Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Disappointment for Team Zorro

Maybe the dream really was impossible …

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that Zorro and his crew have earned a slot in the men’s national sailing championship, the Mallory Cup, in San Francisco in September. We could stun the world, if a bunch of nuts from the desert showed up and actually did well.

We’ve been preparing. The Rio Grande Sailing Club pledged money to Team Zorro to help with registration and travel expenses. Zorro and Space Invader were working on lining up corporate sponsors to help with other expenses. Twinkle Toes’ wife lined up super-low-cost airline tickets – and apparently she was really looking forward to the trip, as she loves traveling to exciting places. I was hoping to get in on at least the last couple of days of the regatta, and I was planning on arranging time off from work to do that (I have a union contract that allows me some personal leave, but not enough to take the whole week off).

The problem is that Zorro has recently started a new job. When he hired on, he told his employers that he would need to take a week off in September to compete in the championship, and they said that was OK. But last week, they changed their tune and said that he would be fired if he took the week off.

Zorro can’t afford that. He may be unmarried, but he’s the sole support of a dog and a very large number of cats. He has to pay for canned food, kibbles, cat litter, vet visits, and more. Plus he has to pay a mortgage to keep a roof over all those critters’ heads, and he has to pay utilities to keep the space under that roof heated or air-conditioned for the animals’ health and comfort. So losing his job is not an option for him.

We looked into whether the rest of the team could still go to the championship without Zorro – Penzance could take the helm. But no, that’s not acceptable, since the helmsman is the focus of the championship. All of the rest of the team can be replaced with substitutes, but not the helm. So if Zorro can’t go, the team can’t go.

Part of the problem is the scheduling of the regatta – it starts in mid-week, and thus participants really do have to have the whole week free. That’s fine for people who are retired, or who have upper-level jobs in which they have freedom to schedule time off. It’s not fine for working stiffs who have very little control over their schedules. In addition to being nuts from the desert, many of the members of Team Zorro are working stiffs.

I hear complaints that sailing is unfairly labeled an “elitist” sport, and that it is open to anyone who is interested. But then I see sailboats priced in the hundreds of thousands of dollars labeled “entry-level,” and I see regatta scheduling that prevents working stiffs from participating. Yeah, local clubs can run races that are open to anybody who can come up with a fairly nominal entry fee, but the higher levels of competition seem to assume a certain degree of freedom that isn’t available to working stiffs.

I suppose there’s still a chance that Team Zorro can get to San Francisco, but it’s remote. What would be necessary is an employer who won’t fire Zorro for going to San Francisco, so he can keep taking care of the critters and paying the bills. That sort of employer probably doesn’t exist in El Paso.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Political attitudes?

Maybe it’s just coincidence, but …

It used to be that during a political convention, all of the major networks covered the full evening of the convention activities. That is no longer the case; instead, the networks (other than PBS) run an hour that includes the most important speech of the evening, but otherwise keep to their regular schedules – which, in late summer, means the tail-ends of the summer reality shows.

One does have to wonder, however, whether there’s some hidden meaning behind the networks’ juxtaposition of certain shows. On this evening’s (Tuesday’s) lineup, the network stations in Albuquerque had the following combinations:

The NBC affiliate sandwiched the hour of convention coverage between two episodes of “America’s Got Talent.”

The ABC affiliate preceded the convention coverage with “Wipeout!”

The CBS affiliate followed the coverage with “Big Brother.”

PBS covered the entire evening and followed it with a “Frontline” documentary about global warming.

The other networks didn’t bother with the convention at all; Fox had “House” reruns, Univision had futbol, and Telemundo had a telenovela.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

“Free Wi-Fi” fraud

It ain’t snake oil, but it’s not a nice thing, either

I have become increasingly frustrated by businesses that lure me in as a customer based on the promise of “free Wi-Fi” or similar enticements, only to frustrate me when the promised service turns out not to be available.

I have lost count of the times I have chosen one restaurant over another, or one lodging over another, because the business that I chose claimed to have wireless Internet access, and then I discovered that, in reality, it didn’t.

Sometimes, perhaps, it is an honest mistake. The lodging that Pat and I are currently in seems to be very well-intentioned. The folks who run it are aware that the rooms at the back of the complex haven’t been able to get a wireless signal, and they seem to be trying to do something about it. Saturday, they even had a technician out from their wireless service provider, who was working on making things right. Problem was, the technician seems to have made things worse … Saturday morning, we couldn’t get a good signal in the room, but we could go to the lounge just off the lobby and get a signal that was sporadic but usable. During the day Saturday, the technician showed up and, according to the desk clerk we talked to Saturday evening, “fixed everything.” Saturday evening, we not only couldn’t get a signal in the room, we couldn’t even get a signal in the lounge. The desk clerk gave us the phone number for the technical services; we got a recording and left a voice mail message.

But there are many other times that I believe the “free Wi-Fi” advertisement is nothing but a fraud. The owners of the business know full well that the connection they’re advertising is just piggy-backing on a neighboring business, or on a public access point, that they don’t have any real control over. Or they don’t have any real connection at all, but they feel they can just blame any failure to connect on the customer’s computer or software. There was one time when we went to a restaurant that was next-door to a Lexus dealership, when Gerald needed to download some important information. When he attempted to connect to the restaurant’s Wi-Fi, he got a screen asking for his Lexus Preferred Customer ID Number.

