they are invisble to the human eye- perhaps, like certain newly discovered types of particles, they regualarly phase in and out of existance, and it only cosmic folly, or mercy, that they phase at a rate which is perfectly out of synchronization with our own, that they exist between the infantessimal moments which comprise the seconds, that they hide between the seconds of the day. In such a way, my camera could discern the unholy thing my eye could not.

But then, as the sun burns down upon my head, making my vision swim, perhaps it more to do with mercy after all. They say that when Columbus landed upon the west indies, that the natives could not actually see his ships, their being so simple that such an alien construction was simply uncomprehendable to the eye, rendering them invisible. 

The boat shakes again, and the small waves rocking the boat claim sailor after sailor. I shall not be long for this world, but as I curse my existance and my fate, harken to my final word: flee.

Sep 6, 2008

Birthday

Thursday was a really boring workday. The only thing special I did was have a coke with lunch (as I've given up sweets at work). The only person at work to wish me a happy birthday was the woman in charge of posting that months birthdays up at the kitchen. 

My real birthday started when I got home. Saori had left work early, and she bought me a bouquet of flowers, and prepared a bag of presents for me. We played wii for awhile, and then we dressed up and she drove us to Scottsdale to Trader Vic's restaurant.

There's something special about this Trader Vic's. Other Trader Vic's I've heard about just aren't on the level, and while they're fun, they're nothing that special. Maybe its because this one was here back when the Valley Ho was in its original heyday during the 50s. It could also be because the decor and design and theme fits perfectly with the Phoenix of the 1950's, in its own playful version of the Palm Springs Modern.

It was really quiet at the restaurant, only a few other tables occupied. I ordered a Trader's Sling, which was a really good drink, just the right amount of strength. We ordered Beef Cho Cho, and fried prawns for starters and I got the bacon wrapped scallops from the wood fired oven. They were delicious. 

I opened my presents at the table. For my birthday, Saori got us tickets for the Arizona Opera production of Verdi's Rigoletto. If that wasn't a big enough gift, she also gave me a Wii arcade shooting game. Including dinner, it was a huge amount of presents.
I'm 24 now, which feels a lot older than 23. 

Aug 31, 2008

Rio Rico

Friday night we had a party for Joyce, Saori's old roommate, who is going back to Taiwan. The next morning, we all went to Waffle House and there we decided to go with Sal and Joyce to visit Rio Rico again.

So, we packed up and headed down south. It was a really nice drive, chasing the rain and following the rainbow. South of Tucson, the area has seen so much rain that it turned all the mountains unusually green. In Rio Rico, we were greeted by Sal's family, and we had great Tinga and hot tortillas for dinner.

After dinner, we played SuperScrabble, which is identical to regular scrabble except that it is almost 50% larger with quadruple score squares, and a lot more tiles. While the quadruple score tiles and increased number of triple score spaces are fun, it makes a somewhat tedious game SuperTedious, and we called it a game after a few hours.

Chilequiles for breakfast, and we spent the morning relaxing and reading and playing more games. We left around 2 for the titan missle museum. The museum was a nice place to revisit- Saori and Joyce both liked it, I got some good photos, and the tour guide had Saori sit in the command seat and turn the key which launched the nuclear missle. In the gift shop, she picked up a mug, and I picked up an old 1955 "emergency drinking water" can, with water still in it. They were stockpiled in fallout shelters, and I thought it was an interesting symbol of the times.

The drive back to Phoenix was uneventful, although there were a lot of police on the road.

Monsoon

Thursday night, we were hit by an amazing monsoon which knocked out our power until 5 am, splintered trees and uprooted an ancient pine tree which sent it blocking three lanes of traffic.

Arizona is lucky to have its monsoons. Tornadoes are insane vandals, burning a circuitous path of chaos, death, and destruction. Earthquakes are irritated shakes which unblinkingly flatten communities as a soccer ball will roll over a blade of grass. Tidal waves bring a slow horror and destruction, and linger over the land like a plague. Hurricanes last for days and wipe out cities like an alien warship. An Arizona monsoon is almost like a poem. Yes, they cause millions of dollars of destruction, but not on the same kind of scale of hurricane or other natural disasters.

You can watch it creep towards the city, massive, crackling with incessant lighting, even as the sun shines where you stand. The wind cools, becomes moist and you can smell the rain in the distance. Clouds build. The pyrotechnics start, lighting snaking across the sky and lighting up the blue gray clouds. There is no miserable pissant drizzling, or mists, or sprinkles here. The first drops that hit are massive, smacking into windshields and sidewalks. Then the downpour begins as though someone had upended a bucket of water. The wind picks up further, turning the torrential deluge sideways, thrashing the trees and slashing at the ground. Anyone outside becomes drenched within seconds. The wind and rain and lighting increases steadily, and holds. Rain beats on the windows, the wind pounds on the door, and your garbage cans go for a run. You find them later a few streets down. The trees and bushes thrash and writhe and finally the rain lets up. Ten minutes later. There is only a bit of lightning in the distance.

photos from Rio Rico

Aug 26, 2008

4 years of work

Here is the first draft of my architecture portfolio. Comments are very welcome. The images will flick through fairly quickly, but then its probably going to be read the same way by the first admissions officer who picks it up. Enjoy!

Aug 25, 2008

Vista del Luxury

Had a really busy weekend, beginning saturday with moving Tay into the Vista del Luxury apartments at ASU. He didn't bring that much stuff, but the real pains, the ones requiring Sally and Jonathan's van, was his huge TV and leather executive chair. Everything else could easily have fit in my Prius.

Anyway, I owed him the favor for helping me move before, and he's family so I was happy to do it. It was still miserably hot, and had to lug all his stuff in the heat past the huge swimming pool filled with young college students who were all splashing around in the shade of palm trees.

