Monday, July 14, 2014

Week 86 - Swinging

Grass is greening and it's time to get Hannah outside. For Christmas we got her a little swing and when I was at Home Depot this year (the dreaded home "improvement" store) I got some rope on the sale rack. So now it's time to get the swing hung up. This requires some tree climbing - not my specialty - so my wife hopped up and swung the rope over the branch. I couldn't help but think about "The Giving Tree" as we hung the rope. We are starting to make the memories at this house that would make it difficult for me to leave. As a kid we left our memories behind every few years and so I am a bit more worried about it than maybe I should be. Of course, Hannah can't remember yet but we can remember the fun we're having with her. Betsy knows this place as her first real home and family. And this is rapidly rivaling the longest I have ever lived in one place. I realized how stable we are when a friend of ours visited from Belgium and it hit me it had been a year since we'd last seen her. So much time has passed so quickly. It's no wonder we are settling in here.

While we were hanging the swing, Hannah was bouncing up and down in her little walker. She is building up those leg muscles and got to try on a new set of shoes. She's still supposed to only wear shoes when she is outside because her feet need to be free to grow. She seems to love being outdoors. I'm not sure if its the grass and greenness, or the fresh air. The birds have been back for a while but the weather has kept them pretty quiet. Now that we are getting warm breaks, the birds are singing and Betsy has plenty to keep her attention. Once we got the swing hung, Hannah absolutely loved playing in it. She must feel like she is soaring for even the little bit of distance she travels. She giggles and smiles, and is generally awestruck about the whole thing. Mom and I really enjoyed pushing her back and forth. It's weird how relaxing it can be to push a kid, but her smile makes it all so calming.

I'm finally getting around to something I have been putting off for a long time at work - protozoal separation. A previous student named Sylvester did some good work in sorting out how to separate protozoa from the cow. We take rumen fluid and spin it down at low Gs in the centrifuge before putting the pellet in a bag. Then the bag is washed and the dirt and bacteria flows out. This leaves protozoa and they can be saved for whatever purpose the researcher desires. Unfortunately, this does not work for fermenter contents because the feed is digested to such small particles that they gum up in the same filter pore as the protozoa. Instead, another graduate student, Ye, worked out a way to deduce the protozoa by washing them in bags, then sonicating them and looking at the difference in nitrogen between the two steps. I need to test this and see how well it works, but the first step is to practice washing with the bags. It's harder than it looks, but resembles making tea in a sick way you hope you forget. Usually about 7-9 wash cycles will yield clean saline without any silt from the bag. To demo this, I thought I would line up the cylinders to you could see the color change.

This week was also the Tri-State Dairy Nutrition Conference, where I finally was able to return as a speaker. I've been there a few times in the past during the early years of undergraduate presenters, but this was my first time as a graduate student. Third place wasn't too bad, but I was disappointed by the reception of the judges towards my research concept. Not for lack of understanding, they were antagonistic towards my methane research and its relevance today. But I would argue that my research is central to anyone's desire to learn more about energy efficiency. Forgetting for a moment about methane production, we should instead just consider methane as a method of regenerating reducing equivalents. Regenerating reducing equivalents (NAD+) promotes increased acetate production, more energetically favorable for many microbes and a primary product from fiber digestion. It is the balance of volatile fatty acids that is most interesting about where my methane research can go. If methane mitigation strategies force NADH accumulation and shifts in VFA pathways, this can help explain some of the unpredictable outcomes during mitigation treatments, and the lack of gain when methane production is inhibited.

If nothing else, I just want people to realize that this is about more than methane production and hydrogen production. It is about reducing equivalents and pathway fluctuation.
Hobnobbing with a celebrity cow.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Special Topics - Glyphosphate

A few weeks ago, I was tagged in a Facebook post by a friend who was curious about the link between glyphosphate and Celiac disease. She had seen data from "research" articles that seemed to demonstrate a connection and was wondering what my thoughts were on the issue. Before we go any further, if you believe there is a linkage between these two, my post will not change your mind. There is something irrational in a person's ability to believe that all the data in the world cannot combat (the proof - I'm still Lutheran). Yet, if you are open-minded and curious, I hope this puts things to rest for you. Basically, you can drink Roundup and you will be just fine. There is no link between glyphosphate and Celiac disease. Period.

