Monday, August 24, 2009

Greetings From Fort Mill, South Carolina

Di and I have finally settled into our new home in Fort Mill, SC.

Yes, I know we were supposed to be heading for Las Vegas. But sometimes he who hesitates is saved instead of lost.

We made an offer on a house in Las Vegas, but that fell through when the seller discovered the buyer of our Corpus Christi condo had-----without our knowledge, and in breach of the sales contract-----taken out a second mortgage on the property, thus invalidating our representation to the Las Vegas seller.

But this incident did trigger some further discussions of where we should move. While Di had professional contacts in Las Vegas, she had no close personal friends or family. And I had neither in Las Vegas. But when death is looming, you need your family and friends more than ever.

It was Di who first suggested moving back to the Carolinas, and I readily agreed. We bought a condo on Highway 160 near Tega Cay, about a mile from the state line with North Carolina. I am just a few miles from the graves of my parents and grandparents; while it sounds illogical, I find this comforting.

My journey began here, and it will soon end here.

All the people I love most are now near me. I have often written here about how lucky I have been in my life, and the biggest stroke of luck has been my loving, generous, and kind aunts, uncles, and cousins. In particular. I want to thank my Aunt Polly for caring for me while Di handled the move back in Corpus Christi. Polly never had children of her own, and she lovingly babysat me when I was five or six years old. I'm now 56 years old, and she lovingly babysat me for the past three weeks. If I have ever known a saint, it is her. My Uncle Grady has two hobbies: golf and helping other people. He and his wife, my Aunt Betty, have been in daily contact, offering to take me places, bring me stuff, shop for me, etc.

My cousin Cheryl visited me often. While I love all of my cousins, Cheryl and I have long been tuned into a frequency the rest of the family can't receive. When she visited, she brought me reading material such as National Enquirer and, of course, The Elvis Encyclopedia. She and I share the same demented worldview, and she never failed to lift my spirits.

To all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, I love you more than I can express in words. Pure, unconditional love is a rare, miraculous thing. I am so lucky to have been bathed in it since my return.

Physically, I am declining fast. I can still eat, bathe, and generally care for myself, but I can't walk more than a few steps before becoming exhausted. I spend most of my time in bed or on the sofa. The only difference between me and a street junkie is that I have a doctor's prescription; we both need our periodic drug fix to get through the day.

But I am happier than I have been in a long time. I'm not going to live any longer here, but I will die surround by people who truly love me. That means a lot.

And this will be my final post here. One reason I started this blog was to keep my family informed about my status; now I can tell them face-to-face. As a writer, I hate to leave projects unfinished, and this blog is no exception. And frankly there are much bigger priorities in my life than this blog. So now it now ends (although one of my survivors may post my death notice).

I thank everyone who has read and followed this blog. I also thank everyone who read my books and articles over the years and the many people around the world I came to know from my radio hobbies. And my friends in the publishing industry have given me far more than I have given them.

To borrow the old Navy farewell, I wish you all fair winds and following seas.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Interesting Links And QRX De W5HLH

I've found some interesting links I hope you'll check out:

• If you ever get the feeling the current economic crisis is different, that it is unprecedented in history, you're not alone. David Smick says the key problem is export-oriented economies who are relying on the United States as the consumer of last resort. I don't agree with everything in Smick's analysis, but I do agree with his identification of the key problem. I hope some people in Washington read and consider Smick's argument.

• Of course, much of the current economic situation is due to inept corporate management. As a disgruntled former Microsoft shareholder, I think you can make a strong case that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer might be the most incompetent CEO this side of former General Motors CEO Rick Waggoner. John Dvorak agrees and lays out a blistering indictment of Steve's blunders. It is astonishing to think that a company that 15 years ago-----on the brink of the release of Windows 95-----seemed poised to own the computing world now seems ready for a swoon as deep and severe as IBM's in the early 1990s. IBM managed to recover, and Apple was struggling 15 years ago. Maybe Microsoft can stage a similar comeback. . . . . . . . but it never will as long Ballmer is running the show. (A new board of directors would also help.)

• And it's not just for-profit companies that are reeling from the effects of greed, hubris, and wishful thinking. Harvard is facing a huge financial crisis and no one seems to have an idea of the extent of the crisis and how to deal with it. Is a federal bailout for Harvard in the works?

