Wednesday, February 29, 2012


sadie hawkins1

Today is one of the rare events in human time-space history, a catch-up day, February 29th. Happy Sadie Hawkins Day!

According to early English law, February 29th was ignored and had no legal status. Therefore, it became the one day when women could ask someone to marry them. This practice was first documented in 1288, when Scotland passed a law that allowed women to propose marriage to the man of their choice in that year. They also made it law that any man who declined a proposal in a leap year must pay a fine, ranging from a kiss to money for clothing.

sadie hawkins2

In the USA, this custom translated the Old World leap year tradition into today’s “Sadie Hawkins Day,” when women can chase single men and propose marriage to them. The character of “Sadie Hawkins” existed in the old Al Capp cartoon strip Li’l Abner and was first mentioned there on November 13, 1937.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

100% Probability of Wren


A couple years ago,  on the first evening back home from a trip, I had carried steaks out to grill, but when I opened the lid on our gas grill, I found a nest with eggs inside. 

I went and got the small portable grill from the trailer, and used it instead.  That big, expensive, stainless-steel grill in the back yard was totally useless until the babies left the nest about six weeks later.

The squatters were a pair of wrens, and apparently they think a gas grill is a perfect spot for a nest. 

I guess it is -  it provides shelter from weather, and with the lid down, the little vents in the back mean nothing much larger than a wren is going to get in, so it should be safe from most predators.

They (or some of their descendants) are back this year.

When I opened the grill this past weekend, there was no nest yet, but they had hauled in a lot of stuff – leaves, twigs, grass runners, etc. – to use to build one.  I cleaned it out and used the grill as planned.

Yesterday morning, the grill was full of nest-building crap again, and as I cleaned it out, the little wrens sat on the fence with more stuff in their beaks, just waiting for me to go away.  Their beady little bird eyes somehow made me feel guilty for wanting to use my own damn grill.

For now, I’m leaving the lid up, and the birds have not started rebuilding.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Fiery Falls

I’ve never been to Yosemite, but it is on my bucket list.  After seeing the picture below, I may have to make the trip in February.

Horsetail Fall in (1)

If you view Horsetail Falls in Yosemite National Park from a position along the Merced River in Yosemite Valley just before sunset, it glows like the water is on fire.

This phenomenon  only occurs for a few minutes, and for only few days in February each year when several weather and climatic conditions are just right.

At any other time, the falls look like this:


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Gone Texan


It’s Rodeo time in Houston.  Here’s how it looks to a reporter for the New York Times:

For a Change, Texans in Houston Dress the Part


HOUSTON — A funny thing happened here on Friday. Texas came to town.

Cowboys and cowgirls were everywhere — on the sidewalks and in the playgrounds, in the downtown skyscrapers and the restaurants — and they were not even tourists. They actually lived here.

For decades, this city has celebrated, as it did on Friday, a tradition called Go Texan Day, the one day of the year on which people in Houston dress the way people outside Houston think people in Houston dress. On the Friday before the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo gets under way, tens of thousands of Houstonians head to their schools and offices in newly purchased cowboy hats, cowboy boots and jeans. They dress, in other words, as if they’re from Texas, which they are, though it is easy to forget that simple fact in the state’s biggest city.

Houston is as cosmopolitan and traffic-snarled as Los Angeles and as diverse as Queens, with parts as wealthy as the Upper East Side. It is the fourth-largest city in the country, with a world-class symphony orchestra and opera. Its voters in 2009 made Houston the largest city in the United States to elect an openly gay mayor, Annise D. Parker, a Democrat who has since been re-elected. You can go days without seeing anyone in a cowboy hat, but not a minute without seeing a BMW or a Starbucks. As Don B. Graham, a former president of the Texas Institute of Letters and a longtime observer of Texas culture, put it in a recent essay, “Here’s a rule of thumb: Any time you read a novel set in Houston and there are tumbleweeds tumbling through the city, you know you’re in faux Texasville.”

The dress-up tradition, which began in the 1950s as a way to promote the rodeo, has become a kind of unofficial holiday. Mayor Parker wore jeans, a fringed jacket, a cowboy hat and boots, as did others on her staff. On the Rice University campus, someone put a big blue cowboy hat atop the bronze statue of the founder, William Marsh Rice. The city’s public schools, as well as private Catholic, Jewish and Greek Orthodox schools, were populated with belt-buckled students wearing vests, denim skirts and sheriff’s badges.

“It’s kind of like an extra Halloween,” said Rory Stebner, 47, who like others his age remembered celebrating Go Texan Day when he was a child. “I grew up in Houston, but my parents came from the country, so I’ve worn boots and jeans my entire life. Go Texan Day just meant I got to wear my regular clothes to school, instead of school clothes.”

The day is popular in the schools, but even more popular in the city’s Western wear shops.

On the eve of Go Texan Day on Thursday night, a line of cars jammed the street leading to Cavender’s Boot City near Reliant Park, the stadium complex hosting the livestock show and rodeo, which starts on Tuesday and last year had a general attendance of 2.26 million. Managers at Cavender’s reinforced their staff with temporary employees, stayed open past the usual 9 p.m. closing time and hired off-duty police officers to maintain order in the parking lot. At 9:07 p.m., about 35 last-minute shoppers stood in the cashier line holding cowboy hats and red bandannas, while dozens of others swarmed around them.

