Saturday, May 8, 2021

Tucson: Pima Air and Space Museum

A former Air Force One - Used by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.


I think I have blogged here a couple of times about my lifelong interest in aviation. I particularly like military aircraft because they lead technology in the same way that race cars lead technology for more practical cars. They also have unique niche capabilities compared to civilian aviation, which almost entirely are used for transportation of people or stuff. Military aircraft often do other things that are task oriented and not simply transportation. There is also the dark thrill of warfare.

I've been to a few air and space museums over the years, but for viewing examples of airframes, I've never seen so many types in one place. I actually didn't allow myself enough time to view every aircraft, and forgot to bring a hat, so now I have a sunburn on my scalp (I have a fair complexion and burn easily). Perhaps I'll go back someday and complete the visit. They also offer guided tours of the aircraft "boneyard" during non-pandemic times. The boneyard is where the United States military stores "mothballed" airframes as spares, or for the event of a dire need of more military aircraft, as in a major war. The dry desert of southern Arizona is a nearly perfect place for long term storage of mostly-metal aircraft.

Since my time was slightly limited, I made sure to see the precise airframe examples that interested me most. This basically meant fighter aircraft and bombers. I didn't spend much time on transports and none on helicopters. Since I've been to airshows before, and viewed many static displays, I've seen many of the types elsewhere anyway. Once, a long time ago, I actually rode in a KC-135 air tanker.

Below are some of my favorites from the museum.

F-15A. The F-15 family is probably my favorite aircraft of all time. It conveys a sense of speed and power, and it looks menacing, yet also looks graceful. All of these impressions are true. It also has an exceptional record of combat service, with over a hundred air-to-air victories and no losses. There are also dedicated strike versions. The production line is still running and the US Air Force just ordered dozens more, over 40 years after the initial production run began.

The O-2A. I used to have the Matchbox version of this and played happily for hours with it. The pusher propeller on the back is not visible here.

The F-100 Super Sabre, one of the most beautiful aircraft ever designed. Like many early jets, it had some flaws, but for a short time it was the fastest mass-produced jet aircraft. Prior to the A-10, I think this aircraft was one of the most heavily armed single-seat fighters, with four 20 mm cannons, firing a combined rate of over 4000 rounds per minute.

The F-5 Freedom Fighter. This is a small, affordable, supersonic aircraft that was designed to be exported to allies of the United States without compromising the state secrets in America's more expensive and advanced aircraft. Pilots love flying this aircraft and it is still in use for a few niche applications. Gorgeous!

The F/A-18 Hornet, painted in the colors of the US Navy's performance team the Blue Angels. I fell in love with this type after seeing the Blue Angels at the airport in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where my dad served in the Indiana Air National Guard. I'm unsure if this exact airframe might have been used in that display?

The B-17 Flying Fortress of World War II fame. I can't say this is necessarily one of my favorite aircraft, but it provided important and commendable service during the largest war in history. It's found in a museum within the museum and they ask for donations, which I happily provided to review the aircraft. I'm only disappointed that I couldn't climb up into it.

The venerable A-10 Thunderbolt II, better known as the "Warthog," with it's ludicrously destructive 30 mm Gatling cannon. I saw some of these while out hiking as a wing is stationed at Davis-Monthnan Air Force Base in Tucson. These are a familiar sight for me because there was a wing stationed at the now-defunct Grissom Air Force Base near where I grew up in Indiana, and they routinely flew at low altitude, sometimes coming out from behind the trees, despite hypothetical bans on flying quite so low. I also saw some F-16 Fighting Falcons flying while in Tucson. These were probably from fighter wings of the Arizona National Guard or an Air Force Reserve Command Test Center, both of which are stationed at the Tucson International Airport. Tucson is a great place for plane spotting!

I also like some foreign (not United States) aircraft. This is one of my favorites: the Sea Harrier, used successfully by the British Royal Navy during the Falkland Islands War (this example is a slightly newer, or upgraded varient). This aircraft was capable of vertical takeoff and landing. There were several versions of the Harrier, but this one is distinguishable by the protruding nose, which contained a radar, and provided the British with a valuable advantage during the war. Earlier Harrier varients lacked a radar.


