The gloomy feeling of rainy weather, as experienced by looking
out from the inside of your house, can be defeated with a trip to
the mountains, where all kinds of winter fun await.
Downhill skiing and snowboarding are popular activities at
Washington’s ski resorts. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are
less-vigorous options, as are sledding and inner-tubing. One of
many useful websites is
“Pacific Northwest Winter Sports.”
If these activities don’t sound like great fun, you can plan a
drive that takes you into wonderful snow conditions and provides an
opportunity to build a snowman or enjoy a snowball fight. Lodges
and visitor centers offer a retreat from the cold. You might make
friends with others who love the winter weather.
“Have you ever experienced water falling from the sky? … And
how would you describe that experience?”
These questions are thrown out to people in the first episode of
“The Adventures of Tracy & Felt,” in which a young woman and an
octopus explore the wonders of rain. In the second episode, they
explore the wonders of tides.
These videos make for an amusing approach to science education,
and it was nice to learn that this project is based in Puget Sound
with origins on Whidbey Island. The videos were shown at this
Bainbridge Film Festival.
The producer of the series, Elizabeth
Schiffler, describes the development of this video series and
the strange relationship between a human and an octopus with
ongoing references to alien life forms:
“The Adventures of Tracy & Felt was born out of a desire to
work with talented young Washington filmmakers, writers, and
artists to ground work in the location we love and learn from,” she
wrote. “Developed on Whidbey Island, we challenged ourselves to
create a story full of laughs (mostly our own) and exploring the
magical and not-too-distant world of science and nature.”
Unlike other simple videos engaged in the explanation of
science, these stories do not take a straight line to describing
natural phenomena. Instead, Tracy and Felt take a roundabout path,
engaging in questions that most people take for granted, such as
the experience of rain. How about this question from the second
video: “Have you noticed how the ocean has been crawling up and
down the beach the past few days?”
Thanks to John F. Williams of Still Hope Productions for
letting me know about these videos.
Dripping with symbolism, a trip to Iceland by ice skater
Jennifer Don and her boyfriend Matt Truebe created an opportunity
for a most unusual marriage proposal. Check out the first video for
this romantic underwater encounter.
Matt’s business trips often take him to Europe and other
countries, keeping the couple apart, according to Jennifer. So
before a trip to Amsterdam, Jennifer secretly planned a stop-over
visit to Iceland’s Lake Thingvellir. The lake lies on the
Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which separates the Eurasian tectonic plate
from the North American plates.
Some underwater ocean sounds remain a mystery, while other
sounds are well understood by NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental
PMEL’s acoustic division continues to find unusual sounds within
its long-term mission of recording and measuring ocean noise and
assessing potential problems created by noisy humans.
I remain intrigued by ocean sounds, and I can’t help but worry
about sensitive marine creatures, such as whales, that must live in
our modern world of noisy ships and machinery.
One mysterious sound nicknamed “Upsweep” was present when PMEL
began recording on the Navy’s SOSUS (Sound Surveillance System)
array in August 1991. The sound, which consists of a series of
upsweeping sounds, is loud enough to be heard throughout the
Pacific Ocean, according to PMEL’s
website. This sound was speeded up 20 times to be more easily
To celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service, 50
poets are writing about a park in each of the 50 states. Some poems
speak of the splendor of nature, while others focus on the
struggles of human beings. All of them make emotional connections
The poetry was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets as
part of “Imagine
Your Parks,” a grant program from the National Endowment for
the Arts in partnership with the National Park Service. The idea is
to use the arts to connect people with the memorable places within
the national parks.
Each Thursday this fall, five poems are being published on a
special website, “Imagine
Our Parks with Poems.” As of last week, half of the poems have
been published. The one for Washington state is still to come. The
following is a sampling of the poetry. For more information, click
on the name of the poem or the author.
A free 2017 calendar, published by the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration, features winning artwork in a contest
that focuses on the problem of trash in the ocean, otherwise known
as marine debris.
More than 700 students from around the country participated in
the contest, and one of the 13 winners was a seventh grader from
Washington state named Sallie S. Neither her full name nor hometown
was disclosed, and I never received a response to an email sent to
her on my behalf by NOAA officials.
Sallie’s statement on the back of the calendar: “Marine debris
impacts our oceans and Great Lakes, because the plastic and other
garbage could badly injure or kill the sea animals. What I will do
to keep our ocean debris free is to not litter. Not littering is
very important, because if you litter the debris can go into
drains, then it can go into the lake or the sea. Then once it goes
in the sea, ocean organisms could then die.”
