Category Archives: Humor

Amusing Monday:
Art contest features beautiful duck portraits

For the past 22 years, students from across the country have been painting and drawing some amazing pictures of ducks, swans, geese and related water birds.

The 2014 winner of the Junior Duck Stamp Contest is 16-year-old Si youn Kim of Tenafly, N.J., who painted a king elder with acrylics. Photo: USFWS
The 2014 winner of the Junior Duck Stamp Contest is 16-year-old Si youn Kim of Tenafly, N.J., who painted a king elder using acrylics. // Photos: USFWS

Each year, the best pictures are printed up as Federal Junior Duck Stamps, which can be purchased from participating post offices and sporting good stores. With the deadline for the 2015 art contest approaching, I thought it would be a good time to share some of these great artworks.

The Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program is sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The $5 junior duck stamps are modeled on the $15 Federal Duck Stamps, purchased by hunters and used by others as a pass for national wildlife refuges.

Second-place in the 2014 contest went to Andrew Kneeland, 16, of Rock Springs, Wyo., for his acrylic painting of a trumpeter swan with cygnets. Photo: USFWS
Second-place in the 2014 contest went to Andrew Kneeland, 16, of Rock Springs, Wyo., for his acrylic painting of a trumpeter swan with cygnets.

Proceeds from the junior duck stamps are used for conservation education, including a national curriculum for students from kindergarten through 12th grade. The national program involves elements of science, art, math and technology.

The deadline for the art competition is March 15. At the state level, students are judged in four groups by grade: K-3, 4-6, 7-9 and 10-12. Numerous awards are given in each group, and one “best of show” from each state are entered into the national competition in April. Participants are encouraged to include a conservation message with their entries.

The third-place winner was Jiahe Qu, 15, of Chandler, Ariz., for an acrylic painting of a hooded merganser.
The third-place winner was Jiahe Qu, 15, of Chandler, Ariz., for an acrylic painting of a hooded merganser.

Information on the contest and overall program is available on the website of the Junior Duck Stamp Program or download the junior duck stamp brochure (PDF 20.3 mb). Older artists may enter the Federal Duck Stamp Contest held in September.

All the top entries in the 2014 Junior Duck Stamp Contest can be seen on the Flickr page of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the top entries for the Federal Duck Stamp contest.

The 2013 winner of the Junior Duck Stamp Contest was 6-year-old Madison Grimm of Burbank, S.D., who painted a canvasback.
The 2013 winner of the Junior Duck Stamp Contest was 6-year-old Madison Grimm of Burbank, S.D., who painted a canvasback.

Running with a boy: Film captures the joy of being around wild waters

American Rivers, an environmental group, has released an inspiring new short film that captures the sense of wonder and adventure people can experience in the wild outdoors.

The video features one little boy named Parker who exudes enthusiasm as he runs, jumps and explores the rivers of the Olympic Peninsula. We listen to fast-paced music as the scenes change quickly, jumping from one place to the next, while Parker demonstrates his “top 50 favorite things about Northwest Rivers.” (Be sure to watch in full-screen.)

“We wanted a video that would connect with people on a fun, personal level, reminding all of us why healthy rivers matter and why rivers make the Northwest such a special place to live,” Amy Kober of American Rivers told me in an email. “Wild rivers are amazing places for kids and adults; they can make us all feel like Parker.”

Amy said she chose filmmaker Skip Armstrong of Wazee Motion Pictures “because of his talent, unique style, and creativity — and his own love of rivers.”

Hayden Peters, left, Parker Arneson and Skip Armstrong review footage shot at the Elwha River delta.
Hayden Peters, left, Parker Arneson and Skip Armstrong review footage shot at the Elwha River delta for the new American Rivers video.

Skip says he got the idea for a simple film about unbridled enthusiasm and curiosity while watching his fiancee’s nephew playing on the beach. When it came time to shoot the American Rivers video, that particular boy was not available. Skip looked around his hometown of Hood River, Ore., and found an equally energetic and curious youngster named Parker Arneson, son of Emmie Purcell and Shane Arneson. This high-powered 8-year-old is an avid snowboarder and skateboarder.

Skip spent three days last summer scouting out locations on the Olympic Peninsula, then came back in the fall with Parker for an eight-day shoot, traveling the Highway 101 loop around the Olympic Peninsula in a counter-clockwise direction. Being a home-schooled student, Parker did not miss any school.

