The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

February 27, 2014

Random Thoughts: The Land of the Not-Quite-Midnight Sun

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:18 am

Picture only vaguely related.

As we approach the end of February and begin to transition into March and the pending arrival of Spring that it brings, this time of year tends to mark a bit of a small milestone in my mind.  It’s the time of year when there’s still a few remaining shreds of daylight outside when I leave the office in the evening.  I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before on my Blog (after 6 1/2 years and 635 posts, I suspect there isn’t a whole lot left that I haven’t talked about on here at one point or another) but I tend to view this as the point where Winter is finally starting to wane, and it’s just about time to start looking for signs of Spring.  Generally, by the middle of Autumn all (or most of) the leaves have fallen off the trees, and at that point most people just tend to spend the next three or four months treating them as basically a blind spot, since there isn’t really anything to see there anyway.  In fact, it wasn’t until I was leaving the office today that I happened to notice some of the trees lining Spring street between Western and First still had their Christmas lights on, even though I walk past there on a regular basis.  I just hadn’t bothered to take notice of the fact.

As I’m sure you’ve heard from many sources over many years, even though the Winter weather we get around here tends to be relatively mild compared to the Winter weather you find in a lot of places (the Eastern United States in particular seems to be getting more than their fair share of the stuff this year) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t thoroughly miserable out there at times.  The fact that Seattle is one of the Northernmost major cities in the Continental United States means that we tend to have a greater variation in the lengths of our days and nights than a lot of places.  During the Summer it may not get dark until almost 10pm, but around the Winter Solstice, sunset here can be as early as 4:18pm. (Note:  This is based on 2013 sunrise/sunset times, not sure how much it varies from year to year.)  To contrast, in Los Angeles (about 1,000 miles South of here, and approximately 200 miles east of Seattle in longitude,) the earliest sunsets in December happen at 4:43pm, nearly a half hour later, and the latest sunsets in June are at 8:08pm, which is over an hour earlier than here.  At the Summer Solstice, Los Angeles gets 14 hours, 25 minutes and 34 seconds between Sunrise and Sunset, but Seattle gets 15 hours, 59 minutes and 20 seconds (feel free to round up to an even 16 hours if you’d like,) nearly an hour and a half more sunlight.

On the other hand, at the Winter Solstice Seattle only gets 8 hours, 25 minutes and 24 seconds, while Los Angeles gets 9 hours, 53 minutes and 26 seconds, a difference of roughly an hour and a half (give or take a minute or two.)  If you compare this to a location even further South (such as Miami, which is just about as far South as you can get in the continental United States) the difference becomes even more marked, with over two hours more sunlight here at the Summer Solstice, and over two hours more sunlight there at the Winter Solstice.  Taking this exercise to its logical conclusion (in this case, almost directly on the Equator in Quito, Ecuador)  reveals a difference of roughly 4 hours at each Solstice.  Granted, it’s not quite the “Midnight Sun” that they get up in Northern Alaska during the Summer (which they make up for with Polar Night, a period of one or more days with no sun at all during the Winter above the Arctic Circle) but the effect is more significant than most people might imagine.  People don’t tend to think of Seattle as really being a Northern city, but at a latitude of 47°37′N, it’s quite a bit farther north than quite a few major Canadian cities, including Toronto (43°42′N), Ottawa (45°25′N), Montreal(45°30′N) and Quebec City (46°49′N.)  In fact, the closest Canadian city in terms of latitude is St. John’s, Newfoundland at 47°34′N, and people tend to think of Newfoundland as being way up in the North, but it’s still south of Seattle in latitude.  Obviously there are also a number of Canadian cities well to the north of Seattle, including Vancouver (obviously), Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg, but it turns out that Seattle is farther north than the areas that at least a third of the population of Canada lives in (too lazy to try to sort out population stuff right now, it’s already 1am while I’m typing this. and I should probably have been in bed an hour ago.)

