Friday, December 27, 2013

Favorite Books of 2013 - Fiction

1. Sharon Cramer, 2012, The Execution, B & F Publishing, 348p.

This is a very enjoyable read and highly recommended. The story takes place in 14th century France and starts with a young priest visiting a prisoner who is to be executed the next day. The priest quickly realizes that the prisoner is his twin brother who he never knew. They end up spending the night before the execution telling each other their story. I pretty much guessed the ending, but that didn't subtract at all from the great read.

2. Ian McEwan, 2012, Sweet Tooth, Nan A. Talese, 320p.

Great finish! As with all Ian McEwan's novels, there is an unexpected twist right at the end, and, as always, the reader is totally unprepared for it. I think that is what I like about his books; the reader can't anticipate the ending.

3. Christopher Moore, 2004, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, William Morrow, 432p.

If you are interested in learning about the missing years in the life of Jesus, those years between his birth and when he begins his ministry at about age 30, this books for you. However, after a few pages, you will begin to understand why the Church did not include The Gospel According to Biff in the New Testament.

This novel is full of sarcastic humor and had me laughing out loud on several occasions. One of my favorite passages is the story of Joshua/Jesus healing the two blind men (Amphibians 24:7-21):

'Then Joshua climbed down from his camel, laid his hands upon the old men's eyes, and said, "You have faith in the Lord, and you have heard, as evidently everyone in Judea has, that I am his son with whom he is well pleased." Then he pulled his hands from their faces and the old men looked around.

"Tell me what you see," Joshua said.
The old guys sort of looked around, saying nothing.
"So, Tell me what you see."
The blind men looked at each other.
"Something wrong?" Joshua asked. "You can see, can't you?"
"Well, yeah," said Abel, "but I thought there'd be more color."
"Yeah," said Crustus, "it's kind of dull."
I stepped up. "You're on the edge of the Judean desert, one of the most lifeless, desolate, hostile places on earth, what did you expect?"
"I don't know." Crustus shrugged. "More."
"Yeah, more," said Abel. "What color is that?"
"That's brown,"
"How about that one?"
"That would be brown as well."
"That color over here? Right there?"
"You're sure that's not mauve."
"Nope, brown."
"And. . ."
"Brown," I said.
The two former blind guys shrugged and walked off mumbling to each other.
"Excellent healing," said Nathaniel
"I for one have never seen a better healing," said Philip, "but then, I'm new."
Joshua rode off shaking his head.'

4. Kathy Reichs, 2012, Bones are Forever, Turtleback, 400p.

This is the fourth book of Kathy Reichs that I've read, all staring the forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan. This series is now a regular series on TV. I especially liked this story because it takes Brennan to some places I've been: Edmonton and Yellowknife, Canada.

5. Toni Dwiggins, 2012, Volcano Watch: The Forensic Geology Series, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 342p.

I enjoyed this book because the main character was a forensic geologist who lives in a town on the side of an active volcano with a ski resort on its slopes.

Honorable Mention:
1. Stephen Frey, 2012, Arctic Fire, Thomas & Mercer, 344p.
2. John Kess, 2013, Elly's Ghost, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 218p.
3. Janet Tavakoli, 2013, Archangels: Rise of the Jesuits, Create Space Independent Publishing, 324p.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Favorite Books of 2013 - Non-fiction

1. Johathan Gottschall, 2012, The Story Telling Animal; How Stories Make us Human, Mariner Books, 272p.

In The Storytelling Animal, Jonathan Gottschall explains in an easy-to-read and entertaining manner how stories make us human. At an early age, children start making up stories as they play. Children at play are training for the roles they will play as adults. As adults, daydreaming is a way we tell ourselves stories; we make up stories about work and how we will tell off the boss, we tell ourselves stories about how we will win the heart of another, we tell stories about how we will write that great-American novel. We are even able to turn our dreams at night into stories. No matter what it is, in order to make sense of it, we make up a story; it doesn't matter if it is true as long as it seems to make sense to us.

