Saturday/ snowed in

15 cm = 6 inches.
Whoah .. lots of white when I opened my front door this morning! I can still make out the walkway to my front door, though .. so I know where to shovel the snow away.
Here’s an American robin (Turdus migratorius) with its striking orange breast. I found a whole bunch of them, feasting on the red berries on a bush by the sidewalk, here on 15th Ave. These robins are often among the first songbirds singing as dawn rises (or hours before), and last as evening sets in.

Well, we are at 6 inches here in the city, says my unofficial snow meter (the railing alongside the deck at the back of the house).

It is great to be in a warm and cosy house, and to be able to just watch the local TV station’s coverage of the conditions outside, and of the streets. I did venture out on foot mid-morning, to take the obligatory few pictures of the snowy street corners in my neighborhood.

 

Friday/ here comes a lot more snow

We had another round of snow this afternoon (almost 3 inches), with more expected overnight.
Then there will be a break on Sunday, before the snowfalls resume on Sunday night. That’s good news for my travel plans, since I have a flight to South Africa* scheduled for Sunday!  I hope I will get to the airport and get out OK.
*With a stop and an overnight stay in Amsterdam.

A fresh white blanket on the ground and on the trees and rooftops: about 3 inches of snow by nightfall. I know it’s not much by East Coast & Midwest standards, but 6 inches of snow in one go is a lot for Seattle. So let’s say there is 6 inches by Sunday. Weather models show there might very well be another 6 in. coming down on Mon & Tue, for a total of 12 inches in the city. Yikes. That’s why there were reports of stampedes for foodstuffs (milk & bread) at grocery stores, and for rock salt at hardware stores, on Friday morning.

Thursday/ a red onion’s layers

Here’s a beautiful red onion that I put into a roasting pan tonight, with sweet potato wedges,  butternut squash and Brussels sprouts.
It’s a little tricky to get everything to roast evenly, without some pieces getting burnt – but I’m learning!

Wednesday/ friends at Old Stove Brewing Company

This picture is from Saturday, taken at Old Stove Brewing Company in Pike Place market. It was at an event celebrating the new SR-99 tunnel and the up- and-coming new Seattle Waterfront Park.

From left to right: Bryan, Gary, Steve, Willem & Ken. The picture was taken by Hello There You. They arranged us in front of a green screen, and the background was added in digitally. The accoutrements (red goggles, crown, crab claws, salmon) were on a table, and we each grabbed one. I grabbed the cute sea otter plush toy.

Tuesday/ sunny and chilly

The sun was out, with clear blue skies on Tuesday. We got above freezing by a few degrees: enough to start melting the snow.
There is another system on the way that will bring more snow on Friday, though!

The view out my front door this morning. Yes, the walkway does not clear itself: I had to get in there and shovel the snow out of the way. (Not that I receive a parade of visitors every day, but hey, at least now the mailman can make it to the mailbox by the front door).

Tuesday/ it’s the Year of the Pig!

Tuesday marked the start of the Chinese lunar year.
2019 is the Year of the Pig (Boar).

This Year of the Pig (Boar) display was in the foyer of the Mitsukoshi department store in Ginza, Tokyo, when I was there in December. The boar depicts what the Japanese call ‘chototsumoushin’ (ちょとつもうしん): to run and push forward (to the future) powerfully and headlong. P.S. Check out the little piggies down below on the table. Maybe they are little hedgehogs :).
Here is another piggie. I found this display of a Year of the Pig stamp in the window of the Hong Kong Post Office when I was there in December.

Monday/ snow day .. brrr!

The snow kept sifting down through Sunday night, and by noon today, there was 4 inches of snow on the ground at my house.
North of the city, some places recorded 12 or 13 inches of snow.
It was cold today! Even the day temperatures only got to 29 °F/ -2°C.

As usual, I felt compelled to run out early in this morning to take a few pictures of the snow.  This is 6 am, looking north, while standing on the corner of Roy and 16th Avenue.
Here’s the early morning scene on 15th Avenue, with the snowflakes showing in the halo of the street light.

