Isle Royale Trip Report

We visited Isle Royale July 10-16.  After five years, it was great to get back to Isle Royale. Some things have changed, probably due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.  But the island is still as beautiful and peaceful as ever. This was my fifth time to the island, and it won’t be my last.

We took the Isle Royale Queen ferry. Copper Harbor seems to be feeling the effects of the pandemic. Pre-departure breakfast options are pretty much limited to the coffee and doughnut stand by the dock. I missed having a hearty breakfast, but the Pines restaurant doesn’t open until 9:00, an hour after the ferry departs. Maybe next year?

The crossing was the smoothest I’ve ever experienced. The lake was as flat as a freshly-made bed.

The number of passengers on the ferry was reduced to allow for social distancing, and masks were required.

Some people had told us that they wanted to go to the island, but they couldn’t get boat tickets. Lucky for me, I had bought tickets back in February. Planning and preparation are a must when going to Isle Royale! 🙂

When checking in with the rangers on the island, I realized I had over-paid my park usage fee. I paid online (pay.gov) for seven days, two people, $98. I could have/should have bought a season pass for $60, which would have gotten both of us in for the whole week. Oh well. Live and learn. I wasn’t going to let a little thing like money spoil my vacation!

We stayed in Rock Harbor the first night, because we wanted to check out Scoville Point, which is on the east tip of the island. It was a nice day hike, good trail, pretty scenery.

Trail conditions throughout our trip were excellent. It obviously hadn’t rained for a while. There was a little mud in some places, but it was not squishy, we could walk right on it. My feet hadn’t been that dry on the previous trips.

After a night in Rock Harbor, we hiked to Lane Cove. The trail was plagued with a lot of downed trees blocking the trail. We stopped counting after climbing over, under, and 20 windfalls. That trail is also challenging, a lot of up-and-down over hills. We both fell on our butts on steep slopes.

Lane Cove was peaceful. We met a couple of hikers leaving as we were approaching. They said it was beautiful but buggy. We didn’t notice that the mosquitoes were especially bad. They said they were using natural repellant, which didn’t work. I chalked that up to a rookie mistake. I don’t mess around when I go to Isle Royale. I use the 99% DEET spray.

If I could do it again, I think I’d skip Lane Cove. It’s pretty, but no prettier than other parts of the island. It’s hard to get to.  There are also no shelters, so you have to use your tent.  There’s easy access to the water, but there are a lot of trees right down to the water’s edge which obscures the view of the water. The lake is shallow there, we could walk pretty far out, and splash some water on our sweaty bodies. Word to the wise: Lake Superior is COLD.

The next day we hiked back to Rock Harbor and spent another night in a shelter there. The following morning, a hungry resident woke us up. Two young bull moose were foraging right outside our shelter.

We took a water taxi to Moskey basin and stayed there for two nights. The ride wasn’t cheap ($160) but it only took 40 minutes (hiking would take us 5-6 hours).  Moskey is still our favorite place on the island. The sunrises are really stunning, and access to the water from the shelters is convenient.

From Moskey, we did a day hike to Chippewa Harbor, which was about 12 miles round-trip. The trail was in excellent shape, and the scenery was really pretty.

We like to treat ourselves to a night in the Rock Harbor Lodge on our last night, to take a shower, use a flush toilet, and have a hot meal in the restaurant. The lodge was full to capacity, I was glad that I booked a room five months ago.

The Lighthouse restaurant is closed, probably for the whole season.  The store is open, and has the same food items they usually stock.  The only dining options are the Greenstone Grill, which is open from 7:00 am – 7:30 pm. Here’s the menu:

These dining options will probably not change for the rest of the season.  A ranger told us that they make staffing and logistical arrangements before the season starts.  They can’t ramp up in the middle of the season, even though the restrictions have been eased and the number of tourists is almost at the same level as previous years.  So if you’re planning a trip, plan accordingly.

On the trail, we ate a lot of Mountain House freeze-dried food.  It’s more pricey than some DIY options, but it’s very convenient.  The pouches are labeled as two servings, but a hungry hiker could probably eat a whole package on his own.  My two favorite entrees are beef stroganoff and the adobo chicken.  The teriyaki chicken was a little too sweet for me.

The morning after our return to the mainland, we skipped breakfast in town and headed up to Mohawk to eat at Slim’s Cafe.  Excellent food, great service, highly recommended.

