Sunday, 31 July 2011

you gotta know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em


As its Vegas, we can't tell too many tales of what goes on. However, my gambling was pretty good.

I decided to splurge a full $10 on the slots and started out at the Rio, whilst collecting some tickets for a show.

I worked my way through a variety of low spend machines, winning a dollar or two as I went along. When I found a winning machine, a man popped up from behind it and started singing on a small stage. Only one number, but I wondered if it had been done to distract.

I continued and then a few minutes later a dancing girl wearing not very much popped up on the same stage whilst another started to offer me drinks. I was up to at least $16 by this point, and the machine was making all manner of excited sounds.

In the end, I had to leave, but cashed in my winnings which finally peaked at $18 - thats a full $8 profit for less that half an hour of button pressing.

I returned to the Palazzo and decided to try a similar machine to see if my luck continued.

But No. In less than five minutes my winnings were wiped out and I was down to $2 from my original $10.

I decided to save the $2 for a later gamble.

This played out when we were on our way back from a restaurant. I put the $2 into a machine and pressed the button for what amounted to 3 or 4 goes. On the third go, some lights flashed and the machine went into deep thought for what seemed like a long time.

I'd won again. This time $135. I decide to press the 'print coupon' button and triumphantly cashed the money.

At this point I could say I had gambled successfully in Vegas.

But don't tell anyone.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

in the skyline of signs

O sole mio
From my various dalliances with Vegas, I'd decided that the Venetian was my hotel of preference.

This time we are actually sleeping way up in the sky at the adjoining sister hotel which is called the Palazzo. It's a huge room in what is really the same vast complex and still has the Venetian canal system that runs through the shopping mall. The room is high enough to make eye-contact with the many passing helicopters and our room looks down on many of the hotels including the overly golden Trump towers.

The predecessor of the Venetian for the indoor faux Italian street scenes was the Bellagio, which is the one often shown in 'heist' movies although staying in the simulated daylight or evening of the Venetian works surprisingly well. Look carefully in the picture and you can see the sprinkler system in the sky.


Many people can be a bit snooty about Las Vegas, but as a short break of 2-3 days it is something of a global and slightly bonkers 'one-off'. Suspend certain critical functions when entering this topless pizza other-world.

As we arrived yesterday through the ten story neon signs I was reminded that night-time Las Vegas is where everyone drives with an attitude as if they have just consumed about a dozen Red Bull caffeine drinks, don't yield at crossings and will jump lights and jostle for a one car advantage.

I'm valet parked until we crack the system in this desert town that hides the hours.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Scarlet's Walk as a soundtrack


There's even more mental editing to keep this blog running whilst on vacation and trying to stay to a ten minute per post rule. It'll be impressions more than anything.

I'm travelling fairly backpack light, so the usual paraphernalia of cameras and suchlike technology is mainly back in the UK. Like another desert wandering blogger, iPhone will sometimes suffice.

The trip is also a useful stimulus for the Circle (book three of The Triangle). I've got some great ideas. But they must wait. It's a full time job 'doing it' at the moment, let alone writing about it.

Then there's water. Despite the desert pictures, we have seen some of that too. Stepped in it, crossed it, swam in it. Oh yes.

And last night we drifted out of one kind of desert into another. The type that suddenly switches on as if a giant has carelessly tossed golden jewels across the sand. Too many to count, each one glittering with someone's hopes but in an environment designed to extract more than it places back.

Yes. We are in Vegas. As Tori might say:

and the Jacaranda tree
is telling me
It's not over yet,
just by the way She bends
"if you come breezin' through"
you said "I'll know that it's
you by the taste on my lips,
Bet on the desert's kiss"


See you on the 44th floor.

a hell of a place to lose a cow


We've been out to a place called Rainbow Bridge. My assumptions were that the colours in the rock formations would explain the Rainbow and then the arch formed by the wind erosion would explain the Bridge.

I was therefore delighted when we'd been there for a few minutes, to look into the sky and see a strange rainbow stripe across it. Not like a usual rainbow arch, but instead a straight line showing a spectrum of colours. I did grab a few shots and I'm pleased to say that the colours were also picked out by the camera.

