Monday, April 11, 2016

Columbia: The Road Trip

I was cleaning off my hard drive and I found this.  I have modified it very little.  I believe I wrote it in about 2001.

Thirty-five years ago, six of us set out from Lake Geneva, WI, in two cars.  We had told our bosses that we were taking a few days off to see Columbia’s first launch.  Lawrence, his wife Josie, and Jeff were in Lawrence & Josie’s car.  Erol, Paul, and I were in mine.

I’ll say, right from the beginning, that many of the routine details of the trip are hazy now.  I couldn't consult photos, because they're all in storage.  I don’t remember the route we drove, although I suspect that we went from Lake Geneva through Indianapolis, Louisville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Gainesville, Orlando to somewhere near Cocoa, just inland from Cape Canaveral, following I-65 and I-75.  It’s likely that some of the sharp memories of the trip are just as hazy as well.  But everything here is as I remember it, with some support from Google.

The Plan
Columbia was scheduled to launch in the early morning of Friday, 10 April 1981 as STS-1.  With nearly 1300 miles to drive (and without Google Maps or GPS to help us) we figured on leaving Wednesday evening after work and driving straight through, arriving in Florida Thursday night.  Lawrence had contacted a D&D fan in the area of Cape Canaveral, who’d convinced his parents to let us crash at his place.  In return, we agreed to run at least one game for them fanboy and his friends while we were there.

Once the launch was over on Friday, we thought we’d visit the beach during the afternoon and run the game in the evening.  Then we’d cross Florida to visit Disney World on Saturday before starting back on Saturday night, thus missing only two days of work.

The Drive Down
Putting three 20-year-old boys into a car together for more than 20 straight hours of driving is guaranteed to generate bizarre behaviour, even if the three aren’t all avid D&D players.  We had our fair share.  Someone in the car drew up a sign for the passenger side saying “we kill XXX for fun and profit”, where XXX was the common name for a specific religious minority in the US.  I remember the sign, but not the context.  Somewhere in Florida, one of my passengers was hanging out of the right side window asking a cute girl in the next lane “are you bisexual?”.  At 75 miles per hour.  At night.  Without alcohol to blame it on.  In 1981.

We didn’t stop to sleep, just rotated drivers when necessary.  Since this was before cell phones, we had to stay right with each other and use limited signals to indicate the need for a stop.

Crashing with a fanboy
I don’t know exactly how Lawrence had made contact with our host fanboy.  It almost has to have been by fan letter.  I certainly don’t remember other details about him, like name, hometown, or pretty much anything else.  I think he was maybe fifteen.

In any case, Lawrence had this contact, and got a phone number, and arrangements were made.  We had a place to crash (six of us -- his parents were clearly very tolerant).  The “price” was very reasonable -- run a game, or maybe two.  Since that was essentially what we all did for a living, and in our free time for fun, it wouldn’t be much of a hardship.

The Scrub
Alarm clocks went off at four or five am.  After way too little sleep, we piled into a van provided by our hosts (I’m not positive about that, but I don’t think we drove our two vehicles -- it’s possible we squeezed the six of us into one car) and headed for the Cape.

Traffic was atrocious.  It seemed that they had not anticipated the interest in Columbia’s launch.  It wasn’t just bumper-to-bumper, it was (mostly) stop and (seldom) go.  We had the radio on, and as launch time approached, we were happier and happier about holds.

Eventually we parked at a viewing area.  It was plush, with vendors selling souvenirs, bleachers, trailer-offices, media, talking heads, and bunkers.  It was clearly not where we belonged.  Somehow in the mess of getting people into the Cape, we’d ended up at the VIP viewing area.

The view wasn’t great, actually.  It seemed to be all over land, with brush and low trees between us and the launch site.  But from the bleachers you could see pretty well.  And there were lots of big cameras here, both TV and film.

We made the most of our good fortune.  We ate the food, oogled the souvenirs (most of us barely made minimum wage), clambered around the bleachers, goggled at the celebrities (mostly news-type celebrities, it must be said), and generally made a nuisance of ourselves.  At least we weren’t the only ones doing it.  Or the only ones who didn’t belong there.

Friday's launch was scrubbed due to computer malfunction.  Fortunately, the APs managing traffic had learned something since the morning, and we were all off the Cape within an hour or so.

The Atlantic Ocean
Since we had the rest of the day to ourselves, we thought we’d go and show Jeff what an ocean looked like.  Even though the Great Lakes are wide enough to have no visible farther shore, they don’t look like an ocean.

The beach was covered, absolutely covered, in jellyfish.  Which were immediately dubbed “Man o’ War Jellyfish” (whether they were actually capable of stinging was never tested).  We walked along the beach covering them with sand and smashing them with large flat rocks.  One of my friends approached an attractive young lady and explained that she should not swim.  Her response was devastating in tone, if simple in words: "I know" :-)

Since we obviously couldn’t swim in Man o’ War infested ocean waters, we used our host’s pool.  There is a picture somewhere of several of us, pasty white from the Wisconsin winter, standing by the pool with our arms outstretched, our eyes closed, turning to get the most possible sunlight.

I slept through Lawrence’s game.  I don’t know about anyone else.  I vaguely recall a slice of pizza landing in a large glass of milk at dinner, though.

The Mouse 
Because NASA could not cycle Columbia in less than about 48 hours, we had to decide what to do.  We had always planned to go to Disney World on Saturday.  If we left as planned, we’d driven 1300 miles and back again for no particular reason except to visit Disney World.  If we stayed another 18 hours, we’d be driving home for 20 plus hours and going straight into work on Monday morning.

Four of us were 21 or under, so of course we decided to stay and see the launch if it happened Sunday morning!  It seemed unlikely that they’d fire us all, since we represented about 1/2 of the design group, 1/3 of the development group, and 1/4 of the artists.  And they weren’t paying us that well anyway.

