Friday, December 30, 2005

Tropical Storm Zeta

I nearly fell out of my chair. I just got an email alert regaring a new tropical storm. A new storm at the end of December? What is going on? Anyway, just in case you think I am pulling your leg here is the bulletin:

ZCZC MIATCPAT5 ALL
TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM
BULLETIN
TROPICAL STORM ZETA SPECIAL ADVISORY NUMBER 1
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
1 PM AST FRI DEC 30 2005

...LATE SEASON TROPICAL STORM...THE 27TH OF THE YEAR...FORMS IN THE
EASTERN ATLANTIC...

AT 1 PM AST...1700Z...THE CENTER OF TROPICAL STORM ZETA WAS LOCATED
NEAR LATITUDE 25.0 NORTH... LONGITUDE 36.9 WEST OR ABOUT 1070
MILES...1720 KM... SOUTHWEST OF THE AZORES.

ZETA IS MOVING TOWARD THE NORTHWEST NEAR 8 MPH ...13 KM/HR. A TURN
TO THE WEST-NORTHWEST IS EXPECTED DURING THE NEXT 24 HOURS.

MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS ARE NEAR 50 MPH... 85 KM/HR...WITH HIGHER
GUSTS. ALTHOUGH SOME STRENGTHENING IS POSSIBLE LATER TODAY...A
WEAKENING TREND IS EXPECTED TO BEGIN TOMORROW.

TROPICAL STORM FORCE WINDS EXTEND OUTWARD UP TO 85 MILES
...140 KM FROM THE CENTER.

ESTIMATED MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE IS 1003 MB...29.62 INCHES.

REPEATING THE 1 PM AST POSITION...25.0 N... 36.9 W. MOVEMENT
TOWARD...NORTHWEST NEAR 8 MPH. MAXIMUM SUSTAINED
WINDS... 50 MPH. MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE...1003 MB.

THE NEXT ADVISORY WILL BE ISSUED BY THE NATIONAL
HURRICANE CENTER AT 5 PM AST.

FORECASTER FRANKLIN

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Smart stuff - the world's smartest stuff.

Smart stuff - the world's smartest stuff.
I love this site. Of course, you all know by now that I am a gadget addict. I think it runs in my family. Nevertheless, I think you all might enjoy visiting this site to view all of the latest and most unique gadgets.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Web maps going head to head

As a retired geographer I am really happy to see the head to head competition between Microsoft and Google to create the best online mapping applications. I must say that the new application Microsoft has come up with is pretty impressive. I have not really learned to use all of the features yet but you can go to their http://local.live.com/ site yourself and decide. Then go to http://maps.google.com/ and compare. I have the most experience with Google Maps at this point and love the ability to create my own applications using their program interface. It is also my understanding that Google Maps does not work that well on the set top internet boxes such as Webtv and MSNTV. I have heard, but not tested it, that the Microsoft application works better on those devices. That would make sense as Microsoft produces those TV based browsers. The bottom line is that this fight between giants to produce the best web maps can only be good for us users and for geographers it is thrilling to see this take place.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Open Everything

Open Everything: My previous post on Google Maps relates to this discussion. API mashups do appear to be the future of web applications. Here is a quote from the posted link:

"Application mashups (not to be confused with the music by the same name) are combinations of already availible APIs in a productive and useful - and usually cool - state. For example, the Google Maps interface allows you to enter in your own addresses to plot. Using this and some zip code data from the popular site 'Hot or Not', there's been an interactive map that shows users' locations. This simple example shows the real power that some of these mashups have, and it's all thanks to the open sharing of information that is offered through their APIs."

Google Maps Mania

Google Maps Mania Shows the amazing flexibility of the Google Maps application. If you get a Google Maps API key anyone can develop applications that use this amazing web application. We have even developed one for our flight simulation scenery site at http://fs-freeflow.com but this site, Google Maps Mania, shows a wide range of imaginative auses for this great service.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Video Sharing Site

Video sharing site. Converts various formats to Flash video. Good TOS and nice clean interface. Upload from camera memory.

read more | digg story

ClipShack Home

This is a pretty neat site for sharing videos and still images. I was able to upload some video clips directly from my camera memory card. The site appears to convert the videos to Macromedia Flash files which are playable almost universally. I read the terms and conditions for the site and they seem reasonable. You retain ownership and copyright to all your uploads. You can upload clips and images directly from your camera memory card and convert them with a very simple interface.

ClipShack Home

Jumping Santa

When we were in South Carolina we attended an evening dinner with my parents and a group of their friends. Since it was close to Christmas they had some little gifts for everyone. Mom and Dad ended up after all the picking of gifts and exchanges with this cute animated Santa toy. They gave it to us to bring home for Kaitlyn. We think she liked it. Well, we will let you decide by watching this video clip.


Friday, December 09, 2005

Ads on this site

By now you have surely noticed the ads on this site. I got an ad account with Google and sprinkled some ads throughout the site to see if it might offset some of the expense of maintaining this web site. I have some general impressions so far. Firstly, the fact that the ads are with Google seems to prevent them from being pornographic or otherwise offensive. For that I am thankful. Secondly, the ads being content related is a great idea on Google's part. Finally, this site just does not have enough traffic to generate a significant income but the few dollars it does generate might help a bit in offsetting some of the costs of the site. For example, this site only gets a few hundred hits a week at the most. Usually it is significantly less than that. I only get ad income if the ads are clicked on. So, a fairly large percentage of visitors do not click on the ads. How much money have the ads generated for me? Well, so far about $8 dollars. Yeah, I know that is not much but when you are retired and on a fixed income you look at many ways of cutting costs and generating income. I have some ideas for some high traffic web sites that might generate more money from ads. I will be sharing those with you here as they develop but for now, please click on those ads to help pay the bills.

Also, a reminder that you can add comments at the end of each of these postings. Feel free to join in the discussions which I post. If you have an opinion please add it at the end of each of these articles. If you have ideas for improving this site please feel free to jump in and give me your two cents worth. I have gotten a few comments from friends and they have helped a lot in improving things around here. So, thanks for that feedback. Thanks again to all of you who visit this site. Let me have your suggestions and feedback.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Hurricane Epsilon, longest lived December Hurricane on Record

This is an interesting blog entry by Dr. Jeff Masters at Wunderground.com.
Wunder Blog : Weather Underground

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

camerahacking :: View topic - CVS Camcorder FAQs

This is an interesting site on hacking a disposable camcorder that you can buy at CVS pharmacy for around twenty bucks. This FAQ discusses the details of hacking this little camcorder. Some of the videos and applications on the forum camerahacking are really interesting. :: View topic - CVS Camcorder FAQs

Monday, December 05, 2005

Docked

The Mothership is docked in her home port once again. We had a smooth trip and around 4:00 pm found ourselves in Brevard County about two and half hours from home. We decided to just push on and drive the trip in one day. My piriformis muscle is protesting that decision but it feels good to be home again. I always pay when I drive more than a few hours in one day.


Interestingly we can always tell when we are within 60 miles of West Palm Beach without looking at road signs or maps. How? Drivers on the highway begin showing insane behaviors taking unbelievable risks and driving as if they have the devil chasing them. Many other people have observed this same phenomenon so it is not just our warped view of things. What on earth could cause people in a particular region to drive so insanely when in most of the other areas we have traveled they behave somewhat normally? Maybe it is the tropical sun that does something to people's brains down here. Regardless of what causes it, it is a very real phenomenon and always disturbing to encounter after being away for a while.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Tranquility Cove

This is a panoramic image our location here at Tranquility Cove. My dad has a complete campground setup for us with full 50 amp electrical hookup, water, sewer, and broadband wireless internet. I created this image using a fantastic free program called Autostitch. It is availble here. Just shoot a bunch of digital images and open them in Autostitch. The panorama of our present location was created with one click using Autostitch. No other action required.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Dead Cell Zones Wireless Coverage Complaints

Dead Cell Zones Wireless Coverage Complaints

Picking a cell phone service? Try this site before you make a decision to find out if there is coverage where you work or live.

