Saturday, February 28, 2015

Lights! Camera! Phenomena!

Snow Dogs! Boy! I'm using a lot of exclamation points!

Okay, okay. Snowdogs. Around these parts that's the generic term for atmospheric reflective/refractive phenomena associated with snow.

The local term isn't that far off, really, a riff on the more commonly known/seen sun dog phenomena.

For those keeping score at home, this, from wikipedia:
Sun dogs (or sundogs), mock suns or phantom suns, scientific name parhelia (singular parhelion), are an atmospheric phenomenon that consists of a pair of bright spots on either side on the Sun, often co-occurring with a luminous ring known as a 22° halo. Sun dogs are a member of a large family of halos, created by light interacting with ice crystals in the atmosphere. Sun dogs typically appear as two subtly colored patches of light to the left and right of the Sun, approximately 22° distant and at the same elevation above the horizon as the Sun. They can be seen anywhere in the world during any season, but they are not always obvious or bright. Sun dogs are best seen and are most conspicuous when the Sun is close to the horizon.
Sundogs at Fargo North, Decoder. S

At any rate, sundogs are far from uncommon around here during the winter. Moondogs are something less than rare as well. Both called snowdogs by the good people of Kimball County, including myself. And they're very cool and all, but my favorite are light pillars. We call them snowdogs, too. Many of us are just too cheap to keep extra words laying around, being underemployed.

Light pillars, according to wikipedia:
Light pillars are a kind of optical phenomenon which is formed by the reflection of sunlight or moonlight by ice crystals that are present in the Earth's atmosphere. They are also called the crystal beam phenomenon. The light pillar looks like a thin column that extends vertically above and/or below the source of light. The light pillar is prominently visible when the Sun is low or lies below the horizon. It normally forms an arc that extends from five to ten degrees beyond the solar disc. Light pillars can sometimes also be seen arising from the Moon. Light pillars [can] also be formed by man-made light sources, such as streetlights.
A light pillar cast by the moon over Antarctica. S
I think light pillars, which I call snowdogs, are the bomb. The ones cast by the sun are great, but the really cool ones are cast by the moon. And the all time coolest of all time without a single doubt are those cast by the rotating beacon at Kimball's Municipal Airport, KIBM. At least in my opinion.

There's just something amazing about being outside on a still winter's evening and seeing that shaft of light shoot heavenward every few seconds. I can, and often do (when conditions are right) watch it for hours.

Now that you've seen some good snowdog images taken by competent photographers, I'll share what I captured via my S4 the other evening. Unfortunately, these images don't do the experience justice. If I was a good blogger I would purchase an expensive camera, learn how to use it, and post up some breathtaking pics. Maybe someday. But for now I am a cheap and lazy blogger.

You can click to enlarge. They look kinda cool on a big screen in a dark room. But so does my boot camp graduation picture. If you squint. And have been drinking.

Friday, February 27, 2015


Flightdeck Friday over at SJS. Read it.

Great video score, btw.

And a bonus track...

Morning tour

Bits of my daily morning round of cattle checking on the ranch. This was yesterday, February 26.

I'm not sure Nona approves of this whole "video" thing.

Mineral supplement with bovatek improves feed conversion. 

"A lever." I keel myself. 

Tasty winter grass, and to wash it down..."where the hell is the rancher?" 

"That's better." 

Boring lecture.


It got cold and windy this morning.

Windy. And cold.

Flushed an owl driving along the trail road. He was hunkered down, enduring.

Not sure what flavor of owl. Sent the vids and stills to a bird guy. See what he says.

And then I went home and worked on paperwork. Hope you're warm and dry.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

What's in a name?

