Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dark Shadows in the Desert

Sometimes I try to imagine the world of the Positive Thinker, as the term is typically used in popular culture as defined by squishy, trendy social science and by boob toob commercials. How bland and sugary it must be! 

Although I mock dualistic religions and political philosophies on this blog, the truth is that I love dualisms aesthetically. Nature, like a movie, is no better than its villain. This winter I've been having fun imagining Malevolences looming over and threatening the landscape:


Unfortunately this buzz only lasted until I could glance at the cause:


The most exciting time to hike is early in the morning, when gaps in the sky island threaten you with Plutonian and diabolic cold and uncertainty.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Moral Equivalent of Football

Watching the glorious Green Bay Packers last night, I had some questions about how football should be interpreted. How far can we carry the analogy between football and war? How literally we can see it as mock war? The football team is an army, dominated by its commander-in-chief, its American Caesar, the quarterback. It has kicking (artillery), running backs (mobile armored divisions, or cavalry in the old days), and passing (an air force). No navy, though. The cheerleaders' job is to quicken the animal spirits in the fans, a job for which they are admirably, uhh, suited; their equivalents in the political and military arenas are the talking-heads in the media, whose job it is to promote the popularity of the war with the public.

There is a well-defined front in gridiron battle. It is symmetrical warfare. The team moves the ball into enemy territory. Getting through the goal posts of the enemy is like seizing a national capital. When fans pull the goal posts down after a victory, it is the equivalent of burning, raping, and pillaging the conquered enemy.

The team scores points by success at offense. It doesn't literally score any points for itself by success at defense. Of course you could say that preventing the enemy from getting points is the algebraic equivalent of scoring positive points for your own team, but somehow that's just not the same as literally and visibly scoring points in defense. I wonder if you can score positive points at defense in any sport?

Besides the absence of a navy, unless you count floats in the parade at half-time, the analogy breaks down in other ways. For one thing, the NFL season is laughably short: early September to the end of January. Why shouldn't it go on and on like a presidential campaign or a war in the Mid-East?

Football has an offensive team and a defensive team. In the political and military spheres we have a Department of Defense and a Department of Homeland Defense. Two departments of defense. Aren't we a bit naive and overconfident to try to get by in this dangerous world with no offensive military capabilities?

A breakdown in the analogy like that is bad enough, but football's greatest failing is that it asks fans to pay for it, whether they're at the stadium or at home on the couch. I don't know how patriotic Fox News viewers can tolerate this, but at least Fox network does its duty in rectifying this situation by carrying free broadcast NFL games every Sunday. The government should finance NFL football to make it free to the fans. (It does at the high school and collegiate levels.) Every American who takes God and Country and Football seriously should work to rectify this dreadful situation. Until then we must conclude that NFL football is un-American.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Better Than a Stick in the Eye

It was so cold in Silver City NM that we only had one good birding year. Sensible birds go to Arizona in the winter, but not to dry lunar settings like where I am now. The best refuges are along creeks in southeastern Arizona. I miss photographing these rascals. Of course to do it right you need a five pound camera, a one-foot-long telephoto lens, and a tripod. You must also be willing to go where the birds are, rather than the other way around. So I'll never be a real birder. Still, it's fun to get what I can. It's remarkable how much variation there is in the color of red-tailed hawks.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Doubts about the Human Race in Phoenix

People who aren't completely accustomed to airline travel sometimes feel affected by the big picture when they take off and leave the trivial earth-bound details behind, or rather, below. A calm perspicuity can set in at 35,000 feet. But at times perspicuity is troubling rather than calming.

In a famous scene in the classic film noir, The Third Man: Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles ride alone to the top of a Ferris Wheel type ride at an amusement park in post-World-War-II Vienna. The cynical and ego-centric Welles character stops the ride at its apogee where they can look down at small objects, people, crawling around on the surface of the earth a hundred feet below. He asks the Joseph Cotton character, 'Would he really mind if one of those ants stopped scurrying, because it died from the watered-down penicillin that Welles was smuggling in Vienna?'

