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I’ve been fascinated for years by what comes and goes at the Fort Irwin National Training Center


—in the Mojave Desert, amidst the dark and colorful Calico Mountains of California, situated in the forbidding nowhere that stretches between Barstow and Death Valley.

Here and there, amidst the webwork of trails in the dirt left by tanks, jeeps and other combat vehicles, fake towns and other structures go up and come down. So, for example, here is Etrebat Shar, a fake town in an “artificial Afghanistan” that I shot earlier this month, on June 2:


And here is a broader view across the desert valley east of Fort Irwin itself:


Look to the right of the “town.” See that area where it looks like something got erased? Well, it did. I took the two shots above earlier this month, on June 2. Here’s a shot of the same scene on June 25, 2013:


Not only is the “town” a bit bigger, but there’s this whole other collection of walls and buildings, covering a far larger area, to the right, or east.

I also see in this shot that it was gone on December 8, 2014.

Now I’m fascinated by this town and the erased something-or-other nearby, which I also shot on June 2:


It appears to be “Medina Wasl,” which Wikipedia says is one of twelve towns built for desert warfare training:

One of the features of the base is the presence of 12 mock “villages” which are used to train troops in Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) prior to their deployment. The villages mimic real villages and have variety of buildings such as religious sites, hotels, traffic circles, etc. filled with foreign language speaking actors portraying government officials, local police, local military, villagers, street vendors, and insurgents. The largest two are known as Razish and Ujen, the closest located about 30 minutes from the main part of the post. Most of the buildings are created using intermodal containers, stacked to create larger structures, the largest village consists of 585 buildings that can engage an entire brigade combat team into a fight.

Now I’m slowly going through my other shots over the years to see if I can find Razish and Ujen… if they haven’t been erased.

It would be cool to hear from military folk familiar with Fort Irwin, or veterans who have worked or fought mock battles in those towns.

4-1-06 detroit & ccs 005 web

Once, in the early ’80s, on a trip from Durham to some beach in North Carolina, we stopped to use the toilets at a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere. In the stall where I sat was a long conversation, in writing, between two squatters debating some major issue of the time. Think of the best back-and-forth you’ve ever read in a comment thread and you’ll get a rough picture of what this was like.

So I sat there, becoming engrossed and amazed at the high quality of the dialog — and the unlikelihood of it happening where it was.

Until I got to the bottom. There, ending the conversation, were the penultimate and ultimate summaries, posed as a question and answer:

Q: Why do people feel compelled to settle their differences on bathroom walls?

A. Because you suck my dick.

That story became legendary in our family and social network, to such a degree that my then-teenage daughter and her girlfriends developed a convention of saying “Because you suck my dick” whenever an argument went on too long and wasn’t going anywhere. This was roughly the same as dropping a cow: a way to end a conversation with an absurdity.

The whole thing came back to me when I read Pro-Trump Chalk Messages Cause Conflicts on College Campuses in the NYTimes today. The story it suggests is that this kind of thing regresses toward a mean that is simply mean. Or stupid. For example,

Wesleyan University issued a moratorium in 2003, after members of the faculty complained that they were being written about in sexually explicit chalk messages.

So I’m thinking we need a name for this, or at least an initialism. So I suggest BYSMD.

You’re welcome.





At the uptown end of the 59th Street/Columbus Circle subway platform there hangs from the ceiling a box with three disks on fat stalks, connected by thick black cables that run to something unseen in the downtown direction. Knowing a few things about radio and how it works, I saw that and thought, Hmm… That has to be a cell. I wonder whose? So I looked at my phone and saw my T-Mobile connection had five dots (that’s iPhone for bars), and said LTE as well. So I ran @Ookla‘s Speedtest app and got the results above.

Pretty good, no?

Sure, you’re not going to binge-watch anything there, or upload piles of pictures to some cloud, but you can at tug on your e-tether to everywhere for a few minutes. Nice to have.

So I’m wondering, @TMobile… Are those speeds the max one should expect from LTE when your local cell is almost as close as your hat?

And how long before you put these along the rest of the A/B/C/D Train routes? (The only other one I know is at 72nd, a B/C stop.) Or the rest of the subway system? In Boston too? BART? (Gotta hit all my cities.)

Meanwhile, thanks for taking care of my Main Stop in midtown.

