5,000 miles, two small kids, and one tent: What could go wrong?

The route Amy and I followed on a similar trip in 2002.

About six months ago, my daughter asked if our family would ever go to Disney World.

“Hell, no,” I thought, but did not say, instead changing the subject to unicorns and ducking the question entirely.

Still, it gnawed at me. At 5 and 7, our kids are finally decent travelers. (For you non-parents, this means that they occasionally take breaks from screaming and inter-carseat combat, and not always only because they’ve fallen asleep or are stuffing their faces with some poisonous form of processed food.) Our Honda Element is the best road-trip car ever, in my opinion—but at 13 years old, it isn’t going to last forever. I also knew that my wife wouldn’t always have summers off. 

In other words, I realized this summer might be our last chance for a long time to take the sort of long, hellish family road trip that parents for some reason feel the instinctual need to subject themselves to, sort of the way lemmings can’t seem to help but yearn for a rapid decrease in altitude.

But where would we go?

We needed a destination, preferably one as different from Disney World as possible.

What about Bird Camp?

From 2007 through 2009, my wife Amy managed a scientific research project in the Coconino National Forest, above Flagstaff, Arizona. This project, which everyone involved referred to as Bird Camp, had been going on long before she started, continued after she left, and—we had recently learned—would close forever after summer 2017. There had been loose talk among Amy and other alums of holding a reunion, and the scientist in charge said he’d have no problem if we dropped in.

So, the idea for this trip was born: drive from West Virginia to Arizona for this reunion. We would take it easy, trying never to have two driving days in a row, and we would take it slow, widening the loop of our trip to include a visit with friends in New Orleans on the way out and a visit with Amy’s parents near Chicago on the way back. Along the way, we would mostly camp, and we would try to stick to BLM campgrounds, with the downside of very low levels of infrastructure (i.e., no showers) but the upside of being priced accordingly.

That’s the plan, anyway. We’ll see how it turns out—because I’ll be writing about it here, not to mention Instagramming and Facebooking it. Come along: the more horrible it is for us (and Amy and I have agreed to accept, in advance, that this trip will probably include at least one of the worst days of our lives), the more fun it will be to read about!

I tried to calculate the exact date of Easter – you won’t believe what happened next!


Did you know that Easter and Passover overlapped this year? I learned this from a report on NPR that left me with the impression that this is an unusual circumstance, but when I researched the matter further I learned that it’s more common than not. Through 2030, it only won’t happen in 2024 and 2027, so update your calendars and prebook your matzoh and ham and ham-flavored matzoh orders accordingly.

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Clipper Guard Sizes: Oster, Wahl, and Speed-O-Guide

As a longtime autotonsorialist (one who cuts his own hair), I’ve accumulated Oster, Wahl, and Speed-O-Guide clippers and/or blades and blade guards. (For the uninitiated, these are what govern how long the resulting hair cut is.)

With all of this equipment around, it often happens that I want a cut slightly longer or shorter than one configuration will give me, but I don’t necessarily want to jump all the way to that particular brand’s next size.

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Freedom: they could double the price and I’d still buy it!

I opened an email invoice yesterday for an app that, to tell the truth, I’d forgotten involved an annual subscription.

That’s never good news: money you weren’t expecting to spend, out the door before you know it.

And you know the feeling. Sometimes you subscribe to an app you are sure will change your life, then, a few months or a year down the road, you start to wonder if it was really worth it. Continue reading

How the Hulk Hogan sex tape may signal doom for press freedom in America

This New Yorker article from last month about the lawsuit between Hulk Hogan and Gawker is about so much more than the lawsuit between Hulk Hogan and Gawker.

In short, if—as is so often claimed now—everyone is a journalist in the Web 2.0+ era, then courts might be more reluctant to trust any one journalist’s news judgement. And that trust used to be the key part of why it was so difficult for public figures to fight the press in court about coverage they didn’t like. Rather than pursue the relatively difficult to prove claim of libel, and possibly blazing a trail that other thin-skinned public officials might be keen to follow, Hogan’s attorneys prevailed by arguing that Hogan had experienced an invasion of privacy. (Yes, even a man, like Hogan, who “had boasted [on the radio] about his sexual prowess, including the size of his penis; claimed numerous extramarital affairs, in his book and in interviews; and even broadcast his marriage-counseling sessions on television” still apparently has “privacy” that it is possible to violate.)

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Eleven Days Until Christmas

img_8437My seven-year-old is angry that Christmas is still so far off. He draws and redraws calendars to track progress toward the big day. He imagines devices that might speed up time. “But then Christmas would be over so quickly,” we protest. “I would be able to rewind and keep it Christmas forever,” he replies. Of course.  Continue reading

Photo backup solution, pt. 2: Flickr!

As I posted recently, I was getting frustrated with iCloud. I have various solutions for storing photos, so all I really wanted iCloud for was as a backup for my phone, but I had started using it for photos, and of course it quickly filled up. I was going to need to spend more money per month to make it big enough. (I hear $20/month gets you 2TB.)

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Photo Backup Solutions, pt. 1

A while back, I posted the following plea on Facebook:

Hey, Mac people: thoughts on iCloud?

I like the idea of using iCloud as a backup for my iPhone. Ideally, one could use it that way: get a set amount of space on iCloud, have it back up various things, and have it delete older items to make space for newer.

Obviously, that’s not really how Apple sees it or presents it.

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Three days at Holly River State Park

We’d been back on the grid for at least 30 minutes, but it wasn’t until my phone buzzed independently in my pocket (a text message from an AWOL contractor, as it happened) in the Buckhannon McDonald’s that I felt fully human again. We’d spent three nights camping at Holly River State Park, where, in addition to the usual deprivations, we’d been forced to endure a lack of cellular coverage. There was Wifi in the vicinity of the park’s main office, but even once connected, I found it possible to download work email only once.

The humanity.

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Vacation “budgets” for kids

This summer, on a family trip the Delaware/Maryland beaches, we started issuing our six-year-old a “budget” for the trip. Although we would all still enjoy vacation activities and foods together to some extent, the purpose of the budget was for those moments when a kid decides he or she just has to have some treat or toy. Continue reading