Archives » March, 2006

March 27, 2006

Valley Bar

The Valley Bar in Centerville, in the Carson Valley, burned down yesterday. This was one of the charming old buildings that seemed to be there as long as anyone could remember…a landmark, almost. It was a little run down, but it was very popular, and when I went down to check out the aftermath today there were about a dozen people there, probably all just regular customers, chipping in to help with the cleanup efforts.

Valley Bar

I’ve already written two articles about the bar over on Around Carson, so you can go read those to find out more about the fire. And if you want to see more pictures (24 in all), check out the Flickr photo set I put together.

March 23, 2006

Nevada State Children’s Home – Then And Now

I’ve been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes programming over at Around Carson. The good news is that the custom CMS I’ve been building is almost ready to go; the bad news is that I haven’t been writing and adding to the site as much as I’d like to. Hopefully once I get the new CMS launched I can kind of hit a plateau with programming and spend more time on content.

But, I did manage to finally finish the Then And Now article I’ve been working on for a while, all about the Nevada State Children’s Home that was torn down in the 1960s. In 1940 it was a gorgeous stone building. Today it’s a bunch of dumpy little cottages. This is what they used to call progress. Fortunately, now we know better and actually care about saving buildings like this. But it’s too late now, so all we have left are pictures. Most of which I put in this article.

Nevada State Children’s Home in 1940

Go check it out.

Vista Delayed Again…Millions Roll Their Eyes

I’m not at all surprised that Windows Vista has been delayed until January 2007. The entire history of Vista, formerly Longhorn, has been one of delays. First it was supposed to come out in 2004, then 2005. And most recently, November of 2006. Now it’s been pushed back again, just the latest in a long line of delays.

At least we’ve got a mostly-finished product that we can play with now. The February CTP (which is really Beta 2 even though they refuse to call it that) is a pretty nice piece of software, keeping a lot of what I like about XP and building on top of it. There are tons of little improvements that make the interface slicker, and a few big things that make you realize you’re going to have to shift your thinking when you start using it.

For one, they’ve got this “Least User Access” idea, where even though your user account may have administrator priveleges, it acts like a standard account most of the time. So any time you do something that needs administrator access, like installing software or dinking around in the Control Panel, your level has to be temporarily raised so you can do it. And every time it raises your level, it has to ask for your permission. So you end up with this box that says, “Windows needs your permission to use this program”, and you have to click on the Allow button. And if you’re doing any kind of real work on the system, you see this box over and over and over. I can only imagine how many times I’m going to see this box in the next few years. I guess there are a couple of reasons they put this in. One is to make sure you know that what you’re about to do is serious, and to get you to think about whether you really want to do it. But more than that, I think this is built in so you can’t have a piece of spyware install something or change your system without you knowing about it. The problem is that you see this box so much, that you just kind of get used to clicking it without thinking. So it doesn’t make your computer any more secure, it just adds one more click to the process and pisses you off a little.

But some of my favorite things about Vista are changes they’ve made to things that I really hated about previous versions of Windows. Like for example, when you’re copying a whole bunch of files and directories, and somewhere buried deep there is one file that is corrupt or locked by another program. Windows XP will get to that file, pop up an error saying the file could not be copied, and then abort the copy process. I hate that so much, and I’ve spent hours trying to track down exactly which file couldn’t be copied and highlight all the other files to copy them, while leaving that one alone. It’s even worse when there are two locked files, or three. Each additional file seems to add about fifteen minutes to the copy process.

Well, in Vista they’ve finally done what they should have years ago. When you’re doing a large copy operation like this, and you hit one file that can’t be copied, it pops up a box telling you so, but then it gives you three little buttons. Continue, Skip, and Cancel. These three buttons mean that you can finally skip over the one offending file without having to interrupt the whole operation, and I don’t know why they didn’t do this sooner. I want to find out who decided to add those three little buttons, and buy him or her a pony, because that is going to save me so much time. Almost enough time to make up for having to click those Least User Access boxes every ten seconds.

Plus Vista has all kinds of little 3D graphics and shadows and transparencies, so much that it’s almost hard to believe it’s Windows. I know Microsoft wants you to use these beta versions for bug testing and feedback, but personally I’m using it for training. If I spend all year getting familiar with Vista and all of its quirks, then by the time the final release comes out I’ll be a pro at using it, and I’ll be ready to deploy it throughout the company. It took about two years after XP came out for me to finally upgrade the computers here. That won’t be happening with Vista; I’ll be on top of things this time.

