Pinup Lifestyle Contest Entry

The theme for this month’s contest is “Red, White, and Blue.” Harlean (who is a fiction) and I didn’t have a chance to do a shoot specifically for the contest, but she went back into the archives and found a shot from the days of yore and gussied it up for this contest.

If you’d like to vote for us, we’d really appreciate it! The deadline is tonight, but just what time that means is anybody’s guess. Don’t wait another minute!

While you’re there, you have four other votes to spend, and there are some worthy entries. If you insist on voting only for ones that are on theme (olive drab is now part of red, white and blue it seems), that limits your options quite a bit, however, and if disrespecting the flag while trying to appear patriotic bothers you, then options are limited yet more. Even so, there are a few nice pics, so quit wasting you time here and go waste your time over there.

X-Games to the Left, Soccer to the Right

I am surrounded by TV screens, all showing things that resemble sport. In soccer, a Mexican team is playing a Spanish Italian one. I have to say I was pulling for Guadalajara over Seville or wherever Juventus comes from. [Um… Turin, actually.]

I didn’t see the goal, but I did see a few supposedly macho men lying on the grass crying. Not as many as I expected, which just goes to show you how far this league is from earning my respect. Only four episodes of babyism in the second half? That’s progress! I’d like to think the boys from North America spent less time on the soil than the Europeans.

Meanwhile, my left eye and right hemisphere have been absorbing X-Games. I watched an event where kids rolled their bikes down a ridiculous slope, up a ramp, through the air (tricks ensue) and then, if they land, they have a chance to do one more trick. I’d say maybe 30% landed the first flight. Probably less. These kids fell a long, long way, sometimes with a bicycle in the crotch, and when things came to a rest they took a deep breath and walked off, trying as hard as possible to NOT look hurt. A nice departure from the soccer.

And yet. Does the double-front-flip or the backflip-with-the-bike-spin score higher? That’s for the judges to decide. Ultimately most of the events in the X-Games are slightly-more-dangerous figure skating. Contestants do stuff and someone else decides who wins. Interesting, occasionally entertaining, but not satisfying from a sporting point of view.

When does hockey season begin again?

Darn that Science

I’m in a bar right now, trying to get the blog mojo working. On the TV I just saw a commercial that featured some sort of record-breaking car jump. I just couldn’t get excited.

Back in the ’70s the guys doing jumps just put a big motor in their cars, set up a ramp, and took a shot at the other side. Sure there were some estimates of how far they would fly if they were going a certain speed at the top of the ramp, but there was still a seat-of-the-pants feel to it. You started small, you jumped farther and farther, and learned to land on your wheels.

Now, I see a specially-modified car sail through the air and all I see is math. The driver has only to hit the ramp at the right speed and keep level and Bob’s your uncle. [This has always been the case, but ‘the right speed’ was not as exactly-known as it is now, nor was it so easy to hit that speed back in the day. I contend. And now that I think of it, some ramps back then might have doomed the driver no matter the speed.]

Daredeviling, like tennis, has suffered from the advance of technology.


My New Cube

Welp, it’s official, I’m a salaried employee of Apple. It’s not that big a change from being a contractor; I’ll be doing the same work as before.

While I was traveling my department moved to a new building, so when I got to my new cube for the first time, this is what I saw:


And yes, I do get a discount on stuff, and yes, they assume I’ll be buying for friends and family as well. So if you need a Mac system or an iPod (no iPads at this time), let me know.


A Day of Many Miles

The day broke clear and didn’t waste any time warming up. After a not-terribly-satisfying breakfast and a fuel stop, I climbed onto Interstate 40 and headed west, west, west.

I wonder, on that stretch of Interstate between Albuquerque and Winslow, how many people are enticed these days by “The World’s Tallest Teepee” (a rigid, multi-story structure), or “The World’s Longest Map of US Rte 66”, which is painted on a wall of a curio shop. How many people spontaneously decide to buy a hunting knife, or a bit of petrified wood? Not as many these days, I suspect, as cars get ever more comfortable and the excuses to climb out and stretch one’s legs get less enticing.

