30 July 2008

Boeing Buys Insitu

Here is that rarest of things: a post related to work. As many of you have likely already heard, Boeing has agreed to buy our company, Insitu. This is no big surprise to us; we've had a partnership with Boeing for a number of years. We've also known for some time that our investors saw this as a good time for an "equity event".

Our management did a good job of negotiating with Boeing. Some quick details:

  • Insitu will be operated as an independent subsidiary with our own management team and board, our own benefits, etc.
  • Insitu will remain in its current location in the Gorge.
  • We will remain employees of Insitu, not Boeing.
You can read more about the details on Insitu.com. In the short term we don't see anything changing; hopefully we'll be able to say the same thing in 2-3 years. It's been an interesting trip to this point, watching the company grow from an independent company of ~45 people when we started to a 350+ Boeing subsidiary.

- Mike (& Corinne)

P.S. Before you ask: no, we're not millionaires and will not be retiring next week. ;)

29 July 2008

Countdown to Rocket: T minus 11 weeks

Alright, you say, that's enough of the other stuff. Time for more belly shots!

These were taken July 28th, which is at about 29 weeks. The echinacea field next door was in full bloom, and it made a perfect backdrop.

- Mike (& Corinne)

20 July 2008

Cold Springs Fire Update: Weekend & Fire Camp Tour


By the weekend the vast firefighting crew was winning the battle. And while the fire did occur relatively close to us (7-8 miles), it never really threatened us. The winds blew the fire primarily east, and not only were we located directly south but there were also a fair number of large irrigated fields between us and the burn zone. Still, no one likes a fire near them - particularly someone with a forest. We don't enjoy thunderstorms and their associated lightning strikes quite as much as we used to when we were renters. I guess that's just one of the downsides of owning your own place.

The school had become the headquarters for all of the 1000+ firefighting crew. There were tents covering the lawns and numerous trailers, trucks and other paraphernalia. Signs had been put around the school instructing people not to stop along the road to look since it could create a hazard. However, on Saturday we noticed a sign indicating that they were now giving guided tours of the fire camp! Being the engineers that we are, we were curious about some of the logistical aspects associated with fighting a fire of this size, so we signed up.

Our tour started at 3pm on Sunday. Since the majority of the crew were up on the mountain actively battling the fire, those who remained in the camp and were conducting the tour were members of the enormous support staff that is required to provide for that many people. After a quick overview of one of the fire trucks, we moved to the supply area containing pallets full of protective clothing and gear.

A sawyer showed us the contents of the standard 40-pound pack that each firefighter carries with him. That pack doesn't include containers for potable water, chainsaw, or chainsaw gas/oil, either - those are additional weight!

We got a demonstration of how to use the protective foil "pouch" that a firefighter can use for protection if they are overtaken by fire. Once inside, the foil can deflect the worst of the heat and protect the occupant from the high temperatures. Since there is no way to detect if it is safe to exit once inside, the occupant must remain under the protection until another firefighter gives him the "all clear". Apparently studies have shown that the human body can withstand temperatures in the 300-400° range for short periods of time, but I wouldn't want to be the one to test that.

From here we moved to a room in the school that was being used as a medical center. In here there was also a map of where each of the 5 divisions (A through E) fighting the fire were stationed, along with sticky notes indicating where each medic was.

The firefighters work (and often travel) in crews of 20. (Looking at the tent city, you could see that they were all set up in groups of 20.) Some crews are responsible for digging the fire lines that are used to contain the entire fire. We had assumed that they use heavy equipment to dig the lines, but no, they dig them by hand. The crew lead starts the line and digs one shovel's width and keeps going. Then next person comes behind and widens the line by another shovel's width. By the time 20 people take a pass, they have a pretty descent fire line. Apparently, they can move pretty fast this way.

During the hours when the fire fighters aren't on the mountain, they are typically either eating, showering, or sleeping. So the camp has trailers dedicated to each of the first two, and rows of tents for the latter. The food trailer operation was out of Montana. Their meals have to provide the firefighters with 6000 calories/day. Here is the breakfast menu for the day we visited.

The firefighters we spoke to claimed to be adrenaline junkies. Even so, I can't imagine why anyone would want to do this for a job, but I sure am glad that there are people who do!