Back when I was growing up, motels would generate business by putting up billboards that advertised “Color TV” and “Heated Pool.” And those businesses would keep the promises made in the advertising – if they didn’t, customers would take their business to another motel that really did have color televisions and a heated pool. But “Free Wireless Internet” and “Free Wi-Fi” don’t seem to carry the same obligation to truthfulness.

It really frustrates me when I choose to do business with a particular establishment based on the Internet access, and then it turns out that the access is a fiction. When I pay more for food or beer than I would have, or more for lodging, in order to get access that doesn’t exist, I have been defrauded. When I spend extra time and fuel going out of my way to go to a place that supposedly has Internet access but really doesn’t, I have been defrauded. What has been really frustrating for me is that about two-thirds of the times that I have chosen a business because of wireless Internet access, that access has not existed.

Businesses complain, rightfully, about people who come in and freeload off the businesses’ Wi-Fi without buying anything, and I agree that that practice is wrong. If a business has gone to the expense and trouble of providing Wi-Fi, the computer user should at least make a small purchase to reward the business owner for that effort. Not to do so is dishonest. Conversely, however, the business must keep up its end of the deal, or it is being dishonest.

Here is what I’d like to say to such business establishments: “Because you lured me into your overpriced restaurant with the promise of wireless Internet access that you didn’t deliver, I request that you repay me the cost of the meal. Because you lured me into your overpriced bar with the promise of wireless Internet access that you didn’t deliver, I request that you repay me the cost of my drinks. Because you lured me into your overpriced lodging with the promise of wireless Internet access that you didn’t deliver, I request that you repay me the cost of the room.” (Note: the motel in Tempe does NOT fall into the overpriced category, and in fact, the extremely low price is one reason I’m willing to forgive its lack of reliable Wi-Fi.)

Yeah, I know, that’s not going to happen. The businesses that promise free wireless Internet have endless ways of arguing that they’re trying, in good faith, but there are technical difficulties.

It occurs to me that there ought to be – and given the nature of the Internet, there probably already is – an index of businesses that falsely claim free wireless Internet access when they don’t really have it. Back in the old days, a traveler could quickly see there wasn’t a color TV or heated pool; nowadays, the traveler doesn’t discover the Wi-Fi doesn’t exist until after she has checked in. But if there’s an index, she can stay away from lodgings that make false claims.

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Launching the offspring, continued

Some glitches, but mostly successful

(Again, unreliable Internet means I am writing this post late Saturday night, but I have no idea when I will actually be able to post it – the motel’s Internet was working this morning, but it’s not any more, even in the lobby.)

Gerald is now in his dorm. We were a bit late getting to campus, but what that meant was that we missed the cattle-call storming of the dorms that is typical on ASU moving-in day. It also means we missed the time period during which the dorm check-in process was taking place in the parking lot of the basketball stadium. We ended up wandering around and finally dropping Gerald off to find his way through Student Services. As it turns out, once the central dorm-check-in was put away, the place to check in was at the lobby of the dorm building itself.

There are still a couple of paperwork details to deal with … First, Arizona is much more strict than even the Federal government on proof of citizenship, and nothing that Gerald has with him is a sufficiently “reliable” form of ID for the state’s purposes, so there’s officially a hold on his registration for that reason. Second, ASU requires that Gerald provide proof that he has had immunizations – which he has definitely had, and proof of which his Albuquerque doctor’s office has twice faxed to the student health center. But the health center seems to have lost that information, so there’s a hold on his registration for that, too. To remove those holds, Pat and I will have to express-mail Gerald’s birth certificate and immunization records to him on Monday.

The dorm in which Gerald is now ensconced is not as tall or as glittery as it looked last night. In fact, it’s rather old, as exemplified by the elevators, each of which has its own unique “character” – one is reluctant to show passengers what floor it’s at, while the other takes a good, long while to decide to open the door at the end of its passage.

Gerald’s room is on the seventh floor, at the top of the building. It’s a somewhat odd, asymmetrical shape, as it is located in a portion of the building where one arm branches off at a 120-degree angle from another. That makes it harder to arrange furniture, but it probably has a few more square feet of floor space than a strictly rectangular room would. He arrived to find his roommate already settled in; the roommate brought in a fridge and a television, so those two amenities are already in place; Gerald will be contributing a microwave.

The dorm room came with one interesting touch … a tag hanging on the doorknob, similar to what can be found in many hotel rooms. On one side, the card reads “Sun Devil At Work – Do Not Disturb.” The other side says “Sun Devil At Play – Come On In.” Since Gerald is carrying a heavy course load, and he has to keep his grades up to keep in the architecture program and also to keep his scholarship, I hope he hangs the “do not disturb” side more often than the “come on in” side.

