Saturday, July 31, 2010

Modern Marvel - Zapper

Fluorescent glow,
Attractant lure.
In the dark,
Bright white flashes,
Simultaneous cracks of sound -
Like snapping whips.
One 'squeto after another.
When putting up with the high-pitched sound of wings vibrating near ears, palms swatting almost aimlessly through the air, and then unnoticed bites that leave itchy welts behind... there is nothing like
the sweet revenge of electric currents running through two metal surfaces with a small gap in between that is just the right size for a mosquito's body to complete the circuit - the Flowtron Blacklight Bug Zapper is just the right device to deliver with satisfaction.

It was such a nice evening, that we had to eat out on the patio. We had learned from my brother-in-law that if an air fan is put out near the table, the mosquitoes will leave you alone. I also set up the bug zapper on a hanging basket crook, but since it was still
fairly light outside, there were few victims while we sat around the table. When the after-dinner conversation with our house guest wound down and the sun setting, the device went into full action. Even after retiring back into the house, we found pleasure in leaving the patio door open with the screen in place - just to hear the sounds of arching electricity - the sizzle of electrons running through moistened organic material as it was deconstructed.

The zapper we bought suits our needs, but if you have extra cash to spare, and are really into high-technology contraptions, there are even more sophisticated devices such as the MT-350 Flowtron Mosquito PowerTrap Plus where "Vacuum action draws the biting insect pests into a removable collection tray where they dehydrate and die for fast, clean and easy disposal." As advertised: Mosquitoes are Attracted to PowerTraps... Instead of You! All of this has been carefully researched I am sure, to ensure the menace of the dreaded mosquito is abated - in the comfort of the backyard.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Update's UPdate

Here is a quick report on the status of Jamie Moyer from per the previous post.
Moyer avoids surgery, aims for 2011: Though Phillies SP Jamie Moyer has given up on the idea of pitching again in 2010, he told he likes his chances of pitching in 2011 after a second
opinion from noted orthopedist Lewis Yocum earlier this week convinced him he doesn't need surgery.
"He's optimistic with rehab this thing can heal and heal properly," Moyer said. "I like his thinking. ... If I had surgery, it's a year, year and a half where I can't do anything. That puts me at 48 1/2, 49 [years old]. What's the liklelihood of pitching? Where am I going to find a job? But if I rehab and rehab diligently and give it time to heal -- and then prudently start rehab and take my time with it -- I'm ready to go [by Spring Training]."
(Updated 07/29/2010).

Injury Report
Elbow - 15-day DL. Out for the season
(Updated - 7/29/10) 
Fantasy Analysis
Moyer has a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained tendon in his left elbow, which would be a significant injury for anybody, not to mention a 47-year-old. Then again, Moyer isn't your average 47-year-old. The soft-tossing left-hander has continued to succeed at the major-league level despite his advanced age and even looked like a viable mixed-league option at times earlier this season. Still, he has a difficult road back. You can obviously cut him in seasonal formats.
(Updated 07/29/2010).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Season Update

Since my last post about Jamie Moyer at the beginning of the month, there have been three losses, an upward creeping earned run average, and now this - not good news for my favorite pitcher. Also, my oldest son and his family went to a Mariners game in Seattle last week - Boston beat my team in 13 innings. On top of all that, he and his family were all decked out in Red Sox fan garb. This is definitely not a good week in baseball for me.

Phillies' Moyer Not Ready to Call It a Career Just Yet

It's uncertain whether the 25-year major-league career of Jamie Moyer ends here. Until doctors present him with a full diagnosis next week, Moyer doesn't want to speculate publicly about his future. However, when asked, the 47-year-old pitcher said he was indeed holding out hope on making a return this season.

"That's my goal," Moyer said at his locker before Friday's game. "But again, without having a full diagnosis, I think it's only fair [to wait]. I think that's the competitor in myself, that I want to pitch. But if my arm doesn't allow it to happen, then it's not going to happen.

"But right now, I believe I'm going to make some sort of - I don't want to say 'comeback,' but I'm going to make some sort of an attempt to be able to get out and pitch competitively."

After throwing 18 pitches in the first inning Tuesday in St. Louis, Moyer was replaced by Drew Carpenter, who had been recalled earlier that day from triple-A Lehigh Valley.

On Friday, Moyer said he didn't feel anything unusual prior to Tuesday's game, other than the day-to-day aches and pains players normally endure. Moyer was put on the 15-day disabled list with sprained ulnar collateral ligament and strained flexor pronator tendon in his left elbow.

"I didn't really feel I had a major concern about anything at that point, up to that start," he said.

Moyer will undergo further tests to determine the severity of the sprain. He said Friday that he's not sure when a prognosis will become available or when testing will be complete. However, he said it's possible he will hear from doctors sometime in the middle of next week.

On Thursday, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Moyer's "going to be out quite some time."

