Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Cranes in Texas

Thought I'd pass on an interesing experience I had on my trip to TX a coupleweeks ago. I was travelling with my MI shrimp farming friend Russ Allen, andwe had a day of bad weather and mosied(sp?) up the coast from Rockportthrough town called Palacious (pah-lah-shush). Just north of town was ashrimp operation Russ had known of for years but had never seen, so westopped in. These former rice farmers got into shrimp farming in themid-90's and now farm about 350 wet acres, 2.5 million pounds/year, with adandy state of the art processing plant -- all very interesting agriculture.

We took off in their truck to look over the ponds and on the way we passed afield with 50 Sandhill Cranes and I commented that we'd see them up North ina couple months. Conversation moved on to Russ' and my interest in birding,and I told my favorite story about Sandhill Cranes -- how the MI BreedingBird Atlas has a menu from a Jackson, MI hotel from 1918 with Sandhill Cranefeatured on the menu!

I'm used to getting some unbelieving comment in return when I tell thatstory, but the son matter of factly said "they're delicious, we roasted upfour of them at the end of the season last fall". I think he put it in a wayto get the full shock value from "this northern birder", and he did. My jawdropped -- I think I said "I wish I'd been there to try one", or somethingdumb, probably asking what the side dishes were.Now back in Michigan, I checked the TX regs, and sure enough there are 3large zones with staggered seasons for Sandhill, a daily bag limit of 3 anda posession limit of 6. I have no sense of how many hunters there are forthem, but it seems to me the annual take would be more than incidental. Ithink I'll email TX wildlife & ask about estimates.

Anyway, this news surprised me all the more in light of getting close viewsof Whooping Cranes the day before. We had a boat and were able to go up theIntercoastal Waterway N of Rockport between the mainland and the barrierMatagorda Island. It's a surreal trip! There, you're making your way up thechannel, there's 3 Whoopers (a pair & one young) for your viewing pleasureand they don't seem to bothered by you. Further up you come across one ofthe tour boats with 60 people, 30 scopes, and 30 cameras trained on anothercouple of Whoopers, and they don't seem too bothered by it. Now a doublewide barge of benzene comes by, driven by a huge tugs belching diesel, andthey don't seem too bothered by it. Further up, another pair & one young arebarely in the water on the shore, probing and fussing. We turn off the motorand drift with the light wind. A double barge of ChloroMondoHexaneEthane orsome god-awful environmental disaster waiting to happen churns by, roaring,spewing, and thowing a heavy wake. When the wake gets to the Whoopers onshore, they clearly don't like that and off they go in flight -- what a sight.

The juxtaposition of endangered species and envirodisaster was eyeopening. We figured we saw 26 of the 218 Whoopers on the planet thatafternoon, and I ended up feeling that the Sandhills are no less specialthan the Whoopers, just more plentiful-- plentiful enough to hunt!

Another impression to pass on is the incredible vulnerability of coastalchemical and petroleum processing industries to hurricanes and terrorism.The plants are wonders of chemical engineering, and very accessible. What Ihadn't thought of is that all the inputs to the plants have to get there tobe processed, and all the outputs have to get to market. Pipelines, trucks,20 barges a day churning past Whooping Cranes -- it's a dauntinginfrastructure of vulnerable targets we've built!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Cream Reunited

I was ambivalent about watching this 90 minute reunion show last nite on PBS. After all, how good could 3 old farts be? Mighty good! Ginger Baker at 66 can still lay it DOWN on drums. Jack Bruce at 62 still sings like a young man. And Eric Clapton, also 62, showed off some new tricks in solos on the classic Cream tunes I used to know by heart. But the thing that really struck me overall was the wall of sound these 3 guys can produce. I can't think of any groups except Hendrix that could do so much with 3 instruments, jazz excepted.

I saw Cream in Ann Arbor in 1968 (I think). I was listening to the UM student station about midnite when the DJ mentioned casually that there would be an interesting impromptu promotional set in the Student Union Ballroom about 2AM. Well, of course, that's all it took to picque my interest and I trundled over there, and, of course, it was mobbed. I did manage to get into the ballroom itself and sure enough, the gear was all set up waiting for some nameless band. In comes 3 guys, and someone realized it was Cream, who I'd heard of but had never heard, let alone live. So they did this 45 minute devastating set that should have peeled the plaster off the ballroom, and that was my introduction to cream. Absolutely amazing, and I was absolutely nerve deaf for 2 days after. I remember walking out of the union into heavy snow that had fallen, and at first I thought that's why it was so quiet outside.

