Monday, June 28, 2010

If Only They Weren't So Far Removed...

I was reading Paulius' post for today, and once again he's given me fodder for a post. (This is a good thing, because I haven't written for a while.) His article talked about The Ultimatum Game, which was an experiment in economics and human nature. Read his post if you want more information. It's okay, I'll wait.

The researchers were surprised by the results of the study, and Paulius, who is apparently much smarter and wiser than they, claims that he was shocked that they were surprised. Toward the end of the article, Paulius made a comment, saying "... it's these people who can't see these motivations and think everything works on making the most possible who run our economy..."

Ummm... I'd like to disagree on this one. In many science-based circles, research and application are completely different arms of the discipline. Researchers sit in their ivory towers, while the trench workers apply the discipline's knowledge in the field. This, of course, is an oversimplified generalization, but my point remains.

With this in mind though, researchers need to run these silly tests and experiments PRECISELY because they're removed from the trenches. And face it, some of the experiments researchers perform are pretty out there... nobody needs to spend millions to prove that water is wet or that snow is cold. If a researcher needs to run these kinds of silly experiments, then they've been away from the trenches for too long.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

That Evil Bastard

Over the last couple of days, I've seen internet articles talking about how people are pissed that Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP, went to some sort of yacht race. In one of the articles, there was also mention that people are pissed that Obama and Biden went golfing. To all of you that are angry about this -- give the guys a break!

Don't get me wrong here. I empathize with the anger and frustration that people are feeling over this spill. Jobs are disappearing, ecologies are being compromised- if not destroyed, memories are being tarnished. This is a huge deal... something that we won't come to grips with for a very long time.

That's not the point though. Hayward did not create the problem. His business practices may have contributed to the situation, but Hayward didn't exactly say "Geez, I'd love to see an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico blow up... think how pretty all of that swirly oil would look mixed up with the Gulf waters."

Furthermore, Hayward is the figurehead. His job is to run the business aspect of BP. He's not the guy who is going to come up with ideas to fix the problem. And even if he WAS, don't you think that he'd be a bit tired if he didn't have some time off?!? Think about it... would YOU be able to work 16 hours per day, 7 days a week, for months on end? Wouldn't YOU be a bit crispy and out of ideas?

Hayward has definitely come across as less-than-connected. And as the head honcho, part of his job is to be the face of villainy. And yes, he could have chosen something a bit less elitist than a yacht race for his time off. I'm not trying to defend his actions. I'm simply trying to express that it's not really reasonable for people to expect perfection from him.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I just finished reading Paulius' post from yesterday, where he asserted that "parents want schools to teach their kids only their values and points of view." The article has some good ideas, and it's clear that he put some thought into what he said. With this in mind though, I'd like to point out a couple of flaws in the logic that he set forth.

I guess I'll start off with the whole home schooling thing. There seems to be an undercurrent in Paul's post that assumes home schooling parents are right-wing, fundamentalist, religious nut jobs who don't want their children exposed to the evil teachings of evolution, contraception and so forth. I am more than prepared to accept that many children are home schooled on this premise. However, it's not reasonable to assume that the majority of children are taught at home for this reason. I'd like to submit that many parents choose to home school their children in order to spend extra time with them, or to provide an experience that's superior to what may be offered by substandard schools in a given area. A home schooled child is not automatically the offspring of a fundamentalist parent.

And adding to a point I touched on a moment ago, it's no longer reasonable to assume that public school is adequately producing the critical thinkers that Paulius seeks. If schools were doing this, we wouldn't have No Child Left Behind, which by the way, appears to have had the impact of teaching children to take tests, not creating critical thinkers. In other words, public schools are often teaching facts, not broadening horizons.

As for teaching our kids about other religions... well, that's good, but only to a point. We can teach our kids about Islam, but that doesn't mean that Muslims will teach their children about Christianity. And to add a practical note to this.... when would we squeeze this in? The kids are already too busy preparing for their No Child Left Behind test.

