Phantom Buzz

Ever feel your cell phone vibrate…even when the phone is nowhere near your person? I’ve had this sensation once or twice a week for years now, a faint buzzing on my hip where I carry my cell phone. Before that it was a buzzing in my pocket (when I stashed my smaller phone in my shirtpocket.)

I don’t know if my cell is turning me into a mental case, or if possibly it has conditioned me to be able to “sense” some electromagnetic frequencies. Wired has an article in experiments in this type of extra-sensory perception. For instance, using a specially designed belt, one participant grew to have a nearly infallible innate sense of direction. Similar experiments were done with people who had rare earth magnets implanted in their fingertips. Even after the magnets were removed they could detect the presence of ferrous metals.

So maybe there is something to this phantom cell phone buzz. If you’ve experienced “the buzz” drop me a line in the comments.

[Via BoingBoing]

When Plants Attack

Bite from a feral Manzanita

After reading about cougar attacks and grizzly bear maulings I found myself completely unprepared for another kind of terror on the trails–the terrible flesh-eating Manzanita of Matilija Canyon. I was hiking through the thicket minding my own business when one of these vicious trees took a wicked 2-1/2″ bite out of my forearm.

Interestingly enough this is the first time in years that I’ve thought to pack a first aid kit while hiking.  It makes you wonder a bit whether or not safety equipment actually invites disaster. Fortunately the injury was not more serious. No blood was physically squirting from my arm, therefore I wasn’t really hurt. (This is the heuristic that I’ve always given my children for evaluating an injury–if the blood don’t squirt, you’re not really hurt–and it’s only right that I apply it to myself from time to time.)

I was a little nonplussed to discover that $9.99 First Aid pouch I purchased at the local grocery was equipped primarily with a couple blister packs of ointment, 500 1/4″ plastic adhesive micro-bandages and a Q-Tip.  But there was one gauze pad and an elfin roll of adhesive tape to hold it in place so I was good for this trip. Before I trek again I had better stock up on some more serious ER equipment. God forbid I might get savaged by a Madrone.

Trail Notes: Matilija Canyon Hike

Pool at Middle Matilija

Summary: A hike up one of the most scenic canyons with year-round running streams. The first two miles are an easy walk on even surface with two easy water crossings. After two miles the trail becomes increasingly difficult to follow, with lots of boulder hopping and scrambling beneath overhanging branches. Numerous pools and a double waterfall make the scamper worth the effort.

To get there: From Ojai, California, drive up Highway 33 about 4.9 miles. Turn left on Matilija Road (called N Matilija Road on Google Maps.) Don’t get confused with South Matilija Road which comes first. Note that the first mile or so is along private road. Stay on the marked trail or you might wind up in someone’s barn!

Notes: Every hike has a theme, and today’s theme was conditioning for a three day packing trip at the end of the month. I packed 30 lbs. of gear and headed three miles up Matilija Canyon starting around 2 pm. The Yucca is in full bloom and Mariposa Lilies where scattered along the trail.

Mariposa Lily in Matilija Canyon

The main difficulty hiking this trail with a full pack were the places where the trail cuts through narrow corridors of Manzanita. At times I felt like Snow White running through the Spooky Forest, with trees grabbing and clawing at my gear. For the most part I managed to outwith them and make my way.

After two miles or so the trail becomes less defined. Trail ducks (or cairns)  mark water crossings. Still there were places I lost the trail altogether and found myself doing a lot of rock-hopping. I got a little careless and rolled my left ankle at one point. Later I rolled the right ankle. Just to keep things even.

Quite a few dayhikers were up enjoying the many swimming holes. I marked a couple of Geocaches in my GPS and brought a rubber chicken by way of wampum.  There is a string of seven caches running up the canyon but I’m not sure any have been found since 2006. I know I didn’t have any luck. The first cache had a village of college students camping on top of it. The next one was a microcache that I couldn’t find for the life of me.

On the way back down I noticed quite a few California Whiptail lizards scrumbling in the underbrush.

California whiptail lizard

Step of Faith

My first attempt at rock climbing

This weekend we went to Lake Hughes for a two day church retreat and I had the opportunity to try my hand at top-roped rock climbing. As you can see from this headless pic of my backside this activity isn’t one of my stronger suits. But it turned out to be a powerful application of the teaching we were getting from speaker Mike Flynn.

