Saturday, February 12, 2011

Stories from the Road -- Glenwood Springs, CO

I visited Glenwood Springs back in 2008, as a part of a summer trip to Colorado. Glenwood Springs is a convenient location for a lot of places to visit in central Colorado, including Aspen (which a few friends and I would visit the following day). But there is reason to make Glenwood Springs a "destination" as well as a stopover.

One of the best reasons to visit Glenwood Springs is the Glenwood Caverns, located "above" the city. Some of the cave was manually built, and I found this section to be rather bittersweet. Although the rock formations were indeed beautiful, it always rang false to me because it was essentially created by humans. Now, I'm not one of those "leave everything on Earth alone" people, but there are some things that are ethical gray areas for me. As much as I love Mount Rushmore, a (small) part of me wonders why we thought it was necessary to carve so much rock (and, inevitably, habitat) into four Presidents. Sure, it's beautiful, both as a pure sight and as a memorial, but doesn't this seem a little overkill? And don't even get me started on the nearby Crazy Horse...

Then again, this argument can be taken to extremes. Golf courses are essentially altered habitats -- personally, I can't stand them, in general. So is farmland, cities, basically "anything" man has touched. Where does the argument end? Originally, I believed that it became troublesome when the natural destruction that ultimately comes with human construction provided virtually no benefit to humankind. Problem is, how do you define "benefit", and what gives me (or anyone) the right to claim when some sort of human construction is not benefiting someone at some point?

With some cases, such as Mount Rushmore, I see benefits: public awareness in our history being the biggest. With others, such as Crazy Horse, I see a group of people attempting but failing to do the same. Instead, I see an elaborate financial sinkhole, both for the tourist and for the architects. And I see a lot of damaged landscape as collateral.

With the first portion of Glenwood Caverns, I see a benefit and a disadvantage. Sure, there's a nice view, increased public awareness of local history, and even a scientific discovery element. On the other hand, there is a bigger, more beautiful, and far more satisfying natural cave just next to the man-made labyrinth. So what was the point, other than the view? (Well, to be fair, at some point in the past, there was a point -- mining -- but it still doesn't completely explain the destruction after the mining.)

The natural portion of Glenwood Caverns was exceptional. At the end of the (public portion of the) cave, an exquisite room full of stalactites and stalagmites awaits. Unnatural lighting provides an even greater "ooh, ah" moment when the cave formations are lit in wondrous yellows and oranges. It is an absolutely gorgeous sight, and one worth visiting if traveling through the Glenwood Springs area.

We visited during the summer, which inevitably means there will be storms in the area each afternoon. (A rare exception would be the next day, when we spent an absolutely splendid day in Aspen and the Maroon Bells area.) After our guided cave exploration, we exited the cave with a small spattering of rain and a beautiful rainbow over the Glenwood Valley area. Glenwood Springs is located at the intersection of the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers. Both form beautiful valleys/canyons near the city, and the views from the caverns are simply spectacular. The town itself is actually quite small (<10 000 people) and seems even smaller when viewed atop the mountain just to the north.

The visit to Glenwood Springs was a test balloon for me. I knew about the caverns, and have always loved taking tours of caves, but I had no exceedingly high expectations of the place. But Glenwood Caverns is certainly worthy of a visit, as is the quaint town located nearby. It's in the Colorado Rockies. What more do you need to know?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Facebook Security? Try Facebook Censorship!

Edit 2: Found this article discussing the new option (which was built to reduce the size of the news feed -- i.e., as a filter), key word being new. Apparently, the default is set to "all" for some and "interact with most" for others. Interesting, and confusing.

Edit: A reader brought up the idea that this may not be a very new "feature" at all. As I recall, I do remember something a while back that required changing an option regarding something along the lines of "news feed" or friend's posts or whatever, but I do not remember the "friends or pages [I] interact with most" option. If I did, I would have raised this issue back then. Whether the "option" and default setting is new or not, this remains an entirely baffling concept to me, from a service that was built to encourage social interaction via the internet. Thus, my post remains unchanged below...


