Presentation to the Humboldt Society

My partner Michael and I will be presenting a travelogue of our January 2011 trip to Brownsville and McAllen, Texas.

Details are at the Humbolt Society website.

A Tavelogue Presentation by Michael and Michael

Treat yourself to a vacation in Southeastern Texas –vicariously– by joining Michael LoFurno and Michael Thompson as they present photos from their January 2011 birding trip to Brownsville, Texas and the lower Rio Grande Valley. A lush sub-tropical paradise? Well, not exactly, but the birding is indeed exceptional. The Brownsville-McAllen Texas area is a Mecca for birders hoping to add that stray Mexican specimen to their US bird list. It is a perennial meeting place for migrants and vagrants and an indispensable stop for birders doing a Big Year. This presentation is chock full of bird photos so, please, join us


What Franklin Wrought

Since discovering this year I’ve learned that its Editor’s Picks are quite eclectic and frequently very interesting. For example, The Lost Canadians by Grant Stoddard, published in the January/February 2011 issue of The Walrus, is a portrait of a beleaguered Minnesota resort community that attempted to secede from the U.S. in 1997. The residents of Angle Township live at the northern most point of the American-Canadian border on a peninsula attached to Cananda and separated from the rest of the U.S. by the waters of Lake of The Woods. This quirk of international geography resulted from a boundary agreement that Benjamin Franklin negotiated with the British and formalized in the Treaty of Paris of 1783 which ended the American War of Independence. Read about this political island that, geographically, is not an island at all.

Resusitating Manx

Languages intrigue me. That is not to say that I am very good with them, not even my native English á la Americaine. As early as Kindergarten I thought it was fun learning to talk a special way. The teacher at my private Episcopalian kindergarten taught us French. The problem was that 10 numbers and 8 colors did not get me very far beyond a lukewarm “That’s nice, son” from my parents.

My next attempt at learning another language was a year of Spanish with Ms. Gibbs in high school. It was nice, and interesting. I started the year with a lot of enthusiasm for it, but my best friend had opted for French, which resulted in a lost opportunity for more fun and helpful practice.

Growing up, though, the language that really interested me was German. Why? Everone asks me that and by now I should have an answer — but I don’t. It had something, vaguely, to do with the movie The Sound of Music and my Swiss-American girlfriend in High School.

My own family background is Scots-Irish, like that of many families in Western North Carolina where I grew up. No one I knew spoke or taught Gaelic, so it never crossed my mind that Gaelic was option for a second language. The neglect of Gaelic has been a real problem, even in it’s native lands. An extreme example is Manx, an off-shoot of Old Irish Gaelic once spoken on the Isle of Man. ‘Once’ means that it died with the last native speaker.

Yet, somewhat like Frankenstein, it’s back. (You have to admit that academics do have their uses.) In this case, academics have preserved and promulgated Manx as a usable language.

This article in Science Daily celebrates the rejuvenation of Manx as a viable language on the Isle of Man. Check out

Since I committed early to the German language, I have to disclose that I’m reporting this resurrection of Manx on behalf of my cats, both are Manx, adorable, great personalities, bob-tailed, brother and sister — however, they ended up with German names — Fleck and Kai. They would saw hello in Old Gaelic, if they knew how.

The iPad and the Microscope

My iPad has not be the topic of a blog post until now. Maybe that is because I’ve had so much fun browsing the Internet and reading books with it that I’ve not stopped to write about it; besides, so many people have written, and continue to write, about the iPad that anything I might think to say would be surplufuous — other than the heretical wish that it had a tiny track ball like my Nexus One Android phone has for fine positioning of the cursor between letters. My finger tips are not well designed for navigating 10 pt fonts, even with the pop-up magnifying bubble to assist.

Magnification is, in fact, the topic that brings me to mention my iPad today. I’m excited about a purchase I just made to outfit my iPad for fun, education, and maybe a bit of citizen science. I just ordered the ProScope Mobile, a wireless, wifi-enabled microscope with exchangeable lenses. The microscope creates a wifi-hotspot and to transmit images to the iPad (or an iPone, iPod) and accessed with AirMicroPad (or AirMicro) software. Actually, it can transmit to over 250 devices at once, which is a bit of overkill even if it is being used by students in a large classroom. AirMicroPad can display stills and video from the microscope.

I am so looking forward to playing in the garden and woods with this. In addition to exploring tiny things to whet my own curiosity, I see this as being useful on field trips. Once I get it I’ll post some pictures from the micro-world here and give a review of how everything works. I wonder if AirMicro might someday be available in an Android version?

Link Review and Purge

Whew, that was tedious. I went through all of my blog roll links and purged the defunct or substantially changed ones. Some had moved to new addresses. Those I updated. All links should be current again.

I don’t doubt that Rivertyde has also been deleted from blog rolls of former readers. Long stretches of inactivity don’t justify keeping a link active, and Rivertyde has indeed been inactive.

It is not dead, however, and I’m giving thought to reviving it in some form or other, but deciding what types of posts to publish is not a small thing for me. I’ll probably retain a rather science-friendly content, since that is what interests me, and I’ll probably stay away from too much personal journaling, since that is probably not what interests other people. Besides, it seems that blogs have diminished in popularity with the rise of micro-blogging sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google Buzz. Even I must admit that Twitter distracted me from this blog for a while, until I moved on to the more expansive and multimedia-friendly Buzz. Facebook has never appealed to me, although I do have an account so I can eavesdrop on family and friends.

All the while that I was not writing in this blog I was also not reading other blogs. So what has changed? Honestly, I don’t know and perhaps nothing at all has changed. Intending to pick up Rivertyde again is not the same as doing it. We’ll see if that really happens. If you have been checking back with me here — Thanks! I’ll see if I can give you something to make it worth your while to do so.

