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The Truth About the American Southwest

It is a healthy sign of our culture that YouTubers are starting to make fun of #vanLife videos produced by illiterate charlatans who look good in a bikini. But why didn't old-fashioned blogs -- you know, the kind you have to read -- go through the same phase of healthy self-criticism?

Consider their presentation of the American Southwest. The bloggers are here for a couple months, when it is sheer frozen hell in the rest of North America. So they have an 'easy audience.'

Typically they are sitting out in a folding chair, in front of their rig, while reading a book. They are wearing shorts and a straw hat, perhaps. The readership sees this and thinks, "And it's January. Paradise."

In case the suckers haven't been sold yet, the blogger then shows 30 postcards of saguaros at sunset or red cliffs and arches. That really gets the armchair travelers to flutter their eyelashes. 

The sort of half-truths you can tell with a digital camera and a free blogsite! A blogge…

The Future of the Nomadic Lifestyle?

As always, sunrise was perfect at the campground; but hardly anybody experienced it. With conditions so unbeatable this morning, it seems ironic to have stumbled onto a business news article that brought on a nightmare.

"Wolf Street" had an article about FedEx telling Amazon to jump in a lake.
Amazon is aggressively building up its own delivery capabilities, from cargo planes to last-mile delivery services, and in the process has become a logistics giant in its own right, as it is trying to get control of its shipping costs and move business away from FedEx and others.Does this imply a bizarre future for the 'RV/mobile/nomadic' lifestyle? Can't you just see it? Amazon's "Camper Force" could be upgraded to thousands of nomads pulling small trailers, and doing deliveries for Amazon.

As restrictions on camping increase every year, and as everybody uses internet blabbermouth websites to find the few campsites that are still available, RVers try to adju…

Where the West Hasn't Vanished

Why didn't I read Mark Twain's "Roughing It" a long time ago? It is an enjoyable book, especially for a traveler in the American West.

Of course a modern reader will become envious of Twain. He crossed the West in an Overland Stagecoach when America was mostly empty. Those days are long gone...

...But not completely.  Today I crossed one of the few empty places that still exist in the McMansioned West. How marvelous!

Surprisingly there was a Verizon signal. I pretty much carry in my head a map of Verizon-spewing cell towers. There must be a new one out here. I still can't believe it.

Upon reaching the metropolis of Datil, NM, I made the classic mistake of asking a local where the new cell tower was. A question like that always draws a blank look from my victim. You'd think they would want to know.

Few things benefit an independent lifestyle like curiosity in knowing 'how things work' in the things that your life depends on. Cell towers aren't the only…

Time to Abandon Microsoft?

The other day Microsoft sent me a love letter notifying me of the end of their "support" of Windows 7 in January of 2020. Does that mean I should stop using my Windows 7 computer at that time? 

Running to the Google empire is not such an attractive alternative. Google's original scheme with its Chromebooks was to get the user paying them annual rent for cloud storage, but more importantly, running algorithms on your data to find out how to target advertisments at every aspect of your life. Presumably, all of your data would be turned over to Washington DC spy and police agencies.

Why would anyone need cloud storage? Have you seen how cheap storage is? You can carry it around in your pocket in the form of a thumbdrive or SD card. (Of course there are people who hoard terabytes of photos and videos. Presumably, they don't read this blog.)

And you would need an unlimited data wireless (cellphone) plan if you were doing everything in the cloud.

So I'm not sure what to do…

Liberating Yourself From Amazon

I have never been a big fan of shopping at Amazon. Can't people see what a trap they are falling into when they sign up for Amazon Prime? Paying $100 up-front is a real turn-off at Amazon, as it is at Costco.

Even though I am moochdocking on a friend's driveway, I still had problems with getting Amazon to accept the address, despite having a real street address and a real post office box. That did it! I went on the warpath against Amazon.


The good news is many other websites offer free shipping once you meet a $35 to $50 minimum order. And their websites work well. And I don't seem to have the problems with addresses, like at Amazon.

All I can say is, "It's about time!" You'd think that somebody big like Walmart, Google, or Oracle would make a good website available to any retailer, and then let them disguise the appearance of the website to make it look a little more home-grown. (Thus, there would be no need for each smallish retailer to have in-house softw…

A Good Gadget Review Website?

