Lake Valhalla

I hiked to Lake Valhalla with FIUTS (Foundation for Understanding Through Students). We hiked a little more than ten miles, starting from the Steven’s Pass parking lot. The first part of the hike was on the Pacific Crest Trail. We walked a straight, narrow dirt path with hardly any elevation gain, flanked by short plants with broad leaves. In many sections, the shrubs along the trail hung over the narrow path, so that it was like walking through a field. If I were still in New Jersey, this would be an absolutely awful idea, because I would end up with a hundred ticks and Lyme disease. But thankfully, ticks are not an issue in the Pacific Northwest.
We walked through a forested area, with views of surrounding mountains throughout. We even saw a few grouse. They flew away when we approached, and since they are relatively heavy birds, their flaps were loud and thunderous to lift their meaty bodies off the ground. I can see why they’re easy to hunt, because they kept about their business until we were just a few feet away.
We reached Lake Valhalla, made some viking jokes, and took in the view.

Cedar Butte

I hiked Cedar Butte with J. The path was narrow, fitting only one person at a time. It was a lovely hike. The fall foliage was in full display, painting the old-growth forest orange. The trail was steep in sections, but overall it was a short, easy hike. At the top, we had lunch and soaked in the view of rolling mountains and blue sky.
Cedar Butte geodetic survey marker
Finding geodetic survey markers is a more intense hunt than geocaching
Cedar Butte is a few minutes walk from the popular Rattlesnake Ledge hike. We stopped by the lake, which looks absolutely surreal right now. Since last winter was pathetic and had hardly any snowfall, the lake has dried up, and now Rattlesnake Lake has become Rattlesnake pond. Massive tree trunks that were once hidden below the water are now exposed.
-_- trunk
-_- trunk
Rattlesnake Lake
Rattlesnake Lake

 

Geocaching part 2

I’m really addicted to geocaching now. Each cache takes a nontrivial amount of effort to walk to and find, so I feel very proud each time I find one.

HERE ARE SOME GEOCACHES I FOUND!!!!!!!!!!!!

This cache was on a picnic table on the shore of Lake Washington, a short walk from where I live.

Cache under a picnic bench on Mercer Island
Cache under a picnic bench on Mercer Island
Mercer Island magnetic key case cache
Mercer Island magnetic key case cache

I had some time before a Mariners game, so I walked around Chinatown looking for geocaches. This cache was hidden in an electricity box at a playground. I could tell some of the parents were wondering what I was doing, examining the electricity box so closely.

Geocachers call people that do not geocache “muggles”, since geocachers are enlightened and in-the-know that these secret stashes exist. But alas, I never got that letter from Hogwarts,

Cache hidden under an electricity box
Cache hidden under an electricity box
Seattle Chinatown playground minicache
Seattle Chinatown playground minicache

This cache was cleverly camouflaged on a telephone pole.

Disguised cache on a telephone pole in Chinatown
Disguised cache on a telephone pole in Chinatown
The log was hidden on the other side
The log was hidden on the other side

This cache was visible from far away.

Geocache in Surrey Downs Park, Bellevue
Geocache in Surrey Downs Park, Bellevue
Magnetic key cases seem to be a trend
Magnetic key cases seem to be a trend

 

 

Geocaching part 1

I recently started geocaching. The Seattle area has so many parks and trails, and geocaching is a good way of discovering them.

It was really easy to get started. There is a geocaching phone app that has a map of all the nearby caches and their recent activity (like if the cache was found recently and is in good condition). It was surprising that there are caches nearly everywhere, even in places I’ve been to many times before.

The first cache I found was at a bus stop. It took two search attempts. The first attempt, I went with my coworkers and we felt we combed the area, even checking under the trash bag and looking at the bus stop across the street. But we couldn’t find it. The problem was, we had no idea what we were looking for. We found the cache on our second attempt. It was a magnetic case, smaller than a fingertip. We were expecting something bigger.

