And I’m Back

Since the main focus of the trip was for volunteer work, which is actually work (just because work is unpaid does not mean it is not work), there is paperwork to fill out.

Encouraged by others, I decided to give the electronic versions of the paperwork a try. They’re all Microsoft Word documents, of course. Despite Word being a mediocre typesetting program, and being properiety, and being expensive, it is what virtually everyone uses. And may I add much to my annoyance due to the previously mentioned factors.

“Just use Open Office” they said when I mentioned not having (nor wanting to squander money on) Microsoft Word. I should have realized what the outcome of that exercise would be, but me being generous to a fault, I gave it a try.

Naturally it was an exercise in revealing just how low most people’s standards are when it comes to document layout. Neither Word, nor Preview, nor Open Office rendered the forms properly. All made messes of the layout which rendered any attempts at filling them out ambiguous. That may not matter to most, but it does matter to me: I don’t want my submitted forms to simply result in back-and-forths with multiple clarifying questions (or, worse yet, incorrect data being entered).

Three strikes and electronic document submission is out. I ended up printing the form out and filling it in by hand, as usual.

A Tale of Two Airports

At Sea-Tac, I arrived to find all luggage windows closed save for two, despite a crush of incoming passengers. A huge line snaked through the terminal to those two.

I got into it, and within minutes was told that there was a problem with one of the conveyor belts, so the pair of agents was being shifted to another set of windows. Everyone was told to move to the new set about 100 feet away.

No measures were taken to ensure anyone’s spot in line was preserved. A number of people who had just arrived managed to get in front of those of us who had been already waiting for a while.

The whole process took fifteen minutes. At Sea-Tac, this hardly rates a mention. Once I almost missed a flight because I had only arrived at the terminal a mere hour before the scheduled departure time, and the wait to check a bag was nearly fifty minutes.

Then I have to get through security. Without much explanation or clear signage, two of the security checkpoints have been converted to pre-check only. Those two were in a row. There were no signs pointing to a non-pre-check security checkpoint. Naturally this caused me to get into the wrong line and have to wait twice to go through security.

At Orange County’s John Wayne Airport, there were three agents staffing the baggage check windows despite it being a far smaller airport with far less passenger influx. There was no wait whatsoever. The security checkpoints were clearly labeled and again there was no wait.

I was about to get annoyed because there were no seats anywhere with outlets near them, then I notice a row of carrels with desks, each with a pair of outlets, for those with laptop computers to use. Instead of having to hunch over my computer while it’s on my lap, I am sitting at a desk much as I do at home.

Maybe I wouldn’t hate flying quite so much as I do if my home airport didn’t so abjectly suck.

A Strange Book

So, a week or so ago, I was passing through the campus of the University of Washington when I noticed two brand-new copies of a book sitting on a bench outside. It was a novel, not a textbook, so evidently someone had been passing them out as free samples, and two takers had decided to leave them. Being a chance to get a brand-new book for free, and the book not obviously being a political or religious sect’s recruiting text, I decided to take one.

The book was Wild Animus by Rich Shapero. It’s a somewhat strange (and not entirely realistic) tale about an LSD-using graduate student who takes his hallucinations a little too seriously, eventually to the point of perishing near the summit of Alaska’s Mt. Wrangell.

Two articles on the book may be found here and here.

It turns out that free distribution is evidently the main way the book passes into the hands of the public, and that college campuses are one of the typical venues for such distribution. Apparently it’s written by a somewhat eccentric high-tech millionaire who has decided it’s a good value for his money to pay significant sums having copies of his stories printed, and then to distribute them for free.

I can’t quite share the resentment of the reviews of some of its readers. It’s something of a trippy tale, which turned out to be just about the perfect thing for me to have read during my recent camping trip, on which I did not take any cannabis. The book provided a conveniently drug-free means of entering into a somewhat trippy state of mind.

Having read it, I will now sneak it into the nearest Little Free Library. I will almost certainly not be the first person to sneak a copy of this work into one!

Nature Posts

I’ve been making these to a another blog that I own, because part of my reason for making them is to sort of toot my own horn as to my knowledge of things natural, in the hopes of someday making a living sharing that knowledge.

I often make political posts here, and I prefer to keep business and politics at least somewhat separate, which is why I’ve started putting my nature posts somewhere else specifically devoted to them.

However, I’m something of a cheapskate, and have been unwilling to pay for hosting that second blog, which means it contains ads. I’m not terribly happy about that latter point, and wish to provide a way for people to read my nature posts without being subjected to advertising.

