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Writing in the Smartphone Era

As long as I'm ranting against smartphones and tablets, I wonder if they are responsible for the poor quality comments on some of the blogs I follow. By 'poor quality' I don't mean that I disagree with their point. I just can't read their comment; my eyes and brain hurt too much.
Perhaps the comment was pecked out by thumbs when the guy was waiting in his mega-saurus, king-cab, dualie pickup truck in the fast food drive-through; and the commenter hasn't gotten around to buying an app for spell checking.
Then again, maybe he did get an app, except that it changes ordinary English prose to thumb-English: "R U L8?", "wut 4?," and the like. The rules of lower and upper case have gone out the window. An entire vocabulary of sub-English abbreviations flourishes. What the hell does LOL or IMHO mean anyway?!
There is no more inexcusable form of sub-English than one made of abbreviations. Maybe I'm wrong to blame smartphones and their postage-stamp-…

The Smartphone Trap

You don't have to run to the gasoline pump every few days to be a traveler. Somebody whose brain has been independent of television for most of his life visits a strange and exotic land every time he watches a TV commercial. I only watch football on TV, so I'm shocked and amazed by what I see: every other commercial during football games is for a smartphone. Why?

Perhaps the advantage of a smartphone is that it allows the average American, who spends half his day stuck in traffic in his pickup truck, to hold the phone in one hand, with his $4 cup of Joe in the other hand, while steering with his left leg, while his eyes look over at the CD player with 64 tiny buttons on it. I don't see what body parts are left to operate the buttons on the remote control of the overhead DVD player, let alone the GPS.
It seems obvious that a netbook provides a cheaper and more complete internet experience than a smartphone. Why would a smart consumer want to download, install, and pay for &qu…

End of the Season

Starting in October I go nuts over the texture of the grassy fields nearby. As winter wears on, these grasslands lose their spirit and become trampled down. With no birds in the vicinity this autumn and winter, I'm lucky to have this obsession with grassy fields. Normally my camera would switch its obsessions over to hoarfrost by Christmas, but it has been dry and snowless this winter. Ahh how nice it is to have a dry winter! Perhaps the oncoming storm is going to put an abrupt end to that. So let me put up these last photos to celebrate the end of the fall texture season and the beginning of snow and hoarfrost.
As usual, click to enlarge.



Schadenfreude in the Nevada Desert

I'm pleased to report finding a new financial blog to follow, mybudget360 dotcom. Recently it has featured a post-mortem on the late Las Vegas boom and bust. 
If we can't agree on anything else, let's agree that schadenfreude -- the joy felt over other people's suffering -- is not the fairest flower of human nature. But the shameful truth is that I exult over the demise of Las Vegas. Blame that on an ugly, vestigial streak of Puritanism, if you will. Actually it's a little more personal than that.
During my years of RV travel, Las Vegas was pretty hard to avoid. Since I hung out in St. George UT during the shoulder seasons, and since the Grand Canyon lacked a bridge, it was necessary to go through Vegas. It was actually a practical and beneficial stop, where a traveler could stock up on supplies, get work done on his rig, and enjoy the last Barnes and Noble for awhile. I also enjoyed free camping at the casinos (where I never gambled) and early-morning, loss-leader b…

Red tailed Hawk Strafing

Apparently this hawk has learned from the ravens how to taunt my dog. It flew overhead, no more than thirty feet off the ground, which made focusing difficult. Then it was off to the races, as Coffee Girl chased it across the field.

