Road Trip 2014 – Stage 1: Shelton to Santa Fe


Mid-January is probably not everyone’s idea of a good time to tour the country, but our primary destination is the Southwest, where the weather tends to be a bit more mild than the rest of the country.  Besides, it has been over two years since we have visited the New Mexico relatives, so it is time to do this.

A road trip by car is a tale of fuel and food as much as scenery and people.  We started our trip on a Sunday, first dropping the cat at the Just Cats Hotel, then spending a few pleasant hours at Ruby Street Quiltworks in Tumwater, with our art quilting group, which involves, of course, a light lunch and coffee at the Starbucks across the parking lot.

Setting off south at 2:00pm, we cruised through foggy conditions until reaching Vancouver, WA, where we stopped for gas and road food at Costco, crossing into Oregon and clear skies for a spectacular view of Mt. Hood before making our way up the Columbia Gorge with the setting sun behind us.

We stopped just after dark in tiny Arlington, at the Village Inn cafe, where Judy had a tasty black bean soup and I had a vegan bean burrito–rice and beans inside, quacamole and chopped tomatoes outside.  We can’t get though Oregon without a stop at a full-service station (there isn’t any other kind in Oregon), so we stopped in Pendleton at Safeway.  Then, up over the mountains in ice fog with nearly zero visibility, ending the day in La Grande.

The next morning, we left at the crack of dawn, scraping frost off the windshield and soon back in the fog off and on over the Snake into Idaho.  A stop in Nampa for fuel and coffee sent us through a winter wonderland of hoar frost and on toward Utah.


The last fuel stop in Idaho, in the “middle of nowhere” listed regular unleaded at $4.30, so we drove on at reduced speed, arriving in Beeville, Utah on fumes, but with fuel at more than a dollar cheaper. By now, we had been fighting headwinds and freeway speeds for two days at 18mpg, about 20% below our usual. We were thinking our decision to bring our tandem bike on top of the car was going to cost us $200 in extra fuel before we were done. Lunch was nuts and fruit in the car, as we had nearly 600 miles planned for today. We pressed on through Salt Lake City in heavy traffic, though light on the MLK holiday, arriving in Provo just after sunset. From our motel near BYU, it was a short backtrack to a bakery cafe, where Judy had a bowl of corn chowder and I had a “veggie pesto” sandwich, actually a caprese panini, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil.
In the morning, we backtracked to Starbucks and then resumed our journey as the sun touched the peaks of the Wasatch Range above the city.

Up the Spanish Fork canyon, we stopped in Price for fuel and yogurt, then south to Green River and Moab, the hiking, rafting, and biking Mecca, which was pretty much closed, between seasons.  At Monticello, we stopped for coffee and an excellent roasted red pepper and potato soup at the Peace Tree Juice Bar, one of our “must stop” places on this route.


Topping off the fuel again, though our mileage had started to rise due to prevailing winds and lower secondary highway speeds. we headed east to Durango, where we stayed at the historic Strater Hotel downtown. We ate at the Diamond Belle Saloon in the hotel, Judy had a fusion “Greek” salad, with avacados and other ingredients that don’t grow in the Hellenic region. I had a vegan risotto that came in a trencher bigger than my head. Even so, we managed to force down separate orders of creme brulee on top of all that and stagger off to bed.


After morning breakfast of whole-grain french toast and made-to-order omelette, we retrieved our bicycle from the butlers closet at the hotel and loaded it back on the car, topped off our frozen travel mugs at Starbucks, and headed east to Pagosa Springs through beautiful forested mountains reminiscent of western Montana. Another fuel stop to top off, then south into New Mexico, where we planned to stop at the Ghost Ranch Visitor Center and museums, but the complex was closed, though there was a workshop in session at the ranch itself, a few miles down the road.

We did get a number of photos of the Pedernal, the butte made famous by the Georgia O’Keeffe paintings. Then, on to Espanola, where we had lunch at El Paragua. Judy had a BLT, which included a spicy guacamole spread and fries, and I had a roasted green chile on french roll with “monetary” jack cheese (according to the menu), which was like a chile relleno sandwich, with avacado slices and fries. We then stopped at the Espanola Valley Fiber Arts Center, where we bought yarn and yet another inkle loom and 3.5Kg of upholstery fabric remnants, from a stash that nearly filled the classroom area, a donation from an Albuquerque fabric outlet.

Arriving in Santa Fe, we made arrangements to visit our granddaughter and the great grandkids the next day, picked up some supplies at World Market. Next, visits with relatives here and in Las Cruces and El Paso over the weekend before heading west to California.

A Kind of Darkness: enduring an internet outage

The Internet went down today, at least at our house, and at an unknown number of other houses on our street, along with their TV feed (we don’t have TV). But, we know about the others only because we have a smart phone. I managed to keep the wifi turned off long enough to login to Comcast via the cellular network for a system status update. This may seem the height of absurdity, to need to access the Internet to find out why the Internet is down, but that is the future to which we have come. We used to have phone service on cable, too, which would have left us totally deaf and blind, but with cell phones, it is possible to call tech support. Except, we use the Internet to find phone numbers. I’m not sure we have a paper contract or information packet that has the support number. At any rate, the Internet has also resulted in the depletion of the help desk: it is much more efficient to have the computers check your connection status than to explain your location and account number to a person (after waiting a very long time in queue), then phrase the question properly.  The web app checks our Internet connection (yes, it is down), and then announces “an outage has been reported in your area.”