Flynn’s take on Faith is roughly similar to Augustine’s “Crede, ut intelligas” –that belief and faith are necessary to arrive at proper understanding. From our rationalist point-of-view we have it the other way around: first you must understand something, then you can put your faith in it.

Rock climbing turns out to be very Augustinian. Faced with a limestone escarpment and nary a handhold bigger than the grit on a sheet of super-coarse carborundum, you soon realize that faith is more important than certainty. The technique was explained to me like this…get a footing. Put your weight on the footing and move upward. Maybe then you’ll see another footing.

This is the sort of faith that the man called Jesus vigorously encouraged in his followers: do not be fooled by appearances. Move ahead. Press upward, even in the absence of certainty.

Colin making the grade

Death Beach

Dead harbor seal pup at Surfer’s Knoll, Ventura

I found this dead harbor seal pup at the foot of a makeshift cross at Surfer’s Knoll in Ventura yesterday. Dead seals are fairly common on these beaches, particularly this time of year when algae blooms produce high levels of domoic acid, a neurotoxin that can kill sea mammals. Several groups are working to locate and rehabilitate poisoned animals before they die.

Last week I found a number of dead birds along this beach: a seagull, commorant, pelican and a tern. These animals share one thing in common–besides being dead, they eat fish that in turn feed on the toxic algae.

This marine life die-off is part of a natural cycle. “Oh yeah, the Circle of Life,” a co-worker said when I told her I spent the early moring beachcombing for dead seals. But what’s surprising about the whole thing is the high-than-usual numbers of mammals washing up. According to UCSB’s Daily Nexus there have been daily strandings of whales and dolphins along California’s central coast for the past month or so. NOAA calls this kind of situation an Unusual Mortality Event.

According to NOAA biotoxins have been responsible for worldwide marine mammal die-offs over 9 of the past 17 years, with increasing frequency. In California biotoxins caused die-offs in 1998 and 2002–or roughly a four to five year cycle.

There’s a lot of chatter on the internets about fertilizer runoff being responsible for these harmful algae blooms. Marine scientists seem to think organic nitrogen, a component of sewage and agricultural runoff, might be a factor. But the mechanisms behind the blooms are very complex (pdf). Notably the harmful algae blooms only seem to happen in years when there is an upwelling current. But where is the algae bloom coming from? This type of algae doesn’t survive well at great depths, so it’s not likely that organisms are being churned up from the ocean floor. Or do they have some secret way of surviving without sunlight?

There’s not a lot of science writing being done on the subject–possibly because research into these blooms is limited.

So many end-of-the-planet scenarious to research, so little time…

Outlaw Activists Unite

Alloy 1969

MarkZen’s post at The Cleanest Line about the UK Little Big Voices conference brought to mind the Alloy 1969 conference (pictured above) recorded in the 1972 edition of The Last Whole Earth Catalog. Alloy was a gathering of “outlaw designers” who came together to hash out the realities and possible futures for intentional communities. Much of the discussion involved alternative building techniques, money and and processes for creating coherent action. Here are some thoughts from the Catalog:

You can study the evolution of man by the evolution of his tools. You can study the evolution of tools by the evolution of man.

There’s a paradox. Isolation leads to over-specialization. But you have to isolate yourself somewhat in order to make your scene different than the others. Maybe it’s a balance. Maybe discrete mixing events like Alloy can help.

Intention is a wierd thing in evolution. I don’t think anybody understands it, but we’re doing it a lot. We’re increasingly putting out finger in the pie, and we are the pie, and the finger, and the putting.

Alloy 1969 Under the Dome

In the background of some of the Catalog pictures you can see Robert Frank filming the event. It’s not clear to me what became of this footage, though shots from another Stewart Brand “happening” eventually became a short film named after the event, Life-Raft Earth.

As we approach the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love it is good to know that “happenings” like Life-Raft, Alloy and more recently, Little Big Voices are still carrying on. Maybe it’s the pinch-point of growing environmental catastrophe combined with a failed military adventure that brings out this sort of brainstorming. Maybe this stuff simply goes on all the time and some of us don’t know about it.

