A Month of Storms in 100 Seconds

RoZ and I are both weather geeks, and I’m a sucker for time-lapse video. I also think the brief animation of weather photos (satellite images, radar, etc.) that we see on TV or the Internet are kind of lame.

Knowing that the satellite picture is regenerated every half hour (and that the weather was about to get interesting), I set up our computer to automatically grab the image every half hour. I let the automatic frame grabber run until the weather got boring again, and assembled the 1300+ images into the video presented below.

You’ll see the progress of hurricane/tropical storm Irene, Lee, Katia, Nate, Maria and Ophelia. In between, there’s a persistent low pressure system that whirls over the midwest.


Mourning Dove and Downy Woodpecker

It’s time to share some pixels that finally escaped our camera today.

On the top of the page are some cattle sharing their pasture with a pair of sandhill cranes, as seen from our favorite bike trail about nine miles from home. (If you don’t see cattle and cranes, click on the title of this post.)

We have a grape vine supported by a trellis in our back yard. This year, a mourning dove built her nest in the grape vines.

A mourning dove minds its nest, nestled in a trellis of grape vines.

Today we were entertained by this woodpecker. Our bird book seems to say it’s a downy woodpecker, but we’re willing to be corrected if we’re wrong.

A downy woodpecker hunts for seeds on a tree near the La Crosse marsh.

Sympathy for the Klutz

We’ve all had incidents at work that we’re not very proud of, but they’re the kinds of incidents that inspire a lot of good-natured banter with our co-workers. The day the wrong file was deleted, or an armload of dishes was dropped, that kind of thing.

A utility worker in the Arizona desert had that type of experience late last week. As he was trying to fix or replace a finicky piece of equipment, he flipped the wrong switch or cut the wrong wire or something, and all the lights went out from Orange County to Tijuana to Arizona.

As much of a disaster as that was, I’m willing to cut the poor worker some slack. We’ve all had our own experiences creating disasters, but things got fixed, and now we laugh about it with our coworkers in the lunch room. Read on

Decennial Anniversaries

I put up a new banner image tonight. RoZ is sitting next to the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park in an image captured exactly ten years ago (give or take a day). At this time in 2001, we were finishing a road trip of a lifetime through the western United States, and we would soon be preparing to spend two months in Europe.

In the coming weeks and months, we will release a new project that will tell a much more complete story of this life-changing experience. Until then, the web site we published while we were in Europe is still online, but that will also be incorporated into this new project. Stay tuned.

Twenty years ago this summer, in 1991, I was living in my step-van in Austin, Texas, slowly getting back onto my feet after leaving a commune I had been with for the previous thirteen years (yet another story that’ll be told in full, someday).

Thirty years ago, in the summer of 1981, I was living in Isla Vista, California (the student ghetto of UC-Santa Barbara). I was essentially in exile from the commune, but I had my own bike, a PO box, food stamps, a place to keep my stuff, a cozy place to sleep in a secluded piece of an overgrown park, but no roof.

Even though I was essentially homeless for about six months, I have fond memories of that summer. It helps that it never rained. But I also became part of a whole community of young hippies that populated the low-rent houses of the neighborhood, and together we participated in the Diablo Canyon blockade, one of the biggest anti-nuclear actions ever conducted.

The summers of ’91 and ’81 could be considered traumatic life-changing events, but in retrospect they were memorable and enriching experiences. The summer of 1971 was spent recovering from physical trauma: a serious bicycle accident that had me in the hospital for a few days in June and licking my wounds for the rest of the summer.

I don’t know what kind of life-changing event – if any – 2011 will bring. I’m willing for this year to be the one that breaks this decennial pattern, but if something big happens this summer, I hope it’s something good.

Egrets, Geese and Cranes on La Crosse River Marsh

We’ve said it before, that one of the great things about living in our part of the world is the bird population. Our favorite bike route is the La Crosse River State Trail, and the first few miles from the Medary trailhead would be a birder’s paradise.

Canada geese are overabundant around here, but at this time of year you can see them out with their babies.

Two families of Canadian geese on the La Crosse River Marsh, as seen from the nearby bike trail.

Two families of Canada geese on the La Crosse River Marsh, as seen from the nearby bike trail.

We’ve been noticing sandhill cranes for the past two years now, and we see them on at least half our rides.

A family of sandhill cranes forages for food in a young cornfield near the La Crosse River Bike Trail.

A family of sandhill cranes forages for food in a young cornfield near the La Crosse River Bike Trail.

This pair of birds was chattering to us while we were taking a break as we approached West Salem. We’re not sure what they are, so if you can help identify them we’d appreciate it.

A pair of small birds pose for photographers along the La Crosse River Trail near West Salem.

A pair of small birds pose for photographers along the La Crosse River Trail near West Salem.

