Posts By: Mark Alexander

Reshaping Phoenix

I’ve often remarked—half jokingly—how my dad’s tenure at Hallcraft Homes in the 1970s reshaped the look of  mass-produced residential architecture in Phoenix. Driving around town this afternoon, I realize I’m probably not far off the mark for saying that. You can’t go fifteen minutes in any direction without running into a house, townhouse or fourplex that my dad designed. But while driving around, I’m also reminded of the other builders who left their own unique mark on the Valley: John F. Long and Cavalier Homes are two that come to mind.

In my memory, it always seemed to be a bit of an arms race between the big builders at that time. Every year there’d be a slew of new floor plans (or at least new exteriors), with everyone “borrowing” design clues from everyone else; some more successfully than others.

I recall how as a family we used to tour the competition under the pretense of simply being potential homebuyers, and even then I remember remarking (sometimes to the point where I had to be shushed by my folks (because the model homes often did conceal hidden microphones) about how so-and-so blatantly ripped off one of Hallcraft’s design ideas from the previous year.

I wasn’t totally biased however. When dad’s designs stumbled I wasn’t afraid to say so. His response? “They put food on your table.” While he was the lead and chief architect, there were other designers in the mix, and I could tell without asking whether something was dad’s design or one of the juniors’.  Perhaps not surprisingly, while they weren’t as good as what my dad did, I didn’t find their designs nearly as terrible as he did.

At one point I had a 3-ring binder that contained floor plans of everything Hallcraft built in the 1970s. (I seem to remember giving it to my dad for safekeeping in the 80s when we both lived in California and it was only many years later when I asked for its return that I learned he’d thrown it out before moving back to Arizona, thinking I no longer wanted it.) I now have only a few sheets remaining that were duplicates of what was in the notebooks, but they don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what was lost and after scanning and posting to a website would’ve made an excellent online resource for the new generations buying these homes now.


As a child who grew up in the 1960s and being enthralled with the Apollo moon landings even then, I think I just orgasmed.

NASA has made their entire raw, unprocessed Hasselblad Apollo image archive available to Flickr. Conspiracy theorists and alien artifact hunters are undoubtedly going to have a field day. As for me, I just think they’re beautiful.

A small sampling of the hundreds of photos posted (warning: some of them are quite large so be patient while they load):

Autumn Finally Arrives

I am cautiously optimistic that we are finally done with the triple-digit temperatures for the year. Just as I remember the change of seasons in Phoenix from all my past years here, it was as if someone flipped a switch the other day and it was suddenly autumn. There’s a change in the air; a change in the light. While we’re not out of air conditioning season completely yet (another few weeks, if memory serves), it’s positively chilly in the mornings when I take the dogs out, and as I sit at the coffee house writing this tonight, they have the big rolling door up, letting in the glorious cool evening breeze.

And the mosquitos also seem to have departed. Even better, because I’ve grown very weary of being a walking buffet table.

El Capitan

My review, if anyone cares…

I got smart this time around. While I still had access to Apple’s Beta program, I didn’t actually install El Capitan as my main OS until the Gold Master had been released and all of the major bugs had been squashed. I’d jumped the gun a year ago with Yosemite and lived to regret it. (Yeah, yeah, I know…never install a beta OS on your main system, but not all of us have multiple pieces of hardware to play with.)

In addition, I didn’t feel the need to rush to El Capitan. There were no new features or design refinements that I felt were worth the hassle of upgrading.

That being said, there were still a few small issues when I did upgrade. Four applications I use weren’t fully compatible. Thankfully, those four (Fantastical 2, CleanMyMac 3, iStat, and cDock) had betas of their own while El Cap was in the testing phase, and for the most part they all worked without a problem. When the final release was available, so were the final upgrades for these apps.

Even after the upgrade to the final release, cDock (a great little app that lets you completely alter the appearance of the dock including returning the look to previous OS versions as well as making it completely transparent) was still a bit of a stickler to get working. It involved disabling the new SIP feature in El Cap, running the app, and then re-enabling SIP. Just this morning it auto-updated to Version 2.0 and it’s a huge improvement over Version 1.0, adding several new options and themes. (I don’t know if it still requires disabling SIP to get it running or not since it was an upgrade.)

