Friday, October 30, 2009

Since tomorrow is Halloween I thought I'd post information about a fascinating, but scary tree I encountered on St. John. In the rain, you don't want to stand under the manchineel tree, one of the most poisonous plants on earth. Corrosive sap can drip and burn your skin. The tree is also called the poison guava. In 1493, Columbus' men ate the "death apples" from this tree and met their demise. Unfortunately, I didn't find anything distinct about the tree or its bark that would allow me to pick it out of a forest. Thus, without a big sign indicating its whereabouts (now I read the trees are marked with a red "X"), I could have marched under the thing countless times. Most of the information I found about this tree was on medical websites that said to seek attention immediately. Wonder what happens if you don't. I also wondered if wildlife passed under it or touched it would they suffer the same caustic burns. If so, how do they know to avoid it? It sounds like a menace the island can't get rid of.
Scientific American posted an interesting article about what can be done to improve U.S. students standings in math and science.

I dug a whole ton of research material out of the basement and decided to continue working on a topic I've already started versus starting anything new. Glory will be the day that I get to finish some of these works in progress.

Yesterday, I returned to working on a school program I've been thinking about. I went out on a limb and purchased some on-clearance vinyl versus felt that I initially had in mind. On the ride home, I began to regret this purchase, thinking that acrylic paint would crack on this material. At home, I did a test run of acrylic on vinyl and was pleasantly surprised that the surface is much easier to paint than felt and the paint doesn't chip. It works for me! I'm heading back to buy more today.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

These large mud nests were all over the place on St. John. I thought this one was interesting built in a tangle of mangroves. I was surprised to learn it was built by termites. It would be quite a bit of work for a human to shovel all that dirt and the thought of tiny insects building that enormous ball of mud was amazing. Then I thought of the extensive boardwalks where we stayed. I wondered if they ate pressure treated wood?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Everywhere we went on St. John, we carried a snorkel and fins. By the time we reached the water, we were eager to jump in. I've posted some pictures taken with a cheap Kodak underwater camera (we are talking $9.99). For a cheesy camera, I'm real happy with my sea turtle picture (click on it for a larger view). The sea turtle I spotted at this nesting beach is either a hawksbill or a green sea turtle, I'll let you decide. I tailed that turtle for close to a half hour. The poor dear couldn't get rid of the shadow above it (me). Steve Irwin came to mind when I saw the stingray so I kind of freaked out when one ray turned around to face me. Eek I'm outta here! The stars in the sky were matched by stars in the sea (and a purple fan coral too). The last underwater photograph I posted is lousy, I know, but it's a picture of 2 cocoa-colored nurse sharks parked like buses under a chunk of coral. The island in the very last photograph is Whistling Cay. We kayaked out to the rocky beach and snorkeled around this behemoth. Holy cow, I was exhausted. It was tough getting back on shore, on the slippery rocks, and contending with flippers. Now I know what driftwood feels like.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Yesterday, while running 6 miles, I took a spill on the trail as my toe connected with what was likely the only stone sticking out of the path. I went flying, landing hard, bloodying my knee and scraping my palms. It sort of reminded me of my effort this year. I've been reaching for the stars, but the stars are too far too reach. I picked myself up, wiped off the sand, and forged onward, weary and exhausted. Thankfully, my knee looked worse than it actually was.

I was wondering if I was away from writing for a week, would I miss it. As the taxi tossed us around on the winding bumpy roads we heard the sound of joyous tree frogs. Walt called them "therapeutic." It reminded me of a writing workshop I attended in 2005, so much for getting away from it. Every night after hiking and snorkeling we climbed 237 steps to our room at harmony studios at Maho Bay (I've posted a photograph of an eco-tent at Maho Bay). I loved the place. It reminded me of staying on a nature hike. I wish there were more places like this. Every evening we'd hear a chorus of tree frogs. By morning, crickets and songbirds would join the symphony. One morning this tree frog landed on the awning. The croaking was so loud, I searched the place, certain it was in the bathroom somewhere. The brave pearly-eyed thrasher would reappear on the deck each evening hoping for a handout. One day Walt scooped up a little lizard that we found on the bed and put it on the railing. I went inside for a second, when I returned the lizard was gone and the bird was sitting on the railing. I looked at the bird wondering, "did you eat that?"

Saturday, October 24, 2009

This past week I completed a final review of my December ChemMatters article. Today, I finished some writing that is due early next year. I'll let it sit around and ferment for a while just to make sure it reads ok. Now I really need to find another topic that lights a fire under me. No luck so far.

Today. I posted some photographs of a hike I was very apprehensive about. It was hot, humid, and hilly. We hauled heavy packs stuffed with two water bottles, snorkel and fins, and camera/camcorder. While walking, stones would roll in front of us, but upon closer examination they were really these giant hermit crabs. They get around by doing donuts. When I stepped inside an old sugar plantation, the sudden flapping of about twenty bats scared the daylights out of me. This hike also took us to some pre-Columbus petroglyphs in an ancient spiritual site. We also saw some deer, but best of all, after snorkeling, we charged uphill on the return!

