Tuesday, November 19, 2019

FrankenRamen

I have been eating more sensibly recently, but I still have one packet of Maruchan Ramen lurking in my pantry. Does throwing away the flavor packet get rid of all the 830 mg of sodium? How about using the packet for cooking but draining away the broth, which is what I usually do? The back panel of the package doesn't break it out, and good luck finding the answer on the internet. Let's just say opinions vary.

I did notice one little disclosure on the package that should cause Millennials to seek refuge in their safe spaces: "Partially produced with genetic engineering." Cool. Now I want to eat it every day just to be a contrarian. Instead I'll probably switch to Rice Ramen (0 sodium) or (if the United States Postal Service ever finds my spiralizer) zucchini noodles aka zoodles.

Update: I stood and stared at the mail carrier to make sure he put the parcel locker key in my box. Zoodles!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Mercury

On the 11th day of the 11th month, it was 11 degrees in my yard as I prepared to witness the Transit of Mercury. The forecast said it might be cloudy until 10 a.m. but by 8:00 there were only scattered clouds interfering occasionally. In the warmth of August 2017, I got a few images of the total solar eclipse through my telescope with the old Canon S45 camera attached. Today it was just too cold to fiddle with that setup, which is very hard to aim and focus. I gave up on that and just used my DSLR with 400mm lens. (Everything is protected by appropriate solar filters, of course.) I also set up my little Coronado solar telescope, but photography through that is impossible so that was for visual observing only.

I could not see the planet through my camera, but on the solar scope I was able to make out a little dot near the center of the sun. The apparent size of Mercury is much smaller than Venus, but we won't see another Venus transit until 2117. So this is what we have today. Unlike the total eclipse, which was rather exciting, this really doesn't get the adrenaline pumping, but it is a somewhat rare event involving another world. The next such transit is in 2032. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Next celestial events are an annular "Ring of Fire" eclipse Oct. 14, 2023 (I plan to be in Albuquerque) and a total eclipse Apr. 8, 2024 (I probably will be near Austin, TX). Previous celestial events:

2017 Eclipse
Total Eclipse 2017
2017 Eclipse
Total Eclipse 2017
Annular Eclipse Iceland 2003
Annular Eclipse 2003
Transit of Venus 2004
Venus Transit 2004
Transit of Venus 2012
Venus Transit 2012
Partial
Partial Eclipse 2014
Full Moon 2015
Full Moon 2015
Transit of Mercury 2016
Mercury Transit 2016


Monday, November 04, 2019

Badlands Bighorns

There are certain places where I stop just about every time I drive by, and the Badlands is one of them. I know there are usually bighorn sheep in the Pinnacles Overlook area near the western entrance, and the rams usually hang out just west of there a short distance down the Sage Creek Rim Road. I saw a couple of rams when I drove through there Oct. 28, but on my return trip yesterday I saw nothing on my first pass. After a pit stop, I did another short loop and saw a herd of something off in the distance.

It was a herd of bighorns, including five or six rams of various ages. Most of the group eventually came closer, and a few approached the canyon rim just a few yards from me. A couple of the rams curled their lips and tasted the air, which is a mating behavior, but to my disappointment they didn't engage in any head butting. There were only about four ewes, so it seemed the females who usually frequent the area were elsewhere.

By my count I have posted 268 images of bighorns on my site, including 11 from this trip. Click on the image to start the slide show:


Bighorn Rams. The one on the left is tasting the air.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Thunderbirds

The Sioux Falls Air Show was over the weekend featuring the USAF Thunderbirds. Including Friday's practice, I had three chances to track the Thunderbirds through their routine.

While there may be some value in being on the flight line at the airport, I camped out on a hill a mile or so from the airport and waited for the planes to fly over. I missed out on the static displays and some of the other performers, but I avoided the crowds and the Thunderbirds flew right over my position several times during each show.

The other highlights of the show were the old warbirds. I didn't get great photos of the Corsair, P-51, and TBM Avenger, but I did post a couple images of the latter two. (I got much better warbirds shots at the 2016 Sioux Falls Air Show.) I had more success with the Heritage Flight, which this year featured Navy planes including the AD-4 Skyraider, FJ-4B Fury, and F/A-18G Hornet. The Skyraider and Fury were Vietnam-era ground attack planes, one being prop-driven and the other being a jet. The Fury is related to the Air Force's F-86 Sabre. The Hornet is a version of the same plane used by the Blue Angels. Another Hornet at the show was a CF-18 Canadian version, which did solo shows before the Thunderbirds. It was reported that this was the only appearance by the RCAF at a US air show this year. It seemed like five minutes after finishing its performance, it took off again and headed back to the Great White North.

