Thursday, June 30, 2016

Racing Against Age

South Burlington, VT

Today, we depart for Portsmouth NH to attend the funeral of my Aunt Dot.   Dot (R.I.P.) lived to age 94, which is pretty good by anybody's standard.  She also got to live her last years in a nursing home environment that she really liked.  We were happy for her for that.

But after hearing the news of Dot's death Libby said something shocking.  She said, "You are now the oldest living Mills, and the oldest living Manser"   (Manser was my mother's maiden name.)  For a moment, that made me feel like I had a target on my back.  The feeling passed when I realized that Libby forgot about at least one relative older than I.  Whew.  (Libby's maiden name was Lowber.  She has been the oldest surviving member of that Lowber family since the 70s.)

But there can be no doubt that Libby and I are becoming old indeed.  I believe that we are in better shape than the average American of our age (probably because of our active life style).  We very seldom visit doctors.   Libby can work hour after hour in Jen's gardens.  I climb 220 stairs two steps at a time at the airport every morning, just for the exercise.   We consider ourselves very fortunate.

But we aren't immune to aging.   The weaknesses and the pains creep in year by year.  Libby gets chilled very easily.  I notice that sitting in one position for a long time makes my knees so stiff that I can barely stand up.  I went on a kayak trip with Jen, and that sitting position caused me lots of knee pain.  A mere 30 minutes sitting on the seat of our canoe does my knees in, and I almost need to crawl on all fours when exiting the canoe.  To avoid it, I need to shift position or stand up frequently.

One of my dreams is inspired by the book The Complete Paddler: A Guidebook for Paddling the Missouri River from the Headwaters to St. Louis, Missouri.   I hoped to do that 1200 mile trip with Tarwathie Jr. and with Libby.   But unless I find a remedy for the knee problem, that dream is unrealistic.

Last year, Libby and I did a four hour canoe trip on the Connecticut River.  This summer, we are going to try for a 48 hour Connecticut River trip with one overnight tent camp as a shakedown test for the Missouri River dream.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Air Disaster That Didn't Happen

South Burlington, VT

This morning at the airport, I heard the tower close the main runway, citing "repairs to the arrester cable" as the reason.  Soon after, I saw a F16 fighter plane being towed by a tow truck.  It seems as if something happened that I didn't hear about.

You see, runways 15 and 33 have arrester cables that they can lift.  I supect that the F16s have tail hooks to catch the cables like in aircraft carrier landings.

It reminds me of an incident from the past.  My son David and I went to an airshow at the Burlington Airport (BTV) sometime in the early 1990s.  (I forget the exact year.)  We both love airshows.  In addition, at the time I was learning to fly at BTV, so I was extra familiar with, and interested in, BTV facilities and operations.

Anyhow, the show ended as always with the Blue Angels (or Thunderbirds), and the crowd was leaving.  Dave and I stood near the 33 end of the runway.  I noticed that four airliners were lined up to take off from runway 15, the far end.  They had been sitting there for quite a while.  I suspect that the air show didn't end on schedule.

Then I noticed something else significant.  Just at that moment, the wind shifted direction abruptly from S to N.  Wind speed was about 15 knots.  Typically, that wind shift requires a shift in active runway from 15 to 33.  

But they didn't shift the active runways.  No doubt the waiting airliners were impatient after the delay.   The first airliner started its take off down runway 15.   I watched.

The plane came zooming down the runway.   It did not rotate or lift off at the usual spot because of the tailwind.   Just then I noticed that the arrester cable at the 33 end was still raised!!!  I watched in horror as that plane finally took off and achieved only 15 feet of altitude before the wheels passed above that cable.  If those wheels had caught the cable, the result would have been a terrible crash.

Most disasters happen because of chains of errors, not just a single error.  In this case, it was the combination of a delayed end of the air show, a downwind take off, plus the failure to lower the cable, that nearly caused a disaster.  Seen in proper perspective, it should stand as a reminder that commercial aviation can tolerate lots of errors while avoiding catastrophe most of the time.


Monday, June 27, 2016

Return to (from) Valcour

South Burlington, VT

We just returned from four more days on Valcour Island.  (That's my excuse for not blogging for so long.  Internet on the island is extremely limited.)  We wanted to stay two more days.  We had plenty of food.  But alas, the light-and-variable wind conditions went away, and the wind was expected to pick up Sun-Tue.  

