Archive for April, 2005

Technology and psychology of flying

Saturday, April 30th, 2005

I must tell you about the flying experience I had today but I simply do not know how to explain it. There are adjectives that I could use to describe the feeling that I get when sitting in a small plane going 130 miles per hour. Exciting or thrilling are words that don’t fit. Seeing a hawk or a flock of pelicans winging below is thought provoking. My birding experience is one of looking up at the undersides. Speeding over their topsides isn’t the same kind of viewing because there is no time to register the details, simply the silhouette which, come to think of it, is about all I do from below anyway. Roads, rivers, ravines and other landmarks seem no longer real but become the features of maps.

However it is not what I viewed that made the flight notable. Think about it. Up in the air – comfortable within steel, plastic, aluminum, plexiglass, not flapping my arms but in flight nonetheless as if I was the bird. Fabulous! Mind boggling! Leonardo da Vinci and no doubt other earlier dreamers tried to figure out how to accomplish the feat. Comic strips and science fiction came up with individual flight machines but none seem to try to imitate the complexity of the bird-wing feather manipulation. And that doesn’t appear to make any difference. Once physicists understood how air flow influenced uplift, designers took us up in the air. I’m confident they will keep us there. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the money mongers preferred to develop the technology of air machines instead of war machines?

Life may be longer than you think

Tuesday, April 26th, 2005

Life expectancy has changed in the last 50 years. Think about your parents’ age. When my mother was 64 she died of complications of an earlier accident, of lack of knowledge of the human body, and of lack of confidence in the medical profession. I was 31 and never thought much about age. I expected to deal differently with 64 when I got there because I understood Mother’s history.

A friend named Ron at age 55 verbalized concern about having only a few more years to live. Why did he believe that, I asked? His father died at age 57 when Ron was in his teens and Ron fantasized his health so similar to his father’s that he expected to also have a heart attack by age 57. Several years passed and Ron was doing well – no heart tremors, no high blood pressure, no heart attack. I hope he relaxed. Maybe he simply wondered that he had made it past a major hurdle in his life.

He was not the first person I heard predict their life expectancy to be the same as their parents. But people have been living longer than their parents for the last century. Each generation had longer life spans than the previous one. I am well past 64 and expect to live to be 100. So I’ve gone from shrugging about age 64 to looking ahead much farther.

Don’t dwell on it, kids, but you will live longer than your parents. Is that scary or what?

Fingers no longer walk yellow pages

Tuesday, April 26th, 2005

The symbol of the fingers walking through the yellow pages of our telephone book is still used but it does not solicit the same magic that it once did. Remember when you really could go to the yellow pages and find a magic number. When you dialed the number you got real information because a real person answered and you could ask the one burning question that would solve an immediate problem.

Now my telephone offers the sweetest merry go round any hateful person could dream up. Know what I mean? First I’m asked to listen closely – by a non-person – to a menu because I’m cautioned that the menu has been recently changed, no doubt to further frustrate me. Then I’m directed to press 2 or 3 or 4 or many more if and when I decide which information I’m seeking. Well you know the routine.

Maybe I can decide which category I think might contain the information I seek. Wrong. Press 2 does not have any facts – given by another non-person – that appears to relate to my question. If it does it is shrouded in esoteric language that doesn’t match any common words in the question. If I have fifteen or more minutes to waste, or if I really really really need the information, I persevere. That does not mean the time results in actually getting the information I want.

The recording that answers my call probably saves the company money, at least the salary of the person who could simply answer my question in a heartbeat. Maybe I’m the only one who gets frustrated. I begin questioning my intelligence of paying for a telephone that offers no help to my important problems.

So my fingers walk to the keyboard of my computer. Programmers are smarter about what people – perspective customers – want than the cost-cutters who hide behind the front desks of corporate America.

Be careful of drawers

Monday, April 25th, 2005

Drawer – I searched a dresser drawer for my passport and wondered how the word drawer was spelled and why such a word?

Sometimes the English language amuses me beyond the ridiculous. Instead of having twenty words that mean snow in different forms as Eskimos do, our romance language takes a word and gives it twenty meanings that require special understanding of the context in which it is used.

Take the word drawer–

Is it one who draws? Such as draws liquor? Or draws designs? Or draws bills of exchange?

