Midwest to the Pacific Northwest

I was in Portland, Oregon, attending OSCON 2013, this past week.  For the many who are unfamiliar with OSCON, I will save you from clicking that link; it is the O’Reilly Open Source Convention.  And that is O’Reilly the media and publishing company located near San Francisco in Sebastopol, California, and not the automotive parts company based in Springfield, Missouri.  And if that description of what I was at still not clarifying things for you, it’s a gathering of nerds who write software and then provide that software to the world free of charge.

It was also a gathering of companies who need software nerds and the skills they possess.

I have been to OSCON before – in 2003 and 2004.  The convention is usually pretty interesting; and Portland is generally a nice city, albeit, a bit on the crunch-granola-people-side.  At the convention, I attended tutorials on erlang, and clojure, there were talks on go and people discussing rust. I listened to a talk, that among other things, discussed the idea of giving your code beliefs and goal.  This is a nod to a paper written by Stanford professor, John McCarthy, in 1979, titled “Ascribing Mental Qualities to Machines.”  It is a fantastic idea and when kept simple and with certain bounds, it is a really a mind bending concept for a software engineer.  In McCarthy’s paper, the example goes something like this: thermostats have only three beliefs, “the room is too hot”, “the room is too cold” and “the room is ok”.  And you ascribe the thermostat a goal, “the room is ok”.  Keep it simple, and the idea will not fall apart.  Read the paper, it is interesting.

Companies like Microsoft, Rackspace, and General Motors all had booths in the expo hall.  We also had an extremely long conversation with an engineer from Twitter; 140 characters would certainly have made for a quicker conversation.  There were also sales pitches for various things “tech du jour” – the most prevalent being the cloud.

There were many tracks with many sessions; my direct boss, Pete Clark and our IT director, Fran Fabrizio, had a great talk called Rebooting the Team: Lessons Learned in an Introspective Year.  I say great in a meaningful way; I am not just brown nosing.

There is obviously more – I spent an entire week in Portland; five days of which was conference/convention related.

I may or may not share my trip to Cannon Beach, or the photos and video of the Pacific Ocean sunset, or my visiting relatives or visiting my friend Sue and her daughter, or the quick trip to Portland’s rose garden.  I will have to see; I did take nearly 500 photos on the trip, there should be more to tell…  if you are sharp and know where I post photos, there a few more photos from this trip there.

And with that, I leave you with the following for you to make sense of…


Hibbing’s Jubilee Parade, 2013

I seem to have fallen out of the habit of frequent posts, as I did while on the road in Canada and, then, throughout June; so, in lieu of many frequent posts, here is a longer-than-usual post. I seem to also be following a law of motion – things in motion, tend to stay in motion.  Two months ago, I was driving across the Great Plains to Montana and then north into Canada.  This weekend, I am flying to Portland, OR, to attend to OSCON 2013.  But the following is a bit on my travels from the weekend of July 13, 2013. Enjoy.

I headed north on highway 35, from the southeastern edge of Saint Paul through Saint Paul, into and out of Little Canada and Vadnais Heights – making it through into the exurbs and beyond into stretches of the state where the edges of a city do not touch the edges of another city.  I was heading to Hibbing.

Shortly after 2:00 PM on Friday (July 12, 2013), I bugged out of the office.  Melissa had an appointment, and I had yet to clean out the Dodge – it contained the remnants of at least three recent projects: bags of topsoil, several eight feet long 4″x4″ posts, random receipts from Menards, The Home Depot & Linder’s Flower Marts and a single bag of dry fence post concrete – which I suspect is now a solid bag of concrete given the recent high humidity.

Melissa had a dog show in Duluth over the weekend, and by chance, she would be catching a ride with a friend and not needing the Dodge.  With a nearly empty van – a crate in the very back for Henry – I rolled out.