“This is our largest business day of the year,” said Mike Cavender, 54, whose father opened the first Cavender’s in 1965 and who is a vice president of the company. “Bigger than Christmas.”

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Convenient Care Center

With the exception of our years in Corpus Christi and the years she worked at NASA, my wife spent most of her career with the Memorial Hermann Hospital System, so when they announce something new – especially close to home – we notice.

Memorial Hermann broke ground yesterday on the first-of-its-kind “Convenient Care Center.”


The Center will be west of  Lake Houston Parkway just off the Sam Houston Tollway , directly in front of Summer Creek High School.
This innovative facility is slated to open in the summer of 2012 and will provide one-stop, highly coordinated access to the vast array of Memorial Hermann services in a single location. The Center will specifically provide the greater Lake Houston area with primary care (adult and pediatric), specialty physicians, lab services, comprehensive radiology services, wellness, prevention, physical therapy and rehabilitation, and a 24-hour emergency room.

The big news is that it is not just another hospital or clinic, but a new approach to health-care delivery.
“The Convenient Care Center represents a new model of care for Memorial Hermann,” said Dan Wolterman, CEO and President of Memorial Hermann. “It will fit perfectly with the clinically-integrated, patient-centered medical home service that we are creating to position Memorial Hermann for the future and to meet the healthcare needs for families in the Houston region for many years.”
The $7.4 million, 30,000-square-foot Center is designed to take the stress out of scheduling appointments for routine health needs by offering families convenient options such as walk-in access, extended evening and weekend hours. For non-routine and more urgent needs, the Center will include a 24-hour, seven-day a week, state-of-the-art emergency department staffed by Memorial Hermann Northeast’s board-certified emergency medicine physicians and emergency-trained nurses. Patients in need of higher levels of care would be transferred to Memorial Hermann Northeast, Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center, or Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.
“We are excited to be the first Memorial Hermann hospital to open a Convenient Care Center,” said Louis Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital. “We are proud to bring this unique offering to the Atascocita/Summerwood/Fall Creek and surrounding areas.”
“The Center will be an added value for families in this area,” Smith continued. “The doctors and nurses who will staff the Center are some of the same professionals who have provided high-quality care to numerous families in this area for many years. The Center also will be able to call on the region’s top medical specialists and highly specialized services at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.”

Friday, February 24, 2012



Back in 2005, Six Flags Corporation closed AstroWorld.

That same year real estate investor John Marlin of Dallas made a big stir in the New Caney area when bought land about 30 minutes north of downtown Houston;  land  that he planned on turning into the area's next  big theme park.

He called it called EarthQuest, and he envisioned an ecology-based park that would provide education along with a healthy dose of Disney-style entertainment.

But now the fate of Marlin's 1,564-acre tract in Montgomery County that he planned to use for the 500-acre theme park and 1,064-acre residential development will be decided by a U.S. bankruptcy court in Sherman on March 5.  Marlin heads Whitestone Houston Land, LTD., which filed for the Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Two groups that had been working closely with Marlin in pursuit of the theme park – the East Montgomery County Improvement District and Contour Entertainment - are joining forces to try to buy the land and establish a new developer.

The court has set a minimum purchase price of $10 million, which is about half what Marlin originally paid for the land that straddles U.S. 59 near New Caney. Completion of the project is estimated to cost about $500 million.

"While not a good public relations move, the bankruptcy sale brings the price down. It could save a substantial amount of money for the project," said Frank McCardy, the improvement district's CEO.

The district, started in 1994 to improve the area's quality of life and create jobs, retains ownership of the park's conceptual and site engineering drawings, which the district purchased for $7.5 million in bond money. The district has also spent an additional $2.5 million on legal and other efforts to move the long-delayed project forward - all of which are being repaid through the district's 1.5-cent sales tax, he said.

McCardy would like to see Chris Brown, president of Contour Entertainment, act as an assistant developer with funding coming from outside backers.

Contour Entertainment of Van Nuys, Calif., designed the conceptual drawings for the park. It would be seven times larger than AstroWorld, with 50 attractions that stress environmental stewardship. This would include such things as a 12-acre water park made from a retreating glacier to an animal park that includes threatened species and a ride through a land with a fiery volcano and life-sized dinosaurs.

Earthquest 2

Brown, an ex-Disney designer, has the experience necessary, as his company continues to design projects for Disney as well as a new theme park that he says is opening this year in Mumbai, India.

McCardy and Brown believe the financial climate is improving and they are in active discussions with potential developers who would be able to write the check, but they said they could not disclose the names.

McCardy said he feels good about the project because three theme-park experts have said this spot has perfect demographics. Houston is the only one of the 11 largest U.S. cities without a theme park. Major theme parks are located on each coast but not the central U.S., 18 million people live within a four-hour drive of the site and Houston has a young population with one of the strongest economies.

But with all the false starts, spurts and delays, many area residents are skeptical about it ever being built.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sunrise - Sunset

How do you feel about sunrises? 

How about sunsets?

