Santa Rosa’s Surviving Round Barn

De Turk Round Barn, Santa Rosa

De Turk Round Barn, Santa Rosa

Amid all the tragic news from Wine Country during the past few days, I’m happy to report that the De Turk Round Barn in Santa Rosa, shown above, was not affected by the Tubbs Fire this week.

The Round Barn that did burn down this week was the Fountaingrove Round Barn. However, that barn was actually polygonal or multangular, rather than truly round. As you can see in my photo above, the De Turk barn is clad with curved planking, whereas the Fountaingrove barn had walls of flat planking.

The De Turk barn was built in 1891 by Isaac De Turk, as a stable for his racehorses (hence the horse weather vane visible in the photo above). It was recently restored by the City of Santa Rosa, and can be rented by the public for special events.

The red brick building visible in the distance on the right in my photo was the De Turk Winery, which is currently awaiting refurbishment as an apartment complex.

Here’s a link to the location of the De Turk Barn on Google Streetview, and here’s a link to the location of the destroyed Fountaingrove Barn.

Interactive Fire Damage Map

In my previous post, I mentioned that fire had consumed Cricklewood restaurant, close to the house that we lived in from 2011-13, but I didn’t know whether the house itself had survived. According to the latest interactive map of the Santa Rosa fire damage, the house does appear to have survived, although it was right on the edge of the burned area.

This was the house when we lived there, during the Fall of 2012:

Fall in Larkfield, 2012

Fall in Larkfield, 2012

Wildfires Will Always Happen

There have already been some claims in the media that the fires were caused by Pacific Gas & Electric company’s (PG&E’s) power lines coming into contact with trees during Sunday night’s high winds.

Whether or not those claims turn out to have any foundation at all, playing this “blame game” will never solve the problem of wildfires. In a dry climate like that of the California Wine Country, there have always been wildfires and there always will be. Such fires can be started naturally by lightning strikes, or by somebody dropping a cigarette, or by a vehicle driving along with something scraping the road surface, creating sparks. There are many ways that such fires can start, and it will never be possible to eliminate all the possible causes.

What is needed instead are better building techniques, so that buildings are more effectively fireproofed. (For example, in the latest fires, flat-roofed buildings seem to have been particularly prone to burning. This is probably because flammable material can accumulate on the roofs for many years, just waiting for a falling ember to set it off.)

I can only hope that this disaster will lead to new ideas and laws for better building practices in future.

Fire in Santa Rosa

Clouds of Smoke over Santa Rosa

Clouds of Smoke over Santa Rosa

The photo above shows the view from our bedroom window at about 8am yesterday morning, when I was getting ready to go to work. Unfortunately, the “threatening clouds” in the distance are not rain, but smoke. I was to discover a few moments later that I wasn’t going to be able to go to work, because my employer’s offices are within the evacuation zone of the fire causing the smoke.

As many of you have probably heard on the news, we have had serious fires in the Wine Country since Sunday night, and some are still burning. Shockingly, fire even spread into some parts of urban Santa Rosa, destroying many homes, shops and hotels within the city.

It is ironic that, in my previous post, I mentioned how, during the week of my return to the UK from my first visit to California, thirty years ago, there was a hurricane-force storm in Southern England. Now, thirty years later, these fires in Wine Country were fanned by hurricane-force winds that blew in this region on Sunday night.

I usually get up on workdays at 7am, but on Monday when I woke up it was so dark that I checked the clock several times, thinking that I must somehow have got up too early. It was only later, as I was preparing to go to work, that I discovered why the sky was so unusually dark.

Parts of Santa Rosa Still Evacuated

Much of the northern half of Santa Rosa has been under mandatory evacuation orders since early Monday, and thousands of people are in temporary shelters as far away as Marin county. Most of the evacuation orders are still in force tonight (Tuesday).

Fortunately, our house is not (currently) in the evacuation zone, so we’re still at home. The only inconvenience for us at present is that I cannot get to my employer’s workplace.

Only the media and emergency services are being allowed into the evacuation zones, so I cannot get close to devastated areas (and nor do I want to). Therefore, the only photos I can obtain currently are from a safe distance.

Hilton Hotel burning, Santa Rosa

Hilton Hotel burning, Santa Rosa

I took the photo above from the West side of the US101 freeway. It shows smoke still rising from the Hilton Hotel, on the hill in the center background. The tall building just visible across the freeway on the right is the Kaiser Hospital, which was evacuated and is still closed.

