Category Archives: Humor

Amusing Monday: Amazing images through the magic of LIDAR

Spectacular images produced with the latest LIDAR technology ought to be considered works of art, at least in my humble opinion.

LIDAR software reveals current and historical stream channels for the Sauk River, a tributary of the Skagit.
Image: Washington State Geological Survey

The images on this page, which show geologic features in Washington state, were produced as part of a large-scale project to study the state’s geology. Funded by the Legislature in 2015, the project is largely designed to identify landslide hazards, but the LIDAR data has many wide-ranging uses for scientists, educators and political leaders.

Aside from LIDAR’s practical uses, I cannot get over how beautiful the images are, a feeling enhanced by the knowledge that the fine details reflect actual structures on the ground. All these images and 14 others are available as screensavers on the state’s LIDAR website.

At the Great Bend in Hood Canal, moving glaciers once carved out small hills, known as drumlins.
Image: Washington State Geological Survey

I asked Dan Coe, a GIS cartographer responsible for many of the final images, how much of an artist’s touch he uses when producing such amazing depictions of the landscape. Dan works for the Washington Geological Survey, a division of the Department of Natural Resources.

“There is definitely an artistic touch that is added to these images when they are produced,” he wrote in an email. “While each one is a bit different, depending on the landform featured, most follow a general process.”

LIDAR reveals changing stream channels where the Black and Chehalis rivers merge in Grays Harbor County. // Image: Washington State Geological Survey

LIDAR stands for light detection and ranging. When used from an airplane, LIDAR equipment shoots a laser beam along the ground. Sophisticated equipment and a computer interpret the reflected light as precise differences in elevation.

Dan blends the elevation data with other GIS layers provided by the software, including the outlines of landforms, shaded relief and water bodies.

“I then bring these layers into graphics software (usually Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator), where they are merged together,” Dan said. “This allows me to emphasize the features that are important to the viewer, usually with colorization and blending techniques.”

LIDAR reveals details of Devil’s Slide on Lummi Island in Whatcom County that cannot be seen otherwise.
Image: Washington State Geological Survey

The primary purpose of the images is to translate the science for a nontechnical audience, he said. That’s not to say that scientists don’t appreciate the effort, but the colorful images are somewhat simplified from the more detailed LIDAR data, he added.

“If done well, they are a good example of the ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ adage,” he said, “and can go a long way to bridging the gap between science and public understanding.”

When it comes to his choice of colors, he acknowledges that he strives for a bit of a “wow!” factor, while enhancing the contrast “to draw the viewers eye and to emphasize the features more clearly.”

The video at right offers a good description of how LIDAR works. Early uses involved examining the topography and geology of an area with the trees stripped away. The surprising images revealed unknown features on the ground — including a piece of the Seattle fault at the south end of Bainbridge Island, where an earthquake raised Restoration Point about 20 feet some 1,100 years ago.

Since then, LIDAR has been refined for greater image resolution, and the improved software is providing new ways to interpret the data. For example, relative elevation models, or REMs, help to better visualize changes in river flows over time. The baseline elevation (0 feet) is defined as the surface of the river, so old river channels emerge as slight changes in elevation. Dan explains the REM process (PDF 16.5 mb) in a poster on the LIDAR website.

The mysterious Mima Mounds southwest of Olympia, as shown with LIDAR
Image: Washington State Geological Survey

The early use of LIDAR for revealing unseen geology has gradually given way to much broader applications. At first, the returning light that reflected off trees and vegetation was considered useless “noise” to be filtered out by computer. Later, scientists discovered that valuable information could be found within that noise — such as the size and type of trees and other vegetation growing in specific areas. These uses are explained in a video called “Introduction to Light Detection and Ranging.” Both videos mentioned in this blog post were produced by the National Ecological Observatory Network, or NEON, which is researching conditions and changes in ecosystems across the country.

A little-known lava flow, called West Crater, can be seen easily with LIDAR. The site is between Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood in Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Skamania County.
Image:Washington State Geological Survey

As Coe and his colleagues find new uses for LIDAR, they are also looking for new ways to encourage the public to understand the process and results. A nice two-page summary about the LIDAR program (PDF 2.6) can be found on the state’s LIDAR website. The website also includes descriptions of how LIDAR can be used in geology, forestry, graphics, navigation, meteorology and fire management, land-use planning, archeology and agriculture.

