About Me & The Gory Details of My Social Media Presence

Recently, I’ve picked up a lot of new readers/links/friends/stalkers/tails/parasites&symbionts/alien monitors.   I hope it is because people find some of what I am posting to be of interest, as well as the usual infestation of spambots and imaginary beings (about 80% of my followers, I reckon). It is probably time to once again lay out a little about my online presence to help make things clearer to all of you bots (and to help me keep it straight). As it is, you may see multiple versions of me online and question your sanity, instead of spending your time wisely questioning my sanity.  So think of this as a service, to you.

First, About Me

Yes, I am that Spaf, assuming you have heard something about me before.  By day, I am a moderately well-known scientist, professor, and commentator, with a focus on issues of cySpafford_Eugene1_colorber security, privacy, ethics, and national policy, often with a somewhat off-kilter point of view.  You can visit my about.me page for links, or see my (incomplete) Wikipedia page.

The rest of the time (well, all of the time) I alternate between philosophy and humor, with an emphasis on the humor.  Oh, and a certain amount of snark and political commentary.

And yes, I wear bow ties.  That has been one of my signature items for over 25 years.  And the beard has been there for over 40 years.

A quick summary of many of my social media sites and background is available at about.me/spaf.

About My Postings

First, I try to maintain three distinct, segregated streams of material in my social media. (You can skip to the links if you don’t want to read the details.)


Professional

One stream is more or less related to my “day job” as a professor at Purdue University.  There, I post in a blog on an irregular basis.   I also maintain a Tumblr blog where I repost links from various on-line media about security, privacy, espionage, cybercrime, and related topics.  That blog is gated into a Twitter feed to which I sometimes add related tweets.  Along with all of that, I also sometimes put things into a Facebook group page and a LinkedIn group, both of which are for people interested in CERIAS at Purdue University.

I have a LinkedIn account that I use to maintain professional contact with others. I have profiles at ResearchGate and Academia.edu that I don’t do a good job of maintaining, but may be of value. All of this tends to be serious and professional.

Personal

A second stream is more fun oriented, but sometimes serious.  In my WordPress blog I post items of a personal nature — sometimes intended to be funny (such as my New Year’s resolutions) or quirky (such as my history of my branch of the Spafford family) or serious (my 2009 reflections on 9/11).

I maintain an active Twitter account as myself, and a Facebook account.  In both there will be a range of the bizarre and the unusual that make me laugh or shake my head: basically, things that I think are worth seeing.  Readers will also pick out some of my thoughts on politics, posers, organized religion, equal rights, and annoying celebrities (among others); I’m not too reserved about some of my views. The Twitter and Facebook feeds have some cross-connect, but the feed-across is sporadic — if you are constructing a psych profile on me, you should probably follow both.  I also post answers to Quora from time to time, and images to Pinterest.  I maintain a legacy mailing list named web-heads that gates into a Tumblr blog, that then dumps into my Twitter feed with the tag #webheads; anything with that hashtag in my Twitter or Facebook feeds thus may have been posted by someone else on the list who is similarly demented.

None of my posts in any of these outlets should be construed as having any official endorsement or connection with official positions or activities of my employer or organizations with which  I work!  Stated differently, these are my own peculiar views only and I am the only person to blame (well, maybe my family and “The Voices” influenced me). NB: some of these posts may well include items of an adult nature, so beware if you are easily offended.

ACM, etc.

My third collection is not quite out in the open as an independent stream.  I am a long-time member and current chair of the US Public Policy Council of ACM, and a member of the ACM Council. I am involved in activities related to ACM, IEEE, ISSA, AAAS and other professional organizations. You may see posts in some places from me related to those.  In particular, there is a shared USACM Twitter feed to which I sometimes contribute.  Those outlets shouldn’t be viewed as related to either of the first two streams.

More Generally

I do not use Google+ regularly for any of these!  I don’t like their original policies of tying everything to that account, and I don’t like the interface and difficulty of connection to other social media.  In particular, I use some scripts and services to post items across services and at metered “doses” and those don’t work well with Google+. (And yes, I am not overly fond of Facebook’s privacy policies, either, but it is the only mechanism for keeping my semi-sporadic contact with some of my friends.)

BTW, I have a bunch of other accounts that you aren’t likely to see active any time soon — Flickr, YouTube, BuzzFeed, and even MySpace, among others.  I set those up simply so there wouldn’t be anyone else sending stuff out as spaf.  Unfortunately, I got to a few too late, plus a few require that usernames be more than 6 characters long.  Thus, Twitter and others have names such as TheRealSpaf as identities.

You may be wondering where I find the time to post all of this stuff.   The answer is “in parts.”  First, I actually am physically limited much of the time: I have some medical issues that sometimes limit my ability to work online.  I thus have less productivity than many of my peers, especially because it becomes more difficult to hit deadlines. Short posts and mouse clicks are much easier for me, so I use Twitter as an outlet.  Second, I have chronic insomnia, so a lot gets shared with a few mouse clicks when I should be asleep (or sedated).  And third, I use several bots and scheduled jobs to meter out material over time rather than the bursty schedule at which I actually use the services.   This is basically a trick from Mother Nature — I use fluff and timing to make myself appear bigger to potential predators, er, the orderlies.  Note that there are likely to be quiet periods where you don’t see much from me: I’m either busy, I’m traveling, or I’ve been abducted by a UFO.  Again.

If you have questions or comments on anything I post, please let me know.   If you want to repost any of the items be sure to use the appropriate mechanism.  In particular, if you want to use material from my blogs then either quote excerpts with appropriate credit, or provide a link back to the original.  That is polite, professional, and legal.

