Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Worst... Olympics... Mascots... EVER!

Today the London Olympics Organizing Committee unveiled the mascots for the 2012 Summer Games.  And here they are!

London 2012 Mascots

You can NOT be serious!  This is a joke right?  Oh no, we only wish it were!  According to the organizing committee representatives responsible:  "We've talked to lots of children and they don't want cuddly toys..."  Well, in that case, you guys hit a homerun!  My personal thought is these guys look a bit like a cycloptic version of Cogsworth, the butler-turned-clock from Beauty and the Beast.  But even that is a stretch.  

... and seriously, are those claws on the blue one's arms?  Was there a sale at the used mascot parts emporium?

Of course, Olympics mascots in recent years have become more than just an icon of the games, but also a HUGE money making opportunity for the organizing committee, with the licensing of their likenesses on all aspects of the games souvenir merchandise.  But let's take a look at some of the mascots of recent memory:

Vancouver 2010 Mascots

The recently completed Vancouver Olympics actually had decently creative mascots.  I do recall not being a huge fan of them at first, however.  They were pretty much invented characters, but at least they were worth buying a stuffed one for your kids.  Who wouldn't want a happy sasquatch?

Beijing 2008 Mascots

Beijing's Chinese powerpuff girls didn't suit my taste much, but at least I knew what they were... sorta.  Definitely fitting of the Chinese cultural heritage, I could conceivably see the attraction to little kids getting them (collect all 5!).  But they pale in badness to the London mascots.

Torino 2006 Mascots

Leave it to the Italians to come up with something as simplistic as walking, talking ice cubes.  I'm sure these adorned many a restroom door throughout the Olympic Village in Torino.  But at least they're somewhat cute.  I didn't mind these guys at all... and if anything they reinforced gender stereotypes. 

Perhaps the London mascots will grow on me over time, but it'll take some work.  I'm also waiting for the first YouTube video of the mascot falling flat on its face and unable to get up on its own.  That will be priceless.  

Friday, May 14, 2010

The War at Crescent Bar

Yesterday, the Seattle Times published a story about the end of the leases at Crescent Bar.  For those who aren't familiar with CB, it's an island in the Columbia River between Wenatchee and Vantage, formed by the building of the Wanapum Dam in the early 1960s.  The island is home to a golf course, about 100 condo units, and 300 RV/trailer-based units.  I use the term loosely, because they all began as at least a park-model trailer unit, but over the years the liberal definition of "enclosed patio" being consider acceptable, has resulted in what I affectionately call "mansion-style" trailers.  The additions onto these trailers often eclipse the original trailer itself, the base trailer essentially being the center foundation of a full-fledged house built around it.  

And I don't know if that was the original intent of the land use or not, but it's what's resulted due to either lack of oversight, or general indifference by whomever has been managing this land since it was leased out for private use back in the 70's.  I don't blame the residents of CB for what they did, it was the natural evolution of the island.  

Why do I care?  My grandparents bought a trailer on the island back near the beginning.  They spent many summers over there, with frankly all the other "old people" who lived there, whose families often came over for weeks at a time to visit.  It was a nice, yet incredibly boring, place to vacation.  My family still has a trailer over there, and yes, it's been built onto just like the others (though not nearly to the mansion-style extreme others have).  Now we're facing having to take a bulldozer to it because the Grant County PUD is choosing not to renew the lease on the land, instead wanting to convert it to public recreation area.

But is that the real reason?  I don't really think so.

There really are several arguments as to why the lease is not being (or should not be) renewed.  The most vocal claims are coming from the residents of Grant County near Crescent Bar, who claim that the land belongs to the residents of Grant County, and should be converted back to a public recreational area for the public's benefit.  This is a completely legitimate argument, and I can respect this opinion, if in fact this is true.  But if this is the case, there's more than enough island to share with both the current residents and to revitalize and improve some fantastic recreational area as well.  But that isn't satisfactory to the county residents, which makes me believe that there's more to it.  

Another common argument perhaps most often cited, is the stance of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, who licenses Grant County to operate its two dams on the Columbia River, that the Commission "does not condone residential development and occupancy of project lands."  The FERC was later quoted as saying that they did not imply this to mean that the existing residents needed to be kicked off the island, but that is the popular view of the county.  Again, you hear this from the county residents as a reason to clear the private residences off the island, but in the same breath you hear people wanting to take possession of the existing condo units and rent them for residential use for the benefit of the county.  Again, something doesn't add up.

I'll tell you what this entire war of words is about -- that which has been the basis of nearly every war from the American Revolution to the Civil War and beyond -- MONEY.

The off-island residents of Grant County see Crescent Bar as nothing more than a bunch of Westsiders who bought into the island as a vacation property investment, at dirt cheap lease rates, and have been profiting for the last 30+ years off of the rental income and virtually free use rates.  And in some cases, they're probably right.

I admit, I don't know a thing about the condo units and how they or their owners operate.  According to research by the GCPUD, 66% of the condos are rented out as vacation property, ostensibly making for a great low-cost, high-value investment for the owners.  This may very well be true, and if so it's pretty sad.

