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Hello There and Welcome to My Photo Album and Travelog

This page is where I put the latest pictures of me and my endeavors. It got its start as a personal ad page when I first got into the online Longhair world and was originally put up on GeoCities. Since starting my own domain I have adapted this page and changed it around a bit.  It is still my photo album and still serves my needs for a web based personal ad photo page but now it will no longer just focused on the Longhair images.  Off of this page are other pages which highlight my various interests in various things - and there a lot of things I'm interested in.  I'm an aviation buff, I'm a history buff, I enjoy good architecture, and a whole bunch of other things as well.  So, the pages I've put up here reflect all that.  Look for updates as they occur.  I try and stay pretty busy but I don't always have the photos to prove this.  When I do, and when I have the time, I will put them up.  Until then, sit back and enjoy the show.

Time For A New Photo!
New Year New Photo

The times, they are a changing...

I've not paid much heed to this site.  It was the center of my attention for many a year and now?  Well, my attention has moved on.  But, it's still here and I do still update it from time to time.  And it's still useful to connect people with.  So, it's time for me to update my image here.  The previous photo of me was a good one but is almost twelve years old.  A lot has changed since then - obviously.

This new image is from my recently attending the Star Wars - The Fans Strike Back exhibit held in Santa Monica.  It was an interesting assembly of fan produced Star Wars items.  Among them was a replica of the Emperor's chair as seen in The Return of the Jedi.  This, replete with a suitably "Imperial" backdrop.  This was one of the items there at that exhibit that was explicitly there for the attendees to make use of.  So, Ann and I did.  I got some great shots of her looking imperious in that chair and then she returned the favor.  I think it turns out well.  Just click on the image and decide for yourself.


A good year, all in all.  And I'm thankful for that.  It was another year of steady employment and that's always a good thing.  My job went well, and my health was good, and I was finally able to get more socially active thanks to the Covidiocy ending.  Mostly.

I also made it a point to do some different things, socially, than before.  Chief among these has been cosplaying.  That's nicely engaged my creative energies and it's something that's continuing into '23 as well

Baby Needs A New Pair Of Shoes

First things first in January was getting new tires for the RAV4.  The ones that came with the car when I bought it back in '18 had finally had enough.  I searched 'round and figured the nearby PEP Boys was my best bet.  They got the job done and within a day or two one of my back tires kept running flat.  I wasn't pleased with that and brought her back in to the Boys of PEP.  Turns out I'd driven over a big honkin' bit of machine screw.  It embedded itself on the inner side of the tire and thus didn't readily show up for my prying eyes.

But after that, things were fine and the RAV4 still runs great.

New tires

Another start of January thing was taking care of the 2021 XMas tree now that the holiday days were done.  No leaving the thing out on curb to clutter the neighborhood.

XMas Tree Remnants

It's such a simple thing to do and it does give a sort of closure to the season to spend the brief time it takes to break the tree down so it all nicely fits into the Yard Waste barrel.

Submission: Nachturnal

Toward month’s end saw me do something I’d not been able to do in almost two years out here in the LA area – I went out to nightclub.  Yeah, it was out in Orange County and thus avoided the Covidiocy which was still rampant in Los Angeles County but it was still a novel thing in that day and age.  It was held at The Circle OC in Huntington Beach and the event was one of Submission’s productions: Nachturnal.  It was a sort of rave / techno / Club dance event.  It just felt good to be out and about and around other human beings.  So much so that was a deeply emotional thing for me.  The Covidiocy had that sort of isolating effect.
Planes of Fame: MiG-15

February started with the Planes of Fame folks flying their MiG-15 and that was a treat.

Planes of Fame MiG-15

Jessica's Visit

The highlight of the month for me was when my cousin, Jessica, dropped by for the night.  She was out on the West Coast making a trip of it to catch up with one her sons who’s in the Marine Corps and also to visit some of her family on her mother’s side.    
Dinner with Jessica We met up and had an excellent dinner at 555.

555 in Long Beach is my upscale eatery of choice.  They were still dealing with the effects of Covidiocy in that they had their "indoor outdoor seating" still up.  This was a set of tables out on a raised platform on what had formerly been the sidewalk and street out front of the restaurant.  This, to allow the restaurant to remain open despite the Covidiots declaring that indoor dinning was a superspreader event.  

They'd enclosed the space in a vinyl sheeting as is used in pavilion style tenting.  That night the last of a winter storm rolled through so it was quite breezy.  Which just added atmosphere to the event!
A fine homemade dessert! For dessert we adjourned back to my place where we had an excellent bit of home made chocolate pudding “cake” that I’d "baked" myself.  It was quite tasty.  Enough so that we left untouched the two bottles of wine Jessica brought.
The Pen!
Jessica left the next morning but not before giving me an official James Curcio Atlantic County Surrogate Office pen!
A cloudy and windy first Saturday at Planes of Fame saw me win the raffle for a free flight in the Museum’s SNJ trainer!  I got double lucky with that.  As often happens on raffles, many a drawn ticket goes unclaimed as the winner isn’t present to come forward and they then go on to draw the next ticket.  Such was almost the case here.  The PoF staff had drawn this particular ticket for the prize of a T-shirt.  They’d called the number out several times and had then drawn another ticket.  Whereupon the holder of the first drawn ticket came forward and claimed that prize.  The next prize?  That was the free flight aboard the SNJ – that’s the Navy version of the T-6 Texan trainer.  And they’d already drawn a ticket for that next prize.  That ticket turned out to be mine.

Now, had that first guy not come forward it would’ve been my ticket that got applied to the T-shirt and they’d have drawn some other ticket for the flight.  But, that’s not the way that the luck rolled through.  The day was too rough in the air for them to do the flight right then so took place in April.

About the only other thing of note was the first AVATAR LA play party was held since Covid broke out.  This was held at the Sanctuary LAX and I was eager to attend.  It was another step in ending the idiocy of the Covidiocy’s forced isolation.  I checked with the guys running it to be sure that things were clear as I knew the owner of the space, Cyan, was deep, deep into Covidiocy was vehemently requiring “proof of vaccination” in order to come to any of the events she held.  I was assured this was no longer the case as even Los Angeles County was stepping back from that stupidity.

Unfortunately, it was not actually the case. When I showed up at the venue I was immediate pressed for my vax status. It’s difficult to express the feelings of contempt, frustration, and disgust I had for that. Luckily however, the guy in charge of the event had realized how badly he’d been misinformed and had already taken steps to handle this. On his word I was let through. I was thankful for that and let him know.  It wasn’t a good way to start the evening but it was better than being turned away at the door.  It also further drove home just how worthless the whole Covidiocy was and is at being rational.

SNJ Flight

Planes of Fame SNJ FlightThe SNJ flight was a blast.  It was a relatively cloudy day but that was fine by me as it meant less likelihood of me overheating in the cockpit and thus making me airsick.  The LAST thing I wanted to do was puke inside the plane, thank you very much!  Yeah, unlikely but it was something I’d thought of and wanted to avoid.  So, a cool and comfortable flight environment was preferable even if it meant the lighting conditions weren’t as sparkling clear.

The experience itself was fun.  I was surprised at how rickety the Texan / SNJ was.  The plane was the primary trainer aircraft for the US during World War Two and years thereafter.  It was advanced for its time but I found the interior of steel tubing to be cluttered and the placement of the instrumentation and flight controls haphazard.  At least so in the back seat.  But, that was the day’s standard.  So, there it was.

The flight was a simple up, around, and back bit.  Nothing fancy.  About as plain a “milk run” as you can get.  But it was fun.  The pilot followed the same track as many a World War Two student pilot had followed when the Chino airport had been used as a flying school during the war and part of the training included a gunnery range a few miles off from the field.  During the flight the pilot allowed me to “take the stick” for a little while.  I made a few gentle ups and downs and a little bit of side to side with it.  I now have about thirty seconds flight time to log!

Valley of Fire

May was a nicely busy month.

Whilst whiling away my time online I found an article which was about "things to do outside of Las Vegas before it gets too hot."  One of which was taking a hike through the Valley of Fire state park.

It's a gorgeous bit of desert geography that is easily accessible after a short drive north-northeast from Las Vegas.  There are numerous trails and the scenery never fails to disappoint on any of them.  Even in early May however, it was already getting quite toasty to be out hiking up and down the rocks.  There are parts of the park that they close off during the summer months as it gets too dangerously hot for tourists to try wandering in.

I brought my Camelback and made sure to stay quite hydrated.  I got some excellent shots of the scenicness and helped a bunch of other folks do the same.  Thus I was thankful that this particular individual who took this shot understood a bit about image composition.

We had to take the shots quick-like as certain trails get a lot of traffic on them so getting individual images like this could be a challenge.
Valley of Fire
The Freemont Street Experience

This was a weekend's trip for me.  Up and back.  I drove out Friday after work, checked into a hotel, hit up the park, relaxed Saturday night, and drove back Sunday.  I went as inexpensive as I could for the hotel and outsmarted myself as the place was scary bad.  Even though I'd paid for two nights up front I just bailed that Saturday after finding the El Cortez hotel where I had breakfast.  Double the price, yes, but actually worth it!

Saturday night I strolled through the Freemont Street Experience and found it as garish as ever.  I also found this fine lass earning some good coin via her free speech efforts!
The Renaissance Pleasure Faire

As May wore on, I made it a point to head over to the Ren Faire out in Irwindale.  This one has moved around a bit over the years.  It used to be out in the hills north of San Bernadino.  For a variety of reasons that incarnation of it folded and it wound up moving to this present location.

It's been at this Irwindale location for some several years now and thus has become pretty well established.  I've been to it here more now than I'd been up to the San Bernadino version.  The Irwindale version is big, well run, and "family friendly" to a very corporate degree.  It's much less "free wheeling" and bawdy than the previous version, unfortunately.

Still though, you can have fun.  This drink stand for instance is an example of that.  This is the Oubliette drink stand and it lives up to that name by its options.
Oubliette and Aura
You can buy your drinks at the stand as normal or you can choose to have 'em poured for you - and poured into you.  

The trick there is that it has to be hands free on your part.  Thus you can put your hands in the handcuff shackles or hold your hands behind your back as the fair maiden pours your drink of choice into you.  This while her ampleness is right at eyeball height for you and while her "conversation" with you is bawdy indeed.

That's Aura there doing the pouring and she was very, very good at her work.
Aura pours
A friend of mine is a tailor and costume maker by trade.  He's also a long time volunteer at the Faire and part of the Queen's Court.

He's made his own "garb" for the event and wears it with style.  This, even in the sweltering heat of a May out in the middle or Irwindale.  This year, for his volunteer efforts over the years, he was recognized with a knighthood by the Queen.  He was rather happy with that and rightly so.  

It's always a pleasure to catch up with Perry and share his passion for the festivities.
Perry Knighted
P-40 at YanksJune saw me out to Planes of Fame to take in their monthly flying heritage demo.  This month they took their SBD Dauntless up to buzz 'round the field.  She was a pleasure to hear roar to life and to see winging it above me.  

A couple weeks later I was back out Chino but this time over to Yanks as they were flying their P-40.  Well, they intended to fly it.  They had come carburetor problems that, by the time they'd worked through it, the pilot for the day had to leave for his day job as a commercial airline pilot.  While I'd have liked to have seen the P-40 zooming 'round, all the engine testing meant for some glorious Allison engine horsepower noise to enjoy.  That, plus they they opened the cockpit for the crowd to enjoy.
P-40 at Yanks
One of the gents also there at Yanks was Gerald Willig.  He's a photographer by trade and he definitely has the eye for composition and the technical skills to make excellent photos as a result.  I really like that he did here with me as I enjoyed sitting in the Warhawk's "office."

To me, the P-40 in this livery is about as perfect as a fighterplane can look.  Everything about it is just right.
Tom's Bar 2022While I was out enjoying some vintage aviation one day, the next afternoon I was out enjoying this year's Tom's Bar event.

This was the first year since the Covidiocy hit that they were holding the event and thus there was a lot of pent up enthusiasm for it.  I was determined to be part of that.  I also recognized that the venue, the Avalon in Hollywood, had a big parking lot next to it.  Thus, I could park right there and bring along a different outfit or two to change into as the event went on!
Tom's Bar 2022
This turned out to be a smart move as it was another hot day in LA that Sunday so my being able to switch out of my full-up leathers into my kilt and a T-shirt made it a lot more enjoyable.  

It also meant I could change back into my leathers to join in on the "Best Leathers" contest portion of the event.  Yeah, I was the only one in head to toe leathers but I lost out to a guy showing a lot more skin.  Go figure.  It was a blast however, just to be enjoying the event and I was happy to be part of it.

July was also a busy month with lots of ups and downs.

I started the month off with a pie.  My personal trainer, Johnny, invited me over to the Independence Day party he was holding at his place so, as not to arrive empty handed, I baked apple pie and brought it over with me.

I think it came out pretty well, actually.  And everyone who had a slice had to agree!
Apple Piepictures/2022/07_01_t.jpg
There was another Bondage Ball to attend.  This was the first since the Covidiocy had ended.  So, on the 3rd I was sure to be there.  It was fun enough.  The light show was pretty cool.Bondage Ball LA Lightshow
The 4th of July dawned and I was soon off to Johnny's.  I was a bit late to sit and watch the full extent of the neighborhood 4th of July Parade.  But even what portion of it I got was very worthwhile.

I enjoyed the party and then made my way home.  Whereupon I felt really "off."  I thought it might've been one of Johnny's neighbors who had served up some truly awful beer.  Instead, I came down with Covid.  Again.  And I was out of it for the rest of the week.  Yay me!
Neighborhood Independence Day Parade
Cosplay and San Diego Comic Con
Sick as I was, I also had a deadline to meet - Comic Con.  Specifically, Comic Con International: San Diego.  Not only would this be the first time I was at Comic Con in several years but also the first time I'd be there cosplaying.  I was tired of being but a spectator and wanted to be part of the event instead of just passively taking it all in.  So, I chose to cosplay Captain America as depicted in the "Captain America: The First Avenger" movie during the sequence in which Steve Rogers rescues his friend, Bucky.  To render that costume I had to both buy the items necessary and then also alter and create them.  No small challenge for a guy who hadn't dressed up for a Con in several decades.  But, I applied myself to it with a gusto.
Shield StartShield MaskedShield MaskingShield Done

Central to the costume is the shield.  There's little that's more recognizable than Captain America's shield.  In particular for this part of his costume it was a callback to the original comic book shield from the 1940s.  I found a suitable shape at Windrose Armory thanks to a suggestion from a friend that I try the vendors supplying SCA fighters.  This was exactly what I needed and all I had to do was paint it up once I got it.
Next came the clothing.  Most of what Chris Evans wore in those scenes was at least based on standard issue US Army uniforms.  I just had to be both careful and specific in which was which and also to darken the tone of the clothing to match the on screen results.  So, I got to break out the Rit Dye and have at it.
Hot Tub Dye JobHot Tub Dye Job Foamy
First WearingThen it was just putting it all together.  

On the left is my first wearing of the whole thing.  I still had quite a bit of adjusting and learning to do to get it "right."

On the right here is while I was at Comic Con on Saturday and getting outside near sunset when the temps became somewhat more bearable!
At Comic Con
I've a lot more pics from that first cosplay outing of mine.  But, those'll be better placed on their own San Diego Comic Con page.  Suffice to say, I had a blast!  And it definitely got me going to improve what I'd just created and to keep going deeper into the cosplay world.
August 2022
I was busy enough in August.  The year started with buying my baby and new pair of shoes and in August I bought another new pair of shoes - brake shoes.  This was the first time I'd done my brakes since buying the car back in '18.  I figured it a simple enough thing that I gave it shot myself.

I got the pads off the front wheels but decided not to try the rear drums.  This was, all in all, pretty simple.
I just had to ensure I'd gotten everything up and out of the way.

My plan was to also swap out the rotors.  But I simply could not get the bolts holding 'em in place to budge.  Even with penetrating oil applied.  While replacing the pads was mandatory, replacing the rotors wasn't.  And it getting late in the day.  So, I simply said "screw it" and got everything back together again.

I figured that, as worst, the new pads would simply "wear in" to the existing rotors.  And that they did.
The old pads were indeed toast and had worn down far, far too much.  I should've caught this earlier.  I was, in fact, disappointed with the mechanics who last serviced the RAV4 as they completely missed how deeply worn my brakes had gotten.

But it was an easy enough fix to fix so fixed it I did.  And thus saved some coin in the process.
Brake pads!
For second time I made the trek out to Oklahoma City to attend a business meeting for work at Tinker Air Force Base.  This time I'd a little bit more time to do some more exploring.  And I made it a point to roam through the air museum there at the base.

They've some nice hardware on display there.  Each of the birds represented the planes that Tinker has serviced over the decades.  Chief among them being this bird, the B-52 - also known as the "BUFF."
Cool Seating
My flight out from OKC was late enough in the morning that I'd the time to relax a bit at the airport.  Thus I got to enjoy these rather spiffy chairs in the main terminal.  They face a large floor to ceiling window wall and the overall effect was rather pleasant.
Late in August I dove headfirst into some nostalgia when I attended the "Lost 80s Live" show at the Greek Theater in LA.

This show consisted of gathering together a whole bunch of iconic 80s groups to bang out their best known songs from that decade.  In the lineup were names that were HUGE - back then.  Wang Chung, Missing Persons, Flock of Seagulls, and so on.
The crowd

The big draw for me was Wang Chung.

"To Live and Die In LA" was such a powerful and haunting song back then.  And then here I am actually living in Los Angeles and experiencing some of what the song described.

The movie, "
To Live and Die In LA," is itself a classic and very well done.  The song absolutely made the movie and it has outlasted the movie's popularity.

Back in the 80s, Wang Chung was super-huge.  And rightly so.
Everybody Wang Chung tonight!
This being the modern age, and as I had my cellphone with me, of course, I had to catch some video of the performers performing.

It was fascinating to hear their songs coming from them live after all these decades.  No, the sound quality sucked.  Each band had perhaps fifteen minutes to set up for their time on stage.  So there were no mic checks nor optimizations for the performers and the venue.

But it was just the actual hearing of them and their being there which was the point and not the sound quality.  We all have our CDs, MP4s - and some even the vinyl - to get the pure sounds.  This was live and nostalgia!
General Public
It was a fun night for me.  It was a nice get away and a nice trip back to some halcyon days gone by.

The Greek Theater is a nice venue as well.  It's set into the hills above Los Angeles in the Griffith Park.  Thus the venue itself is a tad on the elegant side.  The crowd at this concert was interesting to note as well.

Only a few there were so young as to not have heard this groups when they first hit the airwaves.  The rest of us were reliving our coming of age years.  That meant that we were of age not to get rowdy at a rock concert and that wine sales were at least neck and neck with the beer sales.  And the Greek was selling more upscale foods than just burgers and dogs.  Pork & Cabbage Dumplings, Flank Steak Skewers, Salmon Patties, and Truffle Fries were what the "refined palates" of the crowd demanded.
Night's End at the Greek
September 2022
Cap at Long Beach Comic-Con

September started with my hitting up my second comic convention cosplaying Captain America.  This time it was at the Long Beach Comic-Con.

Compared to San Diego or even to Wonder Con, it's a very - very - small event.  But it's also a fun one!  Of course, this year it took place right when LA was experiencing one of its hottest weeks on record.  So I very quickly ditched the leather jacket and just wore the Captain America shirt instead.

No one seemed to notice and they all liked my cosplay.  Yay me!
Christian Gossett - Red Star

One of the artists I made a point of connecting with at LBCC was this guy, Christian Gossett.  He was the man behind the excellent graphic novel: "The Red Star."

The imagery in it is truly outstanding and it's a blend of alternate history and science fiction and magic.  Very evocative and was quite impressive when it came out back in 2001.

He seemed quite happy to have a fan from back then - literally two decades ago - turn up at his booth.
Cap and a Tyrant
Cap and a T-00 Tyrant!

This is a big dude here! I stand at six foot tall and this guy - Diego (@the_giantcosplayer on Instagram) didn't even have to lift his arm above his shoulder level to plant his hand atop my head!

His character is a T-00 Tyrant from the Resident Evil video game series and he nailed it perfectly.

He was also drenched in sweat due to the heavy overcoat and the rubber hood mask. He was a trooper though, and got plenty of people asking for his photo - myself included.
Halloween StartsSeptember 1st and it was already time for Halloween at the grocery store.

September 6th at Costco however, meant it was clearly time for Christmas!
Christmas Starts
FanX Salt Lake with the 501st

I started September with attending one comic convention and I finished the month attending another comic convention.  This time it was out at FanX Salt Lake.  This was my second time there.  The first being a decade prior!  It was another outing with my "Rescue Cap" cosplay and it went well.  A good way to finish the month!

October 2022
The Pacific Airshow

The Pacific Air Show and a rather pleased with himself Madoc.

October saw me joining my trainer, Johnny, and his wife, Linda, down at Huntington Beach to take in the Pacific Airshow.  As airshows go it's really hard to beat.  You got loud and fast and glorious aircraft overhead, the gorgeous Pacific Ocean along with the beautiful Huntington Beach and the sparkling blue California skies all come together wonderfully.

This also marked a milestone for me.  October of '22 was almost two full years that I'd been at it with Johnny and the results were really starting to show.  This was the first time in years that I felt comfortable enough with myself to go shirtless at the beach.  So when Linda snapped this one of me I was more than pleased to note the changes and how happy I was to have made them happen.

A week into the month and I was at the annual Tom of Finland Foundation Art and Culture Fair.  This year it was held at Second Home again.  An unlike last year, there was no Covidiocy going on so I could therefore attend.

I like this venue.  It's both open and private.  The greenery of Second Home made for a very welcoming feeling of the place.  And the erotic art on display was much appreciated.

Also appreciated was Danielle who was working her chair.  I attended both days of the event and thus got my boots and leathers nicely done by her.  She's very attentive, into it, and knows how to keep her customers happy.
Danielle and I at the Art & Culture Weekend

Pumpkins CarvedI chose to stay home over Halloween and thus worked up some pumpkins and got a stash of candy to hand out.

Mine was but a modest display.  I think it was effective and it served its purpose.

 I didn't wind up with as many trick or treaters as the previous time but there were enough.
Pumpkins Lit
Massive Halloween

My neighbor on the corner of my street went all out.  Halloween is a big deal for him and his presentation utterly dominated our street.  It was nicely done and fun to watch all the light effects and the "spooky mist" effects too.   
November 2022
Jordan Peterson

November started with me attending another lecture presentation by Dr. Jordan Peterson.

The guy is always worthwhile to listen to as he provides some fascinating insights and very keen observations of the human condition.

He's also a tireless champion of free speech and that's not small thing these days.
November's Planes of Fame flight demo was the Bearcat.  Damn but, I do love that plane!  

She looks great in general but the Planes of Fame restoration job done on her is truly outstanding.  Exquisitely done, actually.
Palm Springs Air Museum Dakota
A week later I was out in Palm Springs at the Air Museum there.

This was for their unveiling of their most recent acquisition - an F-117 "Stealth" Fighter.

This was no small thing and they'd even constructed a special hangar for it separate from the rest of the aircraft displays they have.  There was a party, cake, a dedication ceremony, "open cockpit" tours going on, as well as their usual flights throughout the day.  As I had gotten there early, and as the price was right, I bought a seat aboard the Museum's C-47 Skytrain.

It was pretty damn cool to be lumbering along in the sky over Palm Springs in an airplane with such lengthy and distinguished history.  She was still configured in her troop transport setup with the bench seating and "spartan" interior.  Loud, breezy, and vibrating was how it went.  And that was great!
Living history
It turned out my flight was a bit more "historic" than otherwise.  And that's all due to the two gents posing here with me.

I wish I could remember their names but the man in the white ball cap is a Museum docent and the likely lad next to him shares being a veteran of the Israeli Defense Force and also shares being a paratrooper as well.

In fact, he was visiting Palm Springs to specifically seek out this very C-47 and fly in it once again.  Back in the 60s when he was serving as a paratrooper in the Israeli army he made a jump out of this specific aircraft.  He'd kept record of the tail numbers of each plane he'd jumped from and followed this one along as it was surplussed and sold until it would up out here in the US and operated by the Museum.

And I happened to book a seat when the two of them were also aboard!

The Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk "Stealth Fighter."

And there it is.  The "Stealth Fighter."  This is still a pretty cool looking machine.  And its being on display like this is a measure of how much time has passed.  Back in the 90s when I was in San Diego and attending the Miramar Air Show, they'd occasionally have an F-117 on display.  

It would not only be roped off but there were also armed guards posted around the aircraft as well because it was all so new and secret and "stealth."

It was still a fascinating thing to walk 'round and admire.

I didn't tarry too long out in Palm Springs as the Planes of Fame "Taste of Flight" event was happening that night.  So, once I'd had enough of the F-117 unveiling ceremony cake it was back in the car off to Chino for their event.  Yeah, a rough life indeed!
The Empire Strips Back: A Burlesque Parody
There was a performance which caught my eye enough that I booked a ticket to see it in town at the Montalban.  

"The Empire Strips Back: A Burlesque Parody" is a very creative and well done "adult" riff on the Star Wars universe.  For a fan of the original movies and of the genre in general, I definitely appreciated the fun they were having with it.  And it made for a nice night out to take it all in.
December 2022
The cosplaying continues!

December started with the Los Angeles Comic Con taking place and I made a point of showing up for it in full Captain America glory.

There'd been some refinements since San Diego.  Most of which I'd worked up in time for FanX but there was still lessons learned to apply to my cosplaying.  

LA in December was at least cool enough that I could wear the leather jacket without dripping sweat from it.

I was pleased to meet up with these two cosplayers here.  They're @balanceoftheforces and they do a very adult riff on Star Wars and other pop culture and media characters.  Their Instagram channel has taken off and their success is great to see.
LA Comic Con Balance of the Forces

The lobby of the LA Convention Center is tailor made for endless photo ops.  The light is great, the sight lines are great, and the place gets nicely filled but not so crowded you can't get good shots.

I was amused to find other "Caps" going on at the Con and many were nice variations of Captain America like this fine lass here.
LA Comic Con Cap and Cap
Wonder Woman is a popular character for the ladies to cosplay.  And this works very well for women who are physically up to represent the character.  This lass, monasuniverse, certainly was well representing the Amazon from Themyscira.LA Comic Con Cap and Diana
Mid-month was time for the Tom of Finland Foundation's holiday party at the Tom's House.

It was, as you might expect, a festive event.  I like the energy at Tom's House and this night was no exception.

They even had a "leather Santa" on hand and I got to sit in his lap!  What I asked Santa for that night will, of course, remain between he and I.
Tom of Finland Foundation Holiday Party
Christmas 2022

And then it was Christmas Time again.

Once again I headed over to Home Depot and plucked one out of their lot with about a week to spare before the Day.  I moved the chair out of the way and got the tree all lit up and ornamented.

For a variety of reasons I didn't feel like doing a Feast this year so there was no frenzy of cooking and baking.  Instead, it was just a quiet time with my Mom.  She did enjoy the tree and the seasonal aspect of it all.

That and its not being freezing and dreary in LA like it is in a Massachusetts's December.
XMas tree 2022

As usual, she pulled into town on XMas day.  I picked her up and made the rest of the day a thing of rest of her to recoup from the stress of travel.

While she napped, I finished off deep frying the turkey and ribeye.
Long Beach Veteran's Pier 2022
So, come the next evening, we sat down to enjoy our own private XMas Feast.

It was a nice bit of family time for us both.
XMas Feast 2022
Mom at the LA Science MusuemThat Wednesday we made another jaunt out to the LA Museum of Science.  

It's quite the spread.  Among the many exhibits they have is an acquarium section and it's nicely done.

Mom and I both enjoyed it and it made for some nice visuals.
Mom and I at the LA Science Musuem

The Space Shuttle exhibit was particularly impressive.  This, even as it currently is.  The Museum is going to change this all around and mount the Endeavour upright and on its external tank with the boosters.  That will be a sight to see.


I realized some things about how times have changed.  My Mom is aging.  And her endurance has steeply declined.  So too has her mental acuity.  The stress of travel really took its toll on her.  This, to a disheartening and frightening degree.  Sadly, I think this will be the last time she'll be able to handle the traveling out here over a Christmas.  The stress was just too much and too risky for her safety.

Astra Lumina

On her last night in town we had another excellent dinner at Bettolino Kitchen in Redondo Beach.  Just up the road from that we then attended the Astra Lumina "experience" that was set up in the South Coast Botanic Garden.  It was quite the visual feast and the effect was visually inspiring.  

I'd hoped it would be a wonderful way to wind up her trip out here that year.  Unfortunately, even the gentle rolling paved trail through the park that night proved too much.  Still though, the night overall was worthwhile.

I saw her off the next morning on her flight back to Boston.  I got a "gate pass" to accompany her all the way through security and then on to the gate for her flight.  Previously I dropped her off and bid her goodbye at the security checkpoint.  I didn't even know that "gate passes" were a thing.  Getting one was much more secure in assuring she got aboard safely and without issue.

The stress returned once she touched down in Boston.  She called and let me know that she'd landed and then when I called her back she had no idea where she was or where she was going and her hearing was poor that she couldn't understand me.  And then she hung up.  To say I was stressed out waiting for word was an understatement.  I lit up Jet Blue, I lit up the Massachusetts State Police at the airport but no one had any record of her after the flight had landed.  Turned out that she'd gotten a cab back to Cabot and was doing just fine.  No thought to call me or let me know that she'd arrived safely.

It was a constant and painful reveal to me that I simply can not take her word for it when she tells me she can handle herself.  Her mental decline is that sharp.  It's not a pleasant thing to contemplate.

During the days that she was with me there were times that she completely lost reference to where she was or who she was with.  One night she was certain that I was her ex-husband of some decades past and was desperate to get out of his house.   Several times I had to remind her that she was out here with me in California and not back in Massachusetts.  For the rest of the time, and when she'd had a good night's sleep, she was "with it" and fully functional.  That this could change so readily and quickly gave me pause.

And that wrapped up 2022.  Overall, a good year.  I was employed throughout and doing good at the new job.  The money was good and the company was treating me well.  Things were opening back up here in California after too many years of the cruelty and maliciousness of our state and local government's Covidiocy inflictions.  I was making great progress with my workouts and regaining my sense of self.  So, it was with no small optimism that I welcomed the New Year that last night of 2022.  This, even though I didn't bother staying up until Midnight to do so.


Starting Things Off With A Bang - Thank You Covid!

Ironic that I started off my noting 2020's entry with singing the praises of continued employment.  Had I started writing my write up for 2021 in early January of that year than I might've repeated such singing.  Instead, I'm creating "2021 Year In Review" entry in August of 2022.  So, I've the full year and more of perspective to note.

2021 did indeed start off well enough.  I got back to my job and was looking forward to what the coming year would avail me as I worked that job.  It was, in fact, the best job I'd ever had.  The pay was excellent, the work environment was professional, and my colleagues were a pleasure to be around.

Not even a full two weeks into the New Year of 2021 all that ended.  And it was all because of Covid and a cowardly craven pathetic individual.

I've a good more to say about this but that's best done in person.  Suffice to say this wretched piece of human filth cost me the best job I've yet had and left me unemployed for nine months.  Yeah, "bitter" doesn't even come close to covering how I feel about it.  She proved an object in the damage the weak people can do to others.

I wound up spending the next nine months unemployed.  This is taking place far too often.  My age and experience work against me in finding new employment now.  Too many employers don't want employees so close to retirement age as their expected "working life" is going to be too brief to get sufficient return of investment out them.  Longer experienced guys are also less likely to put up with the bullshit of management and be harder to abuse in the workplace as a result.  And highly experienced guys are likely to expect a commensurate salary.  That puts 'em up in the smallest percentile of positions within a company and those don't open often for hiring.

I did get no few job inquiries.  Those were either for vastly junior positions or for work that was at distant locations.  The junior positions were non-starters.  First off, I couldn't afford to work at such entry level jobs.  Secondly, the job hunters coming to me with these positions wouldn't get passed their client's hiring managers.  Those hiring managers would take one look at my decades of experience and figure I'd be gone the moment I got a better paying offer than what their entry level position could afford.  So, such entry level stuff wasn't worth the effort to go through.

And I've done the "road warrior" routine before.  It's miserable.  Living out of a hotel loses its luster in days - if not hours.  It's great as a "second career" after retirement as a means of earning some quick and hard cash.  Plenty of guys were doing that alongside of me as I worked in Huntsville, Albuquerque and El Segundo.  But I'm not in that situation.  My years in Albuquerque were actually pretty damn lonely ones.  My life was otherwise on hold during the years I worked.  I was glad for the work and the pay but I've no interest in being a road warrior again.

Nor did I want to move to the locations coming up that were at my level of experience.  Winding up out in the middle of Utah or Nebraska or Louisiana held zero appeal to me.  Heading off to work in the DC Metro area would mean trading one stupidly expensive place to live for an even more stupidly expensive place to live.

So, it was a long nine months.  I was in a far better financial situation however.  I was able to keep things together for almost all it and only at the very end did I have to dip into my credit cards to start paying for things.  Thus, thankfully, I didn't wind up the year with another crushing credit debt that I had to crawl out from under.  You never get ahead having to do that.

Come October of '21 however, things took a turn for the better.  Much better.  I got hit up for a project scheduling job that was based out of Dayton, Ohio - but was remote work.  That is, I was to support a contract based in Dayton but could do so from my home here in Lakewood, California.  Wow.  This job came in at the moment I needed it most.  And its future options were pretty damn awesome!  Not only could I enjoy the benefits of a "work / life" balance that came from working at home but I would also be a staff regular employee of this company.  That is, this job came with benefits!  A health plan and PTO  (Personal Time Off.)

Those are things I'd not had for many, many years.

So, in addition to being employed once again, I was being so in a new sort of work situation that brought tremendous advantages for me.

Yeah, I snapped it up in a heartbeat!

There was, of course, a downside.  Of course.  No sooner had I said yes to this job than out came the latest unconstitutional bit of power grabbing vindictiveness from president Biden - the Vaccination Mandates.  The Covidiocy just never ends.

In short order I had done my research and worked up my notice to my new company that I was invoking my rights to be exempted from the Vaccination Mandate.  I cited Title 7, Section 12 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  This is otherwise knowns as the "Religious Freedom Exemption.  However, deeply held personal beliefs have been interpreted as having the same import and legitimacy.  So, that was the basis for my Accommodation request.  I filed it as per the deadline and then waited for word.  And waited.  And waited.

I'd by then heard too many tales of other companies in the aerospace field demonstrating just how soulless they could be as they summarily fired any employee who invoked their rights to not have to endure an experimental medical procedure as a condition of their continued employment.  Pretty vile on the part of those companies and, as I was so new to the company, I'd no "feel" for how the management of this company would be.  Their lack of response as the year's end loomed was NOT a happy making thing.  It really got in the way of my keeping my head in the job.  I worked through that but it didn't help things.  

Helluva way to start a new job after so many months unemployed only to find out that new job might be soon over as well.  This, doing nothing for my stress level.  Well, nothing good, that is.

At least the new job came with PTO (Personal Time Off) so I got paid on the days I took off over the Xmas break.  It had been a few years since last I had a job where I got paid vacation days. 

Anyway, there was more to 2021 than being unemployed and stressing out about it all.

Personal Fitness

This was something I've wanted to do for some time now.  I wanted to boost my workouts to a higher and more effective level.  A level I was unlikely to achieve on my own.  Not for lack of interest or energy but of knowledge.  I wanted to tap into the expertise of a skilled professional who could advise and coach me in my physical fitness.

The problem was always a thing of time and money.  When I could find the time I'd not the money.  And when I'd the money, I'd not the time.  Through 2020 I did have both but they'd closed the gyms due to Covidiocy.  Working out and being physically fit is an excellent way strengthen your immune system so of course our politicians decreed all the gyms be shut down.  Of course. There was still the difficulty in finding a trainer available in the times I had available.  When working, that meant they'd have to be willing to do their training at O'Dark Thirty as getting my workouts in before I went and did my day job would be about the only time I had available.  Unsurprisingly, such trainers are rather hard to find - who knew that people don't like having to be up at
O'Dark Thirty!

Suddenly being unemployed however, meant I'd plenty of time but also back to not having the money.  Well, sort of.  This time I had a lot more cash in hand as I'd done a bang-up job of recovering over the previous two years of work.  And I knew that for my own mental health, if nothing else, that I had to make some physical changes.  So, I decided to bite the bullet and suck it up and plunk down the green.

And luckily enough, I'd also not only found a personal trainer who seemed a good match but he was also nearby and operated out of his own home.  So there was no Covid closed or restricted gym to deal and no additional gym membership I'd to purchase either.

Johnny Cowgill has turned out to be an awesome find.  The guy's a former pro body builder who's knowledge of physical training is extensive.  Extensive and adaptable.  That was a key thing.  Julia, an ex of mine, was also a personal trainer.  I learned a lot about the business through her and also what to look for in personal trainers as I listened to her comments about the other trainers there at Gold's Gym in Pacific Beach.  Quite a few of them looked absolutely stunning, physically, and they could easily recite specifics about each exercise they put their clients through but they were clueless beyond that.  They had only one workout and that was it.  They applied the same thing to each of their clients regardless of their age or abilities or limitations.  There was no adaptability on their part.  And as each person is unique, such adaptability is imperative.

In very short order, Johnny got to show his stuff in this regard and I was quite pleased with that. 

I've long had some limitations in my shoulder exercises as they get quite sore.  I just chalked that up to age or what have you. Over time that meant I never really pushed it when it came to working my shoulders and thus the rest of my workouts suffered as well.

When I told Johnny of how sore some of the shoulder exercises were making me he quickly adjusted things.  This took the form of changing the width of my grip on certain machines as well as avoiding some specific exercises altogether.  And coming up with different ways to work those muscle groups without overly stressing my shoulders.  This has yielded excellent results and the shoulder pains I normally had in my workouts are a thing of the past.

My workouts with Johnny are a focus on form.  And as a result I've achieved significant muscle gains and results.  Both Johnny and his wife have noticed the changes in my body over the year since I started with him.  His services have definitely been worth the price he charges for his time.

The workout sessions have also turned out to be the most regular person to person contact and socialization I've had throughout the year as well.  Again, due to the Covidiocy with everything else being shut down or locked down or then requiring "proof of vaccination" to attend.  Yeah, it's been exceedingly isolated through 2021 for me.  And thus I'm even more thankful to have found such an effective personal trainer as Johnny.

Johnny also turns out to have no small amount of interest in flying.  His pop had a plane that he and Johnny regularly flew in.  Once Johnny moved down to LA in the 80s he got a job cleaning airplanes at Jack Northrop Field there in Hawthorne - which is right next to where SpaceX set up its shop so know that place well.  Thus, come November when Planes of Fame had its Flying Demo that featured a Zero, it was no chore at all to get Johnny to come out and enjoy the day and its airplanes.  He even got a friend of his to come along to and I was only too happy to be their tour guide for the day.

Johnny is on the left here below and his friend Mike is on the right.  The Zero, obviously, is in the middle there behind the two of 'em.

Johnny & Mike with the Zero photobombing 'em

The Other Stuff in 2021

Getting fired over Covid and working out wasn't all that took place for me in 2021.  So, getting on to that "other stuff," there's all this here...
The Sadistic and Malevolent State

Remember Joe's from last year and how it was defiantly remaining open despite the government overreach of LA County's demanding it close due to Covid?

Yeah, well, the state demonstrated just how cruel it can be when it comes to any who dare challenge it.  Joe's got crushed.  I found this out in January when I rolled by hoping to see them still fighting the good fight.


And all for what?  The Covid lockdowns didn't do a damn thing in terms of "slowing the spread" of the virus.  They did however, do an amazing job of shattering our economy, impoverishing millions, and making life miserable for us all.  Yeah, that's some true "flex" by the almighty state.

The Sadistic and Malevolent State
Fryers Comparing Friers

Deep frying is something I've gotten into when it comes to cooking up my Holiday Feasts.  I originally got into it back in 2017 when I purchased my first deep fryer set up.  It was a learning experience to figure out how best to use the thing.  I picked one on Amazon and had at it.  This, being the "King Kooker" all in one set-up.  That is, the frying pots and the burner stand.  Pretty quickly I learned the limitations of what I'd bought.  Namely, it was pretty damn cheap.  This, even at the $100 or so I'd paid.  The pot was of relatively thin gauge aluminum and it really didn't handle the direct flame too well.  In short order it had warped and deformed such that the bottom was no longer flat.

So, in '20 I ordered its replacement.  This time the pot was of a much heavier gauge stainless steel and the burner was a much larger affair that'd put the heat on something fierce.  Plus, the new rig dispensed with that stupid timer thing that was such a pain to keep clicking every few minutes.  In early '21 I decided to get rid of the old rig but I first took some side by side comparisons.

The new burner is much more substantial and has more flame holders than the King Kooker one.

Fryers The Bayou Classic pot is both larger and heftier than the King Kooker flimsy aluminum thing.
Stupid Regulator And then there's the stupid regulator.  That gray box is the timer.  It's made of cheap plastic that broke open its battery compartment.  Had I not figured a way of jury rigging the thing closed it wouldn't have worked at all and thus I'd not have been able to fry up my turkey and prime rib for the year's feast.  That is what really spurred me to ditch the damn thing and go for a better rig.
Fryer Sets Compared Yes, the King Kooker came with more pots and accessories.  They were all however, made of the same flimsy aluminum.  The Bayou Classic's are all in beefier stainless steel.
Burnt Bottoms The extreme deformation of the aluminum King Kooker pot is pretty apparent here.  Mind you, I was only using this thing but twice a year: Turkey Day and XMas.  So that much degradation happened with just six uses - 2017 through 2019.

Not only was the bottom deformed such that it no longer sat level, you can also see the creases in the metal itself.  That's not a good sign.  If those went from creases to cracks then that'd mean the oil I was using in the frier could seep out and be set alight by the flames of the burner.  That's really not a good thing at all.

Yeah, it was time for a replacement.

I've used the Bayou Classic set up for two years now, 2020 and '21, with no such material failing of the pot.

Riot Proofing Remnants

I was down at Village Place section of Lakewood after getting my hair cut at John's Hair Place and was walking around enjoying the day one late February as I noticed the remnants of riot proofing on one of the stores along that block.

They'd drilled out screw holes in the frames of their store windows.  And they'd positioned thick sheets of plywood immediately below the windows.  The sheets were bolted into bottom frames of the storefront.  All it would then take as a quick unbolting of them and lifting 'em up to cover the windows for them to then be more or less riot proof.

Mind, this is in an otherwise residential neighborhood and several miles up from where the last series of riots took place in Long Beach.  Yeah, the store owner was prepared.  And it's a sad testament to how nasty our Democratic Party controlled state and county and city governments allowed things to get that such riot proofing even had to be considered.

Riot Proofing
Tinhorn Flats vs. Covidiocy

Come April I'd heard about another business desperately trying to stay in business as it fought against the Covidiocy.  This time up in the Valley and it was bar called Tinhorn Flats.  So, I made the trek up there to lend my support.

The City of Burbank was hellbent in destroying this business and went to extraordinary - and illegal - lengths to do so.  Thankfully, the owner and his supporters rallied against the governmental overreach and stupidity.  Tinhorn Flats is still open for business despite all the Covidiocy they threw at it.

Tinhorn Flats

Table Saw Madness!

Unfortunately, I had a lot more time on my hands in 2021 than I would've liked.  One of the ways I occupied myself was in watching YouTube videos.  Lord knows there's enough of them to completely disappear into the rabbit hole of "just one more" such things that you blow through days at a time with hardly noting it.  But, I was going for quality, not quantity!  Thus, when I found once such YouTube "channel" that had both quality and quantity, I dove right in.

Officially the "Stumpy Nubs" channel, it's a woodworking related effort put on by James Hamilton.  Across multiple videos he presents all sorts of woodworking tips and techniques and lessons that are well composed, easily followed, and quite informative.  I'm fortunate in the time when I found his channel as he's changed its format considerably over the years.  Originally, he thought it necessary to do his presentations with a lot of skit-based comedy.  And that can be a hit or miss thing.  He's since revised his presentations to be much more of a straight-up lesson imparting thing.  Still quite personable and relatable, just not as much forced comedy to them.

I devoured his presentations.  I've long been into woodworking and have gotten some nice results to my efforts.  But, I also realized that I needed to "up my game" when it came to rendering the finishes to my projects and to achieving the sort of higher level complexities in the design and construction that I knew I wanted.  The various presentations that James Hamilton had online proved a great help with that.  And also inspired me to upgrade my table saw.

It seems that having a good table saw is essential to just about everything else a woodworker wants to work.  I had a serviceable one, a Ridgid "job site" table saw that I'd purchased a decade prior off of Craig's List in San Diego.  For me, it was a huge step up in functionality when I bought it, used and rusted as it was.  It was my first "real" table saw and I really appreciated the increased accuracy and ease of having such a tool availed me when working larger wood pieces.  But even then I recognized the thing had its limitations.

Turns out there's three general classifications of table saw: cabinet, contractor and job site.  The cabinet table saws are the most powerful of the three types, the most precise, have the most features, are meant to be fixed in place, and are the most expensive - this, by quite a bit compared to the other types.  Cabinet table saws are meant for commercial woodshops or for truly dedicated hobbyists who have the dedicated floor space to have a permanently emplaced tool like that.

Next in line are the contractor type table saws.  Time was, that was the only alternative to the cabinet types.  The difference between the two is that the contractor saws generally had a less powerful motor, didn't come with as many features, and were intended to be "transportable."  Their name came from their intended use by contractors who would lug the things from job to job.  To enable this, the manufacturers configured the table saws such that their electric motors could be readily removed from the saw.  That's a significant reduction in weight of the assembly when you do that.  And as contractor saws sported a cast iron table top, they were heavy enough on their own already.

But then, in the 80s, came a new type of table saw.  This, being the "job site" saw.  These differed from the contractor saws by having an even less powerful motor, no cast iron table top, fewer features, were smaller and much, much lighter.  They were far easier to hoist around from job site to job site and yet were still powerful enough to handle most tasks thrown at them.  This type quickly pushed the contractor saws almost entirely out of the market.

I knew none of this when I was there down in Imperial Beach in San Diego buying my second ever table saw.  The first was one I picked up out in Denver from a pawn shop as I was making that shell for my pickup truck to drive back to San Diego with.  That one had no fence and was tiny thing but it sold me on the utility of a table saw.  The Ridgid I bought down in IB was fully functional - fence and all - and it served me well for many a year.  But upon watching James do his stuff on his table saws, I realized I could do better.

That set me to researching more about contractor saws such that I could make an informed purchase this time around.  I narrowed things down to the Delta 400 series of contractor saws.  They're still more or less plentiful, affordable, and are pretty damn stout machines.  They also have an ample number of accessories to do 'em up with.  That figured out, I set to looking through what Craig's List here in LA would yield.  I hadn't long to wait.

In short order I found a seller up in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles who was parting with his Delta 34-410B table saw.  I made the trek up there and checked out the goods.  Everything seemed in good shape and $350 changed hands.  I then unbolted what I could of the beast and had it in the back of my car.  I now had a contractor saw of my own!  Yay.

Once home I set to setting it up.  First thing was to check the "runout" of the saw blade and that's where the first problem arose.  That runout was unacceptable.  It meant that anything I cut on that table saw would be less accurate than otherwise.  This, to the point that things might not fit together well at all.  And as the whole point of getting this better table saw was the increased accuracy it was supposed to offer, this just wouldn't do.

To determine the runout I made my own runout gauge assembly.  Pretty simple and easy to do.  The basic thing is getting a long enough piece of wood that snugly fits the miter gauge track built-in to the table saw table itself.  Then came the cross beam and attaching the gauge to it.  I got the "Machinists Dial Indicator itself at Harbor Freight.  Simple, cheap and easy.  Comparing the last two images below here you can see the runout on the blade is almost 30 thousands of an inch.  Small in the overall scheme of life but pretty damn big in table saw terms.

Homemade Runout Stick Homemade Runout Stick Homemade Runout Stick Homemade Runout Stick

To fix this runout I had to adjust the position of the table saw table relative to the position of the blade in its arbor.  The table saw is designed to allow this sort of adjustment.  To help things along I picked up a PALS™ - Precision Alignment & Locking System - from In-Line Industries.  That helped but I knew I could do better.  

And then I got distracted.

Looking through Craigslist some more I found another Delta Contractor table saw for sale.  Same price as the one I already had but, looking at the ad and images closer, this one had lots of extras.  This one was especially noteworthy as it had a built-in router table in one of the table saw table wings.  That alone was worth a couple hundred on its own.

So, I was soon off to Rancho Palas Verdes to get my hands on this one before anybody else.  This time, I brought my runout checker with me so as to avoid the potential problems I found with my previous purchase.  The runout was far better.  And the deal was quickly done.  In the process I think the male half of the selling couple started to get wise as to what they were selling.  My guess is that the table saw had belonged to her ex.  Perhaps he died or perhaps he just left it there as the two moved on.  She'd no idea what to do with the tools and just pushed 'em into a corner in their garage.  The new guy didn't know much about the tools either.  Eventually, they decided to stop pushing 'round in their garage and just get 'em sold.  I did my best to conceal my glee upon finding the score I had on my hands but I think the guy was, eventually, figuring it out.  I made haste with my purchase lest they changed their minds!

In the process I picked up a Delta 444 table saw.  This, replete with a router table wing and a bunch of blade accessories that will set me forward nicely.  I figured between the two Delta 400 series table saws I now had I could mix and match the best components into one saw and sell the other.

In the image below I'd already disconnected the motor and its bracket from the rear of the saw.  On the left in the image is that router table mount.  It's in cast iron as well and is designed to be attached to a table saw table top just like the standard "wings" that come with such saws.  On the right, in gray, is one of those very such "wings."  This one is painted and is of stamped steel, not cast cast iron.  It is however, pretty damn stout.  That silvery cylinder in the foreground of the image is the rear part of the track for the table saw fence.

Delta 444

One of the wings from the first Delta, the 410, was of the same type but unpainted.  I swapped that out for the painted one that came with the 444.  Also, the power setup on the 410 was better.  It had a plug connector between the motor and the wiring for the on / off switch.  Additionally, the switch on the 410 was definitely "aftermarket" as it was more of a "paddle" type thing instead of the on / off toggle thing that looked so cheap as to be out of place on the rest of the tool.  Yet, that type was exactly what they came with from the factory.  The arrangement seemed quite klutzy to me.  The whole purpose of the contractor saw was the easy removal of its motor.  To do that with the 444's set up you'd first have to unbolt the entire power switch and electrical line.  Then you'd get to the motor itself.

With the aftermarket set-up of the 410 it was much simpler as you had but to unplug the inline connector to next then remove the motor.  The on / off switch remained in place.  So, I swapped those out and now the 444 has the better power setup.  And it has a nice bright bit of metal table saw wing instead of the scuffed up painted one it came with.

I then set to cleaning up and conditioning the table top.  This is bare iron here so it will oxidize in a heartbeat.  But, when properly cleaned and waxed it doesn't do that and workpieces slide along its heavy top with much greater ease and predictability.  The table top on the Ridgid job site saw is epoxy covered aluminum and as that epoxy wears the surface of the table become much rougher and harder to use.  A cast iron table top is far superior from its smoothness as well as its mass dampening the vibration of the motor.  It does however, require more maintenance to keep that finish finished.

So, I got busy and used lots of elbow grease and rust remover and specialty scrubbers and had at it.  I was very pleased with the results.  The deep sheen of the newly finished iron table top was quite rewarding.

Look at that finish!

I next set to cleaning and replacing the fence track rails.  I'd found a real deal on a Shop Fox Aluma-Classic Fence at a local Habitat For Humanity Restore.  They had these for under $200 apiece!  So off came the original rails.

As I was planning on reselling them, I also put some elbow grease in action and did the same sort of rust removing and finishing as I'd done on the table top itself.  That involved hosing 'em down with rust remover and then using fine grit sandpaper and sanding blocks to do the rest.  The Sandflex Sanding Blocks are a real boon here.  They are like a sponge in holding the rust removal fluid and their abrasiveness is fine enough so as not to damage the metal while still going after the rust in an aggressive fashion.

I next got the edges of the table nicely sealed with primer and paint.  That'll reduce the acreage of metal I have to constantly fight oxidization with.  And then I got to work on reducing the mess that contractor table saws are known for.  

The bottom and rear of the table saw is open.  Even at the front of the casing there's a large opening for the saw blade angle adjustment to move back and forth.  In operation, this means the thing has a tendency to spit sawdust everywhere.  It's one of the reasons why job site saws are more preferred as their workings are more enclosed and usually have built-in dust collection vents.

First up, I got to sealing - or at least reducing - the opening in the front of the casing under the table saw top.  Following the advice of others online, this was a simple purchase of a door "sweep" that then got cut down to size, bent, and glued into place.

Next came the underside of the casing.  That was a bit more involved and took a trip down to a Woodcraft store and picking up one of their dust collection hoods.  Same careful measuring followed by some careful cutting and I now had the bottom of the table saw casing nicely enclosed with a hook-up for a shop vac to help suck away all the sawdust.  The opening at the rear of the casing is more complex as it has to accommodate the pulley belt for the motor as it goes inside the casing to reach the saw blade arbor.  As the blade's height and angle is adjustable, the position of that belt changes and thus the opening has to accommodate that.  I've seen online how this is done and it'll be something I'll definitely do as well.  Eventually.

Next up was getting the new fence system on the table saw.  The Delta 400 series table saws are one of the more popular saws out there and have been around for decades.  Thus, it would make sense for the aftermarket sellers to configure their products for quick and easy fitting to the Deltas.  Yeah, that'd make sense.  And it is, of course, not what Shop Fox did.  Several of the predrilled and countersunk holes in their rails matched up well enough with the existing holes in the sides of the Delta table top and its wings.  But not all of them.  And for these things to work there had to be a rock solid attaching of the rails to the table saw top.

I was at a standstill in getting this all setup until I could get the rails properly attached.  It took a bit - in fact, a special "bridge reamer" bit to slightly widen one of the holes in the rail until it lined up with a hole in the side of the table top.  This was the first "machining" I'd done and despite how simple it is, I was enormously proud of it.  I used my drill press with its X/Y table attachment to both ream out that hole and then countersink it.

A proudly reamed (and countersunk) hole

With that done I was able to get the rest of the 444 table saw going.  I was a happy guy!

My original plans were to lift up the 410 and loosen the corner bolts from underneath to shift things around enough to correct that runout.  I even got myself an engine hoist to do that lifting.  Yeah, I got a bit over enthusiastic about the effort.  I've since figured out a different approach and parted ways with that engine hoist.

Now I've just to get the Ridgid table saw sold and the 410 sold as well.  I don't need three table saws and I certainly could use the space the extra two of the occupy.  A goal for the coming year!

Welding 101

A likely lad on FetLife put out notice that he was holding a "Welding 101" class at his shop in early May.  This sounded a fun event and I beat a path to it.  I'm glad I did.  This lad and some of his friends rent out a space in a office / industrial park in Fullerton which is just a few miles east of me here in Los Angeles County.  Aside from all the other metal working equipment and supplies, they've got their shop fully set up with all the various welding tools they need.  That night he gathered a bunch of together and walked us through the process of doing basic welding.  This was primarily TIG welding (Tungsten Inert Gas) as it's the simplest and safest to start off with.  This was fun!

Welding 101

We were each given a blank of sheet metal and had at it trying to draw a weld bead across the thing.  That's a surprisingly complex thing given your lack of visibility, the heavy gloves you have to wear and the awkwardness of the welding tool itself.  Thus the initial results were about what you'd expect.

Namely, lots of wandering beads, puddles, and sputters.  But, with some practice and coaching we soon got better as the night wore on.  My lines got straighter and more consistent.  And I was even able to weld some pieces together!  No, I'm not giving up my day job for the career of an expert welder.  But it was a fun night and a good learning experience.

Welding 101 Welding 101 Welding 101 Welding 101 Welding 101

The Photo Studio

Back in late 2019 I started dabbling with doing portrait photography in my home.  I went out and purchased a couple of backdrops, some umbrella lights, and portrait kit off of Amazon, and some remote shutter gear as well.  I learned a lot about what works and what doesn't.  I'd plans on improving my craft at that through 2020 and beyond.  I figured it would be a great way to meet new people by offering a private portrait service which would be especially useful for those needing profile photos for their online dating apps and such.  I used it myself to take a leathered up selfie as proof that I measured up to the BLUF dress code requirements.

But, as with most things human and humane, Covidiocy put paid to the possibility of doing such photos in the midst of the most dangerous pandemic in the history of history that had a horrific survival rate of 99.7%.  And thus the photography gear remained packed away through the whole of 2020.  It wasn't until late spring of '21 that I attempted getting back into it.  I figured that with the privacy my backyard offers, I could do outdoor shots while the Sun cooperated and then switch to the indoor stuff once night was upon us.  I invited a friend of mine, Mark, down for a photo session.  As it was, he'd not the time for both indoor and outdoor but we did get some good imagery as the shadows grew outside.

The primary impetus for me to start this back up at this particular time was Tom of Finland's Birthday in May.  Recon was holding an event with the Tom of Finland Foundation for Recon members to send in their photos of them posing in their fetish finest along with something obviously of Tom of Finland's.  Timing being what it was, I wound up taking a series of images of myself in different fetish outfits along with several of the Tom of Finland books I have.

Happy Birthday Tom!

I wasn't entirely satisfied with the result but it was the best I could generate.  I then asked an old friend of mine, Ken, his thoughts.  Ken is a professional photographer and has rendered some truly awesome imagery of the male form.  To help me along, Ken wanted to see what my photography set up was.

I'd set it all up in my living room.  I put some hooks up in the ceiling to hold the rope from which I hung the backdrop.  I got my fill lights positioned and had moved the furniture out of the way.  I actually had my camera tripod mounted and out in the hallway of the house in order to get the field of view I needed.

Home Studio!

Yeah, it doesn't look that tidy but all that matters is what the lens sees.  Ken was quite helpful and when I start back with this I'll be standing further from the backdrop and have a "pin" light on me directly.  More experimentation to follow!
Airplanes & Stuff 2021

Of course there was plenty of airplanes involved in 2021.  I'm too much an aviation enthusiast to miss out on that!

Yanks P-40 In May I was out at Yanks Air Museum to take in their first flight of the year.  This, with their P-40.  I really like the classic lines of this aircraft.  It just looks "right."

Especially the "E" model with its big chin mounted radiator and when its in the olive green and gray camo paintjob.  The Sharkmouth makes it all the better!

That big Allison engine up front sound sweet as can be as she started up and taxied off.  It was a joy to see her in flight and seeing such aircraft in flight is what makes the trek out to Chino worthwhile.

Yanks also flew their Wildcat and that one sounded sweet in its own way too!

Yanks Wildcat
Over at Planes of Fame, they had their P-38 out flying 'round in May.  This, of all the World War Two aircraft, is my favorite.

The sounds of these twin Allisons roaring and the sight of these big machine zooming around are always a delight.
In April Planes of Fame had their Mustang out for a flight and in May they had their Avenger take to the skies.  In November PoF had a special guest fly in: a De Havilland Mosquito.

This was a gorgeously restored - i.e. rebuilt in its entirety save but for the original metal fittings - aircraft up from New Zealand.  I'd never seen one these in person before and it was utterly gorgeous.  And had a wee bit of British humor as well.

Major Tashjian's 100th Birthday Corsair Flight.

This was a privilege.

Working Corsair

Major John Tashjian was a Marine Corps pilot during World War Two and flew combat missions in the Pacific with his Corsair.  As his 100th birthday approached, he got to fly in a Corsair once more.

Major Tashjian That's the gathered Tashjian family there on the left.  It was quite the crowd on its own.  And there were lots of other folks gathered round to help celebrate the man's birthday.  And to recognize his service.

It turns out that, with a bit of modification, you can squeeze a jump-seat in behind the pilot's seat on a Corsair.  And that's where Major Tashjian sat for his flight.

The memories that must have flooded through him as that Corsair came to life must've been intense.  The sounds, the feel of the plane as it shuddered with the engine's revving.  And then the movement of it through the air.  This, not to mention the smells of the gas and engine exhaust and the heated metal.  A flood of memories indeed.
Major Tashjian

The Nats

Come August I was going more than a bit stir crazy.  The lack of work was a grinding thing.  So, I took a roadtrip.  To Vegas - Las Vegas, that is.  Not just for shits and grins, though there was that.  Instead, I drove out to Sin City to attend that year's International Plastic Modeler's Society National Convention - i.e. "The Nats."

I've been a scale model hobbyist for decades now and have been to one previous Nats.  That one was out in Colorado and I attended it when I was working in Albuquerque.  This one, being Vegas, was close enough to drive.  So, I did.  

Me and buddy at the Nats

Me and "Bob" the Alien from Area 51 just north of Las Vegas.
The big draw for me was the Grex airbrush hands-on workshop.  Airbrushing is quite the art form and, done right, can rendered some truly gorgeous finishes.  These being superior to what can usually be achieved by using a brush to apply the paint and finish.  Success with airbrushing had pretty much eluded me.  Whether it was choosing poorly in my airbrush - it was a used thing off of eBay - or just my lack of knowledge about airbrushing, I knew I could do better.  And a hands-on workshop was just the thing for that!

On the left here is what each of us had setup to start with.  It was a partially assembled kit and all the paint and airbrush and equipment we'd need to do the painting.

The Setup The Setup The Setup

Next we did some "preshading" where we applied paint to the panel lines of the model - that's the black lines in the middle image - and then applied masking to start the camouflage pattern.  We used this putty stuff to do that with.  That's the gray rope looking things wrapped around the model.  On the right is the final result after some weathering sprayed as well.  I was exceptionally pleased with this.  In the span of just a couple hours I learned so much and it's benefited my hobby ability tremendously.

Machine Gun Vegas

My time at the Nats wasn't just studious studiousness learning to become a master airbrusher.  The Convention itself ended on Saturday, an odd thing for most usual conventions.  I think this was so as to give the spouses of the attendees some time together to do something other than watch their husbands buy everything they could in the vendor room and while away the hours in the workshops or ogle the models in the various contest categories.  Thus, on Sunday I was footloose and fancy free.  And thanks to a flier inserted into the Nats registration packet, I found out about Machine Gun Vegas.  This is a shooter experience in which, for a modest fee, you get to fire a bunch of different guns.  Up to and including heavy machine guns in full auto.  A pretty unique thing in general and their downtown location was but a couple blocks away from the Rio Hotel where the Nats were.  So, Sunday morning I was off to get my Machine Gun Vegas experience!

The folks at "MGV" know what they're about.  They are not there to conduct firearms training or turn first time shooters into seasoned firearms experts.  Instead, their market is the folks looking for some loud and "dangerous" fun in a very controlled environment.  You get your pick of various "packages" that can include anything from shooting basic pistols and a shotgun up to firing a .30 caliber heavy machine gun.  Most of the tourist crowd looking for that loud and dangerous bit, opt for a "full auto" package where they can "dump the mag" in one short burst - just like in the video games and in the movies!

Me?  I wanted something different.  I wanted to get a feel, however brief and stylized, for what each weapon was like to operate.  So, I made my selection of the "Urban Assault" package that consisted of a pistol, two select fire rifles and a shotgun.  I met the Range Safety Officer who would walk me through the process and supervise my efforts - and ensure I didn't do anything stupid with the gun in my hand at any particular moment.  Yeah, it's been attempted and failed due to the RSO being right there to stop it.

The result?  A whole helluvalota fun!

I was surprised at how easy it is to line up on target when using a "red dot" sight system and basic optics.  I was also surprised at the relative lack of recoil with the shotgun and of how the Glock pistol barked upward.  All controllable and all fun to shoot.  I didn't do any mag dumping but tried the controlled few rounds burst and was pleased that I punched holes in the paper.  No, I'm not gonna give up my day job for that of a world class sharpshooter but I was pleased that, even in this extremely favorable setting I was able to get lead on the target I was shooting at.  I contrasted this with the couple in one of the firing range stalls next to me.  They'd signed up so that the wife could try her hand at firing a pistol.  With a very patient RSO she was walked through the paces and did her best.  And took quite the number of rounds fired before she hit any part of the target sheet - let alone anything in the black.  As such however, she's now leagues ahead of where she started at and will be much safer to all involved if she has to use a pistol to defend herself or her home.  Good job on all involved.

The Urban Assault Loadout The Glock The Shotgun

So, on the left there is the Urban Assault Package loadout: clips and rounds for the guns, the Glock pistol, the MP5 and the Commando - both chambered in 9mm as that's the least expensive ammo currently available.  In the middle the Glock all but disappears in my hand.  And on the right is the shotgun.  This was my first time firing a shotgun so it was an entirely new experience for me.

Well, as I was talking with the RSO about how MGV did its business and all, we also got to talking about the relative recoil of each of the guns.  He let me know ahead of time what to expect and walked me through the entire process.  He knew what he was about.  On the subject of recoil I mentioned something about what it was like to fire a Barret .50 cal.  My RSO assured me it was actually quite light, given the weight of the gun and its muzzle break assist.  And, in fact, they just happened to have a Barret .50 cal. rifle right there in the gun locket behind us.  After making sure all the rounds provided me were expended and the guns locked open with mags removed, he unlocked that locker and hoisted out their Barret.  Compared to the guns I'd just fired, this thing was an absolute canon.  It was quite heavy with most of that weight, unsurprisingly, forward with the barrel of the rifle.

