Sunday, January 29, 2017

Always something

Night before last as I was finishing my evening rounds I stopped by the ranch house, as is my wont, to chat with the Matriarch and Patriarch and to pick up Nona the Wonder Dog.

It was after dark, this being January and the time being 6:30 p.m. or so. Because I'd had a slip on the ice earlier in the day, I pulled ahead a bit farther in the driveway and a tad to the left so as to avoid stepping out on a patch of solid phase dihydrogen monooxide. In doing this my pickup ended up being parked on a heading of roughly 355, rather than the more usual due north.

Thus were born the seeds of disaster.

Finished chatting and with Nona the Wonder Dog in her usual seat in the pickup, I fired up the motor and backed -- as is my habit -- straight back. I checked the mirrors, as is also my habit, and everything looked fine.

Everything was fine, too, all the way up until the moment I smashed into the pole holding the satellite dish. Ruh-Roh.

Nona the Wonder Dog gave me a baleful glare. I'm quite sure she rolled her eyes as well. I may not speak dog but I got her message loud and clear. "Damme sure didn't hit the master lottery, did I?"

I scrambled out to assess the damage, predictably looking first at my pickup. Taillights intact, no visible dent. Good.

Looking at the satellite dish I noted that the pole was still vertical and appeared to be intact. I glanced through the living room window and my dad appeared to be still watching TV. Through the kitchen window I could see that mom's TV was still on. Yay! No harm, no foul. I considered reporting the incident, but what the hell I thought, no reason to bother them with a non-problem.

The next morning, after the sun rose and the world was nicely illuminated, I glanced outside and saw that the plastic lens on my right rear taillight was broken. Shit!

I quickly drove to the ranch house. The satellite dish still looked okay, though it was bent ever so slightly. Inside the house both televisions were off.

"Is your television working," I asked dad.

"Hasn't been working since you bashed into it last night," he said.


Fortunately the pole bent back into true with only a little effort and the system could once again pick up the satellite signal.

"Well," said dad, after he carefully checked reception on all 300 channels, "maybe you'll get a birthday present after all. But don't count on it."
You can see the tire track.

I came sooooo close to not hitting the damme thing too. But I...

Gotta replace a damme taillight, too. Thank god for Amazon.

Saturday, January 28, 2017


I remember the day, the hour, the moment. I remember with the kind of crystal clarity reserved for such moments. I do not know why it is, but for me the sharpest, most vibrant memories I own are those moments when I stood safely by and watched, helplessly, as shipmates, friends, acquaintances, slipped the surly bonds.

I briefly met and worked with Mike Smith and Judith Resnik ("I'm J.R.," she said, shaking my hand). It was at an Oceana conference to update plans long in place to use the Master Jet Base as a divert field for the shuttle. I'd grown, perhaps, too accustomed to rubbing shoulders with giants, thinking that meeting and working with such people was normal and routine and even my right as an exalted member of an elite community.
Jan. 9, 1986, the Challenger crew takes a break during countdown training at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Left to right are Teacher-in-Space payload specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronauts Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Mike J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist. S

I wish I could remember those few hours with the same sharp clarity that seems to be reserved for tragedy alone, but I cannot.

Today I'll share the transcript of Challenger's voice recorder during the last few minutes of the STS-51L mission on January 28, 1986. As you read the last words of these men and women, I hope you can get a sense of how very large they lived, how they embraced the adventure of life and wrung every gram of zest out of experience. To paraphrase the voice -over at the end of the movie Brian's Song, the crew of Challenger had a great many loving friends who miss them and think of them often. But when they think of them, it's not only how they died that they remember, but also how they lived. How they did live.