• Outsiders are often puzzled by the fierce loyalty University of North Carolina alumni feel for their alma mater. I can't explain it; like Zen, you either get it or you don't. But Emily Banks, who just finished her freshman year at Carolina, comes very close to articulating the ineffable in this New York Times essay.

• "QRX De W5HLH" is radiotelegraph code; "QRX" means "wait," "de" means "from," and W5HLH is my ham radio license call letters. This is a roundabout way of saying I won't be making any posts for at least a couple of weeks as Di and I prepare to move. I'll still have access to e-mail when i find a WiFi hotspot, but I doubt I'll have the time or energy to blog until we're settled into our new home. I'll be back around mid-August if everything goes right.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Memories Of My Atomic Youth

Some of my most vivid memories from the late 1950s and early 1960s involve the old Civil Defense (CD) program. White it seems like utter lunacy in retrospect, quite a few Americans and government officials devoted a lot of time, energy, and money back then to planning how to survive a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Seriously.

The theory behind CD was that most deaths in a nuclear war would come from radioactive fallout instead of the bomb blasts themselves; while the poor folks in New York City or Los Angeles would be reduced to cinders, people in the hinterlands could retreat to underground shelters for two weeks until the radioactivity levels dropped to safe levels and people could move about safely above ground. To house large numbers of people, "fallout shelters" were established in the basements of large buildings such as schools and office buildings. I even remember visiting Tuckaleechee Caverns in Tennessee back in 1961 or 1962, and seeing that a couple of the cave's rooms were being used as fallout shelters!

These "mass storage" fallout shelters were stocked with cots, blankets, medical supplies, and food, such as these appetizing-sounding "survival crackers":

As you might expect, radiation detection equipment was also standard in "mass storage" fallout shelters:

In addition to public "mass storage" shelters, Civil Defense encouraged people to build and equip their own fallout shelters. CD did this the time-proven way: they scared hell out of people:

Civil Defense published several booklets detailing plans for building home fallout shelters, which more resembled home prison cells. Look at those cramped dimensions; can you imagine spending two weeks inside one of them without going stark, raving mad??

And, as the Civil Defense literature helpfully pointed out, living in a home fallout shelter for a couple of weeks would present some interesting challenges not faced by Ward and June Cleever:

Civil Defense thought the following items would be adequate for stocking a home fallout shelter. Looking it over, I can't help but wonder: uh, shouldn't a rifle, shotgun, or other firearm be on that list? Something tells me life in a post-nuclear war world would be chaotic and dangerous, and a weapon of some sort could come in very handy:

During a nuclear attack and its aftermath, the CONELRAD system is how people were supposed to get official information from the U.S. government. This system would have allowed radio broadcasts on just two AM radio frequencies, 640 and 1240 kHz, with transmissions switched between different stations so Soviet bombers could not use the broadcasts for direction-finding. Or at least that was the theory:

Station WBT in Charlotte was selected to participate in the CONELRAD program, and here's a link to a story about WBT's "fallout shelter" from which CONELRAD broadcasts would be transmitted.

Yeah, it all seems so crazy now. But fifty years ago people took all of this very seriously.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Forty Years Ago Today

We were young, and we were fearless and, after all, nobody had ever told us young engineers that we couldn’t successfully land humans on another planet. So we did it.-----Sy Liebergot, electrical, environmental, and communications mission control officer, Apollo 11 mission.

There was a time when the United States could accomplish the impossible. There was a time when heroism and accomplishment were celebrated and honored in this country. It dreamed big, and a lot of those big dreams became reality.

What the hell happened to the United States??

Where did it all go wrong??

Forty years after arguably the most magnificent achievement in human history, our most remarkable accomplishment today is the debt we're running up with the Chinese. We are now much better at denying we have problems, or avoiding facing reality squarely, than we are at solving problems.

What the hell happened??

I feel lucky that I was alive when the United States was at the height of its power and glory. And I feel lucky I will be dead by the time China passes the United States as the world's dominant economic, political, military, and scientific power.

And the next visitors to the moon will be Chinese.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Artist's Palette And Other Places In Death Valley

The Artist's Palette Drive is located on the east side of Death Valley, up in the Black Mountains. It gets its name from the colors produced by oxidation of various metals on the mountainsides. The drive is a little over nine miles road and the road is well-paved and suitable for all cars.

