Screaming Into The Abyss

The Second Trip continues
By Ben Zvan
On September 17, 2005 at 21:46

All of the king beds in all of the hotels I've stayed in have had three pillows as if they're secretly expecting three "users". To me, a king bed seems kind of lonely for one person, especially if it's set up for three. But, just for variety, I used all three pillows.

I have officially moved north enough to be solidly in the start of fall colors. The ferns are all dead, the leaves are drying up. Anyway, it's kind of nice. On my way here, I drove through the town of Hazelhurst "Quiet Side of the North Woods". I laughed out loud because there's a huge motorcycle ride in the area here. Lots of Harleys, not so much with the quiet.

This morning I saw a guy mowing the lawn. Not so weird really until you see that he's only got one leg: One hand for the mower, one hand for the crutch and one leg for the ground. Push ... crutch ... hop ... push ... crutch ... hop ...

As per usual, this post is full of things I saw today because I can't make interesting things up from scratch. Here are a couple more signs I saw.

Beware Dust over Road: The road was clean and dry, no dust in sight. But then a huge cloud of dust descended over the road, darkening the sky. It settled down on the car in front of me and stripped the paint right off the metal, found a slightly lowered window and seeped into the passenger compartment, scouring it clean. Truly: Beware Dust over Road

That one was closely followed by WARNING! Watch for Low Flying Planes: OK fine...I don't see any...can I go back to watching the road now? What would I do if I saw a low flying plane anyway? Duck? Swerve? There aren't any airports around so if there's a low flying plane it's below the legal minimum altitude (by definition). I would think that the more maneuverable craft should be the one to look out: Watch for High Flying Cars.

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By Ben Zvan
On September 16, 2005 at 21:11

My new MiPod has been working fine, I charge it every night and it sits and grows warm next to my laptop. Today I listened to some more Talk of the Nation Science Friday. The same place I heard about the most insane laser physics experiment ever.

I saw a Pizza Hut today. Not just any ordinary Pizza Hut, but a "Pizza Hut Italian Bistro". What's that about? By no stretch of the imagination has any Pizza Hut I've been in or near counted as a Bistro of any sort, Italian or otherwise. I think what it means is that not only are they a Pizza Hut, but they're a Pizza Hut with awnings.

I passed 30,000 clicks on our Nikon CoolpiX 5400 a couple of days ago. I think that's more pictures than most people will take in a lifetime. I'm well on my way to 40,000 clicks and should easily reach that pitiful number by the end of my current trip. So far the camera has been working fine for me. I'd echo the reviews I've read that say that it has trouble focusing in low light conditions. I don't know if it's just low light or not, but low contrast surfaces like, say, the blank wall of a hotel room when taking a photo at f/4 and 1/4s for proper exposure are definitely things that it has some trouble with sometimes. I've thought of bringing along a laser pointer to give the surface some contrast, but it seems to be sufficient just to tip the tripod to give the camera a good view of the wall / floor interface. The only real complaint I have is the speed at which it accesses the CF card. The write speed seems to be somewhere around 500KB/s for writing (including file compression) which sounds like a lot until you start taking full resolution 5Mpx .tiff pictures and have to wait 25 - 30 seconds to write one to the card. Even the 300k .jpg files take a couple of seconds to compress and write. A full 1GB CF card takes around 20 minutes to copy, compared to 4 minutes using a FireWire card reader. That's under 1MB/s for the camera and 4MB/s for the reader (Though the camera is limited to the speed of its 10Mb/s USB interface and the reader to its 400Mb/s FireWire interface). Oh well, the Canon EOS-1D Mark II N and 1Ds Mark II are both a smidge out of my price range at the moment so the CoolpiX and the EOS-10D will have to do for now.

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Travels Continue
By Ben Zvan
On September 14, 2005 at 19:59

This morning, after waking to a cool, 64 degree morning, while driving through northeastern Wisconsin, along the border with Michigan, listening to a track from a mix disk made by one of my favorite techno groups, as I tipped my head back to drink from my caramel mocha and saw a bright blue sky through the open sunroof, the thought came to me; "this could be a good day."

Overall, despite the company I'm working for dicking with my schedule and not having a cell phone signal to call home with tonight, it wasn't a bad day. The sky stayed mostly blue, the weather stayed mostly cool and I stayed mostly on schedule. I did notice one thing though; Northeastern Wisconsin has decided on a price for unleaded gasoline: $2.899. I've seen a total of two variations in this price since yesterday morning: One place had the eight upside down and one place had gas for two cents cheaper.

