Tag Archives: United States

Are prices in Canada higher than in the United States?

I’ve noticed that many prices seem to be lower here in the United States than in Canada. Am I imagining it? With the help of my Canadian friend Annette (an experienced shopper), I decided to find out.

Methodology

I selected a basket of 20 common retail items (food, alcoholic beverages, and fuel), and compared the prices for these items in Vancouver, Canada (my home) and San Antonio, Texas (my location when this crazy idea struck me). Annette and I gathered regular retail prices (not sale prices) not including sales taxes from comparable retail outlets (to the extent that they are available in both cities) within a few days of each other. The American prices were converted to Canadian dollars at the current exchange rate. Where quantities or package sizes differed, the prices were adjusted to equivalent volumes.

Findings

The table below shows the items we checked, the U.S. price, the Canadian price, and the percentage difference of the Canadian price compared to the U.S. price.

Product U.S. Canada Percnt
Frosted Flakes (760g box) $3.92 $7.23 84.6%
Cheerios (396g box) $2.90 $5.02 73.3%
Milk (3.78L = 1 gallon) $4.32 $4.56 5.4%
Eggs (12 Large Grade A) $1.71 $2.63 53.5%
Coors Light beer (24×355 ml cans) $20.39 $43.99 115.7%
Corona Extra beer (12 x 330 ml bottles) $13.25 $25.69 93.9%
Yellowtail Cabernet Sauvignon (750 ml bottle, Australia) $5.07 $12.99 156.2%
Woodbridge Merlot (750 ml bottle, California) $8.64 $13.99 61.9%
Coca Cola (12 cans) $3.04 $5.97 96.4%
Coca Cola (2 Litre bottle) $1.41 $1.87 32.9%
Chicken thighs skin-on, bone in (per pound) $5.04 $4.98 -1.2%
Ground beef (85% lean, per pound) $3.25 $6.28 93.0%
Ground beef (89% lean, per pound) $3.79 $7.98 110.3%
Ground beef (93% lean, per pound) $5.08 $9.88 94.5%
Bananas (per pound) $0.49 $0.58 18.5%
Fuji Apples (per pound) $1.70 $1.19 -30.1%
Yellow Onions, medium (per pound) $2.43 $1.28 -47.3%
Russet Potatoes (per pound) $0.90 $0.48 -46.5%
Gasoline (regular, per Litre) $0.91 $1.34 47.9%
Diesel fuel (per Litre) $1.01 $1.41 39.4%

Analysis

Vancouverites are paying a lot more!

Of the 20 items on the list, 16 were more expensive in Canada. 3 produce items were significantly cheaper in Canada (apples, onions, & potatoes), and there was a trivial difference in the price of chicken thighs. All other items were between 5% and 156% more expensive in Canada.

The price differences were the biggest for wine and beer (61% to 156% higher). The probable reasons for this are: a government monopoly on alcohol distribution in British Columbia, high government taxes on alcoholic beverages, and restrictions and tariffs on importing alcohol into Canada.

Grocery items (other than the few that were cheaper) were between 5% (milk) and 110% (ground beef) more expensive in Vancouver, with the remaining 9 items between 18% (bananas) and 96% (Coca Cola) more expensive.

Vehicle fuel was priced 47% higher in Canada for regular gasoline and 38% higher for diesel fuel. This is due, in part, to higher taxes.

I recognize that this was a very limited sample size (20 items, 2 stores, 2 cities, none of which were randomly chosen), and so few general conclusions can be drawn from these results. But it does confirm my suspicions. In my experience, groceries, alcohol, and fuel are consistently more expensive in Canada than in the United States.

Why is this the case? What can Canadian consumers do about it? Stayed tuned for more on this topic.

Civilized Spelunking in Carlsbad Caverns

I’ve been in many caves before, but none quite as grand or civilized as Carlsbad Caverns.  There was no desperate clinging to dusty ledges above a river plunging into a dark abyss, no riding an inner tube with only a stick to protect me from the rapidly approaching walls that I couldn’t see despite the penlight held in my teeth, no being bitten by cave shrimp and I crawl on my belly through a subterranean river, and no bat guano squishing between my toes.  There were none of the gaudy coloured lights popular in the caves open for visitors in China, and very little of the damage that I’ve found in unprotected caves like in Vietnam.  Very civilized.

