Category: Travel

Somewhere in Oklahoma

stevesafetyglassesJanuary 11, 2019      homepage

Many of my readers will be happy to know that I have again found employment in the Seismic Industry – as much out of friendship as of appreciation that I will not be complaining about being unemployed.  I will be somewhere in Oklahoma for a few weeks  A project in Texas is penciled in for later.  The client has rules about posting photos and project information, so I am intentionally vague.  If you are also in Seismic, you can guess who the client is.  The company may have such rules and so they will be referred to as “the Company”.  The photo below is not related to the project or the Company.  (As far as I know, the project does not extend to the sky).  This is an example of  “Sundogs” which is a pair of bright spots of refracted sunlight that illuminate a cloud layer.  This is fairly rare and I have seen it maybe 5 times in as many decades.

sundogs_crop_arrows2

A rainbow, by comparison, is both reflected and refracted and appears in the sky opposite of the sun.

Below (left) in my Personal Protective equipment.  (Yes, I will trim the beard soon) hardhatsteve

My job is driving the fuel truck. Fortunately for me, haz-mat drivers are in demand just now.    I don’t have a lot of spare time, so stay tuned!

Hasta Luego,

Steve

Purgatory

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August 7, 2016

Purgatory

[pur-guh-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee]

  1. any condition or place of temporary punishment, suffering, expiation, or the like.

    I am now “on the Yard” at company headquarters.  I have dropped my trailer and been assigned another truck.  This one is a real mystery.  A Kenworth T680 built in November, 2013.  It looks almost new, drives and shifts smoothly and is “clean as a whistle”.  The odometer reads 35,000 miles.  And that would seem impossible.

This truck has been “on the fleet” for two and a half years and should have at least five or six times that mileage.  The Peterbilt is just about that old and it has 385,000 miles. While I am lucky to have such a low mileage vehicle, I can’t help but wonder what the story is behind this machine.  One thing that is completely out of place in this story is the condition of the forward drive axle.  Its tires are nearly at the legal minimum for tread  depth, while its brother’s tires to the rear are almost new.  I have requested that these tires (the baldies, that is) be replaced.

I pull up the Kenworth “across the bow” of the Peterbilt to transfer the refrigerator first and then all my other possessions.  It can’t stay there long, but I don’t need long.  Next I swap the Peterbilt out of the “good” parking spot and put the Kenworth into same.   I drove the Peterbilt over by the garage where I would turn in the keys in the morning.  Then, I collapsed in the Kenworth because what I just described was a lot of work.  Fortunately, the Kenworth has a working Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) that keeps the cabin habitable through the hot Dallas evening.

12946.jpg

Above: 2014 model Kenworth T680 – 12946.  Note the windshield shade with cool-looking beach scene.  It reflects the heat ,  yes.  But more importantly, it marks my truck so I can find it later.  Please see “Tractor Row” below for explanation.

TractorRowDay.jpgAbove:  “Tractor Row” The one with the cool-looking beach scene in the windshield is mine.

CaptainsDesk12946Above:  The Kenworth has a desk that does not look like a piece of plywood.

PurgatoryAbove:  Purgatory’s Backside.  The small building in the foreground has the driver’s lounge where trucker stereotypes are preserved by drivers leaving their empty soda bottles and pizza cartons strewn across the tables and floors while the trash cans in the room remain empty.

In the morning, I have lots to do before I am allowed to leave the Yard.  These activities include safety lectures and dealing with “compliance” (recordkeeping to comply with federal regulations on driving time – it’s complicated).  Then I need my Driver Manager’s approval and that of “Central Clearance” – they check all my registrations and paperwork. I cannot get my truck out the gate without all these items ticked off the list.  And those tires I requested apparently are still being manufactured and will be shipped out by mule train sometime next week.

Fact is, I don’t have a load, yet anyway, so there is nowhere to go.  And, it does not matter anyway because all the people who can provide “approval” for my departure have gone home at noon, today, Saturday.  They will not return until Monday when dozens of other drivers – trapped in Purgatory with me – will compete to get their clearance.  So, another two days (minimum) of no income. This has become a recurring theme in the “high-paying-job-as-a-professional-truck-driver”.

Farewell 12573 – We Hardly Knew Ye!

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August 5, 2016       Garland, Texas     homepage


I am reminded that today is Christmas Day

                    So, Please also have a look at this Christmas Classic

I have been instructed to report to the “Yard” in Dallas and turn in my truck.  It has apparently been sold.    I asked how long it might take  to get a new truck.  The answer was “Depends”.  I should have replied, “No, Fruit of the Loom – briefs” but my comedic reflexes are slow these days.

The last time I was issued a truck, I expected a worst case scenario.  Specifically, since I had driven and was familiar with Kenworths and Freightliners in training, that I would be issued a Peterbilt.  Good instincts, as it turns out.  The clutch gave me trouble from the start, with what is called “clutch chatter”.  Not severe and the only other Peterbilt I had driven (only for a half hour or so) had the same problem. In any case, the clutch was a body-builder tool and I was soon walking with a limp because of all the excess muscle in my left leg.  Not a big problem, until it was a big problem.

The last episode of mechanical adversity cost me ten days of poverty.  The company pays an insulting $25 per day for breakdowns after the first two days.  The company wanted to nickel-and-dime the hotel. I would have to call and get authorization every day.  We tried that on check-in and they refused the company card so  I covered the hotel with my own credit card and expensed it back to avoid looking like a deadbeat every afternoon.   They have at least reimbursed me for that.  They tend to treat drivers as people with no financial means whatsoever.  That is probably appropriate considering the level of remuneration.

One wonders what delays are in store for the next truck.

12573Anon

Above is the Peterbilt in question as we “sit in a door” in Garland, Texas.  The “lumpers” unload for hours while the driver kills time…taking photos, say.  This receiver was mercifully quick and I left no more than three hours after arrival.  From here I go to the “Yard”…Company Headquarters.  There, to put the old mare out to pasture (tractors are female and trailers, male by virtue of their “connecting equipment”).

