Archives for the month of: September, 2013


I don’t know if this showed up on CNN, but yesterday there was more violence in Los Reyes; another small town just 50 miles south of where I live in the same state of Michoacán.

“Six severed human heads have been found over the last two days in a Mexican town where local people set up a self-defence force to protect against the influence of drug cartels. The heads found on Friday were left at a monument in Los Reyes, Michoacán state prosecutors’ spokesman Alejandro Arellano says. The heads all belong to males and had bullet wounds, The Huffington Post reports. Arellano says a note threatening the town’s ‘self-defence’ group was left near the human remains. Another message was left on Thursday — but authorities refused to reveal its content. ‘Self-defence’ vigilante groups in Los Reyes have clashed with drug traffickers in recent months. These groups have been forming in Michoacan. They say they are battling the kidnapping, murders and other criminal activities the drug cartels are a part of, according to The Latin Times.”

There is a very good chance that the vigilantes and the bad guys knew each other. They probably went to school together. That’s the way it is in my little town. And Octavio Paz said that killing in Mexico is a very personal thing. He more or less suggested that if you are getting yourself murdered then there is a very good chance you know who is killing you and why.

There is so very little accountability in this day and age that somehow that degree of personalization resonates with me; albeit in a somewhat perverse way. I mean if you’re going to have sex with a woman I hope you know her well enough to like her or better yet love her. And if you are going to kill a man then I hope you know him well enough to hate him.

Contrast this to that guy who just recently walked into the Navy Yard (in my old neighborhood in southeast Washington, DC) and indiscriminately murdered 12 people and wounded a bunch of others. Or this past Boston Marathon; 2 guys killing people they didn’t even know. Or how about…


In my humble opinion, scale modeling is the only way the Incas could have built such extraordinary architecture utilizing in some cases monstrously huge boulders and/or giant pieces of quarried rock which they shaped with multiple and irregular sides and then formed with mortarless joints into many awesomely dramatic walls found in places like Cusco, Machu Picchu and others.

This appears to be a unique position as I have never seen or read anything by anyone else that champions this thought. But I reckon it’s the most plausible. And the technology of ‘scale’ is quite probably pre-Euclid; meaning that the awareness of scale in geometry existed maybe 2 millennia before the Incas came on the historical scene.

The other methodologies that have been hypothesized thus far [to me] make less sense. Repeated lifts, tracing the shapes, shaping the stones in mid-air, and/or utilizing templates; all prove in the short analysis to be neither comprehensive or complete .

I am not interested in dissuading anyone of these hypotheses although I must say that repeated lifts is absurd – just stand in the ruins of Sacsawaman if you want to see what I mean. And neither tracings or templates can address the changing shape of the stone in the x-axis direction as one proceeds deeper into the joint.

I walked the Inca Trail in 1999 and then again in 2000 during which I also spent a fair amount of time in both Cusco and the Sacred Valley. As an engineer I didn’t see the ruins so much as I did the mechanical aspects of the architecture; continually pondering over the building techniques.

After wandering around Sacsawaman for the third or forth time I eventually came to the conclusion that the designers must have used architectural scale models to both design and build their monuments. It was in my opinion the most viable methodology in light of enormity of some of the pieces. It’s like with chimneys; after it’s built and sticking up through your house – there is no delete function. And it only stands to reason that the builders didn’t want to have to move those mammoth pieces of stone anymore times than they absolutely had to. And it also stands to reason that the weight/size/(un)moveability quotient would be right at the top of the design criteria list. I know it would be mine. And the Incas certainly wouldn’t/couldn’t have trial and error those mega-ton stones into place; not with those highly precise fits – which was another top priority line item on the same design criteria list. And you knew in your mind – that is if you put yourself in the place of the builder – that you wouldn’t want to try to lift some of those pieces into place but one time and one time only.

