Monday, August 01, 2016

Oldest Son

Twenty-Six years ago today, Oldest son was born. Here is what I recall from the day.

We had been married almost ten months and were living in Holland, Pa which was far from everywhere. I had been working at Telesciences in Moorsetown, NJ and was 2 1/2 years into a 10 year stint. At the beginning of the summer I was put on a new project at work called CBU and CBU was shaping up to be a disaster. There were 4 of us on CBU and none of us were UNIX programmers. We used UNIX for our day to day tasks so we were familiar with it but none of us had written UNIX programs . Of course CBU was UNIX. Well SCO UNIX on PCs but that's a story for a different day. It seemed simple enough - take an established product running on high end HP UNIX machines and make it fit on 486 HP PC Towers.

I made a cartoon about it.

When the four of us sat down together for the first time we all said the same thing - "I thought you were the UNIX guy".  What we lacked in experience we made up in late nights until a software release at the end of the year. All I recall is dreading every evening at 7 PM in the office when the cleaning staff would come around with the vacuums.

We were working around the clock and I was exhausted.

The Chancellor's due date was 31 July which came and went like the many days before it with me sleeping next to the Chancellor in the heat of summer. They say a pregnant woman "glows" and well the Chancellor glowed too - like a furnace. It was like sleeping next to furnace.

Early in the morning of the 1st of August I awoke to find the Chancellor missing from bed and her marching around the condominium doing breathing exercises. It was still early and I was still trying to get some sleep when I heard "ught ohh - somethings happening somethings happening something happening" (Note: The Chancellor recalls this differently: She woke up to "somethings happening somethings happening something happening")

Her water broke.

There would be no going back now and CBU would have to wait.  Thankfully.

We started to get ready to get things moved over to the hospital for the main event. Packing, phone calls, etc when the rush to the hospital hit a snag.

We were young and broke and really didn't splurge on much but one thing we (and when I say we, I mean she) did buy the was a bit expensive, was a comforter set from the Spiegel's catalogue.  It was sheets, pillow cases, something called throw pillows and cylindrical fancy continental pillow with lots of frills.

The Chancellor wanted to bring the continental pillow with the frills and I was imagining the pillow after a medieval birthing process, blood stained and a worthless mess that we would end up throwing out rather than keep. I said no way. She said she wanted to take it.

It was a stand off. We "discussed it" a bit until she finally gave in. There would be no pillow.

Once admitted and in the maternity ward, we found that our Dr. had three women in labor at the same time and was feeding all of them the labor-inducing Pitocin. It was like a horse race. The Chancellor would be in the lead and headed to the stretch, then she would slow down. One of the other ladies would take the lead and so it went all morning.

She didn't care, she just wanted an epidural. 

The Chancellor was having difficulty with her vision and thought everything was too bright. She wanted sunglasses and the only thing we had were a colorful and cheap pair of drug store glasses I had that were too big for her.

She wore them anyway.

And that's how the anesthesiologist found her. Sunglasses. In bed.

He came in and asked a few simple questions including "Have you ever experienced numbness?"

For future reference, if you want an epidural, do not answer yes. The anesthesiologist left and said that he couldn't give an epidural in that case.

So there it was, no epidural.  No drugs.

The horse race continued into the afternoon until finally at around 6 we had a healthy baby boy. I'll spare you the medieval details but I will tell you he was 8lbs 2 ounce on 8-1.

I went out to the visitor's area and both my parents and the Chancellor's parents were there. I don't even think I said hello - just "It's a boy". That is were I really felt it. Seeing their faces light up. Technically he was my parents third grandson but first for the Chancellor's parents. I recall they were shocked at how little time labor was - of course they had just got there so for them it was short. For me, it had been a long day and even longer day for the Chancellor.

We hung out for a bit, grabbed a quick dinner somewhere close and then I went home.

I recall feeling holy. Separated out and close to God for some reason as I sat and home alone and tried to unwind before bed.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Buderus Logicmatic 2107 external hour meter using Raspberry Pi

When home heating oil reached close to $5 a gallon here in Southern New Jersey, I was on a mission to reduce consumption as much as possible without causing The Chancellor to bundle up like a hooded monk.

To accomplish that, the first step was to accurately be able to determine daily oil consumption, something nearly impossible to do with the crude hour meter on my Buderus Logicmatic 2107 boiler controller. 

I needed a digital hour meter that would record oil burner usage to an electronic file that could then be analyzed to determine usage. 

Step 1 - build an hour meter. 

I had been playing with the Raspberry Pi, a credit card sized computer that runs a Linux variant and thought this was the best approach for me. 

After some research with the Buderus unit I found two terminals that were designed to run an external hour meter that energized a 120 VAC line when the burner was turned on. 