Do you prefer one over the other, and, if so, why?

Which do you think is prettier?

Is that opinion based upon where you happen to be at the time?

Without knowing where you are, if you were shown two photographs, could you really tell them apart?



sunset tapak tuan



Yes, I can count to three

The first photo is a sort of generic sunrise from an unknown location pulled off the internet.  Let’s just say it is there to establish the mood.

How about the other two? Do you have a preference?

The middle picture is a sunset over the Indian Ocean taken from Tapaktuan, Indonesia, and the last is sunrise over the Atlantic from Myrtle Beach, North Carolina.

If ocean views aren’t your thing, how about a Rocky Mountain sunset from Alberta, Canada?

Alberta sunset

Or sunrise on the Big Thompson River in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park?

big thompson sunrise

I don’t have a strong preference, but if I were forced to choose, I think perhaps I like sunrise a little better.  The only reason I can think of is that I’ve probably seen a lot more sunsets than sunrises in my life.  I am not always up early enough to watch the sun rise, but on those days that I do, I am almost always around when it sets.

If you want a picture of a truly unique sunrise from a remote location, try this:

sunrise_apollo 12

It was shot by the crew of Apollo 12 while they were on their way back to Earth from the Moon.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Latest Quake

Still no significant earthquakes in California, but….

new madrid 2


What by historical standards was a mild earthquake shook parts of as many as nine states on Tuesday in the latest rumble along the fabled New Madrid Seismic Zone.

The quake, measuring 4.0, struck at 3:58 a.m. CST near East Prairie, Mo., a rural town of some 3,200 people off of Interstate 55, which connects St. Louis with Memphis, Tenn., according to the U.S. Geological Survey website.

The quake was felt in Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee and there were scattered reports from four other states including as far away as Georgia.

The depth of the quake was about three miles, the geological service said. Only minor damage was reported.

The New Madrid zone is considered one of the younger earthquake areas in North America, stretching some 150 miles through five states. The potential impact is larger, however, including the states of Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.

Four of the largest recorded earthquakes in North America took place in the New Madrid zone and all are believed to be in the 8.0 range. All occurred between December 1811 and February 1812.

The most significant recent quake was rated 5.4 and occurred Nov. 9, 1968. It was centered in Dale, Ill., and was felt in 23 states.

Seismic instruments have recorded more than 4,000 quakes in the zone since 1974, but most were too small to be felt.

Today is also the one-year anniversary of the Christchurch, New Zealand quake. 

More than 10,000 New Zealanders stood in silence at a Christchurch park Wednesday while police officers and firefighters read out the names of all 185 people who died in a devastating earthquake one year ago.

The reading was followed by two minutes of silence at 12:51 p.m., the minute the magnitude-6.1 quake struck. It destroyed thousands of homes and much of downtown Christchurch, causing 30 billion dollars  in damage.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

General Washington and Reverend Spooner

Although yesterday was Presidents’ Day, today is actually what my mother called George Birthington’s Wash-day

I don’t mean to imply that she always called it that, but she heard someone, accidentally or not, call it that when she was a child, and it stuck.  She actually had difficulty saying George Washington’s Birthday correctly.

It seems that once you get your tangue tongled around a Spoonerism, it takes hold of your brain and won’t let go.

Spoonerisms are named after the Reverend W. A. Spooner (1844-1930) who was Dean and Warden of New College in Oxford, England. He is reputed to have made these verbal slips frequently. His most famous may have occurred when, during a chapel service, he referred to Jesus Christ as our "”shoving leopard.”

Spoonerisms are words or phrases in which letters or syllables get swapped. This often happens accidentally in slips of the tongue.  The Greeks had a word for this type of impediment long before Spooner was born: metathesis. It means the act of switching things around.

Reverend Spooner's tendency to get words and sounds crossed up could happen at any time, but especially when he was agitated. He reprimanded one student for"fighting a liar in the quadrangle" and another who "hissed my mystery lecture." To the latter he added in disgust, "You have tasted two worms."

So if you have made a verbal slip, don’t worry, you’re not alone. John Lennon was once quoted as saying in an interview that “time wounds all heels.” Radio announcer Harry Von Zell once introduced the president as Hoobert Heever, and another network  announcer – can’t remember his name - once said during a visit to the US by Queen Elizabeth ( not Elizabeth II, the Queen mother)  that her arrival at the White House would be greeted by a “21 son galoot.”



Monday, February 20, 2012

2-20 Presidents and the Lord of Destruction

This year, February 20th is not only Presidents’ Day, it is also the day Hindus celebrate Shiva, the Lord of Destruction.  Somehow, that seems appropriate.



Titled Washington's Birthday, a federal holiday honoring George Washington was originally implemented by an Act of Congress in 1879 for government offices in the District of Columbia and expanded in 1885 to include all federal offices . As the first federal holiday to honor an American citizen, the holiday was celebrated on Washington's actual birthday, February 22.

