Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Biosphere 2

What would happen if you locked up eight people in a self sustaining glass world for two whole years? That’s the question billionaire Edward Bass asked himself back in 1987. Rather than just speculate, he decided to build a self sustaining world and find out. (You can do that if you’re a billionaire).

Biosphere 2The self sustaining glass housing was dubbed ‘Biosphere 2’. (Biosphere 1 being the earth itself.) It was a fascinating experiment that was used to determine how changing one aspect of an environment would affect another. It was also hoped to be a proving grounds for space colonies.

I am a self-admitted science geek, but even if you’re not, you’re sure to be fascinated by a visit to Biosphere 2. It’s located an hour’s drive north of Tucson, in Oracle, Arizona. The country side is beautiful, so the trip up there will be enjoyable as well.

Once you’re there you are transported into an environment that’s simultaneously a trip through history and an examination into futuristic possibilities. The beautiful glass structure is as breathtaking as the photos we’ve all seen. Inside you’ll visit places like the ‘Command Center’ that houses equipment that was state of the art in 1991 but looks hopelessly antique today.

Ocean HabitatThe tour takes you through the artificial environments encased in the Biosphere, including the rainforest and the desert, which is right next to the ocean.

Rainforest HabitatYou’ll also see the “Habitat”, which is the living quarters for the people sealed inside the Biosphere. This was the most fascinating part of the tour for me. The tour guide explains one unforeseen aspect of the experiment: eight people locked up in relatively small quarters, isolated from the outside world and working almost all of their waking hours tended to get on each others nerves. Who would’ve guessed?

Biosphere 2 was all in all one of the coolest day trips I’ve made here in Tucson. But if you plan on going, you should do it soon. The Biosphere has been sold twice already, and the cost of keeping it operating means its future is uncertain.

Note that because the Biosphere 2 was originally designed as a research center, the interior of the Biosphere isn’t wheelchair or stroller accessible.

Visit the Biosphere 2 Web site at:

Monday, September 29, 2008


Further proof that Tucson is home to an extremely creative and active artist community is the annual performance art celebration called GLOW.

What makes GLOW such a unique experience is the fact that it is held in an outdoor field, at night, with several of the pieces being inter-active. How can you see artwork outdoors at night? Simple. Every piece incorporates light of one type or another. LEDs, flashlights, computer projectors, Christmas tree lights, etc. Just about anything that gives off illumination was used to light up the various pieces of art.

GLOW is held each year at the Triangle L Ranch in Oracle, a small town just north of Tucson. This year the event was held on September 12 and 13 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Admission was $10 for adults, $5 for kids.

Fun is the best way to describe the event. Attendees are encouraged to wear lighted clothing, and a glow-stick wrist band is handed out to everyone as they enter the gate.

Glowing eyeMiniature lights are used to light the path that winds through the grounds to take you to the various presentations. Our first stop was in front of an ‘alien’ that lit up when he spoke to the earthlings gathered in front of him. Whenever he wanted to emphasize a particular point in his speech, bubbles would burst forth from metallic openings in his body.

A short walk into a valley revealed a miniature solar system, complete with a flying saucer.

The glow - Solar SystemOne of my favorites was an area set up with a computer projector and sound system that broadcast eerie voices and sounds choreographed with ever-morphing images projected on a large white sheet. Kind of like an other worldly screen saver.

Even more cool technology was used to create an interactive heart monitor. Two large tom-tom drums were lit from inside, and connected to wired handles. When you grabbed the handle, sensors on it translated your heartbeats into drumbeats.

Shadow puppetsFurther down the path was a shadow puppet theater that, while not driven with lots of technology, was just as much fun as any of the high tech presentations.

If you missed The Glow this year, you’ll have to wait approximately 364 nights for the next one. It’s worth the wait. The experience is sure to leave you with a warm, um, glow inside.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Democratic Convention

I write this post under the category of ‘better late than never’. The Democratic Presidential convention was a couple of weeks ago, but was such an historic event I wanted to share the experience I had the night of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech.

In Tucson, the big event was to be held at the Congress Hotel downtown. Tucson is a very progressive city, and the Congress Hotel was sure to be jam packed with Democratic and Independent voters ready to celebrate the first black nominee for president of the United States.

Although the party at the Congress Hotel was guaranteed to be a great time, I decided one of the most emotionally uplifting places to watch Barack Obama’s acceptance speech would be at the Tucson-Southern Arizona Black Chamber of Commerce, which was also hosting an event that was open to the public.