Some good news: I actually found a useful site for gadget reviews. But let's set the situation up, so it doesn't look like it was easy.

The project was to find better noise-cancelling or masking technology. For instance I installed the MyNoise app on the smartphone. It produces the soothing sounds of nature: Rain, Spring Walk, Temple Bells, Ocean, Waterfalls, etc.

But wait, you say, why would I need to generate those sounds electronically when I am in a campground in Colorado, and all I need to do is open the door and listen to the real thing from Mother Nature? 

Clearly the reader has never been to a public campground in their life. 'Peace and Quiet' are the last things you should expect in a campground. Basically they are noise ghettoes. 

The next step was to experiment with headphones. As usual I ended up wasting my time on reviews that I didn't trust, subjective anecdotal reviews by customers who can't type or spell, and the info-tainment of Yoob Tube. (My name…

When 'Lust in the Dust' Becomes 'Rage in the Sage'

What do you know?! I actually sold something on Craigslist. I still have yet to buy something on Craigslist. Actually the whole process was confidence-inspiring. My "old" bike (10 months old) took a month of patience to finally sell.

The next day I went to the bike store and surrendered to my basest instincts. That is, I bought a new Trek Full Stache. It is sometimes called the monster truck of mountain bikes.


Big tires roll over stuff easily. It is that simple. I smiled and almost giggled as I took this monster on a test ride, and deliberately chose bad "lines" through rocky obstacles, and felt the bike shrug it off.

It was gratifying to be rewarded for ignoring much of the nonsense on the internet. Unless you understand what the reviewer's agenda or perspective is, you simply don't know whether to believe them or not. 

Young male reviewers are almost always full of crap. They are not shrewd consumers. And their prose is unreadable! They make a show of techno-…

The Agony and Ecstasy of Internet Forums

One of the stump speeches on this blog is that Suffering is under-rated -- not so much for the sake of itself, but for what it can lead to. I ran into an extreme example of that recently.

For instance, reading forums on the internet can be depended on to deliver exquisite suffering to anyone with half a brain. After reading them, one can only scream, "So this is what we get for hundreds of billions of dollars spent on public education in this country!"

The younger and more macho the commenters are, the more idiotic. Try a mountain bike forum if you don't believe me. You don't need a list of their favorite instruments of torture.



Let's be brave and face up to the suffering. In fact, let's even wallow in it a bit. And then, when you least expect it, you run into a comment like this:
Reading this thread is like watching a toddler learn to walk- it keeps looking like it's going to fall flat on it's face and you start to wince and look away, but it's lit…

Wanted: a Decent Photographer for Internet Shopping

I'll bet you know someone who has wanted to reach across the counter at a store and choke the employee, when they answered your "Have you got a..." question with a sweet smile and a response of, "I could order it for you..."

You could order it for me? Well hell, man, I could order it myself off Amazon! What do I need you for? I came in here to look at the physical object itself, and then walk out with it today.

Sigh. Shopping just isn't my favorite activity, be it brick-and-mortar or online. I'm not complaining so much as wondering how business works.



For instance, the world tells us that online shopping is taking over everything. There is so much noise about it, and so much praise for internet 'technology.'

Forgive me for not being impressed. The photographs are so bad when you shop online. I can't discern any of the nitty-gritty details. Maybe that is what they want. After all, an experienced consumer can see the booby traps built into a produ…

Modest Proposal for Improving the English Language

The most obvious way to improve the English language is to make spelling and pronunciation agree with each other. Isn't that the whole point in having an alphabet?

The old excuse used to be, "But new readers won't be able to read the books published some time ago." But eventually that excuse will be obsolete, as information becomes stored digitally. 

But a more timely complaint for me is the difficulty in understanding people's questions on internet discussion forums.  Is English the poster's third language? Or maybe they just don't know how to type.

Actually, most confusion is due to one syndrome: they ask a question in sentence #1, which has three or four nouns in it. Then sentence #2 refers to "it".  It what? The reader can't tell which noun in sentence #1 the pronoun in sentence #2 is referring to. It becomes a reinvention of Abbott and Costello's classic "Who's on first?" comedy routine.