On January 1, 1971, the federal holiday was shifted to the third Monday in February by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.  This date places it between February 15 and 21, which made the name "Washington's Birthday"a misnomer, since it never lands on Washington's actual birthday, February 22. An early draft of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act would have renamed the holiday "Presidents' Day" to honor the birthdays of both Washington and Lincoln, which would explain why the chosen date falls between the two, but this proposal failed in committee and the bill as voted on and signed into law on 28 June 1968, kept the name Washington's Birthday.  It became known, generally but unofficially, as Presidents’ Day in the 1980s.


Maha Shivratri, the night of the worship of Lord Shiva, occurs on the 14th night of the new moon during the dark half of the month of Phalguna. It falls on a moonless February night, when Hindus offer special prayer to the lord of destruction. Shivratri (Sanskrit 'ratri' = night) is the night when he is said to have performed theTandava Nritya or the dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction. The festival is observed for one day and one night only.

According to the Puranas, during the great mythical churning of the ocean called Samudra Manthan, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. The gods and the demons were terrified as it could destroy the entire world. When they ran to Shiva for help, he in order to protect the world, drank the deadly poison but held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. This turned his throat blue, and since then he came to be known as 'Nilkantha', the blue-throated one. Shivratri celebrates this event by which Shiva saved the world.

Shivratri is considered especially auspicious for women. Married women pray for the well being of their husbands and sons, while unmarried women pray for an ideal husband like Shiva, who is the spouse of Kali, Parvati and Durga. But generally it is believed that anyone who utters the name of Shiva during Shivratri with pure devotion is freed from all sins. He or she reaches the abode of Shiva and is liberated from the cycle of birth and death.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

John Glenn

friendship 7 

On February 20, 1962, fifty years ago tomorrow, John Glenn became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth when he flew aboard a space capsule named Friendship 7.

Now, 50 years later, we look back at that moment with admiration at what roads that mission was able to pave for our nation.

Glenn  manned the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission, which was the sixth mission in the Mercury-Atlas set of missions.

He knew what was at stake, and although the previous mission saw Enos the Chimp land successfully back on Earth, two of the previous runs by NASA were met with failures.

The first mission, MA-1, only flew 6 miles above Earth before its Atlas rocket suffered a structural failure 58 seconds after launch.

The third mission in the Mercury-Atlas program only lasted 43.3 seconds after launch once the range safety officer terminated the mission when the vehicle failed to follow its roll and pitch programs.

The MA-3 mission is still considered crucial in that NASA was able to see that its launch escape system proved to be successful. They were able to save the Mercury spacecraft from destruction.

Although Enos the chimp had made a successful flight, Glenn still faced growing anticipation and worry as postponements began in January 1962 because of problems with the Atlas rocket fuel tanks.

Glenn’s  circling our globe would have been January 27 if it had not been for inclement weather, postponing the launch until February 1.

More problems with Atlas fuel tanks were found, this time a leak soaked an internal insulation blanket, causing a two week delay.

Finally, on February 20, Glenn took his journey around the world. Locked away in the Friendship 7 spacecraft, he was strapped to an Atlas rocket, getting ready to be one of the first few humans to ever see the Earth from a new vantage point.

As the rocket took-off towards the night sky, Glenn’s heart climbed up to 110 beats per minute, with him radioing back to NASA “It’s a little bumpy about here.”

The Friendship 7 spacecraft crossed the Atlantic, passed over the African coastline, and later over Kano, during which he said he could see a dust storm.

Upon his second orbit, ground controllers were worried about a loose heat shield on the spacecraft, but later found that it was just a faulty “Segment 51″ warning light.

In just under five hours, Glenn saw the sun set three times, and rise three times, completing NASA’s first manned orbit around Earth.

Now, 50 years later, astronauts live in space aboard the International Space Station, orbiting the Earth every 91 minutes for the past 4,127 days.  With the end of the STS shuttle program, we now depend on Russian spacecraft to get them there and back.

A human orbiting the Earth may have lost some of its flare over the past 50 years, but  by no means should we take what Glenn did lightly.

Given the history of the Mercury-Atlas missions, Glenn had a two out of five shot things were not going to work out, yet he still courageously stepped into the Friendship 7 spacecraft.

His achievement had a direct affect on all of the accomplishments NASA and its international partners have made over the past 50 years.

Enos the chimp, who flew in Mercury-Atlas 5 in November of 1961, died less than a year later – November 4, 1962 -  without ever becoming a Senator.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Keeping Track of the Deities


According to their website, the world worships over 3,700 different Gods, and they have listed,  catalogued and keep track of all of them at

Just to add a little spice, they also have a section devoted to saints, hermits and martyrs, and their “Godshop” sells some interesting T-shirts.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Getting Closer

I’m still expecting a major earthquake in California – one I predicted months ago.  This quake, which occurred Monday, would have been big news in Southeast Texas, but was not major by California standards, and I almost missed it:

A 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck Northern California this afternoon, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. This moderate-sized temblor was located close to the state's border with Oregon and close to the Pacific coast. The epicenter was close to the rural community of Weitchpec, which is just more than 200 miles northwest of Sacramento and 31 miles north of Eureka.

* The depth of this quake was 20.4 miles.

* It struck at 1:07 p.m. PST and less than an hour later, the official USGS Twitter account said the "Did you feel it?" reporting function on the agency's website had received more than 2,000 reports.

