Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love and Rockets! our friend Mark would say!

Ken is still in Snoozeville, and I'm just hanging out for a while, being quiet as little mousie.

I hope everyone has a great weekend, whether it's a Valentiney one or not. I'm feeling very mellow, but I'm sure once get to Chicago, I'll start getting stoked.

This has absolutely nothing to do with Valentine's Day, the Godfathers, or Chicago, but I'd better write it while I'm thinking of it! A while back, Ken wrote a Science Scene entry about the Jatropa tree, which is supposed to be the next big thing in biofuel. Both Marty and Mark commented and had concerns about using land to grow these trees, when it could be better used for food crops (especially in developing countries). We've all seen the price of food go up lately, including corn products because of ethanol production.

I wondered the same thing, because from what I've read, ethanol production really isn't all that great or efficient, and it cuts into our food crops. I recently read the full article that Ken referenced, and what's different about the Jatropa tree is that it can be grown on non-arable land. In fact, the stuff apparently grows like weeds in the worst of soils. Another talked-about biofuel source is algae, which also won't compete for land with food crops.

Just wanted to clarify that!

Okey-doke, more tomorrow!


Want to read something really good? Try this.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Where did the day go?

You didn't think you were going to get away without an entry from me, did you? Heh heh heh.

A low-key day, as I kept it quiet around here so Ken could sleep. He has to work a night shift tonight, doggone it, so I'm batchin' it tonight. That means it's indulgent movie night, and I was all stoked to watch "Pulp Fiction" again...and damned if we don't have that one on DVD! Of all the DVD's we've got stacked everywhere, that's not one of them. Grrr. So I had to come up with Plan B. I'll start off with the best of Christopher Walken from SNL (The Continental, anyone? Perhaps some fine French shahm-pahn-ya?), but then I had kind of a hard time deciding on a movie. I thought about "Bull Durham," and that's still a possibility as a second feature. "Road House" is always in play, but it hasn't been all that long since my last indulgent movie night where I watched that one. I thought about "Footloose," but I'm not in the mood for bad 80's music. I finally decided on "Dirty Dancing," and if that isn't an indulgent, guilty-pleasure movie, I don't know what is! I'm sure Ken will appreciate not having to watch it, too. I'm sure he would if I really wanted to, because you know...nobody puts Baby in a corner. (It had to be said.)

I think I'm all set for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre! The Godfathers show, that is. The white shirt/black vest combo was the definite favorite, with the black shirt also receiving a couple of votes. I actually got a couple votes for the ski suit, and one smart aleck voted for overalls! Ha ha! I actually DO have a pair, but the day I wear overalls to a rock concert is the day I'd like you to just shoot me in the head and be done with it. Thanks to everyone who played along and voted! It was harder to figure out a jacket to wear...I'm not hardcore enough to go without one (Chicago in February, people), but since we'll be standing for the show, I don't want a heavy one. I also need pockets for my stuff, because I won't carry a purse. I've decided on a windbreaker that has zippered pockets. It's not very rock and roll, but it's the best for what I need. We won't be outside for any length of time, I don't think, so I should be okay.

Got the CD's out that I want to take, removed the liner notes from a couple so I can get them signed, and got confirmation from Peter that me, Ken, Shane, and Sam are on the list for the after-party. Eeeeeexcellent. Also corresponded with a guy from the Yahoo group, and I hope it works out that we can meet up for dinner before the show. If not, he'll be at the party, too. Ted is flying down from Canada for one day, just for this show. Godfathers fans are hardcore, let me tell ya.

The bird count today was a bust. I didn't do it until the afternoon, so I wouldn't wake Ken with all my feeder-filling, and there just was not much action going on. I think it was a combination of being overcast and having no snow on the ground. With all the grass and plants exposed, there is plenty of food out there for them right now. I'll do it again on Monday, and I hope they'll be a little more cooperative!