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Sacramento SunriseMade a dawn run to the nearby Peets for some dry cappuccinos, and was bathed in glow on my return by one of the most spectacular sunrises I have ever seen. It was post-peak when I got back (to the place where I’m staying in Gold River, California), but with some underexposure and white balance tweaking, I was able to get the shots in this set here.

Alas, the shot above is not in that set. It’s a screen shot I took of an adjusted raw file that Adobe Photoshop CS6 simply refused to save. “The file could not be created,” it said. No explanation. I checked permissions. No problem there. It just refused. I just checke, and the same thing happens with all files from all directories on all drives. Photoshop is suddenly useless to for editing RAW files. Any suggestions?

[Later…] An Adobe forum provided the answer here. All better now.


One of the things that fascinates me about Prague are the skewers atop the spires of its many iconic buildings, each of which pierces a shiny ball. It’s a great look.

I am sure there’s a reason for those things, other than the look itself.

I am also sure there is a word for the ball. The skewer too.

I know it’s not spire, because that labels any conical or tapered point on the roof of a building. Prague is said to be the city of a hundred, or a thousand, spires. Most of those have these balls too, and I’ve become obsessed, while I’m here, with finding out what the hell they’re called.

I’m sure more than a few people out there on the lazyweb know. So tell me.

Thank you.

I travel a lot, and buy newspapers wherever I happen to be. That would be true online as well, if I could do it. But I can’t, because that’s not an option.

For example, my butt is in California right now, but my nose is in Boston, where I’m reading the Globe. I don’t want a subscription to the Globe, but I would like to pay for today’s paper, or for at least the right to read a few stories from it.

Not easy. Or even possible, after the first one or two. Because, soon enough this paywall thingie comes up:

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 7.13.36 AM

It’ a subscription come-on, modeled after the one the New York Times has been using for years, and I wrote about back in 2012, here. (The switch after the above bait: “$.99*… *That’s less than $1 for 4 full weeks! Then pay the regular low rate of $3.99 per week.”)

I had some advice for the Times at that last link, and I’ve got some for all papers today: create an à la carte option. I know there are lots of reasons not to, all of which arise from system-based considerations on the sell side of the relationship with newspaper buyers.

What I’m saying is that the newsstand option has worked fine for more than a century in the physical world, and should be an option in the networked one as well.

At least think about it. Constructively, as in Let’s see… how can we do that? Not “It’s too hard.” Or “People only want free stuff.” Those are all echoes inside the old box. I want us to think and work outside of that box.

People are willing to pay value for value if it’s easy. So let’s make it easy. The ideas I vetted three years ago are still good, but don’t cover the à la carte option. Let’s just focus on that one, and consider what’s possible.


Here’s a hunk of what one set (aka Album) in my Flickr stream looks like:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 7.57.58 PM

And here are what my stats on Flickr looked like earlier today (or yesterday, since Flickr is on GMT and it’s tomorrow there):

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 1.02.09 PM

I ended up with 32,954 views, with no one of my 49,000+ photos getting more than 56 views. More than 95% of those views arrived via Flickr itself. The stats there are spread across 87 pages of results. Pages 1 to 63 go from 395 views (#1) down to 2. From page 64 to 87, all the results are for 1 view.

I just pulled the searches alone, and got this:


Searched for: bay area aerial



Searched for: doc searls



Searched for: los angeles aerial view



Searched for: sunrise



Searched for: aerial view of mountains



Searched for: aerial sand dune



Searched for: “toronto” “aerial”



Searched for: ewr



Searched for: aerial farmland



Searched for: wyoming coal



Searched for: nasa gov



A contact’s home page



Searched for: nuclear bomb



2013_12_30 Montserrat Mountain in Catalonia 




Searched for: diablo canyon nuclear



Searched for: aerial island



Searched for: arctic circle



Searched for: united airlines



Searched for: aerial view farmland



Searched for: aerial



Searched for: toronto aerial



Searched for: containers transport



Searched for: maple leaves



Searched for: airplane sunset



Searched for: aerial santa cruz



Searched for: aerial ocean



Searched for: road aerial desert



Searched for: fly



Searched for: magician



Searched for: chicago skyline



Searched for: airlines



Searched for: las vegas aerial



Searched for: “toronto” “aerial” “night”



