AZ Thunderstorm!

Looking out the window, I’d thought of taking a dip in the pool. Pretty windy! I went outside to look around. Light rain, then, ka-BOOM! Okay, no swim this evening. Light rain, just enough to tease the the landscape plants a little bit, but the patio’s still too hot to stay damp. Heat lighting: a parade of kettledrums dances invisibly across the sky. I step out to the pool to inspect what looks like a bird’s nest, blown into the pool. There’ll be lots of skimming tomorrow morning! Then, a blinding flash-CRASH, very close! I wait for the sound of the fire engines, but it never happens. Now, light rainwater trickles lightly down the downspouts. Open the windows and sliders: free air conditioning. This Arizona springtime T-storm may not be much; we’ve seen a lot worse here. But it’s enough to keep me indoors!

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April Nights

It’s 8:00PM and 80 outside tonight in Phoenix. But it’s still April. It’ll be down to the low sixties by midnight. A perfect evening to open the windows and let in all that free air conditioning.

I notice our Home Page hit counter crept up over one million today. Holy cow, how did that happen? We’ve only been open for business here (so to speak) since 1995. So, even though I’ve been working on my BIO and haven’t posted a lot in the last month, folks are still coming to I hope you liked my recent ramble, “Golden Age of Rail.”

My BIO is coming along fine. All the autobiographical content is there. Editing my own writing is a lot harder than editing someone else’s, but I get far fewer complaints.

Nothing on TV tonight, which is good, actually. All my magazine subscriptions come to Phoenix now, and I’ve almost caught up on my reading. That’s good too, because I brought along a book I want to read when I have a nice chunk of uninterruptible time.

I caught one of those introspective pieces The New Yorker is so fond of publishing. I can rarely quite get into that genre. You know: the author looking at his life qua author, him writing about him writing it, comparing himself and his fears and aspirations to those of other authors living and dead, and re-living the trials and exaltation of writing about it as one’s own critic and obituary writer, all wrapped up into one long drawn-out cackling echo of angst and self-doubt. “Spiegel im Spiegel” sums it up: a beautiful musical piece by Arvo Part whose title means “mirrors in mirror” in reference to what you see, looking at yourself with parallel mirrors positioned both front and back. It’s two sides of the same picture, but you get extra thumbnail prints.

The article itself isn’t really the item here, but it’s “Farther Away” by Jonathan Franzen, in the April 18 New Yorker. In fairness, it’s exceptionally well written; as you can tell I just couldn’t quite get into this bit of Byronic self-eulogy.

The one phrase that caught my eye was: “the California woman I live with …”

Okay girls, I bet I know what you’re thinking. Is she so unimportant she doesn’t even rate a name? Everybody else in the story has a name, dead or alive. Is this a throwback to my own parents’ generation when we still heard “the little women” and “the missus” a lot? This is a SURPRISING slip for an author. This author doesn’t give away his age, but Franzen’s somewhat younger than I am based on what he describes of his youth. I’m 67. Is this an anomaly, perhaps just a decent gesture of privacy for this unnamed woman in California he says he yearns to be with? Are we basing harsh judgement on the only one instance where he fails to supply a name, or on the dozens of other instances where he does?

In the last century we would frequently hear married men refer to their spouses as “my wife”, which doesn’t raise any flags until you finally realize they never mention their wives’ names at all. It was a consistent pattern with some men, though never with others, who would always be heard to say “Mary” to the point where you’d pick up who “Mary” was just by context. “My wife” wasn’t an age thing either. I had one married friend ten years my junior who always said “my wife”, and I would tease him about that in earshot of his wife, and the mannerism still remained a complete compulsion with him.

In the case of The New Yorker author Franzen, we may never know for sure, but I’m betting he should have just written “the California woman I used to live with …”

No, still no TV tonight, but I do have the FM radio on, and that’s always tuned my favorite classical station, KBAQ 89.5.  I rarely go to any theater performance, and I am not normally a fan of critics’ reviews. I do have to make an exception for one Chris Curcio, KBAQ’s Theater Critic. I heard the following this afternoon.

You owe it to yourself to check out the KBAQ link to the audio review below. Chris Curcio has an unusually well modulated speaking voice and remarkably succinct and to-the-point commentary, backed up with ample examples of exactly what he’s asserting. Everything about his reviews (normally a very boring event for most of us) is fascinating to listen to. He doesn’t beat around the bush. He awarded this play below zero points out of five, and his review is without doubt the funniest review I have ever heard or read in my life, besides being one of the best-articulated.

