Friday, May 28, 2010

Man eating plant - or should that be plant eating man?

A Sun Dew - insectivorous plant from Wells Gray Provincial Park


When you think of the carnivorous plants you think of the jungles of the Amazon and the hot steamy climates of the south. But, there are carnivorous plants right in our own backyard - that is assuming you have a big backyard that includes Wells Gray Provincial Park.

A number of the bogs up in the park are home to the insectivorous Sun Dew. The Sun Dew, like the other insectivorous plants evolved this way to make up for minerals lacking in the soil, and consequently, are found in bogs exhibiting very similar characteristics. I guess the bog nature is a substrate that is basically dead plant material with no, or very few, minerals present.

As kids we would bring plant specimens home and try to feed them. The show wasn't quite the snapping and growling and great struggle that we had envisioned. For the most part, the Sun Dews could only hold very small insects and it was somewhat like watching paint dry.

Next time you're out and about and come by a potential Sun Dew habitat, typically a pond that is slowly transforming to a marsh, get down on your hands and knees and see if you can find this diminutive predatory plant. Remember - don't get your fingers too close!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How crowd sourcing can solve a 50 million year old mystery

A rare fossil of a worm, or perhaps the tongue of an alien?
More probably a root and some leaves from McAbee

So, in keeping with my vow to keep the posts a little different I present project #928. On a recent trip to the McAbee fossil beds I realized there is a serious problem facing paleontologists. I mean besides having to fit the word paleontologist on a business card. The real problem is the huge number of specimens that they need to muscle their way through to find the gems. There are literally tons of fossils in the area and it would be next to impossible for one team to review, catalog and collate all of the data associated with even a relatively small collection.

So my solution is brilliant (if I may use such an adjective and still remain my modest self) and surprisingly simple - which, while out of character for me, makes the adoption of the process much more likely. I say "employ crowd sourcing".

So, in a nutshell, or whatever they had for nut shells 50 million years ago, the solution is this: photograph all of the fossils in the collection at high resolution and record where in the stratum the fossil came from. The idea is to build a three dimensional matrix so one can approximate the forth dimension (time) for where these fossils existed relative to one another.

Step two is to serve up the fossils via the internet for people to analyze and catalog for the researcher. Field guides, and computer tools could be built into the system to help the amateur paleontologist with the task at hand - as well, pattern recognition could be built into the software so the computer could pick out ginkgo leaves and the like.

The paleontologist could, taking a break from redesigning his business cards, review the data from the crowd and quickly hone in on fossils that are being flagged as having items worthy of review. As well, an elaborate reconstruction of the environment as it existed at the time of the fossils could be built - the relative number of plants over a huge sample size could help with the reconstruction of how the ecosystems worked back in the day.

One day, a forward thinking paleontologist will come up with the same idea, and probably win a Nobel prize for it, but you my kind reader, will remember that you actually heard the concept here first.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Forget Superboy - Watch out for The Jaguar!

A very rare issue of a 1963 copy of The Jaguar - valued at about twelve cents

I was doing my octa-annual house cleaning (or whatever the proper term for every eight year period is) when I became sidetracked. On my night-table, were a stack of my golden age comics. Now some of the comics were still in those crazy collector bags that people feel save the comic from the ravishes of time - and I'm sure if I had an Action Comic #10 I would be sure to employ a little more care - but for now, I believe comics were meant to be read.

And so I started flipping through the pages of a great variety of comics and had a really good read. Not only were the stories amusing, but the era that they hearkened back to made one feel all nostalgic. I think I was most nostalgic for an era when you could use the term "hearkened back to" without being labeled as prehistoric.

What is interesting in the history of comics, is that you will notice the appearance of the Comic Code Authority stamp on the front cover of comics from the 50's onward. This was to avoid the tremendous pressures that morality groups were bringing to bear on the the youth of the nation. Prior to this self-regulating code, comics were getting to be a pretty good read: gore, hot steamy plots, and lots of stuff the adolescents of the time craved (and in fact still do).

I don't know when publishers got brave enough to dump the code but I will check that out and report back just like Clarke Kent would. In the meantime I am off to find out how the Jaguar defeats Mr. Big Brain.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Grease is the word


Back in the day I was a greaser. Or at least I wanted to be a greaser. My hero was "John Milner" from American Graffiti, and if I smoked I would have kept a pack twisted into the arm of my t-shirt just like John did. Come on you gotta remember John, he was the guy with the 32 deuce coup and had the big race at the end of the show. But I digress, I wanted to be like John but since I was a delicate child all I could do was dream about being cool like him.

