World Record

Austrian Manfred Ruhmer has again set a world record in freeflight. For years, he was the unbeatable world champion in hang-gliding cross-country competitions (shortest time to goal, often in excess of 100 miles per round, 4-6 daily rounds in a row). Since he thoroughly and indisputably dominated and conquered that world, he turned his attentions a couple of years ago to foot-launched light sailplanes.

He flies a Swift Light, a lighter design variation of the Swift, designed by Steve Morris, a hang-glider pilot and aeronautical engineer right here in the Bay Area whom I run into from time-to-time.

483.1 miles, from morning launch at Zapata, TX to an evening landing at Lovington, NM. This breaks Robin Hamilton's record of 425 miles, set from Zapata last year. His only power was the thermal-generating power of the sun, and in fact, where normally they only decide to go if they've got a decent tail wind, Manfred needed to leave in a couple of days, so it was make or break and he flew the distance with a significant cross-wind component. Noteworthy is that Manfred also holds the flex-wing hang-glider world record of 432 miles, which he set from Zapata in 2001 and hasn't even remotely come close to being touched since.

You can read about the events of the day beginning from this bookmark on down the page, or hit this, this, and this. For wrap-up and analysis, start here on down, or hit the bookmarks here, here (with cockpit video), here (pics). Here's some YouTube videos.

My friend and one of my beginner instructors, Don Burns, writes Davis:

I just got back from 10 days of flying in the Owens Valley.  I also just got finished viewing Manfred's videos in his Swift referenced on your web site.  Man, he's kicking back, relaxed, moving a stick around and speaking in a calm voice.  He might as well have been watching TV and drinking a beer from the looks of it.

My best flight in the Owens this year was 150 miles.  I realize that this is the distance where you boys in Zapata are just gettin' started.  However, when we fly the Owens, we freakin' work for our miles: we get hypoxic, we get cold, we get the crap knocked out of us, and we get fear of God beat into us each time the air threatens to flip us over.  We fly into territory unretrievable, we risk long dehydrated walks in the desert, and by god we land on our FEET!

Then I read your report where Manfred claims he doesn't fly flex wings any more because "flying a flex wing is hard work".

Distance Shmistance.  200 miles in the Owens Valley is more respectable than a thousand in Texas!

Ha! Yea, it's a different sort of flying altogether. As Davis replies, "Been there, done that. I'm much more interested in enjoying the air in a intellectually challenging flight competing or going for a record."

Don is the guy I shared a thermal with to 11,000 feet a couple of years ago.

Nothing New Here

Warren Weyer isn't too happy about a new Arizona ballot initiative designed to get more trailer trash than ever before out to the voting booths come election day.

Look on the bright side, Warren; as concerns voting, it just makes explicit what has always been implicit.

Quick Photo Note

I figured it would be better to organize my several hundred photos of the Europe trip first, and then I could refer and link to them as I write more about the trip. I've had a Club Photo account for years, but I hate it (too slow, especially since I pay for it) and haven't bothered to look into alternatives.

Organizing the myriad photos on three or four computers into one cohesive whole is always something I'm going to get to...

Somebody -- my brother, perhaps -- told me about Google's Picasa, but when I first looked, it appeared that publishing was via a Blogger blog, which, since I clearly already have a blog (and I'm very happy with TypePad), that didn't interest me a lot. TypePad has photo-album capability, but I'm not too excited about making the blog that personal, right front-&-center, and photo albums will quickly gobble up my disk-space allotment. But now, Google offers an alternative called Picasa Web Albums, and it all looks very cool. I downloaded Picasa and it immediately went to work finding and organizing every image on both hard drives. Organizing is really simple, and when I get to it, I'm sure publishing will be too. Depending on image size, of course, the first 350 megs (about 1,000 photos of 350 kb) are free and for something like $25 per year you can get several gigs of space.

Best of all, if it's anything like Google's other services, it don't run slow.

Give 'er a shot, if you're so inclined.

