The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

June 30, 2008

Is it Any Wonder I’ve Got Too Much Time on My Hands?

Filed under: Personal Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 1:58 pm

Of all the subjects I talk about on a regular basis here on my Blog, I tend to avoid talking about much my job too much.  Part of this has to do with keeping some degree of separation between what I do for a living and what I do in my spare time, but mostly this is because my job is in a highly technical field, and I don’t think I could write more than a couple of paragraphs about what I work on without boring most of the people reading this.  I can recall seeing a job posting flyer on the bulletin board many years ago for a team that works on some pretty low-level stuff on their particular product, which had a tagline that read “…Because you never want your mother to understand what you do for a living.”  I think that can be said to be true for what I’ve been working on. as a Software Tester for the past several years.  Then again, back when my Mom was working as a travel agent, I don’t think I would have had the slightest clue how to do anything in SABRE, so we’re even in that regard.

In some sense, I have found the need to hold a job to be something of a limiting factor in what I have been able to do with this Blog.  In my ongoing mall research project, I have been mostly limited to what I have been able to find in the microfilm available at the Bellevue Library.  I suspect that the local historical societies would have plenty of additional information available (or at the very least, actual newspapers that I can get better photos from than the grainy ones I’ve been getting off the microfilm,) but so far I haven’t been able to get over to any of the offices because they are only open when I happen to be at work.  It looks like this week, I may finally get that opportunity though.

The short version is that I have this week off from work..  The long version is that my contract on the team I’ve been working with for the past seven months has ended, but I was able to sign on to a new team before the end of my last one.  I will be starting with this new team on the 7th of July, which basically means that I basically have a week of semi-unplanned vacation.  Having a bit of time on my hands means that I should get the opportunity to get some of the big posts I’ve been sitting on for a while out of the way, as well as a chance to go do some of the research I haven’t been able to do previously. 

Over this past weekend, I was also able to go take a look at the new Bellevue Safeway, so expect some pictures of that later on.

June 29, 2008

All This, and Strawberries Too: The Bellevue Strawberry Festival

Filed under: Bellevue, History — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 7:31 pm

Although you wouldn’t know it by looking at the place today, for much of its history Bellevue has been a predominantly agricultural community.  Strawberries have played an especially prominent role in the growth and development of the city, and at one time before World War 2, there were more than 200 acres of strawberry fields within the present Bellevue city limits.  Because of this, in 1925 a number of civic and business leaders in the community organized the first Strawberry Festival in Bellevue, an event which attracted thousands of visitors, and would continue to grow for years, until World War 2 caused the cancellation of the Strawberry Festival in 1942, as many of the Japanese farmers who grew strawberries in Bellevue were sent to internment camps in California for the duration of the conflict.  For more information of the history of the Strawberry Festival in Bellevue, you can go to this page, and over at HistoryLink there is an essay written in 1934 by a college student describing memories of one of the earliest festivals.

 After the war, it would take more than forty years before the Strawberry Festival was revived; first as a one-night event hosted by the Bellevue Historical Society in 1987, then as a full-scale civic festival by the Eastside Heritage Center in 2003.  This year’s festival was held over the past weekend at Crossroads Park, providing a glance into the history of Bellevue in days now long forgotten, as well as a look at the Bellevue of today.  After the jump you will find some of the highlights of my visit to the Strawberry Festival.

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June 26, 2008

The Night the Lights Went Out at Costco

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:45 am

 Here’s something you don’t see very often: a huge shelf loaded with HDTVs at the Issaquah Costco, all of them completely dark.  I was over there yesterday evening to go try to figure out what shiny new stuff they have currently that I can’t live without (not a lot it would seem,) when suddenly the power to the store went out, plunging the whole store into darkness…  Well OK, maybe not darkness, but definitely a state of moderate dimness.  The store has plenty of skylights to let natural light in, so the risk of doing yourself in by blundering into a pallet of kitchen knives remained fairly minimal.

Fortunately for the shoppers, it turns out that the registers at this store are on backup power in case of an outage, so as far as I could tell, for the most part things just ran as usual, at least in the front end.  I’m sure the whole thing probably caused a few headaches over there though, particularly in the frozen foods department. 

 

June 25, 2008

The Beginning and the End of the Old Bellevue Safeway

Filed under: Bellevue, History — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:42 am

Update 1/28/14:  The Downtown Bellevue Network Blog has reported this past weekend that this store, which has sat vacant again for most of the past two years after the Your Local Market store went out of business a little more than six months after it opened, has now been demolished, with construction of the next phase of Lincoln Square expected to begin sometime within the next few months.  You can find their article on this here.

