Sunday, September 30, 2007

New Spanish Language Resource

As we continue to prepare for our upcoming trip to Costa Rica, I have continued my study of Spanish. As I mentioned before, I have been using the Coffee Break Spanish podcasts for a great deal of my learning. These podcasts are free and can easily be found on iTunes or via their web site.

Two weeks ago I discovered a new resource Live Mocha. This online site provides a wealth of resources. The site is not specific to Spanish and offers a number of languages. It also has a community aspect to it. They offer lessons, assign you a tutor that you may ask questions to, and have integrated instant message capability, both text and voice. The other evening I was chatting with a woman from Columbia. She was learning English and typing her messages in English as I was replying in Spanish. We were each able to provide corrections and suggestions to one another. This service has really helped in my understanding of the language, spelling, and sentence structure. There were all aspects that we lacking in the podcasts alone.

Estoy aprendiendo español. Hasta Luego!

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Autumn in Central Idaho

Woohoo! Three day weekend in Stanley Idaho! Karyn and I snuck away for a three day weekend in Stanley. We took the El Conquistador de Montañas, our full suspension mountain tandem. The weather was beautiful upon our arrival, but it wasn't supposed to stay that way. It is amazing how different the valley looks than when we were here in July. The green is gone. Dry grasses now replace the green lush meadows of July. The mountains are just as beautiful although there is a lot less snow. Many of the birds are gone, but there are still plenty to look at. The brush was turning red and the aspens were bright orange. It was beautiful.

On Friday we choose to ride our favorite mountain bike trail, Fisher Creek, as this was the only day with guaranteed good weather. The trail was as fun as ever. The temperature was about 70 degrees with little wind. A perfect day.

Saturday morning we awoke with the sound of rain. It didn't sound too hard. We decided to support the local economy by visiting the local bakery. Last time we were there they had fresh blackberry scones. Mmm. Unfortunately this time it was Blueberry. Still very good! We visited the Stanley Creek basin for some bird watching. We found a Prairie Falcon on a fence post. We watched it catch a small bird in the air. Wow! We hiked in the rain around the small stream looking for frogs and small birds in the brush. The rain really started to come down so we returned to the van for lunch. We opted for a hike in the afternoon instead of a ride as the weather was still threatening. We hiked a few
miles up elk creek into elk meadows. A Northern Harrier was flying low over the meadow. We decided to skip the trail on the return and hike through the marshy meadow. While soggy, it was beautiful. Tons of frogs, scared up some ducks, watched a Redtailed Hawk fly over. No large mammals though. It was probably all of the hunters out and about.

We decided to camp at Stanley Lake in the hopes for some great birds. Birds there were - 8 Western Grebes, lots of Common Mergansers, some Ruddy ducks, and a large group of American Coots. Our camp was filled with Mountain Chickadees and lots of Warblers I couldn't identify. Around dinner time there was a hatch of these little blue bugs with cotton ball butts. We watched as the warblers would fly out of the tree to grab one or two and then return into the tree. A few moments later they would fly out again for some more. A Brown Creeper landed on the tree about 6 feet away and creeped up to the top. It was an impressive show for one fall evening.

It rained hard over night. The snow level came down to just above camp. This ruled out a bike ride so we stuck with bird watching. We would catch a quick ride after returning home.

The view of McGown Peak from Stanley Lake.

As I have said before, fall is a wonderful time of year in Idaho.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

World Clock Statistics

Here is a link to a World Clock that calculates interesting statistics on population growth, disease, etc. It allows you to choose different timeframes and start the calculations whenever you want. I reset the numbers and let it run for 4 hours one day. Here is a snapshot of what I found.I was surprised by a numbers of things. The first is the alarming population growth rate. I was not aware that the birth rate more than doubles the current world death rate. I welcome anyone to explain how that is sustainable. The next surprising item for me is the number of abortions. It is much much greater than I expected. Of course, if the anti-abortion forces had their way, the birth rate would be triple the death rate and we would be destroying the world even faster! It is encouraging the number of bicycles produced in the 4 hours outpaced the number of cars, but that was still an amazingly high number of cars produced (16,495)! The item in my opinion that most indicates the end of human population is the fact that we allowed 12 species to go extinct in this 4 hour period. That is 3 new species going extinct every hour, every day.

Each time I post of population issues I receive comments encouraging a voluntary approach to population reduction. The voluntary approach is basically what we have been using to date. The voluntary approach is what has created a world where we allow the birth rate to double the death rate. Furthermore we are trying to extend the birth advantage through the elimination of abortion and improvement in prenatal health around the world, while reducing the death rate through better medical procedures. It is a difficult situation as it is ethically impossible to deny medical treatment to individuals or a portion of the population, but the systematic view clearly indicates that something must absolutely be done.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Moving a household by bicycle

Credit to TreeHugger for the link to this video.

This video shows a very impressive household move by a group of friends by bicycle! Very impressive. It is definitely an incentive to not accumulate too much cargo. Light furniture is also a plus. There are also some impressive cargo carrying bikes in the video.