The page also includes an interactive story map called “The Bare Earth,” which takes you through various geological features. Interesting comparisons between LIDAR images and aerial photos of the same areas are shown in the story map.

Amusing Monday: Amy Sedaris comedy skewers domestic TV shows

Have you had a chance to see the new television program “At Home with Amy Sedaris” on the Tru TV network?

It’s a parody of the many do-it-yourself shows that demonstrate cooking, craft-making and interior design. For me, the series started a little slow with subtle conversational comedy about cooking and bathing. But then the shows began embracing more and more physical humor while taking on some ridiculous plots.

Amy is surprisingly good at pratfalls, as shown in the latest holiday episode, in which she gets physically attacked by a haunted nutcracker. That segment follows the snowman sketch shown in the video on this page. The episode also includes visits from ghosts that remind Amy of her past life, followed by the Christmas morning piece shown on this page.

I wasn’t sure how this comedy would connect with this blog’s water theme before the connection was made for me in an episode in which Amy visits the outdoors, which is actually where water originates before it gets piped indoors.

This particular show opens with a scene that includes Amy going outside for her morning exercise routine. She appears to be naked with appropriate pixilation, but that’s all part of the humor. She accidentally locks herself out of her house without any clothes, as she begins to plan for a dinner party that very night.

“Wait a minute,” she says. “Why do I need to get into my house to prepare for a dinner party? Everything I could possibly need the forest will provide.”

She borrows clothes from a female scarecrow. It turns out that the scarecrow is the girlfriend of Sully, one of the woodsy experts who helps Amy gather food for the party. But we soon learn that food is not Amy’s top priority.

“Imagine you are lost in the wilderness and have a party to throw in a few hours,” she says. “What would you do first? Build a shelter? Find water? Start a fire? For me, it’s make a back-scratcher. I got strands of hay from that scarecrow in my shirt, and it’s killing me.”

If the typical episode pokes fun at homemaking shows, this woodsy outing sheds new light on all those reality shows in which ordinary people go into the wilderness and attempt to survive with virtually nothing coming from civilized society.

“Did you ever eat a cattail?” Sully asks Amy while discussing food options.

“I didn’t know they were edible!” Amy says with surprise.

“They’re not,” says Sully, “but when you’re hungry, you lower the bar.”

Amy proceeds to get her mushroom species mixed up and goes on a psychedelic trip. When she regains her senses, her friend Ruth shows her how to make a centerpiece from simple items collected in the woods — such as trash.

Sully returns with a hollowed-out gourd and shows her how to boil water by dropping hot stones into the water-filled container.

“Well, what can you do with hot water?” Amy wonders.

“All kinds of things,” Sully says. “You can make soup or tea — or just let it cool down and heat it up again. That’s my favorite.”

Amy, a longtime writer and actor in films and TV, seems perfectly suited to this off-beat comedy. She began her career with “Second City” and “Annoyance Theatre” comedy troupes in Chicago. She wrote and performed in two shows, “Exit 57” and “Strangers with Candy,” on the Comedy Central TV network. She has made guest appearances on numerous TV shows and is popular on late-night talk shows.

In 2009, Sedaris narrated the PBS special “Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America,” a serious documentary about comedy. Since then, she has done voices for cartoon characters, performed in commercials and played characters in several TV shows, including “The Heart, She Holler” and “Alpha House.”

“At Home with Amy Sedaris,” which airs each Tuesday evening, can be replayed online at Tru TV if you have the appropriate cable or satellite TV subscriptions.

So far, the show has gotten some positive reactions. In an early review for Vox, Caroline Franke noted that Amy loves to make people feel at home before pulling the rug out from under them with a burst of laughter.

“If anything,” Franke writes, “Sedaris finding a way to build a TV show around her slightly deranged interpretation of domestic expertise feels long overdue. ‘At Home’ is the perfect mashup of these sensibilities, letting her entertain comedians, characters, and her famous friends alike with a delighted smile even as she perverts tradition.”

Amusing Monday: Gator Girls have an unusual passion for scaly reptiles

They’re called the Gator Girls, because of their personal and affectionate connections to alligators — which we all know can be dangerous to people who get in their way.

