Thoughts on Reality

This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through … a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. 

— Lyndon Johnson, special message to Congress, 1965

Troposphere, whatever. I told you before I’m not a scientist. That’s why I don’t want to deal with global warming.

— Justice Antonin Scalia, U.S. Supreme Court hearing in the case of Massachusetts et al. v. the EPA

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

— Philip K. Dick, science fiction author

Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) is an old man who escaped from prison at age 70. Rather than lying low, he starts robbing banks. He walks in quietly like an elderly gentleman, shows the stunned teller his gun, and walks out with a bag of money – over and over again. He is such an unlikely robber, he gets away with it. On one of his road trips he runs into a woman (Sissy Spacek) with whom he starts a friendship.

The movie is base on the true story of Forrest Tucker, who was a misfit as a youth and spent time in juvenile correction facilities and prisons dozens of times throughout his life.

Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek are seasoned actors who obviously carry the movie. It’s light, and I didn’t find any great value. I enjoyed watching it, but I knew I’d better write this review soon lest I forget all about it.

I am embarrassed for my Senate and Country.

Our government put sanctions on this Russian because he conducted criminal activity in our country, and now our own American Senate confirmed that those criminal activities are acceptable, and that the sanctions should be lifted.

This is not how you make America great. This is how you sell out America. The same people who were upset when Obama freed up Iran’s frozen assets and gave them back their own money, and who made it out like America was paying Iran, these same people are now handing the Russians the key to business in America.


San Diego [click to zoom]

This a view of San Diego this morning at 9:30am. Downtown is in the center. The San Diego Bay is prominent across the picture, and the Pacific Ocean is on the bottom. The island you see is Coronado, and the “cross” on the left are the two runways of the Navy base. The beaches on the bottom left is where all the Navy SEALs get their training. On the upper side of the island, opposite the city skyline, you can see two moored aircraft carriers.

The airport, from where we came, is on the other side of the bay, to the left of downtown. To the right of downtown you can make out the curve of the famous Coronado bridge connecting the island with the city.

And incredibly, in the very distance, on the horizon on the left side of  the picture you can see the massive Mt. San Gorgonio, at 11,503 feet the highest mountain in Southern California. Read more about it here.  To its right you can see Mt. San Jacinto, the massive peak above Palm Springs. It’s 10,833 feet high. Here is a post about San Jacinto and the famous cactus to clouds (C2C) hike.

These mountains are 120 miles north of San Diego. The air was obviously very clear today.

Now this is something I have not seen in a long time. Getting gas in St. Louis:

David Kim (John Cho) is the techie father of Margot Kim, a 16-year-old teenager, whose mother died of cancer not too long before. Both of them struggle to overcome the loss. Margot, on the surface, is a normal American teenager. One day, without warning, she disappears and nobody seems to have any leads. After a day and a half of no progress whatsoever by the authorities, David manages to hack into Margot’s laptop and starts picking up the digital breadcrumbs which eventually leads him onto her trail.

A year and a half ago I reviewed the book The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O by Neal Stephenson. Here is an excerpt of my review:

It is a largely chronological assortment of diaries, emails, internal blog posts, government memos – sometimes heavily redacted, handwritten notes, narratives, translations, Wikipedia entries, and historic references. No one person tells the story. The author does not tell the story, and there is no major protagonist who tells the story. The various documents and excerpts, just posted one after the other, eventually tell the story.

My point was that Stephenson used a completely unconventional story-telling format, one I had never seen used before, and he pulled it off.

The structure of this film is similarly unconventional. There is no “normal” footage at all. The entire story is told by watching either a computer screen, a phone screen, and video feeds from the news, GPS screens, video chats, instant message chats, emails, Google searches and other digital formats. There is no film footage at all.

Yet, it works and it tells the story unlike any other medium could.

For instance, at one time David is chatting with his daughter in a text box, and the messages jump back and forth. Then David types a sentence, while – as we know – his daughter sees the ” . . . ” bubble indicating that a message is being typed. David thinks better of sending that sentence and backspaces it away. This simple gesture we all experience in our digital lives all the time tells more than any narration or video could. The technique is perfect for the story.