Patrick and Diane seated on a stone wall with the large, dark cave mouth behind us

At the entrance

We chose to hike into the caverns via the natural entrance rather than take the elevator.  It’s a walk of over a mile down a paved but continuously steep switch-backed trail that can be hard on the knees, but hiking down provides a much better appreciation of the caverns’ size and depth.

Diane and Beth standing on a paved path with many swtichbacked paths visible extending into the darkness below them

Diane and our friend Beth at the start of the many switchbacks

The first non-native person known to have explored the caverns is Jim White, a local cowboy.  In 1901 he saw a dark moving column in the sky, investigated, and found a giant stream of bats issuing from the cave mouth.  An estimated 800,000 bats of 17 species live in the caverns, the majority being Mexican Free-Tailed bats.  Evening programs are held at the cave entrance to watch the departure of the bats between Memorial Day (end of May) and mid-October.

Many bats against the sunset

Carlsbad Caverns, located in the Guadalupe Mountains in southeastern New Mexico, is protected as a National Park.  Despite its remote location, it receives 500,000 visitors annually.

The caves were formed when a large, underground limestone deposit, once the floor of an ancient sea bed, was dissolved when hydrogen sulfide (H2S, a colourless gas with the foul odour of rotten eggs) from deeper petroleum reserves mixed with oxygen (02, from water) to form sulfuric acid (H2SO4) The entrance to the caverns was caused by natural erosion from the surface afterwards, within the last million years.

The self-guided tour goes through several large chambers displaying lots of different and hard-to-photograph speleothems (the structures found in caves caused by the deposit of water-borne minerals) like stalactites, stalagmites, columns, soda straws, draperies, helectites, and popcorn.

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The biggest room in the caverns, uninspiringly called ‘The Big Room’ but also known as ‘The Hall of the Giants’, is almost 4,000 feet (1,220 m) long, 625 feet (191 m) wide, and 255 feet (78 m) high at the highest point. It has a floor area of 357,469 square feet (33,210 m2) and is the third largest cave chamber in North America and the seventh largest in the world.

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The caves are cool but comfortable.  The self-guided tour travels a paved path, most of which is wheelchair accessible.  If you’re seeking a civilized spelunking expedition, Carlsbad Caverns is a great place to visit.

Posing Underground

Posing Underground

The Roswell Incident

In the first week of July 1947, a spacecraft containing extraterrestrial life crashed on a ranch northwest of Roswell, New Mexico. Many people believe this.  Known as the Roswell Incident, it has been the subject of controversy and conspiracy theories since the 1970’s.  What is not in doubt, is that something did happen in Roswell.

There is evidence that something unusual happened here many years ago, but exactly what remains unclear.  On July 8, 1947 the Army issued a press release stating that military personnel had recovered a ‘flying disk’ that crashed near Roswell.

Rowsell Daily Review newspaper front page saying "RAAF Captures Flying Saucer on Ranch in Roswell'

Front page news

Later that day, an Army press conference was held and the debris shown was instead said to have come from an experimental weather balloon.

Front page of Roswell Daily Record with headline "General Ramsey Empties Rosweel Saucer'

Change of Tune

Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time the U.S. military has covered something up.

Aircraft Identification Chart showing that all planes are spacecraft are weather balloons, nad a weather baloon is swamp gas

Aircraft Identification Chart

In the 1970’s interest in this incident was rekindled, and further investigations and interviews were conducted by UFO investigators and the U.S. Air Force.  The Air Force reports concluded that the debris was likely from a top-secret project utilizing balloons to monitor Soviet nuclear tests, and that reports of recovered alien bodies were likely innocently transformed memories or hoaxes.  Many UFO proponents dismiss these findings, and offer their own evidence to the contrary.

Perhaps something did happen in Roswell.  Even today, aliens occupy the town.

