Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sweet Music, Evil Hair, and Giant Boobs

Anyone with enough internet savvy and free time to be reading my blog probably already knows about Pandora Radio. But just in case you don't, lemme tell ya: It's COOL!

Pandora is not like earlier forms of internet radio where you had to listen to whatever the station was broadcasting at the time. The way it works is that you tell Pandora a song or artist that you like, and she creates a station that plays similar music, including bands that you might not know about. It's a good way to discover new music that you'll like. You can't control when a specific song is played, because that would violate licensing stuff, but Pandora does put the station's "founding" song or artist into the playlist every so often. You can create as many stations as you have moods, and they'll be saved in your account so you can tune in any time from any computer.

I don't know how they chose the name "Pandora". Maybe it's after the Mythological Pandora... [Quoting from the Encyclopedia Mythica]:

In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman on earth. Zeus ordered Hephaestus, the god of craftsmanship, to create her and he did, using water and earth. The gods endowed her with many talents; Aphrodite gave her beauty, Apollo music, Hermes persuasion, and so forth. Hence her name: Pandora, "all-gifted". When Prometheus stole fire from heaven, Zeus took vengeance by presenting Pandora to Epimetheus, Prometheus' brother. With her, Pandora had a jar which she was not to open under any circumstance. Impelled by her natural curiosity, Pandora opened the jar, and all evil contained escaped and spread over the earth. She hastened to close the lid, but the whole contents of the jar had escaped, except for one thing which lay at the bottom, and that was Hope.

(Apparently one of the first evils to escape from the box was really bad 1980s hair, which instantly afflicted Pandora.)

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Of course it could be that Pandora Radio's creators just picked Pandora as an exotic and sexy sounding name. They wouldn't have been the first to do so. In the 1990s, "Pandora Peaks" was the stage name of an adult entertainer famous for having breasts the size and shape of soccer balls.

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Heh heh. This should up my hit count.

Friday, December 28, 2007

National Park Good, Condos Bad

For all its squiggly rivers and bays, and its miles and miles of shoreline, Hampton Roads has few places for the public to access the water. The waterfront all seems to be usurped by the military, industry, and wealthy homeowners. Where parks do exist, they are often regulated by strict covenants forbidding pretty much everything that involves getting out of your car. For instance, the Colonial Parkway has beautiful "park and look" beaches on the York and James Rivers, but officious rangers will bust your butt if you try to canoe or windsurf there.

Yet there IS hope! Right now we have an opportunity to get a fantastic waterfront park established right in the middle of Hampton Roads, at Fort Monroe.



Of course every unscrupulous developer from here to Timbuktu is slavering over the site, and unless those of us who want a park act fast, the greedy sobs will suck it all up for themselves. See the attached letter from the Fort Monroe National Park Foundation and send them some $$ if you can spare it.

Thanks.

This is a special appeal from the Fort Monroe National Park Foundation, a nonprofit educational foundation formed by leaders of the separate and earlier established Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park (CFMNP.org). The foundation has commissioned -- and, with an initial stake contributed by foundation board members, has begun paying for -- a Hampton Roads regional waterfront parkland study by the Trust for Public Land. These respected national experts are already at work. The study will be vital for Fort Monroe's future, but it costs $15,000. We are asking for your IMMEDIATE HELP in raising the balance. Not one cent of your contribution would go to overhead or staff; we cover overhead, and we have no paid staff. Please help us by mailing a check as indicated at the bottom of this message.

Almost a half-century ago, our nation made a National Historic Landmark out of Fort Monroe, a peninsula nearly ten times the size of the moated fortress that it surrounds. We believe this entire Old Point Comfort peninsula, with four centuries in the public domain and going back to the origins of our nation, is precious in two fundamentally intertwined ways: historically and as a unique and scenic waterfront site lying exactly at the confluence of the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads harbor in the geographic center of the region, featuring over three hundred acres of green space.

Others, however, perceive most of the open space of this National Historic Landmark as precious merely in a narrow, short-term financial sense. Virginia's 18-member Fort Monroe Authority (officially the Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority, often called the "FMFADA") has the power to sell off parts of Fort Monroe piecemeal, privatizing land that has been publicly owned for 400 years.