Here I've attached the external power line on terminals 8 & 4

I figured that having the Pi sense 120 VAC sounded like a dangerous and unnecessary proposition, I connected the 120 V line to an old 12 VDC AC to DC brick and now had drive a DC relay to apply a ground to the PiFace logical line that represented when the burner was on. 

Rather than tie directly to the GPIO interface on the Pi I had purchased a PiFace relay board which was designed to accept such inputs and can be accessed programmatically with python. 

And the python code (which must also do a similar function for the garage)
#       /usr/local/bin/
#       March. 22, 2014 by Mike Falciani.
#       %W% %E% Copyright 2014 amflabs.
# A script to record garage and oil burner usage to a file.
import argparse
import readline
import pifacedigitalio
#from daemonize import Daemonize

# Sense when the garage has been opened and closed.
def GarageFunction(GarageMagSwitch):
        import time
        global Garagekeepme
        global debug
        global pifacedigital
        global GaragePin
        if GarageMagSwitch.direction == 0:
# Garage was opened
                if pifacedigital.input_pins[GaragePin].value:
                        Garagekeepme = GarageMagSwitch.timestamp
                        outstr = "Opened,%.2f,%s,-1\n" % (GarageMagSwitch.timestamp,time.asctime(time.localtime(GarageMagSwitch.timestamp)))
                        if debug:
                                outstr = "Garage Opened %s " % (time.asctime(time.localtime(GarageMagSwitch.timestamp)))
                                print (outstr)
                        if debug:
                                print ("False Postive Hairtrigger")
# Garage was closed
        elif GarageMagSwitch.direction == 1 and Garagekeepme:
                duration = GarageMagSwitch.timestamp - Garagekeepme
                outstr = "Closed,%.2f,%s,%.2f\n" % (GarageMagSwitch.timestamp,time.asctime(time.localtime(GarageMagSwitch.timestamp)),duration)
#               outstr = str(out)
                if debug:
                        outstr = "Garage Started %s,Ended %s,\n\tDuration %.2f Sec" % (time.asctime(time.localtime(Garagekeepme)),time.asctime(time.localtime(GarageMagSwitch.timestamp)),duration)
                        print (outstr)
# Sense when the oil burner comes on and off.

def OilFunction(Oil):
        import time
        global Oilkeepme
        global debug
        global pifacedigital
        global hours
        global OilPin
        if Oil.direction == 0:
# Oil burner ON
                Oilkeepme = Oil.timestamp
                if debug:
                        outstr = "Oil Started %s " % (time.asctime(time.localtime(Oilkeepme)))
                        print (outstr)
        elif Oil.direction == 1 and Oilkeepme:
                duration = Oil.timestamp - Oilkeepme
                hours += duration/(60*60)
                outstr = "%.2f,%.2f,%.2f,%.2f\n" % (Oilkeepme,Oil.timestamp,duration,hours)
#               outstr = str(out)
                if debug:
                        outstr = "Oil Started %s,Ended %s,\n\tDuration %.2f Sec, Hours=%.2f" % (time.asctime(time.localtime(Oilkeepme)),time.asctime(time.localtime(Oil.timestamp)),duration,hours)
                        print (outstr)
# interrupt_flag:    0b10000000
# interrupt_capture: 0b11111111
# OilPin_num:           7
# direction:         1
# chip:              
# timestamp:         1393882878.562755
# Main loop
# Sense when Opened, write to repective files.
#def main_loop():
parser = argparse.ArgumentParser()
parser.add_argument('-d',dest='debug',default=0,help='Debugging On')
args = parser.parse_args()



OilHours = open('/charmander/home/mfalcian/data/OilBurnerHours.csv','br+'),2) # go to middle of next to last line
last=OilHours.readline() # read partial line
last=OilHours.readline() # read last line as byetstr
OilHours.close() # close binary mode
OilHours = open('/charmander/home/mfalcian/data/OilBurnerHours.csv','r+'),2) # go to end of file

if debug:
        print('Oil last line',last)
        print('Debug turned on to level ',debug)
GarageHours = open('/charmander/home/mfalcian/data/GarageBurnerHours.csv','r+'),2) # go to end of file
pifacedigital = pifacedigitalio.PiFaceDigital()
listener = pifacedigitalio.InputEventListener(chip=pifacedigital)
listener.register(OilPin, pifacedigitalio.IODIR_RISING_EDGE, OilFunction)
listener.register(OilPin, pifacedigitalio.IODIR_FALLING_EDGE, OilFunction)

listener.register(GaragePin, pifacedigitalio.IODIR_RISING_EDGE, GarageFunction)
listener.register(GaragePin, pifacedigitalio.IODIR_FALLING_EDGE, GarageFunction)
# Main
#daemon = Daemonize(app="HouseMeters", pid=pid, action=main_loop)

And the resulting log with Start Time (epoch time), End time, Duration and current Oil burner hours after burn. 