Patrick standing beside large green wood carving of an alientholding a cell phone

E.T Phone Home — we both share the same physique

The townspeople don’t seem to mind their presence at all, in fact, I think it might be good for tourism in this remote New Mexico town of about 50,000 people.

Little green man driving a old wagon

Our taxi driver

White coloured male and femaile aliends made of paper in a window dressed as newlyweds

Newlyweds

There is even evidence of alien technology, though it didn’t appear to be in operation on the day we visited.

Diane croching beneath a silver model of a flying disk with little blue alien figures beside

Diane and flying disc

Today, Roswell is home to the International Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center.

I had the distinct pleasure of being escorted through the museum by my new friend Bob, an intelligent and thoughtful guy with a technical and military background who is also a UFO believer.  Bob, who spent a week in the museum’s research library before he came to his conclusions, was keen to show me around and answer my questions.

Rows of boxes containing UFO research materials around a reading table

UFO Research Library

I was thrilled to be visiting the museum with a believer, and a knowledgeable one to boot.  Diane wasn’t quite so excited, and was probably thinking about the nearest Starbucks.

Diane standing in front of flying disc and aliens

Is it over yet?

The museum provides the full chronology of the Roswell incident, laying out all the evidence in favour of a real alien encounter and a military cover-up.  In the short time I spent there, I wasn’t convinced that this was an alien encounter, but whatever happened, the military handled it poorly.

The museum also provides plenty of exhibits to encourage you to encourage you to think beyond the hard evidence.

Aliend body suspended in a glass case

Is it real?

I really enjoyed my visit to Roswell.  If you are a UFO believer or just UFO-curious, a lover of kitsch, or a student of America like me, this museum is not to be missed.

What do you think happened in Roswell?  Did they really recover an alien spacecraft?

White Sands

White Sands is not just a missile range but an amazing National Monument with some of the most unique sand dunes you’ll ever see.

White sand dunes extending into the distance

The 275 square miles (712 sq.kms. or 176,000 acres) of dunes at White Sands National Monument are the largest gypsum dunes in the world.  They are are not made of sand (silicon dioxide, Si02) but gypsum (hydrous calcium sulphate CaSO4•2H20).  Gypsum is the main ingredient in drywall (gypsum or plaster board) which is used to finish walls and ceilings.  Unlike sand, which tends to be brownish in colour (even the so called ‘white sand beaches’ are actually light brown), gypsum sand is pure white.

The top of a white motorhome seen above the white dunes in the distance

Gypsum is rarely found in a solid form as sand because it is water soluble and would normally wash away to the sea, but White Sands National Monument is located in the Tularosa Basin, a large depression in the New Mexico desert that 250-million years ago was at the bottom of shallow sea, and today is ringed with mountains, so no water courses drain it.  Crystals of gypsum (called selenite) up to 3 feet long form in beds at Alkali Flats along the shore of Lake Lucero.  The natural elements break these crystals down into small particles that migrate with the wind to form amazing dunes of soft white sand that feel look and feel like talcum powder.

Diane sitting at the top of a dune

Diane at the top of a dune

Since gypsum is water soluble, the sand that composes the dunes can dissolve and cement together forming a hard layer similar to drywall.  The road through the monument is made of gypsum and it’s like driving on a giant sheet of drywall.

Our white motorhome parked on a flat gypsum bed with white dunes in the distance

Parked on the gypsum

A great thing to do at White Sands is dune sledding.  Bring your own disc or purchase one at the visitor’s center, then head to the largest dunes.

Diane walking away across the white sand

Diane walking in the sand

Patrick in red shirt and hats and beige shorts sliding on a plastic disk down a white sand dune

Patrick sliding

Hiking up the sand dunes is a great workout, like extreme hiking.  With every step up you slide down one-half step. The soft footing requires all sorts of supporting muscles.

Diane walking up a white sand dune with a green plastic disc

Diane hiking a dune

After a couple of hours of hiking up and sliding down, I was exhausted

Patrick spread eagle on the sand

Diane seemed fine.  She couldn’t stop smiling and laughing, like a kid playing in the snow.