I don’t believe the three Gator Girls featured this week in “Water Ways” know each other, but all have become fairly well known on the Internet for their videos and Instagram pages.

Gabby Scampone, 22, started out as a pet sitter with an affinity for snakes and reptiles.

“I hold them and let them move freely in my hands and arms,” she told Emily Chan of London’s Daily Mail Online last year. “I don’t restrain them or pin them behind the head, which is why they don’t bite me.”

Since then, Gabby has moved from Westchester, N.Y., where she attended college and started her business, to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where she now “wrestles” alligators as a volunteer at Everglades Holiday Park. She also works for the associated Gator Boys Alligator Rescue, where she helps remove nuisance alligators from people’s backyards. Check out reporter Kelly McLaughlin’s follow-up story at Daily Mail Online.

Gabby says she is living her dream, as she chronicles her story on Instagram, where she has about 7,600 followers with more joining every day since the latest story came out. Her goal is to keep all her fingers as she continues handling the sharp-toothed gators up close and personal.

I can understand the apprehension of some of her followers. “This is not going to end well,” writes one commenter on the Daily Mail story.

Florida residents with gator problems apparently have been reaching out to Gabby and her rescue team to safely remove large reptiles from their yards.

“Unfortunatelly, that isn’t how it works,” she writes on her Instagram page. “You cannot call me or Paul personally, or even the rescue. By law, I cannot legally touch an alligator I do not have a permit for. If you have a nuisance alligator, you have to call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline, and they will issue a permit to a trapper in your area.

“Unfortunately,” she continues, “you cannot request specific trappers, and 95% of the time other trappers will kill the alligator. (The trapper sells the alligator for its meat and hide; you don’t get paid otherwise.) The best thing to do is to educate yourself and learn how to co-exist with these animals. Never feed a wild alligator; don’t let your pets (or friends, children, yourself) swim in the water; and put up vertical fences.

“By law, any nuisance alligator over 4 feet long must be destroyed/harvested or kept in captivity for life. We have about 1.4 to 2 million alligators in Florida. Learning how to peacefully live with these animals is key!”

An even younger Gator Girl is Samantha Young, featured in a video wrestling alligators at 9 years old at the family-owned Colorado Gators Reptile Park. Her parents, Jay and Erin Young, thought it would be safer for her to live on the alligator farm if she knew how to handle the animals.

“We’ve never been too worried about Samantha wrestling alligators, because she’s been around them her whole life,” her father said in the YouTube video. “And she needed to handle them as she grew up, so she would learn about them and understand them. It would be more dangerous to not let her handle the alligators and then one day she would poke one that she’s not supposed to and get hurt, so it’s actually much safer to let her wrestle them and teach her how to do it properly.”

Samantha is older now, as shown in later photos for a story in The Daily Mail, which seems to like alligator stories.

“I need to know how to wrestle them because they are all around me, so it is safer that way,” Samantha says. “And it looks cool for when my friends come round to the park. I like the looks on adults’ faces when they see me do it and I show them how.”

Gator Girl Angela Lance of Pennsylvania is in a class by herself with a pet alligator named LillyGator. Angela dresses her pet in colorful outfits, paints her nails and kind of snuggles with her pet as she gives massages. Angela says this may be the most pampered gator in the world.

Angela’s life with alligators began about six years ago, when she rescued an alligator being kept in poor conditions. She nursed the animal back to health and eventually turned it over to a sanctuary. But she couldn’t resist getting another alligator, so she bought Lilly as a 2-day-old hatchling about five years ago and has raised her since, according to an online article in People magazine.

As odd as it may be to dress up an alligator, Angela seems to have some inkling of what she is doing. As she writes on her Instagram page, with something similar posed on Zazzle, “PLEASE do not mistake my photos to mean gators are good pets. They are dangerous, EXPENSIVE, & require a lot of time/effort.”

As I was writing this blog post, I kept thinking of a cartoon from my childhood, “Wally Gator,” shown in the video below. Stories about this crazy alligator, created for Hannah-Barbera Productions, ran for the first time from Sept. 3, 1962, to Aug. 30, 1963, according to Wikipedia.

Although his theme song calls him a “swingin’ alligator of the swamp,” Wally actually lives in a zoo, where the zookeeper, Mr. Twiddle, tries to keep him contained. Wally keeps wandering away from the zoo and getting into trouble, but he always comes back.

