My Helicopter’s Annual Migration from California

I take a few days off and fly from California to Washington solo.

Last week, I flew my helicopter home from a frost contract in California. I took the opportunity to treat myself to two nights in a bed and breakfast I’d been wanting to stay in for some time. Then I made the solo trip home, taking a coastal route for part of the way. I thought I’d share some information about why I go to California every winter and the highlights of this particular trip.

My Annual Frost Migration

In 2013, I got my first contract as a frost control pilot in California’s north Central Valley. That year, my helicopter was still living in the winter in Arizona and, as I flew it westward with my dog, I realized with a bit of sadness that it would likely never be back in Arizona. When that contract ended, I flew it north to Washington for cherry season. I left my home in Arizona in May 2013 and bought the land for my new home in Washington before the ink on my divorce papers was dry in July 2013.

The helicopter spent that winter in a hangar in Wenatchee. In February, I flew it south again for my second season on frost. That contract required me to stay in the area, so I migrated down in the mobile mansion and stayed there for two months. I came back in April.

My helicopter moved to its new home on my property in Malaga in May 2014, at the start of cherry drying season. By October, it was tucked away inside my building, which I designed primarily to house it, the mobile mansion, and my collection of vehicles. When I got busy with construction on my place in December and needed to shift the RV into the helicopter’s parking space, I moved it back out and into a hangar at Wenatchee Airport. (Thanks, Tyson!) Then, in February, it was back to California for my third frost season. Like my first frost contract in 2013, I didn’t have to live there with it — I wanted to stay home to continue construction and enjoy the spring blooming season. But in late April, it was time to bring it home again.

A lot of folks ask me why I fly the helicopter to and from these agricultural contracts instead of putting it on a trailer. There are three reasons:

  • I don’t have a trailer that would accommodate the helicopter and I don’t want to buy one. A trailer that can support the helicopter and its blades/tailcone properly would cost about $30,000. I could fly a lot of hours for that amount of money. And I’d still have to cover the cost of the drive, although it wouldn’t be nearly as much.
  • I don’t know about you, but the thought of driving down the highway with a $350K investment towed behind me is pretty scary. All it takes is one asshole cutting me off to turn that shiny red machine into a heap of junk on the side of the road. Simply stated: I think flying is safer for it.
  • I like to fly. ‘Nuff said.

I factor in the cost of transporting the helicopter when I decide whether a contract is worth my while. I don’t take contracts that would put me in the red if I didn’t actually fly on contract. That would be dumb.

But with that said, I do often take either passengers for hire or pilots wanting to build time with me on those long repositioning flights. I’ve been doing this since 2008, when I started migrating between Arizona and Washington for cherry season. I cut various deals with various people, depending on what the market will bear. Sometimes passengers or pilots just pay for gas. Other times, they pay a rate that covers all my costs. Most of the time, I collect something in between. This helps make the contract a tiny bit more profitable, often while giving a new pilot a chance to build some flight time in an R44 and gain some valuable cross-country flight experience.

I know I flew solo from Arizona to California that first season (2013) and I’m pretty sure I flew solo from California back to Washington. But in 2014, I had pilots do the flying with me as a passenger on both flights. And on the way down in 2015, another pilot flew while I just sat in my seat, trying not to be bored.

I decided that for the return flight, I’d be be pilot and I’d treat myself to a flight up the coast.

After all, I really do like to fly.

Potential Passengers

I asked a bunch of people who I like if they’d like to join me on that return flight. I got a bunch of interesting responses.

Four people could not go because of work they simply couldn’t get out of. I’d planned my trip for mid-week, so that really shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.

One person, who is also a helicopter pilot, wanted to go but had to work. I think he would have gotten out of work if I’d let him share the flying duties with me. But I made it clear up front that I would be doing most of the flying. In fact, I didn’t even want the dual controls in because I didn’t want that counterweight. (I would have put them in for him.) Without the bonus of stick time, it wasn’t worth taking time off from work.

One person couldn’t come because his wife’s mom is seriously ill and they expect her to pass away soon. We agreed that it would be better if he didn’t come. (She hasn’t died yet, but she’s close.) And yes, I did tell him he could bring his wife.

One person couldn’t come because he didn’t want to spend $300 on a one-way plane ticket to Sacramento. He had that money earmarked for other things. “Next time,” he said. I’m not sure if he realizes that there probably won’t be a next time.