Through the turn off to Mora, past Hinckley, a quick stop in Sandstone for iced tea, and then back on the road.  Listening to MPR, I learned that Moose Lake was having its annual Agate Stampede this weekend.  I laughed to myself thinking that this is the annual event where agate ranchers drive their herds of long horn agates into town for auction; the ranchers would line dance and drink bad beer.

Just past the Fon Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s Black Bear Casino Resort I could see the steam stacks of the paper mill in Cloquet.  Traffic had been heavy coming out of the metro area, but much like workers pouring out of a bee hive to work over the neighborhood, the farther a bee is from the hive, the greater the distance between the next nearest bee; the farther north I drove, the number of vehicles within my general vicinity decreased.

I made a stop in Duluth at the Duluth Grill to visit and have dinner with my friend, Peter and his girlfriend, Maria.  We exchanged pleasantries, discussed in greater detail some of the topics we had been emailing each other about previously in the week, and ate dinner.  Every time I am back in Duluth, I realize just how much I miss the area.

Pulling out of the park spot, I was careful to avoid the man picking up garbage and blowing his nose in each piece he picked up; It’s Duluth, Baby! I turned out of the lot, and headed up 27th St to 3rd Ave.

It was not until I was through Cotton and nearing the highway exit for Minnesota State Highway 37, when a thought hit and an expletive jumped from my mouth, “*&%@, I bet this is the weekend of the annual street dance…”  As it turned out, it was the weekend of the annual Jubilee parade and street dance.  Think less dancing and more public drinking; for a select cohort of the population, their collective blood alcohol content asymptotically approaches the stellar proof of malt liquor as the clock approaches the wee hours of the morning.

Last year’s festivities, I understand, included a stabbing, a possible counter-stabbing, and all with a hint of racially charged undertones. There were 16 arrests last year.  This year proved to be more peaceful – it may have been the greater police presence; at dusk, while walking Henry around the highway grounds, I spotted several squads from the city of Virginia patrolling the side streets.

I am not sure what the cultural significance of the street dance is, but it is now deeply woven into the fabric of Hibbing and that region of the Mesabi Range.  If memory serves me correct, it was some in the early 1990s when – around the time Hibbing was turning 100 years old – that street dance entered into the vernacular of Hibbing.  (If you, the reader happen to have documentation on when the first jubilee-related street dance was, please add it to a comment).

Aaron Brown, writer, political organizer, random acquaintance of mine, and instructor at the community college in Hibbing, had a book published, Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range, in 2008, highlighting the rapid changes in Range culture.  Aaron tends to be impossibly upbeat on the general trajectory of the Range and its people.  As down as I am sometimes on the Range, it is there and I truly love the region.  Part of me is saddened that I left the Range, and part of me is jealous of Aaron, who has been able to carve out a spot in academia while maintaining a foothold in the community he grew up in.  In other aspects, I am quite happy with life’s direction at the moment.

Saturday afternoon rolled around; my dad wanted to check out the parade.  The main drag of the city is about a block north of my parent’s house.  We headed out on foot – chatting along the way.  Conversations with my father tend to not be profound or deep; usually town-chatter or recent outings he has had with friends – he also has the tendency of knowing many of the people in town, but only when their age is greater than or equal to about that of my age.  With the exception of his stint in the army in the early 1970s and a brief time in the Twin Cities metro after the army, he has called Hibbing home for the majority of his life.

We made our way up Howard Street, stopping along the way to chat with people my dad recognized.  My dad would introduce me to people he knew.  There was always the chance that I had met some of them in a former incarnation – I was likely shorter with larger glasses, and they were likely not to have been sporting gray hair.  Maybe I had met them when I was in grade school, or, there was also the possibility that my sister or even myself had gone through high school with their children.

Turning onto First Avenue, we walked south.  We paused for a bit to watch the Hibbing High School marching band proceed by; as long as I can remember back, the marching band has performed in the parades of the Range.  When my sister was in the marching band, they even performed in Hawaii.