New Scientist SPACE - Breaking News - Black hole's colossal sphere of influence revealed

New Scientist SPACE - Breaking News - Black hole's colossal sphere of influence revealed

An amazing image of an energy jet possibly coming out of a black hole. This was taken by an 11 day exposure using the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Fascinating article.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

NASA Gallery: Thousands of Images, Videos, Audio from Every Mission

A searchable archive of thousands of images, video, and audio from the Apollo misson to the moon (and earlier), to the newer space shuttle missions and the space station. Includes pre-flight, in-flight, and post-flight footage. Fascinating, and in High-Res!

read more | digg story

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving

We had a delightful dinner with friends and neighbors here at Mom and Dad's yesterday. It was really enjoyable and we listened to many funny stories and jokes while enjoying a fantastic turkey dinner. My updates to the blog have been a bit limited since I only have a connection through my cell phone. Next week my dad is getting broadband and I have a wireless router with me that I am going to install after that. That will make the Tranquility Cove Campground, mom and dad's house, a WIFI hotspot. Wow, how cool is that? They have a 5o amp electrical hookup for our motorhome and a sewer connection just like a real campground. Now they will have broadband Wifi. That is more than many campgrounds have. This is a delightful way to spend time with them and to have our home on wheels with us. Barbara and I figure we have spent about six months or more in the motorhome traveling in the two years since we retired. It has been a fantastic way to live and travel.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Parked in Yulee

We are on our way to South Carolina for Thanksgiving. As we drove north we gradually got away from the visible impacts of Wilma. Things like bent signposts and blue roofs. We are overnighting at Hance's First in Florida Campground. Everyone else here is going south and we are going north. This is our location:

Monday, November 21, 2005

DAC-ART Building System Small Vacation Home in Gulf Shores Alabama

DAC-ART Building System Small Vacation Home in Gulf Shores Alabama
This is an interesting site describing building techniques that were proven in Hurricane Katrina in Alabama. If you explore this site thoroughly you will find a wealth of information regarding all aspects of construction and more importantly the information is viewed from the standpoint of hurricane protection. Check it out. Plan on spending some time though as this is a very information rich website. Additionally more information regarding this project is available at this DIY network site.

Archive of American Television - Google Video

This archive of video interviews at Archive of American Television - Google Video is quite a collection of knowledge and experience by some well known television and movie personalities. They are somewhat informal and many are very enjoyable to watch. My favorite comedian, Jonathan Winters, is featured in a five part session that is often funny and sometimes dark but always entertaining. This is a great resource. Watch it when you have some time. Here is the link to the Jonanthan Winters sessions, Archive of American Television Interview with Jonathan Winters Part 1 of 5.

Friday, November 18, 2005

FEMA turns us down

You have all followed our Hurricane Wilma adventures. You know we had to relocate due to no power and no phone because the generator in the Mothership started acting up. Granted we had no physical damage but the power was out for ten days so we decided to take the Mothership up to Tampa until things got somewhat back to normal. The FEMA rep met us the minute we returned and finalized our application. I explained why we evacuated and he was very polite and helpful. We thought we might get some small compensation for having to move. Not a dire necessity, especially considering that many are much, much worse off than us. Well, we just got notified that we did not get anything because it was not a mandatory evacuation. I filed an appeal listing our own special extenuating circumstances. Faxed it to them yesterday. I doubt they will do anything but what really bothers me is that my son and his wife stayed the whole time without power, bought a generator which the shipping company fumbled in delivery so it arrived late, and they too were turned down for any money for the generator. Hmmmm, is FEMA running out of money and clamping down on payments? Last year they gave out an almost automatic small amount of money to people around here who applied. In New Orleans they tried giving out some sort of credit cards to people and now for us nothing. Are we part of a large experiment to figure this thing out? You would think that by now they would have standardised the response to provide appropriate relief to people. Maybe my view is just too narrow and they might be doing some good somewhere. Damn you optimistic spirit get back to your room and stay there.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

List of open source software packages - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I just saw this Digg come up and it turns out to be the most comprehensive and well organized list of Open Source, free, software I have seen anywhere. What makes this Wikipedia list so nice is that it is so wonderfully organized. Check it out and I think you will be pleased at what you see. This is worth a bookmark for sure.
List of open source software packages - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Digg News

I am trying to figure out whether I should include Digg news, see the top of this Blog just under the title. I find the top postings over at http://www.digg.com/ fascinating. It is a kind of data mining of the top stories recommended by thousands of users on Digg.com, Kevin Rose's site. If you don't know Kevin he was the young, smart, guy on the old Screensavers show on the now defunct TechTV. where he was a Contributor (2000-2004, 2004-2005) and Co-host (2004, 2005).


If anyone reads this, which I doubt, let me point out that each posting I make has a link at the bottom for comments. My hope in putting up this blog format many years ago was to inspire discussion of opinionated topics I might post. To this date there have only been a handfull of comments posted. In my own fantasies I had envisioned heated debates going on regarding my own opinions on things. It has been a humbling experience to post things to the world and find that no one really cares. Sometimes our egos make us think our opinions are really important when in reality the only person who cares is the person posting the opinion.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Storm Stories

Storm Stories
The above link goes to one of the forums on our flight simulator web site. We have a couple of thousand users over there and some of them were in Hurricane Wilma's path. The link takes you to a discussion thread over there where some of the reports describe what it was like during and after the storm. Some of our users have quite a talent at describing the events and they give some good insight into what it was like.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

www.fullpassport.com - Diary pages

www.fullpassport.com - Diary pages
Read a headline in my "Jane's Security Briefs" newsletter regarding Transdniestr which they called a "pseudo country." Having never heard that term before I Googled it to find a fascinating diary entry at fullpassport.com. This is a bizarre situation where a country exists within another country, in this case Moldova which does not recognize Transdniestr. Transdniestr has its own border, customs, visas, etc. while Moldova does not have the corresponding elements at the border. Read the linked diary entry at the beginning of this blog entry if you want to know what it is like to visit a "pseudo country."

For some fascinating reading you might also want to visit the home page of fullpassport.com. I love the quote from Mark Twain that they have on their home page:

""Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -- Mark Twain"

Friday, November 11, 2005

CBS News | Robertson: Pa. Voters Rejected God | November 11, 2005?07:30:08

CBS News | Robertson: Pa. Voters Rejected God | November 11, 2005?07:30:08
This guy is starting to sound like our Ayatollah. Surely this comment will invoke some discussion on this blog. I am distressed over this whole "Intelligent Design" thing anyway. The concept of evolution is so beautiful and complex that it can stand on its own. One, if so inclined, could find evidence for a higher power in the evolutionary process alone without having to resort to an "Intellgent Design" fabrication. I have never understood the conservative's fear of science. They should fear what people do with religion more. Religion in itself is a good thing no matter what your belief but what some people do with it is scary. Don't get me wrong. Live your life by the ten commandments and you will be a good person and ascend to whatever rewards there are in the afterlife but this guy Robertson and his ilk really scare me. I call it the Taliban effect. Look at the ultimate evolution, excuse me for using that word, of conservative religion and you only have to remember the Taliban to see where it goes. Beating people with sticks for smiling. Banning the flying of kites. Stoning people to death. That is what happens when the fringe of any system of beliefs attains power.

CBS News | Sunny Days For Solar Panels | November 10, 2005?22:00:03

CBS News | Sunny Days For Solar Panels | November 10, 2005?22:00:03
This seems like a good thing that will become more and more popular in the future. Hey, it alleviates the load on the grid and if you have a battery bank as part of the system it would also provide power if the grid went down. Thinking about what happened after Wilma I think this type of system would have been better than a generator. We had clear cool days right after the storm with lots of sunshine. A system with solar panels would have been able to power at least some of the critical circuits in the house.

