25 September 2012

The World Is Not As Convenient As They Say

I need to whine about my first world problem for a moment. 

I work for a major telecommunications company, where, like any self-respecting tech company we routinely tout our products as the most amazing things ever, and talk about how cell phones are powerful hand-held computers that will revolutionize your life because, ya know, they have apps.  My whining isn't about who I work for, rather, its annoyance with the messaging that I can do anything with my cell phone.

There is an app for keeping track of frequent flier numbers and the many "memberships" one must have in order not to pay an inflated price at the grocery store.  An app for making my photographs look like they were taken with 110 camera, because doesn't everyone want to be a hipster?  Apps for finding recipes and trying on new hairstyles and to make reading magazines on your phone more convenient than being able to read a magazine. On your phone. 

Studies show that although people download lots of apps, they don't actually use many of them. Perhaps that's because so many things that apps purport to do for you, you can already do for yourself (Like take crappy pictures. I'm good at that one.)  My favorites are those apps that really do make my life convenient - a timer since I haven't worn a watch since 8th grade and was never great at following a second hand anyway, an e-reader so I don't have to lug 15 pounds of books with me on vacation. The Washington State Dems put together a "flashcard" app prior to the DNC that linked to a photo of each member of the Delegation and their bio so we could remember each other's names.  And I have an app that turns my phone into a white noise machine, again awesome for travel.

All of these things, whether on my iPad or my Android phone, are amazing and marvelous and I'd miss them if I didn't have them. 


It really irritates me when an app, like those for Facebook, fails to deliver even half of the functionality of accessing the page on your desktop PC.  Twitter on the iPad is dismal, I gave up properly tagging or adding photos to my blog during the DNC because it was maddening to try on both my  iPad and my phone.  I could write a post, but only one of limited length because then the iPad would simply stop navigating to the the bottom portions.

Gmail sorta works on the iPad, and I get that Apple would love to sabotage all things Google, but if I'm getting there using Apple's internet browser, and if the iPad is a "tablet PC" shouldn't it work the same way as it does on my "real PC?"  Apparently not.  

The last straw for me yesterday is realizing it was impossible for me to input my flight times on my Google Calendar using either the iPad or my Android phone. To appreciate the maddening irony of the latter, you need only understand that Android is an operating system designed by...Google!  Yes, all the expensive computing power at my reach, and I still had to move to my office to put an appointment on my calendar.

On the iPad I can make an appointment, but only enter in the times allowed to me by the pull down scroll wheel, not the precise "7:35 pm" as I'd like to.  And while my phone will let me put in whatever time I want, it lacked the functionality to let me instruct it about the applicable time zones of said appointment. Rather an important thing, given that Google Calendar (or Android OS, who the hell knows) unhelpfully thoughtfully assumes I would like all of my appointment times adjusted for the time zone I'm in and changes it without asking.  So if I've correctly entered everything now that I moved to my office, my flight from Seattle that leaves at 8:05am PST and arrives in DC at 4:05pm EST shows on my calendar right now as 8:10am - 1:05pm, and when I land in DC it will show on my calendar as 11:10am - 4:05pm.  This ensures that multi-time zoned appointments are only ever half right, and I have to perform Algebra in my literature-loving brain to make appointment times right for wherever I will be when the appointment happens.  

Which is all a rather roundabout way to ask the developers out there (especially you, Google!) to pretty please get your shit together and do it right?  I mean, I get why Facebook doesn't have it (they want you to see ads) but my Gmail and Google Calendar should just be what they are no matter where they are especially if I'm on a web browser.  Google wants its users to immerse itself in a universe similar to the Cult of Apple's (but nicer, way nicer), so functionality on a free service (email) is the hook that keeps me going back for more!  So why doesn't it work right?  

In conclusion, a giant box of Fran's Chocolates to whomever can fix it.  Deadline: Halloween.  Cuz I'm flying somewhere and I don't want to be late. 

24 September 2012

Pics From My Car - Deadwood

If I am "from" anywhere after moving around as much as I have, it is in South Dakota.  Even now, after 8 years in Los Angeles and a few more in Seattle, when I go back to Western South Dakota everything is incredibly familiar - the flora, the sky, the way the wind blows and the smell of pine trees.  

My family has pretty deep roots in Deadwood, and The Historian and I met there when he was the historian for the city.  So naturally, when we got married, the whole town came, because he was finally "legit."  Small towns are great like that - his boss (the Mayor) had made dresses for my mom when she was a child, so I guess that made him nobility by marriage?  

The trouble with missing one's "home" is that it is so expensive to go back.  I had to go back once for a family matter, and flew from LA.  We'd been pricing tickets to Chile at around the same time, but the trip to SD trumped South America.  And cost $120 more than a roundtrip flight to Santiago would have been. (Grr!)