And there were the usual collection of pilots wanting to build time. When I told the ones who contacted me that I’d be doing the flying, they all passed on the opportunity to come along as a passenger.

So as Penny and I boarded the flight to Sacramento on Tuesday morning, we knew it would be just the two of us in the helicopter on the way home. I’d fly and drink up all the sights along the way. Penny would do what she always does on the helicopter: sleep.

Prepping for the Return Flight

My flight down to Sacramento didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked. I was supposed to get into Sacramento at 11 AM, but the 6 AM flight out of Wenatchee was cancelled due to a bird strike on the starboard engine the night before. The morning pilot had seen some of the damage during his preflight walk-around and a mechanic confirmed that the bird — likely an owl — had been ingested into the turboprop engine. That plane wasn’t going anywhere soon.

Through some miracle, I managed to get on the next flight out later that morning. Then an afternoon connection to Sacramento. I stepped off the plane there at around 4 PM and was driving away in a rental car by 4:30.

My whole day in the area was shot to hell. I managed to do some errands before heading out to Rumsey where I was booked at a bed and breakfast for the night. I’ll blog about that in another post.

Wednesday’s forecast called for strong winds from the north. That would cause two problems:

  • Strong, gusty winds make turbulence. I really hate long, bouncy flights, especially when I’m trying to take a scenic route.
  • Strong winds from the north when I’m flying north meant longer flight times and more fuel stops. If I cruise at 110 knots and there’s a 40 knot headwind, that means I’m only doing 70 knots. Hell, I could drive faster than that.

Penny in the Helicopter
Penny lounges in the back seat of the helicopter while I prepped it for the flight home.

So I decided to spend another night in the area and leave early the next morning. In the meantime, I went to the airport, preflighted, wiped down the windows, and prepped it for flight. I’d be taking off as early as possible the next morning.

Locally, the wind was maddeningly calm all day.

The Flight Home

Penny and I were back at the airport at 6:10 AM on Thursday morning. Although the sun hadn’t peeked up over the horizon yet, as far as I was concerned, it was daytime.

I put Penny in the front seat beside me with a cooler full of drinks and snacks in the footwell there, within reach. The back was packed with some luggage and the equipment I’d left with the helicopter over the previous two months: blade tie-downs, cockpit cover, spare fuel pump, and miscellaneous equipment. My GoPro was mounted on the nose with the WiFi turned on. My iPad and iPhone were mounted within reach; I’d use Foreflight on my iPad to navigate and listen to podcasts and music on my iPhone.

The helicopter started right up and I gave it plenty of time to warm up. Then I took off to the west along Cache Creek and opened my flight plan by tapping a button in Foreflight.

Although I didn’t often file a flight plan when flying solo, I’d forgotten to bring along my SPOT Messenger and I wanted some way of being found in the event of a mishap. My flight plan had me heading west along Cache Creek all the way to Clear Lake, then hitting the California Coast at Fort Bragg. But because it was so early and the California Coast is notorious for morning fog and I’d already passed some low clouds near Willits, I took a more northerly route.

Cache Creek at Dawn
Flying up Cache Creek just after dawn.

Clear Lake
The lower end of Clear Lake.

Willits, CA
Low clouds over Willits, CA.

Along the way, I played around with Periscope. This is a Twitter-owned video broadcast service that makes it possible for anyone to broadcast anything to the world in real time. My iPad was mounted in such a way that its camera looked right through the front of the helicopter’s bubble, so the picture wasn’t bad at all. Unfortunately, the rotor sound made it impossible to hear any narration from me, so although I saw viewers’ questions, I couldn’t answer them.

Faced with a choice of following a valley north or striking out across the hills to the coast and following that, I finally headed for the coast. I came down a little green canyon between Westport and DeHaven and banked to the right to start my flight up the coast. (I was broadcasting during this time, so my Periscope followers got to watch it live.)

California Coast
My first sight of the Pacific Ocean from the Helicopter since my trip to Lopez Island last August.

Flying Up the Coast
I flew up the coast at my usual altitude of 500 to 700 feet AGL.

I was surprised, at first, how smooth the flying was. I had been expecting some wind and, with it, turbulence. But just when I started enjoying the smooth air, the turbulence hit. With a vengeance. Within 20 minutes of arriving at the coast, I was bouncing all over my area of the sky.