So here goes... Also, this is a long post...

After getting tagged in a article on accusing Roundup of causing Celiac disease, my first thought was, “Wait, isn’t that a genetic condition?” Well, I read through the article and was offended. It’s not just that I’ve been reading Chipotle propaganda all weekend or arguing with a poorly punctuated Facebooker on the evils of HSUS; I’m offended by this article as a scientist. My main field of interest is dairy cattle nutrition and methane mitigation, so the topic of glyphosphate application to crops is only remotely related to my field of study. However, the persistence of bad science in the direct attacks on my industry frustrates me mostly because of the blind willingness of the public to accept antagonism towards food producers using “facts” based in poor research quality, irresponsible authorship and negligible responsibility.

This glyphosphate article by Nancy Swanson represents conflicts of interest, horrendous causality implications from lazy correlations, ignorance of agriculture, misrepresentation of national survey data, incorrect and dishonest citations, and generally bad intellect. Of course, that’s not all Nancy’s fault. She is just citing a paper written by two renowned scientists, right? I wish it were so, but in reality, the scientists contributing to this paper are both activists campaigning against GMOs in a field far from their training (both of them are engineers) and likely cooperating with Nancy. That point is made especially poignant when you consider that she provided them with some of the data and graphs in their paper (and “statistical” consulting) even though she is not an author. Nancy essentially helped feed the data to Samsel and Seneff, and then cited the paper where they used her correlations.
I would not presuppose myself well-versed in nutritional gene regulation, but I have certainly received more training and done more research related to this field than either Samsel or Seneff. You will notice that in the comments, many people picked up on this, mostly because Samsel and Seneff have been previously indicted by the Examiner for publishing bad work in reviews outside their disciplines. Just last year, they “published” an open-source, journal article in Entropy, hosted by MDPI knows that many of their works will be contested heavily by the scientific community and disclaim on their website that unless plagiarism or falsified data can be proven, the works will not be removed. Well, it’s pretty hard to falsify data in a review paper, but Samsel and Seneff did their best in the current work. And that is the problem with the open-source literature out there – people take for granted when they see “research” beside the website title that the work is really research, but instead, you can publish whatever you want in open-source and not face any backlash for your actions, except ostracization from any group with intellectual capacity to call your bull. If you want to get the full range of ignorance and hot-headed accusations, you can direct to the comment section under the original article; there is no more place or time for that here.

Working through the article, the first link out goes to Samsel and Seneff, whom we have already established as PhDs merely interested in writing their opinions about how GMOs are harbingers of the apocalypse. If we were to assume that they actually knew what they were talking about, we could proceed to critically evaluate the data and citations used by the authors in their Interdisciplinary Toxicology paper. Unfortunately, the paper is not actually published in Interdisciplinary Toxicology, like Samsel claims onResearch Gate. Instead, you have to track it down through the website “SustainablePulse”, where it has been saved as a .pdf file. Again, the paper is not even published yet in an open-source location. I realize that open-source papers have a value in contributing data and ideas to the scientific community, but equally often they are instead the mire that drags science down by propagating misrepresentations of pathways, misinterpretations of data and reviews of overwhelming amounts of data to try and beat the reader’s brain into submission on an issue. I have no doubt that this paper is probably waiting to be posted online and those detractors in the commentary that say it will be rejected are probably wrong. Someone like Samsel will not submit it to be published where he thought it would be rejected. But it should be rejected by any self-respecting journal if for no other reason than the immaturity of the discussion. For example, the citation of symptoms in fish exhibits ignorance of medical terminology. Clinical signs would include something like diarrhea (a common clinical sign in many disease, not restricted to Celiac disease) whereas a symptom is something reported by the patient as experiencing. Did Samsel and Seneff ask the fish what they were experiencing, or did the writers of the paper that they cited? Unfortunately, I will never know because the paper that they cited is not available online and I refuse to pay $60 US just to find out what I already know – Samsel and Seneff don’t know what a symptom really is - probably since they lack that training. I will agree with one thing written in their entire paper – the imbalance of gut microbiota can be linked to diarrhea. Not surprising to anyone, of course, but this is within my field of study and I can confirm that if you drink too much alcohol, poison yourself, catch the flu, ingest Salmonella, eat tapeworms or take extreme antacids you will change the gut microbiota and probably experience some gastrointestinal discomfort. That does not mean we all have Celiac disease, or that all of those conditions caused the disease. The only takeaway from this paper is that just because you can cite over 200 references, it doesn’t mean that you should. I pity the person who counted all of these and tried to decide how many of the references were valid papers (also in the comments section), but their effort is what Samsel and Seneff should have done in the first place. Bad papers should not be perpetuated into the scientific future, they should be weeded out (maybe with intellectual Roundup) and never appear in someone’s review paper. I also noticed early at least one prime case of citation out of context, abusing de Maria et al. (2006) on the negative effect of glyphosphate on bacteria and plants. Well, of course glyphosphate should kill plants, isn’t that the point of an herbicide?