I shall have to puzzle how this works, probably something to do with the bowl shaped canyon that we were peering into and a particular time of day. Or else its the native American gods of the area painting the sky.

The area is part of Bryce canyon, named after Ebenezer Bryce, one of the early mormon settlers who clearly had a sense of humour with his famous quote about the area.

The much earlier settlers, the native american Paite Indians, had a different story for the place. They told that it was a valley where the Legend People (to-when-ang-wa) lived.

They were of many kinds - birds, animals, lizards and such like - but they looked like people. For some reason, the Legend People that lived in that place were bad. Because they were bad, the Coyote turned them all into rocks. You can see them in that place now, some standing, some sitting and some holding on to one another. You can see their faces, with paint on, just as they were before Coyote turned them into rocks.

And as if that wasn't enough, by sitting still, I was then visited by a Raven, another mystical being from the old stories.

The Raven started as a snow white bird, but changed colour to black bringing the elements to mankind. He stole the Sun, Moon and Stars, fresh water and a brand of Fire from where they had been hidden by the mankind-hating Gray Eagle when visiting his lodge to see Gray Eagle's daughter.

The Raven fastened the Sun to the sky and used its light to fly to a far island where he hung the Moon. Then as the Sun set, he arranged the Stars in the sky. Next day, he dropped the fresh Water at a good spot where it became the source for all fresh water.

The Raven still had a brand of Fire in his bill and as he flew on it made his feathers black from the smoke. Eventually it was too hot to hold and he dropped it, where it struck stones and was hidden within them.

That is why, to this day, if you strike two stones together, spaces will fly from them. The Raven's feathers never returned to white.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Along the valley floor


A South Western style breakfast burrito this morning before we set off towards more of the cowboy country.

We'd slept in a small town (Pop 300) founded by Mormons who’d cut a tough new route through the rocks to open up the southern edge of Utah.

Seeing a picture of the original pioneers lined up in their Sunday best gave little clue to the rugged hardship of the journey they'd all made.

Onward toward the land filmed by John Ford and a part of so many westerns. We stopped at the one time small trading post used as a hotel by John Wayne and many others when filming The Searchers and many other western classics.

Then crossing the border back into Arizona exploring the breathtaking valley floor within the Navajo reservation.



Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Utah around sunrise


Standing by the Utah roadside just around sun-rise.

You can hear the trucks on this high-desert road from miles away as they approach.

The small roadside foliage hides flying critters just waiting to see what's so different about a European as they wait to pounce.

Me, I may be standing by another stretch of black-top in the middle of a desert, but I realise I'm grinning broadly.

weather check in Durango


It's been a strange kind of day. We started in the sunny hills outside of Durango with a plan to go north to a small mining village. The top picture shows the yard of the place where we slept.

But shortly after we started, the sky ahead turned grey, so we revised our plan and headed south west towards the finer weather (by evening we discovered we'd missed flash floods and 3/4inch hailstones)

Instead we wound up in a sunny and hot native American reservation where we followed some of the trails.

Spectacular with views across four US States from around 9000 feet elevation and deep canyons cutting throughout the landscape.

We spotted various generations of pueblo living, from the early years of AD, when the dwellers lived underground in pits, through AD700-800 when they lived in buildings of brick and wattle, and then into the 1200s, when they moved to an intricate way of building brick structures into the cliff faces of the area.

And then, by evening, we'd crossed the spacey alien and surreal landscape from New Mexico into Utah, and found ourselves sitting outdoors during sunset, whilst enjoying a cowboy-style supper.

Monday, 25 July 2011

coffee break


We're reloading the car for today's route to Durango still buzzing from all the news since meeting our Albuquerque friends yesterday.

Before we hit today's new Route 84 we'll drop back into Santa Fe for a last moment on Route 66 and to refuel for the journey.

It's still early morning right now, with already a strong sunlight and blue skies. I'm operating on coffee alone at the moment and will probably hold eating until we get back into the centre of town.

We've already been looking at maps and decided a route which will take us past many Native American sights along the Rio Grande and Rio Chama on the way north-west to Colorado for the next leg of our journey.