I headed inland. For another 20 minutes, the bouncing continued. I tried higher elevations to avoid the effect of the wind over the hills — mechanical turbulence. This is the kind of turbulence that most often affects my flights, mostly because I fly so low to the ground. But climbing didn’t help. The only way out of it was going to be to fly somewhere where there was less wind.

Of course, while all this was going on, I was burning fuel at a higher rate than expected. That meant I wasn’t going to make my first fuel stop as far north as Crescent City. I used Foreflight to find a closer alternative. I could make Eureka or Arcata, both of which were on the coast. I checked weather there using the Aeroweather app and saw the wind was much calmer. By that time, the bouncing had stopped anyway and flight was smooth again. So I hooked up with the South Fork of the Eel River at Myers Flat, followed that down to the Eel River, and followed that down to Fortuna.

At the coast, a marine layer had moved in but was burning off quickly. I flew just below the clouds, north from Fortuna to Eureka, where I landed for fuel at Murray (EKA) and closed my flight plan. Their pumps are ancient and attendant-run, which didn’t bother me in the least. When I do long cross-country flights, I don’t mind paying more for someone else to do the pumping. I let Penny out and we went into the FBO for a bathroom break. They had a surprisingly large pilot shop there with lots of goodies. But I wasn’t in the mood to shop so I didn’t linger.

I chatted with the attendant about the weather. I really wanted to fly up the coast but I really didn’t want to do scud-running along the way. He thought it would clear up. I figured I’d head north along the coast as long as I could see, then strike out to the west. I whipped up and filed another flight plan, then added a quart of oil and fired up the helicopter. Minutes later, Penny and I were airborne again, heading north on the east side of Arcata Bay.

We stayed on the coast for quite a while. I turned on my helicopter’s nosecam as we flew up the coast past the Redwood National Forest and various other places. The views were amazing. There were sandy stretches of beaches, sheer cliffs, and rocky islands. I saw sea lions and sea birds. But I think it was the sheer number of waterfalls tumbling off the cliffs into the Pacific Ocean that really stood out for me. It was just the kind of trip I’d hoped for. It was only after I thought I’d shot at least a half hour of spectacular video that I reached down to shut off nosecam — and realized that it hadn’t been turned on. Duh-oh! I did manage to get some good shots and video later on, but not until after a fine mist started moving in.

There’s nothing quite as awe-inspiring as a waterfall tumbling off rugged cliffs into the ocean.

The mist turned to rain around Gold Beach, OR and I decided to move inland in search of clearer weather. Unfortunately, there was no joy. I took an incoming call from a pilot friend based in California who’d just gotten some bad news about an engine overspeed on his R44. We chatted for a while as I flew between green hills and low clouds while a light rain pelted the cockpit bubble. Then the call dropped and I continued through the muck in silence.

Green Hills Near Umpqua
There was no way to keep the rain off the nosecam’s lens cover. This was the view as we headed northeast near Umpqua, OR.

I hooked up with I-5 near Yoncalla, OR. From that point, it was a bit of IFR — I follow roads — flying. It wasn’t that I had to follow the road — I could see fine. It’s just that there was no reason to fly further east because mountain obscuration made it impossible to cross the mountains anyway.

I stopped for fuel at Creswell. I’d stopped there before. I pumped my own fuel, used the restroom, and checked the oil. It was still raining lightly. One of the interesting things there is a vending machine that sells aviation oil. I didn’t need to use it — I learned long ago to always carry at least two spare quarts and actually had six on board for this flight — and I wish I’d taken a photo of it.

We were there less than 15 minutes. I continued north along I-5, now in Oregon’s “central valley.” I broadcast another Periscope video just past Eugene, then peeled away abeam Harrisburg to the northeast. Although I couldn’t see the mountains at all, I still had high hopes of crossing the Cascades at the foot of Mount Hood’s north side. After all, how big could this weather system be?

Apparently, it could be pretty big. I got within 40 miles of Mount Hood and still couldn’t see it. If anything, the clouds were lower and thicker. I heard some helicopter pilots chatting on one of the frequencies about low ceilings. One was doing training and the other was doing powerline survey work. They shared information about holes in the weather but since I didn’t know any of the places they talked about, none of it helped me.

Near Mt. Hood
My track took me pretty close to Mount Hood. I never saw it. My track is the teal dots in this map capture; the red dots represent geotagged photos.

