Our Roamin’ Holiday Is Getting Closer


Milan cathedral

The Milan Cathedral

Carolyn retires at the end of June. For 20 years, all our vacations have been planned around her school schedule. Now for the first time in a long time, we get to go where we want, when we want. We are planning to make the most of it.

Both of us are Formula One fans. We have been to the Canadian grand prix in Montreal three times and to the US grand prix in Indianapolis twice. A lot of Formula One races today are held at new tracks in places like Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai. But there are still a few on the schedule that take place at historic tracks like Spa and Monaco, places where Formula One has raced since the end of World War II and even before.

One of those historic tracks is Monza. Located outside the city of Milan, it has hosted Formula One races every year except one since 1922. Monza is known as The Temple of Speed. It is famous for long straightaways where modern cars can get up to speeds of 200 miles per hour and more.

In its original form, it featured a banked corner at one end that let early race cars slingshot around a 180º turn that linked two parallel straights. Later, tracks like Daytona in America adopted the idea of banked turns to let race cars corner faster than they could ever hope to do on a level surface.

Today, the banked section is no longer used, but race fans can still see it just outside the margins of the current track. It has been replaced by one of the most famous turns in all of racing, the Parabolica. That’s it in the picture below. We will be seated in the grandstands on the outside of the track where the cars brake for the turn. Those black marks you see at the entrance to the corner are from the tires on the race cars scrubbing off rubber as they struggle to slow the cars by more than 100 mph in less than 250 feet.

Monza Parabolica

Monza is under siege. Formula One management keeps ratcheting up the fees it charges to bring the series there. Local residents complain about the noise and congestion race weekend brings. New tracks in Russia, Mexico, and Azerbaijan are crowding onto the schedule.

There is a feeling in the sport that soon, Monza will get pushed aside in favor of newer tracks with more amenities for well heeeled race fans. We decided over the winter that if we were going to see a grand prix at Monza, we better do it soon. And that’s where the idea for our Roamin’ Holiday began.

The Italian grand prix takes place the first weekend in September. The whole of Europe goes on vacation in August, so our journey will begin when most people are going back to work.

We started by searching for airfares to Milan. Flying out of Providence, the cheapest flights were about $1,400 for each of us. Doable, but still a lot of money. Then on a whim, we searched for flights leaving from Logan airport in Boston. TAP, the Portuguese national airline, said they would be happy to fly us over and back with just one 90 minute layover each way for $790 a piece. We latched onto that deal immediately.

Lake Como

Lake Como, Italy

Next, we booked a modest hotel in Milan for race weekend. After that, we will stay at the vacation home of a couple we hosted last summer. They stayed with us for 3 days and so now we get to stay at their vacation home for 3 days on the shores of Lake Como, regarded as one of the mos beautiful places on earth. We may even get to go sailing on their boat while we are there. We love home exchanges!

Bernina Express

The Bernina Express through the Alps

From there, we will take the Bernina Express through the Alps from Milan to St. Moritz, Switzerland where we will stay one night. Then its back to Milan and off to the shores of Lake Maggiore northwest of Milan for 4 nights at the vacation home of some friends from Wellesley.

Ferrari Museum

The Ferrari Museum in Maranello

The balance of our trip involves a visit to Maranello and the Ferrari factory, where we will get to see some of the most famous racing cars in the world — almost all of them painted Italian racing red. We also will get to tour the nearby Fiorano race track where Ferraris have been tested by racing drivers for generations.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre on the Italian coast

From there we will take the train over to Cinque Terre on the Italian coast, a collection of five towns where most tourists never go. There we will laze our way through one of the most beautiful parts of Italy before taking the train back to Milan and then home. We will be gone almost three weeks.

They say that things don’t make us happy; the experiences we have along the way are what enrich our lives. We are looking forward to starting this next phase of our lives together with a journey that will give us a lifetime of treasured memories. We can’t wait!

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Constitution 2.0


US ConstitutionMost people don’t know that those who wrote the United States Constitution never expected it to last more than a decade or two. They thought it was more of a rough draft, a framework to get the new nation off on the right foot. They assumed the country would write a new one after it had acquired some experience with the original.