For other alligator facts, jokes and oddities, check out my Water Ways entry from Feb. 29, 2016.

Amusing Monday: Stunning photos shared from around the world

More than 25,000 photographs taken throughout the world were submitted for judging in this year’s prestigious National Wildlife Photo Contest.

Second-place in category Baby Animals: This leatherback sea turtle was seen at Sunset in Trinidad.
Photographer: Sean Crane, Scarsdale, N.Y.

Subjects ranged from an elephant trudging across a barren plain to a green sweat bee perched on a blue flower. Without exception, the winning images were stunning, to say the least.

The annual contest is sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation and “National Wildlife” magazine.

First- and second-place winners were named in seven categories: Baby Animals, Backyard Habitats, Birds, Landscapes and Plants, Mammals, Other Wildlife and People in Nature. In addition, a grand-prize winner was selected from among all the best entries. Images on this page can be enlarged by clicking on the photo.

First place in category Landscapes and Plants: Thunderstorms billow across a Kansas plain.
Photographer: Donald Caffrey, Goddard, Kans.

One of my favorite pictures shows a newly hatched leatherback sea turtle facing his future in the wide-open ocean. The image was shot at sunset in Trinidad by Sean Crane of Scarsdale, N.Y., who helped other volunteers protect three nests of hatchlings from circling vultures. The picture took a second-place award in the category “Baby Animals.”

Growing up in Kansas until age 17, I’ve seen plenty of thunderstorms, including a few funnel clouds. But I have never seen a blue refracted light in the clouds, such as revealed in an image by photographer Donald Caffrey of Goddard, Kans. The details captured in the billowing clouds stand in stark contrast to the simple landscape that goes on for miles. The photo captured first place in the category “Landscapes and Plants.”

First place in category Mammals: A mother lion rests nose-to-nose with her young offspring in Kenya.
Photographer: Majed Ali, Kuwait City, Kuwait.

Who can resist the emotional connection between a mother and her offspring? A photo of a lion and her cubs exudes a feeling of comfort, whether or not this arises out of our human perspective. Photographer Majed Ali of Kuwait City, Kuwait, spotted the eye of the mother lion through some brush in Kenya’s Olare Motorogi Conservancy. Majed recalled this moment when he wrote, “This photo attracts me because of the tenderness of the family. There is love in the frame.” The photo took first place in category “Mammals.”

All the winning entries can be seen on the National Wildlife Federation page “Eye of the Beholder.”

Next year’s contest will be open for submissions on Jan. 8. For details, check out the photo contest page of NWF.

Amusing Monday: Will new ‘Mythbusters’ be as amusing as the first?

The original “Mythbusters,” starring Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, included plenty of amusing water-related stunts, such as seeing if a person can learn to walk on water.

That series, one of the longest running shows on the Discovery Channel, ended its 13-year run in March of 2016. It wasn’t gone for long, however, as Discovery’s sister network, the Science Channel, ran a series of programs to identify new hosts for a revived series.

On Wednesday of this week, the new version of “Mythbusters” will air for the first time with new hosts Brian Louden, 32, and Jon Lung, 28. As always, the show will use experiments to test the truth of myths, rumors and wild ideas, including fake stories that have caught people’s attention on the Internet.

Jon is the builder/designer with skills in wood, metal, foam, plastics, fabric, paper, silicone and clay. His career includes graphic design.

Brian worked as a paramedic and received a degree in biology, teaching science at schools and science fairs.

“I can build the things that need to work,” Jon said in an interview with Parade magazine. “I can test things scientifically, and there’s also the aesthetic appeal and the creative process of thinking of insane, crazy ways to build things, or how to test things. And so Mythbusters is the perfect home for me.

“I bring more of the redneck builder with a really strong science background,” Brian said in the same interview. “Together, these things create an insightful look at the myth and the process from a different direction of the old version of the show.”

The first video on this page is a preview of the new show.

I cannot say whether the new guys will provide as much material for Amusing Monday as the old guys did, but I thought this might be a good time to revisit some of the best water-related stunts from the first series.

The second video shows what it takes to get out of a sinking car. It is a tense moment, but the tension is relieved somewhat when you know that divers are standing by to provide air and even rescue, if needed. Adam performed that stunt fairly smoothly and in the controlled confines of a swimming pool.