So the scud running began. I wasn’t in the mood for it at all, so I didn’t put much effort into it. Instead of following valleys to the northeast that might have got me closer to my destination, I just headed north, hopping over hills and ducking under clouds along the way. I knew that eventually I’d reach the Columbia River, my old standby for crossing the Cascades. And sure enough, just when I thought the ceilings couldn’t get any lower, I found myself at the edge of a drop down to the water. There were clouds below me, but a big enough hole to dive right through. I descended at about 1500 feet per minute and leveled out about 400 feet over the river’s surface.

Columbia River
Leveled off over the Columbia River not far from Multnomah Falls.

My reward: an amazing view of Multnomah Falls, off to my right. (Sorry — no photos. My nosecam faces forward, not sideways.)

I followed the river northeast, flying in a sort of tunnel created by the walls of the gorge and the low clouds. I overflew the Bonneville Dam and Cascade Locks and the town of Hood River, which I really liked before it got so upscale. At Lyle, one of my least favorite places on earth, I turned to a more northward direction. That eventually put me over the Yakima Indian Reservation. I don’t know if it’s pretty. By this time — more than 7 hours of travel, including stops — I was tired and just wanted to be home. But the sky gods were going to make me work for it. They threw just enough headwind and turbulence in my way to make me ready for another fuel stop at Yakima.

The FBO’s fuel guy did all the work. I got something to drink and relaxed a while in a comfy chair while Penny looked around for dropped popcorn. We’ve spent entirely too much time at McCormick at Yakima.

Fueled up and feeling refreshed, we headed out again, continuing north. Although I could have gone direct to my home from Yakima, I had a small task to do along the way — I needed to check out a possible landing zone for an anniversary flight in June. The location was off I-90 across the river from Vantage.

That done, and feeling great to be back in very familiar territory, I dropped down and raced up the Columbia River, only 100 or 200 feet from the surface. Wanapum Reservoir was full again — it had been drained for dam repairs all last year — and it was great to do one of my favorite flights. I passed Sunland, where the folks who sold me my property live in the summer months, Cave B and the Gorge Amphitheater, and Crescent Bar. I saw a huge herd of elk down on West Bar before beginning my climb to clear the wires that crossed the river between the mouth of Lower Moses Coulee and Rock Island.

Then I was climbing up toward my home and my old landing zone was in sight. I set the helicopter down on the grass and let Penny out while I cooled down the engine and shut everything down.

Old Landing Zone
I shot this from my deck while having a very late lunch.

It was almost 3 PM.

I left the helicopter outside while I went in to make myself a good meal and relax. The wind kicked up and, for a while, I thought it would have to spend the night outside. But the wind died down after 6 and I got my ATV hooked up to the platform and repositioned it on my driveway’s landing zone. Then I started up the helicopter and moved it onto the platform. When the blades stopped spinning, I locked them in place and used the ATV to pull everything into the garage beside my RV.

Recreational vehicles? Must be. It’s an RV garage, after all.

Track Log
Here’s my track log for the entire flight. I was about 20-30 minutes into the flight when I remembered to turn it on, so it doesn’t accurately show my starting point.

According to my GPS tracklog, I’d traveled about 750 miles in 6-1/2 hours of moving time. It had been a great flight with lots of different flying conditions and things to see to keep it interesting. I’d enjoyed it, despite the moments of turbulence. It’s a shame that I had to do the flight alone. I’m sure every single person I invited would have loved it.

Next time? Maybe — if there is a next time.

At Paradise Cove

A story and a few photos.

I was driving down the California coast, looking for a place to stop for breakfast — preferably with a view of the ocean — when I saw a sign for Paradise Cove. I followed the arrow down a narrow road that wound down to the ocean. There was a right turn into a trailer park, but if I went straight, I’d end up in a parking lot on the ocean. A sign warned that parking was $20, but only $3 if you got your parking ticket validated in the restaurant and stayed for less than 4 hours. Ahead of me was a funky little oceanfront restaurant with a handful of cars parked in front of it. I drove through the gate and parked.

The Paradise Cove Beach CafeAnd went inside the Paradise Cove Beach Cafe.