Saturday morning we up and drove across Florida to Disney World.  We did all the things that you’d expect us to.  And by the end of the day, we were so exhausted that we all crashed out on the railroad that circles the park, singing Kliban.  You know, the cat guy?  We were finding out how many stylistic variations we could do of:
Love them little mousies
Mousies what I love to eat
Bite they little heads off
Nibble on they tiny feet.
I recall that we did pop and country versions, but the one I liked best was the Gregorian chant.  Surprisingly, security did not even comment, much less remove us from the park as undesirables.

The Launch
As it happened, Columbia had been re-scheduled for launch on the morning of 12 April 1981, exactly 20 years after Yuri Gagarin flew in Vostok 1.  Without having Wikipedia handy, we were of course unaware of the timing :-).

Unlike Friday morning driving to the Cape, Sunday morning went very smoothly.  As a result, we were not in the VIP area :-(.  Instead, we were on the first of a series of causeways across ponds and wetlands.  Because we had planned to take as long to get onto the Cape as it had taken Friday, we were early, and roughly in the middle of the first causeway.  Several other causeways behind us gradually filled with other visitors.  Every causeway had its own set of speakers, which resulted in a maddening echo effect being applied to every word Mission Control said.  “Holding” became “HOLDING ... Holding ... holding ... hldng” as we got the word from successive sets of speakers behind us.

Since we’d left a couple of extra hours early, we got there before dawn.  Even though we were used to Wisconsin winter weather, it was cold sitting for hours just a few inches above the water.  Sunrise was at about six.  The launch was scheduled for seven.

As it got close to seven, you could feel the tension rise.  I don’t know how many people there were, but we had hundreds of vehicles on our causeway alone (we’d brought both our cars because we were leaving immediately after the launch).  Since few if any of the vehicles were single drivers, we must have had thousands of people on the causeways.  Cameras were set up.  They ranged from high-end systems with lenses that looked feet long down to Jeff’s Instamatic.  Which he was holding up to a pair of binoculars.

The boom box we’d been using for a radio had a cassette recorder in it.  We plopped a blank tape in it and started recording as the final seconds ticked away, each number coming from the rows of speakers over and over and over again.

Crowd noise rose as the countdown dropped.  Individual words disappeared and were replaced with squeals and screams and shouts.  At ‘ignition’ there was a greater shout -- a single word cast across the water: ‘Yeah!’.  I think, in our secret hearts, we’d all been sure that this was going to be Friday all over again.  Now it was really going to happen.

Smoke spilled from the solid rocket boosters.  Shutters began snapping frantically.  The crowd noise continued to rise.  As the count hit zero and began to climb, we could see the shockwave from the shuttle engines moving across the water at us.  It was a wave front of distortion charging through the shallow water, and as it lapped at our causeway, it carried the booster noise.

Crowd noise, which had been loud enough to make me think about covering my ears, just vanished in a vast thrumming.  You could see that other people’s mouths were open, but whatever noise we were making was inconsequential when compared with the voice of Columbia.

The April 12 launch at Pad 39A of STS-1, just seconds past 7 a.m., 
carries astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen into an 
Earth orbital mission scheduled to last for 54 hours, ending with 
unpowered landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Photo: NASA

And she rose.  She rose from that flat piece of lowland across the water, trailing booster smoke and riding flame.  She made, for the first time, that distinctive roll that bent toward the east, to protect us in case of disaster.  The sun caught her, and the crowd noise came back.  It was as if everybody’s favorite team has just won the Super Bowl and the World Series and the Stanley Cup, all at once, and then Peace Had Been Declared.

And she raced toward orbit.

Before I knew it, she was gone.  Her voice, which had been so commanding at launch, was replaced with hundreds of hoarse human voices, and the mechanical voice of Mission Control, reporting facts that fell upon our no-longer deaf ears again and again.

My camera was out of film.  I had no real recollection of images I’d tried to take.  Those prints and negatives are probably somewhere in storage, among the ten or twelve bankers boxes I have of family photos.

Driving Back
We left the Cape right after launch and started back to Wisconsin.  The recording went right into the car’s tape player, and we discovered the meaning of “clipping”.  We could hear people shouting and screaming until the roar of Columbia’s engines hit.  The recording became a brown noise hum.  It wasn’t even particularly loud (the recorder probably had some sort of automatic volume control, or we overloaded the dynamic range of the device).  After a while, the human voices just faded back in.

It wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the actual event had been.

When we crossed I-10 near Lake City, our car had a serious discussion: should we turn left and try to watch the landing?  We decided that it would almost certainly cost us our jobs, and we’d still have to drive back to Wisconsin to get our stuff, and we might not even make it in time, since Columbia was going to land in two days.

Unlike the trip down, where we’d almost always had one driver, one awake, and one sleeping, the trip back was almost always one driver and two sleeping.  Whenever a driver couldn’t go any further, we’d stop for food.  That seemed like it turned out to be every two or three hours, and we were punchy.  We actually got asked to leave a restaurant when Erol carefully ate his burger into the shape of a pyramid and left it on his plate.  They accidentally locked us in the airlock before letting us out.

I think we got back to Lake Geneva about 10am Monday morning, and went right to work, where we did fuck-all that day.

Twenty-one Years Later
I saw Columbia fly one other time.  She was refitted by NASA for the last time between July 1999 and March 2002.  She launched 1 March 2002 (the third anniversary of my mother’s death) as STS-109 to service the Hubble Space Telescope.  Sara and I had made a trip to Florida for other reasons and took the morning off to drive to Cocoa and watch from a parking lot.

We were a lot farther away.  I’m not even sure they allowed people onto the Cape for launches after 9/11.  We couldn’t see Columbia very well on the ground.  The crowd was a lot smaller, and there was no SRB noise.  But she jumped off the pad and made that roll to the east, and the sun caught her, and the crowd cheered her.

And she raced toward orbit.

It was her penultimate flight.

Eleven months later, Columbia broke up on re-entry of STS-107.  A piece of insulation from the main fuel tank had damaged the protective tiles on the left wing during launch.  The tiles failed catastrophically on re-entry.  All seven aboard were killed.
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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Barriers for a Third-Party Run in 2016

There's a lot of talk this year about third party runs for the presidency.  Will Trump run as a third party candidate if he doesn't get the nomination?  Will Sanders?  How about Bloomberg if Trump gets the nomination? (OK, not Bloomberg)

There's a lot of angst.