“We just followed Parker around when we got to locations,” Skip said. “He literally did everything else. He’s an amazing person. What struck all of us on the shoot was his ability to engage us and the camera and to come up with ideas. He’s a ton of fun to be around.

Parker gets a ticket for running too fast in Olympic National Park. (It's a joke.)
Parker gets a ticket for running too fast in Olympic National Park. (It’s a joke.)

“We only had one comical setback,” he said. “Hayden Peters and I set off to scout a location and got a bit lost on the way back to the van. It was pouring rain. We finally got to a hillside that looked like the road was above it, so we set off to climb the hill. Only problem was a benign-looking puddle that I stepped in with great confidence, only to sink immediately to my armpits.

“Shortly thereafter, we arrived back at the car, me smelling like a swamp and totally soaked. Parker thought it was pretty funny.”

Parker took some pretty good falls while running around, but he always bounced back and was ready to go again, Skip said.

Parker shows off his speeding ticket.
Parker shows off his speeding ticket.

Parker even got a speeding ticket from an Olympic National Park ranger for running too fast in the Staircase area near the North Fork of the Skokomish River. It was a joke, of course. The ranger was one who accompanied the film crew as part of the permit requirements for shooting video in a wilderness area.

Emmie, Parker’s mom, said he had a great time shooting the video.

Skip has produced numerous films with a water theme. Check out “featured work” on his website, WazeeMotionPictures.com. He says it is important to remember the joy we feel in wild places.

“To me, there is no faster access to unbridled joy than through the eyes of a young person or child,” he wrote me in an email. “It was refreshing for our team to spend so much time with Parker, and it’s cool to see audiences connect with his enthusiasm, too.

“American Rivers works so hard to protect our precious resources, and I love that Parker shows us why this is important. When we were shooting, we met so many wonderful people of all ages enjoying the rivers and sights of the Northwest.”

Skip’s film reminds us that some of our best times can be had outdoors. As the weather improves, I’m inspired and eager to get back to some wild places with my own kids and grandkids.

I also want to thank Skip for sending along the still photos that show Parker and the film crew out and about on the Olympic Peninsula.

The film crew and supporters, from left, Jay Gifford, Skip Armstrong, Emmie Purcell, Hayden Peters and Parker Arneson.
The film crew and supporters, from left, Jay Gifford, Skip Armstrong, Emmie Purcell, Hayden Peters and Parker Arneson.

Amusing Monday: ‘BirdNote’ telling stories for the past 10 years

Saturday will be the 10th anniversary of “BirdNote,” a public radio program about birds from all over the world, with frequent references to Puget Sound and the Pacific Northwest.

The well-produced audio segment resembles “StarDate,” which was the inspiration for the show, as founder Chris Peterson describes in a program to be aired this week. Check out the page “BirdNote at 10: 10 years of stories about birds and nature!” or listen to this clip:


Marty, the marsh wren, is BirdNote's mascot. Click image for info about his travels.
Marty, the marsh wren, is BirdNote’s mascot. Click for info about his travels.

BirdNote originated in 2005 at a single station — KPLU in Tacoma — and expanded to 50 participating stations by 2010 with about 200 stations today, according to a list of facts put together for the anniversary. Birdnote began as a once-a-week segment before expanding to daily segments in 2008.

The searchable archive covers more than 1,200 shows, featuring more than 650 species of birds. Besides the daily audio clips, each webpage links to related sources — including photos or videos; a little history or biography; scientific explanations; occasional notes or blogs; and often more information about the featured birds.

In honor of the 10th anniversary of BirdNote, and since this is a blog about water issues, I’ve picked out 20 clips from the past two years or so that I think you will enjoy:

Marbled murrelets: As fish go, so go the murrelets (December 2012)

Winter on the Columbia: It may be winter, but there’s a lot to see… (December 2012)

Seabirds in decline: What’s become of them? (January 2013)

Red-throated Loons of Deception Pass: They can’t walk on land, but they’re graceful in flight! (March 2013)

Double-crested cormorant: What are they doing with wings like that? (April 2013)

Probing with sandpipers: The right tool for the job (April 2013)

Citizen scientists monitor pigeon guillemots: Dedication, information, and …. a tattoo? (September 2013)

Tony Angell reflects on nature: From Puget Sound through an artist’s eye (October 2013)

Buffleheads in Winter: Our smallest duck returns from the north! (December 2013)