It was a typical seaside restaurant — the kind you can imagine filled with people in bathing suits, eating fried clams, with sand and flip-flops on their feet. (That’s my east coast seaside experience talking.) But that Saturday morning was partly cloudy and unseasonably cool for southern California. The main dining room was empty. I was escorted into a kind of sundeck room with big windows facing the ocean. Although all the window tables were full, the waiter kindly sat me at a huge table nearby, where I could enjoy the view as well as the activity going on around me.

I checked out the menu, eager for a big, hot breakfast. I didn’t plan to eat again until after my flight arrived in Phoenix later that evening. Some items on the menu interested me, but it was the eggs benedict I asked the waiter about.

“Are they good?” There’s nothing worse than bad eggs benedict when you’re expecting decent eggs benedict.

“Very good,” he assured me.

I settled down to wait for my breakfast. There was nothing much going on outside the window. Gulls flying around, a few people walking out on the obligatory but short pier. It was mostly dark and cloudy over the ocean, but the sun was breaking through here and there. I watched my fellow diners get their breakfasts delivered. Everything looked outrageously good.

When my breakfast arrived, it looked good. On the plate were two eggs benedict, a good sized portion of roasted potatoes, and some melon slices. I nibbled a potato. It was cooked to perfection. And then I tasted the eggs benedict.

I’ve had eggs benedict in a lot of places — including a lot of fancy and expensive hotel restaurants. But these eggs benedict were the best I’d ever had in my life. It may have been the fact that the eggs were cooked perfectly — whites cooked, yolks still runny. Or the fact that the english muffins beneath them were fresh and not over-toasted. But it was probably because the hollandaise sauce was light and airy and obviously freshly prepared from scratch — not some thick yellow crap from a mix.

You like eggs benedict? Go on out to the Paradise Cove Cafe in Malibu and get some.

I was just finishing up my breakfast when a man about my age came in with two elderly ladies. They got a table by the window near where I was sitting. I watched them, trying not to look obvious about it, recognizing something about them. It came to me slowly. He was the grandson taking his grandmother and her friend out to breakfast.

They reminded me so much of all the times I’d taken my grandmother out to breakfast. This may have been because the woman had the same New York accent my grandmother had. She also spoke rather loudly, had trouble hearing her grandson, and asked the waiter all kinds of questions. She was concerned about whether she’d have to pay for a refill of her “mocha” — a simple mix of coffee and hot chocolate prepared by the waiter. She praised the waiter extensively about how well he’d prepared that mocha for her. The other woman was quieter but seemed to have the same accent. The grandson was attentive but, on more than one occasion, obviously embarrassed.

I knew exactly how he felt.

Before I left, I got up to say hello to them. I discovered that the women were from the Bronx — the same area as my grandmother. The quiet woman was the grandmother’s sister. She complemented me on the way my blue earrings made my eyes look bluer. I could easily have chatted with them all day.

Up the CoastAfterwards, I went outside and took a walk on the pier. I took a photo looking up the coast (shown here) and another looking down the coast (shown below). Amazing that these two photos were taken only moments apart, isn’t it? But the weather was variable and moving quickly. A huge storm front was moving into southern California that would dump rain on the low elevations and snow on the higher ones.

Paradise Cove and places like it are part of the reason I like to travel alone. When you’re traveling with companions, every stop has to be debated and measured. No one ever wants to say, “Let’s stop here and check it out,” because no one wants to be responsible if the place turns out to be rat hole. As a result, opportunities to visit interesting places are missed. Instead, a trip is a long string of predetermined “must see” places, visited one after another with few spontaneous stops along the way.

Down the CoastThere was magic at the Paradise Cove Cafe — at least for me that morning. If I’d been with someone else — someone anxious to eat breakfast before starting the drive or satisfied with a chain restaurant for a meal — I would have missed that magic.

I also would have missed out on photo opportunities. When I’m on the road by myself, I stop more often to look at what’s around me and, if I can, take pictures. On this particular Saturday, all I had with me was my little Nikon CoolPix point-and-shoot, but I put it to good use. The weather was a mixture of thick clouds and blue sky. It was the kind of place and day that calls out to photographers. The photos I’m able to include with this blog entry will help me remember this day. (I even took a stealth photo of the grandson/grandmother/aunt outing with my Treo, although I won’t publish it here.)

Anyway, I walked back to my rental car, fired it up, and paid my $3 parking fee on the way out. It had been well worth the money.

Keeping Busy on the Left Coast

Where I’ve been for the past few days.