Well, as he'd already unlocked the rifle and as he'd already put it in my hands and as I was already there, I asked him what it would cost to shoot the beast.  For one round it was a mere $45 apiece.  Yikes!  But, I already had the rifle in my hands and it was only a bit more to add to the price I'd already paid, and this was a unique thing....

So, I popped for it.  The folks at Machine Gun Vegas know what they're about.

The RSO was right, the recoil from firing that beast is quite minimal.  The blast in firing it indoors however, was something else.  That muzzle break did its job and I suddenly had a face full of muzzle exhaust.  I think about every fiber of clothing I was wearing and all the pores on my skin got promptly and deeply impregnated with GSR - Gun Shot Residue.  No way would I pass a TSA security check at that point!

But damn, was it fun!  I was smiling ear to ear for hours afterward.  Yeah, even at $45 a round, it was well worth it!

The Barret
For the rest of the day I wandered 'round Vegas enjoying what it had to offer.  I hit up the Mob Museum and found its exhibits to be both fascinating and macabre at the same time.  I also made sure to hit up the Fremont and that's always trippy.

Liberty Sculpture Park

An odd place out in the middle of almost nowhere...

I caught sight of this while driving out to Vegas and made note of it to check on the way back.  I'm glad I did.  This is a small, privately owned art installation space set along Interstate 15 in Yermo, California about ten miles east of Barstow and a hundred or so miles east of Los Angeles.  It's a "blink and you miss it" sort of thing.  It was only due to the oddity of seeing what looked to be a Soviet tank parked alongside the highway that I noticed it.

The Liberty Sculpture Park itself consists of a number of sculptures which memorialize the fight for freedom in Communist China and the oppression by the Chinese Communist Party.  One of the installations, unsurprisingly, is a memorial to the "Tank Man."  This was the lone man who faced down that column of tanks after the Tianamen Square Massacre in Peking back in 1990.

Liberty Park Tank Man

Another notable sculpture has also attained a degree of infamy.  This being the "CCP Virus' sculpture meant to depict the Covid-19 virus and its willful spread by the Chinese government.  This sculpture in and off itself evoked the ire of the Chinese Communist Party such that they hired a couple of thugs to make their way out to the Liberty Sculpture Park and burn down that "CCP Virus" sculpture.  That's the level of oppression and intolerance of the bunch running China today.

CCP Virus Burnt Down

The other sculptures and installations there are focused on the fight for freedom in Communist China and in particular, Hong Kong.  Though it's very visible from the highway, getting to it is a bit roundabout.  Entry is free and uncontrolled.  And across dirt roads.  Plus, it's out in the middle of the desert so it can be rather warm.  Still a worthwhile thing if you're making your way across that stretch of the 15.


Mom's Home August saw me heading back to Massachusetts to help my Mom move out of her home and into a "senior living facility."  This was a bittersweet thing.  My Mom had been living in that home for decades.  It was hers.  She'd poured herself into fixing it up and into customizing it for her wants and needs.  It was her home.

But, she's getting older and keeping the place up was getting increasingly beyond her.  Eventually, even she finally admitted and acted on this.  She did her research and found a highly recommended senior living facility and, with my help, got moving into it all set up.  I made sure to be there for her to help her move out of her home of many, many decades.  We'll both miss the place as there's lots of history and memories with it.
Cabot And this is her new home, Cabot Park Village.  It's a big apartment building in the heart of Newton - right where she grew up.  She knows the neighborhood like she'd been living in it all her life.  Which, she has.  So that sort of familiarity helps.  It helps a lot.  The move in process was basic and quick and stressful.  Any move is.  And for someone her age it was all the more so.

The staff and support of Cabot however, are turning out to be first rate so we've got good hopes for the coming years that she's there.

It's a bucket list thing.  Back earlier in the summer I'd learned that Yanks Air Museum was arranging for the "Doc" B-29 to fly in to Chino in September.  That I learned of this then from the folks at Planes of Fame doesn't say much about Yanks' PR abilities.  They only got word out about their doing this just a couple weeks before it happened.  In any event, as soon as I learned that one of the two flyable B-29s was going to be in Chino and was selling seats on its flights there, I beat feet to Doc's website and set to it.  Yeah, I was still unemployed but this was what I considered a "once in a lifetime" opportunity and it's what the good lord invented credit cards for, right?

In short order I'd booked myself a seat "up front" in the bird.  The bombardier's seat was long already having been sold.  I landed the "navigator" seat and was quite happy to have done so.

Doc and Me

Yeah, it really - really - sucked to be me that day!

There were four seats available up front: bombardier, observer, navigator, and radio operator.  The bombardier got THE best view as he was parked up in the very nose of the bomber and had that expansive amount of "greenhouse" windows around him for that view.  Working backwards, the next seat was the observer's.  He was sandwiched between the pilot and my navigator's spot.  He had a pretty good view of everything just sitting there.  Me?  I had my own window!  That and my view looking forward.  The guy in the radio operator's seat didn't have a window but he was, at least, up front as he sat across from me on the right side of the aircraft.  Once we were aloft we could "get up and move about the cabin" - but only to a limited degree.  Due to the FAA regs - and common sense - we couldn't squeeze up past the pilots.  That also meant the guy in the bombardier's seat couldn't leave it either.  So, he had to put up with the heat coming in through all those windows.  Oh well...  We still got some excellent views though.

Doc Banking

It was fascinating to me to watch the flight engineer - that was the white bearded guy facing backwards and seated across from the observer - as he worked his magic in monitoring and controlling the engines.  Back when the B-29 was flying the engine control systems weren't as automated or as sophisticated as they are now.  Modern computers have made that difference felt.  Thus you needed a dedicated crewman to ride heard on those huge engines which kept the plane aloft.  It was a full-time job and he was busy throughout the flight.  The pilots flew the airplane, the flight engineer flew the engines.  And they all worked as a team to make it all happen together.

The flight itself was brief.  It was smooth and well handled and a wonderful experience that I'm quite grateful to have been able to give myself.  If ever you get the chance for such a flight, take it.

Once back aground, we were able to move more around the plane.  I made sure to get my butt into the pilot's seat and was all smiles about it.  And then I got into the bombardier's seat and smiled even wider.

The Bombardier's Seat

I also made sure to "do the tube."  That is, to crawl through the tube which connected the forward flight compartment with the rear flight compartment.  The B-29 was unique among Allied bombers during World War Two in that it was pressurized just like modern commercial passenger planes are.  To enable the crew to get back and forth between the front and rear of the plane without first depressurizing the whole aircraft, they built-in a tube through which the crew could crawl.  It was a feature unique to the B-29.  The B-36 had a similar tube but it was so long they installed a little wheeled dolly for the guys to lay down and use the ropes overhead to pull themselves through its length.  No surprise, the temp inside the tube and the bomber in general got pretty hot pretty quick sitting out on that ramp in the August heat.  I was drenched by the time I'd finished crawling through it.

As far as WWII bombers go, the B-29 is it for me.  The thing was the pinnacle of bomber and aircraft technology during the War.  Nothing else had the range, speed, and payload capability that the B-29 did.  Yes, it was rushed into service and too many aircrews paid the price for that.  But, there was a war on, and that was a price that the Army considered worth it for what capabilities the Superfortress enabled them.  From every angle I think the B-29 is an absolutely gorgeous aircraft.  Especially as the folks operating Doc have chosen to keep its fuselage polished.  That is a deliberate choice on their part as it incurs no small amount of extra maintenance to keep that metal shined.  She sure looks pretty for the effort though.

Doc Nose

Sentimental Journey

Yes, it was an embarrassment of riches.  About a week after Yanks had Doc fly through, Planes of Fame had the "Sentimental Journey" B-17 fly in.  Another bucket list opportunity and I still had depth on my plastic to act on it!  So, act on it I did!

Sentimental Journey and Me

This time I was early enough in booking a seat that I got one of the two available up front.  It was smart of the folks operating the Sentimental Journey that they listed both seats in the front office as being "bombardier's" seats.  That meant the two guys up front would have to switch out during the flight.  One guy would have the nose seat on takeoff while the other guy "suffered" in the navigator's seat right behind him.  Neither seat sucked at all but the bombardier's definitely had the better view.  With my fellow bombardier we laid it out and he got the take off experience and I the landing.  Which I was quite happy with.

Me in the Bombardier's Seat

The view from upfront was nothing shy of awesome.  That big piece of Perspex nose cone guaranteed it.  The Navigator's station had its own view and that was quite evocative.  Going from the B-29 to the B-17 was a huge step backward in sophistication.  The B-29 crew compartments were insulated and big enough to stand up in and walk around.  The B-17s were none of that.  At startup, the whole plane shook as the big radials roared to life - and did so just a couple feet out the window on either side of me.  Poking my head up into the astrodome through which the Navigator would use his sextant to fix his position in flight, I really got a reminder of just how much smaller the B-17 is compared to the Superfortress.  Look at how close together the pilots are versus how far apart they sat in the B-29 above.  And the B-29 was designed and took flight just a few years after the B-17.  The technology had sprinted ahead that quickly during the War.

B-17 Pilots

This was the "front office" in which the two of us sat during the flight.  Again, compare how cramped it is in contrast to the front office of the B-29.  And during their missions, the two guys up front there were also expected to operate the machine guns on either side of the nose and in the turret below.  This while wearing their 40 pounds of sheepskin lined and electrically heated flight suits to deal with the sub-zero temps at the altitude the B-17s flew combat mission at.

The Front Office

Though it was still there, neither of us used the hand grip to try and vault our way up into the nose compartment of the B-17.  Some crewman preferred doing that.  They would wrap their hands around the wooden grip there at the top of the hatch and then lift their legs up and throw them forward into the compartment.  Yeah, the contrast of the bright sunlight and dark interior make it hard to see in this image.  Squint a bit and you'll see it though.  Done right, the gymnastic maneuver made it then easier to clamber forward past the flight deck immediately above them and into the nose compartment.  Done wrong that wind up falling on their ass - or their backs - onto the pavement beneath them.  Both of us chose the small ladder hung from the bottom of the hatch.

This was another unique experience that I was glad to have given myself.  I don't at all regret doing so.  It was very much a worthwhile thing and yet another one that, ere you get the chance, so take if you can get it.

B-17 Glamor Shot

All Things Are Once Again Possible

Early October I finally got the sort of news I was getting increasingly desperate to hear - a new job was mine.  Once again, all things are once again possible.  The relief that washed over me at this was deeply felt.  And no small amount of stress melted off of my shoulders upon receiving it.  As a personal celebration of the new job I headed into downtown Long Beach to my favorite restaurant there, 555 East, and had my meal of choice.

All Things Are Once Again Possible

I posted this image onto Facebook and did so with the same caption.  Somewhat cryptic but some folks clued in and inquired if this did indeed mean I was once again employed.  I appreciated that.

The new job is unique for me.  It's remote work.  That is, I can work out of my own home and do not have to go into an office to get the job done on a daily basis.  Good thing as the office for this job is otherwise out in Dayton, Ohio.  I have no desire to move to that part of the world.  But I am more than happy to be a SME - Subject Matter Expert - working for the new company as it supports the Air Force on keeping our B-52 fleet current and capable while staying here in Lakewood.  So, the year picked up in the 4th Quarter.  And not a day too soon for me!  Yeah, all things considered, I deserved this steak dinner!

Dayton Bound

In short order I was off to Dayton to get "on-boarded" at my new company.  Not only was there stuff I needed to do at that company but I had to get setup with the Air Force as well.  That meant a government ID and a government computer and such.  It was an involved couple of days getting everything wired together and going.  Nothing new for the folks helping me, fortunately, so I was through it all quickly and efficiently.  While there, conveniently enough, I had some time to take in the National Museum of the United States Air Force.  Yeah, for an aviation buff like me this was pretty damn cool!  I've got lots of photos of my brief time wandering the Museum's halls so I'll be to making a page dedicated just to it.  In the meantime, I found it interesting how the Air Force dedicated so much of its Museum's floor space to the origins of the Air Service and made a point of displaying the artifacts from that time as if they were holy relics.  Which, considering their importance in the establishment of America's aerial fighting force, they are.  This, in addition to the beautifully restored and presented aircraft there in the rest of the Museum.  Proudly among them, finally, is the Memphis Belle.

Me and the Belle It was good to see this particular aircraft finally getting the pride of place she deserves.

Named after the hometown of the pilot's girlfriend, the Memphis Belle was the first US bomber and crew to complete their "tour."  That is, to have flown 25 combat missions.  This was no small deal as the air war over Nazi Germany was intense enough that most crews were shot down and / or killed long before any of them got to that 25 mission goal.

Yes, the losses among bomber crews taking the war to the Nazis was that horrific.  In fact, over the skies above Germany, the Army Air Force lost more men than the US Marines lost fighting the Japanese throughout the entire war in the Pacific.  And the losses the Marine incurred in doing that were appalling.

Donated to the city of Memphis after the war, the Belle was insultingly neglected and sat, rotting next to the Mississippi river.  Finally, the Air Force was able to reclaim this historical aircraft, restore it and give it a place where it would not longer be vandalized and left to decay away.

Prior to heading off to Dayton to get "onboarded" they asked me for a couple of images suitable for my basic ID photo.  So, me being me, I sent 'em a couple.  One of which was your standard headshot type sorta thing.  The other?  Well, the other was this one.  That's part of the "Roman Legate" costume I worked up for Ann's ponyplay at Folsom one year and that I wore to work when I was out at Aurora, Colorado.  I thought it was a rather fetching alternative to the standard banal headshot image.  Corporate didn't agree and went with the banal image.  Oh well, at least I tried! Legate Madoc

Halloween 2021

Back from Dayton I set about setting things up for Halloween.  I got two pumpkins this year and carved 'em both up.  I was hoping for a repeat of 2019's joy as the Covidiocy had canceled the Trick or Treaters in 2020.  There were some kids running around having fun but not the same as back in '19.  Still though, I did my part.
My Pumpkins Ready My Pumpkins Lit

XMas 2021

A smaller thing this year.  I didn't do my feast with friends for XMas this year.  It was just my Mom and I.  Too many others were too mired in Covidiocy or had prior commitments and such.  So, it was simpler just to keep it low key.  That was fine as I still did the turkey and the prime rib.  Also, in a nod to convention, I did the cranberry sauce as it should be done - straight out of the can and with the can's rings still impressed upon it.

My Mom enjoyed her time out here and we made sure to hit up as many little day trips as we felt comfortable doing.  The Covidiocy still cruelly reigned supreme in Los Angeles County.  Thus, no La Brea Tar Pits for us as it was a "proof of vaccination required" thing.  Over in Orange County however?  No such idiocy reigned.  And we hit up a couple of interesting little museums as a result.

XMas 2021

We both enjoyed the work displayed at the Laguna Art Museum.  The Urth Cafe across the street made a nice lunch and dessert place to hit up after enjoying the Museum.

Laguna Art Musuem and Mom

The week's duration up, it was then time to head out to the airport for her flight back to Massachusetts.  Not home this time but to Cabot.  A change, that.  But, life progresses.  It was good to see her again and to share more memories together.

Mom and the Tree

Thus ended 2021.  On an up-note, yes.  Thankfully.  Lots of changes through the year.  Hopefully, 2022 will continue being better than 2021.  An easy thing, that as the bar that '21 set is a pretty damn low one on that score.


A banner year.  Yes, a banner year indeed.  What great and grand plans I had for 2020 as it broke.  As I write this just hours now since 2021 has itself broke upon the world, I've nothing much to truly complain about when it comes to the just completed year.

I've my health and at just shy of fifty nine years of age that's no longer something to take for granted.  This year past saw me have yet another year of unbroken employment.  That too is something unique enough in my life to be comment worthy.  The employment however, has been the best I've ever had.  The crew I work with and the work itself has been excellent.  And the pay has been the most I've ever received for my laboring.  Thus 2020 saw me become completely commercial debt free.  Considering where I was when 2019 dawned, that is no small feat and something I'm rightly proud of.  I made a plan to get out from under the financial mess I'd made.  I stuck to that plan and was actually able to knock off the last of my credit debt right on schedule and even knock off my car loan about six months ahead of schedule.  Go me!

Yeah, my personal finances were that big of deal for me and thus bore heavy attention and suitable recognition for the effort.

All else?  Well, I'm hardly alone in noting how odd the year went.  The moral panic the nation and the world descended unto as a result of the SARS COVID-19 virus is an appalling thing.  We'll be dealing with the repercussions of this for decades to come.  My views are very emphatic as to how it's been an inexcusable over-reaction and a thing used for utterly vile political and personal reasons to exploit so unjustly.  I've been saddened at how eager so many have turned out to be to submit to authorities who clearly have no clue and are as arbitrary and capricious in the edicts as can be imagined.  And this, while they believe themselves the more virtuous for having so submitted.

Thus the pace of the "Covidiocy" was inescapable through the year.  Among the things which I most deeply regret is how those foisting that Pandemic Panic so willfully and deliberately put so many millions into a state of perpetual fear through their lies and manipulations.  That is an ugly and hateful thing to do to anyone.  That it has been done by so many people in positions of leadership and trust just makes it all the worse.

In January however, that was all well in the future.  The first weekend of 2020 saw me off to the Planes of Fame to enjoy the flight demonstration of their Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-9 'Wurger'.  A replica, yes, but a full size and accurate one.  Kurt Tank's creation is one of the iconic aerial machines in aviation history.  As usual, prior to the flight demonstration, the day's subject aircraft is parked in front of the Museum's hangar for all to enjoy close-up.  

And also as usual, the uniform recreation guys were there in period attire.  This time however, none of them were sporting any Luftwaffe uniforms but rather United States Army Air Force ones.  Period attire, yes, and perhaps portraying American officers posing with a recently acquired Nazi trophy.

Focke Wulf! One of the neat things about these events is that it draws all sorts of enthusiasts.  The crew there on the left are not officially part of the Planes of Fame organization.  They're regulars however, and their presence always adds to the events.

But then there's some fans who show up on their own to add to things.  
This guy here below, for instance, had gone to great lengths to replicate the uniform and equipment used by some Wehrmacht troops in the opening phase of the war.  This, replete with official German Army issued shorts and bicycle!

Wehrmacht Cyclist

A bit over two weeks after first having gone up, I took my tree down.

I was rather surprised at how much I enjoyed having a tree up.  I'd thought I was very much past such things.  But, even sitting alone at night I'd turn the other lights off in the house to just enjoy the tree's lights glistening by the themselves.

It was a quiet and pleasant thing.  And I liked that.  The corner here was perfect for it as it wasn't at all in the way of me or anything else.

So, I made my mind up to have another tree come Christmas this year as well.
Tree Down

Gigi Edgeley

This is Gigi Edgley above there. When Ann found out that Ms. Edgley would be at the Con she made a point of getting there to see her.  Gigi played "Chianna" in the sci-fi series Farscape.

Gigi was there doing the "autographs for sale" route that so many genre stars are now keeping the coins flowing in with.  She was gracious and quite happy to pose with us.  Her child was photo bombed in as well!

Lil' Mando
Also in January, Ann and I went off to the Long Beach Comic Convention.  This one was new for both of us.  A small affair - especially compared to San Diego's Comic-Con - it fit into just one exhibit hall that wouldn't even have warranted mention at the larger Cons.  But, it was fun and it was just a couple miles away from where I lived.  And it was yet another place for us adults to have some fun.

Fun like this bunch below here.

That's Shredder from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles there on the far left.  A Jedi with Baby Yoda in tow.  Agent Natasha Romanov - a.k.a. Black Widow - of S.H.I.E.L.D.  And Logan / Wolverine there on the right.  I like how some folks can make best use of what they got.  The Wolverine dude had one of the easier costumes to work up - his "Adamantium claws" are the only prop he needed to buy.  A bit of hair gel to slick his coif into Wolverine's "ears" and he was set.

The guys were clearly having fun with it.

Crossing The Streams For Fun

The fun at these events goes for all ages.  Just like this "Little Mando" to the left here.  He was exceptionally cute and was clearly enjoying the attention from all the adults who had nothing but smiles at his costume.

This is a great way to generate future fans of the genre and of having fun in doing dress up like these CosPlay events bring out.

Thus is made for a great day's jaunt for Ann and I.  I've definite plans to be back at the next Long Beach Comic Convention.  That won't be until 2022 however.
Peter Berlin
A moment with an icon.

Peter Berlin

There's a lot going on here.

First off, the guy holding up the mask of himself is Peter Berlin. THE Peter Berlin. Starting back in the 1970s "Peter Berlin" became an icon in the gay community and in particular in the leather gay community.

Peter Berlin's Wikipedia page

Peter was handsome and was studiously photogenic. This, as befits a man who'd earned a living as a fashion and portrait photographer. He knew what it took to make evocative and powerful images with a camera. His personal style was absolutely perfect for the moment with that moment being the peak of the gay community's hyper-sexuality just prior to the Plague.

Peter Berlin was a perfect match for the zeitgeist of the era: young, gorgeous, blatantly sexual, original, and in no small part narcissistic. You see, the majority of the most powerful and iconic images of Peter Berlin were taken by Peter Berlin himself.

To make such shots in the pre-digital camera age took an enormous amount of photographic skill on his part. So the man had to develop his photographic artistry skills to an exceptional level in order to achieve those results.

That he was taking erotic photos of himself just added to it all. In some aspects, the "jerking off to your own image in the mirror" was a perfect commentary on how self-absorbed the gay community was at the time. And how "lookism" was so powerful even then.

All of this helped make Peter Berlin the icon in the gay community that he became and remained for decades. I well remember first encountering his imagery back in the 80s after I'd come out.

I thought he was gorgeous! I thought he was sexy as hell! I'd have happily bedded him or been bedded by him! He represented so much of what I wanted to be in the leather community and so much of what I wanted in the leather community from other leathermen. The more I learned about Peter the more powerful it all was.

So, when this latest book of his, "Peter Berlin: Icon, Artist, Photosexual," came out I had to snap up a copy immediately.

Then when I learned he was going to be in Los Angeles at the Tom of Finland House doing a book signing, I had to be there for it. And be there I was. With my copy of the book in hand, I got it signed by Peter Berlin himself.

It was fascinating meeting the man who's imagery had been so inspiring to me as I defined myself as a man. And also the porn idol who's image I'd climaxed to no few times.

It was also absolutely fitting for an individual who had become such an icon through his self-photography that he coined the term "photosexual" due to his being all about his image - would insist on hiding behind a photo of himself even as another photo of himself was being taken.

Peter has aged well. He has no reason to hide behind that mask. That he chose to speaks volumes about that self-absorbed narcissism of the era in which he became who he is.

All of which fit together perfectly.

I was quite happy to have been there, to have shaken the man's hand, to have shared that moment or two, and to have his signature to me on his book about himself.

As to the cocktail party at the Tom of Finland House, I wasn't there but for ten minutes in total. Perhaps fifteen, tops. As near as I could see, I was the only attendee there in full leather. The only two others there in leather were with the Tom of Finland Association staff. The rest?

Well, I'm glad they were there in such numbers as to make it a well attended event. I was back home within the hour. But, I got what I went for and am pleased wit that.

Valley Con

March of 2020 started out normally enough.  I went back up to Pasadena to take in this year's Valley Con.  There were the "usual" great creative creations there.  This one here on the right is a nice riff on the "shark-like" aspects of the German Me-262 fighter jet from WWII.  

There were plenty of other well done and highly creative models there.  I wound up buying but a single kit - a rendering of the robot flying wing fighter planes from "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow."  But, I picked up a number of books there as well.  So, it was a good haul and a good time for me.

Valley Con 2020
P-38 At Planes of Fame The next weekend in March I was back out at Chino to take in that month's flight demo.  This time with my favorite plane - the P-38 Lightning.  To me, this is about as gorgeous as an airplane can get.

And hearing it spin up those big twin Allisons was sweet on the ears.

I also managed to get a good in flight of her in all her gorgeous glory.

Aside from the regular uniform recreationists at that morning's flight there was yet another fan doing his part.

In this case it was a very dedicated you lad portraying a Imperial Japanese Navy Infantry officer.  No, not a Japanese Imperial Marine but Naval Infantry.  There are times that navies have created their own specialized ground combat units apart from their marines.  The US Navy, for instance, opted to do this recently as their Marines were being to heavily utilized in the Middle East.

He'd exerted quite a bit of effort in assembling the uniform in as exact exactness as he could.  And it came out quite well.
Japanese Naval Infantry officer

Ann's Shelf of the Wrong Red Ann bought herself a new couch.  It was a bigger and finer couch than what she'd previously.  Due to the nature of her apartment, a coffee table set up would not have worked well.  There just wasn't enough space for it.

A shelf immediately behind the new couch however, that would be just the thing.  She asked and I set about it.  I even routed out the top of the shelf so that it would have a slight lip to help keep anything placed upon the shelf remain upon the shelf.

I'd made her a toy rack previously and also had recently finished the bookcase for her as well.  Both painted in a nice and vibrant "Mandarin Red" to more or less match the armoires she'd purchased some years aprior.

Unfortunately, painting the bookcase had about exhausted the can of paint I'd used.  So, I went down to Home Depot and had 'em paint me up a new batch.  Same color combo as it listed right on can.  Well, something goofed.  The color was pretty hugely wrong.  And it was blazingly apparent once I'd gotten the shelf aside the toy rack and bookcase.

So, back to Home Depot and away with a new can of paint.  Some brush work and drying time later, I had what I wanted.  And soon had it up and well installed behind her new couch.  It looks great and does exactly what she needs when it comes to conveniently placing any drinks as she sits there on the couch.
Ann's Shelf of the Right Red

Pandemic Panic and Covidiocy

The relative sanity of life only lasted so far into 2020.  By about Mid-March things really started to slide.  What had been something that was only happening "over there" became something that was now happening "over here" and with it came the Panic.  No one could tell, at that point, how dangerous it actually was.  Well, if anyone was able to tell they weren't telling the rest of us and they certainly weren't telling our elected officials.

So, they panicked.  And they overreacted.  They "took counsel of their fears" and suddenly we had a full-on moral panic over a disease that's turned out to be little more deadly than the average garden variety influenza viruses we've dealt with since forever.  For this, we shut down our economy, threw tens of millions of people out of work, killed no few of them in process of that, and handed over enormous amounts of our freedoms and rights to politicians who had no clue what they were doing in the first place.

The whole thing went from having a dire and impending doom quality to it to having nothing but an appalling farce manifestation to it within weeks.  There was the panic buying of toilet paper.  Panic buying of toilet paper due to a respiratory virus?  And then the state governments began decreeing store occupancy requirements in the midst of their inflicting a "shut down" of all "non-essential" businesses.  Odd how it always seemed to be the "mom & pop" local stores that got deemed non-essential while the national chains stayed open for business.  And the idea that fifty people at a time in a store was somehow "safe" but fifty one people inside would've been deadly was equally absurd.  It's variance from store to store - even within the same companies - was also maddening.  

The Costco here in Lakewood quickly had a line that wrapped all the way around three corners of the building.  It was insane.  Especially when I learned that the Costco in nearby Huntington Beach usually had no such line.  Same company, just fifteen road miles away, and I simply walked right in to do my shopping.  The WinCo a block or two away from my house at least got smart enough to warn its customers that they'd be stuck with whatever the bought in a panic.  Rightly so, that.  While the lines at Costco eventually eased they did start putting up the barriers to keep the 1.2 Micron sized virus from reaching other individuals washing their hands in the Costco bathrooms.  

Covidiocy at 5 Guys Other places tried putting up even more extensive barriers.  Like these at a 5 Guys in El Segundo.  As everyone was required to wear a mask just to step inside the place and all the workers had to wear masks then the barriers shouldn't have been needed since the masks would protect everyone from everything, right?

Our political "leaders" even decreed we couldn't exercise in public.  The irony of these public exercise stations being cordoned off here in Constitution Park in El Segundo is a deep one and most likely lost on the craven politicians who inflicted it.
Covidiocy at Constitution Park

As everything was being locked down and we were told to "shelter in place" and all those "non-essential" businesses were forcibly shuttered (Non-essential to who?  Certainly not their owners or their employees who depended upon them for their income) the highways emptied out like I'd never seen in California.  Unlike millions of other Americans however, my job was deemed "essential" and the company I was working at even provided me with my own Ausweise certifying the fact that I had a "critical national security job" to perform and thus if the Stasi here in California sought to question me for being out of my house I would be let go.  It's a thing I still have folded up in my glove compartment even now.

A further demonstration of the Covidiocy was over at the local BevMo store.  I was rather pleased when I'd found that store as it carried a good selection of wines and it was nearby.  There were smaller liquor stores closer to me but they didn't carry Merlots or Malbecs and the guys running them were loathe to come out from behind their bullet proof glass shields to start with.  BevMo was where I did my booze shopping.  Right up until it too got his by Covidiocy.  Some gutless little twit in BevMo corporate decreed that, in an abundance of caution, the public would no longer be allowed in their stores to shop.  Instead, we could only order online and pick those orders up at the doorway to the stores - but never cross the threshold to any BevMo store.

Well, perhaps that might've been fine if I knew exactly what I wanted to buy and if they always carried that same thing.  I don't and they don't.  So it was less than useless.  I vented about this and a friend suggested I try a nearby Total Wine & More store.  Well, that turned out to be great find.  The place had none of the asinine Covidiocy restrictions, had a much greater selection, and had better salesfolk to boot.  It's since become my place for booze shopping when I need to shop for booze.  But, considering what sort of haul I bought that first day I shopped there and how slowly I go through even the dinner wines, it was a while before I had to hit 'em up again.

Total Win Haul in total

As the year wore on the Covidiocy just increased in all dimensions.  What had been sold as a life saving device, masks, now became fashion accessories you could buy on the cheap and out of the back of cars in parking lots.  OSHA approved?  FDA / CDC / NIH certified?  Yeah, right.  As if.  At least they looked cute.

Covidiocy As Fashion.

The arbitrary and capricious nature of the Pandemic Panic edicts was also ever more apparent.  And ever more unscientific.  After finally realizing that decreeing all restaurants had to shut down the almighty state deigned to allow them to open for take out only.  Then, when it became clear that most restaurants would still fail even with that magnanimosity the state deigned to allow outdoor seating at restaurants.  This, because the COVID virus is able to distinguish between people standing up and people sitting down - but only if they're sitting down on chairs placed on sidewalks or parking lots.  Even this however, proved too much for the Covidiots and the new decree went out banning even that "privilege."  This, after desperate restaurants had just got done spending thousands of dollars on putting together some measure of outdoor dining set ups.  Thousands of dollars they really couldn't afford to waste.  To our lords and masters in government, this mattered not.  Even as they admitted they had no science to back up the closures they just wanted to keep people staying home.   Thus we had plenty of scenes like this:

Arbitrary and capricious Covidiocy

This used to be a pavilion style enclosure that managed to seat close to as many patrons as the Heritage Family Pantry restaurant could inside.  They spent thousands getting it set up and equipped.  This, only for Newsom and his cronies to declare it null and void.  The staff the restaurant had hired back then had to be let go once again.

It's no wonder then, that the petition to recall Gavin Newsom has exploded in popularity with no end of signatures by Californians wanting that scumbag out of office.  I certainly was only too eager to sign the thing myself.

Recall Newsom

Unsurprisingly, Newsom proved just how hypocritical and venal he is by flaunting his wealth and power as he smugly violated his own edicts when it came to Covid Compliance.  Getting caught partying with dozens of "non-family members at an indoor dining facility" was enough to inspire one restaurant owner in Redondo Beach to call out Newsom by labeling his restaurant with the same name of the place Newsom showed his craven self at.

Eat At Joe's - aka "The French Laundry"

I'd heard this guy, Alex Jordan, was intending on keeping his restaurant open for sit-down dining despite what the Great and Glorious Gavin had decreed.  So, I quickly made it a point to get down there and show my support for his standing up to such petty tyranny.  While I was having my lunch there some Los Angeles Health Department officials showed up to warn Mr. Jordan of the dire consequences he faced for failing to submit to the state.  They were not well received.

Coronas During the Time of Corona As Cinco de Mayo approached I thought I'd try my hand at a bit of ironic celebrating.

Thus I went out and bought myself three bottles of Corona beer to drink in celebration Cinco de Mayo while the Corona pandemic raged.

The irony was minor but it was enough.  I have now determined that Corona beer is far too "skunky" to be worth drinking.  I prefer lagers in general when I have beer.  And Corona beer just isn't all that good.

Still though, I symbolically put the Corona virus in its place by extracting some slight amount of buzzed happiness from downing the three bottles of the stuff.  Yeah, I'm a cheap date...
Coronas During the Time of Corona

The Big Dent Undented and Honorably So

Thanks to the Pandemic Panic all the gyms in our state had to close.  Even at work the company gym shut down.  With that went the showers there at work as well.  Thus I had find some other means of getting in my exercise and do so while still being able to show up for work in a clean fashion.  That meant I had to shift my bike riding from being along the El Segundo beaches to along the bike path in Long Beach.  I'd drive down there, park along the street near the path, unlimber the bike out the back of my car, and have at it.  Ten miles and half an hour or so later I'd be back at my car to load the bike up, head home, shower, and be off to work.

One fine August morning I finished my morning's bike ride along the Shoreline Way bike path in Long Beach and rolled up to my RAV4 I'd parked on Ocean Blvd. The ride was fine, my RAV4 was not. There was now a Big Dent in the back of my car!

There was also a note stuck under my windshield wiper from Tammy. She apologized for having dented my car and left her number for me to call her about it.

I had other things to do at that moment. First things first, I got the Big Dent UnDented. I went through a "paintless dent removal" service and selected Fix-A-Dent to do the deed. And do the deed they did. I can tell where the dent was. Looking carefully at the image on the right you can still make out a slight "dishing" near the lower corner of the recess for the license plate.

Compared to what it was? Over a foot wide - note the ruler on the left image - and over an inch deep made for a Big Dent indeed. The fix, all told, cost me $350 and I consider it well spent.

Fix fixed, I finally decided to get in touch with Tammy. She was very apologetic even after more than a month had passed since the Big Dent. I sent her a copy of the receipt for the repair and within minutes there appeared a deposit in my PayPal account for the $350 it had cost me to become UnDented.

She had asked me if I had Venmo but I'm still a bit old school about such things so basic PayPal sufficed.

To say I was pleased with this would be understating it.

My vehicle is whole again. And the complete stranger who was responsible for damaging it owned up to her responsibility without any equivocation or weaseling at all. She did, she notified me immediately that she'd done it and then she made immediate recompense once I contacted her.

Yeah, it's a small thing in the scheme of things. But it is nice to know there's still such good and honest people who can act as adults should.

And that, in the end, is what I wanted to share here.

Big Dent Undented

Independence Day 2020

4th of July Feast 4th of July arrived and I did it up nicely with Ann.

She brought over some of her home made barbecue sauce and slathered it over some ribs which I grilled up on my grill.  Those came out damn tasty!

I also grilled up some traditional hot dogs for Independence Day.  Gotta have hot dogs on the 4th of July!

I also baked up an apple pie.  This, as you also gotta have Apple Pie on Independence Day - it's the American thing to do!

I did learn that an all butter pie crust - I'd run out of shortening - comes out really hard.  Edible and tasty but really hard.
As American As Apple Pie

Sunset Tower Photo Shoot - Take Two

Perry At Work Back in February Ann had set up a photo shoot for herself and chose the Sunset Tower hotel as its location.  The rooms had a great "Art Deco" style to them and the lighting was excellent for such intimate portrait work.

She had her favorite lensman, Perry, with her to do the photo shooting and invited me to spend the night with her in the hotel.  It was swanky to say the least.  But a couple of things weren't up to Ann's standards.  Especially not for the money the room cost.  So, she let the hotel management know this and, as is typical for Ann, she negotiated another night out of the hotel as compensation.  This time it was a night up in one of the Penthouse rooms and was guaranteed to have the southern exposure she'd sought in the first go-round.  

That exposure meant for even better photos in the ensuing photo shoot.  She invited me along for that too.  Can't say as I minded in the least as it was indeed a luxury experience.  The room, the food, the company were all first rate.  Also, as with the previous photo shoot, I helped out a bit with getting Ann dressed in her different outfits.  I didn't get to "lend a hand" in the photos like I did back in February nor do any "rigging" this time either.  But, getting her into her latex catsuit was no small feat as it took lots of tugging even with all the lube involved.

I also had the time to snag this photo of Perry as he worked to extract another excellent shot of Ann.  There was a little nook in the bathroom that was perfect for one particular outfit she had but the bathroom was otherwise cramped to get the shot - unless he parked himself in the walk-in shower and aimed it up.

Oh boy!  Mayhem!

Aside from dealing with a plague that was about to end all life on the planet, we also had to deal with months of rioting.  Oddly coordinated and sustained rioting.  Rioting that seemed to vanish the moment it became a political liability for the Democrats.  That was noted.

Driving along the 405 one day I noticed this Prius driving along the highway as well.

It sported a wonderful demonstration of virtue signaling.  It also was serving as a plea by the car owner for the mob not to destroy his property.

A pretty pathetic and sad thing in either event.  I saw no few stores in the Long Beach area with similar signs up in their windows.  Virtue signaling and simultaneous begging the mob to spare them.

Peaceful protesting?  You bet.  I've done that myself.  Numerous times.  Rioting, looting and - Oh boy!  Mayhem! - no.  The more our politicians cower before such thugs and mobs the more innocent people get hurt and killed.  But too many on the Left want the mobs to run rampant.
Virtue Signaling Scum

As a result we wound up with riots in downtown Long Beach.  There was no particular bit of "racial injustice" which sparked them here in Long Beach or even in California.  No, thugs simply were looking for an excuse to go rioting.  So, riot they did.  They should've been met with the riot squads cracking their skulls and hauling them away.  Instead,  the police were ordered to "stand down" and "de-escalate" the situation.

So the rioters got free reign and the law abiding citizens - people who'd done nothing wrong, committed no racial injustices, had obeyed the law, paid their taxes, and tried to keep their businesses running despite the state's crushing them at every turn - those people got screwed and screwed again.

I was pretty surprised to learn of the riots in Long Beach.  In LA proper?  No big deal as I expected 'em there.  This, to the point of watching the news to see which highways to avoid on my commute home in case some of those "mostly peaceful protests" decided that stopping traffic on highways so they could riot there as well would be fun for them.
Boarded up Business
After that first round of rioting and looting and burning the places which survived in Long Beach began to board up.  Great testament to how worthy the local government was at doing their civic duty.

Holden's Liquor here on the right went to the extent of getting sheet metal panels to board up.  Smart move, that.  Plywood sheets can be easily set alight.  The metal panels can't.  So they not only keep the thugs from shattering the plate glass windows of the store but they keep 'em from easily burning the down.

Holden's had those panels out from mid-summer on.  They usually were left detached but placed right beneath the windows for quick access in case yet another "mostly peaceful protest" started up.  

Tellingly, they were up and attached in the immediate days following the Election in November.  As were the panels - plywood, these - protecting the plate glass windows of the Steelhead Coffee shop there in the middle image.
Boarded up Business



The Planes of Fame Museum chose October to celebrate the completion of their Bearcat's restoration.  They'd been working on reviving this beauty for a long time and their work was absolutely gorgeous.  Firstly, I love the Bearcat.  It's lines are just pure power and its history is fascinating.  Plus, it's a Navy Blue Bird and there's few aircraft that don't look good in that shade of blue.  The Bearcat however, looks stunningly beautiful in that color.  And the Planes of Fame folks did a lovingly wonderful job.

The fit, the finish, the superb workmanship and the quality of it all was all on beautiful display that morning.  I got some excellent detail shots of what was essentially a "factory fresh" Bearcat - if any Grumman F8F Bearcat ever looked this good, that is.

I was there too!


My bike riding down along the Shoreline Way Bike Path in Long Beach was a welcome physical exercise relief for me.  I would hit the path before heading in to work.  I'd do that not because I enjoy getting up so early but because getting on to the path that early was about the only way I could be on the path in a mostly uninterrupted fashion.  The later in the day the more the tourists get there and clog the thing up.  Long Beach, thoughtfully, has a completely separate path for bicyclists and for pedestrians.  That way the cyclists can do their riding in relative safety and the pedestrians don't have to worry about being run over by any speeding cyclist.

That'd work just fine if all involved "kept to their lane" and stayed in their respective paths.  Or at least showed some consideration and awareness of others.  But, this is reality we're discussing here and dealing with the general public as well.  So, getting down and on to the path earlier in the mornings just minimizes the possibilities of problems as there's far fewer people out and about at that early hour in general and even fewer of them down and on either the bike path or the pedestrian path.

Fewer however, is not none.  And nor does it mean that all those down there that early are pleasant to deal with.  Some folks seem to believe that the bike path is the perfect place for them to get their morning run in on.  Nevermind that there's a path right next to it that is reserved for just them - the pedestrian path.  Others seem to think that the bicycle path is just great for letting their dogs run on - off leash, no less - and are amazed that doing so presents a safety hazard not only to cyclists but to their own dogs as well.

And then there's the "denizens" out an about.  The beach there in Long Beach is open to the public.  And aside from the "homeless" who shamble down there to get off the city streets of Long Beach there's also some folks who are truly dangerous to others in public.  At that early hour and with such few people down there and with the general "support" of law enforcement being what it is these days?  The police presence along the beach paths is rather... lacking.  And thus that means such denizens can be about as disruptive and dangerous as they want to be.

Mostly this isn't a problem.  Mostly.  I usually can see these punks before they're really aware of me and I'm usually gone and past 'em before they can react and get at me.  Mostly.  After one assault however, I figured I'd best do something to have evidence on my side.  Yeah, pretty damn sad that something as otherwise non-threatening and "safe" as bike riding early in the morning would require such defensive planning.  But, this what our great State of California has devolved to.

After some research I found a good solution when it comes to at least having a video record of what I was dealing with.  Hopefully, I'll not have to make use of it.  But if that hope proves hopeless then at least I'll have some video evidence to defend myself with in court.

Helmet Cam

That black and gray thing there in the image above is a Drift Ghost-X "helmet cam" made for motorcyclists to record what faces them on the road.  Much like the dashcam I also have set up in my car to record what I have to face on the road.  It's a simple thing and does what I need in a minimal way.

It's already proven useful in that I had the footage available when I witnessed a security guard having to take down one of the "denizens" that move through the beach area each morning.  The guy should've been in rehab or getting psych treatment and not out on the street where he was a threat to others - and to himself.  Instead, he became a problem for the security guard at the Shoreline Village to have to handle.  I got it all on camera so that if the security guard wound up facing any problems for dealing with the guy, there'd at least be my video recording of the incident to help him out.


The Valance

In November I decided to put up curtains in the living room.  I thought they'd look better than just the mini blinds that were there presently.  The living room window however, presented a bit of challenge to achieve this.  The window on the south face of the house runs right to the corner of the room where it meets the other living room window.  Thus a standard curtain rod holder set up wouldn't do.  There's simply no simple place to attach such a holder at that end as it's in a corner.  And finding curtain rods long enough to run the length of the south wall and also run the length of the east window and have a ninety degree bend in them was not coming up frequently in my searches.  So, I simply made one simply.  

I went down to Home Depot and bought two lengths of 1/2" aluminum electrical conduit.  The stuff is light enough but stiff enough to do the job of a curtain rod and it's cheap and easy to work with.  One ten foot length and a five footer gave me more than enough conduit to get the curtains up with ease.  A standard electrical conduit "elbow" joint piece hitched 'em together at the corner.  For the curtain rod holders I just carved up some 2x4s and put them at each end, securing them to the wall with toggle bolts.

There was a tad more involved than that, of course.  My first concept for the curtain rod holders was a bit more elaborate and overly complicated.  I realized that pretty quick and simplified things.  And then there was getting the toggle bolt anchors to anchor in the wall.  This is a 1950s house so it still used the plaster and lathe interior wall construction.  And it was thus "hit or miss" when it came to getting the anchors set.

All this however, was just getting the curtains up.  The downside of using that electrical conduit is that it looked like an electrical conduit.  And I'd other plans for the room as well.  So, something more must needs be done!

The living room in this house had no built-in lighting.  No ceiling light fixture like the dining room does and like every other room in the house does.  The electrical outlet on the south wall was controlled by the switch at the front door.  That however, was it.  And as a result, the living room was always dark once the sun went down.  Oh, I had a reading lamp on a floor stand that worked for, well, reading as I sat on the couch or the chair I usually had there in the corner.  But that was it and that wasn't enough.

Hence the Valance.

I needed something to properly enclose and "dress up" the curtains.  This would "finish the look" of the curtains, it would nicely obscure the conduit, and it'd give me a place upon which I could add some much needed room lighting.

At its basics, a valance is but a box atop the top of curtains or drapes.  The construction of which was pretty direct.  At least in concept.  I wanted the top of the stout enough that I could attach some "rope lights" which I'd lay across it.  The end pieces had to be stout enough to hold spotlights that I'd aim up at the ceiling to provide even more reflected light into the room.  The most visible piece of the valance - the "front" of it - just had to be wide enough to provide visual cover for what was atop the valance and what was underneath it.

I went down to the nearest Ganahl Lumber and got the lengths of "1x8s" that I needed and then had at it.  In hindsight I should've have more foresight.  The Valance quickly started getting heavy.  And due to its size and its having the ninety degree bend built into it, it also became awkward to heft around.  I could've saved quite a bit of weight by simply using 1/4" plywood throughout and just slot in thicker bits of pine board where I was going to attach screws and such.  Oh well, lesson learned.

I'd hoped to have it all up prior to Thanksgiving but it took too long.  Figuring out that I was over figuring things meant getting the curtains up and the curtain holders properly secured took longer than I had to play around with.  I wasn't gonna have the Valance up with the paint so fresh on it stunk up the room while we were enjoying our Thanksgiving Feast.

Still, getting things constructed properly and then primered and then painted took a while.  Long enough that I'd only just finished putting the Valance up with its lighting attached but an hour or two prior to the Christmas Feast.

One thing I learned is that the house isn't true.  The wall on the east side there in the corner bows out a tad.  That screwed with how the Valance snugged into place.  And as usual, I was reminded to keep my day job instead of the throwing it all aside to earn my way as a fine furniture maker!

 I've an eight foot length of rope light secured atop the Valance and I'm not entirely satisfied with its results.  It's too short to light up the full length of the Valance.  Yet, I don't want to double it up as the Valance itself isn't sixteen feet long in total.  Plus I want to move the power strip under the Valance to obscure the wires plugging into it.

End Light For the end lights, I found pretty much what I was looking for nowhere else but Amazon.  Of course.
End Light On

The Valance

All that said, however, it came out quite nicely.  The vivid red works quite well with the curtains and the grays of the furniture.  I'm pleased with the results.  Especially at night where I can turn off the end lights and just have the softer glow of the rope light.  All of these lights however, are plugged in to the wall outlet that's controlled by the switch at the front door.  So, when I step into the house at day's end I can instantly end the darkness inside...

Sous Vide and The Great Conjunction

Sous Vide Thanks to a Facebook friend I thought I'd try my hand a "Sous Vide" cooking.  So I got myself a "precision cooker" - i.e. a water heater with a really precise thermostat - and had at it.  Damn!  This turns out the best cooked meats I've ever made!  It's my meat cooking approach of choice from now on!

Late in December there was the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the skies.  I knew it was coming but didn't pay heed to know exactly.  One night as I was driving home I saw some neighbors out stargazing and they'd shared their astronomy joy with me so I could realize what was going on there that night.  My cellphone camera got at least some evidence of it.
Grand Conjunction

The Feasts

I'm getting better at these!  First up, I bought a new deep fryer rig.  The first one was my first and I learned some things about frying from using it.  For one, it turned out to be far cheaper in construction and usefulness than I wanted.  The new fryer is bigger, holds more, and heats things up faster and better.

I also had the epiphany to do my meat frying the day before I had my Feasting.  Deep frying a turkey and a prime rib does go a helluvalot faster than baking them in an oven.  But, it still takes time and it's a process that is requiring of attention.  Trying to do that frying while also rushing to get the last details detailed for the upcoming Feast isn't a smart move.  Far less stressful to cook the meat the day before and then only have the myriad of regular details to stress over on the actual day of the Feast.

And I ordered my meats ahead of time through the Beef Palace.  That meant better meats to start with.  For Thanksgiving, as my Thanksgiving Feast was after Turkey Day, I opted to pick up the meats for that after Turkey Day as well.  Thus, no crowd.  Alas, for the Christmas Feast, the Beef Palace was closed the day after Christmas and thus I'd have to either pick the meats up on the day of the Feast of before Xmas.  That meant waiting in a half hour long line to get the goods.  But, that was okay.

I'd Mark and Artur and Perry and his friend over for Thanksgiving and it made for a great night with great folks.  For Christmas I'd Mark and Perry over again but Artur was back in Brazil and Perry came over by himself.  They joined with my Mom to nicely fill the table.

I'd opted for a nice big eighteen pound bird for Thanksgiving and eight pounds of prime rib.  That big a turkey was a might bit too big so for Xmas I went with a sixteen pound bird but upped it to nine and a half pounds of the prime rib.  At neither Feast were any of my guests at all disappointed by the results served up to them!

Turkey Day Meats Thanksgiving Feast Meats here on the left and..

...Christmas Feast Meats here on the right.

I also baked up my usual apple pies and Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies.

The guys brought over some hors d'oeuvres at Thanksgiving.  Perry made an awesome Red Velvet cake.

In making my pies I learned that the top crust comes out nicer if I put the tabs of butter in first instead of through it afterwards.  Oops.
XMas Meats

The Tree

As promised to myself last year, I decided to put up a tree this year.  This year being what it was however, doing so had its own spin.  Mid-December I was out at the nearby Home Depot getting "stuff" for the "stuff" I needed to do at the house.  I'd noted back Mid-November that Home Depot was putting up its Christmas Tree Lot already.  So, that mid-December's eve I thought I'd check out the selection.  It was a good thing I did then as they were down to their last twenty five trees!  Of course they were - it being 2020 and all.  The guys running the place were rather merry.  I think they realized they'd soon no longer need be standing around in the cold at night as their selling out of inventory was imminent.  So, that night I bought myself my tree and hauled it back home.

Thus, on the night of the 23rd of December, I put up my 2020 Christmas Tree.

XMas Tree 2020

No Mermen this year, just my own ornaments, lights, and those ornaments brought over by my friends and my Mom.

A worthy sentiment Mark's ornament here on the left fits perfectly.  I fully agree with the Holiday Wishes it expresses.  Fully. Agree.

On the right is one of the ornaments Mom gave me this year and it's my favorite of those.  Neither she nor I have any idea of what it's supposed to express.  She's had it for years and thought it just the thing to help decorate my tree this year.
Mom's best
100 Years of Tom Of Finland This is the Tom of Finland Centennial Year and thus an ornament denoting it was about perfect for the tree.

And this one on the right is a collectible no matter what.

Of course, Bruce was still pride of place on the tree even being from last year.
A Collectible!
Mom's Christmas Trees Upon hearing my request that my Xmas Feast guests bring an ornament in place of any side dish, my Mom decided to go all out and send her Christmas Creations.  These are handmade and minimalist to abstract in nature.  She is particularly proud of how the Santa came out as his expression is perfect for the Age.

Alas, the Postal Service only got them to my doorstep on the 2nd.  But I had 'em up immediately so they could at least be by the Tree for even a little while.
Mom's Santa

The Holiday Break 2020

Mom Gets A Pedicure As usual, I had the time between Christmas and New Year's off as my jobsite shuts down for that time.  Nothing new here.  And, thankfully, same as last year I have my job still waiting for me come the New Year!

During this span of days Mom did her usual trip out to stay with me.  This time she insisted on flying herself out first class!  Well, good on her!  She enjoyed the pampering.

Speaking of pampering, that's her enjoying a pedicure there on the left.
Mom Departs

And here she is packed up headed home.
I had to search the listings in Orange County to find a nail salon that was open.  Here in Los Angeles County they've decreed such businesses "non-essential" and shut them down.  Meanwhile, across the entirely made up line that separates Los Angeles County from Orange County, the nail salons were packed.  More Covidiocy.

And also as a result of the Pandemic Panic's Covidiocy, there was damn little to do out here in LA.  We did manage to hit up the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve for a brief jaunt.  This was the day after a heavy rainstorm had pounded through and it left some scenic snow capped peaks in its wake.  We also did a stroll down the hills of Manhattan Beach to take in the glory of beautiful sunny day there and out at the Manhattan Beach Pier's end.  No dining out at new or fancy restaurants.  No exploring interesting or funky museums.  Just time together.  And time shared with two of my friends over the Feast that one night.  Then it was back on the plane to go home for her.

For me, it was time for the last breakfast of 2020 and hoping for a better year for all...

Last Breakfast of the Year

I'd plans for this year.  Bigger and better things than how it turned out.  Still though, at year's end I was in a much, much better place than at year's start - and 2019 didn't leave me off badly at all.  So, I recognize that I've got it good compared to far too many this year.  And I'm thankful for that.  I'm also looking to put my 2019 plans for 2020 into action in the coming year.  Here's to that!


A year's difference made for quite a difference, thankfully.

I started 2018 unemployed and with nothing to look forward but more of that in the immediate coming days.  Days that turned to months.

A year later I started the New Year employed and with solid expectations of that employment continuing for many months to come.  Whereas in 2018 I was watching what was left of my bank account balance drain away with a depressing rapidity, a year later I was desperately watching each penny of it until my account started filling up again.

The new job paid quite well.  The problem was getting that pay to me fast enough.  For the first time I was a full-up "1099 Guy," that is, an independent contractor.  The Gig last year Back East was so short my 1099 status didn't matter.  Cutting Edge Corporation (CEC), my employer then as now, had a policy of paying out its contractors the moment their assignment ended.  So, even though the Gig in Wilmington, Massachusetts was only two weeks long, I had a paycheck headed my way as soon as I filed my last timesheet and expense report.

Normally, Cutting Edge pays its contractors on a "Net +30" basis.  That is, thirty days after they've invoiced the client for whom the contractor did the work for.  And this, on a monthly payment basis.  So, I got paid for November's work at December's end.  And that was for all of ten days.  This, right before Xmas.  CEC treats its people well however, and they worked to "pay me ahead" for December's work by getting me that month's pay before the New Year.  I'd otherwise have expected to get paid for the three weeks I worked in December at January's end.  I appreciated the up front cash as I desperately needed it.  But that also meant no paycheck next came my way until CEC had processed my hours for January, submitted it to the client, the client approved it, the client paid CEC, and then CEC cut me my paycheck - at February's end.  That was almost two straight months without any pay.  Yeah, it got real tight waiting for that cash flow to catch up to me.

But, eventually, it did.  And since then the cash flow problems eased to the point of no longer existing.  I had to budget myself with exacting care during this time.  But, I did that too.

Among other adjustments to all this was incorporating myself.  My tax accountant laid it all out as to what to do to maximize the amount of my income that I wound up keeping at year's end.  To do that, incorporating and setting up separate business accounts was the smart choice.  It was also a pain in no small aspect.  Wayne, my tax guy, recommended using a particular Credit Union for my business accounts.  It had a higher rate and as this was all about the money, I went with it.  And I found that Credit Unions like this outfit do things differently enough to be a real pain.  Their account numbers, for example, are non-standard with other banks.  These guys liked to add numbers to the account number.  This, for their own internal use and do so without letting the customer know.  So, when I tried linking the account number to the payroll system I was setting up it was a major problem figuring out what, exactly was my account number so that the payroll folks could process it accurately.

And that was another thing, payroll.  Once incorporated it made tax sense to have myself as my own employee.  And it then made more tax sense to pay myself as my own employee.  Hence having a payroll operation going on.  The payroll's roster is all of one person - me.  But, here I was at 57 and the CEO, CFO, and CIO of my own company!  So, I had that going for me.

As I got all this straightened out I also got a handle on the debt I'd racked up while being so long unemployed.  The interest on the credit cards I'd maxed out was no small monthly addition and I made it a primary goal to knock those down to zero as quick as I could.  In January and February that cash flow situation was so bad that I couldn't maintain minimum payments to all of them and meet rent and keep food on the table and gas in the car.  I called Chase, my bank, and asked them if they'd quit with the phone call harassment and work with me as I'd been such a loyal customer for years with them.  They said they'd quit with the phone calls and were happy to work with me.  They lied.  Or, to be more specific, they still screwed me but they did at least stop calling me about it.  What I thought was a breather to get my cash flow working turned out to be a "missed payment" recording on credit record.  I really do NOT like Chase Bank.

In any event, I made it my mission in 2019 to pay down my debt as rapidly as I could.  And I managed to kill off almost half of it by year's end - zeroing out one card that represented almost half of that debt just by its own self.  Yay me.  Finances and financial health were a big deal for me in 2019.  But there was more to life than just counting the beans, thankfully.

As to the specifics of that?  Well...

New Year's Day 2019

Ann came over to celebrate New Year's Eve with me.  Being who we are now, we were both abed well before Midnight.  Yeah, we're not high energy kids anymore.  I did set the alarm however, to wake us up at five minutes 'till and thus we were both awake enough to pop the champagne and toast in the New Year appropriately.  And then we went back to bed.  And then to sleep.

On New Year's Day Ann showed off one of her new purchases.  Ann had gotten tired of having to towel off her dog, Ollie, when taking him for a walk when it was raining.  So, she got him a doggie raincoat.  All online, of course.  Which meant, of course, that the fit was a "problematic" thing for him.

Ollie's New Raincoat

I'll give the guy credit for putting up with such indignities.

Stylin' he's not.

I don't think Ann ever tried taking him out in this rig.

Also on New Year's Day I tried my hand at making an apple pie and using my brand new silicon cooking mat to do it with.  Handy thing, that mat.  It's no stick, flexible, and reusable.  And it's got helpful sizing measurements on it for rolling your crust out to.  Once sufficiently sized, you just slide your hand under the mat, place the pie plate over the rolled pie dough, and then flip the whole thing over.  Setting it down, you then gently peel away the mat and there's the pie crust already in the pie plate.
Baker's Mat - in silicon!

Ready to go! And here's the results of such flipping and peeling away.  Pretty simple and direct, actually.  Plus, the baker's mat , being a silicon thing, is precious easy to clean off.  Gotta dry it nice though, before rolling it up and putting it away until the next pie needs to be doing.

On the right here is how it came out of the oven, freshly baked and nicely aromatic.  Ann had suggested the added touch of wrapping aluminum foil around the edges of the crust to keep them from getting burnt during the baking and thus crumbling away.  Smart idea, that.
Fresh baked

Upon the tasting I found I'd added a bit too much nutmeg but, somehow, we managed to suffer through it.

Suffering through it...

Gone Goat - 2019 Edition

Gone Was The Goat

Also in January I decided to make a change in how the world related to me.  I did this simply enough by shaving off my beard and mustache.

Gone was the Goat!

I found that, for some odd reason, my goatee was coming in almost entirely gray.  This, while the hair about my head was still almost entirely its usual dark brown.  There were some streaks of gray here and there but I felt that just added to things, not detracted.

The facial hair however, seemed too out of place.  So, out it went.  Much to the lament of some.  But, I think the clean shaven look looks good on me.  Not the first time I've done this and I may well go back to having a goatee and mustache again at some point.

For 2019 until that point however, I'll keep to shaving.

A week or so after Ann had taken me out to the Magic Castle for my birthday dinner - an excellent evening at an excellent place - I decided to enjoy the glory of a late February weekend's morning by walking over to a nearby restaurant for breakfast.  Along the way I spied two things.

The first was this view down one of the streets in my block.

This particular street was lined with these pine trees.  Other streets nearby are lined with different trees.  They make for a very distinctive character to each street and neighborhood.  And they are definitely part of Lakewood's charm and part of its plan.

The City of Lakewood was created out of empty land back in the 50s as one of America's first "planned suburban communities."  And damn, if they didn't get a whole lot of things about it right.

When I first was checking out places to live out here the presence of all these trees truly caught my.  The major streets are beautifully lined with them and it makes a sharp dividing line between the City of Lakewood and the other communities which grew up around it.  Those communities, by and large, didn't do the "tree lined streets" thing and it truly shows.  No few times have I been driving home and felt myself relax and feel better just because I suddenly came into a stretch of street with so many trees abundantly lining it.  That's been a visible cue that I've crossed back into Lakewood.

I really appreciate that and it's definitely a benefit of living out in this city.  Judging from how well the houses and yards are kept along this particular Lakewood street, I'm guessing the people here appreciate that as well.
A well planned community

Where NPCs come from! The other thing I noticed on that day was this place in the picture here on the left.  At this time there was a meme going 'round the InterWebs about "NPCs."  This was in reference to "Non-Player Characters" from video games.  These being characters the players interact with as part of the game but characters which are entirely scripted and have no thoughts of their own.

As used in memes, "NPCs" are a reference to people who can only repeat the talking points or dogma that is fed them.  Or, as the memes were running, talking points that are "downloaded" into them.  They then endlessly and thoughtless repeat whatever they're programmed to say.

Well, on that sunny morning I'd just found the college that manufactures those NPCs!

Paint Bottle Shaker

March saw me starting to get back into building my models again.  One of the online model groups I'm a member of had a "Monogram March" group build challenge.  The thing was to announce within the group your intent on building a model kit made by the Monogram company.  I chose the Tigercat they made back in the 60s and decided to get into it.  

Part of making it would be to paint it and that meant having paint that I could paint with.  Having the paint was no problem as I had plenty of that.  Being able to paint with what I had however, presented some problems.  It had been so long since I'd used some of these paints that they'd well and truly settled in their little paint bottles such that their chemical components and pigment had separated.  Hand shaking 'em to get 'em to blend again only went so far.  I needed something that'd shake them far more vigorously and longer than my hand shaking could attain.

I could've bought a purpose-made hobby paint bottle shaker for $30 to $60 apiece.  But, after scrounging online a bit I found the idea of using a "C" clamp attached to a hand held jigsaw.  Very clever and very cheap.  I set right to it.

Here's the bits I used.

First I checked what sort of chuck the jigsaw used and then if I had a clamp that'd fit it.  I didn't.  But I now knew what size clamp bar I'd need to find.

A quick jaunt over to the nearby Home Depot and I came back with the smallest  
Dewalt "Trigger Clamp" they carried.  I got it back home and with just a bit of filing down, the end of the clamp bar snugged right into the chuck of the jigsaw.

I then made sure to tighten the screw on the chuck and gave the assemble a test firing.  It all held up and didn't fly apart.
Home-built paint shaker parts
Then it was time to give it the full-up test!

I clamped into place a bottle of paint that needed remixing.

Then I held the jigsaw down into a trash can I had and pulled the trigger of the saw.  Gently at first to make sure everything stayed clamped and then with full squeeze to get it going.

I held it all down in the trashcan in case something broke and I would then only wind up with paint spattered within the trashcan.  But, it all held up.

What emerged was a very well mixed paint that was once again fully usable.

This, for all of about $5 or so.  Plus, as I didn't fundamentally alter the clamp, I can still use it for general clamping purposes when I've not need of it to keep my hobby paints properly mixed.

Yay me!
The full-up test

In May I was out at the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino for their annual air show.  Lots and lots of fantastic warbirds turn out for that and it's a grand time to be wandering around the flight line to see 'em up close and to then watch them roaring by overhead.  I managed to take almost three hundred shots that day.  The highlights will make it to their own page over on my Planes and Stuff page.

The particular highlight of the day for me was this beauty.  It's a Focke Wulf 190 fighter plane as flown in World War Two.  This one's a replica but it's a spot on reproduction of the original that'd take a very keen eye looking very closely to tell the difference.  It was a joy to watch this bird go through its paces there at Chino.

Focke Wulf 190

July came in nicely enough.  Ann came over for the 4th and I baked another apple pie.  Less nutmeg this time.  I thought a home made apple pie was the right and proper thing to have on Independence Day.  Ollie went bonkers in the backyard with all the fireworks going off.  Not scared, just energetic.  I had purchased some sparklers and noise makers but that was about it.  Some of my neighbors down the block however, they went whole hog.  BIG fireworks.  IMPRESSIVE fireworks.  HIGHLY ILLEGAL fireworks.  But, it was all in the spirit of the 4th of July so I loved it.  Some of my other neighbors didn't.  Well, they're pussies and that's all there is to that!

I attended another Anime Expo Los Angeles.  I had the time and thought I'd give it another go.  As it was all about Anime it was therefore all about Anime.  The rest of the science fiction and media world got short shrift due to its focus.  Nothing wrong with that as they're really specific about it - hell, it's even in the name of the event: Anime Expo!  Still though, unless you're up on your anime, you'll miss a lot of the uniqueness at such an event.  There were plenty of folk I saw there who were wonderfully decked out in their costumes and I had no idea at all of what they were about.  At least at a science fiction convention or a comic convention I'd stand more of a chance of guessing.  Not at an anime con.

Still though, there was some costuming going on
- "mass media" or otherwise - which stood out clear as day.

Dude Thor On the left here is an excellent example of "working with what ya got!"  The "Avengers: Endgame" movie had recently come out and one of the heroes, Thor, had let himself go a bit in the aftermath of the Avengers being defeated.

The visage of a beer bellied and dissolute Thor was shocking.  As was the idea that the muscular Chris Hemsworth would get that was or even suffer his appearing that way on screen.  The couch potato Thor also looked extremely like a character from another movie.  Specifically, Jeffrey Lebowski - a.k.a "the Dude" - as played by Jeff Bridges in "The Big Lebowski" movie from 1998.  

