View From the Train

Being a coastal dweller, I sometimes finding myself dismissing that huge mass of land between the ocean as "flat and boring". Yet every time I am exposed to said countryside, I am always reminded that it has bushels of beauty. Traveling through the true countryside, away from interstates, truck stops, and billboards, I gained an even greater appreciation of this particular chunk of our fair country.

Cruising over the mountain pass in the Cascades was great. The pass over the Montanan Rockies was even better. We encountered a bit of a snow storm round about Glacier National Park*. I liked taking pictures of the snow. The rest of Montana impressed me as well, with its rolling hills and vast plains(/grazing land, I assume). I thoroughly enjoyed spending the evening knitting while watching the lazy scenery roll on by. Unfortunately, our passage through North Dakota was in the night, so I didn't see much. I'm told, however, that it is very similar to Eastern Montana.

Besides the great landscape, it was neat to see the little towns. I got to get off and walk around in a few. Others we saw fly by at 50 miles an hour. There was a certain charm to the towns that was noticeable even at 50 mph*. Most of these places aren't experiencing the population expansion like so much of the NW, so the stores along main street are the same ones that have been there for years. (Or perhaps I am assuming too much. A brief glimpse and a lot of time to ponder can lead a person to do that.*).

Anyway, I just wanted to add this outside-the-train evidence to my previous post regarding internal evidence of why train travel kicks ass. I'm just sorry I don't have more photographic evidence.
Saturday March 22 2008File under: travel, USA

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Empire Builder

I *heart* train travel.

Before, most of my railway experiences were either in places where train travel was the norm* (Asia and Europe) or only for short distances here in the U.S. (Seattle to Portland, Northeastern Corridor, etc.). I had heard mixed reviews of Amtrak's cross-country service so was a little anxious about the trip*. After the fact, thought, I am glad to say that Amtrak's cross-country service on the Empire Builder couldn't have impressed me more.

Without going too much into detail, let me just highlight what has turned me into such trainophile, at least regarding this trip. For one, I was blown away by how much leg room each seat has. We are talking quite a bit more than first class on an airplane. You can keep your luggage at your feet, if you so desire, and still have space to comfortably sprawl. The seats themselves are on the upside of comfortable. There are foot rests and leg rests that fold out from under the seat*. One could wish for the ability to recline slightly more* but was still more comfortable than a plane*. The convenience of the boarding (/layover) process is also worthy of note. You don't have to take off your shoes, check your luggage 3 times, or empty your bags of all liquid and gel substances. You show up and then you get on the train. And at the station stops, you could hop off, have a quick stroll to stretch your legs, snap a few pictures, then hop back on without anyone hassling you for a ticket or anything. Speaking of stretching your legs, while in transit, there is plenty of space to get up and walk around. Plus, there are destinations to walk to: the diner car*, the lounge car, and the observation car (which was really the hip place to be). Lastly, the views couldn't be beat. (More about that later*.)

Can you tell I enjoyed myself? While there were certain unpleasantnesses associated with passing 48 hours in a relatively enclosed space, I couldn't help constantly comparing the experience to that of the alternative. The train came out on top 9 out of 10 times. If I was to do it again, the only possible changes I would make would be 1) try to convince someone to ride with me (it's so much friendlier with two) or 2) look closer at the possibility of getting a sleeper car (in my initial investigations, I didn't pick up on the fact that meals are included in the price of your roomette.)

While I concede that the train isn't approriate for all situations*, I encourage people to not discount it when they are considering their next trip.
Friday March 21 2008File under: travel, USA

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FC 24 - Braille Style

This Friday's comic comes to you courtesy of Jenelement (a.k.a. jenelvis, jenelevator, jenelephant). Again, the treacherous canvas of MS Paint was braved to bring you these chortles, which only proves that with talent, creativity, and constant nagging from a friend, people can create good images with bad image editors.

As for the Fridayness of my Friday comics, I fully intend on keeping the little tradition going while I'm on the road, but I do request that you give me a little leeway regarding schedule. Computers have a way of making themselves scarce sometimes, and I can't do anything but patiently hunt them. I thank you in advance for your patience.


Friday March 21 2008File under: comic

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Eastbound Train

Spring is in the air; trees blooming, baseballers spring training, me only needing 3 wool blankets on my bed in the garage, and, as is kind of becoming a pattern, me feeling the need to go out on an adventure. This itchiness for adventure that has been popping up in my life over the past couple years (and my increasing willingness to give in to it) interests me greatly. I could try to dissect it ("seeking answers to life's persistent questions"*, yada yada yada), but I'm hardly qualified.

This incarnation of adventure isn't going to be nearly as bold as some of the others–no circuses, scooters, or international travel, although anything could happen. Maybe even calling it an "adventure" is a stretch. Perhaps I should downgrade it grammatically to merely a "trip". Oh those pesky semantics.

Here's the plan so far: go east. My hopeful itinerary includes Chicago, Boston, NYC, Portland (Maine), Phillie, Baltimore, Ohio, North Carolina, and points in between. I leave on the first leg this afternoon: Seattle to Chicago by train. The ride is slated to take 48 hours and I've got my books, crosswords, and knitting all ready. I chose the train for a number of reasons; comfort, convenience*, purty views of North Dakota, and environmental concerns (more on that later, hopefully). Anyway, the hope is to see friends along the way so if you live in an aforementioned place and might have time for lunch, dinner, or an insider's tour of your town, drop me an e-mail and we'll work something out.
Tuesday March 18 2008File under: travel, USA

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Victoria Juggling Fest 2008

This past weekend, I made the trek from Anacortes up* to Victoria B.C. When I say "trek", I mean it. As is my wont, I decided to make the whole trip via public transportation: 6 buses, 2 ferries, and 10 hours*. It is good to know that it is doable, but I think next time, I'll look into carpooling.

