we've been to the great pyramids, the parthenon, the temple of olympic zeus, ephesus, machu picchu, and so on. places where people made stuff by piling rocks. you have to marvel at how they did this stuff without the benefit of modern machinery. and if you're like me you wonder how they did it. and you get these ideas. and sooner or later you gotta try em out. my buddy joe has a few acres of farmland in the middle of suburbia. it's the perfect place to mess with big rocks. his beloved wife mary is just nutty enough to let us pour concrete slabs on her property. a small stonehenge like arch is kinda picnic table shaped. so that's what we started building this summer. we dug a grave like hole. and poured a slab at the bottom. that'll be the "bedrock". i made really fancy forms for the table legs. they kinda look like coffins for children. we'll pour them as soon as it cools off a bit. damn it's hot. we're taking pictures. next trip we'll stand them on end and pour the tabletop. one last trip and we'll put the tabletop on the legs. voila! easy no? the forms were a lot of woodworking because two off them have to fit in the trunk of my car along with four people and stuff. i got kinda sick of that part of the project. hopefully that was the hard part and the rest will be a breeze. a hot breeze. heh. riiiiiiight.
we're hiring at a startup. we've got funding. and we're doing something really really fun. send me your resumes. we need lots of smart folks. as well as people with specialized skills. mostly software, some hardware, codecs, databases, web stuff, etc. get in early. change the world. i've been working too hard. i can tell cause my blog queue got empty.
ben went to cub scout camp for a week. it was fun. parents had to be den leaders for at least two of the five days. alisa went on monday. i went on friday. it was hot. the kids were tired and just a bit cranky. i didn't hurt any of them. their skit was kinda funny. ben won an award for collecting the same thing from the lost and found more often than anyone else. they learned guns aren't dangerous. which i suppose is true by some dangerous definition of dangerous. no one went to the hospital. which is good. one pack decided to promote scouts based on birthday instead of by school year. which is how all other packs do it. so it caused confusion and delay when the station master was expecting webelos and got a mix of webelos and bears. wee. so in most packs you have 8 year old webelos. but in their pack nobody gets to be a webelos until they are 10. neato. some people just like being the opposite sex i guess.
here's a grab bag of the things left in my notes to blog about from our trip in no particular order. nothing says peru like lamas overlooking machu picchu. guinea pigs under the bed. what were those circular stone things used for? galapagos inspired ratface stories that i might write up some day. kimbolito. no spoons. my vertigo seems to require modern buildings. ancient buildings don't do it. i lost my notes and favorite pen. and found them again. alisa got a beautiful baby alpaca sweater. it was easy to not gain weight with horrible horrible diarrhea. naked situps. marine iguana tracks in cement. blue hearts on roads signify drunk driving deaths. i need a bigger camera. trade pan for traditional life. i tried to eat only foods i didn't recognize. peru had 24 candidates for presidents. the final choice was between the bad guy and the worse guy. river of chub. feeding frenzy. farm whales. the toadstool ate whales to warthogs. machu picchu is hard to get chew. they moved rocks like the crazy youtube guy. andes impressively steep. trains had windows on ceilings. moon-a-quickie means i love you. peruvians are ca-THOL-ics. whew.
machu picchu means old mountain. there's a city built between it and wayna picchu, young mountain. i don't remember the ancient name of the city. today we call it machu picchu. i can't properly say machu picchu. there's a sort of click sound between the double c's. pee-click-shoe. anywho, it's in the middle of the andes. which is a really freaking big range of really freaking big mountains. and it's a wee bit difficult to get to machu picchu. we flew from ecuador to lima. and left our largest bag there. the next day we flew to cuzco. then we took a bus to a nunnery where we left our next largest bag. the next day we took a train to agua caliente. where we left our overnight bag. we took a bus up the mountain to machu picchu (the city). at this point the only baggage we have left with us is a day pack. we got the tour the first day. you know how everyone always says some of those ancient piles of rocks are astrological observatories and interesting stuff happens at dawn and sunset on the solstices? well, the second day was the winter solstice. so we got up before dawn. and rode the bus up the steep side of this mountain. i think it was better that way. and waited to be wowed. unfortunately it was cloudy. and the effect was somewhat less than spectacular. ah well. to get home we retraced our steps. and collected our luggage along the way. nothing got lost. which is remarkable.