Oh, and Ken is now the designated egg cooker, at least if we're going to eat them over easy (and that's our favorite way). We had breakfast for dinner last night, and although the eggs tasted fine and I didn't overcook them (well, not too much), they were just not pretty. You know those perfect over easy eggs where the whites get a little browned on the edges and are completely cooked, but the yolk is nice and runny? Yeah, well, those weren't mine. The whites sort of globbed up around the yolks, and those were some mighty ugly eggs, believe me. It all tasted good, though. We ate a pound of bacon. Mmm, bacon. I've decided I like baking it rather than frying it, and I think I'll cook it that way from now on.

Maybe more later!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Master of Understatement

Did you guys watch the "60 Minutes" interview with Captain Sullenberger and the crew of Flight 1549?

Wow. I know I'm a little hormonal at the moment, but I was just a mess watching that. Did it get to anyone else as much as it got to me? I'm trying to figure out my feelings about this, and if I can, I think it will help me get a handle on them. Or I watched him and the crew receive keys to New York City from Mayor Bloomberg, and then on Letterman, I got choked up all over again.

The guy is such a cool customer. Even as he was talking about being in the situation, assessing the damage, and figuring out what to do (all of which happened within less than 5 minutes, by the way), he matter-of-factly said things like he knew there was a problem, and said he told the tower, "We're going in the Hudson." As he spoke of his decision-making process, it was obvious that the guy is an incredible professional. He trained for such situations, and years of experience enabled him to put it all together and do his job, and he managed to save 155 people in the process. Incredible.

This might bother some people, but when Katie Couric asked him if he prayed at all during this time, he (respectfully) said that he was pretty sure the people in the back had that covered for him, and he said there just wasn't time. He was focused on the problem at hand, he was using all his knowledge and talent and experience to land that plane safely, and that's all he was thinking about. I don't want to get into a philosophical debate about the presence or absence of divine guidance, but I'll just say I thought it was refreshing to hear that, and a pleasant contrast to the usual blather of everyone, from the wide receiver who made the game-winning catch to the politician who just won an election, thanking God for their triumph. Sometimes we make our own luck and our own miracles, and this captain worked hard for many years to get to the point where he was knowledgeable and capable enough to be able to make such a landing.

I think almost everyone has a fear of being in an airplane crash. I have no fear of flying, and I've been known to doze off during takeoff. The thought of crashing, however, scares the bejeebers out of me, and a water landing would be about a hundred times worse. Every passenger on that flight has talked about the preternatural calm of the captain, and the extreme competence of the rest of the crew. I think we can all only hope that we would have such a crew on any flight we were on that got into such trouble. In the course of our lives, there are certain people into whose hands we put our lives and those of our loved ones, and knowing that there are people like Captain Sullenberger and his crew makes me sleep a little easier.

I was also touched by hearing about the boats that came immediately to the crash site. The captain gave them every bit as much credit for saving the passengers as he's received. I still remember John McCain and Sarah Palin talking during the campaign about how the "liberal elite" live in Washington, D.C. and New York City. I don't even know what the hell that means, but I think those people are some of the bravest and best in our country, and if their response to 9/11 didn't convince everyone, their actions on the Hudson River should do the trick! I know my friend RaQuel, a lifelong resident of New York City, was offended by that idiotic "liberal elite" comment, and I was offended, too. I suspect that RaQuel would have enjoyed talking to them about "real America."

But I digress. Captain Sullenberger has received letters from all over the world, and his wife read one that she and her husband said was their favorite. A woman's elderly father lives in a highrise overlooking the Hudson. The woman thanked the captain and the crew for taking action that saved not only all the passengers, but potentially people living in buildings near her father. He is a survivor of the Holocaust, and she went on to say that he has always told her (and I'm paraphrasing here) that we can never know how saving just one life can affect so many others. Who knows what that one person might accomplish in their life, or who they might influence, or what their children might accomplish? Who knows how the world might be affected if that one person is not a part of it? You could tell that the letter got to the captain, and I can understand why.

I hope they are all talking to a counselor--one flight attendant in particular seemed to be having a very hard time with some of her memories, and I would guess there is an element of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder there. Even the cool-as-a-cucumber captain said that for several days afterwards, he had thoughts and doubts about whether he did things right or if he could have done things better, even though all his passengers survived.

