Archive for January, 2009

Cat on ice

January 31st, 2009 | Category: animals

Recently we had a snow & ice storm that coated everything with a beautiful gloss.  My cat, Sita, is always trying to escape to the great outdoors, so I thought “You want out?  Ok, you can have it.”  Holly took her outside and dropped her on the ice about 30 feet from the door.

Sita didn’t like it.

She rocketed back inside with no hesitation.  Hopefully, learning occurred.

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The cat watches TV

January 27th, 2009 | Category: animals

This is Sita.  Sita watches TV.  She’ll become engrossed in something, a bus accident in this case, and you can see her head move back and forth as she follows the action.  Sita is the kind of cat that likes bus accidents.  In fact, I’m sure she’d really like gladiatorial combat to the death; she’d like to be one of the wild beasts that rips apart innocent Christians.


Chimpy and Darth have left the building!

January 22nd, 2009 | Category: Uncategorized

I think a lot of… I was going to say Americans, but it’s really international – a lot of people used to see the USA as a city on a hill, the beacon of freedom & opportunity etc. etc.  But in some ways, we became the evil empire.  Sure, before Chimpy and Darth (Bush & Cheney), some spittle-spraying fanatic always hated us.  But now, even many Americans aren’t proud of what the country has done in thier names, and the unprecedented ineptitude and corruption of the government is apparent to anyone with the intelligence to use a stick.

Chimpy and Darth have left the building, and finally we have a leader instead of a decider.  If Obama can effect events as well as he can talk, perhaps we will now have not adequate but enlightened government. 

Time will tell, but as my sister said before the election: “Of course he can bring change; he isn’t even president yet, and people are already feeling differently.”  If nothing else, this election has changed me – I now have hope for the country again, and a real pride.  Not the giant-flag-in-the-back-of-my-pickup-truck kind, but the kind I felt when I graduated from college, or completed my first kitchen remodeling project.

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January 16th, 2009 | Category: Uncategorized

This is a posh restaurant in Vancouver, near Stanley park.  I know this is very trendy and all, but come on… do they have a sister steak restaurant named “bloody flesh chunks?”  What are they serving in there?

And what about this thing, found in the airport? I’m glad I can post an image, words would not do it justice.

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Vancouver Aquarium

January 16th, 2009 | Category: Uncategorized

On my last day at the Vancouver aiport I had a few hours to kill before my flight home, and I went to the aquarium.  It was another miserable gray rainy day, but I still had a great time walking along the bayfront, through Stanley park and into the aquarium.

Beluga whales, mother and child – mom’s been in this tank for 34 years, poor thing.  Although they have a sizable tank to swim in, for some reason (probably food) they really wanted to get into a tiny little pool at one end.

This is a pretty good aquarium.  I had just been diving, and had seen a lot of the fish and invertebrates on display.  As usual, the aquarium denizens were plumper than most wild animals.

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You know, I really wanted that

January 16th, 2009 | Category: animals,Pacific Northwest,Travel

While working with the Canadian forces, flying on their CP-140 Auroras, I found that they feed their people really well.  Whatever food that is left over at the end of a flight is divided amongst the crew in a feeding frenzy.  Aurora crew will know what I’m talking about.

On my last flight I snagged a bag of really nice cantaloupe melon.  Not having a fridge in my room on this one night, I put it outside on the balcony, and went to bed looking forward to a morning of canteloupe consumption.

But it was not to be.  Someone else got to it before me… I heard a mysterious “thump” at the window, and saw this, seven stories below:

It landed on a rooftop, where I couldn’t get to it.  The damned gull wasn’t able to penetrate the bag, so the melon got wasted!

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Diving from Mould’s bay

January 16th, 2009 | Category: Pacific Northwest,scuba,Travel

Vancouver Island is one of the best places in the world for cold water diving, so I was determined to dive as much as possible during my visit.  As it turned out, I was only able to dive on a single occasion.  I met some great scuba people though.

I don’t dive alone, specially in a strange place.  When diving, if I am by myself I always try to find someone on the internet and try to get a feel for what they’re like before diving with them.  So, before I left Maryland I hit the internet and searched for someone to dive with.  As luck would have it, scubaboard‘s buddy matrix turned up Mike Lee, an instructor with Beaver Aquatics in Campbell River.  Mike is the nicest guy – always has a good word and is very “with it.”  He leads shore dives every Sunday, usually on Quadra Island.  I learned a lot from diving with him.

