August 2007

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About an hour into Southern Illinois after watching St. Louis’ Gateway Arch recede from our rear-view mirrors, we were met along Interstate 70 by an even more surreal giant totem: a white cross, rising oddly out of a field next to the highway and behind a bunch of industrial buildings. So we shot a bunch of pictures of it and kept on trucking. Later I looked up giant cross 70 illinois and found Effingham, Illinois – Giant Cross, at

In case a nearly 200-foot cross isn’t surreal enough for you, this site is enhanced by ten rock-shaped (as in “Rock of Ages”, natch) speakers next to the stone tablets for each Commandment, blasting out what sounds like the stuttering instrumental break from Pink Floyd’s “One Of These Days.” Press a button by each station and hear a bit of wisdom appropriate to the given Commandment. [Aqua Larva, 10/28/2006]

Now I’m sorry we didn’t stop.

(By the way, I’m posting this from the passenger seat of our car, heading toward Cleveland just past Columbus in Ohio on Interstate 71. Gotta hand it to Verizon: EvDO actually works here. It’s the first stretch on the whole trip where the connection has stayed up.)


Two new posts in other places.

First, in Linux Journal, Is free and open code a form of infrastructure? How about the humans who write it?. It runs with what Steve Lewis wrote here.

Second, at the ProjectVRM blog, Dealing with it. It responds to Dave Rogers’ latest.

Loose links

Timothy Noah in Slate: “Superficially, If I Did It is chiefly an indictment of Nicole’s character and only incidentally the story of her murder.”

What’s plugged into the power strip.

The cutting edge, one year later.

Stephen Lewis: Libraries vs. the Internet: Researching the Peloponnesian War, the British Library’s “Turning the Pages” Project, and a Brilliantly Aesthetic Weblog.

Reuters says CNN is dropping it.

What’s down with Flickr? It’s been “having hiccups”, the server says, most of the day. Must be bad if it’s taking this long.

Alex Fletcher: “Inter lock-in as the new vendor lock-in and the freedom of choice.”

Josh Bancroft: “I have granted the people in my network authority – authorship – to form, inform, and shape me. They have write permissions to my brain. That is so true. chmod 775 mybrain.”

Sean at Craphammer: “…today, consumer to consumer transactions are changing the world. Consumers are transacting serious business across country borders in ways that just didn’t happen before.” Which means they aren’t just consumers anymore. We need to deep-six that word except when using it in its confined literal sense — as the reciprocal to producer. When consumers produce, when they intermediate, when they converse and exercise influence beyond cash-for-goods, they are a very different breed. I’m not sure “prosumer” cuts it. And “customer” is just as confining. Gotta think up a neologism here.

Town of Limon, Colorado. Gateway to elsewhere. We stopped there to eat at a Wendys. Friendly, but too many flies. The downtown was sad. More bars than stores, it seemed. But a helluva high school football team.

Andrew Sullivan (actually, Greg Djerejian of Belgravia Dispatch — thanks to Susan Kitchens for pointing that out):

…what Mr. Gonzales evidently fails to understand is that he has diminished our collective American dream, alas. He diminished it by dismissing the Geneva Conventions as “quaint”, by allowing a horrific torture policy to take root, by his banana-republic like late night visits to John Ashcroft’s hospital room, by ignoring Congressional subpoenas, by authorizing illegal wiretapping programs, by firing qualified United States attorneys in an apparent putsch, and on and on.

Still, I will confess to a measure of sympathy for the man. Much like Harriet Miers, he was so supremely underqualified for his position, so spectacularly beyond his depth, that he should never have been put in such a difficult position. Instead Bush’s bovine obsessiveness with loyalty–basic competence be damned– has focused the brutal kleig-lights of international opprobrium on old friends like Harriet and Alberto. Like Brownie, say, they will become key examples in the history books of the rampant cronyism and incompetence of this Administration.

The Zaca Fire is mostly contained, but the closure area remains huge. Edhat points to an animation of the fire’s progress.