I certainly wasn’t a candidate to stop this time. I wanted to put some miles behind me, the more the better. As I rolled along somewhere east of Flagstaff I saw a sign that did catch my eye. “Fresh jerky 227 miles ahead.” Bison was listed, and I think elk as well. By my calculations that put the jerky store somewhere around Kingman.

Although I have to say that I’ve never visited the much-hyped ice caves or gone underground on any of the mine tours. One of these days… On I drove, stopping only for fuel and beverages.

I never found the jerky store. By the time I got to Kingman I was occupied with the Big Decision. North, past Hoover Dam, through Las Vegas, and on up to Beatty to cross into California high in the Sierras, or west, through Needles to Barstow, to drive up the central valley.

In favor of north: 1) There’s a new bridge to keep the damn terrorists off the damn dam. I bet it’s pretty cool. 2) two-lane highways. 3) Far, far more scenic. 4) A chance to relive another trip with a buddy and two chihuahuas, getting kicked out of a casino in Vegas, followed by a night in Beatty, and my one and only pass through Trona, CA (a hellish place when it’s windy, which I gather is most of the time).

In favor of west: 1) two less hours driving, even if I didn’t stop for pictures on the north route.

When decision time came, I went west. Note to Gus (I think it was Gus), while your “227 miles to jerky” sign was certainly effective for me, you might consider a second sign, a little closer to the promised land. I’m just sayin’ is all. Or maybe I just missed it.

The last 100 miles of the day as I stretched my drive from Needles to Barstow seemed as long as the entire rest of the trip. There was still plenty of daylight left, but I was ready to stop. Perhaps if my air conditioning worked things would have been different. As I pulled in to the Von’s parking lot to buy large amounts of chilled liquids I reflected that had I chosen north, I’d still have an hour to go, assuming Las Vegas rush hour didn’t add to that.

I noticed as I drove across the street to the California Inn (an excellent choice), that there was a little strip-mall bar nearby called Molly’s Pub. I showered and packed a laptop and book (in case this wasn’t a laptop sort of place), and tromped over to Molly’s. It wasn’t a laptop sort of place at all; in fact it wasn’t a book sort of place either. So I bellied up to the bar, had a large beer in a mason jar, and watched the Dodger game with glazed eyes, which kept me entertained. (For a while I sat next to a guy who used to be the mascot for the Dodgers; I was rooting for the other team on general principles. It was all good-natured, though.)

I ordered a second beer, which arrived just as the cougars showed up. My long hair kept them away for a while, but by the end of my beer I’m not sure how many sentences I had started with “My girlfriend…” It was time to quit that congenial place and catch some sleep, to dream of jerky missed and the road not taken.


Sometimes You See it Coming

Sometimes you see it coming, a special type of melancholy that means it’s time to find the heart of the story. It’s the time to write the scenes that reveal the souls of the participants, and give them the power to change the world.

Even in a comedy characters strive to relieve sadness, to end loneliness. When you touch the sadness, you find the character, from Ann Boleyn to Zapp Brannigan. And even Deek, the stoner mom’s-basement-dweller dropout from life. What’s he hiding from? It’s time to find out. I’m in that place.


Andromeda Breakthrough

Our story opens with a British military officer being awakened by the Super-Mega-Holy-Shit alarm, the alarm that (our officer reflects) most people thought would only happen at the outbreak of World War III. He gets on the phone and is told that it is not WWIII after all (phew), but his men are needed pronto at the secret base nearby.

They rush to the scene (more or less) where the soldiers are told to wait while the officer goes and has tea spiked with rum (“of course”) and talks about what happened. Apparently the fog is too thick to mount a search for a pair of unarmed civilians. So they don’t even walk around the perimeter of the base. Meanwhile, the officers chat away and drink rum. Maybe that holy-shit alarm wasn’t really necessary.

And so we begin Andromeda Breakthrough by Fred Hoyle and Hohn Elliot.