Moyer's MRI exam on Thursday showed injuries. Surgery remains a possibility. He underwent two operations during the off-season, neither to his pitching elbow, and returned with a clean bill of health, working his way into the Phillies' rotation.

Through 19 starts this season, Moyer went 9-9 with a 4.84 ERA. He becomes a free agent at the end of the season.

Moyer said he feels the need to fulfill his contract and work toward putting himself in a position where he could return to the mound. And while the possibility looms that he's perhaps played his last game, he doesn't want to concede that just yet.

"It's one of those situations where you don't want it to have happened," he said. "But if it happens, it happens. There's nothing I could do. I can't turn back and change anything. The injury's the injury. You live with it. I really feel I can look myself in the mirror and know that if that was my last outing, then, you know what, so be it. I've given it my best and I've really enjoyed my career. But at this point, I'm not looking at that being the case."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Rest of Sunday

This Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor) was in our yard this afternoon. We figured it must be butterfly season with all of the different species that are showing up in our yard (there was another 
one that was too quick darting over different parts of the yard, and away before I could get my camera - maybe a Tawney Emperor). When driving, it is common now to see Eastern Tiger Swallowtails everywhere - noticeable in that I can even see them crossing streets and the freeway. There were four hanging around for a while on our butterfly bush - glad we planted it this past year.

Family: Parnassians and Swallowtails (Papilionidae)

Subfamily: Swallowtails (Papilioninae)

Identification: Upper surface of hind wing iridescent blue or blue-green. Underside of hind wing with submarginal row of 7 round orange spots in iridescent blue field.

Life history: Adult males patrol likely habitat in search of receptive females. Females lay batches of eggs on underside of host plant leaves. Caterpillars feed in small groups when young but become solitary when older. Wintering is by the chrysalis.

Flight: In the East and California, adults fly primarily in late spring and summer, but the butterfly is commoner in late summer and fall in the South and Southwest. Where lack of freezing temperatures permit, adults may fly continuously. In lowland tropical Mexico they may be found in any month. 

Wingspan: 2 3/4 - 5 inches (7 - 13 cm).

Caterpillar hosts: Pipevines (Aristolochia species), including Aristolochia californica, A. serpentaria and others.

Adult food: Solely nectar from flowers including thistles (Cirsium species), bergamot, lilac, viper's bugloss, common azaleas, phlox, teasel, azaleas, dame's-rocket, lantana, petunias, verbenas, lupines, yellow star thistle, California buckeye, yerba santa, brodiaeas, and gilias.

Habitat: A wide variety of open habitats, open woodland, and woodland edges.

Range: Rare stray to Canada (s. Manitoba). Tropical lowlands south to southern Mexico.

Conservation: Normally not of high conservation concern, although states at northern limits have listed under state law. These listings are of dubious value where species is not a permanent resident.
Exerted from: Butterflies and Moths of North America. Access by clicking here.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Links Through Time - Memorials

Because of the hot weather outside this afternoon, I was surfing in doors and happened onto the Los Angeles Times Website that 
remembers each Californian who has died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was Googling to see if a friend of mine who died in the summer of 1971 and was buried in the Visalia Cemetery was recorded online, and came on this July 15, 2006 entry. When I saw the name and the face of the father my heart sank - the father was a year ahead of me in high school, I think we played sports together - the son was 21.

After reading the obituary, I went back to the Times' site California's War Dead, and clicked two entries to the left (the next day, July 16, 2006), and came on a soldier who had gone to Corvallis High School - in the town where we consider home in Oregon. I remember reading about him and having this same feeling now as when I read about earlier casualties from Oregon when we lived there.

Then two more clicks to the left, and a Marine from Clovis. I sensed I knew of this casualty, too - July 29, 2006. When I read his obituary, it was mentioned that the funeral service had to be held in a larger church than his own, New Hope - that was a church we attended in the early 1980's when we lived in Clovis. The Marine was the third casualty from his high school's class of 2001 (1). The reason I thought I knew about him was I had read in the Annapolis Capital newspaper a couple of years ago that two brothers from Clovis had been killed in the wars - both were from that same church. As it turned out, the two were different from the Clovis Marine I saw above - still, the two were brothers (November 4, 2004 & August 22, 2007), and that is now seven from the same high school, and three from the same church. A third brother who enlisted with the second brother after their other brother was killed, witnessed the crash of the Blackhawk helicopter that took his brother's and 13 others' lives. Like a Private Ryan, he had to leave service as the sole survivor.

I checked a few more dates in both directions of the sites I list above, but the names were not familiar - only the names of the California cities they were from. That made sense, I wouldn't have thought that a random hit on a Website I wasn't looking for would also be within a couple more clicks - no more than a couple of degrees of separation - from people I may know, or others I could know who live with heart aches that must be so very deep.

I think I have done enough surfing the Web for today.

A search engine that shows all of the fallen in the two wars can be found clicking here.
(1) More recent report of the casualties in Clovis found by clicking here.