Constitutional ConventionWith that background, it makes those “originalists” who tie themselves up in intellectual knots trying to divine what the original authors meant by this word or that phrase look pretty stupid. The Constitution was not meant to be a “living, breathing” document, either. It was meant to be replaced and fairly quickly, too.

I think we have had ample time to figure out what is good and not so good about the current document. If you ask me, it is in desperate need of updating. Herewith, in no particular order, are some changes I would make if I were a benevolent dictator and had the power to rewrite the Constitution.

First

Every President spends the first 4 years in office running for re-election. This is a stupid waste of time that detracts from actual governing. I propose the President should serve one 7 year term. After that, he or she should go away and leave us alone. Give someone else a chance.

Second

Citizens United is just plain wrong. If those with the most money get to run the government, all the laws will naturally favor the wealthy. That’s not the American way. Henceforth, all campaigns for federal office shall be publicly funded. Believe it or not, some people who are not fabulously wealthy have good ideas, too. Public funding will allow America to have the benefit of input from people from all stations of life. It will also significantly reduce the influence of campaign donors

Third

Lobbying shall be a crime punishable by death.

Fourth

All voting districts for federal elections shall be as close to square as possible, taking into account state borders. In appropriate cases, a rectangular voting district may be used, but in no event shall the ratio between its height and width exceed 3:2.

Fifth

There shall be one system of health care for all Americans. Members of Congress and the Supreme Court plus all federal employees will get the same health services as employees of Walmart. The federal government shall be required to negotiate for the best possible price with pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Sixth

All members of the Supreme Court shall serve for a maximum of 21 years and must retire on their 75th birthday. Congress shall be required to fill all vacant federal judicial vacancies within 60 days. If the Congress fails to do so, the President may appoint whoever he or she pleases.

Seventh

A corporation is not a “person” within the meaning of the Constitution. As some have suggested, the only way a corporation can be a person is if Texas executes one.

Eighth

Abolish the Bill of Rights. A lot of smart people argued against it when the first ten amendments were proposed. They said when you make a list, you automatically exclude anything not specifically included on the list. Experience has proven those people were right. Get rid of the damn thing.

Ninth

Abolish the Electoral College. It was a compromise designed to make the smaller colonies fell their rights would not be trampled by the bigger colonies. It is an anachronism and it is highly undemocratic. Dump it.

Tenth

Campaigns for federal office may not begin until 60 days before Election Day. We The People need a break from two year long campaigns that ultimately come down to who spends the most money.

Eleventh

Ban electronic voting. There is no way to protect against hacking or to accurately verify the results. The only power the citizens really have is the right to choose their leaders. Lots of people would like to interfere with that power for their own nefarious purposes. As Josef Stalin once said, “Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.” See Bush Vs. Gore for proof.

Twelfth

Ban winner take all elections. Replace them with an instant runoff election format. This has two advantages. First, it increases the chances that someone who is not  a professional politician might actually win an election once in a while. Second, the country gets the benefit of more candidates running for office, which helps to broaden the political dialog. That’s a good thing.

Thirteenth

Term limits: 5 terms for the House; two terms for the Senate. America is not intended to have a ruling class of professional politicians. The country needs to encourage more people to participate in the political process and benefit from fresh ideas.

Fourteenth

Repeal the Internal Revenue Code. Enact the Fair Tax. (no, it is NOT a flat tax!)

_____________________________________________________________

Okay. 14 seems like a good place to stop. I discussed some of these ideas with a friend while we were sailing together this summer. He said these sorts of changes could never happen. He’s partially right and partially wrong.

No, these sorts of changes cannot and will not happen overnight — perhaps not even within my lifetime. But recent events prove that attitudes change, albeit slowly, and things that seemed impossible once suddenly come to pass.

The conversation has to start somewhere, so let’s use these suggestions as a place to begin a discussion. Maybe our grandchildren will benefit from what begins here.

Feel free to offer any comments you deem appropriate and thanks for participating in the discussion. Always remember: If the people will lead, their leaders will follow! 

