Monday, May 31, 2010

Are stupid people here for our entertainment?

This came out of the recent Fortune Magazine. It caught my eye because it occurred about a mile and a half from our house. This woman just has rocks for brains and doesn't seem bashful about it.

You know those warning labels on those chemical packets that come in new shoes that say 'do not eat'? Have you ever wondered why they have to print something so stupidly obvious?

Enter Lauren Rosenberg of Park City, Utah. She used Google Maps on her Blackberry to get walking directions from one part of town to another. Part of those direction included walking on a road without sidewalks called Deer Valley Drive, aka Utah State Route 224.

According to court documents, instead of finding a different route or walking safely away from traffic, she walked into the street and was (surprise!) struck by a car. Now she's suing Google for in excess of $100,000.

Defendant Google, through its "Google Maps" service provided Plaintiff Lauren Rosenberg with walking directions that led her out onto Deer valley Drive, a.k.a. State Route 224, a rural highway with no sidewalks, and a roadway that exhibits motor vehicles traveling at high speeds, that is not reasonably safe for pedestrians.

The Defendant Google expects uses of the walking map site to rely on the accuracy of the walking directions given….

As a direct and proximate cause of Defendant Google's careless, reckless, and negligent providing of unsafe directions, Plaintiff Laren Rosenberg was led onto a dangerous highway, and was thereby stricken by a motor vehicle…

The article goes on, but that pretty much covers it. I feel sorry for Google and the numerous other companies that have to defend themselves against such stupidity. I would love to find out what attorney in the Park City area decided to take this case. How embarrassing!

Perhaps the judge will make her go to summer school with little kids and practice looking both ways before stepping into a 5 lane highway.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Central California - Monterey and Carmel

We sadly left the wonderful little town of Morro Bay and started heading up the coast to Monterey. Our first stop was the Hearst Castle. It seems like a mix of Disneyland dreams with Donald Trump's ego. Everything was so over the top. I started losing any admiration for the beauty.

Yeah, this is a pretty decent pool. Perhaps even a little nicer than your local YMCA. Some of the columns were actually taken from ruins in Greece and brought to California. Really? Was that needed to make it an awesome pool?

And if the weather is a bit breezy, you can use the indoor pool. Huge vaulted ceilings. Deep enough for water polo. And billions and billions of tiny tiles, some of which were layered in gold.


Everyone should consider the tour once. I would never consider it twice. At least the gardens were filled with pretty flowers and pretty Julie's.

Just north of the Hearst Castle is a big hangout for Elephant Seals. These are the big boys of the seal kingdom. The beach was full of females and a handful of young males. The big, dominant males don't show up for another month or so. They sure seem to litter up a nice beach.

This time of year, they look pretty scruffy. They are getting rid of their winter skin in exchange for new, sleeker summer attire. Unfortunately, as they make the change, they look like they are suffering from a nasty skin fungus.

Even before the males really get going, there are some little turf wars that occur. As best I could tell, they weren't fighting over the ladies. It was mostly some unfortunate soul trying to drag his butt back up the beach from the water. There were so many seals, they would have to climb over some to get through. That was never appreciated.

We left the seals, had a nice lunch in Big Sur, and then headed into Carmel. The town of Carmel-by-the-Sea is cute. It's full of nice little shops and restaurants and is very walker friendly. The shops tended to be very expensive though, so it was just browsing, no buying.

WARNING: We paid the $10 entry fee to do the "famous" and "scenic" 17-mile drive around Pebble Beach. What a rip off. The scenery may be nice, but you certainly don't see much of it. There are mansions all along the water with big fences and landscaping out front so they don't have to see you. This means your tour is mostly just walls and fences.

We finally got to Monterey and checked into the Marriott. It wasn't as nice as the B&B's we had stayed in, but we stayed free using Julie's Marriott points.

Monterey has a nice Cannery Row. The area used to be big for processing fish, but is now a collection of shops, restaurants and hotels. Some of the buildings have not been fixed and just suffer the endless poundings from the bay. The building must be built like a tank to stand up to this.

Monterey has a great aquarium and it is a "must see" if you're in town. They have an impressive jellyfish display. Some look plain, but most look like living art.

Another example.

This was definitely the most interesting and unique sea species I have ever seen. The aquarium has a new seahorse exhibit and this guy was part of it. It's a Leafy Sea Dragon. He was pretty adept at swimming around and looked amazingly like a floating plant. I want one!!

The next day, we went to Point Lobos State Park. This was worth the $10 entry fee and then some. What a gorgeous park, full of a variety of plants and animals.

This is Seal Rock. If you double-click on the picture, you can see the seals on the very top. We watched a lot of seals struggle just to move up the beach. How in the world did they get to the top of this rock?

There were lots of interesting birds in the park. This is a pair of Black Crowned Night Herons. I think they had a nest on the cliff.

