May 2006

It’s an old saying, but it’s so true. After 2100 miles of driving and various hotel beds and sofa beds, it’s great to be back home in my own easy chair with my cats and a glass of wine. I look forward to hanging around tomorrow and maybe doing the lawn and stripping a gazillion bug carcasses off my car.

We picked Saturday and Sunday as travel days figuring everyone would be where they were going for the weekend and we weren’t disappointed. The highways were mostly empty. All in all it was a relatively easy drive. I just wish Americans would learn to use multi-lane roads as they were meant to be used. The big difference between American highways with their ridiculously low speed limits and the German autobahns which have no speed limits is driver discipline. Germans understand the proper use of multi-lane roads. I doubt it will ever change here in the US, though. Pity.

We spent this past weekend in DC at Book Expo. As with all cities, there are some very good points and some very bad ones. We were able to indulge in the various ethnic food restaurants around our hotel every night. We ate Chinese, Ethiopian, and Lebanese. The Chinese was so-so, but the others were great. The Lebanese dinner was with some of Sarah’s friends. Afterward we walked to a really nice coffee bar for dessert. Therein lies one major advantage to living in or around a big city, great dining choices. There is also no shortage of things to do in cities, plenty of shopping and cultural stuff, lots of places to walk, etc.

The most common downside to cities is always the traffic and DC is certainly no exception. Public transportation in this country is still below par when compared to the systems in Europe. I lived in Germany, just south of Nurnberg, for a number of years and for a while I commuted daily to the north side of Nurnberg. There was a bus stop within easy walking distance from my house and the commuter rails and subways all linked and all used the same monthly pass system, which was cheap. And it’s that way anywhere in Germany. The Germans make full use of their public transportation for two very good reasons. It’s efficient, and it’s way cheaper than their gasoline. It’s also very clean and very safe. Something that can’t be said for many US systems.

I was reading in today’s Boston Globe that Massachusetts is having a hard time recovering workers who left the state during the 2001 recession because the housing costs are still ridiculously high. Yet another downside to cities. Out our way you can buy some beautiful homes for around $200k. In DC you’d be looking at a small condo or a very small house in a not-so-nice neighborhood. In the Boston area you’d be stuck with condos. When professionals like Sarah and myself can live very well in the midwest or live like paupers out east, guess where we’ll choose to live.

So for now I guess we’ll stay in the midwest and continue to travel as often as possible. I’ve really become accustomed to the lack of traffic and the decent weather in our area. And despite my occassional rants about noisy neighbors, overall it’s very quiet where we live and that point gets driven home every time we visit a city.

Rocket balloons

During my second tour in Korea I was in a Recon unit, part of the 4th Sqdn, 7th US Cavalry (Air). We were a bunch of teenagers with toys. Good fun then. One of the coolest things we did was STABO extraction, where you tied yourself off to a rope hung from a Huey and flew off. We did some serious rappelling, too. Always face-first. I don’t know why, but they call it “Australian style.”

Images here.

Stellarium is a free and very cool program which will show you your sky for any given time and label planets, stars, and constellations. You can set it to “fast forward” through the day and night and watch how the heavens change. Great for amateur star gazers and gadget freaks like me. 😉

Stellarium screen shot

Some great images can be seen at Hazecams. Each individual image can be viewed at very high resolution, resulting in ample opportunities to crop and save some really spectacular pictures. Here’s a nice evening in Burlington, VT.

Hazecam's Burlington camera

One of my favorite authors is Alan Furst. He writes stories about espionage and partisans and resistance fighters and such. His works span the years just before and just into World War II. There is usually one protagonist who is more or less corralled and herded into a dangerous and unheralded assignment, yet carries out the assignment professionally. The suspense and danger is often palpable, and his ability to develop characters who are just average everday Joes put in a tough spot is a welcome departure from the typical James Bond/Jack Ryan super guy with no fear and a beautiful wife who just happens to be a Nobel Prize winning surgeon and Mother-of-the-Year all rolled into one.

But what Furst does better than anyone else is to tie each of his stories together in some small fashion. Each of his works is exceptional by itself and you need not read them in any particular order. The plot lines do not depend on one another, but there is always some small item in each book which is recognizable from another of his works. The more of his stuff you read, the more of these little bread crumbs you’ll find. The end result is that he paints a huge mural about the war, yet uses each book to focus in on a small piece of it for further study. Art lovers will study paintings endlessly just so they can examine and interpret each little nuance and detail. Music lovers listen to classic works over and over for just the same reason. Furst’s stories are the nuances and details in themselves. Reading his work makes one feel like God watching the whole thing from above while missing none of the small details. Truly exceptional writing.