Linking to Others

If I don’t know you and have not interacted with you in some significant way, don’t bother to ask that I “friend” you on Facebook.  As it is, I need to trim the ones that I have.  However, you can “follow” my posts if you want to see them — almost all are public.

If you can prove who you are and that there is a reason I should connect with you on LinkedIn, I may.  The threshold is lower there than Facebook, but still non-trivial.  You can ask someone I have as a trusted contact to vouch for you, and that is usually enough if you have a good reason for connecting. Because of my professional work, I get trolled, so I am cautious.

Blocking

If you try to send me spam, I will report it and block you.   Same general response with things that are intended to insult me, or are full of bigotry or vitriol towards any group not itself devoted to bigotry and/or vitriol.  That doesn’t mean you have to agree with me on everything.   I have many friends and corresponding links where we cannot have a conversation about politics or religion without getting a little spirited.  I value reasoned differences, but don’t expect me to keep quiet with my opinions — and don’t expect me to continue to link to you if you are rude, stupid and/or obnoxious.


Professional Stuff

Personal Stuff

Miscellaneous

…and…

If you are interested in miscellany about me, you can check out:

Remembering Spaf

With a birthday coming up, and several friends having recently passed on (e.g., been dereferenced), I thought maybe I should write up my obituary for future use. After all, I know my story better than anyone else! So, feel free to use this when the need arises.

And if you have any missing bits to fill in, send them to me — I’ll update this in place.

This is not quite to this level of awesome or to this or to this but I may have a few weeks yet to get there.

Original post 3/14/12; Last update 2014-07-28.


Eugene H. Spafford, noted curmudgeon, died on <date>. If Spafford’s last wishes were honored the medical examiner will officially list the cause of death as “Jello, while interacting with Bambi and Trixie, two performers with Cirque de Soleil, and their pet llama, Julio” — not because it bears even a remote resemblance to the truth, but because it will provide more lulz on Wikipedia.

Although many people believed he was an alien being (after all, the definition of “human” can only stretch so far), Spafford was born in western New York State to poor but proud parents. His birth changed their lives: they continued to be poor, but were never proud again. Two years later, his sister was born, thereafter affectionately referred to by their parents as “our only child.”

Spafford had a largely unremarkable childhood, frequently spending time as the neighbors’ imaginary friend. His parents took him and his sister to many notable and historic places around the country, but unwary strangers would invariably untie him and he would find his way home. In later years he was known to recount some of the happiest moments of his childhood such as having other children finally talk to him (5th grade), and first being allowed to play in the yard without his leash (7th grade).

By the time he had reached high school, he had shown unusual talent for math, science, and getting beaten up for having unusual talent for math and science. Nonetheless, he was named as “school mascot” by acclamation for several years running — until the other students found that despite this status, they could not get him thrown on the bonfire at other schools before football games. It was in high school that he got the nickname “Spaf,” in part because no one bothered to learn his first name.

It was in high school that Spaf discovered girls. Actually, he had known about them for some time, but it was at this time that he first discovered that the majority of them did not actually have cooties. His attempts to be noticed by the young women around him usually succeeded, but only accompanied by finger-pointing and derisive laughter…a pattern that continued through the rest of his life. He fell in love at least twice, but the objects of his affection generally did not return his affections because they had taste and standards…another long-standing pattern.

Upon graduation from high school, Spafford took a few years off school to work to support his family. At least, that is what he always claimed, and the court records are sealed.

Then, Spafford returned to school and completed his undergraduate degrees at SUNY Brockport in 3 years of classes, probably because the faculty voted to resign if he stayed for 4. He awoke in another state after his graduation party, with a note from his family pinned to his clothing, written in crayon, wishing him luck in Atlanta, where they had arranged for him to be admitted. Much to their dismay, “The Ramblin Wreck” was a university and not a psychiatric hospital (although, frankly, that wasn’t always obvious). Thus, he attended grad school at Georgia Tech, where he again showed an unusual talent for math and science, as well as amazingly poor luck with females of any species. After outlasting a department head, dean, two presidents of the university, and several roommates, a clerical error resulted in him getting a Ph.D. despite no faculty member actually serving as his advisor (NB. almost true!).

As a condition of his immediate and permanent departure, local officials used a rumor of a large trust fund and vast quantities of tequila to introduce a young woman to Spaf, despite her reluctance to date outside her species. After a period of deception, and prolonged hypnotherapy, they were married.

After a short post doc while his thesis committee waited to ensure that the checks cleared, Spafford moved out of state and was hired by Purdue University in 1987 before the stories (and authorities) caught up with him. He spent the remainder of his career there, trying (in vain) to get people to behave nicely online, be kind to each other, and to adopt wearing of bow ties. When informed of his passing, his Purdue colleagues (those who didn’t respond “Who?”) began to chuckle — no doubt from fond and amusing memories, although the mutterings of “At last!” did seem a little fervent.

Noted for his work in security (primarily as a risk), Spafford was frequently asked to travel long distances to speak — usually requested by whomever was in his near vicinity at the time. A talented programmer as well as researcher, he wrote many large software systems that, (perhaps) regrettably, are in languages for which no compiler or manual exists. This matched his propensity for giving presentations that were in languages unfamiliar to his audiences…and humans, in general. He helped scores of students get their Ph.Ds. — usually by serving as an example of what not to do. He received several “lifetime achievement” awards from professional societies in not so subtle attempts to get him to retire immediately and go away.

