Brian's Journal - April 2009

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Another symphony, this time a world premiere of a trombone concerto by the Seattle Symphony's composer in residence Samuel Jones. It was quite melodious and the trombone very expressive. The concerto reeminded me of a tuba concerto we enjoyed a few years ago, probably by the same composer; we read in the program notes that the Seattle Symphony premiered a tuba concerto by Samuel Jones in 2006 and it seems unlikely that they would play two tuba concertos by different composers in the same, or even adjacent, years.

04/08/2009 Last day of retirement
Finished taxes, owed alot less this year than last due to capital losses in the market. That must be the silver lining in the cloud that turned our 401K into a 201K (as I heard someone comment recently) over the past six months. Ran 20.6 miles at 8:45/mile. White-throated sparrow, marsh wren, yellowthroat, ruby-crowned kinglet singing. The past few days have been dry and warm, up to the mid 70's, and my hay fever has been ferocious at times. Hopefully that's the last of the worst of it now that cooler wetter air is on the way back in.

I've been at work two days now and it feels really good to be back in the game again.
I went over the business requirements with Jim, the PM, again yesterday. A couple hours later, during supper, I suddenly realized that the data model is much simpler than I'd thought because there's no need to model the file hierarchy. Today we reviewed a technical spec that Ryan worked up over the past couple of days, but it focused more on the processes than on the organization of the data. The processes and file layouts were pretty much what I envisioned but I think we need to get the data model right first if the project is going to be successful. I finished a first draft of the model in Visio today and could probably have the database built and loaded in another day, but instead I'm going to take time to write up the business requirements and document the ER diagram. By reviewing those with the group I'll be able to verify that what I'm going to build will be both useable and useful for the business. Then we can plan the details of how the loads and extracts will work.
(As I described in an email to Linh this evening) I was reading some documentation on SQL Server 2008 yesterday morning when I suddenly felt a thrill of anticipation at the prospect of learning a DBMS and figuring out how to use it to organize, store and deliver data. Not that I'm not already pretty familiar with SQL Server, but learning about and working with database software was what excited me about computers when I first got into them 25 or so years ago, and it has been so long since I felt that excitement that I'd forgotten it. Also in the meeting today I realized again that I really do get data and how to organize it so a business can use it effectively - in the past few years I'd kind of lost my confidence about doing that, or perhaps forgotten that not everyone can do it. So I guess the combination of some extended time off along with a new environment and new challenges has been good for me.
Not that Expedia wasn't a great place to work. Great people, good benefits, a good situation, but somehow I got stuck and just felt stressed all the time that I wasn't being productive and couldn't catch up technically and couldn't really get engaged in the work I had on my plate. Being back at work again there's still some anxiety but so far I find it stimulating rather than intimidating.
I fixed supper for Swee for her birthday this evening since we didn't go out, and we ate at the kitchen counter surrounded by daffodils and fragrant hyacinth from the garden. Thawed out, the King salmon I froze last July still smells just as clean and fresh as when I dressed it out on the dock in Westport. I broiled it with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and tarragon. By contrast, the QFC coho is starting to smell pretty fishy - I prefer to poach that in tomato-pineapple sauce instead of broiling it.

04/11/2009 Sabbath. Ovc, 51
Though Ernie invited me yesterday afternoon to help out with his class this morning (they were planning to discuss why, or even whether, Jesus had to die), I didn't get up in time to make it. Instead I spent much of the day in the garden. After determining that fixing the flat tire on the tiller was beyond me, I tackled the winter's weeds with a spading fork instead, starting along the workshop wall and working south. By afternoon I had about a quarter of the garden worked into six beds. It would go more quickly except for picking out the fat white roots of the wild morning glory which is threatening to take over the garden. I set them aside for burning; the more benign buttercups, dandelions and chickweed go into the compost pile. After lunch and a long nap I went back out to the garden, erected chickenwire for the snap peas along the northwest edge of the garden then planted a row of peas on either side of my new fence. By dark I planted the rest of the beds (and dug one more) with cilantro, parsely, lettuce, beets, fava beans and kale. The soil is somewhat dry already but rain is forecast tomorrow.
I also picked up several yard birds during the course of the day - the first turkey vultures, a small flock of Brewer's Blackbirds, Savannah Sparrows singing across the neighbor's field and a white-throated at the feeder, and a first-ever common snipe flying over making its scratchy call at dusk.

