Monthly Archives: February 2016

Intel Inspires


In July, 2018 Intel Corporation will celebrate its 50th birthday.  Yes, the Intel chip has been around for almost 50 years! On its 35th birthday Intel workers at its world headquarters in Santa Clara buried a time capsule in an entry courtyard.  This capsule will be opened during the 2018 birthday celebrations. It reportedly contains Intel technology, a 300mm Pentium 4 processor wafer, and cultural items, an inscrutable Costa Rican newspaper.  I’m pretty sure it won’t contain a 2003 joke book or a copy of Call of Duty, the 1st person shooter video game franchise that was launched that year. Intel is a very serious, fact-driven place.

I realized this as I peered through a circle in the free Intel Museum at its world headquarters.  The circle was focused on the courtyard.  I wondered if I should step outside the entrance again and see if I could find an ASIANS ONLY sign because the museum was crowded with Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Taiwanese tour groups.  I strolled into the gift shop and talked to the only other Caucasian in the place.  He was busy ringing up purchases because a long line of Asians was quietly waiting to buy Frisbees.   When the purchasers happily left, I asked the seller what was the shop’s best selling item and he said bunny men.  Bunny men were dancers who debuted on the 1997 Super Bowl and became cultural icons.  The seller had only one on display.  It was a hand-sized, soft doll suitable for attachment to a book bag.  The young man read my mind. “We’re out of them,” he said.  He added that Asians wanted only American made goods.

I moved on to the displays.  They began with Intel’s history.  Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce founded it in 1968. Andy Grove soon joined them and the company took off.   Its 1st year revenue was $2,672,000.   Five years later it was $66 million.  I read through the entire history and finally understood why Intel’s stock split and split in the 1990s as, among its innovations, Intel’s flash card memory grew and phones shrank.  I learned that the word Intel stands for Integrated Electronics and read other dry, techie stuff.  It quickly became rather overwhelming.

So I talked to Ryan who was waiting to take his next tour group through the museum.  I asked him what his favorite display was and he took me to “Zoom into a chip”.  It was a really cool, hands-on exhibit at a level even I could easily understand.   Totally into it, he told me to touch the nearby silicon ingot. Silicon is the 2nd most abundant substance in the world.  #1 is oxygen. Wafers are sliced from these ingots, and Ryan told me that it was the most purfied silicon object I would ever touch.  It was an unexplainable thrill.


Robert Noyce said, “Don’t be encumbered by history. Go off and do something wonderful.”  This quote was at the exit, and an Asian teenager was assuming a Noyce-like pose in front of it while his grinning mother took his picture. “The Intel Museum is a 5 Compass endeavor.



Gruene, Where Preservation Works


I wondered why the fantastic little town of Gruene never receives separate entries in travel books.  Then I found Texas Heritage. It explained that Gruene is a historic district within the city limits of New Braunfels, so it’s usually listed as an attraction for this German-settled, Texas town northeast of San Antonio.

Gruene is easy to miss but worth finding. Ruth & I sailed right past the road to it and went up into the Hill Country before turning back.  The detour was worth it, however, because we learned that Willie Nelson has pneumonia and might have to cancel some engagements.  The trick is to get off I-35 at New Braunfels, go north, and just past the big box constructions turn left onto Hunter Road.  If there’s a sign, we missed it.

Gruene almost became a ghost town, which would have been a shame.  In the 1970s some preservationists realized its historical importance and saved it.  By the 1840s German farmers were settling here in what was called the Lone Star Republic.  Texas became the 28th state in 1845.  One of the settlers was Ernst Gruene.  He and his two sons built houses, planted cotton, and became successful.  Soon, about 30 other families joined them and built houses in various styles along the Guadalupe River on a bluff overlooking what would become the city of New Braunfels.  A saloon and dance hall were quickly added to the mercantile establishments springing up.  The boll weevil and The Depression took Gruene down but the dance hall never closed.  Today, it’s the oldest one in Texas and what’s left of the original town, which is quite a lot, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The dance hall is an authentic hoot.  Built in 1878, it was the center of this community’s social life for more than a century before becoming a performance venue for the likes of Lyle Lovett, Garth Brooks, George Strait, and…..Willie Nelson.  Many country-western careers began in Gruene Hall.  I loved seeing its historic stage, the autographed photos of lots of familiar entertainers, the neon beer signs, the open-air dance floor, etc.   The dance hall has free entertainment most weekdays and ticketed shows most weekends. The ones I checked out ranged from $12 to $30 per person per performance.