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Leaf Peeping, 2105 Edition


This is a good time of year to live in New England. We have been blessed with wonderful weather since Labor Day — lots of warm days and cool nights. Last Saturday, we put the top down on the Miata and went in search of freshly squeezed apple cider, pumpkins and foliage. We found all three!

It was an absolutely gorgeous day with a piercing blue sky and temps in the low 70s. Not a cloud anywhere all the way from Albany to Attleboro. We agreed we would stop the car every time we saw something worthy of photographing. We must have hopped in and out of the car at least a dozen times during the afternoon.

Let’s begin with the pumpkins we saw. The low, slanting sunlight of October highlighted them perfectly.

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Next up, scenes we stumbled upon as we drove along the backroads between Chepachet and Putnam, Connecticut. The foliage was simply breathtaking!

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We got home as the light was failing, having had a wonderful ride in the fresh air. We marveled at all of nature’s beauty we saw during our journey and then we stepped out onto our deck that overlooks the lake and saw this incredible scene. Just had to share this with you. Enjoy!

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The Patriots Are Going All The Way, Baby!


Patriots will win Super Bowl

Predictions are funny things. If you don’t make them before events take place, it’s too late later to say, “Oh, yeah. I knew that was going to happen.” Any fool can make a prediction after the fact; it takes someone with real courage to stand up and be counted before the outcome is known.

So here’s my prediction. The Patriots are going all the way this year. I will not go so far as to say they will win every game. I am saying they will do what very few teams ever do — repeat as Super Bowl champions.

Why? Revenge, pure and simple. They are done being kicked around by the NFL, every sports commentator in the country, every coach in the league, most players and the majority of fans.

Patriots 1The level of hatred against the Patriots is truly astonishing. New England fans who traveled to Buffalo reported threats and intimidation that went beyond the bounds of human decency. One Bills fan told a female Pariots fan he hoped she got sexually assaulted before she got out of the parking lot.

This has gone beyond ridiculous all the way to absurd. The Patriots are out to show everyone they are the best there is — or ever was. Nothing will stop their march to victory in February, and good for them. We here in New England are tired of the whining, the jeers, and the boorish behavior. We’re proud of our team and we want them, quite frankly, to go out there and shut those people up!

Partly, the Patriots brought this on themselves. Last year in a game against the Jets, the balls were grossly over-inflated by the officials. During halftime, Tom Brady xeroxed a copy of the rule book saying the balls should be inflated to between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch (they were actually at 16 psi) and had one of the ball boys hand deliver it to the officials. It’s possible that did not sit well with the refs.

Later, in a game against Baltimore, Bill Belichik ran some plays where certain players were ineligible receivers. Jim Harbaugh, the Baltimore coach, protested. The officials weren’t sure what the rules were, but when they figured it out, Harbaugh looked like an incompetent boob, which he is. The officials didn’t look too smart, either.

Near the end of the 2014 season, the Patriots submitted a recommendation to the NFL that cameras be installed at the goal lines in every stadium to help the officials make the right call on disputed touchdown plays. The league rejected the idea, saying it would cost too much money. Belichik chirped that the money involved was pocket change for a league that has more than $12 billion a year in annual income.

No one likes to made to look like a fool. A conspiracy was hatched at the highest levels of the NFL headquarters to make certain the Patriots were put in their place. Who did these guys think they were, anyway, telling everybody what the rules are and how to spend the league’s money? Those cheeky bastards had to be taught a lesson.

new-england-patriots

And the lesson the team learned was that they had to let their performance on the field do their talking for them. The first week, they demolished the Pittsburgh Steelers. In week two, they made the Buffalo Bills look like refugees from the Pop Warner league. There will be no holding these guys back. They are on a mission with one goal — to prove they are the best football team in history. No ifs, ands, or buts.

They are leaving it all on the field this year. If it looks like they are running up the score on occasion, it’s because they are. If they show their opponents no mercy, that is by design. Their intention is nothing less than to make Roger Goodell look like the ineffective stooge he really is.

