Monday, June 30, 2008

The Tarwathie Guide to DC

Engineers suffer from compulsion to assign numbers to everything, and then sort. I confess. I wrote a list of all the things that we saw and did in the past month, ranked them, asked Libby to rank them, then averaged the two.

Here is our ranking system 1 to 5 stars.
***** Must See
**** Very Good
*** Good
** So so
* Waste of time
(zero stars) no opinion, didn't do that
Here are our rankings.

Rank Stars Description
1 5 Holocaust Museum
2 5 Smithsonian Museum of American Art
3 5 Smithsonian Museum of The American Indian
4 4 Wolf Trap
5 4 Smithsonian Folklore Festival
6 4 National Building Museum
7 4 Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
8 4 Capitol
9 4 Kennedy Performing Arts Center
10 4 DC fish wharf market
11 4 National Art Gallery
12 4 Arlington National Cemetery
13 4 Union Station
14 4 Supreme Court
15 4 Old Post Office
16 4 Smithsonian Air and Space Museum – downtown
17 4 National Archive
18 4 Iwo Jima Memorial
19 3 Bureau of Engraving and Printing
20 4 Jefferson, FDR, Lincoln, Korea, Vietnam, WWII Memorials
21 4 Chinatown
22 3 Smithsonian Natural History Museum
23 3 National Arboretum
24 3 Hirshorn Museum
25 2 Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy
26 3 Smithsonian National Postal Museum
27 3 Voice of America
28 4 House or Senate Cafeteria
29 3 NPR National Public Radio
30 3 National Sculpture Garden
31 3 USDA Cafeteria
32 2 Smithsonian National Zoological Park
33 3 Library of Congress
34 2 Smithsonian Natural History Museum – Butterfly Exhibit
35 2 Eastern Market
36 2 Smithsonian Castle
37 2 Georgetown Embassy Row
38 2 Schooner: Spirit of South Carolina
39 2 National Aquarium
40 2 DC Public Library
41 0 FBI building
42 1 National Farmers Market at USDA
43 0 White House Visitors Center
44 0 Washington Memorial
45 0 White House Tour
45 0 Newseum


  • The American Art Museum, American Indian Museum, and Union Station are either new or newly renovated, thus substantially raising their rank as compared to years past. Consider them.

  • 30 years ago, we thought that the zoo was the top attraction in DC. This time, there were big renovations in progress and we visited late in the afternoon, and we were very disappointed. If you visit in the morning, a few years from now, it will probably be better.

  • The Smithsonian museums of American History and Industry were closed for renovation this month.

  • We thought that journalists are too self absorbed to pay them $20/head to visit the new Newseum. Others who went there said it was good.
The "Circulator" busses are very convenient and much cheaper than Washington METRO fares. You ride for $1 ($0.50 over 65). Transfers give you free rides on other Circulators. Most days, a transfer was accepted for the whole day. The circulators are an outstanding bargain. The METRO subway is very fast, but very expensive if you use it a lot.

Sea Otter II's guide to DC was very useful.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Embasy Row

N 38 52.736 W 077 01.507

Today was our final day as tourists in D.C. We had an ambitious schedule. We were to walk Embassy Row, see Georgetown, go to the White House Visitor Center, and finally to a show at The Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. Well, we started out with the Embassy Row walk. We had lots of fun and took a zillion pictures. However, by the time we got back to the bus, we had been walking for four hours straight in the heat. We were beat and our feet hurt. We canceled the rest of today's itinerary.

We have pictures of hundreds of embassies, but here's a few of the best. Above left-to-right, top-to-bottom
  • Unknown
  • Embassy of Estonia
  • Unknown trio
  • Kenyan coat of arms
  • Embassy of Belize plaque
  • Residence of the Embassy of Great Brittan
  • Entrance to the New Zealand Embassy
  • Libby at Churchill's foot
  • Buffaloes on the left. Buffaloes on the right. Damn the buffaloes, full speed ahead.
Most of the embassies were very beautiful. The USA is (for the time being) the richest, most powerful nation on Earth, so this is where countries would spend the most to make an impressive embassy.

We saw more black Hondas with DPL license plates than any other brand of automobile. That's surprising, and a positive plug for Hondas; they ought to make an ad.

Some embassies were embarrassing. Haiti appears to have spent more on their embassy than they ever spent on their populace. A beautiful Islamic embassy sits across the street from GB. It is abandoned, rusting, and the ceramic tiles are falling off. We guess that it must have been the embassy of Iran. Unbelievably, the Embassy of United Arab Emirates was padlocked and had peeling paint. I presume that they must have moved to more grand and richer quarters, but they ought to remove their name from the old place. The Embassy of South Korea had a huge pile of old newspapers piled in front of their front door. It looked like 3 months worth of papers. They should ask their neighbors to take in the newspapers when they're out of town.

On the modest side, a simple plaque on a door under a staircase leads to the basement office of the Consulate of Madagascar. That was charming.

The Islamic Center is very beautiful. We're not sure if it is an embassy or what.

The biggest, grandest and most beautiful of all Embassies, is that of Great Brittan. (What else would you expect?) The GB embassy compound seems to occupy two city blocks right next to the Vice President's Residence. No doubt, they bought the land in 1780 or so when land was cheap to buy.

The second most beautiful, and by far the most stylish is Sweden House.

The second grandest embassy we saw was that of New Zealand. The NZ compound was also huge. It appears that it may have been carved out of the GB embassy property. We didn't see the Canadian Embassy, but we did see an arrow pointing down an alley to it. Sounds like a juicy bit of diplomatic scandal there -- perhaps 200 years old. Why did NZ get such grand treatment from GB but not Canada?

