Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A little adventure!

A little adventure!  Now that Debbie is able to get around pretty well on her own, it's possible for me to leave for more than a short time.  Yesterday afternoon I went on a five-hour four-wheeling trip with our friend and neighbor Tim D., who acted as my guide.  We four-wheeled from Mantua to a spot called Inspiration Point, which is just over 9,400' high.  The road isn't challenging at all – a 2WD high-clearance pickup or SUV would have no problem with it.  The first map at right shows the entire route; the second is a closeup of Inspiration point and the nearby Willard Peak.

All along the way there were pretty views, but most especially when we got over about 8,000'.  Then we could see for miles across the flats to the west (where the Great Salt Lake is), into Cache Valley to our north, and into Liberty valley to our southeast.  Here and there were patches of very early fall color, some of them bright oranges and reds.  The air was a bit hazy from wildfire smoke, but we could still see over 50 miles north and west.  The highlight?  Spotting eight Rocky Mountain goats just south of Inspiration Point: 5 adults and 3 yearlings.  Such fun that was!  Here's some photos from the trip (including a panorama at the bottom):

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

More memories...

More memories ... from mom's photo collection...

This one really dredges up some old, old memories – likely from the very first time I ever visited my family's cabin on Long Pond outside of North Lincoln, Maine.  The photo, unfortunately, is undated.  I'm going to guess it was taken in the late '40s or very early '50s.  The back, in my mom's handwriting (with a fountain pen, again!) says “Sliver & Irene Sturgeon, Lincoln Maine”.  I remember both of them, though most of my memories are of them appearing older than this photo shows them.  I especially remember Irene, because she would let me sip her beer.  :)  Apparently I used to like the stuff, though now I detest it.  Both of them were full of good cheer, mischief, jokes, and happy conversation.  Many a card game was played with two of the chairs occupied by that couple.  Sliver was a great friend of my grandfather, my mother's father, Donald MacLaughlin.  Seeing this photo transported me back into that happy “camp” atmosphere that my mom so loved.

Here's another one of my grandfather, again undated.  In my mom's handwriting on back, it says “Dad + ?”.  Well, if my mom had no idea who those two rather severe-looking ladies were, I sure as heck don't! I don't see any clues that would let me place the scene, either – could easily have been either New Jersey or Maine (the two most likely locales).  My grandfather's face looks about as my earliest memories of him, in the mid-'50s.

Below are a couple photos of my brother Scott.  The first one is a studio portrait, probably from school.  It's undated; on the back in my mom's handwriting (with a fountain pen), it simply says “Scott”.  His teeth look big, don't they?  And his head looks too big for those shoulders.  I remember those thick plastic frames – I had them, too.  We still managed to break them regularly, despite their impressive massiveness.  I'm guessing he's 8 or 9 in that photo, so 1961 or 1962 or thereabouts.  The second photo is dated (by the lab) February 1959.  I'm guessing it was actually taken late in the preceding fall – the leaves are down in the background trees, but the grass still looks alive.  In my mom's handwriting it says “Scott” on the back.  This photo I can place, though.  It's taken in the field that was northeast of our home, looking to the south.  In the background you can make out the ends of a couple of tanks, like large barrels, and the end of a small building.  That was a shed that our field hand Chalky had to the west of his home.  His home would have been directly behind the holly that Scott is standing next to.  The kennels and dog runs for his collection of hunting hounds was just left (east) of that shed.

Finally here are three more photos of me.  The first is also dated February 1959, like the one of Scott above.  This appears to be from a different location in the same field, but I don't have any visual clues to prove that (except that one of the bare trees in the background appears to be the same one showing in Scott's photo).  The second one is undated, but in my mom's handwriting (with a fountain pen) it says “Tommy 4½ mos.”.  That would put it in January 1953.  I'm not sure why I have my shoes tied together and wrapped around my neck. :)  The last photo is a studio portrait, and undated; presumably it's a school portrait.  I'm guessing I was 7, so 1959 or thereabouts.