Nancy next cites the heavy use of Roundup as a desiccant for crop production. For those of you who aren’t aware, I searched the use of desiccants in crop production and learned that this is a process where plantsare dried up to allow for an earlier harvest. A little context here is that a farmer cannot harvest crops when they are too wet. If you have ever seen corn standing in January, it’s likely because the corn grain didn’t get dry enough to be harvested due to rain or cold, cloudy weather and the farmer is still waiting to get out there and bring it in. When grain can’t be dried enough, it grows molds, toxins and pests – everyone’s favorite things to see in food. While it would never make it to your plate, these toxins could represent a devastating loss in crop production, so the grain must be dried. Grain will only dry once the plant is mature and starts to die. So some farmers in poor climates will expedite the dying part once the plant and grain is mature by killing the plant. The herbicide that they would use is called a desiccant. Roundup is not a desiccant, and on their corporate website for Canada (Nancy’s target area), they even discourage the use of the productas a desiccant because it will not work very well. As many might remember from Roundup commercials, it attacks the roots of the plant and the long delay for attack of the root and death of the plant is not as effective as a desiccant designed to immediately afflict the leaves of the target. However, the idea with using Roundup nearer the end of the season is actually to get weeds that would also be approaching seed storage maturity. By attacking weeds during their annual reproduction, they can be prevented from growing back every year. As we all should know, less weeds equals more crop yields equals lower food cost and hopefully less starving people. Last note, but if you follow the link for Canada’s recommendations about using desiccants, they specifically caution against it for risks of testing too high for glyphosphate in crop residues. Quite the opposite from the encouragement Nancy implies in her article.

Nancy follows the incorrect assertion of Roundup as a desiccant by tracking the growth of wheat in the U.S. over the past 25 years. For those of you who don’t know how to look up crop production numbers, it is very easy. Go to the USDA site and click on what you want to know. Step by step, the site will narrow down until you get to the desired data. Unfortunately, Nancy then follows by saying that’s where she got her glyphosphate treatment data. It is not; there is no way to be nicer about that. Instead, if you do some searching with keywords such as “glyphosphate” “crops” “USDA”, you will come up with USDA reports for areas and their application of fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides. It would seem that the numbers Nancy presents as the percentage of application are actually the numbers for application of any herbicide within a calendar year. Well, any farmer would be stupid not to try and kill weeds during the year to prevent them from choking out his crop. And it would appear from the high percentages reported by Nancy (and confirmed in my searches) that farmers in the U.S. are not stupid; they like to kill weeds and improve their production. This is just one reason why your food is not getting more expensive at the rate of inflation. You will notice that winter wheat reports a much lower percentage, and this is because not all winter wheat is used for grain production. Some farms just plant it to keep the soil from washing away as part of their commitment to environmental sustainability. Since they don’t care about killing the weeds that grow along with the unharvested wheat, no unnecessary herbicide is applied. I also want to point out that the numbers Nancy uses are not truly national numbers, but the USDA compiled a recent report of just the Midwest states, and her numbers directly match those; it’s just another example of dishonest reporting in this article.

