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Life and Times of an itinerant slacker in Sacramento. Thrills, Spills Galore coming soon. Not to mention lots of opinions.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

View My Blog at Open Salon

As of early December 2010, I have moved blogging operations from this location to Open Salon.

The complete address (thats URL for you propellerheads out there) is

When I first began posting on Open Salon, I thought I might continue posting here. That really didn't make sense. There's a couple of reasons.

First, it's all about the readership. After about ten postsin Open Salon, it's apparent I am getting from five to twenty times the readership I had at Blogger. Every one of my posts on Open Salon has had more readers in its first twenty minutes than I get in a week on Blogger. You can't fight numbers like that.

Second, Open Salon's writers comment frequently on each opther's posts. This helps temper the feeling that blogging is really about shouting into a vacuum (although it probably is close to that).

Like everything else in life, there is a downside. Salon's finances are tentative at best. A day may come when I log on and see "454 error". That would be the day when Salon Media or its purchaser drop Open Salon. I keep copies of my posts,and I will keep this blog "live but inactive" (kinda like me). That way,there will always be a blog somewhere, or at leastuntil I find something more interesting to do.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Why Many Irish People Don't Want a Bailout, in Plain English

I think it's hard to understand why so many Irish are opposed to their government accepting a bailout mostly funded by other European Governments.

I posted this on a forum. It got pretty good reviews soI thought I would repost here.

Reasoning Underlying the Popular Irish Aversion to a Bailout, in Plain English:

The bailout initiates a process in the "beneficiary's" economy, starting with a "triggering situation":

1) The Bond market demands yields that someone thinks are "too high" for the affected nation's debt. In this case, the German Government was the loudest complainer.

Now comes the bailout. Note who gets the support and who does not get it.

2) Bondholders receive some king of assurance (note - the bond markets as of yesterday do not appear to have attributed material value to the assurance given)

3) Given assurance, the cost of borrowing short term declines (maybe)

4) Bailout recipient nation cuts Government spending per conditions attached to bailout. Note, I haven't seen any publicly disclosed conditions. But this is inevitable.

5) Cut in Government spending = immediate shrinkage in economy=recession and dimmed prospects for future economic growth. This is where the trouble begins anew.

6) Growth stagnates (maybe, but likely (see Greece for example))

7) Cost of borrowing increases because the market determines the price of bonds to be a function of the capacity for a nation's future growth. Low or negative growth means bond purchaser sees little "organic" capacity to repay future debts. Therefore, the market demands higher yields. This adds to the original problem, which was that the bond markets were demanding high yields.

8) Now we are back to the first step,

9) Another bailout, or default.

Many Irish look to their north and see Iceland, where default was the chosen way out of a debt crisis. Iceland is showing signs of recovery. The Irish also look south to Greece, where the bailout has been executed and there is no improvement.

I am not sure I can make a clear comparison between Ireland, Greece and Iceland, since Iceland has its own currency, and it has been devalued.

The Euro makes everything more interesting.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it, or,
Sin é mo scéal agus tá mé ag cloí leis.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

My Short Career as a Clarinet Soloist

Last spring I played a clarinet solo piece with a The American Recorder Orchestra of the West. Since this probably the only time I Will get to play a really long clarinet solo with a large group, I invite you to have a listen.

This is a modern 20th century classical piece. I think it is pretty accessible for its time. You will hear some dissonance around 40 or50 seconds into the video. Do not fear,everything calms down and the tone becomes melodic and stays that way for the rest of the piece.

The featured work is "Prayer of St Gregory" by Alan Hovhaness. You might be likely to hear this played as a trumpet solo accompanied by a church pipe organ. I have heard parts of this used as filler on the various NPR news shows.

I took this from an unengineered mp3 file, so what you hear is what you get.

This was fun to play, and I'm OK with how it came out, but I don't see a future as a concert soloist.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I Kludged Today

Now with the November Novel put to rest for a while, I took some time today to take care of some things around the house. I started with cleaning the gutters. That was the second cleaning this year. I'll probably have to clean the gutters again around New Years Day since there are still leaves on the trees.

While climbing up to the gutters,I noticed we have a fence issue. A short length of fence from our house to the shared fence between houses had gone loose. One end of my short segment should be firmly attached to the property line fence. That end was hanging loose.

We share the property line fence with the neighbors. When the fence needed major repairs about five years ago I agreed to let the neighbor do it himself (and he offered to pay the entire cost). Anyway, the property line fence is still standing, but it moves around from year to year, despite the neighbors' several kludges over the years. It's a real work of creativity.

I needed to secure the end of my short fence spanning the gap from the side of my house to the property line. It was tricky, because fitting something in with the previous kludges on the property line fence was a little weird.

Sounds like a real pickle, but it was no problem, thanks to my bag of nails, hammer, crosscut saw and big length of two by four lumber. Here's my work. ..

It's not much to look at, but it will hold for a while.

The top piece of wood is the actual brace. It's securely nailed to the supporting cross planks for each fence. The difficulty was that the neighbors had made two kludges to the property line fence. I had to stack a couple of two by fours to get something level with the property line fence. This is all held together with a bunch of nails.

No duct tape was used. Nails hold it all together.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Time to Blog Again

Create your own banner at!

Now that the November novel is written, I should be blogging a little more often.

The title needs more work.

Another November, another 50,000 words, another novel.

I won't look at the mess for at least a week, and then I'll have a better idea of what's there.

Highlights of this whole mess:

The Jules Verne on the Great Eastern took a strange and promising turn. It always bothered me that Verne didn't provide any explanation about captain Nemo. Since nature abhors a vacuum, I was nature's friend and created an identity for Nemo as Verne's alter ego haunting his dreams. The only significant insight into Nemo Verne gave us is his unlimited arrogance fueled by his absolute belief that all powerful men are arrogant and capricious. Starting with that, Nemo grew to resemble Satan from Paradise Lost. Verne's dreams while aboard the Great Eastern are filled with Nemo's successful efforts to foil the Great Eastern's 1865 cable expedition. As I write this I find myself wondering why Nemo wouldn't have just waited for the cable to be laid, and walk out with snips and make a few cuts. After all, pressure is not an issue in Nemo's ocean. That wouldn't have made much of a story.

The saga of Augustus Cary was expressed as a series of letters from Cary to his fiancee in Detroit. He never wondered if he would have great great grand children in California, since that would have been totally Mary Sue. This was by far the easiest to write, since I have written a lot of letters in my life, and the one verified sample of Augustus Cary's writing (a treatise about technical issues in cranberry farming by Stevens Point, WI) revealed a beautifully stilted Victorian era prose.