I'm growing older but not up

Ah it's springtime once again in Mt La-La and that means me lying flat on my back and closely examining the living room ceiling paint job for 35 hours.

I once again experienced painful back spasms that took me out for days but this time I ended up in the Hospital.

The short version is After a day and half on the floor we called and Ambulance and I went to the hospital and was back home Saturday night.

The long version:
I was having some difficulty with my back - but minor. I'd say it was a week and half of steady lower back  pain.

As was my habit,  I walked two miles in my neighborhood on Tuesday, , came home took a shower and began to get dressed. It was about here that I should have sat down to dress myself but bent over instead.

Bang! my lower back lit up like a Christmas tree and I was stuck there half dressed hanging onto the furniture, half naked, unsteady on my feet.

With The Chancellor's help I was able to complete dressing and make a lap or two around the bedroom. (Luckily the bedroom is quite large)  - then I needed to sit. And sit I did, for most of the day in my office in the chair. I got up once once in awhile but I had all my meals there.

And if you know the Chancellor, there is nothing she enjoys more than waiting on me hand and foot bringing me unhealthy food and snacks.

That night I was able to make it downstairs and so we sat in the matching recliners watching Anderson Cooper's documentary about his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt - That's  right, Anderson Cooper's mom in THE Gloria Vanderbilt. Who knew?

Anyway, all was going well unto I tried to get up. try as I might there was nothing I could do to get upright as God intended. The pain of each attempt was nearly unbearable and forced me first to my knees and then down to the ground. And that's where I lay for the next 35 hours on the dusty livingroom floor binge watching "The Americans" on Amazon Prime, peeing in a jar and eating meals sideways. At least this time, I didn't have to fight the dog for a hamburger like the Hoff. In retrospect, The Americans was probably a bad choice considering that a certain scene frightened me so much I flinched and had a massive back spasm.

On Wednesday two of the neighbor ladies stopped by to see the Chancellor while I lay glued to the floor. It was like a little party, except I lay prone looking up at people. I spent the time being interrogated.

What are you doing there?
Does it hurt?
Do you want help getting up?
Do you want some of my medicine the Dr gave me in 2008 for a totally unrelated incident?

Actually, I did take the Naproxen from my neighbor. Well, take is the wrong word and slipped in by my spouse is more accurate. It was all a  little surreal.

By Thursday, still pinned by pain, I called "no mas" and figured I needed help.

The Chancellor called 911. It's embarrassing and expensive (we'll see exactly how much) and into home came the man and woman team from my local ambulance corps. (side note: I've noticed that today all EMT teams are a man and a woman).

After some questions (What are you doing there? Does it hurt? Do you want help getting up? Do you want some of my medicine the Dr gave me in 2008 for a totally unrelated incident?) they were able to get me onto a "Reeve's Sleeve" stretcher and began lifting me.

This did not go well. The flexibility of the Reeve's sleeve bent my back in such a way that it spasmed the entire 15 steps to the front door and that's where they put me down, half in and half out the front door. They called the local Fire Dept for backup.

10 minutes later,  there is an Ambulance AND some sort of Fire equipment in front of my house. I don't what equipment since all I can see is straight up at my hallway ceiling.

The team of people now got me onto the regular Ambulance gurney and into the Ambulance.

And so began my first ever Ambulance ride.

So many memories. The harsh ride of the Ambulance. The view as I was pushed into the hospital with the word "Emergency Room" on the side of the building as we entered the Hospital. Hanging out in the demarcation between the EMTs and the Hospital where they all hang out and, drink coffee and discuss their day. The EMT's tale of how she struck her head when she was 14 diving into a pool.

Finally, I was admitted to the ER where I was pushed into the hallway adjacent to the multi-sex, single-toilet bathroom.
For the next 9 hours I now had a job - reassuring people that the bathroom was indeed empty and they were free to enter.
I was able to complete my "assignment" only when I wasn't passed out from the Valium injection.

By 9:30 that night I was admitted to a double room and pumped full of drugs.

I get the the best room mates in the Hospital. Unable to get up and tiring of watching "The Americans", I had only his sad story to entertain me.

He was older than I and at first I thought he was admitted for a stroke but then the staff starting asking him other crazy questions.

When did you last have a drink?
Are you shaking?
How is your hand where the dog bit you?

Dog bite?

It turns out his story can not be made up:
He was in his yard when the neighbors dog approached him and sort of bit him on the hand. I say sort of because he didn't break the skin. Not sure if anything was wrong , he drove himself to the hospital ER. When examined he showed signs of a stroke within the last 2 hours and the ER has a very strict stroke protocol which includes admission.

Once admitted, he was cut off from his usual intake of alcohol and began to go through withdrawal.

Like I said, it can't be made up.

Clearly God is trying to get the man's attention.

I laid there for 48 hours, still unable to move until Saturday when PT came and a miracle occurred. I was able to stand and walk. I headed for the door and did not look back.