Is Captain Sullenberger a hero? A reluctant one, but yes, he's a hero. Especially to all those people on that flight, and to all their family members, including the man whose brother died in the 9/11 attacks, and who couldn't bear the thought of his family losing another brother. And to all of us, who love to hear that in a world that seems to tolerate (and sometimes even encourage) mediocrity, there are those who refuse it and believe in being the best they can be at their jobs. Here's to the Captain and his crew. Huzzah!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Bird Addendum

A few of you have expressed interest in doing the Great Backyard Bird Count, and that's so cool! I should mention, though, that you need to be able to identify the birds, and you should have a book handy to help in identification. (I have several, and my favorites are a book specific to Indiana, and the Audubon Eastern edition.) I've been at this since we moved to Nutwood, so I've got a pretty good handle on ID'ing birds, but they do want an ID, and ask you not to count a bird if you are unsure of its species.

I've printed out my five page checklist. Many are water and shore birds, which we don't generally see here...although I looked out one day to see a Great Blue Heron standing in the back yard, and one day I saw a Little Green Heron perched in a tree...I said, "What the heck are you doing here?!" But I'm ready to go! If you don't feel comfortable doing IDs this year, maybe I've planted a seed so you can start to think about it for next year!

Bird is the Word

12th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count

February 13 – 16, 2009


It's that time of year again: the Great Backyard Bird Count! Yippee!

For my fellow birders out there, it's a chance to do a little "citizen science," and you can even do it from the comfort of your own home. At some point over the four days of the count, take a minimum of 15 minutes and count all the species of birds that come to your feeders, or that you can reliably identify in the trees. Enter the information on the website, and you've just helped ornithologists track migration patterns and trends in population! Millions across the country participate, and it's been an invaluable source of information for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society, and for conservation in general.

Since we'll be in Chicago much of Saturday and Sunday, I plan on doing a couple of hours on Friday, and a couple of hours on Monday. I put out all kinds of food, watch the birds come and go, and tally them up on my little checklist. I've done if for a few years now, and I look forward to it every year. It's even resulted in a couple of new sightings for me: a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker in 2007, and a Common Redpoll in 2008. Who knows what I might see this year? Maybe an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker! (A little birding humor, haha.)

Visit the website for more information (you can also click on the picture above), instructions on how to count (I know you know how to count, but how to count so that you don't count birds more than once!), and to print out checklists for your area.

Happy birding!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Feelin' a little sketchy

I've never considered myself a creative person. I'm more the logical, rational type, and it's hard for me to break out of my self-imposed noncreative mindset. I've never been able to sit down and just DRAW something, but one thing I am is a good mimic.

Years ago, I used to copy pictures using a charcoal pencil. You all know I loves me my music, so I did several sketches of some of my favorite artists. I liked charcoal because it blends so easily, but I remember doing a few sketches in regular pencil...I seem to have lost those somewhere along the way. But I still have my charcoal sketches, and finding these made me want to start doing this a little more. Even if I'm copying existent pictures or photographs, it still takes some time and effort to get it right, and I think it would be a nice exercise to see if I can still do it.

So here are some of my sketches:

Jim Morrison...I believe I did this one from the Rolling Stone cover that featured his picture and the headline "He's Hot...He's Sexy...He's Dead."

The Doors experienced a revival in the early 80's, and I know we all listened to a lot of their music in college.

Ray Davies, the lead singer of the Kinks.

I would guess this was also from Rolling Stone, but I don't recall.

And his brother, Dave.

Pete Townshend

This one is my favorite: Paul Simonon, the bassist for The Clash. A definite dark, punk vibe, and I like the eyes.

I think I'll be buying a couple of charcoal pencils and see what sort of trouble I can conjure up.

Bits and Pieces

Ken has a presentation to do, so I'm on my own for dinner tonight. I don't know why, but I have an incredible craving for egg salad sandwiches! So that's what I'll be having. I'm doing enough hard-boiled eggs for Ken to take in his lunch, too. Isn't it a shame that eggs were considered so bad for you for so long? They're incredible and they're definitely edible! I sure never stopped eating them, and I think they're delicious. I think we'll have breakfast for dinner one night this week, too.