Quick aside, here – I didn’t think I’d get so long-winded writing about pulp fiction. Of course it’s not well-written, of course there’s a conversation in which a deal is made that turns out to also have also been made by the same parties some time in the past. They’ve even kidnapped people together! So, no real need to go into detail in my little book report. But I did anyway. You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do. Sometimes it’s so I can avoid the same mistakes, and sometimes the writing is genuinely funny. Anyway, back to the setup…

It turns out the computer at the secret facility has been destroyed, and it also turns out that the computer is like none other on Earth. The instructions on how to build it came from space. Once built, the computer gave them instructions on how to build a weird chick, and with her help it began passing on instructions on how to make all kinds of ground-breaking stuff. Interesting theme #1: what are the motives of the race from Andromeda who sent the information?

Apparently even having built it once, the Brits are unable to make another one, and their dreams of being the world’s dominant power are shattered. Also, the weather is going to hell.

SCIENCE-FICTION AT ITS FANTASTIC BEST, the cover proclaims. Happily for the rest of the genre that’s not really true. The story was first published in 1964, and while there is fun to he had over dated references and offhand sexism, it’s not those things that sink this story. It’s bad writing. Yet, there are a few bits that are prescient, and even a message for the scientific community (which the scientists in the story manage to forget at the end).

Just for giggles, let’s take a look at the bad guys, shall we? There’s a small oil-rich nation on the Persian Gulf, but they’re really just the puppets of a multinational corporation with ties everywhere. The name of that company: Intel. I just looked it up and the Intel we know was founded in 1968, four years after this book was published. If I was head of AMD, Intel’s rival, I might fund a movie version of this book just on general principles.

The top Intel honcho we meet is a beautiful and competent woman (though of course she’s not afraid to use her body to get ahead). Her second in command is an ex-Nazi. The authors go out of their way to make him a nicer-than-usual ex-Nazi, but his glimmers of conscience don’t stop him from murdering people.

Opposite them we have a dashing scientist over whom girls swoon (“Don’t trouble your head about it”, he actually says to a female), a weird-but-pretty manufactured girl, a plain-looking (and therefore asexual) female scientist who manufactured the girl, and a few others. Most people in this story are frightfully decent, and as we all know decent people are able to judge the character of anyone they meet at a glance. We know this because the writers don’t trouble us with what our friends actually observe, but take us straight to the conclusion. He looked like a good guy.

A phrase that stuck with me: “jerked slowly”. There are plenty more where that came from.

The authors really don’t show us the world through the characters’ eyes at all. We just jump from head to head in each scene, reading what each participant thinks. When they think at all. Good lord, a guy helps commit treason and by the end he’s forgiven due to his being an effective bureaucrat. Good guys escape their captors regularly. Scientists create unknown organisms, built using instructions from an alien race whose motives are questionable, and pour the samples down the drain. This little behavior almost destroys humanity and earns the careless scientists a severe tongue-lashing from a minor character. No other repercussions seem forthcoming.

Not all the nice people make it to the end of the story, which is good. The Arabs are, in general, fine, wise folk (The French and German people don’t come off so well). The writers made an earnest attempt to put female characters in positions of power, and if they sometimes undermined themselves, hey, it was 1964. Much of the story portrays an effort to fix the climate—which the good guys broke—events that resonated with me as I read it during a heat wave. So, there’s a lot to say for this story. I just wish a better writer had tackled it.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

From the Prairie to the Mountains

Kansas is hot right now. Really stinkin’ hot. When I staggered from my nice-but-not-seventy-bucks-nice hotel room in Dodge City I could already feel the heat settling down over the town like a sweaty, feverish hen spreading her damp feathers over an egg that was never going to hatch. I made a hasty decision to modify my course. Oklahoma panhandle didn’t seem like a good idea.

Incidentally, I’m pretty sure Dodge City is in Ford County.

Before I could even get out of Dodge, as they say, I needed to send a package via FedEx. The ladies running the hotel desk had no idea where I might do that, then Google lied to me. Luckily I detected the falsehood before setting out, and managed to find through the FedEx site (duh!) that a local mall had a drop box. The hotel women gave me (incorrect) directions to the mall, and after I recovered from that it only a matter of twenty minutes to find the box (or, more exactly, someone who knew where the damn thing was). I put in the package, which included a signed document accepting the terms of a full-time salaried position at Apple. Rather a momentous occasion, for all it was just sliding paper into a slot.

