Posted by: bkivey | 8 July 2018

Miracles Are Nice

Earlier this year I was driving a truck and trailer through Portland during morning rush hour and while attempting to turn a corner with unfavorable geometry, I managed to ‘hook’ the rig on a car. While there was no contact, the rear corner of the car was in the space between the truck and trailer. So now we’re blocking an entire street plus half of another one.

The situation was complicated by the fact that cars were legally parked all the way to the corner. The corner car was the victim. I had my partner oversee the situation while I tried jockeying the rig back and forth, but from his facial expressions, it wasn’t going well.

A gentleman in construction garb asked me if I’d like him to stop traffic while I attempted escape. Why yes, I would. He did, but no joy on the trailer. After watching me for about a minute, he asked if he could try. I couldn’t get out of the truck fast enough.

In under a minute he had the situation resolved and the rig pointed the way we wanted to go. No damage. I thanked him, we shook hands, and went on our merry.

Driving home, I considered the situation. There is a lot of construction in Portland, but no projects near where we were. There are a lot of construction workers in Portland, and it wouldn’t be unusual to see one around. But at that time of day you’re halfway through a job site morning. You wouldn’t expect to see a tradesman on the street without a project nearby.

This guy showed up with the exact skills I needed at the exact time I needed them. The entire incident lasted perhaps five minutes, and it could so very easily have been so much uglier. There may well be a perfectly reasonable explanation for this particular confluence, but I would say that at very best it’s a low probability event.

This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced a highly improbable circumstance, and I’d think everyone has had the experience at least once. In the normal Universe these events are statistical outliers, and outliers exist. But I’d posit that if we’re going to understand the Universe, we need to take these incidents into account.

Even Mother Nature makes mistakes

The house backs up to a natural area on a creek, which is very nice, although in the warmer months there’s a bit too much of the insect part of Nature. I was watching a hummingbird feeding in this target-rich environment, when it flew over to a spider web and plucked the spider right off.

No! Not the spider! They’re one of the good guys here!

“Say, what happened to Eddie?”



Posted by: bkivey | 13 June 2018

Las Vegas: Epilogue

I had a good time. I’m glad I went. I think that for a first time to Vegas, spur-of-the-moment isn’t a bad way to go. I didn’t know anything other than it was a money-vacuum, and had no real expectations other than getting home intact. No disappointment on either score.

When the dust settles I expect the total bill to be a bit less than twice the package price, but as I said, the package was a bargain. I think I got as much out of the trip as I could reasonably get. It was fun.

Notes & Observations

Second time I’ve flown Alaska; first time in one of their jets. The turboprop I was on was a bit cramped; the jets have legroom. I like Alaska. I’ll be looking to fly them in the future.

I am very impressed with the resort maintenance and housekeeping staffs. Those properties take a beating from thousands of people daily and they still look amazing. The elevators must be some of the most robust in the world.

I am less impressed with the street markings around Las Vegas. Paint your streets! There are a number of streets where the lane markings and parking lines are nearly invisible.

Service industry employees spend a fair amount of time standing around. Vegas operates 24/7/365 and the expectation is that if a patron wants to do something they want to do it now. The casinos I saw had a third to half the table games staffed even when few were playing. All of the retail stores seemed to have a couple of people on staff as long as they were open. Same with the bars and other alcohol venues. A lot of people trying not to look bored. I hope they get good tips.

Lounge singers. I appreciate the allusion more.

Three days is about as long as I’d care to stay in Vegas.

Asking hotel staff for help isn’t really going to get you anywhere. I would say the attitude is indifferent. I hoped my keys didn’t demagnetize, because I wan’t sure if I’d be able to get another in a timely manner. This may not be the case at the high-end properties.

You can get around without a car, especially if you stay close to the Strip, but I would get one. They’re cheap enough, and you can buy sundries and meals where normal people live. The only caveat is that parking may cost more than the car.

For a metro area of 2.2M Las Vegas seems fairly compact as far as getting around. I could drive from one side of the metro area to the other in about 30 – 40 minutes depending on traffic. Portland metro area (about 2.5M): 1 – 2 hours.

Everything is brown or some closely related shade. It’s the desert. I spent a bit of time in Victorville, CA, so no surprise there. Still. It’s a lot of ocher.

The second car I saw outside the airport garage had Oregon plates.

When I went to fill the car, I was thinking about what I was going to tell the attend . . oh, not in Oregon.

Las Vegas hates me. I didn’t spend a penny on gambling, and had one alcoholic beverage. So I wasn’t a profit center. There are still several things I’d like to see I didn’t have time for, so I’ll be back. Maybe I can catch the volcano.

Posted by: bkivey | 12 June 2018

Things To Do In Las Vegas Trois

Tuesday was the last day in Vegas and the plane left around 8, so I had a bit more than half a day. Hoover dam is only about 30 miles from town, so that was the first stop. After Denny’s.

Parking at the hotel worked a bit differently than I’m used to. You get a ticket on entering, but you have to pay at a kiosk outside the garage before leaving. At the gate you feed your paid ticket to the machine. On check-in you get two keys, and you check out at the kiosk with one key, and give the other one to the parking machine on exit. I didn’t know that, and tossed the other key in the recycle bin at the kiosk. Mostly because there was a sign saying ‘Recycle Your Keys Here’. It wasn’t a problem, as the machine took my parking ticket and released me.

Sculpture ‘Aftermath’ at juncture between Ballys and Paris.

I used GPS to get to the dam, but the route is well-marked. I-515S to US 93 and then to the dam. US 93 is the primary route between Phoenix and Las Vegas, and used to cross the dam. This created quite a bottleneck, and a bridge opened in 2010 for traffic. You can still drive across the dam. There is a security checkpoint, but I was just waved through. Prior to the dam is a parking lot for the bridge. The transmission tower on the left is non-functional, and I didn’t see any signs describing it. Perhaps an original tower?

The Circle of Information on the way to the bridge. There are a couple of these describing the various aspects of bridge siting and construction.

