Category Archives: Random Musings

Finding flags: The dis-orienteering sport of moving

photo by Clint Thomsen

A couple Saturdays ago I put my orienteering skills to the test on a professional course.  Orienteering can be a frustrating sport.  Your course is outlined for you, your terrain described in detail.  Control points are clearly marked.  Everything’s right there, but if the sun’s shining just so and your tired, and you’ve misread your compass by a few degrees, you might as well be lost in a foreign land.

Don’t get me wrong– it’s a fun sport– but as you’ll read in tonight’s Transcript Bulletin (and here on Monday), locating fluorescent orange and white striped flags on a desert hillside proved more challenging than I expected.

I had some truly disoriented moments out on that course, but I discovered (or re-discovered) last week that nothing is more disorienting than moving to a new home.

It’s been nearly a week since our family relocated to another corner of Stansbury Park, and while I’m confident that everything from the old house made it into the new one, we still have no earthly clue where anything is.

Like the box (or bag, or bin) containing my work clothes.  Or the basket (or bag) containing any of my shoes.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the box we packed all of our dishes and silverware in (the one labeled ‘KITCHEN’ in black permanent marker) is somewhere in the garage.

Ah, but that box of old cassette tapes I haven’t opened since 1995?  Living room, baby.  Front and center.  Right next to the pile of blue jeans from my pre-love handle days and my childhood Voltron toys.

I have a theory as to why this happens every time we move.  You see, the weeks leading up to the move are spent carefully packing non-essential items.  The stuff you need every day stays put until moving day.  Then it’s crunch time.  Things are packed haphazardly, thrown into random boxes, and hauled away and stowed under that “let’s-just-get-outta-here-already” mentality.

And that’s when the little world you’ve carefully crafted for the last decade turns upside down and inside out, and the stack of old middle school yearbooks ends up on your kitchen counter, while your pots and pans are nowhere to be found.

Things should improve as this massive Rubik’s cube comes together.  Until then, I’m laying low, hoping the boss doesn’t notice I’m wearing Christmas slippers, and rocking to Peter Cetera.

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Posted by on April 22, 2010 in Humor, Random Musings


Raiders of the Cursed Sprinkler Valve

I knew I’d have to go down there sooner or later.  I also knew I’d be down there a while, and being a fairly busy guy with a  fairly low tolerance for tight underground spaces, I chose to deal with it later.

Well, ‘later’ came last week.

I started digging wide, cutting step stairs from two sides about three feet down.  From there it got more surgical.  I had to dodge an unidentified bundle of black cables and make sure not to go too far under the sidewalk or my sprinkler box.  By the time I hit the six foot mark, I was working with about one square foot of space and removing clay with my bare hand.

As the sun went down that first night, I remembered that scene from Raiders of the Lost ark where the silhouettes of Indy and crew are pictured tirelessly digging for the cursed lost ark.  The object of my quest was much less illustrious, but believe me, it was no less cursed.

This wouldn’t be my first encounter with the infernal bronze object.  The first occurred four years ago when I twisted my sprinkler key and unleashed Old Faithful.

“It’s probably your stop/waste valve,” my dad told me when I called him.  “It’s a pretty simple fix.”

Sure, unless it’s buried six feet under the hardest clay bed in the Basin & Range Province and located under an unidentified bundle of black cables.

It took us three days to replace it the first time.  It took roughly the same amount of time the second time it broke.  The third time I dug the hole it was just the PVC line that had broken.  This year it was both the PVC line and the stop/waste valve.  Obviously we were doing something wrong.

So my pal Trevis offered to help out. He had done this a time or two– successfully.  I’d dig, he’d assemble.  We worked on it on and off for about a week.  Neighbors complemented me on my tidy excavation.  I told them it was an archaeological dig.

“Our house was built on an old Indian burial ground,” I’d say.

Once things were finally fitted and glued, I began carefully molding sand and clay around my bronze foe and filled in the hole, finishing around sunset last weekend.  Old Faithful has been capped, and my little portal to hell has finally been sealed.

At least for now.

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Posted by on March 30, 2010 in Random Musings


Dang winter. Dang it to heck.

Okay, so I’ve come to terms with winter in recent years– to a degree.  I’ve got a lighter column schedule, I don’t need to mow the lawn, not a lot going on to stress out about.   Kinda nice.

But I’ll only fully embrace this season when it stops sending my children to the hospital.

My decrease in postings here lately is partly due to the lighter column schedule, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that since about Christmas, we’ve spent a good deal of time at medical facilities.  If you have small children, you know what I’m talking about.  When the kids get sick, the earth stops spinning.