As for the view … well, it’s a view, but it’s not spectacular. First, the window is very, very dirty. There’s a nice, wide ledge outside, which would make a great platform for cleaning the window … but then, this is a college dorm, and sometimes college students do less-than-smart things, so the windows have been secured shut so nobody can go out there. Then, as I mentioned before, it’s in sort of a weird angle in the wall, so the rest of the building cuts off a lot of the view, such as of the football stadium and the mountain that contains it. Still, there’s a view of the distant Phoenix skyline, and some nearer buildings. Of course, if the view is less than riveting, maybe that’s one less distraction from studying.

We last saw Gerald this evening as we dropped off a few things he had forgotten. There was a big, happy party going on, on a lawn in the center of several dorms, with free pizza, more free pizza, music, and thousands of students moving about in swirling, eddying currents as thunderstorms flickered in the southeast, stirring up gusty winds as a few drops of rain fell, bringing on that super-fresh rain smell that is especially welcome in the desert.

(Update: 10:30 p.m. Sunday)

We had a final outing with Gerald this morning, driving around Phoenix and seeing sights, including the west campus of ASU, where one of Gerald’s classes has been relocated, and a boat dealership and marine store in that corner of town. Then we returned to the ASU area, where we had one last lunch with him at a little burger place right near his dorm, and we said our final good-byes before heading back through the desert, over the mountains, through more desert, and finally home to Albuquerque.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Launching the offspring

Life is hot in the Valley of the Sun

(Note: I am writing this late August 22; however, the Internet at this motel isn’t working well, so it may not get posted until later …)

It seems strange, but nearly 19 years have passed, and now it’s time for Gerald to start college. I keep wondering where the time went, especially now that Gerald has a new cousin (now 5 months old), and it seems such a short time ago that Gerald was that small.

But I guess it wasn’t so short a time – it just seems that way. (Time flies when you’re having fun?)

Because he has a strong interest in architecture, he has chosen to attend Arizona State University. So Pat and I are with him in Tempe, and it has been HOT. When we arrived at our hotel this afternoon, it was 108 degrees in the shade, and later when we went to grab a few groceries, it had gone up to 110.

At least this motel has some nice amenities, even if the WiFi isn’t working … we got a suite, for less than most ordinary rooms go for, and we have not one, but two air-conditioning units – the evaporative cooler that is wonderfully energy-efficient in the desert (at the expense of using precious water), plus a refrigerated-air unit of the sort that is common in non-desert situations. There’s also a kitchenette with a full-size refrigerator with an ice maker, a living room with plenty of room to operate multiple laptops at once, and other nifty extras in the suite. Also, there’s a swimming pool and spa in an extremely private, quiet courtyard.

We had a reasonably pleasant drive to get here … lots of scenery, starting with the spectacular red rocks of the desert from west of Albuquerque to the eastern edge of Arizona. Then we hung a left at Holbrook (after a carnivore’s delight of a lunch at Bob’s Big Pig Barbecue), and headed through the mountains and over the Mogollon Rim. The road is narrow, and twisty in many places; I noticed that a lot of the “adopt-a-highway” stretches were “in loving memory” of somebody-or-other, and the signs were festooned with flowers, ribbons, and other mementos. But the views were spectacular, and then we descended from mountain coolness to the desert floor of the Valley of the Sun – where we still had great scenery, but in just a very short time, Ponderosa pines were replaced by saguaro cacti.

As we arrived at our motel, we were operating under the assumption that Gerald might not have a dorm room – ASU had overbooked, and it was expected that it might be a couple of weeks before he had a permanent location. So we were working on plans to connect with a friend who lives in Scottsdale for him to sleep on the couch until a dorm became available. She was unavailable this evening, but Gerald arranged to meet her tomorrow morning to set up his temporary lodging.

We also made contact with an old buddy of mine – she was a fellow graduate student at UNM, and now she is an associate professor of English at ASU. Back when she was a grad student, she was Gerald’s favorite babysitter (although she preferred the term “governess”). We hope to get together with her and her husband for a late lunch or afternoon drinks tomorrow.

Then we visited a small but friendly supermarket a block from the motel to get snacks and refreshing beverages with which to stock that oh-so-generously-sized fridge. Once that mission was accomplished, we set out to do some sightseeing and seek out supper. We drove around the ASU campus a bit, and Gerald pointed out some of the major buildings that he had seen a month ago on his campus orientation tour, such as some spectacular high-rise dorms that, at first glance, are nearly indistinguishable from some luxury high-rise condos just a few blocks away. We also took a look at Tempe Town Lake, where Gerald is likely to do most of his sailing for the time being, especially since he’s taking on a really heavy course load that won’t allow him much time to travel to more distant lakes.

Our first-choice destination for supper was a place we’d seen listed in a Tempe tourist guide, a brew pub in a historic building that seemed to be exactly what we wanted. Unfortunately, it also seemed to be exactly what a few hundred other people wanted – there was a line of people extending out the door and for a half-block along the street. So we decided to go elsewhere, to a pizza place away from campus, where we picked up slices and calzones to go.

