Archive for May, 2014

Two Roses

May 25, 2014 Leave a comment


After taking first birthday photos of Ruby and Charlee four days ago (one of which tops the post I wrote earlier tonight), I realized I had been oblivious to the blooming of our roses. Out I went for a closer look, camera already around my neck, which led to the two photos I’m featuring here. I still need to learn how to take better pictures, and how to get the most out of my extremely capable camera. For now, this will have to do. As always, click for greater detail.


Categories: Photography

A Visit to APO

May 25, 2014 Leave a comment
Apache Point Observatory's 3.5-meter telescope

Apache Point Observatory’s 3.5-meter telescope

[All photos by me on my iPhone, alas. Not the greatest detail (but click on the photos for more).]

Two weeks ago tonight I was packing for a short trip to New Mexico to join in the celebration of Apache Point Observatory‘s twentieth anniversary, as well as the overlapping thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the university consortium (the Astrophysical Research Consortium) that runs the observatory. I departed the next morning, spending most of the day getting there.

It turns out to take a while to get to telescopes, even relatively nearby ones. No surprise, once one thinks about it, given the benefits of remote siting. But it wouldn’t have been such a long trip if there were non-stop flights from Seattle to El Paso. Instead, I flew to Phoenix, changed planes, then on to El Paso, then drove 90 or so miles north through the Tularosa Basin, from Texas into southern New Mexico, until I reached Alamogordo, then 16 winding miles east into the Sacramento Mountains to the tiny historic resort town of Cloudcroft, about 8700 feet up.

There’s an alternative: fly non-stop into Albuquerque on a Southwest flight that leaves Seattle at 6:30 am, then drive 225 miles south and east to Alamogordo before climbing to Cloudcroft. The main problem with this route is staying awake during the drive, after getting up 3:30 am to get to the airport. Gail and I took this approach in April 2008. I was fading before the town of Tularosa, a few miles north of Alamogordo. On the other hand, this route brings you through San Antonio, New Mexico, home of Owl Bar and Cafe and its green chile cheeseburgers, about which Michael Stern wrote,

the unique New Mexico hamburger is what has put this out-of-the-way watering hole on the good eats map. Since at least the early days of atomic bomb tests at nearby White Sands, when scientists used to come here for an explosive meal, The Owl Bar has built such an exalted a reputation that aficionados drive from Texas and Colorado to eat ’em two by two. It is so popular at lunch in the summertime, you may have to wait for a place to sit.

Crusty, gnarled patties of beef are covered with chopped hot green chilies and the chilies are in turn topped with a slice of cheese that melts into them and the crevices of the hamburger. The green chile itself is a flavor revelation; in concert with beef, it’s magic. Customary condiments include raw onion, chopped lettuce, sliced tomato, and pickle chips. This is one glorious package, and while we have never compared it side-by-side to the excellent green chile cheeseburger up at Bobcat Bite in Santa Fe, there can be no doubt that the Owl Bar’s version is among the state’s best. Green chile cheese fries are also available on the side.

Nearby is Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, which Gail and I didn’t have time for in our 2008 trip. Some day. It’s supposed to be extraordinary. But not this time. This time, I went alone, flew into El Paso, and came from the south.

The place to stay in Cloudcroft is The Lodge. On our 2008 visit, the sudden change in elevation left me breathless as I carried our bags up the stairs to our third floor room. This time I was on the third floor again, just down the hall from our 2008 room, but the climb up wasn’t such a struggle.

After a quick dinner at Rebecca’s, the Lodge’s restaurant, I got back in the car for the 16-mile drive to the observatory. A mile out of town, one turns onto State Road 6563, that number being something of an inside joke. If you’ve studied physics, you may know that one of the wavelengths of light emitted by a hydrogen atom is 6563 ångstroms. Hence the road number.

The road ends at Sunspot, New Mexico, home of the National Solar Observatory‘s Sacramento Peak site and the Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope. Apache Point Observatory was built nearby.

The road takes you up to about 9200 feet. It’s slow going, with lots of curves, but that’s the least of it, as one must be on the lookout for deer and elk, which hang out along the side. I got to APO for the opening festivities: dessert, non-alcoholic beverages (telescope sites can be dangerous; drinking in the dark and wandering into a telescope isn’t a good idea) and, once it got dark, viewing through the 3.5-meter telescope’s eyepiece.

