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Showing posts from 2019

Can Motor Vehicle Shopping Be Fun?

I pined for a new trailer for years, did my homework, but then waited until I reached the age where you could withdraw funds from your IRA without paying an extra penalty. Since I bought a plain vanilla cargo trailer, and spent two months converting it into a real travel trailer, the experience seemed like quite a memorable adventure. In an analogous fashion, it is now time to buy a newer tow vehicle, since I have transitioned from ObamaCare to Medicare, and can forget about the loss of subsidy that would be caused by a spike in income. But will buying a new tow vehicle be fun or adventurous? I am having my doubts. I am not going to convert the tow vehicle -- I will just buy it. Doing mechanical work on a motor vehicle is my least favorite thing to do. If you were repainting a bedroom, you might make it more fun by at least changing the colors! But my newer tow vehicle will have to be a van, just like the old one. Nothing else makes any sense.  Truck-based SUVs are hardly avai

Don't Underestimate How Boring Desert Camping Is

I wonder how many armchair travelers, stuck under grey skies in the north, look at the postcards put out by Arizona visitors, and immediately fall for the romantic escapism. It probably doesn't occur to them that the winter camper is indoors, in the dark, by 530 pm, and that it is dark until 7am. And what does that camper do for 13 hours of darkness in a little box where you can barely walk? At least at home, in a normal house, you could walk to the bathroom (or microwave oven) during television commercials. In an RV your butt is glued to a chair, or you are twisting or turning in bed, wishing that you could still sleep 10 hours a night. When you finally admit that you don't sleep like a youngster anymore, what do you do with all those hours of darkness? The nearby desert town probably closes shop at 6 pm. There is no social life when camping in the desert, unless you live where people are a bit non-transient, and you get a chance to know them. The easy answer is, "

Arizona Cowgirl Rides Off Into the Sunset

Actually she rode in from the sunset.  The colors of sky were changing, so I grabbed my dog and went off for a sunset stroll. Instinctively I walk away from the sun. Looking up into the small mountains ahead of us, where you could say the Arizona alpenglow was lighting up, I could see a black dog, white horse, and caballera riding down from the mountains, towards us. Not actually in Arizona. From Wikipedia. The labrador wanted to come over and check us out, but she wouldn't let him. She was riding bareback (recall that scene in Polanski's "Chinatown" when Faye Dunaway told Jack Nicholson that she had been riding all morning -- bareback. Naturally that raised an eyebrow on Nicholson's face.) It takes so little for a human being to make another human's day. And she did that for me. Normally I try to block other humans from my mind, since their outdoor recreation consists of noisy sports. But there is something quiet and classic -- noble I would say

Changing My Style of Reading

It is so easy to spot other campers' maladjustments to 'the lifestyle.' Most of them do not have any kind of recreational activity; they are just couch potatoes looking for free rent; they watch satellite television or run generators half the day. But I have always known what my biggest problem was: I read books in a nerdy, serious mood. There is little relaxation or pleasure in it, for me.  On a long winter night, this causes sourness or glumness in the reading chair. Paper books are almost irrelevant to a mobile camper, for obvious reasons. So let's just talk eBooks. The eReader "manufacturers" show advertisements of some young, attractive person reading their gadget, outdoors, perhaps on a mountain top or on the beach. I am surprised they don't show somebody skydiving while reading their gadget. I have never liked reading outdoors, with the intense sunlight, wind, and a bit of insect life. But the eReader ads are correct that I need to relax

Struggling to Appreciate an Ugly Part of Arizona

Most people do a fair -- or even a large -- amount of physical and mental exercise, during the course of a lifetime. But what about our ability to appreciate places, when so much is stacked against them? Every year, during my annual visit to Yuma, AZ, I try to build my muscles when it comes to appreciating this gawd-awful thermal hell-hole, and I'm happy to report some success. The endeavor is so much easier during the two month window in mid-winter. Unfortunately all it takes is a little bad luck with the heat and I have to beat down an absolute detestation of this place. Yuma is one of the few places in Arizona that doesn't have lots of obvious natural beauty. That might be the place where a visitor can really exercise their muscles. Consider all the agriculture in the area. Yes it is irrigated and petrochemically-addicted. The soil does nothing other than provide mechanical support for the roots and soak up the chemicals. Still, the plants are green , and they do ma