Geocache under a bus stop bench
Geocache under a bus stop bench
Geocache under a bus stop bench
Geocache under a bus stop bench

I proudly signed my name on the log.

 

After the first find, it was easier to find other caches. The trick was to go to the exact coordinates and search for any loose object with no preconceived notion of what to look for. Geocaches can have tricky hiding places, like this one embedded in a gate.

The geocache was hidden in the gate
The geocache was hidden in the gate
Geocache on the 520 bike trail, Redmond
Geocache on the 520 bike trail, Redmond

This geocache was disguised as a rock. The rock was hollow and contained a logbook and trinkets.

Geocache disguised as a rock in Pioneer Park, Mercer Island
Geocache disguised as a rock in Pioneer Park, Mercer Island

Some caches are more obvious than others.

White bucket in Luther Burbank Park, Mercer Island
White bucket in Luther Burbank Park, Mercer Island

Vegas

I went to Las Vegas, ostensibly to play video games, but also because I had never been there before. I walked around the casinos, and was amazed by the decadence, the elaborate decor, the disorienting lack of sense of time (especially when a blue sky is painted on the ceiling). It was mind-boggling that these palaces of consumption and vice exist in the middle of the desert, occupied by throngs of tourists and generating thousands of jobs.

Strolling through an indoor garden
Strolling through an indoor garden
It's always daytime in Venice
It’s always daytime in Venice
A dress made of flowers
A dress made of flowers

I watched an aquatic acrobatics show called Le Rêve – The Dream.  The stage is a pool in the center with platforms that lower and raise from the floor. The audience circles the stage, so the sizable roster of performers create aesthetic magic for all angles. The performers had to be immensely talented in gymnastics and swimming, pulling off incredible trapeze tricks and high dives. From prop trees, ropes, and cages, they would jump and spring from branches, do pommel horse maneuvers, flawlessly execute flips. It was all very beautiful. At first I was trying to follow all the characters – the devil, the demon, the sage, the clown suitors, as they led the female protagonist on a journey through her psyche, but then I realized there was not much of a plot. Different aspects of the show and symbolism resonated with me and my friends, and we each interpreted the show differently.

Le Rêve - the dream is over, everyone woke up and left
Le Rêve – the dream is over, everyone woke up and left

Anyway, I was in Las Vegas to play Smash Bros. Melee at Evo. I had not played in a few days, did not warm up, and got destroyed. I wasn’t expecting to make it out of pools, but I was very disappointed with my performance. There weren’t a lot of friendlies setups, so we left to play some blackjack and ate a lot of good food. The food eased the pain of being a loser. I recently started watching Masterchef, so we went to Gordon Ramsay Steak to try the beef wellington. It was delicious. We went to the buffet at the Bellagio, also delicious, especially the desserts.

Beef wellington at Gordon Ramsay Steak. "This side dish tastes like SHIITake mushrooms."
Beef wellington at Gordon Ramsay Steak. “This side dish tastes like SHIITake mushrooms.”

It was fun to watch the final brackets, even for games that I do not play. The crowd was so hyped and energetic, they would cheer for any cool looking combo or surprising turnaround. These were the best of the pros, the pinnacle of their respective games. Most were sponsored. I wish I could be as good as them, but I know it would take hours of practice each day.

Anyhow, I had fun. There was New York City, a volcano, escort card distributors, Walgreens. The Bellagio Fountains was my Fountain of (Broken) Dreams, my favorite stage. Vegas was everything I expected and more.

The Life Eaters

I read The Life Eaters by David Brin. The premise of the comic is, near the end of World War II, Norse gods such as Thor and Odin suddenly appear and help the Nazis defeat the Allies. The Nazis created these mythical gods by sacrificing humans in their concentration camps. The Norse gods are not loyal to their Nazi creators, but the deities sustain themselves with war and death, so they side with the Nazis for their own purposes. To combat the Nazis, some countries kill off their own population to materialize their own regional deities. These countries, with assistance from their deities, start a never-ending conflict with each other. Meanwhile, there are rebel tribes in the Middle East that refuse to sacrifice their fellow men, and they struggle for survival, fighting invading countries with conventional weapons.