Diance cross-legged on her disc

Diane on her disc

At the close of the day, we still had enough energy to go on a sunset walk led by a ranger.  It was an informative and relaxing ending to a terrific day.

Sun setting over siloetted hills in the distance with a yucca flower int he foreground

White Sands Missile Range

With almost no concern for residual radiation, we approached the checkpoint guarding the entrance to the White Sands Missile Range.  We were directed toward a woodland of lethal sentinels rising from the desert.

Located in southern New Mexico along the Jornada del Muerto (‘route of the dead man’) Desert Basin, at 3200 square miles (8300 sq. kms) White Sands is the largest military installation in the United States.  Chosen because of its deserted but accessible location, clear skies, warm temperatures, and low vegetation, it was a bombing and gunnery range during World War II.

Dry desert with dry plats and not trees extending back to a mountain range in the background

Named ‘Route of the Dead Man’ by the Spanish because it was so dry

On July 16, 1945, the world’s first atomic bomb was detonated here at the Trinity Site (hence my ‘radiation’ comment). After victory was achieved in Europe, 300 railroad cars of superior confiscated German V-2 rocket components were delivered here, and White Sands became the place where America raced to develop and prove a wide range of missiles for the Army, Navy, and Air Force.  White Sands is also used to launch and test technology for NASA and in 1982 the Space Shuttle Columbia landed here.

Many missiles, most standing, displayed in the desert

White Sands Missile Park

The White Sands Museum and Missile Park displays the family tree of American missilery.  Here you can view most of the deadly weapons systems whose given names we vaguely recognize from news reports (e.g. Patriot, Pershing, Lance, and Sidewinder).  Does the word ‘park’ in the name seem somewhat inappropriate for an arsenal?

Many missiles including one pointing upward on an angle in the foregorund

More missiles

Do you remember the SCUD missiles launched by Iraq into Israel and Saudi Arabia at the opening of the Persian Gulf War?  One of the many weapons systems on display here is the PATRIOT (‘Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept On Target’), one of America’s commonly used Surface to Air (‘SAM’) missiles.

Beige vehicle with missile launcher raised from the rear and tip of missile showing

Patriot Missile Launcher

PATRIOT is a ballistic missile defense system, an unproven military concept until the Gulf War, and is now widely used by America and its allies to shoot down enemy ballistic missiles.

Side of beige Patrior missile launcher with blank painted slogans "Scud Buster", If it Flies It Dies", and "First to Fire"

Scud Buster

The White Sand Museum and Missile Park is located off Highway 70 about 25 miles north of Las Cruces, New Mexico.  Admission is free but visitors must show identification to pass the military checkpoint.

The Gun Show

In my continuing quest to learn about America, I went to a gun show in Phoenix.  For many U.S. citizens, especially those in the Southwest, guns are a key element of the American identify.  The right to own and bear arms is guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Many Americans have a strong and outspoken affection for their firearms, and gun culture remains a very visible and hotly debated aspect of American life.

Yellow billboard with black writing adversing the Gun Show

Gun Show Advertisement

In the wake of the latest school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December, the U.S. Federal government and many state legislatures are debating gun laws (though not all of them are trying to restrict them).  I heard that potential changes to the gun laws were resulting in increased sales of firearms and ammunition, especially items that might be restricted like assault rifles and large ammunition magazines, so I wanted to see for myself.

The show had hundreds of vendor booths packing 3 large buildings plus an outdoor display area.  There were a lot more women and children in attendance than I would have guessed.  For many, it was a family outing.

White sign with black letters saying :No Loaded Guns in the Show"

Sign at the entrance to the show

I was surprised to see that you’re allowed to bring your own firearms into the show, the only safety requirement being that they be unloaded and a very thin zip tie be put around the trigger.  Many attendees were carrying firearms around and signs listing the guns in their backpacks that they had to sell.  Ammunition was sold in 2 areas separated by plastic flagging tape, a symbolic division at best.  There was no visible security, though I’ve never heard of anyone shooting up a gun show.  Does this add weight to the gun advocates case?

