Monday, May 28, 2012

Lake Lure

The lure of lakes, that is. In this case, famed Winnipesaukee area on a Memorial Day weekend.


Friday, May 25, 2012

There is no bomb, there was no bomb, they were not looking for a bomb

I’m a researcher at heart.  First during my grad school and university researcher days, then and now in my applied consulting work, and even spilling over into my hobbies and interests. Sort of an OCD thing.

I love certain facets of history and have read and researched for decades on the topics surrounding WWI military aircraft.  But of late I’ve gotten hooked on the Cold War era; I’m not really sure why. I remember the national tenseness during the Cuban missile crisis and recall touring demonstration fallout shelters set up on the edge of our local shopping center’s parking lot. Sort of a bizarre open house. “Wouldn’t you lovely ladies like to see the latest style in annihilation avoidance?”

So of late I’ve been reading tons about Dew Lines, U-2 and SR-71 spy planes.  And before them a less-sophisticated era with re-purposed bombers and cargo planes making  near-constant forays into Communist China and Russia to both photograph and to purposely test the enemy’s radar systems. Dangerous work. I can highly recommend a 2002 release:  By Any Means Necessary by William E. Burrows, for those who might have a further interest.

I’ve also been researching accidents and near-accidents with military aircraft carrying nuclear bombs. During the Cold War, New England had more than its share of active air bases due to its northern locale (defending both the North Atlantic as well as the Arctic).  Dow (Bangor), ME, Loring (Limestone), ME, Pease, (Portsmouth) NH and Westover in central Mass. were just some of the key facilities that were fully operational during those tense times.

As a side note, when Dow was deactivated and turned over to civilian use, little Bangor Airport could tout the longest commercial runway on the East Coast. The airport was so underutilized that when the Boeing 747 was first coming out, airlines would use Bangor to train new pilots. My wife and I (poor newly married students with no $) would hike over there on a Sunday afternoon to watch 747’s make touch-and-ago landings. One of Bangor’s other claims to fame is its use as an aviation police station, especially once it became an international airport with customs agents. When there are in-flight bomb scares, as just happened with a Paris – Charlotte US Airways flight, or when a tipsy passenger (seems often to be a Brit for some reason) causes trouble in the cabin, the aircraft will land at Bangor to get things sorted out. The old SAC base has found an odd but necessary niche in today’s air commerce.

Back to the nukes. The title of this post refers to an incident in 1968 at the U.S. airbase in Thule Greenland where a B-52 from Westover crashed on the ice and the fuel exploded.  The plane was carrying four nuclear bombs and the conventional explosives detonated but there was no nuclear explosion. Almost from the get-go the rumors were that the Air Force had recovered three of the nuclear devices but could not find the fourth, even searching with a Scripps Institute of Oceanography submersible, and gave up trying. I have a CD ROM copy of the original Air Force reports and photos (I told you, research OCD!). Long-story-short, the rumors kept surfacing and so the Danish government (of which Greenland is a part) commissioned an independent study just a few years ago to try and put the issue to rest. My post's title is the sub-title of that report (yes, I have a full copy of that too). But did the report settle the issue once and for all?  Was the U.S. guilty of a Cold War cover up and is there a nuclear bomb unaccounted for in the far North?  I’m writing more about that in the near future.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Army Corps as God

Design/Bid/Build of an ARC at Las Vegas, NV

Solicitation Number: W912QR-12-ARC-LASVEGAS
Agency: Department of the Army
Office: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Location: USACE District, Louisville

They're imitating God; that's what I thought when I saw this published solicitation today from the Army Corps of Engineers. A contract to build an ARC -- in the Nevada desert no less!  Brazen. But it turns out that their ARC is an Army Reserve Center, so I guess that's within their allowable scope. Objection withdrawn.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What EPA Doesn't Know...

This is NOT an EPA-approved label for a hazardous waste drum. Auditor (me) not laughing (well, maybe just a little).