Circle Mirror Transformation“, audio file review by Chris Curcio (audio broadcast, April 25)



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Tweets and Timolol

  • “Popslider”: for years I’ve written about the European Starlings who nest in the back yard in Phoenix.  Seems they’re back early this year, if I’m any judge of bird character. We always have the sounds of dove, flickers and the occasional crow. The Starling adds an air of festivity to warm Fall desert mornings. The Starling’s sliding-note whistles are just one sound out of an amazing starling repertoire of calls, mimicry and bird chatter – the original tweet.
  • Timolol (and other eye-drops): This tip is probably quite useless for anyone who does not have to dispense liquid meds into their eyes. A tiny 5 ml bottle of timolol maleate costs about $30. This is a little over a month’s supply (two drops per day). Formulated as a soothing, no-sting liquid gel by Falcon, Timolol coats the inner wall of its container, making it hard to get all of the contents out. Storing an almost empty bottle upside-down can get you up to an extra week’s supply (or more). This also works surprisingly well for thinner liquid drops, such as Azopt, Lumigan, Levobunolol and Dorzolamine. With this simple tip, you can safely reduce your meds bill by extending the useful life of such containers.

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“Rains Down In Africa”

Well now, that’s only the name of the great old song by the group Toto. It’s playing on my system in Phoenix right now. No one’s around to complain about the sound volume. It’s 11PM Mountain Time. I like to point out my body clock is on Pacific time. Even though my body clock says it’s 10PM, I’m not passing up an excuse to say the time change leaves me unrecovered from jet lag. Never mind that I drove down to Phoenix. Never mind that the Pacific storms always follow me down here. We’ll get the snow in Flagstaff tomorrow. We’ll get the rains down in Phoenix. This is a ramble.

I discovered the pool has been losing water – fast. Too cold for swimming, but when the water level is down 6 inches or so, the system takes in air and loses its prime. I think I found the leak, a PVC aerator pipe. My pool man says there’s a shutoff valve we can use to turn just that nonessential part of the system off. That would be nice. Excavate to repair that one section, you might as well rip up the whole east side concrete pool walkway and replace everything. That could run a grand without blinking an eye.

So the pool guy comes tomorrow and then the electrical guy comes Tuesday for the annual “free” electrical inspection, and to fix a back porch light circuit that’s probably infested with spiders. Just contemplating all this surely makes apartment or condo life sound more attractive to the retired leisure set.

The drive to Phoenix was uneventful – 10.5 hours. It’s the first time I’ve been “trapped”: by tomorrow Gorman (Tejon Pass) will probably have plenty of snow. You might be able to get past the LA basin via the Mojave and Bakersfield. But the Tehachapi Pass is still expecting rain and snow right now. I’ve only driven in the snow once or twice as a kid, don’t have chains or know how to put them on, and I’m not interested in learning. I was returning Saturday anyway.

As the current iTunes WAV server plays on, it’s just Another Brick In The Wall.

One of the songs I’ve bookmarked for my “Favorites” playlist is named Long Toi, found in the CD album of the same name by artist Duc Thanh. I have no idea how I found it, but I like it. Actually, I find I enjoy the whole album. Instrumentation is traditional Vietnamese, featuring (I think) a 16-string zither. The songs are traditional folk. You can tell it’s pop music, but with a different cultural zing – many westerners might take it in the spirit of a travelogue movie and say, “how cool!”

Some of my other musical tastes, like Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, do drive many of my friends nuts. I may no longer care for driving in the snow, but I still like adventure.

I was also thinking about the year I served in Vietnam, way back when. I was proud enough to serve my country.  What a shame how it all turned out.  Dove or Hawk, most of us realized  at some point we had no national idea what in hell we were supposed to be doing over there. Everybody had their own theory.  Some still do. Fact is, history shows we neither defended our own country in Vietnam, or theirs.

Just now the haunting Beggar for the Blues is playing, on the ’60’s album Bashin’ by Jimmy Smith. If you really like blues, Smith’s keyboard jazz mastery on that big theater organ, the incredibly excellent backup orchestra and percussion of Oliver Nelson (or any of those three alone), the CD is still available at Amazon and other purveyors. I digitized this cut from the original vinyl. Personally, I think Smith often goes over the top with the keyboard, but this guy could play jazz, and this cut is a must for any collection.

Another one to look out for, if you even think you like jazz piano, is Summertime, from the CD The Best of the Ray Brown Trio – also currently available from the usual sources. Also don’t miss Brown’s wistful, dreamy, evocative cut That’s All. Even friends who say “normally I don’t care for jazz” write that Brown’s keyboard is not to be believed until heard. Utterly astounding playing – and truly wonderful music too.

All in all, it’s a wonderful night for “cocooning” – staying warm and dry indoors. Go. Put on one last good record or CD. In another half hour or so, it’ll really be time for bed. G’night!