Oh well, we have to live with our limitations.   Blog reader Don pointed out that with so much gear, our canoe would have very little freeboard.   That's true.  Even without that gear, there isn't much freeboard.  A canoe is no match for the waves on Champlain when the wind blows 15 or more.  Therefore, we must plan our lake crossings for light winds periods only.

The irony is that exactly the days we loved most on Champlain with Tarwathie here, were those when the wind blew 15-25.  The days we liked least were those with little or no wind.  Now with Tarwathie Junior, our preferences are completely reversed. :-)

Libby in particular seems more relaxed and happy on Valcour than at any other place.  Here at Jen's she is a whirlwind of actvity working in the garden and making dinner.   Ditto at Daves.  In Marathon, she also has a long list of planned activities.  But out at Valcour, she is very content to just sit and look out over the water at the beautiful views. 

That applies to me too.  On Valcour, I'm satisfied by only once-a-day checking of the Internet.  To get reception, I have to walk four miles to the other side of the island.  I do that first thing in the morning at 0530.  That morning walk is delightful.

We had a visit from Bob & Carol, friends who live nearby but who have never been to Valcour before.

We hiked with Bob&Carol to the Bluff Point Light House.  It was beautifully restored just last year.

See what I mean about Libby relaxing.  Look closely, her face is sticking out.

Gardener Island lies just south of Valcour.  We never visited it before.  It is about 50 yards in diameter.  The verdict after this visit: "Boring.  There is nothing interesting there."

Monday, June 20, 2016

Pictorial Report from Valcour

South Burlington, VT

We're back from a marvelous weekend on Valcour.  Going there refreshes our souls.   Here's some good pics

It was dead calm on the way out last Friday.

Our view from the campsite.  VT mountains in the background.

Near full moon, can you find it in this picture?

How in the world can all that stuff fit in the canoe?

It fits just fine thank you.  Still room for Libby and me.

Whoops, see below.

Driving back we had a crisis.  On the interstate I saw in my mirror something fly off the trailer, and soon after that I saw smoke coming from the trailer.  I did an emergency stop.   The (brand new) wheel on the right side was too hot to touch.   WTF?  The bearing was cool.  I added air to the tire thinking it might be low.   We continued on at minimum speed.

The smoke returned as we got off the interstate.  Closer inspection revealed the real problem.  The fender was hotter than the tire.  Then I could see that the fender was touching the tire.  Then I found a broken spring.   We called Jen and Pete for help and they came.   We offloaded the canoe from the trailer, and then we could see that the leaf spring was broken.  Pete made a brilliant suggestion: a 2x4 could lift the trailer off the tire.  It worked!  See the picture above, and note that half the spring is missing.

We got the trailer back to Jens, so now I just have to find a new spring.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Return to Valcour

Valcour Island

Hooray! We made it back to Valcour yet another year. In terms of annual milestones, the day we return to Valcour has the biggest emotional impact. It's bigger than Christmas or Thanksgiving. I believe it is the same for Libby.

Our plan is to stay three nights for this trip. Hopefully, during the summer we will return to Valcour several times.

Could we give up the cruising life and live on Valcour? No, Valcour is owned by NY State and it is designated forever wild. Nevertheless, I have been daydreaming about living on Valcour since the first time I visited it in 1975. On the other hand, I have never been on Valcour in winter; doing so might take the polish off my dream.

By the way, one day before returning to Valcour, Libby and I returned from two days camping in The Green Mountain National Forest. That was nice, but camping in a dense forest blocks views of the sky and the sun, and the valleys and the mountains.

Summer weather has finally arrived. 80F weather in the valleys, and 70F on the mountain. But the lake temperature is still very cold, only 59F. Probably no swimming for us this weekend.

Here is Tarwathie Junior preparing to leave.



Sunday, June 12, 2016

This Cold Year; Mere Child's Play`

BTV, Burlington Airport

The weather this year has been abnormally cold.  It began during the winter in Marathon.   I complained about it here on this blog.

It continued when Libby and I wanted to go camping in the mid-Atlantic states on our way north.   The cold weather defeated us and caused us to cancel our plans.

After arriving in Vermont, I thought that we were past the cold spring.  We had some nice days, and May 20 (the day of Sara's wedding) was lovely.   But since then it has turned cold again.

