Saturday, December 20, 2014

Decorated Once Again

I didn't do it last year but this year the big ornaments went back up into the front yard oak tree.  Once again our front yard looks festive.  Once again you can hardly pass our house without smiling.  Everything is right with the world.
Happy little balls in our happy little oak tree.
If you want to see ballsy trees from Christmases past, follow these links:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cuba Libre

In 1994 I was working for the U.S. Navy.  I was aboard a ship off the coast of Florida.  One night I was in the Combat Information Center looking at the radar displays when one display caught my eye.  It was a large display that showed surface vessels.  The expanse of ocean between the tip of Florida and the island of Cuba was filled with hundreds of symbols.  Each symbol represented a small boat, raft, or makeshift, often barely seaworthy, vessel holding the lives of Cubans seeking freedom.  You could not see the shear numbers and not be moved.

Twenty years later I watched the President announce the first steps toward normalization of relations with Cuba.  It's about time!  When the embargo is finally rescinded, the Wife and I will be there.  We will celebrate the freedom of the Cuban people and explore their culture and history.  It will be a wonderful day.

Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, arguably the beginning of the end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the last vestige of the Cold War is finally coming to an end.  Let's hope the people fixated on the past do not interfere with progress and the bones of the Cold War are finally allowed to rest in peace.

"The longer you live in the past, the less future you have to enjoy."  - Unknown

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

RMNP Planning: A Start

Last month I started planning my camping trip to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).  This will, more than likely, be my first multi-day camping trip as I have few options near home.  I am planning a five day - four night camp.  I will me hiking to a different campsite each night and covering a large chunk of the park.

I started with a good National Geographic topological map of the park with the trails and campsites marked.  After a preliminary look over the map I came up with a plan to start at the Moraine Park Visitor Center and hike five days ending at the Bear Lake Trailhead.  Both the start and end are on the free park shuttle routes which will make it easy to get to the start and back from the end.

Over the last month I have mulled the path over in my head and decided it would be better if I reversed the course of the original path.  I figured it might be better to put the toughest day on the first day (instead of the second day).  I would be fresh and well fed.  I hoped this would help compensate somewhat for the large change in altitude I would experience on that first day (an over 3,000 ft climb).

Last weekend I revisited my plan in detail including using Google Maps to measure the distances between camps (Google Maps have all the trails marked) and, using the terrain functions of Google Maps and Google Earth, looked at the altitude changes I would experience.  The hikes would be challenging.   The first day would have around 3,100 ft up and 3,000 ft down (944 m up and 914 m down) and it would be accomplished at altitude.

Further study and a bit of lucky wandering around the RMNP website led me to a list of campsites with lots of information.  This information included the fact that one of the campsites I was counting on to make day two easier was closed.   Day two will be a doosy stretching between ten and eleven miles.  Most of the elevation change would be down though and I figure (hope) that going down will use less energy so the extra distance I'll have to hike will be reasonable.

The big wildcard here is the altitude.  Omaha is sitting around 1,000 ft (304 m).  My hike will start over 9,000 ft (2743 m).  The peak of my hike which I reach the first day will be over 12,300 ft (3,749 m).  I will have to learn to pace myself - especially on that first day.

Next up will be filling out the reservation request and getting it in the mail.  I contacted the RMNP Backcountry office and found out there is no reason to mail anything before 15 February.  On March 1st they take all the applications, put them in a pile, and pick them out at random to enter into their scheduling computer so getting you letter there early doesn't increase your chances of getting the campsites your want.  That explains why for each day you have to request a primary and an alternate campsite.

I'll provide updates to my planning in future posts.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Photographic Reflections

"Dead Tree Explosion - Reflections"
by Bruce H.
A couple pictures I took last week during my walk around Walnut Creek Lake.  It was a foggy day and the air was still - ideal for reflections.  The foggy background, reflections, and naked branches just begged to be displayed in black and white ... so I did.
Trees and Reflection
"Trees and Reflection"
by Bruce H.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2014

The number of books I've read each year has been declining the past few years.  Back in 2009 when I started keeping track I read eighteen books.  The next year fifteen.  Then eight.  Eight again the next year.  Last year ... one.  At the end of last year I decided I needed to get back into reading and started looking around for things to read.  During my search I noticed the Goodreads Reading Challenge.

I decided, against my better judgement - I often miss goals that I publicize - to participate this year and I decided to go all in.  I looked at my record.  I looked at the number of pages I thought I could read in an hour or so a day.  I looked at the average length of books I tended to read.  I crunched the numbers and picked twenty-four as my goal.  I wasn't sure if I could reach that goal but it would give me an ambitious (for me) target to aim for.