This is CNN...

This is CNN...  Remy, of course.


Curiosity ... is traversing some wild Martian scenery!

Rosetta is just 30 days...

Rosetta is just 30 days ... from attempting a soft landing on Comet 67P.  At right is a recent photo, showing just how close it's getting to the comet's surface.  Hi res.

Monday, August 29, 2016

It's a beautiful morning in Paradise...

It's a beautiful morning in Paradise ... and I have some beautiful sunflowers on the north side of my barn.  When I walked toward the sunflowers a few minutes ago, there was a flock of American goldfinches hard at work stripping all the seeds. :)

More memories...

More memories ... from my mom's photo collection...

Here's one that I'm sure will amuse my siblings: it's me, in an undated photo.  In my mom's handwriting (with a fountain pen!) on the back: “Tommy - note the wet pants”.  Really, mom?  Really?  That photo was clearly taken in our home, I'm guessing in 1954, but I'm struggling to place it.  I have no memory of a doorway with a curtain.  From the placement of the two doorways, it can't be our living room.  From the paneling it must be a bedroom.  I'm going to guess it was the boy's bedroom, in the southeast corner of our house.

Here are a couple photos of my sister Holly.  The first one is a studio portrait, dated (in pencil on the back) 1964, when she would have been eight or nine.  I'm guessing it was a school portrait.  The second one is dated (by the lab) February 1959, when she was almost five.  Holly is holding a holly in a pressed peat moss pot.  For a few years, roughly 1958 to 1964, my dad was selling hollies of this size by mail order.  I got involved in this business in many ways, but the two I remember the most are packaging the hollies for shipment, and printing the marketing materials (newsletters and brochures) on our own offset printing press – a monster in the basement.  Packaging them was straightforward enough: we wet the plant and pot thoroughly, stuffed them into a thick polyethylene bag, secured the top of the back with a twist-'em, then stuffed them into a red cardboard cylindrical tubes (with a tin top and bottom).  These tubes were very nicely made, with bright shiny red cardboard on the outside, and a cap that slid on tightly.  We just circled the cap's joint with some tape and we were done.  Then we slapped on a label and my dad took them to the Post Office for shipment by Parcel Post.  For some reason I don't remember either Scott or Holly helping with this, though that could just be my memory failing.

This photo is of a scene I have utterly no memory of.  It's dated (by the lab) December 1955, though it was clearly taken before fall 1954 (given the trees still have leaves, and they're swimming.  On the back, in my mom's handwriting (again in fountain pen): “Mike Dilatush Bonnie”.  Mike (my cousin, son of my Uncle Earle) is furthest away in the photo; he's holding my brother Scott.  Bonnie I don't know – possibly his wife or girlfriend.  That's me in the foreground.  There's something (or someone?) under Bonnie's left hand, but I can't identify it.

Update from Mike, responding to my query:
Boy, you do bring back memories! One time when I was about 15 or 16 (maybe less) I stayed with you and your folks for a week. This pix is of me, you and Holly (I think) and a young girl about my age named Bonnie who came along with us on a day trip to a cedar colored lake down in the pine country of south jersey. Your dad took the picture as I recall. The water was warm and so tea colored you couldn't see much more than a foot or so underwater. I do remember that the mosquitoes had a feast on us that day.
That tea-colored water Mike refers to is the norm in the New Jersey pine barrens – the streams are quite acid from the tannins in the tree roots they wash for tens of miles.

Here's my brother Scott in an undated photo.  On the back, in my mom's handwriting: “Scott flag he designed in Navy”.  That scene looks like boot camp to me, which would put this in the early '70s (maybe Scott remembers better?).  Another clue that it's boot camp: the “Co. 016” (Company 016) – that's an organization I saw only in boot camp.