Empty Bay – Space Coast, Ghost Coast?

A couple of years ago, I traveled to Florida’s Space Coast and visited the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, FL. I had a great time. The area was even more interesting than I had expected, and my expectations were more developed than those a kid might have on a family outing to the Space Coast today. The names Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach were spoken in my house 5 days a week for 5 years. They came through the TV soaked in the comedy and magic of I Dream of Jeannie. In addition, the glamor of the place was also enhanced by the very real successes of the folks who lived there during my childhood. I was privileged to watch Neil Armstrong and the others walking on the moon through live TV broadcasts.

So, I had an idea of what Cocoa Beach would look like. It doesn’t look like that of course. It actually looks like a smaller, tamer version of Myrtle Beach, SC, but since I grew up vacationing at Myrtle Beach I adjusted to that very quickly. The images of my childhood, though, paled in comparison to my adult interests that were fully engaged by the close-up tour I took at the Kennedy Space Center and the excellent time I had birding the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I was as happy to see the threatened Florida Scrub Jay from no less than 10 feet away as I was to walk around the enormous carcass of a Saturn V rocket lying on its side. [Flickr photos]

This reminiscing was sparked by an article I read this morning on Tampa Bay’s titled: “Economically, Space Coast better off than when Apollo program ended.” The reference is to the unemployment the area is expected to suffer with the ending of the Shuttle Program this year and into early 2011. The overall impact on Brevard Co. will not be as great as it was when Apollo ended, although it will come on top of an already depressed economy in general. Real Estate prices might drop even further.

After I read the article the thought struck me — man, it would be a good time to get a beach house in Brevard Co. or even just take a birding vacation there in 2011 for Spring Migration. Eventually, there will another boom when the next manned-space flight program cranks ups, whether that will be aiming at the moon, at Mars, or at the asteroids in between, and prices and crowds will grow again.

Birthday at Roatan and Belize’s Barrier Reef

Three years ago I learned of a Caribbean island called Roatan by following news about hurricane Felix. That was 2007 and the entry was called: Discovery by Hurricane. That brief post is one of the most visited on this blog, probably because of folks searching for Roatan as a cruise destination. Well, I’ll be actually visiting Roatan myself in a couple of weeks. My partner is taking me on a Caribbean cruise for my birthday this month.

I’ve never been on a cruise before, but I know that I love being on boats and the open water. The cruise is with Norwegian Cruise Lines and runs from Miami to Isla Roatan, Belize City, Coasta Maya, Mexico, and Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. In addition to the cruise he booked two snorkeling excurisions one in Belize and one in the Bahamas.

It’s hard to say what I’m looking forward to the most — being out in the Caribbean on a ship or snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef. As I mentioned in my 2007 blog entry, that reef is the world’s second largest. Since I snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef once, this will be an excellent experience to add to that.

I’ve been studying a field guide for Belize since I learned we would be going. If my photos turn out well I’ll post them to my Flickr account where I have currently pictures from our Jan. 2009 trip to Ecuador.

I’m also looking forward to birding while in the Caribbean. From the map of our route it looks like we will be passing near the Cuban coast on the way out from Miami and back. There might be some good pelagic birding opportunities and I’m considering taking our birding scope and tripod to see shearwaters, petrels, tropic- and frigatebirds, etc.

This trip is an excellent present and a great, although belated, follow-up to that blog post from 2007.

Biting the Bullet – NaNoWriMo

Well, starting tonight at midnight I am going to participate in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I’ve thought about it in the past but have finally screwed up enough courage to make a fool of myself on (virtual) paper. As I understand it, the goal is quantity and not quality and, more specifically, a work of 50,000 words. Writing so much is such a short time forces the writer to steamroll over his/her inner censor.

Friends and acquaintances who’ve done NaNoWriMo have said it can be an intense experience and a real challenge of will to slog through it. The average word count per day is 1,667. Maybe it is crazy for me to take this on in November, the beginning of busiest retail season of the year; nevertheless, I’m going to try.

Originally, I planned to modify the rules and write 2 short stories rather than one novel. I even had two vague story ideas. Twenty-five thousand words is too much for a short story though — more like a novella or even ‘novelette’, and wrapping up one story then immediately launching a new one seems like an onerous thing to do under pressure. In the last week one of those ideas stuck in my head and has engaged me enough to commit to this one story and go for the full novel.

Wish me luck.

Recycling is picking up in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Rodrigo Muzell reports on a potential deal between Philadelphia and the non-profit RecycleBank that would establish an awards/incentive system for residents: “With recycling up 46%…” However, the real news-worthy information in his article is the improved rate of recycling since the city went to a ‘single stream’ system, which does not require residents to separate glass, metal, and paper. Since June 2008 the diversion rate, the percent of waste diverted from landfills to recycling, jumped from 8.4% to 12.4%, according to Muzell’s report. Overall there was a 46% increase in recycling in the city.

Thanks goes to Muzell for updating us on the successes of Philadelphia’s (still new) efforts at serious recycling. The one non-useful piece in his article is the comparison between Philadelphia and Germany, which he says has diversion rates up to 99%. Since 1991 Germany has had an ordinance that requires manufacturers to take responsibility for recycling their own packaging materials so a comparison between Philadelphia and Germany is not very meaningful. Even a city of our size does not have the market leverage to accomplish what Germany has.

It would be more enlightening to see how our city stacks up against other US cities and communities. That would be closer to an apples-to-apples comparison, and I suspect that we would not yet rank very high even in that group. The really good news is that our mayor is serious about improvements and an incentive program, such as the one Muzell reports on, might add to the momemtum we’re building toward being a much more environmentally responsible community.