To my surprise I met my goal by the end of November.  I ended up reading twenty-four books in ten months (I didn't read during our African vacation - the month of June).  I did much better than I ever expected.

So what are the stats?  I read 2.4 books per month.  The average book length was 344.33 pages.  The longest book was "The Ride and Fall of Ancient Egypt" at 514 pages and the shortest was "A Slow Regard of Silent Things" at 176.  Total number of pages: 8,264.  All of the books I read, except one, were eBooks checked out from the library.  The one "real" book was a loaner from a friend of the Wife's: "Just Passin' Thru".  This also happens to be my favorite book of the year (The only book I gave five stars to on goodreads this year).  Of the other twenty-three, I gave twelve four stars, ten three stars, and one two stars.  So the average book came it at around 3.54 stars - I'm good with this number.

Here is a shortcut to Homer's Travels' book review posts.

Why am I stopping at the end of November?  First, I'd reached my goal.  Second, while achieving said goal, I'd neglected the stack of magazines on my night stand and the fifty-something articles I'd saved to Pocket. So, you see, I'm still reading and if I manage to get through the magazines and internet articles, who knows, I may go for book number twenty-five.

P.S. Autumn: since you've already congratulated me for completing my challenge already, you don't have to congratulate me again. :-)

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Book: Arthur C. Clarke's "The Fountains Of Paradise"

My last book of 2014 ... probably ... was a piece of classic science fiction.  Originally published in 1979, Arthur C. Clarke's "The Fountains of Paradise" tells the story of the building of the first space elevator two hundred years in the future.  An interesting concept locked inside a rather dull book.

The conflict in the book centers around finding someone to fund the construction, finding a place to build it (which happened to be smack dab on top of a Buddhist temple), and several lives at risk during a construction accident.  Do these conflicts sound a bit mundane?  If you said yes then you would be right.

This was a huge concept looking for a story to showcase its magnificence and in the end the story does not rise up to the challenge.  I have read other books by Clarke and have found them interesting and often well written.  This one did not live up to his other works in my opinion.

Clarke is known for being prescient and bringing a realistic portrayal of the world of the future. Here he came up short again.  I can't really fault him here as few authors of the 50's, 60's, and 70's foretold the connected, computerized world of just a few decades in the future.  There is one scene where the main character runs down to the hotel lobby to use the general purpose terminal to look up information.  In another, characters exchange cards that are plugged into their phones to input their contact information.  Clarke apparently did not see wireless internet and tablet computers in the future.  The lack of foresight - remember the book is set in the twenty-second century - is a little jarring at times.

When I choose books to read I usually try to read current works.  This book reminded me why I do this - I'm not a fan of books whose 'future' has been surpassed by our present.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Where Is The Time Going? ... Or The Year Is Almost Over!

Another month is nearly behind us.  The past few months, months that, for me, have been uneventful and somewhat empty, have zoomed by leaving Homer's Travels somewhat empty and a bit scrawny.  I posted a little bit more in November but most of the posts were book reviews or short blurbs highlighting a photograph.  My posts have been ... decaffeinated blog-lite.

This post should have been a post about the Holiday Lights Festival (I mentioned it last post) I went to ... if I'd gone.  The idea of driving around looking for parking and braving the anticipated crowd of ten thousand didn't sound appealing.  I will go downtown sometime in December to photograph the lights ... and I will post them after I do.

What progress have I shown since my last month end post?  Let's see ...
  • After two bike rides, the early chill at the beginning of the month forced my biking into the basement.  I put my bike on the stand and managed to do eight trainer rides this month (it would have been nine but I took Thanksgivings off).  I have to admit it is easier to get myself up on my trainer than on the bike in the real world.  I think it helps that I've been watching Netflix movies and TED talks while I ride.  Unfortunately riding the trainer is not the same as riding in the real world.  I know this because I have routinely done trainer rides of thirty-plus miles which nearly kill me in the real world.  In December I will have to increase the resistance.
  • The trainer rides have helped in one thing.  I reached my goal and brought my weight back down to 160 lb.  Now comes the challenge of maintaining the weight while occasionally indulging in some ice cream.
  • Last month I gave myself the task of planning out my Rocky Mountain National Park camp.  I have put together a plan that seems doable.  I have a few details to work out and then I'll post about the plans sometime in December.
  • The cold snap that forced the bike in the basement canceled any camping plans I had.  Next camp will probably be in the spring.
I put up the Christmas lights yesterday - it was 71°F (21°C)!!! -  and the Christmas tree will probably go up on Wednesday.  I am even considering putting the big balls in the front yard oak tree again - I skipped it last year.  We'll see.

Have a great December everyone!