Monday, August 30, 2010

What Did He Say?

I took a few minutes this morning and doodled around at Lake Erie Metropark.  After walking around the trails for a mile or so and finding next to nothing, I wandered over to one of the marsh overlooks. 

As I approached the overlook, just below, with its attention everywhere but on me, stood a Great Blue Heron.   Absolutely certain it had seen me and would move out, I just kept walkin'.  

It kept huntin'. 

Literally feet from it, I was able to put the sun over my left shoulder and take shot after shot after it stood there with its face looking into the water.  Fish?  Frogs?  Who knows, but something had its attention.  It certainly wasn't worried about me! I suspect it has to do with the fact that this is a young bird.  That peculiar scaling on the neck a the give-away. 

After maybe 30 seconds, it decided to press on the "greener pastures", so to speak, but not before it opened its mouth.  I don't speak "heron" but I have to think that there were a few unpleasant words in the mix.....

The Loss Of A Dear Friend

It is tonight, with deep sadness, that announce the loss of a dear friend.  It was all my fault and I will never forgive myself.........

Friday night, I was hosting a grill night with friends.  Grilled corn with cilantro pesto is always a good recipe on a beautiful summer night. Despite warnings that one new-comer likes "plain" food, I went with another stand-by in my grilling arsenal - flaming brandy burgers.

A few pounds of ground chuck, some diced red onions, salt, pepper, and a solid dose of allspice were, with love and care, massaged into 6 patties.  After carefully attending to them on the grill, it was time for the final ingredient - brandy.

Yes, a solid splash of this distilled wine product aged in oak barrels was added to each burger in turn. At such high grill temperatures, the brandy, much to the delight of all Boy Scouts everywhere,  burst into a stunning column of flame, first yellow, then blue.  As the alcohol burned off, the burger was left with a wonderful coating of caramelized sugars.  

With all the corn grilled to perfection and the burgers even closer, if that's possible, it was time to move everything to the serving plate.  The burgers, placed gently on  a kaiser bun, would for a moment, place one a step closer to pure ecstasy. Everything was going perfect.......

.....until it happened.

Somehow, some way, the burger slipped off the spatula and slid to its death.   Striking the concrete, small chunks of caramelized gorgeousness exploded in all directions with  the only audible sounds being the gasps off all those who witnessed it (okay, four of us).

You might be thinking "Five Second Rule!  Five Second Rule!"

Ummmm, no.

As seen on Mythbusters, the type of food that is dropped is key, as is the surface it is dropped on.  A hard candy or chip on a hard floor is hardly a big deal. A soft, wet, juicy, freshly brandied burger does not get a micro-second after it shlops onto concrete.  No sir.   In fact, I believe it would be disrespectful to the burger spirit to do so.  Add brandy?  Yes, that's fine.   In fact, the spirit may be honored.  Dried grass clippings and dirt? I think not.  

While we knew each for only minutes, in felt like a lifetime................

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Boch Becomes The Box - #805

According to Greek legend, a charming young woman was given a box.  Pandora, created by Hephastus as ordered by Zeus, was told not to open the box.  Ever.  Sure enough, she did.  All the evils of the world, including Glenn Beck, escaped.  As she slammed the box lid shut, she caught the last entity as it tried to escape - hope.

Well, in my own sort of way, I opened Pandora's Box and unleashed evils into my world.  Hope, however, was not lost. 

Pandora's Bock from the Breckenridge Brewery, one of the most clever beer titles ever in my opinion, was cracked open about a week ago.    My 805th beer was simply stunning from start to finish.  The sweetness on the nose and that delightful mahagony color was sooooo inviting.  Balance?  Perfect.  On the tongue, the caramel sweetness and subtle maltiness were dead on.  The finish is exactly what you want it to be - exciting, refreshing, and rewarding.  A "5" out of "5" -hands down.

When I cracked open that bottle, unbeknownst to me, I opened evil.

A short while later, I noticed my home computer was starting to act funny.  I have it set to go dormant after about 20 minutes.  When I go to bed, it may be on, but when I wake up, it's sleeping.  At least, it should  be.

One morning, it was still on.  Hmmmm...  Oh well, it was just this once.....  It will be fine the following cycle.

Nope.  Something was certanily up and it wasn't a head of beer.

That night, I was working on some emails. I was typing away and my "active window" suddenly became inactive. "Pop!", there it went. I did nothing.  Before too long, it was happening with all windows - emails, web browser, everything. 

