Friday, March 27, 2009

Is the Tappan Zee Bridge a model of the economy?

Yes, it seems I've completely lost my mind. I'm actually asking if a bridge could be a model for our economy in recession. Before I begin to defend my sanity, let me say that the picture of the Tappan Zee Bridge to the right is copyright 1995-2008 Tappan Zee Bridge/I-287 Environmental Review and I got it from their site at I'm sure they meant that the copyright extends to this year, too. They just haven't gotten around to it.

Anyway, back to the defense of my sanity: What I'm actually thinking about is a trip my family took a few years ago. We'd been to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving and were traveling back home on the week-end after Thanksgiving Day. Instead of going through New York City, we decided to take the "less traveled" route further north via the Tappan Zee Bridge but
the traffic was terrible here, too. We were creeping along on the Tappan Zee Bridge and "creeping along" makes it sound like we were going faster than we were really going. Then we hear a siren behind us.

My first thought was that I hoped it wasn't an ambulance or a fire truck and I said a little prayer in case it was. Well, it was an ambulance and in contrast to what you usually hear about bad, selfish drivers, everyone did their best to pull to the right to let them pass. Lo and behold, room was made and the ambulance sped by. At that point, it seemed to me, everyone paused for a few seconds. Here we were all crammed together (even closer and slower than before) with this completely open lane to our left. I think we all assumed that everyone else was going to race into the now-open lane and just clog everything up again. But something magical happened.

Almost instantly the road just opened up. We just all found ourselves with plenty of room and we were all moving at a good speed. We weren't doing the speed limit but we were very close. I think (this was years ago) we may have been going about 40 - 50 miles per hour. And we weren't all crammed together. We made the rest of the crossing with no problem until we had to slow down for the tolls at the eastern side of the bridge. I'd never seen this before and I've never seen it since. Were we all being rewarded for being considerate of the ambulance? Most of the credit probably goes to the people who did pull into the open lane and moved on at a fast pace. I think too many problems are caused by people who hang in the left lane and then don't pass.

Anyway, I hope this is the sort of thing that is happening with our economy right now. We have been slowed down by a bunch of bad decisions or too many people trying to do the same thing. On the bridge, our being brought to a crawl is like our economy being hit hard by the failure of so many banks, companies and personal finances. We've all had to adjust our lives and compensate for the problems we find ourselves in. I think what our leaders have done, with the various bail-outs and stimulus packages, is form an open lane for us. It remains to be seen if the people with access to that lane will take the opportunity and make the best of it (to "run with the ball" so to speak) or just get in the lane and hang there blocking the people behind them. We'll see.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Disappearing forest mystery solved

As I walked today at lunch time, I saw the machine that has been clearing out the forest behind our office. The operator stopped and we got a chance to talk. He is clearing a fire break through the forest. There won't be any development there so we'll be able to continue using the forest for hiking and other recreation. He is a local contractor who remembers that there was a fire in the forest about 20 years ago and the fire department wasn't able to get any equipment back here to fight it. There are now houses built around the forest and the fire break should help if there ever is a fire, Let's pray it doesn't need to be tested.

The cats had a tough day

Our cats must have had a really tough night or they just woke up early and needed a nap. They just couldn't wait to lay down on our bed today. And they couldn't be bothered to get up to see us. They were just so exhausted. And notice how fortunate Henry, our black and white cat, was that the comforter was folded up neatly just for him. Rosie, our Blue Persian, prefers to lay with her back up against the pillow shams my wife conveniently places on the bed for her.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Disappearing forest

The forest behind our office is being cut. I hope the whole forest will not be cut. It looks like just a path is being cut. But it's depressing nonetheless. The top picture is from a walk on March 30, 2007. You can see ruts in the path caused by dirt bikers but those have decreased over the years as rain, snow and the feet of hikers have evened out the dirt. As with all of my pictures: Just click on it to get a larger view. I'm using smaller views here today because I have more pictures to show with not as much text. The real pictures are larger.

The second picture was taken March 20, 2009. It shows the result of the cutting. This section doesn't look as bad as other areas because, I assume, the machine had a harder time operating on this relatively steep slope.

The third picture gives a clearer view of the extent of the cutting. It sure makes my lunch-time walk less interesting. We'll see if there is as much wildlife showing up as spring progresses. Today is the first day of spring this year.