I will say that I firmly agree with Paulius' final point. Raising our children to think critically is a good thing. They should be able to see both sides of any issue and come to their own conclusion, based on their own thoughts and experiences, rather than inheriting opinions from others. But it's a fallacy to think that home-schooling automatically breeds narrow-mindedness. It's incorrect to expect that a public education will produce freethinkers, and it's simplistic to say that understanding eliminates conflict.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

While I'm Evaluating Stuff...

During our boys' trip to the Boundary Waters, I had the opportunity to try out a lot of new gadgets and gear. Yesterday, I wrote about my impression of the Wenzel Ridgeline and Pinon tents. Well, since it rained a lot, I should talk about the rain suit I purchased. I suspect that by now, many of you have heard of Frog Toggs rain gear. For those of you who haven't, they're a lightweight, breathable rain suit.

I've been intrigued by them for a while, but there were two things that really scared me away from them... the price, and the issue that they LOOK like they'll shred to confetti in a stiff breeze. Just before my trip though, I found a knock-off, made by Natural Gear, at Sam's Club for about half the price of Frog Toggs... a price where I was willing to try them out.

All I can say is WOW! My last day was a full day in a constant downpour, and I stayed dry. Though the material looks flimsy, it's not. I snagged the coat sleeves on brambles and branches many times, and it never tore. It's also a great top-layer light jacket. It's breathable, but provides that extra bit of warmth when the weather starts to get chilly.

The other thing that made my time up north very comfortable was wicking clothing. Everything from my shirt to my undies had wicking action. This, combined with my rain gear, kept me dry and comfortable... not too hot, but not too cold. My wicking clothing, including the undies and socks, were purchased at Sierra Trading Post. I've made around six purchases from during the last year, and I've been consistently satisfied with their merchandise, service and prices.

The last thing I want to talk about is the water purifier. Water is heavy to carry, especially if you're going to port a weeks' worth. And while the water up north is clean and clear, it's still recommended that you filter, purify or boil your drinking water Greg purchased a Katadyn Combi. That was another WOW product. It worked exactly as advertised. The filter required considerably more cleaning than I expected, but then again, we tended to get our water right at short, and the manufacturer recommends using the purifier in deeper water. The thing that really surprised me was HOW MUCH water we all consumed. Between the four of us, for drinking and cooking, we probably went through two to three gallons per day. But I'm digressing. If you're in the market for a portable water filter, check out the Katadyn Combi.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Accommodations

On the first and last night, we stayed at a room in a small motel in Ely, Mn. The motel was named the Canoe On Inn. It was a quaint, motel in a resort town. Very overpriced considering what was offered, but it was convenient, it had beds, and there was enough hot water for four grubby guys to shower before and after the trip. And considering that we didn't take deodorant or toothpaste on the trip (bears seem to like these toiletries, so we left them at home), we were pretty ripe at the end of our journey.

The rest of the time, as you should imagine, we slept in tents. Greg and I purchased new tents for the trip... they were el cheapo $35 tents that we bought from Scheels. We bought these tents because we wanted something compact and lightweight, and because we figured it would be easier to find two small tent-pitching spots, rather than a place for a single, large tent. We were correct.

The tents we bought were very similar. I bought the Wenzel Ridgeline, and Greg purchased the Wenzel Pinon. I chose my tent with the expectation that it would last a week. Anything past the week was a bonus in my opinion. I wanted something that would allow enough room for Bill and me to sleep comfortably, and to stay relatively dry. But just in case, I brought a bivvy sack for extra insurance. And, oh yeah, I DID take the time to waterproof the tent before our trip.

For $35 I had relatively low expectations. Furthermore, during my research, I ran across one consistent complaint -- that the door zipper was a pain to work. I figured that as long as it didn't blow out, I could live with that. The tent did meet my expectations. It kept me relatively dry, and it survived the week. I figure that it will make a good little tent for the kids to use in the back yard.

