PAgent’s Progress

Words Are My Favorite Toys

August 27th, 2006

Cabanas and Kites

Our departure was scheduled for 11:00 am on Saturday. Of course, we didn’t actually leave until 11:30, which is technically early by PAgent family standards. Shortly after we hit the road, we began a fine PAgent family vacation tradition, the Litany of Forgotten Things:

PAgent: “Crap. I didn’t pack the beach chairs.”

Mrs. Agent: “Oh! I didn’t pack my swim suit. Oh well, it’s not like you can actually swim.”

The Boy: “I don’t think I packed my toothbrush.”

Mrs. Agent: “Honey, it was on your list. Did you go down your list when you were packing?”

The Boy: “…Yes…”

Mrs. Agent: “Then it should be in your suitcase.”

The Boy: “I don’t remember packing it.”

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

The rental house was very cute, and MUCH nicer than last year’s version. We were again situated high on a cliff, but this time all the lights and appliances worked, and the house actually seemed cozy. And nothing smelled like dead fish, although the daisies in the yard smelled like dog poo.

Access to the beach was via a longish walk down the lane to a stairwell, or a much closer scramble down the prominantly-marked “Psycho Path”. The Psycho Path dropped down into a tree-filled ravine, and on to the beach, and my children loved it. They thought nothing of scrambling up and down it at a moment’s notice. Those of us with aching knees and compromised cardiovacular systems were a little less enthusiastic.

At any rate, the children couldn’t play on the beach unsupervised. Northwest beaches can be dangerous places. A sneaker wave can smack you around, or roll a driftwood log on top of you. If you don’t pay attention to the tides, you can end up stranded on a rock, or on the wrong side of a headland. The riptide pulls unwary swimmers out to sea every year. And if all that weren’t enough, the frigid water can give you hypothermia in minutes. As the USA-TODAY guide to Northwest Beaches succinctly put it: “Stormiest and coldest water in the continental USA. Swimming and wading are not prime activities. Hypothermia is a major concern.”

Nevertheless, I love wild northwest beaches. I have visited the Gulf of Mexico, and found the warm, gently lapping waters there tremendously disappointing. I grew up playing in an ocean with character. An ocean that said “You better keep an eye on me, buddy-boy. I’ll smack you around.” And besides, the water’s only cold until your feet go numb.

At any rate, if the kids wanted to play on the beach (and the kids ALWAYS wanted to play on the beach), that meant at least one parent had to be down there, too. With temperatures in the ’50s-’60s, and a constant wind, it can be less than pleasant to just sit there. Fortunately, Mrs. Agent and I came prepared with the Kelty Cabana.

Purchased with the express purpose of keeping us comfy while watching our children get soaked, sandy, and salty, the Kelty Cabana performed admirably. With little built-in sandbags at the corners, this little shelter was remarkably stable even in high winds. With the front panel laid open, it’s a nice three-sided sunshade and windbreak. With the front panel zipped shut, it’s essentially a light tent. The Mrs. and I could sit and read in relatively cozy comfort while our kids ran amok. The Kelty Cabana gets PAgent’s wholehearted Seal of Approval, and permitted our kids to actually play as long as they wanted to.

We also got to fly kites this year. I got the kids set up with their kites, then started laying out my parafoil stunt kite. As I was hooking up the guidelines, I saw my daughter sprinting down the beach after her runaway kite string. Oh, damn. I jogged after her, and caught up with her as she began scaling the cliff:

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“I need to get my kite.”

“And you were just going to go up the cliff to get it?”

“I can see the kite string. It’s right there.”


“Right there at the top of the cliff.”

“Stay here and watch your brother.”

She would have done it, too.

Since Dad did not reach the ripe old age of 42 by being excessively stupid and/or foolhardy, I went around the backside of the cliff, and scrambled up through the heavy brush to the kite string. At that point it was a simple matter of whacking through more brush, winding up the string, until I found the kite hung up in a Kite-Eating-Tree. By the time I got back to the beach I was filthy, bruised, and bloodied, but I had my daughter’s kite, dammit.

I let the girl fly my stunt kite for a while, which she really enjoyed. Unfortunately, the wind started picking up, and after a while she was having trouble controlling it. I took over the kite and flew for a while longer. Then I noticed that the wind had gotten strong enough that the kite was beginning to pull me down the beach a little. Note: When the kite starts to pull the fat man down the beach, it is definitely time to go in.

Next time: Dusty Trails

August 23rd, 2006

Greetings from the Coast

Direct from an internet station at the Newport Public Library, no less. So this will have to be short and sweet.

The weather is cooperating wonderfully, it’s been beautiful. The horseback ride went off without a hitch (HA!) and I will have more to say on that subject when I get back.