Twenty Mules

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This post was transplanted from the old WordPress site.
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September 12, 2016, Tyson Plant, Wadron, Arkansas

After the delivery at Clarksville, I headed for the closest truck stop on I-40, to wait for a new load assignment.  This was another of those “pocket” stations where parking for 20 rigs is jammed in behind the fuel island.  Both that parking and the surrounding streets were full, so I looked up rest stops and found one on I 40, not far away, with “Room at the Inn”.In a Homer Simpson moment I realized I had not sent my “Empty at Destination” message.  No load assignment will happen before that.  Once that was done, the message came within seconds – obviously set up in advance.  My load picks up in Waldron, Arkansas.  This place was about an hour and a half away, down US-23, a winding, up-and-down two-lane blacktop with no shoulders.  It would make a great motorcycle trip.  It makes a big-truck trip where paying attention is a survival trait.

Frozen chicken is the new cargo.  It started out looking like a  24 hour ordeal of drop the empty trailer one morning and hook a loaded trailer the next.  I had all day to drop, but why wait?  I got in the gate before 8 AM and found the office with some guidance from a helpful employee.  These guys all wear warm, long-sleeve jumpsuits, steel-toe boots and carry mittens.  They keep the warehouse cold since this is frozen chicken they load.

The guys in shipping told me to back into door #4.  Apparently this would be a live load!  So, I don’t ask questions, I just get to the truck and look for the door.  It is in an inside corner, with a trailer parked sideways on the approach, a really big tank, a dumpster and a trash compactor in front.  About 45 minutes were needed to get this one done.  I got some pictures, but photography is not allowed in the plant, so don’t tell anyone.

chickendoor4a
Figure 1

Above:  In this view, doors one, two and three are to the left, door five to the right – all occupied with dropped trailers.  That dumpster on the right comes in to the story later.

ChickenDoor4BRotate
Figure 2

Plan A:Pulling in from stage right, (figure one) until the tank was looming in the windshield, backing the trailer in while folding the drivers-side of the tractor into the trailer.  That backed the trailer into yellow post at the corner.

Above:  Plan B was to pull over  in front of the trailers, (stage left in figure 2) (PRIME inc., etcetera) and back around the parked trailer (whose taillights you see) into the door.  To quote Chico Marx, “Dat’s a-no good, too”.  Plan C: Drive out and to the left and find a place to swap ends with the entire rig.  Where? – Back in beside the last visible trailer (there is a sign there that says, “Don’t even think of parking here. ” Who’s parking?)  Then pull past taillight trailer and the trailers (no tractors) in doors one, two and three, swing wide and put the tractor in the space between the compactor and the dumpster, seen in the previous photo.  Then reverse into door #4. That worked.

September 14, 2016 7 PM, Loves Truck Stop at Williams, AZ

While waiting (and not long) for the load to be put on board, I worked on the trip plan.  If I can get  a couple of hundred miles behind me it will take the distance off of the final run to delivery, in three days’ time.  The problem is not drive time, but all the waiting at first receiver, then shipper has again worn down the 14 hours and I must get on the road asap/

My trip plan is only roughed out when the loading is finished and so I submit Oklahoma City as the target for the day and promise the Driver Manager (DM) that I’ll finish the plan later. It is a matter of driving as far as practical and finding a place to stop for ten hours (A “Ten”). I soon see that OKC is out of reach and I have looked up the exit numbers of the truck stops and rest areas. A rest area near Henryetta wins the stop and, now committed, I see as I pull in a sign that says “No Facilities”.  OK, it does beat the Ad Hoc  Truck Stop (#1) since I knew it was there before arriving.  At Three PM, mine is the only truck parked.  By the time I roll at Two AM, there are a few dozen, but it is a big area, since there is no room taken up by restrooms, water fountains or vending machines.

We have established that the best plan is to start in the “wee, small hours”  between midnight and four AM.  By the time my day is done, the parking at truck stops and rest areas are mostly vacant.  This works well, but sometimes clashes with afternoon delivery appointments.

Below is a photo of a sandstone formation at a rest area somewhere in New Mexico. I know at least a few of my readers have a Geology background.  So, would one or the other please enlighten me as to how these rocks were weathered like this?

sandstoneweathering2

Above: Cubbyholes in the sandstone.

The second leg is to Albuquerque where I am directed to fuel up, but that is out of reach and Santa Rosa, New Mexico fits the bill for a Ten   A few hours out I begin noticing the outside rear tire on the trailer looks a little flat.  That is the furthest from the driver and it is supported by the other tire, so it’s hard to say.  But, I pull into the tire check lane and the Loves’ tire tech checks the pressure with a set of eighteen hoses that attach to all the tires at once.  Meanwhile, I put in just more than 50 gallons (qualifying for a shower credit) because the annoying red light and a dashboard message that won’t let me see my digital speedometer tell me that fuel is low.

Sure enough, that tire is at 29 pounds (should be 100).  Without the other tire in the dual, it would be flat as a pancake.  I wind up “in the shop”. The trailer is, anyway. The tractor is outside the shop  and far from the work zone where the tech is finding the leak, so it’s just one more parking place to me.  The usual truck stop routine is in force – eat, shower and sleep.  By the time the first two are done, the tech shows me the nail my tire picked up and I sign off and move the truck to normal parking (still with lots of vacancies) and sleep.

I did fuel up in Albuquerque .before dawn and there was a beautiful overlook of the city on the way out of the depot.  I tried to grab a couple of picture at the stop light, but both came out blurred.  I will look for another photography solution.  (Anybody with Go-Pro camera experience?  Please let me hear from you).  I was short-clocked by the 8 day rules to only 9 hours and change today (14th) and only made Williams, AZ instead of Kingman, which was the target.  I can still make the final on time, but it will be a three hour trip that morning instead of a half hour hop.  It pays to stay flexible and put the fat in the schedule at the end of the trip.