Update 8/25/11:  As some of you have probably heard by now, after over three years of this former Safeway sitting empty, it has been announced that the store will soon be home to Your Local Market, a new independent supermarket focused primarily on local and organic products.  More details can be found at their website.  They are currently planning to open this new store in November of this year.  Within the past couple of months, the former Bartell Drugs space next door has also been reoccupied by Estate Furnishings, a consignment furniture store that was previously located a couple of blocks away on Northeast 8th Street.  With the reoccupation of this building, it seems clear that the second phase of the Lincoln Square development is unlikely to be happening anytime soon.

Over at Vintage Seattle yesterday, I found out that after more than 45 years of continuous operation, the old Marina style Safeway across from Bellevue Square will be closing its doors for the last time tomorrow as Safeway’s new 55,000 square foot flagship store for the Pacific Northwest (more than double the size of this one) prepares to open a block to the south on Friday.  This particular store’s days have been numbered for some time now, and it has already lasted a year longer than it was intended to, as the new Safeway was originally intended to open a year ago.  For the time being, the Bartell Drugs next door will remain open, but this land is now owned by Kemper Freeman, and the chances are good that it will soon become the site of another mixed-use development similar to the nearby Lincoln Square.  As one of the shrinking number of relics from the Bellevue of old, I went to take one last look at this store before it closes for good, and I was also able to find some information from back when it opened.  After the jump, a few photos of the interior of the store, and some background on its history.

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June 23, 2008

Some Like it Hot, Others Not So Much

Filed under: Family — Brian Lutz @ 2:50 pm

(sunset, as seen from Highway 410 leaving Bonney Lake on Saturday.)

Surprisingly enough, in spite of all the not-so-great weather we’ve been getting for the better part of June, Summer actually seems to have arrived on time, and the past several days have seen (us with (mostly) clear skies and temperatures that might even be considered junelike.  This is definitely a good thing, because I was starting to worry that the new pair of Tevas that I bought last month were going to end up spending the better part of the Summer in the closet.  With the weather improving, Brooks and Heather in town and the one major Saturday obligation (see below) out of the way fairly early on, this  provided plenty of time to use the rest of the day for other things, most of which involved sitting around my parents’ house watching a race on TV and occasionally keeping Connor and Cory happy while my Mom and Jacki were off on some errands.

Later on in the afternoon, a number of us headed down to the Sirrine house in Bonney Lake for an informal Saturday get-together (which apparently occurs on a regular basis, but I usually don’t find out about them until after the fact.)  With the nice weather (I think Saturday was only the third time this year that I’ve actually used the air conditioning in my car,) it was a nice day to go hang out on their back porch.  As seems to be the case with most Vanderhoeven family get-togethers, fire was involved and figured prominently in the festivities. 

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June 22, 2008

Off to the Races (For Real This Time)

Filed under: Entertainment, Family, Redmond — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:00 am

As you probably know if you’ve been reading this Blog for long enough, my family contains its fair share of auto racing enthusiasts, to the point that in our family the sporting world tends to be divided into baseball (as long as we have a team worth watching, which isn’t entirely certain this season,) auto racing, and a bunch of other stuff that happens somewhere in between those two.  Unfortunately, the high speed world of motorsports tends to come with a high pricetag to match, so there aren’t a lot of opportunities out there for the average Joe to go out racing (it has been said that if you want to make a small fortune in auto racing, you need to start with a large one.)  For most people, the closest that they are ever going to be able to get to real racing is a trip to the local Go-kart track.  Although I’m pretty sure this doesn’t exactly match the thrill of screaming down the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans or trying to find a way to get your own car around the world-famous Nürburgring in one piece, there’s plenty of adrenaline to be found here, and this place is just a bit closer.

As with just about everything else in auto racing, a trip to the track comes with a fairly steep pricetag, but it seems that my family always finds one excuse or another to make at least one trip to the go-kart track per year.  In this case, it was a somewhat belated birthday celebration for myself, and a less belated one for my brother-in-law Terence.  In addition to these birthdays, Heather and Brooks are in town for a visit this weekend, so we had a field of ten people to go racing.  The track we raced at was K1 Speed, a place that is somewhat hidden in the Overlake area of Redmond.  Until a change of ownership last year, this was known as Champs Karting (link goes to the archived website,) (which also had locations in Bothell and the SoDo neighborhood of Seattle, although those two have since closed) and before that was Crazy Redhead Raceway (link goes to the archived version of their website, which unfortunately has broken links for the track layout,) although I never raced there when that one was around.  Before there was a go-kart track here there was Zones, a small arcade/mini golf amusement center which I believe closed around 1997-1998 or so.  K1 Speed has a number of other locations in California (many with multiple tracks that can be combined into one giant rrack.)