Being only an occasional cold water diver, I don’t own a dry suit and had to rent one.  Beaver Aquatics doesn’t rent them – hardly any shops do – but fortunately for me, UB diving right in downtown Courtenay is one of the few that does.  The shop is owned and operated by Sean Smyrichinsky and his wife Shelley.  They have had a diving operation in the area for years, although this particular shop is new.  The dry suit, an Aqualung Blizzard, was almost brand new and in fantastic shape.  My previous experience (at another shop stateside) renting a dry suit wasn’t that great, but a good suit changed everything.  Sean and his wife are friendly, accessible, and full of good advice.  He was kind enough to accommodate my difficult schedule and let me look over his shoulder while he serviced my regulator (for a free-flow problem that I might have not noticed, without his experience).  Although I didn’t dive with UB this time, I wouldn’t hesitate to do so next time.  I also learned a lot from watching Sean work on my equipment.

The weather was not the best for diving when I was there – choppy seas and high winds, not to mention snow!  See this post for some images of the bad weather that canceled some of our earlier dives.  But finally, weather and work allowed a brief opportunity to get in the water.

Not that the weather was ideal.  Here are some (crappy) images of the beach at Mould’s bay. Water temperature: about 8C (46F).  Air temperature: don’t know, but it was alternately raining and snowing.

This is a great place for training because the easy beach entry leads to a gently sloping shallow bay with a well-defined mouth.  Divers have an opportunity to collect themselves after entering the water and hang out in the 5-10′ water, if need be, in order to practice skills.  At the bay’s mouth there are some rocks that mark a deflection point where the sea floor slopes away more rapidly.  The rocks form a cliff face that seems to get covered in sand at 80′ or so.  Max depth for me was 70′.  The cliff has lots of nooks and crannies for creatures to live in.  It wasn’t exactly covered with life, but there were the usual Pacific Northwest anemones, clams, sea cucumbers, sea stars, lingcod and sculpins.  But the real prize for me was seeing a wolf eel.  It didn’t want to come out and play.  This guy habitually hands out in a crevice about 40′ to the left of the bay’s mouth at a depth of 50′ or so.  There is a small piece of fishing pole stuck into the rocks to mark its lair.

The water was dim and full of particulates, with a green cast – although the viz was pretty good – maybe 80 feet.  Particles, surge and my inexperience with the dry suit and BC made for some poor photographic conditions.  It was my first dive with a Dive-Rite wing style BC; I had none of the problems staying upright at the surface that some people report.  This BC is so comfortable, I will never look back!  Humping my tank over the beach is no problem now.  But since I was unfamiliar with the equipment I didn’t take my camera on the first dive, and on the second dive the surge made it difficult to stay in position in order to take the picture.  Win some, lose some.

Sea cucumbers

This type of anemone is common throughout the Pacific Northwest.  When I see them in the wild they are usually red:

although this specimen in the Vancouver aquarium was bright green, perhaps from symbiotic algae, or maybe I’m mistaken and it’s not the same animal:

The water had been calm when we entered, but by the end of our second dive things were a little worse.  After we surfaced, a vicious riptide dragged us inexorably towards the teeth of surf crashing on rocks.  We had to drop to the shallow bottom (10′) and crawl all the way to shore.

As I stumbled to shore, the ocean had a final jab at me, catching me from behind with a wave that knocked me flat on my face.  I could hear a cold rain pelting down around me and the wind had picked up.  My camera got crushed between my (and all of my diving lead) and the rocks, cracking a trim piece.  Respect the sea!

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Horne Lake Caves

January 16th, 2009 | Category: Pacific Northwest,Travel

Earlier I wrote about seeing a sign for caves on the road and stopping – here is the story.  I was north of Nanaimo and drove up to Horne Lake to see the caves. (there are at least four major ones and several less-publicized minor ones).  Some of these caves have been absolutely trampled by people.  In the main cave, there are basically no cave formations other than some flowstone; stalactites etc. have been destroyed (in the main cave, although the others apparently have fared better – I didn’t see them all).  There is one little 6-inch diameter tunnel that has some little formations in it, because they are impossible to reach.  It’s like looking through a telescope.  The rock of the cave seems to be a matrix formed of glacier sediments that have been consolidated, almost like cement.