Back in Texas in the early part of my career I worked in the oil/gas/petro-chemical industries. This was the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when drafting was still done by hand. Many large petrochemical plants and/or their additions called ‘units’ were first modeled to scale. For example, in 1983 we built a $130M Chloroform Unit in Ingleside, Texas for DuPont Corp. But before it was built, ‘modelers’ created a – I don’t know specifically (it’s been so many years) – something like a 1 / 32 scale model of that unit representing every last fitting and pipe run. The scale of the model in other words was 1/32th of an inch equals 1 foot. That model like all other models were precise and all inclusive and in some cases cost a quarter of a million dollars or more. But that cost was justified in that when the construction and fabrication drawings were prepared that they’d be 99% correct. This meant that the pre-fabricated pipe and whatnot would fit the first time and that there would be correspondingly little field rework, which is/was very costly.

It’s not an oversimplification to see that those modern models of industrial plants were nothing more than a collection of 3-dimensional shapes  – just like the Incas stones; everything stretches out in the X-Y-Z dimensions. So applying this modeling concept it seemed very reasonable to me that the Inca architects did the same. First they chose a site, produced a design, roughed out their perimeters, laid their quarried stones around that perimeter then chose some particular stone as their alpha stone which they then shaped first. After which they built a corresponding model of that alpha stone to scale. The remaining quarried stones were concurrently pre-dressed based upon their respective shapes. The architect counted and evaluated the pieces as they related to his greater design and then set about to model their shapes and joints. I would have imagined that the architect had both a master model set and corresponding model pieces that were distributed to each rock-shaping team. Those toy size scale pieces were then used to cut and fit the big stones to their necessary size and shape. If there was a design or work order change then the change was first applied to the model.

Maybe you might have had to have seen a room size scale model of an enormous petro-chemical plant to have had a similar epiphany but to me it seems entirely logical that this would have been the method employed by the Incas to produce such perfect fitting masonry. They certainly had the engineering and math skills to have built models. And you don’t have to be a genius to figure out that making mistakes on a smaller model of something is infinitely more desirable than screwing up a 50 ton piece of rock that already cost your project many man-weeks of labor in quarry and transport time.

Just a thought…

I took a couple of dozen photos of the skies yesterday afternoon shortly after 6 pm. These photos were taken from the 3rd floor terrace of my house. The vista from the terrace is a 270 degree view of the town and countryside.

This photo was taken looking east:


This photo was taken looking northeast:


And this photo was taken looking northwest:


The sky was very dramatic and ever changing so it was surprising we didn’t get a drop of rain out of this.


I just came across this ‘to scale’ sketch layout that I did of my chimney when I was trying to understand both the aesthetic and impact of having a Poseidon missile size thing sticking up through the center of my house. My mother said, ‘don’t do it’. She said that because chimneys are one of those scary architectural things that you can’t do over, simply move, or tear down if you don’t like it. A true statement especially if it’s running up through the center of your house. My lead carpenter agreed and said ‘that thing is huge’. And he was right. At the base the thing measured 7′ X 9′ and when finished would stand 45′ tall. The master mason said after it was finished that the thing weighed upwards of 60 tons.

A bold move but ended up looking and working beautifully. The chimney supported 3 separate fireboxs, each necessitating an appropriate sized flue. So there was a woodstove for the ground floor, a big see-thru fireplace on the main floor and a Franklin design based fireplace on the top level.

I turned over all of the hand-drawn floor plans and house design details that I had created to the people that bought the house from me in 2007 (good timing, eh?).

In 1978 I got my toes wet in the engineering world by first working as a pen and ink draftsman. This was old school stuff: drafting boards, parallel arms, and plastic triangles. Art and engineering! I was hooked.

When I found this sketch that I did in ’99 I was very pleased to see it. I had forgotten all about it.

The back story is I returned to university in ’85 and got an engineering degree. Designing shit is so cool.

Hey Buddy –

I am going to be able to meet up with you after all! Ian just found out that he needs to be back in Singapore the 3rd week of January so we have to cut our trip to Cusco short by two weeks.

Email me back and tell me where you want to meet up. I know that you are just kicking off your own trip so take your time with deciding on where.

When needs to be mid-January so maybe we could meet in Mexico City? You decide. I can grab a flight to anywhere.

Katie says ‘kisses’.