An area of his book I found particularly interesting was his explaining how fiction is so much more powerful than nonfiction is getting people to change their minds about things. With non-fiction we tend to be more critical and skeptical. With fiction, if the author is able to pull us in and get us absorbed with the story, we become more emotionally involved and more readily accept what is being presented; especially if it is coming from likeable characters.

This is an easily quotable book. Some of my favorite:

"Fiction has positive effects on readers' moral development and sense of empathy."

"We misremember the past in a way that allows us to maintain protagonist status in the stories of our own lives."

"The storytelling mind is allergic to uncertainty, randomness, and coincidence. It is addicted to meaning. If the storytelling mind cannot find meaningful patterns in the world, it will try to impose them. In short, the storytelling mind is a factory that churns out true stories when it can, but will manufacture lies when it can't."

"Most of us believe that we know how to separate fantasy and reality - that we keep information gathered from fiction safely quarantined from our stories of general knowledge. But studies show that this is not always the case. In the same mental bin, we mix information gleaned from both fiction and nonfiction."

"We have religion because, by nature, we abhor explanatory vacuums."

2. Paul Offit, 2013, Do You Believe in Magic?, Harper, 336p.

This is the book I would recommend to both those who practice alternative medicine. Offit does well in describing the background to the various modalities of alternative medicine and the politicians and celebrities who helped made them so popular. 


3. Sean Carroll, 2012, The Particle at the End of the Universe, Dutton Adult, 341p.

I enjoyed this book because it gave me a better understanding of particle physics and what the discovery of the Higgs particle means. Physicists have different ways of seeing particles depending on what they are looking for. They may think of the particles as waves or fields, yet find them as particles. 

4. David Roberts, 2013, Alone on the Ice; The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration, W. W. Norton & Company; 368p.   

Alone on the Ice is a story to match Shackleton's amazing adventure in Antarctica aboard the Endurance. This book tells of Douglas Mawson's 600 mile journey by dog sledge in Antarctica in 1912-13. After losing his two companions, Mawson manages the last 100 miles back to base camp on his own. An incredible story of one man's will to survive.


5. John Brockman, 2013, Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction, Harper Perennial, 432p.

This book is a nice collection of articles by the psychologists and philosophers who are investigating how we perceive, think, and make decisions.


Honorable Mention:
1. Neil Shubin, 2013, The Universe Within, Vintage, 240p.
2. Paul Bloom, 2013, Just Babies; The Origins of Good and Evil, Crown, 288p.
3. John Loftus and Randal Rauser, 2013, God or Godless, Baker Books, 208p.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thoughts on Thinking