With that said, I'd probably choose a different tent if I had it all to do over again. There were two major defects in this tent. First and foremost, the tent is technically sized 7'X7', but as far as usable room goes, it's more accurate to say it's just shy of 6'X6'. I have a cot that sits about five inches off of the floor and is six feet long. The cot was pushing on the tent at the head and feet.

And the door's zipper system is not well designed. There is no rain flap over the zipper, so consequently quite a bit of rain got in to the tent. Again, I had a bivvy sack and a cot, so fared well. Bill, on the other hand, woke up with a wet sleeping bag. Fortunately, the corners are not well sealed, which meant that the water flowed on out the corner, rather than puddling up in the tent. (Yes, I'm saying that rather tongue-in-cheek.)

Greg's tent, the Pinon, did have the rain flaps on the door. But his tent didn't have any clips to connect the fiberglass poles to the tent body, which meant that his tent was a bit flimsier in the wind. He lucked out though... there was rain, but no wind-driven rainstorm.

In both cases, the stress on the door's zipper is caused by the poles that support the rain fly. The fly support system is poorly designed.

At the end of the day, what I purchased met my needs, but I wouldn't do it again. If you're looking for a cheap, fair-weather tent, this may fit the bill... just remember to go easy on the door.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Minnesota State Bird

It's a long-standing joke that the mosquito is Minnesota's state bird. During our boys' trip, we found out why. The first day on the water was relatively quiet and peaceful. But on the second day, we saw -- rather, heard -- something none of us had ever experienced.

Just before dusk, when nature's daytime creatures are finding a place to hole up for the night, but before the nocturnal animals come out to play, I detected a high-pitched sound... not quite a buzz, not quite a whine, but something in between. At first it was barely audible, and I couldn't quite pinpoint the source of the noise. As the sun continued its decent, however, the sound grew louder, and I could tell that the source was right at the shoreline. This is about the time that Darin noticed the noise as well, and that was when I saw the it... a mammoth swarm of mosquitoes, dancing around the shoreline. Figuring that they saw us as ripe victims, we collectively shuddered a bit and retired to our tents. Greg and Bill were already asleep. The next day, I experienced the same thing, and pointed out the swarm to Greg and Bill. Again, we all retired to our tents for the evening.

The third day, when we were at a different site, we once again heard the now-familiar sound of the mosquito swarm. It was the loudest evening yet, and we could see the cloud of bugs completely surrounding us. This time, however, it was a clear, warm evening, and we had a nice camp fire, so we decided to brave the swarm and stay outside. By the way, if you'd like an idea of what the swarm sounded like, picture the bug scene in the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. It was LOUD!

None of us rushed to apply bug spray. I guess we were morbidly curious how they would react... would we be eaten alive, or left alone? Miraculously, they didn't bother us much. I guess the fire was enough to scare them off. Either that, or they were scared of all of the dragonflies and bats trying to eat THEM.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

In to Every Life...

... a little rain must fall... and such was the case on our boys' trip. It rained three of the six days that we were in the boundary waters. Our first day of paddling was cut short when mother nature decided to test our meddle with a little precipitation.

You should realize that on our first day, we were in our worst shape physically, and it had been about a year since any of us had paddled, so our technique was a bit rusty as well. Our journey started with a 1/2 mile portage to the entry point. Since we were carrying a week's worth of gear, we were already a bit fatigued by the time we hit the water. But we were also in high spirits, so the fatigue quickly wore off, as we paddled our way down the river that led to our first lake.

The rivers weren't really rivers in the traditional sense... no current to speak of. They were simply shallow, winding bodies of water connecting one lake to another, filled with river grass and lily pads. The first river had a couple of spots that were impassable by canoe, which meant that we had to do a grand total of three portages during our first day... the aforementioned 1/2 miler, followed by a couple quick hundred-yard jaunts. Nothing serious in retrospect, but again, we were a bit out of shape, so these portages took a toll on our old, out-of-shape bodies. After about 90 minutes of slow paddling, we hit our first lake.

