Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Homer's Travels Look Back At 2015

Like 2014, 2015 was a fuzzy year. Neither here nor there. It was divided into two parts: one full of vim and vigor and the other full of sloth, laziness, and escapism.

The first half of the year was mostly dedicated to training for RAGBRAI.  I rode my bike, first in the basement, then on the trails around Omaha.  I was biking at least three times a week if weather and my bike would allow it.  Shortly after RAGBRAI I did my Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) camping trip.

The second half of the year, after RMNP, consisted of me running away from the world.  I fully immersed myself in a social based Star Trek game.  I played hours and hours each day.  Any exercising I'd been doing in preparation for RAGBRAI and RMNP ceased.  I drastically reduced my monitoring of Facebook and Twitter.  I only marginally followed the news.  I withdrew from the world around me.  I both enjoyed the game and worried about my own behavior.  There is a lot more to say about this but I will save it for another post.

Let's look back at 2015, shall we:
Last year I said I had a good feeling about 2015 and I think I was half right. Our New England trip, RAGBRAI, and my RMNP camping trip were wonderful (almost said tremendous ... Too much Trump).  The second half, like the second half of 2014 were lacking somewhat.

There are some good things coming in the new year.  Scuba certification lessons, a trip to Cuba, a trip to the Galapagos Islands, an Amazon cruise, Easter Island, and Rio.  In between I will have to really get serious about planning my Appalachian Trail hike.

Here's to a Happy and Prosperous New Year for all.
May all your dreams come true in 2016.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book: M. R. Carey's "The Girl With All The Gifts"

My last book of the year, book twenty-five (just shy of my goal of twenty-six). was M.R. Carey's "The Girl With All the Gifts".  This book is another post-apocalyptic story with some interesting and original ideas.

The story is set in England twenty year after the breakdown of civilization.  The breakdown was caused by a mutant strain of a fungus that usually attacks ants.   Ophiocordyceps is a real fungus and what it does is fascinating.  I won't go into it here but I would strongly recommend you follow the link.

The book follows a group of survivors struggling to get to a safe place.  One of the party is an infected girl (the infected are known as hungries)..  Throughout the book the attitude of healthy survivors toward the hungry changes from antagonism to trust and eventually hope.

Parts of the book, especially near the end, are both heartwarming and heart breaking.  I really enjoyed this book.

I gave the book four stars on Goodreads.  It was close to a five I think but post-apocalyptic stories have been a little over done.  Nevertheless the originality of the premise and the ending made it worth the read.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Book: Daniel H. Wilson's "Robogenesis"

Last year I read "Robopocalypse",the first book of a series (a trilogy I believe).  That book was about a sentient Artificial Intelligence (AI) battling with humanity.  This book, Danial H. Wilson's "Robogenesis", starts with the apparent defeat of the AI.  Apparently, we were wrong.

We discover in this book that there are several sentient AI in the wild and they are competing against each other.  The human characters in the book are the pawns and soldiers for the AIs.

I liked the first book and this one was good as well.  Like the first book, it ended with one AI defeated but with enough loose ends that a third book is a must.

I gave this book four stars on Goodreads.  It was fluff and I wouldn't call it a deep book, but it was entertaining enough and kept my interest throughout the read.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Thank You All

It's the day after Christmas and I have to say I am very happy with what I got for Christmas.  It wasn't a specific gift.  It is the most versatile gift imaginable.  I got a lot of cash.

The parent-in-laws, continuing their tradition, passed out Christmas, Anniversary, and Birthday gifts during our Christmas celebration,  This year it was the day after the Wife's niece's wedding.  This money will pay for nearly all of my Scuba Certification classes that I hope to take early next year.

The Wife reluctantly agreed to give me cash as well.  This money will also be applied towards Scuba Certification as well as buying stuff for my Appalachian Trail hike.  I gave the Wife gift cards to her favorite stores and spa.

Mom came through with some more spending cash as well as the traditional bag of pull-n-peal candy which lasted twenty-four hours.  The two tins of goodies she sent home with us after Christmas Eve dinner are also rapidly shrinking.

All in all I had a very nice Christmas this year.  It was low key but full of people I enjoy being with.  You can't ask for anything more.

Thank you all!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas Everyone!

The Santas in our home.
Wishing everyone a very
Merry Christmas
Feliz Navidad
Feliz Natal
Fröhliche Weihnachten
Joyeux Noël
Vrolijk Kerstfeest
καλά Χριστούγεννα
Nollaig Shona
Buon Natale

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Missing: One Matching Foot

Found this while cleaning the house today:
Lonely Sock.
I think I know who it belongs too but there were seven possible choices so I thought I would put it on the blog just to be sure.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Visiting Superheros, A Joining, And Holiday Get Togethers

This past weekend was a whirlwind of activity from start to finish.  I think it will take me a few days to recover.

It started on Friday when the Wife's family congregated in Omaha in preparation for a family wedding.  Friday night we hosted people who had traveled from out of town a day before the wedding.  This meant that our house was full of the laughter (and roars) of seven children, all under the age of five.   Beside the running around the house, and away from Iago, this also included me, lying on the basement floor, acting like the bad guy, while four girls superheros jumped on me.  It was awesome fun.