There was quite a breeze up on the bridge, to the point where small objects and people were in danger of being blown off. The bridge does provide views of the dam previously unobtainable by pedestrians. Note the canted towers.

My first thought was ‘How many phones/cameras are at the bottom of the river?’ On Google Maps the description is ‘Dam taming the Colorado River since 1935’. Is that on the letterhead?

The Visitor Center is on the Nevada side and parking is $10. There are tours, and I wanted to see the powerhouse, but no tours on the day. There is free parking on the Arizona side, and you get to drive across the dam. The two intake towers nearest the dam have clocks with the respective times (Mountain and Pacific) showing. Arizona doesn’t practice Daylight Saving, but the clock on the Nevada side was an hour behind. Some lots on the Arizona side offer cover:

This must be fairly recent:

There is a boom upstream, perhaps to thwart the RAF 617th Squadron, enemy submarines, or just debris control:

Observation point above Lake Mead:

I got to the dam about 1100, and at Noon there was a line of cars at the checkpoint, so you probably want to go earlier rather than later.

There was a solar power station I wanted to see located a bit South of the dam on US 95. US 95 is more road than I expected in the middle of nowhere: two lanes each way with a median and a 75 MPH limit.

The Nevada Solar 1 power station. This is a 64 MW concentrated solar plant, which means parabolic trough reflectors heat a working fluid running through a tube down the middle of the reflector, and then to a turbine to run a generator. I saw a larger version of this type of plant years ago in the California desert.

While I was researching things to do, I came across the National Atomic Testing Museum. I thought that had to be cool. It is.

Located North of the Strip, and directly under the airport flight path, the museum documents American nuclear testing efforts. Admission is $22, and the museum takes about an hour. They don’t hand out dosimeters; I asked.

Atomic Age paraphernalia:

How the tests were set up:

Model of a test drill rig built by one of the drillers:

A model of the test chamber. The pipes leading from the chamber fed radiation from the explosion to instruments. The instrumentation had millionths of a second to record data before everything was vaporized.

Blast-exposed items from atmospheric testing. The nameplate was made by masking the letters, then sitting it in front of the bomb. That’s cryogenic on the cool scale.

There’s a theater in a simulated bunker with a short film on the history of US nuclear testing. The film opens with a simulated countdown for a test. There are effects.

Wooden models of some of the equipment used to dig the horizontal test tunnels built by one of the miners:

If you’ve worked on construction sites you’ve seen, and probably have, job stickers on hard hats. This is the nuclear testing version: the stickers represent test shots. Workers on tests also received ‘certificates’ with often elaborate artwork, and the museum has a book of them to look through.

In the history of warfare, this is one of the most horrifying weapons I’ve seen: a nuclear-powered cruise missile. Not so much from the payload, although that was devastating with a dozen nukes, but the text states that the missile would be flying at Mach 3 at low altitude with an unshielded reactor. Think about that for a moment. The program was terminated with the advent of the less costly, more accurate (and safer?) Polaris ICBM.

What the testing is about. A W61 nuclear bomb. The sign informs that these make up 10% of the current US nuclear inventory.

An older bomb. Because the nuclear core has to be a certain size to fission, I’m thinking the reduction in size may be due to better HE composition and design to compress the core.

There is a display touching on nuclear rocket engines, including NERVA.

A piece of the Berlin Wall. This is tangential, but there you are.

And a girder from the World Trade Center:

There is a movie in another theater describing how nuclear testing is done now, since no actual explosions can take place. I’ve worked with computer simulations professionally, and I thought the film was one of the more interesting things in the museum. An opinion not shared by the six other people who started watching the film with me. Anyway, I liked it.

There is also a library, with librarian, if you want to do a bit of research on what you just saw. I don’t know if you have to pay admission to use the library, but it’s off the lobby, so maybe not.

The first American structure in the Las Vegas basin was still extant, and I’d stopped by the site Monday, but it was closed. It was open today, and admission was $3. Yes, Sin City was founded by the Mormons:

An overview of the fort. Everything is made of adobe. There is a building housing the home displays on the left that was used by the Army Corp of Engineers to test concrete for Hoover dam.

The difference 160 years makes in moving:

Some of the original structure. The interior of the structure was a good 5 degrees cooler than outside. Adobe works.

The style of flag that flew over the fort. A little curious which state got the center star.

I still had some time, so I went over to Old Vegas, the ‘legacy’ resorts like Golden Nugget and the California. These are North of the current Strip, but I wanted to visit the Golden Nugget because it has the largest gold nugget on display in the world.

For reasons unknown, my phone charger wasn’t all the way from the dam, so my phone was dead. I was unhappy about not getting pictures, but a lot more concerned about the loss of GPS. The airport cannot be missed, but I didn’t want to be futzing around looking for the off-site rental return. Well, I was at the Nugget, may as well check it out. I stopped at the hotel bar for lunch, and enquired about an outlet for the phone charger. Why no, we don’t have an outlet. Whatever, babe. I’ll have lunch. Which the ahi tacos were pretty good.

This part of Las Vegas has a different feel than the more frenetic Strip. A bit more relaxed. The Golden Nugget is richly appointed with lots of dark wood and a faint 70’s feel that’s actually kind of comfortable. The nugget is indeed on display, although you have to hunt for it a bit. It’s by the guest elevators.

About 14 inches long and 81 lbs, the nugget is mounted vertically on a rotating display behind (I assume) security glass. The story is that some guy was using a metal detector in his backyard in Australia when he found the tip of the nugget 6 inches below ground. It’s a big hunk of gold.

The Nugget has a pool with a waterslide. This is notable because the waterslide goes through an aquarium with various large saltwater fish and a g___d___ shark. I do not know the species, but it’s 6 or 7 feet long and it’s a shark. I would think gambling debts are not a problem at this casino.