Well…

...I've got no problem with embedding at all, and think it's one of the cleverest ways to deliver video clips yet. So here you go:

Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life

Clip 1 (Intro)

Clip 2 (Interview with Mike Wallace)

Clip 3 (Conclusion)

Word

What more can I say?

I'll say this, though. There needs to be more effort on everyone's part -- from the reporters to the documentarians -- to get names and name them in bold. I just love the idea of some of this shame sticking (thanks to Google) for years and perhaps decades to come. Maybe, just maybe, when these cops start googling their own names and the names of co-cops and find themselves in the first page of results in so shameful an expose, they'll start thinking twice about their behavior.

I doubt it, but I'll be happy to be wrong.

Update: Here's another one, via McElroy.

One Less Idiot

Yea, I'm going against my oath not to blog political stuff until my Eurotrek reflections and photos are done. So shoot me.

Anyway, who said this?

"At this point, I rationally chose to abandon the Leftist philosophy of my youth, because it no longer adequately explained how the world really worked. With my Leftist interpretation of the world now shattered, I looked around for alternative explanations for making sense of the world.

"I stumbled into reading Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand—I read all of them. I said to myself, "Wow, this all makes sense. This is how the world really works. This is incredible." Then I became Laissez Faire Books best customer for the next five years. I think I read every book in their catalog. If any of you in the audience have written books, I have probably read them."

Would you believe John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market? Read the whole thing.

One less idiot is always a good thing. Come to think of it, while in Europe, I became quite fond and accustomed to the "Euro-breakfasts" served in all the hotels. Pastries, bread, cold cuts, fruit, cereal, yogurts. Stuff like that. I settled in on a small bowl of the good quality granola (with dried fruit and nuts), milk, and a couple of hard-boiled eggs. Stayed with me, and no heartburn, of which I have been a chronic sufferer most of my life. That's sumthin', because I'm as hardcore of a bacon-&-eggs-over-easy guy as you'll ever meet.

But maybe I'll stop in at Whole Foods tonight, for some granola.

(tip: Neal)

Update: I must confess that I'd only read a portion of the entire (long) speech before I posted the above. Having now proceeded through about a third of it, I'm going to have a lot more to say. There's a lot to this that resonates in me in ways I'm still trying to work out. Chalk it up to owning and running a business myself, which many libertarians have not had the opportunity of. Definitely more to come. Perhaps a lot more.

Eurotrek 2006 – Wrap

It's a wrap. Got back yesterday to SFO about 12:30 a.m. Home by about 2 a.m. We had been informed by phone and email that it was 100 deg. F in our condo. I'd left the A/C on, set to 82, so that means my intermittent A/C issues aren't resolved in spite of several things I've done.

Dave, my super-brother, was good enough to head over to the condo about 6 p.m. to follow a couple of simple trouble-shooting steps and he got the A/C going. Later that night he drove the 50 miles up to SFO to pick us up and get us back home. By that time, six or seven hours later, it was down to 80. Combined with the fan, good enough for sleeping.

Ironically, we'd had lots of A/C issues along the way in Europe. More on that later.

Alright, the plan is that I want to spend some time filling in the blanks for the trip, offering up some commentary on Europe -- the culture and the politics -- and upload and annotate all the photos. This is a fair-size project and the deal I've made with myself is to abstain from political blogging until it's done. It's worth doing, I think, so I'm doing it.

In the meantime, here's an email I wrote this morning at around 4:30 a.m. (still getting the internal clock adjusted) to a friend of mine in the Canary Islands who's headed over to Barcelona and Andorra in the next few days.

***

OK, here's the deal, if you haven't left yet.

As you know, we came over the mountains from France, through Andorra. The ski resort at the very top was quite something. We only drove through, stopping now and then for photos, but here are the few things I remarked the most:

1. Once you cross over the mountain, it is virtually one gigantic city from top to bottom.

2. Tons and tons of hotels, restaurants, shopping.

3. Tons and tons of construction cranes. I have never seen so many cranes is such a concentrated place.

Regarding the cranes, I noticed a ton of them in Spain, too. Lots of the construction sites seemed inactive, i.e., construction that had stopped in mid-span; or they do it like in Greece: get started, run out of money, save money, continue, run out of money, and so on.

