Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I like new technology a lot.  But at times it can really be annoying.  Like here on the Coral Princess for instance.  With great pride, Princess installed a brand new outdoor screen for movie watching out on the deck.
The downside of this piece of technological wizardry is of course, that there is no escape from the beast, or rather its massive sound system.  As you can see everybody is transfixed by the screen, showing a kids' movie by the way.  It's so damned intrusive!   So what to do?
Well, Princess has come up with a very nifty method to escape this intrusion and it's this -

Or to put it another way the notice board tells it more exactly -
Yes, once you pass through this little gate you enter a so-called sanctuary, where you can relax minus children and of course, the noise of the movie screen.  For a $20 fee of course. So that is the cost of silence.  Not a bad scheme for the owners of course.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Coral Princess - View

The Princess ships have cameras located on the foremasts and they relay the view from up front.  This is what the camera shows every five minutes up-loaded via satellite, if you're interested.  You can turn the TV on in all the cabins for this sight.

Monday, February 27, 2012


Not many days go by without my being really grateful for living in California.  It's been 30 years now and it still amazes me.  For instance, yesterday was my annual trip down to Palm Springs, and this is what the side of the road was like when I left Big Bear at 8:30 for the two-hour drive.

Not very nice, and particularly when you realize there was a good half-inch of ice underneath.  I could save the TV people a lot of money on their radar systems if they just called me in the winter and asked when I was planning to drive off the hill.

It's almost guaranteed!

But on the way down the hill I kept an eye on the temperature and watched it rise from about 28 to up in the mid-seventies.  As usual, I began to regret my woolen clothing and long pants.  Palm Springs beckoned,

Now we're talking!

I stopped just as soon as I reached the outskirts of the town and took this picture of an ordinary corner of a small housing complex.

But of course it isn't all like this.  Absent the Mexican gardeners, fertilizers and constant watering it soon would turn into what is usually opposite - scrub desert, which is not very attractive at all.

It always reminds me of the old joke where the vicar is returning from his Sunday service and sees Old Joe leaning on his garden gate.  He says to Old Joe: "We haven't seen you in church much these days, Joe."  To which the old man replied: "No, Vicar, I've been tending to my garden most weekends."  The Vicar looks around and says, "Ah yes, God does wonderful work doesn't he?"  The reply was a curt.  "I dunno, Vicar, He hadn't done much with the place before I got hold of it!"

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday's Column - Route 66

The original Route 66 goes through Victorville.  And in what used to be a roadhouse, now sits the Route 66 Museum.  It is crammed with memorabilia of the days of America's Mother Road.  In the back they have an old Ford, which thankfully has not been "restored" or made pretty.  It shows the condition it might well have been when it traveled the 2400 miles from Chicago to LA.  It also makes you realize how tough it was to do the journey way back when.  You can read the entire column at, provided of course, The Sun has it's **** together, which it hadn't last week!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Where did it all go wrong?

Maxim gun used by the Roal Navy
Lots of older people wonder where it all went wrong?  There is no doubt that society is going through some difficult changes, and things don't seem as settled as they once were.  Lots of us who lived through the era think the sixties "hippie" time was where we began to lose our thread a little.  But why was that the case?
During that time there was the invention of the pill and also the increase in spending power of youth which gave them a voice, there was also the great jump in universal communications with TV spreading the news.
But I believe there was one reason this huge change came about, and it is because we had lost the cream of a generation of leaders who had simply died on the fields of Flanders.  The total number of dead during this war was 10 million military, with another 5 million civilians killed
This generation of bright, young, courageous (mostly) men were literally wiped out on the battlefield of the First World War in the trenches, with poison gas and the alarming efficiency of the machine gun as invented by Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim in 1884.  The men were usually in their late teens and early twenties, and by the time 1960 rolled around they would have been in very senior leadership positions.  And on their way no doubt having shaped society.  Without them we lacked their vision and their courage.  It's just my idea.  What do you think?
This year on February 7, we lost the very last WWI veteran.  You might like to read about her.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Music Track - DPRK

A little different to the music I put on here every week.  This is via my friend Stan in England.  It's a guitar quintet of little North Korean kids.
Perhaps the were inspired by the Great Leader's demise!  Nonetheless it's 3:29's worth of fun.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Seven Wonders of the World - Powell