Saturday Hunt

It was nearly 90° F this morning at 9:00 AM. Got up, scanned over the New York Times and  Washington Post Web sites, and read a few articles. We had a cup of coffee on the patio and read the local paper while the drip system watered the yard. After pulling a few weeds out front while the last drip zone ran in the back, I took pictures of a couple more new butterflies and identified them.

a. Variegated Frittilary on black-eyed Susans (note the arrow showing its position)
b. Variegated Frittilary, close up
c. Silver-spotted Skipper

I had seen the frittilary once before in the garden a week or so ago, but couldn't get my camera fast enough and get back out to get a shot before it was gone. The skippers are quick little rascals, but there have been several working over the butterfly bush for a good part of the day - the two shown above seemed to have amorous intentions. There also have been Eastern Tiger Swallowtails and Spicebush Swallowtails in the yard as well, along with Cabbage Whites (1). It is interesting how the heat doesn't slow down the butterflies. The pace of the bumble bees is down to a trickle, as well as the birds at the feeder.
(1) See photographs of these other species at the earlier post by clicking here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Feel Like I Do

One of the '70's all time best selling albums - Frampton Comes Alive, with the repeat favorite: Do You Feel Like I Do. I remember playing the song over and over. Great music when driving down California State Route 99 between Fresno and Visalia to visit our families. My brother Dan loaned us his tape that we played on the cassette deck in our Volkswagen Rabbit - the first new car we bought because Jan had a real job teaching and had to commute from Clovis to Tulare - also on Highway 99. I especially like the parts around nine minutes into the song and following - I wish I could play a guitar like that (1).

Other good feeling songs of the era include Joe Cocker's Feeling All Right and Lee Michaels' Tell Me How Do You Feel. And going back to the first 33 1/3 album that I ever owned - Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow: How Do You Feel - Mom had to drive me to the store to buy that one.
(1) See the blog: Silver Apples and Experimental Music Listening here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Game Changer

What a difference a new feeder makes. Our Troff 'n' Brew (1) style of bird feeder, reminiscent of the Saturday Night Live skit, did wonders in attracting as many as 10 common grackles and six gray squirrels at a time. The grackles - rouges by another definition - would intimidate most of the rest of the birds in what we considered otherwise an avian sanctuary. Our previous free-range feeder allowed any bird with swine genes to swoop in, shovel through hundreds of seeds at a time, and then pick the perfectly shaped and colored one, only to repeat the cycle over and over. The end result was me having to refill the feeder every two days.

Well, a couple of weeks ago the staple holding the quarter-inch chord popped out when I was pouring in a fresh stock of seed, sending it to the squirrels' buffet table below. Even though I could fix it, I declared  
we needed a new one, so off to Home Depot we went. After careful examination of what was in stock and my wife commenting, "That's the same one we got your folks," we had a replacement. Getting home I assembled and filled it to the brim, and sat back waiting for the evening feast to begin - it didn't happen. Maybe this is the reason my folks seemed to get very few visitors to theirs' - nice in design, terrible in functionality. It wasn't until this weekend that I noticed how much the feeding activity has picked, but most importantly, there has been a complete shift in species feasting, particularly of the less frequently observed ones when the grackles were around.

Just tonight I have seen: House Wren, Purple Finch, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, House Finch, and Northern Cardinal. The House Sparrow and Mourning Doves are still around, and I am glad to see that the cardinals have figured out how to hold onto the small perch and get at the seeds. Out of fairness I have to report that the House Sparrows are as big of pigs as the grackles, but they are much better mannered with the new feeder. Most importantly, we won't have to make as frequent of runs to Sam's Club to stock up on bulk bird seed as we have earlier this summer. In all, we are satisfied that the birds are back, and most importantly, with a shift in dominance and diversity.
More Garden Technology

Other tools used in our garden include:

The new Hawk-Eye Nature Cam that my son gave me for Christmas. When I  put it up in June, remarkably it let me see the birds at the feeder, or when pointed at the ground, the squirrels and birds that frequent below the feeder - looking for an easy meal. Nothing more than I can do with my binoculars, but it is fun to lay back on the bed in the guest room where I have run the cable to the small television that has a set of RCA jacks to plug the camera into. Next step, find a low cost, short-range video transmitter and hook it up to my computer to record footage to share - it may seem like a dull life to be a birder.

Our Costco Garden Composter (2) (see owner comments) has paid off this year - we haven't had to buy any potting soil this year. Composting is not a high-tech effort - put the yard waste in, add water once-in-a-while, turn it occasionally, wait a year, and voila'....compost out the bottom. One lesson I learned a long time ago in California was that it isn't wise to put ashes from the wood stove into a compost bin - there may still be embers. Our neighbor came to our door one morning and told us that our compost ignited and our fence was on fire the night before. He had a sick child who was throwing up, and when in the bathroom, saw the flicker of firelight in the window - a close call.

