Thursday, October 26, 2017

Speech #I1, Carr Cabin, Local Gold

Umatilla, FL

[This is project #1 from Toastmasters, Speaking to Inform book.  The goals are: 1) Select new and useful information, 2) Organize for easy understanding, 3) Present it in a way to motivate the audience to learn.]

There's gold.  GOLD I tell you, in them thar hills.  No, not in the hills, but rather in your back yard.  But hold back the gold rush. I don't mean monetary gold.   I mean cultural gold and natural gold.  

Fellow toastmasters and honored guests:

Archie Carr was a zoologist, a conservationist and a writer.  Wikipedia said that Carr was a legend at the U of F and that students used to fight to get in on his classes.  He is honored by the Archie Carr National Wildlife refuge , and an Archie Carr sea shore in Costa Rica where he was famous for saving sea turtles.

As a writer, Carr was sort of the Henry David Thorueau of his day. He wrote about his family cabin in the scrub by Lake Nicotooon near Ocala National Forest.  So by analogy, Lake Nicotoon was the Walden Pond of Florida.

I learned this on a tour sponsored by the Florida Wildlife Festival in Umatilla last Saturday.  Let me show you the basic geography.   Ocala sits here.  Nearby Silver Springs lies on the western border of Ocala National Forest.  To the east is the Saint John's River.  To the north is Palatka.  To the south are Altoona and Umatilla.  Umatilla is my winter home, and Umatilla was Archie Carr's home.  The Carr cabin is on the southern border of the forest.

Carr's family donated the site to the forest service.  The citizens of Umatilla viewed the Carr family as their claim to fame.  Archie was the local boy who made good.  There was Archie himself. One of his sons is a naturalist.  Another is currently one of NASA's most famous scientists working on space probes like Cassini, Juno, and Galileo.  So the Umatillans banded together to accurately reconstruct and restore the Carr Family Cabin.  Today, it is open to the public.

 A forest ranger guided our tour and she was a fountain of knowledge.  I especially appreciated what she taught us about the ecology.

Florida scrub is a very unique endangered ecology endemic to Florida.  The plant life is dominated by scrub pine and scrub oak trees, not much taller than eye level. They are interspersed: pine oak pine oak. The ranger explained that this ecology depends on crowing wildfires occurring once every 30-60 years.  A crowning fire is one that reaches the tops of the tall trees and kills them. The reason those scrub trees are all the same height is that they are same age to within a week.

Then came the part that really blew me away.  Scrub pines burn readily, but scrub oaks are very fire resistant.  So, when the time comes the pines begin exude resin.  It gets on everything nearby. Those fire resistant oak trees, get completely coated with resin and that makes them explosively flammable.   In other words, the pine trees deliberately set up the right conditions for a crowning fire, then just wait for a spark.

But there's more.  After the fire, new shoots appear immediately.  But the new oaks are not grown from acorns.  Most of the oak tree lives under the sand, and after the fire it sends shoots upward.   So if you look at a stand of scrub hundreds of yards across, those are not individual oak trees, they are all shoots of a single living organism.

The ranger said that when the shoots are three years old, they produce more acorns than at any other time in their lives, and that the bounty of acorns is a favorite food for black bears and scrub Jays.  I saw bear prints in the sand.  The scrub jay is a rare bird.  Their call is heard almost every day in the scrub, but they are very difficult to see.

If you drive through the national forest, you may see ugly areas that have been clear cut.  If you are like me, you curse at the logging companies who rape the environment.  But the ranger said it is the forest service that does the clear cutting.  Clear cutting simulates the effects of a crowing fire.  They do that to provide habitat for those elusive scrub Jays.

So  If you are inclined to see this local history and local nature for yourself, I recommend contacting the local National Forest Service.  They can tell you how to get there, and if you're lucky they may even send a knowledgeable ranger to be your guide.

Thank you.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Speech #E1: Oh No We're Gonna Die

Umatilla, Florida

[I am finished with the 10 speeches and have achieved the exalted rank of "Competent Communicator" within Toastmasters.  Next step is "Advanced Communicator Bronze" (followed by silver then gold.) with 10 more speeches.  I'll try to do the 10 before leaving for next summer.

This is project 1 from the Entertaining Speaker  series.  My goals are: 1) Entertain the audience be relating a personal experience. 2) Organize as entertaining speech for maximum impact.

Blog readers will be happy that my subject is cruising.]

Oh No, We're Gonna Die

Picture yourself in this situation. It's the middle of the night. You're out at sea 200 miles from land on a little sailboat. Your spouse is asleep, and you are all alone standing watch.

The weather is mild. The boat cuts through the waves at about 5 miles per hour. There is no moon, so it is too dark to even see the water ... except that the boat's wake stirs the water causing little creatures to glow in the dark. That leaves a streak of pale green light trailing behind us. The boat steers itself so you are free to stand your watch on the forward deck where you can walk around and have good visibility. Your primary duty is to watch out for ships that might run you over.

You stand up, spin around and look in all directions. There's nothing to see except the North Star high in the sky straight ahead. Since you're supposed to be heading north, that's good. You have radar and electronics to watch for ships, but there's nothing showing. It's hard to stay awake because you haven't slept much for 48 hours.

One more time you stand up and spin around to look out for ships. OMG What the hell is that! There a huge red light to the east. It's so big and so high in the sky that it must be a ship only 100 yards away. Oh no, we're going to die.
Oh wait. That's not a ship. It's the moon rising. Never mind.
You may have heard the phrase, “hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of terror.” Well, its true. In twelve years, my wife Libby and I lived and sailed on our 32 foot boat for more than 60000 miles. That's nearly 3 times around the world. Our boat is sea worthy, so we were safe at all times. Nevertheless, we experienced moments of terror many times.
OK, now we're back at sea again. Libby is on watch, while I'm asleep down below. It's the usual routine. The weather is warm and mild. Moonlight made the sea sparkle beautifully. Libby loves that. It makes her feel very alive. She's an excellent watch officer.