It was often observed that Spafford didn’t pay attention to boundaries and frequently crossed them…this was usually noted by others when talking about the fine line between genius and insanity.

In later years, he had medical issues that interfered with his work. Doctors, when not performing unsanctioned experiments on him, conjectured that it was all side-effects of the frequent alien abductions (performed on him, not by him). Consulting veterinarians were similarly puzzled, both by etiology and his species. The diagnoses were all different, but the recommended treatment was always the same: lobotomy. This was never done, because the insurance company refused to cover it, despite the generous and frequent offers of family and colleagues to take up a collection.

Spafford had a near encyclopedic knowledge of useless trivia, bad jokes, and stupid movie plot lines that he often shared spontaneously — this led to him spending a great deal of “alone time.” Besides his hobbies online, he enjoyed gardening, good whiskey, and target shooting — which might explain many missing neighborhood pets and the vigorous growth of the tulips in the back yard. As a lover, he was known to make women swoon…or would have been known, had any of them overcome the nausea at the thought so as to assent. And, he is memorialized in several dictionaries: the words “athlete” and “Spafford” are found together… usually in a sentence under “cognitive dissonance.”

In his final years, Spafford spent a lot of time reminiscing about his childhood as an imaginary friend, and wondering what his life would have been like had be been born human.

In accordance with his wishes, his remains have been freeze-dried, adorned with a bow tie, and mailed to a random address as one last bad joke. He is survived by his wife (who will shortly be disabused of the rumor of the trust fund), a daughter (an only child, because his wife refused to repeat the trauma and horror … not of childbirth, but conception), sister, niece, nephews, the contents of several petri dishes with biohazard labels on board some UFOs, and basically everyone who is reading this. I mean, you can’t read this if you didn’t survive, right?

Donations can be made … oh, who are we fooling? Just go blow the money on chocolate and bourbon.

Crappy Customer Service

I’ve posted here before about customer service, both good and bad.

Here’s an example of really bad.

On January 8, we purchased a new refrigerator at Best Buy.  It’s a high-end Kitchen Aid model that my wife and daughter had found and really wanted.  It was not the cheapest purchase out there, but had some nice features they wanted.  The unit has 2 doors above, and a freezer drawer below.

The refrigerator was delivered and installed on February 5.  We noticed over the weekend that the light switch on one side was not working correctly — the door would be opened and the light would not come on.  It was almost certainly not working from the moment it was delivered and plugged in, but we didn’t notice right away because of the way we put things in: we didn’t open that side much.  Even so, we opened that door no more than 1o times before we noticed the problem.

Because of travel and other appointments, Kathy was only able to call Best Buy today.  They referred her to Kitchen Aid’s service hotline and said it was Kitchen Aid’s problem.  So Kathy called them to arrange to have someone fix this.

Here’s the rotten punchline — the refrigerator we paid a premium for, that we have had for less than a week — is out of warranty!  They have a 30 day warranty against defects, but they claim it starts from the date of purchase!  Thus, we are going to be charged to fix a problem that was present in the refrigerator when it was delivered.

Needless to say, this is the last appliance we buy from either Best Buy or Kitchen Aid.   I recommend you seriously consider avoiding both for any of your purchases, too.  It is clear they only care about the sale and nothing at all about customer satisfaction.

 

Update 2/12

The service guy came out today and found a faulty circuit board.  He admitted it was faulty and told us that whoever we talked to on the phone from Kitchen Aid was wrong.  He replaced the board, reset the controller, and there was no charge.

I am a bit less upset now with Kitchen Aid, although their phone service center people need some training.  The Best Buy 30 day warranty, however, is still a pile.

A Divide Comes Into Focus

Events this week  (e.g., the occupation of the bird sanctuary in Oregon, the vote to repeal the ACA, the President’s speech on gun control, campaign speeches by candidates in Iowa, the contaminated water in Flint, and more) illustrated one of the largest emotional and philosophical divides in (at least) the USA. That divide can be summarized in one single observation:

There are those within our population who show concern and respect for others — especially the poorest and weakest among us, and then there are those who seek to overcome any who disagree with them for the gain of those who are already rich and powerful, with no real concern for those who are weak or sick or poor

  • The former show compassion to those afflicted with misfortune. The latter blame the unfortunate for all that may have befallen them, and pursue initiatives that would increase their misery.
  • The former demonstrate empathy for victims.  The latter insult the former for “being weak.”
  • The former seek to employ science to cure disease and protect the environment.  The latter seek to discredit science when it conflicts with their profit or beliefs.
  • The former seek to maintain public spaces and resources for future generations.  The latter are willing to sacrifice those holdings for personal, short-term gain.
  • The former seek to avoid warfare and to acknowledge that others may hold differing but valid opinions.  The latter seek to dominate, verbally or physically, all who stand in their way.

There seems to be no significant middle.  Or rather, if there is a middle, it is quiescent.

That so many people flock to someone running for President who flaunts his extreme material wealth, while making fun of those with disabilities and insulting the poor, is a sign.   That so many would deride and taunt a leader and father for shedding tears over the deaths of children, is a sign.  That we have people who will gladly support policy changes to reduce food and health benefits to the poor to enhance the wealthy, is a sign.

Sadly, those whose hearts have hardened are unlikely to see those signs of what they are or have become.  They need a “Christmas Carol” visit from the 3 spirits, but that doesn’t seem to happen in real life. Those people claim that they are the strong ones, and the ones with vision.  The true villains, they will claim, are those who worship differently, speak a different language, are different in appearance, or love differently than they do.  They will claim to have their god on their side — the same one referenced in Matthew 25:31-46, although they fail to see the dissonance between their actions and their scripture.

