My May 2011 Portland Trip

Submitted by Richard on Thu, 2011-08-04 16:21

Having found myself unemployed in February, the opportunity for a quick trip to Portland presented itself in the middle of May of this year. I offered to volunteer at a conference called OpenGovWest, where, as the name suggests, people from the governmental, non-profit and information technology gathered to discuss issues surrounding opening the culture of public participation. In return for volunteering my time (which included breakfast setup and taking notes on two sessions), I was able to attend the conference for free. Karen, who spoke at the conference and served as volunteer conference convenor, and I left on an early Thursday morning for a Friday/Saturday conference, taking the train down from Vancouver, B.C. While it was not my first time taking the train south from Canada — I had earlier in the year taken a 4-day trip to Seattle to watch baseball games pitting the Toronto Blue Jays against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field and then to Everett for whale watching — it was my first time heading all the way south to Portland.

The train left Pacific Central at 6:30 in the morning, and with a brief stopover in Seattle, we proceeded to Portland. I had arrived at Union Station before, but only ever by Greyhound bus. My initial plan was to stay in Portland from Thursday to Monday, but it made more sense to come back on the Sunday train. Switching my return ticket on Amtrak was a breeze, even if there were only two seats left. If you can deal with the noise from fellow passengers and the opening and closing of the cabin doors, then you don't have to worry about traffic. If you have a device that can both access the Internet wirelessly and plug into an electrical outlet, Amtrak Cascades has you covered with Wi-Fi on trains and a (single) plug at your feet.

(I'm part of the Amtrak Guest Rewards program. If you send me your email address, I can sign you up to get 500 free points, which in turn gets me 500 points!)

Getting Online

First step of the trip, after disembarking from the train, sent me to a T-Mobile store. An aborted attempt during my April Seattle visit to get a U.S. number and data plan, which included my Canadian cell phone provider incorrectly flagging my iPhone as stolen, left me with a $60 bill at the end of that trip. (Not only that, but my iPhone had been incorrectly locked when Apple replaced my original.) This time, with an unlocked phone and a bit more information, I proceeded to the T-Mobile outlet downtown. Since the iPhone 4 requires a micro-SIM, and this T-Mobile outlet did not have a SIM cutter, they sent me next door for a $7 trimming. After a few settings changes I was online.

T-Mobile, at this writing, offers a $1.50 daily fee for 30 MB of unthrottled access to their data network. They call it "web", but it's the full Internet as far as the iPhone is concerned. After 30 MB, the network starts throttling, and all throughout there are a few sites you might not be able to access, as they seem to have some net-nanny software deployed. The only website this affected for me was Untappd, where one can "check in" to beers that one drinks. (Yes, we'll all have a good laugh about that website in the coming years.) Other than that, speed is less an issue than being able to connect to use Google Maps, Twitter, Foursquare, etc. That the pre-paid allowed for voice and text was nice, but I use the Internet so much more than any other service on my cell phone.

The Hotel

Jupiter HotelJupiter Hotel

The event was held at the Jupiter Hotel, which we also stayed at for two nights. As the hotel is co-located with the Doug Fir Lounge, we found the noise from the patio outside during Thursday and Friday nights annoying. The hotel attendants made a note of it up front, and once we put in earplugs and fell asleep, it didn't bother us as much as we thought it might. True to its website's description, it had a boutique feel, with chalkboards on the inside and outside of the doors, and we found the inside white decor very pleasant. We are undecided if we'd ever stay there again, but we appreciated staying at the same hotel as the conference venue, meaning we could sleep an extra few minutes without worrying about a daily commute. The hotel is located about a half an hour's walk from downtown Portland, just enough to soak in some rays and take in the sights from across the bridge.


MAX heading past Union Station in PortlandMAX heading past Union Station in Portland

Column at Powell's BooksColumn at Powell's Books

Morrison Bridge Bike LaneMorrison Bridge Bike Lane

Engine Co. No. 7Engine Co. No. 7

Bioswale on Couch and SE 11th, Portland, OregonBioswale on Couch and SE 11th, Portland, Oregon

Viking Soul FoodViking Soul Food

White bread...we need white bread.Biggest Rotating Loaf of White Bread I've Ever Seen

I took the necessary transit shots of the MAX train, made the requisite pilgrimage to Powell's Books, and even learned a couple things about the city. Most interesting were the new bike lane on the Morrison St. bridge, walking up the stairs from the Eastside Esplanade, finding an old fire station (now available for lease as office space; Portland Architecture has some photos of the inside), what a bioswale looks like, what a lefse tastes like (thanks Viking Soul Food!), and the biggest rotating loaf of white bread I've ever seen.