In fact, in the Avengers movie this is even noted by Tony Stark, Ironman, who nicknames the corpulent Thor "Lebowski."  A nice bit of meta referencing in the Marvel film.

The fat Thor was a godsend to cosplaying guys who were alien to gyms yet wanted to be "realistic" in their costume portrayals.  Hence this "Dude" here.  He just got himself a the prop of Thor's axe and some comfy pajamas just like Jeff Bridges wore and off he went.  This, to much acclaim and approving amusement there at the Expo.

At the opposite end of the cosplaying, there was this group.  Theirs is pure anime and its very good.  This bunch, and there were more involved than just the two in the photo, were spot on in their costuming of the characters from the Dragon Ball Z anime.

I know only a little about the particular series as I'm not into that type of anime.  But they even included props in their display there on the main hall portion of the Expo.  This was a "see and be seen" place and these guys had their "A Game" going on.  Not captured in the photo was a bit of dry ice smoke coming up from the "crater" around Yamcha's character curled up there after being blown into the ground and defeated by the energy strike from the Raditz character there standing over him.

Very well realized and nicely done.
Dragonball Z

In August I was out at Chino again and after taking in yet another presentation at the Planes of Fame Museum I made the time to also take in the Yanks Air Museum there at the airport as well.  It's collection is of a different focus "All American" and it too is very well done.

Yanks Air Museum

Toward the end of August I was back at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.  This time it was with Ann to take in the Rolling Stones.  This was a pure nostalgia thing.  While "the Stones" were slightly before my time - as far as being the music of my youth went - they were part of my musical background since their songs were very much still being played in general rotation on the rock stations I listened to growing up.  It was a measure of how much time had changed however, that their concert didn't sell out immediately, like the Stones could reliably count on at their peak, and that the prices for even the "nosebleed" seats were near stratospheric in cost.  Something their original fans couldn't have dreamed of.

See! I was there!

I wasn't there for the superb musical experience.  Extracting that from a sports stadium venue would have been no small feat.  Instead, it was to simply be there for the experience of having attended a live concert put on by the Rolling Stones.  There were no few dads there with their grade school kids in tow just for that exact purpose.  
Us Boomers rocked out to the tunes of our youth.  The kids?  Well, most of them had never heard any of the songs by the Rolling Stones.  They certainly hadn't heard them when they were of that "coming of age" period in which the songs would've imprinted themselves upon their memories.  Also, in short order, we were all on our feet as we were rockin' out to the songs of our youth.  And thus the kids, being kids, couldn't see what was going on as they couldn't see over the adults all standing up around them.  But hey, they can at least say they actually attended a live concert by the Rolling Stones.

As to the band's performance?  The guys were professionals through and through.  They came out and rocked the house.  One hit after another and everyone in the audience got their money's worth of excellent entertainment.  And yes, I really did get to see the Rolling Stone there on stage.  I've the photographic proof as shown here below.  That's them.  Right there.  Honest.

The Rolling Stones - no, really!

Wesco Highliner Lineman Fresh In Box

I'd been lusting after a pair of boots like these for years.  

But, such lusts come with a price and it was only well into 2019 that I was that far ahead of things that I was able to pay that price.

These fit in nicely alongside my Dehners and my Corcorans.  They also avail me the look and feel of a tall boot like the Dehners and a lace up one like the Corcorans.  

I ordered them direct from the Wesco factory and am very pleased with the results!
Wesco Highliner LIneman Worn

Mt. Wilson Observatory 60 Inch Telescope

Mt. Wilson Observatory
In September Ann came up with another of her excellent experience ideas.  This time it was via Atlas Obscura and was a private tour of up in the mountains just north of Pasadena here in Los Angeles.

It was a most excellent way to spend an evening.

The site was nearby enough to be easily reachable but was off the beaten path enough to be unique, still.  As it was through Atlas Obscura we were able to get more unique access to the facility than had we simply showed up on our own.  That made the event all the more unique and fun.

The history of the Observatory is fascinating all on its own.  The particular history of this telescope was even more so.  The wonders discovered through it were mightily impressive.  It was a search for knowledge in about its purest form and there's something very fulfilling about that.

One of the more unique aspects of using this telescope was how you viewed its images directly - you climbed (clambered, more accurately) directly upon it!

Clambering on the telescope
While waiting for the rest of our group to arrive before heading over to the telescope we had some time to wander 'round the grounds.  The Sun was soon to setting and the Mt. Wilson complex is well perched above the City of Angels™ to yield some truly wonderful vistas.

Mt. Wilson Vistas

Halloween 2019

This year I decided I would try something different and join in with the neighborhood and "do" Halloween.  And I'm really glad I did.

Carbed Jack First off, of course, I had to have a Jack-O-Lantern to set the right setting.  A quick bit of carving and I had that in hand.

A few "emergency candles" later, I had a nicely glowing Jack to set the mood.

Lit Jack

An appropriately set Halloween Porch.
Halloween Porch

So. with the basics in hand, I made sure to have the swag to dispense.  The nearby WinCo was selling the perfect sort of easily dispensable candies and selling 'em by the pound!  Yay!  Everybody wins!  So, I bought a few pounds of the chocolates and mixed 'em all up in a big bowl.  I plunked that down inside the front door and I waited until it got appropriately dark enough before putting my Jack on his perch and lighting him up.  After that, the fun started.

It started and run for over an hour.  And at least in my chunk of Lakewood it was joyous.  The kids were all well behaved and were having fun and were nicely thankful.  No obnoxious louts and not "you're really too old for this and being a jerk about it" ones either.  The adults were having a great time with their kids as well.

Plus, it was enjoyable - VERY ENJOYABLE - for me to be doing this.  The joy the kids were having was something I was sharing with them.  Their happiness made me happy to.  Small things, yes.  But fun ones.  They'd scamper up to the porch and I'd open the door to them and kneel down so I could talk to them at eye level.  They'd say "Trick or Treat" and I'd ask them what their costumes were and share the joy at all that.  Then it'd be candy time.  I'd hold out the big bowl and they'd take a couple pieces.  They'd smile, thank me, and be off to the next house to score some more sugar rush.  

Some of the costumes were very well done and creative.  Some of the kids were so young that they didn't know exactly what to say or how to say it.  And that was cute as all get out as their parents coached them along.

One kid, in particular, sticks in my mind.  Knee high to a toad, he couldn't have been more than three or four years old.  He was in some sort of dinosaur costume that was starting to flop around as he ran up to porch.  His dad was right behind him.  I opened the door and knelt down and asked him what his costume was.

The little guy gave it his best shot.  "I'm a.. I'm a... tree sir a... a tri see A... I'm a.... Daddy?  What am I?" he asked turning to his dad behind him.  The dad was busting his gut laughing and we both thought his boy was wonderfully cute and awesome.  "You're a Triceratops" he managed to reply through his joyous laughter. I swear the guy was laughing so hard he was tearing.  It was just the sort of thing I was hoping for and glad to have been able to be part of.  It made my night.  
Halloween 2019 was a great success!  I had lots of fun with it. I got to share the joy of the night with all who came by.  And I was grateful for that.

The Schwag Bowl Full And those who came by got to share some swag as well.

On the left here is the Bowl of Swag at the night's start.

And on the right is what was left by night's end.
Schwag Bowl Empty

At November's start I was off to the Palm Springs Air Museum.  I'd some business to conduct at a nearby shop and this was a great "twofer" as PSAM was officially welcoming their newest addition - a F-106B - that they'd just finished restoring.  It was a fun day's trip and neat to hear the tales of some of the guys who didn't just fly 106s but one of them actually flew this particular F-106!  Plus, a P-38 pilot from WWII happened to like my cap!

Palm Springs Air Museum F-106B Day

After having fun in Palm Springs at October's end, I was inspired to do some more exacting photography.  To that end I started setting up a "photo studio" in my living room.  I went out and got a big enough backdrop that'd cover up the TV and windows along with providing a good neutral background for my subjects.  I got a long chunk of "closet rod" and some eye screws that I popped into each end.  Some clamps and some rope and some snap links and some toggle bolts and a cleat later... and I had a rig in which I could hoist the backdrop up and or change the backdrop from color to color - I got two of 'em.  Then I got some lighting and figured it'd do for a start.

Photo Studio Start

Trust me when I say this lighting is not what I settled with!  I also learned quite a bit about proper lighting.  For one thing, when photographing people it's really a bad idea to have the lighting on them coming up at them.  It really makes people's faces look bad.  This, no matter who.  I got some more widgets to get going with this - a wireless remote trigger for my camera so I could more easily take "selfie" portraits and even a wifi card for my camera so that I could instantly upload my photos to my tablet and thus be better able to tell how the photos came out than I could see on the small screen aback of my camera.  Slick stuff, actually.  

I was all set to go with it taking personal photos of my friends for their use in online profiles and such.  Nothing helps better with getting attention on those sites than an actual portrait photo taken instead of some bathroom mirror selfie.

All that was getting set up then I had to put it all on hold.  Then in November my uncle, Eddie, died.

Eddie was the eldest of the Greene kids.  He was the patriarch of the Greene family with five children on their (Eddie & Kaye) own who all had lotsa little Greenes to add to his name.  So many I couldn't keep up.  Each year I'd get a photo postcard of them all.  There'd be my uncle Eddie in the center with all his grandkids about him.  Their number only increased with each year and after a while the card came in an envelope with a separate slip of paper that had a roster to name them all.  Yeah, there were that many.

With Eddie's death, it left just my Mom as the only one of the Greene children still alive.  Without question or hesitation I packed it up and was back at my Mom's side as soon as I could get there.  I made the hotel reservation for us out in New York state, where Eddie and his settled, and handled all else for my Mom.  It says much for me that I was able to do this without pause.  I'm glad I was finally at the point in my life where I could.

It also says much about the life that Eddie led to see how packed the church was for his service and how many showed up at the restaurant the family had reserved afterward.  The man touched so many lives and did so in a very positive way.

That time Back East was tough for me.  This, mainly because of how tough it was for my Mom.  She's it.  The last of her family left alive.  My grandparents on her side are dead decades ago.  Her two sisters, my aunt Peggy and aunt Helen died in '18 and early '19 respectively.  Neither of their deaths affected me as much as Eddie's.  Peggy had retreated from my Mom and the Greenes.  She eked out the remainder of her days with just her two daughters in attendance.  Helen had long ago moved down to Florida so I never much heard from her either.  Eddie however, made it a point to stay involved and be part of my Mom's life.  He'd be down to her place a couple times a year to help her keep up the house and such.  Plus, the "Greene kids" always loved swinging by "Aunt Mary Ann's place" whenever their travels took them anywhere near.  Which with all the soccer and gymnastics and track tournaments and such, meant my Mom got to share the joy of those kids and their family quite frequently.

With Eddie's death my Mom's own mortality and age became ever more apparent.  So, being there for her was exceedingly important for me.  She needed me to be there and I was.  I handled everything that needed to be handled for her to be there for her brother and his family.  Returning back to LA when all that had wrapped up was painful for me as I knew I'd not be making many more of such trips Back East.

Moonlight At Work The two images here do a nice job of bookending things.

On the left was a striking visual I found awaiting me one night early in November as I left work.  The Moon was full and skies cloudy.  A nice combination for an interesting image.

On the right here is the cup of New England Clam Chowder I had at the Boston Logan Airport Boston Legal Seafood restaurant as I awaited my flight back to LA.  They, at least, can do clam chowder right!
Boston Legal Seafood New England Chowder
Thanksgiving 2019

Turkey Day Turkey Just a few days after getting back from Boston I was once again doing the deep fryer routine.  I've gotten better at this.  Practice helps with that.  Even if it's just but twice a year.

I got a good sized bird and had all the fixins' fixed.  I marinated it at the right time and without punching holes through the skin such that he sauce flowed right out.  The rig I had for frying showed its cheapness as even with just being used but twice a year the battery compartment had broken .

This rig had a built-in timer that would automatically shut off the flow of gas unless you pressed the reset button on it every fifteen minutes.  This, as a safety feature to prevent users from leaving the thing burning unattended.  It's a stupid idea and a poorly implemented on.  On first use it had me scrambling as I couldn't figure out why the burner kept going off.  And thus my first foray into deep frying was much more harassing than it needed to be.

I got used to hat however, and could deal with it.  After Xmas each year the whole set up went back into storage and only came out again in time for Thanksgiving.  Well in between Xmas '18 and Turkey Day '19 something had smacked the battery compartment hard enough to have broken the tab holding the door to the compartment closed.  And if it didn't stay closed the batteries popped right out.  And if the batteries popped out then the unit wouldn't work.  And without it working there'd be no gas flowing and no fire going and no turkey frying either.

Fortunately, I jury-rigged a clamp onto the compartment that held the door closed and thus kept things running.  Still a stupid set up to begin with.

Turkey Day 2019 here in Lakewood, California, was a cold and rainy one.  Hence my raincoat in the picture above.  Outside I moved the fryer set up closer to my patio instead of being out in the middle of the driveway.

This way I could at least stand 'round out of the rain as I stood 'round the thing frying the bird.  The jugs there are all the peanut oil which I used.  It's apparently better than regular cooking oil as it has a higher flame point - which means it won't catch fire as easily.  That's a good thing when deep frying like this.

You'll note I also have my fire extinguisher handy there too.  On the right is a face shield I picked up for my wood working work.  Safety glasses can get easily fogged, especially when I'm wearing reading glasses to be able to see the work I'm doing.  That face shield would also work quite well to keep any scalding hot oil spray from scalding my face.  Also, an important thing, that.

I've got big enough oven mitts that I'm also protected there as well.  I treat what I'm doing with respect and care and thus I've the confidence to use this rig.  

What comes out is nice 'n juicy, tasty, and done far faster than baking in an oven for hours and hours.

My guests certainly appreciated it!

And that was another nice and new thing - guests.  I invited several and asked Ann to do the same.  Thus we had more than ourselves to share on that Thanksgiving Day.  I was glad for that.

It also inspired me to do even more along those lines for my Xmas Feast.
Fryer In The Rain

Christmas 2019

I usually try to keep Christmas a low key affair.  I've done the holiday decorating spasm routine before and don't have much interest in it now.  There's no kids in the house to conjure that sort of joy for them.  So, it'd just be a pain in the butt for me to set up and strike.  Nor is my Mom much into it all either.  So, when I'd have her out here on the Left Coast there'd be essentially no Xmas decor decorated at all.  And we were fine with that.

This year however, Ann prevailed upon me to bump things up a notch.  As I was just inspired by the joy that derived from my having guests over to share Thanksgiving, I thought her insistence was a great idea.  So, out we went one cold December's eve to the nearby Home Depot and its Christmas Tree lot where we picked out a suitable tree that suited us.  The south east corner of the living room in my house is about perfect for such a thing.  Flanked by windows on each side of it, plopping a tree there displays it nicely and it's also not in the way as it's displayed.  

Once I'd gotten done with my manly tree harvesting and setting up work - i.e. paying the guy at Home Depot for it and then hauling it inside to push it down into the tree stand I'd also bought at Home Depot - it was time to sit back and savor the next step of the process - the decoration.

This was something quite special for Ann.  She really - really - enjoys this stuff.

Observing the Decoration of the Tree Ann has lots and lots of tree decoration stuff.  She kept it from the years when she was raising her two kids.  She's not had much space in the places she's lived since to put up a tree of her own so it was very much a pent up thing for her.

And thus the tree was soon quite bedecked.  She was her usual fastidious self in properly setting all the ornaments and then the lighting.

For my part?  I had some of the very first Christmas ornaments my Mom and I made for the first Christmas tree I can remember us having.  This, back in the late 60s.  Just a handful of them.  I kept 'em for their sentimental value.  But, they're still useful and thus on to the tree they went.  Eventually.  In the meantime I just sat back and enjoyed watching Ann have her fun in her element.  Yeah, that's my sneaker clad foot there in the foreground at the bottom of the image.

Among the decorations that Ann put up were her "Mermen" figures.  She found these when we came across the Holiday Shoppe store in Sausilito.  They're male stereotype figures from the waist up and got fish tails from the waist down.  Mermen as opposed to Mermaids.  Campy, kitschy and gay as all get out.  And now my tree was full of them!

I was however, inspired to make an ornament of my own this year.  It was a tribute to the Best Christmas Movie of All Time.  And I think it came out rather well.

Come Out To Coast... It'll Be Fine...
We enjoyed Christmas Eve together and savored the glow of the freshly bedecked Christmas Tree.  It was a nice way to be.  It was a nice way to wind down the year.

The next day saw me off to LAX to pick up my Mom.  This year I decided to be smarter about it.  Prior to this I'd wait for her call at the "Cellphone Parking Lot" and then rush over to meet her at outside the baggage claim area.  This was always rushing.  The traffic would be stupid heavy, there'd be difficulty in finding where she was standing, and then there'd be the rush of plucking her off the sidewalk, loading her bags in the car and getting going without causing any worse traffic congestion there.

All that rushing, for what?  Too much needless stress.  So, instead, this year I simply parked in one of the parking structures nearest her gate and waited for her to make her way out.  Then we walked pleasantly over to me car and drove on off.  No rushing, no stressing.  Much better this way.  Lesson learned.

The next day my Mom and I hit up a new museum for us.  It was the Hammer Museum.  The place was small enough that we could easily take it in on just a day's jaunt.  That suited the energy level of my Mom just fine.  One thing a day being about it for her now.  The Museum itself "champions the art and artists who challenge us to see the world in a new light, to experience the unexpected, to ignite our imaginations, and inspire change."  In other words, it's all about "modern" art with an emphasis on it being "queer" and "woke."  I found most it to be poorly done crap.  Some of the galleries had "works" that seemed for all the world to be but some high school kid's MS Paint scribblings done on a larger than average printout.  No, I wasn't impressed.  Not with most of it.  Some of it was at least visually impressive.  And it certainly was better than sitting around watching the dust accumulate.  Plus, my Mom seemed to enjoy it so there was that.

Modern Art At The Hammer

As an example of the "crap" art I described, there was this "installation" piece in its own separate room with special lighting and everything.

Crap Art Is Crap

Reading the description of this "installation" was revealing.  It was very much a "message" piece: "This exhibition focuses on 'climax communities,' which represent 'the final stage of ecological succession' before a habitat collapses..."   Alrighty then...

I gotta imagine this guy got himself at least in the mid to upper six figures for it all.  Not bad for crap.  At least though, it was something for my Mom to talk about with her friends back in Massachusetts.  She even took a picture of it with her phone.  Her old flip phone.

The next day, after an exhausting time taking in some other wonder here in the City of Angels™ we did something far more sensible - we got a manicure and pedicure!  Mom's not usually one for such treatments but she let herself be talked into it this time.  

Da Treatment!

Ann came over that night and worked up an hors d'oeuvres for the Xmas Feast I held the next day.  Very creative and very tasty.  It consisted of slices of Prosciutto wrapped around a Feta cheese filing and then drizzled with a Balsamic reduction.  The things almost instantly disappeared once she served them at the meal the next day.

For the Feast I decided to go all out.  I wanted it to be nice.  Among other things, that meant acquiring the place settings for eight guests.  I'd never done that before.  I never had a table big enough for eight folk to sit at all at once.  I never had that many friends over for a meal.  Ever.  I'd been using the same set of plates since '94 and they worked just fine for me, for my partner when I had one, and for what few folks I ever had over beyond that.  But that was just a four place set I'd bout in 1994 at the Mission Valley Mall Bed, Bath & Beyond store in San Diego.  I thought of just another set of those place settings.  But that style was a quarter century in the past and, although classic, was long ago discontinued.

So, this meant some new acquisitions on my part.  At the end of which I had a nicely balanced set up that could easily serve eight in some style.  This, along with the necessary extras to do so beyond just plates and cups.  It pleased me to have such an ability to receive guests and do so in a nicely contiguous manner.  The aesthetics of it were important as was the functionality.  Not that the friends I'd have would value aesthetics above all else but they would appreciate it when done well.

The day of the Feast I was quite busy getting all the meat done and everything else laid out.  I was surprised at how much work that entailed.  I was pretty damn exhausted by the time I actually sat down to the sit down.  I can see why some folk insist on having such things catered.  Seriously.  It is a lot of effort.  I'm thankful for Ann having been there as she's got lots of familiarity when it comes to running a meal service thanks to her having run a catering company of her own.  And she was an excellent hostess welcoming and entertaining my guests whilst I ran 'round frying another turkey and roast and then some spuds.  

I had a full table awaiting me.  Myself, my Mom, Ann, two of Ann's friends: Ace & Jack, two of my friends: Mark & Perry, and a "plus one" friend of Mark's.  A full table of good and interesting people.  Also folk who were quite able to be hospitable and provide enjoyable company of their own.  The conversation was excellent as was the company.  I wish my Mom's hearing was better as I know she and Mark would've had much to talk about with their both having traveled to many of the same destinations in Europe.

Eventually the Feast was properly feasted upon.  The wine was well drank.  The desserts savored.  The coffee appreciated, and the company well parted.  Lots and lots of effort on my part with excellent help had made it work nicely.  I was a happy guy to have hosted and given such hospitality to my friends.  I'll be to doing that more.

I've no photos to share of the Feast.  I was too damn busy to take them!  But I do savor the memory of the event and thought I'd share that here.

The next several days saw my Mom and me find other things to do here in the great LA area.  Short little jaunts.  One thing or so a day.  Nothing taxing and always trying to be off beat and interesting with each.  That plus her just sitting on the couch each morning enjoying the Sun's heat.  Something somewhat hard to find back home in the Massachusetts winter right now.

Eventually, it was back to the airport and seeing her off.  Again, I didn't rush it and shuffle her off curbside as we'd done years past.  I parked and walked her up to the TSA groping point.  Then I watched her process through and head off to her gate and, eventually her flight home.  Another melancholy moment for me.  

Back home for me meant welcoming the New Year on my own and doing so in a far, far better state than the year prior.  Oh, I finished off 2018 on an up note.  But it was a stressed one and that wasn't fun.  I knew it would get better but there was slogging to slog through to get to that point.  To get to this point, actually.  In the span of the year I went from about flat out busted to having knocked off almost half of my debt and hosting a worthy feast for good friends for the first time in my life.  I'd lots of help getting to this point.  And I was glad to be where I was.  Especially as I could look forward to 2020 with even bigger plans, bigger expectations, and more optimism as well.


The first half of 2018 wasn't great.  Six very solid months of no employment will tend to do that.  I've never been unemployed for so long a time - since October of 2017 - in my adult life.  It wasn't for lack of trying on my part.  I was fielding job inquiries left and right, sending out my resume all over the place, and going on one interview after another.  Plus the economy was, by all accounts, booming.  So, I should've been gainfully employed right damn quick.  I knew that my employment prospects were pretty dim when the job dried up at LinQuest in October.  That deep in the 4th quarter is no time to be looking for work as no one hires so close to year end.

I'd consoled myself that things'd pick up in the 1st quarter of the New Year.  But they didn't.  No offers in January but that had to be due to everyone still switching gears from year-end to new-year.  February would be it.  But it wasn't.  So, March would have to be it.  But it wasn't.  Looking back at previous years however, I realized that 1st quarters aren't really good either.  It's always the 2nd quarter in which the job offers come in.  That's when companies have gotten past their end-of-year close-outs and gotten past their start-of-year changes and are ready to get going.  So April would be it.  Lord knows I'd been interviewing enough.  And not just phone interviews but actual face to face ones.

I had one face to face interview with a major aerospace company in which they told me the position I'd applied for was too junior to match my skills but they liked me enough that they were rewriting the job requisition specifically so as to fit me, personally.  I was really looking forward to working there but then they screwed up handling my security clearance.  Originally, there was no clearance requirement.  With the new "req" - job requisition - there was.  That wasn't a problem as my clearance was quite active and current and good to go.  But it wasn't.  Well, at least not so to this company's security department.  Their security folk said I didn't have a clearance.  The person handling my in-processing had no clue as to what sort of clearance was required for the particular job and didn't communicate very well with their company's security people who didn't communicate very well with her either.  After several weeks of going 'round and 'round they chose to close out the requisition because I didn't have a clearance.  This, when every other company I applied to verified on their own that I did and that it was active.  And they were able to verify this within minutes of checking - not weeks of failing to.  Yeah, it was depressing and frustrating and depressingly frustrating.

Several of the interviews that I went on wound up with the companies telling me what wonderful fit I was for their position - in which they'd be hiring come July.  That they were telling me this in March and April really didn't help me much at all.

Finally, come mid-June I actually got some work thrown my way.  And it really was thrown my way.  And it really was a "gig" assignment.  And I really was glad for the work.

The Gig

A company I'd done previous contracting work for tapped me for truly short term bit of work in mid-June.  One of their clients was considering bidding on an upcoming RFP (Request For Proposal) and the schedule work would be crucial to it.  Crucial both for the client to assess whether or not to bid on the proposal and whether or not the proposal would be viable if they did bid.  There was some money available for this work and, if things worked out, it could lead to the company getting to run the proposal for the client and employing a team of contractors.

So, not only was this some much needed income for me it was also something which could lead to even more income - and in a big way too.

Proposal work is a unique thing and a very lucrative one.  Proposals are typically generated in ninety days from acceptance to submittal.  As such they almost always involve overtime work.  Sometimes that'd be considerable amounts of overtime.  This, as in sixty hour work weeks for most of that three month span.

For staff regular employees, this means that proposal work is a righteous pain in the ass because they don't get paid for those extra hours worked beyond their straight forty.  For contractors however, it can be an absolute gold mine to be assigned to.  Not that they'd get "time and a half" for any hours worked over the base forty but they would get paid for their extra hours worked.

I did the math on what it would've meant to my finances if that proposal work came through and it was a sweet, sweet prospect indeed.  So, I had quite the incentive to make sure the preparatory work I was tasked with went as smoothly and professionally as it could be.  Not that I'd have done any less otherwise but with such dazzling prospects at hand, I made sure to make sure the schedule I worked up for the client was as perfect as I could make it.

As if all that didn't make the work special enough there was also its location.  Namely, Wilmington Massachusetts.  "Wilmington, why is that special?" you ask?  Well, Wilmington is next to Wakefield and Wakefield is next to Lynnfield and Lynnfield is where I grew up.  I went to junior and senior high schools in Lynnfield and did my first few years of college with Lynnfield still being my home.  It's the town in which I came of age.  And it's the place I got about as far away from I could possibly get while still remaining in the Continental United States - moving, eventually, down and over to San Diego which is in the "opposite corner" of the entire country from Lynnfield, Massachusetts.

And now here I was working just a few miles away from all that personal history.  I was also just a few miles away from where my Mom had moved to down there in Newton Lower Falls.  Newton, West Newton and Auburndale were where I went to elementary school and where my Mom grew up as one of four children of the Greene's there in Newton.  My earliest memories are of living in the big old house Nana and Grampa owned there in Newton.  My Mom had moved back in after the divorce and lived there until she'd gotten her feet under her enough to strike back out on her own.  It wasn't until the mid-70s that she remarried and we wound up out there in Lynnfield.  Then, I picked up four step-sisters and one step-brother along with the step-father, John.  

Going from being an only child and living in a pretty urban setting there in Newton to being the youngest of six and out in the suburbs was no small change.  I'm glad for it but it wasn't a whole lot of fun at the time.

I'd previously driven up to the old family homestead there in Lynnfield but that was well over a decade in the past and it was on one of those rare times I'd been "Back East" over a Thanksgiving so the trip was brief and the setting cold and gray - as that deep into deary New England winters tends to be.  So, I did know that things had changed.

But on my first weekend Back East on this Gig I found out just how much more things had changed when I took a Saturday's day to drive around town and hit the spots in which I'd spent my youth.

The Ol' Homestead

The Ol' Homestead

This is the home I lived the longest in growing up.  All the way from junior high through senior high school and on into college.  It's changed a bit.
The driveway

The trees are bigger and more numerous.  There were no hedges along the driveway nor anything so large growing so close the house itself.

From the school parking lot

A bit more perspective on the front yard and such.  Back when it was my home there was but an overgrown field to the east of the property.  Now it's a fully developed bunch of condominiums.

The garage and loft

A neat thing about the house there on Summer Street was its garage.  It was a big two car thing and it had a nice loft space above it.  The breezeway between it and the house was covered and also connected to the screened in "sun porch" on that side.  The awning extending from the garage on the left there is a new addition.

The shed

I don't recall the shed being so nice looking.  There used to be a rabbit hutch out in front of it where the Murray kids grew their rabbit pets.

The backyard

This too has changed.  About right where the tree is in the center of this image used to be two large and long hedge type growths.  I say "hedge type" as the things were about six feet high and wide.  They were big enough to crawl inside of an under the branches it was rather open.  It was fun to play around with my toy soldiers and such in the little dirt forts I'd make under those branches while hidden by the bush's canopy.

One thing I particularly remember about the yard was its one acre size and how the whole family would have to come out twice a year to rake it all up.  John, my step-dad had a riding mower that he used to keep the grass in check but at least twice a year the lawn required quite a bit more attention than that.

The yard was perfect for parties and such.  One of his daughters had her wedding reception there and it was great for it.  With all the kids emptied from the nest however, keeping that big a property up and running was too much effort.  So, eventually they sold the house - for a price I found utterly impossible to believe - $120,000!  This was however, back in the early 80s so that was when $120K was actually real money.

It used to be just forest in back of the house.  Nothing between it and Pillings Pond.  Now it's all developed with houses and condos all around the place.

Lynnfield Senior High School

Another big change was the High School.  Lynnfield was big enough and wealthy enough to have its own separate Junior High School and Senior High School.  I did a brief drive-by of the Junior High and found it quite a bit more developed but I didn't delve into that.  The High School however, was different.

The front of the place didn't look much different.  The rest of it however, did.

Between the wings

The high school's classrooms are in two wings of the building with the office and library connecting them at the northern end.  This view is from behind the whole place and looking north with one wing of classrooms there on the left and the other there in the shade on the right.  The curved bit in the middle is part of the library.  The actual front of the high school building is on the other side of all this.  When I was in school there the little garden development in the middle there didn't exist.

No Rolling Stons

I had to get a picture of this as it brought back lotsa memories.  Back in the 70s there wasn't any fence around the property and there were no guards or anything set to it.  Well, one night some of the local lads got hold of some spray paint and decided to mark up the sides of the classrooms with their graffiti.  Nothing vulgar just the names of their favorite bands.

When we came into school that next morning we all got to see their handiwork before the custodians got it scrubbed off.  I forget which other bands were named but one definitely stood out:  "The Rolling Stons"  No, that's not a typo on my part.  I was, however, a misspelling on theirs.  The Rolling Stons!  Even in the midst of vandalizing their own school they couldn't get the name spelled right.  Yup, those were my classmates back then.

The playing fields

Another indication of just how much things have changed is how the playing fields have since been developed.  Back in the 70s this was all just open greenery.  Now?  Well, the baseball diamond there on the left is where the soccer field used to be and it's now both fenced in and lit up for night games.  The field on the right is now the soccer / football field and it's not only also lit up but has a large set of permanent bleachers installed.

Bleachers that not only have their own "skybox" but also an elevator to get to it!

The elevator

It's really an indication of just how upscale Lynnfield has gotten and how much money its residents have that all this construction and facilities could be put into place.  There's also now a big concessions stand building added to this complex.  Pretty damn impressive.

Turning around from that long shot that captured both playing fields though, I found this one.

The tracks

You'd have to look close to be able to tell that this used to be a train track rail bed.  You can just barely make out one of the rails there on the lower right corner of the image.  I don't know how active the tracks were back in the '70s but they were active enough to be properly maintained and cleared of any overgrowth.  I used to use them as part of my walking back home.  Now I'd need a pretty sharp machete to bushwhack a trail through those decades worth of growth.

Leaving the grounds I took an image of the south wall of the gymnasium.

Gym wall

Each year the senior science class had a egg drop competition.  You were challenged to construct some sort of packaging that'd allow a raw egg to withstand being dropped off the edge of the gym's roof.  My dad came up with some auto-rotating helicopter blade contraption to give it a go.  It failed.  But it was pretty cool to have tried.

Another thing I noticed in my driving around the high school grounds were the number of black kids there.  This, on a summer's day.  Back in the 1970s there were no black kids in Lynnfield.  Period.  None.  It was only during my senior year in high school that we got any black kids in our school at all and they had to be bused in from the "inner city" as part of the "Metco Program."  Previously, the only time we'd seen any blacks other than on TV was if our parents took us into Boston for some reason.  There was no law or prohibitions against blacks being in Lynnfield it's just that there weren't any.  The place was pretty pricey even back in the 70s and any blacks who had that sort of wealth to afford it lived elsewhere as Lynnfield was also pretty far out "in the countryside" outside of Boston.

Well, some decades pass and things change.  I can only wonder how alien it must've felt for the first black kids enrolling in Lynnfield's school system in the 80s or 90s.


Driving off from the high school I spied some new construction going up along Essex Street.  Nothing to out of the ordinary, just your usual "McMansions."


I mean, if you've already spent a near fortune acquiring the property for your "nice house in the suburbs" then why not spend another near fortune making it as big and as bloated as you can, right?

Another McMansion

I didn't see any style or grace or proportionality in these houses.

And another McMansion

I certainly did see that they were overly large, without any unifying architectural theme, and just looked ostentatious in a rather petty way.  Petty but expensive.

The Colonial 

After doing my high school and Ol' Homestead checking out I decided to checkout one of my very first places of employment - the Colonial restaurant.  As such things went back in the 1970s, the Colonial was a pretty big deal.  It was part of a complex that had a hotel and a big golf course.  The restaurant was a rather upscale place.  So much so that then President Jimmy Carter held a dinner reception there when he made a swing through the Bay State.

My job at the Colonial restaurant was as a "pearl diver" - i.e. a dishwasher.  I spent a number of hot 'n sweaty nights there in the back of the kitchen prepping the dinner plates, glasses and flatware for their loading into the commercial dish washing machine and then stacking 'em up for reuse.  It wasn't fun work and the "hot 'n sweaty" stuff came from working around the steaming hot dishwasher.  I do remember the day or so old dinner rolls made excellent projectiles for my coworkers and I to throw at each other.  The restaurant was but brief bike ride for me to get to from the house on Summer Street.

But, all of this is in the past as the Colonial is now long and gone.  It's not just been renamed or restyled but physically wiped away.  Same same with its attached hotel and golf course.

In its place is a new "mixed-use commercial development" known as "MarketStreet Lynnfield."  The new place is a "lifestyle center" type shopping center.  That is, it's set up to look and feel more like a small town rather than a traditional "big box" enclosed mega-mall.  Sure, it has a different ambiance that might be more appalling than a mega-mall but I can't help thinking how unappealing such an open complex would be during a typical New England winter.

But, the Saturday morning I was there the place was busy enough.  And it was rather upscale in its design elements and its selection of stores.  Among them was one of these:

The anti-brick & mortar company's brick & mortar store

I'd heard of these things but had not physically seen one myself - let alone actually gone into one.  I found it so patently absurd as to be laughable.  Amazon was created as the "anti-brick & mortar" shopping experience.  By virtue of being online only it could sell you its wares far less expensively than any physical store could afford to.

And yet, here is one of many new Amazon physical stores selling Amazon's wares just like a traditional brick & mortar store.  Irony indeed.

The Woburn Experience

In preparing for this gig, I checked out the hotels that were near the job location and settled upon one that I felt was the best balance between cost and proximity to the job.  This turned out to be the Red Roof Inn Woburn.

It is a budget hotel that offers budget accommodations.  And its room rate was within the GSA per diem limits so I was being fully reimbursed for its costs.  I put up with staying there for about a week.  The A/C unit in the room was so deafeningly loud that I had to wear earplugs in order to stand a chance of getting to sleep each night.  I'm not kidding about that.  I couldn't even pop open a window in hopes of letting an outdoor breeze keep air circulating in the room as the windows were all sealed.  Throw in the paper thin walls for the rooms and the place was just too noisy to really get any rest in.  I quickly found a new place to stay, the Residence Inn Woburn, that was far, far superior - and also within the per diem limit.

One thing which surprised me about the Red Roof Inn was that it turned out to be just across the street from the Woburn Mall.

During the summer of '83 I had a job at the K-Mart which was the Woburn Mall's "anchor store."  My job at that K-Mart was to help close the place down.  That was the very first time I'd ever heard of a K-Mart actually closing.  Turns out the Woburn Mall has always been a rather "hard luck" location.  It's kind of awkward to get to with the way the highway exits are set there on the 128 and it's store selections are just not all that attractive.  Too low scale.  And as the Burlington Mall is just a few miles away down 128, the Woburn Mall just couldn't really compete with that much, much larger and more upscale mega-mall.  No surprise to learn that the Woburn Mall is now up for sale.  Exploring the mall during my job Back East I found too many storefronts in the Mall were empty and what remained didn't seem to be overly thriving.  The K-Mart is so long and gone, replaced with a T.J. Maxx store, and the rest of the stores definitely had a "barely lingering" feel to them.

Several times during my two or so weeks working this Gig I would be driving off and find this guy working the corner of Mishawum Road and Commerce Way.

Workin' the corner

Sorry for the cramped image of him but it was a cellphone quickie thing before the light changed.  I think he was there just to piss off all the notoriously liberal Massachusetts types driving by.  A bit of street theater.

After work I would take to walking 'round the Mall's parking lot as a way of getting at least some exercise.  On one of my rounds I spied these bits of dashed hopes and dreams scattered onto the parking lot's pavement..

Shattered hopes and dreams

Close up of dashed hopes and dreams

Another potential millions in winnings unrealized...

The Green Dragon Tavern

While out on the Gig I heard of a Boston restaurant getting the "Social Justice Warrior" hate treatment.  Turns out there'd been some free speech rally in Boston and that some of the free speech advocates who'd been at that rally then went to a local place to eat dinner.  Of course the hateful little SJW shits decided that this was entirely unacceptable so they tried organizing a boycott of this local restaurant for their having dared let any of "those people" spend money in their eatery.  Yeah, the fanatics of the Left are truly this hateful.

Well, seeing as how I was Back East and wanted to take a run through Boston anyway, I chose this eatery, the Green Dragon Tavern, as my destination of choice for that run.

The Green Dragon

One of the things which motivated me here was the history of the Green Dragon.  It's been around since before this country even existed.  Among its earlier and more notable customers are some of America's founders.  Men who's support of "free speech" actually enabled the establishment of the United States in the first place.  That today's "social justice warriors" would demand any business with that history be shut down for continuing to support free speech was just entirely wrong.  So, I did my part by choosing to spend my money supporting that business.  And this is what I got while there.

A Green Dragon Meal for for a Patriot!

A Green Dragon Tavern Meal for for a Patriot!  That's some excellent Shepard's pie and a glass of Boston's Finest - Sam Adams Ale!  It was a tasty way to tell the SJW scum to go fuck themselves.

Closing Out The Gig

My time out there at the Gig lasted just over two weeks.  It was time well spent and some highly lucrative work for me.  Alas, it did not lead to anything longer term back there.  The client opted not to pursue competing for the contract I was helping them prep for.

But, my time there did allow me to re-explore my Ol' Homestead and reconnect with the place I grew up and came of age in.  I also got a priceless opportunity to spend time with my Mom.  I was over at her place quite frequently taking her out to eat and then out to deserts.  I cherished that time.  For the past decade or more about the only time I'd see her is over the Christmas break where she'd fly out for that week.

It was always good to see her but now I got to see her in her home and when it wasn't the cold dead of a New England Winter.

Driving around in Massachusetts was also an enlightening experience.  It put things into a much different scale for me.  I only got my driving license when I was twenty and didn't have a car of my own until I'd moved out to San Diego.  I didn't do any driving Back East when I was growing up in Lynnfield.  I didn't need to.  If it was somewhere that my Mom didn't drive me to I got there on my bicycle or via the train and subway.

So my perception of the physical space of where I grew up was all on that scale - that as perceived while on my bike or as a passenger in my Mom's car.  Driving myself around was a new thing and it gave me a very different scale of the region.

As the crow flies - i.e. in a straight line - it's only twelve or so miles from where I lived in Lynnfield to Boston's center.  Then, Boston seemed so very, very far away.  A distant place that took no small amount of effort to get to.  At least for a high school and college kid without a car of his own to do so.  Today, my morning's commute is longer than that and driving twelve miles to go do something - get lunch, meet up with a friend, get down to a beach or something - is so negligible a thing as to not be worth mentioning.

Another thing was the trees.  Driving 'round Lynnfield and Reading I was struck by how much smaller things looked and it took me a bit to wonder why this was so.  Then I realized it was due to the trees.  Trees are not something we have much of out here in Southern California.  At least not like what is all over the place Back East.  Due to the much higher rainfall and climate difference, there's just a whole lot more lushness of vegetation Back East than here in Sunny SoCal.  Among that lushness are trees.  Big, glorious, leafy trees.  Not these wispy dinky palm trees or the little scrub bushes that can eek out an existence on what little rain we naturally get there.  No, big trees.  Real trees.  Trees all over the place.  Trees that, unless their growth threatens structures near them or power lines, are left to keep doing what they naturally do naturally - i.e. grow.

Thus the backdrop of what I remember from growing up in Lynnfield some thirty or more years ago has now been changed by those decades worth of tree growth.  The trees are now fuller, broader, and their leafy coverage more extensive.  Thus they tended to consume more of the settings of the structures of my youth's memories.  The streets and houses in Lynnfield and Reading were always tree lined but now they're even more so.  It's a beautiful and lively thing and one which definitely changes how it all looks to me with those decades absence.

The Desk

During the first half of 2018 I tried to keep myself as busy as possible.  There were plenty of things that needed to be done around my newly moved in to house and plenty of things that I wanted to do.  The only limitations were funding and motivation.  When you're unemployed for so long both of those limitations can really gang up on you.  So, it got to be something of a constant struggle to stay motivated enough to get things done - but only the things which didn't cost me money I didn't have to spend doing them.

One such thing was my desk.

Back in the mid-80s I was living in an efficiency apartment in DC and my boss at MCI learned I was in need of a desk.  Well, he happened to have one, an old "Federal Desk" that he'd no more use of.  The thing was a massive bit of hardwood solidness.  The desktop itself was pretty expansive and the rest of the desk included a spring-loaded "return" tray for a typewriter.  You'd open the door on the left side and would pull out and up on the tray until its arms brought the return up to desktop level.  Thereupon you could do your required typing while being able to conveniently stow the typewriter out of the way once done.  Nifty stuff even despite the fact that I didn't own a typewriter.  The only limiting factor was the desk's legs.  There were none.  In order to store the big old desk Steve had to get it down in his basement and in order to do that he had to cut its legs off.  Over the years he'd lost those legs and thus there the desk sat.  Until I came along with my need of it.  Some phone calls made and Ward Davis showed up with his pickup truck off we went to Steve's place out in the Virginia suburbs of DC and then to my little place back in the Adam's Morgan section of the Capitol city.  I used some cinder blocks which I'd found just laying about the neighborhood (Midnight Requisitioned) for legs and the thing was perfectly suitable for me.  This, even without a typewriter.

After a while spent at 1803 Biltmore Street in the "Melwood Apartment Building" I moved off to be with Dianne and Harry out in Potomac, Maryland.  I'd really no used for the desk drawers of the Federal Desk but that desktop was quite appreciated.  So, off it came out out went those drawers - including the spring loaded return.

My time in Potomac was a limited thing and I soon enough was out in Falls Church with my meager belongings - including the Federal Desk desktop.  My stay in Falls Church turned out to be even briefer than I'd been in Potomac and I was soon enough finally out of the DC area and down to a new life in Atlanta, Georgia.  I was still possessed of both a meager amount of possessions and a meager income.  I was clever in effecting my move however, as I hit upon the idea of simply mailing my stuff down to the place I was temporarily staying in Atlanta.  I even mailed that desktop down there.  At the time, the USPS regulations weren't as restrictive as to what could be parcel posted.  The desktop just eked by the then existing limits and I felt quite pleased with myself for having gotten it through.

I wasn't even a year in Atlanta before I packed up and moved out to the Coast and started anew in San Diego.  This time I had to ship, via UPS, that desktop as the US Postal service was too restrictive by then.  Still though, across it went.  

That big piece of expansive hardwood expansiveness (about five feet wide and almost three feet deep) wound up being my desk for years thereafter.  It was big, it was sturdy, and it looked good.  I was handy enough to cut some suitable 2x4s for legs or otherwise prop it up on the two drawer file cabinets I acquired.  This gave me ample leg room under the desk and that's something I always appreciate as I'm not a small guy to squeeze into some little workstation's dinkiness.

Along about 2008 I bought a second desk so that Julia could have her own little set up in the bedroom we'd set up as my office.  It was a strikingly different desk than mine.  It was a sidewalk find that we spied one day driving around North Park in San Diego near the Balboa Park's velodrome.  The desk was a metal tube framed thing with a big chunk of tempered glass for its desktop.  The desk was on casters and featured a two drawer wheeled file cabinet thing with its own matching glass top.  It was perfect for her and it fit right in to the office as it was also smaller than my big Federal Desk desktop.

When Julia moved back to Oklahoma she left that desk behind.  By then I was living over in Clairemont and we'd set that glass desk up facing the window in that bedroom.  With it now cleared of her stuff I decided that I liked sitting there better than my old desktop.  The moulding along the edge of that Federal Desk desktop was always a worn thing and it got uncomfortable against my stomach when I pulled in close to the desk.  The glass desk had no such limits.  

I'd always intended on refinishing the old Federal Desk desktop but I'd have to take everything else off of it first to do so and that was always too much of a chore when I had the glass desk to use instead.

Eventually, I moved out of San Diego and up to Carson.  I'd run two households in the process with the place in Carson being paid for as part of the contract I had while working at SpaceX.  I was still a resident of San Diego so the contract reimbursed me for my lodging expenses.  I'd gone out and bought a dinky little workstation thing at Ikea and it... sufficed.

When the gig at SpaceX ended so to did that per diem lodging reimbursement so I folded things up in San Diego and was soon moved out of there as well.  The glass desk did not come along with me to Carson.  The old Federal Desk desktop did.  It came up and sat in the garage awaiting my attentions.

And there it sat until the fall of 2017 when I moved again, this time out to Lakewood.  It is truly well traveled desktop.

Into the Lakewood garage it went to still await my getting to it.  This time however, it didn't have to wait that long.

The little Ikea thing - a "Linnmon Table" - just wasn't going to cut it any longer.  But nor would the worn and shabby edges of the old Federal Desktop.  Thus, out came my circular saw with a fresh blade and some careful cutting and away went those edge mouldings.  It was at about this time I determined that the desk itself was oak.  Due to the staining of the thing, I hadn't been sure.  I then rooted around and eventually found some suitable oak mouldings to replace what I'd severed.  A bit more cutting and then some gluing and clamping later and I had my old desk like this.

New Edges

I was rather pleased at how I came up with this rig.  I needed to apply compression to the moulding pieces but the size of the desktop made clamping it a bit problematic and I also didn't want to crush the curved surface of the moulding itself.  To solve this I used the numerous cargo straps with their "come along" tensioning buckles that I'd picked up over the years.  The straps easily handled the width and girth of the desktop and didn't damage the wood in the process of applying the compression.

More compression

I worked these in phases with the long edge going on first and then the side pieces.  I used pieces of cling wrap to keep the glue off of the straps and make their removal simple.

The remnants

It wasn't perfect but it was close enough.

Once I'd the half round moulding pieces all set I fashioned the back piece.  There, I wanted a large and flat face to secure the backing of the back board to and thus a bit of standard 2x4 would do.  And thus so to would the bar clamps I had.

More compression

Here's the cleaned up result.

Cleaned up result

I'd thought to leave it like this but the sanded down finish was too uneven and my woodworking attempts at redoing the edge mouldings were a bit too obviously those of a non-professional's.  So, out came the wood stain and sealant.  After a bit of staining, coating,
polishing, staining, polishing, coating, and polishing, it came to this.

All stained up

I was rather please with the results.

Then came work on the backboard.

I wanted something that I could thumb tack calendars and notices to as well as something I could hang my monitor off of.  So, I cut down a sheet of plywood, measured out cork tiling, stained what was still exposed, and secured a bracket for the monitor to it.


In the shot above I've laid out the cork board tiles and positioned the monitor bracket.  Those black things at the top of the image are actually two self-standing desk shelves.  Handy things to clear up a desktop's clutter.  I've picked 'em up over the years of my office work.

The naked backboard

Here's what the backboard looked like prior to getting those cork board tiles glued upon it.

Gluing the tiles Here's one of the tiles with a bead of the "DynaGrip" glue I'd applied it.  I tried to spread it around so as to secure both the edges of each tile as well as keeping the middle stuck down.

While I've not been truly religious in keeping to the "never throw anything away" principle - moving my household up from San Diego to Carson to Lakewood within just a two year's span would tend to strain the faith in such a principle in even the most dogmatic - I have kept some things over the years.  Things like what's being used in the image below.

Weighing 'em down with lead ducks

These are a bunch of lead weights.  Some nicely covered in thick latex while the rest of just bare.  I got these out of the dumpster at SAIC from "back in the day."  They make excellent weights to hold down even the most springy of materials.  And they were thus perfect to keep the cork board tiles mashed down onto the backboard until the DynaGrip glue had set up to keep 'em there on their own.

What it was

Here's what my Ikea desk set up looked like in use.

What is was, bare

Here's what it looked like bare.

What it is, bare

And here's what the newly refinished old Federal Desk desktop looks like in its place.

What it has become

And here's what the whole set up looks like set up.  I like having my monitor up and secured to the wall and not taking up the desktop's real estate.  I may get a bigger screen or switch to a two screen layout.  In the future.  For now, I'm enjoying the results of my refinishing that big old Federal Desk desktop.

Dead Ranger and the RAV4

As I've already mentioned, the first half of 2018 really sucked.  One thing which greatly added to the suckage was the Road's Ending for my Ford Ranger.

On a rain slicked crappy bit of Los Angeles street I rear ended a truck and thus totaled my trusty Ford Ranger.  This, my vehicle for the past twenty years.  I'd planned on replacing it as it was beyond getting on in years.  But, it was fully paid, and it ran well enough.  I particularly didn't need to have a new car's replacement cost in the midst of a multi-month unemployment stretch.  The craven little shit who cutoff the truck ahead of me who thus had to slam on his brakes to avoid hitting him and thus gave me no time to avoid the rear ending didn't first stop to inquire as to my fiscal status and car replacement ability.  Nor did the little shit stop to take culpability for the accident his negligence caused.  Nope, he suddenly decided he didn't need to get in to the Ryder Logistics parking lot.  Or at least he decided staying in it as the truck driver and I recovered from the collision wasn't what he needed either.  Yay, how very responsible of him.

In any event, per California law, the rear ending was my responsibility.  And this is what I was left to deal with.

The Road's End

No, I wasn't happy about this.  I've a bit more said about it over on my Truck page.  Thanks to a timely loan from my Mom though, I was soon back on the road with my own new wheels.  Well, mine and Toyota Financing's and not quite new either.

I'm managing a pretty big smile for an unemployed guy who just acquired himself several thousands of dollars more debt.  But, it is a much nicer set of wheels than my Ranger - as trusty, useful and long serving as it was.

All smiles with my new RAV4

The thing really is like a starship in comparison to the Ranger pickup.  Twenty plus years of automotive technology's progress and car sales competition will do that.

Wondercon Anaheim 2018

Come March I was down in Anaheim enjoying another year's Wondercon.  It's held at the Anaheim Convention Center and rivals San Diego Comic-Con in terms of quality of attendees, costumes worn, vending area size, workshop & panel presentations and fun - while being much less crowded and easier to get in to.

Plus, now that I'm living up in LA, Anaheim is a helluvalot closer than San Diego.

So, I make it a point to get down to Wondercon to take it in as often as I can.  And 2018 was one of those years where I remembered to get my tickets in time and got my butt down there to enjoy it all.  One of the big things about these events are the costumes - the "Cos-Play," in today's parlance.  The creativity, energy, passion, and fun that goes into these is a joy to behold.  Some of them range from being over the top to others being pretty damn subtle but ever so rewarding once you cotton to 'em.

For whatever reason, 2018 seemed to be "the year" for gender reversals of iconic genre characters.  So we had a female Thor being pushed by Marvel Comics.  This one here turned out very well, I think.

I also think that gender swapping done solely for the point of gender swapping is an asinine thing.  It's too politically correct and "intersectional" that adds nothing to the story being told or any character development.

It also shows a profound lack of creativity on the part of today's comic book writers and creators.  While also demonstrating how eager they are to virtue signal their "wokeness" to their peers.

Yeah, you've probably guessed I'm no major fan of the trend.

That said, I thought this "Lady Thor" looked quite fetching.

This female Dalek also did the gender bending nicely.
Lady Thor

Male Harlequin So, if it's "politically correct" for women to "take over" traditionally male characters then turnabout is absolutely fair play!

And in this case, the player did more than just a fair job of it.

I thought this "Male Harlequin" was absolutely fabulous!  And the guy doing it did as well.

He pulled it off with grand style and great big... smile.
Guardians on the Galaxy II had recently come out and it provided no few opportunities for Cos-Players to have fun with.

In this case a guy playing Yondu while wearing a dress might not have been as necessarily obvious a reference as a Yondu wearing a dress while standing next to "Bert" and "Mary Poppins" the reference becomes a lot clearer!

"I'm Marry Poppins, y'all!"
I'm Mary Popins Y'all!
Blade Runner 2049 Sometimes the cos-play would be so precisely on point that it'd also be so subtle that you'd otherwise miss it.  These two here on the left are a great case in point.  Their attire is anything but flashy but is painstakingly accurate.

The most specific piece of it being "K's" futuristic gun.

Once you cotton to what such subtle cos-players are doing however, it makes it all the better.

These two are playing the lead character "K" there on the left and his "virtual girl friend, Joi" from the "Blade Runner: 2049" film.

Nicely done indeed.
Another bit of subtle cos-play came from this gent.  Being a tall, muscled, black guy his cos-playing options were somewhat limited.  His choice was awesome.  The costume was comfortable and inexpensive.  His props were minimal and simple.  The effect was superb.

That's "John Coffey" holding the mouse, "Mr. Jingles," from the movie "The Green Mile."

Green Mile

Speaking of subtle, there was this guy.  This is another bit of cos-play in which the cos-player played to his strengths.  Just like the tall, muscular, black guy knocked it outta the park playing a tall, muscular, black guy with his John Coffey cos-playing, this kid here knocked it out of the park with his Linus portrayal from the old Peanuts comics.  This is real subtle and truly a generational thing that even most folks my age wouldn't have gotten - let alone those his age.  He nailed it though.
Port Admiral Haynes Port Admiral Haynes

This was both obscure and truly impressive.  And a true fan of the genre.

This is "old school" cos-play.  This fan recreated the uniform, the weapons, and even the iconic device of the entire storyline - the Lens - and did it all.

He is portraying Port Admiral Haynes of the Galactic Patrol as created by E. E. "Doc" Smith in his "Lensman" books.  This guy had that uniform - all leather - made for him and then machined the two DeLameter raygun pistols himself.

He also created his very own Lens.

That's the white circular thing there on his wrist in the photo.  And my camera simply could not captures multi chromatic beauty.  In Smith's tales, the Lens was the otherworldly thing which amplified a Lensman's inherent psychic abilities and gave him such tremendous power.

His recreation of it was an LED based thing of sparkling and radiant multi-colored beauty.

I first read the "Lensman" series back in the 1970s and they were as exciting and awesome a set of books then as they were when "Doc" first started writing them in the 1930s.  Awesome stuff and a great bit of costuming here.

Ed Grevioux

This was another cool moment for me at Wondercon 2018.  

I used to work at a comic book store in DC back in the 80s.  "Big Planet Comics" was the name of the shop and, at the time, it was located in Georgetown on P Street.

As with just about every comic book shop, we too had "subscriptions" set up where customers could specify which comic book titles they were interested in and we'd establish a file for them.  When one of those titles came in we'd pull a copy (or more, if they specified it) and put it in their file for them to pick up when next they came into the shop.  That way, the customer's would never miss any of their favorite comic book titles.

One of the regulars in that shop was this enormous black guy.  He had muscles on top of muscles and had a voice which sounded like it started a mile beneath his toes and only got deeper as it traveled up through him and then out through his mouth.  And he was also an exceptionally pleasant and nice guy to deal with.  That, and he worked as a bouncer up at a club in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC.

I thought it pretty cool that a nightclub bouncer sorta dude would also be "into" comic books like I was.

Well, the years passed and I was watching the movie "Underworld" and saw this enormous, heavily muscled, black character who's voice was exceptionally deep.  It wasn't until the credits rolled that I saw that it was, in fact, the same comic book buying bouncer guy I knew from DC back in the 80s.
Ed Grevioux
Turns out that Ed has been able to make a career out of his interest in the genre.  He's not only a successful actor but also a successful writer and comic book creator himself.  That, and he's raising two wonderful daughters who were with him there at Wondercon helping him run his booth in the vendor area.  I was really stoked to run into this guy after all these years and find him doing so well.  And yeah, the photo of him in that WikiPedia link above was also taken at WonderCon 2018 with Ed in the same shirt as he's wearing in my photo above there!

I was at Wondercon both that Saturday and Sunday.  So I got to also see some "classic toasters" running around.  And I also got some good shots of me and "Ruby Rod" being "Hot! Hot! Hot!!!"

Off Sunset 2018

Speaking of "cos-play"...

I've no idea what this guy was attempting with his "cos-play" at the Off Sunset event that year but, it was working for him.

Some nice visuals there, as usual.  The weather was great, the beer tasty, and the crowd enjoyable.  A great way to spend a Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles.
Off Sunset Cos-Play

Sharon's Birthday Party

Sharon's Birthday Party

The birthday girl Later in April I drove down to San Diego to join my friend Sharon in celebrating her birthday that year.

I've known Sharon for a few decades now and she is truly making a wonderful life for herself.  Her birthday that year was a celebration she put on for her friends as much as it was her friends celebrating her.

She held the party at her home and it's a place she's clearly poured herself and her creativity - and her excellent taste - into.    She had a band playing the night's musical entertainment and her guests got to enjoy her cooking and cake through the evening.

It was a real treat seeing her and seeing her so happy in life.  That sari she's wearing is one she picked up for herself when she was last over in India.  She's been there at least once if not more.  It's getting increasingly difficult to keep up with her travels as she's intent on enjoying the world as much as she can!

I stayed overnight on that trip and the hotel I was in had some rather... unique... items decorating their lobby.  The breakfast down the street at the Crust however, was excellent.

L.A. Weirdness

PETA Empathy Center

I spied this place while driving up through a chunk of Silverlake.  Yeah, Silverlake is being overrun by hipsters.  I can only imagine how much this place costs the "non-profit" PETA to run.  They've a great scam running.

I also spied this gem up in LA.

Trump Derangement Syndrome - Los Angeles Edition

Now, this is an ad for a candidate running for a state senate position - not a United States Senate position.  Thus, the Federal government has no place in the campaign nor in her upholding her responsibilities as an elected official in the state of California.  But, this is California.  And it's Los Angeles, California to boot.  So, playing up on the TDS - Trump Derangement Syndrome - makes for a great bit of emotional manipulation for a political candidate to use.  And it turned out to have worked as she got herself elected.  I wonder if she drives a Prius bearing the sort of markings I also spied up in LA.

Taking a step back from the political insanity raging, I spied this one night when out with Ann as we strolled along a Long Beach sidewalk.

Looking down, as you normally would when walking along, we first thought it an odd shadow being cast by some trick of the streetlights.  Nope, that's not it at all.  Instead, it's a painted shadow meant to surprise you in a wonderfully artistic way.  And that it did.

There's a whole bunch of these along the sidewalks in the "up and coming" Belmont Shore neighborhood of Long Beach.  Nicely done!

Neat Street Art

Planes of Fame 2018


Specifically, a Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-15 fighter - NATO codename "Fagot."  Yeah, the NATO guys really - really - didn't like this bird.  The Soviet design bureau created by Artyom Mikoyan and Mikhail Iosifovich Gurevich created a top-notch jet fighter with this aircraft.  The thing is iconic and deservedly so.  It was the best the Soviets could field as a first generation jet fighter aircraft and it was every bit a match for the American F-86 Saber jet fighter, also a first generation fighter jet design.  The guys out a the Planes of Fame  museum in Chino, California have one of these beauties and on the first Saturday in June of 2018 it was the featured aircraft in their monthly  Living History Flying Day event.

To me, this is what airplanes should be - things of gleaming silvery metal streamlined elegance.  There's nothing crude about this machine.  There can't be.  It can't perform its intended function - flying and fighting aerial combat at high speed - with anything crude about it.  The design itself is pared down to its absolute minimum necessary to still be able to perform its function.  Any waste would hinder that.  Yet, it also had to be an operational machine able to function in relatively harsh environments with less than pristine maintenance facilities on hand to keep it going.  The result is different from what the US came up with but the US designers built their machines to be operated by the US military and thus had different criteria.  This, in terms of operational support and logistics.

One of the things I really enjoy about the Planes of Fame museum is the ability to walk around the actual flying aircraft and lay hands upon them.  These are operational machines and thus you can get right up to them and see all aspects of them.  You can see where the oil drips out of the big radial engines and you can see how the hydraulic fluid has stained the paint in other areas or how the dirt has embedded itself into the minute (or not so minute) gaps between the panels and sections of the planes themselves.

MiG artistry

This image above here is an example of all this.  Without any context you might assume it's a bit of modern sculpture abstract art.  Instead it's looking up at the side of the vertical stabilizer of the MiG-15 to where the horizontal stabilizer joins it.  The plane's rudder is there on the bottom right and its hinge line is that diagonal strip of darkness cutting across from the bottom of the image up toward the middle.  The top of the image is consumed by the front of the plane's horizontal stabilizer and the elevator at its rear.  The fairing running through the center of the image encloses the operating mechanism for the elevator and streamlines it to reduce the drag it'd otherwise cause projecting out into the airstream.

These planes truly are operational sculptures and are beautiful to see in operation and up so close.

Just before the MiG did its little flight demonstration that day I noted this other aircraft off in the distance.  I thought it rather fitting to see the nemesis of the MiG-15 lurking there in the distance....

F-86 nemesis...

The uniform recreationists were also out in force that morning.  They're always a treat to see as they expend so much effort recreating the uniforms of the pilots who were flying the planes featured on the day's subject.

Uniform Recreationists - Korean War

That's a US Navy Aviator there on the left, a Soviet Red Air Force pilot in the middle, and a US Air Force pilot on the right.  All vintage and original uniforms and equipment.  These guys are detail oriented and make for excellent visual additions to the day's topic.
Doctor Jordan B. Peterson

2018 was the year that I discovered Doctor Jordan B. Peterson.  I first found his recorded lectures on YouTube and began devouring them as fast as I could find 'em.  The man's insight and his ability to craw context of the disparate points and facts he was bringing forth was fascinating.  His world view and his analysis of the human condition was even more engaging.  I truly found this man's views to be compelling.  In short order I also had acquired his book and was devouring that too.  Then I found that he had a speaking tour going and would be giving a presentation in Long Beach, of all places.

So I quickly bought myself a ticket and was there at the Long Beach Convention Center on the appointed night at the appointed time.  And I was hardly disappointed.  


Yes, that is him there in that blurry photo.  Kinda hard to take a good low light flash less photo with my phone so you'll just have to take my word for it that this, indeed, THE "DJP."
The Reagan Library

Come July Ann struck upon the idea of taking in the "Genghis Khan" exhibit at the Reagan Library up in Simmi Valley.  We figured this'd be a nice "twofer" in that we could take in the exhibit and also take in the Reagan Library Museum as well.  This is the first presidential museum I've been to and it was pretty damn impressive.  The place is located up in the hills of Simi Valley and has a spectacular view of some truly beautiful California countryside.  The Reagan Museum portion of the complex is nicely done and quite expansive.  

After getting through the entry lobby - with a staff all in uniforms that made them look like 1980s flight attendants in their brilliant red polyester double knit jackets and such - we were faced with "life size" sculptures of Ronnie and Nancy.

Me and the Gipper
And and Nancy

I always thought Reagan was bigger than what this "life size" sculpture made him out as.  Go figure.
Ready to ride! Among the many exhibits about the Reagans was a horse which you could sit in the saddle of with big pictures of the Reagan Ranch in the background.  This was, of course, irresistible to Ann.

Panning back you can see that the horse was legless and set close to the floor to make it safer for the visitors to mount up.  Rather odd, that but, it worked...
Ann in the saddle
The Genghis Khan portion of the day was... interesting.  This was mainly due to how the Museum itself is laid out.  There simply isn't all that much space for any significant exhibitions.  

Thus, anything of interest is gonna be pretty crowded and spread out over two levels.  That's workable, if you work at it.  And the folks setting up the Genghis Khan exhibit certainly worked at it pretty intensely.  Still though, it seemed a tad cramped.

But there were plenty of interesting things to see and this was but one of them.  This gem here is an "Imperial Passport" issued by the Khan himself.  The inscription declares:

"I am the emissary of the Khan.  If you defy me, you die."

I guess they were a bit more plain speaking in their "diplomacy" back then.