What I do know is what my family does with our trailer.  In the over 30 years we have had our unit, we have never once rented it out, though often it does go unused for months at a time over the winter (and many days even over the summer).  The often quoted $33/year leases that each owner supposedly pays are one of the biggest lies of all.  Our family pays thousands of dollars each year in lease costs, property taxes to Grant County, maintenance and upkeep of the island, and other utilities.  This is far from a money-making venture.  In turn, we do our part to keep up the island, spend money in the local economy, and share the beauty with our friends and neighbors.  And I think the vast majority of the trailer leaseholders are in a very similar situation.

Today's Crescent Bar is not the Crescent Bar of 30 years ago, and I wish that the Grant County residents would realize that.  They claim that they've felt like outsiders on their island over the years, being kicked out of the "private community" that the Westsiders have built up for their own benefit -- unwelcome trespassers on their land.  And you know what?  As little as 10 years ago I would agree with them completely.  I grew up as a kid going to CB in the summer, visiting my grandparents and all the other "old people" in the trailer park who honestly did treat it like their own patch of heaven.  I was yelled at by grumpy old people, not for doing anything wrong (we all were good kids, honest!), but just for invading their peaceful way of life.

But let me tell you... that sentiment is all but gone.  Crescent Bar has been taken over by the next generation of leaseholders... mostly people who care about the community and want to share the island and be friends with the locals and make things right.  Unfortunately, the people of the county don't want to give them a chance.

As a lifelong resident of Washington State, I know the animosity that exists between the people east of the mountains versus those west.  And really, that's what this issue is about.  It's about the Eastsiders screwing over the Westsiders who they feel have been screwing them over for the past 50 years.  Most don't want an equitable solution, they want these Westsiders to go away, and to make them pay in the most miserable way possible.  And the Westsiders are far from the victims here.  They have brought it upon themselves after years of bad decisions and poor treatment of those Grant County residents by some of their own.  

I believe the Grant County PUD commissioners actually are more rational people than their decisions convey. But ultimately, they are politicians, elected by the citizens of Grant County, and most likely wanting to be elected again.  There are about 85,000 citizens in the county, among which about 60% actually vote based on state records.  On a divisive issue such as this, a mob-mentality sets in.  I have to question if the decision of the commissioners was based more on a desire to do what they believe is the right and fair thing to do, or solely of a desire to do what it takes to get re-elected.  

I wanted to believe that there could be a compromise where both sides could live in harmony, but it seems people don't want that.  All it takes is reading a few of the comments pages to the various news articles posted online to instantly see how closed-minded and mean-spirited people on both sides are.  I guess I'm not one to be easily blinded by anger, but it's plain to see that everyone involved in this matter is.  Nobody expected our lease to be renewed at as cheap of a rate as it has been, but those involved want us left with a hopeless ultimatum:  pay us Draconian rates to fix up the island the way we want it, or get out.  

As a result, barring any unexpected setbacks, we'll be packing up and leaving next summer.  It's not really about the money for us -- we're far from a rich family.  And truth be told, even if we were allowed to extend the lease at the previously-proposed rates of somewhere around $20,000 a year, we would have no choice but to leave.   I wish the best for what Crescent Bar will become, but sadly the realist side of me doesn't have high hopes.  Once the CB residents leave, it will be those same Grant County residents left to handle the upkeep and pay for the improvements, and I have my doubts that CB will ever return to the 1961 utopia it once was purported to be. I know there's little tangible value in what we have there, and after factoring in the cost to haul stuff away and resell it, we'd probably just hire someone to take a bulldozer to it instead. What we will take with us are the memories of our years at Crescent Bar.  As George and Ira Gershwin put it in their 1937 hit, no they can't take that away from me.  

Saturday, May 08, 2010

w00tstock 2.0

Last night I went to w00tstock 2.0 at the Moore Theatre in Seattle.  W00tstock is billed as "3 hours of geeks and music," but this was more properly "more hours, more geeks, more music."  The show that started at 7pm wrapped up just after 11pm, but still left everyone in the theatre wanting more.

The featured acts at w00tstock are Paul and Storm, a comedic singing duo who I've been fans of for many years now; Wil Wheaton, best known for playing Wesley Crusher in the Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series; and Adam Savage, half of the Mythbusters team and all-around geek.  

Wil Wheaton, Paul & Storm, and Adam Savage
(with Jason Finn on drums and Ceiling Cat on screen)

Over 1000 self-proclaimed geeks attended the show, which included many other special guests:  

Wil Wheaton was the somewhat master of ceremonies for the event.  Anyone like me who has never been a big fan of Wil Wheaton or his work, has obviously never seen him live and in person.  The man is absolutely hilarious, and I take back all of the bad things I've ever said about him.  Brilliantly geeky, and far exceeded my expectations.

Molly Lewis, YouTube star, and ukulele player (as if that's any bit of a surprise) performed a few songs.  I knew nothing about her (obviously I have selective immunity to viral videos), but she was pleasantly entertaining.  

LoadingReadyRun, a Canadian sketch comedy troupe out of Victoria, BC, and also internet phenomenon, showed up to provide some quirky comedic stuff.  One of their featured videos was shown, which was quite funny.  