Saturday was the wedding.  A lazy morning transitioned into the Wife's Niece's beautiful wedding ceremony.   It went without any apparent flaws and was enjoyed by all.

Congratulations Carissa and Gabe!

After the wedding some congregated again at our place once for snacks and conversation ... and playing ... lots of playing.

Saturday evening was the reception where good food was had, even better cake, and a lot of teary eyed speeches.  People were in good spirits ... and a few were full of good spirits ... and fun was had by all.

Sunday was another late start followed by the Wife's family Christmas.  Gifts were exchanged and and Christmas, Birthday, and Anniversary money was handed out to all.  My share of the generous gift will be used to pay for Scuba certification classes next year.

Thank you to the Mother and Father in Law

Now it's Monday night and I feel a bit crappy - one part exhaustion and three parts cookies, candy, and cake.  It didn't help that I went Christmas shopping this afternoon ... though the Wife makes it easy for me.  It still may take a day or two, including going to see the new Star Wars movie,  to recover fully before we go to my Mom's place on Christmas Eve.  I'm a bit in awe as the Wife has been ten times busier than I have been - I don't know how she does it.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Tale Of The Pale Blue Ball

The Pale Blue Ball.
For several years now, a few weeks before Christmas and a few days after Thanksgiving, several dozen fairly large Christmas ornaments go up in the bare oak tree in the front yard of our house.  Once in the tree most of the balls stay put, swinging in the wind but rarely falling down.  This year it appears to be a bit windier than normal ... or I've been more careless in their hanging.

Every few day I have picked up 2, 3, and even 4, 5, or 6 balls off the yard.  A neighbor even left one at our doorstep.  The ornaments don't go far ... landing a few feet from the bare oak tree.  But on my way to do errands this past Monday, I spotted a pale blue ball at the end of the block, nestled up against a mound of leaves and roadkill piled in the gutter.

It was one of the older of the ornaments.  It's bright pastel blue finish had faded.  The pale blue finish was chipping off in places.  It was a little worse for wear.

I collected the pale blue ball and hung it back in the bare oak tree but the next day, while collected a few more downfallen ornaments, I spotted the pale blue ball hiding in the ornamental grass at the base of the bare oak tree.  It had lost it's hanger so I placed it on the trunk of the car in the garage while I rehung the other ornaments.  While I did, not once but twice I heard the sound of bouncing plastic and, not once but twice, I had to chase after the pale blue ball as it made its way to the neighbor's yard.

I reconnected the hanger to the pale blue ball and, for good measure, added a dollop of glue to secure it in place.  The next day I rehung the pale blue ball ... along with 3 or 4 more balls that had fallen in the night.

The wind died down and I didn't expect to see many ornaments in the yard this morning.  I looked out the window and saw that I was right.  There was only one ... the pale blue ball.  It not only had fallen down but its hanger was broken.

I refashioned a new hanger and I'm waiting for the glue to dry once more.  Tomorrow it will be rehung in the bare oak tree with the other overly large christmas ornaments.

Will it stay put this time spreading Christmas cheer or will it again make a break for it?  We will just have to wait and see.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Book: P.W. Singer's "Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know"

I'm a little behind in my reading and posting about said reading.  I finished my last book, P.W. Singer's "Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know", over two weeks ago and I'm just now getting around to posting about it.  So, here goes.

"Cybersecurity and Cyberwar" provides an interesting overview of the state of computer security and computer threats our world is experiencing today.  It lays everything out in fairly clear language.  It does so in non-hyperbolic language, calling out hysteria and exaggeration, and providing a level headed assessment of the subject.

The first two thirds of the book are interesting.  Sections one and two cover what all the cyber stuff is and why all the cyber stuff matters.  These sections read well and held my interests. The third section, covering what can and is being done about cybersecurity, gets bogged down in acronyms and regulation-speak.  It is an important section that made my eyes glaze over a tiny bit.

The Author is a consultant that works with the American government on Cyber issues.  The most interesting parts are when he gives example of governmental shortcomings when dealing with computer stuff.  One example that stuck with me was a story about a US delegate at negotiations with Chinese officials.  The negotiations were about cybersecurity.  The delegate came up to the author and asked him what an ISP was?  This is truly shocking in my opinion.  The sad thing is that our Representatives and Senators know even less about computers and modern technology.

I heard about this book on Fareed Zakaria's show on CNN.  It was a book recommendation and I have to say that I enjoyed this book.  It made me think a bit ... and worry a bit .... about how prepared we are for cyberwar and cyberterror.  I may have to look at Zakaria's other recommended book choices.  I gave the book four stars on Goodreads.

Note:  For the non-computer savvy, ISP means Internet Service Provider.

Monday, December 07, 2015

The Holiday Season Has Officially Started

First bloom of the 2015 holiday season.
With the blooming of the Christmas cactus the Holiday season has officially begun.  This bloom is from a cutting of the original cactus.  The original is not doing well and looks pretty sad.  She's an old lady so she has the right to look sad I think.  I have planted cutting from the younger cactus in with the original hoping some young blood will revive the ol' lady.  We'll probably know if it has worked next year.  Keeping my fingers Crossed.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Photograph: "Chalk Art"

A picture of chalk art outside a storefront in the Benson neighborhood of Omaha, NE.