I passed the “divide” of Arizona at 7337 feet of altitude and wind picked up during the day.  Williams is West of Flagstaff and on the turn-off to the Grand Canyon.  This is a good example of the fallacy of the “see America” aspect of this job.  With the Grand Canyon mere miles away, I saw the truck stop.  The sky was tinted red with dust at sunset and the temperature was 48° F in the morning (September 15, 1 AM, local).

September 15, 2016  5 PM, Loves Truck Stop at Tulare, California

At the border, there is an inspection station.  They are more concerned with what I am carrying, not its weight.  I hand over the Bill of Lading (BOL) and tell the guy, it’s frozen chicken.  He says, “I know you guys carry either that that or frozen beef.  I tell him (briefly) about the frozen fish.  I don’t bring up bananas, since it might occur to him to look for fruit flies.  There is an old joke that goes, “Time flies like an arrow.  Fruit flies like a banana.”.  He wishes me a safe trip and I am back on the highway.

California is a ten percent pay cut, since the speed limit is everywhere 55 Mile per hour.  Not to worry, though because I can make up for it by driving more hours.  The cars can all go 70 still and they probably curse us in our trucks when there is no passing lane.  Hey, they  voted for the dufusses who made the speed limit!

My next fuel stop is programmed for Boron, CA.

Boron is a chemical element with symbol B and atomic number 5. Produced entirely by cosmic ray spallation and supernovaeand not by stellar nucleosynthesis, it is a low-abundance element in the Solar system and in the Earth’s crust.[12] Boron is concentrated on Earth by the water-solubility of its more common naturally occurring compounds, the borate minerals. These are mined industrially as evaporites, such as borax and kernite.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boron

That definition mentions in passing that Boron is made by exploding stars.  It is a little appreciated fact (except by Astronomy Degree holders – Guilty, Your Honor) that all elements except Hydrogen (and -according to some –  a small quantity of Helium , with a trace of Lithium) are manufactured by Nuclear Fusion.  So, a great deal of what makes up your body was once inside a Star, somewhat like the Sun.  Boron requires Stars that explode and fortunately for us, our Sun is too small for that.  So, Boron comes from other Stars or bombardment of cosmic rays – which is even weirder when you know where cosmic rays come from:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_ray

But I digress (like way!).  The town’s name comes from the local Borax Industry:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borax

You may remember the Brand Name “Twenty Mule Team Borax” which is mentioned in the above link.  However, unless you are Cretaceous, like myself, you won’t remember the 1950’s television series “Death Valley Days” that was sponsored by Twenty Mule Team Products and hosted by a very young actor in Western costume.  His name was Ronald Reagan.  More digression – but this time locally influenced.

I had called this truck stop from Arkansas two days ago, to ask if they could order replacements for my windshield wiper blades.  I had no luck finding the right parts in truck stops over many states.  The guy assured me they were in stock and I found them there.  As planned, I continued for three more hours to get here to Tulare.  This sets me up for a three hour drive to the Final in the morning.  I had some time left and could have driven to a rest stop 24 miles further on, but the prospect of a shower was too much to pass up.  Upon arriving, I realized that the last Loves shower credit – the one I earned in Santa Rosa – I had used up in Williams.  I still had “clock” and could have continued to the rest area.  But, it could be closed or over-crowded and that would force me back here anyway.  That scenario would have cost me an hour of drive time tomorrow (due to the eight-day problem) so I  stayed.  I know I promised to lay off the “drive clock” subject, but it keeps cropping up in the day-to-day events.

September 16, 2016, 7:20 AM PDT, Winco Distribution Center, Modesto, California

So far, I like this place.  They give you a map and directions and send you to pull-through (i.e., easy) parking to await your appointment.  Then off to a door and walk your papers into the office.  I have called the local Walmart Supercenter (about 5 miles away) and received permission to park while shopping.  After that, I will go to a nearby Pilot (16 miles – where I have 5 shower credits) and take a 34 hour break which will reset my 70 hour 8 day situation.  That should stop this running short on drive time.  I’m hoping this will set me up for a long trip, but there are no guarantees.

11:11 AM PDT

I have now completed all my paperwork for this trip, save the Lumper receipt which they will bring me when I am released.  I’ve also cleaned up my email inbox, replied to some messages and written this bit of prose for y’all.  The door light has been green for over an hour and still I have no clearance after three hours and 11 minutes from my appointment (for which I was timely).  Can you guess if “detention pay” is in force with this receiver?

Trip Complete. On to Wal-Mart

Over The Road,

Steve

Under Sail Once More – Westward Bound

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August 4, 2016 – Canton,  Texas  (Transplanted from WordPress page)

Despite the massive incompetence that passes for management in the Walmart distribution center in Johnstown in upstate New York, the gate guards and  receiving staff were most polite and helpful. It just goes to show you that places are often remembered for their least admirable details.  Another New York example of that phenomenon  is their Arrogant Senator, the lower case chuck schumer.

When finally it came, it had been a “live” unloading, which means that I hung around while they unloaded the trailer I had brought.  First, they assign you a door and hand you a pager.  You are then expected to back the trailer into the door and wait for the cargo to be unloaded.  There is a mechanical arm that grabs the bumper of your trailer, in addition to wheel chocks and the trailer brakes that prevent you from moving while the forklifts run in and out the trailer carrying pallets of meat.  These precautions were not apparently enough to assuage the misgivings of Safety, so we are required to disconnect the tractor from the trailer and a receiving foremen locks out the trailer air hose connector as well.  The subject of airbrakes could make an entire post and I’ll put that on the list.


Besides all that, there is a red light flashing by the door, visible in your driver-side mirror that prohibits you from moving anything.   When the light turns green, we ain’t done yet! You have to wait until the pager explodes with flashing blue neon lights and go to the receiving window to get the paperwork.  All this may take four or five hours.  Some shippers and receivers have no concern whatsoever for the fact that drivers are paid by the mile and sitting in a door is a zero mileage trip.