Leaving on the Sunday meant an afternoon departure from Union Station, which afforded us some time to have dim sum at Ocean City Seafood at 3012 SE 82nd and a final pilgrimage to Powell's. From there we walked to Union Station to find a curving lineup within the station, though not too late to fill up on water and get our seat assignments. The only downside to an afternoon departure meant a late night arrival in Vancouver, which further meant having to go through customs at 11 PM. That went more pleasantly than the return from our last trip to Portland in 2009, where we had our bags fully searched by Canadian border guards. (At least on that occasion we arrived in the late morning because of our 7 AM departure from Seattle.) No big haul like last time.

Cascadia Trip Inventory: Accumulation from our Trip to Portland and Seattle

Submitted by Richard on Wed, 2009-03-04 14:44

Inspired by the inventories Liz posts on Flickr, Karen and I decided to take a photo of everything we accumulated on our trip to Portland and then Seattle. We set physical we took from America on the floor and then stood on a chair to take the photo with our DSLR. Below is the photo plus a list of the items with some links, taken from the annotations Karen and I added to the Flickr photo.

Cascadia Trip Accumulation
  • Overland Equipment Auburn bag.
  • The Alexander Technique Manual by Richard Brennan
  • Two maps of Powell's City of Books in Portland.
  • Boost Your Brain Power Week by Week: 52 Techniques to Make You Smarter by Bill Lucas
  • U.S. stamps for mailing postcards.
  • Various TriMet maps, passes and info. From right to left: three maps, a comic in Spanish, and a bike rider's guide. The five passes are: one bus transfer, two weekly passes, and two "honored citizens" passes that I rescued from the trash.
  • Seattle Sound Transit guide.
  • Two free Portland bridges bookmarks. That beat paying $19 for the poster of the same bridges.
  • Inclusive City book flyer.
  • 4 Amtrak ticket stubs for the train trips we took from Portland to Seattle, then from Seattle to Vancouver.
  • Artist postcard from gallery in the Pearl District.
  • Pumpkin Butter with Port, from the "Made in Oregon" store.
  • Spiced hazelnuts with cinnamon and pepper. I talked to the man who makes them at the People's Co-op Farmer's Market. It was chilly. (The weather at the market, not the man!)
  • Dreaming Escape, a book of poems translated from Albanian.
  • Greeting cards from Positively Green
  • Seattle Art Museum tickets to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. We stumbled on it on our way to a concert, donated in the wrong box, plead our case, and got in as the result of the donation.
  • Our little big purchase: the Flip MinoHD, with a custom design that I commissioned from @idleglory (flickr: rocketcandy).
  • 2 rolls of film from the Fisheye camera, ISO 400 and ISO 200.
  • Notebooks and a Jane Austen address book, also from Powell's.
  • Apple Cider, obtained from the Farmer's Market.
  • Bridges of Portland fridge magnet.
  • Art gallery opening card from Moshi Moshi.
  • The poster for Duncan Sheik's 2009 winter tour for Whisper House and Spring Awakening. We attended his shows in Portland and Seattle.
  • Ticket stub from the Portland Duncan Sheik show.
  • Artist postcard from gallery in the Pearl District.
  • Skirt purchased from The Future Inc., which closed this past Saturday.
  • An "Oregon Wilderness" postcard, the outlier of the 8 we sent in total to our American and Canadian friends on this trip.
  • Apple Cinnamon Tea from Pike Place Public Market in Seattle. The entire kitchen smells like this tea now.

Video of the MAX Arriving Gateway/Northeast 99th Avenue Transit Center

Submitted by Richard on Tue, 2009-03-03 13:37

On my trip to Portland last week, while my girlfriend went to the People's Farmer's Market, I took a jaunt over to the airport from downtown. To travel from the airport from downtown, I had to get a zone upgrade, because the 7-day pass we bought (see below) afforded us 2 zones. (We mostly traveled from Zone 2 through Zone 1 to the Fareless Square.) The fine folks at the TriMet information office at Pioneer Courthouse Square advised me that to get the zone upgrade, I would have to step on a bus, get an upgrade, and immediately disembark and hop on the train. I wasn't interested in risking getting caught by a fare inspector, so I made the trip to Gateway/Northeast 99th Avenue TC, hopped off the train, and got a zone upgrade from the #19 bus driver there.