That's why an expert regional analysis is needed as to whether Virginia can afford to lose to development this precious open space, with its spectacular water views and two-mile promenade on the Chesapeake Bay. Public access to waterfront land is an important issue for the 1.6 million residents of Hampton Roads, and that issue intertwines in a fundamental way with the issue of preserving the National Historic Landmark for all Americans.

Yet no one has actually looked at how Fort Monroe figures in the issue of waterfront park space in Hampton Roads. So we commissioned a formal study by the Trust for Public Land (http://www.tpl.org/) -- a "national, nonprofit, land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, community gardens, historic sites, rural lands, and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come."

The completed study will be delivered to both Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Preston Bryant, who chairs Virginia's Fort Monroe Authority, and Governor Tim Kaine, who has the power to act on whatever the authority recommends concerning Fort Monroe's future.

All of the foundation's board members have spent substantial personal sums supporting efforts to educate the public regarding Fort Monroe's great value and potential. Despite that effort, we still need help from friends of Fort Monroe. The foundation has approval from the Commonwealth of Virginia to solicit funds, is operating in conformance with Section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code, and expects approval by the IRS as to tax-exempt status with respect to donations.

Please make checks payable to "Fort Monroe National Park Foundation" and send to:
Treasurer
Fort Monroe National Park Foundation
P.O. Box 097
Fort Monroe
VA 23651

Your assistance in securing this parkland study will help ensure an appropriate future for the national treasure that we all cherish. Ensuring that future is a once-in-400-years opportunity.

Please send any comments by reply e-mail, or enclose them with your check -- and please feel free to forward this message to any individuals or organizations that might be interested to know about this opportunity to help.

Thank you very much.

FORT MONROE NATIONAL PARK FOUNDATION
Henry O. Malone, President, and Louis L. Guy, Jr., Treasurer

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Poisonous Plants and Family Fun

Christmas is an interesting time. Young adults returning home are re-integrated into their families, and reminded, more often than not, just how crazy their families are. Fortunately, my family is crazy in a loving and entertaining way. I snapped this photo around the lunch table the other day.

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My mom's parents (foreground) are in their 90s, but still absolutely sharp. That can be a problem, though, because we can't hide any dirt or interior decorating imperfections from Grandma, who has a college degree in home economics (really!). My mom (clutching coffee mug) is a hyperactive dynamo, who insures that our days are full of activity and confusion. I.e. right now everyone is running around getting things ready for a dinner party, to which Mom has invited everyone she knows on the island (it should be fun). Uncle Tom and Aunt Mary Garland (back of table) do their best to adapt their quiet, organized natures to our hectic ways. My dad, in the green shirt at the end of the table, bears the brunt of the family stress and converts it into humorous grumpiness and industry. His sleeves are constantly rolled up because he is suffering from Toxicodentron striatum poisoning acquired by touching the potent poison ivy relative three weeks ago in Venezuela. He says even the softest shirt now feels like burlap on a raw wound. My sister (not pictured) is perfectly at home in the chaos, able to talk at 1000 words per minute to three people at once. Her husband Joonas (dark hair) deals with our family by living nocturnally and sleeping all afternoon. I haven't seen him yet today.

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My own strategy is to be very passive, and to escape frequently for windsurfing, beach walks, or computer work. Yesterday I got a great session in with a 6.9 sail and 114 liter board. It was a lot more relaxing than Friday's intimidating, washing-machine conditions, and I was able to practice riding both upwind and downwind on a wave while on the same tack.

Despite our often-divergent agendas, our family managed to unify last night for dinner in Charleston, and to watch "The Golden Compass". The movie was really good. A lot better than I thought it would be.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Dispatch from Edisto Island

Ahh, the holidays are here and the Douglass family is back together again at the Edisto beach house in South Carolina. The big news this year is that my sister Anna and her husband Joonas are going to have a baby. Little "Ayla Ojanen" is due in March. Judging by the kicking that she is doing, Ayla will be feisty like her mom.

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I've got my own selfish agenda going here this year, too, with ambitions to windsurf a lot and finish up some scientific papers. Today a big Northeaster blew in, churning steep brown waves and pushing a river-like sideshore current. I was pretty scared but knew I had to at least TRY it.