I honestly can't remember the story around the ship's building and launch. I've been too occupied with spitting out the 30,000 words after that story. I think it was historical fact through the lens of an angst filled engineer. Poor Isambard Kingdom Brunel got killed twice, since his collapse and death om the eve of the maiden voyage (I didn't make this part up, it happened) touched Augustus Cary as well as the engineers.

I am tired of writing now. That's all.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, November 01, 2010

And so begins This Novembers NanoWrimo Novel

I put a little more thought into this year's opus.

Here's the raw (unedited at all) beginning:

“Grandpapa, Grandpapa, what terrible news!”

“Grandpapa, Grandpapa Benedict, a great ship, the greatest ship ever, has sunk Of the coast of America.”

These words interrupted Ernest Benedict's morning nap, and left him mistily musing on the conditions of his doddering years.

“Every morning these unmannerly descendents feel they must share their opinions with their 82 year old great grandpapa. What ever has become of manners in this kingdom.”

The children continued their interruptions, “Father told us the papers count thousands among the dead. Men, women, children. Thousands sunk with the ship.” Benedict finally found the energy to raise his head and comprehend what he was hearing. He quietly responded to his great grandchildren, “Please, can you bring your great grandpapa the newspaper. He is very tired and finds such fearsome stories from the mouths of babes troublesome. Please, bring me the newspaper and leave me in peace and quiet.”

The eldest of the pack of unmannerly children handed Benedict the newspaper while chewing some unidentified morsel. Per usual, Benedict began reading the paper from the top. For the past few years, he found the newspaper's daily reminder of the current date to be helpful when his memory was poor, and comforting when his view of things was crisper. Tired and housebound, one day was not very different from the next, and sometimes Benedict lost track of the passing of time. The day was April 16, 1912.

Much of the paper's front page was taken up with news about the Titanic. Benedict read the articles full of tragedy and loss. The ship had sunk quickly in the north Atlantic after hitting an iceberg near Newfoundland. A breach in the ship's thin skin let water into the hull so fast that she sank in a matter of hours, before most of the passengers were able to abandon ship. Two days after the sinking, only about 700 survivors were identified, all others were feared lost.

As he read, Benedict remembered an advertisement he had seen a few weeks ago, claiming that the White Star liner was “as far as it is possible to do. . .designed to be unsinkable”.

Bendict began to muse,“As far as possible, as far as possible, these things are not possible today. I know they were possible once, when our Empire was lead by giants. Why must I go to my grave knowing our greatest days are behind us?”

“ In the days of our great Queen Victoria, we designed a ship that could avoid icebergs by constantly measure the ambient water temperature. A ship that could withstand such a collision, a ship that took a sixty foot gash below the waterline without even listing, without its passengers even noticing. A ship so stable in the elements that it could tie continents together with a one inch thick thread, twice in two years. The Great Eastern connected the new and old worlds, and changed the course of history. She even contributed to the arts, providing the inspiration for Captain Nemo and his Marvelous vessel forged of steel.”

“She was conceived and built by great men; Isambard Kingdom Brunel, James Scott Russell, and me among them. Great men trod upon her decks, furthering their works and the Empire's glory while aboard. The great scientist Lord Kelvin and his cable. Even the foreigner Jules Verne and his novels of fantastic future scientific miracles, many miracles that he experienced on his cruise aboard the Great Eastern. How many young men were inspired by the sight of this leviathan rising from the stinking, fetid mud of Shoreditch by the Thames?”

Film rights are still available. I'm holding out for the low seven digits.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Steampunk Is Dead

That is, steampunk is dead if it ever was alive.

steampunk's death was announced in the comics today. When a hipster young people's fad appears in the fogiest of newspaper comics, you know it's dead.


Please do not disparage, for this a timely death.

steampunk has been around for quite a while, and this genre has produced very little of substance. It's mainly about a phony Victorian re-creation,where everyone is a crazed goggle-wearing inventor, and the women show flesh and are addressed by their first name sans "Miss" or Missus". The most prominent pop culture eruption was an epic movie failure,"The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen". steampunk is a lot like "The Wild,Wild West" gone bad.

However, steampunk has motivated many young people to read Jules Verne's classics. That is a good thing.

BTW, I recommend the very short "Paris in the 20th Century" by Verne. My local library had a copy. Although this story was deemed too scandalous to publish during Verne's lifetime, it is shocking how much he got right about life in the Western World in the early 1960s.

Time to clear the air, as I'm doing finger warm-up exercises for NaNoWriMo.

No, dammit, this isn't steampunk.

Astute readers may have noticed my (unwritten to date) Novel for this year is about steam and steel. Rest assured,this is an alternate history,not a steampunk fanfic. CAVEAT: I am in no way guaranteeing the final result won't be an alternate history fanfic. I'll read what's there in December,and my evaluation will determine whether or not it's fanfic. Basically, if it sucks, it's fanfic.

My original intent here is to stick to the reality for which steampunk is no more than a sad, adolescent revisionist fantasy. This raises some challenges. I have not yet found an opening to present a female character of worth. Victorian women in gentry and professional class families lived pretty separately from the "men's world". Victorian Englishmen rarely even spoke of their wives. Certainly, speaking of a single woman was out of the question, unless I introduce a cad.

Fortunately, Jules Verne was a little more open this way, but not much. An interesting factoid about Verne and women in his stories - in one of his novels, a female gearhead-type character wore trousers. The publishers edited that descriptive bit out. I guess that was too risque for his teenage boy readers of the time.

I said, No, Dammit,this isn't steampunk.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Meets the World Series and What Will the Neighbors Think

It's Halloween coming on Sunday. What better night for (possibly) a bunch of freaks to wrap up the world series? Tim Lincecum has always looked a little like Jack Skellington to me. Perhaps I remembered skellington a little different from how he was drawn. But the builds are similar. You don't see many pro athletes two inches taller than me and only about ten pounds heavier.

Back to the subject. Halloween's game will be great no matter what happens Saturday, with the Giants up 2 games to none today (Friday).

If the Giants win tomorrow, Sunday will be for the sweep. (Funny how the East coast media was discussing a Rangers' overwhelming victory until the series started. “After all”, wrote the East Coast media, since the Rangers already beat the Yankees, the World Series would be nothing more than a stop at the bank for the Rangers to pick up their paycheck.. It's actually a shame that the Ranger's performance in these first two games suggests they were drinking the same cool aid. I don't know if they'll have time to recover.

If the rangers win Saturday, then we have a real World Series (versus a World arse whipping) again. Either way, All Hallows eve promises to have a good game.

I had to face a Halloween dilemma. Go to DMIL's house to watch the Giants game on her “giant” HDTV, or watch at home and deal with the local candy mendicants? Although we have gotten very few trick-or-treaters in the last few years, I have always been there to feed the miniature pro athletes, fairy-ballerina-princesses, cartoon characters and various spawns of Satan that come to my door on this magic evening. However, the last couple of years we have only had four or five kids come by.