Sunday/ a not-so-super Superbowl

Well, the Superbowl was a bust.
The one and only touchdown of the game finally came in the 4th quarter.
The New England Patriots won over the Los Angeles Rams, as expected – congrats to them.

We did get a little snow on the ground here in Seattle, with more expected overnight. I was adventurous in the kitchen and tried my hand at a red lentil soup. It turned out really nice.

The final step in making the soup is adding in lemon juice and chopped cilantro and stirring it in. I didn’t even know before seeing the recipe, that there was such a thing as red lentils!

Saturday/ the new SR-99 tunnel

Washington’s new State Route 99 tunnel was officially opened by Governor Jay Inslee today at 11 am. Shortly after that, the public was allowed to walk through it. (Earlier in the morning there was a fun run through the tunnel).

The public was also allowed to bid a final farewell to the Alaskan Way Viaduct. After this weekend, its demolition will start in earnest.

Drone video from WA Dept. of Transportation, shot at about 8 am this morning when the fun run started. The entrance to the southbound deck where the runners are assembling is on top, and to its left and lower down, is the northbound deck. (Inside the tunnel the decks are stacked on top of each other).
The north entrance to the southbound deck. A Space Needle glimpse is visible at the top left, and the building with the yellow chimneys house the tunnel ventilation equipment.
Just getting started, so two miles (3.2 km) to go! The top of the tunnel is still flat here (the top part of the picture) – so this ‘cut and cover’ section was done without the tunnel boring machine’s excavation. A little further in, the rounded ceiling shows the tunnel boring machine was at work.
Every 600 ft (200m) or so, there are emergency exit doors that lead into an escape tunnel, that will allow people trapped in the main tunnel, to escape from hazardous conditions.
Here is a peek of the emergency escape tunnel that runs along the main tunnel. (I stuck my phone camera into a ventilation grill opening). Those cement rings with the round and triangular recesses for bolts, were laid down as the boring machine chewed its way through the earth to create the tunnel.
There is a gentle slope down, and then a slope up again to get out of the tunnel. The tunnel had to be deep enough in places to clear existing sewage tunnels and the light rail train tunnel. Here at its lowest elevation, the tunnel crown is at 95 ft (29 m) below sea level. A little further north, it is 215 ft (65 m) deep at its greatest depth below ground.
Alright! Ahead is the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. We’re about to exit on the south end by the sport stadiums. Those giant tubular fans are for creating a draft along the main tunnel when traffic is stuck inside (in a traffic jam). The fans are not needed when traffic is flowing and thereby creating a draft in the tunnel.
Looking back at downtown Seattle after we had walked underneath it. This is the exit of the southbound part of the tunnel.
Today a final opportunity was offered for the public to walk around on the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Its demolition will start in the next week or so. This is the view looking south from Pike Place market.
Goodbye Viaduct! ‘Hello Waterfront’, said a similar banner on the other side.
Here’s a final view of the Alaskan Viaduct structure from the Seneca Street exit.

Friday/ a lot of fluff

It’s February of 2019, and the cold in the Midwest is easing.
We’re about to get a spell of cold weather on Sunday and into Monday here in Seattle. We might even see snow on the ground in the city. It’s a good time of year to be a creature with a floofy, fluffy coat!

I found this cute picture on Twitter but did not make a note of the original source. The pups are Samoyeds: is a breed of large herding dog, from the spitz group, with a thick, white, double-layer coat. It takes its name from the Samoyedic peoples of Siberia. [From Wikipedia]. P.S. Was the fluffy cat supposed to be in the picture, or is it photobombing the picture? 🙂 And I don’t know what breed of cat it is.

Thursday/ don’t do it, Howard

Howard Schultz (65) was CEO of Starbucks from 1986 to 2000 and again from 2008 to 2017.

Howard Schultz, billionaire ex-CEO of Starbucks Coffee Co. has been making the rounds on morning shows and talk shows, announcing that he is thinking of entering the 2020 presidential race as a ‘centrist independent candidate’.