When I was a young child, we didn’t have to worry about wildlife
getting strangled by six-pack rings, because these plastic binders
for cans had not been invented yet. I was 9 years old in 1961 when
this simple, convenient form of packaging was invented, so I
clearly remember the transition. (See Hi-Cone
At the time, nobody predicted the conservation consternation
that would be created by such a simple piece of plastic. During the
1970s and up to present, pictures of entrapped birds and other sea
creatures became common, suggesting that we at least cut the
plastic to save the animals. The first video provides a story of
Before the invention of six-pack rings, people bought soft
drinks and beer in cardboard packages, which sort of wrapped around
the cans. Pabst Blue Ribbon may have been the first beer sold in
cardboard cartons (second video), although Coca Cola may have
started the phase. The Coke
company claims to be the first to take its bottles out of
wooden crates and begin offering cardboard packaging for consumers
as early as 1923.
The similar properties of water and glass are explored in more
than 50 pieces of artwork in an exhibit called “Into the Deep” at
Tacoma’s Museum of Glass.
The art captures the movements, shapes and colors of creatures
and objects in the beautiful underwater world. For a closer look,
click on the images on this page.
“By creating artwork inspired by the ocean, each artist has
captured both the fragile beauty of the marine environment and the
delicate nature of glass,” Katie Buckingham, exhibit curator, said
in a statement
on the exhibit’s webpage.
Buckingham said she hopes visitors will not only enjoy the art
but also feel inspired to celebrate and protect the natural
environment. The 16 national and international artists featured in
the exhibit include Alfredo Barbini, Dale Chihuly, Shayna Leib,
Kelly O’Dell, Kait Rhoads, Raven Skyriver, and Hiroshi Yamano.
Fifteen of the pieces were produced in the workshop at the
Museum of Glass, including some produced by apprentices.
The exhibit opened on Sept. 24 and will remain through September
2017. Visitors will be able to access information linked to each
piece of art by using a cell phone and scanning the STQRY QR codes.
Three virtual tours are available, one with scientific information,
one about the creation of the sculptures and one on the artists.
Bonnie Becker, a biologist at the University of Washington-Tacoma,
wrote the scientific narrative.
Speaking of glass artwork, I am impressed with the intricate
salmon sculpture with the glass salmon eggs used to create a kiosk
at the east end of the new Bucklin Hill Bridge over the Clear Creek
estuary in Silverdale.
Driving across the bridge, one can see the bright orange salmon
eggs, more than 200 in all. A closer look reveals three salmon
figurines in a swimming posture above the eggs.
“I do believe that when you drive along and you have artwork
alongside the road, I think it lifts your spirits,” said Lisa
Stirrett, the designer of the kiosk, in a story written by
Christian Vosler for the
The surf was running wild at this year’s Surf City Surf Dog
competition at Huntington Beach, Calif., where the boards were
flipping and the dogs were flying.
The dogs and their owners were more nervous than normal this
year during the three-day event that raises money for nonprofit
rescue groups. Crowds turned out in large numbers for the finals,
which took place a week ago yesterday.
“It’s a crackup watching the dogs,” spectator Tom Baker told
Laylan Connelly, a reporter for the Orange
County Register. “The people think the dogs are enjoying it,
but I’m not so sure the dogs are enjoying it today. The surf was
Lifeguards were on hand to help with any problems, and they
advised dog owners when it was safe to go out. The contest had 68
dog entries, and many of them were longtime competitors in the
sport. As I watched the first video on this page, I was hoping that
the owners knew their dogs and their abilities, along with their
own abilities. No injuries were reported, and the images came out
more spectacular than ever.
In some ways, the still images are more thrilling than the
videos. See this great collection of photos posted by the
London Daily Mail.
Here is a highlights video by Mike Lukas and Jerome Mel on the
Surf Dog YouTube channel.
The waves were calmer in July at the annual Unleashed by Petco
Surf Dog Competition at Imperial Beach, Calif. The second video on
this page is a personal video posted by a couple on Tower
Two researchers were awarded a less-then-noble prize for
discovering — and reporting — that objects look different if you
turn around, bend over and look at them through your legs.
It’s all a matter of how one perceives the world — and
perception seemed to be the accidental theme during last week’s
26th annual Ig Nobel Prize awards ceremony.
While one study asked research subjects to make observations
while mooning the world, a market-research project called for
people to ascribe human personalities to a variety of rocks, as an
exercise in branding. And then there was the man who went to great
lengths to become a goat — or at least replicate the experience of
a ruminant four-legged animal with a stinky beard.
Two weeks before some of the best researchers in the world are
honored with Nobel Prizes, an organization called Improbable
Research tries to bring a smile to people’s faces by handing out
prizes meant to “honor achievements that first make people laugh,
and then make them think.” The ceremonies were Thursday at Harvard
University in Cambridge, Mass.
Two Japanese researchers, Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi,
received the Ig Nobel Prize in Perception for collecting data about
between-legs viewing. In accepting the prize, Higashiyama
demonstrated the head-down posture for the audience, then
explained, “When the viewer is inverted, the objects appear smaller
than in a normal upright position.”
Before he was done with his acceptance speech, three human
“alarm clocks” began singing their alarm song and escorted the
researcher away for exceeding his allotted one-minute time
The concept of viewing things in unusual positions has been
around for a century. The best explanation is that people are so
accustomed to seeing things with their heads upright that the brain
cannot provide a realistic picture when the head and eyes are
upside down and backwards.