Adam says the most terrifying moment on the show came when he did the stunt again in a lake to see if he could survive an accident in which the car flips upside down. During the filming, the car flips over again unexpectedly, changing the air pockets inside the vehicle. Watch this video: “Turn Turtle Car.”

This second car-in-the-water show is credited with helping to save the life of a mother and her young child. Their terrifying moment occurred when their car slipped on ice and crashed into a river in Minnesota. Thanks to the show, the mom realized that she would not be able to open the car doors until enough water rushed inside to nearly equalize the pressure of the water pushing from the outside. That story was retold in a Mythbusters video segment.

The difficulty of walking on water made for some amusing moments. And I would not be doing justice to the show if I didn’t offer videos of the two guys blowing stuff up.

The final video on this page features Bremerton’s own Nathan Adrian, a five-time Olympic gold medalist whose swimming skills are tested in a strange way. Nathan participates in an experiment to determine whether it is easier to swim through water than syrup.

Although Nathan’s time was very consistent in water, the syrup appeared to mess up his swimming technique — so much that the Mythbusters could not use the times of his syrup swims. Instead, they went with Adam’s less refined swimming style and concluded that syrup, if not too thick, does not slow down an average swimmer much, if at all.

Amusing Monday: Falling, flailing and fooling around in water

Compilation videos showing dozens of mishaps in and around the water seem to be a big hit this year. I’ve lost count of the number of videos that claim to be the “best water fails of 2017.”

It is amusing what people will try to do around water. One tried and true idea is to climb into a boat at the edge of a steep bank. Ask someone to slowly lower the boat into the water. Let the bow get submerged while the stern remains on shore. Then do your best to balance the unstable boat before it tips over.

Another thing I’ve observed on these videos is that people seem to lose their sense of balance around the water. It must be an aquatic gravitational force that makes people unstable. I enjoy the water videos, because when people fall, they generally do not get hurt like they do on land.

Soft-sided swimming pools provide lots of fun. I’ve learned that if you slice open the side of a large swimming pool with an ax or a chain saw, you can surf upon the resulting waterfall.

Something eventful is likely to happen anytime a person glides down an ill-crafted water slide or bounces up and down on a diving board that is beyond its useful life.

Another lesson I’ve learned from these videos is that using a rope to swing from the shore out over the water can be a lot of fun — assuming the rope is strong enough to hold you. It would seem like a good idea to make sure that the dangling rope has not rotted away since someone installed it 17 years before.

I’ve selected four videos that I think are actually the best of the “best water fails” of 2017. They just happen to be associated with established compilers of funny videos: America’s Funniest Home Videos, Funny Vines and Fail Army. Each one is a little longer than the videos I usually post on this blog, so you might choose to watch them at different times.

The last video is different, because it combines the antics of animals with the wetness of water. Animals are pretty unpredictable around water, except for cats. If you see a cat next to a bathtub or swimming pool, you can pretty much anticipate that it will fall in, then flail around wildly to get away from the wet fingers of death.

Amusing Monday: Climate change is scary enough for Halloween

Samantha Bee’s Halloween show last week is making a big splash on the Internet. The underlying theme was climate change, and the program cleverly makes a connection with this particular time of year, when many people relish the experience of getting scared.

In one segment of the show, which is called “Full Frontal,” singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson wears a picture of the Earth while singing an altered version of her big hit “Be OK” (original version). The revised song, called “Not OK,” addresses the horrors of climate change.

As Michaelson sweetly sings about the dangers of an altered climate, members of the “Full Frontal” cast dance around the stage, representing hurricanes, storms, floods, burning trees and finally an angry sun, as you can see in the first video.

Michaelson sings, “I am clearly not OK, not OK, not OK. Earth is clearly not OK today. I’m getting warmer every day, every day, every day. Climate change is Fu__ing me, oy vey!”

It’s tough to combine humor with a serious message, but Michaelson’s new words on a tragic theme are made palatable by the upbeat tune and the silly dancers.

One viewer commented on Michaelson’s Facebook page that she had ruined a perfectly good song, but the vast majority of her fans were delighted that she had found an amusing way to weigh in on an important topic.

