The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

April 28, 2012

The Simple Joy of Playing in the Dirt

Filed under: Bellevue, Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:42 pm

As I’m sure is the case for a lot of people, my list of Facebook friends includes quite a few people with whom I made acquaintance over the years in the course of participation in various organizations, many of whom have gone off in various directions, mostly in the directions of getting married and starting families of their own.  This means that quite a few photos of their young children find their way onto Facebook, and even though I don’t think I’ve talked to some of these people in years, I still get to (sort of) watch their children grow up from afar.  Today on Facebook, one of these people posted a picture of their young son, who had apparently run off while on a walk in the park, and by the time they found him, he had waded knee-deep into a nearby pond, and left to his own devices probably would have managed to cover himself in mud.  Although I have no experience with being the parent of such a child, I suspect this is one of those things that seems pretty terrible at the time, but over the course of a few years manages to end up being funny.

Somehow, I get the sneaking suspicion that whenever the time comes that I have children of my own (a time that somehow seems a lot less distant than it used to)  it’s inevitable that I’ll find myself dealing with a similar situation somewhere along the line, and I’ll probably be just as horrified when it happens, only to think it’s funny later on.  Playing in the mud seems to be one of those thing’s that’s just buried somewhere in the Y chromosome, probably somewhere in the brain between the cooties and the disdain for vegetables.  Eventually most of  these traits manage to fade away.  At some point around puberty or so the whole Cooties thing manages to be conveniently forgotten, and eventually the combination of nutritional propaganda and the need to maintain some semblance of a figure manage to talk and/or guilt most people into eating their veggies.  In theory, as we grow older and become responsible adults we’re supposed to regard dirt as a necessary evil at best and something that should be avoided whenever possible.  And yet, regardless of where we end up and what happens along the way, this one never quite seems to go away completely.

Ominous, isn't it?

The place where I live in Downtown Bellevue could accurately be described as a reasonably high-end location.  After all, with neighbors with names like Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo and Tory Burch, it’s to be expected that the neighborhood should be reasonably nice.  And yet, in spite of the location, Downtown Bellevue also has a surprising number of empty spaces as well.  In fact, even the Bravern has a big empty hole between itself and Meydenbauer Center, space reserved for future construction.  I’m sure some ambitious developer envisioned another tower or two worth of high-end condos here at some point, but given the fact that it is highly unlikely such things could be built in a profitable manner at any time in the immediate future, what we have for the time being is a big empty field of gravel surrounded by chains on two sides and ominously large concrete walls on the others.  A couple of blocks away across from the Library, a 5,300 square foot lot smaller than some Downtown penthouses which still holds remnants of the foundation for a long since demolished single-family home was at one point earmarked for a 17-story residential tower where each story would be an individual residence.  The signs for that particular development came down months ago, and the lot now sits as another vacant hole in the ground, with no sign of the ambitious plans once laid out for the site.  Even Bellevue City Hall sits next to a vacant field which, for the time being, sits fallow.  For being a thriving urban area, Downtown Bellevue actually has quite a few holes.

And one of those holes happens to be right behind my building, in a vacant lot adjacent to the busiest street in Downtown Bellevue.  If I recall correctly, this lot used to hold a couple of single-family houses that had been converted at some point to businesses, and then eventually demolished in preparation for construction that never happened.  A couple of driveways to nowhere remain on the site, and currently the lot serves mostly as an impromptu parking lot presumably used by workers in the office building next door and retail customers for the various businesses downstairs in my building.  Because of the cars, only part of the lot is overgrown by whatever seeds happen to find their way onto this particular patch of ground.  A spurious footpath cuts across the lot, leading to the area where the cars are found parked during the day.  In recent days a sign has gone up announcing the impending construction of some sort of unremarkable mixed-use commercial/retail building starting at some unspecified point in the near future.  Aside from taking the occasional shortcut through the field while walking home from work at my previous employer, I’ve never had reason to pay much attention to this particular field.

As noted in my previous post, I have recently begun to take interest in my RC cars again after a lengthy hiatus resulting mostly from lack of suitable places to use them.  Now that the weather is getting better, I’ve been working on making a few upgrades to my E-Revo VXL to swap out some of the weaker stock suspension parts and replace them with more durable alternatives.  In the course of doing this, I found that it would be useful to have a location that I could test in, and it occurred to me that this field would be a decent spot to at least try things out and get a feel for how well things are working.  Trying not to look too suspicious carrying around an RC car in the elevators, I headed down to the field as it started to get dark one evening a few days ago and went for a bit of a test run… And immediately started kicking up a surprisingly satisfying cloud of dirt and gravel.  Not having had the space to properly run the thing for quite a while, I immediately wondered why it had never occurred to me to run it out here.  It also turns out that a small RC car blasting along in the dirt and kicking up big dust clouds is a surprisingly good way to attract attention from the neighbors.  I was actually surprised how many people stopped to watch, and how many “Where do you get one of those?” queries I have gotten while driving it in the dirt or doing some speed runs in the alley.