I knew that Minnesota had an Embarrass, but I didn't know that Wisconsin had one. It turns out Illinois has one too.

So, anyway... This place I was filming yesterday had the TV on while I was there. There was an ad detailing how one could get information on why it was crucial to invest in gold right now by calling 1-800-949-GOLD. This ad was wrong on so many levels. First of all, they just told you that you needed to "buy gold now", then they offer to give you a leaflet that says the same thing? OK, obviously the leaflet tells you to buy gold from them because they have a bunch that they're not using. Which is not only obvious, but leads me to the next thing that's wrong with this ad: Gold always goes up in value when the rest of the economy is crappy and goes down when the economy gets better. Basically, they're telling people to "buy gold now (quick before the price goes down so we can reap our profits because we bought it at the right time years ago)". The bastards.

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Beaver Dam, Wisconsin
By Ben Zvan
On September 12, 2005 at 20:56

A store named Gene's Beaver Floral.

That's all I got.

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The Second Trip Begins
By Ben Zvan, Duh!
On September 11, 2005 at 07:35

A couple of odd signs I've seen over the last few days:

"Good Clean Fun Tattoo and Piercing: Behind Liquor Store". Tattooing and Piercing should be clean. If they're not, go somewhere else. I wonder if the liquor store is clean too.

There was a small sewing shop selling sewing machines but the sign said "Sewing Mechs". Now there's an idea: My pants need hemming, so I'll give them to this 20 foot robot with lots of thread

So, I'm driving down the road and I see a train. No big deal. The train was half full of Bradley Fighting Vehicles though. I wonder where they're headed. Do we need them in Louisiana?

Lastly: while driving down another road I saw a truck carrying boats. I had a sudden urge to perform a Truck Torpedo takedown but, as usual, there were no rivals close enough. (Burnout - Revenge is out this month! )

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Travel log, Home at Last
By Ben Zvan
On September 02, 2005 at 19:25

My mother sent me this link to an article discussing the future of FEMA as proposed by President Bush. 'Nuff said.

It turns out that I did not make it to both Lucas and Davenport, Iowa. I-80 was under construction through that area so I took I-280, the bypass around Davenport. Actually, the whole Lucas Davenport thing might have been screwed from the start since I really just saw Lucas, Iowa from across the train tracks. I'm pretty sure I was in Lucas, but maybe not. Anyway, no Lucas Davenport for me.

When I was in Iowa, after being in Missouri, I came up with a theory. I think that there is something fundamentally different between the infrared radiation given off by nuclear fusion and the infrared radiation given off by the combustion of carbohydrate material such as cellulose or natural gas. I came to this conclusion based on the fact that the sun was terribly bright, hot and annoying for much of my trip but when I was filming a hotel room that had a fireplace running for effect when the room was already quite hot, I didn't mind it at all. I actually enjoyed it.

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Travel log, Day 12
By Ben Zvan
On August 31, 2005 at 20:59

Hurricane Katrina, Part Deux

I guess what really gets me about the situation is who will suffer because of it. The people who are really going to take the hit down where it happened are the poor people; the ones without insurance, without transportation, and currently, without income. The rich and the middle class will mostly be OK and they'll be educated enough to know where to go to get money for the damage. The people who will be hurt in the rest of the country as a result are also the poor. Sure gas prices are higher for everyone, but the poor pay a higher percentage of their earnings for essentials and essentials are about to get more expensive.

One oil pipeline is down right now because of a power outage the oil companies couldn't be bothered to plan for. That pipeline goes to the east coast and will likely affect the delivery schedule there. I'm in the midwest but I just paid $2.999 per gallon for gas. So, since the east coast can't get fresh oil, Iowa has higher gas prices? I know they're also going to have to repair quite a bit of damage to some off-shore rigs and that means that they are going to raise prices to make up for it but I think they're glad to profit from something like this. What it means to the rest of the country is that the higher fuel costs will result in higher transportation costs for everything we buy and that's going to hurt the people who can least afford it the most.

I know that New Orleans wasn't hit directly by the hurricane, and I know they just had a little flooding really. I've also been to New Orleans, and It's a really neat place. I don't want to live there or be there during a tropical storm of any kind, but it's a neat place to visit. I know I sounded harsh when I said that it was a bad idea to move to where tropical storms ravish the countryside every year, but it's true. The people who were born there on the other hand have less of a say in the matter. I can spare a little sympathy for people who are having their entire life history flattened.