But this night was different. … Suddenly, a dim orange light appeared in the sky right in front of her. It wasn't the moon this time. Libby could see that a big black mass blocked her view of the stars. It was a freaking submarine. It surfaced right in front of us. But Libby didn't panic. She steered around it. She tried calling it on the radio, but she got no answer. There was no need to wake me up.

Later, I learned from a submariner friend that subs can hear motor boats with their sonar, but not sailboats.
Normally, it's very quiet at sea. We sail, so there is no engine sound. The gentle slapping of waves against the hull is about the only sound. Of course, during storms it is violent and noisy, but we've experienced that only a few times, and those times were mistakes. Our preference is avoid bad weather and to be out at sea only when the weather is nice.

Libby has been startled by dolphins. They like to swim alongside us, but at night we can't see them. But every few seconds they come up to breath making a loud sound Whoosh-whoosh woosh-woosh. I too was startled by a dolphin. This young guy was frolicking beside the boat showing off doing somersaults. One time he misjudged and bam he ran into the side of the boat.

But I also have a confession to make. We were heading south, about 20 miles east of the Saint Johns River near Jacksonville. I was on watch, but the truth was that I was snoozing. Sleeping on watch is a capital offense, so I'm ashamed to admit it.

A man's voice woke me. “Sir, SIR, wake up SIR.” What the heck! How could there be a man's voice in the middle of the ocean. But as the fog of sleep cleared from my brain, I noticed a red blinking light. I turned around. There was a coast guard zodiac boat right beside me. A coast guardsman was saying, , “Sir. Were searching for a boat reported missing near here. Did you see anything.” Still stunned, I just shook my head no.
The reality is that every one of us can tell stories about our own seconds of terror. But those seconds don't traumatize us or ruin our lives. On the contrary, they provide us with great stories to tell to grandchildren and to tell to fellow toastmasters.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Can't Stand It

Zebulon, NC

We can't stand it being up here instead of in Florida.  We need to volunteer to help friends and neighbors.   So we are departing today.   We travel slowly, so we won't arrive in FL until the weekend.

Meanwhile, our hearts go out to people in the Virgin Islands who are about to get slammed the second time.  OMG.

Update:  We aren't the only ones. My hear was warmed today by 4 posts on FB by people offering free equipment and labor to help others salvage their boats in Marathon.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Irme Foils us Again

Zebulon, NC

We can't return to Florida yet because of Irma.  As plan B, we thought that we would return to The Blue Ridge Parkway for more camping.  But I just learned that the parkway is severely damaged.  Many sections remain closed.  Scratch Plan B.

We all hear about how bad hurricanes are.  One thing I never thought about was being on a mountain top when a hurricane passes over.

Plan C, I'm going to research the Smokey Mountain National Park.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Heart Breaking Images

Zebulon, NC

Regular readers of this blog, plus friends and family who visited us in Marathon know how much we love Boot Key Harbor.   Then you can understand how heart breaking it is to see these images after Hurricane Irma.  Deepest sympathy for those who's boats were there.  The only good news, no reports of any injuries or deaths.

We are very fortunate that neither we nor Tarwathie were in the keys on that day.

You can see every mooring here and how many boats remain.  It was reported to be full with more than 300 boats before the storm.  Click on it to zoom in.
The dinghy docks at the marina.  Familiar to our blog readers and visitors. Those motor boats probably came from houses on the other side of the harbor.

Where are the missing boats?  Some in the mangroves.
These missing boats wound up by the bridge.
Whiskey Creek, off Sisters Creek on Boot Key.  These boats went "into the mangroves" to survive.  They all appear to be OK.

Why did so many moorings fail?  A truism about hurricanes is that the biggest danger to boats is other boats.  As one boat breaks loose, it crashes into other boats, breaking them free.  It begins a chain reaction.   You can see in the first picture that the "A" row, closest to the south, and without other rows of boats upwind of them, survived best.  When we rode out hurricane Irene on Tarwathie, we anchored in a bay more than 1/4 mile away from any other boats.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

To Freeze or Not to Freeze?

Zebulon, NC

It looks like we'll have to cool our heels in NC for some weeks before returning to Florida.  One thing on my to-do list is to investigate credit freezes after the Equifax breach.

In case you didn't hear, the credit reporting company Equifax was hacked to steal 140 million accounts.  That sound like just about everyone in the country who has a credit report.  The stolen data included SSN, DOB, drivers license number and other stuff used to secure credit.   That makes is sound like the entire country should do credit freezes.

Also in case you don't know, a credit freeze blocks only new applications for credit.  It does nothing to change your existing accounts.

But I just found this NYT article on the subject.  It suggests a number of obstacles to getting a credit freeze.  Insecure PIN numbers, crashing web sites, expense, turmoil, overwhelmed customer service people at the credit agencies.  Most important, legislative changes.

The simplest solution is to change the law so that everyone's credit is frozen by default and for free.  Why not?  Why not have the security that every time someone wants to create a new credit account in your name, that the agencies should have to contact you to verify that is is not fraudulent?

So, I'm still interested in getting a credit freeze (how? see this FAQ), but I'm going to wait several weeks to let the turmoil settle.

Oh No!

Zebulon, NC

First thing yesterday morning I woke up to find this post from our RV park.

"A tornado came thru Umatilla and thru the park. Everyone is ok but there is major damage. Please do not try to call us. We tried to get out to assess damage but were threatened to be arrested by police as we are not allowed out until after 6 pm tomorrow."
Oh no.  That could have included our RV.   Worse, it will be days or more than a week until we get confirmation.  Of course, that made us very nervous.  All day yesterday we surfed all possible information sources for fragments of information.  Based on all that, I'm optimistic.  I think that the tornado missed our trailer by 150 meters.