By contrast, the next load I delivered was to Golden State Foods in Garner, NC.  There, I was admitted within 10 minutes of arrival.  I had only to back the trailer into a cargo door (no  need even to open the trailer doors), disconnect from (drop) that trailer and hook up to the trailer in the next door…and leave.  The whole thing took less than an hour.  See, New York?

Fortunately, the next load was only 37 miles away.  Unfortunately, the appointment to pick up was the next morning at 1 PM.  However, they give themselves until 11 PM to actually come across with the load. twenty eight hours away in time.  You can bet that it will happen within a half hour of that last deadline.  Here at Clayton, NC,  they will waste your time, but they will also give you a place to park and wait, on site (unlike Walmart, NY).   I took that load of meat to Texas in two full days of travel totaling over 1100 miles.   Now I sit in a truck stop at Canton, Texas for about 18 hours, in order to arrive in Garland, Texas at the proper time tomorrow.  I could have stopped further out, but then I risk being late for some accident or traffic jam.  The Federal regulations and the company’s speed limits have made this job a game of “Hurry Up and Wait”.

The First Mate was in Dallas with youngest son for University “camp” and she drove out to see me.  We took some photos. 

Definition:  First Mate – an officer on a ship , second in rank only to the  Captain  and responsible for the security of both Captain and Vessel.

CaptainAtTheHelm

Above: The Captain at the Helm

FirstMateRelaxes2

 The First Mate

One, Two, Three, Etc.

For Saturday October 26:       

One, Two, Three, Etc. is an arts and craft company in Houston that offers Peruvian  jewelry, ornaments and accessories at local Craft Shows and Farmers’ Markets.

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OneTwoThreeEtcLayoutCruiseOne
Proprietor Maria is also a Dream Vacations travel agent.    Saturday, October 26 will find the company’s booth  at the Energy Corridor Farmers’ Market   (E.C.F.M.) at 14710 Grisby Rd.,  Houston, TX 77079 near Highway 6 and the Katy (I-10) Freeway.  Please see the map below.     Drop by and have a look, after Nine AM.

 

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The Grand Ice Age

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Not long ago, one of my Road Trip Interest Group members (you know who you are) asked this question:

“When was the last Ice Age?”

The term “Ice Age” is somewhat ambiguous. Fluctuations in the Earth’s climate are extreme and take place over many periods of time.  There have been eras when the Earth was completely devoid of ice.  There have been other times when all the Earth’s oceans had completely turned to ice.  So, when was the last “Ice Age”?

The most recent time that has been referred to by that name was the “Little Ice Age”(LIA).  When exactly that was depends on who you ask.  The chart below defines the LIA as being between the years 1400 and 1800 AD.  This was a time that saw mountain villages in Europe consumed by glaciers.  The “Frost Fairs” on the frozen River Thames in London happened at these times and the story of Hans Brinker, likewise.  There is ample evidence of the LIA in art, literature and history.   That painting of George Washington un-wisely standing in a rowboat, while his men push big chunks of ice in the Delaware out of the way?  LIA, again.  Below is a graph of results for last two millenia of proxy derived temperature differences.  You see the Little Ice Age as well as what came before.

Timespan:  2000 Years

MWP_LIA
Figure 1: The Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and the Little Ice Age (LIA).

These are differences in temperatures derived from examination of cylinders of ice drilled out of an ice sheet. Where that zero axis falls depends on how much time is included in the graph.  So, these data do not tell us what a thermometer would have said then.  But, the historical record tells us that during the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) Greenland was occupied by an agricultural civilization where none at that level of technology would be possible in today’s climate.  In Alaska there are glaciers that have retreated from the Little Ice Age and uncovered immense tree-stumps still rooted in the ground.  There are no such climax forests there today.

mendenhall_Tree_Stumps
Thousand-year-old tree stump uncovered by the Mendenhall Glacier’s retreat from the Little Ice Age

They date to about one thousand years ago.  So, we know for a fact that the temperatures were warmer then than now.  There are some who imagine that this was only the case for the North Atlantic.  But, Alaska is not on the Atlantic, is it?  And ice cores from Antarctica tell pretty much the same story.

The time before the LIA was much warmer than the climate today.  The MWP was, itself just another in a series of warm periods, starting with the Minoan Warm Period and occurring roughly every 1000 years.  Below is a graph of oxygen-Isotope proxy temperature anomalies.

Timespan: 11,000 years. 

GISP_Holocene_Anotated_NO_CO2
Figure 2.  Greenland Ice Sheet Project (GISP) temperature differences derived from ice cores.

The last “Ice Age”  (without the “Little” modifier) is to be seen at the extreme left of the Holocene graph in figure 2. It is more accurately referred to as a “Glaciation” and is a part of a (roughly) one-hundred thousand-year oscillation of extreme cold followed by short periods (10,000 years or less) of warm weather.  This cycle is revealed, among other places – in the Vostok and EPICA Ice Core Projects in Antarctica.

Timespan 450,000 years

EPICA_VOSTOK_Annotated
Figure 3.  Antarctic Ice-core derived temperature differences.

You see that our current situation is an “Interglacial” age called the Holocene Climate Optimum that comes after the “Ice Age” (Glaciation). The Eemian which came before that Glaciation is another Interglacial in a long series of same, stretching back half a million years – at least.  The Holocene appears to be significantly cooler than the previous Interglacials – all of them.  (Put that in your “Global Warming” pipe and smoke it! 😉 )

While the future is not yet determined, it looks very much like the Holocene is about over and the next Glaciation is soon to be expected.

But, in all of this, there is still ice at the poles and on mountaintops.  The Glaciations seem to be the rule and the “Interglacials”, the exceptions.  Could we not say that the entire timespan above was a part of a larger “Grand Ice Age” with only the interglacial times interrupting?

What happens if we widen the time span?  Below is a graph of ocean sediment-derived temperatures.

Timespan: Five Million Years.

