Tag Archives: Oregon

Exploring Mt. Hood Glacier Caves on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Oregon Field Guide

We had a few pretty common meditations in MPub, and two of them were about the future of digital media in publishing and how digital media could be used creatively to tell good stories. At the time many of my classmates were enthralled by The Wilderness Downtown, a song by Arcade Fire and HTML5 website.

Personally, I wasn’t that impressed.

This week though, I happened to catch a website that I thought was doing really interesting things how they told a story using a website. Thin Ice: Exploring Mount Hood’s Glacier Caves is a big project set to kick off the 25th anniversary of Oregon Field Guide. Click that link and read the story. Scroll down and take note of images appearing as you read, and how multimedia ancillary material is presented. Background images are possibly the most thrilling thing about this page, as the photography is beautiful and the background actually changes as you scroll into each new chapter of the story.

Bestill my beating heart! In my mind, this site is a far better use of digital media and way more compelling than ebooks. As an ex-employee of Oregon Public Broadcasting, I am not surprised they’re leading the way in terms of both quality content and innovative use of media.

If that’s not quite enough, check out this behind-the-scenes preview video of Thin Ice: Exploring Mount Hood’s Glacier Caves on Oregon Field Guide, airing October 12th.

Thanks to Ed Jahn for tweeting about his project at just the right time to catch my attention!

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October 5, 2013 · 8:00 AM

Geeking Out on The Doris Diaries

Damn!! I’m beginning to rebel. I crave adventures. I want to live. Not merely exist. -Doris Bailey Murphy, age 17

One thing you may not know about me, at least through this blog, is that I am a bonafide history detective. (In fact, at one point I almost got to work as a researcher on History Detectives.) When presented with a historical question or problem, my brain can instantly achieve laser focus and not let up for hours. Days, even. This skill has been put to use on scads of educational projects, from Bridging World History to the Muhammad Ali Center. My favorite historical topics are social history (studying traditionally marginalized groups, such as women) and local history.

Meaning it was either fate that I discovered The Doris Diaries, or editor Julia Park Tracey’s worst nightmare.

Twitter suggested I follow @TheDorisDiaries one evening, and soon I was engrossed in short quotes from the diaries of Doris Bailey Murphy, a 17 year old girl who lived here in Portland in the 1920s. When she died, a lifetime’s worth of diaries were entrusted to her great-niece, Julia Park Tracey. When I discovered the feed was advance publicity for I’ve Got Some Lovin’ to Do: The Diaries of a Roaring Twenties Teen 1925-1926, I was chomping at the bit to read the entire book. Doris has totally captivated my imagination.

Readers are introduced to a spunky teen in this volume. The daughter of a well-off Portland architect, Doris regularly skips school, bangs up the family’s car, and goes necking with a string of boys. She curses. Eventually she is plucked out of Lincoln High School for a more structured religious school, St. Helens Hall (now Oregon Episcopal School). Come summer she is wrangling at a dude ranch in Central Oregon, where she rescues a horse near death and sneaks into off-limits buildings. Naturally she keeps adding to a long list of infatuations which are enumerated and ranked in her diary.

One mystery man haunts these entries: Micky. He is the handsome classmate that Doris mentions again and again, melodramatically imagining his fate after he is expelled from Lincoln High School, and sighing wistfully over his whereabouts:

I’m never going to kiss another boy. I’m going to have nothing more to do with them, because I’ve discovered the only one. He is my aim in life. I shall keep my lips fresh and clean only for him, and SOMEDAY he’ll come back. -May 11, 1926

[Ed. note: five days later, on May 16, Doris was kissing another crush, Jack Hibbard, in the back seat of a car.]

One thing is lacking in the book: a confirmed photo of Micky. A mystery! Naturally then, at 5:00am I started hunting down an archive that would have a 1925 Lincoln High School yearbook. Surely it would have a photo of Micky, right? And this history detective could help close a case! Archives aren’t open before sunrise on Sunday though, but Ebay was—I found the listing linked above, shared it with the author, and shortly after receiving her enthusiastic response, noticed the listing is now sold. 🙂

While the diaries mostly revolve around Doris’ love life, a number of place references are sprinkled throughout. Doris regularly visits her best friend who lives in Oak Grove. She swims at The Oaks (now Oaks Park) and notices the traffic congestion due to the opening of the Hollywood Theater. Doris even visited my alma mater, Milwaukie High School, on April 12, 1926! That was when the main building was just one year old.

This volume only covers about a year and a half of Doris’ life, but I’m hooked. It sounds like she only got more interesting as she matured. Eventually Doris went to Reed College—my friendly neighborhood institution of higher learning. True to Reed form, she shocked the community by interviewing prostitutes for her thesis work, and graduated in 1938. Later she became involved with labor union issues and eventually married famous Wobbly Joe Murphy. Two years before her death she wrote a memoir, Love and Labor. (Reed ran a profile in their magazine with a photo!) Mature Doris was just as spunky as her younger self, known for owning a pair of condom earrings and being “blunt, interested to the point of intrusiveness” among her family. After an amazing life, Doris died in 2011 at age 101.

