Tags: arizona



August in America, day eleven

Sierra Vista is located just a few miles to north of Mexico. If you’re driving up to Benson or Tucson, you can expect to be stopped by the border police. Please have your papers ready for inspection.

Border patrol check point, 1 mile

Most days, a tethered unmanned blimp hovers over the mountains to the south of Sierra Vista. On some nights, you can see the light of a drone traversing the air above the border.

Sierra Vista is also home to an army base, hence the occasional helicopters and aircraft.

Tomorrow we leave for San Diego, right next to the border with Tijuana.

August in America, day ten

Today was another sunny day in Arizona.

I saw a snake; it had a rattle. I admired prickly pear cacti, and when I picked up a prickly pear that had fallen to the ground, I discovered exactly why it’s called a prickly pear.

Prickly pear cactus

But I spent much of this sunny Arizona day in the dark.

We went to Kartchner Caverns, a series of limestone caves fifty mega-years old. It was quite beautiful.

The caverns might be ancient, but the state park is relatively young. The caves were first discovered in 1974. The story of what happened next is quite fascinating. The cavers who discovered the caverns teamed up with the landowner to negotiate with the State about creating a publicly-accessible state park (negotiations that had to happen in secret so that the caverns wouldn’t be despoiled if word got out).

They had come to the conclusion that the best chance of preserving the caverns was not to keep them secret, but to make them public under appropriate stewardship. It reminded me of the mantra of the Internet Archive:

Access drives preservation.

August in America, day nine

Today was a day of rest. And in Arizona, that means lounging in or near the swimming pool.

Thanks to recently-installed solar panels on the roof, the water was nice and warm. Jessica did laps of the pool, while I splashed around spasmodically. Y’see, I can’t actually swim. Yes, I grew up by the sea, but you have to understand; that sea was bloody freezing.

So now I’m trying to figure out this whole swimming thing from first principles, but I’m not sure my brain has enough plasticity left to grasp the coordination involved. Still, it’s fun to attempt to swim, no matter how quixotic the goal.

It’s monsoon season in southern Arizona right now, meaning it’s almost certain to rain sometime in the afternoon. That’s why we got our swimming activities done early. Sure enough, thunder clouds started rolling in, but there wasn’t much rain in the end.

Clouds Clouds at sunset

Fortunately the clouds had mostly dissipated by the time the sun went down, so a few hours later, when we went outside to look up and search the starry sky for the Perseids, we got to see a few pieces of Swift-Tuttle streaking across the firmament.

August in America, day eight

Today was a travel day. It was time to leave our most excellent hosts in Philadelphia and make our way to Jessica’s parents in Sierra Vista, Arizona.

I spent most of the travel time with my headphones on, listening to music and reading on my Kindle. I finished Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, a thoroughly enjoyable—if not exactly tightly-plotted—romp around the solar system, and started in on Lauren’s latest, The Shining Girls. It’s a real page-turner. Or, in the case of the Kindle, a real button-pusher.

For take-off and landing, headphones and Kindles have to be stowed so I always make sure I’ve got a good ol’ dead-tree tome with me on any plane journey. On this occasion I started into a copy Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge that I picked up at a second-hand bookstore in Alexandria earlier this week.

There was no direct way to get from Philadelphia to Tucson, the nearest airport to Sierra Vista. Layovers were inevitable. We flew with Delta, which meant that our layover would be at their hub in Atlanta.

The flight from Philly to Atlanta was pretty straightforward, but we could see storm clouds brewing. After a stopover in Atlanta for a couple of hours, we continued on to Tucson, by which time the storm clouds were brewed and angry.


As we chased the sunset, we flew over a landscape of explosions in the sky. Dark cloudscapes erupted with light every minute or so. It looked like a bombardment of multiple timezones. At one point, Jessica saw a shooting star. It was as if the Perseids were MIRVing to deliver angry payloads of light flashes while we flew unscathed above it all.

Explosions in the sky

Austin Apart

I’ve just been to Austin for An Event Apart. This was my ninth visit to Austin but the first time that it wasn’t during South By Southwest.

I liked it. I did not miss the throngs of marketers. Also, I was able to actually do things that require a lot more effort during Southby, like going to see movie (whilst having dinner and a few beers) at an Alamo Drafthouse—an excellent experience that I highly recommend. They have a code of conduct that would make Mark Kermode proud.

It was really nice to spend some time with some Austinites: the local Happy Cog crew, the Paravel gang, and teacher extraordinaire Sam Kap.

The conference was, as always, excellent.

Jeffrey's introduces me Back of the class

What was really great was seeing themes emerge and recur over the course of the two days. I remember this happening a couple of years back, when many of speakers started talking media queries (culminating with Ethan coining the term Responsive Web Design). This time, the recurring themes were pretty clear: process and workflow.

There was plenty of nitty-gritty design and development knowledge bombs too, but it was really great when Sarah, Andy, Ethan and myself all talked about the importance of style guides and pattern libraries in our work. Samantha’s style tiles got multiple shout-outs too.

The speakers at An Event Apart don’t collude and coordinate before the event, but I’m sure it must have looked as though we had been sent on stage with a mission to continue Anna’s excellent work.

Now that An Event Apart Austin is over, I’ll be heading back to England’s rainy shores. But before I do, I’m going to soak up another day or two of sunshine in Arizona, visiting the in-laws.

We were all set to spend yesterday evening watching the stars from one of Kitt Peak’s telescopes. Alas, the thunderclouds put paid to that. But we did get to have a look around Kitt Peak, which was quite marvellous.

Kitt Peak

I took some pictures. It would’ve been cool to have checked in on Foursquare there but a) there’s no reception way out there and b) they ask you to switch off your phone …not all the telescopes are optical.

Christmas trip

My family is in Ireland. Jessica’s family is in Arizona. We live in Brighton.

Every Christmas, we take it in turn to visit one of our families; Ireland one year, Arizona the next. Last year we were going to go to Ireland but because of a beaureaucratic incident with Jessica’s passport, we ended up having our first Christmas in Brighton and my mother came over from Ireland to visit us instead.

It was a great Christmas but it kind of messed up our scoring system. What are we supposed to do this year? Is Ireland still due for the next visit or was last year a de-facto Irish Christmas? Oh, what a conundrum!

I think we’ve found the perfect answer. We’re going to Arizona but we’re bringing my mother over with us. She showed up in Brighton today. Tomorrow we make the long trip across the Atlantic: Brighton to Gatwick, Gatwick to Houston, Houston to Tucson, Tucson to Sierra Vista. The shortest day of the year is actually going to be very long indeed for us.

Once the traveling is done, I aim to spend the holiday season being slothful and indolent in the high desert. Doing absolutely nothing—it’s what Christmas is all about.