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Phoenix in October

About 67 degrees at 9AM. With the windows open all night, the house cooled down to 63 overnight.

Ahh, Phoenix in October! May and October are the two perfect months. You open the windows at night, and the AC won’t kick on until the following midafternoon. We’re getting daytime temps in the low 80’s, a light breeze, and – despite a slight chance of rain early in the week (a nonevent) – clear blue skies and clear nights.

The eye doc cleared me for air travel about a week ago. The eye surgery seems to have turned out fine. I’ve been in Phoenix a few days now. After an 8 week absence, plenty of routine maintenance chores awaited, but no showstoppers. It’s nice to be here. I have one more repair to do on the drip watering system, and putter in the yard, and the rest of the day’s mine.

I fly back north tomorrow. The clock starts ticking again on the big move to Phoenix when the eye doc says “we’re done”, expected in a few weeks now.

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Morning Report

Hot Enuf

Hot Enuf

Yep, that reads 105 in the shade , and it will be over 110 by mid-afternoon. It’ll get hotter through the weekend.  They say it’s due to a high pressure cell over the Phoenix area, but what else would we expect in Phoenix in July?

In other news, the latest Scientific American has a feature article on biofuels.  It’s “good-bye Corn” and “hello Grass” – the switchgrass weed or even plain old lawn clippings can be made into large-scale biofuel resources. This is important: not only does it look bad when the wealthiest nation is diverting corn, a nutrient and water-hungry worldwide food resource, into biofuel — it’s an inefficient way to replace coal and petrochemicals.

Biofuels should be looked at as the stopgap they are, and not as a way to reduce our contribution to global climate change.  While importantly reducing our dependence on increasingly scarce world petroleum reserves, biofuels contribute to the CO2 greenhouse buildup just as rapdly as more familiar products from Shell, Exxon and Chevron. It would be a leap of the imagination to expect electric cars in every garage by tomorrow morning, but the sooner we are able to regard the internal combustion engine as a “legacy device”, the better.

We can’t just stop using legacy fuels and devices, we can only transition with all deliberate speed.  At the moment I am grateful for anything that keeps the AC running here. Opening the windows at night is no good when it only gets down to 88F at night. I would like a device that costs under $10 and  converts sunlight directly into a heat pump. But who wouldn’t?

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Speeding Photo Enforcement

The ticket arrived in my California mailbox yesterday, from the Arizona automated traffic enforcement folks.

At first, I thought this must be some kind of bizarre mistake.

But it wasn’t. At the bottom of the citation was a front-view photo of me driving (photo arguable), and rear-view of my license plate (unquestionably me). The date and time exactly matched my California-bound departure from Phoenix. I left the house at 6:01AM on the 4th, and the picture was taken at 6:21AM, vicinity of the 10 mile post at 59th Avenue.

I do remember seeing a photo enforcement warning sign. Even though there is hardly anyone on the road that early in the morning, I figured I was driving 3mph over the limit and should be OK. The AZ limit on Interstate 10 is 75. I looked for patrol cars in the rear view mirror. Seeing none, I again assumed I was OK.

Welcome to the wonderful world of fully automated enforcement. I had read about it, but didn’t quite “get it” – this was my first encounter.

The fine was $181.50. The trouble was, this close to town, the limit was still 65.

Speeders never prosper (still image)

Speeders never prosper

There’s a web page where I was able to pay the fine and view a video of my infraction. I wasn’t able to save the video to my PC, so got a screen capture. Other vehicles in the video appeared to be traveling roughly the same speed. Recession or not, Arizona should be making a tidy little bundle on this stretch of road.

But no matter. I should have known better. Now, you can bet I will never forget this stretch of highway – which is what the fines are designed to do anyway.

And, if one were thinking of contesting the speed, it’s not measured by photometrics, or even by radar. The camera is connected to physical in-road sensors. The images are encrypted and tamper-proof. For fixing vehicular speed, it’s really a lot cheaper and more scientifically objective than a traffic cop’s citation. I don’t think one could argue successfully there was any mistake at all.

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Ah, Phoenix!

Mexican Poppies - Nikon D70

Ah, Phoenix! This first weekend of March, it’s T-shirt weather (low 70’s), the sun is bright and makes everything crystal clear, and the winter rains have brought a profusion of poppy blooms to the back yard (see also our posting in Photo NOTES).

It’s impossible not to sit out on the back porch. It’s quiet and peaceful. Some European Starling is doing a credible imitation of a cat meowing. Other Starlings are making their more celebrated “popslider” sound. The palms abound with a dozen different species of happily chirping birds, and one could only imagine that the whole worls is at peace.