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So I donned my geeky orange helmet and ran out through the shorebreak to catch a ride on my 5.2 and 77 liter board.

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It was sailable, but they were the kind of conditions where I couldn't relax enough to really enjoy myself.

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The big waves were psyching me out.

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So I called it quits after just two runs.

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Tomorrow the wind is supposed to be a little lighter, the weather a little warmer, and angle a little more favorable for the sheltered launch down towards the inlet. So maybe it will be a dance with the ocean instead of a beating by it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Beautiful Board for Sale

**UPDATE 12/29 - SOLD IT If you came here looking for used windsurfing gear in the US or Canada, try the free classifieds section of iwindsurf.com **

I'm selling a 1995 Mistral Edge slalom board for $95. It's ultra fast and it's in good condition, but it's sort-of redundant with my other boards and I don't have room to keep it.

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It's 268 x 54.5 cm and has 92 liters volume. It should work with sails from about 4.0 - 6.6 and wave, freeride, or slalom fins from 22 - 32 cm. I'm including a 28 cm freeride fin (powerbox). The footstraps are nice, adjustable DaKine straps.

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It comes with a mast base and extension for the adjustable mast track, but also fits standard mast bases.

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The bottom is flat with a low rocker and just a slight vee in the tail for the ultimate speed and efficiency. The narrow shape and tail help it crank tight jibes.

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Contact me if you want it. I'll update this post when it's sold.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Statistics Hell

Happy Holidays from Statistics Hell. I've been here for about a week now, being passed around from one demon to another. My first tormenter was the late Carlo Emilio Bonferroni (pictured).

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He laughed hysterically as I struggled to perform numerous, detailed, statistical tests, knowing that the more tests I did, the more his devious "Bonferroni adjustment" would steal from their precious significance.

Next to savage my soul was Sas, the statistical software monster. She lured me in with promises of her power, but after extracting from me a great penance, she spurned my questions and threw me into the fires of frustration.

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I slapped and rolled, but the flames engulfing my body only burned higher. "All is lost!" I screamed in desparate agony. But then I felt a soothing hand touch my shoulder and the flames flickered out. I turned around and looked into the eyes of a bearded, benevolent savior. It was George Gilchrist from the William and Mary Biology Department. "Your advisor told me you were hurting. I'm here to help you. Send me your data and I'll solve EVERYTHING." Overcome with relief, I put all my faith in Gilchrist.

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I waited in Statistics Purgatory until word came from Gilchrist, "I've done it. I've found the solution..." I felt myself rising towards a beautiful light, and heard the beginnings of harp music. Then Gilchrist's visage darkened as he added, "But to solve your problem you must use R!" With that he cast the great, leaden R around my neck and sent me tumbling once more into the depths. "MWAH HA HA" cackled my false savior as I fell, "It will take you all of eternity to learn R, for it is Satan's own statistics software!"

So here I am and here I'll stay, in Statistics Hell, forever.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

75 Degrees of Freedom

It seems like every year around Christmas or New Years, Virginia gets some FREAK warm weather. Case in point: today it was 75 degrees and windy.

Paul Richardson, Sam Lake, and I knew it was coming yesterday and made plans to "adjust" our work schedules. We met at Carmine Island at 9 am this morning to catch the WSW breeze. It was gusty as usual, but held around 15 knots for an hour or so. Paul rode my Kona with a 5.8 m sail and got some fast runs and good learning experiences. I used a 6.6 m sail on a 92 liter Mistral Edge (pictures), then switched boards to a 114 liter Fanatic Skate when the wind lightened up. Sam flew a 12 m kite and got some big jumps.

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We all got our daily requirements of vitamin D and adrenaline. Then the wind died around 11 am so we packed up and went back to work. :)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Blasphemous Bears

America was appalled when Sudanese extremists called for the death of a teacher who had allowed a teddy bear to be named “Mohammed”. We rightly noted that their murderous intentions were a horrific overreaction to what was, at most, a trivial gaffe.

