Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Links To Stuff I've Been Reading

I haven't been feeling well lately and haven't felt much like blogging, but I've been reading some interesting things I'd like to------as Rod Serling used to say on The Twilight Zone-----submit for your consideration:

• The Greensburg, KS tornado of May 4, 2007 was a F5 monster that destroyed that unfortunate town. It was also just one of several violent storms in Oklahoma and Kansas that evening. It now seems as if those storms were part of an extraordinarily rare meteorological event-----a cluster of "inland cyclones" and "super tornadoes"------that caused the parent thunderstorms to develop eyewalls, much like hurricanes, and the Greensburg tornado to reach a width of four miles on the ground! That link is to a discussion on the Stormtrack.org website; it's often detailed, and not easy, reading but is a fascinating look at the same phenomenon that may well have produced the great 1925 Tri-State Tornado. (It now seems, based upon the data gathered from the Greensburg tornado, that the Tri-State Tornado was probably a single tornado rather than a series of them.) Tornadoes are produced by super-cell thunderstorms, and it now appears on rare occasions that super tornadoes may be produced by super super-cell thunderstorms! As one of the participants in the Stormtrack discussion asks, can you imagine what a storm like this would do if it hit a populated area like Kansas City, Oklahoma City, or Dallas?

• As if that's not enough to worry about, there has been a swarm of earthquakes under the caldera of the Yellowstone supervolcano. Let's face it; we're all doomed.

• A web site called Strange Maps is worth everyone's attention!

• Don't look now, but the government of Mexico is coming apart at the seams and could collapse at any moment, producing widespread chaos and mega-problems for the United States. Think I'm kidding? The cause is the war between Mexican drug cartels and the wobbly, post-PRI Mexican government, and the Mexican government is currently losing. The Los Angeles Times is covering this situation very well. Visit that link, read the stories, ponder how long a border we share with Mexico, further ponder how open and undefended it is, and then shudder. President Obama's first major foreign policy crisis may not be in the Middle East or Russia, but instead on our southern doorstep.

• I'm so old that I remember when Caroline Kennedy used to be Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. Behind her Senate bid is less a commitment to public service than an apparent desire to frustrate the senatorial ambitions of a former "associate member" of the extended Kennedy political clan.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Ghost Town Of Warm Springs, Nevada

Warm Springs is really in the middle of nowhere. It's located on Nevada highway 6 about 40 miles east of Tonopah, NV, at the intersection of Highway 6 and State Route 375 (the so-called "Extraterrestrial Highway" that leads to Area 51). The isolation here is about as complete as it gets. You are over 20 miles from the nearest gas station, there is no cell phone service available (or at least there wasn't when I last visited in 2002), and you can get just a couple of weak radio stations on the AM and FM bands. When I drove the 40 miles from Tonopah on a weekday afternoon, I didn't see another car the entire way to Warm Springs. In other words, this is the wrong place to have a flat tire or mechanical breakdown!

Warm Springs was first settled around 1866 as a stopover for stagecoaches traveling from Utah to central California. There are some natural hot springs which, when cooled, provided drinking water for horses and travellers and also allowed growing of some modest forage for animals. By the 1890s, railroads had replaced horses and stagecoaches for travel on the route and the original settlement was abandoned. Below are photos of the surviving ruins from that era. As you can see, many of the structures, as well as the horse corrals, were made from stone because of the shortage of wood in the high desert:

In the early 1900s, bathing in natural hot springs became a popular health fad and Warm Springs experienced a little revival. A swimming pool was built along with bathhouses, a small cafe, and a couple of homes for the workers. As I understand things, Warm Springs was never a "destination resort" but instead catered to travelers on Highway 6 who wanted to relax for a couple of hours in the warm waters before continuing on to Tonopah, Carson City, or the Sierra Nevadas in California. The surviving two buildings at Warm Springs seem to be of fairly recent vintage-----say from the late 1950s or early 1960s----and appear to have been abandoned perhaps in the 1990s or so. The cafe is boarded up and sealed, while the house has been stripped of all fixtures, including electrical wiring and plumbing fixtures. I suppose both are now the property of Nye County because of unpaid taxes:

The swimming pool at Warm Springs is behind a locked fence, although it would be a simple matter to cut the padlock and enter; I wouldn't be surprised if that's not a regular event way out here. Because the water flows into the pool from a hot spring and then flows out through a drain, the water seems fresh and has no signs of algae or other contaminants. One can bathe in the warm water without breaking into the pool by using the water flowing out of the pool drain.