Friday, April 30, 2021

Tucson: Saguaro National Park - Day 2, Douglas Spring Trail

A view of outlying areas of Tucson over a saguaro forest with the Santa Catalina Mountains behind. The Catalinas loom over the entire Tucson area. The highest peaks are over 9000 ft above sea level. This was taken from early in Douglas Spring Trail, when it starts to climb the Sierra Rincon.

 

I got up at 6 am, worried about the limited parking at the trailhead, but once I arrived I realized that this was irrelevant. The Douglas Spring trailhead is outside of the main part of the park and not only was the "official" parking lot already full by 7:30 am local time, but the approach road had very wide, sandy desert shoulders with a few cars already overflowing. I went ahead and parked along the road and put my annual interagency pass on the rear view mirror, though I doubt it was applicable or necessary.

The trail starts off in a relatively flat area of typical Sonoran Desert and crosses through several sandy dry washes. The cacti were starting to bloom and I took several photos of the flowers.

Ocotillo were blooming.

Teddy bear cholla? Not sure.


After about 0.8 miles the trail starts to head uphill, and I was glad I brought my trekking poles, which I had considered leaving behind. The next couple of miles were almost entirely uphill into the lower slopes of the Sierra Rincon.

The Sonoran Desert teems with life, even after the last two years of extreme drought. The desert tans are opposed by the deep greens of the succulents, and enlivened by the scurrying of lizards and rodents. I startled Gambel's Quail a couple of times and saw and heard a myriad of other small birds. After the sun warms the day, the ground crawls with red ants and other insects dragging food stuff to the underground colonies. Flying species visit the flowers. Beware of the africanized bees.

Climbing into the foothills of the Sierra Rincon (Rincon Mountains).


The trail steepened, and soon I hiked up a well-maintained, stepped path that ascended above a narrow canyon. I enjoyed views of the eastern and northern suburbs of Tucson, with the Rincons and the Sierra Santa Catalina looming on northern and southern sides. As the sun rose, the air temps increased, but remained tolerable, even considering the uphill slope.

I'm out of shape from the snowy Flagstaff winter, but I found the uphill going reasonable, perhaps assisted by my everyday existence on the thin air of high altitude. That is not to say I wasn't passed, but I was passed mostly by trail runners.

I bought a Garmin GPS watch several months back, and I found myself watching it like a hawk, trying to decide if I had missed the side trail to Bridal Wreath Falls, but I persisted in the lack of evidence that my hike had gone astray. I passed the streaked rock of the high end of a dry wash, and eventually came upon a trail intersection with a metal sign that confirmed that my hike had gone true, and that I needed to turn right to get to Bridal Veil Falls.

Along the side trail the terrain broadened and it became clear I was climbing to an obvious place for a waterfall, and though the rising April wind tricked my mind a couple of times, I eventually realized that no water was flowing. The side trail deposited me into a dry wash that nonetheless showed signs of being a riparian area. I startled birds and lizards and a chipmunk. I made my way up 50 meters of dry boulders and found the "falls." As I anticipated, the falls were dry but for an area of rock darkened by water oozing out of cracks in the rock. I would have preferred an actual waterfall, but close examination revealed small plants living off the meager flow.

Water oozing from cracks in the rock at Bridal Veil Falls.

Tiny plants thriving on the meager water supply.

I spent some time taking photos and rock hopping, then decided to go back to the trail and try a "goat track" that I'd seen climbing the right bank of the arroyo. This lead to sketchy views down onto the "waterfall" and more bird spotting, but I finally decided that I was risking my life. The trail, such as it was, consisted of loose gravel surrounded by cacti and other spiky plants.

The day was young, so when I got back to the trail intersection, I decided to take another side trail downhill on a completely different arroyo to Ernie's Falls. Considering the lack of water on Bridal Wreath Falls, my expectations of flowing water were low.

Ernie's Falls is presumably at center. It's difficult to see but there were dark streaks that presumably were wet. The mountains above are the Sierra Rincon. They have pine forest on the higher elevations.


Ernie's Falls were almost completely dry, but I could see black areas on the rock face which I suspect revealed oozing sheets of moisture, much like at Bridal Wreath Falls. The trail continued to the park boundary, but I saw no reason to continue. If I'd taken the Douglas Spring trail further, beta tells me that it eventually leads up into pine forest above 7000 feet, but I wasn't in shape for that, nor was I prepared with my pack. I was already approaching 6 miles and carrying extra mass around my midsection from the Flagstaff winter and the COVID lockdowns and knew that hiking back to the car would take all my energy. I started back to the trail intersection, and having reached it, immediately headed downhill on the Douglas Spring Trail.