By my count this is the 11th air show I've photographed since 2002, the third with the Thunderbirds. The last time I saw the Thunderbirds was back in 2005 at their home base in Nevada. That was a gigantic show. Click here to see the air show listing on my Galleries page.

I posted 63 images, including 47 of the Thunderbirds. The light was constantly changing during the three days, so at times it was challenging. The Thunderbirds images are roughly in chronological order, but with single planes first, then formations of four, five and six. Click on the images to start the slide show.

Update: I just added seven new images to the 2016 Sioux Falls Air Show gallery. The new stuff is three AV-8 Harrier images, and additional Blue Angels and B-25 images.


Thunderbirds


US Navy Heritage Flight

Monday, July 08, 2019

Painting with light

The Fourth of July once again brought me to Red Lodge, Montana. Last year I shot the fireworks with the Canon M100 on a tripod, which was OK, but this year I decided to use my real SLR, 5D Mark III, with the ultrasharp 80-200 f4 lens. For some reason the difference was dramatic, perhaps due in part to the ability to fire continuously with a shutter release.


Fireworks


Fireworks

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Thursday, May 23, 2019

He knows Tom Brady

Who wouldn't dream of walking in the shoes of both Graig Nettles and Roger Staubach, playing third base for the New York Yankees and playing quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys? Drew Henson experienced both of those things during his unique but short pro sports career between 2002 and 2004. He got a hit (just one) for the Yankees, and he had a start at quarterback (just one) for the Cowboys. I got this photo of him in the 2002 Arizona Fall League when he was battling to make the Yankees.

But Henson's greatest claim to fame probably comes from his college football days at Michigan when he battled Tom Brady for the starting quarterback job. (Brady was thought to be a baseball prospect at catcher but never went the dual-sport route, instead concentrating on football.) There's an urban legend that Henson beat out Brady for the Michigan job, which isn't true. The two platooned for the first seven games of 1999, after which Brady was named the starter. In the image below, Henson made a good stop on a hot grounder to third, but was indecisive and threw late to first base. Just like his career, didn't quite make it.


3rd baseman Drew Henson

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Osprey, 16 years later

This is the third installment this week in my "old images revival." This time the setting is Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Maryland in April 2003. There were lots of osprey in the area but it seemed I would have to be content with distant shots. Until...I was walking along a trail and heard a crash in the tree above me. An osprey had landed with a huge fish that was still flopping around. I carefully got in position to shoot up at it, and fired off 85 images in 10 minutes.

The lighting conditions were difficult. It would have been much better if the sky had been blue and I had a flash unit for fill flash, but what I recorded was a low-contrast bird with a washed-out, cloudy background. At the time, I posted a couple of images with which I was never really satisfied. I took another crack at the images today with my more modern version of Photoshop Elements and another 16 years of experience with photo editing. There are still the limitations of the original images, but I think what I came up with is more presentable. I ended up posting two revised images and eight new ones. Click on the image to start the revised slide show.


Osprey with a fish


Monday, May 20, 2019

Cherry blossoms, five years later

I've been going through old images, as I do from time to time, and noticed that a few from the April 2014 Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC didn't make it onto the web site. I went to Washington many times between 1986 and 2014, this time to attend orientation for my fourth and final incarnation as an FDIC bank examiner, and for only the second time I happened to be there in April when the blossoms were peaking. (The other time was pre-digital. I've got some prints somewhere.) Click on the image below for the slide show starting with the four new images. It then wraps around to other DC-area images from the 00's.


Cherry Blossoms


Sunday, May 19, 2019

The busy years

In 2002-2005 I was rediscovering photography and I also felt the need to do something more with my vacation time. In 2003 I went to Antarctica, Alaska, Iceland, Maine, Florida, Maryland, and the Yellowstone area. I was looking through my Yellowstone photos today and decided to add five more images to that gallery. I also did a revision of the iconic (for me) elk image shown below. The new images are two more of the elk, a magpie, a female mountain bluebird, and a moose in Grand Teton. Click on the image to start the slide show.