No side: Asia, Africa, nor Europe, appears to have an upper hand. But the equilibrium of war is threatened when the African nations start burning their oil fields. The deities of Africa prefer heat, while the Norse gods prefer cold. The African nations burn their oil fields to produce greenhouse gases and raise the temperature.  A scientist realizes that the Norse gods could combat this by taking the air pollution to an extreme; by detonating atomic bombs, the pollution in the atmosphere will reflect all sunlight, making the earth cold (this is also why the Allies did not use nuclear bombs against the Nazis). As if the current climate of war is not enough, the scientist fears an impending “weather war” with permanent ramifications for the planet, and he warns the rebel tribes. In a very contrived scene, the rebel groups in the Middle East all forgive each other for any past wrongs and band together. They create a power suit that can best even the deities. As the comic explicitly and repeatedly states, ordinary men are extremely strong and creative, even without superpowers and mythical abilities. A single man can make a big difference, inspire a resistance movement, overcome the temptation of ultimate power. And when people work together, their resourcefulness and strength can conquer anything. At the end of the comic, the war is ongoing, but there is hope that humanity will win in the end.

Persepolis

I read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi . It is an autobiographical comic book about the author’s life growing up in revolutionary Iran. Her childhood is tense and perilous. Within Iran, there is the threat of religious fundamentalists arresting and punishing people arbitrarily. Marjane’s Communist uncle is executed by the fundamentalists.  Then there is the threat from outside countries. During the war with Iraq, a scud missile hits her neighbors’ house, killing her neighbors. Despite the atmosphere of fear and stifled freedom, Marjane is headstrong and not afraid to speak her mind. She attends rallies, holds illegal parties, and talks back to authority figures. In an environment where people were being severely and arbitrarily punished, I kept expecting Marjane to be punished for her rebelliousness. But she was very lucky. While her friends and acquaintances get attacked or worse, she makes it out relatively unscathed. It seemed her greatest difficulty was assimilating to a different culture during her time studying abroad, dealing with alienation and having no family support.

The art in the comic book is simple (this is no superhero comic with creative and fantastical character design). The characters, too, are simply drawn and rather indistinguishable. During the chapters about Marjane’s childhood, I often could not tell which child was her. I could not reliably tell who she was until she started drawing the mole on her face that appeared when she was an adult. The characters, going by appearances, are forgettable, but it’s their role in Marjane’s shocking stories that makes them memorable. Also, for a comic book, there was an awful lot of narration, too much telling and not enough showing. I would rather read about Batman.

Black Hole

I read the graphic novel Black Hole, by Charles Burns. As far as graphic novels go, it is NSFW graphic. The premise is, there is an STD going around a high school that causes gross body mutations, like growing a tail, a second mouth, shedding skin. Those with “The Bug” end up being ostracized and some leave home and school and live out in the woods. The novel is ultimately about adolescence— fitting in, sex, drugs, and alcohol. The story was nonlinear. The narrator kept changing and it was not always immediately apparent who was narrating.

The illustrations were amazing, crisp black and white with great detail, each individual hair and strand of grass shaded. The panels were chock full of symbolism and unnerving images. I have never tried drugs, but I imagine the illustrations capture how disorienting they are. When I finished the book I was emotionally drained, as though I had just finished watching an intense movie.