If there’s one thing I’ve gotten out of this experience, it’s something that I’ve known all along but largely forgotten:  There’s just something inherently satisfying about kicking up a nice cloud of dust or a big rooster-tail of mud.  Back in my younger days, I can recall a certain fascination with dirt, often scooping up handfuls of the stuff and throwing it up in the air just to watch the dust clouds drift along on the wind.  I can also recall finding clumped-up sand in the sandbox after a rainstorm and throwing it on the ground to watch the little “explosions” of flying sand resulting from the impact.  When I think back on those habits now it sounds kind of silly, but in the mind of a slightly precocious and easily distracted first grader I suppose it made sense in context.  Although I’m pretty sure I was never big on playing in the mud (my mother can correct me on this if necessary)  I can definitely see the appeal there too.  As responsible adults we’re presumably supposed to leave these things behind for the kids to deal with, but somehow the temptation remains, just waiting for some convenient excuse to indulge it in the messiest way possible.

April 26, 2012

Random Thoughts: Spring in Your Step

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:54 am

It’s starting to look more and more like we’re actually going to have a real Spring here this year, unlike last year’s “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Winter!” edition.  The trees are in blossom, the weather is warming up, and we’ve even gotten some really nice weather over the past few weekends to go out and enjoy.  Between work, commuting and suddenly finding myself with some semblance of a social life these days, I’ve been having some trouble coming up with Blog material lately, but I do have some things I’m working on  (yes, the second post in the software testing series is coming, I’m just having a bit of trouble making the subject interesting enough to do much besides cure insomnia) and the next few months are looking like they should be interesting.  In the meantime, here are a few random tidbits from my various wanderings over the past few weeks to keep things vaguely interesting around here:

Even though Seattle Center is technically considered to be part of the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood, it’s hard not to notice the Space Needle when you’re wandering around the South Lake Union.  If you ever need to remind yourself you’re in Seattle all you need to do is face West and look up, and you’ll probably see the thing towering overhead like a slightly less evil Mid-Century Modern version of the Eye of Sauron.  This means that it didn’t take long to notice when the top of the Needle was painted in its original orange color (or “Galaxy Gold” if you want to use the official name) last week in commemoration of its 50th anniversary.  There are going to be events throughout the Summer commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Space Needle and of the 1962 World’s Fair, and the orange color scheme (which was also used 10 years ago for the Needle’s 40th anniversary) will remain in place throughout the Summer.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for a bit of World’s Fair nostalgia, the Seattle Times has you covered.  Over on their website, they have posted in its entirety a 152-page commemorative edition originally published in April of 1962, which is a neat little time capsule not only of the fair, but also about Seattle as a whole.  There are (naturally) plenty of interesting old ads, and of particular interest to me is a section devoted to Bellevue and the Eastside.  Perhaps when I get the chance to go through this in more detail I’ll put together a post on some of the highlights of this commemorative edition.  Unfortunately I was born about 16 years too late to see the 1962 World’s Fair for myself, but it’s still a fascinating topic, and is still regarded with fond memory by many Seattleites.

And for a bonus shot of nostalgia, here’s an old film that not only shows off some of the sights of the Fair, but also provides a glimpse into the future of telephones (a future which, naturally, happened about 30 years ago.)  In the meantime, anyone know where I can get some appliances in that color?

A few weeks ago, I made the trip with my friends to this year’s Emerald City ComicCon.  To be honest, as I talked about in a post made after last year’s show, I’ve never been big on comic books, but even so, there’s still a reasonable amount of interesting things to be seen.  One of the artists in attendance at the show was Don Rosa, who is well known for his comic book work with Scrooge McDuck and his cohorts, and who turned out to be quite friendly when I got the chance to meet him.  I purchased two signed prints from him, which should fit well with some of the other Disney art I have in my collection.  I also purchased a couple of video games from Pink Gorilla, including an import copy of Salamander Portable for PSP to add to my small collection of 2D shooters, and a nerdy shirt to add to my small collection of those (which is mostly sitting around taking way too much space in my drawers these days, but that’s beside the point.)  Although I consider PAX to be my annual Nerdfest of choice, I still find ComicCon to have plenty of interesting sights and sounds, making it a fun (if somewhat nerdy) place to visit.