Iconic Elk


Sunday, May 12, 2019

Baby bison can fly

I've made the Black Hills and Badlands photo trip several dozen times since my move back to the Heartland 12 years ago and have accumulated hundreds of bison, pronghorn and bighorn images. There's always the hope that I'll see and capture some behavior I haven't seen before, and this trip didn't disappoint.

When we passed through the Custer State Park in mid-April, there were no baby bison present. According to news reports, they started popping out just after we left. When I returned solo on Friday, there were baby bison everywhere. I was staking out a large herd in the south part of the park and saw this baby, no more than four weeks old, decide to jump over a small creek rather than wade through it. Baby bison really can fly!


Baby bison

Something else I hadn't seen before was pronghorns chasing each other. Next to Oak Draw Road, I saw a small herd of six, and I think the old buck was chasing the youngsters around to keep them in line. Compared to the youngsters he seemed to move rather stiffly when walking, but he could still run. Pronghorns are considered the second-fastest land animal in the world after cheetahs, and it is something to see them race across the prairie at speed.


Pronghorn chase

I stopped in the Badlands both Thursday and Saturday expecting to see bighorns, and as usual a herd was in the vicinity of Pinnacles Overlook. There was only one small ram with the ewes. Several of them with lambs were on the cliffs above the nearby Ancient Hunters Overlook and I got some images both Thursday and Saturday. The lambs blend into the cliffs and it was hard to see them, but I was able to tell there were three of them climbing around on the steep hillside. The Sage Creek Rim Road was finally open on Saturday after being closed the last few times I've been in the park, but I did not any of the four rams that frequented the area the past few years.


Baby sheep (look closely)

Click on the image below to start the slideshow of 60 images at the beginning. Besides bison, pronghorn and bighorns you'll see prairie dogs, elk, deer, mountain bluebirds, swallows, and some other little birds. Alas, no coyotes.


Baby bison

Update 5/26/19: Geese and ducks are so common I rarely bother to shoot them, but I decided today to head to the neighborhood pond, the site of my first Canon M100 test two years ago. I got three images worth posting but it was a reminder that a mirrorless camera without a viewfinder is not a wildlife camera. The image shown below is two ducks on what I believe is a muskrat hut. I got a few blurry images (not posted) of a muskrat (?) swimming toward me. He submerged near the shore and I never saw him come up again. Not only is it hard to frame a moving subject, it is hard to get correct autofocus with a long lens, even with a stationary subject. I missed my tripod and real DSLR 0.8 miles away; maybe this week if it stops raining. Click on the image to start the slide show at that point, then it wraps around to the images from out West earlier in the month.


Ducks on muskrat hut



Friday, February 01, 2019

Lamar Valley in Winter

After the snow coach experience of last Friday, we struck out on our own Wednesday and Thursday to drive the only portion of Yellowstone open to traffic during the winter, Mammoth Springs to Cooke City which includes the famous Lamar Valley. We saw an abundance of bison and a couple concentrations of bighorn sheep. Strangely enough, this is the first time I've seen Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep outside of South Dakota, which is not in the Rockies. There also was another "coyote of the week" strolling down the road taking no notice of people gawking at him. Most of the elk we saw were concentrated near the human activity of Mammoth and Gardiner.

We got to see how the different grazers dealt with digging through the snow to find vegatation. The bighorns pawed at the ground with their hooves. The elk stuck their noses into the snow. And the bison swept back and forth, clearing the snow with their massive heads.

The weather was mostly overcast but not too cold. There was one minor little incident where I got too close to the edge of the road near Soda Butte and needed the assistance of park rangers to get my truck free. My bride describes the incident in much more dramatic terms. Anyway, I added images from these two days to the previous slide show. The link below will start with the new images, then wrap around to those from last week.


Bighorn Sheep in Lamar Valley

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Yellowstone in Winter

One of my favorite photos from my September 2003 trip to Yellowstone is of a bull elk in a meadow. There were at least 20 photographers with big lenses gathered around, snapping away at the elk. Meanwhile, along the road where all the vehicles were parked, a coyote strolled past almost unnoticed and unconcerned about the gaggle of humans who were watching the elk.

It was deja vu all over again this week, except this time Yellowstone was under a cover of snow and the star of the show was a coyote. Once again, the photographers with the big lenses made their presence known. For me, nature photography is a solitary pursuit and I've never paid for a workshop. I'm not a fan of packs of guys (almost always guys) piling out of a vehicle to stalk an animal. No doubt Yellowstone and Grand Teton are more spectacular than Custer State Park and the Badlands, but I've never seen a van full of photographers in my local parks. This week in Yellowstone, I was in a snowcoach full of regular tourists with camera phones, but I had my 5D Mark III/100-400 hiding in my backpack in case something happened.