Japanese Beetle Trap. When we spotted the first Japanese Beetle of the season (3),  it was time to get the pheromone trap out for another season. There is on-line debate whether the traps are affective at protecting plant such as roses - or are mere another way to attract all of the neighbors' beetles to you own yard. The verdict now well into summer - other than the climbing roses on the side of the yard, we have had few beetles damage our hybrid roses. In other words - my opinion, I would say it is a success.
(1) TROFF 'N' BREW. Saturday Night Live, Season 3, Episode 18: Business executives dine and discuss work at a restaurant where chili is piled into a giant trough. Actors: Steve Martin, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Tom Davis, Al Franken (now U.S. Senator from Minnesota), Garrett Morris, Bill Murray, Loraine Newman, Gilda Radner, Anne Beatts, Jim Downey, Brian Doyle-Murray, Mitchell Laurance, Tom Schiller, and Rosie Shuster.

(2) The compost unit shown in the Costco advertisement is different than the one we bought two or three years ago.

(3) Last year I described how we hadn't experienced these pests until we moved to the East Coast.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


This morning after watering the front yard plants and pulling some weeds in the back, I remembered a report on National Public Radio's Morning Edition this past Thursday. There was a feature story about the world of insects that travel in the airspace far above our heads. As usual, the radio alarm is my wake-up-call, so I may not have paid a lot of attention to it had I not recognized the name of one of the entomologists being interviewed who happens to be at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.

"Sometimes insects and spiders need to leave where they are and go someplace else for food, for sex, for space. For a variety of reasons bugs disperse. You can see them launching themselves," says entomologist Matt Greenstone. "They just stand straight up on their little back legs and just by doing that they can get part of their body up into this layer [of air] where it’s more turbulent and then, if you can get a ride on a parcel that's going up, you can get off the ground and then if you’re lucky you can get carried aloft."

Looking UP this morning, I saw dragon flies, various wasps, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly,  a bumble bee - all flying here and there, as well as now and in the past some of the regular songbirds seen down low, and other birds like crows and gulls that never come down into our back yard. There is an amazing amount of activity that goes on up there - a glimpse of what the reporter mentioned in her story above.

Earlier in the year I kept track of the soaring birds I noticed when looking UP while commuting to and from work on Route 50. There is a place just west of Bowie where there is a natural area that must border a drainage that runs under the freeway. Quick glimpses UP have scored Bald Eagle, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Canada GeeseRed-tailed Hawk, Osprey, and even a Snowy Egret.

There is also the UP at night when thunder storms come rolling in when there are no birds in flight as far as I can tell, and no sounds of bird songs or calls - just the continuous silhouette of the trees against a dark gray background UP above with the the sounds of rain falling on the patio canvas awning, the wind chimes tinkling, and the steady drone pitch of the HVAC system on top of the elementary school across the fence from our back yard, all broken by the rumbling thunder and occasional cracks of lightning. It seems that we have had more thunder and rain showers this summer than the past four. To watch and hear an example of the stormy night UP above the trees, go to the link here.

Down, too

Back in spring there was a Rough Green Snake, Opheodrys aestivus, hanging around (literally) in our knockout rose bushes near the front porch. The Rough Green Snake grows to almost 100 cm in length. The dorsal coloration is green and the belly is yellowish white. Juveniles look very similar except they are paler green. Females lay up to 12 eggs a year in a variety of places such as leaf litter, in rotting logs and stumps, and under wood boards. This species is semi-aquatic and is generally found in the vegetation that over hangs the streams. The rough green snake climbs vines and bushes and is camouflaged very well. Its diet mainly consists of grasshoppers, spiders, slugs, snails, moth and butterfly larvae, and crickets.

Also a couple of weeks ago when opening the compost bin, I was surprised to see an Eastern Garter Snake balled up on top of the composting materials. If I would have thought for half a second before tossing in  the dried daylily stalks and other trimmings, I would have gone to get my camera. Instead the snake slithered down the side of the inside of the bin out of sight.

Information about the snakes found in Maryland along with a check list can be found here.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Quick Butterfly Sampling

There was a diversity of butterflies in the backyard today - a couple were familiar, while the others that are common, I hadn't identified. I found a good Website for Maryland nature that is helpful:
Also, a very comprehensive site called Butterflies and Moths of North America can be found at:

Some of the most notable butterfly finds that are in our backyard are: a. Spicebush Swallowtail; b. Red-spotted Purple; c. Crossline Skipper; d. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail; e. Red Admiral; and f. Cabbage White. Notice how half of the specimens were photographed on Echinacea. The Eastern Tiger was commonly seen there and occasionally on the butterfly bush, but the Sulfur Whites were almost always around the lavender.  The Crossline Skipper was a completely new species to me, while I had seen the the Red Admiral around our yard, but knowing its name is new. I didn't remember the Spicebrush Swallowtail, until I recognized it's name from last year when I identified this specimen - just hadn't seen it since. I found the picture of the Red-spotted purple in a batch of images I took last year, so posted it here today after I identified it. A video of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail working an Echinacea flower by clicking here. If you are at least as dull of a person as I am, you can click here and watch Cabbage White butterflies feed on lavender.

