Who Thought Blinking Windfarms was a Good Idea?

One night, a few weeks ago, I was driving west on I86 near American Falls when I spotted a long string of blinking red lights. The lights stretched over a large arc of the horizon. My first thought was “Jesus H. Christ now what?” As an amateur astronomer, I have climbed mountains to get away from light pollution. Now some jackwagon was ruining an entire rural horizon with a goddamn string of synchronized windfarm lights.

May I ask why?

Windfarms blink at night to warn planes they’re flying to low. Please! The towers are well under 100 meters. If you are flying a plane below 100 meters in mountainous locales like Idaho you have far more serious problems than running into wind turbines. This is another example of stupid regulation. There is absolutely no good reason for lighting up entire landscapes. It wrecks the view, distracts drivers, (cars on I86 were slowing down to get a better view), wastes energy, rapes the night sky, and reminds everyone what an environmental tax-subsidized eyesore windfarms are. Don’t even think of disagreeing. When was the last time you looked at a landscape littered with wind turbines and thought, “This is so much better than it was before.”

Yes, I know windfarms are saving us from global warming. If you believe that you are probably exactly the type of person that signed off on ruining an entire county’s nighttime view with goddamn blinking windfarms.

The Return of the Prodigal Blogger

It’s been ages since my last blog post. Yes, I’ve been a very, very bad blogger. Lesser men would throw themselves on the metaphorical feet of their readers and beg for forgiveness but if you’re expecting apologies you don’t know me! I write for myself; if you choose to read my ramblings, well that’s on you.

Since my last entry I have:

  1. Retired. I finally pulled the plug on being a so-called productive member of society. Now I’m an old Social Security draining parasite. Since I no longer pay net taxes I am effectively dead to the state and they would love it if I was actually dead. Dead people are easier to finance. Unfortunately, I’ve always been on to the deep state and my new mission in life is to claw back every single tax dollar I ever paid with butt loads of interest. When I snuff off this mortal coil I am going stick you with a giant uncollectable I OWE FUCKING YOU! If you create financially unsustainable systems that encourage abuse, well guess what, you’re going to get abused. God, I’m loving being a bitter old man; it’s what I was born to be.
  2. Continued to pursue my hobbies, especially photography. This year (2019) I set the mini-goals of shooting, on average, one picture per day and scanning at least three hundred prints and slides. This may not sound like a lot but it takes me time to select the best images, process RAW files, restore film scans, edit or hack pictures, write captions and compute keywords.  I treat every uploaded image as a milliblogging opportunity.  Some of my image captions are longer than some of my blog posts.
  3. Taken on some new family responsibilities and obligations.
  4. Taken some trips.
  5. Worked on various personal software projects.

Arthur C. Clarke once remarked that only unimaginative people get bored. I’ve always had something on my mind and I’ve always lived in my head. This has always been my problem and my strength. With retirement, I am casting off my shriveled shackles of pretense. I’m not even going to pretend to care about other people’s problems. I will think about what I find fascinating and do what I find worthwhile.

Call it retirement privilege snowflakes!

Now get back to work and pay your taxes you have old parasites to support.

Still Totally Awesome

The total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, was my fourth complete solar eclipse. I’ve seen two annular eclipses, 1994 and 2012, and two total eclipses, 2001 and 2017. Annular eclipses, or rings of fire, are worthy spectacles but nothing compares to a total solar eclipse. Some things have to be experienced to be fully appreciated. Unless you have stood under the Moon’s shadow you don’t really know what it’s like. Pictures and recordings all miss the mark. Maybe one day, when virtual reality directly hooks into all our senses, it may be possible to record totality but until then you have to get under the Moon’s shadow and, this is absolutely crucial, only totality counts!

Here in the Boise Idaho area, many people decided 99% was good enough. This is not even wrong! The August 21st eclipse took place right in the middle of Western Idaho State Fair and like all make a buck opportunists the fair promoted an “enjoy the eclipse with us event.” There was only one problem: Boise wasn’t in the totality zone so advertising dollars were spent reassuring fair-goers that 99% was close enough; that a measly 1% difference was no big deal; that it wasn’t worth refraining from shoveling junk food down your obese pie-hole on the overpriced midway for a few hours. Cosmic spectacles cannot be allowed to suppress the bottom line.