* The Associated Press reported sheriff's deputies from Humboldt County and officers from theEureka Police Department checked on residents and looked for damage. There were no initial reports of damage, although some residents felt shaking or swaying, and one small store experienced goods being knocked from shelves.

Then Wednesday morning there was this:

(Reuters) - A strong 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck on Tuesday roughly 160 miles off the coast of Oregon, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The quake struck at 7:31 p.m. Pacific time at a depth of 6.2 miles in the Pacific Ocean 159 miles west of Coos Bay, Oregon. It was felt as far away as San Francisco, California, according to the USGS.

A spokesman for the Portland police said he did not feel the quake. There were immediate reports of damage or injuries.

No tsunami warning was issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.


Either this is the build-up to my big one, or a release of pressure that will push it further into the future.  Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


 mom on nest 2

Remember this picture from last year?  Well, they’re back.

I heard a commotion yesterday about dawn, and looked up to see a pair of hawks building a nest in one of our pine trees.  It’s not the same tree as last year, so I’m really not sure if it is the same pair or not.

All the hubbub  wasn’t coming from the hawks.  They were calmly and quietly going about their construction project.  The noise was coming from the L.S.H.O.A. – the Local Squirrels’ Home Owners Association – they did not approve of the idea of a hawk nest in their neighborhood at all! 

There must have been close to a dozen squirrels circling the nest site on surrounding trees, at eye level with the hawks, about 60 to 70 feet up.  They were all fluffed out, trying to look as big and dangerous as possible while they chattered and screeched at the offending birds. 

One really courageous little fellow was actually on the hawks’ pine tree just above the nest looking down on them from about six feet away.

hawk vs squirrel

I did not take this picture – the weather was not cooperating that morning – but I found that if you run a Google image search with the keywords “Hawk” and “Squirrel” you will get almost as many pictures of squirrels confronting hawks as of Hawks eating squirrels.

Did this show of squirrel solidarity work?  For a while, I thought it might have.  The hawks seemed to just ignore the squirrels, but after a while, they left.  When they returned about 9:00 a.m. they landed on an another pine tree about 50 feet away.  They sat there for a few minutes, then started working on the nest again.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Shanna’s Bush

shanna's bush

Our beloved daughter Shanna passed away six years ago today after a long and valiant fight against breast cancer.

When they learned of our loss, the O’Donnells, our across-the-street neighbors, gave us a small saucer magnolia plant in her memory.  The picture above is what Shanna’s bush looked like at this time last year.

As I mentioned  last August, when we returned home from Michigan last summer, the drought had almost killed many of the plants in our yard, and we thought the little plant was done for.  It had already dropped all but two or three of its leaves, but after several weeks of daily watering it came back – first with blooms and then with leaves.

Since it bloomed so profusely – and out of season – last fall, we didn’t expect it to bloom this year, but yesterday, a single bloom opened on Shanna’s bush, and it is beautiful.

Bill O’Donnell left this life in January.  I didn’t know him well, but can say that he was truly a kind and gentle person.  When I saw that bloom, it made me think of Shanna and of Bill.

We have two other saucer magnolias in the yard, both older and larger.  They also bloomed last fall and neither of them is blooming.  The oldest one has a couple of buds that should open by next week, but the other one doesn’t show any sign of blooming again this spring.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012



This picture, taken last week in a market in Baghdad,  shows that Valentine’s Day is big business, and not just in Christian countries.  Although outlawed in Iran last year, and frowned on by the mullahs, this day dedicated to a Christian Martyr  has become a favorite holiday of romantic young people in the middle-east.

So, who was St. Valentine, anyway?


He was in fact a pagan priest jailed for helping Christians in Rome.

It is said that he restored the sight of the jailer's blind daughter but was only rewarded by being clubbed to death. People doing miracles from jails — what would happen if this sort of thing was left unchecked?
His executioners did however forget to check the date. It was common belief that the fourteenth day of February was the day birds chose their mates. Having a Martyr who died on this day gave young lovers their very own Saint and helped folks like Hallmark sell a gazillion cards.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine’s Eve

Valentine’s day is tomorrow, so it may be too late to try to pick one out – unless you plan to deliver it on-line or in person.

It may simply be a matter of taste, but I think Valentines may have improved with age.  Just take a look at this one, first published in The Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wisconsin) Feb 13, 1892



Although the public howling
Upon you loves to jump,
I know your milk is never
Assisted at the pump.

You never fill with water
Your polka dotted beeve
To raise her yielding limit
At orange tinted eve.

Your ways are ever honest,
And as an honest man
I gayly drum your praises
Upon this old milk can;

And trust that fate your cream jug
May fill unto the brim,
And let you like a swallow
The sky of fortune skim.


Or this one, dedicated to a nineteenth century dentist


I started this by saying that Valentines may have improved over the years.  Then again, they may not have – a quick check for a good modern card did not produce anything worth posting.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Wok Like a Man

[editor’s note: The previous post had been saved to publish yesterday, but I forgot to post it.  So today, you get two]

Several years ago, when we remodeled our kitchen, we made the change from a gas (in our case, propane) range to a ceramic top electric stove. 

ge range

We bought it because we thought that we wanted a convection oven, and the only range we found that offered a convection oven with  gas burners on top was a stainless steel restaurant model that cost about as much as a compact car – nice, but definitely out of our price range.