If there was a general lesson to be learned from that ridiculous episode it was, “You shouldn’t freak out over any little thing that you can construe as an insult to your religion.” But obviously many Americans missed that broader lesson, because now WE are freaking out over silly bears; the ones in the new fantasy movie, “The Golden Compass”.



It’s not the bears, per se, that have people boycotting the film. It’s the fact that the movie is based on a book by an atheist author, and the plot pits the good guys against a big, bad religion.

Ok. First of all, who cares if the author is an atheist? Watching something written by an atheist won’t make you an atheist if you don't want to be an atheist. Second of all, the movie doesn’t imply that religion itself is bad, just that oppressive, corrupt, state-sponsored religion is bad. Do the people who are making a big show of being offended by the film actually think that oppressive, corrupt, state-sponsored religion is GOOD? I doubt it. So if you ask me, they should lay off the movie, and get to work making sure their own religions don’t become oppressive, corrupt, and state-sponsored.

Grrr…

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Admirals Whip the Baby Penguins

I went to an ice hockey game last night for the first time. The minor league Norfolk Admirals beat the Scranton Penguins (aka the Baby Penguins) at the Scope Arena. It was COOL!

I have to say I never really "got" hockey before. I mean, I couldn't understand how such a weird, specialized, arena-dependent sport that so few people ever actually play (especially in the South) could be so popular professionally.

But now I get it. You don't have to have ever played ice hockey to appreciate the awesome SPECTACLE of it. The speed, the grace, the nonstop action and outbursts of violence (see video). It's like nascar, boxing and ballet all rolled into one. Plus they pump awesome rock music through the arena whenever there's a down moment, and the crowds are really rowdy and energetic.



This particular game was good, too. The Admirals and the Penguins pushed and pulled and really tested both their defense and offenses. Their scores stayed within one point until the last few seconds of the game. The Admirals were up 4-3 but the Penguins were charging hard in an all-out effort to score a goal and force a shoot-out finish. Their goalie joined the crowd down at the offensive end with just a second or so to go, but then Norfolk got the puck and shot a wild one at the empty goal from way down at the opposite end of the ice. It went in! With just one one-hundredth of a second on the clock Norfolk had iced their victory cake and really humilated the Penguins. Heh heh.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Global Warming: Dubya's View

Global warming is no joke, but Will Ferrell's Dubya impression is hillarious.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Downwinder

Yesterday was the first "downwinder" that I ever did on purpose. Sam Lake and I started out at Carmine Island, a secret, semi-private beach access about 3 miles up the York River from VIMS and the Coleman Bridge.

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The wind seemed really strong so I rigged a 5.2 m sail and put it on my 77 liter board. But it started to lighten up a bit by the time I got out, and I was struggling to stay planing. So I went back to shore and put a 6.9 on my 114 liter board, thinking "better to overdo it than underdo it". Going big did the trick, so Sam and I left Carmine Island and started our journey. He got some big jumps in the smooth, shallow water on the North side of the river. I couldn't go all the way over there because my fin would touch the bottom so I stayed more out toward the channel. The wind continued to drop from the time we launched, going from an average of about 18 knots to 12 knots or less. I started planing only intermittently, and Sam pulled way ahead. But then when the wind got REALLY light and gusty, his kite dropped out of the sky, and I shlogged past him while he was walking the last couple hundred meters to VIMS beach. Windsurfing wins again! :)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Seeing Red

I knew it was coming. All the forecasts agreed; it would blow like hell on Monday, December 3rd. A powerful cold front was crunching down from Canada, sure to spin screaming West winds across the East coast. The iwindsurf forcast was saturated with red, meaning 20+ knot winds covering the entire region. Yes!

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I didn't mind working on Sunday, knowing I'd play hookey when the wind came. This morning it came. The bare branches outside my office window gyrated wildly, while the air vents on the roof howled and moaned, challenging my best efforts at concentration. Somehow I got a few things done, and stayed through the noon-time biological sciences seminar (I hate to miss free cookies and drinks). I met briefly with my advisor to discuss some statistics stuff, then ducked out to hit the beach. Perfect timing; the tide in the York River channel had just turned against the wind, jacking up whopper swells. I tried to figure out whether the wind was super strong or ridiculously strong, which would determine whether I used my tiny 4.2 sail or my miniscule 3.5 sail.