The cormorants were everywhere. There were three types: Double-crested, Brandt's and Pelagic. This group had chosen a sandier spot on an isolated rock. You can see that each of them is standing on a nest.

This guy seemed a bit late to the party. He was primping and strutting, trying to get the attention of the ladies. It seems he was about a month late and not a single female paid him any interest.

This is a black oystercatcher. They aren't endangered, but there are only about 10,000 left on the planet.

We were leaving and saw a momma seal and her young one swimming to shore. I thought "how cute, I'll grab a picture". Right about then little Junior went to the bathroom in the water. So much for swimming.

Back at the hotel, we decided to take along Monterey's great waterfront walking/biking trail. There were quite a few seals, but this little guy was undoubtedly the cutest.

It is hard to see exactly what's oing on because they were moving so quick. It is a pair of sea otters, mom and baby, playing rambunctiously.

Their fun didn't seem to rub off on the seals. Every time they got close, a seal's nap was interrupted, just trying to keep track of the fast moving, seemingly random play of the otters.

This little guy was having a great nap in the sun. You can see he has been tagged. There is a lot of ocean research being done by the aquarium. Back in Point Lobos we saw a guy with a radio receiver and a spotting scope tracking tagged otters.

During the day, the seals all seemed to just lay around. As the sun started to set, we saw more and more of them sit up like this and soak up the remaining rays.

And we'll end on a wonderful display of how you can get comfortable and take a nap almost anywhere if you set your mind to it.

It was a great trip. We got to see lots of different places and I got to take lots of photographs. We had lovely weather and found a number of wonderful places to stay.

Next stop, Hillsboro, Oregon for our niece Kelly's high school graduation.

Dentists are not my favorite people

I haven't finished processing all my photos from California, so I will sidetrack a bit.

I doubt I am alone in my lack of desire for visiting the dentist. A good visit is mildly unpleasant and it is all downhill from there. Today I had to go in for 2 full hours of work by the dentist. Needless to say, my entire mouth is numb and when the numb wears off, I fully expect the pain to ensue.

The bad part is that almost all of today's work was some form of rework on dental procedures already done. First, it turns out that fillings don't last forever. The ones I had as a kid are starting to have little gaps around them that are great for collecting crud and encouraging decay. I had two old fillings dug out and replaced with spiffy new ones. Then the gum where I had a wisdom tooth pulled had formed a lovely little pocket to collect yet more crud. This required a surgical procedure to remove sections of gum so the pocket is gone. Lots of little stitches. Finally, I actually had a new cavity that needed to be filled.

It isn't fun. It costs a lot. Worse, it isn't over. I have one more old filling to get replaced and three more wisdom teeth that really should have come out years ago. My hope is that by this fall, I have a happy, healthy mouth that can go back to normal cleanings.

I would find it a lot harder to get motivated for all this, but I keep reading that dental problems actually cause issues with the heart.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Central California - Morro Bay

For the next portion of our trip we headed from Sequoia to Morro Bay. It was the first time we encountered rain, but that was fine for a travel day. We stopped in a great little town called Paso Robles. The town is within minutes of 50+ wineries and has some great restaurants. We had a nice lunch, did a wine tasting, and a bit of shopping before finishing our travels.

Morro Bay is all about scenery, both landscapes and wildlife. We stayed at one of the nicest inns we have ever encountered, The Anderson Inn. The owners were as nice as they possibly could be. The rooms were lovely and this was the view from our balcony.

The big lump is Morro Rock, a leftover from a volcanic uprising. It clearly stands out from anywhere in the surrounding area and makes for a great landmark.

Morro Bay reminded us a lot of the little town of Beaufort where we used to have a house. You have the ocean, then a big barrier island, then a long, narrow bay which offers great protection for the boats. Most of the restaurants and lots of the nicer inns are right along the water.

Another view from our balcony. Fifteen minutes before this, the fog was so thick we didn't think we would see the sunset at all. It quickly cleared and left us with this.

There was beauty everywhere, but someone forgot to tell the power company. Back in the 1950s, before there was much in the way of tourism, they built a coal power plant in town. It was later converted to gas, but is so inefficient and small, that is rarely runs and probably only has a few years of life remaining.

Julie and I went kayaking with a company called Central Coast Outdoors. It was a foggy, drizzly morning, which was a bummer for taking pictures. The nice part is that we were the only two people on the tour and the leader was the owner of the company. He was awesome, explaining everything about the town, the geography, the birds, the mammals, and even the oyster farming. They also lead hiking and biking trips and I would strongly recommend them.

I know the picture is terrible, but the fog was very thick. We were in our room when we heard someone calling cadence for a boat. I looked out and here comes a long boat that looked like a war canoe. It was being aggressively paddled by 20-30 older women. We never got the story about who they were, but they seemed to be working hard and having fun.