Earlier today, I discovered that the initially-scorned then universally-adorned Facebook news feed had changed in a rather profound way. I'm not sure how long it has been altered, but in hindsight, I would say I've noticed the effects for at least a week or so. In short, the news feed had been changed to include only those "friends" or "pages" with which you "interact with most". Which is interesting, because I've had virtually no contact with any pages I follow, and several of the friends I seemed to still be able to follow I have not interacted with on Facebook for months.

I suspect, actually, that the option is far more random than it sounds. It seems to me this is a technique that exists for no other purpose than censor particularly people from your feed. The motivation for this censorship could stem from a number of factors: data constraints, reader complaints, skullduggerous friends "you may not know", etc. Good intentions could very well be behind this otherwise bizarre change. What if the option actually was intended to prevent stalkers from stalking (one presumes, although this may or may not be true, that those excluded from a news feed on your friend list make you excluded from theirs), reduce very possible data size issues on Facebook (...maybe...), etc.

However, I think the move was far more malicious than this. The fact that the option seemed to work VERY badly, at least based on its definition: "friends and pages [I] interact with most". From what I can see, this is a total joke. And wouldn't this option basically just ensure that the friends I could see would remain the friends I interacted with most? What would happen to the remaining friends I interacted with least?

Instead, I see this as a change without the customer in mind. After all, why would the default be this, versus following everyone, based on a programmer's definition of what friends or pages I interact with most? And although the customer is provided this service (at least monetarily) for free -- the fact that such an option could be installed as a default with very little notice (I noticed it only after being notified by another user -- not from the service itself) is more disconcerting to me than the "we'll show your page and contents to unknown third parties" complaints I hear endlessly from Facebook users.

I wonder if this was also done as some sort of reaction to the security complaints. Which begs the question ... if so, why would Facebook censor a user's content from selected "friends" of that user? That wasn't what the complaints were about...

The motivation(s) is (are) unclear, and I am just speculating here, but the bottom line is that a service that intends to bring people together online (social network) just installed a function that intentionally prevents those people from interacting. How is that at all a service to the customer?

Security issues are one thing I can get behind, except that the safest way to be secure is to only share the information you want to in a (relatively) public forum. But censorship is another issue for me entirely. If Facebook continues to use such tactics on its predominantly ignorant customers, then it is doing a disservice to those customers. At that point, why use it? There are other social networks (or alternative means entirely) that (at least for now) won't prevent me from seeing what the others want to share and want me to see...

To be continued, Facebook.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Lonely Road -- Monterey Aquarium

I have a new series of blog posts that I'm calling "The Lonely Road", basically a "story from the road" that involves only me. I made the visit/trip with no one else, and wanted to discover something on my own. Often, these are the memories I hold dearest, for various reasons. I'm not (completely) sure why, but I tend to work best in solitude, and I hope through these series of posts that maybe some of these reasons will come through. Moreover, we shouldn't be afraid to try something new, and alone. I think people feel more comfortable with others trying something new... I say get over the discomfort. Go, discover something for yourself. You'll learn a great deal about yourself, your independence, your self-reliance. These trips undoubtedly have made me a better, happier person. I hope you will discover the same.


The Monterey Aquarium is an obvious stop on the West Coast. There's Big Sur to the south, San Francisco not very far to the north, and a veritable cornucopia of national parks a few hours east. This aquarium, one of my favorites in America, is reason alone to visit California.

Mom and I were visiting California on our annual trip, but she wanted to go shopping all afternoon. This may have been code for "Stay away from me for a while", which (to be fair) is an entirely understandable position once in a while ... maybe frequently. I saw this as an opportunity to visit the aquarium -- my second time. Maybe it was my mood, my penchant for pondering the big questions in melodramatic and cliched surroundings, or my lack of "alone time" in recent days...but the aquarium really was a revelation.

I found myself losing senses -- the world would be muted at various points, as I saw a fish floating effortlessly in his liquid cage. The comforting light and dark oscillations of the light hitting the waves in the water were mesmerizing. I can't even remember long portions of the visit. I guess I was so deep in thought I missed the "penguin" section and either skipped or blacked out while looking at the sharks.

Part of the magic of this aquarium -- and really, any quality aquarium -- is the ambiance. Have you ever noticed the music in the background? Quiet synthesizers, maybe some celesta, maybe a gamelan. The instruments are quiet -- never dissonant or fortissimo. The soundtrack unmistakably reminds one of water, and the comforting sounds it makes (or that are associated with it). The whish of a small wave reaching shore, a buoy ringing occasionally, the creaking of boats and docks swaying. I'm reminded of all of this when I'm listening to aquarium music. Whoever is responsible for this atmospheric approach -- job well done.