Where shall we go from there? If you follow the link for the UK residue report, it is actually a link to an activist group, but a commenter was kind enough to share the correct link. Or we could talk about the EPA raising the maximum concentration of glyphosphate allowed in food in the U.S. The levels of up to 400 ppm listed in this and other places are actually for animal feed. Livestock consume leftover product, and they turn it into protein for people at very high efficiency. This is why we don’t care if there are high ppm in grass, hay or feed corn; no humans will be consuming this product, no glyphosphate will be residual in the animal products, and the animals wouldn’t even be alive for 75 years to complain about it because their natural lifespan is only 20 years, or 40 years with a horse. Considering the claim of the EPA concealing a flaw in agricultural safety for the U.S., it should be suspicious that any sane person would ever accuse the EPA of colluding with any part of U.S. agricultural industries. It just doesn’t happen and any farmer can tell you that.

So, the papers thus far have been faulty, the links were deceiptful and the data was manipulated. It was at this point in the article that I decided to stop trying so hard to prove Nancy was wrong and instead focus on why she wanted to seem so stupid. Quotations are always a dangerous thing and with activist writing they nearly always signal information taken out of context. This was also true with Nancy’s quote from Gasnier et al. (2009). I saw some commentary below the article about the redacted papers from this lab, but I don’t know the whole backstory on this. Instead, I do know that Gasnier’s paper is not taken as poorly out of context as I thought it would be. It would seem that Gasnier instead is just blind to the true value of the results and sensationalized the data to prove a point that the data does not. The high concentrations of the Roundup mixture exposed to human cells is supposed to mean instant death to humans. Of course, no humans were actually used in the experiment (rightly so) and this extension of the data is a criminal undertaking in the scientific community. Further, there doesn’t even seem to be cause for concern as it looks like I would have to probably drink Roundup in order to be sick. As it turns out, the glyphosphate by itself isn’t dangerous, but the concoction together makes it better absorbed and lethal to the plants (or human liver cells in this study). This actually tells me that Roundup is even safer than I thought it would be, and the significance of this work is lost on the authors. It is also lost on Nancy who merely pulls a line she likes from their abstract without reading the full paper.

I saved the best for last and will let the trail of self-entertainment lead you on. In one of my stats classes in the day, we talked about interesting correlations that can be made and use it as a funny illustration of why correlation does not equal causation. I have to credit our statistics professor (who will be happy to remain unnamed here) for the next 2 examples. Consider first, the correlation of Catholic mass attendance the church offering plate cash received by protestants. Both of them are highly correlated, but we can obviously expect that one is not caused by the other. How could increasing the number of people at one church increase the money received at another? That would mean that the best plan for protestant churches to make money and grow would be to recruit Catholics to their neighboring church. Common sense should dictate this is absurd. His other primary example is the relationship between marriage and death. Being married, I find it particularly funny that over time as more people have gotten married, more people have also died. The two are highly correlated, and no wonder as our country’s population has also grown during the same time. Another outside source that highlights the plight of poor regression was Bobby Henderson in his 2005 letter to the Kansas State Board of Education when he proposed the ideas that led to “pastafarianism”. In that letter, he highlights how as global temperatures rise, the number of pirates has declined steadily over the past 200 years (). Both of these are highly correlated and he stipulated that he was concerned global warming could wipe out our pirates. Laugh if you will, but Nancy’s abuse of correlation is not really funny.

