Photography Travel

San Antonio

I left San Diego at a reasonable time Christmas day and ran into the storm in the hills that ended up causing the southern California mud slides. Along the way I could see the extensive fire damage, so am not surprised at the slides. Visibility was extremely poor, but aside from the heart stopping moment rounding a corner and coming up on a car stopped dead in the freeway lane, no problems.

In fact weather Thursday and Friday was beautiful, as I made my way first to Tucson, and then the long, long trip to San Antonio.

I put my faith in digital magic on this trip, using Mapquest to get directions to all the places to stay, and using Hotwire to find the places. Thursday’s was a lovely one bedroom suite in Tucson, with a courtyard filled with palm and orange trees. Since I put a moratorium on tree photos for the nonce, you will not be treated with a photo of the palms, but I will share a photo of the view from my room’s balcony.


Friday, I read the Mapquest directions too literally and ended up somewhere past San Antonio. Thanks to two incredibly kind people I met up with at a small store I found, I was able to make my way back to the hotel with no problems, and had a lovely chat in the bargain. Social software is good, but only if there’s kind people to help you when you fall through the gaps between the bytes.

I am staying a couple of days at this incredibly funky place right next to Riverwalk, Tower of the Americas, and the Alamo: the Fairmont. It’s a 37 room historic hotel that’s been modernized, sort of. I have a one bedroom suite on the first floor facing on the ancient courtyard, with lovely, huge windows covered with antique wooden blinds in the living room and bedroom. Part of the furniture is modern, including one of those famous office chairs that cost a fortune, but the rest — mainly tables and side chairs — is old. Ceilings are 16 feet tall with wooden trim around everything; there’s a slightly musty smell in living room, a large marble bathroom with a scale, of all things, big bedroom with very comfy bed you can sink into, and I’m not sure how the heat works — but there’s a broadband connection skillfully threaded through the base of the antique lamp table. This is in addition to the wireless internet access in all of the common areas, including the little French courtyard.


It’s the combination of old and new that adds to the funk of the building. Not only that, but the place has a history. It was built in 1906 to be a railroad hotel. In 1985 Wyndham had the entire structure jacked up on wheels and moved several blocks over a period of 6 days, giving the hotel the Guinness Record for largest structure ever moved — all 3.2 million pounds of it.

The staff, like so many other people I’m finding in San Antonio are genuinely friendly and welcoming. I think I love it — the hotel and the city.

(The hotel is also extremely romantic, and my suite is much too large for one — something to keep in mind if you’re thinking of treating your significant other to a weekend in San Antonio; just make sure you can live with that combination of old and new — it is very different.)

This trip along I8 and I10 (or HI10 as they call it here in SA), was my Christmas gift to myself. I10 in particular is called the ‘lost interstate’ because it’s very isolated. What a joy to get away from the traffic and stress in California and to spend two days in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas desert and praire. Contrary to popular opinion, the desert country of these states is not plain and dull, but is, instead, beautiful in its austerity.


However, cutting the trip one day short and taking a direct route home to St. Louis tomorrow, rather than the roundabout ride through Baton Rouge. I’ve driven over 4000 miles in the last week, and I’m ready for home. For today, it’s the Riverwalk and the Alamo.

Just Shelley

Houses Dark and Shuttered

Out on errands tonight I noticed how few homes decorated for Christmas this year. Last year at this time, you would know you were in the midst of a town that took Christmas seriously. This year, most of the homes seem dark and shuttered.

Rather than going straight home after shopping I decided to visit some of the neighborhoods I know to be good Christmas decorators, looking for a little Christmas color.

Several families in St. Louis have members who are serving overseas, some in Iraq, others in Afghanistan. There is usually a story in the news once per week or so about another Missouri or Kansas or Iowa or Kentucky youth killed overseas and honored with a military funeral.

One of the neighborhoods on the other side of the Seminary from us is an old established neighborhood, filled for the most part with working families who are moderately comfortable income-wise. Most also have kids and this is a prime incentive to decorate—for the children, if no one else.

But I would go for blocks with at most a small strand of lights around a bush here and there, some lights around the roofs. Passing tree lots along the way, I was surprised at how full they were. A week before Christmas, they should be half empty.

Missouri and Kansas layoff rates have been less in 2003 than in 2002 — only 12 mass layoffs this year compared to 24 mass layoffs last year. The report is that the unemployment claims are down, too.

But then, the joke goes, 50,000 people have left the area in the last year.

I went to the library to re-check out some books I’ve had for a long time — Let Us Now Praise Famous Men among them, and until someone reserves it from the Stacks, I’ll just keep it. It’s not in general circulation anyway, only available to those people who specifically request it. I’m not depriving a casual wanderer through the aisles.

Across the street I was attracted by a bit of bright color. It was the house with the lady that has three dogs, all of whom bark at one when one goes to the library. All of whom sound fierce, but are friendly buggers; except on Friday, which is bath day.

I think I spend a lot of time at the Library.

Today’s newspaper headline read that the President’s approval rating is at a six-month high. This following on weeks of petty, back-handed squabbling among the Democratic candidates that more closely resembles a pack of junk yard dogs fighting over a bone that’s been picked too clean in previous fights.

One block did have three homes, one after the other, quite nicely decorated and I stopped in the street to appreciate the color and the light against the darkness.

In times past, though, the effort on these three homes would barely have rated a second look. This year, they rated a good long stare. When I saw the headlights of another car in my rearview mirror, I reluctantly moved along; then I noticed that the driver of the other car also stopped in front of the three houses.

