Back from the Mountains

Published at 10:36 on 31 July 2015

Finally went camping at Deer Park after wanting to for over 20 years. Granted, many of those years I wasn’t much into camping in general and just kept procrastinating on it, by choice. And for a good chunk of the other ones, I was in either California or Oregon.

But for the past few years, I have been in this area, but I just haven’t had the time. There’s no reservations for the Deer Park campground, which means that a quick weekend getaway is impossible: if you attempt one, you’ll find that every spot is already occupied for the weekend by people who took a day or two off to get there early and secure their spot.

So it was a natural idea of someplace to go now that recent circumstances mean I might as well make my getaways on weekdays, when it’s less crowded.

It’s a beautiful spot, and I plan on returning, but it’s not quite as idyllic as I imagined, because even on random weeknights the campground completely fills up, so you don’t get the privacy you would at some spot with lighter use.

El Niño is Coming

Published at 07:41 on 27 July 2015

That much seems sure.

Yes, that’s what the experts said last year, too. But not really: If you dug into the details, last summer there were signs of a possible El Niño, but many of them were muted and wavered. It was a “this is probably going to happen but we’re not completely sure” type event.

This year, the signals are strong, and are consistently getting stronger over time. That means something is almost certainly up. The question this year is not whether the coming winter will be an El Niño winter, but what sort of El Niño winter it will be.

Many in journalism are playing up the angle on how strong the signs are. The rub is that super-strong El Niño events are super-rare. The 1998 event was the strongest in history. So the chance of the coming winter being as strong or stronger, while it exists and is actually plausible given the evidence, is still a pretty remote chance.

Odds simply don’t favor it; they favor something weaker. So far, the signals have been growing and growing over recent months. But there’s nothing to say they won’t stop growing, and start wavering. Mind you, everything will still be squarely in El Niño territory if that happens, just not a super-strong event. More of a garden-variety one.

What’s up for us in the Pacific Northwest? If you go here, you’ll see that the overall correlations are not as profound here as there are in California. Temperatures have very little signal, and precipitation seems to end up slightly drier. If (and note the if) it’s a super-strong event, as it may turn out to be, then temperatures end up distinctly warmer than normal and it ends up slightly wetter than normal.

That’s bad news for snowpack in our mountains, particularly after last winter being so terrible. But odds are it will be less terrible than last winter, which was so bad that even most El Niño winters had far better snowpack.

What’s interesting (in the overall situation) is the temperature disconnect between coastal and inland areas of the Northwest. (Inland areas end up distinctly warmer, but there’s little or no overall temperature signal on the coast.)

That’s explainable by there being far fewer arctic air outbreaks in El Niño winters. (In fact, the warmer winters in the while US from the Midwest east are.) It’s rare for such outbreaks to make it past the Cascades, so the loss of one such event (if an arctic front makes it across the mountains, it’s rare for it to happen more than once in a given winter) doesn’t affect temperatures here on the west side much. By contrast, arctic outbreaks are a typical winter feature east of the Cascades, and in particular east of the Rockies, so the loss of a good fraction of those would be expected to have a major effect.

11 Shirts for $11

Published at 15:12 on 26 July 2015

Did a little ritual today: went through all my clothing and rooted out all the swag with my old employer’s name or logo on it (they were fond of issuing such things, particularly T-shirts). I made two exceptions: one older T-shirt, issued back in the era when the company was true to its stated values and a great place to be working for (and which had a retro 1980ish design I always really liked), and the hoodie that I was issued when I was first hired.

Goodwill Industries lets you assign your own value on their receipts. I chose $1/shirt, because they usually sell for at least that much in thrift stores.

I Expect Schadenfreude

Published at 18:53 on 25 July 2015

The code I was working on has its tricky aspects. Moreover, my departure has made an already short-staffed team even worse so. That means its maintenance will probably at least partially end up in the hands of those who consume its data.

Those are the same people who tended to have a lack of respect for me, so it’s reasonable to expect my (incomplete; I was asked to leave before I had finished comprehensively updating it) documentation and cautions will be ignored. And one of the modifications that software needs should prove very tricky (I know, I tried to make it).

So I expect things to blow up messily in the next month or two, as fools rush in where angels fear to tread. At that point, I might get called for a consulting gig, who knows. And who knows if I’ll accept it; that depends on many factors. The last time that happened, many years ago, when they first asked I simply needed a break from the place, and by the time they asked a second time I was working at another job and simply didn’t have the time.

It Crumbled

Published at 18:47 on 25 July 2015

It lasted another day. They told me to leave. More details later, possibly.

Looking back on the past 3¼ years, it’s been a time in my life, in many ways, that mirrors most of the 1990s, when I was working for the University of Washington. That job was in many ways unpleasant, but it did have the great boon of mostly varying somewhere between ⅔ and ¾ FTE, which kept me there for years despite all the dysfunctional aspects of that job.