After supper, Gerald went to the lobby to get a better WiFi signal, either from the motel’s system (which apparently isn’t really all that strong and can’t punch through to this wonderfully quiet, isolated suite at the back of the complex) or from the municipal system, which has a transmitter across the street. He has just returned with good news – he just got an email confirming that he will have a room in a dorm, and details will be coming in a subsequent email to be sent “by the first of July.” It’s not his first choice, but rather, it’s in one of those glittering high-rise towers. He does have a few other details to take care of, such as making sure the folks at ASU have received his proof of immunizations (which has been faxed twice from his Albuquerque doctor’s office) and proving that he is a U.S. citizen (of which Arizona requires a much higher standard of proof than the federal government does).

Meanwhile, we have more adventures ahead, such as finding out exactly what Gerald’s dorm room is like, what sort of person his roommate is, and other mysteries.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

The Cat I.Q. Test

You think your kitty’s smart … well, let’s see …

Recently at a thrift store, Pat picked up a copy of the book The Cat I.Q. Test, by Melissa Miller. If I were more sophisticated at this blogging thing, I would include in this blog post a picture of the cover of the book that you could click on in order to order it from an online retailer, but that’s too much trouble for me to go to.

As the title implies, the book contains a lengthy quiz to allow someone who shares a household with a cat to assess the cat’s intelligence. But it also contains additional material – a general overview of the history of how cats and humans have interacted over the millennia, and an additional quiz, the Cat Owner I.Q. Test.

The Cat I.Q. Test contains 75 multiple-choice questions. One example:

If your cat decides it would like a drink, but there is nothing in its bowl, it:

A. Meows sweetly and taps at the bowl with its paw to give you the message.

B. Meows loudly at the bowl to attract your attention.

C. Hopes that you will notice the bowl is empty and waits patiently.

D. Tries to sip from your glass, if there’s something in it.

We ran the test for Dulce. She tested at 140, where, as with human I.Q. tests, 100 is average (the mean was determined by the book author’s survey of cats and cat owners). Dulce’s score came in at “Extremely Intelligent.” But then, we’ve always known that she was much sharper than the average feline.

The second quiz is called the Cat Owner I.Q. Test, but that’s really a misnomer. There is no such thing as a cat owner. There’s a saying: Dogs have owners; cats have staff. Still, the quiz does serve a purpose – it’s not so much about how smart a cat’s humans are, but about how willing the humans are to do extra service for the cats. Here is a sample question:

Your cat is sleeping in a chair you need to occupy. You:

A. Attempt to move your cat to another chair without waking it up.

B. Toss your cat off the chair.

C. Softly call your cat’s name and wake it up gently.

D. Reassess your need to occupy the chair.

The scoring of the Cat Owner I.Q. Test divides people into four categories, based on the score: Practical, Flexible, Congenial, and Fanatic. One of the most valuable parts of the book is an explanation of the best personality matches between owner types and cat types – an easygoing Practical type owner is going to have difficulty with a high-maintenance cat, but likewise a Fanatic is going to be frustrated with a new-to-civilization reformed alley cat who would rather just be left alone.

We tested at 130, the upper end of the Congenial range. What this means is that we’re willing to go out of our way to improve Dulce’s life and make sure things are good for her, but we’re not going to go to insane extremes.

Or, to put it another way, Dulce has us very well trained – and we don’t mind!

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Team Zorro press release

Time to get to work on the media blitz

Following is the preliminary draft of a press release I have composed for Team Zorro. Normally, I would replace real names with blog nicknames, but since this press release is going out with names included to news outlets all over New Mexico and West Texas, I am leaving the real names in. I am, however, obscuring the telephone numbers. If you are a member of the media and you want to get in touch, let me know.

18 August 2008


West Texas, New Mexico Sailors to Compete in Men’s National Championship

A team of five sailors from the Rio Grande Sailing Club, which covers the western tip of Texas and all of New Mexico, has qualified to compete in the Mallory Cup, the Men’s National Sailing Championship, in San Francisco Bay, September 16-20, 2008.

It may come as a surprise to many that sailing happens at all in the desert Southwest, let alone racing at a championship level. However, the Rio Grande Sailing Club fields regular regattas in the spring and fall, and has many dedicated sailors who compete throughout both seasons.

This year’s team is the first from the region to make it to the national championship, and team captain Larry Jessee, of El Paso, is optimistic about the team’s prospects. “It’s not where you start; it’s where you finish,” he says. “I think we will surprise quite a few of the experts.”

Jessee’s crew consists of Dave Ampleford, originally from Penzance, England, and currently living in Albuquerque; Marty Stevenson, of Albuquerque; Charles Arasim, of Rio Rancho; and team alternate Richard Strasia, of Placitas. Together, these five men represent many decades of sailing and sailboat racing experience, in a variety of boat types and sailing conditions.

To qualify for the national championship, Jessee’s team first had to win the regional championship at Elephant Butte Lake in April. In stiff, gusty spring winds and heavy chop, his team beat the other teams in the championship by a sizeable margin in all five races of the round-robin regatta. The crew demonstrated a high level of seamanship and teamwork throughout the regatta as weather conditions progressively worsened.

Jessee and his crew will be representing Area F, a vast chunk of the United States covering New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Nebraska, in the national finals.