The big one was Deedle’s 3 day hospital stay the week before last.  Now, Deedle’s a big boy, but he was no match for human metapneumovirus (HMPV), a cousin of RSV, which I’m sure he contracted from toys in a pediatric waiting room somewhere.

I say ‘somewhere’ because we’ve been in a lot of pediatric waiting rooms lately.  Here’s the run-down for our kids since about Christmas (diseases and number of family members affected):

Croop: 1
Strep Throat: 1
Bronchial infections: 1
Acute asthma: 1
Ear infections: 2
Unidentified, puke-your-guts-out stomach virus: 5

Mind you, each of these cases (save 4 instances of the the puke-your-guts-out stomach virus) necessitated its own doctor visit, co-pay, and prescription.

But I’m looking at the bright side– I’m happy to report that so far our family is completely swine flu free!  We’ll see what next week brings.


Posted by on January 21, 2010 in Random Musings


Excited for the new season of Man vs. Wild

Bear Grylls took a lot of grief from survivalists after the first season of Discovery Channel’s Man vs. Wild.  Not so much because network bigwigs staged certain situations or forced the adventuresome Brit to use safety ropes, flotation devices, and other helps to mitigate the perils of his stunts.  But because the producers did their best to hide these helps from the audience.

The ire was unfortunately directed at Grylls himself.  He was called a fake, a liar, and even worse: a wuss.  The formerly gun-shy Grylls got the point and took a stand, demanding the net do things his way from that point on.  Second season episodes debuted with disclaimers about assistance and staged situations, and new cover-your-butt narration was dubbed back into first season episodes for reruns.

The fact that it’s taken Grylls so long to shake this “wussy” image is both unfortunate and ironic.  Unfortunate because the show’s entire purpose was to demonstrate survival in certain situations (it makes sense then, that they’d either seek out or create these situations).  It’s ironic because they don’t come much tougher than Bear Grylls.

Criticize his ridiculous pronunciations of “glacier” and “vitamins” or his disturbing propensity to shed his clothes at least once every episode, but Bear ain’t a wuss.  There may be a crew standing by in case he gets hypothermia, but that’s Bear leaping into that icy water.  There may be a cameraman filming him, but that’s Bear leaping over those gaping chasms, or eating a cow’s eye, or biting into a raw zebra carcass, or sleeping inside a dead camel.

Good stuff.  Which is why I was delighted last night when I caught a teaser for the new season of Man vs. Wild, which begins next Wednesday at 9pm on Discovery.  Apparently the show’s focus has expanded beyond survival basics to extreme adventure.  Sounds awesome.

Just one request—let’s keep the clothes on this year, eh Bear?


Attention link leeches: Thanks but no thanks

For the last year or so I’ve noticed an amusing phenomenon with this website.  Somehow I’ve shown up on the radars of lots of businesses that range from legitimate upstarts to snake oil salesman to pyramid schemes.  They all want one thing: a link.

Most try to come through the back door with comments.  Akismet usually catches the most blatant, but Some bot comments pair their spam link with a chuckle-worthy effort to sound legit.  You know the routine:

“Thanks for this great posting.  I read every day!”

Then there are the emailers.  I post my email address in a couple places here, but it’s pretty spiderproof.  So most of these are real people that have actually visited the website and typed my address into their email to me.  I get at least one of these every week asking for some sort of link back.  I’ve obliged twice in the past- both vetted companies that were relevant to my subject matter.

But most requests look like generic form letters that read almost the same as the next.  If you’ve got a topical blog, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.  Here’s a redacted example I received just this morning, my comments in red:

This is (insert first name here) from (insert upstart website here).  We stumbled on your blog while searching for Exclusive Furniture related information.

Did you, now?  Furniture?  You’re talking folding camp chairs and cots, right?

We operate the largest Home Furniture & Office Furniture website

Largest where?  Compared to what?

featuring more than 30,000 blogs. Our site averages 200,000 unique visitors per month.

Sure it does.  And I just caught a 20 lb catfish in South Willow Creek.

As a kind note We have featured your blog on (insert webpage listing a bunch of random blogs here).  We would be grateful if you could add a link and these details on your blog’s main page.

Ah, how kind of you!  But no, thanks.  I’ll pass on being visited tangentially by the 200,000 people buying ottomans from your website.

Don’t get me wrong, I dig entrepreneurship and I believe small business is the key to a successful economy.  I don’t have a problem with affiliate marketing or link exchanges, but I refuse to feed leeches.

I will, however, poke gratuitous fun at them all day long.