We saw mansions for the Daughters of the American Revolution, The Daughters of American Colonists, and The National Society of Colonial Dames of America. Jeez, what a bunch of snooty matrons.

Coincidentally, I saw a sign today at the night club right in front of this marina. The night club is called H2O at Hogate. Hogate? I thought that referred to the Don Imus scandal. It reminds me though. In modern DC, they ought to have a mansion for the American Ho Society.

There are a few private homes sprinkled among the embassies. Assuming that they don't belong to ambassadors, one wonders who would pay out so many millions for such an address? Extreme diplomat wannabes maybe.

Friday, June 27, 2008


Washington DC (see the picture)
N 38 52.736 W 077 01.507

I think we're all worn out being tourists. Exhaustion has been compounded by the oppressive heat and humidity for the past few days. Poor Libby has been especially hard hit. She was tired out to begin with from last weekend's long jaunt through the Arboretum with Jenny.

I thought about leaving DC early. However, there's no wind either, and motoring down the Potomac in this weather would be equally uncomfortable. We need to get to a place where we can jump overboard and swim to cool ourselves off.

Yesterday, I could see that Libby was in a downward spiral. She was just laying flat on the bunk in the boat, too hot to move, and too tired to sleep. The heat kept her up the night before, so she was sleep deprived. She didn't want to eat or drink. As we headed toward afternoon when the heat inside the boat would really get bad, I could see that I had to step in and save her from herself.

I forced Libby to get up and go out, despite our protests. I took her uptown to a movie. That did the trick. Sitting in the deliciously cool movie theater and watching Wall-E put a smile on her face. After the movie we went to the nearby library, and from there to a museum. Finally, not wanting to return to the boat before the cool of evening, I took her to a formal lecture.

It turns out that going to lecture was an excellent choice. The title of the lecture was "Herblock: Drawn From Memory." It was about the famous Washington Post cartoonist Herb Block. The panel was very distinguished. Roger Wilkins, Hanyes Johnson, and Tony Auth were the panelists, Pulitzer Prize winners all. These men are very intelligent and very articulate. They gave us 90 minutes of very stimulating talk. We were very glad that we went.

By the way, it is evident that DC is a very culturally rich city. One can hardly avoid it. It was also evident from the panel and from the audience questions that Libby and I are in the heartland for political liberals. If there are any conservatives in town (other than at Fox News) they are hardly evident.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Trip to Bhutan

Washington DC, Public Library

We didn't really take a trip to Bhutan, but it feels like we did. The Smithsonian is holding a folk festival in the National Mall this week, so Libby and I went to see. They have three themes. The first two, Texas and NASA were kind of boring. The third, the country of Bhutan, was thrilling.

Neither Libby nor I knew anything about Bhutan before going. Well we learned a lot in a short time. Bhutan is a Himalayan country, not part of Tibet, bordered by India and China. It is also the place whose King declared that his goal is to maximize Gross National Happiness.

We learned that the men of Bhutan are strikingly handsome, and the women are exquisitely beautiful. Still better, they all speak excellent English (not the Queen's English but real English). Bhutan schools are all taught in English plus their native language.

Their art is beautiful. Their dances are beautiful. We listened to a lecture by their major domestic film producer. That man was so eloquent and erudite that he would be at home holding debates in Cambridge Mass. What an impressive people.

They practice Buddhism in Bhutan. They teach wisdom and method, and harmony. They embrace the five Zorig commitments ( quality, continuous learning, enterprise, dignity of labor, and resistance to corruption). With those basic values and with an intelligent and well educated people, I would say that the future is bright indeed for Bhutan.

This is the first time that they have ever presented Bhutan culture and art outside of their own borders. How fortunate for us that they decided to do that here.

I bumped in to a Bhutan man and I remember how handsome he looked. A few minutes later I saw a picture of this man (the man kneeling with a child in the collage below.) He is the King of Bhutan. Wow, never bumped in to a king before.

Libby and I were very impressed. We admire Bhutan and its people. We understand why it is called The Last Shangri-La. Too bad that it is a landlocked country and we can't sail Tarwathie there. (Alas, Bhutan is not perfect. They have troubles too. See the Wikipedia article. )

Oh yes, this morning we also took the studio tour of Voice of America. That was very interesting. I assume that you all know what VOA is.

I had always thought of it as an instrument of the Cold War, and an anachronism. But our tour guide today said that 150 million people worldwide still listen to VOA. Wow, if that number is to be believed (I'm suspicious but I have no basis to disbelieve it), it is a very significant audience. Still, we are told that the USA is losing the propaganda war, the struggle for hearts and minds, all over the world. Millions of people, supposedly the majority of Muslims, believe that 911 was a Bush plot. They believe that the USA did not set foot on the moon and that the holocaust didn't happen. If VOA does as it says -- tell the absolute truth, and tell it effectively, and to disseminate it all over the world, then how come the lies are winning?

Amazingly, VOA broadcasts in 46 languages but none of them are Arabic. Go figure.

There's another fundamental problem with VOA. It must cost a fortune to produce, perhaps as much as the collective news budgets of all private radio and TV networks in America. Yet VOA is forbidden to compete with private industry so we can't hear what it broadcasts. If one could tune to VOA every night and compare it with what is said on NPR, then we could judge for ourselves how good a job they do. If they did that, they would be in competition with NPR, and a libertarian like myself would never allow that. What a dilemma!