FLASH UPDATE: aerial video confirms that our RV is not in the damaged area.  Now thoughts and prayers are with neighbors and friends who were affected.

But the big emotional drain for yesterday was the terrible news coming in from the Florida Keys.  Of course we still have many ties to the keys and to the people in Boot Key Harbor.  So far, no word of any injuries or death, but it seems that half the boats on mooring balls in the harbor are gone.  Since no-one know which half, the owners of all those boats are frantic for information.  More frantic are the relatives and friends of those who stayed behind looking for words about their loved ones.

No word yet on how Tarwathie fared in the boat yard in Placida.  She is in a boat yard and strapped down.  Here's a picture from the last time we saw her.  The new owner, of course, must be worried to death.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Eclipse Trip #10: KY, TN, NC

Blowing Rock, NC

We're winding down on the trip.

We spent several days in the Land Between the Lakes, in Kentucky.  That is the nicest campground we found on the trip.

We stayed at Lilly Dale campground in Tennessee.  This too is a Corps of Engineers site.  We were on the shore of Dale Hollow Lake in a very pretty, very rural area.  The drive on country roads to get there was great.   That is a man-made lake and it is HUGE.

Now we are finishing with three nights on the Blue Ridge Parkway; one of our perennial favorites.

On Sunday, we're gettting out of the mountains before hurricane Irma arrives.  We'll spend 2 weeks with Dave & Cathy in Zebulon, NC.  Libby has gardening work to catch up on there.

By the way, Google sent me an email asking if I wanted to review August.  I would be creeped out at their tracking except that it does such a bad job.  On the map below is where Google said I was in the whole of 2017.  Not that it does not include Florida.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Eclipse Trip #9 Rocky Mountain National Park & Heading East

Grand Rivers, KY

[Today our thoughts are with our friends on boats in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL.   The forecasts predict a direct hit on them by hurricane Irma on Saturday night.  The have the options of going into the mangrove forests in The Everglades, or evacuating and leaving their boats behind.  I

f Libby and I were there on Tarwathie, we would be very stressed.  I think I would choose The Everglades, but then all our friends would worry because we would be out of communication until a week or so after the hurricane.]

We are back to the place where we watched the eclipse.  It is the nicest place we found on the whole trip.

I've been neglecting the blog, in favor of Facebook.  No wonder Facebook is taking over.

We had a great time in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Libby said that it hadn't been on her bucket list before, but it should have been.  It is the kind of beauty you have to see for yourself.  We also had a visit from our friend Lynn who camped with us one night.  Here's a photo album.  Click the link, then you can click on SLIDE SHOW>

Where from here?  We just made a plan for a 5-6 day trip from here to Dave & Cathy's house in Zebulon, NC.   It includes 4 campgrounds.  We depart tomorrow.

The route takes us through Nashville.  We could spend a night there and see a show.  Any recommendations?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Eclipse Trip #8: Colorado and the Rockies

Grand Lake, CO

Boy have we been having fun.  First, we drove up Pikes Peak.  Then we went to Rocky Mountain National Park, and we've stayed there 4 days so far.  I'll let my photo albums speak for me.

Click the links, then click on Slideshow

Pike's Peak

Rocky Mountain National Park

Friday, August 25, 2017

Eclipse Trip #7: The High Plains

Dodge City, Kansas

We sort of fell into a plan.  We headed due west from Kentucky, across Missouri, across Kansas, and we're heading for Colorado.

When we hit the Rockies, we'll work our way north to Rocky Mountain National park.  Then, we'll start heading east again.  The PNW will have to wait until another year.

Missouri was a pleasant surprise to us ignorant Yankees.  I expected it to be like Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa.  But no, it was green and hilly and very pleasant.  We camped in the Ozarks on Lake Truman near Lake of the Ozarks.  It was nice.

Kansas so far has been boring.  We are in Dodge City on Wyatt Earp Avenue, but it looks like any other American city.

The big exception was the Cosmoshpere in Hutchinson.   We spent nearly 3 hours there today.

  • It has 13000 artifacts from space.  
  • It has a real SR-71 blackbird.  I had no idea they were so big.  I have a picture of me touching it.
  • They have real German V1 and V2 rockets.
  • They have the X1 that Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier with.
  • They have real Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules.
  • They have the actual Appolo 13 command module restored to near original condition.
  • It was more fun than the Smithsonian Air&Space museum on the mall in Washington DC.
Metropolis, IL

Chester, IL

The Cosmospere from outside


My dream, me and a SR-71

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Ecliplse, Totally Awesome

Grand Rivers, KY

Man oh man.  It was worth waiting 72 years to see.  It was truly the experience of a lifetime.  I don't think that Libby and I will every forget the beauty and awe of that moment.

We stayed right here in the camground for viewing.  We had guests, Old Jim and Faire Ann (Physics Forum friends) came here from Arkansas.   There was no crowd.  We sat in a grassy area about 1 acre with a few shade trees.  There wer e fewer than 50 othe people in sight.

The moment of totality caught us by surprise even though we were well prepared.  It only started getting noticeably dark 2 minutes before the event.  But abruptly the last brilliant sliver of sun disappeared and bang it was total.  The corona was instantly visible and every bit as beautiful as described.

The stars came out,  The night insects started singing.  It did not get noticeably cooler.

At the end of totality there was no surprise.  We could see one corner of the moon around 5 o'clock get  brighter.  Then instantaneously the first sliver of the sun appeared and the glare was immediately blinding.   There seems to be no transition. 99.99% obscured, is blinding if you look at it.  100% is totally different (pun intended) and there seems to be zero time between the two.