I have talked about my favorite room in the Monterey Aquarium before. Nonetheless, it deserves a reminder. There is a room you walk into in which the music is a little bit louder. Reminds me of the terrific soundtrack from Solaris, by Cliff Martinez. Little melody, just calming. My involuntary reaction was to look upward, only to see a room in which a giant school of fish swims in a circle over you...again and again and again. One wonders if the fish somehow hate this, or are driven to do this in some way. Whatever the case, it is completely hypnotic. I stared at those fish for over a half hour. Sadly, I took very few photos, no video, and any snapshot I took was staggeringly insufficient to capture this scene. It is, without question, the best that any aquarium has to offer anywhere.

And as I quietly moved from room to room, almost afraid to make a sound or to startle a fish, the sounds of quiet strings drowning out any of the nonsensical din, I lost sight of the sea horses, the jellyfish, and the Nemo fan club. All I can remember is this tremendous sense of calm. In a world of cacophony, this is a true reservoir of peace and quiet.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sweet Home Mobile

This blog series replaces "No Place Like Home", which was focused on the state of Oklahoma. Back when I lived in Oklahoma. Now, I live in Mobile, AL. Quite a change, and not at all a bad one. Besides having an "actual" job, I'm really enjoying the new surroundings. The Gulf Coast has a culture that is very fresh for me. I like the emphasis on food, in particular, but the relatively good nature of seemingly everyone is enough to turn any frown upside down.

So, in the coming weeks, I'll write about a post a week about the goings-on in Mobile. Where I'm eating, what I'm doing, where I'm going, when it gets too hot for me to handle. Sort of the Mobile expose, from an amateur city dweller and Alabaman.

Currently, I'm just getting acquainted. And that means driving.

Driving in Mobile is, well, interesting. There is a lot of traffic in this town. I suspect that if people had the choice of going in one car or three, they'd ask "Why not four?" Where are all of these people going? Are they taking the quickest route? Do they really need the extra cab space?

It's not as if there are only two roads in the town. In fact, one could argue there are too many rather than too few. Also, the name-changing roads are many and baffling. The roads do not necessarily change direction at an intersection; instead, the name just seems to change. I guess there were too many people to dedicate street names to. That and discontinuous city planning, I suppose.

As stymieing as the street planning is here, I'm still waiting to turn right out of my apartment complex. I've been waiting for a few minutes now. On a Saturday at 3 pm. I get it. People like to go out on the weekend. But so many? Alone in separate vehicles?

Everyone who lives in Norman knows about the red street lights. Every intersection, no matter what intersection, is a red light. Wait a minute, then see the left-turn-only light turn green. Wait some more, then go. Just as traffic begins to stop on the crossing street. Norman has mastered the "stopping everyone" traffic lighting. Well, Mobile has taken Norman's skills and gone pro.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that I stop at approximately 80% of streetlights I encounter in Mobile (west of I-65). A normal trip to work for me (about 4 miles) takes about 20 minutes, and the return home commonly takes a little longer (20-25 minutes 6-7 pm; 30-35 minutes 5-6 pm). As the lowest speed limit I have on the way home is 30 mph, there is some serious waiting time at street lights.

The busiest road in Mobile (again, west of I-65) is Airport Road. Basically, during the day, it should be avoided at all costs. During the evening, it's tolerable, but still a lengthy drive for short distances. At night, it's a ghost town. Who needs curfew when you have goody-two-shoes for citizens? Sadly, it is easily the quickest way to reach the interstate on the west side of town. Even more upsetting is the tendency for I-10 to drop southward to the west of downtown -- meaning, it takes a long time to reach either interstate from the area of town I live in. Having taken both routes, it turns out that taking Airport Road is, on average, faster but -- more annoying. More traffic, more waits at stoplights, and the frontage roads -- oh, the frontage roads! That shall be saved for a later post, however.

Oh, I can turn out of my apartment complex now. Yes, I'm moving! And the light in front of me is gre--, uh...never mind.

Perhaps a more substantive post on Mobile next time...