Saturday, March 29, 2014

Assets or Prisoners?

Russia's seizure of the Crimean Peninsula included all of Ukraine's military assets - ships, docks, buildings, cars, trucks, and everything else needed to defend the warm water port. These are all considered assets.  There have been no reports of conscription of members of the Ukrainian military forces stationed in Crimea.  And then this: the combat dolphins that were part of the Ukrainian navy have been appropriated by the Russians to train with their Emergencies Ministry divers.  There is no mention in the news of their trainers joining the Russians.  I expect that the poor creatures miss their human friends.

I have had a brief encounter with dolphins.  The only other nation known to employ dolphins in military operations is the United States.   In 2001, the Alaska Command (ALCOM) staged it 26th annual cold climate military joint training exercise in Ketchikan where I lived.  Northern Edge 2001 included a naval exercise which tested shared command of a port facility (our downtown dock) and harbor defense operations in a friendly host nation (Ketchikan).  The highlight of this week long occupation was the use of dolphins to help detect underwater intruders.  The dolphins were housed in a large temporary pool put up in a parking lot in town.  Dolphins are trained using a clicker.   They learn that the sound of the clicker signals an imminent reward.  Their behavior is gradually shaped into the desired task by clicking at just the right time.  People who train dogs use clickers too. I was part of the Ketchikan Dog Training Club, and we were using clickers to teach our dogs to compete in Agility (over jumps, through tunnels, up and down an A-frame and teeter totter).  Ketchikan is a small town.  It was easy to contact the dolphin trainers.  They came over to watch our dogs, and we went by to be introduced to the dolphins.

Here is a snapshot of Northern Edge 2001.  You can't see the dolphins.  They are working.

Friday, March 21, 2014

My March Madness

Sleep eludes me.  I know I am not alone.  Many others wander their home while family sleep.  I was saddened to read that the sleep-inducing effect of warm milk is an urban myth. Here is an easy to read summary of the current research. I will still warm my milk as I have for over 50 years. But this month the moon is spectacular - a bonus in an otherwise frustrating middle of the night. Tonight the moon is waning, four days past full.  The Algonquian Indians had a different name for each month's full moon. The names reflected the season cycle of hunting, fishing and farming.  The March moon is the Worm Moon signaling the start of spring.  Our lawn is alive with robins pulling earthworms from the soft, rain soaked soil. The nights this week are cold and clear.  The moon's light silver.  I have been lured outside for a better view.   April brings the Pink Moon named for the early blossoms.  In our neighborhood there are early blooming Daphne odora "Aureomarginata". the variegated winter daphne.  Daphne odora is wonderfully fragrant.  Its sweetness fills the air in the night, especially after rain.  It is intoxicating.  It will almost justify being wide awake when I would rather sleep.

Monday, March 17, 2014

3-D Printing, Again

Last October I wrote about 3-D printing.  I recommended an autobiography by Ping Fu, a pioneer in this field.  You can read my post from October, 2013 here.  3-D printing is no longer new.  It is being used in many industries.  Today there is wonderful news of a 3-D success in medicine.  Reported on NPR this morning was the story of 16 month old Garrett Peterson, born with a defective windpipe.  Garrett's breathing and lung function were so compromised that he has never been able to leave the hospital.  This winter, when Garrett was near death, a surgeon teamed with a biomedical engineer and together, using 3-D printing, created two custom splints that could support his failing windpipe.  The surgery was successful and little Garrett is smiling and reaching for toys.  Read the full story here and watch the video of Garrett's surgery.  I am expecting more news like this.  Lives saved with a revolutionary technology.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Iditarod 41

The Last Great Race wrapped up last night.  Earlier in the week Aliy Zirkle, aged 44, finished the race for the 13th time.  Many of those finishes were in the top ten.  This was her second finish in second place.  After 8 days, 13 hours, 6 minutes and 41 seconds, she was just two hours behind winner Dallas Seavey.  For the teams in the lead, the race this year ended in a life threatening storm.  Perennial Iditarod champion Joe Runyon blogged about the weather:

"What do I think about the wind?  Rarely do I insert my own direct personal anecdotes into the dialogue, but I think this race is shut down.  The winds into Nome are legendary and life threatening. They have killed people, and it’s not joking around.  If you have ever been caught in the wind, you will understand that wind is the ultimate weapon of an arctic winter.  In my racing days, I actually sat down and decided what I would do in a big blow.  My decision was to not test it.  Sometimes you can make it, but often you can’t.  To go into the wind and expect others to risk their life, or risk frostbite, to save your decision is foolhardy."

After Zirkle brought her team safely into the last checkpoint before Nome, she intended to wait out the storm.  When Dallas Seavey went on, she followed.  After the race she gave an interview to Julia O'Malley that I am linking to here.  In my view Aliy is every bit as much a champion as she would be with a two minute advantage over Seavey.  Enjoy what she says.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

I am Not Making This Up

The Australian Phillip Island Penguin Foundation has rescued hundreds of penguins over the years, many after oil spills.  They have leaned that it is important to keep the birds from grooming themselves while their feathers are still coated with oil.  If they have a backlog of oiled penguins who must be managed while waiting for their turn in the cleaning lab, they turn to custom knit sweaters, called "jumpers" in Australia.  The little sweater vests do the job. The sweaters are always made of wool.  They prevent self-preening, draw oil out into the wool and keep the little guys warm en route to the Foundations' hot water bath.  The "ah, cute!" factor has yielded a shipping container full of fancy wool vests.  If you're fingers are itching to knit and purl and you are wanting a piece of this action, you will have to wait.  The supply will last for the foreseeable future.  Get ready to say "Ah, cute".  The wool may have cost a few dollars, but the picture is priceless.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Got My Girl Scout Cookies Today

I bought mine the old fashioned way.  No PayPal.  No user name and password.  No custom home delivery. I stood face to face (in the pouring rain) with a genuine girl scout and asked her how much the cookies cost.  She added up the price for my large selection, asked for the money, made change and handed me the cookies. I was happy all the way home until I looked on line for some more information.  I am disappointed to report that Amazon, eBay, and Candyland are among the online retail sources for cookies.  Through Yahoo you can have them delivered to your door.  Immaculate transaction.  No contact with a real girl.  I looked at the website for Girl Scouts of Western Washington.  They offer a nice video about how cookie sales influence girls' lives.  Visit the site yourself.  Watch the short video.  And then ask what benefit accrues to individual girl scouts from sales on eBay. I know the world changes.  This change does not feel good.

Here's a Political Analyst Everyone Can Understand

Scott Rasmussen is a political analyst and media entrepreneur.  He is a prolific author and commentator.  He wrote recently about President Obama's budget proposal.  His analysis is short and easy to understand.  It falls into the category of "naked emperor exposed" prose.  An easy read.  Enjoy.

Friday, March 7, 2014


The death of our dog Annie has silenced my muse.  I will write again soon.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


When I was in school, and television was black and white, we watched spellbound as Russian tanks rolled into Budapest.  The people of Hungary had dared to demonstrate for democracy and freedom.  The Russians crushed them.  We all saw.  It was 1956.  We watched again when President Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate, faced the cameras of the world and said "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall". It was 1987. His speech was direct, without threat.  It was hortatory, commanding.  The President was backed by the moral authority of his conviction, shared by leaders of the Western World.  Today we are helpless - an unfamiliar plight in the free world.  We watch as Russia prepares to crush Ukraine.  The Ukrainian army is on full alert.  Will they be sent into a box canyon to their slaughter?  The West has squandered its authority.  We are morally bankrupt.  Who will stand and defy such aggression.  Watch President Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate.  Watch, and weep.