While I was far from panic mode, I was certainly in "concerned mode."  VirusBotSpyware?  Anything goes at this point. 

So began an odyssey of downloads, reboots, scans, and swearing that lasted easily hours over days.  A search of various discussion forums showed that I was not alone.  One fellow suggested that I enter the "Task Manager" and look for programs running in the background that should not be there.  I was prepared to start cross-referencing the list with known trouble makers and start "ending" them when fate stepped in. 

Zeus?  No.  His smokin' hot daughter, Athena?  No.


" better not do that..."

While not godlike in intelligence, he is pretty god-damned smart (one of the smartest in our high school graduating class, in fact).  I have known him since the Taft Administration, so we go waaaay back.  He was home visiting his parents and he knows a thing or two about computers. 

"You have got to be careful doing that.  If you cut the wrong program, you will have some serious troubles..."  were his basic words.  "Do a system restore."

It turns out the sometimes not-so-smart guys at Microsoft developed a program called System Restore (after all, if they were completely smart, I would not be having trouble!)  Every day, it takes a snapshot of the computer's guts.  If trouble starts, you can go back and set the computer to a previous setting.  If, for example, you downloaded updates and then trouble started, you can go back in time to a point before the updates were installed.  If the trouble is no longer there, you can work on figuring out which update caused the problem. 

Sure enough, the restore point, about the time I cracked opened my first Pandora's Boch, was incident free.  Hibernation was ..., well, hibernating and active windows stayed active. 

Interestingly enough, as I re-installed my drivers and updates one at a time in an attempt to confirm what caused the problem, the problem did not come back.  I have no explanation.  That said, I do not care. The computer is working, swearing has ceased,  and my blood pressure is back to normal. 

Keeping with the ancient Greek tradition, it is my intention to have a stone temple complete for Neal's return around Christmas.  The sacrifice of a goat is certainly in order!

I strongly recommend Pandora's Boch, but don't open it around delicate electronics. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Incredible Find

The weather has been rainy and cold at nights.  Many prisoners have died from exposure, as not more than half of us have any shelter but a blanket propped upon sticks. . . . Our rations have grown smaller in bulk too, and we have the same hunger as of old.

So wrote Private Robert Knox Sneden.  A Union soldier, he survived the confinement and  went on to add his artistic talents and journals to that horrible chapter in our history - the Civil War.  He was imprisoned at  Andersonville and wrote this passage in his diary on Nov. 1, 1864.

Andersonville, also known as Camp Sumpter, was a complete hole.   The  most infamous and one of the largest prisoner of war camps in the Confederacy during the Civil War, it was used for 14 months.  During that time, 45,000 Union soldiers were confined there. Sad to say, almost 13,000 never left (including a distant uncle of mine - Harry Stemple). Only 26 acres in size, thousands of men were stuffed in there at any one time.  They died from disease and malnutrition brought on from over-crowding, poor sanitation, and exposure.   Some died because they chose to cross the "line of death" near the stockade wall and get shot by the guards.  Apparently, over 40% of Union Prisoner of War casualties occurred here.    August of 1864 was said to be the most hellish time.  One can only imagine the filth, the stench, and the oppressive heat of the Deep South's summer.  (The picture below is Andersonville.)

I should probably tell you that the Private's quote was not from his time at Andersonville. 

Read on......

With such massive overcrowding, more camps were built.   (We'll just have to forget that the Rebels had no way to manage camps of any size; resources late in the war were minimal.)  One was called Camp Lawton .  Within a matter of months,  General  William Tecumseh Sherman,  plowing his way through the guts of the Confederacy, came across the freshly abandoned camp.  Furious with what they found, including the board on a fresh pile of dirt marked "650 buried here", they torched it and the "town" of Millen just up the road.  The quote at the beginning of this post and the image below are from  Sneden's collection.

As the decades ticked by and memories faded, the exact location of the camp was lost.  Everybody was pretty sure that it was in or near Magnolia Springs State Park (south of Augusta, Georgia), but nobody knew exactly where.  Yeah, there were some earthworks that remained in the area but that did not seem to help much.  The state of Georgia even went to the extent of installing interpretive markers, but they really had no clue where the camp was, as odd as that sounds.   After all, it was only used for a few weeks, so most scholars never really cared to find it.

Well, last week, an announcement was made by Kevin Chapman, a graduate student from Georgia Southern University. 

Yeah, he found it.  