Sitting in the office without Internet is a bit like sitting in the house with a general power outage. We still have lights, and computers, but–as I am doing now–we have to write to local files instead of interacting with the blog server out in the “cloud” somewhere, for later upload, a bit like reading by candlelight. There was a time, 20 years ago, when we actually composed email on our computer, after which the computer would initiate a call on the modem to contact the next server up the chain to send the mail and receive any waiting incoming mail. A few of our friends who live beyond cable and fiber still use dial-up, but the sound of a modem negotiating a connection is as rare as the clop-clop sound of horse-drawn carriages on Main Street.

So, as we wait to get reconnected with the day’s crop of cute cat videos, we can reflect a bit on not only how far we’ve come, but how far we have to go. The next wave, of course, is to get completely unwired, with community high-speed broadband wifi, affordable cellular networks, and wearable, always-connected computing. I’m not sure about the public in general, but for us, traditional television is dead–we haven’t had a TV for at least seven years. The future is in Internet services like Netflix: movies on demand, news stories on demand, and some mix of live streaming feed, as we already have with the major news services and Net-centric services. A high-speed cellular network can (but probably won’t) remove the single point of failure that the “last mile” wired connection represents.  With the arrival of ubiquitous networking comes the newest tablet system, running Google OS, where the device only supplies a display and connection to processing and data storage hosted in “the cloud,” which exists as a distributed network of huge data centers scattered across the world.  Without a network connection, the device is as useful as an unwound pocket watch.

Which brings us  to another point: with cell phones constantly connected to the phone network, we have no need to wear or carry timepieces anymore: a generation of plastic LCD or LED wrist watches have become junk, and the mechanical watches and clocks of an earlier age have become quaint pieces of animated jewelry.  To wear such jewelry, or other ornamentation made from the dissected parts, identifies one as part of the steampunk movement, a re-imagining of a future where the workings of civilization are visible and can be tinkered with, where function merges with style, as in the hand-wrought brass and filigreed cast iron implements and open-frame steamworks of the early industrial age.  The computer age has passed so quickly from a vast tangle of wires and visible circuits to slick slabs of glass with microscopic complexity embedded within, that the magic has turned from white to black: one can no longer understand the machine by simply observing it operate.

Which brings us to the obvious: the only constant in the last half-century has been the rate of change. We constantly must adapt to new ways of doing old things and getting used to doing things we didn’t imagine a few years ago (even if we are avid science-fiction fans: sci-fi is always a comment on extremes taken to their logical (or illogical) conclusion, while reality takes a turn away from extremes, often in a completely different direction).

So, now well into our fifth year of non-retirement, we keep moving forward, not only exploring new activities associated with actual retirement, such as more frequent travel and taking up new hobbies (often at the expense of old ones), but also keeping up with the state of the art in our chosen profession. In the last few weeks, we have set up a virtual server to explore the concept of containers, a not-new, but relatively undeveloped way to isolate different services hosted on the same machine. What makes this attractive now is the emergence of Docker, which is a nascent container management system, making it easy to build, administer, and distribute containers focused on a single application. As with all emerging technology, it is still brittle and requires specific hosting configurations, but it is a very promising approach to a new way of distributing and hosting Linux applications.

At the same time, we are learning to use Git, a fifth-generation software version control system, and have set up a git server in our office network. We’ve used version control systems since graduate school in the 1980s, first with the original SCCS (Source Code Control System), then with the simpler and excellent RCS (Revision Control System), which we admittedly still use for local version management when developing and administering systems, brief encounters with CVS (Concurrent Versions System), which introduced client-server modes as Unix moved from a single mainframe with terminals to a network of servers and workstations, and, fleetingly, with SVN (SubVersioN, a major remake of CVS). Git, by virtue of being the tool of choice for Linux kernel development, has become the new standard. It also has the advantage of using a snapshot model of the project space. Each of these has progressively moved from a simple difference model in a single directory on a single machine, building on the common tools of Unix and network protocols to make possible collaborative development on a world-wide scale.  Of course, these networked tools beg to be hosted on repositories “in the cloud,” which requires an Internet connection to fetch and update files in collaborative projects.

And lastly, we have finally succumbed to the lure of Python, one of the last of the major scripting languages to be mastered, having become proficient over the years in Perl, PHP, and Ruby, and, by necessity, at least conversant with Javascript. Python has a lot of appeal, being a relatively pure object-oriented language and with a lot of extensibiity that is well-documented. But, the syntax is a bit odd, with use of white space instead of curly brackets to denote code blocks and colons to connect name/value declarations. There is a lot of LISP-like philosophy behind Python, so it is not entirely strange, just the syntax. The real reason for finally learning Python has to do with the emergence of the very popular Raspberry Pi microcomputer, which promotes Python, and the fact that I gave one to my 10-year-old grandson, along with the book, Python for Kids, in hopes of introducing a new generation to the joys of tinkering with computers and making them do new things.

So, there it is: we have become dependent on the Internet in much the same as we have become dependent on electricity, the telephone, and the internal combustion engine. At the same time, we have become distanced from the technology of the Internet: everyone uses it, but few can actually make it work. Not everyone needs to, but it is still a good idea to understand the principles on which it is based–the fundamentals of programming and design. Not only does learning to program enable one to understand how the Internet works on in internal level, but the process teaches one to partition tasks, organize procedures, and recognize relationships in data, essential for many aspects of life in general.

Like on power-outage nights, we retire early, rising well before the late winter dawn to find—oh, look, a new episode of “Simon’s Cat” on Facebook.  Yes, the Internet is back.