Handguns on a table

Handguns for sale

Note – Sorry for the poor image quality.  Photography was banned at the show so these pictures were taken surreptitiously.

Vendors were selling everything I could have imagined related to hunting and personal protection (e.g. rifles, shotguns, hand guns, targets, ammunition, knives, etc.) plus a lot of stuff that I didn’t expect to see for sale:

  • exploding targets
  • survival gear (for the prepared and the paranoid)
  • 3-D human shaped targets
  • concealed carry clothes and purses, each with one or more slots to conveniently carry your concealed hand gun(s)
  • brass knuckles, pepper spray, stun guns, and tasers
  • firearm themed jewellery, and
  • toy guns for the kids
A lont of long guns for sale, laying on a table

Yes, that’s a Thompson machine gun in the foreground

Although I’ve never been to a gun show before, it seemed like there was a general sense of paranoia about the place.  Training courses offered at the show with names like, “How to Survive when the Bad Guys Come” may contribute to this.  I had a helpful guy explain to me how to kill someone with a keychain. I understand hunters and target shooters, but why is everyone here so afraid?  Perhaps I can’t relate because I’ve never lived in a situation where I felt threatened.

There were a lot of T-shirts for sale with slogans like:

  • “It’s a right not a privilege”
  • “In God we trust, but carrying a gun doesn’t hurt”
  • “Armed Patriot”
  • “Power to the People”, and
  • “We don’t dial 911” (i.e. we shoot first and call the police later)

Large black rifle with legs sitting on a table

I was shocked to see the following for sale:

  • magazines that hold up to 100 rounds (there is no limit in Arizona)
  • Kevlar body armour
  • semi-automatic pistols that look like a sub-machine guns (they’re only called a ‘pistol’ because they don’t have an obvious front hand grip)
  • targets with zombie versions of Hillary and Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Michael Moore, Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden (note that only the last 2 are already dead), and
  • a lawyer offering his services (for after you shoot someone)
A large yellow sign with a skull and crossbones saying "Blackgunstuff.com, Your 1 Stop Assault Shop"

Tactical Weaponry Dealer

There was a heavy emphasis on tactical equipment from companies with names like “Death Dealer Tactical”.  Why do people need weaponry intended for soldiers and SWAT teams?

Assult rifles lying on a table

Assault Rifles for sale

They were selling military hardware and gun accessories like:

  • Pistol grip shotguns
  • Assault rifles, with or without LED lights
  • Bayonets (a bit old-fashioned in my book)
  • Drum magazines that hold up to 100 rounds
  • Military-grade body armour with heavy metal strike plates that can withstand fire from a .308 (I was told, “you’ll hardly feel it”)
Snipre rifle on tripod legs with a white background

50 Calibre Sniper Rifle

For me, the most astonishing items I found being sold were huge .50 calibre sniper rifles, each with a maximum killing range of over 1 mile (1500 – 2000 meters).  Yes, these things are legal in the United States!

6 rifle cartridges in front of a U.S. dollar bill to compare sizes

They fire the bullets on the left

I asked what would be required to purchase one, besides a lot of money.  “Only a 1 minute telephone background check”, I was told.  “You can buy it and be shooting in 15 minutes”.  Scary.

Held on the Arizona State Fairgrounds, this is one of 52 gun shows that Crossroads of the West holds each year in Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona.  Children under 12 are free with an adult.

Our Unplanned Route

This trip has been an ambition of mine for a while.  Although not officially on my Dreams List, it’s something that I’ve been thinking about for several years, and it will provide an opportunity to fulfill other dreams that are on my list.  Initially, I had only the vaguest of ideas.

Map of Canada and the United States with an red oval surrounding most states and provinces with the words "See This" in the center

Initial Concept

We left home with only the vaguest of routes in mind.  Head south to the warm weather as quickly as possible.  Turn left in Southern California.  Visit family and friends in Arizona.  Continue East until Florida.  Turn left again.  Drive North until we cross the Canadian border.  Turn left somewhere in the Maritimes.  Drive West until we return home.  Along the way, stop as appropriate.  That was it.