The wife and I are ready to kill our children:

“Can we go to the beach?”
“Not now.”
“Can we go to the beach?”
“Not now.”
“Can we go to the beach?”
“Not now.”
“Can we go to the beach?”
“Not now.”
“Can we go to the beach?”
“Not now.”
“Can we go to the beach?”

I am getting lots of exercise, walking on the beach every morning. I spend my time daydreaming about owning my own beach house that I could escape to. And filling it with dozens of brilliant and beautiful women that find me incredibly desirable.

Hey, if you’re going to daydream, go big.

P.S. I notice that some of you are registering as subscribers of the site. Uh, thanks? I have no idea what that gets you, since I haven’t set up any restrictions on content. But I guess it might be useful in the future. At least you can state proudly that you are registered users of PAgent’s Progress.


August 19th, 2006

Out To Lunch

Yes, the PAgent clan is GOING TO THE BEACH for a week. Alas, this means I will NOT be updating PAgent’s Progress, as

a) I’m not about to figure out how to do that from the beach house, and

b) I’m not so completely dependent upon the Internet that I can’t be off it for a week.

Talk amongst yourselves. Visit the archives. I’ll be back before you know it. And I promise to take pictures.

To help tide you over, here’s a clip of a guy doing amazing things on a bike.

And to think I once fell off a curb.

August 18th, 2006

How NOT to Do it

In the course of procuring my Ph.D., I blew through a LOT of liquid nitrogen. Usually a couple of liters a day, usually cooling a solvent trap, every day that I was in lab. We kept the lab supply in a large Dewar that we refilled from a much larger tank on a cart in the basement hallway.

You need to treat this stuff with respect. First, because it will freeze your flesh solid in mere moments. Second, if you aren’t careful, you might condense liquid oxygen in your trap. This is considered a Bad Thing, as solvent and liquid oxygen tend to go BOOM when they warm up. But we usually only gave cursory attention to the inherent explosive power of liquid nitrogen when it warms up. Mainly because no one was ever stupid enough to put liquid nitrogen in any kind of a sealed system.

Well, in this blog post, Derek Lowe describes an incident involving a sealed liquid nitrogen tank at Texas A&M. If you ever worked in a lab environment, this will leave you shaking your head.

I am SO glad I survived grad school.

August 18th, 2006

Music Video Madness

I’m going on vacation! I’m going on vacation!

We leave tomorrow to spend a week on the ocean. I don’t care if it’s gray and cloudy and 60 degrees all week, because at least I will be able to hear the waves crashing.

So, in honor of my impending sanity maintenance session, I give you this week’s Music Video Madness:

Toad the Wet Sprocket - Walk On The Ocean

The Honeydrippers - Sea of Love

The Beach Boys - Kokomo

The Go-Go’s - Vacation

August 16th, 2006

Today’s Commute

I commuted by bike today, and it felt pretty good. I don’t know whether it was the enforced hiatus since I broke a spoke last week, the effect of the new rear wheel, or simply that I used my inhaler before I started out, but I felt strong and fast.

In stark contrast to the abuse I often get when riding, I actually had positive interactions today.

First, I had a person on Barbur Blvd. yell out his window “How much does a bike like that cost?” I told him he could get a bike like mine for under $1,000. He then explained that he had a neck injury that made it painful to ride a conventional bike. I said “This is absolutely the way to go.” and directed him to Coventry Cycle. I hope he’s able to get back on the road.

Then, two different people said “Cool bike!” And they were adults, which is even more unusual. If anyone is going to tell you your recumbent looks awesome, it’s generally a child. Children are generally enthusiastic about recumbents, and will run alongside you, telling you how cool it looks. It’s usually adults that make the snide comments. I find that oddly significant.

There was a little incident on the way home that kind of pissed me off. After grinding up and out of downtown on Barbur Blvd., I really, really enjoy the downhill run down Multnomah. There’s a nice wide bike lane, and I can really set a scorching pace from Multnomah Village into Garden Home. I was stopped at the light at 45th, and when the light turned green, before I could even get moving, this guy on an upright bike ducked around and got in front of me.

I just want to take a moment to try and explain the situation to you upright jockeys out there: Recumbents, especially recumbents driven by fat old guys like me, don’t climb hills quickly. We generally have to drop to a low gear and just grind it out. By all means, pass us on those uphill stretches. I, for one, will try to move over and make room for you if I see you coming up behind me.

But don’t be fooled by our performance uphill into thinking we’re universally slow. Recumbents in general go downhill like a bat out of hell. We have aerodynamics on our side. And remember, I have a fairing on my bike. So, after this guy got in front of me, I was keeping up with him by coasting, while he was pedalling like mad. In fact, I had to brake once or twice.