I hope that as a society (and as a species), compassion triumphs over greed.  I wonder what it will take to make that happen?  And how do those of us who care avoid becoming full-on cynics?

Be It Resolved (2016 edition)

Once again, a new year is about to present itself. 2015 sort of flew by, and also similar to a pigeon, it dumped on me as it passed. But 2016 is nearly upon us, and that is an opportunity to make some resolutions for the new year.

I have managed to keep all of my 2015 resolutions (and my 2014 and 2013 resolutions, too0.

So, without further ado, here is my list for 2016. I will:

  1. Continue to not give in to the Dark Side…of toast.
  2. I will not undergo gender reassignment treatments, largely because that would require testing to determine “from” and “to” for my species, and no one is ready for that.
  3. Cut waaaay back on describing myself as “on fleek” in my memos to the deans.
  4. Try to not taunt people with severe moral and mental impairments, i.e.. Donald Trump supporters. Well, not constantly.
  5. Consume more of the 4 basic food groups: Bacon, Scotch, Chocolate, and Coffee. But this year, discontinue attempts at an all-inclusive smoothie.
  6. Strive to be less of a curmudgeon — maybe just dial it back to “crotchety.”
  7. Attempt in get in shape this year. (NB. oblate spheroid is a shape, so I have a head start.)
  8. Overcome peer pressure to take a controversial public stand: Damnit, I’m for the Oxford comma!
  9. Experiment to see if my cat allergy has abated; meatloaf?
  10. Do at least one thing outrageous enough to require an update to my pending obituary.
  11. Not build and claim any islands in the South China Sea.
  12. Try to make some of my hobbies self-supporting. Any idea where I’d market earwax candles?
  13. Continue to avow that it is white and gold, not blue and black.
  14. Not reattempt an “eggnog & gingerbread” cleanse.
  15. Not donate $40 billion to charity instead of leaving it to my daughter (you’re welcome, Elizabeth).
  16. Continue to exercise understanding that Jennifer, Adriana, Alessandra, Kate, Kim, Amber, Miranda, Candice and the rest are still really, really busy and simply have not yet been able to whisk me away. (That must be the reason, right?)

I hope your New Year’s is enjoyable and safe (avoid the meatloaf and smoothies), and 2016 is a year of wonder, but not frequently as in “I wonder who I am and where my pants are?”

P.S. Jennifer, Candice, et al. — I’m free this New Year’s Eve, too. I’ll wait for your call.

A special anniversary and offer

2016 will be a special anniversary for me, and I am making a special offer to help celebrate.

if you act quickly, it might even fit in your holiday plans!

Rather than repeat the text, see the full story over in my CERIAS blog post  

 

New Mexico — Land of Enchantment, UFOs, and More

Intro

I travel a lot, both for work, and some with family. One of the areas I most enjoy visiting is New Mexico. There is something about the combination of scenery, food, and general atmosphere that appeals to me; I find the geology of NM particularly interesting. I haven’t lived there, although I hope to spend my upcoming sabbatical in the Albuquerque area, so it will be interesting to see how my impressions hold up over an extended visit.

In recent weeks I have spoken with 3 different couples who are headed to NM for something or other. I provided some recommendations based on my experiences. Now, in the spirit of “If you need to do something 3 times, find a way to automate it” I have decided to jot down some notes here for others.

I have broken this out by general areas of the state. I have not been everywhere in NM yet, and in some places I’ve only spent a few hours. So, if I missed something important, let me know in the comments.

FYI, my favorite place to get away for a few days is Old Town Santa Fe, so that has a section all its own, below.

A few things that I especially recommend have a ♥ symbol next to them.

Northern NM

Taos, etc.

I have yet to make it to NW New Mexico, to the Four Corners area. That is on my list.

In North Central NM is the Carson National Forest, which I have yet to explore.

Taos is in this part of the state. If you like to ski, I’m told the skiing is nice. I found it to be a pleasant town, but I was not overly impressed. I also didn’t hear the infamous “Taos Hum” that 2% of the population hears.

If you are in the area, head NW on US 64 out of Taos. a bit out of town is one of the Overland Outfitters stores. It is one of the older ones, and has quite a nice selection of items of leather, sheepskin, and more. Continue NW on US 64 to the ♥ High Bridge, the 7th highest bridge in the US. It, and the Rio Grande gorge, sort of “appear” as you drive towards them. It is an amazing view into the gorge, but you may want to avoid it if you have a problem with heights (or depths!).

If you have time, or it is on your route, get on US 285 S to NM 567, then to NM 570 to NM 68 S. I doubt this is a good route in the winter, but in the summer it is scenic and quite pleasant. This eventually connects up to US 84 if you are headed to points south.

Along US 285, south of where it enters the Carson National Forest, is the town of Ojo Caliente. On route NM 414 to the west is a well known mineral hot springs & spa resort that I’m told is quite good. They also have private pools for starry night soaking outdoors.

Los Alamos, White Rock

There are a few ways to get to Los Alamos. The “back way” on NM 4 through Jemez Springs is a lovely drive, and passes some interesting geological formations; it may be a difficult drive in the winter. A bit north of Jemez Springs is “Soda Dam” — an area of fascinating mineral deposits caused by hot springs with minerals dissolved in them. The springs still bubble up there.

South of Los Alamos on NM 4 is Bandelier National Monument. This is an archaeological preserve where native Americans carved homes out of the tuff (soft stone formed from volcanic ash) hundreds of years ago. If the area isn’t closed because of weather or wildfire, it makes for an interesting walk around the main path; there are some 70 miles of trail in the overall park.