To dispel that angst, let's talk about what a "third party run" means.  Technically America has a multi-party election, but realistically, universal ballot access is limited to the designated nominees of the Democratic and Republican Parties.  The barriers against other parties, independent candidates, and write-in candidates are significant.

Let's look at those three options:

Parties other than the Republican and Democratic Parties

There are minor parties in the US electoral system.  The most significant are probably the Libertarian Party and the Green Party.  Aside from Ross Perot's 1996 run at the head of his Reform Party, the only other minor party to field a presidential candidate since Strom Thurmond (States' Rights Democratic aka Dixiecrat) and Henry Wallace (Progressive) in 1948 has been the American Independent party.  No minor party candidate since 1968 has won a single electoral vote (EV) and the best percentage a minor party has garnered since 1968 is Ross Perot at 8.6% in 1996.

This year, the Libertarian Party claims they will be on the ballot for 342 (about 63%) of EVs.  Technically enough to win, but they would need to win just under 80% of the EVs they are on the ballot for.

The Green Party says they have ballot access in about 20 states totaling 304 (about 56%) of EVs, which means they would need to win just under 89% of those EVs to elect a president.  They do say that about another 179 EVs are "potentially in play", which at this date I interpret as "we pray we might get on the ballot".

For those of you watching the far-right, the Constitution Party hasn't managed to get on the ballot in over 41 states and in 2012 was on the ballot in only 26.  They have never won a single EV and their high-water mark in votes was less than two-tenths of one percent (about 183,000 votes in 1996).

Since 1900, the best a third party has done is Teddy Roosevelt's Progressive Party in 1912, which gathered over 27% of the popular vote nationwide and 88 (16.5% of the then 531) EVs for a second place finish ahead of the rump Republican incumbent William Howard Taft (8 EVs) and far behind Democratic Party nominee Woodrow Wilson (435 EVs and 42% of the popular vote).  This was the last election in which a non-Republican Party, non-Democratic Party candidate came second in EVs or the popular vote.  Wilson won 40 of 48 states, Roosevelt 6, and Taft 2 (VT and UT, if you're counting).  The popular vote was much closer, with Wilson gathering about 6.3 million, Roosevelt about 4.1 million, and Taft about 3.5 million.

Write-in Candidates

Technically, Write-in candidates have access to 43 states and 494 (just under 92%) EVs.  Thirty-five of those states require some sort of paperwork.

However, I can find no evidence that a Write-in candidate has ever made a respectable showing in a national presidential election.  There are some notable primary wins, especially Henry Cabot Lodge in 1964 who won Republican Party primaries in New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

And then there's the success that fails: in 1968 incumbent Lyndon Johnson did not file for the New Hampshire Democratic Party primary, gaining 50% of votes cast as a Write-in.  However, Eugene McCarthy was on the ballot and received 41% of the vote.  Johnson withdrew from the 1968 election, leaving McCarthy to lose massively to Republican Party candidate Richard Nixon.

Independent Candidates

Since 1912 the most popular "third party" candidate has actually been independent, running outside of the party system.  In 1992 independent candidate Ross Perot gathered 18.9% of the popular vote while winning 0 EVs.  In 1980 independent candidate John Anderson got 6.6% of the popular vote while winning 0 EVs.

To get on the ballot for November as an Independent, you have to deliver signatures to every state (except for Louisiana and Colorado, where you can just pay them).  A grand total of about 875,000 signatures in 48 states plus DC, with 49 different requirements and 25 different deadlines.

The Bottom Line: non-major Candidates are spoilers

While minor party, write-in, and independent candidates have garnered significant popular vote numbers in the last century, none have been viable national candidates as measured by the only metric that matters: EVs.  Even Teddy Roosevelt didn't come close, and he was closer to a true Republican Party candidate than a true minor party candidate.

Any "third party" candidacy must be seen nearly exclusively in the role of spoiler.  Yes, this is a weird year, with Trumpers and Berners showing great enthusiasm among polities that mostly seem unwilling to vote.  "Likely voter" models are out the window, or at least deeply in question.  Something wild could happen.  But the last 100+ years (only 25 or so presidential elections, really, so the sample size is small) says it won't.  The most recent President of the US who wasn't either a Republican or a Democrat was ... Millard Filmore (1850-1853), our 13th President who was a Whig.

The Republican Party and Democratic Party have dominated four of the six "party systems" covering US presidential election history, starting in 1854.  There is no particular reason to think this is going to change.  The Republican Party is likely to have to re-invent itself, as both of the two major parties have done periodically since the 1850s, when the Republican Party was the northern anti-slavery big government party and the Democratic Party was the party of Redeemers and Copperheads as well as the lower economic class rural workers now seen as the voting backbone of the modern Republican Party.

Could someone run?

It's quite clear that the idea of a third party run is in the air.  But the mechanics of such a run (other than a futile Write-in campaign) are difficult, and probably out of reach at this point, especially for a pseudo-Republican Party candidate like Trump.

The best route would probably be taking over one of the existing minor parties, like the Libertarians or the Greens.  The downside of that is that you are immediately giving up huge swaths of the country and would have to win 80+% of the EVs where you are on the ballot.

Failing that, or desiring access to all the EVs, an Independent run is the only option.  And there's a giant steaming pile of Texas* in your way.  If you want to be on the November ballot as a independent in Texas, you have to deliver nearly 80K valid signatures.  According to Politico, all of those signatures must come from voters who did not vote in the March 1st primary (taking more than 4 million likely voters out of the signature pool).  By the 9th of May (39 days).  About 2K valid signatures per day.

According to BallotPedia, the average cost per required signature is just over $4, so that's about $320K just in Texas.  An average of $3.5 million nationwide.  Some campaigns cost three times that, or about $10 million nationwide.

* The last Democratic Party candidate to win Texas was Jimmy Carter in 1976.  The last Republican Party candidate to win the Presidency while losing Texas was Richard Nixon in 1968.  It's hard to see a Republican Party (or pseudo-Republican Party) candidate winning the Presidency without Texas.