The TBCC is located in a small single story building on Broadway street. Although not as large or as ostentatious as the Congress Hotel, the TCCC offered a warm welcome to visitors that would rival any other venue.

The room was set up with a projector pointed to a sheet on a blank wall, and the place was filled to capacity with like minded Tucsonians anxiously awaiting the arrival of Barack onstage.

When the big moment arrived, the room burst into applause as Barack took the stage. Just as suddenly, the room fell silent as Barack began to speak.

For many people, especially those that have been soured on politics during the past two administrations, comparing Barack Obama’s speeches to other political speakers is like the experience of thirsting in a sea of salt water, and then being handed a bottle of pure spring water. Filtered of political talking points, fear mongering, and obvious pandering. He is an intelligent speaker, reaching out to intelligent listeners.

Barack Obama As Barack made his goals and policies clear, the room would respond with applause and or appreciative remarks such as “Tell it, Barack!” There was a feeling of community in that small room. Of camaraderie. Of family.

The night of Barack Obama’s nomination was not only a historic night for our country, it was one of the best nights I’ve spent in Tucson.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Tucson Music Scene

I love the variety of musical talent and venues available in Tucson. I've already hinted at it in my post on Gaslight Theatre, but I've also enjoyed excellent live music at the Chicago Bar and Boondocks.

This coming Saturday the Retro Rockets will be performing at Lookout Bar and Grill.

With all of this local talent I had planned on creating a post for each of the places I discover here in Tucson. What I soon found out is there are so many places to experience great live music in Tucson, that there could be a Web site dedicated to nothing else but this topic!

And guess what? There is! It's called Tucson Music Scene, and one glance at the home page will give you a good idea of what a musically rich city Tucson is.

I'll still post about live musical events I attend, but for the heads up on when and where they are, check out Tucson Music Scene.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Crime Map of Tucson

I debated whether or not to just add this information to the post on finding an apartment in Tucson or to give it it's own post. I decided it was an important enough resource to be given it's own post.

There is a Web site called Spot Crime that creates almost real time maps of crime reports for major cities around the world. Here is the map for Tucson:

While I am dubious of its 100% accuracy, it probably gives a fairly accurate picture of reported criminal activity in Tucson. It would be a useful resource to help find "safe" areas of town if you're relocating here, or to compare with your own hometown.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Grocery Shopping for Organic and Natural Food
in Tucson

I rarely shopped at, or even looked for a natural or organic foods grocery store when I lived in Michigan. I had one or two friends that frequented these places, but as much as I considered myself a new-age liberal tree-hugger, going out of your way to shop for organic food seemed a little too “out there” even for me.

That changed very quickly once I moved to Tucson. There are so many choices, and the prices are so competitive with ‘regular’ groceries you have to ask yourself “Why wouldn’t you shop there?”

Of course there are conventional places to shop for groceries for when you reeaaally need to have that Twinkie, or it’s time to pick up some more Ban roll-on. Tucson has Bashas’ and Fry’s aplenty.

But today’s post is all about going natural, and for that you basically have three choices here in Tucson. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Sunflower Farmers Market
Sunflower Farmer Market Sunflower is a small Western grocery store chain with two locations in Tucson. I’ve been to their location on Speedway Boulevard. Two things impressed me about Sunflowers. One is the sheer volume of fresh fruits and vegetables they have. It takes up most of the center of the store. This is the spot if you’re looking for variety in fresh fruits.

The second thing that impressed me was… the chocolate in their bulk food bins. I know, natural/organic foods and chocolate don’t seem to go together (“Hey, you got chocolate on my tofu!”). But trust me, this is some of the tastiest chocolate I’ve ever had. I recommend the chocolate covered peanuts and chocolate covered raisins.

I think their strategy is to lure you in with awesome chocolate, and then once you’re in the store you’ll think ‘as long as I’m here I might as well get some healthy food, too’.

Trader Joe’s
Trader Joe's Trader Joe’s is a larger grocery chain, and they have four locations throughout Tucson. I’ve shopped at the location at Wilmot road.

On my first shopping trip there, an employee was handing out fresh baked chocolate chip cookie samples. It’s almost as if these places are DARING you to buy junk food while you’re there.

I really like shopping at Trader Joe’s. They have a great variety of foods that you don’t often find in any grocery store. If you’re tired of having the same old same old for dinner every night, give Trader Joe’s a try. You’re bound to find something unique to take home.

Another bonus with Trader Joe’s is the quality of their house brand of foods has been excellent for the items I’ve tried, including their chocolate (I do buy fruits and vegetables too, honest!).