Locals pronounce Gruene “green” and its shops, restaurants, B&Bs, etc. are fun/nostalgic instead of being fake/modernized.  Gruene is great, an entire 5 Compass town.



Macedonia’s Many Problems


Despite the ongoing winter season, refugees continue to move from Greece to Northern Europe. Reportedly from January 1st until now, 100,000 Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees have entered Greece.  As a result of this continuing flow, the transit countries are beginning to impose restrictions. Macedonia, for example, just reduced the number of those passing through it to around 1,000 per day.   “Germany and the European Commission are considering sealing Macedonia’s border with Greece altogether,” says The Economist. Most authorities feel that this is not possible any time soon.

Ruth and I were in Macedonia last May just before the mass migration began. Our travels were in the main tourist areas–majestic Lake Ohrid, Bitola, the unrestored, 19th century town with lots of potential to become a major  tourist magnet in a less troubled world, etc.  I expected a State Department travel warning for Americans wanting to visit Macedonia, but that hasn’t happened. Macedonia is a beautiful, surprisingly undeveloped country with a small population, around 2,000,000.   Its largest city and capital, Skopje, has only half a million residents.  Why don’t a large number of the refugees want to settle in Macedonia?  It does give them 3 days to apply for asylum, but most migrants use that time to travel north to Germany and other richer countries.

Macedonia is struggling economically.  Agriculture and tourism are its 2 biggest industries.   It exports strawberries and cherries to Russia.   There are many abandoned factories in industrial zones.  There is lots of unrest.  One Macedonian told me heatedly that, due to corruption, 5 families have all the wealth.  There are many ancient monasteries here.  Churches are the biggest property owners.   This country is 75% Orthodox Macedonian and 25% Muslim.  There is no private media so people get information via Facebook and YouTube.   Youth unemployment, a cause of much social unrest all over the world, is said to be 80% in Macedonia!   I have no way of verifying these, but, if true, who would want to stay and work toward citizenship?


Macedonia would like to join the European Union and is a candidate.  But Greece, already a member, will block its ambitions because Greece’s 2nd most populous region is also called Macedonia and they’re not happy about that. With so much turmoil in Europe these days and England threatening to leave the EU, I can’t see the EU accepting new entrants any time soon.

Surrounded by other problematic countries–Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece–poor Macedonia is caught among too many negative currents.





Is Natural Bridge Caverns a Gem?


The AAA gives a gem to top attractions.  I agree with their designations most of the time.  But I finally found one that I thought was not worth a gem–Natural Bridge Caverns.

I had a good friend in high school named Leonard.  He was from Austria. He received a scholarship to St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.  It changed his life.  In 1960, 4 determined students from this university discovered 2 miles of cave corridors beneath a limestone bridge northeast of San Antonio.  This cave system developed into a National Natural Landmark and State Historical Site that the Automobile Club awarded a gem to.  I disagree.

But I’m from Missouri, the Cave State, and grew up exploring its caverns despite the fact that I actually favored the caves in South Dakota’s Black Hills. In other words, I have some background for judging caverns; and I found Natural Bridge grand without being all that different from others of my experience.  And then there was Nick.

Ruth heard that the basic Discovery Tour required lots of strenuous up and down climbing. We had spent the morning thoroughly exploring the wonderful town of Gruene, Texas, and Ruth was not interested in spending 75 minutes in a cave.  I went by myself.