My neighbor got a shot where you can see the solar flares (prominences).  Three of them were visible, all beautiful pink or orange colored.

I heard of another man in the park who got a 360 degree panorama from a boat out on the lake.  It was like sunset all around except that there was no direction of the setting sun.

Sun streaming through the trees made crescent shaped shadows.  5 minutes before totality they pointed one way.  5 minutes after totality they pointed in the opposite direction.

I'll post pictures later.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Eclipse Trip #6: At Roost, Grand Rivers, KY

After much nervous worrying, we found a very agreeable place to stay and watch the eclipse.  It is the Canal Campground, part of Land Between The Lakes National Park.   We are just outside of Grand Rivers, KY; a delightful little town population 350.

We'll stay here a whole week.  The local forecast for eclipse day is mostly sunny.  :-)   There is lots of land good for viewing and relatively few people. Double :-)

Last night we went to a show called Pickin' and Grinnin'.  It was delightful; based on the old TV show Hee Haw.  The cast was very talented; especially Casey Mills who played the fiddle.  She was amazing.  Casey Mills is only 18, watch for her name in the future as a possible super star.

This weekend, we'll go to a famous restaurant and garden called Patti's Place.  It too is in Grand Rivers.

We also toured Land Between the Lakes, it is delightful.  We even saw a bit of prairie complete with bison.

Boaters may recognize Grand Rivers as a favorite stop for those doing the Great Loop.  At night, I can hear the diesel engines of the tugs pushing barges on the lake, and also hear them slow down and enter the lock at the nearby Kentucky Dam.

The other day, we visited Paducah KY nearby.  It is a delightful town.  I got to play with a river boat training simulator.  Wow was that fun. :-)

All in all, this has been a delightful stop.

Tomorrow is Eclipse Day !!!!!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Eclipse Trip #5: It's The Weather Dummy

We are determined to see the eclipse.  If we miss it, there will not be a second chance in our lifetimes.

First, we planned to go to Idaho.  But research showed that the best rural spots to view, have very few roads.   We are not backpackers.  We need to view from somewhere near our car.  Fear of clogged roads forced us to cancel that idea.

Second, we though to visit my friend Walt in Oregon.  He lives near Bend OR.  But Walt told me that the local media said that his area was expected to be invaded by a half million crazies from California.   Burning Man in the desert is not what we had in mind.  Cancel that.

Third, I chose central Nebraska.  I found a camp site with vacancies only 60 miles from the band of totality.  Best, the landscape has nothing but corn fields for hundreds of miles around.  No big cities nearby, no hoards of people.

But now, we are en route about 2/3 of the way there, and the weather reports are beginning to come out.  Oh no! Clouds!  If we go to all this trouble only to have a cloud pass overhead at the critical minute I'll scream.

There's a fourth plan.  We are heading today for a campground in Western Kentucky near Paducah.   It may be possible that we could squat there for a whole week.  The camp site is in the totality zone.  The weather forecast there for next Monday is much better than in Kansas.

I'll be chewing my nails until the date.

Eclipse Trip #4: Country Charm

Sunday was delightful.  First, the driving through West Virginia was beautiful.  First on state route 19 through counless little valleys with tendrils of fog lifting all around.  Then on I79, the sun came out giving us spectacular views of the mountains and valleys along the way.  We had no idea that West Virginia was that beautiful.

In Kentucky, we were headed for Buckhorn campground.  We left the interstate and had two hours of rural driving.  Wow, really really rural.  It amazed us to see such long narrow windy roads lined by houses and dilapidated trailers housing the people who live in the valleys and gullies.  It was like turning the clock back 70 years.  

We planned on buying groceries along the way.  The only store we found was a Dollar General.  It made us think how difficult for people living in those places to get basic services that most of us take for granted.

The campground was nice, located at the foot of a big dam.  All the weekend people had departed, leaving us almost alone.  The facilities were top notch and seemingly new. (Tip if you're a camper.  The US Army Corps of Engineers has the best campgrounds around.)

At dusk, we were sitting by the fire.  A car stopped at our site and a man got out.  He was a local.  He and his wife just wanted to be friendly and to chat with these strange campers from another state.  We really enjoyed our talk with them.  They were nice people.  But man were they hard to understand.  I have some friends from Tennessee,  so I'm used to the Tennessee drawl and I love it.  But the Kentucky variant was very different.  Probably, it was easier for them to understand us, because we sound like the people heard on radio and TV.

In the conversation, the man let it drop that he had had bouts of alcoholism and addiction to opioids.  Wow, that reinforced many of the stereotypes about hill people.

The next morning, Libby and I discussed it in the car.  The most poignant thought was that people living in these regions have almost nothing in common with urban residents of Boston or Chicago, nor Google employees, nor NPR correspondents.  It would be ludicrous for Hillary Clinton to come here and make a speech about public transportation, or urban planning.

Those people who think that the political divide splitting America is transient and superficial are dead wrong.  The two Americas are real and durable.  Compromise is hard to imagine.  The election of Donald Trump was not a fluke.

Eclipse Trip #3: Mortality - Carpe Diem

Saturday, we were driving down a windy two-lane back road in Pennsylvania.  A logging truck appeared coming the other way. He was heavily loaded with huge logs (not quite as huge as the ones in the picture).  He was going around a curve too fast.  The truck leaned, almost over on two wheels.

I had no time to react.   For 1.5 seconds I believed that the truck was going to tip into my path.  There was no way for me to stop or to escape to the sides.  Death was inevitable.   But the moment passed. The truck didn't tip.  We didn't die.   