I guess something similar could be said for the entire show, which I decided to go ahead and share on this blog post. Except for the Michaelson segment, the videos are posted in the order they appeared on the show. If you’re not familiar with this show, you should be warned that the language can be coarse at times.

In another segment, more edgy than funny, Samantha Bee goes after Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who has begun to reverse direction on President Obama’s plans to move the United States away from coal and toward renewable energy. She points out that before Pruitt became the head of the EPA, he was one of the agency’s biggest enemies. As Oklahoma attorney general, he sued the EPA 14 times, largely on behalf of the oil and gas industry. While she can’t stop Pruitt’s anti-regulatory approach, she thinks she can poke him in the eye by demanding a public hearing.

In Act 3, called “(Hot as) Hell House,” Bee takes climate deniers through a Halloween-style haunted house to see if she can scare them into caring about climate change. The setting is 50 years from now, when the Earth is ruined, cockroaches are the only food supply and people cannot escape the droning recitation of Al Gore’s Ted Talk by a creepy John Hodgman. One climate skeptic said the experience had changed her mind, but her reasoning — revealed at the end — was quite amusing.

The haunted house scenes were filmed within the abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, the site of Terror Behind the Walls. It is said to be America’s largest haunted house, listed as number 1 in the country by Forbes magazine.

Amusing Monday: Calling all citizen scientists to help with online research

Just about anyone with a computer can become part of a scientific research project through Zooniverse, which focuses the intelligence of thousands of people on tasks that are not well suited for computers.

The research projects are real, and prospective citizen scientists can choose from dozens of topics in various fields, including climate, biology, medicine, history, language, literature and the arts. More than 100 published papers have come from the work.

They key is observation, and participants make judgments about images they are given, such as photographs, drawings, hand-written pages and other visuals. Together, the large number of observations help professional researchers find things that they could not easily find alone. In most cases, computers don’t have the observational capabilities of humans, although some of the projects are trying to teach computers to do a better job.

Participants become part of an exclusive research community, as each Zooniverse project includes chat forums for discussion. Citizen scientists can talk among themselves or pose questions to the researchers in charge. I’ve tried out a few of the projects, and I can see how this could become an interesting, amusing and ongoing pastime for some people.

One of the projects that I find interesting is called “Old Weather,” which involves perusing ships’ logs from the 1800s and early 1900s to see what the weather was like on particular dates in various parts of the world. The focus at the moment is on 24 whaling voyages as well as expeditions to the Arctic by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. The information is going into a database to help reveal how climate is changing.

The online work involves identifying what the log books have to say about weather, ice and sea conditions. One task involves reading through the books and marking such observations along with time and place. Another task is to transcribe the observations and link them together. Of particular interest is locating sea ice, a primary indicator of climate change.

Other projects:

The Plastic Tide involves looking at photographs of beaches taken from a drone to identify pieces of plastic in the sand and gravel. Researchers in England are using the observations to develop a computer program that can recognize bits of plastic and estimate the amount of plastic on a beach. If successful, global estimates of plastic distribution can be created with the use of unmanned aircraft. Volunteer observations are being used to “train” the computer to identify plastics.

Snapshots At Sea uses pictures of sea creatures taken by professional and amateur photographers to extract information about whales and other marine mammals. Citizen scientists are asked questions about each photograph to classify the images and determine whether a whale expert should take a look. So far, citizen scientists were able to locate an extremely rare killer whale, known as Type D. Meanwhile, they have also helped to locate and identify known and unknown humpback whales and plot their movements with unprecedented resolution off the California coast. By the way, Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia is one of the collaborators on the project.

Notes from Nature digs into the records of natural history museums throughout the world, where handwritten observations are tagged onto all sorts of plant and animal specimens. Volunteers transcribe the notes from photographs of the specimens to help to fill in gaps about biodiversity and the natural heritage of a given region. At the first level, museum staff and others are photographing what are estimated to be 10 billion specimens, including birds, bugs, butterflies and microscopic fossils. At higher levels, researchers are compiling the data to tell a story of ecological change.

Wildwatch Kenya, which started this past summer, asks volunteers to review photos taken with trail cameras placed in two nature preserves in Kenya. Information about wildlife seen in the photos is used to track animal movements, determine what they are doing and help with their conservation. In the first three months, more than 5,000 volunteers were able to retire a backlog of more than 160,000 photographs — about two years’ worth of images. For information, see the news release from the San Diego Zoo, which manages the project.