The Real Reason for Battery-powered Tools

I suppose a lot of tool shopping takes place over the holidays. I was in Home Depot today and was really surprised how completely battery-operated tools dominated the tool aisles. You have to struggle to find a corded tool that runs off of 110 VAC, aka, normal household electricity out of the wall plug. What sort of answers would you get if you asked the average customer to explain this domination by battery-operated tools? Probably something about "convenience." The convenience argument is actually pretty lame unless you are working in back of the barn or in the 'outback' somewhere. Did these customers ever notice that corded (110 VAC) tools are more powerful and less expensive?  The customer is afraid he will be old-fashioned if he buys a corded tool. So he lets himself be pushed along with all the other sheep. The real reason is "ecosystem entrapment." That is the business model that every global cooperation yearns for, these days. Apple was the

Reading Cheerful Morning News

In olden times a person might start their day by reading the newspapers, full of depressing news, lies, spin, and entertaining trivia. It was never an admirable or beneficial habit. More recently we fall into the bad habit of doing the same thing on the internet.  At least I avoid news-sites and You Tube drivel, and restrict myself to the pundits. But it can still be depressing. Perhaps that isn't the right word. I do ask myself, "Why bother with this?" From This morning I actually smiled as I read a new article by Fred Reed.  Fred used to be one of my favorite pundits, but he isn't so young anymore, and has probably lost his journalistic contacts as an ex-pat in Mexico. Ahh, but he is still at it, and wrote that hard-hitting article today.  It was a welcome surprise to be smacked in the face with some sunshine, early in the morning, by the internet.

The Truth About Arizona Winter Camping

RV wannabees love to be told what they want to hear. (How did the lyric go in that old Simon and Garfunkel song? "A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest...") And you know what that is, for Arizona desert camping. Now let's show you that it isn't always like that!  

Helping Somebody on a Project

This isn't the first time I have helped somebody on their camper (RV, rig, etc.) But it is the biggest project in which I played mentor. I thought it would make it smoother to also be the 'student.' It really is a fascinating challenge for me. Perhaps a parent would dismiss my use of the word 'fascinating' because I am just doing to another adult what he has been doing to his child for years! Obviously I will not bore the reader with a blow-by-blow account of microscopic "practical" details. What is of interest is how all of this bears on the human condition. 1. Being helpful in the right way. A mentor sometimes accomplishes most of what they are ever going to accomplish by simply informing the student that something can be done. Sometimes it is enough to make them feel confident, without getting down 'into the weeds' of microscopic details. Furthermore the mentor must be careful not to foster dependency of the part of the student: help the

Storm at Sea, in the Arizona Desert

I was furious with myself. Why hadn't I pointed the bow of my trailer into the storm! The wind was shifting to the "sou'west" in a few minutes, when heavy rain was supposed to hit. And then there was a lull in the rain, so I ran outside and got hitched up as quickly as possible. Now I can turn a circle on flat desert gravel, in order to get the perfect angle.  I have to smile at this. I am reading Abulafia's "The Boundless Sea", about the history of oceans, or rather, the history of man's relationship with those oceans. And here I am: bracing for a storm at sea -- in the Arizona desert. On one level it is enjoyable and satisfying to make a connection like this. But it is also humbling to think how timid and wimpy a modern man can be, compared to our ancestors just a couple generations ago. My own grandfather worked as a cabin boy in the Baltic Sea when he was 14. My father was on an LST in the south Pacific during World War II when he was eight

Most Snowbird Boondockers Would Be Happier Elsewhere

Lately I have had a chance to observe a group of people I am not used to. I am not even sure what to call them, but they seem to be a group of boondockers who spun off of the Van Build group in Parker, AZ. I am here to help a friend finish his van. It has been interesting to watch these people and wonder why they are "dispersed" camping on top of each other? Why do they seem to enjoy morning and late afternoon group meetings? Why don't they get going in the morning before the wind starts blowing? Why are they so uninterested in outdoor recreation? Why is music noise unregulated but dogs are strictly regulated? They seem to think desert camping is the moral equivalent of spring break at Ft. Lauderdale, for college kiddies. Perhaps we don't need to think that hard. They are here because of the price and the price alone. I hope they get an opportunity someday to do something that fits their interests better. If they could afford it, they would be happier in a lar

Whatever Happened to the Teacup Purse Dog?