Five_Myr_Climate_ChangeAnnote
Figure 4.  Temperature differences derived from ocean sediments

The fact that those hundred-thousand-year cycles of the previous graph are seen lends credibility to this seafloor sediment “proxy” of temperature.  Notice those thousand-century cycles are a recent phenomenon (relatively speaking) and followed a period of 41,000 year cycles.  Before that was a much warmer time.  There is fossil evidence that those were times when there was little or no ice on Earth at all.

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-12378934

Be warned that they will bring up “Global Warming” even though they can’t point to five-million-year-old Ford Explorers or make any reasonable defense of “Man-made Global Warming”.   -Steve

Quote about Antarctica:

“She recalled: “We were high up on glaciated peaks when we found a sedimentary layer packed full of fragile leaves and twigs.”

“These fossils proved to be remains of stunted bushes of beech. At only three to five million years old, they were some of the last plants to have lived on the continent before the deep freeze set in.”

The “deep freeze” referred to is when we live now!  

WELCOME TO THE GRAND ICE AGE!

It may surprise you to learn that you have been here all along.

Hasta Luego,

Steve

Ice Age Now and I-90 Rocks

I am doing research for yet another article that takes me to  Ice Age Now the blog of Robert Felix (Ice Age Bob).    Bob’s current first page features a video from YouTube called I-90 Rocks.

I have driven this route a couple of times, but I wish I had seen this video before, just so I could have appreciated the Geology I was passing through.

 

https://www.iceagenow.info/ice-age-lakes-between-seattle-and-the-cascades-video/

 

A Long Time Ago in Argentina

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[In 2002, I was back working in Houston, but I was still sent to  South America, occasionally.  But, this particular post has to do with a private trip we made first to Peru where my wife’s family lives.  It was a convenient place to let the the two young sons visit their aunt,  uncle and grandmother while the wife and I sneaked off to Argentina for a week. the prices I quote seem ridiculously cheap and not all of that is inflation from then to now – as explained in the text.  I was writing “Ten Things You Should Know When Visiting (Blank)” articles, in those  days and I just hit a big vein of them in a long-untouched directory copied faithfully from computer to  computer over the years.

I can’t find any pictures of this particular trip and I think we were in a video camera phase at that time.  We still have the videotapes somewhere, but we never look at them.  Someday we will transfer those to digital media and look at the young strangers who took that trip so long ago.  Meanwhile I have scarfed a couple of “file photos” just to break up the text.  I have put in a few modern remarks which are set off from the 16-year-ago prose with brackets [like this].

  Ten Thing You Should Know When Visiting Buenos  AiresBuenosAires9deJulio

  1. The streets and freeways are quite clean, which is unusual in this part of the world. As in many cities there are “recyclers” who comb the garbage for anything of residual value but, astoundingly, they clean up after themselves with brooms and extra garbage bags.  This is probably because the Argentinos like to think of themselves as displaced Europeans.  I myself have higher ambitions than to be a European. [With no offence to my European friends intended – this was before I met y’all 😉 ]. The hotel even has European bathroom fixtures, complete with bidet.  Do you know anyone who actually uses a bidet?…’cause I don’t.

 

  1. The streets are about a bus and two cabs wide and that’s what one usually finds in the width of the street. That is, except for Avenida Nueve de Julio [Ninth of July Avenue] which is the widest in the world, they say.*   The sidewalks are about three feet wide – barely enough room for two to pass without stepping into the street.  And ye had best not, if ye want keep yerself in one piece, ’cause the buses zoom by, with inches to spare, at ridiculous speeds.

*[That’s it in the picture above.  If you see 10 pictures of Buenos Aires at random, five of those have this street in them]

  1. The buses themselves are 80 cents (of a Peso) and the machines you drop your coins into actually make change. Best to get a seat if you can’t reach the grab bars, ’cause these vehicles spend most of their time in robust acceleration followed by vigorous braking. For variety there are sudden lurches to the left and right.  I never found a bus schedule but the hotel staff, store clerks and food servers are most helpful in this subject, as many of them probably depend on busses.  There is a Metro (a subway, I mean to say), but I didn’t manage to see any of it.

 

  1. As usual, no one is marching in the street, screaming anti-American threats. The anti-American mindset exists mostly in the imagination of the press (that includes the US media), some perpetual malcontents who manage to get a lot of face time on TV and a few asinine dictators who would be universally hated in their own country if they could not whip up an anti-American frenzy as a diversion. I won’t mention names but two of  them rhyme with Bastro and Busien.  If you’re still worried about it, pretend to be from New Zealand.  Most folks don’t even know where the heck that is.  If you meet an actual Kiwi, you may have some explaining to do.

 

  1. The best bet for changing money is the ATM’s with several networks. They’re called “multicajeros” (mool tea kah hair ose…accent on hair).  Look for the symbol of your particular network.   You get the latest exchange rate and they are to be found in banks with armed guards standing politely about, the better not to worry about muggers.  I never have any trouble with muggers, but I am six foot three and probably weigh twice  what you do.  There are lots of armed guards in Latin American countries and they are, generally speaking, polite because they have a strong sense of self-confidence.  It has to do with the Uzi and the flack jacket.  It pays to be just as polite to them.

 

  1. Prices are (by law, apparently) quoted in Pesos. The symbol for Pesos is “$”.  You might have thought that was for dollars.  Apparently it began with a really skinny “P” over a regular uppercase “S”.   When, rarely, prices are quoted in US Dollars, a “U” is added before the “$” and an extra “$” is appended.  Like this:  U$$   Prices are, to say the least, astounding just now (July 2002).  Some examples of ridiculously affordable purchases: Lunch for two in a rather pleasant sidewalk cafe consisting of steak and side dish with beer and dessert:  $20  (remember – that’s  U$$ 5.63).  High quality leather jacket: $400 (about U$$ 113).  Tango show, dinner and drinks for two in a really plush dinner theater:  $220  ( U$$ 62).  I got a hand-out for a burger joint that priced the bacon double cheesburger with fries and a drink at less than one US dollar.  I was too busy at really plush dinner theaters and rather pleasant sidewalk cafes to actually eat there.