Below you can see the start of the drive. Note the "layer cake" look of the hills and the reddish streak running upward toward the right:

As you drive along, you will see patches of green and aquamarine among the brown and white of the hillsides:

As you drive along, the green and aquamarine patches become brighter and larger, and are striking under the bright Death Valley sun:

Salt Creek is located on the floor of Death Valley near the junction of California highways 190 and 267. I can't help but pity all those early explorers and travelers in Death Valley who thought they had found a huge source of water in this godforsaken desert, only to taste it and learn why it came to be called "Salt Creek." The water does support some plant life, however:

Stovepipe Wells is along Highway 190 on the western side of the park; it is the most used entrance to the park and offers gasoline, food, and lodging. It's also the starting point for the trail up Natural Bridge Canyon, an easy hike in cooler weather. Below is a look at the natural bridge:

Adjacent to Stovepipe Wells is a network of sand dunes that visitors can hike across. These dunes are spectacular in the light of dawn and sunset:

There is much, much more to see in Death Valley; it is my favorite national park by far. If you're thinking of a California vacation, skip the usual tourist traps like Disneyland or Fisherman's Wharf and instead head out to Death Valley. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Finally, A Shot Of Reality In The Health Care Debate

There is a terrible reality in the current national debate on health care reform that no one, regardless of whether they're conservative or liberal, wants to admit: too many treatments today are too expensive for the benefits they offer and consume resources that could, and should, be redirected to other patients. In other words, we can spend a lot on one patient or spend smaller amounts on a lot of patients, but we can't afford to spend a lot on a lot of patients. There are hard choices to make when it comes to health care, and we shouldn't pretend otherwise. The only way to afford universal health care will be to deny certain treatments to patients, especially those patients whose long-term survival is already dubious.

Let me give you an example from my own experience. From February to July, 2007, I was administered a chemotherapy "cocktail" every two weeks. It was a potent brew that included several pricey drugs such as Eloxatin, Fluorouracil, and Avastin; I had to go to St. David's Hospital in Austin for the infusion, which took several hours.

And it cost over $50,000 a month for those treatments, which turned out to be totally ineffective. My cancer returned less than two months after the end of the chemo, and that's when I put my foot down and said "no!" to any more chemo. In other words, all those treatments-----all that money-----were a complete waste. I might as well taken that $50K each month and gone to Las Vegas instead; the results would have been the same and I would have had a much better time.

My case is hardly unique. Many very expensive treatments fail more often than they work, and even when they do the net gain is measured in months instead of years. I have to wonder if that money spent for me each month should have been spent instead on programs for early detection of various diseases, childhood vaccination programs, etc. In other words, was my life really so valuable compared to the needs of other people?

Honesty compels me to say "no."

And if we're going to be honest about health care reform, we're going to have to admit we can't afford to give everyone anything and everything that might help them. We, as a nation, will have to reach a point where we say that a patient gets a treatment if there is a 60% chance it might work but a treatment will be denied if there is only a 30% chance it will work.

Some individuals will have to suffer for the good of others. There is no getting around that terrible truth.

That's why I was pleased to see the New York Times publish this piece by Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton, in which he openly discusses the hard choices we must soon start making. Read it.

Rationing and denial of certain treatments is inevitable in the health care system. The only question is whether it will be done by the government or by the market. But it will be done, and don't fool yourself into thinking it can be avoided.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Is The Book Industry Going To Get "Napstered"?

Before I retired from the publishing industry, I was a big advocate of eBooks-----in fact, if I were not sick, I would be managing my own eBook publishing company now. While I don't think eBooks will ever largely supplant print books----especially for fiction----I think they have a ton of potential for professional, scientific, and technical works, especially in subject areas where frequent revision is necessary. eBooks would also make sense for topics that are inherently "time limited," such as books on various software releases. It's doubtful anyone will need or want a Windows Vista book a decade from now, so why not distribute them in electronic form? Publishers and readers could both save money and trees with eBooks.

But one of my frustrations during my days as a publishing consultant was the emotional, irrational opposition to eBooks on the part of many publishing executives and managers. One fear is "piracy," the notion that people will download eBooks for free from outlaw web sites instead of buying authorized versions. Another, more deadly notion is that eBooks must be priced close to the list price of print editions lest eBooks destroy the market for print editions. Both of these are ridiculous ideas, but a surprising number of senior publishing executives treat them as if they came down fromn Mount Sinai on marble tablets.