MS 1.........Onizuka
MS 2.........Resnik
(The references to "NASA" indicate explanatory references NASA provided to the Presidential Commission.)
Time Crew Crew
(Min:Sec).........Position Comment
T-2:05............MS 2..... Would you give that back to me?
T-2:03............MS 2..... Security blanket.
T-2:02............MS 2..... Hmm.
T-1:58............CDR..... Two minutes downstairs; you gotta watch running down there?
(NASA: Two minutes till launch.)
T-1:47............PLT..... OK there goes the lox arm.
(NASA: Liquid oxygen supply arm to ET.)
T-1:46............CDR..... Goes the beanie cap.
(NASA: Liquid oxygen vent cap.)
T-1:44............MS 1..... Doesn't it go the other way?
T-1:42............ Laughter.
T-1:39............MS 1..... Now I see it; I see it.
T-1:39............PLT..... God I hope not Ellison.
T-1:38............MS 1..... I couldn't see it moving; it was behind the center screen.
(NASA: Obstructed view of liquid oxygen supply arm.)
T-1:33. .........MS 2..... Got your harnesses locked?
(NASA: Seat restraints.)
T-1:29............PLT..... What for?
T-1:28............CDR..... I won't lock mine; I might have to reach something.
T-1:24............PLT..... Ooh kaaaay.
T-1:04............MS 1..... Dick's thinking of somebody there.
T-1:03............CDR..... Unhuh.
T-59..............CDR..... One minute downstairs.
(NASA: One minute till launch.)
T-52..............MS 2..... Cabin Pressure is probably going to give us an alarm.
(NASA: Caution and warning alarm. Routine occurrence during prelaunch).
T-50..............CDR..... OK.
T-47..............CDR..... OK there.
T-43..............PLT..... Alarm looks good.
(NASA: Cabin pressure is acceptable.)
T-42..............CDR..... OK.
T-40..............PLT..... Ullage pressures are up.
(NASA: External tank ullage pressure.)
T-34..............PLT..... Right engine helium tank is just a little bit low.
(NASA: SSME supply helium pressure.)
T-32..............CDR..... It was yesterday, too.
T-31..............PLT..... OK.
T-30..............CDR..... Thirty seconds down there.
(NASA: 30 seconds till launch.)
T-25............PLT..... Remember the red button when you make a roll call.
(NASA: Precautionary reminder for communications configuration.)
T-23............CDR..... I won't do that; thanks a lot.
T-15..............CDR..... Fifteen.
(NASA: 15 seconds till launch.)
T-6...............CDR..... There they go guys.
(NASA: SSME Ignition.)
MS 2..... All right.
CDR..... Three at a hundred.
(NASA: SSME thrust level at 100% for all 3 engines.)
T+O...............MS 2..... Aaall riiight.
T+1...............PLT..... Here we go.
(NASA: Vehicle motion.)
T+7...............CDR.............Houston, Challenger roll program.
(NASA: Initiation of vehicle roll program.)
T+11..............PLT..... Go you Mother.
T+14..............MS 1..... LVLH.
(NASA: Reminder for cockpit switch configuration change. Local vertical/local horizontal).
T+15..............MS 2..... (Expletive) hot.
T+16..............CDR..... Ooohh-kaaay.
T+19..............PLT..... Looks like we've got a lotta wind here today.
T+20..............CDR..... Yeah.
T+22..............CDR..... It's a little hard to see out my window here.
T+28..............PLT..... There's ten thousand feet and Mach point five.
(NASA: Altitude and velocity report.)
T+30............ Garble.
T+35..............CDR..... Point nine.
(NASA: Velocity report, 0.9 Mach).
T+40..............PLT..... There's Mach one.
(NASA: Velocity report, 1.0 Mach).
T+41..............CDR..... Going through nineteen thousand.
(NASA: Altitude report, 19,000 ft.)
T+43..............CDR..... OK we're throttling down.
(NASA: Normal SSME thrust reduction during maximum dynamic pressure region.)
T+57..............CDR..... Throttling up.
(NASA: Throttle up to 104% after maximum dynamic pressure.)
T+58..............PLT..... Throttle up.
T+59..............CDR..... Roger.
T+60..............PLT..... Feel that mother go.
T+60............ Woooohoooo.
T+1:02............PLT..... Thirty-five thousand going through one point five
(NASA: Altitude and velocity report, 35,000 ft., 1.5 Mach).
T+1:05............CDR..... Reading four eighty six on mine.
(NASA: Routine airspeed indicator check.)
T+1:07............PLT..... Yep, that's what I've got, too.
T+1:10............CDR..... Roger, go at throttle up.
(NASA: SSME at 104 percent.)
T+1:13............PLT..... Uhoh.
T+1:13.......................LOSS OF ALL DATA.

At T+15 MS2 (JR) said, "(Expletive) Hot." I have no doubt I know which expletive was uttered. I take a lot of comfort from that.

Friday, January 27, 2017


I gave into impulse buying a week or so ago and ordered up some Caveman Coffee. I purchased a bag of Sabretooth beans, and then, on a goofy whim, a bottle of Cold Brew.