On the whole, this was a fun jaunt.  It brought back a whole bunch of memories for me as I came of age in DC during the Reagan Years.  So the Museum's presentation was like going back over key events in my youth and maturing.  And being a history buff, it was fascinating to see it all so well presented.
Malibu Wine Safari
Late July finally saw my job drought break as I picked up an assignment at Millennium Space Systems there in El Segundo.  It was a chaotic place that was desperately trying to get a handle on their various programs going on.  The work was intense and hectic but they did take some time to ensure their employees had fun.  Thus come September a bunch of us from Millennium found ourselves out in the hills of Malibu enjoying a "Wine Safari" excursion.  The folks running the operation have a large spread out there in the Malibu Hills and have set aside portions of the vineyard to house various sorts of critters.  Zebras, water buffaloes, llamas, and their star, Stanley the giraffe.  

They operate tours which take you around in these open topped "jeeps" to thus allow you to take in the splendor of the Malibu Hills as they drive from one "animal encounter" spot to a wine tasting spot to another animal encounter spot followed by another tasting location.  A very nice set up and you get to interact with the animals as the tour guides give you things to feed the critters.  The most notable being Stanley as his tongue is exceptionally and unexpected long and he's learned how to yank out the leafs of lettuce from the tourists and do so quite photogenically!

Me and Stanley
Folsom 2018

Late September saw me making my annual pilgrimage to San Francisco for yet another Folsom Street Festival.  I have more photos from that year which'll make their way to the Folsom page.  In the meantime I'll share these two here.

The first off is this image here on the left and it shows some progress!

Last year I noted some sadly typical bit of close minded hatefulness up there in oh-so-scenic Oakland.  This year, as I waited on the Colosseum BART station's platform for the train to take me in to The City, I noted that last year's hatefulness had been scrapped off.

And that's a good thing!

Unfortunately, there wasn't much progress at Folsom itself.  The "Ask First" scumbags were there even bigger and bolder than before.  And they were just one of the many things about how Folsom has changed that really soured me to the whole event this year.  The attitude of the City has gotten far worse in recent years.  It's much more hostile and bitter.  That, and far more self-righteously controlling.

The entry to the Festival itself is more organized and sneering.  I got the distinct vibe that the folks running the event expected the attendees to be grateful for the privilege they granted us for their doing so.  Never mind that Folsom has always been about the attendees and not the organization or administration of it.  A focus which isn't surprising, given the effort it takes to pull something like this off.  But it made for a distinct change in the flavor of the event.

And these "Ask First" little shits also were part of the sour flavor.  Folsom is about a public celebration of leather / SM / kink.  The celebration itself is very much, very specifically, and very deliberately held in a very public place.  Right out in the middle of a public street, in fact.  The whole intent is to show the world that leather / SM / kink is nothing to hide or be ashamed of.  Thus getting pissy about people recording this public display in public runs entirely contrary to the very purpose of what Folsom was created to achieve.  And too many of the folks attending the event and, sadly, running the event don't get that or want to continue that.  It's now all about control.

I noticed this even at the boot shine booth.  That used to be quite the highlight for me.  The booth was a great place to park yourself to get your boots shined while both being able to see the event go on around you and for those at the event to see you as well.  "See and be seen" was the deal.  A mutual thing between anyone in one of the bootblack's chairs and the folk there in the Folsom crowd.

Now the tent over the boot stand is set so low that no one can really see you from outside of it.  And nor can you see anyone when you're up in the chair either.  Worse, the folks running the stand insist that there be no photography of anyone there.  This, without asking permission first.  Fuck that.  The even is public.  The boot stand itself is out in the middle of a public street.  Literally.  And yet these little control freaks were running rampant about it.

Yeah, it left a real sour taste in my mouth.  And as a result, I decided to skip Folsom 2019 entirely.

No progress

October turned out to be a busy month.  First up came another one of the Planes of Fame Living History days and the subject for October was the Douglas SBD "Dauntless."  This was a US Navy World War Two dive bomber that proved very effective in putting an end to Japan's naval ambitions in the Pacific.  Though its nickname was "SBD - Slow But Deadly" the plane was exactly what the US needed to help turn the tide against the Japanese.

The SBD itself is a quintessential late 1930s design.  Cutting edge for its day, its first flight was in 1940, the plane was quite a leap in performance over the Curtiss SBC Helldiver - who's first flight was a mere five years previously in '35.  The Curtis SBC was a biplane that incorporated many advancement of the day.  But within five years - and even with Depression still raging - the US Navy knew it needed something much better.  And with the SBD they got it.
As I mentioned, the Dauntless was a plane of its day.  And for a late 1930s design that meant lots of exposed rivets and such.  Yes, the Douglas engineers used flush rivets on a lot of the airframe but, where they felt they needed to they were only too happy use rivets that would seem more at home on a 1889 steel boiler!

But the Douglas designers obviously felt the drag penalty of these exposed rivets and attachment point was less than the weight penalty and drag penalty of any aerodynamic fairing to enclose it.  Still though, this is something you'd no longer see on any high performance Douglas design in even just five or so years time.

One of the things I really like about the Planes of Fame Living History days is how they wheel the aircraft of the day out on to the ramp next to the hangar where they hold their morning's presentation in.  That way those in attendance can wander on out to the ramp and actually lay hands upon the actual flying machine that the guest lecturers are presenting about.  This is something most other museums will NOT let you do!  It also allows folks like me to find all manner on interesting features on these aircraft.  Features that usually don't quite make it into any history books about them.  Features like this combination lock below here:
SBD Baggage Lock

Yes, that a three number combination lock.  Just like you will still find today on briefcases or luggage!  It's for the plane's baggage compartment.  Literally.  As part of its operational requirements, the aircraft had to have the ability for its crews to fly off to different locations and be able to haul along a bit of their personal effects - regular uniforms, toiletries, etc. - and do so while keeping them moderately secured.  Thus, Douglas incorporated this little combo lock on their SBDs.  And it still works!
The uniform recreationist guys were out in force for the SBD display.  I guess there's just something attractive about World War Two era US Naval Aviator uniforms.  Can't argue with 'em on that one!

Naval Aviators
And the highlight of that day was, of course, seeing the SBD in flight.  The weather was moderately cooperative in October.  It was a bit more cloudy than usual but it sure was nice see the Dauntless zooming 'round overhead.

SBD in flight
Planes of Fame - Other Stuff

While waiting for the SBD to take flight I also took in what other things the PoF had to offer that day.  For many months now they've had this F-86 parked out on the same ramp area where they'd wheel their planes by.  I've watched as things have slowly changed on this aircraft.  It's become pretty obvious that this plane is not being restored to flyable condition.  Instead, it's going to be restored to "display only" condition.  Whether this'll be as part of some outdoor display or hanging from the ceiling of some museum somewhere I don't know.

In the meantime, it's been interesting to watch the plane's features change over time.  A panel recovered here with new sheet metal, a section there repainted with primer, a piece bolted on there, and so on.  As this is not a "return to flight" item and as there are plenty of other projects going on in the various maintenance hangars there at the Planes of Fame facility, this Sabre is a low priority project.  But, it's not a "no priority" one since there's steady progress to be seen.  Eventually, there'll come a day when this spot on the corner of the ramp is no longer occupied by this Sabre.  Eventually.

Sabre display

A Bunch Of Dopers!
Yup, the guy's a Chino are doing dope!  A whole bunch of them are at once!  And here's a photo to prove it!


Seriously though, they are doping.  That is, applying a "dope" finish to the cloth covered ailerons that are going to be placed back on the Museum's C-47/ DC-3 aircraft.  Unlike today's modern aircraft, many an airplane of that day still used stretched fabric over its wings and or control surfaces.  Once stretched and secured on to the underlying framework, the fabric was then painted with a waterproof sealant that both stiffened the fabric and made it water tight.  Not sure how the stuff earned its name "dope" other than that its fumes could make anyone stuck smelling it long enough rather "dopey" as a result.  You can see there in the lower left of the image the little exhibit the Museum worked up as a visual explanation of the process going on.  There's the "naked" bit of structure on the far left with a succession of coverings applied.  First an anti-corrosion paint on the structure, then the fabric covering, then the first layer of "dope" applied, and then final layer of doping painted on.  This is just one example of the near constant maintenance work required to keep these machines operating.

And while they're doing that it can reveal some otherwise unseen aspects of the plane's shape or contours.  Take this Grumman Hellcat being restored in another hangar.  Its wings, tail and elevators are all removed.  The plane's been stripped down to its bare metal and thus it looks quite different from how you'd normally see it in its typical US Navy "sea blue" colors.  Seems more an abstract sculpture from this angle as well.

Hellcat perspective

The Cold War Museum

A week after taking in the SBD out in Chino I was over in Culver City taking in the Atlas Obscura event of going through the Cold War Museum in Culver City.  Officially the Wende Museum, it is devoted to preserving and presenting artifacts and aspects of the Cold War period with a specific focus on presenting items from the Communist Bloc.  The Wende is open to the public but this was a special tour organized by the Atlas Obscura folk that got the Museum's chief curator, Joes Segal, to guide us through and answer our questions.  It made for a fascinating afternoon that was nicely wrapped up by some snacks and vodka for the group.

Sorry for the blurriness of the image here on the border checkpoint booth.  I gotta remember to make sure the lens on my cellphone is well wiped before snapping away.

The Museum itself is a converted national guard armory - fitting enough - and they've used the outdoor spaces of it to make a very nice walk through set of displays.  There's a Trabi parked there, some Soviet and Communist Bloc sculptures and there's this guard booth among other things.

East German Checkpoint Booth

Here's Curator Segal  discussing some of the Cold War era artwork the Wende has in its collection.  They've far too much to display all at once and part of the Atlas Obscura's tour got us into some of their storerooms where Mr. Segal pulled out some of the racks to note specific art pieces.

Cold War Art Collection
The Wende also displayed quite a number of smaller artifacts from the Cold War.  This piece is a chunk from "Checkpoint Charlie" which was one of the more infamous border crossing points between West and East Berlin.  There were plenty of other items on display.  Things like an East German executive phone, some commemorative plates, and all manner of other trinkets and "dustables" as I'd call them.

Berlin Wall Chunk
And to wrap up the event we were served a nice selection of light snacks and some genuine Russian vodka to appropriately wash it all down with!

Snacks and vodka!
Butt Art!

Towards October's end, Avatar Los Angeles orchestrated a fun event at the Eagle LA - it was a butt painting contest.  Normally, driving up into Silverlake is a bit far for me but the event promised to be fun and it delivered on that promise.  I even got to try my hand at a bit of butt painting artistry.  While both I and my "canvas" enjoyed it and were happy with the results, I think I'm gonna keep my day job.  For now.

Butt art A Butt Art Close up

The event was "ended" by a competition for the best butt artistry.

Though my "art piece" was well received there was one guy there with a really "hot butt" - so hot it was on fire! - and the crowd liked that one better.

Still though, we all had fun and it was a great way to spend a nice night among the guys up there in LA.
Group Butt Art

Soryama Tron Bondage Ball Los Angeles
At The Mayan

I wrapped up the month of October by attending the "Bondage Ball Los Angeles" over Halloween weekend.  It was held at the Mayan Theater in "DTLA" - Down Town Los Angeles - and was a great excuse to get dressed up in whatever outlandish Halloween / kink costume you could dream up.  And there were plenty of folks there who quite apparently had some really vivid dreaming up abilities!

I didn't take a whole lotta pics as I was there to enjoy the night.  This one here I simply had to take however.

This fine lass created this really awesome blend of a Soryama outfit matched with a Tron: Legacy inspired lighting to yield this spectacular bit of artistry.

I'm rather pleased how this image came out, given how my cellphone camera doesn't well handle low light and glare.

End of Year Prep

November arrived and I wound up with some "unanticipated downtime."  Which was a pretty brutal thing to have handed to me, given how long I'd already been "enjoying" such downtime through the year's first half.  Yay me.  But, I put it to work getting to work on my bed.  Finally.  I"ve been aiming to make myself a nice four poster bed for a while now.  I've slowly acquired all the bits and have slowly set about setting them about.  Well, with this new downtime, and with the year's end approaching, I got motivated to do more than simply set them about.

To that end, I better at setting those "threaded screw inserts" I like to use so much.  And I got going with getting the framing pieces set as well.  I actually managed to get the corner posts and upper frame all assembled and functional!  And Ann can attest how well that all worked!

Bed Frame 01

Given the constrained space, it's difficult for me to get images of the posts 'n frame that does it justice or well shows its scale.  At least not with just my cellphone camera.  But the platform here between these 4x4 frame posts fits at queen size mattress.

Bed Frame 02

All of this is bolted together and done so with the intent that the bolts themselves won't be visible once I've finished things up.  No small feat, this.

Assembled disassembled pieces But, as I got closer to getting it all done I both started a new job - which cut down on the time I had to work on getting it all done - and I had to have the house in order before the Mom Unit showed up.  I also ran into a design issue.  This being that the platform top was too narrow. I'd originally spec'd out the width of the platform to be that of the width of a queen size mattress - plus an inch or so.  Eventually I realized that setting the corner posts to that width would mean not enough room between them and the mattress for the sheets & blanket.  So, designed the supports for those posts and the top frame for them to be set wider.  That however, meant they'd stand proud of the platform top by about a further inch on each side.  I thought I easily accommodate this with the edge piece I was going to attach on the sides of the platform top.  What I eventually realized is that in so doing I'd not leave enough depth on the edge of the platform tops to attach the edge pieces securely enough.  And that to provide enough surface area for them to securely attach to they platform top would have to extend a further inch outward.  Which meant an entirely new platform top was something I'd have to procure, primer, cut out, drill out, and emplace.  This, in addition to everything else.  And there simply wasn't enough time to get all of that done before my deadline of my Mom's flight touching down at LAX in December.

So, regretfully, I disassembled my platform frame and put it away in the garage for further finishing work.

XMas 2018

My new job, which I started just prior to Thanksgiving, saw me starting a "1099 guy" for the first time.  I'd always previously been a W-2 employee of what ever company I was working for.  Either as a "staff regular" employee or as a "regular" employee working as a contractor at some site.  Most times this has not included any holiday or vacation pay.  Sometimes it has but, more often than not, it hasn't.  As an "independent contractor" there is most assuredly NO holiday or vacation pay for me.  I only get paid for the hours I work, period.  No working, no paying.

The stretch between Thanksgiving through to when I began getting my regular pay was a long one.  Another feature of being a 1099 guy was that my company, I was back with Cutting Edge once again, pays its independent contractors on a "net plus 30" timeline.  That is, I get paid each month for the hours I worked the previous month.  No surprise and nothing unusual, that.  Cutting Edge has to get my hours and submit them to their client - the place I'm contracting at - and then the client has the industry standard of thirty days to turn that invoice around and pay Cutting Edge.  At which point, Cutting Edge then pays me.

With Turkey Day cutting into the work days of November then quickly followed up by a whole week's off at December's end, this was the worst time to be starting a new job.  At least from the perspective of getting any sort of cash flow going.  Cutting Edge did what it could, thankfully, but damn if it wasn't painfully and stressfully tight.  Nothing new there either.  The "End of Year" periods usually suck for me anyway.  Most companies do their layoffs come the 4th quarter and I've spent far too many such years unemployed through the holidays.  And even when employed the lack of vacation or holiday pay doesn't add much cheer to the days I get to not work.

But, at least I had a job to get back to come the New Year.  And I was very grateful for that.

Christmas 2018 was on a Tuesday this year.  My new job shutdown for that entire week so I had that Monday "off" as well.  I invited Ann out to start off the XMas Time with me.  While I did my deep frying of the turkey and a rack of beef, Ann worked up a very tasty apple pie - getting to use my brand new silicon baking mat in the process.  I'm getting better at using the fryer but I still have much to learn with it.  Having had recent practice over Turkey Day in frying up a bird for that event, the XMas cooking went better.  I didn't burn the meat nor myself.  So that counted as a win.  And neither Ann, myself, Ollie, or my Mom had anything other than approval of the tastiness of the turkey and beef I'd cooked.  So, another win!

Up at the Reagan Library and Museum the Genghis Khan exhibit had ended and a "Pompeii" exhibit took its place.  So the three of us - myself, my Mom, and Ann - headed up there and took it in.  We did the Reagan exhibit but briefly and concentrated mostly on the Pompeii side of the house.  It was still pretty cramped but nice enough.  I definitely appreciated Ann's membership with the Reagan Museum and thus getting the guest rate on the tickets.  One thing that was interesting was seeing the life size sculptures recovered from Pompeii and to find that Mark Zuckerberg's ancestors were from there.

Ancient Roman Zuckerberg

Later in the week, my Mom and I took in the Los Angeles City Hall on one of our day's jaunts.  A single bit of exploring a day was about the right pace for her.  And heading down to go up the LA City Hall was just the thing.  The views of the city of Los Angeles are pretty spectacular from up on the Observation Deck of its City Hall.

LA City View

LA Elevator and Mom Getting up to the Observation Deck took some interesting elevator riding.  But, my Mom was up for it.

Once up at the Observation Deck level you're also at the spot where they hold official City of Los Angeles press conferences.  And they've smartly left the podium set up for anyone there to have their go at it themselves.

LA City Hall Views
LA City Hall Views
LA City Hall Views
LA City Hall XMas Tree 2018

Down on the ground floor of LA's City Hall there are some wonderful views to be had of its classic 1920s architecture.  The marble tile work is beautiful and the flow of the architecture is classic indeed.

One of the things that struck me as my Mom and I went through the building was just how bizarre it must've been when it was built back in 1928.  Back then, the "city" of Los Angeles would barely register as an overgrown town by today's standards.  Sure, officially a "city" but there was literally vast amounts of empty land all around the city hall when it went up.  Just a few blocks away was one of the larger vineyards in Los Angeles County at the time.  So it was truly an overly magnificent structure that got put up out in the middle of otherwise nowhere.  And now, of course, the building is almost quaint in how it's surrounded by a true city.
And that was about it for 2018.  As usual, I had a nice time with my Mom and I know she enjoyed getting to spend the last week in December out in the warmth of Southern California rather than the cold of New England.  We took a number of small and short jaunts each day.  Nothing terribly elaborate or long as that was about right for her pace.  It was good seeing her, as usual, and it was a good way to end the year.

2018 was not a banner year for me.  It did however, end on an up-note with what promised to be the best job I'd ever had.  It certainly was the best paying and was requiring quite the change in perspective.  As a 1099 Guy, I'm now my own employer and am entirely responsible for all my finances.  Having to set aside enough of my income for my taxes ahead of time is entirely new.  W-2 employees have all that taken care of by their employer.  So I'm now to watching my money like a hawk and planning it out to the penny for a year in advance.  Well, almost...

Getting myself incorporated and running through all of those wickets was something to come in early 2019.  In the meantime, I had to get myself into the rhythm of being working again and getting used to being paid but monthly.

I certainly didn't regret the year's end and am glad 2018 is past me.


The year started off without much ado.  I got my Mom safely off on her flight home on the morning of the 31st, as is her preference, and then rang in the New Year pretty quietly.  Come the 3rd, the first working day of the year, I was back on the job.  And back into my regular routine.  It was nice to get a paid holiday.  On most of my recent jobs the "end of year shut down" was a zero income time for me.  As a contractor I usually only get paid for billable hours I generate.  So, no work, no pay.  And those jobs usually don't come with any vacation days.  The job through SEIS however, did.  So the last week of the year were actual vacation days for me.  Yay me!

Macaroni & Cheese & Bacon Pie

I saw this concoction online and it seemed both delicious enough and easy enough that I had to give it a shot myself.  It's a pretty basic thing, all in all, it's a standard pie crust, a melted bunch of Havarti and  cheddar cheeses with precooked bacon pieces mixed in and then topped with interlaced strips of raw bacon.  The whole thing being then placed in a 425 degree oven for about twenty five minutes.  What I got out was some very tasty "Mac & Cheese & Bacon Pie."

Scratched my own crust straight from the Joy of Cooking recipe.
Nothing terribly unique here - aside from its being the first scratched pie crust I'd made in years.  Otherwise it's just a standard "Joy of Cooking pie crust" crust.  A bit too dry, perhaps, and certainly not as prettily done as the pros but it did the job.  I've since bought a silicon "pastry mat" to roll out my crusts on.  The advantage there is that you can more easily scoop up the rolled out crust and flop it over into the pan without having to worry about it all crumbling or tearing in your fingers as you do so.  It's also an easier clean up.
Next up came the Gloop!

I used Cheddar and Havarti for my mix.  

1/2 Pound of Cheddar
1/2 Pound of Havarti
1-3/4 of milk
1/4 cup of flour
1/2 stick of butter
Low heat until nicely gloopy.

While the Gloop was getting gloopy I also got the macaroni going.  I used 2 Cups of it and boiled it until it was almost done - it'd finish cooking while the pie was in the oven.

And I also got going with the bacon.  I cooked 9 strips of the meat as I wanted lots of bacon taste.
The Gloop!
Mmm... bacon!

I didn't overcook the bacon as I knew the oven's heat would have some effect on it.  Of course, I made sure to sample the product as I cut it into the bits here - quality control is important in an endeavor!
The macaroni on the Gloop Here's those two cups of Macaroni on the Gloop...

...and mixed in to the Gloop.

I'd already poured in and mixed in the bacon by this point.
The macaroni in the Gloop

I was a bit worried that I might've made too much macaroni and Gloop.  Instead it came out just right.

A filled pie

I then latticed the strips of raw bacon across the top of the mac 'n cheese 'n bacon mix.  A dusting of brown sugar atop the bacon then followed and the pie was thus off to the oven!

Mac 'n Cheese 'n Bacon and into the oven!

Twenty five or so minutes later out came this bit of tastiness!

Fresh out of the oven

It did not last long in that form...

Time to eat!

Yeah, it crumbled getting it out of the pan.  A night's spent chilling in the fridge stiffened the crust such that the rest of the slices didn't fall apart like this first one.  Pre-baking the crust would probably also help.  

This came out nice 'n tasty.  But then, it's a combo of comfort foods all mixed together so it'd be difficult - but not impossible - to screw up.  It is kinda hard to go wrong with bacon and cheese though...


On the bed front, there was this:

Headboard work

My bed was slowly coming along.  I decided to try using stain instead of just paint to finish the headboard here.  This is my first foray into using stain.  I used a gel based type and picked up a truly fine bit of plywood for the main piece of the board.  Again, I used those threaded screw inserts to bold the headboard to its backing.  That makes it a whole lot easier to cart around for moving.  I am next to make the nightstands which'll attach on either side of the headboard here.  All of which'll be nicely up from the floor so as to reduce clutter and all that.
Valley Con 2017

In March it was time to head back over to the Petersen for this year's Valley Con.  The beauty of the creations there is always something to take in.

Valley Con Dune Ornithopter

Above here is a very nicely done Ornithopter from the movie version of Dune.  Excellent job on the finish and detailing of this otherwise obscure - and quite pricey as a result - kit.

The finish of this Douglas Skyknight is also a real gem.

Douglas Skyknight

What really struck me about this model here below was the detailing of the props.  The "Flapjack" was intended to be a high performance STOL fighter for the Navy during World War Two and key to that were its very unique propellers.  They were made out of wood - as opposed to the steel that was standard by that time - and this is a detail which many modelers miss.  It's also very difficult to get the wood grain effect displayed accurately in scale.  So this job was very nice indeed.

Vought "Flapjack"

Another opportunity to show off a wood finish is this Horten Jet Fighter.  The Horten 229 was powered by the absolute cutting edge technology of the day - jet engines - yet its fuselage was covered by plywood.  Accurately depicting that in small scale is quite the challenge and this modeler met it well.

Horten Jet

This submarine model below represents a whole lot of effort by the modeler who made it.  Apparently the Lindberg company made some errors in their research in which the configuration of the submarine they moulded.  Thus it doesn't match what they've labeled it as.  So, in order to correct this, the modeler here had to do some extensive scratchbuilding of its bow, its conning tower and other items.  He did this quite well and produced a real beauty of a model.

Lindberg I-53 submarine

The effort expended on this one however, is right off the charts.  The model below here is of the Cygnus from Disney's "Black Hole" movie of 1979.  The movie was a science fiction version of a Gothic horror story so the main ship in the film, the Cygnus, sported some intensely Gothic architecture.  Modeling this is intensely difficult as all those structural ribs were quite thin and delicate.  The original MPC kit from back in the day handled this... crudely.  Worse, it was moulded using opaque plastic so the eerie glow of the Cygnus from the film could not be replicated either.  This modeler did a vast amount of scratchbuilding to get around all of that and created a truly impressive model as a result.

Disney Black Hole Cygnus

The Cygnus, beautifully done.

Wonder Con - Anaheim

They moved back to Anaheim this year and are apparently gonna stay there for good now.  Well, as long as "for good" will last in such things given the history of the event's moving around.  In any event, the timing of the event was great as the weather was perfect, there was an ample crowd to enjoy, and it was a helluvalot easier getting to and from the Con when it was in Anaheim as compared to at the LA Convention Center.

Natasha and Loki

Ann went in her "Natasha Romanov, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." costume and, of course, met up with Loki.

Classic Cylons

I thought it was great to see some of the "classic" Cylons being out and about.

Natasha and Diana

Natasha and Diana

The DCU family

This bunch was great!  Everyone got to have their own really outstanding costumes and they worked it well.

Me and Cap

Yes, I was there too!  With Captain America, no less!

A bit young for Kill Bill...

I found this family to be a bit... odd.  They're dressed up as characters from the "Kill Bill" movies.  The ones in the face masks and the little girl with the spiked mace are part of the "Crazy 88s" and that's "The Bride" in yellow there.  This ensemble seems more than a bit odd for such young kids to be a part of.  The movie itself was exuberant in its violence and themes.  It well deserved its R rating so those two kids couldn't even have seen the films on their own.  Yet, here they were portraying murderous thugs with their mom and dad in tow.

Me and the Hound

This guy nailed it by playing to his strengths.  If you're a big 'n tall guy then it makes sense for you to select your costumes that best fit that big and tall characters.  So, playing "the Hound" from "Games of Thrones" was an excellent and current choice for him and he did well with it.
Commemorative Air Force - Camarillo

Hanging out on the various aviation related sites as I do, I caught word that the CAF's (Commemorative Air Force) Boeing B-29 would be making an appearance.  At the time it was the only B-29 in the world still in flyable condition.  So it was pretty much a must-see for me.  Camarillo Airport and its CAF Museum is only about sixty five or so miles away from where I lived so it was a relatively short Sunday morning's drive for me to get to it.  And I'm glad I did.

I made my way to the ramp through the Museum itself and one of the firs things I saw in the Museum was this:

Horseless Mustang

No, that's not some advertisement for some sort of industrial lipstick.

Instead, it's actually a P-51D Mustang without any horses.

Horseless Mustang

That's what a plane with its engine removed looks like.  And this is what they removed from it.

The horses missing from that Mustang

That's what made the Mustang go - 1,315 horsepower's worth of British designed Packard built twelve cylinder engine.  With that installed, the Mustang had superb high altitude performance which allowed it to excel as a bomber escort and thus secured its place in aviation history.  As you might imagine, an engine that big, that powerful, and with that many parts is a machine which requires plenty of tending to.  Thus it's no surprise to see it pulled from the airframe entirely for some substantial working over to ensure it keep working over and over again.  Seeing such a streamlined and pretty aircraft as the Mustang with its engine out is a unique thing.  It is literally "looking under the hood" and it's quite revealing of the structures involved that both hold the engine in place and yet are still light enough and streamlined enough to allow the plane to be fast and quick.  Quite a bit of engineering talent, that.

I poked around a bit through the rest of the Museum.  They'd some interesting hardware scattered about.  Being able to sit in a MiG-21 cockpit, for instance, was also a unique experience.  

MiG-21 cockpit

The damn thing was cramped and made for midgets who had to have absolute confidence in their ground controllers as they couldn't see outside the cockpit anyway for it was too cluttered and small.  Yet, the MiG-21 was a world class point defense interceptor for a couple of decades.  Go figure.

But the star of the show for me was the B-29.  

Me and Fifi

Damn but, this one impressive aircraft!  The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was the absolute pinnacle of World War Two long range heavy bomber design.  No one else came anywhere close to what this plane was capable of.  And quite a few bombers after the war were but refinements on what the B-29 had originally achieved.

What's all the more impressive is that this seventy three year old machine - it was manufactured back in 1945 - is actually still flying!  This, especially as it's no little "simple" single engine fighter plane but a big heavy four engined strategic bomber.  The amount of fuel, for instance, it takes just to get all four engines running and warmed up enough for flight could keep your average general aviation Cessna in the air for hours.  And the amount of maintenance that has to be pulled on the B-29s four engines for each hour that it flies is enormous.  So it was a real treat to be able to see this one in fine flying condition.  I got to clamber 'round inside it to!

Inside the B-29

The plane is kept aloft through some dedicated and intense work by a veritable army of volunteers.  And as loving as they are to the machine it's also clearly been flying for quite a while.  I could see this by the overall wear on the structure of the aircraft itself.  For example, the dings and dents in the engine cowlings seen here.

Wear and tear

This is not a plane in "factory fresh" condition.  That's impact damage, though slight, from rain or ice or birds or insects or what-have-you.  Nothing structural or otherwise impacting the aircraft's flight safety or integrity.  But it is evidence of the plane's longevity.  I also found it interesting that the crew had named each of the plane's engines.  Given the age of those powerplants and how their wear patterns over the decades - the engines are about as old as the plane itself - each of them has to have its own "personality" and thus it makes sense to give them their own personal identity too.


Another aspect of this aircraft in particular but also of all aircraft in general is how sculpture-like they are.  For efficiency of operations the aircraft have to be made as streamlined as practicable.  That allows for smoother airflow and less drag which allows the plane to go faster, further, and carry more of a load for a given amount of engine power and fuel use.  Weighing against that however, is the added weight, complexity, and engineering work required to come up with those streamlined structures that still are functional and contain all the systems inside them necessary for the plane's operation.  It's a balancing act, as is all good engineering.  But the end result with aircraft is some truly beautiful and pleasing shapes.  And with machines of this era that also meant they looked more like a metal artisan's hand wrought art than anything else.

Art in flight

This metal panel above here is a great example of that.  It's an aerodynamic covering of the lower cowling on one of the B-29's engines.  It is designed to smooth the airflow around the engine nacelle while also allowing the airflow within the nacelle to uniformly exit it through those slots.  This, and wrap around the main engine exhaust tube there at the left of the image.  This whole panel gets almost as intensely hot as the engine exhaust tube thanks to the heat of the engine's cylinders just behind that panel.  So it has to be strong enough and heavy enough to withstand that temperature stress while also only being just strong enough and just heavy enough so as to not needlessly weigh down the aircraft.  Oh, and it has to be removable as well - as evidenced by all the fasteners holding it in place - so that the engine behind it can be accessed and thus maintained.

And that's just one example out of the thousands of parts necessary to complete an entire B-29 and make it flyable.  Pretty impressive stuff there!
MotoArt Tour

About two weeks after I'd enjoyed my B-29 experience I had another aviation related experience to enjoy.  This time it was a tour run by Atlas Obscura of the MotoArt shop in El Segundo.  Working in El Segundo and driving 'round town to have lunch, get my haircut or drop off my dry cleaning, I'd seen the Moto Art shop and had always wanted to do more than just gaze at it whilst driving on past.  Thanks to the folks at Atlas Obscura, I got my chance to do just that.


MotoArt is pretty cool place with a really cool business model.  They turn salvaged aircraft bits into art pieces - both decorative and functional ones.  Their stock for this is worth no more than it's scrap metal price and in many cases it's even less than that as there's too many other substances mixed in to economically extract that metal.  

What the MotoArt guys do is take those parts and artistically treat them until they're beautiful to look at once again and can be repurposed into something else.  That "something else" can range from a truly stunning bit of wall art installation to an equally stunning but also highly functional conference table, bookcase, or cocktail bar.

And once the pieces get their MotoArt treatment they go for big, big bucks.  It's a brilliant idea and these guys are doing quite well at it.

F-86 Saber Nose Inlet and Airlerons

This piece above here is a great example of what MotoArt does.  No surprise, that, as it's featured in the lounge / showroom at their El Segundo shop.  In the center is the nose inlet fairing of an F-86 Saber jet fighter from the Korean War.  On either side of it are the ailerons from the planes wings.  The MotoArt guys took these pieces and polished the ever-loving-bejezus out of them and then mounted 'em on the wall in a nicely artistic and balanced fashion.  The result is visually stunning and is almost abstract in its artfulness.  Yet it is entirely a real world and functional industrial art form.  Due to the particular subject - a 1950s USAF fighter jet - this would be a great addition to anyone who wanted a "Fabulous 50s" art motif, a bit of Americana, a predilection for industrial art, or who wanted an aviation themed installation.  

Everything can work toward that end.  Take this example below.

An engine table

That's the guts from a radial engine.  The pistons, the piston rods, and the crankshaft have all been cleaned up, thoroughly polished and mounted together with that glass table top to form a beautiful and fully functional coffee table.  For any sort of "gearhead" such a thing would be perfect.  It'd be just the thing for an airport lounge or in the lobby of any company that did business in any sort of aviation services.

The tour took us all the way through the MotoArt shop.  In the main area in back we looked up and saw a good portion of the company's inventory just hanging there.  Literally, hanging there overhead.

Inventory overhead

Those things hanging from the rafters - literally part of the company's "overhead" - are some of the horizontal stabilizers, vertical stabilizers, and rudders they've picked up from aircraft graveyards.

With no small amount of effort they turn them into rather stunning desks and conference room tables.  Here's one in the process of being processed.

A table in process

The MotoArt crew has taken it, stripped it of its original paint, once again did the "polish the bejezus out of it" thing, added some legs, and attached the clear desktop supports there at each corner.  The final touch will be getting a custom shaped bit of tempered glass for the desktop attached.

MotoArt makes pieces that range from that sort of personal desk to full-up ten seat conference room tables wrapped around the front of a passenger jet engine to installations that use full sized aircraft arranged in unique ways.  The driving force behind MotoArt, this guy, showed us one such piece about ready for shipping out to an airport upstate.  It was of a small general aviation aircraft that MotoArt had gotten the contract to strip, repaint, and cut-up so as to arrange its parts to look like it was flying straight out of a wall.  This was a much more interesting and dramatic presentation than of just having the plane hanging from the ceiling.

While the tour was in process, in fact, there were a couple of guys down from the Santa Barbara Airport Commission negotiating with MotoArt for a similar installation there as well.

MotoArt also had some very unique and larger pieces there as well.  This one in particular really stood out.  It's the crew capsule from the first B-1 bomber.

B-1 Crew Capsule

That MotoArt got it was really surprising to me.  This is a historic piece here.  The B-1 was originally designed such that the entire crew cabin could eject from the aircraft in the event on an emergency.  A huge amount of effort went into designing, testing and building this into the plane.  Then the Air Force deemed the whole thing a waste of money, weight, complexity and space aboard the aircraft.  Now each of the crew has his own ejection seat instead.  And without any further ado, the Air Force just dumped the crew capsule in one of its desert boneyards.  Years later, MotoArt found it and snagged the thing for no more than its metal would be worth at a smelter.

While MotoArt makes a good deal of profit in creating these wonderful art installations, like this DC-6 engine cowling here:

DC-6 Cowling

Where they're really making profit is from their Plane Tags business line.

"Plane Tags" is nothing more complicated than luggage tags made out of the skin from a salvaged aircraft.  This too is a brilliant marketing idea on their part.  Most folk can't afford the four or five figure prices of MotoArt's truly gorgeous custom pieces.  But for those hankering for something aviation related and unique and in only a two figure price point, then luggage tags are just the thing.

So what MotoArt did was create a separate business line to handle just these items.

FAA regulations set an upper limit on the lifetime commercial use of pressurized passenger aircraft.  This, because the things can only take so many cycles of being pressurized for high altitude flight and then depressurized for landing and so on.  Each cycle stresses and flexes the airframe and its fuselage.  The planes are designed to handle that but it takes more and more maintenance on them to keep everything functioning properly.  As use goes on that maintenance cost rises and so does the chance of the fuselage failing due to the structural wear.  So, the FAA regulations set that limit after which the aircraft can no longer be used for commercial service.  At that point the plane is no longer economical for the airlines to use and their sent to a salvage yard to be stripped for what parts are still usable.

What's left over is a bare shell of an aircraft that still has to be broken up before a scrapyard would accept it.  The guys at MotoArt realized that those fuselage pieces are still quite useful for their standard business line of making art installations, book racks, skybars, and so on.  But even there they still wound up with extra parts of fuselage skin that they'd no other use for.

Then they realized that those fuselage skin bits all came from a unique aircraft.  An aircraft who's entire history was a matter of public record.  That meant that if they cut up that skin into individual luggage tags and printed that information on it they'd then have a unique - and affordable - item for aviation enthusiasts to buy.  And, in fact, to start collections of.

Suddenly all those acres of otherwise near useless aircraft fuselage skin now had value when turned into those luggage tags.  Pound for pound and manhour spent, the Plane Tags business is far more profitable for MotoArt than their bigger pieces.  That's not to say however, that the Plane Tags are not labor intensive.  The amount of effort it takes to prep a plane's fuselage skin to be punched out into those tags is actually still pretty damn considerable.

Key Fobs in Process

This was a fascinating tour to have gone through.  I'm now on Atlas Obscura's mailing list and they've come up with one offbeat and interesting place to go to after another.

U2 At The Rose Bowl

My first rock concert attendance in decades!  Ann saw a billboard advertising that U2 was going to be playing at the Rose Bowl in late May.  Checking online, I was rather surprised to find there were still seats left.  I'd thought that, with U2 being a "superband" that they'd all have sold out the moment they were available.  Well, perhaps there was a time they used to but not now.  Fair enough, it was our gain then.  

We did some browsing and eventually settled on what we thought was the best balance of proximity and cost for our seats.  I was feeling somewhat expansive as I knew this'd be a unique experience and figured "why not!"  So we got seats that were at about even with the stage's edge.  I figured that way we'd have a great view of the performances going on.  We were also up one full "ring" within the stadium itself.  So the prices weren't as stupid high as they were closer in.  Plus we got seats on the first row around the aisle at that level.  We figured that'd mean no one would be blocking our view ahead of us.

Well, we were pretty close to right.  We figured the venue would've kept the aisle in front of us clear for safety purposes but that was wrong.  It routinely got packed full of folks who'd bought seats out in the nose bleed levels and had come down for a much better view.  Still though, we were up enough from the aisle that we still had a pretty good view throughout.

The experience of the concert itself was pretty much what I'd thought it would be.  U2 is one of the primary bands from my coming of age years so there are a bunch of their songs that I very well remember and the band hit most of those through the concert.  In between sets Bono did his usual pretentious asshole stuff but that was also expected so it wasn't a shock.  I just wish the music players would stick to playing music and leave the politicking to the politicians.

While our seats did give us a good enough view that was primarily just so we could say we "saw U2 play" and not be referring to these tiny figures bouncing around in the distance.  Hearing U2 play was NOT a problem anywhere within miles of the Rose Bowl.  The sound system was absolutely huge and damn near deafening.  Which is about what a stadium concert should do.  

Getting to the concert involved snagging a parking space closer to downtown Pasadena than otherwise.  While the concert hadn't sold out by the time we got our tickets to it the on-site parking had.  That also turned out to be an okay thing.  At the concert's end the roads leading out of the Rose Bowl were soon thoroughly jammed with everyone who had parked on site suddenly trying to get out.  Ann and I walked past them far faster than they were crawling away in their cars on those streets.  Plus the parking garage was a good bit cheaper than the on-site parking.  

On the whole, this was a fun evening and a worthwhile outing for us both.

Our view from our seats.

U2 at the Rose Bowl

See!  There they are!

See, there they are!

I even took a bit of smartphone video of the experience.  Ain't high tech grand!

Colorado Ren Faire & Stuff

In July I had the time - and the miles - to head on out to Larkspur, Colorado to take in the Colorado Renaissance Festival once again.  I'd originally found out about this event when I was working in Aurora, Colorado, back in 2010.  It's the absolute best Ren Faire I've yet been to.  So I thought it'd make a great 4th of July weekend's excursion for Ann and I.

We checked into a Super 8 motel in Castle Rock, which is about ten miles north of the Festival site.  We did this to save on expenses and we certainly got a cheap place as a result.  It was a good thing I'd brought ear plugs as the A/C was deafening as it ran and it had to run all night due to the Colorado summer's heat.  But, we weren't there for an exquisite hotel experience we were there for the Faire!

I had a clear agenda for attending this - to hit up the leatherworks place where I'd bought the big red belt I wear with my Utilikilt.  Once at the Faire I made a b-line for the Renaissance Leather shop and was not disappointed.  I picked up several belts and was a happy customer.  I also picked up a couple of sporrans to go with my different kilts.

The shopping urge sated while Ann got her hair braided, we then did more roaming around.  Ann got to ride the elephant while there, something she'd missed the previous time we were at the event.

Elephant ride

We enjoyed watching a round of the jousting going on for the day...

Jousting knights!

And we were highly amused by some of the other performers we caught up with.

A great stage act

And, of course, there was Ren-Faire Cos-Play to enjoy as well.

Ren-Faire Cos-Play

We went to the Faire across two days and enjoyed doing so both times.  We also drove down to Colorado Springs for dinner each night.  The drive was brief and the dining was outstanding.

That first night we dined at Paravicini’s Italian Bistro on the west side of "the Springs."  It'd gotten top marks on Yelp and it was deserving of them.  The food was very tasty, well priced, and well served.

The last night we were in town we went "downtown" and found a most excellent Irish pub to check out.  Jack Quinn's Irish Pub and Restaurant hit the spot for our genuine Irish dinner needs.

Our last day in Colorado saw us back down in the Springs to take in the Garden of the Gods National Park.  This is one of the smaller National Parks but it's a real gem of a place.  The topography and geology of it is what makes it so special.  Due to subsidence and geologic pressures, the strata in that spot got folded up almost vertically.  Then, over the eons, much of it eroded away - but not uniformly owing to the difference in its composition.  Today, that makes for some truly wondrous "spines" of rock sticking out of the ground near vertically.  It's truly unique, truly special and truly approachable as it's within just a couple miles of downtown Colorado Springs.

We could've driven through it as it is laced with roadways for just that purpose but doing so seemed rather absurd.  So, we parked the car and did the walking bit.  Besides, the photo-ops are a lot better when you're out of your car anyway.

Me at the Garden of the Gods

We swapped the camera for this vantage point.

Ann at the Garden of the Gods

The rock formations well lend themselves to bouldering and climbing.

The place is great for bouldering

And even though it is but a "pocket park" it's vistas are still gorgeous.

Great vistas

Thanks to the erosion over the ages, there are a lot of vertical crevices like this there.


It'd be easy to clamber all the way up such "chimneys."

More verticals

Yeah, it's a hero shot...

The hero shot

Civilization is very close at hand to this park.

Civilization close at hand

And it being Colorado in the summer, the rains came fast and hard in the afternoon.

Colorado showers

That was about it for our Colorado trip.  It was a fun jaunt for the weekend and nice to do the Faire again while also taking in the Garden.

More LA Stuff

Living in LA is never disappointing if you keep your eyes open.

One day I was out to do some grocery shopping and spied this special snowflake who thought it a grand idea to take up not just two parking spaces, not just three parking spaces - but to take up four of them.  Yes, four.

Special snowflake

I can only imagine the reception this guy would've gotten had the place been busy and spaces were at a premium.  This is an excellent way to wind up with four flats and / or a nice "key job" on your car's paint.

Walking 'round a different part of town I found this advertisement of note.

Botoz Happy Hour

Yup, you're reading that right.  Such a thing as a "Botox Happy Hour" actually exists here in Los Angeles.

This too also exists in LA.

Yes, this also exists.

It's not just a vegan place, it's not just a organic place, and it's not even just an organic vegan place.  It's actually an entirely functional business wrapped around the plan of only being an organic vegan restaurant & deli.  That there'd be enough of a market for such a thing is, well, it's telling.

And on the road to work one morning I saw this in traffic.

Having a bad day...

Looks like someone was having a really bad day that morning.

San Francisco September

In September I made my usual pilgrimage up to Baghdad-by-the-Bay to enjoy another year's Folsom Street Festival.  As per usual, I flew in to Oakland and took BART into town whereupon I walked on down to the hotel to be ready for the weekend.  Nothing new about that.  I do like how BART finally got the little "spur line" running directly from the terminal to the regular BART station.  That's handy as all get out.  And flying in to Oakland always makes more sense than into SFO as that airport can be absolutely socked in with massive flight delays and yet OAK, just a ten miles across the Bay from it is in clear sunshine.  Lesson learned the hard way, that.

In any event, this trip was yet another reminder of just how hate filled, divisive, close minded, and sad the whole Bay Area has become.  Aside from Folsom, I really don't have any reason to go up there.  And I limit my time in SF as the place is pretty damn toxic and angry.  

The first evidence of that was this little gem posted at the Oakland BART station.

Racism In Oakland

Yeah, sure, some troll just probably slapped that up there to be funny about it in a sick sort of way.  Sure, that must be it.  No one was in a rush to take it down.  And the surliness of folks in Oakland was palpable.  The place seethes it and is pretty well known for it nationwide.  Yup, this sure was welcoming alright.

And then there was this billboard I found while walking around The City itself.

Where's the hate?

"Resist Hate?"  What hate?  Who, exactly, is hating?  We all live in the most tolerant, accepting and diversity embracing culture on Earth.  And yet, there's some who are screeching that it's a totalitarian dystopia with death camps about to pop up at any minute.  Sadly, in SF and the Bay Area - and in too much of California in general - such folks doing that screeching have found a very accepting audience who truly believe things really are that bad.  Worse, those believers are supporting the screechers and giving them far more political power than they deserve.  The result, perversely enough, is the election of more and more Republicans and conservatives and people like Donald Trump.  This, as more and more Americans have finally learned to tune out those screechers.  For those still following the hate mongers, their political fortunes are becoming increasingly dim.  The irony of this wasn't lost on me seeing Equality California's propaganda but it certainly was lost on all the believers there in San Francisco that weekend.

Tom of Finland Movie - Los Angeles Premier

This is a most excellent film and is definitely worth the watching.  I found that it tells our story and tells it wonderfully.  It tells it in all its beauty, all its ugliness, all its sadness and in all its joy.  It definitely does justice to who Touko Laaksonen was and what effect his Tom of Finland artwork has had on the world.

It was a rare treat to meet the star of a film that I'd just watched and enjoyed so much but that is exactly what happened at this premier.  The film was shown at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles and on its opening night there followed a "Question & Answer" session with the film's star; Pekka Strang, the film's writer & producer;  Aleksi Bardy, and the Tom of Finland Foundation's Vice President;  S.R. Sharp.  I  thought that Pekka did an excellent job capturing the essence of who 
Touko Laaksonen was from his days in the Finnish military during World War Two through his years of finding himself as a gay man in the otherwise repressed and repressive Cold War Finland, to becoming an icon of the gay leather community.  The entire film depended on how well he presented this and I think he did an excellent job.  His characterization was quite believable, realistic, and engaging.

The film's depiction of what the world was like for homosexuals - gays didn't exist yet - in the 50s and 60s was an altogether terrifying and depressing thing.  It's a reminder of just how amazingly far we have come as a society in that we are no longer so horrendously repressed or oppressing.  That liberation and that "finding of ourselves" was something that "Tom of Finland" played a part in.  Tom's art celebrated gay male sexuality as being a natural, a healthy, and a fun thing.  A joyous thing.  Something that was indeed worth celebrating - and not punishing and oppressing as was the standard throughout the world at the time he began creating his art.

Touko Laaksonen is now being hailed in Finland as a worthy part of Finnish culture.  That is something that would've been but a fantasy in the world he started out in back in the 1940s.  The film captures that and captures the voyage to this point wonderfully.

After the "Q&A" session the group hung out for some chatting and photos.  I'm happy to have snagged this one with Pekka.  He's still holding the skateboards that he'd just been gifted from Sharp and the Tom of Finland Foundation.  They're custom artwork items with Tom's Men images and are meant to be a dyptich art piece.  I don't know if Pekka is a skater or not but if he is then he can now do so in true Tom of Finland style.  It's also a very "Hollywood" thing which was perfectly fitting for the film's premiering in an art house film theater on LA's West Side.

Tom of Finland Movie's LA Premier with its star, Pekka Strang

Yes, Another Move

Back in 2015 I found the Zillow website and used it to help me find places to rent up here in LA.  It was a handy real estate and rental listing site which would also email you the results of any new listings that met the criteria you established.  Well, I found what I was looking for in Carson and that was all I needed.  Come September however, I got an email from Zillow informing me of a new listing.  Just for the sake of keeping current, I checked it out.  And it wasn't anything I really would've bit on anyway.  But, since I was already on the site, I fired up my search criteria to see what else was available.

Lo-and-behold there was a listing for one of the very first houses I looked at back in 2015.  It was once again on the market.  This in just a two year's span.  I had really liked what I saw of it back in 2015.  Interestingly enough, it was the first "remote access viewing" I went through.  I had logged on through the property management's site to get the keycode access for the lockbox at the property and went through the place myself.  I thought it perfect back then.  It was a tidy little place in a very nice neighborhood and it even had a small workshop attached to the two car garage.  I'd really wanted it then and put in for it but missed out on it.  

Well, despite being but two years in the Carson house myself, I decided to jump at it. Carson had its advantages but it also came with its downsides.  Being so close to the 105 highway meant I got lots of road soot on everything.  I first noticed this within a few days of having moved in to the house back in the summer of 2015 when I had placed a washcloth over the shower curtain rail and then retrieved it.  I had to do a double take as there was a massive black streak on the washcloth where it had contacted the shower curtain rail.  Running my finger along the rest of that surface it too came up coated with that soot.  I realized that this meant the soot was over everything in the house - including my bedsheets and pillow cases.  You know, things I rolled around on and had right next to my face for hours.  I was NOT a fan of that.  It was however, "just a fact of life" that I'd to deal with while living there.

Another downside of Carson was the property owner.  I never dealt with him directly but I did feel the effects of his decisions via the property management company running the house.  Aside from how cheap the guy was in fitting out his house - all the cabinet doors, for instance, were but unedged plywood sheets which meant that those edges quickly began to chip and look like crap in the process - there was also the central air conditioning the house came with.  This proved a lesson learned for me.

The realtor who was showing the house made certain to point out to me the big exterior mounted air conditioner unit off to one side of the home.  Wow, I thought to myself, having "central A/C" here in SoCal will come in handy on those couple of stifling warm weeks in late summer.  In all the other houses I've lived in here in SoCal, air conditioning wasn't really necessary.  I like it hot to begin with and the climate is usually so moderate that it's not an issue.  Not an issue save but for those couple of weeks each year that it is.  Window fans and getting outside more are how you cope with that.  Unless, of course, you popped for having an actual A/C unit in the window of one of your rooms.  Having central A/C however, that was really living large.

So that summer of 2015 I was very much looking forward to the day when I would hit the power switch for the A/C and start being cooler than cool inside my home.

Well, that day came and that day went - without any air conditioning to speak of.  Sure, there was airflow through the vents but it wasn't cooled air by any means.  Alright, perhaps the freon needed recharging.  A quick maintenance call to the property management folks and there was a guy out to do the deed.  Only it wasn't the freon which needed to be replaced it was the air compressor instead.  Ooops.

The air compressor is the heart of an air conditioning unit.  It's therefore not a cheap or simple thing to swap out.  But hey, the place boasted having central A/C so there'd soon be one swapped out anyway, right?  Well, no.  Turns out the property owner stuck to the letter of the lease which only obligated him to ensure the property had a functional heater.  At that point I really cursed myself for not having copied the exact text of the property description which listed "central air conditioning" as one of its features thus justifying a higher rent payment.  The property owner was entirely within his legal rights but it was still a cheap move on his part and that was a big thing in spurring me to be on the lookout for something better if the chance ever arose.

Well, now that chance had indeed arose.  And I jumped at it.  

I plunked down the deposit for the new house in Lakewood without having waited for the current tenants to vacate first.  A risk, yes, but it secured the place for me and that was worth it.

So, as soon as I got back from Folsom I began packing up the Carson house and getting ready to once again move my life around.

And in typical fashion, no sooner did I put that deposit down to move than I got word that October would be my last month working there at LinQuest.  Just barely eighteen months on at the job and the company decided they wanted to close out the contract I was on.  Oh yay.  Once again unemployed in the fourth quarter.  That really sucked.

But, being the good professional I am, I kept fulfilling my work obligations right up until the last day.  Among these were heading out to Colorado Springs to support a quarterly business conference there I'd been working on since the year's start.  It was a couple days out in "the Springs" on the company's dime so it wasn't all bad.

This, especially as I knew the lay of the land well enough from having worked out in Colorado in 2010 to know some of the better places to eat while in the Denver metro area.  One of these was actually right along the way I would drive from the Denver International Airport on down to the Springs.  It's actually a safer bet to do that drive than try and fly in to the Springs directly.  First off, the flights are much cheaper without that last hop into COS.  Secondly, the weather at Colorado Springs can keep planes grounded for extended durations as the winds coming off the mountains just to the west of the Springs make it exceedingly unsafe to try and fly through them.  So you could wind up stuck on the tarmac for hours awaiting what is otherwise but a fifteen minute flight.  Safer to just rent a car and drive down there as it's only forty five or so minutes on the road to get there.

Thus one afternoon in late October I found myself occupying a seat at the Ted's Montana Grill in Aurora, Colorado.  I'd been very good in the months prior to getting out here so I rewarded myself by digging in to my favorite and most savory meal there - a bison fillet.  Yeah, I was living large and even though the cost of the meal exceeded the GSA per diem for my dining, it was still well worth it!

Bison filet at Ted's

Their fillet, ordered medium rare, is tender enough you could cut it was your spoon.  It damn near melts in your mouth and is wonderfully savory with each bite.  At the waiter's recommendation, I ordered the sliced tomatoes with cottage cheese and balsamic vinegar drizzled atop them.  That too was a wonderfully savory thing to take in at Ted's.  The American Flag stuck in to the fillet was just going over the top nicely!

My business done in the Springs I was soon back to DIA.  I'd the time, briefly, before my flight so I paused to take in some of the more "unique" artwork on display there at Denver International Airport.

DIA Unique Art

Yeah, this is just the sorta thing which is truly fitting for public art at a major airport...

Unique indeed

And the closer you look at this one the creepier it gets too.

There are ample other indicators that Denver International Airport has a lot more going on to it than people know about.

I got back to LA on the last Friday in October and that last Saturday in October is when the movers showed up in Carson to haul everything there over to the new place in Lakewood.  Yes, the movers.  Having so recently put myself through moving myself from one house to another there was no way - no way in Hell, actually - that I was gonna go through that again on my own.  I'd actually moved no small amount of my stuff over to the new place on my own just to get a jump on things and ensure nothing got busted in the process.  As a result my back was screaming at me for it.

So on the 28th of October I got the call from Mannie Guillermo that he and three of his guys from City Movers were soon to be at my place in Carson. Sure enough - and right on time - there they were.

Mannie was the crew lead and we went through my place to see what was what. He then introduced his crew to me. It was at about that point that I realized the moving crew was decidedly different from what usually comprises moving crews here in Southern California - i.e. Mannie was the only guy with heritage in this hemisphere.

The other guys were Sergei, Alexander, and Ivan.

That is very unusual for such work here in California.

VERY unusual.

One of my many interests is building scale model kits. The bulk of the boxes that needed to be moved were these large clear plastic tubs (118 quarts or so size) which I use to store those kits in their boxes in. I prefer clear plastic tubs as I can more readily see which kits are in which tub - as well as having the tubs numbered and inventoried.

As the lads began moving those model kit filled tubs into the moving truck, one of the kits caught the eye of one of the movers and gave him pause. He pointed it out to me - it was kit of a Kamov Ka-25 helicopter who's first flight was in 1963 - and said: "My father flew these when he was in Soviet Navy."

Aside from his "thick as molasses" accent making it clear, his father's being a pilot in the Red Navy of the USSR made it even more so...

I was being moved by Russians.

Not Ukrainians. Not Slavs. Not Poles. Not Estonians or Latvians. But by "Roooshans."

And yeah, "Sergei" and "Alexander" and "Ivan" - especially "Ivan" - are about as stereotypically "Roooshan" as you can get!

Making the world even smaller was when Ivan noticed another kit in my collection and that really gave him pause.

It's a kit of a Tupolev ANT-25 long distance flight research aircraft of the 1930s. Among other feats achieved by that aircraft was a flight which took it from Moscow to San Jacinto (about seventy miles east of Los Angeles and about where March Air Force Base is today) in 1937. The flight lasted over 62 hours and they traveled over 7,000 miles.

Well, it turned out that Ivan's great grand father was a record setting pilot in the Red Air Force during those years. While he wasn't part of the crew on the ANT-25 he was one of the pilots on a long distance flight which headed the other way from Moscow in 1938 and came down at Miscou Island in New Brunswick, Canada.

Vladimir Konstantinovich Kokkinaki was this man's name and he led quite the distinguished career. As Ivan made sure to point out, his great grandfather was awarded "Hero of Soviet Union twice!" - said proudly in a very thick Russian accent.

Turns out, I also have a model kit of the aircraft his great grandfather used and I have a special decal set for just that particular airplane on that particular flight.

Yeah, small world indeed!

In any event, Mannie, Alexander and Ivan stayed busy with the boxes I had in the garage while Sergei disappeared into the house. I was wondering what he was up to and I found that he was their "inside man" who was in charge of wrapping and hauling out the bigger items. In short order he came rolling out the fridge, the washer, the drier, the two overstuffed chairs and the sofa - all wrapped up in plastic cling wrap.

Sergei was a Russian archetype being tall, thin, deeply sarcastic and highly sardonic. Aside from being the "inside man" and the "saran-wrap" specialist he was also the truck driver - for which he described himself as being "lazy driver" (also said in a thick Rooshan accent.)

His sarcasm was pretty deep on that as he managed to get the truck to my new address in Lakewood before I did even though we all left at the same time and I passed that truck on the highway headed there! "Lazy driver" indeed!

The guys worked steadily and smartly and were all over, said, and done in just a few hours. This, with enough time to then go get a meal - they wanted to know where the nearest buffets were - before heading off to the second moving job that day.

I specifically avoided dealing with as much of the heavy stuff as I could and even then, by day's end my back was screaming. I can not imagine how these guys were handling making two such moves in one day. And they were not doing the "lift with the legs not the back" stuff. But, they were also young (twenty somethings at most) and eager enough otherwise.

But at day's end, they got the deed done and nothing got busted in the process.

Plus, I now have some interesting tales to tell about the experience.

Here's an action shot of one of the Rooshans in action.

The garage getting filled up

Thrilling, yes?

And this one is of all the model kit filled tubs finally done and moved into their new place in the garage in Lakewood.

Lotsa moved stuff

Things were not completely completed at the Carson house.  I still had some other small stuff to haul and or dispose of before I was ready for the final inspection and handing over the keys to the property management guy.

Among the items I needed to dispose of was a really big sheet of glass.  This was one of the things I'd picked up while working at SAIC down in San Diego.  The company had chosen to remodel the lobby of the building I was in and decided that the big built-in display case had to go.  That meant the six foot tall sliding glass display case doors had to go to.  So, they simply removed them and placed them in the big dumpster they'd parked next to the building.  Placed, not thrown as that would've made too much of a mess.  I was dumpster diving in that thing for months pulling out all the other sorts of really cool and useful stuff they were simply throwing away.  And that's actually no exaggeration as SAIC really was clearing out lots of stuff they'd stored in that building from when it was SAIT - Science Applications International Technology - and when they actually made things in that building.  Once SAIC shut down their SAIT operations to subcontract out anything they needed made, they simply stored a bunch of the items they used to use to make that stuff in the bottom level of that building.

Among these were some wonderful wooden workbenches.  These were just the thing for electronics work as the wood bench tops were better than metal for that due to static and such.  Well, San Diego had borne the brunt of the "Peace Dividend" and "Defense Drawdown" in the 90s such that the market was utterly glutted for that sort of equipment and furniture.  SAIC couldn't even give the stuff away.  Literally.  So they simply tossed 'em into that dumpster.  I have but one of the several such workbenches I'd retrieved from that dumpster.  The others I hauled to the houses of my coworkers who wanted them but didn't have a pickup truck like I did to get 'em there.

Anyway, I snagged that big sheet of glass thinking it'd be the perfect thing to cut down and be a nice surface on one of those wood work benches that I could repurpose into a dining room table.  Yeah, I was optimistic back then.  So I carefully placed the thing in the back of my pickup truck and drove it on off to the house I lived in on Benton Place in San Diego.  There, I carefully placed the big sheet of glass into the garage for it to await its turn on my Project List.  This was in '98 or so.  Then came the move from Benton Place to Commonwealth Ave.  And that big sheet of glass was carefully moved again.  Then came the move from Commonwealth to Via Arcilla.  Again, it was carefully moved and carefully placed in the garage to still await its turn.  Then came the move up from San Diego to Carson and, again, the big glass sheet was carefully loaded up and trucked out.

This time however, I was done.  I realized I'd never be able to get to working on that thing and I also couldn't find anyone to take it off my hands.  I thought it'd be perfect for an artist to work on.  Or something.  So, come that last Monday in October I carefully wrapped it up in some plastic sheeting and took a hammer to it.  I had to take that hammer to it a couple of times before it finally broke up.  Being tempered glass, when it finally did break the whole thing shattered from the structural release.  But not into shards, thanks to its tempering and such.  Instead it shattered into lots of chunks.

So I now had a big heavy single sheet of glass that was on the ground in a thousand little pieces.  All of which was still just as heavy.  I'd not thought that part through.  Oops.  And, of course, I'd already moved my shovels over to Lakewood.  Good thing I was wearing gloves and used the dustpan I still had there in Carson as a makeshift shovel.  With some cursing at not having thought it all through, I eventually got all that glass safely packed away into the recycling barrel and was done with it.

Some more bits & bobs needed to be cleared out that day and I thus set about it.  Among them was a big bottle of champagne that my next door neighbor had given me to celebrate a New Year's.  That was nice of him and I had kept the bottle stored safely for the right occasion.  It was among the last things I got to in packing things up and I'd put it in one of the moving boxes I'd folded up just to contain those last few odd items.  Folded, not taped.  Yeah, you can guess where this is going.

So I was halfway out the house to my truck with that box when the bottom of it unfolded and dropped everything out.  That big bottle of champagne smacked into my foot and then busted itself open on the pavement.  Crap!  Aside from just wasting that champagne it also got everything else that had been in the box wet with it.  My foot was also wet as the champagne had soaked itself through the sneakers I was wearing.  I quickly set about cleaning things up with an eye toward catching all the glass shards from the bottle lest that neighbor's dog, Rosy, lick 'em up while going after the champagne puddled there.

I got everything hauled out I quickly zipped over to Lakewood to change and get myself going as I'd a dinner scheduled with my boss, Todd.  He'd flown in town to help wrap up my last day there at LinQuest and such.

I didn't want to meet him for that dinner all stinky from my move so it was time to shower and get better dressed.  It was when I began taking my sneakers off that I realized that it wasn't the champagne my foot was wet with.  It was wet with my blood.  A shard of glass from that champagne bottle had impacted and cut through the side of the sneaker and stuck into my foot.  Luckily it had missed any of the bigger veins in my foot but there's enough blood vessels down there that it made for a bloody mess, literally, none-the-less.  Great.  Just great.

Well, I quickly got a lesson on where the nearest Urgent Care was and why that particular facility was less than worthless - they're only open from 9 to 5 and that's it.  I did find a place that was open that was reasonably nearby and hit them up instead.  Hobbling around as I did so.

Bloodied Foot

I'd tried sticking a bandage on the cut but that wasn't working well.  So I chose to sacrifice one of my white gym socks to the task - on top of the bandage - as I got out to the MedPost Urgent Care in Long Beach - right next to a WingStop and a Del Taco!

It wasn't much busy and I was soon enough being tended to.  Once cleaned off, cleaned out and wiped down it didn't look like much for all the mess it'd made.  And, surprisingly, it didn't require any stitches like I thought it would.  Instead the PA just applied a bit of a new type of gauze to it - this being with a "hemostatic agent" mixed into the gauze mesh - to help the cut clot quickly.  It worked.  Yay me.

Not so bloody bloodied foot

There was, of course, more to still be done.  So, even with so grievously injured a foot I was back at it the next day.  Finally, in the midst of a cold rainy morning, I met with the property management guy there at the house in Carson for that final walk through.

I'd hoped to have gotten there ahead of him to take two last things before I finally left - the roll of toilet paper in the bathroom and the mount for my flag.  I got there well ahead of the appointed time but he got there even earlier.  This, despite his having asked for that appointed time to be appointed later than I'd first proposed.  So, all I could do was take a quick photo of my "gift" to the incoming tenant.

My gift to the new Occupants there in Carson

This is something of a big deal as, typically how such things are done, you have only truly moved in to a new house when you've put that first roll of toilet paper into its holder in the bathroom.  Well, I guess I'm "paying it forward" in this case.

After our walk through and a firm handshake, I handed the property management guy the keys to the house and the garage door remote and that was it.  All I was left with was the indent in the sun visor of my truck where the remote had crimped it for being so long in place there on it.

The last remnant

I drove off to work but then decided to double back and see if the property management guy was still there or not.  As he wasn't I then quickly got out of the truck with my cordless drill in hand and unscrewed the flag pole mount from the garage door jamb I'd emplaced it in.  Only then was I truly out of the house in Carson!

I took this image of my Carson digs about a week before I handed the keys over.  It's got it all - a nice sunny SoCal day, my trusty truck, and the view I came home to in Carson each day that Carson was my home.