Once home and off drugs, I accounted the number of times this has happened to me recently and determined it's time for a change. It's time to lose weight. Again. It's time to build up my core.

So it's off to the next adventure - losing weight without speed, eating sunflower seeds.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Springsteen Setlist Analysis

Here is the % of setlists a particular songs has appeared on so far for the River 2016 Tour

Songs  % of setlist
Atlantic City 13%
Backstreets 25%
Badlands 63%
Be True 13%
Because the Night 63%
Bobby Jean 25%
Born to Run 100%
Brilliant Disguise 38%
Cadillac Ranch 100%
Candy's Room 38%
Cover Me 13%
Crush On You 100%
Dancing in the Dark 100%
Darlington County 13%
Detroit Medley 13%
Drive All Night 100%
Fade Away 100%
Human Touch 38%
Hungry Heart 100%
I Wanna Marry You 100%
I'm a Rocker 100%
Independence Day 100%
Jackson Cage 100%
Lonesome Day 13%
Meet Me in the City 100%
Night 13%
No Surrender 25%
Out in the Street 100%
Point Blank 100%
Prove It All Night 25%
Ramrod 100%
Rebel Rebel 13%
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) 100%
Roulette 13%
Sherry Darling 100%
She's the One 50%
Shout 100%
Stolen Car 100%
Take It Easy 13%
The Price You Pay 100%
The Promised Land 25%
The Rising 100%
The River 100%
The Ties That Bind 100%
Thunder Road 100%
Tougher Than the Rest 13%
Two Hearts 100%
Working on the Highway 13%
Wreck on the Highway 100%
Wrecking Ball 63%
You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch) 100%

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Bowie Memories.

My first David Bowie Memory is from Jr High School. A group of older kids, mostly girls from High School were hanging out at the Kindergarten Alcoves at Loomis school one Saturday afternoon. I remember I had on my jean jacket with all the cool patches on it: The zig-zag man, a "Cocaine" patch fashioned like a Coca-Cola Ad, etc.

The discussion turned to Bowie and how he was now "a girl". Which I simply found confusing. I didn't really know Bowie. I'm sure I had heard his music but it didn't stick out - yet.

Second Bowie Memory was later in Sr High as a freshman. Mike DeSanto was telling us how "this Bowie song had Wham-Bam-Thank-You-maam" in it. Then we heard it in school. I'm not sure how we heard it but we were in class room and we stood silently, listening, straining to hear the magic line which as I'm sure you are aware today, comes at the end. What seemed like hours passed and then we were giggling like the Teen Aged  boys we were at the time.

Third is the Glass Spider tour in '87, Veterans Stadium, Philly.

Four of us had a house in Sea Isle City for the summer and up the street was an analogous house of girls who had tickets for the Philly shows. The girls invited some of us to drive up from the shore to the Vet to see the show - no big deal.

After the show we were walking back the car and were at the corner of Broad and Pattison and we were waiting there for some reason.

There was a clearly super-intoxicated man stumbling west on Pattison and headed east was group of Bro's from NE Philly clearly up for anything.

You could tell they were going to intersect and something was going to happen.

Look left- Bros. Look Right - drunk guy. left Bros. Right drunk

The two met nearly right in front of us and one of the Bros reached back and sucker-punched the west-bound traveler who collapsed like a cheap card table. The Bros laughed and moved on.

I remember how the drunk guy's head sort of bounced off the concrete and back down.

He laid there for a  few minutes and we were sort of standing around uncomfortably deciding if we should help him when a Philly cop came up and approached the still unconscious man.

I know I was thinking "OK good, now the guy can get some help".

The cop bent slightly over, took out his night stick and poked the guy in the side saying "Hey buddy, you OK?" - just like they taught him at the academy. Twice.

Eventually, the guy woke, got up and ran behind some bushes at the Broad Street line station and puked. We never saw him again.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Mummer's '59

My father was a terrible photographer - especially with outdoor photography. This was largely due to the rudimentary technology available in 1959 using his post war era Agfa Silette Pronto but as the recipient of a large number of blurry Kodachrome slides, I can attest that he did not understand "depth of field".  Indoor photography of that age was much more forgiving with safety flash bulbs - a generation removed from Mathew Brady era flash bars - but outdoors it was a wild set of assumptions about shutter speed, F-stop and range.

There were two sets of outdoor photos that stood out as some-what-acceptable:

1. A set of photos taken of my Aunt's '61 DeSoto after it had been the victim of a hit and run on Morris Street in South Philly, taken presumably for insurance purposes.

2. The 1959 Mummer's Parade.

Let's focus on the '59 parade.

I've had the slides for years but after this year's parade decided to rescan them at a higher resolution and research what bands were which. My Dad always said "that was the year South Philly won with the African Theme." but beyond that I had no idea which were which,

First I needed some historical resources and I found this, what appears to be 8mm home movies of the same parade.

