Thursday, December 31, 2009

Winter in Rocky Mountain NP

I finally went to the mountains for the first time this winter. It's amazing how different everything looks. The whole mood of the landscape changes with the seasons.

The Bear Lake area is very popular with snowshoers in the Winter. The parking lot was almost as full as it is during the summer--and that was a weekday!

I'm a big fan of wind erosion!

It was great to spent time with Zach, Wendy and Stephen.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Maya and Cinch

Sorry, I haven't added anything here in a while. I'll see if I can be better about that. I want to introduce the kids, Maya and Cinch. Maya's a wild girl who's about 2 years old now. We're not exactly sure of her breed but she likes to snuggle and be rowdy. Cinch is a 5 month old red heeler (aussie cattledog). He's pretty well behaved and a true gentleman. Here they are after their bath.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Paradox Plaza

Colin and I were trying to figure out just what to build with Lego's on Monday. It really gets the creative juices flowing to be surrounded by all kinds of bricks and pieces and be able to build whatever comes to mind. I really like building wacky towers of impractibility, because they combine creative expression with the science of balance and structure. This one exemplifies a contradiction of two different designers with startlingly different objectives. One side is an attempt to exploit precious resources and be truely objectionable from many different angles-- A tour-de-global warming of sorts. The other attempts to portray harmony and peace.

The darker side features a coal incinerator for the purpose only to consume coal and produce heat. It generates nearly no electricity or useful energy. In fact, it only consumes about 10% of the coal delivered by the twice-daily coal trains. The rest of the coal is pulverized into a slurry and released into the adjacent stream. The incinerator features a segmented smoke stack that emits particulates (clearly, no smoke stack scrubbers are used here) at a range of elevations to help permeate the surrounding air. The plant manager goes to great lengths to procure the world's highest-sulfur coal in order to increase harmful emissions. The once pristene stream that runs by the plant is discolored with turbid cooling water, coal slurry, and any other wastes, some originating from an accessory nuclear reactor. Some wastes are contained in poorly-sealed

barrels that are dropped into the stream. An uptake tube is inserted into the stream below the plant effluent to collect water to supply putrid drinking water for the plant's workers, who spend the days exhausting themselves on crank wheels that do nothing but produce heat and waste the workers valuable energy. The workers are also underpaid, receive no benifits, and are subject to an OSHA exemption to work 16-hour days without breaks.

The plant also features large-scale, directable sound and light polution devices. The 3.5 billion candlepower light array scans the surrounding villages in a random pattern at night, disrupting sleep for the inhabitants. The speaker array emitts an eardrum-shattering 1000 dB melee that alternates between a nerve-piercing siren and re-runs of the Rush Limbaugh radio show.

The greener side contains a quaint cafe where sounds of John Denver waft through the airy interior. Multi-tiered gardens are terraced over the cafe, enticing numerous varieties of local and migratory birds and butterflies to accompany diners. The cafe has intellectual undertones, and it appears someone has left a tablet of sanscrit on one of the tables. The establishment is powered by a solar-panel array and also features a passive solar-powered, evaporative water treatment system to provide pure drinking water for visitors.

The bridge connecting the two halfs attempts to blend the two extremes. The decking morphs from white, through gray, to black. The cafe side is accented with flower planters. The opposite side features a pair of bacterial foggers to discourage any visitors from venturing over from the cafe.

The objectional side, while it is an unrealistic extreme, reminded me of a concept I learned about in an "Energy and the Environment" class called "NIMBY'ism". The accronym stands for "not in my backyard" and it is used to describe the lack of public support for energy-production infrastructure located in the vicinity of homes and workplaces. While our livestyles depend on several forms of energy, we will not tolerate the noise, light, and air pollution associated with centers of energy production. This forces us to move production facilities further from population centers, requiring greater resource use in order to distribute the energy over longer distances. These distances prevent the use of co-generation, the use of using waste heat from energy-production processes to heat homes in the winter. Electrical powerplants generate excess heat that is usually radiated into the air by means of cooling ponds and evaporative cooling towers. Also, as population centers expand, energy use increases and there are less opportunities to place energy facilities away from areas of habitation. We may soon need to release our grasp on limitless energy resources, or accept the idea of having a natural gas well or electrical turbine just over the back fence.

Monday, July 13, 2009

BARC Jr. Field Day 2009!