"Chalk Art"
by Bruce H.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Photograph: "Visiting Hawk"

The raptor visits keep on coming.  First the bald eagles now what appears to be a hawk.

"Visiting Hawk"
by Bruce H.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Appalachian Trail Tab

I've added an Appalachian Trail (AT) tab at the top of Homer's Travels.  It is a link to my Google spreadsheet showing my proposed AT stages.  Not the prettiest but it's a start.

My planning ... well, once I completed this spreadsheet I sort of forgot about it.  I'm sure I'm not putting enough planning into the AT but I'm having a hard time focusing on the long term.  I will have to light a fire under my butt soon or I will not be ready for this amazing adventure.  This is especially true since next year is starting to look like a busy one.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Eagle Visitation

A while back we had a bald eagle fly over our backyard sending Iago into a fit (I posted a picture of the eagle on Facebook).  You see, Iago runs around and barks every time a large bird of prey flies over.  It's the only time he isn't unflappable. He isn't as bothered when the birds are on the ground.  I looked out the window yesterday and saw this in the field behind the house:

Bald Eagle munching on a carcass.
Today The eagle was back with its mate I presume and checked out the remains of the carcass:

Pair of Bald Eagles behind our house.
Just another cool thing about living along the migratory routes of birds.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Book: Allison Vesterfelt's "Packing Light"


I got Allison Vesterfelt's "Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage" from the library after seeing it had 4.5 stars on amazon.com. I have to say that I am very disappointed.

The book follows the author as she sells all her things and goes on a roadtrip with one of her friends.  The title refers to mental baggage and reducing it.  Sadly there really is very little about reducing mental baggage in this book.  There is no there there.  I usually am up for a good road trip book.  They are usually full of interesting stories and can be funny at times.  This has neither really.

I read the whole book including her references to the bible and her talks with God but I came close to saying enough and erasing it.  It was a waste of my time.

I gave this book two stars on Goodreads.  Not worth the photons really.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Appalachian Trail - First Draft

Warning:  This post has lots of numbers.  I'm a retired engineer.  That's what I do.

Last weekend I finished the first draft of my Appalachian Trail (AT) hike.  I have one criteria really.  I want to do it in no more than 182 days (26 weeks ... 6 months).

I started by using the length of the AT listed in the A.T. Guide - 2,194.7 miles (2185.9 plus the 8.8 miles from the Amicalola Falls State Park to the official start on Springer Mountain) - and broke it down into one week stages which assumed six days of hiking/camping and one full day (two nights) of rest in towns.  This tells me that I will have to walk, on average, 14.1 miles per day.  This seems doable to me.  On my two Caminos I averaged 14.27 and 14.66 miles per day.

I start out slow, doing stages in the ten mile range for the first two weeks.  I slowly start to increase the milage first to twelve then to fifteen and ultimately 17 miles per day.  Around the day seventy my average daily distance reaches my goal.  Since I should be in better physical condition by then, I continue to lengthen my distance and, ultimately, I will have an overall average distance around 14.8 miles per day.  Since I will be walking farther per day than my original requirement, I will finish the hike in 173 days.  So, this means I will have nine days to play with if necessary.

The longest stage is 21.5 miles (slight higher than my 21.4 miles personal best).  This long day is near the end of the hike so I hope I'm in good physical condition by then.  The shortest is 5.8 miles on a day I walk into town for a rest day.

The hardest part of this plan was figuring out where to stop for rest days.  I was hoping to have a rest day every seven days but it didn't work out that way.  The average stage length (hiking + rest  days) will be 6.95 which is pretty close but the stages range from a minimum of three hiking days to a maximum of nine hiking days.  Not very consistent.  This is especially true on the northern half of the AT.

As I chose places to stop for each night I tried also to have a secondary, backup, location.  Again, in the northern half this was nearly impossible as the shelters were far apart and there were few marked campsites in between the shelters.  This is a situation when you just walk off the trail and find a place to put up your tent for the night, rules and laws be damned.

This plan will change quite a bit over the next year for sure.  It will not even resemble what I actually do on the AT ... though the lack of camping and resupply options in the northern half may keep me on plan.  Resupply will be very interesting and will need a lot of flexibility.  Camping outfitters are rare so what is available at the local grocery store may be my only choice on some stages.  Food and supply will be, by far, the hardest thing to prepare for.  A few stops will require a supply by mail.

I will be adding a tab at the top of the blog linking to my Appalachian Trail Stages once I give it a little polish.  I will keep you all posted as I add to my AT preparations.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Photograph: "Walk Of Fall" {Colors Of Fall 2015}

One last photograph in the Colors of Fall 2015 series.

"Walk of Fall"
by Bruce H.
A tree lined walkway displaying the colors of fall.  I little bit of every color on display.

This picture, a part of a series {Colors of Fall 2015}, was taken in Tom Hanafen River's Edge Park in Council Bluffs, IA on the 16th of October 2015

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Appalachian Trail Planning Starts ... Finally

Last weekend I finally got some of my act slightly together, or at least in the same vicinity, and started planning my Appalachian Trail (AT) thru-hike.  I should have started this in August but I've been putting it off over and over again.  I think it's subconscious anxiety.