As I understand it most of the US production of solar electric generating panels is going to Spain and other countries. The US is making most of the solar panels but we are shipping them to other countries who, being much smarter than us, are using them to generate electricity to free themselves from their dependency on petroleum. When are we going to wise up and start implementing alternate energy generating technologies like this? Does it make sense for us to be making the panels and selling them to other countries?

Wunder Blog : Weather Underground

Wunder Blog : Weather Underground
No, no. Tell me it isn't so. There is an area in the tropics that is looking like a storm trying to form. This will be the season to remember. Or at least I hope it will be rather than an example of what future storm seasons will be like.

I took all of our storm shutters down yesterday. The town has picked up all of the debris such as fence sections and posts that blew down. Most of the landscaping in the neighborhood seems relatively intact but the trees and shrubs still are bare since all of their leaves got blown away. I still have some blown down fence sections piled up on one side of my front yard. I piled them there since they look like they can be used again. All of them belong to the fence on the side of my yard. The tall 8 foot high fence in the back got broken up too badly to be used again. We have no privacy on the back of our house now and it is strange to be looking at our neighbors whom we have not seen for years. I must admit that was intentional since they were very unfriendly when we moved in. The biggest reason for the fence was to wall them off so we would not have to interact with them. The old man is pretty friendly but the old lady is a quite hostile. When the fence guys were here the first time we put the fence up she was following them along every step of the way giving them a hard time. That was a few years ago. She has aged a lot since then and seems to be a bit mellower. At least one time she waved and smiled. Scared me to death when she did that. So sad.

CBS News | Seniors Who Blog Defy Stereotypes | November 10, 2005?14:30:06

CBS News | Seniors Who Blog Defy Stereotypes | November 10, 2005?14:30:06
Makes sense to me. Use those brain cells folks. Start a blog and share your experiences and thoughts. If nothing else it is great fun to look back on what you wrote a few years ago. I guess I must fall into the category of a senior who defies stereotypes.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Wunder Blog : Weather Underground

Jeff Masters reports that the tropics are quieting down. Good news for those of us down here in hurricane alley. I used Dr. Master's weather blog on Wunderground.com through the entire hurricane season. He provides insights and details not found on the regular weather reports. I can highly recommend his blog for those who want a little more than the usual TV weather reports offer. Check out the photos on this particular blog.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Google Adsense

Musings has gone commercial. If you scroll all the way to the bottom of the blog you will see some small ads from Google. I mainly wanted to see how the ads work and to learn how to implement them on a site. I don't think they are terribly intrusive. It should be interesting to see if any revenue is generated. This site has a fairly low number of hits so I doubt it will make me enough money to pay for my hosting service. It will be an interesting experiment anyway.

Return to Wilmaland

Wilmaland. Yep, we are back home again. Actually home is West Palm Beach. We drove the Mothership here today from Dunedin RV Resort. We left at 10 am and got here about 3 pm. Just as we were leaving this morning we got a call from the FEMA rep and arranged to meet him here this afternoon. He was waiting for us when we pulled up. What timing. He asked a few questions and took our information. We reported no damage to our house but described to him why we evacuated to Tampa. No power, no phone pretty much sums it up. So, we are now in the system and can be expecting some more forms I think.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Remote Storm Reports

We are still in Dunedin in the Mothership. I had some observations about the impact of Wilma that I posted over on our flight simulator scenery web site. Since many of the reports were by our users I don't feel I have the rights to post them again here but you can go to the discussion thread by clicking here and read them yourself. One of our users has a real knack for reporting.

My interface with FEMA was a kind of surreal experience. You can read my post over on the Freeflow site but basically all I was looking for was some reimbursement for relocation expense. We moved the Mothership up here to Dunedin since the power was off in our neighborhood for nine or ten days. I figured I would apply to FEMA just to get some compensation. I will not repeat what I posted over at the Freeflow site but the bottom line is that I got a big packet of stuff in the mail at home that related mostly to small business assistance loans. My neighbor and good friend called me on the phone to tell me that. Nothing in it that seemed to relate to expenses incurred for moving or for buying a generator. I called FEMA again and they told me to just attach all of my receipts to a note with my FEMA registration number and they would be reviewed for payment. What? I started thinking about what it would be like if I were poor and lived in New Orleans or even in South Florida. I would have no power, no phone, no computer and would be just waiting for someone to help. Ok, so maybe I could get to a phone and apply to FEMA. Then I would get a big packet of forms in the mail relating to small business loans? What if my mailbox and house had been destroyed? There has to be a better way. Got to my Freeflow site here and read some of the observations of our users over there. Very interesting.

We are planning on returning the Mothership to her base next Tuesday. Power has been restored in our neighborhood but the infrastructure down there has been hit hard. It will be months or years before things get back to normal. Years? Hurricane season starts up again in 8 months or less. Hmmm. Think, about that and the fact that all of the experts predict that we are moving into ten or twenty years of much more active hurricane seasons than we have been in for the last twenty or thirty years.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Dunedin


We are enjoying a nice mini vacation away from South Florida while the power is being restored there. Interestingly, we are close enough to home that our DirectTV system in the Mothership is picking up the local tv stations from home. We are able to watch the local stations to get all of the latest updates on the situation back home. We are staying at the Dunedin RV Resort, a very nice campground. It is one of the nicest that we have been in with very reasonable prices. If you would like to see more info on our present home click here. This part of Florida is unique for us South Floridians. There are rolling hills and large live oak trees every where. It is really beautiful. This is also an area that has a much higher RV population than South Florida which also means a lot of service for RVs is available. Our only damage, a torn awning over one of our slide outs is going to be repaired by an experienced RV repair guy who will come to our site. Our generator is going to be serviced on Tuesday at an Onan Generator site 25 miles from here. The service will probably be completed on that day but if not the shop has RV hookups and we will just spend the night there and then come back to Dunedin.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Relocation

After the storm we all worked hard at getting our debris out to the street. My neighbor's boys went through the neighborhood helping people clean out their yards. We all burned off our nervous energy by getting everything picked up. Our fence sections are all out on the street now along with a big pile of limbs and broken down banana trees.

I then hooked up our refrigerators, a small tv, and a light to the generator in the Mothership. Since that went so well we also added my neighbor's refrigerators. At one point we even briefly fired up our PCs to check and send a few emails. That worked well for a number of hours. The next morning however, the generator began to act the same way it did just before I took it into the shop. It would start, then run for about five minutes and stop. We checked the fuel filter and the oil. All those simple checks found nothing amiss. One of my neighbors is pretty handy with engines and electrical things so he came over and was able to get it to run briefly by manually manipulating the choke and throttle. We gave up after trying that for a while. Then the phones went dead. That really spooked us because we had phone service the entire time, even through the storm. Also, while watching TV during the period when the generator was on we quickly learned that in spite of our light damage, the South Florida infra structure was badly crippled. As darkness approached the day after the storm we made the decision to use the Mothership for an impromptu roadtrip. We called our daughter who just moved to a new house in Dunedin and she found a very nice campground near their house and made reservations for us. I put the few shutters I had taken down back up with my neighbor and friend's help and we moved into the camper for the night anticipating an early departure.

Night fell quickly and with no moon our world became darker than dark. With all of our remaining food and clothes in the camper we settled in for the night. It felt like home to us having just returned from a our trip out west. We had no trouble adapting back to life in the Mothership after the 7,000 miles of travel back in August and September. We had no moon and no city light lume in the sky. A cold front had passed through and it was cool and clear. We could see the night sky like never before but it was not a time to relax and enjoy it. We knew from watching tv that the entire South Florida infrastructure was down. We felt very vulnerable. During the night we heard a car or cars racing down our small residential street at what sounded like 80 mph. Not knowing if they were good guys or bad guys made us very uneasy.