Conditions in San Francisco Bay are expected to be rough, with stiff winds and tidal currents. However, Jessee is confident that his crew will do well: Arasim is a veteran of the Newport-to-Ensenada ocean race, and Ampleford has had extensive experience with rough ocean conditions in his home sailing grounds around Penzance. Jessee has sailed offshore with the San Diego Etchells Fleet. Stevenson has been a stalwart member of Jessee’s crew for 7 years, during which time the crew won 117 straight regattas. Strasia has more than 30 years’ experience in the J/24, the racing yacht in which the Mallory Cup will be run. Even though this team is from the desert, it represents a great depth of sailing experience and talent.

Combined with his crew’s talents, Jessee has been a world-class athlete with a drive to win. He won world recognition as a pole vaulter, earning NCAA, national, and world records. He has been inducted into the UTEP Athletics Hall of Fame and the Ohio Track & Field Hall of Fame. In sailing, he made the Olympic trials in 1992, and he has competed with top-level sailors, including four-time America’s Cup champion Dennis Connor.

So, as strange as it sounds, yes, we do have sailing in the desert. And we have some pretty darn good sailors here, as well.


For further information, contact
Carol Anne Byrnes, Rio Grande Sailing Club secretary, 505-xxx-xxxx
Larry Jessee, 915-xxx-xxxx

**Photos available**

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Olympic faces

Some observations about the men’s gymnastics

I will admit that I have found watching the Olympics this year more rewarding than I thought I would. Since I don’t have cable or satellite, I am restricted to what NBC chooses to show over my local broadcast channel, but so far, what has been shown has been pretty good. Yes, I would like to see more of the minor sports, especially sailing, but I can understand that since I don’t have enough money to pay for cable or satellite, I am left out of those sports – and apparently there is so little interest in sailing that NBC isn’t planning to put that sport even onto one of its more obscure cable/satellite venues.

Still, I have enjoyed the beach volleyball, swimming, and gymnastics coverage that has been available to me. And this evening, the men’s gymnastics individual all-around championship was full of hugely dramatic moments.

What I ended up looking at more than anything else were the faces of the competitors. Yeah, I also looked at their physiques – well, that’s what gymnastics is about, the muscle strength that allows the athletes to execute moves that are far beyond the ability of ordinary humans. But what I found moving were their faces.

The German guy … I really liked how his body was put together. And his first event, the floor exercise, emphasized his great strength. But then on later events, he started making mistakes, and he sort of fell apart. His face went from charming to cloudy, sort of like a small child on the verge of a tantrum.

The South Korean guy … Early on, he looked really good. But then he made some serious mistakes, and as time went by, his cheeks got hollower and hollower. He just looked totally exhausted by the end, even though at one point he was in the lead.

The younger of the American guys … He had some success early, but then he had some major miscues. He had a strong fan base because of his face, the All-American Boy, Jimmy Olson at the Daily Planet, second only to Superman in representing and championing Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

The younger of the Japanese guys, who won the silver … This kid is beautiful, in more ways than one. He started the competition with a floor routine that combined the strength that is the emphasis of the men’s gymnastics competition with the grace that is the emphasis of the women’s. He had a couple of bad events, but he finished with a couple of routines that emphasized his ability to float like an angel in mid-air. His face is beautiful – graceful, child-like, but with an intensity behind it that is almost like a glow. It belongs in animé. I almost found myself wondering whether the Japanese had found a way to bring an animé hero into the real world.

And then there’s the guy who won the gold for China. He turned in a solid performance all round, and on the few occasions when he made mistakes, they were minor, and he recovered from them quickly. His face is not pretty. Perhaps it would be at home among the marauding army of Genghis Khan. Perhaps his face is to be found among the terra-cotta warriors. My own take on his face is that it is carved on a mountainside, but the carving is done not by humans, but by the natural forces of erosion. His face is the face that a mountain has.

Of course, since this blog has been banned in China, this great athlete will never learn what I think about him or his face … unless somebody subversive can get a message through.

Update: I was planning on making a link connecting the text about “banned in China” with a blog post I made about that situation. But that blog post has disappeared. And so has the post on another blog that was my inspiration for my “banned in China” post.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

What is standard/expected/required/necessary?

…and if it is, who should provide?

Adam Turinas, on his blog, Messing about in Sailboats, makes a request for his readers to support our Olympic team through a program called America’s Cheer. This is a very worthwhile effort, and fully deserving of support.

However, the means of showing support involve Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr. Those websites eat up a lot of bandwidth and are essentially inaccessible to those of us who have dial-up connections, especially when the dial-up connections involve rural phone lines that have a lot of noise.

More and more, I encounter web sites that assume I have a high-speed connection and lots of bandwidth. NBC, which carries the Olympics this year, is one of the worst – I can’t even get to the site of my local NBC station without a half-hour wait for the download of graphics that don’t contribute any meaningful information.

And when I complain about website content that assumes high-speed connections, I am told it is my fault for not having a high-speed connection. If I want to see what NBC has to offer, all I have to do is get a high-speed connection.

The problem is that I would absolutely LOVE to have a high-speed connection. I have even been told that I NEED a high-speed connection. But neither loving nor needing translates into being able to pay for it. And right now, Pat and I are struggling just to pay for basic telephone service. There is no way we can pay for high-speed Internet.