On Sunday, May 20, Mike and I climbed aboard Zero-Mike-Lima for a flight to the Los Angeles area. (It was a relatively uneventful flight and, if I find time, I will bore you with the details in another blog post.) We landed at Torrance Airport, where we had business to do, and took a cab to LAX, where we rented a car for the week. Zero-Mike-Lima is sitting at the ramp in Torrance, right in front of the Robinson Helicopter factory, waiting for our flight back to Wickenburg on Sunday.

We came out here primarily to take the Robinson Factory Safety Course, a 3-1/2 day course designed to educate helicopter pilots about how accidents occur — and how they can be prevented. This was my third time at the course and Mike’s first. I’ll probably be writing more about it in another blog post because I really think it’s worth covering in some detail.

We’ve been on the go almost since arriving in the area. In fact, other than sleep at night, the only rest we had was right after checking into our hotel in Torrance on Sunday.

On Sunday night, we went down to the Redondo Beach pier for a seafood dinner.

Monday, we were in class from 8 AM to 4 PM. Then we zipped into Los Angeles for a walk around the Farmer’s Market and Grove shopping center.

Tuesday, class from 8 AM to 4 PM. Then, after a quick walk around a mall to pick up a few things, we headed back into Los Angeles for dinner and some shows at The Magic Castle with my friend (and fellow author) Deb Shadowitz. We got in to our hotel at 1 AM.

Wednesday, class from 8 AM to 4 PM. Then we hopped in the car and headed south along the coast, ending up in San Clemente for a visit with our friend (and fellow helicopter pilot) Jim Wurth.

Thursday, class from 8 AM to 11 AM. Then, after a quick trip to the Verizon Wireless store for some bad news, we headed back to the Robinson factory for lunch and to wait for Mike’s flight. (Mine was on Tuesday, during class.) Then it was back in the car for a drive up the coast, with a quick stop in Venice, to our new hotel in Malibu.

As you can see, we’ve been pretty much on the go since Sunday morning. Actually, it’s been since Saturday morning, when we gave helicopter rides at Yarnell Daze.

So I haven’t had any time to write in my blog.

imageIt’s Friday morning and, as usual, I was up at about 5:30 AM. Our hotel is weird. It was probably an old hotel that was recently gutted and renovated. Our room has nice (fake) hardwood floors, clean white walls, and a king-sized bed. But not much else. Really. There’s no dresser, no chairs (other than on the little balcony), no table, no sofa. There are two night tables and one lamp. No clock. The TV is a 17 or 19 inch flat screen, mounted on the wall. There’s a 3 cubic foot refrigerator and a wire clothes rack on wheels as a closet. The place is trying to be “trendy minimalistic,” and although the effect is pleasant, it isn’t comfortable. We have views of the ocean from our windows, but no access to the beach. And the two lanes (in each direction) of the Pacific Coast Highway run right past the place. Cars, trucks, and motorcycles drive by throughout the day and night.

There’s Internet access via an unsecured network named “default,” but to get connected, you have to stand in a certain place in the room with your computer on the windowsill. I’ll probably use that to publish this entry.

This is the part of the trip I’ve been looking forward to: the part where Mike promised we’d just “take it easy.” We both expected this place to be on the ocean with access to the beach, so we’re very disappointed (to say the least). We’ll probably find another place later today. In my mind, “take it easy” means to relax in a comfortable place, read, write, or just chat. It doesn’t mean hopping in the car and driving all over the place. I know he’s not going to want to hang out here. I probably won’t either. So I’m not sure when I’ll find time to write again.

Stay tuned. More to come.

[composed in a hotel room in Malibu, CA with ecto]

More on Twitter

Frivolous and a waste of time, but kind of cool, too.

According to Wikipedia, Twitter is

a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send “updates” (text-based posts, up to 140 characters long) via SMS, instant messaging, the Twitter website, or an application such as Twitterrific.

Some More Details

Here’s how it works.

You join Twitter by signing up for a free membership.

You can then use the Twitter Web site, an application such as Twitterific (Mac OS only; there must be something out there for Windows users), a Dashboard Widget such as Twitterlex or Twidget (Mac OS only), SMS, or instant messaging to compose a 140-character-or-less mini blog post — referred to as a tweet — and post it to the Twitter service.