He is not off to a good start. Democrats fear he will draw away critical support needed to defeat Trump, from the Democratic candidate in a three-way race. Schultz also criticized liberal Democratic policy positions right out of the gate (healthcare for all, free college, more taxes on the rich).
Others say that a being a billionaire in the 2020 race is a non-starter – given how spectacularly out of touch the billionaire-in-chief in the White House and his billionaire Wall Street cronies are, with the plight of most Americans trying to make a living*.

*Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross ‘just did not understand’ last week why federal employees missing two paychecks would visit food banks, when they could ‘simply take out loans to pay their bills during this time of a liquidity crisis’.

I found this somewhat bizarre Starbucks-themed objets d’art at the Starbucks Roastery here on Capitol Hill. The Starbucks mermaid with the Simpsons’ googly eyes can be had for $4,500, and the other two smaller ones are $476 each. (I like the coffee-drinking rabbit with the pig snout). ‘Celebrating the new Milano roastery’ says the sign in the front. OK .. but seems it would also be ideal for a billionaire coffee-lover wanting to celebrate the New Gilded Age we are said to be living in.

Wednesday/ Dick’s Drive-in turns 65

Local burger chain Dick’s Drive-in was founded in 1954.
This Tuesday, they celebrated their 65th anniversary by offering burgers at the ‘original price’ of  19 c.
The regular price today for a 1/8 pound burger, is $1.60.
That means average annual burger price inflation was about 3.4%* for the 65 year span from 1954 to 2019.

*Very close to the average of the annual Consumer Price Indexes (CPIs) published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics over the same period (3.5%).

I walked by Dick’s Drive-in on Broadway at about 5.20 pm tonight. (Temp. 49°F/ 9°C, so not bad, at all). Across the street on the left, is the Capitol Hill train station. Three new apartment buildings are under construction right next to the train station.
Billionaire Bill Gates (63) spotted at the Northeast 45th Street Dick’s in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood, around 7 p.m. on a recent Sunday. “He ordered a cheeseburger, fries and Coke,” said Paul Rich that took the photo. Rich has been going to the beloved fast-food franchise every week or so for about five years. [Photo: Paul Rich]

Tuesday/ the polar vortex plunge is here

The polar vortex is pushing down into the Midwest of the continental United States, and will bring the frigidest temperatures in 20 years, to many locations.

Meteorologists had to debunk Trump’s idiotic tweet from Monday, in which he ‘called’ on global warming to ‘Please come back fast, we need you’.

As NASA explains in a Climate for Kids video, weather is only temporary, while climate describes the typical weather conditions in an entire region for a very long time – 30 years or more.

Weatherman Al Roker pointing out the frigid temperatures and the wind chill values expected for Wednesday in several major cities in the Midwest. [Source: NBC’s Today Show].
CityExpected LowWith Windchill
Minneapolis, MN-30°F -34°C-54°F -48°C
Chicago, IL-23°F -30°C-51°F -46°C
St Louis, MO-4°F -20°C-22°F -30°C
Cincinnati, OH+2°F -16°C-16°F -26°C
Washington, D.C.+18°F -7°C+11°F -11°C
Seattle, WA+34°F +1°C+34°F +1°C

Monday/ here comes the SR-99 tunnel opening!

The ‘Future’ is almost here. Here’s a before and after picture of the Viaduct and Tunnel. The tunnel is about 2 miles long.

The excitement is building: the State Route 99 tunnel is still on track to open to traffic next Monday Feb 4. This Saturday & Sunday, some 100,000 people are expected to take part in a fun run, a bike ride and a walk (that would be me), through the tunnel.

It’s been a long arduous time since Oct. 2011. That is when part of the south end of the Alaskan Way Viaduct was demolished to establish the south portal of the tunnel, and install the ‘Bertha’ tunnel borer.  Then there was the breakdown of Bertha in Dec. 2013, after just 1,000 ft of boring.  After all the setbacks, though, the cost overrun on a $3 billion project was only in the hundreds of millions. (These infrastructure projects are notorious for huge cost overruns. The Boston Big Dig started out as a $3 billion project, and ended up costing some $15 billion).