Santa Fe


Santa Fe today, which wasn't quite as I'd expected it. I'd anticipated the middle of town to be high rise, but Santa Fe definitely is not. It's a Pueblo revival style of architecture, with most of the buildings around two stories high.

It works well to make a charming centre to the city, which was still sleepily awakening when we arrived in the centre on Sunday morning. We'd started early with coffees 'to go' so that we could be back by 1pm to meet some nearby friends. Not quite our original plan for how to meet, but close enough.

We'd sent them a mail throughout the post, when we left England, because we didn't have the right electronic means of communication. A few mishaps, but we were now all synchronised to meet. It should have been in Albuquerque, but hey.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

mah-waan, mah-waan


We're still heading east and spent part of today on Route 66 spotting many shiny vehicles and a large assortment of Harley motorcycles.

Eventually it was time to head north towards the Rio Grande and the mountains.

All along the route are many signs of the native American Indians and tonight we're staying with the people of the Picuris Pueblo. They settled in the area some 800 years ago as the 'people of a hidden valley'. Nowadays, they are an intrinsic part of the scene around Santa Fe.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

day sky black


The storm clouds that had blackened the sky also cracked with that lightning that goes across the sky instead of up and down.

We could hear gods arguing but no sign of tears. Then suddenly, a silence and minutes later a fierce drumming as the rain kicked for fifteen minutes before a new blue appeared and the sun returned.

Later we saw a weather report with splashes of red heat across most of America. The all-time New York record of 104 was lower than most of the temperatures we'd experienced since being here right up to the thunderstorms.

Getting my kicks


The idea of many of the Main Streets in USA being joined together by the old Route 66 was an interesting one, even if the Superhighways criss- crossing America brought an inevitable end to the old route with the crowded rise of the automobile.

I've travelled part of Route 66 before, but this time am further East, currently in New Mexico, where the road gets its own special signage and every so often there's a strip of it that's been refurbished.

What better place to stop at a brilliant diner and eat a blue plate special from the counter, sitting on one of those spinning stools? And don't forget the milkshake.

Mine's a strawberry.


Friday, 22 July 2011

Taking it easy in Winslow, Arizona


Today's picture is for a 'do-it-yourself' Eagles song lyric creation.

There's a lot of Eagles and Eagle-esque music on the radio here so what better place to stop on Route 66, than Winslow Arizona. I'm taking it easy here, standing on a corner and there's a girl in a red flatbed Ford over on the other side of the road. As if she's slowed to take a look at me.

The roadsigns show that Winslow is going through a makeover at the moment. Further through the town is La Posada, a railway hotel brilliantly designed by Mary Anne Colter and run by Fred Harvey who started the Harvey Girls movement. It had a shortish original history as a hotel until it was re-opened as a magical place a few years ago.

As a song lyric might go..."Such a fine sight to see".

petroglyphs


The sunrise had gone from zero to maximum in a few minutes and I was now contemplating the best route through some spiky terrain.

Today we needed to cover quite some ground to stay on track although inevitably we'd get sidetracked at some point or other.

I can't easily list today's extensive diversions in a five minute post, so here's picture of some of the petroglyphs we spotted on a big rock before we crossed the border into New Mexico.


.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

flora


The desert around Sedona is actually quite abundant with flora. There's supposed to be around 11 inches of water a year, mainly in the monsoon season - which is right about now.

The baby cactus we've acquired is supposed to only need one teaspoon of water a month, so I guess plants around here are pretty tough.

In the sky I can see five raptors soaring on the hot air, a little too high and distant for me to make out exactly what they are. Earlier there was an eagle, golden plumage alone, taking a short look at us before sliding away in a slow circular flight.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

check boots for scorpions

Wandering around Sedona. Beware rattlesnakes and scorpions.
The iPhone picture of our current base will have to do for the moment. We're around Sedona, which is the scene of many American Western movies as well as (slightly surprisingly) Mad Men and (more surprisingly) Brideshead Revisited.