After returning the van to Mesa, I stopped by a GameStop and picked up a nintendo Wii and an extra game. These are really fun. We pretty much played all the rest of Saturday, and most of Sunday afternoon too with Sal. So today I have a few minor 'wiinjuries' but nothing too bad.

Photos from Tay's ASU student apartments and a different dorm downtown:

Aug 20, 2008

Poe vs Lovecraft

Watching the very eerie trailer for "Cthulu" the other day made me want to read Lovecraft. I've never read his work before, although I had a feeling I would really enjoy it. So I picked up "The Call of Cthulu and Other Weird Stories," and I've been going through those. Lovecraft came after Poe and Beirce, so his works are influenced by both authors.

The main thing I feel from Lovecraft's work is his technical expertise with the short story. Like an expert saucier, he knows exactly what words and more importantly, thier flavors, to use to achieve a definate mood. The way his stories jump around from more macabre to demonic to abstract, it seems as though he enjoys wearing different hats while he writes. Lovecraft imagines himself to be a madman when writing about deranged scientists, while Poe was a madman. That's the wonderful thing about Poe, when you read his work, you see the world through his eyes as bleak and nihilistic, and the truly dark things in life are what is found within. Lovecraft portrays a world which hides true evil at its core, where unmentionable darkness lurks within the walls.

Its that kind of suspense which makes Lovecraft really fun for me- its like he's peeling back the corners of the world and hinting at a parallel reality of dark mechanisms and powerful alien forces at play. Lovecraft writes about the monster under the bed, Poe writes about the monster under the covers. Lovecraft also loves his craft, he's a book man's book man. His characters come across and puzzle over other stories; his books are filled with other books, some real and others figments of his imagination. Poe's stories gain authenticity and depth from his own tragically warped mind, while Lovecraft goes in the opposite direction, inventing books and legends to support his stories.

Aug 10, 2008

Favorite Moments from Peru

As my mom is doing a wonderful job of narrating our trip to Peru so far, I will take the easy route and relate my most memorable moments, good and bad.

Feelings of dread in Atlanta, reading about all the cancelled and severely delayed flights, wondering if we were going to make it to Lima on time, and if Saori (on a separate flight) was going to make it too.

Overwhelming relief in Lima to find Saori at baggage claim just as planned.

The long nervous wait to talk to the baggage rep about Tay's lost bag.

Saori's and my first view of Lima, which is like many other Latin American capitals; crowded, dense, grimy, with bad traffic and gray skies, ringed for miles by impoverished slums.

Drinking coffee at the bus terminal, watching Lima go by outside, our first real rest since leaving home.

Frenzied excitement of boarding the bus for Cuzco, with people checking bags, security forces videotaping us as we got on, and of course, trying to verify in Spanish that we were, in fact, on the bus to Cuzco and not, say Bogota.

I'm glad we took the bus from Lima to Cuzco. We both were looking for a little adventure beyond the pale of what mom and tay would accept as reasonable (although they were surprisingly game for other local bus adventures later), and becasuse we wanted to see more of Peru with our time there. We effectively lost a day, but as I heard later, mom and Tay spent thier time sleeping and acclimating to the altitude while they waited for us. The ride of 20 hours went surprisingly quickly. They served two hot meals, our seats reclined with leg supports, and they showed a constant stream of bad American movies from drop down screens.

As we left Lima behind, pushing through thinning favelas, we entered the arid wastelands south of the city and extending for hundreds of miles south into Chile. This area is the driest place on earth, despite being by the ocean. I've seen the Empty Quarter of the Arabian desert, which, at least had an occational stunted weed, or camel herd in the valleys between the dunes. The landscape we drove through was as barren as the moon. Rocky dunes which flattened and ran into the pounding sea. We passed occational shacks and small seemingly abandoned seafront villages, and also a heavily defended LNG operation. After a few hours of following that martian coast, we headed inland, towards the mountains, but we still had another desert to cross.

As the sun began to set, we crossed the Atacama desert, more picturesque, but equally devoid of life, I think I saw part of a Nasca line out there. After dark, we both fell asleep. When we awoke, we were in the mountains. Outside the windows was pitch black. The only way we could tell was the feeling of going steadily upwards, coupled with the regular tight turns that signify switchbacks. Reading the guidebook in the bus, they strongly recommended against night busses in the mountains because sometimes drunk bus drivers are a problem, the roads are not lighted, there are lots and lots of hairpin turns, and in the Andes, its a long way to the bottom. The only indication of how high we were was the headlights, far below of other trucks and busses taking the same switchbacks. I was not too concerned as the bus we were taking was one of the biggest bus line companies in Peru with a modern fleet tracked by GPS, and it was too dark outside to see the danger.

We crossed the ridge of the Andes at dawn, the morning rays making the clouds glow bright orange around us. My hands were tingling like they'd fallen asleep.

In Cuzco, relief at seeing Tay's head popped out of the window and our first taste of coca tea as we visited with the Ochoa family, the owners of the hostel.

Our first visit to the Plaza de Armas, the main square, and sitting down at one of the balconies overlooking the square for more coca tea.

Aug 1, 2008

home. Safe. with my luggage. still falta una chica... but she should be landing shortly. And I have 600+ photos. Lots to sort through. Plus I look like I HIKED the inka trail.

Jul 26, 2008

seguro

Hola muchachos,
We are all safe in Cuzco Peru right now. I´m in a small internet booth off of the main square. Our hostel is really nice, and the food here is great. Cuzco is kind of a cross between SanteFe and Florence. We just got tickets to Machu Pichu at the train station and we´ll be heading out there monday.
Ciao!