Despite this, it is really neat and I recommend visiting, specially in an off time.  Anyone who likes caves will like crawling around in there.  And the drive up to the caves in spectacular, with plenty of scenery and opportunities for hiking or fishing.  There is a neat little suspension bridge that you have to walk over on the way there.

The path up to the caves is quite beautiful.

Unlike most attractions in the states, some of the caves are open for an unmediated experience.  There are no doors, sidewalks, or dynamited areas for easy access – just a small crevice in a hillside (with a nice walkway leading up to it) that you scuttle into sideways and begin to explore.

In the warm weather these are the most visited caves in the region, but when I was there – a Monday during bad winter weather – I had the place all to myself.  There were at least 8 inches of snow on the ground, and is was raining slush outside.  Several days of slightly-above-freezing weather had created tons of melt water, so a creek was roaring through the cave.  Water dripped from everywhere – it was like being in a sinking submarine (camera users: beware!).  There were some pretty neat ice formations.

The cave is only 168 meters long, which is good enough to keep you busy for a few hours.  There are a lot of reasons that someone shouldn’t go into this cave – claustrophobia, bad knees, etc.  But otherwise it’s just really cool to explore a real cave with nobody around to tell you where to go or what to do.  Just make sure you bring a few flashlights, in case one fails.  Work gloves are a good idea too.  There is no real way to get lost, because it’s not that complex of a cave, and you can always follow the water out.  But you could hurt yourself very easily by slipping and falling, or by hitting your head.  You can rent a hard hat with flashlight at the park entrance.  note: there was some serious, serious funk in those helmets.  It was the most disgusting thing to touch my body since school lunches.

The next picture is oriented properly, even though it looks skewed.  Look at the creek on the cave’s bottom, you can see that it’s level.

After this tunnel there is a fairly large chamber, maybe 3 stories, but by the time I reached it my camera was in too much danger for me to use it.  I should have brought a tripod and a waterproof camera!

I spent about 3 hours inside.  While deep in the cave I turned off my lights and stood for maybe five minutes until I started to have visual hallucinations.  There is no darkness like a cave, and in this case it was a very noisy darkness because of the roaring water.  Making my way back towards the entrance, I was glad to see some sunlight.

As I made my way back, I reflected that now I knew where all of this water came from!

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Misc. Images from Vancouver Island

January 16th, 2009 | Category: Pacific Northwest,Travel

Typical Vancouver Island scenery

A few more of the old ship jetty in Royston, showing what looks like a capstan mechanism

I think that there are three sections of the same wreck

Trumpeter swans

Mallard ducks everywhere.  In fact, this is a waterfowl paradise.

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The other thing I hate

January 15th, 2009 | Category: Travel,Work

… is when you’re minding your own business, trying to fly your oceanographic research flight, and someone calls your attention to an engine fault.  “It might be happening, he says,” “But then again, it might not.  Hard to tell.”  When asked what the consequences of having the problem are, he replies “Well, either nothing – just a bad indicator – or… an engine rips itself apart and turns into a flaming comet.”

It had been a nice flight up to that point; earlier I’d had a little stick time, banking and working the aircraft into some clouds at 18K feet, playing with the thrust of the four engines and different flight surfaces.  Great fun.

So we sit momentarily and consider which of these options we’d like to experience, while gazing at the innocuous engines and the scenery over Vancouver Island, BC.

We opt to treat it as the worst possible problem; we shut that engine down and head for base.  Problem is, we’re too heavy to land – wouldn’t want to crack that landing gear or bend the wings too much.  So we orbit, burning off fuel, and dump the belly tank.  Basically, a button is pressed, and a thousand gallons of expensive, useful  jet fuel sprays out of the trailing edge of the wing.  If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it yourself, here’s what it looks like:

And of course, you can’t do something like this and then simply land normally.  You’ve got to have the shiny, happy blinky fire truck reception committee:

It’s always exciting at the airfield.  And oh – in case you’re wondering, it was a bad indicator.

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