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

[updated January 2019 with help from Pattie]


I travel a lot, both for work, and some with family. One of the areas I most enjoy visiting is New Mexico. I have been visiting NM nearly yearly for over two decades. 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.  BTW, check the comments for more info and ideas from some locals.

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.

The Taos Pueblo is worth a visit. It has been inhabited for over 1000 years, and there aren’t many places in North America that can make that claim.  This is also a great place to buy some native-made jewelry and art, while also experiencing some history.

Taos is also part of the “Enchanted Circle” of ski resorts, artist galleries, and scenery.

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 of 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) supervolcano that has a rim 22km in diameter! This whole northwestern 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 them 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.


Your best bet if you want to see the area is to 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.


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 former and lunch at the latter. 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 Latin” cuisine.

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

The Coyote Café & Cantina has higher-end dining that isn’t always overtly regional in nature, but the food is great (although more expensive than many of the other places mentioned here).

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 a 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.

“Eater” (online magazine) published an article that lists some other notable spots to get food.


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 the weather. There are many unique and beautiful pieces, although not always the best prices.  There is an annual large-scale market in the fall that features Native American artisans from all over that is amazing to visit.

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.  It’s even more decorated during the end-of-year holiday season (although colder).

♥ 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 ask to see if you can get the price reduced. Also, 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

♥ ♥ Away from Old Town is Meow Wolf.  I can’t possibly do this justice in words.  It is a combination of art installation, science-fiction role-play, amusement park, a social encounter, and a set of inside jokes, all in one. Allow a few hours so you don’t feel rushed, and explore.  If you have kids with you they may not want to leave; if your “inner child” is within reach, you may not either.  Highly recommended.  Be sure to crawl through the fireplace and walk into the refrigerator (there, does that intrigue you?).

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 wasn’t overly impressed by the Georgia O’Keefe museum, but the New Mexico Museum of Art was well worth the time. If you do a search on “Santa Fe Museums” you will get a long list with lots of recommendations.

If you can find the Santa Fe Distillery tasting room, it is worth a visit, especially on a cold day.  Their products are quite interesting (in a good sense), and you especially need to try some Atapiño.  I wish I had had more room in my luggage for bottles when I visited!

Central NM


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 several interesting things to see here, but I prefer Santa Fe’s version.

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.

Albuquerque is full of great restaurants.  Currently, my favorite is ♥ El Pinto. You can find a huge variety on the menu, and they make their own salsas.

The annual balloon festival may be worth a visit, but if you go my advice is to avail yourself of the shuttle service from one of the satellite parking spots.  Note that admission prices are steep, and if you go on a day when the weather isn’t good (windy, especially) there isn’t much to see except vendors.

The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History is worth a visit if you are interested in, well, nuclear history or science.  The Albuquerque Museum is also worth a visit.


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.

Sky City Cultural Center, Acoma Pueblo, and Haak’u Museum

About an hour west of Albuquerque, this is the ancestral home of the Acoma Pueblo Tribe, who settled and built a village upon a large mesa in the desert around 1100. Visiting is a breathtaking and humbling experience and absolutely worth doing.  Check in at the ♥ Sky City Cultural Center is required, as non-tribal members may not go to the village unescorted. Part of the admission cost is your photo license. Be prepared to have a sticker put on your phone or camera, whichever you plan to use to take pictures. A shuttle is provided to transport the group to the village.

Fifty or so people live on the mesa year round. The tour guides are members of the Acoma Tribe and are well versed in the history of the people and the area. Local artisans sell small clay and bead works in the village along the route of the tour. Prices are reasonable and while some take credit cards, most do not. It’s best to take along some cash if you are planning to make a purchase. Everyone we met was warm and friendly and we had a nice time chatting with some of the residents. The views from the mesa are stunning beyond compare. You really do feel like you are standing in the sky. At the end of the tour, you have the option to descend to the cultural center by foot or take the van.

Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano

Located west of Albuquerque in Grants, NM, the Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano are on private land.  Check in at the Trading Post, which was originally built in 1930s as a dance hall. It houses lots of interesting artifacts and information about the land as well as a nice array of souvenirs. The hike up to the side of the volcano is a little steep, but nicely kept up and an easy walk. There are benches along the way to where one can stop, rest, and take in the scenery.  The tour is self-guided so you can set your own pace. Points of interest along the way are very clearly marked and the map we were given had information about each stop along the way.

Once we hiked to the volcano, we swung back to walk to the ice cave. Don’t imagine that you are going to walk into a place like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, you aren’t. The ice cave is the end of a collapsed lava tube that was formed when the Bandera Volcano erupted about 10,000 years ago. It maintains a pool of ice nearly year round. The owners have built a set of stairs that lead to a viewing deck at the mouth of the cave. It is a fascinating piece of local history that is a bit off the beaten path. It has been nick-named the Land of Fire and Ice (George R. R. Martin has certainly left his mark upon the area.) We did not visit the wolf sanctuary near there where a pack of white wolves has been named for members of the Stark family from the Game of Thrones Series.

Valley of Fires

We happened across the recreational area quite by accident and what a little gem it was. The Valley of Fires is one of the youngest lava flows in North America. Roughly 5,000 years ago, the Little Black Peak erupted and spewed lava that filled the Tularosa Basin. The resulting lava field covers approximately 125 square miles, and in some places is 160 feet thick! There is a nice paved path (wheelchair accessible, by the way) through part of the lava. The rolling ropes of pahoehoe lava make for an otherworldly landscape. While plant life is slowly retaking the area, the lava is beautifully preserved. We found this stop to be a nice break during the long drive across the state from Carlsbad to Albuquerque.

Southern NM

Truth or Consequences

I’ve stayed at a wonderful small spa hotel with geothermal hot springs, the ♥ Sierra Grande, which I can recommend. The Sierra was purchased by Ted Turner a few years back, and rennovated but still has the “Old NM” feel to it.  Soaking in geothermal spring water at 108F in carved rock tubs is quite the experience!  There are several others in the area.  Well worth at least an evening’s stay.

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 try to catch undocumented 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.


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.  Stop in to the Burro Street Bakery for a piece of pie, and imagine you are in Twin Peaks.


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.


Last, but not least, is the home of UFO lore. UFOs and extraterrestrials are the theme of many things in town, 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 3 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.

Two items of interest

Here are a couple of items of possible interest to some of you.

First, a group of companies, organizations, and notable individuals signed on to a letter to President Obama urging that the government not mandate “back doors” in computing products. I was one of the signatories. You can find a news account about the letter here and you can read the letter itself here. I suggest you read the letter to see the list of signers and the position we are taking.

Second, I’ve blogged before about the new book by Carey Nachenberg — a senior malware expert who is one of the co-authors of Norton Security: The Florentine Deception. This is an entertaining mystery with some interesting characters and an intricate plot that ultimately involves a very real cyber security threat. It isn’t quite in the realm of an Agatha Christie or Charles Stross, but everyone I know how has read it (and me as well!) have found it an engrossing read.

So, why am I mentioning Carey’s book again? Primarily because Carey is donating all proceeds from sale of the book to a set of worthy charities. Also, it presents a really interesting cyber security issue presented in an entertaining manner. Plus, I wrote the introduction to the book, explaining a curious “premonition” of the plot device in the book. What device? What premonition? You’ll need to buy the book (and thus help contribute to the charities), read the book (and be entertained), and then get the answer!

You can see more about the book and order a copy at the website for The Florentine Deception.

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