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Amusing Monday: Crack appears in Mexican desert

Monday, September 1st, 2014

For this week, let’s call it “Amazing Monday.” When I first saw this video, I thought it was a fake animation for a science fiction film. But it turns out that it could be the answer to a troubling riddle: What is dryer than a desert?

The crack might also be the result of erosion from either an underground or surface channel following an unusually heavy rain. Despite the attention in Mexican and U.S. news outlets, I have been unable to find a good explanation.

The crack is said to be about three-fourths mile long and up to 25 feet deep. Some nice close-in photos were posted on the website of Excelsior, a daily newspaper based in Mexico City. They show people standing next to the giant fissure. (When watching the video, it’s worth blowing it up to full screen.)

In a Washington Post story last week, reporter Joshua Partlow quoted a geologist at the University of Sonora as saying the crack was probably caused by pumping groundwater for irrigation:

“The chair of the geology department at the University of Sonora, in the northern Mexican state where this ‘topographic accident’ emerged, said that the fissure was likely caused by sucking out groundwater for irrigation to the point the surface collapsed.

“‘This is no cause for alarm,’ Inocente Guadalupe Espinoza Maldonado said. ‘These are normal manifestations of the destabilization of the ground.’”

I think the geologist’s comments were meant to quell fear and speculation that started running wild when the crack first opened. While it may not be cause for alarm, I can’t believe that a crack this size — which has cut off more than one roadway — can be considered a good thing. Nevertheless, it is fascinating, and I’d like to learn more about it.


Amusing Monday: Festivals as fleeting as sand

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Master sand sculptors from throughout the world have been stretching their imaginations this year at various sand-sculpting festivals where they’ve been putting their unique abilities on display.

“Inseminate” by Guy-Olivier Deveau of Quebec City, Canada, first place in the Master Sand Sculpting Competition in Hampton Beach, N.H. Photo courtesy of Hampton Beach

“Inseminate” by Guy-Olivier Deveau of Quebec City, first place in the Master Sand Sculpting Competition in Hampton Beach, N.H.
Photo courtesy of Hampton Beach Village District

In June, the 14th annual Master Sand Sculpting Competition in Hampton Beach, N.H., brought together a dozen amazing artists, including first-place winner Guy-Olivier Deveau from Quebec City, Canada. Deveau’s sculpture “Inseminate” (shown here) was done as a tribute to the recently deceased Swiss artist H.R. Giger, who helped create the creature in the movie “Alien,” according to festival organizers.

I am both amused and inspired by Carl Jara’s piece, “Putting Down Roots,” which depicts a friendly embrace between man and nature (second photo on this page). Jara, of Cleveland, Ohio, continues to impress me with his imaginary figures.

“Putting Down Roots” by Carl Jara of Cleveland, Ohio, third place Photo courtesy of Hampton Beach

“Putting Down Roots” by Carl Jara of Cleveland, Ohio, third place
Photo courtesy of Hampton Beach Village District

Tacoma’s Sue McGrew participated in Hampton Beach, creating a thoughtful piece she called “Mother’s Protection” (third on this page). For a full gallery of photos of the sand sculptures, visit the Hampton Beach visitors page or the Flickr page created for the event.

“Putting Down Roots” by Carl Jara of Cleveland, Ohio, third place Photo courtesy of Hampton Beach

“Mother’s Protection” by Sue McGrew of Tacoma
Photo courtesy of Hampton Beach Village District

I am sorry to learn that the Arts in Action festival held in Port Angeles for nearly a half-century will come to an end after this year’s event, Sept. 5-7.

The folks running the Port Angeles festival were no longer able to continue, and nobody stepped up to take it over, according to Doc Reiss, sand sculpture organizer.

“Forty-nine years is a good, long run,” Reiss told reporter Arwyn Rice of the Peninsula Daily News, who tells the history of the sand-sculpture competition and the decision to end it this year.

McGrew and Sandis Kondrats of Latvia will creates tribute sculptures this year in Port Angeles to recognize 10 years of master-level sand sculpting in the remote city on the Olympic Peninsula. I have been pleased to report on the event as an “Amusing Monday” feature since 2009:

Master-level sand sculpting also has come and gone from Federal Way, which just goes to show that these festivals are as ephemeral as the sand sculptures themselves.

In 2011, amateur photographer Flint Weiss of Maple Valley shot the Federal Way sculptures, then he told me why he loved them but was worried about their future. His words turned out to be prophetic:

“I do feel that art is enriching and that everybody is capable of producing some,” he wrote in an e-mail. “One of the things I like about sand sculpture is how solid and crisp everything looks, when it is really only made from sand.