Los Alamos the town, and Los Alamos the National Lab, are skirted to the south by NM 4, and somewhat to the north by NM 501/NM 502. The lab doesn’t have anything for the public to see unless you count driving past a few ominous low buildings surrounded by multiple rings of barbed-wire fences and walls — don’t stop to take pictures unless you want to meet armed guards who ask you lots of pointed questions!

Los Alamos and White Rock have a number of interesting things to see and do:

  • ♥ The Bradbury Science Museum is operated by the lab and has a changing set of exhibits. The permanent exhibits give a history of the lab, the development of the atomic bomb, and a fair amount on nuclear physics, including some hands-on exhibits for kids.
  • ♥ The White Rock Overlook in the town of White Rock provides a spectacular view of the Rio Grande Gorge.
  • ♥ The [Anderson Overlook] is just outside of Los Alamos to the west on NM 502, and gives an incredible view of the mountains and valley to the west.
  • The Don Quixote Distillery & Winery has some interesting local versions of gin, and even a blue corn vodka, although I’ve heard some of the wine is not so great.
  • I’ve heard some good things about the Los Alamos Nature Center but have not been able to visit yet.
  • One of my favorite bookstores, Otawi Station in Los Alamos, closed permanently several years ago; if you’ve heard me mention it before, well….

One of the features in the area you don’t immediately notice because of its size is the Valles Caldera. Actually, everything in this area is on the flanks and residue of that ancient (but believed only dormant) super volcano that has a rim 22km in diameter! This whole north western part of New Mexico is volcanic in origin, and there is still considerable geothermal activity, including hot springs, with some seismic activity.

Santa Fe

There are so many things in the area that I find interesting, I’m not sure I can list it all.

Santa Fe is a sprawling small city. I am not familiar with much of it, but the area I have spent a lot of time in is the Old Town area, and vicinity. You can easily fill several days wandering the shops and restaurants. If you are after art expressed in some physical format — in wood, stone, oil, metal, or some combination — you can find it in the area, in price ranges from $50 to hundreds of thousands (at least). Antiques abound, as does hand-crafted jewelry.

Hotels

Your best bet if you want to see the area is stay at one of the hotels in town. That also covers your parking, which can be difficult to find in town.

I have stayed at a half-dozen of the hotels in the area. Here are a few I can recommend based on my stays and the recommendations of others.

There are lots more, in every price range. Some of the hotels also offer “casitas” — detached, small cottages in town.

Dining

Nearly every place you can eat offers something interesting. I can’t begin to list them all. I do suggest you get a reservation for any place you really have your heart set on visiting.

To the north of Santa Fe on US 64 is one of my favorite restaurants: ♥ Gabriel’s. If you are in the area, you really should have lunch or dinner there.

We also liked the restaurants at the Inn at Loretto (the Luminaria) and La Fonda (La Plazuela). I would suggest dinner at the first, and lunch at the second. The restaurant at Inn of the Anasazi is also quite good.

Having lunch or breakfast at the Plaza Café diner is recommended. It may not look like much from outside, but the food I’ve had there is good, as is the pinyon coffee.

La Boca features Spanish cuisine and some really nicely prepared dishes, and is near the plaza. So is the related Taberna, although I have not eaten there; it features “nuevo latino” cuisine.

We have a certain affinity for the Blue Corn Café — it is not overly special, but it I’ve been stopping there for years because of its convenient location. Get the chile “Christmas” — both red and green.

There are all sorts of food guides to the area, and lots of people will share recommendations. Your best bet is to wander around and identify some candidates. Before you ask for recommendations, get some idea if you want cozy romantic dinner, or a family-style meal to help narrow the list.

North of Santa Fe about 20 miles is the ♥ Rancho de Chimayo. It is a restaurant in an old hacienda, nestled in a small valley near a creek. The food is good but not outstanding, but combined with the setting makes it well worth adding to your list if you are in the area for a few days.

Shopping

Art galleries abound in the area. If that is what you want to buy, get one of the maps or guides. You will also find some in the general area around the plaza.

If you spend a day or two wandering the shops within 2-3 blocks of the plaza, you will find all kinds of amazing things. Some of these buildings are historic, so don’t make a presumption of what is inside by what the outside looks like. Besides, half the fun is in the exploration! You will find everything from high-end shops to quirky artist boutiques.

The market, held on the patio of the old palace on the square, features handmade items (mostly jewelry) by local, native artisans. That occurs nearly daily, depending on weather. There are many unique and beautiful pieces, although not always the best prices.

When I’ve been there, the plaza has lights at night, and sometimes a band performing. It is quite nice, although there are a lot of panhandlers that seem to come out at night.

♥ Shops where I usually stage a visit include the Overland Outfitters (I’ve gotten several coats there), the Santa Fe Olive Oil & Balsamic Co (taste scores of exotic flavors), the Chile Shop (everything chile related), the Earthfire Gems Gallery for all sorts of fossils and minerals, O’Farrell Hat Shop (I’ve gotten two custom-made hats), Keshi Zuni (lots of hand carved fetish animals), and Boots & Boogie (the owner makes custom western boots and is a real character). Those are simply the ones I remember off the top, but there are scores more worth seeing. Every time I visit, I find more.

You will find shops selling all kinds of native pottery, weavings, clothes, jewelry, wall hangings, lights, woodworking, exotic foods, cookware, and more. If you like to window shop, this is the place.