Map of Canada and the United States with lred lines around the perimiter of the Unisted States and going through the Canadian provinces

Version 1 of Route Plan

Our only constraints are:

  1. Canadians can stay for a maximum of 6 months less a day in the United States for immigration and taxation reasons
  2. we want to be home in British Columbia before the Canadian winter makes travel difficult.

The basic idea is to follow the sun while circling and seeing as much of Canada and the United States as possible.

Before leaving home, I made a list of the things that I wanted to see, those that I could think of off the top of my head.  I also searched the Internet for ideas of places to visit (e.g. “top travel destinations United States”).  I combined several of these Internet lists into a spreadsheet.  I also added in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites from both Canada (16) and the United States (21).  I sorted my list by state and province, and hoped that I might get to as many of these places as possible.

Now that we’ve been on the road for a while, we’ve had some time to think and some excellent advice that has allowed us to refine our route further.  The overall plan hasn’t changed, but now we have an expanded list of places to visit, attractions to see, and even some places to stay.  The details remain to be worked out.  We try to roughly plan a route as we enter each state, but not the day-by-day details.  We’d rather take it one day at a time.  And of course, everything is subject to change.

We have also gained a few contacts in various parts of North America, people who can give us their local suggestions.  We would really like your input also.  Please leave a comment with your North American travel recommendations — places to visit, routes to drive, ‘must-see’ attractions, favourite restaurants, places to stay, etc.   If you have a friend who can provide us with recommendations on any of these, please forward this post to him or her. We would be very grateful.  I look forward to blogging about some of your favourite places!

Taking it on the chin — Mountain Biking in McDowell Mountain Park

Our friends Kevin and Annette flew from Vancouver to Phoenix to visit for a few days.  They’re active people, so we planned 3 full days of mostly outdoor activities.  On Day 1 we hiked Pinnacle Peak, the ‘Grouse Grind’ of Scottsdale, though it’s not as challenging.

A rocky double peak with desert leading up to it and a dirt trail in the foreground

Pinnacle Peak viewed from the back side trail

That afternoon we enjoyed the Fountain Hills Festival of Arts and Crafts, a twice annual outdoor show, where we consumed a giant bag of kettle corn (OK, it was mostly Kevin and me).

On the morning of Day 2 we headed out to McDowell Mountain Regional Park, a popular place for mountain biking in the Phoenix Area.  With the addition of 2 borrowed mountain bikes (thanks!), we had enough for 4.  We had a few hours to ride and so we headed north on some trails that I had explored a few days earlier named Wagner, Granite, Bluff, a short section of Pemberton, and Rock Knob.

Everything was going great.  It was sunny and the temperature was perfect for cycling, a lot warmer than Vancouver!  The trails were good and the terrain moderate.

A desert landscape with small mountains in the background and a sign post intersection in the foreground

Great mountain bike trails!

We climbed gradually as we pedaled further and further away from the campground where we began our ride.

A trail in the desert with Diane riding her mountain bike on the left side and small rocky mountains in the background

Diane riding

We turned around at the park boundary, aware that we had to get back in time for our planned afternoon activity.

Patrick riding his mountain bike on a dirt trail with a large Saguaro cactus behind

Patrick cruising

The return trip was mostly downhill.  Easier and faster.  Aside from a small section as we crossed a little valley, it was not difficult.

Kiving riding his bike down a short dirt hill with desert in the background

Kevin coasting

Everyone was having a great time, stopping to pose for pictures along the way.

Kevin and Annette posing with their bikes

Annette and Kevin posing

Diane was having a good time too, enjoying her first mountain bike experience.

Diane stradding her bike and holding another

Diane smiling

Then, with less than a mile to go, things took a turn for the worst.  While making a left-hand, off camber turn, Diane drove off the trail.  Her front tire slide in the loose gravel and she fell forward and to the left.  Luckily she avoided serious injury to her hands and body by catching herself with her face.