Field day is an annual event for amateur (ham) radio operators that is meant to simulate an emergency situation in which normal power and communications are distrupted and information is sent over radio, using emergency power. It sounds much more serious than it is though--the focus ends up being on learning and having fun. This year, the Barc Jr's (youth auxiliary of the Boulder Amateur Radio Club) set up an intricate and very functional site, where they recorded over 1200 radio contacts all around the US and Canada. The site was powered by a quiet, gasoline-powered generator. Excellent food was provided by BBQ Keith, who had whisps of smoke drifting from the flue of his smoker trailer almost all weekend.

The kids even created their own network of computer terminals and wrote their own program for logging the contacts that they made by radio!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I couldn't help myself...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Empty Nesters

This little nest was greeting me by the front tree when I came home from work. I really hope it was no longer needed. I couldn't help but marvel at the construction. It looks like the mud was molded on a potter's wheel to hold the straw and grass together. There's even a little stuffing from a former dog toy of Kona's. What a great demonstration of resourcefulness! With some available materials, a lot of time, and even without the use of hands,
creatures are able to construct habitations like this. Amazing!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Jazz Bastards

I'm the lucky one who gets to play in this great jazz combo. Here we are opening for a recital at the Rocky Mountain Center for the Musical Arts is Lafayette, Colorado. Unfortunately, they didn't print our real name in the program program that night. I suppose we should provide some alternative band names for mixed audiences. Here's Dave on the trumpet, Mardi on vocals, me trying not to get lost on bass, and Charlie on piano. Do you think we're ready for the cruise ships?

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I feel so fortunate to have seen the works of Kutandara in person! I attended the birthday party of Bruce and Miranda, the husband and daughter of Mardi, the esteemed vocalist in our jazz combo. Miranda is a student of the Kutandara school of Zimbabwean music and expression. A group of Kutandara instructors and students brought their instruments and set up on the back patio. The sound was infectious, even from a block away as I was walking up. Wandering out the back door of the house was like wading into a sea of sound and motion. People of all ages were expressively tapping the bars of marimbas of all sizes with their mallets. A drummer in the back added the sizzle of cymbals and the pulse of the bass drum while horn players mixed in syncopated accent notes. A few storm clouds above threatened rain but I think the energy of the reverberating hardwood drove them off. While I berated myself for forgetting to bring a camera, our jazz trumpeter, Dave, tuned up his horn and stepped between the alto sax and trombone player in the front.

Kutandara is an organization to educate and involve others in musical expression and cultural awareness. They also participate in fundraising to help those living in poverty in Zimbabwe and Mali. Their website is

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Guera is getting a new home!!

For a little while, we've been following the story of Guera--a little golden retreiver puppy in Guanajuato, Mexico who was tied to a pole in the hot sun while her owner explained how easy she was to take care of because she hardly needed anything to eat. Fortunately, Juanita, a volunteer at El Buen Pastor, and her partner, Fernando happened to be passing by that day. They originally walked past the dehydrated, starving, tied-up, flea-bitten puppy but something made them turn back. They brought her home and began nursing her back to health. The latest news is that Guera will have a great new home by the end of this month! Follow the story here!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Desire to Help

Fortunately most of us, if even very occasionally, find gratitude in assisting others and performing selfless acts. The causes vary greatly--from humanitarian aid, to humane treatment for animals, protection of the environment, mentoring, or lending a hand to make someone's day a little easier. While our charitable acts are commendable, human nature unfortunately dictates we generally only perform selfless acts when we somehow benefit from them. This begs the question, "are the acts truly selfless?" More often than not, we need incentive to expend energy, resources or time on a task that does not directly benefit us. Be it in the form of a tax deduction, recognition, the improvement of self-image or reputation, acquisition of good karma or cleansing of conscience, we almost always focus on how a "selfless" act will benefit us.

How would it be if we were able to help others with absolutely no thought of self-benefit? If we could focus only on the impact of our acts?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

An Ode to Miss Fluffyface

Last January, we tentatively walked into the dog section of the humane society to meet the creature we had excitedly placed a hold on the night before. We rounded the corner to see a little brown and black "bear" wiggling her whole body and trying to reach her paws under the fencing of her enclosure. We all immediately melted to our knees to meet her. She wriggled like a worm, wimpered, pawed at us and licked our fingers. We clustered around the shelter volunteer as she steered the little bear to one of the outside play areas. The volunteer explained that this little one was a stray in Pueblo and was likely behind schedule with obedience and house training, but she appeared healthy and had a good disposition. Meanwhile, the furball was jumping up and down from a bench, running around our feet and flopping on her back for bellyrubs while trying to chew on our fingers. I thought she was perfect!