Once we had the range installed, we found that we needed to learn how to cook all over again - Gas and electric just don’t heat the same way.  We also found that we could not use a wok, and while stir-fry in a skillet can be good, it is not the same.

Last month, I found a solution.  It’s a big enameled cast-iron wok with a bottom that is rounded on the inside and flat on the outside, allowing it to be used on a ceramic stove top.


The thing is huge – 14 1/2 inches across (16 from handle to handle) and it weighs 16 pounds.  The only cabinet space that we could find to store it is just above eye level, so just putting it up or getting it down is a workout.

Big as it is, for the first meal I cooked in it I chopped up too many ingredients.  The wok was very forgiving, though, and the meal came out great.

Oh – that convection oven feature? – nice enough, I guess, but we probably use it less than once a year.


Wolf News

A few months ago, I somehow got myself on the mailing list of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.  It seems to be a good group involved in some significant conservation projects throughout the US, not just in the Rockies.

The story below is from their latest email newsletter:

Recent news about wolves across the nation:

California—Animal rights activists are calling for a boycott of the Hollywood thriller “The Grey,” in which a group of oil-rig roughnecks stranded in a remote part of Alaska battle attacking wolves. Activists claim the move is “inciting terror” of wolves like “Jaws” did with sharks.

Colorado—Following a public outcry in Colorado, federal officials say they have no plans to reintroduce wolves to help control elk populations.

Idaho—Animal rights activists have launched a petition drive to protest aerial wolf-control measures planned for Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest.

Minnesota—Officials have set a quota of 400 gray wolves for Minnesota’s first hunting and trapping season.

Montana—Sportsmen groups are offering cash and other incentives to encourage wolf hunters to keep up their efforts to fulfill the state’s harvest quota. So far, the enticements don’t seem to be working.

Nevada—The wolf that made headlines recently when it wandered across Oregon and into California is now nearing the Nevada state line.

New Mexico—Federal biologists working at a captive breeding center in New Mexico are treating six Mexican gray wolves for “conditioned taste aversion,” in hopes that the predators will find beef distasteful and, in turn, will not prey upon cattle once released into the wild.

Oregon—Authorities believe a wolf is probably responsible for the recent killing and consuming of a mule in Wallowa County, Ore.

Wisconsin—A new bill would permit wolf hunting, use of dogs, traps, bait and night hunting to help reduce Wisconsin's wolf population from 800-1,000 animals to about 350.

Wyoming—Residents of Jackson, Wyoming, are reporting wolves wandering close to subdivisions on the town’s west side

Friday, February 10, 2012

Arab Spring - Pieta

arab spring


Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda has won the 2011 World Press Photo of the Year award for the New York Times with an image of a veiled woman holding a wounded relative in her arms after a demonstration in Yemen.

Jurors said Friday the photo captured multiple facets of the “Arab Spring” uprisings across the Middle East last year.

It was taken at a field hospital inside a mosque in Sanaa, Yemen, on Oct. 15.

It may be so obvious as to make pointing it out redundant, but I couldn’t help noticing the similarity between the photo and Michelangelo's Pieta.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Early Valentine

We were away from home for most of the summer during the worst of last year’s drought , and as a result, many of our flowers and shrubs almost died from lack of moisture. 

Once we did get home and began watering, our saucer magnolias produced out-of-season blooms in late August.

Since then, the year-long drought followed by a mild and moist winter has led to some  interesting phenomena:

azalea 2-08-12

This Azalea has been blooming since mid-January.

azalea 2 2-08-12

And as of today, it seems to have convinced its neighbor that spring is here.

pink azalea 2

One of our Camellias is blooming, too, but that’s almost normal; they usually start about the end of February.

camelia 2 2-08-12

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Shoulder Pig

You can easily spot Vermont State Police cars – they’re the ones with the pig on the doors.  It isn’t supposed to be there, but it is – check the spot on the cow’s shoulder.


Prison inmates who make decals for the Vermont State Police slipped a pig into the official seal, and up to 30 patrol cars wound up sporting the subliminal epithet.

The police emblem features a cow, an evergreen tree and snowy mountains along with three unidentifiable gold colored figures. (The Vermont State Seal features sheaves of grain, but these look more like mushrooms or Martians.)

Back in 2008, an inmate artist at the Northwest State Correctional Facility went into the computer file and modified one of the cow's spots to resemble a pig, the common derogatory term for police.  In 2009, the state police ordered 16-inch door decals.

Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito said he believes 60 altered decals were made. Some new cruisers have two, while older cars may have just one if a door was replaced. New decals, costing $780 apiece, are expected Monday.

State officials learned of the prank last Thursday. They blamed quality control at the Vermont Correctional Industries Print Shop in St. Alban. Prison authorities are trying to identify the inmate behind the prank.

Vermont_State_Police logo

Compare the car decal with the state police shoulder patch, which , according to their website, "is a modification of the Seal of Vermont and the State's Coat of Arms originally designed by Ira Allen of the Green Mountain Boys' fame.”

