In a weak moment several years ago I let a friend talk me into signing up for Facebook.  After a few days I realized that Facebook was like the high-school social whirl; petty, childish and shallow.  As a consequence I did very little with my account.

Recently, there have been much news of Facebooks poor control of members information.  Just Google “Facebook Privacy” and you’ll get over 2,000,000 hits regarding the problem.  It is scary and I feel sad for so many people who are deeply involved in Facebook.  Maybe they don’t care about privacy…

For a good summary, go to this link.  May 31st has been designated Quit Facebook Day and you can learn how to delete your account here.

As a follow-on, Facebook is now deleting people’s posts (on FB) concerning privacy and links to the page (above) concerning how to delete your account.

It’s up to you, but you won’t be finding me on Facebook.

Current Events

матрациI don’t want this blog to turn into the ramblings of some news junkie, echoing what you can find a thousand places on the internet, but lately there have been a number of stories that I just have to comment on.

1. The Market “Crash”  Some moron types “b” when he meant “m” and Wall Street goes into a death spiral.    Why is such sloppiness allowed in such an important occupation?   What is wrong with the system that allows that to happen?   I sure am glad that the controls for our ICBMs have better safeguards (they do don’t they?)

2. The Gulf Oil Spill.  Don’t these people test things?  Even the smallest backwoods school has fire drills and safety inspections.  How could something as important as a cut-off valve not be ready to be used?  And they had to wait until after the accident to fabricate a containment device.  Were none of them Boy Scouts and learned “Be Prepared?” I wonder what the powers-that-be at BP would think if their BMW/Mercedes/Hummers were so poorly maintained.  Bet the mechanic would be looking for a new job.

3. The Time Square Bomber.  First, the only way this was discovered was when a street vendor saw smoke in the SUV.  Where were the “authorities”?  Second. the alleged perpetrator should turn in his terrorist license.  Any high school  chemistry student could build a better bomb.  I mean – firecrackers!  He could have at least gotten some decent aerial shells – the kind available all over dozens of states.  He should also learn that to make ANFO you need a certain type of fertilizer – just dumping oil on Rapid-Gro isn’t going to do much.  Lord help us if there ever is a smart terrorist.

4. The Arizona Immigration Law. I hope Arizona has a lot of police officers to spare.  Let’s see – I’ve heard 12,000,000 illegals.  If one cop can check the papers of 5 of them every hour then that’s 2.4 million man hours.  If you want to get the job done in a year (assuming 8 hour shifts) that’s  822 officers doing nothing but checking papers.  And that’s just to find the guilty.  It doesn’t count all the perfectly legal people they need to be checked along with the illegals.  Even if as many as one in 10 is illegal (which I doubt), Arizona needs 8220 new officers to find them in a year.  And don’t forget, the population of illegals is not static.  Plus there is the problem of not remembering who has been checked and who has not.  Maybe they need to make all those suspicious looking legals wear a yellow star to show they have been checked.

5. The Iceland Volcano Just goes to show that no matter how big your bank account, you can’t argue with Mother Nature.  And the “big” volcano in Iceland is still over-due to erupt.  If you have plans to go to Europe, book a ship and take a dust mask.

6. The financial “crisis” in Greece.   Greece is an nation of tax evaders.  It’s no wonder they can’t pay their debt when everyone there (at least those with money)  blatantly avoids paying taxes.  Of course, the US is going the same route, but we do it differently.  Instead of lying about our income and wealth, we elect sleazy politicians to give the rich tax cuts.  The result is the same – not enough money to run the country,  but the US rich can then still claim they are law abiding citizens.

You will notice that the majority of these stories have their basis in the same thing.  “People not doing their jobs properly.” In the future, take a look at the big stories in the news and see how many of them, at their root, involve sloppy, lazy, incompetent people who just don’t want to do the job they are hired for.

How to Rob a Bank in Latin

Catapultum habeo. Nisi pecunium omnem mihi dabis ad caput tuum saxum inmane mitiam.

(I have a catapult. Give me all the money or I will fling an enormous rock at your head.)

— Unknown Author

Anyone who knows me has to realize that I love my toys.  Well, yesterday I got another one.

It’s an Icom IC-T90A, tri-band band handheld radio.  It puts out up to 5 watts on the 6m, 2m, and 70cm ham bands.  It has a general coverage receiver from 495 KHz to 999.99 MHz (minus cell phone frequencies.)  Full specs can be found here.

I am just starting to learn how to operate it but already I know I really like it.  It has (IMHO) only one drawback.  The antenna is way huge!  The antenna performs well but is a little awkward to carry on a belt clip or in a pocket.  Fortunately there are after-market antennas which are more reasonably sized available for a low cost.