Friday, October 23, 2009

St John is a land of contrasts where rugged subtropical mountain forests rise sharply from sparkling turquoise waters. It's a place where the locals want you to cover up your bathing suit in town, but it's ok for folks to sleep on the park benches. It's a place where everyone says hitchhiking is safe. Joyce and Spike (a little smelly dog that sat on my lap), gave us a ride the day the bus wasn't working. But during the trip Joyce told us of a recent house invasion. Intruders wearing ski masks held her and her husband at gunpoint for 1 1/2 hours. It's a place where precious resources are saved and precious resources are wasted. We stayed in a studio at an eco-resort in a remote corner of the island. There water, cans, and bottles were recycled--even unused food (like the little jar of mayo we didn't finish) was stored in a refrigerator for other guests to take. But in other corners of the island I saw energy being wasted. A VITRAN bus left running and unattended for at least 30 minutes made me want to reach in and shut off the engine. It was a relief to escape the heat and humidity into the shops on St. John and St Thomas (second photo)--but not one of them had the door shut. All that cool air was running right outside into the streets. It was a colossal waste of energy. On the flight home, we looked down through the dark skies. I thought about the night sky at St. John and the two shooting stars I had seen. I thought about all the stars that were visible. Long Island was a glaring circuit board of lights. I wondered if you turned off every other street light if all the other lights would give enough light to get by.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I'm not quite sure what bird is in the first photograph, but I thought the angle of the bird made it look as big as an airplane. It was the first photograph I took on a ferry to St. John and I think it came out pretty neat. At breakfast every morning, someone in the kitchen would set out a bowl of maple syrup which these bananaquits lapped up eagerly. These tiny birds cheeped away, reminding me of strolling through a rainforest in a zoo. The last photograph is of a frigate, a bird with an interesting forked tail. We spotted the frigate high in the sky on a hike out at Ram's Head.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The years have passed on the wings of a hummingbird. I can't believe Walt and I have been married 25 years. We marked the day with fresh memories at St. John National Park. I'll be posting more science/nature photographs in the coming days. Right now, I have an article to review.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Calling a contact person only works when they pick up the phone. I may try an email instead. I was hoping to get the ball rolling on this program. Grumble.

My daughter mentioned she's volunteering at a science center near her college. Once she gets started, she'll be doing a hands-on activity with the kids. I can certainly suggest a few tricks in my bag, if need be.

I'm looking forward to posting some interesting new science photographs to splash some color on the pages of this blog. Please be patient, they're coming!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I picked up a great tip from a FB writer "friend." Today I'll be in contact with someone to get the ball rolling on doing free presentations for a while so I can iron out the glitches. I've decided to get working on some stuff that's not due until March. Typically, the beginning of the year is busy with crummy stuff--tax returns and financial applications for college. Double yuck. Anyhow, if this presentation thing gets moving that's more fuel for the fire of persuasion for my package of stuff that is due in March.

On January 6, 2008, I listed on the wishlist of this site that videos be used for educational purposes. I found this article (actually it's a bit old) that leads me to believe I was on to something.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The lure of the wet wilderness was stronger than Walt's words of caution for an injured foot. I snuck out while he was in the shower after he ran (gulp) nine miles. In the parking lot a distance runner carefully clutched a string of patio lights, yellow-green orbs of power water. At mile 1.75 two young runners in a pack, passed me. I vowed no more and sped up to hold off four other runners behind me. So much for that light run coming off an injury. The four mile trail run was a release that felt like I smashed a bottle of frustration. Aghhh, that felt good.

Today I found something that is making me consider writing YA nonfiction instead of mid grade. I reread version #870 and #871 of the article due to be published in December. Quite frankly, I like the longer version better. Hm.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

I'm in the midst of developing a school program, but naturally I can't just do a Powerpoint presentation like everyone else. I believe in what I'm creating, but I'm wondering how it will be received. It's innovative in a way. Generally, if money is involved, in a choice between the tried and true or something new, I find a lot of people stick with what they know. I've had some really informative discussions on school visits with other more experienced writers. This has left me with several questions:
1. How many kids can the presentation accommodate? My original thought was one class at a time, but now I'm hearing that schools on tight budgets expect assemblies for an entire grade.
2. Is it me that prefers smaller presentations (true) or is it the nature of the presentation?
3. The presentation includes one hands-on activity. Can all the kids do this activity or should I scrap the idea?
I know this presentation will be educational, memorable, and fun.

And I have more questions swirling around in my head about my next project. The ole squirrel in the middle of the road issue. Maybe escaping from this scene will let me see through the facade.

Friday, October 2, 2009

On Highlight's website, I found an article I wrote back in 2005. It was published in September 2007. Since it's now online, I've provided a link in the "writing" section of this website.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Yesterday was one of those days where I spent a lot of time thinking, but had little to show for my efforts. Probably the best thing I did was drive to three elementary schools. For some reason that helped me envision the program I'm developing. I realized what was going to work and what needed further work.

When I worked designing computer programs, testing was a really important part of the process. To test a computer program one must run it through every conceivable combination of inputs and conditions. I guess you could say I'm testing the program in my head trying to think of every conceivable problem and how to address it.

I also discovered an exciting conference I'd like to attend. Since it's in January the only concern is the weather. Although I don't exactly sing on key, it's time to perfect my pitch.