We've watched a lot of Giant's games at the DMIL's place, in the season when it seemed like the Giants would amount to absolutely nothing. So, there is a precedence at work.

Here's the rub. Every Halloween, the local authorities make a big media splash about how the Megan's Law sex offenders have to turn off their porch lights and not be seen to avoid some kind of prosecution (or persecution, depending on whom you ask). What if someone new to the 'hood thinks I might be hiding out for that reason? Speaking of Megan's law, apparently there are a few spooky actors in my zip code. It's all that hype screeched through the TV news that keeps the nervous Nelly mom's from taking their precious snookums out to ask me and the other neighbors for candy. So, every year I end up with a big bag of candy. I get the good stuff (mini candy bars), so I end up eating it. Even though chocolate gives me heartburn.

Aha, since no one goes out trick-or-treating, no one will notice. Maybe I can get our neighbor to hand out our candy as “from next door”. Any way it happens, I say effit, I'm watching the game at DMIL's and eating smoked bratwurst and artichokes, both on sale at Raley's this week. Life is sweet!

Well, it's another posting that lacks coherence and makes nearly no sense at all, beyond this truth I hold self-evident. . .

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Knead-No- Brain Bread Versus Trendy No-Knead-Bread

No-brain,what's up with that?

Well, someone asked for my bread recipe, so it's time to share.

First a couple of things, one short comment and one small "breaditorial";

Comment: The recipe might not work out great the first time you try it. Bread making is a skill that quickly improves with practice.

Like most hand made small batch bread,what I have is more of a methodology than a recipe. The clearest directions I can produce aren't very precise. Because I make this every week when the weather isn't too hot (about 6 mos of the year here) my hands have learned what to do without that much help from the brain.

Breaditorial: No-knead bread has become a craze. I don't like it because no-knead recipes produce a loaf with an uneven and sometimes doughy texture inside. I admit the crust is nice and its good with soup.

If you want a bread with an even texture that will meet all your bread needs for the week, you need to knead it.

Here's a good photo of the no-knead bread that is the rage:

Note the very nice crusty and the uneven and doughy texture.

Here' s what you'll get using my method:

You need this tight and uniform texture so that the bread will keep well and be good for a sandwich five days after baking. I can do this from start to finish in the time of one NFL game.

Here's everything you need to know (or, was the Knead to no?)

These directions are very specific. I tried to make this goof proof. It isn't as hard as it looks.

Knead No-Brain Bread

Before you begin:

Buy one five pound sack each of bread flour and whole wheat flour.Mix together in a big bug-proof container. Buy either Red Star or Fleischman's Quick Rising Yeast. It's a lot cheaper by the jar than by the paper envelope.

Prepare the dough:

Note: this step before the risings will takes 2o to 30 minutes.

Put a large teakettle full of water on the range to boil.

Clean the kitchen before you start. Trust me, it'll be easier in the end.

Find a clean and dry surface to work the dough. I use a Tupperware pastry sheet.

Put a shallow roasting pan on the oven's bottom.

Get out everything you'll need:
measuring spoons
large mixing bowl
Large, sturdy mixing spoon
scraper or sturdy spatula
Dry 1 cup measure
2 cup measuring cup (metric helps)
Two buttered bread pans (like these)
Wire drying rack

By the time you've gathered all this stuff,the water should be boiling.
Pour 1 1/8 cup (about 275 ml) boiling water in the bowl.
Add 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tbsp salt, stir to dissolve.
Pour 1 1/8 cup (about 275 ml) cold water in the bowl.
Stir in about 1/4 cup flour.
Add 2 1/4 tsps or 1 envelope Quick Rising Yeast.
Add four cups flour and stir into a batter.
Add flour one cup at a time and stir, until the dough is firm enough to knead.
Knead in the bowl, adding more flour,and knead on your clean surface.
Knead for 5 minutes, and make sure there's enough flour on the kneading surface.

Once the dough is needed, return to the bowl, put bowl in oven to rise. Pour the remaining boiling water in the roasting pan to keep warm damp environment for yeast.

Let rise for 45 minutes.

Gently Punch dough down,replace water in roasting pan with more boiling water, and rise for another 45 minutes.

Remove dough and punch down again.
Divide into two pieces (I use a scale to check).
form two loaves, place in buttered pans,and rise in oven for 30 minutes.

Leave the loaves in the oven, but remove the roasting pan.
turn oven heat to 415 degrees f.

Remove bread after 45 minutes.
Turn out of pans onto wire cooling rack.

Let cool for at least 20 minutes.

Trust me, it's good.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Got Coulrophobia,The Fear of Clowns?

As if Insane Clown Posse isn't enough, try this on for size.

Be scared. Be very scared.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it like cotton candy.

Middle Eastern Style Vegetables and Couscous

I made this for lunches this week,and K's coworkers have been asking for the recipe. No picture, because this isn't much to look at. I developed this recipe by trying to duplicate the couscous dish at the curiously spelled Shahrazad restaurant in Milwaukee. Looking at their menu brings back fond memories of steaming plates and honey-drenched desserts. And,they serve Sprecher beer.

Vegetable Stew to Serve Over Couscous

One half cup of dried Garbanzo beans,soaked overnight, or1 15 oz can of garbanzo beans drained and rinsed

2 Tablespoons olive oil

Two medium size onions, diced

2 lbs zucchinis, cut into 1 ½ inch thick rounds

1 lb cut green beans, fresh or frozen

1 lb carrots,in 1 ½ inch rounds

1 lb potatoes in 1 ½ in chunks

45 oz (three cans) canned diced tomatoes in juice

½ TSP salt

1TBSP dried parsley, or ¼ cup fresh parsley

1 TSP ground

¼ to ½ TSP cayenne

¼ tsp cumin

Optional – up to 1 TBSP paprika

Sweat the onions in a large stove top stew pot.

Add the other ingredients and simmer and occasionally for two hours,or until potatoes and carrots are cooked through.

After cooking, you can add braised or grilled meat if you like.

Serve over couscous.

About couscous -

I buy in bulk at whole foods. The stuff in boxes usually have rice-a-roni style flavorings. Not good. Follow the directions that come with your couscous. It varies.

All Music Great and Small

Over the last year or two I have been working to play music in smaller groups. I still plan to stay in the large Sacramento Concert Band, but from recorder playing I realized I enjoy playing with smaller groups. Even Norman Rockwell knew the joy of playing in a small ensemble.

I've gotten firmly into a trio with two flute players, and next week will start rehearsing with a recorder trio.