If there’s one thing that the South Lake Union neighborhood has no shortage of right now, it’s construction, and the building I currently work at is right in the middle of all the action.  With a massive project underway to reconstruct Mercer Avenue to allow two-way traffic and eliminate the need for traffic coming off of I-5 to go over to Valley and Broad Street to get to Seattle Center, it seems like you can go hardly anywhere in the neighborhood without having to find your way around the Mercer Mess.  A couple of weeks ago they started digging up what appeared to be a relatively new concrete roadway on Terry Avenue, presumably for the purpose of exhuming the buried railroad ties you see here.  You would think they would manage to get those out the first time they did this (which would have to have been relatively recent, given the fact that the South Lake Union Streetcar of Questionable Repute has its tracks here),  but why do the job right the first time when you can get someone to pay you to do it right the second time instead?

Since I moved to my current residence in Downtown Bellevue a bit less than two years ago, I have found that there hasn’t been much opportunity to make use of the RC cars that I dropped a fair bit of money on several years ago.  Although I have yet to find a good excuse to pull the big nitro Revo out of storage yet (and would have a hard time finding a place to work on it here anyway,) I have actually found that there’s a surprisingly good empty field to take my 1/16th scale E-Revo VXL out for a good bash session right behind my building.  With the weather getting better and a girlfriend who seems to actually like this kind of stuff, I’ve found a sudden resurgence in interest in RC stuff.  I’ve actually started doing some work on suspension upgrades (the front A-arms have already been replaced here, and I’ve got aluminum pushrods and adjustable toe links on the way to replace the plastic ones you see here) and have considered replacing the radio as well.  I forgot how much fun these things can be if you’ve got a nice big field of dirt to kick up.  I’m half-tempted to get another one of these minis (I’ve been looking at the HPI Savage XS and wondering how it would compare to this,) but I think  that’ll probably be a while off.  There’s still plenty to do with this one in the meantime.

You know those places that promise a 30-minute oil change?  Well, these guys claim they can do it in 29.  I just hope the minute they’re cutting out here isn’t the one with the “check to make sure everything still works” part in it…

And finally, here’s something I saw the other night at one of those fun center places up in Edmonds.  What better place to celebrate your kid’s birthday than on a Boulevard of Broken Dreams?  I guess the House of the Rising Sun must have been booked for the evening, and the Hotel California hasn’t answered their phone since 1969, so this will have to do.


April 17, 2012

Just Another Carnage-Filled Day at the Races

Filed under: Cars — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:14 am

Of all the things that the Pacific Northwest is known for, auto racing isn’t one of them.  Sure, there’s an NHRA event that takes place each year down at Pacific Raceways in Kent, and Portland International Raceway was an annual stop for the now defunct Champ Car World Series back in the day (and is now an annual stop for a slightly less prestigious imitator,) but by and large there isn’t much in the way of professional racing around here.  That’s not to say there isn’t racing to be found, just as long as you’re not too picky about what type of racing you’re watching.  Nestled in a (usually) quiet corner of rural Snohomish County about 33 miles northeast of Downtown Seattle lies the city of Monroe, a town of about 17,000 people that serves as host to Evergreen Speedway, a 5/8th mile NASCAR-affiliated oval track which also includes smaller 3/8th and 1/5th mile ovals, a 1/8th mile drag strip and a figure-8 track, and finds frequent opportunities to make use of all of them.  Throughout the Spring and Summer there are races held at Evergreen Speedway every Saturday night.  Just don’t go expecting any fancy big-budget racing, because you aren’t likely to find it here.  What you will find is a fine evening of mindless entertainment, with a side of metal carnage thrown in for good measure.

A couple of weekends ago, me and a friend of mine spent the evening at Evergreen Speedway’s season opening demolition derby night, which also featured a stunt jump, Figure 8 races and more.  After the break, you will find some of the highlights of the evening,


April 6, 2012

In, But Not Of?

Filed under: Bellevue, Random Stuff, Seattle — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:13 am

This evening, lacking much better to do besides try unsuccessfully to work on the next post in my software testing series (you should be seeing that one sometime in the semi-near future,) I decided to wander over to Bellevue Square for a bit, something I haven’t done much of lately.  As I was making the short drive over, it occurred to me that I hadn’t been over there in a while.  For that matter, it occurred to me that I haven’t spent much time in Downtown Bellevue lately either.  Admittedly, that’s kind of an odd thing to say considering the fact that I happen to live here and spend a good 12-15 hours a day here by default, but most days it seems like I’m either at work, commuting to and from work, doing stuff at home or off doing something with my friends in another part of town.  As a result of all this, there seems to be a strange sense of disconnectedness to it all.

