Sunday, August 16, 2009

Day Four: Hood River to Portland

We start out the day with a steak and eggs breakfast cooked in our magical-forest bed and breakfast, then pack up and drive back into Hood River to hit up Big Horse.

Big Horse is located in a cool, multi-story building perched on a hill looking out over Hood River. Their MacStallion Scotch ale is the group favorite and we get a pitcher. Their Nightmare Stout is also good, and the Pale Rider is a great example of the Double IPA style that has become very popular in the craft brewing industry - it has powerful, almost aggressive amounts of hops, resulting in a very floral nose and taste.

After Big Horse we bid farewell to Cristen and Charlie, who are headed back home to Newport, and drive along the river back towards Portland. Along the way we stop at Multnomoth Falls to do some sightseeing. The day is warm and sunny and we're dying to get in the water, so we drive a little farther west and pull into a state park right by the river and ask the ranger if there's anyplace to go swimming.

"Yeah, you can just head down to the pier here," she tells us, then hesitates. "Or you can take a little hike down the trail to the clothing-optional beach."

Less than a minute later I am protesting to Vlad as we push our way through the brush

"Vlad, have you ever actually been to a nude beach? It's going to be a bunch of old, leathery hippies."

"No way, man!" he says, a crazy gleam in his eyes. "Imagine if we get down there and there are tons of hot college girls!"

A mile later, after passing three or four groups of the naked old dudes I warned Vlad about, we finally give up and head back to the civilian beach. Nevertheless, Vlad still gamely greets all the nude sunbathers we come across with the same line: "Hey, how's it hanging?"

We spend about an hour soaking in the Hood River, as the heat of the day slowly seeps out of our bodies. Then we head to Troutdale, on the outskirts of Portland, and McMenamins' Edgefield resort.

McMenamins is an Oregon institution - they have over 50 brew pubs, several in unique restored historical buildings. Edgefield is their crown jewel, a resort featuring a golf course, theater, winery, distillery, and - of course - brewery. Most newcomers have the exact same first impression upon entering Edgefield: "It's like Disneyland for adults."

We hit up one of the many bars on the property and work our way through the tasters. McMenamins has been around since the '70s and their beers are always dependable. Their Ruby ale is brewed with raspberries and feels particularly refreshing after our summer dip in the river. Their Bagdad is also lager refreshing and the seasonal Workingman's Red, a traditional Irish style ale, also impresses me. As Edgefield has a winery we have to sample their viticultural offerings as well, and the Pinot is quite good.

After wandering the grounds in a daze, we finally leave and head into downtown Portland to check into our hotel. We rest up until dinner time, then head towards our first stop in Portland.

"What is Portland known for?" Vlad asks as we ride the free trolley that runs up and down the downtown area. I have to think about it for a while, then finally come up with the only acceptable response: "Honestly? The beer."

And our first stop is Deschutes, which is the largest producer of beer in the state of Oregon. The main brewery is located in Bend, but that was a little out of the way for our trip. Thankfully the Portland location is just as good, and even has a few beers that are only brewed on the premises.

Deshutes' full complement encompasses 18 beers and requires three separate taster trays. There are lots of great beers, and it's hard to pick a favorite. Of their year-round offerings, the Obsidian Stout is probably my favorite, which extra dark roasted malt that tastes of coffee. Their seasonal offerings are great - the XXI Anniversary and Harms Way IPA are notable, but my overall personal favorite from Deschutes ends up being the Armory XPA (eXtra Pale Ale), the flagship beer of the Portland brewery.

After our marathon tasting, we walk (a little unsteadily) a couple of blocks over to Rogue Ales. Rogue hails from the same home town as my sister, Newport, but it is out on the coast and a little out of the ways (most of Oregon's coast is lightly populated, which confuses many native Californians, but one taste of Oregon's winters and suddenly it all makes sense), so just like Deschutes they have a location in Portland to make it more accessible to the masses.

When we tell our waitress that we would like to sample everything they make, she raises an eyebrow and warns us that they have over 24 Rogue beers on tap as well as six distilled spirits. While the rest of us chew over this revelation in stunned silence, Vlad blithely declares "That's fine; bring us tasters of everything!"

The beers arrive on six separate taster trays, then another two trays for their three rums, two gins and whiskey. Staring at all the booze on the table, we are at a bit of a loss as to how we should proceed - eventually we each grab the tray in front of us, take a sip of each brew, scribble our comments on the handwritten list of beers in the tray, then as one pass all the trays clockwise around the table.

Rogue has a lot of amazing beer and a lot of creativity. Most people are probably at least familiar with their Dead Guy Ale, which is widely distributed. We are particularly impressed by the Dry Hopped St. Rogue Red, a (predictably) hoppy red, the 200 Meter Ale, an IPA brewed at Eugene City Brewery, the XS Imperial Porter, with hints of chocolate in its malts, and the Morimoto Soba, a Japanese style ale brewed by Rogue in conjunction with chef Masaharu Morimoto (of Iron Chef fame). Their spirits are also excellent, the Dark Rum being my favorite.