Searched for: desert aerial



Searched for: siltstone



Searched for: lax -sport -sports -lacrosse



Searched for: landslides



Searched for: lithium             


Searched for: internet connections



Searched for: bayonne



Searched for: diablo nuclear



Searched for: “salt lake city” aerial



Searched for: save the internet



Searched for: river delta aerial



Searched for: cargill



Searched for: wyoming coal mine



Searched for: army aviation desert



Searched for: mt. wilson



Searched for: sandcastle



Searched for: ice circle



Searched for: carole lombard



Searched for: atomic tests



Searched for: governor brown



Searched for: carpinteria sunset



Searched for: graveyard airlines



Searched for: sunset carpinteria



Searched for: /search/?tags=cambrian



Searched for: hassle



Searched for: city aerial view



Searched for: glover park



Searched for: diablo canyon nuclear plant



Searched for: nyc pulaski skyline



Searched for: network branches



Searched for: roads aerial desert


The numbers on the left are where they fall in the order of popularity. I think the last one means there were 24 searches for roads aerial desert, which was the #300 search.

When I go to the bottom of the pile where all are tied with just one view, I get this stuff:

Searched for: lunch in the city


Searched for: ice shore


Searched for: snake


Searched for: street, walk


Searched for: father and his two kids


Searched for: misty winter


Searched for: valley roads


Searched for: child large picture shy


Searched for: recycling symbol


Searched for: boston old subway


Searched for: coffee


Searched for: mountain road


Searched for: open road


Searched for: san mateo county infrastructure


Searched for: pointy rocks


Searched for: new york by night


Searched for: alcoa


Searched for: parliament canberra


Searched for: afternoon sky


Searched for: summer sun park


Searched for: france versailles night


Searched for: dog scratching


Searched for: cloud painting


Searched for: pregnant 1946


Searched for: big leaf maple


Searched for: grasp


Most of the results are not searches, but photos, or photos that are “with” another shot. For example: Somehow all those are “with” this shot:

I think that means somebody searches, finds a shot, and looks for other shots like it. Not sure, though.

What I am sure about is that my photos get more action than my writing. I never meant it that way, but there it is.

Here is how New York looked through my front window yesterday at 3:51am, when I was packing to fly and drive from JFK to LAX to Santa Barbara:

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 7.37.38 AM

I shoveled a path to the street four times: the first three through light and fluffy snow, and the fourth through rain, slush and a ridge of myucch scraped in front of the driveway by a plow. By the time we got to JFK, all the pretty snow was thick gray slush. It was a good time to get the hell out. Fortunately, @United got us onto the first flight of the day to LAX . (We had been booked on a later flight. To see the crunch we missed, run the FlightAware MiseryMap for JFK, and watch 2 February.)

The flight to LAX was quick for a westbound one (which flies against the wind): a little over five hours. For half the country, the scene below was mostly white. This one…

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 8.14.24 AM

… of the ridge country between Beaver Dam Lake and Columbus, Wisconsin, said far more about snow than the white alone suggested. Those corrugated hills are grooves scraped onto the the landscape by the Wisconsin Glacial Episode, during which a local lobe of the Laurentide ice sheet crept steadily northeast to southwest, finally melting into lakes and rivers only about ten thousand years ago — a mere blink in geologic time.

A few minutes later came the snow-covered Mississippi, skirting Prairie du Chein, on the Wisconsin-Iowa border:

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 8.14.39 AM

Then, a couple hours later, we flew straight across the Grand Canyon, which has a horizontal immensity one tends to miss when gawking at the canyon’s scenic climaxes from the ground. One of my favorite features there is the Uinkaret Volcanic Field, which poured a syrup of lava over the Canyon’s layer cake of 290-1700-year old rock. That happened about 70,000 years ago, and still looks fresh:

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 8.13.47 AM

(BTW, two of the three pictures at that last link, in Wikipedia, are ones I shot on earlier trips. The third is by NASA.)

Gliding into LAX, we got a nice view of downtown…

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 8.13.30 AM

… where the temperature was 76°.

When we got home to Santa Barbara it was about 70° and looked like this, out my home office door:

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 7.40.01 AM

It wasn’t the prettiest sunset we’ve had here (this one I shot on 22 January was spectacular), but I’ve rarely seen a more welcome scenic bookend for a cross-country trip.