Cold brew is a liquid coffee concentrate. You mix it 1:3 with cold water for to make a delightful iced coffee beverage.

Why did I do that? I've never been an iced coffee guy. In fact, I've never tasted real iced coffee, only room temperature coffee, and that sucks.

I could blame it on Sarge, for he occasionally extols the virtue of iced coffee. He is also the only person I know who drinks the stuff.

However, I won't blame it on Sarge. I'll blame it on Joe Rogan. Now Joe is... interesting and complicated. He's a stand-up comedian and fight announcer. He's a really, really, really libertarian libertarian. He and many of his guests smoke a hell of a lot of dope on his podcast. He's not for everyone, and I don't agree with everything he says or does. For instance, he says the best way to work out is to do so stoned. Maybe he's right, but that don't make no sense to me at all.

What the hell am I doing watching Joe Rogan on the interwebs?

Well, when you're on your back for five months trying to heal up from a bone infection, you can only read so many books. I refuse to do tee-vee. I'm not a huge movie fan. But there is a lot of interesting and entertaining stuff on the yewtoobbe.

Rogan is interesting and entertaining.

And in addition to smoking dope on the interwebs, he drinks the Caveman Coffee. Which is probably a paid sponsor. However, he was really enthusiastic about the Cold Brew, particularly when prepared as "Morning Thunder."

Morning Thunder is a cup of the Cold Brew with a shot of MCT. I did a little bit of reading up on the medium chain triglycerides and decided, what the hell, give it a shot.

What I found out, when I fixed my first cup, is that the iced coffee with MCT is really, really tasty. But wow, is it full of caffeine! You simply cannot -- well, I simply cannot -- have a cup of Morning Thunder followed by a regular cup of hot coffee. Talk about pingin' off the walls!

But boy, is that Cold Brew flavorful! It's really, really good. Damme expensive. On the other hand, it comes in a cool steel bottle. So. GREAT flavor. Maybe too much Caffeine. Expensive. Cool steel bottle (shiny shit syndrome). What to do?

And here's another cool interweb trick.

A case of .40 S&W 180gr FMJ-Flat. I've got a case of Federal 180gr HST coming too. The interwebs make buying ammo easy and remarkably inexpensive. This is a good thing. AmmoSeek is a great ammunition search engine.

For a taste of Joe Rogan, this is interesting and worth spending the time to watch and think about.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Winds of wisdom

I read something the other day that I was going to be sure to remember because I wanted to use it in a post. I've forgotten the line and even the source for the moment, though both are buzzing about just above my right ear, a pair of factsquitoes daring me to capture them. It'll come to me.

The gist of the thing was simply this: cleverness is not wisdom.

When I was a lad I was sharp as a tack and clever as hell. My Mom taught me to read before I marched off to Kindergarten. Kindergarten was kind of a trial though because "lesen war streng verboten!" Kindergarten was for learning your letters, numbers and colors. First Grade was for learning to read.

So I rebelled. I don't remember planning to rebel, I just decided I wasn't going to play their firetrucking game. So I was advanced to first grade (you can't fail kiddygarder, right?) with a black mark and an annotation. "This little shit don't know his numbers, colors, or letters."

They put me in the retard reading section. Until one day when the teacher accidentally came to work sober and noticed that I was reading the grownup encyclopedias.

She thought I was pretending, but being unusually unintoxicated and able to string a few coherent concepts together she determined to make an investigation. Just like Stu and Jeff in 77 Sunset Strip. So she asked me to read a passage, and I did so. Something about the rape of Nanking, as I recall. I read the passage with even more skill and articulation than Mrs. Elkins, the fifth grade teacher and acknowledged brain of the institution, could muster.

So I was let out of retard reading and given homework. A bad tactical move on my part, but thus are the seeds of wisdom planted (to lay dormant for many, many years in my case).

Where, you are surely wondering, is this moron going with this?

Sarge opined today that most of the world is populated by average, C students. This got me to thinking about an unpublished draft post on the topic (more or less) which has not as yet made like Jeff Bridges in Tron. Yes, I know, bad analogy. Just imagine Bridges escaping the standalone computer to the information superhighway, which algore had yet to invent when Tron came out in 1982. Tron II, perhaps.

Now where the firetruck was I?

First principle of humanity. If the first principle is more than a platitude, if it's a self evident truth and all men are created equal, then how is it possible that some people are smarter than other people?