 

  1. One thing you never make fun of in Argentina is the Tango. Don’t worry – I didn’t learn this by painful experience, but rather by simple observation. The Tango started about a hundred years ago as a saloon dance and has evolved into a refined art form that is most highly regarded.  There are “Tango Shows” in elegant theatres where the dancers on stage perform energetic, kick intensive maneuvers that would quickly start a fist-fight on any pubic dance floor.  Instead of the original one guy with a guitar, there is an orchestra with a string section, a piano and two accordions.

BA_FOuntain

[I remember this fountain, which we saw on a bus tour.  That must be the Capitol Dome behind it.  Another  bus tour took us to a Dude Ranch where Gauchos did horse-riding tricks and there was a period house with clothes and furniture of the Early 20th Century.  It was there I met the only black  man in Argentina (a tourist from Nigeria, it turns out).  He asked me to take a picture of him with one of the hats in the exhibit.  When he put it on, the “spittin’ image”  of Nat King Cole looked back at me.  It was quite a vivid impression, like having seen a ghost.  You  can tell, because I remember it to this day in 2018.  The picture below is the real Nat, of course.  That man could sing circles around most vocalists of today.  He was also an accomplished piano and banjo player.  If you can find it on Netflix or at the Redbox, watch the movie “Cat Ballou”]

NAT

  1. Another thing (or rather, person) you don’t make fun of is Eva Peron. A First Lady of renown in the fifties, she has achieved a status of near-sainthood. If you can get through a day in Buenos Aires and not see a picture of Evita, then either you were not paying attention and are in serious danger of being hit by the busses I mentioned, or you don’t know what Eva Peron looked like.

 

  1. There are several pedestrian streets referred to as peatonales (Pea at tone Al ess…accent on Al). These are of course lined with “retail opportunities”.  Evidently there is a long tradition of “barkers” (I don’t have a Spanish equivalent for that) who stand at strategic spots and talk up their establishment and hand out…well…hand-outs.  There are also people who want to “talk” to you for just a minute (I’m not sure what they’re up to and I don’t want to find out).  And, of  course, the depressingly common occurrence of street beggars.

 

  1. Don’t call home from the hotel, because they are not participating in the “ridiculously affordable” phenomenon – not on phone calls, anyway. There are telecom shops called “Locutorios” (Low coo tore ee ohs…accent on tore) where you are assigned a phone booth with a chair (they want you to be comfortable). Rates are usually posted on the front door and are reasonable.  You make all the calls you like, your accumulating charges appear on a digital readout and in the end you pay at the counter.

Buenos Aires is in the midst of a short window of opportunity for affordable travel. Argentina was well-known as an expensive place before and  I expect it will return to that status when the economy recovers.  I reckon I’ll check the news for the latest country to declare bankruptcy before I plan my next vacation.

Hasta Luego,

Steve

A Nice Place to Visit, But…

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Where to Live, if Not Earth

Life is in fact a very rare phenomenon, despite the fact that it surrounds most of us (in no small part with the “rest of us”).  You might think it to be common, but that is because you are a part of the commonality of it all.  Life is not common – outside of our planet, where it is common.

Some points about the rarity:

  1. The Earth is in the “Goldilocks Zone” (GZ) which means that it is at the right distance to be “not too hot and not too cold” for life. This is a well-known and rather trite fact to quote, but nevertheless true.  Depending on who you ask, the planets Venus and Mars are also in the GZ but apparently lifeless, thus far.
  2. The Earth is thought to have its relatively fixed spin axis because of the stabilizing influence of the moon. Other planets, without such large satellites are known to have violent shifts in inclination making environments hostile to life.  Mars has been suspected of major axial shifts on a short (geological) time scale, for example. Such a large satellite (relative to the planet it orbits – its “primary”) is a very rare condition and the only other example in the Solar System is the Pluto / Charon double planet.  And that planet -while extremely spin-stable – is way to Hell and Gone outside the GZ.
  3. Neither Mars nor Venus has a magnetic field like that of Earth which protects life from massive Solar and Cosmic radiation. It turns out that little Mercury does have a global magnetic field, but it’s hot dry surface is covered by a pitiful excuse for an atmosphere with not much more than vanishing small amounts of hydrogen and helium.  And the bare, igneous rocks of Mercury are basking in the glaring sunlight that is more than four times as intense as that experienced by Earth.
  4. The stable, near circular orbits of the planets that are common in our solar system are not so common in detected planets around other stars (Exoplanets).
  5. We have studied the Solar System extensively and know at least that conditions for life are extremely rare and Life has not yet been shown to exist anywhere else but on our own Earth.
  6. It stands to reason that intelligent life is even more scarce.  I submit to you that it is so rare as to be vanishingly small.

 When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth

When I was young (that was back in the Cretaceous Era when dinosaurs ruled the Earth), very little was known of what lay beyond that same Earth, even within our own Solar System.  It was thought that conditions for Life probably existed on Venus and almost certainly on Mars.

Seasonal changes on Mars that we now know to be dust patterns were taken as sure signs of life. We are now accustomed to sharp clear images of the planets thanks to space probes and extensive image processing of telescope photos.  What was available in the early Sixties was not much more than grainy, very low-resolution pictures.  As far as Mars was concerned, the expectation of life there was still active right up until the first fly-by images came from Mariner 4 on July 14, 1964.

Atlantis Region on Mars - Mariner 4
Actual Mariner 4 Image of Mars from 1964.  Note the linear artifacts and the extremely  low resolution.       Photo Credit: NASA

 Those images showed a moon-like, crater-covered surface and the atmosphere was confirmed to be a vanishingly thin layer of carbon dioxide. Those who had held out hope for life on Mars were bitterly disappointed.  I know because I was there and this was not at all what I had been led to expect.  I am not pointing fingers, you understand.  Virtually everybody – scientists included – expected to see something like the early images of desert areas of Earth from space – with, maybe, some cactus plants (roadrunners and coyotes optional).  But, these Doses of Reality really were indistinguishable from the airless, lifeless moon and a bitter disillusionment to all.  It happened that Mariner 4 did not see the more interesting parts of Mars that later restored some (diminished) hope for life when Mariner 9 images began to arrive.

