Thursday, April 30, 2015

TBT - Cricket Green

Cricket spread across the English Empire like fleas at a cat show.  The United States either split too soon, or too long ago and cricket never really caught on here.  I have yet to find an American who truly knows the basic rules of cricket.  It is a little like baseball, but only in that there is a ball, a bat, and someone throws the ball, and someone swings a bat at it.  I think that is where the similarity ends.
I have been to a few professional baseball games, and I watched a few minutes of a major cricket match over then hedge - this was either in Salisbury or Bath.

Cricket has an elegance that American sports don't have.  The players dress is formal white, and hats, the playing field is large and well groomed.  They pause for breaks and tea.  They seem very polite to one another, unlike say basketball.  Basketball is very rude, one side is intentionally trying to get in the way and foul the other side while trying to do the impossible (well nearly impossible for me) and get that stupid orange ball through the hoop mounted about twice as high up the wall as it should be.  None of that in cricket, the game is hard enough without someone elbowing you or pushing your down.

When in a former British Empire country, find a cricket match and watch for a few minutes, how peaceful and polite.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Real Native Floridians

American Alligator - Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

The American Alligator is an amazing story of recovery.  The species was on it's way to extinction 50 years ago.  The case was made that a loss of habitat and over-hunting had this Florida native on the way to extinction. Hunting was closed for a couple of decades and when it was re-opened it is closely regulated (limited) and the population is back and thriving.  Development continues to diminish habitat, but these are amazingly adaptable animals that do well in any warm wet place, and even developed Florida has a lot of warm wet places.  

People and alligators are not an ideal mix, more because of what people bring with them then for animosity by the alligators for people.  Alligators are defensive when it comes to humans, but normally not predatory.  If they perceive you as a threat to their safety or their offspring, they will pursue and bite, but they will not normally come hunting for a person thinking "that looks like a tasty snack."  They prefer to eat fish, turtles, birds and small animals. Small dogs are a good snack, they are the right size, and they make themselves easy to find by barking and snarling at the alligators. I know someone who lived to tell the tale of finding an alligator in the edge of the parking lot at a tourist attraction.  He become convinced that it was either a fake put there to amuse the tourists, or dead, so he poked at it with a stick.  He quickly learned that it was neither and not terribly happy with being so rudely awoken from an afternoon nap in the sun.  No one was injured, there were conflicting reports on the need for people to change their pants in the aftermath. Swimmers are occasionally bitten, usually because of a surprise encounter or because they get between a gator and her nest (they are protective of eggs and hatch lings.) But for the most part alligators want to avoid you.  When you see one, keep a respectful distance, don't do anything rash, don't poke them with a stick, take a picture from a reasonable distance and move on.  Crocodiles are much more predatory, they will see you and think of you as a snack.  Alligators are found throughout the semi-tropic and temperate zones, from swamps along the Texas coast to the everglades in Florida.  Crocodiles are only found in extreme southern Florida.  To tell them apart, alligators have wide noses and crocodiles have a pointed snout.  I have seen hundred of alligators in the wild and never seen a crocodile outside of a zoo.  

Alligators have become easier to see in Florida. When the weather is mild, not cold - but not hot, they crawl up on the bank and rest in the sun. In cold weather, look for them in the water in the sun.  In hot weather they are harder to spot, they are in deeper water trying to stay cool.  Remember, they are cold blooded and regulate body temperature by changing their environment.  My best spotting day ever was along Bio-Lab Road in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on a 70 degree March day, I saw at least 100 of them in 3-4 miles.  Ask the Rangers at the Wildlife refuge for directions and if it is safe to drive Bio-Lab Road the day you are there.    

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Seeing Pink in Florida

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

The real Florida lays off the beaten path, far away from the land of make believe worlds. There is more, a lot more to Florida then stage managed make believe in theme parks and outlet malls. Off the beaten path you will find native Florida as it existed before air conditioning and mosquito control transformed it.  

This picture was taken in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  The refuge is a direct result of, and in the shadow of, the Kennedy Space Center.  NASA and other federal government agencies that were involved in the space program wanted a large exclusion zone around the work they were doing to protect outsiders in the event something malfunctioned on the ground and to keep prying eyes at a distance. So while buying up land and moving a couple of small towns for the space center they bought a few miles of extra land to the north, land that became the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Playalinda Beach at the Canaveral National Seashore.  To get here you go to the north end of Titusville, and take Garden Street east across the new bridge out toward the north entrance to the Space Center. When the road forks, take the right fork.  You will see the Vertical Assembly Building on the right as you drive out.  Stop at the refuge visitors center and ask for advice and a map. This picture was taken along the sand roads (trails) along the shore of the Indian River. The ranger will help you find the entrance and tell you if it is safe to drive without 4-wheel drive.  Also ask for directions to Bio-Lab Road,and if the road is passable. These are unpaved, unimproved roads, little more then sand trails that you can drive in most cars if the conditions are decent.  A car with a little more ground clearance will work better - if you have a choice of a Corolla or a Kia Soul and are planning drive this, the Kia will work better.  Both of these routes can get messy if it has rained a lot and the water is high, and are in areas subject to wildfires if it has not rained in weeks.  The rangers will know what is safe to drive.  

Black-Point Wildlife drive is slightly to the North, it is better maintained and has a small honor system fee to enter.  If the gate is open, you can assume it is safe to drive.  It is much more developed, and much busier then the off the beaten path trails.   

