Just As I Thought

Mysteries of the west

Judging from all the signs everywhere telling people of the dangers of everyday living, I jumped to the conclusion that California was way behind in the area of personal responsibility and individual liberty. Boy, was I wrong.
Back home in Virginia, everything is tightly regulated — not in the same way it is in California, by warnings and such, but by just a great big no. In Virginia, you can’t buy liquor anywhere other than a state-run store with limited hours. In California, I can go down the hill to the grocery store and buy a liter of vodka with my Budget Gourmet.
In Virginia, you can’t buy fireworks other than innocuous sparklers. In California — ready for this? — you can buy fireworks at Target! Not in the parking lot, but right there on the shelves in the store.
Hmm. Easily obtained fireworks and liquor… maybe that’s the state’s way of keeping the population under control.

More mysteries solved: ever since I was a little kid, I wondered about the mysterious black box up on Mt. Umunhum. It’s a large retangular structure, like a monolith, perched high on top of the Santa Cruz mountains. I look out at it every day from my office window. Of course, this is 2005, and the internet knows all: it turns out that the huge structure is a building from the former Almaden Air Force Station, also known as the AN/FPS-24 Tower.

image

In fact, it’s not black — it just looks that way. It’s a large concrete tower that was once part of an Air Force radar installation. It was once used for early warning of incoming… well, I guess missiles, as part of NORAD. Now, it’s abandoned and becoming a ruin. (By the way, the next large mountain south of Umunhum is Loma Prieta, the epicenter of that big 1989 earthquake.)

The other mystery that haunted me was the harsh yellow street lights here. I’ve never seen anything like it, coming from a land of bright white lights… and light pollution. Yep, that’s the answer to this one: San Jose uses sodium discharge street lighting which casts a bright yellow light in order to keep the light pollution to a manageable level for the Lick Observatory, which sits on Mt. Hamilton just to the east of the city. The observatory can easily filter out the narrow wavelength of yellow used by these lights, and thus continue to make astronomical discoveries while perched above one of California’s largest metropolitan areas. Astronomers were so grateful for San Jose’s concession that they named an asteroid after the city.

Just call me the Answer Man.

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