Sure, the logs that made up the stockade walls were have long since rotted, but archaeologists can easily figure out where they stood. After determining the location of the stockade, imagine their surprise when their test trenches brought up coins, pipes (with toothmarks),  and a tourniquet buckle (a simple gizmo used to tighten the straps during an amputation).   

The site is intact.  For a century and a half, it sat there and nobody looted the place. It is now being called one of the most significant Civil War discoveries in decades.  Now, qualified archaeologists, instead of treasure hunters and hacks, can use to state of the art technology and techniques to uncover stories from one of the most incredible chapters in American history.

This story is unfolding and it's gonna be cool.  You can read about it here on the website set up by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.  It seems pretty complete. Check it regularly.

I will.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


If you are a regular visitor to this blog, you probably know that I like history.    This year, with the day off, I shot over to Willow Run Airport. Why?    Thunder Over Michigan. Military aircraft, old and new, parked or flying, all laid out for buffs like me.  Sunday was my day and I brought extra underwear (fully expecting to wet myself like a toddler at a fun park).

Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate.  Sure, it never rained, but the heat and humidity started to add up as the day moved along. By mid-afternoon, the haze was thickening  making the photography more difficult with that bright overcast sky.  But, when seven B-17s, two P-51s, and a B-24 and flying circles over the airfield - simultaneously - who cares!

One plane I was really hoping to see in flight stayed on the runway. The A-10 Thunderbolt is quite possibly the coolest plane ever flown. Sure, it putters along at speeds not much higher than 300mph, but when your job is close-in fighting, that is perfect.  One of the largest cannons ever flown, made by General Electric, interestingly enough, dominates the aircraft.  30mm shells at over 3,000 rounds per minute will turn any target into goo and will certainly ruin your day if your at the wrong end of it all.  If you are in a tank and this beast appears on the horizon a half mile away, you're done. Just ask an Iraqi tank division. Oh wait, you can't. They're all did that happen?  (Check this video on You Tube of an A-10 attack on a Taliban shelter.  The whirring  sound is the cannon.)

Paying the $5 bucks to climb through a B-17 from front to aft is a no-brainer.  Under the left front side, one enters the plane.  A hard left and you are in the bombardier's spot.  A hard right and up and you find yourself sandwiched between the pilot and co-pilot. Immediately behind them? The engineer who is responsible for, among other things, firing the top turret.Tight, tight, tight. Obesity would not cut here.   Once you clambered through the bomb bay, the radioman's station and the waist (which accommodates a left and right waist gunner) is actually kinda roomy.  The picture on the left is looking forward from the aft most section of the waist.  The guy in the shirt is standing in the doorway that separates the radio room from the bomb bay. 

Unfortunately, one can't really get feel for the planes on the inside when you have to share it with others.  Here I am on my hands and knees waiting for a mom, dad, and their eighty -six kids to vacate the cabin and move to the bombbay.  "Oh, we want to leave now..."  Go with the flow, right?  "We need to go back the way we came..."  So, here I am crawling to get through the cabin to the bombbay so they could backtrack and go "out" the "in".  Not really a big deal for me, but the guy coming up the ladder behind me? He looked like a Civil War veteran! Back down the ladder he had to go. How rude.  

With the start of the airshow, and not really knowing where to be, I found myself camped out in what appeared to be the right  spot.  The F-16 Fighting Falcon (left) is known the world over.  While we build 'em, everybody buys 'em (everybody but me - maybe someday).  This plane at an airshow is all about physics.  High school teachers could eat this stuff up for a field trip. One of the most surreal aspects of the day was having it tear past you at 600mph (so said the announcer) and yet hearing nothing until the plane was well past you.  Very freaky.   The volume was deafening.  Little kids were crying every time it roared past.  Some even had accidents.  I was more than willing to donate a pair from my secret stash for this one little boy.......

Those trails of smoke that you see are not smoke at all. Believe it or not, it is simply water vapor.  I am still trying to get a handle on the physics of what is happening.  Basically, it has to do with the radical change in air pressure as the wing slices in a hard turn.  The humid air condenses in the form of a vortex.  Apparently, the wings shed these little tornadoes all the time, but when the humidity is high, we can see them when planes like this do such tight turns. Sometimes, you can see teeny-weeny ones on the passenger jets.  Look near the wing tips on take off and landings.  Again, changes in air pressure.  Isn't physics cool?