My experience was not uncommon.  Almost everyone experiences something like that in a lifetime.  The emotional effects are highly variable.   1.5 seconds is not long enough for the idea to sink in.  It is too short to trigger the fight-or-flight reaction.  Too short for an adrenalin rush.  That minimizes the emotional reaction.   In fact, if I were not writing about this on the blog, it would be forgotten in a short while.

The point is incidents like that are a reminder of how swiftly and unexpectedly death can come.  We can not prepare for them.  We can't even make a reasonable estimate of how likely such a fate is.  It just is.   So what can we do?   Live your life fully every day.  Grab as much as you can before misfortune can snatch it away from you.  Carpe Diem.

Our friends Bob & Sandra have a yacht named Carpe Diem. They chose the name based on the same reasoning about the fragility of life that I just expressed.  It is very appropropriate.

Carpe Diem

Monday, August 14, 2017

Eclipse Trip #2: Not To Our Liking

I planned this entire trip using only Federal campgrounds.  They are spaced about 4 hours driving apart.   The first two we not to our liking.

First was the Dewdrop Campground near Bradford PA.  Next was Bulltown campground in West Virginia.  The problem was that both campgrounds were on lakes.  Campers bring their boats.  The same campers like to party a lot and were very noisy at night.  That's the part we didn't like.   We want peace and quiet.

One delightful find, we stopped at the Zippo-Case museum and store in Bradford.  Zippo lighters are way up there as the best of the best icons of Americana.  I had one, my dad, and Libby's dad, and every man I knew had one.  They were dependable. They could be destroyed but Zippo would fix them free for life.  Some people say that Liberty Ships or B17s or the atomic bomb won WWII, but it was the Zippo lighter :-)  

Best of all, you could click the cover open/shut all day long.  I loved the feeling in my hand and Libby loved the clicking sound.  She says that my clicking sounded just like her dad's clicking.  Too bad for today's young men, they don't understand Zippo lighters.

Eclipse Trip #1: A Navigation Snafu

Wed 8/9 - Thu 8/10

We decided to start off with a treat.  We rode the ferry across Lake Champlain instead of using the bridge.  That was nice.

When we got to Essex, NY, we wanted a leisurely route through the Adirondacks to John & Becky's house.  My phone got no signal (T-Mobile's coverage is a lot worse than Verizon's in rural areas).  So we tried to navigate using our Rand McNally Road Atlas.  That was a disaster.  After 90 minutes driving, we came in a circle almost back to the ferry landing again.  Sigh. I guess that our days of navigating with old fashioned road maps is over.

But we had a nice couple of days with John & Becky.  It was fun catching up.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Unusual Trip Planning

South Burlington, VT

We just had a great family weekend.  But now it's time to look ahead to our next trip.

Consultations with my friend Walt, plus a bit of Internet research, discouraged me from trying the PNW as the right place to view the eclipse.  We want a place free from the horror scenes of too many people.  We decided on Nebaraka,  far from any city.

Readers know that trip planning is not our custom.  Libby and I mostly like to just follow our noses and see where that brings us.  But in this case, we need to be a specific place on a specific day.  Therefore, I broke tradition and laid out a plan. Burlington, Rome, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentycky, Missouri, Kansas to Nebraska.

After the eclipse, we'll may follow-on plans to go west, but then guided by weather and wild fires.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Houston, We Have A Plan

South Burlington, VT

So, what have we been doing this summer?  Mostly hiding from the rain.  It has been a very very wet summer.   There hasn't been one single weather window allowing us to return to Valcour Island.  There is a bumper crop of mosquitoes and ticks discouraging us from camping in the mountains.  Sigh.   So Libby has been mostly gardening, and I have mostly been hanging out at

But the weather is breaking, and things are about to pick up.

  1. Yesterday, we rented a Rhodes 19 sailboat in Burlington and had a really fun afternoon sail.  All the years that we had Tarwathie, it felt like it would be extravagant to rent a second sailboat.  But those small boats looked like so much fun.  Anyhow, this year we had no excuse not to do it, and I'm glad we did.
  2. We will host a Mills family reunion on Aug 5-6.  It sounds like we'll have as many as 14 people here.  That should be very fun.
  3. We have a plan for a grand tour of the NW.  The climax of the trip will be to see the Great American Eclipse on August 21.  Luckily, our friend Walt lives in Oregon close to the totality, and he agreed to let us stay with him.  I'll have lots of fun catching up with Walt anyhow.  That way, we hope to avoid the madness of large crowds, (see the picture below).

    In addition to the Eclipse, we hope to tour Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.  But other than the eclipse, we have no specific stops or dates in mind.   We'll be on the road for about 6 weeks.
  4. Next Sunday looks like a great window for us to return to Valcour Island for the last time this summer. (Item 2 above truncates our summer stay in Vermont.)
Elclipe viewing in popular places.

A Rhodes 19

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The American Way?]

South Burlington, VT

I was listening to a program on NPR about health care. One man complained about having to buy insurance to get health care.  The program host said, "But insurance is the American way."   That struck me as very wrong..

So.  What is the American Way?  Mind Your Own Business (MYOB) is a moral very deeply embedded in the psyche of Americans. I think MYOB is a key factor in the culture wars, and the political upheavals leading to the election of Donald Trump.  But MYOB is hardly ever mentioned in public.

In the old days, if I saw my neighbor smoke, drink or do unhealthful things, it was my job to shut up and mind my own business.  But if we all have health insurance, then my neighbor's behavior affects my costs too.  His business becomes my business and my business becomes his.  If government gets involved it makes things much worse. Everyone's business becomes everyone else's and also the business of bureaucrats and congressmen.  That profoundly violates our beloved MYOB. That makes many Americans inclined to oppose it, and that inclination is exploited and inflamed by political parties that thrive on creating wedge issues.