So if there are not Trumpers out gathering signatures to put Trump on the ballot in Texas, Trump is not running as an Independent.

Oh, and there's one other problem.  Texas is one of two states with "sore loser" laws that apply to presidential elections.  No one who has run in a presidential primary in Texas may be on the ballot as an Independent.

There is possibly some wiggle room.  A court challenge might defeat the May 9th deadline (every non-presidential candidate in Texas has until June) and 42 out of 45 states with sore loser laws have established precedents that they do not apply to presidential primaries, so Texas may just be next on that list (the other state, BTW, is South Dakota, whose 3 EVs may or may not be worth the trouble).  John Anderson ran as an Independent in 1980 despite participating in seven early caucuses and primaries, but had withdrawn well before the Texas primary.

Will someone run?

Here's how you know whether it's going to happen.

It's not.

At least not unless there is some very interesting activity going on at a relatively frantic pace.  Now, or if not now, soon.

Look for news reports of signature gathering in Texas (deadline 5/9), North Carolina (deadline 6/9), and Illinois (deadline 6/27).  If you don't see it, court challenges or taking over a third party are the only options, and I don't believe that taking over a third party is anything but a spoiler move.

Berners and Trumpers may stay home, or not.  Clintonistas and Cruzers may hold their noses, or not.  But the odds of a successful third party or independent run are tiny and the barriers are huge.

I think it comes down to one question:

If he doesn't get the nomination, is Trump crazy enough to spend millions just to defeat Ted Cruz?

Anybody who waits until after the conventions is giving up any chance to get access to more EVs than the Libertarian and Green Parties are already signed up for, so the secondary question is:

If he doesn't get the nomination, could Trump subvert either the Libertarian or Green Party and become their nominee?

I have no idea.

(updated: spelling corrections)
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Saturday, February 13, 2016

Three Little Not-Piggies...

At the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Mass v2

Seven and a half months ago, in the lead up to Halloween and both Canadian and American Thanksgiving, I wrote about a new eating schedule and how it was helping me reduce my mass.  Of course the holiday season immediately followed that post -- a notoriously difficult time of year to maintain weight, much less lose it.  In addition, right after Christmas Sara and I joined friends for a trip to England* and spend two weeks on the road -- another notoriously difficult thing regarding eating and weight.

*insert obligatory joke about how English food is awful and therefore traveling to England must be a good way to lose weight.  In fact, I had the best steak of my life while we were in London and ate quite well the entire trip, thank you very much.

In fact, I ended the holidays weighing slightly less than I entered them -- a pound or three -- nothing spectacular, but I consider that a significant victory.

This morning I passed another milestone.  I'm now 10 pounds under my black belt testing weight and have lost approximately 40 pounds*.  That's approaching losing 15% of my maximum body weight.  More importantly, my BP (on medication) has dropped this week into the very low end of normal.

*Disclaimer: any particular days mass reading is temporary.  I have spent more than a month bouncing around my last plateau, moving up and down (mostly) in about a three pound range in the high 250s.  I note edge cases for the very reason that they are extremes and thus rewarding.

As my mass decreases, my ability and inclination to exercise increases.  I still have a back problem, but I have added bicycling (using an electrically assisted bicycle).  I got my first 10 mile ride in this week and am trying (not yet managing) to get a short ride in every day I'm not at the gym.  The Faraday Porteur makes hills much less scary but can be ridden up and down easy grades and on the flat without draining the battery.  It makes it easy to carry  a grocery bag (or two) and I have panniers coming that should make bigger trips possible.  If my gaming didn't end late at night I'd seriously consider riding it over to Card Kingdom for PFS.

My antipathy for calories in, calories out is probably better documented than it warrants.  Tl;Dr is that it's a decent heuristic and a terrible plan.  What you eat is important because it affects how your body processes food and releases energy, and because it affects how much (and what) your body _wants_ to eat.  But the general goal of dieting or eating healthy is to encourage your body to eat less (and better) stuff and have more energy and inclination to expend that energy.

Six small meals* (I don't know a formal name for it but that's descriptive) -- eating a small amount (think custard cup, small muffin, or half banana sized) every three hours through the day -- seems to work for us.  We rarely get more than five in, for me one is often somewhat larger, but th basic idea is working.

*Honest to Goddess, we did this under medical supervision for the last 7-8 months.  Including monthly meetings with a nutritionist/dietician and a fitness counselor and periodic meetings with an MD and a psychologist.  They were not messing around.  I don't know how much that support mattered, but we definitely benefited from it.

Given that 90+% of dieters in the U.S. fail to lose weight long-term, any dieting discussion must begin with the thought that we don't really know what we're talking about around food and that this works for me.  And that whatever works for you is good.

This is working for us.

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Saturday, May 2, 2015

Thoughts on the Apple Watch after less than 24 hours

1) it's a little strange to be wearing a watch again.

2) the apps screen gets full really really fast

3) I want to write complications for it.  Complications are the elements that can be configured in watch faces.  A quick google search has not turned up any information on creating them.

4) It was obvious that the watch was going to be a relatively simple i/o device attached to my phone. Brief experience bears that out -- with the exception of the watch face and complications (some of which DO depend upon the iPhone -- Weather, for instance) -- it's a new interface into existing apps on your iPhone.

As such, it creates a new category of interactions which used to be folded into your phone -- extremely brief ones for which you might have carried your phone in your hand (e.g., moving to the next song or changing the volume on your music -- exactly what buttons on your headphones or cable were intended to do) -- like incessantly checking the time, or a countdown timer you have in place.

So I'm not quite sure that I like the idea of games on the watch.  If you are sufficiently engaged in something to interact with it constantly, why not use your phone, which has a bigger screen and better UX?  The only game type I can see working on the watch is something where you make a very simple decision every few minutes or so.  Definitely NOT highly interactive systems.