Is it a sliding box, opened by sliding out and closed by sliding in? (Out from where? Or in?)

Is it an article of clothing (plural) for the lower body? Drawers?

Maybe the researcher who tried to describe the word in all its glory was fanciful and was careful to include everything within thought so the meaning would be clear.

I hope the translation dictionaries for foreign languages are clear on context. Otherwise one could get into serious trouble by putting hands in the wrong drawers of the person to whom one visits. Or maybe not!

Kennewick man came from Japan?

Friday, April 22nd, 2005

The urge to explore. The desire to see what is beyond the mountain. What spurs people to look beyond the safety of their community?

Jon Turk agreed that Kennewick Man was not an ancestor of our own Columbia
Basin Natives. But where from if not an ancestor of the local Confederated
Tribes of the Umatillas? Turk thought about the ancient skeleton unearthed
in 1996, one which archeologists insisted was not of Native American descent
but more likely was a Caucasoid. Turk wondered if there could be another
origin. Could people have paddled across the North Pacific to reach the
Western Hemisphere?

Turk was obsessed to the point he decided to attempt the trip as if he were a Jomon, one of the known ancient peoples of Japan. He wanted to find out if the long trip in a primitive dugout canoe was possible with no supplies, just surviving on what he found along the way. He was hooked on the concept of traveling alone nearly 3,000 miles from Japan as the ancients might have. He would skirt around the North Pacific to points in Eastern Siberia and single handedly paddle a canoe to Alaska’s St. Lawrence Island.

Turk made his journey in two separate trips in 2000 and 2001. His first attempt failed when he hit a whirlpool and finally landed on an uninhabited island. He had no radio and couldn’t call for help. But he felt he had no choice but to continue deeper into his quest for answers about the origins of Kennewick Man.

This adventurer is not the first to fantasize about the wanderings of early peoples from continent to continent, across unknown waters, or following the shorelines around land masses. The Norse, Spanish, Portuguese, Italians, and Meriwether Lewis and William Clark blazed historic trails. James A. Mitchener and Louis L’amour left epic adventures of successful fiction. Maybe Jon Turk has an adventure to share on a real time basis: In The Wake Of The Jomon.

Pillow talk

Thursday, April 21st, 2005

Dean Martin croons:

Historians dig themselves in deep

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005

Tonight Gary Moulton put a new twist on the lives and legacy of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. If you don’t give a hoot about Lewis and Clark, Gary Moulton will be of no consequence to you. I, however, have been steeped in the Journals of Lewis and Clark Expedition for years and Moulton is the editor of the 13 volumes that myself and hundreds, maybe thousands of would be historians, have studied over and over so I was very impressed to know he was within my reach so to speak.

Moulton spoke without belaboring the journals themselves yet intrigued us all with his psychological incites of the men – the captains – as they lived after the expedition. Those men have been analyzed, examined, and probed to death and he feels that we shouldn’t judge them harshly. After all they were human beings.

It is fun – ironic really – to hear authors who make a handsome living from the captains’ exploits caution us for judging when they are the ones who brought up circumstances that require judgements in the first place. The captains may have been on their own in the wilderness while on the journey with only their heritage and training to guide them. Their dedication, courage, and stamina, which is the whole of their heroism took them through some harrowing experiences. They were in total command of the outcome of the group and took the action required. When they returned to

Remove trespassing elk from arid lands

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005

Nine hundred elk live at least part of their annual life cycle on a research area supposedly restricted to the study of ecology of arid lands.

I ruminate over the plight of those trespassing elk. In the distant
past elk roamed over much of the US as did Native Americans, which we
had no trouble restricting from widespread areas. The American elk is
a magnificent animal. A healthy adult male stands 5 feet high at the shoulders
and weighs up to one thousand pounds. Obviously the metabolism of that
roving mammal requires a proportionate amount of food. Care to estimate
how much?

Their favored food does not exist in lush stands on the Arid Lands Ecology (ALE) Reserve. Grass abounds but the brush they favor in winter exists in a few canyons fed by springs. In search of food this herd travels for miles over sensitive desert surface trampling the soil. The five inch hooves and weight of the elk are about the same as cattle that have been refused grazing rights for over fifty years.