Julia Park Tracey will be presenting The Doris Diaries at History Pub on October 15th. Help me cheer her on that evening at Kennedy School from 7-9:30pm!

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Think Different: A Review of the Steve Jobs Biography

At one point in my life, I thought if I ever got a tattoo, it would be of the rainbow-hued Apple logo.

Those days are in the distant past.

At the time, Apple was the underdog of the tech world, at a time when Bill Gates and Microsoft were ubiquitous, undisputed kings. Apple stock was just over $13 per share. Few companies bothered to write their software for Macintosh because it required licensing that didn’t pencil out financially.

And then Steve Jobs returned to the company.

Things have changed! In 2011 Apple’s revenue was $108 BILLION dollars. Apple’s stock (AAPL) closed yesterday at $663.87 per share. Crowds regularly line up at Apple’s retail stores to nab the latest iPhone release. Apple is huge—regularly referred to alongside Google and Facebook as the current giants of Silicon Valley. An Apple product announcement has even been parodied on television!

As an Apple devotee since the early 90s, I naturally wanted to read Steve Jobs, the biography by Walter Isaacson. At 630 pages, the book is almost as giant as its subject—but I plowed through it in just over a week. A pretty easy read given such a fascinating subject tackled by a great writer!

Once Jobs knew he was not long for this world, he called upon famed biographer Walter Isaacson to get to work. Jobs offered generous access to himself without being nosy about Isaacson’s portrayal. Jobs died on October 5, 2011, and the release date on the book got pushed up to October 24—two and a half weeks after his death.

Isaacson clearly has a sense of humor about his subject. He editorializes in small ways throughout the text, such as imploring younger readers to ask their parents about the Atari game Pong, and when he writes about Jobs’ habit of not showering as a young adult:

Jobs clung to the belief that his fruit-heavy vegetarian diet would prevent not just mucus but also body odor, even if he didn’t use deodorant or shower regularly. It was a flawed theory. (p. 43)

Stories of Jobs’ boorish behavior are everywhere, and Isaacson makes no attempt to cover this up. It is a huge part of Jobs’ character, and Isaacson cites it as one of the main themes of the book. Ex-colleagues tell stories of Jobs parking in the handicapped spaces at Apple, yelling “it’s shit!” in response to carefully prepared designs, and his abhorrence for PowerPoint slides. Even worse, Jobs essentially refused to acknowledge his first child for many years, because it didn’t fit in with his “reality distortion field.”

The character study also includes his sensitive artist side. Jobs attended Reed College (my neighborhood university!), where he was known for his collection of Bob Dylan(!!!) bootleg recordings. His experiences in Oregon gave him an artistic foundation that later came to fruition in his product philosophies and elsewhere. Whether the crying jags at Apple came from Oregon, I don’t know—but the name Apple was partially inspired by a farm he lived on near Eugene. (Yup, that’s a Reedie for you.)

At least for me, the latter half of the book dragged a little as the narrative basically became a series of pissing matches between Steve Jobs and executives at other companies. Unlike the early years, the years since the release of the iMac has more or less played out in the public eye. More interesting was studying Jobs’ character during this period—how the man who was clearly a pill to work with handled having a wife and children. How Jobs cultivated his best working relationships, including those with Tim Cook and Jony Ive. How not even a reality distortion field or money can make pancreatic cancer go away.

In this later period, Isaacson makes an attempt to counter-balance all the Apple cheerleading with some significant criticism. A favorite example was about the iPad:

His main reservation, a substantive one, was “that while it’s a lovely device for consuming content, it doesn’t do much to facilitate its creation…The iPad shifts the emphasis from creating content to merely absorbing and manipulating it. It mutes you, turns you back into a passive consumer of other people’s masterpieces.” (p. 496)

And Isaacson adeptly describes the Apple cult:

With the launch of the original Macintosh in 1984, Jobs had created a new kind of theater: the product debut as an epochal event, climaxed by a let-there-be-light moment in which the skies part, a light shines down, the angels sing, and a chorus of the chosen faithful sings “Hallelujah.” (p. 354)

Before I finished the book still unsure of how I felt about Steve Jobs, one short paragraph won me over to his side. Jobs spent his school years in Cupertino, California, when the area was still primarily comprised of farmland. As he designed the new Apple headquarters,

One of his lingering memories was of the orchards that had once dominated the area, so he hired a senior arborist from Stanford and decreed that 80% of the property would be landscaped in a natural manner, with six thousand trees. “I asked him to make sure to include a new set of apricot orchards,” Jobs recalled. “You used to see them everywhere, even on the corners, and they’re part of the legacy of this valley.” (p. 536)

Having lived in Clackamas County, and having regularly visited Washington and Clark Counties over the past 30 years, I’ve seen plenty of bucolic farmland and greenspace get bulldozed for strip malls, large apartment complexes, and McMansions (I’m lookin’ at you, Mount Scott!) A development project that could also honor the area’s history and make such an area less of an eyesore, while potentially providing opportunities to feed the hungry, would be a great idea indeed. Let’s hope people up here follow his lead.