Monday, April 27, 2015

Jefferson Memorial

The Jefferson Memorial is a little hard to get to.  The nearest subway station is Smithsonian, from there it is half-maybe-three-quarters of a mile walk. It is a nice walk, down behind the Holocaust Memorial and the the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, cross the busy street and wander around the tidal basin.  I don't recommend driving in DC, if you do the nearest parking is either east of the memorial just past the 14th street bridge or over the bridge to the west along Ohio Drive. Decades ago there was parking around the memorial, but that is all closed due to enhanced security.  There is a Capital Bike Share Station across the street, it is a pleasant 10 minute ride from the Mall to the Memorial.

There are lots of stairs, there is also an elevator that will get you from ground level up to the plaza level with the larger then life statue of Thomas Jefferson.  If your legs are up to the climb, climb the stairs, it is the most dramatic way to arrive.  You can walk around, take in the views.  It is a true American landmark (in Greek temple revival architecture. )  There is a gift shop and restrooms on the lower level.  I'd allow 15-45 minutes.

When leaving, I would recommend going west around the tidal basin to the FDR memorial.  If you are riding Bike Share, there is a Bike Share station on Ohio Drive at the cross street that goes to the FDR memorial.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

How do I travel so much

Travel is something I enjoy doing.  30-years ago I dreamed of a job that would allow me to travel to 3 or 4 conventions a year.  I pursued that dream, I found work that gives me a travel budget - but does not require me to be a road warrior.  I have logged all of my hotel stays for about 10 years, in years when I go much past 30 nights in hotels I lose interest in traveling.  Only once have I made a conscious effort to travel less the following year.  I would not want to be a person who spends half or more of their year traveling, I know a couple of people who have to do this for work, and they universally dislike being on the road so much.

Budgets are always tight at work, and there are a few debates at budget time. The one thing I will rise and defend is my travel budget.  Our finance person can cut office supplies and my access to our staff editor, but please leave my travel budget as intact as possible  I average 3 or 4 business trips per year.  Sometimes they are to wonderful places (Hawaii) sometimes they are to middle America (Columbus, Ohio) sometimes to places I would sooner not go (Austin, Texas next month.)  I go if my being there is important to getting done my work.  If it happens to be in a nice place like San Francisco, Chicago, or Portland all the better.  Some locations I go out of my way to create reasons I need to be there.

I spend about $1,000 a year adding days to business trips.  As long as the cost of the business part of the trip is not increased, I have the flexibility to fly out a couple of days early or come home a few days later and pay for the extra days myself.  I paid for three nights in Hawaii, and rented a convertible for a day.  The business part of the trip actually cost less, because of efficiency in airfare.

I had a consulting contract with AARP for 7 years, the first 4 or 5 years they were very flexible and actually encouraged adding a couple of days on.  Then they got weird about it and wanted to fly you in at the last minute and out the minute you were done, even if it meant catching 5 AM flight and getting home after midnight and cost more then spending an extra night. Someone had complained that the training trips looked like vacations - I can't imagine anyone wanting to vacation in some of the hell-holes we went to.  But travel is travel, and if the work is important, I will go about anyplace.

With the Professor teaching 500 miles away, I make a couple of trips a year to Lexington, Kentucky and have started adding stops between here  and there on the outbound leg.  My frail parents are in Florida and I am down there two or three times a yer.  When I bought the car three years ago, part of justifying the expenditure was to start driving to Lexington and at least one of the trips to Florida.  Lexington is about a 9 hour drive, airfare had climbed to over $300- sometimes closer to $400.  Florida is about 13 hours driving time each way.  I usually break that up.  With the exception of major holidays, I can fly round trip to Florida for less then $200 from DC and I can usually find a rental car for under $200 a week including all of the taxes and fees.  Driving to Orlando vs flying is about a wash on cost by the time I pay for a couple of hotels and put gas in the car.  But I enjoy the drive and having the car makes it easy to haul stuff back and forth.

We usually plan a vacation.  The past three summers it has been regional trips by car. Two or three short trips over the summer.  Sometimes we do a major trip.  Four years ago we flew to London, spent a couple of nights, took the train to France, rented a car and an apartment for a week, took the train back to London and spent a few more days. I paid for much  of it, I will never try to add up what I spent. This summer we are planning a major trip to Germany.  It is expensive, I have cut some corners, cashed in some frequent traveler points and made other financial commitments,  It is a rare opportunity to due this particular trip, in the way we will be doing it (we will be driving a new Mercedes for two weeks) that may never come my way again.

The trip four years ago and the one this summer are leveraging the Professor's business travel. Four year's ago, I flew home while he was at a conference at Oxford. Very romantic, the day he went to Oxford I went to Windsor and we were on the same train as far a Slough - I flew home a day or so later - after the riots in south London, I think I have pictures of the smoke on the horizon taken from my hotel room, this year he is going out a week before me to a conference at Oxford and meeting me in Stuttgart. For both of us leveraging business travel has been effective.  The best conferences to go to, are your spouse's conference.

I have had good luck leveraging frequent traveler programs.  Step one, open frequent flyer accounts with every airline.  Step two, book the travel on the airline that has the best price, watch for expiring miles, I have never lost any, but it can happen.  Step three tie in third party programs that reward airline miles.  I have a couple of credit cards that are co-branded with airlines, I earn airline miles on groceries and gas, things I would buy anyway and pay the bills in full.  I also select cards that get me other perks like free checked bags and priority boarding - I pay a fee for these cards, but if I save on checked bag fees on a couple of round trips a year it covers the fees.  Some hotel loyalty programs also give airline miles, when I stay at a Hilton or Marriott I earn airline miles, and I collect hotel points.  I average two or three free hotel nights a year as rewards for the 30 or nights a year that someone pays for.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Blooming Season