04/12/2009 Rain, 54
We got the forecast rain, a good soaking of almost 2". I sat at the computer all day and built four new report pages on the Maniacs site, the first reports we've had out there. Maniacs by state, by country, statistics by gender and total, and the email list for Tony. Currently only administrators can see them but with approval of the Main Maniacs, I'll open the first three up to all members soon. Unfortunately I had a slight headache all day, something exercise would have cured but I didn't get any.
As often happens on rainy days in western Washington, the sky near the western horizon cleared shortly before sunset and sunlight like melted butter coated the wet daffodils and pink-flowered quince. I rushed out with my camera and snapped a few photos before drifts of pallid stratus obscured the setting sun.

04/13/2009 Ovc, Showers, 48
Productive day at work, completed the first draft of use cases and ER diagram. The commute in on 405 with no traffic already at 9AM took only 50 minutes, as opposed to an hour five on the back way via Issaquah. Another silver lining of the recession - traffic appears to have lightened up considerably.
In the morning outside the office window I saw the white-throated sparrow again. I thought maybe it had headed north, having not seen it for several weeks. Last week I heard a thin song several times which sounded like the alternate white-throated song but may just have been the golden-crowned sparrows, numerous now as they migrate through.
For Daniel's birthday we ate pizza at Ferellis near the school and watched him open several boxes from A&F. He was pleased.

04/14/2009 AM 35 with snow showers later pc, 48
At 9:00 this morning it was snowing outside - winter just doesn't want to quit. No accumulation though and by evening the sun falling below the clouds turned the still-frosted hills pink. These photos are the views north and west respectively from the same spot along the road while I was out running.

04/16/2009 Sunny, 70
Yesterday I completed coding and unit testing of the first load program, a SQL stored procedure which uses bulk insert to load a text file, the pathname of which is passed into the proc as a parameter. It took me a little longer than it otherwise might have because I used try-catch for the first time in my error handling, and made a few other changes to my customary coding style to incorporate features new in SQL 2005. So after a week of work I have the requirements documented and validated, the database designed and built, the initial data loaded and the first load procedure, which will be a template for several others, coded and tested. Time for a vacation!

Today I stayed home to get ready our trip to Boston this evening. It was a bright and balmy spring day so I opened the windows while I worked at the computer, paying bills and such. Glancing out, I noticed this chestnut-backed chickadee sunning on a branch of the spruce so I grabbed the camera and snapped a series of photos while it fluffed and preened. Later Susan and I planted the pansies she bought a couple of weeks ago, spurred to action by the prospect of flats of dead flowers on our return if we didn't get them in the ground today. I also took a few minutes to prune the taller raspberry canes. I never got around to pruning and tying them up over the winter but time is running out now that they're beginning to leaf out. Maybe I'm getting tired of raspberries.
How exciting to be packing up for a marathon again. I couldn't find my Maniac jacket so brought the black one instead, though if the forecast holds - 45 and partly cloudy - I won't need it. I decided on the red shorts I wore for my last 20 miler and packed both the long and short-sleeved red Maniac shirt but not the singlet. A short-sleeved shirt will be cool enough at the pace I'll be running, in the neighborhood of either 4 hours or 3:45, depending on whether or not I try for a qualifier. At the last minute I couldn't find the lightweight Axioms so brought the Adrenalines instead, perhaps a better choice anyhow since they're less likely to give me blisters. For the plane ride I wore my 2008 Boston jacket and hat. Boston on the weekend of the marathon is the only time I'm comfortable wearing them; any other time I feel too conspicuous.

On the Bench
At Fort Sewall
04/17/2009 Marblehead - Sunny, 67
I slept about four hours on the Jet Blue red-eye, Susan only an hour. We picked up our Kia Optima at Budget after almost driving the wrong car, a sporty Mitsubishi Eclipse, out of the lot. The Kia felt much more appropriate. I'd hoped to visit cousin Sally in Marblehead, having not seen her in quite a few years, but found out a day or two before we left Seattle that she'd be out of town. Not knowing where else to go we drove out to Marblehead anyhow. We ate breakfast at a little cafe on
Good thing it's a Mini
the corner of Atlantic and Washington that was Brown's restaurant when I worked as a dishwasher
there the fall after high school. Like almost everything in Marblehead it seemed smaller than I remembered. The streets seemed shorter and narrower and the colonial houses smaller and more tightly packed together; only the cars in the streets seemed larger than I remembered. Ironic because the cars are actually smaller than they were in the 70's.
Recalling that Linda, a friend from before high school, now lived in Marblehead, I got her number from Sarah and gave her a call. She'd love to see us but had an hour or so of painting her deck to finish up first so we walked around old town a bit then drove over to Fort Sewall where I tried to photograph birds while Susan took a nap in the sun and burned her face. We spent the afternoon with Linda and Jack, sitting on their deck overlooking a patch of woods and talking about our kids, our work, our parents and our past.
Not wanting to end our time together we invited them to join us at the Grapevine for dinner. It's been several years since we've seen Stacey I'd confirmed that she would be there when I made our reservations. At the restaurant I was surprised when Linda knew the young woman who set up our table - she's the daughter of one of Linda's close friends. When Stacey joined us part way through dinner, I was again surprised that though she and Linda hadn't met, they seemed to have a great many friends in common. Stacey was pretty busy so we arranged to meet her for breakfast before we all went our separate ways.