It is thought-provoking, and yet troubling, to come in from a solitary camp in the desert and hit the outskirts of a monstrosity like Phoenix.



I choose a route that stays at the periphery where growth is most noticeable, as it is for trees. What a shame to see all that valuable agricultural land being turned into traffic-ensnarled highways, big box retailers and their even bigger parking lots, and lackluster housing subdivisions. The sense of loss was intensified since I had followed the Gila (HEE-lah) River down from its headlands in southwestern New Mexico, down to this remarkable floodplain called the Valley of the Sun.

At times like this I want to renounce my more-or-less libertarian political view and support a mandatory one-child policy, as in China. But such thoughts are soon pushed aside as being too ugly, as if the absence of such a program produces anything other than ugliness.

If you were to pull any of those frantic Christmas shoppers aside, and ask them why they are going through this madness, most individuals would smirk in agreement with you that the whole thing makes no sense. So then, why do they do it? The answer is of course 'because Everybody Else is and I must be like everybody else or I will be missing something'. Such is the control that the media has over the demos. And such is the folly of treating human individuals like they really are individuals, rather than as undifferentiated biological modules in an ant colony. If we renounce the idea that human Individuality has significance, then how do we justify Democracy?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Cliff-Hanging Tail


The sky islands of southern Arizona are great places to camp, hike, and mountain bike; thus we've returned to them, after three years off the road. We had a strange experience here, four winters ago. In fact I am looking out the window at the exact spot on the mountain, as I type. 


It was just a couple months after the little poodle had been rescued above Book Cliffs near Grand Junction, CO. I've edited this oldie-but-goodie. Tonopah AZ...

Walking right from the RV's front door of our solitary boondocking site, we headed for the nearest mountain. These small mountain ranges can be quite photogenic; even better, they are finite: you can look at them from a variety of angles on one day. It was topped off with a cliff and caprock that almost made it look like a mesa. A large hole in that cliff had attracted my eye for days.

It got steeper as we approached the cliff, so much so that I had to scramble on all fours. At the foot of the cliff the little poodle froze in place, perhaps because he thought it was too steep or because his hiking boots were curtailing him a bit. Since I didn't want to baby him, Coffee Girl (the younger and larger dog) and I kept going to the hole in the cliff to see what it actually was. The walk was cold and dark in the shadow of the cliff. 

But where was the little poodle? He was only a hundred yards away, so I wasn't too worried. But maybe I should find an easier way down for him. As we descended there was still no sign of him, despite my calling. Then I started blowing the whistle, which also failed.

By now I was getting worried. I shifted horizontally, back to his last location at the foot of cliff. Anxiety boiled into anger and panic by now. He was so close -- why didn't he just bark to help out! (And everybody thinks that a quiet dog is the ideal dog!) At least he could only go in one direction, since the cliff was vertical. 

Something caught my peripheral view. It was on a small saddle of a rocky ridge: oh no, ghastly teddy bear chollas!




Then I saw a half dozen...what? Coffee Girl saw them at the same time. Off she ran, downhill at full speed, right through those horrible teddy bear cholla. She reached a saddle about 100 feet lower where five desert bighorn sheep huddled in a dense pack, apparently paralyzed as to what to do.



You seldom get a chance to see Ovis Canadensis nelsoni this close, so I fumbled with the camera while she did her puppyish best to harry them. They were not frightened by my voice since they were focused entirely on her. Apparently they were practiced in the art of defense against coyotes. Then they walked towards me with a close-packed, military precision. I couldn't believe they didn't see me!  

Coffee Girl was so interested in the sheep that she forgot about the teddy bear cholla. Finally her luck ran out. Then she dutifully limped up the ridge to me, like a brave warrior, wounded in action. She had segments on all legs, which were easy to flick off with a comb. Her mouth was in pretty good shape, showing once again what a few minutes of dog saliva can do to cholla spines.