I have also been told that we NEED cable television. We did have cable in Albuquerque, when it cost only $25 a month. But then the cable company kept raising the rates, adding a couple of channels once in a while to justify the rising rates. When the total bill – base rate plus surcharges plus taxes plus other miscellaneous fees – went over $40 a month, we cut the cable. We don’t miss it. Now the saps who didn’t cut the cable are paying more than $100 a month – just for “basic cable.” That’s stupid.

But both the cable television companies and the telephone companies are offering high-speed Internet connections, and now, according to some survey I read about in the newspaper, 60 percent of American households have high-speed Internet. That’s nice, but Pat and I just can’t afford to pay for a high-speed connection. And it’s frustrating to find that a growing number of websites aren’t willing to accommodate the needs of those of us who can’t get fast connections. NBC may be the worst offender in my current situation, but there are hundreds, probably thousands, of others.

This is an issue that many of my students deal with. The world assumes that my students have a certain level of technology – typically a computer at home with a reliable Internet connection. But some of my students don’t even have a computer at all, and even those who have a computer don’t always have a reliable Internet connection. I don’t have a reliable Internet connection either.

Sometimes I can make up for the shortcoming of my home computer connection by accessing information at work. But the community college at which I work has been struggling with overburdened bandwidth, and so the powers that be have cut off access to sites that eat up bandwidth, including Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr.

The problem is that the people in charge have thrown out the baby with the bathwater – sure, YouTube and Facebook don’t have any academic purpose, but one of the services that has been blocked is Google Maps – and I have lesson plans that depend on Google Maps.

But there’s an even bigger issue out there. That is the assumption that high-speed Internet is standard, and that everybody has it. Therefore, all Internet content can be graphics-intensive and full of real-time bells and whistles. That assumption cuts off anybody on a dial-up connection (like me) or anybody whose connection is overburdened (like my students).

We have created a new hierarchy of haves and have-nots. And I really don’t like being among the have-nots.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Support Team Zorro

We need to show the world that a bunch of nuts from the desert deserve just as much respect as any other sailors.

A bit of background for readers who may be new to this forum: This past spring, the Rio Grande Sailing Club hosted the regional championships for the Mallory Cup national men’s sailing championship – essentially a quarter-final event. Our region, the Sailing Association of Intermountain Lakes (SAIL) covers New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, the western end of Nebraska, and the very westernmost bit of Texas (El Paso).

We had three teams from New Mexico/El Paso competing; nobody showed up from Colorado, Wyoming, or Nebraska. We had some very good racing, and in the end, a team from the Rio Grande Sailing Club, under the leadership of Zorro, won, earning a place in the Area F finals, which were to be held in Austin, Texas.

But then, due to lack of entrants (Zorro and the SAIL runner-up were the only teams), the Area F finals were called off. That meant that Team Zorro advanced to the national championships in San Francisco.

Here’s where things get tricky. In other parts of the country, where sailing is a more visible sport, a top sailing team can get corporate sponsors to help with the expenses of competing. Out here in the desert, if I wear a New Mexico Sailing Club polo shirt, people think it’s a joke – I have a hard time to persuading them that sailing actually happens in this part of the world. Some people remain unconvinced even when I show them pictures of my boat and sailing activities in the desert. A newspaper reporter (a former colleague who I really thought would be more perceptive) interviewed a New Mexico Tech student who was on Roy Disney’s Morning Light project, and even he said that she would be doing preparations “but not sailing” here in New Mexico – in actual fact, she sailed with the New Mexico Tech sailing club – yes, there is such a thing.

So sailing teams in the rest of the United States can get some good corporate sponsorship. But Team Zorro can’t. We can try to work things out in a low-budget way – the wife of one of Zorro’s crew members has connections through which she can get airline tickets at a steep discount. But lodging in the Bay Area is still dreadfully expensive. And ideally Team Zorro should get out for some practice before the actual event; yes, Zorro is good, really good, but he and his crew need some time working with currents and tides if they’re to do well in the finals. And they would need to rent or borrow a boat in which to do such practicing.

Zorro is pursuing some sponsorship here in New Mexico, but it’s not likely to bring in much money. Right now, he’s worried that he won’t even have the wherewithal to get his team out to San Francisco at all. And that is something that I won’t allow to happen. Zorro has won the right – not just the right, but the duty – to represent the desert lunatics in the national championship. Maybe you can’t send money, but if you can provide assistance with lodging or a practice boat, that would be good. We don’t mind bunking on a second-hand sofa in somebody’s basement, or sailing on a boat that’s a mess but reasonably seaworthy, especially if it’s a J/24 or something similar.

Let me borrow some words from the musical Man of La Mancha to explain what Zorro is doing …

To dream ... the impossible dream ...
To fight ... the unbeatable foe ...
To bear ... with unbearable sorrow ...
To run ... where the brave dare not go ...
To right ... the unrightable wrong ...
To love ... pure and chaste from afar ...
To try ... when your arms are too weary ...
To reach ... the unreachable star ...

This is my quest, to follow that star ...
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far ...
To fight for the right, without question or pause ...
To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause ...