We see a lot of great egrets and great blue herons, but the herons haven’t posed for us yet. The birds are related and look very much alike. The link below opens a three-second video. It’s a 6-frame burst of a great egret landing on its perch overlooking the La Crosse River Marsh as seen from the bike trail.

The video will load in a new window or tab. If you have trouble viewing it, make sure you have QuickTime extensions installed.

Egret on the Marsh

That’s the Spirit

A view of Mars from the rover "Spirit"

A panoramic view of Mars taken by the rover "Spirit" from a hilltop several miles from its original landing site.

Many years ago, some scientists and engineers designed a robot to crawl around on Mars, taking pictures, gathering data, and performing experiments along the way. In most space projects, the design work is a big part of the cost, so to build two robots doesn’t cost much more than to build one, and they can back each other up in the event something goes wrong with one of them.

They launched the robots – named Spirit and Opportunity – in 2003. At that time, space machines on their way to Mars were haunted by a streak of bad luck where they had a tendency to disappear when they should have been landing. But these machines both landed on opposite sides of the planet as planned, overcame some early glitches, and went on to perform beyond expectations.

Each rover had its own team of scientists minding it back on Earth. With the rovers on opposite sides of Mars, one crew slept while the other crew worked. They were scheduled to work for the expected life span of the rovers, which was 90 Martian days… just over three months.

Last week, the space agency announced that Spirit has gone dark… six years after it first landed on Mars. Scientists have learned many amazing things about Mars that we didn’t know before. For the rest of us, we get to see Mars as a place that doesn’t look much different than some parts of Arizona.

We now have a better understanding of that world and our own world, but when we find answers we also find more questions. But we’re not finished yet… Opportunity is still running, roving around, taking pictures, digging up dirt, drilling into rocks, and doing all the other amazing stuff that was designed into it nearly a decade ago.

Many people say we shouldn’t spend money on exploring the solar system, that we have far more pressing needs at home. The total cost of designing, building, launching, tracking and controlling the two rovers is about a billion dollars. That’s less than one B-2 bomber, or one day of the Iraq war. I think our great scientific minds are put to better use building space robots instead of war machines.

The same factories that build military hardware also build machines for interplanetary exploration. The rocket scientists who design cruise missiles can also design Mars landers. And the technology that enables these missions benefits all of us… after all, the first digital cameras were designed for robotic spacecraft.

The life of Spirit says so much about the kinds of amazing and cool stuff we can do. We need fewer bombers and tanks, and more Spirit.

Hawk Encounter

red-tailed hawk from below

A red-tailed hawk stands watch above our front sidewalk.

We saw a large bird in our neighbor’s maple tree 18 months ago. Today a similar bird (a red-tailed hawk, please comment if you disagree) appeared in the large tree in front of our house. It was the robins who brought it to our attention, sounding uncharacteristically alarmed in the outer branches.

Just like last year’s bird, it was kind enough to pose for pictures. But this year we have a better camera, so we got better pictures. Seven-image phototale after the jump. Read on

The “Green Thing”, Back in the Day

We’re not big on regurgitating viral emails. It amazes us how many lame and cheesy messages keep popping into our inbox, years after we first saw them. Why is so much crap viral, but dispatches of much higher quality fade out in a couple of days? Must be a conspiracy of some sort.

At any rate, we recently received a forward from an unusual source… unusual in the sense that this is someone who we’ve regarded as somewhat conservative. After the jump is a rant I wish I had written, as it succinctly describes the drift toward “magenta” living (opposite of green living) that we boomers have witnessed over the course of our lifetimes. Read on

A Peek at the Democratic Process

Follow this link, and you’ll find a video of firefighters marching into the capital in Madison, complete with bagpipes and full regalia. (The video quality is not the best, but then it’s not ours.) The second video on that page has much better quality, and it’s a great summary of what the area around the capital looks like this week. There are also several cool pictures.

We also recommend this video (scroll down the page and watch part 4), provided by Wisconsin Eye (our state’s equivalent of CSPAN). Like many videos of government proceedings, it’s punctuated with long boring parts. It’s from yesterday afternoon’s session of the state Assembly, which was scheduled to begin at 5 o’clock. While the Democrats were in caucus, the Republicans started taking votes at 4:57. At about 3 minutes into the video, the fun starts as the Democrats show up while voting is already underway.

Angry words are spoken about rules being broken and – amazingly – the Republican leader finally says to his colleagues across the aisle, “you’re right”. The earlier votes are annulled, and battles are rescheduled for next week.

The Dog Days of Winter

The video that follows is NOT one of ours, but it’s one that we deemed worthy of putting in one of our youtube playlists.

After the snowstorm we had last week, this is kind of what getting around felt like…


… except that our snow was much more dense than that. When sidewalks become canyons, that’s a lot of snow.