I suppose that a lot of it can be attributed to the fact that while I worked here in Downtown Bellevue I spent a lot of time walking around the neighborhood, both while walking to and from work and taking my customary afternoon stroll around the block, not to mention the occasional walk to and from the mall or elsewhere in the Downtown area.  Although I tend to be thoroughly skeptical of most of the various ideas being pushed by the various proponents of Urbanism (which seems to mostly be a thinly veiled code word for “we hate suburbs and/or the people who live in suburbs” these days, but that’s another post,) I do have to admit that there is something to be said for having things within walking distance.  Not only is it convenient, but it also has the side benefit of providing incentive to go out for a walk and get some fresh air (and/or get rained on, as seems to often be the case around here.  You also tend to get a different perspective on things by walking to and from places than you would otherwise get by driving.  As odd as it sounds, you become familiar with the little things you see along the sidewalk, and as you walk around the area.  This doesn’t seem particularly significant, but familiarity tends to create some sense of connection, which seems to have a subtle but noticeable effect on one’s perception of their surroundings.  I suppose that once the weather starts getting better and daylight continues getting longer in the evening it’ll probably be easier to get out and walk around a bit more, but the combination of the season, spending nearly two hours a day commuting and just generally not having much reason to go out tends to make it a bit hard to get out and spend much time outdoors around here.

That said, I’ve found that my “new” neighborhood of South Lake Union (where I work currently) is taking a lot more getting used to than I would have expected.  When I signed on with Amazon again I was well aware of the fact that I’d be spending a lot more time commuting than I was used to, with most of that spent on buses.  Basically, right now my commute consists of driving over to the Eastgate Park and Ride (about 4 miles away from here,) catching a bus from there which takes about 15 minutes to get to the International District tunnel station in Downtown Seattle and frequently tends to be standing room only by the time I’m on board, catching an Amazon shuttle from there to South Lake Union, where I then walk about a block to the building I work in.  On a good day, I can get to work in about 40 minutes, and if the traffic coming back is particularly horrible it can be as much as an hour and a half on the way back.  Aside from an occasional glance at Mount Rainier while crossing the I-90 bridge on the bus, the scenery along the way isn’t much to speak of.  With the buses generally being too crowded with people to do much but stand around and wait, and most of the Amazon shuttles playing one of the two local NPR stations which always seem to be right in the middle of the Incredibly Depressing and\or Rage-Inducing News Hour* during the time I’m riding them, there seems to be a fair amount of incentive to find something suitably distracting to drown it out with.  Basically, this means that the vast majority of the commute in either direction is spent off in my own proverbial little world.   I do still try to get out for my now customary afternoon walk when the weather and workload permits, but even with that I’ve found it difficult to warm up to the neighborhood. 

In a nutshell, South Lake Union is one of those neighborhoods that was caught in the historical limbo where most of what was in the area was old enough to look thoroughly dreary, but not old enough to be of much interest in terms of historical preservation.  Aside from a couple of somewhat interesting Mid-Century Modern buildings, most of the area has been populated with various run down warehouses and erstwhile factories.  For about the past decade or so Paul Allen and company have been in the process of knocking down a number of the old structures in the area and gentrifying the neighborhood, which has placed a number of shiny new office buildings amidst the decaying old warehouses, but hasn’t really bothered to give much of a soul to the neighborhood.  As an office the particular building I happen to be located in is actually quite a nice place to work, but I seriously doubt it’s going to win any architectural awards anytime soon.  Across the street, surrounded by the various other Amazon buildings, is an old warehouse structure, completely unremarkable in every way except for a somewhat interesting ghost ad that I see for much of the day from my desk.  I suppose the fact that there’s a lot of vacant ground floor real estate isn’t helping matters much, but even the stuff that is occupied seems to be either the usual nondescript chain fare or assorted overpriced hipster bait.  Not that the hipsters seem to be bothering with this particular neighborhood in any significant quantities anyway, not while Capitol Hill is just a few blocks away.  As a side effect, the neighborhood does seem to be a magnet for food trucks of varying quality and/or overpricedness, but I haven’t tried enough of them to get an overall feel of how those contribute to the neighborhood. All in all, it’s the kind of place I can live with on a 9-to-5 basis, but I don’t think I could ever see myself wanting to live in a place like this (or much elsewhere in Seattle for that matter, but that’s beside the point.)

Still, with one neighborhood that I’m having trouble warming up to, and another neighborhood I’m having trouble finding enough time to feel connected to, it makes for an overall sense of disconnectedness that just doesn’t feel quite right.  Hopefully with Spring coming and the weather improving this situation will improve, but it still tends to be just a little unnerving.  Either that, or this is just someone’s way of telling me I really need to get out a bit more…

*Probably not the official name, but you get the point.

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