The first time I visited Lake Powell, the experience took my breath away.  An over-used expression but quite right in this case.  It truly is an incredible place.  It was "made" in 1963, with the building of the Glen Canyon Dam.  It took 17 years to reach its full height of water in June 1980, and the results are quite spectacular.  This photo shows the pink and beige rocks going straight down into the clear, blue, fresh water from the Colorado River.  You can also see the "bath ring" which shows the maximum level, which was once achieved again in 2000.  The level is dictated by the run off and also the amount of snow melt that flows into the Colorado.  As with us here in Big Bear, there is a constant fight against the infestation of the Zebra mussel, and inspections are carried out on all boats entering the 266 square miles of water.
I was lucky to spend two separate visits with some terrific male friends back in the 90's.  I hope to go back again before too long.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Favorite Book Number 9

This week we reach number nine on the list of favorite books.  It's a tough one and it was written in the 1930's by Aldous Huxley.  It's Brave New World and it paints a horrific picture of life in the future.  Here people are "made" in the laboratory and are given the designation of Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gama or at the bottom of the pile, Epsilon.  You wouldn't want to be one of those as they are assigned the very worst of tasks to keep this frightening society in place.
There are only a few Alpha's made to run everything, but in fact it's the computers that really do all the controlling.  With touch pads every few hundred yards, you are watched in your every movement.  With what we have going on with our computers it seems even more a possible reality as when it was written.  I've read it twice and found it most disturbing, but compelling.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Sponsor - Tean and Coffee Exchange

We have a new sponsor - the Tea and Coffee Exchange.  There is a hot link to their site on the right of the page.  They are brand new in Big Bear and we really needed a coffee shop at this end of the village.  Be sure to visit them when you come up.


I seem to have had elephants around me all my life. (Model ones that is!) My mother went to India when she was 19 and brought home a set of ebony ones with ivory tusks, which I used to play with when I was very young.  This little chap is only about an inch high and was a souvenir my grandfather brought home from one of his trips with the Royal Navy; it must be about 100 years old now.
The other evening we saw a TV program on elephants in Thailand.  It was about the last mahout there.  That's the name of a trainer.  He is trying to revitalize the Thai tradition of breeding and training elephants.  A thousand years ago they were used in battle and often a thousand of them would be used in a charge. It must have been quite a sight.  He was involved in a film by Oliver Stone, and had several dozen elephants at work.  During the filming the great Tsunami struck Phuket, and the elephants were used to help find missing people.  The mahout said they were as disturbed as the people by this work, but were indispensable, being far more sensitive than heavy equipment.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Winter - Video

As I've posted before, I don't like to go on about the weather much.  We all have it in some way, and mostly it causes us problems - unless you live in Marina Del Rey where the worst it can do is mess up your recently washed car!  Here is a video from Europe to let you know that things are - often a lot worse than where you live.
Just remember that ice is the great equaliser, as there's no defense against it.  If it's out there on the road,  best stay at home!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday's Column - Ontario

I'm not much of a shopper, but even for me, I've had occasions to visit the largest shopping mall in California.  It's the Ontario Mills and it didn't exist 20 years ago when I was first driving along the 10 Freeway.  Today, not only does it remain the biggest, but there are a number of satellite stores that have opened up around the actual mall.  This Sunday's column is about this huge complex and it shows that even in hard times, there seems an almost primeval desire to shop.  I must have missed out on that particular gene.  You can read the entire column - if the Sun is on the ball, of course at

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Growing up in Southern England I always seemed to be within sight of a horse chestnut tree.  Now these are not the trees that bear "the chestnuts roasting by an open fire" fame, but nonetheless very interesting nuts.  They are inedible for humans but perhaps they're OK for horses, I don't know.  They are big trees and in the early summer grow pink and white blossoms like little Christmas trees on every branch.  Eventually these fade, and pale green nuts grow, increasing in size throughout the summer.  In the autumn these nuts fall off and we boys would break them up to get to the kernel inside.  This would reveal our goal - the conker!
This is a conker I picked up on the 5th of October 2007, when I was in Cassiobury Park in the northern suburb of Watford.  I picked it up and kept it, carrying it through customs, no doubt in breach of some Department of Agriculture rule.  As boys we would collect these brown shiny nuts to play the traditional game of "conkers."  Here you would thread a string through the nut, knot it and then let it hang down about a foot while a similar nut would be struck against it.  The idea was to break the other boy's conker.  You would remember the number of conquests you had and call your conker by that: "It's a tenner!!"  All sorts of ideas would circulate about making your conker the hardest, from baking it to soaking it in vinegar.  I wonder if it's still played, or has it fallen victim to the ubiquitous video game?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Music Track - Elgar

This is a short piece by Elgar - the first movement of his Serenade for Strings.  Here it is played by some very young Russian musicians. It lasts about 4 1/2 minutes.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Seven Wonders of the World - Tokyo

Knowing I've been lucky enough to travel a lot in my life, my friend Paul in England, suggested I post my personal seven wonders of the world.  So here is the first one on my list.  They are not in any particular order as they are all wonderful.
I first went to Tokyo in 1976.  It was an amazing opportunity.  I followed up twice more and then didn't go back again until the '90's, when my son Michael went out to live there.