March 17, 2006

Pacific Ocean Park

Next month we’re heading down to Los Angeles and likely going to the Santa Monica Pier, the last remaining of the seaside amusement areas along L.A.’s beaches.

But probably second-most-famous of all the piers, after Santa Monica, was Pacific Ocean Park just a little ways south. Built on the Ocean Park Pier in 1958, POP was devised as a direct competitor to Disneyland, which at that time had only been open a few years. So rather than just throwing together the usual carnival rides, something Venice was no stranger to at this point, real money was put into themed attractions, educational exhibits, and corporate sponsors for POP.

The main entrance to POP.

And the result, from what I’ve heard, was pretty impressive. At least by 1950s standards. There of course were roller coasters, spinners and ferris wheels, but there was also a Mystery Island, with a train that took you through jungles and volcanoes, and several other highly themed indoor dark rides. The park started out successful, even beating Disneyland in attendance figures for a short time. But it couldn’t sustain the growth, and by the mid 60s it was on the decline. Development in Venice had made it hard to get to, and when you did get there it was in a bad neighborhood that scared many families off. And unlike Disneyland, they weren’t adding new attractions to keep people coming back. The park went through several owners, then finally went into bankruptcy and closed in 1967. Many of the rides were removed and sold, and what remained was left to rot in the elements.

The skyway, suspended over the ocean’s wave.

The pier became a hangout for local gangs, and suffered vandalism and arson. It burned several times in the early 70s, and finally in 1974 what little was left was demolished and removed. Now there’s nothing left but a stretch of empty beach.

POP burns in the 1970s.

But though it’s gone, it remains close to the hearts of many people. I obviously never went there, since it was demolished a couple of years before I was born. But many who did go there in their youth still fondly remember it, and it’s looked on almost as highly as Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm. There are a few really good sites out there devoted to POP that do a much better job descibing the park than I ever could, so I urge you to give them a visit:

Jeffrey Stanton’s POP Page: Stanton is an dedicated historian of old amusement areas, with sites covering Coney Island, Expo 67, and the 1964-5 New York Worlds Fair. But Venice is his first love, and POP his “home park”, so to speak.

Stanton’s Map of POP: A map of the park, with link to ride descriptions and historic photos.

Where the Mountains Meet the Sea: A 1959 promotional film about Santa Monica, part of the Prelinger Archive. It’s in two parts (One | Two). Part One includes footage of POP.

My Own Abandoned Amusement Park: Memories and photos of visiting POP in the early 70s, after it was closed but before it was completely destroyed.

The Imaginary World: Photos and a brochure of the park.

Update 2006-03-24: Charles Phoenix’ Slide of the Week just happens to be from where? That’s right – Pacific Ocean Park. The Flight To Mars ride, specifically.

March 16, 2006

Microsoft Re-Designs the iPod Package

I saw this video last month but I didn’t link to it then. I’m fixing that oversight right now, especially since the news came out this week that it was actually made by Microsoft.

This video shows what would happen if the Microsoft Marketing department got its hands on an iPod box, and redesigned it into an MS product. It’s basically three minutes full of stuffing as much branding, arrows, fine print, charts, and other crap as will fit on the box. But I can’t explain it well enough; just go check out the video.

And keep in mind that it was actually made by folks at Microsoft, poking fun at their own marketing efforts. Makes it so much better. I have a feeling these people have been through the process for real way too many times.

March 15, 2006

Hole In One

This story’s pretty funny. It’s okay for it to be funny, because nobody got hurt (except for a broken arm, which could be argued that he deserved).

A Jeep gets extracted from the mine shaft it was driven into.

And it just reminds everybody to be extra careful in Nevada and Eastern California. You never know where these old mine shafts are going to pop up. They can even open up right underneath you. I remember a few years ago when a forgotten mine shaft in Virginia City caved in right next door to the high school, and swallowed the principal’s car! There’s been enough mining in the area to make the entire landscape of the Great Basin just one big piece of swiss cheese. There used to be a public awareness campaign on TV about it; it featured an open mine shaft with a creepy skeleton standing inside motioning for you to come in. Maybe mine shafts really are doorways to the Land of the Dead. Or maybe they just wanted to creep the hell out of kids and get them to stay away from open shafts.