Here I am again, in a photo dated (by the lab) March 1955 when I was two and a half.  This one messes with my mind, as the location is clearly on the north side of our house (those three adjacent windows were in the kitchen bay) – but it's full of things I don't remember at all!  I don't remember a swing set like that we ever owned, and I don't remember that fence (with a sidewalk behind it).  There's something weird on that swing set.  Look at the left end of the upper bar – there's a weather vane, tilted over at about a 45° angle.  What's up with that?

Finally, here are three photos that include multiple kids.  The first one is dated (by the lab) September 1957.  Left-to-right it's my sister Holly, my brother Scott, and me.  I've no idea where we were.  The second one is undated, but I'll guess it's in 1955 from our apparent ages.  That's me on the left, my brother Scott on the right, and my dad.  There's something in my dad's pocket, but I can't make out what it is.  That couch used to be in our living room, which had knotty pine paneling, so I'm pretty sure that's where the photo was taken.  The last photo is undated and has no notes on it.  Left-to-right it's me, my sister Holly, and my brother Scott.  From our apparent ages I'll guess this is from mid-1955, when I was almost three.  I can't tell what room this was, but from the paneling it had to be either our living room or a bedroom.  We're sitting on something draped with a blanket, but I've no idea what it was.

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Debbie and I took a nice long drive up state 162, the gravel road from Avon to Liberty.  We were going slowly, looking for wildlife, so it took about three hours.  We went to the highest pass on the road, just over 6,500' high (and just to the left of the label “James Peak” on the map at right).  The only mammal we saw was one perky red squirrel, but we saw a lot of birds.  The avian highlight was over a dozen kestrels, some at quite close range.  We also saw a golden eagle, gliding very high above us along a ridge, a lone cedar waxwing high in the dead crown of a spruce, a gaggle of turkeys, and a kingfisher very focused on fishing.

Later in the day I cooked our dinner: chicken with a raspberry glaze (yummy!) and roast vegetables (at left, just before they went into the oven).  There were quartered Brussels sprouts, carrots, and parsnips.  To keep the sodium levels down for Debbie, I tossed these in olive oil, fresh ground pepper, and some Mrs. Dash.  I actually liked them better this way than our previous versions with pepper and garlic salt, but Debbie misses the garlic.  I'm going to have to find a way to get garlic in there without the salt...

This morning we had a beautiful not-quite-new moon hanging just over the Wasatch Mountains to our east.  The sky was clear enough that I could still see many stars, despite the bright moonlight.  Best of all: the earthshine illuminating the “dark” part of the moon was particularly bright – so bright I could make out many features even with the naked eye.  Generally this happens when the albedo (reflectivity) of the earth is particularly high because there are lots of clouds.  Looking at a current satellite photo (right), there is indeed a greater than average cloud cover.

Everything is proceeding exactly according to plan..

Everything is proceeding exactly according to plan...  From this morning's The 10-Point (an excellent free daily email from The Wall Street Journal):
Nearly a third of U.S. counties look likely to have just a single insurer offering health plans on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges next year, an industry retreat that adds to the manifold challenges facing the law. A new study, by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, suggests there could be just one option for coverage in 31% of counties in 2017, and there might be only two in another 31%. Companies including UnitedHealth, Humana and Aetna have cited their losses in withdrawing from ACA marketplaces, as have smaller insurers. Those that remain are in some cases seeking sharp premium increases for next year, a demand made much easier when there is no competition. And at least one county is at risk of having no insurers offering marketplace plans next year, a problem especially for lower-income Americans who are generally required to buy ACA plans to qualify for federal subsidies.
Left unsaid in that paragraph: this is exactly what the conservative and libertarian opponents of the ACA predicted during the debate preceding its passage.  In other words, not only was this predictable – it was actually predicted (and by more than a few people).

