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On the Heels of Magellan in Umatac Bay

Fact: In March, 1521, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer sailing for Spain, landed three ships off the coast of Guam. An Italian nobleman also present on the voyage, Antonio de Pigafetta, noted that Magellan called the Marianas the Islands of Lateen Sails, then renamed them the Islands of Thieves after Chamorus in swift proas sailed out to meet the European vessels and helped themselves to some of what they found on board. Not to be outdone by a bunch of glad handlers, Magellan seized the entire island chain in the name of the Spanish crown. Take that, canoe boys.

Also fact: In November, 2022, a gringo explorer from Long Island also traveled to Guam. He crossed the island's southern flank, arriving by air conditioned taxi to Umatac Bay, where he met a couple of sleepy island mutts and took a selfie in front of the bay. He stole nothing, seized no land in the name of some distant government, and eventually went home. Instead of circumnavigating the southern oceans in a state of near starvation, he flew coach class on United Airlines and enjoyed a nice chicken salad, suffering nothing worse than some severe jetlag upon arrival. Continue reading "On the Heels of Magellan in Umatac Bay"

Morning in the Marianas

The Philippine Sea is a golden mirror, but clouds are already starting to billow, like sails along the horizon.

A Brown Tree Snake lassos his way back down a tree trunk after having spent the night munching on birds’ eggs.

A young Korean bride withdraws a flowing, yellow sundress from her suitcase. A local Korean-speaking tour guide has promised her some Instagram-worthy photos from the island’s most breathtaking viewpoints.

A young Chamorro with a backpack blower spreads dry the shiny lenses of rainwater that last night’s showers pooled on the hotel’s breakfast patio. Continue reading "Morning in the Marianas"

From Stanley to Salmon

Idaho, October 2022: a land whose beauty and intrigue swelled as I ventured north. I remember back to my disappointment in the summer of 1998, when my Greyhound bus crossed both Montana and Idaho at night, leaving me in western Washington state at dawn. Those were the two places I was most excited to see.

And now I'm in Stanley, a mountain outpost 6253' above sealevel, nestled at the foot of the fierce-looking Sawtooths. To get here I've topped the ridge at Mount Galena (now riven in streaks of burnt trees and charcoal). The road is easy and driveable, but the snow-stakes that mark the edge are a towering 8' high, a silent reminder this is the land of winter. I drive under a grey band of strata clouds that forces the morning light in at angles, like a cat under the duvet. The mountains glow with morning and are extinguished as I move northward. This valley is glacial for sure, plunked at the bottom of the rounded bathtub basin drained by the Salmon River. Continue reading "From Stanley to Salmon"

Late Fall, Prairie Creek

Winter tiptoes silently on icy, sharpclawed toes

through the steep-walled mountain valley, over peaks now rimmed with snow

On the forest floor of Prairie Creek as afternoon withdraws

I wait, the gathering of shadows pouring night across my paws

Cathedral pines of Ponderosa, whispering of Firs, and the

clattering of streams whose mountain waters chill the Earth

Gone the chatter of the Magpies, gone the golden autumn glow,

just the silhouettes of Sawtooths and of antelope below

As the starlight thickens on the paths where elk have crossed,

in the shadows pools the silence, while the branches catch the frost

The northern forest bristles in these long, October nights

to hear the clicking nails of winter scratching daybreak into ice

What Color is a Mountain Stream?

Gawping, my words run
jubilant, downstream, a ribbon of
gunmetal insistent, persevering,
turquoise over a jumble of rounded
rocks
chattering, a clink of
granite
magnesium, under clouds glowering
emerald flash, suddenly, the
sun - gone again, a pool of
navy, over slithering sandbeds, whisper of
trout, here before you, rainbow,
glass-eyed
from the
shadows, twisting in a
silence the stars also speak round
midnight, into the soft ears of
black bears padding down to drink among
ferns, laced with morning dew,
ivory mist rising in tendrils of hissing morning
light cerulean in cold air.
Still, I'm speechless, my
tea cooling as I wonder what
color is a
mountain
stream.

Guam

Over thirty years ago, a woman I loved informed me I was crazy, because while I was sitting on one of the best beaches in the world, all I could think of was traveling as far away as possible, and trying to send myself to North Guam (it sounded far away, she said, and she loved the sound of the word). Needless to say, when I stepped off the airplane at Hagatna Airport on that far-flung island, my thoughts turned just momentarily back to her as I beamed proudly.