It takes some effort to get small groups started and keep them going. But, once people agree to play together, it's only a matter of figuring out whose house to meet at this week. There's a lot more that goes into organizing a larger group, dealing with a practice venue, directors, reams of music and all sorts of equipment and expenses. It's hard to do without sponsorship of a city, park or school district. Compare that to trolling the internet for some music, emailing a couple of people and saying, “Let's go to my place this time”.

There's still a lot to be said for the large group. I like the dependable schedule, we rehearse on Monday nights whether or not everyone can make it. The downside comes in performance – finding a time when 50 people can make themselves available, and trucking percussion equipment and 50 chairs and stands. I takes 3 people a couple of hours to get this all done. In a trio, each of us shows up with

our instruments, a stand, and a folder full of music. If we choose to play standing, we don't even need chairs.

Playing in a small group is a different experience, you can hear your “voice”. In a large group, since I am not a soloist, if I can hear myself as a unique voice, I know I'm doing something wrong. In a small group it's about figuring out what my voice should say, and how to say it.

Although there's a place for big, I have to say “Small is Beautiful”.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sacramento's Homeless Ghetto- Back to The Distopic Future

I started my day with the best of intentions.

I had a mission to deliver some used durable medical equipment to someone who should know someone who can use walkers, toilet seat boosters and some adult sanitary disposable things.

I headed down to the Loaves and Fishes Complex, which takes up several blocks in a struggling Sacramento post-industrial jumble of shacks and abandoned wharehouses just northeast of downtown. Although you can say it is widely known that Sacramento is plagued with serious homelessness issues (and blessed with an unbelievable ability to ignore what can plainly be seen), I was disturbed by what I saw.

What I saw(and felt from my surroundings) , to put it bluntly, can only be described a calm but unraveling permanent state of near anarchy. Loaves and Fishes does a lot of good things for the homeless population. They have become so large their facilities cluster dominates an entire neighborhood. Two city blocks of small overcrowded social service and clinic providers, huddles of people waiting in clusters outside each door, the street and spaces between the buildings peppered with more huddled groups.

This is the stuff of dystopic near-future science fiction. Although everything always looks great in Loaves and Fishes' plubicity photos ,the look and feel of the place on a Wednesday midmorning is more like the sanctuary district from Deep Space Nine.

It seems unavoidable. We write off 10% or 20% of people as surplus,and this is what you get.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Typos - The Good The Bad and The Just Plain Weird

This recently published correction to a blog (not mine) is sure to become a meme within a week or two.

Here we go:


This blog post originally stated that one in three black men who have sex with me is HIV positive. In fact, the statistic applies to black men who have sex with men. "

This appeared in TBD..., A District of Columbia local issues blog.

This has all three attributes of a great typo.

It is good (for a laugh).

It is bad (because it changes the tone and meaning of the entire posting)

It is weird (because a personal confession and muffled cry for help magically appeared in what should have been a rather dry community affairs posting).

Not to mention it is sure to become a smash hit with adolescent boys of all ages.

This brings up a more relevant issue: I really need to get more serious about my own copy editing.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Here We Go Again

We are pulling up to Halloween,the end of October and the beginning of November,and the return of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month).

The goal of this is to write a 50,000 or more word novel in the month of November. No time to editor judge,you just write and deal with the mess you've made later.

This year I have a plan and a storyline (actually four story lines).

This is it!!

Create your own banner at <span class=

The SS Great Eastern was the greatest ship ever built. The ship touched the lives of some of the greatest men of its century.

This is the story of SS The Great Eastern and four men; Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Lord Kelvin, Jules Verne,and possibly Augustus Cary (Fifth mate on the GE's maiden voyage and my wife's great great grandfather).

I did this last year by shooting for about2,000 words per day, realizing I would miss a few days. I made it and was officially declared a "winner", with The Noetic Book of the Undead.

Last year I startedplanning about two days left in October, so I had very little in the way of plot ideas or initial structure. The novel started with a guy who traveled between our world and the Noosphere, where he met up with a dead relative and (naturally) a zombie onslaught. Inexplicably, the novel ended with a story of Buddhist monks using their medititave power to prevent Chinese hegemonists (think Dr No) from dominating the Noosphere by filling it with Mega-Mart stores. Contrary to the Chinese plan, the stores produced hoards of rather pale, portly couch zombies (just like real life).

Someday I might take time to make a short story based on the monks versus Dr No plot line. Otherwise, I probably won't show last year's novel to anyone. Most of it is awesomely bad, so I decided to do very little editing.

When I wrote this, I hadn't yet realized that a lot of otherwise level-headed people truly believe all this Noosphere business. I thought it was just an alternate world used by SF authors, since I hadn't imagined that anyone beyond adolescence could take such a concept seriously. It's amazing what you can write in a dissertation and still be granted a PHD from a second-tier university.

Some of the serious philosophical writings about memes and the Noosphere make last year's novel look downright brilliant by comparison.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Lessons in Urban Planning – Madison, Wisconsin's Crestwood Neighborhood

Sometimes, "place" is important. Being in a good place can nurture a good life.

I visited my friends J and C in Madison's Crestwood Neighborhood (Officially known as the Wisconsin Co-Op Housing Association Neighborhood). I love visiting here, in this most beautiful neighborhood. I always try to spend a little extra time with J and C at their house.

I had to ask myself why I like being there (beyond the fact that J and C live there). After all, J and C's house is nothing special, actually, it's pretty similar to my house in Sacramento. Around 1,000 square feet, just enough room for a few bookshelves, living room, and kitchen. Everything is in ship shape, because that's J's way. However, that's not it.

Crestwood is located in a leafy part of Madison's near west side, full of wooded parks, hills and narrow meandering streets. The trees are definitely part of the attraction,. But that's still not it. There's something more. A sense of place. As soon as I stepped out of my car, I knew I was somewhere special, somewhere different, yet reminiscent of my childhood summers, spent playing ball and collecting caterpillars in vacant suburban lots. (OK, I spent wasted hours in front of the toob, too).

Crestwood is a neighborhood where the most common sounds are birds flying from feeder to feeder and kids running on grass hooting and giggling and just being goofy like kids do. The light is that calming green aura of sunlight filtered through sprawling trees. It is quiet. It reminds me of wooded campsites in some Wisconsin State parks'

How can a suburban neighborhood feel so pleasingly sylvan? To be honest, I have no idea how the association works, but I can see the how the land is used. I think that's a big part of the story. Crestwood''s individually owned lots are pretty small, and the houses are modest and varied in design . Most lots are heavily wooded. Between each pair of streets a grass area about 20 feet wide runs between the rows of back yards, leading from Bordner road to the wooded parkland behind the neighborhood. These narrow strips of land are used as public play areas for kids and offer an automobile-free route from each house to the wooded park. I remember using the strip behind J and C's house as a cross country skiing express rout to the park one nippy winter day long ago.