I had a couple gripes with the plot. The two main female characters, while under the influence, threw themselves at men they did not know anything about, then became clingy and fell in love with them after hooking up. Maybe the women were supposed to come off as assertive go-getters, but they seemed rather desperate to me. Also, the characters deal with their problems by running away, they don’t confront their issues. The teenagers with “The Bug” run away from their homes. They would not reveal to their parents their deformities, even though the teenagers admit that their parents would still accept them, not drive them away. One women escapes her abusive roommates by running away, which I felt was a legitimate thing to do. But another takes running from problems too far; when he is rejected by his crush he becomes homicidal and kills himself. And then there is the main character, Keith, who runs away from situations all the time, never content to be where he is until the end of the novel. Keith is dissatisfied and frightened by his stoner friends, that they spend their time watching TV like zombies. On a really bad trip, Keith stumbles upon the encampment of people deformed by “The Bug” and befriends them. The people in the encampment seem a lot more understanding and accepting, they listen to his feelings and stories. Later on, Keith is housesitting, and the encampment people move in and mess it up. And then they all get murdered. Keith is just overwhelmed by what he sees and drives away with his girlfriend. They retreat into nature, which the characters appreciate as rejuvenating and free. And yet, it seems Keith running away from those problems is supposed to be a good ending. It is supposed to be a good thing that he left his mentally dead stoner friends and his literally dead friends from the encampment, that he is going on a road trip and starting life anew, but that just doesn’t sit well with me.

Double Cross, The Quiet American

I read Double Cross, by Ben Macintyre. The non-fiction novel tells the stories of the spies in the British Double-Cross system. These colorful and eccentric double agents successfully fooled German intelligence into thinking that the D-Day invasion would target locations other than Normandy and that the invasion would occur later than it actually did. During and following D-Day, German forces were tied up with false threats of Allied troop movements. The misinformation fed by the spies saved thousands of lives. The book was fairly interesting overall. The author took great relish in describing the debauchery of some of the spies, and how on multiple occasions the whole double-cross system came close to being exposed. The spies were not enigmatic; they were loud, selfish people, often partying or engaging in affairs. It was amazing that their often outlandish reports were accepted by their German spymasters literally and without scrutiny. This book reinforced the importance and advantage of information in war, and knowing what your enemy knows. The Allies had broken Germany and Japan’s ciphers; the Allies knew the Axis’ plans, they knew that all of German’s spies in England had been turned into double agents, and they knew that the Germans trusted the agents completely. One interesting tidbit I learned is that the people in the US intelligence system disapproved of the spies’ questionable behavior and thought they were not to be trusted. Instead of turning enemy spies into double agents, they felt they should be eliminated.

I also read The Quiet American, by Graham Greene. The fiction novel is set during the Vietnam War. It is about an English newspaper reporter named Fowler and his relationship with the titular quiet American named Pyle. Pyle reads books by York Harding (a scholar who writes about Asia without any real-world experience) and takes Harding’s opinions as his own. Harding says neither colonialism (from France) nor Communism is ideal for Vietnam, but rather a “Third Force”, a combination of traditions that would have grassroots appeal. Pyle lends American support to a Vietnamese militant named General The to make the “Third Force”,  and as a result, scores of people die. Even though Pyle saved Fowler’s life, Fowler sees that Pyle must be stopped and leads Pyle to his death. Fowler is selfish, curmudgeonly, cynical, all the more to contrast with Pyle’s naïveté and idealism. Despite Fowler’s negative traits and Pyle’s good intentions, Pyle is clearly in the wrong. The novel is full of Fowler’s frequent and heavy-handed criticism of Pyle, and so the novel is a scathing condemnation against American intervention in the Vietnam War (and war in general).

Hourly Comic Day

Yesterday was Hourly Comic Day. Participants are supposed to draw one comic for each hour they are awake. I was busy preparing for a Superbowl Party, so was only able to draw seven masterpieces:

They're edible
They’re edible
"MISHON COMPELETE" - Fox McCloud
“MISHON COMPELETE” – Fox McCloud
Cheese sauce
Cheese sauce
Potential names for Steffi Graf's children
Potential names for Steffi Graf’s children
JE SUIS LE SANDWICH!
JE SUIS LE SANDWICH!
Honest Food Network
Honest Food Network
The Most Interesting Man in the World does Hourly Comic Day
The Most Interesting Man in the World does Hourly Comic Day