Archives » April, 2005

April 29, 2005

C Hill Flag

After years of planning, and much hard work by volunteers, the flag on Carson City’s C Hill has been rebuilt. For those who don’t know the whole story about the flag, it begins, like most stories, at the beginning.

The practice of painting giant letters on hillsides has been around for a hundred years now. Many towns out West have them, usually on the most prominent hill outside of town, and usually made out of whitewashed rocks. Carson City has had a giant ‘C’ on its hill for about eighty years now, and it’s such a local landmark that the mountain has come to be called “C Hill”.

After the September 11th attacks, a group of citizens wanted to do something to show Carson City’s patriotism. Someone suggested building a giant US flag that would sit on the mountainside and keep the ‘C’ company, and the idea was a hit. A team got together to build a wooden frame and put it in place on the mountain, and a huge flag was fashioned out of vinyl and mounted on the wood. The mission was accomplished, and everyone in town could look to the hills to see their flag.

For a while, anyway. About a year after it was built one of our signature windstorms came through town, and ripped the flag to shreds. Just tore it up and scattered it all over the hillside. Obviously the materials it was built out of weren’t up to the challenge of facing the weather we get around here. Almost immediately, people started asking, “What will it take to build a flag that can last?” So another group of volunteers, larger than the first time around, set out to answer that question. Backed by tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the community, they came up with a new design, with an aluminum frame anchored to the ground with concrete. On top of that were 390 panels made of Aluminite making up the flag. This creates a structure that can withstand even the strongest winds.

Most of the year 2004 was spent digging post holes and pouring concrete. There were several setbacks to the project, such as when a huge wildfire swept over C Hill, and when the rope broke on the Chinook helipcopter that was hauling concrete to the flag site. So the completeion date of the project kept getting pushed back further and further.

Then, finally, on April 6th 2005, the frame was finished and they were ready to start installing the panels that made up the actual flag.

At the beginning of April, the flag site looked bare, but the aluminum frame was finished.

A few days later, a bunch of panels had been installed.

Volunteers hard at work with electric drills attaching the panels to the frame with screws.

Finally, on April 21st, the ceremonial “last screw” was placed and the flag was finished. Unlike the last flag, this one isn’t going anywhere for a long time.

Now the ‘C’ and the flag work as a team to watch over Carson City.

I want to take a minute to congratulate and thank everyone who got together to work on the flag. This was strictly a volunteer effort, and it’s amazing to me that something like this can be accomplished through sheer force of will. It shows you what ordinary citizens are capable of.

The group has its own official website at It’s kind of an unfortunate mess of frames, javascript, and crappy HTML. If only they’d put the same effort into the website that they did into the flag itself!

Keep Digging

There aren’t too many jokes out there about civil engineering. But this picture, hanging on the bathroom wall in my office, has always been one of my favorites.

Plate XI: Early Work on the Grand Canyon

The little fellow with the blueprints is my favorite, but I think the two guys trying to move rocks with a stick got the worst job.

April 26, 2005

The Wiggles in Sacramento

Last Tuesday we went over the see the Wiggles show, and we actually managed to survive an auditorium full of hundreds of toddlers. And we got a nice day trip to Sacramento and a good show out of it too, so there were winners all around.

The show was at Sacramento’s lonely Arco Arena, a huge stadium in the middle of nowhere. Well, at least for now it’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s surrounded by empty fields, but most of them have “Coming Soon” signs for 46-acre shopping centers.

These parents set up a tailgate party in the parking lot. Teach the kids early, I guess. There was also an SUV there that had “Go Wiggles” painted on the window, the way people do to support their kid’s high school team.

We were very happy that the line was a fast-moving one. And the only reason there was a line at all was because they were checking backpacks. Somehow I don’t think The Wiggles are a prime target for Al Qaeda, but I guess you can never tell.

Sammy is ready for the show!

The Arco Arena seats over 17,000 people, but the entire upper section was closed off along with large parts of the bottom. But the parts that were open were nearly packed full.

Once the house lights went down, all eyes were on the stage. The Wiggles drove out in their “Big Red Car”, and proceeded to fill the next 70 minutes with singing and dancing. There were video cameras all around the auditorium, and close-up views of the stage were shown live on huge TV screens on either side. There were props, and costume changes, and sixteen people in all coming and going from the stage. Here are a few pictures from the show:

So I guess we’re officially parents now. It’s this kind of thing, that you do just for the kids’ benefit, and you actually end up getting into it more than the kids, that means you’ve crossed the line. There’s no going back now!

Now, where’d I park that minivan?