The space in which this K1 Speed is located is fairly small for a kart track, which means that there’s going to be plenty of turning involved.  When Champs Karting was in this space, they actually had a fairly fast layout with straightaways on the outside and tight turns on the inside (you can see the old layout here) which provided for more open-throttle driving but less importance on the turns.  Although the turns on this aren’t quite as narrow as the graphic above indicates, it is still surprisingly easy for the back end of the kart to get loose on you, which will scrub off valuable time, or in some cases spin you around or put you into the wall (which is not an uncommon occurrence here.)  Combine this with the tight steering, the lateral G-forces in the turns and the relative lack of suspension on these karts, and even a short 14-16 lap run can turn out to be quite a workout.  In terms of absolute speed, these karts aren’t really all that fast (I believe they max out somewhere in the range of 20-25 MPH for general use, but can be made to go faster for more experienced drivers,) but speed can be a relative thing, especially when you’re blasting down a narrow straightaway three inches off the ground with some guy trynig to find a way around you. 

Of course, it can’t hurt to look the part while you’re at it.  Decked out in the finest Italian delusions of grandeur, I prepared for the first run.

With a total of ten racers, we ran five people at a time (the track would start to get pretty crowded with many more than that.)  On my first run (a practice run,) I managed to get the second fastest lap out of the group  at 18.14 seconds.  Unfortunately, it was difficult to take photos of the actual racing due to reflections on the glass and the speed of the karts (as you can see above, everything is kind of a blur going by,) so there wasn’t much point in taking a lot of action photos.  The second run (the qualifying run) didn’t go so well for me, as I only managed an 18.91 for my fastest lap, which was well off the pace.  I suspect that I was trying too hard to keep the kart from sliding in the turns and ended up not using enough throttle as a result. 

This put me at the back of the field for the final run, where I stayed for pretty much the whole race.  With all the tight turns and narrow straightaways, there just isn’t a lot of opportunity to pass people in front of you, although I did manage to get in a pretty good run at Jared nonetheless.  In the end, even though I was in fifth place, I significantly lowered my best lap time in the race to a 17.15, which ended up being the third fastest lap time for the whole group of ten racers (for comparison, Terence got the best lap of the day at 16.95, followed by Brooks with a 17.09.  The second race heat (for the other group of racers) was somewhat marred by a couple of scoring glitches and several spinouts which slowed the pace significantly, but the heat I was in managed to get in a nice clean race.

The results ended up being about the same as those of just about any competitive event that happens in our family (Terence and Brooks beating everyone, me ending up somewhere well behind them)  but even so, the whole thing is more about having fun and limiting maniacal driving habits to a socially acceptable context anyway, even if I did find myself worried that I’d break the back end of my car loose on the 520 onramp while I was heading home…  That might turn out to be slightly less entertaining if it happened.

 

June 18, 2008

Soon You’ll Be Wasting Less Time on Video Games (Maybe)

Filed under: Games — Brian Lutz @ 12:45 am

(Warning:  This post contains boring video game nerd content, which some of you out there who aren’t boring video game nerds (and some of those who are, for that matter) might want to just pass on.  If any of the stuff in this post begins to sound like technobabble, I would recommend just scrolling down for the usual content.)

This post expands on some thoughts that I originally posted as a comment on a thread over at Kotaku, but ended up being a bit longer than I planned on, so I decided to move it here.  The topic of the original thread was a statement made by Warren Spector (a game developer who has made a number of popular games that I haven’t ever bothered to play) which stated that lengthy games were on the way out, being replaced by shorter ones.   As someone who probably plays way too many video games for his own good and doesn’t bother finishing up 80% of them, I realize that the big 100-hour epics have their place in the market, but I’m pretty sure that I don’t fit into the target audience for such things.

For years now, I’ve referred to something that I like to call the “Shelf of Oblivion” (note: Actual shelf does not exist, nor does the Shelf of Oblivion currently contain a copy of Oblivion, although that’s probably because I haven’t ever bought it) which is the nominal place where the games in my collection that I have completely lost interest in seem to end up.  I’m pretty sure that an attempt to catalog the contents of this “shelf” would result in a 15,000 word post that would take me three weeks to write, so I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say that a significant number of the games that I do purchase seem to end up here after some period.  There are some big name titles that I’ve put down after 45 minutes, never to touch them again (Morrowind comes to mind, as does Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy III for the DS.) On the other side of the coin, there are games that I have spent hundreds of hours playing, and enjoyed them the whole time. 