Correlation is supposed to help us see where things might be related but cannot be attributed as cause and effect. Even worse is when bad correlations are made with fudged data. Unfortunately, Celiac disease is genetically inherited and while historically these people  would have died off, we have ffound ways to help save them and treat their condition. This is good. Blaming the perpetuation of a disease on farmers is bad, and incorrect. As our population grows and we carry diseases with us in our genes, it is a fact among the shadows of this bad article that Celiac is becoming more prevalent and visible. But we cannot turn and blame the industry that feeds our survival - literally biting off the hands that feed us. They are more invested in quality food production than anyone else, passing on farms to future generations in a tradition of love for the soil and its fruits. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Week 85 - Arggg

Hannah met the earth this week in a brand new fashion. Out on the hammock she peered up over the side and reached down for the grass. Without the whole family going overboard, she was finally able to get her hands on the grass and just feel it. I think it's a real shame that we don't remember most of our first experiences with things this natural and simple. The first time we touch a tree or the grass. The first time that rain falls on our face and runs through our hair. The first time the warm sun wakes us out of slumber to realize that winter is over and spring is beginning. Or the first time we bite into real food and ponder it - even a silly little Cheerio (which by the way are the best little things ever). So now Hannah accelerates with the warming season and starts experiencing a whole new world. As we begin discussion for new projects and funding new students, I just hope that I can find enough time to be home to see everything.

The ground has thawed up and the rain has started softening it even more. With so much snow over the winter and the sudden influx of rainwater our neighbors' pond has grown dramatically. It would seem that during the construction process over the winter they managed to block the overflow and the pond just continues to grow. I'm not sure when it's going to stop but the slope of the ground tells me that it will eventually overflow right into our field. All that really matters for now is that I finally removed our copper pipe from where the propane tank used to be. This turned into a much bigger project than I expected. Not because of the difficulty but much more because of the length of the pipe. And it was so clean! The pipe looked like it had just been buried yesterday. With copper priced at about $2.30/lb., we are looking forward to lunch from this little gig. I just have to get the regulator popped off and capped...

April fool's day swung around again and it's been a pretty slow week at work. Since my advisor is teaching a lot of class this semester, some of the lab kids thought they would take the chance and prank his office again. Since we just did this last year, I decided to opt out of the project. He seemed to take his office being completely covered in personalized post-its pretty well. He's a good sport about things that form lab "bonding". I think it is reflected in our teamwork about all the experiments we do.

Drawing of the Flying Spaghetti Monster; crudely drawn with thick lines. Image shows a plain oval for the body, six noodles for the arms and two eye stalks.Finally, I thought I would share a mind-blowing discovery this week about my own ignorance in this world: the flying spaghetti monster. If you don't believe me, you can Google it, but the fish symbol converted to a frog-like thing that shows up on cars? That's the flying spaghetti monster, started by an over-ambitious dude who wanted to prove that religion shouldn't be forced into schools. Of course, I agree, but I also think that the opposite shouldn't forced either. Religion shouldn't be oppressed out of schools, no matter what that religion is. Even if you want to celebrate "talk like a pirate day" in honor of the all-powerful Italian masterbeast... I guess. But know you're in the minority.

For what it's worth, the same man did some anecdotes on why causation and correlation are not the same thing. I originally got into this subject because someone asked me what I thought about glyphosphate being linked to Celiac's disease. For that, I refer you to ask for my write-up. It's a bit longer than this post will allow and a bit more detailed than you care about. Just know that it isn't true. You can drink a gallon of round-up tomorrow and celebrate survival like a champion. They've tested this stuff and you can't consume enough to kill yourself. If you don't believe me, survival of the fittest will nab you a different way and spare the planet.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Week 84 - Redneckified

This week it was finally time to boil down the maple sap to syrup. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Since I had collected 5 gallons of sap and left the rest at the parentals', I was hoping to get maybe a pint or two of real maple syrup. Without a burner to boil it off and fighting the urge to put 4+ gallons of condensation on my kitchen ceiling, I decided to build a bit of a wood stove outside.
Stacking all our old foundation blocks that we found in the pasture, I built a little oven. Then some old woven fence made for a nice grill top. I balanced the pot on top and shoved in tons of old leftover wood from last year. It took all day just to get rid of three and a half gallons and then I removed the last gallon of water the next day off the stove. In the dark the fire looked like some sort of witches convention. Large fire, the pot rolling and spurting while the wood crackled. It was quite eerie. But the end product is sweet with a bit of smokey flavor. Waffles on Sunday mornings just got even better.
Hannah is really starting to get around the house quicker. She crawls quickly and remembers places she's been. So this means she will boogie to right where she wants to be and she doesn't want to be taken anywhere else. This has opened up a lot of learning opportunities for her as she explores the house and checks in on things throughout the week. For example, she is fascinated by the process of dishwasher loading and then the subsequent unloading of clean dishes. And she loves to ride in the laundry basket atop a fresh batch of clothes out of the dryer.