there was only one inca. inca means king. the inca's people are called quechuan. or something like that. common usage to the contrary. anywho, machu picchu was a city built buy the quechuan around 1500 as they expanded from their capital cuzco (means belly button) way high up on the top of a mountain with spectacular views and water. they built terraces to stop erosion and grow food. the dirt was carried in from different valleys. seagull crap was brought hundreds of miles for fertilizer. then the spanish came. eventually machu picchu was abandoned so they could make a doomed last stand at vilcabamba. the spanish never found machu picchu. hiram bingham found it when he was looking for vilcabamba. most of machu picchu was still standing. even through numerous earthquakes. the stone cutting technology of the time was much more sophisticated than the egyptians or even the romans. they cut blocks that interlocked. they poured metal rings to connect them together. the spanish built cathedrals on top of quechuan buildings which were rediscovered and preserved when earthquakes knocked down the cathedrals but didn't bother the quechuan buildings at all. the modern peruvians practice an interesting mix of spanish style catholicism and traditional quechuan religions. the spanish basically gave them a choice: convert or die. which really isn't much different from the choice the inca gave his neighbors.
the critters that live on galapagos today face some serious challenges from humans. the two biggest ones are introduced species and climate change. goats were introduced on the big island a while ago. and wreaked absolute havoc with the ecosystem. the ecuadorians decided to remove them. heh. no easy task. goats are rather fecund. to say the least. tracking and poisoning didn't work. they resorted to snipers in helicopters. it was expensive. but the goats are gone now. there's no hope for removing rats. they're there to stay. rats discovered tortoise eggs are yummy things to eat. there's an intense program to keep the giant tortoises from vanishing. i think they're doomed. besides the rats there's temperature. the gender of a turtle depends on the temperature the eggs incubate. so as the planet warms there are fewer and fewer girl tortoises hatched in the wild. good thing there's already a program in place to replenish them in the wild. or maybe we're just interfering with natural selection. and the tortoises would figure it out on their own. or go extinct. the penguin fate is similarly precarious. the severe el ninos of the 80's reduced the penguin population from some 15k to some 500. they've recovered to some 2500 now. i watched a nature show on lions long ago. the new kings kill the cubs so they can breed with the pride females as often as possible before some younger stronger lion drives him off. the narrator explained that this is cruel and ghastly only in human terms. it's their way. i am thinking the human way is to kill all other creatures. either deliberately (for food) or indirectly (ignorance). and even as we mourn the passing of penguins and tortoises, we glory in life's miraculous ability to survive such an onslaught.
after the galapagos trip the group split up. some like us went on to peru. the rest went home. we were waiting on the plane when our guides reboarded the aircraft. paul had lost the bag containing his passport. oops. we all looked for it. it was gone. later we heard the rest of the story. he spent two days filing police reports and talking to the u.s. embassy. he just wanted to go home. then he gets a call late at night from a "taxi driver" who had "found" his passport and wants to return it. at the hotel's bar. after midnight. ha ha. but what choice does he have? he goes. there are two women and a beefy guy. one woman spoke a little english. he spoke no spanish. they hand him the passport and ask for money. but he's got the passport. which is good. he hands them $20. and the woman gets pissed. a u.s. passport is worth like $5000 in columbia. he said it was all he had. i would have said i would give you more but the rest of my cash was with the passport when it disappeared. anywho, he went home the next day. lesson: don't lose your passport. it's weird. on one hand you want to reward people for returning your passport instead of selling it to the drug lords. but on the other hand you don't want to reward crooks for stealing it in the first place.
i was surprised to see desiccated corpses on the beach. usually scavengers are all over them. and they disappear rapidly. this strange ecosystem doesn't have many scavengers. not yet anyway. give it a few more million years. the other thing i noticed is that most creatures were what we would call friendly. i'm wondering if they're looking to form symbiotic relationships. makes sense. if they can it will give them a survival advantage. that is, if you believe in that natural selection thing. if you don't then go watch it happen in real time at the galapagos. i was thinking us smart people should raise money to send such doubters on such a trip. then i thought better. us smart people should raise money to send /me/ to the galapagos. i don't usually rave about god's creations. but you can really see it how it all works there. i love the place. i'm going back. i haven't told the beautiful and talented alisa this yet. but i'm sure she'll go with me.
fernando was the cruise director. it was his sonorous voice we heard every morning for wake up call. one morning it was, whales. we have whales off the bow. another morning it was dolphins. other things we would see: sea lions (they stink), marine iguanas (they spit salt on each others' heads), land iguanas, boobies (red footed, blue footed, and nazca) (dive bomb for fish), frigates (pirates), turtles, herons, finches, jellyfish, sharks, fish, starfish, penguins, albatross, petrols, rays, tortoises, and more. the bartender was jose. he fed me diet cokes by the 2 litre bottles. the naturalists were bolivar and witman. hola boli, was fun to say. he had a nasally voice. but spoke goodly english. witman spoke clearly. but his english comprehension was surprisingly lacking. you'd ask him a question and he'd tell you something interesting. it might have something to do with some of the words you said. but much of the time it was our own fault. we the tourists would ask sloppy questions. incomplete partial questions. and when we saw he was confused we'd repeat a portion of the question louder and slower. which generally only confused the issue even more.