Steller sea lion ~ 100 is the “sea lion of the month” for October. // Photo: Steller Watch

Steller Watch, like Wildwatch Kenya, uses remote cameras to capture hundreds of pictures of Steller sea lions — an endangered species whose population has declined by 94 percent in the Aleutian Islands. Volunteers help classify — but not identify — animals seen in the photos so that experts can complete the identifications and track the movements of the animals. One feature is the Sea Lion of the Month, who this month is ~100, a sea lion with a somewhat unusual story.

Cyclone Center includes 300,000 images taken from infrared sensors on weather satellites. The colored images reveal temperatures, which are closely related to whether the clouds produce wind, rain and thunderstorms. Volunteers are given a pair of clouds and asked to determine which one is stronger based on the colors. The human eye is better at this job than a computer, experts say. The information is compiled with other data to form a record of storms and to help predict future events.

Shells from Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, 1866

Science Gossip relies on millions of pages of printed text produced in scientific journals, notebooks and other publications from the 1400s to today. Researchers and artists, both professional and amateur, produced the documents during their investigations of science. Cataloging and describing old drawings are helping historians understand who was studying what down through the years. In my first leap into this project, I was presented with the drawing of a scale from an extinct fish. I found myself reading the associated article to learn about a dispute over how to classify the animal, and then I went to other sources to learn about the notable scientist and his work. After that, I completed the questions about the drawing. (I guess this was beyond the call of duty, but I just wanted to know more.)

The Milky Way Project endeavors to locate celestial objects of interest to astronomers by searching through tens of thousands of images from the Spitzer Space Telescope and the WISE satellite observatory. Training is provided to identify bubble nebulae, bow shocks and other notable features.

Solar Stormwatch II involves working with images of solar flares from NASA’s STEREO spacecraft. Volunteers help to classify and describe the intensity of flares by defining their outer edges with the use of a computer mouse. The original project, Solar Stormwatch, contributed to seven scientific publications. The new project will examine images from 2010 to 2016, during which time the sun went through a period of peak activity.

Amusing Monday: Umbrellas for James Bond, Bozo the Clown

They say it’s going to start raining steadily any day now and that we could be headed for rainy La Niña conditions this winter. So I thought it might be fun to pay tribute to the common — and especially the uncommon — umbrella.

The polite umbrella: Pull a string on the handle to squeeze through tight spaces or walk through crowds without poking someone.

I never knew people could be so creative with umbrellas, whose basic design goes back at least 2000 years when these devices were used by Chinese royalty. It remains unclear whether the first of these folding canopies was used to protect against sun or rain, according to a documented entry on Wikipedia.

Because umbrellas date back to antiquity, I guess I can’t search out the original patent, although it is said that the U.S. Patent Office has submissions with more than 3,000 plans to improve on the umbrella’s basic design. See the entry in Mental Floss.

As for etymology, the word “parasol” comes from the combination of “para,” meaning stop, and “sol,” meaning sun. However, if you want to stop the rain, then the French word “parapluie” comes into play. “Pluie” is a French word for rain, coming from the Latin “pluvial.” So, from now on, you can grab your parapluie when you go out into the rain if you would rather not carry an umbrella.

Raindrops pounding on a special conductive material in the umbrella fabric sets off LEDs to light the way. // Source: Yanko Design

Oddly enough, the word “umbrella” seems to come from the Latin “umbra,” which means shading or shadow, making “umbrella” synonymous with “parasol.” The Latin word for umbrella is “umbella.”

Contrary to common belief, the word “bumbershoot” does not come from Great Britain, and the British do not commonly use this word. Rather bumbershoot was American vernacular, first showing up in a dictionary in 1896, according to an article in World Wide Words.

Getting back to amusing umbrellas, you can go far afield in a search for a stylish, elaborate or finely decorated umbrella. You can seek out whimsy or prankishness in the design, such as in the umbrella with a squirt gun in the handle. You can also find items that meld the ancient with modern technology, such as a blue tooth device to answer the smart phone in your pocket or the miniature video projector for watching movies in the top of your umbrella.

A squirt gun in the handle of an umbrella can break up the monotony of the rain, which refills the pistol.