The digital footprints we all leave in our modern lives are central to the story and Searching exposes vulnerabilities in our world that didn’t exist when I was a teenager and completely immersed in the “real world.”

In addition to this unique and refreshing format, there are several major plot twists that jolted me and kept me in suspense. It all came together as one of the best movies I have watched in a while.

You should definitely go and see Searching. You will not regret it.

Bobby showed up for his first day at Sullivan Community College in upstate New York in the fall of 1980. As he crossed the campus, checked in for college and went to his dorm, girls came up and kissed him, guys slapped him on the back, and everyone seemed to welcome him. Finally, a friend figured it out. “Were you adopted?” he asked? “You have a twin brother.”

Together they called that brother, Eddie, who had dropped out of Sullivan CC the year before. Bobby and Eddie met soon after and were stunned when they looked at each other. The story made it into the newspapers and the national media. Soon, a third boy in New York recognized himself in the pictures and contacted the paper. Now there were all three of them, David, Bobby and Eddie, with three different surnames, all born on July 12, 1961, separated and adopted by three different families.

The boys and the families didn’t know they were part of a larger experiment. Only slowly did they find out. The debate of nature vs. nurture is central to this documentary.

Three Identical Strangers is a heartwarming documentary about human nature, raising children, and what upbringing can effect in a person’s life. It is a story well told. Initially a feel-good story, it eventually unravels into a dark tale of deception, where the innocent subjects find their entire lives upset, confused and shocked.

In Three Identical Strangers they tell their story to all of us.

Here is an article that provides more background you might read after you watch the film.

Every year, on or around New Year’s Day, I try to hike the Palm Canyon outside Borrego Springs. It’s an easy 1.5 mile hike (each way) from the parking lot to the famous palm oasis. There is a small section of a palm stand which I have photographed every time since about 2010. I missed going in 2018. Here is my post from 2017, which gives some history.

This year, my son Devin and I were on the trail at 10:00am. On the way up, we checked on the little spot I have been keeping a record of.

In 2017, this was the view of my little stand:

In 2019, it has not changed much, unlike in previous years:

While at the grove, we ate our snacks and got warmed up a bit in the sun. Here we are:

Here is Devin at the grove.

And here I am.

After the palm oasis, the canyon goes on and on, but there is no trail. Some years ago we went further up, but it is very rough, there is bouldering involved and some scrambling through brush and bushes, some wading through the creek, depending on the water level. It’s challenging. This year we didn’t go any further. We also didn’t bring the gear and provisions to do that.

On the way across the mountains, however, we encountered the high desert in winter wonderland mode.

The picture above is a shot out of the car window along the way.

Here you can see me examining snow and ice on the cholla cactus.

The desert truly looks exotic under ice and snow. The shadows are stark with the sun low in the winter sky, and they eye is usually blinded by the sky or the reflections on the ice or rock.

One last look down into the valley onto Borrego Springs, where the trailhead to the palm grove is located and where we were just an hour before taking this picture. I have included it in high resolution, so you can click on it and zoom in for a better view. Yes, that’s all of Borrego Springs. The palm canyon is behind the brown mountain ridge coming in from the left side going across most of the photograph. You can also see the Salton Sea as a tiny blue strip in the upper right corner of the image.

And that was my New Year’s Day hike 2019. The tradition continues.

Trump’s tantrums and his playing reality TV with the nation’s economy so he can get $5 billion to build a border wall (which he said Mexico was going to pay for) had me do just a bit of research.

I have always thought that walls don’t work. People tunnel under walls, and they fly over them. As a matter of fact, the majority of undocumented aliens in the United States arrived here by plane, came in through an airport, got their passport stamped, and then overstayed their visa.

Hordes at the border trying to cross are images made up by the Trump administration to scare us. Making immigrants out to be murderers and rapists are scare tactics. Immigrants in general are more productive and contribute more to society and the economy than native-born Americans.