I also note the county level red-blue election map of the USA.   There is an obvious strong correlation.  The blue counties are urban or at least those with the highest population density.  In low density areas, people provide their own transportation and they have their own grassy shaded areas to relax.  In cities, public transportation and public parks are a necessity.  The higher the population density the more imperative it is to act collectively rather than individually.  The most extreme case is that of a ship at sea.  At sea, the entire crew must act as a team under the direction of a captain who wields near-God-like authority.   If population density continues increasing, I see that as our inevitable future.

I am speaking about the deep deep cultural divide in this country that led to the election of Donald Trump.  But I hate to label is as Democrats versus Republicans, or even Liberals versus Conservatives versus Libertarians,  because all those labels carry baggage other than what I am discussing here. I think urban versus non-urban is close, but there are exceptions. I lack a good pair of words, so let me arbitrarily say yings and yangs.

Yings ask first, "What will we do on this question.?" Yings focus  on the "What" in the sentence whereas yangs  object to the "we" in the sentence.  Yangs would prefer to say, "What will you do about the question and what will I do?" Yang pollsters only care about what people think about issues.  They never stop to consider that some people resent some of the issues being public rather than private in the first place.   The very premise of polling and of media reporting is ying biased; almost by definition.

Media bias runs much deeper than favoring one party.  For example, I often hear extensive interviews of urban planners on TV or on NPR.  Urban planners are busy planning the 21st century for urban yings only.   They not only exclude non-urban yangs, they fail to recognize their very existence. There is no such thing as a non-urban planner because yangs don't make collective plans at all, they act individually.

Take the example of broadband Internet.  Yings ask, "What will we do to provide broadband for all Americans."  Yangs say, "Get government regulations and permits and taxes out of my way, and I will make my own Internet arrangements.  Give us the liberty to do whatever we want. Meanwhile, you MYOB."

Violent outbreaks between opposing protesters are already breaking out less than 1/2 year into Trump's first term.  I think 2020 will be very dark and ugly.

In the future, I'll write about what I think we need for yings and yangs to coexist; namely countries that are not geographically based.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Valcour Island Revisited

 South Burlington, VT

We just returned from three glorious days on Valcour Island.  I hate to repeat myself on this blog, but the natural beauties of Valcour inspire me to do so, at least photographically.

What do we do all day while camping?  Watch the video.

The bright orange is lichen.

See the ripples in the water separated by a band of still water.  This band of no wind was over 12 miles long.  Hard to imagine the science of that.

The battle between the cedar trees and the rocks is epic.  Eventually thr tree wins and it breaks up the rock. But then the tree dies, so did it really wijn?

The edge on this rock is so straight that it looks like a diamond saw cut.  But it's natura.

This rock shows why these sedementary rocks break in straight lines.  How many millions of years to lay down all those layers of limestone?

Even flowers find a way to survive in the rocks.

These rocks are fossil rich.  Close examination of this one shows an amalgum of tiny bones.  They are probably fish bones, but they look like bird bones.
Note the ruler straight vein of marble.  The limestone morphed into marble along the lines of a crack.   The rocks here have lots of marble veins like this one.

In Sweden, these are called "devil's bowls"  They are formed when a round boulder gets spun around under the glaciers and it drills a hole into the base rock.  This bowl is nearly two feet in diameter and a nearly perfect hemisphere.

The sky was so pretty on our ride back to the main land.  So wan't Libby.

A few miles south of the Peru boat launch, is Ausable Chasm.  Man oh man, what a lovely place.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Begin The Summer Routine

South Burlington, VT

We arrived here in Vermont one week ago.   The first few days were winter-like, cold and miserable.  But Jen and Pete gave a warm welcome, so all was good.

Here is my "office" for summer use.  It is the Burlington Airport, only a block away from Jen's house.   There is a 6-storey staircase to the top of the parking garage that I can use for my daily workout. Here is the view from the top of that garage.  Pretty spectacular huh?

Below is the view from my "office".   I've learned that even 12 years into retirement, I'm still an office person.  That's where I feel most comfortable.  So there is a booth on the second floor of the airport where I can sit, use my computer and where I have the view below.   When I'm done checking the news on my computer, I sit in those rocking chairs to enjoy my coffee and the view. I arrive there at 5:20 AM, so I usually have the whole place to myself.   I see the airplanes come and go in the foreground, the valley behind that and the Green Mountains on the skyline. Never before have I had a real office as nice as this.

Also, other than the bald summits of some mountains, there is no other place in Vermont with such nice views. Even billionaire's homes don't have a view this nice.

On the day I took those pictures, it was still winter-like.  The fog was so thick that I couldn't see the ground.  But as I sat there, the fog burned off thus staging a theatric quality revealing of this view.  It was great.  Look carefully in the picture and you still see fog following the Winooski River.  Wow oh wow what a nice place.

Tomorrow, Libby and I depart to go to Valcour Island for the first time this year.  That excites us.  Regular blog readers know how much we love that place. We'll stay 3 days and 2 nights.

During the summer, we hope to do side trips to Syracuse/Rome/West Chalrton/Mechanicville/Guilderland NY.  Also to Melrose MA, Vinahaven/Ilesboro/Eastport ME.  Prince Edward Island, Quebec, then Ontario/Wisconsin/Minnesota/North Dakota/Montana/Idaho/Oregon climaxing with a view of the ellipse on August 21.   None of those trips are planed in detail yet.   Whew, it makes me tired and ready for a nap just thinking about all that.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Old Habits Die Hard

Zebulon, NC

We leave tomorrow after 10 days visiting with Dave and Cathy.  That twice per year visit is one of our best highlights.

We'll head for the Blue Ridge Parkway, with camping gear in the car.   How does that differ from cruising?