“In between-leg observation, since the retinal image is formed
on a site that differs from the usual site of stimulation and the
trunk is in a position that differs from its usual upright
position, it is difficult for some observers to maintain the habit
of seeing the world stably.”
The Ig Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to Mark Avis, Sarah
Forbes, and Shelagh Ferguson for assessing the perceived
personalities of rocks. Here is the script the researchers read to
their test subjects:
“We would like you to think of each rock as if it were a person.
This may sound unusual, but think of the set of human
characteristics associated with each rock. If you see a descriptor
and you have no sense of how it applies to the rock, look at the
rock picture again and think of it as if it were a person.”
The researchers were testing the theory that people perceive
objects as having personalities and that these personalities can be
categorized in five different ways — the “brand personality
five-factor model,” or BPFFM. I should mention that these
researchers seemed skeptical at the outset, and they eventually
arrived at this conclusion:
“The fact that participants were able to assign distinct
personalities to each rock can therefore only be reasonably
explained as an artifact of the research methodology… Rocks were
found to have a personality simply because participants were asked
to perceive one, and the only explanation of this finding is that
the BPFFM therefore ‘creates’ personality.” See “The brand personality of
rocks: A critical evaluation of a brand personality scale”
The goat man, Thomas Thwaites, has received the majority of
media attention, most coming before the recent Ig Nobel Prize
ceremony. I guess you can call it scientific research, but it
appears to be mainly a stunt for his latest book, “Goat Man: How I
took a holiday from being human.” Still, his endeavor, which
involved prosthetic goat legs and other strange elements, was so
impressive that he was awarded the Ig Nobel Prize in Biology.
“Human life can just be so difficult,” Thwaites told
National Public Radio’s Scott Simon. “And you look at a goat
and it’s just, you know, it’s free. It doesn’t have any
He discussed his thoughts about eating grass:
“I made this kind of bag that I had strapped to my body, and I
could take a mouthful of grass and then chew it up and then spit it
into this bag. And this bag … was intended to be my artificial
rumen with the goat bacteria in it. But I just really didn’t fancy
getting diarrhea for the rest of my life so I ended up having to
pressure (cook) what I spat into this bag and made a weird
delicious, disgusting grass stew.”
Thwaites shared the prize in biology with another researcher,
Charles Foster, who lived in the wild at various times as a badger,
an otter, a deer, a fox and a bird.
The full Ig Nobel Prize ceremony can be viewed in this video.
Here are the other prizes awarded this year:
Medicine Prize: In another study of
perceptions, German researchers discovered that if you have an itch
on the left side of your body, you can relieve it by looking into a
mirror and scratching the right side of your body (and vice versa).
“Itch Relief by Mirror Scratching: A psychophysical study” by
Christoph Helmchen, Carina Palzer, Thomas F. Münte, Silke Anders
and Andreas Sprenger
Psychology Prize: An international group of
researchers was honored for their study about lying. As described
by the Ig Nobel Committee, the researchers asked a thousand liars
how often they lie and then tried to decide whether to believe
those answers. The research report,
“From junior to senior Pinocchio: A cross-sectional lifespan
investigation of deception,” found that “lying proficiency
improved during childhood, excelled in young adulthood and worsened
through adulthood. Likewise, lying frequency increased in
childhood, peaked in adolescence, and decreased during
Peace Prize: The Ig Nobel Committee cited only
the title of the scholarly study by Canadian researchers: “On the
Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bulls–t.” In the
study, human subjects were presented with statements consisting of
randomly organized buzzwords that had syntactical structure but no
discernible meaning. They found that “some people are more
receptive to this type of bulls–t and that detecting it is not
merely a matter of indiscriminate skepticism but rather a
discernment of deceptive vagueness in otherwise impressive sounding
claims.” Tania Lombrozo, a psychology professor at the University
of California, Berkeley, writes a commentary on the subject for
“What Makes People Susceptible To Pseudo-Profound
Reproduction Prize: The late Ahmed Shafik was
recognized for his research involving rats wearing pants. The
professor at Cairo University in Egypt, who died in 2007, crafted
little trousers out of polyester, cotton and wool and studied the
rats’ sex lives. He found that rats that wore polyester were less
likely to be successful in their quest for sexual companions. He
suggested that the effect, which could apply to humans, was caused
by an electrostatic charge that developed on polyester fabric.
Chemistry Prize: Volkswagen, the German car
manufacturer, was acknowledged for solving the problem of excessive
automobile pollution. (Did this company really need more
attention?) The invention, which was actually deployed on real
cars, was innovative software that caused vehicle emissions to
automatically produce fewer emissions when cars were put through
Literature Prize: Fredrik Sjöberg of Sweden was
honored for his three-volume autobiographical work about the
pleasures of collecting flies that are dead, and flies that are not
yet dead. NPR interviewed this man with a most impressive
collection of hoverflies in an article titled
“The Uppermost Aristocracy of the Hoverfly Society.”