This movie helped place most of the bands since it has many of the lead vehicles with band name banners.

From I found out that the parade had been started and cancelled on New Year's Day because of weather. The Comics and Fancies marched on New Years but by time the string bands were due, the parade was cancelled and delayed to the following Saturday, the 3rd.
Found on

I found this record of the order of march in '59
Marched  Place Band Theme
1 5 Fralinger Toyland
2 20 Broomall Tournament of Roses
3 2 Polish American Melodies of the Season
4 18 Quaker City When Hearts are Young
5 4 Ferko Carnival of Venice
6 19 Avalon Welcome Alaska
7 16 Woodland Easter Parade
8 7 Greater Kensington The King and I
9 6 Aqua Gypsy Baron
10 11 Uptown Puppets on Parade
11 14 Durning An Orchid to You
12 17 Trilby Honor Guard of the Mummers Hall of Fame
13 10 Hegeman Cavalcade of States
14 1 South Philadelphia African Fantasy
15 8 Greater Overbrook American Jubilee
16 12 Duffy Serenade of the Stars
17 21.(DQ) Ukranian American Prisoner of Love
18 9 Harrowgate The Prince of India
19 15 Palmyra Serenade of the Bells
20 3 Greater Bucks The Great White Way
21 13 Garden State The Cobra and the Charmer

I also found this photo of the presumably 1959 Polish American String Band here.

And using the movie above I found the 5th band to march in Dad's photos was Ferko String Band with a theme of Carnival of Venice. Yes, it just makes you want to shout Shutter Speed! but it's bright and clear.


This was the 4th picture of nine and helped identify the remaining.

Since I couldn't find the Polish American String Band among Dad's photos, I just assumed he skipped it and I also assumed that the slide number determined the proper sequence. That meant the following:

The first slide was the Fralinger String Band and "Toyland"

The second slide was the Broomall String Band and Tournament of Roses.

And third was Quaker City and When Hearts were Young.

That leaves Avalon String Band and it's 1959 appropriate "Welcome Alaska" theme:

Hegeman and "Cavalcade of States":

Next are two shots of the prize winner of '59, South Philadelphia and "African Fantasy"

and finally, Overbrook and "American Jubilee"

Friday, October 09, 2015

How I spent my 26th wedding Anniversary.

"Are you taking Wednesday off?" I was asked.

Wednesday would be our 26th wedding anniversary and I had a close to clear calendar at work so it seemed a good idea to me too, especially given that the weather in the Philadelphia are was predicted to particularly California like Wednesday.

It would be dramatic comparison  to how much our lives had changed in the 11 years since I last documented it. I swear that everything below is true.

It was 7:30 by time I rolled out of bed and took care of Shadow our 15 plus year old Schnauzer. 15 years in Schnauzer time is more like 86 years in human time and so Shaddy is having some issues. I carried her out so she could pee on her own. She has vestibular disease and has good days and bad days. The way she maneuvered around the pool to make her way to the grass made me believe today was going to be a good day.

Got up and took a shower.

I made myself some Italian Roast coffee in the Keurig.  My goodness I love that Kuerig. It makes a perfect cup of rich dark goodness every. single. day. Today's cup was consistent.

I sat on the deck, in a comfy chair listening to the pool gurgle in the early morning. I read the newspaper on the iPad. I leisurely checked Facebook and twitter.

At 8:15, the Chancellor got and went to an exercise class at her gym.

At about 8:30 I decided that I needed to look for that blasted replacement  part of the Polaris pool cleaner. We had a week of open pool left and the Polaris snapped off the quick disconnect yesterday. Amazon would take over week to get me a new D-29 UWF and that wasn't going to help. I just knew I kept the old one and it was in the shed which was a mess. This is a consistent problem. I have a tendency to be a pack rat and then decide to clean up and throw something out - right before I need it thereby reinforcing the need to keep junk around. It's a viscous cycle.

Time to clean out the shed. At 9 I checked out a previously scheduled webcast on Five Ways Cloud Can Transform Your Business. It was boooooring. I half listened and checked out movie times for later. We wanted to see the Intern as close to Center City Philly as possible.

After the webcast was over I finished cleaning out the shed. It is simply amazing how much space you can get back by organizing. That is a good feeling. It was somehow rewarding to make sure the hammock had a spot hung on the wall and all the pool floatee things went in an empty plastic container. I had retarded the entropy of the universe and if felt good.

I did not find a used D-29 UWF quick disconnect for a Polaris. Oh well. Time for a new one. I called my favorite pool store and surprise! they had one. Today was going to be a good day. 10 something dollars on the debit card and I was headed home.

I decided to call into a previously scheduled meeting at 1 and rebuilt the Polaris at the same time. A win-win.

