Flat Dreams.

Earl and I went for a ride in Northeastern Colorado today. Starting near Denver International Airport, we headed north along U.S. 85 to Greeley, east along U.S. 34 to Brush, south on State Route 71 to Last Chance and then back west on U.S. 36 to Denver. All in all the ride was around five hours, including a stop for dinner in Fort Morgan.

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I love the flat, rural landscape of the High Plains. I love it a lot. My ideal setting would be a ranch house in a bunch of trees, surrounded by plenty of farm land, a dozen or more miles from the closest town. There’d be a storm cellar close by, just in case things go feisty. We’d rearrange our grocery shopping habits to a once-a-month schedule. Whenever I stepped outside there’d be lots of room for me to spread my arms wide, smile and drink it all in.

I’ve contemplated whether I wanted to live in a similar setting somewhere in the desert, but while I love the desert, I like the sights and sounds of the High Plains more.

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I don’t think that I’ll ever convince Earl to live anywhere near a sign that says “No gas for the next 75 miles” or in a town called “Last Chance”, but we can certainly visit the area from time to time and enjoy a ride throughout the awesome area.

Many see a rural setting of nothing. I see a wide expanse of possibilities.

Longmont, Colorado.

While Earl and Jamie are getting ready to attend a wedding this afternoon, I’m spending some free time touring around the back roads of Boulder County Colorado before heading up to visit friends in Cheyenne later this afternoon.

I’ve been driving along U.S. Route 287 when I came across Longmont, Colorado, a charming town that feels quite prosperous, with a very nice “traditional” downtown area.

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Longmont has one of those downtown areas that is still quite pedestrian friendly. U.S. 287 doubles as Main Street and is two lanes in each direction. There’s a median down the center of the street. Traffic is slowed down to 25 MPH and there are plenty of pedestrian crossings both at street corners and midway through blocks. As a Civil Engineer, I can appreciate the “traffic calming” measures in place. There are plenty of trees and other landscaping features. Restaurants, shops and the like line both sides of Main Street. I didn’t see a lot of empty store fronts. There were a few people on the street. The vibe was a friendly one.

I found a barbershop along Main Street and barber Jeff cleaned me up for $20.00. Elite Barber Shop is the oldest business in downtown Longmont, having been around for well over a century. The current owner has had the shop since 1972. Like the vibe of the downtown in general, the folks in the barbershop were quite friendly and chatty; I never felt like an outsider. It was like a step back into time where folks were a little bit friendlier to one another and the pace was just a tad bit slower. I enjoyed the change (and my face feels amazing!)

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My paternal grandparents spent much of their retirement traveling the United States on month-long road trips and both would comment that once you got out of the Northeast one would find that folks are much friendlier. While I do find that we do have friendly folks back home, I have to mostly agree with their observations for I’ve found the exact same thing. Striking up a conversation with a stranger when I’m traveling comes a lot easier to me than when I’m back home.

I look forward to the opportunity to visit this area again. This is my third or fourth time in the Greater Denver Area and I’ve always liked my experiences here.

Future.

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As a bonafide geek I can’t help but be excited about the future. While the Digital Revolution is well underway, it is my suspicion that we’re only see the tip of the iceberg of what technology can do for us. Fairly recent developments in the Amazon Echo, the just announced Google Home and the rumored “Siri2” device coming from Apple indicate that we will be talking to our devices more and more over the next few years. I’ve already integrated some of these early offerings into our setup at The Manor; last week I showed Earl that he could tell his iPhone to turn on the lights in the Great Room and the lights would usually obey his command. The only thing he doesn’t like about the setup is my tendency to yell “Hey Siri” at the top of my voice. I guess I can be shrill.

Talking to our home or our appliances or whatever is just part of the vision I see building for our future. Honestly, I think Google was onto something with their Google Glass implementation a couple of years ago. Heads up displays feeding us information from our “personal knowledge graph” is wicked awesome. I’m hopefully that we will see something as depicted in the film “Her” before the end of the lucid portion of my lifetime. Digital assistants that work for us, tailored to us and are not fueled by scraping our data for ad revenue is the ideal for me. I don’t mind technology knowing where I am and what I’m doing; what I don’t like is that data being sold to companies so they can shove tailored ads in my face. I’ll pay for my play, thank you very much.

One of the concerns I have with these blossoming advances in technology is that social norms are not going to keep up with the tech. There are folks out there that are quite rude with their smartphones, blaring out their conversations, their dubious selections in music or other things that are inherently personal. Back in my youth folks would have had some sort of fit if I walked into a restaurant and started playing The Human League on my boom box. I don’t know why some think that it’s OK to do the same with their music today just because the device is smaller.

And they called the 80s the “me” decade.