Warm Springs is near two sites that are also worth visiting while you're in the area. Ten miles further east on Highway 6 is the so-called "Base Camp Airfield," an emergency landing site for test flights out of Area 51 to the southwest. This is a 7300 foot runway with several trailers behind a fence with several "No Trespassing: U.S. Government Property" signs. While the facility looks deserted, it is staffed and security guards appear out of nowhere if you stop along the fence line. It is my understanding that Highway 6 may be closed during flight tests at Area 51 if an emergency landing might be necessary. Another 15 miles further east on Highway 6 (or 25 miles east of Warm Springs) is the turnoff for the Project Faultless test site. A dirt road at that point leads about 14 miles to the site of a one megaton underground hydrogen bomb test conducted on January 19, 1968. The area was supposed to be a replacement for the Nevada Test Site, but the underground geology was all wrong for nuclear testing; the Project Faultless explosion caused about 4000 square feet of land to sink a little over ten feet, producing an obvious depression which is still visible. Anyone can visit this site and see the concrete "caps" on the blast tunnels and numerous metal ground markers with cryptic lettering. I wrote about both of these sites in my book Top Secret Tourism.

Of course, you can always head south on state route 375 from Warm Springs and pay a visit to Area 51. I previously wrote about visiting Area 51 here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Delightful Miscellany From The Past Week

My skeptical review of the series finale of Ghost Adventures is now up. As you may detect from the tone of my review, I wasn't impressed, but at least I was amused!

• One of the dirty little secrets about cancer tests is how many of them are not very accurate and miss many early stage cancers. So says the New York Times. The large majority of funds raised for cancer research go to "home run" projects that try to discover the underlying causes of cancer----why do certain body cells start running amok and replicating out of control?-----but, despite decades of research and billions of dollars, those efforts have largely failed and show no promise of any breakthroughs in the near future. Meanwhile, research into more mundane topics, such as improving the accuracy and reliability of diagnostic tests such as colonoscopies, is neglected even though such improvements would likely save more lives much sooner. But the "home run" research is more glamorous, money goes to it, and people die needlessly as a result.

• Nick Gillespie lets rip with a magnificent, scatalogical rant about the current state of the United States in this piece from Reason. I find myself in agreement on most of his points. In particular, I find myself wondering why I should be obligated in cleaning up the mess created by fools who bought no-money-down homes with adjustable rate mortgages. I take pride in the fact that I have tried to live my adult life not just within my means but well within my means; I have lived in homes, and driven cars, less grand than I could have if I had spent every last dollar of my disposable income. Instead, I saved and invested much of my disposable income. That's why I was able to buy our new condo in Corpus Christi, as well as our 2009 Scion, with cash instead of credit. (And you have no idea how hard a bargain you can drive in this economy when you're a buyer able to pay 100% cash!) I take pride in the fact that all I owe each month are utility and insurance bills. And that is why I say to anyone struggling with a sub-prime mortgage, one you got with no money down and having the closing costs folded into the loan. . . . . . . . I have absolutely no sympathy for you. None whatsoever. If you lacked the income and/or personal financial discipline to save a down payment of 20% and qualify for a fixed rate mortgage, you had no business trying to buy a home; you should have just rented instead. You, not me, are the one responsible for the jam you find yourself in, and I will severely punish any politician who wants to use my tax dollars to bail your worthless, idiotic, and profligate ass out. In other words, I wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire. I hope this clarifies my feelings on this matter.

• I'm in favor of revoking Illinois's statehood, giving it to Puerto Rico, and instead making Illinois a territory, much like Guam or American Samoa. Here's why. Seriously, if Illinois was a Central American nation with such a chaotic government, we would have sent in the Marines by now.

• Here's a variation of those "100 things to do before you die" lists, but this one deals with visiting places and experiencing things connected to the natural sciences. I was surprised to discover I have done 42 of the 100 things on this list, and I even posted here about #47, Telescope Peak. I'll soon post here about the others I've seen/experienced, like. . . . . .