Why does it even use them? Perhaps …

A New Cultural Low on the Internet

Like many travelers I am happy that eBooks exist. Boxes of dead-tree books are heavy and space-consuming. And how many times per year can a traveler get to a decent bookstore?

Therefore I was in a good mood -- and a grateful mood -- when downloading an Amazon Kindle book today. But I noticed something new: in subtle, almost subliminal, markings, the eBook told you where other people had highlighted sentences in the book. For instance, it would say, "438 readers highlighted this."

Infuriating! Who the bleep cares what other people highlight? Am I not supposed to think for myself when reading a book? We don't need the equivalent of television's Nielsen ratings in a book! 

To think that reading a book is degenerating to the watching of television, or looking at "thumbs-up Likes" on social media! This would be a new low for modern culture.

I was so angry that it took me a long time to figure out how to eliminate "popular highlights" in a Kindle eBook. At…

The Inconsistencies of Internet Pundits

I am impressed by internet pundits from time to time. They can say something that really needs to be said, and that the mainstream media won't say. Sometimes a single sentence from the pundit seems of more value than most books.

Then the pundit jumps on some emotional hobbyhorse. In seconds the reader feels embarrassed to even be reading the article. How could they be so "brilliant" one moment, and such jackasses the next?

One could argue that the same personality is putting out everything that they write, about every topic. So maybe the reader should just dump their entire opus into the waste can.

It may make more sense to acknowledge that it is easy for any human being to display checkered behavior or thoughts. Take a limiting case of this: I have read that Isaac Newton wrote more on theology than mathematics and physics, and that his theology was crank-ish. I have never read his theology, so I don't know if that is true. But if it were true, how could you explain she…

The Golden Age of the Internet Blogger

I was surprised to enjoy the book, "Martin Eden," by Jack London. After all, it wasn't an adventure about the sea, or about sled dogs and wolves in the Great White North. Rather, it is a semi-autobiographical (yuk!) story about a young man of working class origins who gets it into his head to become a writer. He goes from wild and romantic notions about Truth and Beauty to the sordid reality of being a professional writer.

The book can certainly make an amateur blogger of our times appreciate their chance to write publicly, without the miseries of Martin Eden.  As the old saying goes, 'if you want to take the fun out of anything, just try doing it for a living.' Before the internet era, keeping a diary was perhaps the only outlet for somebody who enjoys writing. And that wasn't public.

Amateur bloggers must usually content themselves with only a small bit of applause, if they write sincerely. The alternative is to write to please the marketplace. That means fol…

Traveling Down the Path of Righteousness

As I approach my canonical 14 day limit at a location that has internet, a sense of setback is understandable. I had been on a roll of internet-free living, before I backslid into sin, here. Let's back up a step and look at the Big Picture.

This all starts from the premise that there are few better ways to spend the end of your life than inpursuing Moral Perfection, a la Ben Franklin. I'm afraid the results of this project have been disappointing, so far.

Rather than merely dwelling on "Thou shalt not...", the positive agenda is to be more light-hearted when reading real books off-line, and to break my concentration whenever possible. In doing so I can co-opt the cheap trick that the internet uses to sink its hooks into its victims.

Another positive approach is to dwell on the geographical freedom I gain when camping in places where the internet is not available. Tomorrow I have a chance to put this into practice. Ah dear me, let's hope this doesn't lapse into s…

The Format (of the Medium) is the Message

After having two blockbuster successes with classic television, "The Rifleman" and the original "Star Trek", I was prepared to declare victory and move on. But then some clues on IMDB.com steered me in the direction of "The Virginian." How did I manage to miss this marvelous program when I was a kid? Actually it is probably because I was a kid. The Virginian had a 90 minute format -- too long for young kiddies.

Since I am watching the first two seasons, it was fun to see some of my favorite guest stars from "The Rifleman" reappear on "The Virginian." Similarly,  new guest stars on "The Virginian" reappeared 3-4 years later on "Star Trek."

The long format virtually makes the show a mini-movie. Superb guest stars, from the movies, would deign to appear on this television show: Betty Davis, George C. Scott, Robert Redford, Matthew Broderick, and even a young Ryan O'Neal, who looked about 17 years old.