- Mike (& Corinne)

19 July 2008

Brian, Susan & the Rodeo

Our friends Brian and Susan (aka the Juddmansees) stopped in for a few days on their recent whirlwind tour of the west.

They arrived at our place on Friday night and brought with them a half flat (that's 6 dry pints) of mixed local berries that they had picked up at a farm stand along their drive. Coincidentally, we had also picked up a half flat of berries the previous day at Gorge Grown Farmers' Market. Presented with the situation, we had no choice but to eat them. Between berries on ice cream after dinner and berries over waffles the following morning, we managed to polish off the lot of them. Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, marionberries - yum!

Saturday we gave them a walking tour of the property but mostly kept it low-key. Saturday evening, though, we had some excitement planned: The Dalles Rodeo! Corinne and I have been to the local Ketchum Kalf rodeo in Glenwood a few years ago, but Brian and Susan had never been. It's kinda like the circus - you just have to experience it at least once.

We coordinated ahead of time with our friends Judith and Rodney to get tickets and they ended up quite good - front row center! Periodically a horse and rider would bolt around the stadium at high speed, hugging the walls; they were usually carrying a flag with the name or logo of a sponsor, so they were quickly dubbed "commercials." When this happened we would sometimes get showered with dirt kicked up from the horse's hooves. Now THAT'S close to the action!

Relative to our previous rodeo experience, we had expected this one to be a much bigger event. In actuality it seemed about the same. The biggest difference was the success of the cowboys in the rodeo action, and it was in the opposite direction. As an example, there were 9 pairs of cowboys competing for the best score in the team roping event. On this particular day, only 2 of those teams scored at ALL; all of the others were not successful in roping the calf and therefore did not score. Each of the other events had similar outcomes: steer wrestling, bull riding, bronc riding (bareback & saddle), etc. This was definitely a rodeo where the cows won. The barrel racers - whose event did not involve a large farm animal - generally fared better. We still had fun watching the events, and I have no doubt that they all did a better job at their events than I would have.

Brian had hoped to be able to enjoy a NW rodeo whilst drinking some Rainier Beer. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly) the rodeo was sponsored by Bud.

There was a lot of fun outside of the non-competition events as well. A "business persons donkey race" organized by the local 4-H was actually quite a bit more entertaining than we had expected, and a "Wild West Revue" had some pretty fancy riding and roping. And let's not forget all of the various Northwest "rodeo queens" who were making the rounds and signing autographs.

At the end of the evening we went home satisfied that everybody had a good evening - us AND the animals.

On Sunday we walked to the Trout Lake Arts Festival which also happened to be that weekend. The Mt Adams fires didn't seem to deter anyone, as the festival was as busy as ever. Pretty soon it was time for our guests to be on their way to their next destination.

- Mike (& Corinne)

17 July 2008

Cold Springs Fire Update: Thursday/Friday


Thursday morning we awoke to the smell of smoke for the first time. The smoke had settled in the Trout Lake valley overnight and was quite thick. As you can see from the photo, there was no mountain in view. The inversion actually proved to be quite helpful for the fire fighters that morning. By evening, the smoke had dispersed.

Thursday, 06:30, View from Home

After spending considerable time online looking for updated information, we managed to find a "live" fire-mapping site and were able to get this snapshot on Thursday:

7-8 miles from our house

Thursday, 21:00, View from Home

The firefighting population is now more than twice the size of the "native" population (as of the 2000 Census).

- Corinne (& Mike)

14 July 2008

Cold Springs Fire Update: Monday/Tuesday

By Monday the fire looked better but that was just an illusion due to the smoke and flames being less impressive. We monitored the fire information on this web throughout the day.  The fire was 500 acres on Sunday, 3000 acres Monday morning, 6000 acres Monday afternoon, and 8000 acres by Monday night.  The total fire crew grew from 237 people to 335.

On Sunday the Trout Lake School had a fair number of spectators. By morning the Trout Lake School had about 80 tents in the field. By nighttime the school parking lot was off limits to all but firefighters.  It looks like the Trout Lake School may be the fire base camp.

There were still no reports of the fire affecting anything but wilderness.

Monday, 08:00, View from Home

Monday, 08:15, View from Trout Lake School

Tents at Trout Lake School

Monday, 22:40, View from Home

By Tuesday they had a better estimate of the size of the fire, coming down slightly from the 8,000 estimate of Monday evening. The smoke was now beginning to settle in the valley.