Douglas Spring Trail headed downhill.

Just another photo of beautiful Sonoran Desert slopes. Places like this make me remember my childhood visit to Arizona.


After a few minutes I was tired and moving slowly despite going downhill. I found a rock to sit on high up in a steep dry wash. It was midday, and there was no shade. I ate a leftover breakfast burrito and resumed my descent. The good thing about doing an out-and-back: you always notice things on the way back that you didn't on the way out. Like a rare opportunity to see a saguaro bloom up close. Usually they are too high to see into.

A rare look into a saguaro bloom. Usually they are too high up to see into!


I finished up, tired and feeling my continued lack of fitness. But it's amazing how much better I feel than I did a month ago. The only solution for a lack of fitness is to get fit.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Tucson: Saguaro National Park - Day 1



After lunch on Thursday at Tacos Apson, I needed to use a few hours before the check-in time of my Airbnb in Tucson. I decided to drive straight over to Saguaro National Park to use them well. I visited the larger, eastern section of the park, called the Rincon Mountain District. There is also a western section called the Tucson Mountain District.



The visitors's center is relatively small compared to other parks I have been to, but perhaps proportional to the number of visitors. I embarked upon the Cactus Forest Loop Drive and visited every overlook. As always, there were drivers behind me nearly the entire time who wanted to drive faster. I'm not sure these people understand the purpose of national parks.

I knew there were some trailheads leading into the saguaro forest that I passed on the drive, but decided to just hike the easier hikes and plan for a longer hike on Friday. I've been to the Sonoran Desert many times in the past and wanted something a little more diverse.

Desert Ecology Loop - This is an easy, short loop on pavement with signs describing the plants and ecology of the Sonoran desert. It's a fully accessible trail and I recommend it for anyone.

A lovely barrel cactus on the Desert Ecology Trail. You can distinguish young saguaro from barrel cacti by the curved spines on the barrel cactus.



A classic dry wash on the Desert Ecology Trail.

Strava GPS Track - Desert Ecology Walk

Freeman Homestead Loop - This is also easy but it is an unpaved trail with a little bit of up-and-down. The trail goes through an old home site but there isn't much to see there, but it also goes through the desert and into a dry wash with a high, eroding wall. It's a good trail for beginning hikers.

Strava GPS Track - Freeman Homestead Trail

A view of the Rincon Mountains from the Loop Road.


There are many places to stop on the loop, sometimes curated with signs. Others stops provide trail access. The road climbs to a high point with good views of Tucson and the Rincon Mountains. I particularly enjoyed a stopping point where it was possible to wander out onto some rocky points to look down on the desert. There were bees and red ants everywhere though. But there were also blooming cacti and small wildlife, especially birds and lizards.

A short walk from the road on a beaten path led up to a rocky promontory with great views.

The Tucson Mountains from the rocky promontory. Tucson lies in the basin between.


The view from near the high point of the road. On a bicycle, this would be a substantial climb.

A view of the Santa Catalinas over a saguaro covered ridge from the rocky promontory.

The loop has low speed limits, and is a popular bicycling route. I brought my bike with the intention of riding while in Tucson, but found other things to do and ended up not riding it. Also, I did a lot of walking and hiking and my legs were not quite in shape to do everything my brain wanted to do! I may go back sometime to ride it, because it is surely one of the most scenic bike routes in Arizona. There is also a loop in the Tucson Mountain District, but it is partially gravel/dirt, so would require a mountain bike or gravel bike.

I always enjoy visiting our national parks and Saguaro is a very nice, and somewhat quiet park to visit. I recommend it!

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Tucson: Culinary Adventures

The modest original location of Tacos Apson on S 12th St in Tucson. Source: Google Street View (because I forgot to take a photo when I got there - distracted by hunger)



One of the disappointments with my previous visit to Tucson was that I had been too indecisive to seek out some of the local Mexican restaurants for which Tucson is known. Instead I went to a local chain called Sir Vezas that seemed promising, because the founders have Mexican heritage, but it turned out to be more of a sports bar.

Tacos from Sir Vezas in Tucson in 2016. Looks like I forgot to take the photo before I started eating. Funny to think this photo was probably taken with an iPhone 5.