At any other time this would have been an interesting experience, but I wasn't in the mood. Where is that damned little fool of a poodle!? The worst thing about losing a dog is not knowing how to proceed. I decided to try to return to the exact spot where I last saw him. And there he was, at the foot of the cliff. He was motionless, except for the shivering. Had he even moved for the last thirty minutes? Once he got going he actually enjoyed glissading down the volcanic talus with me and Coffee Girl, who was enjoying the romp of her young life today.

I was furious with him for not barking to help me locate him long ago; but then we would have missed the desert bighorn sheep.


Monday, December 19, 2011

A Condensed View of a Rainy Desert

As the modern Brownie camera keeps getting better, will the electronic camera industry be a victim of its own success? Customers could become jaded enough to expect a technological marvel for $99, and then just shrug at it, almost with indifference. In fact that day is already upon us: the camera I use for this blog is the Canon SX110, purchased three years ago. Its successor, the SX130 was on sale at Walmart and Target for $99, as a loss leader presumably.

Camera technology is good enough; it's only the photographer that needs improvement. (Oh sure, there are utilitarians and mindless rat-racers who can't get enough megapixels, but they are just kidding themselves.)

It's sad enough to see the marvelous results of the camera industry taken for granted, but what about the nuanced skills of photographers, themselves? Will their viewers learn to shrug with indifference at superb photographs since everybody has an excellent camera these days, and if that isn't good enough, then photoshop it to death with software. Can't anybody do that? How much fun would the sternly virtuous art of girl-watching be if every woman went in to the cosmetologist, plastic surgeon, and high-end clothing store and spend unconscionable amounts of time and money on her appearance? Yawn.

Perhaps that's why I was admiring the Nikon 1 camera the other day. Although digital bits and bytes have an inexorable tendency to become uninteresting commodities, other things such as polished metal, glass, and interchangeable lenses maintain a certain mystique.

The solution to this commoditization and devaluing of photography is to develop a different sensitivity to beauty; a wider appreciation of the little things that are out there everywhere, under foot. Basically I'm preaching the Granny J Principle. I miss her.

I walked to downtown Wickenburg the other day after a couple days of rains in the Sonoran desert. I'd underestimated how interesting little things can be after a rain; for instance, rain drops hang on palo verde twigs like water balloons clinging to a barbed wire fence. And I forgot my camera!



The next day Coffee Girl and I were out walking early in the morning. I saw bright, tiny glints of reflected sunlight hanging from a finely textured plant. It was delightful; they were like low-density Christmas tree lights despite a bright Arizona sky! But how could it be photographed?


And then another night of rain in the desert, followed by another morning walk. The smell of a rainy desert is so distinctive. The twigs are oddly black from the rain. Astonishingly, a carpet of high density grass is popping up from the decomposed granite "soil".

What a violent contrast there is between pendulous drops of rain and the gnarly spiked twigs that they hang from and yet shouldn't.  Looking through the drop lets the hiker do what Lewis Carroll did with his Looking Glass. What would the Sonoran Desert look like if we could crawl into one of those drops, and pop out on the other side. What marvels might be found: centipedes and snakes, gila monsters and killer spiders. With enough imagination we could write it all up, and make it into a classic of children's books, except that nobody would believe it.


Potentially there was a whole new Sonoran Desert to imagine and then photograph. What kind of background would be best? Should the background be in focus or deliberately fuzzy; or should I just pretend that an out-of-focus background was my intention? (Would they buy that?) By now I was running around shaking with the camera.  Let's see now, how do I adjust the aperture stop? Oh crap, maybe I should just put it in Auto mode and hope for the best!



O Woe, wouldn't Lewis Carroll have put an iconic saguaro cactus in the rain drop! Maybe next time.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dancing on Christopher Hitchens's Grave

Several years ago I skimmed Hitchens's God is Not Great. Disappointment, rather than disagreement, was the book's main effect on me. It is sophomoric for a modern intellectual to pose as Voltaire or Thomas Paine and rail against traditional religions. Why don't they show some real guts by taking on the conventional belief systems of the intelligentsia itself? These are well known, but seldom acknowledged and never criticized, by conventional intellectuals who want to stay popular within their own coteries. (They have to make a living after all, so they don't want to be on the receiving end of the subtle blacklisting that a Marxist or Green apostate would receive from an editor in the publishing industry or a reviewer at the New York Times.)  