4.2 was the call, and it worked out great. I felt just like I was in the Columbia River Gorge; another spot where wind going against the current creates beefy swells (see vintage video).



No other windsurfers were on the York River today, but I saw some kiteboarders on the beach at Yorktown and blasted over to check 'em out. It was my friend Paul Dovel and some of his buddies. Paul had given up for the day after getting "lofted" dangerously near a rock bulkhead by the gusty winds. Another guy went out for a while with a very small kite and alternated between sinking and getting teabagged by gusts. Kiters around here seem to have a lot more bad days than good days, which reinforces my decision to stick with windsurfing for now.

Tomorrow the wind is supposed to be a moderate yellow-orange. I wasn't going to sail, but Sam, another kiter friend, called me with plans to do a "downwinder" to VIMS beach from an upwind spot. I've never done a downwinder before. It's more of a kiteboarding thing than a windsurfing thing because it's harder for kiteboarders to stay upwind. But anyway, I'm excited to see how it goes and you know I'll write about it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Down-Low on Eelgrass

You might have heard that Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay is polluted and overfished. It's true, but there's more going on than that. The Bay's whole STRUCTURE is changing as it loses oyster reefs and eelgrass beds. The analogous situation on land would be total leveling of all our mountains and forests. Yikes! Unfortunately, most people don't realize how huge the change is because they can't see it. I want to spread the message about what's happening with eelgrass, in particular, because it would be truly tragic to lose it entirely.

Fishermen and windsurfers call it weed, but eelgrass (species name Zostera marina) is actually not a simple, algal seaweed. It's a seagrass, an evolutionary descendent of complex land plants with real leaves and roots. Eelgrass' roots let it live on soft sand and mud, creating a structural habitat where there would otherwise be nothing. The species Zostera marina is widespread in the Northern Hemisphere but is at its Southern limit in Virginia and struggles during our hot summers. In other parts of its range, like the clear waters of California's Channel islands, it grows deep down where you have to scuba dive to get to it. I showed this picture in a talk I gave at the Western Society of Naturalists meeting, not knowing who the random diver was. It turned out to be a guy in the audience!

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In the cool, damp Pacific Northwest, eelgrass can survive being exposed to the air at low tide. I remember seeing eelgrass on the sand flats when I was a kid digging for razor clams in Birch Bay, Washington.

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In Chesapeake Bay, eelgrass is confined to the narrow area just below the low-tide line. Here, Matt Whalen from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science is pushing a net to catch crabs and stuff living in the grass.

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The diagram below shows why eelgrass can only inhabit a narrow depth range in the current Chesapeake Bay.

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Basically, the water is too murky for eelgrass to grow down deep, and it's too hot for it to grow really shallow. It wasn't always like that, though. Before the middle 20th century the water was clearer and eelgrass was able to grow down deeper, covering a much greater portion of the Bay.

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What makes the water murky? It's a couple different things. Algae in the water (aka phytoplankton) turn it greenish and block out much of the light. Dirt in the water (aka suspended sediment) makes it a muddy brown and blocks out still more light. As a final insult, algae called "epiphytes" grow directly on top of the eelgrass and steal whatever light is left.

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Human activities on land can result in more algae and dirt in the water. Sewage and runoff muddy the water directly with the sediment they contain, but also make the water murky indirectly by fertilizing algae. When algae run wild from exessive fertilization, it's called "eutrophication". Besides making the water murky for seagrass, eutrophication is responsible for "Dead Zones" where rotting algae remove all the oxygen from the water and make it uninhabitable for fish and crabs.

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On top of that, the effects of global warming on eelgrass are already starting to be felt. There is always a bit of a decline in eelgrass during the hottest part of the summer, but in 2005 it really got hammered by an unprecedented number of days of water temperatures over 30 degrees celsius. The data below are from monitoring that VIMS does at Goodwin Islands, a nearby nature reserve that used to be surrouned by eelgrass beds, but now has just a few bits left (dark coves on the Southeast side). The red box highlights where the hot summer knocked out eelgrass. Though it came back in 2006 at Goodwin Islands, other spots in the Bay still haven't recovered.