It was great to have one or two extra days per week off, particularly for outdoor activities. Things are much less crowded in the mountains on the weekdays. Plus there was the stability of being in the same place for a number of years. I think that latter aspect has been a big part of the same feeling now; this is the longest I’ve been with one employer since then.

My goal was to stay for five years before moving on (which I probably would have; I didn’t want this job to become a rut like that UW job did). But it was not to be: not only did the company change from what it had been, the job did, too. It was evolving into more and more of a systems administration position, something I simply loathe. So it was not to be.

It would be great if I could get back to working less than full time again. Even half-time would work, given that there’s now Obamacare (if a job is half time or less, typically it does not come with benefits). Though in the latter case, I’d probably have to take a roommate to help with housing costs.

That latter option is possible, should I so choose. One of the things I was looking for in a house was something that would work well for a roommate situation. Though I’m not really sure yet if I want to do this, it’s better to have it as an option than to have painted myself into a corner with an inflexible house.

The Castle Built on Sand Starts Crumbling

Published at 20:41 on 23 July 2015

Trying to make a capitalist corporation treat workers ethically and humanely is like trying to build a castle on sand. Even if you manage to erect the castle, it’s doomed to not last very long. Even if you find an astoundingly exceptional CEO who’s both supremely dedicated to treating people well and to negotiating the obstacles to doing same that the authoritarianism of the capitalist workplace presents, no CEO lasts forever. Odds are, the next one simply won’t be so exceptional.

It’s now become crystal-clear to me that the latter has now happened at my employer. As such, I’m certain to not last there much longer. Maybe I’ll leave, maybe they’ll tell me to leave. Maybe I’ll last another day, maybe I’ll last another month or two. Those details are unclear. What is clear is that I won’t be there much longer.

It’s not a surprise that it eventually happened. Going in, I wasn’t sure if everything really was as good as it sounded from the outside. When I found that it basically was, and that I’d really enjoy working there as a result, the “castle built upon the sand” insight was, due to my personal history and my ideological beliefs, pretty much axiomatic.

The surprise is that it all happened so suddenly, within a week. In hindsight I can now see how the problems have been building for some time: individuals whose personal values are antithetical to the founders’ unique values have been hired and promoted to management roles, and those values are now no longer being honored in large parts of the organization.

New Fridge is Here

Published at 13:11 on 17 July 2015

The refrigerator I ordered finally arrived yesterday. Noise-wise, it sounds a lot like an old, manual-defrost refrigerator, with an added amount of fa noise underneath. So it’s still noisier than an old-fashioned refrigerator. But by modern, frost-free standards (the only models available these days), it’s not bad. It’s quieter than what it replaced.

I’m sure a Liebherr would have been quieter. But those: a) tend to be taller than standard US models, meaning I’d have to remove a cabinet, and b) in this country, at least, are only available in stainless steel. The latter is one of the stupider recent design fads; it shows fingerprints like crazy, plus it isn’t magnetic, so say goodbye to sticking reminders on the door with a magnet. Add to that a price over five times higher than what I paid, and it’s no sale.

The delivery experience left much to be desired.

  1. I never got the promised confirmation call the morning of the delivery.
  2. I requested it be delivered yesterday morning. When Sears contacted me with a delivery window on Wednesday, it was 11:15 to 13:15. Hello? Not only does that intrude upon afternoon hours, but the majority of the interval does.
  3. Then they don’t show up during that interval at all. Not only don’t they show up, they don’t even bother calling me with a warning about the delay. It’s left up to me to call Sears, sit on hold for about five minutes, and then get an update.
  4. When they show up, they push the both the old and new refrigerator across the floor, not doing anything to protect the floors. (The installers of my range were careful to use Teflon appliance slides to protect my floor.) Thankfully only few minor scratches result.
  5. They use one of my dish towels as a door stop, without so much as asking me.
  6. They did not fully remove all the packing material from the inside of the refrigerator.

I have two more aging major appliances to replace within the next year or so (the washer and dryer). My experience with Sears has probably just convinced me it’s worth paying a premium to order those from my local mom and pop appliance dealer.

Surreal Trip Experience No. 2: Road

Published at 09:58 on 15 July 2015

Highway 20 is officially the northernmost road through Washington State, much like the Crowsnest Highway is the southernmost one through British Columbia. Both roads are very scenic as they engage in feats of engineering to circumvent obstacles which otherwise could be circumvented by crossing the 49th parallel.

But I digress. Highway 20 is officially the northernmost road through Washington state. While studying my map of the Okanogan National Forest, I discover another road even further north going from the hamlet of Loomis to Winthrop. It involves a long gravel segment, and there are two Forest Service campgrounds along it, which is convenient, since if I’d take that road I’d probably be going by at about the time when I’d want to stop for the night. One of those campgrounds is listed as having an elevation of 6800 feet, which is the highest campground I’ve ever run across in Washington. This pretty much decides that I’m going to take that road.