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Posted by on January 4, 2010 in Random Musings


Planes, (metro) trains, and automobiles

I’ve been back East on business for the last few days and so far the week has been an adventure.  I spent almost the entire day Sunday stuck in terminals in Salt Lake and Atlanta.  The other night I was stuck in a D.C. metro station for almost an hour after a man jumped in front of a train and was killed.  Barring any of the same technical difficulties that canceled my original flight here, I’ll be able to sleep in my own bed tonight.  Until my next post, I’ll just say this:

  • Delta isn’t my favorite airline, but I’ll concede they did a pretty good job of re-routing an entire 737’s passengers through other flights in fairly short order.
  • To the restaurant billed as ‘Southern cooking’ in Atlanta International’s A Concourse: your meatloaf was decent but your cornbread was horrible.  But what do you care?  You’ve got a terminal full of captive customers whose only other choice is Domino’s.
  • Humidity in late autumn/early winter makes me very happy.
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Posted by on November 18, 2009 in Random Musings


Why I’m thinking about space–reason #2: A spaceport in Wendover?

Man on the moon? Think again. This photo was shot by my friend Richard Menzies for an edition of The Salt Flat News that addressed Wendover's bid for a NASA spaceport. His editor, Richard Goldberger, is wearing the space suit. Said Menzies, "We were "recreating" Alan Shepard's lunar golfing stunt, except that his was a chip shot and ours was a short putt. Funny thing is, many people thought it was an authentic NASA photo."

MAN ON THE MOON? Think again. This photo was shot by my friend Richard Menzies on the salt flats. It appeared on the cover of a 1971 edition of The Salt Flat News. The issue addressed Wendover's bid for a NASA spaceport. Menzies' cohort, Richard Goldberger, is wearing the space suit. Said Menzies, "We were 'recreating' Alan Shepard's lunar golfing stunt, except that his was a chip shot and ours was a short putt. Funny thing is, many people thought it was an authentic NASA photo." (photo courtesy Richard Menzies)

Most anybody with a passing familiarity with Utah history is aware of Wendover’s role in Project Silverplate, the U.S. Army Air Force’s project to modify B-29 bombers to enable them to drop atomic weapons on Japan.

But few Utahns know that during the 60’s and early 70’s, the sleepy border town was poised to become a huge NASA hub.

Turns out NASA was seriously looking at basing at least part of its Space Shuttle program in the Wendover area.  I learned about this for the first time while conducting background research on the Silver Island Range for my latest TTB article.  Exactly which aspects of the shuttle program were to be based in Wendover are in question.  Some old newspaper articles claim that Wendover was to house the whole deal– engine production, launch, and landing/recovery.  Other sources (like the pictured pamphlet) mention simply a landing/recovery operation.


This 28-page color brochure promoted Utah's bid for the West Desert spaceport. Note the USAF quote: "The only site known to satisfy recovery of polar orbiting ballistic vehicles." (photo courtesy Richard Menzies)

Wendover was in contention with bases in New Mexico, California, and Florida.  Utah was serious enough about winning that it spent many millions of extra dollars to route I-80 through Wendover, something that wasn’t in UDOT’s original plan.

TANGENT: In fact, UDOT’s original plan was to route I-80 up and over the Silver Island Range and into the Pilot Valley.  Wendover was to be cut off completely.  The plan, according to its lead engineer, Roy Tea, would have saved travelers 6 miles and the state upwards of $50 million.

NESTED TANGENT: This same Roy Tea is the foremost authority on the Hastings Cutoff of the California Trail.  This guy is a fountain of knowledge about this piece of Utah history.

The new NASA base would have made Wendover a major Utah city.  Multiple other communities were also expected to be built in the area.  The Bonneville Salt Flats would have been utilized as a landing area or a closed buffer zone.

Needless to say, Wendover lost out to Cape Canaveral, which modified the existing Apollo infrastructure to house the project.  The salt flats went on to star in numerous movies and car commercials, and Wendover continued as an economically challenged border town.

But Utah didn’t give up on its space aspirations.   In 1998, several Utah counties bid to base the VentureStar reusable spaceship program.  The program failed and was canceled in 2001.


Simulated view of VentureStar in low Earth orbit (photo courtesy Lockheed Martin)

It’s hard to determine from the scant newspaper references I could dig up just how big a deal this was for Utahns at the time.  The best source of information on all of this was a 1971 issue of The Salt Flat News, a quirky little pub I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog.

I’m intrigued by all of this and I plan to put together a more conclusive piece for the Transcript Bulletin in the near future.  But, like my recent reacquaintance with Spock and Kirk, it got me to thinking about space.

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Posted by on October 14, 2009 in History, Random Musings, West Desert