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Monday, February 27, 2012

Creation's sunrise and the sunset of ink-paper books

Monday, clear and blue skied. Of course, that also means a bit colder than freezing when the skies are so clear at this time year. Much lighter are the skies than they were at this hour only a couple of weeks back, too.

It's good to be back on campus this morning. Apart from attending this weekend's College Foundation auction and dinner, it has been almost a full week since I was last here.

This past week took me to a conference in Portland (OR) which, in turn, means a trip to Powell's City of Books. Powell's is an awesome and huge emporium of books. In a stroke of genius they place used and new copies of every book side by side on the shelves, and if you can't find it at Powell's you're probably not going to find it. Newbies to the store are well advised to grab one of the helpful maps to the multi-story block-square store.

I found several books I had been planning to read, a couple hardish-to-find, and all at less than I would otherwise have had to pay. Some Stephen Fry, a pinch of Douglas Adams, one Neil Gaiman, and a few old paperback Ngaio Marsh mysteries. I also picked up a couple of classic gems (A Wrinkle In Time, My Side of the Mountain) for our oldest grandson, already a voracious reader at seven.

It was a case of an old habit, old pleasure, kicking in, buying all those paperback books. I've gradually, over the last couple of years) shifted over to reading almost everything digitally, and it was actually (noticeably) jarring to switch back to the old technology of ink on paper. At one point I pressed my finger on a word on the printed page to see a definition of the word (needless to say, this didn't work), and was momentarily flummoxed when I put the book down and realized I needed to find a way to mark my place. When my wife and I retired to bed and finished reading for a bit there I had to adjust my bedside lamp to provide more light for a page that wasn't back-lit. Odd how quickly things can change, really, and how quickly we can embrace (or at least settle into) those changes.

Pulling onto campus, Bruce Cockburn's wonderful tune Creation Dream popped up, all raggae rhythm and poetic imagery:

Centred on silence
Counting on nothing
I saw you standing on the sea
And everything was
Dark except for
Sparks the wind struck from your hair
Sparks that turned to
Wings around you
Angel voices mixed with seabird cries
Fields of motion
Surging outward
Questions that contain their own replies...

You were dancing
I saw you dancing
Throwing your arms toward the sky
Fingers opening
Like flares
Stars were shooting everywhere
Lines of power
Bursting outward
Along the channels of your song
Mercury waves flashed
Under your feet
Shots of silver in the shell-pink dawn...

A beautiful tune for a sun-rising drive into campus on this crisp Monday morning.

Today's Full soundtrack:
- Sigur Rós: Voka (Live)
- Bruce Cockburn: Islands In a Black Sky
- Hayley Westenra: The Water Is Wide
- Bruce Cockburn: Creation Dream

- Posted via Hermes.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Jackhammer monkey and a mere whisp of wireless

It's Friday, and this post comes from the road. Or, to be more accurate, from a small but comfortable room in a fine hotel in downtown Portland, OR. I've been here most of this week attending a regional higher ed conference. It is the first conference I have been to in a few years, and it has been great having some time to connect with colleagues from around the region, learn a few new things, and spend a little time in one of my favorite PNW cities. It has been a nice change of pace and venue.
The view from my room:




Hotels, though, are never my favorite places to be. I don't sleep well in most hotels, and especially not when I'm away from my beloved of 30+ years. As hotels go, though, the Hilton in downtown Portland is very comfortable in most important respects. The staff here is extremely courteous and well trained, executing professional service at every encounter. Quiet rooms, very comfortable beds, nicely furnished, responsive elevators, ideally located in the center of this wonderfully walking-centric town. In fact, I might even say this is an ideal hotel, with but a couple of significant issues: the monkey in the HVAC system and the almost entire lack of wireless Internet service.

The HVAC monkey only showed up at 4:30 this morning. At a guess, I'd say he crawled into the bowls of the building's HVAC system armed with a small jackhammer and set to work doing whatever he has been so ceaselessly doing ever since. A high pitched drone and metal-on-metal rattle coming from someplace not-quite-here woke me well before my alarm went off. It is hard to describe accurately, but it isn't a sound you sleep through. It wasn't long before I could faintly hear my neighbors on either side also moving around, so I know I wasn't alone. The front desk was courteous, of course, but apart from indicating they would dispatch someone to explore, offered only sympathy and no explanations.