What a day! We're breaking the record high today, and it got up to 63 degrees. I've even got the sliding glass door open, and it feels so good to get some fresh air in here. I know it's going to get cold again, but I always love this first glimmer of spring, because I know that winter's days are numbered!

Before I forget, be sure to start following GIVE...A Hand Up, the Son of J-Land's Giving Tree journal. Mary is running this one, too, and it's a chance for bloggers to help each other in times of need. Mary explains the dealio over there, so check it out. Also, thanks to my pal Lisa Jo (private blog) for starting Our Thrifty Thoughts, a blog about frugal living and a place to share tips about how to save money. It's a great idea in this time when so many are struggling, and thanks for adding me as a contributor, LJ! We're very fortunate that Ken has a pretty secure job (knock on wood), but my folks raised me to be prudent when it comes to spending! I look forward to exchanging ideas over there.

The Senate passed the stimulus bill, so we'll see what happens next. I didn't watch his appearance in Ft. Myers, but I saw bits and pieces of it. I was very touched by the elderly lady Henrietta talking about how her and her family needs help now, there's a two year waiting list for the Housing Authority, etc. The President went over and kissed her and said to talk to his staff after the meeting. I hope we hear what happens. And did you notice, while they were showing the President going over to Henrietta, there was a woman just to the could see her mouth "I love you, Barack." I cracked up! I'm sure she was caught up in the moment, but if that were my mom or my sister or my friend, I'd be ribbing her to no end! "How's your boyfriend Barack?" or "Does your husband know about you and Barack?" Hee hee!

Perhaps more later. I've got an entry about Captain Sullenberger that I still need to post!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit, look who's here!

Today was an exciting day in our area, as President Obama made the scene in Elkhart, Indiana!

Elkhart is a little east of us, as you can see on the map below. (The red X is approximately where Nutwood is.) Air Force One landed at South Bend Regional Airport and the motorcade made its way over to Elkhart. (Cousin Shane flew back from New York today--I just heard from him, and although he didn't experience any delays, he said that some things were changed a bit to accommodate the President's visit.) As I recently mentioned, Elkhart County is hurting in a bad way, with 15.3% unemployment. The President was introduced by an out-of-work Elkhart resident, an RV worker, who is worried what he'll do when his unemployment benefits run out. President Obama spoke for about 20 minutes, then took questions from the audience in a town hall-style format for 35-40 minutes, followed by lots of handshaking on his way out.

He was accompanied on this trip by several Indiana and Michigan politicians, including Senator Evan Bayh, Congressman Joe Donnelly (our congressman), and Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan. A surprising absence was Senator Richard Lugar, who was apparently invited on the trip but declined. Senator Lugar worked closely with then-Senator Obama on some things, and there has always seemed to be a mutual respect there, so I'm puzzled by his absence. Dan wondered if he was being pressured by the GOP. If so, that's a cryin' shame, because Sen. Lugar has always been a great legislator and an asset to Hoosiers. I'll be writing to Sen. Lugar in a moment and urging him to support the President on this.

Oddly enough, the President mentioned something in his speech that I just wrote about: while it's easy to talk numbers, 15% unemployment, 50,000 more jobs lost, etc., we have to remember that there's a person behind every number. That was my philosophy when working in the lab...never forget that those numbers are real people. I think it applies here, too, and I thought it was pretty cool to hear him say that.

I thought he did a great job, and was very well-received. The calls were not prescreened, so he was going in blind, and had to answer a question about some of his Cabinet selections and their tax problems. The crowd kind of started booing her, but the President was like, "It's all right, it's all's a legitimate question," and went on to reiterate that he made a mistake, and that he is committed to changing the culture of Washington. The woman also inexplicably made the comment that she thinks he should "have a beer with Sean Hannity." What kind of bonehead comment was that? He handled it well...said he didn't know Mr. Hannity had requested to have a beer with him...that Mr. Hannity has made no bones about not being a big fan of his...but he's always good for a beer.