Tuesday, 08:30, View from Home

- Corinne (& Mike)

13 July 2008

Forest Fire!

We rose early (for a weekend) to beat the heat and spent our Sunday morning catching up on yard work after 8 days away on vacation. Mike mowed the lawn and I freed the garden from weeds.  The garden is on the south side of the house so I didn't get a view to the North until I finished and went inside. When I did, I was greeted by this view:

Sunday, 11:23

My first thought was that someone was burning but then remembered that the county burn ban was in effect.  And then of course decided there was too much smoke for a home burn pile anyway and therefore this must be a forest fire.  I called 911 to report the fire (just in case no one had yet) and was informed that DNR had been fighting a fire on Mt. Adams since early in the morning.  I know that the peak of Mt. Adams is 15 miles from our house and therefore estimated that the fire was ~10 miles from our house.

The fire grew quickly over the next hour and soon a fire fighting helicopter flew over our house.  By noon, we could see flames.  By 1 PM, the fire was creating its own cumulus cloud.

Sunday, 11:34

Sunday, 11:50

Sunday, 11:56

Sunday, 11:57

Sunday, 12:00 (flames!)

Sunday, ~13:00

Sunday, ~14:30

Sunday, ~15:00

Our friends Andrew & Amy called to ask about the fire so I emailed them some photos.  Andrew loves fires and couldn't resist the helicopter photos.  So he took his family for a Sunday drive on the forest roads of Trout Lake until they were turned back by a forest ranger.

The forest ranger provided the first real fire information of the day.  The fires was started by a lightning strike way back on June 29th!  Mom and I had watched that lightning storm and saw some serious strikes hit what appeared to be the same area where the fire started.  Apparently, it had just smoldered for two weeks!  That area has a lot of dead and diseased trees (spruce budworm) and is fueling the fire.

Mike and I took a drive to the Trout Lake School in the evening for a better view.

Sunday, 17:50 (view from Trout Lake School)

The pregnant photographer reflected in Mike's glasses

Sunday, 20:48

Sunday, 21:43

By evening, information on the fire was posted online.  The fire is named Cold Springs and occupied 500 acres on its first day. I made a mental list of the things I would evacuate with if needed but took comfort in the fact that the fire was North of us and the wind was from the west (as is typical for this time of year).

- Corinne (& Mike)

11 July 2008

Taler du Engelsk?

What's the first thing you think of when you think of Denmark? Do you even know where it is?

I have to admit that before we decided that we were going to visit our friends Tara & Jason in Denmark, I wasn't even quite sure exactly where it was. I mean, I knew it was in Scandinavia somewhere, and I knew that Norway, Sweden, and Finland were all crunched together up there, but where is Denmark? Well, here it is (oddly unnamed on this particular map of Europe).

Denmark is comprised of a series of islands and a peninsula connected to Germany. The capital, Copenhagen, is on one of those islands, while the majority of the land mass is on the peninsula, Jutland. Since our friends live in Vejle on the east coast of Jutland, that was our home base for our week-long trip.  In fact, in the ~7 days we were actually in Denmark we never made it off of Jutland, and that was just fine with us. We did consider going to Copenhagen (on the island of Zealand near Sweden), but that was one of the trips that we skipped in favor of a more leisurely vacation.

We took a non-stop flight from Portland to Amsterdam, then a short-hop connection to the small airport of Billund in the middle of Jutland. Our first plane left Portland at 4pm on Thursday, and our last arrived in Billund at ~2pm Friday, with a 9 hour timezone difference to which we never did quite adjust completely. I'm sure you've heard that "everyone in Scandinavia speaks English". I can confirm that that is mostly true, but our bus trip from the airport to Vejle was our first indication that this was not a universal axiom. Thankfully Tara had prepped us with the necessary Danish phrases to get us by:

"Taler du Engelsk?" = "Do you speak English?"
"klipkort" = "punchcard" (10-trip ticket bus ticket that we had to purchase from the non-English speaking bus driver)

...and we didn't learn much Danish beyond that.

