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February 4, 2024  Crossing Words Update

This is a follow-up to my March 2023 post below) regarding the NYT crossword solving. I subsequently kept at it April, May and June. Then halfway through July travel deserved more attention so I slacked off on keeping up with daily solving. I picked back up Oct and Nov, slacked in Dec, and crushed it in Jan. So it seems I'll ebb and flow in both available time and periods of break and obsession. I feel the on/off periodization also helps build long-term knowledge growth. 

I had logged enough solves to know my expected time to spend, and to date they are: M=20 minutes, T=30, W=50, Thu-Sat=1.5 hours, and Sun=2.5 hours. (Reading the clues and entering letters/words takes about 12 minutes minimum if taking almost no time to derive answers along the way.) I've developed a routine of working up to a certain time limit give the day and then kick into hint mode so as not to burn too much time.

Statistics are: 8-12 gold solves per month earlier on and recently 16 gold solves in January (boom!), first Friday solve came in April, and first Saturday in May (that was a glorious day). I've solved 3 Sundays w/o hints. I had a 5-day streak in April, then finally a 6-day streak in November. Hard days (Fri, Sat and Sun) solves are happening more frequently (still very tough) and feel especially exhilarating when they happen. Often times those Fri and Sat ones start off with just 2-3 words after initial walkthrough and I feel like it's going to be a complete slaughter, but sometimes they reveal. And sometimes it takes putting it down and coming back later or the next day. Those solves are addicting. And every time I learn something, a new word, historical info, random facts, spelling variations. Excellent mental exercise and sometimes conversation material.

There's been definite improvement. I've come a long way since the March 31 post, using less hints along the way, decreasing solve time, and solving not only a Sunday but amazingly Friday and Saturday puzzles too. I've exceeded my expectations and now feel like I have arrived. I'm no speed demon, but I can confidently call myself a NYT crossword solver. Goal achieved!

January's record is below. Blue = solved but used hint(s) (revealing mistakes or letters) and gold = completed without hints.

January 11, 2023 Year in Review - Highlights

As I do every year as it winds to a close, I reflect upon the places gone, experiences, and mainly bright spots to remember. There were also, as always, lowlights - which I'll not put here as they're often too personal (for me or others in my life). Overall, 2023 was filled with highlights, one of the best years of my life (continuing from 2022).  Travel experiences and adventure were certainly in focus as I spent 240 days away from home while still keeping well-connected with friends and family (both at home and on the journeys).

September 7, 2023 - Vroom Vroom Crash

Don't Panic! The crash is not as a result of the vroom vroom. They're merely sounds, unrelated sounds. Sounds from two different activities on different days.

Vroom Vroom: Back in November 2022, I took the PA Motorcycle Safety Program Basic Rider Course provided by the Motorcycle Safety Academy. As a PA resident, this is provided free of charge - materials, instructors, closed riding course and motorcycles, all free! An amazing resource and very high quality. There is significant effort required to study for and pass the test to get a permit, then study all of the e-learning materials, attend the class, and spend two days on the riding course advancing through ever-increasing challenges, then take and pass the seven point riding test. And then, you earn your motorcycle license.

Naturally, if you don't use the skill, you lose it. So it took until August this year to get around to renting a motorcycle and finding a willing friend to go on a ride on the open road. Back, country roads of course, limiting the exposure to other motorists and enjoying the flowing curves. On a beautiful sunny day, thanks to Les, I rode an Indian Scout 120 miles. Top speed was a brief 70, which was plenty anxiety for me.

Crash: The sound of the bowling ball striking the pins, over and over in an impressive amount of action (for me). Sandwiched in the middle of two mediocre games was a surprising string of 10 frames that resulted in a score of 183 that I believe is my lifetime best! Previously I  can only find record of bowling a 166 in 2017. So here it is in all of my absolutely amateur level and infrequent bowling glory. For contrast and historical record, I also have the scorecard from my first ever bowling games when I was 7 years old (rolled a 71 and a 54 as a young one).