our boat was appropriately named evolution. it looked kinda like a pirate ship. arg. there were only 16 cabins. ours was far forward at the bow. we traveled at night. sleeping under way took some getting used to. if you tried to sleep on your side the boat rocked enough to knock you over. they served us three large meals every day. fancy deserts were served after lunch and dinner. they were usually something excessively sweet. nearly inedibly so in my opinion. my biggest complaint was that there wasn't enough chocolate. which is odd. because cocoa comes from that part of the world. the chef had fun creating artful centerpieces. one day we had an eggplant penguin. another we had a cantaloupe swan. we had fresh frothy juice after every excursion. the most interesting was tree tomato. i think the crew bet to see what they could get the tourists to eat. one day they served popcorn for lunch. they told us everyone puts it in the raw fish cold soup. yeah, right.
there were several things i noticed at the equator. most disturbing was that i could not see the north star. it was down at the horizon behind the haze. it was pretty neat seeing the other part of the milky way though. the sun went down really fast. it was day. then all of a sudden it was pitch black night. penguins like cold. i always wondered how they could be so happy on the galapagos at the equator. it's the humboldt current. comes straight from antarctica. and it's really freakin cold. way too cold for me. even in a wet suit. maybe in one with long sleeves, and long legs, and booties, and cap. maybe. but it was a great temperature for penguins.
ecuador and peru are neighbors. ecuador has oil reserves. peru doesn't. the price of gas in ecuador was $1.48. in peru it was more like $4.50. both used u.s. gallons for gas. but they use liters for everything else. weird. neither country has emissions controls on their vehicles. so the air in the cities is quite polluted. however the streets are clean. there are no piles of trash along the streets unlike most cities here at home. the ancient culture passed down their three golden rules: don't lie, don't steal, don't be lazy. good rules. both countries get most of their gdp from tourism. in ecuador the tourists go to the vendors, which was really nice. in peru you get mobbed by street vendors, which sucked. i made it a game to figure out what to say to make them go away. some of the more successful things were: no tenemos dinero (we have no money). queremos mirar, no queremos comprar (we wish to look, we do not wish to buy). "maybe later" se dice va irse ("maybe later" means go away). no somos touristos (we no be tourists). the last one was very effective. not because they believed i was not a tourist but because they believed i was crazy.
there was one guy on the galapagos boat who never used sunscreen in his life. and he didn't see any reason to start just because he was at the equator. needless to say he turned a bright red usually reserved for boiled lobsters. the doctor pretty much made him wear sunscreen. the dumbass was gonna sun stroke and die if he didn't. there were two sisters on our boat. both named linda-susan. must have been an interesting childhood. there was a guy building greenish second homes in costa rica for rich folks with eco guilt. there were three girls aged: 13, 15, 18. there was a minister with his second wife. there were professors of mathematics, zoology, and sex. there was a former employee of my current boss. there wasn't a single lawyer. at least, no one admitted to being one. generally the group was pretty liberal. which makes sense. considering we're going to the place that inspired darwin. which is anathema to the more conservative end of the spectrum. which is too bad. it's a beautiful place. anywho, some of them went with us to machu picchu. and we picked up others. one woman looked for all the world like an animated toadstool. she was a wonderful person. despite having bad knees and altitude sensitivity. not a good combination for walking around a city built on the top and sides of one of many spectacularly steep mountains.
this trip was organized by people associated with the university of michigan. they sent out fliers to michigan alums before the tour company filled the rest of the boat with non-michiganers. it was nuts. half the boat was rabid michigan fans. they wore wolverine shoes for cryin out loud. i was agog. then i discovered i could start, hail to the victors... and everyone would join in. the nutjobs would be compelled to finish the endless song while i sneaked off to the quieter end of the boat. which worked. we all had fun. differently.
ecuador isn't exactly one of the richest countries in the world. it's amazing to me that they've decided to conserve this natural resource instead of exploiting it. a significant chunk of the economy is based on tourism. and tourists want to see the islands. us stupid tourists would build hotels on the islands. but the ecuadorians seem to be genuinely placing the interests of the non-human inhabitants ahead of the human ones. way cool.
ecuador uses u.s. dollars as their currency. that's kind of a strange decision. you've tied your economy to another country's and no longer have any control over it. but i guess it's better than runaway inflation. assuming of course the u.s. economy is always going to be better than yours. actually they use our paper money. but they have their own coins. i guess, like us, their leaders like to see their own images in everyone's pockets.
the guides in the galapagos are called naturalists. which gave me a silly grin. because where it makes me think of naturists who are crazy naked people who live in log cabins on a mountain. anywho, only a small number of creatures made it to the galapagos islands and established themselves there. but the ones that did are freakin everywhere. look a sally lightfoot crab. look more crabs. lookit even more crabs. same for the marine iquanas, sea lions, and boobies. at one point i really wanted to see something new. i figure a naturalist is one of the easiest jobs ever. i mean. there are only 6 indigenous mammals to learn, for example. but then i realized they have to deal with stupid tourist questions. which kinda sucks.