Your tweet goes into the Twitter public timeline (shown below), a constantly updated listing of recent tweets that changes so frequently, you probably won’t see your tweet appear because by the time you refresh the page, 20 or 30 other Twitter users have posted their tweets, thus pushing yours off the page. Much of what does appear is pretty boring. Some of it is clearly promotional or self-promotional. Some of it is in languages other than English.) And, of course, there’s the usual low-level chat mentality of posting nonsense apparently in an effort to fill bandwidth with inane chatter.

The Twitter Public Timeline

So, in short, Twitter enables you to broadcast, to the world, what you’re doing at that very moment or, if you’re not doing anything worth talking about, whatever message you want to broadcast. But very few people are likely to see it, so it’s a lot like shouting out of a helicopter window while flying over the Pacific Ocean — pretty much a waste of communication effort.

Follow the Tweets of your Friends

TwitterificFortunately, there is a way to weed out the stuff you don’t want to see and to concentrate on the stuff you do want to see. Just create a network of “friends” and people you “follow.” As you find other Twitter members you’re interested in, you add them as friends. Then, when you view your Twitter home page or use an application like Twitterific (shown here) to keep up to date, you only see the tweets from the people you care about.

My only problem is, either the people I care about don’t use Twitter or, if they do, I don’t know their Twitter User IDs so I can’t add them as friends. This is probably because I’m not hip — a situation I’m quite used to, since I’ve been dealing with it my entire life.

Put Your Tweets on Your Blog or Site

Twitter BadgeA cool feature of Twitter is the ability to add a Twitter badge to your Web site or blog. You can see my Twitter badge (if it’s still online when you read this) in the navigation bar on the Home page of my Web site. Here’s a screen shot of it, just in case I removed it. (I’m so fickle about features on my site.)

You can modify the color of the badge, but not much else. I think the badge is too big for the 140 characters allowed, given the microscopic font size. I was unable to tweak it for the appearance I wanted. What’s nice is that it includes a link to my Twitter page for people who care about me to follow me. I don’t think anyone has yet. That doesn’t surprise me, given that I’m not hip.

By the way, adding the badge to your site is pretty easy. Follow the link to Badges, set options as desired, then copy the resulting code and paste it into your site or blog where you want it to appear. It automatically shows your most recent tweet when the page is loaded.

Similar Services

I first heard about Twitter on the TWiT (no relation) podcast. (TWiT is short for This Week in Tech and it’s hosted by Leo Laporte. Since raving about it on a show, Leo has since switched to rival service Jaiku. I don’t know anything about Jaiku (yet) and am too busy today to explore it. But you can expect an article about it in the future.

Who knows? It might be a better solution for folks with hipness deficiencies.

Looking for other Twitters

If you’re a regular reader of this blog and maintain a Twit account, I welcome you to promote it in the comments for this site. I’ll check out your tweets and may add you to my list of “friends.” (Whoo-hoo!)

Would also be interested in reading your impressions of the Twitter service or competing services. Use the Comments link.

New Year’s Weekend

How We Celebrated the New Year.

After several painfully boring New Year’s Eves spent in Wickenburg and one relatively interesting one spent in Prescott, we decided we wanted a more memorable New Year’s Eve.

So we left town.

We stuffed the trunk of my Honda S2000 with overnight bags, dress clothes, and two bottles of champagne, wedged ourselves into the passenger seats, buckled up, put the top down, and sped off to the west on Friday morning.

We went to La Jolla, CA, which is just north of San Diego. We booked a room at the Sea Lodge at La Jolla Shores. Our room featured a huge sliding glass door and private balcony that faced the ocean. All day long, we could watch the waves and the people and birds on the beach. We could listen to the rhythm of the ocean waves. We could watch the weather move in and the kayakers move out and the surfers just float around, waiting for the perfect wave.

On New Year’s Eve, we had reservations for the early seating at Nine Ten, the restaurant in La Jolla’s Grand Colonial Hotel. We chose dinner with a wine pairing. (For those of you who don’t know what that means, each course is served with a different wine that has been selected by someone knowledgeable about wines and foods.) Four courses, four wines. The food was exquisite. I had chestnut soup, sea bass, venison, and a chocolate desert. Everything was both beautifully prepared and delicious. It was the kind of meal you’d couldn’t get within 40 miles of Wickenburg. And I enjoyed every bite of it.