The trade off of course is that you can actually see the sky there.  And hear the wind, and drive for ever and not see anything but wildlife.  You can get blessedly lost for a while, and see the thunderstorms coming for over an hour before the first drop of rain falls.  The Pacific Northwest comes close but I still miss a good thunderstorm!

Its a beautiful flat drive to get to Deadwood. Until a blizzard hits and you have to navigate by going from roadside reflector to roadside reflector.

If every Seattle hipster put these on their cars, Greg Nickels might still be Mayor.

The Federal Building + Post Office, dating to 1907.

The Adams Museum. Much of the research for the TV show is due in large part to the efforts of the Museum Director, Mary Kopco. Also, we got married here.  Because I married a Historian, and really, what good South Dakota girl doesn't want mounted animals at her wedding?

Can you imagine what this sign would sell for in Los Angeles? 

The house my mom grew up in, and that I remember vividly as a child. The current owners cut down my grandmothers beautifully tended rhododendrons and I made sure no one ever told her.

The sign reads "Lincoln Avenue Wildlife Preserve Please Don't Feed the Bears." My late uncle made it in his teens - the house's proximity to Mt. Moriah cemetery meant lots of tourist foot traffic.  Someone built a house on the lot, but the City's Building Inspector thoughtfully saved the sign for us .
This is the Homestake Slime Plant processed gold from the Homestake Gold Mine until the 1970s, and was threatened with demolition until it became a public event center and casino. 

The building has since been restored.  Yay for adaptive reuse!

DNC - Day 1

I've been slow to do the wrap-up of the DNC, but as always happens, Life Intervened and I've found myself without the time I thought I'd have.  Also, for some reason my body thought that the 3 hours of sleep I got per night in Charlotte just wasn't enough so I had to catch up on sleep.  More on Life Intervening later.  

Many of us flew to Charlotte on the Saturday before the Convention.  Getting to the East Coast from here is an all-day affair because the time change just ruins it for everyone.  Also, our first event was Sunday night.  There is one direct flight between Seattle and Charlotte, so there were about thirty-five of us on the flight - which was fun for us anyway.  

It was very difficult for me to post pictures to this blog as Blogger and the iPad kept arguing, so I did a few posts in Charlotte with out them.  This post has some of my first impressions.  

Where are we going?

Washington is like living in a postcard!

Our delegation filled the hotel. 

Our room for the week. 

You may not be able to see it, but in addition to a jar of nuts (get it?) to welcome us, the hotel also had key cards advertising the Billy Graham Library, featuring a photo of Rev Graham and LBJ on the reverse.  Welcome to North Carolina, heathens!
My friend's hubby arranged this welcome package for her - including whiskey shots, because sending her an entire bottle (their tradition) would not have been legal in NC.  The Historian accused him of trying to make all of the rest of the husbands look bad.  

I was utterly speechless when I saw this.

17 September 2012

Pics From My Car - Port of LA

I worked on a public infrastructure project for the Port of Los Angeles for over a year.  It was a treat for me when to see it from the water as we sailed out of Los Angeles bound for Mexico. 

I enjoy natural vistas, but think industrial spaces can be equally striking.  The port with its multi-colored cranes, cargo, ships and open water was always one of my favorite places to be.  

Fun fact - any time Jessica Fletcher (Murder She Wrote) was walking along the water in "Maine" it was actually filmed in this area. Realizing that was one of the first times living in LaLa Land ruined the illusion for me! 

Views include San Pedro, the Port of Los Angeles (aka Los Angeles Harbor) and the Angel's Gate Lighthouse.

Point Fermin Lighthouse, San Pedro.

12 September 2012

Tragedy in Libya

The news this morning is full of mention of the tragedy in Libya, including the US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans working in the Consulate. 

Too often with events like this, they seem removed from our every day American lives of commuting, runs to the grocery store, and easy access to Starbucks.  Indeed, the sacrifices and challenges willingly faced by our Foreign Service and diplomatic corps abroad warranted no mention at last week’s Democratic National Convention, in stark contrast to the many mentions of the military and their families.

This one though feels personal, as I am an avid reader of Foreign Service blogs, and a few weeks ago read aloud to The Historian a blog entry by Hannah Draper, a Foreign Service Officer currently serving in Benghazi, Libya.  I wanted to share it here today, in honor of the amazing work Ambassador Stevens was doing in Libya to represent US interests and help rebuild the country there.  I think it is important to remember that even though these events happen to strangers a world away, that they are American diplomats whose lives were cut tragically short, and who, due only to the fact that they are Americans, somehow are attributed to share the blame for a movie made out of hate for the Muslim faith. 

Please keep them and their families in your thoughts today.  The blog post is linked here.