Charlemagne's Ghost

One of the biggest news stories of the past year has been the financial crisis in Europe. If European unification fizzles, it wouldn't be the first time.
But what does the current unifying force consist of? Bureaucrats and technocrats? A utilitarian ethic built around material comfort. Taxes, regulations, uniformity codes, and coercion. How inspiring!
But "inspiration" of some kind has been a big part of Europe, beginning in the Dark Ages. From Toynbee's Study of History (abridged), vol. I, page 13: In fact the Empire fell and the Church survived just because the Church gave leadership and enlisted loyalty whereas the Empire had long failed to do either...
Thus the Church, a survival from the dying society, became the womb from which in due course the new one was born.Some of that "leadership" was pure bureaucracy. The Catholic Church is almost an alien thing to people who grew up in the Protestant Midwest. As a young man I was on a airplane flight with a rat…

The Sonoran Season to Be Jolly

A couple Christmases ago, the dogs and I explored volcanic Saddle Mountain, near Tonopah, AZ. It worked out well to approach from the north, the green side. The rains have produced a lot of green "grass." It's not really grass, but looks like it from a distance. The spiny, stalky ocotillos are leafed out with dense, small, green leaves. They'd be perfect Christmas trees if they had their red blooms. Actually I didn't expect to see any green today.

It takes effort to give up this notion that lichen belongs in alpine settings being licked by a mountain goat, rather than in the desert. It is surprising how lush and thick it can be here, on the desert floor at 1000 foot altitude. You really could do some rough orienteering on a cloudy day just by noticing the green (or yellow or orange) fuzz on the north side.

As easy as it is to enjoy the Sonoran Desert in the winter, I sometimes wonder what I'm missing by not experiencing it at other times of the year…

Starry Field

Rules of (Political) Engagement

It's not so hard to write a travel blog, as I know from past experience (rv-boondocker-explorer). After all, there are millions of armchair travelers who are easy to please with the morning news -- their daily dose of (free) escapism -- about where you slept last night and what the pretty scenery looks like there. Then there's your trip to the local Pioneer Museum, which is proud to feature the world's third largest ponderosa pine cone, etc. The challenge picks up considerably as you move away from the travel genre.
My half-seniorish brain is a giant compost heap, a mouldering pile of half-forgotten quotes from a lifetime of reading classic books. I can't quite remember a nice quote about needing to be almost formally and ritualistically polite in conversations if we are to have full-bodied discussions of any type. This is pertinent to a blogger who wants to crawl out of the trivia and small talk.
For instance you can't discuss much without using labels, which really…

A Martian Goes Christmas Shopping

As a young lad I heard older men using expressions so out-of-date that I was embarrassed for their sakes. Usually the old expressions were agricultural in origin, or perhaps from popular radio programs of the 1930s or 40s. The expression, 'if a Martian landed tomorrow and saw that, he'd think...', has probably dropped out of the modern vernacular, perhaps due to the Space Age. That's a pity because looking at common things with an uncommon perspective is important. It's one of the great benefits of traveling.
The archaic expression seems compelling during the Christmas shopping season. Since RV traveling meant dry camping or boondocking for me, for years I made coffee with an Italian espresso maker that worked on the propane stove. Finally I tired of cleaning it, or maybe the coffee didn't taste that good anymore. Before that I had used a simple plastic cone with paper filters.
You might not believe it, but I've never owned one of those ubiquitous Mr. Coffee…

Progress and the Movies

It's too much work for one day to beat up on the notion of Progress in general. Let's focus in on the movies. One of my Christmas presents was the dvd movie, All About Eve, 1950, starring Betty Davis, Anne Baxter (Frank Lloyd Wright's granddaughter), George Sanders, and Celeste Holm. 
There are two kinds of directors: 1) the camera-oriented (such as Sergio Leone and his spaghetti westerns) and, 2) the script/dialogue-oriented. All About Eve was directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, who started as a script writer and belonged to the second group naturally. Well, this introduction will have to suffice; this blog isn't imdb dotcom. 
How would this movie affect a young person who has grown up with video games and with movies that imitate video games? In one scene two of the main characters are walking down the sidewalk in a big city's downtown. The camera only catches them walking from the knees up. Clearly it was shot in a studio, with a screened image in the background; they …

Hiking Club

A cool winter hike. If only dogs weren't so good at hiding their true feelings.