It was an uneventful day, lots of snow-covered scenery but only a few bison on the road, until we were well on our way back to West Yellowstone when a coyote was spotted on the ice of the Madison River. About 10 guys with big lenses were lined up on the bridge firing away. The snowcoach driver disapproved of them stopping their vehicle on the bridge, so he found a pullout a little further on, and I got a few shots of the coyote on the ice working her way toward us. She came through the guardrail just west of us onto the road, then took a pee. (That's why I think it was a she. I got an image of that but I'm not posting it.) She then headed for the north side of the river and started working her way along the bank headed west.

The most interesting part of her journey was when she climbed up a snow-covered tree trunk to get up the bank to higher ground. I didn't think a coyote would try to do that, but I was wrong. The climbing sequence of images starts with the eleventh image in the slide show. Then she had to plow through some deep snow on her way up the hill. The last I saw of her she was up in the trees.


Coyote on the frozen Madison River


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Tall, Strong Arm

For more than 15 years, 1992-2007, I was a daily commuter in the Boston area, driving up I-95 to my office near Route 128, Boston's version of the Beltway. I loved the day after Thanksgiving before it was known as Black Friday because there was always light traffic and I could make the drive in 30 minutes. On normal days it was 40 minutes; on one really bad day it was three hours. Radio was my entertainment.

The first few years of that drive I listened to Imus until he turned his show into a constant telethon for his children's ranch scam, so in the mid-90's I turned to WEEI sports radio. At that time the Red Sox were still tagged as lovable losers and dominated the sports talk. The Patriots were largely ignored because they were utterly inept, but their 2-14 record in 1992 allowed them to take quarterback Drew Bledsoe #1 in the 1993 draft. An amazing thing happened just before that draft: Owner James Orthwein, who was not considered a football genius, somehow convinced two-time Super Bowl champ Duane "Bill" Parcells to take the head coaching job. Bledsoe and Parcells coming to town forever transformed the radio buzz surrounding the Patriots. Parcells press conferences were highly entertaining and became appointment listening. More importantly, the Patriots began to win and they made the Super Bowl after the 1996 season. But just as they neared the pinnacle, it seemed as though they couldn't stand success.

There was chaos leading up to Super Bowl XXXI against the Packers. It was rumored that Parcells was on his way out because he didn't get along with Robert Kraft, who had bought the team from Orthwein in 1994. Indeed, mere seconds (it seemed) after the Packers finished off the Patriots 35-21, Parcells bolted to the hated New York Jets. Despite the tensions between the owner and the now-former HC, Kraft considered promoting Parcells' right-hand man Bill Belichick to be the new HC. Kraft eventually decided to make a clean break with the Parcells era, but he respected Belichick enough that he felt it was necessary explain his decision over dinner with their spouses. Instead of taking over the Patriots in 1997, Belichick went to the Jets to resume his recurring role as Parcells' defensive coordinator, with a deal in place to eventually become HC. Pete Carroll took over as Patriots HC for three downward-trending seasons, then was fired. (Whatever happened to Pete?) By all accounts Bledsoe is a wonderful person, but I grew increasingly frustrated with his play. He could put up huge passing numbers but was a statue in the pocket, holding the ball too long and taking a lot of sacks.

Parcells decided to move to the Jets front office after the 1999 season, which triggered the promotion of Belichick to head coach, per the agreement. But Little Bill decided he didn't want Big Bill looking over his shoulder, and he also didn't like the Jets' ownership situation. In a bizarre scene in January 2000, Belichick infamously resigned as HC of the NYJ at his introductory press conference and (eventually) became HC of the Patriots. After that 23-day New York-Boston media circus which required the intervention of Commissioner Tagliabue, completely unnoticed was the selection of Tom Brady with the 199th pick in the April 2000 NFL draft. After the 2000 season, Kraft gave Bledsoe the richest NFL contract to date, $10 million per year, despite an 8-8 team record, a 59% completion percentage (low by today's standards), 45 sacks, and only 17 TDs to 13 interceptions. Sometimes I wished they would put in Michael Bishop, the scrambler from K-State, just to cut down on the sacks. One of WEEI's frequent callers gave voice to my frustrations with Bledsoe: "He's tall, he's got a strong arm, he's tall, he's got a strong arm. And he's tall."