The Patriots will be the Super Bowl 50 champs. You heard it here first.

Gold-Lombardi-trophy-03-24-15jpg

 

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Four Men And A Boat


BI 5

L to R: Steve Hanley, Pete Noonan, Steve Carney, Ken Anderson

 

On the Wednesday after Labor Day, I went sailing from Newport to Block Island with three other men, Pete Noonan, Ken Anderson and Steve Carney. Back in the early 60’s, we all went to school together at Moses Brown in Providence. With rare exceptions, we have not seen each other since the day we graduated.

Pete is the proud owner of a Swan 56, a magnificent blue water sailboat that he keeps in Newport harbor. He has raced it up and down both coasts for years, covering some 14,000 nautical miles in the process. This trip was to be the last hurrah for 2015 before the boat was hauled for the winter.

BI 17The day was spectacular — in the 80’s with a 15 knot breeze. Just enough puffy white clouds to syncopate the blue of a late summer sky. We set sail about 11 a.m. and headed south past Castle Hill into Rhode Island Sound.

What do people who haven’t seen each other in 50 years talk about? There were tales of families, careers, and grandchildren. (Steve Carney won the prize for biggest brood with 19 grandkids following in his wake.) To my surprise, we were immediately comfortable with each other, as if we had been together just last week and not a half century ago. Throughout that day and the next, there were snatches of conversations recalled, snippets of memories shared, and summaries of experiences accumulated since the last time we met.

Steve Carney spent three years in the Marine Corps. He was a lieutenant in charge of a reinforced combat company in Vietnam during the dark days of the Tet offensive in 1968. He told us proudly that he never lost one of the men under his command; that is an impressive feat. I can’t imagine a more significant achievement on anyone’s resume.

Over the years, he has sailed in the waters off Newport on board several vessels owned in partnership with others. Shared boat ownership sounds like such a smart thing to do but it is a difficult art. Everybody wants the boat on the 4th of July and Labor Day but few are interested in doing the maintenance all boats require before and after the season. The arrangement usually leads to friction. That Steve was able to make it work is further testament to his people skills.

BI 18Pete started selling real estate part time in a sleepy little California town called San Jose in the 70’s. Back then, they wrote songs about how hard it was to find the place; that was before the term “Silicon Valley” was invented. Once the tech boom started, land values exploded and Pete was there to help put the buyers together with the sellers. The Swan 56 is one of the fruits of his enterprise.

He is one of the oldest members of the St, Francis Yacht Club and races regularly on San Francisco Bay. He was a gracious host who let us all take turns at the rather enormous wheel of his boat, Defiance. It’s a long way from the sailing prams we started in back when Eisenhower was still in office.

Ken settled in Marblehead 30 years ago, one of the most active sailing communities on the East Coast and has nurtured his love of sailing there ever since. We raced together in Beetle cat boats on Narragansett Bay and at Bass River on Cape Cod. Back then, our parents would send us off on Friday afternoon to sail to East Greenwich, Bristol or Coles River for the weekend regatta. We always stopped at Rocky Point along the way to ride the rides and feast on the world’s best clam cakes.

It’s hard to imagine a group of twelve year olds today being allowed to set off alone to navigate their way to a distant anchorage. We often didn’t arrive until late at night or early the next morning, but there were always parents waiting patiently for us. There was something wholesome and untroubled about sailing back then. America has moved on into a less kind, less gentle era of fear and paranoia.

BI 7We spent the night in New Harbor on Block Island, eating pizza garnished with some cole slaw Pete found in a bag at the back of the refrigerator. We talked far into the night, connecting the dots that became the way points along the charts of our separate journeys. We spoke of former classmates and those associations sparked memories long since forgotten that we thought had been lost forever.

Today, all of us are on the cusp of 70. People our age understand that the end of our journey through time is just over the horizon. We feel the tug of the inevitable in a way we could not comprehend when last we were together. Unlike most people in our age cohort, we spent little time dwelling on our accumulation of infirmities and more discussing our hopes for the future. In fact, a groundswell of support has begun in favor of repeating this adventure again next year.

