Monday, June 24, 2013


Earlier this month the S.O. and I invested in a more-than-slightly-used travel trailer. Not sure exactly how old it is other than pushing 40, and it's definitely showing its age. If we had wanted a trailer to actually travel with, we'd have been idiots to buy this one. But travel isn't its proposed function. What I wanted was a basic box that might require some spiffying up but that would work just fine as a guest house once it's parked in its proposed permanent location. We'd been talking about doing a stick-built one bedroom cabin; fixing up this trailer is going to be a lot faster, cheaper, and easier. It's already wired and has plumbing. All we have to do is modify it and then park it where it's going to sit permanently.

We're starting on the front end and basically gutting that part. There's rot in the walls and floor from a plumbing problem years ago. My guess is a previous idiot owner didn't remember to drain the system before winter hit and a water tank burst. Previous repairs seem to have consisted of lots of duct tape and a few plywood patches. It's been what we refer to as Elmerized (in honor of an acquaintance named Elmer whose idea of a repair was always really, really strange and often potentially dangerous). We have a hunch the bathroom's been Elmerized, too, but we'll worry about that when we get to it. The biggest issue is that wet wood swells, and as a consequence the corners got pushed out a bit -- we need to pull them back in so the seams are tight again and there are no longer gaps big enough to see daylight through.

In any case, we're going to take out the upper bunk, that weird fold-down bed campers have that is always advertised as being the equivalent of a full-size bed but looks like you wouldn't want to ask anyone heavier than a large cat to sleep on, because we don't anticipate ever having guests who would have a use for it. We'll replace it with just an ordinary shelf. We'll do a built-in full-size bed with storage underneath, and we'll put in some decent carpeting. Once it's done, it won't be particularly posh, but staying in it will beat sleeping on an air mattress on our living room floor.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

How stupid do you have to be to brag about being a necrophiliac?

I'm listening to the news on NPR and just heard a brief report about a rape scandal at the U.S. Naval Academy. Apparently the football players there aren't a whole lot different than the high school football players in Steubenville: if a girl gets so drunk that the only difference between her and a corpse is she's still breathing, she's suddenly sexually attractive. I know guys can be pretty much idiots about the objects of their masturbatory fantasies -- as Lenny Bruce once put it, men will fuck mud -- but to follow up by bragging about their perversions in social media? How stupid do you have to be to want to tell the whole world that your idea of a good time is fucking someone who's unconscious? Why would anyone want to brag about being such a total loser that he can't get laid if the woman is awake?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Was anyone actually surprised?

Once again, I'm coming late to the party in discussing this, but it's another one of those topics that doesn't seem to want to go away. I've got to admit I don't get it. Were there actually still naifs wandering around the U.S. who did not know the government spies on people all the time? Has J. Edgar Hoover been dead so long now that everyone's forgotten how he managed to stay Director-for-Life of the FBI? Hoover had dossiers on anyone and everyone in government. He controlled Presidents. And he did it all through the use of technology that by today's standards was laughably primitive: listening at keyholes, breaking into people's homes or motel rooms when they weren't there to install microphones that were hardwired to reel-to-reel tape recorders bigger than a modern carry-on suitcase, illegally wiretapping people's telephones and having real live humans sit there listening, steno pad in hand. One of the saddest stories I ever read was about the FBI agent who was tasked with spying on Martin Luther King. He spent years listening to King's phone calls, 99% of which were the usual mundane calls we all make. Can  you imagine spending a career listening to one guy's phone calls because the Director was convinced that sooner or later that person would confess to being a Communist?

If anything, I find the NSA kerfuffle oddly reassuring. First, because a whistle-blower was able to look at an aggregate picture and view spying on ordinary citizens as wrong. After all, there were hundreds of FBI agents spying on individual people for decades and they never suffered any apparent guilt or moral qualms, or, if they did, they kept those doubts to themselves. A number of agents did admit long after the fact that they weren't happy about Hoover's anti-Communist obsessions and where it led the agency, but they followed orders anyway.

Second, the sheer size of the spying operations means the spy agencies are burying themselves in garbage data. Sure, you can set up search algorithms to fish for patterns, but when you're talking about millions of phone calls, emails, whatever, it takes a whole lot of processing power to find the occasional possible real threat. Which means, in a weird way, the NSA et al. are doing a nice job of stimulating the economy. Most of us might view electronic data as intangible, but it gets processed by real machinery. It's not magic; it's technology. Someone has to sell the spies all that computer equipment, buildings have to go up to house it, infrastructure is created (roads, utility systems), power is generated, and so on. And all the computer equipment requires people to run it. The various spy agencies have to hire people: clerks, janitors, security guards who manage to con their way into jobs as "analysts," etc. Jobs are created. Not exactly the economic stimulus most of us would prefer, but a stimulus nonetheless. It almost makes me wish I owned stock in Cray.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Seeing this felt good

Back a few years ago, in about 2000, I got asked to serve as a local historical society's representative to a county-wide committee to work on a project that the Tourist and Recreation Association had thought up. The plan was to publicize some of the county's cultural and historical attractions. It was an interesting experience. Our county has about a dozen small groups devoted to various preservation or cultural efforts, most of which focus on just one thing, e.g., preserving a one room schoolhouse, and a few with broader goals. The representatives to the committee were a mixed lot. People definitely are strange. There were some folks who seemed to think historical knowledge is a private good and weren't real keen on sharing -- an odd attitude, to say the least. If you believe the history is important enough to form a local historical society to preserve it, shouldn't you also want to make sure as many people as possible have a chance to learn it?