The other day Juvat had a post about inertia over at Sarge's Place. It's a great post. If you have not yet done so, you should immediately hie yourself over there and enjoy it. Don't worry, I'll be here when you get back. If the aliens don't get me.
A scene from Mars Attacks, a very fine documentary film.
In the comments Juvat noted that one of his favorite aeroplanes is the North American F-86 Sabre, America's first real jet-powered dogfighter, scourge of the Korean skies and undisputed master of the MiG-15.
An F-86 Sabre at Oshkosh, depicting the jet Major John Glenn flew in combat.
He also noted that he'd previously been unaware that the Sabre started out as a navy jet, the straight-winged FJ-1 Fury.
An FJ-1 Fury, USS Boxer, 1948. Source. You can really see the Mustang in this jet. Do visit the link. I think you'll like it!
I could spend hours, days, weeks, months and more writing about the Mustang/Fury/Sabre. But I won't put you kind readers through that hellish experience. Instead, I'll share a few images from the 1957 USS Forrestal (CVA-59) cruisebook. FID's very first deployment, and one that featured my future squadron, VF-84, in their one and only deployment in the FJ-3M Fury.
Look at the maw on that beast! The J-65 had a lot more mass flow than the J-47.
On the cat.
Send it! Flight deck refueling before Grapes were Grapes.
The "M" in FJ-3M stood for "missile." In this case the then fairly new AIM-9 Sidewinder. Another Navy invention. Unlike the Air Force's AIM-4 Falcon, the Sidewinder actually worked. Ahem!
Briefing in Ready Five. Can you identify the swept wing Roosky jet picture pinned to the cork board?
Form for the photog.
Low power turn in the aft hangar bay.
Dry suit.
Start 'em up!
VF-84 Vagabonds, USS Forrestal, 1957.
"I can't get the radar to work." {for Sarge... ;)}
The squadron lineage is rather confusing. In 1957 VF-84 was the "Vagabonds," and the "Jolly Rogers" were still VF-61. They'd previously been VF-5B, and before that, VF-17, but always the Jolly Rogers. But VF-61 was disestablished in 1959, and VF-84 lobbied CNO to take on the Jolly Roger name and traditions. In 1960 the approval came through, and the Vagabonds became the Jolly Rogers, complete with the skull and "Bones." The new VF-84 kept the yellow stripe with black chevrons From the Vagabonds, so the Jolly Rogers went forward with both. The colors on the stripe were later inverted.

Oh, and the VF-84 Vagabonds were VA-86 to start with, and switched to VF-84 when the "Sidewinders" stood up. But the Sidewinders couldn't shoot sidewinders, because they flew the A4D. The Vagabonds, who had been VA-86, shot sidewinders, because they were fighters. Later, however, VA-86 got sidewinders when they went to the A-7. They were still light attack, though, and VF-84, who had almost been Sidewinders at one time, were still fighters...

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sun Worship

A lot of years ago, way back in 1968, I was a big Star Trek fan. You know, Star Trek, the original series (known as TOS these days). Spock, with the pointed ears. James T. Kirk. Dr. McCoy. The Starship Enterprise and a five-year mission to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before…
Spock, Kirk, McCoy s
I have some vivid memories of those television shows. One in particular, “Bread and Circuses,” dealt with a civilization similar to that of Imperial Rome, including the bloody gladiatorial contests.

In that particular episode, the Enterprise landing team of Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy are captured by the government and forced into the arena to kill or be killed. They survive and ultimately escape due to the help of a peaceful rebel group characterized as sun worshipers.
Escape! S
At the end of the episode, when everyone is back on Enterprise, safe and sound, Spock wonders about the sun worshipers, who called themselves “Children of the Sun.”

“How could sun-worshiping Romans adhere to a philosophy of peace?” he asks. “Sun worship is a primitive and superstitious religion, anything but peaceful.”

Enterprise’s Communications Officer, Lieutenant Uhura, sets him straight.
“It’s not the sun up in the sky,” she says, “it’s the Son of God.” S
An interesting and thought provoking denouement, don’t you think? Who knew the 1960’s had such depth? Maybe it wasn’t all about drugs and Vietnam.
Worship is an interesting word in this context. it’s used here as a verb, “showing reverence and adoration for a deity; honoring with religious rites.”

In the Star Trek episode the concept of religion is a foil used to juxtapose the notion of civilized religion with savagery of paganism. “Bread and Circuses” is a neat little vehicle for the task.

But as we all know well enough these days, civilized religions aren’t always peaceful. The “new” religions of social justice and environmentalism are incredibly vicious.
Social Justice worship service S
Could it be that paganism isn't always savage?