OK, we pretty much drove straight through from Andorra to Barcelona and I really saw nothing that motivated me to stop. Then again, I just wanted to get to Barcelona and get a hotel. So, we get there and I took a route that brought me in to the very northern edge. I wanted to get to water, figuring that if we hugged the coast, we'd find someplace we wanted to stay. But this was a very industrial, very dismal area. It was hot; late afternoon. We found the water and started tracking south. Just as we got to that big building that's kind of a large phallic symbol, we gave up, and headed north along the coast.

Went pretty far with it being industrial. Finally, at Mataro, hotels and restaurants started popping up and we got the first thing, as it was getting late. As usual, they had one expensive room left :) (a consistent theme).

The next morning we drove the auto-route into Barcelona and discovered we'd given up just before getting to the nice areas (like: less than a kilometer). So, we had lunch and sangria in Las Ramblas and such (obligatory, I suppose) and visited the amazing Sagrada Familia, which you must see. Then we auto-routed it back NE to Mateo and hopped back down to the coastal road. Costa Brava. Loved every inch of it. Do yourself a favor, and if you haven't downloaded Google Earth, yet, do so and scan that coastline.

In fact, that, and Cinque Terre in Italy, were the absolute highlights of the trip. In fact, I've actually begun research into eventually either buying or building a villa in one of the two places, but I'm a bit partial to Costa Brava. I found that I just loved the fun-loving culture there. Even in the height of tourism (mostly Spanish tourists), they find a way to make it seem like not a big, hurried, jam-packed mess.

It was just on the northern edge of Sant Feliu de Guixols that we just happened to see a road going down from the main road to the beach and it had a couple of hotel signs. What the hell. The fist one had no rooms, then, the second: one (expensive) room left. We were in Sant Pol, we stayed two days, and it's really the highlight of the trip. There are 5 or 6 good restaurants, and you don't go eat 'til about 10 pm, and the band on the beach then starts at about 11:30 (people are still going into the restaurants up to midnight). Very energetic and fun. It's families with children eating and dancing on the beach 'til very wee hours. Very uplifting. Lovely, in every respect.

After the two days there, we headed NE and stopped that night in Cadaques. By now it's getting more desert-coastal. Beautiful, and particularly so because you can see more. Cadaques was wonderful. It's one of those tiny little crescent-shaped ports with hotels and restaurants. It was lively, but not near overly so. Just the right amount so it feels festive without feeling like an assault.

As you go further northeast, the more touristy it gets, by which I mean not the Spanish themselves, but other Europeans, particularly French.

By the way, if you ever get over to Italy, get over to Cinque Terre. We stayed three nights in a wonderful hotel in Monterosso. Hotel 5 Terre, I believe. The proprietor and part-owner has been there 35 years and made our stay absolutely unforgettable. This was three days of mostly laying in the sun -- though I did have to spend one late afternoon in the Internet café rolling some of my positions in the face of options expiration week.

Anyway, have a great trip and let me know how it went.

***

Eurotrek 2006 – Bumped

First time ever in all my travels going back over 20 years. We've been bumped and are sitting in wait at Charles de Gaulle, our non-stop to San Francisco having departed. Instead of arriving back on the west coast at noon on Monday, it's now another 5 hours until we leave Paris, on to Washington-Dulles, two-hour layover, and then on to San Fran -- arriving about 12 hours later, at midnight. What fun.

The upside is that they've given us a travel voucher for 1,600 Euros, which works out to about $2,000 worth of travel on Air France or KLM. So, perhaps a Christmas-time trip to Papeete, Tahiti, is in order. Alternatively, we can take 1,200 Euros in cash, about $1,500. That's what I paid for these tickets in the first place, so for 12 hours of inconvenience, I'm not too unhappy. Besides, overbooking is all part of the deal and you know (or should) going in.

Off to lunch on Air France. Then perhaps I'll have some time to post some travel experience updates. On y va.