DC has a blooming season, sometime between late March and Late April the cherry trees bloom, along with every other blooming tree in the park.  The bloom brings out the blooming idiots - thousands of them wandering, stopping, looking up and not paying any attention to anything.  They stand in the middle of the sidewalk, they stand in the middle of the grass, they fall into the water, they stop and stand in the middle of the street, awestruck by the bloom and acting like blooming idiots.  Now DC has its share of blooming idiots, think of Congress, It is a pretty time of the year, a very pretty bloom, just watch out for the blooming fools.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Signs of Spring

The seasons here in DC are not subtle, spring arrives with an explosion of bloom and color.  The first trees to bloom are known as red bud, followed by white dogwood and pink tulip trees. The picture above is a line of tulip trees between the subway station and the terminal at National Airport.  The Cherry Trees bloom, the cherry blossoms get the press coverage with the National Cherry Blossom Festival.  There are thousands of cherry trees and they put on a spectacular show around the tidal basin and along the water front.  The shrubs and trees are starting to leaf out.  I will lose the view from my bedroom window to the trees over the next couple of weeks. The explosion of brilliant green in the grass, underbrush and trees can be jolting after the grays and browns of winter.

Summer is amazingly hot and humid.  The brilliant greens of summer rapidly darken into olive shades.  Fall can be brightly colorful with deciduous trees all around.  Winter is dull, gray and brown, occasionally contrasting against the brilliant white snow.  Spring and fall are really the colorful seasons.  

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Through Back Thursday

February 2000 Roof Of St Peters in Rome

The sign said elevator to the dome.  I like elevators and the view from the dome of St. Peter's sounded like a wonderful idea.  We paid the euro or two person and were soon on our way up, but only to the roof of the Basilica. From there you start the climb up the stairway to heaven. Lots and lots and lots of stairs.  I was in pretty good shape, but as it went up, and up, and got warmer and hotter and hotter I started to question this adventure.  Then were was Jay, who shall I say was not in prime of shape. At one point he was leaning against the wall, gasping for breath and saying how ironic it would be for him to die in St Peter's.  When you get almost to the top the last staircase is a stone spiral stairway that is so narrow that the handrail in the middle is a rope.  You emerge at the base of the lantern with a wonderful walkway all the way around. 

We made it, some of the most amazing views of Vatican City and Rome. On the way down, we stumbled across a souvenir stand run by an order of nuns on the roof of the Basilica,  I bought a Pope John Paul bottle opener, it was so nice and yet so tacky that I just had to buy it.  It is around here in one of the bauble boxes.  

I am glad I did it.  I would never try that again.  A week later when the opportunity came up to climb the bell tower in Florence, we both said, not today.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Otto by Mario Batali in Las Vegas

I have had amazing luck over the years at getting in to eat at top restaurants without reservations.  One trick is to go for lunch and in the evening go early, another is to be willing to sit alone at the bar, that got me into Otto by Mario Batali in Las Vegas, and K-Pauls in New Orleans.  My best was out-pouting the maĆ®tre d' at Altitude 95 on the Eiffel Tower on Christmas day, he walked away and one of the servers found us an open table for a memorable Christmas dinner. I have not gotten in a few times, but generally found something quite nice around the corner.  I was turned away from the door at Maxims in Paris, I was wearing jeans, boots, a wool sweater (that I still own) and a leather coat.  The doorman didn't want to let me out of the taxi in front of the restaurant, as I was not properly dressed, I went around the corner and dropped $100 on a very nice lunch (this was in 1991 - that was a lot of money for lunch) the food was wonderful and the place very welcoming. I try to think and plan ahead and make reservations.  We took my parents to the Emeril Lagasse restaurant that was at Universal. It was great fun, the service was way over the top; my mother got a real kick out of it.  I wonder if they have fresh fish on the menu? 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

LA IS a Great Big Freeway

LA Subway Station in West Hollywood

But it also has a modern subway system.  It is not an extensive system like New York, London or Paris, but if it is going from where you are at to where you are going, it will get you there efficiently, in  comfort and for little cost.  This is the station in West Hollywood.  I was staying in a hotel a block away and when I asked about the subway, the concierge sort of stared at me, and asked if I wanted to rent a car or take taxi.  No I wanted to ride the subway.  I found my way in, bought a fare card and away I went.  I rode down to LA's Union Station and walked from there to the home of the French Dip sandwich.  When I was done I rode it back.  

I am a huge fan of public transit, especially subways and lite-rail.  Riding the trains I see the locals and sometimes the back side of the city.  I avoid traffic and parking.  Transit is usually the bargain way to get around.  The LA system is relatively new, and works very well.  I would heartily recommend it for a view from down under the city.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

Stanford University

Boarding Cal Train at Millbrae - just south of SFO

I mentioned that from Las Vegas I went onto a meeting at Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California.  Palo Alto is the heart of silicon valley, about half way between San Francisco International Airport and San Jose airport. The travel advice from Stanford warned attendees to be prepared for $100 taxi charges and unpredictable driving times. On this trip I was an invited guest with Stanford Law School paying the travel bill.  Now for my office I negotiate an annual travel budget, the farther I can make that fixed budget go, the more I can travel.  When it is gone, it is gone and my work travel for the year is done, I love to travel, so I have become pretty talented at stretching the travel dollar and avoiding things like $100 taxi rides.  I looked at options and discovered that you can take the subway from SFO to the end of the line at Millbrae and board a Cal-Train commuter train from there south that would drop me three blocks from the hotel.  The train was like $5, I already had an SF subway card with value left on it.  Other then the farecard getting stuck in the automated faregate and having a hard time finding a station manager to retrieve the card and open the gate, the ride was flawless. It was an interesting meeting and I connected with some wonderful people, but I don't talk about my work on here - sorry.  When I looked at options for returning from Palo Alto to DC, it was cheaper and I found better connections flying from San Jose than from SFO.  No problem, back on Cal-Train, 20 minutes south and a $10 taxi ride to the San Jose airport, to play on the old song, I do "know they way to San Jose."  I hope Stanford appreciated the couple hundred dollars I saved them in taxi rides, the man setting next to me at the meeting got stuck in traffic in a taxi and it took him nearly 2 hours to travel the same distance I did in less then an hour by public transit.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