In a longer sho…

Under the Sway of the Consummate Conversationalists

Very well then, I'll admit it: I am currently under the tutelage of Addison & Steele. It is a bit amusing to see the location of their writing given at the top of each 'post': "From my apartment," or "From X coffee shop," or "Y's Chocolate Shoppe." It is so similar to listing the name of the forest or town at the top of a travel blog post.

Can any modern reader not feel some envy at Addison & Steele's success at having interesting conversations with interesting characters in the shoppes? If you put these authors into a time machine, and inserted them into the average Starbuck's outlet today, what would they think? Surely they would see 300 years of civilizational decline right in front of their faces.

In post after post these authors comment on what makes for pleasant conversation between good-natured people. And they describe the failures, too.

Should a blogger try to emulate their good-natured and polite conversations in tho…

Reviving the Periodical Essay

Awhile back I asked for suggestions from readers in finding 'eclectic' blogs, and was pleased to receive some. With hindsight I should have asked for 'modern periodical essays'. Periodical essays were popular in the 1700's. (The link to Quotidiana in the right hand margin contains personal essays.) A couple of the best known series were those of Addison & Steele and those by Samuel Johnson, Diderot, etc. The modern internet blogosphere should be rife with periodical essays. It is an enormous opportunity that is being missed.

Let's characterize a periodical essay as the short work of an observer and thinker who is 'grazing on the open range' of personal experience and human history. Typically the periodical essay begins with an observation that seemed odd enough to stimulate curiosity. The train of thought then broadens to the general, with some historical perspective.

I am reading the first series by Addison & Steele, "The Tatler", writt…

How Do You Find Eclectic Blogs?

Once again my internet browsing is wallowing in the gutter. Perhaps it would be better to say that I am bored to death. Blame laziness.

It seems like most blogs write about the same thing every day. Political blogs and travel blogs are the worst of the worst. Travel blogs could be replaced by a computer program. Indeed, maybe somebody should sell an "app" that automatically puts travel posts on "your" blog. How would anybody know? The result might be a blog with friends and followers in the thousands. 

Let's have some fun: what would today's blog title be if an app was writing it. "An Exclusive Paradise Adventure in the Grand Canyon, for Free, Topped Off with a Beautiful Sunset!" Nah, too long.

Perhaps we are so trained as mass consumers that our information-grazing habits imitate our consumption. Thus we fall into blogs that offer tired formulas and repetition.

My excuse for being so lazy is that one only has so much time, there are too many haystac…

Composing Music at a Noisy Fast-Food Outlet

From time to time I fantasize dropping my over-priced wireless internet plan. It is the sort of fantasy that soon melts under the heat of rational scrutiny. Why, all one has to do is consider the cost-shifting from "expensive" internet in my trailer to more expensive driving-to and snacking-in the places that offer "free" wi-fi internet.

Here I am, in a fast food outlet, sucking down senior coffee and "free" wi-fi. I probably shouldn't complain: there is no raucous pop music blaring out of speakers over my head, nor is there the increasingly-common giant television playing some news channel.

But there is another source of noise pollution. There always is, in a city. A couple tables away, a man helps a woman fill out some routine application. He has been talking non-stop for a half hour now. How I am starting to hate the sound of his voice!

What is it about him that makes me want to go over there and strangle him? Besides being non-stop, his voice is effe…

What Are The Best Topics for a Blogger?

For some reason, I am thinking about the rules for "good blogging." Which topics are worth discussing in a public forum? Consider a single example of how important this can be: imagine how much improvement you could get in movies, plays, and novels if the writers would decide that adultery and love triangles are topics that have been beaten to death, and should be allowed to rest for a couple centuries.

As usual when embarking on any issue, progress is most rapid when we invoke Horace's "fleeing vice is the beginning of virtue." First, bloggers should abandon their mundane and picayune "practical" details.

Yes I know, there are readers who think that practical minutiae does them more good than arguments and opinions. But what if we are careful about the method of opining? Rather than shoving pre-packaged opinions down the readers' eyeballs, what if we invite the reader along as we develop an opinion, all beginning with concrete observations?

Let'…