After a quick shower and change into jeans and shirt, we were headed to Philly.

We had been wanting to try a new Italian restaurant in center city. Someone had stolen the Chancellor's idea and simply uprooted an Italian "bar" and planted it, whole cloth, in Philly. Oh they added a full kitchen as well since your typical Italian bar is only a tiny place where the neighborhood meets for espresso and a cornetto.

We got a table outside (California!).

We had a relaxing early dinner right on Chestnut street with the city moving around us and after dinner delightfully tried some Raspicello and Peachcello, cousins to our favorite Limoncello.

Since it is authentic, Europeans seemed to gather there and for a moment we really didn't know we were still in Philly when a couple from Albania sat near us.

Delightful. Relaxing.

After dinner we made our way over to a tiny theater just off Rittenhouse Square.  I had no idea there were still theaters that showed first run movies in center city since most of the old theaters had been converted to Apartments or knocked down long ago. We were early. Of course. It was the perfect day after all.

The theater was more like a very long living room with a flat screen TV at the end. It was perfect. It was so - not a giant 57 screen mega complex off the jog handle.

After the movie my only regret of the entire day was not sitting at the open air bar right next to the theater after we got out.

We drove home to make sure Shad was OK and fell asleep watching the ABC line up of comedies.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Grand Canyon Trip by the numbers

1286 - Number of miles driven on our rental car.

1352 - Number of pictures taken by Mike

778 - Number of iPhone pictures taken by Karen

662 - Number of pictures posted by Gail

4 - National Parks: Zion, Bryce, Lake Powell and Grand Canyon

6 - Number of times we said "table for 9, please" 2 x Dennys, Tom's Urban, Thunderbird, Golden Hills, Escobars,

23 - The number of the Condor Mike took a picture of.

8 - Point buck behind the Yavapai Lodge when we arrived.

10 - Number of minutes spent at the Hoover Dam.

35 - Number of times someone said "But it's a dry heat"

2 - Acquire Games won by fathers.

2 - Number Acquire games played by fathers.

0 - Number of boat rides in Lake Powell.

67 - Number of Night Time Exposures taken by Mike

3 - Number of Night Time Exposures taken by Mike with Lens Cap on.

20 - Shooting stars seen by Karen

7 - Times someone said "Where's Mike"

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Tips for travel to Italy.

Here are my tips for travel to Italy. Some are specific some are general. I reserve the right to add as I think of more.

Choose Wisely when scheduling your trip. Italy in the summer can be a crowded, hot experience depending of course on where you are headed. We like the "shoulder seasons" of Sept/Oct or especially May. Not everyone can go in May, of course, but it is good tip to keep in mind.

Plan Ahead. "Choose wisely" goes hand in hand with plan ahead. If you simply show up at the Vatican Museum be prepared to stand in line. A long line. Same with the Colosseum.

If you are not on a rigid guided tour and making your own way then get on the Internet and check ahead even before you leave the US. Once we found they had just opened tours to new, previously unopened areas of the Colosseum and bought advance tickets while we were still home. This allowed us to bypass the line and go right in. Also schedule visits like Borghese Gallery at the frond end of your visit if possible rather than the back end. Because anything can happen, like a strike for instance.

Beware of the sciopero. Strikes in Italy are more common place than churches and are just as prolific. They can be anywhere and anytime. There may be 10 cabs waiting outside St Peters with the drivers standing by and smoking cigarettes but they ain't goin' anywhere if there is a strike. It's just part of Italian life. A good example is the Colosseum ticket above. On the scheduled date we arrived at the Colosseo only to find locked gates. Later at our apartment (because I did not have an Italian Phone on that trip) we found there was a strike and contacted the company that sold us the tickets and we rescheduled.

Bring an "unlocked" GSM cell phone and charger. It's a little complicated but worth not getting a Cell Phone bill that needs to be expressed in scientific notation (3.4 x 10 to the 4th power)  or comes in a large box when you get home. This can easily happen if you leave data roaming on (which is uncommon BTW). An unlocked phone is one not limited to use on a single carrier. If you have an unlocked GSM phone you can purchase a SIM card it Italy, perhaps right in the Airport like I did in Roma last year at the TIM kiosk . If you purchased your phone through a US provider like AT&T, chances are that it is locked and forced to operate only on AT&T's network even if the phone fully belongs to you. AT&T has a web page where you can unlock up to 5 phones per year.  Your phone also needs to be compatible with Italian phone networks. Again, this a little complicated  but suffice it to say your old Verizon phone won't work since it is CDMA Here is a handy list of CDMA vs GSM carriers in the US if you have a phone on the CDMA carrier it won't work in Italy.  Why would you need an Italian phone? If you are outside of WiFi range and want to post the beautiful picture you just captured of the Trevi Fountain with no one but you in the frame (pictures of unicorns are more likely BTW) the only way to do it is to use a cell data plan. You can just stick to Free WiFi which is everywhere in Italy these days, but if you are addicted like I am to posting 24/7 waiting for WiFi just won't cut it.Also, we found some free Wifi hot spots (Alba Adriatica) expected that you register with an Italian sms-text. Admittedly this is rare but was well worth it.