Picture of Diane's face after her crash, bloody chin, lip, and nose

Diane bleeding

Diane was a great sport about the whole thing, despite the sand embedded in her chin and the blood running down her neck

Diane standing with blood on her face

Diane bleeding AND smiling

She was very concerned though about bleeding on her precious Blacka Chicken jersey.  She splashed some water on her face and cautiously rode back to the car where she changed and cleaned up a bit in the campground restroom.  Kevin had a large bandage in his backpack which she put over her chin.  Her top lip started to swell as we drove back to Scottsdale.

We arrived in Old Scottsdale just before game time.

Green Scottsdale stadium sign showing names of teams play

First game of the non season

We had tickets to see the ‘World Champion’ San Francisco Giants play the Los Angeles Angels in the opening game of the Cactus League, the series of baseball games that take place in Arizona during spring training.

Diane with a bandage on her chin and Annette talking to the park staff

Annette and a bandaged Diane entering the stadium

We had great seats about 10 rows back on the 1st baseline.

Wide shot of baseball stadium taken from 1/2 way down 1st base line

Take me out to the ball game

At the end of the 3rd inning, Diane and I went to the ball park’s first aid room.  They used distilled water to clean her wounds, but didn’t have a good replacement bandage.

First aid attendant cleaning wounds on Diane's face

Diane’s new dermatologist?

Instead they used a giant gauze pad and some white tape, creating a small Santa Claus beard.

Diane's new and not improved bandage

Diane’s new and not improved bandage

Remarkably unphased by the whole thing, Diane bought a hotdog afterward to take back to her seat.  Eating that hotdog with the ‘chin sling’ in place was quite a feat.

Kevin, Anette, and Diane with new chin bandage standing in the stadium bleachers

Still having a good time!

Except for the bike crash, it was another great day with our friends.  I was very impressed with how Diane handled with whole thing.  She even went out to a honky-tonk, greasy-spoon for dinner that evening!

Patrick, Diane, and Annette seated at a table with other tables and a country western band in the background

Still going sans bandage

———————

Thanks to Kevin and Annette for joining us, and to Kevin for allowing me to use some of his great photos in this post.

Geek Alert — The Computer History Museum

We visited our Kiwi friends Alistair and Dallas in Mountain View, California.  Located in the heart of the Silicon Valley near the Googleplex, their comfortable home has fruit trees and chickens in the back yard, and our motorhome just fit in their driveway.  They were gracious hosts, even though they learned of our arrival on short notice through this blog.

Friends posing with large beer bottle

Is all Kiwi beer this size?

On our way out of town we went to the Computer History Museum.  My career was (past tense?) in computer consulting and outsourcing, so I was excited to check it out.  Diane, not so much.

The Computer History Museum explores the history of computing and its ongoing impact on society.  It has the largest collection of computing artifacts in the world (over 90,000) including hardware, software, documentation, photographs, and video.

The museum has had various incarnations over the last 20 years, but settled in to its current building (previously occupied by Silicon Graphics) in 2003.

Front of Computer History Museum building with signage

A very cool exhibit at the museum is The Babbage Engine.  In 1834, Charles Babbage designed Difference Engine No. 2, an automatic computing engine, but failed to build it.  It was designed to tabulate polynomial functions based on the method of divided differences, which Diane demonstrates here:

Diane pointing to a blackboard with a tables of 2 simple polynomials

Babbage died insisting future generations would prove his idea was sound. His difference engine was faithfully built to plan in 1991, and during a demonstration in the museum, we saw it function exactly as Babbage predicted.

Diane standing in front of large metal, mechanican device

Much bigger than an iPad!

A current special exhibit at the museum is Going Places: Google Maps with Street View.  You can get up close to the mobile devices they use to capture Street View images.

Patrick standing in open doorway of brightly coloured car with large mast with camera equipment on the top

A Google Maps Street View Camera Car

Patrick seated on a large tricycle with a tall mast with camera equipement on the rear

A Google Maps Street View Camera Bicycle

The museum’s main exhibit is Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing.  It covers the history of computing in 20 galleries, from the abacus to the Internet, with informative and interesting displays.  Leveraging their subject matter, the entire exhibit is also available online.