Jun 29, 2008

Back to the Tucson

Friday afternoon after lunch with Saorichan, I drove down to Tucson to see Kevin off. Kevin was recently accepted to a graduate program in Microbiology at UC Davis, and he was leaving Saturday, so I after I arrived, I spent the afternoon helping load up a U haul with his dad. Cassie was also moving out, into an apartment closer to the campus with two other roommates. And a dog, seven puppies, and her cat. One of her roommates is a foster parent for the puppies for a rescue mission, so the puppies will all hopefully get adopted away before too long. The smell was really intense.
Friday night, Kevin's dad treated us to a pretty good Italian restaurant, Elle Wine Country. The first time I heard it, I was really doubtful about the place because I heard it as "El Wine Country" which would be like "Pho Pizza" or "Taco Yurt." Actually, it was very good food, decent calimari and a very good gnocci with smoked salmon and roma tomatoes. For dessert, we went to a gelato place where I had a small but rich cup of straberry champaigne gelato.

In the morning, we all went to a local coffee place for a lengthy coffee break before I headed back to phoenix. Gas prices were down, and so I filled up my Prius with $3.85 gas. The drive down and back, I ended up averaging 49 miles to the gallon, typically cruising along at 75 mph. I'm not sure I totally trust the Prius mpg meter as it doesn't seem to add up. It gives me my average as 48 miles to the gallon, and I have an 11 gallon tank. At that rate, I should be getting 528 miles per tank. What I actually get is closer to 400 miles, but for 11 gallons of gas, I'm not complaining. The digital tank meter also seems to be off. It shows 11 bars as a full tank, which one would think equals 1 gal per bar. However, the first bar didn't drop until I'd traveled about 120 miles, and I know I wasn't getting 120 miles to the gallon. Who knows.

Lots of travel in my future. Wednesday, Saori and I are flying out to Oklahoma to visit my grandparents for the 4th of the July, and then at the end of July me, mom, tay, and Soari and all going to Peru for a week and a half. Last week, mom called me up and asked me if I wanted to go to Maccu Picchu in 4 weeks. I had to clear it with my boss at work, but its one of those things you just have to do. As mom likes to put it, if you wait to travel until its convienent or cheap, you'll never travel.

Jun 25, 2008

New Photos on Flickr


http://flickr.com/photos/desertcrow/?saved=1

Thinking about dad

A few weekends ago, dad came out to visit me and Tay for a few days. We actually got to spend the weekend together, although dad's jet lag did tend to knock him out a bit in the afternoon. Friday, we went to go see Speed Racer at the IMAX and then the following evening we saw The Hulk with Saori at the Cine Capri. Afterwards, we grabbed a bite of Sushi at a Crazy Fish, a sushi bar that was pretty deserted at that time of night. It was cool though, we got a table in the back, it was quiet, and we got some pretty good sushi. Dad kept hounding us for decent Mexican food, so he went to La Parilla Suiza when he got the chance.
Tuesday, after work, I drove down to Tempe and we grabbed a beer at FourPeaks. Good beer, my favorite watering hole, but really crowded and noisy with the basketball playoffs. We split an order of beer fries which whetted our appetites, so we drove down to Joe's Real BBQ in Gilbert. Dad picked up a new gps gadget from BestBuy while he was here- its pretty cool. Loaded up with the US maps, it knew where we were and (mostly) how to get where we were going.
After dinner he dropped me off back where my Prius was parked in front of Four Peaks, and we said our goodbyes. It will be awhile before I see him again at Christmastime. Anyway, he was off for a few days of training in New York before continuing on his work and travels.

When I turned sixteen, instead of buying me a used car (I was definately not into driving at the time), he took me to a really good audio store in Scottsdale, and bought me a set of high-end speakers and a Yamaha receiver. When we got home, he passed on his Denon CD-player which he picked up before I was born. That CD player is the best-enduring peice of high technology I've ever seen. The only thing it doesn't do is play MP3s, which were about 15 years after its time. So, instead of wheels, I got music. Loud, rich, music. This set up has been the centerpeice of my living spaces ever since, and I use it nearly every day.

Jun 12, 2008

Subcommittee Chair

The architecture company I work for is turning 60 next march, so it was a general consensus that a year long series of events should take place to commemorate it. There's not a ton of excitement surrounding the events, it seems to be proceeding more like a campaign to raise recycling awareness: its something staff in general agree should be done, but no one's jumping up and down. Anyway, I attend the biweekly Marketing Committee meetings, where we brainstorm a bunch of ideas to market the company, and then submit a formal report to one of the principals who probably passes the recommendations on to the officers. Or he uses it to clean up spilled coffee. I see it as kind of moot anyway since probably 5% or fewer of the projects we get we get through word of mouth or advertising. However, I usually attend anyway since (1) there's usually some good info on how the industry works (2) its an hour away from my desk, and (3) there's typically donuts involved. It was natural, then, that this marketing committee would temporarily become the 60th anniversary planning committee.

At the first official meeting of this committee, subcommittee chairs were offered to any sucker who would take them. When the chair for the subcommittee to display old work came up, I stepped up to the plate. At any rate, it seemed a lot easier than chairing the banquet dinner subcommittee. Actually, I see it as a great chance to explore the company's architectural history, as, truth be told, I really prefer the older more modernist works. A colleague at the table also immediately jumped on board, so now we are a subcommittee of two.

Jun 7, 2008

weekly news highlights

Well, last weekend, Saori, I, Sal, and Joyce drove down to Rio Rico again to enjoy the weekend. Drove down friday night after grabbing a bite of Vietnamese, and got into Rio Rico around 10. It's almost 20 degrees cooler down there, believe it or not, so it is a nice bit of an escape for all of us. This trip, we spent Saturday mostly driving around and visiting old mining encampments in the hills close to the border, poking around old abandoned structures, and taking pictures. There's a small ghost town called Lochiel, literally on the border. Used to be an old international border, but its all fence now. Two countries in one neighborhood. One house is Mexican, the other, American, not 20' away, separated by just a steel car barrier and some fencing. I was surprised by how beautiful it was, rolling hills covered with tall grass, and patches of trees with old windmills and cattle. And in the distance, the INS blimp which tracks people on foot trying to cross the valley.