Pow-Wow at Little Big Voices

Almost 40 years after Alloy, a group of people gathered in Wales to explore the use of media to promote action. And here’s some of what they said:

There’s a kind of family feeling here

Always take a hot water bottle when camping

Organic food in my belly, Wise words in my head, T-shirt for my body, Tipi for my bed

I just want enough honey to barter for the things I need. Sustainable development is an oxymoron? Small is beautiful anyone?

The sensibilities are different but the spirit is the same. Almost as if kindred spirits were holding hands across the span of two continents and four decades.

Little Big Voice evening convocation

Alloy 1969 the Tile Factory

A couple more references to Alloy 1969:

Cultivating ecological design intelligence

Bateson and Me (part one)

Reggie the Alligator Resurfaces in LA…Meaning Los Angeles

The LA Times reports that Reggie the gator is back after an 18 month absence. A couple of things make this a great story. For one thing, Machado Lake is a 40 acre patch of marshy wildness in the heart of a hard-bitten Los Angeles suburb. It’s a nature story in the middle of an industrial city.

Another thing that makes this story great is the fact that the city has spent $50,000 and rising to catch the gator… yet critter comes out on top. This despite the best efforts of seasoned professionals with names like “T-Bone” and credentials from Gatorland.

In the meantime, gator is doing it’s thing, possibly erradicating other non-native species. This might be considered ironic if it wasn’t happening in Harbor City, a place that has no harbor and isn’t really a city.

UPDATE: Reggie has a blog.

The Silence of the Bees

It’s been bad news for domesticated species this month. First we had the news about melamine tainted pet food. Next we had news that honeybees are disappearing, possibly because of cellular phone signals.

But now there’s a bold suggestion from the Safe Pet Food blog that links these two stories, speculating that melamine might be tainting apiary nutritional supplements. It’s an interesting idea, particularly in light of the New York Times’ article today pointing to nutritional supplements as one of a number of factors that could be causing an AIDS-like immune response disorder among bee colonies. But as my friend Brian used to say, “for every complex problem there’s always a simple solution…and it’s usually wrong.”

In the “it’s never as simple as you’d hope” file I found that:

In 2004 it seemed that wild bees might reduce the impact of domestic bee decline because wild bees make domestic bees work harder. The problem is that wild bees don’t like genetically modified crops. Wild bees much prefer organic crops. Which is a little bit of a dead-end anyhow, because wild bees face extinction. Plus there are a whole bunch of other things putting stress on honeybees.

I’m wondering if this isn’t so much an environmental disaster as it is an agro-industrial failure, the sort that we’ve seen before.

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Numbers

Copyright Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan’s photography is stunning, subtle and clear…and absolutely mind bending. In his most current exhibit, Running the Numbers, he uses crystal clear images manipulated in such a way as to tell startling stories about otherwise meaningless statistics. For instance, what does it mean that 426,000 cell phones are retired every day? Jordan shows us exactly what it looks like.

While some of his pictures are clearly created in Photoshop (or its analog) other pictures of mass consumption are achieved using more traditional photography. His photos of post-Katrina New Orleans are particularly moving.

A 2005 Q & A from Digital Journalist explains why Jordan made the midlife leap to a career in photography. Jordan wrote in 2006 of why he felt compelled to photograph New Orleans after Katrina.

Cellphones Are Killing Us

Perhaps it’s because cell phone technology seems too good to be true. You can’t go more than three months without hearing a news report about how cell phones are a peril to our lives. First came the notion that cell phones cause brain cancer…a notion that has been declared inconclusive by science. Then there’s the much more probable scenario where cell phones distract drivers and contribute to terrible traffic accidents.

Now the Independent gives us another reason to fear cellular telephony–it might be killing the bees. The Independent article cites Albert Einstein as saying “if bees disappeared, ‘man would have only four years of life left’,” emphasizing the nightmarish consequences if Colony Collapse Disorder persists.

The article is a bit thin, but it notes experimental evidence showing that bees refuse to return to their hives when a cell phone is placed nearby.

The problem that I see with this theory is that most hives don’t have a cell phone nearby, except perhaps for the short time when the beekeeper is present. In fact, I’d say that many hives are in remote locations where cellular signals are weak or nonexistant. Moreover, why would we suddenly be seeing colonies collapse? It seems that we would have seen this effect growing at a constant rate as new cell towers come on line.

Or, perhaps we’ve simply hit a tipping point…a level of electromagnetic saturation that is unsustainable and the bees are saying “enough already.”

(Via BoingBoing)