We'd been on the lake for 15 minutes or so when the wind picked up and the sky grew gray. Intuitively we knew that we were in for a shower. Just as whitecaps began forming on the lake, the wind started blowing us toward shore. Providence kicked in and the shoreline happened to host a camp site. We really wanted to continue paddling, but after conferring for a bit, we decided that seizing the campsite was the wise thing to do.

We got our gear out of the canoes, quickly donned our rain gear, and got the tents set up just as the rain started in earnest. After the paddling, we didn't really want to huddle in our cramped tents, so we decided to tough things out in the open air. Fortunately there was no lightning, and we all had good rain gear. Everyone that is, except for Darin. Darin seemed to have misplaced his rain coat and was stuck with only rain pants. On the good side, I had an extra rain suit that was "one size fits all." Unfortunately for him, he was a bit too large for that raincoat. It took him several minutes to even squeeze in to the thing. And when he finally got the raincoat on... well, suffice it to say that it was more than a little snug. Furthermore, it was a cheap, non-breathable raincoat. Darin spent a considerable amount of time whining about this. In fact, he was even saying that he was thinking about going back to shore to make sure that he didn't leave HIS raincoat in my truck at the put-in point.

After about an hour, the rain let up a bit, and we put our sleeping bags and cots in the tent. That's when Darin found his raincoat. All was right in the world. Greg and Bill spent a few hours fishing. Bill got skunked, but Greg caught a good-sized Northern Pike, which he filleted and grilled up, despite all of the bones. Overall, the day was a little shorter than we'd have liked, but it ended well.

Here are another couple of pictures...

This is a shot of Darin in my raincoat. As you can see, he's none too happy about his clothing situation.

Here's a picture of my canoe going through the lily pads...

Here's a snap of Bill taking shelter in a hollowed-out tree. Lucky for him, there was no lightning.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Eating More than Dried Food

During our annual boys' trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, we had two primary goals... being old farts we didn't want to over-extend ourselves physically, and we didn't want to eat those crappy dehydrated meals all week.

We succeeded admirably in not working too hard. We paddled and portaged no more than a few miles per day on our way out. Furthermore, we had two days where we didn't really paddle anywhere. In fact, we were so lazy on our way out that we were able to make the entire trip back in one day. Don't get me wrong, that last day was a long, hard slog, but the point is that we managed to fulfill our goal of not over-extending ourselves.

Planning our meals required a bit more creativity. We could travel extremely light and eat only dehydrated backpacking meals all week, or we could add some extra weight and eat a bit better. And of course there is a happy medium. This is where my culinary expertise, creativity, and camping experience came in handy. Here are a few of the meals I managed to throw together for our trip...

-Chicken Broccoli Alfredo Pasta. Ingredients: Instant Broccoli Alfredo Pasta, Cooked Chicken Pouches, Powdered Milk, Butter Buds, Parmesan and Romano Cheese, and Lowry's Seasoned Salt

-Split Pea Soup and Spam. Ingredients: Dehydrated Split Pea Soup, 3 individual Spam pouches, Lowry's Seasoned Salt

-15 Bean Soup and Bacon. Ingredients: Dehydrated pack of 15-bean soup, Fully cooked peppered bacon, Parmesan and Romano Cheese and Lowry's Seasoned Salt

-Chili. Ingredients: Beef Jerky (which was reconstituted during the cooking process), Dehydrated Chili, 2x condensed tomato paste, Lowry's Seasoned Salt and Parmesan/Romano Cheese

We did have one evening of the dehydrated meals designed for camping/hiking/backpacking, and I must admit that they weren't that bad. With that said though, we ate MUCH better for a LOT less money. Yeah, it would have been possible to eat nothing but the dehydrated meals. We would have traveled a bit lighter, but we wouldn't have eaten nearly as well, and we would have spent a LOT more.

Let me close today's post with a picture from our trip...