What happens as the ACA (aka ObamaCare) spirals down into complete meltdown is far less predictable than the death spiral itself.  Personally, I suspect the most likely outcome is massive taxpayer subsidies.  I fully expect to collect zero dollars of the Social Security I paid at max rate for over 30 years, and I am expecting my savings and investments to be taxed (or at least concerted attempts made to do so).  I can't imagine where else the federal government would find the money they need, short of a politically unpopular VAT or something of that sort.  Other outcomes are of course possible, and some of them I'd be very happy with.  For instance, a repeal of ObamaCare and a return to a conventional insurance market would suit me just fine – I'd be signing up for an old-fashioned major medical policy in a flash!

Meanwhile, we're facing a more traditional insurance issue, albeit one greatly exacerbated by ObamaCare's mandates and homogenization.  Our insurance company has denied coverage for a drug that Debbie's doctor wants to prescribe.  It's an expensive drug, and her doctor warned us to expect the denial.  They're now appealing the decision, and we await the outcome.  If they continue to deny coverage, we'll foot the bill ourselves – luckily, we have the wherewithal to do so.  But this drug costs more each month than most people pay for their mortgage – so there must be quite a few people being denied coverage who cannot possibly afford to buy the drug themselves.  This is what happens when the insurance companies have incentives to not offer premium policies.  Despite paying a premium price for our insurance policy, we're getting a crappy one – but because we can afford to do so, we'll end up with better healthcare anyway.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

More memories...

More memories ... from my mom's photo collection...

First up, this photo of a buffet in our home's dining room.  It's dated (by the lab) as February 1957, and in my mom's handwriting a note: “old buffet we used to have in dining room”.  That sounds as though she wrote the note long after the photo was taken.  I remember that buffet, especially the odd pulls on the drawers and doors.  I also remember those kitchen drapes (visible through the doorway at right).  Most of all, I remember that basket-framed “picture” of butterflies and plants.  In my memory (quite possibly faulty), those were all dried and under glass.  There's a ceramic thing on the left of the buffet that I can't identify at all.  I don't remember the rug on the floor.

See the little vertical rectangle just left of the door frame in the preceding photo?  I'll bet most of you can't identify that!  It's a thermostat, a Honeywell model that I remember very well because I fixed the damned thing about 10 times! :)  At left is a closeup photo of that same thermostat that I found on the web.  That case was stamped sheet metal, ferrous (because it rusted).  Inside was a bi-metal coil with a mercury switch bulb glued onto it.  There were two recurring problems that I kept fixing.  First one was that the mercury bulb would fall of, making the furnace stuck either on or off (and both were bad!).  Second one was the coil would get slightly displaced (sometimes because the case got bumped, sometimes because of corrosion around the mounting screws) and then it would stick – again making the furnace stuck either on or off.  Somehow fixing that thing became my job, and it was usually tedious and involved cleaning teensy little parts.  I hated that thermostat! :)

Here's a couple photos of my sister Holly.  The first one is dated by the lab December 1958, and in my mom's handwriting on the back it says “Holly” – so I'm pretty sure I've identified it correctly. :)  Holly would have been three and a half in that photo.  I don't remember the skirt with holly leaves and berries on it.  I do remember the old table, and that tablecloth.  And that sure looks like one of my mom's insanely delicious pies on the table!  Through the arched doorway into the living room you can see the side of the holly table I've mentioned before (it's shining), and the shelf above it with my mom's fancy plate collection (far out of reach of curious kids).  The second photo also says “Holly” on the back, in mom's handwriting.  From her apparent age, this must have been taken in the mid-'60s.  As her brother, I can assure you that she wasn't nearly as angelic as these photos make her appear! :)