Whenever we had a 50's dance theme - I was there. I had practiced my jive moves till I was almost as cool as John, but with all that pseudo coolness comes great risk. A risk which I shall now illustrate.

It was in grade ten and as part of the lead up to our big 50's sock hop, a group of us were putting on a jive dance demonstration on the stage in front of some 400 of our peers. My partner was a cute and bouncy cheerleader who was definitely well typecast for the part (and I hasten to add it was not the girl in the above photo as this photo is some 2 years past the event I am about to describe - and that is not to say that Cindy was not a cute and bubbly cheerleader but if you are patient you will understand shortly why certain names must be kept secret)

Anyways, we were halfway through "Rock around the clock" and the cheerleader and I had centre stage. The series of moves we were about to execute were ones that we had down cold. She had her hands planted on my shoulders and I had a tight grip on her hips - and in a display of athleticism usually reserved for Cirque du-soleil  performances - she bounced off that hardwood floor and swung up on my left hip - lifting her in perfect time with Bill Haley's driving beat I swung her over to my right side - pleated skirt billowing. Our movements were as one and I was now swinging her upwards, her legs arched high above and her face almost touching mine. Timing was critical here: hold the pose too long and her skirt would tumble down, but I had to hold the pose long enough for dramatic effect, and then for the grande finale she was to swing back down towards the floor, continue between my legs, her hands would slide from my shoulders, along my arms, we would clasp hands, I would do a quick crossover and pull her back  between my legs and up to the thunderous applause of the audience.

The  overhead stance was excellent, but I could feel my grip coming loose as she started the arc back towards the floor, I managed to hold on as she, smooth as silk, slid between my legs - my quick crossover went alright but as I tried to pull her back between my legs I realized things were going wrong. My hands were sliding up her arms and I had snagged the baggy letter-man sweater she was wearing. Instead of bringing the bouncy cheerleader back up I just had her sweater - she, quite topless had continued to slide across the stage and, fortunately for her, off to the stage left. I just stood there, holding the lifeless sweater like one would hold a dead cat. The laughter was deafening.

It would be a few more years before I would attempt cool again.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Square jawed and nerves of steel



I collect stuff. Not so much any more, but I still collect stuff. My collecting has slowed down mainly because I have run out of space to put stuff. If I were to get some new stuff I would have to get rid of my old stuff - and my old stuff is pretty cool.

So instead I will start to use my blog to share some of my old stuff with you. The picture above is from an ad in an Esquire magazine and it is a classic. The ads in Esquire are for: booze, cigarettes, and stylish clothes for square jawed men who are smoking and drinking and doing manly stuff all at the same time.

Esquire had lots of women in the magazine but they were mainly there to bring more cigarettes and booze to the men as they were far too busy doing their manly stuff. I think that is a big reason why you see so many women from that era, widowed and wondering what happened to all the manly men.

Perhaps a steady diet of Johnny Walker and Marlboros wasn't the best health regime going. When I was growing up I could never figure out why it was that my dad didn't smoke and never had anything straight-up, on the rocks or even shaken and not stirred. But then he is now 85 and can out walk pretty much your average Canadian in almost all age groups.

Perhaps I'll go for a hike tomorrow - but first, a nightcap - perhaps a 7 and 7?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hands-on science


Snake we saw on a Naturalist Club field trip

There are two main trains of thought in the world of naturalists. The first groups subscribes to the notion that nature should be respected and viewed from a distance, with minimal interference. This group comprises about 98% of the naturalist movement. The smaller group, is comprised of the remaining three or four percent of us who are not good at math and less than good at keeping our hands off of nature.

I have been an ardent supporter of the idea that if you want people to become interested in a cause it has to be something that they can see, taste, touch, hear and smell. If you want a kid to get interested in nature - let him or her catch a mouse, pet a snake, or scoop up a jar of tadpoles. Yes, you have to do it respectfully, but you still have to do it.

The "hands-off" attitude to nature will only ensure that the kid turns towards the X-Box or PlayStation for their recreational fix, instead of getting plugged-into nature.

While I don't advocate the wholesale removal of wildlife from the surrounding environs, I think our laws could be lightened up a little to allow people to maintain small terrariums that they could then use to study wildlife and to develop a bond  with nature.

Who would be more passionate and understanding of the need for wetlands than a kid who has raised a salamander or a frog?

When we were children we often had a terrarium with local specimens. We would feed and study these animals, and when we grew tired of collecting the worms, ant eggs, grubs or mice that they required we would return them back to where we had got them. As it stands now, you can't have an ant farm without a permit. That is just wrong.