When we arrived at Tara & Jason's apartment in Vejle, we decided to just push through the jet lag in an attempt to adjust as quickly as possible. It mostly worked, although I don't think we went to bed before Midnight a single night (and we were often still eating dinner at that time!) Since we arrived on July 4th, Tara prepared a multi-course "American meal" of corn on the cob, potato salad, blueberry cobbler, and oven "fried" chicken. At 1:30am we finally went to sleep.

Our trip only afforded us 6 full days in Denmark, so we knew that we would have to pick and choose our activities. Since we were primarily there to spend time with Tara & Jason (exploring Denmark was really secondary), we ended up alternating day trips with more local activities. This also allowed us to more easily adjust our plans and schedules based on weather.

Saturday we explored Vejle with Tara & Jason, including stops at the Farmers' Market, cheese shop, bakery and supermarket. At the Farmers' Market we bought all sorts of local produce, most of which we could easily recognize and compare the English and Danish words with the farmers. Berries, though, were another story. The ones in this photo we figured out were currants (red and white), but there were some jars of preserves that were a bit of a mystery. Of course we had to buy some and then search the Internet for the Danish/English translation. Tara was excited to be able to report back the answers to the farmers the following week.

Danes really have a thing for licorice and gummy candies. I took this photo in a typical grocery store. Note that this entire section is JUST LICORICE AND GUMMY, and all of their food stores have equivalent sections. Both Corinne and I are big fans of licorice - including the salt licorice, or saltlakrids. At one point during the trip when we mentioned that we liked licorice, we were "tested" by being given the strongest, saltiest licorice that they had.  It wasn't our favorite, but we still liked it; apparently most non-Danes (or at least non-Scandinavians) spit them out. I guess that means that we passed.

There were so many ways to enjoy licorice, and we tried all we could find: sweet licorice, salty licorice, licorice chewing gum (Stimorol, made right in Vejle!), and even two kinds of licorice ice cream. We did lots of sampling while we were there, and brought back as much of the licorice and gummy as we could manage.

On Saturday night we did the unthinkable - we rented a car! Cars are the exception rather than the rule (as they are in the states); perhaps it is the 180% tax that is imposed on buying a car. Yes, that's right - 180%. That is a disincentive if ever I heard of one. Most people bike or take public transit (bus, train), but since making our Sunday day trip to the west coast of Jutland by public transit would have required at least 2 transfers and about 3 hours of traveling, we chose the rental option.

Sunday morning we hopped in our car and headed off towards Ribe, which dates itself back to the 8th century and is dubbed the oldest town in Denmark. Here we explored a Viking museum, enjoyed some Danish "street food" (hot dog shoved in a hollowed baguette with thousand islands dressing), climbed a church tower, wandered the cobblestone streets, and enjoyed the spoils of a Danish bakery - one of many that we patronized during our visit.

At the Viking Museum we all good a good chuckle out of a carving of a Viking-era boy, shown above in the yellow shirt. I guess public urination wasn't frowned upon back then as much as it is today?

From the top of the church in Ribe, it was easy to see how flat Denmark is. The highest point in the country is only ~500ft above sea level.

From Ribe we continued on a little further west to the coast and the town of Blåvand in search of German WWII bunkers. During the war when Germany occupied Denmark, the Germans constructed somewhere around 8,000 concrete bunkers which they used to defend the coastline. After the war many of the bunkers were destroyed but some have survived to this day.

We wandered along several different beaches and peeked into a number of small bunkers. (Note that the horse parts were added by an artist much later and were not part of the original German design.) We had to watch our step along the beach, as there were a fairly large number of jellyfish washed up on shore. Tara took it as her mission to 'save' as many as she could by flinging them back into the ocean with her sandal.

Denmark is also a leader in wind-generated power, with windmills dotting the land- and sea-scape all over the country. I've read that 20% of the power generation in Denmark currently comes from wind sources; I guess that's what you can do when there are no mountains in the way to block the wind.

Our next day trip involved Jason's employer and the reason they moved to this part of the world in the first place: LEGO. The weather on that day was a bit rainy, so we opted to skip LEGOLAND (the LEGO-themed amusement park) and instead took the bus to the LEGO offices. Jason's current project is on LEGO Factory which allows anyone to design their own models from a set of stock parts. As you would imagine, the offices were full of LEGO models just about everywhere you looked. Due to security concerns, we weren't able to tour the actual factory where the bricks are made, but we did get to see huge storage rooms containing bins full of all sorts of LEGO pieces, including a whole room dedicated to parts that are no longer made. We scooted down the wide hallways between rooms on trike-scooters (not made from LEGOs, thankfully), occasionally stopping to use the swings, mini basketball court or one of the other recreational activities scattered throughout the building.