I waited for my tour under a shady pavilion with 8 picnic tables.   Traditional country music was blaring as I watched other cavers arrive. One boy was wearing a shirt that proclaimed KANYE FOR PRESIDENT. They were mostly families with a scattering of older couples who looked fit.  Only one looked as if they might have difficulty.  The group grew to about 30. Nick, who looked like a younger, skinnier Josh Groban arrived to conduct the Discovery Tour.

He told us some rules.  The main one was “do not touch anything!”  He told us that it would be 70º in the cave and very humid.  If we saw bats, we were not to take pictures of them.  Sounding bored, Nick said we would descend the equivalent of a building with 18 floors.  Often, tour guides have done their jobs so long that they sound programmed.  I figured Nick was one of them.

On our first stop in the North Cavern, Nick said if anyone was having difficulties at any time to tell him and he or she would be escorted out.   One teenaged girl immediately left the tour.

Nick told us that there hadn’t been bats in this cave for 5,000 years.  One boy, who had already asked some astute questions, remembered the warning and asked our guide, who insisted on defining easy words in a patronizing way, if he had seen any bats in Natural Bridge Caverns.  Nick was flustered.  He told the boy that he had only been on the job for a week and suggested the boy come back in a year and ask him that question again.

In one passageway, we were told that each group would have its picture taken. Nick made it sound like a security precaution, but it was actually an attempt to sell memories of our thrilling visit.   He also promoted other cave tours during which spelunkers got wet and dirty and had more fun.


The way back to the Visitors Center passed several theme-park-like attractions. Glad to be out, I passed them rapidly wishing I was back in Missouri.


Point Reyes Continued


Because 1/3 of Point Reyes is controlled pastoral zone, another 1/3 is protected wilderness, and this National Seashore/Park is in the Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve, it seems both spacious and empty.   While there, it’s hard to keep in mind that 7 million people live just south of it.

Thursday.  Spend some time in the Bear Valley Visitor Center.  This is one of 3 information-providing facilities opened to the public.  Bear Valley VC is resort like because its architects included lots of wood in its construction.  Its displays have a big focus on birds, wildlife, Francis Drake, and the Pre-European inhabitants of the area, the Miwok people.  The Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center is where free buses stop so that passengers can buy tickets to see the lighthouse.  The Lighthouse itself is often open and has some displays.  Its observation platform is a popular spot for seeing migrating grey whales. Several short trails–Woodpecker, Rift Zone, and Kule Loklo, which leads to a re-created Native American village–are found near Bear Valley.  The entire Point Reyes has 150 miles of hiking trails.  Guided trail rides on horses are available.

Friday, beachcomb.  Gentle Tomales Bay has a few beaches and is popular with sea kayakers.   At Point Reyes, visitors can explore 80 miles of beach.   Many trails lead to them.  My favorite is the 11-mile-long Point Reyes Beach seen at the top of yesterday’s blog.  Nicknamed “Great Beach”, it’s known for high surf, sneaker waves, and rip currents.

Saturday.  Learn about the San Andreas Fault.   This major rift passes through Point Reyes National Seashore and Tomales Bay.  In fact, this is where the Pacific and Northwest Plates exist side by side. The Point Reyes Peninsula moves about 2 inches north each year.  A short loop Earthquake Trail is accessed from the Bear Valley Visitor Center. During the famous 1906 San Francisco Earthquake this peninsula shifted 20 feet northwest in less than one minute. Scientists conjecture that Point Reyes was near Los Angles 30 million years ago and has traveled 280 miles since then.   The next big shake is said to be soon and inevitable.

50 animal species listed as threatened, rare, or endangered spend time in Point Reyes National Seashore. Unfortunately, the striped skunk isn’t one of the endangered. Evidence of its presence is not hard to find, but this species is at least known to strike the ground audibly with its front feet before propelling those foul-smelling yellow droplets on any tormentor.   My advice is to run when it starts striking. That worked for me.