It's been a busier week at work, we ran into some fire protection issues when we realized that the town in which we were building had ammendments that halved the allowable distance that a fire hose could be used, since apparently their fire fighters can't lug hoses over 100' long up stairs. That caused us no small consternation considering the fact the city refused to give us an exemption or appeal, and that it appeared that we would have to introduce not one but two more stairs, at added expense and would also seriously undermine the floorplans we had laid out. However, we are very close now to a good solution.

This morning I went out to a job site where my cubicle neighbor designed an addition for a public high school. The addition was about six or seven new large classrooms, plus a set of bathrooms. School design is facinating, since the design is so severely constrained by the two factors of cost and durability/vandalism resistance. My coworker is maybe one to two years more experienced than I am now, and he basically worked the entire project from design to construction administration. The result is great, spaces filled with light and color while still constrained to the inherent guidelines of the project and district. I am actually very jealous, not only in his ability as an architect, but his assertiveness to essentially take command of the project through all phases, with no prior buildings to his name, and also the autonomy he was given in the design. I put some photos up on my flickr site.

The other thing I like about Flickr is its geotagging ability, so if you visit my Flickr page, you can click on my map and find an interactive map of where I'm shooting these photos.

Que mas? Today I visited Tay and mom. We hit Havana Cafe for tapas around 2, and then played some games at home before tay went off to grab a nap before work tongiht. Night shift hours may agree with Tay, but I am not a night owl by any stretch of the word.

Jun 5, 2008

New Photo website

I've decided to switch over to Flickr for my photo hosting, since they run a much cleaner, easier operation. The downside, of course, is that they don't seem to allow me to run slideshows in my blog or add posted items to Facebook. But thats ok. Check out my photos now and in the future at http://www.flickr.com/photos/desertcrow/

May 26, 2008

Crown King



half-day road trip

After a lazy morning, Saori and I struck out on a road trip around 1 PM. Google Earth had revealed a small town up in the forest topped peaks northwest of Phoenix, and by measuring the distance, I established it was less than 90 miles away from the center of Phoenix. Pine forests, closer than Prescott. So we headed out of town on I-17, took the Crown King exit near Bloody Basin Road, and immediately hit a dirt road. According to the directions, Crown King was 26 miles down this road. What the heck, we were here, the road was not that bad, so we took it. Slow driving, less than 20 miles an hour on an "improved" road, (improved insofar as there were no major boulders in the middle) through rolling desert scrub. It was actually kind of peaceful. Something about a landscape with no asphalt or concrete.

We came first to the town of Cleator, which incidentally is for sale, although it had a great clapboard bar/general store we stopped at for a coke and some chips. The folks on the porch drinking beer and talking looked like they'd been out in this tiny desert town for a long long time. Weatherbeaten faces, long scraggly beards, giant faded hats, and the men were even worse. The barkeeps were friendly though. Didn't give us a hard time about using cards as stupidly, we'd neglected to bring any cash. It's amazing that even when the bathroom is crudely attached to the main building, and the main building is the largest structure in a hundred square miles of desert, they still take visa or mastercard.

Actually we liked Cleator more than Crown King, although it literally comes down to which one had a more personable general store.

We pressed on to Crown King, the road getting steeper, narrower, and more rocky as we went up. Every other vehicle on the road was either a truck or an SUV. I did see a Subaru sports wagon slink by, but it almost seemed embarrassed to be there. The Prius handled surprisingly well, and I wonder if mine might have been the first to make it to Crown King. It took better than an hour from the interstate to the town, and if we were to go again, we would go early in the morning and with a friend who had a high-clearance vehicle.

No mistake, the views were spectacular driving up to the top of the mountain, and each place we passed had its own picturesque quality. Crown King sits on a pine-covered mountain top. The weather was at least 20 degrees colder than Phoenix, and there were a lot of ATV riders out there too. They had a general store with an integrated US post office inside the store, a fire station, and a cafe/bar/hotel. That seemed to be about it for Crown King. I'm glad we went, but don't go expecting Las Vegas.

Driving down went a lot faster. We took an alternative route back to the interstate, which ran us through Bumblebee, a town with the same size as Crown King, all of 7 houses on the main road plus a school. We stopped for a bite to eat at a Denny's outside of Anthem, and finally skirted a major traffic jam coming into the city by way of Cave Creek road. All in all, a seven hour road trip that took us through three towns, and three types of landscapes.
It's been a busy last few days. Tuesday I attempted to help mom and Tay to get a new cat from the humane society, (catch the full scoop on mom's blog), and Wednesday Saori and I went to Awhatukee to see the kitten at home.

Friday night, Saori and I went over to mom's house and ate Mexican talapia with grandma Loretta and great aunt Francis. Afterwards we all played cards for about three hours, which was a lot of fun. Really good margaritas and guac.

Saturday morning we met up with the gang again at Aunt Chilada's Mexican Restaurant for lunch, and from there we went to see some movies at Arizona Mills. The older ladies saw "Baby Lady" the older woman chick flick, and we youngsters went to see "Prince Caspian," the latest over-CG-ified classic novel adaptation. It was exactly what I expected it to be, and I went in with low expectations. After watching the movie which was a big budget battle and fanfare extravaganza, we went out into the mall to find the older women.

