Sunday, November 8, 2015

Something Worth a Couple of Minutes to Read

Food for Thought:
An article on censorship by Roger Scruton, a writer and philosopher (according to BBC; me, I've never heard of him, but found this article to be of interest)

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Huntsman Trip

Fresh from my trip to Wisconsin in September, after a week of decompression (and laundry), the wife and I took off for Utah, where she was registered to play soccer in the annual Huntsman Games, a seniors' sports tournament with any number of different competitions. She has found herself a team out of Dallas (with a few stray members from Oregon --- don't ask me how that happened), and this is her second time in the competition. As we tend to do, we combined the trip with other, theoretically less strenuous, things.

We prepared for the trip by getting our new dog Carly medications to deal with motion sickness: she pukes when we drive. We had the same problem with our dog Homer, of beloved memory, but he grew out of it fairly quickly, and we hope Carly will, too. In fact, after two days of medication (during which she was somewhat listless, though not as drugged-out as Homer had been), we decided she didn't really need it all that much, at least on the highway; and indeed, after that she only threw up once, in city traffic. So I guess it's not the motion so much as the unanticipated stops, starts and turns that upset her.

Study in Black and White

We spent the first night in Alamogordo, at a barely-acceptable motel in the run-down part of town, then went out early to White Sands. I had been there a couple of years ago, both in the afternoon and the morning, and am still amazed at the differences in the light there. But this time, sadly, the sky was heavily overcast, so the pictures aren't as eyepopping as they were back then. But doesn't Carly look good in that landscape!


From there, we drove up toward Farmington, in the northwest corner of the state, stopping at Bisti (or De-Na-Zin) Wilderness. (Not sure why the two names.) Not an easy place to find: county roads, some unpaved, and almost no signage. The wilderness area stretches some miles across an Indian reservation, and photos I've seen of it make it look like a spectacular landscape. We, however, were (it appears) at the other end of the wilderness area, which was nowhere near as eerie. Pretty, but not up to expectations. In any case, storms were coming in from the west, so we spent only a short time hiking in the stark desert valley.

the other end of the Wilderness
(photo from

and there's a rainbow, too!

Next morning we were off early again, and happened to be at Shiprock, New Mexico, just as the sun was hitting the eponymous rock. 

Sherry waving from the promontory
Natural Bridges NP
From there, we went up to Natural Bridges National Park, one of the older parks in Utah. There are three main natural bridge formations in the rock --- rock that is far, far older than at Arches, and not as colourful, but still impressive. We found a trail to one that didn't look too strenuous, but there were ladders along the way that we couldn't traverse with Carly. So we took turns: I waited with the dog while Sherry hiked out to the viewpoint, about twenty minutes' trek each way, then I went while she waited. (There was another trail that led down to the actual bridge, but that was much, much longer and about a 600' drop.) By the time we got to the last bridge site, those storms were about to hit again, so we went for the car and headed off to Torrey, Utah, the other side of Capitol Reef, for the night. I had planned originally to spend time at Cap Reef, but we decided that it was better to spend more time exploring Natural Bridges instead. We'll have to go back to Cap Reef (again) some day --- after all, that was what prompted me to buy an off-road-capable vehicle in the first place --- but other than a drive through it on the flooded highway, we didn't see any of it.

I had, of course, no intention of spending 3 days watching old women play soccer again --- after Escondido, I probably never will --- so I had arranged for my friend Curtis to come up from Las Vegas, and he and I went up to Bryce Canyon for a little hiking. We got to the park in the afternoon, checked into our hotel, and after a really, really bad lunch at a really crappy local fast-food joint -- the only place we could find -- we went into the park and hiked the Queen's Garden trail, so called because there's a rock that looks like a well-known statue of Queen Victoria. And it really does. 

Next morning we drove over to the optimistically named town of Tropic, Utah, and hiked into the canyon on the trail from there, a good morning's travel, during which I was confirmed in my opinion that Carly is not a good hiker's companion. Yet. Maybe when she's older.