Anyway, I started by pulling out the 2013 northbound edition of "The A.T. Guide".  This was a gift given to me by Gv soon after my second Camino.  The book gives a detailed description of shelter/hut/campsite locations along the AT as well as towns and what services are available.  It shows distances and elevations.  It notes locations of water sources and scenic vistas.  It is a very handy guide to planning your AT hike.

The first thing I started to do is plan out the hiking stages.  My intention is to walk six or seven days then take two nights off, preferably in a town, to rest, recuperate, and resupply.  I put together a spreadsheet - because that is what I do - and started to measure out the stages.  The hardest thing to do here is to figure out how far I will walk each day.  I decided to start out slow and walk around ten miles a day for the first week or two.  After that I upped the distance to twelve miles and upward so after a month I will be doing fifteen to sixteen miles a day.

Next I looked at where to stop for rest and resupply.  This is where I ran into some issues.  Early on it was no problem.  Around six, seven, or eight days in I would hit a town with hotels and hiking outfitters.  Farther north, though, things got more difficult.  Towns were getting smaller.  Outfitters getting harder to find.  For example, one stretch between days forty-two and fifty there was nothing but tiny little towns.  I finally decided to do eight days of hiking/camping (i.e. a very heavy pack full of food) until I arrived to a place called "Trent's Grocery".  You could camp here and there would be some food available in the nearby towns of Bland and Bastian, VA.  Unfortunately these towns are small and resupply appears problematic so ... this will probably be a place to have supplies (i.e. camp food) mailed to me.  Not an ideal situation but it will keep me going.

The longest section between towns (so far) is nine days but there is a town where I can resupply half way in so it won't be so bad.  In all, most of the stages are around 7 days of hiking followed by 2 days of rest.  Not what I originally planned but the terrain and the spacing of towns dictate where I stop and where I don't.  It all gives me a headache.

By Sunday I'd planned out to day 78.  At that point I needed a break.  I will continue later this week and add another month or two of stops.

Now I know a few of you are rolling your eyes.  Is he really planning out this hike to the day?  Yes I am.  You have to.  I know very well that any planned stages will be out the window after the first week or two.  There are too many thing that can go right and wrong along the trail to mess up with your shiney schedules and plans.  But the plans are necessary.  I need to know roughly when and where I'll be so that I can plan supply mail drops.  I will have to have summer clothes mailed to me and I will have to send cold weather gear back home.  For me to do this I need to know where I'll be and when I will be there.  You can't really play the AT by ear - I wish you could.

So it is started ... finally.  I will keep you all posted on how it's going.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Photograph: "Violet" {Colors Of Fall 2015}

"Violet"
by Bruce H.
A cluster of early fall blooms of a violet hue.

This picture, a part of a series {Colors of Fall 2015}, was taken during a hike at Hitchcock Nature Center on the 9th of October 2015.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Photograph: "Blue" {Colors Of Fall 2015}

"Blue"
by Bruce H.
A Blue Jay's feather on a bed of fallen leaves.

This picture, a part of a series {Colors of Fall 2015}, was taken during a hike at Hitchcock Nature Center on the 9th of October 2015.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Photograph: "Green" {Color Of Fall 2015}

"Green"
by Bruce H.
Not all leaves change color.  This fern's leaves are still a vibrant green.

This picture, a part of a series {Colors of Fall 2015}, was taken during a hike at Hitchcock Nature Center on the 9th of October 2015.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Photograph: "Yellow" {Colors Of Fall 2015}

"Yellow"
by Bruce H.
A set of leaves turning bright yellow for the Fall.

This picture, a part of a series {Colors of Fall 2015}, was taken during a hike at Hitchcock Nature Center on the 9th of October 2015.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Photograph: "Orange-ish" {Colors Of Fall 2015}

"Orange-ish"
by Bruce H.
A set of leaves turning orange-ish, golden brown-ish, for the Fall.

This picture, a part of a series {Colors of Fall 2015}, was taken during a hike at Hitchcock Nature Center on the 9th of October 2015.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Photograph: "Red" {Colors Of Fall 2015}

"Red"
by Bruce H.
A set of leaves turning red for the Fall.

This picture, a part of a series {Colors of Fall 2015}, was taken during a hike at Hitchcock Nature Center on the 9th of October 2015.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Book: Blaine Harden's "Escape From Camp 14"

I seem to have a minor fixation on North Korea.  January of 2014 I read "Nothing to Envy" which looked at North Korea from the perspective of North Koreans who had lived in the oppressive society and had escaped to South Korea.  The second book, read in May of this year, was "Without You There Is No Us"  This book came from the perspective of an American teaching in North Korea.  My latest read takes a third perspective, a North Korean who never really experienced the North Korean society but was a product of said society.

The book is Blaine Harden's "Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West".  The main 'character' of the book is Shin, a young man born in a multi-generational work camp known to the west as Camp 14.  In North Korea, when a crime against the state occurs, three generations of the family are imprisoned and sent to work camps.  If a father commits a political crime, his children, siblings, spouse, and parents  all go.  Shin is the child of two political prisoners who were allowed to have sex as a reward for hard work.