A ‘sad’ Bertha Tunnel Boring Machine depicted in a Bloomberg Business magazine article in March 2015, called ‘The Aggravating Adventures of a Gigantic Tunnel Drill’.
Here’s the view towards the south, of the south portal (entrance & exit) of the tunnel, near the sport stadiums south of downtown. The tunnel opening is at the dipping road surface in the middle right of the picture. The big white geofoam blocks on the left were taken out of that hollow just these last two weeks. I hope the workers get to the striping of the street surfaces in time! There is one more dry day in the weather forecast before the weekend.
The tunnel has two lanes in each direction, stacked on top of each other. The tunnel is built to modern earthquake standards. In the event of an emergency, exits every 650 ft provide shelter and escape routes, while a state-of-the-art ventilation system will assist first responders and mitigate smoke and fumes from fires. [Source: WSDOT]
Again a view looking south, of the north portal near Seattle Center. The tunnel will be free for the first few months, and then around July, toll fees of that range from $1 to $2.25 at rush hour, will be charged to drivers of cars.

Sunday brunch

My friends and I ran out to Ozzie’s Diner in Queen Anne here in Seattle this morning for brunch. Some of us had ‘the house mess’: a scramble of egg, cheese & some veggies, on top a bed of hash browns.

Temperatures only got to 42 °F (5 °C) today, but this is absolutely mild compared to the frigid temperatures expected along the Canadian border in the Midwest by Wednesday.
A polar vortex will drive down nighttime temperatures at places such as International Falls, MN to a deep, deep freeze of -36°F (-38°C).

Ozzie’s Diner was established in 1954, and is on Mercer Street in Queen Anne. (Smart cocktails in such a down-to-earth place? Hmm. Probably cocktails mixed with a shaker with sensors/ fancy technology to help the bartender make it perfect every time).

Saturday/ what was that? -the mystery of ‘Oumuamua

Was our solar system visited (in 2017) by a probe sent by an alien civilization? Astrophysicist Avi Loeb (from Harvard University in Cambridge, MA) explains why it is possible, in the January issue of the German magazine Der Spiegel.
1 The Intruder On October 19, 2017, the Pan-Starrs Telescope in Hawaii discovered a strange elongated cigar-shaped celestial body. It moved so fast that it could not be part of our solar system. It had to be a foreign object, and was called ‘Oumuamua (Hawaiian for ‘First Messenger from Afar’).
2 Strange Coincidence It is comparatively rare that asteroids from distant star systems get lost in our solar system. According to Loeb, the likelihood of seeing such asteroids through Pan-Starrs is somewhere between 1 in 100 and 1 in 100,000,000.
3 Flashes The brightness of ‘Oumuamua fluctuates: the object rotates and reflects, due to its special shape, different amounts of sunlight. The effect is so pronounced that ‘Oumuamua would have to have a bizarre, elongated form – something which does not occur in celestial bodies of our solar system.
4 Enigmatic Trajectory ‘Oumuamua shows a trajectory departure from that known for comets that leave a trail of gases (typically surface ice that evaporates). Also, neither a comet tail could be observed, nor did the rotation of the object change, as would be expected with loss of mass due to gas emissions.
5 Not Solar Powered For Avi Loeb, the only other assumption could be that the solar power (radiation pressure) affected the trajectory of ‘Oumuamua. However, this force is so weak that it could only affect bodies with a large surface area and tiny mass, such as a paper-thin sail.
6 Not Space Junk If such an artificial light sail or other object reached our solar system by accident, one would have to assume that in space such foreign artefacts would abound (which is not the case). So this possibility also seems unlikely.
7 Alien Mission Loeb therefore suspects that an extraterrestrial civilization has purposefully sent ‘Oumuamua as an exploratory probe in our solar system.

The mystery of ‘Oumuamua, explained with pictures in the Jan 5, 2019 issue of Der Spiegel.

