Milky Way Over Monument Valley–Photo



The Milky Way over Monument Valley 
Image Credit & Copyright: Tom Masterson
Explanation: You don’t have to be at Monument Valley to see the Milky Way arc across the sky like this — but it helps. Only at Monument Valley USA would you see a picturesque foreground that includes these iconic rock peaks called buttes. Buttes are composed of hard rock left behind after water has eroded away the surrounding soft rock. In the featured image taken last month, the closest butte on the left and the butte to its right are known as the Mittens, while Merrick Butte can be seen farther to the right. Green airglow fans up from the horizon. High overhead stretches a band of diffuse light that is the central disk of our spiral Milky Way Galaxy. The band of the Milky Way can be spotted by almost anyone on almost any clear night whenfar enough from a city and surrounding bright lights, but a sensitive digital camera is needed to capture these colors in a dark night sky.   source

Door County Photo

door county  Just now I’m visiting with Susan and George at their rental house  on the Door Peninsula shore of Green Bay.

This evening, George caught this brilliant sunset between the silhouetted trees in front of the house.           Thanks George.

From this viewpoint we see cormorants fishing.  Like loons and anhingas, cormorants have adapted for swimming underwater. Often we see only neck and head.

These birds are often seen standing in a sunny spot with their wings spread, drying them.  They don’t have the oil glands  that ducks and geese have to provide a water repellant in their feathers.  Susan says she hasn’t seen a loon this year but has heard their eerie  “wail call“.

In a Florida state park we saw and alligator and an anhinga at opposite ends of an oval pond, looking at each other..  We could see only the alligator’s eyes above water and only the head and neck of the bird.  It did appear that something was going to happen!

One of our black cats is “Annie”  for the black anhinga.

When Susan and her sibs were young we camped in Peninsula State Park in this same area.

Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald


One summer we visited a friend who was working as a ranger at Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore on Lake Superior in Northern Michigan.  I remember just one thing of that trip.

The rangers were living in a former Coast Guard station where I went to the 2nd floor for the bathroom.  When I sat down there, I was facing a plaque that said, “You are sitting in the radio shack that received the first distress signals from the S.S. Edmund Fitrzgerald.”  There was the story of the  Great Lakes freighter that went down the horrible day and evening of November 10, 1975, with its crew of 29.

Image by R. LeLievreImage by R. LeLievre

The reason for the sinking has been argued, but I’m interested in the theory of the Three Sisters. ” Perhaps the most romantic theory about the wreck of the Fitzgerald is that the ship succumbed to the forces of the Three Sisters, a Lake Superior phenomenon described as a combination of two large waves inundating the decks of a boat and a third, slightly later monster wave that boards the vessel as it struggles to shrug off the effects of the first two.”

Image result for gordon lightfoot photos
Gordon Lightfoot song

SS Edmund Fitzgerald underway, photo by Winston Brown

Edmund Fitzgerald in 1971
Name: SS Edmund Fitzgerald
Owner: Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company
Operator: Columbia Transportation Division, Oglebay Norton Company of Cleveland, Ohio
Port of registry: United States
Ordered: February 1, 1957
Builder: Great Lakes Engineering Works of River Rouge, Michigan
Yard number: 301
Laid down: August 7, 1957
Launched: June 7, 1958
Christened: June 7, 1958
Maiden voyage: September 24, 1958
In service: June 8, 1958
Out of service: November 10, 1975
Identification: Registry number US 277437
Nickname(s): Fitz, Mighty Fitz, Big Fitz, Pride of the American Flag, Toledo Express, Titanic of the Great Lakes
Fate: Lost in a storm on November 10, 1975, with all 29 crewmembers
Status: Sank because of weather conditions
Notes: Location: 46°59.91′N 85°06.61′WCoordinates: 46°59.91′N 85°06.61′W[1]
General characteristics
Type: Lake freighter
  • 13,632 GRT
  • 8,713 NRT (from 1969: 8,686 NRT)[2]
  • 26,000 DWT
Beam: 75 ft (23 m)
Draft: 25 ft (7.6 m) typical
Depth: 39 ft (12 m) (moulded)
Depth of hold: 33 ft 4 in (10.16 m)
Installed power:
  • As built:
  • Coal fired Westinghouse Electric Corporation steam turbine at 7,500 shp(5,600 kW)
  • After refit:
  • Conversion to oil fuel and the fitting of automated boiler controls over the winter of 1971–72.
  • Carried 72,000 U.S. gal (270,000 L; 60,000 imp gal) fuel oil
Propulsion: Single 19.5 ft (5.9 m) propeller
Speed: 14 kn (26 km/h; 16 mph)
Capacity: 25,400 tons of cargo
Crew: 29

Why Do Brits Drive on the Left ?

