Monday, January 28, 2013

Senior Coffee @ Macdonald's

McDonalds has many promotions, but one known to a "select few," is discount coffee.  Ask for "Senior Coffee."

You need to say it with a straight face, and look at least 20 years older than the server.  The price varies, but a 99 cent cup will be only 39-59 cents.  There is no fixed price, as it really does not exist.

Senior Coffee is never on the menus or websites, but practically all stores offer it, even at the Houston airport.  How do people know about it?  Word of mouth.

And refills are free.

TUTS - Camelot

Camelot was a dud; we had our official TUTS sippy cup, filled with wine, but we ran out too soon.

The story never gelled, it had too many parts that seemed unconnected. The main characters made a threesome.  King Arthur was unconvincing and a wimp, Guenevere was a tad shrill and and a two-timer, and Lancelot was a narcissistic cad.

It had a great theme, make peace not war, but the Round Table broke up, and fighting resumed.  The end just faded away.

This is America, we expect musicals to have happy upbeat endings.

Fighting Entropy (2)

Side two repaired.  Out of nails and glue, and running low on cedar.  I underestimated the amount of wood needed.  Now the shed is level, the windows are crooked.  They were added to the shed many years ago when it was out of level.  But crooked is OK, it adds a touch of history and whimsy.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Moscow in Winter

The best time to go to Moscow? January.  It seems counter intuitive, but what is your image of Russia?  The winters, the cold, the snow.

In winter there are few tourists, no lines, and the atmosphere is wonderful.  A waxy Lenin is entombed just below the surface of Red Square.

The steps are icy, the light bad, and the guards surly. What more could you ask?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Springtime coming soon

It is late January, and it is dry and sunny.  There is a great temptation to cut back the perennials, and let them shoot out new growth.  Winter seems like a distant memory.

But it is too soon.  We still could have a frost through February.

For the next 5-day forecast see

Monday, January 21, 2013

Fighting Entropy

An on-going project, but the end is in sight.  Throw enough energy and money at something and it can be transformed.

2010 January

2013 January

Friday, January 18, 2013

The £4.00 Booze Cruise

We were in a supermarket in Dartford in the UK, and there was a local promo for the Ramsgate to Ostend ferry.  One could go there and back, as a passenger, in a day for only £4.00. There must be a catch.

We drove the 60 miles to the ferry terminal, parked and got on the ferry.  Many people went for a quick shopping trip; there is only a few hours in Ostend as it is a four and a half hour crossing.   We had time to have a leisurely dinner.

But the ferry had a bar, and musician, and a great sing a long inebriated crowd.  It was a good trip, but one only needs to do it once.   We got back close to midnight, and there was a line of cars to shepherd homes those too drunk to drive.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Conversation at the lumber yard (2)

Stafford, Texas  12:30 hrs

I needed to get cedar to repair the garden shed.  The shed is perhaps 100 years old and made of cypress.  The wood is sound except for the bottom edge where it sat and sank into the dirt.

I had to go to a real lumber yard to get cedar.  The wood needed to be 0.3 m wide to match the shed.  I had e-mailed my order and received an itemized receipt.

It was a cold wet day, maybe 3C.  I paid for my order inside the store, and then drove around the building to the warehouse.  A guy at the entrance came out of his warm hut to see my order and radio it in, and told me where to go.

I was met by two guys.  One wanted to buy my truck, wanted to know if it was four-wheel drive, and said, "Let me know when you get a new one, because I would like to buy this one."  Maybe my office clothes looked too upscale to be driving the well used truck.  What one wears certainly affects how one is treated.

The other guy said I would be hospital the next day as I was underdressed for the weather.  He said, "I am wearing five layers," and proceeded to count them off.  Both of them were really cold.  I was wearing a shirt and an open jacket, but had been inside a warm vehicle, and not in the drafty warehouse all day.

I was also born in the north, and where one grows up seems to affect ones metabolism.  I can work outside in the cold and feel comfortable.  I see others, from the south, who are bundled up and cold when it is 25C.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Conversation at the lumber yard

Brenham Texas, about 10:00 am

"Ah my favorite Brits"

Maybe his only Brits.  It was the very helpful guy in the lumber section of Lowes.  We were there last week and he helped us load fence material.   He maybe helpful, but also has an attitude and works quickly with a little too much force.