I left the VOA tour very disturbed. Every fact I learned about it caused 10 unanswered questions to pop in my head.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

DC Pics

DC Public Library

I spent the whole day trying to put some order in to the 1,500 odd pictures we have so far from our month in D.C. It's a major job, probably more than I have the energy for.

Here's a small sample in this collage. Click on it to enlarge.

left-to-right, top-to-bottom
  • Libby at Arboretum
  • Lonely columns at Arboretum
  • A bonsi tree
  • A fossil critter from some museum
  • Row 2: Attempts at photo trickery
  • Arlington National Cemetary
  • The Korean War Memorial
  • The Vietnam War Memorial
  • Libby confronts her ancestor; John Brown
  • Friendly guys meeting outside the Hirshorn
  • H.M.S. Pinafore at Wolf Trap
  • Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
  • Libby at Arboretum again

The DC Fish Market

DC Public Library

The DC fish market is located right next to Gangplank Marina where we stayed. The fish market is undoubtedly the most photogenic place in all of DC. First, there are the fish themselves and the way they are presented. Then, there are the wonderful people and the rich rich culture. I love it.

I posted a new photo album of our fish market pictures here. Below are two collages, giving a sampler from that album.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Must See Must Do

Washington DC (see the picture)
N 38 52.736 W 077 01.507

I said it before and I'll say it again. The Holocaust Museum is a must see experience. Everyone should be required to go there and experience it directly. If you do, you'll never forget it. Hopefully, you'll also never forget the message, "Don't Let It Happen Ever Again." At the exit to the museum, they have another great message. "Think About What You Saw"

We took Jenny to the Holocaust Museum today and it had the same effect on her.

We also took her to the gift shop at the National Building Museum. That gift shop is unique. It's different than any gift shop we've ever seen before. Tomorrow, before flying home, Jenny wants to go back there and shop some more.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mothers and Daughters

Washington DC (see the picture)
N 38 52.736 W 077 01.507

Today it is my turn to stay on the boat, while Libby and Jenny are off having a mother-daughter day. They went to the US National Arboreum. Since Jenny is a certified master gardener, that kind of stuff is of great interest to her. Yesterday, we went to the Nature Conservancy's Conservatory (boy what a mouth full, say that three times fast).

We also took Jenny to the Indian museum and the Hirshhorn Museum. Those were repeat trips for us but new to Jenny. They were both fun. Then the three of us went to Union Station for lunch. We all agreed that the restored Union Station beats anything we've seen in Europe.

In any case, I welcome the break from this strenuous daily touring. I'm reading the Sunday paper on the boat, while making a backup of my hard disk. (Having electricity to waste at the dock is another unaccustomed luxury.) I never do backups when running just on battery power.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Night At Wolf Trap

Washington DC (see the picture)
N 38 52.736 W 077 01.507

We had lawn tickets to see H.M.S. Pinafore at Wolf Trap. Jenny stayed behind at the boat, because she wasn't feeling good and because Pinafore is just not her kind of music.

Our fun started on the way out there. On the subway, people were like people always are on subway trains. They are morose, they grimace, they don't speak, and they avoid eye contact. It's wierd. When we got off the train, most other fellow passengers that got off with us all boarded buses to their final destination. We got on the Wolf Trap shuttle. The transformation was instantaneous. This subset of the subway riders were smiling, animated and talkative. They were on their way to have fun.

We sat out on the lawn and watched the people. Many people brought picnic dinners. Not sandwiches, but elaborate dinners with wine and cheese, and shrimp and fried chicken. Some people even had metal wine glass holders that stick in to the grass to hold themselves up. After dark, their wine glasses had LED lights in the stems that lit them up.

There were a lot of children there. It made us feel guilty that we never exposed our kids to good music when they were young. As as result, they're not interested in it today. Our fault.

Watching the performance from so far away wasn't as much fun as we thought. It was hard to hear clearly. We also wished that we brought the binoculars from the boat. It also got chilly, so we wrapped ourselves in a blanket.

At intermission, I walked around. When I returned, Libby was all excited and all packed up. She said, "We have free tickets!" It seems that somebody walked up to Libby and said, "We're leaving. Would you like our tickets." Thank you Libby for looking so deserving.

That was great. We moved from the lot to an orchestra seat in row F. Wow. We could hear great and we could easily see the faces of the actors. That made it much more enjoyable. I guess that's why they get $45 for those tickets instead of $8.

Anyhow, we really enjoyed the show. H.M.S. Pinafore is a wonderful opera, with great songs and good humor. Even 120 years after it was written, it's still funny. Judging from the number of young people there enjoying it as much as we did, I'll say that it will still be popular at 240 years of age.

At the end of the night Libby said it all, "This has been a GREAT evening."

Friday, June 20, 2008

Solstice Confusion

Washington DC (see the picture)
N 38 52.736 W 077 01.507

Libby and I went to the American Indian Museum today, in hope of seeing the light pattern on the floor at the summer solstice. However, there seems to be some confusion about whether the solstice is today (6/20) or tomorrow (6/21).

According to Wikipedia, the solstice this year is at 6/20/2008 23:59 UTC. According to another source, it is at 6/21/2008 00:00 UTC. These sources differ only by one minute, but that is the exact minute the date changes. In either case, that makes the solstice today, at 18:59 (or 19:00) local time. Noon today (6/20 13:10 local time) should be the noon closest to the solstice.

Nevertheless, most sources on the web seem to be saying that tomorrow, 6/21 is the solstice, not today.