Why Do the Brits Drive on the Left?

 Note:  A man we worked with was killed trying to cross a street in London.  He looked to the left before stepping into the street, never saw the bus coming on his right.  rjn


 Let’s be honest, this question is only phrased this way to appease the two-thirds of the drivers of the world that now drive on the right-hand side of the road. The real question, the question that deserves to be asked, is this: why did everyone else stop driving on the left?

Taking the left hand side in traffic is a habit that goes back hundreds of years, possibly as far as the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans, but certainly to an era when people habitually carried swords when traveling. As around 85-90% of humans are right-handed, passing on the right-hand side would leave carriage and cart drivers more open to attack from people coming the other way. Knights with lances, squires with knives, peasants with pitchforks, everyone had to be ready for a dust-up at a moment’s notice, and that meant keeping to the left so you could get a good swing at your assailants. Granted, this did mean they were more vulnerable to be attacked from the pavement, but no system is entirely foolproof.


Note: It’s said that horses are trained to be handled and mounted on the near-side (left) because in olden times riders would have swords on their left hips with right hip and leg free to swing over in mounting.  rjn


In 1773, the British Government introduced the General Highways Act, which encouraged horse riders, coachmen and people taking their vegetables to market (while carrying swords) to drive on the left, and that was that. The Highway Act of 1835 later reinforced this, making it the law of the land.

However, things were slightly different elsewhere. Russian authorities, for example, had already noticed that their people tended to favor the right (maybe swords are less of a worry if you have to wear heavy coats all the time), so their first edicts on the topic were that they continue to do so. The pre-revolutionary French were on the left, but having revolted, they moved over as part of a general reordering of all society, and when Napoleon took over the army and began invading nations, he ordered them to stay on the right hand side too. Popular myth suggests this was also because he was left-handed, but there were other advantages; it would prove unsettling for his enemies, it would show him to be a great military tactician, and it would irk the British. Perfect!

Everyone else kept left, but with increasing traffic on the roads in mainland Europe, this began to cause confusion, and slowly, over the course of the next hundred years or so, the European nations began to move over too.

Also, this divergent approach occurred at a time when the British and the French were very busy colonizing the world. Every country occupied by the Brits—like Australia, New Zealand, India and the West Indies—kept to the left, and the ones occupied by France moved over to the right. The Americas were split, with the new arrivals from Britain, Holland, Spain and Portugal keeping to the left, and the French colonies insisting on the right.

look rightFrom Alice in Sidney, Australia:  “Still having trouble crossing streets. In tourist areas there are signs- see picture . . . On the sidewalks most people walk on the left. I have to keep moving over.”

However, two vehicles were about to force this situation to change. In the late 1700s freight wagons (including the great Conestoga wagons) became more and more popular, particularly in America. These were pulled by a chain of horses, arranged in pairs. The best place to sit in order to control these mighty beasts was on the back of the left-hand horse at the back, so you could whip the others with your right hand. With the postilion driver in position, the best way for one wagon to pass another without accidentally banging wheels was the right hand side of the road. And where the wagons went, everyone else followed. So driving on the right became more common.

And then the motor car arrived. While original designs for cars put the driver in the front and center of the vehicle, it wasn’t long before the advantages of having the driver able to see down the middle of the road became clear. And in those countries where car manufacturing became an essential industry for export (America, this means you), right-hand-drive vehicles with the steering column on the left quickly became a worldwide norm, forcing relative latecomers like Sweden to give in and move over too.

Although it’s interesting to note that this arrangement does favor the left-handed driver somewhat, as their dominant hand is the one that never leaves the steering wheel. A right-handed driver in a British car spends a good deal of their time steering with his or her right hand while fiddling with the gear stick with their left, which seems the safest way.

This may account for the relative popularity of stick-shift gearboxes in British cars to this day.

Oh and one last thing. In Japan, they historically drove on the left—partly by choice, partly because British engineers built their railway network to be left-hand drive—until 1945, when U.S. rule forced the Okinawa Prefecture to switch to the right. They returned to the left in 1978.

Time Travel

Next month, Alice will fly to Melbourne, Australia, from Los Angeles, a 16-hour flight, leaving on Tuesday and landing on Thursday.  What happens to Wednesday?

Returning aboard ship, Alice will cross the International Date Line again and have two Fridays, one after the other.

It’s like her 4-hour flight, Chicago to Los Angeles,  which lands 2 hours after take-off.  She has crossed two time zones.

We have clocks, watches, calendars, sun, moon, and planets to organize ourselves and cooperate with other people.  But that’s just an artificial, agreed-upon system of dealing with time for practical purposes.