On the other hand, you have to admire the skill of that driver. That’s a tiny little opening he drove into; if he hit it even a little bit sideways the car just would have lodged in it diagonally. He really had to drive into it square on to get the Jeep to go straight in like that. I’m impressed!

March 12, 2006


Out of a litter of twelve (two litters actually – one father, two mothers) there are still five puppies available. This is the litter that our new little guy Baxter is coming from.

2006-03-10 006

The puppies are in Reno, and you can call (775)448-9900 if you’d like to go see them.

2006-03-10 165

Go find more information at Around Carson, and see more pictures at Flickr.

2006-03-10 041

March 10, 2006

Swing, Baby, Swing!

This picture was just too great to stay buried on Sammy’s page.

2006-03-07 039

If you take enough thousands of pictures, you’re sure to get one or two good ones!

March 9, 2006

High-Speed for the Mother-In-Law

For years my mother-in-law has been on dial-up. It’s never really been worth it to move her to high-speed access, because she hardly uses the computer to begin with, and she doesn’t want to have to pay the extra fees. And that’s fine for her, but it’s a torture for us whenever we go over to her house and try to do anything online. So we’ve been keeping an AOL account active for her (yes, AOL. I wouldn’t dream of trying to teach her the intricacies of using anything else for e-mail) all this time, and having to sit through the hell that is dial-up every time we visit.

But then a couple of things happened, both conscious decisions by AOL to get people like us to do what we did. First, AOL raised their prices again, this time to $25.90 per month for dial-up. (Yes, I know. Ouch indeed.) But then they struck deals with several DSL providers to get the price of DSL+AOL down to $25.90 per month. So see what they did there? They just took price out of the equation. They just eliminated the number one reason that’s keeping people from upgrading to high-speed, the notion that it costs more. AOL on the surface seems to be losing out on this deal, because instead of getting 100% of your monthly fee, they’re now getting the short end of a 33/66 split with the local phone company. But I think they’re just desperate to get people off of dial-up, because their modem banks have to be one of the largest expenses on their books. They’re fed up with being in the ISP business and they want to move into the content business, and that means doing whatever it takes to discourage people from connecting to them directly. Make the local ISPs do all the hard work. And if you make price a non-issue for people who are thinking about switching, you’re going to get a lot more of them to do it.

Now yeah, there’s lot of asterisks to this plan, and enough small print to deforest Bolivia. AOL is hideously overpriced anyway compared to PPP providers like PeoplePC and local ISPs, and these DSL prices are promotional offers that go up after a year. And you can get DSL by itself for about half the price of this AOL deal. But I’d wager that anyone still using AOL in the year 2006 is doing so because they just can’t handle anything else. The idea that they could start using a PPP connection and POP mail overnight woefully overstates their comfort level with the technology. These folks are going to be AOL customers for life. AOL just wants them to be more cost-effective customers.

So, the end result of all of this is that we signed up with AOL, who put in a call to Nevada Bell/SBC/AT&T and got us hooked up with DSL. She was activated today, and after the holy hassle of trying to do a self-installation without using the SBC/Yahoo CD, only to find out that the SBC/Yahoo CD contains special code that activates the modem, so therefore you have to use the CD, which decided to hang up at the exact same point five times in a row so I never really knew if I was doing it right, I got everything running for her. I also put in a wireless router, which means that not only can we get high-speed on her computer, we can also get it on our laptop, and we left the WiFi open so that if any of the other people in her trailer park have great-grandchildren who visit they can use the connection too.

So now the last frontier has been breached, and I have high-speed everywhere I go. Because you know it was purely a selfish act. She doesn’t care if she has DSL; with the amount of time she’s on the computer, the only difference she’ll notice is that the little AOL running man zips across the logon screen faster.

And, she can talk on her phone while she’s on AOL. That, right there, is heaven enough.

March 7, 2006

Then and Now

Last year I did a whole article on “Then and Now” books and websites. I had just launched my Virginia City site, and that had planted the seed in my mind that is now finally starting to take shape with Northern Nevada Then And Now over at Around Carson. But I’ve found a couple of new sources since then, inspiration to try to make my own work better.