Goodye to Carson

Planes of Fame: Living History Flying Day - Flying Wing!

As I now had some time on my hands I began looking around at more things to do.  First up was heading off to Chino to check out the Planes of Fame Air Museum there.  The drive over is around forty miles or so and thus not a big deal.  The event which drew me to it was one of their monthly "Living History Flying Day" lectures and demonstrations.  These are really cool things to take in.  Each of these starts off with a lecture / panel discussion about various aviation topics and about the plane being featured that day.  On this particular day it was all about the Northrop N-9M Flying Wing.

That this little airplane even still exists is amazing and that it still is flyable is even more so.

The N-9M is actually a "engineering test article" created by the Northrop engineers working on the B-35 flying wing bomber.  Back in the days when aviation designers had but slide rulers to make their calculations with they many times created scale models to test out their aerodynamic concepts.  Sometimes these scale models were actually large enough to be manned aircraft in their own right.  The N-9M was one of the series of those which Northrop created as part of figuring out what it would take to make the B-35 a usable machine for the Army Air Corps during World War Two.  It was made almost entirely from wood and really wasn't intended on lasting more than just a couple of years.

Instead, thanks to some very dedicated volunteers - and to a donation by the Grateful Dead band (seriously!) - the plane was restored to airworthiness and blesses the skies now on a regular basis.

And the thing truly is beautiful to watch in flight.  It seems the absolute essence of what an airplane should be.

Northrop N-9M

It was a real treat standing right at the edge of the tarmac to watch the N-9M being prepped for flight and then being there once the engines started up and the plane taxied on out to the runway.  A few minutes later it was happily "buzzing the field" to the joy of the crowd gathered to see exactly just that.

N-9M in flight

Once the flight demonstration was over I took the time to check out what the Museum also had on hand.  And they do have quite a lot on hand.

In one of their workshop hangars I found this in process.

A horseless Me-109

This is a "horseless" Me-109.  That is, it's yet another airplane which has had its engine removed for maintenance.  Interesting to see the similarities and note the differences with the Mustang up at Camarillo and it's being horseless as well.

Right up front of the hangar was this hot rod racer version of a Mustang.


The Voodoo is a highly modified P-51 Mustang that has been extensively modified to get all the speed possible out of it.  And it sure was pretty!

The Planes of Fame Air Museum is actually pretty cramped and it has a whole lot of aircraft stuffed into too few a number of hangars.  So getting clear enough pictures of the fantastic stuff they have on hand was a challenge.

I found it very interesting to see that they'd somehow secured possession of one of the more rare of the Horten gliders: the Horten IV.

Horten IV

I was very surprised to see that they also had a Lockheed L-1000!  This is one of those "if only" things the US was developing during World War Two that could've been a true "game changer" - an axial flow turbojet engine with a expected thrust far in advance of anything the flew during the war.  It was the engine planned for Lockheed's first jet fighter, the L-133.  The thing to bear in mind about all this is that Lockheed was working on building both the engines and the plane in 1939!  Had the engine worked and had the company been able to get the L-133 flying, the US could've had the world's fastest jet fighter in the air by 1943.  That would've made a huge difference in how the air war against the Germans and Japanese went.

And the Planes of Fame Museum has this piece of history crammed in amongst many other pieces of history there at its Chino hangars.

L-1000 Jet Engine

The Air Museum also has a large portion of its collection stored outside.  This F-100 Super Saber was of particular note as it's a true survivor.  The plane had been declared obsolete as a front line fighter aircraft and was then set up to function as a target drone.  The aircraft was apparently used at the China Lake weapons testing facility where it was used in the development of air to air missiles.  That is, the plane was taken off and flown remotely and the testing guys tried to shoot it down with one of the air to air missiles they'd been working on.  This was a "real world" test in as close to "operational conditions" as they could get.  And in this case they almost did "get" this aircraft.  Almost, but not quite.

Almost but, not quite

In this case, the missile exploded almost directly into the plane's engine exhaust.  It completely blew away the right side horizontal stabilator and did a fine job shredding the tail of the aircraft in general.  But, North American build the Super Saber well and the aircraft kept on flying - even while being remotely piloted.  The aircraft was safely landed back at base and thoroughly examined to see what sort of damage that near miss (well, a near hit actually) did.  At that point it was truly declared surplus and it was after that when the Planes of Fame folks picked it up.  It's a fascinating thing to walk around and get up close to.

Not every aircraft at Chino is either crammed in so tight you can't see 'em or parked outside when they're no longer airworthy.  The Air Museum does have a couple of hangars with more space allocated to the birds they've on display.  These are actual flying aircraft and not ones forever grounded.  So that makes them all the more special.

This one in particular so as it is a very rare P-51A Mustang.

An Allison Engined 'Stang

Most folk who know a bit about the P-51 Mustang are far more familiar with the "D" version and its bubble canopy and it's Merlin engine up front.  That's the version which became the world class escort fighter and truly made the P-51 into an aviation legend.  The first Mustangs were powered by American designed and built Allison engines.  Those were good but not as good as the Merlin at altitude.  And as it was at altitude where those escort fighters were operating, it was the Merlin engined variants which were the ones most in demand.  And as soon as the Merlin got matched to the Mustang airframe the production of the Allison engined machines ceased.

That said however, at low and medium altitudes the P-51As were superior to the later Merlin engined Ds in terms of speed and maneuverability.  They were simply a lighter aircraft as they'd not had all the extra systems stuffed into them to make them fully functional at those high altitudes like the D version had.  Thus they turned quicker, rolled faster, and were just better at those lower altitudes.  Precious few of these machines survived through the war and even fewer are around today.  So it was a treat to not only see this one at the Museum but also to realize it's a fully functional flying aircraft.  If you look immediately beneath the plane you can see the large black trays there under the aircraft - those are there to catch any of the oil which leaks from the seventy five year old engine and hydraulic system of the Mustang.  I'll be to keeping an eye out for when this bird is next in the air.

I'll also be back at Chino as often as I can.  Those Living History Days are a fantastic thing for an aviation buff like myself and the place is too close to pass up.

Bacon and Egg Cupcakes

This is another of those concoctions I'd seen online that I had to try myself.  A simple thing to change up my normal bacon and egg breakfasts.  I'd worked this up once before, back in March of 2016, so I decided to try it again.  And it turned out well enough this time too.

Basically you cut out little circles of bread to put at the bottom of each cupcake cup and the wrap some partially cooked bacon around the sides of each cup.  Into the middle you then place the cheese of your choice.  Next you plop a raw egg into each cup and top that with more cheese or seasoning of your choice.  I used cheddar and Havarti in this case and this is what it looked like ready to place into the oven.

Bacon and Egg Cupcakes About To Be Baked

I cooked these at 400 degrees for fifteen minutes and they came out perfect.  They made a tasty difference for my morning's breakfast.

Bacon and Egg Cupcakes Ready to Eat!

Life In Lakewood 2017

I was soon getting on with "life in Lakewood."  One of the differences with the new house compared to the one in Carson was an utter lack of countertop space in the bathroom.  There was just the sink's edge of the vanity to place stuff and I knew that really wouldn't do.  Plus it'd be a pain to have to constantly pick everything up just to clean underneath it.  The solution?  Leave it permanently picked up!  And once again, it was Amazon to the rescue.  I had tried going through what Bed Bath & Beyond had but nothing there fit my needs.  Over on the site that really does have everything, I found these items: a wall mounted cup holder, a wall mounted soap dispenser, and a wall mounted tooth brush & toothpaste holder.

The cup holder and soap dispenser are made by the same company and form a nicely matched set.  Their installation was a breeze and they work just fine.  They look great too.  I liked the fact that the tooth brush & toothpaste holder was both stainless steel and wall mounted as that meant no rusting and it'd be easier to keep clean.  The previous holder I'd bought was nice 'n shiny and all but quickly rusted out behind the chrome and looked like crap.  And it started to stain the countertop too.

The only problem with the new holder was the opening for the toothpaste tube.  It was just ever so slightly too narrow for even a 6 ounce tube of toothpaste.  Particularly if the tube was one of those "wide cap" things designed to stand upright.  Rather than accept dealing with having to fight the holder to get the toothpaste tube into and out it, I instead decided to file the opening wider.  Well, I quickly learned that stainless steel is a lot harder than the metals I'd gotten used to working previously.  I eventually got a metal grinding bit and chucked into the drill press I had.  In short order I'd ground the holder's opening about an 1/8th of an inch wider and now the toothpaste tube just slots right into place.  It comes out just as easily so I was a happy guy.

The widened hole

The sharper eyed among you might notice that the holes are neither matching nor symmetrical.  Yes, I am definitely keeping my day job and not going to attempt making a living as a metal smith just yet.

And here's the beauty shot of it all up on the wall in my bathroom.

All done and all up

As I got more comfortable in my new house I began ranging around my new neighborhood.  There are a number of churches in my neighborhood and one of them has set up a marquee that they keep updated with various inspirational inspirations.  This one in particular however, seemed a bit... odd.

A bit odd for a church's inspirational message, eh?

Up in Pasadena I found this bit of bathroom privacy installation to be remarkable not that it was put up in the first place but that it remained in place day after day.  Seems it was an appreciated enough thing that even the cleaning staff respected it.

Privy Privacy Installation

Walking out to my truck one evening I noticed this beast clambering across the driveway.  I'd never seen an insect like this and wonder just what in the hell it was.  The thing was a couple of inches long and looked for all the world like some giant radioactive mutated ant.

Attack of the Giant Mutated Ants or a Potato Bug, your choice

Nope, nothing so world ending.  It was just a Potato Bug.  And they're quite common in these parts.

Turkey Day was imminent and as I was out at the nearby Home Depot I looked over at the Best Buy across the parking lot from it and noticed their Black Friday preparations.

Black Friday Prep

They'd already started lining up the crowd control fencing in front of their store.  I wondered if, come the day, they had a squad of Best Buy Corporate Riot Police on hand too.

For Thanksgiving itself I thought I'd try my hand at frying a turkey instead of doing the baking thing.  Again, thanks to Amazon I had my very own turkey fryer along with the other assorted hardware.  I found that the local Albertsons supermarket also carried peanut oil.  That's the oil of choice to use when frying as it has a high smoke point and that means it withstands higher cooking temps that other oils.  It's also healthier too.  Of course, that means it's more expensive as well.  But, I figured it'd be worth the shot and I bought four gallons worth.

I got my bird from the nearby Sprouts along with the mashed spuds and stuffing and gravy.  I'd planned on doing it all and also baking an apple pie at the same time.  I was thinking a bit too big there.  Luckily, Ann took over the pie making part and she got to thus use the silicon pastry mat first instead of me.  It worked as advertised to make it much easier to flip the crust into the pie pan as well as being easier on the cleanup end of things.

For my part, I got entirely consumed running the fryer.  For safety's sake, the thing comes with an automatic timer that shuts off the gas flow if you don't keep resetting it every fifteen minutes or so.  I had to learn my way around that and how best to adjust the flow meter to ensure the best flame height and so on.  I also didn't have enough peanut oil.  Thus the very tip of the turkey was just barely above the level of the oil I did have in the pot.  This wasn't that much of a problem as the bubbling of the oil kept it pretty much covered to cook.

Frying a turkey

I'd a healthy respect for the risks of using that much highly flammable cooking oil.  So the fryer was set up out on the driveway pavement well away from everything flammable.  And I'd a fire extinguisher right handy too.

As the gas flow had been interrupted too many times I realized I wasn't getting a consistent temp to cook.  So I made the decision to cook the bird longer than the recipe called for.  As a result I thus singed the tips of the whole thing.  The wings were burnt all the way through and we had to pick at the meat of the legs to get at the unburned parts.  Oops.  Lesson learned.  The rest of the turkey however, came out nice and juicy and with just the right crispness.

A cooked bird!

Not that bad for my first attempt at fry cooking a turkey.

We happily tucked in to the meal I'd made.  I even fried up some potatoes after battering 'em first.  I did learn that injecting a marinade into a turkey works better if I did it from the inside of the bird as opposed to from the outside through its skin.  From the outside meant I'd just left plenty of holes for the marinade to drain out.  And doing the injections right before placing the bird into the fryer also helps keeping that marinade where it intended - as opposed to drained out at the bottom of the pan as it was this time.  Still though, it was tasty and I was game for a better performance a month later when Mom came out for XMas.

Ann's apple pie was damn near flawless.  And it didn't last long with either of us enjoying it.

Ann enjoying Ann's Apple Pie

Nope, that home baked apple pie didn't last long at all!

XMas 2017

As usual, Mom came out again for the Christmas week.  It was good to see her again.  And this was her first XMas with me in the new place.  Picking her up from LAX was more of a trek as Lakewood is further out from there than Carson but, soon enough she was relaxing in the living room and enjoying the Sun's heat pouring in through the windows.

I, on the other hand, was busy being busy with my fryer.  I decided to expand beyond cooking not just a turkey but also some roast beef!  What had truly inspired me to get into fry cooking was a clip of the "Pit Boys" doing I'd found on Youtube.  That video was a bit of true mouth watering "food porn" that was tasty enough looking to eat right through the screen.

So, once Mom was fetched from the airport I set about frying everything up.  I got the fryer running and tended it continuously enough that the flames never went out and it remained at a constant heat throughout.  I only injected the marinade from within the bird and not through its skin and only did those injections right before the turkey went into the fryer.  I had enough peanut oil to completely submerge the whole turkey and that all went a whole lot smoother this time than the first.  

I also followed the Pit Boys recipe for doing the roast beef and plunked it into the fryer immediately after the turkey came out.  A wee bit of time later - speediness of cooking is a big advantage of frying - and then I cooked up some more spuds and some green beans as well.

By this time however, my Mom was pretty tuckered out.  So she hit the hay before my cooking was done and we had our Christmas Feast on the day after.  

A nicely fried turkey

Nothing got burnt on that turkey.  The skin was nice and crispy and the meat was tender and juicy.

A nicely done bit of roast beef

The roast beef also came out tender and juicy.

A lotta meat for the feasting

Yes, we dined well for the next several days!

A coworker of mine at LinQuest was also a professional magician.  As such, he was a member in good standing of the Academy of Magical Arts.  Aside from being a great guy to work with in general, this also meant that he could dispense passes to attend dinners and shows at the "Magic Castle" there in Hollywood.  Ann and I had attended one such evening thanks to a friend of hers who got us passes and it was a grand thing indeed.  Thus I thought it a grand thing to do with my Mom this year and I invited some other of my friends along.  We made it a nice evening out and enjoyed the food, the company, and the shows.  It's definitely an experience I'll be doing again and I highly recommend it to anyone who can get a pass to attend.

We were pretty low key this year with things to do during the time my Mom was out.  She's getting older and I had to gauge that in terms of daily activities.  One thing we did do was take in a day's visit to the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History.

We decided to take one of the basic tours through the Museum.  It started at the "Dueling Dinos" exhibit in the central hall and then wound its way through the rest of the exhibits on that floor.  The diamond and gems exhibit was an interesting thing to see as was the history of Los Angeles exhibit.

Mom and the Dueling Dinos

Surprisingly enough, Mom also wanted to take in the special Tattoo exhibit the Museum had running.  That was a very well done thing.  Among the more eye catching pieces on display was this series of full size silicon mannequins that various tattoo artists had worked their art upon.  Apparently this particular silicon blend closely duplicated the properties of human skin such that the art could be rendered on it.  That makes saving example of such tattooing a whole lot less creepy than the way the Japanese preserve their full body tattoo pieces by saving the skins of the deceased recipients.


And that was about it.  We did some more local things but kept it otherwise low key.  It took us both a while to work through all the food I'd cooked - and the cookies I'd baked too.  We did some exploring around the Lakewood / Long Beach area.  Walking along the Veteran's Pier in Long Beach was one such jaunt.  Too soon though it was time for her flight back.  After dropping her off at LAX on the 31st it was once again off to the Starbucks there on Sepulveda at Mariposa.  After last year's debacle at the Denny's on Century I wasn't gonna try risking that place again.  So the last breakfast for 2017 was some bacon and artisan gouda sandwich and a mocha.  Low key, simple and that was it.  Nothing major followed.  I rang in the New Year at home, hoping the job situation would soon change.  I'd been in this spot before come a December's end.  So, I knew what to expect.

New Year's Day Tradition - Los Angeles Version

This was my first New Year's spent in Los Angeles.  I put my Mom on her flight early that morning and then headed off.  There was no "mountain top" to take in the New Year's Dawn so that part of the "tradition" is now just a San Diego memory.  I did hunt up a Denny's breakfast however, as there's one just down Century from the airport.  

New Year's Breakfast at Denny's - in LA this time!

The Move From San Diego to LA

I took my time to enjoy that breakfast but from that point on I had to hustle.  With the end of my job at SpaceX that meant the end of my per diem's paying my Carson rent.  So I had to wind up San Diego and be out of there before month's end January.  That meant I had to finish packing up the house down there and move everything out of it and up to Carson.  AND I had to do that as inexpensively as possible as I was now no longer making an income.

One of the first things I did was to construct a bit of moving assistance for myself.  The front door of the Carson house is up by two steps from street level.  I already knew from what I'd already moved in that those steps would be a real pain in the ass for hauling things in via a dollly or hand cart.  So, I used the scrap 2x4s I had along with some plywood sheet to make myself a ramp for that front door.  I cut the 2x4s at an angle for the ramp's slow to match the rise of the steps.  

2x4s Cut at an angle to match the rise of the steps

It worked out quite well and was definitely a sweat - and muscle strain - saver during my moves.

The homemade ramp

Hauling my life up from San Diego using just my pickup truck wasn't gonna cut it.  So, I rented a moving van to do the job.  Two of them, in fact.  And I filled them both right up.  Fully.

Here's what I started with.  I wasn't too pleased that this was a lift truck instead of a ramp one.  The lift really slowed me down.  And it was a lesson in the variability of the different truck rental places.  The one I got this one from had a much more limited selection and the guy's running it were more indifferent to their customer's needs.  It was the one closest to my house in San Diego however.  The second truck I rented down there came from a company further away from the house but theirs was a ramp truck and they had an after-hours key return whereas the closer place didn't.

An empty truck to start with

And this is what I began loading into it.

The Stuff

I'd been prepping things down in San Diego to be ready to move come the New Year.  The single biggest thing I had to move was my model kit collection.  I have over 3,000 kits in about 120 plastic storage tubs.  That took up quite a volume and while each storage tub isn't heavy, it did take a while to get 'em all safely moved.

The first row in the truck

Here's the first row in the truck.  

The second row

The second row.

The third row

The third row in place.

The fourth row coming together

And the fourth row coming together.

A full truck

And finally it was a full truck ready for the drive up to Carson.  This was just one of two such moving runs I made.  The second load wasn't so simple - or light - to get moved up.  I did it all though.  This image below is when I was about to start bringing in the second truck load.  I'd already emptied the first truck load, driven it back down to San Diego, returned it, prepped for the next load, driven over to the other rental place, picked up that truck, drove it over, loaded it fully, drove it up to Carson, and am now about to unload it into the garage and house.  Yeah, it was a whole lot of effort.

Garage starting to fill up nicely.

I also sold off and cleared out anything and everything I no longer had use for or need of down in SD.  I made some college girls happy with the really cool glass top office desk for their dorm room - even driving it out to their SDSU dorm for them.  And a nice couple were thrilled to be buying the queen size futon and its frame from me.  Gotta love Craig's List!  Another individual was only too happy to be buying that glass table top dining set with its matching chairs.  And there were more runs to Auntie Helen's to dispense with what I could dispense with.  The upright vacuum cleaner I donated lit those guys up as theirs had just broken.

Departing Via Arcilla

Finally, and after a decade of living in that quiet little house there in Clairemont, I was done.  I didn't even have to have a final walkthrough with the property manager, Rick, as we knew each other too well and I'd been that good a tenant.  I just dropped the keys off and drove on up from San Diego to LA that final time.  I did book a much needed massage for my aching back and that was a very good thing.  So, come January's end 2016 I was no longer a San Diego resident in any way, shape or form.  Twenty six years since moving to San Diego I moved out, finally.  That was a big chapter in my life.  But, now it was time to get going on the next chapter.

Model Bench

Within about a week of being all moved up to Carson I set about on my next project - making myself a model making bench.  The one I had set up in San Diego was too small.  So I went larger this time around.  I did some searching and found a guy on Craig's List who was selling doors.  Nothing fancy, just a smooth flat surface upon which I could do my work.  The doors he happened to have had come from a storage unit company so they all had a big unit number painted on one side.  I think I got mine for all of $20 and it fit my needs nicely.  I've since realized that, at a standard door's width, it's a bit too deep for working bench.  At least one you sit at.  Pushing stuff to its edge - as you would to maximize working area in front of you - means that it's about out of arm's reach.  Oh well.  Lesson learned.

Once I got the door back to my place I mounted some threaded screw inserts in what was to become its back edge.

Threaded screw inserts

With these set I then cut down a sheet of plywood to form the backpiece of the workbench.

Workbench backpiece

The cutouts there are for running the electrical cords down through it.

Coming together

Here I've got the door set to become my model bench.  I've bolted that plywood sheet to it using those threaded screw inserts to hold the bolts holding it in place.  The gray panel on the right there is something I did a similar bit with more of those insert.  It's more plywood into which I eventually attached more parts holding bins.  Underneath I attached 2x4 legs to the plywood sheet.  The model bench rest on those legs and that whole assembly is bolted into the edge of the door on that side.  I've a two drawer file cabinet under the bench on the side holding it up on that end.  I covered the backpiece there with cork tiles so I'd have something I could pin the instruction sheets and such to.  It was a pretty spiffy set up and I was right pleased with myself over it.

Wonder Con - Los Angeles

About a month later I was up in LA taking in Wonder Con.  This was the one year they ran the event up in LA.  Usually, it's held down in Anaheim.  As I was new to Los Angeles I'd not paid attention to where it had been only to where I need to be to be at the thing.  The place was packed to its gills and was almost a time consuming to get in to as San Diego Comic-con used to be - now the San Diego even is impossible to get in to!

It was fun roaming around the event taking in what I could take in.  Having recently seen "Deadpool" I thought this bit of Cos-Play was absolutely perfect.

Deadpool at WonderCon Los Angeles

This guy nailed it and did so while bringing his family and kids to the event - kids far too young to take to the theater to see the movie itself.

On the second day I was there I took in a panel in the AM. It was a celebration of Robbie the Robot's 60th and had Fred Barton, among others, on the panel. It was a cool discussion and worth attending.

The Roddenbery booth had a Captain's Chair from the TOS Enterprise set up for the crowd to pose in. This was pretty much in irresistible thing for just about everyone who passed by it. Even if the little kids who got posed in it by their parents had no idea what it was as they smiled in their Star Wars costumes sitting in Jim Kirk's spot, their parents certainly knew why.

So, a kindly lad snapped a couple of me in it as well. This, as I wore my Elly Prizeman "All Fired Up" Hawaiian shirt. It was a good day.

Shirtstorm On The Bridge

A Los Angeles Mystery

I noticed something in my travels through LA which posed a mystery to me.  I happened to look up at some overhead telephone lines and noticed some things hung over them.  Usually when that sort of thing happens it's but a pair of sneakers thrown over the wires and hanging by their tied together shoelaces.  Nothing terribly unusual about that and the meanings of them hanging there can range from being but a harmless prank to a gang territory marker.  Take you pick.

Shoes over the wire

But then there was this...

The mystery...

That's a horse and a Barbie doll thrown over the wires.

I've no idea what to make of this.  It's not anything even remotely like what I've ever previously seen.  Shoes?  Yeah.  All kinds of shoes thrown over such wires.  Sneaker, work shoes, boots - anything with laces that can be easily tied together.  But a Barbie doll?  Tied to a toy horse?

It's a genuine Los Angeles Mystery!

Torrance Air Show

In April I learned there was to be an airshow at the Torrance airport.  Officially Zamperini Field - named after a Torrance man of "some" note, Louis Zamperini.

As such shows go, it was a smallish affair.  But, it was also a very approachable one and that intimacy was quite appealing considering the effort it take to go to and get through the larger airshows like the ones at Miramar I used to attend while in San Diego.

Officially the Wings of Freedom Tour put on by the Collings Foundation, it's a nice few days of some historic aircraft being available for viewing and, for a modest fee, taking a flight in.  A different foundation was running the same thing in which I took that B-25 Mitchell flight in back in 2010.  At this year's event they had flown in a B-24 Liberator which, though I didn't go flying in, I did go clambering through.

B-24 at Torrance

The visuals of these machines allow for some great imagery if you catch 'em right.

B-24 Tail Turret

In this case, the image above is of the tail turret from within inside the bomber itself and looking toward its rear.  The lighting and contrasts make for an interesting image.

They also had a TP-51C on hand.  This was not an original "TP" but was converted into one when the P-51 was restored.  This isn't actually far different from how the original two seat Mustangs were made back in World War Two.  "Trainer" versions of fighter aircraft were fairly rare back then.  So what many an air force did was add that second seat as a "field modification" done by the air force's aircraft mechanics themselves instead of manufactured that way at the factory.  The folks in charge of this particular aircraft have kept it beautifully shined up.

A two seat Mustang

Also located at the Torrance airport is the Western Museum of Flight.  They've a hangar there at the airport and have stuffed the space to overflowing with their collection.  It's neither a large hangar nor a large collection but it is full of some fascinating things.  The collection has a pronounced focus on all things Northrop and that's not surprising considering how Northrop got its start here in the LA area and used to make all sorts of aircraft just up the road from Torrance in Hawthorne.

Among the more interesting examples is this thing, the Northrop JB-1 "Bat."

Northrop JB-1 Bat

Another of Jack Northrop's flying wings, this one was intended to be a flying bomb - an early "cruise missile."  Those two big cylindrical pods on the wings were the housings for two 2,000 pound bombs.  In the center was where the jet engine and its fuel were located.  This particular example is of the prototype which was manned so as to test its flight handling characteristics.  The design never made beyond testing phase but both the military and Northrop learned quite a bit from the exercise.  Not the old Northrop logo there at the nose of the craft.

They also wheeled out a Boeing F4B-3 replica currently under construction.  This was a 1930s biplane fighter that Boeing had built for the Navy.  In its day it was a world class cutting edge flying machine.  So it's fascinating to peer at it as the replica comes together.

Boeing F4B-3 Replica


I found another convention to attend, this one up in Pasadena: "Monsterpalooza!"  This event was more focused on costume makeup and horror / fantasy films that made heavy use of that art form.  It was a fun day's excursion and it got me up to Pasadena for the first time so it was worth it from that perspective as well.

Some of the vendors there conducted these elaborate costume makeup sessions on willing volunteers.  As this could be a multi-hour process of getting this artistry created you had to be very willing, very dedicated, and have a really outsized bladder.  It was fun to watch these things come together and enjoy their end result as well.

Monsterpalooza makeup session

The creations also made great "calling cards" for the various business which specialize in such costume / makeup work for the movie industry.  So, it was a smart move for all!

More Monsterpalooza costume makeup

I've no idea what either of these two examples are supposed to be of - if they're of anything in particular at all.  I just thought them visually striking.

Ups and Downs

Come May, the latest drought officially ended as I got hired by a new company, Sasaki Evolutionary Integration Services, LLC.  Go me!  Theirs is a very small outfit providing some very specialized technical experts and I got picked up to fill a slot over in El Segundo with LinQuest.  This was exactly where I wanted to be, geographically, and I was only too happy to be working again.  Especially as the overall contract that I was assigned on, MASIES, was a multi-year thing so I had the prospect of a good long run at the job.

Unfortunately, it was also the month that a long time friend of mine, Bill Choisser passed away.  I'd known Bill since '94 when I "met" him through the Gay Longhair Hyperboard.  He and his partner, Larry, created quite a life for themselves up in San Francisco and Bill was a fascinating guy.  He had some outstanding technical abilities when it came to setting up and running websites and the photo albums he created of the travels he and Larry went on were great to go through as well as inspiring things for what I've created here on my site.  This was the second loss of a good friend over the past year and it really brought home my own mortality and the whole "passage of time" thing.

In something of a contrast to that - and more proof of just how surreal San Francisco can be - I spied this sight while up in SF for Bill's viewing.

I've no idea what this guy was about or what he was trying to achieve with it but there he was standing on the street corner with an almost life sized cardboard cutout of Bernie Sanders.

Cardboard Bernie

He was happily posing with it as folks had their phones out to take its picture.  I don't know if it was a political thing in support of Bernie, opposed to Bernie, or just to get attention.  But it was just another "unique" thing about SF that keeps it "different."

A further bit of oddness was this.  Proof, I guess, of just how effective San Francisco's public educational system is:

Spell gooder

I quickly got back into a routine with my work and workouts.  Being in El Segundo, the new job was perfectly located for me to get my morning bike rides in before getting to the office.  One fine morning in June however, I managed to take a spill during one of those early morning bike rides.  This happened just south of the Manhattan Beach Pier right where the path takes a short turn seaward.  The combination of that turn, the slope of the pavement, the angle of my bike as I made that corner, and the fine layer of beach sand upon the pavement surface was enough and my wheels went out from under me.  This was the first time I'd taken a spill on that bike path in all the years I'd been on it.

Bloody damn bike spill

Looks bloodier than it actually turned out to be.  I picked myself up and got back on my bike.  Cursing myself for my own clumsiness, I got back to my truck and headed back to Carson.  First however, I stopped at a drug store and picked up the sterile dressings I knew I'd need as the scrapes were too big for mere band-aids.  Once back home and after having well washed out the abrasions I realized I'd no surgical tape to hold the dressings on with.  No problem, this, as I still had plenty of packing tape left over from my recent move!  Soon enough bandages were applied and secured with the same clear plastic tape I'd secured my moving boxes with.  Am I a problem solver or what?!!!  My manager at work was not pleased I was so late that morning but then she was sufficiently horrified at the bloodiness of my grievous wounds.  Lesson learned there - always take pictures of your injuries to use as proof!

A Carson 4th

This year's 4th of July was the first one I was up in Carson to take in.  The previous year I'd been down in San Diego that weekend so I missed the uniqueness that being on a cul-de-sac availed there in Carson.  This year however, I got to experience that joy in full.

First off, I made damn sure to get myself a flag to celebrate the day properly!

4th of July in Carson

It really is a small cul-de-sac.  Which, with good neighbors, can be wonderful.

The view of the cul-de-sac

Carson, as I learned, is fairly unique in the LA Metro Area in that it allows the sale of fireworks.  Everywhere else around it prohibits them.  Typical mindless stupidity which they justify on the "fire hazard risk" grounds.  But the good people of Carson make sure to equip themselves with as many bright and sparkly and loud Independence Day celebration measures as they can.  And I'm thankful for that.

On our little chunk of Rashdall this was all the more special due to the families living around it and their inviting their families and friends over to join in the celebrations.  It becomes something of a fireworks lighting off block party once the skies have darkened to show it off proper.

Everyone comes out, the adults park themselves at their driveway's end, and monitor the kids lighting off the sparklers, roman candles and noise makers.  Overhead, the sky gets well lit up with all the "second tier" fireworks being set off.  These are the ones much bigger than what the kids had on our street but less than the professional-grade fireworks typically lit off by licensed crews.  Of course, there were those being fired off too.

The overall result was a near constant soundtrack of booms and bangs going on all around us as the rest of Carson was celebrating.  And celebrating well into the wee hours as well.

The 4th lights up

By this time I'd join the driveway's end crowd in my own chair at the end of my own driveway.  Beer well in hand and a nice happy mellow glow unfolding from it.  This really was a nice evening and a great way to celebrate Independence Day

More Independence Day Joy

More LA Stuff 2016 Version

Solar Is Stupid

Walking around the block at work I noticed the solar panel arrays installed over the parking lot of the BT Infonet Mexico building there along Nash Street.  I remember when those things first went up back in '09 as I was working in El Segundo at Raytheon through SM&A and I was staying at the Residence Inn El Segundo which abutted the BT Infonet property.  The arrays were much heralded at the time as being proof of that company's "green" credentials.  The things were pretty elaborate as they were of the "sun tracker" type solar power array installation.  That is, the panels moved throughout the day so as to keep them best aligned with the Sun's illumination and thus generate the most electrical power from it.

Of course, such mechanisms are neither cheap, nor simple, nor problem-free to maintain.  It's the primary reason why most solar power arrays are fixed in place despite the loss in illumination efficiency that entails - the added cost of the tracking mechanism and their constant maintenance just isn't worth it.  Looking over at the installation today, I saw blatant proof of that - among other things.

Solar is Stupid

I took this picture at a bit after mid-day.  Note the haphazard angles of the different arrays.  Some are stuck in their early morning angle, some in their late day angle, and the rest are angled somewhere in between.  Not only is this proof of the problems and costs associated with such installations, it's also proof of just how farcical the whole "green" thing is.  

Yeah, BT Infonet no doubt was happy to reap the good press for it's being so "green" when it first installed those things.  I'll bet it also got a tax break for having done so.  Thus, the taxpayers of Los Angeles paid for that corporate PR effort.  But the company soon got tired of the expense involved in keep the things operating properly.  And what electrical power the arrays generated must not have been worth much at all as they couldn't even be bothered to position the arrays in an "average" alignment to at least generate some power through the entire day.  Nope, they just let the things get worn out and stuck in place.  The company got what it was after initially - "green" awareness PR and taxbreaks.  After that?  Screw it!

Over the year I also pulled some maintenance on my truck which made it more drivable and saved me some coin in the process.  The headliner would get wet from any rain or water I went through with it.  I originally thought the water must've been getting through via the brake and backup light at the rear of the cab's roof.  So I replaced the seal around that unit.  That wasn't it.  So, I then removed the entire rear window assembly itself and replaced that seal.  That was the culprit and I once again had a "waterproof" cab after that!

Truck Rear Window Seal Replacement

Late one November's day I was shopping at the Torrance Costco and found this sky overhead.  It was pretty and pretty impressive!

Impressive Sky

The cloud deck was at just the right height and there was just enough open sky to the west such that as the Sun set it began to give the whole mass a very unique illumination.

Impressive Sky

While in Torrance I hit up the nearby Sprouts - it's like Whole Foods but without the high prices and the pretentiousness - for my first ever home cooked Thanksgiving Turkey.  I'd never been in charge of cooking the Holiday Bird so this was a first for me.  It came out pretty damn good, all in all.

First LA Turkey

I'd bought this as part of a "meal package" offered through Sprouts so it came with the fixins' already fixed.  Still tasty though!

XMas 2016

It was a pretty much the standard stuff for Xmas this year.  Mom came out, as per usual, and we did "stuff" around LA, as per usual.  This time, one of the "stuff" we did was take in the Silver Lake Reservoir.

It's a really nice little walk that is right in the heart of Hollywood itself
.  Mom appreciated the scenery and being able to be out in the warmth.

Silver Lake Reservoir

We also took in the Long Beach Museum of Art.  That's another small gem that goes too underappreciated.  Their collection is nicely done, if not over abundant, and thus the perfect thing to take in on a relatively short trip.  On exhibit at that time were a series of handmade books that were very nicely done.

"Untitled" by Steve Sidellinger - 1985

The Museum's restaurant, Claire's, is its own going concern and serves up some tasty meals that are right at the beach's edge.  Clever move by the Museum to do such a pairing.

And that was about it for 2016.  I was happy to be employed and happy to be paying down my debt and things were working out nicely for my having moved up to Los Angeles in pursuit of them.

The New Year's Day Tradition Continues!

First image and first selfie of 2015!

I'd dropped Mom off the previous day for her flight back to Boston so I was on my own for bringing in the New Year's Dawn atop Mt. Soledad for 2015.  No tripod and timer this time, just my Droid.  Dawn dawned, it was time to continue the tradition and off I went to have breakfast at the Denny's in PB.

First Breakfast of 2015

I was being so damn digital here as that's my tablet in the background while I'm using my smartphone to take a picture of my food.  Historians of the future will be writing their doctoral thesis on restaurant food of this era and be thankful that they've so many images to draw upon.

2015 was an odd year.  My work at SpaceX on the NRO contract continued after the End of Year shutdown and I had work right up until the middle of January when the Air Force delayed certifying SpaceX.

That put me "on the bench" looking for more work.  That lasted until the start of April when SpaceX began gearing up to compete for a GPS launch and was anticipating that the Air Force would grant that certification imminently.  So, I got called back to work on the contract.  As I was previously working there, I was getting per diem for my lodging and meals.  I was staying at various "extended stay" type hotels while working in Hawthorne but I wanted to be smart about things.

I realized that my job prospects in San Diego were fruitless and that the field was more fertile up in the City of Angels.  So, I made the decision to move up to Los Angeles and use my job at SpaceX to leverage the process.  My lodging was covered under the per diem arrangement so its cost would be reimbursed so long as it didn't exceed the GSA rate for LA.  With that in mind I began my search for new digs in LA.  I really wanted out of the hotel lifestyle and in short order I found a place that fit my needs in Carson.

Carson is one of those cities in the LA metro area that no one really has heard of.  Long Beach?  Sure.  Compton?  Culver City?  Venice?  Santa Monica?  You bet.  Carson?  What, Carson - Nevada?  Yet, it's "right there" between Long Beach and Torrance.  The 405 essentially cuts Carson in half as you get passed the big refinery complex in Long Beach.  But it's still an invisible place even for most folk who live in the LA area.

The house I settled on was a compact three bedroom place with two bathrooms, a two car garage, a nice bit of walled in backyard, central air conditioning, and was located on a cul de sac so I'd not have much vehicular traffic to put up with.  It was also just under half a mile east of the 110 and that made it very convenient for me to drive in to work over in Hawthorne.  The place was actually a nice step up from what I was in down in San Diego so I snapped it up.

For the rest of my work at SpaceX I was essentially living in Carson rent free.  So it was a smart move on my part to leverage things that way.

The house itself was pretty bland on the outside.

A bland concrete and adobe front

Google seems to agree with that assessment.

The front of the new place in Carson

The "yard" in front of the house was actually all concrete driveway.  Which was fine by me as it was less to maintain and what yard there was in back was tended to by landscape guys that came as part of the rent.

The backyard

The big thing for me however, was the garage.  My model collection was over three thousand kits by that time so I needed a good sized garage to store 'em all.  This image is of when the garage was as empty as that garage could be.

A briefly empty garage

I'd already started moving myself up into the house by that time.  I'd drive down to San Diego on the weekends and load up the truck with some stuff and drive it on back come Sunday's eve.

The kitchen was nicer than down in San Diego but it required my getting my own refrigerator.  Apparently, this is "a thing" up here in LA.  I'd never encountered that before so I simply went out and bought one.

A nicer kitchen

The place boasted a master bedroom with an "en suite" bathroom.  Okay, that was new to me as well.  Unfortunately, the closet space in that master bedroom was rather small and the bedroom itself was at the front side of the house.  I've no idea why homes are laid out that but, this one was.  I opted for one of the larger of the other two bedrooms to be the "master" bedroom and converted the actual master bedroom into the guest bedroom while using the remaining one as my office.

I'm pretty sure the house originally came with just one bathroom as the one attached to the master bedroom was stupidly small.  Barely three feet deep it was wedged in too tightly to really be useful on a day to day basis.  You couldn't get to the toilet, for instance, in the master bathroom with the door open.

Stupid small mater bathroom

So, I opted to use the "full size" bathroom as the main one.  It worked out pretty well both for me and for the guests I had over.

The "full size" bathroom

This image is from before I put up the new shower curtain rod that curved outward to thus give more space in the shower to use.  Handy invention, that.

Shortly after Independence Day I noted the sales of backyard grills going on.  There is an advantage to waiting out the rush and after the 4th the various companies wanted to move their stock of grills as Independence Day was the big holiday of the year they would most be wanted.  So, I managed to score a good deal on a big gas grill from Lowe's and hauled it my new place.  Assembling it was a bit tedious but that was fine as it made it mine!  In short order, I had a nice big new gas grill to be grilling upon.  This one put my first grill to shame and I really liked how much more evenly and quickly it got things properly done.  For one thing, that made the pork chops all lot more tender and moist.  The old grill took so long to cook them through that they wound up tough and dry in the process.  Lesson learned there.  

As usual, I grilled up a bunch of meat at once.  That's a full tray of pork chops from Costco and several packets of chicken breasts all grilling at once.  The steak would come afterward.  Also as usual is my Fosters in a frozen mug to keep it nice 'n chilly.  On the left is the brand spankin' new meat thermometer I picked up at the same time I got the grill.  It's a fancy digital thing that even beeps at you when the meat is at the set temp.  Truly, we live in the Age of Wonders™!

My first grilling in Carson

For the first several months of being up in Carson I was sleeping on the floor.  Well, sleeping on a mattress on the floor.  Work was keeping me busy so I made do as was bringing stuff up from SD.  Come that September however, I finally had enough time to get going on my new platform bed.  I got a bit fancier in its construction this time around.

Fancier work

It's better alright but I'm still gonna keep my day job before trying to make a living as a fine furniture maker.

Fancy indeed!

Eventually though, I got the frame finished.

Finished Frame

Those are Redwood 4x4s for the corners, pine 2x4s for the frame members, and a 1/2" plywood sheet for the platform baseplate. The sharper eyed of you might have noted the holes in the corner posts. That's where I'll run the long bolts through for securing the four posts of this bed once I'm done.

Having an actual "bed" to sleep upon - i.e. not just a mattress on the floor - was a much better thing.  And it helped me meet each day ready to take it on.

I was soon enough in a nice routine.  I would be up early and out to the El Porto beach parking lot in the mornings.  The parking there is free until 08:00 so I'd get there early enough to get some good cardio going riding my bike up and down the bike path along the beach.  Then I'd head over to SpaceX and shower at work before getting to my desk to face the day.

Sadly, that routine was interrupted by Alex Cartwright's death in September.  That really sucked.  Alex was a big guy who liked living large.  Cigars and fine liquor being but part of that.  And all that living large was fun but it exacted a price which, eventually, cost him it all.  His wake was held at the same clubhouse as his wedding reception.  The view was, of course, just as spectacular.

Alex's last view

His remembrance drew a whole bunch of people.  That was fitting as Alex was one of those guys that everyone liked.  This was a reminder to me that I'm no longer as young as I thought myself to be.  And it's a reminder that I'm going to be dealing with such losses with increasing frequency from now on.  That does suck.

Goodbye to Mr. Baseball

Back in Carson I kept plugging away at work.  The proposal submittal date was looming so I knew there was a pretty well defined point that I'd no longer have work there at SpaceX.  I could thus make plans for that and I did.  In the meantime I kept enjoying the work environment there as much as I could.

The folks at SpaceX were pretty emphatic about making sure that environment was as good to enjoy as possible.  They liked making it "cool" to be there.  One part of that was surrounding the work environment with as much of their own hardware as they could.  Various engine and electronics bits that were no longer "flight ready" were repurposed as conference room table bases or simply adornments to the office cubicles and such.

This piece below came from one of the launches that year.  Prior to their developing their first stage recovery landing tech, SpaceX used to just let their first stages fall into the ocean after they done their work of launching their payloads.  Nothing unusual in this as it's what everyone in the launch business had done.  It was pretty unusual for their to be anything worth recovering - or even being able to be recovered - of a rocket after that.  Sometimes however, that's not the case.  And this was one of those cases.  

The stages of the Falcon 9 rockets are a composite fiber construction.  That makes 'em both light and waterproof.  In this particular case a chunk of the first stage was recovered on the Irish cost and it happened to have the US flag on a large intact portion.  The folks at SpaceX heard about it and quickly secured it.  The piece is now proudly on display there at SpaceX HQ in Hawthorne.

Recovered flag covered part of a SpaceX rocket

Mom came out for XMas as per usual, only this time it was up in Carson instead of SD.  I'd purchased a new mattress to go on my freshly assembled new platform bed and brought my old platform bed up from San Diego to put it into the "guest" bedroom.

I'd cast about for new things to do for us while up here in LA.  The place is still new for me from that aspect.  Discovering the White Point Nature Preserve was perfect for this.  It was nearby, it was relatively small, it was outdoors, and it was interesting.

We also took in the Bradbury Building in downtown LA.  It's an iconic bit of architecture that has made appearances in countless films and TV shows.  More notably, it played a central part in "Bladerunner."

The Bradbury Building

It's also quite small in reality.

Mom and the Bradbury Building

It's an operating commercial building so the public is only allowed to gawk from the ground level.  Still though, it was an interesting place to check out.

We also took in the Schindler House, which is part of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in West Hollywood.  It's a neat little house tucked away behind some big rows of very tall bamboo in West Hollywood.  The place has a unique history and its architecture is quite an intriguing mix of Japanese stylings and 1920s modernism.

We tried to do one thing a day during the time my Mom was out here.  Perhaps two - if each was brief and easy enough.  Thus we took in the La Brea Tar Pits after we'd crossed the street from the Craft & Folk Art Museum.  Of course, after such an exhausting trek that day we simply had to retire to the Little Next Door bistro to recoup.

I thought visiting the Griffith Park Observatory would be neat but need to remember to take the Sun's glare into account when taking pictures of the event.

A too bright day at Griffith Park

This shot however, came out much better.

A much better image

This one is from our going through LACMA - Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  But she clearly liked this particular piece enough to ask me to photograph for her.  I think it came out well.

Mom and art

And that wrapped up the year.  My job at SpaceX ended as the year did.  For me, it was a great experience to have had there at SpaceX.  I was there when the company attained its first successful retrieval landing of a Falcon 9 first stage.  At every launch the whole factor essentially stops and hangs out in front of that Mission Control room to gaze in through its two story windows.  It's like the World Series, Super Bowl, and Indy 500 all rolled into one.  And it's all the more personal because everyone there is watching the launch of the rockets that they actually made themselves there in that very factory.

The successful recovery of that first stage was a huge thing for SpaceX and the crowd gathered was cheering wildly as the rocket came into view.  It's landing legs - like the one hanging from the wall outside the Mission Control room - deployed and then the rocket touched down safely.  The joy and euphoria and pride was wonderful to be in the same room with.  Yeah, there's things I definitely miss about working there.

My desk at SpaceX

New Year's Day 2014

Another New Year's Day Atop Mt. Soledad

It was a colder and more misty New Year's Day atop Mt. Soledad this year.

New Year's Day Dawns

That did however, make some rather spectacular visuals to start the year off with.

More mistyness

And you have to remember that Mt. Soledad is the highest point along the coast in San Diego so this cloud cover was righteously heavy!

Pretty cool looking!

Back in the Duke City™ once again I came to realize that I needed new shoes.  I'm not a "clothes horse" by any means and shoes for me are but a necessary thing to get through my day.  So, coming to realize that my current footwear was well and truly worn was no small thing.

New shoes

And here's what my shoe purchase replaced.

Old shoes

Yeah, they needed it.  Doing so was spurred by my having discovered that there are discount shoe stores.  That makes buying a bunch at once far easier and less costly.  Yay me!

By this time I'd been staying at the Residence Inn Albuquerque North for almost two full years.  Surprisingly, I wasn't the longest term guest they had but, damn, if I wasn't close to being so.  A new manager decided to do some customer relations about that and started a "recognition program" for the guests who had stayed their long enough to put her kids through college... well, perhaps that's a bit exaggerated.  

Guest of the Week!

Still though, it was nice to be recognized and they even spelled my name right!

My Recognition Award!

One of the things about Albuquerque is that it does get cold during the winter.  Very cold.  It's being so sunny so often tends to disguise but there were days during the winter time when that disguise failed.

A cold winter's day in ABQ

The reason why the snow is still on the ground is due to that cloud cover.  Even just a bit of the Sun's peaking through usually sufficed to melt it away straight away.  Not on this February's day however.  A thing of note in this picture are the solar arrays there atop that factory in the center of the image.  The business in that factory apparently made those arrays.  Their being snow covered and cloud covered is a reminder of how useless solar power actually is in general.

Solar is stupid

Here's a closer view of just how stupid solar is.  Sure, it's great in places where it's rarely cloudy and never snows - and never has much dust in the air and so on.  Otherwise?  Well, anyone trying to rely on solar for all their electrical needs would be SOL in a big way on days like this one in Albuquerque.

Back in San Diego in February a friend took me out to breakfast at the Original Pancake House for my birthday.  Thanks Duff!

Birthday Breakfast

Yes, Duff actually preferred this image.  I asked.

Albuquerque had warmed up by the time I'd returned and spent another weekend with Ann running about town.  She found one of the "pocket parks" near Albuquerque and we checked it out.  The grounds of the park are little larger than the hill behind me.  A brief climb up the trails gets you to its top and you can see how tightly hemmed in on all sides by housing developments it has become.  Still a neat little jaunt to take in.

Petroglyph National Monument

My birthday weekend found me out in Las Vegas with Ann.  She took me to a Penn & Teller show to celebrate.  Before the show they invited the audience to come and check out some of the things they'd be using in their act.  So, Ann did exactly that!

Ann in a Box

Traveling through the Albuquerque Sunport as often as I did I took notice of the place's decorations.  This image always struck me as a tad odd.  It's pumping their Albuquerque "zoo" but I always thought the left eye on this coyote looks rather odd.

Odd wolf

And for Albuquerque that was about it.  Come April my contract was officially concluded.  After almost two full years of work on what was officially just a three month span - and another three months and another three months and... - it was finally over, said, and done. It was time to go home one last time.

Over the years in Albuquerque I had had to check out of the Inn.  These being during the end of year shutdowns when the period away was more than a weekend's worth and thus could not be reimbursable.  I'd accumulated several trunks into which I could stuff my stuff and lock 'em up for while I was away.  The hotel stored them for me knowing that I'd be back in but a week or so.

Now I made sure to rent an actual pickup truck from Hertz and thus loaded up all those trunks with ease as I horsed 'em over to the nearby FedEx office and shipped 'em home.  A nice goodbye dinner from the crew, and round of personal goodbyes was then followed by my checking out of the Residence Inn for the last time, turning in my rental car for the last time, and boarding a flight out of the Sunport for the las time.  It was an exceptionally good run working at Goodrich.

The six months that followed weren't so good.  They were, in fact, damn dry.

Back In San Diego

For about the past two years I'd been home to my home in San Diego on only the occasional weekend.  Perhaps twice a month, most months only once.  And the week or so between XMas and New Years when Goodrich, like most defense related companies, shut down.  I would leave from work on a Friday, grab my stuff out of my room at the Inn, load it up in the rental car, drive down to the lot to return the car, trundle my stuff to the ticket counter to get it checked (two free bags on Southwest!) and then head on up into the terminal to grab some dinner.  Fed, I'd then get to my gate and await the flight home.  Once in SD and with my bags in hand I'd cab it back to my house and that'd be it for the night.

Come the Saturday's morning I'd be off somewhere's for breakfast - no food in the house as it'd spoil by the time I returned again - and then on to my day's errands.That meant I'd consume most of that day running around doing the stuff to maintain my household and life that I couldn't get done from out in Albuquerque.  Saturday would also see me eating out for lunch and dinner.  Perhaps I'd have something social to do that Saturday night but most times not.  Sunday it was out for breakfast and perhaps some degree of relaxing.  But then it was time to pack for the trip back, catch the cab to the airport and reverse the whole process so that I was back in my room in the Inn Sunday evening in time to be up and at work come Monday's morn.

About all I could do while back at home was dump whatever stuff I'd picked up in ABQ, model kits mostly, and then essentially turn right around and head back to ABQ.

Now however, I was not having to keep leaving town like that and was there at my house with no reason to go elsewhere.  This was actually something of a novelty for me.  It was needed downtime.  It was appreciated.  I just wish it didn't drag on as long as it did.

In the meantime, I got busy getting my house back in order.  And I noted the notable firsts of doing so.

Things like my first home cooked breakfast in a long, long time...

First home cooked breakfast in months

That shot has a lot going on on it.  There's my Java Junction coffee mug from Albuquerque.  There's the Shea Butter which excellent for use in deep tissue massages.  There's the party display stuff from Duff's celebrating my birthday some two month's prior.  That red and white thing in the background is a Santa my Mom made and gave me for Christmas.  And that big thick book there is my PMP Prep Guide.  So, even here I'm trying to stay busy as getting my PMP was my goal for the coming months.

I also finally got the chance to once again fire up my grill.

First Grilling of 2014

I typically grill a bunch of meat at once, freezing the bulk for eating later.  That saves me time and propane.

I also went through my closet to both make space for the clothes I'd picked up while in Albuquerque and to discard the ones that were now too small or that I never wore enough to justify keeping.  Same same with linens, shoes, hangars, and "stuff."  I was really surprised by the volume of it all.  I made sure it was all clean, 
thank you very much, before taking it over to Auntie Helen's.

Closet Cleaning and Donations to Auntie's

As I was in a cleaning mood, and as it needed it.  I also took the time to clean my computer keyboard.  No, I'm not gonna show you why it needed to be cleaned nor what I found as I popped the keys off.  But, it needed to be cleaned and it was therefore cleaned.

Keyboard cleaning

So that sort of stuff occupied my time for the next several months.

A Challenge Met

In a conversation at Goodrich one day the discussion ambled round to what I'd wind up doing once my contract was up there in Albuquerque.  One of my coworkers, Charlie, noted that I'd most likely be out at some SoCal beach with sun, sand, bikinis and a drink with one of those little paper parasols in it.  I liked the guys I worked with out there in Albuquerque as they all were professional and had a healthy sense of humor.  So I played upon that and ribbed Charlie about what he'd just said by "rephrasing" it a bit and asked him if he was imagining me at the beach wearing a bikini at that beach.  He laughed.  I laughed.  One of my other coworkers, Randy, chimed in and dared me to put on a bikini out at a beach in California.  I looked him straight in the eyes and told him I never back down from a challenge.  We all laughed and got on with our day.

It took a little bit of shopping on my part to get it all properly assembled but I did it.  And I lugged a tripod along to get it shot just right.  I bought a bikini.  I bought one of those beach body bikini print T-shirts, and I went out and got a really garish plastic cup to stick the party favor paper parasol into.  And then I went out to the beach with Ann one day fully met the challenge.

Challenge Met!

Glacier National Park

One bright point in all the dry months between my jobs in 2014 was the trip out to Glacier National Park in Montana.  Ann did the setting up of this trip - starting to do so back in 2013! - and it was outstanding.  To make it more unique we took the Amtrak "Empire Builder" train from Seattle to East Glacier Village and reserved a private cabin for the trip.  We also booked this as a "vacation package" to include a "Big Sky Circle Tour" and a boat cruise on the Two Medicine Lake.  Traveling overnight on a train in a private cabin was something unique for both of us.  And the whole trip was across but four days from July 3rd to the 7th.

We pulled in to Seattle a day ahead of the train's scheduled departure time as it wasn't dependable.  That did give us some time to relax and check out Seattle a bit and that enabled us to find Molly Moon's ice cream shop.

Enjoying some Molly Moon ice cream in Seattle

The next day it was down to the train station and into our cabin.  That was a novel thing indeed to check out its ultra-compact features.  It was smartly designed and very close quarters.  That took some adapting to...

Close quarters in our cabin

We'd thought that we'd get to see plenty of gorgeous countryside as it rolled by.  Things didn't work out that way.  That much heralded observation car was only hooked up once we'd reached Spokane and by the time night was upon us so all we got to see was the darkness outside and our reflection inside.  The dinner however, was most excellent.

There was a bit of a foul-up in the morning as the "Lounge Attendants" didn't remember we were getting off at Glacier and had told us our arrival time was much later in the morning.  When they realized their mistake we were only a few minutes out from the station.  So it was something of a scramble to get going.  And I managed to forget my cellphone in the cabin during that scramble.  I got it back, a day or so later, with the next westbound train.  Still though, it was a damn distracting way to start the adventure.  I was especially off that morning as the "beds" in those private cabins are made for midgets - not a six foot tall guy like me.  I did NOT sleep well and combining that with the out-of-time-zone rushed wake-up the next morning definitely threw me off.

Still though, we arrived at the Glacier National Park Lodge and set about having our adventure.

We thought the Lodge was in the Glacier National Park.  It's not. And in fact it's no small distance from the Park.  Usually, when something is named a "national park lodge" that means it's within the national park itself.  This was... disappointing.  But, while I was trying to uncoil my back from the train's "bed" experience, Ann went off to the nearby town of East Glacier Village and rented a car.  In short order we were off to drive to the Glacier National Park ourselves.

We drove up the 89 from East Glacier Village and entered the Park from the St. Mary side.  This is what confronted us as we drove in from there.

St. Mary Lake

Mind you, we were in Glacier National Park in July - mid-summer - and there was still plenty of places there with plenty of snow on the ground.  In this part of the country that snow can get tens of feet deep and it's a season's measure of when the snow has receded enough that they can even plow a channel through along the "Going-To-The-Sun" road that we were on.

Heavy Runner Mountain

We pulled over at the Logan Pass Visitor Center.  We took in the vistas, hit the facilities, checked out the wares at the gift shop, wrote our names in the snow banks still piled up around the place, and then got back on the road.

One of the things about being up at Glacier National Park that was impressed upon us is that the local flora and fauna have the right of way on the roads.  Outside of the park the various Indian reservations practice "open ranges" when it comes to keeping their livestock managed.  So driving around we were warned about unexpectedly coming upon herds of horses roaming the roads.  In this case it wasn't a horse ambling along - though our way was blocked at times by them outside the park - but this mountain goat.  And he was in no hurry to move on.  Which was fine as it gave everyone lots of time to get plenty of photos of him ambling about.

The local flora and fauna have the right of way

We pulled over at lots of points to get out and take in the stunning views that filled everywhere we looked.  I think this one was near Crystal Point and looking
south down the valley.

Looking down the valley toward Lake McDonald

Eventually we had managed to complete the loop and wound up back at the Lodge.  Dinner there was... sufficient.  For all the build-up about how great the Glacier National Park Lodge was supposed to be, neither Ann nor I found it all that much.  Luckily, the nearby town of East Glacier Village was a real gem that made up for it in spades.

After dinner, and with the Lodge not offering much to keep us occupied, we walked on over to the Village.  And it was a great thing we did.  There, we found Brownies.

We wound up hitting up this place frequently as it was open later than what the Lodge ran and it served mochas and lattes all the time.  Stupidly, the Lodge shut down their espresso stand shortly after dinnertime each night.  Their loss.

Brownies at East Glacier Village

As we were sitting outside of Brownies enjoying our coffees the 4th of July Celebrations began unfolding.

First we noticed a family staying at the Sears Motel across the street from Brownies.  The dad was sitting out front of their room and his daughters were out there with him.  He would hand them a firecracker and they would then walk out to the pavement in front of their room, carefully place the firecracker on the asphalt, light it, and then scurry back to him.  All this was under his supervision and guidance.

The firecracker - or sparkler or little roman candle type thing - would then go off brightly and loudly and the kids would squeal with joy and laughter.  It was wonderful to watch.

As the night slowly gained on the day the sounds of fireworks began increasing.  Lots and lots of wonderful bangs and booms going off all around us.  It seems that folks in Montana take their 4th of July celebrations joyously.  As it finally got dark enough to really appreciate a fireworks light, a couple of local guys began setting things up.  These guys were pretty dedicated about it and had been doing this for years, apparently.

They brought out a lectern sort of stand upon which they'd secured a number of tubes which they'd fire some of their fireworks out of.  And they had a lot of fireworks.  There was easily some several hundred dollars worth of bright and loud explosive wonder those guys went through that night.

The whole village had come out by this point to share in the joy of it.  And it was a joy.  Those guys entertained us all for the better part of an hour and it was a blast to watch them go at it.  I think at one point there were three of them working that firework stand they'd set up.  And there were plenty of "Ooooohs" and "Aaaaaahhhs" to thank them for it.  That was one of the things which really made this trip so special.

The next day, the 5th, after having another mediocre breakfast at the Lodge, we got aboard our Red Bus Tour bus for our Big Sky Circle Tour.

The first stop in the Park was at Apgar Village where we took in the crystal blue waters of Lake McDonald.

Lake McDonald form Apgar Village

And the Red Bus Tours really are done on a Red Bus.  These are vintage machines on the outside with fully modern innards to handle the roads safely.  Their drivers being in "period attire" nicely added to the experience.  As a tip - if your tour is coming in through the West entrance to the Park then make sure you're seated on the right side of the Red Bus.  That way you'll get to more easily see out and down the valley as you proceed east along the road through the Park.

A Red Bus

The view down the valley from the Bus

The Red Bus Tour lasted all day and nicely deposited us back at the Lodge.  After a brief freshen up back in our room we took a walk over to the Village to see what eateries they had there.  That's when we found this place, Luna's.  Their food was tasty, there service was quick, and their atmosphere was nicely inviting.  Their prices were good to.  Of course, they're now no more.


The next day involved more of our own driving round and seeing the sights.  On this day that took the form of heading up to the Many Glacier area and hiking the trail around the Swiftcurrent Lake.

Around Swiftcurrent Lake

Altyn Peak

The views from the trail were stunning.

More mountain views around Swiftcurrent

Grinnell Point Glacier

Grinnel's peak was a soaring sight.

And the water coming off of the glaciers around us was nicely cool on that hot summer's day.  No, we didn't drink any of it, just soaking it up with our hats to keep ourselves cool with it..

Swiftcurrent water was nicely cold on that hot summer's day

As we had our own wheels now, and as the border was so close, we decided to drive on up to it to at least say we'd seen it.  I'd rather stupidly left my passport back in San Diego since we'd no plans on heading in to Canada as we'd thought we wouldn't have a way to get there.

We drove on up the 17 to reach the Chief Mountain Port of Entry.  We'd originally tried the Piegan Port of Entry but it was backed up many vehicles deep and we'd been told that the Chief Mountain Port wouldn't be so crowded.  That was correct as no one was crossing when we got there.

As we were so close and as it was a great photo op, we asked the Canadian Border Services Agency officer there if we could just get a couple photos on the Canadian side.  He was gracious in understanding my lack of having a passport along with me - Ann, of course, had hers along - and consented.

On the Canadian Side!

A US family driving up on their roadtrip happened to cross at this point and we swapped cameras for the photo ops.  After that we quickly scurried back to US territory lest we cause any international incident by overstaying our time on foreign soil.  One thing to note, most of the border crossings into Canada are manned by CBSA officers and not by Mounties.  It's understandably something of a tiresome point for the CBSA guys but they know it comes with the job.

As we walked back across the border I caught this image of the border between the US and Canada itself.

The well defined border

The border is kept cleared like this from coast to coast.

The vistas were still just as stunning up there.  In this case it's Chief Mountain which caught my eye.

Chief Mountain

We decided to drive on down to Browning to see what there was to see there.  Along the way we came across a heard of cows which'd meandered on out into the road.  Further along we got to see a small black bear zip across the highway as it was being chased by a dog.  It was a "blink and you've missed it" sort of thing and that dog must not have been from the area as it's a really short lived thing to threaten an actual bear like that.

Also in our driving around we came across a beaver as it was crossing the road.  I had to hit the brakes pretty solidly to stop short of it as it was entirely too nonchalant about its crossing.  It popped up from a creek on one side of the road, ambled across and popped down into the swampiness on the other side of the road - and all on its own sweet time.

Getting down to Browning we found there really wasn't much to see or do there so we headed back to the Lodge for the evening after first returning the rental car.

On our last full day in the Park was time for the Two Medicine Lake Boat Tour.  A shuttle bus picked us up from the Lodge and off we went.

We embarked from the Two Medicine Lake dock and headed across the lake to the upper west shore where our little group was then led up to the Twin Falls and back again for a return ride across the lake.

This was a great way to clearly take in the various mountains and glacially formed valleys around the lake.

Here is Mt. Helen.

Mt. Helen

And here is Mt. Sinopah.

Mt. Sinopah

Once at the far end we hit the trail and made our way up to the the Twin Falls.  Our guide provided plenty of great commentary along the way.

Twin Falls

Twin Falls

Twin Falls

Once back we decided to hike on over to Aster Falls as it was close enough to fit in.

Headed to Aster Falls

Aster Falls themselves...

Aster Falls

And along the way back we encountered our very fist moose!

It's an actual moose!

After that it was back to the Lodge and time to check out and make ready for our train back to Seattle.

Of course, it was delayed.  By a couple of hours.  That did give us time to check the Lodge out a bit more.  One thing I found amusing was the placement of the No Smoking signs on the door to each of the rooms.  It seems there was some slight variation in their placement procedures.

Up... Upside down Just right... finally

Eventually it was time to head over to the station and wait for our train there.  By this time it was merely an hour or two late.  We'd heard tales of it being five or six or eight hours late.  This did give us time to take in one last view of the Lodge.

The Glacier National Park Lodge

It is a big and impressive place.  Those "tepees" there on the right used to be actual hotel rooms that you could book to stay in for that "native experience."  Now they're just a bit of historical anachronisms that the Lodge doesn't make any mention of.  Imagine the outcry from the PC types if they had constructed those things today!

Waiting and waiting and waiting...

So there we were.  Waiting.  And... waiting.  Eventually the train did finally pull into the station and we got to board it for our trip back to Seattle.  Unfortunately, our cabin wasn't anywhere near ready for us.  This made it much clearer just what was involved with those cabins.  The "Empire Builder" run goes from Chicago to Seattle and it takes a couple days to make its way across that span.  Passengers can book those private cabins for each individual leg of that run - but the staff aboard the train do not have all the equipment aboard to fully clean each room between guests.  Only at the main stations on each end of the entire run is there the staff and equipment - and the time - to do that.  Usually this isn't a problem as most passengers are rather considerate.  Well, in this case, the folks who had been occupying the cabin intended for us were more like pigs in human form.  And it simply wasn't ready.