And Another One Bites The Dust

One morning recently the subway was "single tracking" around a train on the platform at L'Enfant Plaza due to a "sick customer."  We were delayed, sitting in the tunnel for 10-15 minutes.  When we pulled into L'Enfant station several people were grumping about being delayed, and someone said, well we are having a better morning than that person did.  I looked into the other train. There were no medical personnel around, but a couple of police officers standing next to a lump on the floor covered by a blanket.  Someone had died on the train during their morning commute. In six years I have seen it twice, both times at that station. Yep, I was having a better morning then he/she did.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Saving Dulles

Dulles Airport, outside of Washington DC 
The Washington Post ran an article about efforts by the state of Virginia to increase traffic at Dulles International Airport.  Passenger traffic at Dulles has been steadily declining over recent years as traffic at Reagan National Airport has steadily increased. The article seems to suggest that expansion of flights at National are the cause for the decline of traffic at Dulles and that they will push Congress to impose further restrictions on flights from National.  I'd like to suggest a few other causes.

The three most important things in real estate are location, location, location and Dulles is lacking, lacking, lacking. Dulles 20 miles west of the White House, far to far away from the city and should never have been built there. The decision to put the airport way out west was made in 1958 and the airport opened in 1962. As the crow flies Dulles is 20 miles west of the White House, but of course the roads don't run as the crow flies.  There is an expressway to the airport, choked with traffic as millions of people live out along that corridor. It is not uncommon for the drive to Dulles to take an hour and the cost of a taxi to be between $70 and $100 - welcome to DC.  Even Super Shuttle is about $30 each way. The airport lacks good public transit.  Face it, few people want to ride a bus to an airport. The Metro train line stops about 5 miles short of the airport with the last segment currently under construction - finally 35 years after the core of the subway system was built and over 50 after the airport opened we are building public transit to the airport. And even that will present challenges, unlike cities like London and Paris that run express lines to the airports, the DC system is all local trains that stop at every station the ride will take nearly an hour. And when you get to Dulles on the subway you won't be in the terminal, you will be across the street next to a parking garage hoping that the moving underground sidewalks are working. The location of the terminal was a compromise to not change how the terminal looks from the original 1962 design and not spend an extra half-billion-dollars to bury the subway station deep under the terminal building. Meanwhile, Reagan National Airport is two miles from the White House and directly on the Metro train line.

The terminal at Dulles is a landmark piece of architecture, that is pretty to look at, but not very functional as a modern airport terminal. The check in area is cramped and crowded and getting to the gates takes far too long and far too much walking.  Arriving international passengers have to wait for a "mobile lounge" a double wide bus in stilts, to shuttle them from their arrival gate to immigration and customs. This system was cutting edge in 1962 and an out of date relic about 40 years ago, and yet it continues in use.  Through all of the additions and remodeling, we have never modernized international arrivals.  It is time to quit worrying about preserving the architecture and time to modernize this to a functional airport terminal

What Dulles does have going for it is dual parallel runways that are 11,000+ feet long.  The biggest airliners in the world can comfortably operate in and out of Dulles.  Reagan National can't do this, a 737 or A-320 is about as big as can operate in and out of National and with water on both ends of the runway, National really can't expand.

What will grow passenger traffic at Dulles?
Finish and open the Metro Line to the airport, it is not perfect but it is a huge improvement.
Get rid of the mobile lounges.
Finish the terminal reconfiguration to shorten the long walks through plywood tunnels.
Concentrate on international flights
Concentrate on non-stop cross country flights on wide body aircraft that are to large to operate out of National.

If I have a choice of riding cross country on a 737 or a 747, 767, 777, or 787, I will take the larger plane. The larger planes are simply more comfortable and have more room to move around and stretch your legs. Because of the longer runways, Dulles can handle big planes that National can not.  And yet, I find it increasingly difficult to find wide-body non-stop cross country flights from Dulles to the west coast.  If I am going to fly cross country in a narrow body (single isle) plane, or have to change planes to get to my destination on the west coast, I am going to do it from the nearest airport (National) not one an hour away, unless the flight from the airport an hour away is at least $100 less expensive after I factor in the cost of getting to and from the airport and parking. Dulles is seldom cheaper and I can't remember the last time I saw a wide body on a domestic flight.  At least once a year, I fly from BWI, BWI is farther away but faster to get to. I will fly from BWI if the airfare is significantly less after I take into account the cost of parking (I can take Metro or a taxi to National.)   Airline margins are not that big, the costs of operating a cross country flight are about the same from any of these airports, we can't expect Dulles to have a cost advantage, it needs to capitalize on what it can do that National can't, international flights and bigger more comfortable planes.