Overall, though, we managed to reach some consensus and came up with a list of possible sites to include on a map. With help from the Copper Country Council for the Arts, the group put together a grant application that succeeded in getting a decent amount of funding from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. It wasn't a huge amount, but, along with a few bucks kicked in by each of the participating local groups, it was enough to help pay for an individual sign to be posted at each site and for three large signs to be erected at each of the highway rest areas (Tioga Falls, Canyon Falls, and near the community of Keweenaw Bay) that tourists are likely to stop at. It's been about twelve years since this sign went up at Canyon Falls. There's some minor wear and tear, but overall it's still looking good. So are the signs at each of the heritage sites. It is remarkably satisfying to look at the end product of something designed by a committee and realize that it actually was worth doing.

The hardest part of this project, incidentally, wasn't getting a dozen people to agree on which sites should be prioritized and it wasn't finding the funding. It was getting the Michigan Department of Transportation to agree to the signage at the rest areas. If it's not their idea, they don't want it there.

If anyone feels like stalking us, the S.O. and I live fairly close to the number 7 on the map.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Canyon Falls Roadside Park

Highway rest areas aren't usually noted for their hiking opportunities, but the Upper Peninsula has several that feature more than the typical Romtec restrooms and a handicap accessible picnic table or two. Canyon Falls is one of those places.

Canyon Falls on the Sturgeon River
The trail from the parking lot isn't a long one -- maybe half a mile in to where it officially ends and you get to backtrack -- but it's a nice little walk through mixed hardwood forest. There are boardwalks over the boggy areas and a bridge over a small creek. There are some uneven areas (moderately rocky terrain, some protruding roots), but overall it would get an Easy in any hiking guide. It is not handicap accessible, but it comes close. Back when I was a Girl Scout Leader, this was one of the hikes we did when the kids were working on outdoor badges. 
The S.O. leading the way. 
The trail officially terminates at an overlook of the falls. It used to go a little farther from the parking area -- up and over the rock outcrop shown below -- but I'm guessing lack of maintenance money led to the state deciding to cut it short. The information sign in the parking lot is unintentionally funny: rather than making a whole new sign to show the abbreviated trail, the state elected to cut a piece of wood in a shape that fits neatly over where the trail used to go and then painted it to match the existing sign. 
Old trail that continues past official end of trail
You can't really tell in the photo by there were some decaying wooden hand rails to the side of the old trail. The fact the Canyon Falls trail terminates at the overlook, however, doesn't mean that's where a person has to stop. The blue blaze on the tree in the upper left of the photo screams North Country Trail loud and clear. How much of the North Country Trail is complete in this section is a mystery: official Trail maps show it as being in pieces, but I know there are segments that are totally done right down to having Adirondack shelters in place, that are not shown on the website
Sturgeon River upstream of the actual falls
We were not out to do a major hike, just enjoying a short break on the drive home, so we did not venture very far past when the end of trail sign was posted. We did, however, diverge from the current marked path a little on our way back to the parking lot. The state redid the rest area a few years ago and in the process moved the trail head. We followed what had been the old trail over toward the highway bridge. 
Old trail head; Canyon Falls has been a roadside park since the 1920s; I'm not sure when this sign dates from
The bridge is nifty one, a lovely Moderne design, and is an engineering landmark. Construction began in 1947, it was complete in 1948. It's significant for its design, steel arch bridges are rare in Michigan, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. The main span is 128 feet from pin to pin. It is a gorgeous bridge; MDOT really needs to do a book on a stick to brag about it a little.
Canyon Falls bridge on US 41
A snowmobile trail goes under the bridge (note wooden guard rail at the left side of photo); so do the blaze marks for the North Country Trail. I never really thought much about where the snowmobile trails run in this county, although I guess it makes sense to have some overlap between the hiking trail and the snowmobile/ORV trail in some places. Among other things, the snowmobile trail already has bridges over various creeks and rivers. We were tempted to walk farther along the snowmobile trail, if only to see just how far it paralleled the river, but we weren't prepared for an actual hike. We'd stopped to amble, not to hike, so that's what we did, ambled back to the car while admiring the wild flowers. 
Cowslips blooming next to Bacco Creek


Yellow violets
Update: Saw a notice in the local paper that the local North Country trail group has a guided hike planned along a section of the trail from over by the old prison camp on the Baraga Plains to Canyon Falls so it appears my assumption about the meaning of the blue blazes was dead on. They give a rough estimate of 3 to 4 miles for the distance that will be hiked.