According to Daniel Kahneman, in "Thinking, Fast and Slow", published in 2011, there are two ways of thinking, intuitive (system 1) and analytical (system 2). Intuitive thinking is the fast thinking; it is the thinking we do in making quick decisions with limited information. Along with instinct, intuitive thinking likely arose in our pre-primate ancestors.  Intuitive thinking helped our ancestors survive by avoiding the noise in the bush that may have been caused by a lion or other dangerous predator rather than just the wind. If you don't know, it is safer to react to the noise as coming from a dangerous animal. Those early hominids who lacked intuitive thinking, which includes common sense, may have attempt to investigate the noise and ended up removing themselves from the gene pool. Those who avoided the bush survived to pass on their genes, whether or not a predator was in the bush.
Analytical thinking may not have evolved until modern humans appeared. Analytical thinking would have been needed by early hunter and gatherers in planning hunting and foraging excursions. These humans would be able to process data from different sources; tracks to determine the kind and size of the animal, droppings to tell how long ago the animal had passed, wind direction to plan the direction they would approach the target animal. Analytical thinking was probably also important when early humans learned to create stone tools. It became further developed when civilizations arose and together with critical thinking got a boost from the Greek philosophers and again during the Enlightenment.
Today most of us use both intuitive thinking and analytical/critical thinking skills. However, many seem to stop with intuition; they feel intuition serves them just as well as analytical thinking. There are also times when intuition may be all you have available, or all you think you have available. Sometimes when people think they making an intuitive decision, it is because they are not aware they are actually making a decision based on past knowledge and experience. There are times people can't explain why they made a particular decision that in the end turned out to be the right one. They probably did is subconsciously; their mind was capable of analyzing the knowledge that resided there in making what seemed to be an intuitive decision.
If data is available, it is better to use analytical thinking rather than ignore the data in favor of intuition. Many people, however, don't like to think analytically. It's too hard or takes too much time. They would rather just know rather than have to think about it. That's why religious and political leaders are popular; they tell people what to think, saving the people the effort. And, that's why people often stay with the same religion or political party as their parents. They really don't think much about either.
Analytical thinking can also be abused. When some people try to make a decision about something, they will investigate the available data until they find something that feels right and then stick with that position no matter what other evidence may eventually become available. Once they have decided, they only see the evidence that confirms their belief and none of the evidence that denies it. This is called confirmation bias and is very common in pseudoscience beliefs such as astrology, alternative medicine, ESP, conspiracy theories, UFOs, etc.
If data is available, it is best to use analytical thinking and consider all the data. Intuition can often lead one astray; particularly in this modern world of science. Much of science is not intuitive; it cannot be arrived at using common sense. For example, intuition without science tells us that the sun orbits the Earth; rising in the east, passing overhead, and setting in the west. Intuition tells us that we are standing still on a stationary Earth and not traveling with the Earth's rotational speed of 1,040 miles per hour (at the equator) and it's speed of 67,000 miles per hour as it travels around the sun. If we are traveling that fast, why isn't it messing up our hair? Intuition tells us the Rocky Mountains and the Grand Canyon were always there. Analysis of the science tells us something wonderfully different. It took the Rocky Mountains tens of millions of years to be uplifted and millions more to be eroded down to their present landscape. It took rain and rivers millions of years to erode and sculpt what we see when we view the Grand Canyon today. That is where the wonder and awe of science come in to play for me. When I see a beautiful forested valley leading up to snow-capped peaks while hiking in the mountains, I see the time involved and the forces acting in and on the Earth that created the scene I am seeing. Intuition alone will likely tell you God did it all.
1. Kahneman, Daniel, 2011,  Thinking, Fast and Slow,  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 512p.
2. Mithen, Steven, 1996, The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science, Thames & Hudson, 288p.
3. Ehrenreich, Barbara, 2009, Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, Metropolitan Books, 256p.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Geologic Time Scale

Ref: Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology (Coursera course instructed by Philip John Currie, PhD, Sept 4 - Nov 27, 2013)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sandpipes at Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah

A couple months ago, we revisited the Kodochrome Basin State Park near Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. I've been fascinated by the sandstone pipes that I saw here on our first visit about twelve years ago. My wife also found the pipes fascinating; she kept mentioning the erotic nature of the landscape.
There are over 50 sandstone pipes in the park; most are circular or oval in horizontal cross section. Some of these pipes are free-standing columns and others appear embedded in cliff-face outcrops. The largest of the pipes can reach 170 feet high and up to 50 feet in diameter. The pipes are well cemented and more resistant to erosion that often removed the softer surrounding sediments. Figures 1 through 3 show three of these pipes in the park.

Figure 1. Free standing sandstone pipe near campground at Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah.
Figure 2. Sentinel Pipe southeast of campground.
Figure 3.  Sandstone pipe south of campground at sunset.
In Kodachrome Basin State Park and the surrounding area, the sandstone pipes are in the Jurassic Entrada and Carmel Formations (145-175 m.y.). The sedimentary environment in which the sandstones, shales, thin limestones and gypsum were deposited was shallow and near-shore marine and tidal flats that periodically dried out. During the Jurassic an inland sea extended from the north down into this part of south-central Utah.