Eurotrek 2006 – Moblog Germany

Eurotrek 2006 - Moblog Germany
Waiting for my order of 3 (Not one. Not two.) varieties of bratwurst with sauerkraut and fried potatoes. Yumm.

We're at Martin's Brau in Freiburg.

Eurotrek 2006 – Mo Moblogging

Eurotrek 2006 - Mo Moblogging
Great view of Brunelleschi's Dome from the rooftop bar (where to look for me) of the hotel.

Eurotrek 2006 – Moblogging

Eurotrek 2006 - Moblogging
My wife Beatrice catching up on email this very minute at the hotel in Florence. Won't she be surrised in about a minute when I tell her to check my blog.

Eurotrek 2006 – Update

We're in Florence, as the photo of Brunelleschi's Dome (Wikipedia article) I sent from my camera phone attests. I got lots of photos, which I'll organize and publish once I return.

My last update, over the weekend, was from Nice, which we used as a base to explore the area by car -- Canes, Antibes, Villefranche-Sur-Mer, Monaco, etc. We dined in Villefranche that night. One of my favorite places in the south of France going way back. Oh, yea, we also did an afternoon in Saint Tropez (and yes, the Gendarme de St. Tropez building is still as it was in 1964) on the way to Nice. I used to live just an hour from there and I went often. Can't get enough of looking at those yachts tied up in the harbor.

Upon departing Nice we took the auto-route and headed straight for Italy and its Cinque Terre region. I was due for three days of relaxing on the beach, so we decided to forgo Rome this trip and take a breather. We chose Monterosso and I loved just about everything about it -- especially the part owner of the hotel we stayed at. 35 years on the job and you get good at it, and he is.

Monterosso

The auto-route along the Italian coast is an engineering marvel. It has got to be at least half tunnels and bridges. Some of the tunnels are more than a kilometer long. Imagine the Pacific Coast Highway drilled right through all those hills and mountains, with bridges connecting the tunnels in-between. Also imagine it's a 4-lane highway. It went on like that for a good hundred miles, at least.

So we got to Florence yesterday with a brief, obligatory stop in Pisa for some obligatory photos. It really was a marvelous sight, in spite of the oppressive heat and humidity combined with huge crowds of people.

A side note on my trading, which I write about here as well. I had to spend a couple of hours on Monday in an Internet cafe in Monterosso (the notebook has GPRS, but I needed really fast). I was pretty sure that the welcome downtrend in the market was going to be on hold for options expiration week and that was confirmed in the first hour of trading Monday. So, I needed to go to work to protect some of my July positions against expiration. It came at a cost of about $7,000, but I rolled to more conservative positions for August. Great, $10k in the hole from this vacation, and now another seven?

I initiated a trade to make it back, plus another $7k, but couldn't get it filled for the rest of the day Monday, then all day Tuesday. I was asking for too much of a credit on the spread. Anyway, due to the action on Monday and Tuesday, I was really expecting a big pop on Wednesday. So here we are at the Leaning Tower and I'm on my Treo's web browser and managed to get that order canceled. The market popped big, as expected, and I re-entered that same trade this morning before the open, asking for a lot more credit on the spread. Got filled in the first few minutes and made $24,000 instead of the $7,000 I'd have received had I not cancelled before Wednesday's open. So, the vacation is officially paid for.

We'll be leaving Florence tomorrow and heading back towards Paris. We'll have Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so it's a comfortable drive and I plan to take it right up and over the Swiss Alps. That should be cool. It was great getting up to about  8 or 9 thousand feet going over the  Pyrenees into Andorra a while back.

Until later.

Eurotrek 2006 – Phone Blog

Eurotrek 2006 - Phone Blog
From my Treo. Waiting in line to see Brunelleschi's Dome in Florence, Italy.

Interlude: The Stupidest People on Earth

Interrupting my vacation commentary for a brief sideline...

Go laugh your ass off. I actually grew up around some people this fucking stupid (which necessarily includes anyone who reads those "Left Behind" books). Morons.

(Beck)

Eurotrek 2006 – Now What?