We're surrounded by the red stacked rocks, with the nearest to us being the chimney stack, but a pretty good view across to the many others. Its also one of the mystical spiritual vortexes around here. so we'll be soaking in the vibe along with the sunshine

Last night I was eating the fried cactus with (yep) cactus sauce, admittedly with a little chillie added for that extra spike.

I've found it fairly easy to remember to do the looking around the ground at night for scorpions. They are attracted to water and even the little ones can pack a pretty hefty sting. There's rattlesnakes too, but I suppose we are in cowboy country.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

coffee anyone?


We may still be 100 miles north of the Mexican border, but the chance to try some 1921 tequila cream coffee, in a glass caramelised with rum at the local Mexican restaurant was too good to pass by.

We've spent part of today on trails through areas filled with cactus and palms, so not that far from civilisation, but we'd always planned today for acclimatization before we really get moving.

And then later this afternoon we witnessed one of the huge dust storms crossing the area, at a speed of 35 mph and temporarily plunging everything into darkness before giving way to rain and then back to sunshine, all the time maintaining more than 100 degrees Farenheit.

filtering the UK news


Only a short time away from the UK and I'm noticing the different emphasis to the intermittent news from our fair island. The distance and filtering makes it sound just that bit more bizarre. Almost 'Keystone Kops' in the way its being described.

The big UK story on American TV channels is still the News Corps allegations although the pieces here seem to add up differently (and use old footage).
'
The extra stories are about Rebekah Brooke's husband's laptop computer being found in the underground carpark 'trash' in Chelsea Harbour. And then some stories about 'Scotland Yard' police resignations. And to top it all a story about the Sun's website being hacked and a fake story about the pollonium poisoning of Murdoch.

It reminds me about that old quote that if there's no news then make something up.

Monday, 18 July 2011

the coming attraction, the drop of a name

Roadtripping in Arizona
It's hot here in Arizona.

Yesterday evening was 43C/107F which meant carrying a backpack needed some special care. Our destination was also a little slippery and initially evaded us but only long enough for us to witness a spectacular melting sunset.

Then we cornered the palm strewn destination and found a place for the night. Amusingly it was playing Eagles on the FM.

But now, new day, at 4pm UK, maybe its time for some breakfast.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

books for the beach

books to be filed
I've always read a fair amount, subject to the vagaries of work and travel. When I spent time commuting around London I'd read a newspaper and then switch to a compact format book as the train filled up.

My picture illustrates the dilemma of travel with books though. I don't always want to read the same book all of the time (I do sometimes) but there's a problem carrying multiple books around. The holiday season exemplifies this. American format paperbacks are usually the best because they are generally smaller than UK ones, although they seem to be printed on thicker paper than, say, a Penguin edition.

As for anything recently published - it means hardback although that's generally a no-no because of the bulk.

My visualisation graph in the picture illustrate the problem.

Column 1 is the lone book I plan to read which isn't available electronically. Column 2 shows some books I've been reading and want to finish, but would take up too much space in my back-pack. Column 3 is a representative sample of recent books I've read but haven't got around to filing away anywhere yet. Column 4 are a few example magazine type publications I might also dip into, but not necessarily read every item in each edition.

I've decided to take a Kindle instead - other than the not available titles, it could swallow all of this pile of 35 books. And a further 100 similar piles. Some might say that there's a different feel to a Kindle compared with paper. Yes, it's easier to turn the page and they don't flap back again at an awkward angle. Some might say there's a different smell. More free monomer than musty. I can handle that too. Some might say that they don't have the same feel as the book. Try carrying "Hackney, that Rose Red Empire" for very long...

If the idea of a book is to pour some thoughts and ideas into one's head then I'm actually less concerned about the physics of the delivery vehicle. After all, its supposed to 'disappear' if the writing is good, in any case.

So I'll be packing light.

But I will take a charger.

Oh, and my "on bargain special offer" Kindle best-seller The Triangle

my new friends on twitter?

screenshot_04aI thought some more about the recent attentions from the attractive IT professionals following my new twitter account (not this one!)

I guess the people behind it have, say, 200-300 or 2000-3000 twitter accounts which each follow 300-400 people and have maybe 75-100 followers in return.