Finally, here are three more photos with me.  The first one is dated (by the lab) as March 1955.  I'd have been three and a half in that photo.  It's taken in our living room, with that fireplace that I remember well – though it's not quite finished in this photo, as the mantel is not yet mounted.  My dad is sporting that mustache that freaks me out, as I don't remember it at all.  Seeing that homemade fireplace screen made of copper tubing and iron screen brought a rush of memories, mostly of watching my dad make it.  That's about as close to a craftsman as he ever got. :)  I'm guessing that he took a stab at it only because they couldn't have afforded a store-bought screen.  I remember those fireplace tools, too – a gift from my dad's parents.  Left of the fireplace you can see a outset part of the room.  Later my parents lined this with bookshelves, filled mostly with books inherited from my paternal grandparents and Reader's Digest condensed books.  The window showing there is a serving “hatch” to the kitchen.  I have no memory at all of the little table to the right of the fireplace, and I can't identify the stuff on it.  The second photo is dated February 1961 (by the lab), when I'd have been eight years old.  If that date is accurate, then this must be somewhere in New Jersey or further south – perhaps Assateague Island?  The third photo is dated April 6, 1954 (by the lab) and has no notes.  It has to be me, from the date; I'd have been about 18 months old.  Note the exposed stud and wiring left of the chair – this was taken before my dad got the knotty pine paneling up in the living room.  Even at that age I liked putting my feet up! :)

2016 Trout & Berry Days in Paradise...

2016 Trout & Berry Days in Paradise ... it was a blast, as expected.  At right you can see Debbie, my brother Scott, and our friend Bruce Nelson; we had just finished eating our meal.

There was quite a crowd there this year.  We got there early, but even so had to stand in line for a while.  The meal was grilled trout, baked potato, corn-on-the-cob, a dinner roll, a small salad, and all the trimmings.  Dessert was a custard topped with either raspberries or blackberries.  It was delicious! 

Even better than the food, though, was seeing our friends and neighbors there.  I lost track of all the friendly greetings, waves, and conversations – dozens, certainly.  It's a small town America event at its finest.  I don't ever want to miss one of these!

Way back in 1969...

Way back in 1969 ... The Who released a double album called Tommy, a sort of rock opera.  I bought the album soon after its release, and played it hundreds of times.  At that point in my life, my audio system was comprised of a crappy Motorola turntable built into a console, a vacuum tube amplifier that was a homemade knockoff of a Scott transformer-coupled “hi fi” amplifier (the main labor on that was hand-winding the 12 audio coupler transformers).  The speakers were a pair of 14" electrodynamic speakers (with coaxial tweeters) that I found somewhere as surplus.  My listening room was an old chicken shack, about 10' square with fairly horrible audio characteristics.  Considering the budget that I built that system with, it was pretty good – but compared to even a lousy boom box in today's world, it was awful.

Fast forward to now.  I'm once again listening to Tommy, 47 years after its release.  The source is digital and nearly flawless, being played back through a my MacBook Pro and an ARCAM rPAC DAC, a Yamaha R-S500 amplifier, and a pair of Atlantic Technology AT-2 speakers.  My listening room is 25' square, and it has 12 sound absorbing panels and two tuned diffusers.  The sound quality is absolutely awesome, especially by comparison with how I first heard this album.

Quite a change, in one man's lifetime...

Saturday, August 27, 2016

More memories...

More memories ... from my mom's photo collection...

This is the house my parents built, in an undated photo.  I'm guessing summer of 1953 from the construction progress.  In the foreground is a donkey, which my mom named “Jack”.  On the back, in her handwriting (in fountain pen!), it says “Jack - our first pet!”  My mom mentioned Jack to me several times, but I have no actual memory of him.  She thought we had Jack until I was 4 or 5.  I once asked my dad about Jack, and he told me a slightly different story. :)  He said that he got Jack from someone who owed him money for some used equipment he bought from my dad – who just trusted him to pay for them some day (that's entirely consistent with dad's character).  When payment was not forthcoming, my dad took Jack in trade – his value was roughly the same as the amount owed.  But actually owning Jack was a serious pain in the butt – and my dad sold him as quickly as he could.  He was certain we owned Jack for less than a year, which means I was no more than two years old when Jack was sold.  That explains my missing Jack memories. :)

Here's a great one I'd never seen before.  Third from the left is my brother Scott.  I have no idea who the others are in the photo.  It looks like the woman second from the left, shaking Scott's hand, is giving out award plaques.  I can (just) make out the writing on the plaque at left:

Va Beach Public Utilities
1994 Water Wise Landscaping
Residential Category
Honorable Mention
William Atkinson, Jr.