Trump trying to state that “Democrats want open borders” is simply silly. Nobody wants open borders. Border laws must be enforced. Nobody will disagree with you on that. But spending $5 billion on a wall would take years, would be a waste of money, and would not make a difference in the end. So why do it?

Trump is also telling us that immigrants flooding into the United States is a problem for us, and that this is now worse than ever. That, too, is simply not true.

In fact, our undocumented population has dropped during the Obama years and has continued to drop between 2014 and 2018, beyond the chart above.

The methods that are in place are working and have been working. Trump is not doing any miracles. He is simply playing reality TV games with us and making us froth at the mouth, turning us against each other.

Here is a study on illegal immigration which provides some valuable facts:

US Undocumented Population Drops Below 11 Million in 2014, with Continued Declines in the Mexican Undocumented Population

It took me no more than 20 minutes of casual research to counter most of Trump’s “facts” about the terrible immigration problem we’re having in the south. Does he ever google some of these issues himself? Does he have staff that provides the facts to him if he can’t google? Does anybody advise the man?

The Congress should deny spending a single dollar on a border wall that makes no sense, has no purpose, and does not fix a problem we actually don’t have.

If the president is willing to cripple our economy over this, it’s his own doing and everyone knows it.

It’s the last few days of the year, and the Platinum Marathons are in full swing at American Airlines.

Yesterday, on the way back from Kaua’i to Los Angeles we were in the First Class section, courtesy of upgrades from American Airlines. I am an Executive Platinum frequent flyer, which is the highest tier you can reach. To get there, you have to spend at least $12,000 a year on tickets and fly at least 100,000 miles. Mind you, that’s a lot of traveling and there is no cheating your way there.

You might ask what it’s worth. The difference between “regular” Platinum and Executive Platinum is huge. For instance, as a Platinum member, you get occasional upgrades when there is room – which is not very often. As an Executive Platinum member, I fly First Class without paying for First Class at least 3 out of 4 flights or more. Quite often I am upgraded on an entire trip, like this time to Hawai’i. It makes a huge difference in the overall travel experience.

And that’s where the Platinum Marathons have their origin. Toward the end of the qualifying year, many Executive Platinum members may find themselves short a few miles from the 100,000 and are at risk of losing the status for the next year.

The lady in front of us yesterday was an example. She flew from North Carolina to Kaua’i on Wednesday, checked into the Marriott for the night, spent Thursday at the resort, and boarded the plane back to the mainland at 10:00pm that night. She was in Hawai’i barely 24 hours, but she burned 8,000 miles which was enough to get her over the 100,000 mile threshold. Whew, another year of top tier status achieved!

This is not unusual between Christmas and New Years in the First Class sections of long-distance flights. All the road warriors, or better “air warriors” who are lacking a few miles are just spending time on airplanes, traveling long distances with no destinations in mind, burning miles.

And now all you land-lubbers know a little bit more about the world of the road warriors: Platinum Marathons!


‘Twas the night before Christmas and it rained buckets. The rain came down so hard on our cabin, the roof seemed to vibrate. I drifted in and out of sleep surrounded by the white noise of the rain storm.

In the morning it was clear and we decided to go on a drive to see some waterfalls.

One the way we stopped at a scenic overlook, and the most scenic part of it was the abundance of wild chickens that seemed to converge on any parked car. They must have learned that these creatures in their cruising tin boxes were the bringers of crumbs.

The highland of Kaua’i is lush, green and apparently a paradise for horses.

We stopped so Trisha could scratch the heads of a couple of horses, and they thoroughly enjoyed our attention.

When we got to Wailua Falls they were very swollen and completely brown. Normally those falls are beautiful, white and blue. But the heavy rains had stirred up the waters. The rivers and the waterfalls were all reddish-brown and fierce.

Later, at the ocean at the mouth of the Wailua River, it was an altogether eerie picture. The ocean was deep brown and wild. Driftwood covered all the beaches, and as far as we could see, brown water. The rivers wash the brown earth into the ocean, and the currents push it back to the beaches.