Nonetheless, regardless of how late it stays light outside during the Summer, we definitely seem to end up paying for it with our early darkness during the Winter.  And when it gets dark as early as it does in December and January, you tend not to notice things.  Sure, the weather is still, on average, fairly miserable on most days, but at least when the light starts to stay longer the “gloom” portion of the whole doom-and-gloom thing that seems so popular around this time of year tends to be reduced to some extent.  Yes, it’s still 43 degrees outside and you’re still trudging up the hill to the bus stop in the type of rain that isn’t enough to really do much more than annoy you, but at least you tend to have some sense that it can’t last forever.  I’m sure if I went looking for the signs of the pending Spring they wouldn’t be too hard to find (and probably wouldn’t have been too hard to find three weeks ago if I cared to look then) but regardless of how vigilant one might or might not be, Spring has a tendency to sneak up on us a bit.  One day, we happen to look up and suddenly notice that the trees are in full blossom, and wonder when it happened.  Then again, a dormant tree in Winter just tends to kind of blend into the background without much reason to notice it, until suddenly one day it wakes up and makes itself highly visible.  But in the meantime, we’re not quite out of the proverbial woods yet.  At least we can see that we might be soon enough, which sometimes is just barely enough to keep us going for a while.

(Sources:  Sunrise and sunset data used here came from this site.  Data on latitudes of Canadian cities from this page.)

February 12, 2014

Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup 2014: How Do Fools Fall in Love?

Filed under: Holidays — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 7:53 am

Oh, the troubles I’ve seen…

Well, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching once again, and as always, there is one thing on the hearts and minds of men all around the globe:  Don’t screw this one up.  Yes, there are plenty of nice things you can get your significant other to show how much you care, but at the same time there are also plenty of things out there that are, to put it briefly, rather inadvisable.  And for the seventh year now, I have made note of some of the more egregious examples found on store shelves all over the area, and compiled them here, partially as a convenient excuse to make snarky comments, and partially as a “What not to do” warning for those who dare to tread into this dangerous territory.  Along this path lies heartbreak, anguish, and quite possibly even sleeping on the couch.

As usual, I present this with the disclaimer that I am by no means an expert on this subject, nor do I pretend to be.  If I was then maybe I would have figured out how to stop being single at some point in time.  Then again, my girlfriend doesn’t seem to be a big fan of the traditional Valentine’s Day stuff anyway.  A couple of years ago, our Valentine’s Day date consisted of a lunch in one of the fancy steakhouses here in Bellevue, which quite frankly didn’t really go over so well.  Last year it was dinner at IKEA followed by a visit to one of the local Go-Kart tracks.  Not surprisingly, that one went over a whole lot better.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that to everyone though;  somehow I get the suspicion that I’m dealing with a bit of an edge case (not that I’m complaining, mind you…)  I don’t tell this story for any particular reason, but know that everyone is different, and sometimes you’ll find that the reality of the situation is far different from what the greeting card companies might have you expect.  Anyway, without further ado, the 7th annual Sledgehammer Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup can be found after the jump.

Previous Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundups:

(more…)

February 6, 2014

A Lot More Than 12 Men on the Field – The Seahawks Super Bowl Victory Parade

Filed under: Seattle, Sports — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 10:50 pm

In 2012, it was estimated that there are 634,535 people living in the City of Seattle at the time.  Last year, the population of the entire State of Washington was estimated to be 6,971,406 people.  In Downtown Seattle yesterday, it was estimated that a crowd of over 700,000 people had gathered along Fourth Avenue to celebrate what is (currently) an unprecedented event in Seattle:  A Super Bowl championship.  This isn’t the first time that a Seattle team has won a championship (the Sonics won an NBA championship in 1979, and the Seattle Storm have won WNBA championships in 2004 and 2010) but aside from the Seahawks’ previous appearance in Super Bowl XL (and the controversial officiating that some believe adversely impacted the outcome of the game, which has remained a sore spot with Seahawks fans for years,) an NBA Finals appearance for the Sonics in 1996 where they mostly served as the token opponent for one of the Michael Jordan dynasty Bulls championships, and a few promising Mariners seasons that ultimately fizzled out in the ALCS, Seattle hasn’t had much to cheer about in the past decade in terms of sports.  The Mariners have typically been somewhere in the range of mediocre to terrible each year since the 116-win 2001 season, the Sonics are currently tearing up the league from their new home in Oklahoma City (and no, I really can’t hate the Thunder, mostly because Kevin Durant is so much fun to watch when he really gets going,)  and the Seahawks have made the playoffs a few times, but have usually managed to be defeated in dramatic fashion.  In recent years Sounders FC has appeared on the scene and developed a surprisingly loyal fan base, but has yet to have much success in their appearances in the MLS Cup playoffs.  Back in 2004, ESPN did a feature on the 15 most tortured sports cities in America, and Seattle made the list at #7.  Of course this was before they made it to Super Bowl XL in 2006, but the outcome of that particular game didn’t seem to do much to help things any.