The vast majority of games out there fall somewhere in between these two extremes.  Here are some games that I’ve enjoyed playing, but they were just way too long to bother finishing off. Some examples:

-Twilight Princess (Wii): Fun while I played it, but there just came a point when it seemed that I had been playing forever and still had a long way to go in order to finish it. I made it to the fourth dungeon last time I played it, and haven’t touched it since then.

-Half Life 2: Same as TP, just felt like I had played it forever and had way too long to go. I’ll probably finish this off at some point though when I’m in the right mood… On the other hand, I thought Portal was quite enjoyable in spite of its shortness. Haven’t played either HL2 episode because I want to finish the main game first.

-Earth Defense Force 2017(360): Fun for a while, but there comes a point when you realize that things aren’t getting any harder, they’re just getting more cheaty and/or broken as you go along, and you’ve got 25 more levels of the stuff to slog through to get a single achievement point out of the thing (all the achievements are “complete the game on easy/medium/hard/really hard/you’re pretty much doomed” type things.)

-Most modern racing games (Project Gotham Racing 3 and Forza 2 being the most recent examples I’ve played): There’s a certain type of person who loves all the races and events you’re going to find in a typical career mode. I don’t quite have the patience for this, but I’ll enjoy playing for a while nonetheless. At least the majority of these games nowdays provide ways to just race around using all of the cars and/or tracks without needing to unlock a ton of stuff.

-Most modern RPGs.  I actually used to play a lot of these back in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, but at some point, they just became too much hassle to deal with, either by reason of excessive complexity (every Final Tantasy after 6) or just turned into way too much wading through repetitive stuff to get into the story.  How many times do I need to see the heroes celebrating their victory over the 73rd pack of wolves they’ve vanquished in the past hour anyway?  There are exceptions to this, but in general, a game will have to be incredibly compelling in order to gain enough momentum to get past the tedium barrier.  The fact that many of these games seem to come with big heavy overwrought epic stories that make you feel like you’re playing through someone’s weekly visit with the psychiatrist don’t help much here either.

This said, If a game is engaging, I have no problem dumping a bunch of time into it (which is probably how I ended up dumping a far greater quantity of time into Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness on the PSP than I’d care to admit on a Blog that my mother might be reading.)  Since I tend to be, well, less than stellar when it comes to action games (another post for another time) my preferences these days tend heavily toward turn-based and puzzle style gameplay, which gives be a bit more time to think things over and react.  The tactical RPG genre is one that I haven’t explored much, but I found Disgaea to be something of a “perfect storm” combining elements that I enjoy.  If you just want to play through the main storyline, you should be able to do so by playing for roughly 30-40 hours with characters up around level 100-120 or so.  On the other hand, the game allows levelling characters up to level 9,999, then transmigrating (restarting them at level 1 with higher stats) and doing the whole thing over again.  There are bosses in the game with a base level of 3,000 or higher (you can increase the level of enemies by going through the Dark Assembly, a sort of “Parliament” in the game that can approve or reject various proposals put forth by the player) and plenty in between. 

Probably the greatest source of replay value in Disgaea comes in the form of the Item world, which allows you to go inside items to raise their stats by fighting through the hordes of demons that live inside.  This provides a virtually limitless number of procedurally generated levels to fight through, even though you’ll eventually reach a point where you begin to outlevel these (at least for lower level items) this provides a lot of replay value for the game, which accounts for the sheer quantity of time I’ve spent on it (although on the minus side, this means if you get enough into the game, you’re probably going to seriously outlevel the final boss by the time you get there, completely trivializing the encounter.)    Combine this with a relatively light story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and you have a game that is compelling enough to keep me playing it (although I’m sure the exploding penguins don’t hurt either.)

All things considered, do we even really need big 100+ hour games?  If people can figure out how to make the entire experience enjoyable for a significant majority of the people who are going to play the game, then go for it.  The problem is that I’m pretty sure that my definition of “enjoyable” on that type of game is going to expire long before it does for most of the mainstream audience.  Then again, I’m pretty sure I’m a bit of a game snob anyway (more on that subject will be coming up here eventually.)

