Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday photo

My extended family is camping this weekend, so that can only mean one thing:

A few years ago, a massive rainstorm hit the campground we favor (Chain-O-Lakes State Park near Albion, Indiana) and would you believe it? One of the three brothers in our family is an engineer and the other two demonstrated that they are anything but:

We had the misfortune of obtaining a campsite that was downstream of most of the rest of the campground and one of us pitched his tent in the very lowest part of that site, what became the deepest part of a temporary lake. The other pitched his tent at the natural outlet to that lake.

Our mother, the wise matriarch of the clan, used a moment between downpours to scout the campground and note which sites drained the best; we reserve those well in advance now. And we'll probably need them, as this part of the country has seen heavy thunderstorms almost every week. Wednesday, it was tornadoes and earthquakes in tandem.

Update: a small shower Saturday morning, more rain on the trip home, but otherwise sunny and dry humid. We'll take it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday photo

Electric Peak, Yellowstone National Park. September 1996.

Electric Peak is the highest peak in the Gallatin Range, at 10,969', and is arguably the single most prominent peak in Yellowstone, seeming to stand apart from its surroundings in a way that most of the other mountains don't. If you're anywhere in the northwest section of the Park, you're aware of Electric.

Why the name Electric Peak? Because the guys who named it reached the summit just as an electrical storm was moving in. And if you're not thinking, That's an awful place to be in an electrical storm, then you ought to know that the summit of a mountain is just an awful place to can be during an electrical storm; the only place I can think of that would be worse would be standing in a pond at the top of a mountain with your arms wrapped around a tall iron pole.

Henry Gannett, one of those explorers who named Electric Peak in 1871, described the occasion thusly:

I was above the others of the party, and, when about fifty below the summit, the electric current began to pass through my body. At first I felt nothing, but heard a crackling noise, similar to a rapid discharge of sparks from a friction machine. Immediately after, I began to feel a tingling or prickling sensation in my head and the ends of my fingers, which, as well as the noise, increased rapidly, until, when I reached the top, the noise, which had not changed its character, was deafening, and my hair stood completely on end, while the tingling, prickling sensation was absolutely painful. Taking off my hat partially relieved it. I started down again, and met the others twenty-five of thirty feet below the summit. They were affected similarly, but in a less degree.

His companion Alexander Brown didn't take the hint; climbing Electric Peak is even today a major excursion and he had worked too hard to deny himself the view from the summit, so he "attempted to go to the top, but had proceeded but a few feet when he received quite a severe shock, which felled him as if he had stumbled."

Oops. See the comment above, on where not to be during thunderstorms. Fortunately, Brown survived without permanent damage. So did Henry Gannett, who went on to an illustrious career as a cartographer of the West and was honored by having his name attached to the highest peak in Wyoming.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"den lilla människan" - the perils of translation

This just came up in, of all places, the archives listserv:

BP's chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg has been taken to task for a statement he made to reporters after a meeting with President Obama and other White House officials: "I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are really companies that don’t care, but that is not the case in BP, we care about the small people."

Apparently, many listeners were put off by the seeming condescension of the phrase "small people." But the Language Log blog trolls the comments at various sites and finds several people claiming to be native Swedish speakers, who offer up variants on this explanation:

In Sweden we often say “den lilla människan” (lit: “the little human”) when we talk about someone or a group of people who either is up against larger forces or odds, or simply have been unfortunate enough to be caught in the middle between (much) bigger and more powerful players/forces/events.

Plus, would anyone in the US even blink if a Gulf Coast fisherman said, "Someone's got to stand up for the little guy"?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Streets of San Francisco

Strange Maps presents a few 3-D renderings of crime in San Francisco, using elevation instead of colors or shading; check it out:

If you want a hooker, you have to go downtown, but you can get your car stolen anywhere.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday photo

Seven Mile Hole, Yellowstone National Park. July 1988.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone may not be so enormous as the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, but that's no reason to look down on it. Unfortunately, that's the only view people will ever have of it - looking down from the canyon rim. The Seven Mile Hole trail is the one established trail that takes you all the way down to the river and lets you feel swallowed up by the canyon. At 5.5 miles*, it's a short distance, but since one and half miles of that involve climbing 1400 feet back out of the canyon, it feels longer.