  1. Our preference is to hit almost every campground along the parkway, doing as little as 50 miles per day progress.  Probably a different campground every day.  That is very cruiser-like.
  2. Our plans are weather sensitive.  Blog readers remember lots of times when we waited for a weather window.  In this case, it looks sunny tomorrow, but it might rain the next 3 days.  Bummer.  We don't put out to sea in storms, and we don't do tent camping on really rainy days.   The difference is that if tent camping is interrupted, we'll move on many more miles and maybe use motels.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Speech #10: The Playboy Startup

[Toastmaster Competent Communicator project #10: Inspire.  

Objectives: inspire the audience. Appeal to the audiences needs and emotions.  Avoid using notes.

This project really brought me out of my shell.  Instead of me speaking to the people in front of me, I had to invent an imaginary occasion, an imaginary speaker, and an imaginary audience.  It was like a stage play where I was author, and actor, and the audience were extras.]
Toastmaster's Script

The next speaker is TM Dick Mills. The title of his speech is The Playboy Startup

--- Dick shakes hands with the toastmaster.

While Dick is getting costumed, let me set the scene.

This is a bit of historical fiction. The scene is February 1954, Chicago Illinois. Hugh Hefner is meeting with his new team of 6 men and one woman their first day on the job at Playboy Magazine.

Dick will play the part of Hugh Hefner. The audience plays the part of the Playboy staff.

First iteration at costume.  Rejected because it made me look like Obe Wan Kenobe instead of Hugh Hefner.

Final costume.

---Toastmaster sits and Dick speaks

Welcome and congratulations. I say welcome because for some of you this is your first day on the job. I say congratulations because you all are in on the ground floor of Playboy Enterprises, where I plan to make every one of you rich and famous. But even if I fail, you're going to have the time of your life.


Eldon, Art and I put the first two editions together on my kitchen table. The first one was the most famous. Two lucky breaks helped to make that happen.

First, with less than a week to go, we got a letter from some lawyers saying that the name of our magazine, Stag Party, was already used.
We needed a new name, and Eldon brilliantly suggested Playboy. It is the perfect name. Thank you Eldon. Then Art suggested a bunny to replace the stag theme in our art. I said OK, and only four minutes later, Art came up with this logo. It is sheer genius. Thank you Art.

Second, I am a detail man. I'm also a perfectionist as you'll all soon learn. Art collected lots of pictures of naked girls, but I told him that I didn't want a girl, I wanted the girl. So I went out in search of the most valuable photograph on the whole damn planet.

Marilyn Monroe is the most famous and
most desired woman in the world. For years there have been rumors that a naked calendar picture of Marilyn existed, but nobody had ever seen it. I found that picture and I bought the publishing rights for only $600.

So with Marilyn on the cover
and Marilyn inside, we printed 70000 copies, and sent them out to the newsstands. They sold out in two weeks!

[I had a magazine with the cover taped on, the logo on the back, and a centerfold with Marilyn.  I showed the cover, then opened the centerfold and mouthed WOW, but I did not let the audience see it.  Hee hee a bit of a tease.]

The money from that first issue allowed us to pay off all our debt, with enough left over for me to replace my old chevy with a brand new Studebaker sports car. The second issue outsold the first. The money from that issue was enough for me to hire the rest of you and to rent these offices for us to work out of.


So. Here we are. What the hell do we do now?

Other men's magazines talk about hunting, fishing sport, we're not going to do any of that we talk about jazz, cocktails, Picasso, we talk about culture, but we also focus on sex. We will incorporate sex as one normal and logical and healthy part of a total package that appeals to a male audience. After all, what interests young men more than sex?

We started at the top with Marilyn, but that won't last. We need fresh ideas.


First the girls. My thought is to forget the glamour girls. I want the girl next door, the girl that is right in front of our eyes. But I'm not going to call her the girl next door, I'll call her the Playboy Playmate of the Month.

But what I want even more is to turn this magazine into a guide for becoming a playboy.

What's a playboy? He is a bachelor. Suave. Sophisticated. Intelligent. And urbane.


Every time someone picks up a copy of Playboy, I don't want him to just imagine himself as the kind of guy who gets the girl. I want to teach him how. How to buy the right suit. How to select the right bottle of wine or mix the perfect cocktail. How to orchestrate the perfect date. The Playboy is going to move to a major city, and pursue the urbane female.

The playboy is cosmopolitan. He appreciates people from all cultures, and all races. Interracial socializing and interracial sex will be prominent in Playboy. He is intellectual, and ready to debate any topic, especially those touching on his sexual freedom. Contraception, abortion, you name it. He can be religious but he must be willing to debate his religion with those of other belifs.

The women. The women a Playboy desires will themselves be suave, sophisticated, urbane, progressive in their politics, and intellectually superior. They will be connoisseurs of music, art, wine and life. Most of all they will be connoisseurs of worthy men; with the emphasis on worthy.


Advertizers. Advertisers must meet our artwork standards and their ads must be pitched to our market. The advertisers will pay a premium price to reach this premium market. Indeed, their lavish advertising budgets will themselves become part of their image, their allure.


But the how-to advice that we give has to be based on real life experience. I've arranged for my friend Vince to help. Vince is a real life Playboy who lives here in Chicago. Vince will arrange for us to be invited to all the best parties in Chicago. Before long, Marilyn Monroe, John Cheever, Lenny Bruce, and Jack Kennedy will come to know each of you on a first name basis. We will live the Playboy life. We will learn and then we'll teach.


[I picked a woman in the audience to be Charlene.  I walked over to her, leaned on the table, put my face right in hers, and locked eyes while reading the next paragraph.  She looked like a deer in the headlights.] 
Charlene, you are the only female member of our team. I need you to live the Playboy lifestyle too. You are a beautiful woman. You are the girl in front of our eyes. We don't need to scour the world for the Playmate of the Month. I want you to pose. I don't want anyone else. I want you. Please consider it.