Winter rains have also brought a profusion of weeds. I’ve hired a guy to tackle the front yard on his own timetable over the next two weeks, with the lure of cash when the job is complete. It’s too much for me to tackle by myself – I spent an hour on a 25 square foot patch out by the driveway. I hope it works out.

I return to the Bay Area early tomorrow AM – with Spring Training down here in Phoenix, all the other flights were already booked up weeks ago. People say you can rent out a house for a grand a night. I bet those houses don’t have weed-choked front yards, though. 

Wish I could stay here for a week. Right now, here, today, at this instant, the weather is the kind of cool idyllic tranquility you remember for years. But that’s the kind of treat that makes such a short weekend turnaround so especially worthwhile. 

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2008 Drive to Phoenix

Drive-by shootingThis is what you get when, driving solo, you stick a point-and-shoot out the window, keeping your eyes on the road, and point, and shoot.

Eastbound on the I-210 Pasadena Freeway headed for Riverside CA and the junction of I-10, I missed a fine shot of Mt. Baldy and finally settled on these snow-capped peaks. Soon we will begin the ascent of the Tehachapis and the long descent back down into the Mojave, which is quite cool (about 79-81 degrees) this time of year.

The trip began when I departed Castro Valley at 6AM. I was going to top off the tank before getting onto the freeway, but somebody had run over a skunk by the gas station, and I thought better of stopping. It is dark this time of the morning, but you could see the faint glow of twilight off in the east. By Crow’s Landing on I-5, the sun was one solar diameter above the horizon of the San Joaquin Valley, a dark crimson orb pushing through light fog and haze.

By anyone’s accounting, the north-south I-5 through California’s great Central Valley is a stark, barren drive, with the highlights being the occasional vast feedstock lots, and, as you approach Bakersfield, the alkali deposits that leach out of the fields from decades of heavy fertilization and hard water irrigation. But I like it, except for the smell of the feedlots (which was oddly absent this year). To look at the land, with its white-laced powdery ashen sandy soil, you would never suspect that this state manages to grow enough food to supply the state and most of the nation with an unimaginable abundance of fruit, vegetable, and beef.

Further on around Bakersfield, the land projected an eery, otherworldly appearance as the “fog” thickened. Visibility was still several miles, but faded rapidly. Nearby objects appeared hazy, while distant objects revealed ghosts of disembodied appartions floating on the gloom. The fog revealed a faint trace of dirty reddish gray-brown, proof that a large component of the poor visibility was really just smog. Backlit by the low winter morning sun, this soup made for poor visibility and challenging driving.

A glimpse of the sky ahead of the horizon offered a truly jolting sight. The gray silhouette of a huge mountainscape towered over the highway for an instant through the haze: gray on gray. Then it disappeared, then loomed above once again, with hints of snow on the peaks. Signs announced “Grapevine” and “trucks use weigh station”. We began the mighty ascent to Gorman Pass. This is roughly the halfway point on the trip from the SF Bay Area to Phoenix.

I always underestimate the vastness of the LA basin, the intimidating traffic and the confusing, last-minute highway signing. I take the Pasadena Freeway at Sylmar to bypass as much of LA as possible. These freeways are engineered for commute traffic, not interstate traffic. Most people are afraid to use the HOV lanes (2 or more passengers) even on a Saturday. Traffic is skittish and can go from 75mph to a full stop in fifteen seconds. Honking motorists pass a lady on a cellphone crawling along at 35 mph in the fast lane in a brand-new SUV. I can hardly WAIT to get out of here.

You break loose of all this past Riverside. The Interstate-10 reduces to two good lanes in each direction. From here on out to Phoenix, truckers own the road. It’s trucks passing trucks passing trucks. With a little patience, a V-6 or V-8 can zip through this when breaks of clear lane are offered, though it’s divided freeway all the way, a smart move in my opinion. The days of pulling out into the oncoming lanes and stomping it into passing gear are long gone.

The other thing I always underestimate is the vastness of the desert. There’s over 100 miles of Mojave between Riverside and Blythe, on the Colorado River. Breaking through to the “Welcome to Arizona” sign on the bridge is always cause for cheering. “Phoenix: 196 miles” seems like it’s all downhill. 

At 100 miles outside of Phoenix, you can see the Superstition Mountains far away on the horizon, though dimly. You can also see an obvious white hemisphere of smog enveloping Phoenix, like a geodesic dome. As you approach mile 36, you realize the traffic and the atmosphere is not that much different from the LA basin you just fled.

Two-car garageFrom this point, the commute to the garage at the house in Phoenix took as long as the trip from Blythe to the outskirts of metro Phoenix.

But it is always good to get home. Pictured in the garage are the California car (backed in) and the Arizona car. It is the only other photo I was able to take.

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