Smoky Sun

Later in the day on Monday, I drove my normal work commute route, to see how close I could get to my employer’s offices. The photo below shows the closest I could get, Chanate Road near Hidden Valley Road. The sun is so shrouded by smoke that it looks like a hazy sunset, but in fact it was only about 3pm.

Smoke-shrouded Sun

Smoke-shrouded Sun

Destruction in Larkfield

From 2011-13, we lived in Larkfield, a community just north of Santa Rosa, and outside the city limits. Parts of Larkfield were burned by the Tubbs Fire on Sunday night, and unfortunately that included our favorite restaurant in that area, Cricklewood.

Cricklewood Restaurant was named after the suburb of London, having been founded by a British expatriate. As shown below in my 2015 photo, above the bar was one of the name signs from the BR railway station, in its original London Midland maroon color.

BR Station Sign at Cricklewood Restaurant

BR Station Sign at Cricklewood Restaurant

Sadly, I doubt that the owners had time to save the sign when the building burned, and that probably was not their top priority anyway.

We don’t yet know whether the house we lived in in Larkfield was destroyed, but we hope not.

Status Updates

For updates on the constantly-changing situation, the best source seems to be the Santa Rosa City Emergency web site.

It was Thirty Years Ago Today

Unusual view of Downtown San Francisco, from the Legion of Honor

Unusual view of Downtown San Francisco, from the Legion of Honor

It was almost exactly thirty years ago today—on Friday 9th October, 1987—that I first set foot in California.

On that occasion, I had come to the US only as a temporary visitor, to attend a job interview. It was a truly “temporary” visit, lasting only 4 days.

Until then, I had been anything but an experienced international traveler. I’d never been to any part of the USA before, and in fact I’d only been out of Britain three times during my life (and one of those trips was to Guernsey).

Broadening My Horizons

Ever since my undergraduate days, the idea of “working abroad” had been floating in the background as a vague possibility.

In 1986, I even went to Munich for a day, for a job interview with Siemens, but, even though they seemed keen to hire me, I did not pursue that possibility further.

Certainly, the idea that I might one day find myself living and working within sight of the Pacific Ocean never entered my head. It wasn’t until after I’d already moved here that I remembered that we had spent an entire term studying the state as part of our high school Geography course! I had basically ignored the course because it seemed to have no possible relevance to my life.

The Lure of the Dollar

As an Imperial College undergraduate, I began to hear stories of graduates who were obtaining what seemed like spectacular jobs in the USA, straight out of college. The starting salaries for these US jobs were apparently many times those that were offered to even the best British graduates. The figures seemed even more impressive because the dollar and pound were close to parity at that time. Nonetheless, the jobs I was told about were all on the US East Coast; in New York or Maryland.

My goal in getting an EE degree had been specifically to obtain a job with the BBC, which I did on graduating, so initially I felt that the die was cast and I’d already achieved my ambition.

However, my subsequent experience with the BBC and other British engineering employers was a huge disappointment. It seemed that not only were graduate salaries low, but conditions were poor and employers were either inefficient or unstable. I began to think once again of those tantalizing tales I’d been told about the wonderful jobs that were supposedly available in other countries!

The Window Opens

In 1987, I was working as a video systems hardware design engineer for a small company in Berkshire. One of my employer’s competitors was an American company, but had a European operation based in Reading. Word got around that I was looking for new employment, and the competitor contacted me to ask whether I’d be interested in working for them in Reading.

I declined to consider working for them in Reading, at which point they asked whether I might instead be interested in a job in California. Ah, now it’s getting interesting

Following several international phone calls, I managed to arrange an interview appointment at the company’s offices in Northern California. I had to obtain a B-1/B-2 visitor visa just to enter the USA, which meant that I also had to make a trip to the US Embassy in London before departing the UK.

San Francisco or Suffolk?

The plan was that I would arrive in San Francisco on a Friday evening, then have the weekend to do some sightseeing and recover from jet lag. My formal interview would be on Monday, then on Tuesday I’d fly back to Heathrow.

I would obviously have to take some vacation time from my job, but I felt that my current employer would not believe that I was going to California for a holiday just for the weekend! Therefore, I decided to tell them that I was going to visit the US air base at RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk. My mother had an American friend who was a teacher on the air base, and I’d visited her there previously, so it wouldn’t seem out-of-the-ordinary.

It was important to bear in mind that there was no guarantee that the company in California would actually offer me a job. I needed a plausible cover for my actions, so as not to jeopardize my existing position.