The official state seal looks like:


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cougar Attack



Officials at Big Bend National Park in West Texas are looking for a mountain lion that attacked and injured a 6-year-old boy as he walked with three other people.

The boy was walking near the park's lodge on Sunday evening when he was attacked by a "young lion in very poor condition." The victim's name wasn't released.

The victim was treated for puncture wounds and scratches and released from a hospital in Alpine, park spokesman David Elkowitz said.

Rangers began evacuating trails and campsites early Monday. Closed areas include the Chisos Basin, Window Trail, the Pinnacles, Boulder Meadow and Juniper Flats.

Authorities were using a dog team and ranger patrols to hunt the lion but it remained on the loose as of yesterday evening.

The animal that attacked the boy will be killed if it is found, the park spokesman added.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Quake Update

Back on September 20 of last year, I posted a note here predicting a major earthquake in California within the next few weeks. 

I refuse to rescind my prediction, because, paradoxically, the more wrong my statement appears to be, the closer it comes to being right. I am, however, beginning to reexamine my definition of few. 

Since I made my prediction, there have been tremors all over the place, including a few in some really unlikely spots, but so far, nothing that would qualify as a major quake in California.  The latest quake to come anywhere close was in the Pacific, just off the coast of Vancouver Island.

vancouver island 

A magnitude 5.7 earthquake has been recorded about 105 miles west of Ucluelet off the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

A National Earthquake Information Center geophysicist in Golden, Colo., says there is no danger of a tsunami from the shallow quake. It hit at 12:05 p.m. Saturday.

Geophysicist Rafael Abreu says he doesn't expect to see damage with this quake based on its distance from shore and the low intensity at which it was felt.

A handful of residents in Lopez Island, Wash., as well as Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, reported feeling it.

And this morning – actually last night local time – on the other side of the seismological Ring of Fire, a deadly quake hit the Philippines:


A 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck Monday off the third-largest island in the Philippines, killing at least 12 people.

The quake struck about 11:49 a.m. (10:49 p.m. Sunday ET) about 70 kilometers (44 miles) from the coastal city of Dumaguete on the Philippine island of Negros.

The dead included two elementary school children, authorities said, according to the Philippines News Agency. The girls died when walls at their schools collapsed on them.

The Office of Civil Defense put the official death toll at 12,  although there were unconfirmed reports of more deaths.

Sunday, February 5, 2012



An effort to use  ultralight planes to coax essentially orphaned whooping cranes all the way from Wisconsin to their wintering grounds in Florida has ended for the season. The problem this time isn’t a possible violation of Federal Aviation Administration rules, but rather the birds themselves.

“The birds haven’t been cooperative,’’ said Liz Conde, a spokeswoman for Operation Migration, the group that organizes the flights. “The birds are refusing to follow the ultralights any further.’’ The last time an Operation Migration pilot flying an ultralight tried to guide them a few days ago, on a morning with perfect weather for flying, “the birds would just come out of the pen, fall in behind the ultralight, take off in beautiful formation, fly for a short bit and then break away.’’

“It’s a game of ‘Can’t catch me!’ or something,” she mused.

The decision is something of a disappointment after an epic struggle to get the F.A.A. to allow the migration to resume. Acting on a complaint that the flights were commercial, and that the ultralights and their pilots are not certified for commercial use, the agency grounded the flights after the birds and pilots reached Alabama. It relented after a chorus of experts said that it was important to re-establish a wild population of endangered migrating birds, that this was the best way to do it, and that time was of the essence.
It may already have been too late. The weather has been unusually balmy for this time of year, around 61 degrees today, Ms. Conde noted, and the increasing hours of daylight are a cue to the birds that winter is already waning. The birds may also have been undergoing some hormonal changes, she said.

In any case, the only way to get the cranes moving will be to put them in crates and drive them by truck to the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge near Decatur, Ala., she said, where six or seven whooping cranes, alumni of earlier migrations, are already wintering.

Operation Migration has never led birds to Wheeler, only to Florida, she said; the wild cranes that are there now picked the spot on their own. But that’s O.K., Ms. Conde said: “You never want to second-guess a wild bird.”

Wheeler is about 45 miles northeast, as the crow flies, from the cranes current position.

The cranes that are being trucked might return year after year to Wheeler or they might go elsewhere; no one is really sure. If they remain impressionable and fly with a group of other whooping cranes, they might make it to Florida next year, Ms. Conde said; or they might pair off with mates and fly to Florida.

Reports continue to come in about both Sandhills and Whoopers that have curtailed their migration this season. Some, like almost 40% of the Eastern Migratory Population, have shortened their southerly migration by hundreds of miles. In the western flyway, the same phenomena is being seen in the Wood Buffalo-Aransas population. Cranes that would normally  winter on coastal Texas have short-stopped on the Platte River in Nebraska and also in Kansas.

The latest news out of Aransas, Texas about the western population of Whoopers is that only 193 cranes were counted on three aerial surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in January. This versus the 300 cranes that were anticipated to winter there. Sixteen more cranes not on their usual wintering grounds were accounted for, some of those being the cranes that had not ventured further south than Nebraska.