There is a culture and a feel to those regions that would be completely lost if everyone moved out and I think that it would be missed. I know that many places have bans on building new buildings in areas that have been flooded in recent history. I don't know if these areas have them, but I think it's something to think about. I would still feel bad that people who have lived there all their lives had to move farther out and we'd loose a lot of very valuable land to flooding but it would make a nice park. We'd also loose a lot of farmland to forced sprawl, but a lot of farmers are going to have a hard time this year because of higher fuel costs, so maybe they'll be looking for a new job anyway. I don't mean that to sound harsh, I just want to think it could be made convenient for everyone concerned.

Anyway, I said I was tired of hearing about Katrina and here I go with more about Katrina. Let's try something else shall we?

As I said earlier, I filled my tank at $2.999 per gallon today. The regular unleaded (87 octane) was going for $3.099 at the same station. What's interesting about many of the places I've filled my tank is that the 10% ethanol blend fuels have been the middle grade fuels and been cheaper. It makes sense that ethanol fortified fuel would have a higher octane rating because ethanol has a higher octane rating than octane. What I find unique is that it's almost always 10 cents cheaper per gallon. I'm guessing that it's subsidized because it's an earth-friendly fuel additive that's made domestically and they're trying to get people to buy more of it, but I'm thrilled because, living in Minnesota, all my gasoline contains 10% ethanol anyway so, while the prices are pretty bad, I still get a little break.

Since MiPod has been dead for most of this trip, I've been listing to a lot of radio. I haven't been able to find a lot of college radio, but I've found the occasional NPR affiliate, and there's almost always some sort of hard rock station within range. The best part about hard rock is that, because I have to switch stations frequently due to my rate of travel, even if I'm starting to get a weak signal and getting some static, it's OK because it sounds a lot like the music they're playing. I mean with hard rock, it's not so much a mater of signal-to-noise as it is noise-to-other-noise.

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Travel log, Day 11
By Ben Zvan
On August 30, 2005 at 19:33

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina is the only thing on the news today, same as yesterday. Hotel lobbies have had the television on so that everyone eating breakfast can listen to the news about the tragedy and whether Bush will release some of the strategic oil reserves in this state of emergency. I was thrilled to find an NPR station today playing All Things Considered until I heard more about Hurricane Katrina again. They had a guy on who was talking about how the levees that have been keeping the Mississippi out of New Orleans when it floods have been keeping the floods from depositing fresh earth on the Mississippi delta. Since oil drilling and other human activities have been helping out erosion down there, the Gulf of Mexico has been getting closer at an alarming rate. He also said that the billions of dollars worth of real estate is worth saving and that, in general, the levees are a good thing.

I don't know. Hurricane Katrina starts with a K. That means that this is the eleventh tropical storm this year. The mere fact that they name their storms down there could be considered an indication of a "trend". Every year, millions, if not billions of dollars of damage are caused by tropical storms. How can this be called a "disaster" or and "emergency" when it happens so often. Your house doesn't have a roof anymore? I guess you didn't nail it on well enough. You just got rescued in a boat? Why did you stay in the first place, and why isn't your house on pontooons? You knew there were hurricanes and floods in the southeast when you moved there.

So, yes, it's bad that this happened, but I have a hard time having much sympathy when it happens so often.

In other news, I passed through the ironically named town of Biggsville, population 350 today. I also passed through Lucas, Iowa and will be passing through Davenport, Iowa later this week. Not really important, but now my page will get hits from people doing searches on John Sandford books.

And finally, while listening to LAZER something FM. They played One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer as sung by George Thorogood (as a cover, sort of), and I thought to myself: I think I have all of those at home.

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Travel log, Day 10
By Ben Zvan
On August 29, 2005 at 17:53

I am a bad man.

Some of these hotels have the odd idea that fake plants will make people want to stay there. I try to point out that people are just going to show up and then be disappointed that there aren't any plants in their room. I tell them to expect calls from guest rooms by irate people saying "Your website shows plants in this room. Where are my plants?" and I ask them if they're prepared to put plants in every room where people ask for them. What I don't mention is that I think they're wasting my time moving these plants from room to room. I'm already there for 2 hours, I don't want to wait another 30 minutes for them to move fake plants around.