Between our Sirius satellite radio receiver, the MP3 player, breaks for public radio and talking to each other, I didn’t have much time to indulge my interest in exploring the high soil conductivities that make AM radio so anomalously advantaged in the plains states. But I did notice that KOA/850 from Denver carried halfway across Kansas by day, and WNAX was audible across all of Kansas, from one end to the other — from Colby to Kansas City and beyond that well into Missouri — with just 5000 watts on 570am from Yankton, South Dakota. (The max power on U.S. and Canadian AM stations is 50000 watts.)

Long disatance AM is no big deal at night, when stations bounce off the ionosphere. But in the day AM stations need to carry along the ground. In most places the ground conductivity is low. In the entire East, much of the midwest, and nearly all mountainous areas, ground conductivity is very low. The lowest of the low are around Atlanta and in Long Island. But in some prairie regions, parts of Texas and Oklahoma, and in flat places near San Franciso and California’s Central Valley, the ground conductivity is remarkably high. For that reason a 5000-watt station at the bottom of the dial (like WNAX/570 and KFYR/550 in Bismark) can go hundreds of miles along the ground. My mother grew up listening to both WNAX and KFYR in Napoleon, North Dakota, which was near neither station. WNAX is helped also by having a full half-wave antenna, which on 570KHz is around 900 feet high. So it’s using an unusually efficient radiator. Most stations at that end of the dial use shorter towers. Signals at those frequencies carry so well that going for the full antenna length would bring diminishing returns. (On AM, the whole tower is the antenna.) And by now they’re all grandfathered with whatever facilities they put up way back when. AM stations require a lot of real estate, so the costs are now, in most cases, prohibitive.

Still, while listening to these effectively huge stations, while driving across the plains, I realized why talk radio — especially the right wing sort — sank roots here. Though I gotta say it was great that WNAX was highly focused (at least when I listened) on “the markets” for agricultural commodities. Made me think the country’s agricultural base was somehow still intact.

For someone as old as I am, it’s hard to keep Kansas City (the fist song ever written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, recorded by everybody but made a hit) by Wilbert Harrison out of one’s mind. With my Kansas City Baby and a bottle of Kansas. Citywine.

Taking a plane, a train and walking are all listed as options by the writers (and Harrison) for traveling to Kansas City. We did it by a black 2000 Passat Wagon, loaded to the gills.

The wagon passed 120,000 miles just nine shy of Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque. I’d last been to Arthur Bryant’s in 1987, or whenever it was that Duke lost to Kansas in the NCAA semifinals in the Kemper Arena there. My business partner David Hodskins, a devoted Duke fan (he actually went there, and was at the time an Iron Duke), had won a flight for two to the finals by winning a trivia contest or something on the old M Dung morning show on KFOG in San Francisco. I was his date. We flew there, rented a car, picked up our friend Jon Parker (also a rabid Dukie) dumped our stuff in our hotel, then sought out the one thing we wanted most, other than to see Duke win: a pile of Arthur Bryant’s Meats, on Brooklyn Avenue.

The menu on the wall was written in those red and black letters you insert into a kind of coarse corduroy. One memorable entry bragged about the restaurant’s “legiondary sauce”. The choice was between a sandwich and a plate, as I recall. Large black men behind the counter sliced giant hunks of hot beef fresh from a huge brick oven, threw a pile of it on a metal tray, and ladled sauce over the top. If you got a sandwich, they did the same thing, with the pile between slices of white bread that quickly became soaked in juices. It was some of the best food I’ve ever had.

This time, however, we were in a hurry, so we went to the restaurant’s new location out at a vast big box shopping center just north of the immense Kansas Raceway. It was about three in the afternoon and cicadas loud enough to cause hearing damage were buzzing from little trees growing fresh out of the landscaping. There were almost no other customers. Our choice choice on the current menu was between ribs, sausage, pork and beef, so we got a half pound of each, plus some beans and cole slaw. They were all excellent. But the meats were cold, the sauce came from squeeze bottles on the tables, and the atmosphere was pure theme-bar nostalgia with little of the the original restaurant’s soul. Still, it was the best food we’ve had on this trip, and worth the stop.