I was overstimulated from the movie, and thrust into a crowded mall, which made me feel nauseating trapped and stressed out. I hate Arizona Mills Mall. The stores are generally good, the prices are very good for a mall, but the overall experience leaves me feeling violated. There are huge masses of people slowly ambling through the mall's corridors, where you are trapped in a huge loop. Crushed along by the flow, you are vomited upon by the blaring music from each store you pass, and from the obnoxious, loud music they blast everywhere else in the mall. Normal conversation becomes impossible. Your eyes are grabbed, jarred, and yanked around in your head from flashing lights, garish colors and giant adverting signs and logos everywhere you look so there is no visual respite either. Arizona Mills is a thug assaulting all the senses.

We stopped by the Tempe Borders and I got an older Haruki Murakami novel, Dance Dance Dance, which is pretty good so far. We also swung by Zia's and the Japanese convienence store. Later saturday night, we watched a really good movie Sakuran about a Geisha, filmed and directed by a famous photographer. It was, as expected, a really visually compelling film.

Today I picked up coffee and donuts around 9 for a healthful and early start to our day. We relaxed at home for the rest of the morning until I went to go meet Chase and his family for lunch. That was good, and I took Chase back to the apartment where we picked up Saori and headed out to Wildlife World Park out in Glendale.

C- what do you do on a typical day?
A- well, today we were thinking about going to the zoo...
C- lets go to the zoo.
A- sounds good.

But first we stopped at Pink Spot Ice Cream on Thomas, a relatively new place, but one that offers Lapperts Ice Cream, which is pretty hard to beat. They even had Kauaii Pie, which is one my favorite flavors of ice cream. We took the I-10 to the loop 303, which is so far outside of town it's a two lane road with stop signs. We got to Wildlife World Zoo an hour before it closed for the day, so we decided to save the $18 admission cost and drive to the White Tanks.

It's strange out there. Raw desert filled with Saguaro cacti, interrupted with cheap Scottsdale Suburb photocopies. A two lane road through the desert suddenly becomes six lines wide with huge sidewalks and a bike lane, flanked on both sides by massively deep subdivisions of cookie cutter houses and huge American flags. This residential absurdity cointinues for a stretch of perhaps half a mile and just as suddenly reverts back to the two lane desert road on its way to the mountains.

I see suburbia filled with endless fields of identical beige houses, and I feel like the architectural profession has failed. Crude stucco and wood boxes with cheap tile roofs cost nothing and can be built in a day- but I can't hate them more because most Americans seem to like them. A huge segment of the population, the middle to upper class, see it as an Ideal, the huge house, the huge car, the bbq and pool out back, it has become the accepted symbol of arrival. Architecture is about the enrichment of the human experience through the definition of spaces. A typical suburban house out here is mass produced and made as cheap as physically and legally possible. These houses are Styrofoam clamshells, which degrades the families living in them to standardized McDonalds hamburgers. It's not about money. A well-designed house can be built for the same cost as a standardized one, especially if you take out the faked chimneys, redundant decorative columns, fake rock cladding, etc. The architecture industry has failed because people have come to see the developer stick and stucco "tuscan" ranch as the best if not only course to take. After Levittown, architects, instead of remaining in their white towers of abstraction and academia, should have said "how can we use this 'subdivision' and 'prefabrication' methods to make better houses which can be designed to suit each family?"

Anyway, white tanks was fun. Lots of photography at the ragged end of Phoenix. Ate Pho Bang for dinner, and dropped Chase off back at his grandma's house in Scottsdale.

new photos with a new camera



new camera shots

May 18, 2008

Sunday





Sunday morning at Sal's house, everyone got up around 9 and we started preparations for breakfast, Sal's mom had to run and pick up some more guests, so Saori and Joyce ended up frying the huge batch of French Toast. There were about 20 people who showed up for breakfast, and Saori, Joyce, Sal and I sat at the kitchen table and enjoyed a great breakfast of OJ, French toast, and fresh sliced fruit.

After breakfast and the group had dispersed some, the four of us plus Sal's younger brother went out hiking. It was about a two hour hike, up into the hills near Sal's home and back down through a small narrow canyon where we spotted some cows, and some javelina. It was very warm and by the time we were done we were all covered by a layer of salt and dust.

Back at Sal's we sat down for a great lunch of sal picone and tinga on tortillas. Tinga is a kind of sauteed shredded pork, marinated and soaked in citrus and spices. It was the best lunch I've had in a long time, and I said so. Saori was helping herself to more in the kitchen at the time and when she came back to the table, she also said that it was the best lunch she'd had in a long time.

After lunch we played cards for about an hour before we had to leave. It was sad to go, since it was just such a relaxing mellow atmosphere; I couldn't see myself going to work the next day, it just didn't follow. We left Rio Rico around 4:30, drove straight through Tucson, and only stopped off at the Picacho Peak DQ for blizzards. We finally got home around 8, after fighting bad non-construction traffic outside of town.

For some reason, the I-1o Northbound was reduced to one lane on the shoulder of the road, closed for over 2 miles. The entire length of the closure, there were no workers, no heavy trucks, no damage to the road itself, no construction, or anything that would necessitate the need to block all traffic. I would have assumed that perhaps the striping needed time to dry had it not been for several police cars and street sweepers driving around on it.

I hate being needlessly inconvenienced, like anyone, but my disgust and contempt for Arizona road construction companies has no limit. I cannot tell you the number of times that I have seen road crews block multiple lanes of traffic with traffic cones- and nothing else. No workers, no work, and the cones go away after about 50 yards. In the meanwhile, three lanes of traffic comes to a screeching halt, accidents occur, and Arizona drivers being what we are, have as much driving savvy as a tuna.

Overall, though, it was a great weekend, and Saori and I have decided to swing back to Nogales some weekend soon, since she's never been to Mexico before.