None of the obituaries that I've read about Hitchens really inspires me to read any of his books. But the threshold is far lower for magazine-length articles. A fair number of them are free and accessible at Salon.com. Indeed, it was refreshing to read him railing against the Liberal-Left's darling, Michael Moore, of whom he says: "It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery."

So far I've only scratched the surface. Hitchens might be the kind of writer that does me a bit of good as long as I agree to disagree with him 80% of the time.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Next Life of Certain RV Bloggers

It is very satisfying to rise to the challenge of walking in generic (non-national-park) deserts and finding things that interest you. You have to use every angle that you can think of. You can't just be passive and expect the sheer optical pop-titude [*] of the place to wow you into a state of entertainment. (This is one of the False Doctrines of the Desert that some blogs preach. grin.) In the Wickenburg AZ area Coffee Girl and I went to work on the generic Sonoran desert landscape.

Imagining the topography as time lapse, accelerated photography is one of the great advantages of arid land, since geologic layers are exposed. Except for crumples in the earth and lava expulsions, much of the topography is formed subtractively -- that is, erosively -- from layers upon layers that have different erosion rates.


This caprock is only four inches thick; it overhangs about one foot. The mesa is only 20 feet over the lower lands adjacent to it. And yet this numerically humble caprock illustrates the process of topographic development as well as a bigger or prettier mesa would. "Process of development", rather than the supposed static perfection and holiness of the "cathedral of nature", is what nature is all about.

Soon a female kestrel flew overhead but I didn't have time to photograph her. Later, Coffee Girl responded to some bovines; she is a cattle dog after all. It's not difficult to distinguish her beef-bark from her more-serious coyote alarm and growl. She also is learning to leave cattle alone, at my command. But I let her take to the hills when she saw a deer buck. 

What's this white-breasted bird, facing the warming morning sun?  It let me walk up almost to the foot of the saguaro cactus, one of the tallest in the area, perhaps 30 feet high! This reminds me of something.
  

Perhaps in this raptor's earlier life it was one of the prophets of the Syrian or Egyptian desert; one of those ostentatious self-flagellants who was eventually canonized, men such as St. Anthony or St. Simeon Stylite (as in 'stylus'.) They were said to stand in their towers for years without ever coming down.


(from this Wikipedia article.)

At this time of the year there are many such wandering prophets of the desert in places such as Quartzsite or the Slabs. The original saints sometimes put their respective towers within talking distance of each other so they could argue theology. The modern desert saints are more likely to thrash through the polemics of Simplicity, frugality, mobility, generators versus solar panels, glass mat batteries versus flooded, etc.

The original Stylite, St. Simeon, is said to have held his ground -- or rather, his air -- for 39 years. Perhaps the modern desert saints are lucky that the BLM imposes a 14 day limit, when they must then...


[*] from David Seltzer, screenwriter of Punchline, starring Tom Hanks and Sally Fields.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

iDrones on Sale at Walmart?

Zero Hedge is a financial blog that I sometimes scold myself for reading: it is doom-and-gloomy, hot-headed, and sensationalist. But perhaps a person has to tolerate a certain amount of kookiness from a blog or a person in order to get something other than predictable, Establishment cheerleading and conventional thinking.

At any rate Zero Hedge outdid themselves recently with some comments about President Obama asking for the errant drone back from Iran:
"We've asked for it back. We'll see how the Iranians respond," Obama said at a news conference. Obama said he wouldn't comment further "on intelligence matters that are classified." Great, the only problem is Iran will never return it, as they have already indicated, for the simple reason that it has already been reverse engineered 5 ways from Sunday somewhere deep in the bowels of one of China's unpopulated cities, which just doubles as a very populated military intelligence base. The only good news is that within 6-9 months every American will be able to buy a personal stealth drone for an [Every Day Low Price] at their friendly neighborhood Wal-Mart. Our only concern is whether FoxConn [who manufactures the iPad, etc., for Apple] will be able to handle the supply of both iPads and straight for re-export drones: it would be ironic if this massive military embarrassment ends up as being a catalyst to short Apple. [changes were made by Boonie]
Indeed, what consumer wouldn't be able to put his own personal iDrone to constructive use in his daily life, commuting to work, or at the office? Recall the lyrics of Gilbert & Sullivan's Mikado, "I've got them on the list, I've got them on the list, and none of them'd be missed..."