I just enjoyed the hell out of watching this today. It took me back to the heady days of the primaries, and then the Presidential campaign. He's so damn good at this. I thought one of the most powerful things he said was that hey, people in Elkhart want to work--nobody's asking for a handout! He got a big cheer for that one, and he's right. Not just in Elkhart, but across the country. Have you seen the pictures of the lines in Atlanta and Chicago for job calls? People want to work. We need to do something to provide job opportunities for them, whether through job creation, job training, or education. That's why I support this, and why I think it needs to pass.

Off to write my Senator! And no matter how you feel about this or any other issue, I encourage you to write your Senator or Congressman. You might be surprised at how responsive they are, and I've been fortunate in that I've always gotten thoughtful responses to my letters. We have the power and right to be engaged in our legislative process, and I also believe it's a responsibility that we shouldn't take for granted. Happy politicking, y'all! And don't forget to watch the President's address tonight.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Thar she blows!

My body's burnin' like a lava from a Mauna Loa
My heart's crackin' like a Krakatoa

~~The B-52's "Lava"

Mount Redoubt in Alaska is showing signs of imminent eruption, and I hope that everyone will get to safety before it blows.

It's made me think about another volcano, and yes, it's another of my bizarre fascinations: Krakatoa.

Krakatoa (Krakatau in Indonesian) is an Indonesian island between Java and Sumatra. (Click on picture to see it larger.) On August 26-27, 1883, a volcanic explosion occurred, and it is one of the most violent in modern history.

A few months before the eruption, earthquake activity was frequent and intense, and felt as far away as Australia. Steam venting occurred from the island's volcanic cones, and ash eruptions reached 20,000 feet (6 km). After a period of relative quiet, the volcano started to erupt again in July, and the eruption was so violent that the tides in the area became unusually high. On August 24, eruptions became more intense, and at about 1 pm on August 26, the volcano began its final self-destruction. By 2 pm, the ash cloud rose 17 miles (27 km) above the island. The eruption was almost continuous and explosions were heard every ten minutes. Ships within 15 miles or so experienced ash fall, with some pieces of hot pumice up to 10 cm in diameter falling on deck.

On August 27, four huge explosions took place, each accompanied by gigantic tsunamis, which are believed to have been over 100 feet (30 m) high in places. Ash was propelled to a height of 50 miles (80 km). The sound of the explosion was the loudest historically reported, reaching 180 decibels 100 miles (160 km) away, and distinctly heard as far away as Perth in Australia, about 2,200 miles (3,500 km) away, and the island of Rodrigues near Mauritius, about 3,000 miles (4,800 km) away. The explosion was the equivalent of 200 megatons of TNT, about 13,000 times the force of the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.

On August 28, Krakatoa was silent.

It was also considerably diminished. About 2/3 of the island's territory vanished in the eruption, believed now to have sunk into an empty magma chamber. The official death toll was 36,417, most of those due to the tsunamis, but some sources believe that an estimated 120,000 or more perished. Researchers were unable to reach the island until May 1884, and the only living thing they found was a spider in a crevice. The massive cloud of ash affected global weather, dropping the average temperature worldwide by 34 degrees Fahrenheit (1.2 Celsius). Weather patterns remained erratic for years, and temperatures finally returned to normal in 1888. Amazing sunsets were seen worldwide for months, and current speculation posits that the red sky in Edvard Munch's 1893 painting "The Scream" was his interpretation of one of these sunsets.

Eruptions at the volcano since 1927 have resulted in a new island in the same location, called Anak Krakatau, which means child of Krakatoa. The volcano is still active, and since the 1950s, the island has grown an average of five inches (13 cm) per week. The volcano started erupting again in late 2007, and scientists monitoring the activity have warned people to stay out of a 3 km (approx. 1.9 mile) zone around the island. The island is now a nature preserve, and is the source of biologic research of an ecosystem resulting after an environment has been sterilized.

It fascinates me because it shows the awesome--and I mean that in the truest sense of the word--power of nature.

"Krakatau." Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 2008. 08 Feb. 2009.