We arose at 6am and hooked the car to the tow bars and started out of town. Proceding slowly down our street we were suddenly startled when a large cable or power line popped into view right in front of us. It draped down across the road and it took some careful maneuvering to get past it. Our adrenalin was up not knowing what else we would encounter. Exiting our neighborhood we began to get a sense of the damage. Power lines were down everywhere. There was a surprising amount of traffic on the road for 7am. We proceded very cautiously the short distance to I95 passing our local gas station where we saw the typical tall metal roof structure that covers the pumps twisted and leaning at a strange angle. The one traffic light that we had to pass was completely missing and the traffic treated it light a four way stop. Experience from the last two storms, Frances and Jean, have made locals pros at dealing with this stuff.

I-95 north was almost normal with moderate traffic. We proceded north to PGA Boulevard where it is only a short hop to the Florida Turnpike, the most direct route to Orlando and then Tampa. There were no tolls so entrance to the turnpike was free. Again, traffic was fairly light. The eery thing was seeing cars along the side of the road abandoned. We could only guess that during the mass exodus people had run out of fuel and just abandoned them on the side of the road. We even saw some that looked as though they had been in in accidents and left on the roadside. Traffic flowed well and we set the cruise control at just over 60.

The Turnpike has rest areas with restaurants and gas pumps that are located about 60 or so miles apart. The first one we came to had lines of cars trying to get in. We could only figure that they were the only gas stations pumping gas and with the free tolls local people were traveling there to get gasoline.

The further we traveled the more normal things began to get. We finally came to a rest area that appeared to have no more than normal traffic so we stopped in the parking lot and went inside for a cup of coffee. Inside we found lines of people waiting for coffee at the Starbucks but lighter lines at Burger King and Nathans. There is a quick survey for you in terms of coffee preference. After standing in the Starbucks line for what seemed an eternity we switched over to Nathan's where they had just brewed a fresh batch of decaf. We grabbed our coffee, went back out to the Mothership and cooked a normal breakfast since neither of us had eaten yet. The coffee and breakfast gave us a much needed boost. It was really cool and we were both cold and hungry.

The rest of the trip was a typical trip to Tampa with heavy traffic between Orlando and Tampa. The Tampa, Orlando, Daytona strip is a major corridor with the three cities hurtling towards becoming a megalopilis. For our trip out west we had purchased a Florida Sunpass which is a device that is attached to your windshield with suction cups. It uses a radio frequency sensor at the toll booths to detect your id and deducts the tolls from a prepaid account. After we got up near Orlando the tolls were back in force but with the Sunpass device we were able to breeze right through the toll gates without stopping. That really was a time saver and a new experience for us.

So, here we are in Dunedin, Florida. I have already located a factory authorized shop that will check our generator. I told them we were living in the RV and they said they had power hookups if we had to stay overnight. I have to call this morning and make further arrangements with them for repairs.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Wilma

Posting this under generator power from The Mothership. She is truly functioning that way providing power to the house from the generator. We are able to run our refrigerators, some lighting, the computer (off and on), and a small tv. We cook with gas so we have that. Our water is city water and that is fine too. Cool weather followed the hurricane so we have no need for air conditioning but if we do the Mothership will provide that.

Yesterday was quite an experience. We went throught the eye of a Cat 2 hurricane. Winds were 101 mph recorded about three miles from our house. The winds increased steadily through the night and became pretty intense throughout the morning. We lost power at about 6am so the fact that the storm came in the daylight hours made it more bearable. With all windows and doors shuttered we could see very little. While we felt very secure in our strong concrete home with metal shutters over every window and door both Barbara and I were a bit anxious and nervous as anyone would be. The wind was the most intense and powerful I have ever witnessed. It built all morning into a powerful crescendo and then eerily subsided to almost nothing as the eye passed directly over us. I went out to take a quick look around and found all of my neighbors in the street in front of my house doing the same thing. We had a quick conference checking that everyone was ok and then went back inside as the west eyewall started approaching. Since a big part of the storm had moved over the gulf stream it had begun to instensify making the west eye wall worse than the east eye wall.

After it passed over we went outside and started our cleanup with all neighbors pitching in to drag debris out to the street. Our board fence was completely blown down with some sections blown across the street into my neighbor's yard. We had moved the Mothership into the shelter of the L shape of our house so she survived ok. She is now truly functioning as the Mothership providing power to the house for our refrigerators, this computer, some light, and a small tv. We cook with gas and the water supply is fine. Our little town did pretty well and we feel almost guilty, but not quite, because we are living quite well since we have the power being supplied by the Mothership.

There is much damage throughout the county and millions are without power. Our son and daughter-in-law who live a few miles away came through ok too but many others did not. We watched the news to see serious damage reports coming in. Many mobile homes were totally destroyed. We heard that the local general aviation airport was completely destroyed. That is KLNA, Palm Beach County Air Park. So, all in all, through careful planning and preparation we came through ok. This storm slightly exceeded our criteria for staying in place. We still will evacuate if another one approaches that is in that intensity range. We learned that our house is very strong and if prepared properly can survive at least a Cat 2 hurricane.

Monday, October 24, 2005

WILMA_N0Z_members.gif (GIF Image, 600x600 pixels)

Wilma has not yet made landfall on the SW coast but we are already experiencing winds of around 25 to 30 mph. We have also had several small power outages. This is going to be quite a ride I fear. The storm is still holding winds of around 120 mph. The shearing that was forecast to weaken her somewhat has not begun. The power went off and on a couple of times while I was typing this post.

The house is like a fortress with the shutters in place. We can see outside only through small holes in the shutters or out of the view lens in our garage door. It is 4:30 AM and dark outside anyway.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

FlightSim.Com Review: FREEflow Florida


Nice to get recognized for your hobby work. This review written by Victor Knight sure is complimentary. We had a lot of fun creating this scenery for Microsoft's Flight Simulator.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Patterns

This is an interesting photo. I like the patterns in the roof tiles. Took this vertical shot down onto my neighbor's new roof using my kite aerial photography rig. Maybe this could be a tool for doing roof inspections. Posted by Picasa

Moved to New Hosting Service

Even though you didn't see anything change, I have been moving my web site to a new hosting service over the last few days. I have not been satisfied with the support and service of my exising web hosting service so I searched the web and found an interesting site. It is called Web Hosting Jury. The site turned out to be very useful because it contains rankings by users of web hosting services. People place their reviews on the site and give their service a ranking. I found that the service I had been using, name withheld since I only like to post postive recommendations, was ranked terribly. This is in spite of being recommended by a well known figure from the old TechTV days. I selected a top rated site from Web Hosting Jury and moved my files over to it. The new web hosting service is InMotionHosting.com and you can read their review on Web Hosting Jury here. I can honestly say that my first few days with them have been an extremely positive experience. They answer trouble tickets within minutes usually and their support staff are articulate and very friendly in their responses. I am not used to a support ticket being responded to almost like an instant messenger chat. I have tickets I filed with my old hosting service a week ago that have still not been answered. This site as you read it now is running at InMotionHosting. I don't think it is my imagination but the site seems much faster than it did at the old hosting service.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Only in South Florida


We just got our town newsletter. I have to share a notice that was in it. Only in South Florida would one get a notice like this. Dave Barry, are you reading this?

"Code Enforcement Officer Jeff Williams is warning residents to be aware of the growing iguana nuisance. Residents are warned not to feed or touch them because they can carry the Salmonella virus. If you find an iguana on your property, you are alowed to trap it, but then call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission to have them remove it from your yard."

A storm to watch.

A couple of days ago Dr. Jeff Masters in his blog at Wunderground.com discussed the fact that some of the prediction models at the National Hurricane Center showed the unlikely possibility of a tropical system forming east of the Bahamas. He said, "Several of the global computer models continue to forecast that a tropical storm may form near the Bahama Islands on Monday or Tuesday." Well, this morning's Tropical Weather Outlook from the NHC states:

A LARGE BUT DISORGANIZED AREA OF SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS...
ASSOCIATED WITH A WESTWARD-MOVING TROPICAL WAVE AND AN UPPER-LEVEL
TROUGH...IS LOCATED A FEW HUNDRED MILES EAST OF THE CENTRAL BAHAMAS.
THUNDERSTORM ACTIVITY HAS BECOME A LITTLE MORE CONCENTRATED THIS
MORNING... AND UPPER-LEVEL WINDS ARE EXPECTED TO GRADUALLY BECOME
MORE CONDUCIVE FOR TROPICAL CYCLONE DEVELOPMENT DURING THE NEXT
COUPLE OF DAYS AS THIS SYSTEM MOVES WESTWARD.