The Horseman, a P-51 Mustang Acrobatic Team was next.  Lighting was still good. Basically, we beat Germany, in part, because engineers designed this plane in 117 days.  B-17s striking the heart of Germany had to do it on their own in the beginning of the war. The Luftwaffe shot them to pieces so a long-distance escort was needed.  Slap an external fuel tank on one of these bad boys and  they could run the whole raid with the bombers.  A total game changer.  Apparently, this flight team is so top notch, James Horner wrote the music that played during their flight.  Impressive stuff.  

A less exciting part of the show for some, I suspect,  was the flight of T-6 Texans.  Pilots don't start learning how to fly in big planes.  Like so many things in life, you start small. Once you get your driver's license, you drive a car before you graduate to an 18-wheeler.  Planes are the same thing.  During World War II, if you were a pilot, you almost certainly spent some hours in a T-6 ("T" for trainer).  Once you were done with flight school, you went on to fly the planes you were asked to fly.

Skies were starting to change. By the time, the Texans went back to the ranch, that overcast, bright gray crap sometimes interspersed with dark gray crap was the norm.  

This F-100 Super Sabre was next.  The wingsweep was basically copied from the Germans (they were using jet aircraft by the end of World War II).  This plane was a keeper in the US Armed Forces through Korea and most of Vietnam. 

The picture, by the way, is NOT cropped.  I took it with a 400mm lens on a rig with a smaller sensor so I am basically shooting a 640mm lens (it is a long story). That plane was passing very close  to the grandstand.  Awesome.  

The World War II battle re-enactment was next.  Yes, there are folks who "play soldier" for fun, but it really goes way beyond that.  The sounds, the smell, and the action of a battle sequence can really bring the feel to the general public.  Granted, there were people in the crowd who know combat first hand, but events like this bring the past to the present, hopefully for a better understanding to all.

I know two of the re-enactors. Yes, they're the Germans. No, not Nazis.  Very different.  Before you pout and get offended, understand that it is history - like it or not.  You can't tell the American side of the story without telling the German side.  They were soldiers. The weapons they used and how they used them can best be shown to the public by re-enactors.  These people spend a lot of time learning this stuff and spend a lot of their own money getting it right. 

Unfortunately, for a camera guy like me, the combat created a huge problem. Smoke from artillery, grit and dust from the tanks (yes, tanks!) rolling across the dry grasses and the already mentioned humidity and haze created a denser smog-like effect.  I did the best I could with what I had.  

As a part of the battle re-enactment, they had the B-17s flying circles over the battle field.  I figured out that if I had my timing right,I could get multiple planes in one shot.  We'll forget the fact that the Flying Fortress was a high altitude bomber  (30,000 feet) and these low altitude runs (a few hundred feet) did not really happen.  With more 50-caliber machine guns than a high schooler has acne, they were for defense against other aircraft, not staffing ground targets.  (The top pic, by the way, is the B-24 with a P-51 escort. The B-17s are lining up in the background.)

So, after a long, fun day in the sun with my  photo rig and some incredible vintage aircraft, I started to make my way home.  I had no interest in hurrying along, so I took a slow meander through Lower Huron Metropark.  After a great afternoon of witnessing American air power, how fitting that I would blunder past an adult Bald Eagle sitting on a tree overlooking the Huron River.  Predatory aircraft were flying all day.  I suspect some of the engineers who designed them where inspired by birds like this one.....

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Sunday, August 8, 2010


Transformers blowing up at 7:14am make quite a noise! Double bangs, in fact. No power as you might guess.

Oh well. I was out the door anyway...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Beer And A Book

It's a beautiful night around here. In fact, it is just the kind of night to sit outside, read a book, and have a beer.

The book? "Early American Naturalists" by John Moring. Ever wonder where some of those birds got there name? Say's Phoebe? Townsend's Warbler? Gambel's Quail? This book lays it out. A good read so far.

The beer? Peg Leg Imperial Stout by the Clipper City Brewing Company. Awesome. Very chocolaty. #802 is a keeper!

This also marks my first attempt at a blog post from my iPhone. This technology is getting scary!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone. (Hmmm. Can't seem to bold or adjust the margin justifications. Hope they fix that....)

Monday, August 2, 2010

"Waiter, There Is A Ephemeroptera In My 800th Beer"

Sundays in the waning weeks of summer can be a crapshoot. If I'm not working, anything goes.  But it is not out of line to suggest my spare time might involve a beer or a bug.  Yesterday, I managed both in one shot at the Frankenmuth Brewery.

Oh, but we did not head there straightaway...