I guess the lots could have each been ten feet deeper, and everyone's house could have been that much bigger. They could have planted fewer large trees and poured wider streets with curbs and gutters so prospective home buyers could get that nice, clean, sterile, safe suburban view from the curve that real estate floggers claim sell houses. Maybe almost everywhere else in America, but not here. Yep, I imagine that folks who live here chose to give up the normal architectural paradigm where your house is a badge of success (i.e. , how many gables do you have, I have four, you two - gabled loser).

Here we have a more quiet environment, and the feel of a southern Wisconsin deciduous forest. This is where I go to watch the birds visit J and C's feeder. I always see at least one cardinal. I always leave happy and calm.

There is no other place in Madison where people live and I can feel so connection to his beautiful land,

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Getting There - A Day of Air Travel

Today is one of those inevitable days lost to travel. Nothing much you can say about a day like this beyond whinging about the quaint and trite realities of contemporary air travel. I can say, “my flight was on time, it was delayed, the luggage was or wasn't lost, TSA is a pain in the ass, felt crunched in my seat, it's not like it used to be.”

Today's experience was a little different than the normal, since I took flights that started at 11:00 AM instead of the unusual 0-dark thirty flight. As limited as options are between two Podunk towns like Sacramento and Madison, I was able to sleep through the 6:00 AM at the airport drill. K dropped me off on the way to work, so I got to hang around the airport from about eight AM to ten thirty. For the most part, leaving mid-day freed me from the usual crowds and waiting. Alas, I was not totally free.

After getting dropped off I hazily dragged my luggage to the check in line, passing empty counters and deserted baggage claim carousels. The Third World Frontier airlines I booked had a counter around a couple of corners from the main ticketing and check-in area. I was surprised to see a line of about 15 very glum looking people in line. I pulled up to the back of the line, towing my suitcase behind me. The line just didn't move. The sordid truth wasn't revealed to me until I asked the person in front of me if she was taking the 11:00 flight. She, and everyone else in line was very charitable about telling me the 9:00 flight had been canceled. The airline didn't have enough staff in Sacramento to handle rescheduling all the passengers. I was told it was a much grimmer scene by the gate.

Most of the jilted passengers were still in good cheer, pleasantly joking about their predicament, even a 50 year old guy at risk of missing his daughter's wedding in Oklahoma. Then came the screamer, that self-presumed possessor of great entitlement who angled herself between the passenger being served and the counter and peppered the attendant and the entire line with a litany of high pitched complaints. As if everybody else around hadn't already figured out this sucked.

The already stressed agent sent her to the back of the line (next to me, egads!). She loudly and shrilly resumed her tale of woe. Although our heads might have been a couple of feet apart, she was speaking in a stage voice, for the benefit of all. Something about how she was accustomed to good service and. . . I hope all that screeching hasn't robbed me of the ability to hear pitches.

Another agent set up a third line and called me forward since I was the only person there who was already booked for the next flight. It was a breeze for me after that. I sat in the food court outside security and nursed a coffee for an hour and a half while enjoying counter with a view of the runway and a place to plug in the computer. Sacramento's airport now has free internet. Free wifi and free electricity, w00t!

I did the quixotic and incomprehensible walk through the security gauntlet with no delay. In the early morning that step usually takes 20 minutes or more. After 10:00 there was no one waiting in line, and the TSA people seemed a little less surly than normal. The area near the gate had a less jolly feel. I was surprised to find a long line of refugees from the earlier flight still waiting in line to be dealt their fate. They didn't look happy. Given my 11:00 flight was the last Frontier flight to Denver, I suspect they were out of luck. The line still had about twenty people when I boarded my flight at 11:00.

Everybody says the U.S. Is running a Service Economy, but if this is how we do service, we are history.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Yosemite Confidential - Beyond the Vistas

This posting is about the grimy details of our trip to Yosemite. Having never gotten our act together to do all the crazy booking ahead you need to do if you want to go on your own. It turned out taking the guided hiking trip was the thing to do. We never would have done so much and enjoyed it like we did if we had gone on our own. No pictures, because I really don't do the travel critic-writer thing.

We booked with New England Hiking Holidays, a company we've used before, for trips to Colorado and New Hampshire. Beyond marketing and booking the trip, everything was operated by Tahoe Trips and Trails. I thought these package trips worked out to be a fair deal. It was worth the extra price. Going on our own for the first time, we probably would have done about half as much, since navigating Terra incognito always eats up a lot of time. In any event, there is no cheap and easy way to do Yosemite. Staying in a room in or near the park costs from about $250 to $1,200 per night in season, and dinners out are $30 to $60. You probably could get car camping or housekeeping tent-cabins I the park for around $100 per night. I've always found managing the campsite takes a lot of time and we end up doing less when we camp. For me, this is a time to let a little loose and go “first class”. Every trip I have taken with New England Hiking Holidays has been money well spent.

The total driving time was 4 hours and 15 minutes, including an efficient yet relaxed lunch at a great Mexican restaurant in Merced. Driving time alone was about three and three quarter hours.

We ate at La Fiesta Mexicana (pronounced La Feeyesta Mayhicana). This place was far better than any Mexican restaurant I've ever eaten at in Sacramento. That is not a great prize, but this place was beyond good by any standard. Breakfast was still available (we're talking heuvos, compadres), so I had fried eggs with Chile verde, beans, and delicious homemade tortillas. They offered a choice of corn or flour tortillas, of course I chose the corn. It was a real surprise to see hot, freshly grilled tortillas. There is nothing as uninspiring as a mediocre tortilla, and no simple food as spirit-lifting as a well-made fresh tortilla.

The chile verde was perfect, the sauce fragrant with lime and chile. flavors covering the eggs. A few chunks of tender pork, stewed in the salsa verde, sat atop the mess. There was no cheese involved in the dish. It is great to be able to enjoy a Mexican restaurant plated meal plate without having to peel back greasy a greasy skin of, flavorless cheese. La Fiesta Mexicana did it all right. Plus, the young hostess had the most awesome bouffant type up do I've seen since LT Ryker of the Starship Enterprise. All this and mariachis at Sunday noon.

The first two hours to Merced was a straight shot down highway 99, which gos through a line of crummy cities in the central valley. After leaving Suburban Elk Grove HW 99 graces Lodi, Stockton, French Camp, Turlock, Modesto and Merced. These are not the most visually attractive cities in the world, but Modesto did look like it had some nice trees. Modesto and American Graffiti are linked in my mind for eternity.

In Merced, we turned East on HW 140 to cross the eastern edge of the Central Valley and climb into the Sierras. We turned on HW 49 and then HW41 to get to Tenaya Lodge just outside the Yosemite Park South entrance, which is more commonly known as the Wawona entrance.