Check your papers. Make sure ALL your documents are up to date. This may sound silly, but last year my NJ Drivers license was expired and it nearly wrecked our trip. Have separate credit cards from your spouse - otherwise if you cancel one, you cancel the other if you share a number. Make copies of your passport and credit cards - front and back and keep them. I usually scan mine to cloud storage like Dropbox.

Dress conservatively: Italy is still a largely Catholic country. Do bring trousers even if the forecast is Sunny and 39 C (trust me, that's hot and you'll figure it out). If you want to get in Churches, then most likely you will need conservative dress. Don't wear tank-tops and other shoulder bare-ing type dress if visiting the Vatican and such places. I found this as a nice guide. oh and yes, you will stick out. There is no way you are going to look like an Italian in your Yes Concert shirt (3 August - Camden!) and cargo shorts.

Besides, your eyeglasses are going to stick out like a stripper pole in Mecca since the Italians are very particular about their eye-wear.

Do visit the churches.We found  San Celemente in Rome  was an interesting diversion one afternoon. Just go find some churches and visit even it it's to cool off in the dark.

Parlare. Learn at least a little of the language even if the sole purpose is to entertain the Italians. They thought it was a hoot when I would say "grazie mille"  (thousand thanks like "Thanks a Million" but without the inflation).

Don't be afraid of taking public transportation.  Go in any tobacco store and buy a bus ticket or biglietto. Take the Metro in Rome. Don't be afraid of that 60 Minutes episode you saw on the 64 bus in Rome. Oh, be prepared (no wallets, fanny packs etc.) and watch your surroundings but go and explore - especially with the trains.

* Wander.

* Fear not  VRBO. Rent a house or apartment rather than get a hotel room. We had the best time living in an Italian neighborhood in Prati in Rome in 2011. Get to know the butcher, the pasta shop and local bar. Take the bus. Sure people will stare at you in your Yes Concert shirt. The bar by the way is not like a dark and depressing US bar at all but more like a pastry shop/coffee and convenience store and they are everywhere.Think microscopic Wawa. Also, don't settle for the first thing that pops up on vrbo. We found this place last year after searching weeks.

Coffee Up. Speaking of bars, go in and stand at the bar and order an espresso everywhere you go. It's usually cheap and very Italian. Get the glass of water too. 

Eat. It is not possible to get a bad meal in Italy. I've tried. Popo is octopus BTW. Try some Lonza

Walk This Way. Be prepared to walk. and walk. and walk some more. Oh when you are not walking it's because you are climbing many, many stairs.

Climb. Go to every rooftop or dome-top you can. It's worth the climb.

Speaking of luggage, be prepared to have some lost. The best picture I ever took visiting Italy was the one of our luggage at the airport before leaving. It wasn't much composition wise but it was lot easier to say "like this" when they ask "what did your luggage look like?" (BTW they are all black). Also have a change of clothes in your carry-on. This will avoid the unpleasant experience of finding out Zara has nothing - and I mean nothing - in your size (Oldest son took us there when I need a set of emergency trousers. He politely asked if they had any in my size and the clerk said "No" - not maybe, not let me look, just no).

Also, my baggage carousel experience at Rome's Fiumicino has not been good over the years. I've spent more time than I'd care remember  jet-lagged and bleary-eyed  and waiting for our luggage to show on the carousel only to be bitterly disappointed. If possible, have some Euro coins in your pocket for when you arrive and need a cart for the luggage in the Airport.

Visit a Mercato and wander around looking at the squid.

Rome 2011 Pictures
Italy (Furore on the Amalfi Coast, Alba Adriatica on the Adriatic  and Taormina Sicily) 2014  Pictures

An unexpected 4th of July.

It was a chilly, cloudy fourth of July this year and the Chancellor and I had no specific plans for the day. There had been things kicked around of course: Buy paint for the common bath, take a ride to Levittown to her Cousin's place, maybe fireworks later.

After trading texts with the Cousin we decided on a ride.

Her Uncle had passed away last November leaving a house full of furniture to her cousins. They offered much of it to family and we had picked up a few things for the boys but had left small parts back at the Uncle's.

Today's empty calendar made the perfect time for the 30 minute trip to Bucks county.

It was strange to see the Uncle's house like this; empty. lifeless. We had spent a lot of time here over the years as The Chancellor's mom was close with her sisters, one which who had married the Uncle and moved to what was the end of the earth in those days: Bristol PA.

The Chancellor had lived here for a time while we were dating and she took a job in Oxford Valley and I would visit on weekends.