Presumably William Atkinson is the name of the fellow holding it.  The woman at right is holding a plaque that has either 1st Place or 2nd Place written on it (I can't tell which); presumably Scott has the one she doesn't.  So I infer that Scott was in this contest in 1994 and won either 1st or 2nd place (and I'm sure he could tell me which!).  Possibly he could tell me who the other people are, too.

Update from Scott:
That was the first time I took an award of any kind. 1st place. The lady is the mayor of Virginia Beach.  Drury Baughan- the owner of the landscape job, gave me a $1000 tip as well. 3 years later I won 1st place again for the same contest. The people who took second and third place were my customers who had me landscape their entire yards. So when I walked out of there I felt like I won all 3 places in this contest. The mayor gave me a gift certificate for $100 to a store called Kettler. When I went shopping there everything was over a thousand dollars except for fiber doormats, so that's what I bought.
Here's a nice mystery – an undated photo in a place I don't remember.  There's nothing written on the back to give me a clue.  That Sears & Roebuck bell on a brick pedestal does seem familiar, but the rest of the scenery does not.  It might be my maternal grandparent's home in norther New Jersey, but I'm not at all sure about that.  The presence of a man wearing a tie makes that less likely. :)  From the cars it has to be the early '50s.  The “chef” in the foreground might be either me or my brother Scott.

 This is my mom's father, my grandfather, Donald MacLaughlin.  On the back, in my mom's handwriting (in fountain pen) it says “Dad sleeping in his favorite chair”.  I'm fairly certain that the chair is in his “camp” along Long Pond in North Lincoln, Maine.  The photo is undated, but from his relatively young appearance I'd guess it's in the early '50s.  One thing that caught my eye in this photo was the massive ring on his right hand's ring finger.  I remember him letting me play with that ring, and it seemed huge and heavy to me – I could easily push three fingers through it...

Finally, here are some more photos of me and my siblings.  The first one is my brother Scott.  There's no date, but it's probably from 1958 or 1959 (from his apparent age).  On the back my mom wrote “Love this”.  The second photo is me on the left, Scott on the right, and for some reason we're kissing each other.  It's undated, but from our age must be around 1957.  The third photo is from the same series, left-to-right is me, my sister Holly, and Scott.  The fourth photo is undated and has no notes.  It's taken in our living room, looking west out the picture window.  I think that's me in the photo, but it might also be Scott.  I don't remember any of the toys in the photo, especially not the giant pile of blocks (that looks like something my dad might have done).  If that's me, I'm guessing I'm 4 or 5, which would make this 1956 or 1957.  The fifth photo is dated (by the lab) February 1, 1954.  In my mom's handwriting a note on the back says “Tommy’s first knowing Christmas”.  That would be Christmas 1953, which is the day my brother Scott was born; I'd have been 15 months old.  To the left of the Christmas tree you can just make out an unfinished wall: exposed studs with plywood on the other side.  We're occupying the house my parents built before it was actually finished on the inside.  This, I'm guessing, is the dining room and that plywood is from the kitchen (the one room that was finished).  It looks like I got a drum (can't believe my mom allowed that!) and a stuffed bear for Christmas.  I wish I could remember them.  The plastic Santa appears to be lying on sections of a model train track, but I don't think that can be right – I did get a model train one Christmas, but I was much older.  I have no memory of that rug.  Finally, the last photo me and Scott, laughing at each other – probably just after we kissed each other.