It’s signed as Toats Coulee Road and breaks off from the road to Palmer Lake just north of Loomis. I pass several fire camps before I make the turn. Oddly, there’s no column of smoke visible anywhere on the horizon.

The road starts as your typical primary paved county road: narrower than your typical state highway, with tighter curves, but still a pretty good road. Soon it loses lane striping. It starts climbing. After I pass the site of an old power plant and cross a cattle guard, the quality of the maintenance decreases and the number of potholes increases. Pretty soon it’s obvious that it’s been some time since the road has seen any sort of maintenance at all. Huge potholes crater it. In a few sections, the pavement has crumbled entirely and it’s now a gravel road. Since these have been recently graded, they offer a superior ride to the pothole-cratered paved sections.

I see a pickup truck with the name of a fire agency on it parked at a scenic viewpoint. I stop to take a few pictures myself then query the occupant about the fire. It apparently was burning pretty vigorously up to a few days ago, but recent rains have really put the damper on it, hence the lack of a smoke column.

The road continues to get worse. Weeds and shrubbery encroach on it from the sides. Aside from the one parked truck, I haven’t seen any other vehicles on it. The empty nature of the road plus its decripitude gives an eerie, post-apocalyptic feeling to my drive. Deer cross the road in front of me multiple times.

After miles of dodging potholes, a welcome sight: the end of the badly-maintained pavement. What appears to be the “main” road continues ahead as a recently graded two-lane gravel road, but my map clearly indicates it dead ends after a half dozen more miles. The road I want is the one-lane gravel one branching off to the left.

It’s very lightly traveled. Grass grows in the middle of it. Yet the worn ruts are grass-free, and my sources indicated that the road is indeed open all the way through to Winthrop. It enters a burned area and for mile after mile it goes from one ridge to another, switchbacking its way up and down the ridges when it crosses valleys. It’s mostly in pretty good shape but the odd eroded spot is hard to see in advance, which keeps me from going faster than about 20 mph. I eventually do meet a vehicle coming in the other direction. We’re both startled to see someone else on the road. The other driver confirms that he started from the other end, and is floored when I say where I have come from on it. Apparently he didn’t have a map and is just following the road to see where it goes.

It’s about 5:00 in the evening when I finally come to the campground. It’s small (only six sites) and completely empty. I snag the best site (the only one with fully intact trees around it; the others all have varying degrees of fire damage).

I discover that the water jug in the back of my truck, despite being secured, has tipped over. Worse, despite there being a plug in the air hole, the pressure difference between 900 feet elevation (at Tonasket, where I verified it was securely plugged) and 6800 feet (where I was then) had caused pressure to build up to the point where the stopper had popped out of the hole. So not only was I virtually out of water, there was a mess in the back of the truck.

Thankfully, the ribbed design of the truck bed plus drain holes intended to let rain out had minimized the impact of the mishap. The campground’s name is Tifffany Spring, which was a big hint at a solution to the water shortage, and indeed the namesake spring was easy to locate. It had but a small pool, largely obscured by a lush growth of sedges, but with clear cold water which was deep enough to fill containers with. Between spring water for cooking and washing with and the remaining water in my jug for drinking as-is, I was set for an overnight stay.

It was a treat to have the luxury of car camping with sheets and blankets off the ground in a location so remote and high-up that one would normally have to backpack there and sleep on the ground in a small tent with a thin pad on irregular surface.

Surreal Trip Experience No. 1: Hail

Published at 09:48 on 15 July 2015

The day warmed up rapidly as I worked my way north from Wenatchee on US 97. By the time I was in Tonasket the temperature was between 95 and 100 (a bank thermometer said 112, but no way was that correct). A black cloud loomed over the highlands to the east, my destination for the day.

As I drove up into the highlands, I noticed winds, evidently downdrafts from the thunderstorm ahead, were blowing. I opened my window and it was about 70 degrees outside, a good 25 degrees cooler than it was just minutes ago. No more need for the air conditioner.

Soon the road became damp, then outright wet as I chased the rain retreating southwards (I only ever experienced light showers on this drive). More and more runoff was evident; the storm I had just missed was a real gully-washer. The temperature fell into the sixties.

Ground fog loomed ahead. I knew what that probably meant: hail on the ground, creating a temperature inversion close to the surface. Indeed, my hypothesis was soon verified. The temperature was now in the fifties and I had my headlights on as I crept through the fog in a white landscape. In July, in eastern Washington, at 2:30 in the afternoon.

The campground that was my destination for the day was in the heart of the hail zone. It was about three inches deep when I got there, and didn’t completely melt until the next day.

WTF Greece?

Published at 07:57 on 15 July 2015

I mean, even the IMF (hardly a radical-left source) is saying the austerity the Greek ruling party is pushing for is too much and Greece needs more debt relief. So much for the “radical left” Syriza party.

I guess there’s another lession about Establishment politics corrupting everything it touches here. Even “anti-Establishment” parties really can’t be trusted to accomplish much if the ever get power. The seats corrupt whomever happens to sit in them.