In other news, Hannah is now a big cousin to a new addition to the family. And I have finally become an uncle. We all went to visit baby Andrew at the hospital and Hannah was mostly oblivious to what we were really doing. But there was a point that she seemed to realize there was another baby worth paying attention to. And the moment where she sat up on the bed and smiled at him was pretty priceless. They have many years together ahead of them.
Hannah meeting her baby cousin.
Hannah has also learned a few other things recently that I would be remiss if I didn't mention. She loves to play the piano now and plays copycat to me. She likes to play more when I'm playing along, but sometimes she will sneak over to the piano and pull herself up to peck away at some keys. It's pretty cute.

We have also learned to climb stairs. Bottles can be good motivation.
I have to embarrass my interns from last summer for just a minute. This week was the university-wide research forum and while they didn't place, they sure did look sharp. I was genuinely proud of them for all their hard work over the past year. They have learned a lot and have helped us make good progress on a variety of projects. Sure, they didn't win anything (although they did get 1st and 2nd in the college forum), but they represented with class.

One last thought... animal behavior towards other species is based on relative experiences. And Jasmine is now best friends with the dog.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Week 83 - Ellipsoid

Hannah is now 9 months old! It's hard to believe that time is passing so quickly. The daily groove of getting up, getting out the door, going to work and coming home to pick her up makes time pass so quickly. We have settled into a few favorite stuffed animals, but Clarence the cow is still the winning choice right now. I think that's because we spent so much time propping Hannah's bottle up with him when she was younger. Hannah is still in a nice little sleep pattern, out by 8ish and up in the morning by 7ish. She naps a lot, like any baby, but really likes her sleep. And who can blame her? I love my sleep, too.

Her personality continues to grow and she has become a pretty spunky baby. Her expressive eyes and happy nature makes her pretty easy to get along with and she is getting used to being the center of attention.
Mom took us to work this week!
Maple sap collection continues to roll on. With the abrupt changes in weather, it's really important to be careful about not getting the sap once it turns bitter. Once the weather stops cooling off in the evenings below freezing and then is always above freezing the sap will start to turn a bitter taste. This is also linked with budding on the maple trees. Since I don't really have the time to keep an eye on this, my little brother volunteered. Of course, I wasn't really expecting the pictorial updates I received at work of him licking the trees, drinking sap and "getting in touch with nature". He was literally perched to catch the drops as they ran out the spout. That is pure dedication to the maple project - and also a slight touch of very weirdness. Anyhow, apparently the sap is still good and someday you'll laugh when you see your picture made the blog like this.

St. Patrick's Day was this week and I broke out the old flag from undergrad to celebrate.
With St. Patrick's Day rolling around, I went on good behavior and forewent a party this year. I think I've had enough good times in the past to let one go every now and then. With St. Patty's on a Monday, I did go out to the bar for a lunch meeting over green beer. Now for those of you who don't believe in the lunch beer with co-workers, let me try and persuade you. When you meet at work to discuss projects or ideas, many people are uncomfortable to ask questions or bring up ideas. But as soon as you move into a more comfortable environment where everyone feels like they are equals, it opens the door for more relaxed and productive conversations. I think that I do more teaching at the bar to my fellow graduate students than I do in the office.