What about the evidence from the sun? The special patterns of light on the floor of the American Indian Museum did not appear today. We're going to return there tomorrow for another try.

While we were there, I learned from a Blolivian docent that every detail in the museum was designed by native American tribes. The main door faces east, the lines in the floor, the shape and color of marble blocks in the floor, the lack of corners, the colors of paint -- countless small details, were specified by the natives. It is very gratifying to hear that this museum is not merely a white man's concept of what an Indian museum should look like. Perhaps there are dissenting views, but the story sounds good.

We also had lunch at the House of Representatives. They served an ass kicking taco salad today, the best I've ever had. Those people sure do eat good.

Tonight, Libby and I head out to Wolf Trap. That's a performing arts center similar to Saratoga or Tanglewood. We're going to see HMS Pinafore.

Poor Jenny is still recovering from her illness. She stayed on the boat the whole time.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Go Fast, Go Slow

Washington DC (see the picture)
N 38 52.736 W 077 01.507

Nag nag. I take a day or two off blogging and the complaints come in. Oh well; I know that people are reading.

Jenny had an easy trip down here on Tuesday. She walked from her house to the Burlington Airport, then flew on a direct flight to BWI (Baltimore). Then she caught a bus to Greenbelt from BWI. When she arrived at Greenbelt I was there to meet her. We rode the Metro subway to L'Enfant station, and then rode the circulator bus to the marina. I must say that public transportation here in Washington is remarkably easy to use and inexpensive.

Yesterday we started out to go to the Holocaust Museum, but when we got there, the lines were much too long. We went to the Natural History Museum instead. Libby and Jenny went to the live butterfly exhibit. Then we had lunch in Chinatown, shopped in the Chinese store, and went to the American Art Museum. In the museum we took the guided tour of the art conservation laboratories that they have there. That was very interesting.

After the museum, Jenny was feeling sick. Uh Oh. Jenny's boyfriend Christian is back in Vermont sick with a fever. It sounds like Jenny is coming down with the same bug.

Today, Libby and I left Jennycalone on the boat to rest and recover. We went off on our own. We saw the Post Office Museum, Union Station, and the Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building.

Well, we could hardly have picked three more beautiful buildings in the world to visit on one day. All three are massive vaulted and domed buildings made of the finest marble. We just love the 19th century tastes in architecture. We've been to some of the grandest train stations in America and Europe, but we never saw one nearly as grand as Washington's Union Station. Amazingly, it was built with private money despite its location.

The restoration stories are also stunning. The DC post office had this marvelous building, but the covered over the marble with formica and installed dropped ceilings. Later, as the building was restored by the Smithsonian Foundation, the marble was replaced with new marble. The cost is incalculable. Similarly, Union Station was in disrepair, covered with mold and ready to fall down. It was rescued in 1988 by then-Secretary of Transportation, Elizabeth Dole.

Above, left-to-right, top-to-bottom:
  • This mail stage said, "White River Junction and Woodstock", obviously from Vermont.

  • A Stinson mail plane dragging a hook to pick up mail bags on the fly.

  • Who remembers seeing vmail? During WWII letters were written on flimsy paper, folded as envelopes, then microfilmed to make the Atlantic crossing. We had vmail long before email.

  • One sees how tight passengers were packed on the overland stage. They had to sit there for 25 days to reach the coast.

  • My Uncle Duck was a postmaster. He once took me to the train where they had a rig like this one (see the train car and the hook?). He hung the mail sack on a hook. The train came by at 90mph and WHAM, the bag was gone. A new bag flew out on to the ground. I remember it seemed very violent to a young boy. There were two other old men in our tour who also remember the train mail system.

  • We used to have an RD#1 address. Here we can see where it comes from.

  • Union Station
  • more Union Station

  • The rotunda in The Library of Congress

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Whirl of A Week

Washington DC (see the picture)
N 38 52.736 W 077 01.507

Libby and I are very lucky and very happy to be the parents/grandparents of such a fine family. We were invaded over the last few days, and although exhausted, we loved every minute of it. John, Cheryl, Nick, Sara, Katelyn and Victoria arrived in the early afternoon Friday, and they left about the same time on Sunday. In the interim, we did the following.

  • Reg, brother of our cruising friend Penny, gave us a personal tour of The Spirit Of South Carolina. She's a lovely boat. Nick, our oldest grandson, immediatly wanted to sign on as one of their student crew members.
  • We rode the METRO to the National Zoo and spent several hours there. Unfortunately, because of renovations and the hours of the day, we only got to see a small fraction of the animals.
  • We had a great dinner in Chinatown.
  • We walked to the Jefferson, FDR, Lincoln, Korea, Vietnam, WWII, and Washington memorials.
  • We ate lunch at the Old Post Office.
  • We did the Smithsonial Natural History Museum.
  • We aborted plans for the Archive, Air & Space and Indian museums because of exhaustion and excessive crowds.
  • Libby got to cook a big dinner for the whole group, thus feeding her mothering instincts. We had super jumbo shrimp, steamed clams and pot roast.
  • Three of the kids got to sleep on the boat with us.
  • We rode the METRO to Arlington and did a walking tour of the cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown, and the Iwo Jima monument.
  • Poor John had to drive home to upstate NY. Even on a Sunday the traffic was so heavy that it took him 2 hours to get out of the city an on to the highway.
Here's a classical family portrait, taken at guess where?

Clowning Around

One does not need panda bears or unknown soldiers to make for kids to have a good time. A bucket of water and a broom is much more fun.