I was determined not to let that happen again this time, so I put authentic Sonoran tacos right at the beginning of my itinerary. After reviewing Yelp, Google, and Reddit, I determined that there was one place that usually shows up in everyone's top 3 tacos for Tucson: Tacos Apson. This is a multi-generational family restaurant operating from an old building with walk-up windows for service. Tip: Although I don't think Apson is a Spanish name, I noticed everyone pronounced the vowels with a Spanish pronunciation and the accent on the second syllable. I got there late in the lunch hour, but still had to wait a good 10 or 15 minutes just to place my order, and another 10 or 15 to get it. The service was slow but I think it was worth the wait.

I was disappointed that my first choice, the taco al pastor, was not available, but they did have one of my other choices: the Apson. I ended up with an asada, a barbacoa, and the Apson. The Apson was the best by far, and the most well balanced, with plenty of mushrooms with multiple types of marinated meat, all provided with three small containers of shredded cabbage, hot red chili sauce which looked homemade, and the characteristic creamy green sauce from Sonoran cuisine that is usually served on Sonoran hot dogs. Apson also has Sonoran hot dogs and other plates but I stuck to tacos. I recommend Tacos Apson if you ever visit Tucson, it's a good example of the Tucson Sonoran taco shack.

The Taco Apson after I put cabbage on it. Unfortunately, I again started eating before I took photos the other two tacos were gone. I was very hungry! I guess I'm not cut out to be a food blogger. I get distracted by the food too much.


After lunch, I went over to Saguaro National Park, a new park for me. After seeing the sites and doing the loop drive with some side hikes, I was hungry again. I checked into my AirBnb on the north side of town and visited a nearby restaurant called El Cisne. This restaurant was "fancy" Mexican cuisine. It was dimly lit and the servers wore black. Sauces were made with wine and cream in the French tradition.

A La Veracruzana from El Cisne. I'll try not to get my shadow on the photo next time.



I ordered the A La Veracruzana, an Oaxacan style dish of chicken with peppers and onions and a lemon-tomato sauce, accompanied by fried rice and my choice of black beans, along with a craft wheat beer and a Pacifico. To my surprise, they also served a side of long slices of lightly sautéed zucchini, squash, and carrots. I've never had anything like that in a Mexican restaurant. Honestly the beans were the best thing. It wasn't bad, and I might go back in the future, but it didn't meet my expectations for a Mexican restaurant, especially one that is more pricey. The vegetables were cut into too long of slices to eat easily without cutting. That seems silly to me. Cutting a meat filet is one thing but I see no reason to have to cut carrots to fit them in your mouth. The menu is interesting though.

The last place I visited was simply a local neighborhood restaurant-bar called Risky Business (the Tanque Verde Road location), which despite the name was quite tame. I had a grilled three cheese sandwich (havarti, provolone, and parmesan) and roasted tomato soup - satisfying contemporary American bar food. I had a couple of local craft beers with it. The restaurant was selected more from convenience than any other reason, and also I was looking for a break from Mexican food for a meal. Although it was nothing fancy, they have a huge menu of mostly contemporary American cuisine. It's the kind of place that is "safe" for people with neutral paletes but it isn't adventurous or outstanding. The service was friendly but there were regulars at the bar who all knew each other and looked at me like I was an alien. It was kind of a Cheers for elderly white people bar, though I saw younger couples in the dining room. If I'd stayed another day I would have gone for more Sonoran cuisine.




Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Tucson: The Old Pueblo

A view across Tucson from my Airbnb.


The nickname for Tucson, Arizona is "The Old Pueblo." It is one of the oldest cities in the American West and was founded during the Spanish colonial period in the late 1700s.

I started this blog entry in 2016 after my first visit to Tucson, which happened on short notice. Somehow I never got around to finishing it and publishing. The weather had been bad and I wanted to go somewhere warm and dry. It was an unduly short visit though, so I'd wanted to go back ever since.

Having arranged a four day weekend a while back, I originally intended to go to California, but while not officially closed to tourism, it's apparent they were trying to discourage tourism. I decided not to be one of the people ignoring the official recommendation. My second choice was Zion National Park in Utah, but the weather forecast turned rainy, and some of the best hikes in Zion are subject to flash flooding. What to do? I decided to go back to Tucson for a slightly longer visit and see and do the things I missed before.