#1, an erupting volcano (Pu'u O'o vent on the Big Island of Hawaii; I took this photo in 2002):

#2, see a glacier (better yet, I have actually climbed as well as seen a glacier----this is a photo I snapped while climbing across the Palmer glacier on Oregon's Mount Hood-----note the cracks in the surface ice):

Friday, December 12, 2008

Digital Continues To Grow At Print's Expense

It's amazing how something that seems permanent and immutable can collapse in a very short time-----remember how the Soviet Union evaporated in just a few months back in 1991?

Something similar is happening in the print publishing business. Icons of print publishing are collapsing or staggering under the weight of increased competition and declining revenues.

The Tribune Company, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and other newspapers, filed for bankruptcy on December 10. Entertainment Weekly is rumored to be phasing out its print version in favor of its on-line edition. Newsweek is drastically cutting back its print edition in an attempt to survive, but some publishing industry observers think it's doomed-----perhaps as soon as 2010----no matter what.

The interesting thing in all this bad news is that its arrival should be no surprise; since the turn of the century, it's been painfully obvious digital was starting to take large bites out of the hide of print publishing. This post from Clay Shirky is a bit self-congratulatory but is also dead on-target------the changes now battering print publishing are the logical culmination of trends clear a decade ago. In a similar fashion, when I say wireless broadband will replace terrestrial radio, or that the huge bulk of technical and profesional publishing will move to digital, or that something like the iPhone will become the eBook reader platform of choice, I'm just extrapolating from trends that are well underway and have clear direction. It takes no special insight to notice these trends; you just have to be open to the notion that change, rather than permanence, is the normal condition of life.

Sadly, I think my beloved book publishing business is no better positioned than newspapers or magazines to adapt to the digital age, as this post illustrates. (Take a good look at some of those comments!) Oh, I know plenty of rank-and-file employees and lower-level managers who are fully aware of what's about to happen, but the executive suites in most larger publishers are filled with people who are convinced things can be just like they were back in 1988 if they just hang tough and wait for this wacky digital fad to run its course.

Most "crises" are entirely predictable and the logical summation of clear, obvious warning signals that are ignored until too late. Take, for example, this article from Business Week titled "What If GM Did Go Bankrupt?" A timely article, you say? Yes, but it was published on December 12, 2005. And GM's executives and employees have done absolutely nothing over the last three years to even begin honestly recognizing their problems, much less solve them. (And that's why I oppose any auto bailout; the Big Three execs and workers have spent years denying they have a problem and are utterly incapable of developing a viable solution in three months. A bailout will only postpone the inevitable reckoning for decades of collective foolishness. If Congress simply has to spend $15 billion, let them spend it instead on something like health care for uninsured children.)

I fear that many in the print publishing industry will, like GM, continue to ignore problems, deny they even have problems, until they crash head-first into fiscal reality. And when that happens, it's too late to change the outcome.

On the bright side, I think some major fortunes are going to be made by those who figure out how to use digital to meet their readers' (that is, their customers') information needs.

We're in for a wild ride. If you're in the publishing business, hang on tight!

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Petroglyphs At Swansea, California

Swansea, California is a ghost town site located about ten miles south of Lone Pine, CA, along Highway 136. It is located on the eastern shore of the Owens Lake dry lake bed, bordering a vast expanse of white alkaline deposits. There is not much left of Swansea, and I'll blog about that ghost town in the future. Today I'm going to write about a series of remarkable petroglyphs found near Swansea on the east side of Highway 136.

Most of the petroglyphs found in the southwestern United States were made on basaltic rock, but the Swansea petroglyphs were made on marble. Because marble is a harder rock than basalt, making the Swansea petroglyphs must have been a difficult task. Fortunately, it also means the Swansea petroglyphs are very well preserved compared to most basaltic petroglyphs:

So far, these look like very typical petroglyphs. They depict game animals (note the bighorn sheep in the second photo above) as well as astronomical objects (the starburst at left in the photo above). They also include the random geometric patterns indicative of hallucinations induced by native tobacco, lack of sleep and food, etc.

What makes the Swansea petroglyphs a bit controversial is the presence of supposedly Christian and European symbols in them, such as the cross you can see in the photo below:

Some of the Swansea petroglyphs supposedly represent horses, which were unknown in North American prior to the arrival of the Spaniards:

The Swansea petroglyphs are the inspiration for a very unusual web site called The Equinox Project, which claims the Swansea site is proof of European exploration of North America------principally by the Celts-----over 1000 years ago!