On the trip I took quite a bit of HD video using the Flip Mino HD camera we bought. Following is a Hillsboro-bound MAX train arriving at Gateway/Northeast 99th Avenue Transit Center (which I will refer to in conversation as "Gateway" after the SkyTrain station here in Greater Vancouver).

Having a 7-day pass may not have been worth it from a purely financial perspective: as mentioned, we spent 5 days there in total and the pass did not apply to the Aerial Tram up to OHSU. (We would have appreciated a ticket stub as a memento of that trip. I sent a note to TriMet directly with that suggestion.) We did very much appreciate the convenience of the two-zone fare and not only the convenience of not having to fish for change, but being able to select which consecutive 7 days we could use the pass. In Toronto, you can't select which days. At least they have one, though: we'd love to be able to have weekly passes in Vancouver!

Upcoming trip: Portland and Seattle

Submitted by Richard on Mon, 2009-02-09 18:58

We've bought the tickets, so it's official: Karen and I will be going to Portland for the last week of February, then take a very short side-trip to Seattle on the way back. We're taking the Greyhound bus down from Vancouver, B.C., so we'll get a lot of Interstate 5 goodness. Since we didn't know exactly how we were getting back from Seattle, we decided that at least on the way from PDX to Seatown that we'd take the Amtrak train. A little more expensive, and the Amtrak guy in Vancouver wanted to see our passports. We managed to convince the ticket agent that we didn't know we needed them to buy tickets and that we had just made the decision (both true), so we'll finally be able to do as Djun did in 2005.

We very tentatively decided to neither of us bring our laptops, the idea being that we'll find enough computing power with friends and cafes to check our email as much as we need to and that's it. I'll bring my iPhone, which I'm assured by the fine folks at Fido will cost me an arm and a leg to use the data plan while roaming in the United States. As part of our trip budget, I have an amount of total usage in mind. Again, friends and wifi in the wilds of PDX will get us jacked in when we need to.

To update my thoughts on the PDX Bus iPhone application, the developer today had approved a 2.0 release of the app, which embeds Google Maps inside the application. It also adds a flashing screen to make it easier for TriMet bus drivers to see you. I didn't believe that TriMet actually recommending this, but the transportation agency itself has an explanatory video, including asking for what are called in Vancouver "request stops", i.e. getting dropped off anywhere along the route, not just at designated stops.

PDX Bus iPhone App Shows Next Bus, MAX, and Streetcar Information

Submitted by Richard on Sun, 2008-09-21 02:10

Last night, taking a walk in the park, I sat down on a bench and looked at all the iPhone apps that have to do with Navigation. One that caught my eye was PDX Bus, which takes TriMet data and makes it accessible in a nice easy-to-use interface. Users can type in a stop ID, browse stops on a per-MAX line and per-bus basis, with each stop giving users the estimated time of arrival and, tapping through to the individual train or bus, users have the option to show the location on a Google Map of where that vehicle is currently located. The following screenshot shows the Library/SW 9th MAX station with a train arriving in 7 minutes from the time I took the screenshot. Clicking the icon in the bottom right-hand corner gets users the option to find the train on a map.

Library/SW 9th MAX station with a train arriving in 7 minutes

Now, as a Canadian not (yet?) living in Portland, Oregon, at the moment, it was a little difficult to verify any of the information that the app obtains from the TriMet data store. In fact, all my research leads me to believe that data roaming will not be cheap when I visit PDX. As the app relies on information over the Internet, it'll probably take finding a free wi-fi spot to get the latest info on MAX trains, streetcars and buses while traveling.

My interest in the app stems from both the fact that I have an iPhone 3G and that TransLink, Vancouver, B.C.'s transportation authority has commissioned an iPhone app, not-yet-released but demoed at a recent MobileCamp Vancouver. I'm looking forward to such an app (which I understand will be a wrapper for a web app using TransLink's data) and urge the developers to take a look at PDX Bus for inspiration. The PDX Bus app itself could use a little more GPS integration (for example, what are upcoming transit options for stops near me?).

Check out the PDX Bus blog and the the brief announcement by the developer. There's also Matt King's TriMet Tracker iPhone-friendly website for similar information.

What Portland's Apple Store Might Have Looked Like

Submitted by Richard on Thu, 2006-07-13 01:10

I've been following the Portland Apple Store saga starting with an article at Portland Architecture (which I submitted to Daring Fireball) and after a subsequent Portland Architecture article I see that John Gruber linked to Cabel Sasser's plea to Apple, the Landmarks Commission, and site developers to renew the project. Cabel, who lives on NW 21st and whose software company, Panic (which develops for the Mac), has an office on NW 10th, would have loved to have an Apple store in his neighbourhood. I'd love to know where he got the proposed design from, though it's possible I missed it from reading his article on the subject.