Probes to Venus sent back even worse news. Cloud-covered Venus had been expected to be a very warm, rainy, damp or perhaps ocean-covered place.  All of those scenarios were explored in stories and novels, back in the Golden Age of Science Fiction.  If that “Golden Age” phrase puzzles you, go and read these authors:  Heinlein, Azimov, Clarke and Bradbury.

Earth observations had already begun to indicate harsh conditions. Measurements from probes revealed that planet to be a quite literal “Hell-hole” with a hot, thick, dry and “crushing” atmosphere that could melt lead.  Liquid water – long thought to be a Life “prerequisite” is just a busted myth on Venus.

400px-Venera9
Actual surface image from Venus by the Soviet Lander Venera in 1975.  The probe died not long after this. The vertical “artifacts” are data packets that occasionally interrupted  the image transmission.  Data storage in those days was measured in kilobytes and so things had to be done in “near-real-time”.

While Jupiter does possess a magnetic field, it is also surrounded by intense belts of radiation that are trapped in that field.  In this regard, I have found some quotes that throw doubt on the chances of hospitable environments on Jupiter’s moon Europa – long thought (after the Voyager probes, that is) to be a good candidate for life.

NASA_jupiter-moon-europa
Europa. The lack of craters and the linear features (we call ‘em “cracks” where I come from) suggest active Geology.  Some have suggested that the contrasting dark colors of said cracks suggest biology.  That may be grasping at straws, IMHO

Some of those doubts:

A Probe called Pioneer 10 was actually the first to encounter Jupiter and there was some concern about radiation levels:

“The level of radiation at Jupiter was ten times more powerful than Pioneer’s designers had predicted, leading to fears that the probe would not survive; however, with a few minor glitches, it managed to pass through the radiation belts, saved in large part by the fact that Jupiter’s magnetosphere had “wobbled” slightly upward at that point, moving away from the spacecraft. However, Pioneer 11 did lose most images of Io, as the radiation had caused its imaging photo polarimeter to receive a number of spurious commands. The subsequent and far more technologically advanced Voyager spacecraft had to be redesigned to cope with the massive radiation levels.”   (Magnetosphere of Jupiter, n.d.)

And then there was this, which hammered fifteen more nails into the Europa/Life Coffin::

“The radiation level at the surface of Europa is equivalent to a dose of about 5400 mSv (540 rem) per day,[40] an amount of radiation that would cause severe illness or death in human beings exposed for a single day.:[41]

  1. The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, Revised ed., US DOD 1962, pp. 592–593

You might argue that there is a “Goldilocks” Zone deep under Europa’s Ice in a Salty Sea of liquid water.  Probably more liquid water than on all of the Earth. The miles of ice and water might well protect from radiation.  The idea that life could exist there is reasonable, but completely unproven. But is that someplace you want to spend your retirement?

There was also a very thorough work on the radiation dose expected for Apollo astronauts while passing through the Van Allen Radiation Belts (VABR) on the way to moon landings.  It concluded that the dose of radiation was relatively tolerable – mostly because the men did not spend much time there.

So far, places where Earth-like conditions exist are:  Earth.

Because:

  1. Almost all “Environments” off-Earth are without significant atmospheres, with way too much atmosphere or under miles of ice, submerged in salty seas.
  2. Many “Environments” off-Earth also tend to be radioactive enough to kill you in a day or two.
  3. None of these so called “Environments” has actually been shown to harbor any kind of life.
  4. In every case, these are places that many adventurous people would like to visit. But, without bringing along a complete life support system with you – including when you are “out for a walk” – they are no place you could “live”.

And Then We Get to Titan

Titan is the largest moon of Saturn.  It is the third largest moon in the Solar System and larger than planets Mercury and Pluto.  And it is just lousy with Earth-like qualities.  It has a very dense atmosphere that exceeds the Earth’s sea-level pressure by about 50%.

Looking on the Brightside of Titan
Titan in visible light. Photo credit: NASA

This first image is pretty much what Voyager 1 saw during its pass by Saturn, arranged especially to look at Titan.  It has been known that Titan has an atmosphere since that fact was discovered by Gerald Kuiper (rhymes with “hyper”) in 1944.  It became obvious then that to see under this veil of clouds would require more than the cameras aboard the twin Voyager spacecraft.  Mostly for that reason was Voyager 2 was cleared (after the successful encounter of Voyager 1 with the satellite) to ignore Titan and continue on a trajectory that would take it to Uranus and Neptune.  Had Voyager 1 failed at Titan, Voyager 2 would have followed its brother out of the plane of the Solar System, never having had the opportunity to see the last two Giant planets Uranus and Neptune.  Titan got such priority because of its atmosphere which is unique for satellites of any planet.

TitanInfraredd
Titan in Infrared light.  The colors here are – of course – “made up” since you cannot (nor can I – so don’t feel bad) see in infrared light. Having said that…does this not remind you – a bit – of the Earth?  Photo credit: NASA

This second image is from the later Cassini probe that was sent to orbit Saturn and (knowing what Voyager could not see) included an infrared camera which – with some filtering -could see down to the Titanian surface.

While there have been many learned speculations that an exotic form of life might exist that “breathes” hydrogen and exhales methane and “eats” acetylene, none has as yet been detected.  “Conventional” Life-as-we-know-it (LAWKI) does these things with oxygen, carbon dioxide and glucose, respectively.

There are indeed Methanogens (i.e., Life that makes methane) on Earth but all of them use liquid water as their “solvent” and none use hydrocarbon liquids as would be the case for the imagined Titanian lifeforms.

I have found no references that indicate the radiation environment is a problem at Titan. This large moon of Saturn is expected to have a subsurface ocean as Europa is thought to have, with the same speculations of “conventional” lifeforms and the same problems to be expected.

