Sunday, June 24, 2012


Some of you know that I've had eye issues lately. First it was cataract surgery, then an eyeball internal hemorrhage (vitreous hemorrhage, to be technical). Now I have impaired vision in one eye (retinal damage) that I try my best to ignore. And, of course, I joke about it: The Avengers movie was terrific in 2.5D!

A few minutes ago I was standing quietly on the back deck absorbing a bit of solar radiation and watching a chickadee watching me to determine whether or not it should risk a stop at the feeder. I thought about my vision for my vision, a bionic eyeball. When I had my cataracts done a few years ago, the doc talked to me about the different kinds of lenses from which I could choose - short- or long-vision. My response was that I wanted a Terminator eyeball, which, if you are a Terminator fan (the first one), you understand is an eyeball with many capabilities. I want one that will zoom in and out, snap still pictures and videos, measure distance between me and an object, maybe even measure temperature of an object (and no, I've rejected the see-through-clothing option from old comic book ads). I think I'll call it the iBall.

Here's a sketch of the iBall:

The iBall has a multi-sensor camera (1) in the front (note the interchangeable filter that allows the user to change eye color to match clothing). The on-board computer (2) processes signals from the iBall sensor and integrates them with signals to and from the brain (note: brain not included, sold separately). iBall options include the Smartphone Accessory, that allows sending and receiving vocal data; this includes an integrated antenna (3) (cleverly disguised as nasal varicose veins), audio receptor (4) that neatly fits inside the ear (note: ear not included, sold separately), and a microphone (5) (cleverly disguised as a skin mole). Future accessories will include an internet data module that can be added to the on-board computer and will allow net surfing, emailing, and watching movies. A major advantage of the internet accessory will be that the user can be on Facebook, watch a movie or doing any number of activities without anyone else noticing (user training will be available so users can learn to shake their head and mumble "uh-huh, uh-huh" while doing something else altogether).

And that is my Vision Thing for today. (Note to Apple, I get a major share of the profits!)

Saturday, June 23, 2012


We just finished a delicious lunch from our local Burgerville, a Pacific NW chain of drive-in/through restaurants. Burgerville has made a concerted effort to focus their business on people-planet-profits, and we truly appreciate their efforts. They source ingredients from local producers as much as possible, their beef, turkey, chicken, eggs are raised using sustainable and no-drug practices, and they use seasonal foods (right now they have Oregon strawberry shakes and smoothies (including dairy-free) and "golden-fried asparagus spears.") And did I mention that they now have gluten free buns available?

I have in front of me the packaging, which is truly impressive. The whole order was in a green plastic bag - certified compostable. The fries were in a paper bag labeled as made from 100% renewable resources, unbleached. The small paper bag with one of the burgers is labeled as "...made from 100% local, renewable resources, and uses 35% recycled content and recovered wood fibers. Inks are water-based and adhesives are starch-based." And it, too, is labeled as compostable. Ditto for the paper napkins, the paper burger wrapper, and the paper clamshell container. The only items I'm not sure about are the plastic fork and knife.

The Holland, Inc., a Vancouver, Washington company, owns and runs Burgerville. A big thank you to the good people at The Holland, Inc.

Image from Burgerville website.

This post is not sponsored by anyone, and is not a advertisement. I just appreciate good businesses. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Someone brought a bag of multigrain chips to our house for a family gathering (our family can't gather without food). I munched a few, and they were OK, but not terrific. I think that they weren't terrific because they were developed to meet multiple dietary restrictions. Here is a panel from the bag label:

Now, I understand that people who have allergies, high cholesterol and various other intolerances or voluntary dietary preferences want to know what they are about to eat - or not eat. But seriously, doesn't this seem a bit far out there? Real food doesn't really need to be labeled with any information other than the ingredients. Even real processed food, for example: potato chips (potatoes, salt and oil), corn chips (corn and lime and oil), pretzels (wheat, leavening, salt) and etc. Yeah, I know, what about all the food additives - well, that's my point, isn't it? If food ingredients are simple enough because the food is real food, then I would think that every consumer is intelligent enough to read the short list of ingredients and know whether or not they want to introduce the subject substance into their digestive system.