Trainee on trainer

Basic Rider Course

2023 Indian Scout

Above: Turkey to start; Below: 1st time

August 22 2023 - Long Long Journey

Enya's song Long Long Journey came instantly to mind as I started to write this. So be it. It describes well enough in title and lyrics the long journey that finally concluded on August 7, upon the summit (and subsequent safe decent to terra firma) of Alpamayo, in the Ancash region of Peru, nestled in the Cordillera Blanca section of the Andes mountain range. The name means possibly "earth river" or "slim mountain covered in snow". To me, the latter is more descriptive, but so is "incredibly steep, long, fluted glorious face of ice and snow and dramatic knife-edge ridge line guarded by overhanging cornice and gigantic mushrooms!" I'm not sure what the Quechuan word would be for that though.

Some time back in 2006 or perhaps in the year or two before, an old friend of mine, Brad, and I came across a picture of this mountain. I don't recall if we had designs to go the the Andes in Peru first or this mountain was the reason to go. These were the years of my fast-growing climbing skills with no edge or boundaries presenting themselves yet, so a one- thousand foot, final, steep ice face at nearly 20,000 feet of elevation was reasonable to tackle. We got the plans together, gathered intel from some friends that had gone to the region in the prior years, and found a third partner, Dan, to join in the international adventure. This would be my second international and high-altitude mountain trip and first time to South America. We had climbed a lot of rock and ice together, so it was time to build team skills, trust, and comradery by climbing four Canadian Rockies peaks in a 10-day trip. Mission accomplished.

In July 2007 we embarked with our most detailed and comprehensive plan (15-page document) to Lima, took a 5-day trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu, and then onto Huaraz as our base of operations for the mountain. Our excellent host and logistics coordinator gave us the bad news when we told her our plan. Alpamayo typically develops a large cornice overtop of the most spectacular (and popular) face to climb. It tends to grow over several years and reaches a point where its weight causes it to break off and plummet down the face, wiping everything out in its path. It had been growing over the past several years and was now considered extremely dangerous and risky. No one was climbing that mountain so we'd best refocus on alternatives. We were deflated.

We eventually dealt with the depression and got on board with heading up a different valley, Quebrada Ishinca, where we could tackle increasingly difficult peaks starting with Urus Este, then Ishinca, and finishing on Tocllaraju, which was my first time at nearly 20,000 feet and climbing ice at that height to boot. Once again we were in the prime of our lives, so we climbed all three with very little rest between and returned to Huaraz with still time on our hands. We re-packed and headed out to climb the 3,000 (or 4,000)-foot snow/ice southeast face of Artesonraju. Aside from the very large challenge, it is almost certainly the logo of Paramount Pictures - who doesn't want to say they climbed that every time you're in a theater!? It was a beast of a mountain and bold route, the hardest any of us had ever attempted - it took an 18-hour summit push to complete. The trip ended up leaving us with deep satisfaction and, for me, a lasting infatuation with Peru.

It's likely we brought our victories home, got onto other things, and never really put a timeline on returning for the original goal. Or perhaps we did, but life did eventually pull us in different directions and locations. This little dream team disbanded, but that "most beautiful mountain in the world" was still in my mind and what may have started out as a dull sense of longing to return would grow through the years. I found distraction in heading to the Himalaya to climb Ama Dablam (also lays claim to the "most beautiful", and I agree that it deserves the title) and the Matterhorn, and other absolutely beautiful mountains and routes that called to me. But as I climbed these others, and removed other not-so-interesting mountains from my desirements list, Alpamayo raised up to ultimately be the remaining one I really wanted to climb. It began in 2014 with a light attempt to start up plans, then every other year after that with growing desire and polling of potential partners. Work kept getting in the way and a slew of other distractions. Finally, in 2022 I put together a killer slideshow sure to draw many takers - it was time to get back to Peru and my personal mission for the trip: Alpamayo. Indeed we pulled together 13 people that were sold on my passion for Peru, 7 of us to focus on Alpamayo and the others would seek out a trek in the beautiful mountains, a gentler mountain to attempt, and all the wonder of the Sacred Valley. It was on!

Flash forward to the July/August trip that just came to a close. Indeed Peru still amazes with its warm people living still in accordance with Mother Earth (Pachamama), dressed in colorful natural and hand-spun fabrics, land of llamas and alpacas, incredible wide skies of every shade of blue, stunning southern night skies unpolluted with city lights, striking white, serrated Andean peaks, cuisine that bursts with the flavors of freshly harvested whole foods, and rarified air that feels both hard to breath yet clears the mind and body - you learn to live in a higher place and it's addicting.