The last pictures shows a little hope. One small pine seeding survived the cutting and will start the process of filling this area back in. That is unless there are development plans for this area. I'll let you know what happens.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A day at the zoo

Yesterday, I took off work to go with my wife and kids to the zoo. The kids were going to be taking a class, organized by a group who sets up classes for home-schooled children, and I wanted to go with them. I went for a number of reasons:

  1. I love being with my wife and kids,
  2. I wanted to go to the zoo (although I have mixed feelings about it),
  3. they were going to get a behind-the-scenes look at how the lions and tigers are handled, and
  4. it was a long, tiring trip into the city with all its traffic and crowds and I didn't want my wife to face that alone.

The zoo itself was a little disappointing. I'd never been to the Franklin Park Zoo before. This is one of the two large zoos in the Boston area (the other, the Stone Zoo, is north of Boston). It wasn't the greatest day to be there (it was cold and windy) and many of the exhibits were closed for the winter (the giraffes, the butterflies, many of the birds, the train). But I still found it exciting. I've included a few pictures of the animals here. The top three are obvious - the lion, the tiger and the zebras. But you may not recognize the fourth picture. It's called a wildebeest and is also known as the gnu. The fifth picture is the rear view of an ostrich. It refused to listen to my pleas to stand and turn around for a good picture. Trust me - it was big!

I found the kids' class fascinating. The class was about training the zoo animals. My first thought was why would they train the animals. This wasn't a show like Sigfried and Roy or a trained dog act. They explained how they need to get the animals to do certain things on command so they can feed them or treat them with medicine or just inspect them for injuries or disease. So, they teach the animals to come, roll over, stand up and stretch high etc. They showed some examples of training and then talked about the trouble of doing all this training without being able to touch the animals or have the animals understand them. Then they led the kids in a "game" to see how you go about training the animals with these constraints. One child would volunteer to be the "animal" and leave the room. Then, the class decided what they would like to train the "animal" to do. Something fairly simple due to the short time. Then, the volunteer entered the room and had to figure out what they were supposed to do. No one could tell them or show them. You just had to move around until the trainer rewarded you with a treat (a piece of candy in this case). So, the "animal" would try all sorts of different things until it got rewarded enough to do the thing the class wanted. Of course, the trainer had to decide if each little behavior was close enough to a step toward the behavior to offer a reward. Imagine also how the animal would feel - "Why did I get a treat when I did this but not when I did that?" It took a lot of work on both ends.

Then we got to see behind the exhibits for the lion and tigers to see how the handlers used the trained behavior to feed the big cats and inspect them for sores or other injuries. This was very interesting and pretty smelly. I don't envy the people that do this job. It's both dangerous and messy.

It seems a shame to confine these magnificent animals in small enclosures like this. It seems like it would be better to leave them in their native habitat. But it is exciting to see them for real. And it helps to raise our awareness of the problems in their native habitat. Some of these animals, like the tigers, are in the zoo because they were removed from the private collection of someone who didn't know what they were getting into when they got a pair of cute tiger cubs. And some of the animals are endangered and have small numbers in the wild. The zoos are able to help with breeding programs and to learn how to better protect the animals in their native lands. Fortunately, modern zoos are much better at making enclosures for the animals that mimic their natural habitats, too. All in all, if it is done right, I think zoos are a positive thing. As long as we don't overdo it. After all, we don't want to get to the point where we're removing all the large animals from the wild to "protect" them and have no real, natural habitat left.

A side note - I have pictures of my wife and kids at the zoo but I didn't include them. I have this inordinate fear that someone will see them on this blog and want to look them up. That's why I'm a little vague about my name and where we live. I hope that some day I'll get over this phobia so I can include more pictures of them. After all, I do have the prettiest wife and most beautiful children on the planet!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Peanuts is still terrific

This isn't one of the best of the Peanuts cartoons but it got me thinking today that even though this particular strip was first published in 1962, it is still funny. And the last line is still relevant. We'll always have a "foreign situation". And even with more people wearing contact lenses today instead of glasses, children as young as Linus still wear glasses if they need them and are still being taunted by their friends about it. I think we'll be reading and enjoying Peanuts for a long, long time.

My family has been buying the books with all of the Peanuts comic strips in them. They are organized as two years of daily and Sunday strips in each volume (except that the first volume has three years' worth of comics because the first year was short). We have five of them so far and they are wonderful. They not only bring back memories of reading them with my parents and friends as they come out but they are still funny. There is also a page at for Peanuts where you can see the strip that is published each day in the paper. That's where I got the example in this article.