May 13, 2008

Saturday

After a mostly restful night, I got up early and walked outside to give dad a call, since I hadn't talked to him in a long time. It was a really nice call, I sat outside on the grass in the sunny, cool morning, and after awhile, Saori came out to join me too.

We woke up Cassie and Kevin and all trooped over to Bobo's restaurant, which was even more of a tiny dive than Zarchary's. It was really old, with a breakfast counter in the middle of the room and the place crammed full of people. We actually had about a ten minute wait for a table, how crowded it was. I got a "short stack" of pancakes, and ate half of them. The pancakes were literally a 12"x8" rectangle, each one a half inch thick. Really delicious, with hot coffee.

We started talking about strange happenings that always occur whenever I go visit Tucson. One visit, we ran into a restaurant where people kept breaking out into operatic arias, for example. We were discussing the lack of an anomaly on this trip when the restaurant was pepper-sprayed. There was a slow wave of coughing and sneezing that began by the door, and migrated across the restaurant, as people began to get up and leave. My nose was a little clogged, but it hit us too, I could taste the cayanne in the back of my throat. But we recovered quickly, and continued on with our breakfast.

We split from Tucson around 11 and continued south to Rio Rico. In contrast to the flatlands between Phoenix and Tucson, the road to Rio Rico was filled with mesquite forests, rolling hills and canyons, and other interesting features. Rio Rico is a tiny town about 15 minutes north of Nogales, one high school, 80% Hispanic, and home to retirees, new families to the US, border guard workers, and produce repackers. Off the freeway, its a town that's really far removed from everything, which is really its charm. Old houses, sleepy country lifestyles, one small grocery store which is the main event in town.

Our destination was a brilliantly colored blue and yellow house, the residence of the Patinos, Sal's family. It was everything that a north of the border house could be, shady porches, bold sunny colors, and potted plants and flowers everywhere. Sal and Joyce met us outside and walked us through. The house was filled with old Mexican furniture mixed with old modern furniture, woodcuts and watercolors on the walls, and every room painted in bright yellow, blue, or red. The colored walls were especially beautiful with the many skylights, which bounced the colored light off the walls. We were introduced to the many extended family members, rested for awhile, and then took off on a guided tour of Rio Rico.

We drove through winding mountain residential roads, visited historic Rio Rico high school, and even drove by the infamous "Garrett's IGA Grocery" before heading south to the border. Saori has never seen Mexico before, so it was really interesting for her. For me too, as we cruised a few streets of Nogales, then climbed a beautiful hill full of decaying adobe and stone mansions. Its amazing to see the favelas of Nogales across the border, right up to the wall of America. Through the buildings, we could see the whole town in the distance.

By the time we got back to Rio Rico, the rest of the party had arrived. It was nice, we wandered around, introduced ourselves to people, drank mexican beer and ate really amazing salsas and party foods prepared by Sal's dad's side of the family. The party lasted long into the night, and the end of the party found us chatting in spanish (or really, mostly listening) to Sal's aunts and Uncles as they told stories.

Rio Rico must be approached for what it is: an escape, an open-range slowdown and that's really what Saori and I enjoyed the most about it. After all the partygoers left, we sat down and played cards until we started to fall asleep, and then headed off to bed.

May 12, 2008

Friday


It's a very surreal moment. I attended a building information modeling conference with an emphasis on LEED applications, and not once did I feel like I was getting old. I guess not feeling it is a sign of arrival. I was probably one of the youngest people there, but at no time did I ever feel awkward or out of place (other than the usual trade conference awkwardness). We signed in and got our little tote bags, tee shirt, pen, and bouncy-foam globe ball, everything with The Cad Store's logo emblazed on it. Couldn't complain about the food though, fresh coffee, bagels, orange juice, plus lunch was catered BBQ.

The conference actually had some really interesting information, although a lot of it was "why we green" and the second half had a lot of really redundant stuff and showcasing of Revit because the event organizers and lecturers were, incidently, CAD product sales reps. Overall, a good way to spend a day on a project which has dropped down to a crawl pace.

Friday, Saori and I both took off the day to drive to Tucson. In the morning, I changed the oil in the Prius, and Saori went to the UPS store to attempt to pick up a package they were supposedly holding for her. They lied. They put it back on the truck after the second delivery, so even though she made the lady at the customer service counter change the destination, and then called the dispatcher location to make them repeat to her the new destination for the package, of course, they tried to deliver it to the apartment again while we were gone. Additionally, UPS informed her that she was supposed to come to pick it up from the UPS distribution facility instead of delivering it to the second address.

I don't know if its just the Arizona UPS who are all completely incompetent, or if there were just an unlucky series of really stupid, lazy, and whiny employees. I typically prefer DHL or FedEx anyway, but Saori didn't really have a choice from her shipper.

We had a delicious and greasy lunch at Lucky Burger, a tiny burger dive near downtown, and then we took of for Tucson around noon. The drive to Tucson between Phoenix has to be one of the most god-forsaken stretches of wasteland in the entire southwest. At least it goes by in under two hours. Tucson currenly has half of its exits closed along the freeway for construction, so we sat in traffic for a bit until Saori navigated us out to Cassie and Kevin's place. We stopped by a supermarket and picked up balloons and flowers for Cassie's gradution, and Kevin's acceptance to UCDavis grad school.

They keep a little engine of destruction, about a year old, black, white, and compeletely unstoppable feline, extremely rambunctious and super-fast. They call him "Charlie" for the Chaplin-esque little black patch under his pink nose. They're looking for a new home for him, as they're leaving town in a few months for Cali.