The sandstone pipes at Kodachrome were probably formed during the deposition of the sediments and while the sediments were still saturated with sea water. This might be easiest visualized by imagining sands being deposited underwater near the coastline of the Jurassic sea. As sea level rose, the coast moved further to the east and finer grained clays were deposited on top of the saturated sand layers. As additional deposits of sands and clays occurred, the weight of the sediments and the overlying water cause the water in the underlying sands became over-pressured; the clays forming a cap that prevented the water from escaping the sand units. Perhaps a nearby earthquake provided the spark that disturbed the sediments enough that a small fault or other zone of weakness allowed the over-pressured water to escape upward toward the surface. As the water gushed upward, it included much of the sand from the saturated sand units as well as fragments from the upper clay and sand units that were ripped away by the ascending slurry. Some of the resulting pipes only extended through a few of the overlying sedimentary layers while others very likely broke the surface creating sand geysers. Perhaps, the sight of an erupting sand geyser may have caused some large Jurassic sauropod dinosaurs walking by to pause and look at what was happening.

The mechanism for this kind of soft-sediment deformation is called fluidization and is similar to what happens when you walk barefooted on wet sands near the water's edge. If the sand is saturated, it will squeeze up between your toes.

The outcrop at Shepard's Point, a few miles west of Kodachrome Basin State Park (Figures 4, 5, and 6), shows a large sandstone pipe in the cliff face that probably formed by the rapid eruption of saturated sands that probably broke the surface. After the eruption, the void left at depth caused the pipe and surrounding sediments to collapse. This can be seen by the sedimentary strata dipping down toward the pipe and the near vertical faults (down-arrows in Figure 6) on both sides of the pipe. This collapse feature formed much like calderas form following a volcanic eruption.
Figure 4.  Sandstone Pipe at Shepard's Point about 4 miles west of Kodochrome Basin State Park.
Figure 5.  Major Sandstone Pipe at Shepard's Point.
In Figure 6 I've outlined the sedimentary units in the outcrop at Shepard's Point and labeled the various sedimentary units alphabetically. I've also outlined the vertical pipes and numbered them to identify them. Besides the main pipe in the figure 6 (pipe #1) there is a second smaller pipe (#2). The uppermost unit in this outcrop is a Quaternary conglomerate layer that was deposited less than 2.5 m.y. ago, long after the major units exposed here were deposited, lithified, and heavily eroded. Although the source sedimentary unit for the main sandstone pipe (#1) is buried at some depth, the smaller pipe appears to have originated from sedimentary unit "D". Both pipes either broke the surface when then formed or intruded into overlying units that were eroded away prior to being capped by the uppermost conglomerate unit.

Figure 6.  Major Sandstone Pipe (Fig. 5) with Pipe and Strata Outlined.

Figures 7 and 8 show three smaller sandstone pipes in the same Shepard's Point outcrop a few hundred feet to the north. In this outcrop, the three pipes appear to originate from sedimentary unit "G". The diagonal line on the left side of Figure 8 shows a minor normal fault that may have occurred simultaneously with the three pipes. I would suspect the fault and all three pipes formed at the same time. All three pipes appear to have intruded only so far as sedimentary unit "B".
Figure 7. Smaller Sandstone Pipes at Shepard's Point.
Figure 8. Smaller Sandstone Pipes (Fig. 7) with Pipes and Strata Outlined.
I only spent about an hour at Shepard's point and the above description is rather sketchy. I would like to see more detailed work done on these pipes and the geology of the area. If you are a geology student looking for a thesis idea, feel free to contact me for additional information. Thirty-five years ago I did my MS thesis on similar soft sediment deformation. The small-scale folding I studied was the result of fluidization in Eocene (40 m.y.) oil shales of the Green River Basin of Wyoming; but, that's another story.

Next time you visit Bryce Canyon National Park or find yourself in this part of Utah, I recommend visiting Kodachrome Basin State Park. As my wife pointed out, the area is fascinating both for the geologist and non-geologist. The campground is one of the nicest and quietest park campgrounds in which we have stayed. If you happen to be there on a moonless night, you will likely see a spectacular display of stars.