My earlier blog entry sounded a little grouchy. I seem to have had some issues with my visit to Tucson, but I somehow still came away with a positive impression. There are parts of the town that look like one of these junky little desert towns with dirty, flat-roofed houses of cinder block construction, trash sitting around, and window air conditioners dripping on the dirt yard. I saw two young men in one neighborhood who appeared to be about to get into a street fight. But there are also parts of the town that are nice, clean, and modern, with beautiful southwestern architecture, and the entire valley is ringed by beautiful mountains covered with saguaro and pine forest on the higher peaks. There are areas of dusty, dry desert, but also areas of lush, green saguaro forests and irrigated fields.

There are many things to do in Tucson, so I'm breaking up the two trips I've made into multiple blog posts to follow. Although I have made long weekends of it, you could easily go to Tucson and spend a whole week or more seeing sites, visiting parks, hiking, bicycling, rock climbing, or attending sporting events. It's a great city.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Diet and Exercise

My legs are vascularized from years of running and bicycling yet still I'm slow. Right now excess weight on my torso is making things even slower.


It's frustrating that it's so easy to gain weight and so difficult to lose it. Up until my late twenties I could lose weight simply by doing a few pushups and sit-ups 5 or 6 days a week. As I approached 30, I found this no longer worked and that I really had to restrict diet in order to lose weight, regardless of exercise. My body fights against weight loss. 

You can sort of reason why this might be the case if you think about humans living in a primitive state thousands of years ago. For survival, hunter-gatherers needed to be both strong and maintain weight, and store fat against times of scarcity. We are adapted to gain weight and keep it, not to lose it. In the modern world that's irritating.

I've been working out for a few weeks now, despite the snowy March we had here in Flagstaff, but as I strengthen I can feel the extra weight I've been carrying. Hopefully some of it is muscle, because I've been hitting the dumbbells quite a bit. There is progress there but running and cycling I feel every extra pound I carry.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Algorithm

An algorithm. Source: Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algorithm


I don't know who reads these blog posts. Some get only a few hits, others dozens. I assume Google algorithms dictate some of that, like a post shows up in a search based upon certain terms, or is presented to people browsing through seemingly related topics.

We all know that Big Tech manipulates the information we receive on our displays. Some of this is automated and only intended to provide the best experience possible, but it's also apparent that the information is manipulated according to company policy and managerial decisions. It's creepy, and even if you are knowledgeable about such things and try to get around the algorithm, you can never be certain that what you see is true, or that your searches haven't been filtered in some way that prevents you from finding the best results.

I don't know why I wasn't posting here for a while, especially since my last post got a lot of hits and it would have been the perfect time to take advantage of the algorithms and "grow my following," but I haven't tried to build a following anywhere on the internet for a decade or more. I simply don't care, and write almost entirely for myself. I know other writers have said that over the years and I didn't understand it until I reached that point myself. It sounds selfish, but on the other hand I don't like the idea of seeking the approval of strangers. If I'm practicing self-discipline and living according to my personal ethics, I shouldn't need it.

But I have written over the last couple of weeks over on one of my other blogs, where I share my sharper opinions. Interesting that my sharpest take seems to have received no hits in a couple of weeks. It's political-economic, and I can't help but think the algorithm is suppressing it, because people at Google* don't like it.

I'm a computer programmer, and I can tell you that algorithms sometimes produce unexpected results, especially if you are using AI (and if you don't verify and test adequately), but on the other hand it's easy for programmers to produce contrived output. Since the public doesn't see the program code, we have no way to know if our click metrics reflect a truly hands-free, automated outcome, or if the outcome was motivated. Are the results from an algorithm or from the programmer who wrote it?

Now ask me what to do about it. I don't know. Some clamor for regulation, but regulations too sometimes produce unintended outcomes.

* Google owns Blogger.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Self-discipline

"If you don't discipline yourself, the world will discipline you." - Navajo Traditional Teaching


My mother and I have debated over the years about the fundamental nature of humans. She believes people are fundamentally good. I believe people are fundamentally bad. I came upon this belief through a combination of the christian concept of original sin and life experience. I particularly like the video linked above where a Navajo elder describes the traditional Navajo (Diné) belief that people are basically bad and that evil exists.

Mom also grew up in the christian faith but apparently original sin never took with her. She also grew up in the rural Deep South and views human society like Mayberry from the Andy Griffith show. It must have been nice to have lived in that type of friendly society (except for the poverty), but I can't reconcile that view with my life experience. I've known too many bad people and seen too many acts of evil.