Shin grows up fixated on food.  He learns he will be rewarded if he snitches.  He receives a very basic education by strict teachers.  He is unaware of most of the outside world.  He witnesses a teacher beat a girl to death because she had a few kernels of corn in her pocket.  He snitches on his mother and brother and watches them being executed.  All this seems normal to him as it is all he has known all his life until he meets a new prisoner from the outside.

He and the prisoner hatch a plot to escape.  Shin only wants to escape so that he can get more food.  During the escape attempt the other prisoner dies on an electric fence ... and Shin crawls over him to freedom.  He eventually makes his way to China and freedom.

Shin's story is tragic and a bit strange.  He has trouble telling all the truth to the author as he is guilty about what he had to do to survive in Camp 14.  The changing story distracts from the narrative a bit making you wonder what is true and what is a fable created by Shin.

I enjoyed this read despite it's possible veering from the truth every now and then.  I gave it four out of five stars on Goodreads.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Dedication And Music (Elton John And His Band)

Our Queen of Victory Statue
(Cropped from Picture taken by GodSon.
Originally posted on Twitter).
The past few weeks have been busy, especially for the Wife.  It started a bit over a week ago with a wedding shower for the Wife's niece.  The Wife and a Sister-in-Law hosted the event at our house.  The Wife was busy decorating and preparing for the festivities.  My role was a supportive one, namely cleaning the house and keeping Iago calm in the den while the ladies had fun.

This last week was all geared towards the dedication of a statue at the Wife's school.  The Wife and I purchased the statue of May and child (Mary Queen of Victory) for the school and it sits outside the entrance of the gym.  There is a story behind the statue.

After my first Camino I suggested that the Wife do something for herself.  I was feeling a little guilty that I had such an extravagant and somewhat selfish adventure.  I hoped she would find a similar adventure for herself.  After my second Camino I suggested it again.  The Wife had been thinking about it and had not come up with anything she wanted to do ... then an opportunity appeared.  The Wife would buy a statue for the school.  It would cost about the same as what I paid for the two Caminos and she would dedicate the statue to her Aunt Dee who passed away in 2008.

Last Thursday the Wife's clan started showing up.  I picked up the Wife's Aunt C at the airport and entertained her until the Wife and others from her family arrived.  The In-Laws, Matron of Honor, Best Man, GodSon, Altar Boy, the Wife's brother, and others all show up at our house and enjoyed each other's company catching up with all the family news while imbibing their favorite beverages including homemade beer.

On Friday we got up early, went to the Wife's school where we attended Mass with the students.  During the Mass the statue was blessed by the priest.  Tears were shed.  Afterwards we took pictures of the statue, took a tour of the school, and went out for lunch.

Friday night was a busy night of Chili, drink, party games (which I could not partake - can't do party games ... nope, can't do it), and had a merry ol' time.  We were joined by more nieces and family.  We had a full house.  Friday, as a whole, was a wonderful day for everyone.  Even Iago had fun when his cousin Cooper showed up to play.

Everyone went home Saturday.  Aunt C was the last to go.  We had breakfast at Lisa's Radial Cafe with Aunt C, the Wife's Brother , sister-in-Law, and niece before we took her to the airport.

By the late afternoon we were both pooped.  We had one more thing to do but it was not work.  It was a Concert.  Saturday night we went to see Elton John.  He was awesome.  We both really enjoyed it and it was sorely needed.  About three hours of good music and singing along with songs from our youth.  It's what we needed after the last couple of weeks.

Monday, September 28, 2015

SuperMoon Eclipses And Wet News From Mars

Collage of photos I took of the 27 September 2015 Super Blood Moon.
(click on image to see a larger version)
On Sunday night we were treated with a fairly rare combination of a SuperMoon (when the Moon is at its closest distance from Earth at the time of the full Moon) and a total lunar eclipse (when the Moon moves into Earth's shadow.  A supermoon is 'super' because it appears larger than most full moons.  A lunar eclipse is sometimes referred to as a Blood Moon  as it takes on an orangish-reddish color.  So, put these two things together and you get a Super Blood Moon.  Above is a collage of pictures I took off our deck during the CSI Finale commercial breaks.  The pictures came out better than I expected.

The second astronomical news in the last two days was the NASA discovery of evidence of flowing water on the surface of Mars.  Life as we know it requires liquid water to survive so the existence of liquid water on Mars is a promising step towards the future discovery of alien life.  The discovery of life, when it comes, will potentially be the most important discovery in history and life, as we know it, will change forever.

I love astronomy and these are exciting times we live in.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Book: Iain M. Banks' "The Hydrogen Sonata"

It's been a while since I read a book.  I finished my last book on the 15th of July and I really didn't pick up another book (eBook that is) until I went on my Rocky Mountain camp.  That's not a big gap, two weeks or so, but then it took me a month and a half to finish it.  It took so long not because it was over five hundred pages long.  It was not because it was bad since it wasn't.  I just would pick it up at the end of the day and read maybe five or ten pages before I went to bed.  I just strung out the reading of this rather good book.  Despite the slow progress, Goodreads says that I am two books ahead of schedule.  Good.