Fade out of a Miracle

Something caught my eye at last evening's sunset. There was a line of clouds that looked like a zipper. The setting sun projected shadows upwards from the zipper. These shadows are not as distinct in the photo as in real life, despite all the software tricks that I tried.
Despite being a bit of a failure, it was still a noble effort. We live at a interesting point in history; over the last couple years the ubiquity of digital cameras and photo software has rendered the beauty of sunrise and sunsets obsolete. Not to the naked eye of course. When most people say that a  sunset is "breathtakingly beautiful" (groan), don't they really just mean that it was very red or pink or orange?
Very? Who cares any more!? You can just click a couple things in the software to cause the colors to blow the eyeballs right out of your head, and if that's too much trouble, just rotate the dial on the camera to its "sunset" setting.
Just think how many generations of our species…

A Bum Experience on the Trail

Without making too big a deal out of it, I should write about today's mountain bike ride before common sense and good taste get the better of me. Once again the ride was under perfect conditions, including the ending: I was half lost, but as long as the trail was going downhill, it was getting closer to town.A couple friendly dogs were approaching from the other direction on the trail, happily wagging their tails, so I slowed down to make a bit of a fuss over them.
As I coasted and slowed over a small hump, what did I see but a female hiker quickly rising from a squat. She was pullin' everything up as fast as possible, but I had time to get quite an eye-full. Why the heck was she taking care of business right next to the trail, in an open spot!, instead of behind a juniper a few feet away on either side of the trail? 
She was an old hippie broad, in more ways than one. I wouldn't have minded to catch her a peein' if she were, say, European. Everybody knows how lax and ca…

Goldilocks in the Blogosphere

Recently a commenter mentioned that they're new to this blog. Suddenly I thought, "Dear me. The poor devil!" Perhaps this blog needs what some blogs have: an introductory paragraph that allows the reader to quickly know if they're barking up the wrong tree. Won't the poor devil be offended if they are female, environmentalist, neocon Republican, academic, a danged liberal (especially Left Coast), motor-crazed, suburbanite, New Ager, shopaholic, global Warmist, RV potlucker, TV watcher, Bible banger, etc. That's getting to be a pretty big segment of the population. Who's left!
What if an introductory blurb scared away people who disagree with the blogger, who in turn actually enjoys disagreement? Over the years I've generally made friends with people who think I'm 90% full of crap. There's a big difference between 90% and 100%. And the 10% that they consider tolerable encourages them to try to redeem me, which is charmingly futile. On the other …

Bloggers' Unfulfilled Mission

Amateur bloggers spend too much time blogging about domestic or personal trivia. That is what Facebook and Twitter are for. Many amateur bloggers might have an interest in philosophical or political issues but think that the world has already heard enough squabbling. Or amateur bloggers consider themselves unqualified. How can a three-paragraph-long post compete with an entire book written by a professional who has devoted years to his job?
But this humility overlooks the advantages that the amateur has: he should never underestimate the group-think that most professionals fall into. The amateur is not constrained by ratings pressure, publication deadlines, legal worries, corporate policy, availability of grants, etc. Nor must the amateur start off with the same premises as professional pundits.After all, it's what doesn't get discussed that matters most. Many topics that might seem boring are not intrinsically boring; rather, their discussion was made boring by starting off wi…

Desire Causes Suffering?

A reader recently emailed me about my last post; among other things she wondered about my less-than-reverent attitude towards the Buddha. Living in a town full of New Agers (old hippies for the most part), Greens, and refugees from Santa Fe and the Left Coast, it is hard to resist taking pot-shots at the conventional pieties of the enlightened ones. But don't worry; I don't take myself too seriously at it, since it's probably just the same sort of puerile and impish pleasure that the traditional village atheist used to get.
In fact, the notion of 'Desire causing Suffering' was a big part of getting ready to retire early, both as a motivation and as a means. I looked at this issue from the point of view of ancient Stoicism rather than Buddhism, but perhaps there was some overlap.
But when I did retire early I observed retired RVers who were twenty years older than me. It seemed necessary to adjust my attitude to the mantra of 'Desire causes Suffering.' I beca…

Coyote Alarm Sounds

Dogs hate coyotes. This morning Coffee Girl saw the coyote on the other side of the arroyo before I did. It was not the same large, powerful one that attacked my little poodle in October 2010. This one was scrawny. I've seen Coffee Girl raise her hackles twice as much as she is in this photograph.