Fortunately, I knew better. The difference between 99% and 100% is vast. Solar eclipse awesomeness is not linear! It’s actually more like a logarithmic step function with a really big step at totality. XKCD accurately summarized this with his with recent eclipse cartoon. He correctly notes that total solar eclipses are off the scale.

XKCD accurately notes that total solar eclipse “coolness” is off the scale. Totality in on an entirely different plane than partial or annular eclipses.

There was no way I was going to miss totality, especially when it was in my backyard, so we got up at 4:00 am on the 21st and headed east to Mackay Idaho. I’d already driven around southern Idaho and Oregon scouting eclipse watching locations. My preferred location was on Sunset Peak in the Lost River mountain range of Idaho. Unfortunately, Sunset Peak required that we climb the mountain the night before, camp out near the summit, and then wait for the eclipse the next morning. It would have been cool. Sunset Peak is slightly over 3,050 meters with nice views to the west and east. It would have been possible to watch the Moon’s shadow race over the Boise and Sawtooth mountains, blacking out one peak after another. I was all ready to pack up and go but my wife no longer camps out in tents. This is a problem I am still working on.

With the mountain summit vetoed we checked out the Snake River Valley near Huntington Oregon and Stanley Idaho. Both locations are very scenic but both required traversing easily congested roads. To ensure totality we would have had to go the night before. So we were right back to camping in tents. My third option Mackay Idaho was a nice mixture of, easily reached on good roads, large enough to find parking on public lands, and far enough out-of-the-way to avoid big crowds.

Mackay is about four hours from Meridian. To make it before first contact, shortly after 10:00 am local time, and to miss projected heavy traffic, we started at 4:00 am. In retrospect, we could have left later. Traffic was light on I84 and almost nonexistent on Idaho highway 20. We hardly saw another car until Highway 20 crossed the road to Sun Valley. Sun Valley was in the totality zone but it was too far from the center line for me. Leaving early paid off when we reached Craters of the Moon: a smoke reddened Sun was creeping over the eastern horizon and illuminating the black volcanic flows.

We left Meridian at 4:00 am and headed east to Mackay Idaho to see the eclipse. On the way we caught the Sun rising over the Craters of the Moon. It was a good start to eclipse day.

Turning north at Arco Idaho we headed north to Mackay. There was more smoke in the air than I would have liked. The further north we went the thicker the smoke got. When we reached Mackay you could smell the smoke. Mackay sits in a valley. Details on mountains to the east and west were obscured by smoke but the sky was completely clear of clouds and at totality the sun would be high overhead. I worried about smoke’s impact on the corona but I cheered myself up with the thought that sunblock cream wouldn’t be necessary.

Getting ready for totality. This shot shows how much forest fire smoke was in the air. The mountains of the Lost River Range are almost completely obscured in the background. The smoke probably reduced our view of the corona at totality but it increased the darkness and helped cast a deep orange red 360-degree dusk.

Being two hours early Mali decided to nap in the car while I walked around Mackay taking pictures. Main Street was blocked off and street vendors were setting up tented stalls and big meat smokers. Others were busy selling souvenirs. Most of the stores were closed. The eclipse was a good excuse for a holiday. I waited in a donut line and chatted with other eclipse tourists. One Maryland couple had just arrived in a rented car from Salt Lake City. A few Italians had come all the way from Naples. I saw lots of Utah, California, Alberta and Nevada license plates. Total solar eclipses gather the multitudes.

Mackay blocked off Main Street for anticipated eclipse crowds. The number of people that showed up underwhelmed. The only eclipse complaints I am aware of were made by businesses hoping to cash in on massive crowds. Crowds were down over the entire country. Too many people were scared away by horror stories about traffic and the rest bought the malarkey that 99% coverage is close enough to 100%. Eclipses are not tests. That last 1% obscures a vast unfathomable difference.