Anyway, the other day, someone had this "unique" idea again. Since the panoramas I take are a series of 12 photos in a circle, I have often moved objects like trash cans out of a shot and then moved them back again after I have moved on the the next angle. This time, I moved the plant so that it will be on the desk, night-stand, and table in the panorama. If I can remember which location it was, I'll post a link to the tour so you can see it once it's up.

I also had a sudden inspiration in a hotel restaurant while taking some still photos. I turned all of the Tobasco bottles in the room so that they faced the camera. And there will probably be several panoramas at a variety of hotels where you will be able to see my aluminum clipboard if you know where to look, but that was an accident and I almost feel bad about it.

Every night, after taking these pictures, I am supposed to upload the files to VR National using the hotel's high speed internet. Some hotels have been slow enough to take 8 hours to send one archive and some have been fast enough to send 4 files in one night. The place I'm at tonight is giving me a whopping 6.5 KB per second, that's almost as fast as dial-up folks! Sign up now! With 28 hours remaining on the upload, I don't think I'll be getting this one done on time either. The downstream speed doesn't seem all that bad though.

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Travel log, Days 6-9
By Ben Zvan
On August 28, 2005 at 19:21


It seems like it would be a good idea to make a shower curtain rod out of aluminum. It's strong, lightweight and won't rust. If you throw a washcloth over it though, you are reminded about aluminum oxide the next morning.

I drove past a Hershey confection plant in Robinson, IL today. It smelled like chocolate!

Odd billboard of the day: "You never run out of minutes talking to god." It made me think of bag ladies for some reason

"Danny's Qik-Sak" liquor store. I don't think I'll be buying anything there.

And last but not least: I've seen a couple of what I'll call MHotels on this trip. They're like a motel in that you enter the room from the outside, but they're like a hotel in that you enter the room from a central hallway. Same room. Odd.


I drove past Eastern Illinois University in Charleston today. They have the most impressive Old Main type building I have ever seen. It looks like a castle from a distance and like a tiny palace from close up. The central tower has crenellations on the top that give it a great, fortified look.

It sounds like Madness has a new single. Well, I don't know if it's new, but Steph has everything they've ever done and she hasn't heard of it. It's called Shame and Scandal and I heard it on WPGU 107.1 out of the University of Illinois in Champaign / Urbana. College radio stations have been a boon for me since my iPod died. I just hope there are lots of colleges around these parts.

Update:Madness has a new single and a new album. The single is indeed called Shame and Scandal and the album is called The Dangermen Sessions. Rock on! I'll be buying that one ASAP.


I woke up this morning to a real visual treat: dense fog as far as the eye can see, and that's not very far. It reminds me of the mornings I drive past Lake Calhoun and see the sailboats bobbing in the fog. The photographer in me doesn't want to go to work; It's too beautiful out. Unfortunately, it's the photographer in me who's going to work today. I guess maybe that's a good thing.


OK, this is just wrong: I'm driving down the Interstate and I see a roadside stand. Let me say that a different way: There's a roadside stand on the Interstate where I am driving. This is an Interstate Highway people! What are you thinking! The speed limit is 70 mph through hill and cornfield, well, OK, vineyard at this point. But how many people are going to stomp on their brakes and walk over to a stand selling grapes when semi trucks are zipping past them at 80? Enough to stay in business I guess. Yeesh!

You Can't Judge a Book by it's Cover: The place I'm staying at tonight looks like a total dive from the outside. If I were driving through the area and it was time to look for a place to stop, I'd think seriously about passing it on and looking for someplace nicer up the road. Obviously, since it's a major, international hotel franchise, the rooms themselves look like you could be anywhere in the world, and that's something that I'm slowly learning on this trip. But the point is this: The guy running the place is great. He's the nicest guy you could want to do a photo-shoot at 7:00 in the morning for. The place doesn't have coin-op laundry yet because he just bought the place a year ago and is working hard to get it up to his standards. Get this: he's letting me use the hotel's laundry facilities and he's not charging me for their use or for the detergent. Wow. And hey, I just noticed this. He's done something that I think gives the place a European Flair because Scotland is the only place I've seen it. Instead of having little bottles of shampoo and bars of soap that you just can't use all of in one shower, he's got shampoo and shower gel dispensers in the shower. Why don't more places do that? I still have my bottle of shampoo from last Saturday night's hotel. Ironically, I was planning on replaceing it with one from this hotel.

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