April 25, 2005

All Jethro, All The Time

Yesterday was another Full-Page Sunday over at the Nevada Appeal. The newspaper has gotten into the sporadic habit lately of devoting the entire front page of their Sunday edition to just one story, usually with a huge photo or infographic to go along with it. This week the front page is about Max Baer, Jr., and the long saga of the Beverly Hillbillies Casino.

Click for a 610kb full version

The accompanying article is also one of the longest I’ve seen in the paper, starting in a little box on the front page and then continuing on the back page, where it was given six full columns and 10 vertical inches. It, and the timeline taking up half the front page, give a pretty thoroughly-researched view of what’s been happening with Jethro’s Casino over the past few years. It’s written by Becky Bosshart, a journalsitic powerhouse who seems to be writing all the articles for the Appeal these days. All the big ones, at least. Or at least all the ones on topics that actually interest me enough to read all the way through. I want to see Becky blog. I bet it’ll be better than anything that makes its way into the paper.

Anyway, I don’t know about this tendency to fill up the whole front page with one story and related graphics/pictures/sidebars. They’ve already been doing that on the front page of their Sunday “C” section, Personal Appeal, for years now. And none of the stories that got the full-page treatment were hot, breaking, front-page news. They would have fit in just as well, if not better, on page C-1. Maybe it was a slow news week, so they put this story together just in case there were no major fires/car crashes/assassinations on Saturday. I guess that’s one of the peculiarities of newspaper publishing. Something’s got to be on the front page, so you might as well have fun with it. As opposed to a blog, where every single thing is front page news, at least for a while.

April 23, 2005

Saturday at Lake Tahoe

It’s not many people that get to say, “I’m going to Lake Tahoe on business.” I’m one of those people. Of course, it’s about a 45-minute drive in a company car to get here, but still. There’s always the excitement. This time I’ve put together a few photos of the drive up.

At the top of Hwy 50, at Spooner Summit, is Spooner Lake. It spends most of the winter and a good part of spring frozen over.

Lake Tahoe has some of the most expensive real estate and homes in the country. Here is a custom house that was just built last year. Just the land that it’s sitting on I’m sure sold for over a million dollars. The price of the house? I don’t even want to guess.

Right across the highway from that last house is this dense tangle of trees and brush, with a little stream running through it and a couple of waterfalls. Things like this are so easy to miss when you’re travelling at 55 MPH along the Lake.

Cave Rock was always one of the big obstacles to building a road around the Lake. This chunk of granite, which the Washoe indians believed to be a spritual place, sticks out from the steep slope on Tahoe’s east side and juts out into the water. The first road along here was little more than a wooden bridge, circumventing the rock high above the water. Eventually engineers blasted this tunnel instead. Today there are two tunnels through the rock, one for each direction.

Here’s a better view of Cave Rock, from the opposite direction.

The Round Hill Mall, where RCI has a satellite office. An outdoor mall doesn’t make the most sense in snow-bound Tahoe, but it’s what everybody builds.

RCI’s front door. There are only five computers at this office, and a T1 line connecting them to Carson, so I rarely have to come up for a visit. I can do most of the work remotely. It’s only on occasions like today, when I’m upgrading two of the computers, that I need to make an on-site visit.

Our office has a shared bathroom, which means there’s one restroom in the middle of the building with three doors, each one leading to a different shop. This situation led to someone making this sign.

I can’t show you any of the office itself. You know, top secret, classified stuff. But I can show you the conference room, which is the nicest part of the office anyway.

It’s nice to get away from the valley and up to the Lake sometimes, even if it means working on Saturday. It’s still nice and cool up here, and there’s still snow in some of the deep shadows. I’ve got to make this a more regular thing!

April 21, 2005

Piper’s 120th Birthday

If you’re a fan of Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City (which I wrote about here and here) you need to get yourself up the hill this weekend. On Sunday, April 24, they’re celebrating the historic building’s 120th birthday with a grand open house from noon to 6. There will be music, tours, and the unveiling of a 19th century painted drop curtain that was uncovered in the basement. And the best thing is, it’s all free! Should be fun.

April 19, 2005

Sacramento Photo Galleries

Last month we visited Sacramento for a quick three-day trip. Nearly a month later I’ve finally gotten around to posting a few scenic photo galleries of what we saw. Gotta love procrastination!

This is actually perfectly timed, because today we’re taking a day trip back to Sac to see The Wiggles in concert. So, while you’re looking at these pictures, we’ll be back over there, taking more!

This first set of pictures is three pages, covering our first day in town. One | Two | Three

April 15, 2005

Norton Strikes Again

For years I’ve advocated against running Norton AntiVirus on your computer. It’s bloated, it’s buggy, it’s expensive, it’s crash-prone, and in the long run it’s more damaging to your computer than getting a virus would be. But the Nevada State Legislature didn’t listen to me (they never do) and they ended up paying the price for it.