My dad and I kept walking down the avenue.  I recognized a middle-school friend along the way.  We both recognized one another and said hello and then, simultaneously, we remembered the last time we had run into each: it was in Bloomfield, Colorado, at a hotel, during the summer of 2010.  He had been there to attend a wedding, and I was in the area to attend a funeral.

Again, my dad and I moved on.  As the end of the parade came into view, we were nearing the neighborhood my dad had grown up in.  He made a couple of quips about the old times; I suggested we walked back to the house.  As we retraced our steps down First Avenue and on to Howard Street, I marveled at how few people I actually knew in the town I had grown up in.  I opted to stay in for the night, and not attend the street dance.


Bustle Bee

Honeybees at a hive in Racine, MN

With a blog named Snowshoe Bees, you would think I could be writing more about bees.  I looked back through the blog posts for the last year or so, and I found I wrote a couple entries about bees or mentioned bees in some sort of anecdotal fashion.  There was the entry, from October 11, 2012, on Disruptive Forces and the situation of the beekeepers I know in Thunder Bay, Ontario.  They had been working for a very long time to keep bees that were free of varroa mites.  I have been tacitly following their trials and deals with the newly arrived varroa this season.

That would appear to be the last time I wrote about bees.

I am actually actively managing bees, again, this year.  Last year was sort of a loss for keeping and managing them.  At the end of last season, we did manage to pull about seven gallons of honey, but this was after basically having zero contact with the hives from early May until late October.  Melissa came with when we pulled the honey boxes last fall; she was terrified – the bees were extremely angry.  The bees had been without human interaction for much of the year.  This year, I am able to check them more often as we have them much closer than north of Duluth, as it was last year.  We are running eight hives this years.  They are split evenly between St. Paul – these are located at the back of our property in the woods – and Racine, MN – these are located on a farm owned by friends of ours.

It was sometime in late April, I think, I headed to Duluth to retrieve gear that had been left there after we pulled honey boxes last fall.  The winter in Duluth was quite hard on the bees there.  Of the six or so hives we left for overwintering, only one appears to have survived – and that one is likely the remnants of the one that actually made it through winter but swarmed during the spring.  I suspect it is the result of a swarming because the hive the bees were residing in was empty last fall.  I fill our Dodge van with as much gear as possible; upon leaving the New Scenic Café after lunch with my parents, my dad commented on amount and weight of bee-stuff in the van, “your tires don’t look too happy.”

We headed to Racine, MN, this weekend to check the hives and add the first honey boxes.  The bees were busy doing their thing, and really could not have cared less that I was poking around in their homes.  With only a small bit of rearranging of brood frames in each hive, and I was able to get the honey boxes on all four hives within a matter of minutes.  I have yet to put honey boxes on the hives here in St. Paul.

As a nerdy-side-note, when I look at the black and white photo of the bee smoker (above), I cannot help but think of the Computer Graphics course I took as a undergraduate in the early 2000s.  Why?  The reflection in the curved top.  It brings back memories of trying implement reflection in a ray tracer written in C++ running on Sun Solaris 8.  Those were the days.

Chicken Run

I have a particular fondness for placing a video camera on a tripod, and just letting it record things for a while – usually honeybees, the dogs or birds in one form or another.  Often, I will speed up the film to add that bit of hilarity that things often lacks.

I think the point-the-camera-at-something-and-leave is a throw back to my childhood and watching PBS. The PBS station that we had in Hibbing came out of Duluth, and frequently, in between shows or segments, for some reason or another, they would simply have a very long shot of something from nature. In the early spring, the station would use footage of water rushing over ice – most likely, filmed up the North Shore. Last fall, I filmed a robin in the backyard completely by chance; the resulting video, to me, has that same WDSE feel from when I was a kid.

This evening, with the weather being so pleasant and the chickens being out and active in their run, I put a camera on a tripod and set it out there.

A bit of post-editing, an overlay of banjo, and you end up with a bunch of fast moving chickens.  If you watch carefully, you can see one of the hounds making a cameo appearance in the video.