1) The pictures of the followers are mainly women. Many have suffered recent wardrobe malfunctions. No - I'm not showing those here. The ones in the pictures are some well intentioned fans of the novel, The Triangle.

2) In general these followers don't seem to be very chatty, offering an average of zero tweets.

3) Occasionally, a group of them will get very excited about a niche corporate news item and all mysteriously re-tweet it.

4) They appear to execute a "follow / unfollow / follow" behaviour if they don't get followed back. This means they stay at the top of peoples' follow list. So if someone else looks to see who has followed whom recently, there's an array of attractive ladies at the top of the list. Unsurprisingly, they get followed by people browsing the list.

5) A few of them (generally the less shy ones) are somewhat more 'demonstrative' of their city and hotel based hospitality offers.

6) Some of them seem to have different names but appear to be the same person.

7) Many of them have middle initials that reflect common keyboard partterns like "qwe" "cvf" "kjh".

8) Some of them seem to be ideal candidates to supplement those 'instant 1000 followers' lists that are advertised all over the internet.

I'm all for making new friends, but I think Claretha, Cheyenne, Tamie, Tabatha and -er- Frank may need to look elsewhere.

Friday, 15 July 2011

follow me, follow you?

screenshot_01I'm probably missing something, but I have been bemused by some of the recent followers on my twitter account. Not my @rashbre, but another account that is to do with the new company I've been setting up.

I'm pretty familiar with the usual activities associated with advertising 'offers you can't refuse', 'money making schemes often from Southern Africa' and 'pills and potions' but this one is leaving me intrigued.

The account concerned creates pretty earnest sounding chatter about cloud computing and similar yet there seems to be an unexpected interest from attractive female IT professionals who follow an average of 200-400 people, have an average of about 25% of this number following them back and have issued between 0 and 2 tweets in total. Intriguingly many, but not all, of them seemed to join twitter around 5-6th April this year.

My only clue came the other day when I noticed a new announcement from a very well known micro-processor supplier which was then re-tweeted, not by any of my new friends, but instead from another set of people with - er- very similar attributes.

There's probably an urban dictionary term for what is occurring, but I'm not sure whether asking meaghan (who seems to have forgotten her dress in the photo pose) will give me the answer I'm looking for.
screenshot_02

Thursday, 14 July 2011

johnny was a rockin, goin' round and round

David Bowie - Round and Round
An almost literal spin off from the recent tidying of the garage was the unearthing of an old record player that can be hooked up to a computer.

There were also some boxes of 45rpm vinyl singles, which look as if they are mainly still spinnable

I decided to try copying a few of the labels onto a camera and then uploading them against tracks in iTunes, to get the old style label to pop up when the track plays.

There’s some old gold amongst it with well known Beatles and Rolling Stones tracks nestling alongside the Captain Beefheart, Incredible String Band and Roy Harper.

Link to the progressively extending collection here.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

London Bloggers' Meetup

screenshot_03
I dropped in on the London Bloggers’ Meetup yesterday evening. It is the first one I’ve attended in ages but I’m glad I made the diversion to the Long Acre pub and found the gathering downstairs.

I’d estimate around 60 people attending so it is now at the level where most folk including me wore little handwritten badges with both real names and blognames.

A good mix of presentations and chatter and some interesting new contacts for me in the process.

Recommended to other London Bloggers to give the mainly monthly meetings a go. And thanks to excellent organiser Andy Bargery

Sunday, 10 July 2011

in which the garage becomes a space freighter

DSCF6130
The picture is before the upstairs landing started to look like the loading dock for a space freighter from an episode of Alien.

The technology those films don't explain quite so well is how people know what is in which pod. I suppose its all digitalised?

In my case the secret is to have slightly transparent crates, so you can see what is inside without needing to open them again. Some might say that once stuff reaches the 'crate' stage it is very much a one-way trip and the next appearance will be at a car-boot sale, on eBay or into the next arriving skip.

I've decided that it might be good to have some rules like they do with space ships. The current bulk cost to ship a kilo to geosynchronous orbit is around $20,000. Assuming it arrives safely of course.