You can follow Operation Migration through progress reports on their blog.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

My First


The first computer at the Boggy Thicket was one of these - a Commodore 64.  Its memory resided on an accessory, a cartridge-type tape recorder.

It wasn’t good for much – at least to an operator with my skill level, which was almost nonexistent. 

I did write a couple of very simple programs for it using BASIC.  I didn’t design the programs, just copied them, typed them in from an instruction manual. 

It did teach me that computers are totally unforgiving and sort of stupid – they do not have the capability to determine what you meant to say – what you type is either totally right or it is totally wrong.

That is still true – at least regarding the computers and programs that I use today.  The only possible exception that comes to mind is spell-check, and the best the spell-check application can do is a list of wild-assed guesses about what you meant to say.  Even that is usually wrong.

Friday, February 3, 2012


elem student

On Monday, we got an envelope in the mail that should never have come to the Boggy Thicket.  The street name Started with a C, but it was not Conners Road (our street) and the zip code only contained four digits –7336.

It was one of those envelopes with the two cellophane windows that show the FROM and TO addresses, and it contained a form that had been completed by a third grader.  The hand-printing was almost illegible – even by third grade standards – but the information visible through the windows let me form some quick conclusions.

  • The little girl was in the third grade – there was a box checked that said so.
  • Her T-shirt size was Small – that box was checked, too.
  • Couldn’t read her first name, but the last name was Moreno, or something close to it.
  • The printed return address on the form  was from an elementary school in Levelland, Texas - 79336, just west of Lubbock.
  • The printed portion also said “Thank You for being my Sponsor.”

Based on that information, I’m pretty sure that the form was being sent to someone who was expected to sponsor the child in some local event, or at least, buy her a T-shirt.

Our five digit zip code is similar, 77336, but I don’t know why the Levelland Post Office would send the thing all the way to the other end of the state based on a four digit zip code that looked at least as much like theirs as mine.

The little girl prints on a pre-K level.  That, and the fact that she entered a four digit zip code when there were clearly five boxes for numbers, makes me wonder if she is somewhat impaired.  Even if she is, it is clearly no more so than the Levelland postal clerk that sent her letter to me.

I caught our mail delivery lady (postwoman? postperson?) as she completed circling our block and she took the letter back with her to be sent back to Levelland.

I can’t help wondering if the kid will ever get her shirt.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Speeder Beware

OK, it is a narrow, two-lane road.  There is a slight grade, and the road curves enough that visibility is somewhat limited.  The valley does tend to hold in the fog, but……

speed warning

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

One Seriously Overloaded Truck

This morning, the Washington Post reported:

Highway Patrol: 11th victim found inside burned pickup truck days after deadly I-75 pileup

By Associated Press, Updated: Wednesday, February 1, 7:04 AM

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The body of an eleventh person has been found in a pickup truck days after a deadly pileup on Interstate 75, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

The victim was inside a Dodge pickup truck that crashed into a tractor trailer as it traveled south early Sunday, authorities determined Tuesday. The driver and another passenger in the pickup had not been identified early Wednesday.

You have to read all the way down to the third paragraph to learn that not all of the victims were in the same vehicle:

The Highway Patrol on Tuesday released the name of an eighth person killed in the crash. Vontavia Kiara Robinson, 22, of Williston, was the driver of a Pontiac Grand Prix that was involved in the southbound crash around 4 a.m. Sunday. The name of a passenger who died in her car has not been released.

Authorities closed the busy six-lane highway just after midnight Sunday because a mix of fog and smoke from a nearby brush fire made visibility difficult. The road was reopened about three hours later after the Highway Patrol determined conditions had improved. The first pileup occurred a short time later.

I complain a lot about intentionally misleading headlines.  In this case, I wonder if the false impression was the result of an intentional act, or just stupidity.



According to a new study, the introduction of non-native snakes into southern Florida swamps has devastated the population of small mammals, almost completely wiping out some vulnerable species.According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the number raccoon and possums spotted in the Everglades has dropped more than 98%, bobcat sightings are down 87%, and rabbits and foxes have not been seen at all in years.

Large snakes, like boa constrictors, anacondas, and pythons, are not native to North America, but are popular among reptile collectors and traders who — inadvertently or not — re-introduced them to the Florida swamps about a decade ago. Since that time they caused a huge disruption to the already fragile ecosystem, threatening wildlife and even some humans. They grow fast, breed rapidly, adapt well to their environments, and prey on small animals that don't recognize them as a threat. They're also great at hiding, which makes them both deadly hunters and difficult to catch.

They will also eat just about anything, even birds, deer, and alligators. (The 162-pound Burmese python pictured above had recently swallowed a gator.) That's why the government banned the import of Burmese and other pythons last year, although (thanks to lobbying by the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers) the reticulated python and the boa constrictor are still allowed to be traded.

Biologist say that with anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 snakes now on the loose. It's impossible to wipe out the pythons entirely, though they may still be able to contain their damage — and keep them out of other states, provided the cold weather cooperates. Careless pet owners have now established 56 non-indigenous reptile and amphibian species in the state of Florida alone, and experts predict that breeding populations of pythons could survive anywhere along the Gulf Coast.