Friday, December 28, 2012

Road Trip to Lhasa

A recent article in the Economist featured a new craze in China, people driving from Beijing to Lhasa.  Just because they can.  This is akin to climbing a mountain.  See Economist Article .

The USA is the land of the long road trip, and there are many stories.  One couple ride motorbikes every year Houston to New England. They stop for gas and snacks.   Another couple have two houses, in Sugar Land and Salem, Massachussetts.  They can fly, but prefer to drive the 3000 km, between the two.  Non-stop, no time to smell the roses.

And I once spoke to a family in a Walmart in Alaska.  They drove the 6000 km to Alaska from, I think, Ohio, and lived in a tent for two winters until they could afford a home.  When they started out they did not know their teenage daughter was pregnant.

My longest road trip was to Windsurfing Championships in 1981, for Windsurfing Fleet 88.  We borrowed a van and hitched the trailer to carry the boards and gear.  We drove Dallas, Texas to Grand Haven, Michigan non-stop.  But there were five of us and we took turns driving, co-piloting and sleeping.  It may have taken 18 hours.  It took a little longer than it should as we had a flat in the middle of nowhere in Arkansas.  The spare was flat too and we had no pump.  

We were young and foolish.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

Opening Day, 2004 July 25
A Hindu temple only two km from home, in Stafford, an open air temple built in 2003/4.  Made of limestone from Turkey and marble from Italy, carved in India, and then assembled outside of Houston.

Men enter on the left, and the women on the right, but they can co-mingle inside.  And like a mosque, no shoes can be worn inside.  The temple is closed at fixed times during the day to feed the deities.  They are vegetarian.

For more pictures see

And if you are in town don't miss the "Diwali Family Night and Fireworks" in November.  Unlike all the cities around that ban non-professional fireworks, the city of Stafford allows anyone to set off fireworks, and people bring their own fireworks to the temple grounds and share.  See  Diwali Fireworks 2012


Thursday, December 20, 2012

US Metrication - A shovel ready project

The USA once tried to go metric, the Metric Conversion Act was passed in 1975, and abandoned in in 1982.  There is a little creep, wine and soda are in ml and litres. The whole world is metric, bar three countries Liberia, Burma, and America.  Not good company.  Time to join the world.

America is a huge economy of 315 million people, importing and exporting.  There are real costs in being different, having to support double labeling, having to make products in different exports dimensions to the home market.  And the embarrassing incident of burning up the Mars Climate Orbiter in 1998, as one contractor used non-metric units.

This is a Shovel Ready project, to simulate the US economy, things to do:
  • Laws to be rewritten 
  • Government webs sites to update
  • Road signs to km/hr
  • Factory changes to make different sized products
  • Training people
The world would love us, and it would be good for us.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bayou Bend - A gem

Bayou Bend is part of the Houston Museum of Arts, a large 24 room historic house, surrounded by a beautiful landscaped grounds.  Best seen in the spring when the Azaleas and tulips bloom.  Finished in 1928 it became the home of Ima Hogg, daughter of the Texas Governor, and her two brothers.  She donated the house and contents in 1957 to the Houston Museum of Arts.

Ima was an avid collector, and lived to 92.  She died in London on a collecting expedition.

The rooms are staged to a specific time in American history, and one of my favorite rooms is the Turquoise room.

The house, despite its size, is very comfortable and livable.  Either side of the front door hallway are two dining rooms.  The one on the left has beautiful gold and white walls, and was used for dinner for the attendees of the G7 summit held in 1990.  

Here sat George H Bush, Helmut Kohl, Maggie Thatcher, Francois Mitterrand, Brian Mulroney, Giulio Andreotti, Toshiki Kaifu, and Jacques Delors.  Around this table they wined and dined and discussed the state of the world, and how to fix it.

Monday, December 17, 2012

TUTS - Theater Under The Stars

Peter Pan and Tinkerbell and a host of others

Wow, this was excellent, more than two hours of good verses evil, flying, singing and dancing.  The bad guys were Captain Hook and the pirates, and the Mermaids.  The good guys were the Indians and the Lost Boys, and the crocodile with a clock in its stomach.  And Peter Pan.

The audience hissed and cheered, the kids and adults laughed at different times, and every one had a good time.  Reality was on hold.

And who are the Lost Boys?

"They are the children who fall out of their perambulators when the nurse is looking the other way. If they are not claimed in seven days they are sent far away to the Neverland to defray expenses. .......  girls, you know, are much too clever to fall out of their prams.” 

See the video clip:

The author of Peter Pan was J M Barrie, a Scotsman.  What was he smoking?  Something really good.

The star of the show was Cathy Rigby, just turned 60, who convincingly played Peter Pan, a young boy.   She somersaulted, sung, acted, played drums, talked to Tinkerbell, flew, and was in almost every scene. Impressive.

All things are not what they seem

Seen in New Ulm's local, and only store.

A big work truck pulls up with a generator in the back.  A big guy goes in.  To get a six-pack of beer, or a Lottery ticket, or beef jerky?  No, a quart of Bluebell ice cream.

A minute later, a second big work truck pulls up, and another big guy gets out, pets his little dog, leaves the window half down, and enters the store.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Afforestation in Israel

Someone who plants a tree has confidence in the future

Israel has devoted huge resources over many decades to planting trees and shrubs to landscape the semi-arid land.  Everywhere I traveled around Jerusalem, areas are landscaped,with brown drip-irrigation tubes.

This cutting beside the road shows new trees planted on ledges cut into the rock.  The ledges capture and concentrate any rainfall that falls, and is supplemented with drip irrigation.

In the picture below, in the foreground the area is planted, on the hill in the medium distance the planting is more recent, and the hill in the distance is barren.  Israel is one of the few countries that actually has more trees than 50 years ago.

Surprising, for a country so new; in such a precarious position.

Too much money

Human nature is a scary thing

If someone wins the lottery, they can become very rich, and it may seem to be a good thing.  But there is a dark side.  Other people, relatives, friends and strangers, feel they have "right" to some of this money.  You are a target.

So what can you do?  Not play the lottery.   Or if you do, be anonymous, not exactly easy, and leave the country.  

The problem is the money is easy, you did not have to work hard for it, so it does not seem real.  Heiress Gloria Vanderbilt is quoted to have said that the money she made herself, from Vanderbilt Jeans, meant so much more to her than the millions she inherited.  It was real money.

Countries are the same, they are after all run by humans.  Oil rich countries, petrostates, tend to be dictatorships and dysfunctional, the smaller or richer ones tend to buy off their population.  Oman in the Middle East is rather an exception, a dictatorship, but little oil and an educated population.  It was hardly impacted by the Arab Spring.  Even Norway lost its way early on when the oil money flowed it, but was already a prosperous and educated country, and has turned around and now has a huge sovereign wealth fund.