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I've been concentrating on the bad news, but there are some hopeful things I should mention. For example, some animals in the bay might be able to help eelgrass recover. Oysters are filter feeders that clean and clarify the water. They used to be so abundant in the bay that they formed massive reefs, and their collective filtration significantly improved water quality. If we could bring them back to that level, they would reduce the impact of the excess sediment and nutrients that human society dumps into the water.

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Another group of animals is important as well; the little bug-like things that eat epiphytes, the algae that grow on top of eelgrass blades. Some recent experiments have shown that these bugs are just as important to the health of eelgrass as is clean water.

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That brings up an interesting question- what controls the abundance of the algae-eater bugs? We know that they're connected to other animals in the bay through the food-chain, so it's possible that changing the abundance of big fish could indirectly affect the abundance of algae-eaters, with serious consequences for eelgrass.

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With all these different things affecting eelgrass, what should we do to save it? Well, I think we should try a diversified strategy. On land we should try to limit urban sprawl and preserve as many forests and wetlands as possible to keep dirt and excess nutrients from entering the bay. We can advocate for better farming practices so farms don't release as much fertilizer and sediment, and we can eat less meat so we don't need as much farmland in total. It will also help to have more trees and natural vegetation around houses, roadsides, and streams. In the water, we should make protecting and restoring oysters a number 1 priority, even if that means stopping all oyster harvesting and shifting to oyster aquaculture to provide oysters for eating. As for the algae-eating bugs, we need to learn more about the Chesapeake Bay food chain to find out the best way to protect them. Last but not least, we need to stop and reverse global warming. That means conserving energy, driving less, recycling, and voting smart. If we do all this, the future Chesapeake Bay may regain the eelgrass beds and oyster reefs of it's pre-20th century glory. :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I Hate You, Zachary Ness

When an unlisted or 800 number shows up on my cell phone it's always the same thing...
"This message is for Zachary Ness. We are a collections company. Please contact us regarding your outstanding debts..."

I always call back and tell them I'm not Zachary Ness. (Which is probably exactly what I would do if WAS Zachary Ness.) But eventually I get another call, from another collections company, trying to chase down the rascal.

I don't know if he swiped my phone number off an old bill or something he found, or if he just fabricated it randomly and it happened to be mine. This afternoon I did a google search and found a listing for Zachary Ness in Mathews, Virginia, which is just up the road from Gloucester. I called the number but it was defunct, of course. I wonder if that was the guy, and now he's on the run? I also tried to contact this Zachary Ness on myspace to see if he might be the one.

Although I haven't seen the real Zachary Ness, I have done my best to reconstruct his image based on the information I have, such as his evilness (below).


So if any of you readers know this man, tell him to pay his stupid debts and to stop being such a fart-face.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Retrospective

I am thankful for my good friends Russ and Candy, who hosted a wonderful thanksgiving dinner for me and some other "orphans" in our group of friends. I just walked home from their apartment, arms loaded with tupperwares of leftovers, under the beautiful full moon. Leaves of the tall oak trees were whispering in a cool Northwest wind, sweeping away today's blessedly warm weather. (I am also thankful for 20 fabulous knots of Southwest breeze that allowed me to windsurf at Messick Point this afternoon with my 5.2 sail.)


All through the day I've been reflecting on past Thanksgivings and some of the nice memories I have accumulated...

The first one that I remember was ages ago in deep, dark Olympia, Washington. We had friends visiting from Seattle. I can't recall exactly who was there, but they were from what we call the "playgroup"; a close-knit network of 6 or 7 liberal yuppie families who bonded when they all had babies around the same time. The playgroup stayed together and became like an extended family as the kids grew up. Anyway, that Thanksgiving there was a rare, early snowstorm and the power went out at our house. I remember my folks cooking stuff on the woodstove, and us eating by candlelight while the snow piled up outside. It was a really cozy, nice feeling.