But back to the future (ha!), I’m curious as to whether folks are really comfortable with being connected to the rest of the world 24/7, with data streaming to their glasses or even contact lenses. Like in the movie “Her”, would you want a little bug of a device in your ear with a pleasant chime followed by a pleasant voice? I know I would. I would also like such an assistant to help keep my sanity by maintaining “Inbox Zero”. The is a manual process that takes a lot of my organic CPU time, mostly filtering out junk that I will never need.

Apple’s Worldwide Developers’ Conference is just around the corner and I am quite excited to hear about the plans the company has for the future.  I think our exciting times lie just ahead.

Motivation.

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The sunshine beckons and helps me feel motivated to get on with my work day. I’ve decided to skip my daily walk today; as I needed the time to pack up the hotel room. Looking outside and seeing the calmness of Downtown Greenville engulfed in beautiful weather is ramping up my motivation levels.

Every day can be a good day. Just find a reason to make a great.

Traveling.

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So I’m traveling for work this week. Earl is traveling for work this week. At the end of the week, we will meet up with Jamie in the greater Denver area to visit friends, go to a wedding and a long weekend of vacationing. It’ll be good to all be in the same place for a change.

I spent the late afternoon and evening exploring the greater Greenville, S.C. area. I like what I found; there are some really nifty houses in the Greer area. It’s close to an airport, it’s a reasonable commute to the office and the houses have some of the mid-century charm that I adore. We are still a couple of years from relocating but I feel confident that we would be comfortable in Greenville.

I’m getting ready to dive into the work week tomorrow and it’s a good feeling. Perhaps it’s being in the nicer weather where spring has sprung for real.

Never Stop Trying.

Friday night Earl and I were sitting in the movie theatre waiting to be enthralled by “Captain America: Civil War” when a message popped up on my phone. A pilot friend asked if I had any interest in purchasing his airplane. I’ve flown his airplane on a couple of occasions; it’s in beautiful shape and is not as old as the two airplanes I fly as part of the flying club. It is meticulously maintained. The last time I flew it I mused to myself that I wouldn’t mind owning that airplane.

So Earl and I decided to go ahead with the preliminaries of the airplane purchase. There’s quite a bit involved with buying an airplane and one of the biggies is crunching the numbers to make sure you’re not going to go so far into debt that you end up buying an airplane that you can’t afford to fly. The Budgeting Department declared that we were good there but we were getting close to the upper limits of the purchasing budget. The Budgeting Department then skipped town for the week in the name of work. I’ve spent the last several days putting together the required paperwork for financing, working with aircraft mechanics and trying to find an insurance company that would insure a pilot like me. I was eating, sleeping and spending all my free time involved with all things airplane.

Without getting into the weeds, after speaking with the aircraft mechanic, the airplane was indeed in excellent shape and would make a fantastic short-term purchase for me, but if I was going to further my pilot career and start flying in the clouds and such, it’d take a considerable chunk of change to upgrade the avionics.

I decided to counter the asking price with another offer. After a few hours of consideration, the owner decided not to sell the airplane after all.

Nothing lost, nothing gained.

So I’m back in the market for my own airplane and in the meanwhile I’ll continue to fly the two airplanes that I co-own in the flying club. I’ve been using the month of May as a turnaround point to try to take a more positive spin on life so this experience has been an awesome learning experience. Am I disappointed? Perhaps a little bit, but I now have a better sense of what I want, what I’m looking for and how I’m going to get it.

My dreams continue to fly.

The Power of Friends And Loners.

I’ve mentioned before that I have always been fascinated by this publicity photo from the 1950s. It was taken by the local power company at the time, Niagara Mohawk. When I see this photo I can’t help but notice the optimism this photo exudes, blue sky, well dressed ladies, the power of progress marching on.

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I’ve always wanted to recreate this photo in modern times. It’s been around 60 years since the original photo was taken. It took some pretty geeky sleuthing to figure out where the photo was taken as there have never been any hints to the location associated with the photo, but coupling my obsession with our power grid with some fancy use of the satellite view of Google Maps, I’m pretty sure I figured out where the two ladies were standing that day.

Unfortunately, the spot I targeted (I’d rate my accuracy around 90%) is now very overgrown and surrounded by quite a bit of suburbia.

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So while Earl and I were out on a drive today, I found a field with a similar run of powerlines that would help me capture the spirit of the original photo. I would stand alone in the field and at this location there would be only one set of towers instead of two.

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When the original publicity photo is grouped with my new photo, I call the montage “The Power of Friends and Loners”.

And now for a couple of geek facts.

I believe the original photo and my assumed Google Maps view contains three circuits at 115kV each. The smaller towers (on the right) are older than the lines on the left. In the original photo the ladies are facing east.

In my photo I believe there are two circuits at 115kV each. Like the ladies in the original, I am facing east, though this is a completely different line around 70 miles from the location of the original photo. The towers shown in both photos are a relatively unique design in that I’ve only found that design (a ‘flat’ steel structure instead of one with four legs on the base) in Upstate New York.