Tenaya Lodge seemed like a nice place although it was a bit stuffy in a business meeting destination hotel kind of way. The location in the town of Fish camp is so far out of the way that I can't imagine anyone going through the time and expense to have a business meeting here. The place is very nice, but they did one thing that peeved me. They claim to offer free wifi. It's free if you want to look at their website. Anything else is $9.99 a day. Seems to me free wifi should be free wifi. No need to be ashamed about asking people to pay for a service. Free wifi but not internet is a little too cute for my tastes.

A while back, I heard a report on an NPR business show (I think it was Marketplace) that discussed disappointing results in selling wifi services to captive audiences. When people attach to the free network, and are asked to pay for internet access (get it, the wifi is free but, heehee, you pay to access the internet) they aren't buying. Even airlines must someday learn the lesson that people have a limit to how much chiseling they can bear.

Since we left early, we arrived a the lodge around 2:00 PM. We explored the property since we had a few hours to kill before. The lobby was large, clubby, and full of taxidermy. The rooms were nice, although we had to switch rooms since the door lock on the first room refused to lock. Everyone was very helpful, making it easy to change rooms.

The Package Tour officially began at about 6:00 PM, after the tour guides arrived with the guests they had picked up at the Merced airport. We and one other couple drove ourselves, since parking in Merced and getting picked up would have been inconvenient and not much less driving for us.

Our was meeting brief. We met the other hikers and the guides, filled out forms, heard a quick description of the tour. We were already busy talking with some of the other hikers before the guides arrived. We were fortunate that everyone in our party was nice and pleasant.

We had three guides, the normal staff of two guides and a third guide who was training either to be a guide or to be whatever the internet-age reincarnation of what we once called the travel agent. All the guides were nice. CJ was a fortyish guy well versed in the geography and geology of the Sierras, and a passion fro extreme mountain sports. He was able to deal with this herd of over age fifty hikers well He knew some jugglers I once knew and he had recently attended the inexplicable Burning Man. Brooke was a bit more talkative and full of blonde jokes. Brooke took charge of botany interpretation,; I admit most of the taxonomy went in one of my ears and out the other. Both Brooke and CJ looked like outdoor gear catalog models. Both Brooke and Cj work in alternative therapies. Brooke does Reiki and some other loosely defined touch-related therapies, and CJ does hypnotherapy.

Two of our fellow hikers were female Doctors, one a prim New Englander, schooled at Mount Holyoke and Harvard Medical School, and the other was a brash New Yorker. I was happy that we never had any exchanged accusations of quackery, or at least none that I heard. There were a few close calls.

The guides drove us about 20 minutes south for dinner at the The Narrow Gauge Inn. This is a pretty well respected restaurant in a complex that I guess has a narrow gauge railroad. It was too dark to see enough outside to be able to tell. The restaurant's interior was major upscale mountain kitsch, paneling, moose heads and all the rest. The food was good. We all sat at one big table, about eight guests and three guides (two guides and a guide in training). Each place had a menu card. Almost everyone chose the salmon, which was good. Everything else involved either beef or cream sauce, so my hand was a little forced. They had an excellent assortment of desserts. I had a piece of very light and fluffy cheesecake. It was good. Because of unexpected flight delays, the dinner was pretty late, so I didn't sleep well. It turned out that the dinners were the most physically challenging aspect of the trip for me.

The Tenaya has a great breakfast buffet. I had oatmeal with a little trail mix, some dried fruit and sausage. This was the second best breakfast sausage I've had. It had a real skin that “popped” when at the bite , and it was peppery and slightly juicy. The best sausage ever was at The American Club in Koehler near Sheboygan..

After two days, we are staying at the Yosemite Lodge, which is a bit run down but comfortable place to stay in Yosemite Valley. The restaurant at Yosemite lodge was pretty good. They had a pink-fleshed trout that was pretty light as restaurant dinners go and tasty. The room was dark, but it had an old-style mountain resort style that fit with its environment.

We ate dinner at the Wawona Lodge, I don't know why every old posh park hotel makes me think about The Shining.

The next morning, we started with an early breakfast, leaving the Lodge at 7:00 to drive about a mile to Curry Village, which is a complex of several campgrounds, some with permanent hard-floored tent structures, some with trailer hookups, and some for tent campers. It is a huge complex. Brooke had previously told me I would like the atmosphere. She was right. Curry Village has a gigantic buffet place where we had a great breakfast. There were a lot of kids around, which is something I hadn't seen at the lodges. I imagine the cost of visiting Yosemite keeps many young families away.

We shared a table with a tall, quiet and wiry man from Germany who was spending today preparing to begin an ascent of El Capitan tomorrow. He expected his group's ascent to take four days. That means three nights sleeping on the side of a nearly mile high vertical rock wall, not to mention carrying your wastes with you in a bag suspended from your waist by a very long rope.. He ate like he was preparing for a marathon. He reminded me of a younger Werner Herzog. I imagine the rock face will scream in painful angst.

Our last night featured an extra special dinner at the ultra posh Ahwahnee. We all had to bring special cloths to comply with the dining room's dress code. The lounges were classic 1920's park hotel style, reminiscent of The Shining. The dining room looked like a giant version of a Saxon Mead hall, which was fitting, since the otherwise dainty Ivy League doctor studied medieval British literature as an undergraduate. We ate dinner in fine restaurants throughout the trip. Funny that this was the one place where service was a problem. The dinners at the Mountain Room were excellent as well. The had the pink fleshed trout and it was wonderful again.

I approve of this trip.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Yosemite Part 3 Omnibus - Mariposa Grove, Vernal Falls and Mirror lake

This final Yosemite travelblogue is about the other places we hiked. Although these hikes did not merit separate blog posts in my judgment, these places are worth visiting. Hopefully, after reading this post, you'll know why.

Mariposa Grove is a large grove of giant redwoods. These are the rather stubby and huge Giant Sierra Redwoods, known as sequoia Gigantum.These trees agre very wide around the base and produce low quality wood that isn't good for much beyond toothpicks. I find the cleaner shaped and taller Coastal Redwoods (Sequioa Semper Verens) to be more attractive.

Our hike was at Mariposa Grove had a fair amount of elevation, about 1,000 feet over the day. We walked from the lower grove to the upper grove. Our trail was crisscrossed by a paved road carrying loads of people in theme-park style trams. that made the whole thing kind of weird. The trams give passengers headphones, so we couldn't hear the nature interpretation rap. The trams just kept on sneaking up on us.

The trees were pretty cool. Like all frequently visited Giant Redwood Groves, the trees had all sorts of corny names and lore. This famous tree is around 1,900 to 2,400 years old.

A group picture in front of a giant tree is mandatory here.