We all drove down to the university and hit one of the local coffeeshops. There are immediate and apparent differences between ASU and UofA, all of which become clear entering places near campus. If ASU wishes it was cosmopolitan, UofA wishes it were bohemian. Which is not entirely a bad thing as it leads to great coffeeshops and hole-in-the wall open bar restaurants with great food.

At the UofA memorial union, we attended a small gallery opening of one of our friends from high school, Laura Atchinson. She had filled the space with drawings and paintings inspired from her travels around Europe and New York. There were a few pieces that I really liked, and most of her work I thought was better than the typical First Friday offering. She also baked cookies for the event, which was cool. Actually, there were quite a few of my old schoolmates who showed up whom I'd not seen in years, so it was interesting to catch up with them a little bit and find out how their lives were going.

Someone on Facebook raised the question of a 5 year reunion of our graduating class from Desert Mountain, but other friends of mine raised the point that the people that we really care about and are interested in, we stayed in contact with. There will be no 5 year reunion, guaranteed, because the class of 2003 from Desert Mountain just never shared that much goodwill with each other.

After the show, we walked over to Zachary's Pizza, a surprisingly extensive restaurant and bar which looks a lot smaller from the outside. We split a pitcher of beer and ordered a deep dish pizza of which I ate a slice and was done for the night. By deep, I mean this thing was 2 inches or a hair shy, and so big that the server had to put it on a different TABLE. So we all stuffed ourselves.

Saori and I crashed on the couch once we got back to Cassie's apartment and we quickly passed out, despite being woken up a few times from first the heat, then the cat, and finally the cold of the morning.

May 4, 2008

Photos from home




Alec relaxes on the couch.


Saori's strange "ice robots" designer toys.

Calisthenics with Sal


Tabletop workstation

Apr 22, 2008

White water and red legs


We got up at 7 and hit the dusty trail out of Globe. We drove north on a long and winding road up onto a plateau and down into the river valley. The river was less than 40 miles outside of Globe, but it still took us about an hour to get there. I thought that my Prius would have been the most impractical car there, but there were also two corvettes also parked at the end of the dirt road. The staff sorted us out, and outfitted us with splash jackets, a helmet, a life vest, and a paddle.



The staff were the same kind of people as ski instructors, real laid-back, outdoorsy people, typically younger, with really leathery skin, some dreadlocks, a scruffy beard, and really faded clothes. They do the jobs they do because its a lifestyle they love. The people that run the tour actually camp a little downstream, and live there for three months at a time, only going to town one day a week if that. The day is filled with rafting and guiding tourists, and they probably have great parties at night with all the other companies guides also camped out there on the riverbank. Probably not much of a future, but its really living for the day. The woman who guided our raft actually migrates between a few states to guide on different rivers, and occationally works on the rivers in south America.



Anyway, they put the four of us in one raft along with a cooler filled with lunch and a collapsable backboard, since we were going to float through a really remote wilderness area inaccessable to almost anything else, and they also threw in a satphone for extra safety.



We had a twenty minute introduction to rafting safety which mostly consisted of what to do when you or someone else falls overboard, and then we took our positions on the boat. I was excited and a bit nervous with the first rapid, but we blasted through it and it was really fun, a bit like a rollercoaster except you're actually there in the wild. We rafted through a few class three rapids, a lot of class two rapids, but mostly class one rapids, which is technically the same as a kiddie pool. We took a bathroom break at the guide's camp, and then rafted downstream until we stopped for lunch at a series of rock ledges, almost exactly at the point where the saguaro cacti begin appearing again.




Before we reached that point, we passed a small trickle of water coming off of a huge salt deposit which forms a small grotto. The guides informed us that this spot was where the Apache believe life began. Actually, the natives believe this river is sacred, and carefully control which parts of it can rafted in thier lands. This idea of the sacred river stuck with me and hit more strongly when we landed 26 miles downstream. The drive back was along a rough dirt track, which crossed streams, ran along ridges, and up and down hills, two hours of very rough driving across an extremely harsh landscape. I reflected on how the water effortly glided us through the barren, arid land, the sheer quantity of water in the river, the source of life in the desert, and I began to understand perhaps, why it was seen as sacred. The river was sacred to the guides as well, in a way, they respected it, and feared it, taking many safety precautions and not only for the sake of the paying passengers.



I thought about the river much farther downstream, this sacred thing, and it really seemed debased by the mass of floating partygoers going tubing, beer, piss, vomit, marshmallows, empty cans, all join the racous group and flow along that same river that Apaches revere and has taken many lives farther upstream.



We floated through some really spectacular wilderness, some of the hills we passed had the densest saguaro cacti growing I've ever seen. We floated through granite canyons, eroded into wild fluid shapes by the river. Overall, I enjoyed it as much for the landscape as for the rapids.



We hit less than ten really cool rapids, the ones that left you drenched and scrambling, most of the time, we were paddling. We had a really nasty headwind which would stop our raft dead in the water while the river flowed beneath us. In order to advance, we pretty much paddled 14 miles. The last stretch was the worst, with tons of wide open water and vast pools to cross. We were all exhausted from the paddling, and the guide actually hopped in the front seat to boost paddle us along. I steered the raft.



After we landed, they had cold Tecate for us, and some snacks. We all changed clothes and loaded up into the open truck, with the two rafts stacked above us. Due to the headwind, we were about an hour late, and the camp actually sent out a second truck to rescue us since there was no other way to communicate out there. The ride back was beautiful with the sun setting against the wilderness, and our truck charging over the peaks and valleys filled with trees and cacti. We were bounced all over the place in the back, with a fleece blanket pulled over the legs of us four in a row.