Susan and Stacey
Me and Stacey
04/18/2009 Danvers/Boston - pc, 55
We stayed at the Comfort Inn along hwy 95 in Danvers, a quiet and comfortable place just 3 miles from the restaurant where we met Stacey for breakfast around lunchtime. We lingered for more than three hours, just talking. It was good to get caught up on the last few years. Stacey looks great; walking her Jack Russell terriers helps her stay in shape. Business is down at the restaurant due to the economy but they're making it. Her father is still doing well, living at their old house; had I known that I would have stopped in but it looked abandoned when we drove by. Last year Stacey took him to Turkey for five weeks, partially fulfilling a long-time dream of his. He'd hoped to be able to live there but wasn't quite up to it.
Mom and John had already arrived at the Harvard Club by the time we hugged Stacey good bye and headed into Boston. Thanks to their directions we found our way easily though the last half mile was pretty slow due to the convergence of traffic for the marathon expo and for both a Bruins and a Red Sox game. The salmon at the Harvard Club dining room was quite good.

The Main Maniacs at the expo
04/19/2009 Boston - sunny, 60
John and I walked over to the expo in the morning so I could buy a Boston Marathon fleece sweatshirt and maybe a jacket too. We were going to get them yesterday afternoon when I picked up my packet but the line was too long. The line was even longer this morning; the half hour wait used up a good deal of our time so we didn't get to see as much of the expo as I would have liked. The only Maniacs I saw were the big 3.
Mom and Alison
Alison and John
I emailed Alison yesterday morning then didn't check my mail again until this morning. Fortunately she made time for us this afternoon so we drove out just in time for a casual lunch of the same tasty Felafel from Costco that I discovered about a week ago, along with carrots in a balsamic vinegar marinade, and some turkey for John. It was good. Her husband had to leave soon after lunch but Alison was able to spend the afternoon with us. She began with a tour of her garden. Their house is squarely planted on top of a little hill in a spacious (for being in town) yard partly shaded by big white oaks. Behind the house Alison has a planted a variety of early flowers which have semi-naturalized in loose drifts. Scarcely distinguishable from a patch of wildflowers in an open woods, it was just the type of garden I like. She explained that she gardens by buying bare roots in plastic bags and sticking them in the ground. She laughed as she said it. Susan was delighted when Alison told her that I was the one who inspired her interest in plants. We concluded the garden tour by admiring her "scruffy daffodils" which don't look much like daffodils at all - the flowers consist of yellow pointed tepals exploding in all directions like little fireworks.
Star Magnolia
Old White Oak
Esther Barbour '07 Plaque
After the garden tour we set out to walk around the Wellesley college campus. Before his father died John had arranged for him to make a gift to the college in his mother's name to fund the landscaping of the science center. He wanted to find the plaque commemorating their gift and after a pleasant walk down a sunny valley with scattered daffodils and magnolias flowering, we found it. Alison pointed out ancient white oaks spared by the early settlers' axes because their acorns provided forage for pigs. The campus was impressive, the broad lawns, the quiet lake, the stately trees and old stone buildings crowned with turrets and towers. We spotted a couple of boats out on the lake but swimming is discouraged so as to avoid stirring up toxic sediments left by an nineteenth-century paint factory.
We concluded our tour by walking through the new student center, which Alison told us had been described as an exploding building held together with duct tape We found its open design very appealing on a sunny day. I commented that the engineering must have been complicated. Apparently work had stopped in the middle of its construction, with cranes idling all around, while the architect and the contractor argued over whether or not the building could actually be built. Susan found the bookstore just before it closed and emerged with a T-shirt for Kim, who graduated from Wellesley.
Kirsten and Mom, Gregg in background
Olga, Gregg, Me, Jeff and Anita
We made it back to Boston just in time for our reservation at Petit Robert's Bistro. I had arranged to have Jeff and Anita and her two sisters along with Gregg and Olga and her husband Bill join us for dinner the night before the marathon. Then it turned out that Kirsten would be in Boston so she joined us too. We all met around 5:30 at Petit Robert's and had a delicious dinner. I ordered salmon and it was about as good as any I've ever had. I sat between Olga and Jeff and across from Gregg so we had a good time talking about the marathon. At the other end of the table Susan enjoyed talking with Anita and Mom and one of Anita's sisters discussed cultural sites and events in Boston.