I’ve already got all the local repeater frequencies programmed into it and I’ll be taking it with me often to see what sort of coverage I get in the area.

Such fun!

For those not too familiar with the hobby of Amateur Radio I thought I would do a post about what I’ve done on the air for the last week.

In the table below are some of the stations I’ve contacted in the first week in February, 2010.  Under ‘Mode’,  CW means Morse code while USB (or LSB) means voice.  The ‘Prefix’ column is the standard way that hams designate a particular country.  I’ve linked the less familiar locations to their Wikipedia article in case anyone is curious.

Date     Call    Freq(MHz) Mode Prefix Location
02/01/10 TX3D       10.11  CW   FO/A   Austral Islands
02/01/10 KE7NCO     18.15  USB  W      Nevada
02/01/10 ZD8RH      18.07  CW   ZD8    Ascension Island
02/01/10 OH1VR/VP9  21.27  USB  VP9    Bermuda
02/03/10 6W/PA3EWP  18.09  CW   6W     Senegal
02/04/10 E51WWB     14.02  CW   E5/N   North Cook Islands
02/04/10 V31YN/P    18.09  CW   V3     Belize
02/05/10 5X1NH      18.08  CW   5X     Uganda
02/05/10 EI7JN      18.14  USB  EI     Ireland
02/05/10 TL0A       18.16  USB  TL     Central African Republic
02/05/10 EA9PY      18.08  CW   EA9    Ceuta/Melilla
02/05/10 5N7M       14.01  CW   5N     Nigeria
02/05/10 J6/N7UN    21.03  CW   J6     St. Lucia
02/05/10 K7SFN      18.12  USB  W      Nevada
02/05/10 CO8LY      18.07  CW   CO     Cuba
02/05/10 E51WWB     18.07  CW   E5/N   North Cook Islands
02/05/10 ZL4PW      18.07  CW   ZL     New Zealand
02/05/10 VK7SM      18.08  CW   VK     Australia (Tasmania)

On a daily basis, I’m not extremely active compared to some hams and the radio propagation has not been the best lately (though it is improving.)  In a couple of weeks there will be a contest and, with luck and effort I may contact several hundred stations, all over the world, in a single weekend.

Although it doesn’t seem that it should be difficult, contesting can be quite taxing.  Imagine sitting in front of a radio for many hours listening to signals from all over the world and trying to sort them out from one another.  Add in various kinds of noise and interference to make the task harder.   You  need to accurately log the call sign, time and other details for every contact, avoid ‘dups‘ (working the same station twice) and checking for changing conditions on 5 or 6 different frequency bands.   When I was younger I would go for a whole contest weekend with 4  hours or less of sleep a night.  I’m not sure if I have that stamina now but I’ll give it my best try.

Why? Well, for the personal challenge mostly.  It’s a way to test your equipment and improve your operating skills.  There is also the fact that scores are published and you can compare your performance with other amateurs.  Finally, there are awards for the top scorers in their category.  Here is a certificate I won 20 years ago and  I haven’t done that well since.  But I keep trying.

Agadir (part 2)

The drive to Taroudant was less hectic than that from Agadir.  We went through rural areas with farms and fields.  We also went through large areas of  Argan  trees (argania spinosa) which grow well in the  harsh environment, surviving heat, drought and poor soil.  These trees are often seen in pictures of the famous “Tree climbing goats” who climb up to eat the higher leaves.  We didn’t see any goats in the trees, at least not close enough to the road to get a photo from the moving bus.

TaroudantTaroudant is a walled city with ramparts about 6 km long.  It was first settled in 1056 and the walls were built in the 16th century.  Today it is known as a market town and our main purpose for going there was to visit its souk.

SpiceSoukBecause of the approaching Muslim holiday the town was busy, especially the souk.  Every kind of goods were available there.  Clothing, leather goods, food, Click to Enlargespices and shoes to name a few.  We visited a shop where cosmetics and medicinal substances were made from the fruits of the Argan tree.  Women there grind the seeds on stone mills and extract the oil which is ArganOilused for all sorts of products. (Excuse the not very good picture on the right.  I didn’t want to use a flash).

We decided to buy a souvenir at one of the shops in the souk and we had been cautioned that the merchants expect to bargain over the price.  That was quite an adventure.  Eventually we managed to get what we wanted for only 1/3 of originally quoted price.  I’m still not sure if this was a good deal but it was an interesting process.

We left the souk around 4 pm and it was starting to get very busy.  In fact the guide had to enlist the help of several others to make sure our group kept together so no one got lost in the narrow, twisting side streets.  We learned later that many people believe they can get the best bargains toward the end of the day when the merchants are tired and ready to go home.

PalaisSalamBefore returning to Agadir we visited the Hotel Palais Salam for refreshments.  Jan and I tried the national drink, Mint Tea.  Very good but quite sweet.  The Hotel was beautiful though it appeared to not have many guests at that time.