That damning faint praise was delivered by "Butch from the Cape," a mysterious Yankees fan who took joy in blistering the Boston teams on sports talk radio. Butch was the New York a-hole Boston loved to hate, and no doubt he was good for ratings. It was rumored that Butch was a retired wise guy, a rumor he no doubt reveled in. Although he certainly associated with mobsters, it turned out that Butch was a small-time gambler and stool pigeon named Thomas Speers. It matters not that Butch technically was from Connecticut, he represented the arrogance of New York. Even a pacifist like me wanted to punch him in the face, even though I largely agreed with him on Bledsoe.

September 2001 is forever defined by national tragedy, but it also was the month that Bledsoe suffered a serious injury. When he went down, I expected Bishop to trot onto the field. Instead it was the afterthought low-round draft pick, the guy we thought was the third- or fourth-stringer, Brady. About the same time Boston sports fans were contemplating a lost season with an inexperienced backup QB, the story spread that the notorious "Butch from the Cape" had cancer. Many WEEI listeners figured it was some weird scam being perpetrated by the degenerate gambler. No, he really was sick and he died in October 2001 at age 58, missing Brady's development into a legend and the Red Sox breaking the Curse of the Bambino, not once but four times.

Belichick's decision to stay with Brady after Bledsoe recovered was controversial at the time, but of course it was proven to be correct. Seventeen years, four months after that initial 2001 relief appearance, Brady is getting ready for his 13th AFC Championship game, trying to reach his 9th Super Bowl, adding yet another chapter to the greatest career in NFL history. Brady is tall, he's got a strong (enough) arm, and he's the ultimate championship quarterback. Decades of frustration with the Patriots ended when Belichick picked Brady over Bledsoe, symbolically coinciding with the death of the loud-mouthed New Yorker "Butch from the Cape," now so very long ago.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Photo of the Year 2018

I've been doing this now since 2002, and since I'm the only one allowed to enter I can make up the rules as I go along. That said, this year was difficult to select a POY because two of my favorite photos posted in 2018 were actually trailcam images that were snapped in 2017 but not retrieved until later, the Montana Moose and the Trailcam Inferno. And although I did select a trailcam images as POY in 2014, I have this feeling I should select something where I actually tripped the shutter.

With that preamble, the 2018 POY is an eagle catching a fish in Illinois. This is the fourth time an eagle has been the subject of POY, but the first since 2010.


Mississippi River Eagle
Mississippi River Eagle

Here are my POY selections for 2002-2017.

Young red-tailed hawk Junior I (2002 edition) right outside my office window.
Junior I 2002
Gentoo penguins greet each other, Jougla Point, Dec. 4, 2003.
Gentoo Penguins 2003
Puffins on Machias Seal Island, Gulf of Maine, 2004.
Little Brothers 2004
Bald Eagle along the Mississippi River, 2005.
Bald Eagle 2005
Blue Jay, 2006.
Blue Jay 2006
Eagle with fish, 2007.
Eagle with fish 2007
Great Horned Owls, 2008.
Great Horned Owls 2008
Custer State Park Bighorn, 2009.
Custer SP Bighorn 2009
Keokuk eagle, 2010.
Keokuk Eagle 2010
Sertoma Butterfly
Sertoma Butterfly 2011
Dark Morph of Broad-Winged Hawl
Dark Morph 2012
Yellow Crowned Night Heron
Night heron 2013
Elk Frame
Elk Frame 2014
Squaw Creek Geese
Squaw Creek Geese 2015
Elk
Elk 2016

Eclipse
Eclipse 2017

Friday, December 07, 2018

Eagle Nest

For the eighth December since 2005, I went to Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge (former Squaw Creek NWR) in northwest Missouri to see eagles and geese. Unlike last year there weren't so many geese this time, but there were lots of eagles. I also saw something I hadn't seen there before, bald eagles actively building a nest.

I got there Wednesday afternoon and it was already getting overcast by the time I found the nest. There are a couple of nests on the western side of the driving loop, but this one was on the southeastern part of the loop. I expertly located it by spotting a bunch of cars stopped along the side of the road and slowing down to see what they were looking at. It was overcast late Wednesday and the light wasn't great, but the slide show includes some interesting nestbuilding shots. Thursday morning it cleared off, but the eagles weren't back working on the nest until 11:40 a.m. I took advantage of the better light and shot snapshots for about 40 minutes until the pair flew off to do something else.