Other Thanksgivings growing up also tended to involve the playgroup, and/or our only relatives in the area; my Aunt Laura Jean and Uncle Craig in Seattle. Sometimes we'd go to Seattle, sometimes they would come down to Olympia. It was always an adventure to see the special friends and relatives who I didn't usually get to hang out with. The kids' table, always in a basement or a backroom, tended to get pretty rowdy at those reunions.

One of the coolest Thanksgiving traditions that was developed when I was a kid was the post-Thanksgiving, extended-overnight trip to the Winstead's beach cabin on Hood Canal. Nadia Winstead was close to my age, but since I was kind of immature and shy around girls, I usually hung out with Alex, who was a couple years younger than me. We went around like brothers, exploring the beach, the logging roads, and the Dosewallips River delta (picture), where pink salmon would run, seals would splash, elk would graze, and eagles would swoop. When I learned to scuba dive in highschool I would dive with my dad off the Winstead's beach and collect a bunch of dungenese and red rock crabs in a bag. The water was equally cold all year so it was no worse diving in November.


At college in Texas I never made it home for Thanksgiving. But when I was a freshman I saved my money from working the library desk to fly out and visit my long-distance infatuation in Charlottesville, Virginia. Needless to say it was a giddy, exciting time. I remember walking blissfully with so and so around the UVA campus and being impressed with a massive ginkgo tree, whose perfect, yellow leaves had carpeted acres of lawn.


The year after that was not my favorite Thanksgiving. I hung out with some people who I didn't know well at the dormitory advisor's house on campus. Oh, well. The weirdest Thanksgiving ever was the next year when I went to my roommate's friends' house in the suburbs of Houston. It was a giant McMansion with enormous pickup trucks and SUVs in the driveway and a pool in the backyard with a fake rock waterfall that had red lights in it so it looked like a volcano. The woman of the house had frozen, news-anchor hair and big, gold earings, and she wore a tight, zebra-striped shirt. The man of the house, who had made his fortune marketing life rafts for oil rigs, was recovering from a multiple mole-removal operation, and his bald head was covered in band-aids. We deep-fried two huge turkeys, even though there weren't enough people there to eat even one. The giant TV stayed on during dinner.


The furthest from home I ever was on Thanksgiving was senior year of college studying tropical biology in Costa Rica. We must not have made a big deal of the holiday there, because I don't remember at all what we did. We probably ate black beans and rice and fried bananas because that's pretty much all we ever ate for every meal.


In grad school I started a new Thanksgiving tradition of driving down to South Carolina to see my Grandmama and Aunt Mary Garland. (I feel bad that I didn't make it down this year, but I'll be seeing my SC loved ones for Christmas in a couple weeks.) One time I brought Russ with me, and my relatives loved him so much that I had to step-up my good-grandson charm to make sure they wouldn't trade me in for him. When my folks built their beach house in Edisto Island I started bringing my windsurfs down with me to enjoy some slightly-warmer-than-Virginia fall sailing. The first time I ever sailed a shortboard in the ocean was at Edisto in Thanksgiving 2003. Out away from shore I saw northern gannett flying.


And all that brings me back to here. I'm lucky to have had 28 Thanksgivings full of family, friends, and cool nature experiences. That's a lot to be thankful for.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Goofy Album Covers

I'm sure this has been circulated and recirculated around the internet, but I think these unintentionally hillarious album covers (link) are good enough to share again.

Here's an example.


And here are yet more ridiculous covers (link).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Schmoozing in Ventura Beach

I just got back from the annual meeting of the Western Society of Naturalists. It was in Ventura Beach, California - How cool is that?


Any type of nature research is welcome at WSN, but the meeting has a strong, de facto bias towards marine biology. Likewise, studies from all over the world are welcome, but most presenters come from California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, or Hawaii. There were a few folks from the East Coast there, but Matt Whalen (pictured) and I were the only reprentatives from VIMS**.