I was checking out of the hardware store the other day, when  I noticed something rather strange on the counter. Apparently it normally conveyed itself in the woman customer's purse. But the woman thought it needed to relax or something, so she let it walk around on the counter. The woman told me I could pet the beast if I wanted to. I ungraciously declined. Then the hardware store checkout lady started telling me about bearded dragons, about how friendly they are, and how they cuddle on your pillow at night with you. I remained unconvinced. But I admit that the beastie was rather personable, as dragons go. Still, I hope this isn't the latest and greatest fad. I say, bring back the teacup poodle or Yorkie.

Something Actually Improved With an "Upgrade"

Last post I was wondering how I could be a contented Kindle-for-PC user on my Windows 7 laptop for years and years; then I foolishly "upgraded" to Windows 10, only to find that the Kindle-for-PC program does not work reliably. But I am not surprised. Think how many years we have been bothered by "updates" and "upgrades."  Then we find that little if anything has actually gotten better. It's as if updates and upgrades are nothing but a phony "Full Employment Act" passed by Congress to guarantee jobs for software geeks. And yet, there are exceptions. It took me a month to learn that Android 9 offers an amazing improvement over Android 7: Android 9 allows you format the micro-SD chip as simulated "on board" (internal) memory, so you needn't run out of memory ever again, on your phone.  From What an improvement this is! And why didn't I learn this from the tech reviews by vaunted experts? On A

Goodbye Amazon Kindle, Hello Kobo

This practical post will probably only interest readers who have had trouble reading eBooks on their Window 10 machines. I was a satisfied eBook reader for years on my Windows 7 laptop. I downloaded a program, "Kindle for PC," onto my laptop, which enabled me to read eBooks from Amazon as well as from other sources, if I downloaded the eBooks with the Kindle format. (Thus I spared myself the need for a separate Kindle gadget. One-application gadgets just bring too many hassles into my life.) But the Kindle-for-PC program would not work right (*) on my new Windows 10 machine. (And yes, I was careful to opt out of S mode, since it is meant to enslave the consumer to the Microsoft Store.)  I would have been willing to download the Kindle-for-PC program from the Microsoft Store if it had been available, but it wasn't. I suspect a pissing contest between these two tech giants. Each wants to be at the "top of the food chain" and in a position to dictate

Why Do Snowbirds Still Use Generators?

There really is no need for generators when dry camping/boondocking in the Southwestern desert in the winter. And yet, they show up every winter, and lower the quality of the camping experience. Why should this be so?  If a camping neighbor shows up with a generator that looks like this, you might as well hitch up and leave. It is a reasonable hope that you'll get luckier in another campsite. 1. Do the "practical" bloggers and vloggers make solar panels sound so complex that they scare people off? What is so complex about buying a self-contained "solar suitcase," setting it out on the ground to track the sun, and attaching the alligator clips to your battery clips? 2. Even easier yet, most people could upgrade their converter/charger so that 45 minutes per day of generator usage would be good enough; they wouldn't need to run it for hours.  If their RV has a Progressive Dynamics converter/charger, they need only buy a "Charge Wizard" mo


The gods are playing tricks on me for adding a second pair of stabilizers to my trailer, so that I could tolerate more of the blue northers Utah was getting in October. The result of course was two weeks of freakishly calm weather here, near Lake Mead. I shake my head in disbelief, but 'not getting my money's worth' is a small price to pay for weather more perfect than I expect to ever see again, at this location. So I celebrate the occasion by taking my dog out to the edge of the canyon system at sunset every night. What do you do when you've seen it all before? Remember the progression of chapters in Thoreau's "Walden:" at some point he moved on to night-time experiences and sounds near the pond. Tonight I was walking back from the overlook when I heard the honking of an airborne platoon of geese, flying over the canyon system. That brought a poignant sigh to my face because it seemed to be the perfect sound at this place and time: the autumn migra

The Overton Window

I was having breakfast at McDonald's. It was only 20 minutes after sunrise, but already, the sun was so bright that it was hard to read the smartphone. I had been doing a halfway decent job of ignoring the horrible sun.   Suddenly there was the quiet -- but affirmative -- hum of an electrical motor. I was shocked to see solar screens roll down the large expanse of tinted windows that ring the McDonald's. Down the solar screens came, while my jaw was dropped halfway to the floor. When the motors had accomplished their job, they shut down. It was like heaven behind those screens. If there is anything in the Southwest that epitomizes kindliness and mercy, it is a solar screen. Suddenly I was a disciple of Dr. Pangloss (aka, Leibniz) and believed we lived in the best of all possible worlds, and that a universal and benevolent Providence bestowed Divine Grace on each creature in the universe. Perhaps the reader has seen motorized solar screens before. But it was the first

Which Veterans Deserve the Most Honor?