I have always been disinterested in the whole idea of reunions. So little that happened back then seems relevant to today. And so little of what has happened since seems relevant to events back then. The bond that connects us was broken when we all moved on to college and careers, wasn’t it? Perhaps I have been wrong all these years. There is a certain comfort in knowing others have confronted life’s mysteries and adversities and prevailed. Wisdom may be late in arriving, but its is seldom acquired in a vacuum.

In one sense, this trip was just a sail to a small island 12 miles offshore. But from another perspective, it offered insight into the irreversible flow of time. It taught me the value of staying connected to those who have made the journey with me, even though their boats were out of sight either ahead, behind, or over the horizon from my own.

I’m already looking forward to next year.

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Special thanks to Ken Anderson for being the official photographer of our recent adventure.

 

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Remembering Alex


Alex Of The Mountains

More than a decade ago, I was an active member of an online forum with a focus on the cars. One day, a new member joined the group. He said he was from a town called Annecy in France, not far from the Swiss border.

Over several months and years, we shared a number of online discussions together. He impressed me as a person with an active intellect, an inquiring mind and a ready wit. We started e-mailing each other about events in our lives ranging from the majestic to the mundane.

My First Visit To Annecy

In 2009, I decided I wanted to visit Europe, particularly Tuscany and the Alps. As fate would have it, flights from Boston to Geneva were less expensive than to other European cities. I mentioned this to Alex and he immediately got back to me and invited me to stay with him. I thought this was an extraordinary offer, since we only knew each other from our online conversations. It’s fair to say that Alex was taking a risk, since he knew nothing about me at all.

A few months later, I emerged from Customs at the Geneva airport and was greeted by a tall, red headed fellow sporting a big smile. I would soon learn that smile was as much a part of Alex as his name.

Alex had taken the day out of work so he could take me on a tour of Lake Geneva. We drove up the western shore, stopped to eat grapes ripening in the sun, saw the monument to  Freddie Mercury in Montreux and explored an Alpine village at the base of the Matterhorn. All the while, Alex chatted amiably in excellent English while I struggled to string together a few basic phrases in French left over from my high school days.

DSC00596In the next few days, we took a boat tour of Lake Annecy and explored the old part of the city, the center of a former French dukedom before Napoleon united the country. We ate tartiflette, a version of potatos au gratin quite popular in the area. We saw a film crew from Poland making a TV commercial for Chinese tourists.

I even got to spend time with his parents, Patricia and Jean Claude, who welcomed me into their home as if I were part of the family. The hospitality Alex and his family showed me was beyond extraordinary.

I had arranged to rent a car in Annecy so I could drive to Tuscany. The night before I left, Alex asked if I would like to go out and meet some of his friends. I spent the evening listening to Alex and his friend Kevin playing guitar and belting out old American songs like the theme from the TV show Rawhide! Eventually, I joined in for a few choruses.

It was one of the high points of my trip. I always say that travel is the best education you can get. But not the kind of travel where you stay in swanky hotels or see 10 countries in 7 days from the inside of a bus. It only works if you live in a community for a while, talk to people, hear what’s on their minds, and come to understand their perspective on the world.

A Protest In Annecy

My journey to Tuscany lasted 10 days. Driving back to Annecy, I stayed off the highways so I could drive through the Alps on my way back. What a magnificent day that was! But it never would never have happened if it wasn’t for Alex.

DSC01621When I got back to Annecy, I found myself smack in the middle of rowdy political protest. Hundreds of union members were marching through the city to express their displeasure with something or other — I never figured out what. But I got to see firsthand how another society treats protest.

In the US, the protesters would have been opposed by a phalanx of police in riot gear. Tear gas and fire hoses would have been used and many, many people arrested. In Annecy, two bored police officers watched over the crowd, hoping the protest would end soon so they could get home to dinner on time.

I was shocked. I lived through the social unrest that gripped America during the Vietnam era and again after 9/11. But here, I was a witness to the idea that governments do not need to be terrified of their citizens. Thanks to Alex, I got to see how citizens can petition for “redress of grievances,” as it says in the Constitution, without getting arrested.