The Sin of Adam and Eve, by Michelangelo - Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11421186


I believe we all have evil urges and tendencies to fail. What this means is that life is a contest of you against the evil and failure inherent in your being.

You were born to be evil. If you don't want to be evil, then you have to make yourself be good. This requires self-discipline.

Inattentiveness to what you are doing results in failure by default. In order to succeed, you must pursue success mindfully, or at least actively avoid failure. This too requires self-discipline.

You can't always succeed and you can't always avoid sin so living correctly requires constant effort. Life requires self-discipline and there is no end to it. It's a method for living, not a target that you can hit.

Keep grinding at the process. That's self-discipline.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Food Court Low Cuisine

Not my local food court. Photo by Danny Haak, available for free use under a Creative Commons license.


I'm an unapologetic fan of mall food courts and airport restaurants.  Excluding bakery fare, the best foods have relatively simple ingredients. Baking cakes and confections can be complex even in the simpler cases, but entrees need not be. For this reason, I'm also a critic of "foodie" culture, especially as applied to contemporary American cuisine (i.e. middle American food).

Things foodies are wrong about:

1. American cheese. No other cheese melts as well as American cheese, and it tastes good. Why bother making a complex sauce with 5 ingredients when you can just melt American? It forms a sauce naturally when melted and retains its molten character longer than any other cheese I've encountered. And yes, American cheese is really cheese. It is, by law, required to be manufactured from real cheese precursors. It's basically a blended cheese, much like there are blended wines. When I hear an American foodie disdaining it, I hear them signalling sophistication rather than an honest opinion.

2. Tomato ketchup. Ok, this may be an American foodie thing, but it's pretty popular right now to criticize ketchup. But French haute cuisine uses tomato ketchup. And yes, they use Heinz sometimes. Granted, they tend to use it more as an ingredient than a condiment, but the fact that they use it invalidates claims about it being for the uncultured, boring, or nasty. Claiming ketchup is disgusting because it's "middle American" is about the most hilarious self-own a foodie can make. Ketchup on a meatloaf? Yes. Ketchup in sauces? Yes. Ketchup on meat? Yes . . . well, sometimes yes.

3. Avocado on everything. I love fresh, ripe avocado, but at this point is it not only being overused, but abused. Stop putting avocado on everything. It doesn't go with everything. Example: avocado does not go particularly well with beef. It isn't terrible but the tastes, in my opinion, aren't particularly complementary. You taste two things: avocado and beef, separately, but they don't go together. I think it started with avocado on chicken and turkey, which makes more sense, then migrated to avocado on turkey burgers, and the next thing you know it's on ground beef burgers and steak. Stop that.

4. Bacon as a topping for other meats. The whole point of putting bacon on other types of meat, is that it is fatty, and if you cook it together, the bacon fat will flavor the other meat. You aren't supposed to just cook it separately, put it aside, then use it as a topping, except maybe on a salad, baked potato, or other vegetable dish. If you want a bacon cheeseburger, then the bacon needs to be cooked with the ground beef so that the pork fat flavors the beef, otherwise there is no point. As a fine point, I think this is most sensible with leaner ground beef.

6. Ersatz vegetarian/vegan food. You can make delicious vegan recipes, but it's senseless to make vegan "Mac & cheese" if you don't have real dairy cheese. Invent a new sauce and stop trying to emulate omnivore recipes. Give it a new name and its own history. Don't call it Macaroni and cheese if it isn't cheese. Don't call it chicken if it isn't chicken. Invent a new vegan "meat" and give it some other name. Or stop lying to yourself about what you want and just eat meat.

7. Beer snobs. The extreme popularity of a "good, hoppy IPA" is a typical example of foodie culture run amok, and into the ditch. IPA beers were the rotgut, cheap beer of the 18th century. They were created for long shelf life, not flavor. Loading a beer with hops to make it peppery is an easy trick to make a palatable beer. I'm not against IPAs, and I drink them reasonably often, but I think people claim to like IPAs because all the cool kids are doing it rather than that they know anything about beer or have a sophisticated palette. Food and drink should be popular because it is good, not because of peer pressure or herd mentality. There are other beer types than the India Pale Ale.