After checking out downtown Mackay I drifted back to the Centennial Rest Stop where Spanish science students were setting up equipment to observe the eclipse. They had come all the way from Spain to watch the eclipse in tiny Mackay Idaho. The moon’s shadow turns even the most unlikely places into tourist attractions. The scientific utility of total solar eclipses in the 21st century is not what it used to be but eclipses do offer great excuses for globe trekking and the re-enactment of historical experiments. The Spaniards were busy preparing weather balloons and getting ready to photograph the corona. They were also making objective lens solar filters for people who brought binoculars and telephoto lens. I considered having some made for my 16×70 astronomical binoculars but decided against it. Instead, I went back to our car, woke up Mali, and then started hauling eclipsing paraphernalia to the viewing area. Unlike many present, we didn’t have a lot of gear: just binoculars, three-legged folding stools, cell phones, cameras, and eclipse shades. Shortly after setting up our stools the Spanish students started counting down to first contact. Shortly after 10:00 am the eclipse started.

A group of science students came all the way from Spain to watch the eclipse in Mackay Idaho. They brought a collection of telescopes, sun filters, and weather balloons. They released a balloon just before the eclipse, presumably to measure the eclipse induced temperature drop which was considerable. Mackay’s elevation is almost 1800 meters. When the Sun goes down the temperature drops. The wind was blowing from the north and their balloon took off towards the south. They probably had a little road trip to recover it.

At first, people were excited to see the Moon slowly nibble at the Sun’s disk but they quickly quieted down. I got the impression that many were questioning the so-called awesomeness of solar eclipses. It’s just a boring black cookie-bite Sun. What’s the big deal? I think many were also surprised by how long it took for the Moon to cover the sun. I’d seen this phase before so I wandered around the crowd taking pictures while the Moon slowly covered the sun.

Fifteen minutes before totality the changing light was getting hard to ignore. The human eye adapts logarithmically to changing light levels. At this point in the eclipse more than 90% of the sun was covered, dropping light levels by a factor of ten, but it was only in the last five minutes that it became obvious that it was getting dark. I spotted a flock of pigeons gathering on the fences nearby. They were disturbed by the change in routine. As totality approached people started counting down. I peeled off my eclipse shades and glanced directly at the waning light. As the sun squeezed down to a pinhole of brilliant light I saw dazzling rainbow halos around the sun. I’m developing cataracts. When I stare into bright point sources I see rainbow halos. I had never looked at a point source as bright as the Sun and the effect was both beautiful and alarming. I will have to do something about my cataracts in a few years.

At totality, the blasé crowd erupted. Many started squealing, pointing, and yelling. Mali pointed to a flock of pigeons, the same flock I had spotted on the fence before, tearing through the air. I briefly looked all around to see the 360-degree sunset. I was expecting a deep orange dusk all around up but it failed to appear. We were too close to the mountains. Then I pointed my 16×70 binoculars at the eclipsed sun. Three flares were visible and the corona’s filaments were as beautiful as ever. The corona was not as extensive as the 2001 eclipse and the core region near the sun seemed brighter. I looked around for planets and stars. Venus was easy. I was expecting to spot Mercury and Mars but I the only star I saw near the Sun I later identified as Regulus. I didn’t try to photograph my first total solar eclipse but near the end of totality I grabbed my DSLR and fired off a few 300mm telephoto shots just to see what might come up.

I didn’t try and photograph my first total solar eclipse but this time I fired off a few 300mm handheld telephoto shots just to see what might come up. The result was better than I expected.

Then, as suddenly as it started, the Sun burst forth. One bystander yelled, “Do it again!” The small crowd kept buzzing as more of the Sun was exposed. The consensus was, “Yeah, total solar eclipses are freaking awesome and totality is totally worth seeing.” Later, while standing in line to view the Sun and receding Moon through a Hydrogen Alpha filtered telescope, I overheard a fellow in the crowd say, “I’d read about shadow chasers, people who go all over the world to see total eclipses, I thought that was crazy, until today!”

The next total solar eclipse is in 2019. The greatest eclipse is in the Pacific, later the shadow runs over parts of Chile and Argentina. I’ve always wanted to visit the large observatories in Chile and view the southern sky from the super dark high elevation skies of the Atacama. This with totality is close to amateur astronomer heaven.