We paced anxiously in the waiting area while the little one was blood tested, and her ID chip was implanted. The idea made me a little queasy but I understood the importance. Then a shelter attendant who was filling out the paperwork asked what we'd like to name her. We all looked at each other for a while and finally Mom recommended "Kona." She did look a lot like a hawaiian mocha latte-the pup that is. So those four furry letters were etched on a collar tag and after gathering some starter supplies from the shelter pet shop, we gleefully walked her out to the car. On the ride home, we learned that Kona does not like to ride in the trunk of a hatch back but she does like to chew on hair. I probably should have volunteered to sit in the back seat. I have to say that Dad was sporting an outrageous 'do' by the time we got home.

Our lives sure had an extra bit of excitement after that--both good and bad. We soon found out that the humane society volunteer's mention of lack of housetraining was not an exaggeration. She would make her presence known in private corners of rooms or on clothes, whether we were looking or not. She was really teaching us to pick up our things. We scoured the dog training websites and asked friends for advise. We decided to stick to the positive reinforcement method of taking her outside and offering lots of praise and reward. (Our neighbors probably thought were were nuts!) After a short while, she started to figure out what all the fuss was about and with a few exceptions, we could keep the bottle of carpet cleaner in the cupboard. We also soon discovered what a godsend a dog door is. Now we were all experiencing levels of freedom we never imagined in the first weeks.

Before long, little miss Kona became more sophisticated and excluding a brief spell of alcohol abuse, became a distinguished member of the family. She loves greeting people at the door, being chased, belly rubs, sitting at the table, and romping with other pups, as long as they are boys (or agreeable females). She also likes long walks on the lakeshore, watching sun rises, being goofy, and nudging milk cartons down the stairs repeatedly at night.

Now we don't know what'd we do without our cuddly sweetheart. We always look forward to the wiggling and kisses when we get home. She also helps us keep things neat by grabbing any loose items and pulling them through the dog door to the back yard. She's also helping us keep our energy costs down by acting as both a dish washer and a clothes dryer...a few fast whips around the living room makes the towels fluffy and dry. She also makes sure we're always sporting the latest hairstyles if we happen to fall asleep on the couch.
While we're not exactly sure of her breed--our guess is Rottweiler-Chow-Husky-Bernese Mountain Dog-Australian Shepherd with a touch of Pomeranian. It doesn't really matter though--she keeps us laughing, aww'ing, baby-talking, rolling our eyes, giggling (that's mostly just me), cooing (also me), and running. Here's to you, Miss Wiggles! May your food bowl stay full, your windows stay smeary, your teethers stay happy, and your humans stay loved and exhausted.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Barely Subsisting

Lately I've been fascinated with the explanations of voluntary simplicity that I've found on the web. In a society oriented around maximizing productivity, materialism, and wealth, it is refreshing to find lifestyle models that take a step back from the madness and focus on what we really need. The line between wants and needs in our society has faded to the degree that we pressure ourselves into a frenzy over what we believe are non-negotiable requirements. This dizzying loop may appear to take us to an elevated lifestyle, when measured by material wealth. When the relative amount of leisure, another measure of elevated lifestyle, is taken into account, we are toiling ourselves into poverty. The pattern of maximized gain has left us without a moment to ourselves--without the time to devote to the things that matter.

A few quotes can be found on a popular, modern resource, Wikipedia. Duane Elgin defines voluntary simplicity as "a manner of living that is outwardly more simple and inwardly more rich, a way of being in which our most authentic and alive self is brought into direct and conscious contact with living." Mahatma Ghandi adds more neccesity to the basic lifestyle and advises us to "live simply that others may simply live." Not only do our hoardsome habits inhibit our freedoms, but they can prevent others from simply subsisting. Our planet does not have the resources to support the swelling population's needs (or perhaps wants)...we need to slow down! "But what about the economy?" You might ask. It's true--our current economic system would collapse if we all adopted subsistence lifestyles. A major redesign would be needed. It is called a subsistence economy. Our trusty Wikipedia tells us that "Before the invention of currency, subsistence economies were the dominant economic system throughout the world." E.F. Schumacker exclaims "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction" While it is very counter-intuitive to reverse "progress" to such a degree, I wonder if it is time we employ a bit more of that genius.