I too will be in it up to my eyeballs. I'm married and I have a child, but I will be living the bachelor life. Does that violate traditional values? Yes! That's what we need, We all need to break with traditional American values, so that we can figure out what tomorrow's American values will be.

I don't want to follow trends. I want to create them. I want you to create them with me.


You six are the ones who are going to make it all happen. I want every article, every picture, every ad, every cover, every page to be specifically tailored to promote this one singular vision. The Playboy Lifestyle.


Now, lets' get to work.

-–Dick steps out of costume.

America has changed much since 1954.  Hugh Hefner and his staff deserve a generous share of the credit.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Can This be a Yucca Plant?

Zebulon, NC

We found several of these beautiful plants growing in our camp site on top of  Cheaha Mountain in Alabama.  The flowers were just blooming the 2 days we were there.

They sure look like yucca plants.  At least the flowerers do, but the base leaves don't.  

But yucca is supposed to be a desert plant.  Can they be on the top of a moutain in the Smokies?

Here's the view from the camp site.  Unfortunately, the air was hazy that day.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


It didn't take long.  I may have priced her too low.  That's OK, a lovely couple from Maine will buy her and begin their own retired cruising life.  That is a very good outcome for Tarwathie.

So, as soon as the paperwork is complete, Libby and I will officially be CLODs (cruisers living on dirt).  I'm not sure which emoji fits that.  It is bittersweet for us.

p.s. We had a lovely lunch today with and old friend, Ian Grant and his family.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Speech #9: The Nocebo Cure

[Toastmaster Project 9: Persuade With Power. Objectives: Persuade listeners to adopt your vie or ideas and to take some action. Appeal to the audiences interests. Use logic and emotion. ]

Dick Mills is a retired engineer, a sailor, a pilot, an exterminator, a fireman, a blogger, a carney, and a toastmaster.

The title of his speech is:The Nocebo Cure
A librarian was told that there was formaldehyde in her new library bookshelves. Formaldehyde is a suspected human carcinogen and the librarian knew this. Soon she was suffering from a headache, aching joints, and labored breathing -- all classic psychosomatic symptoms.

But then she heard there was no formaldehyde in the shelves. Suddenly the symptoms disappeared.

But the final word was that the shelves contained formaldehyde after all but the librarian didn't know that and she remained symptom free.
Madam Toastmaster, friends, and guests. I speak tonight about the nocebo effect. I'll explain what that means. I'll offer several example. I'll offer you a simple cure, and tell you how applying that cure can improve your life.
Most of us already know of the placebo effect, and placebo pills. If someone tells you that you should feel better, you do feel better. A negative placebo is called a nocebo. If someone suggests that you should feel sick or, you do feel sick.
Let me first read something from an article aimed at plastic surgeons.

The nocebo effect is a well known causation of, and contributor to … psychosomatic conditions which can make life a terrible ordeal.

The vast majority of treatment-resistant pain syndromes ... are either directly caused by … or … contributed to …by psychosomatic factors.

The most common symptoms include headaches, back pain, fibromyalgia, ulcers, GI discomfort, jaw pain, and carpal tunnel.

There are many situations which may cause a woman to suffer a nocebo effect related to a surgical breast procedure including:

  1. Diagnosis of breast cancer can create a severe effect on the mind and body.

  2. Reading inflammatory information suggesting that breast implants might be harmful to the patient’s health.

  3. A warning from a doctor or radiologist that breast implants are dangerous.

More than half of all health products list headaches, rashes, and GI problems as side effects. But those are also common psychosomatic symptoms. Therefore when a new drug is tested, and test subjects are asked about side effects, they say headaches. Therefore headaches are among the listed side effects, therefore causing more headaches.

Ay ay ay ay ay. Now we have the dog biting its own tail. Even on an industrial level we are unable to separate objective truth from psychosomatic effects.

Nocebo effects are harmful to public health. Dr Dean Edell, said in 2008, that fears in today's world cause the average anxiety level of today's kindergarden students to be at a level considered neurotic in 1952. I'll say it again. Today's children, by 1952 standards, would have be considered to be mentally abnormal.
But we can't go overboard. We can't sue doctors for delivering a bad news in the form of a diagnosis. Nor can we sue a drug manufacturer for putting warnings on a pill bottle.

What can we do? Let me offer a simple cure. Something, easy to remember, easy to apply, and that will make you resistant to the negative effects of the nocebo effect. It's called critical thinking. My definition is simple.

  1. Consider the source's motivation
  2. Look for cooberating evidence
  3. Shift the burden of proof to the source.

It's more than just being skeptical. I'll elaborate.

  1. Does the source have a financial or other motivation to want to scare you? If yes, be careful.
  2. Consider cooberating evidence. You already have a lifetime of experience. You know how the world works. Applying that knowledge is what we call common sense.

    Can you see evidence of this new scary thing in the things you already know about this world? Make your own judgement. Is it likely true or false.
  3. Shift the burden of proof to the source. Sources commonly pose questions that you can't answer. They are attempting to shift the burden of proof to you. Don't fall for it. Demand proof from genuine experts not motivated to scare you. Ignore celebrities and politicians.

If you apply those simple rules in your everyday life, you will be resistant to being scared unnecessarily. Drug ads on TV won't scare you. Predatory lawyers won't scare you. Neither will predatory doctors, journalists, TV producers, authors, demagogue politicians, or your neighborhood gossip mongers. Become the master of your own life and your own emotions.

Therefore, I urge you. Become nocebo resistant. Remember and apply those three simple rules. 

1. Consider source motivation
2. Use common sense
3. Put the burden of proof on the source.

Madam toasmaster, the floor is yours.