One warning — if you see something you love but the price makes you hesitate, keep in mind that many store owners will discount items if it isn’t the height of tourist season (and sometimes even then). Many things are marked up specifically to let them appear to give a discount. So, unless it is absolutely one-of-a-kind that you’ve always wanted, make a note and keep shopping: you may find something like it at another store, and less expensive.

Other Attractions

10,000 Waves is the best Japanese baths outside Japan, according to some of my friends. Get a tub outside at night and see the stars without urban light pollution! Or, get a massage and spa treatment.

To the north of Santa Fe, on US 64 is the opera house. You might not immediately think of opera and NM, but it has a world-class reputation, and a high-profile set of performances every year. (Arts, in general, are quite good in the area.)

To the east of the plaza is the historic Loretto Chapel, completed in 1878. For a fee, you can tour the inside, including seeing the “miraculous” spiral staircase. (Loretto is no longer a consecrated chapel, but is a dedicated museum.)

I’ve already mentioned the art galleries, especially along Canyon Road. There are also several museums. I’ll add to this account as I go along.

Central NM

Albuquerque

This is the biggest city in NM. This is likely where you’ll fly in, if you are coming from out of state. I haven’t explored too much of the city yet, but there are a few things I can recommend so far.

Old Town is a set of shops and restaurants. There are some interesting things to see here, but I prefer Santa Fe.

Sandia Peak is an uplift that towers over Albuquerque. You can get to the top by taking a cable car tram from Albuquerque, or by taking the ♥ scenic drive around from the other side and up NM 536 from NM 14. The view is incredible, with an elevation of 6850 ft above Albuquerque (10,678 ft above sea level). The temperature can be 20-30 degrees below what you are experiencing in the city, so bring a jacket!

If you take the drive, you can continue up NM 14, the Turquoise Trail, and see all sorts of old mining towns and artist colonies. It’s a pleasant drive compared to the Interstate, but it does take longer.

NRAO

If you are in Socorro (south of Albuquerque on I-25) with a few hours to spare and you have an element of geek, then you should detour to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory Very Large Array. Take US 60 W through Magdalena to NM 52 S. Then watch for the signs. There is a small charge for the tour, but it is interesting, as is the small gift shop.

Southern NM

Truth or Consequences

I’ve been through here once, and stayed at a wonderful small spa hotel with geothermal hot springs, the Sierra Grande, which I can recommend. There are several others in the area.

Outside of town is Spaceport America. I have not been there, and it is supposed to be pricey, but it is home to several commercial spaceflight organizations including SpaceX and Virgin Galactic.

Las Cruces

I stopped here briefly, for dinner, on my way north. My memory was of trying a local pecan flavored beer with my dinner. I was not impressed.

If you are driving north on the roads here and look vaguely Hispanic, be sure you have ID with you. This is close enough to the border with Mexico (and El Paso) that Immigration has some checkpoints to be sure they catch illegal immigrants.

White Sands

If you take US 70 NW out of Las Cruces, you will encounter ♥ White Sands National Monument before you reach Alamogordo. This is well worth a visit. It is a desert, but not of regular sand, but of gypsum crystals. It is like nothing else I’ve ever seen.

Cloudcroft

The drive on US 82 through the Lincoln National Forest has a 4300ft vertical change between Alamogordo and Cloudcroft. This is one of the highest elevations in the US. It is a very scenic area, with wonderful forest and the smell of pine. I would like to visit there again and maybe stay longer.

Artesia

The name of this town is based on the fact that it originally had many artesian wells. It was a major agriculture center until the aquifer was drawn down in the 1920s. Now, the area has a boom in oil and gas production from a variety of wells, going below the strata where all the water was. There are a few things of interest to see in the town, but the main reason I stayed here was I was spending a few days in the area and they had a good selection of hotels.

Carlsbad Caverns

This is a national park that is a ♥ “must see” if you are in the area. Spend the day on some of the main paths, or get on one of the guided tours. At the end of the day, from May to October, sit in the amphitheater and watch the exit of hundreds of thousands of bats on their nightly hunt. It is an amazing place to explore. (Nearby is Lechuguilla Cave, which is not open to the public, but is the deepest cave system in the US.)

I recommend taking the natural entrance into the cave, as the walk from there is mostly downhill into the main part.

Roswell

Last, but not least, is the home of UFO lore. UFOs and extraterrestrials are the theme of many things in towns, including a museum, several gift shops, and even restaurants. I found some wonderfully fun gifts, including my UFO driver’s license. I managed to see most of the interesting things in about 6 hours, but that may be because it all started to run together after a while.

To the east, is the Bitter Lake Wildlife refuge, and the Bottomless Lakes State Park. The former is interesting because of the rare species and diversity, and the later because of the line of water-filled cenotes. Follow NM 380 southwest from Roswell.

Wild life adventures

Some long-time friends of mine live in an old house in Pennsylvania. They have been doing renovations recently, and running into unexpected issues. Some issues are taken advantage of by their cats. Two recent such instances: finding a bird in the basement, and bats in the attic. I take it much hilarity and cat antics ensued with both.

We had bats in our attic this year, too. (And no, I am not using it as a euphemism, although I wish that is all it was.) We had field mice up there 3 years ago, after we had new shingles put on. Apparently, the roofers disturbed some of the soffit panels and didn’t reseat them properly. The mice climbed up (the gutter spouts? assistance of itty bitty spiders?) and nested in the attic over the winter. When that happened, we had the exterminator bait the attic and install some patches to the soffits. That took care of the mice — as far we we knew.