Religion vs Nature
Now that I’ve set the stage to discuss religion, peace, and savagery, I’m going to completely abandon the theme. I introduced it only because my mind went to that particular Star Trek episode the other morning when I paused for a moment to enjoy the warmth of the late-February sun.

Overnight the mercury had tumbled all the way down to minus 4 or so, and after a month of warmish weather the cold was a bit of a shock. But the sun was shining higher in the sky than it had been since late October. It was shining more directly down, its warming rays (or warming photons)  not having to travel through as much atmosphere to reach the surface. The sunlight was therefore more concentrated, or at least less diluted (or diffuse), and therefore, more warming.

Which was really nice, and felt really, really good.
Standing out on the chill winter prairie, where nature is so clearly in charge and mankind’s imagined powers so clearly an illusion, the warm kiss of sunlight is more than enough to illustrate why various people, down through the ages, came to worship the sun.

Thank the sun
Worship is the wrong word. Appreciate is probably a better word. Leave religion aside for now, and think about our very existence. It all starts with the sun.
Sol. S
In order to exist, at least in terms of our natural, corporeal existence, we need a place to exist, a place to be, a place to live our lives. Our place is on the planet Earth, which orbits the sun at a distance of 93 million miles. That distance turns out to be in the “Goldilocks Zone,” at least in this solar system, a location which is “just right” for liquid water and life as we know it to exist. But before we get ahead of ourselves, our planet would never have formed or had anything to orbit were it not for the sun.

The sun is the gravitational center of our solar system. But those 10 words don’t really do justice to the magnitude of the sun’s mass.
The sun and planets. Scale is correct for size but not for distance. S
Think of it this way. The Earth is huge. Just look outside. It’s everywhere. Mountains and oceans and everything. It’s so huge that you can barely see mankind’s biggest structures from low earth orbit, a paltry 99 miles above the surface, about the distance of a single round trip between the EJE Ranch and the Panhandle Research and Extension Center at Scottsbluff.

Earth is so huge that it’s more than 7,300 miles in diameter and weighs (masses is actually the correct term) 5.97219 times ten-to-the-twenty-fourth kilograms, or 13.2 septillion pounds. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 13,200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds.

Now that’s huge, but Earth is is only the fifth largest planet in our solar system. Jupiter, the largest planet, masses nearly 320 times as much as Earth. But guess what? Jupiter is a pipsqueak compared to the sun. The sun is well over 1,000 times more massive than Jupiter. In fact, the sun makes up 99.86 percent of the total mass of the solar system. In many ways it’s fair to say the sun is the solar system. All the planets, comets, asteroids, dust and gasses, people, skyscrapers, aircraft carriers and deflated footballs -- these are no more than a bit of fluff floating about the sun.

The mass of the sun exerts gravity, as described by Newton, and it’s that gravity which holds the solar system together and allows the planets, including our own Earth, to whirl endlessly in orbit.

So it’s the gravity of the sun, then, that gives us a place to be. Think of how powerful that force must be! Not only does it keep the planets in place (in the case of Pluto, the farthest, a distance of 3.6 trillion miles), the sun’s gravity controls everything in the solar system, out to the incomprehensible distance of 3,627,000,000,000 miles, more than 40 times the distance between Earth and the sun, and it continues to exert a powerful gravitational influence hundreds -- perhaps as much as a thousand -- times farther than that.

Gravity is certainly a powerful force, strong enough to hold the solar system together over vast distances. But gravity is actually the weakest of the four elemental forces of nature, far weaker than the strong and weak nuclear forces and the electromagnetic force.

Gravity is so weak, in fact, that by muscle power alone you and I overcome the Earth’s gravity all the time. When you reach up to scratch your nose, you are overpowering the Earth!

But even though gravity is the weakest of the elemental forces, it’s still very powerful.