Flash forward even more as I sat upon the summit ridge, alone, for a good amount of time while belaying my partners up from below. I felt the immenseness of time, such a long, long time ago since I had first seen the photo which created the first spark, the long smoldering, the eventual growth into flame and fire and burning desire. The final year of planning and preparation. The week of acclimatizing and another week of approach, hauling heavy loads upon the foot and eventually flanks towards the apex which was so high above. Passing from low valleys, into canyons, up past streams, rivers, following the flow through alpine fields up to the final green growth giving way to boulders and scree, the centuries of wear and break down of the higher mountains. Into the barren moraine, steepening, dusty and dirt pathways bearing loads higher. Moving tents bit by bit, day by day to further and higher along. Finally spying the start of the snow at over 15,000'. Discussing and  re-discussing details and daily plans, minimizing gear and shuttling as the breathing gets harder with every 500 feet higher. Avoiding serious illness, tuning into every feeling in your body seeking signs of weakness that may end your journey. Ignoring the growing aches, pains and fatigue. Out onto the snow and ice, glacier and crevasses trying to swallow you requiring roundabout snaking up higher, jumping small, then medium, then large gaps. Hard, long struggle higher using crampons and now ropes to protect each other, then ice tools to climb steeper terrain to finally gain a saddle at 18,000' to breathlessly set up a high camp. No place to linger, just long enough to dig deeper and find any ounce of strength left to use to try to ascent that final, massive, steep face into the clouds, past the icy guardians in the night in hopes that she will let you pass. Small creatures creeping up upon the sleeping dragon's tail, in the cold darkness of the night, up onto the shoulder and eventually neck, treading lightly - no missteps allowed, falling is not an option. Fighting past the frozen feet, hands, toes, fingers, and the sheer pain of reheating. 150' at a time, then a 200' foot pitch, one hour after another, from snow to just solid ice, past the dim first light expanding to fill the valleys below but leaving you in the cold, SW shadow of the mountain. Enter the clouds, imagining every highest point you can see is the last and when you reach it realize there's still yet another higher point, and force yourself to move as every five steps results in gasping breaths that will never sate. Until finally the slope ends and the abyss is now in front and behind you.

I sat upon that summit ridge and with the sense that it was nearly done, the relief flows, the anxiety drops away, the exhaustion slakes off, and vastness of time collapses as if an internal vacuum opened up and sucked in all of those points of time. Tears of joy and relief well up and a deep inner smile and maybe sadness (that it's over?) overwhelms. It's deeply moving. It comes in waves. Though there is no added visual impact of the certainly spectacular view, it's still enough to make the mind spin and feel the weight of the mountain lifted - a gift of ultimate lightness. A vision, the mission, and the dream realized. Yeah, it's emotional. Those words are simple compared to the full feeling.

My partners join me and the clouds clear a bit for just a brief moment, enough to get a peek at our position. Then we make the narrow trek across the corniced ridge, the brain unable to fully comprehend the distance down and away on either side of the body - the clouds help dull the senses. We traverse and up a bit until there is no more "up". The end, the point we set our sights upon so long ago. It's quiet, so very quiet. The mountain, thankfully, still sleeps or at least permits our trespass. As I step down from the apex, I lay my hand upon the surface. I whisper my respects: "Thank you for allowing me to come here, for letting us pass safely, for your spirit and sanctity."

Celebration of hugs and words takes place back down in high camp. Full celebration (a beer and a bit of liquor shared around and more fervent revelry) takes place back down in base camp where we are definitely free of all risk. More smiles and open enjoyment down in the first bit of civilization, the first village, and then back in the major town. Though all is physically complete, the mind still holds onto the experience until the plane has landed and returned to "home". After all of the urgent matters are put to rest and there's time to pull up pictures and let it fully settle in, I take a bit of time and put my thoughts, soon to be memories, into these words. It's only now that it feels fully that the long long journey is finally, believably, at an end. 

<-- The small dots in the flute by the large "mushrooms" nearing the summit is us!:

June 25 2023 - Crossing the Distance

More travel began in earnest in April: a return to Greece, then onto Turkey, followed by the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, and then Alaska. In April, I passed out of the first year of retirement.  Even with a fairly intense activity level, it still feels strange to a year has passed already. Travels have taken me to a new world city, country, and further north than previously by four more degrees to Barter Island, Alaska. Specifics tracked as always on Travel page. It's been extra-special to connect or travel with friends on most of the recent journeys.