According to the official count, the number of geese peaked a couple weeks ago. In my expert opinion, the geese have already moved on because the ponds have mostly frozen over already. Officially, the eagle count peaked at 198 on Nov. 27 and dipped to 95 on Dec. 4. I easily spotted 50 without really trying. The eagles out on the ice shadowing what waterfowl remained were generally too far away to photograph (although there is one in the slide show), so most of the images are in the trees. Click on images to start slide show of 47 images.


Loess Bluffs Bald Eagles


Loess Bluffs Eagle Nest

The refuge had its Eagle Days the previous weekend. I generally try to avoid these events because seeing more people than eagles is not the reason I go to these places. But if you want to become more educated about eagles and how to find them, lots of places near where eagles congregate in winter have such events.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Snow Angels

Toward the end of Duquesne's 51-6 loss to South Dakota State in the FCS playoffs during a winter storm yesterday, the beleaguered Dukes defense finally made a play and recovered a fumble. With no hope for victory, a couple of senior defensive linemen said "what the hell" and did snow angels to celebrate the fumble recovery and the end of their college careers. The refs threw a flag. Of course they did.

I really hate the choreographed NFL end zone dances, which are rehearsed and tiresome. This was different. It was spontaneous and harmless and fun. No fun allowed, 15 yards.

The great thing about FCS football is everyone who has a remote chance gets into the 24-team playoff field. Thankfully no Herbstreit droning on and on and on. And on and on and on. If we did have an FBS-style "debate," the Jacks would have been pleading with the committee to ignore its stinko loss at Northern Iowa and give it a top 3 seed. Instead they were seeded #5 and will have to win two road games, likely including one in Fargo, to reach the final. (Lesson to SDSU: Don't lose to UNI. Lesson to Georgia: Don't lose to LSU and Alabama.) Not ideal, but the Jackrabbits will decide their own fate on the field, which next week in Kennesaw, Georgia will probably not be snow angel-ready.



Thursday, November 15, 2018

We are doomed

I had an oversized letter to mail today so I went to the nearest postal station which happens to be at the customer service counter in a grocery store. When I got to the counter there was a sign that said the system was down. I had this delusion that they could still weigh it and figure out the postage manually. No such luck.

"The system is down and we can't do anything." "Can't you just weigh it?" "They told us not to trust it."

It is believed the Earth was hit by a massive coronal mass ejection from the Sun in 1859, frying telegraph lines across the U.S. and Europe. Scientists warn that if our modern world gets hit by a solar event of comparable magnitude, it would fry all of our electronics and send us back to the stone age. No more GPS satellites, no computers, perhaps not even any functional vehicles made after 1975. Since our economy is now almost entirely dependent on electronic technology to function, mass starvation seems to be the unavoidable result. We don't have an analog backup for most of our digital world. It's not like we can seamlessly revert to using 1859 steam locomotives.

I took the letter home, weighed it on my analog food prep scale, slapped two Forever stamps on it and stuck it in the mailbox. Disaster averted, for now.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

I have found it!

The greatest stuntwoman in history, Kitty O'Neil, died last week at age 72. That caught my eye, not only because we shared the same last name, but because the place of her demise was Eureka, South Dakota.

In addition to being acknowledged as the greatest stuntwoman, Kitty also holds the world land speed record for women of nearly 513 mph. She had her own Mattel action figure and a biopic movie. Stockard Channing played her in the movie, but she did her own stunts. She overcame much adversity in her life, including deafness from a childhood illness, meningitis which ended a promising Olympic diving career, a couple bouts of cancer, and various injuries from her risky profession. She retired from that lifestyle in 1982, and in 1993 moved to Eureka. She was a native Texan, but apparently she moved there with a fellow named Ray Wald who had some ties to the area.

[In a side note, South Dakota native Jessi Combs (Rapid City), has tried to put together an attempt to break the land speed record, which Kitty set in a three-wheel vehicle. Combs already holds the women's record for a four-wheel vehicle, 399 mph. Combs is best known, at least to me, for one season on Mythbusters while Kari Byron was on maternity leave. Kitty publicly supported Jessi's plans.]