1.  Baer, James L. and Steed, Robert H., 2010, Geology of Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah in Sprinkel, Douglas A., et. al., Geology of Utah's Parks and Monuments, pp. 466-482.
2.  Hannum, Cheryl, 1980, Sandstone and conglomerate-breccia pipes and kikes of the Kodachrome Basin area, Kane County, Utah: Brigham Young University Geology Studies, v. 27, pp. 31-50.
3.  Hornbacher, Dwight, 1984, Geology and structure of Kodachrome Basin State Reserve and vicinity, Kane and Garfield Counties, Utah: Loma Linda, Loma Linda university, M.S. thesis, 179 p.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Arches National Park

The following was taken from The Human Landscape in "Arches; Where Rock Meets Sky" by Nicky Leach. This well expresses my feelings about being out in nature:

"Studies in Canyonlands have recorded an acoustic level one notch above that found in a soundproof recording studio. Ambient sound levels and crowds in national parks have increased to such a degree that the National Park Service now manages silence and solitude as a resource. Canyon Country's silence is truly rare, one of its greatest resources. Caught up in the busy-ness of civilization, perhaps we don't notice noise pollution anymore or the effect that our expanding global population has on our nerves. Airplanes buzz across the Grand Canyon. Idling vehicles sit at overlooks. Larger numbers of hikers on popular trails means more talk and socializing. Campgrounds have the look, as my friend Jeff commented, of refugee camps, which perhaps they are, as we increasingly flee our stressful urban lives.
Even the shortest hikes outdoors can strip away the armor of culture and lay us bare to ourselves. We begin to speak in the language of the heart, not the mind. There is a fellowship in nature that is lacking in our man-made environments, which, for all our ingenuity, are limited by a human view of the world. For me, true diversity embraces other life forms as well as different cultures and requires a reciprocity we still seem unable to envision. I doubt that nature minds, but I sense that it is we who are diminished.

A small hawk flies directly in front of me, oblivious to my presence. A cottontail bolts from behind a rock and disappears into a clump of dark-gray skeletal blackbrush. Stink beetles crawl slowly across sand, then disappear into holes in the ground. There is a rustling in a stately old juniper, the ear-splitting squawk of a jay, then silence. To the northwest are jointed cliffs that have been weathered into odd fins. They are tilted at almost a 45-degree angle. I marvel that they can stay upright at all. Like so many other features in the park, the redrocks seem choreographed to geological perfection, graceful, soaring, bending, leaping. Everything seems to be in motion, sliding out of view in a long slow freefall."

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise (Part 9) - Venice

Enjoyed a beautiful day in Venice; even went for a gondola ride.
St Mark's in Venice
From our gondola
 Lot of pictures to share when we get home. Tomorrow we de-boat and begin the trip home. All-in-all, it has been a great trip. The only down side was the large crowds. Glad we didn't book this trip for July or August.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise (Part 8) - Athens

The Acropolis hasn't changed much since I saw it in the early 1970s. The only major difference is that today there is a lot more scaffolding in place and restoration work is in progress; not very conducive to nice photographs. Restoration work was on-going at several of the places we visited. It sounds like some of the restoration work takes longer than it took to originally build the structure.

The Erechtheum on the Acropolis in Athens.

We also took a ride along the Aegean coast from Athens to the Sounio peninsula and visited the temple to Poseidon. Sunny skies and the temperature in the 80s. I feel like I got too much sun again today.
Temple to Poseidon

The show in the Stardust Theater tonight was a tribute to the Beatles. The theater was packed and we enjoyed listening to all the old songs; not so much listening to the oldsters singing along.
Tomorrow is a sea day prior to our last stop in Venice on Sunday.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise (Part 7) - Izmir and Ephesus

Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey, after Istanbul and Ankara. It is also a much more modern city than Istanbul. Ephesus is about an hour's drive south from Izmir through hilly terrain composed mostly of metamorphosed marine sediments. In Ephesus, we saw a couple theaters, some temples, a fountain, and a stadium. My favorite was the library, at the time the third largest in the world after Alexandria and Pergamon. Peggy took a picture of me sitting on the steps. The columns that formed the facade of the library are composed of brecciated marble with white chunks of marble sitting in a fine grained black matrix. I imagine these columns were quite beautiful when polished. Had I lived here at the time, I can see myself having spent a lot of time here at the library. There is a lot of beautiful marble in Ephesus; even the streets are paved with  marble.