Best. Spike

PS – Have I ever mentioned that nimrod, Tim the Tech Writer to you? You know the type – every office has one – he’s in his fifties, lives with his mom, watches a lot of the Nature Channel; in short -he’s a never been laid, know-it-all durfus. You feel sorry for the guy, if for no other reason because he could be the poster child for Loser (and that is a highly contested distinction). For example, he has a small collection of wrist watches. None of them are impressive or important timepieces – try ‘vintage’ Hamilton, Bulova, etc. He likes to wear a different one every week. He contrives to drop by my office Monday morning to talk to me about ‘fine’ watches. Like I even care about watch collecting. (I am, however, almost beginning to regret winning that 20 grand in Lake Tahoe last year, then getting drunk and impulse buying that damned Explorer II. I spent a big wad on a stripper too but that purchase doesn’t come back to haunt me every Monday morning…)

Anyway he comes to me – the question was Turkish food and whether or not I want to go to a Turkish place for lunch.

I simply reply, ‘yeah, sure, I love Turkish food.’

He replies with, ‘yeah, it’s just like Afghani food.’

You’d have to know this dimwit to truly appreciate this remark but I quietly marvel at this unlikely comparison like I do a lot of the things he says. First, the only possible common ground between these two ethnic cuisines might be mutton kebabs, and a few spices.

Afghanistan is xenophobic, landlocked, and inbred. And the food shows it. Turkey spans 2 continents and has coasts on 3 different seas. It has been the birthplace of more than one civilization beginning with the Hittites. And has been invaded by everyone from Attila to the Saracens. All which partially explains the breadth of Turkish food.

One can overlook his blithe disregard for world history and geography but still manage to be dumbfounded by his cavalier approach to logic; choosing to use an obscure data point as the reference.

It reminds me of the joke that starts with a gringo tourist asking a little Mexican boy what he is going to do with the dead Roadrunner that he is carrying. The boy replies that he is going to eat it. The gringo asks what it tastes like. The punch line is that it tastes something like a chicken hawk.

I tell myself every morning that I just need to cut the guy loose but he shows up, typically mid-morning for a ‘how’s your day going visit?’ Not that he cares; asking the question is really just an opening for him to put you in the path of his high beams, to demonstrate his burgeoning awareness and let a lesser mortal bask momentarily in the rich inner life he possesses. I know he should just be put out of his misery but I can’t bring myself to do it. Being truthful with the guy would probably hurt me as much as it did the kid when he put down old Yaller.

So I just inwardly grimace when he starts expounding on modern Swiss clock making, 16th century chamber music, or any other number of topics that props up his delusional Renaissance Man self.

(I’d probably only have to pick up a TV guide, look at the History channel programming to predict what he is going to bore me with next).

Oh yeah – I was in Starbucks (sigh) to pick up my morning ‘small dark roast coffee please*’ and i became slightly exasperated (finally) with ‘would you like something to eat with that?’ I said, ‘what am i, like 4?’ Thinking and no, i don’t have to go potty either. He misheard me but the lady in front of me turned around and smiled (in sympathy? gratuitously? scornfully?) at this mean spirited remark. Yeah, yeah, yeah – I am thinking, ‘ just give me the coffee pork face’ – as an adult if i wanted something to eat I’d come around the counter and smack you upside the head and help myself. You could tell from his sallow complexion that he was more than likely a lactose intolerant vegetarian.

(“Ah, vegetarian – an old American Indian word for bad hunter”)

Why don’t most people just shut the f*** up?

Travel safe my friend.

Cheers. Spike

12 people were shot dead in my old neighborhood in southeast Washington, DC this morning. This wasn’t some shootout between rival triads in a Chinese laundry. It wasn’t the mafioso brawling in an Italian grocery store. And it wasn’t a street shootout between rival crack dealers. This happened in a secure naval facility. A place where there are lots of sailors on guard duty all the time, with well defined security protocols, and all carrying firepower. And yes, this is part of the same government that still proclaims with a straight face that it can protect you, the citizen.

Call me cynical but a dozen years ago when that plane crashed into the pentagon building it became highly dubious to me how this same government could protect other interests if they couldn’t even manage to protect themselves. This last incident at the Navy Yard appears to be another case in point. Oh, but it gets worse.

According to the news, the 3000 people working in the Navy Yard at the time were instructed to ‘shelter in place’. This is bureaucrat speak. It means that you are on your own and to expect no help from the authorities. I know this specific language is what it is for a fact because I spent 5 years working in the defense industry in Washington, DC.