I in particular am eager to take our canoe out to Valcour Island.  But the weather has been so cold and the lake so rough that we can't. (I hope to try again next weekend)

But before leaping to the conclusion that all of this is due to Global Cooling ;-), I heard a very interesting story on Vermont Public Radio, about 1816 in Vermont.  You can listen to the recording here, or read about it here The Summer(?) of 1816, or here Year Without a Summer.  Indeed, it was not just Vermont, but the whole globe's weather was abnormal that year.

By September, most of Vermont had been a full three months without rain. Fires which swept through parched forest land filled the air with acrid smoke and a general darkness. Another killing frost struck the final blow on the tenth, wiping out whatever had managed to survive to that point.
This having been the worst of a string of bad years, many moved west, thinking the weather had turned permanently. Richford was nearly a ghost town, the remaining few barely surviving; Waterford had so few residents that no Town Meetings were held for several years; Granby's population fell so low that the town gave up its incorporation. Unable to sell their land, many just up and left. New immigration eventually brought in people who had no memory of the hard times. 
Perhaps scariest of all, 1816 Vermonters reported that from June all through the summer, that the intensity of daylight diminished noticeably day by day. Religious people would of course leap to the conclusion that this was "the end of days" or the Apocalypse, or that the Sun was being extinguished.

You see, 1816 was a year after the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies.  But local people in Vermont would have known nothing about that back then.

The alternating hot/cold weather in 1816 killed almost all the crops.  Farmers sheared their sheep, but where then forced to bundle the wool around the naked sheep to keep them from freezing. Near starvation was the result, and a mass migration of Vermonters to the American Midwest was triggered.

It is an amazing story and it makes the 2016 weather seem like mere child's play.   It makes me wonder what the result would be if a similar eruption happened today when we have seven billion mouths to feed (compared to one billion in 1816).

0800 today, looked like the weather was about to break finally.

Same view, two hours later.  Cold and drizzly. No mountains visible.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Dawn in Low Ceres Orbit

South Burlington, VT

You may not be aware of this.  The popular press has not paid much attention.  But at the moment, there is a stunning new success in science going on.

The Dawn unmanned spacecraft, has maneuvered itself into orbit around one of the biggest asteroids named Ceres.  Below is one of many close in photographs of the surface of Ceres.

In historical perspective, the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon is perhaps mankind's greatest achievements ever.  But the close up pictures of Pluto and Ceres  are nonetheless very major milestones.

By the way, en-route to Ceres, Dawn got a gravitational boost from Mars, and from another asteroid Vesta.

Are Regional Airports Viable?

South Burlington, VT

I recently wrote a blog post about the Burlington Airport (BTV), and how peaceful, quiet and comfortable it is.  My post was inspired by the stories and photos of horribly long security lines in major airports.

It made me wonder, "Is BTV a luxury doomed to die because it is underused?"   So I did a bit of research, to compare the finances of BTV, and a major airport Denver (DIA).

So, the answer is that the cost per passenger at BTV is about twice as much as DIA even though DIA has 88 times as many passengers.  That sounds completely reasonable.  In fact, because of the economies of scale, I expected a bigger cost difference.

So, based on this tiny bit of research, I conclude that small regional airports like BTV should not be threatened.  Their costs are reasonable, and the big airports have to send the passengers somewhere, the flying public would fly much less if there were only 12 major airports in the whole USA.

Caveat: My research is not robust.  I should have included several other regional and major airports.  I should have considered the contributions of the VT Air National Guard to BTV's costs.  I should have considered the effect of the nearly new and massive airport terminal at DIA.  I'm not a researcher, just a curious blogger.

One more thing.  In a fit of excessive political correctness, BTV took down the "FAMILY BATHROOM" sign and replaced it with this sign.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Election or Revolution? (Rev 2)

South Burlington, VT

I don't like writing about politics on this blog. However, in this case I have been waiting for many months for someone else to write and publish this essay, but I haven't seen it. So I feel compelled to point out what I think is an obvious and important point that is not being discussed.

Why does half the country support Trump for President?
Trump acts like a bull in a china shop.  He is reckless.  It baffles most Democrats and many Republicans. It doesn't make sense, if you view Trump as a leader. But if you view Trump not as a leader but as a weapon, it makes more sense.