We know for a fact that some people are smarter than others, right? I mean, everybody knows that. Some people are really smart -- smart enough to be brain scientists and rocket surgeons and drug empire kingpins.

And some people are really dumb, with only enough brain juice to scrub floors or dig ditches or stack lumber.

If you believe that all men are created equal, the fact that some people are smart and some are dumb presents a bit of a problem. If you also think that the unexamined life is not worth living, then perhaps you find (or have found) yourself in the same position as I, compelled to revisit a deeply held belief and determine whether it stands up or not.

In light of the smart-dumb divide, my personal belief that all men are created equal looks kind of shaky. Maybe I need to double check my understanding of the basic terms. Perhaps I've made an error here; perhaps there's a difference between what I know and what I think I know.


It's easy to get confused and think that equal means identical. But it doesn't. There's a difference between equal and identical, and if I'm saying equal but meaning identical, I might be a tad off course.

When I think about the phrase "all men are created equal," the only way it makes sense is if it's defining "men" as human beings, and "all men" as the sum of the mass of humanity. That the people who make up that mass of humanity are, each and every one, equally, fundamentally, human beings.

This means that there are no men who belong to some other non-human group; no men who are actually frogs or skyscrapers or pomegranates. There are no men who are protohuman, or "almost but not quite" human.  No men who are posthuman, upgraded or advanced beyond human. No men are "better" humans, and none are "worse" humans. All men are the same basic model, Homo sapiens, period dot.

All men are equally human, but all men are not identical humans.

You don't have to look very hard to see that people are not identical. If you look very closely, you will find that each human is an absolutely unique individual. No two humans are, have ever been, or ever will be, identical.

This is a paradox, isn't it? How can humans be equal if each and every human is different than each and every other human?

Well, "equal" and "identical" are very different things. Equal means being the same in quantity or size or degree or valueIdentical means similar in every detail, exactly alike.

So all men can be equally fundamentally human (endowed by their creator -- each and every one, with natural rights) while at the same time being unique individuals rather than cookie cutter copies.

Are we good so far?

Dumb and dumber

We know an awful lot about the human brain, and we're learning more and more all the time. But as much as we know, we're essentially in the same boat as the ancient chemists. They tried very hard to do chemistry but had only four elements to work with -- air, water, earth, and fire. Their big 18th century breakthrough was phlogiston, but they were as misguided on that as Fleischmann and Pons were on cold fusion. The olden chemists hadn't yet made the fundamental discoveries that led to atomic theory and the periodic table. Thus far, we modern humans find ourselves in a similar boat, having yet to unlock the fundamental principles of the brain.

Why do some people become terrorists? Why do some mothers kill their children? Why are some people honest and principled? Why will mobs rush to do good things, and just as quickly rush to do bad things? The questions are endless, and our only answers are, "we don't know, but it's got to have something to do with phlogiston."

Since we really don't understand the brain at all, how is it that we can so smoothly and confidently assign levels of smart and dumb -- levels of intelligence -- to our fellow humans?

The answer is that we can't. which doesn't mean we don't do it all the time. But doing it and being correct are different kettles of fish.

I suspect that if we knew and understood enough about the brain we could probably place every human at a discrete point on an intelligence line, from less intelligent to more intelligent. But, and this is the important bit, I'm confident that the difference, the distance from least to most, would be so small as to be utterly insignificant.

In other words, all men are, to any practical extent at all, equally intelligent.

Now I'm talking about normal, or undamaged men. Those who haven't suffered or are not suffering some form of brain damage.

I know, I know. There's that one dumb guy who can't do anything right. There's the woman (might as well be an equal opportunity stereotyping slanderer) who can't balance a checkbook. There are people who aren't smart enough to go to college or to pass the ASVAB (do they still have that?) or to graduate high school.

And then there is IQ this and multiphasic that and endless papers and studies that claim to rank individual intelligence on some scale or other.

A couple of problems there. No one has yet come up with a comprehensive and testable definition of intelligence. In general, intelligence is the ability to reason, imagine and predict, problem solve, weigh and evaluate evidence, plan, modify plans based on reasoned assessment of evidence, and so on and so forth. The ability to figure stuff out, figure out what to do, and figure out how to do stuff.

We don't know how to measure that objectively. Every measure of intelligence we use or talk about is based on some subjective proxy measurement, most often a demonstrated ability to comprehend and manipulate information based on certain subjectively chosen language and symbology sets.