Then it was time to refuel the car, get directions to the airport, and start to head for home. Finding the rental drop off was easy enough, and even during rush hour on a weekday, traffic was navigable, i.e. not Portland. The freeways around town are all 65 MPH, which is nice.

Alaska Airlines left on time, and back to cooler, greener Oregon.



Posted by: bkivey | 11 June 2018

Things Do In Las Vegas Deux

Waking up feeling a bit more refreshed, I got dinner in one of the resort bars. The prices weren’t unreasonable, and the food was decent. The deviled eggs came in fried tempura. I ordered a Coke.

The Stanley Cup Finals were on, and Las Vegas had Golden Knight fever. ‘Go Knights Go’ was everywhere. Judging by the statue in front of Caesars Palace, Ol’ Julius played in goal. Unfortunately the Caps won. I watched the game, and the Knights had their chances. The Capitals goal must have had puck magnets in the pipes, because that’s where the Knights shots went. Not one break was to be had. The Knights are good enough to win the Cup, but not this year, I fear.

My motivation for coming to Las Vegas was to see the resorts on the Strip. I most wanted to see the Bellagio resort, at 1.6B the most expensive hotel in the world when built. Yep, I was the rube from Ore-e-gon.

I’d discovered that the gaming floor actually took up a relatively small portion of a typical resort. The themed resorts, some quite elaborate, used space for recreation of a themed shopping mall. A typical resort would have a courtyard, in some cases an environment, and the lobby, which would lead to the mall or gaming floor. There might be some exhibit space, and guest services, elevator lobby, pool and parking access rounding out the floor plan. Most of the properties are connected by underground shopping corridors, so outside crossing S. Las Vegas Blvd. you don’t have to go outside much.

The Strip proper is a bit over 4 miles long, and besides the Monorail there is double-decker bus service (The Deuce), city bus service, and a whole lot of taxis. Or you can rent a limo curbside. No waiting. I considered buying a day-pass for the Monorail, but after looking at the resorts I wanted to visit, it appeared walking was the way to go.

I’d made a list of resorts to visit, and had to winnow that a bit. I’d already seen the adjoining Paris, so I headed out onto the Strip and turned North.

The first property was the Venetian. This is a Venice-themed resort with a gondola lagoon:

You can ride the gondolas, although apparently not far. Madame Tussauds is on site:

Also at the Venetian:

Next was the Wynn Las Vegas:

This is one of those properties with an environment. The space between the street and the front door is a little forest. It’s rather nice. I talked to a gentleman who’d lived in Vegas for 20 years and he told me about Steve Wynn. Steve Wynn is a developer who defined the high-end resort in Las Vegas. His properties have included the Wynn Las Vegas, the Encore, Bellagio, and Golden Nugget. In a luxury environment, Wynn properties stand out. If you have a choice, stay at one of these places. They are nice.

The Wynn has a dancing fountain:

The jets are choreographed to music. The Bellagio has the far more famous and elaborate display, and I saw a couple shows. I couldn’t get good pictures, because the Bellagio’s shows are very popular, and you have to get there early enough to line the rail if you want pictures. The shows are impressive and fun.

The Wynn was as far North as I wanted to go. There are other interesting places further along, but only so much time. Along with the Stratosphere, this property anchors the North end:

I chuckled when I saw this, but it does give a slight feeling of a modern dystopia to have a sitting President’s name emblazoned on a Las Vegas hotel like some Bacchanalian Eye of Sauron.

The entrance to the Fashion Show resort. The columns feature wrap-around video screens:

Treasure Island resort is next door. The resort has gotten away from their initial pirate theme, but there’s still a lagoon with a pirate ship in front. Inside from a local builder:

I do not remember which resort this is, but it was pretty:

I believe this is the entrance to the Mirage. It’s a sort of biodome. The Mirage has a lagoon with a volcano in front. The volcano is supposed to ”erupt’ on the hour, but I never saw it. It was a bit disappointing.

Siegfried and Roy:

Now this is a sports bar, me son:

Even fast food is fancy on the Strip:

Canopy over an outdoor mall. The whole thing is a display:

Standing in front of Bellagio looking across the street. The Paris is on the right, and there’s an elevator to the observation deck on top of the Eiffel Tower. The balloon is 3D, and appears to resemble the Mongolfier brothers balloon when they made the first piloted flight in 1783. The Las Vegas Ferris wheel ‘High Roller’ is on the left, and you can see how the lighting makes it appear to be a wheel suspended in mid-air. It takes 30 minutes to complete a revolution. I stayed at Ballys.

And the Arc de Triumph:

On to the Bellagio. The lobby:

There are Cartier and Gucci stores in the lobby, and they actually feel a bit downscale in these surroundings.

The Conservatory:

The Cosmopolitan entrance with video panels:

Cosmopolitan lobby:

I believe this is the entrance to the Mandarin. There is water flowing over the walls.

Lighted trees. The lights flash in random patterns.

I do not know what this wooden structure is supposed to evoke, but it is unusual. There’s restaurant seating in the middle section.

NY NY resort:

At lower left you can see pedestrian bridges and stairs. The major intersections are all so equipped.



The only functional actual one-armed bandits I saw:

The Excalibur:

The Luxor resort:

And looking North up the Strip:

Well, the hotel is easy to find. That’s enough walking for one night.





Posted by: bkivey | 10 June 2018

Things To Do In Las Vegas While Alive

I’d spent some time the previous night figuring out what to do now that I was here. The motivation for the trip was to check out the Strip, but I had a day and a half. I couldn’t spend that much time walking around; my legs would fall off. I also had a car.

In the previous post there were these hills:

Nevada Red Rock Canyon from air

It turns out this is the Red Rock Canyon area, about 15 miles West of Las Vegas and administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Admission is $15 per vehicle. The first stop was the Denny’s closest to the attraction. I didn’t even look at local options. At Denny’s the food and prices are predictable. There is a Denny’s on the Strip, but I never looked at it.