My Final Facebook Fuckoff

It’s the start of a new year and much has changed. This week we moved into a new house. Our move has been an eight month and four state ordeal but I am hoping we will be here for some time. I am tired of moving and our frequent moves are confusing our self-appointed digital overlords. This afternoon, after unpacking and assembling the table I am now writing on, I tried to login to Facebook using a borrowed library hotspot. The Boise Library consortium is now lending out Internet Hotspot devices. My wife put one on hold about a month ago and she got an email the other day that the device was ready to be picked up at the Eagle branch. It will be a week or two before our local broadband supplier can wire up our new house so the hotspot perfectly hit our Internet dead spot. We picked it up and I’m using it now.

Getting back to Facebook. My login attempt failed. Facebook detected yet another change in my connection IP address and asked me to verify my account. I’ve done this before. I was expecting a text or reset email but no, this time the bastards had the sheer unmitigated gall to ask for proper government ID. They want scans of driver’s licenses, passports, social security cards and so forth. This was the last straw. I couldn’t even login to delete my account so I sent this message to security@facebookmail.com.

Dear Security at Facebook,

It’s so good of you to ask if I was trying to access my account from a new IP.  Yes, that new login attempt was me. For reasons that do not concern you I move around a lot. It’s irritating that you track IPs and harass users when they go to another coffee shop or library.

This has happened in the past and I have jumped through your irritating hoops to reset the account. Prior to, today you did not ask for PROPER GOVERNMENT ID! There is no fucking way in hell I will be uploading scans of driver’s licenses, passports, social security numbers, or any other form of official ID. It’s bad enough that proper authorities force us to use these documents but, the last time I looked Facebook is not an authority! We don’t have to show proper ID to vote in many states but apparently it’s required to browse your steaming pile of distracting rubbish.

me

My Facebook profile image. Apparently, it is no longer ok to use avatar images on Facebook. I started using this image a few years ago primarily to screw with their facial recognition programs. I will not aid and abet Facebook user profiling. I am not hiding you can browse scores of my pictures by clicking on the gorrilla. Of course, these images are not under the legal purview of Facebook so they cannot legally use them for profiles.

I have always hated Facebook and the only reason I have maintained my tiny footprint in your sewer is to catch a little gossip from real friends and family members. I have done my best to keep my friend list short, my security options on maximum, and my profile information scant and useless. I know you are a giant data mining operation. You entice idiots with cat videos then quietly monitor their mostly boring and pointless lives with the sole aim of selling this information to third parties. Well, count me out! This will be the last byte stream from moi. If I could login I would delete my account but I since I will not change my lovely gorilla profile picture or give proper ID I will have to simply orphan my account. I have already deleted my phone app and purged my browsers of your vile links. I will never login to Facebook again.

I always knew this day was coming. I had long ago decided to drop Facebook when a few family members tired of your trash. I don’t waste a lot of time on Facebook, but be honest, even you know it’s nothing but a complete waste of time.

In this case, parting is not sweet sorrow, it’s like being released from an insane asylum. 

Anonymously yours 
John D. Baker

A Bloggy Christmas Letter

It’s been a year of blogging badly so I might as well end it with a Christmas letter. I won’t excuse my absence from these bloggy pages; I have repeatedly warned my readers that I blow hot and cold. I am either all in or all out. For most of 2016 blogging has been off the agenda.

In April, I traded my secure well-paying job in St. Louis Missouri for a risky venture in Santa Fe New Mexico. It was a crazy move. The money was about the same, but everything else, benefits, long-term prospects, working conditions, and career opportunities were worse. I didn’t care. I was coming up on six years in St. Louis: my longest stretch in any job, and I was looking for any opportunity to move.

I’ve changed jobs a lot over my long so-called career. I’ve left voluntarily, I’ve been downsized, and I’ve been fired. Being fired is the most dramatic and educational of the three. I was fortunate to be fired from my first “serious” job. I was young, dumb, fearful, and easily taken advantage of. Getting fired fixed all that. You don’t understand the working world until you’ve been fired. I’d recommend it for everyone. Getting fired provides lifetime immunity to one of mankind’s most crippling conditions: fear of change. I don’t fear change; I seek it out. Moving to New Mexico was a change for change’s sake. The only thing unusual about this move was a fixed destination.