March 31 2023 - Crossing Words

I used to do crossword puzzles. As a young tike, I recall doing them in the newspapers (our local paper and the US Today) on occasion, in some crossword books, and the inflight magazines on planes. Like many things, it was a regular affair in my home (my father did them regularly) so I took them up as well. He would go on to be a regular, daily solver and my dedication would fade. I don't know how we got the New York Times, maybe a family or friend of the family gave him the puzzles, but I do recall seeing them. Or maybe a combination of running into them myself and giving them a go, but they were practically impenetrable. I eventually got bit too many times and put them mentally out of reach. A moat I've kept all these years. Like lots of things I used to love, working life didn't leave me time to pick them back up. Until lately.

On a recent trip with one of my besties, Mike, I observed him pick up and start working the NYT crossword. With an alcoholic beverage in hand! I glanced it over and it seemed just as cryptic as I recalled from the past. How was HE solving that? I also had previously made a goal for this time in life, which was (is) "Crossword puzzles on occasion, perhaps the Monday NYT" (Monday is the start of the week which progresses in difficulty, so I figured that would be my big goal just to get to that level).  So, this encounter was the shove I needed. My brain registered "if he can do it, then I damn well will too someday - time to take a step in that direction."

That was early February. I tiptoed into it. I subscribed to NYT Games. I read up. I learned. I got into a daily groove. I turned off some friends with my solving attention and I connected with others that were also regular solvers. And early on, thanks to the "minis" and Mondays, I discovered I CAN do the NYT crossword! I can even do Monday and Tuesday with regular success. I'm not fast, but as with most challenges, I am persistent. Eventually I succeeded at a Wednesday. Thursdays get very tricky. Friday and Saturday are still tough, tough grounds. Sundays are just big (21 x 21 grid instead of 15 x 15), moderate difficulty, and they seem to be achievable. I'm now fully sucked in. I'm back. And I'm pleased as punch that this thing that seemed impossible for decades, is actually not. I found a drawbridge across the moat.

Though not an exact, chronological progression, the records below show February and March stats. Blue = finished but used help features (checking or revealing letters, words, etc.) and gold = finished without any help. Of course, anyone can research and look up clues/answers and avoid using the help features, but I try to keep that to a minimum. I go as long and hard as I can and once I grow weary I start to use the crutches to pry loose a little more progress and get to done. I've only just begun and there's always something new to be learned, so you have to accept that.  It's early but cool to see some minor improvements in the first two months: 8 clean solves for month 1, and 11 for month 2. Mondays and Tuesdays are kind of a wash, but I believe the 3 helps in month 2 were just single letters that were incorrect and I just used help to find them rather than waste a lot more time. Very proud of the 4-day streak in month 2, which includes a Thursday. Next month's goal/hope: solve a Sunday clean. All in all, I'm so much further along than I ever would have expected. I suspect I may be in this all the way to the end now. Not a bad thing and I'm in good company - there are a LOT of NYT solvers out there!

P.S. Wordplay is quite good.

March 20 2023 - Chasing Avalanches

Been a long time on the desirements list, so finally did this:

March 13 2023 - Cynical on Cyclical Complaints

Semi-annual time shifts always seemed to create complaints and small talk but it seems to be amplified more recently. Perhaps social media, perhaps just desperation to try to fix something that seems simple instead of tackling the really big issues.

Continuous calls for US lawmakers to legislate this problem for us suffering citizens (this year it's the "Sunshine Protection Act" - ludicrous in name and overwrought approach to something that can be done more simply) are almost as exhausting as the year-long re-election periods. "Surveys show" claims never have enough data to validate them, primarily, did the representative sample data include all latitudes and longitudes, those in school, in 9-5 jobs, shift workers, and all varying degrees of dependency upon the almighty clock?  There are three camps: 1) abolish DST, 2) keep DST always, 3) keep the shift.  It really does depend upon very personal factors:

These web pages/tools help you to grasp just how subjective it can be and align you personally with the best system (assuming your dependence upon the clock, latitude/longitude, and proximity to time zone borders don't change):

Personally, IF I'm spending the majority of time at my home, always using DST would benefit me 37 more days per year. Um...wow, 10% improvement (however, as I'm NOT currently spending a large majority of time at my home, this is not correct).