The island of Kaua’i is about 5.1 million years old and in another 5 million years, it will have largely been washed into the sea and become an atoll. Today, I was able to see this process of erosion in action, in front of my eyes. The brown ocean was my witness, as I stood, a bystander only in the eons of time, like dust in the wind, watching the dust in the ocean.

It put me in my place on this very different Christmas Day.

It’s nice and warm on the island of Kaua’i, except it’s rainy. Great single and double rainbows, though. Merry Christmas!

Movie Review: The Mule

Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is a horticulturist in Peoria, Illinois, who had so much passion for his work that he was a terrible husband to his wife, father for his children, and not just while they grew up. When his daughter got married, he didn’t show up to walk her down the aisle.

With the advent of the Internet, when people started buying flowers online, Earl got left behind and foreclosure ended his business and bankrupted him. Being well into his eighties, there are few options left and no place to go.

But he still has his truck and a flawless driving record. When a young man offers him a job to pick up some valuable items from El Paso, Texas and bring them back, he accepts. Naïve as he is, he doesn’t realize right away that he has signed up with a Mexican drug cartel to ferry cocaine. But the money is great, his financial troubles are gone, and he does one run after the other.

As his success grows, the cartel gets more and more interested in him and assigns a handler to him.

But there is also the drug enforcement agency (DEA) and a few hard-charging agents get on his trail. Soon Earl is in trouble with his family, the feds and the cartel. Everyone is looking for him.

Clint Eastwood produced and directed this movie, besides being its star. Eastwood is masterful story-teller with his movies, and I have enjoyed most of them. I just searched for his name in my blog and realized that I give almost always three stars or more to Eastwood-directed movies. There seems to be a pattern. While I did that search, I also realized that Grand Torino, the film this one reminded me of, was vintage 2009, almost ten years ago. Eastwood was 78 years old then. He is 88 now.

I hope he makes many more great movies like The Mule, a simple human story, masterfully told with a soundtrack that made me stay and sit through all the credits.

During a dinner out with another couple some time ago we two men talked about “computers” as many of us are wont to do from time to time. Then, a few days later, I received Hackers in an Amazon box. Thanks, Glenn, I really enjoyed this book!

In Hackers, Steven Levy tells the story of the computer revolution starting at the beginning, when a few computer programmers at MIT started thinking about programming different from the establishment, including the academic community and, of course, business. At the time, “business” was pretty much only IBM. Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) just started and provided its revolutionary minicomputer, the PDP, to select universities.

That started it all in the Sixties, and the rest, as we so say, is history.

In this book we get to know some of the pioneers we who became household names, like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, but there are dozens of others who contributed just as much but whose names did not become as famous.

When I was 14 years old and a schoolboy in Germany in 1970, I bought a book about computers, studied it, and started drawing logic diagrams, cobbled together logic gates to perform the basic arithmetic calculations on notepads. To test them, I used a transformer from my slotcar track, bought little lightbulbs and sockets to represent binary memory registers, toggle switches to enter binary data into the system, and wired the various gates using tiny wires and Molex connectors. Yes, I was 14, and I was designing computers.

School and life took me away, and it would be another 10 years before I entered the computer field. By then, the classic hacker revolution was over, and the industry had already worked itself into a pattern of exponential growth. Reading Hackers now brings me back to my youth and how it all started for me. Becoming an expert programmer and eventually starting a software company has consumed my professional life. By choosing a career in a field that fascinated me since my youth, I have never really worked a day in my life. I always just got paid for doing what I would have been doing anyway. But I started out as a hacker and I could relate to all these other hackers.

Any computer aficionado on any level will enjoy reading Steven Levy’s Hackers. It’s a guide through the decades of what we call the computer revolution, focusing mostly on the first two or three decades that started it all.


  • The stock market is tanking.
  • GM is shutting down plants.
  • We have no White House Chief of Staff.
  • We have no long-term Secretary of Defense.
  • We have no Attorney General.
  • The president and Congress are shutting down the federal government today.

Happy longest night of the year.

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