This year, let's skip my typical oration for Veteran's Day, and instead, ask which (contemporary) veterans deserve to be honored the most. There are so many to choose from. Syrian and Yemeni veterans certainly belong at the top of the list. But I suppose Afghan veterans are the greatest heroes of all. They defeated the Soviet Empire, and have fought the American Empire to a standstill for 18 years. If anybody deserves to be honored, it is a fighter who takes on a foreign invader who has more expensive weapons and all the other advantages. How does an English-reader really appreciate what the heroes of Afghanistan have gone through? I am aware of a book by Eric Margolis about the interminable wars in that part of the world. But it would probably be nice to find something more contemporary. I suppose it is possible to come up with something, after a lot of digging on the internet, and maybe some unsuccessful purchases of eBooks.  If any reader has a suggestion, let me kn

Why No Emoji for "Bullshit?"

Some people do get enjoyment from visiting Native American petroglyphs, but I am not one of them. You could say the fault is mine. But it would help if the whole subject was stripped of its sanctimoniousness, Noble Savage romanticism, and the pop-cultural baggage of the 1960s. Then I could look on it the way you look on other ancient writing systems. Wikipedia had a good article on the history of writing systems. By the way, don't be scared off of the topic because you confuse it with linguistics. Linguistics articles are horrendously technical and impossible to understand. It is easy to believe it was a huge step upward for civilization when written symbols went from picturing tangible things or numbers to conveying ideas or the sounds of a spoken language (which can then convey ideas.) So the topic is inherently interesting, given a chance. But rather than look backward, perhaps we should consider the significance of a new contemporary writing system, the emoji. My new

Children of a Lesser God

I come through southern Nevada every autumn, it seems, and pay homage to a couple eccentricities of the land. There is a pseudo-cliff dwelling that I drove to, at the beginning of my RVing career. It is still here. The dry wash is loose gravel, so it is surprising that I made it with the van and trailer, way back then. But today I used the mountain bike. Back then, my "discovery" was unplanned, so I fluttered my eyelashes over it, and honored it by building a fire, and watching the shadows of my hand walk around the ceiling of the "cliff dwelling." By then, I had decided that cliff dwellings of the Native Americans bored me to death, when they were made into a tourist trap. That was part of the reason why is was so surprising to enjoy "my" cliff dwelling. How lucky I was to experience something like this hole in the cliff! I was in the last generation to be able to do so. Today a newbie RVer would expect to be told exactly where it is and everything

The Wolf-Light Comes

There must be people who learn new habits (and unlearn old habits) easily, but I'm not one of them. Since nights are longer now, it would be helpful to get in the habit of wearing a headlamp when leaving the camper at night. In darkness, it isn't even possible to lock the door when leaving the camper. At dawn recently, I was doing the same stupid thing again: fumbling with the keys to feel for the shape of the door key. I simply couldn't feel it. I was furious.  Perhaps it was the anger that made me do it, but I held the keys up towards the dawn sky, and much to my surprise, the silhouettes were clear. Why hadn't I thought of this trick, before? Strange. It was almost "pre-dawn." A poet would probably call it the time of day when dawn was still just a hope or promise. And yet there was enough light to see the shape of the keys. What a great way to start the day, eh?: with an "authentic natural experience." I use the term generously  -- perha

The Decline and Fall of Southern Utah

I wasn't expecting it, but there it was. A long aluminum ladder slid out of a pickup truck in front of me on I-15 near St. George, UT. It slid fast on the pavement, so there would be several seconds before I could run over it. But what if it flipped up onto the windshield! With any luck, it would stay one lane to my left, and I wouldn't run over it at all. But pavement isn't completely uniform, so the sliding ladder was moving over towards my lane. I slowed down and moved to the right. No disaster occurred. How fitting and proper it was that this near-accident involved construction equipment near St. George, where half the economy is in the building trades. Everything I will say about St. George is colored by the fact that I knew the town before the population explosion started in the first years of the new millennium. Today, only the landscape is still recognizable. I doubt that it is much of a housing bargain anymore, unless you are retiring from a giant city, pro