You'll never please everyone, so shifting around will spend a LOT of energy and money, politically. After all, "the grass is always greener on the side fertilized with bullshit." -M. Housel.  Mark my words (oh, wait...done by publishing here!), if we do shift the process, in less than five years, a sizeable population will be complaining about the aspects (cons) of the new system.

I can't help but feel that spending time (ha!), energy, and dollars on moving (or not moving) the clock hands around is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. C'mon people, our home is rapidly declining towards an untenable state. Maybe focus on that instead? Nah, let's watch some more TV - pass me the last few jars of caviar.

February 17 2023 - Tech Grows and Shrinks

Monitors/TVs get bigger and bigger. Most other tech (at least the core components) gets smaller, faster, lighter, and cheaper.  I've been waiting for external backup storage (still doing this in addition to my constant cloud mirroring) to reach this point to make my (hopefully) final upgrade. 2 terabytes now in solid state, no separate power supply, a sixteenth of the size, 2 versus 40 ounces, and just a bit more cost (adjusted for inflation) than the last purchase (2011). $150. Amazing!

February 4 2023 - What Do You Want To Do Next?

I added a subsection under Games and Role Playing section on interactive fiction / text adventure games on the Indoors page, and an associated new page for Interactive Fiction.

Paraphrasing here for the news reel...

Starting in 2022 I finally took the time to dive back into this old passion of mine, playing some adventures small and large, watching documentaries, listening to podcasts, and coming up to date with the community. I started re-developing my own old adventures in new tools and code such as TAB, Twine, Adrift, and Inform.  To date I've finished two out of three. My first game called Palace of the Silver Princess is available upon request. My second IF game called Xanadu is available on ThinBASIC Adventure Builder's (TAB) Catventure site.

December 30 2022 Year in Review - Highlights and Firsts

As I do every year as it winds to a close, I reflect back upon the places gone, experiences, and mainly bright spots to remember. There were also, as always, lowlights - which I'll not put here as they're often to personal (for me or others in my life). Overall, 2022 was filled with highlights, one of the better years of my life. Some of these may seem simple, but for me they were "firsts," and so brough great joy in small packages.

November 16 2022 Hope is the Counterpart of Fear

I have fully realized how powerful and affecting fear is and how sad that it plays such a large part in too many lives - to the point of disabling much of the "living" that could have been. Irrational fear, not the kind when a grizzly bear is charging you or you're teetering on the edge of an abyss with no restraint.

I like the poignancy of these quotes:

“Everything you’ve ever wanted is sitting on the other side of fear.” -George Addair

"On the other side of fear lies freedom." attributed to JB Glossinger, Marilyn Ferguson, and many others (who ever really knows who said anything "first"!?)

Through my readings in the past year, mainly works by Seneca, Holiday, Burkeman, Sivers, (see Books for details,) and loads of listening to interviews of thought leaders and deeper dives into stoicism, I have come to think of "hope" in a different way that I had up until now. It was a real epiphany to to ultimately come to conclusion that hope and fear are really the same thing. Such odd bedfellows considering the conventional thinking of each separately. Their roots lie together in our mortality. They both distract us from thoughts of our finality. To give them no quarter is to find true freedom.

“Hecato says, ‘cease to hope and you will cease to fear.’ . . . The primary cause of both these ills is that instead of adapting ourselves to present circumstances we send out thoughts too far ahead.” —Seneca, Moral Letters

This will take time to fully embrace and embody, however, perception was the first step.

September 12 2022 Time Warp and Reboot

Nearly nine years have gone by.  I MAY have interest in rebooting this site.  Well, I guess I have sort of done that since, um, here it is!  Ported some content over from the old site which was composed and maintained using Dreamweaver to  this new hosting and site manager by Google.  I've migrated most the former content except for all of the Excursions' extra materials (individual trip pages, logs, photo albums.)  I brought forward the news archives, however am leaving the pictures within them behind - just too much work to port and layout all of it. I guarantee there will be MANY broken links in the News archives, so not likely worth your time clicking on them.

For now I'm happy I achieved one of my goals for this year to migrate and relaunch. I'm making no commitment to keep this relatively up to date. After all, there's zero readership which may expand to a couple of friends once I let them know. 