Eventually the Lounge Car Attendant had gotten a room ready and we were able to trundle our stuff up into it.  This caused us to look more closely at what we were checked in to and we noted what passed for a "cleaned room" between those main stations.  Yes, the linens were cleaned and the sundries were restocked.  The room floor was no doubt vacuumed.  But beyond that, not much.  This all very much took the shine off the cache of having our own cabin.  Well, at least until we walked 'round the rest of the cars.  The Coach Class had big and comfy seats that did recline quite a ways to help with sleeping but that was a far cry from having an actual cabin.  And even though the shower in our cabin was smaller than a phone booth at least it was there and it worked.

The Observation Car was nicely hooked up and we did check that out this time.  Sure enough, once the sun had set we couldn't see anything out of it but for our own reflections from the inside's being lit.

The "bed" was no bigger headed westbound than it had been headed eastbound.  But, we weren't woken up in a panic so we got to be civilized about the morning and heading to the dining car for breakfast.

Things being typical Amtrak we pulled in to Seattle late and had to truly rush to get to the airport to catch our flight back to LA.  We barely made it to the gate in time.  We were so rushed, in fact, that we missed buying our ticket for the Link Light Rail train ride out to the airport and were worried that we'd get caught, pulled off the train and thus miss that flight.  We must've looked too honest or something as we weren't bothered by the several Seattle police and train conductors aboard.  Go figure.

All in all this was a great excursion.  It was a learning experience in some areas but that also helped make it a more memorable and amusing tale to tell.  Nothing really stopped us from enjoying the events.  Though I learned I can be a helluva grouch when what little sleep I get is contorted and somewhat painful.  The sights we took in going through Glacier Park were wonderful and I'm glad for the experience.

Ann has been back to Glacier on her own.  She flew in to Great Falls, I think, and rented a car to drive in to the Park itself.  She even made her way fully into Canada to spend a night at the scenic Prince of Wales hotel.

I wasn't unoccupied during the summer months otherwise.  Instead, I was immersed in studying for my Program Management Professional (PMP) certification.  Even though I'd been doing project scheduling for decades by this point, getting certified as a "professional" at it was no small thing.  It involved a lot of hours of PMP Prep Class work and studying and then a rather exhaustive exam to grind my way through.  I got through the classes, through the studying, and through the exam (on my second attempt.)

At which point I was officially PMP Certified!  Yay me!

This was the first time I'd done such studying since college and it was quite the exercise in flexing my mind to the task like that.  I was rather pleased that I still had it in me to do so.  I got my official certificate stating I'm PMP certified.  I got a little PMP lapel pin.  And I got a PMP coffee mug to go along with it all.  Attending a PMI dinner in August I even got my name called out as being one of the two recent PMPers in the crowd that night.  Here's Vikki and me being all smiles at having attained our attainment!

Vikkie and Me - PMP Certified

Salt Lake City Comic-Con

The first weekend in September saw Ann and I head off to Salt Lake City, Utah to attend the Salt Lake City Comic Con.  It's just like the San Diego Comic-Con only without the insane crowds and without the impossibility of getting a ticket into.  This was our first time in to Salt Lake City so their Comic Con was new to us as well.

We'd been smart in that we made sure to pre-register and thus knew we could show up immediately after checking in to the hotel, grab our badges and get on with enjoying the Con.  Well, we may have been smart in doing that but the folks running the SLCC were anything but smart in the way they set up their registration lines.  It was an absolute and colossal clusterfuck.  The lines that afternoon took four hours to get through.  And that was for us pre-registered folk.  The people buying tickets at the door fared even worse.

At least however, the weather was mild and the crowds were fun.

Ann in her latex outfit enjoying the cosplay

After standing around standing around for that long we were pretty much spent - and the Con was due to shut down for that day anyway so we went back to our room at the Marriott next door and then headed out for some good grub.

The next day Ann decided to wear her Mara Jade outfit.  It was more "con-ish" and also more comfortable to wear for the full day.  Star Wars is also quite the popular thing to cos-play at such events so she had ample photo opportunities with that outfit.

So here's Mara Jade on the Emperor's Throne...

Mara Jade on the Throne

And Mara on Tatooine with R2...

Mara Jade on Tatooine

And then Mara "crossed the streams" by hanging out with Sirius Black - freshly escaped from Azkaban.  His costume was actually very clever.  The "Potterverse" newspaper he's holding in his left hand is actually a computer tablet behind the paper.  In the books and movies the images in the newspapers of the "Potterverse" were animated like short movie clips.  So, this guy took a brief video of himself acting out like Sirius from the film and had that on a loop playing on his tablet.  Thus it was very much like the books and films.  Quite clever and nicely done.

Crossing the streams with Crossing the streams with Sirius Black

And more "stream crossing" as Mara posed with Lt. Commander Data.  And Spot, of course.

More stream crossing

Surprisingly, for Salt Lake City at least, there were also some Sisters in attendance.

Ann and the Sisters

The creativity and fun of the attendees is what really makes such Cons work.  Strolling around at the event I saw many an example of that.  The family in the image below here is demonstrated just what I'm referring to.  One or both of the adults here are big Dr. Who fans.  And they brilliantly figured a way to bring their daughters along so that they could share in all that - and share in it within the same theme.  The girls were obviously in their "I want to be a princess!" phase but there are no iconic princesses in Dr. Who.  The solution?  They can dress of the Pretty Pink Dalek Princesses!

Pretty Pink Dalek Princesses

This couple went as a doctor and nurse from the "Eye of the Beholder" episode of "The Twilight Zone" and they were spot-on in the cos-play.  Apparently the guy here made the masks himself.

Twilight Zone - Eye of the Beholder cosplay

I'm betting that these two guys lost a bet - but are men of honor and paying up for it.

Wonder Woman and Super Girl

I really loved this one.  Unfortunately they were zooming along to get somewheres so this is all I can show of it.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Princess

Okay, so, mom wants to attend the Comic Con.  And it'd either be too much of a hassle getting a sitter or the kids are just too intent on coming along with her to leave behind.  So, what to do about dressing them.  I mean, if their mom is dressing up then they gotta dress up to, right?  With that many kids however, such costuming would get expensive.  Especially if buying premade outfits.  This is where that creativity comes forth.  I'm not sure about the other outfits she created for the rest of the kids but her dressing up that one as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle is outstanding.  Some green tutu action going on and a green plastic food serving tray as the shell all came together to make it work wonderfully!  And thus everyone was happy and had a great time in costume at the Con.  Good on mom!

Because it's such a visual thing, the SLCC folk made sure to have plenty of visual treats for their attendees to photograph themselves with.  As Ann was rockin' her Mara Jade outfit, it only made sense for her to pose with this one.

Mara, Han, and me

We didn't just spend all our time taking pictures or posing for them.  We also attended some of the workshops that were presented at the event and we caught up with some authors and artists.  I made sure to seek out Howard Taylor of "Schlock Mercenary" fame as that's an online comic I really enjoy.  Howard was gladly sharing his boothspace with an author he was promoting and spoke quite highly of: Brian McClellan and his Powder Mage books.  Howard was spot on as to the quality of Brain's writing and both Ann and I highly recommend him.

Oddly enough, the Salt Lake Comic Con closes after its Saturday night festivities.  This is Salt Lake City, after all.  So we lazed the Sunday morning away before heading back out to the airport for our trip back to LA.  It was a fun weekend.

The Villa

The second weekend in September saw Ann and I off to take in "The Villa."  This is the other part of the Getty Museum.  It was originally the sole place Getty put his art collection on display.  But it quickly got overcrowded with the stuff.  Upon Getty's death, the museum inherited a truly massive amount of cash.  That enabled them to construct the Getty Center up on its hilltop.  Once the art collection was installed there the Getty folks then renovated The Villa and choose to keep its "Greek, Roman, and Etruscan" focus in both its displayed items and the structures themselves.  The result is a visually stunning complex that's well worth just strolling through.  It's art collection is equally impressive.  So, it made for a nice afternoon's jaunt up the coast a few miles north of Santa Monica.

Upon arriving we checked out what was going on that day and found that there was a special tour that sounded appealing.  Not only would the tour take through the main exhibit hall but it would include docents and volunteers wearing various examples of period attire.  Having already done some research on the Roman Legion and its attire, I snapped at the chance to be in on this tour.  It was nicely done and both informative and fun.

The leader of the tour was this guy.

A Legionnaire during the Byzantium Era

He was dressed as a Legionnaire.  When we think of the Roman Legion and their troops the image of a bunch of guys in red knee length tunics comes to mind.  And there was a period when that sort of uniform was a standard in the Legion.  But the Roman Empire lasted a long, long time and its uniforms changed over that span.

Then there was this fine gentleman.

A Roman gentleman

His attire clearly denoted his upper class standing due to the amount of fabric it took to wrap him up like that.  And when he then put on the rest of his toga...

Now he's just showing off

...he really started showing off.  That's a huge amount of fabric to be clothed in for the time.  The average Roman would have but a tunic to wear.  The elite here was not only clothed in much finer woven fabric but also with much more of it.  AND his toga sported a purple trim.  That meant it was even more costly.  This was the equivalent of a "bespoke" custom tailored suit from Savile Row.

Also in attendance was this stout trooper wearing what any decent and successful Greek citizen would be wearing as a Hoplite.

 A Greek Hoplite

And lastly there was this fine lad.  He was very impressive.  First off, his knowledge of Roman history was damn near encyclopedic.  Then there was the fact that he'd fashioned a good part of his Legionary armor himself.  And finally, there was his obvious enthusiasm and passion for his interests.

A fine young Legionaire

While walking through the Villa we checked out the many bits of statuary and relics from that era.  This one is of Nemesis - the goddess of Retribution.


Of course, no trip to the Villa would be complete without a pleasant stroll through its Garden.

The Garden at The Villa

Late September of 2014 saw me finding this little bit of joy out in the middle of my kitchen floor. This, the place where just minutes before I'd been trodding barefoot without a care and, as I recoiled upon finding this there, was barefoot still.


And yes, when found it was still alive.

Scorpion turned over

I thought it not as it was immobile. And it remained such as I popped a glass cup over it, remained so as I slid a paper under it, and still remained that way as I shifted it all over to my dining room table for a better view. No movement from it at all. So, I left there intending on examining it closer the next morn.

Scorpion front

And come the dawn it was still there on the paper under the glass - but it's position had shifted. I'd thought perhaps it might've simply curled due to the cooler evening temps or humidity or something.

That thought was dispelled as I moved the glass and paper a bit.

Nope, this thing was alive. Very much alive. And, as scorpions are want, it was pissed.

Scorpion stinger

It quickly adopted the classic scorpion pose of having its pincers up and its tail curved ready to strike. When I shifted the glass around such that there was a slight gap between table top and paper it even started jamming those claws through.

I'd thought to shift it out of its glass and into a larger container so I could better see it - the glass being too distorted for a good view. In so doing the thing scrambled loose on the table top and quickly hid under some stacked bits of mail there. Damn, it was fast!

I eventually got it into that larger container and figured it wasn't worth a second chance. Thus, off to the freezer it went and there it remained through a night and into the following dawn. And that was enough.

Now very dead, it's also very still and thus more amenable to being carefully photographed.

Scorpion dead

And with the closer look it is still just as nasty.

To put this in perspective, I've lived here in San Diego for about a quarter century and I have never seen a scorpion this close, this personal, and this much in my own home. Out in the far reaches of "East County" San Diego is the only place I'd expect them. Of late however, there are reports of them showing up out here in the coastal communities.

Oh joy.

Long Beach Avenue Lofts Open House

On the last weekend in September the artists living in the Long Beach Avenue Lofts in downtown Los Angeles (those in the know call downtown Los Angeles "DTLA") held an open house for all and sundry to visit their art / work / living spaces.  Doing so allowed plenty of folk to not only see what artists were there but also, perhaps, to purchase some of the art they saw on that day.

Ann and I went over to those Lofts to check out Michael Manning's works.  I've known Michael since the early 90s and have been a big fan of his art.  He creates imagery and worlds that I'd dearly love to live in.  As a result I've come to own several of his original pieces over the years and treasure them highly.  Ann also enjoys his creations as Michael's high-fetish renderings of ponygirls and ponyboys has long spoken to her directly as well.  So, for an afternoon's excursion it made perfect sense to check both Michael's place out and the other artists there as well.  It was a nice afternoon and also nice to see such creativity going on in what's an otherwise rather blighted and barren industrial area there in DTLA.

Aside from the various artistic artistries there was also one aspect of the loft building itself which was quite photogenic - its cactus plant.

The cactus at the Long Beach Avenue Lofts

Yes, that is an actual cactus plant.  Much like the ones we've all seen in small pots on the front porches of our neighbor's home.

The cactus at the Long Beach Avenue Lofts

It's taken years, apparently, to grow this big but big has it grown indeed.

The cactus at the Long Beach Avenue Lofts - with Ann for scale

More of the giant cactus - but this time with Ann for scale.  The cactus makes for quite the "feature" of the building.


Come October, the dry spell ended.  I got a new gig which took me up to Hawthorne and into SpaceX.  Yes, THE SpaceX.

Working at SpaceX

Yeah, it really is that freakin' cool to be there!

Behind me in that image is the Dragon capsule hanging from the ceiling and a prototype of the legs that are now standard on their Falcon 9 first stage rockets.  That big glassed in area in the background is the main Mission Control Room for SpaceX.  Deliberately not shown in this image is the factory floor there at the Hawthorne facility.  SpaceX really does do it all right there in that building.  To the left outside the frame of this image is where they manufacture the Merlin engines that power the Falcon rockets into space.  Behind the guy taking this photo is where they do the composite fiber layups that make the first and second stages.  To my left in this image is the company's cafeteria where they serve a "four star" dinner for all of $6.  Oh, and there's also the free yogurt stand and free espresso coffee stand there to.  Yeah, it's all there in that former Northrop factory building just east of Los Angeles International Airport off the 405 and the 105.

I got brought in to wrap up a proposal that SpaceX was going after with the National Reconnaissance Office.  The NRO insisted on a level of project controls that SpaceX hadn't previously had to demonstrate.  So, they reached out to "gray hairs" like myself to help 'em out with it.  The median age of the company was just 27.  I know that the moment I stepped across the threshold there in Hawthorne that the media ticked up by a small but measurable amount.  The energy in that place was wonderful.  The zeal and dedication was intoxicating.

That job brought in an excellent amount of cash for me but it didn't last.  I worked it through year's end which is when the proposal was submitted.  SpaceX being able to compete for that NRO launch was dependent upon the Air Force certifying that the company was capable of conducting such launches.  Nevermind that that big capsule hanging above my head there is an actual piece of space hardware that SpaceX launched successfully to the International Space Station and then retrieved it.  And nevermind that SpaceX was doing brisk business launching satellites for NASA and other customers worldwide.  Nope, the Air Force had some specific standards that needed to be met before the Space Exploration & Development Corporation (SpaceX) could officially be allowed to compete for such launches.

Unfortunately, the Air Force informed SpaceX in early January that it'd be delaying that certification until sometime later in the year.  No cert, no ability to compete for the NRO launch, no ability to compete, no proposal, no proposal, no need for me to run its schedule.  And thus my time at SpaceX ended just after the New Year's start.  Still though, for that three or so months of my being there, the money was much appreciated and the experience was positive and beneficial.

Odds and Ends Toward the Year's End

Nothing of major import here, just stuff.  Ann spent a weekend down here in SD with me and we caught "Big Hero 5" in the theater.  The lobby promos for it were purposely designed for cellphone picture taking.  And as I'm such an admirer of good design...

Big Hero!

Over Thanksgiving weekend I decided to walk over to the supermarket rather than drive and as I strode through the neighborhood I spotted this house.  It seems the folks who live there are of the efficient sort in that they only want to decorate their house but once a year - and thus cover all their bases at once.

Decorative Efficiency

My place in San Diego was essentially surrounded by the Tecolote Canyon Natural Park.  That meant for some better than average scenery and a quieter than average place to live.  About the most noise I had to put up with from the environment there was the occasional squabble the coyote packs had among themselves.  Their yipping sounded almost comical when I heard it the first time and then I realized what it was and what it meant.  There had to be some significant disagreement going on amongst that pack for its members to make such noise.  Coyotes owe much of their success to not drawing attention to themselves.

At the bottom of the hill from me was the main part of the trail through the Tecolote Canyon.  I made an excellent place to get some good cardio walks in.  No, not from being chased by coyotes through it - I only ever saw one coyote down there - but from the effort it takes to climb the hill back up from it.  I would walk down Mt. Acadia to the Trail's entrance and then walk along the creek's bank north for the mile on the trail until it came to Balboa Ave and then I'd power up the hill to the west.  Attaining the end of the Trail there I would continue up to the crest of the hill at the intersection of Balboa and Clairemont Drive.  I would congratulate myself on just continuing to walk right on by the Starbucks there at that corner rather than turn into it and defeat the purpose of getting that cardio.  I'd then continue south along Clairemont before turning in on Ute Drive which then became Cowley Way as it wound along the mesa's edge.  It made for a longer and quieter walk than sticking to Clairemont with its traffic.  Cowley would eventually come out at Acadia and I then both walk down and back up it to reach my house.  It was a good couple of miles walk and some good hills to get the heart pumping.

Along the trail through the bottom of the Canyon I'd see quite a bit of wildlife.  The San Diego park folks had recently made the effort to remove a lot of the "invasive plant species" which had taken root in that Park.  To help reestablish the native stuff they installed sprinklers to make sure it had the water it all needed to take root and out compete any of the invasive stuff still left over.  Among other things, this meant there was now suddenly a bunch of succulent plants for plant eating critters to feat upon.  And that, in turn meant the coyotes suddenly had a bunch of succulent prey animals to prey upon.  Thus the number of coyotes grew in proportion to the prey animal population and thus things went from only hearing those pack squabbles but once in a blue moon to hearing 'em perhaps monthly.  It also meant there were just more critters, period, to see on my trail walks through that part of hike.  Among these were all sorts of birds.  

San Diego is a great stop for all manner of migratory avians and the relative lushness of Tecolote Canyon was pretty attractive to them.  So, on one fine November's afternoon I spied this fine foul.  A Pheasant, perhaps?  I've seen snowy egrets and plenty of rabbits and that one coyote but this was the first time I'd both my smartphone with me and the critter stayed put long enough to get the shot.  No, it's not a National Geographic award winner but it does illustrate the point I was making.  So there.

Flighted Fauna in Tecolote

XMas 2014

Not as grand as last year's Christmas holiday time - and especially not as grand as 2012's.  But it was nice to have Mom out for her usual week away from the Back East Winter's cold.  This year we did some birding along the San Diego River near where it flowed into the Pacific.

Birding Along the San Diego River

I had no idea there were so many different species of pelican here in California.  As we saw some of them there on the River, now I do.

Of course, we made sure to take in The Del during her stay.

Mom at the Del

And Moo Time too!  Can't miss the Moo Time!

And that was it.  Another year in the can.  I ended 2014 in pretty good shape.  I just wish it wasn't so long a damn grind again until I got more work.

New Year's Day 2013
New Year's Day Atop Mt. Soledad

This was a pretty fast turn around, actually.  I'd almost no sooner stepped off the plane flying down from San Francisco then it was New Year's Day and time to head up to Mt. Soledad in order to great the first dawn of that new year.

And then it was soon back to Albuquerque to get back to work.  That was a very good feeling, actually.  And somewhat unique to have a job waiting for me in the New Year.
January 2013 saw my old Razr finally give up the ghost.  For it's day it was cutting edge.  But, that day had passed.  So I went over to the nearest Verizon store and got an Android based smartphone.  My first smartphone.  It was the weekend so I then decided to splurge a bit and took the Sandia Peak Tramway.  The Sandia Peaks are an inescapable sight when you're anywhere near Albuquerque as they dominate the skyline to the east of the city.  I'd heard that the cable ride and view from atop the peak was excellent so I decided to check it out.  It was also a fine time to test out my new smartphone.

Sandia Tramway

The "Tramway" is now an iconic thing about Albuquerque.  It was originally the idea of Robert Nordhaus back in 1966.  Nordhaus was something of a "ski bum" who thought that the eastern slope of the Sandia Peaks had ski slope potential.  Setting up the tram system also made the spectacular view from atop the Peak into a tourist spot.  Soon enough there was also a moderately high end restaurant up there, High Finance, to capture the unique experience and it became  "a thing" for folks in Albuquerque to do.  The view from atop really is spectacular and pairing it with some fine dining made it even betterer.

Before sitting down to my meal at the restaurant I saw the sights I could see from atop the Peak.  Helping achieve this were these little things.  They are but simple metal tubes aligned to precisely frame a particular spot in the distance.  This allows the viewer to discern that spot in particular as opposed to just a "it's over in that general direction" sort of thing.  They were quite clever, actually, and being but metal tubes required no lenses which might break with the temperature flux or require more frequent cleaning.

Interesting way of viewing things

Another view of  this cleverness.
Another view of the cleverness

Looking east I came across the Sandia ski slope and its ski lift.  Prior to the Tramway's being installed getting to this point meant a pretty long drive to the east of Albuquerque and then driving up the eastern slope to reach the summit.  Now, with the Tramway on the western side, the whole thing is far more accessible.

Sandia Ski Slope

Eventually though it became both dinnertime and too damn cold to be gawking at the vistas while standing outside to do so.  It was also quite breezy up there at the summit.  So, I headed in to the restaurant and got myself a table with a sufficient view to view the views.  I'd brought my camera along to ensure I could get the sort of shots I knew would be plentiful atop Sandia.

I wasn't wrong in this.

A pretty cool sunset image

I could've been braving the winds and the plunging temps getting these shots by taking them while standing outside.  Or I could've taken them from the nicely heated comfort of doing so while inside the restaurant.  Having a glass of some good Merlot helped make the choice easier.

Another cool image - from inside

At this point I decided to do some exploring of my newly purchased Droid Razr.  Among these was its much touted built-in camera.  And thus I took my very first smartphone selfie.

My first selfie

I then turned my phone to see what it could do in comparison with my regular camera.  And the result was surprisingly good.

Cool image by Droid

The meal at High Finance was not bad.  I've had better, I've had worse.  For it's price it was a little too average but the whole point of the exercise was the location.  So, on balance, it was worth it - for a special occasion.  And as that occasion's was some two miles up into the air, that was all the better.

Being In Albuquerque

Working in Albuquerque for as long as I did gave me a chance to take in a bunch of things.  The Sandia Peaks were always a sight.  Especially in the colder months when they'd get dusted with snow.  That made an eye catching sight driving to work each morning.

Snow dusted Sandias

Traveling back and forth out of Albuquerque as often as I did - twice a month on average - meant I also got pretty familiar with the Albuquerque Sunport.  It was a nicely developed airport and well served the Duke City™.  My flying was exclusively with Southwest as it had lots of flights through ABQ to SAN and elsewhere and I was using a Southwest Visa card to book my fully reimbursed flights.  While hanging out at the airport awaiting those flights I couldn't help but notice the cleaning crew's use of these device.

It is a high powered assault squirt bottle!

High Powered Assault Squirt Bottle

I'd never seen a motorized squirt bottle before but they were standard equipment of the cleaning staff there at the Sunport.

High Powered Assault Squirt Bottle!

During the winter months in Albuquerque it wasn't unusual for the city to get snowed upon.  But, due to its geography, that snow never really lasted long on the ground.  There were but a couple of times that I faced this sort of thing at the start of my day.

Albuquerque Snow - Heavy

For me, it was still novel.  Especially when it was that heavy.  As you can see from around the car however, it really didn't stay on the ground long at all.  More typically was when it would be like this.

Albuquerque Snow - Normal

Some of my coworkers had more to deal with as they lived further out and thus didn't benefit as much from ABQ's unique mix of geography and urban heat island effect.  Thus they had real snow accumulation to deal with.  That I didn't suited me just fine.

Not surprisingly, there was a Starbucks nearby.  It was about half a mile from the Residence Inn and the Inn was about three quarter's of a mile away from work.  So, I wound up being a very regular customer of that Starbucks.

Celebrating the Second Amendment

I was specifically in that Starbucks on that day and paid for my typical "Mocha, Small, No Whip, No Foam" with a $2 bill to celebrate Starbucks not caving in to the gun control crowd's boycott demands.  It seems they were upset that Starbucks had no policy on whether guns were allowed in its shops or not.  They simply complied with whatever local laws pertained to carrying.  So, I made a point of getting a couple of $2 bills to pay for my purchase on the day that boycott was called for.  Of course, the folks running that Starbucks had never heard of the boycott and were rather nonplussed by it all.  They were happy to take my money though.

About three quarter's mile south of the Inn was a Cold Stone Creamery.  That too became a frequently hit up place for me.

Cold Stone Mix-In!

No, their ice cream isn't as good as Steve's used to be it still manages to hit the spot.  It was also pretty convenient as it was just around the corner from two other places I frequently hit up while working at Goodrich there in ABQ: the Texas Land & Cattle Steak House and the Chama River Brewery.  I'd have a nice bacon wrapped steak with caramelized onions at the TLC and then walk 'round the corner to have myself a tasty mix-in ice cream at Cold Stone.

2013 also saw the construction and completion of the Bear Canyon Arroyo Bicycle / Pedestrian Bridge over the I-25 highway.  That made it a lot easier and convenient to get to the Texas Roadhouse restaurant which was right at the base of the bridge on that eastern side of the highway.  Interestingly, that intersection had a profusion of steak joints.  There was the Texas Land and Cattle & Chama's in the southwest of where the I-25 and Jefferson Street crossed, the Texas Roadhouse was to the north east up from the intersection, and to the south east was a Landry's and an Outback Steakhouse.  

I found that pedestrian bridge was also a great place to take in vistas which I couldn't otherwise get on ground level outside of the Inn.

Winter Vista from the Footbridge

By this time I was typically in one of the rooms there along the north side of the Inn and up on the second story.  Being on the north side I thus avoided the blasting heat of the Albuquerque summers and being on the second story gave me a bit more privacy than had my room been on the ground level.  This image also shows just how big the sky is in ABQ and how nicely the river valley is framed to the hills off to the west.  Contrast this winter's view with one I took from the same spot some months later below.

A summer's storm from the bridge

A rare summer's rainstorm was rolling through ABQ and I hiked up on to the bridge to see it in all its splendor.  One night when I was safely tucked away in the Inn there was an electrical storm which came through the region.  Not a drop of rain fell from the sky by the thunder and lightning was all but continuous.  It was very impressive - and not a time to be outside in the open!

Another thing which I saw a lot of while in Albuquerque was contrails.  Lots of contrails.  Just about every day and throughout the day the sky would have plenty of contrails.  It was interesting how the atmospherics lent themselves to contrails so easily forming in the region.  It was also telling that so many contrails were there because Albuquerque was not a place most folks wanted to stop at.  You don't usually get many contrails visible above Los Angeles or San Diego or Boston or New York, for example, as those places are destinations so you don't have quite as high a percentage of passenger jets flying above them.  Over Albuquerque however, it was yet another reminder of the place's relative isolation.

Lots of contrails

Next door to the Goodrich factory building was a Cat heavy equipment dealership.  It was interesting to peer through the fence between the Goodrich facility and the dealership to see what sort of big Tonka toys they had on their lot.  They could get rather artistic in lining them up.

Big Cat Lineup

I was amused and intrigued when I pulled in to ABQ to actually see actual roadrunners.  The things were all over the place near the Inn and the Goodrich facility.  As both of those buildings were along the Bear Canyon Arroyo storm drainage channel, it's hardly surprising there was lots of such "wildlife" running 'round the area.  Raccoons and coyotes were also out and about as they made use of those storm drains, the flood control channels and so on.  They could move from the natural park of the Sandias straight on down those flood control channels right into the heart of the Albuquerque and never have to cross a street at all.

I managed to catch this particular roadrunner after it'd just gotten itself a meal.  You can just make out the little lizard still caught in its beak.

Roadrunner running

Nature was on display there in ABQ.  Walking between one of the Goodrich facility's buildings to its other one, I came across this example.  Having a smartphone is what made such on-the-spot shots possible.  Unfortunately, the contrast on the camera isn't all that great.  But considering that this is a picture of a hawk feasting on a pigeon it'd just downed then perhaps that's alright.

Nature at work at work

Nature at work at work!  The raptor here had chose well.  He'd dragged his meal down beneath a big nitrogen gas tank.  The tank was secured behind that chain link fence and was also difficult for any other hawk to simply swoop down upon.  This meant that it could enjoy its meal without being disturbed.  Having to clean up the remnants was someone else's concern.

Generally though, the views I usually had while on my way to work weren't quite so Darwinian.

Big Beautiful Big Sky

This is what I faced leaving work one afternoon.

Come April of 2013 I flew my Mom out again and we enjoyed a weekend's staying up in Santa Fe and driving round a bit of northern New Mexico.  We had rooms at the Turquoise Bear - I made that Mom got the Georgia O'Keeffe room as that's one of her favorite artists - and drove off to see the sights.

I'd heard much about the "pueblos" and thought it might be interesting to take in a "genuine native American village."  Not wanting to expend a couple hours driving up to Taos to see the most well known of them, I selected one more nearby and Mom and I drove off to take it in.  These are "native lands" and they do charge an admission for non-natives to gawk at it.  They also charge a camera fee if you want to take pictures of what you're gawking at.  Okay, fair enough, I paid.  And this is what I got.

A spectacular native American village

Honestly, I was more amused and laughing at myself than anything else.  Lesson learned, we headed off to more interesting things to see.

Valle Grande Caldera

Among these was the Valle Grande Caldera.  It's been a while, thankfully, but just about the entire area of what is now the state of New Mexico used to be a volcanic Abyss and an otherwise hellish landscape.  Now it's just one striking, if somewhat stark, vista after another.

Of course, once we got back in Albuquerque we simply had to go up to the High Finance and have dinner there - taking in the scenic vista beforehand, of course.

Mom atop Sandia

The following weekend Ann came into town and I pretty much repeated the process.

Ann atop the Sandias

That was another weekend spent at the Turquoise Bear.  Instead of driving 'round northern New Mexico however, we kept it closer to Santa Fe.  At Ralph's recommendation we checked out the Ten Thousand Waves spa.  The place is Japanese themed and is very well done.  We went up there for massages and they insisted that not only do you have to shower before getting your message but that you also spend time soaking in the communal hot tubes as well.  Smart choice, that.  By the time we got on to our massage tables our bodies were nice and relaxed already so the masseurs was better able to get right in there and work his magic.

As this was but a weekend's jaunt we headed back from Santa Fe that Sunday but decided to take the "scenic route" instead of just zipping straight down the I-25.  Thus we wound up taking state route 14 and pulled in to the town of Madrid for lunch.  An old mining town who's name is pronounced "maad-rid," it's biggest recent claim to fame was of being the location "Wild Hogs" was film in.  The locals are decidedly ambivalent about that.  They appreciated the money the film crew brought into town and how many of the locals the filming hired but aren't too pleased with the notoriety otherwise.  One nice thing about the town however, was its coffee shop - the Java Junction.

Having some java outside the Java Junction

Their coffee was good but it's their coffee mugs which really set 'em apart.  Emblazoned with the shop's signature phrase "Bad Coffee Sucks" they've made great gifts and are my mug of choice at home.

The Grand Canyon
Come Memorial Day I was off to the Grand Canyon.  Ann had done yet another excellent job of planning a weekend's getaway and  I really enjoyed that.

I flew in to Flagstaff, met with Ann and we then drove over to Best Western Pony Soldier Inn & Suites.  A place that was utterly unsurprising for Ann to have chosen...

Pony and girl

Then it was up bright and early to head off to our Glen Canyon Float Experience.  This involved being bused from our hotel on over to the put-in point down at the bottom of Glen Canyon.  We did stop as we crossed an upper portion of the Colorado River to gawk at it first.

Right over the river

Then it was down to the river itself as we boarded our "rafts" at  the Lees Ferry Boatramp.  We would've put in at the base of the Glen Canyon Dam itself but there'd been a landslide which had take out the roadway we would've otherwise used to it was down to Lees Ferry for both the start and finish.  The views were still pretty damn awesome.

Awesome river views

More awesome river views

One of the neat features of this excursion was putting in at various locations to get off the rafts and check out the unique locations along the river.  The ancient indian settlements and hieroglyphs were quite striking to see.  The late May heat wasn't nearly as intense as a trip later in the summer would've made it but a dip in the river was still appreciated - if quite bracing.  The water now running through the Glen Canyon river is quite cold year round as it comes from deep behind the Glen Canyon Dam.  Several of our party "stuck a toe in" and thought better of sticking any more of themselves in such "frigid" waters.  So, I simply had to go for a dunk.

Drying off almost instantly in the heat

It was VERY cold.  But, once out of the water the heat and lack of humidity meant I dried off damn near instantly.  Ann wouldn't be outdone so she too dived in like a trooper.

Ann's chilling out

It was a fun day spent on the water.

A fun day spent on the water

Even as remote as we were (Cellphone coverage? Hah!) we only had but to look up and be reminded that civilization wasn't at all far away.

Civilization is close to hand...

On the way back our bus driver pulled over to allow us to take in some rather unique rock formations.

Odd rocks

These boulders were part of the hill behind me there and erosion of that plateau's edges eventually caused them to slide down to this lower level.  In the process of that however, the boulders compacted the soil immediately beneath them such that it was more resistant to erosion and thus, over time, that soil became something of a pedestal holding the big rocks up.  And they are BIG rocks.

BIG odd rocks

Back at the Pony Soldier Inn we relaxed from our day on the water and then headed out the next morning to be at the Grand Canyon's edge.

The Gran Canyon

We checked into a hotel in Tusayan and then drove on up into the Park itself.  As expected, the vistas were pretty damn awesome.

Awesome vistas

Later that afternoon we took a "Grande Finale Deluxe" Pink Jeep Tour.

Even though it was quite warm during the day, we made sure to get bundled up as the temps still dropped sharply once the Sun started dipping.

Ready for the Pink Jeep tour

The Pink Jeep folks have access to some areas not really open to the general public thus they get some unique views of the Canyon.

Unique vistas

The Desert View Watchtower offers some excellent panoramic views.  And it's a striking visual all on its own as well.

Desert View Watchtower

Back in the 90s I remember a type of abstract landscape paintings being quite appealing.  The colors were subtle and gave the effect of mountain ranges fading into the distance.  Atop the edge of the Grand Canyon at one point I found this in reality.

Abstract landscape in reality

The big thing about this particular Pink Jeep tour is its timing.  It is all about taking in the sunset over the canyon.

Glorious sunset over the Canyon

To properly take this in, the Tour parked us at one particular overlook, handed us all some blankets and had us spread out at the most choice of view spots. It's a truly romantic way to end a glorious day.

A glorious day's end

The next day it was time to checkout from the hotel and spend some last few minutes at the Canyon before I had to get back to Flagstaff to fly back to ABQ and return to work the next day.

At the El Tovar

The El Tovar is where Ann would normally stay but they were all booked up over Memorial Day Weekend.  It looks the choice place however!

I pretty much laid low for the next couple of months.  Bring my Mom out in April, spending a weekend in Santa Fe with Ann and then doing the Grand Canyon with her had been enough for a bit.  In July however, we did attend that year's Labyrinth Masquerade Ball in Los Angeles.  It was a "steampunk" theme and I went as a "Airship Invigilator."


50th Reno Air Races

September came along and I was once again busy and once again out to Reno for the Air Races.  I made a point of doing it that year as it was their 50th so it was more special than usual.  I also made sure to buy a reserved grandstand seat instead of a general admission one.  And I made sure that seat was up at the very back row.  There, it meant I'd have both a clear field of view for taking pictures and get some decent breeze to offset the Reno heat.  I also made sure to get myself a monopod stick to brace my camera on.  That made taking telephoto shots of the fast moving aircraft a lot more practical.  I once again bought a Pit Pass and this time I bought a Chairman's Tent ticket.  That got me inside dining at the meals and refreshments served all day.  The Checkered Flag Club ticket would've been overkill for me.  I think I hit things just right.

The Pit Pass meant I got to enjoy walking 'round all the gorgeous machinery as they were being worked on.

Reno 2013 Pit Pass Beauties

Reno 2013 Pit Pass Beauties

Reno 2013 Pit Pass Beauties

Reno 2013 Pit Pass Beauties

Having that Pit Pass meant I also got to be "up close and personal" for the engine test runs and the racers doing their startups to taxi out for their heats.

Starting up to head out

Below is a lineup of some of the Unlimiteds ready to roll down the runway and get airborne so that they can turn some pylons!  The sounds of all those big aero engines rumbling along was pure joy.

Unlimiteds Lined Up

Wandering through the Pits I also just got to be around the planes in general.

Me and a Bearcat

I really like this one behind me.  It's a Grumman Bearcat and it's one of the most powerful and pleasing to look at planes from World War Two.

This beauty below is another of my favorites.  It's a Grumman Tigercat.  I really like its lines and how it's such a big, beautiful and powerful machine.


Up in the stands I got an excellent vantage point to take in these beauties as they did what they were designed to do - go really fast through the air!

Warbirds aloft

In this shot you can see the Tigercat and the Bearcat from the pictures I previously took.  Just below the Tigercat is a P-51 Mustang and just behind the Bearcat is a Supermarine Spitfire.  All of these planes were designed as fighters during World War Two and the represent the pinnacle of piston engine powered aviation technology.

From my vantage there in the bleachers I also got a better view of the special ceremonies going on.

In this case, the Mustangs below are two of the original Reno Air Racers from back when Reno first started.  Compare them to how the Unlimiteds have evolved in the decades since and these nearly "stock" machines look almost quaint in comparison.

Noting the past

For instance, compare this image of that "stock" Bearcat I was standing in front of... 

Stock Bearcat this Bearcat.

Hotrod Bearcat

The Unlimiteds at Reno really are "hotrods" of the skies and they've been "chopped, dropped, narrowed" and gone over to squeeze every last drop of increased performance out of.

As I'd done the previous year, I stayed only so long on Sunday.  I left before the final race of the day in order to catch a flight out that got me back to Albuquerque at a livable hour.  The aircraft, their history, and their beauty is what interests me the most about the whole thing.  Watching them go really, really fast was fun but not actually my "thing."  I'm glad I went and may go again but it's not a "must" thing for me now.

Balloon Fiesta 2013

Come October it was Balloon Fiesta time again.  The temps in the Duke City™ had cooled enough to once more make hot air ballooning a practical thing so the skies each morning would be filled with hot air balloons aloft.  It made for a pretty sight coming in to work each day.

This view here, for instance, is of a bunch of them after a "mass launch" at Balloon Fiesta Park just two miles north of where I worked.  The balloons here are floating down along the Rio Grande river channel which was just west of the factory.
Balloons over work

This shot was from just a few days later and of another mass launch.

Another morning, another mass launch

The thing about balloons is that they pretty much come down where they pretty much come down.  There's only so much a balloon pilot can do about that.  So, with our being almost due south of the Park and with the winds aloft typically coming of the north and thus blowing the balloons toward us, it wasn't unusual for them to be landing right around us at work.  Sometimes literally right at our doorstep - or at least at the entrance to our parking lot.

This one, for instance, came down in the open space next to the Girl Scouts office right next to the Goodrich building.

Balloon's landing

The chase crew had managed to keep up with an correctly anticipate where their balloon would come down thus they were there to grab hold of the line the balloon pilot had dropped there.  A slight updraft or his not venting in time and the balloon could've drifted down into the Bear Canyon Arroyo channel or wound up coming down in a business parking lot on that side of things.  Instead, it landed right there as I was driving in to work one morning.  I even got some video of it on my phone!

After the balloon was safely grounded then came the labors of safely and securely stowing it for transport out.

Balloon Chase Crew At Work

This year it was Ann's turn to be out at Balloon Fiesta with me and we both enjoyed it even though it meant getting up at O-Dark-Thirty to take it in.  The mass launches are spectacular and the whole thing is lots of fun but it is, by necessity, rather brief.  There's only so much time that the balloonists have from when the Sun has risen sufficiently to make things safely illuminated and yet hasn't also been up long enough to heat the air and the ground so much that it causes problematic air currents for the balloons.  The afternoon winds, for instance, would be prohibitively lethal for any ballooning attempts.  So, crack of dawn is when the action starts and it doesn't last much later than that really.

Up early for another Balloon Fiesta

Being there though, does make for some impressive sights as the balloon crews scramble to get aloft during that narrow window of opportunity.  Thus things on the ground can be both busy and very fun to watch.

Rushing to fly

Even as spacious as Balloon Fiesta Park is, with that many balloons all gathered there and with them all trying to get aloft within that window, it actually gets crowded.

A crowded field

They are a sight when they do finally loft...

Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon...

More balloons

Almost surreal

And of course, there are also the "special shapes" to be launched.

Special Shapes

White Sands 2013

In early November Ann came out again and we drove on down to White Sands.  She'd never been so it was fun to share the experience with her.

Ann at White Sands

The vistas were still quite Modernistic.

Modernism in operation

And the Big Sky effect was still quite effecting.

More scenicness

And White Sands is still a fascinating place to be.

Even more scenicness

We headed over to Cloudcroft to spend the night at The Lodge there.  A coworker at Goodrich had recommended it and she wasn't wrong!  The dinner was excellent and the rooms were quite nice.  The next day we walked around Cloudcroft a bit before doing some hiking along the Osha Trail nearby.

Osha Trail Hiking

It was a stark contrast to go from the desert down on the valley floor at White Sands to the relative lushness of the forests up there at Cloudcroft.

A contrast

Thanksgiving 2013

Having money is always a good thing.  And in 2013 I certainly was enjoying the good things.  One of which was flying Back East for Thanksgiving to spend it with my Mom.  Usually I'd only see her once a year when she'd come out to San Diego over the Christmas holidays.  This time however, I'd the cash and the time so I flew back to Boston for the Thanksgiving weekend.  It was good to catch up with the Mom unit.

One stop we made that weekend was at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton.

Fuller Craft Museum

The museum is unique in that most of its collection is of "working pieces" that are meant to be incorporated into daily life and not just carefully hung on walls only to be looked at and never touched.  In this, Mom is acting on the signage's command to sit on the beautifully hand made wood bench.

The flight back was interesting.  I always try to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare in case there's screw ups and thus am as unstressed once I'm there as can be.  In this case there were no screwups and I'd plenty of time to roam a bit.  The Southwest terminal connected to the international, one with some walking, so I did some walking.  Along the way I found these.

Odd seats at Logan

I'm not sure whether to be pleased or displeased at these things.  They're clearly meant to stretch out comfortably upon.  Thus they'd be a blessing for passengers stuck between flights for any extended time.  But wouldn't it be better if the airlines ran to schedule such that passengers didn't get stuck that long?

I decided to splurge a bit on the flight back - as much as "splurging" is when it comes to Southwest - and bumped up my boarding to "Business Select."  All that really means is that you're among the first fifteen people who gets on to the aircraft.  The seats on Southwest are all the same otherwise.  But the earlier in line you board the more likely you can get an aisle seat, if the plane is otherwise packed, and the more likely you can get THE seat.

I was flying Southwest an awful lot during my work in ABQ so I got to be plenty experienced with what seats were best.  For me, it was on one of the "exit rows" and in particular it was on that exit row which was right next to the exit itself and, thanks to the seat "pitch" meant there were only two seats on that row.

That meant that if you got there ahead of everyone else you could score that inside exit row seat.  That meant you only had to share things with the person to one side of you and always had the space to expand on the other side.  You'd never get sandwich between folk and you'd never have to put up with the passengers barreling down the aisle knocking in to you.  For me, it was THE seat to get.

So, just for sanity's sake and because this would be a longer than usual flight, I opted to be among Business Select in boarding.  Well, it turned out I wasn't just among the first fifteen aboard - was the FIRST aboard, period!

Livin' large being a jetsetter

Yeah, I was feeling pretty damn swanky as I made my way down the jetway being the first in line!

About a month later Mom was out for her usual basking in the SoCal December warmth.  We did our usual of going down to The Del to take in the dichotomy of huge Christmass trees, and an outdoor open air ice skating rink all right next to the beach, the Pacific Ocean and the shirtsleeve weather.  Oh, and the Moo Time ice cream, of course, we had to have some Moo Time...

Mom at the Del's skating rink

And no trip to the beach in December is complete without at least getting officially touching the Pacific's waters...

Mom and the Pacific

This year we went up to the Huntington Library Museum in Pasadena.  Ann had taken me there previously and I thought that my Mom would appreciate its artistry and history.  She did, mostly, but I think the long drive up from San Diego might've been a bit much.  Lesson learned.

Enjoying the Japanese Garden at the Huntington

After a week's relaxation in America's Finest City™, Mom boarded her flight and made her way home.  In the time that I had left before I had to board my flight to get back to Albuquerque I decided to do some organizing in my garage.  Previously, I'd too little time to do more than just put stuff on the bench.  Which of course meant finding things to be able to do stuff was always so trying I hardly ever got stuff done.  Being organized meant I could do more stuff with less hassle and frustration.  So, getting my workbench organized was actually a calming and soothing thing for me.  And a great way to end the year.

A serenly organized workbench

New Year's Day 2012
New Year's Day 2012 atop Mt. Soledad with Mom

Another New Year's Day atop Mt. Soledad with Mom.  2011 was a mostly upbeat year for me.  I was employed, steadily, from April until mid-December. While Cymer's end of year shut down in mid-December did me no good, I do at least have work awaiting me in January when I go back there.  That is something new as I've not had a job to start the New Year for the past two New Years.  Hopefully, 2012 will see me gainfully employed for each of its twelve months.  That too would be something new for me as I've not had a full year's worth of steady employment for almost four years now.  Helluva way to roll into my 50s but, there it is.  Any way, Happy New Year!
I kept on keeping on at Cymer for the next several months.  The pay wasn't great but it was a helluvalot better than unemployment so I kept at it.  Come May however, I had an opportunity drop from the skies upon me.  A former coworker, Alex Cartwright, was working a gig out in Albuquerque that suddenly had a job opening pop up.  A friend and coworker of his, Clint, was wanting out of his assignment and that meant that the placement company which had both he and Alex out there was thus in need of a new scheduler to fill that slot.  Alex put my name in and I suddenly got a call from Dave Burnett of Cutting Edge Communications.

Their need was imperative and immediate.  But it was also for a job "out on the road."  The pay however, was truly sweet as was the per diem and compensation package.  Being the loyal employee that I was however, I first turned to Cymer to see if they'd make me an offer that could keep me in San Diego.  Not surprisingly, they failed to do.  So, I dutifully gave them the standard two week's notice even though this meant I had to push back the start date of the new and much higher paying job (more than double what I was making at Cymer) to accommodate that two week's notice period.  In typical fashion, the management at Cymer noted that I was working as a temp at Cymer and the period they were contractually obligated to keep me on for through the temp agency was ending within that two week's notice period.  So, rather than go through the paperwork of renewing me for just a week's remaining work they showed me the door as soon as their contract with the temp agency was up.  Yes, it was "just business" but it was a shitty thing to do to an employee who'd exercised good faith toward them.

In any event, shortly before Memorial Day in 2012 I found myself checking in to the Residence Inn Albuquerque North.  I was out there on what was officially just to be a three month gig - two years later I checked out for the last time from "ABQ."

It was the sort of experience that I'd previously been through working for SM&A out in Huntsville and up in El Segundo.  It came with the usual "bells & whistles"  which I was now in a much better place to appreciate.  My lodging was paid for.  My meals were paid for.  My rental car was paid for.  My airfare "home or for travel of an equivalent distance twice per month" was paid for.  The only downside was that it was out in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Yes, there are far, far worse places to be stuck than in the "Duke City™."  I know that.  Perhaps had it been for but six months or something then it still would've had some charm.  It was, instead, for two years.  In particular though, it was two years in last minute renewal of my contract for another three months at a time.  Again, this sure beat being unemployed or working some low paying crap job in San Diego.  It did mean however, that I essentially had to put the rest of my life on hold during those two years.

I was living out of a hotel and doing so on a temp job which could end at any moment.  There was no security to it and not longevity either.  I knew pretty quickly that I did not want to settle down in Albuquerque either.  It was a great place to visit but held zero interest as being a place to actually live.  What I did instead was travel as much as I could during that time.  Mostly this meant zipping back to San Diego to spend a day there getting everything done I needed to get done - checking my mail, cleaning the house, getting my haircut, etc., - all on the Saturday I was in town before getting back down to the airport on that Sunday to fly back to ABQ (that's how the locals refer to Albuquerque instead of saying it or spelling it out fully) in order to be at work come the Monday's morning.

When I traveled elsewhere however, it also had to fit into that weekend's span.  That was fine as there was much I could and did travel to.  Thus 2012 was actually a much more fulfilling year of doing such little jaunts than I had in many a year previous.

My job in Albuquerque was to provide project scheduling support at the Goodrich ISR company on their X-37B flight actuator contract.  Conveniently, there was a Residence Inn located within a mile of the company site and that thus become my home for the next two years.

The Residence Inn Albuquerque North

As such places go, this was probably better than most.  I was there long enough that quite a few of the staff knew me by name and we all got along quite well.

Yes, the contract did provide me with my own rental car while I was out there.

My fancy rental car!

No, it's not that Dodge it's the other Dodge (i.e. the one on the left)

The Residence Inn located at the northern edge of the "@25 Shopping Center" just west of Interstate 25 and about seven miles north of the airport.  It's a strip mall development that is wrapped around a big office complex that Boeing was occupying.  There are a bunch of eateries around the edge of that mall.  Twin Peaks and P.F. Chang's are right across the parking lot from the Inn.

Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks fancies itself as being a bit more upscale than Hooters but operates along the same lines.  Alex liked it in particular as it had an outdoor patio where he could enjoy his cocktails and smoke his cigars.  Cigar smoking was a big thing for Alex.  One time he had me drive him over to "Monte's" which is the "cigar club" he'd found and was happily a member of.  We first went through the cigar and tobacco store part of the complex.  I'd never been to such a place so it was fascinating to watch it all.  The place smelled great - as you'd hope a place selling fine cigars and tobacco would.  Alex wanted to stock up on his cigars and I accompanied him as a salesman took us through the
walk in humidor to go over the difference in the particular brands he was there to sell.  I'd no idea that different cigars existed nor that they could be composed to have different tastes in general and specifically different tastes at the start of their being smoked and at their finish.  This, much like wines.  

In short order, Alex had dropped well over $300 on a relative handful of cigars and we then went on up to the "lounge" section of Monte's.  This is a private, member's only, place.  Alex was actually somewhat giddy about his newly purchased smokes and the other members there were properly impressed by both the brands he'd purchased and how much he'd just spent doing so.  One thing I also found fascinating was that the club had a bootblack on duty and that the person providing that service was a leatherdyke who'd recently won a bootblacking title.  Her presence was rather incongruous for such a private cigar smoker's club.  But, if they wanted an excellent shoe shine then who better than an award winning shoe shine fetishist!

I didn't partake of any of the cigars at Monte's and set about doing my own exploring of what Albuquerque and its environs had to offer.  Soon enough, I was up in Santa Fe, which is only fifty miles north from the Inn and thus perfect for a day's jaunt.  A friend of mine, Brian, mentioned that a friend of his, Ralph, ran a little "bed & breakfast" place with his partner up in Santa Fe and that I should look him up once I was in town.  "The Inn of the Turquoise Bear" was the place and both it and Ralph were positively charming.  

The Inn of the Turquoise Bear

Turns our Ralph and I had some mutual friends in San Diego so we actually had some history together.  While in town I did a brief walk 'round of downtown Santa Fe and watched some of its goings on.


A couple of weeks later I decided that I wanted to check out the Pima Air & Space Museum over in Tucson, Arizona.  At first I planned to drive over on a Friday night and drive back on that Sunday.  Then I figured I could just use one of my "twice monthly airfare" options and I simply flew from ABQ to TUS and went about it that way.  I did plan ahead to bring my laptop so I could download the many, many photos I knew I'd take.  I'd also brought along my CamelBak water backpack because I knew I'd also be out in the desert heat taking all those many, many photos.  Pima is a great place to hit up if you're an aviation buff.  This, especially as you can walk right up and touch the aircraft they have on outdoor display.  That's not something you can do at most other aviation museums.

I took over 1,000 photos while at Pima.  Most of them detail shots taken from a model maker's perspective.  Their collection really is quite that vast and impressive.

Douglas B-18 Bolo

Not all of the Pima collection is outside and the relative few they have inside are very nicely done.  This aircraft above here, for example, is a Douglas B-18 "Bolo."  It's a mid-30's bomber evolved from the DC-2 passenger plane design.  

One thing I've always been struck with by such aircraft is how big and how small they are.  In the photos they always seem to be these massive machines.  And, relatively, they are.  But when you see them up close and personal you also realize just how compact and otherwise small they are.  The B-58 Hustler, below, is a perfect example of that.  Yes, it's larger than a B-17 of World War Two and it's a Mach Two intercontinental strategic bomber which was cutting edge technology for the 1950s and 60s.  But being able to stand underneath and walk all around it you realize just how tightly they packed everything into as small an airframe as they possibly could.  Which makes it all the more impressive.

The B-58 Hustler

I took in Pima all day Saturday that I was in Tucson.  On Sunday I headed over to the Titan Missile Museum.  It's about twenty five miles south of the city and a fascinating thing to go clambering around in.  I took one of their tours which goes through the full complex getting you inside the launch control room, through the various access tunnels and into the missile silo itself.  They've more extensive tours but this was an excellent first experience there and I recommend it highly!

Hard Hats Are Required at the Titan Missile Museum

Alex Gets Married
September was a pretty busy month for me.

At its start I traveled up to Seattle to celebrate Alex, my friend and coworker - and the guy who essentially got me the job in Albuquerque, as he got married!  Alex has a big house on a small island a few miles south of Seattle.  The view of Ranier from there is stunning.

Stunning view

The wedding's reception was held at the clubhouse on the island and it was very nicely done.  Alex has lots of friends and no few of them turned up to help the guy celebrate the occasion.

Alex and friends

Alex is the big guy in the white hat and blue Hawaiian shirt in the center.  I'm over on the far right in the photo.  The guy immediately to my left is Art Arrowsmith.  He's the guy who SM&A called me in to replace working at Raytheon in El Segundo in 2009.  Art has probably forgotten more about project controls than I'll ever learn.  The way he got treated by SM&A was nothing to be proud of.  Alex and I got to know each other better from the following months we both worked together at Raytheon after that.  So, a couple year's down the road he remembered me when the position opened up in Albuquerque.  The guy standing ahead of me to my right is Dave Conell.  He's a manager at the company we were working at there in ABQ and he and Alex became good friends.

The Crew From Albuquerque

The Albuquerque Crew


Two weeks after being up in Seattle I went off to Reno, Nevada to attend the Reno Air Races.  This was something I'd been wanting to do for many, many years.  I just never had the right combination of the time and the money.  Well, now I did.

Tigercat At Reno

I bought a general admission package along with a Pit Pass.  As a result my view of the racing wasn't all that great but I more enjoyed wandering around the Pit area gawking at all the gorgeous bits of high speed aerial machinery there.  I managed to only take about 2,000 photos that weekend.  I did however, get Bob Hoover's book, "Forever Flying," and got him to autograph it for me.

Bob Hoover autographing his book for me!

I first got to see Bob doing his "Energy Conservation" flight demo back at the Reading Air Show in Pennsylvania back in the 70's with my best friend, Billy Hecht, and his dad.  In the aviation world, "Bob" is one of the legends.

White Sands

A few weeks later I stayed in "The Land of Enchantment" by driving down to White Sands to take that place in.  It is truly a unique spot on Earth.  The "Sands" seem like a dune sea made out of snow but it's in the middle of a desert.  Yet, despite that, it's not as hot as you might think.  Plus, due to the composition of the Sands, the area has a sound absorbing property much like actual snow.  The stark whiteness of the Sands is spectacular.  Especially against the big sky backdrop of the mountains on either side of the valley.

A Selfie at White Sands

You should be impressed by this photo as it's not just any selfie but one take with a regular camera and not a cellphone.  At the time, I didn't have a smartphone but just a regular Razr and it's built-in camera wasn't worth bothering with.

The vistas at White Sands are truly impressive.

Impressive vistas

I also made sure to take a "proof that I was actually there" shot.  That and I had to feel for myself the touted unique sensation of the White "sand" itself.

I was there!

Functional Art

The folks running the White Sands National Monument have done quite well in making sure their facilities are both functional and somewhat otherworldly.  These things, for example, are how they've set up the standard "picnic tables" in the park.  Simple, minimalist, functional, and completely fitting for such an almost surreal environment as White Sands is.

Minamalist Functionality

I took lots and lots of photos as there were so many vistas and so many gorgeous visual treats just about everywhere I looked.  The New Mexico sky is almost always cooperative in this.  And it certainly was over White Sands on that day.

Stunning vistas all around

On the way back from White Sands I simply had to stop at the World's Largest Pistachio.

The World's Largest Pistachio

Driving further north I pulled over at this roadside rest stop.  The elegance of this structure is wonderful.  It is a very functional art piece that is visually striking as well as being minimalist in its composition.

Roadside Rest Stop Art

Here's another view of the structure's beauty.

Another view

Further down the road I pulled over to enjoy a bit of that New Mexico Big Sky Beauty.

New Mexico Big Sky Beauty

It was fascinating to watch the lightning take place within that thunderhead as I drove along and the sky darkened with the sun's setting.


Twice a year the Army opens the White Sands Missile Range for people to visit the Trinity site.  I'd heard about this and decided it was too good an opportunity to miss so, on one particular Saturday morning in October I was waiting in line outside the North Gate entrance to the Range after having gotten up well before dawn to drive down from Albuquerque.

We were let through in batches and told to stick to a very specific route and after no few more miles of driving, the Range itself covers some 3,200 square miles and is over 100 miles in length, I reached the parking lot next to the fenced in area that is the Trinity site itself.

At the center of that is a fairly plain stone obelisk denoting the hypocenter of the first Atomic Bomb detonation on July 16th, 1945.

Ground Zero at Trinity

It's officially at the hypocenter as the explosion itself was some 100 feet above it.  The "Gadget" - as the Los Alamos scientists named the first Atom Bomb - was mounted atop a tower when it was "initiated."  Nuclear bombs are not, technically, exploded.  They're "initiated" instead.  It takes some considerable external force to hold the fissile material together long enough in order for that runaway chain reaction to take place that yields the nuclear explosion.  That's the pedantic explanation.  For everyone else, they're still detonated.

The Trinity blast was equivalent to about 20 Kilotons of explosive force - i.e. exploding twenty thousand tons of TNT.  That's barely a firecracker by today's nuclear weapon standards.  The blast scoured out a modest size crater beneath it but as far as physical damage went, that was about it.  The McDonald Ranch House, where the bomb's core was inserted prior to it's being moved to the tower, was some two miles away from the Trinity Site and it well withstood the blast.  It's windows were blown in but the structure remained intact despite its proximity.

The biggest bit of evidence left over from the bomb's blast is this little chunk of footing from the tower that the bomb was placed atop of.

Trinity tower remnants

Yeah, that's all.  And actually, that's about the same thing for the entire Trinity Site - i.e. there's simply not much to it.

Some of that is entirely inescapable.  The site was chosen precisely because there wasn't much around it.  The Trinity Site was located smack in the middle of the Army's Alamogordo Bombing Range.  And that Range had been set up precisely because there weren't any people or structures or anything otherwise of any value in that whole area.  It was just a bunch of emptiness out in a very sparsely populated state - a state which is still among the least populated ones in the nation.  

Part of this is also due to the effects of the weapon itself.  What little that was there was vaporized by the blast so there really wouldn't have been much, therefore, to have shown for it anyway.  The heat from the blast was intense enough that it actually vaporized the very soil beneath it.  As that cloud of vaporized dirt rose it cooled pretty quickly and thus began raining back down as liquid silicon.  Rather radioactive liquid silicon and with a greenish tint to it as well.  Once the blast area had cooled - both temperature-wise and radiation-wise - the Los Alamos scientists first on the scene noted the presence of this now solidified silicon rain drops as it came to line the crater directly underneath the blast.  They called the stuff "Trinitite" and it quickly became a prized possession for Atomic souvenir hunters.  The stuff is mildly radioactive and it's also now illegal to try and take some from the Trinity Site itself due to its National Historic Monument status.

These greenish pebbles on top of the larger gray rock in the image below are bits of Trinitite.


The volunteers at the site had this Trinitite on display for the visitors.

A Trinity Docent and some Trinitite

The Trinity Site itself is still mildly radioactive.  But then, so too are bananas and the smoke detectors in our homes.  I know I got a greater radiation dose from all my flights back and forth to San Diego as being up a the altitude jetliners fly at means you're not as shielded from the cosmic radiation as there's so much less atmosphere above you flying up there than when you're down on the ground.  So, as risks go it was pretty damn minimal.

For these two special days a year the Site is opened, the local volunteers and White Sands Museum folks trot out some basic exhibits.  There's a "Fat Man Bomb" casing on display.  And there's plenty of docents on hand to answer the crowd's Trinity related questions.  Plus there's the remnants of the test hardware and testing stations as well.  And there's vendors there selling Atom Bomb related schwag.  Two miles off is also that 
McDonald ranch house.

McDonald Ranchouse

I checked that out as well.  It too is rather... unimpressive.  It's just a rather worn farmhouse out in the middle of some hardscrabble desert.

Unimpressive and banal.

But, that's the hell of it.  The site and its remnants are actually not the important thing about it all.  Rather, it's what took place there.  And it's that stark contrast which makes it all the more powerful.

The world changed on that early morning in 1945 and changed in a way unique in human history.  That Atom Bomb detonation was truly at the cutting edge of human understanding of the universe.  Prior to it's happening, nuclear physics was very much a theoretical thing.  Sure, there were a growing amount of experimental proofs and the understanding and theory had advanced such that there was very solid scientific reason to believe in 1939 that such a weapon could be made incorporating that theory.  But until that morning it remained just a theory.

And the contrasts must've been damn near surreal.  The whole Los Alamos project was "doing science" at a level so completely disparate and removed from the rest of the world's understanding as to be almost like magic.  It's very difficult to understand that dichotomy today as we've become so used to everything "atomic" in our everyday lives.  The reality of "The Bomb" has become deeply ingrained in our culture to the degree that it's no longer worth noting as being anything new or terribly unique.  Back then it was as close to actual "magic" as most educated and rational people could understand it.

The Manhattan Project itself forever changed the way our culture viewed "big science."  Up until then such endeavors were too remote for most people to even be aware of.  If "big science" was going on at all it was just the provenance of "egg heads" at some fancy universities working on some arcane thing that only they understood.  And whatever they produced at those universities wouldn't have much effect on the rest of the world nor the people living in it.  "Big science" didn't exist before the Manhattan Project and it certainly wasn't something which employed over a hundred thousand people working on it all across the country and cost over two billion Dollars - which'd be at least $22 billion in today's money - in the middle of a global war.

After Trinity and then the Bombs being used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki "big science" become the norm.  People came to expect that such things are what the government would and should be doing.  That such massive projects were an everyday thing.  And that new scientific discoveries that could change the world in an instant were also "an everyday thing."

The Plutonium used in the Gadget was the rarest and most expensive material on Earth in 1945.  It required the efforts of tens of thousands of people, literally, to produce even a few grams of it at a time and each bomb required pounds of it.  The stuff was as fabulously lethal and dangerous as it was difficult and expensive to make.  And the US had set up entire factories - huge factories - all across the country to make a much of it as quickly as possible.  

And yet, the Plutonium core for that first bomb was transported from the Los Alamos labs to the Trinity site in the back seat of an Army staff car - bouncing over dirt roads for much of the trip because paved roads were almost all there was throughout so remote and unpopulated a state as New Mexico in 1945.

The banality and the contrasts were what truly stuck with me from that visit to the Trinity Site.

The Trinity Site


After taking Trinity in I'd the rest of the day to busy myself with.  Figuring that I was already near enough, I decided to drive on over to check out the VLA, officially the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array.  I'd already driven that far south from Albuquerque so driving some fifty miles further west wasn't a big deal.  So, after finally driving up and out of the White Sands Range and back on to the 360 - a truly empty bit of highway - I pulled in to the Owl Bar and Cafe for some much needed lunch.  Stepping out of my rental car I noticed I was bringing a bit of the Trinity Site with me.

Well fed, it was back on the road and some sixty or so miles more driving to get to the VLA.  It's a pretty impressive set up and well worth the trip.


This is more of that "big science" at work that I referenced in the Trinity write-up.  Taking advantage of another stretch of vast emptiness in New Mexico, the Federal government created the VLA.  It's mission is to scan the universe looking at it on the radio wave spectrum instead of the visual.

Each one of the radio antennas is both a massive thing and a mobile one.  They're mounted on rail tracks and can be positioned miles apart from each other to expand the signal coverage.  It's a clever way to emulate a much, much larger antenna.  And it's about as pure science as a big government sponsored science project can get.

Yes, I was there!

And this was yet more a study in contrast.  Here are these huge technological constructs stuck out in the middle of an otherwise miles big empty bit of emptiness.

Big Science, Big Sky

Big Science meets Big Sky

Big Sky

I figure this was a good enough way to end my day.

As an added bonus to the trip however, that was this.

Burnt out RV

If you've ever wondered what a completely burnt out RV looks like then you've to wonder no more.