June 16, 2008

New Math in the Produce Aisle

Filed under: Food, Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 10:33 pm

I think someone at the supermarket was having some math issues when they came up with this one:

So let me get this straight…  The green bell peppers are 2 for a dollar with the “Sell your Soul and Save” card, and $2.50 for two without it, but somehow you end up saving $4.00 on the whole deal?  I wish my bank account worked like that.  Maybe if I worked for the government…

Oh, and by the way, welcome to the people who somehow seem to be ending up over here (specifically, over at my Totem Lake Mall post) from Metafilter, by way of deadmalls.com.  What would you call that, a meta-metalanche or something like that?

June 14, 2008

Well, It Does Make Him Feel Pretty…

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 4:41 pm

If you haven’t figured out what you’re getting for your Dad for Father’s Day this year, now might be a good time to start panicking (Editors Note: Um… yipe.)  By now, the necktie bit has been done to death, soap on a rope went out with the Seventies, and that new Porsche he’s been wanting seems to be just a bit out of the budget right now.  Need some other ideas?  Why not try getting him some fresh handmade cosmetics?

Granted, it’s not like you’re buying your Dad makeup or anything like that (all the products here seems to be bath and body type stuff) but in the time this store has been around, I can’t ever recall seeing a male inside the store who wasn’t either working there or staring blankly at the wall as his significant other shops for stuff.  Besides, do you really want the kids at school on Monday telling their friends that you bought Daddy cosmetics for Father’s Day?  Personally, I’d recommend just sticking with the golf stuff.

SHOCKER! Superman’s SECRET Secret Identity Revealed!

Filed under: Culture, Entertainment — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:03 am

(Note:  This is a crosspost from buzz.mn, although those of you unfamiliar with that particular site probably won’t have a clue what’s going on here.  For a word of explanation, Lance Lawson was a (very) obscure comic that ran in a few papers back in the late Forties featuring a quick “solve it yourself” mystery that always seemed to result in someone murdering someone, lying transparently about it, and getting busted for their crimes all within four panels of the funny pages.  There was also some clue inside the comic that’s supposed to tell you why the perp is lying that you’re supposed to find, some of them easier than others.  A more thorough explanation and some examples can be found here, and “new” Lance Lawson strips extracted from the old microfiche can be found every Thursday over at the Buzz (a recent example can be found here.)  For those of you who still don’t get it, you can skip to the end for a bit of real-world context.)

In this day and age, Superman is one of the world’s iconic comic book superheroes, and in most modern societies not being familiar with Superman and his backstory would probably be the type of thing that might be indicative of subeterranean living accommodations. As a result, I’m sure that almost everyone (at least those of us who reside on Earth Prime anyway) are well aware of Superman’s secret identity as Clark Kent… Right? Not so fast.

As the shocking photo you are about to see below reveals, Superman had a SECRET secret identity that he has successfully kept hidden for over 70 years… Until now. This photo, taken from a recent GSN rerun of a 1966 episide of I’ve Got a Secret inadvertently reveals the shocking truth behind Superman’s TRUE secret identity:

That’s right, it turns out that even the whole “Make everyone think he’s Clark Kent” spiel was a ruse. The one day Superman appeared on national TV just happened to be the one day he forgot to “fix” the unmistakable hair comma, revealing once and for all that Superman’s TRUE secret identity was none other than that of everyone’s favorite bringer of suspiciously swift justice, Lance Lawson!

When he’s not crashing through walls and banging crooks’ heads together or pretending to pretend to write for the Daily Planet, it turns out the Man of Steel keeps himself busy smashing through flimsy alibis and collaring crooks with astounding speed. Do you think that Mr. Lawson could really manage to solve any crime that he happens to come across in four panels or less if he DIDN’T have X-ray vision? Besides, what would make you think an invincible Kryptonian Man of Steel wouldn’t be bored out of his skull covering sewer board meetings and cat-in-the-tree stories all day when Lex Luthor is off on vacation? Has anyone here ever seen Superman and Lance Lawson in the same room? Didn’t think so.

Nice try, but the gig is up Mr. Lawson (or should we say… SUPERMAN!?) Sure would explain a lot though, wouldn’t it?


The Real Story behind the picture: As stated above, the picture comes from a 1966 episode of I’ve Got a Secret where Bob Holiday was the special guest. Bob portrayed Superman in a short-lived Broadway musical entitled It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Superman!that lasted for roughly four months in 1966, but later got turned into a made-for-TV movie in 1975. As for Bob Holiday, it doesn’t appear that he had any further involvement with showbiz after this role, and he later became a homebuilder in Pennsylvania, which he continues to do to this day. He even has a website with some stories of his short-lived Broadway career and video of his I’ve Got a Secret appearance, where he “taught” Steve Allen to fly, although you can pretty clearly see the wires at times on camera while he’s doing so, at least when you watch on television.

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