I just now realized that the entry right below this one seems to have gotten itself unpublished after I'm sure I published it. So, if you were one I'd sent a link out to and it didn't work, it's there now, though it applies to what was going on three days ago.

Franky, this is a piss-poor travel log. I'd had grand designs of publishing along the way, but I think that desire was based on the ability to publish from anywhere at any time -- which is certainly cool -- and not on a particular desire to share continuously. So you get the mish-mash, for now, but I promise to do a better writeup -- if not soon -- when I get back home. There will be a few hundred pretty good photos too. Those who remember the Kauai trip know I take decent pics.

Right now we're in Nice, which is a bit of a disappointment. I'm not sure whether it's because it has changed from 15 years ago, or just because it's a holiday (Bastille Day, yesterday) and the whole stupid world is here and the local restaurants are catering to such stupidity by being stupid. Well, more on that later.

As I posted last, we were preparing to leave Arles for Avignon. I decided to take the auto-route, which took us through Nimes and within range of Le Pont du Gard. Do check out that link. This is the most amazing ancient construction I have ever seen.

Pontdugard

If you look closely at that arch in the center, those are heads of people standing on the bridge. That gives you perspective on the enormity of this.

Most of all, this "monument" is the best thing I've seen so far because it wasn't built as a monument. Though its arches are decorative, their function is to save construction costs. This aqueduct was started 19 years before Christ was born and finished 16 years prior. It carried 44 million gallons of water daily to the city of Nimes, which I guess is a place in which men saw potential that God had not. One must wonder why God, walking the earth for 30-some years, never acknowledged or alluded to such god-like feats on the part of his children. Huh?

So now it's a monument. It's a monument to the heroic and environmentally-controlling nature of man. It's a monument to civilization and that which is at its very foundation: water.

I look at that construction, realizing it's over 2,000 years old, realizing what it accomplished back then, and I am overwhelmed with feeling about how wondrous, how virtuous, how righteous, how holy is the very core nature of man -- the essential being. Man qua man: the very defining standard of morality.

Then I go see monuments to Kings and Gods, and I get a very different picture of the nature of man:

Cross

How puny. How depraved. How insignificant, next to his bedfellow-betters: the church and the state.

You can have them both, in all of their miserable wretched glory; all of them.

Eurotrek 2006 – Où Sommes-Nous?

Where are we? Arles, France, at the Bouches-du-Rhône (Rhône river delta). Here's the Wiki-article as well.

We headed out from Cadaques, Spain yesterday, hugging the rocky coast, but arrived in France pretty quickly. We then hit a stop or two with the French side being roughly the equivalent geography. That changed pretty quickly as we got into the plains, river deltas, small inland seas and such. Boring. So -- and this is the point of all this -- I kicked the car up to 90 mph (140 kph; but the limit is 130, which is about 80 mph) and off we headed towards Avingon. It's a city were the center is completely within the walls of the ancient Roman city. Alas, tough to get a hotel, etc., so we headed to Arles and are actually in a Best Western, of all things. Today we're going to check out the Roman Arena and Theatre here in Arles, then head back to Avignon to check out Le Palais des Papes.

(Aside: I've yet to talk about the car we rented. At the Hertz counter at Charles de Gaulle, I was quickly persuaded to take the Mercedes for a about a 50% increase in price. Glad I did. It's got one of those small "euro-diesels" that are "green," or whatever -- as if I give a shit about that -- but I love the car. It consumes gas like a damn hummingbird and it drives like a sports car. It's automatic, but has the sport shifting as many do now, so you can wind out with ease on those coastal curves. I've filled up twice since leaving the airport more than a week ago and we've been all over the place.)

Car_1

Bon. Aller. À la prochaine...


Eurotrek 2006 – Week One of Three

We're right here now; Cadaques, Spain. I'm quite surprised how much I've been enjoying Spain -- at least this northeastern portion of it: Catalonia.