Well OK, now that we've had our fun: how geopolitically significant will it be now that the Sabre-Rattlers of the West are driving Iran into closer and closer relations with China? I wish I knew more about the military and geopolitical situation at the Strait of Hormuz and at the Chinese-built oil port in southwestern Pakistan.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Off-Target at Walmart

The other day I was migrating through the monstrosity of Phoenix when I stopped in at a Target store. Since nobody knew me in town I wouldn't lose face by being seen in such an unmanly store. And besides, I had recently bought my newly beloved netbook from them, and at a loss-leader price too. Seriously, as long as Target offers a 45-day return policy on electronics, compared to 15 days at Walmart and other places, it is worth giving them the benefit of the doubt.

There was a time when I wasn't so kind to Target. Financial analysts used to heap praise on Target because it 'knew how to distinguish itself from Walmart'. Maybe they were right: Target was useless and Walmart was my favorite place to shop; and that is quite a distinction. What did Target offer that Walmart didn't, besides wide aisles? And who goes into a store to buy aisles? Target offered the same cheap Chinese crap that Walmart did, except at slightly higher prices since it selected things that were a little prettier and more stylish to pull in their silly female customers. Target offered no hard goods for guys.

But today Walmart is on the down slope of its history. Imperial over-reach, I guess. And here I was, ogling the Nikon 1 cameras in the Target store. Metal and glass; now that's sexy. Back in the van in their parking lot, I paused and watched Target's customers arrive.

After seeing a statistically meaningful number of such customers, it is completely sane to want to come back as a woman, in my next life. An attractive woman. I have sometimes bemoaned the decline of girl-watching as a healthy, virtuous, and Catonic sport in this decaying country: there's simply no material to work with. But the women walking into the Target were pleasant-looking, respectable, and believable. They weren't 17-year-old girls, either; they were 30-40 year old mothers and wives. It feels so good to walk away from a store and think that our species really does have a future.

Contrast the look of the average Target shopper with the anthropoids over at Walmart: sociology, history, and evolution have yet to offer a satisfactory explanation for the appearance of the average Walmart shopper, who is just a huge, waddling bundle of ugliness and human deformity. The only guess that I will offer is that they are the result of some kind of miscegenation -- partly biological and partly cultural -- that occurs from a toxic brew of too much fast food, diesel fumes from their pickup trucks, meth labs, radon outgassing from revival tent walls, welfare state policies, public schools, tattoo parlors, rap music in elevators, and ghetto or barrio values promulgated by endless television bottom-feeding.

And so I'm going to go a little easier on those nice-looking Target shoppers. When you look at the cars most of those well-appointed women are driving, only the most politically-correct would deny that there is a noticeable correlation between female appearance and affluence. Oh dear, what an awful thing to say, 40 years after the modern women's movement began around 1970! Well then you sit in that parking lot for 15 minutes and do some statistics with your own eyes, and tell me what your explanation is.

But who can blame them for wanting to go into a store and not feel ashamed of themselves or not gag at the mere sight of the other customers? Years ago, I might have been bothered by this correlation of female attractiveness and affluence. Getting older isn't all bad; I mellow. This is just one more example of Samuel Johnson's experience: "As I know more of mankind I expect less of them, and am ready now to call a man a good man upon easier terms than I was formerly." And in this case, let's cross out 'man' and put 'person'.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Marc Faber's Prediction of War

I haven't said too much on politics lately, perhaps because the financial recklessness and lies of our leaders and central bankers leave me speechless. Also, all that really needs to be said about politics, has already been said by Mencken:
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. (Gutenberg.org)
That would seem to cover the big news story these days, the saber-rattling with Iran. It's unusual to see so much agreement between Europe and America on an issue, and that alone should make one suspicious. In America the saber-rattling with Iran will be a mainstay of the seemingly-interminable presidential campaign.