Nevada Red Rock Canyon entrance with car

The entrance and the chariot for the trip. The Hyundai was serviceable, didn’t overheat in extreme conditions, and was a bit peppy. This last quality turned out to be useful driving around Las Vegas.

Nevada drive to Red Rock Canyon

The drive to the Visitor’s Center. Note the cyclists. It’s about 1100 and 100F is a memory. There were a surprising number (‘any’) of cyclists on the road.

The Visitor’s Center. I visit these facilities so I’ll have some idea what I’m looking at, and there are people inside who are interesting to talk to.

NV Red Rock Canyon visitor center

The building blends well with the environment. There’s a demonstration garden outside with native plants.

NV red Rock Canyojn visitor center plants

Some petroglyphs. There are places you can hike to in the area where these are visible. I didn’t do that.

NV Red Rock Canyon Petroglyphs

The backyard:

NV Red Rock Canyon panorama from visitor center

Bureau of Land Management is one of the more unpopular Federal agencies in the West, mostly because it owns a lot of land that is public-access restricted or denied. I do like to get out a bit, so my sympathies are probably more with the sportsmen and ranchers than the Bureau, but fair dues. The road was freshly paved curb to curb (and new curbs), the facilities were clean and in good repair, and the Bureau has generally done what can be done to make driving in the Mojave desert in Summer a bit less risky. There are no water sources, and it’s not a good idea to bet your life on getting phone service.

The scenic drive is one-way for the 13-mile loop, the speed limit is generally 35 MPH, and the road is two lanes wide so slower vehicles can be safely passed. If you have a bit of open road the road itself has some sections that are fun to drive at the legal limit. I tried the Hyundai’s manual shift option.

The first stop is the Calico hills section:

NV Red Rock Canyon Calico I

Almost everything in the area is sandstone from the dune desert that covered the seabed after the ocean retreated. That’s about 300 million years in one sentence. Scour marks from the dunes are visible in the rocks.

NV Red Rock Canyon colored rock panorama

A bit further along is an area called Sandstone Quarry:

NV Red Rock Canyon Sandstone Quarry panorama

Most of the observation points have facilities, but aren’t shaded.

The road makes a U-shape around the valley. Looking down the valley:

NV Red Rock Canyon looking down valley

The head of the valley is the high point of the drive:

NV Red Rock Canyon high point marker

This is slightly at variance with the official altitude of 4771 feet. The 360 view:

NV Red Rock Canyon high point panorama

This is 2200 feet higher than Las Vegas, but it’s deceptive in that the drive out doesn’t seem like you’ve gained nearly half a mile of altitude.

The Willow Springs formation:

NV Red Rock Canyon Willow Springs 2

Ice Box canyon:

NV Red Rock Canyon Ice Box Canyon

And very little ice I imagine at 108F. There was a moderate breeze, which didn’t really cool things down, but moved the air around so you weren’t baking on the valley floor.

This is about as big as plants get:

NV Red Rock Canyon 'tree'

End of the road looking West. The actual Red Rock Canyon is on the other side of those hills, and is only accessible by primitive road, e.g. not rental cars.

NV Red Rock Canyon end of road west

The 360 view from the end of the road:

NV Red Rock Canyon end of road 360 panorama

A left turn onto NV 159 and back to Las Vegas. There was something I wanted to see:

NV Las Vegas sign

The sign marks the Southern end of the Strip and is located in its own little park. Immediately across the street to the right is a wedding chapel and the Executive Air Terminal. It’s a National Historic Landmark:

NV Las Vegas sign plaque

Back at Bally’s:

Nevada view from parking deck

The view from the back of the parking deck. The Las Vegas Monorail is in the foreground. This is an actual transit system serving the Strip and the Convention Center. Rides are $5 each trip or $13 for the day. There are also trams running between some properties.  Clockwise from left is the hotel pool, airport, hotels, TopGolf, and the Mandalay Bay resort at the Southern end of the Strip. The resort has gold-tinted windows and is striking at low Sun angles.

Employee entrance to the hotel:

NV Ballys employee entrance

I was still a bit beat from the day before and knew I was going to have to walk about three miles in the evening, so I grabbed a nap for the afternoon.





Posted by: bkivey | 9 June 2018

Going Down to Paradise City

I scheduled a couple of days off in early June because it had been a while since I’d had two consecutive days off. I didn’t plan to do anything: I just wanted the time off. During the weeks prior to the time I mulled options. There’s a museum in central Washington I want to visit, but it’s far enough away to require an overnight stay. So there was that. The NCAA College Baseball World Series had a regional in Corvallis, home of #1 seed Oregon State (Go Beavs!). There are places like Steens Mountain in eastern Oregon to visit. I could stay home. Or I could go to . . . Las Vegas?

I was in the bar on Saturday and people were talking about Las Vegas, so for fun I looked up a flight+hotel+car package for two days leaving the next afternoon. Holy Crow! They were giving them away. I’d never been to Vegas. McCarren many times, but never the city proper. Motive, meet opportunity.

To ensure I made the flight, I paid Uber to take me to the airport. The MAX is far cheaper, but takes about an hour-and-a-half from where I live. By the time I finished running errands I didn’t really have enough cushion to ensure I’d make the flight on public transit.

The first item of note is that wingtips have gotten fancier over the years:

PDX B737-800 wingtip

I’m waiting for some bright star in the airline industry to figure out you can put advertising there.

Things along the way:

There are dry riverbeds and lakes all over the desert, and I find them interesting. From the air you can get a better perspective of how they fit into the landscape.

Nevada dry alluvial plain 1

Some solar power stations:

Nevada solar cell station 1

Nevada solar power station 2

We flew directly over Mt. Shasta, but I could not get a picture of that. I did get a picture of whatever these are:

Nevada cones 1

That they are cones is obvious, but it’s not clear whether the ejecta is lava, mud, cinders, or something else. From the uncropped image you can see there are no real roads in the area:

Nevada cones uncropped

And on final, there were these interesting hills:

Nevada Red Rock Canyon from air

McCarren sits directly next to the Strip for ease of access. Looking at you, Denver.