Matt came to give a poster presentation (picture) and to check out grad schools, and I came to to give a talk and check out post-docs. So we were on, like, parallel missions. To convey the gist of what kind of science we were talking about, here are the titles and abstracts our presentations:

DIAGNOSING A DECLINING ECOSYSTEM: SURVIVAL OF THE LAST CHESAPEAKE BAY EELGRASS BEDS DEPENDS ON A TENUOUS BALANCE OF BIOTIC AND ABIOTIC FORCES. By James G. Douglass and J. Emmett Duffy. "Burgeoning nutrient and sediment inputs from development, in concert with diminution of filter-feeding oysters, have severely reduced water quality in Chesapeake Bay. Apparently in response, formerly extensive eelgrass (Zostera marina) beds have shrunken to low levels. The remnant beds may now be vulnerable to other negative influences, including climate change and food web alteration. We examine eight years of field monitoring data from a surviving eelgrass bed to determine if the dynamics of the community are consistent with hypothesized modes of top-down and bottom-up control. We show evidence of top-down control of invertebrate grazers by predators, which could link eelgrass health with fisheries activity. However, we also find that every part of the biological community in the eelgrass bed has close, direct links with seasonal and interannual changed in the abiotic environment, suggesting that climate change could have an even stronger influence on the ultimate persistence or extirpation of eelgrass in Chesapeake Bay."

MANGLED MUTALISM: INTERPRETING DIRECT CONSUMPTION OF EELGRASS BY MESOGRAZERS IN CHESAPEAKE BAY. By Matt A. Whalen, James G. Douglass, and J. Emmett Duffy. "Eelgrass (Zostera marina) provides structural habitat for taxa ranging from small fouling organisms to economically important crabs and fish. However, eelgrass beds in the Chesapeake Bay are declining, along with the important ecosystem services they provide. Mesograzers, small crustaceans that consume epiphytes, are believed to be critical to eelgrass health by preventing algal overgrowth. Despite the putative benefit of mesograzers to eelgrass, evidence from both field monitoring and mesocosm experiments suggests that, under some conditions, mesograzers harm eelgrass by grazing directly on shoots. We examine the effect of season and the abundance of particular mesograzer species on the degree of direct grazing on eelgrass, and evaluate the potential relationship between overgrazing and eelgrass dieback events."

Matt and I were helped by our friend Lindsey who used to work at VIMS and who is now a grad student at UC Santa Barbara. Lindsey selflessly shouldered the challenging role of coordinating our professional connections, as well as our local transportation and entertainment.


I have to say, marine biology may not be the most lucrative vocation, but darn if we scientists don't know how to have a good time. Three straight days of lectures and presentations sounds boring, but being surrounded by hundreds of sparkling, soulful people who really care about this blue planet made it wonderful. Also, there were some mind-altering substances involved; Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Starbucks Coffee, and fast food from the In-N-Out Burger across the street. My pal Pablo Munguia somehow found time between the meetings to create a mini-documentary dramatizing his labmates' search for a west-coast starfish called Pisaster (below).



Oh... and as a bonus while I was in California I got to catch up with Joachim Pfieffer, a Virginia windsurfing buddy who just happened to be on an extended business trip in Santa Barbara. I love those small-world moments.

**Not counting VIMS alumnus and uncanny Will Farrell look-alike Dr. Kevin Hovel, now ensconced at San Diego State University. Who is who?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Noel

I'm not sure what I think about the National Hurricane Center's new practice of using obscure, politically correct, often gender-ambiguous names for storms. The latest one is particularly confusing; Noel, masculine, pronounced "knoll", not "nowell". Sheesh. Storms are problematic enough for a windsurfer- Does one welcome the wind with excitement, or somberly mourn the destruction and death it may visit upon others?

Noel as a Nor'Easter-


Anyway, as tragic as Noel was for parts of the caribbean, its conversion to a "Nor'Easter" storm off the Virginia coast brought perfect windsurfing breezes to Chesapeake Bay. Yesterday afternoon some other sailors and I scored 25-35 knot NE winds at Factory Point. That meant I got to use my 3.5 sail for the second time ever. Yowza! Today as the storm moved North to New England (sick movie from MA) the wind in our area shifted to NW, favoring my backyard launch; the VIMS beach access at Gloucester Point.


Doug Lord (pictured) drove down from Williamsburg to join me at the launch, and we ran into Mike Shaughnessy on the water, who had launched from the Yorktown side of the river. All of us were on sails around 5.0 in 20-25 knot winds and bright sunshine.


Funny how what was a disaster for some was a miracle for us.