Saturday, May 31, 2008


Dear Family and Friends:

We've been fascinated by the huge vegetable farms in the Salinas Valley so we took a guided Agriculture tour on Friday morning.

Our guide, Evan, has a graduate degree in agricultural, emphasis in grape-growing, and now runs a one-person tour business -- both agriculture tours and wine-tasting tours. He also does a little bit of ag-consulting one or two days a week.

He started out with some statistics, though, as so often is the case, made a tragic face and said it was a course in school that he hated when I told him what I was teaching. Anyhow, 2006 data showed 389,000 acres in Monterey County producing revenue of $3.5 billion. Lettuce and strawberries are the top two crops, revenue-wise, followed by nurseries producing all sorts of potted plants for nationwide sales. We hadn't seen the nurseries so we were surprised to learn about this. This is not a great picture, but maybe you get the idea. At one nursery there are 70 acres of greenhouses growing orchids.

We started off at a sewage treatment facility. All of the county's sewage is run through this facility, purified and constantly monitored, Evan assured us, and used for irrigation and to recharge the aquifer. As fresh water is removed from the aquifer, sea water intrudes and this is a danger that the agriculture industry wants very much to avoid. Now, apparently, there are some regions that won't buy food produced that has been irrigated by purified waste water, so there is a continued effort to convince the populace that it's not dangerous.

Next, we drove by the Dole veggie cooler and shipping dock. Everything is bar-coded and handled robotically. Some 400 trucks load and go here daily. The key to vegetable production is to get it out of the field and into refrigerated storage as quickly as possible. (We had seen a good video on this in the Ag Museum in Salinas that shares space with the Steinbeck Museum.) The high cost of diesel fuel is making it very expensive to ship lettuce to the east coast,so there is some effort being launched to encourage vegetable growing in the SE US. The trouble is that it's either too hot or too cold at different times of the year in that area.

The Salinas valley is ideal for growing vegetables -- long growing season (two or three crops per year in most cases), cool year-round climate, fog for moisture and sun-protection, very fertile soil. But, you've got to get it to market.
The northernmost few miles of the valley, where they get the most fog (the Salinas R flows S to N where it empties into the ocean), is where artichokes are grown: 95% of the country's fresh artichokes come from here. Marinated artichokes come from Spain and Italy. We stopped at an artichoke stand and packaging plant to watch the operation and get Evan's advice on how to cook an artichoke. Some of the other five passengers on our tour were from the area and had their own advice.

Lettuce-picking and packing is semi-mechanized. Tractors with big wing extensions drive down the rows. 10-15 pickers follow, cutting the lettuce heads and placing them on a conveyer that deposits them where other crew members, riding or walking, I'm not sure, box them immediately. The boxes are soon off-loaded and trucked to the Dole cooler. Being a member of a lettuce crew is considered the top job in the fields.

We got to stop at a strawberry field and pick and eat samples. Outstanding! Strawberries are grown in raised beds of two rows of strawberries. The beds are raised to facilitate strawberry-picking. Here Susie is auditioning for the job of strawberry picker -- NOT!

These strawberries are ever-bearing varieties and are harvested every three days throughout the season. Drip tubes provide irrigation. The ground is covered with plastic tarp to protect the growing strawberries. They drive tractors through these rows and vacuum out insects.

Evan's data show $440,000,000 dollars worth of strawberries from almost 10,000 acres in 2006, so that's $44,000 per acre, which is pretty good return. Evan told us that farmland sells for $60,000 to $70,000 per acre, the most expensive anywhere.