As I saw in one Quora answer a few months ago from (gasp) as European, a lot of American food has become popular around the world, including in Europe, the alleged home of gastronomy, because it is good. Basic middle-American cuisine is high on fat and salt, and that is where the flavor comes from. The last time I checked, McDonald's was the most popular fast food chain in France.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Tail Chasing

South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon, 2019. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was my most recent descent into the Canyon. Normally I would have hiked at least once per year in the Canyon.


I guess I don't mind sharing that I've just gone through a break-up. I've always had difficulty both initiating and sustaining relationships throughout my life and it appears I will never outgrow it. Obviously, it's difficult and I find myself feeling the urge to make big decisions or to seek out another relationship. Based upon past experience, it's best to not go straight into another relationship quickly. Breaking up brings emotional confusion. I'm not in my right mind.

On the one hand, I greatly regret losing the relationship. On the other hand, being free of it feels liberating. Now that I am vaccinated, I've resumed my usual lifestyle of planning excursions and weekend trips. Even the planning is fun, and it gives me dates on a calendar to look forward to, because right now everything else seems down.

I subscribe to the theory that people who are too eager to travel probably have issues at home they don't want to face. I realize I may be an example of that.

On the horizon: a hike in the Grand Canyon, a visit to the Pacific Ocean, and more time with family.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Mars

By ESA & MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA, CC BY-SA IGO 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 igo, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56489423


Almost fifty years after the Apollo program last visited the moon, we are finally on the cusp of going to the surface of another world: Mars. It isn't clear if the trip will be made on a NASA vehicle called the SLS or if they will simply hire out transportation from SpaceX on their gargantuan Starship vehicle that is currently in development. It looks like Starship has a huge lead right now, and will be reusable, giving it a cost advantage.

Mars, upon cursory review, seems the most like earth of all the planets, but now that we have explored the surface with a variety of probes and rovers, I'm less enthusiastic.

It seems possible to setup habitats for humans to live in, but I don't think I'd be interested in it. Mars has been revealed as a frozen desert. The people in charge of exploration seem to still hope for current microscopic life, or at least evidence of past life, but it isn't like you could go there and pick martian bananas and papayas and put your hammock under the palm trees by the ocean. It's a forbidding place. I'm not interested in going there.

My interests in space exploration have moved on to other places. I once believed the solar system would be colonized by humans in my lifetime. Now I do not expect to live long enough to see any significant human habitation on other worlds. I won't be able to take a cruise to Mars or the outer planets, and I am okay with that.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Upslope Flow

Upslope flow as a winter storm rolls into the Arizona high country.

 

I was out for a walk as a winter storm was rolling in, just in time to capture this textbook example of orthographic effects, A.K.A. upslope flow on the inner core of the San Francisco Peaks mountain range. The relatively warm and moisture carrying clouds are pushed up the slopes of the mountains, causing them to cool and drop snow. Sorry about the telephone lines, but the photo needed to be timely.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Travel

I-17 southbound to Phoenix. I left Flagstaff in cold rain but dropped down into the desert with sun, cloud, and snow on the higher peaks. It was a beautiful drive!


I'm vaccinated, and my parents are vaccinated, so I finally went to visit my Mom for her birthday, the first time I've seen her in 15 months. That is the longest I've ever gone in my entire life without seeing her.

Airplane travel was not too bad, but the airports were busier than I expected. I assume that I am not the only one who decided to resume air travel. I didn't think about it, but it must be spring break for some schools, because there were many families with children traveling.

Camelback Mountain beyond Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.


Everybody has decided that the pandemic is over. It isn't over, but hopefully many of the people traveling are at least vaccinated.

I took advantage of the relatively low rates to fly first class, which I'd never done before. The seating and legroom is superior, but the experience was reduced by a crazy guy sitting on the other side of the aisle who kept ranting about music that existed only in his head. The flight attendants had difficulty dealing with him.

Middle Tennessee is full of these bland shopping strips. The skies were grey for the first two days, also typical of Middle Tennessee. I ate inside a restaurant for the first time in a year on this trip. It felt normal.


Middle Tennessee was humid and cool, but not cold, as usual for this time of year. Every time I go back to Tennessee for a visit, I feel like I'm swimming. I don't feel like I dry out until the plane lands in Phoenix.

Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider Women's Basketball. They won a tight game. First time in over a year I've been to a live sporting event.  Note the limited attendance and cardboard cutout fans behind the goal.


