Starlink FTW

For many years, I was spoiled by gigabit internet speed in Longmont. The city’s fiber network was inexpensive, screaming fast, and amazing all around. Then I moved to the sticks, and I was faced with only two internet options: CenturyLink with a 10Mbps download speed and a 768kbps upload speed (what is this, 1998?), or an $18,000 investment to have Spectrum run a coaxial cable from the highway at the bottom of my driveway up to the house. I’ve limped along with CenturyLink for almost two years now. To be honest, it’s not completely awful; I’ve been able to have video calls (albeit choppy) and do most everything I want on the internet, albeit much more slowly than I’m accustomed.

But today, I set up my shiny new Starlink antenna and connected to the satellites whizzing overhead. Suddenly I’m using the internet like a civilized man:

At one point I was seeing 140Mbps download speeds, but it’s well known that Starlink’s speeds vary quite a bit because the constellation isn’t finished yet. Technically the entire system is still in “beta”. But wow, it’s so much better than before!

Now I just have to figure out how to mount the dang thing on my roof, instead of having it sit in the middle of my courtyard…

Scary

There’s a wildfire burning just a few miles south of our house. It started yesterday morning, and has grown significantly since then. Here are some photos of the mountainside last night:

We’re much too close for comfort. The highway has been closed, at least 20 houses have been destroyed, and the area’s been evacuated. Although we haven’t been ordered to evacuate yet, the updates we’re seeing online indicate the area under evacuation orders is expanding. The dry conditions and wind aren’t helping, although we’re hoping the rain forecast for this evening rolls in.

It’s one thing to read about wildfires burning throughout the west. It’s quite another to have one literally down the street.

Harvest

Last year, our cherry orchard had some issues. Our 92 trees produced a few meager buckets of fruit. Well, we learned our lesson and this year we repaired the weak points in the fence and electrified it. Voila, no more bears! And as a result, the harvest was monumental. Row after row of cherry trees were heavily laden with red berries:

We’re going to have them professionally harvested and sold, but before that happens, Pepper and I decided to take a few for ourselves and some friends. It was fun to see these enormous bunches of cherries. They’re the Lapis variety, in case you’re wondering.

After half an hour, we’d filled a big box with them… and we hadn’t even picked an entire tree!

They’re absolutely delicious. I bagged up most of them and headed out to share.

(Yes, I wrote Schroeder Orchards on the bags with a Sharpie. A fun touch.)

Everyone loves someone knocking at their door with a couple bags of juicy cherries! Although I have no real interest in managing an orchard, it’s fun to have one (and let someone else handle it) for moments like these.

Back to G

Another group of visitors, and another visit to Glacier National Park. This time we went in the evening. As always, Glacier presented a new face to us… I feel like the experience is slightly different every time we visit. This time, the smoke made the distant mountains look ghostly.

It’s always fun to hear our guests ooh and ahh as we ascend Going-to-the-Sun Road. The views are magnificent, and the scale of the granite mountains is staggering. Even with smoke, it’s a magical place.

Smoke

The entire Western United States is under drought warnings, with major wildfires burning in several places. For the past week or so, we’ve had a haze of smoke hanging over everything. It’s not awful, but it’s a reminder that many places are in dire straits.

I took advantage of the smoke this evening to capture a pinkish-red sunset. This is how the sun has looked for the past few days as it nears the horizon.

I hope the fires are brought under control soon.

Handy I’m not

Our jet ski died the other day, after sucking something through the engine and destroying the wear ring. I figured I could take it to our local dealership for repairs (there’s only one dealership within several hundred miles), but it would be costly and probably take weeks since it’s high season. So I gritted my teeth and decided to attempt the repair myself.

The guy on YouTube who explained how to replace a wear ring started by saying “this should take around half an hour”.

(pause for laughter)

It took me three and a half hours.

Admittedly, I had to run up to Kalispell to get a part because after taking everything apart, I found something else broken. That took about an hour and a half. So I guess my ratio against YouTube repair videos is about 4:1.

That said, Pepper and I felt like we should go out on the lake to exercise the jet skis and make sure everything was running smoothly, and my repairs worked flawlessly. I may not be very handy, but I was successful, and if the wear ring blows out again, I know what I’m doing and may be able to shave my time down to a mere hour and a half…

Let ‘er buck

Tonight I went to my very first rodeo! Right here in my town is the world-famous award-winning Bigfork Rodeo (the announcer made sure to remind us it’s an “award-winning rodeo” over and over), and Pepper and I decided to give it a shot. We grabbed some friends and the four of us sat out on a warm summer evening and watched a bunch of horses run around in the dirt. There were more hats, boots, and belt buckles than I’d seen in one place in a while, and the country music was blaring from the speakers. It definitely felt like stereotypical Montana.

Cow-roping was one of the events; a calf would be released from a gated cage and a cowboy would launch from the chute on his horse. He’d lasso the calf’s neck, then jump off his horse, pick up the calf, body-slam it to the ground, and tie its legs. Of course the goal was to do it as fast as possible. I think the winner pulled it off in something like six seconds.