“That makes sculptures like these feel somewhat improbable, making them all the more impressive. I also really enjoy the sheer artistry involved. While it’s easy for me (or any of us) to take a trowel to a pile of sand, it never looks anything like what these folks do.

“It’s sad,” he continued, “that this contest doesn’t get the public support it deserves. Given how much Western Washington loves both art and craftsmanship, it’s kind of surprising that the contest isn’t more popular.”

After three years in Federal Way, the World Championship of Sand Sculptures moved on to Atlantic City, N.J., as I reported in “Water Ways”:

Check out this year’s Atlantic City entries in a slide show created by Jordan Herelle.

In other areas, “Boston” magazine” covered the 2014 Revere Beach National Sand Sculpting Festival, which featured the theme “Stars and Stripes: A Tribute to Our Nation’s Armed Forces” to coincide with the 70th anniversary of D-Day. (Don’t miss the extended slide show at the bottom of the page.)

“My SA” in San Antonio covered the Texas SandFest in Port Aransas. See also Tim Burdick’s photos of the event.


Amusing Monday: Dolphin becomes friend with dog

Monday, August 18th, 2014

I have been intrigued by some unusual animal friendships, which I’ve reported here in Water Ways: a baby hippo and a 130-year-old tortoise, a cat and a crow, an orangutan and a hound, an elephant and a dog. See Amusing Monday, Nov. 12, 2012.

But somehow I missed the tantalizing story of a dolphin named Duggie and a dog named Ben on Tory Island, Ireland. The television show “National Geographic Wild” is now telling the story of this unusual friendship, which began in 2006.

That seems like a long time ago, and I’m trying to find out whether the friendship might still endure or whether the National Geographic people used old footage in their telling of the story.

I like the National Geographic clip (first video on this page), because it includes a discussion by Cesar Millan, known as “the Dog Whisperer.” But I have a greater appreciation for the inquisitive approach taken in an earlier production for BBC’s “Countryfile,” a program mostly about places in and around Ireland (second video).

Additional information was filled in by reporter Anita Guldera in The Independent. She tells us that Tory Islanders believe the female dolphin’s friendship with Ben came about after she lost her mate. It all started about the time a male dolphin washed up dead on the island.

I stumbled across the dolphin-and-dog story after someone emailed me a lovely video about a dolphin saving a dog from a shark attack. The video, called “Dolphin and Dog,” was put together by a Dutch woman named Ine Braat. I say the video was “lovely” because the music creates a mood around this dolphin-and-dog friendship. But it’s fiction, mostly based on clips from the movie “Zeus and Roxanne.”

You may wish to check out some of Ine’s other lovely compilations posted on her website.

Another story about a dog and a dolphin is a more gripping tale, because it involves a human whose life was in real danger. Lynn Gitsham of Carrickalinga, Australia, says she was rescued by a pod of dolphins after falling into the ocean while trying to get to her dog. Reporter Michelle Vella tells the story for Australia’s Seven West Television (below).


Amusing Monday: Orca surprises fishermen

Monday, August 11th, 2014

I’m on vacation this week, but I wanted to revisit a video I first presented in June of last year. We see fishermen playing a fish while a killer whale plays the fishermen. I interviewed the excited man in this video soon after the fishing trip to explain some of his comments. The video has now been viewed more than 1.2 million times.

Frank Sanders is an experienced hunting and fishing guide, yet he screamed with excitement when he reeled in his fishing line to find a killer whale at the other end.

The video, posted two weeks ago by Frank’s deckhand Charlie Barberini, has been viewed more than 800,000 times on YouTube. That doesn’t count the number of times people watched the original Facebook post and videos copied from the original.

The video has raised numerous questions, such as why Frank is showing his ring to the camera and looking for someone named Jason. I was able to reach Frank in Hawaii, where he was on a fishing trip, and he filled in some of the blanks.

Frank, Charlie and others were fishing for halibut near Ninilchik in Cook Inlet in Southern Alaska. They had seen a couple killer whales go by a few times but not close to the boat. I think Frank told me the orcas were eating sockeye salmon that were in the area. Suddenly, out of the depths, a killer whale appeared following the fish on his line.

You need only to see and hear the video to know how much excitement that generated.