It truly is a vibrant place and particularly for someone who now lives in the silent mountains, where if the paper delivery man happens to pull into the drive at the crack of dawn, and his lights flash across the ceilings everyone wakes up.

Tokyo is full of energy, and light, and noise.  It's also full of Japanese with their own personal philosophy of bushido, which means honor, frugality and hard work.

The traffic is horrendous, but always orderly.  The restaurants are full and there are bars, which is more than can be said for the country areas of Japan where people don't go out for drinks.  That is where the frugality bit really begins to bite.

I've always been attracted to cities, but have never actually lived in one.  And if I had the chance to do so, I would certainly name Tokyo as one of the cities I'd like to spend some lengthy time in, as I've never quite understood the geography of the place.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Book Number Ten - Deighton

I struggled a little with this list as I've been actively been reading for over 65 years, so a lot of books have passed before my eyes.  In the end I decided on a book by Len Deighton called Bomber.  Now, normally Deighton is well known - and deservedly so - for his Cold War spy stories.  His hero is Bernard Samson as against George Smiley.  He is a little like John le Carre, but a bit faster and less atmospheric.  However, Bomber is a book about a bombing raid over Germany in WWII.  It opened my eyes to exactly what it was like to be in the pilot's seat, the gunner's seat and also what it was like on the ground.  It is full of amazing details and held my interest all the way through.  I read it around 1970 and I can still remember many of the facts he wrote about.  Bomber by Len Deighton comes in as Number Ten on the list of all time best books.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I think possessions mean less to one as one gets older.  The above was given to me in August 1939, as a Christening present.  The donor was a friend of my father, whom I only ever met once as an adult.  His name was Gordon, hence me having having the same name among mine.
We recently had the birth of a little boy not far from us, called Brennen Grant Miller.  I thought he might enjoy this pewter tankard, which has stayed with me all my life.  I hope it brings him happiness.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Future of Education

My friend, Kevin in the Marina, sent me this fascinating video about the future of education.  It's given by and Englishman and it's animated.  It's quite long but a different approach to a subject that affects us all.  Try and take the 11 minutes to watch it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday's Column - Lincoln

Today is the Birthday of President Abraham Lincoln, perhaps the greatest of all American presidents.  In the city of Redlands some 30 miles from here there is a shrine devoted to this icon of democracy.  It was donated to the city by a Englishman called Robert Watchorn, who went down the mines of Derbyshire when he was only 11.  Eventually with about $5 in his pocket he emigrated to America and became a very wealthy man.  He, like Lincoln, came from very humble beginnings and he became a student of the ex-president, who himself had never been further west than Council Bluffs in Iowa.  You can read the entire column as

Saturday, February 11, 2012


We have a number of bear carvers up here.  They take big trunks of trees and turn them into wonderful reproductions of wildlife.  Mostly there are a couple of types of carvings.  The whimsical ones like this -
And then there are the more anatomically correct ones like this -

Both of these stand well over six feet tall and they represent a lot of work for the carver.  They also sell for quite a bit of money.  Around $3500 a shot for one this size.
I was told years ago that in order to produce a sculpture all you have to do is imagine the figure you want to carve and then cut away the excess.  So that is what's going to happen to the head on this one - Easy!!!!!

There will be an article coming up soon in The Sun, so I'll not go on more about this subject.  Stay tuned!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Music Track - Bennett - Krall

"The Best is Yet to Come," are the words carved on Frank Sinatra's gravestone in Palm Springs.  Here it is sung by Tony Bennett and Diana Krall.  Prettty nice stuff -

Thursday, February 9, 2012


There seems to be some confusion in America about the relative sizes and hardness of baseballs and cricket balls.  I actually got into an argument once with a fellow, who told me that cricket balls were a lot bigger and also softer.  Well, here is the proof.  Cricket ball on the top - Baseball (actually a souvenir from the winning Dodgers World Series team for 1988!) on the bottom.  Not a lot of difference in size is there?  As for hardness, well the cricket ball is a little harder with its polished leather outer skin around a wooden core.  Also the seam is a lot more raised.