I must say it's hard to see these guys age -- but you could close your eyes and it was still all there.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

An Interesting Fall (to me)

Well, we've had some great fall weather -- it's still warm enough that I haven't put the boat away yet. My back has been behaving itself this fall, mostly because of extensive stretching I've learned to do. As a result, I've been able to a lot of really hard physical work through this summer and fall. It feels good to do the work, and then it feels good to know I can still do it if I take care of my back.

So I've done a lot of work at Douglas Lake trying to protect the shoreline from erosion, and have about 110 of 165 ft of frontage bolstered with other rock from the shoreline. It won't really prevent ice from coming in and doing what it wants, but high water and resulting erosion really should be minimized. I've also paid attention to the 9 acres behind the cottage in a way I've not for a long time. I started by locating all the standing dead maple I could and getting it cut and hauled for firewood. So now I've burned through almost all of the punky wood I cut a few years ago and have 3 cord of seasoned rock maple. I hope to buy a fireplace insert for the fireplace and improve the efficiency of burning the wood I do cut, and getting better heat in the cottage to boot.

In cutting the wood an hauling it, I realized that I had quite naturally created a fairly straight trail back into the woods from the burn pile that a pickup truck could drive on -- this opens up a lot of possibilities for that back property. Maybe a camping platform and a sauna?

In Petoskey, I removed all the 18X18X4 stepstones that were in the lawn to the front door, and got 5 yards of topsoil delivered to fill those holes and all the other uneven spots in the lawn for the snow to sit on all winter in preparation for spring grass planting. That's a lot of topsoil! So I brought the good wheelbarrow that my father Claire built in the 60's down from the cottage to use to haul -- worked great, but it's time to replace the stringers on the wheelbarrow -- another great project.

Anyway, all this great weather and physical work is making for a great fall. Winter will be here soon enough.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Too good not to post

The following is supposedly an actual question given on a University of Washington chemistry mid-term.

The answer by one student was so "profound" that the professor shared it with colleagues, via the Internet, which is, of course, why we now have the pleasure of enjoying it as well.

Bonus Question: Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law (gas cools when it expands and heats when it is compressed) or some variant.

One student, however, wrote the following:

First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need to know the rate at which souls are moving into Hell and the rate at which they are leaving. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving.As for how many souls are entering Hell, let's look at the different Religions that exist in the world today. Most of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there is more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially.

Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added.

This gives two possibilities:1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.2. If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.

So which is it? If we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa during my Freshman year that, "it will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you", and take into account the fact that I slept with her last night, then number 2 must be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and has already frozen over.

The corollary of this theory is that since Hell has frozen over, it follows that it is not accepting any more souls and is therefore, extinct...leaving only Heaven thereby proving the existence of a divine being which explains why, last night, Teresa kept shouting "Oh my God."

THIS STUDENT RECEIVED THE ONLY 'A.'

Monday, September 26, 2005

Labor Day Reunion & Latest Infatuation

Well, we hosted our 13th (I think) Labor Day reunion for Mary's Mulholland clan, and, as always we had a great time. This is a good crew to have as guests. We usually have 20-25 folks, but they respect our home, pretty much clean up after themselves, and pretty much entertain themselves. That's good for me because instead of feeling I have to be host all the time, I can pick a few opportunities to pitch in and otherwise do as I please. This year I braised 3 pork shoulders and made pulled pork sandwiches which everyone loved, and so did I if I do say so myself. I made dinner on Sunday too, but I can't remember what!

One of the nicest things this year was having some of our young family members join us for all weekend. Claire was back from MSU, Chuck Nelson was up from Detroit, and Janna Tyler was in from LA. I just thought it was very nice, with all the options these young people have, that they chose to spend the time with us. Oh yeah, I made mexican food on Sunday -- enchiladas with mole, rice and beans, and a terrific mango-nectarine salsa that was a hit.

Now on to my latest infatuation. I've decided the little 13 ft planing dinghy I bought last year is just too small a sailboat for me at this age. So now I'm looking at a Sea Pearl 21 -- see www.marine-concepts.com . This is a really cool little cruiser with leeboards and cat rigged as a ketch. It draws only 5", but you can add 400# of water ballast into 2 tanks along the bottom. So I'm looking for a good used one. The best I've found so far is in Nashua, NH which is quite a haul but I'm trying to keep myself from hopping in the car with a check. We'll see........