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

LinkedIn Again

LinkedIn is up to its old tricks trying to suggest folks that I’d probably like to be connected to.  Lots of good people related to my profession, and so I take them up on most of their suggested match ups. Nothing bad has happened so far.  No axe murderers have looked up my address and paid me a visit in the middle on the night or anything.  But here’s some titles of people that I’ve chosen not to connect to:

Away From Home Marketing Manager
Inspirational Communicator and Advisor
Experienced Survivor of Catastrophe

Now that last one, I don’t know exactly how you collect experience on catastrophe.  Does it just find you, or do you go after it like one of those storm chasers on the Weather Channel?

I don’t think I want to know.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Bongos, Bongos, Bongos

My 1959 LP found in a junk shop.  Pre-hippy beatnik stuff.  Like what, you never heard Greensleeves or Danny Boy with bongo accompaniment?  It's a gas!

No Fishing on Mother's Day

No fishing allowed on Mother's Day, unless it's the mother's honest choice (hear that all my friends who are fishing nuts?).  One route that I often take coming home from running errands in town takes me by a swampy area that straddles both sides of a back road.  In spring and in a wet summer the wetlands have a decent size expanse of standing water that can all but disappear during a dry summer. Right off the road where a culvert connects these two wetlands is a small  pull-off area suitable for perhaps two cars to park where people stop to fish. I can't imagine this wetland pool area contains much more than sunfish or perch - no great prize in my book. When I went by this afternoon there was just one vehicle parked there and on the water's edge stood a mother and a 5-6 year old boy. The mother was helping the boy with his fishing pole and tackle. Just the two of them. Was the father at work? In military service? Deceased? AWOL?  I'll never know of course. But I couldn't help but hope that the woman was having a rewarding and memorable Mother's Day with her son.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mother’s Day Packs Church Pews

An article in today’s USA Today newspaper highlights what many regular church goers already know, especially it seems in the smaller, evangelical-leaning churches: it is hard to get men in the pews on a regular Sunday. From the piece:

"It seems that on Mother's Day, moms say, 'Let's all go to church.' But on Father's Day, dads say, 'I'm going to go play golf,' " says Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, the Nashville-based Christian research firm that conducted the survey.

"Christmas, Easter and Mother's Day have become the three days of male holy obligation when their wives and mothers are able to guilt them into the pews," says David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church.

There was a point not many years ago when my household was the only church-going family in our neighborhood.  Lest you misunderstand – no one was attending faith services anywhere except maybe the Church of the Holy Beach Sand or Our Lady of the Weed Wacker.  But that’s changed within the last three years or so. We even have our church's Associate Pastor living two houses away from us (now I need to be on my best behavior, at least outdoors!).

I don’t know, was male-avoidance a problem in the 1st century Christian church as well?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sirius XM Radio – Psychedelic

Moving from the Sirius XM oldies music channel that I just posted about to one highlighting the 1960s era got me thinking about cover songs that were radically different style-wise than the originals.  Going from rock to mellow I think of Jose Feliciano’s acoustical guitar treatment of the Doors’ iconic Light My Fire.  But going the other way from a mild/mellow original to rock, my favorite of the hippy era would have to be the Vanilla Fudge interpretation of Diana Ross and the Supreme’s pop hit You Keep Me Hanging On. Great stuff.  But the Troggs’ cover of the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations?  Not so much. In fact, let’s agree to ban it from the airwaves, shall we?

Pass the Helium Please

I was driving around western MI this week for business and my rental car had a Sirius XM radio. I enjoyed listening to the “50’s at 5” channel for hours since their playlist includes many unfrequently-heard Doo-Wop and Rock N’ Roll of the 1950’s.  Listening for that length of time I did conclude something that wasn’t so obvious to me ever before - female backup singers of that day all sang in squeaky high voices. They were all breathing helium at the recording studios, I think.  But in the case of female lead singers, some were just plain young – girls really. Here’s two that both had hits in 1960 and both were only 15 years old at the time of their recordings: Rosie and the Originals (Rosie Hamlin) and Kathy Young and the Innocents.