Anyway, the festival was great. It was wonderful to see all my old juggling buddies again and throw things at their heads. The public show had some very creative acts and kept me quite entertained. The whole Canadian spin on things (metric system, funny money, accents, etc.) gave the weekend a more adventurous aura. Yep, good folks and good fun–I can't think of a better way to spend a weekend.

(The combination of my camera not taking good indoor pictures* and my laziness to attempt taking pictures led to only a few presentable shots of the festival: tall unicycle club passing and a gym of jugglers (taken at a non-optimum time because there were times when it was much hoppinger than this.))
Monday March 17 2008File under: juggling, transportation

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Amish Awesomeness

I would make an awesome Amish person...maybe I was this close to keeping this version of my I'm-gonna-shave-my-whole-beard-off-so-why-not-do-something-silly-in-the-meantime* beard. I think the Amish were really onto something with the whole mustache-less beard.

As for the other parts of being Amish, I figure I would fit right in. I don't really drive, so the lack of automotive technology wouldn't bother me. I can raise a barn like nobody's business*. Regarding the lack of electricity, it isn't like I use a fully electrified computeratrolatron for all aspects of my life. Oh wait. Maybe I will just go with the beard.

Since the Amish-style beard didn't turn out as silly as I had hoped, I had to go ahead and capture the neckbeard. Before you laugh*, please note that lots of famous people throughout history wore neck beards: Henry David Thoreau, William Tecumseh Sherman. While I may not be a fancy philosopher or Civil War enthusiast, I can at least kind of pull off the beard of one.
Sunday March 16 2008File under: beard

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FC 23 - Sideways

I had to outsource the artwork on this comic all the way across the border. Please don't tell the IRS. My gracious host, Gabriella, from Yelapa, Mexico drew this one. (And as [almost] always, it was colored by yours truly.)

Besides being a wunnerful comic artist*, Ms. Gabriella is also a wunnerful musician. Perhaps you recall how I recounted stories of some great evenings sitting around a campfire while she did her folksy music thing on stage. Well, I neglected to pass along the link then, so I will do just that now: check out her music over at MySpace. (Oh, and if anyone knows how to set it up so songs are downloadable through the myspace music player thing, pass that info along to me and I will pass it along to her and then I will download the music and then I will put it on my .mp3 player and then I will listen to it and then I will laugh at "I'll show you mine" and then the people on the bus will look at me funny for laughing when I'm not talking to anyone.*)

Anyhoo, enjoy the comic. Enjoy your Friday. Enjoy Pi Day!
Thursday March 13 2008File under: comic

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Happy Pi(e) Day!

Okay, so maybe Pi(e) Day isn't for another 2 days, but we all know what I save Friday posts for. And since today is Wednesday, unofficial crossword day, I thought I might as well go for it.

For some reason, this crossword* really took a long time and it didn't turn out awesome. It was my plan to submit this one for publication because I really like the theme, but a few of the answers weren't up to snuff*. That said, it still ain't bad so I encourage you to give it a try: Crossword - Happy Pie Day.

I also should thank Dan B. for saving me from using the answer "Radu II"*. His suggestion is quite a bit better, although still not NY Times material (which isn't his fault at all. How many things can you come up with that fit the form _ad_ _ i?)

As always, I would love your feedback (too hard, too easy, too many specific knowledge clues, etc.). Also, have a wonderful Pi Day on Friday. Bake a pie. Recite pi. Go to a Pi Sig frat party. (Oh, and for those of you who aren't following the whole Pi Day thing, check out last year's post on the subject for further enlightenment*)
Wednesday March 12 2008File under: misc, holidays

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The Speed of Technology

I just had a wacky little thought. Since it is shaping up to be a slow blog week (good stuff to come, but not until next week), I figured I'd share. The icon that most programs use for a shortcut for saving (pictured at left) struck me as outdated. When I started thinking about it, I realized that it is so outdated, that many computer users probably don't even know what it is a picture of. When was the last time you used a 3.5" floppy?

I can't really think of anything better to replace it—maybe a folder with an arrow going in to mimic the "open" shortcut icon. And I'm not trying to complain—afterall, I know what it means. I just thought it was kind of an interesting observation.
Tuesday March 11 2008File under: misc

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North Sound City to City Public Transportation Guide

It's been a year now that I've been without a car. And while Scoot Scoot gets me around, it isn't the most efficient thing for longer distance travel*, so I very often find myself on the bus. In fact, I'm getting to know the local area bus schedule pretty damn well–so well, in fact, that I often find myself acting as consultant to people who want to go from A to B under C circumstance.

Fancy schmany public transportation districts have websites with trip planners where you can get routes to and from anywhere in the system without having special knowledge of which routes run when, where, etc. This is what I've set out to recreate for the transportation districts in our area. You select where you want to start and where you want to go and presto, this website lays out what routes to take, as well as helpful tidbits about schedule, price, etc.

One thing that the site doesn't offer (yet) is a full timetable for each schedule. One reason is because to maintain a separate database for all these would be problematic. Whenever a company changed its schedule, things would be out of sync until I realized the problem. Another reason is because I am just one guy, and the prospect of doing a full blown trip planner (for free) was a little overwhelming.

But despite the lacking time element, my hope is that this tool will help those who want to make inroads into public transportation travel but don't know where to start. Spread the word about North Sound City to City Public Transportation Guide.
Sunday March 9 2008File under: transportation, coding

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