Have I mentioned that this downhill stretch is the highlight of my commute home? Yeah.

So, I honestly don’t bear this guy any ill will. I wasn’t bent out of shape, but I really enjoy that downhill run. It’s the payoff for the long grind up out of town. So, it was a bit petty of me, but after coasting behind him nearly all the way down Multnomah, I waited for traffic to clear then swung out and passed him. I had the bike in the highest gear and I wound it out. I was probably going 30 when I hit Garden Home, and there was no sign of him in my rear view mirror. It. Felt. Good.

And here’s another thing for you drivers to bear in mind: if I’m in a left turn lane, and I’ve pulled up as far forward and to the right as I can, that’s a signal for you to go ahead and pull up next to me. DON’T hang back a car length or two to be polite. I appreciate the thought, but if you do that then NOBODY is going to trigger the #@*$%^#!! left arrow, and we will all sit there through a couple of light cycles until somebody puts a sufficiently large mass of ferrous metal over the loop sensor in the pavement.

And now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

August 16th, 2006


Yesterday we discussed pressure differentials. Today we will be discussing relativity. Relativity tends to get lumped into discussions about the speed of light, Lorentz transformations, time dilation and other fun things. But really, relativity just means that what you observe happening depends upon your frame of reference.

For example, when you are diving in a small plane, the objects in the plane with you will begin to fall freely toward the earth. From the frame of reference of the ground, they are plummeting earthward. But from the frame of reference of the plane, you suddenly have a flying dog.

August 15th, 2006

Pressure Differential

This is one of my favorite clips.

Everyone has heard horror stories about getting sucked out of an airplane window. More accurately, the unlucky passenger is ‘pushed’ out through some tiny aperture, because the internal pressure in the plane has nothing to oppose it.

But the biggest pressure differential you can have in an airplane is 1 atmosphere — from sea level to vacuum. That’s the max.

What if you go the other direction?

This video was taken in 6,000 feet of water, during maintenance on an undersea pipeline. A remote-operated robot is sawing a 3 mm wide slit (that’s only 1/10th of an inch) in the pipeline. The pressure inside the pipeline is 0 psi, while the pressure outside is 2,700 psi, or 1.3 tons per square inch. That’s nearly 184 atmospheres. So when some poor unlucky crab comes along….

Three. Millimeters. Wide. Ain’t physics fun?

August 14th, 2006

No Horse Deserves This

Next week the PAgent clan will be spending our second annual week at the ocean. This is a family tradition that I can truly get behind. As I’ve said previously, there is a special brand of serenity and relaxation that is available within earshot of crashing surf that I just can’t find anywhere else.

Of course, since we have children, we have to plan on finding things for them to do, in the interest of maintaining family sanity. My wife, organizational maven that she is, has already been exploring the possibilities. Because my daughter is a freak for the horses, she’s looking into a horseback ride on the beach. And because my son hates being left behind, she’s trying to make it a family activity.

She contacted a stable near where we will be staying, and inquired as to whether they could accommodate us. When I looked at the email she had sent, I noticed that she had indicated to them that I was “comfortable” riding a horse.

Say what, now? I can’t for the life of me understand where she got that impression, because in the 19 years she has known me, she has never seen me on a horse. This is because the last time I was on a horse was when I was about twelve. I remember it well, because the little thing panicked at being left behind by a group of other horses and took off, with me clinging to the saddle and shrieking, until he could be brought under control. At that point I opted out of the horsey ride.

And the most recent time before that was when I was about nine, and was riding bareback on a neighbor’s old mare, when the mare decided to have a meaningful conversation with the horse in the adjacent pasture. Much rearing and neighing ensued, during which I made a less-than-graceful dismount. So, I have a rather spotty history with the equestrian arts.

Don’t misunderstand me. I think they are great animals. I like rubbing their fuzzy noses. I like patting their muscular necks. I like feeding them handfuls of fresh-plucked grass. Through a barbed wire fence, preferably.

I mean, have you ever been next to an adult horse? They’re huge. I think human beings should have enough sense not to put themselves in close proximity to anything that could kill them simply by sitting on them. Of course, I think the horse would take one look at me and decide the same rule applies to them: “I’m supposed to carry that around for two hours?!? Holy crap, I’m dog food for sure!”

Nevertheless, if the family is going horseback riding on the beach, I should try to make the best of it. I will simply request the most docile, most accommodating, and most lethargic horse they have, hope that it just ignores whatever directions I give it, and just goes where it usually goes. I’m sure everything will work out fine.

Maybe I should get a cowboy hat for the occasion…

August 13th, 2006

You have been warned

PAgent may explode without warning