The Ballet of the Grebes: Birds do the strangest things! (May 2014)

Monitoring Rhinoceros Auklets on Protection Island: Auklets are fascinating research subjects! (June 2014)

Amazing aquatic American dipper: What’s that bird doing in the river? (August 2014)

The heron and the snake: It’s a rough world for a young blue heron (September 2014)

Chorus line in the sky: sandpipers in elegant fashion (October 2014)

Gull identification: Black, white, gray… how do you sort them all out? (October 2014)

The oystercatcher’s world: Life in the wave zone! (November 2014)

The music of black scoters: A mysterious, musical wail… (November 2014)

Diving birds — below the surface: If only we could see them under water! (December 2014)

A swirl of snow geese: Barry Lopez and Snow Geese (January 2015)

What happens when birds get wet? Their rain shell shields their down layer (January 2015)

Amusing Monday: Waste to water provides a drink for Jimmy Fallon

Jimmy Fallon and Bill Gates together make an interesting combination. One is about finding new ways to solve serious world problems, while the other is looking for new ways to surprise and delight people.

Bill gates recently challenged Jimmy Fallon to the “ultimate taste test” involving two glasses of water. Jimmy would try to tell the difference between bottled water and sewage effluent from an innovative treatment plant built in Sedro Woolley, south of Bellingham. As you’ll see from the video, there was a bit of trickery involved.

In his blog, “Gates Notes,” Bill Gates describes the Omniprocessor, designed by Janicki Bioenergy of Washington state. A video on that page (shown here) demonstrates how the processor works, with an ending in which Gates drinks water that had been in the form of human feces just minutes before.

Gates makes the most of this humorous but deadly serious issue, knowing that one of the greatest health threats in the developing world is contaminated drinking water — and that a machine could help solve the problem.

The Omniprocessor burns dried human waste as fuel to dry more waste as it comes into the plant, providing an endless supply of fuel that can be burned at a very high temperature, thus controlling air emissions. The drying process produces steam, which can run a generator for electricity. The water vapor is cooled and goes through a final filter to produce clean drinking water.

I’ve read many articles written about the Omniprocessor over the past month, but Mark Stayton of the Skagit Valley Herald wrote the most informative piece I’ve seen.

A working prototype is scheduled to be fabricated this spring in Dakar, Senegal, West Africa, and go into use soon after. Graphics and photos are available on the Omniprocessor home page.

I’ll be interested to see how this entire operation works in practice. Not much is said about getting the waste to the machine. Apparently, some locations have trucks that pump out latrines and then dump the untreated waste someplace else, risking contamination to groundwater or surface water. Transportation of the waste/fuel might be less of an issue in cities with inadequate sewage-treatment plants, but I don’t know how efficient trucks would be in rural areas, where roads are often a problem.

Anyway, I will try to keep you informed about the Omniprocessor and similar technology in the months to come.

Amusing Monday: Super Bowl commercials offer voices from the past

Suzanne Vranica of the Wall Street Journal thought she noticed a trend in this year’s Super Bowl TV commercials. More of them, she said, seemed to be “sobering and heartfelt” rather than funny.

Maybe so, but some of the ads were funny. At our house, we got the biggest kick out of Liam Neeson playing Clash of Clans, an ad for the mobile video game by Supercell.

But I noticed another minor trend among the commercials: the use of historical voice-overs connected to meaningful images. It began with the first commercial after the game started. That ad, for Carnival Corporation’s cruise lines, seems especially appropriate for this blog, because it deals with the human connection to the ocean.

We hear President John F. Kennedy’s voice as he talks about our connection to the sea:

“We have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea — whether it is to sail or to watch —we are going back from whence we came.”

The commercial contains wonderful images, as you can see in the first video on this page. The second video shows Kennedy giving that speech at a 1962 dinner in Newport, R.I, where the president spoke about the America’s Cup Challenge. It was the year Sir Frank Packer became the first Australian challenger for the cup, with his crew aboard the 12-meter yacht Gretel. The dinner was given by the Australian ambassador. A transcript of the speech is available from the website of the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Fitting with Kennedy’s tone, I found “41 quotes about the ocean that will make you want to live on the beach forever.” The inspiring quotes were pulled together by writer Catie Pendergast for the blog “Thought Catalog.”