Whole Foods Market
Whole Foods Market On a recent Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Lewis Black was doing a bit on inflation in Zimbabwe. He showed a clip of a reporter that had just come out of a store where he had paid over a billion dollars for a can of beans. Lewis came back with “A billion dollars for a can of beans?!! I didn’t know Zimbabwe even HAD a Whole Foods Market!”

A billion dollars for a can of beans may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the prices here are noticeably higher than the other places I’ve shopped. This is probably where the misconception was born about natural and organic foods being so expensive.

Whole Foods does have two pluses. It has a nice variety of foods, and it has a wine selection that has a section for sulfate-free wines. It was the only one of the three food chains that did that as far as I know.

Whole Foods has two locations in Tucson, and I’ve shopped at the location on Speedway Boulevard. While standing outside taking a photo for this blog entry I noticed an old man in a security guard uniform keeping a close eye on me. Because, you know, a middle aged white guy with a digital camera is obviously a security threat. As I headed into the store to do my shopping he approached me about what I was up to. My blog explanation seemed to confuse the old gentleman even more and he talked about taking me ‘up to see the owners to see what they think of you taking pictures’. I thought for a moment the guy thought by taking his picture I was stealing a bit of his soul but then it dawned on me he probably didn’t have one. I realize now that since I mentioned a ‘blog’ and the ‘Internet’ he probably thought I had just stolen his identity.

"You kids get off my lawn!"

I told him I would be happy to go with him to see ‘the owners’ so I could let them know how the company they hired for security purposes was hassling paying customers that would also give them free Internet publicity. I left him muttering to himself about not knowing I was a customer, and finished my (last) shopping trip at Whole Foods Market.

So there you have it. Three choices with eight locations total, for natural and organic grocery shopping. My recommendations would be for Sunflower Farmers Market for fresh fruit and vegetable variety and totally awesome chocolate, and Trader Joe’s for a great variety of unique foods and an excellent house brand line of groceries.

Sunflower -
Trader Joe’s -
Whole Foods Market -

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gaslight Theatre and The Retro Rockets

The Gaslight Theatre bills itself as “The Hottest Thing to Hit Tucson Since Sunshine!” offering Musical Melodrama Open Year Round.

The Gaslight TheatreTrue to its name, Gaslight Theatre is a venue for live performances from local actors performing plays such as Beach Blanket Bebop (or "That's for Surfin'!") and Frankenstein Lives! (or “The Jolt’s On You!). They also host a “Family Concert Series” once each week that offers live music suitable for the entire family.

It was a live music event that served as my introduction to Gaslight Theatre. Last Monday I attended a concert featuring the local classic rock band called the Retro Rockets, and their first set promised to consist entirely of music by the Beatles.

A Gaslight SunsetOK, this photo has nothing to do with either the Retro Rockets or Gaslight Theatre. I just had to take this shot of the sunset reflecting off the clouds. It made me hungry for pizza.

The Retro Rockets aren’t just a tribute band to the Beatles and don’t limit themselves to Beatles music but they did a great job of covering early Beatles hits. They had a great time doing it as well, and took turns bantering with each other and the audience.

The audience appreciated it, and at the beginning of the evening were singing along with parts of the chorus of songs. By the end of the evening people were loosening up, and most of the audience was singing along to entire songs.

The Retro Rockets made it easy to sing along. After performing the first set of Beatles music, they filled their second set with such recognizable and feel-good hits like “Pretty Woman”, “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, “Long Cool Woman”, “I’m a Believer”, “Hang on Sloopy”, and “Do You Believe in Magic”.

The Retro RocketsThe Retro Rockets (photo courtesy of their MySpace page)

Tickets for performances at the Gaslight Theatre are sold in advance, and the Retro Rockets appeared to have sold out the house.

The seating at Gaslight Theatre consists of two or three chairs around a small wooden table, and if you’re hungry waitresses will bring you food - mostly sandwiches, some desserts, as well as beer and wine. It’s the latter two that I really appreciated. By the middle of the second set, when everyone was singing along to classic rock and roll, and I was sipping on my third beer, it struck me how much it felt like I was back in the early 70’s, booze cruising in a friends car, singing along with the radio.

And guess what? After all these years it’s still fun to listen to great music with friends while sipping on a barley pop or two. And MUCH safer than drinking and driving.

I had a great time at the Gaslight Theatre and plan to be back to take in a play or two and I’ll DEFINITELY be back for the live jazz music coming up in October.

The Web site for the Gaslight Theatre is (have patience, it takes a while to load).

The Retro Rockets are booked throughout the rest of the year. Their schedule is on their Web site at