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Claire's Off to College

Major milestone for us all -- Mary, Kelly & I all took Claire down to James Madison College (http://www.jmc.msu.edu/) at MSU last week to move her into her dorm. For those of you inclined to write, thats 665 Case Hall, East Lansing, MI, XXXXX, and Claire would like to get mail. You get a 20 minute parking pass to unload, and that meant two trips up the elevator for us, even with my wheeled cart. She will likely do well with her roommate Andrea -- they had a loft installed to get their beds off the floor and make more room, and put a carpet down. Modern dorm life includes a refrigerator, microwave, water filter, TV, DVD, latptops with 811.g wireless network, I-Pods with speakers, and on and on.
How did I feel as a parent? Well, I dropped something off in Claire's room after she, Kelly, and Mary had gone down to the cafeteria to eat, so I went down the stairs instead of the crowded elevator. I was behind another couple that had just dropped their daughter off, and the Dad said "Well, she's in!" (the dorm). Without missing a beat, the Mom said "Well, she's out!" (of the house). That pretty much sums up the ambivalence I feel. I miss her terribly, but know she's 90% ready to be out on her own. She'll learn a tremendous amount in the coming year, both academically and as an adult in this world of ours.
I've been resisting the urge to call her a bit, and happily, she's called me several times, and not just for money! I think she misses her family and home a bit, and that's good I guess. I know I value every minute we talk about not much of anything too important. Email is also an interesting way to communicate with her -- I try to update her on doings up here along with the "college business" we need to conduct. It's interesting to watch her gradually take on adult responsibilities like properly applying her tuitions and learning to run a checkbook, debit card, and credit card!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Type II Diabetes

Well, I guess I'm not so different after all. After reading for years of the "epidemic" of diabetes in the U.S., I guess I'm among the hundreds of thousands with TypeII -- the kind where I'm making plenty of insulin but not using it well. I seem to have been heading toward this for years. My blood sugars got high enough that my internist wanted to start measuring my average blood sugar over the past 3 months with a measure called A1C. This technique takes advantage of the fact that free glucose in the blood binds irreversably to hemoglobin, and the red blood cell supply regenerates itself in 3 months, so that glucose bound in this manner is directly proportional to the average availability of glucose over the last 3 months. So my A1C at first was 6.7, then 6.2, then 6.3, and that didn's satisfy my doctor. To me, I"ve eaten well for many years. I was vegetarian for 9 years, 5 of those narrowly macrobiotic. I am back to eating widely for 20 years now, but I don't drink pop, fruit juice, don't eat candy, etc. But it turns out that history has done more to keep my cholesterol low than my blood sugar. But now I'm going further back -- whole grains only, e.g. But the real surprise is learning about my portions. I had no idea that the 1/2 cup of roast almonds I casually had in the evening for a snack was 850cals! I feel so smart in some ways and so dumb in others. I'm in the food business and know a lot about nutrition, but am WAY off in thinking about appropriate portions. Some of that comes from feeling so deprived -- I swear I eat 1/3 of what I used to eat as a young man, and thinking of eating less just seems too little. So I'm taking diabetic classes to learn about all this, and also using a neat little glucose meter that determines my blood sugar in about 5 seconds -- cool technology. It really is interesting to confirm that my blood sugar is lowest in the morning after sleeping and fasting, and highest about 2 hours after eating grains, or 10 minutes after eating something obviously sweet. Duh! Anyway this late education is somewhat revelatory for me. I continue to exercise rigorously 3-4 times a week, and have never had this much muscle mass in my life. But the diabetic folks say less exercise but daily is more effective for their purpose, and my doctor says he doesn't care about my muscle mass, he doesn't want me to weigh this much. So much for my sense of what's good for me! So the only other thing to blog on about is that I've had peripheral neuropathy in my feet for over ten years. That means my feet have gotten progressively "numb" (some would say that's true of my brain as well). This is a symptom that can be caused by many things, but usually diabetes. But when this symptom started my blood sugar was normal. The latest research is now finding that many people with this "preceeding" symptom are turning out to have, guess what?, Type II Diabetes. And that's the rest of the story. What do I know anyway -- just a poor boy from Palmyra MI.