And I know if I'll only be true, to this glorious quest,
That my heart will lie will lie peaceful and calm,
when I'm laid to my rest ...
And the world will be better for this:
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach ... the unreachable star ...

(Thanks to STlyrics for the words)

Yeah, we’re a bunch of lunatics from the desert. Maybe, like Cervantes/Quixote, we’re delusional and we don’t know better. But you ought to give us a fighting chance.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Back from the family reunion

Miscellaneous observations from the road

Part of why you haven’t seen any new posts from me lately has been that Pat, Gerald and I have been off at a family reunion, and while Gerald had his own computer along on the trip, Pat hogged mine much of the time … you can see the results in the form of picture-rich posts on his blog, Desert Sea. By the time he got done with his posts, I was just too tired to do more than check my email and check up on other people’s blogs.

I suppose I could now try to reconstruct the events of the reunion, but there are a number of reasons for not doing so:

1. So much happened both on the journeys to and from the reunion and during the reunion itself that everything blurs together and I don’t have a coherent narrative.

2. I would have a really hard time coming up with blog nicknames for all of my relatives who don’t have online identities.

3. If I gave a blow-by-blow narrative of events, it would be boring to everybody who wasn’t at the reunion, and maybe also to some who were there.

4. I’m still tired, and I don’t want to be up until dawn typing a blog post, when I have to work tomorrow.

So I’ll just give a quick summary of the trip, and then make some observations.

The reunion was in Aptos, California, near Santa Cruz. It had originally been scheduled to be in Big Sur, but recent wildfires forced a change in plans. The New Mexico contingent traveled in two cars, the “slow car” with Mom, Fuego, MaK, and the Z, and the fast car, with Dad, Pat, Gerald, and me. The slow car took three days to get there; the fast car, two.

Santa Cruz is not too far from the Bay Area, where we have some acquaintances, but all of those acquaintances were occupied elsewhere while we were there – not that it mattered all that much, since reunion activities took up a lot of our time.

Highlights of the week: Meeting Jer at a British pub where the steak and kidney pie was authentic, but the peas were definitely not mushy. Hiking to the beach and obeying Zorro’s instructions to “phone when you get to the water” – I told him he ought to get his team out there; the sunset was fantastic, and everything was beautiful, and he really needs to get some practice in currents and tides.

Gathering in a meeting room at the hotel to take family members through a slide show of historic photographs, and of photographs that Dad took of what places look like now on a recent roots-tracing vacation. The current owners of the houses in Lima and Detroit have taken good care of them, including Gus the Ghost’s attic (can’t remember whether Gus was in Lima or Detroit). Cousin L is just about an identical copy of our grandmother. Z looks almost exactly like Fuego did at that age. Everybody remembers Helen and Margaret, nuns who, just simply by being there, changed the space around them, whether it was in Santa Fe or in Boston. Everybody also remembers Aunt Anne, one of the great-aunts for whom I was named, one of the strongest-willed women in Ohio – I’ve heard she was the first woman in Ohio to fly in an airplane, for example, and she was an early passenger on the trans-Canadian railway.

Taking a trip to San Jose, to a barbecue place where Cousin L was playing in a bluegrass band. She plays the upright bass. Some time in the distant past, another cousin advised Gerald, “If you play the bass, you will always have a job.” He was thinking of symphonies and jazz bands, but it seems to hold true for bluegrass and country and rock and just about everything else. Still, Cousin L seems to have a good thing going. The main disappointment is that she’s tucked away in back where almost nobody sees her – but, perhaps because she had family watching, the band let her do a duet with her husband (who isn’t a member of the band but who is musical and played a guitar lent by a band member for the duet).

Following the barbecue, meeting Jer’s girlfriend, “That Girl,” at her apartment in San Jose. She was worried about making a good impression. She had created a special dessert, which she called “Pure Evil,” for the occasion, and she had also baked a couple of pies. She didn’t need to worry. Any dessert that contains four or five different kinds of chocolate, all mixed together, is going to go over well with my family. When she met me, she said, “I recognize the hair.” Her hair is curlier than mine, a paler shade of red, but still red, and probably not artificially maintained the way mine is. If she and I and Cousin L showed up in the same place, we would all immediately get pegged as sisters. And that’s not a bad thing. I would like to have a better blog nickname than “That Girl” to refer to her … I’m almost thinking “Curly Green” – but I wouldn’t want to impose that name unless she’s read The Gammage Cup, the young-adult novel that Great-Aunt Carol wrote that was the runner-up for the Newbery Award the year I was born. (I always considered myself to be Muggles, and Jer to be Gummy.)

Visits to the beach: The hotel was not right on the beach, but rather, it was about a half-mile from the beach, and to get there on foot, we had to cross the Pacific Coast Highway. We went twice, and I didn’t find the effort to be rewarding.

Other journeys: We had excursions to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Great Basin Redwoods State Park. Both were awesome. Pat has some good photos from the aquarium on his blog. I especially enjoyed the state park. The family split up into separate groups according to hiking ambitions, and I was in the low-ambition group, which took a short loop trail, led by a college buddy of Mom’s who lives in the area and used to be a park docent. We greatly enjoyed the huckleberries, which were in full season. I imagine that That Girl could make an awesome dessert using wild huckleberries.