Wildlife was everywhere. Here we see one of the healthier squirrels. Down by Morro Rock, there were dozens of fat, begging squirrels. As much as they ask people not to feed them, some do. Apparently the owner of a local doughnut shop feeds his extras to the rodents every day.

On our kayak adventure, we ran across a protected nesting area for the endangered Western Snowy Plover. We were lucky to get close views of a few of them.

Grebes, a neat little diving duck, were all over the place. I enjoyed watching a group the wanted to feed in one spot, but the tide kept taking them elsewhere. Every minute or two, they would half-fly, half-run back to where they wanted to dine.

The Great Egrets were pretty common. I sat watching this one fish until he caught something interesting. He got a bunch of grass with his catch, but you can see the fish in his mouth.

I blew it up more for a better view. You can double-click on the picture to see a bigger copy.

There are a couple of heron rookeries in town. The herons and the egrets gather in a set of trees to nest.

Then trouble comes to town. The cormorants (seen below) start joining the party, but they poop so much nutrient-rich dung, they over fertilize the trees and kill them. The herons and egrets leave, because they like the cover of the foliage, but it turns out the cormorants like the bare branches better. Eventually the dead trees will fall, and then no one is happy.

I lucked into this one. I was adjusting my camera to photograph this egret when I noticed two chicks in the nest. In this picture, one is spreading his little wings and you can just see the head of the second one.

The big hit for both Julie and I was the sea otters. Seals and sea lions are ok, but you just can't beat a sea otter for cute. This one is just floating around in the sunshine, enjoying his nap.

This one was diving for clams. He would bring them to the surface, set them on his chest, and beat the crap out of them. The lazy gull was hanging around for any leftovers.

These guys have lazy down to an art. When you take a nap in the water, you don't want the tides and winds carrying you off somewhere. The solution? Grab some sea grass and wrap it around your belly, anchoring you to the bottom. Look close and you can see each of their sea grass belts.

They are quite social. Why nap alone when you can raft up and hang together? It is hard to separate heads from tails from sea grass, but there are 8 or 9 otters in this group.

Morro Bay was my favorite part of the trip. An excellent place to stay. Gorgeous ocean beaches. A protected bay. All sorts of sea mammals swimming by our balcony. And all within about 30 minutes of more wineries than most of us will ever visit. Definitely worth a return visit.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Central California - Sequoia

We left Yosemite and headed for Sequoia National Park. It was about 170 miles, almost every inch of which seemed to be curves. I was really getting sick and tired of going left, right, left, over and over again. We arrived at the Waksuchi Lodge. This is the kind of accommodation you would expect in a National Park, but at the price you would expect to pay in NYC. They had the only place in the park. They knew it and exploited it for all it was worth.

When you think Sequoia, you think giant trees. I had never seen them before and they did not disappoint. While the individual monsters were impressive, I preferred looking out into the forest and seeing an entire grove.

This is Julie posing in front of the General Sherman tree, the most massive on the planet. It isn't the tallest, or the biggest around, but someone figured out that it was the biggest overall. 2100 years old and 2.7 million pounds heavy. It grew to 275 feet tall, but the top is now dead. It still grows like a weed though, getting wider and wider.

The bummer in Sequoia was the snow. We left Park City to get away from it, but apparently California had a big snow year and Sequoia was at 130% of their normal snow pack. This meant that a lot of the interesting hikes were only accessible by snowshoe or corss country ski.

With few hikes to do, we went in search of wildlife. This little fellow was the first marmot Julie and I had seen. The picture quality stinks because the sun was almost down. We only saw one marmot.

Bears were more prevalent. I was driving when Julie spotted this Black Bear about to run across the road. Being a photographer, I let him cross, them swerved off the road, parked, and ran out with my camera. He was kind enough to stop down the hill and spend some time ripping through dead logs and licking up all the insects.

We learned that black bears come in all sizes and colors. Our first was very black and smaller. We ran across this female, bigger and brown. That evening we saw an even bigger one, and he was cinnamon colored.

We know the one above was a female, because we saw her cub up in the tree. Can you find it in the picture below?

Excellent! Now did you actually see both of them? There are two in the tree.

Eventually the little fur balls came down to visit mom.

And then fight and play with almost everything, including this helpless little tree.

On our way out of Sequoia National Park, we saw lots of 10 foot tall flowers blooming out of some form of succulent. This was taken through the windshield of a moving vehicle, so it probably doesn't help with identification. Some hills had dozens of these growing.

And our final stop on the Sequoia leg of our trip was visiting lovely Visalia. This farming town was the home to our friends Bill and Loris Benson. They owned an orange grove, so we figured it would be fun to stop by and visit their oranges. It is always interesting to see where people are from.

While we are very interested in going back to Yosemite, Sequoia seems to be more of a one-and-done.