Everyone came to work on Thursday, which just happened to be the day of a big deadline, and found that their computers were reporting they had a virus. So nobody could work on their files, and no hearings could be held because the computers handle audio and video recording. Everything ground to a halt while the IT department scrambled to clean the virus off. There was just one problem: there was no virus.

What the IT guys found was a false positive being reported by Norton. Hours of work were lost because of a problem in the virus definitions. This would be completely inexcusable from any company, but the fact that it’s Symantec, supposedly one of the biggest and most popular, just makes it even worse.

Why do companies keep buying this crap? If Symantec was a brand-new company, and it tried to give us Norton Anti-Virus, it would be laughed out of the marketplace. But because it’s been around and been huge for years, that gives them a free pass? I have no idea what could be running through the head of an IT manager that actually approves putting that trash on their network. I just can’t fathom it.

So, they can keep running Norton if they really want. And they can keep wasting time cleaning up the mess it causes. I’ll keep running AVG and NOD32 myself, and save the headaches.

April 12, 2005

Then And Now

I’ve been searching the web for examples of “Then and Now” sites. You know, where you find an old photograph, and then go back to the exact same spot and take a picture of what it looks like today. Much like my own Virginia City Then and Now pages. I’m planning to one day expand that section to include the whole area, like Carson City, Reno, Minden, Lake Tahoe, and maybe even parts of Northern California. There’s a lot of history here, stretching back to the Gold Rush, and a lot of the old buildings are still around. So I went looking around to see how other people have done it, hoping to get some inspiration.

To start, there are the books. Thunder Bay Press seems to have made a whole series of these books, and I have two of them, the ones for Las Vegas and San Francisco. They’re pretty well done, with full-size photos—the historic photo on the left page, and present day on the right. If I ever get a book deal out of my project, I’ll have to use the same format. Maybe the flying pigs can help me.

Turning to the web, it’s hard to find anything quite that in-depth (each book has about 70 pairs of photos). One of the best is New York Changing, which I’ve pointed to before. That one is a book too, but most of the photos are available for viewing on the website. And today I found a couple of other cool ones. The first one looks at San Francisco, through the lens of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. The webmaster took stills from the 1958 film, and photographed the same scenes 45 years later. The second site is a look at Disneyland, Tomorrowland to be precise. It’s a Save Disney photo essay on how much worse off Tomrrowland is today than it was in the 60s, 70s and 80s, before budget slashing began and rides started being removed with no replacement. This one, unlike the others, doesn’t have the before and after shots on the same page. Instead you use Next and Previous buttons to flip through the pictures. The advantage to this method is that by flipping back and forth you can really see what’s changed and what hasn’t, especially on the shots where they were able to line everything up just right. In some of the shots you can even see individual trees growing!

I’m sure there are many many more sites like these out there, and I’m hoping to fold together all the best ideas into my site. The next thing I have to do is go down to the State Museum and get my hands on their photo collections. The local paper has been running some of their historic photos, and there are some excellent ones in there I could really use. And then it’ll be time to get snapping!

So until then, check out my Virginia City Then and Now if you haven’t seen it yet.

Jason Benson

I got the word today that my cousin died over the weekend. He had been battling cancer for the last couple of years, and it looked like they had beaten it and he would be all right. But then it came back, and they went after it stronger than ever. He had just gotten home from the hospital and a particularly rough round of chemotherapy when he collapsed on the floor. It was an aneurysm, and he was gone before the paramedics arrived.

He was 23.

I could never really say I was close to my cousins. We played together a lot when we were kids, but my family moved away when I was 8, and they were both younger. After that we’d only see them twice a year when we went down to Orange County to visit family, then once a year, and then we stopped getting together. Our parents kept in touch, but we never did, and when I saw them four years ago at my grandfather’s funeral, it was like we were strangers. And now Jason, the youngest out of all four of us cousins, is gone. And now we do’t even have a chance of one day reconnecting.

It seems wrong for someone so young to be taken by cancer. It seemed wrong when I first heard he had it, and it seemed wrong that he would have to go through all the chemotherapy and everything at his age. And it seems extra wrong now, that his body just turned on him like that and devoured him from inside. Cancer isn’t supposed to be a young person’s disease. But it is. It doesn’t care who it strikes, or when. My wife had a distant cousin, a few times removed, by marriage, who was living the American Dream up in Puget Sound. He had a multi-million dollar business, a loving family, lots of friends, and a full rich life. But the cancer didn’t care about any of that. One day he was diagnosed, and within a month he was dead. You never know when it’s going to strike.

So rest in peace, Jason Benson. You were one of the unlucky ones, but at least now, as my aunt said, you’re “not being poked with needles anymore.” And for the rest of us, it’s just another reminder to enjoy every day that we have here.