Dulles needs to change, or maybe it is time to cut the airport in half and sell off half of the land (it is worth at least $100,000 an acre,) and build houses.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Grumpy Sometimes

Gun Turret of the Ironclad Monitor in a desalination tank in Newport News Virginia

So an email came across my desk one day starting out with accusing county government officials in a northeast state of being corrupt.  This immediately sets off my "Nut Case" alarm, man the battle stations against incoming lies.  Now I know there are crooked people in public offices, but few of them.  Most government employees are dedicated, hard working and frequently underpaid.  Yes I know many of them have generous pensions, part of the reason they accept less pay then they would earn on the outside is that the benefits of government employment can be nice, But a message that starts out accusing government employees or staff of being corrupt is suspect for me.  I then looked for facts to support the accusation, and there was not a single one.  Someone didn't get what they wanted, so the people in charge must all be crooks.  I got grumpy, sent a response, that offered a referral to an expert on the issue, but also pointed out that odds are the complainer is a nut case.  The person sending in the complaint, was not the person allegedly "done wrong." Another hallmark of a nutter attack.  Maybe I need a vacation, but my defenses are on high alert.  

Speaking of defenses, a few years ago they found the wreck of the first iron clad battle ship, and raised parts of it, including the gun turret.  It had been in salt water since the civil war, so it is soaking in a tank having the salt slowly removed in Newport News Virginia.  This was part of a museum tour.  I understand that part has been closed to the public as part of a cut in state and federal funding.  The funding is there to continue the preservation work, but not to make it available to the public.  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Throw Back Thursday Pisa

Pisa - February 2000

It leans, it has leaned for hundreds of years, it has not fallen over, and no one has fixed it. It is really amazing that no one has torn it down or messed it up by trying to fix it.  Pisa is a cute little town, but few would bother to get off the train and trek across town if the tower didn't lean. The city thrives on a tower that is different, unique, one of a kind.  

Pisa is an easy train ride from Florence.  We waited for the scheduled regular train on the way going out.  It only stopped a couple times between Florence and Pisa.  On the way back, we hoped on the first train headed in our direction rather then waiting for the one that showed Florence as the destination.  We ended up on the local train, the one taking teenage students home from school that stopped in every village between Pisa and Florence.  The kids were well rambunctious kids Stopping in every village with the locals was a wonderful experience.  I am so glad we hopped on the first train going in our direction, rather then waiting for the faster train.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Its Complicated

Concourse Level Union Station Washington DC
I have struggled somewhat with the BBC dropping Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear.  He is a creative genius, the chemistry between Clarkson, Hammond and May has created memorable television.  And yet, he is politically incorrect, maybe racist, sexist and frequently homophobic.  I am occasionally offended by things that he says. And yet I find him entertaining. He has turned a lot of people off, a lot of people refused to watch because of they found him offensive, and yet he drew a huge audience. Is it the entertainment, or the morbid curiosity - kind of like watching a train wreck. And in the end Clarkson was a train wreck, a 30 minute tirade aimed at a producer, ending with a short physical altercation,  Clarkson took a swing at the producer, crossing the line and ending his time with the BBC.  I have to agree with BBC's decision, taking a swing crossed a line.  Even if it was at someone who had failed to do their job, failed to take care of the over sized ego that made the show work.  And yet, I hate to see the show go.  BBC can hire new presenters, tweak the format and try to keep the show going, but it will not be the same.  They should ask NBC about changing personalities on the Tonight Show (what a disaster.)  If someone else had said the things that Clarkson did, would I have been offended to the extent of tuning out?  We allow people we like to get away with saying and doing things that we won't let others say or do.  Did I overlook his sexist and homophobic remarks because I liked him?  Quite possibly.  But I will sincerely miss the show.  It is complicated.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Falls of the Potomac

Most of us know the Potomac River as the muddy flow that runs by Washington DC, separating DC, from Virginia, and farther south separating Virginia from Maryland.  But if you follow the river north and west of Washington DC, the banks of the river become stone cliffs with a couple of nice basins that are favorites for summer boating, then farther upstream the river narrows passes through rapids and a set of falls. In the late 1700's and early 1800's canals were built to bypass the rapids and falls.  George Washington was involved in at least one such effort, made obsolete a few years after completion by the railroads.  A little off the beaten path, but worth the trip.

Monday, April 13, 2015

All a Matter of Perspective

The closer we are to something the larger it seems to be.  When our joys are close at hand, they seem larger then they are in the global perspective of thing.  The same is true of our troubles.  I need to remind myself to take a step back and look at the world from a different perspective from time to time.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

12 on 12 April 2015 Edition

My morning view, for a few more days until the leaves on the tree block my view for the summer. I hate that tree. 

My Farm for this year, I planted 4 times as much this year as last.  

If you ever wondered how high rise dwellers take the trash out, across the hall and down the chute.  A hint, don't every take the apartment backed up to the trash chute. I did that in my first abode in DC, at 2:00 AM one night someone dropped a case of empty beer bottles down the chute, one at a time laughing as the rattled down 15 floors.  

Spring is definitely starting to bloom. 

A Sunday Drive Along the George Washington Parkway. 

Is the symbol a bird or a stylized M?

The Potomac 

I call this the Troll Park, it is under the Wilson Bridge, at Jones Point.  What lives under a bridge, a Troll.  

Young Love?

Under that brass and glass pyramid, is the original corner stone marking the southern most corer of the District of Columbia at Jones Point.  The Virginia side south and west of the Potomac was ceded back to Virginia. 

One foot in Virginia, one in Maryland, on the original boundary line between DC and Maryland. 

The Wilson Bridge, crossing the Potomac just south of Old Town Alexandria Virginia.  I live about 1.5 miles from the bridge. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015


If you ask most Americans what two things they have to see in Las Vegas, the fountains at Caesar's Palace and the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop from Pawn Stars will be in the top five answers.  Rick, the ungrateful son, the Old Man and Chummley are off the beaten path and I didn't make it to the pawn shop.