That night, Curtis having returned to his digs in the Sin Capital of America and I to my hotel in Hurricane, Utah, we went to a team dinner at a really nice restaurant on a cliff overlooking the small city of St. George, where the Huntsman Games are held. Wish I could remember the name of it. On Saturday, Sherry's team won the Silver Medal in the women's over-60 soccer tournament, and we headed down the road to Havasu for a week's visit with her dad Ben and his wife Lana. 

When they bought the house out there, they brought the boat out from Phoenix, and bought a pair of waverunners and a rail (sort of a dune-buggy), so I was looking forward to some novel and exciting activities. But one of the waverunners had been sold, as junk apparently, and the rail had a flat tire and no clutch, which left one waverunner and the
London Bridge
boat. And of course the first few days were spent just visiting, though Sherry got her exercise by digging a trench in the back yard for electric lines going out to the gazebo her dad had put in. (I helped a little, just to have something to do besides walk and go take pictures of London Bridge.) Finally came the day when we took the surviving waverunner down to the lake and put it in. I took a couple of rides on it. It's fun, but would be more fun if somebody else could have come along. It's like a motorcycle, but with a soft landing when you fall off. (I didn't.) I'd do it again, but living where I live I don't see much point in owning one (or two). That part of Lake Havasu, slightly south of the bridge, isn't very crowded, at least on weekdays, but there were enough kids on loud machines churning doughnuts in the no-wake zone to keep me irritated.
Fritz and Carly

Carly had the best time of her short life in Havasu, since Ben & Lana have a puppy -- a giant puppy -- about her age, named Fritz. They kept each other entertained the entire tie we were there.

We were going to take the boat out the next day, but the weather called for thunderstorms, so that was out; and the day after that, when we actually got some lightning (though not much else). And after that, we headed home.

To find a giant crack in our bedroom ceiling. It collapsed today. Ain't life grand.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Apple and the Art of Business Communication

I bought my fancy new MacBook Air a while back, and a great big new Thunderbolt display screen to go with it. The little computer is perfect for travelling, and the big screen is perfect for when I'm at home.

I had some trouble with the display, though, pretty soon after buying it. I took the computer in while it was under warranty, and the Genius at the Apple Store diddled with the port on the side where the display plugs in. He said he would order the part anyway, in case his diddling didn't fix the problem; that way they'd have the part in stock if I had to bring it back.

The diddle did work, for a while at least. I thought the problem was solved. I got an email from the guy a couple of days after the service visit, with a subject line like "your recent visit"; the first paragraph of the message was along the lines of "So glad to be able to work with you recently." The second paragraph started out in the same vein, so after a sentence and a half of such sincere gratefulness, I hit the delete button and went on with my life.

Then, last month, the Thunderbolt display started blacking out. I went back to Apple (after a very frustrating attempt to schedule an appointment, during which Apple's online misdirect system seemed determined to avoid any customer's presence at their store, prompting me to give up on the web site and just call the store -- also not an easy thing to do) to get a fix.

I found out then that (a) the port is attached to something called a Main Logic Board, and that the entire board has to be replaced, which costs nearly $500; and (b) the unctuous email from the service Genius last year contained, at its end, the information that the part was in stock and I could bring my computer in to have it replaced under warranty.

Needless to say, it is no longer under warranty. And a $500 repair to a computer worth only about that much is a silly waste of money, leaving me with a useless Thunderbolt display: a very expensive, though stylish, piece of junk.

So, a note to Apple: when writing a business email, the important information you wish to convey is appropriately in the subject line, and a single expression of gratitude (or similar emotive expression) is all that is needed by way of introductory smalltalk before you get to the point of the communication. Your customers, appreciative though they may be of your sentiments, have better things to do that read through repetitive utterances of that sort. If they are busy or, like me, impatient, they will conclude on the evidence you provide that the entire message is just so much PR, and never get to the meat of it.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The New Trip Pics Are Up! The New Trip Pics Are Up!

That's right, the pictures from last month's trip across the country's heartland are up already on my Picasa site.

Click HERE to see if there are any worth looking at.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Before I Forget...