Seventeen thousand acres were set aside in the 1970s by congressional action for study of the ecology of arid lands. Although not pristine the shrub-steppe habitat was free from grazing for half a century. Now it is open to grazing. Is that wise? Research funding is limited. Are researchers’ logic also limited? Obviously the outcome of the elk is not going to be decided by logic. Why has the long term vision for ALE changed in 35 years?

The elk have got to go.

Accumulate is a good word but a bad habit

Monday, April 18th, 2005

Accumulate – one of those awesome words to learn in second grade. In spelling I had to ask does it have one c or two? One m or two? The word means piling up of stuff, like mineral in the hot water tank, or plaque in the arteries, or information in reference books. Too bad common sense doesn’t pile up as easily.

For instance take the liquid soap containers. Aren’t they a joy to behold – pretty, colorful and loose? One pump and out comes a handful of soap, enough to scrub the hide of a full grown elephant. I blissfully wash it off my hands and down the drain the soap goes to accumulate in the drainpipes and eventually demand a call to roto rooter.

I dutifully fill the little box in my dishwasher with soap. That’s what the well is for isn’t it? Soap companies love it. Uses more of their products. It’s up to you to mop the suds when the machine overflows.

One thing I accumulate are books. I like them handy as references when I write. They overflowed my bookshelf even after I laid them down and stacked them. Finally I put them in boxes, in categories, and used them when I needed a reference. Then the boxes accumulated and were put into storage. I really lost track of the contents and the location. Not good.

Let public libraries store books to read. Let google dot com deliver esoteric facts about any subject I can think of.

Now that I have all this extra space what shall I accumulate?

Sacajawea, an Indian, ignored for 2 hundred years.

Monday, April 11th, 2005

I watched a video of the journey of Sacajawea and wondered about the
contents of the story when so little is historically known about the
young Shoshone girl. She has more statues in her honor adorning national
historic sites and parks than any other woman in the United States.
She was brought into fame by the epic journey of the Corps of Discovery
conceived by President Thomas Jefferson. Not that Jefferson foresaw
or expected the woman’s influence on the voyage. Nor did Sacajawea even
become noticed in the national scene until historians began to pick
at the journals of those men who opened the United States of America
from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans.

Few entries describe Sacajawea in the journals. Her bravery isn’t spoken
of as such, just mentioned that she pulled items from the river that
fell from an overturned boat. Clark mentioned that when her husband
beat her, Charbonneau was reprimanded for the act. Lewis cared for her
when she was ill for days with a malady he couldn’t explain or treat.
Several entries mentioned that Sacajawea dug for roots to feed herself
and members of the Corps. IF she was asked when she was born, none of
the Corps members would have understood the way she might have described
the month of her birth or the many moons that measured her years.

Sacajawea was assumed to be about sixteen years old when she was brought
into the fort at the Mandans. Why they assumed that there is little
evidence. The years between her capture by a marauding band and her
scrutiny by Captain Clark are filled by the understandings of women
of the Shoshone tribes which are as authentic as can be found. Because
it is no secret that Indian women did all food gathering and preparation,
all the work on the animal skins and carcasses for clothing, bedding,
and tools and all the hunting for uses of plants for the tribe, it follows
that Indians would seek out girls to be presented to wives as slaves
to ease the burdens of work – my historic insight.

Regardless of Sacajawea’s age when captured, she would have been well
schooled in all the work required by women of her tribe. And she would
have absorbed the genetic and cultural attitudes expected of women.
The desire to travel into the unknown with a newborn babe was no doubt
fueled by the hopes that she would find her lost tribe but would today’s
women contemplate such a venture?

Jean Baptiste Charbonneau was born to Sacajawea on February 11, 1805,
in the room next to the Captains Lewis and Clark at the fort they built
for the winter near the Mandans in what is now North Dakota. According
to Lewis the birth was a painful episode for Sacajawea, although he
had no experience attending a birthing so did he understand the normal
pain of childbirth. I doubt it.

The PBS production: "The Journey of Sacagawea" was put together
by historians who looked at the history of 1800’s and the life of the
Indians as they surmised it to be at the time. It is a good narrative
that helps us to admire Sacajawea, and more deeply, the culture of the
Native Americans as they lived with nature and shared with the invaders
because it was (and is) the source of life.