10 September 2012

Pics From My Car - Valley Generating Plant

One of the benefits of being The Historian (besides being married to me) is that his job takes him into amazing buildings - private spaces not open to the public, derelict historic properties that are incredibly dramatic, hovel-like hotels fresh out of the movies where there literally is a man behind bulletproof glass to check "guests" in.

This series of photos are some The Historian took from his helicopter tour of a property known as the Valley Steam Plant just outside of Los Angeles.  Can you believe actually gets paid for this stuff? 

05 September 2012

How to Survive a Political Convention

We have two days left until the big show is over, so I thought I'd post a few things to bring to this, or any other major convention.  Especially one where it's hot and transit is as challenging as ours has been!  (Charlotte's light rail has saved me more than once. I'm telling every local I talk to so they keep voting to support it.)

Anyway - my list below for what to bring to help you survive:

  • Healthy snacks - there is food around for purchase but it is all stadium fare which gets a bit old.  I'm craving a salad and good Seattle coffee! 
  • Collapsable water bottle - security is tight, Water is around $4/bottle so a reusable and collapsible water bottle has saved my wallet (and my disposition!) REI has them in lots of colors for around $10.  
  • Band aids for preventing or caring for blistered feet. I'm not talking the kind you put on a skinned knee, rather thick cushioning plastic kind that are a godsend! I use them if I have a spot that is rubbing for my shoe, but they are really intended for aftercare.
  • On the subject of feet, I'm also using a tennis ball I brought from home as a makeshift massager for my aching feet! It's lightweight, small, and if I lose it is cheap to replace.  Win!
  • A cellphone power pack. This is a small square thingy that has saved the day for me and enabled me to keep tweeting, check email for Delegation updates, and update Facebook for the folks back home. I have a "New Trent" which I'd say holds 2 full charges for my Samsung Galaxy 2. The only downsideis it's a bit heavy.
  • Extra camera batteries and cards!
  • Curiosity - we've met a lot of great people and learned a great deal of information from just talking with volunteers, the press, and fellow Delegates.
  • Calling cards! I have cards printed with my name, Google Voice number, and my email address. I've been handing them out to anyone I meet who is friendly and excited, and inviting them to send me an email so I can share a link to my photos when I have them up. People are so delighted, especially folks like our light rail conductor who won't get an inside look at what we are up to.
  • Do your research, especially if you are going to be willing to do press interviews! I've talked with TV and radio reporters from all over the world now and am so glad that I have yet to be stumped by a question. Questions focus on the theme of the day (Michelle Obama yesterday, Bill Clinton today...) so think about what you might be asked and come up with a few talking points. The DNC is also offering a few messaging tips to us which has been helpful.
  • A supportive partner. The Historian is home, and I've really been out of touch, complicated by our respective schedules and the time difference. I called him today at a very early hour to remind him about our Roll Call today so he can watch. I am pretty sure he was awake enough to remember...
  • My last and perhaps most important point is to bring your patience. An event like this is special and meaningful to everyone, no matter their role. We are all inconvenienced, rained on, tired, and a little bit grumpy. So just relax and enjoy, rather than letting your inner honey badger out. You'll be glad you did.

Too little time to sleep!

Sorry for no update yesterday. Transportation + need to sleep + 7am breakfast time means I had no time.  Will find a quiet moment later today.  

03 September 2012

A few more thoughts...

Almost forgot:

I was interviewed by a Chinese television station today about Obama, the Convention, and a reaction to Romney's speech.  He asked if I "thought Obama needs another chance.". I replied that his question implies Obama had somehow failed during his first term, and that in fact the opposite is true.  I said our President has absolutely delivered progress for this country, and that another four years to continue his work is what our country needs.  I also was able to point out that I'm from Washington state, where the US Ambassador to China, Gary Locke, was once Governor.  If only I had a friend in China who could watch to see if they use it, and if so, how they spin it!

And one more bit on volunteering...so, we in Seattle are accustomed to a little rain, right? Wow, Southern rain is a whole different story! While we were at the house site, the skies utterly opened up in a deluge that lasted about half an hour. We were able to shelter in the house, and to help cover equipment and save the banner everyone had signed from ruin from the water.  I'm almost regretting not bringing my raincoat like The Historian wanted me to!

Thursday, the day Obama is scheduled to speak, the last of the hurricane is projected to hit Charlotte.  I hope it doesn't rain, but if it does, I'll be more than willing to stand in the rain if it means more people can share the moment with us.  Fingers crossed!

DNC - Labor Day

It was quite an early start this morning, but we had great speakers at breakfast and were off and running!  The Convention doesn't officially start until tomorrow night at 5pm EST, but there were several caucuses today that people could attend. One of the things I admire most about they way the Convention is going this year is that many of the events are open to the public - including the caucuses and when President Obama speaks on Thursday (weather permitting, otherwise we will have to move inside to a smaller venue.)