I found this almost perfectly shaped ponderosa pine on a ridge during our walk from the upper grove back to the lower grove.

This place is an important place in the history of land preservation and National Parks.

Mariposa Grove was the home of Galen Clark in the 1860s. He is a great guardian of the world's beautiful natural places. He convinced President Lincoln and Congress to declare Yosemite a preserve (at that time, management of the preserve was given to the State of California). This was the first time in Western Civilization that land was set aside as a nature preserve. It is amazing this was done in during the difficult years of the Civil War. Clark was known as the "guardian of Yosemite". Although Clark played an equally vital role in preserving this land, John Muir got all the ink.

Clark built a cabin in the upper grove and lived there for years. He was probably as surprised as anybody,since he came to Yosemite after his doctor gave him six months to live. He found his cure in the mountain air.

Galen's cabin is now a small museum, and the trams stop there.

Vernal Falls is a contrary name, since this was the only waterfall in Yosemite Valley that was still running in September.

The approach to the fall is via mist trail,which starts at a trail head accessible by the Park Service bus. The hike starts on mist trail, a pretty level hike that would have taken us through the waterfall's mist if there was more water falling.

The last stretch of the trail is a little more difficult, following a steep staircase cut into the canyon's wall. The staircase gave great views of the fall.

Even with a view, after a few hundred stairs, it started feeling like Cirith Ungol from Lord of The Rings. It all depends on how you set the shutter speed.

But there's nothing like a 300 foot waterfall.

Every few steps, the view changed.

We stopped at the top of the falls for a while. The river created a large,smoothed surface from its spring flows.

We could look up to Nevada Falls, another break further up the bluffs. Nevada Falls has a similar staircase trail, but we decided to skip that. Up close, it's reputed to look like Vernal Falls - The Sequel.

We continued to a junction to the John Muir Trail, which we took us back to the trail head via a much more gradual but less interesting route At the junction, we were greeted by an man with a John Muir beard walking in the opposite direction. When we first spotted him at a distance, we wondered if we were fated to meet John Muir's ghost. He let me take his picture, so you don't have to believe me; here's the truth.

At this high point of the trail, we had great views of Grizzly and Liberty domes across the valley, with half dome peeking over their ridge.

Our last hike was from the end of Yosemite Valley on the Mirror Lake Trail. Mirror lake has pretty much drained out since the natural dam that formed the lake shook loose after an earthquake. The trail head is at the last bus stop in the valley (you can't drive there). This gentle trail goes into the narrow and high-walled Tenaya valley. We were in the shadows for the entire walk.

Not surprising, there's a lot of loose rocks around. This warning sign made me laugh.

The most striking scene on this trail was man-made - a grove of cairns. No one seems to know who built the cairns or why someone took the time to move all those stones. It was like stumbling into a Japanese temple.

This was our last hike in Yosemite, we drove home in the afternoon.

These last three posts have all the pretty pictures. I may write further about the human aspects of visiting this National Park. It was a little strange

Until that day,

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yosemite Part Two - Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows is in the less-visited northeast section of the park. These high altitude Meadows and domes lie among the tributaries of the Tuolumne River.

The lower altitude meadows in the area are at about 8,000 feet elevation. That's the beginning of minor nosebleed territory for me.

K and I took different hikes. My group took an out-and-back hike along a portion of the Muir Trail from Tioga Pass Road past Cathedral Peak and on to Cathedral Lake. Kathleen's group followed a portion of the trail further East, for a less strenuous hike through Lyell Canyon, along the Lyell fork of the Tuolomne River. Her walk was through a series of small streams and expansive alpine meadows.

West of Tuolumne Meadows, the Tuolumne River was dammed to form the Hetch Hetchee Reservoir, which inundated a valley said to be as spectacular as Yosemite Valley itself. John Muir died around the time this project was conceived. Some say he died of a broken heart. Although this gigantic reservoir is the primary supply of water for San Francisco and its neighboring communities, the Restore Hetch Hetchee Movement has had a healthy following for years.

Perversely, from its inception this movement has been a hobby horse of anti-green conservatives. The Reagan administration couldn't resist an issue where San Francisco Liberals would scream foul (apparently, San Francisco liberals like their water more than John Muir's legacy) at a Federal effort to improve the environment on the backs of left coasters rather than the usual southeastern coal miners and western ranchers.

Enough about political backstabbing. Back to the main story.

On the way to the trail heads, both parties stopped at Olmstead Point, a turnout with another scenic view of meadows overlooked by several peaks and domes. The marker credited Frederick Law Olmstead with “designing the park”. That lead to a continuing shtick about how Disney turned Olmstead's design into reality. In actuality, I suspect (but I am not sure) Olmstead's contribution was in laying out the roads and paths in Yosemite valley, which are absolutely great. People can start at the Yosemite Village hotel area, cross the street and walk about 200 yards on the path to Yosemite falls and feel like they are in a natural setting. Olmstead was a genius at that. Even Central park feels like a walk in the country if you don't look up. I think he uses a lot of unnecessary curves and minor trail obstacles to get the effect.

My hike started with a long first mile and a half, walking through wooded trails gaining about 1,000 feet in altitude. It was tiring at that altitude. The forest on the slope was beautiful, despite the fine, dry "California moon dust" that coats most California trials, as well as most hikers in September. I walked alone for a while, between the advanced and rear guards. The quiet on this slope in the morning was noticeable. This was a pleasantly wooded slope, but nothing really caused me to take any pictures.

The next mile was through relatively flat but undulating terrain and a boulder field that looked like it may have been formed as an alluvial fan following an ancient flood, but I couldn't see an obvious place from where the flow would have come.

At this point, we were walking by the base of Cathedral Peak. Unlike John Muir, we didn't climb the peak. We were near 10,000 feet altitude at its base, and the climb is rated technical (although Muir probably just ran up the mountain using his bare hands and feet) . For me, physical exertion loses its appeal at that kind of altitude. When we left the wooded area, we were directly under this amazing peak.

John Muir had a lot to say about Cathedral peak and Cathedral lakes in "My First Summer in the Sierra"

". . .the wonderful mountain called Cathedral Peak is in sight.

From every point of view it shows marked individuality. It
is a majestic temple of one stone, hewn from living rock,
and adorned with spires and pinnacles in regular cathedral
style. The dwarf pines on the roof look like mosses. I hope
some time to climb it to say my prayers and hear the stone
sermons. . . "

We passed a great example of fire succession, a new forest probably 20 years after a fire.

We descended to a meadow that seemed a little boggy, with Cathedral peak looking down on us. The ground cover vegetation was a rusty color. With the peak in the background, this spot made a perfect backdrop for portraits.

After I did it, everybody wanted in.