Then, at last, I was on my way. The course alteration mentioned earlier was to head a little more northerly, coming down to Los Alamos via Taos rather than up from Santa Fe. This got me to higher altitude sooner, and got me deeper into the rain shadow of the rocky mountains.

It was a good drive. Highway 160 through southern Kansas and into Colorado was new to me. There was one section I dubbed The Euclidian Highway, because the road was always either exactly north-south or east-west, with all corners being right angles. One of the zigs and zags took me down the north-south main street of Pritchett, Colorado, a very small, picturesque little town with brick storefronts with plate-gass display windows. A cafe sits right where you would expect it to. The plains stretch to the horizon in every direction. The only thing is, most of the stores are empty. The café is closed, and has a For Sale by Owner sign in the window.

Might be a good place to film a movie. As I drove away, it occurred to me I should take some pictures. But I didn’t. I was driving. After a few more zigs and zags the road returned to more road-like behavior, and I met the freeway at Trinidad, Colorado.

I had no idea Trinidad has such a cool downtown area. I was tempted to stop for the day and bum around for a bit. But I didn’t do that, either. My parents were expecting my arrival. (Ironically, my parents were not expecting my arrival. I put the wrong day in an email.)

From there a quick hop over Raton Pass and once more I left the Interstate behind to take highway 64 west. I drove past skinny cattle picking over utterly barren rangeland, past Cimarron and up into the mountains. That’s some good driving right there. A few raindrops hit the windshield, but not enough to make me stop and put the top up.

From Eagle Nest over and down into Taos (the usual traffic jam), across the Rio Grande at Española and up the hill to Los Alamos. The mountains above the town are still smoldering, the fire working its way through terrain too rugged to send in crews. The hills all around the town used to be heavily forested; now they are barren and rocky and coated with blackened toothpicks. Will the soil last on the mountainsides long enough to let the forests reestablish themselves? I sure don’t know. People are working hard right now to mitigate erosion.

So here I am, in the Land of Enchantment, tired from a long but never-dull journey.

Return to Kansas

As I write this I am at the end of the fourth day of my road trip to Kansas University, where I will once again hang out with skilled and insightful writers who are willing, nay, eager, to help me become one of them.

This odyssey has been different than some in the past, and I’m having a tough time putting my finger on what has changed. Normally when I get out on the road I pop reflexively into a literary frame of mind. Everything I see is a symbol or a metaphor or some shit like that. This time, not so much. It’s got me a bit worried.

The Road Ahead

For instance: Day one, even before the Emergency Broadcast Mystery, I was passing a beat-up pick’em-up-truck and its exhaust pipe fell off. Thump clatter clangety-clang-clang as the motorcyclist behind him swerved out of the way. Someone in the heavy traffic behind no doubt got a nasty surprise. There should be something more to say about that. I had been directly behind the pipe-loser only moments before.

Inspiration? Bueller? Bueller?

Then there was the truck I passed. On its rear-view mirror, just above the convex part of the mirror, in white block letters, was the word “GOAL”. So every time that driver looks in the mirror, he sees GOAL printed neatly over what he is leaving behind. It’s probably an acronym for how to be a better driver, but it’s still kind of sad. No matter which way he goes, he’s driving away from his GOAL.

The Road Behind

Speaking of better drivers, I’m a pretty good driver most of the time (above average, like most drivers), but sometimes, every five years or so, I do something really stupid. Thanks, giant red pickup with anti-lock brakes in Ely NV, for not demolishing me.

I have never seen Nevada so green. Maybe it’s just timing, maybe Nevada looks like this pretty often, but I’ve traversed the state a few times and I saw green where I didn’t even think there was vegetation before. Three days through the desert, happy for the new wipers and water-tight top each day.