Perhaps it is because of that history that so many people (at least double the amount of any of the estimates made prior to the parade) showed up to celebrate the Seahawks’ first ever NFL championship, won in emphatic fashion as the Seahawks blew out the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday.  The parade route stretched along Fourth Avenue between Seattle Center and CenturyLink Field, and people arrived hours ahead of time to claim their spots.  I kind of figured that getting into Downtown was going to be a mess regardless of how many people showed up, but even though the 550 bus from Downtown Bellevue took twice as long as it normally does to get there, I was able to avoid the long lines of people waiting to board the bus by getting on at the first stop at the Bellevue Library.  The bus was completely full by the time it left the Transit Center, and ended up just bypassing almost all of its stops (each of which appeared to have a good 20-30 people waiting) due to lack of space for any more passengers.  I figured that I was going to have to make the trip into Downtown to go to work whether I was attending the parade or not, so I might as well see what all the hubbub was about.  And yes, I’m aware that I’m a really horrible sports fan, but if more than 10% of the entire population of the state is doing it, that probably counts as sufficient peer pressure.

To give you some idea of what kind of crowd came out for this parade in spite of freezing temperatures and semi-apocalyptic traffic, this is roughly half a block’s worth of people, looking northwest from roughly Fourth and Madison.  Now picture every single block of Fourth Avenue from Seattle Center all the way to CenturyLink Field, which was also packed with people (but not full, as some sections were blocked off due to preparations for an RV show going on downstairs.)  In addition to all this, Safeco Field was completely full of people watching the festivities on the big screen.  To get a better idea of just what the crowds looked like, you can find a number of other photos on this post.

And this is the view looking in the other direction.  Basically, any convenient ledge or patio people could watch from was jammed with as many people as would fit on to it.

It took some time for the parade to actually reach the location where I was watching from, but the crowd remained enthusiastic in spite of the delay.  When the parade did finally show up, the first ones in line were some of the team buses carrying a number of team personnel, several of which had managed to open up the emergency exit in the ceiling and get up on top of the buses to wave at the crowd.  Apparently safety is something that happens to Peyton Manning when you screw up the snap on the first play of the game (much to the chagrin of the Vegas bookmakers who presumably had to pay out some longshot bets on that one, I imagine.)

Elsewhere in the safety department (or lack thereof,) Marshawn Lynch decided to take in the parade from the hood of a duck full of Sea Gals where he threw Skittles toward the crowds.  I actually managed to catch a couple of them; I’m not sure if I should save them or try to sell them on eBay.

As the parade passed by, the running backs had the privilege of showing off the Lombardi Trophy.  I’m told that it was passed around between the various team members over the course of the parade, and these guys happened to have it at the time they were passing by.  Every time a group of players went by, the cheering was incredibly loud.  To be perfectly honest, the parade itself wasn’t all that exciting  (I can’t imagine you can put on too much of a show on three days notice) but seeing the sheer number of people who turned out was nothing short of breathtaking.  Seattle’s been waiting a long time (and has suffered through years of mediocrity, anguish and heartbreak) for one of its major sports teams to bring home a championship, and it shows.  Now if only we could get the Mariners to actually do something…

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