This site is ad-free, because I’m paying to host it, so I’ve decided to post nature stuff on both blogs, thus giving folks a way to read those posts ad-free here.

If you only want to read the nature posts, and you wish to read them ad-free, you can bookmark this link.

That I’ve linked the two blogs here (and may even link them from the other site, as well) makes it possible for a prospective customer to learn my politics and possibly discriminate against me for being politically radical. So be it. I’m not interested in living in the closet; moreover, anyone small-minded enough to so discriminate probably is small-minded enough to not be the best person to deal with, anyhow.

No, I Still Do Not Support Gun Control

Just personally, as a queer and an anarchist, I’ll be doubly targeted if the fascists (already in control of the national government, albeit and thankfully with a comically incompetent leader) decide to send their enemies off to the camps. If they come for me, I want to be able to take some of them out.

Beyond just personally, if enough of those targeted have this attitude, those doing the targeting are likely to reevaluate their decision to be fascist collaborators.

The USA is a failing empire on the brink of going full fascist and anyone harboring delusions about it being able to magically achieve some version of late 20th-century European Social Democracy (complete with the requisite social peace and low levels of firearm ownership) just because they’d like it to is pursuing a fool’s paradise.

Besides, those European paradises of government control and regulation are far closer to going fascist than many may realize, as the recent growth of parties like Alternative für Deutschland and Lega Nord illustrates. Even Europe isn’t really the Europe that liberals tend to imagine it is.

The State and the Right have a near-monopoly on the ownership of weapons, and have been taught (in no small part by liberals who refused to prosecute the Bush Regime for its crimes in Iraq) that they can engage in excesses and get away with it. This is a recipe for disaster, and the absolute last thing we need is to give the State more power to render the oppressed even more powerless.

There Is No Shortage of High-Tech Workers

There is a shortage of decency in the high-tech industry.

I base both these assertions on my experiences at the symposium today, where I met not one but two other individuals in basically the same situation as I am. As long as the high-tech industry considers the following non-qualifications to be job requirements:,

  • Male,
  • Between the ages of twenty-five and fifty,
  • Thinks coding is the most fun thing in the universe,
  • Thinks coding is about the only truly fun thing in the universe, really, and
  • Outside of role-playing games, martial arts, and science fiction and fantasy fandom, thinks there’s basically little else of interest besides computers.

Then, yes, that industry will continue to suffer a “shortage” of “qualified” people.

On Settling Down in Life

Last night I fed “people who can’t settle” into my search engine of choice. I was surprised, but only for a brief moment, when most of the responses were geared to people (mostly men) who couldn’t settle down romatically. Of course. That does apply to most men, which is 90% or more of why I cannot and never will self-identify as a gay man; their subculture is so much geared around anonymous and casual sex, which I want basically no part of.

There were basically two responses that did not fall into the sexual category: one, two. 

Interestingly, they both said basically the same thing; namely, that some of us simply have a stronger sense of purpose and ideals and higher personal standards, and this prevents us from being pleased or at least accepting of situations that most would find worth settling for. They also said that those of us who fall into that category should not water down our standards and settle. (It usually doesn’t turn out very well for us if we do.)

Well, OK. That’s basically what I had already concluded on my own. So there it is.

However, it raises an issue: About three years ago, I decided to embrace being more settled, because (a) I thought I could, and (b) being settled does have its advantages.

On that first point, it’s looking more and more like I was dead wrong: I managed by sheer luck to find a high-tech company where I could fit in… for a few years… until both the company and the job changed to the point where the magic (and totally unrepresentative) match no longer existed. Ever since then, it’s become increasingly obvious just how badly I fit into that world. I didn’t (and couldn’t) know that at the time, of course. I actually was aware of that possibility; it was one reason I decided to wait several years after landing that job before buying a home. I was waiting for that other shoe to drop. Alas, it dropped after I had guessed (incorrectly, it appears) I had waited long enough.

On the second, I still think it’s valid. Being settled does have its advantages. I’ve been able to better pursue hobbies and interests now that I have a proper workspace for them. And in general, it’s been good to be in the Salish Sea ecoregion, the place I’ve called home longer than anywhere else in my life. There’s real benefit to experiencing the passage of time in a place I’ve known for several decades. I never knew I was missing that sort of experience (which most get to have) until I moved back.