 Here's a snapshot of where we last left off in 2016:

January 6 2013 - 2012 in Review

I received a couple of holiday card/letters which do a nice job of filling me in on my friend's lives over the past year. Since I stopped sending Christmas cards in the mid-90s, I fell just a brief touch of guilt when going through all the cards sent to me each year. I like to at least reply back to some of the more distant friends via email to say thanks for the card/letter, and so can direct them here for what's been happening in my life.

2012 was definitely a most enjoyable year for me, falling strongly in the column of "high quality years". As always, feeding the needs was an important factor. It had been a long time since any serious mountaineering. I had to glance over Excursions to recall the last was Breckenridge in 2010 which was a fairly easy day trip and then back to 2009 (another one of those "high quality years") in Colorado and Wyoming, the details of which are noted on my Climbing Resume. Furthermore, the last high altitude, big mountain trip was in 2007. So as thing finally aligned at the beginning of 2012, it seemed the next big alpine goal would be Denali (AKA Mt. McKinley), in Alaska. I spent the first five months of the year bent to this task - planning, preparing, and training. Aside from work and sleep, little else received my attention.

After the month-long trip in May, the month of June was spent just barely treading water as I returned to a hectic work schedule and a six-month backlog of neglected "life". In July, my work contract ended (somewhat unexpectedly but most welcome!) and I spent the next 3 months putting my life back together. Searching for a job for the rest of the year became my job (I believe I'm finally close to a new one here in January.) I took the opportunity to sign on with the Boy Scouts and work their Camp Guyasuta COPE course where we had over 6,000 elementary and high school participants this year.

I've given a lot of attention to the Explorers Club of Pittsburgh (ECP), finally becoming an officer (Activity Chair) and have just been re-elected for another term in 2013. I continue to serve as committee member and instructor for the Mountaineering School, and also instructed for our 2nd annual Backpacking School. I've given a load of time (one of the dangers of having a little more than usual) to club activities this year. There's an old phrase (lyric) from that "other" Canadian Trio, Triumph, I've always been fond of: "The love you send out returns to you in time." And it certainly did this year as I was nominated and voted in by the membership as the latest Flag Member, the 30th in the club's 65 year history.

with Felix, gracious nominator

with Christina O'Donnell (daughter), Bruce (friend), and Milie Jirak (founder)

I had organized a trip to Ouray, CO for year's end, but the financial stretch was too much so I fell back on a more local favorite, Adirondacks, NY and celebrated with more than a dozen other friends. On the last day of the year I finally sent one of the more aggressive ice climbing goals in the Dacks called Power Play.

It's often said that you either have the time but no money or money but no time. I've long ago realized that time is the most precious of all and even when money is tight you have to take advantage of having the time. This year's annual trip to Kingdom Trails fell into September which was meant VT dressed in glorious fall colors. Autumn in PA is nice, but VT really blew me away. Next, thanks to the persistence, organizational efforts, and gracious offer to join Glen and Jenny on the second half of their European vacation, I finally visited Germany including the notable Oktoberfest.

In general, I made a strong effort to reconnect with long out of touch friends in the latter half of the year and consider it highly successful. It was wonderful catching up with everyone. One high point was finally getting out to Seattle to visit Adam since he moved there 7 years ago (and reminded me as such with every passing year).

This year was densely packed with milestone events for many (birthdays, anniversaries). I won't mention specifics, but those we celebrated were my mother, father, sister, brother-in-law, aunt and uncle, and another aunt. Sadly, we lost some very special people: my Uncle Vince and "aunt" Shirley. This was also a family reunion year, so family was definitely in high focus this year.

Though the to do list is still long as ever, I did spend some time organizing future plans. 2013 has quite a few great adventures lined up. 2012 will be a tough act to follow, but try we must!

January 5 2013 - This is (clearly) not a Blog

So I'm a bad "blogger". Ever since they came to the web, I've held the opinion that they weren't practical, or at the very least, not MY style. Frankly, I am surprised that they have apparently become a well-established web feature. While blogs are a good format of personal/professional broadcast for many, I always felt a full-fledge website was a more appropriate web presence. I guess I'm a collector and cataloger at heart. As I see my last post here was back in 2010 I guess I haven't changed. And though I know and believe personal journaling is important, I sadly don't keep up with that either.

November 19 2010 - Test For Echo

<echo...echo...>

Is anyone still there? Am I still here?