Then, in March of this year, we heard scratching and scurrying noises in the ceiling on the second floor. We thought the mice were back, so we called the exterminator again. He went up in the attic and looked around some; he said the mouse bait was still there, untouched. He thought we might have birds that had gotten in as he saw daylight through a couple of holes. He didn’t think our problem was mice.

(Aside: I don’t go up in the attic anymore. There is only one small hatch to get up there, in a bedroom closet, and there is no way to get an extension ladder in to climb all the way up. A stepladder will go part way, but it then requires a pull-up to get up into the space. Given the ravages of the years, plus the accumulation of…er, heavy thoughts… that is now beyond my capabilities. We should have gotten a hatch in the hallway, with pull-down steps, when we had the house built.)

So, we called in a wildlife relocation specialist because the exterminator only kills insects and small rodents — they don’t harm birds, if they can help it. Chad, the cheerful animal specialist, sealed up the biggest couple of holes he could find from the outside, put screening over others, then set up a trap for birds. In two weeks, only one bird was caught (a hapless, innocent bystander sparrow), which I then released. Chad opined that — given the lack of activity — birds couldn’t be our problem. So he went up in the attic, looked around, and found evidence that either chipmunks or squirrels had been up there. Oh, and bats —a medium-sized colony. The exterminator had missed that — either he didn’t know what to look for, or he didn’t do a complete survey.

Apparently, bats go dormant over the winter, and only really wake when the temps get above 50 for about a week. So, we had to wait to take care of the bat issue, because bats are a protected species, and we couldn’t depend on them leaving until the weather was warm enough. However, we could pursue a solution to the squirrels and/or chipmunks.

He sealed most of the holes, but left a one-way passage for the bats, and a trap for squirrels. He put out poison bait inside the attic for chipmunks. We caught one big gray squirrel in the trap, which was taken to a park far away and released. The chipmunks outside are too numerous to do much about, unless I want to sit in the garden every day with poisoned seed, and a .22 to pick off the ones who aren’t currently hungry. Even with that, we’d only see a slight respite — the neighborhood is full of them, and they are prolific.

(Another aside: bats are generally beneficial. They eat all sorts of flying insects, especially mosquitoes. Considering how wet it has been here this year, we can use the help. However, bat droppings can create problems with diseases and insects, so we definitely don’t want those in the attic. Bats also have a high incidence of rabies, so it is better to keep a distance from them. If the attic was totally sealed, any bats left inside would try to find some opening to get out; bats can squeeze through tiny openings, including tiny cracks between joists and chimneys that don’t necessarily lead outside. That would result in an exciting rendition of “Da Bats Are In Da House!” Thus, the humane, reasonable, and far less adrenaline-inducing approach is to seal up everything but an opening with a one-way contraption so that once the bats leave the attic, they don’t come back in.)

Within a few weeks, the bats awoke, stretched, had coffee or whatever, and presumably left. Chad came back and finished sealing things up. We now have a 3 year guarantee of bat exclusion, and a $1500 hole in our savings. However, the only bats now are in our belfries, and that makes for much quieter nights. As a side-effect, the sealing job means we are unlikely to get any other critters moving into our unfinished penthouse.

(Aside: Chad said the bats have their young in late spring — he can’t seal an attic from then until early autumn, because the young may be trapped inside. Baby and juvenile bats may die without their mothers, or surrogates. Thus, there are two “seasons” for bat exclusion — early spring, and fall. And no, I was not going to nurse baby bats all summer. so we had to move quickly to get the exclusion done. )

Now, the only critters around here are the chipmunks (digging holes in the garden, and under the sidewalks), one remaining small grey squirrel (at least one other was taken by one of the red tailed hawks that lives nearby — much cheaper than the wildlife relocator), lots of bunnies (minus whatever the hawk gets), way too many mourning doves (minus… you got the idea), and other wildlife. We live in a suburban area, but seem to have plenty of wildlife, including a family of shrews that lives in my compost heap, raccoons that keep knocking down our birdfeeders (I think they are in a gang), some ducks that tried to nest in our pool, toads and tree frogs, and sometimes flocks of starlings, which we try to dissuade. We also see many robins, red-wing blackbirds, chickadees, hummingbirds, cowbirds, goldfinches, house finches, cardinals, and the occasional grackle visit our feeders, as do the mourning doves. We hear bluejays in the distance, but we are too far from the woods to get them to visit up close. Last year we had an oriole visit, but we’ve seen none this year. In the general neighborhood, we also see Canadian geese, several varieties of ducks, and heron near the ponds, and swifts occasionally at dusk.

At our previous house, next to the woods, we had also wild turtles, garter snakes, a fox, a family of owls, several deer, moles in the lawn (grrr), and a few coyotes, all within a short distance of the house. I sort of applauded the coyotes because they helped keep the feral cats in check that were preying on the birds.

It is very depressing to realize that I have reached at least middle age: when someone asks me for a story about my wild life, instead of a tale of parties, drinking, and romance, I talk about birds, bunnies, and bats in the attic.

Father’s Day Memories

[This is mostly personal musings and a little history.  It is probably more for family and a few friends than general interest, but you are welcome to read it.]

Last year, I blogged here about Father’s Day, along with some other issues. I’m a little surprised, and sad, that a year has gone by so quickly. A lot happened, but it also seems that so little happened, too. Where does the time go?

I am on a business trip on Father’s Day. I’ve got the day free, and my thoughts turned to my father. I realize that the images that come first to my mind is when he was old and infirm, a month or two before he died. Yes, those are the most recent memories, so that is perhaps why they seem the freshest. Yet, for all the years he was alive, my father was generally a picture of health. He never seemed to get ill until he reached his 80s. I wish I could have those memories, of him hale and hearty, be my primary ones.