According to Newton’s law of universal gravitation, which is plenty good enough for a discussion at this level, gravity is a force exerted by matter.
Sir Isaac Newton, 1642-1727. S
Matter, for this purpose, is every bit of physical stuff which has mass. Every discrete piece of matter exerts a gravitational force on every other bit of matter. The gravitational force between bits of matter is directly proportional to the sum of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance separating them. In other words, the larger the mass, the more gravity, and the closer the proximity of the masses, the stronger the force. Whew!

The sun’s gravity doesn’t just hold the solar system together, it holds the sun together. In doing so, the sun’s gravity makes life as we know it possible.

Remember that the sun is 1,050 times more massive than Jupiter, which is 320 times more massive than Earth. For the scorekeepers at home, that makes the sun 336,000 times more massive than Earth.

Now Earth is a terrestrial or rocky planet with an iron core. Rocks and iron are heavy! In Earth’s case, as we noted before, 13.2 septillion pounds of heavy. That’s a 132 followed by 23 zeroes.

The sun, however, is made up of the lightest elements in the universe, hydrogen and helium. It’s about 75 percent hydrogen and 25 percent helium, with a light dusting of heavier elements. Let’s ignore the helium for the moment, because it’s actually a byproduct. When the solar system first formed, about 4.6 billion years ago, the sun was almost entirely made up of hydrogen. Then, as now, there was such a large mass of hydrogen in the sun that its gravity became an unimaginably huge force -- proportional to the mass and inversely proportional to the square of the distance of separation.

Lets think about hydrogen for a moment. It’s the lightest element, and as most of us recall from fourth grade science, it’s made up of a single, positively charged proton and a single, negatively charged electron.

Like all atoms, hydrogen atoms are tiny. They’re even tinier than tiny.  If you think of a hydrogen atom as a mini solar system, with the proton in the center playing the sun and the electron taking the part of an orbiting planet, and if the proton were expanded 25 trillion (25,000,000,000,000) times to one inch in diameter, the electron’s orbit would be clear out at 1,400 feet from the proton! If you expanded the proton to the size of the sun, the electron would orbit four times farther out than Pluto.

So it’s pretty clear that atoms are mostly empty space, but that emptiness is charged with powerful nuclear and electromagnetic forces that hold the atom together and at the same time keep the electrons orbiting at such great distances. Those forces also give matter its solidity. Matter is made up of atoms, and atoms are mostly empty space. When we feel the structure of a rock or a steel beam or a sheet of paper, we’re actually feeling the interaction of the electromagnetic forces of the atoms in our finger with the atoms in the object we touch.

So. Back to the sun, hydrogen, and gravity. Gravity pulls (and continues to pull) all of those hydrogen atoms tighter and tighter and tighter until something wonderful happens. At the core of the sun, where gravity has driven temperatures and pressures to astronomical heights, the hydrogen atoms are bashed together with such force that they fuse -- and become something different.
Lets backtrack a bit and remember that part of what prompted this essay was the feel of the sun’s warmth on my face on a frigid February morning, and that the warmth I felt was transmitted across 93 million miles of empty space.

As hydrogen atoms smash together in the core of the sun they fuse into helium atoms. The mass of a helium atom is just slightly less than the mass of the two fusing hydrogen atoms. The missing mass doesn’t just disappear, it becomes energy as described by Einstein in his famous equation E=mc2. The energy released by that tiny bit of leftover matter is enormous.
Isotopes of hydrogen fusing into helium and releasing energy. S
To put it in perspective, the fusion of one gram (0.035 ounces) of hydrogen yields 85 billion British Thermal Units (BTU’s) of energy. That’s 33 million horsepower-hours or 25 million kilowatt-hours. But those are just numbers. Twenty-four grams of fusing hydrogen -- less than an ounce -- could power the entire U.S. electrical grid for a full year.

As hydrogen atoms fuse into helium in the core of the sun, the energy is released as photons, discrete packets of electromagnetic energy. We can think of them as light particles (we can also think of them as light waves, but wave-particle duality is an essay for another day), and as light particles they travel at the speed of light, 300,000 kilometers (186,000 miles) per second.

Remember, though, that this fusion occurs in the core of the sun, which is packed full of compressed hydrogen at extremely high densities. The energetic photons have to fight their way out of the core in order to leave the sun as a ray of light. That journey, from the core to the surface of the sun, made at the speed of light, takes a full century to complete as the photons bounce nearly endlessly off of the densely packed hydrogen and helium atoms.