I feel these attitudes will eventually cripple some book publishers, and Slate's Jack Shafer agrees. If you're in the publishing industry, you need to read his article.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Marble Canyon Mining Camp Ruins

The Saline Valley is located just west of Death Valley, and is almost as hot as Death Valley itself. It is also far more isolated and undeveloped than Death Valley itself (for example, you are dozens of miles from the nearest electric service or gasoline). The sole road through Saline Valley is a graded dirt road running from Highway 168 in the north (the Big Pine entrance) to Highway 190 in the south (he Owens Lake entrance). The road definitely requires a high clearance 4WD vehicle, like my late, lamented, and much beloved White Thang.

Saline Valley was added to Death Valley National Park in 1994, and many of the mining claims in the area where abandoned over the next several years. One of the best preserved is at Marble Canyon. It is reached by taking Highway168 east from Big Pine, CA, approximately four miles to the Saline Valley turnoff. The Marble Canyon site is about 20 miles down the Saline Valley road.

The first signs you're approaching the mining camp are some buildings and mining equipment that are starting to fall apart:

It amazes me how people managed to build such an extensive mining camp in such an isolated area------you're well over 100 miles from the nearest hardware store, and transporting those materials down the Saline Valley road must have been a huge challenge. The result is impressive:

The interior of the residential building was well preserved; the kitchen looks like it had been abandoned only a few months earlier:

The National Park Service has a policy of leaving abandoned buildings in the same shape as they were when they came under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service; the buildings are not restored but instead are allowed to naturally decay. The result is that some sites are trashy with lots of junk, like the one at Marble Canyon:

The one exception to this "leave it as it was found" policy involves entrances to mines. The National Park Service seals off the entrances to abandoned mines, as you can see below. This policy is necessary because every year several idiots manage to get themselves badly hurt or killed by exploring abandoned mines; causes include collapse of the mine shafts, poisoning due to toxic gases accumulating in the shafts, rattlesnake bites, etc.

Like many isolated desert locations, the Marble Canyon mining site has some quizzical sights, like this open-air chair:

While the Saline Valley road is isolated and not for 2WD vehicles, it has several signs and is easy to navigate without a GPS receiver or maps. As the photo shows, the Marble Canyon mining camp is at a high elevation. The Saline Valley road is often closed by snow in winter, and the best time to visit is autumn or spring.

The Saline Valley gets only a fraction of the visitors Death Valley gets. It is difficult to reach, but it's worth the effort.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I Loved Lucy

My rabbit Lucy died yesterday of an apparent stroke. She was about ten and a half years old and had been my companion since January, 2001.

When I developed cancer and started receiving chemo, I would rest on the sofa with Lucy laying on my chest. I would rub her head and she would reciprocate by licking my face. Those were some very peaceful, relaxing moments; all the stress and angst in me would drain away.

I loved that little rabbit and will miss her greatly.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

July 4, 1982

I spent my first, and only, Fourth of July outside the United States on July 4, 1982. I was in London with my girlfriend (and future wife) Tina; she was in London on business for CBS Records International. I tagged along to do some business-----negotiating North American rights to books published by British publishers such as Granada and the Institution of Electrical Engineers-----but most of my time was being a tourist. On the morning of July 4, Tina was in the CBS offices while I was exploring the Egyptian section of the British Museum (yeah, mummies fascinate me). We had thought about going to the cook-out and baseball game held at the American Embassy in London each July 4, but instead decided to have dinner early that day and to meet in the Soho section of London.

We were both feeling a little homesick that day, and almost puzzled----why are these stupid Brits working today?? Don't they realize it's the Fourth of July?? The Soho area has several terrific Chinese restaurants, and we finally decided on one that had air conditioning (that's still a rarity in the UK). We ordered, and sat back to await the arrival of the spicy vegetables on crispy noodles. The background music in the restaurant was the instrumental, "Muzak" style you hear in elevators and doctor waiting rooms.

And then we both started laughing hysterically, because a syrupy version of "White Christmas" began playing over the restaurant's music system.

It was like a scene from a David Lynch film: I was in a Chinese restaurant in London, on the Fourth of July, listening to "White Christmas." And I wished, I really wished, I was back in the United States. Oh, I always enjoyed London, but on that particular day, at that moment, I was more conscious of being an American than I had ever been before in my life.

I often hate the American government and American politicians (both Republicans and Democrats), but I love the American nation. I consider being born an American citizen to have been the luckiest break of my life. And since July 4, 1982, this holiday has had a very special meaning for me. All it took was a Chinese restaurant and an instrumental version of "White Christmas."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Memories Of Las Vegas

Now that Di and I are headed "home" to Las Vegas, I'm getting nostalgic about my first period of residency in Las Vegas.