I came across this while driving out to the VLA along highway 60.  I don't know the details but, from the looks of it, the driver of the RV must've noticed he had a problem and pulled it off the road to deal with it.  Unfortunately, he couldn't and it was so remote from any fire department that the RV had completely burnt out before anyone could arrive to help.  And this thing was well and truly burnt out.

Even the tires burnt away

The fire was burning for so long and was so intense it burnt and scoured the road itself.

Melted asphalt

Anything that could burn had burnt.

Burnt right to the frame

It was fascinating to look at as you never really get to see what comprises an RV under its shell.  I kinda doubt the RV owner was feeling as fascinated however.

Nuclear Museum

After taking in the Trinity Site I decided to next take in the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.  New Mexico is home to the start of the Atomic Age.  Los Alamos is where the Manhattan Project turned theory into reality and Alamogordo is where that reality become Trinity.  Sandia National Laboratory is still at the forefront of atomic science.  So, New Mexico takes its atomic history seriously and with deserved pride.  This museum reflects that and it's very well done.

The Gadget

That collection of wires and electrical boxes above is a recreation of "the Gadget" - the first atomic bomb.  This was a the laboratory engineering device designed to test whether an implosion approach would work better - or even work at all - as compared to the "gun type" atomic bomb approach.  The "gun type" atomic bomb was the "Little Boy" used on Hiroshima and the Museum has a replica of that as well.

Little Boy

The "Fat Man" bomb was still barely more than a cobbled together lab "breadboard" thing and was not as "uniform" looking as the later and more sophisticated devices.  Hell, the thing wasn't even nicely painted when they dropped it on Nagasaki.  The Museum does a nice job of depicting this.

The Fat Man Bomb

They recreated how the core of the Gadget was transported down from Los Alamos, in the far north of New Mexico, to Alamogordo - in the far south.  It was strapped to the back seat of a US Army staff car and driven from the lab to the test site.  Straight line, that's about 175 miles.  But back in 1945 there was no Interstate highway system.  Nor were there many highways of any sort in New Mexico.  A rough asphalt roadway would've been as good as it got across that distance.  And dirt or gravel roads would've been much more common.  So that's what they drove the heart of an atomic bomb across to get it to the Trinity site.  And they did it just like this.

Trinity Core

Balloon Fiesta

October is "Balloon Fiesta" month in Albuquerque.  Balloon flights are actually quite common in the cooler months of the year in Albuquerque but Balloon Fiesta time really brings them out.  Where I was staying and working was just a couple miles south of Balloon Fiesta Park so every morning during this period I'd be treated to the eye popping sight of dozens and dozens of balloons aloft at once.  

Balloon Fiesta

The "mass launches" were particularly impressive.

Balloon Fiesta

I'd flown my Mom out for a weekend's experience in Albuquerque and Santa Fe precisely in order that she would get to experience it as well.

Balloon Fiesta and Mom

Come Thanksgiving I did something a bit different and flew Back East to spend it with Mom.  It was a bit more involved than the quick Southwest Airlines flights from ABQ to SAN but it was worth it.  I know my Mom appreciated it.

California Road Trip!

At year's end I was actually in a very good place.  My finances were doing very well thanks to the excellent employment I was being employed at.  So I decided to treat my Mom to a trip up the California coast.  I flew her out to San Diego, rented a car and off we went.  Our first stop was the "Hearst Castle" in San Simeon.

Ann had clued me in to this place so I knew it's inns and outs so was thus able to share them well with Mom.

The place was just as spectacular as it was the previous time I was there.

San Simeon

My Mom had actually been by the "Castle" previously.  But that was the extent of it - she had driven by it.  Her husband at the time had "consented" to take the coastal route down from San Francisco so as to see the sights but he refused to stop at any of them.  Typical of the guy.

So I made sure that she and I would do more than just observe the "Castle" from down on the highway.  We spent almost two full days there.  We pulled in to San Simeon after a nice day's drive up from San Diego, checked into our hotel, and then hit up Randolph's little beach house the next day.

The view from Randolph's Little Beach House...

The vistas are still just as awesome.

Mom and I

As enjoyable as the experience was I know it was a bit tiring after a while for her.  So, she decided to take a seat and catch her breath...

Taking a seat

I found it interesting to note the changes in how the Museum presented itself.  When Ann and I went through it, the way the docents related things was in a somewhat bemused fashion as the described Heart's collecting the various pieces as something of a mania and actually denigrated him for it to some degree.

This time around there was none of that present at all.  Instead, the Museum staff was at pains to compliment Hearst for his preservation efforts.  It made for a very different experience.

We spent a full day at the "Castle," took in the "Evening Tour" where the docents dress up in 1930s period attire and cavort as if they were actually some of Randolph Heart's guests from that era.

We took in another tour in the morning and then headed off to Monterey.  There we visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Because I'd stayed so long at the Residence Inn back in Albuquerque I was automatically upgraded in my room to a suite at the Marriott I'd checked us in to.  My Mom declined the room preferring the smaller of the two I'd booked for us.  Her loss.  I could've run laps in the space of that suite!

The next day it was up to San Francisco.  We went over to Alcatraz to take that in but what more impressed my Mom was when we headed up to Muir Woods just across the Golden Gate from The City.

Muir Woods

It's a fascinating little place.  The park is just a brief drive north from SF and yet it is studiously idyllic in its natural abundance.

A lush forest environment

The Rangers at the park were quite pleased to point out that salmon were now spawning once again in the rivers of California.  That, apparently, hasn't happened in many a decade.

Salmon spawning

From there it was back to the City and another outstanding dining experience before checking into our hotel for the night.

The next day I drove us to the airport, returned the rental car, saw Mom off on her flight Back East, and I then boarded my flight back down the America's Finest City™.

It was great way to end a rather good year for me.


Bunnied Up
Bunnied Up! August 2011 and I'm "bunnied up" for the first time in my life.

Yay me!

Since April I've been working at Cymer here in San Diego.  They're a high tech manufacturing company right here in America's Finest City - and I'd never heard of them.  They've been around for a quarter century now and got their start by using lasers as light sources for the photo-lithography process used to make integrated circuits.  Pretty cool stuff.

And they're making things.

And they're exporting them.

Right here in San Diego!

Yay Cymer!

In August they delivered the first of a new generation of systems and they needed as many hands as could be spared to get through that part of the process.  The science had been done, the engineering had been done, the tool assembly had been done, the tool testing had been done.

Now it was time to pack it all up and get it shipped to China.  And I helped.

The manufacturing area is a "clean room" as even the slightest bit of dust, particulates, or even the oils from a person's hands, could contaminate the workings.

So, even in order to just stand inside the manufacturing "lab" itself you had to put on a full "clean room standard" outfit.  This consisted of the "jumpsuit," booties to cover your shoes, surgical gloves, a hood to cover your hair and, were I working with the optics, a face mask to catch the moisture from your breath.  As Cymer makes lasers, you also had to wear special laser safety goggles.

For some reason, someone must've thought that when you were "gowned" like this that you looked like a big white bunny rabbit.  This, minus the floppy ears and bushy tail.  Hence was born the slang "bunny suit" for this outfit and the term "bunnied up" for having to wear it when working in the clean room.

I'd never had call to be in a clean room before.  Much less to work in such a room.  One thing I quickly found out was that wearing a bunny suit was not a terribly pleasant thing to do if it involved doing anything more than standing still.  The suits don't fit very well as they're generic in size (Small, Medium, Large) with snap tabs to make up the difference in ranges.  Mainly though, due to the need to prevent even perspiration from getting through them and into the clean room, the suits proved impervious to sweat.  That meant you could get really hot wearing them doing even the lightest of physical labor - like turning a wrench or lifting electronics into place.

After a couple of hours of being bunnied up the novelty wore off and the banal drudgery of it came through.  And I only had to do this for but a few hours and not as part of my regular job.

Still though, I was VERY glad to have been able to help out and am thankful for the unique experience it availed me.  Plus, it makes for a really odd looking picture!
Winter in Yosemite Valley

March 2011

Ann pulled off an outstanding weekend.  She set up rooms at The Lodge in Yosemite Valley for us and for her daughter and her family.

March was supposed to be far enough into spring that the weather should've been nice, clear, sunny and warm.  Instead, the days preceding our trip up there saw one of the worst late season snow storms Yosemite Valley had seen in years.  They'd only just begun restoring electrical power in the valley on the day we arrived and we had to get into the valley itself via convoy since the only road open was but a single lane.

The visuals though were beyond awesome.

The first full day in the Valley was a quiet snow covered bit of wetness as it was still snowing but the temp was high enough to make it melt rapidly.  It started clearing the following day and by the time we left on Monday it was nice and sunny - with lots of snow still on the ground.

I could really see why so many folks have felt Yosemite is so special a place.
Yosemite in Winter
Lower Yosemite Falls Earlier on that first day we all did the short walk from the Lodge over to the Lower Yosemite Falls.

Even with the mist and clouds and the wet snow and the cold it was still a beautiful thing to see.

Wrapping up the Year

All in all, 2010 ended better than it started.  This, even though I was once again ending a year unemployed.  This time however, I wasn't in as bad a spot, financially.  Nor had I wound up in that spot by having put my trust in people who turned out to be lying scumbags.  Instead of spending over six months unemployed I only spent five or so.  Yay!  Progress!

In December I drove back up to Coleville with Ann to do the "Christmas thing" with her daughter and grandkids.  It was a nice bit of family time that's pretty outside of my usual day to day life.  My Mom once again came out to sunny, warmer, and green SoCal over Xmas.  And things were better this time around than the last time as I was nowhere near as stressed out.  My having taken myself on the road, literally, for half the year in pursuit of work had actually been a good thing for me.  I'd accomplished that feat instead of staying in San Diego and wallowing in things not going my way.

So, I ended the year looking forward to the coming of the coming year and did so in a much better place than a year previously.

Oh, and Leonora once again invited Ann and I to another of her Christmas Parties.  She does indeed know how to throw some great parties!

Xmas at Leonora's
A Boeing Halloween

One of the last things I did do while still working out in Aurora was dress up for their Halloween Party at work.  As I'd just done the Roman Legate outfit for Folsom, I still had it with me and made good use of it there at the office party.  The crew I was working with were fascinated by it and cheered me on.  They were among the more "real" people there and I appreciated their professionalism and their genuineness.

Roman Legate At Work!

Leaving Aurora

My work in Aurora was as a contractor.  It was not a "permanent" job and I always knew it would be but for a few months only.  Six, to be exact.  So, as the calendar ticked down I began to get my act together for leaving town.  I'd a bunch of job applications out and some of those positions would've entailed driving even further away from home than I already was.  But, none of them panned out.  So, come the 11th of November, I thanked Peggy for putting me up and putting up with me for half the year, loaded the truck, and headed back to SoCal.

To be ready to do that however, I decided to make some changes.  Specifically, I made myself a "shell" for the back of my truck.  I figured having some sort of enclosure that I could lock would keep my stuff secured on whatever road trips I took.  If I built it well enough, it could also serve as a "camper shell" for any hiking trips I might go on.  At the least it kept me busy from about mid-September on through until I left.  Building the shell from scratch and purely by eyeballing it - no plans were used - was a "learning experience" for me.  Turns out I overbuilt the thing and made it much heavier than it needed to be.  But, it was a first and it did the job for me.  I also turned out to have acquired no small amount of "stuff" during those six months there in Aurora and that meant my truck was packed indeed on the trip back.

First up was building the framework for attaching the thing to the truck.  This wasn't as simple as it sounds as the top of the bed sides is not flat.  There's a multiple number of curves to the top and that made it more complex from the outset.  I should've just went with a flat piece and made up the difference with rubber padding on its bottom.  Trying to accommodate the angle of the bed side tops and then attach the frame to those parts was a needless complexity.

Setting the rails

I'd brought some of my tools with me from San Diego and purchased what other tools I needed while there in Aurora.  The metal folding saw horses were among them.  So to was a table saw I picked up from a pawn shop.  That was the first time I ever used a table saw and I quickly learned the advantages of having one!

Framing... I wanted something other than just a big clunky looking box on the back of my truck.  So, I decided to angle its sides to more or less match the slope of the truck cab.  That too added complexity to the construction but I figured it was worth it.

It also forced me to deal with handling multiple angles in that the front posts not only had to angle in to match the side slope of the cab but the also angled forward to match the slope of the cab's rear.  And I wanted to have the shell project forward over the top of the cab.  That would give me additional space and help make the whole structure more aerodynamic as well.

I was thankful that 2x4s are pretty cheap as I wound up cutting a bunch them up to finally get things right.

Framing front and rear

Cutting the nose Creating the "nose" for the sell involved some rather complex cuts and angles.  I didn't exactly get it right but I got it close enough.  Having the table saw really made making these cuts a lot easier and more precise.

An inside view of the complexity

Here's a view of the inside of the nose from the inside of the shell.

View of the inside of the nose from the inside of the shell

And here it is almost all done.  I've the bulk of it assembled at this point.  I think just the top remained to be attached.  And then it time to paint it.  I used a paint roller for the first time and learned that there really is a difference in what the different rollers will do.  I picked out a "fuzzy / nappy" roller and wound up with a textured paint finish as opposed to the smooth one I wanted.  Oh well, another lesson learned!

Almost done

Finally however, the shell was done.  Or at least done enough that it was ready enough for me to go.  And thus it was time to pack myself up and be gone.

That was no small effort however.

During my six months in Aurora I'd bought myself a bed to sleep on.  It was better than the one down in San Diego so, I took it with me.  That got strapped on the top of the shell and attached to the rails I'd made from three 2x4s after some circular saw cutting and routing.

Then came the stuffing of the interior.  That was... involved...

Loading up

Loading up...

Loading up....

Loading up...

And loading up...

Eventually however, I got everything loaded up, the sides down, and locked.  More lessons learned there.  I'd gone out and gotten myself some lockable hasps to put the padlocks on.  Next time I'm gonna use steel and not the brass ones I found as the brass was simply too flimsy for any real security.  I was more than ready to go however, so replacement right then was not an option.

Closed up...

And here it is all buttoned up and ready to depart. The cab was also stuffed to its gills with just enough "extra" space for me to fit into it.

Ready to go!

So, on November 11th, 2010 at about 2PM, I left Aurora, Colorado behind.  There'd been snow flurries during that day and freezing temps every night for about a week.  Winter was indeed coming to Colorado and I wanted no part of it!

With that in mind, and knowing full well how much more wintery it was through the mountains along Interstate 70 now than when I drove it six months prior, I chose a different route to get me back to Sunny Southern California.  That put me on Interstate 25 South.  I kept to that driving deep into the night until I hit Albuquerque where I shifted over to Interstate 40 West.  I kept driving on that until I got too tired to keep driving and pulled up into a Super 8 at Gallup, New Mexico.  As I recall, it had a really big indoor heated pool.  Not that I used it, I just remember it as I walked past it the next morning on my way to breakfast at the Denny's next door.

The drive along the 40 was a lot warmer even in November than the drive along the 15 and the 70 had been in April.  The amount of emptiness was about the same but the highway was a lot busier than the northern route had been.

Miles and miles of miles and miles - the southern route version

I had originally planned on making it down to San Diego, unload everything - including the shell - and then drive up to LA in time to join Ann on her Fall Fox Hunt.  My working on the shell dragged on such that I'd no time for that and drove to LA directly.  That last part was a long drive.  I pulled into Ann's driveway well past Midnight and was a tired guy doing so.  Ann had a nice hot bath already drawn for me though and that helped putting the road behind me for the next day's festivities.

Along the way I did notice one very clear distinction - the road itself.  Driving along the Interstate in Colorado, in New Mexico, and in Arizona I found the roadways themselves to be smooth and maintained enough.  As soon as I cleared the "agricultural checkpoint" there at the California / Arizona border - and getting a very inquiring / amused eye from the agent there as he looked over my loaded up truck - I noticed the California portion of the Interstate was absolute crap!  The road was much rougher and more poorly maintained.  You'd have thought that would have been the case in the much poorer states such as New Mexico or Arizona.  Nope, in one of the "richest" states in the nation the roads are crap.

I'd hoped to park my loaded truck off the street there in LA but the woman in the house in back of Ann's apartment would have none of it.  She declared that my truck - even though it was off the driveway enough in back of the house - would prevent her from getting out with her car.  While the driveway did narrow alongside the main house, she had ample room to back her little Prius out down it.  Instead, she would painfully and laboriously turn her little car around, going back and forth to do so, before driving down it.  Even then, her car handling was appalling as we noticed she'd crushed one of her car's side lights on one attempt during the time she was renting there.  So the prospect of having to back out all the way down that driveway - something Ann and I did routinely and with a much larger vehicle than hers - was terrifying to her.  Thus my fully - and obviously - loaded truck got to stay out on the street through the night and the day of the Fox Hunt while Ann and I were attending it.  Luckily, the neighborhood was mellow enough that there wasn't enough time for it to have attracted too much of the wrong sort of attention and all my stuff was still stuffed in it when I returned.

On the drive down to San Diego along Interstate 5 was the first time I'd been heading south with a clear enough sky for the sun to cast a shadow of my truck as I drove along.  It was only then that I noticed some significant flapping going on above me.  The wind force from the driving had been flexing the end of the mattress up and then the compression built enough to force it back down.  Whereupon the wind force started its work again.  I'd been wondering what the slight surging was I'd felt driving along.  Now I knew.  It was the increased and then decreased drag from the mattress's flapping up and down.  I pulled over and did a bit of restrapping to solve the problem.  It was smoother driving from there.

On the way south I also made a lunch date with a longtime friend of mine, Brian, who lives in Orange County.  He was quite surprised at what I'd built and managed to drive all the way back from Colorado with.  

Almost home...

Yes, it would've been simpler, easier, and probably cost me less to have simply shipped it all.  But it wouldn't have been as much fun nor given me such the tale to tell had I done so.

Yosemite North Side

Ann set up another excursion for us and wrapped it around the birthday of her granddaughter, Claire.   This time it was taking in the North Side of Yosemite.  I flew in to Reno this time and spent the weekend with Ann up there in Coleville at the Andruss Motel - which is a great place to stay if you're in that area.

After helping Claire properly celebrate her pirate themed birthday we were off to exploring what the North Side of Yosemite has to offer.  There is a road which you can take that gets you down from the North Side into the Yosemite Valley itself but that was not our aim for this round.  

One of our first stops was one of the Sequoia groves in the Park.  The Tuolumne Grove is noted for its spectacular Sequoia trees and for the iconic "Tunnel Tree" that had a roadway cut through it.

Tunnel Tree Sequoia

Yes, it really is that big.

A big tree alright...

Photographing these trees is difficult to get their sheer size in one image clearly.  The fallen ones are about the only way to readily do this.

A big tree on its side

That's one single tree there on the ground.

And this should give some perspective on its immense size.  I'm standing at what was the base of the tree.  It had been more than a few years since age had finally taken the tree down and in the intervening decades the animals and nature had chewed out through the softer inner core of the Sequoia.  Were it not for the mosquito swarms, I could've walked into the tree's heart there.  It was really that immense.

At its end

We finished off that day by pulling over where we had a nice view to the west so that we could catch the sunset.  This is one of my better pictures I've ever taken.

Yosemite Sunset

Yeah, this was an excellent way to end the day!

The next morning saw us up bright 'n early and off to hike the North Dome Trail.  The hiking across to the Yosemite Canyon rim was a steady thing.  Nice forest scenery was all around us.  We couldn't see much else but for those trees.  There was a bit of steepness involved but nothing too taxing.  And then we got to the dome part of the North Dome.  Any doubts as to the length and effort of the hike to get to it was gone upon seeing this.

Half Dome from North Dome

That's about as perfect a framing job as you can get!  

A great day indeed

Stack 'em! While atop the North Dome we found a number of stacked rock towers.  Apparently it's now "a thing" to use the bits of North Dome to make little stacks of it atop itself.

Some of these towers, like the one here on the left, were rather grand.  We took some time out to make some little towers for ourselves.  Nothing quite so elaborate but we did our part.

I found it interesting how gritty the top of North Dome was.  That grit was the granite of the Dome itself.  Weather, wind and nature was slowly wearing the Dome apart.  You could see where entire layers of it had cracked off and then, eventually, crumbled into the chips and flakes and grit which you can see in the image there.

Time and nature at work.

There was also a pretty steady breeze there atop the North Dome.  Hence the straps of my Tilley being used - otherwise I'd have been chasing after my hat too many times before the day was done!

North Dome curving...

And curving...

And curved....
The North Dome itself has enough of a curvature to it that it's length is quite deceptive.  You think you're about to reach its edge but then find it just keeps going, and going, and going.  

At the top

We eventually left North Dome behind us and returned up the trail back to Ann's car.  Along the way we were enjoying the beautiful splendor of what a hike in a national park yields to anyone who takes the time - and has the mindset - to recognize and enjoy it.  The sound of the wind in the trees, for instance, is a beautiful thing to hear when walking along a trail.  The natural quietness can be a very appreciated thing.

So we were increasingly annoyed as we walked along the trail and heard - from a goodly distance - these two you women walking along the trail toward us.  They were being animated and loud in their conversation.  Distinctly and obnoxiously loud.  They were very much "ruining the moment" on that hike.

Before I got the chance to let them know this and point out the error of their ways the two young ladies let us know that we should keep an eye out on the trail ahead as they'd just seen to bears along it and had gotten the bears to shy away by making the noise they did.  Their loudness wasn't insensitive or rude but was, instead, showing a great deal of awareness and consideration for the environment they were in.  So, it was the two of us who learned a lesson that day...

Walking further up the trail we came across a group of college guys who were running the damn thing.  Yes, running.  Ann and I were hiking the trail at a nice walking pace and taking breaks as needed when the trail got steep enough.  These kids - damn kids! - were running the trail.  Bloody show offs!

Anyway, we eventually reached Ann's car and set back on the road to the Andruss motel.  The hike that day was well worth it.

As we drove back along Tioga Road we pulled over to take in what other vistas caught our eyes.  And as this was Yosemite National Park, there were quite a few as the place simply abounds with them.

Looking back at Half Dome

Here's the "I was there too" image to go along with that...

I was there too!

As I said, the scenic vistas abounded!  This one is Tenaya Lake.

Tenaya Lake

That was a great way to end our visit to Yosemite National Park's North Rim.
A Bit of CosPlay

San Diego ComicCon Later in the summer I was back in San Diego for a wee bit - primarily to see if my house still stood, empty as it was.  It did.  And while in America's Finest City™ for the weekend I also did a Day's Pass worth of San Diego ComicCon with Ann.  She'd never been.  Her latex outfit was rather... popular though.

The next month I went with her up to Coleville where her daughter was with her Marine Corps husband at the Bridgeport Mountain Warfare Training Center (MWTC).  It was the birthday for Ann's granddaughter, Claire.  And a "pirate theme" was it for the party.  So, that meant even more CosPlay for us both!
Claire's Pirate Birthday Party


One of the things which Ann got really good at was planning these little weekend excursions.  I couldn't take time away from work.  Being a contractor, I only got paid for the hours I worked - no "PTO" (Personal Time Off) - so any get aways had to be gotten away with over but a weekend's span.  That was fine however, if we planned things right.  And Ann enjoyed that.

So, she'd do the prep and I'd show up with most of the cash to make it happen.  This was a fair deal as I didn't have the time to do much of the planning myself and her doing that work with me picking up most of the tab seemed equitable.

The first such excursion for 2010 was off to Zion National Park in Utah.  It was a wonderful experience and something I'll happily do more of in the future.  The Park itself is rather small but there's a lot to do in it and much of that requires some pretty steep trail climbing.  The resulting views however, make that steep stepping worth it.

One thing I did learn on the Friday night flight out to Las Vegas was to never have any booze before boarding.  I thought I'd be fine with a nice little buzz on the brief flight from Denver to Las Vegas.  I was wrong.  The altitude was against me and so to was the dryness of the air in the plane and there in the Nevada desert.  I wound up with a whopping hangover headache before I even stepped off the plane there at McCarran.  I was still working through it come the next morning.  But, I did work through it.  Lesson learned.

This was the view which confronted us outside of our hotel room that Saturday morning.


Oh, yeah, forgot to mention, Ann booked us a room at the Lodge inside the park.  Yeah, that didn't suck much.

This is a view from a bit further up into the canyon.

Down the canyon

Yes, it gets real hot there in the canyon.  But the greenery due to the water flowing out of the rocks makes for a wonderful vista.  That's Ann there at the bottom of the image above.  That should help with the scale of this sight.

To make up for the heat on that Saturday, we made it up to The Narrows in the afternoon.  That's where the north fork of the Virgin River flows through.  At that point it more or less opens up into the rest of the canyon.  North of there however, the river channel courses through the very steep cut its made in the rocks around it over the millennia.  That makes for an awesome experience to go through - provided there's no flash flooding coming through it to sweep you away.  We didn't go that far.  We went just up to the Narrows and waded around a bit to cool off some.

The Narrows

The view coming back was just as awesome.

More Zion Awesomeness

The next morning we awoke to some year round residents making their way through the grounds of the Lodge.  Prior to this bunch there was a small herd of deer walking along the trees behind our room in the Lodge.

Wild Turkey at Zion

Sunday's objective however, was this: Angels Landing.

Angel's Landing

This was pretty damn impressive and it was pretty damn intense as well.

The approach to it meant some dedicated stepping along the switchback there on the canyon face.  That's them there in the image above at the bottom of the "v" formed by the rocks to the left in the image and Angels Landing formation in the image center.  At the top of those switchbacks is a long bit of the "Refrigerator Canyon" trail which leads to the other set of switchbacks to get up even further.

The "Refrigerator Canyon" Trail is so named as it tends to be cooler there thanks to the foliage and its narrowness keeping it out of the sun and due to the natural breeze through it.  The Trail is still a significant grade though and it's all part of the effort involved in getting up to the Landing.

Hiking along the trail there were plenty of unique rock formations that had been carved out over the centuries by water and wind.  It was also fascinating to see the various rock strata exposed along the Trail.

On the Angels Landing Trail Ann and I made our way to the far end of the Refrigerator Trail and then up the switchbacks, known as "Walter's Wiggles" - named after the Park Superintendent who engineered them.

We paused after a bit to catch our breath and pose for some photos, of course...
Taking a break on the hike

Eventually though, we got all the way up the "Wiggles" and to the "Scout Lookout" portion of the Angels Landing.

Not quite there...

If that doesn't look all that impressive then consider that this is what you'd see looking off the left of the image above here.  That's about a 1,200 foot droop off.

A steep drop

The "trail" from this point onward really just consisted of paths marked out along the rock face with heavy gauge stainless steel chain anchored into the rock.  There were portions where you really didn't need the chain and could clamber along above the designated path.  There were plenty of other portions where you definitely kept grip on the chain as you went.  It was a heady experience pushing forward along that stretch there.

Ann and I made our way to the first portion of Angels Landing and took another break.  That hand over hand grabbing the chain while shuffling along the narrow path had earned us that break.

While there I captured this image.  I think it turned out quite nicely.

Ann on Angels Landing

She returned the favor but it wasn't quite as grand.

Me at Angels Landing

A pro-tip for the future - wear a darker shirt that hides the sweat when hiking on hot days.  You wind up looking more photogenic that way.  Or just carry some "fresh" attire to change into to look even more photogenic...

The view was pretty damn good though...

A good view...

With our imagery requirements met and our breathes caught, we turned to face the rest of the Angels Landing Trail.  And this is but part of it.

The last part of Angels Landing Trail

The drop there on the left is 1,200 feet to the bottom.  It's a mere 800 feet on the right.  The Trail runs up the center of the rock's spine there and is a chained route for almost its entire length.  To get to the top is another 300 feet worth of hand over hand on the chain and along a much narrower path.  I was none to keen on this.  Yeah, we'd come that far and all but it looked rather daunting.

At this point the weather intervened and made our decision for us.  One thing the Park Rangers had been pretty explicit about was to not go up on Angels Landing during any storms.  Being such a promontory, it's a magnet for lightning.  Even without that, I didn't fancy keeping my footing on a sandstone trail in any rain or wind and that's exactly what was headed our way.  So, even as close as we were, we chose to call it enough.

This is the view back down the West Rim Trail.  This was at the very top of the switchbacks which led up to the Refrigerator Trail.  Ann and I both felt rather accomplished for the day's effort and quite happy with the views we had viewed.

The way back down

The next day it was time to head on back out of Zion and to the regular world.  Exiting the Park itself we were confronted with this.

Leaving Zion

A bit further down there was this one.

Zion's Peak

That peak there just so happens to be the promontory which is featured on the official Zion National Park Pin.  That pin started my National Park Pin collection that I began festooning my newly bought Tilley hat.

Zion peak and pin
B-25 Flight

History of Flight B-25 Mitchell

The summer I was there in Aurora I learned that the History Flight organization was going to be flying their B-25H Mitchell World War Two bomber up to Denver and that it would be available to book a "flight experience" aboard while it was in the area.

This was a perfect combination of opportunity, location, and having enough coin in pocket to make it all come together.  So, I booked myself a flight!

This was a "once in a lifetime" experience that I was very glad to have been able to make happen for myself.  The flight, as advertised, was about half an hour in length and there were a bunch of us stuffed into that little plane.  For the take-off I got to sit in a seat right behind the pilot so I had an excellent view of the whole process from engine start up through their taking the bird aloft from the Centennial Airport and out over the open spaces  south of Denver near Castle Pines.  During the flight I was once again reminded of how cramped and small warbirds are on their insides.  The pilots were practically rubbing shoulders as they sat in their seats up front.  The props for those two sweetly purring radial engines were literally just inches away from me as I sat there in the flight deck cabin.

Props spinning just inches away from me

Yes, I really was that close.

Mid-way through the flight it was time for me to swap seats with one of the other passengers up front.  That gave me the opportunity to clamber around a bit in the compartment immediately behind the flight deck where the pilots sat.  Among other things, I was able to go up into the top gun turret.  It was an exceptionally tight squeeze for me and that was while I was just wearing a regular shirt and not the heavy fleece lined leather flight suits Air Corps crews wore into combat at altitude.

I also got to examine the big 75mm canon that was installed there inside the plane.  That artillery piece was the biggest gun ever mounted on an aircraft until the Air Force decided their AC-130 gunships needed a 105mm canon to add some "kick" to the plane's firepower.

To allow the piece into civilian ownership the military insisted it be "de-militarized" and that took the form of them taking the breech from the gun.  Kinda hard to fire anything out of it when it lacks that bit.  The 75mm was the whole point of the "H" model as it gave the plane a huge punch in its anti-shipping role in the Pacific.  After poking my face into the open breech to see what I could see through it - and then realizing I was actually peering straight into a 200mph headwind that could also suddenly be filled with a bird unlucky enough to be flying at exactly the right spot & time to go through the barrel and into my face - I decided the view would also make a really cool photo.

75mm canon view from the breech

This is what the 75mm canon looks like from the other end.

The business end of the 75mm The B-25 Mitchell was one of the war's best twin engined bombers.  It had excellent range, a good sized bomb load, it was fast, it handled well, and could carry plenty of defensive firepower to deal with enemy fighters.  It was a well balanced and effective war machine.

It also proved highly adaptable.

Out in the Pacific, Army Air Corps units began stuffing the nose of the bomber with as many .50 caliber machine guns as they could.  While this thus prevent anyone from being able to sit up in the front of the plane - crewmen like the bombardier, for instance - having all those guns up front and still being able to carry bombs made the plane an excellent attack craft.  The Air Corps units out in the Pacific were only too happy to make such modifications.

Soon enough word of this desire to have more firepower installed on their B-25s got back to North American, the manufacturer of these planes, and one of their engineers came up with the idea of stuffing an actual artillery canon into the nose of the bomber.  This, in addition to the brace of .50s there as well.

The resulting "gunship" made for a truly devastating weapon that the US used to good effect against the Japanese.

Too soon, my History Flight experience came to an end.  It was a real treat though and I'm glad for the experience.  There's been other times since then that I've been at other airshows where there were other planes that I could've bought a ride on but I never was in a position to part with enough coin to make it happen.  It's still an option though.

In any event, it was a very good day.

A very good day

Colorado Renaissance Fair

This has got to be the best RenFair I've yet been to!  Held in the town of Larkspur, its about mid-way between Denver and Colorado Springs.  The Fair grounds are extensive, well developed, and permanent structures - though the Fair itself only runs a few months each summer.  This was a real treat to find and both Ann and I enjoyed it immensely.  It also proved a tad on the expensive side....  But it was well worth it!

The first thing which really caught our eyes when we arrived was this bunch.  It was the "Celtic Legacy" band and they were rockin' the pipes pretty fiercely.  And they were rockin' the kilts pretty fiercely too!  The songs they performed were not just "traditional" Celtic songs or songs made for playing on the 'pipes but anything else you care to imagine.

And one of their star performers was a drop dead gorgeous Longhaired lad who caught the eyes of both Ann and I at the same time.

Celtic Legacy

He was downright pleasant on the eyes alright.

Celtic Longhaired Eye Candy

So after they'd gotten done with their very well polished stage routine and playing their songs, Ann and I had to get a better look at the lad.  This, under the pretense of buying one of their Celtic CDs the band had on sale after the performance.

At that time we also noticed that he and all of the band were sporting these really cool looking leather boots.  They were pretty damn stylish and we recognized how appropriate they'd be for a whole bunch of different outfits and events.  So, we asked about 'em.

Turns out they weren't "boots" at all but were actually moccasins.  And the company which made them just happened to have a booth at the Fair in which we could purchase some for ourselves.  How convenient is that?

The Catskill Moccasin Company was the company in question and they do some truly beautiful work.  So we were soon getting fitted for having a pair of our own.  As these are very snuggly fitting, as they're not just your "standard shoe size and go" things, and as they're made to fit just you and you alone, the fitting process was involved.

Fitting for the order That process involved using medical tape to wrap your feet and lower leg all the way up to your knee.  The medical tape is used as it tends not to stretch - and stretching would throw off the fitting.

With your feet and lower legs wrapped - you pull on a long sock first - they then cut through both to then have a pattern for them to then cut the necessary pieces of leather to the proper size and shape for you.

It is an involved and exacting process but the results are both beautiful and lasting.

You also get to choose a wide range of materials, colors, patterns and even what sort of buttons to use.  I went with Celtic Knot "coin" buttons for all but the top two which I specified actual silver dollar coins be used.

As you might expect, such custom craftsmanship doesn't come cheap.  I hadn't expected that walking in to the Fair that day but, damn if these things seemed worth it.  I was really glad for all the overtime I was working there in Aurora as buying a pair of moccasins for both Ann and I took a significant chunk out of the plastic I had.

The results, when they showed up a month or two later, were absolutely gorgeous!  Whenever I wear mine they always get plenty of appreciative comments.

For Folsom that year, Ann was going with a "Roman" theme and was working up a "Roman Chariot" for her to pull instead of her usual pony cart.  For me, that meant assembling a full-up "Roman" outfit myself.  Among other things, that meant acquiring an appropriate set of Roman Legionary armor.  eBay and online were the way to go but I knew they'd need some work to finish off.  Luckily, there at the Fair, was a guy who specialized in making armor for RenFairs, SCA fighting and other events.  It was a fortuitous find and he proved exceptionally helpful in getting my Legate's ensemble assembled in time for Folsom that year.  He also proved rather courtly toward Ann... A armored man being courtly

Bay Area Fun

June saw Ann again being part of the San Francisco Pride March's Leather Contingent so she was there in all her ponygirl finest.  And I made a weekend of it to be with her.  The March was on Sunday so we went down to Santa Cruz on Saturday take in the Roaring Camp Railroads steam powered train excursion.

That was a very nice and unique experience.  Coming from SoCal where the climate is pleasant but pretty dry all year 'round to being "up north" in California where the climate is pleasant - but actually gets regular rainfall - it was wonderfully more lush and green and tree filled than I was used to.  And the Roaring Camp Railroad makes excellent use of that as it winds its track through the trees.

The railroad runs with this machine; the Sonora Engine #7.  She's a three-truck, 60-ton Shay engine built in 1911 by Lima Locomotive Works, factory number 2465.  "Shay engine" denotes how the power from the steam boiler is transfered to the wheels of the locomotive and the type is especially useful on narrow gauge steep gradient rail lines that were built into hills and mountains.

Steam engine

The weather that day was absolutely perfect and the train tracks were set amongst some of the most beautiful bits of forest in the entire world.

Santa Cruz forest beauty

The train's passengers are pulled along in open roofed train cars so that everyone can get the most of the splendor all around them.

Open cars

Splendor like this, for instance:


As you might expect, such a beautiful surroundings as these avail themselves to beautiful events there.  On the day Ann and I were there, a wedding party was also taking place.  They'd reserved a train car for the group and held the ceremonies up among the trees.  It was a heart warming thing to see.

Wedding Party

The next day saw Ann and I off to do our bit in the Pride March.  This year I got to be the one holding her reins for it.

SF Pride 2010

One parting bit here was the art which was on the wall in our hotel room there in SF.  It was rather... odd...

Weird Hotel Room Art

That one piece there on the right was particularly so.  We couldn't figure out if that was supposed to be a Vulcan or a Romulan...

Vulcan or Romulan?


This was a first for me.  I bought my Ford Ranger in '98 and had only ever driven it in Sunny SoCal.  My roadtrip out to Aurora was the furthest I'd ever driven it at any one time and the furthest east I'd driven it and the furthest north I'd driven it, and the highest elevation I'd driven it as well.  Yeah, I'm from Back East and have dealt with actual blizzards as a matter of routine.  I went to school for two years in the middle of Vermont where the temps routinely plunged to well below zero.  And that's Fahrenheit, below zero - not any of the Centigrade pussy bullshit.

Even with all that however, the dramatic changes in the Denver area's weather was still a surprise to me.  Especially when shortly after pulling in to town in April it snowed.  Snow?  In April?  Even Back East that never happened when I was growing up.  Yet, here it was in April in Aurora and there was actual snow on the ground.  And there was actual snow on my truck!

That was very much a first for me and for my truck.  My truck, so far as I know and I'm the only the second owner of it, had never been out of the San Diego area and thus had never likely ever been snowed on before.  Yet, here it was.  With snow on it!

I couldn't believe this had happened.  So, of course, I ran back in the house, grabbed my camera, and took a buncha pictures of it all.  I also made sure - for posterity's sake - to sign my name to it.

Snow. On My Truck.

Peggy, of who's house I was renting the room from, was utterly unexcited about it.  She lived in Colorado and snow this late in the year was absolutely nothing new.

A month later when it snowed again and did so much more heavily, she still wasn't overly excited about it.  This sure doesn't look like weather appropriate for mid-May to me!

Snow. On My Truck. In May!

Wings Over The Rockies Museum

Among other things in Denver is this airplane museum located on the grounds of a former air force base. Located in a sufficiently large hangar, the museum has an excellent collection of American aerial achievements on display.  I'll be to making a full up page on just the imagery I captured while there so I won't detail all that here.  Instead, it'll just be a tease of what I found there.

Among other things was this rather unique beauty, the Douglas B-18 "Bolo" bomber of the mid / late 1930s.

Douglas B-18 Bolo

This is a very rare bird as I think this may be one of the only ones left in the world.  It's even more rare as it retains the "shark nose" of the first production run of them.  The bombardier would sit up in the extreme nose there to aim his bombs and then clamber back down to man the .30 caliber machine gun there in that ball turret beneath.  That nose gave the B-18 a very distinctive look to it.  The bomber was based on the DC-2 airliner airframe and shared much of the same parts with it.  That greatly lessened its cost and the Air Corps thus was able to afford a bunch of them.  I think they could buy three or four B-18s for the cost of just one B-17.  While the B-17 could do a whole lot more than this "little" twin engined bomber, it was to expensive for the Air Corps to purchase enough of to make a difference with.  On a further upside, having a sufficient number of B-18s around meant the Air Corps was able to train up a larger number of bomber crews for when the war started.  Had it been stuck with just the handful of B-17s it could of otherwise spent the same amount of money on, it would've had but a handful of trained crews to serve as cadre for that expansion.

The B-18s continued service through World War Two and did outstanding work in hunting and killing German U-boats.  But, as they employed the new and very classified radar technology to find the Nazis, the planes were not widely photographed and their crews were ordered to remain silent about their missions.  Thus little word of their achievements got into the newspapers and thus their achievements were overshadowed by the less secrecy restricted B-17s and B-24s.  So, it was a real treat to find this gem in the WOTR museum,

As the museum is located on a former Air Force base it was a fitting touch that they'd some very pointed reminders that the Air Force didn't just fly pretty airplanes around and that its primary job was to destroy the nation's enemies with weapons employed by those pretty airplanes.  Thus the museum also had a nice collection of some of the more powerful of those weapons, namely, some nukes.  Well, at least the casings of those nukes.

This ranged from some of the earlier types to some of the later ones and were and interesting thing to see displayed there.

The museum also held regular "Cockpit Day" events where attendees could actually get to sit in the cockpits of some of the aircraft in their collection.  That was a real treat since most museums won't even let you touch their aircraft - let alone clamber all into them as such.  So, a couple months after first getting to Aurora and first visiting the Wings Over The Rockies museum I was back there for one of those regular "Cockpit Day" events.

Yeah, I'm enjoying myself here.

And here too...

And here...

Also on hand at that particular Cockpit Day event was a truly rare flying machine that I was only too happy to get to occupy if even for just a couple of minutes.

Red 62 standing by...

Yeah, that's right, I got to pretend I was piloting an X-wing!

Incom T-65 X-Wing

"Red 62 standing by..."


I'd high hopes for 2010.  2009 ended with a very stressful several months of unemployment.  The company which had kept me busy in 2008 and 2009 had promised me more work... "real soon now" when things wrapped up in the summer of '09.  They lied.  I foolishly trusted them to honor their word.  I should've immediately cranked up the resume distribution machine the moment my last assignment ended.  Because I didn't and because I trusted those scumbags, I wound up "on the bench" for the rest of the year.  That made 2009's end a very painful one for me financially.  And it didn't make the start of 2010 much better.

So it was that I eagerly accepted the first good job offer that came my way in 2010.  That it meant I'd have to transport myself out to Aurora, Colorado and stay there at my own expense was more than a bit daunting but I was needful of the money and the money on that gig was very good indeed.

Early April saw me packing up my truck and heading north.  I figured that the seasons had changed enough that driving across the Rockies wouldn't see me trapped by any blizzards so off I went on a thousand mile drive.  That was the longest road trip I'd ever taken on my own.  That was a point which weighed heavily upon me as I drove across some of the emptiest lands I'd ever been through.  It also weighed heavily upon me what few options I had left.  If my truck crapped out along the route I would have been largely screwed.  It was not a pleasant feeling.  Especially as I found how limited my Ford's four cylinder engine was when grinding up those actual mountains in Colorado.

My first day's drive took me as far as Cedar City, Utah.  I pulled in to a motel there and unloaded my truck into my room.  I couldn't leave all my stuff out in the open bed of the truck.  So, it was unload it into my room and then load it back into the truck the next morning.  A bit more driving on the 15 followed until I turned east and got on to the 70.  I was surprised that there was so much snow still on the ground at this time.  

Utah snow along I-70

Once I cleared that range I got down in elevation a bit and out into the vast expanse of emptiness that is eastern Utah.  There really was not much but miles and miles of miles and miles.

Miles and miles of miles and miles...

Snow was still quite a recent experience for me.  Sure, I was used to it Back East as that's where I grew up.  But I wasn't used to it while out west on the Left Coast.  Well, it amused me to still find bunches of the stuff along the roadsides even this far into spring.  When I pulled over to take a break at one rest stop I clambered up a nearby hill that still had some snow on its northern face and I poked my finger into it - the snow, that is - just as proof that I was there and it was there.

Finger poked snow

There was one point along this stretch in which there was truly so little there along the route that there were signs warning of how devoid the next forty or sixty miles ahead were.  Of course, in the middle of that there was a rest stop that was rather scenic.  I could've bought some genuine indian bead works there had I a wish to.  Instead, I just got my picture taken to prove I was there among the vast emptiness.

I was there among the emptiness

It was pretty damn scenic, actually.  I especially liked one portion of the highway that truly was cut right through the rocks and made for quite the visual as it did so.

Road cut

Along the way my truck's odometer hit a nice round 206,000.  Once I was headed up the Rockies I found that milestone of miles to be a sobering thing.  My fully loaded pickup truck with its 98 horsepower engine meant I was reduced to a near crawl as I got up to the Eisenhower Tunnel.  I just wanted to make it across those actual mountains without blowing a gasket or anything.  I couldn't afford to have my truck repaired and I couldn't afford to take the time to have it done without losing my upcoming job in Aurora either.  So, once out the eastern end of the Tunnel I felt pretty relieved since it was all, largely, downhill to Denver from there.

After two days of driving I'd gotten myself out to Aurora and started my new job working at the Boeing office there.  I was rightly pleased with myself that I could do all of that when I had to.

Once in Aurora and at work I got very busy.  The work was intense, demanding, and came with lots of hours.  All of which, as a contractor, I got paid for.  It was about seven or so months of drought since my last paycheck then followed by this gig which was like a fire hose in terms of its workload and in its pay.  I was glad for it all.

I managed to score a room in a friend's house (thanks Peggy!) which was miles better than the "extended stay hotel" I'd first pulled in to.  While work kept me very busy, I did have some time to myself and I found that there's lots to do in the Denver metro area.

Philadelphia In Winter

Late January saw me travel out to Philly to spend a weekend with Ann there.  It was a typical Back East January - replete with freezing temps, ice, and snow!

While there I took in the typical tourist stuff like seeing the Liberty Bell...

Ann and I at the Liberty Bell

Visiting Independence Hall

Independence Hall

And also hitting up Betsy's pad...

Betsy Ross's House

And in typical January fashion, we got snowed on as we left Betsy's.

New Year 2010
Us at New Year's Dawn 2010

Up early and over to Mt. Soledad to feel the first light of 2010 upon us.  My Mom and my love, Ann.

As we turned to leave we were reminded that Mt. Soledad is indeed a War Memorial.

New Year's Reveille 2010

He played it well.  And being surrounded by all the remembrances of individuals who served was very poignant.  Through my tears, I thanked him for his service and his remembrance.

2009 departs...

In the distance we saw the last Moon of 2009 setting to the west.  I do not miss it.  During this year I have met my love, Ann, but the year, overall, has not been one that I would seek to repeat.  Hasten then, the new opportunities of 2010.

Xmas 2009
My Mom came out for a week or so over Xmas this year.  This, as is her want when it gets abysmal back there Back East.

This year, my Ann joined us.

Ann and Mom

I got out my Santa Hat and did the Xmas thing as well.

Mom and I

I really like this shot.

Mom and Ann at the beach

And my Mom did quite well with this one:

Me and Ann at the beach

Fox Hunt 2009
November 2009 saw Ann set up her first "Fox Hunt" for her LA Ponies and Critters group.  It was a blast!

Fox Hunt 2009!

This event was held at a campground up in the Los Padres National Forest north of Los Angeles.  We arrived the Friday afternoon before the event and staked out our claim on the area.  We got our bitchin' cool new four person tent set up - replete with its "LA Ponies & Critters" group banner - and set up camp otherwise.  Another member of the group, Larry, turned out to be a real pro at this sort of stuff.  His tent was bigger, sturdier, and he even had some cool LED party lights which he set up for the evening!

We had a fine time that afternoon and early evening but found that it got really, really cold up there in those mountains!  The next morning we had to punch through the ice to clean our dishes!

Frozen dirty dishes

By about mid-day we had quite the crowd gathered.  Ann was a whiz in organizing all this.  She brought out the bubbly - both sparkling cider and champagne - and took part in the "Stirrup Cup" where we toasted to the "hunt" as the "fox" set out to hide from the "hounds" and ponies.  This was lots of fun.  I don't have release to use the shots of the event but that might come in time.

Mutant Pine Cone Once the fox had been run to ground and "de-tailed" we came back and toasted in her honor and then we had our hunt banquet.  Jerry was quite the chef for all this having driven up from LA just for it.  That afternoon we also found this mutant pine cone.

The Hunt's Feast consumed, we packed things up and headed back to LA.  This was a really successful first outing and we all are looking forward to more such play.  It does help that the scenery was nothing short of awesome!


A Day at the LA Zoo
Early August of '09 saw me enjoying a day "up in the valley" with Ann as both her daughter and granddaughters were in town.  Meeting up in their Burbank neighborhood park we eventually made our way over to the nearby LA Zoo.  It was a fine day with family and I was happy to be part of that.  Even more unusual on this day, and something which made it all the finer for me, was that I was able to snag an image of Ann which I could put up here on my site!  Wonder of wonders!

Ann and her grand daughter

That's my girl.

Coming back from SF Pride I encountered this whilst sitting at the gate for my flight.


I've no idea who the guy is in this shot but he's apparently really big in the Philippine entertainment world.  Really big.  As he sat there across from me, first one couple, then this crew came up to him with their cameras and cellphones drawn and beseeched the lad for his picture.  At this particular point he was already on the phone with someone as this group descended upon him and began snapping away.  The three of them traded off their cameras and cellphones and their sitting next to him.  All the while he was just trying to finish up his phone conversation before boarding his flight.

I hope he's getting some kind of extra special reward for his fame because from my perspective it doesn't look worth it.

In any event it was a kinda surreal moment there while awaiting my flight.  The lady sitting just out of frame to the right in this image also thought it priceless and asked me for a copy of the images I snapped.  Being the oh-so-digital guy that I am these days, I downloaded the images from my camera and right there and then emailed them to her using the wireless broadband digital modem I have.  Yeah, I do tech!

SF Pride 2009
I made it up to San Francisco in June to attend the SF Gay Pride March that year.  Ann was part of the leather contingent in her Beauty pony play mode pulling a carriage.  She'd done the same thing the previous year but did so with her rider being her trainer, Rebbecca.  The folks running the parade and the leather contingent were so impressed with their human pony drawn carriages that they asked them all back - but this time they'd have leather dignitaries as their riders.  This turned out to be the current Mr. San Francisco Leather in one carriage and a leatherwoman of some renown in Ann's little Shetland Pony carriage.  I went along to enjoy the weekend with her and to help out as she went the length of the parade route pulling that carriage.  It was lots and lots of fun.  The three carriages, "Mistress Liliane's" was the third," made quite the spectacle as they went up Market Street on that day.

Beauty on Market

That's Ann / Beauty there in the clear latex catsuit with the blinders set aside her bit and that's Nyna Kaiser of the Alameda County Leather Corps (ACLC) holding Beauty's reins.  In the background is Mistress Liliane in black and holding her black lace parasol.  Off to her left is the third of the carts and this one contains its driver, the lass in the cowboy hat, and Brandon Clark - the current Mr. San Francisco Leather.  The rest of the folks in this shot were either puppies and their masters (that bunch in the upper left of the image) or were part of Liliane's contingent.  Liliane was also the one who organized this whole shebang so she gets mucho credit for pulling it all together such that it'd be pulled off so well.

Among other things, Liliane knew how to work the camera and crowds quite well.

Working it

Ann worked things quite well on her own, thank you very much!

Prancing pretty

Even the national media was enthralled by all this:

Ready for her close-up

At day's end I had one exhausted pony girl.  All that pulling up Market in the warmth of a San Francisco summer's day had been quite the effort for Beauty.  We peeled off the latex cat suit, showered, and got some much needed grub.  All in all this was a fine way to have some great pony play fun at the event and I was glad to have been able to help out here.

New York In June
Not quite two weeks after going Back East to see my Mom I once again went well east of the Mississippi.  This time it was off to New York where Ann flew me in for the weekend to see her as she worked her way up through the Northeast.  It was a wonderfully romantic thing and a fun way to spend our weekend together.  We aimed to do but one "big thing" each day I was in town and thus not rush ourselves in the process.  Neither of us were there that weekend to do anything other than see each other.  And if we happened to see some sights of the Big Apple then so much the better.

The first of these that Ann and I decided to see was the Statue of Liberty.  I'd never been.  Now I have.

Lady Liberty

I was rather moved at all the symbolism and history behind this landmark.  The French gave the statue to us as a means of protesting their lack of liberty back home.  France was a monarchy at the time so this was an oh-so-subtle means of thumbing their noses at the bastards in charge back there.  I'd thought it was to denote all the immigrants we happily received.  Well, yes but... Most of those immigrants weren't from France.  So the political spin now makes more sense.

The lady the figure was modeled after was sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi's mistress - not his wife - and that caused no end of stink at the time.  I like the idea that liberty is not some prim and proper thing but messy and embarrassing to the powers that be.  Also, the nation has changed a bit since the Statue was set up.  At its dedication back in October of 1886, women were prohibited from attending the event.  The ceremony to dedicate the statue about liberty for all was restricted to men only.  Women in this country at the time had not the liberty to even vote.  I love historical stuff like this.  Looking around at the Statue today I saw other changes:

Liberty's Security

Given today's political climate it's no surprise that security is now a heightened thing.  The same human vermin who thought it appropriately symbolic to destroy the World Trade Center and the Pentagon wouldn't bat an eye about destroying this other uniquely American symbol.  Hence the security cameras festooning the thing.  Hence also the security checks present down at the Battery where you boarded the ferries to head on out to Liberty Island.  I can see checking for bombs and such.  I can see checking for guns and such.  You might even make the case for checking for "weapons."  But they even prohibit anything that can be classified as a "tool" from being taken along with you.  So, if you happen to be one of those folks who always carries your Leatherman with you on your belt then you'd best leave it back in your hotel room or else it'd be confiscated by the authorities.

In my case it wasn't a tool but rather my Kershaw Vapor that came to grief.  Now, I did know that there was gonna be security checks there before boarding the Ferry.  Fine.  I figured they were but looking for bombs or guns and certainly not a knife with a blade that is all of three inches long.  Well, had my knife been a non-folding thing then I would have had the option of walking back out to the grounds of Battery Park and secreted it somewheres for me to retrieve at a later time.  Or had I been an active duty military type or law enforcement type they would've simply let me through with it.  However, I'm neither of those things and nor did I have the option of hiding it outside.

You see, my Kershaw Vapor fit their definition of a "gravity assisted" knife and is thus illegal to possess in New York city.  Heaven forbid that the public has access to any such "infernal" device as a knife that you can flick open with your thumb!  The idiocy of such a prohibition is but one more indication our governments want us all to be but unarmed sheep in their presence.  In any event, me and my Vapor soon parted ways.  I've since purchased a replacement via eBay but the whole thing still rankles me considerably.

One of thing I learned about my time on Liberty Island was that if you want to do more than just gaze admiringly at the Statue of Liberty from a distance then you must needs purchase a "Monument Pass."  These are the special and limited tickets that allow you to get up and inside the Statue itself.  Without those you are only allowed to walk around the outside of the thing.  That's nice but no substitute for actually being able to do more.  A lesson learned.

When we went out that morning to go to the Statue of Liberty we were all business.  We had a specific time to get there and get to the Island.  Thus we were real direct in getting to the Battery and then in line for our Ferry departure.  Coming back however, such was not the case.  So, we had some time to take in some of the other things that Battery Park have to offer.

Among these were the battery of Lady Liberties.

Lady Liberties

God bless the free market capitalist system!  Here you not only had an opportunity for a truly tourist trap moment to commemorate your Statue of Liberty experience but you also had a choice of different Statue of Liberties with which to enact your tourist trap experience.  Yeah, it was simply to much to resist.

Yeah, I did it

So, I didn't resist.

I'm da man!

I figure if you're gonna be mired in a cheesy tourist trap moment then you'd best fully embrace it.  So, that I did.  I've pictures of Ann in full Lady Liberty Tourist Trap moment but she's threatened me with a dire fate ere I post them.  Thus I think they'll make fine leverage for extortion at some future point!  :)

That Saturday night in New York Ann pulled out all the stops.  She'd set up a town car to take us down to the Battery earlier in the day and then had it come 'round again to take us out to Central Park that evening.  It's destination then was for our evening's horse drawn carriage ride through Central Park.  She'd even procured a bottle of fine champagne and had it chilled in the hotel's kitchen in anticipation of our excursion.  We dressed up, climbed into the limo, headed off, and arrived 59th Street across from the Plaza Hotel.  That's where the hansom carriages line up and accept their fares.  Ann was soon out and walking the line of horses to find one which spoke to her in the right way.  This quickly accomplished we were on our way.  And no, I did NOT take my camera along.  I wanted to spend not a single moment behind the lens for this experience.  It was well worth it.

The evening was a pleasantly warm and nicely humid one.  Not hot nor muggy but a wonderful inner city summer's night.  The park itself was absolutely gorgeous in its vibrant green lushness.  Our ride was a fine and wonderful and truly romantic a thing.  I was very, very happy to have such a person in my life who could orchestrate such a thing as this and that is my Ann.

After a wonderful loop throughout the park and with enough time for us to polish off that bottle of bubbly our ride came back to its starting point.  We dismounted and happily thanked and tipped our driver.  I walked up to the horse who'd been our means of motivating the cab that evening in order to thank him as well.  I still had the bottle in my hands so I bent down to set it down.  At that point the horse took that opportunity to "give me a kiss."  That consisted of a full-on lick upside my head.  This, from a horse who'd been working up some lather in the evening's heat and had been but recently munching on a bag of feed.  To say I'd been slimed would be an understatement.  Getting horse spit slathered upside your head is a rather unique experience.  I can't say that I'm up for any quick repeat of such.  However, at that moment the only thing I could do was laugh.  I mean, who could I get angry at?  The horse?  The driver?  Ann?  Me?  And what harm was done?  True, it was horse slime spit all over half my head but you know, I can't say that affected my soul and nor did it ruin my shirt.  So, I laughed.  Ann did to.  After, pausing a moment to be sure I wasn't angry or anything.  And it was funny.  Even as it was gross.  I did have to tell her to NOT stick her hands in the goo that was coating half my head.

Back at the Algonquin hotel, Ann's digs for the weekend, I quickly decamped up to the room and got that horse kiss wiped off my head.

Horse Kiss

That towel should be a clinically white piece of cloth.  What you see there is the remnants of that horse's kiss replete with its spit, mucous, and chewed on horse feed.  All of which had only to recently been on my head.  Ah, romance!

The next day dawned and saw us off on another adventure.  This time it was to yet another New York landmark.

Empire State

I'd been there before.  Back when I was in high school.  That was a while ago.  So, this was almost all new to me.  A lot has changed in the decades since then.  The building's ownership has changed hands several times and the new bunch that runs this joint have taken a cue from Disneyland and done their best to make the place a major tourist attraction.  This, replete with endless looping lines to get up and into the building's observation decks.  When last I was there the only lines for that were up just below the Observation Deck itself and those lines were truly short affairs.  Now?  Now it's like waiting in line at Disneyland for the Haunted Mansion.  You went up one escalator from the ground level and that started the process.  First you ran through the maze of roped lines to get to the ticket counter.  Then more roped maze lines to get to the security checkpoint.  Fortunately they didn't seem to care ere you had any tools or non-explosive weaponry on you.  Then it was more maze lines to wrap around the circumference of the building to get you to the elevators.  Those elevators took you up to the upper level maze lines.  There it was more roped maze lines to channel you around and around to loop around the building and back to the elevators.  This particular bank took you up to the Observation Deck itself.  Finally.

The view from on high was about as spectacular as I remember it.

View from on high

That's the famous "Flat Iron Building" in this view.  I got some rather nice shots of Ann up there taking it all in but she vetoed all of them.  So, I'm stuck with this shot as proof that we were there:

Me at the Empire State

Coming in off the Observation Deck we found that the Zeppelin Waiting Lounge was now available for viewing!  That was uber cool so we hied ourselves off to it - after paying a modest fee for the "privilege."  Originally, the spire of the Empire State was meant to be a mooring mast for airships which were then the fastest means of crossing long distances.  The idea had great appeal as it meant that travelers could disembark right in the middle of New York and thus do so in the height of luxury. 

Zepplin Lounge

The unanticipated winds induced by the skyscrapers put paid to that idea.  However, the 102nd floor observatory remained.  It was recently refinished and reopened to the public.  The view from that much higher is better as you're a full two hundred feet higher than the Observation Deck.  It is but a single elevator which runs up to this level and it's one of the oldest functioning ones left in New York city as it requires an elevator operator to run the thing.

Elevator Operator's Station

I just thought it was uber cool to hang out for a bit at this level since it was otherwise such a rarely utilized place.

102 levels up

After getting our feet back on the ground we hiked over to Times Square to take all that in.  The place has become a world unto itself.  The New York authorities have decided to close off some of the more oddly shaped bit of streets that comprise the Square and convert them into pedestrian parks.  They've even seen fit to provide lawn chairs for folks to park their butts and take it all in.  While we didn't put our butts in one of those chairs we did enjoy the spectacle of others having done so.

A parked butt

At the very least this made for a more unique urban experience.  The sheer volume of the commercialization of Times Square was pretty impressive.  Fun to visit, yes.  But, like the rest of New York, best taken in small doses and always with the option of escaping it. 

Thus, that I did as I was soon thereafter back on a plane and flying out to LAX to end my weekend with Ann in New York.

Boston In May
Memorial Day Weekend 2009 saw me doing something recently unusual for me - I was back in Massachusetts on that day.  Normally, my Back East trips have been in the depths of winter.  Usually Turkey Day or Xmas or somewheres around that time frame.  Back East when Back East is but varying shades of gray with the only green to be seen being that of the pine trees.  That's pretty enough but kinda lifeless.

This year it was different though.  My Mom had pointed out how long it had been since last I was out there to see her and I had both the money and the time to correct that.  So, correct it I did.  I availed myself of the Holiday Weekend's extra days and hied myself Back East to God's Country (as Massachusetts must be since Boston is surely Heaven On Earth.)

I'd forgotten just how green Massachusetts can be.  And green it was.  Lush and full and green like SoCal only gets in early, early spring just after the winter rains and before the summer's heat which renders our environs into a pretty uniform shade of burnt brown.  The vegetation was lush and explosive in its sheer abundance and vitality.  I really do miss that.  That Memorial Day Weekend also happened to be about as perfect one, weather-wise, as you could get.  Cool and rainy one day, nice and warm and sunny and humid on the next.  Not oppressively humid like DC or Atlanta - or Huntsville - is during the summers but humid enough to remind you why all those green plants thrive in the locale.

Mom by the DUKW
My Mom and I tried doing "something" each day that I was in town.  Up first came a "Duck Tour" through the city.  The company that runs this operates a number of DUKW's - amphibious trucks of WWII vintage - on tours throughout Boston and out onto the Charles river.  This was about as touristy as you can get but it was "something to do" and it was fun.

The day started rather cool and blustery but within a few minutes of being aboard the "Liberty Teresa" things had warmed up nicely.
Me by the DUKW

The Duck Tour company has hit upon the idea of having their tour guides be comic personalities while on the job.  Our "conducktor" (i.e. our driver-guide) was the "former animal control officer Ray Beez" and was quite good at his job.  His knowledge of Bostonian lore and trivia was extensive as was his knowledge of Boston's history.  Even though I grew up just outside of Beantown and still call Massachusetts my home state I still learned quite a bit about Boston that I previously knew not.

The big fun of the Duck Tour though was getting into the water of the Charles river itself.

Getting in to the Charles river

This takes place over on the Cambridge / Charlestown side of the river and just down from the Boston Museum of Science.  Along the way to the river the tour made sure to take in some excellent views of the new Bunker Hill Bridge (a.k.a. the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge) and it is a worth sight.


Soon though, we were in the wet and enjoying the scenicness it availed.

Boston skyline downtown

And even some of the more iconic of Boston's icons:

Iconic icon

There were a lot more things to be seen on the tour that I got photos of but these few will do to get the point across.  One particular image though is something of a classic for those folks from Boston and that's the Hancock Tower.

The Hancock Tower

I've always liked this building and remember when it first went up and when the building's architects began learning about wind induced structural flexing in large scale structures.  That's a technical way of saying they learned how to keep the building from swaying so much in the wind that it popped its windows out.  I think the Hancock Tower looks a whole lot prettier without large sheets of plywood covering the holes those popped windows left.

After we finished our Duck Tour excursion we found ourselves still with some time left in the day and also being in downtown Boston so my Mom suggested we head over to the ICA - Institute of Contemporary Art.  This was but a hop, skip, and a jump away from Copley Square via the T - Boston's outstanding subway system.  This system affords some rather unique and interesting visuals.

Copley Square T Stop

We went from one of the oldest parts of the T over to the newest part as we exited at the Courthouse Station on the Silver Line.  The Courthouse Station in particular was rather grand and oh-so-modern.

Courthouse Station "tracks"

To me, a subway station is supposed to have train tracks and such.  In this case however, they were absent and the subway "train" was actually an electric bus.  The thing ran on a dedicated, underground and covered tunnel but it was still odd to see this set up.  I'd imagine it was much less expensive to set up this way.

Courthouse Station visuals

The ICA is just a short walk away from the Courthouse Station and is down on Boston's waterfront.  Apparently, the location was severely underdeveloped until quite recently.  This no doubt being why the ICA was able to score such an otherwise primo location and set itself up there.  The building that the ICA constructed for itself is a nicely modern and contemporary thing as would befit an organization that's all about being modern and contemporary.  I took some scenic shots of the waterfront whilst I stood on the ICA's deck and this shot of a rather unique feature of the ICA building:

Architectural feature

I would've liked to have taken more photos of the inside of the joint but, being an art museum and all, they had a "no camera" policy.  Ah well.