5) Oddly, the watch is more intrusive than the phone for interacting, because it absolutely requires two hands.  There are a lot of things I can do on the iPhone with a single hand (the previously mentioned music manipulations, simple short texts or typing with one thumb, swiping, etc.) but I have to have my phone out and in one hand to do it.  The watch, which doesn't need to be taken out or put away, must be manipulated with the opposite hand.  It sounds small but it it weighing heavily right now -- partly because in each case the primary use hand is my right hand.  If i'm holding the phone to do one handed manipulations, it's in the right hand.  If I'm manipulating the watch in any way other than just flipping my wrist to the see currently displayed glance or app, I'm doing it with the right hand.  I assume that lefties will act correspondingly using the left hand.

Anyway, those are the first thoughts.  More later, I imagine.

Cross posted to Mischievous Ramblings II
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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

But There's No Such Thing as Climate Change....

Image from below linked story.

From How Much More Rain Would California Need To End The Drought?:
Short answer: a whole lot.  
...the winter we need to escape drought conditions ... would have 150 percent of the average rainfall, or a storm like we've been getting every three to five days through spring. That, unfortunately, isn't very likely.
Additional coverage of the California drought on SFist.

Much of the US is in an historic drought.  Drought leads to changes in food prices (almost always upward), increases costs of disposing of waste (due to cost of water and need for clean water when supplies diminish), and can literally make portions of the country uninhabitable without substantial efforts.  Any number of Southern California and Sun Belt cities are in locations that are incapable of supporting their population without massive influxes of foreign water, including the possibility of moving water from Canada.

The idea of "water wars" is nothing new, but with increasing drought throughout the US ("from Delaware to California" is a money quote from one story) the problem of who has water and who's willing to give up water is going to get nothing but more serious and contentious.

Who owns your water supply?
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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Other Voices on Guns

I found myself reading a collection of essays at The Fog of Policy on guns, gun control, and politics.  I found them well-written, balanced, and generally rational -- which is hard to say about a lot that is written about gun policy.  Here are links:

As usual, I don't expect anybody's mind to be changed, but I can hope for civil discourse, at least....
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Monday, December 8, 2014

Bowling Ball and Feathers, in a vacuum chamber

What is there to say? Science Rocks.

Sorry about the hiatus.
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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

It's Veterans Day...

"Veterans Day", by Tom Russell, performed by Johnny Cash,
 from the 1990 Album Boom Chicka Boom

It's Veterans Day.  November 11, derived from the ending (by armistice) of active hostilities during The Great War, at the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918 (although formally, the state of war did not end for various combatants until between 1919 and 1924).

In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed 11/11 to be Armistice Day:
"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"
In 1938, Congress
... made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day." Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I...
and in 1954
...after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
Originally, Armistice Day was intended as a day for celebration and remembrance, with parades and public meetings.  Business would cease briefly at 11am.  By making Veterans Day a statutory holiday, Congress was more or less doubling up on Memorial Day (formerly known as Decoration Day) which had been instituted after the American Civil War.  The division of labour was essentially that Memorial Day was for veterans who had died, and Veterans Day was for all veterans.

In 1968, the US government attempted to "normalize" holiday celebration in order to create uniform three day weekends for federal employees, which resulted in several years of confusion until President Gerald Ford returned Veterans Day to November 11.

As a result, Veterans Day (unlike Memorial Day, Presidents Day, and Columbus Day -- and incidentally, my mother's birthday, which until 1971 was always Memorial Day) is again celebrated on 11 November, no matter what the day of the week.  Partially because of this peculiarity, and probably largely because of the Vietnam War, Veterans Day parades are much rarer than they used to be.

That's wrong.

Lionizing the military and declaring everybody who serves to be a hero isn't right, but ignoring the service and sacrifice of our veterans isn't right either.  Jim Wright says it much better than I can:
...I concur with the bare gist of Masciotra's basic premise: i.e. calling everybody in uniform a "hero" is nothing but shallow mindless patriotism and, worse, waters down the sacrifices of those shining few who truly ARE heroes. Putting us military folks up on a pedestal is wrongheaded and counterproductive and blinds you to the very real, very human, problems. Heroes can do no wrong, they never kill the wrong people by accident, or on purpose, they never commit rape or harass their fellows, heroes never break their oaths for a book deal, do they? Heroes don't get PTSD. Heroes don't wake up at night, the sheet soaked with sweat, the screams ringing in their ears. Heroes certainly don't need help or counselling or medical care after they leave the service. Heroes don't end up dirty and hungry and addicted and living on the street. Regular people do, but not heroes. 
The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of us, me most definitely included, are NOT heroes. We are just ... people. We were just soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, trying to do our duty, doing the best we could with what we had under difficult conditions.
So, it's Veterans Day.  Do something nice for a veteran, if you can -- and do it some other day if you can't do it today.  At least be conscious that there are nearly 20 million Americans who signed up to go into harms way for the rest of us.  Try to be worthy of that.

And make sure that you, and your children if you have any, make it, at least once, to Arlington National Cemetery, or Colville-sur-Mer, so that you (and they) remember what war costs.

"Stones", Arlington National Cemetery,
by Evan Robinson

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sorry about that...

Urine Color Chart,,
Gunsite has pee color charts next to every toilet

I had hoped to get back to content-ful writing a little sooner than this.  My week of art for art's sake posts was the week I was at Gunsite Academy taking their Gunsite Scout Rifle class.  Hard, but fun.  Lots of stuff to learn and then practice.  I haven't checked my round count, but it was probably in the range of 400-500.  The simulators were fun, especially "Military Crest" and "The Scrambler".

Then came Friday lunch.  I had just finished Military Crest and was really happy to get a chance to sit and eat and continue to hydrate, which is a constant element of being at Gunsite.  The school is over 5000 feet and in the desert, so making sure that you have enough water and electrolytes is part of the drill.

I couldn't eat my lunch.  It's not that it was bad, I just couldn't eat it.  I made sure to drink a couple of pints of water at least and got a couple of cold sodas as well.  I was sloshing.

I drove back to the wrong range and was completely confused when no one was there.  It took me a few minutes to realize what had happened, and by the time I got to the right range, it was obvious to me that something was wrong.  I was physically and mentally slow, my guts didn't feel right, and I was just the slightest bit spacey.  So I took myself off the line -- I figured if I couldn't properly handle a car I shouldn't be handling a firearm.