Another Use of Ugliness

Today was a special day in the southern New Mexican highlands. Let me write about it before the memory fades. I had mountain biked on a paved road up the standard hill, until it was time to jump out onto a forest trail. The trail was so carpeted with long ponderosa needles that I wouldn't have been able to follow it if trees hadn't been marked, even though I was familiar with the trail. At the beginning of autumn I had been pelted by falling ponderosa needles near here. Wikipedia doesn't say whether ponderosas are semi-deciduous, but it sure looked like it.
Instead of being cold and dark at these higher locations like I feared, the forest canopy seemed more open than in summer. It was actually warmish, 25% sunny, and dead calm. Thus it was warmer than at the lower elevations, which are open, windy grasslands. The gaps in the canopy allowed me to always feel connected to the cold clear sky. I was giddy in a forest!
Previously I had belonged to a large school that dislikes for…

Mad Prophets of the Blogosphere

In the past I have poked fun at myself and other bloggers. Spiffy web designs, digital photos, and the extension of our mighty thoughts to the entire blogosphere, tempt us to puff up into a sort of mad prophet (without a license). Today I read something that made me giggle out loud, in Barrett's Irrational Man, p. 81: The Greek word for "I know," oida, is the perfect of the verb "to see" and means "I have seen." He who knows is the man who has seen, who has had a vision.Well, "Howard Beale" (of the movie Network) and the rest of us agree wholeheartedly!
(Movie information is at imdb.com)

The Vertical Blog Syndrome

'Trying to fit a square peg in a round hole' is an old cliche that might be disappearing from the American vernacular. In a way, that would be a shame because it expresses a useful and important idea. We need some new expression to replace it. How about 'trying to write a vertical blog on a horizontal screen.' 
Well OK, the new phrase doesn't have much of a jingle to it. It needs polishing. But it's a truism nonetheless. This morning I was led to a blog from their comment on some other blog. They were an interesting young couple, and I liked their writing. But rather than focus on their content I was distracted by the vertical blog layout, which wasted 30% of the screen. 
Why do so many bloggers opt for this inferior design? In fact if you look at the templates available on "blogger" (blogspot), most of the choices are vertical.
The reader probably wants to know by now why I don't find something more important to complain about. Indeed it does seem …

Tickling the Ivories

Lately my musical preferences have shifted towards solo piano. The wi-fi in my campground is too slow for internet radio, so I am limited to CDs fom the local library and occasional downloads from Napster. George Winston and Craig Armstrong are my interests right now.
It is too early to tell for sure, but this could turn into one of those lasting transitions that a person has a few times in their life. For the lack of a better term let's call it a musical conversion. I wonder what is true in general about these musical conversions. Does everybody have them? How often? What causes them? I don't even know where to go to learn about this.
Society as a whole went through several musical conversions during my lifetime. I was just old enough to remember watching the Beatles appear on the Ed Sullivan show. I sort of liked them, but wondered what all the fuss was about. I never cared much for rock-pop music, even when I was a kid. Actually nothing is better at convincing me to renounce …

Religion Reinvents Itself

The text for today's sermon is from William Barrett's Irrational Man, the chapter on The Decline of Religion.  The central fact of modern history in the West -- by which we mean the long period from the end of the Middle Ages to the present -- is unquestionably the decline of religion.