Above: There were about a million tourists running around on Saturday. There was even a gay pride rally with 100,000 people that managed to escape our notice because there were so many people around.

Given those circumstances, one would think that grandpa could sneak away and grab a quick nap for a few minutes anonymously. Not so. Our friends Ray and Pat just happened to be walking through the Smithsonian lobby and saw a familiar face on an old man sleeping on a bench, so they snapped this picture. Sigh.

Friday, June 13, 2008

My Favorite Dilbert Ever


Washington DC (see the picture)
N 38 52.736 W 077 01.507

Last night, we met Rob. Rob is the brother of Penny. Penny and Richard are our cruising friends from Viking Rose, the most beautiful Westsail 42 (not 32, but 42) you ever did see. Rob is a very accomplished sailor. He is here as part of the crew of Spirit of South Carolina, a school schooner that resembles the classic yacht America. This afternoon, we're going to try to get a tour of Spirit, guided by Rob.

Today is the start of phase 2 of Dick and Libby's excellent DC adventure. We're being invaded, but a very welcome invasion. Our son John, his wife Cheryl and our grandchildren Nick, Sara, Katelyn, and Victoria are coming to spend the weekend with us. We'll try to be their tour guides since by now we are DC veterans. They have to drive back to Syracuse on Sunday.

On Tuesday, our daughter Jennifer will fly down from Vermont to spend a week with us. Once again, we'll be tour guides. Wow, what a wealth of good fortune we're having. Back in school, the guys used to call it "living in s***."

I may be too busy to post blogs in the next few days. Hang on.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Beat Goes On

Washington DC (see the picture)
N 38 52.736 W 077 01.507

Yesterday Libby wanted the day to clean up the boat in preparation for company this weekend. I went off on my own toward the American Indian Museum.

Along the way, I decided to pop my head in to the downtown Smithsonian Air and Space Museum to see if they had anything new. They sure did.

The first two things I saw as I entered the building were two more of the many famous Bert Rutan machines. I saw Voyager, the plane that flew around the world non-stop and without refueling. Behind that was Space Ship One, the first non-government plane to reach space. Boy oh boy that Bert Rutan is quite a guy. Should we elect him or Enrico Fermi as the best engineer of the 20th century?

Then I looked again. Nearby was the Spirit of Saint Louis, a German V1 rocket, and a German V2 rocket, the command module from Apollo 11, a Cray 1 computer, and the X15. Wow. I use that expletive a lot this month. Wow wow wow. What icons of the span of my lifetime.

After that, I continued to the American Indian Museum. There, I saw a wonderful collection of Indian designs, especially beaded dresses. It was very good to hear that many Indian women today continue the tradition of making such dresses and that they consider it an important part of their culture.

Today, we went off with Ray and Pat again. We went to the headquarters of NPR, and took the free tour of their facilities. That was very impressive and very interesting. It was somewhat unsettling to see the faces and the correct spelling of the names of many people who are completely familiar to me by their voices. I prefer to keep my own fantasy picture of their appearance and their names. Their studios are very sophisticated. NPR technology and editing policies are responsible for the very high quality audio and verbal content that we are used to hearing. As a listener, one seldom thinks of the mechanics of production.

After that, we went to the nearby National Building Museum, where I bumped in to Hillary and Bill last week. That is a very interesting and pleasant place to spend time on a hot summer afternoon.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Real Stuff

Washington DC (see the picture)
N 38 52.736 W 077 01.507

We split up today. Ray and I went to the new Smithsonian Air and Space Museum; the one out by Dulles Airport. Libby and Pat went to the Women's Art Museum and the National Gallery. That way none of us were bored looking at things that only the others would be interested in.

We have been to the Air and Space Museum on The National Mall before, and frankly, that was a disappointment for an aviation buff. Not so the new museum.

Not only did we get to see such unique icons as a SR71 Blackbird and a Junkers JU 52, but I was stunned to see three aircraft of incomparable fame. We saw the Enola Gay (the real thing!) We saw the Gossamer Albatross (the real thing!) We saw the Global Flyer (the real thing!) Never in my life did I expect to see these things with my own eyes. Anyone who is an aviation buff and also a history buff, such as myself, could not help being stunned by these sights.

Ray and I spent the whole day there and we didn't leave until I had exhausted both batteries for my digital camera. It was a great day. Even getting there was easy. We walked two blocks from the marina to catch a bus to Dulles Airport. At the airport we caught a second bus to the museum. It was simple, fast and inexpensive, only $7.20 for all the bus fares. The museum, like all Smithsonian Museums, is free.

The planes are so lovely. The restorations are amazing. The planes glisten and gleam like diamonds, better I'm sure than they looked new from the factory. The SR71 Blackbird is so much bigger than I imagined it to be. Other than the Apollo 11 LEM (part of which is still well preserved on the surface of the moon), the Enola Gay, the Magna Carta, and Sophia Loren (who is still well preserved on the surface of Earth, see the 1977 Pirelli Calendar for proof) must be the most significant historical artifacts that I can imagine. In one week, I've seen two of the four. I'm humbled.