Here are links to more information about the specimens shown above:

a. Spicebush Swallowtail
b. Red-spotted Purple
c. Crossline Skipper
d. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
e. Red Admiral
f. Cabbage White

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Silver Apples and Experimental Music Listening

The dubbed over music on the starling video that I mentioned in the previous blog brought back memories of other electronic music - some that go way back to the early 1970's. I have no personal music talent and I cannot sing very well - best done in a crowd. I have tried piano and guitar, even had lessons - only remember a few chords, have no rhythm, no coordination. I am sure if I were to try to sing and play an instrument at the same time, that would be a complete disaster. But as far back as I can remember, I have always enjoyed listening to all kinds of music - record albums of musicals my mom had; starting to listen to rock and roll on an old tube radio beside my bed when I was 11 or 12 - KONG radio (1); beginning to purchase albums in junior high school from a store in town called The House of Wax - before J.C. Penney's, and later Tower Records and Barnes and Noble; playing more records on a Heathkit stereo receiver I build when I was a sophomore in high school electronics shop. I have especially enjoyed listening to my oldest and youngest sons play their instruments - their talent came from their mom's side of the family (and my mom's as well). As far back as I have bought music, I had a penchant for experimenting with the kinds of albums I would buy. Synthesizers used in music by Jefferson Starship; Emerson, Lake and Palmer; Pink Floyd just sounded good in my ears. There was a period when I would turn on the NPR Hearts of Space radio program every Tuesday night on KLCC from Eugene.

I think it all started with an album called Silver Apples of the Moon that I purchased from a discount book catalog from Publishers Central Bureau. I had no real idea what it was when I ordered it - the title sounded interesting. It turned out to be early synthesizer music by Morton Subotnick. I am pretty sure my wife and kids won't appreciate this, but samples of his music from Silver Apples can be listened to here and from another piece call The Wild Bull here. Years later, I bought a copy of Wendy Carlos' sound track to the original movie Tron - I see there is a new version coming out soon.

I had a lot of vinyl albums that were packed in cardboard boxes that went from Visalia to Davis to Fresno to Clovis to Corvallis and back to Clovis, back to Corvallis again, and then to a used record shop before moving to Annapolis - Silver Apples among them. Most all of the PCB experiments are gone - the way of the 33 1/3 turntable that stopped functioning during the first tour in Corvallis.

Regardless, here is my list of favorite institutionalized music that still has some remnants of the experimental listening era:

Jefferson Starship - Blows Against the Empire

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery

Michael Hedges - Aerial Boundaries

Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon

(1) KONG radio in Visalia, California is now defunct.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Applied Mathematics - Starlings in Flight

During early-spring, I saw a few European Starlings in our backyard at the bird feeder, but there have not been any in our backyard for months (1). At that time, I didn't realize that during the winter they are covered in white spots, and then turn dark in summer - the yellow beak was the characteristic that settled it for me that what I was looking at were starlings. These birds are native to most of temperate Europe and western Asia. Northeastern populations migrate south and west in winter to Europe, and further south to areas where it does not breed in the Iberian Peninsula and north Africa. Starlings have been introduced to Australia, New Zealand, North America, and South Africa - the first brought to North America by Shakespeare enthusiasts in the nineteenth century. European Starlings are now among the continent’s most numerous songbirds. For much of the year, they wheel through the sky and mob lawns in big, noisy flocks.

My son's Facebook page had a link to a flock of starlings in flight - complex amorphous formations that turned and folded into itself.
The video clip is dubbed over with music titled Forgive by an artist called Burial (2). I saw swarms of starlings in Oregon when out in newly established grass seed fields in early spring. They would land en mass in fields, and peck small holes in the soil between the grass seedlings. Though there was no way to plan ahead for making measurements to prove our hunch, we were pretty sure that the starlings were a natural control measure of gray garden slugs - another introduction into North America from Europe. The size of the flocks I saw in Oregon came nowhere close to the size of the one in the photograph to the side, or the video. A quick Google search turned up the abstract below from a scientific journal article that describes how the motion of birds in flight can be described mathematically in physical terms for particles, as well as information about Burial and his music. Using the Google translator, the English for the Russian title of the video is Birds Before the Tornado.

While watching the starling video, I remembered when growing up in the hot Central Valley of California, how in summer gnats would swarm together in their own distinctive fashion at dusk, while the air was perfectly still after a 105° F day. Across and down the road from my 
house, I would stir up the layer of dust on a short dirt road that led back to an old barn behind an abandoned farm house. As I shuffled my feet back and forth, the cloud would hover a foot above the ground below my knees like fog, while the gnats silently swam in unison above my head. I could stand there for what seemed like a long time - barefooted, only wearing short pants -  and squeeze the alkali dirt that felt like talcum power with my toes. That place off the asphalt was a refuge from the heat that still lingered in the pavement, as were the white painted lines - the only other cool place to walk back home where the shower was the next stop before my bed.