Next weekend marks the start of the Most Important Sporting Competition In The Whole World, possibly excepting the World Cup: the English Premier League. Every year I predict who will finish where, and every year I forget what my prediction was. (My predictions are, apparently, eminently forgettable.) So this year, I'm writing it down. Here:

1. Arsenal
    Yes, things will finally come together for the Gunners, and things will fall apart for their main rivals.

2. Man Utd
    Close, but no cigar.

3. Chelsea
    The wife's favourite team will have more than its share of problems, and their manager's verbal antics will lose a lot of their ability to distract.

4. City
    They'll just barely squeak into the last UCL position, after another tumultuous season of melodrama on the sideline.

5. Spurs
    Sure, why not?

6. Liverpool
    My favourite team has really not inspired me to believe they can get back into Europe. Their signings, as much as their inability to retain the top people they've had (Suarez, Sterling...) reflect their diminishing status in the world of European football.

7. Saints
    And this time, they won't start off surprisingly high in the standings and then fade; they'll just putter along slightly above mid-table.

8. who cares?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Winnipeg? Winnipeg!

When the ethically-challenged governing body of soccer in the world announced that the United States team would play its first two games of the Women's World Cup in Winnipeg, my first reaction was that I would stay home and watch it on television. After all, I mean... Winnipeg? Jeez!

Then, of course, after a couple of seconds and only the whisper of a breath of a hint of serious reconsideration, I thought, Oh, well, Winnipeg. Okay. A week or so there can't be any worse than three days in Waco, which I have done, and survived (and did so without a car; at least in Winnipeg I'd have a car).

Polar bears all
over the place
Turns out, Winnipeg is a pretty good place to spend about a week. Probably could manage a second week there if there was a reason. It's actually a nice, clean, thriving city, with hints of culture both high and popular, and reasonably friendly people. If I had to live somewhere outside of Texas, Winnipeg wouldn't be too bad a choice. Plus, having booked the week through ProActive Soccer Tours, the same outfit that we used for the 2011 cup trip to Germany, ensured that we'd be in the hands of people who had actually researched the town and picked out interesting things to see & do. Kudos to them.

Of course it suffers from chronic vague post-modern guilt, and points too resolutely and too desperately at its glitzy new-age museum and purportedly francophone area as a result, but underneath it's a collection of some 800,000 souls going about their business. Like Austin, without the internalized stress.

Anyway, been there, done that, and the pictures are up on the Picasa web site. Take a look if you're interested. You can click on the bear, or here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I Licked the Bowl.

Le Garage Café
166 Boulevard Provencher
St-Boniface, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Looking for une aventure française in St-Boniface, the French-speaking area of Winnipeg, this is the place we ended up when it turned out our first choice closes early, our second choice turned out to be Japanese, and our third (considered only briefly, and only because It Was There) was Chinese. In all honesty, there was nothing particularly French about this place, beyond some distracted obeisances on the menu, and the definite article introducing the name of the place.

Inside is a counter, and an aisle lined with a few tables leading to a larger, darker room that doubles as an intriguing live-music venue and giant-screen TV auditorium. Our server delivered three menus each, one being a drinks list. He ran down an enticing list of daily specials, brought our drinks, and took our order: the pasta of the day, and a pulled pork mac-&-cheese.

I can't exaggerate this: these were both truly delicious dishes. The pasta was penne in a wine sauce with chicken that was OHHH so good. Seasoned with basil and cooked with tomatoes and, I would say, a little cream, the chunks and shreds of chicken distributed throughout were relegated to providing texture, in a departure from meat's normal starring role. Yet the chicken performed admirably in a supporting role where the sauce is the breakout star.

And the mac and cheese. If there is a better way to prepare macaroni and cheese than to put it in a crock with cream and pulled pork with a slightly-sweet barbecue sauce, and to cover it with a slab of cheddar cheese, and heat it until the cheese infuses the dish, I can't begin to imagine it. I would not have thought a humble collection of ingredients like this could produce such awesome flavour. I confess that the headline of this post is almost literally true. I didn't actually lick the bowl; I did, though, run my finger along the inside, and then lick that. Many times. And I would do it again, since I'm in a town where nobody knows me, and I don't have to behave like a mature adult, as I do when at home.