After dinner, we changed into regular clothes and went for a walk on the beach. It was a nice night and there were very few people out and about. Then we had some champagne on our balcony and listened to the waves to welcome in the new year.

On Saturday, New Year’s Day, we drove into San Diego. We spent some time walking around the popular Gaslight Quarter, which reeked of beer from the previous night’s celebrations. Most shops and restaurants were closed; we got there too early. We walked a total of about 20 blocks and saw three Starbucks coffee shops. In all three instances, the Starbucks had been placed near an existing coffee shop. I realized that Starbucks is trying to put all the other coffee shops out of business. This was a revelation to me. We went into one of those little coffee shops for some latte. It was quaint and had lots of character — much nicer than the cookie-cutter design of a Starbucks. And the person who took my order actually made my coffee — imagine that! I wondered how long the place would survive with Starbucks right across the street. So I decided then and there that I would no longer buy coffee (or anything else) in a Starbucks. I’d like to see some little coffee shop put a Starbucks shop out of business and I’ll do my part to help make it happen.

We drove over the big bridge to Coronado Island. We walked around the east side of the island for a while, admiring the view of San Diego, then headed west to the Coronado Hotel. I got an excellent parking spot on the street near the hotel entrance, saving the $5 per hour parking fee I’d have to pay to park on the hotel’s parking lot. We walked around the hotel for a while and I bought a gift for Lorna who, with John, was housesitting for us. The Coronado Hotel is a wonderful historic landmark that is magnificently maintained. We had lunch outdoors in the sunshine: sea bass prepared two different ways. Then a long walk around the town in search of just the right desert. We found a coffee/pastry shop (with a Starbucks right next door — the nerve!) but didn’t find just the right bit of chocolate to satisfy my after-lunch craving. We left town heading south on the long causeway that ends just three miles north of the Mexican border, then headed back north.

Our last stop for the day was Cabrillo National Monument, where the original Point Loma lighthouse stands on a hill overlooking the San Diego Bay. Magnificent views all around. I took lots of pictures and used the movie feature of my camera to create a panoramic movie of the bay and city beyond.

By this time, it was late afternoon and the warm sunshine we’d been enjoying all day was fading behind thin clouds on the horizon. We headed back to La Jolla Shores for a rest before dinner. We had dinner in La Jolla, at a place called Roppongi. The restaurant featured “Asian fusion” food. We ordered five different tapas dishes, all excellent, and a sake sampler. More food you can’t get at home.

On Sunday, we checked out early and headed back down to San Diego’s Balboa Park. Many people know the park as the home of the San Diego Zoo, but the park also features many museums. We visited the Air and Space Museum there, which was surprisingly good. There were many airplanes and spacecraft on display, including the Apollo 9 Space Capsule and an actual GPS satellite. Exhibits were arranged historically, with early aviation exhibits near the entrance of the building and space exhibits near the exit. The building is round, so you walk in a circle to see all of the exhibits. A courtyard in the middle of the building has a glass ceiling and, since the building is in the flight path for San Diego Airport, jets fly right over the roof just a few thousand feet up. It reminded Mike of growing up in Flushing, NY, in the flight path for La Guardia.

Lunch was at Ole Madrid, a restaurant in the Gaslight Quarter that was supposed to offer Sunday Brunch. They called it brunch, but it wasn’t the buffet style meal we expected. Instead, we ordered tapas from a menu. Everything was good.

We left the city soon after that and headed east on I-8. We made one stop: in the town of Alpine where there’s an Indian Casino and large outlet mall. The mall was beautifully designed and landscaped with lots of statues, fountains, and vegetation. It was a pleasure to walk through it. After picking up a few things we can’t get in Wickenburg, we hit the road again. The day was cloudy and we drove with the top up to keep warm. (We’d had the top down all weekend long.) After coming through the mountains on I-8, we turned off, following the road toward Mexicali. The drive along the border was mildly interesting — certainly more interesting than the drive along I-8. We joined up with I-8 just west of the sand dunes and followed that to Yuma. Then 95 to Quartzsite, I-10 to SR 60, and SR 60 to Wickenburg. We got in just after 8 PM.

It had been a nice trip away, made possible, in part, by our friends John and Lorna, who stayed at our house and watched the menagerie (Alex the Bird, Jack the Dog, Jake and Cherokee (horses), and the chickens).

Now it’s back to reality in Wickenburg.