The decline of religion in modern times means simply that religion is no longer the uncontested center and ruler of man's life, and that the Church is no longer the final and unquestioned home and asylum of his being. Oh really?! Hadn't Barrett ever heard of Marxism? What would he say of Global Warming and the regulation of carbon? If the Warmists had their way, the taxation and regulation of carbon would make Muslim Sharia law look as watery and flexible as the Garrison Koehler's proverbial Ten Suggestions of the Unitarians.
As religion came to be doubted, it learned to adapt itself. It became less about quasi-mythological persons or writings of a distant past, and more oriented toward …

Saying No

These days it's easy to drown in all the financial news from Europe. I'm starting to admire the feistiness of the Irish. They have protested the bailout forced on them by foreign bankers and European bureaucrats. We will have to wait for Ireland's new government to find out how much spine the Irish actually have. I'm pleased with the blogosphere for refusing to go along with calling it a bailout "of Ireland"; rather, it is a bailout of the stupid banks in the UK and Germany who loaned money into the real estate bubble in Ireland.
Ahh dear, I'm probably willing to romanticize the people in any country who have the gumption to stand up to the political and financial elite. Yes, that sounds pitchfork populist. In Irrational Man, William Barrett wrote some relevant things in his chapter on Sartre: The [World War II] Resistance came to Sartre and his generation as a release from disgust into heroism. It was a call to action, an action that brought men to the ver…

Anti-Consumerist Rant

Think of the conversations you've had over the years, usually with males I'm afraid to say, who hear one wrong buzzword out of your mouth. That's all it takes for their "mind" to snap closed, and off they go onto an angry rant, spewing out absolute opinions. The rants are mental recordings which the fellow gets off on. Digital thinking of this type poses as manly forcefulness, while in fact, it is emotionally self-indulgent and mentally lazy.
The best essays and blog posts are those that allow a wide range of readers to be in partial agreement. It would please me if people read my posts who think that 15% of my opinions are not complete crap, and therefore I might be redeemable. And yet, brutal honesty requires us to admit that there is something gratifying about going on a rant on the internet. Occasionally.
James Quinn outdid himself recently in an anti-consumerist rant about credit cards, big screen TVs, McMansions, SUVs, sprawl, etc. In a similar vein I wish I…

Turf Battle

Rebellion in Winter

So maybe Robert Falcon Scott and Richard E. Byrd (author of Alone) wouldn't be too impressed with the "cold" that we've been having here in the highlands of southern New Mexico -- after all, it's only a Dry Cold. But then again, so was theirs. 


Last night I got overconfident and slept without wearing my winter parka. Big mistake. When I jumped out of bed this morning I wondered first if the water had frozen inside the RV. In my rig, freezing the plumbing is not destructive since the plumbing runs off of the water pump and inside reservoir, which makes for plenty of air spaces in the plumbing. It hadn't frozen, but the water pump hesitated like the starter motor in a car, after a cold winter night.
Since I was getting suspicious of a "hard freeze" inside the RV, I had implemented standard winter survival techniques, such as filling a pan of water the night before. In the morning, if you do discover a freeze, you can still get breakfast going. What a di…

The Wing Artist

On a standard mountain bike route the other day, I was passing by the western edge of a hill. The first runner that I've seen in a long time came by and joked about how cold and windy it was. I had to agree, but wouldn't complain about sunny, cold, and windy weather. It is New Mexico after all.

A few seconds later I was at a cliff face that faced west, where a raven was showing off, thanks to ridge lift. The raven was so close. He folded his wings in and, for just a second, paused, suspended in space with all the drama of an Olympic high diver at the edge of the board. Then he fell straight down.
The fall was so different than the flight, and yet, they both borrowed from something outside that individual bird. The raven was borrowing the Will of Gravity and Wind, combining them, and composing something that befitted his intelligence and playful mood.
In all the rides and walks that I've been on, over the years, I've never seen anything quite like that. 