First, I got the Seattle Then and Now book from Thunder Bay Press. It’s another excellent entry in the series. Thunder Bay really seems to be the leader in this particular niche, with a catalog of 41 Then and Now books at the moment. I’m ordering a couple more soon; they’re really nicely done. The Orange County book in particular I’m really looking forward to, but it isn’t going to be released until August.

But then I heard about Paul Dorpat. Paul Dorpat is a historian/photographer/iconoclast in Seattle that has been doing this Then and Now stuff for something like thirty years. In 1982 he started publishing a weekly Then and Now piece in the Seattle Times, and he’s been at it ever since, with well over 1,000 columns to his name. Here’s his latest. He also published a book, titled Seattle Now and Then, in 1984 that was a collection of his columns. That book contained 112 articles. If an anthology was released today, it would take up an entire shelf in your library. And as if that isn’t enough, he’s also the founder of, an online encyclopedia of Washington State history. There aren’t enough hours in the day to read everything Paul Dorpat has created; I don’t know how he has the time to write it all.

Central School in the 1890s

Paul Dorpat’s influence on me has been to go beyond the photograph, to write more than just captions and to really try to explain what is happening in a picture. You’ll see that in the latest Then and Now I wrote, about the Central School in Carson City. I’m kind of close to the subject, since I actually work in one of the buildings in the “Now” shot. So I couldn’t just dash off three sentences about the picture, I had to go off for paragraphs about the whole history of the block, and who lived in the houses, and what they did. And in this case it was kind of easy because there were prominent people living in these houses, so it was easy to research their lives, and because I’ve been invested in the history of this building for years anyway, so the research has been kind of an ongoing thing with me. But the thing about Paul Dorpat is that he shows every picture he publishes this kind of depth, like he knows the scene intimately, like he was actually there in 1876 or something. Which is impossible on the surface of it, but it’s also kind of impossible to think that he wasn’t there, because how else does he know what he knows? You know?

So that’s what I’ve learned from Dorpat, that you can’t just make the photograph the star and then put some throwaway text underneath it. That’s what the Thunder Bay books do, and you’ll see a lot of negative comments on Amazon for that very reason. But for Dorpat the text is just as important as the picture, because the picture only tells a thousand words, but it takes 1,500 to really explain what’s going on. Somebody’s got to fill in the gaps.

And the last Then and Now I want to bring attention to is one that quite took me by surprise when I found it on the library shelf last week. For this last year I had figured that no one else had done any Then and Now work on Northern Nevada, except for this series I remember in the newspaper from like eight years ago that was a Then and Now of the V&T Railroad. But I didn’t think there were any books until I came across Stopping Time, A Rephotographic Survey of Lake Tahoe. This is a pretty straightforward Then and Now book, published in 1992. While it lacks the rich text that accompanies a Dorpat book, it’s still remarkable for two reasons. First, just the fact that someone actually did one of these books about the area I live in blows me away. It’s kind of thrilling to find, and at the same time it’s a relief that it doesn’t cover Carson City or Reno, because I kind of feel like that’s my book to write. Delusions of self-importance, maybe, but if there’s ever a Then and Now book of Carson City published, it damn well better have my name on the cover. But the other thing about this Lake Tahoe book, and something they continually bring up in the text, is just how hard it is to rephotograph many of these scenes. Lake Tahoe was largely deforested in the late 1800s, with most of its trees going to build houses in Carson City, Reno, and Virginia City, and to shore up the mines of the Comstock. So when the photographers came through in the early 20th century, the hillsides were mostly bare and it was easy to find a good vista point. Now, a hundred years later, the trees have grown back, and those vistas are blocked by thick forest. Many, many pictures in the book have large trees blocking part of the view, or had to be photographed from a rock outcropping a quarter mile away, or have other creative measures applied to compensate for the fact that the Tahoe shoreline is blanketed with trees now, trees that weren’t there a hundred years ago. That’s something I’ll probably run into when I try to rephotograph some old pictures of Lake Tahoe, only it will be even worse because there’s another 14 years of growth on top of everything.

So will I become the Paul Dorpat of Carson City? Doubtful. We’ve already got Guy Rocha, who’s like Dorpat without the pictures. And I’m only planning on living here for a few more years anyway, so I’ve got a limited time to make my mark before I leave. But, since we’re planning on moving to Seattle ourselves soon, maybe I’ll be the one to take over for Paul Dorpat when he retires.

Yeah, more delusions.