A computer simulation of gnats swarming can be found at this link.  The underlying assumptions used in the simulation are that gnats are always in flight motion - never stationary, and individual gnats will seek to stay within a given distance of the rest of the swarm. Given these assumptions it is natural that they will tend to fly in circular patterns around a common center. The simulation allows for gusts of wind to originate from the point of the mouse click and blow outward. Each gnat is affected by the gust in inverse proportion to its distance from the origin, and in a direction away from the origin. As I mentioned above, when I watched the swarms of gnats, the evenings were still - no wind at all, except for my breath that I held when the swarm came near me so I wouldn't swallow them.

Flocks, Herds, and Schools: A Distributed Behavioral Model
Abstract. The aggregate motion of a flock of birds, a herd of land animals, or a school of fish is a beautiful and familiar part of the natural world. But this type of complex motion is rarely seen in computer animation. This paper explores an approach based on simulation as an alternative to scripting the paths of each bird
individually. The simulated flock is an elaboration of a particle system, with the simulated birds being the particles. The aggregate motion of the simulated flock is created by a distributed behavioral model much like that at work in a natural flock; the birds choose their own course. Each simulated bird is implemented as an independent actor that navigates according to its local perception of the dynamic environment, the laws of simulated physics that rule its motion, and a set of behaviors programmed into it by the "animator." The aggregate motion of the simulated flock is the result of the dense interaction of the relatively simple behaviors of the individual simulated birds. (3)

(1) However, I have seen starlings in our neighbors' yards across the street from our front yard. Sometime I need to begin doing an inventory of birds in front, because I suspect there may be other species present there. Our backyard, and those of our next door neighbors have virtually no turf, and are heavily wooded. In contrast, the neighboring yards up and down on the street side in front of our house are dominated by turf, and of course the open area caused by the road.

(2) Burial’s self-titled debut album was released May 15, 2006. While the genre is usually filed under dubstep, ambient and garage often get used to describe the album. The album was very unique and fresh when first released and quickly  Burial rose to the top of the dubstep scene. At that time, his real name was not known and he released his music simply using Burial - nothing like a little drama and mystery to stir up interest,  even though the artist wasn't looking for any.

(3) Reynolds, C. W. (1987) Flocks, Herds, and Schools: A Distributed Behavioral Model, in Computer Graphics, 21(4) (SIGGRAPH '87 Conference Proceedings) pages 25-34.

Traveling Through Iowa

I wasn't expecting to look for birds during my trip to Iowa this last week. I was flying in on Tuesday, making a presentation Wednesday morning, and flying out early that afternoon - total time portal to portal; 5:30 AM, Tuesday to 11:00 PM, Wednesday. On the ride from the Des Moines airport to the hotel in West Des Moines, I was able to watch the scenery go by, not a care in the world - other than having to finish my presentation by 6:30 the next morning. The hotel driver mentioned this week was beautiful compared to the last. Iowa had received a lot of rain, and the river was believed to be cresting in the next day or two because of all of the runoff. Everything was lush green, and the air temperature perfect.

Right after getting on the freeway bypass, I began noticing Red Wing Blackbirds (a) fly across fields with regularity- one after another - the red patch on their wings easily visible. I have only seen one while driving in a wooded area north of Annapolis since being here.  Also
darting everywhere were Tree Swallows (b) - the light colored feathers on the side of their bodies showing as they turned away. I soon arrived at the hotel, and didn't think much more about birds - I had to finish preparing my presentation.

After the workshop the next day, some colleagues drove me to the airport - we talked the whole way, so I wasn't looking for birds. After a late lunch at the terminal, boarding the plane bound for Chicago, and taxing out to the runway, I noticed a Mississippi Kite (c) hoovering over the freshly mowed grassy area between the taxi-ways and the runway. It maneuvered back-and-forth - gliding effortlessly to each new position. As I watch it for a few minutes, a UPS (United Parcel Service) 757 freight jet accelerated down the runway in the background and took off - climbing steeply and then turning to the right and continuing back around to the south. The kite carried on with its routine... my plane moved towards the runway... I sat back, and then we were off.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Neo-Ancient Geoglyphs Come to Iowa

When flying from Denver to Des Moines this past Tuesday, I was looking out the window from my First Class seat (1) at the ground below and noticed patterns across the landscape that were formed by different conservation practices such as contour farming and buffer strips. These are used by farmers to protect their fields and keep the soil from eroding and polluting streams and rivers. The patterns reminded me of the Nazca Lines - ancient giant desert drawings in Peru (2), and similar reliefs made by other ancient peoples such as the Blythe Intaglio left behind in a California desert (3).

But what if the patterns in these Iowa farm fields were designed with more than land stewardship in mind - that there were deeper meanings behind each that the farmer-sculptors know and that are waiting for other viewers to reveal? Where the life experiences and dreams of farmers are sketched with tractors and plows, with contrasting hues made from earth and trees and creeks - left behind for future inhabitants of this landscape to ponder and admire.