Offered the Job

To cut a long story short, I was offered the job in California within a few weeks following my interview. Somewhat to my surprise, my new employer was eager for me to start work there before Christmas, so I began the process of arranging to move myself and all my worldly possessions some 5500 miles.

Nonetheless, I would only be working in the US on a temporary, three-year E-2 visa, so there was always the possibility that I would choose to return to Britain (or might have to do so when the visa expired).

Way Out West. The Pacific Ocean from Pillar Point

Way Out West. Sunset over the Pacific Ocean from near Pillar Point

Return to a Hurricane!

I arrived back in the UK on Tuesday, 13th October, and went back to work the following morning as though nothing unusual had happened. Later that same week, however, the Great Storm of 1987 occurred.

On the night of October 15th, I didn’t hear the weather forecast, so the first I knew of the severity of the storm was when I set off on my 40-mile commute from Andover the following morning, and began noticing that tree branches were down everywhere, even blocking some roads.

[Update: On 15th October, the London Evening Standard published this article about the storm.]

Devastation in Brighton

In those days I was the Treasurer of the Southern Centre of the Royal Television Society, and, prior to my jaunt to California, I had volunteered to help out at the Society’s booth at that year’s International Broadcasting Convention (IBC), which was always held in Brighton. I traveled to Brighton the week after the storm, to see that many of the city’s trees had fallen, and a massive cleanup operation was underway.

It made me think that perhaps the country I’d been born in was itself becoming unrecognizable, so my life was going to change anyway, whether or not I emigrated.

National Techies’ Day

Broadcasting an SMPTE Meeting

Broadcasting an SMPTE Meeting

Today (October 3rd) is apparently National Techies’ Day, and, since I’ve contributed in various technical fields for a few decades, I’ll include myself as one of the techies, shown above doing something appropriately “techie”!

The photo was taken during the early 1990s at a meeting of the Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers (SMPTE). It shows (from left to right): Adam Wilt, me, and my wife Mary.

As I recall, that particular monthly meeting featured a panel of video experts, and was being video broadcast from a studio via a local TV station. During part of the meeting, viewers were encouraged to phone in and ask questions of the panel. Adam and I had volunteered to help run the broadcast.

Adam had assumed the role of Floor Manager, and was responsible for organizing the broadcast crew. My role was to answer the phone and “screen” callers, to try to ensure that only bona fide calls were passed on to the panel. In the photo, I think that Adam is explaining to me how he was going to hold up a sign for the panel moderator to see, to let him know that a call was incoming.

I seem to recall that my screening efforts weren’t entirely successful; at least one “drunk” managed to get past me and talk to the panel! Nonetheless, we had great fun running these meetings, and we certainly got the opportunity to visit some locations that would otherwise have been off-limits to us.

One of our most fascinating meetings was held in Hangar One at NASA’s Moffett Field, and we were given a complete tour of the hangar. That hangar was built during the 1930s to house the huge US Navy airship USS Macon. Sadly, though, I have no photos of that occasion.

Autumn Then & Now

 

Autumn in Hackness, Yorkshire, 1966

Autumn in Hackness, Yorkshire, 1966

My father took the color transparency above, in Hackness, Yorkshire, during one Autumn in the mid-1960s. It’s a good example of an annual event that we always looked forward to: the “Turning of the Leaves” on deciduous trees. In the photograph, you can see my mother and my brother strolling through “Autumn’s golden gown” on the right.

Growing up in England, the onset of each Autumn brought a variety of both welcome and unwelcome events.

The school year always started in September, and, given that I always hated school, that was definitely not a joyous event. On the other hand, when I was at Primary School, our teachers would often organize some kind of Harvest Festival celebration, which I did enjoy. Given that the North Riding of Yorkshire had a heavily agriculture-dependent economy, harvest time was far from being just a symbolic event.

While out in the countryside admiring the foliage colors, we also quite often stopped to pick wild blackberries (brambles) from roadside hedges, where berries were in abundant free supply. It was also sometimes possible to find and pick bilberries in similar locations. I participated in that, but I must admit that I enjoyed the results much more than the actual task! The traffic levels on country roads in those days were generally light, so it was usually no problem to pull the car over to the side of the road wherever we spotted some fruit, as shown below, where my father had parked our Humber Super Snipe to let my mother sample some likely-looking brambles.

Picking Blackberries in Hackness, 1966

Picking Blackberries in Hackness, 1966

Other autumnal events that I welcomed with glee included Guy Fawkes Night (aka Bonfire Night) each 5th November. At that time, Guy Fawkes was the only regular event in Britain at which fireworks were let off (the tradition of fireworks at New Year didn’t start until much later). Fireworks were sold to the general public because, given the damp climate and the time of year, there was little fire danger.