This book, by the way, is Iain M. Banks' "The Hydrogen Sonata".  This is a Culture book set up in the far future world Banks created for his Culture Series.  The book revolves around the 'subliming' of a civilization, the time when an advanced civilization transcends the material world.  The story follows the political wrangling, deceit, and manipulation that surrounds this event.

The book was interesting and I think it was one of Banks' better Culture books.  While I have given other Culture books mixed reviews, this one is quite good. The characters, both biological and artificial, are interesting.  There really isn't a huge climax.  This is hardly an action adventure but it held my interest and I was sucked into the world and I wanted to see where it would lead.

This is sadly the last book in the Culture series.  Iain M. Banks was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in 2013 and passed away in June of that year.  Before he died he asked the woman he'd been living with for the last seven years if she would do him the honor of becoming his widow.  They married soon afterward.  His imagination and creativity will be missed.

I rated this book four stars out of five on Goodreads.  I will now have to look for another series to follow.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Interesting Weekend With A Friend

This weekend LA, the Wife's friend, who we met with in New York, dropped by for a couple days.  These days were filled with walking around Omaha seeing the sights through new eyes.

LA arrived early Friday evening and we jumped in the car and headed to the Old Market area of downtown Omaha.  The first thing on our itinerary was a visit to the OM Center to participate in the Chenrezig Empowerment on Compassion.  This Buddhist ritual is a cleansing and blessing of Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion.  It was a little long for my taste but it was interesting and unique.  After the ceremony we admired the beginnings of the sand mandala the Buddhist monks (who performed the ceremony) were creating.

I added a couple photos to my 2013-2015 Tibetan Mandala Google Photos album.

After the ceremony we had a late dinner at the Jackson Street Tavern which turned out to be very yummy.  I'll have to take Mom there sometime.


After dinner we walked it off, making our way to the riverfront.  The Wife and I rarely go out at night and this walk reminded me of what we missed.  The skyline lit up with the Woodman of the World tower lit in 911 red, white, and blue.  Bracketing the First National Bank building, apparently coincidentally, were two vertical spotlights that reminded me of the beams of light in New York that represent the Twin Towers.

We reached the Heartland of America park and admired the changing color of the fountain in the center of the pond.  I'd seen it during the day but at night it is even more impactful.

We passed the drunk guy muttering to himself and walked along the Union walk to Lewis and Clark Landing.  The Pedestrian Bridge was all lit up as well, reflecting in the Muddy Mo below.

We naturally walked on the bridge.  In the lights you could see spider webbing attached to the support cables, blowing in the breeze.  The fencing along the railing had teeny tiny spider webs in each square with even tinier spiders at their centers.


After the pedestrian bridge we walked over to the Centurylink Center and admired the statues performing in front.  The statues were all lit up.


That was enough for the first night. We'd been downtown for almost five hours and all the walking wore the Wife and I out. LA seemed to have unending energy.  We drove home and made it to bed just after midnight.

On Saturday we had breakfast at the Leavenworth Cafe before heading back downtown.  I parked near the slides and LA and the Wife took a few turns down the slide.

From there we went over to the start of the frontier sculpture.  The sculpture starts with a wagon train representing the settlers of the west.  The sculpture then extends a couple blocks with scared bison who in turn, scare a flock of geese.

We wound our way back and forth around downtown passing examples of Omaha architecture, memorials, and public art.

Not sure how far we walked but it was quite a bit.  By one o'clock I was tired.  I hadn't slept very long the night before and my fall allergies were kicking in with a vengeance.  We got back home so the Wife could watch her football and so LA could do some work that he needed to catch up on.  I took a nap.

Later that afternoon The Wife and LA went to the inter-tribal Powwow at Fort Omaha.  I would have liked to go but my allergies were just sapping my energy and I don't think I would have enjoyed it as much as I would have wanted.

Saturday evening was steak and chicken of the grill, a fire in the chiminea (burning the remains of our fallen crab apple tree), and chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert.

LA got up early to take pictures of the sunrise off our deck.  The weather this weekend had been perfect - almost Fall like.  It had been fun seeing Omaha through a fresh set of eyes.  LA left this morning heading back east.  It took most of the day for the Wife and I to recover from the wonderful time we had.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Remember The Fallen

The World Trade Center
Taken circa 1992 while lying on a bench with my very first camera purchased
across from Empire State Building earlier that day.
The world changed fourteen years ago.  History broke.

The 90s were a decade of hope.  The cold war ended.  The Internet boom started.  Crime fell.  Prosperity floated many boats.  Or so we thought.  In hindsight it might have all been an illusion.

When the planes flew into the World Trade Center the illusion came down with the towers.  Immediately after the day people talked about fixing the causes of the hatred focused on us.  There was talk of building bridges between people and faiths.  For a brief moment the hope that existed before promised a better world rising from the ashes of this act of terror.  The brief moment, like the illusion of a bright future before it, was just dust, debris, and empty wishes.  The opportunities we had were trampled under the wheels of the war machine.  A justified war began but was soon eclipsed by a new war, a pointless war, a war justified by acts of deception.  Twelve years later we are still suffering from the aftermath.