Much like with iOS 9, I don’t actually use most of the new features in El Capitan. I came to the realization recently that despite my delusions to the contrary, I’m really not a “power user.” As long as basic functions work, I’m happy. At work, in the Windows world, I require dual screens. On my Mac at home, not so much. I’ve never even used Spaces, so Split Screen (having two applications running full screen on one display simultaneously—one of the bigger features of El Capitan) isn’t something I ever foresee myself needing.

The new incarnation of Spotlight is much more useful to me than it had been previously; I actually find myself using it now. But being able to move it around on screen? Again, not a big deal.

The improvements to Mail, like swipe-to-delete, are welcome, but again—not earth shattering. With Mail, I’m just glad nothing was broken.

Notes is now a content catch-all, allowing almost any type of data to be saved. You can save documents, web links, photos, map locations, PDFs, and videos with a simple drag and drop. I’ve already found this incredibly useful.

I don’t use Photos.

I love San Francisco, the new system font.

But more than all this, the most noticeable change in OS X has been the increase in speed and that alone is definitely be worth the upgrade if you’re a Mac user and haven’t taken the plunge yet.

Sometimes You Don’t Need to Leave Earth…

…to go to another planet.

Discovered on one of my internet wanderings this morning, Panjin Red Beach is located in the north east of Beijing and is appropriately called this due to the seaweed which turns to a bright red colour in autumn. It has become known as the “Home of the Cranes” and is the home to 260 different types of birds, including the endangered Crown Canes and Blacak Beaked Gulls, and 399 different types of wild animals.


This week’s school shooting (not to be confused with last week’s or the one the week before that or next week’s or the one the week after that) got me thinking about violence in America; something that as a society I believe we’ve grown increasingly numb to.

Perhaps numb isn’t the right term, but there’s no denying the schizophrenic way that violence is viewed by our society. Violence is woven into the American DNA and celebrated with an almost orgiastic frenzy in everything from our popular music to our movies, television shows and video games, yet we seem shocked and appalled when a shooting occurs. Do we really need car chases and killings in every damn episode of {Fill in pretty much any Television Show Name}?

Just the other night we were watching a preview of some upcoming series and I turned to Ben and said, “Does everything need to have a shoot out in it?”

It’s past time that we throw off any illusion of being a nation of Peace, because we most certainly are not. As a society we revel in death and destruction as exemplified by our popular entertainments—except of course when that death and destruction happens to visit itself upon good, god-fearing white christians or in those infrequent instances when karma comes back to bite us on our national ass. (See 9/11.)

I’m tired of politicians, lawmakers, and so-called “men of god” saying they want peace, yet with every step and word uttered, fetishize and advocate for never-ending violence and bloodshed. In short, I think it’s time we cut the crap and just embrace our murderous, bloodthirsty national identity. The ancient Romans never apologized for it and certainly never made excuses.

So yes, we are the planet’s dominant serial killer—not only of the other, but also of our own people. And we have the guns, the tanks, the missiles, the nukes and the military spending to prove it—not to mention the psychopaths with their personal arsenals wetting themselves over fevered visions of turning the United States into a christianist theocracy and meting out Old Testament punishments upon non-believers with impunity. ‘Murika! Fuck yeah!

It’s not like any of this is new—and to be honest it certainly is not limited to only the United States. But our country was birthed in bloodshed and it comes with the territory as much as we’d like to deny it as a nation. Yes, the United States was created with noble ideals (something I think has kept some of our basest instincts in check), but again and again it seems that as a society we reach for the gun, the assault rifle, the switchblade, the missile or the bomb to settle our differences—or to simply make a point instead of examining why we do it—or seeking alternative methods of resolution. And when something bad happens, we wring our hands ask, “How could this have been stopped?” while remaining stunningly, blindingly oblivious to the obvious answer and unable to affect any real change because of the NRA’s death grip on our politicians. And then we promptly forget about the whole thing until the cycle repeats. Ad nauseum.


Down the Rabbit Hole

If you ever have several hours to waste and don’t mind peering into one of darker recesses of the internet (or at least out of control pareidolia) head on over to YouTube, type in Mars anomalies (or for that matter, Moon anomalies) and in the immortal words of Bette Davis, “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Okay, I will admit that I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy*, and I fully believe that NASA and our government are withholding knowledge of a whole lot of what is actually “out there” with good (or at least misguided) intentions, but on the other hand, I don’t see birds, animals, insects, tiny little people, toppled statues of kings, masks, and carefully fashioned blocks of stone in every damn photo sent back from our various Mars rovers.