Some highlights for me included:

Diane seated on bench of a 2 meter high cyclindrical computer

A Cray-1 Supercomputer with convenient built-in bench seat

At 135 MFLOPS  the Cray-1  was the best known and most powerful computer in the world when I began tinkering with personal computers in 1981.

Diane standing beside a white and orange pedestal computer

A $10,000 cutting board

Neiman Marcus introduced a kitchen computer based on the Honeywell 316 in 1969 as part of a continuing series of extravagant gift ideas.  It stood on a pedestal and had a built-in cutting board.  Entering recipes would have required a 2-week course to learn to use the device, using only toggle switch input and binary light output.  At a cost of $10,600 each, none were sold.

A greet circuit board in a open-topped wooden case

The Apple I, signed by Woz

One of only 40 to 50 Apple I computers in existence, now worth about $50,000 each.  This one is signed by Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Computers.

A small wooden box with a button on top and a cord extneding

The first mouse?

A red, hand-held toy with white buttons

I owned a Merlin

A black-faced, white box with toggle switches and lights on the front

The first personal computer

The Altair 8800  is considered by many to be the first personal computer.

A telephone handset sitting on white cradel

An early acoustic coupling modem

Balck computer sitting in front of a black and white television

Do you remember the Radio Shack TRS-80 nicknamed “Trash 80’?

My visit rekindled the excitement I felt in my youth, when I first got my hands on an Apple II computer at my high school (thanks Mr. Sutcliffe) and wrote my first program, a text-based adventure game called “Prince Pat” – lame, I know.

A beige Apple II computer with keyboard, flat top, and Apple logo

The Apple II — the first computer I programmed

After reading this ode to tech, you may think that I’m a nerd, but if you’re in the San Jose area, I would still recommend a visit to the Computer History Museum.

America

I’m really looking forward to seeing the United States from something other than an airport, a hotel room, a convention center, a casino, a marathon route, or a cliff — the vistas from which I’ve previously enjoyed the U.S. of A.

I have a romantic notion of America and its Dream. A shining land of democracy, rampant capitalism, and the best medical care in the world if you can afford it.  The home of Hollywood, Broadway, and Mardi Gras.  A country with cities so famous that initials and nicknames suffice (NYC, DC, The Windy City, The Big Apple, The Big Easy, Motor City).

America is a vast land of diverse beauty and natural wonders like Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and the Everglades. It’s the birthplace of rock-and-roll, country and western, jazz, and hip hop.  The homeland of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, and Martin Luther King Jr.  A nation obsessed with pop culture, reality TV, elective surgery, and sex scandals, where Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian lead the news.

It’s a place where the automobile is a birthright, synonymous with freedom.  Where war has become a habit, and holidays are celebrated with televised sports.  A country that put men on the moon and Star Wars on the big screen.  Where baseball, apple pie, and school shootings have become institutions.

The United States was the source of most of the memorable television of my youth including Saturday morning cartoons, Jacques Cousteau, Star Trek, and Saturday Night Live.  It’s also the home of Walt’s Wonderful World, which graced our television on Sunday evenings, and sometimes meant that I got to stay up past bedtime.

America is a litigious country with a polarized and deadlocked political system, a huge national debt, and a gaping divide between rich and poor.  A place where for many science is a religious discipline.

For me, the United States is a captivating mix of contradictions.  A nation that is dependent on illegal immigrants but doesn’t want to acknowledge them.  The land of fast food and barbecue that coined the term ‘couch potato’, yet also invented health food, the 24-hour gym, and day spas.  The only remaining super power, and therefore the country that disenfranchised nations love to hate, while their peoples continue to seek the embrace of the Statue of Liberty.  One of the more religious nations on the planet infused with gun culture and pornography.  Where marijuana is legal in some states and illegal everywhere in the country.  A place where a man who would have been a slave not that long ago can become president.

The United States remains one of the most influential and fascinating countries on the planet. The sound bites of its 24-hour news cycle permeate the globe. Yet despite growing up next to this benevolent giant, I don’t feel that I really know it.  I plan to change that over the next 6 months, and I hope that you’ll join me.

What captivates you about America?