And that doesn't tell you anything at all about intelligence. It only tells you whether or not the subject demonstrates subjectively defined behavior.

In other words, it doesn't tell you anything about whether the subject can read the sentence or understand the phrase or solve the math problem. It just tells you whether they've done those things in a particular test. Not doing those things does not prove that the subject cannot do them, nor does it prove that the subject lacks the intelligence to do them.

In my own personal experience I've found myself saying "screw this, I can't do my times tables or world geography or spelling or physics or trig or calculus or sestinas or statistics. There's no way I can learn to see sick call or to snatch an appendix or assess and treat cardiac arrest. No way I can understand how you take suck-squeeze-burn-blow and turn it into rotors go round and round."

Yet I've done all of those impossible things, and more.

"Well," you might say, "of course, you're smart. You're smarter than dumb people, who, through no fault of their own -- poor little beggars -- cannot do those things because they lack the intelligence to do so."

However, and again in my personal experience, I've seen people who've never been anywhere or done anything and appear to be barely capable of dressing themselves or of following the simplest of instructions go on to learn and master subjects which we generally believe exist exclusively in the realm of the really, really smart.

In my mind, it's not about intelligence or lack of intelligence. It's about doing. I see no evidence whatsoever that some humans are smart and some are dumb. What I've seen time and again leads me to believe with a very high level of confidence that we've all got the same basic kit of intelligence. Period.


A lot of very "smart" people get confused there. Well, actually they don't get confused, because they choose to believe that the "all men created equal" jazz is a bunch of bullshit. They take the position that they and those with whom they most closely identify are superior forms of human. In their world it's perfectly logical that superhumans should be able to reflexively and instinctively categorize individual levels of humanity and determine what is absolutely and universally best for the untermenschen.

It's nothing new. Humans have been doing that for thousands of years.

And I'd suggest that that's generally the case even here in the shining city on the hill. We are surrounded by a majority of people who would (and probably will) blindly follow Clump or Trillary into the hell of a new dark age. That doesn't frighten me personally, for my place in Valhalla has long been reserved. It breaks my heart though, especially when I consider the hell this nation is visiting upon its children.

In every public school across the land they are teaching children monstrous lies, equal to and often exceeding the lies taught in Nazi schools. Racists have a particular skin color and their affliction is permanent and untreatable. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. Cause and effect are subjective manifestations of sexism. Facts are inhumane. A boy is a girl is a twitch in the lower spine is a small block Chevy. There is only one true path to enlightenment, and hate of the non-favored "other" is the breath of life. Absolute truth lives at koobecaf, and whackopaedia is the new holy ko-ran. It's the firetrucking Lord of the Flies. The land of feral children.

And now we have 36 year-old babes leaving adult daycare and entering the world for the first time, running pitter-patter-pitter-patter-PING into every fan they see, crushed and despairing of the unfairness of it all and continually swamped by waves of heretofore unimaginable reality. And we have older and younger people who know better but who choose to open their ears to the siren song of self importance and side-superiority. It's a hell of a mess.

What to do, what to do

And now that I've harshed your mellow, let me take a page from Pandora's playbook and remind you that we have a choice in the matter. We can give in to despair and allow ourselves to rot from within, or we can roll up our sleeves, take up the task, and strive. Where there is life there is hope, and hope is not a political slogan.

The way forward is to live the first principle. To embrace and love the humanity of your fellows, to seek always to treat human beings as an end only, and never as a means to an end.

You won't be perfect in this. I won't be perfect in this. No one will be perfect. Nonetheless, it is the only path that leads to success, the only way to achieve the promise of our human potential.

And at the end of the day, it's not a job for others to do.

That is all.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Just stuff

Sarge had a good go at the social media over at his place this morning.

Sometimes the social media surprises people.

Back in the old days -- if you define the old days as pre-internet -- a person used to be able to have a few indiscretions or “uh-oh moments” secure in the knowledge that only a limited few friends and neighbors would ever know.

But those days are long gone.