I think its time the naturalist movement took a look at our laws and brought a more common sense approach to legislation and brought in some laws that would encourage kids to poke, probe and study nature. It will be these children that grow into the naturalists of tomorrow.

Redwinged blackbird protecting its territory

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Western Toad: Buffo borealis - or something like that

 Western toad - note the white stripe down its back

Actually the Western toad is Bufo boreas but I like to make up names, especially if you have to do it under pressure. Bufo is Latin for toad - which I am sure we all remember from our Latin classes - and boreas or borealis is Latin for "northern." I like the borealis monicker as it evokes images of the Northern Lights.

If you check out the Canadian Wildlife Service website you will see that the toad is a species of concern. Which means they are worried but not too worried. Sort of like when you are trying to decide if you should eat the egg salad sandwich that has been out on the counter for an hour - you're worried but not too worried. Myself, I always eat the sandwich.

The toad is interesting for a number of reasons. It is relatively long living amphibian unless it gets run over by a car or stepped on by a horse - which seems to be the #1 and #2 causes of early demise in a toad. They don't get eaten much due to the fact that they are poisonous (and very fattening). Apparently, the poison affects your blood pressure, lowering it, and brings on hallucinations, vomiting and excessive drooling - I suspect it is the secret ingredient in a lot of beer.

This photo of a toad out by my garden I especially like because of the composition. by going to a panoramic frame the toad's size is exaggerated and you get the feeling of being down at his or her level. I will be going on safari at some point this spring/summer to film the mass toad migrations of Wells Gray Park. The event happens quickly and is a bit of a hit and miss thing but if timed right it is a truly spectacular sight.

Must hop along now.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Paper, stones, scissors

 Check out the age on this latest kidney stone I passed (magnified 2x)

Okay, I'm only going to talk about the stones part of the title today, so please no complaining afterward.

I am feeling crappy and, as it has been my experience that people in general and my friends in particular don't like to hear me whine, it will be a short post. I think I have passed enough kidney stones recently to open a small rock quarry. In fact I have posted a picture of a stone that has apparently been around in my system for quite some time.

Things will be better today I am sure.

In lieu of my posts making you happy I would like you to check out the link to David Francey's music on CBC Radio 3 and give him a listen. I know it works for me

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Help requested from techno-geeks

Water flows into the silver manifold on top and the cooler water drops down the vacuum tube, as it heats, the hot water rises and is moved along in the manifold by pump pressure.

I am working on my solar system - no I am not building my own solar system with planets and moons and such, which would be sort of cool, but no, it is more appropriately a solar heating system.

The system works very well and I had the water in the tubes to the almost catastrophic melt down point, just to see how hot I could get it. My exhaust venting worked well and the stress test was considered a success. What I need to improve on the system however is my monitoring.

At present I have two analog thermometers that tell me the water temperature coming into the system and the temperature leaving the system. I would like to set up the following sensors which could relay the information back to my computer without wires: pool temperature, water temp entering and exiting each solar panel, air temperature, wind speed, intensity of sun light, water flow through solar system.

With those metrics collected I could then determine optimal configurations for heating the pool - the biggest consideration being when one should cut the water flow through the tubes and when should the pool cover be in place.

The next step will be to automate the process so I can present the data on a website for use by others who wish to follow suit.

Where I need the assistance is in finding the hardware that will let me do this with a minimal amount of fuss and dollars. If any of my readers have come across a good source for these types of projects, please let me know. You can post a comment here as they get emailed directly to me.

But the sun is now cresting Mt. Paul and I'd better go out and tend to my solar system - I think I'll put the moon over here . . .

Monday, May 10, 2010

Fat lady sings - Cowboy poet dies!

The CBC techies hard at work
Brent giving me an intro


Perhaps the title to this post is what I should have used as my six word entry in the final challenge of Canada Writes 2010. But I think it would have taken a lot more "perhaps' " and "what-ifs" to have had much of a chance against the other talent in the writing competition.

When all was said and done I think the whole exercise went much better than I had anticipated. My fixation with beer helped cover up and/or explained some of my lapses in writing and seemed to strike a chord with most of the judges and the audience. The irony of course is that my beer consumption rate is far below the average consumption rates for the typical Canadian male.

That is the beauty of being a writer though. You can create your own worlds, your own realities, and if you are good enough - you can invite others into those worlds.

I'm back in Kamloops now and I'm gearing up for some new projects: I have a pilot to prepare for a children's nature show we are trying to pitch to the learning channel. I have a radio play that I am wanting to pitch to CBC. I am burning incense and offering up chickens in a bizarre voodoo ritual with the intent of securing an interview with the people at TRU for a job as a research assistant. On top of all of that I am getting my solar system up and running and am trying to figure out how to spread the gospel about the benefits of augmenting the grid.