It's an old idea actually: the Republicans think that the populace sees the Democrats as foreign policy sissies and that this should win votes for the GOP. In order for this to really work there needs to be an official bad guy, a Bogeyman, who hopefully can be compared to Hitler. All the usual suspects are behind this campaign for war. The war drums are being beaten loudest by the Yahwist wing of the Republican party, that is, neo-cons, Rapture Christians, and AIPAC. Such groups are proud of being super-patriots; but to which country?

Of course the Democratic president could fight back by out-sabre-rattling the GOP. But that could cause oil prices to climb, which is recessionary of course. Then the GOP would blame the Democrats for high unemployment and energy costs.

But what if saber-rattling's Nielsen ratings go down, with repetition, and the grand poobahs on both sides of the pond keep threatening the Iranians a little more each month until the world finally stumbles into war, as it so often has? This might be bad news for the sheep and peasants of each country, but it could be wonderful for the bankers and politicians. Financial chaos, high gasoline costs, and recessions would offer the grand poobahs the cover to do more of what they want to do, the only thing they know how to do, print money. The worse the news is, the more the American sheep will rally around their mighty Sword, the President, and the GOP will have been outfoxed. (No pun intended.)

What interests me is seeing if three years of deficit explosions have sobered Americans up. Do they still see trillion-dollar-wars as something that can be thrown easily onto the national credit card? Or have they come to fear reckless and endless wars in the Mideast more than the Islamic bogeyman du jour?

In the case of Europe, the politicians and un-elected bureaucratic elites need to distract the peasants from their crimes and assaults on the democratic principles of modern Western civilization. Like their American co-criminals, they could sense opportunity in major war: 'let no crisis go to waste.'

A year ago Marc Faber, a popular commentator on business channels and websites, predicted that the outcome of the financial crisis would be war. He meant big War, presumably, not just the smaller operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, etc. These other conflicts were rather modest after all, taking a decade to run the credit card up by a trillion dollars. At the time I thought that he was going over the top with that, and that he was just trying to be controversial and entertaining, which is what these news channels are all about, after all. It now seems as though he should take a bow. But he hasn't been as visible lately in the usual places.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Crossing the Kindle Threshold

No, I didn't go out and buy one, the gadget that is. But I did follow through on a commenter's suggestion of downloading Kindle ebooks from Amazon onto my netbook. I chose a freebie of course. Buying books is a "bridge too far".

I firmly rejected the option of reading the eBook in the over-hyped "cloud" since that requires an internet connection, the very thing I want to liberate myself from. Instead, I opted to download the Kindle eReader onto my (Windows PC) netbook and to do the same with the eBooks themselves, since an internet connection is only needed during the downloading process, itself. Soon I was using it on a free classic, Samuel Johnson's Preface to Shakespeare. By his own admission he could write a preface to anything, even a cookbook, and the preface would be more popular than the book, proper.

There is no "Edit" tool at the top of the screen; to copy a juicy quote you must highlight it first and then right-button for copy and search capabilities. Thank goodness for that; otherwise I would have pronounced the Kindle eReader worthless. I smiled with satisfaction to recognize certain quotes from this famous preface, such as:
Shakespeare is above all writers, at least above all modern writers, the poet of nature; the poet that holds up to his readers a faithful mirrour of manners and of life.

Johnson, Samuel (2004-04-01). Preface to Shakespeare (Kindle Locations 37-38). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.
The copy function automatically dragged over the acknowledgement to Kindle. I'm not sure why this is necessary since this Preface is in the public domain. But to quibble over this would be an example of another famous quote from Johnson's Preface, "the petty cavils of petty minds."