Unlike baseball where the balls are constantly being discarded due to marks from the ground, the cricket ball is used as long as possible.  In fact its condition dictates the type of bowler (pitcher) to be used.  Fast bowlers - up to 90 m.p.h. - use the shiny ball, and then the slow bowlers come on and spin it.  Always of course, off the ground - never directly at the batsman (batter) like in baseball.  I hope that clears up the confusion.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


We've come to the end of the Also Ran Movie list and as this weekly feature has been so popular - people come up to me in the supermarket - I thought I would begin to post a top ten of my favorite books.  I've been an avid reader my entire life - well ever since I was about five and learned to read comics when I had the measels; according to my mother, who had a hard time keeping up with my appetite
Firstly, I went to my usual source for a natty picture of books, and not being happy with what was on offer, I decided I would use the bookcase I have in my office.  Mostly it holds biographies, history and reference books.  The other ones are dotted around various shelves in the rest of the house.  So starting next week, I'll post a favorite book starting with number ten.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Well, the football season is over.  That's American Football for those of you only interested in "Footy!"
Now the referee has taken the ball off the field and we shall have to wait until mid-August to begin again.
We had the Super Bowl on Sunday and it was a good one.  I didn't have a dog in the race, as they say, being a Raiders and Cowboys fan, but the match was very good all the same.
From the start with the national anthem, and even the half-time show with Madonna it was an American spectacle that showed itself off to the best of all sides.
Both quarterbacks threw some fine passes and the game came down to the last five seconds - it was up in the air until then.
I have one complaint however and that is why do we start in mid-August and end in early February?  Once the Super Bowl is over we have nothing but basketball (Ugh!) until spring training begins with baseball in March.  Why not start in October and end in late March?
Come on People!!!!!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Minature Wonderland

If you've got five minutes to marvel at German engineering, this is worthwhile.  It was sent to me by two friends separately, Paul, in England and also Don in Orange County.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sunday's Column

OK I admit it.  Very often, my blog posts end up being written about in the longer format of my weekly columnn for The Sun.  This week's is a typical example as it's to do with my visit to Florida, to see my old friend Paul last December.  You can read the entire column as usual at
I'm always anxious to see the paper when it arrives on Sunday, as I'm never sure which picture my editor has picked out, nor do I know if he's hacked my copy to pieces.  Actually he's pretty good and I couldn't detect any changes to the piece I sent him.  He chose this photo of Sanibel Lighthouse as the main picture for the article, with a couple of smaller ones to shape it up.  In fact he usually passes my stuff off pretty well.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Back up

The other day I bought a back up device.  It was about $100 and is just a black box with a power input and a link to the computer.  I had reason to write here that I found the instructions were very hard to understand.  In fact I still can't fully figure out all the things it will do.

Naturally I bought it to back up my hard drive, but the number of variables available makes it hard to do the one thing I wanted to do - namely back up all the data I had.

Now I have done this most Mondays and it seems to perform OK, but I have another complaint.  I bought the device believing it to be up to date, but from about the third or fourth time I used it I get a message as soon as I boot up my computer in the morning "Would you like to download a new version?"  The answer is "No! I am happy with what I bought and I would like to use it, please go away!"  But there's no option for this!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Music Track - Bennet  This week is the first of two week's of Tony Bennet's duets with other famous singers.  Here he is with Sheryl Crowe singing "The Man I love."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Google Translator

I was sent a joke the other day.  Unfortunately it was in German.  As I explained to my friend I was given the choice of either German or Geography at school and chose the latter.  Therefore my German is at best extremely poor.  Nonetheless I enjoy languages and their amazing differences.  Living in America there is little chance for hearing different languages except Mexican Spanish from time to time and so I do miss that aspect of living so close to Europe. 
As for the joke, he told me to use the Google Translator of which I had no knowledge - or even its existence.  I pasted the joke in after selecting the language and hey presto, up came the English.  Incredible!
Some years ago I actually paid some fellow $5 to translate our old company's motto.  It turns out that he got it wrong.  He told me it was "omnes homini porci sunt - omnes vendatori mentiuntor!"  The correct translation is above, according to Google.

Oh, if you want to know what it means without going to Google Translator.  It's: All men are pigs - all salesmen lie!  I had to take a little license with the word salesmen as it seems in Roman times it didn't exist.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Also Ran Movie Number One

This is the final movie selection on the Also Ran list as it is number one.  It has to be Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb!  It was the Stanley Kubrick movie that was not only funny but very, very chilling.  We seem to have moved away from the Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) era we shared with the Russians, but today we're perhaps moving into a place where our protagonists don't care if they do meet Allah prematurely.  I'm sure everyone who has seen this movie will remember Slim Pickens riding the nuke down to its target and inevitable destruction.  One of those scenes that is never forgotten.  Peter Sellars plays the parts of three people in this - President Muffley, the Wing Commander, and also the scary Dr Strangelove himself.  Next week we start a series of my favorite books - stay tuned!