Tasty Water Part II – When Water is a Flour

Rock Flour or Glacial Milk refers to finely ground rocks pulverized by active glaciers. The resulting material that is of fine silt or clay size is easily suspended by flowing meltwaters and the inorganic particles usually only settle out when they reaches quiescent waters of a lake or coastal embayment. Sedimentological classifications call “silt” any particle between 3.9 and 62.5 μ and “clay” if it’s less than 3.9 μ (a μ is 1/1000 of a millimeter). So this stuff can stay suspended in a water column for quite a while.
Peyto Lake, Canada

Around the world, many cultures utilize rock flour in agriculture to add a source of inorganic nutrients to their soils.  But also, a number of cultures tout the dietary benefits of consuming Glacial Milk (I’m not referring to the brand of over-the-counter vitamin supplements that go by this name, but the real thing). But glacial rock flour is actually sold as a dietary supplement. Here is one such commercial supplier and part of their claim reads:

“Glacial milk is rich in essential minerals and has been known since ancient times to be a nutritional supplement of high value. For centuries, glacial milk has been known as a secret for health, energy, youth and beauty, a true fountain of youth for skin and organism. Glacial milk contains highly valuable minerals and trace elements in naturally balanced proportions which makes it to be rejuvenating and energizing for our whole organisms. Glacial milk is a water of life.”

Sounds tempting, and what could be the harm you ask? Unfortunately, claims of health benefits are unfounded and such suppliers oversell without shame (“water of life”? Please). Also, I don’t think the people behind such businesses have much of a grasp of science.  Reading further into their website: “Naturally grown rock which is ground or weathered into smallest particles is the base of all living organisms on earth because of their function as building blocks.”

Naturally grown rock? I’ll stick with my Poland Spring Water, thanks just the same.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Tasty Water - Part 1

I have a keen taste for water. I can’t hardly tell a good beer from a bad beer or a $10 bottle of wine from a $100 bottle, but water is a different matter. It’s hard for me to even sip chlorinated tap water or worse, chlorinated tap water from limestone areas like Florida. So I confess I’m a fan of the much maligned species, Bottled Water Destroytheplanetus. And yes, I’m even picky about bottled water too. If it was bottled in a part of the country underlain by limestone or similar lithography, then I’m not crazy about paying for the hard water taste (and so of course I save my money by never ordering Pellegrino or similar mineral water when dining in Italian restaurants).

I’m also not fond of paying for filtered tap water if I can avoid it, which is what comes in Dasani (Coca-Cola’s brand) or Aquafina (Pepsi’s brand) bottles. So what do I think is worth paying for? My favorite is Poland Spring Natural Spring Water (now one of Nestlé’s many water brands). It comes from springs in good ol’ hard granitic rock Maine (Maine’s only limestone bedrock is found in the far northeast part of the state, a corner of Aroostook County (potato country – they need limely soils to thrive). There is an original Poland Spring in Poland, ME of course. (The tradition of providing lodging started in 1794 and the spring water began its renowned reputation in the early 1800s). But demand long outgrew one little spring bubbling out of a crack in the granite ledge. (Yankees call bedrock “ledge”). In geologic terms, a spring has to be free flowing and this is a rare-ish condition for the most part (think water seeping out of outcrop cuts along highway right of ways or AVI’s photo of icicles at Bridal Veil Falls. You can imagine it would be hard to satisfy market demand with mere trickles.

So, (little known fact alert), what constitutes spring water is generally defined by state law and not much else. In Maine, like most states, bottled water can be labeled as spring water only if it was taken from an area where water flows, or USED TO FLOW, from the ground naturally. That means that water can be pumped (extracted or “mined” if you are not a fan of the water industry) for commercial use. And that’s what happens at Poland Spring and most every other commercial water supplier. Wells are drilled around the area of the original springs and groundwater extracted in volume to supply our thirst. Basically, it’s the same water chemically as trickled out of the natural spring, so same taste. The extracted water might need filtering or ozonation before it can be sold as a commercial product, but to me those treatments don’t alter the taste. Some springs waters get carbonated to make them into sparkling waters, but I prefer mine with as little tampering as possible. Great stuff.