I needed wood for framing the inside of the garden shed.  'I need twenty 2x4s please."  In short order, he sorted and eyed twenty 2x4s on to the cart, pushed it to the checkout counter, and then went to help someone else.  I paid, and went to get the truck and drove to the loading bay just outside the door.

He was back out to load the wood onto the truck.  "How is Europe doing?" he asked. "Still hanging together but it their economies are worse than here, " said I.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Three Hot Spots

The Earth's crust is a series of interlocking plates over a spherical surface.  The edges of these plates are separating, as magma wells up from the mantle, sliding past each other, or are being consumed, as they descend into the mantle.  Volcanoes pop up where plates are consumed, the subduction zone.  A semi-orderly process.
Location of hotspot - numbers in millions of years

A less known feature is the upwelling of mantle plumes of hot fluid rock.  Hot Spots.  The best, and perhaps the safest active hotspot is Hawaii, the Kilauea volcano which rises about 9,000 m above the seafloor.  As it is so heavy it depresses the seafloor a further 8000 m.  It has been oozing lava for decades.

Yellowstone National Park is an area to which I have never been, but on my wish list.  It is a land-based hotspot, and by dating the lava, one can see the relative movement of the land over the hotspot.  It bubbles away and is watched closely.

Perhaps my most favorite hotspot is Iceland, sitting on the mid-Atlantic ridge. It has may active volcanoes and could do much damage to global commerce.

Is there a hot spot near you?  See

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Moving Houses

In the Texas countryside they move houses.  Just jack them up onto a truck and transport them to another piece of land.  They also do it in the city but it is much more difficult and expensive; there are more trees and wires in the way.  These are old, timer framed houses not brick and concrete houses!

And it gets stranger.  There used to be a house across the street from us in New Ulm.  It was the home of Swiss settlers and was inherited by their neighbors next door, who sold the house, but not the land.  The house was divided into two and each half was attached to another building.

A different way of moving houses can be seen in the Ecomusée in Alsace.  The houses collected on the site have been gathered from the local area. Some of them are made of huge square beams that form the structure.

This allowed the house to be sold separately from the land.  One child could get the land, the other the house. The value was in the huge beams.  The area between the beams was filled with wattle and daub.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Lhasa - a moment in time

1985 April

I was working in Chengdu and had a one week vacation before travelling to Beijing.  There was a direct flight to Lhasa, on a modern Boeing, which was good as they also used decrepit Russian prop planes.  At that time we had "helpers."  People assigned by the government to bus us to and from the hotel to the office, and make sure we did not go astray.  I asked one of the helpers if they could get me a plane ticket to go to Lhasa.  "So sorry, the flight is booked up for six months,"  she said.  This seemed highly unlikely, and an attempt to stop me going.

I took the next day off, and went to the CITS travel office in the Jing Jiang Hotel. They said I need an extra Visa to go to Lhasa, and directed me to the China Security office, who without question stamped my passport.  Then I went to the CAAC office to buy the ticket.  In an an hour I had a ticket and visa and was good to go.

The next day I was back at work, back on the bus and the helper asked me if I had got my plane ticket.  She knew the system and so did I.

Sera Monastery

Street Scene

Potola Monastery

Entrance to Potola

Icarus lives, at least for a while

Sunday afternoon, I saw someone across the street assembling what I first thought was an ultralight.  But it looked too small and there was no engine.

Then my rational mind decided it must be a hang glider, but if he ever gets to glide, his forward weight will not be hanging from a large wing but on his arms.

He has a post on his back and a set of wires and pulleys to his feet and arms.  The front yellow wings have four segments each.  The whole thing weighs only 10 kg.

This is not a hang glider but an attempt at man powered flight.  It is Icarus; he has been reincarnated. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

CenterPoint Energy

It was 9:15 pm, dark and cold, and a knock on the door.  It was a guy and a truck  from CenterPoint Energy, in full "riot" gear to tackle a major problem.  He said a fire or electrical issue had been reported.

All was quiet, not a wisp of smoke to be seen. "I do not think so, " said I. "Are you sure to have the right address?"  Illogically I said, "Sometimes our mail goes to the street parallel to this one."  I pointed.

He returned to his truck, checked his computer and made a phone call.  He came back looking more relaxed, and said, "It is the same street name but in the city of Channelview."

"So not your jurisdiction then?"  

"No," he smiled, "Not my problem."