Susie asked him about the case of a few years ago, 2005, I think, when a spinach field was contaminated by e coli. That led to quite a story. Apparently e coli was somehow transmitted from a horse pasture to a nearby spinach field. E coli requires water to survive and there doesn't seem to be any water- borne way to get it from one site to the other. Many investigations were done trying to reproduce the transmittal, but no cause was ever found. Nevertheless, all sorts of regulations have been instituted: You can't have livestock within a mile of a field. If a large bird, such as a Canadian goose, or a dog is seen in a field, you have to stake out an area around the site and can't pick from there. Now, I think this applies to all crops, not just spinach, but if so, there are many violations in terms of stock proximity to foodstuffs. It's immediately devastating to be seen as a threat to consumer health. Spinach production dropped 40% from 2005 to 2006 and is about down to nothing now.

Well, in our van tour of the area there hadn't been too many opportunities for picture-taking, so Susie and I went out in the afternoon to enjoy the scenery and get a few pictures, including a couple of barns.

Rob and Susie

Memorial Day: Updated

Dear Family and Friends,

On Monday we participated in a Monterey tradition -- the Memorial Day concert on the lawn of the historic Del Monte Hotel, now part of the Naval Postgraduate School. There are two apparently competing symphony orchestras in the area, but for this concert members from both created a Monterey Bay Pops Orchestra for the occasion. The Spanish-born conductor of one of the orchestras said as a boy in Spain he had dreamed of conducting the "Stars and Stripes Forever," and today he got to do it, right up there under that tent.

Beautiful day, big crowd, with lawn chairs and picnic lunches. One concert highlight was Patrick Bell, "Baritone and Magician," doing opera while extricating himself from a straitjacket, Houdini-style. I didn't know opera could make you laugh.

Update: Music-wise, I wanted to add that our Memorial Day celebration was really launched by our church pianist, Darryl, who played Chopin's "Military Polonaise" on Sunday. Very dramatic. I tell people that I stopped taking piano lessons long ago when they got serious about the left hand. Well, this piece has some very serious left-hand in it.

Before the concert we took a Del Monte tour. I think I've told some of this story earlier, but I got a lot more facts on this tour. The Del Monte was built by Charles Crocker, one of the RR men responsible for building the trans-continental RR. He was bothered by the fact that the so-called trans-continental RR ended in Sacramento, so he extended the RR to Monterey and to make it a destination he built the DM to be the "Most Elegant Seaside Resort in the World." There are some pictures of the original, which opened in 1880, at this site.

Well, it burned down in 1887, but was rebuilt -- a main building and two wings. This time in the rebuilding explosives were planted in the tunnels connecting the two wings to the main building so that in case of fire, they could be set off and isolate the wings from the fire -- assuming the explosion didn't spread the fire, I guess. They worked as planned in 1924 when another fire claimed the main building. It was rebuilt Spanish style -- concrete, plaster, red-tile roofs, and the wings' exteriors were stuccoed over to give the beautiful buildings now gracing the campus.

Here's a view of one wing, behind the trees, and some of the gardens on the grounds. Really has a feel of majesty.

Anyhow, the property was falling on hard times in the early 1900s until it was purchased by Samuel Morse, a grandson of the Morse code guy, former Yale quarterback, and a vigorous sportsman. He bought the whole DM property, about 20,000 acres, which included what is now is Pebble Beach, and developed in into a 'sports empire.' He introduced golf to the area, with profound effect, and built car and horse racing tracks, tennis courts, swimming pools, polo fields, etc. The 17-Mile Drive was built and popularized, the 17 miles starting at the DM's entrance and making a RT to the iconic "lone cyprus" in Pebble Beach. Bing Crosby, forever linked to Pebble Beach and golf, said of Morse, "... Without him ... it would all be Coney Island."

Backing up, the 1906 earthquake, which obliterated so much of San Francisco was also felt in Monterey. In fact, a DM tower collapsed on a room and killed a newlywed couple. It is claimed that their ghosts can still be seen and felt on the premises.

After the quake Crocker invited SF artists, and provided support, to set up shop in Monterey and thus began the Peninsula art colony.