I did however make it to the fountains, and waited for the show. It was very much worth the wait. It is an amazing feat of engineering, art and music.  No motorcycles were trying to jump the fountains while I was there (actually I think the fountains Evil Knievel tried to jump were much smaller than what it there today.)

Throughout history sites that people have traveled long distances to see, have been known as pilgrimage sites. Strange that a casino fountain in the desert that was once the scene of a monumental motorcycle crash, is a modern pilgrimage site.

Tomorrow's posting will be 12 on 12, 12 pictures taken on the 12th, and will go up late in the day instead of my normal early morning.

Friday, April 10, 2015

A Penguin Goes to Vegas

The first time I passed through Las Vegas was in the middle of the night, changing planes on my way back from Alaska. That was the night Billy-Bob was denied boarding and his mother-in-law wailed about leaving him all alone in Sin-City - leaving him drunk in Vegas - he didn't appear to be to upset about it, but it delayed the middle of the night flight by an hour while it was all sorted out. It was not the airlines finest day, the following morning my plane backed into another plan, twice - but that is another story. There are slot machines in the airport in Vegas- if you are ever stuck there in the middle of the night for an extra hour.

The second time I went to Vegas I was able to spend a few days.  A lot of my travel is work related, and I work in a field that has a fair share of social-do-gooders.  Las Vegas is on their untouchable list because it has gambling, and "adult entertainment."  Things that they scream exploit women and poor people.  So my conferences are  never scheduled for Las Vegas.  That year was no exception, the May conference was scheduled for San Francisco, I had made hotel reservations and was about to book airline reservations when the hotel workers union in San Francisco started emailing everyone saying, "we have an ongoing labor dispute with the hotel, if you show up we will set up a picket line that we know many of your neo-socialist attendees will not cross."  In a last minute compromise, the hotel chain and the organizers moved the conference to Las Vegas, with rooms at less then half the price of San Francisco. Apparently exploiting strippers and cocktail servers is less distressing then exploiting underpaid hotel housekeepers.  I was so happy.  I booked round trip airline tickets the next day.

Then, I got invited to participate in a program at Stanford Law School, on Tuesday of the week following the conference that finished Saturday morning in Vegas.  Now I had a choice, fly back to DC on Saturday and fly back to the west coast on Monday, or stay in Vegas for the weekend - at my own expense.  If the city is not busy hotel rooms can be cheap in Vegas, as I recall I paid $28 a night for the extra couple of nights - and got a coupon book with about $100 in free drinks and two-for-one gambling deals.  I stayed in Vegas.  I ended up no-showing for my return flight from Vegas, it was cheaper to book a new ticket from Vegas to the San Francisco and San Jose to DC, then it was to change the round trip to Vegas.  Technically I didn't no-show, I called the airline the day before I told them I was staying in Vegas and would figure out how I was getting home when the winnings ran out, he said we hear that all the time, enjoy the bus ride home (just kidding.)  

I like Las Vegas, it is crazy, and zany and alive.  I like slot machines and video poker.  I am good at setting limits, so I don't fear what I might spend (lose.)  I left town about $40 ahead, I never was  more than $50 behind (about my limit) I should have quit when I was ahead about $100 at one point, as the old song tells us, "you have to know when to hold them, know when to fold them."(Admit it, you read that in the Kenny Roger's voice.) I played roulette at the Flamingo and bet on the Kentucky Derby in a sports betting room (won a couple of dollars on a $2 bet.) I love Vegas, it has interesting people, interesting buildings, it is crazy and zany and out in the middle of the desert.  I don't think I could live there, but I will go back.  

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Though Back Thursday

Minneapolis, Minnesota 

This was taken about 10 years ago in Minneapolis, I was changing planes on my way to or from either North Dakota or South Dakota.  I did workshops in both states the same month one summer, about a week apart. Northwest was still flying.  I hated flying Northwest.  They has 2-3 flights a day out of Lexington, and if anything went wrong in their schedule, these were the first flights to be delayed or cancelled. If you look just to the left of the NW tail, you can see Air Force One across the runway.  W would have been in town that day.   

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Sometimes the Place is the Destination

Milwaukee Museum of Art 

Wisconsin was one of the missing states, I had been to every state around it, and never been to Wisconsin.  So last May when we were in Chicago, we took the train to Milwaukee for lunch and little wander around.  When I mentioned where I was going, people said you should see the art museum down on the water, the building is worth the visit.  What can I say, besides, OMG!  It is a spectacular example of modern architecture. The wings on it open and close, the lines and symmetry are spectacular.  It is light filled and awe inspiring.  Well worth the trip. They have a nice, mostly modern art collection,.  

On the way back to the train station we stumbled across the incredibly active market, an old farmers market, reinvented as an urban market.  Very nice.  Move it a 1,000 miles south and I would consider living there.  

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Golden Gate Goals

I have rented an electrically assisted bicycle in San Francisco twice.  An electric bike is a wondrous piece of modern engineering, it is normal bike, most are five to seven speed, with an electric assist motor built into the hub (usually in the rear.)  You can turn off the power and ride it like a normal bike, and click on the power for help with going faster, or even more important in San Francisco with help riding up the rather steep hills.

The first time I was in San Francisco, I drove in from Sacramento, coming in from the north across the Golden Gate Bridge.  It is a spectacular bridge. I was back a few times, seeing the bridge from a distance, and from the water, but not getting near it.  Driving a car in San Francisco once was enough, traffic is bad, and parking is terrible, as I recall I paid $35 to park for 9 hours.  I have stayed in less expensive hotel rooms.Getting near the bridge from the areas of town you are staying in, is a bit of a long walk.  So I rented a bike one trip.