The service was excellent, from both servers on duty.
The place is done in a simple, unaffected way, going (successfully) for a cool-place-to-hang vibe; the atmosphere was marred only by a giant television playing an NBA Championship game. (Had it been the Women's World Cup I'd be willing to overlook it.) And the prices were about what you'd expect in town, and very reasonable for what you get.
Click to add a blog post for Le Garage Café on Zomato 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

An Unexpected Bonus

So we've been a few days in Colorado, visiting our peoples along the Front Range, and our daily plan goes like this: What are we going to do today? And then like this:    .

So, feeling a little restive, I decided I would strike out toward the east and visit a few of the less interesting counties in the country; specifically, two of the five counties in Colorado that I haven't already been to. And then, since I'll be out that way and already bored, I'll go up into Nebraska and travel through three of the remaining counties in the western part of that state, before stopping off in Cheyenne to visit the grave of someone who was, in life, very important to me.

My wife decided to come along. So we drive over to Yuma county and up to Sedgwick county, and into Nebraska, to Garden county. Then we turn left along the North Platte River, planning to head west to the next two counties, then to Cheyenne.

So there's a "police emergency" on the road, and we have to detour along a couple of mud roads (they've had way more rain than usual out this way lately), then up a paved road, across the railroad tracks, back to the road we were on.

What we hadn't realized was, the paved road we took at the end of that detour was the road we'd planned to turn onto going the other way. Of course, there was no sign at the mud road's end, so we didn't realize that until we came to a sign that said "Chimney Rock, 12 miles."

At that point we checked the map and learned that we were off course. But (1) travelling in this casual fashion means every intersection is an opportunity to change plans; and (B) the general rule of thumb, only recently articulated but long in effect, is that if you are close enough to see a sign like that, you're close enough to go see it. So we went to see Chimney Rock.

I've known for decades that Chimney Rock is a locally important landmark, and that it had something to do with the Pioneers. That's about it. Now I've seen it, and understand why it's an important place in our National story. Out there on the treeless plains of this continent, there are very, very few reference points; and very few Conestoga wagons were equipped with GPS. And this was all before cellphones, you know. So having a distinctive and easily visible landmark would have been very important to those folks trudging the plains alongside their oxen. And this is, certainly, distinctive.

There's nothing else out there that it might be confused with.

So that brought a little interest to this county-counting drive that I'd expected to be barely a distraction.

Then, in order to get back on course for that last county in western Nebraska, we had to go up the road a piece --- not very far --- to Gering. And there, on the far side of Gering, was Scotts Bluff. Not the town of Scott's Bluff, which I'd been to 30 years before (by accident), but the National Monument. Well. Who, in their right mind (a classification which, I like to kid myself, includes me), would pass within three miles of even the most meaningless National Monument and not at least get a stamp for the ol' National Parks Passport?

Scott's Bluff, it turns out, is big and beautiful and interesting, and all of you should go. It's actually two bluffs, separated by Mitchell Pass. There's a nice road that takes you up to the summit on the northeastern side, where you can walk the easy paved trails and soak up an appreciation of what travelling was like for those people who settled this country. Well worth the $5 car permit fee.

Mitchell Pass, between Sentinel Rock and Eagle (?) Rock

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Coming Thing? I Hope Not

Elsewhere, NY

I've heard it said that the technological advances in hand-held digital video recording will lead to a flurry of low-budget theatrical releases done in that way. Elsewhere, NY, seen last night at Houston's Worldfest International Film Festival, is, I think, an example of that method.

It results in a good movie ruined.  An interesting story of casual everyday betrayal, with superior writing by Tom Wilton, solid, well-crafted performances by the four principal actors (especially Andrew Ruth, who plays Todd --- which I probably liked best because, it turns out, he's from Austin), and of course the vibrant youth culture of 21st-Century Brooklyn combine to give this film great potential.

Wilton's script is filled with the sort of gratuitous profanity that many real-life 20-somethings mistake for sophistication. Even at three decades' remove, I can remember that feeling. What is noteworthy in the movie's use of coarse language is that it avoids reaching the point of gratuity: it is a natural, organic part of the world these people live in. It calls attention to itself, but quickly loses the power to shock or offend.