Once free of the core the photons speed out into space in all directions. They’ve lost none of their energy in 100 years of ricocheting about in the core. As they fly out from the sun, a small percentage are aimed directly at the Earth, where they land after about nine minutes of travel.

The solar flux (quantity of solar energy) striking the earth is a constant 175 petawats, about 10-to-the-15th watts. About thirty percent of that is reflected by the atmosphere, but the rest of it reaches the surface.

And once it reaches the surface, it provides every bit of energy required for life. It energizes the photosynthetic process in plants, which take carbon dioxide and hydrogen and solar energy and make starch and cellulose and oxygen. Animals eat the starch and cellulose and breathe the oxygen. Other animals eat the plant eating animals. The important point is that every scrap of energy it takes to make a plant or to make an animal comes from the sun.

And that’s probably enough for today. Whether we think about it or not, whether we appreciate it or not, the sun is the bringer of life as we know it.

And the bonus is the feel of warm sunshine on a frosty February morn.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Fortunate Son

Whew! A few moments without a fire to put out. I gotta figure out a way to arrange my emergencies if I'm gonna be a successful blogger.

A couple of days ago as I checked cows on the north unit I paused to watch as a transporter loaded up with crude from one of the wells on the ranch. As the oil flowed into the truck it occurred to me that I'm a fortunate son.
As the pump jack nods up and down a transporter fills with crude oil.
Holy sierra-hotel-india-tango! You got oil? Of course you're a fortunate son!

Well, yeah, kinda-sorta. But not 'zactly.

It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no oil-baron's son.

When the oil came in here in the Panhandle -- just after the war -- there was a predictable boom. The first producing well was on the EJE, and over the years there have been as many as six of them pumping. But..., it ain't millionaire oil. It's hardscrabble oil. Profitable, but not that profitable. All together in a good year the income is enough to pay the land taxes with enough left over to make a dent in the income tax it generates.

Not great, but better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

And that's actually a perfect state of affairs. I suspect that millionaire money would kill me deader than a hammer.

I'm doubly fortunate there.

Doubly fortunate with the oil, I'm infinitely fortunate in all else. I did not do one single thing to deserve my good fortune.

On February 20 I fixed fence in shirtsleeves in the morning.

It was a beautiful out; temps in the mid-40's, sunshine, almost no wind. A perfect morning to catch up with a chore that had been evading me since the fall.

The job was to add a fourth wire to an internal fence line at the home place. The fence runs north and south and is a mile long. It divides former farm ground (planted back to grass in 1985 or so) from native prairie.

In one of my first experiences with fixin' fence, my grandpa Wilbur and I rebuilt this particular fence back in about 1970. We left a few still-stout posts in place as well as two of the wires. Those posts and wires were original to the place and built by my great-grandfather Evert in about 1900. They're still there, which is kinda neat.

Dad and Great Grandpa Evert in front of the old shop, just before the war.
Evert and his brothers came to Kimball County in the late 1800's. They farmed and ranched and raised families. They also built and founded the local livestock auction.

Great Grandma Maude, age 80, in her prairie flower garden, EJE Ranch, 1958.
Evert and Maude had 13 children. 10 survived to adulthood.

My future grandparents, Wilbur and Helen, with three sisters-in-law, just before the war.
There's a good chance that my obstreperous nature comes directly from Grandpa.
Grandpa, me, and my first hoss, ol' Futureglue.
Same outing as above, Wilbur on the left with Bob Sandridge, Clifford Olson and brother Dorance Evertson. The depression was ending and war was looming and these young fellows had the world by the ass.
Mom and Dad and four (of six) kids. Summer picnic early 1960's.
So yeah, fortunate son, grandson, great-grandson.

A few thoughts on the song.

I was born to wave the flag. I'm Red, White and Blue.

Compared to many, I was born with a silver pitchfork in my hand. When the taxman comes to the door, I pay up.