A Tuesday, January 24 headline in England’s national newspaper, The Daily Mail, reads as follows:

Couple who set off a huge EXPLOSION that was felt three miles away in stunt to reveal their baby's gender now face up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine

Some of you may have seen the story making the rounds on koobecaf. The headline in Great Britain caught the eye of one of my farmer friends in Herefordshire, who texted "loook what's in the national newspapers this morning!" As my friend noticed, the couple in question hail from rural Scottsbluff which is "just 'cross the holler and over the ridge" from my place. It's interesting that England heard about the boom before I did. There’s no need to go into detail here, but if you’re curious about how the British press treats such a story you can type the following into your web browser:

Old-guy workouts

On Monday it was a pretty morning across the south Panhandle of Nebraska. The temperature dropped to about 28 degrees overnight but the sun rose into a clear blue sky. Having moved more than a third of the way from southerly/wintry nadir to spring equinox, the sun's rays were warm and vibrant and made quick work of melting the skiff of snow that had fallen overnight.

It was a good morning to begin the process of getting back into shape after five months of infection-induced inactivity.

First I did a half-Cindy. What, you ask, is a half-Cindy?

This is a half-Cindy.

And it was pretty easy, except for the pull-ups, which I'm afraid I maxed at five. But I did manage 30 pushups and 45 air squats. Don't get me wrong, it was a good workout considering the shape I'm in. Sweat stung the eyes, the heart raced, and great draughts of air went roaring in and out of the respiratory system.

I finished it off with a brisk two-mile prairie hike. Felt goood.

On Tuesday I was pretty creaky and sore but I persevered. I did another half-workout I had to make the brisk walk on my treadmill for it was snowing heavily and blowing a gale outside.

This morning it was cold and still and I began the day (after quaffing my morning caveman sabretooth) by scooping snow, followed by another half-workout. I let the snow shoveling stand in for the brisk walk, which I believe was a good choice.

Still creaky and sore but less so than yesterday. As Juvat pointed out the other day, I'm not 26 anymore, and I sure miss those days. But I'll just plod along and deal with the world the way it is. As if I have any choice.

Calves and grass

For the first time in living memory there are no gravid cows preparing to deliver new baby calves to the EJE Ranch this spring. There is, however, a large wad of cash choking my bank account, cash that needs to be expended before uncle sugar can get his greedy hands on it. Therefore, I'm looking hard at buying cows -- specifically bred cows.

Didja ever wonder how one goes about buying cows? Here's one of the places I'm shopping at, and here's the sale listing for Monday.

I'll be watching that sale closely, though I'm unlikely to buy anything. It's just a bit too early. It's a tricky thing, buying bred cows. I want the right breeding and genetics and the right looking cows, not too big and not too small, and bred to reasonably good bulls. And I want them to calve in April and May, which means cows that were bred in July and August.

It won't be much of a problem to find the right cows. Finding the right price might be more difficult, but not overwhelmingly so. The real tricky part just now is trying to get a handle on whether we will have grass this year.

To figure that out, though, how hard could it be?

Most of the rangeland across this region consists of mixed cool and warm season grasses acclimatized to a semi-arid vegetation zone. These grass species and indeed the prairie ecosystems have evolved to do most of their growth/biomass production during those periods where peak annual precipitation and occurs. Cool season grasses do most of their growth in the cool of the spring when daytime air temperatures peak at 65-75 degrees. Warm season grasses come on in the summer when daytime air temperatures climb to 80-95 degrees.

Historically about five-eighths of our annual precipitation occurs from April-July and three-fourths of the annual total comes during the March-August period.

Cool season grasses across the region generally have rapid growth periods in April and May, while warm season grasses do their rapid growth in June and July. These are not hard and fast dates and there is often an overlap in May and June, with some warm season grasses taking off early and some cool season rapid growth persisting into June.

We can be reasonably certain that spring and summer temperatures will meet the requirements of the various grass species populating our pastures and rangelands. The uncertain variables are timing and quantity of precipitation.

As 2017 begins we're in a soil moisture deficit. On January 24 the Panhandle of Nebraska had seen 93 percent of normal precipitation since April 1 of 2016, but only 77 percent of normal since October 1 of last year. On the plus side, our ranch is actually at 112 percent since October 1, but that doesn't say anything useful about the future.

The autumnal fall-off in precipitation last year coincided with an extended growing season as autumn temperatures remained well above normal. This extended growing season used up a considerable quantity of soil moisture as forbs and grasses continued to photosynthesize and transpire late into November and even into early December.