Above left-to-right top-to-bottom
  • The Mariner Space Probe (obviously, not the real one)
  • The Enola Gay
  • I pose below the Enola Gay's nose
  • The Boeing Stratoliner
  • The Boeing Stratoliner's nose. It gleams and sparkles.
  • The Gossamer Albatross
  • Lockheed Constellation, military version. I flew on the Eastern Airlines version of this plane as a boy. It had a picture window and a piano and a piano bar in the tail. We landed on the grass of Idewild Airfield (today called JFK).
  • Half of the Global Flyer. She was too big for me to get all of her in a picture. Steve Fawcett flew this plane solo, non-stop, around the world.
  • The SR71 Blackbird. She was too big to photograph properly indoors.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Elliot Spitzer Eat Your Heart Out

Washington DC (see the picture)N 38 52.736 W 077 01.507

Wow; we're doing things so fast that its hard to keep track. Yesterday we went to the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. It was so interesting that despite the fact that we spent the whole afternoon there, we only saw half the museum. We'll have to go back another day to finish it.

At the very least, a libertarian government should resolve to do no harm. It seems that one of the most blatant and inexcusable things this country ever did is, (not the Iraq war), but rather the way the Bureau of Indian Affairs tool all the Indian's money and lost it, and then didn't even keep records. This new Smithsonian museum was developed with long and in-depth collaboration with native Americans. I wonder to what extend, if any, this was an attempt to make amends for the misdeeds of the BIA.

On the way back to the boat, we stopped at the nearby fish market. What a cool place that is. The local people there haggling for their dinner make for wonderful people watching, and the fish and crabs make for iconic scenes. I tried to capture some of those images on film.

Today (Monday) we went with Ray and Pat from Reflection. First, we went to the mint to see money being made. The technology there is rooted in the 19th century, albeit modernized. However, even in the digital age, money is magic. Seeing all that money in various stages of printing is fascinating. After the tour, a woman in the gift shop demonstrates how they did it in the old days with hand operated "spider presses" She made a gift card of the Capitol, and even let us handle the engraving plate for that. Fascinating.

Below is a picture of Libby standing next to the scale that shows what your height is worth in $100, bills. Eat your heart out Elliot Spitzer. That woman is MINE.

After touring the mint, we ate in the USDA cafeteria (good food). Then we went to the National Aquarium (a disappointment, skip that) and to the Old Post Office. Up in the tower, everyone enjoyed the view. Back down in the food court, we relaxed with cool drinks. It is brutally hot today, 105F wind chill temperature (41C). When outside, we dash from spot of shade to spot, then duck in to an air conditioned building as fast as we can.

Last, we went to the Hirshorn museum. It is mostly full of modern art that didn't move us one way or the other. However, we stumbled across a 26 minute film of kinetic art called "The Way Things Go." It was marvelous. This kinetic art was much more imaginative and varied than Rube Goldberg art. It used potential, mechanical, and chemical energy plus pyrotechnics. Overgrown boys (especially my son Dave and his son Bobby) would absolutely love it. I watched it twice.

We got confirmation today that John and his family will arrive here Friday to spend the weekend with us. HOORAY!!!!

above left-to-right top-to-bottom

  • 4th and 5th graders from a Navajo school in New Mexico present a very well done tom-tom concert.
  • One of the many beautiful objects of Indian Art
  • At the fish market (3 pics)
  • A $500,000,000 treasury note with two $5,000,000 coupons still attached.
  • The demonstration lady with the spider press behind her
  • Attempts at photo trickery have to be done very accurately to work. This almost worked.
  • Art at the entrance to The Hirshhorn Museum

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Hillary, Bill and Me

Washington DC (see the picture)
N 38 52.736 W 077 01.507

Our plan to avoid the heat today was to go to some air conditioned place, and then to catch a movie. Libby decided to stay on the boat, so I set off alone.

I headed for the National Building Museum. It sounded interesting and it was easy to get to on the bus. When I got there, I was surprised to see a number of satellite TV trucks outside. That should have tipped me off. I went in to the museum, and what did I find? There was Hillary Clinton giving her concession speech.

Did I imply that it was an intimate meeting with just Hillary, Bill and me? Hardly. There were about 10,000 other people there including about 1,000 from the press. I tried to find a place where I could see her, but I couldn't. The best I could manage was to get a picture from the balcony by holding my camera above my head.

The acoustics of this great hall were terrible. I could hear her voice booming and echoing, but I couldn't understand a word. I suspect that none of the other people could understand either, but that didn't stop them from cheering and clapping at the end of each sentence. I'll upload a video with sound if I can.

It was exciting. I've never been to a political rally of any kind before. It was fun to watch the people and the press. I eventually found a spot behind the press bleachers where they had TV monitors. There, I could see more reporters typing on their laptops. One section had earphones where I assume, they could hear the speech. Another section must have been for bloggers. They could not see, nor did they have earphones to hear. There really was no point to them being present in the hall rather than sitting at their computers at home. That didn't stop them from typing opinions furiously on their keyboards. Maybe that's why political bloggers have bad reputations.

After the speech, the TV reporters stood in front of cameras and gave their reports. Bill and Hillary started working the crowd, shaking hands. A few supporters (probably those who donate more than a million) got hugs instead of handshakes.

My original thought on the whole thing was cynical; that the event was just designed to stroke the Clinton's egos even more (as if they needed that.) Having seen it though, I'm less cynical. They were really trying to thank their supporters for the support.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Noveau Art Fan

Washington DC (see the picture)
N 38 52.736 W 077 01.507

We went to the Museum of American Art today. Libby had it on the list of things she wanted to do, and the rest of us wanted to escape the heat. There's a heat wave here with humidity-adjusted temperatures of 100, 105, 110, 115, and 110 predicted for the next few days.

Everyone knows I'm not much of an art fan, but wow! WOW WOW WOW! I loved that museum. We stayed there the whole day. I loved every minute of it and I could have stayed longer.