My condo was in the northwest corner of Las Vegas, in the La Posada section of the Summerlin development. My condo faced west, toward Red Rock Canyon State Park, which was located about five miles away. I loved visiting this park; the colorful rock formations were surreal in the light of a setting sun:

My first visitors after moving to Las Vegas were my LLH partners, Carol and Jack Lewis. Here they are in Red Rock Canyon:

As you can see below, poor Carol was all tuckered out after her busy, busy day in Las Vegas, and feel asleep in my living room:

In May of 2003, a very angry thunderstorm moved into Las Vegas from the west. Looking at it from my condo balcony, I noticed a very distinct wall cloud and "elephant trunk" funnel cloud descending from it. By the time I located my digital camera and booted it up, the funnel had started to dissipate. If you look at left below, you can see the remains of the funnel cloud:

Las Vegas is in the desert, but it is also a center for watersports thanks to Lake Mead. Di and I would sometimes rent a boat from a Lake Mead marina and cruise out to the middle of Lake Mead. It was like having our own private lake for swimming, sunbathing, etc:

The desert around Las Vegas is populated by wild burros. These hardy critters descended from the burros used by miners and prospectors, and do quite well in the harsh desert climate. If you travel the back roads around Lake Mead or Red Rock Canyon, you'll eventually see a burro like the one below on the roadside:

I'll be returning to Las Vegas by air and I know it will be a physically grueling trip; fortunately, I think my new painkillers will help and I'm no longer too proud to admit I need a wheelchair for long distances. But emotionally I am really jazzed about returning to Las Vegas. As I've written before, the story of Di and me began in Las Vegas and it should end there------Las Vegas is "our" home. And anything beats sitting around here and waiting to die. I'm looking forward to one last adventure!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Why We're Losing The "War" On Cancer

I've repeatedly made the point here that most of the money raised to fight cancer and find a cure is, to put it bluntly but honestly, pissed away. And the New York Times agrees, as you can read at the linked article. You should read the whole thing, but here are some money quotes:

Yet the fight against cancer is going slower than most had hoped, with only small changes in the death rate in the almost 40 years since it began.

One major impediment, scientists agree, is the grant system itself. It has become a sort of jobs program, a way to keep research laboratories going year after year with the understanding that the focus will be on small projects unlikely to take significant steps toward curing cancer.

And I'll say it again: there is a critical need to redirect some cancer funding toward helping existing cancer patients. In particular, there is a desperate need for counseling, therapy, and support services for patients and their families. Almost no health insurance plans provide for such services, and the attitude of most oncologists is to deliver the bad news to a patient-----"Your cancer has metastasized to your liver"-----and then get the hell out of the exam room ASAP, leaving the patient and his/her family to cope with the crushing news.

Yes, we need to look for a cure. But a cure is a long way off even under the most optimistic scenarios. And meanwhile many cancer patients have real, serious needs that are being ignored.

I'm lucky to have Di, my family, and my friends to get me through my cancer. Many of my fellow cancer patients are not as lucky, and suffer in silence with a host of emotional and logistical problems arising from their cancers.

And that makes me madder than hell. We urgently need a honest, no-bullshit national discussion of how to deal with cancer.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Thoughts On A Very Eventful Week

Wow, what a week! Much happened that deserves some commentary.

• We accepted an offer for our condo yesterday and will be returning to Las Vegas in August. It was on the market only 32 days, a tribute to the still-robust Texas economy (memo to most of the other states in the union: Texas is clearly doing something right in its state budgeting and governance, and you should emulate what is done in Austin). Di and I met in Las Vegas, got married in Las Vegas, and bought our first home together in Las Vegas; it is fitting that our story will end in Las Vegas.

• This condo community is a gossipy one; it sometimes reminds me of high school. Here's proof: Di took one of our dogs for a walk about two hours after accepting the offer, and three people stopped her and said they heard we had sold our condo. Yet we never told anyone here!! It will be a relief to again live in a place where some people are not obsessed by other people's business.