The day began in Colby, Kansas, which it turns out Dave had visited a few years earlier. I found it notable for the conscientious Starbucks just up the road from our cheap motel. My wife and I like our cappuccinos strong, and consider it a steep challenge to get the average starbucks not to make a cappuccino (or anything other than a straight espresso) that isn’t mostly milk. Generally, ordering a “double short cappucino” or a “double short dry cappuccino” yields an approximation of the ideal. (Background here.) In this case, the barrista said “I think one of these might be a bit heavy. See what you think.” I did, and it was close to perfect, but a tiny bit milk-heavy. She made it again, and nailed it. Gotta love that.

Colby was also familiar on more obscure grounds. I remember passing through there on a family trip in July 1963, long before Interstate 70 bypassed the town (and everything, pretty much). We were on Highway 24 headed west toward Colorado Springs. A tower with KXXX on the transmitter shack caught my attention. Turns out the station is still there (here’s the topo), on 790AM. No website (well, there is one, but predictably it’s for a porn site), but a big signal that covers much of Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado with the “5000-watt voice of agriculture”, or something like that, by day. At night the station is 24 watts and covers downtown Colby.

Anyway, except for stopping to eat meat, we made it all the way across Kansas and nearly all of Missouri. Just under 600 miles. The next day (today as I write this) is for having fun in St. Louis. I’m missing it, since I’m sick with some kind of intestinal business, probably exacerbated by sitting on my ass for days at a time. Anyway, Day 5 is when my wife and kid explore museums and see the sunset from the Arch while I try to get well and catch up on work here at the hotel. That’s what I’m almost doing right now.

First we got up at 3-something AM and drove back into Arches National Park, roughly to the site where Thelma & Louise stuffed the cop in the trunk. There, in darkness, we watched the eclipsed moon sink slowly behind rock spires barely visible in silhouette. It was there that I shot the photo above, acting as a human tripod. Incredibly, it came out. I had no idea until now, abut 20 hours later, in Colby, Kansas.

We went back just before sunrise, crashed in the motel, and didn’t get up and out of town until way late in the morning. Then we drove pretty much non-stop until we were well into Kansas.

I’m uploading photos, in very slow motion. Motel wi-fi is generally bad, whether it’s free or not. (In my growing experience.)

We almost went to Cedar Breaks, but it was raining heavily up there — and all around that part of Utah — when we left Cedar City this morning. So we went up 15 to 50 and headed down to 70, where we took in the Castle Country, San Rafael Swell and San Rafael Reef before arriving at Moab in late afternoon, just in time to take in some nice (though very intermittent) lighting on the most amazing rock formations in the world.

Check here for pix. They’re uploading now on the dial-up speed wi-fi here at the hotel.

I’m hitting the sack, hoping to catch the solar eclipse at 4am or so.

Day one and done

Got off to a late start. Meaning, today (Sunday, as I write this) instead of yesterday. Got as far as Cedar City, Utah, where we’re camped for the night in a cheap but pretty good motel.

Amazing weather — desert thunderstorms — most of the way. I’ll try to put some pix up before I crash for the night.

[In the morning…] Did that. Some pretty nice ones too.

On valuing freedom more than cushy jail cells is my latest at Linux Journal: a last post before hitting the road from Santa Barbara, California to Cambridge, Massachusetts. The post is an example of teaching best what we most need to learn, I guess.

In any case, I’ve gotten a few lessons on lock-in through the last few days. Thought I’d pass some on.

We leave in about ten minutes. See ya down the road.

Not good

Riverbend hasn’t posted since April. Her last words:  It’s difficult to decide which is more frightening- car bombs and militias, or having to leave everything you know and love, to some unspecified place for a future where nothing is certain.

She had her detractors. But I always found her reports to be powerful. And important to hear.

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