The bottled water industry has plenty of detractors, both because of the water and the plastic bottle. I generally don’t pay much heed top the self-appointed consumer protection groups that open a PO Box and launch themselves into “business” with a staffer and a press kit. “Not worth the money… Could contain toxic minerals…”Blah, blah, blah. And the recent trend at college campuses is to cave to certain student groups and ban single serving bottles from the entire campus. Lodges in several national parks have gone this route as well. I appreciate a spirited debate about the pros and cons of bottled water but it is painful to listen to completely unknowledgeable folks ramble on. In early April NPR aired a lengthy segment on bottled water and most of the show was a pretty decent discussion of pros and cons. But you know the OWS anti-corporate group would have to weigh in. Here is an e-mail read by the host on the air:

Phillip asked, "Corporations like Nestle are draining aquifers around the world, including the Great Lakes. Please ask your guests about the commercial appropriation of world water sources."

A loaded and off-base question to be sure. First, open water bodies like lakes are not aquifers. That term is reserved for underground water resources in saturated zones that can be extracted by means such as pumping of water wells. Second, I’m not sure that Nestle has bottling plants tapping the Great Lakes, but I doubt that the U.S.-Canadian Great Lakes are in danger of drying up due to bottled water operations. Unfortunately, the response by the guest “water expert” was not particularly on-target or even cogent, so the opportunity for some interesting and relevant discussion points was simply lost.

I reached for a fresh bottle of Poland Spring to wash away any residues of toxic discourse.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Subsidized Thoreau – The Video Game

I’m not a Thoreau nut or anything.  But I do admire and enjoy reading Walden and Cape Cod.  Walden Pond in Concord, MA is just a few towns over from where my wife and I attended High School and I would frequently walk its shores with my camera. It’s not a wilderness area of course, even in Thoreau’s day railroad tracks cut along one edge of the pond and old Henry David would follow them into town instead of walking the road.  And the Town of Concord long ago established a public swimming beach adjacent to that road. But it’s still a neat area, especially knowing that the pond is a glacial kettle hole and ice-contact features can be found throughout the surrounding undeveloped woods.
Walden Pond - Google View
This week Time Magazine reports on progress being made by software developers to create a Walden video game.  As the magazine editors express: “A video game about a 19th-century philosopher living in a shack, where there’s only one character and nothing happens? Sign us up!”   Yeah, like where are the six dozen bad guys I need to mow down with my 500 cal shoulder cannon so I can save the world?

The still-in-development game will reportedly try to imitate the meditative-filled peace and solitude that Thoreau experienced living in his simple cabin and roaming the watershed. Without having to leave your computer console of course. No release date has been projected as yet from the University of Southern California developers. (Could you get any further away from the real Walden Pond?)

But wait, this is apparently a public project since the National Endowment for the Arts gave a $40,000 grant toward completing the video game. What would Henry David think of the Nanny State that we’ve become?  Living in a tiny cabin with no running water or creature comforts he would have easily qualified for food stamps and other support. Thoreau on the dole? Maybe that needs to be worked into the video game somehow.

High Finance

When the financial experts advise me to follow the investment approach of Buffett, do they mean Warren or Jimmy?  I should probably keep my money in a sock until I get this sorted out.

Ryan's Fancy

My wife and I spent last weekend in Mystic, Connecticut soaking up the coastal life, including touring the Mystic Seaport Museum complex (well done - like a Plimouth Plantation with lots of period activities - worth the trip).  But I think we got our fill of New England sea shanties and AVI just recently did a posting on a similar topic.

So I'll pull in another folkish venue - more lively Newfoundland songs with a classic by Ryan's FancyDenis Ryan, Fergus O'Byrne, and Dermot O'Reilly were all Irish immigrants to Canada who were originally members of the Sons of Erin. When that group broke apart the trio relocated to St. John's, Newfoundland in 1971 to attend Memorial University of Newfoundland (where I did some graduate work in oceanography for two years). Making a splash in the local music scene, the group landed several television series before breaking up in the early 1980s.