In the hotel there are some large paintings set into the lobby's walls. One is a map of the Peninsula showing "Monte Rey," Carmel, and other locales in the area, with one exception. The story is that the artist, relaxing after work in the dry town of Pacific Grove (launched as a Methodist retreat), was arrested for being drunk and he spent the night in jail. Next day, back at work he painted over "Pacific Grove" and painted in "Moss Beach" (there's no such thing) to get even.

The guest list over the years sounded like the La Posada in Winslow, AZ (one of our favorite historic hotels): Mary Pickford, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Amelia Earhardt, Charles Lindbergh, etcetera, etcetera.

At any rate, Morse sold the hotel to the Navy in 1951 and then concentrated on Pebble Beach. I asked our guide if it was true, as I had been told, that the smell from the nearby fish canneries, which I think had their heyday in the 1930s and 40s, depressed business at the hotel/resort. He said he hadn't heard that one.

The Naval Postgraduate School has existed almost 100 years, but for the first half of that period it was in Annapolis. The Air Force has a similar school Dayton, Ohio.

Some statistics on NPS: Enrollment is about 2200. In 2007 there were 1219 Masters and 15 PhD degreees granted. The student body is 40% Navy, about 8% each from Army, AF, and Marines, then 26% civilian and 11% international. The graduation rate is 91% and the average time to degree is 20 months. They carry heavy loads and are pushed through pretty quickly. My students will be going back to submarine duty, flying helicopters and airplanes, serving on ships, etc., but somewhere down the line they will get to apply their Operations Research (and statistical!) skills gained here.

I've mentioned that there are a large number of international military officers here. One recognition of their presence is this international flag garden adjoining the Del Monte (aka Herrmann Hall). Each quarter they set out a flag for each country represented in the student body.

Incidentally, my student from Bahrain just won an award as the outstanding student graduating student from the "surface navy." Sure hope he can pass my final exam -- just kidding.

Well, after the concert, we treated ourselves to an early dinner in Pacific Grove at a restaurant we'd been wanting to try adjacent to Lovers Point. We'll leave you with some holiday scenes from there.


Rob and Susie

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Quiet weekend here. I've spent most of it getting my class notes ready for the last three weeks of class. I'm covering material I haven't usually covered in earlier classes on (statistical)experimental design, so essentially starting from scratch. But, if I do say so myself, I think I've put together a couple of really good sections. They nicely provide a chance to drive home some points I want to leave them with.

A favorite quote I use is Archie Bunker: "Don't give me no stastistics, Meathead! I want facts."

I use Archie's inadvertently profound statement to remind folks, and myself, that statistics is not just about number-crunching. It's the facts revealed by the data that are valuable -- valuable in the business, scientific, or other context they pertain to. (Oops, another sentence I ended a preposition with.)

So, I try to put even simpleminded textbook examples into stories that have some sort of business or scientific context. I start out with that focus, but sometimes in mid-course I get bogged down a bit in the technical details. I hate it when that happens. One reason statisticians don't get no respect is when we fall into teaching formula plug-in instead of thinking.

Well, these two last two sections have very good big-picture messages that I hope my students will carry with them even if they never run an experiment in their career. We shall see.

I gave an exam in early May. About half the students did well, the other half not so well -- a bimodal distribution as we say in the business. As Susie knows, I tend to blame myself, but I also know these students are carrying a pretty big load. This is the best group of students I've had. With only 10 students, there's good opportunity for questions and discussions. They're attentive and actively engaged, almost 100%. One student's wife gave birth to triplets just before the quarter started. They weighed around two pounds (!) and spent a few weeks in a San Jose hospital before being moved to a local hospital. All seem to be doing well, but you can understand that that student has a few other demands on his time.

Our big excitement is that Malia and her parents are coming to see us in three weeks. That will be our last weekend here. The following week I give a final exam, turn in grades, and away we go. Here's a recent picture of Malia and Jeff at swimming class.