I've got a lot, a lot to write about -- going back to Paris, actually -- but it's been go go go and when we've stopped I've not felt like writing. I had good opportunity back in Sant Pol, with killer WiFi, but opted to spend the day at the hotel pool, reading. One thing is that we've been doing as the vacationing Spaniards do, which is to say: napping in the afternoon; going out to eat about 10-11 pm; staying out until 2 am; and sleeping until 9 or 10. Wouldn't want to make a life of it, but it has its logic in the context of a Med vacation.

Speaking of Internet connections: I am amazed. To say that they (France and Spain, so far) are miles ahead of the U.S. in connectivity is laughable. They are light years ahead. I've not had less than a 4 of 5 signal since leaving Paris. Nowhere. No. Where. This includes out in the middle of nowhere, over the Pyrenees, darting in and out of these coves in Spain... Moreover, I've yet to hit a town that didn't have numerous WiFi options.

That said, the hotel I'm at turns off their WiFi at 9 p.m. for some stupid reason, so I'm connected with the same GPRS/EDGE that the phones use for data. This means I can get on the Internet (it's built into my Sony TX notebook) literally from every square foot of western Europe (so far as I can determine) at about 100-120 kpbs. It's enough to do just about everything really important, but not practical for uploading pics and such, so those will have to wait.

Well, it's just about midnight, I'm turning in early, and we begin our assault on the southern coast of France tomorrow.

Eurotrek 2006 – Interlude

Been driving hard. Once we left Paris, late in the afternoon of Thursday, the 6th, it quickly became apparent that nothing would suffice except the beauty, peace, and wondrously calming environment of the Med. Like this:

Day_2_3_4_056

We made it to Toulouse that night, scrounging a hotel across from the train station at 1 a.m. The next morning we continued on, over the high Pyrenees, through Andorra, and on to Barcelona. It was getting late and I was in no mood to search for a hotel there, so we headed north along the Med and finally found a nice place. Then we ate at about 10:30 p.m., but being Spain, this is normal. Locals were arriving after us.

Anyway, we're at this tiny little village of Sant Pol, just one step up from Sant Feliu de Guixols. Our lodging, the look from the terrace in the photo above, is right under the "Sant Pol" label you see at that Google Maps link.

Dinner. I've catching up to do, which I'll do tomorrow. We're here for two nights.

Eurotrek 2006 – Day One

Random bits

So the flight was a little over 10 hours, not 9 as I'd been thinking. I never sleep on airplanes, and it's always odd when arriving in a completely different time zone to just continue on without the benefit of a refreshing sleep. It was hot and muggy in Paris as we arrived at around noon of the 4th. Got through immigration, got the car, and then got lost in the 8th & 9th arrondissements looking for the hotel. These old cities aren't based on a grid as are most American cities, so it's difficult to keep bearings. The map was pretty useless, so I initiated a search pattern and after 30 minutes or so, stumbled upon a street I recognized and made our way.

We got about three hours of sleep, got going around 7 pm, and had dinner in a tiny little Italian place just down the street. Excellent service and food. I reflected on why I'm so damned impatient with American restaurants. With the exception of the rare few, they simply do not get it right. The presentation and the timing is always off. This is one of the things the French are famous for. Good for them, and I don't see them relinquishing that prestige anytime soon.

My senses are experiencing full-on assault. Living here for two full years in the early 90s, at a job that required conversing in French exclusively, I find it remarkable how naturellement (see) your mind can migrate into a whole different manner of thinking. Back then, I often went months not speaking or hearing a single word of English. I thought in French -- even dreamed in French. It probably wouldn't be more than a month or so before I could return entirely to that state of mind.

Bea's having a good time -- though she misses dreadfully her "puppies" and dreads the thought of three full weeks without them. I told her it's really only two, since week three will be looking forward to seeing them soon.

We both ended up wide awake at about 4:30 am this morning, got up, and Bea's out walking the neighborhood at 6, getting her bearings.

Well, time for our petit dejeuner.

Independence Day

I actually read about some well-known conservative blogger nitwit referencing the U.S. Constitution -- the document that rescinded American independence -- in celebration of this day.

Anyway, here (in case you've never read the actual founding document of America...).