At the end of the tour we were invited to have dinner at the home of Trine & Anders, Danish friends of Tara & Jason. We were pretty excited to get some authentic Danish experiences, and we were not disappointed. The house was lovely, and with a Scandinavian design feel; the food was delicious; and the hosts were delightful. After dinner we spent some time discussing the Danish royal family (by way of a Danish tabloid with lots of photos), then finished off the evening with a traditional Danish dessert called koldskål. Made from a yogurt-like dairy product (something like buttermilk but not quite - ever hear of ymer or A38?), koldskål is traditionally eaten with 'vanilla wafer'-like crumbled cookies, with sliced fruit being a more modern addition. It was delicious, and it was even more fun to listen to Anders and Trine's banter about whose technique was correct.

Our longest day trip was an all day outing to Århus, the largest city in Jutland. We jumped on the train early on Wednesday morning and spent all day walking around the city; we didn't get back to our home base in Vejle until shortly before midnight.

As it turned out, we even had a local contact in Århus. Our Trout Lake neighbor Pat has a daughter and son-in-law who live in Århus. Abby (Pat's daughter) spends some time each summer back in Trout Lake, and as luck would have it that time coincided with our trip. Thankfully her husband Steffen was still in Denmark, and he really went out of his way to make sure that our visit to Århus was enjoyable.

Steffen met us as at the Århus train station and gave us a map of the city, pointing out some of the attractions (including bakeries!) After we had spent a few hours exploring the shops and the Århus Cathedral, he picked us up and drove us to Århus Castle where the royal family was summering. Thus we had an opportunity to see the Danish changing of the guard, though it also meant that we would be unable to tour the castle or its grounds.

After the castle and a short walk through the park with Steffen, he dropped us off at Den Gamle By or "The Olde Towne," which is sort of like a Danish version of Colonial Williamsburg. Old buildings from all over Denmark have been disassembled and transported to create this town. We wandered through the buildings for a while, then grabbed a lunch of Danish meatballs, or frikadeller. (Think Swedish meatballs, only in Denmark.) From there we walked to the ARoS, a world-class art museum, before meeting up with Steffen again for dinner.

From the list of suggested dinner options, we chose the Rådhuus Kafeen for its offer of traditional Danish food. We started with Herring three ways: pickled (white), curried (yellow), and spicy pickled (red), all of which were delicious. Corinne had a hash for her main dish, while Steffen and I both chose the Råduus stew of beef in a paprika sauce. It was all delicious! I think we passed another Scandinavian food test: apparently when Steffen talked to Abby after our visit, one of the first things that he said to her was "They ate the herring!"

After dinner we head back to ARoS one more time, both for the exhibits and for a view of the landscape from the rooftop deck. We said our goodbyes and hopped on the train back to Vejle.

On our final full day in Denmark, we took another walk through the shops and up "the hill" to the Vejle windmill, a landmark than can be seen from many places in town (due to its location on the hill.) There is a small museum inside the windmill, primarily related to the windmill itself, but since all of the displays were entirely in Danish that's about the extent of our knowledge. If I had some knowledge of windmills I could have used some of the displays to learn Danish words, and vice versa. So we just looked at the pretty pictures and enjoyed the view.

Our flight left the following morning at about 6:30am, so of course we stayed up until after midnight eating another delicious meal from our hosts and building a LEGO model. The next morning the taxi arrived sometime before 5am and we were off.

We had a wonderful time on our trip and got to spend lots of time with our hosts. Denmark isn't the most "exciting" place to visit in Europe (no ancient Greek or Roman ruins, or Eiffel Towers, etc.) Everything is very expensive - I would estimate approximately double - and the weak dollar certainly isn't helping that right now. Having said that, we did have a wonderful time and enjoyed all of our experiences with the locals, the food was good, the weather was nice (although we've heard that we got lucky to avoid the humidity). And after all, it's not every country that can claim to be scientifically proven as the Happiest Country On Earth!

- Mike (& Corinne)