It’s a rare rare day when an eyepiece is attached to a working research telescope. The light gathered by a telescope is normally directed into instruments that can capture the light and convert it into useful data, such as spectrographs. (See here for a list of the instruments available for this particular telescope.) Thus, this was a special treat, befitting a celebration.

I signed up for the first viewing. This would allow me to turn in early. But it also meant I wouldn’t view in full darkness. For our session, the telescope started with Mars, then was turned to Jupiter, then the moon. And since it was still early in the evening, the telescope mirrors were still adjusting to the outdoor temperatures, so the images were a bit blurry. Still, they were dramatic. Two of Jupiter’s moons were in the field of vision. The moon details were spectacular. Mind you, through a telescope of that size, the moon is pretty darn bright. One had to avoid looking directly into the center of the eyepiece.

Looking down into the 3.5-meter mirror, which you don't realize you're looking at because, you know, it's a mirror, an extremely well polished one at that.

Looking down into the 3.5-meter mirror, which you don’t realize you’re looking at because, you know, it’s a mirror, an extremely well polished one at that.

I headed back to the Lodge shortly after coming down from the telescope. The next morning, after a green chile and egg breakfast at Rebecca’s, I drove back for a day of talks at the National Solar Observatory’s visitor center. The morning talks featured history, the afternoon’s astronomy, with a two-hour break for lunch, walks, and conversation. I’ve been involved with the observatory for eleven years, but much of the early history was news to me. The lunch break allowed me to revisit the solar telescopes. Then it was back to the Lodge, for rest, a reception, and the festive dinner. The next day, I retraced my route–down to Alamogordo, into El Paso (with some time to kill driving around downtown, along the Rio Grande, and fighting through some closed roads and detours to get to the airport), then flights to Phoenix and Seattle.

I wouldn’t have minded a little extra time. In 2005, on my first trip to APO, I took a later flight out of El Paso. That gave me enough time to head west into the heart of the Tularosa Basin from Alamogordo for a stop at White Sands National Monument before driving to El Paso, and enough time in El Paso to park at a McDonald’s a few blocks north of the border and go through a small outdoor market next door to the McDonald’s. Some day we’ll go down for a more leisurely visit.

I’ll close with more photos.

In the one below, you see the “secondary” mirror of the 3.5-meter telescope. Light is collected by the huge 3.5-meter mirror at the bottom, reflected back up to the smaller secondary mirror at the top, then focused more narrowly and sent to the tertiary mirror below, which diverts the light into one of the attached instruments.

Secondary mirror

Secondary mirror

In the next photo, we look out through the opening of the building housing the 3.5-meter telescope, with other telescopes in view down the hill. The unusual-looking telescope to the right, partially obscured by a tree, is our famous 2.5-meter Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescope.

The view from the 3.5-meter

The view from the 3.5-meter

Next is a view from a lookout point on Sacramento Peak, just to the side of the Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope. It was a little too hazy, so you can’t get that good a look at the Tularosa Basin and white sands below.

Tularosa Basin from Sacramento Peak

Tularosa Basin from Sacramento Peak

Finally, here is the Dunn solar telescope. Most of it is below ground. Solar telescopes are a whole different beast from ordinary optical telescopes.

Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope at the National Solar Observatory

Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope at the National Solar Observatory

Categories: Science, Travel

Ruby and Charlee Turn One

May 25, 2014 Leave a comment


I introduced Ruby and Charlee on Ron’s View January 5, the day after they moved into the house. (See updates here and here and here.) Four days ago, they celebrated their first birthday. I couldn’t get them to pose for a photo, or even just to face me. The picture above is the best I could do.

They took no special interest in the proceedings. The day went pretty much as usual, food being the highlight as always.

Then again, maybe Charlee knew something was up. At breakfast, she rewarded herself with half of Gail’s English muffin. Gail was making coffee, I was eating my own English muffin and reading the sports pages. Gail’s muffin was just two feet away from me, yet I didn’t notice Charlee’s grab until Gail turned around and saw her at seat level licking the butter.

Until then, Ruby had been the butter queen, always on the lookout for a lick. Charlee’s previously exhibited primary interests were bacon and ham. She’ll dash in, grab a slice, and race upstairs swinging it from her mouth.

Happy first birthday, girls. We hope you’re enjoying life with us, even if we resist sharing our food with you.

Oh, I should say who’s who. That’s Charlee to the lower left, Ruby in the center.