I went back home the next day, after a lovely dinner in the city hosted by Patricia and Jean Claude. Alex and I stayed in touch and hatched a plan two years later to go to the Historic Grand Prix in Monaco. He had never been to a car race and I had an ongoing love affair with old race cars.

The Road To Monaco

In May of 2012, Alex met me again at the Geneva airport. The next day we would drive to Monaco. But not on the highway, which would have been an easy 7 hour trip. Instead, Alex has meticulously planned a route that would take us across some of the highest mountain passes in the Alps, called cols.

Les Lacets 3We spent the day climbing into the clouds on roads that could hardly be called cart paths. We made videos along the way, in which we can often be heard laughing like fools. We saw scenery few people have ever seen and it took us 13 hours to get to Nice. It was a great day, one of the most cherished journeys of my life. And of course, it was all due to Alex and his willingness to go on an adventure. If not for him, this trip would never have taken place.

We spent the nights in Nice and took the train to Monaco every day. The racing was intense and exciting, with cars from the 20’s and 30’s wiggling and slithering their way around the famous race course at Monaco.

Monday morning, we headed north to Annecy again, picking our way through the Alps once again. Alex taught me how to say epingle, the French word for “hairpin turn” and les lacettes, the series of climbing turns that look like the laces on a boot as they climb up a steep slope.

At one point, we came across a section of road used in the Tour de France. It had slogans spray painted on the pavement, which Alex said were there to give encouragement to riders. Several sections looked to me like they were nearly vertical. Alex’s Opel diesel had trouble negotiating them in first gear. Those bicycle racers have my utmost respect. I wouldn’t even ride down those sections, never mind try to go up them!

I went back home the next day, but not before I encouraged Alex and his family to come visit me and my wife in the US. I felt they had given so much of themselves to make me feel welcome in their country, the least I could do was return the favor.

Bitter News

Last night, Alex’s brother, Patrick, sent me an e-mail telling me Alex had died a few days ago of a massive heart attack. He was playing his guitar and singing with friends when it happened, doing his second most favorite thing.

monoski1His first most favorite thing was sliding down the Alps on a monoski, which is a lot like a snowboard except the skier faces downhill instead of across the hill. From October to May, Alex’s Facebook page was filled with pictures of him riding his monoski somewhere in the Alps. Between June and September, it was filled with plans for the coming ski season.

I always assumed that Alex and I would see each other again, and if not, it would be because of my own infirmities, not his. I can’t believe that he is gone so suddenly. We only spent a very tiny percentage of our collective lifetimes together, but he enriched my life immeasurably. I like to think maybe I did the same for him.

I am grateful to Patrick for getting in touch with me, even though the news is so sad. Patrick, please let all of Alex’s family and friends know how much I cared for him and how much I will miss him. A bientôt, mon ami.

 

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Blue Moon, July, 2015


Blue Moon July 2015

Technically speaking, a blue moon is the second full moon to occur in a single month. July 31, 2015 was just such an occasion.

Our moon doesn’t get much love these days. Our attention is focused on Mars and Pluto and distant asteroids that happen to pass nearby. We are peering deeper and deeper into space in our quest to understand the unexplainable.

But I would like to spend a little time thinking about our moon, so close at hand but no longer important since it stopped being a political token after Neil Armstrong visited it a generation ago. It was the first extraterrestrial body to attract the attention of scientists like Ptolemy and Copernicus. Because of it, the notion that the sun revolved around the Earth was upended, proving once and for all that truth is a matter of perspective.

Jules VernePlease enjoy the photos of this latest blue moon, taken from my deck overlooking the lake. Spend a moment contemplating its beauty and how important it is to our daily life here on Earth. After all, it is responsible for the tides. We think of them as normal and ordinary, but they involve  trillions of gallons of water sloshing around the globe twice a day. That’s quite an accomplishment, don’t you think?

The moon has sparked millions of books, letters, songs and movies over the ages. It is a beacon to the great beyond and the mysteries of the cosmos. It reminds us that no matter how much we think we know, there is a great deal more to learn.