Friday/ Trump gets nothing

Early this morning the FBI arrested yet another Trump campaign adviser.
Later in the day, with airport delays reported due to Day #35 of the government shutdown, Trump gave in and surrendered to the insistence of the Democratic leadership that he open the government before discussions about border security can start. He got no money for his wall, and no concessions.

Remarked NBC reporter Peter Alexander: Question for the President- How can you cast this as anything other than a wasted five weeks of (financial) pain for Americans, caused by you? 

Dirty trickster and gadfly Roger Stone (in the middle on the left) was arrested this morning by the FBI. He faces charges for witness tampering, obstruction of an official proceeding and making false statements. He worked on the Trump campaign and has been a Trump supporter and confidante for decades. Said WH Press Secretary Sarah Sanders today: ‘Stone’s arrest has nothing to do with Trump’. Oh really? We don’t believe you, Sarah. [Graphic by the New York Times from a report by ].

Thursday/ Venezuela’s turbulence

Wow .. not good, the riots in the streets in Caracas over the disputed presidential elections of 2018.  By many accounts, interim president Nicolás Maduro stole the 2018 elections with widespread fraud and support from the military. He and his supporters are refusing to let the National Assembly’s declaration & swearing in of Juan Guaidó stand.

The Trump Administration declared support for opposition leader Guaidó (so not the dictator Maduro – a surprise. Why is that? wonder observers, given that Trump fawns over and supports dictators Putin, Erdoğan, Duterte & Kim Jong-un).

In the meantime, the citizenry has to deal with an utterly destroyed economy. Nine out of ten Venezuelans live in poverty, despite the country’s vast oil reserves. Inflation in 2018 was 1,300,000%. So your money there is not worth the paper it is printed on.

From the New York Times online, Friday 1/25.
History is repeating itself, says cartoonist Eduardo Sanabria (aka Edo) in this cartoon. On Jan 23, 1958, a civilian-military movement overthrew the government of Gen. Marcos Pérez Jiménez. La Vaca Sagrada (The Sacred Cow) was the name of the airplane with which he flew to the Dominican Republic. Come Jan 23, 2019, and the rioting citizens in the streets aim to chase out two ‘sacred cows’ again. The big guy with the moustache is Nicolás Maduro which by many accounts stole the 2018 election. The little guy might be Diosdado Cabello, a supporter & Venezuelan politician.

Wednesday/ a reprieve for horseshoe bats

There is a report in my German newspaper of the greater horseshoe-nose bat that had made a comeback in the Hohenburg area in Germany – albeit only through sustained efforts of conservationists. They made sure the bats had suitable roosting places, and that enough cows were around to produce the dung favored by dung beetles that the bats like to catch in flight !

Photo from Der Tagesspiegel newspaper (I could not resist adding the red lettering). Translation: The Value of the Nose Tip. Only 11 Greater Horseshoe Nose Bats were found in the 80s in the Hohenburg area. Since that time, there are now again more than 200 animals’. The bat is about 12 cm (5″) with a wingspan of 35 cm (14″). The horseshoe nose is for generating beeps for echolocation (the echoes then picked up by their special ears, of course).

Tuesday/ Day 32 of the Trump Shutdown

The US government shutdown dragged on into Day 32 on Tuesday, and come midnight, the deadline had passed for issuing another pay period’s checks to hundreds of thousands of essential government workers.

Trump had thrown a sham proposal on the table on Saturday, ‘offering’ to end the shutdown and to ‘protect’ DACA recipients (immigrant children). These are simply reinstating protections he had stripped from them in 2017. Other changes in the proposed bill with funds for his stupid wall, include massive reductions of the asylum rules in place for Central Americans.

A reminder: this manufactured ‘border crisis’ for the 2018 midterm elections had failed to impress the voters. And it wasn’t enough that the Trump Administration took kids from families seeking asylum, and lied to Congress about it. No – Trump & Senate Leader Mitch McConnell shut down the United States government. They impact and stress out hundreds of thousands of federal workers directly, including TSA officials and air traffic controllers, food inspectors, FBI investigators, federal court judges, environmental protection agents, and more. What a mess.