The meadow gently descended into a boggy marsh between the peak and a shelf of nearly horizontal rock that gently sloped to cathedral lake.

I found this Jeffrey Pine that made me think of a photo by Ansel Adams.

This was a beautiful place to have lunch. There's nothing like an alpine lake. These are part of the panorama surrounding our lunch spot.

We returned by the same path. Although we were on our own in the morning, we ran into several backpacking groups climbing the rise during our decent in the mid-afternoon. It seemed to me they would not get to their campsites until around 6:00 PM. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

On the slightly puffing and gasping walk up the slope, I hadn't noticed the very large peak behind me and across a large meadow. I don't know what caused the crevasse in the rock face. Perhaps a tremor unloosed a boulder that scraped its way to the base.

K's hike through Lyell canyon is an example of the inspiration in nature for traditional Japanese gardens. Since I wasn't there, it's just the pictures.

Including the about 90 minute drive form Yosemite Valley, mostly on the death-defying Tioga Pass Road, this was a pretty long day. I only had about one half hour to clean up for dinner. Oh, the strain of rouging it!

Coming soon: Vernal falls and a few surprises.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Looking Into Yosemite Valley

I'm starting this Yosemite trip report with what I thought was its most dramatic moment, our first view of the valley. Getting these views involved the better part of a full day hiking around. I strongly recommend this approach to Yosemite Valley for anyone visiting who is able to hike.

We walked in the same footprints and took in the same views as Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir. As if the scenery itself doesn't inspire enough awe.

Well, the view would have been the same, but at some point in the last 105 years, the National Park Service hired Disney inc. to colorize Yosemite Valley.

OK, in reality,our picture is from Sentinel Dome. Glacier point has been made accessible and rather unattractive since TR's day,but the view is still the same, but improved with Technicolor.

After packing up, we went directly to the Sentinel dome trail head on the south rim of Yosemite valley. About 1.1 miles with a good 400 ft elevation gain took us to Sentinel Dome. The last quarter mile or so was a scramble to the top of the exfoliating granite dome. We had to scramble up this slope to get the views.

In a National park,it usually takes a little work to reach something interesting that isn't bursting with screaming kids, snarling teens and shockingly unattractive adults.

The views from the dome were unbelievable. I have never seen anything like this in my life. Now I understand why taking in these views changed peoples lives, drove them to devote themselves to preserving the land. I have never experienced a breathtaking view before. This view really takes the breath away (some forest fires in the region helped, too). We looked across to the nearly mile high and wide vertical granite cliffs of El Capitan.

Since the views in every direction from Sentinel Dome were incredible, we went a little nuts with the cameras.

Here we are standing in front of the Yosemite Falls across Yosemite Valley. The falls were dry, but still cool to see. We stayed near the bottom of the falls the next three nights.

I was impressed with the view of El Capitan. A rock that big is just weird to see, especially when we could see down forever, and still not see the floor of the valley.

Sentinel Dome is a place where you can get a classic view of Half Dome to the East, without crowds pouring out of their campers. Somehow,we were more enchanted with the view looking West, although this view of half Dome to our East was compelling.

CJ the guide gave an impromptu talk about the geology of Yosemite Valley. He seemed to know a lot about the history and he was able to clearly share his knowledge. He looked like a model for REI while he gave his talk.

We took this trip with a tour company called Tahoe Trips and Trails. CJ was one of the three guides (two actual guides and one trainee) provided for our group of ten. Each day two hikers were offered, on e more strenuous and one less strenuous. I chose the more strenuous hike most days, with the exception of one day where the hikes sounded similar, only the more strenuous hike would have been much longer.

This is not the cheapest way to go, but we were assured a great trip, and we had a great trip. There's no way going it on our own would have been nearly the same experience. This is a good way to go if you can swing it.

Another two miles hike to the west brought us to Taft point, where the trail ends with a series of unimaginably deep fissures and vertical drop to the valley floor. From here I could really see how large these vistas were.

Standing on the edge of almost a mile vertical drop really made an impression of how big this all is. One of the advantages of walking a couple of miles from parking is that the park Service no longer feels the need to erect barriers. Even standing about five feet from the ledge was a little frightening.

One small area of the ledge had a railing to lean on, so I was able to get a couple of pictures looking down into Yosemite Valley. I needed the railing since I felt a little queasy whenever I went within a few feet of the ledge.

Here you can see all of El Capitan, from the bottom to the top.

This is the view looking down.

Here's a fissure you might fall into if you don't watch your step.

We ended our hiking with a 3 mile hike to Glacier point. This hike went between Sentinel Dome and the ledge. The trail rose about 300 feet before leveling into Glacier point. We saw the cutest fat little marmot beastie, sitting on a rock cantilevered over the edge of the bluff.

If I was there, I would be hunched down too.

We had an incredible view of Half Dome about a mile from Glacier point. This was one of several points where the trail walked along the edge of the valley's wall.

This is very similar to the distance view you can get from Glacier Point. However,the view seemed flatter from Glacier Point. Somehow the level paved surface and barriers surrounding Glacier Point made Half Dome appear more distant and less real. It seemed flat when I was looking out form a flat place. There's something to be said for the hightened presence you get when you know you are two steps from a 4000 foot drop.

We avoided the herds of pasty-faced flabby tourists until we came to Glacier point at the end of the day. Having hiked all day, we could have bathed ourselves in the smugness from quietly realizing only we and the European visitors appeared to have walked through anything except the giant parking lot.

However, once I noticed the Glacier Point Visitor Center sold ice cream bars, I got over the ugliness of the scene and enjoyed the creamy chocolate covered vanilla goodness.

We drove into Yosemite valley after our hiking. One entry to the valley is through the Wawona tunnel. I recommend this for anyone approaching the valley for the first time. As soon as we exited the tunnel, we were surrounded by granite walls bigger than the imagination can invent.

We stayed at the Yosemite Lodge, which is a frumpy but comfortable place to stay for some ungodly daily rate. The posh place in the valley, the Ahwanee, costs from $500 to $1,100 per night, depending on room and season. The restaurant at Yosemite lodge was pretty good. Although the west end of Yosemite Valley is full of Hotels, campgrounds and parking lots, there is still a lot of beauty right there. Frederick Olmstead's company did a brilliant job laying out the roads and trails.

This meadow scene was only a minute or two's walk our hotel's parking lot.

The views of the Valley's North walls were spectacular in the morning. I didn't expect a view like this from a parking lot. I never thought I'd see a hiking group's picture taken in a parking lot.

The morning light did cool things with the shadows.

That's Yosemite Valley. Look forward to reports from Mariposa Grove and Vernal Falls.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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I must enjoy shouting into a vacuum, but I think about getting my act together one of these days. My mom says I am very handsome and intelligent.

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