Some of the news coverage of Kitty's passing included bewilderment how a famous Hollywood figure could end up in a tiny little town deep in flyover country. According to the Hollywood Reporter, "I got tired of living in L.A.," she said. "I don't like the big city, too many people. So I moved here and fell in love with it. The people are so friendly."

According to the Washington Post, “How and why they (her and Wald) settled in Eu­reka probably still has a lot of people scratching their heads and a bit baffled,” said Barry Lapp, president of the Eureka Pioneer Museum, which features an exhibit on Ms. O’Neil’s life.

In my former life as a bank examiner, I never went to Eureka per se, but drove just south of there heading to towns further west such as McLaughlin. My understanding is Eureka is a nice little town, maybe even an oasis in the vast expanse of prairie, but it is only 868 people. Aberdeen, population 28,000, is 73 miles away. In McLaughlin, which is near the Missouri River, we asked a single 20-something junior bank officer what he did for fun. He thought about it for a while before responding, "It helps if you like fishing."

When I retired and moved from Massachusetts back to South Dakota, my co-workers thought I was going to the wild frontier. And I'm in a city that has a Costco and Paul McCartney concerts. Eureka is 280 miles deeper into the wilderness. For the last 25 years of her life, Kitty had the blue skies of uncrowded Eureka rather than LA's congestion and brown smog cloud, but I'm sure the writer for the Hollywood Reporter still doesn't get it.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Side effect

At my annual eye exam two years ago, I first noticed that the corrective lenses prescribed for my extreme, life-long nearsightedness no longer brought the world into focus. Last year, the eye doctor acknowledged that I was developing cataracts but didn't think it was necessary to pursue treatment at that time. The past few months as one stoplight became three and I thought perhaps I was become a road hazard, I asked my regular doctor what he thought. He shined a light in my eyes, said "cataracts," and immediately referred me to an eye surgeon.

Ten days ago the surgeon removed the cloudy lens from my right eye and replaced it with an artificial lens. Four days ago, the procedure was performed on my left eye. In the six days in between, I was able to compare what the world looked like through a cataract versus a clear lens. Even though I knew the cloud had been reducing the amount of light that passed into my eye, I was surprised at how much brighter everything was. Even more surprising was the color, which I had not noticed was shifting toward the murky. Have you ever seen a piece of aged plastic that used to be clear? It turns yellowish brown, and that was what had happened to the lenses in my eyes.

The audience for network evening news is old people, so the commercials often are for the multitude of medicines that old people need. The sales pitch is followed by the list of side effects, some of which are quite horrendous and alarming. While there are potential negative side effects to cataract surgery, there was one positive side effect I hadn't thought of: I am no longer nearsighted. The implanted lenses fixed it. I've been wearing glasses every waking moment since age 7, but now I don't need glasses for distance vision. I still need reading glasses, but as I'm at my computer typing this I'm not wearing them.

This image of bighorns in the Badlands approximates the difference in my eyes without glasses between the surgeries. Most (but not all) of the blurriness is due to my nearsightedness, so not everyone with cataracts will be this blurry. This actually understates the problem because it doesn't show the triple vision I was experiencing. Click on the image to see a larger version, and welcome to my (former) world.


I started driving again a couple days ago. As I settled into my truck, I noticed with relief that I was able to see the dashboard without the reading glasses. I also noticed the MPG number on my dashboard. I thought Ford was stupid for using a small blue number on a black background which nobody could possibly see, particularly during the day. After the operations, it is crystal clear even during the day. So maybe it was me.

I probably should have started gathering information in late 2016 after I first started noticing that my glasses weren't doing the job. Certainly after my eye exam in late 2017, I should have been more insistent that I needed something other than a new glasses prescription. My suggestion is if your eye doctor ever says it looks like you are developing cataracts, ask about the surgery. It is a relatively safe procedure and I'm unaware of any benefit of putting it off until you see three stoplights where there should be one.

One week later: I used to have a superpower. I used to be able to read the tiniest print by holding it four inches from my face. Now that I'm no longer extremely nearsighted, those days are gone. I suppose now having 95% of the world in focus makes up for it.

Five weeks later: After waiting for my eyes to stabilize and for delivery, I finally got my new glasses today. I'm slightly nearsighted in my right eye, which was planned (monovision), but I primarily need glasses for reading. The new lenses are one-third the thickness of the old lenses. If high index lenses had not been invented, the difference would be more dramatic. Maybe this sounds mundane to anyone who has always been able to see, but for me it still feels like a miracle.