For years, I have been hearing about an Native American site in the "thumb"  by Bad Axe administered by the Michigan State Parks.  While I doubt many lay persons would spend hours there, the Sanilac Petroglyphs are worth a stop if you are in area.  The 1,000 square foot sandstone chunk was discovered by locals in the late 19th century after fires swept through the region.  Intricate designs clearly showed that the  locals of the region were not the first to find this particular rock.  Images including animal tracks, handprints (you can see it in the picture), a bowhunter, spirals, and what are now unknown carvings were etched in to the soft rock.  Unfortunately, erosion is taking its toll.  Despite the shelter that has been built over it, these carvings, which may be 1,000 years old, are likely to be gone in the next few decades.  Fortunately for us, staff was on site and we were able to get behind the locked gate. No, you can't walk on it (that would be stupid), but we could walk right up to it. Very cool.

From there, Frankenmuth is about an hour away. Yes, the same town that gives you world famous chicken dinners, Christmas 361 days a year, and more German vibrations than a loose strut on a Volkwagon, is also home to a new, and simultaneously old, brewery.

The Frankenmuth Brewery, fires, and tornadoes don't play nice.  After operating for over a century under various owners beginning in 1862, the brewery basically met its end in 1987.  A fire destroyed most of the place.  Literally rising from the ashes, it was basically wiped out (again) by an F3 tornado in 1996. After re-opening, it closed, only to be re-opened (again). Today, in 2010, is seems to be doing quite well...for now.  

Such crazy history made it a great place to enjoy another milestone beer and a few extras.  The Cass River Blonde, Hefeweizen, Pilsner, English IPA, Batch 69 American IPA, Red Sky Ale, and Oktoberfest (#795-#801) were all on tap and served up in quaint little glasses.  I scored them all a three out of five. None of them were bad, but by the same token, they didn't provide any spark for my wienerschnitzel.  The Hefe did not have a hint of cloudiness (something that I thought was a standard for the style).  Plus, I was down right confused by the Oktoberfest.  In July?  I thought only Bronner's showed a blatant disregard for the calendar. 

But a peculiar little event occured that made this trip and my 800th beer so memorable.  

After taking some sips of the Red Sky Ale, you might imagine my surprise when my tablemate told me to look into my beer.

Yes, there was an uninvited guest in my 800th beer.  Part-time bug guy that I am, I knew right away what I was dealing with.  No, not two critters - one critter and it's recently shed skin....

Ephemeroptera (eff-ehm-err-OP-tera), or Mayflies, are the cool little beasties that bust out for one wild and crazy night, "fun" during the early summer. Their entire life is all in the name of one wild orgy on the waterfront which ultimately leads to millions of little mayfly eggs getting dumped into the water.  The following year, about the same time, it all happens again. 

Unlike other insects, the adult form (the imago) is not the only life stage capable of flight. The stage before, the sub-imago, can fly, too. So, the larvae sheds his skin, and becomes the sub-imago, and then some time later, sheds again.  Butterflies? Beetles? Nope. Only the adult stage can fly.   That is why my beer has two floaties - the one of the left is the actual insect (the imago) while the one on the right is the shed skin of the sub-imago.

Sad to say, this fellow could not even enjoy the beer.  The adult  doesn't have a mouth. Yup, no mouth.  That "they only live for a day" notion regarding their lifespan is a bit misleading.   No, they don't live for a day - they live for about a day as an adult but spend months in the water as a nymph.  Basically, they fly around, have sex, dump eggs, and die.  Who needs a mouth?

So, there it was, in my 800th beer and it couldn't even taste it.  I did.  Yes, I simply picked it out and drank it. What is the big deal? It's probably cleaner than the silverware, right? Besides, there are people that drink the worm at the bottom of a bottle of tequila.  After snapping the above picture, he/she went off on his/her merry way looking for a willing partner before he/she bellied up in the Cass River. 

(In case you are wondering, this whole Frankenmuth trip was inspired by an iPhone app called Groupon.  In short, everyday, I get an email with a reduced price coupon for something in the metro-Detroit area.  While I don't do my nails and certainly have no need for a barber, the savings, sometimes in the range of 50% or more, can also include places to eat and other entertainment stuff.  Pretty cool. Check it out.  I don't recall the details for the Frankenmuth coupon, but it was basically free samples, tons of food, and take-home pint glasses for $10.00.)

After a peaceful evening of photography around town, we were home by 10:30. 

On to 900.......