Nevada Las Vegas from air

Alaska Airline’s Disney plane:

Nevada Alaska Disney plane

So for the umpteenth time I touched down at McCarren International. This time, though, I was leaving the building. Right into 102F heat. At 1930. On entering the car I set the A/C to MAX and didn’t touch it again. It got dark earlier than expected, then I remembered that I was 1000 miles south of Hillsboro. My hotel was Ballys which is sort of co-located on the Strip with the Paris resort. Finding the hotel wasn’t difficult, and there was a parking garage next to the resort. Parking was not free, even for guests. It is free for certain classes of guests that I was not. I was to find this is the usual arrangement. Check-in was by kiosk and went quickly. On to the room:

Nevada Bally room 888

Bally resort room 888. There was an unobstructed view of the parking garage, and the wallpaper was horrible. The room was on the airport side of the hotel, but that wasn’t an issue unless they used whatever runway was active Sunday night.

Honestly, the room was generally nicer than I rent. The bathroom had a nice glass-enclosed shower, and everything worked and everything was clean. The bed was comfortable. TV was 60 channels of basic cable, which in Las Vegas is pretty basic. I’d bet few people come to Vegas to watch TV, though. One thing I did see on TV:

Nevada TV weather screencap

Apparently in Las Vegas the windchill actually makes things warmer.

It’s fairly well-known that what most people think of as Las Vegas (the Strip) isn’t in Las Vegas, but located in several unincorporated communities, with much of it in Paradise. What’s also known is that everything that can be monetized on the Strip, has been. Prices are 3x retail anywhere else, but that’s kind of expected. And sales tax. Even knowing this, $40 for mediocre food is disappointing.

I also knew that resorts and casinos are designed to keep people in them. Bright lights, sounds, crowds, and confusing floor layouts all serve to distract folks so they spend their money there and not elsewhere. However, when all I want is food and rest after working and traveling all day, this is frustrating.

And the crowds. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to be around so many people constantly. The crowds were lots of families with kids, lots of single-sex groups, lots of couples. Smoking is allowed on the casino floors, but not as many people as might be expected were partaking. The air filtration systems are impressive: barely a whiff of tobacco smoke and clear air. Drinking is street-legal on the Strip, and with the legalization of marijuana a couple years ago, the whiff of ganja can be detected.

I wandered over to the Paris next door, and their mall is a reproduction of a Parisian street (accuracy undetermined). It’s nice, and the floor is laid out with cobblestones. Faux or not is difficult to tell, as the floor has a heavy coat of epoxy paint. A sign informs that the floor is a ‘reproduction’ of a cobblestone street. I’m guessing not real cobblestones, as the resort would like to avoid ‘real’ lawsuits.

Dinner was at a chain pub on a street mall under construction where I had my one and only alcoholic beverage of the trip. Every time I travel I realize how beer-deprived other places are. The best available was a Sam Adams lager, which is a nice enough beer, but the selection on tap was lacking. I didn’t drink because I’m a beer snob; I just didn’t want to spend $10 a beer.

Finally back to the room. Thus ended the first day.




Posted by: bkivey | 8 June 2018

Where Is The Columbia Bar?

A day off in May featuring one of the first nice days of the year had me headed to the coast to see some new things. The first stop was Astoria. I’m familiar with Astoria and I like it. It’s in the running for a retirement destination (not real soon).

Astoria entering from South Entering Astoria from the South. The truss section of the Astoria Bridge is the only part of the bridge you’ll see on tchotchkes, the great majority of the bridge is functional, if boring, flat deck construction. There is a carving:

Astoria Whispering Giant The “Whispering Giant”.

No visit to Astoria is complete without a visit to the Astoria Column. The last time I was here the Column was undergoing renovation. That is complete, and the annual parking pass required to park has gone from $3 to $5. The Column looks good:

Astoria Column 2018 1

The interior has been opened so you can climb to the observation platform:

Astoria Column 2018 interior

And, no.

The view didn’t need renovation:

Astoria Column 2018 view South

Looking South with the Young river on the left and the Lewis & Clark river on the right.

Heading across the bridge to the uncharted territory of coastal Southwest Washington, I turned left toward Cape Disappointment, campsite for the Lewis & Clark expedition. It is also the place where that bane of mariners, the Columbia Bar, is visible. I’ve known about the Bar for many years, and the maritime museum in Astoria has a gallery devoted to it, complete with videos. My fishing in Astoria has been limited to the river, and I’ve never been as far as the Bar.

Cape Disappointment is accessed by an easy paved trail. There are some pitches but nothing overly strenuous. Along the way is this cove:


Cape Disappointment Deadman Cove 1


There are springs on either bank that drain to the ocean. The blob of land in the center of the image is an island that can be accessed at low tide. And, hey, it looks climbable.

It is:


Cape Disappointment Deadman Cove island 3

You have to do a little bit of climbing: it’s not walk-up-the-hill. As usual getting down was more interesting than going up. A couple of folks were watching me from the bank, but left when I got down. I guess they were hoping for a fail video. Sorry, folks.

There is an abandoned blockhouse:

Cape Disappointment blockhouse

These things are everywhere I’ve been in the coastal US.

The USCG base. Along with supplying personnel to man the lighthouse and conduct SAR along the river and coast, the Lifeboat School is located here.

Cape Disappointment USCG 1

At low tide there are not an abundance of channels to the sea.

At the top is the lighthouse:

Cape Disappointment lighthouse 1

It’s not very tall; the headland does most of that work. There is a sign that answers this post’s title question:

Cape Disappointment Columbia Bar sign


The view:

Cape Disappointment lighthouse panorama

Cape Disappointment Columbia Bar memorial

A trail goes to the Visitor Center from which you can see the lighthouse:

Cape Disappointment view from Lewis Clark center

There are some cormorants:

Cape Disappointment cormorants 1

And there are signs:

Cape Disappointment fog sign

I’m familiar with the weather on the coast, and this sign is a bit amusing. Fog is seen more frequently than ‘often’. A greeting in the native Chinook language:

Cape Disappointment Chinook greeting

I think they may want to check the translation: it probably says ‘Welcome. Now go home.’