After the pulse of activity that produced Katrina and Rita we relaxed a bit here in South Florida because the outlook for the next couple of weeks seemed to give us a break. Now it looks like things are heating up again. That disturbance east of the Bahamas has me worried as it does show some possibility of intensifying.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Everglades and South Florida

The area known as "The Everglades" is divided into four major areas, Water Conservation Area 1 which is managed by the Feds as the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge, Water Conservation Area 2, Water Conservation Area 3, and Everglades National Park. These are all artificial boundaries imposed on one large ecosystem that is basically a giant freshwater marsh that flows south from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay north of the keys. It is a monotonous landscape unless you are down in it and then it gets interesting. The sawgrass grows about ten feet tall and will slice your skin like surgical scalpels. The alligators will probably not bother you but there is now a population explosion of Burmese Pythons out there that are giving the alligators a run for their money. It is a natural system turned crazy by the ten million people living along its boundaries mostly on the east in the cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. The drainage system is purely artificial and regulated by giant pumps and spillways much as they do in the Netherlands. It is an area that is both strange and fascinating. An area whee we see Iguanas crossing the road every day and parrots in our backyards. A place that gave Dave Barry at the Miami Herald a lifetime of material to write about and Miami CSI seasons of scripts for their shows. You either love it or hate it.

GIMPshop! at Plastic Bugs

Here is GIMPshop based on GIMP, Gnu Image Processor, sort of the free version of Photoshop. I have used GIMP in the past but my complaint has always been that it just does not look like Photoshop. Well, now it does. If you scroll down and get the 8mb GIMPshop for Windows you will have a free software package that is every bit as powerful as Photoshop but costs $0 instead of the $600 or so the PS costs. Get it. It is GREAT.

Get the download for WindowsXP here and read about Gimpshop and its various distros and view some screenshot comparisons here at http://www.plasticbugs.com . The various elements of GIMP have simply been rearranged to agree as closely with Photoshop as possible.

Update: The plasticbugs.com site seems to have been swamped. You can get the windows install for Gimpshop here at http://blog.yumdap.net/archives/20-GIMPshop-for-Windows.html

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Katrina Landfall

Katrina is making landfall down south of us around the Broward/Palm Beach County line. That is about 40 or 50 miles south of us. She is a minimal hurricane now with sustained winds of 75 mph. It is rainy and windy here. The winds must be sustained around 40 mph with gusts to 50 mph. We have heard no thunder but the wind is howling like a banshee. It is not a major storm event up here on the north side of the storm but it is blowing hard enough to do some minor things like blowing limbs out of trees and blowing any loose objects around. The storm should begin decreasing in strength as soon as it starts moving over land. The good thing, knock on wood, is that so far we have not lost power. That is a very good thing.

Katrina Approaches

Tropical storm Katrina is approaching the coast of SE Florida. Right now the forecast track takes her to landfall at Fort Lauderdale, a good sixty miles south of us. We are getting rain showers and gusty winds. At this point they winds are not as bad as those we get in thundershowers. The core of Katrina is small at this point but she is forecasted to intensify slowly and should be a minimal hurricane at landfall. We are just far enough away to miss the damaging effects of the core winds but with hurricanes one can never be totally certain about what they are going to do. We have our hurricane shutters in place having put them up for our trip out west. Of course, they will remain in place during this storm and probably for the remainder of the hurricane season. I will update the blog if any unusual weather events occur during the day. Landfall for the storm is not predicted to happen until tomorrow morning.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

DSL Again

It has been very frustrating since we returned home because when we turned our computers on we found that we could not connect to the internet. Well, halleluja we are connected again. It has been an all day effort to do so but now all of our desktop computers, laptops, and MSNTV are connecting at high speed. Why did it take all day? It is a long story but if you have the time I will tell you about it.

Yesterday, Friday August 19th, I spent about an hour or two on the phone with Bellsouth and a helpful young guy in India or somewhere helped diagnose a few things and determined that it would be necessary to send a technician out to the house. A nice young lady named Kate arrived on the scene this morning and spent about half an hour diagnosing a few things only to determine that my old DSL modem had bitten the dust. She got a new Westell DSL Modem out of her car and installed it for me. This one is about half the size of the old one. Then I started tinkering because I had to get my wirless connection running using my Linksys Router. That turned out to be an all day project. No matter how hard I tried I could not get it to work. However, I did have connectivity on one computer when connected directly to the modem so I started searching the online resources. DSLreports.com as usual provided all the answers. Seems that the new modem has to be reconfigured as an bridged ethernet device to relinquish its built in router functions over to the Linksys router. After following the instructions carefully I finally got the router working. Barbara's computer came online next and then my laptop. Those required a bit of tinkering and configuring since the laptop connects wirelessly and I setup my new wireless network with 128 bit encryption I had to manually enter the WEP encryption key in the setup. After getting that to work I tackled the MSNTV box which turned out to be the toughest challenge. I had been using a Linksys Wireless Game Adapter for that connection but no matter how hard I tried I could not get it to work. I then remembered that it came with a USB Wireless Connector and so I plugged it in. Immediately it asked me for the WEP encryption key and I knew I was in business. I typed it in and, Voila!, we have connectivity on all of our computers and devices. Whew! I don't think it has to be that complicated but a lot of it is because we have a network with three computers and a set top box, the MSNTV, and the network is both wired and wireless. Probably not the typical home computer setup.

Home Again

Rewind to Thursday, August 18. We departed Tranquility Cove, my mom and dad's place, about 9:30 AM. Our plan was to drive part of the way, stop in a WalMart for the night and continue on the next day. About 4 PM we stopped in Ormond Beach at a WalMart after calling the store and asking if it was ok. We saw about a dozen signs that said, "No Overnight Parking." We called the store manager again and they said staying overnight was ok with the store but the city of Ormon Beach had an ordinance against it and that we might be awakened by the cops asking us to leave. To avoid that we left and did not stay overnight in Ormond Beach. Continuing south we called the Walmart in Titusville and they gave us the ok. This was only about 60 miles further so we gave that a shot.

Pulling in to the parking lot we located the proper spot after calling and driving around a bit. We finally got parked and started our generator to run the A/C. It ran for a few minutes and then stopped. Seems the fuel line was pulling some air bubbles in around the fuel filter. I worked on it for a bit and it would run but then stop after a few minutes. Looking at the map and seeing that we were only two hours from home I decided to spend those two hours driving instead of working on the generator. We arrived here at the Mothership Base at about 9:30 PM and have been sorting through mail, unloading the camper, and calling our ISP to get our internet service restored. More on that later but for now let's say we are glad to be back home after a fantastic trip.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Homeward Bound

We are on I95 60 miles north of the Georgia/Florida State line. Nice to have this cellular modem on my laptop to post while moving. Great too for checking email. We had a great time at Mom and Dad's in SC and had a chance to unwind from the trip. I need to calculate the total miles we have driven but I can estimate that it is well over 7,000 and probably more like 8,000. It has changed our perspective of distances to travel. The leg from SC to FL seems like a short hop. Based on the patterns we have established on the trip this normally would be a one stop distance. It is just shy of 600 miles from Mom and Dad's to our home. Based on the way we have been driving this would entail an overnight stop along the way. If we do stop it will most likely be a WalMart stop as we have gotten pretty comfortable with "dry camping" after having done it a few times. We realise now that the Mothership is quite self contained and capable of independent dry camping for two days without trying and much longer if we were to use careful management of water and fuel. Well, that is the update for now traveling at 64.4 mph on I95 as indicated on the GPS display.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Tranquility Cove

We are parked in my mom and dad's yard where they have a full hookup for the Mothership. It is time for a breather and to spend time with family. We will spend some time here before moving on to Florida.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Colonel Sanders and Glacier Girl


Yes, we were in Corbin, Kentucky, the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken. No, we did not visit the Colonel Sanders Museum but we did drive about 40 miles down the road to the home hangar of "Glacier Girl", a restored P-38 Lightning, in Middlesboro, Kentucky. This was not just any restoration project. The original plane was in a forced landing on a Greenland glacier. Over the decades since the forced landing the snow and ice built up over the P-38 to over two hundred feet. The recovery effort was innovative and demanding. Read about it here. I'll post some of the photos we took later. We are settled in for the night at a WalMart in Laurens, SC.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Corbin, Kentucky

We stopped at Corbin, Kentucky for the night. This is the location of the first Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurant. The place is still open and has a museum dedicated to KFC and Colonel Sanders. You can read more here.