Coincidentally, I was pinged by one of the entities in the Navy Yard to do some engineering contract work there a couple of years ago. I thought ‘cool, it would be nice to be able to walk [8 blocks] to work for a change’. After these recent events, I’m sure glad that opportunity didn’t work out.

This ‘shelter in place’ doesn’t just play out in a government building. Oh, no. It has much further reaching implications than that. For example, I have been on the DC metro on three different occasions when it was shutdown for some emergency purpose. We were told to leave the metro and that is all we were told. There was no back up plan, no buses, no alternate transport provided. We were all on our own and some of us were as many as 20 miles from home.

So if the unspeakable happened and space aliens invaded Capitol Hill, the government’s response would be to shutdown every means of egress to the city and the half million of us that lived in the city and the other couple of million that worked in the city would be delivered those same rather unnourishing words of ‘shelter in place’.

We’re talking about the capital of the US and supposedly the leader of the free world. And like how the wizard of Oz turned out to be only a blustery little man behind a curtain; the nation’s capital and its leaders for all its posturing and noise have absolutely nothing (nothing) by way of a disaster plan. So when the shit hits the fan my friend and you live in an urban area like Washington, DC, I strongly suggest that you have your own personal disaster plan.

Mexican’s have such a strong cultural identity because they renew it constantly. You can’t be a Mexican living in Mexico and ever forget that you’re a Mexican and what being a Mexican truly means.

From the time they can walk kids here begin gathering an identity that transcends that of family. These pictures that I took yesterday kind of hints at that. But you really have to see more of these fiestas: Christmas, New Years, Patron Saints, and so on to really get the bigger picture.



And in case you were wondering, no, kids don’t dress like this year around.


This is how the sky looked late yesterday afternoon:


This was looking east from my third floor terrace. Between where the buildings end and the distant mountain lies the valley that I run in most every day.

This weekend is Mexican Independence. Lots (and lots) of fireworks. And lots of festivities that actually started the first of the month and will continue until the end of the month. Fiestas are serious business here.


I was out for a walk yesterday and came upon this very healthy and happy Bird of Paradise:



It’s 9:15 am and I am drinking a licuado (fruit milkshake) loaded up with pinole to power my 10 am run.

At noon I am going to wander down to the plaza to watch the festivities. Ramon has assured me that there will be lots of beautiful and possibly scantily clad women participating in this afternoon’s program.

I hope your Saturday is as nice as this one promises to be.


Both the State Police and army were massing troops on the north side of town as I set out for my run at 10 am. As the combi-bus passed I counted 2 big army trucks and a dozen state police trucks in a big parking lot. Every man was wearing black body armor, helmets and masks and carrying M-16s. The trucks were rigged out with tripod  mounted M-60 machine guns. Later into my run I could see that they had set set up check points on National Highway 15 and were re-routing some northbound traffic through my valley. The big guns, black clad guys and all of the extra traffic kinda harshed my mellow.

A very unusual Monday morning for this part of Michoacan. I have seen patrols before. But I had never seen this level of activity. There was even a helicopter involved. I have no idea what was happening to the south of town or anywhere else in the locality. I do know that the little old town of Sahuayo is highly contested territory between 2 different groups of bad guys. One of the local bad guys grew up here and the bad guys from the nearby neighboring state of Jalisco want to take it away from him. This rivalry precipitates periodic murders, shoot outs and gun battles, assassinations, decapitations, and mayhem.

My friend, Mike Loh sent me a big assortment of Cuban cigars from Singapore and they arrived today. And they arrived in such pristine condition that whoever packaged them is a genius.

I am beside myself with joy and happiness.

Smoking a great cigar is a culinary top-tener. A glass of a great Bordeaux Grand Cru is another one of those top-teners. Or a mixed ceviche in Peru. Caviar. Sushi in Japan. Oysters on the half shell. A porterhouse grilled medium rare over mesquite served with butter fried morel mushrooms. To be continued.

Cocktail hour cannot come early enough today to suit me.

I am going to break open my last good bottle of tequila  – Tepatio Reposado – kick back on the veranda, fire up one of those big, fat Cohibas and watch as the late afternoon storm blows in from the east.

It’s okay to be a little jealous.