The commercial for Carnival apparently was selected from among five contenders in an online contest to determine which video would be played during the Super Bowl. The runners-up were also pretty good:

The voice-over approach was continued in the first quarter in a Toyota commercial featuring Amy Purdy, the celebrity who lost her legs to meningitis when she was 19. Amy’s father donated a kidney so she could survive. She then went on to compete in snowboarding in the Paralympics, perform in movies and on television, and take second place in Season 18 of “Dancing with the Stars.”

The commercial shows Amy running, snowboarding and dancing, but especially driving a Toyota. The company claims on its website that “our story is about much more than our vehicles.”

The voice you hear on the video is Muhammad Ali, talking about his upcoming boxing match with George Foreman in 1974. You can see him talking in the fourth video on this page, which offers a dark shot of the speech that some call his greatest ever.

There was another voice-over in a commercial for NO MORE, a campaign against domestic violence by the Joyful Heart Foundation. The audio comes from an actual 911 call, which speaks for itself. The version played during the Super Bowl was 30 seconds long, but I’ve posted the longer 60-second version, because it contains a more accurate editing of the call.

If you’d like to view any or all the Super Bowl commercials, arranged in order, go to iSpot’s “Super Bowl Ad Center.”

Amusing Monday: You can lead a horse to water, but watch out

Horses can be fairly unpredictable around water, as I learned while scanning through videos of horses splashing in streams, falling into icy lakes and serving as unwilling participants in the “ice bucket challenge.”

I got started looking at horses and water after viewing the first video on this page, which shows rider Anna Paterek patiently coaxing her horse Magic into the water. As you can see, when Magic would not carry his rider into the stream, Anna dismounted and demonstrated that her horse had nothing to fear — and Magic responded in kind.

From this first video, I found some others that I thought you might be interested in seeing. While I don’t have much information about the next video, I love how the rider manages a broad smile as she goes to retrieve her horse.

The third video shows what could have been a tragedy in Reykjavik, Iceland, where a group of horses and their riders fell through the ice on a shallow pond during a horse show in 2009. Fortunately, all the horses and riders were able to get out without serious injury, although some horses needed to be warmed to avoid hypothermia. Horse Talk magazine had a written account of the incident.

Here are three more videos for your amusement:

  • “Total Recall Videos” compiled a collection of steeplechase clips, in which you’ll see horses and their riders having trouble getting through the water jumps.
  • In a comedy video, bystanders are caught off guard in a gag that involves a police officer, a horse and a river.
  • Last but not least is a woman who decides to do the popular “ice bucket challenge” astride her horse. While the woman only flinched when hit with the icy water, her horse was roused into motion.

Amazing image of gray herons comes after
much experimentation

I can always count on the annual National Wildlife Photo Contest to provide some amazing water-related photos — and the 2014 contest was no exception.

This is the 44th year for the contest, sponsored by National Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation. This year’s contest attracted more than 29,000 entries, according to a statement accompanying the winning photographs.

herons

The winner of the Grand Prize, Hungarian photographer Bence Mate, spent 74 nights in a blind over a period of several years to figure out how to capture this remarkable image of gray herons in Hungary’s Kiskunsag National Park.

By experimenting with his camera gear, he was able to capture a clear image of the birds and water in dim light, while also showing us the stars, which were not in the same depth of field. His home-made equipment was able to achieve good exposure throughout the scene.

“I made the photo with a fish-eye lens that was less than a meter away from the closest bird and had to be careful not to scare the herons with noise or light,” he was quoted as saying.

The birds kept moving during the 32 seconds that the shutter was open, “and they created interesting forms in front of the starry sky,” he noted.

frog

I like the whimsical appearance of this bullfrog, captured by Cheryl Rose of Hopkinton, Mass., as she explored Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary in Central Massachusetts. The water seems to wrap around the log, becoming part of the sky with clouds in the distance.

“There were so many frogs in this pond,” she said, “but this one gave me the perfect pose.”

The photo won second place in the Other Wildlife category — a category for something other than birds, mammals, baby animals and backyard wildlife.

First place in the Baby Animals category went to Nathan Goshgarian of Woburn, Mass., who watching as this mallard duckling leaped at flies swarming over Horn Pond in his city.

ducks

“It had the incredible ability to select a single fly from the seemingly random movements of the swarm and launch itself out of the water,” he said.

Check out 17 stunning photographs, with comments from the photographers, on the National Wildlife website.