Behold the moon, gatekeeper to the stars.

Blue Moon July 2015

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Blogging For Fun And Profit


blogging-is-a-journey

 

Hello, everybody. It has been seven months since I posted anything here on my blog. That’s because I have been busy posting things on other people’s blogs. And getting paid for it!

It all started in May, 2014 when I contacted an automotive blog, Gas 2.0, and inquired about writing opportunities. They said they just happened to be looking for a writer. I did a few stories for them and they liked my work, so soon I was doing a post a day for them.

Gas 2.0 happens to be part of a larger enterprise called Important Media, which has about 20 blogs within its corporate umbrella. All are devoted to some aspect of sustainability including recycling, solar power, energy efficiency and climate change. Soon, I started writing for some of those other sites as well.

Then last December, I was contacted by a fellow in Munich, Germany who has a blog that focuses on alternative fuel vehicles – hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric cars, and hydrogen fuel cell cars. In other words, anything new and hot in the world of transportation that lowers the carbon footprint of our cars and trucks.

Blogging for fun and profitHe asked me to write for him and I agreed. Now, I am up to doing about 100 posts a month for him and still writing for all those other sites. He recommended me to another website that specializes in all things having to do with Tesla Motors. Suddenly, I find myself with as much work as I can handle and sometimes a little more.

The reason this all came about is because in September, Carolyn begins her last full year of teaching. After it’s over, we will be free to travel whenever we want, instead of only during school vacations. I want to be able to continue earning income after I give up being a state constable, something I have been doing for more than 12 years.

Blogging lets me work anytime I wish from anywhere in the world. My daily time zone is defined by one fellow in Warsaw, another in Munich, another in Silicon Valley, and a fourth in Honolulu. At this point, I am earning about as much from blogging as I do from being a constable, so I can give up my “day job”, work from anywhere and suffer no significant loss of income. You gotta love that!

I have no boss and no fixed time schedule. Yes, I still need to work if Carolyn and I are to be able to travel the way we want, but I can do so from a hill town in Tuscany, an island in the Aegean, a cottage in the Black Hills, or an apartment in Australia.

There’s another aspect to this that is critically important to me. I am now a man of a “certain age. ” I couldn’t get a job in the regular workforce no matter how qualified I might be. The economic system is biased against older workers and that is just a fact of life. Online, I am not judged by my appearance or my birth certificate. I am judged solely on the merit of my writing.

Blogging for fun and profitI have known people who were born before there were airplanes, televisions or spaceships. I marveled at all the changes they saw in their lifetime. I was born before the invention of the transistor. I thought “high tech” meant stereo sound. My last year of college, incoming freshmen were required to learn some basic computer skills. I considered myself lucky that I didn’t have to get involved with all that nonsense. Computers? Phhffft. Who cared?

Now, the computer is providing a path for an older person like me to continue earning a living instead of spending my days playing canasta with the other old crocks down at the senior center. It has also broadened my horizons. My writing keeps me current with the latest technological changes in many fields as well as the political policies in countries around the world designed to promote sustainability.

While I am grateful for the opportunities the internet provides me, it has not brought us together the way old hippies like me thought Woodstock and the Age of Aquarius would. In fact, it has splintered us into more and more factions. It has enabled the rise of hate groups and promoted a resurgence of racism. Instead of bringing us together, it is driving us apart.

I recently came across a quote attributed to Marshall McLuhan and I find it very enlightening. In fact, it has become my new mantra. “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” (Some say McLuhan never actually said that. It came from his close friend Father John Culkin, a professor of communication at Fordham University and friend of McLuhan.

We live in a digital age. We are surrounded by digital technology, enveloped by it, enmeshed in it, and ensnared by it. Apple and Google are said to be working hard on building their own automobiles. Do they hope to compete with Tesla? Probably not.

More than likely, Apple wants drivers to buy more stuff from its Apple Store. A Google car will know where we are at all times and deliver targeted ads directly to our touchscreens as we drive. In other words, digital technology may represent the ultimate victory for those who want to sell us stuff. I take little joy in that prospect.