Frank told me the orca did not appear to want the fish. It was playing with the fishermen in the boat, grabbing the fish, pulling the line out about 200 yards, then bringing it back. The whale circled the boat a few times, he said, tangling fishing lines played out from other poles. This went on for at least 10 minutes before the whale went on his way.

The whale, of course, had the strength to bite the fish through and take it away or snap the line any time he chose, Frank said. But it didn’t.

About his ring, Frank explained that he travels a lot for his business, Alaska Trophy Hunters. In fact, he is away from his wife about as much as he is with her, so he sends her hunting and fishing pictures from all over Alaska and displays his ring for her.

As for Jason, I didn’t get the full story, but I heard enough to understand that this, too, was an inside message. Jason is Frank’s best friend and the best man at his wedding. Jason was in a four-wheeler accident and suffered a severe brain injury. He was in a coma for a month but then was getting better. Jason set up a personal website on “Caring Bridge” to share information back and forth with his friends and family. Frank wanted Jason to understand that he was thinking about him during this adventure and was showing him a special bracelet they shared. Unfortunately, Jason suffered a stroke and may not pull through. (Update, June 24, 11 a.m.: I just received word from Frank this morning that Jason passed away yesterday.)

After the video was posted, Frank reportedly told reporter Lydia Warren of London’s Daily Mail:

“Fishing gets kind of repetitive after 18 years, but this is one of the most exciting things that has happened to me.”


Amusing Monday: Students relate to water with art

Monday, August 4th, 2014

Each year, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection holds a student art and poetry contest on the theme of water resources, including water conservation and wastewater treatment.

Betty Jin, grade 6-7, Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School, Bayside, N.Y.

By Betty Jin, grade 6-7, Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School, Bayside, N.Y. / NYC Department of Environmental Protection

This year’s contest attracted 580 entries among students from 68 schools in the region. All participants received a “Water Ambassadors” certificate, and 39 were named as this year’s “Water Champions.”

“The Water Resources Art and Poetry Contest is an engaging way to teach students about the infrastructure that supplies more than half the state’s population with clean drinking water and has helped dramatically improve the health of our waterways,” said DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd in a news release, which includes a list of the 39 winners.

I’ve chosen three of my favorites to show you on this page, but you can see all the entries on the Department of Environmental Protection Flickr page.

From the news release:

“DEP manages New York City’s water supply, providing more than one billion gallons of water each day to more than nine million residents, including eight million in New York City.

By Tasnim Ahmed, grades 10-12, Newcomers High School, Long Island City, N.Y.

By Tasnim Ahmed, grades 10-12, Newcomers High School, Long Island City, N.Y.

“The water is delivered from a watershed that extends more than 125 miles from the city, comprising 19 reservoirs and three controlled lakes. Approximately 7,000 miles of water mains, tunnels and aqueducts bring water to homes and businesses throughout the five boroughs, and 7,500 miles of sewer lines and 96 pump stations take wastewater to 14 in-city treatment plants.

“DEP has nearly 6,000 employees, including almost 1,000 in the upstate watershed.

“In addition, DEP has a robust capital program, with nearly $14 billion in investments planned over the next 10 years that will create up to 3,000 construction-related jobs per year. This capital program is responsible for critical projects like City Water Tunnel No. 3; the Staten Island Bluebelt program, an ecologically sound and cost-effective stormwater management system; the city’s Watershed Protection Program, which protects sensitive lands upstate near the city’s reservoirs in order to maintain their high water quality; and the installation of more than 820,000 Automated Meter Reading devices, which will allow customers to track their daily water use, more easily manage their accounts and be alerted to potential leaks on their properties.”

Miranda Torn, grades 4-5 , Blue School, downtown New York City

Miranda Torn, grades 4-5 , Blue School, downtown New York City


Amusing Monday: Baby turtles race for the sea

Monday, July 28th, 2014

The sand was smooth and still. Waves lapped at the distant shoreline. A sign, stuck in the sand, stated, “Do not disturb. Sea turtle nest.”

That was the scene on a beach in the Florida Keys for the past few weeks, as it was in June, when I posted a blog entry listing cameras that were capturing live action in bird nests as well as other wildlife locations. A quiet patch of sand was not much to look at, so I didn’t mention it.

On Friday, that patch of sand came to life, as you can see in the first video on this page. I thought it was time to share the brief action, as about 100 loggerhead turtles emerged from the sand and headed out to sea about 9 p.m. Check out the action in full-screen.