There are ideal ratios of coffee and milk, if you don’t want the flavor of either to fully prevail. To me the closest to the ideal ratio is what Italians call a cortado and Australians call a piccolo (short for piccolo latte). The latter looks like this:


To me this is roughly what a cappuccino should look like in a clear glass. But what we usually get in the U.S. (especially from Starbucks) is ten ounces of milk and one ounce of espresso in a twelve-ounce cup. Or maybe two ounces of espresso. Peets cappuccinos, when done right (which is about half the time, in the small size), get the ratio about the same (~1:1 coffee and steamed milk, and poured so the two mix into a creamy combination).

Anyway, most coffee shops in the U.S. (and the U.K., which I also visit often) don’t know from a cortado or a piccolo. So I say let’s educate them. Here’s a goal: by the end of 2015, most coffee shops in the U.S. will know what you mean when you order either one. Possible?

Unless you look out the window.

When I did that on 4 November 2007, halfway between London and Denver, I saw this:

baffin Best I could tell at the time, this was Greenland. That’s how I labeled it in this album on Flickr. For years after that, I kept looking at Greenland maps, trying to find where, exactly, these glaciers and mountains…


While I’m sure there are good maps of Greenland somewhere (Nuuk? Denmark?), Google, Bing and the rest are no help. Nor are the fat world atlases. Here’s an island the size of a continent, with lots of Fjords and islands and glaciers and mountains and stuff, many of which were surely named by the natives or visitors, and there ain’t much.

But:::: good news.

There, out my dirty and frosty window over the trailing edge of the wing, was the same long deep valley I had seen seven years before. Only now I was equipped to learn what was what, and where. My GPS and the plane’s map — there on a screen mounted in the back of the seat in front of me — agreed: we flying over the Cumberland Peninsula of Baffin Island, an Arctic landform almost twice the size of New Zealand, in Nunavut, Canada’s newest, most arctic and least populated territory.

The valley, I discovered on the ground, is called Akshayuk Pass. It connects the North and South Pangnirtung Fjords, bisecting the peninsula. Imagine a Yosemite Valley with a floor of glaciers draining into Arctic rivers, flanked for seventy miles by dozens of Half Domes and El Capitans — crossing the Arctic Circle, through an island where the last Ice Age still hasn’t ended.

On the west side of the pass is the Penny Ice Cap, a mini-Greenland inside the forbidding and spectacular Auyuittuq National Park. Wikipedia explains, “In Inuktitut (the language of Nunavut‘s aboriginal people, the Inuit), Auyuittuq (current spelling: ᐊᐅᔪᐃᑦᑐᖅ aujuittuq) means ‘the land that never melts.'” Nobody lives there. Hiking across it ranges from difficult to impossible. The only way to fully take it in is from the sky above, like I found myself doing right then. It was thrilling.

On the first flight over, I became fascinated by a mountain, just south of the Penny Ice Cap, that looked like an old tooth with fillings that had fallen out. It’s in the lower left side of this shot here from the 2007 trip:

asgard So I recognized it instantly when I saw it again two days ago. Here’s how it looked this time:

agard2 Now that I could research the scenery, I found it was Mt. Asgard, named after the realm of Norse gods. From below it looks the part. (That link is to amazing photos by Artur Stanisz, shot from Turner Glacier, which Asgard overlooks in the shot above. Fun fact: one of the great James Bond ski chase stunts was shot here. See this video explaining it. Start at about 1:33.)

So now we have all these albums:

Which join these others on Flickr:

A digression on the subject of aviation…

A bit before I started shooting these scenes, a flight attendant asked me to shade my window, so others on the plane could sleep or watch their movies. Note that this was in the middle of a daytime flight, not a red-eye. When I told her I booked a window seat to look and shoot out the window, she was surprised but supportive. “That is pretty out there,” she said.

Later, when we were over Hudson Bay and the view was all clouds, I got up to visit the loo and count how many other windows had shades raised. There were very few: maybe eight, out of dozens of windows in the economy cabin of our Boeing 777. Everybody was watching a movie, eating, sleeping or otherwise paying no attention to the scenery outside.

No wonder a cynical term used by airline people to label passengers is “walking freight.” The romance and thrill of flying has given way to rolling passengers on and off, and filling them with bad food and failed movies.

Progress is how the miraculous becomes mundane. Many of our ancestors would have given limbs for the privilege of seeing what’s on the other side of our window shades in the sky. Glad all we need is to give up our cynicism about flying.

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