I would admit that yes—conservatively—5 to 10 percent of what these kids-living-in-their-mom’s-basements are finding is unexplainable, and many of the things they’re seeing are just on the edge of camera resolution and can therefore be interpreted as pretty much anything, but that five to ten percent of those images are undeniably fascinating.

In addition, there are many, many images where quite unmistakable (and poorly executed, I might add) image manipulation has occurred with the original NASA files. Obvious blurring is one thing—and can be attributed to data loss during transmission back to Earth—but when sloppy cut-and-paste duplication has occurred (a series of three identical rock outcroppings in one image come to mind) you have to ask why?


*I do, however, fully believe we went to the Moon and consider myself lucky that as a child I was witness to that incredible bit of history being made.


Time Flies. Too Fast.

I realized today that if my first lover—who died in 1991—had immediately reincarnated, he’d now be older than we were when we first met.

I feel old.

Another Day, Another Shooting in America

This is just too good not to pass on in its entirety:

From AMERICAblog:

Earlier today, someone took a killing machine and loads of ammunition into a heavily-trafficked area and opened fire, killing some and wounding more. The shooter may have a history of mental health problems; they may be a militant racist; they may be a Men’s Rights Activist; they may be a religious extremist; they may have just gotten laid off from work. Whatever their motive, they will almost certainly have obtained their killing machine legally.

You’ve probably read the details elsewhere by now, but at the end of the day, they don’t matter. This story isn’t all that different from the many that came before and are sure to come after. America averages one shooting of at least four fatalities per day, with one shooting per week at schools. These shootings are happening faster than we can meme them. The routine is familiar, and we already know how the next few days are going to play out:

First, we will be reminded that this is definitely not the time to discuss ways that we could have prevented this shooting, along with tomorrow’s and next week’s and the ones to follow. At times like these, a bad reading of the Second Amendment is more important than a basic understanding of the First:

There needs to be a mandatory waiting period imposed on anti-gun extremists commenting on breaking news crime incidents. #UCCShooting ~ Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) October 1, 2015

Instead, it would be much more productive for all of us to quietly appeal to a higher power—one that has pretty clearly signaled to us that they’re agnostic when it comes to American gun policy:

Praying for Umpqua Community College, the victims, and families impacted by this senseless tragedy. ~ Jeb Bush (@JebBush) October 1, 2015

Second, we will be reminded that although America’s homicide rates are practically off the charts compared to other countries, now is definitely not the time to second-guess our borderline religious commitment to the killing machines that make it way easier to kill a bunch of people at once:

After all, don’t you know we might need to revolt against the government some day?

Third, someone from the NRA will say that the real solution that would have prevented all of this is more guns. Most of America will find this ridiculous. Congress will find this reasonable. President Obama will scold them.

Fourth, there will be a new round of public opinion polling showing broad support for public policies that could have prevented the shooting, ranging from universal background checks to a ban on high-capacity magazines. We will flash a momentary glance at Congress to see if they will pass any of these policies, and then remember how unbothered they were by what that guy from the NRA said.

Fifth, gun sales will go through the god damn roof.

Sixth, this video will go viral:

Seventh, another mass shooting will take place. We will go back to step one.

See you next week.”

And the Hits Keep on Coming!

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has returned the best color and the highest resolution images yet of Pluto’s largest moon, Charon—and these pictures show a surprisingly complex and violent history.

At half the diameter of Pluto, Charon is the largest satellite relative to its planet in the solar system. Many New Horizons scientists expected Charon to be a monotonous, crater-battered world; instead, they’re finding a landscape covered with mountains, canyons, landslides, surface-color variations and more.

“We thought the probability of seeing such interesting features on this satellite of a world at the far edge of our solar system was low,” said Ross Beyer, an affiliate of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team from the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, “but I couldn’t be more delighted with what we see.”