For more go to:

Back to our weekend. We decided to drive over to Salinas yesterday, Saturday, to find a park to walk in (or in which to walk). Well, it was pretty blustery (I had resolved not to write about weather, but there I go again), so we decided what we were really there for was ice cream -- we'd visited a Baskin-Robbins on a previous visit to Salinas. Thinking ice cream, though, brought to mind the Cold Stone shop in Monterey -- I mean if you're going for ice cream, go top drawer -- so that's where we went. Completed the triangle returning to Marina and were quite pleased with the way our random outing to take a walk worked out.

Last week there were a couple of days of strong winds blowing onshore, so we drove over to Pacific Grove to check out the wave action:

A local, beloved celebrity here was a man named Ric Masten. He was a poet, songwriter, Unitarian preacher, and humorist -- the "soul of Big Sur." For the last nine years he had been fighting cancer and writing about the battle on his website. He died on May 9, I learned of him from the local papers. His theme song and poem about death was titled, Let it be a Dance.

I looked up his website and learned that while he was taking chemo and dealing with cancer his wife was slipping away into dementia. In his words:


© ric masten

when I was 25

my parents went on

an around the world vacation

leaving from the San Francisco marina

on a freighter with passenger accommodations

back in those days

when the gang plank had been raised

and the ship was ready to depart

the passengers

would line up at the rail looking down

throwing serpentine

colorful paper streamers

to friends and family on the pier below

we would hold tight to one end

while those we hold dear

held tight to the other end of these

slender fragile ribbons

then slowly

almost imperceptibly

the ship began to move away

the paper connections


one by one

as the steamer headed out into the bay

after fifty five years together

my cancer is incurable

and your memory is fading

which makes me acutely aware

of time circling the drain

running out of the clock

wondering whether the love of my life

will slip over the horizon

before I am forced to leave the dock

My Mom turned 87 last week and all who know her are saddened as the "paper connections" tying us to her are gradually broken.

On that somber note:

Best Wishes,

Rob and Susie

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Greetings, again already:

The newspaper and local weatherpersons started telling us last weekend that it was going to warm up this week -- 90 degrees on Thursday -- and they were right! We had dinner last night (Friday) with some faculty friends, on their patio, and they said to be prepared: it may only be a three-day summer.

You could tell it was something special, and urgent, because the beach-parking down the street from our RV park was full even though it was early Thursday afternoon. Head for the beach, before that Pacific air mass shoves that California desert air mass back where it belongs. Now, Saturday night, it's cooling off and the forecast for Monday is a high of 61. One of the most common snatches of conversation heard on campus is something like, "People call this cold? This is nothing compared to (fill in any Midwest state) where I come from." Incidentally, the campus engineers relented and piped heat to the buildings in the mornings after declaring that April 30 would be the last day for heat.

It was mild this morning so I took an early stroll to the beach. Across the street this dune has been moving toward us. Kids enjoy sliding down the dune on flattened cardboard boxes. I think the pattern must be partially filled-in footprints.

I'm sure we could see about another foot of this gate when we got here, but I don't have the photographic evidence. Who knows how long it's been since it was a functioning gate. Oh, the Wayward Wind is a Restless Wind.

It's about a half-mile across the dunes from our street to the beach. Here are a couple of shots of the dunes.

Then there are the usual beach scenes -- repeating but not repetitive. Ditto for the sound of the waves.

Light fog cover on this morning.

Mid-day Saturday we headed up to Castroville -- about eight miles away -- for the Artichoke Festival.

There were artichoke fish tacos, artichoke burritos, artichoke quesadilla, fried artichokes, steamed artichokes, grilled artichokes, artichoke adavada, artichoke bread, even artichoke art.

Plus a car show. Beautiful day, cooled off to a pleasant level after our heat wave!

We drove a few miles beyond C-ville to the fishing port of Moss Landing. We'd been through there on our return from San Francisco and had seen some antique shops that looked worth visiting. Also, a list of the area's top seafood restaurants included one there that I wanted to check out -- it's only about 10 miles from Marina. Anyhow, here's a shot of Moss Landing and its landmark powerplant. Mostly working boats, not pleasure-craft, here.