Amusing Monday: Unusual water towers draw public attention

I never realized how many water towers across the United States have been disguised as other objects.

Take the giant catsup bottle in Collinsville, Illinois, for example. The water tower, built in 1949, stands 170 feet tall and holds 100,000 gallons.

Catsup bottle water tower, Collinsville, Illinois. Photo Catsup Bottle Preservation Group
Catsup bottle water tower, Collinsville, Illinois // Photo: Catsup Bottle Fan Club

It was originally built for the G.S. Suppinger Company, which bottled Brooks old original rich and tangy catsup in the town. Today, the brand is owned by Birds Eye Foods, which produces the catsup in Canada.

Thanks to preservation efforts, the giant catsup bottle was saved from demolition by the Catsup Bottle Preservation Group, which restored the water tower in 1995. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and is widely recognized as a prime example of 20th Century roadside Americana, according to a special website all about the catsup bottle.

Leaning Tower of Niles, Illinois Photo: Lawrence Kestenbaum
Leaning Tower of Niles, Illinois
Photo: Lawrence Kestenbaum

Then there is the Leaning Tower of Niles, located about 15 minutes north of O’Hare International Airport in Niles, Illinois. The tower was built in 1934 by businessman Robert Ilg to disguise water-filtration equipment for two swimming pools used by employees of Ilg’s air-ventilation company, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune. The story says the tower is in need of additional restoration work. Photo courtesy of Lawrence Kestenbaum.

The “House in the Clouds,” as it is called, is a structure built to disguise what residents considered to be a hideous 50,000-gallon water tank on a hill in the community of Thorpeness, Suffolk, England. The bottom of the steel structure also was enclosed to provide living accommodations. In 1979, the metal tank inside the structure was removed piece by piece and lowered to the ground, according to the website “House in the Clouds.” Today, the entire five-story structure can be rented out as a vacation home. Photo courtesy of Andrew Dunn.

House in the Clouds, Thorpeness, Suffolk, England Photo: Andrew Dunn
House in the Clouds, Thorpeness, Suffolk, England // Photo: Andrew Dunn

Several other websites show all sorts of crazy water towers. One of the best is “12 Weirdest Water Towers on Earth,” which gives a brief history of each one. If you need more detail, an Internet search will provide historical details for most of these.

Other good websites are:

“Unusual, Intriguing Water Towers”

and

“People who live inside water towers.”

Amusing Monday: Ad experts describe most creative ads of 2014

In its annual “Ten Best Ads of 2014,” Adweek magazine praised an eclectic assortment of commercials featuring unusual topics and/or presentations.

While I found no overtly water-related ads this year, a couple of them came close — and I liked them — so I’m featuring them in the two video players on this page. As you’ll see, they are quite different from each other in style.

Adweek’s top winner is sort of a noncommercial, because it is a description of a Super Bowl ad that would have been produced if only the sponsor, Newcastle Brown Ale, had enough money to buy a spot during the last Super Bowl. I featured this ad among other “ads that never were” in Water Ways back on Feb. 10.

You can watch all 10 ads chosen by Tim Nudd of Adweek in his annual review of television commercials for the magazine. As he notes in his story:

“Four spots came from outside the U.S., and a fifth was made without an agency at all. Also, there’s not a single traditional 30-second spot in the bunch, as if we needed more proof that the shape of advertising is changing.”

It’s worth noting that these ads are chosen for their creativity, not for their success in selling products.

If you’d like to view other clever or creative commercials, I’ve put together some additional lists from 2014:

Amusing Monday: Have you ever seen a snowflake so fine?

snowflake 6

They say no two snowflakes are alike. And that’s easy to believe after you’ve seen the extraordinary crystalline structure of a single snowflake, as captured in images by Russian photographer Alexey Kljatov.

Alexey has spent a lot of time perfecting his technique of shooting snowflakes on the balcony of his apartment. He uses just a simple point-and-shoot digital camera, the Canon Powershot A650, along with a reversed lens from an old Soviet Zenit film camera. He captures a series of images of the same snowflake, then combines them with special software to reduce the random “noise” found in a single image. He explains his technique on his blog “The Keys to December.”

Check out Alexey’s Flickr page for dozens of snowflake images along with other enhanced photographs. I post a sampling here, with his permission. Other media outlets also have shown interest. See his list of publications.

snowflake 2

snowflake 3

snowflake 4

snowflake 5