And this trip out was another success. We have been working for a while to more accurately determine protozoa volume. The problem is that they twist and turn while they swim and so it reveals that they could easily be a much different shape than the coefficient*cylindrical approach of eariler generations. Turns out that by using our ability to capture video we can bypass a video analysis for protozoa volume (have had trouble finding a programmer to write the auto-detect and integrations) and use freeze frames for measuring area. By measuring area as an ellipsis, I found a measurement tool that takes a "feret" diameter. This ends up giving me the equation for the area of the ellipsis. By tracking the smallest and largest parts of the protozoa as it swims around in solution, we can identify to sets of ferets. These give me an averaged length and two alternate radii. This all adds for the calculations of the volume of an ellipsoid. Compared to other methods, this ellipsoid calculation decreases our standard deviation of volume by more than 25%. Not bad if I do say so myself.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Week 82 - DUIs

This week marks one year since our ill-fated attempt at awesomeness in the hills of Brown County, Indiana. And unfortunately, with an impending birth signaling my uncledom, I will not be participating in this year's death march. But not for lack of wishing. This year they're even going to include horses in the competition! 'Cause that's what everyone wants - to top a hill on a mountain bike going 30 mph and run smack into a 1500 lb. horse. But I will miss it and I look forward to participating again next year. In honor of all those that will struggle through the mud and glory of it all - here's a picture from the website this year. Yes, that's right, the old hickory tower climb has been ended. Good thing, too, because it was pretty rickety last year with big guys rushing up and down it for the 45 minute time bonus. I guess either the park service or the organizers of the race started thinking that having hundreds of people running up the stairs and back down again wasn't such a great idea.
The view from the top of the table last year.
This week after work I chanced into a great evening of Red Wings. Our IT guy (who is a true blessing to the department for all his hard work and enthusiasm) really likes hockey and particularly the Blue Jackets. With them playing the Red Wings this week, I was looking forward to watching the game on TV because their series has been good for a few years now and they are likely to be competing for the last couple spots in the playoffs. Imagine my surprise when he texts me and asks if I want to go to the game. It then followed that he was also short two other seats and asked if I knew anyone else that would want to go to the game. So three of us Detroit fans got to go with him to the game on Tuesday night, but he got the last laugh. He got to sit there and cheer about all the goals scored on Howard right in front of three disappointed fans. Still, the experience was classic. I don't need to go to very many games but it's nice to see a pro hockey game in person every so often.
View of the game from our seats. The crowd keeps getting more excited and louder.

To get me in the hockey spirit, someone let snow blow in my office window?
At home this week, my wife and I had a bit of a power scare. We came home one night and I put some stuff in the microwave to heat up for making dinner. There was a pop and then the power on the whole back side of the house went out. At first, I thought there was something wrong with the microwave but then we noticed the refrigerator was out, too. The more we searched the more stuff we realized was out. And then the search for the breaker began. We looked everywhere and couldn't find the source of the outage. The next morning our power company came out to check things out. Found a burned out connection from the lines to the house. Betsy made friends with the repair guy but I was just glad they didn't ask about what our little power sharing scheme with the neighbors back in the winter might have done to the connection. Now we'll never know...

A new experience this week was being an invited speaker to a lamb clinic to talk about club lamb nutrition. I prepared a nice powerpoint, drove over an hour to get there and was all jammed up to influence some kids down the right path to healthy lamb nutrition. I think we still got down that path a bit, but the fact that the clinic wasn't equipped to run powerpoint and they forgot to mention they didn't have a computer compatible with screen projector plugs might have negated a lot of my hard work. Shame but I think I still got a few main points across to the kids.

1) There are five main nutrient categories: Energy, Protein, Water, Vitamins and Minerals. Each one is important for nutrition.
2) Lambs have one stomach, just like pigs. The difference is the compartments of the stomach. Sheep have 4 and each serves a different purpose.
3) Hay is vital to balancing the microbial environment and keeping all the bugs happy. Too many kids (or their parents) try to nix hay without thinking about the consequences on the productivity, health and appearance of the sheep in question.