The Library at Ephesus

Saint John the Baptist is reported to have died here in Ephesus. Where he was supposedly buried, a Basilica was built. However, we didn't have time to see the remains of his church. Also, the Virgin Mary is rumored to have lived here. Our guide pointed out a small house on the hill above Ephesus as the supposed house of Mary. The only evidence for this seems to be a revelation that a woman at the end of the 18th century had that was confirmed by a local priest (not sure what that means). The house has been visited by three of the popes and has become a pilgrimage site for Catholics.

The large theater at Ephesus

The skies have been clear and sunny on this side of the Mediterranean and the temperature today probably got up into the 80s in Ephesus. Similar weather is forecast for Athens tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise (Part 6) - Istanbul

We docked this morning at 9AM in Istanbul, across from the old city. From our ship we could see several mosques that we were able to visit later in the day. The small boat, ship, and ferry traffic in the Bosphorus was amazing to watch; it's a wonder no one runs into each other. Some of the very small boats look like corks, bobbing wildly up and down in the wake of the larger boats. From the rear of our ship we could also see the suspension bridge over the Bosphorus that connects Europe with Asia. Apparently there is also a tunnel that connects to two continents.

Hagia Sophia to the right and the Blue Mosque to the left in the background.

Most everything we saw today was within walking distance of the center of the old town. We visited the Blue Mosque, where the ladies had to wear a scarf over their head and we all had to remove our shoes. We also visited the Hagia Sophia Mosque, which is now a museum. Many of the Istanbul mosques started out as Christian churches that were built by the Romans. Later when the Ottomans pushed the Romans out, they converted the churches to mosques.

The Blue Mosque

After visiting the mosques we went underground to see a large cistern built by the Romans to collect and store water. Apparently, a scene from one of the James Bond movies was shot down there.
Today was a national holiday in Turkey, so there were a lot of people out and the traffic was very heavy. Skies were sunny and the weather was just cool enough to require a sweater most of the day.
I had hoped to get some pictures of the ship passing through the Dardanelles. It was dark early this morning when we passed through on the way in to Istanbul and it will be dark tonight before we get there on the way out.

Tomorrow, Izmir/Ephesus.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise (Part 5) - Mykonos

Yesterday was a day at sea so many of us were sitting out on deck enjoying the sun and reading. I've noticed during the cruises that we have been on that there are usually a lot of readers on board. Yesterday, probably about a quarter of the people on deck were reading. It seemed there were probably about the same number of people reading e-books as were reading paper books.

I also purchased my first bucket of beer yesterday (buy 5 and get one free); so it was a very pleasant day. I overheard someone say, "It's not a cruise without the booze." Peggy enjoyed the hot tub and lying in the sun. Although we have a small balcony outside our stateroom, we spend most of our time topside near the back of the ship. It is more out of the wind than the larger area amid-ship with the larger pool, more outdoor chairs, and another outdoor bar. We enjoy our personal balcony in the evenings with a glass of wine.
We arrived in Mykonos, one of the Greek islands, about 8AM this morning, and had a small boat ferry us to the island of Delos, a short distance south of Mykonos. The entire island of Delos is an archaeological site and is covered in Greek ruins, mostly from the 2nd to 4th centuries BC. It is also the birthplace of Apollo and his twin sister Artemis. I was surprised to see that the country rock is mostly metasediments and granite; I guess I was expecting more volcanic rock. There is a lot to see on Delos and we just saw a small portion of it. It is a fascinating place.


Again, we are having beautiful weather. Although I was wearing my hat, my face got slightly sunburned today.
We left Mykonos around 3PM this afternoon so that we can arrive early in Istanbul tomorrow morning. I sat on the aft section of the ship and took video of us leaving the island. All the houses in Mykonos are white. Because they have sun almost all year, the white helps to deflect the heat. We enjoyed lunch at a small white outdoor cafe and enjoyed a Greek salad with a half liter bottle of wine; very nice.