The camera on the beach uses infrared lights to capture the images, thus avoiding visible light that could confuse the young turtles. The project is supported by Save-A-Turtle, a volunteer non-profit group dedicated to the protection of rare and endangered sea turtles and their habitats in the Florida Keys.

Meanwhile, some of the young ospreys shown in their nests back in June have fledged, but there is still plenty of action in the nest at Missoula’s Riverside Health Care Center, where the camera is operated by the University of Montana. Check out the images in full-screen, high-definition while you can, because these growing chicks will soon be gone.

Another still-active osprey nest is operated by Chesapeake Conservancy on Maryland’s eastern shoreline.

The Puffin Cam at Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge in Maine is picking up some excited feeding activity at the nesting area, where experts are establishing a new colony of puffins after hunters wiped them out in the 1800s.

Brown bears are now feeding on salmon along Alaska’s Brooks River in Katmai National Park, according to bloggers on the site. Check out the live video below to see if you can spot a bear, including a subadult mentioned by observers.

You may wish to go back to the June 23 “Amusing Monday: A visit with wildlife via webcam” to see what other cameras are picking up activity. You can generally count on Pete’s Pond on Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana, Africa, for some exotic animals coming to the watering hole.



Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream


Amusing Monday: See Spot; See Spot splash

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Through the years, I’ve featured some surfing dogs in this “Amusing Monday” feature. While dogs are still surfing strong in various contests each year, I thought it would be nice to see some other doggy feats.

The first video player on this page is the Diving Dog competition at this year’s Western Regionals for the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge in Huntington Beach, Calif. The second video is the Fetch It Diving competition at the same event, which occurred on May 30 and 31.

The Incredible Dog Challenge, now in its 17th year, includes a slalom course for “pole weaving,” an agility course for large and small dogs and a freestyle flying disc event, in addition to diving and fetching. A good recap of the event is shown in the third video at the bottom of this page.

I suggest taking a closer look at some of these speeding-bullet dogs, shown in videos of the winning events. (Scroll down and click on “Western Regionals” for more options.) I understand that King TV Channel 5 will air events from the Western Regionals this Sunday at 10 a.m.

Winners from the Eastern Regionals, held in Atlanta in April, and winners from the Western Regionals will go on the compete at the National Championlship in September in St. Louis.

We can’t forget about the surf dogs. The Unleashed by Petco Surf Dog Competition was held July 13 in Imperial Beach, Calif. The page includes pictures of the winners. One of the better videos from that competition was put together by International Business Times of London.

Purina compiled some video clips to show surf dogs riding the waves at the Huntington Beach competition. Another good dog surfing video was offered by SoCal magazine.

Finally, for some high-resolution images of dogs in the surf, check out the slide show put together by The Telegraph of London with pictures by Joe Kalamar of AFP and Lucy Nicholson of Reuters.


Amusing Monday: Flushing out a Macklemore tune

Monday, July 14th, 2014

It’s a serious message, but now King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division hopes their humorous approach will get people thinking about the “F word.”

The word, of course, is “flushing,” and the county was given permission to borrow Macklemore’s catchy tune from “Thrift Shop” (warning: language) to bring the message home to people: Don’t flush anything down the toilet except human waste and toilet paper. Check out the first video player to see what the creative folks came up with.

The campaign, called “Flushing Awesome,” uses music and simple cartoon videos. King County officials hope it will get the message across better than previous warnings, which seem to have had little effect.

Another video, also shown on this page, is built around the song “One (Singular Sensation)” from the long-running Broadway play “Chorus Line.”

I understand the urge to flush things and get them out of sight, but I was not fully aware of this enormous problem until 1998. That’s when Bremerton City Councilman Carlos Montgomery talked about a giant “rag ball,” 2 to 3 feet wide and 30 feet long caught in Bremerton’s sewer system. Read the full story in the Kitsap Sun, April 1, 1998.

For other great toilet tunes, including “Don’t Flush the Baby (Wipes)” and “Dope in the Water,” check out the music of Steve Anderson of Portland’s Clean Water Services. You can listen to five of his sewer songs on my “Water Ways” entry from Dec. 19, 2011, which also features the holiday favorite, “O Christmas Grease.”

I’m pleased that King County is taking a light-hearted approach to the subject of flushing, but I have to hand it to Heather Graf of King 5 News, who went behind the scenes at the county’s West Point Treatment Plant to show us some stark video of why this is so important.