The list of ingredients for the above multigrain chips: stone ground corn, high oleic sunflower oil and/or safflower oil and/or canola oil, brown rice flour, flax seeds, cane sugar, oat fiber, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, quinoa, soy flour, sea salt. (And, of course, because the attorneys insist: "Allergy information: CONTAINS SOY AND SESAME" - as if people who can read the allergy information statement can't read the ingredients!). So are all of the symbols shown above necessary? Of course not, except maybe the certified kosher symbol. Are we consumers so ignorant that we can't read a simple list of ingredients and make our own decisions?

The now mandatory Nutrition Facts box on all food labels has always perplexed me. I understand that some people need to calculate their intake of certain things for health reasons. I also understand that this legal requirement is meant to protect consumers from food manufacturers who put all kinds of stuff into our food - or don't. But I've wondered how many of us really understand the information in this box; I certainly don't. I always glance at the relative amounts of fats because I am blood lipid challenged, but as far as the rest - hmmmm, can't really say that it means much to me.

So we're back to the beginning; real food didn't used to need labeling.

Saturday, June 09, 2012


If you've ever taken a science or biology class, you have most likely heard the term biogeography, which is the geographic distribution of plants and animals on the planet. The typical, and classic, tales of biogeography ask the question about how plants and animals got to remote ocean islands. The study of animals on the Galapagos Islands is a particular favorite in this genre. We learn that insects, snakes, birds, even small mammals clinging to floating debris, like trees or mats of vegetation, might arrive on some distant shore by sheer chance. And of course, we also know that humans have transported many plants and animals on their ships and left them on foreign shores.

A story in the Portland, Oregon newspaper today is about a dock that washed ashore on a beach in Newport, Oregon. The concrete dock, measuring 66 by 19 by 7 feet tall, has been traced to Misawa, Japan where it was ripped from its moorings during the devastating March 11, 2011 tsunami. The dock is one of the largest pieces of debris that has recently started washing ashore on beaches of the eastern Pacific from Alaska to Oregon.

Fish and wildlife biologists in Newport worked quickly to scrape and burn living plants and animals off the dock shortly after it washed ashore. The goal was to eradicate these organisms common in Japanese waters that could become invasive species on this side of the ocean where many of them are not found.

I think this is an exercise in futility, because many thousands of floating objects, large and small, have traveled across the ocean from Japan to the west coast of North America following the tsunami, and most of these will have attached organisms. I am certain that biologists will be studying the effects of this biogeographic event for many years to come; in fact, I think careers will be built around it.

This event also begs a question I've always had: what is a native vs. non-native species? Scientists who study species migrations and origins have pondered this question. I remember one conversation with a colleague in this field who was part of a group that determined that a number of the "native" zooplankton species in San Francisco Bay were actually invaders from Asian waters centuries ago. So how long does a species need to live in an area before it is considered "native?"

Plants and animals have probably reached our shores from origins in Asia many times. A devastating storm or tsunami can result in trees, floating marine algae, and other natural objects being released into the ocean currents, carrying with them attached or clinging organisms. These "invasions" don't make the news, but they are a constant. Certainly the tsunami in Japan last year was a very major event that released huge numbers of organisms into the conveyor belt of currents that flow west to east across the north Pacific.

Biogeographic processes: a natural form of globalism.

It's a small world after all.

Friday, June 01, 2012


Noises. They surround us as part of the air in which we're immersed. Loud, soft, and often subtle, almost not there.

We have a new neighbor in our neighborhood. We've seen him before, but this year he's become the source of constant noise. He pounds on things; mostly wood. His hammering is one of the first things we hear in the morning as we're awakening, and it continues often throughout the day from different locations around our immediate neighborhood. We see him once in awhile, most often when he comes to eat in our yard at the suet feeder - that's right, he's a bird, a Downy woodpecker.