I’m not sure why I have never written about umbrellas, given the dozens of webpages and advertising sites devoted to the subject. I’ve selected five of the best websites for you to check out:

One video producer gathered up pictures of unusual umbrellas, including some not shown in the websites above. Complete with music, the video can be found on YouTube.

The video below is a demonstration of a specialized umbrella by a one-legged man named Josh Sundquist, who has the greatest attitude about life and problem solving. If you want to know why Josh doesn’t just wear rain gear, listen to what he has to say at 2:23 into the video. And check out Josh’s other videos, including a stand-up routine (no pun intended) about amputees on airplanes.

By the way, I have never owned an umbrella in my entire life, preferring to wear a rain jacket with a hood on most occasions, although rain pants sometimes come in handy. After looking at hundreds of cool umbrellas on the Internet, I think I will choose the perfect one for me. Then again, naaaaah!

Amusing Monday: celebrating the nation’s wild and scenic rivers

The value and enjoyment of rivers throughout the United States will be highlighted over the next year, as the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act approaches its 50th anniversary on Oct. 2, 2018.

Some 12,700 miles of rushing waters are protected on 208 rivers designated in 40 states plus the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. A Wild and Scenic River designation is the strongest protection for rivers in our country, safeguarding clean water, recreation, fish and wildlife, and cultural heritage, according to American Rivers, an environmental group focused on river protection. Check out the webpage “Why do we need wild rivers?”

“Free-flowing rivers create natural riparian areas that foster healthy, abundant, and diverse wildlife and are the centerpieces of rich ecological processes,” according to a news release from the National Parks Service. “Recreationally, free-flowing rivers offer unparalleled inspirational experiences from challenging whitewater to placid fishing. Through the arterial connections of rivers to communities, we all live downstream of a Wild and Scenic River.”

The first video on this page, called “Make Your Splash,” celebrates a family enjoying water recreation. It was produced by the Park Service in conjunction with three other federal agencies and several nonprofit organizations.

To call attention to the importance of wild rivers, American Rivers has launched a program called “5,000 Miles of Wild” with the goal of putting an additional 5,000 miles of wild rivers into protected status.

As part of the effort, the organization is working to collect 5,000 stories from people around the country who have a place in their hearts for special rivers, as explained in “About the campaign.” The second video, “5,000 miles of wild,” promotes the campaign.

I think you will enjoy the personal stories about rivers and the photos submitted to the page “My River Story.”

I would like to see more submissions from people in Washington state, because we have some of the most beautiful and productive rivers in the U.S., and I know there are many personal connections to these special places. Among the Washington folks submitting stories is Paul Cain of Bow, who applauds the efforts of state fish and wildlife officers in an encounter along Samish River in North Puget Sound. Also, Peggy File talks about growing up on the Skagit River, one of the rivers designated wild and scenic.

Former President Jimmy Carter offers a testimonial about taking his own life into his hands on the Chattooga River, which flows from North Carolina into Georgia. The powerful river, he said, “kind of opened my eyes to a relationship between a human being and a wild river that I had never contemplated before.”

As president, Carter said he vetoed about 16 different dam projects throughout the country, because he believed they were counterproductive to the well-being of Americans.

American Rivers has compiled a list of rivers that warrant protection on its page “What is the 5,000 Miles of Wild campaign?” In Washington, protections are proposed for 688 miles of rivers in the North Cascades, including the Nooksack River, and 454 miles of rivers in the Olympic Mountains (Wild Olympics Campaign).

Fiftieth anniversary water bottle, Cafe Press

For existing wild and scenic rivers, take a look at the U.S. map or the map of Washington state. Other information is compiled on a government website called “National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.” The website also has a page with information about the 50th anniversary celebration. One can even purchase a variety of clothing and products showing off the 50th anniversary logo from Cafe Press.

An audio project by American Rivers was composed by intern Annemarie Lewis, who worked this past summer in the Colorado River Basin. She talks about culture, history and science of rivers, as related by a variety of people closely connected to this issue. The project is called “We are rivers: Conversations about the rivers that connect us.”

Speaking of American Rivers projects, I got a kick out of a video completed in 2015 called “50 Favorite Things We Love about Rivers.” See Water Ways, Feb. 23, 2015.