As a child, I spent more time with my mother and grandmother, because my father worked during the day, and when he came home he was tired and had things that needed doing around the house. Weekends meant cutting the lawn and running errands that my mother have saved up for him. I can’t recall many memories of him day-to-day — only on vacations and holidays. Then, as I grew older, time was taken up with school, clubs, and eventually, girlfriends.

My father lived a life I can’t imagine, and I feel guilty about not trying harder to understand it when he was around and I could ask him questions. He was born at the end of WWI and lived his teenage years during the Great Depression. As a child, he was truck by a truck and in a coma for some time, not expected to live, then very ill with scarlet fever (which contributed to his infirmity and eventual death 70 years later). Thereafter, he wasn’t quite as outgoing as he used to be…at least, that is what my uncle told me. With what we now know about the effects of head trauma, I am not surprised. I have often wondered what he would have been like had that not happened to him?

Dad volunteered to serve in WWII (he had a deferment because of work he was doing — he waived it), although my sister and I never heard him talk about it until we were adults and he was in his 60s. Little wonder — he was in one of the first units into one of the concentration camps. As a result of that experience, and others, I ma certain he suffered from what we would now call PTSD for quite some time, and there was no real care for his generation of veterans.

Dad’s twin brother died at 49 from cancer (I wrote a little about him and his wife, Elsa, when she died in 2013), and that affected him deeply. A few years later he unexpectedly became unemployed; age discrimination meant he was only employed sporadically thereafter, and that was a deep wound to his pride and sense of fairness. I know there were may other things that meant life was never quite what he had hoped it would be. In his later years he developed heart problems, cancer, and had several strokes. But he never gave up. He was stubborn!

Dad suffered many a setback in life, but kept on trying. I know I learned a certain amount of stoicism from him. He never got awards or public notice, but he was heroic in many ways. He believed in doing the right thing, no matter the consequences, and he didn’t shirk tough or difficult jobs.

I realize that I was a bratty kid, too. When my father decided in his mid 50s that he was going to focus on getting back into better physical condition, instead of cheering him on, I made jokes, maybe because I was so far from athletic I couldn’t understand. Dad went on to run in the senior class in marathons and did well (even winning once, as I recall), but rather than laud him for his success and his will, I think I ignored it; I was too wrapped up in my own pursuits. How dearly I wish now that I had attended at least one of those marathons and cheered as he crossed the line!

My father wasn’t really outgoing. He couldn’t tell jokes very well — he could only remember two or three, and kept telling them over and over. He was not mechanically inclined — if anything, he was 90% thumbs. He didn’t read a lot, but loved historical TV shows and movies. He was brilliant with numbers. He was a planner, who liked to follow a schedule, and the unexpected often threw him for a loss. Meanwhile, I was a jokester, into science fiction, and dead-set on taking everything apart and putting it back together again to see how it worked. I’ve always been a spur-of-the-moment person who can’t seem to notice the time. Dad and I didn’t seem to have a lot in common, so I don’t recall many things that only he and I would do together. We never had many heart-to-heart conversations, either. I regret all that now.

I never got to meet either of my grandfathers as they both died young. My mother’s father died from after-effects of being gassed in WWI, we believe. My father’s father died on the original day of Mom & Dad’s wedding. I am so happy that both my parents lived to see their grandchildren. It was clear that was a joy for them both. Their lives were hard, but towards the end they had a sense of accomplishment.

The years continue to pass for me. I no longer see an unbounded future. I don’t feel as old as I look, but I can no longer take the stairs two at a time. I find myself reflecting on the past almost as much as I do daydreaming about the future.

Although my daughter is named for my mother (who was named for her grandmother, who was named for her grandmother), I see echoes of my father in her. She is quiet, stoic, and loves history. She is fiercely stubborn, and smarter than she gives herself credit. She doesn’t have the affinity for math, but she dislikes my spur-of-the-moment approach to things. She’s not much into the engineering aspects of the world around her, so rather than leave all my tools to her I need to encourage her to keep a rolodex of good mechanics. She’s had her own health issues that have shaped her young life. She’s definitely not a fan of most of my humor.

I realize that Elizabeth’s memories of me will be like mine of my father: she spends lots more time with her mother than me. I am away for work a lot. Our interests don’t intersect much, so there aren’t many things we do, just the two of us. She doesn’t really get quite what I do in my career, or the scale at which I do it. I know she is focused on her own future, not my present. I don’t begrudge her that — it should be a bright future. 40 years from now she may think back to me on Father’s Day. Perhaps the memories she will have of me will be of me decrepit and forgetful (i.e., as I am right now!). If she has children of her own, that will give her an additional lens thru which she may see me a little better, as my being a parent has helped me understand my own parents. I simply wish I had reached some of these realizations when they were still alive.

I’ll close with some of the lyrics to the song “The Living Years” by Mike (Rutherford) and the Mechanics that always move me to tears if I really listen to them:

Every generation
Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door

I know that I’m a prisoner
To all my Father held so dear
I know that I’m a hostage
To all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got

You say you just don’t see it
He says it’s perfect sense
You just can’t get agreement
In this present tense
We all talk a different language
Talking in defense

So don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different date
And if you don’t give up, and don’t give in
You may just be O.K.

Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye

I wasn’t there that morning
When my Father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say

I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I’m sure I heard his echo
In my baby’s new born tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

I remember, Dad.Father's Day 1956 I never said it enough, but thank you. I wish I could have told you more often, in your living years.

And to all the other fathers out there — a Happy Father’s Day to you.

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