Portland Bike Path Stencil in Broadcast's "Tender Buttons" Music Video?

Submitted by Richard on Sat, 2005-11-19 14:48

Last night I listened to Roland's podcast with Will Pate and Michael Tippett which had an extended discussion about video available on the Internet, and Will mentioned he wanted to be able to subscribe to the RSS feed of a tag of videos that were, in his example, documentaries. I recalled that you can subscribe to RSS feeds of file types in, including video. So I tried a couple of examples with the plus "+" operator, and came up with bookmarks of .mov files also tagged with 'music'.

So, having dispensed with the breadcrumbs, I found a video Broadcast's "Tender Buttons" (I did a Technorati search for the URL to see what the song was titled, not really knowing the band very well and not finding any info about it on the momentmachine website), played it, and though it was interesting if not remarkable. It's shot in "one-take" style of the aftermath of a car crash plus shots of suburban life plus, strangely, a burning chair.

The still from the video above has what looks like a Portland bike path stencil, which leads me to believe the video was filmed at least partially in the Rose City. Some great information and photos of bike path stencils come from the link found at a Flickr photoset: an article in The Portland Tribune; an article in Velo Vision [PDF] (there is a discrepancy as to how much of Portland's streets have bike lanes: the former says 153 miles, the latter says over 250 miles); and, naturally, a Flickr bike path stencil group with photo pool.

The MAX in Zero Effect

Submitted by Richard on Sat, 2005-09-24 20:56

The part I love most about Portland is the MAX, the city's street level light-rail system connecting the suburbs with the downtown core. I've only riden it once from the suburbs—during my friend's bachelor party—so most of the times are from and to a point inside downtown Portland to somewhere just outside the core. This year, while at a week-long conference, I took either the Red Line or the Blue Line train to the Oregon Convention Center from my downtown hotel, since, well, it was free to do so.

The MAX train in Zero Effect

A couple of weeks ago, I watched Zero Effect, set in Portland. The movie is primarily about a timber tycoon who is blackmailed and is given elaborate directions to drop payments each time. During one of the payments, the tycoon is directed to hop on a MAX train (though to my recollection, it's never reffered to as "the MAX" but as "the train"). I just edited the Wikipedia page for the MAX to include information about that reference, since other appearances in film of the MAX were listed. It's my first major contribution to the Wikipedia, so I expect it to be edited—it could maybe use a little more detail—I'll save for a little posterity the text that I wrote:

Zero Effect (1998, dir. Jake Kasdan): the wealthy blackmailed timber tycoon is directed by his blackmailer to board the train with a three-digit number delivered to his pager while on his way to deliver his next payment. A MAX train, with the painted number 119 and "Portland" displayed on its sign, pulls up to him. He is then shown on the train for about 15 seconds. As the movie is set in Portland, MAX train bells can be heard in the background throughout.

Metropolitan Area Express (Portland, Oregon) - Wikipedia

A Kind of Formal Clarity That Leaves Room For Unexpected Futures

Submitted by Richard on Fri, 2005-09-23 00:45
Union Station, Portland, Oregon

There is the obvious fact that the train departs from this station. Eight times a day, the permanent rolling stock of VbStoPe [Vancouver, Bellingham, Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Portland, and Eugene] rumbles to a halt at these doors, lacing the air with its acrid brake smoke, and sits waiting for its cargo of citizens to board or disembark. And there is the more important fact of Union Station’s architecture. In a remarkable century of smart choices, the architects who shaped the station have all hewn to a kind of formal clarity that leaves room for unexpected futures. Every stage of the city’s evolution has made its mark: from the boastful ambitions of 1896, to the social strains of ungainly growth between the wars, to the high egalitarian ideals of 1930s modernism, to the reactive constraints of the post-WW II period, to the city’s chimerical hopes for downtown “renewal” that came with late 20th century urbanism. Historical Union Station is neither preserved nor torn down. Rather, it accommodates history in an even-handed present that remains open to emerging futures, such as VbStoPe.

Union Station, Portland, Oregon

The photo is from Chuck Chenny, the text from an article on the architecture of Union Station by Matthew Stadler in Arcade, a journal about architecture and design in the Pacfic Northwest. There are articles in the journal about Vancouver's Pacific Central Station and Seattle's King Street Station as well.


Subscribe to RSS - blogs