Did you ever look at something and instantly think that it is the most beautiful object you've ever seen? That happened to me today. It was the simple marble relief in the picture below. It just shows profiles of five children. I think it it just exquisite.

I also found a new favorite artist. Paul Cadmus (see the collage below). I love his sense of humor. For example, the museum site says, "Public Dock depicts a group of vacationers recoiling from an electric eel that a hapless fisherman has caught. Paul Cadmus conveyed the boisterous atmosphere of an afternoon at the beach: the crush of bodies, the flap of flags on yardarms, the roar of a biplane overhead. A blowsy woman with bottle-blond hair and vivid make-up topples backward with a small child, and a bathing beauty at the lower right realizes what she is swimming with. Cadmus created this as part of his Aspects of Suburban Life series, which was intended for a post office mural. Administrators didn’t appreciate Cadmus’s humor, however, and the project was abandoned."

We posted a new photo album with 66 pictures from our visit today.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Busy Busy Busy

Washington DC (see the picture)
N 38 52.736 W 077 01.507

Libby's knee is better and we're taking it easier. That doesn't mean that we haven't been doing a lot.

Yesterday morning we went to the Holocaust Museum. (Sorry, no photography.) What an experience. Everybody, especially kids, should be required to go there and experience it. The presentation is very effective. At the same time, I couldn't help thinking about the many other victims of man's inhumanity to man, yet who do not have the resources to tell their own story so effectively. In the 21st century especially, information and use of information is all wealth and all power. Those who built this Holocaust Museum have done a great job of assuring that such events never happen again, especially to them.

After that, we walked to the Kennedy Performing Arts Center and met with our friends Ray and Pat from Reflection. We took the guided tour of the center, then we satayed for the free show. Every day at 1800, there is a free show. We saw an excellent performance by The US Air Force Singing Sergents, and another by the US Army Chorus.

Today, we went with Ray and Pat to the Capitol. They had arranged for us to get a guided tour of the Capitol by the staff of Rep. Thomas Allen (D Maine.) They assigned us two charming young interns to conduct the tour and we had a great time. The Capitol is a very impressive building. We even went to the gallery to witness a live floor debate of the House Of Representatives. That was unimpressive. The members stand up at the podium and give speeches to a mostly empty room. It is hard to see any point. To that.

We invited our tour guides to lunch at the house office building cafeteria (great food at moderate prices). Then we moseyed over to the Supreme Court. There was no court business in session, but we waited for one of the free lectures. The wait was worth us. They ushered us in to the main court room. The room stirred memories of many famous events and dramatic arguments which happened there. The guide gave a talk about the court and the building and the room, then answered questions. She then turned the tables and asked us a question to see who was alert. She asked, who is that man standing beside Franklin in the frieze above? Several people guessed incorrectly. Then I showed off and gave the correct answer. If you ever go there, and nobody else knows the answer, now you can show off too-- just say, "Marshall."

Left to right, top to bottom
  • The tower in the Old Post Office offers great views of the city
  • The Congress Bells ringer's ropes in the Old Post Office
  • The Federal Reserve building
  • Cuddling up to papa Einstein
  • Bust of JFK in the Kennedy Center
  • In the Africa Room of the Kennedy Center
  • The Army Chorus
  • Bust of Raul Wallenburg in the US Capitol
  • Us with Ray and Pat in the Capitol

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

With Foot Firmly In Mouth

Washington DC (see the picture)
N 38 52.736 W 077 01.507

We almost made a huge mistake. Last night, Libby's knee began to hurt making it hard for her to walk. Oh no! Some years back, I got tendonitis in one knee because of overuse. I had to lay flat for more than a week for it to heal. It would be a huge mistake to let that happen to Libby here. So today, we're giving Libby's knee a rest, just as a precaution.

I went alone up to the FBI building to get the tour. When I got there, the guards told me, "Nope. We don't do that any more after 9/11." Boy this country sure surrendered immediately and willingly to that terrorist attack on 9/11. The purpose of terrorism is to get a society to change it's behavior -- in other words to become terrorized. We sure did that. I support anything we can do abroad to prevent more attacks, but in my humble opinion, all the domestic security changes we've made just play in to the hands of the terrorists.

Anyhow, I continued walking down Pennsylvania Ave looking for something to do. Soon, I found the Old Post Office. I went in and rode the elevator up to the tower to get a specacular view of the city. I also saw the wonderful congressional bells, and learned a whole lot about bell ringing. How about you? Do you know the true meaning of peal as applied to bell ringing?

I walked further to the White House to get a picture. There were several men in black suits handing around the gate waiting to get in. I think one of them was Pat Leahy, my senator.

What about the foot in mouth? In yesterday's blog I wrote about being taught how to pronounce Hiroshima by a Japanese tourist. Wrong! What a blockhead I am. He was talking about the nearby Hershorn Museum, not Hiroshima. I could go back and edit yesterday's blog to cover up my embarrassment, but what the hell -- go ahead and laugh at me.

Being in Washington is sure fun, but being surrounded by the visible evidence of the money and power of the federal government is depressing. Those who would be servants of the people inevitably turn to become their masters. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I think our whole system of government is terribly wrong and getting worse year by year. My libertarian views are documented. Being in the middle of it, exacerbates that. I almost stopped in the IRS building to eat lunch (it was convenient) but I decided that would be too far into the belly of the beast.

Monday, June 02, 2008

D.C. Day 1

Washington DC (see the picture)
Gangplank Marina

We got off to a bang on our first day. Eschewing the bus, we walked up to the national mall and to the National Archive. After that, we ate lunch in the National Sculpure Garden (I should omit the prefix national. Everything here is national.) Then we visited the National Art Gallery, and the Smithstonian Castle before walking back to the boat. Both of us have sore feet and sore backs.