Oh, in one antique shop I found a program for the 1988 World Series, LA Dodgers and Oakland A's. This particular program was issued before the league playoffs so it features the four playoff teams. This Series is renowned because of Kirk Gibson's dramatic ninth-inning home run and trip around the bases in Game 1. It's even more special to me, a Dodgers fan, because I happened to be in Oakland on a business trip back in 1988 and I went to a World Series game. I bought a scalper ticket right at game time and got to see one of the Dodger wins in the Series that they won in five games.

Here, in a website picture I found, Gibson is doing his pump, like pulling the starter cord on a chain saw, as he circled the bases. Still brings chills.

Back on the topic of seafood restaurants, our Good friends in Albuquerrque recommended the Monterey's Fish House to us. We hadn't come across it or looked it up yet, but I had noticed along the road I drive to campus that there was a small establishment in sort of an industrial area that had the sign, Monterey's Fish House. But, it - the alleged restaurant -- showed no signs of life, sitting on a corner with no visible parking, so I decided if such a restaurant existed, it must have moved. Or, maybe I got the name wrong from the Goods. Then, I saw that the list of best local restaurants included the MFH, so I looked it up in the phone book and found that it was right where I'd been looking -- right there in plain sight. It's a short drive from campus so I hied myself up there last week and made a real discovery -- best seafood meal I've had here: oak-grilled mahi-mahi exquisitely seasoned with pasta and veggies on the side. I'll be back and take Susie 'cause they don't serve only seafood. Also, it's a nice whitetablecloth sort of restaurant, just not one you would just walk up to based on its external appearance.

I've been riding the bus once or twice a week. Had a couple of interesting events recently. On one trip home I was sitting next to a very tense appearing man. I noticed him making a sharp backhand waving motion between us. I looked at him and he said, sternly, "Don't touch my leg." I don't think I had, but that's almost unavoidable on a crowded bus. I was tempted to brush against him when I got off before he did, but thought better of it, considering the gleam in his eye.

Then one morning, as the bus traveled down the highway between Marina and Seaside, people at the back of the bus called out to the driver -- A man's had a seizure back here! I looked back and he was on the floor between the seats and I could see his leg jerking. There wasn't much to be done on the highway so the driver called 911 to have EMTs meet us at Seaside. They came on board and made ready to get the man on a stretcher board and off the bus. I think the seizure had abated, but the concern was that he might have injured himself when he fell from his seat to the floor. People behind the area where the EMTs were working weren't allowed off. Those of us in the front were urged to transfer to another bus, which I did. Heard nothing more about it, so assume there was not a serious outcome.

On the lighter side, one day as I sat on the busstop bench outside of campus, waiting for the bus, holding my backpack on my lap, wearing sneakers, I suddenly realized: "I'm Forest Gump!" Now, I make sure to avoid that posture. (Connections: We were in Savannah, GA last year at the park where those Gump scenes were shot, and our first week here we saw a Gump impersonator here outside of the Bubba Gump's Shrimp restaurant.)

Today, Sunday, May18, we visited the fourth Methodist Church in the area -- The Church of the Wayfarer in Carmel. Here's a painting from their website.
Nice church with a very nice flower garden just a block off of the main shoppe-ing street in Carmel. They had a talented prep school choir participating in the service who provided some nice music.

After church, we strolled through an art show -- plein art in the park -- had lunch at a French-themed restaurant, then took the long way home: up the Carmel River valley a ways, then over the coastal range to the Salinas River valley. Got off on a side road that turned out to be quite pleasant:

Here are a couple of Salinas Valley scenes:

At the risk of dwelling too much on the weather, Sunday was a good illustration. When we left Marina about 9:00 am it was foggy and in the high 50s. Carmel was sunny and mild and the trip got milder as we went inland on the trip home. Approaching Marina in mid-afternoon, there was that fog bank, still holding forth, about the same temperature as when we left. Still here this morning (Monday), while Monterey was cool, but sunny. Coming home in late afternoon, there's Marina, still fogged in. Susie said it never cleared during the day. Oh, when will it end!