The solar project is going to take some work as I want to design a system that will automatically collect data from the system and post it onto a website so others wishing to invest in solar can see what the potential rewards are. For now I have a very low tech solution - I have thermometers on the intake and outflow sides of the solar panels and can record the differential in temperature. This differential, when multiplied by the volume of water going through the system will tell how many calories the system produces - a calorie being the amount of energy required to raise one gram of water one degree celsius.

So with my plate overflowing with projects again, I must sign off and get to work.

Peace out - keep your cinch tight and enjoy!

On the road to Winnipeg

Friday, May 7, 2010

Forget Snakes on Planes - Try kidney stones on planes!

I am sitting here, quite comfortably I hasten to add, in the well appointed Delta Hotel in downtown Winnipeg.

Addicted as I am to maintaining my blog I spent the ten bucks it costs to get a connection for the internet and am happily catching up on my emails, blogs and other posts. Quick aside: Why is it at the Super Eight or the Blue Bell Motel in Fort St. John you get free wireless internet but the more expensive the hotel the more they charge you for what should be a free item?

So the trip out was quite eventful. Apart from our plane being two hours late in Calgary, I had the unexpected joy of attempting to give birth to a four pound kidney stone. Those that have had the joy of kidney stones will know of which I speak, for those that haven't - try to imagine a rabid ferret trying to gnaw it's way out of your lower intestine. The trip seemed to take forever but we finally landed in the (and I don't know what colloquialism they use for Winnipeg is but you can insert it here) city and we were met by my bleary-eyed in-laws. It was shortly after midnight their time.

I am afraid I was not much fun as we made the one hour drive back to their place. Unlike the strong silent types I am more of a free spirit when it comes to expressing my pain and I was howling like a coyote with a leg in a steel trap. Their threats of taking me to the local vet/doctor must of had some type of physical effect on me and the stone finally stopped. As long as it doesn't start moving between now and the end of the taping of the show tonight I will be fine.

I met up with Marc and Jason at the hotel and had a good time chatting with people equally as warped as I. Both Marc and Jason are like Brainiac from the old superman comic books  - okay maybe they are not super-powered evil types but they are super smart and actually know stuff - I just know how to make obtuse references to stuff and they actually know what an obtuse angle is.

We made our way over to the CBC building where we met up with Saundra Vernon the other contestant and after quick introductions made our way up to write our one hour challenges.

Jill Walker, who looks after all of us contestants said I looked horrible but after I assured her that this was in fact how I normally looked she allowed me to continue to write. I was in fact feeling a little under the weather but had brought my secret weapons along: Mars bars and Tylenol. The tylenol would cut the pain and the Mars bar would provide mental alertness by depositing large amounts of sugar into my system.

I can't tell about what I wrote or how brilliant I was or wasn't but I did make it through the two hours and with the writing behind us we went out for supper and some drinks.

It was great being around people who shared the same sense of humour and could follow your logic no matter how convoluted it might be. I will sign off now and the next post will be after the competition and then we will never speak of the mother corporation again.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Now I'm really gone!

Me and Ricco before being famous


So I checked my email this morning and I had a very good song suggestion by one of my co-workers from many years back. Alanna, with whom I worked in the newspaper business, has gone on to become a writer of incredible talent and covers international stories like the jet-setting heroines in those spy-thriller movies.

When I knew her however it was a much more mundane beat - reporting on the beer-belly league of men's hockey in Clearwater, BC and covering the escape of farmer Brown's prized Hereford. I sold ads for the paper and was allowed a small column on page 43 under the stipulation that I had to sell enough ads to make a 44 page newspaper. She has gone on to much better things - I went into the mountains and learned how to ride a horse.

Anyhow, she suggested I rewrite the words to Hallelujah and I did and here it is:

Two more beers Bro
Now I’ve heard there is a secret bar
Where rock still plays, and not so very far
But you don’t have the cover charge, do you?
What beer was this
The fourth, the fifth
I had a fall, I need a lift
But better yet I’ll have two more beers bro
Two more beers bro
Two more beers bro
Two more beers bro
Two more beers bro

The scotch was strong, some say over proof
Next thing you’re dancing on the roof
But security and cops overthrew you
They cuffed you
And wino bill
They harshed your vibe, and your buzz they killed
And from your lips I heard the “two more beers bro”
Two more beers bro
Two more beers bro
Two more beers bro
Two more beers bro

me and Ricco after being famous

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Farewell and adieu

Sunset last evening over Kamloops Lake

I had hiked out to my favourite little corner of Kenna Cartwright Park last evening - to get some more footage of the owls, stretch my legs and try to get my fix of bugs and snakes.