That slow state lasted the rest of the day, which fortunately was not full, since we'd mostly finished everything we had to do.  I did go with the class to the Sconce and stuck it out for an hour or so there, because I'd missed the chance to see Col. Cooper's house the last time I was at Gunsite.

By the time I got back to the room it was clear to both me and Sara that something was wrong.  In all probability I had heat exhaustion.  My brain slowed down even more and I had trouble keeping track of, well, pretty much anything.  A cool shower made me feel a little better but afterwards I was cycling rapidly between too hot and too cold, tossing covers off and desperately holding them around me to stop shivering.

I ended up in the ER, where they gave me drugs for nausea and at least a liter of saline IV.  They took a pile of blood samples and asked a lot about flu and fevers and such.  In the end, after about 3 hours, they decided that I was, in fact, dehydrated.  Gatorade ensued -- and you know there's something wrong with you when Gatorade tastes good!

Days later I am still a bit slow physically, although I might now be able to blame that on 3 days of driving (about 1500 miles total) :-).

Lesson Learned: Drinking a lot of liquids is not enough -- if you are not sweating, you are not OK!
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Friday, October 31, 2014

ars gratia artis

Bristlecone Pine, White Mountains, California
photograph by Evan Robinson

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

ars gratia artis

Tulips, Seattle, Washington
photograph by Evan Robinson

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

ars gratia artis

Fireworks, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
photograph by Evan Robinson

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

ars gratia artis

Old Engine, Bodie, California
photograph by Evan Robinson

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Monday, October 27, 2014

ars gratia artis

Periwinkle, Half Moon Bay, California
photograph by Evan Robinson
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Sunday, October 26, 2014

ars gratia artis

Bishop Creek near South Lake, Bishop, CA
photograph by Evan Robinson

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

ars gratia artis

Watson Lake Reflection, Prescott, AZ
photograph by Evan Robinson

Prescott is not the "look everywhere and see spectacular landscapes" location that the Eastern Sierra is this time of year, but there are places...
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Friday, October 24, 2014

"Government Didn't Build My Business, I Did"

The Coffee Cup Cafe & Cantina, Boulder City, NV
photograph by Evan Robinson

We stopped for breakfast (for Sara) and lunch (for me) at this cute little place in Boulder City, Nevada, just down the street from the bust of Frank Crowe, who honcho'd the whole damn Dam.

Nice place, and I almost didn't walk in when I saw the sticker on the front door: "Government Didn't Build My Business, I Did".

In Boulder City, Nevada.  A town that owes its entire existence to a government run public works project, Hoover Dam -- and which was government owned and run until 1959, more than two decades after the Dam was completed.  The Dam and associated recreation looms so large in Boulder City that it is one of only two municipalities in Nevada that ban gambling.

But he/she/they built their business all on their own lonesome without any contribution by the big evil gubmint.  Not the utilities they use, not the road that passes in front of the place, not the sidewalk they put tables on or next to, not the police and fire protection they enjoy, and especially, most especially, not that damnable Dam and the lake next door that just attracts oh, their entire f*cking clientele*.

So, "Al and the Stevens family", it's so good to know that you are standing on your own feet and not taking any handouts.

Because government didn't just help you build your business, Government Built Your Whole F*cking Town!

* Because nobody would be living in this godforsaken desert if it weren't for the power and water provided by Hoover Dam, not to mention that all their "Local Boulder City folks" who are "their mainstay" wouldn't have a town to live in if the Dam weren't there.
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Friday, October 17, 2014

Florida Jerk Gets Life in Prison

From ABC News:

A Florida man convicted of first-degree murder for fatally shooting a teenager in an argument over loud music outside a Jacksonville convenience store has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Michael Dunn, the Florida concealed carrier who shot and killed Jordan Davis at a gas station, is going to jail for the rest of his life.


Dunn had words with Davis and his friends about their music and somehow felt compelled to draw his (legally carried) handgun and shoot Davis to death.  Dunn and his girlfriend left the scene and did not report the shooting to police.

Asshole (Dunn, just to be clear) got what he deserved.  At least.

Dunn fucked up in so many ways it's hard to count them.

If you are carrying, you cannot afford to instigate a conflict.  Not even a little one.  Heinlein's quote about an armed society being a polite society is prescriptive, not descriptive.  He fled the scene (and not, apparently, because it wasn't a safe place).  He didn't call the police (which any rational person would do if they'd been threatened with a shotgun, as he claimed he was).  He fucking went back to his hotel and ordered a pizza.


When I was training at Gunsite for a week, I put my gun on in the morning at the hotel and wore it until I get back at night.  Largely to get used to the equipment and weight -- adding a couple of pounds of pistol and ammunition to opposite sides of the belt is not comfortable*.  That 30 minute drive first think in the morning and last thing at night was one of the most uncomfortable hours of my life each day.  I was constantly aware that I was carrying.  I found myself at the gas station or Walgreen's worrying about placing my right side to a barrier so that no one could grab for the pistol.  Yes, apparently wearing a firearm makes you paranoid!  :-)

*Clint Smith, who runs Thunder Ranch in Oregon, says carrying "is not meant to be comfortable -- it's meant to be comforting"

Seriously, by the end of the week it was beginning to normalize in terms of that sort of random fear.  But the sense of awe did not go away.  The sense of responsibility and requirement that I "maintain an even strain" did not leave me.  I drove more cautiously.  I responded more kindly to offensive driving.

And I never, ever, not once considered starting a fight, even a verbal one, with anybody*.

Because I was carrying a gun.

*Not that I'm terribly belligerent in general, but my wife will tell you that I have my moments.

That 5 hours of experience driving to and from class at Gunsite looms large in considering whether or not to carry.  And in how I think about other people considering whether or not they should carry.  My favorite thought about it comes from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer:
... and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men's carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes ...
If Michael Dunn had thought "reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God" before he decided to carry that handgun, we'd all be better off.  And Jordan Davis would still be alive.
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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why Not Regulate Guns Like Cars?

Why Not Regulate Guns Like Cars?