We traveled through Indianapolis, Indiana and Cincinati, Ohio today. All of the trip was through smoky conditions. Only at the end, as we neared this location, did we start getting into clear air. We talked about how over the long term whatever elements are in the smoky air would precipitate out into the soil and onto the crops. The corn, the wheat, and all other crops that eventually become food products would surely become contaminated. We hope that the conditions we saw today were infrequent and not constant.

Lunch in Indiana

We stopped at a WalMart in Greensburg, Indiana to buy a few things from their Food Center and to have a sandwich for lunch. The entire trip from Minneapolis to here has been in smoky conditions. It looks like air pollution or smog. We think it is from all of the industry around here but we could be long. A quick sandwich and then we move on towards South Carolina. We will not get that far today but will definitely be there before the end of the week.

Eastern USA

We spent the night in Crawfordsville, Indiana last night at a KOA. After being in Canada and the Western USA there are some obvious things we have observed about the east. It is much, much, more congested than the west and that would be an obvious characteristic one would think of just looking at a map. But, there are other differences. Our highway world, that thin narrow strip that connects us to new places, has changed. Instead of RVs and cars with a few trucks we now see mostly trucks and cars. Around major cities like Minneapolis the drivers are as insane and rude as they are in South Florida although that area certainly holds the title for driving insanity. Off the road, as usual, the people here in the mid west as they have been in other areas are helpful, courteous, and polite. We use Walgreens to fill our prescriptions and every single store we have been in has been unusually helpful and courteous. The only store we have ever had problems with and continue to is the one nearest our house at home. They are the worst Walgreens in the entire USA in terms of dealing with the pharmacy. We think it is because their work load is too great for that store.

Today we will pass through Indianapolis as we continue towards South Carolina for a visit with Bob's mom and dad. Then we will start our trip back to Florida for the arrival of our second granddaughter. The trip has been an amazing adventure and the blog postings are just highlights of things we have seen. We have gained a perspective on North America that will require a lot of thought and review to put into words. We have also learned a lot about the technology of keeping in touch while traveling. Surprisingly Bob's cell phone, a Nokia 3650, has been the most reliable internet connection at speeds better than dial up. Using T-Mobile and the phone as a modem for the laptop we were connected almost continuously even while traveling across Alberta and Saskatchewan on the PH-1 Highway, the Trans Canada. It was a delight to pass through a town or by a feature in the landscape with the ability to Google it while driving to learn more. Barbara has become pretty confident driving the Mothership too and that has provided a welcome break for Bob. She drives the big rig now even in heavy truck traffic and crosswinds and does a great job at it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

More Wind Generators

These things are everywhere. We just passed this.
We have discussed the subject often on the trip and have always said we would rather look at these beautiful wind generators spinning around harvesting energy from Mother Nature than look at smoke stacks from a conventional generating plant. It is such a joy to watch these things spinning and making electricity so gracefully and elegantly without any emissions or pollution whatsoever. We love them. The latest issue of National Geographic has an excellent article on alternate energy generation. I highly recommend it if you can get it. It is available in newstands or book stores in the periodical section.

Stoughton

Left Minneapolis yesterday. Drove through the center of the city on the interstate in heavy traffic. Continued through cheese country of Wisconsin as we left Minnesota. Heavy truck traffic all the way to Madison, Wisconsin. We decided to dry camp for the night and picked out a WalMart in Madison but when we arrived there it was in a busy construction area with a lot of traffic. We decided to go on south of Madison to Stoughton instead. We looked up the address of the WalMart there and called ahead. Barbara spoke to the manager who said parking overnight was fine. Driving to the store we passed through the center of Stoughton and found it to be a beautiful little town. Main street had Norwegian flags hanging from every light pole. We parked for the night in a corner of the parking lot out of the way of cars and were able to run the generator so that this morning we are watching the space shuttle rentry.




Stoughton, pronouced "Stowton (rhymes with snow)", is largely of Norwegian heritage. That explains the flags on Main Street. We hope to find a place downtown to have breakfast this morning and will take a few photos of this delightful little town. For more information about stoughton click here for the Chamber of Commerce web site. It is nice.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Big Things




Ok, let's recap. When you last joined our roving reporters they were in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Seems they found out that Moose Jaw has some strange subterrenean tunnels that Al Capone supposedly used as a hide out. But, most of all they have a big thing. You know you have to find big things when on the prairie. This big thing is Mac the Moose. We had some other people take our picture in front of Mac. Our "Big Thing on the Prairie." We found a web site that lists all of the Big Things but this is the only one we got close to.

On our way to Moose Jaw we passed a place called Chaplin, SK. It is worth mentioning because of the strange white mineral deposits everywhere. Turns out they were sodium sulphate deposits and Chaplin is known for producing something from it called "saltcake." I guess it is used for making glass and paper and other stuff. We were so baffled by it that we had to Google it as soon as we got to Moose Jaw.

Ok, so we left Moose Jaw and headed south towards the border into the US. The roads in Canada are quite good with wide shoulders and frequent pullouts. Now, this is weird, but just before we crossed the border we stopped at a WalMart that appeared way out in a little town on the prairie in Saskatchwan. We picked up a few things and then went on to North Portal, SK. Seems Portal and North Portal are one and the same town with one unique thing. One half of it is in Canada and the other half is in the US. Our crossing was uneventful with a nice border patrol guy inspecting us and giving us the all clear.

We then followed the stair step township and range roads in North Dakota and worked our way down to Minot. There are some tiny and remote little towns up in North Dakota and each of them must have a great story but we didn't stop as we had miles to go. After Minot we took a highway south towards Jamestown, SD having picked out a campground that looked good for the night. We traveled 14o miles from Minot to Jamestown in North Dakota with no cell phone coverage and almost no traffic on a fantastic, straight as an arrow, road. When we got to Jamestown we picked up cell coverage and called the campground. "We are full and are parking them on the grass." was the reply to our question about a site for the night. We checked our atlas and found that there was a WalMart in Jamestown so we headed for that. Arriving we found a small village of about 12 large motorhomes so we made ourselves at home. The manager, a young woman, came out to greet us and was astonished at the number. "I have never seen so many of you here." she said. She was very friendly and told us to make ourselves at home and that the store opened at noon the next day. She said that she loves having motorhomes in the parking lot but some stores cannot allow it because of municipal laws.

After our night in the WalMart parking lot we headed east through fields of sunflowers and corn until we started encountering eastern culture near Minneapolis, Minnesota in the form of grid locked traffic on I-94. Good to be back in the east. Right! Here we are in Minneapolis with a drive to Chicago tomorrow. Oh boy. What fun. We really want to get through this densely populated area but we fear traffic is going to be heavy from here on out. That's about all the news that is fit to print from the Mothership. Oh, Barbara has been getting in lots of time piloting the Mothership and is doing really well. It is nice having a relief driver to share the load.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Banff
























Here are some photos from our too brief stay in Banff. As I said before, it was just too much to see in the time we had remaining. We did see some of the scenery, The Banff Springs Hotel, Banff Village, Tunnel Mountian, and we drove up to the top of Mount Norquay (sp?). The Banff/Jasper area is vast. It consists of many National Parks that are connected to each other extending for nearly two hundred miles to the north. We had hoped to drive up to Jasper to spend a few days and even see the start of the Canada to Alaska Highway, the AlCan, but realistically this is a major trip and to do it justice we would have to spend much, much, more time here. Sounds like a trip for the future doesn't it? We loved driving into the entrance to the Banff Provincial Park and being greated with a "Bon Jour." We really felt as though we had reached an exotic place hearing that French salutation. This is an absolutely gorgeous area and does indeed deserve another trip for further exploration and enjoyment.