MC Frontalot, a band who performs what they call Nerdcore HipHop performed right before intermission.  I think their music was supposed to be funny... but I have absolutely no idea because I could only understand about 3.14% of the words they sang.  This was probably partly due to the fact that we were sitting in the second row, right in front of the speakers.  But this was sadly the least interesting part of the evening for me.  

A surprise favorite of the show was Hank Green, another YouTube celebrity, but one who writes absolutely incredible geeky music.  By far the highlight was his performance of "What Would Captain Picard Do?", which was apparently his first time ever performing it in front of Wesley Crusher himself, who the entire first verse is based on.  

Countless Star Trek references permeated the evening, and to no surprise at least 90% of the audience got nearly every reference, even the most obscure ones.  Plenty of other geek references to viral YouTube videos, and video games.  Not being a gamer, most of the video game references went far over my head, but some were so old school I couldn't miss them.  

One of the other big hits of the show was Steven "Stepto" Toulouse, a Microsoft employee responsible for "keeping the peace" among the XBox Live gamer community, and laying the smack down on those people who don't want to play by the rules.  What ostensibly began as a 56-slide PowerPoint analysis of trends among bad gamers, quickly turned into a hilarious sermon preached from the pulpit of the Cathedral of Saint XBox.  

Moving on to one of the headliners of the evening, Adam Savage, Mythbuster-extraordinaire, told some amazing stories of behind-the-scenes at Mythbusters.  

Of course since he was among friends, he brought us some insider video from an upcoming episode of Mythbusters where they will be investigating the following YouTube video validity:  

What will happen?  You'll have to tune in in a few weeks and find out for yourself!

Of course, the real catalyst behind w00tstock are Paul and Storm, who never cease to amaze me.  The only disappointment here is that we didn't hear nearly as much of their fantastic music as I wish we would have.  This is the first time I have been able to see them perform live, and they certainly didn't disappoint.

Fans raise their virtual Zippo lighter apps in the chorus of Nugget Man.

The evening was fantastic, nearly 4 hours of non-stop geekiness.  I think w00tstock has a bright future at this rate.  Tonight Portland gets to experience what appears to be a mostly identical w00tstock 2.1, followed by Chicago (2.2.) and Minneapolis (2.3) in June.  If you're in any of these areas, and have any sort of geeky tendencies (or even if you don't), I guarantee you'll enjoy it.

I leave you with the infinite recursion of Wil Wheaton:


Thursday, May 06, 2010

Expo 2010: The World Meets Shanghai

Is it just me or do World Expos never seem to be that big of a deal these days, until decades later when people think back to them?  The Space Needle, the definitive mark on the Seattle skyline, was of course built for the 1962 World's Fair, a constant reminder as I look out the window.  Or the great pavilions of the past that have become legends in their own right, such as this little pavilion that Walt Disney put together for the 1964 New York World's Fair, you might have heard of it... "It's a Small World."

But the fairs keep going on every few years, and this year's Shanghai Expo 2010 is the largest ever, with over 5 square kilometers and dozens of pavilions.  I've never been to an actual Expo while it was running, though who hasn't been to countless sites that once hosted a World's Fair.  I have to admit, this year's fair in Shanghai, China really has me thinking it might be fun to take a trip out there before it closes on October 31st, 2010.

Popular Science magazine has an online gallery of 35 pavilions at this year's fair, and they each look incredibly awesome.  A few of the more interesting ones:

United Arab Emirates pavilion

The UAE has some quite bizarre architecture in their pavilion, supposedly resembling a sand dune.  Though looking at this the only thing I see is something oddly resembling an energy-sucking creature that attaches to the USS Enterprise in Star Trek: TNG.  But I may be alone on that...

Japan pavilion

Leave it to our Japanese friends to make it look like a giant Jigglypuff has passed out in the parking lot.  Somehow I don't see this pavilion staying around after the Expo is over, but I could be wrong.

USA pavilion

Ah the great United States of America.  Land of endless innovation, countless modern marvels, and the most boring pavilion on the face of the Exposition.  Where most nations use the World's Fair to pull out all the stops and do something awesome, bankrolled often by the government itself, we can thank our various fiscally-conservative laws for preventing nearly any public funding from going to its construction.  That left American corporations to scrounge up a paltry $61 million dollars to put up this monstrosity.  Consider however that the US failed to even participate in the last 2 Expos, this is a step up from that.  If it's any consolation for the lack of creativity in the pavilion itself, you'll be happy to hear that it does feature both a Pizza Hut and a KFC.

Canada pavilion

Fresh off of their highly successful run hosting the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, Canada still has plenty left to put together an incredibly awesome pavilion.  When did Canada start showing us up all the time?  Seriously?  Can I just adopt Canada as my second country without actually going and living there?

Overall, it just looks cool, and actually quite reasonably priced thanks to China artificially keeping the value of the Chinese Yuan so low.  Around $20/day for admission to the entire Expo park, which is great.  Too bad you have the cost of getting over there, but this might be a good reason to pull out some of those frequent flyer miles I have stocked up.  We'll have to see...