This is the safe way to get to the bottom of the canyon. A couple week ago, two climbers died trying to descend frozen Silver Cord Cascade, a stream that makes a series of drops down the canyon wall opposite the Seven Mile Hole trail. From the news accounts, this isn't an insane climb to attempt and the two men weren't novices, but I suppose anything that couldn't get you killed wouldn't provide enough adrenaline.

Years ago, you could get near the bottom of the canyon right at the base of the Lower Falls via Uncle Tom's Trail, a series of ladders (nowadays stairs) and switchbacks. Genteel visitors would do this in dresses and suits, believe it or not; in the photo below, the gentleman to the right seems to have a great deal of dirt on his trousers, likely from falling or skidding. I'm sure their footwear was entirely inappropriate.

You can't take the trail all the way to the bottom any more, but it's still a strenuous little hike and a spectacular view, and also not free of danger. Lee Whittelsey's book Death in Yellowstone records a pair of people killed by falling rocks on this trail, but the only human fall from Uncle Tom's Trail happened a couple weeks after I took the photo at the top: a boy from Indiana was sitting on a railing above a particularly long drop off and lost his balance.

* The name Seven Mile Hole come from the distance down river from the Lower Falls.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How to be presidential

The press is complaining that President Obama is too calm. They want him to spend less time talking to experts, studying the issue, and trying to find solutions - and more time acting out his anger for the public.

Don't we have Republicans for that?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday photo

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park. May 1995.

Sadly, I've only visited Yosemite once, and then only for a couple days (I was on my way back to Yellowstone and had a deadline). And it rained most of the time I was there, so I didn't do much hiking, although I did get in a few miles on my then-brand new bicycle. So Yosemite is something I may need to do again sometime, even though weekdays in May were still too crowded for my tastes.

Yosemite is occasionally billed as the first national park, an argument which is partly true, but is also incorrect in an important way. There's no question about its priority over Yellowstone as a protected area. Upon pleas from prominent local citizens, the federal government withdrew the Yosemite valley from settlement in 1864 and gave the land to the state of California*, on the condition that it be managed as a public park and protected from resource extraction. When Congress set aside Yellowstone eight years later, the park proponents made direct reference to the Yosemite Grant as a precedent, and even the language of the act itself mirrored the text of the earlier grant.

But Yosemite was not a national park; it was a state park. No doubt Yellowstone would have been made a state park, too - if there had been a state to grant it to. As it turned out, Yellowstone lay mainly in the northwest corner of Wyoming Territory, which in 1872 consisted primarily of a string of towns stretched along the Union Pacific Railroad far to the south. It was going to be many years before there would even be a state government, let alone a state government with a presence in the Yellowstone region. So a national park it had to be - "The National Park" was its official name - and a national park it remained When Wyoming achieved statehood in 1890, the enabling act explicitly excluded Yellowstone.

With the meadows were being overgrazed and the Giant Sequoias heavily logged, Yosemite needed more protection, at least in the minds of conservationists such as John Muir and the magazine editor Robert Underwood Johnson. They publicized their disapproval and successfully spurred Congress to action. This time, instead of giving more land to California, the government created a new national park surrounding the valley in 1890, with a troop of US Army cavalry to run the show. Yosemite was now imitating Yellowstone, which had remained under federal control and, when it required more supervision and protection, had been placed under the control of the Army just four years earlier. When the National Park Service was established in 1916, the circle was completed: the state park was ceded back to the federal government** and the present-day Yosemite National Park came into being.

* A good example of how the states never automatically owned all the land within their borders, as some fools erroneously claim.

** In this case, giving up land was a good deal for the state. The federal government pays the bills, the local economy gains the tourist dollars, a formula which probably goes a long way in explaining the eagerness for national parks. The formula only failed when the locals didn't want any park at all.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

How big is that spill

Here's a site that lets you compare the size of the BP oil spill to your home town county state:

Via Maps-L listserv