On the way home, I passed by a bitter memory. Six years ago I was in a fight with a girl, arguing back and forth as we drove home from seeing Jake Owens and Blake Shelton for free at a county fair. Lots of people came that night and the traffic was just letting up. As I accelerated down the road, I was distracted by the fight and barely noticed a pair of headlights swerving towards us and then banking hard the opposite direction. I barely had time to breath a sigh of relief before the truck with snowplow skipped off a tree, blew through a mailbox and embedded in the embankment. My mind raced as I realized how petty our argument was, we had almost just been killed by a drunk driver.
One place where my guardian angel came through for me in 2008.
My head boiled with rage as I swung the car around into the driveway adjacent to the truck. The guy was lucky I found his door open and him on the run. I was seeing too red and the chase down to a creek gave me a bit of time to cool off. Two highschoolers followed me down the hill in the dark and I had to talk the kid back out of the bushes to take him up to his doom. We dragged him back up to the house where the police were waiting. As we filed official statements and the family thanked us for stopping (just doing my civic duty - and making sure adequate punishment was reaped), the dude emptied his pockets of beer and passed out in the cruiser. The moral of the story...  Folks, please don't drink and drive. It's dangerous for you, deadly to others, royally pisses me off, and it will ruin your life forever. It's just not worth it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Week 81 - Mapling

This post was better - but Mozilla and Google seem to hate each other and are always fighting about who gets to freeze up and crash my computer.

Not much happening on the work front again this week but a lot to talk about at home. It's going to be a pretty weird year for making maple syrup. Just like that it was 50F, the sun was out and the sap started running. And once it starts running, you'd better tap those trees before they're done for the season. It doesn't really hurt the trees even though you can see scars from the year before. We like to pull the taps and allow the tree to heal between years but some people are lazy and just leave the taps in for the tree to grow around. Ouch! This year I decided not to tap the trees at our own house because I didn't want to pay for shipping from Lehman's for new metal taps. Instead, Dad said I could help them out and share the sap from their trees. My main contribution will be to check the trees while they're on vacation, collect sap into buckets that I provide because they are never able to keep clean buckets from being used on something horrible (probably blame my younger brother?) and burn wood to help boil all the sap.
When it comes to boiling sap, not all trees are created equal. Bigger trees make more gallons of sap and so faster growing maple species are more likely to be bigger and make more sap. But slowing growing maples, like the sugar maple invest more heavily in their sap and make less of it. It's very similar to the difference between Holstein and Jersey dairy cows, except in this case we're talking about brix (sugar content) instead of butterfat differences. My dad says the best trees, or "super maples", are the ones that look just a bit gnarly on the branches and we have plenty of these close to the family home. They aren't big because they grow a bit slower but even a tree 1 foot in diameter can yield a gallon of sap a day. It's not fast but it adds up over the course of a day. The trick with this year is that it might be a few days in between sap runs because the weather has been so drastically dynamic.

One day sun, the next a blizzard. The sheep seem to feel it coming on.
That weather has done a number on the sheep, wearing them down and desensitizing them to the brutal changes in the weather. And it has also done a number on the local roads. I was the beneficiary of a huge hole down near wear I work. I was on my way home from playing basketball and couldn't see it in the dark. It swallowed poor Scoot (my green Corolla) and spat us out on the other side short a tire and riding a bent wheel. My sincere thanks to Goodyear for beating the crap out of the wheel the next day to get it back into shape. You saved me a dreaded trip around the junkyards to find a replacement and made my day seem so much better.

The other big happening this week was our first authentic king cake to celebrate Mardi Gras. Back in February, I snuck a couples' Valentines Day dinner behind my wife's back and she returned the favor for Mardi Gras. I stared in surprise as our friends pulled into the drive and walked into the house to find her pulling out a king cake shipped all the way from Cajun country Louisiana. Wow! And so much sugar on the thing. I sure felt penitent the next day, but that's what Fat Tuesday is all about, right? The cake was great and nobody choked to death on the plastic baby inside.

This year our pastor encouraged the church not to give things up for Lent but rather to add something new to your life for the better. I'm unfortunately already committed to my decision for this year but will keep this concept in play for next year. This time around I plan to replace so of my more questionable music with Christian radio in an effort to be a nicer driver on the road and a better role model for our daughter. Here's to hoping, anyway...