But Guam was a mystery to me then, and it remains a mystery to me today. I don't think I've ever been to a place I struggled as much to get a feel for. To wit: Continue reading "Guam"

Nantahala Gorge: land of the noonday sun

This is the money shot, the one they sell you afterwards for $20. It's full of excitement and energy and features what looks like me, crying like a baby (the water was cold!). But it fails to capture all the things I will remember most about this excursion.

The setting is the Nantahala River Gorge; the trip is courtesy of the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC), who runs guided rafting trips down the river all summer. I'd wanted to do this since I first saw it last summer. Our guide was a gentleman named Malcolm, who at 60 years old was in the kind of physical shape you can only maintain if you have a job like guiding rafts, and he was knowledgable and had a respectful, loving connection to the natural world I appreciated. All the rest of this trip's magic goes unrecorded: Continue reading "Nantahala Gorge: land of the noonday sun"

Building Forests

Odocoileus virginianus

A first memory: we're leaving the big city under a heat warning and three-digit, mid-summer temperatures. We cross into North Carolina just as a thunderstorm sweeps down across the forests and drenches everything in relief. The forests: they're everywhere, green and dark and lovely, thick with shadows and a thousand shades of green, rich with the smell of summer rain.

A second memory: it's our first week, the boxes are still heaped in corners; we are finding our bearings. In the early morning sun, an enormous buck dozes quietly at the forest edge behind our house. He's magnificent, stately, majestic, and offers some sort of welcome to this new, sylvan lifestyle. The White-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus. Continue reading "Building Forests"

Easiest Upgrade Ever

File partition diagram
File partition diagram

Success stories are boring. But writing only about difficulty fills the published world with information that only provides half the picture. I keep reading stories about how Linux isn't good enough as a desktop, with endless nitpicking about UX (user experience) choices. Boring: how did we manage to produce so many UX experts over the past decade (criticism of the Linux desktop used to at least focus on matters of substance).

Anyway, here's a data point:

It was time to update a Linux system to newer versions of the software. I backed up my machine and prepared to wipe and restore. Inserted the newer version of the distro, and began the install process. The installer saw that my system had been set up with a separate partition for /home and offered to update only the other partition. I accepted. Fifteen minutes later, I had a new and updated desktop, where effortlessly and to my astonishment, all my stuff was unscathed. Specifically:

All settings, bookmarks, shortcuts, keystroke configurations, SSH keys, configuration files. All colors, fonts, and style configurations. All custom dictionaries and edits to spell-checking files. Everything.

It was effortless and impressive and easy. And damned quick, for that matter. Every Windows upgrade my employer has ever delivered me resulted in a near total loss of everything that matters to me, like bookmarks. Yes that's probably because they're brute forcing an image on my machine. But when that's what you're used to, the pleasure of sitting down in front of an upgraded computer that has retained all your hard-earned stuff is remarkable. Point goes to Linux.

The Chromebox

HP Chromebox

So, to start with the conclusion, our main household machine is now a Chromebox, and it's working out. It's not perfect, but it's way better than our previous situation, which was a Mac. Read on.

The "family" computer has been a Mac since 2004 or so, and for those years there was no question about it: nice hardware, nice software, user friendlly, and a generally useful, productive, well-conceived tool that allowed us to buy printers, scanners, and do the sort of things you usually can't do easily or quickly with Linux. I had a G3 Powerbook, then a gorgeous all-in-one that suffered due to international transit, and we've had a Mac Mini since then. The first Mini we bought in about 2010 and it was fast and useful and good. Until it wasn't. Continue reading "The Chromebox"

Oconaluftee and the Trail of Tears

Oconaluftee River, Cherokee, NC

My ignorance unfurled before me like a sail.

Recently arrived in North Carolina, I bought a topographic map of the state and let my eyes explore. My gaze went naturally westward into the crinkled, mountain ridges of the higher elevations, picking out interesting places to explore. The name "Cherokee" leapt out at me. “Huh,” I thought to myself, “Cool name, like the old Native American tribe. Wonder if they're related?”

Of course they're related. Continue reading "Oconaluftee and the Trail of Tears"

Tanawha

Circumstances not of my own making brought me from one spectacular, mountainous state to another. Settling into North Carolina's Piedmont, the maps pointed me westward to the Appalachians, unique on Earth. Nowhere have I seen it better described than here, by Sheila Turnage1.