This little fellow makes a drumming noise by beating his beak against a tree or a wood utility pole. It's not an exceptionally loud noise, but it is noticeable. I stop what I'm doing when I hear him, and I listen in wonderment. I've read that woodpeckers drum to announce their territory. I've always wondered how they can do this and still have a functional brain! It's one of those strange facts of nature. I heard him the other day while I was in front of the house, and I finally found him at the top of a utility pole across the street. He clung to the side of the pole and beat his little brains out against the wood - over and over - until he decided it was time to move on. We're pleased to live in the middle of his territory so we can enjoy the noise he makes.

About a week ago, we went with friends to a musical theater production on what turned out to be a very stormy evening. Our wives left for home at intermission (it was a horrible production) in the one car we had shared. My buddy and I stayed to the bitter end; we had a wrong delusion that maybe the second act would be better - it wasn't. Afterwards we decided to walk to his house, and he would then drive me home. It was a beautiful, almost warm evening just after a large rain storm had passed through. By the time we got to his house I had decided to walk the rest of the way home, and so I set off into the dark night.

At about 10 o'clock I heard the first salvos of fireworks down by the river celebrating the opening of the Portland Rose Festival. The noise of fireworks in the distance is different from thunder because of the various types of explosives being used. The noises also echoed off the buildings of the residential neighborhood through which I was walking. The combination of darkness, dampness in the air, mild temperature, the smells after a rainfall, and the stark noise of fireworks made for a memorable walk. I stopped in the middle of an intersection where I could see some of the fireworks above the trees and houses from my location at a higher elevation.

As I stood and watched the fireworks for a brief moment, my thoughts went to a few years ago when we had gone down to the river to find a good vantage point for the 4th of July fireworks show. We ended up in a crowd on the floating walkway on the east side of the river, directly across from the fireworks barge anchored in mid-river. This was the closest I had ever been to large fireworks, and it was both fascinating and terrifying. The fascination was watching the dark shapes of the fireworks crew scramble around on the barge, the flashes of the explosions that sent each explosive payload skyward, and the closeness of the explosive displays almost directly overhead. The almost terrifying part was the noise, the flames, and the ash and glowing embers falling on us. I've never been in a war, but I suddenly experienced what was probably the closest I'll ever be to the sights, sounds, and physical feeling of explosive concussive force that I imagine is part of combat. I thought a lot that evening about the people who are far away from home, fighting in a war where the explosions are more than fireworks.  We agreed that we'll never get that close again.

When I got to Belmont, a main street, there was a small group of people standing on the corner where they could see the fireworks at the river end of the street in the distance, and I joined them just for a moment. Then I ducked into a pizza shop, got a slice to go, and munched my way home on the last leg of a very fine walk, indeed - noise and all.

We also had a thunder storm last week, which is unusual in Portland. We were sitting on our back deck in the sun, enjoying one of the first outdoor dinners of the year. In the distance, to the north, we could see dark clouds gathering, and when a breeze kicked up from that direction, we knew it was coming our way. The noise of a far away thunderstorm is a low rumbling that seems to roll towards you across the landscape and then pass like a slow freight train. It's a noise that was part of my youth in Chicago, where thunderstorms are common. I very much enjoy thunderstorms.

We finally moved into the house when the temperature dropped and the wind picked up; but I went back outside every few minutes to check the storm's progress as it approached. Storms have a special set of smells and sounds. Faint flashes of lightning were followed by rolling thunder, and I realized that I was counting the seconds between each flash and it's associated noise, something I had done as a kid to estimate the distance between a lightning flash and me. The intervals grew shorter until the storm was here, the rain was pounding, and the lightning flashes were very close. By then I was standing on the covered front porch watching the storm, enjoying the sights, smells and noises of a thunderstorm.

There are many other noises in our neighborhood, but these are a few of my favorites.