Thursday, February 18, 2021

Non-Otaku Anime

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15389778


I've watched anime since the 1980s when Japanese cartoons were created or adapted for the US market: Robotech, Transformers, Silverhawks, and probably some others I have forgotten. I eventually figured out that what I like about it is mostly the visual style. There isn't anything consistent about the storyline, themes, or quality. Anime isn't a single genre, there are contemporary dramas, comedies, romances, period pieces, and action movies. As such, the story is only as good as the creators make it.

In other words, most anime is bad. I have the same opinion about live action movies and animation made in the United States or elsewhere. Most of it isn't very good and you have to find the individual movies and series that are worth watching. Some Japanese cultural sensibilities differ from the English speaking world quite a bit, so sometimes there are interesting things in a fair quality anime story. In addition to the distinctive visuals, I still encounter ideas or philosophies that I've never experience in western literature or cinema. This is the value of "foreign" film.

I guess I would say that although I like anime, I've never been otaku. I'm too picky by far.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Endless Winter

The San Francisco Peaks above Observatory Mesa.


This is the time of year when I get sick of the snow, but we must admit it can be beautiful. In Flagstaff, snow tends to not persist on paved surfaces as long as it does in more humid climates. I'm grateful for that. Having grown up in north central Indiana, I had to deal with long winters with grey, overcast skies for weeks on end, and persistent ice and snow on roads for weeks after a storm. We also got frigid blasts of sub-zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures from northern Canada. I was once out in 24 below when I was in college. Once you get to about 10 below, any exposed skin feels immediate pain. I can't recommend it.

Flagstaff isn't like that. Here we have lower latitude, which means more direct sunlight, and higher altitude, which means a thinner atmosphere with lower barometric pressure. We are also surrounded by desert, so even when we get heavy snow, very dry air moves in behind the storm and the snow just transpires away, or melts and then evaporates. This doesn't work as well between the winter solstice and the end of January, but by the time you get well into February, the days get longer and the sunlight more direct, and snow quickly disappears from the roads and trails, though it remains longer under the trees.

Snowpack off McAllister Ranch Road.


And that means I can get out and jog again, and on warmer days, bicycle. So I hope to get out there within the next week or two. I just need to get past this next storm on Tuesday . . .

Monday, February 8, 2021

Tailspin

I rode the conveyer last weekend since I'm trying to learn how to ski properly. So far I have developed some directional control. I had difficulty when I had a lesson a few years ago but I realize now that I was overthinking it. Skiing is kind of intuitive once you understand the slope. I'm still terrible though.

I'm kind of in a personal tailspin at the moment. On the one hand I've gotten two doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and my health is improving due to some changes in diet and exercise. On the other hand, I've lost some very important-to-me things and generally feel like I'm running behind. I also realized that the protagonist of my new novel is probably the least interesting character in the story. That isn't good.

My creativity has been running high, and I finished a painting for the first time in about a year, but I have cabin fever and would prefer to be outdoors recreating rather than in the house paying bills, doing taxes, and drawing.



I got out last weekend to test out my new skis and enjoyed that, but it isn't the same as a good hike or bicycle ride, and the city is still buried in snow right now. Anyway I'm on call this coming weekend.

Some days you just want to pound your head on the wall.


Sunday, January 31, 2021

Outdoor Writing

Montezuma Well, in Yavapai County, Arizona


They say write what you know. I've been into outdoor sports since I was a tiny child. I've accumulate quite a bit of experience and knowledge of several outdoor sports, yet I still find myself struggling to write about adventure in the outdoors without researching topics in detail. I worry over accuracy, even though I'm writing fiction.

As an avid reader myself, I know how fast you can lose a reader with an inaccurate detail, if they are knowledgable on the topic. I still continue with it, trying to use detail only where necessary. You can also lose a reader by providing uninteresting details to someone with less interest in the topic than you. The safe middle ground seems to be to provide as little technical detail as possible, and stick to storytelling. That's my approach.

My new novel is growing at a snail's pace. I'm sitting at 3600 words right now, which is not much considering how long I've been working on it. But the problem is that I've been to 3600 twice, because I keep writing, find myself unhappy with what I've written, and throw it out.

It's moving forward like a glacier. It grows on snowy days, then shrinks during warm dry spells in between. Fortunately we are buried under a think blanket of snow here in Flagstaff right now. It's like planet Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back, and the sidewalks a like the rebel trenches in front of the hidden base. This allows time for writing.