One of the common questions asked by gun control people is "how is it that guns are less regulated than cars" or "why is it that it's easier to buy a gun than a car" or word to that effect -- cars are regulated (you need a license to drive them on public roads) and registered (the government maintains a list of who owns which car) and insured (you need car insurance to drive them on public roads).  Why not guns?

Answer One: Constitutionality

The first common answer from People Of The Gun (POTG) is "because cars aren't in the Constitution and guns are".  Which is factually wrong, of course.    Cars are in the Constitution!  Oh wait, no they aren't.  Wait!  Cars aren't in the Constitution, but neither are guns.  Guns are, in fact, in the Bill of Rights!

OK, enough silliness.  Cars aren't in the Bill of Rights and guns are.  Answer one.  My response would be that free travel is considered a constitutional right and that should penumbrally cover modes of transportation.  This answer, BTW, is why I prefer to discuss the intersection of regulations on guns and regulations on voting.

Answer Two: Bring It On

The second (increasingly) common answer from POTG is "sure, bring it on!", because the comparison about purchase and operation and insurance isn't as favorable to the gun control side as you might think.  For instance, there is no legal requirement (at least in most states) to have a driver's license (for which you need to pass a test) to own a car.  Just to operate it on public roads.  A comparable statute for guns would be no test or other barrier to buy a gun, just to carry it in public.  Likewise, cars are generally registered as part of making it legal to drive them in public.  If (like some farm vehicles) they are used exclusively on private property, registration is not required.  Insurance is a bit dicier but I believe it works the same way -- you do not need to insure a vehicle which is not being operated on the public roads.  All of these comparisons work in the direction that POTG (even the most extreme) like.

And then there's the big one: reciprocity.  If you have a driver's license from any state (and some countries), it's good everywhere in the US, and there is substantial uniformity in driving laws.  POTG presume that "Regulating Guns Like Cars" would include this reciprocity for concealed carry and uniformity of carry and transport and ownership laws, which means a significant win for POTG and the cause of gun rights.

My response?  I actually like the idea of uniform regulations for ownership, carry, and transport.  I'm not terribly afraid of confiscation via registration, but I understand that I may not be representative of gun owners in that regard.  Then again, I might.

Answer Three: Danger Level

Now let's get to what I want to talk about: the relative risk of Cars and Guns in America.  Some basic facts (all figures rounded for convenience):

On initial look, cars kill about the same number of people annually as guns do.  It's arguable that suicides are different from homicides, but CDC does not track intentional vehicular homicide versus accidental vehicular homicide, nor does it apparently track suicide by vehicle.

On second look, the old saw "guns don't kill people, people kill people" has a lot of meaning in it.  Fewer than 2% of deaths by gun are accidental*.  Essentially 100% of deaths caused by cars are -- or at least are assumed to be.  The vast majority of gun deaths are with intent -- directed outward or inward.  That's why lots of effort is put into making cars safer and almost no effort is put into making guns safer -- because guns do not kill a substantial number of people by accident.

* Some of the victims of homicide are undoubtedly unintentional victims -- they are "accidental" in the sense that the shooter intended to shoot someone else.  However, the shooter intended to shoot someone, so a bystander shot to death is still, in this context, an intentional death.  That is inherent in the numbers as gathered.  I don't know what percentage of homicide victims are unintended victims, but their deaths are still with intent and not actually accidental.

Time In Proximity

A more valid argument is that people spend more time interacting with cars than they do with guns ("time in proximity").  Considering that gun control advocates speak of guns as if they were sentient and had volition, I'm not impressed with their use of this argument.  As a seeker of reality, however, I think it has some merit because it doesn't matter how many guns there are in the US if they are all locked up or unloaded, and it doesn't matter how many cars there are if they are all garaged and out of gas.  Even a gun owner (who doesn't carry a gun routinely, which is most of us) probably doesn't spend as much time touching a gun daily as they do touching a car.  Or being in close proximity (defined as a few feet).

But when you consider that, in military parlance, a gun exercises control over a space from 50 yards (a handgun) to 1000 yards (a deer or sniper rifle) in radius, a whole lot of people are within the area of control of each gun.  Especially guns owned in urban areas.  You may be sitting in effective range of 100 guns right now and have no idea.  I know that I'm sitting within effective range of any guns I own even though they are safely safed.

Aside from storage, nearly half a million Washingtonians (the state, not DC) have Concealed Pistol Licenses (CPLs -- what the state of Washington calls a concealed carry permit).  That's about 6.5% of the total population and about 8.3% of the over-18 population (Washington limits CPLs to those over 21).  So about 1 in 12 adult Washingtonians has the legal right to concealed carry.  I don't know what percentage of those who may carry do, but it's not zero because I know at least one.  Each of those carriers is within range of anybody within about 50 yards.  And almost none of those people know they are "in proximity" to a firearm.

Realistically, people are simply unaware of their proximity to guns.  Public delicacy, if not legality, convinces most gun owners to keep their guns out of sight when not actively in use.  Consequently, the question of time spent in proximity -- whether you are more exposed to cars or to guns -- is currently unanswerable with any certainty.

The Major Difference (Deaths)

So cars and guns kill about the same number of people annually, but there is a qualitative difference in the perpetrators of the violence.  Broadly speaking, perpetrators of gun violence have intent and perpetrators of car violence lack intent.


Where there is a huge quantitative difference, however, is in injuries.  Guns injure fewer than 100K people in America annually.  Cars injure over 2 million.  End of comparison.

Not enough?  Some percentage of those injuries are intentional.  Not everyone who tries to commit suicide succeeds, not everyone who tries to kill an assailant succeeds, not everyone who attempts to murder a rival succeeds.  So not all of those fewer than 100K gun injuries are accidents.  Some are failures.  If you assume survival rates like Iraq, a lot of them are failures.  OTOH, 100% (or very close to it) of the 2.2M car injuries are accidental.

Once again, we get to the difference between intention and accident.

What's It All Mean?