the security theater in ecuador and peru was pretty minimal. there were no lines. no waiting. it was a refreshing change from the crap we deal with in this country. they were doing quality control at customs in ecuador. it took longer to get the quality control ticket and turn it in than it took to process our passports. well not really. but it was close. in contrast i made a polite observation to the u.s. customs guy after waiting in a non-moving line for 20 minutes. and he made it very clear he didn't want some smart ass telling him how to do his job. and if i gave him any more lip he'd push this big red candy colored button and i'd be whisked off to a secure room to have my body cavities searched. hmm...
there were thunderstorms in florida which prevented us from landing. so we flew in circles for a few hours over the gulf. then we flew around the cuba side of florida to land at miami. then we ended up in a terminal that had no working water fountains, no food services, and the snack vending machines either would not accept dollar bills or would not dispense the desired items. miami was by far the worst airport on the whole trip. which is really embarassing considering ecuador and peru are not exactly wealthy countries.
miami airport seems to have a new program for combatting obesity. flights are delayed and moved to a different terminal every 30 minutes. the center of the airport is under construction. so it's literally a one mile walk from one end of the airport building to the other. our flight was delayed 5 hours. good thing we were planning to go hiking at altitude so we were already in good shape.
once again the most dangerous part of our two week trip to south america was the drive to the airport. the car behind us was rear-ended while unloading luggage. fortunately no one and no thing was damaged. we returned home to find: the lawn is dead because the sprinklers failed, a cabinet door just fell off, a tub scratched all to hell, a non-functional deadbolt, and the neighbors tore down our fence. well, at least the cat wasn't fat.
there are many ways to die. a friend of mine jumps out of perfectly good airplanes. a dangerous hobby. a friend of his hit the ground a little too hard and sheared more than a few brain cell axons. he's okay. sorta. except he doesn't remember his friends. and his personality is completely changed. it's like a new person is in charge of my friend's friend's body. it's clear my friend mourns the loss of his old friend. he's as gone as if he had died in the accident.
generally i like religion and religious people. i think religion is a good deal. the religion tells people how to live happy healthy productive lives. and the people support the religion and each other. win-win. religion provides a nice simple answer to things we don't understand. where did people come from? god did it. where'd the earth come from? god did it. why are the mountains so beautiful? god did it. why did uncle bob die? god's will. and that answer is good enough for many. and that's great. some people, myself included, aren't quite satisfied with that though. how exactly did god make people, planets, and mountains? i want to know. i have a zealous faith the answers are out there. which strikes me as rather ironic. anywho, the world needs both types of people. i wish each would treat the other as they would have the other treat them. simple, no?
the other day i was thinking about sheep. i was wondering if domestic sheep ever think about their wild mountain cousins. specifically if they feel sorry for them because they don't have a shepherd to feed them, water them, breed them, shear their wool, eat their flesh, and give them a nice comfy pen to live in. instead they run around on the mountains, eat whatever they want, and try not to get caught by wolves. i wonder if the mountain sheep feel sorry for the domestic sheep. for exactly the same reasons.
some folks i know were bitchin and moaning about how 'the others' always act so high and mighty and superior and better than you shit. they then turned around and proselytized about how god is such an important part of their lives. and how they feel sorry for atheists. huh. weird. anywho, the flaw in that logic is asserting incorrectly that what they get from god can only come from god. at the risk of sounding high and mighty and superior and better than you shit, their pity only demonstrates their ignorance of belief systems other than their own. a vaguely similar and equally silly position would be feeling sorry for women because they never experience the AHH! of a blow job.
heh. my grandma used to be one of those people that always voted republican. even though today's republican party bears very little resemblance to past republican parties. she changed her tune this year. george bush took away her driver's license. personally, i hear. he didn't take away old men's driver's licenses. just women's. and she doesn't think that's fair. she turned 90 this year and has gone a bit dotty.
i added a link to matty's blog. welcome aboard. enjoy.
alisa got a pineapple oopsy-daisy cake for her birthday this year. it was supposed to be a pineapple upside down cake. but the chef experienced technical difficulties inverting the sucker. you'd think if you can fly an airplane upside down pineapples should be, well, (wait for it) a piece of cake.
i'd like my mail server to send me a monthly report of all the spam it filtered for me. just the title and the from would be good enough. in some table form that i can easily scan. i'd at least have some idea of who i'm not getting email from. like say my cousin in germany. or my credit card company wondering why i haven't paid them yet. sigh.
the other day garrett said: here comes trouble with a capital G.