This same classic Preface is available from Gutenberg.org, and downloadable in various formats that make for pleasant reading, including the Kindle format. But I prefer to download books from Gutenberg as plain text files so that I can fully edit them, that is, expurgate them. Such files aren't as easy on the eyes as the Kindle format, however.

In posts past I have argued that expurgation -- or as the reader, Samuel Johnson, was accused of: "ripping the book's heart out" -- is a fundamental qualitative improvement in the process of reading. This notion was unpopular with my readers, who apparently are too comfortable being apologists for the publishing industry and venerating the traditions of reading. Apparently the vaunted Progress that we worship today must be restricted to mere quantitative improvements, to matters of convenience, megabytes, and gigahertz. Nor will all the gadgets in the world bring any qualitative improvement to the content of books.

The Kindle eReader shows up as a shortcut-icon on my desktop; it's a fellow sitting under a tree, reading. If only that were true. This time of year many snowbirds sit out in a chair, outside their RVs in places like Quartzsite or Yuma, reading books. I've never had any luck reading outdoors; there are too many distractions.

Nor can I imagine reading in bed with old eyes. In fact my sleepy eyes can't even watch a DVD movie; the eyes close while the ears rock the baby to sleep.

But perhaps it is more comfortable to hold a tablet in the hand while eReading. A clamshell display might hold the words at a distance not quite perfect; and you must sit erect in an office chair to look at it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Does 4G Wireless Matter to Travelers?

At the moment I am in the Valley of the Sun, the Phoenix megalopolis. (If only it would run out of water and start shrinking. It would be a better place.) Its only real significance to me is that it is still on the Gila River migration route. But I can't help wondering about Verizon's 4G wireless service, available only in big cities like this. My mi-fi gadget is only a 3G model, so I can't actually sample the 4G service.

It seems like I should be as excited about this improvement as I was when Verizon upgraded from 2G (1xRTT) to 3G (EVDO) a few years back. But back then there was no 5 Gigabyte per month limit. It makes sense that there should be a limit like that, despite the howls of gamers and video-addicts on the tech forums.

So I have no real complaint against Verizon. But it does make a customer wonder what is so great or important about 4G wireless service: the only thing it's good for is watching videos, but if you give in to that temptation, you'll smack up against your 5 Gigabyte per month limit that much sooner. So what good is 4G service to me?

If the telecom company only charges $10 for each Gigabyte past the 5 Gigabyte ceiling (always rounding up, of course), perhaps that's not such a big deal to some people. But this blog is aimed at early retirees or other people who take "alternative lifestyles" seriously; and for most of us, $53 per month for the first 5 Gigabytes is quite enough to spend on the internet.

Why not just buy the couple dozen classic movies that are worth watching for $5 to $10 per DVD disk, and be able to enjoy them without an internet connection? DVD movies, books, MP3 music, and digital photography are all activities a traveler can enjoy without an internet connection. This is too much of an advantage to let go of.

The same argument could debunk the vaunted and over-hyped "cloud". How is it advantageous to a wireless customer to edit photos or do word processing by increasing his data traffic, which he will end up paying for? It's virtually free and significantly faster to use software that is installed on your hard drive. The best of both worlds is probably exemplified by the Kindle, since you only need occasional internet connectivity to put it to use, and lightning speed is not really necessary.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Snowbound in the Arizona Palms

Oh sure, I knew Globe AZ was a bit higher than the Gila River that I was following into the state. But a casino is a good place to wait out a winter storm while watching NFL football. The sun wouldn't come out long enough for a good morning shot of palmas y sierra nevada.


At least the photo proves out the title of this blog. I thought the weather would recover on Monday. I don't mind the cold, but a dog-owning RVer hates precipitation.

So I took off this morning only to find that the small climb to Globe was enough to create a heavy snowstorm. The road didn't actually feel slippery but after my clay debacle of last week I am feeling cautious. So I pulled off into a big box parking lot. There sat a nice-looking pickup and camper, who probably had the same idea. I snickered when I saw the Florida license plates. After all, what sort of moron would drive all that way to Arizona in December and then get stuck in snow? (grin)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Public Wi-Fi Experience

It wasn't so long ago that "AT&T" charged $20 per month for wi-fi at Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, McDonalds, and various hotel chains. Now all the wireless telecoms are delighted to give you free wi-fi at such places. Off-loading data to wi-fi hotspots to lessen the data traffic jam at cell towers is a huge trend these days. In theory this should be a nice help to travelers.