(Forgive the terrible picture quality; these were taken on my phone and although we were actually pretty close to the action, it has a wide-angle lens like all phones do. I regret not bringing my real camera and a telephoto lens.)

The cowgirls had a similar event, although they just roped the calf– they didn’t leap down and tackle it. The cowgirls also did barrel racing, where they shoot out of the gate and ride their horse around three barrels before galloping at full speed back to the gate. It was pretty exciting, and the eight or so contestants all had times within half a second of each other. There were two winners who actually tied with 15.76 seconds (yes, tied to hundredths of a second).

There was team calf-roping, riding a bucking bronco (“let ‘er buck!” screamed the announcer), and the pinnacle of all rodeos: bull riding. Bull riding is crazy dangerous, and one cowboy nearly got his head kicked off by the flailing legs of an angry bull. The announcer frequently pointed out that the men and women we were watching in the arena were world-class cowboys and cowgirls. I guess these people literally travel the country every week of the summer, attending various rodeos and earning a living. What a life!

For me, the highlight of the evening was definitely mutton busting. That’s where a bunch of kids volunteer to ride sheep. The sheep aren’t exactly raging bulls, but they get pretty excitable when a child is clinging to their back for dear life. They come roaring out of the chute, with a little six-year-old in tow, and it’s absolutely a riot to watch. Some of the kids held on for a good ten seconds, riding a crazy sheep all around the arena. In the (horrible) photo below, you can see a pink blob attached to a sheep just left of center; that’s a little girl hanging on while the adult cowboys chase alongside for safety.

It was two and a half hours of fun, and now I can honestly use the phrase “This ain’t my first rodeo”.

Also, Pepper and I decided we’re going to use the phrase “let ‘er buck” more often in conversation. We might also throw in an occasional “rip-roarin'” but only on special occasions.

She’s a beaut

When we picked up our new ride in Spokane, everything was clean and shiny. When we immediately drove 250 miles back home, everything was covered in dust and bugs. Of course climbing up and down our driveway doesn’t help either– we end up with a thick coat of dust. But today I decided to wash the car, and I must say it looks good.

This is probably the cleanest it’ll ever be, because as soon as I pull off the concrete into the gravel, there will be dust everywhere again. At some point it just doesn’t make sense to keep washing.

Incidentally, we had to name our cars. We haven’t done that in the 25 years we’ve been together, although most people I know seem to name their vehicles. Well, Teslas have a place in the main menu to give the car a name. Since it’s blue, I suggested Max Rebo.

He’s everyone’s favorite blue elephant from Return of the Jedi. Alas, Pepper was not interested in the least. After some discussion, we settled on Nebula.

She’s sort of a tragic hero, and of course she’s also blue. Then we had to name the CR-V, and since that car is red, we came up with Ruby Roundhouse (or just “Ruby” for short).

The Civic is grey, so naturally it became Gandalf the Grey.

But the Civic will be changing hands in a few months, so Zaque has a car in college. That’ll just leave us with Nebula and Ruby.

(For those who are paying close attention, it’s worth noting that Karen Gillan plays both characters. A fun coincidence.)

Science is cool

In today’s edition of Science is Cool, I learned that researchers at Cornell have improved imaging techniques used to view atoms in a crystalline structure. Here’s an example of the output of their experiment:

That’s a crystal of praseodymium orthoscandate, and the glowing balls are individual atoms. They’re “fuzzy” because the imaging is so precise you can actually see them vibrating with thermal energy (atoms are only still at absolute zero, and there’s some disagreement about whether they’re absolutely still even then).

Twelve years ago I noted that IBM researchers had been able to view a single molecule, which was astounding. This is just as amazing, and definitely fits into my “science is cool” category…

Big G

‘Tis the season to head to Glacier National Park! The Merrills are our first visitors of the summer, and of course they wanted to head up there. I’m not one to complain about it, so we packed into their van and drove north on a hot day. There were heat advisories in the park, with temperatures expected to hit 100 degrees. And it’s only June! Fortunately it didn’t get nearly that hot; I feel like it might’ve touched 90 at worst.

As always, the views of the valley were amazing. I can see why they call this Big Sky Country.

Our friends kept remarking about how green everything is. We’ve had some recent rain, and this area of the state isn’t experiencing drought like other areas in Montana and the West in general.

We snapped some pictures up at Logan Pass.

A family of bighorn sheep pranced by while we were eating.

Their kids really dislike hiking, so sadly we didn’t go on any hikes during our visit. We stopped at several waterfalls, and I was able to practice my long-exposure technique.

We even discovered a secret waterfall behind a massive wall of ice!

The highlight of the day was a stop at Redrock, where we walked down to the water. Two of the kids and I donned swimsuits and dove in. WOW. The water was ice-cold, and I mean that literally because it’s draining right off the glaciers this time of year. It was the kind that almost takes your breath away when you first jump in. Of course, on a hot summer day with the sun beating down, it was fabulous.

I don’t think there’s ever a bad day in Glacier.