• The cause of our neighbor problems was the rental of an adjoining unit to two adults who were not related to each other; this is explicitly prohibited by our condo association by-laws but, for some reason, our condo association and officers decided to look the other way. There are now several other units rented to non-related adults, most of whom are students at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. This week we met with an attorney who told us any unit owner would have a very strong case for a lawsuit against the condo association and its officers for permitting such widespread violations of association by-laws. Since we're moving, we obviously won't be pursuing any legal action. But I know some people in our condo community read this blog, and perhaps they might want to keep this in mind if the board continues to turn a blind eye to these blatant violations of the by-laws. A couple of the association officers are suffering from advanced hubris, and a lesson in humility---the kind provided by depositions and discovery----would have a salubrious impact on them.

• I was deeply moved by the death of Farrah Fawcett; I feel a connection to people like her (and Tony Snow) who have a cancer similar to mine and were diagnosed about the same time I was. Their deaths make me even more grateful to have defied the odds and survived as long as I have. But Farrah's story is also a cautionary tale for cancer patients and their families. The money quote:

Diagnoses of cancer routinely generate periods of what we might call "ritualized optimism." No matter what the reality is, surgeons announce they "got it all," and patients declare that they are cancer-free. It is hard to criticize these types of proclamations. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of other ways one might describe the first weeks and months after being diagnosed with cancer. Even if patients themselves believe or suspect otherwise, they want to reassure family and friends that they are on the road to cure.

I myself have fallen into that trap. The key is to know when it is time to renounce optimism for a cure in favor of a hard-nosed realism that acknowledges that cancer is going to kill you but also acknowledges there is much in life to enjoy before that happens.

• I saw my doctor on Wednesday and my new painkillers are oxycodone and darvocet. I was fearing an "upgrade" to methadone, and I'm glad to still not be at that point. I don't want to make Keith Richards envious of me just yet!

• Mark Effin' Sanford, governor of the great state of South Carolina! His press conference this week was something out of a David Lynch film; it was both hilarious and profoundly disturbing. What struck me was that he showed more empathy and compassion for his mistress than he did for his wife and, especially, his four sons. For those kids, every Father's Day in the future will be a reminder of the weekend Dad left them in Columbia and flew down to Buenos Aires to see his girlfriend. Sanford should be impeached, not for the adultery itself but instead for his breathtaking lack of judgment and common sense. Suppose Sanford was the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and he abruptly vanished for a few days, telling no one at the company where he really was, and turning off his mobile phones so he couldn't be located. What would happen to that CEO? That's right, he would be promptly fired upon his return. And that's why Sanford must resign or be impeached ASAP; it's not about the sex, it's about his obvious mental and emotional issues. Sanford is nuts and needs some industrial-strength therapy.

• There really not much to say about the death of Michael Jackson other than how creepy the parallels are to the last years and death of Elvis Presley. Those two both had it all and threw it all away; both surrounded themselves with sycophants who told them what they wanted to hear instead of what they needed to hear. At the end, neither had anyone who loved them enough to pull them back from the abyss. And so their talent, careers, money, and eventually lives were squandered away. Such a waste. . . . . . .

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Say Hello To Tinuviel May!

Tiffany Gasbarrini is a dear friend of mine from my days of consulting for Elsevier; she and her husband live in the Boston area. It was a joy interacting with Tiffany because she was highly intelligent, funny, and passionate about publishing.

And now she's a mother!! On June 16, her daughter Tinuviel May arrived in this world at 8 pounds, 3 ounces (wow, what a big baby girl!). And as you can see in the photo below, she is adorable.

I am so happy for you, Tiffany! And I wish "Nuvi" (as they have already nicknamed her) a long, happy, and fulfilling life.

Random Photos, Random Thoughts

I was doing some housecleaning on my photo files and found some interesting (well, at least to me) shots from my past.

The one below was taken in 1986, and shows me in front of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square. This was on a tour of the USSR that included Moscow, Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), and Kiev. This photo was taken on April 26, and the next day we flew from Moscow to Kiev. We had no idea that a catastrophic accident had taken place during the night at a nuclear power plant at Chernobyl, located about 30 miles from Kiev. And we were in Kiev for three days before we learned what had happened, and that was via the BBC and Voice of America-----I had packed along a Sony portable shortwave radio. I have often wondered if my cancer is the result of exposure to the radioactive particles vented by the Chernobyl reactor; thankfully, my then-wife Tina is still in good health. Regardless, it's a hoot to consider that I visited a country----the Soviet Union-----that no longer exists.