Musings from Moose Jaw



We could not return without a visit to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. What person alive would not want to be able to say they had been to Moose Jaw? Now, our lives are complete for we have spent the night in Moose Jaw. All kidding aside this is one of the nicest campsites we have visited. It is immaculately clean and neat. All sites are paved and easy to pull through with the car attached.

We traversed 508 miles today across Alberta and Saskatchewan. The wide open spaces of the Canadian prairies are truly awe inspiring. We saw amazing quantities of hay in the fields. Some areas had giant hay bales as far as one could see. The preparations for winter are nearly completed and it is an impressive site. I will add some photos later but wanted to get this posted.

Tomorrow we cross the border back into the US down at North Portal into North Dakota. Since we will be traveling some smaller roads we may not cover the miles we did today. Hopefully we will get somewhere near Jamestown, North Dakota to spend the night.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Prairie Posting



We are traveling eastward across the vast prairies of Alberta. Our stay in Banff was a bit short but we did an estimate of our time and decided it was time to head back towards home. The scenery in Banff was spectacular but so vast that it would require a trip just for that. Barbara is driving and I am typing using my cellular connection. This is truly mobile blogging. I just wanted to be able to say I had done this.


This is a small sample of the endless fields of hay bales. Getting ready for winter is a big deal up here. Hundreds of square miles of hay bales extend in all directions. Preparing this for food for the animals in the winter is a major effort. We also saw fields of Canola and Wheat everywhere. Mostly dry prairie in the west but the moisture levels increased steadily as we drove east. Also, the more moisture, the rougher the roads. We observed that in our drive across the prairies. In the west where there is less rainfall the roads are smoother and nicer. When there is freezing and thawing of water on the ground they are rougher.



We passed another BIG wind electrical generating station at the location noted on the map. Electrical generation with wind seems to be a growing trend out here in the prairies both here and in the USA. We like that a lot. Making energy in harmony with Mother Nature. How great is that?

Glacier National Park






So far Glacier National Park is our favorite of all the places we have visited. We drove the "Going to the Sun Road" twice. It must be the most spectacular road in the United States. Every turn reveals a view of incredible glaciated mountains. Towers and peaks that look like they came from a move like "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." Steep and sharp peaks of unimaginable beauty. Glaciers in the high elevations nestled among sharp rocky crages. As we drove over the Continental Divide the wild flowers were spectacular. We tried to get photos but they never do justice to fields of flowers on either side of spectacular waterfalls. The road itself is a marvel of engineering and tenacity. It took two years to build it back in the days when the only tools were pick axes and wagons. We just cannot imagine what that was like. Two stretches of the road were under repair probably as a result of rock slides or avalanches. We asked one of the workers if he ever got used to the scenery. He said, "No, it is never boring and it changes all the time."



We drove over to another less visited part of the park called "Many Glacier" where we saw a black bear feeding on berry bushes high up on the side of a mountain. We joined a crowd of people looking at him with binoculars. At the end of the road into Many Glacier there were dozens of people with high powered telescopes scanning the mountains for wildlife. This is grizzly bear country and many people, including us, hoped to see one from a long distance away through binoculars but they have eluded us so far. We think that food is so abundant this time of year in the mountains that they are quite happy in the remote areas. We have seen many deer and innumerable prairie dogs but that is about all.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Great Falls, Montana

We had to make a stop at Albertsons for a few grocieries and I made a connection to the net through my laptop using my Nokia 3650 cell phone as a modem. Cool!

There were two possible routes from Billings to Great Falls, Montana. One, the Interstate route was the more scenic. Knowing we were going to Glacier National Park, one of the most scenic places in North America, we chose the shortest route which was State Road 3. It turned out to be a very interesting drive.

We suspect someone in Ryegate has a good sense of humor. It is a place that might have one store and a few houses. In an empty field by the road was a sign that said, "Coming Soon, Hooters." You should also know that the one store in town also had a sign on it saying, "21st Annual Testicle Festival." That should also give you a clue. Now, I know that the Testicle Festivals are some sort of tradition of fringe gatherings so that might be real. Google Testicle Festival and you will see what I mean.

Just south of Judith Gap in a wide valley between two mountain ranges we came upon a massive construction project. It was a gigantic wind electrical generation facility. The wind generators were about three stories high and spread out across the valley. None were completely finished and they were in various stages of construction. There must have been about twenty or more towers. What a perfect place for this alternate form of electrical generation. It was an impressive sight. We have not had an opportunity to learn more about this project since we don't have an internet connection at this location here in Great Falls.

About half way from Billings to Great Falls we stopped for lunch at Wade's Cafe, an intersection truck stop cafe. Service was slow but the food was good. The most interesting things were the photos on the wall of Wade's Cafe demolished with a large truck in the middle of the wreckage. Seems that many years ago a big truck was coming down the hill and the brakes failed or the driver fell asleep, it was late at night and the Cafe had closed, and he blasted through the intersection right through the little place. No one was hurt because the Cafe was closed at the time. If you ever take Route 3 up from Billings stop in, have a burger and check out the photos on the wall in the souveneir area by the cash register.

Great Falls like Billings has some interesting features that we have seen all over Montana. One is the universal presence of little casinos on every corner. They are like seven elevens in Florida. They are infinitely varied in their size and shape and look like any other business except that they offer poker, keno, and other gambling along with the usual offerings of a bar or lounge.

The other universal feature of Montana other than mountains that we find interesting are the little coffee shops. Some of them are out in the middle of nowhere and many are in the cities. Most of them offer drive through coffee in a wide variety of forms and flavors. We saw one today offering Latte, Mocha, Expresso, and Big Train. I imagine Big Train would keep you going for the long haul.

Tomorrow we reach Glacier National Park. As I said in the beginning of this entry it is known as one of the most spectacular sights in North America. Are we excited about seeing it. You bet we are and yet we are still reliving the days spent with Winn and Donna, our friends in Billings. For just all around fun and good times that will be hard to beat. That hanging guard rail where the rock slide took out the Beartooth Scenic Highway still is vivid in my mind.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Beartooth Mountains












Our friends Winn and Donna took us on a fantastic tour of the Beartooth Mountains yesterday. The Beartooths are only about 45 minutes from their home. With a short drive one can pass through Red Lodge, Montana which is a really interesting alpine village, to the Beartooth Mountains. The Beartooths are steep scenic mountains with many National Forest Roads through them. Mountain streams, glaciers, rock slides, wild flowers, good friends, who could ask for more. The photos are just a sample of the area. Fantastic day and we could not ask for better and more gracious hosts than the Hortons. We have had a wonderful few days with them and will remember these days for the rest of our lives. We hope to get together with them in the future. We even talked about taking a trip up the AlCan Highway to Alaska together in the future. Thanks Winn and Donna. You are the greatest.

For those who want to know more about the Beartooths, click here
. We could not take the Beartooth Scenic Highway because of a mud slide that had occured back in May. Our friends were camping in the area when the slide occured and Winn heard it during the night. The next morning the campground was evacuated and the road is still under repair. We were able to follow a forest service road to an observation point where we could see where the slide had taken out the highway in several places. One site was particularly dramatic where the only thing left of a section of the road was the guard rail dangling across where the road had been.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Anniversary

Yesterday was Winn and Donna's 34th Anniversary. They were kind enough to invite us along to dinner last night and we had a great time. During the day we had some interesting experiences while shopping and exploring. As time becomes available we will describe them in more detail.