Remember what was done to us.  Remember how we ultimately reacted out of fear.  Most of all, Remember those who have fallen.

The new Freedom Tower.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

The Language These Days ...

The foul language found in graffiti these days.
Another sign of the fall of the English language ... especially in graffiti.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Shifting Slowly Back On Track

Well, it's September and it's time for me to straighten things up.  August turned out be be a cool down month more me, a cleansing of the palate after a month of furious activity.

A few things happened in August after my return from my camping trip in the Rockies.  First of all my blah mood that I'd been in since early Spring lifted.  I'd always thought it was tied to the anticipation and anxiety around RAGBRAI and my camping trip.  It appears I was right because my mood lifted as soon as I returned from the Rocky Mountain National Park.

The next thing that happened was the complete cessation of all physical activities.  The Spring and early Summer had been chock full of bike training, walking, and stretching exercises in preparation for RAGBRAI mostly but also the camping trip.  As soon as it was all over I turned into a lump.  I ended up taking a three week vacation from all exercise.

The third thing that happened it that I started to obsessively play a Star Trek based computer game.  I don't want to think about the number of hours I put into that game (still am putting ...).  It fills my waking hours except when I am doing my chores.  I guess I went from physically active activities to non-physical entertainment.

But It's now September and I am slowly weaning myself off the game.  I'm still putting many hours into it but I am still playing less than I have been.  The extra time I'm gaining back has gone mostly back into physical exercise.

I put my bike on the training stand in the basement and I rode it a couple hours this week.  I plan to ride a couple hours three times a week (a couple hours = length of a typical Netflix movie).  It felt good riding this week so I didn't lose too much over the past three weeks.

I also went for a walk/hike this week.  Excluding my camping trip, this is the first one I've done since April.  It was a short walk, 8.7 miles (14 km), but I felt pretty good despite the three weeks of sitting in front of the computer.  Fall will be here soon, one of my favorite seasons, and the walks, instead of being in the hot and humid air of summer, will be in the cool and crisp autumn air.

I took my Mom out for lunch this week as well.  I had a good time talking to Mom.  I realize I don't do this enough so I will try to make our lunches bi-weekly from now on and I will have to do some research to find new restaurants to go to.

So September, so far, has been one of getting back on track.  I seem to do this every year.  The Summer activities fill my life with adventure but throw me off my normal rhythm.  Fall is a time for renewal for me.  A return to my routine, a place where I find comfort.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

An Apology To Summer Activites

The cool weather we've been having this week reminds me that Fall is just around the corner and has gotten me to reflect on what I have done this Summer.  Thinking back, I owe the Summer an apology.  More specifically, I owe the Summer's activities an apology.  My reviews of my Summer activities - the New England vacation, RAGBRAI, and the Rocky Mountain camp - have all been too harsh.

The New England vacation was a perfectly fine vacation.  I enjoyed visiting the 911 Memorial and the Freedom Tower, I enjoyed the Woodstock Museum, and despite it coming across a bit underwhelming, Niagara Falls is still pretty awesome.

RAGBRAI taught me I didn't like riding bicycles over long distances that much but that's an important thing in itself.  I now know that I don't like riding bicycles over long distances!  I also know that, even though I didn't like riding bicycles over long distances, I can ride bicycles over a long distance.  I rode a freakin' bike over 462 miles!  That is an accomplishment all in itself.

My Rocky Mountain National Park camping trip was a terrific learning experience.  While I was in the middle of it, I didn't feel that way, but I recognized soon enough that I'd learned some important lessons that could be used to further my hiking and camping experiences.  That's not a small thing!

So all you Summer activities - activities that I have poo-pooed so easily - you were great!  From now on the wisdom each and every one of you contributed will be remembered fondly.  I learned a lot from all of you and those lessons will continue with me on all my future endeavors.  


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Camping RMNP: Lessons Learned

Every now and then it's ok to have a bad experience if you can learn from it.  My Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) five day camping trip was a mix of good and bad.  From the good I got wonder, joy, and happiness.  From the bad I learned valuable lessons that will help me improve.

There were five major lessons learned on this camp.  Four are universal and can be applied to most, if not all, future camping.  The other is a bit more specific.  We'll start with this one.

Lesson One: Altitude is a butt kicker.

Doing my first five day camp in a park with altitudes ranging from 8,000 ft to over 12,000 ft probably wasn't the smart thing to do, especially considering that I live at 1,000 ft 99.9% of the time.  Altitude sickness comes in various grades and severities.  I am fortunate to handle altitude pretty well.  In Peru, on our first day at altitude in Cuzco, I suffered from a headache which went away after a good night's sleep.  In RMNP I didn't even have a headache.  What I did suffer from, both in Peru and RMNP, is rapid onset fatigue ... i.e. I tired very easily.  This made my days two to three times harder than they should have.

I'd spent the night in Estes Park (altitude 7,000 ft) and I'd hoped it would have acclimatized me but one night was not enough. It took until day three on the trail to finally start to acclimatize.
Learned: Take time to acclimatize before you do physical activity at altitude.  You may need up to a week to fully acclimatize.  In the meanwhile, take things slowly and rest often. 