The weather had been miserable all day and there was a major round of hockey going on, so consequently I had most of the park to myself. The owls co-operated, the lighting even turned out to be all right as the storm passed and some of the setting sun's rays made it through the dead pines to illuminate my subjects.

After the obligatory 30 minutes of an owl sitting in a tree doing pretty much nothing, my mind wandered and I ambled off looking for other subjects. I found a Meadowlark staking out his territory and while filming that process I was treated to the chorus of coyotes from down the bluff.

But I must now pack my bags and get ready to head out for the bright lights of the 'Peg. I'm hoping they still take B.C. dollars at par out there.  I will be back in a few days and will have great tales of excitement and "daring-do" from my sojourn to the city.

Remember, never say whoa when you're half way into a mudhole!

Monday, May 3, 2010

May day - May day!

campfires are always a good source for inspiration

Okay, that was the distress call used back in the old days of radio and is probably still in use today - although I have not seen it employed in anything that didn't have Humphrey Bogart as the leading character. It is a crude derivative of the French m'aider and was something that was easily recognized over the cruder radios of the day and when repeated three times meant the caller was in "grave and imminent" danger.

So it is with me as I am staring at a blank screen and trying to think of pithy things to write to prepare me for the upcoming Canada Writes competition. Unfortunately I am pith-less today and all I can come up with is parodies that involve Captain Kirk, Spock and the ever outraged Bones.

I had put out a call to my facebook friends to send me what they felt was the ultimate Canadian song and will be rewriting those all day today. I found it amusing that the folks at CBC gave one of the finalists in the east the Anne Murray classic "Snowbird" to rewrite - obviously the contestant did not heed the advice given a few posts back and missed a great opportunity to wow them with a song about a dead cat.

I have a few good tunes in my arsenal now but don't wish to share them on the off chance that one of the producers sees that I have already covered the tunes and would have an unfair advantage over my fellow writers. On the other hand they might just take pity on me and give me that foot or two headstart that my gym teacher always gave me when I had to race against the other kids.

Well I will churn out a few more songs and then turn my attention to capturing some video from my last field trip.

Just need a good rhyme for Klingon.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Let the sun shine!

 free heat - well almost free - probably a 3 year pay back where I live

I know I don't strike many of my new acquaintances as being much of an environmentalist - especially since over half of my wardrobe is camo - but I do believe in doing what I can to make things a little easier on our planet.

I will have to, at some point, trade in that big diesel burner I drive - but it was a necessity in my past life and I can't afford to part with it quite yet - the book value is about $12 and I doubt that I can buy a hybrid (even a used hybrid) in that price range yet.

So instead I make a difference in other ways. One of our vices is a swimming pool that came with the house we bought. One of the biggest costs of running the pool was getting it up to a temperature that everyone in the family thought was appropriate - somewhere between poaching eggs and boiling lobsters - and although I am more of the luke warm type of guy, I was overruled and we paid the piper in terms of a large gas bill.

A cursory exam of solar systems led me to believe that not only could we cut down on the greenhouse gases, we could also cut down on our expenses and I set about researching systems that would work for us. I shied away from plastic components as I knew they would not weather well in the sun and was worried about the freeze and thaw cycles of Kamloops. I settled on glass vacuum tubes that were relatively inexpensive and could be installed without a lot of fuss or muss.

I tracked down a dealer in Kelowna -Okanagan Home Center - and was quickly a fan of the proprietors Dave and Cheryl Kelly (email: okanaganhomecenter@shaw.ca). Dave and Cheryl are good people to deal with and seem truly concerned about your satisfaction as a customer. They are committed to the solar industry and have tons of experience with pools and spas and had lots of good advice for a neophyte plumber such as myself.

It took me only two days to construct all of the panels (there is of course - some assembly required) and to plumb them into my water system. The system is incredibly efficient. I will post a video of how you can take water at about 10 degrees Celsius and raise it to the boiling point in about 35 minutes. Because ours is a large pool and we are high on the mountain where the nights get cool we need a fair number of solar panels to get the pool up to the temperature we want. Right now I have 5 panels and will probably add another 2 to get us into that slow boil range that is so soothing on old bones. Homes in the valley would probably get away with about 2/3rds of the panels that I need.

Check out the WSE Technologies website - that's where the stuff comes from and then give Dave or Kelly a call and they can get it out here before you can say "Al Gore was right".