Watching sailboats: Wednesday, after the trip to the aquarium, Pat, Gerald, and I went to Santa Cruz, where there is informal racing every Wednesday. There were probably about a hundred boats out, although some of them might not have been racing. We were on a jetty just outside the harbor entrance, and it was awesome to see the boats come in, especially the first ones, which were just totally screaming along. I was just overcome by the feeling, “If only I could be on one of those boats.” We also discovered that the Harbor Authority parking police are on the prowl on Wednesdays; we had overstayed our parking meter by 20 minutes, and so we found an $18 parking ticket on the windshield.

There’s a heck of a lot of agriculture going on in that part of California. Most noticeable were tomatoes (not still-green things carefully packed in crates for shipment to supermarkets, but ripe ones, in hoppers similar to dump trucks, presumably destined to end up as ketchup or tomato paste) and garlic (in Gilroy, we drove right past a solid-waste transfer station without smelling it, because of the strong garlic aroma). If we just had some oregano, we could have had a great marinara sauce.

Another observation: The Mojave Desert is HOT! On our way to the reunion, the thermometer in our car read 109 degrees outside of Needles. On our way back, we got a reading of 119. Subsequent checks of the Weather Channel indicate that our car’s temperature reading was not out of line.

At Needles, there is an inspection station, to keep agricultural pests from getting into California. In the past, we’ve been stopped, and if we had fruit or vegetables or potted plants, the inspectors have been interested – or, if there’s a scare on (such as the Mediterranean fruit fly a few years back), some produce is confiscated. This time, the inspector just asked where we were from, and when we said “Albuquerque,” he just said “Have a nice day” and waved us through. But in the next lane over, vehicles towing boats got very close scrutiny.

I must report, if quagga mussels ever reach California’s inland waters, they will not have done so via Needles. These guys are extremely thorough about their inspections. They scrutinize every square inch of the boat, and also every square inch of the trailer upon which the boat sits. They also deserve hazardous-duty pay for doing these inspections in conditions under which most human beings melt.

Yes, these inspectors are less than popular with some of the boating public. I can understand the frustration of sitting in mostly idling traffic, waiting to get inspected, burning diesel fuel that, in California, costs more than $5 a gallon. But these inspectors are just doing their job, and they’ve been doing it well. I want to tell those guys in Needles to keep up the good work. I want them to know that I appreciate what they’re doing, even if most people don’t understand.

And then there’s another bit of hypocrisy. There’s a water shortage in the southwestern U.S. in general and in California in particular. In our hotel room in Aptos, there was a stand-up sign on the bathroom counter urging us to help conserve water – a towel hanging on the rack meant we would use it again, so it didn’t need to be washed, while a towel left on the floor was to be replaced with a clean one. Likewise, there were placards on the night stand with the instruction that we were to leave a placard on the pillow if we wished the bed sheets to be changed; otherwise, they wouldn’t be. We left our towels on the rack and the placards on the night stand, but even so, our linens were changed for fresh ones every day.

We’re also in the midst of an energy crisis, with the price of fuel and also of any electricity generated from said fuel going sky-high. On our return journey, we stopped in Kingman, Arizona, where, even after sunset, the outside temperature was still 103 degrees. When we entered our motel room, we were assaulted by super-chilled air. I discovered that the air conditioner had been set to 60 degrees, and when I turned the thermostat up until the compressor switched off, I discovered that the actual temperature in the room was about 68 degrees, a nice temperature to heat a home to in the winter. I turned the thermostat up to 74, and I probably could have lived with it at 78.

Later that evening, I was becoming annoyed by the volume of the noise from the nearby highway and railroad – this was a low-budget place, but that window seemed to be so poorly insulated that it might as well have been open. Then I pulled the curtain aside and looked, and I found that the window, directly above the air conditioner, WAS open. So, presumably all day, the air conditioner had been struggling to bring the temperature in the room down to 60 degrees, while outside air (the high that day, as reported by the Weather Channel, was 114) was coming in the window.

It seems that those in the lodging industry, whether the upscale hotel in Aptos or the low-budget motel in Kingman, could do much better by the planet. And it would certainly be better for those businesses’ bottom line if they were to save on their water and power bills. Especially where the guests have been asked to help with conservation, surely the housekeeping staff can also take part. And in the low-budget place, perhaps the management can point out that money spent on electricity is money that can’t be spent on the housekeeping staff’s pay, so thermostats and windows should be as important as beds and bathtubs in the room-cleaning routine.

Wow, what a downer of a note to end a summary of a family reunion that was, for the most part, a positive experience. Really, it was good. I wish there had been more time to be together with the relatives, all of whom are really great people to be around. Well, maybe next time …

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

No, I haven’t vanished from the face of the Earth

It just merely seems that way.

I’ve been away at a family reunion. I hope to get some posts about it up soon. Meanwhile, Pat has some pretty pictures on Desert Sea reflecting some of our adventures in California.

It’s late, and I’m tired, and I hope to get something interesting up tomorrow.

Carol Anne

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