Of course, since Charles Schulz died in 2000, we are no longer getting new strips. We're seeing comics that were first published in the 1960's. The stories themselves have lost nothing through the years. Like the Peanuts characters, humans continue to be misunderstood and to misunderstand. We continue to be bossy, bossed around, too noisy and too quiet. To some of us, getting our meals on time is the most important thing in the world and to others it's getting the attention of a girl with red hair. Mr Schulz left us with some wonderful characters and I'm kind of glad he didn't want anyone else to continue the strip. I think it could never be the same. New artists should make their own, new characters and stories instead of trying to force themselves think like Charles Schulz. I'm glad to be left with the warm memories of the wonderful world of Charlie Brown and his friends.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Daylight Moving Time

Today is the first day of, so called, Daylight Saving Time this year. I call it Daylight Moving Time because it doesn't save daylight at all. We are, of course, using the new rules put into effect in 2007 which moves this event even earlier in the year than before and makes it even more ridiculous. The justifications have always been that this saves energy or that people like to have more light in their lives. While both of these are good goals, I don't think this "moving around" of the daylight does either. These rules were certainly not proposed and updated by anyone who gets up and does things before 7 AM. Here are two pictures. The top one was taken at around 6:30 AM on Saturday, March 7 - before the time change. See how nice and bright it is? The second was taken this morning at around 6:40 AM, Sunday, March 8 - after the time change (and 10 minutes "later" to give it a little more time to get bright). Sorry for the blurry image on the second shot. It was so dark, the camera had a hard time getting the focus.

How does this improve anything for those of us who are up early and want to get things done outside? I say, "Drop the whole, silly Daylight Saving Time mess." Yes, it's brighter when I get home at night. After a hard day of work, I'd just as soon go in, greet my family, have my dinner and sit down to rest. But no! Now that it will be lighter when I get home, I'll feel compelled to do some work while it's still light. Thanks a lot.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Getting kids to sleep

I just want to write this down before I forget it. I was reading another blog and one of the people who commented mentioned how hard it was to get his child to sleep and what he had to sing and do to get him to sleep. That reminded me of how hard it was to get our son Evan to sleep. I think he thought he was going to miss something if he ever dozed off. So, he tried to stay awake - all day and all night.

We found the the thing he liked best was for us to sing the tune to The Bunny Hop and do a little jump (actually three little jumps) when we got to the "Hop, hop, hop" part. Usually, by the time we got to this, he was upset and needed to be calmed down AND made ready to sleep. The Bunny Hop usually did the trick. But there were times when I thought I'd never be able to stand that tune again. It went on for up to a half-hour sometimes. But since it was the last resort, we didn't have much else to try.

Unless we decided to give in and go for a ride in the car. We explored every road within a twenty mile radius of our house to get him to drop off to sleep. And then we'd get home and a car would roar past as we were getting him out of the car and into the house and he would wake up again. I'm so glad those days are over. And yet, I miss them somehow.

Our daughter was much easier. A few choruses of Frere Jacques (with varying lines like "Go to sleep" or "Please lay down now" or the ever popular "Heaven help me") and she would sleep most of the night.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

And March doesn't bring an end to winter either

I know, I know. March comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb. Spring doesn't officially come until March 20 this year. Winter always hangs on longer than it should and then it abruptly changes to summer around here. But I really had hopes this year. We had a beautiful day with warming temperatures on February 27. I made the mistake of getting my hopes up. Well, just to show the difference, here are two pictures of the place in the woods behind our office where I walk. The first was taken on Friday, February 27. The sun was bright and the air was almost warm. I was starting to hear birds coming back into the woods (although none would sit still long enough for me to snap a picture). Then, Sunday night and early Monday morning on March 2, we got another snowfall. It was supposed to be mostly rain for us. It wasn't. It started out as snow, changed to freezing rain and then back to snow. Then the temperature dropped and it froze even more. The snow at the bottom has started to melt and that froze. Then the snow on top was mixed with the freezing rain so there was a crust on the snow in the middle. It was the worst snow to shovel. We were fortunate that we only got about 4 inches. It could have been worse. But, all things considered, I could have handled a rain storm much better.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Yet another birthday in our house

Our cat Rosie had a birthday on Saturday, February 28. The day after mine. She is 15 years old. It's easy to remember her age because we got her the first year we were married so with our wedding anniversary in January (the 8th), we see Rose's age match the number of years we've been married a month later. The picture here is Rose at Christmas in 2008. We joke that she was trying to be one of the animals in the Nativity scene.

She's a good cat. She still sleeps with us just as she did when we first got her - in between my wife's head and my head. Sometimes we wake up because she has started to purr during the night for some reason.