We sure got to see lots of amazing things though. While everyone else in the Archive raced for the Declaration and the Constitution, we spotted The Magna Carta. The real thing! That has to be the single most important document in all of history.

Before the day was out, we saw countless lovely art objects, and even a charred piece of The Hindenburg. Even though we're not students of art nor real fans of art, one can't help but be impressed by the beauty.

I even learned how to pronounce Hiroshima the right way. We met a Japanese man asking for directions. He said, hersch oma, whereas we Americans were taught that it was pronunced here oh she ma.

Pat and Ray on Reflections just pulled in to the marina. Its fun to have friends around.

Left to right top to bottom:
  • The Magna Carta
  • A WWII War Bond poster
  • Even the water fountains in the Archive building are beautiful
  • The sculpture garden
  • Chinese Porcelain
  • Asian gold on rock goblet from ancient Afganistan
  • My what a famous portrait. This is the real one.
  • Libby hugs the art
  • Some of the houseboats at the marina

Unspeakable Decadence

Washington, DC
N 38 52.734 W 077 01.507

This morning we awoke to the news on NPR radio. I got up, and bought a copy of The Washington Post, and after reading the paper, I'm scanning the news on our WIFI connection as I sip coffee. What decadence!

It makes me realize what a bargain we're getting. What other tourist could get a luxury apartment on the waterfront in downtown D.C. for $700/month. I was reminded of that as I walk around the marina. Many of the slips are occupied by "houseboats." Not the kind of box shape boat you are used to seeing, but actual houses built on a barge foundation. Obviously, the owners of these houseboats live here permanently, enjoying the very low rent. We've seen such "house boats" in a few other places, but there are lots of them here.

Today, Libby and I begin a whirlwind month of activity. We'll visit the National Archive and the National Gallery today. We'll visit a different neat place every day for the next 30 days. We're going to have a lot of fun, albeit not sailing. So blog readers should be prepared for a month's postings of a tourist's view of D.C.

We are 1/4 mile from a supermarket and a metro subway station. We are 1 mile from the Smithsonian and the National Mall. We are 1/2 mile from the Jefferson Memorial. This is a perfect location.

The severe thunderstorms missed us completely on Saturday, although they did hit Washington with a vengance. Retrospectively, we made the right choice stopping 25 miles short.

Yesterday we had a nice day sailing the final 25 mile leg to Washington. At 1230 we rounded the last bend near Fort Washington and we could see the Wilson Bridge with the Washington Monument and the Capitol dome sticking up behind it. What iconic landmarks those are.

Amazingly, when we got here we ran in to more people we know. Anchored out just behind us is the vessel Ariel. We met Ariel and her crew in Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas, and then again in Ferandina Beach. Then I ran in to Jack. Jack is a local marine contractor and we met him last year at the Capitol Yacht Club.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A Product Pan and Praise


Power management on a sailboat is very important. Especially when offshore, we are reluctant to run the engine just to charge the batteries.

The power drain of the running lights on Tarwathie have always been an irritation. The lights use festoon style bulbs. They are very bright, almost too bright. The power drain for bow and stern lights was 2 amps.

I wanted to replace them with LED light that would only draw one tenth as much power. At the SSCA gam in Melbourne last winter I bought replacement LED bulbs from a vendor. See the package and the bulb in the composite picture below. They were very expensive. I paid $55 each, but I hoped that they would last forever. As soon as I got back from the boat show, I installed them.

The replacements were a big disappointment. They really do have much diminished power consumption, but they aren't bright enough. The bow light with bi-color red and green halves, is marginally bright enough, but the white stern light was much dimmer. For technical reasons, *all* red LEDs are brightest, followed by green, blue. White is the dimmest and least efficient.

On a passage to Marathon last winter I was scolded by a boat approaching us from astern in the Hawk Channel. He complained on the VHF that I didn't have my lights on. The lights *were* on. I was so shamed that I immediately pulled out the LED light and put the incandescent bulb back in.

Later, inspection of the LED bulb revealed that in addition to being dim, 1/3 of the individual LEDs had stopped working. "Foul," I cried LEDs are supposed to last for 100,000 hours. Also, the LEDs were like little flashlights, emitting their light in narrow directional beams, and only 1/3 of them pointed the correct way (see the collage picture).

This light bulb was designed for 360 degree all-around applications. My stern light is supposed to direct light backward only. The case can not be opened to allow me to point all the LEDs in the right way. Thus 2/3 of the the LED power was pointing the wrong way. Combined with 1/3 failures, my stern light was only 22% effective.

I didn't have a receipt for the light because I paid cash for it at a boat show, so I can't return it for credit. Nevertheless, I sent it back to Dr. LED, the manufacturer. I enclosed $5 for shipping and handling on the lifetime guarantee replacement. I'm still waiting for the replacement to arrive. Overall, I feel gypped by the Dr. LED products.

When in Oriental, I went to the Provision Company, a very nice marine supply store. They had a festoon style LED replacement bulb for only $15. This bulb properly points all its LEDs rearward. I also bought a replacement for the stern light fixture, because the lens on the old one had become so crazed by UV damage that it wasn't transparent enough. You can see the old and new ones side by side in the composite picture.

What do the ducks have to do with LEDs? Nothing. I just think they are cute. Especially the female duck with a feather out of place that makes her look like she just got back from the hair dresser.