There’s a trail to Fort Canby:

Cape Disappointment fort panorama

Cape Disappointment battery Harvey Allen

Not far from the Cape is the Clarks’s Tree, so named because William Lewis (go figure) carved a message into a tree to establish US claim to the territory. The original tree is long gone, but a bronze replica stands in its place. If you follow phone GPS you will end up here:

Long Beach LW tree GPS location

This is not Clark’s Tree. Nobody was home, but I figured they were good and tired of people showing up looking for a monument. The home is at the end of a one-way street, and I wondered that there wasn’t a sign telling people this was not the street.

The trail to the Tree starts on private property in a hotel parking lot. There are a few spaces set aside for tourists.

Long Beach LW tree trailhead

Long Beach LW tree trail panorama

The Tree:

Long Beach LW tree 5

Long Beach LW tree 1

The sculpture is quite amazing. There is a bench:

Long Beach LW tree trail bench

The historically ignorant might think the hotel sponsored the journey; something management might not discourage.

The view West:

Long Beach LW tree ocean panorama

It looks like we’re out of West.

On the way back home I was looking for a place to eat, and in the hamlet of Chinook, WA, there’s an establishment with a sign saying “Come On! Get in Here!” So I did.

Chinook bar exterior 2

Chinook bar

The light fixtures over the bar are made of 4-way lug wrenches. There are free peanuts. You can throw the shells on the floor. Not the pull tabs, though. Along with manly decor and a decent selection of TV’s and pool tables there are:

Chinook bar pinball machines

There’s another room like this. I stayed for a while playing pinball. They even had a couple of machines I’m good at. If it wasn’t an hour-and-a-half from home, this would be my bar.

Back across the bridge to Astoria then on to the scenic and fun OR 202 – OR 103 route to US 26 and Hillsboro. Another good day in the Great Northwest.

Posted by: bkivey | 7 June 2018

Talking Points

Over on the site a while ago there was an article on modern myths. What struck me about the examples cited was the similarity to Democrat Party talking points. The article debunks some current concerns and while much of the site’s content is the work of ‘Millennials’, the site is interesting and gives insight into a bit of the Zeitgeist.

Rampant sexual assault, rising racism, white supremacy, political fealty; these are some of the topics covered in the article, and found to be without merit. Yes, any one person can give a counter-example, but the point is that life isn’t as bad as a vocal minority would have you believe.

Yet one political party uses these points to curry favor. In a way this is disingenuous, as the same party is continually seeking funding for schools where presumably indoctrination thinking is encouraged, and thinking isn’t compatible with coercion. Hmmm. Demise

The site has closed without notice, although the archives are available. I enjoyed the site, and the comments section required your ‘A’ game. This site was the primary reason I limited my current events commenting: they did it better and our worldview was simpatico.

STD’s up in LA County

A story last month in the LA Times reported that some types of sexually transmitted diseases had reached historically high levels in LA County. The posited cause is  . . . racism?

The article opens with a description of an interactive (not like that) safe sex demonstration at an educational event (sex fair). Subsequently there is much speculation on STD incidence by people who seem a lot more interested in talking about the situation than trying to remedy it. Racism is thrown out as a cause, but no connection is made that shows exactly how racism acts as a mechanism for STD transmission. Reading the article gives the impression of people reaching to make the data fit their preconceptions.

Some of the cited studies confirm what many intuitively know: poor people tend to make poor decisions. Which in many cases is why they’re poor. I know. So the intelligentsia theorize that racism causes poverty, which leads to STD. There’s some truth to that, and a lot more prevalent 50 years ago.

But it’s not 50 years ago. People everywhere have more access to opportunity, and if the examples noted in the article are to be believed, a lot more access to sexual information. Why isn’t the universe following the Progressive Plan?

“The one thing I never do, and I hope others don’t as well, is blame these young people for not taking care of themselves,” said Barbara Ferrer, head of L.A. County’s Department of Public Health.

Could it be that the hyper-sexualization of everything and the abrogation of individual responsibility have anything to do with the problem? Maybe?




Posted by: bkivey | 3 April 2018

Taking a Look at “The Last Jedi”

A friend recently acquired The Last Jedi (or if you’re keeping score at home: Episode VIII), and graciously allowed me the included redemption code so I could watch the movie. I didn’t see it in theater (although it’s still playing locally) because it’s 2 ½ hours long. That’s about an hour longer than I’m prepared to sit through a movie unless I’m really interested in the subject matter, or it’s a really good film.

I like Star Wars well enough: been watching the films since 1977, but I’m not what you would call a fan. I’ve seen the first three, and the last two. The Force Awakens was entertaining, but had some film making short-comings that were also evident in the most recent effort.

Just for fun I watched the movie in Spanish the second time, because everything is more exciting in Spanish. Let’s go to the tape.

The Opening

The opening is the standard Star Wars crawl with John Williams’ rousing score, and


A band of rebels out to defeat the dominant political and military force in the galaxy has a plan. The plan is to convince one guy whom they haven’t heard from in years to come save their butts.

I’m smellin’ a lot of ‘if’ comin’ off this plan.”



That’s not a plan, that’s a faint hope on which to pin the lives of (presumably) thousands and an entire movement. Okay, back to the movie.

The First Order has taken the place of the Empire, but still business as usual. Find the rebels: blow them up real good. And they are doing a great job of that as the movie opens.

I have seen good SF movies that don’t have sound in space. Even more amazingly, sound carries through a vacuum and through blast-grade windows and why are there large, expansive windows on warships? In these movies this is about the least egregious science error, and I’ve been resigned to it for a while. That and spaceships maneuvering in vacuum as if they’re in atmo.