Infrastructure.

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Earl and I were riding around the area in the Jeep this afternoon when we got into a discussion about the crumbling infrastructure of Upstate New York. While I haven’t heard any reports about water issues like the atrocities in Flint, Mich., one can’t help but notice that Upstate New York municipalities, as well as the NYS Department of Transportation, is having a hard time keeping up with one component of our critical infrastructure, and that’s maintenance of our roadways.

In order to move goods to and fro around the area we need to have a good highways with safe bridges and road surfaces that aren’t going to ruin a vehicle. As we bounced along a state maintained highway, I remarked to Earl that in my nearly 48 years of living in the Empire State I have never seen the roadways in such disrepair. And I have been very attentive to roads my entire life.

Back in 1987 a bridge on the New York State Thruway over Schoharie Creek collapsed, killing ten people. It was a very big deal when this happened nearly 30 years ago and measures were taken to avoid the situation again. Money was poured into our highway infrastructure throughout the Upstate counties and the roads were beautiful. But Mother Nature can be quite hard on asphalt around here and the constant scaling back of construction projects due to budgetary concerns is really start to show the wear and tear on our highways.

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On a recent road trip, I was startled by the condition of the main thoroughfare in the Jamestown area. The picture above was taken along NY Route 394 in the Town of Busti. This busy road serves the majority of commercial interests in the area. I can’t help but wonder how many cars get beat up on this roadway as residents try to do something as simple as go to the mall.

Businesses that might consider moving to the area must look at the condition of our roads and buildings and bridges and wonder if the state is really as committed as they claim to be when everything seems to be in disrepair.

I know this all falls on the shoulders of the budget and the fact that there’s just not enough money to go around. I hear the word “entitlements” being thrown around quite a bit. Some like to blame welfare, others like to blame the “lack of taxes” on the rich. I think it’s a mix of everything.

I wish I could suggest a solution to the faltering economy in the Empire State, but I don’t have answers. All I know is that what we are doing isn’t working. With weekly reports of politicians being hauled off to jail I suspect that corruption is part of the problem as well but the populace seems too lazy to vote to get some new blood in Albany.

This is disappointing.

I’m hoping that someday I’ll be around to see the Empire State live up to its name once again. I just hope I don’t lose the Jeep in a pothole while I’m trying to get to the grocery store.

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Modern.

The nearby city was recently named the sixth most distressed city in the United States. This title goes hand in hand with a ranking the city achieved in 2013, when it made the “Top 10 Most Miserable Cities in the United States” list. Consistency is something that cities should strive for but these particular accolades are probably not doing this area any favors.

Looking for a little pick me up, I decided to research the most modern cities in the world. Surprisingly, out of the Top 10 Cities that are considered the most modern by this list, only one of them is in the U.S. and that was San Francisco. So I sat back and reflected and realized that while U.S. cities do have a lot of charm, we’re really not that advanced here.

This is a bit disappointing to me.

I feel like society, and as an extension of the will of society, our political process is holding us back from our full potential. It seems like we’ve lost the spirit of team work and we are more interested in breaking off into factions focused on their own interests instead of advancing our country as a whole.

Modern cities worldwide have WI-FI available. High speed rail is everywhere. Skylines have green spaces on top of their buildings. The societies of these modern metropolises embrace progressive thinking around societal issues (family benefits, same sex marriage, etc.)

They’re looking forward, not clinging onto the past.

I’ve been following the flight of Solar Impulse, a solar powered airplane that is making a voyage around the world. There’s no fossil fuel involved with this aircraft, it is completely powered by the sun. This morning it took off in the early morning darkness, with absolutely no fuel on-board, only the batteries charged by the sun.

Yesterday, Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Transport concept had its first test in the Nevada desert. When this idea comes to full fruition, the Hyperloop will transport passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about 30 minutes.

These achievements are beautiful things, but we need to band together as a country and stop all of this divisive bickering and shun the negativity that is pervading our society. Honestly, there shouldn’t be a list of the most distressed or miserable cities. Instead of touting these articles for click-bait and ad revenue (notice I didn’t link to them), our efforts should be focused on moving into the future in a positive direction.

Maybe then we’ll catch up with the rest of the world.

Scent.

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Few scents make me happier than the scent of lilac. I don’t know if it’s because I associate the scent of lilac with the arrival of spring in these parts or if they invoke memories of happy times when I was a kid (Grandma City had a wide variety of lilac bushes in her lawn), but I was delighted to see that our lilac bush is getting ready to produce some lilacs for the season. I was concerned that the freeze a couple of nights ago was going to kill off any chance that we would see lilacs this year, but the tree has grown heartier of the years and the little buds look like they’ll be full blown lilac flowers soon.

I’m looking forward to enjoying the fragrance that I associate with happiness.