A mile and a half to BQ#10
04/20/2009 Boston Marathon - cloudy, 48
Photos from the marathon
The marathon went even better than I expected. I finished in 3:44 and took 25 photos during the race. Significant positive split this year since I ran the first half as if that's all there was. I couldn't maintain that level of effort (HR in the high 170's, 95+% of max) in the second half but that was OK because I had plenty of time; after the fast first half I only needed 9 minute miles in the second to beat my qualifying time. I had decided to carry the camera and take photos even though it might potentially jeopardize my effort to qualify. It didn't, so I'm glad I did.
Susan and I drove up to New Hampshire in our rental car since Mom and John didn't have room this time. On the way we stopped to visit Diana in Portsmouth. Alison had given us her phone number and mentioned to her that we might be stopping by. Diana is currently living in a small and uncluttered second-floor apartment in a colonial house near downtown Portsmouth. She welcomed us in and we settled on the sofa/bed in her office/living/dining room and talked about our families, our children, our work and what we remembered of our high school friendship. As she talked, and particularly as she recounted the twists and turns of her varied career, I recalled the joy of listening to Diana spin her stories. She was always so pragmatic and optimistic no matter what troubles she faced and she still has that resilience and enthusiasm. The evening passed too quickly but we'll get together again.

04/24/2009 Jackson Jackson photos, mostly birds
I purchased a new computer for John before we left for Boston, so I spent quite a bit of our three day visit getting it set up for him. No real problems except that I must have changed the wireless password and not written it down because I couldn't connect and had to call myfairpoint technical support and have them reset the router for me. The new Dell AllinOne is a big improvement over his five year old desktop, especially the large bright screen.
Coltsfoot, near Whitney's pond
There wasn't much snow left around Jackson, just a few snowbanks here and there but things haven't greened up much yet. A pretty yellow Coltsfoot was the only wildflower I saw. I was pretty sore from the marathon so didn't do anything strenuous for a couple of days. On our last day I ran about four miles, mostly on the cross-country trails down to the Eagle Mountain golf course, where I ran a mile barefoot on the grass. That was very pleasant. I chased birds with the camera one afternoon around the Triangle and managed to get a few good shots. I really wanted to photograph a blue jay but they always managed to be on the opposite side of the bush from me. This trip has been the first time I've tried to use both the 18-105 and the 70-300 in the field. Though not quite as convenient as the 18-200, the results are definitely worth it. Both lenses are sharper in their range than the 18-200.

White-crowned Sparrow
04/30/2009 Saddle Mountain Saddle Mountain flowers
I met Pat and Shirley at Saddle Mountain after work on Thursday. They'd been digging there a week earlier and had found a couple of logs, and though the easy pieces had been taken out, both logs continued down into the basalt. Pat figured we could at least get another piece of each one. I arrived at dusk and thought Pat and Shirley would have gone to bed already but they were still outside the camper. I set up my tent then we hung out and talked in their camper for a good hour or more, until I was well-chilled. I'd brought only a summer bag so I borrowed a super-warm sleeping bag from Pat and spread it over my own. Very comfy, once I finally got warm.
The sun rising into my tent at 6AM precluded sleeping in so I took camera and binoculars out into the meadows and sagebrush in search of birds. Didn't find many - a big flock of White-crowned Sparrows, widely- spaced Western Meadowlarks singing, a Loggerhead Shrike. Pat and Shirley were eating breakfast when I returned. We set out for the digging area soon after.
We worked on Pat's log from the a week ago first. He had largely dug out his hole the previous afternoon so he and I took turns picking out the basalt around the exposed end of his log. Within a couple of hours we had it out, having saved an hour or more of digging by using his hydraulic jack to break it free once we had the edge well-exposed. It took me another a couple hours of digging to clean the debris out of the other hole and expose my log, and by lunchtime I had the first chunk free. It was just small enough that I was able to heft it up to the edge of the hole, about chest-height, where Pat could reach down and pull it out. I got a second piece out, larger than the
first, after lunch.
After we finished with my log we hiked down the hill to the spot we dug last May. Pat and the others had found some nice yellow-skinned limb casts down there last week but we didn't do as well this time. The limb casts had been in crumbly gray ash about three feet down, underneath a ledge of bog wood of mixed quality. We found plenty of the ash but only a few broken limb casts. My hands were feeling pretty beat up so I didn't do as much digging as I would have otherwise.

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