Enjoyed a delicious Greek salad with wine here. (Love their olives)

We have had some great tour guides and have been informed so much about the places we are seeing. Because it is impossible to remember everything, I try to purchase a summary book with pictures about the places we see. So far, I have one for Florence, Pompeii, and Delos.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise (Part 4) - Rome & Naples

Yesterday near the Coliseum in Rome, we met a couple who live about 2 miles from us in Littleton. They also know people we know. Small world.

The Coliseum

The weather was great in Rome (70˚ F) but the crowds were bad. I thought we had planned our trip early enough in the season to avoid crowds and heat; I guess there are always crowds these days. The new pope must have had the day off; he didn't make an appearance to bless us.

Fontana di Trevi

When we left Rome, the seas were a bit rougher than we have experienced up to now, and a lot of people were looking drunk, without feeling the buzz.

When the ship arrived in Naples today, Peggy and I broke up again and took different tours; although we did have a common stop in Sorrento. Peggy got lost there but ran into a nice gentleman (with a cowboy hat) who helped her find her bus. From Sorrento, Peggy went by boat along the Amalfi coast while I went to Pompeii. My Pompeii guide explained that volcanologists had sensors all around the mountain of Vesuvius and he sounded confident they could give warnings of an eruption up to a month in advance. I didn't voice my skepticism, but imagined these volcanologists could become the target of a lawsuit similar to the one that imprisoned some seismologists here in Italy not long ago.

Pompeii with the volcano Vesuvius in the background.
One of the many bars in Pompeii.

The weather today was a little cooler and the crowds were not nearly as bad as Rome. Tomorrow is a cruise day and we have no shore visits until Mykonos, Greece, on Tuesday. Both of us are looking forward to a day of rest.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise (Part 3) - Tuscany

After our walking tour of Aix en Provence yesterday, Peggy and I stopped at a small establishment on a small plaza and ordered a wine and a  beer (very good beer). The cost of our drinks came to 6 Euros, and I gave the waiter 10 expecting some change. He stood near our table with the bill and money in his hand while talking over us to friends at a nearby table. After his conversation he continued to stand there and just look over the plaza.

"Change," I asked? (I don't speak French either.)

He looked at me like are you still here? "But of course," he said.

I was amused by the contrast between the look and the sincerity of his voice.

Having a cool one in Aix en Provence.

Today Peggy and I split up; I went to Florence and Pisa and she went to Cinque Terre. I was blown away by the art and architecture I saw in Florence and Peggy took a lot of pictures she can turn into paintings.
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence
By the way, I fixed the leaning tower in Pisa. All it took was to tilt the camera. Now, the tower is vertical and the ground is tilted. But, that's okay; dipping sediment, like folded rock, is more interesting.


About 7PM the ship left the port of Livorno and tomorrow we will be in Rome.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise (Part 2) - Marseille

Around 1AM this morning, we were awakened to the sound of a helicopter approaching our ship. We got up and went out on our balcony to investigate. We couldn't see anything but definitely could hear the helicopter somewhere above our ship. The helicopter pad is directly above our stateroom. After several minutes the helicopter drifted to our side of the ship and we could see a line extending from the helicopter to our deck. We watched as they lowered a stretcher down the line to our deck. Apparently the helicopter pad on this ship was not large enough for the helicopter to land. The helicopter moved back to be directly over the helicopter pad when they brought the stretcher and patient back aboard the helicopter. We watched until the helicopter departed.

We learned the next morning that we had a medical evacuation during the night. One of our fellow passengers had a heart attack and the ship had to turn around to meet the incoming helicopter. Having to divert for the med evac, the ship was late docking in Toulon.

After the ship docked, we took a bus tour of Marseille and Aix en Provence. In Marseille we saw the Notre Dame en Marseille which is located on the highest point in Marseille and gave us a nice vantage position to take pictures of the city. After that we were able to spend some time down by the harbor, marina, and fish market. We spent the afternoon walking along the narrow curving streets of the old town sections of Aix en Provence.