I look forward to staying connected with you all online. And thanks for following my blog.

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Anti-Drunk Driving Systems


breathalyzer

America has always had a fairly tolerant attitude toward drunk driving. Back when I first started driving (way last century!) cops would escort drivers who had too much to drink back to their homes and stand guard outside to make sure they didn’t try to get back in the car. Down in Texas, drivers prefer pickup trucks for long drives because you can throw your empty beer cans in the back as you drive along. Better than littering the roadside with them, right?

I don’t set myself up as any paragon of virtue, either. There have been many times when I was in no condition to be behind the wheel but did so anyway. Hey, everybody did it. Just like everybody used to smoke…….

But times change and attitudes change along with them. Mothers Against Drunk Driving started it all 30 years ago and their efforts have paid off. Today, the police no longer tolerate drunks behind the wheel. Getting caught can lead to big fines, legal fees and perhaps confiscation of your vehicle. But still, some people drive while intoxicated.

The National Transportation Safety Board says that in 2011 there were almost 10,000 alcohol related highway deaths in America. That’s a pretty big number. The NTSB is suggesting that all cars come equipped with sensors that would disable the car if a person who had been drinking gets behind the wheel.

Right now, 17 states require a Breathalyzer ignition interlock be fitted to cars belonging to those convicted of drunk driving. Before the engine will start, the driver has to blow into a tube. If the machine detects a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, itdisables the ignition so the car won’t start

The NTSB proposal would take the technology one step further. Passive breath and touch monitors would be activated every time the driver gets into the car. These electronic guardians would disable the car if alcohol above a certain limit is detected.

Critics claim this smacks of Big Brother. And they are right. They also say the systems could react to passengers who might be intoxicated even if the driver is not. Surely, some fine tuning of the system will be required. Perhaps the sensors could be incorporated into the keyless entry devices that all cars come with today?

Usually, I am philosophically opposed to electronic systems that want to do our driving for us. I think such things tend to make us less aware while driving and that’s not good. But I could get behind this idea. It’s not about some drunk hurting  himself. It’s more about someone veering into my lane and injuring me. The systems to implement the NTSB proposal are not yet available, but moving toward the goal of having no drunk drivers on the roads seems like a smart thing for society.  What do you think?

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Rescuing Old Slides


Minolta SRT 101Amazingly enough, there was a time before digital cameras when we used to take actual photographs. Over the years, I took thousands of photos with my beloved Minolta SRT 101 camera. I always preferred slides, because you could project them onto a screen and see your pictures as big as life.

Recently, I noticed 10 trays of slides sitting on a shelf down in the basement, many of them nearly 40 years old. Everything is digital these days and my grandkids don’t want to sit still for an elaborate slide show, even if it is to see their mother when she was their age. Was there a way to preserve them from further deterioration and make them accessible to the next generation of viewers?

DB Tech ScannerA quick trip to Amazon.com revealed several devices on the market that convert slides to digital files. After reading the reviews, I settled on the dbTech film scanner, which handles slides and those strips of negatives we used to get when our prints came back from Kodak.

The process is pretty simple. Power the scanner up using a USB cable, pop an SD card into the proper slot, then load a slide. There is a small viewing screen so you can see the slide you are about to copy. Hit Enter than Save and Presto! Your treasured slide is saved digitally, which means you can use your favorite editing program to resize the file, adjust exposure and contrast, and then save to your computer or upload to the internet.

My beautiful picture

What a flood of memories. Suddenly, I was traveling back in time to all those road trips my daughter and I took when she was young: Nova Scotia, DisneyWorld and the circus. I got to re-live my last visit with my maternal grandmother, a trip to the Formula One race at Watkins Glen in 1973, and a Club Med vacation on Eleuthera in 1978.

The scanner worked exactly as advertised. And now the whole family has a digital copy to share with each other. Sitting in the basement for decades is probably not the best way to preserve photographs, but digital files should never deteriorate. I should have done this sooner.

My beautiful picture

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