Rain-Washed Miata in the Desert

I added time to my pilgrimage this year with the express goal of taking lots of pictures. It hasn’t gone as planned. There were many complicating factors – a run-down bar facade I wanted to shoot simply isn’t there anymore. Highway 50 is not as lonely as it used to be, so I couldn’t stop in the middle of the road to take pictures when no pullout was available. Mostly, when I looked at the results, I realized that I had forgotten almost everything I had learned while shooting landscapes in the past. The pictures just weren’t that good. I slap my own forehead now, seeing the same mistakes I made my first time through the desert repeated at higher resolution.

Roadside Reflections

Next time. I think a co-pilot would be a huge help.

Either I missed a 40-foot-tall sign marking the entrance to a military base, with a rocket at the top that I would love to turn into a (technically challenging) pinup shot (sexy ’50’s-style cowgirl riding the rocket, ruby-red lips and white teeth, her hand holding her turquoise cowgirl hat high… chaps? yeah, I think she’s wearing chaps.), or the sign is gone. Perhaps the base was closed. If so, that sign should be in a museum somewhere, and I will go to that museum. All I saw was a simple green sign pointing to (if I recall correctly) bombing range B-17.

One of the advantages of taking a couple of extra days for the trip is that you have more flexibility to dodge the weather. This presupposes that you pay attention to forecasts. Last year I had a thoroughly unpleasant time moving east through Kansas as thunderstorms knocked me about and generally tried to kill me. “Not this time!” said I, and put in a long day to get from Ely (rhymes with mealy), Nevada, to Boulder, Colorado. I drove right into a massive thunderstorm as I crossed Vail Pass. Whee.

A side note: Don’t people put crowns on roads anymore? This highway was freshly resurfaced, and there was no effort made whatsoever to encourage water to flow to the sides of the road. Good God Almighty, does the highway department think water behaves differently these days? I settled in behind a car (at a safe distance) and when great geysers of water flew up from his car, I prepared myself for the same. Slowly, sanely, we all made our way down off the mountain.

View out my window this morning

Overall, I-70 west from Salina, Utah to Golden, Colorado is the most consistently scenic 400+ hundred miles of road in the US interstate system. (If you have a few extra minutes, highway 60 west of Golden is an excellent aside – today I followed the course of the pure rocky mountain spring water muddy rocky mountain thunderstorm runoff almost to the brewery gates.) As with any road that spans hundreds of miles, there are a couple of boring stretches, but overall no amount of engineering could overcome the joy of driving through the rocky mountains and the majestic deserts of eastern Utah. (The goal of the interstate system is to engineer out all joy of travel in the names of safety and efficiency.)

I’m in rural Kansas right now, conservative as it gets (or at least Republican). I look like an old hippie. Kansas folk are friendly, though; they just can’t help it. All they need is a little help from me, a friendly hello, a smile, and then “he may be an old hippie but he’s a nice man.” This is true pretty much anywhere; people want to have a friendly interaction with you most of the time, so just help them out.

View out my window this evening

Latest Google Search: Does too much turkey jerky cause hemorrhoids? Followed closely by: God, is there any other indignity you would care to thrust upon me?

Yes, in my short time here in the Bible Belt, I have already become a man of prayer.


A Quick Word to the Folks at the Emergency Broadcasting System

I was tooling up the highway yesterday, somewhere in the vicinity of Stockton, CA. I have music on my phone, but I thought while I was around civilization I’d check the airwaves. I’d found a station that at least for a moment didn’t suck, and all was well with the world.

Suddenly: a grating series of beeps that sounded like they’d been put through a blender assaulted my ears. This is the attention tone for the Emergency Broadcasting System. Those beeps were followed by a long purer tone. Then another tone at a different pitch. Lesson one for the EBS: Quit with all the tones. I almost turned off my radio, figuring that there wasn’t going to be any information, just some sort of beep-fest. The only thing that kept me listening was the bank of thunderheads looming ahead of me. Just this once, the EBS might be giving out useful information.

Finally the broadcast tired of the beeping and booping and hit me with a burst of static. From within this noise, a distorted voice that sounded like it had been bouncing through phone lines since 1920 began dispensing… what? I don’t know. It was completely incomprehensible. Lesson two for the EBS: the information won’t help anyone if no one can tell what you’re saying. I think I picked out the word “alpine” and later “water”. That’s about it.