I also looked forward to the arrival of the Winter Catalogues. In those days there were few large stores in or near Scarborough, so my mother did much of her shopping via mail-order “catalogues”, such as Kays, Grattans or John Moores. There were two editions of each catalogue each year: for Summer and Winter. I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Winter editions in September or October, because those editions included larger selections of toys, and I had Christmas and a birthday coming up for which to make my choices (or at least to dream about them!).

Excerpt from Grattan Catalogue, 1966

Excerpt from Grattan Catalogue, 1966

The image above is part of a page from the Winter 1966-67 Grattan catalogue. The pre-decimal prices shown are explained in my previous post: Old Money.

Fall in California Wine Country

The seasons in California are less pronounced than in England, but we do have noticeable autumnal changes.

A Laughlin Road Vineyard, Sonoma County

A Laughlin Road Vineyard, Sonoma County

I took the photograph above last weekend of a vineyard at Laughlin Road, Santa Rosa, just near Sonoma County Airport.

Unlike similar species in Britain, California native oaks are “live”, meaning that they do not shed their leaves during the winter (as shown in the photo). Nonetheless, the leaves of the (non-native) vines do change color, and you can just see that process beginning in the photo above.

Once the leaves have changed color, they tend to stay on the trees longer in California than in Britain (probably because California is less windy). The photograph below was taken in Moraga a few years ago, in mid-December. (The photograph is marred only by the bus stop sign in the foreground!)

Autumn Leaves in Moraga

Autumn Leaves in Moraga

I plan to write further posts about Autumn in California, as the season progresses.

Reinventing Myself: From Hardware to Software

 

OCVS Booth, Windows Solutions Conference 1993

OCVS Booth, Windows Solutions Conference 1993

The 1993 photo above shows me effectively embarking on a new career, and not quite sure what I’d started! I was at my business’s own booth, during the first trade show where I was promoting my own product.

Of course, I’d attended, and even worked at, many trade shows prior to that, but I’d always been there as a representative of someone else’s company or organization.

Short-Sighted Employers

The series of events that led to my first attempt to develop and sell my own software provided a thought-provoking lesson in the tragic short-sightedness of many employers and businesses. Until then, I had implicitly but naively assumed that, as technology changed, my employers would “keep their eyes on the ball” and change their products (and my role in the organization) accordingly.

Far from it, in reality! Most employers seemed to think of their employees as fitting into neat, predefined boxes, and their view was that the box (and the employee within it) should stay the same for ever more. Their attitude seemed to be that, if they had once hired an oil-lamp lighter, then that person should continue to light the oil lamps for ever more, even if oil lamps had in the meantime become obsolete!

As a result of my education and industry experience, I felt that I could discern something about the way computer technology would evolve in the future, and it seemed obvious that I should attempt to evolve in the same direction. Unfortunately, as explained below, not only were my attempts to redefine my role not supported by my employer, but they even actively resisted my attempts to change!

Going with the Flow (or Trying to)

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my goal in obtaining an electronics degree had been to get a job working “in video”. I’d come to consider that as a desirable career as a result of one day’s teenage experience, when my friend Graham Roberts took me along with him to his shift as a Continuity Announcer for Yorkshire Television.

I really hadn’t considered electronics for any other reason. Unlike some other boys, I was not an electronics hobbyist, and I didn’t even have a “microcomputer” to tinker with.

When I started my video engineering career, the reality was that real-time digital video processing required special hardware. General-purpose computers simply weren’t even fast enough to stream video in real time, let alone modify the pixels.

However, as processing speeds increased, computers became able to handle digital video in real time. As a result, it became possible to write software to process video in ways that would previously have required specialized hardware.

I wanted to move over to some type of software development, but my employer at the time (Media Vision) seemed to be trying to restrict me to hardware development only. My manager apparently decided (without consulting me) that I should become an integrated circuit design engineer, and bought development equipment for me to do that!

Frustrated by their short-sightedness, I quit my job and started my own business, initially with the intention of producing video in some form.

(As things turned out, Media Vision collapsed quite spectacularly some time after I left, so my decision to quit seemed very smart in retrospect!)

No Video Available

Oddly enough, despite my prior programming experience, when I started my own business I did not set out to develop a software product! My initial project was to develop an instructional video, which would be distributed on standard VHS tapes.