This composite of enhanced color images of Pluto (lower right) and Charon (upper left), was taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it passed through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015. This image highlights the striking differences between Pluto and Charon. The color and brightness of both Pluto and Charon have been processed identically to allow direct comparison of their surface properties, and to highlight the similarity between Charon’s polar red terrain and Pluto’s equatorial red terrain. Pluto and Charon are shown with approximately correct relative sizes, but their true separation is not to scale. The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the spacecraft’s Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

High-resolution images of the Pluto-facing hemisphere of Charon, taken by New Horizons as the spacecraft sped through the Pluto system on July 14 and transmitted to Earth on Sept. 21, reveal details of a belt of fractures and canyons just north of the moon’s equator. This great canyon system stretches more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across the entire face of Charon and likely around onto Charon’s far side. Four times as long as the Grand Canyon, and twice as deep in places, these faults and canyons indicate a titanic geological upheaval in Charon’s past.

“It looks like the entire crust of Charon has been split open,” said John Spencer, deputy lead for GGI at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “With respect to its size relative to Charon, this feature is much like the vast Valles Marineris canyon system on Mars.”

Even higher-resolution Charon images and composition data are still to come as New Horizons transmits data, stored on its digital recorders, over the next year – and as that happens, “I predict Charon’s story will become even more amazing!” said mission Project Scientist Hal Weaver, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

The New Horizons spacecraft is currently 3.1 billion miles (5 billion kilometers) from Earth, with all systems healthy and operating normally.

New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. APL designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. SwRI leads the science mission, payload operations, and encounter science planning.

Cabin Fever

I needed to get out of the house today, so in my infinite wisdom I headed downtown to make some photos.

It’s still too damn hot to be running around outside for any length of time, so after an hour or so in the sun, I headed to our home-away-from home for a cold beverage.

Why I Don’t Use Apple Pay

About a week ago, for some reason 90% of the album art for the songs on my iPhone disappeared. I tried removing all the songs and then adding them back in with no success. Nothing worked, so I finally chose the nuclear option and did a complete reset on the phone.

It fixed the album art problem, but it also wiped out all the cards I’d so meticulously put into Apple Pay.

I can’t say I’ve ever used Apple Pay because the credit union where I have my checking account still does not support it, but I think the concept is awesome and someday I’m sure it will be the norm, rather than the exception, for making purchases.

That being said, I did have my credit cards loaded into the system, and considering what a pain some of them had been to add, I did not look forward to adding them again.

But I did.

And Apple fucked me over again.

For the past few days, mail has not been syncing between my phone and Mac. A message will show up on one or the other, but not both. Additionally, I’ve been unable to delete emails, getting only a cryptic message that iCloud was unable to move the selected items to the trash folder.

So this morning, after finding a recommended solution from the Google, I logged out of iCloud on my phone.

BIG mistake.

When I logged back in, the mail was working again, but I also immediately got a message from Discover, telling me that I’d removed my card from Apple Pay.


I opened up Apple Pay—excuse me, Wallet—on my phone, and to my horror saw that not only had the Discover card disappeared, but all the cards.


Y’know, it would’ve been nice if Apple actually warned you that this was going to happen as part of the notification that that pops up when you’re about to log out of iCloud. But no.


At this point I’m not going to bother putting the cards back in again because in all likelihood, I’ll have to sign out of iCloud or reset the phone again to fix one of Apple’s other issues sooner rather than later, and they’d all just be wiped out. It’s not worth the hassle.

It doesn’t help that there’s no uniform method among the banks to actually add their cards to Apple Pay. Some just automatically add the them. Others send you a verification text. By far the most annoying are the ones that require you to call in, navigate a labyrinthine phone tree and then wait on hold for ten minutes in order to speak to a human being because there’s no option to just activate the card with Apple Pay. (I have two different cards from a single bank; one sends a text to activate, but the other one requires a phone call. ABSOLUTELY INSANE.)

I swear—and being a fanboy I hate to admit this, but—Apple seems to slowly be turning into everything I hated about Microsoft. They are in such a hurry to do a yearly refresh of everything that the multitude of things that get broken with each “upgrade” are never addressed and just carry forward into the next iteration (see: Windows, Office).

Here’s a thought for the brain trust at Apple: you don’t HAVE to upgrade everything every year! You’re not going to lose market share for not putting a new coat of paint on OS X or iOS every twelve months. Your long-time fans would much rather appreciate that you take the time to kill the damn bugs that are infesting your software and fix what’s obviously broken before putting out a new release! There is no shame in admitting that you screwed up and put something out before it was finished cooking!