We grew closer to the Uncle and his family when we later married and moved to Bucks county ourselves because it was the center of the remote points of the compass that ruled those days: New York, Monmouth County NJ and of course our parental homes in PA.

There were holiday visits to that house to meet with the Chancellors cousins that were dispersed in that general direction in the days  in the days reserved for extended family after Christmas Day and Thanksgiving.

And now it was a musty shell, walls and old carpet, piles of old record albums, a cupboard with a plate or two, the chair no one wanted.

The Cousin, The Chancellor and I sat on the floor rummaging through an old suitcase that the Uncle had "organized" pictures into and by organize I mean "put in one place". We examined each picture: Zio's wedding, a holy communion, the sisters at the mothers home on a sunny summer afternoon long past.

It was sad to see all those events that had been so important tossed aside and now soon to be forgotten. Oh there would be good intentions of organizing the photos but there is never the time for such activities.

We tossed a few things into the van: stacks of old record albums for oldest son to pick through, a giant framed poster of the Vino of Italy, the missing furniture bits and headed to the Cousin's for a visit. It seemed a waste to have driven the giant empty minivan for these things.

The Cousin's home is unique. It's located within a typical Bucks County development with 1/2 acre lots and tract mansions but he chose his lot with a particular purpose in mind: A vineyard. That's right on the southern side of the house he has planted 8 rows of grape vines, enough for 50 or so gallons of wine every year.

All Italian Americans have a built-it sense of Mediterranean cultivation where they feel genetically compelled to grow things. . It might be expressed in a tomato plant in a pot on an apartment terrace or a fig tree that is so foreign to the region it's growing in that great efforts are spent protecting it from the harsh realities of not having it's roots buried in Italian soil but like a salmon returning to spawn we all want to grow things.

And it's never things like potatoes. It's the familiar things of our heritage: olives, lemons, the aforementioned figs and tomatoes.

The Cousin has taken this to a level that until he imagined it - no one though it possible. A Vineyard withing a tract development. All the convenience of modern suburban living: local supermarkets and dry cleaning with the ability to grow grapes. Genius really.

And of course such obsessions, no matter how culturally inbred, can't end in just wine grapes. There are lemon trees in pots for the sole purpose of making homemade limoncello, chestnut trees producing nuts for roasting in the fall and if you've gone that far how can you not have olives.

In Italian American-ism, he wins. He's an Italian-American Eagle Scout and has earned all the required badges that such an honor demands.

Well he was winning until we met the Canadian cugini that has a fig tree in a sun room with a removable  roof but that's another story for another day.

After a nice visit with the Cousin and his wife it was time to head. home.

As we pulled up one of youngest son's friends pulled up with a couple of London Broils. Now in their fifth college summer, the boys were planning a get together with with local friends but now it looked like only the two of them were down for the party.

The four of us decided to have a fourth on our own and grill one of the steaks but then 4 turned into 7 when texts started flying about and some friends of ours decided to join us.

We had a nice dinner together, surprised by how the boys had really grown up and now were joining us for boring adult things. The Adults had dessert while young men retreated to the garage for some Intellivision and the older folks made plans for fireworks.

We all agreed that driving to the next town over and being locked into a high school parking lot for two hours while traffic slowly drained away like last year was NOT what we wanted to do. The fireworks at the riverfront sounded as equally grid-locked and so we decided on Collingswood.

Collingswood is a just barely outside Camden community known for both it's proximity to Philly and it's liberal lifestyle. They hold fireworks every year and the last time I recall going, The Chancellor's best-friend who is among us this evening was pregnant with her now-sophomore-in-college daughter.  
A plan of attack was formed. We would come in behind the enemy from the Philly side were the access roads were wide, park remotely and walk towards the High School carrying our beach chairs. The post fireworks plan was to to walk outside the grid-lock zone to the car in the lot, drive and turn onto wide access road and hightail it out of there.

We sat in a large field full of locals and discovered that we had awkwardly chosen four chairs, all somehow of different heights. One low to the ground, One half way and two full height. We sat and all put our faces into out phones. Four heights, four faces glowing from the reflected LED light.

Why did we drive all this way, hike with equipment 4 blocks  and then just do what we could have done at home, I have no idea but the objective now was to get enough internet bandwidth to tell others what a great time we were having and post pictures proving it.

The fireworks started on time and lasted a full half hour but all decided that we missed having the usual soundtrack of "Little Pink Houses", "Born in the USA" and "Philadelphia Freedom" blaring from loud speakers.

We took pictures that were immediately uploaded to the "cloud".  These are the pictures that our children would need to rummage through and decide what was worth keeping and what to throw out after we were dead and gone like the Uncle.

The exit plan worked perfectly with the added advantage of a traffic light to our left putting the pick on on-coming traffic so we could slip right on out.