January 18, 2010

Things to look forward to

2010 is already looking up, despite the fact that I got sick in the past week. I have 3 wonderful trips planned already and that is a very good thing indeed. Even better is that each is only about a month apart, so I have a happy few months in a row of travelling.

First up, and unfortunately still a few months off, is a few days to Stockholm over Easter weekend. It's a bit earlier in the year than I would prefer for going to Scandinavia, but I wanted to make use of the long holiday weekend.

Then in May I'll be going to the Lake District in the UK to attend my friends' wedding. I'll also be popping down to Nottingham to see how it's been, as well as hopefully seeing a friend of mine there.

And in June and July I'll be making a grand 3 week visit to Oregon, one week of which I plan to spend road tripping around the state, plus I'll be there over the Fourth. I have the feeling that this trip home will be quite different from any other, due to getting in touch with people from school who I had lost contact with, and getting to know some people online who live around Portland. So there will be a lot more people than usual who I'll want to see, it'll probably be a bit hectic, but hopefully it'll be some good times.

Now, just a couple more months of winter to get through...

January 16, 2010

A clean Willamette - in the 70's

When I was in Melbourne, on my last evening there I popped into a Korean restaurant to get some takeaway. As I waited for my order, I noticed some reading material consisting mostly of Korean newspapers provided to make the wait go faster. Amongst the newspapers though was an old National Geographic that just happened to have a story about the efforts that had gone into cleaning up the Willamette after it became the most polluted river in the Northwest. I wanted this nice little snapshot of the past, so I snuck it into my bag. Now, nearly 2 years later, I finally got around to actually reading the article and checking out the dated photos some more.

The article, titled A River Restored: Oregon's Willamette, in the June 1972 issue, details how strong laws were passed (this was during Tom McCall's reign as governor) preventing any pollutants from being poured into the river. Cities built sewage systems to handle their waste water, while at the same time providing fertilizer for local farmers. Companies along the river, such as paper mills, spent millions of dollars to make sure they weren't discharging chemicals into the water. Citizens took up the cause and reported any signs of pollution.

All of this resulted in a near-pristine river full of spawning salmon and people not afraid to go for a swim. This picture of a happy American family enjoying a day on the river was the issue's cover photo:

The caption states, "Oregonians enjoy the newly cleansed waters of the Willamette River. Today, the entire length of the Willamette to Portland provides a safe playground for water sports, including swimming. Perhaps even more important, Oregon's accomplishment instills a valuable environmental awareness in the state's young people, heirs to the river of tomorrow."

It's not an awareness we kept for very long. A few decades later and the river is a Superfund site, at least around Portland. It's a shame we let it get that bad again.

Also I'm not sure what happened with the Greenway plan, mentioned in the article, to create a nearly continuous belt of parks along the entire river. Perhaps it does exist in some of the parks and nature areas that we know today. There is this photo of downtown Portland in the article:

It is pre-Waterfront Park, so there has been at least that improvement along the Willamette, as well as the more recent Eastside Esplanade. It's unfortunate that I-5 was placed where it was though.

The photo's caption reads, "...The busy harbor, once a festering sinkhole for all the Willamette's ills, now ranks among the cleanest in the Nation." Unfortunately I think it's back to "festering sinkhole" status.

What a different skyline the city has in the photo. Downtown looks more like the eastside. In the background though is a sign of a growing city, with the Wells Fargo building under construction. I love how photos can be such time capsules.

This is also true of some of the ads in the magazine. There are no fewer than 3 ads for cameras, including this one for the Minolta SRT 101, the precursor to the SRT 201 that I have.

And to have a bit of a laugh at old technology, there's this ad for a video recorder, which sort of looks like a portable reel-to-reel with a video camera attached.

It is touted as "a miniature tv studio, a mere 20 lbs. to carry." So only slightly less heavy than carrying around a full-sized tv studio. It is noted as the exclusive portable video recorder of the 1972 Munich Olympics. There are as few other ads mentioning official Olympic partners, such as one from Lufthansa declaring Europe "the uncommon market".

January 4, 2010

Falling apples

Today an apple falling from a tree greeted me when I opened Google. It is to commemorate Isaac Newton's birthday and coincidentally I saw an exhibit about him and his laws yesterday at the Museum Boerhaave in Leiden. It's a museum dedicated to the history of science and medicine and I've been meaning to visit it for ages because 1) it is named after Herman Boerhaave, as is the street I live on, and 2) it would please my inner science geek. I found it to have a really cool collection of things, contrary to the Dutch brats who were stomping through declaring it all "saai, saai, saai".

The exhibit on Newton highlighted the fact that it was 3 Leiden professors, Boerhaave included, who latched on to the importance of Newton's ideas and were key to them being noticed by others. It started a golden age in science where even the layperson wanted a microscope or other scientific instruments in their house to use as a conversation piece with guests, and people were thrilled by lectures on new discoveries in astronomy, chemistry and other sciences, presented with slides projected by a sun projector. At the end of the exhibit there was a room with various games to illustrate Newton's laws. I must say I had a few goes on the pinball machine that used two different balls to illustrate how the different materials influence how they fall around the machine (enh, I didn't notice much difference, I just love playing pinball, especially when it's free).

Aside from the current exhibit, the museum houses all sorts of cool old science tools and specimens. There are early microscopes and telescopes, as well as tools used to measure the size of the Earth. There are mechanical calculators, some of the first electron microscopes, and electricity-making machines. The medical sections were the most memorable, with many instruments including amputation saws (which weren't much different from a handsaw you can get from the hardware store), speculums, rib retractors, and catheters used in the removal of kidney stones (ow, ow, ow, and ow). The 20th century was represented with early x-ray machines and an iron lung. They also had things floating in jars, such as embryos, someone's large toe, a fetus creepily decked out in beads, and various animals, including a lizard with two tails. It was pretty eerie going through those rooms. They were dimly lit and there was some art installation going on called Soft Voices that meant there was a voice constantly reading out a poem from a room further away in a murmur loud enough to hear, but soft enough not to be able to make out the words.

Maybe I'll go back again when the next exhibit starts and have a closer look at some of the rooms I didn't look at so closely. Though there are other Leiden museums I plan to get to, such as Naturalis, De Lakenhal, the Pilgrim Museum, and I definitely need to make another visit to the Hortus Botanicus when spring comes.

January 1, 2010

New comments

The old commenting service I used, Haloscan, is being stopped and turned into a paid system that emulates Facebook. I didn't really feel like signing up for that, so I've exported my old comments and am now using Blogger's system for commenting. Unfortunately, I can't import the old comments into Blogger's system, so they aren't visible on my blog anymore. Apologies for them all disappearing.