Progress for Travelers Receiving Packages

Recall the question I once posed to a couple RVers at a laundromat: which is the worst form of hell, 1) spending eternity using or working at an RV dump, or 2) using a public laundromat. It was unanimous that #2 would be the ultimate hell. In recent years a third option has crept in: receiving a package from Amazon. The difficulty arises from Amazon not letting you choose to have your package shipped to a General Delivery address at a post office. Most of the time they use UPS, but you can't count on it.  Once they were on a "hot streak" with the UPS, so I addressed the package to the poorly manned service counter at the local UPS warehouse. Amazon saw their opportunity, so they sent the package via the US Postal Service. Hence it was rejected at the UPS warehouse. I bring you good news! I just got back from GNC, the vitamin/nutrition/health fad store at a local mall. Just last week they began the service of being an official "Amazon Hub Counter." D

A Storm on the 'Sagebrush Sea'

Aren't "blue northers" supposed to happen in Texas? Wow, we had one come through last night. No wonder this town is called "Hurricane." Perhaps we should adopt the Spanish word for storm, 'la tormenta.' Experiencing this thing at 10 p.m. reminds me to stop complaining about howling winds on a typical afternoon in the Southwest.  Last night, the wind noise and trailer-rocking made it difficult to sleep. Even a little scary. It was humbling, too.  Lately I have gotten hooked on Bernard Cornwell's "Saxon Tales" series of historical fiction, taking place at the time of Alfred the Great, when the island of Britain was torn between Christian Anglo-Saxons and pagan Danes. Every now and then, the main character is forced by circumstances to backslide into "Viking mode." Sea adventures and daring-do tend to make me flutter my eyelashes. This is a bit exaggerated with me because my grandfather came from a Baltic island of Sweden, s

World's First Iconic War Video?

How many people around the world saw the video of Syrian civilians pelting the (withdrawing) American vehicles with rocks and vegetables? Did those viewers have the same reaction I did? At first, it was pure schadenfreude. I wondered if that video would be looked back on, someday, as iconic, the 'moment' when Earth started rebelling against the American Empire.  What was it that Emerson said about the Americans at Concord bridge, 'here once embattled farmers stood, and fired the shot heard 'round the world?'  The Syrians were doing something better than firing at the American "heroes", which would have been counter-productive. The Syrians were expressing disdain and mockery. Much of the world may feel the same way about American "heroes" immured in their expensive military toys -- there is something cowardly and bullying about interfering in the affairs of small countries that are none of America's business.   There have been iconic pho

Defeated by the System

I consider it a real defeat that I finally joined one of the so-called Unlimited Data (postpaid) plans offered by my wireless provider. So much for my self-image as a guy who beats the System. My monthly bill will go up by 80% compared to my earlier pre-paid (16 GigaByte) data plan.  What is my excuse for debauching myself with an "unlimited" post-paid plan? Too often I got de-prioritized in the pre-paid plan. We were second-class wireless citizens who were too often sent to the "back of the line." In fact the internet had become unusable in many locations. The postpaid customers were sent to the "front of the line," supposedly. If you pay any attention to discussion forums -- and it's a good idea not to -- people harp endlessly about how the "unlimited" data plans are not really unlimited, because your service starts slowing down after 22 GigaBytes of data have been consumed. Well let's hope so! That is the real problem with the

Pleasures in a New Phone and Computer

It is human nature not to appreciate the difficulties of anybody else's job. I bought a new phone recently. And once again I am rolling my eyes at how underwhelmed I am by the work of the "IT" departments of the world, that is, by software engineers, search engine designers, and computer geeks in general. In the last month I have "upgraded" from an Android 7 phone to an Android 9, and from a Windows 7 laptop to a Windows 10. In both examples, there was a bit of fun in learning a new system.  But real progress is not obvious. It is harder to find what you are looking for, in a new system. What REAL improvement could they possibly come up with that would overcome the disadvantage of struggling to find things?! Most of the vaunted improvements in software or operating systems are of the same type as switching your socks in drawer A and underwear in drawer B. But there are compensations. It's great fun to obliterate the "bloatware" that the manu