No one is going to be convinced by this argument.  The lines are already too clearly drawn.  But the reality (leaving the time in proximity issue aside for now) is that cars are far more dangerous to the average law abiding non-suicidal American than guns are.  Gun violence is concentrated in socioeconomic classes -- notably criminals, although spouses of violent individuals (often criminals) are also common victims.  Even "random gun violence" is not terribly random with respect to socioeconomic class.  Car violence is very random and widespread.  There may be higher accident rates associated with vehicular failure in lower economic classes but even poor people drive near richer people.

Car violence is also different from gun violence because car violence is usually accidental.  Efforts to reduce car violence must go toward more reliable vehicular systems and improved training for operators.

Gun violence is largely (98% of deaths) deliberate.  "Making guns safer" is not a primary issue because the only way to make a gun safe against deliberate use is to make it inoperative.  The low number of accidental gun deaths makes it clear that, while operator training* may move people from the injured category to the dead category, it will likely not reduce the total number of gun deaths and injuries.

*I'm a fan of training.  Aside from the expense, I love it.  All the training I've had has been well recommended and I think beneficial.  Not all training is worth doing.  Regardless, training with guns has two distinct branches: safety and effectiveness.  When gun control advocates think "training", they think "safety training".  When POTG think training, they think "effectiveness".  All effectiveness training I have taken included safety training, and some of the RSOs are draconian about it.  I like that.
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Tuesday, October 14, 2014


I try to think of my mass as "just a number" and worry more about my capabilities.  But as I age and get creakier (back, knee, hips, shoulders, elbows -- hell, everything!) it's clear that less mass would be a good thing.

I've had a struggle with my mass for most of my mid-adult life.  I've tried various plans and mechanisms for reducing it, and have found one that works, but is too hard to maintain for an extended period.

That is low-carb eating.  I can eat as much beef, pork, and chicken as I want, and if I don't eat any carbs (I think it's actually carbs that breakdown quickly -- no bread, no sugar, etc. -- but most veggies are OK) I will lose about 1 pound a week.

Unfortunately for this plan, I love bread.  It's not too hard to avoid when I'm eating at home, but nigh-impossible for me to stay low-carb when I'm on the road, and since leaving Amazon last November I've been on the road a lot (Iceland, Vegas/Arizona, China, Chicago/DC/Blue Ridge, Bishop) this year.

But a couple of months ago, I found a new paradigm to attempt: six small meals per day.  I know that this is a current diet fad and that it's being debunked by, well, everybody who's not pushing it.  I won't go into how I found it or what the reasoning is, I'll just say that it seems to work for me.

Ideally, I'd be eating roughly a custard cup (or muffin tin) of food (emphasis on protein) at 9am, 12n, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm and either 6am or 12m.  I never make either of those last two, so it turns out to be five small meals per day.  And realistically there's something emotionally satisfying about a larger meal in there, so it's really four small meals and an almost-normal sized meal daily.

It seems to be sustainable and it seems to work for me on the road, which is really remarkable.  And I've lost more than 5% of my body weight, and on my last road trip (Bishop for a photo workshop) I crashed through my most recent plateau of 283 and this morning I weighed in at 275.

On top of the eating Sara and I have been working with a personal trainer three days a week -- usually 15-30 minutes of cardio/warm up and 30 minutes of training (something like CrossFit light).  We've been doing this for nearly a year now and both notice our bodies firming and getting stronger.  I can do things (like climb around at 10,000 feet) -- not as well as when I was younger and lighter, but well enough -- better than I expect to.

I have a reasonably well documented antipathy to "calories in, calories out" as a mechanism for weight loss.  The primary reason is that it doesn't work, as well as suffering from an increasing amount of scientific evidence that it is a flawed theory and shouldn't work.  I don't know the theory behind lots of small meals per day -- although I hear mumblings about "activating the metabolism" -- but if it works, I don't really care.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Eastern Sierra Fall Color Photo Workshop at Mountain Light Gallery

I took my very first photography workshop last week.  Sara and I went to her home town, Bishop, California, between Death Valley and Mono Lake on the east side of the Sierra.  It used to be Galen Rowell's stomping grounds, and his business the Mountain Light Gallery is still there.  Last time we visited Bishop I noticed that the gallery had workshops and signed up for this one.  It was led by Gordon Wiltsie, a noted adventure photographer who did a great deal of fantastic work for National Geographic and many other publications.  He was ably assisted by Jerry Dodrill, also an adventure photographer and climber, who used to work for Galen Rowell at the Mountain Light Gallery.

The workshop ran from 2 October to 5 October with an evening kickoff and an afternoon finish.  Each day in between we were up and out before sunrise to local locations to catch the morning light and Friday and Saturday nights we were out late for sunset shooting as well.  We shot at North Lake, on the road to South Lake, out by the Owens River on 5 Bridges Road, near Big Alkali Lake off Benton Crossing Road near Lake Crowley, Convict Lake, Bishop Creek, and up in the White Mountains near the Schulman Grove.

In between Gordon and Jerry provided instruction via slideshow, critique, and Lightroom training.  On location they were very hands on, suggesting locations, shots, techniques, and always answering questions.

It was great.  Here are six images I took:

North Lake Dawn, Evan Robinson,
near Bishop, California

Sunset Tree, Evan Robinson,
near Bishop, California

Mountain Rays, Evan Robinson,
Owens River Valley, near Bishop, California

Dawn Mirror, Evan Robinson,
near Mammoth Lakes, California

Mounts Morrison and Laurel, Evan Robinson,
near Mammoth Lakes, California

Ancient Sunset, Evan Robinson,
near Schulman Grove, White Mountains, California
It occurs to me that each of these pictures is looking west.  That's where the light is, I guess :-).

I took about 700 images.  I have 30-ish that I think are pretty good, many of which I think are among the best images I've ever taken.  I look forward with trepidation to going over my ~30K previous images with my new eyes.  To be fair, I was going to have to do that anyway since my workflow is moving from Aperture to Lightroom because of Aperture's demise.

Right now I feel like I learned a lot.  But the real test will be what images I'm creating next month.  Regardless, this workshop was a test of whether I would enjoy workshops and learn from them.  I did and I did, so I'll be doing more of them.
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