How did the Appalachians come to be here? The Cherokee, who have lived here for thousands of years, say that one day long ago, the Great Buzzard swooped low over the new earth. His wings brushed the impressionable earth, creating the mountain ranges that rise and fall, and then fade into sky. Geologists envision a wilder scenario.
Continue reading "Tanawha"

The MP3 Player

The year is 2021, and I was thinking about getting a device to play my music collection. I had simple requirements:

  1. It must be Internet-connected, so it can receive arbitrary firmware updates that risk bricking the thing “in the name of security”
  2. It must use that connectivity to regularly upload information of its choosing, without informing me or telling me what information, to whom it is being sent, or how that information will be used.
  3. It must be a vendor-tied device, that works only/exclusively with that vendor's own music catalog, purchasing system, hardware, and software. It must be crippled to the point of frustration or uselessness if the user tries to use any other system, software, or device with it.
  4. It must work only with my personal music collection; my wife must be obliged to buy her own device, so it can be managed with as tight a fist with no risk of any music co-mingling, sharing, or other shenanigans.
  5. It must play only music that has been verified and/or purchased from that vendor. If the user tries to listen to music obtained from any other source, channel, or platform, it must refuse to play it, or insist on specious “authenticity” checks that scare me into doing the right thing, which is of course, buying only from the one-approved vendor mentioned above. For bonus points, said authenticity checks should allude to but not specify various reporting scenarios or device-crippling scenarios that appear scary as hell and not worth the risk.
  6. Eventually, a mandatory firmware upgrade should render the device useless despite the hardware being in good shape. For example, the firmware update should require a partner software on my laptop to also be upgraded, which is impossible on my existing hardware. This scheme requires me to buy a new fucking laptop in order to update the laptop software so I can apply the firmware upgrade to the device, which probably also results in a slower, more frustrating user experience that suggests I should also buy a new device.

Instead, I bought this sweet little Chinese-made device that simply allows me to install and listen to my enormous collection of digital music. Wait, the Chinese manufacturers are supposed to be the bad guys, right? Right? Continue reading "The MP3 Player"

Now Serving HTTPS

As of today, this site is now proudly serving HTTPS. I was dragged kicking and screaming into the new world though, by a Google policy to penalize sites serving only unencrypted data. This isn't the WWW I signed up for.

Over this crypographically-secure connection, now no one will know you are reading my mediocre missives. Yay us: it's akin to having a secret code ring for a club with no members.

In the spirit of anarchy, gopher connections over port 70 remain totally, ridiculously insecure. Enjoy.

Mageia Linux 8: So Much to Like

In 2001 when I first ditched my Win98 install and turned to Linux, Mandrake and SuSE were about neck-and-neck in the competition to be the most user-friendly consumer Linux distribution, with niceties like good installers and hardware detection. RedHat was the other “Big One” but was already more associated with corporate and server infrastructure, in my opinion.

I went with SuSE for many years, and then began playing the field. But in early 2016 I bought a new laptop and needed a reliable Linux distro to put on it, and Mageia – the heir/successor to Mandrake then Madriva – was what I installed. And it stayed on my machine for about two years, where it was a loyal friend that served me well.

You don't hear much about Mageia these days (2021). The Ubuntu/Debian derivatives kind of ran away with the world's attention, and to be fair, the Ubuntu family is a cinch to install, has a huge package repository, and offers overall a good user experience. In my case, I went to Linux Mint long ago and don't regret it. But Mageia has something I sorely miss elsewhere, the Mageia Control Center (MCC), which manages superuser tasks like package installs, system updates, firewall, and network connections, in a comfortable, graphic format. So it's always puzzled me that this distro doesn't get more attention than it does.

I installed the February 2021 version of Mageia this week, because I wanted a solid KDE desktop with no muss or fuss. OpenSUSE, God bless it, is somewhat of a mess in my opinion (and it was my first love). Ubuntu has rough edges. Other good KDE distros like Neon or KaOS aren't my cup of tea (KaOS for example, doesn't install anything not based on QT, so goodbye emacs, gkrellm, claws-mail, and a lot of other things I love). So I installed Mageia. Continue reading "Mageia Linux 8: So Much to Like"