In the past, I went where the money was. This time my wife was largely responsible for the location. She was tired of apartment living in St. Louis. We considered buying a house in the area but we didn’t view St. Louis as “home.” I wanted to live somewhere in the affordable mountain west and she wanted somewhere warm. Santa Fe was warm, mountainous, and, if my new job went well, just barely affordable. So we sold off our bags, packed up my photography gear, and moved west.

Things did not work out. My new job imploded a week before closing on the house we were building. For months we had watched the construction and we were just about to move in when the deal collapsed. I almost enjoyed the predicament. On my birthday, I found myself, unemployed, homeless and uninsured, but at least I had my health! Never undervalue your health.

Resting on a petrified stump on the trail. Old farts require more rest stops on the way up. I am so glad that trail running was not a thing when I was young. I didn’t see any trail runners in Yellowstone today. The presence of bears, wolves and mountain lions, all of which can run trails a lot faster than millennial showoffs, puts the brakes on such behavior.

Resting on a petrified stump on the trail. Old farts require more rest stops on the way up. I am so glad that trail running was not a thing when I was young. I didn’t see any trail runners in Yellowstone today. The presence of bears, wolves and mountain lions, all of which can run trails a lot faster than millennial showoffs, puts the brakes on such behavior.

We scrambled and quickly moved to Bozeman Montana to stay with my father. Since my mother’s death three years ago he has spent his summers in Bozeman alone. He was glad to have some company and we were glad to have a place to stay while I resumed the chore of looking for another job. I didn’t mind our summer in Bozeman. We hiked a lot, visited Yellowstone a few times, drove up to Glacier National Park, visited Missoula and Butte, and took lots of pictures. I also spent many hours scanning, restoring, and annotating old family slides. I found some real gems like this shot of my mother as a young teenager with baby “Tommy.”

Evelyn, my mother as a teenager, holding baby Tommy. I have no idea who baby Tommy is but I am pleased with the restoration of this old slide of Hazel’s. I am generally dissatisfied with most of my restoration work but every now and then you come close to the image in your head.

Evelyn, my mother as a teenager, holding baby Tommy. I have no idea who baby Tommy is but I am pleased with the restoration of this old slide of Hazel’s. I am generally dissatisfied with most of my restoration work but every now and then you come close to the image in your head.

It took me a few months to find another job because I refused to consider contracting or benefit free employers. Programming jobs are plentiful but programming jobs with stable employers that offer good benefits are not as plentiful as they used to be. Programming’s halcyon days are over. Modern trends are all negative and I fear that Trump will not make programming great again. In thirty years AI systems will replace all but the most brilliant and creative of programmers. Corporate IT drones, like moi, will join the dinosaurs.

Fortunately, being an old fart, I no longer care about long-term trends. I will be comfortably dead before global warming melts the ice caps and drowns coastal cities. I will also be retired and parasitically feasting on a plethora of millennial and gen-X funded social security programs when AIs decimate the ranks of ordinary programmers. My only concerns are short term. So I was pleased to find a good, benefit endowed, job in Meridian Idaho. Meridian is a growing suburb of Boise. Meridian is not as attractive as Santa Fe but the beauty of Idaho’s landscape matches New Mexico’s. Idaho is actually more mountainous than New Mexico and housing is more affordable. The funds we were about to plow into a New Mexico house will instead buy a larger fraction of a larger house in Idaho. It’s not the mountain state we aimed for but the skiing is better, (it’s a winter freaking wonderland outside as I write), plus the Pacific coast and Yellowstone are both within an easy drive. It will do for now.

In the coming year, I will strive to blog more often. I see many stark raving diatribes in your future, but as Hillary voters just painfully discovered,1 the worm does not always turn as expected.


  1. It was tempting to use the word “learned” but deplorables of the left have no need of learning; they already know it all?