The bike ride is wonderful, I rented from a shop down near Fisherman's Wharf. from there you go a few blocks west, along the bay, around past the swim club on the bay, climb through a park, past a big marina, and climb and climb and climb (the electric bike really helps with this, the last hill you have to peddle to climb even with the electric assist) and you end up on the southern end of the Bridge.  There are pedestrian walk ways on both sides of the bridge, but generally they only open one side at a time - they provide a lot of monitoring and public safety (ie: trying to stop jumpers) and to control costs they only open one side most days. Both times I was there the east side of the bridge was open with spectacular views of the city. The first time I rode out on the bridge a little past half way, and chickened out.  I was getting tired, and I was afraid that if the batteries went flat I would have a hard time getting back to the shop (little to worry about, almost all of it is downhill going back to the city.)  Afterwards I regretted not pushing on.  So the next time I was going I set a goal of riding all the way across.  I rented a bike again and the second time I rode all the way across to the scenic overlook on the Marin side.  It was wonderful.  I have a couple of video clips taken while riding back across the bridge toward the city. The next time you are there, give it a try.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Layers of Perception

DC Metro Yellow Line Crossing 495 between Huntington and Eisenhower Ave
My perception of the world is based on my life experiences, each one adding a layer to my understanding of what I see, hear, smell and taste. The more I experience, the more complex my understanding of the world. Washington DC, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Paris, Rome, Athens,and London, having experienced some of the greatest cities in the world, colors my vision of cities that aspire to greatness.  I have seen the pretty side of the cities, and the not so glamours underside. I like to go a few blocks off the beaten path, in search of the city that the locals live in. I grew up in the country; the house I grew up in is still over a mile from the nearest paved road.  That experience helps me to understand the vast rural areas of this country and other countries.Fly over the middle of America, there are hundreds of miles of farms and grazing land. I have been to some very remote and isolated places. An hour by float plane from Anchorage Alaska and you are 50 miles from a road, power line, or  phone line (surprisingly at 10,000 feet I had a cell signal.)  This experience tempers my view of urban sprawl, we have a little to worry about when it comes to paving over paradise, there is a lot of wilderness a long way from urban sprawl, that acre patch of woods is far from the last wildness.  

So where do I go next? How will it add to my perception of the world?   

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Higher Education

Window Featuring the Liberal Arts - Rollins College, Winter Park Florida 

There is a odd debate going on in our society that a college education is not a good idea.  There are arguments that college or university degree is unnecessary, does little for a person and simply costs too much. As someone who has earned (and paid for) two degrees, I have to disagree for the most part.  Now let me start with my agreement, not everyone has what it takes to finish a college degree.  There was a movement to try to make a university education as universal as high school and honestly there are high school graduates who don't have what it takes.  Some of them are poorly prepared, by school systems that passed them through without expecting much from them. If the have the ability, they can earn a college degree, but they have to be committed to learning what is missing  in the basic skill set.  Some are simply not smart enough to complete a college education.  I know all men are created equal, but not all have the same abilities. A college education should require a higher then average level of intelligence to finish and not everyone has what it takes.  

Some will argue that many jobs don't require a college degree.  Take for example a paint and body mechanic who repairs and repaints cars.  A few months of trade school or a couple of years working with a good mentor and many people can learn the skills that are necessary to perform this work.  Given the choice of hiring the applicant with an art history degree and couple of year's apprenticeship, or the applicant with a high school education and a year in a trade school, I am going to hire the one with the art history degree.  Why, when a customer asks for a clean modern red paint scheme, or something in an impressionist blue, the person with the art history degree is going to know what they are talking about.  The person with the art history degree will understand why purple with yellow accents works, but purple with orange accents does not.  

A person with a better education, who is ready and willing to seek out and take the jobs that they are capable of, should earn more then a person without the education.  Most of the people who complain about having a "worthless" degree are unwilling to go where the jobs are, or take jobs that are available.  They are not willing to accept the change.  There are some schools that are overpriced.  A solid education from an affordable state school, probably has a better return on investment then a degree from a private institution that cost twice as much. (My BA is from a small private liberal arts college - I paid for it - it was expensive. My JD is from a state school and cost less then what my BA did and rewarded me with better earnings capacity.)  

Higher education changed me as a person.  I learned to understand myself.  I learned to think outside of my life experience.  I learned to see other perspectives.  I learned that no matter how difficult a task, if I dig deep and apply myself, I can do it.  There were some concepts that were a struggle, not all brains are wired the same, but if I work at it I can do a good job on most and a passable job on those that are the biggest reach for me.  I was not well prepared from high school to go into college.  Early intervention by a community college professor, who I owe a HUGE thank you to, helped me to understand some of the oddities of my brain and the areas of basic skills that I needed to work on, still have to work on. I did well in college and law school, in part because I worked very-very hard, I have a very strong fear of failure.  It might have helped that I was paying for it and knew it was my money on the line.   

I do think that anyone who has the ability, should earn a college degree. As s country we need to do more to make college accessible to those with the ability and desire.  