One day a lot of years ago, as I was poised to leave the navy, I had a conversation with the Command Master Chief. He urged me to stay in, and introduced me to the real American perspective on giving back. I argued that I'd done enough, and that it was someone else's turn. "Let those flag-burners have a shot," I said.

"It ain't about them," he said, "It's about you."

He also opined that I'd not, in fact, done enough.

When you ask 'em how much should we give...

Sorry, Fogerty, the answer's always been, and will always be,

More, more, more.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Beef Bergen Yone

Just a little yucky out yesterday. Cold and damp with a lazy (can't be bothered to go around so it blows right through you) north wind. The cattle were happy and there wasn't a lot of outside work to be done, so I worked on a slate of (shudder) business stuff, mostly (gag) taxes.

Since it was cold and yucky out and since I had guest coming for dinner, it was a perfect day to get a steaming cauldron of rib-sticking goodness on. I thought about chili but one of my supper guests is a bit on the delicate side, so I decided on Beef Bourguignon.

Sounds fancy, sounds French, sounds like years of professional training and slaving away over a hot stove all day.

Yes, yes, no, heh.

Which is a good thing because while I really enjoy cooking I don't enjoy it that much. And just because I enjoy it doesn't mean I'm good at it.

I wanted to insert the coffee-in-the-eggs scene from Lonesome Dove here. Couldn't pull it off. Sigh.

Anyway, the classic French techniques are beyond me, or at least I assume they are. Still, how hard can it be? At the end of the day Beef Bourguignon is plain ol' beef stew with a splash of red wine. It's not that hard.


1.5 lbs stew meat, 3/4 inch cube. I use sirloin.
4 slices bacon, 3/4 inch dice
1 cup shredded carrot
3 cloves garlic, chopped medium-fine
1 medium yellow onion, chopped fine
1 lb. sliced mushrooms
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. thyme leaves
3 small bay leaves
2 cups beef stock
1 cup dry red wine

I like to do the cubing, dicing, and chopping up front, and to measure ingredients into separate containers before doing any actual cooking. The French call this mise en place, according to that Anthony Bourdain guy, so I call it mise en place, too. I think it's strange that mice apparently make up a substantial part of the French diet, but I'm not going to judge.

So. Meat. Well marbled sirloin and thick-sliced applewood bacon. No rodentia here.

Garlic. Always from the bulb, never from the bottle or jar. Except when it's more convenient. Both are good, but using fresh whole cloves is more Frenchified, and that's rather the point if you're making Bourguignon rather than stew.
If I was a more accomplished blogger, I'd include a garlic-skinning video. I use the crush, pinch and pull technique. Then a rough country chop.
And the mise.
First brown the beef in batches.
Set the browned beef aside and introduce Le cochon fume sainte to the pot.
Saute the bacon until it begins to brown, then add the carrots, onion, garlic, thyme and bay leaf. I actually mince the onion in a food processor. This is because one of my guests was apparently traumatized by an onion in a past life. Cooking reduces the minced onion to a state where it's not detectable by mouth feel, yet leaves all the yummy flavor. 
While the vegetables saute, mix tomato paste, broth, and wine in a medium bowl, then whisk in a quarter cup flour. This frothy, purplish, mess is the secret to the rich, thick sauce of Bourguignon.
A word on wine. The experts say you should use drinking wine rather than cooking wine. They also say that inexpensive wine is fine for cooking. I wouldn't use Ripple, but this $8 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon is fine.
I'm actually more from the Fred Sanford school when it comes to wine...

And as long as the wine's out, might as well crack a cold frosty one...
If I was cooking for myself, this is the point I'd add the Franks. But I'm not, so I won't.
Now, beef in the crock pot, followed by mushrooms. The French do it in the oven, but I like the ease of the crock pot.
Then add the purple froth and give it a stir. Add a bit of broth and another splash of wine if the liquid level is too low. This is a trial and error thing, learning how to get the sauce just right.
Seal the crock pot with foil. This keeps a bit of pressure in the pot which speeds cooking and enhances flavor infusion. That's my theory anyway.
One hour on high, followed by 3-4 hours on low. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
I'm clearly not a "food designer."