Iowa Geoglyphs

A sampling of the modern geoglyphs that can be seen across Iowa and neighboring states are shown here, with an explanation of the history behind the designs. With each Iowa Geoglyph is a matching image from the real world that was used for inspiration. These artists have coined the term Neo-Ancient to describe their general style of work.

Remembrance of Trees. Iowa was once part of the vast North American hardwood forest east of the Mississippi where Passenger Pigeons and Running Buffalo Clover were once abundant, but now gone - like the way of trees, only remembrances of times past. Most of Iowa is now is used for agriculture - crops such as corn and soybeans cover 60% of the state, pastures and hay fields of alfalfa with some prairie and wetlands cover 30%, and forests cover only 7% of the land. About 95 percent of the state's prairie pothole wetlands have been drained, and over half of the original forest has been cleared. These changes and other factors such as channelization of streams and rivers, soil erosion, development and urban expansion, and intensive row crop agriculture have contributed to the loss or degradation of suitable habitat for numerous plant and animal species. This early Iowa-period geoglyph is done in the style of the Nazca Lines, and was used as a pattern in the construction of the metal tree art in the Sculpture Garden next to the Smithsonian Museum of Art in Washington, D.C.

Twister. The western half of Iowa is a part of the North American Tornado Alley. In recognition of the many tornadoes that touch down in Iowa each year, this managed riparian zone is sculpted using a unique style similar to the Blythe Intaglios to resemble a typical funnel cloud of an Iowan F2 tornado. Tornadoes are caused when a cloud of the right size precipitates rapidly releasing heat, which causes it to rise, and creates a vacuum under it - air rushing under it creates the vortex. Although tornadoes occur in many parts of the world, these destructive forces of nature are found most frequently in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains during the spring and summer months. In an average year, 800 tornadoes are reported nationwide.

Terrestrial Homage to the Extra Terrestrial. This whimsical geoglyph was produced using a primitive style of the Blythe Intaglios
tradition to honor the Steven Spielberg classic film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Though less than 500 feet tall, the image is easily seen from the air while flying cross-country. This 1982 American science fiction film grossed more than $790-million, far more than the farmer-creator of the geoglyph has received from charging for autumn hay ride viewings.

The Kelp Garden. While vacationing after the soybean harvest in 1997, this farmer was inspired by the enchanting kelp forests along the Pacific Coast of California. Giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) is a species of marine alga found from the central California coast to Baja California. Giant kelp prefers depths less than 120 feet, temperatures less than 72° F, hard substrate such as rocky bottoms, and bottom light intensities above 1% that of the surface. The traditional Blythe Intaglios style is used here to depict, though primitive, a sense of the kelp swaying in the currents of sea water coming and going with the tide through Monterey Bay. More information about giant kelp can be accessed on the Web.

Integrated Circuit Board. The son of a farmer who insisted his children go to college and not come back to the farm created this geoglyph. Done by the artist in the style of the classic Nazca Lines to represent his electrical engineering degree received from Kansas State University, the faux circuit board design was applied across parts of five quarter sections of fields near Manhattan, Kansas. After returning to the farm after graduation, the father thought his son would have been far better off had he gone to work for a high tech company - particularly because of the erratic way he drove large tractors and implements to form the design soon after returning home. However, upon seeing the designs from the air, the father was quite impressed and glad that his son was to continue as the fourth generation of family farmers on the homestead.

(1) United Airlines now gives automatic complimentary upgrades if you have enough miles and they have an empty seat. I have done more sitting in First Class the past six months than I have for all the flying I have done in the past years. Typically I sit in Economy Class, and usually over one of the wings of the plane - I think the Government fare tickets are set up that way; or in the back of the plane.

(2) The Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs located in the Nazca Desert of Peru. The high, arid plateau stretches more than 50 miles between the towns of Nazca and Palpa on the Pampas de Jumana. Although some local geoglyphs resemble Paracas motifs, scholars believe the Nazca Lines were created by the Nazca culture between 200 BCE and 700 CE. The hundreds of individual figures range in complexity from simple lines to stylized hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, fish, sharks or orcas, llamas, and lizards.

The lines are shallow designs made in the ground by removing the ubiquitous reddish pebbles and uncovering the whitish ground beneath. Hundreds are simple lines or geometric shapes; more than seventy are designs of animal, bird, fish or human figures. The largest figures are over 660 ft across. Scholars differ in interpreting the purpose of the designs, but they generally ascribe religious significance to them, as they were major works that required vision, planning and coordination of people to achieve.

(3) The Blythe Intaglios or Blyth Geoglyphs are a group of gigantic figures found on the ground near Blythe, California in the Colorado Desert. The intaglios are found east of the Big Maria Mountains, about 15 miles north of downtown Blythe just west of U.S. Highway 95 near the Colorado River. The largest human figure is 171 feet long. The intaglios are best viewed from the air.