Flash floods? Possibly. Were they anywhere near where I was heading? No way to tell. Was there something I should do differently? Only one way to find out. I drove on.

I had the top down, so I was not in ideal listening conditions, but I could understand all the other people on the radio, all too well. Now there was something I actually wanted to hear, something intended for public safety, and it was just a jumble of noise.

Now it may be that the guy who recorded the message was not in a position to make a high-fidelity recording, but come on. Surely somewhere in this entire damn country there was someone who could have taken one thin minute to re-record the message in better circumstances.


Rich Man’s Disease

Last Tuesday I awoke with a sore big toe on my right foot. It felt like I’d sprained it in my sleep. Weird. I hobbled to work and told the people around me that I had somehow injured myself without realizing it. I limped through the day and wondered how long it would take before the pain subsided.

That night was pretty bad. Even lying in bed, my toe hurt like a mo-fo. Wednesday I went to work but I was miserable. “I’m taking you to urgent care,” my boss told me. I was not going to argue. Whatever I’d done to myself, I’d done a thorough job of it.

The Gout

James Gillray, 1799

While I filled out the various forms and signed stuff, my boss and a coworker went to fetch food. I thought a Carne Asada Burrito and a Coke would be delicious and easy to handle in the waiting area. “Diet or regular?” Boss-lady asked, and I responded with my usual quip: “I prefer the known health consequences of sugar.”

They came back with the food, and I was just getting the last of the burrito down my gullet when my name was called. After a quick stop at the blood pressure machine (in the normal range, to my relief), I was parked in a room to wait for the doctor. While I waited I gently peeled off my sandal and sock (discomfort trumps fashion), and flipped through an issue of Entertainment Weekly looking for signs of intelligent life.

It was only a few minutes before the doctor came in and took a seat. “Hurt your foot?” he asked, glancing at the unhappy extremity.

“Yeah,” I said.

“You remember how you did it?”

Funny he should ask that. “No, in fact I don’t. I woke up in the morning and it hurt.”

He was nodding. “Gout,” he said.

“Gout!?” I knew pretty much nothing about the gout, except that it’s connected with gluttony.

He took hold of my foot and ran his fingers over the angry, swollen area. “Does it hurt down here?” he asked, prodding the tip of my big toe.

“Not really.”

“More up here?” He gently pressed at the heart of my discomfort.

“Yep, that’s the spot.”

He nodded again. “I’m pretty sure it’s gout,” he said. “We’ll do some tests to make sure it’s not something else. There’s also a test we can do to confirm it absolutely, but…” he hesitated. “We take a sample from inside the joint. It can be pretty painful.” He gently released my foot. “You have pepperoni, lately, or sausage? Liver? Have you started taking any new medications?”

The previous evening I’d feasted on spicy hot links. Man, are those things tasty. It turns out I was speaking with a fellow sufferer. “I found out after taking water pills,” he said.

So, gout: what happens is this. Protein is broken down and one of the byproducts is uric acid. The kidneys are responsible for collecting the stuff and shipping it out to the bladder. It’s what make your pee yellow. If, for some reason, your kidneys fall behind, the uric acid can form crystals, commonly at the top of the big toe. (See diagram above.) These crystals make a fine abrasive, but the pain and inflammation (a form of arthritis) comes from the immune system attacking the inorganic matter and failing epically. When the first white blood cells explode against the unfeeling enemy, word goes out through the body: Send more white blood cells. You can guess the rest.

Ironically, I was sitting there looking at a known health consequence of sugar. (Fructose, specifically.) Mainly I was looking at a consequence of having a big belly. Other bad things: alcohol (especially beer), the aforementioned giblets, possibly seafood, and on and on. I’ve been working on making some lifestyle changes, and now I have a condition that rewards slipping off the diet with a pretty nasty dose of pain. It’s possible that this disease will actually make me healthier.

My sweetie loves to feed me, and I love to eat her food. Her cooking is healthy, but it’s tasty and I’m always happy to pile my plate high. That’s going to be the most difficult adjustment, I think. There’s nothing like sitting back with a belly full of good chow, but I’m going to have to settle for “enough”, now, rather than “plenty”.