The key to understanding is to shift your focus from Trump to Trump supporters. Of course, not all Trump supporters are alike.   They have a variety of reasons.  This post discusses what I believe to be the reasons of the majority of Trump supporters.

What do they want? 
I believe that a very big segment of the country is very unhappy with government, especially the Federal Government.  They are in a revolutionary mood.  But violent overthrow of the US Government is not in their thoughts.  This is a non-violent revolution.  

In my opinion they would like to accomplish the following:
  • To destroy the political parties that have ignored them.  Especially the Republican Party that betrayed them.
  • To stomp on American Democracy (which has served them so poorly.)
  • To seriously disrupt or even to topple the government. 
Their actual list of grievances and the source of dissatisfaction was best explained IMO by "Trump's America" by Charles Murray.  I am very impressed by Mr. Murray's essay.  You should take the time to read it.  

Deep and widespread dissatisfaction with government is the fuel upon which social upheavals and revolutions feed.

This was all expressed poignantly by one Trump supporter with a sign that said, "Burn Baby Burn".  I think that well expresses the mood of many Trump supporters.

If you view Trump as a weapon of the revolutionaries, rather than as their leader, it all makes more sense.

A non-violent revolution: what would that look like? 
Violent revolution is not likely to be seriously proposed ever in our lifetimes. It is illegal. Even advocacy of violent overthrow is expressly forbidden in The Constitution. Yet the right to do so is expressly cited as our inalienable right in the Preamble To The Declaration of Independence. I even wrote a book about that apparent contradiction. It is called Jefferson's Right.

It is not a question of possession of firearms. Modern people are just too indoctrinated in obeying the law to think about violent revolution. Non-violent revolution is therefore the only choice, but what the heck does that mean? There are no provisions in our constitution or our law for non-violent revolution. Nobody teaches us in school how to go about it. So suppose you had a lot of people in a revolutionary mood but with no idea about how to go about it, but having no leader, no direction, what then?

My theory is that they would just want to lash out and do whatever they could to hurt and punish the government and the country. Electing such a divisive person as President would certainly do that. So in that light, I find that Trump's support is perfectly sensible and logical.  Trump is not the leader of the dissatisfied, he is their weapon.

Revolutions are intrinsically destructive. 
Trump opponents often ask Trumpsupporters, "What happens if he does get elected?" That ignores the dynamics of typical revolutions. Revolutions focus first on destroying what they don't like. The constructive part, building something better post-revolution is considered only after-the-fact. In Jefferson's Right, I showed a list of 405 revolutions in history. Very few of them started with a plan of what to do post-revolution. My point is that it makes no sense to ask the Trump supporter revolutionaries what happens after the election. They would like to topple the government, but they do not want to think about what happens next if they succeed.

This non-violent revolution will fail because the revolutionaries don't control the language
We live in an information age. Information is all powerful. The idea of a revolution is dangerous to the self interests of all politicians, all political parties, and all media outlets. But those are the people who control the language of what we see and hear in public. They insist that what we are experiencing is not a revolution, but rather a simple election. You may hear Trump or Sanders supporters speak of "revolutionary reforms", but the simple noun revolution and what that implies is not spoken.

Without control of the language, the revolution will not attract supporters from the skeptical.  I really believe that if the headlines described the events of 2016 as a revolution rather than just another election, that the revolution would gain much more support.

Brilliant Strategy???:
Suppose Trump wins, becomes President, and starts carrying out the things he threatened to do.  What effect would that have on the American public?   Well, I think it is pretty obvious that the liberals would become even more outraged than they are today by Trump's candidacy.  They would also conclude that they want to topple the government.   In effect, they would be swayed to join forces with the conservative revolutionaries.  A revolution supported by 35% of the people could gain support of an additional 35%.  That would be unstoppable.

Wow, how brilliant is that as a strategy? But brilliance is not a word that we can apply to a movement that lacks a leader and organization.  There is no one planning strategy.  If I am right, this revolutionary movement still lacks any leader, any spokesman, any organization.

So, what do I think should happen? 
I don't know. I am very libertarian. I would like to see the size and power of government much reduced. But I do not want true revolution and anarchy. If the day comes when the revolution confronts me with the question "Are you with us or against us?" I'll have to say with.  But for now, I have more than two options, I'm afraid that my option of choice for this November will be to vote for Deez Nuts.