Titan is covered with hydrocarbons.  These are compounds of hydrogen and carbon that would be called “petroleum” here on Earth.  Methane rains down out of the atmosphere and heavier hydrocarbons – solids at that temperature – cover much of the surface resembling sand dunes.  These “organic” compounds that have that name because they are -on Earth at least – generally made by lifeforms.  I have not read any speculations that Titan’s organics are life-generated.

Titan by virtue of its distance from the sun to Saturn (being 10X that for Earth) receives sunlight arriving there at one percent of what the Earth enjoys.  The cloud cover that Titan is notorious for reduces that to one tenth of one percent. Photosynthesis would seem very unlikely.  That contributes to a big problem with the idea of Life on Titan.  Namely, the temperature, which is so very cold (call it -200 F) that liquid water is decidedly out of the question.

There are, in fact “Great-Lake-size” bodies of liquid on the surface, but they are composed of mostly methane (CH4) – which on Earth is the main component of what’s called Natural Gas.  As mentioned earlier, methane is a minor component of Titan’s atmosphere, just as water vapor is in our own Earthly atmosphere and it precipitates to the surface like same.

That would seem to wrap it up for extra-terrestrial life.  Several possibilities for environments which show a potential for life, but no evidence that such life exists.

 Whatever lifeforms we see fit to deposit…

(from Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan, in reference to the “Genesis Project”)

TitanSUrfaceProbe2
The surface of Titan, photographed by the Huygens
Lander on Jan 14, 2005. Photo Credit: NASA

Titan’s atmosphere is composed of mostly nitrogen with about 5% methane near ground level with a trace of free hydrogen.   While Earth’s atmosphere is similar, being 80% Nitrogen – the remainder consisting mostly of oxygen with a few trace gasses – that of Titan has no free oxygen.

Again, the ground-level air pressure on Titan exceeds that which you  are currently experiencing – even as you read.  This makes Titan is the only place where walking around outdoors without a space suit might be possible.

There are a few problems with that idea, though.

  • Titan is extremely cold and would require the Walker to bundle up in arctic gear. Heavy-duty arctic gear.
  • This Pedestrian would be breathing from an air tank – like a SCUBA diver. There is (again) no free oxygen in the atmosphere. Let’s say that you use a re-breather and don’t exhaust any oxygen into the atmosphere.  Probably best considering the methane.
  • That methane (known to drizzle out of the haze you see in the distance) might require a raincoat over all that arctic gear. I doubt you would want to be soaked with evaporating methane when you go inside – where you will definitely have oxygen around.
  • The ground where the Huygens probe landed was described as comparable to wet clay. I can’t vouch for the stability or traction achievable on such a surface. Water ice would not be a problem, since at that temperature it is indistinguishable from rock. But those hydrocarbons that cover the surface are much closer to their melting points and could pose a slip hazard.  Other places – who knows?
  • Don’t let the picture fool you, it will be dark. That photo was taken with a sensitive research instrument. Remember that Titan orbits the planet Saturn, which is ten times as far from the Sun as the Earth.  Only one percent of Earthly sunlight reaches Titan and only one tenth of that is able to penetrate the clouds.  A moon-lit night on Earth might be the very best level of illumination you could expect.
  • You would need artificial lighting, especially through the roughly eight days of darkness when the sun is below the local horizon.
  • That brings up electrical generation. Solar panels would  be useless in the dimly lit haze. While fierce winds were measured during the descent of Huygens through the atmosphere, surface winds are likely  to be intermittent and not particularly strong.  So, you won’t want to  depend on windmills for power.  The probe was powered by batteries, which died after about 90 minutes.  No, you will be taking your own power supply to Titan and it will be nuclear in nature – something like a radio-isotope generator.  Every probe that made it past Jupiter yet has used such “nukes” for power.

Conclusions

Indigenous Life in the Solar System – once thought so likely – has been shown to be non-existent as far as we know.  This is despite decades of intense research toward finding such life.

There is not much to offer for Human occupation “off-Earth” , either.  Unless you want to live life completely indoors, surrounded by radiation shielding or in a space suit (much like being “indoors”)  Titan is pretty much it.

Having found this one special second place in the Solar System where some semblance of normal human activity is indeed possible, the list of activities is rather short. You won’t be farming.  Astronomy is out, but if you happen to be on the side of Titan that faces Saturn, that ringed planet might be barely visible through the haze.  Hiking is good and there might be some spectacular landscapes (not at the Huygens landing zone, I’ll admit).  Night-vision goggles might be appropriate.

There is one aspect might make it all worthwhile.  Titan’s gravity is a bit less than that of our Moon.  About 1/6th of Earth.  That combined with the thick atmosphere should make human-powered flight possible.  Not just possible, but easy!  Even if all your cold-weather clothes, SCUBA gear and “wings” weigh as much as you do, you  would still have only one third of your weight on Earth.

There is a sub-culture of misinformed people who  think that Humanity’s only salvation will be to move to “another planet”.  These folks tend to be against things like fossil fuels and nuclear power.  Ironically, if Titan (about the best you can find) is your “other planet”, you will be surrounded by petroleum and using nukes for electricity – in bitter cold and perpetual (more-or-less) darkness.

But you could fly!

Ex Scientia, Veritas,

Steve

Bibly:

Star Trek II quote:   “Instead of a dead moon, a living, breathing planet, capable of sustaining whatever lifeforms we see fit to deposit on it.” – Dr. Carol Marcus

Van Allen Belt Radiation: http://www.braeunig.us/apollo/VABraddose.htm

Mars Axis instability:  https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/multimedia/pia15095.html#.WmOspainHIU

Venus (Venera):  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus

Exoplanets:  https://www.nasa.gov/kepler/discoveries

Titan:     https://images.nasa.gov/search-results?q=Titan%20surface&keywords=&page=2&media=image,video,audio&yearStart=1920&yearEnd=2018

Radioisotope generator:  https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/fact_sheets/radioisotope-power-systems.pdf