Shepard Fairey Obey Icon 1996
The featured exhibit during the time we were there was "Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand."  He's the guy who came up with the "Giant" / "Obey" posters that got plastered all over urban landscapes since the early 90's.

His "urban graffiti" was damn near ubiquitous.  It was visually bold and soon became iconic.  The message he was driving home with his Giant / Obey series was very, very anti-establishment. 

No surprise, he was also vehemently anti-Bush, anti-Republican and anti-capitalism.  His iconic style was very much a modern version of the classic Soviet propaganda posters of the 20's through the 50's. 

I knew the guy's works only through the graffiti he splattered all over the place I'd no idea he'd done much of anything else.  His showing at the ICA remedied that.  It turns out that Fairey also has a bad case of hero-worship for any and all terrorists, murderers, and nihilists - so long as they're of the political left and spew the appropriate leftist political lies.  Fairey had a whole series of leftist terrorist "heroes" from the 60's and 70's up on display in classic Soviet / PRC iconic style.
It turns out that Fairey is also the artist behind this bit of adulatory political imagery.  And it fits right in with his hero worship of all the other leftist thugs, killers, and terrorists.

I thought the irony here was immense.  Fairey made a name for himself by depicting Republican and establishment figures in a lampooning fashion whilst also "recognizing" the "achievements" of the left's heroes of the past.  So, come 2008, Fairey puts up Obama's image and does so in a way which was indistinguishable from the lampooning images he did of Bush over the past eight years.  Yet now Fairey expects us all to take the image seriously and all worship it in the same manner which he expected us to despise his imagery of Bush.

I also found it amusing as all get out that this "man of the people" artist actually stole the image that his "Hope" poster is based on and that the guy who took that picture, Mannie Garcia, had to file suit against Fairey to get him to admit that he lifted Garcia's image and used it without credit.  I think it perfectly fitting that this iconic image of our current president is one based on theft and lies.

Oh, and in recent news, Fairey got himself arrested - again - for vandalism as he sought to blight the landscape with more of his graffiti.  Calling it "art" doesn't change the fact that it is graffiti, that it is plastered on other people's property without their permission, and nor does it change the fact that Stephen Fairey makes a lot of money through the sale of his artwork and thus, every piece of it that he plasters is but more advertising for his business.

Obama Hope 2008
Gehry Stata
The next day Mom and I decided to attend a performance by the Blue Man Group.  First though, we dropped by the MIT Campus to check out their new Stata Center.  This is the architectural feat rendered by Frank Gehry - he of the Disney Concert Hall fame in LA - that now graces where Building 20 used to be on the MIT Campus.

He likes creating non-rectilinear shapes to his buildings and this works quite well here.  Hopefully, this building will be just a "procreative" for MIT as was the previous "temporary" structure.

Of course, we had to get the obligatory "we were there" photo shots of ourselves as well.
Gehry Stata

I had thought that the Blue Man Group was but a traveling thing.  Aside from their Las Vegas show.  And thus I was surprised to find that they've several "permanent" shows scattered about with Boston being graced by one such bunch.  My Mom was game for the jaunt so off we went.  The show itself was very percussive, quite humorous, and also wordless - at least on the part of the Blue Man men.  Lotsa physical comedy and physicality to the performance.  It was quite the spectacle and I recommend it highly.  I still have a piece of the paper towel they doused the audience with near the show's end.  My Mom enjoyed the event as well.

Mom and the Blue Man Group

Exiting the Blue Man Group show we decided to walk for a bit through Boston Commons and then on up Newbury Street.  This meant, of course, that we'd stroll by these fine things:

Swan Boats in Boston Commons

The Swan Boats have been part of Boston's culture for over 130 years now and are another one of those uniquely Boston icons.  The day in the park was beautiful and just the thing for an early summer's excursion.  The park itself was quite beautiful and more than a few folks were availing themselves of it.  That included this bunch:

A Commons Wedding

No doubt this wedding party was having the ceremony right across the street from where they were going to later have their reception at one of the many hotels bordering the Commons.  The setting was wonderful and picturesque indeed.  So much so that Mom is getting better at taking my picture in such a place.

The next day we decided to take in the MFA. 

Museum of Fine Arts

My Mom has long enjoyed heading down to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and today was no exception.  Especially since this particular day was a "free" one in which a corporate sponsor had agreed to pick up the tab of all who clambered about its halls.

On this visit she hooked us up with a tour guide since it had been some several decades since last I was at that museum.  This proved a wise choice.  Even though the tour was abbreviated and vigorous it was still quite informative and well worthwhile.  It covered a whole lot of ground. 

Some old guy who was a sharp dresser
Our tour took us from this portrait of this American Revolutionary here on the left...

...To this very nicely composed portrait of a woman of means with her daughters here on the right.
Some old gal who wasn't that sharp of a dresser

Sumatran sculpture
There was a whole series of these large stone sculptures retrieved from south east Asia and the like.  If I recall correctly this one was from somewheres around modern day Sumatra.

About as odd however, was this gent.  He was one of the "security guards" there in the Museum.  I sat spell and watched him for a bit.  Odd indeed would be a good description of his mannerisms and body language.
This was not our guide

Eventually it was time for me to head back to the West Coast.  Before I left though, I had to take in my Mom's handiwork in her yard.  She's been living in her house for over a decade now and aside from all the work she's done inside the house she's also done a whole lot outside it as well.  Her landscaping and gardening has wrought wonders from what used to be a pretty nondescript sandy lump behind her house.

Mom's garden

Behind where I stood to take this picture was even more of her work.

Budda In The Grass

Aside from turning the back yard into a lush thing of beauty she's also made the place more accessible in the process.  This has involved using so many paving stones that she's taken to calling it the Appian Way.

Appian Way

I was quite happy with my trip Back East over Memorial Day.  It was quite the change for me to be reminded of how green and vibrant New England can be when it's not in the depths of its usual cold and gray winters.  It was also good to see my Mom and see how she's worked to fill her life with things which are both creative and which bring her job in the process of creating them.

Without Warning & Birmo

In early February John Birmingham made he way down to San Diego as part of his "Without Warning" book signing tour.  I've "known" John for some several years now as I found his online residence once I read his first alt hist / science fiction tale: "Weapons of Choice" and ate it right up.  I particularly liked the fact that John not only had a blog with which he would post about his books but that he was also quite active on it and enjoyed conversing with his fans on it as well.  I found him very approachable and had quite a number of excellent online conversations with him and other folk gathered there as well.  That was five years ago.

Since then, John has continued to pump out a number of excellent tales that have been a real joy to read - and to discuss on his blog,  Cheeseburger Gothic, as well.  Over the past year or so John began developing a new tale: "Without Warning" and its arrival in the US was going to be a much bigger deal than his previous series, the "Axis of Time" books.  Since John is now a "name" author in the US, his US publisher decided to send him 'round on a US book tour to help pump the book.  John is an Australian, you see, so it's not quite the simple thing to arrange all this.

I was really stoked when I learned that John was going to include San Diego as part of his overall tour.  Timing being what it was, I was out of town when John was scheduled to come through.  No matter, I just left work early that day and hoped in my car to beat feet down to SD.  I'd set things up with him to take the man out for a "feed."  That's Aussie-speak for taking him out to dinner.  This to was no simple thing as John is a published restaurant's reviewer in Australia as well.  So, no Salmonellae laced  corner taco stands for the Birmo!  I think I succeeded as John  both cleaned his plate and  didn't wind up sick afterwards.

I then brought John up to the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore where the evening's signing would take place.  That was fun.  The gathered crowd got to hear some rather keen insights on the writing business and John's personal history as to how he got into it and all.  I never knew about the "Underwear Tour" but that's a tale for another time.  The gang at Mysterious Galaxy had a good time as well. 

John Birmingham and the Mysterious Galaxy Crew

That's John there on the right looking rather dapper in his leather jacket and that's Patrick hiding behind the blown up cover of John's latest book.

It was a fun evening.  After the signing I took John down to the Gaslamp and we wandered around a bit taking in the nightlife of a weeknight in San Diego.  I eventually dropped John off at his hotel and retired back to my swanky pad in Clairemont.  Despite John's suspicions I did not drive straight back to LA that night.  I really didn't.  I got a night's sleep in my home there in San Diego and did the deed early in the AM the next morning.  Really.

My first gig for SM&A up in El Segundo took me through the Xmas / New Years holidays.  I was grateful for the work - and for the pay that the work generated.  I started attending various SM / fetish events up there in LA with the "Bondage Ball Hollywood" being but one of them.  I also hunted around for other SM events to take in and decided to hit up the Southwest Leather Conference.  That leather weekend event took place in January out in Phoenix, Arizona.  I'd heard that SWLC - as the conference in known - is a very "woo woo" thing as it's heavily focused on the spiritual aspects of SM.  I'm not a "woo woo" guy but, I had the weekend free, there was no other leather event going on that I could hit up, and a couple friends of mine said they were going to be there.  So, I went.

Truth be told, I was rather bored.  I found the event did indeed have a heavy "woo" quotient and was very, very light on the "practical" side of things due to its "theory" focus.  Were the "theory" stuff more about things I was interested in then I would've been more involved.  They weren't.  They were all about the "woo."  Fair enough.  That's what the event is about so I can't complain that the folks who are running it run it like they advertise they will.

I hung around the playspace Friday night and enjoyed the crowd. Good thing I could enjoy a crowd like that as the place was quite packed pretty tightly with folk. That was good though, as it made for a lot energy in the space. Saturday night I chose to take my “disco nap” while the Master & Slave contest was running. Had I chosen to endure the experience of sitting through another leather title contest I know I would not have been a happy guy come time to play afterwards. I knew a couple of folks who were competing – George and his slave, Toy from LA – and was rooting for them but I knew myself well enough to have stayed away from that part of the event.

Saturday night I chose to wear my Dehners, Jodhpurs, beret and black pirate shirt. With the big Heartwood at my hip and with my CHP style gloves on, I was feeling well ready for anything that night. Upon strolling down to the party I noticed this woman in a clear latex body suit over which she was wearing a full-on pony girl rig. This, replete with blinders, snaffle bit, and reins. I thought it a tad odd that there was no one around holding the other end of those reins but I figured she was rushing to get to the individual so lucky as to take her in hand.

I walked around the playspace a bit and took in that night’s activities. I spied a number of the contestants who seemed to be playing in the dungeon with no small sense of relief for having finally put the contest’s stress behind them! I went back up to my room, retrieved my toybag and came back on down for another lap or two around the dungeon. Eventually, I decided to step out and see who was hanging out in the hallway outside the playspace. Upon stepping out into that hallway that ponygirl I’d spied earlier, walked up to me and handed me her reins.

Now, I might not be the smartest guy on the planet and my ability to miss the rather blatant forwardness of some individuals is pretty well known. But when a lovely lady crosses a room to stand in front of me and puts her reins in my hands, well, even I can catch on to the intent there!

I’d not done much pony play. In fact, I’d done no pony play. Especially with me being the ones holding the reins. It involves using to much gear. I’m not much into objectification. In particular, I’m not into “human animal” play as I wanna play with other people, not animals. And I’ve thus never given it much thought.

But I gotta say, it was no small turn on for me having this fine lady prancing at the other end of the reins I soon had wrapped around my hand!

I walked her around a bit out there in the hallway. This, primarily to get some idea of what would be involved in controlling another human being in such a set up. She was wearing a pair of hiking boots on her feet while her hands were in some hoof shaped gloves. That plus the clear latex outfit, her blond hair back in a tight braid, and a nice horsehair tail coming out from the back of her harness. She was fully rigged up and ready to go.

In fact, she was hot to trot. Literally!

I took her back inside the playspace and did a loop through it. That was fun but somewhat limited. The place was even more crowded by that time and I wasn’t as comfortable with the reins and having her in such cluttered confines. So, back out into the hallway did we go.

There, I decided to take her down to the hallway’s end for some water. I told her that I wanted some nice and high prancing steps that would show her off as the pretty pony she was. I got an enthusiastic nod on that one! I gathered up the reins a bit and gave them a snap to get her moving. She was soon prancing sprightly about ten feet ahead of me as we worked our way down the hallway’s length.

This actually turned out to be quite the turn on for me. I was surprised and pleased at that. I hadn’t considered such play would have that effect for me. I guess the control, the objectification, and the visual aspects all combined in the right way. And I’m glad for it.

By the time we got to the far end, my pony girl definitely needed her rest. She was sweating nicely and had worked up a bit of a lather. Getting water past that bit though was something of a problem. We worked it out such that she wouldn’t choke on it though she did make something of a mess in the process. But then, ponies usually do when they drink. At that time it was off for another run back to the other end of the hallway. By this time I had more of a feel for the reins and we went a bit faster. It was still a lot of fun.

Back at the other end, I saw that Beauty – her pony name – was about spent. I brought her up short and told her to relax. Soon enough, I had unclipped her reins and had her kneeling before me while I next removed her bridal rig and bit. I liked how she was sweating through the openings of her latex outfit as well.

With her coming back out of her “pony space” we soon realized we actually knew each other! We’d dated back in 2000 or 2001! At that time, she was just barely edging into the scene and I was very much focused on other things than bringing a newbie along. We both laughed at the experience she’d gained in the years since! Later that evening, we put some of that experience to practice as well.

She and I wound up spending a good chunk of Sunday together. It turns out she’s still in the LA area and is also into fetish modeling, among other wonderful things, and thus I might have now connected / reconnected with a new playmate up in LA as well. Yay me!

Sunday afternoon I attended the “Dance of Souls” event. This is about as “woo woo” as it gets and is the thing which truly sets SWLC apart from other leather events. As the event program guide describes it:

“The Dance is about people bringing their focus and energies together for good intention. This modern primitive celebration is uniquely created through the energies of the voluntary participants present within a scaffolding of cross cultural spiritual traditions which involve temporary piercing, drumming, chanting and dancing.”

Set up in the same rooms which were used for the playspace, the Dance had a bank of tribal drummers making the beat for the event. Individuals within the space could either “Witness,” “Dance,” or assist. Folks would sign up to assist the Dancers in various ways – be it piercing them or coordinating the music or making sure the water coolers and snacks were always stocked. The piercing could involve anything from small incisions through which fishing line was run and then balls or bells hung off that, all the way up to pretty hefty metal hooks punched through deeply into the skin. These hooks were then tied off to some stout rope and that tied to snap-links. Folks doing such hook piercings did so for “hook pulls” in which they’d attach that snap link to the wooden frame in the center of the room and then lean back to bring the rope taut. The weight they put on it pulled the hooks and fired up sensations within them through that tension induced pain. Or, they could connect the snap links together and pull on another person’s hooks while pulling on their own in the process. Or they could simply have someone hold onto the rope and pull from there.

The folks with the fishing line would gain their altered headspace by the kinetic action of the implements they had hanging off the fishing line. This Ball Dancing would bounce those balls and bells around and with each jiggle and bounce it would fire up the sensations throughout the body.

The intent here was to work yourself up into an ecstatic headspace through the intense physical stimulation that resulted from the tension and impact through the piercings in your skin. The driving beat of the drums helped with this. The dancing of everyone around you helped with this too. The combined energy of the crowd was the final part to it all. The goal was a sort of combined and controlled frenzy where everyone built upon everyone else’s energy and headspace.

Just walking in the door to the room I felt the energy wash over me. It was a pretty powerful thing. I had some idea of what I’d expect here and I was not wrong in my expectations.

Back in the 90’s I used to set up the workshops for several LeatherFest San Diego conferences. Among the many topics I got on the various year’s programs were a bunch about SM Spirituality, SM Shamanism, Modern Primitivism, and the incorporation of Body Rituals into SM play. Richard Wolfe was one of the first guys I learned of who had information about this to present. Fakir Musifar was another. I had them both down, among others, to conduct the workshops and demonstrations about this subject. Even back in the mid and late 90’s this stuff was about as rare and as “out there” as you were gonna get in the leather/ SM/ fetish world. Back then, even the most hardened sadists would blanch at the idea of running large hooks through your chest muscles, tying the hooks off to a tree branch above you and then hanging your entire body weight on those hooks until you either passed out or the hooks ripped out through your flesh. Fakir, however, had been doing exactly just that and had been doing it longer than I’ve been alive on this planet! So, there was some history here and it was a fascinating thing to learn.

Thus, walking into the Dance at SWLC I was not unprepared for what I encountered.

This all may sound kinda gruesome and “heavy” as far as SM play goes. But “heavy” is always a relative thing as one person’s “heavy” play is another’s light foreplay. And if you can get past the temporary piercing bit, the end result is not gruesome at all.

When I was in Huntsville, for instance, one lady I knew decided to do a hook pull suspension scene for her birthday. Her sixty fifth birthday! She wound up with four large hooks in her back to spread the load and thus avoid any one of them ripping out. She was still flying long, long after her feet had touched the ground from being raised up into the air by those hooks. It was a wonderful thing her and her partner.

If you’ve the ability to channel that level of intense stimulation into that ecstatic headspace then the resulting experience can take you to some truly wonderful places mentally and emotionally. I count myself as being lucky that I’ve been able to go to such places in some of the SM scenes I’ve experienced. As a result, I had some clear idea of the benefits of this Dance and knew why so many there were so intent on Dancing as deeply as they could.

What I did see there was wonderful. Some folks were utterly blissed out and very, very high from the sensations. Some of those folk had no piercings in them at all and had gotten to that mental headspace just through the “contact high” of being around so many others doing the same. Plenty of folk were flying as a result of the Ball Dancing they were doing with all manner of balls, and bells and such strung to them through their flesh. And there were plenty of men and women there with hooks deep through their skin, their ropes taught and absolute joy radiating from their bodies.

I stood to the room’s edges taking all this in. I was just a “Witness” and not a “Dancer” at the event. I didn’t want to get in the way of anyone. This, due to health reasons – those piercings and hooks were “open wounds” through the flesh - but also to give them their space for their joy. Even at the edges though, it was a powerful experience. I watched and enjoyed and reveled in the beauty, the agony, the joy, and the beautiful joyous agony the Dancers were experiencing. I saw one master / slave couple do their own dance. They both had hooks set deep into their backs and ropes tied to those hooks. At one point, the slave had knelt down in front of her master, laid her hands out in front of her and her head upon the floor. He had then hooked his rope to hers and leaned back. This pulled both their ropes taught and I could see the hooks in her back gather the flesh there from the strain. Even though his rope was over his shoulders, and thus that took some of the weight off his hooks, there was still ample stress there and I could plainly see the pain each such pulling was yielding. Yet, in that headspace, pain was the last thing either of them was feeling.

Instead, the joy and intensity and union of the two of them was an awesome thing to behold as they danced together that way. There was a balance between the two that spoke volumes as to the depth of their relationship. That sort of intensity brought me to tears just watching it.

I was glad for that to.

I looked around and saw much more of such intensity and joyous agony and ecstatic headspace.

Part of me was flabbergasted that this event could be taking place in a national hotel chain. Yet, plainly it was and has been for some time now. The hotel staff was amply aware of the nature of that Dance and had no qualms about it. I watched one of the hotel workers quite dedicatedly go ‘round the room refilling the many water coolers set up there. His concern was making sure his hotel’s guests were provided the full measure of the hotel’s professional service. I was impressed by that. The young guy wasn’t gawking and nor was he blanching at what was going on around him.

I stayed at the Dance for perhaps an hour or so. It was an emotionally intense thing for me even just “Witnessing” the event. Eventually, my new LA friend and I made our way out of the Dance and recouped a bit out by the lobby of the hotel.

Are such things for everyone? No, I doubt that. Even for some folks who are looking for such intense physical experiences, being in the midst of such a widely diverse crowd could be off-putting. Some folks there at the Dance were approaching it from a neo-Pagan perspective. Some were approaching it from other, more traditionally religious perspectives, some were doing so from a Native American perspective. This, whether they were of such heritage or not. Still others sought joy through the experience while others attained catharsis. I watched one lad weep in heaving, wracking sobs as a result of the stimulation he’d attained from the hooks in his back. I watched one lady leaning herself back almost horizontal with the hooks through the skin of her breasts thereby holding almost all her body’s weight as she danced herself into a blissful frenzy. And I saw some folk there, pierced and participating, who were only doing so for the benefit of their partners and who “weren’t into this woo woo shit” otherwise.

Me? I dunno. I’ve plumbed some of such depths and I’ve savored the realms I’ve found when in such an ecstatic headspace. I also know how much work – and it is work – it takes for me to get into such a state. I don’t know if I’d be able to do so in such an environment. Even were I able to do so with a one on one session, so many other people being there might be too much of a distraction. Or, it might make it even more magical. I dunno. I do know I shan’t rule such out. I’ve to much experience in the scene and with myself to rule much of anything out these days. The flipside of such experience and knowledge of self however, is that I recognize such a scene and play is not likely to happen any time soon with me.

Eventually, the Dance was over and the event wrapped up. I was somewhat surprised that the Dance takes place on Sunday evening and is considered the “closing ceremony” for the weekend. That is a helluvalot of energy and headspace generated there. And to have to bring it to so soon a defined end seems at odds with the effort taken to generate it. I would think a Saturday night Dance would be better as that would allow the rest of the evening and all day Sunday to recover. But, that’s just me.

On the whole, this weekend’s event was a good one. I made a wonderful new connection / reconnection that I am very happy with. I got to “witness” a unique, powerful, and beautiful Dance that was inspiring and awesome to behold.

I will have to exercise more care though, to be sure the events I attend in the future are ones which have more interesting things for me within them. The focus of SWLC wasn’t practical enough for me to hone my SM skills and nor was it sufficiently theory based for me to find any new realizations about them either. This isn’t a failing of the event, it just reflects its focus and where I am at in the scene these days.

I don’t know if there is any leather weekend event out there which would fit that bill for me. But, since I am still “new” to the leather event world these days, the search for such will thus continue.

Life in LA

Wow.  I am MUCH happier up here than I was down in San Diego.  There is so much more going on up here in Los Angeles!  And I'm muchly grateful for it.

Shortly after getting myself situated up here in El Segundo I began casting about finding links to the various communities I wanted to be part of.  And there are many such communities up here.  I found Threshold, I found the Lair, and I began sampling all of it.  I reconnected with one of the fine lads I'd originally connected with back at Sampler earlier in the year.  In short order I managed to leave my mark on the boy and that pleased both of us.

I also found and visited as many hobby shops up here as I could.  The best that I've found thus far has been Military Hobbies out in Orange.  They've an excellent selection of kits and books and the couple that run the joint are both into the hobby - yes, she is as well!  Their prices are quite competitive and they sport a number of science fiction / anime kits on their shelves.  If ever you find yourself out there please say hello to Jim and Lindy Woody for me.

Truck Work

Mid-November of '08 saw me cooling my heels in San Diego whilst I awaited my next assignment with SM&A.  Luckily, I'd not long to wait.  But, while I was waiting I put my time to good use.  Among other things I did - aside from luxuriating in the nice dry heat of a San Diego November, was get my truck worked on. 

For several years now I've put up with having a leaky gas tank on my Ford Ranger.  Specifically, a leaky fuel filler line connection.  I'd insert the gas pump nozzle and start things flowing.  Pretty soon things'd be flowing onto the pavement as well.  Initially, this didn't happen all the time.  Then it only happened if I was applying pressure in a certain way when holding the gas pump nozzle.  Then it would happen if I left the auto-shut off click when filling.  Then it just was happening all the damn time.  I'd put this off as long as I could.  Whilst away in Huntsville it simply wasn't worth my while to spend money fixing up my truck since I only used it four or five days a month at most.  Mid-November '08 saw me expecting a El Segundo posting where I'd be driving my truck all the time.  So, fixing it was a must.  And, fix it I did.  Or rather, I had the Ford repair shop at Kearny Mesa Ford do the work for me.  I specifically asked them for the replaced part back.  And that I got.

Corroded fuel filler line

Having this thing replaced set me back a considerable amount of change.  It was worth it though for peace of mind if nothing else.  The left end of this thing is where the gas cap screws in and the right end goes into the fuel tank itself.  The corrosion is visible just after the first metal band clamp there on the left.  The rubber is completely broken.  The new part solved the leaky fuel problem and left me a much happier camper as a result.

Back to America's Finest City(tm)

I spent about another week or so in Huntsville transitioning off the proposal and packing things up.  It felt very odd to depart the place that I'd been "living" in for over half a year.  Nothing major or deeply troubling.  Just a tad odd.  The folks I'd met in the Huntsville kink community were quite friendly and all of them regretted my having to leave, hoped I'd be back soon, and wished me well in my travels.  Their hospitality and companionship made quite a bit of difference during the time I was in the Rocket City.

A weary traveler a IAH
On the flight back I got to see some fairly odd things.

Some of them were odd things I saw on the ground while waiting for my flight...

... and others were odd things I saw on the ground while on my flight.
Odd things on the ground

And that was about it.  I got back to SD in mid-November and by that month's end I was working again.  This time up in El Segundo.  For whatever reason, I didn't feel quite as compelled to take many photographs while there.  So, you'll just have to take my word for it that I was indeed there.  I do have to say that the view out the windows from the R-9 office tower were quite spectacular.  Looking north the view extended out over runway 25L of the LAX complex.  Out in the distance to the north and east are the mountains that run north of Los Angeles.  At this particular time of year I found them frequently capped with beautiful blankets of white snow.  They made quite the vista looking out over metropolis at their feet.

At December's end my Mom came out on her annual jaunt from the frozen North East.  Among other things, this time we came up to LA to take in "Gershwin Alone" at the Geffen.  If you've a chance to catch this performance as it goes around the nation you should do so.  It was top-notch excellent.

And that about wraps up my days in 2008.  I'm adjusting pretty well to the life of a consultant.  And so long as the work keeps coming, I think I'll keep in that "pretty well" mode.

Black Rose

In late October I zipped up to DC to take in my first Black Rose event.  I'd heard much about this weekend long leather / SM / fetish conference and decided to finally check it out.  I'm l gad I did.

I was particularly curious about the event as the organization which puts it on originally sprang from PEP-DC (People Exchanging Power) back in the mid-80's.  That was the very first SM group I found and began my path into the scene through.  Lotsa history there.

To make things all the more fun for the weekend, I had some "distractions" from the moment I fired up my cellphone at Washington National Airport (I REFUSE to call it Reagan National, I used to work there when it was just Washington National and just Washington National is all its gonna ever be for me!)  Upon getting my cellphone turned back on and hearing the voicemail waiting for me, I learned that I was now essentially out of a job.  The program I was working on down in Huntsville had decided that they'd essentially run out of cash and thus needed to cut back.  So, away went a bunch of SM&A consultants.  And I was among that bunch.  Yay me!  So much for being there through Xmas - as the SM&A site rep assured me.  Oh well, that's but the nature of the work.  I decided that there was damn all I could do about the work situation so I focused on the event and reasons which drew me to DC.

I've no photos from the event itself as they did NOT allow photography of any kind there.  While I can understand that, I found the DC folks in general to be far more uptight than elsewhere.  To much government work will do that to you. 

I managed to have some very good encounters while there.  Not the least of which was with this Dragon who knows how to polish boots with a beautiful energy and knows how to dance to my pain even more beautifully.

While I couldn't take photos of or at the event there was plenty of things outside the event that were worth a few pictures of.  So, come Sunday afternoon I did just that.  DC was my home for seven years back in the 80's and I still feel quite the connection to it.  Walking around outside the convention hotel I got back into that a bit.

My hotel room
See that big tree there?  My hotel room was right above it.  No, really, it was.  I think that'd be patently obvious!  Really.

Of course, if you're gonna walk around DC taking photos you gotta take at least one of the Capitol Building.  And, sure enough, I did.  This one however, is not from the Mall view.  It's over by Union Station and looking at the building from the northwest.  There's plazas, gardens, fountains, and sculptures galore around DC.  It truly is the "Monumental City."
The Capitol
What really caught my eye, structure-wise, this time around was Union Station.

Union Station

This place was just up the street from the hotel and thus readily available for my photography.  It was also a handy thing to have around as Union Station has a very well developed food court and the grub there was both better and a whole heckuvalot cheaper than the grub the hotel was putting forth.

I really like the vistas that the neo-classical Federalist style of Union Station's architecture provides.  This runs from inside:

Inside Union Station

To outside the structure:

Union Station looking one way

Union Station looking the other way

After having my fill of Union Station photos I decided to move on to my main target - the National Air & Space Museum.  When I lived in DC I'd spend hours wandering through this place.  Some days though I'd spend but a brief couple of minutes in it - just long enough to lock my bike up outside, run inside to the repeater for the Atomic Clock at the Naval Observatory, and reset the time on my watch to it.  I've not been back to the Air & Space Museum for a while so I wanted to see the changes there.  I was not disappointed.

I found this display to be very, very fitting.

Spaceship One and the Bell X-1

That's the Spaceship One there on the left and its right next to the Bell X-1 on the right.  I am always awed by stuff like this.  The Bell X-1 was the first plane to exceed Mach 1 in level flight.  That is, the first to go faster than sound.  Today, supersonic flight is a routine thing.  Back in '47 however, the "sound barrier" was a scary and lethal thing which some scientists thought simply could not be exceeded by any manned craft.  Chuck Yeager proved them wrong and that's the plane he did it in.

I think it high compliment and truly fitting to see the Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne placed next to the X-1.  Burt Rutan's creation is the first privately funded and built vehicle to reach outer space.  Previously, only government funded and operated machines have done that.  The privatization of space travel is one of the bright hopes for our future.  And there's Burt's handiwork leading the way to it.

Very Fitting Indeed

Also fitting is what you can see in this view.  On the left and above is the Voyager aircraft.  That's the first plane to fly around the world unrefueled.  That is an awesome accomplishment and one which nearly cost the lives of the plane's crew a couple of times over as they achieved it.  In background here you'll note SpaceShipOne there out in the main hall.  On the right in the photo is the Apollo XI Command Module.  That's what Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins flew in on the first manned mission to the Moon's surface.  This is heady stuff here.  Most designers would be deeply honored if anything they even worked on briefly was accepted into the Smithsonian's collection.  Here?  Here Burt Rutan has not one but two of his designs, his creations, and his thoughts turned into reality at the Smithsonian.  And not just stuck in some filing cabinet or warehouse.  Instead, Burt's works are given pride of place next to the other icons of man's dreams of flight turned real.  That is an amazing honor.

With that noted, I headed back to the hotel and a wind down of the weekend.  I don't know if I'll be back to another Black Rose but I'm glad for the connections I made at the one I did attend.

DomCon - Atlanta

In October of '08 I made my way back to Atlanta.  This time it was for the DomCon - Atlanta event.  This is put on by the same folks, Cyan and crew, who put on DomCon - LA each year.  Unlike at th LA event, I made sure to get myself a room at the site hotel for the weekend.  I also made sure to take the "northern" route from HSV to ATL and it was much better.

DC-A is a good deal smaller than DC-LA.  It's a newer event and even though the Atlanta metro area has exploded in size of late it still is but a small patch of ground compared to LA and its metro area.  So, DomCon Atlanta has some catching up to do with its LA sister event.

Still though, the crowd there was fun, friendly - for the most part - and there was plenty of eye candy about.  It was also interesting for me to see just how much the leather / SM / fetish community in Atlanta had changed since I lived there in '89 / '90.

While there I caught up with these two fine gents:

That's Gabriel on the left and Lee on the right.  When I took this picture Gabriel was in about the last full month of his twenty first year.  His mane caught my eye straight aways.  I was flattered that I caught his eye to.  We've kept in touch since and I'm glad for that.

Lee there on the right is busy at work.  No, he's not working it with Gabriel.  Instead he's there manning his booth.  Lee is part of the crew which runs "Marvelous Mayhem" out near Stone Mountain, Georgia.  That's just a tad east of Atlanta itself.

I first met Lee some years ago at an IML and picked up a really cool leather arm sleeve / harness thing he was selling.  Then I met him again earlier this year at DC-LA.  Over the summer I got in touch with him to make me some leather jodhpurs and I was very pleased with the results.  They've now become the "signature" leather gear for me just as my leather lace-up cod piece pants were back through the 90's.
Gabriel and Lee

Folsom 08
September saw me zipping off to SF for its Folsom Street Fair and weekend.  I try and make this annual event as often as I can.  This year I scored a hotel room right on Folsom and I had an excellent time.  Having a room right there meant I was able to do several "costume changes" through the course of the event's afternoon.

The day's start
Costume Change 01
Costume Change 02
Costume Change 03 at day's end

DragonCon 2008

Back shortly after I landed in Huntsville and realized I'd be there for a while I began looking around for things to do whilst I was there.  Looking ahead, I realized that there was DragonCon over in Atlanta and that it would be taking place over Labor Day Weekend.  If I was to have any weekend I could be relatively certain of having off it'd be Labor Day Weekend.  Thus, I made plans to attend this huge science fiction convention.  And when I say huge, I mean HUGE.

DragonCon bills itself as "the largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film in the US."  Having now been there, I can attest to the essential truth in their words!

The convention takes over not one, not two, not three - but four downtown Atlanta hotels.  Four of them.  Filled.  Filled entirely with SF / Fantasy fans.  As I type this entry in February of '09, the four main hotels for DragonCon 2009 are now all sold out.  This, some six months out from the actual event.  And DragonCon has been doing this for years now.

I only figured out that I'd be able to attend DC in early June of '08 so I was very much SOL when it came to scoring a room at the convention rate.  Hell, I was luckless scoring a room at any rate.  At least so back in June and July.  Come early August though, I learned that the Hilton Atlanta had rooms available - at their premium non-convention rate.  Well, having been to enough cons "back in the day" I knew that there was really no substitute for having a room on site at such events.  So, I sucked it up and booked it on the double quick.  On the whole, I'm glad I did.  Having a room "right there" made the event that much more practicable.

Come the weekend I packed it up and headed east.  Well, I headed south south east as I followed the route that AAA had mapped out for me that cut at a slight diagonal down through Alabama until I reached the 20 and could cut straight east.  The lady at AAA Alabama Huntsville assured me that this was the best route.  This, even though Route 1 was a direct access road that went through one little town after the next.  Well, she lied.

It may have been the shortest mileage wise but the route was an exercise in frustration as it went through stop light after stop light, town after town, and plenty of traffic that was rolling little faster than I could walk.  I wanted to strangle that AAA woman!  Eventually, after about five hours of driving, I got into Atlanta.  Later, I learned that most folk in Huntsville preferred to take the 64 up and across through Chattanooga and then down the 75 into Atlanta.  That route is some thirty or so miles longer but Google lists it as taking but ten minutes longer to traverse.  Over my stay in HSV I had occasion to hit Atlanta twice more and I found that "northern" route to be a helluvalot faster and far less aggravating that grinding through the length of Alabama via what are essentially just glorified back roads.  Grrr....

Anyway, I checked in to my hotel, tried my best to shed the hours spent fighting through Labor Day Weekend traffic on the roads, and then headed out into the fray of the Convention itself to get my event registration.

Did I mention that DragonCon is huge?  Okay, I just wanna be sure that point is clear.

Three of the four host hotels are all next door to each other.  I spent most of my weekend at DragonCon shifting between my hotel, the Hilton, to the Marriott Marquis, and then over to the Hyatt Atlanta.  Primarily it was between the Marriott and the Hyatt though.  The Hilton didn't have nearly as inviting a lobby as the other two.

Everyone who's been to DragonCon always mentions the lobby of the Marriott Marquis.  And they're right to do so.  If I had to envision what some far future exotic luxury space liner's interior would look like - the lobby of the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta would be it.

I don't know who the architect was for this beauty but they sure got it right.

The shapes are all wonderfully curving and semi-organic.  The interior space it contains is vast and it's being open all the way up makes for an awesome vista no matter where you are.

Over the years quite a few folk have availed themselves of this space in unique ways.  There's been bungee jumpers leaping off the upper balconies.  There's also been parachutists parachuting down from those upper balconies.  Yeah, the hotel goes up that far and there's enough space inside its lobby for all that.

This place makes for THE perfect setting for a science fiction convention hotel.

In comparison, the Hyatt's lobby seemed rather dowdy in comparison yet it to was pretty futuristic in its day.  The after hours events for the Con took place mainly over in the Hilton's lobby bar and the Marriott's lobby in general.

The crowd here was always heavy and thick with eye candy galore.

I took over five hundred pictures while at my first DragonCon.  I shan't include the all here though!
Marriott Marquis in Atlanta

What I will include are just some of the highlights and more interesting images I found while at the event.  DragonCon is not just about science fiction and fantasy.  Just about anything and everything media related also can be thrown in.  Costuming is very big at DragonCon and the creativity some folks showed in this was really impressive.  Subjects here ran the gamut from your traditional sci-fi tropes to anime to fantasy to comic book to humor to movies to recreationists to just about anything else you can imagine.

Two John Waynes
I mean, where else but DragonCon would you be likely to find not one, but two John Waynes?  And both with the same painted lady at their side?

Flying Spaghetti Monster
If it was a unique form of absolution you sought, one which was otherwise unobtainable from conventional religion, then perhaps the Flying Spaghetti Monster is your god of choice.  If so, then your god was at DragonCon.

Software CD Pirate

Or perhaps a bit of piracy was more your thing.  Of course, this would have to be an appropriately modern piracy with an appropriately modern pirate.  This fine gent here on the left fit that bill admirably.
The Dark Tower as a Wide Load

The breadth of creativity and humor displayed by some of these costumers was wonderful.  This one brought all that together nicely.  I had to laugh when I saw this and had to get a photo of it.  The guy wearing this rig had a very easy time of it as he really didn't have to move around much.  Folks ensured that by being a constant stream coming up to him seeking his photograph.
Great Makeup!

Here was even more creativity and artistry.  This costume was mostly painted on and was a work of art in and of itself.  The additions of the "flesh hair" were perfectly blended.  Back in the 80's I did black and red face paint for my USSMC camo at some of the cons I went to.  Thus I've an appreciation for the effort this woman went to in this outfit.  It was truly splendid to see.

This fine lad here was quite the recreationist.  This outfit was one of but several he sported over the course of the weekend.  The first one I saw him in was that of a Chindit. This, replete with the appropriate British jungle rifle and, if I recall correctly, a Kukri as well.

In this instance he was wearing the full kit of a US Army Airborne Captain set to make his next parachute jump into enemy territory.  All authentic - right down to the brown leather Corcoran "jump" boots.  The dedication to the details here was quite impressive.
Rebel Ground Crew
Damn, but I about pissed myself laughing at this one. 

What we have here is an excellent example of creativity and humor combined.  All in a nice and simple package.  I saw this guy standing in the Marriott lobby holding these two batons with the lights at their tip.  A brief inquiry as to what the deal was and he began waving those batons in sync and it thus became apparent.

This guy is portraying one of the Rebel forces "ground crew" from Star Wars.  I mean, after you've just blown up the Death Star and flown back to your secret Rebel Base you're still gonna need this guy to guide your X-Wing fighter into its landing spot!  Perfect!

Not all of the outfits were humor or recreation or even specifically sci-fi based.  Some of them were but "everyday wear."  Well, sort of every day.  Take this fine lass here on the right.  At six feet two inches in height, this woman would cut an imposing figure in any event.  Striding around the convention in her leathers and carrying that whip however, she struck a commanding figure as well. 

I first encountered her on Friday night when she was dressed up as a "construction worker."  As part of her costume she had these two really big hammers.  Yeah, that's right, hammers.  Two really big ones.  No, I'm not kidding.  They were hanging from her belt.  Yes, actual hammers.  You know, tools for hammering nails and such?  Why, what else did you think I was referring to?

But then, it wasn't all just imposing and commanding either.  She turned out to have quite the attraction to this big furry red critter here.  You might recognize him as being one of Bugs Bunny's long time foes from many the Warner Brothers cartoons of the 40's and into the 50's.  DragonCon had a lot of that walking around as well. Amazon and the Monster
Kilt Blowing
Then there was this bit of fun.

Jennie Breeden started this up some several years ago at DragonCon.  She noted that there were a goodly number of guys running around in kilts at that event and decided to have some fun.  So, she showed up with a leaf blower and tried to get a rise out of the kilted lads.

Over the years this has gotten a bit more formalized.  Now, instead of her chasing after the guys, they all come to her.  Smart woman, that.

Jennie of Kilt Blowing fame
The fun starts at Midnight was a "Running of the Kilts" across the bottom level of the Marriott's lobby.  Dignified?  Um, no.  Amusing?  You damn betcha!

Then comes the actual "Blowing of the Kilts" portion of the festivities.  I had a lot of fun doing this.  No small part of it being due to how Jennie got "frustrated" using that leaf blower in trying to get my leather kilt to do much more than billow a bit.

That's Jennie here on the left looking appropriately "embarrassed" at it all.  Yeah, right...
I really liked this guy.  In case you're not a fan of Babylon 5, this gent is dressed up as Londo Mollari, the Centauri Republic's ambassador to the Babylon 5 space station.  The man nailed all the aspects of the character.  From the hair crest to the Napoleon-esque attire to the overly grand persona.

He also was completely without fault in being overjoyed to let you take his picture or pose with you as others did.  He even had "Londo Mollari Centauri Republic Ambassador" cards printed up with his Earth-bound email address.  He only sought a copy of the photo in return.  It was characters like him who really added to the flavor and fun of the event.

Londo Mollari Welcomes You to DragonCon!
Also adding to the event's flavor was this bunch.  DragonCon is so damn big that they have a costume parade.  Outside.  On Atlanta city streets.  That runs for about an hour or more.  Yes, they have that many costumed characters and floats to make it that long. 

Among the more organized are this bunch: The 501st Imperial Legion - Vader's Fist.  These guys are as much "recreationists" as is the Chindit / Airborne lad I listed above.  Their numbers make for a pretty impressive sight.  They're hardly alone though.  Also in the parade are a whole bunch of Spartans from the "300," plenty of Ghostbusters, no few Cylons, General Zod - who was then running for President, Speed Racer in his Incredible Mach 5, a bunch of zombies, a full-up Racoon City News Network Mobile 8 news van - and if you know anything about that than it has to be kinda scary to see that driving around, almost all the know Stargate SG teams, a whole company's worth of US Colonial Marines - along with their pet Alien as a mascot, Herbie the Love Bug, and a whole bunch of others.  Made for quite the spectacle.

Stormtroopers on parade
On the whole I had fun at DragonCon.  I caught up with a few folks I knew from my time at the Baen site.  But that was about it.  I didn't really get "into the groove" of the event until it was just about over.  Having now "done a DragonCon" I'm better prepared for going back to do one again.  I'm not saying I will nor that I won't.  I'm just better prepared for it if I do.

Me being who I am, I also considered this gem one of the highlights of my trip. 

M-103 Heavy Tank

Found this beauty alongside the highway on the way back to Huntsville.  It's a gate guardian parked outside a local VFW hall.  This is an M-103 Heavy Tank from the 1950's.  It was designed to be America's answer to the super heavy battle tanks the Soviets had fielded after WWII.  Prior to the M-1 Abrams, the M-103 was as heavy, as big, and as lethal as it got for the US arsenal.  Unlike the Abrams, it was relatively underpowered and nor was it widely employed.  They didn't make many of these beasts and thus it was quite the surprise to see this one here.  It should, by all rights, be in its original dark green camo and not this "Desert Storm" scheme the VFW lads threw on it.  However, at least it's painted and thus they're taking some degree of care of it.

After making this stop it was another hour or two back to the Residence Inn and the end of my DragonCon weekend.

SF Fun

In August I headed off to SF for a nice weekend with Simone.  The flight out from HSV was through some rather crappy weather into Houston.  Due to the late inbound flight and other delays I barely made it to the gate before the bird took off.  Unfortunately, the only seat they had left for me was up in First Class.  It was either accept that or wait until the next SFO bound flight and that wouldn't have been for many hours.  So, I sucked it up and suffered through a first class seat all the way into San Francisco.  Sometimes life can be hell.  Truly.

This particular flight headed off into the setting sun and flew through some truly beauteous clouds.  With my new camera in hand, and having scored the window seat up there in front, I was able to get some rather first class cloud shots from my first class seat.

Cloud shots

While in SF that weekend Simone and I had more than our share of fun.  We even were able to take in a Ren Faire held in SF's Golden Gate Park.

I'm having fun. Really Yes, I AM having fun.  Even in this shot.  I'm actually having quite a bit of fun.


Among other things we did in SF was head down to a Scottish store in the Financial District of Sf where I picked up the Glengarry I'm sporting here in this shot on my left. 

I was looking for something to go with my kilts aside from the beret I had been wearing.  This rather large and formal Glengarry works with the kilts quite well.

I also found that there's enough space under that hat to hide quite a bit.  This can come in handy when I've no pockets or what have you to stick my wallet and such.

Functional fashion, no less.

Wonderfest 2008

One of the more interesting things I got to do whilst in Huntsville was take in the Wonderfest convention.  No, this didn't take place in scenic HSV.  In fact it took place up in Louisville, Kentucky.  That wasn't to far from HSV, actually, just about three hundred miles or a five or so hour long drive north.  As this was gonna be about the closest I'd be to a Wonderfest and as I'd nothing else going on that particular weekend in July, I figured I'd pile into the rental car and head north.

Wonderfest is a rather unique convention here in the US as it is all about sci-fi and horror related models and toys.  There are other model conventions but those place much more emphasis on "conventional" model subjects and far less on media related or science fiction model subjects.  At Wonderfest it's always all about those subjects and nothing else.  You won't, for instance, see a single model kit of yet another Bf-109 or Spitfire or Mustang - unless they happen to have been prominently featured in some science fiction or horror film.  The specially modified P-40 from the "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" might make it in but that'd be about it.  Thankfully.

Instead, you will likely find a whole bunch of Star Trek models, a whole bunch of Star Wars models, and whole bunch of highly detailed figures and sculpts of various sci-fi, horror and manga characters, and a whole bunch of subjects derived from Japanese anime.

What really drew me to Wonderfest was the fact that it has been so long talked up at one of the primary places I like hanging out at online: the Starship Modeler discussion board.  This is a place online that I've been participating in for over a decade now.  During those years I've come to know quite a few of the folk who also hang out there and who run the place as well.  "Come to know" that is, as well as you can know a person you've never actually met.  Going to Wonderfest would change that however, as I'd now have the chance to actually meet some of the folk I'd been interacting with for a decade.

I didn't really plan on being at Wonderfest though.  At least not when the rest of the crew on the Starship board were making their plans.  For a lot of them, Wonderfest is a really big deal.  They spend a pretty massive amount of time preparing for it.  There's models aplenty to build for the contest, supplies aplenty to stock up on for the different contest, and money to set aside for all the cool schwag that's available there.

After an early start followed by a looong drive north, I pulled into the hotel up there in Louisville.  A quick turn then followed and I was over to the convention hall where Wonderfest was taking place.  There were workshops going on all day but I wanted to check out the vendor's room and models on display.  Upon arriving there I found this guy guarding the door.

Gort for sale! In case you don't recognize him, this is Gort from "The Day the Earth Stood Still."  Well, at least its a potential Gort. 

He just needs a bit more finishing and then a few coats of silver paint.

And a supra-destructive heat ray-of-death mounted behind that visor.

Oh, and for the record, this Gort is from the original film version.  Not that travesty from last year with Keanu in it.  The less said about that disgusting exercise of film making the better.

I don't know if they found a buyer for this Gort.  He looks like he's able to be broken down into smaller, more transportable parts.  Even so, I don't think anyone who flew out to Wonderfest would've attempted checking those bits.

Now, for true fans this wouldn't be a problem.  Nor would there be any problem with finding Gort a proper place to be displayed in back in a true fan's house.

Now, aside from Gort there in the Vendor's / Display room there was a buncha other fine items.  The vendors had their wares out in force.  I was hoping for a wider selection or perhaps a deeper one but what was there was pretty damn good.  This, especially if you were deep into the "mainstream" alternative media subjects.  No, that's not an oxymoron to note things that way.  Most folk who are into this stuff are not into all of it and are usually into just certain aspects of it.  There's folks aplenty who are into anything and everything Star Trek or Star Wars or Anime.  Usually, but not always, such folk don't cross their interests.  That is to say, someone who's really into Star Trek subjects probably isn't going to be into Star Wars or Anime subjects nearly as much.  Not exclusive, not all the time, but they usually don't have enough time to devote to their primary interest as it is and thus the other sub-genres get the short shrift.

So, if it was the latest Star Trek model you were after or the latest "Aztec" pattern mask for the Star Trek kit you already had or if it was the latest garage kit of Queen Amidala's silvery spaceship from Episode II (or from Episode III for that matter) then you had plenty to choose from.  So to was the case if you were looking for that perfect figure kit Dr. Jekyll or of Spawn or of Sailor Moon.

There was also art work for sale, memorabilia for sale, collectibles for sale, and so on.  HobbyLink Japan was there and they did a brisk business with their anime kits straight from Japan.  Federation Models was there and had quite a bit else to move other than their Gort figure.

For me though, there wasn't as much of interest.  I've long ago settled on 1/72nd scale for the bulk of my models.  That avails me of a large number of kits in most of the subjects that interest me - planes and tanks - but puts most of the rest out of bounds.  I'm also not all that into Star Trek subjects so all the 1/350th scale starships there didn't catch my eye.  And I already have enough 1/1000th scale - my scale of choice for such subjects - starships that I need no more.  The figures and such on sale also were not my thing.  They're nice to look at but I'm not much into that aspect of the hobby.  So, there was but a limited amount of items on sale which I was much interested in.  And even fewer of those were things I could afford!

Over on the display side of things I found much more to be intrigued with.  I really like the creativity, artistry, and skill that goes into making these models. 

2001: A Space Oddysey - Discovery
On the left here is a rendering of the iconic XD-1 Discovery from the film "2001 A Space Odyssey."   That film came out in 1968 and Wonderfest had the film's 30th anniversary as its centerpiece theme.  There was an additional display of other 2001 models as well as some full-size props and such to go along with it.  Pretty damn impressive.

Equally as impressive was this beast here on the right.  This is a home-built labor of love and depicts the Battlestar Galactica from the original TV series from back in the 1970's.  The detail that went into this model is an awesome thing to behold.

Battlestar Galactica The Original Series - The Galactica
Alien Mothership
These two images show some of the original subject matter creativity and skill that I mentioned above.  This model, or models actually, are wonderfully done.  In addition to an excellent execution and finish, they're also lighted and jammed with all sorts of little detail gems.

The little ships docked here on the right are just one example of those details.  Do they look familiar to you?
Alien Mothership detail
Of course, not all the creations here were things of such intense hyper realism.  This bit of whimsy here is proof of that.  I think this is what happens when a car modeler gets some sci-fi into his blood and cuts loose.  The result as a classic update of a classic hotrod that turned it into just the sort of "car" we all wish we had parked in our driveway!
Auburn Aero Car

Aside from the goodies for sale, the models on display, and the many workshops being presented, for most of the Starship Modeler folk at Wonderfest the highlight of the weekend was the "Iron Modeler Challenge" held on the Saturday night of the event. 

This is a multi-hour long party with food, drink and plenty of model bits with which various teams gather to create the most noteworthy assembly out of those model bits.  I wandered around this "Challenge" and took it all in.  I was surprised at the amount of tools and equipment so many folks brought with them to ply their skills.  That was inspiring for me to develop my own MMMC - "Mobile Model Making Capability" so I could partake of my hobby while on the road.

The "Challenge" is also a social event and it is there where I met the most number of Starship Modeler folk that I'd conversed with.

As I'd only decided to attend the event a week or so prior to its happening, and as I wasn't sure I'd be able to get away from work that weekend, I'd made no prior announcement of my plans.  Thus, everyone there was quite surprised to see me.  Some were kinda shocked.  Others were rather pleased.  It took some folk a bit of time to warm.  But, it was worth it overall for me.

Sunday morning I got going early and drove on down to the Louisville Slugger Museum.  I'm not a baseball fan but I know an icon when I see it and I knew that I couldn't pass this one up.  So, short order I was parked across the street from the Museum and got my shot of the Museum's giant Louisville Slugger Bat.

Louisville Slugger Bat I also made sure to get across the street and put my hands on the thing.

Thus, I can honestly say that, yes, I have touched the giant Louisville Slugger Bar in Louisville.

I touched it!

Yes, I did.

Once back at the Convention I made sure to take in the 2001 panel held by these two guys:

Keir Dulla and Gary Lockwood

That's Keir Dullea on the left there and Gary Lockwood on the right.  The panel presentation they gave was fascinating.  Aside from the enormous amount of details, insider observations, asides, and history they brought forth, it was also fascinating to watch the two of them interact.

They were obviously good friends but they were also obviously vastly different people.  Keir seems every bit the reserved intellectual.  Lockwood, by contrast, seems every bit the earthy extrovert.  They were both very much Type A Personalities and seemed eager not to let the other one best them in telling some tale of their histories.  It was a friendly rivalry but plainly a rivalry.  Considering the immense cultural impact 2001 has had on all of us, getting to meet both of these guys was a real treat.

I stuck around the Convention for a bit after that.  I bought a couple of things and connected with a few more folk from the SM site.  I did not envy Griff's many-multi-hour drive back home to Little Rock.  It put my five or six hour drive into perspective!

At that point I was back on the road south headed to Huntsville.  On the way down I decided to stop off and take a gander at the official National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green Kentucky.  The Museum had yet to open at this point so I just drove around its outside and such.  I did get a couple of shots of semi-trailers full of freshly created Corvettes being driven down the 65 past the Museum.  A nice touch, that.

In the course of my driving back and forth over that weekend I also came to realize one of the merits of air conditioning - less fatigue.  I had decided to help pass the miles by calling some friends on my cellphone as I drove.  To do so however, I had to roll up the windows in order to hear and be heard via the ear piece.  In the heat of summer that meant I had to fire up the AC in order to keep from baking while talking.  Even once I was done talking - or in some cases, where I was out of signal entirely as Verizon doesn't operate in Kentucky - I decided to keep the AC going.  When I got done driving I realized I wasn't as tired as I would otherwise have been from such a time in the vehicle.

Back in San Diego I preferred not to use the AC in my Ranger.  I preferred this so much that when the AC motor seized I simply bought a shorter length of fan belt and left the thing in place.  This means of course, that I've to keep the windows open as I drive.  I simply put up with the wind and road noise in the process.  Now I realize just how fatiguing that continuous sonic impact can be.  So, I now have as one of my goals the replacement of that AC motor and the recharging of my truck.  A lesson learned.

At May's end I got my first assignment as a project scheduler consultant working for SM&A.  It was off to Huntsville, Alabama.  And this proved an adventure.  It also proved quite the learning experience for me.

I was originally told to expect to be out there for three months, my job authorization listed four months, the SM&A site rep told me to expect six months and I talked to other SM&A guys out there who were already a year into their own three month deployment.  So, it could be anything.  I just had to learn to be flexible and take it as it came.

My "digs" for my time in HSV (that's the airport code for the Huntsville International Airport and it's also a lot easier to type that then keep on typing out Huntsville) was this fine establishment.

The Residence Inn Huntsville

Living in a Residence Inn was not half bad.  My room sported its own little kitchen with an electric stove top , a nuke, and a dishwasher.  My room would be tended to on a daily basis, if I wanted it so, and the place had a exercise room, a little pool, a hot tub, provided free Web access, provided free breakfasts and also did free "social hour" meals several nights of the week.  The food was usually of a quality you'd expect for being "free" but that was fine.  The place also had a gas fired grill for guests to use and I learned a lot about cooking meats on it.  Eventually, this took the form of my buying a little meat temperature sensor thing to tell me when I'd cooked things long enough.  Prior to having that I'd essentially burn the stuff just to be sure.

When I was getting set to "deploy" to HSV a number of folks, upon learning my destination, expressed their sympathies by telling me that Huntsville was so... nice...  Gee, thanks for that damning faint praise.

Once I got there however, I found that there was a lot to be said for Huntsville.  HSV actually is a pretty interesting place.  A lot more interesting and cosmopolitan than most folks think.  I attribute this to there being a whole bunch of rocket scientists in Huntsville.  And that there's been a whole bunch living there for more than half a century now.  Rocket scientists being rocket scientists, they tend to get bored if there's not interesting things for them to do when off work.  Thus, HSV soon got a first class university and a whole bunch of other institutions which would normally only exist around a much, much larger metro area.  The big, big aerospace and defense businesses centered around HSV ensure this will keep going.

NASA has one of its major centers there and the US military is focusing its ballistic missile defense work at the Redstone Arsenal there in Huntsville as well.

That, in fact, is what got me to HSV.  I started work at Boeing on their Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) contract.  It was fascinating stuff for me.  You know those "interceptors" in Poland which the Russians are getting so upset about?  That's the stuff I was involved with.  Interesting to be working on something so immediately relevant to world events.

Also at Huntsville is the US Space and Rocket Center.  This place boasts not one but two Saturn V rockets on display.

Big Iron - Saturn V Rocket

This one above here is the one they have outside.  It makes for one helluva landmark.  They usually have it nicely illuminated and it is, by far, the tallest structure for many miles around.

It also happened to be but a couple of miles away from the Residence Inn there and I decided to hit the place up on the first weekend I was in town.  I got there just as the museum was closing so I just snuck around the grounds outside.  They've got an awful lot of big iron out there!

One example of which was this Atlas missile they had still in its transport cradle.

Atlas on its side in HSV

This must've been recently put outside or freshly refurbished as it still had quite the mirror sheen to its metal.  This thing was America's first workable ICBM and it was what put the Mercury astronauts up into space.  They also used to be manufactured just a few miles away from where I live in Clairemont out in San Diego.

Before I left for that day I simply had to get this shot here:

Under the Big Iron

That's me there standing right underneath one of the Saturn V's five main engines.  The mouth of that thing is some twenty or so feet above me.  To this day, the F-1's are still among the largest and most powerful rocket engines ever produced.  Their maw is enormous and very, very impressive.

And damn, I need to have trimmed my nose hairs before taking this shot!

In short order in HSV I got myself my very first laptop computer.  Thanks Mom!  This enabled me to stay connected with the world I'd left behind when I rushed off to HSV.  I also got myself into the mode of being a "road warrior" in that I learned how to and got the gear in order to take my laptop with me as I traveled.  Here's some of that spread out in one of the traveler' kiosks at the HSV terminal.

Madoc Pope - Road Warrior!

Over time, I really grew to dislike traveling through HSV.  The airport is a destination and not a major one.  Oh, its a constant one due to all the government and aerospace business there but not one of sufficiently heavy volume to warrant much of any "real" passenger jets being used.  As such, most airlines only flew in regional or "commuter" jets.  These were but slightly larger than the "puddle jumpers" I used to kick off the ramp at National back in the 80's.  Most of these were "1 and 2" configurations inside.  That is, a window seat, an aisle, and then the two other seats per row.  Standing up in the aisle of these things meant I was rubbing my head on the ceiling.  Cramped and uncomfortable was the watch word here.  That, and tight for carryon space.  I was glad that the hubs they connected to were usually but an hour and a half away.

Of course, the time that I arrived in HSV, May, meant I got to deal with the piping hot air temperatures of an Alabama summer, the sopping wet humidity of an Alabama summer, and the torrential downpours of an Alabama summer.  Most days this happened all at once!  That didn't make for pleasant flying in those jet powered puddle jumpers.

One nice thing about the small size of HSV was it made for a rather "intimate" airshow experience when they held their annual event.  Aside from the static aircraft displays, they had the Blue Angels on hand.  I missed the Saturday performance as the weather looked to crappy.  I made a point of ignoring that for Sunday and went out with camera in hand.  I was really surprised at how close I could get to those birds.

Blue Angels at HSV

Back in San Diego at MAS Miramar there's no way I could've been so close to one of the Blues.  At least not without some special - and expensive - "chalet" pass or something.  At HSV I was but a hundred feet away or less and it would've been awesome to have stood there as they fired the birds up and done their show.

Among the several bits of warbird eye candy was this World War Two B-25 Mitchell bomber.  She sure looked purty and I've plenty of close up photos of its features.

B-25 Mitchell bomber

Also out on the ramp was an Air Force F-15 up from Florida, I think, and I just had to get this requisite shot.

The screw that holds it all together

I always get a kick out of this.  For many years, the F-15 Eagle was the world's best fighter plane - bar none.  A Mach 2 capable super jet that costs millions of dollars and sports nothing but the most sophisticated technology on Earth.  And what is up at its very tip?  What is it that holds the plane all together?  Why, a Phillips Head screw!  Of course!

Whilst wandering around the other static displays, one of the typical Alabama microburst downpours rolled right across the runway and tarmac.  Stuck out in the open as we all were, we had no other place to go for shelter than under the very planes we'd been gawking at.

And lemme tell you, airplanes make lousy weather shelters when you're standing outside the things!

A carrier deck experience while on land

The only advantage to crowding underneath the plane's wings was it afforded some degree of shelter to the rain coming down.  At least until the rain started blowing sideways.  Even huddled together like this and getting soaked through as we were it was better than trying to stand out in the midst of the storm.

Storm at HSV

Actually, it was kinda fun.  I mean, you could stand there and bitch about it - and still get soaked through - or you could make the best of it.  For me, I realized that this was as close as I'm ever likely to get to experiencing what carrier deck operations are like in adverse weather.  So, I thought that was pretty cool.  I also knew that this microburst would have rolled through soon enough and that the typical Alabama sun would then return and its heat would dry us all off on the double quick.  And, sure enough, that's exactly what happened.  I was then looking forward to the Blues starting up.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen.  It turns out that those of us stuck out on the ramp of the airshow, and not "safely" inside one of the several pavilion style "chalet" tents they'd set up for the paying crowd, were actually safer.  At least safer than one unlucky child who happened to be in the tent which the storm blew the tent's AC unit over and on top of him.  He died from that.  And the rest of the airshow was canceled as a result.  None of us knew that at the time and were a bit miffed at the cancellation as the sun was out and the weather then perfect for more flying.  Such is life.

On one of my bi-monthly trips out of HSV, I made it back home to SD and bought myself a new digital camera.  This one being a full on SLR with a "real" lens set up.  The old Nikon Coolpix 995 had given me years of stellar service but just couldn't compete with the Sony A200 I picked up at George's Camera and Video in North Park San Diego.  One thing I like in particular about the new digicam SLR is its ability to take a bunch of images in rapid succession.  This, being something the old Nikon just didn't have the horsepower for.  The photo of the Blue Angel Hornet above, is the last photo I took with the Nikon.  And the photo of the Residence Inn Huntsville, the one at the lead to this section, is among the first I took with my new camera.

Eventually, my time in HSV came to an end.  I worked out there for just over six months.  Fittingly, on my last weekend in Huntsville, I went back to where I started - the US Space and Rocket Museum - only this time I got there early enough to take it all in.

This time I focused on doing the Davidson portion of the Museum as that's where they have the Saturn V laid out on its side.  This makes for a mighty impressive display.

Saturn V inside

The Kennedy Space Center has its own Saturn V center and it to has one of these beasts indoors and on its side.  The difference though is that the folks at KSC did their exhibit after the Space and Rocket Museum's and thus realized that it'd be more impressive if they fully suspended the rocket from above as opposed to only partially so as here.  This makes it possible to have the rocket much closer to the floor while still being well clear of it.  It also allows the viewer to be that much closer and overwhelmed by its presence.  Still though, this exhibit is damn impressive on its own.

And it was a nice way to say goodbye to the place I'd lived in and worked at for over half a year.

Dom-Con LA
In May of '08 I went up to Los Angeles to take in the Dom-Con Los Angeles event.  This was my first time there.  It differs from other such leather / SM / fetish weekend events by having pro dommes as its main focus.  This lent an interesting atmosphere to the place.  The crowd was mostly het with some bi folk there and very, very few gays.  Almost everyone there was a fetish player to some varying degree.  Very, very few folk there were from what one could readily identify as being from the leather community.

Also, as befit the event's focus, there were an abundance of professionals there.  Some were there to learn, some to have fun, but, for the most part, they were there for work.  The convention provided and awesome marketing opportunity for them and the ones there made sure to work that pretty intensely.

I went up for but the day.  I was just starting things with SM&A and I'd yet to be placed on my first assignment so my cash was rather tight.  Thus I didn't take out a room or buy a full registration to the event.  Hell, I didn't even dress for it.  Thus, I looked ever so much the tourist whilst walking around at it.

Me and Lou Ann

Still though, I had fun there.  The eye candy was awesome and it was a good way to meet folk who are in a different aspect of the scene that I've yet to explore.  I'll be back to another of these.

LLC 12

I was recently up in Sodom-By-The-Sea to attend this year's Leather Leadership Conference.  This was the twelfth overall LLC and the second one held up in San Francisco.  I went up for it even though I'm no longer nearly as involved in the political goings on in our leather community as I once was.  I went to try and reconnect with some of that and also went in order to both reconnect with some old friends and perhaps make some new ones as well.  I've more to say in regards to what I think of the Conference but that's more fitting on its own page:  The Leather Leadership Conference 12.

Here I'll comment on some of the interesting things I encountered whilst up there.  For the first I'm indebted to Michael Blue's sharp eyes.

A Sheep Native of San Francisco

Yeah, I know, you gotta have some sharp eyes yourself to see this one.  I took it with the "camera" on my brand spanking new cellphone.  Look closely at the rear leg of this little stuffed sheep.  This was in a mattress store along Van Ness just a block or so away from the LLC host hotel.  This was part of a Serta Mattresses display and I guess they wanted to make sure the little guy didn't get away.  I also guess the plastic pull-ties on his other legs weren't enough for their tastes so they used a bit more heavyduty hardware.  You gotta admit, the image of a