Categories: Cats

Ball retriever

May 18, 2014 Leave a comment
Larry Ellison's Rising Sun

Larry Ellison’s Rising Sun

[From Live Yachting]

It’s been a busy two weeks, with travel and major events getting in the way of blogging. Had I written one more post two weeks ago, it would have been about the news of Larry Ellison’s basketball interest.

Ellison, co-founder of Oracle, has been among the three or four wealthiest Americans for years. In sports, he is best known for his America’s Cup yachts that have won the last two competitions. A little over two weeks ago, in the aftermath of the NBA’s decision to ban LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life, the WSJ reported that “Oprah Winfrey is joining with entertainment mogul David Geffen and Oracle Corp. Chief Executive Larry Ellison with an eye to buying the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Clippers.”

We learn further down that in 2010,

Mr. Ellison unsuccessfully tried to purchase the Golden State Warriors, which are based near software maker Oracle in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Warriors were eventually sold for $450 million.

“Although I was the highest bidder, [former Warriors owner] Chris Cohan decided to sell to someone else,” Mr. Ellison said in a statement at the time. “In my experience, this is a bit unusual.”

Mr. Ellison, who routinely ditched schoolwork for basketball practice during his high-school years in Chicago, has yet to break into a major American sport.

His top sporting accomplishment has come in the America’s Cup, the world’s most famous yachting competition. He owns Oracle Team USA, the racing squad that lost the contest in 2003 and 2007 before winning in 2010 and 2013. Mr. Ellison, with an estimated wealth of more than $40 billion, lavished his own money on those campaigns; the head of Oracle Team USA estimated last year that the sailing squad’s budget for the 2013 America’s Cup was at least $115 million, though part of that came from corporate sponsors.

The Oracle chief has had basketball courts on at least two of his yachts, said Tom Ehman, who handles America’s Cup matters for Mr. Ellison. He said Mr. Ellison liked to relax by shooting hoops on these courts, and has had someone in a powerboat following the yacht to retrieve balls that go overboard.

How about that last detail? It got a fair bit of attention in the press, best of all in a piece the next day from the WSJ’s own sportswriter, Jason Gay, who imagines the powerboat pilot’s tale. Here’s an excerpt, starting with the tryout for the not-yet-explained job:

A couple of days later they brought me out to the Embarcadero. Put me in a powerboat, had me take the wheel and put a 12-foot net in my hand. Then they sent another boat out before me with a couple of dudes; told me to follow it.

All of a sudden, these guys just start chucking basketballs off the boat, right into the wake. They howled at me on a bullhorn to grab the basketballs with the net. It was completely bizarre. Here we are in San Francisco and I am reaching out with this net, grabbing Spalding basketballs and chucking them into the back of a boat. And it was tricky. If you know the water there, it’s windy as hell. They had the America’s Cup there for a reason.

The whole thing took about a half-hour. I guess I did OK. Something like 48 basketballs went into the ocean. I got 46. I heard nobody else got more than 30.

An hour after we returned to the dock, they told me I got the job. I still wasn’t sure what the job was. OWBR, they said. “Official Waterborne Basketball Retriever.” The pay was right. They wanted me to start immediately.

Mind you I still had no idea who I was doing this for, but the next week I’m flying first-class to Nice, and then a car picks me up to go to the Mediterranean. We pull into the harbor and I’m given the keys to a 44-foot powerboat.

“This is yours,” the guy said. “Go to that.” He points out into the sea.

And I look out and there is just the craziest and most blinged-out super yacht I’d ever seen. I mean, it looks like the Houston skyline. The guy tells me to keep the radio on channel 7 and wait for instructions.

“Instructions on what?” I ask.

“Basketballs, man.”

Categories: Humor, Life

Thanks for Nothing

May 18, 2014 1 comment


Today’s NYT Magazine has an article that I started reading online yesterday. It features a Nebraska farmer, Jane Kleeb, who is fighting the Keystone pipeline. (Keystone brings oil from Alberta down to the US for shipment to points beyond. Its expansion to the Gulf Coast is an on-going political issue.) The article explains that

the fight over the Keystone XL has largely been portrayed as one about climate change, in which environmental groups like the National Wildlife Federation and are pitted against the fossil-fuel industry. But what has kept the pipeline out of the ground so far, more than anything, has been Kleeb’s ability to convince mostly­ conservative farmers and ranchers that they are the ones being asked to bear all the risk of Canada’s energy expansion. If something goes wrong, she says, they’re the ones who are going to suffer. Kleeb didn’t need to persuade all of the people in the room to be angry — many of the state’s landowners are plenty wary of what they see as the pipeline’s risks — but she has organized them to take on Trans­Canada and more or less their state’s entire political power structure. Days earlier, thanks to her efforts, a state district court had thrown the construction into limbo.