In total, we saw three moose, two snakes, several loons, too many ducks to count, several squirrels and rabbits, one otter,, and approximately three billion mosquitoes.  No wolves, of course.  The rangers estimate there are 12-14 wolves on the island now.  We think we might have heard some howling one night (wolves, not rangers) when we were in Moskey Basin, but I can’t be sure.  As I mentioned, the mosquitoes the biting black flies were out, but DEET kept them at bay.

All in all it was a good trip.  The weather was perfect: sunny every day, some haze, high in the mid 70s and lows in the low 60s.  It seems like the whole tourism industry in northern Michigan is still recovering from the pandemic shutdown.   Some services aren’t quite back to normal.  But it’s the high season for Michigan: people want to travel and hotels are full and restaurants are crowded.

Another culinary adventure!

And this one was good. Our housekeeper made a chicken dish, it’s a recipe from a local ethnic minority. You wrap chicken and other goodies up in banana leaves and then bake it. She said that she cut down a lot of the hot peppers for us. Bangladeshi food is HOT.

Now I have a problem. We forgot to ask her what the name of the dish is. I’m not sure how we’re going to describe this when we want her to make it again. We’ll probably have to show her these photos.

Hunkered Down in Dhaka

Four years ago this month, there was a serious security incident in Dhaka. After that, the Embassy enacted some serious security restrictions on Embassy personnel. It was years before the security officer determined that it was safe for Americans to go outside alone, walk around, go to restaurants, etc. By the time I arrived at post, things were getting back to normal. We still couldn’t walk around alone after dark, there were still no-go areas in the city. But we could do some normal daily tasks like grocery shopping, for example. We found a restaurant where we liked to have weekend brunch. Post even got the go-ahead for officers to bring their young children to post. The international school in Dhaka enjoys a reputation as an excellent school. Things were getting back to “normal.”

Then the worldwide pandemic hit. Suddenly “normal” was thrown out the window. A city-wide curfew shut down the city for weeks. No more eating out at restaurants. They were closed. Many went out of business. The legendarily impossible Dhaka traffic vanished. The city was like a ghost town. The State Department ordered all Embassies to stop all routine visa services, in the interest of safety. The feeling when walking to work in a deserted city was eerie, like a post-apocalyptic scene from a movie.

We went through the excitement of evacuating Americans on seven different repatriation flights, during which more than half of my fellow officers also returned to the United States. After that, those of us who stayed behind hunkered down to wait for things to get better.

And we’re still waiting.

We adjusted our staffing plans so that people only came to work for essential work. Most of us are teleworking. Today I saw one of my coworkers in person for the first time in five weeks. Even in the Consular section, we have a skeleton crew in the office at any time. We are still providing essential U.S. citizen services.

I’m still busy. There’s always work to be done. But I’m sad that I can’t do more of the visa work that I came to Bangladesh to do. We are doing a very small number of mission-critical visas. This week I issued visas to three doctors to work in U.S. hospitals. We’re processing a handful of immigrant visas for spouses of U.S. citizens. Nothing close to the volume that we were doing back in March, though.

Because of the curfews and closures, Dhaka’s already-limited entertainment options have been reduced to almost nothing. We go to work in the morning, go home at night, and sit in our house. Luckily, we have a big house. But even a gilded cage is still a cage. I’ve been spending time on TripAdvisor, planning a vacation that we might not be able to take until next year. Which is still six months away.

We had some fun last week, moving our home office from the smaller unused bedroom to the larger. This room also enjoys better natural light.

Before: a storage room.
After: an airy and bright office. Another desk is coming tomorrow, it will be in the window alcove on the left.

So after that excitement, what’s next? Back to hunkering down.

Another Vegetable

To our surprise and delight, our gardener planted water spinach (空心菜) in one of the many flower beds surrounding our house. This particular one is above the car port. Today we got the first harvest.

How’s this for a raised-bed garden?
Better-looking than anything we can buy on the local market!

Things grow very well in this climate, especially now, during the rainy season. Vegetable-loving us are very happy.

My Lockdown Project: Resurrecting Audio Recording on the Web

In my previous career in academia, I developed software programs to facilitate language teaching and learning. It was a rewarding job. I loved putting my programs into the hands of teachers and students, and seeing the students benefit from my work.