Update: Here are some pictures and videos of another household move by bicycle. This just proves that I am way too lazy when it comes to the errands that I use the car for.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Backyard Photography

In between our other activities today, I spent a little time taking pictures in the backyard. Here are some of my better photos. Not bad for the little time I spent with it. We don't have a large backyard either.

We have a number of bird feeders, but the Goldfinches and Pine Siskins prefer the natural sunflowers. Go Organic!
A Rufous Hummingbird flew through stopping briefly on the flowers, but was a bit two quick for me. He apparently didn't like what he found. The butterfly was much more my speed. I was fascinated at how good this guy was at flying.
I usually think of butterflies as bouncing around and being driven around by the wind. This particular fly would glide in under full control, landing gently upon the flower.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Queens River Backpacking

Labor Day weekend is the beginning of one of the best seasons in Idaho. The weather cools off, the crowds are gone, the mosquitoes are gone, and its easy to reach the higher elevations. What a great weekend for a long backpacking trip. Our plan consisted of a 4 day trip to complete a 31 mile loop on the Southwest side of the Sawtooth Mountains in Central Idaho. This is also one place in Southern Idaho not on fire. Our plan was to hike up the Little Queens River outside of Atlanta Idaho, cross over a saddle into Johnson Creek, hike up a fork of Johnson Creek, cross over into the big Queens River and loop back to the car. We completed this loop with a little extra, pushing the distance to 33 miles.

Karyn wasn't able to attend, leaving myself, Doug, Lanette, Paul, and Gayle. We started out Friday morning hiking up the Little Queens River. I was definitely appreciating the ultralight backpacking gear. My pack weighed in at 36 pounds instead of the 46 I carried last year. I even had an extra days worth of food. The Little Queens River trail climbs gently up the valley for 9 miles to the head of the canyon. We weren't on the trail long before we saw the first signs of bear. After about 8 miles we started looking for a suitable campsite. We reached the head of the canyon at 9 miles without a suitable camp site. We decided to take a 1 mile side trip into Brown's lake for the evening. Brown's Lake is a beautiful high mountain lake nestled against the Sawtooth granite backdrop. Just after setting up camp a thunderstorm rolled through, raining all evening. It was cool to watch the clouds, lower than the peaks, fly by overhead.

The next morning presented clear sunny skies. We descended back down to the head of the canyon and hiked up and over the saddle into Johnson Creek. Johnson Creek burned a number of years ago. The descent down the canyon was difficult through the thick brush and over many downed trees. Just before arriving at our trail junction, I heard what I was reasonably sure was a group of wolves howling. The low howl started by a few as others join in and match the pitch. Way cool. We ate lunch at the stream crossing in the bottom of the canyon. My oatmeal breakfast didn't stick with me very long today. I ate a lot for lunch! After lunch we started up the tributary of Johnson Creek leading out of Pat's Lake. This was very brushy. We spooked up a number of deer. There were more signs of bear. Entering a marshy area below the lake we spooked up 10 more mule deer. I listened to the wind whistle through the dead trees. It made me question my wolf howl from earlier. Maybe it was just the wind? We will never know. After 7.5 miles of hiking, we arrived at Pat's Lake, our camp for the evening. At 8400 feet above sea level, this lake was also nestled into a granite bowl. Tonight the sky remained clear. It was a beautiful evening!

The third day started like the others, beautiful sunshine. The hike took us past Arrowhead Lake and up to the saddle overlooking the big Queens River. The vista from their was amazing. We looked back down past Arrowhead Lake to Pat's lake, we could see far into the Sawtooth, and down the lush Queens River Valley. We didn't want to leave, but the trail beckoned. We descended steeply to the river. From here the trail follows the river all the way out. There were signs of bear, elk and deer in the valley. We spooked up some Spruce Grouse, Pine Grosbeaks, and many other birds. A Redtailed Hawk screeched overhead. This valley was much more lush than the little Queens. We hiked through a small burn, but most was rich green. We found a campsite after 7 miles of hiking, but we decided to go further. After 9 miles we started looking in earnest. At 10 we found a questionable site, but decided to hike on. It was all downhill. At 12 miles we were getting pretty tired and would take anything. We found a little spot that would work. While clouds had threatened earlier in the day, it was a clear evening. I decided to leave the rain fly off one end of the tent so that I could sleep under the stars. They were outstanding. The half moon rose a little after midnight.

Since we hiked most of the trail on Sunday, we only had 3.5 miles left to hike out. It was fairly uneventful except for the fresh Cougar track. We finished the 33 miles loop and only saw 2 people. They were camped at Brown's lake where we stayed on the first day. Amazing.

We stopped in for lunch in Atlanta. Unfortunately this mining town doesn't have a restaurant. I guess it would be backpacker food for another meal before driving the 66 mile gravel road out of there.

This is definitely a place I would recommend and will likely return to again. We were already discussing various other options in the area for the future. Shorter loops with some off trail connections, or longer loops beyond the head of the big Queens River. Beautiful country, lots of wildlife, no people. Don't tell!

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