Having failed to win any looks of envy (or even respect) at Starbucks with my new $200 netbook, it seemed like McDonalds might promise more success: surely some toothless old man would be impressed with my spiffy new machine; you know, the old boys who find section D of yesterday's newspaper and read it in slow motion while drinking bottomless refills of senior coffee.

Old habits die hard: walking into the store my eyes scanned the walls for an electrical outlet. First, they seem to design public wi-fi places without a single electrical outlet. That must be deliberate; they're not running a public library for internet-savvy elderly vagabonds. (Also, just imagine the first multi-million dollar lawsuit against McDonalds when an oldster falls and breaks her hip after tripping on another customer's power cord.) Secondly, my netbook is low power and can actually operate a few hours without juice, unlike the patio-brick-style laptops of old.

Then I scanned the store for another laptop user. In his area there was something emitting a high-pitched scream; maybe it was coming from the soft drink feeding pens. How could he think over that noise? Maybe it's his hearing.

So I abandoned that section of the store and went to the center, where a huge boob toob was playing CNN news. Carrier IQ has probably worked out a system for correlating clicks on the customers' smartphones and laptops with the TV channel and what the customers order at the counter. But at least the volume was turned up so I didn't have to listen to "music" over the ceiling speakers. And I was so hoping to enjoy a black female vocalist doing a screeching and lewd version of Rudolf, followed by a pseudo-rap version of the Little Drummer Boy (which admittedly is a rather good choice for rap-ification).

Soon I gave up on the center area, ruled as it was by the TV hegemon. That left only the back of the McDonalds. After I got the sticky food debris cleaned off the table, it started to seem like I had finally beaten the system. But every time the door opened I could feel Santa Anna-like wind rushing in to fill the vacuum of a flushing toilet. Also, it was distracting to think of the signs (in Spanish) that McDonalds considers necessary to remind customers to put the toilet paper in the toilet instead of the waste basket.

But at least I was finally getting some work done. Then suddenly I practically catapulted off my bench in the booth. A huge fat guy had sat down behind me in the adjacent booth. His bench was mechanically linked to mine so that the whole structure seesawed. Oh well, you don't go into fast food outlets and expect to see willowy supermodels. I tried to not let it bother me, but I could feel every movement of his. Did I say "movement"? Oh dear, what happens when he gets up and walks toward the restroom door! I fled back to my RV and used my Verizon mi-fi.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The News and Novelty Syndrome

Every Age has not only its own spirit, its zeitgeist, but also its characteristic vices and diseases. The Information Age sucks us into paying attention to too much trivial and trashy "news". For travelers in particular, the same syndrome manifests itself as Novelty idolatry.

I was feeling very pleased with the world on the last day of November when this (un-edited, un-photoShopped) sunset crowned an excellent day.



I was camped on some BLM land, on the western edge of New Mexico, watching my first Arizona sunset in over three and a half years. For some reason it was important to me not to enter Arizona before December 01. As luck would have it, a winter storm was arriving the first day in Arizona.

On this autumn's migration it was satisfying to have connected the Colorado/San Juan river systems with the Rio Grande, and back again to the Colorado/Gila system with a minimum amount of driving. It was sweet revenge to revisit the place near Grand Junction where I almost lost my little poodle four years ago, and to revisit while he was still alive and could share the revenge.

In just a couple months of returning to the road I've had a change to visit, camp with, and hike with Wandrin Lloyd, the Box Canyon-ites (Mark and Bobbie) and a new RV blogger friend Kurumi Ted.

And yet I felt silly putting this photo cliche on my blog. Gee, do you think there are any sunset photos on Picasa, Flickr, Facebook, etc.?! Sometimes novelty just doesn't count. It's especially important for a blogger not to forget that.