People didn’t used to have to be so precise.  There’s a movie in which two guys make a date this way:  I’ll meet you on the west side of the mountain next  spring.

Einstein showed in his thought experiments that people travelling at different speeds … measure different time separations between events … Wikipedia

We have a love song:  “today the minutes seem like hours, the hours pass so slowly”.  That’s another kind of time, isn’t it?

Related image

There was a young lady named Bright,
Whose speed was far faster than light;
She started one day
In a relative way,
And returned on the previous night.

A. H. Reginald Buller in Punch (Dec. 19, 1923): 591.
More on time travel.

Tour of “Hidden Union Station”


Furnished by John

November 11, 2015

The hidden Union Station: Take a tour        source


A historic photo of Union Station’s old ticket room, now being converted to a first-class passenger lounge.

Anyone who’s seen “The Untouchables,” the Kevin Costner version, has an idea of how stunning Chicago’s Union Station used to be.

The famous baby-carriage scene in the 1987 film showed some of the station’s beauty, set on marble steps flanked by brass railings that flowed into a huge room. It suggested what used to be the reality: Union Station was the O’Hare International Airport from the mid-’20s until the Korean War, the meeting place for the nation.

The famous Union Station staircase scene from “The Untouchables.”

Recently, Crain’s photographer Manuel Martinez and I got a chance to look at what is hidden behind the walls of the million-square-foot structure. And, despite tarnish and dust and soot, it’s a lot.

One of the many hidden areas of Union Station that commuters don’t see.

Tucked behind impervious walls and locked doors or accessed only by keyed elevators is a different world—700,000 or so square feet of empty but usable space, below, which station owner Amtrak is seeking partners to redevelop.


The entire west wall of the building, flanking the Great Hall, used to be a mass of men and women’s lounges, a 17-barber barbershop and three-story Fred Harvey House Restaurant, both a cafe and a fine-dining room.

Above, historic photos of Union Station’s cafe, barbershop and dining room. Below, the barbershop then and now.

The cafe closed after a fire in 1981 and is empty—except for the Christmas decorations and fixtures stored in a corner, the blackened walls and the boarded-up three-story windows.

One small room in the station has been redeveloped as a lounge with Wi-Fi, satellite and other perks, at $20 a day. But at the moment, that’s about it.

The redeveloped lounge.

There’s almost as much space on the east wall, underneath Canal Street. That used to be high-end retail, with a Marshall Field’s-esque look. Included: a false exterior wall with no ceiling (below), designed to give retailers a place to display their wares to pedestrians and to let a little more natural light enter. One section is being eyed for an indoor/outdoor cafe. Another room, once used to sell tickets, is being remodeled into a lounge for first-class passengers.

The remains of the false exterior wall today.

Lightwells are a frequent feature of the building, which was partially designed by Daniel Burham—of Burnham Plan fame—before his death. “Daniel Burnham was a pain in the butt because he was a build-forever (type of guy),” says Amtrak building manager Paul Sanders. “Well, guess what. We’re at forever.”

That’s seen even better upstairs, in the seven empty floors that used to house railroad offices and that flank the Great Hall’s glass atrium, which, miraculously, is still there.

Above, a now-empty area where a new first-class lounge could be located.

The offices are empty, stripped to the walls, wheelchair accessible and ready for development, Sanders enthuses.

A walled-off area in Union Station that used to house a women’s lounge.

The area collectively is referred to as the station headhouse, and Amtrak is hoping to return it to what it looked like when it opened after 10 years of construction in 1925—and to make a few bucks off of it, too.

Union Station’s Great Hall, then and now.

Amtrak also is hoping to peddle adjoining air rights, too. If responses come in to its bid requests, the passenger rail service will get some badly needed money. And Chicago will get a piece of its history back.

Changes coming? Above, Union Station’s cafe, then and now.

Update, 12: 45 p.m. — In a somewhat related matter, two Illinois Democrats, Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Dan Lipinski, have been named to the Senate/House conference committee that will hammer out the first multi-year road and transit bill in a decade.

The bill at the moment does not include financing for Amtrak, which is expected to be funded in a separate bill. But one key item is support for freight rail, with several projects in the pipeline that would help unclog Union Station, which was built as a long-distance rail hub but now mostly houses Metra’s commuter service. There’s also some pots of money at issue that Amtrak could tap for Union Station work.

Lipinski told me in an interview that his priorities in the conference include freight rail, as well as securing the somewhat higher overall spending level the Senate wants. Lipinski said he believes funding problems involving Chicago Transit Authority projects—especially extension of the Red Line south to the city limits and rebuilding the Red Line north—appear to have been taken care of. But the situation remains flexible until a bill is enacted.

Present-day photos by Manuel Martinez; historic photos via Amtrak.