So now I have this house which it appears I will no longer be able to afford and which no longer is appropriate to my needs (the only reason I bought it is because I assumed I had viable economic opportunities in Seattle I wouldn’t have elsewhere in the general region). One insight I’ve had is to drop any reluctance and sell it sooner rather than later, even though I haven’t been here the “standard” five years. That standard, of course, is based on the standard rate of appreciation, and prices have been going up at a significantly greater pace than the standard recently. Therefore, the market lets me get away with leaving early; more than that, the market will reward me for leaving now.

Alas, it’s not so simple. (It never is.) In this case, there’s all the connections, such as the ones at Islandwood, that I’ve built in the past year or two. It would be a pity to burn all those bridges. Together with the other advantages of being in the same region for a long time, I guess that means that if I move, I shouldn’t move very far.

Playing with Fonts and Layout

I found a free font called Old Standard TT which seems to be a very faithful reproduction of a late 1800s modern serif font, so couldn’t resist giving it a try. No, it’s not up to the quality of a commercial font (for openers, it’s missing the ff, ffi, and ffl ligatures), but I’m budget sensitive and the price is right. Plus this is just a web page; its not as if I’m setting printed type.

We’ll see if this lasts. Right now, the layout smacks too much of sticking an old-fashioned font into a design which otherwise was intended to harmonize with modernist sans-serif type. I’ve been poking at it trying to change things, so I suspect the answer as to whether the new layout will last is how easy it ends up being to bend CSS to my will and make it generate a more appealing layout.

And yes, this is modern serif you are seeing, despite it today being a style of years past. Much of the serif type one sees in production books (or on web sites) these days are actually far older designs that were revived (the popular Baskerville font dates from the mid-1700s, and Garamond dates from the 1500s).

Update: It didn’t last. First, the fine aspects of Victorian Modern Serif fonts just don’t seem to map well to screen pixels. Modern screens much more closely approximate the papers and inks of 200 or more years ago, which together had difficulty reproducing the fine details that were added in the Victorian era as a sign of modernity. Second, there’s the matter of the missing ligatures. Libre Baskerville, like its original namesake, was designed to cope with less-than-ideal resolution, and it comes with a full set of ligatures. So I think I’ll use that. It has at least some of the look I was aiming for, and it’s better to pull off some of a look and succeed than to attempt all of it and fail.

White Rock Canyon

In the canyon. See link at end of post for more images.

Once in his life, a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth, I believe. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience, to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder about it, to dwell upon it.
— N. Scott Momaday

There is a great good in returning to a landscape that has had extraordinary meaning in one’s life. It happens that we return to such places in our minds irresistibly. There are certain villages and towns, mountains and plains that, having seen them walked in them lived in them even for a day, we keep forever in the mind’s eye. They become indispensable to our well-being; they define us, and we say, I am who I am because I have been there, or there.
— Ibid.

One of my goals on my most recent trip to New Mexico to visit my parents had been to revisit White Rock Canyon, a landscape I bonded with in my youth. It was not even a half-mile from the house I lived in during my teens. Initially, like most, I concentrated my visits in the colder months, because the canyon becomes an inferno in the summer; its black basalt walls collect and concentrate the heat of the already intense Southwestern sun.

Then one June curiosity got the best of me: what would the canyon be like now? What would the hottest and driest spot in the county be like during the hottest and driest part of the year (as June is, in New Mexico)? There was only one way to find out, so one fine scorching afternoon I loaded a day pack with several canteens and descended into nature’s oven.

The cacti were in their typical June defiance. As the most drought-tolerant of plants, they could afford to bloom despite the conditions, and they did. As such, they were richly reaping the rewards of their monopoly on the supply of pollen and nectar; each cactus blossom was teeming with pollinators.

As expected, it was hot. Clouds of powdery, dessicated dust rose with every footfall. It was a challenge to exercise discipline and ration my water so I would still have some on the trip up. The further I descended, the hotter it got. The grasses and forbs were withered and brittle brown amongst the angular black boulders and parched soil. The branchlets of the junipers and even the blooming cacti looked wizened and water-deprived.

Then I turn a corner of the trail and see a view of vibrant, lush, defiant green appear. It seems like a hallucination, so out of place in this dry land in its driest season. It’s the sort of green one might see in Ohio or Louisiana or the Pacific Northwest, a green born of plant life exuberating in a water surplus.

I’ve been here before, so know it is no hallucination. The same descent that brought me into ever hotter conditions brought me ever closer to the water table. At the rim, it was nearly 1,000 feet below the surface. Here, near the bottom, the surface meets it. Multiple springs burst forth and merge into a clear stream.