Our ship - Norwegian Spirit
Our guide for the tour had the annoying habit of ending every other sentence with a short "huh?" Sounded like the habit of some Americans who use the term "you know?" in a similar manner or the Canadians use of "heh?"

We've had beautiful weather; sunny and highs in the 70s. I'm thinking I didn't bring enough short sleeve shirts or shorts. We were expecting it to be quite a bit cooler.
Tomorrow Peggy is going to visit Livorno and I will be seeing Florence and Pisa, or, at least, as much as is possible in just one day.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise (Part I) - Barcelona

Trips would be more enjoyable if they didn't require airline travel. We started our Mediterranean trip Monday with a flight that was scheduled to leave Denver at 12:30 PM. We were suppose to have an hour and 15 minute layover in Chicago before catching our connecting flight to Rome. When we checked in, we were informed that our flight would be delayed by 20 minutes. After arriving at the concourse gate from which our plane was to leave, the delay had been revised to 25 minutes. They stopped revising the scheduled departure time after that; it ended up being a 45 minute delay. By the time we arrived at the gate, midway down concourse G at O'Hare's Terminal 3, we had 15 minutes to catch our plane to Rome, gated at the distal end of concourse K. We did it in 8 minutes, looking like O.J. Simpson in that old Avis commercial. There was some delay in the departure for Rome, and, miraculously, our baggage also made the connection.
Airlines also discriminate against tall people. They seem to think people, these days, are getting shorter. I have a difficult time getting into a comfortable position and usually try to get an aisle seat, just so I can occasionally stretch out my legs. I'm also rarely able to sleep on an airline. The flight from Chicago to Rome was an overnight flight that was about 9.5 hours long and I slept very little. Fortunately, I had an aisle seat and was able to get up several times to stretch my legs. We had about a 5 hour layover in Rome before catching our connecting flight to Barcelona. However, they didn't know from which gate the plane would depart when we checked it. The boarding passes we received stated the plane would be leaving from gate "D??". The plane was to start boarding at 13:40 and we kept checking the electronic status board waiting for the gate to be announced. At 13:50 the board was updated and the gate identified. The aircraft we boarded was made by Airbus and I had been assigned a middle seat, so that I could sit next to Peggy who wanted a window seat. This was the tightest fit I can ever remember having; I even had trouble just sitting down. My right knee intruded into Peggy's space and my left knee extended in the lady's space, next to me in the aisle seat. Fortunately, the plane was only about half full, so as soon as I could I moved across the aisle where no one was sitting. I probably slept more on the 2 hour flight to Barcelona than I did on the previous flight to Rome.
But, we arrived and are now in Barcelona at a nice hotel near the center of town. Whereas I am not a Spanish speaker, Peggy is quite fluent. I enjoy listening to her converse with the local people and she translates for me. During the taxi ride from the airport, our driver told Peggy about an area near our hotel with good places to eat. After checking into our hotel and resting for about an hour we went looking for a place in the area that our taxi driver had recommended. There were a lot of people out and I always enjoy just watching people when I travel to other countries. Like their food, people in different countries seem to have a distinct flavor. The people here in Barcelona have been very friendly and helpful and don't seem at all put off by my not knowing their language. Although I don't understand Spanish, smiles and laughter in any language don't require translation.
Two days before we left Denver, Peggy hurt her back and it looked like we might have to cancel the trip. After a night of pain and not being able to sleep, I took her to the emergency room. They took X-rays and the Doctor decided that she had sprained ligaments between bones in her pelvis. He prescribed pain pills and thought the pain would subside after a few days. Peggy decided she could handle it and I was surprised at how well she has done; especially after having to sit for 9.5 hours on the Rome flight. Before the trip, she bought a small pillow to support her back while sitting and that seems to have helped. It still hurts her but it hasn't slowed her down (she beat me on that mad dash down the concourses at O'Hare).
Tomorrow we only have half a day in Barcelona before we board our cruise ship. Not yet sure what we will do, but I noticed a Geology Museum just a few blocks from our hotel.

Love all the balconies.