When I visited my father last week, I asked him what happened with his bird, Mrs. Murgatroid. He didn’t remember ever having a bird, and became confused at the question. I asked my brother about the bird and he said that before Dad moved in with him, he’d let the bird out of the cage and it flew out the door.

Now, he doesn’t remember a bird he had for twenty years. But he does remember me — he calls me Rae. That’s my mother’s name.

My father served in World War II, then as a State Patrolman for twenty years, followed by being an advisor for the military police in Vietnam, and finally an investigator for Welfare fraud. He was injured in war, had best friends killed in the line of duty, and was poisoned by Agent Orange, suffering cancer after cancer — and he doesn’t have enough money to cover the cost of assisted living so he lives with my brother. My brother is afraid to leave him alone because he forgets things, like turning off burners.

I picked up one prescription for my Dad while I was there. It cost $127.00. He has six of these that need filling every month, and his supplemental medical insurance plan was just cancelled because the “Prescription costs were too high”.

Okay, I was now very determined to find some serious Christmas action, so I pulled out the big guns, driving over to Webster Groves. This college town has Money — if they didn’t have a load of lights, no one would.

Lights I found, but they were subdued: mainly some white lights around the eaves, a few around the bushes by the front door. Elegant little expensive wreathes with big red bows covered the doors and everything was tasteful and restrained on the big white houses with the Mercedes and Audi cars out front.

The little kid in me doesn’t like tasteful and restrained. I want gaudy and blinking and mismatched and yes, even cheesy cardboard cutouts in the yard. This is what I grew up with, where we would have a tradition every year of going for a ride to look at the lights and then come home to have cocoa and pretty decorated sugar cookies.

Where are the young and young at heart?

A very big financial corporation with offices in St. Louis sent out a company memo to its employees. ‘Great news’, it read. ‘This year was the best ever for the company!’

The company then gave the employees, those not impacted by the wholesale move of the company’s call center to India, a $50.00 gift certificate to local grocery stores, and a 2% raise for the year.

The Cost of Living increase nationally for 2003 was 3%.

I stopped by the drugstore on the way back home. Coming out, I put a dollar in the bell ringer’s bright red pail.

“I used to know a bell ringer that would get so cold, he’d hold the bell between his teeth”, he said.

I stopped, surprised, because the bell ringers normally only say Thank You and Merry Christmas.

“Yes,” he continued. “I can’t remember his name, but his face sure rings a bell.”

He then gave me a huge smile, winked, and said “Merry Christmas!”

I love the people of this country.

Merry Christmas, and see you when your journey meets up with mine, again, underneath the mistletoe.

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Semantics Specs

RDF Specifications Recommended

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

W3C is pleased to announce the advancement of the Resource Description Framework (RDF) to Proposed Recommendation.

Relieved more like it as these long awaited specifications finally reach the “proposed recommended” state, one short step before becoming formal recommendations.

These documents (RDF/XML Syntax Specification, RDF Vocabulary Description Language 1.0RDF SemanticsRDF PrimerRDF Test Cases, and RDF: Concepts and Abstract Syntax) represent a great deal of time and effort on the part of the RDF working group members, who are to be congratulated in finishing this important milestone.

In addition to the RDF documents, the OWL Web Ontology Language also made proposed recommendation status. Someone at the W3C must have said: let’s get this show on the road, children.

Semantic Web, or should I say, semantic web, here we come.

(Thanks to Dave Beckett and Danny Ayers for heads up.)


Semantic web extreme goodness

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I had to add a whole new category just to reference these two resources.

First, an excellent summary of the recent semantic web discussions, annotated even, can be found at Themes and Metaphors in the Semantic Web. Thanks to Chris for pointing it out or I would have missed it.

What I like about it is the way it personalizes the discussion, which can’t help but make it more ‘meaningful’, pun not intended. Comments are here.

Secondly, a new weblogger has joined the semantic web effort at a blog called Big Fractal Tangle. Timothy Falconer is off to a good start with:


Before the Semantic Web can come close to delivering on its promise, we need to find ways to convince non-technical types into wanting to think abstractly. Academics, developers, and businessfolk are unusually organized compared to “the rest of us,” which is why this may be hard to see at first. Hell, forget annotation. We’ve got to find compelling and obvious reasons for them to want to use metadata.


Saying that the web will never be more intelligent than it is today is the height of arrogance. This is no different than saying that because we can’t create it today, or today’s dreamers can’t dream it today, or it can’t be touched and has no physical manifestations today, it can never happen. If we believed this in other science, we not only wouldn’t be on the moon, we wouldn’t be on this continent.

Having said this, however, the only way we’re going to convince grandma or Uncle Joe to use meta-data is for us to listen to what they want and need and then give it to them, slipping meta-data in through the seams. May not win a Nobel, but may give us the semantic web.


Unix Power Tools in Japanese

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

The Unix Power Tools 3rd edition book I helped organize and co-author for O’Reilly was just published in Japanese, in a form of writing I believe is called Kanji but I’m not an expert in Japanese.


Previously, I’ve had books published in Russian (Dynamic HTML) and Spanish as well as Portuguese and I believe German (Developing ASP Components), but this is the first book in Japanese, and I’m very pleased with it.


Japanese writing is so very pretty, but it’s most fascinating seeing the mix of English and Japanese when a phrase is incountered that has no Kanji equivalent. Technical books must play absolute havoc in this regard.

My appreciations to the O’Reilly office in Japan for sending me my own copy of the book.