There’s a scene where a transport leaves the planet surface and reaches orbit in ten seconds (I checked the timer). Assuming a planet similar to Earth, nominal orbital velocity is about 17,500 mph. A little math shows that to achieve that velocity in the time shown would require a craft capable of 80g acceleration from a standing start. Assuming the ship stayed intact, the people would be reduced to lumpy red puddles on the aft bulkhead. By way of comparison, the surface gravity of the Sun is 27g.

I understand that no one watches these movies for the science, but it’s hard to look past some of these things, and while it all looks cool, it’s not necessary to tell the story.

Moving on.

The rebels deploy a fleet of bombers against the aggressors, and we’re back over Germany in 1942. The dialogue in this scene could have been lifted from any WW II movie set in the European theatre. The situations are similar, so you might reasonably expect similar dialogue, but for $200M we could maybe expect some writing effort.

The bombing run would be familiar to the US 8th Air Force prior to the virtual elimination of the Luftwaffe: it’s not a good day at the office for the Rebellion. Has anyone considered the orbital debris problem even one sci-fi battle would create? They do manage to get one ship through to drop bombs, and the First Order loses a capital ship, but the rebels lose pretty much their entire fleet, as in, there ain’t no more. It’s not a good trade.

Hey Skywalker, What Have You Been Up To?

Back in Ireland Ahch-To (bless you) Rebellion emissary Rey finds Luke Skywalker. This actually happened at the end of the last movie, and here the film picks up right at the moment. Skywalker is a bitter old man, but Mark Hamill is 66, so maybe not an acting stretch. The film stretches credibility here by depicting a sunny day in Ireland, and Luke wants nothing to do with Rey or the Rebellion or anything else.

Back at Supervillian Central

We get our first look at Supreme Leader Snokes and Assistant Supervillian Kylo Ren makes the scene. Are there no plastic surgeons in the Star Wars ‘verse? Ren receives a scathing performance review, but there aren’t any other management trainees, so he keeps his job.

Hey! Over Here!

Rey mopes around after Skywalker for awhile (Why doesn’t he notice me? Should I change my hair?) until he busts out with some Jedi exposition.

Bad News for the Rebellion

What’s left of the Rebel fleet is on the run, and they find that the First Order has developed a way to track ships FTL. This is unhappy news, because now they can’t get away. While this is clearly a contrived plot point to create tension, it’s OK. It’s a movie, and a film about the First Order searching for the Rebels for years (“Welp, not in this system.”) would not sell $1.3B in tickets.

Apparently there is no chain of command in the Rebellion. Any random person can gain access to the bridge and hold casual conversations with the commander. No wonder they’re having problems. Organa gets ejected into space, but somehow regains consciousness and is forced back to the ship. No explanation in the movie on how this miracle occurs, but I’m sure the fans have this covered. Does Leia do this herself, or does Luke (maybe Ren) help her?

Skywalker reunites with R2-D2, and in a moment of utter predictability, when he utters the words

Nothing can make me change my mind.”

What you expect to happen, does.

At this point all the pieces are in place: dominant evil opponent, a band on the run with no escape, and possibly maybe perhaps a glimmer of hope.

The Coach Gives a Speech

Things aren’t going well for the home team, so the Admiral in command rallies the troops. Perhaps there is a chain of command, or maybe she just wandered onto the bridge. As speeches go, this one is lame. It amounts to “Don’t get killed.” without any explanation as to how she plans to accomplish that. It turns out there is a plan, but it isn’t shared.

This part of the movie is pretty well done. There are very good security reasons not to reveal the plan, because the rebels already know they can be tracked, and the First Order knows how much time they have to get somewhere. If the admiral lets slip that they’re headed for a planet and their adversaries find out, they have the fleet to render every planet in range unusable. On the other hand, the First Order knows the Rebels have to land somewhere, so they could employ the same strategy whether or not they know the Rebel’s plans. It’s a bit of a plot hole.

For the rest of the movie there’s the classic tension between command and the lower ranks (exemplified by Poe and Finn) as the rank-and-file want information that, admittedly, has life-and-death consequences for them, and command’s struggle to manage both internal and external conflict.

I noted about the last film that layers of tension were added at regular intervals until the denouement. The same formula is used here. It’s good, effective story-telling.

A Couple Meet Cute

The commander isn’t the only one with a secret agenda. Former First Order soldier Finn tries to sneak off the ship, and is stopped by a maintenance worker. It looks like he’s trying to desert, but he Has A Plan. Unfortunately the plan amounts to mutiny, as no one bothers to tell command. So the lesson here is you can do whatever you want as long as you think you’re right? That can’t be true.

They have to go to a casino and find . . . James Bond? Except here he’s a super-hacker rather than a super-spy.

I Feel Ya

Back to Rey, and we (and they) discover that she and Kylo Ren can Skype each other through Force Telcom. There’s a fair amount of this the rest of the movie, and adds significantly to the development of both characters as well as serving as an information delivery vehicle for the audience.

Rey and Kylo and Luke spend most of the next half-hour coming to grips with themselves. We learn why Skywalker never opened a Jedi Temple in a strip mall, and we see Yoda destroy priceless cultural artifacts.

Finn and Rose don’t get James Bond, but they do come away with an apparently serviceable replacement. Because if they don’t, the movie’s over. Most of the hacker side quest comes off as filler, and doesn’t exactly put Our Heroes in a good light.

Slavery is common in the Star Wars universe, and there are slaves at the casino. I understand there is some time pressure, but these people think nothing of invading the most powerful ship in the First Order fleet. Busting a few slaves out should not be a problem.

Things Heat Up

Poe decides to take the mutiny public, but it doesn’t last long. You know you’ve screwed up when someone comes back from the dead to shoot you. Rose, Finn, their hacker, and a droid gain entry to Ren’s ship, and Rey shows up at the front door.

Rey meets Snokes in The Exorcist oh, wait. It just looks like that movie. Snokes dies a suitable super-villian death, and then there’s some lightsaber action as Rey and Kylo take on his bodyguards.