Needless to say, at the end of all this we are a little intoxicated. Ken – as the sole married member of our crew – takes it upon himself to introduce Vlad to two ladies at the bar.

“Hey, girls, this is my buddy Vlad. A lot of people say he looks like Tom Selleck only without the mustache.” (This is at best a gross exaggeration - at worst an outright lie.)

“No way, he's cuter than Tom Selleck,” they giggle, opening a door.

“What? That's ridiculous. Tom Selleck is way better looking than I am,” Vlad snaps, slamming the door shut. He stomps off in a huff, leaving the bewildered girls behind.

Defending Tom Selleck's honor is more important to Vlad than chatting up girls. For some strange reason I respect that.

No way! Tom Selleck shaved his ... oh, nevermind.

After a cab ride back to the hotel, we call Dan to bring him up to date on our debauchery for the day and - incidentally - wish him a happy birthday at the stroke of midnight. Dan sounds a little drowsy, but the Tom Selleck story evokes gales of laughter.

Saturday, August 15, 2009 is Dead - Long Live

Last Sunday URL shortener, a product of developer Nambu, announced it would be ceasing operation at the end of 2009. Several bloggers and pundits who have loudly decried the use of URL shorteners immediately seized upon this as proof that they were right all along and that the scourge of short URLs they have warned us about is finally coming to an end. This is a bit like claiming that people will soon stop driving cars because General Motors filed for bankruptcy.

As it turns out, the naysayers’ pronouncement was a little premature, as three days later announced it was resuming operations - at least for the time being - after a massive response from its users begging the developer to keep the service running. The developer is reportedly looking for a new owner to take over.

While I use and like and I certainly would be sad to see it go, this outcome would hardly qualify as a disaster. In reality, the salient facts are thus: 1) the shut down of would be a minor inconvenience at worst and 2) there continues to be considerable demand (even need) for URL shorteners.

Opponents of shorteners have always warned that shortened URLs put you at the mercy of the survivability of the service. But’s worst-case scenario is to go out rather gracefully, with a promise to continue redirecting their URLs until Dec. 31. Additionally, the vast majority of shortened URLs are used in Twitter posts, which have a shelf life anyway. Twitter searches only go back about 30 days, so by the time fully ceases operation most of the posts that use the service will be fading into obscurity on their own.

As always, the biggest danger in using a web service lies in not using it properly. URL shorteners have always had a disposable aspect to them – if you need a short, easy to remember URL, you use a shortener. If you're formally citing a web site or archiving it for posterity, you should always use the original URL.

The arguments against the need for URL shorteners tend to fall into the same category as people who argue against the usefulness of Twitter; they don't like it because they don't get it. The only way you are going to understand it is to use it until something finally clicks that makes you think “wow, that’s actually useful.”

How many times have you heard people criticize Twitter by saying “Why would I want to read about the minutiae of someone's boring life?” Well, obviously you wouldn't –no one does. People who tweet about going to the grocery store and looking forward to the weekend don't have tens of thousands of followers. Likewise, spammers and marketers clumsily trying to drive people to their web sites may make up a sizeable percentage of people using URL shorteners, but they are not the innovators driving its popularity, they are simply the parasites trying to take advantage of a powerful idea.

By far the most popular use for shortened URLs is Twitter, but there are hundred of other legitimate uses, and probably thousands more waiting for clever users to invent them. When I was on my brewery tour I used to keep a Google map of our route handy, because I got sick of typing a long URL into smart phones and other peoples' computers. When my company ran a newspaper ad recently we used to create a short and sweet link to a brochure rather than expecting readers to type in the cumbersome, 100-character file path our web server creates.

The people who scream that there is no use for URL shorteners are like really bad salesmen, who confront a customer looking for a specific feature by saying “We don't have anything like that because nobody would ever use it.” Obviously there are people out there who would use it, because you are talking to one of them. If you personally believe that something is useless but it stubbornly continues to be wildly popular, it's your opinion that is going to have to change, not reality.

So where do we go from here? I would love to see another player like, tinyurl or StumbleUpon swoop in and acquire's domain and database, merely for the sake of maintaining legacy links created under the old service and redirecting the creation of new URLs to the savior's own site. The need for preserving these old links isn't critical, but the move would create so much goodwill from's old users that they would flock to the new owner.

Also, I'm not a fan of the cumbersome phrase “URL shortener.” In fact, in the course of writing this post I've grown positively sick of it. So in honor of our struggling friend, let's rephrase “URL shorteners” and “URL shortening” as “trimmers” and “trimming” from here on out. may be dying, but trimming will live on.

P.S. - No URLs were trimmed in the writing of this post.