Inca Road Builders–Extreme Terrain No Obstacle


For Inca Road Builders, Extreme Terrain Was No Obstacle


The Inca were innovators in agriculture as well as engineering. Terracing like this, on a steep hillside in Peru’s Colca Canyon, helped them grow food.  Doug McMains/Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

One of history’s greatest engineering feats is one you rarely hear of. It’s the Inca Road, parts of which still exist today across much of South America.

Back in the day — more than 500 years ago — commoners like me wouldn’t have been able to walk on the Inca Road, known as Qhapaq Ñan in the Quechua language spoken by the Inca, without official permission.

Fortunately, I have Peruvian archaeologist Ramiro Matos by my side. He is the lead curator of an exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian called “The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire.”

A suspension bridge made of twisted plant fibers stretches high above the Apurimac River in Peru. Local residents, descendants of the Inca, have been making bridges like this for some 500 years.  Doug McMains/Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

That’s “Inka” with a K, as it’s spelled in Quechua. And today, we’re taking a virtual journey down what was once more than 20,000 miles of road traversing some of the world’s most challenging terrain — mountains, forests and deserts.

The Inca road began at the center of the Inca universe: Cusco, a city in the Peruvian Andes, said to be built in the shape of a crouching puma. It actually was not a single road but a network of royal roads, an instrument of power designed for military transport, religious pilgrimages and to move supplies.

“As far as the road stretches, the empire stretches,” says Ramos.

The road spanned modern-day Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia. The museum exhibition’s photographs of it are vertigo-inducing: Massive pathways wind up tall mountains and touch the clouds; sturdy staircases unwind into lush, green valleys, as if the brutal nature of the landscape had been just a small inconvenience to work around.

Families walk from the center of Cusco to a temple site at Sacsayhuaman to celebrate Inti Raymi, the Inca Festival of the Sun.  Doug McMains/Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

“The highest part of the road crosses from Argentina to Chile, nearly 20,000 feet high,” Matos says.

How did they build this?  “Local experience.  The Inca were master engineers. But like most conquerors, they also tapped local experts. The exhibition highlights a long bridge made of woven plant fibers, still in use today.

“There’s an inventory of over 100 bridges in all of the empire — this is one of the few which remain. It’s made with icchu or puna grass,” Matos says.

The Inca Empire only lasted about a century. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived, that intricate road made it easier for them to move around and access precious mines that the Incas themselves had been exploiting.

Today, most of the old road has been destroyed — both by the Spanish conquest and by modern highways. Some parts remain and are still in use.

Schoolchildren around the world learn about the ancient Roman roads and the Great Wall of China — but most people have heard little about the great Inca Road. Kevin Gover, the director of the National Museum of the American Indian, says the road is largely forgotten because it just doesn’t fit into a typical Western narrative.

“Indians play one of two roles in that narrative,” he says. “They are either the opponents of civilization or they are literally part of the nature that was there to be settled and conquered. We’re not taught that some of these were very advanced civilizations, because that means this wasn’t a wilderness. And that means somebody had to be displaced. And it wasn’t necessarily a noble endeavor.”

The National Museum of the American Indian’s exhibition, “The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire,” will run until June 1, 2018.  Paul Morigi/AP Images for Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

That’s why the museum created the exhibit, which is on display till 2018.

The great Inca Road reminds us that, once upon a time, all roads led not to Rome — but to Cusco, Peru.

Desert in Spring

PS  When Alice got to Roswell NM a couple of of days ago, she learned that a small tornado had gotten there ahead of her.  No injuries, little damage.  Yes, that’s the famous UFO Roswell.



Today Alice said that the desert in New Mexico is in bloom, that’s the Chihuahuan desert that reaches up from Mexico.

If you think a desert is all barren sand dunes you would like to see and smell what Alice is enjoying.  Plants of many kinds from the tall ocotillo with red blossoms to the low clumps of prickly pear cactus, with bright red or yellow blossoms, grow in the desert. They just grow a few feet apart, rather to form continuous growth as on a lush prairie farther north.

prickly pear Image result for prickly pear cactus bloomocotillo

More photos of flowering desert.

 And the scented plants !

Among them are the creosote bush, said to give off the “smell of rain”, and sagebrush with a “pungent fragrance”, “somewhat spicy.”  The scents mix and fill the air.

creosote           sagebrushsagebrush


Of course we have sand dunes, too, notably at Great Sand Dunes National Park  and White Sands National Monument which Alice will visit today.

The U.S. has four major deserts.  They are distinguished by geography and climate  and therefore plants and animals.

And its wonderful to remember that among all this glory are the fascinating animals, roadrunners, quail, javalinas, bobcats, lizards, tortoises, snakes, spiders . . .

Click here for photos of desert animals.