While Satan Snokes has his way with Rey, the hacker has sold the Rebellion out, and First Order gunners find themselves in a target-rich environment. Rose and Finn are about to be executed.

Things Get Hot

Rey and Ren engage in a battle of wills over a lightsaber (pre-nups, kids!), and the rebel admiral rams a cruiser at lightspeed into the enemy dreadnought. This is one of the cooler effects I’ve seen, and illustrates how completely the Star Wars franchise ignores physics.

I noted in the previous movie that if you brought a ship the mass of the Millenium Falcon out of lightspeed anywhere near a planet, you’d blow half the atmosphere away. E=MC2 , and all that energy has to go somewhere. In the Jedi scenario, you’d absolutely destroy everything for a good little distance. The First Order fleet, the Rebel fleet, the planet, would all be gone. Roll credits.

Instead Rose and Finn are saved by a literal deux ex machina, which at this point is perhaps a little too cute. But everyone that’s left gets away (“It’s in my contract!”) to the planet.

You could reasonably end the movie here. Everyone retires to neutral corners until the next film. I had the same observation about The Force Awakens: you think you’re nearly done, but there’s more movie. Like, another half-hour.

Another Half-Hour

The Rebels are holed up in a cave with apparently only one entrance/exit, which they have to seal to keep the riff-raff out. CGI creatures abound. You’d think the First Order could just lay siege to the place and wait the rebels out. Station a garrison, jam comms, put up some detection sats, and starve them out. But Kylo Ren must have a hot date, because he wants this taken care of now.

The Boss Fight

In Sink The Bismarck! antiquated aircraft attack a modern battleship, or maybe old landspeeders attack Death Star Lite, I get confused. Anyway, everyone, even the maintenance tech, jumps into these jalopies and tries to die sooner rather than later. And very nearly succeed. Finn channels Commodore Decker but lives for another film. I want my next car to be built out of his ship’s skin, because he should have disappeared like a moth in a blowtorch.

After this fiasco (I notice that the Rebellion is really good at being bad), Skywalker shows up (‘ as prophecy predicted’), has a few words with his sister, then High Noon’s it with Kylo Ren. In the course of this confrontation Ren has his forces blast away at Skywalker. I thought there would be some cool inhuman lightsaber work, but, no.

The scene with Poe and Finn immediately after the fire fest was to me the funniest part of the movie. Finn thinks he can help a man who has apparently withstood the fury of every gun that could be brought to bear. Dude.

Despite expert computer analysis to the contrary, it turns out there is a way out of the cavern. The dozen rebels left realize they can follow the CGI creatures out, because living things are always better than machines. Rey shows promise as a miner.

Meanwhile Skywalker and Ren are duking it out using slow-motion rarely seen outside Sports Center. The fight comes to something of a draw when Ren demonstrates he’s been fighting an avatar. Which I noticed Luke’s avatar has fewer grey hairs.

The End (Finally)

Luke disappears on the wind. Rey and Ren exchange meaningful sequel looks. What’s left of the Rebellion fits on board a small freighter. I don’t know if Finn is still in Rey’s ‘friend’ zone, but if not, between her and Rose, dude’s getting some action.

What I Thought

If I’d seen this movie in theater, it would not have seemed overlong. I liked it. The going rate for first-run movies would not have been too much.

It seems the last couple of films the producers are heading in a more character-oriented rather than necessarily story-oriented direction. The result from my chair is more talking less exploding. I happen to like that direction, because stories are about people. I understand that the producers have to please, well, everyone, and that is my pettest peeve about the last couple of movies.

Sometimes it feels like there are three movies the producers want to make, but can only make one, so they try and cram parts of several movies into one film. The Last Jedi was a chase movie, an underdone psychological study on what having a super power does to a person, a relationship study between Kylo and Rey, and student-master movie. Any one of those could be a good Star Wars film. Perhaps Disney should make more frequent, smaller, movies rather than huge, extravagant conglomerations.

Posted by: bkivey | 25 December 2017

In Hoc Anno Domini

When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.

Everywhere there was civil order, for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so. But everywhere there was something else, too. There was oppression – for those who were not the friends of Tiberius Caesar. There was the tax gatherer to take the grain from the fields and the flax from the spindle to feed the le­gions or to fill the hungry treasury from which divine Caesar gave largess to the people. There was the impresser to find recruits for the circuses. There were executioners to quiet those whom the emperor proscribed. What was a man for but to serve Caesar?

There was persecution of men who dared think differently, who heard strange voices or read strange manuscripts. There was enslavement of men whose tribes came not from Rome, disdain for those who did not have the familiar visage. And most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life. What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?

Then, of a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.

And the voice from Galilee, which would defy Caesar, offered a new Kingdom in which each man could walk upright and bow to none but his God. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. And he sent this gospel of the Kingdom of Man into the uttermost ends of the earth.

So the light came into the world and the men who lived in darkness were afraid, and they tried to lower a cur­tain so that man would still believe sal­vation lay with the leaders.

But it came to pass for a while in divers places that the truth did set man free, although the men of dark­ness were offended and they tried to put out the light. The voice said, Haste ye. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you, for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.

Along the road to Damascus the light shone brightly. But afterward Paul of Tarsus, too, was sore afraid. He feared that other Caesars, other prophets, might one day persuade men that man was nothing save a servant unto them, that men might yield up their birthright from God for pottage and walk no more in freedom.

Then might it come to pass that darkness would settle again over the lands and there would be a burning of books and men would think only of what they should eat and what they should wear, and would give heed only to new Caesars and to false prophets. Then might it come to pass that men would not look upward to see even a winter’s star in the East, and once more, there would be no light at all in the darkness.

And so Paul, the apostle of the Son of Man, spoke to his brethren, the Galatians, the words he would have us remember afterward in each of the years of his Lord:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

This [Wall Street Journal] editorial was written in 1949 by the late Vernon Royster and has been published annually since. .

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