Rob and Susie

Mother's Day - Guests!

Greetings to family and friends.

In what is becoming a tradition, Susie's daughters spent Mother's Day with her, with Paul and me along for the ride.

We picked Heidi, Mandi, and Paul up at the San Jose airport on Friday afternoon. This airport is designed for homeland security: We got there about noon and were surprised to learn that there were no eating establishments in the terminal outside the security zone. Only some vending machines at baggage claim. This was the last time for the weekend that anybody lacked for food.

Saturday was the day of the grape. Heidi, manager of beverages at the Bellagio, had arranged visits to two vineyards in Carmel Valley: Talbott and Bernardus. We met Ross, the Talbott's manager, at the company's tasting room in Carmel Valley Village. This is a small winery -- a hobby for its owner. The company's main business is men's clothing. After learning about the company's history and sampling the wares, we drove up to their hilltop vineyard. Spectacular setting. Ross, recently divorced, told us this is where he had gotten married some time ago. On a clear day, in the other direction you can see the ocean.

Incidentally, the kids, coming from Nashville and Las Vegas, had not really believed our reports of the cool/cold temperatures out here this time of year. They soon believed, though Carmel Valley Village is far enough inland to be appreciably milder than Marina.

The day got milder as we next drove another 20 miles inland to the Bernardus Winery. They grow the grapes and produce wine there. Matt, the vineyard manager, if I remember correctly, gave us a tour and description of the elaborate, part-technology, part-art, process of converting grapes to wine. For instance, you have to age it in French Oak barrels, not USA or Italian Oak, to get the right taste, they say.

The Bernardus owner is Dutch billionaire Ben (short for Bernardus) Pon. His father introduced the Volkswagen to the US and also happened to invent, or at least sketch the plan for, the VW van, to the eternal gratitude of hippies everywhere. So Ben had opportunities and made the most of them: he drove race cars at Le Mans, he was an Olympics skeet shooter, and he's an entrepreneur. He has an African safari company and a resort in the Carmel Valley. He has homes in England and Holland as well as here (where his visa limits him to six months max per year). So, why not have a winery? Oh, the B Winery was bought from Talbott.

Some statistics: Bernardus produces 50,000 cases of wine per year (12 bottles per case). One vine on average, depending on location, produces enough grapes for two bottles.)

After the tour we had a private, elegant, idyllic lunch on the Bernardus deck -- platters of meat, veggies, pasta, and salad -- plus chocolate chip cookies, slowly going gooey in the afternoon sun.) "Lovely," as my brother, Lael, would say, in Australian.

On the way home we "did Carmel."

Ask Susie if it was cold on the beach.

Ask Paul what he's looking at.

Here's a shot of the Carmel Mission -- that was a locale that Mandi particularly wanted to visit.

Incidentally, a faculty colleague told us that 80% of the homes in Carmel are second-homes. They're either empty or rented most of the year.

Sunday we did the 17-mile drive through Pebble Beach (see previous report for pictures from there) and then on down the coast a few miles for Mother's Day lunch at Rocky Point. The only seating available was on the deck, but we were prepared and enjoyed the view, the food, and the company.

After lunch we drove on down to/through Big Sur to a state park with a nice grove of redwood trees. See, we're into nature too, not just food and beverage.

Monday, back to San Jose (and yes, we now know the way) with a stop on the way to San Jose for lunch at the Giant Artichoke Cafe in Castroville.

This weekend is the Artichoke Festival in C-ville and we'll be there.

Who knows where next Mother's Day will find us and whether the Girls' Tradition will continue. We certainly hope so.


Rob and Susie