Isaacson’s biography certainly had me thinking different about Steve Jobs. While I may not have been such ardent Apple fan had I know him while he was alive, the book painted a picture I could live with after his death. Sure, he was a jerk, but there was more to him than that. As a tortured genius, he was pursuing a greater good—and as hokey as it is to say this in summary, he changed the world.

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A Readin’ Machine (Or, Squeezed Out)

Earlier this year I set a goal: as a participant in the Goodreads reading challenge, I would aim to read 12 books this year. On April 15th, I met my goal.

Over the last couple of months reading has been my primary downtime activity. I’ve read books in less than 24 hours while waiting for feedback on the latest draft of my project report, waiting for the Portland rain to subside, or just because I was so excited to finally read the thing.

I unloaded much of my library before my temporary move to Canada, but plenty of books remain that need to be read. I’ve read newly acquired books, borrowed books, and library books. I’ve sold a few back to Powell’s since reading them, and plan to continue paring down my library once I’ve read some more titles. This isn’t even including the magazines I’ve piled up, nor the scholarly articles about bikes I found on JStor a couple weeks ago that I want to read just for fun.

A few of the books I’ve read have inspired some wistful nostalgia. Ever since getting back to Portland it seems my brain has soured a fair amount on my hometown. (I’ve a half-written blog post about this, but it’s a weighty topic, likely to be unpopular with most of the transplants I know, so I’ve been keeping it to myself—for now.) Reading three books in a row that reminded me of Portland Past then, was enough to push me into a full-on nostalgia bender.

The first book was Dark Horse’s recent release The Green River Killer: A True Detective Story. Sure, this is a story primarily set in Seattle, but as a Pacific Northwesterner growing up in the 80s, Green River Killer news (also Diane Downs news) was pretty pervasive. When I was a kid, my mother’s favorite books were true crime novels, and I sometimes I picked up her books and browsed the photo plates in the center. Let me tell you something: you cannot un-see some of the photos in those books.

Next was Beverly Cleary’s memoir A Girl from Yamhill. Portland’s own literary hometown heroine, Beverly Cleary was born in the Willamette Valley south of the city but spent much of her childhood in NE Portland, the setting of her Ramona books (and current site of the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden). I picked up the memoir at Goodwill for a couple of bucks. So much time had passed since its original release I wasn’t expecting to find it as utterly engrossing as I did. In the book, I discovered that Ramona is essentially based on Cleary herself as a child, and the book includes some very specific incidents that I remember were written into Ramona the Pest.

The book also illuminates moments when Cleary was encouraged by teachers in specific ways that set her on course for her adult career. In one masterfully written passage, she talks about her mother often encouraging her to “try.” When she takes this message to heart and enters an essay contest at a local grocery store. She wins—because no other children entered the contest:

“This incident was one of the most valuable lessons in writing I ever learned. Try! Others will talk about writing but may never get around to trying.” (p. 132)

Given the amount of care I spend on blog posts (and nearly everything else I write), often I wonder why I continue. This is the reason: I am trying. And even if nobody sees my online opining, I’m continuing to develop my writing for future professional writing opportunities.

Where does the nostalgia come in? In the beginning of the book, Cleary writes about Oregon weather masterfully, as if she too has patiently sat through as many Oregon winters as I have, waiting for the spring:

“I stood at the window watching the weather, the ever-changing Oregon clouds that sometimes hung so low they hid the Coast Range, rain that slanted endlessly on the bleak brown fields, stubble stiff with frost, and, sometimes, a world made clean and white by snow.” (p. 30)

Later in the book she paints a vivid picture of Depression-era Portland, peppering the text with references from the past. In fact, at two points she draws attention to phrases Portlanders say, and that’s where the real nostalgia set in. She remarked on Portlanders observing “the mountain is out today.” Of course, “the mountain” is Mt. Hood, being “out” refers to being able to see it on a non-overcast day, and that is a phrase I’ve neither heard, nor used myself, for years. It set my brain on a path of thinking about the ways in which Portland has changed over the past decade as the city has become more notable nationally and internationally.

Perhaps the area of Portland that has changed most in the past decade is NE Portland, and the next book I read just happened to take place there in the 1980s. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is the current Everybody Reads book at Multnomah County Library, and I wouldn’t have read it had there not been a free copy at the circulation desk of my local branch when I visited. At certain points this book described a place and time in the past that I personally experienced. When the 1988 death of Mulugeta Seraw was referenced as a current event, this book ignited some synapses that hadn’t been fired in years. (If you’re not familiar, read A Hundred Little Hitlers by Elinor Langer.)

Since reading these three titles in a row (pure coincidence!) I’ve moved on to other fare. For a few days though, I was thinking about the Portland Past, both the one I have directly experienced and the one that belongs to my dead relatives’ memory. While I am glad I’ve gotten to know many of the transplants who have arrived in the last ten years, a small part of me feels like I’m being edged out by an invasive species. As the narrator in Said the Whale’s song “False Creek Change” laments about her hometown of Vancouver, BC, “there’s no room for me here anymore, anymore, there’s no room for me here anymore.”

If you’re interested in following my reading habits, this is my page on Goodreads.

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