My tariff for the trip to the garage could be a little less, but it would certainly focus the mind on what is really worth keeping.
ripley on patrol

Thursday, 7 July 2011

wave theory

DSCF6131
Thursday afternoon and I'd been driving through the rain on the M25. Part of my mission involved getting keys to a new destination, so they could be used to unlock a door at the weekend.

My sat nav was lit up with little yellow and red cars on most of the route I was taking, but close inspection showed most of them to be on the other side of the road.

As I traversed the Dartford Tunnel I could see a shimmer of blue hope to my right. The darkest clouds were over London and there was the merest hint of playful sunshine to the East.

So as I dropped the keys, there was a moment to consider the next option. Shall we stay or shall we go? We decided to point the car even further east and to head for some coastline. Just for a quick peek, to check that it was not raining everywhere.

The sun may have been shy, but it was in our hearts as we stood on the sand and watched the waves.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

I add a wifi hot spot to the car

glassy_WiFi_symbolLet's face it, most of the time we all have pretty good access to wifi these days. The various cloud and free to air offerings around London keep a pretty good signal without needing to remember the warchalk inscriptions.

But what about that inconvenient moment when you are a passenger in a car and the only available iPad doesn't have 3G? Or the laptop doesn't have its own SIM card?

Shock horror.

But easily solved.

I recently switched the car's phone cradle from Blackberry to iPhone (that's part of another story).

Whilst arranging it so that the car's two separate bluetooth nodes don't compete, I thought I might as well add the hotspot facility. My car dealership tells me the official option for a wifi hotspot to be added is £1016.

personal hotspot
Actually, it was easy to hang on to the cash and simply enable the iPhone hotspot. With it plugged into the cradle it has a good antenna and power.

Its quite a change from the days when cars came with instructions about not using the phone unless in a caddy, in case it messed with other car electronics or blew up the airbags.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Fly's in the buttermilk, Shoo, fly, shoo


INT. A DIMLY LIT ROOM.

A light bulb flickers. A shaft of dusty light enters from an open area at one end. The light is mainly obscured by a steep pile of building rubble.

There's discarded sinks, doors, a wardrobe, several piles from remnants of MDF furniture.

A gentle hum from ancient electronics, cables snaking through the debris. Spiders, scuttling sounds from the roof.

Our hero enters.

SOUND FX. A metallic scraping. Heavy chains.

Our hero smiles.

The skip has arrived. Now he can reclaim the space.

MONTAGE. (acc. busy music)
Manual labour. Mugs of tea. A flurry of polystyrene packaging caught in the wind. Dust. Cans of beer. Bicycles falling over. A bright orange lawnmower. More tea.

EXT. DRIVEWAY.
Zoom onto metal container. 8 cubic yards. Full.

Hero is dialling on phone "Send another."

FADE TO WHITE.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

something for desert?

desert trails
On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night


That Eagles' song has been riffling through my brain over the last day or so, now we've found a large map of the deserts west of L.A.

It was on a road trip that I discovered the album cover for Hotel California is the Beverley Hills Hotel in Hollywood. Although in my mind I transfer it's geography to Furnace Creek in Death Valley.

And now I'm thinking it's time to hit another dusty road.

I checked with the airline yesterday and have decided to drop into the middle of Arizona.

But not for a few more days.
hotel-california

Saturday, 2 July 2011

dawn rushes

Sun coming up
I'm away from home at the moment and surviving on hotel food.

It's turned into one of those evenings where the night runs into the morning. That point where the next day rushes in over the top of the previous one.

I'm never sure quite what happens between about 3am and 6am, when, if you are still awake the whole of Time operates at a different speed.

Might as well watch the sun come up now. I don't think I'll be the only one.
spider at sunrise


Friday, 1 July 2011

crossing the bridge

bridge
There’s a ford as well as a bridge and a swing rope at this point on the mill stream.

It covers most eventualities although someone has decided to remove their flip-flops before traversing the way.

I’ve been using the spot as a waymarker on my cycling recently.

If the weather is good then its a great place to pause for a few minutes before deciding the next part of the route.