I’d created a “treatment” for my video, but I did not myself possess video cameras and editing equipment. It seemed fortunate that a friend of mine had simultaneously started his own video editing business, so we agreed to co-operate on the production. Unfortunately, as the months went by, it seemed that he was never quite ready to begin shooting, and I reluctantly realized that I was going to have to find another way to deliver my product.

My job at Media Vision had had me designing PC hardware for the new “multimedia” technology (which basically involved adding audio and video capabilities to PCs). It struck me, therefore, that perhaps I could create some kind of “multimedia computer tutorial” as a substitute for the planned video.

I had learned to program while at college, and as I related in a previous post, even before that, I had undergone an aptitude test that indicated that I would make a good programmer. Nonetheless, the only complete programs I’d written at that point were small utilities for my own use, or that of my colleagues, when processing data as part of our hardware design jobs. I had also written “embedded” software for custom hardware, but I had never tried to create what is called a “shrink-wrap” software application. Shrink-wrap software is a standalone product that can be sold to consumers, who then install it on their own computers and expect it to run with little or no further involvement from me.

Creating a shrink-wrap software application seemed like a significant challenge, and I wasn’t sure that I could actually do it. Nonetheless, there seemed to be little alternative, so I sat down to learn a multimedia software creation tool called Asymetrix Toolbook.

My First App

The eventual result was “Dave Hodgson’s PC Secrets”, which was a software application for Windows computers (what would now be called an “app”). The initial screen looked like this:

PC Secrets Software Title

PC Secrets Software Title

Unfortunately, sales of the product were not great, which led me to seek consulting work. Although I did accept a couple of hardware design consulting projects, it was obvious that much more work was available for software consultants.

Fortunately, I discovered that the fact that I’d just created my first software “app” qualified me for consideration as a Windows software consultant! That led to many years of work for me as a consulting software developer.

Do Anything You Want to Do, But Don’t Expect Our Support!

That was how I learned that I couldn’t rely on my employer to have my best interests at heart, nor even to be concerned about my career development. It had been clear to me that the future of video (for me, at least) lay in software, but my employer would not support my ambitions.

While I think that most self-help advice along the lines of “do what you want” is simply naïve, I did find that, in order to achieve my goals, I had to define those goals myself, then actually invest considerable time and effort of my own to achieve the results I desired.

Fetters Springs Railroad Depot

The former Fetters Springs Railroad Depot as it appears today

The former Fetters Springs Railroad Depot as it appears today

Last weekend I made one of my fairly regular visits to Napa. On the way along Highway 12, I stopped off at Fetters Hot Springs to view the remains of Fetters Springs Depot. The former railroad depot, which was constructed in 1913 but is now a private house, is the small building with the large overhanging eaves in the photo above. The railroad tracks that served the depot originally ran across in the foreground of the photo.

There are no longer any railroads in Sonoma Valley, but, a century ago, there were two competing railroad lines, both running approximately North-South along the valley floor. The two railroads crossed each other several times along their routes, and were eventually consolidated into one, which makes tracking their courses today particularly complex.

The two railroads were:

  1. Sonoma Valley Railroad (which eventually became part of the North Western Pacific, NWP)
  2. Santa Rosa & Carquinez Railroad (which eventually became part of the Southern Pacific, SP)

Fetters Springs was a stop on the NWP line, as shown in the map below.

Railroads near Sonoma

Railroads near Sonoma

From the 1880s up to the 1960s, several hot spring spa resorts along Highway 12 were popular destinations. The first of those was Boyes Springs, which is now the location of the Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa. Incidentally, the founder of that resort, Captain Henry Boyes, was originally from Hull, England. The development of the Springs area is detailed in the book: Springs, The: Resort Towns of Sonoma Valley.

Until the Golden Gate Bridge was built, the most convenient way to get to the resorts from San Francisco and most of the rest of the Bay Area was via ferry and train, but railroad ridership was already declining by the early 1930s. Passenger trains north of Sonoma were discontinued in 1934, and then, in 1942, all the remaining tracks north of Sonoma were ripped up for wartime reuse in Oakland.

Most of the railroad buildings were of wood, so, even if they didn’t burn down, they were easy to demolish or just let rot away. The depot at Fetters Springs, however, had a tile roof and was sheathed in terrazzo, so it survived and was even worth renovating as a house.

In 1975, the Fetters Springs resort hotel itself burned down, and the ground on which it stood is only now being redeveloped, as shown below.

Site of Fetters Springs Resort

Site of Fetters Springs Resort

The Fetters Springs Apartments (visible in the background above) have been built on part of the site.