I found a niche to specialize in: web-based audio recording. Our center’s most popular tool was a simple audio recorder that a teacher could put into any web page. Students used the “audio dropboxes” to submit their speaking homework for the teacher to evaluate.

The technology required the Flash plugin, because plain HTML didn’t have a way to access the computer’s microphone. Flash was THE technology in the early 2000s.  But it didn’t last.  The introduction of the iPhone was the death sentence for Flash.  It probably isn’t an overstatement to say that Steve Jobs killed Flash. Apple made the decision not to support Flash on the iPhone. When mobile started to overtake desktop computers, Flash was in trouble. So was my suite of tools.

Fast-forward several years. Flash is now disabled by default on desktops. I doubt any cell phones support Flash. Adobe recently announced that Flash will officially die (again) at the end of this year. But while Flash was dying, HTML was growing up.  HTML’s capabilities have largely caught up with Flash. The HTML specification has matured so much that it’s possible to do a lot of what Flash had been used for. Including native audio capture.  Even on the iPhone!

Like the rest of the planet on lockdown, I have some extra some time on my hands lately. Because I’m a nerd, I recently decided to see if I could reproduce Flash’s audio capture functions with native HTML. My goal was to be able to capture audio on my iPhone, and then upload the file to a remote server. All in native HTML.  Essentially, I want to reproduce my old Flash-based functionality on an iPhone.

It’s been several years since I did any serious web programming. Javascript has matured and advanced.  My old brain has matured and decayed. Besides refreshing my programming knowledge, I had to learn some new programming protocols before I could dig into the guts of the new WebAudio specification. It all came back to me, though (eventually). After several weeks of work, mostly on evening and weekends, my universal audio recorder is ready for beta testing. I call it the Dencorder, because shut up, it’s mine, and I can call it whatever I want.

The Dencorder, beta release, as it appears on an iPhone. This is 100% HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Even the graphics are generated by Javascript code.

 

The code is as pure and standards-based as I could keep it.  I didn’t use any frameworks or libraries (not even JQuery).  It’s just plain, vanilla HTML, CSS, and Javascript.  On desktop computers and Android devices, this should just work.  If you’re using an Apple device (iPhone or iPad), you will have to make a setting change in Safari to enable the new MediaRecorder function. But once that’s set, the recorder should work fine.   And the whole thing, Javascript code and web page, is all less than 600 lines of code.  I could probably shave another 100 lines off if I were a good programmer.  But I’m not a good programmer, just a clever amateur.

Feel free to play with it.  See if you can break it.  There is an “upload” function, which will put your audio file onto my server.  If you choose to upload your audio file, please don’t record anything naughty.  You can access the Dencorder here:  https://denniehoopingarner.com/audiocontext/recorder/.  I had a lot of fun making this, and to experience how far HTML has come in the last ten years.

The Elephant in the Room

Like a lot of art, not everyone “gets” these elephant sculptures. I’ve heard some negative comments. But I think they are really something. I’ve been wanting to write about this art exhibit in the Embassy for a few months, and finally have a few minutes to share some images.

A little background: Bangladesh is the reluctant host to nearly a million refugees from Burma. The Rohingya crisis has spawned many tragedies, both humanitarian and environmental. The two combinesd in an unfortunate clash that happened when human beings and wild elephants needed the same space.

Refugee camps in southeast Bangladesh

A large refugee camp sits right on top of a migration ground for wild elephants. Unfortunately there has been loss of life on both sides, as neither the confused elephants nor the panicked refugees know how to handle the situation.

A Bangladeshi artist had an idea. If the people understood the elephants, maybe they would seek ways to coexist and avoid conflict. His idea was to make life-size sculptures and place them in the refugee camps.

Elephant sculptures in the field.

His next insight was to convince the people to not just accept the elephants. He explained to me: “they have to love the elephants.” His approach was to ask the people for their old clothing. He used the scraps to make the “skin” for his elephant sculptures.

On display in the Embassy

The artist loaned three elephants to the Embassy. We have them on display just outside the main door. Aside from the patchwork skins, they are very lifelike.

An elephant…

I had realized that art could be a tool for social activism, but I had only thought about that point in the abstract. This project uses art for conservation and disaster relief. That’s pretty meaningful. I’m grateful to Mr. Shadhin for lending his work to the Embassy for a few months.