Creepie Crawlie

This creepie-crawlie was on the pavement one cold morning recently. If you count those two spindly forelegs, there are eight total. But scorpions have high tails and a pair of front pincers. Perhaps this is an immature scorpion in one of its numerous manifestations (molts). (The photos on the internet never show immature critters.)
I gave icy glares to passing motorists. Somehow the creepie-crawlie made it through the car tires without being squished. Forgive me for not carrying it to the other side of the road.

Arizona Arroyos

There are plenty of arroyos (dry washes) in the Little Pueblo, but bein' az we're at the foot of the mountains, they are usually soggy and full of plants. They just don't make for the peerless walking of the arroyos of lower Arizona. Forgive me for feeling a little nostalgia for them; during my traveling years I'd be in Arizona at this time of year. 
My dogs and I hardly ever walked real hiking trails in the uplands there, since the rocks were too sharp for dog paws. A woman in the campground here sewed up a boot out of cloth for her dog. She was amazed how short the boot's life was. But even leather doesn't stand a chance. I spent a couple years trying different brands and materials before finding Neo-Paws.

Contrast the prickliness of an Arizona razor-rock hike with the pleasure of an arroyo. Cactus and mesquite grow on the banks, but not in the middle of the "stream." As if that wasn't relief enough, the rocks and gravel are mercifully rounded. Th…

Oak Leaves

Identity Crisis

My favorite spot at the arroyo, where desert-grasslands and riparian plants get confused. At any rate it makes this area a good place for wildlife.

Spikes

Bronze Age Warriors Reincarnated

Nobody likes a thermo-wimp. Early winter's cold caught me by surprise, and I struggled to make it through the night without using heat in the RV. How could 45 F inside conquer a man? Off I went on a mountain bike ride, one cold windy sunny morning. Carelessly or deliberately I under-dressed, for the first time in years.
It turned out to be a blessing. Being chilled brings on fear first and then anger, finally leading to combat. At some point I stopped at the top of a small cliff by an old mining area and faced the foe, the cold wind.
I love visiting and writing about ridgelines, but this was different. It was bloodthirsty, vengeful, and triumphal. Maybe a book was working on me. In The Discovery of the Mind, by Bruno Snell, he talked about Homer's language being quite different from later (classical) Greek; Homer used 'skin' or 'limbs' in situations where later Greek or English would use 'body.' "Thus the early Greeks did not, either in their languag…

A New Stoopid Party?

The internet is abuzz with howls of protest about the TSA's new procedures for screening airline passengers. I wasn't too interested in this at first, probably because I haven't flown for years. But then I saw an angle that did interest me.
When an issue fits neatly into the Left-versus-Right paradigm, it can be quite boring. All the shibboleths and slogans are so predictable. If you ask somebody for their opinion, it ends up being a mere recording. But it is much more interesting when an issue produces mixed feelings and cross-currents on both sides.
Let's consider the poor Democrats first. A good liberal's instinctive reaction to some -- nay, to any -- new or expanded federal government program is that it must be a step towards Progress. At least its intentions must be good; what else matters?
And yet, this is part of the War on Terror, which is Bush's War. And the airline unions hate the new procedures. Furthermore privacy issues are a not-insignificant part of…

Veterans' Day

As national holidays go, Veterans' Day is a rare success. It stands for something serious instead of frivolous or merely traditional. Oh it's true that there are a few political cranks (like me) who get nervous about too much patriotic bluster on 11 November because they think it contains an implicit advertisement for the permanent Warfare state that America has become. But many people would admonish the cranks thusly: Why not put your stupid politics aside for one day of the year, and honor the individuals who suffered and sacrificed and were proud to do so?
Very well then, let us put politics aside and admire individual soldiers for what they went through. But wasn't war itself once called 'the continuation of politics by different means?' If that is true, and if we are serious about ignoring politics, we should be just as happy to honor soldiers who fought on the "other side." Why focus exclusively on American troops?
Surely most people have the greates…