We got back to camp late and mom got us a photo that one of the staff took. I drove us back to Globe and we stopped for dinner at Dairy Queen. I was really badly sunburned on my legs and even on the backs of my hands. I was nauseus and shaking, and then I drove back to Phoenix. Almost. We were stuck for about 30 minutes in stopped traffic waiting for an accident to clear on the 60. I dropped taylor back off at his dorm, mom at her house, and we finally got back home around midnight. I layered on aloe gel all over my knees and calves and slept fitfully on my back.

Monday was hell.

Apr 21, 2008

A global tour

In order to celebrate mother's day, mom took me, Saori, and Tay whitewater rafting on the salt river. My previous experience with the salt river involved hot tubes, lots of college freshmen, and copious quantities of beer, so I was surprised to discover that before it becomes a floating house party, the Salt actually has some class 3 to class 4 rapids. This occurs way up, north of Globe, and deep in the heart of Apache lands. As the trip left the shore at 8:30 AM, several hours from Phoenix, I suggested we spend the saturday afternoon in Globe, so we would be fresh for the trip. I was curious about that part of Arizona, too since the 60 was the one road out of town I've never taken.

We left town after a leisurely morning, picking up mom first, then tay, and stopping for some Indian food on the way out. We grabbed some road supplies at Gold Canyon, and passed on into the wilderness.

I was impressed with the drive. It was as scenic, but not as hilly as the beeline out to Payson, and we very quickly passed through Superior, which looked like a cool little mining town. After less than two hours we arrived in Globe at the Days Inn where we got two rooms, one with a view of the pool, and one with a view of the hill directly behind the parking lot. My car actually got the best view, overlooking the town from the rise the hotel was situated on. Our check in girl was very confident on her views of the rafting companies. She thought Mild to Wild was fine, almost as good as the one she liked better, and that Chacos Mexican restaurant was much better than Irene's Mexican restaurant.

After we dropped our stuff off, we drove to the historic downtown of Globe, which was less than a quater mile long, now mostly bars, antique stores, secondhand clothes, and Tae-Kwon-Do studios. This old mining town was a dangerous place. We stopped for coffee at a small coffeeshop, which seemed to be filled with late teens and beatniks who were too cool for the sellout downtown phoenix art scene. It was a really nice place, very picturesque, and the blackboard announced happenings like the Globe Poetry Forum.

The town of Miami was a lot more happening. The downtown looked older and poorer, but there was a vitatlity there that comes from a more diverse use, definately helped by the local "boomtown" festival occupying the main street that weekend. A dry wash ran through the entire downtown, crossed by arched concrete bridges, which looked very Venetian. It was bizzare but a nice contrast. I'm still not sure what the festival was for, although the display of old gasoline engines turning wheels probably relates to it. Mom bought us all funnelcake which immediately sank to the bottom of our stomachs like the Titannic and slowly rusted. We wandered through an independant art gallery, with artworks which looked just like the art at first fridays, although we all picked up cheap woven trinkets from Mexico.

We went back to the hotel and played cards for an hour or so before heading off to a Mexican restaurant which was not terrible, but really made you wonder how bad the other place was. We parted ways after getting back to the hotel, planning on meeting at the car in the morning.

Apr 18, 2008

Laptop

I got my new laptop this week. It came into work monday, after I tracked every few hours from production to shipping over the week. After my previous laptop, a 14", I was a little worried that my new laptop at 15.4" would be really big and cumbersome. I was impressed. Its a little thicker than my last laptop, but the depth is very manageable, and the width is really not bad either. Reasonably light, about the same as my previous machine.



My old laptop was a graduation gift, a dell inspirion with upgraded graphics, software, etc, really a top of the line machine. It lasted 4 years handily with very few problems: I had to replace a keyboard after spilling lemonade in it, and the disc drive pod had to be replaced. After awhile, the power system began to get worn out, and the machine slowly taught me how to turn it on, making it more difficult and complex with each passing month. At first, it was that I had to hold it at a certain angle to turn it on, then I had to phyiscally jog the machine to catch. At the end, I became very proficiant at flexing the casing in just a certain way to get some lights and THEN striking the secret spot. Finally, the touchpad became screwy and the pointer would fly around the screen clicking randomly. It was time to get a new laptop, especially since it would not be making the ardorous journey through graduate school.



I was sufficantly impressed with Dell to get another one, a Dell Precision M4300, a fairly new series to the Dell line for businesess. Actually this one really caught my eye as the series is specifically marketed to professionals who use especially demanding programs like CAD, 3D modeling, and graphics-intensive work. I wanted a powerhouse, and with my tax rebate, I got one. This machine is really fast, less than a minute to start surfing the net from pushing the on button. With the draft-N wireless card, I'm flying on the net. It's really exciting. I even went out and got a new backpack to carry it around last night.



Work goes on as usual. Some days faster, some days slower. The project I'm working on finally got a sign-off from the client regarding the program of spaces, so now I'm back on the main line of work, picking up redlines and updating our revit model from CAD. (Picking up redlines- the way most firms work is that workers draft a drawing, then they print it out and give it a supervisor who checks over the work, marking it up with a red pencil or pen, and hand it back to the drafters. They "pick up" the redlines, correcting the drawing.)



There has been a lot of shifting around the office lately. When I first started working, the first floor had about six people, younger, and more design oriented, while the upstairs had all the drawing production, principals, older drafters, code people, etc. Now its all mixed up, and there's about a dozen people downstairs now.



Today was a busy day. Half day at work, filled the car up with Sam's Club gas, ran to the bank, took Suki to the vet for a follow up checkup (vet said she was fine, not showing any clinical signs of infection), and played Kingdom Hearts for a few hours on PS2. After our old controller died a few weeks ago, we picked up a wireless controller made by Nerf. Its actually pretty cool since the body is made of the nerf football stuff. Light, resiliant foam, with the controls built in. Designed to be dropped, tossed between players, etc. and cheaper than the Sony.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...