Today we will try to take care of some more housekeeping and hope to work in some more sight seeing with the Hortons. We have a couple of choices as to what to do and see and will just have to see how our time works out. I just cannot say enough good things about our friends here in Montana. We could not find more gracious hosts than Winn and Donna. Winn is a western history buff and has told us a lot of interesting facts about the Lewis and Clark Expedition that passed through the Yellowstone Valley. He also travels a lot in the area with his work and knows the roads really well. Our stay in Billings has been a major highlight of the trip and we will always remember our good times here. After today we will make that final push up into Canada to our destination, the Banff and Jasper area of Alberta.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Billings Exploration

We spent a delightful day with our friends, Winn and Donna, exploring the Billings area. It is a real privilege to have such nice friends in this area to help us by pointing out history and features that we would have otherwise missed.







The highlight of the day was a visit to Pompey's Pillar. This is an isolated tower of rock in the Yellowstone Valley that contains the only physical evidence of Lews and Clarke's exploration of the area. Clark carved his name and the date, July 25, 1806, on the side of this rock tower. I asked the ranger how they knew that this was an authentic artifact and he replied that the carving was well documented in Clark's journal and that the signature was exactly in the location described by Clark. In the visitor center an older gentleman, who was obviously steeped in the history of the Lewis and Clark expedition in this area, gave Winn and I a detailed history of their travels. Pompy was the nickname that Clark gave to Sacagawea's son. A quote from a Lewis and Clark history site reads:

Sacagawea’s son Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, or “Pompy,” was three months old when the Corps of Discovery left Fort Mandan. His parents accepted William Clark’s offer to educate him, and he moved into Clark’s St. Louis home when he was six. At age 18, he went to Europe for six years with Duke Paul of Wuerttemburg, an enthusiastic early tourist of the American West. Returning to the U.S., Jean Baptiste became a mountain man and fur trader, and a guide whose clients included John C. Frémont. He later settled in California, and died in Oregon, en route to Montana, in 1866.
More info on Pompy can be found by clicking here.

We ended great day we had a barbecue at Winn and Donna Horton's beautiful home just outside Billings. We watched an amazing sunset on their pation while we ate a great meal. The temperatures that had been in the high 90s during the day dropped rapidly and a steady dry wind kept us nice and comfortable. Their home is located on top of one of the rolling grass hills in the area just west of Billings with a view that is priceless. Our plans are to spend a couple more days here before continuing on towards Canada. The big question for us right now is which route to take. There are many appealing places to see here in Montana and the route we take depends on whether or not we want to see those before going into Canada. We'll study the maps and look at the time it will take before deciding.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Montana

We are now in Billings, Montana. After a bit of a foul up by the campground last night we are setup. We called ahead and reserved a campsite at the KOA here in Billings. We pulled in and took care of the paperwork only to find a camper in our assigned site. We drove back to the office and the young lady went down and talked to the people in the site. It seems that the man was in the hospital due to a heart attack. He is fine now and his son lives here in Billings so they had family here also. They put us in a temporary site and gave us a 15 percent discount. We will have to move to another site today but that is ok.

Yesterday, we drove from Devil's Tower, Wyoming to Billings, Montana. It was a bit of a long drive for us. We usually do not like to do more than 250 miles a day but this was 300. That extra hour is a killer and makes the leg of the trip seem like a real push.

As we entered Montana the scenery changed from the choppy rolling hills we have been experiencing to very long and gentle climbs and descents. The views became even more vast allowing us to see very far over the treeless grassy hills. After driving for a while we were treated to the sight of snow capped mountains in the distance, the Big Horns. What a sight. We were pretty excited about seeing them for the first time. We made a gradual turn to the north but the Big Horns remained in view for a long time and we really enjoyed looking over to our left at those beautiful mountains. The Big Horns are the place where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hid out from the law at a place called the Hole in the Wall.

We took a very short side trip and visited the Custer Battleground Memorial. Our Golden Eagle Passport that lets us in any National Park or Memorial has more than paid for itself by now and we entered this special place with no charge. There is a small paved road that meanders through the battleground for many miles. Even though it is quite narrow and we had no idea if there was a turn around at the end we took it and we are glad we did. We were able to visit each key location of this famous event. There are clusters of grave markers in places where the soldiers fell. Many of them are marked with a simple, "US Soldier Fell Here." We also discovered that there is a National Cemetery at this location.

We read about the battle and read each sign at the key locations on the battleground. It seems that Custer had quite an ego and when he came up to the area from the south he spotted what he thought was a fairly good sized Sioux village down on the Greasy Grass Creek. In his typical style he made a quick decision to attack the village. He had attacked and burned a village a few years earlier even though the tribe led by Black Kettle had agreed to comply with the army's demands to lay down arms. He had slaughtered the entire village and burned it to the ground. The northern plains Indians were eager to get revenge on "Long Hair" as they called Custer. Click here for more info on that event.

From Custer's vantage point he was looking at only a small portion of the village since there was a large bluff by the creek that his the major portion of it. He may have only seen less than a third of it. Custer dispatched Major Reno to proceed to the south and attack from that side while he waved his hat and shouted, "Custer's Luck boys. We have found one of the biggest indian villages in Montana." Little did he know that the Sioux had gathered the entire Sioux Nation for a last ditch attack against the whites. When Custer rode over the bluff into the village he found that he had decided to attack the entire Sioux Nation led by the greatest war chiefs that they had. Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and several others.

Reno's attack from the other side of the village did not go well and his troops were wiped out rather quickly. This left Custer immersed in a battle of his own impestous origins with the entire Sioux Nation consisting of thousands of their greatest warriors. His troops of a couple of hundred or so did not stand a chance. The indians attacked ferociously, remember it was Custer who attacked their village first, and proceeded to wipe out Custer's attacking troops in less than half an hour. The entire slaughter of our boys was the result of George Custer's desire to elevate his status as an indian killer extraordinaire and his inflated ego. After reading the details of this famous event one can only say that the Sioux did what any group of people would do when attacked. They defended themselves. Their ferocity was just elevated by the fact that they had been attacked on all fronts by our army that had commited many atrocities against them. This is a dark stain on our history and the native american tribes are still paying a sad legacy for the way the white man treated them in the west. If you are interested in reading more there is a good account here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Devil's Tower

The landscape is now changing from the vast prairies to much hillier terrain. We are skirting the Black Hills formation in western South Dakota. As we continue westward into Wyoming the hills are on each side of us as we follow a valley with very long grades and descents. The view is magnificent. We pass Sturgis, South Dakota where the annual motorcycle gathering takes place every August. This is a major event with bikers from all over the country meeting to show off their bikes and see others. One billboard announces that the Tuttle Family from Orange County Choppers will be there showing off their latest products. Billboards are under construction one after the other along I-90 with mostly Budweiser ads on them. That should give you an idea of what this event will be like. We pass on Sturgis and continue westward. Our goal is the Devil's Tower where we plan to spend the night.

Arriving at Devil's Tower we are astonished at this bizarre geological formation. It is the lava plug of an ancient volcano that is standing after the cone shaped mountain surrounding it was eroded away. This is a magnificent place and the tower has the feel of an ancient sacred place. We see it from our camper and drove to various observation points. This is a very special place. In one location we saw native american prayer cloths tied in a small tree. The tower and the surrounding lands are sacred to several indian tribes and we feel that ourselves. The location is fairly far from the interstate highway and is in the Black Hills National Forest. We saw several deer and as we look out of our front window in the Mothership we see a pasture of gently rolling hills with horses grazing as the sun sets on the Devil's Tower. There is an outdoor showing of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" in a little while. We are going to attend for a bit to relive that old classic movie that was filmed here. We both are pretty tired because of the time changes and the driving so neither of us anticipates sticking it out for the whole movie. The movie starts at 9 pm Mountain Time and that is 11 pm Eastern Daylight Time which our bodies are still running on. But, how could we pass up an outdoor showing of that move at the Devil's Tower? I ask you, "How cool is that?"