We enjoyed CarolinaFest today, which was similar to many community festivals except we had lots more political focus, and celebrities like Jeff Bridges and James Taylor played at the main concert stage.  I saw Rev. Jesse Jackson, who did not seem to remember me from when I drove him through South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  I didn't take it personally!

The highlight of my day was volunteering with about 25 of my fellow Delegates to build a house for a veteran. Rather, half a house - the first half was built during the RNC but they'll be joined together and the finished home will stay here in Charlotte.  It is a great feeling to give back to this city which has been so welcoming to us, everyone has a warm smile and seems happy to see us - despite how much of a disruption we are to things!

Tonight we ended the evening with a WA Delegation party at the infamous Mac's Speed Shop, for barbecue, great beer, and good company.  We are looking forward to our official start tomorrow - though it feels like we've been here a long time already - and taking on the hard work and important conversations we are here to have! 

Pics From My Car - Big Bear

The Historian and I spent our anniversary in Big Bear Lake, CA one year, and the trip there was one of the many tests our relationships have endured over the years!

We tried the short route first - and quickly ran into a spring snowstorm which made the roads slippery and terrified all of the other LA drivers who were heading into the mountains as well.  (You have to understand, drivers in LA freak out when it rains, and have no idea how to drive on snow.)  We turned around when we realized they were requiring chains for tires, something this South Dakota Girl scoffs at. 

A call to our B&B quickly got us redirected to a more circuitous route that took us through the desert and around to the back of the mountain.  An extra three hours, but we got this amazing photo of the storm as it gathered on the mountains.  It was yet another surreal moment in this life to go so quickly from near blizzard conditions to sun and desert and I think this photo captures the moment.

02 September 2012

DNC - Saturday

I can't help but feel we are early to the party, but it was nice to have a day to get oriented. We had a leisurely breakfast before taking a shuttle to the light rail station and "uptown" Charlotte. (Uptown is what Mose people consider "downtown.")

We walked around, took tons of photos of the MSNBC set and had a beer at Mortimers - a great little pub. Then we heard that 65+ protester groups would be parading by so we waited...and waited...saw lots of police but only the very start of the parade as we were rushing back to the hotel to get ready for our delegate party...

A note on delegate parties: they are paid for by the host committee, are open bar, and ours was pretty darn awesome.  It was at the Levine Museum of the New South and had great exhibits, themed rooms, signature cocktails and a lively band.  We had a great time, and I met many delegates from Arizona, Colorado and Oregon, as they shared our venue.  Afterwards I managed to get an invite to the Democratic Governors Assn party which had another great live band and a pitch from Jeff Bridges for his efforts to combat child hunger.  Fun times!

Really the only major hiccup has been that our bus to the party tonight never showed up so we were all at least an hour late to the party.  Other delegations had similar troubles so it seems systemic and I hope they get it figured out by Tuesday!  For my part, I was happy I'd programmed a union-friendly cab co. Into my phone before I left Washington, so my friends and I managed to get to the party only an hour and a half late.  Sometimes being the super planner type pays off!

Tomorrow we have our first Delegation breakfast - at the Crack of Dawn

We have arrived!

We have arrived in Charlotte!  I've only taken a few photos so far, but we got here at dusk so didn't see much.  I'll try to upload some to this blog, but it means figuring out how to transfer pics from my Android phone to my iPad's we-don't-play-well-with-other-kids system and that might be too much for my brain.  I have uploaded things to Twitter though so check them out there!

A few thoughts:

  • Landing here felt a bit like descending into the Heart of Darkness - the haze from the humidity + a heavy cloud layer was a dramatic transition!  Not quite the impressive views of Mt. Rainier that we were treated to as we left Seattle, but it is still beautiful country.
  • The DNC had volunteers stationed at the airport to welcome us, which was a nice surprise.  There were at least 30 Delegates on the flight, some of whom broke out in cheers when we landed. 
  • More fun was watching the non-DNC folks look at us like we were an entirely different species.  So far every local I've talked with is planning to avoid the city center at all costs this week. I asked one woman if she'd be taking in the free CarolinaFest events on Monday and she was adamant that there was no way that will happen unless someone flies her in with a helicopter.  I don't blame her!
  • It is even humid in the hotel's elevator.
  • The hotel stocked up on WA wines in anticipation of our arrival, and has signage out as well.  One wonders at the timing, though, of their chosen ads for their hotel key cards - they are all advertisements for the Billy Graham Museum with a special exhibit on how he advised so many Presidents!  I am reminded a bit of Branson, MO where my inlaws live and it's feeling of clinging to a bygone era.
  • The hotel and restraunt folks are not quite sure what to make of us yet.  We asked our waiter last night where we can buy wine for our room and he seemed mystified about why we asked such a silly question.  I explained that WA only recently has allowed the sale of liquor outside of state hands.