We saw a similar pattern in 2011, with abundant spring and summer precipitation tapering off into a dry, warm, extended autumn. The 2011-2012 winter was mild and open, and as spring arrived the rains were sparse and continued below normal throughout the year. At Kimball we saw only half the normal April-July precipitation while average temperatures ran 3-5 degrees above normal. For the year Kimball saw only 8.3 inches of precipitation compared to the average of 16.8 inches. This is what you call a drought. It was ugly, and we didn't have enough grass production. We had a drought plan in place -- which meant selling about a third of the cows -- so we weathered the storm (or lack thereof) okay.
June 2012
June 2016

Similarly in 2001 normal precipitation ebbed during a warm autumn followed by a mild and open winter. In the spring the rains simply failed to materialize and Kimball saw less than a quarter of normal March-July precipitation. A single large rainstorm in August boosted the annual total but came much too late to contribute to grass production, which was essentially nil for the year. In 2002 Kimball saw only 6.67 inches of precipitation, the lowest annual total since 1893. This was the worst drought year we've ever had, and we struggled. We waited too long to sell cows and ended up overgrazing some areas that are only now beginning to recover fully. We learned a lot but paid a stiff price.

Many of the very dry years of the 1930’s show a similar pattern with a dry and warm autumn preceding a dearth of spring-summer rain. 1928/29, 1930/31, 1933/34, 1935/36, and 1938/39.

There have, of course, been dry years following normal autumn/winter periods, as well as normal-to-wet years following a dry, warm autumn and snowy winter. History simply cannot exactly predict the future.

It’s worth noting the weather patterns of the past, though, and giving that information solid consideration when putting together a grazing plan for the coming year.

If our cool and warm season grasses do not receive enough moisture during their rapid growth periods, they will simply not produce biomass, either above the ground as grazable leaves or below the ground as root systems. Grazing grass stands which are moisture-stressed during rapid growth periods will lead directly to root mining and general degradation of the grass resource.

When putting together a grazing plan for the coming year we have to set target dates as decision points. If the rains come on time and in reasonably average quantity, all well and good. However, if the rains do not arrive on time or in reasonable quantity, it’s best to have a plan in place which allows you to step as lightly on the grass resource as possible. There is always a downside to grazing stressed grasslands, and the more prepared you are to aggressively husband the health of your grass asset the better off you will be over the long term.

So. What to buy, and when to buy? It's tricky.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Say goodbye to my little friend

The osteomyelitis which has laid me low for the last five months is now finally and completely defeated. I received the last of the IV antibiotics last week, and once the final labs came in I no longer needed the picc line. It was a little bit difficult arranging to have it removed (to have it removed on my schedule to be honest) so I went ahead and yanked it myself.

With my background and experience, If I'm not qualified to discontinue a picc line, no one is qualified.

Six weeks post surgery and I'm healing very nicely. I'm very nearly pain free and I can walk completely normally. Now it's time to bear down a bit and get back into shape. Five months of immobility has really done a number on my strength and mobility, but it'll come back quickly enough.

Having gone through this experience, I believe that I want to aim for a better, higher level of fitness than I had before the malady reared its ugly head.

We'll see what happens.

And let me just take this opportunity to thank all you kind readers for the well-wishes and prayers. They really did make a big difference.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

R21, the Majestic Melbourne

I've no idea why, but I've always been keenly interested in Australia's last aircraft carrier, HMAS Melbourne.

I speak of her as Majestic, because she was launched as HMS Majestic in 1945. She was the lead ship in what was to be a class of light carriers. With the war drawing to a close, however, work on Majestic was suspended until, in 1947, she was purchased by Australia for service with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).

Australia actually bought a pair of carriers in 1947, Majestic and Terrible, which was also of the Majestic class. As Terrible was nearer completion, she joined the RAN first, in 1948, as HMAS Sydney.

With one new carrier in hand, and with an additional loaner (HMS Vengeance) from the RN in the interim, Australia asked that Majestic be given the most modern upgrades, including a steam catapult, angled deck, mirror landing system, upgraded arresting gear and barricade, upgraded aircraft fuel storage and distribution, state of the art radars, etc. This work was completed in 1955 and the RAN took delivery of their new flagship, HMAS Melbourne.

One of the things that is fascinating to me is the way the RAN operated a remarkably diverse and capable airwing from such a tiny ship. I think of small carriers as the 27 Charlie Essex/Ticonderoga class, but those were monsters twice the size of the Majestic class.

Below are some interweb videos that you might enjoy. The final two are of a rather famous on-deck ejection which happened on May 23, 1979. The pilot, Kevin Finan, was a US Navy pilot on an exchange tour with the RAN.