Jennifer arrives in New York; we see her first at Grand Central, expecting perhaps to be met, but finding no one there. She comes across as a small-town girl lost in the Big City, with all the prospect for disaster that such a situation evokes. (She's coming from Boston, she says, though apparently she learned little about city living there.) She must make her way to a friend's place in Brooklyn, but again, no one is there. She passes the time waiting in a bar, where she meets Todd and has an exuberant one-night stand with him before she at last meets up with her irresponsible and inconsiderate host, Christine. Jump ahead two years, and Jennifer has apparently fallen into a comfortable if not passionate relationship with Ethan. When Ethan's roommate moves out, he takes in a replacement ... who turns out to be Todd. At this point, the groundwork is well laid for the central tension of the movie.

I've often marvelled at the ability of good scriptwriters to sketch out the parameters of relationships with a few carefully crafted scenes and a few well-honed lines of dialog. For all the sketching and crafting in this movie, only fifteen or twenty minutes are needed. This seems to me to be a mark of admirable judiciousness, as in that time the three principal characters --- Christine is but a sidelight -- become fully fleshed out. But the impressiveness of it is almost lost in the mindnumbing camera work. Faces blur and fade in and out, as though only a poorly-designed knock-off digital camera is judging distances. Images shake side to side, and up and down, as if the technician holding the camera is coughing or giggling, or maybe just zoning out. Two or three minutes of this on America's Funniest Home Videos is watchable; 88 minutes of it on the big screen is barely endurable.

Add to the mix the questionable sound-editing choices made. I admit to making the assumption that the sounds we hear result from choices, and not simply the default mode of taking whatever the microphone happened to pick up and slapping it on the DVD as a finished product. Street noise, wind noise, jet engines passing overhead; all threaten to overwhelm the dialog in the exterior scenes, while interior scenes are cluttered with background conversation, interminable snatches of music (some of it good), and what sounds like the faint thrum of chain saws in adjoining apartments.

Despite the sound and visuals, the movie is a well-conceived work that, unfortunately, comes across more as a film-school project than a theater-worthy production. If that does turnout to be the future of movie making, I will be glad to stay home and watch snippets on You-Tube.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sweden In Pop Culture

Despite having seen the incredibly dreary television series Wallender, with Kenneth Branagh, and the movie made from the book The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (plus another television program that I don't remember the name of, but that involved typically violent sexual abuse and now-elderly Nazi sympathizers), I took up the recommendation of a good friend and read The Hypnotist, by Lars Kepler.

Based on these sources, I can confidently report that Sweden is a cold, dark country populated almost exclusively by depressed drug addicts, depressed alcoholics, depressed former drug addicts, depressed unmitigated perverts of every stripe, and depressed police officers with failed or failing marriages. This general population is divided between the honourable poor, who are depressed, and a smaller group of sleazy and thoroughly dishonourable middle-class people, who are probably depressed when not torturing their fellow Swedes with their extreme behaviour. There is, perhaps, a scattering of glitterati who spend much time abroad to avoid being depressed, returning home only to indulge in their many and varied perverse passions.

Being a Texan, I know just how accurate these sorts of generalizations about a place often are.

Old Pictures Posted

If you're interested (and why would you be?):

Over the last few months I've been puttering with my scanner, mostly digitizing old photo prints, & have posted some of the better ones to Picasa albums.

I've added some pictures, new and old, to the South Texas album

Pictures from the PCB Tour through England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria & Italy in 1984 are up

A few pictures from the 1991 trip to Mexico ...

and from the 1994 trip to Mexico

and just a few from the 1999 trip to California to see the USA win the women's World Cup

Most of the photos from our three-week tour of southern Germany are glued into a photo album, but I managed to find a few loose that I could run through the scanner. You'll find them here.

Some pictures from various trips taken in 2006 are up now.

So are a few from our first trip to Yellowstone & Grand Teton, in 2005.

There may be others; I don't really remember which ones I've posted in the last few months & which have been around a long time. Feel free to look around at all my albums.