As for wireless service, well, that phrase has proven to be an oxymoron here. Like most semi-expensive hotels, access to the wireless is an à la carte option you pay an additional $10/day for. While I would rather this modern-day-essential be factored into my room cost rather than billed separately (who doesn't need wireless access these days; they don't make access to hot water an à la carte option), I don't object to paying for this service one way or another. I know it is an increasing cost to hotel operations, with bandwidth demand growing incredibly fast. But when I do pay for this service, I expect to get reasonable bandwidth and reliable service.

Here the wireless service amounts to an occasional passing whisp of bandwidth, like smoke from a cigarette walking by (and it does seem that most pedestrians here in Portland smoke). Here one moment, gone the next, and never much of it at any one time. Even checking email is painful, when it is possible at all. I will probably have to retire to the main lobby in order to post today's blog entry.

Later this afternoon I and my colleagues will board a train for home, we hope. Coming down this past Tuesday we only barely took the train we had tickets for. It got us as far as Seattle, and there we sat for 2.5 hours because of computer system failure at B&N, making it impossible for Amtrak to get permission to use the line.

While waiting in Seattle, I had plenty of time to try and figure out what this curious row of signs was trying to signify (no idea):




With Amtrak telling us they had no idea when they would be able to move, and offering refunds to one and all, we finally rounded up 10 stranded fellow-passengers, called a shuttle van to pick us up, and were driven from Seattle to Portland. I really hope we don't have to do that again. I like the train journey between Portland and home, and am looking forward to a restful and scenic trip.

No soundtrack for today's commute, at least not this morning for the short elevator ride down to the conference rooms. With luck, though, I will enjoy some Sigur Rós on the train ride home later this afternoon.

- Posted via Hermes.

Location:Portland, OR

Friday, February 10, 2012

A week with trains and community

It's Friday. I'll leave that sentence generic so the reader (if there is/are any) can place their own inflection and punctuation on it, as their week dictates. Me, I'd pop an exclamation point at the end of that short sentence. It's been a busy week and I'm looking forward to the couple days of recovery that follow in the Popular Dude's wake.

My week started with a train ride. Actually, it started with an early morning drop off at the local transit station for a bus ride into Seattle and a train ride from there to Olympia. Even though a taxi ride was necessary at the terminus of the trip, this was a much better way to get from Seattle to Olympia than driving (there is nothing remotely beautiful or enjoyable about that stretch of I-5). I enjoyed a better wi-fi connection along the entire route than I had in my hotel room that evening, was able to work with the colleague who travelled down with me, and got to enjoy some lovely seaside and mountain scenery on the journey down and back.


The week ends (nearly) with an impact team meeting later today. As part of my participation in Leadership Snohomish County this year, the community impact team I am a part of is working to build a new basketball court for a local Boy's & Girl's Club (if you want to help out in any way, or spread the word to others who might have skills or spare change to contribute: Will You Help Area Youth?). I'm working with a great small team of  dedicated local leaders, each brings a different skill set and perspective to the table. The project is moving forward very well, though we still have several needs to resolve (know anybody who migh be willing to contribute a bit of concrete?). This is energizing and rewarding work that builds and invests in our community.

I am fortunate to have a job that also builds and invests in our community, by providing the educational and training opportunities that help our community members realize their goals, in turn enabling them to succeed and contribute back to our community.  So even the long-feeling weeks are satisfying because it is so easy to walk across the campus and see/feel the difference our small individual efforts help afford. Community is important and worth investing in, worth being invested in. Simply put, community is good stuff.

Speaking of good stuff, tonight is our campus' International Night program at the Edmonds Center for the Arts. Students from dozens of different nationalities and traditions will perform a wide range of dance, song, and ceremonies. If you're looking for a truly energizing Friday night activity and live in the area, I heartily recommend it. It is a great insight into the many diverse traditions resident in our community, and every year the show is so enjoyable.

Today's full commute playlist:
 - Sigur Rós: Mílanó
 - John Denver: Poems, Prayers, And Promises
 - The Weepies: Gotta Have You
 - Sigur Rós: Ny Battery


Posted via Hermes.