Seriously. nearly EIGHT months since the last post? I wish I had a story of world wandering, a vision quest, or alien abduction. Alas, it's just been one hell of a "busy" period. I've been in reaction mode on just about every front. Nuff said. Moving on to some news capsules...

Sadly, DR. IVAN L. JIRAK passed away at age 84, peacefully surrounded by his family, on Thursday, November 18, 2010. I last wrote of him here. As the founder of the Explorers Club of Pittsburgh (ECP), he blazed the trail of exploration and adventure from Pittsburgh to all corners of the world and built an enduring family to keep the paths well-worn. Thank you Ivan, you'll be missed but will shine on in the stars that guide our way.

October 15, 2010 would have been KC's 19th birthday. Sadly, she shared the fate of Julius Ceaser (not the stabbing part) and fell on the Ides of March at 18 and half years. She was a fine feline friend for many years. As a gift from Dan at a time when pets were prohibited where I lived, we got off to a rocky start. We spent a few years apart, rejoined, suffered failing kidneys in the final years (the house will suffer the stains and smells forever), and enjoyed many sunny days on the patio together. She'll be missed, but that was my first and last long-living pet. I still sometimes experience a mirage of her coming around a bend into the room, or hear phantom footfalls and even a meow or two. Her spirit lingers.

In her final, feeble year, she pulled down the wine rack breaking only one bottle - a miracle in more than one way. The one that broke was the oldest, prized bottle: a Chateau Mauregard Bordeaux from 1990. I'm not a wine snob, but I did purchase a few finer bottles back in the day, and this was the jewel that remained. I wonder what it would have tasted like. Time to buy another Bordeaux and I'll check back in 20 more years I guess.

I returned to coastal Maine this year, had a class reunion (not telling which one), finally found someone that would hire me, am winding down my last company, bough a new (used) car and sold the old one for a total of 5 vehicle buys and sells in the past 2 years. I've attended to a couple of long-overdue house maintenance projects, put financial affairs in order, saw Rush and Roger Waters in concert, also saw Porcupine Tree and The Flaming Lips.

I think that about catches things up. Don't touch that dial!

March 27 2010 - Brainwashing with Bottled Water

<mounting soapbox>

Ridiculous! We all thought bottled water was ridiculous. Remember the early days of commercial expansion, when packaging of smaller amounts than the Polar Water gallons first began and Perrier started to see its first competition (here in the US)? We all thought the same thing: "who would pay for water? It's free!" On a trip to Europe last year it was shocking to wander through old villages and towns where public fountains were prominent and often times free-flowing instead of having a valve release. I was feeling the effects of a concept counter to the brainwashing.

I'm bothered by a LOT of things increasingly over the years -- the incredible waste of our disposable society being pretty prominent. Bottled water epitomizes it. And it isn't as simple as plastic waste; There's the issue of energy waste in its production and community destruction through corporate exploitation of "free" resources. There are so many evil prospects it makes the bile rise in my throat just writing about it. <reaches over to take a sip of a glass of tap water>

Even friends that I consider to be very intelligent people still seem oblivious to the issue (I assume by the disposable water bottles in their hands). This post may not serve for personal venting and it may not reach very many people and actually enlighten them, but it will stand as proof that I recognized serious problems of my age and stood against them. Perhaps my related descendants will skip over my name in their curses upon the foolishness of those that came before them.

I've written on the Story of Stuff before in my May 29 2009 - Things are Thieves post. Its brilliant creator, Annie, has expanded her campaign to use simple and creative illustrated stories to wake us up to some pretty big issues. Her new Story of Bottled Water is worth 8 minutes of time (and her other stories are worth viewing too). I still recommend Flow: For Love of Water, a favorite movie of mine in 2008. I still support the Article 31 campaign. Blue Gold: World Water Wars was an OK 2009 documentary.

Need a few more points of reference? Visit here and then learn about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. C'mon people, it isn't hard. Use a reusable water bottle if you must have portable water. Refuse to buy bottled water. Refuse to drink it when offered. It's too easy not to do. Never forget how appalled we first were at the notion. Shake off the heavy marketing blanket corporations have thrown on us and the bottled brainwashing which has occurred over a very short period of time. Don't let them privatize what is a fundamental human right to clean water, because quite frankly that is exactly where it is heading. Stop being lazy and stupid. It should go without saying that we've all stopped using or accepting plastic shopping bags, right? Right.

<stepping down, reluctantly>