This post isn’t about the pipeline, though. It’s about the sentence that introduces Jane:

Among the farmers in the York Community Center was a petite, progressive organizer with close-cropped hair named Jane Kleeb (pronounced Klehb).

That stopped me dead in my tracks. I had seen Kleeb’s name in the headline and assumed the vowel was pronounced as in “deed” or “feed” or “reed” or “seed” or “bleed”. Now I understood that this wasn’t the case. Why else would there be this parenthetical pronunciation tip?

But Klehb? How would one pronounce that? How does the tip help? I can’t imagine what the author was thinking. Or the editors.

Any suggestions?

Categories: Journalism, Language

Bar Cantinetta

May 4, 2014 Leave a comment


I completely forgot that I started a post two and a half weeks ago about our dinner at Bar Cantinetta three weeks ago. Let me finish what will be an abbreviated version of the post, since the alternative may be no post at all.

Bar Cantinetta opened last summer, replacing one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants, La Cote, the subject of several posts (for instance, this one). It is the younger sibling of Cantinetta, which opened in the Wallingford neighborhood in 2009 to excellent reviews. The Seattle Times called Cantinetta a “powerfully evocative slice of Italy” whose “efforts combine a wonderful balance of flavors with an element of surprise.”

We have yet to eat at Cantinetta, but with Bar Cantinetta so close, we were eager to try it. Here’s its website self-description:

The Madison Valley neighborhood in Seattle is a beautiful setting for friends and family to gather at ease. The warmth of our room inspires celebration and conviviality.

We opened Bar Cantinetta on August 24, 2013. We are a cozy neighborhood pastaria emphasizing Tuscan culinary traditions, authentic hand-made pasta, and seasonal organic ingredients from the Pacific Northwest. To serve you with excellence is the essence at Bar Cantinetta.

Let’s see if by looking at the menu, I’ll remember what we ate.

I must have started with the mixed salad. Gail had the Dungeness crab, Joel the beef tartare. We were all happy. Like Cantinetta, they offer a very limited selection of entrees. There were four pasta choices (the “primi”) and one secondi, which was halibut. We all went with pasta: Joel the tagliolini rosso, romanesco, olivi, ricotta salata; Gail the risotto, charred ramps, house-made fennel sausage; and me the orecchietti, Anderson braised lamb, spring nettles. The one pasta dish we passed up was ricotta spinach gnudi, preserved tomato, guanciale. I didn’t know what gnudi was, but Gail said it is a type of gnocchi and the server confirmed this.

The restaurant was dead empty while we were there, perhaps not surprising given that we arrived just after they opened for the afternoon/evening. The one exception to the emptiness was the arrival of a family about twenty minutes after us: a father, mother, and two daughters. Given that both parents were wearing Mariners hats and shirts, it’s a safe bet they had come straight from the afternoon baseball game, in search of an early dinner. Alas, they couldn’t make heads or tails of the menu items. And once the server helped them make heads and tails, they weren’t all that pleased. Or at least the father wasn’t. I can understand. Risotto and ramps? Orecchietti and nettles? Not everyone’s idea of attractive pasta dishes. (And what are ramps, anyway?) After spirited discussion, they took off, leaving us to ourselves again.

As for us, we were happy. The pasta itself is excellent, as advertised. Nettles? They were interesting.

I’ll confess, I’m probably happier at another neighborhood Italian restaurant, Cafe Parco, which I wrote about three Januarys ago and again last summer. This year we have become monthly regulars. I love their carbonara, which I would happily order every time. I did manage to tear myself away from it once and try the veal scaloppine, a fine alternative.

Cafe Parco is a two-person operation, owner-chef Celinda in the kitchen and the delightful Nic in front. We tell Nic what we want to spend on wine and Celinda chooses it for us. We’ve never been steered wrong. Next Sunday, we’ll celebrate Mother’s Day with their weekend brunch. Can’t wait.

Categories: Restaurants