Says Graf: “The sign out front says nothing about this place being a landfill, but one look inside King County’s wastewater treatment plant and you’ll see most people act like it is… It’s not just gross, it’s expensive — $120,000 a year in ratepayer money just to haul all this trash to the landfill.”

Only time will tell if Macklemore and his music will help in a roundabout way to solve a messy problem for King County and other sewer operators in the region.


Amusing Monday: Celebrating Alvin’s animals

Monday, July 7th, 2014

This year is the 50th anniversary of Alvin, a deep-sea vehicle that has made some incredible scientific discoveries over the past half-century.

The latest issue of Oceanus magazine is a special edition that takes us through the history of Alvin, including its part in locating a lost hydrogen bomb, investigating the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and documenting the remains of the Titanic.

Read “The Once & Future Alvin,” Oceanus Summer 2014.

What really drew my attention to this issue is a photo feature called “Alvin’s Animals.” It was posted as a slide show in the online version of Oceanus. It registered high on my amusing meter, and I encourage you to click through the buttons that take you from one odd-looking creature to the next.

One of Alvin’s most significant discoveries came in 1977, when the submersible traveled to the Galapagos Rift, a deep-water area where volcanic activity had been detected. Scientists had speculated that steaming underwater vents were releasing chemicals into the ocean water. They got to see that, but what they discovered was much more: a collection of unique clams, worms and mussels thriving without sunlight.

These were lifeforms in which bacteria played a central role at the base of a food web that derives its energy from chemicals and not photosynthesis.

Since then, other deep-sea communities have been discovered and documented throughout the world, with hundreds of new species examined and named.

The Oceanus article also describes in some detail the just-completed renovation that has given Alvin new capabilities. The people responsible for various aspects of the make-over are interviewed in this special edition.

The first video on this page is by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution celebrating Alvin’s 50th birthday. The second is a walk-around the newly renovated craft by Jim Motavalli, who usually writes about ecologically friendly automobiles.


Amusing Monday: Magician uses his acting skills

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Magician Michael Carbonaro, 32, has become an outstanding television entertainer by acting as if his amazing illusions are part of ordinary life, then using hidden cameras to capture people’s surprise in the midst of impossible situations.

I first featured Carbonaro in “Amusing Monday” in April of last year after he had appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. For an Easter segment, he pretended to be a store clerk selling dehydrated baby chicks. He showed people how they could just add water to create a live bird. Check out “Magic Clerk — Easter Edition” if you don’t remember the bit.

Since then, Carbonaro has launched his own show called “The Carbonaro Effect” on the TruTV network. The show premiered in April. If anything, Michael has gotten better, I think, because of the ridiculous things he says with a straight face — and his victims just buy into his crazy stories.

In his segment on “Dehydrated Mice” (first video on this page), he tells about a “safe trap” that captures mice and dehydrates them. Someone picks up the mice each week, he explains, and takes them to a field, where they wait in their dehydrated form until the next rain allows them to run free. “I just can’t believe you’ve never seen this before,” he says as he describes the process to his unwitting victim.

One thing I like about the show’s website is that it includes videos of Carbonaro explaining what goes on behind the scenes, including the planning that goes into each idea. Look for videos called “The After Effect.”

The website also includes interviews with people who have been fooled by Carbonaro and what they think after Michael is revealed as a magician (video at right).

And if you think this whole thing is about trying to find stupid people and make fun of them, you’d be totally wrong. As Carbonaro explains in “Michael Reveals His True Identity,” he gets the most pleasure from smart people who know that what he is doing is impossible. The stupid ones are those that never notice that something strange is taking place.

First, review the original video at a sporting goods store: “Small Package Has Shocking Contents,” then review what happens after the trick is revealed in “Michael Reveals His True Identity.”

“I was so frustrated,” the woman says. “How can you not understand my question? I’m saying, ‘How?’ and you’re telling me why, and I want to know how. And I’m thinking to myself, like, ‘Does this guy not know what I’m saying?’”

Says Michael, “I’ve been dreaming about a person like you coming in here for this trick… You are amazing, because you’re smart and you come over here, like, ‘Listen to me, you idiot behind the counter.’”

Needless to say, Carbonaro’s acting skills are essential to pulling off these funny situations. He has had practice in both movies and TV. For his acting credits, see the bio on his personal website.

Options for viewing Michael’s videos include a list on YouTube and full episodes on TruTV, provided you subscribe to a provider of TruTV.

As a bonus, you need to take a look at one of Michael’s earlier bizarre performances, which he calls “Shaving Cream Dream.”


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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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