The geoglyphs or intaglios were created by scraping away layers of darker rocks or pebbles to reveal a strata of lighter valued soil. While these "gravel pictographs" are found through the deserts of southeastern California, human figures are found only near the Colorado River. The figures are so immense that they were not observed by non-Indians until the 1930s, when pilot flew along the area. This set of geoglyphs includes several dozen figures and a labyrinth. These geoglyphs are no doubt ceremonial, and the process of their creation, possibly by ritual dancing, might transcended the end product in importance. They are believed to date from 1000 CE but could range from 450 to 10,000 years old, which makes them possibly more ancient than the well-known 5000 year old Stonehenge and its still newly discovered secrets. Mojave and Quechan Indians most likely created them. Modern Quechan tribe information.
Note: I don't know why I am getting a lot of hits on this site - fictional accounts are given for the source and related information about the Iowa geoglyphs.

Not a Woodpecker

Yesterday morning a new bird showed up at the feeder. At first glance, I thought it was a Downy or Hairy Woodpecker (woodpeckers I have seen before), but after pulling out the bionoculars - no red spot on the back of the head. A quick look at the Peterson's Field Guide (1), and narrowed it down to only two possibilities: the Three-toed Woodpecker - doesn't have the red spot, but also doesn't live around here so not it - or the Black and White Warbler - pretty sure. The photographic quality of this picture isn't great: I had the lenses zoomed in on maximum magnification and held the camera against the patio window to steady it as best I could. It was before 7:00 AM, so the light wasn't all that helpful either. The bird stayed around for a good five minutes or so, and then flew off. It just goes to show that there are transient encounters. I have no idea how many other species fly through, on their way to somewhere else, and I miss them.

Black and White Warbler. The Black-and-white Warbler is the only member of the genus Mnitilta, which means moss plucking. They have an unusually long hind toe and claw on each foot. This adaptation allows them to move securely on the surface of tree bark. Unusually aggressive for a warbler, they sometimes attack and fight Red-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, and other species. They are known for their habit of creeping around tree trunks and along larger branches in search of insect food in crevices or under the bark; hence its old name, "Black-and-white Creeper." Unlike the Brown Creeper, which only moves up a tree, this species can climb in any direction. A group of black-and-white warblers are collectively known as a "dichotomy", "distinction", and "integration" of warblers. Information from

(1) In addition to the Peterson's A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America, I use the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Fifth Edition, and the simple quick reference Birds of Maryland & Delaware Field Guide: Includes Washington, D.C. & Chesapeake Bay by Stan Tekiela.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Another Record, But Still Another Win

Last night flying back to Baltimore on a connecting flight from Des Moines through Chicago, we flew past Camden Yards on our final approach. It was around 9:30 so dark, and the stadium lights were bright in the distance - easy to pick out the park - the Orioles were obviously in town playing. My wife mentioned last weekend that it would be fun to go to a game. I was thinking about that as I looked out the window, and also how I am more interested in how the up-the-road team - the Phillies - are doing because of Jamie Moyer (see the earlier preseason and complete game shutout posts). I quickly Googled Phillies Moyer on my Web browser this morning and came up with the following article - another record set and another win.

Phillies' Moyer Sets Record For Most Home Runs Allowed
Sun Jun 27, 2010 7:30pm EDT

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer gave up a Major League record 506th home run in an otherwise outstanding performance on Sunday.

Toronto's Vernon Wells hit the record-breaking run to left field in the third inning as the 47-year-old Moyer passed the mark held by Phillies Hall of Famer Robin Roberts.

Moyer (9-6) also became the 40th Major Leaguer to pitch 4,000 career innings when he threw seven innings in the 11-2 victory.

The left-hander, who first played in the Major Leagues in 1986, has a 267-201 career record.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina. Editing by Ian Ransom)

I taught statistics for seven years when I was a university professor in California - before taking a full-time research position at a Federal laboratory in Oregon. In typical fashion for me, as I was reading about Jamie Moyer's new record - not a flattering one - I began thinking about how if a pitcher stands among the elite pitchers who pitch the most career innings, that pitcher is bound to accumulate the most of other pitching statistics as well - cause and effect, more innings - more opportunities for greatness or infamy. As I thought about that, I put it into a statistical perspective. In this case, I remembered a principle called collinearity - concurrent associations among two or more variables that are used to predict an outcome using multiple regression analysis.

I have a book about collinearity that I bought when I was a graduate student. It looked interesting at the time, and was also an interesting read. I used the theory in some of the research papers I wrote so the interpretations were more accurate. Applied to baseball, if you pitch enough innings, you are bound to accumulate more home runs given up - collinearity. The important point with Jamie Moyer is he keeps on going, and going, and pitching....and winning - kind of like the Eveready Energizer bunny. Pretty good for a relatively old man in young man's sport.

I know I am an old man, because when I looked on Amazon for an image of the book cover, I glanced at it's price - I know I didn't pay $100 for the book 30 years ago, back when I was in graduate school - another young man's game.