Our return to Agadir was rather thrilling.  Incredible traffic with cars, trucks, motorbikes and bicycles everywhere.  The school children sometimes attend school 15 km or more from their homes and ride bikes back and forth.  The bikes have no reflectors or lights and there are no bike lanes on the narrow roads.  Then back in Agadir we encountered a terrific traffic jam.  Some of the most aggressive driving I have ever seen.  We were almost 1 hour late returning to the ship but they waited for us. 😉

That evening they had a fabulous barbecue on the ship with lobster, a whole roast pig, lamb, beef, chicken and more other food than I can describe.   After dinner we went to the lounge where the performer was doing a “TV Theme Song Trivia” contest.  Our team won the first round and a bottle of champagne.  Of course, with eight team members the bottle didn’t go too far.

Agadir (part 1)

(I’m splitting this post into two parts because if was becoming much too lengthy.)

It took nearly 24 hours for the Wind Spirit to get to Agadir, Morroco from Lanzarote.  During that segment of the trip the sea got rather rough with swells to 15 ft.  The ship does have stabilizers but they didn’t eliminate the motion entirely.  Luckily neither Jan nor I suffer from sea sickness though this was enough to make walking on deck a little difficult.

At around noon the next day we approached Agadir, a city of around 700,000 including the surrounding areas.  The first thing we saw was the old kasbah on the hill.AgadirKasbah The arabic words on the hillside say (roughly) “One land, one god, one king”  The city of Agadir, including the kasbah, was destroyed in a massive earthquake in 1960.  The new city was rebuilt about 3 km from the site of the old one.

One of the first things we noticed when we approached the dock at Agadir – Trash!  The water was filled with paper, plastic bags, bottles and other unidentifiable junk.  Very different from what we saw in the Canary Islands.  I don’t know why this was but I did notice an absence of things like dumpsters, garbage cans throughout the city.

After lunch on-board we left for a tour of an orange farm and the nearby town of Taroudant.  It took us over an hour by bus to reach the farm and we got to see good examples of the Moroccan countryside.  Traffic was heavy and drivers seemed to all be Gran Prix wanabees.  This was a day or two prior to a Muslim holiday which required the sacrifice of a sheep or goat.  As a consequence along our drive we saw several markets or souks where animals were for sale.  It appeared everyone was buying and we saw people with sheep in their cars and even one fellow with a live sheep strapped to the back of his motorbike!FarmFlowers

The orange farm was a beautiful place out in what was nearly desert.  They grow several types of oranges along with bananas and many ornamental Click to enlargeplants.  Everything was grown using a drip irrigation system which conserved water.  This system was encouraged by the government through subsidies.  The bananas were grown inside ‘greenhouses’ which were used to provide a higherBananas humidity environment rather than for temperature control.

One thing that Jan was disappointed with in our trip to Morocco was not being able to ride a camel.  There was one tour offered which consisted of a 3 Camelhour camel ride but we thought that might be a little too much for softies like us.  At least, at the orange farm she did get to see a camel up close, along with many other animals including some beautiful Arabian horses.

The orange farm is adding a hotel for tourists which will be called Oranges Farm Hotel and will include all the amenities such as swimming pool and elegant dining.

After refreshments at the farm we left for the town of Taroudant also called The Grandmother of Marrakech because of its similarity to that city.


Even though they did not raise the sails when we left for Lanzarote, weClick to enlarge did have another beautiful sight that evening.  The moon and Jupiter were well placed in the sky and made quite a show.

Lanzarote is a volcanic island with a long history.  It was first settled by the Phoenicians in 1100BC and the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians were all familiar with it.

We only had a short stopover in Arrecife, the capital, and the only tour offered Click to enlargewas billed as Very Strenuous.  We opted instead to tour the city and explorer the area around the port.  The shopping area was nothing particularly exciting but we did see some interesting sites.    This sight intrigued us but were unable (with our limited command of Spanish) to find out exactly what it was.  As best we could determine it was some sort of park or resort out on a small island connected to the main island via a causeway.

Click to enlargeAnother feature of the port was Castillo de San Gabriel which was built in 1573 as a defense against pirates.  This was, to me, a very different from other castles we have visited, being quite low and rather small.  I was also a bit disappointed with the cannonsCastleSanGabriel2 on display as they were clearly more modern (breach-loaders) than the castle itself.   The small island where the castle was located was connected to the main island by a drawbridge built sometime later.

DolphinOur next destination was Agadir Morocco and we sailed from Lanzarote shortly after noon on 11/23.  Along the way that afternoon we were joined by a group of dolphins who played in the wake of the ship.  I found them rather hard to photograph but did manage one good image.