Frankly, the Equinox Project's claims are profoundly unconvincing and more than a little demented. But the Swansea petroglyphs are well worth a visit for their own sake.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dub Makes A New Friend

Above is Dubya, my horse from 2005 until this past May when we sold him (along with Buck) to Ward and Sue Critz as part of our move to Corpus Christi. The photo above was taken last weekend, and shows Kimberly Critz, daughter of Ward and Sue, and her young niece Caroline atop Dub. It was Caroline's first horse ride, and she seems to be enjoying it. And I imagine that in another decade Caroline will always want to ride The Dubster whenever she visits her grandparents.

I really miss Dubya. It always amazed me that such a large, powerful animal could have such a gentle heart. I miss walking outside and hearing Dub "whiny" when he saw me and then galloping toward me. It's a relief to know he and Buck are in a good home with loving, caring people to look after them-----and that he will probably be the horse a young girl falls in love with.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Random Musings. . . . . .

Interesting stuff in the news of late. . . . . . .

The book publishing business is finding it is not immune to the current economic climate and some well-known publishing professionals have lost their jobs. There are also some long-overdue efforts underway to consolidate divisions and functions and avoid the duplication of effort that is pandemic in some larger publishers. I expect to see a lot more news like this in the future as the book publishing industry model I worked in for years is no longer financially viable; big changes are going to happen of necessity.

I've previously blogged about the utter insanity of the proposed auto industry bailout, with my biggest objection being that it simply won't work. Reason magazine nicely sums up why the bailout is doomed to fail, and crunches the numbers to show why it can't work------even if GM, Ford, and Chrysler get everything they're asking for, they'll be back for more by next summer. The problems with GM, Ford, and Chrysler are simple: 1) people don't want to buy the cars they're making, and 2) the management of those companies is flat-out incompetent in every possible way. Until GM, Ford,and Chrysler figure out how to build cars people want to buy, no amount of federal money can save them------without customers who want to buy your stuff, you don't have a business. A Chapter 11 filing for all three would be their best bet for a rebirth. Giving federal money to the same teams of executive fools who got the automakers into their current mess would accomplish absolutely nothing. And I really object to how the bailout request is being described as "loans." These are the sort of "loans" that are made when your worthless brother-in-law asks to borrow $500; you know damn well you will never see that money again if you make that "loan." Same thing applies here. . . . .

Several months ago I 'fessed up to my addiction to various "ghost hunting" shows on cable television. Well, there is a new one on the Travel Channel titled Ghost Adventures that I find highly "entertaining," and I'm doing reviews of it for the Skeptical Viewer web site. Here is my first review and here is my second review. I find Ghost Adventures to be only slightly more disingenuous than, say, a typical episode of Meet The Press.

I greatly enjoyed watching North Carolina demolish Michigan State last night by a score of 98-63; this Carolina squad might be the best since the legendary 1981-82 national champions (which featured a couple of players named James Worthy and Michael Jordan). But my enjoyment of the game was impaired by the repeated maudlin references to "Jimmy V Week" and pitches for donations to the "Jimmy V Foundation." Jimmy V was Jim Valvano, the former basketball coach at N.C. State who died of cancer in 1993. What drove me nuts was listening to the non-stop emoting of Dick Vitale during the game and, during commercial breaks, Duke coach Mike Kryzewski, both telling us what a terrible disease cancer is, how it destroys lives, how we must find a cure for it now, how courageous cancer patients are, blab. . . . . blab. . . . . . blab, until I was about to scream. As I've written here before, the "courageous cancer patient" is just a myth; we undergo chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery not because we're brave but because we want to live. Moreover, cancer patients don't live lives of non-stop suffering and despair. Yeah, it's a pain in the ass to have cancer, I'd rather not have it, and I had a lot more fun without it, but I still lead a very enjoyable, rewarding, and fulfilling life. We cancer patients don't want or need anyone's pity. Finally, I was upset by the egocentric, self-congratulatory tone taken by Vitale and Kryzewski in their verbal ramblings; it was as if the subtext was See what a good person I am! I hate cancer! Well, good for you boys! I hate it too. But I don't like being reduced to an icon or symbol that people can project their fears upon, and I don't like being patronized as some sort of pathetic victim in need of constant love and support. I know the vast majority of the other cancer patients I've met since beginning my journey feel the same way. We're just ill, not helpless. And we're real people, not symbols!