Milliblog: Photo Captions

This blog is still alive and kicking. I post when I post. Currently, my energies are deployed on other fronts. If you absolutely must get your Analyze the Data not the Drivel fix look over my extensive millibloggy photo captions.  Here’s a typical example:

The “miraculous staircase” in the Loretto Chapel. After paying your three dollar entrance fee you can enter the chapel and see the staircase. When I was there people were milling around while a recorded message told the breathless story of the miraculous staircase. The story goes something like this. The chapel needed a staircase. Some nuns prayed to the sky fairy of carpenters and low and behold a carpenter showed up with a bag of simple tools. Over the next month this remarkably skilled carpenter fashioned this beautiful wood staircase using only his simple tools. Apparently he constructed the staircase from the floor to the upper level without central supports. Even now the staircase lacks the standard central beam of spiral staircases. The masses were amazed! How could the staircase stand without a central support? Surely this is the work of the divine. This is what passes for a miracle among sky fairy believers. It’s the same type of magical thinking that invokes aliens to explain the pyramids. Just maybe the carpenter knew what he was doing and had the technique to pull it off. Occam’s razor people: It cuts deeply.

The “miraculous staircase” in Santa Fe’s Loretto Chapel. After paying your three dollar entrance fee you can enter the chapel and see the staircase. When I was there people were milling around while a recorded message told the breathless story of the miraculous staircase. The story goes something like this. The chapel needed a staircase.  So some nuns prayed to the sky fairy of carpenters and low and behold a carpenter showed up with a bag of simple tools. Over the next month this remarkably skilled carpenter fashioned this beautiful wood staircase using only his simple tools. Apparently he constructed the staircase from the floor to the upper level without central supports. Even now the staircase lacks the standard central beam of spiral staircases. The masses were amazed! How could the staircase stand without a central support? Surely this is the work of the divine. This is what passes for a miracle among sky fairy believers. It’s the same type of magical thinking that invokes aliens to explain the pyramids. Just maybe the carpenter knew what he was doing and had the technique to pull it off. Occam’s razor people: it cuts deep.

The Santa Fe Trail

In the last ten years, we’ve moved five times.1 In a few days, I will increment that count. We are moving to Santa Fe New Mexico. Our previous perambulations were driven by work. We went where the jobs were and they were all over.

Because I have spent a lifetime moving for work I have no patience or sympathy for people who insist on staying put.

“I can’t leave here because … blah, blah, blah,” said every lazy whiner ever.

If you have to move to find a job get off your fat ass and move. Humans evolved on the move. Our distant ancestors trekked great distances foraging and hunting. We are happiest when moving. Putting down roots is for plants, not people. I’ll eventually settle down when I’m dead. Until then I am on the move.

Moving is old hat; what’s different this time is picking a place first. For over twenty-five years I’ve been a wandering software developer. This is beyond idiotic. The most portable stuff in the world is software. The internet makes it possible to create software anywhere and deploy it everywhere almost cost-free. There’s no need to pile programmers into pits to extract bits. Theoretically, all software developers could work remotely, but in case you haven’t noticed, we don’t live a theoretical world.

It’s easier for management to impose discipline and administer idiocies like SOX compliance if uppity developers are in the same room. Remote discipline is too easily mitigated with the mute button meaning management must come up with good ideas to herd their far-flung cats. Some enlightened outfits successfully manage productive remote developers but frankly most are struggling or openly hostile to the idea.

When it first occurred to me, way back in the 1980s, that commuting to an actual office was unnecessary I thought that within a decade or two most software development organizations would embrace remote work. The cost savings and enhanced access to global talent seemed like total no-brainers. Well, for many reasons, some good, (like getting smart people together), and some stupid, (see SOX), the brave new world of ubiquitous remote workers remains an infuriating work in progress.

I expect this muddle to eventually resolve but in the meanwhile, I am no longer willing to abide locales that do not suit me. So, for this move, we picked a spot, Santa Fe, that mostly meets our esoteric geographic preferences and then started looking for a job. Santa Fe is a small city so it took a little longer to find a good job but this thing called the internet also simplifies job hunting.

I’ve enjoyed my Saint Louis sojourn but like many Missourians of the 19th century, it’s time to head down the Santa Fe Trail.

Casa Joma

We are building a little house in the hills near Santa Fe. We will have unimpeded views of the mountains to the north. The lack of street lights, combined with Santa Fe’s 2000 meter elevation, should make for decent stargazing.


  1. Frequent moves are a good way to dodge jury duty.