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Classic Lines

National Gallery of Art - Washington DC 

Classic lines, colors, patterns, complex yet simple linear and predictable gentle curves. Archaeologists now tell us that many of the ancient works of sculpture that we think of as stone, were at one time painted in vivid colors, colors long lost to time.  Would we feel the same about the Freeze of the Parthenon if we saw it in the original colors?  Or would we think of it as gaudy folk art, or comical art?  The creation of art in a society that was largely illiterate raises a ton of questions and theories.  An important starting point, is that wide spread literacy is a relatively modern concept.  Prior to the industrial revolution the vast majority of people in Europe and North America had little formal education. Representational art was a way of conveying beauty, but also a way of communicating messages to those who could not read, or had a limited ability to read, and very limited access to printed materials even if they could read.  Books were a luxury item 200 years ago.  Art has always served the purpose of conveying beauty - of striving to stir the soul of the viewer, but can also serve the dual purpose of communicating a message.  The painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware shows the hardship and bravery of Washington and his troops at Valley Forge that critical winter,  but it is also a beautiful work of art, showing extraordinary composition, a romanticized rendering of the scene and amazing use of color.  It is a moving work of art, that even if you didn't know the story behind it, would still effect the viewer.  This raises a question on ancient art, we see the beauty, but what are missing by not knowing if there is a story behind it?  Not all art has a story behind it, but some does.  Do we need to know the story to fully appreciate the art?  it also raises a question on modern art, is art created in a literate information age society, still dual purpose?  Is modern art, art for beauty without a need to communicate a message? Maybe yes, maybe no. 

Friday, April 03, 2015

New York

The last time I was in New York I took the subway down to the south end of Manhattan, to the terminal at the Battery, largely so I could get a better look at the Statue of Liberty.  A gift from our long term friends the French. As a country and society we owe a lot to the French, they helped us in a couple of wars, and sold us the middle of the country for a bargain price (to raise cash to pay for a war,)  Without the Louisiana purchase we would not have a lot of the overland section of the country.  We should forgive them for Alabama, and Mississippi, and a couple of others, how they turned out are not their fault.

The Statue of Liberty is one of the first things my Grandmother and Great Grandmother would have seen when they arrived in the United States. This is true of countless families whose ancestors emigrated from Europe, arriving in New York, seeking new opportunities.  My Grandmother's family arrived in the dark days shortly before World War I.  When I had the chance, it never dawned on me to ask if the impending war was a motivation for moving.  I know the opportunities for work for my Great-Grandfather were  good here in this relatively young and growing country.  It couldn't have been easy, they left behind friends, family and a country they loved.  My Great Grandmother never lost her love for the UK, she was up listening to the Royal wedding when Charles and Diana married - she was very proud and happy to see a continuation of her native land.

My immigrate ancestors didn't forget where they came from, but they also assimilated into the country.  They didn't see assimilation as discrimination, they saw it as becoming a part of the country they had chosen to live in.  I only heard my Great-Grandmother speak Welsh once or twice - doing so was not an American thing to do.  As much as she loved her native land, she wanted to be a part of the country she moved to. When she passed under the torch, she wanted to fit in and be a part of the new country.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Through Back Thursday

Through Back Thursday 

A Kodak index print - those didn't last long. October 2001, Jay took delivery of his wonderful red Mercedes. He is still driving it, it has less then 60,000 miles on it.  It has been a great car, fast, fun to drive, handles well and looks good.  We have had a lot of good times with "Ben." Yes, we named the car, my current car is "Max".  Jay started the process this week of ordering the next Red Mercedes. we have had a wonderful experience with the dealer, they have gone above and beyond the call on service and professionalism.  He figures that if the next one lasts as well as this one, it will outlast him.  And it will unless we start driving a lot more. We are well along in planning for the initial delivery this summer.  More on that as time flies by.

The first weekend we had Ben, we drove out to Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, near Harrodsburg, Kentucky. The outdoor shots are from there, and the pictures of the Turkeys!    

Anyone want to buy a very low miles used Mercedes this summer?  

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Armadillo Brief Case

I learned the hard way that it is rude to laugh in someone's face when they are being sincere and honest. And there have been few times in my life that I have found it nearly impossible to keep a "straight face' and not laugh.

As I mention from time to time, like every January and February when I question the sanity of moving back north, I lived in central Florida for about 20 years.  I moved there in the 1970's when the locals still outnumbered the transplants. The mother of a friend of mine, who was very much a native Floridian, told me one day, there are two kinds of Yankees, Yankees who come here and spend the winter and spend their money, and we kind of like them; and Damned Yankees - the ones who move here and we don't really like them.  That was about a year before I moved to Florida semi-permanently - moved into a house two doors away - makes you feel real welcome to the neighborhood.

Back to the tale, I met a lot of old Florida natives.  Some of them where colorful characters, people who fished, hunted alligators, and wild pigs (tasty.)  I knew a guy once who had an affair with the wife of an alligator farmer. When hubby figured out what has happening the guy spent a night in an alligator barn. In the morning he promised to never mess with another man's wife again, I bet he still keeps that promise - he came very close to being a midnight snack for a pen full of 10-footers.  

So back to the story again, this native, who had spent far to many years drinking Budweiser in the sun comes into my office one afternoon.  We are sitting there talking and an armadillo goes waddling across the sidewalk in front of the office doors. You an hear them when they cross the sidewalk the bottom of the shell scrapes on the concrete as they shuffle along. He asks if I would mind if he catches it on the way out. I said go right ahead. Armadillos root in the ground for food and this one had been tearing up the landscaping.

I then made the mistake of asking what he was going to do with it. I had heard that armadillos were not safe to eat.  He said, what I wanted was the hide and shell.  I said oh, are you going to stuff it.  No, he said, I am going to make a briefcase out of it.  He goes on to describe what a wonderful work of art the finished product is, with the claws coming up to make clasps on the top. He said he makes several each year and takes them to the possum festival in some little red-neck town and sells them for $200 apiece.  Just set them out on the hood of the pickup truck and people snap them up like flies.  The difficult part of this is he was being so earnest, this was his art form, and I am thinking of it and finding the entire idea so bizarre that I can hardly contain my laughter.  I finally tell him he better hurry before it disappears. When he leaves I check make sure it is not April 1st, and then lock myself in the bathroom with water running and laugh until tears flow down my face.