I enter into the deep shade and rest by the first spring. It is mercifully cooler here among the verdure and abundant water. After a few minutes I glance upstream. Orchids!

Hundreds of orchids, in fact. In full bloom. More wild orchids than I have ever seen in one place. It turns out that these springs are one of the few places in New Mexico where the stream orchid grows, and they bloom in June. Because nobody I know enters the canyon in June, nobody I know knows about them.

That decided it; from then on I regularly visited the canyon, year-round, even though people thought I was nuts for going there in the summer when it was so hot. In August, the area around the springs was more magical yet. Cardinal flowers bloomed in a profusion as great as the orchids did earlier.

I had been wanting to see these rare flowers ever since hearing about them as a younger child in Illinois. I had given up hope of seeing them when we moved west, thinking they were a strictly Eastern/Midwestern plant. The tall spikes of scarlet humming with hummingbirds looked like a scene that belonged more in the jungles of Central America than the high deserts of New Mexico. Yet I could lift my eyes and see that beyond the narrow strip watered by the stream and springs, the austere landscape remained.

Some days I paused on the rim before I enter the canyon, surveying the landscape and choosing an off-trail destination that looks interesting from above. Other discoveries followed: a rock wall covered in dozens of petroglyphs, benches untouched by sheep and cattle where the grasses grew as tall and thick as they did everywhere centuries ago, ancient irrigation works, piles of giant boulders that left one feeling as if an ant amongst grains of coarse sand, unusual ferns (yes, desert ferns), and others I can’t recall at the moment.

Naturally, I had to go back someday, but my parents moved, first to Texas, then back to New Mexico but 100 miles from the canyon. It’s never been convenient to work in a side trip, but I kept saying to myself that someday I’d rent a car and make a day trip there.

Someday was Monday. It being in a town I had lived in for eight years, I drove directly to the trailhead with no missteps. There is now a fancy sign with an elevation profile and rules. I did not read the rules. Other than that, there were not any big changes. No new enlarged parking lot, no big crowds at the trailhead; it was basically the same as I had remembered. From the rim, the familiar landscape of river, semi-desert vegetation and Toreva blocks came into view.

It was winter, so no sightings of wildflowers this time (though the ferns are evergreen and were still there). There was still the unique fragrance of the canyon, a mix of sagebrush, basalt, and dust. It was still surprisingly free from human sights and sounds for a place right on the edge of a town: canyons lie below the surrounding land, frustrating the ability for sounds to enter them. It’s the converse of how you can see and hear signs of distant civilization from a otherwise remote mountaintop.

I found and climbed the boulder pile (easy to find, it’s close to the trail) and visited the petroglyph wall (less easy, it’s a detour off-trail of at least a half mile through terrain that is in places quite rugged). The latter spot was no longer completely my own, as others were obviously visiting and admiring the ancient artwork, as evidenced by the faint trail, marked by cairns, and trampled vegetation at the site itself.

Overall, however, the canyon has changed far less in the intervening 35-odd years since I last saw it than many attractions in that state have. Part of it is it’s not really a tourist attraction: it’s a county park, not a state or national one, and the county really doesn’t publicize it much (there’s no signs directing one to the canyon from the nearest major highway). Mostly, it’s a spot for the locals.

Halfway through my visit I realize how much that place is still part of me today, how its lessons in harsh beauty have influenced my own outlooks. I just can’t get on board with so much New Age stuff because it strikes me as all soft and mushy and friendly and cute; the world isn’t all soft and mushy and friendly and cute, sorry. Ditto for a good chunk of politically liberal beliefs that think all problems can simply be loved away; sometimes things must be fought for. I care even less for right-wingers and their cheering on of capitalism and its subjugation and domestication of the wild.

The natural world exists on its own terms, and it’s not simply good and bad according to our own metrics (nor should it be). The canyon can outright kill (and has killed) the unprepared, the foolish, and sometimes the simply unlucky. Hazards abound: extremes of temperature, a disorienting terrain, rattlesnakes, and sheer cliffs among them.

Would those orchids have been the experience they were if it was easy and pleasant to get to them, if I had expected them because I had heard of them from somebody else first and gone to see them, if there had been crowds and paved trails and a gift shop there? If there had been signs and rules and regulations and profit-making capitalists charging money everywhere, instead of the freedom to explore and wander that I had then? If the weather had been comfortable and temperate?

No, I don’t want a world engineered to be nice and safe, or a world engineered to be efficient and profitable. I want a wild world, a free world.

More photos here.