Lesson Two: Thirty-seven pounds is not light.

I thought my pack was light at thirty-seven pounds but once you hoist that pack on your back it begins to feel like a ton of bricks.  When I chose my latest pack, I picked it for it's weight capacity (50+ lbs).  I figured I may have to go over forty pounds occasionally and most ultralight pack capacities top out at 40 pounds.  Now I know better.  Thirty-seven pounds is too much.

My current pack weights, empty, about 4.8 lbs (2.15 kg).  Another pack I was looking at but rejected due to it's lower weight capacity comes in at 1.8 lbs (0.84 kg).  Both of these packs have the same volume (60 liters).  One weighs three pounds lighter.  Now I know I could have gone with the lighter pack and I would have shaved a few pounds off my load.

Besides the pack, I will have to look at all my equipment to see if I can shave a few ounces (or pounds) off the final weight.  I am starting to understand the ultralight hiking obsession that I've read about.
Learned:  Keep the weight to a minimum.  Lighter is often better and a light pack means additional spring in the hiker's steps.  Lighter = happier.
Lesson Three: Food is not food unless it has calories.

I thought I'd brought enough food with enough protein and calories to sustain me for five days.  Turns out, for various reasons, I was wrong.  In addition to the weakness caused by the altitude and weight of the pack, I wasn't giving my body enough fuel.

I carried four dehydrated meals, trail mix, and jerky.  I also carried some sandwiches packaged for campers in case it rained and couldn't use my stove.  First off, I didn't carry enough of each.  I probably needed double the calories ... maybe even triple.  Another thing is everything has a high sodium content which made me drink a lot of water.  This is not a bad thing but high sodium is not ideal.

To make things worse on this trip, all my jerky molded on the first day and had to be tossed out.  I never noticed this at home because I store my jerky in the fridge ... hence no mold.  The camping sandwiches saved the day here substituting for the jerky.

Before my next long camping trip I will have to research calorie dense food - foods that really pack the calories into each ounce.  I will also have to investigate foods that can take the heat and not spoil too quickly.
Learned:  Calorie dense food that doesn't spoil.  The more you expend energy, the more calories you need to keep going.
Lesson Four: Pull up your pants!

The North Face convertible pants that I love do not fit me properly.  Also their integrated belt (i.e. the belt is sewn into the waist) will not stay cinched tight.  This allows the pants to shift down and the pack belt then rubs on the hips without the protection of the pants.  I didn't have open wounds but it was a bit bruised and sore on my hips.
Learned:  Find better fitting hiking pants, preferably without an integrated belt.
Lesson Five: Toesocks RULE!

When I first bought my Injinji toesocks I said that they would need a multi-day hike to really test them out.  Well, on my camp I thoroughly tested them.

I had three pairs of liner toesocks and three pair of wool hiking socks.  While I hiked I wore a pair of liner socks with a wool hiking sock over them.  I wore two pairs for two consecutive days each and one pair for the last day.  I climbed up, I climbed down, and I walked on all sorts of surfaces with these socks on.  I wore a pair of Solomon Eskape Aero hiking shoes with custom orthotic insoles.

The results, frankly, were amazing.  During the entire trip, I had only one blister on one toe.  This was better than I expected.  I had a couple hot spots on a big toe and the bottom of one foot but they only lasted a day and never developed into blisters.  I couldn't have asked for better results.

In addition to having minimal blister issues, the soft corn on my toe that seems to always flare up when I do long hikes, never bothers me when I wear the toesocks and it didn't bother me this camp either.  The added cushioning seems to prevent any irritation of the corn.

One odd thing which I may have to work on is, when I pulled off my socks to change them after wearing them two days, my toes were filthy.  Aparently the tenacious dirt went through the cloth upper of the shoe, through a thick wool hiking sock, and through a liner sock to get to my toes.  The rest of the foot was relatively clean.  Fortunately I had some Wet Ones with me and I could clean my toes before putting on clean socks.
Learned:  Toesocks work wonders for reducing the chances of getting blisters.  A must have on long hikes.
I'm sure there were other lessons in there that I've forgotten.  There are always opportunities to learn things when you do something new.  All of these lessons, once I tackle them and find solutions, will help me on the Appalachian Trail (AT).  The only one that really won't matter much is the one hardest to solve and that is altitude.  The highest point on the AT, Clingmans Dome, is only 6,643 ft (2,025 m) which is nearly a thousand feet lower than Estes Park and nearly two thousand feet lower than the Bear Lake trailhead where I started my hike.  I would consider that a good thing for, as I said before, altitude kicks butt.

Several times as I was struggling near the end of the day I found myself asking if I was willing to repeat this week twenty-six times along the AT.  At the time, especially during the first three days of the camp, I might have answered a resounding 'No'.  But I've learned my lessons.  I will find solutions.

Near the end, even when it still was difficult, I would stop, look around, and marvel at what I saw.  I would drink a long draw from the filtered river water - some of the best water I've had the pleasure of drinking - and forget all the dark thoughts I'd had the day before.  It's time to start planning my AT adventure.