Here's me preening next to the summit marker atop Sugarloaf Mountain, 9980 feet, in the San Bernardino mountains of southern California. When I lived in San Diego, I loved doing these single-day climbs; I'd hit Interstate 15 around sunrise and be back home by sunset. The photo is how I want people to remember me: Strong! Vigorous! Goofy!

The highest mountain in southern California is San Gorgonio at 11,499 feet. I did this as a single-day climb, and believe me that was one of the longest days of my life! Timberline in southern California is about 10,000 feet, and as a result the upper reaches of San Gorgonio are like the Sierras-----boulders, talus, and scree. Here I am celebrating my ascent; that's a can of Diet Cheerwine that I'm swigging:

The photo below shows me atop Humphrey's Peak, the highest mountain in Arizona at 12,666 feet. It is an extinct volcano and gives spectacular views of the Grand Canyon and Painted Desert from the summit. Northern Arizona is a very different world from Tucson and Phoenix; there are pine trees, cool breezes, grassy fields, etc. I look exhausted in this photo, and it's because I was; the last few hundred feet up to the summit are steep and scrambling over several boulders is necessary:

Finally, here's a photo of a borrego ram that I saw in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park east of San Diego. This fellow jumped atop the boulder and spent the next several minutes eyeballing me and my hiking companions (including my business partners Carol and Jack Lewis). Eventually he moved away and we reported our sighting to park rangers; these animals are considered an endangered species and sightings of them are very rare. We were very lucky to spot this guy!

Photos like these are why I say I want no one to feel sympathy or pity for me; instead, feel sympathy or pity for those who haven't seen, done, or experienced the things I have. It's been a great life, compadres!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thought For The Day

“Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' But conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but because conscience tells one it is right.” -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, June 15, 2009

QSL Card Gallery

One of the traditions of the shortwave/ham radio hobby was something called the "QSL card." "QSL" is the radiotelegraph code abbreviation for "I acknowledge receipt of your message," and QSL cards were 1) sent by stations to listeners who correctly reported reception of the station, and 2) exchanged between two ham radio stations who had established contact with each other. In effect, they were souvenirs-----much like the picture postcards you'd collect on a car vacation with Mom and Dad----of having heard or contacted a radio station.

Okay, so it sounds silly. And it was. But it was also fun. I loved getting those envelopes from distant lands with their exotic stamps; inside would be a colorful card and other materials like program guides. I collected QSL cards the way some people collected baseball cards.

Take a look at this beauty, all the way from the small African nation of Togo. Ever heard of Togo? Thanks to shortwave radio, I had an outrageous knowledge of world geography:

Some QSL cards commemorated historic events, like this one issued by Germany's Deutsche Welle broadcaster two decades ago to celebrate the reunification of West and East Germany:

A historic QSL card I managed to snag was for the first test of digital AM broadcasting back in 1995. The test was conducted in Las Vegas during the annual National Association of Broadcasters convention, and it was easy to hear from my then-location in San Diego:

In the mid-1990s, the AM broadcast band expanded to include 1610 to 1700 kHz. I carefully looked for stations in that range, and was lucky enough to catch KXBT, Vallejo, CA-----the second station authorized for the new frequency range-----on its first night of transmitter testing:

Before the 1610-1700 kHz range became populated by broadcast stations, it was often used by low power traveler information stations at airports, etc. The QSL card below represents a really difficult reception; the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport operated a 60 watt information station on 1680 kHz, and I managed to hear it in Solana Beach, CA. That's quite a haul for such low power, but I was using some highly advanced radio equipment (the Drake R8B receiver):

I also swapped QSLs with hams all over the world when I established contact with them, as shown below. I received QSL cards from hams in various countries----like Czechoslovakia, East Germany, the Soviet Union, etc.----that no longer exist:

Some shortwave stations in Latin America would also send out colorful cloth or paper pennants with their QSL cards, like this one:

The practice of sending out QSLs declined as shortwave listening declined in the late 1990s with the rise of the internet. Printing and mailing QSLs is expensive, and declining broadcaster funding and staffing has caused many stations to stop sending out QSLs. And the situation has been exacerbated by the closing of many shortwave broadcasters.

The QSL era is now in its final stages; soon QSLing and QSL cards will be quaint historical artifacts, much like boarding passes and menus for trans-Atlantic passenger ships or cross-country steam locomotives.

But it was fun while it lasted, and I'm glad I had a chance to be part of it. Sadly, I don't look forward to the mailman's arrival each day like I once did. . . . . . . .