Monday, August 27, 2007

The Tequila Wave of 2001

I was just going through some old data files, and I found an amusing video. It's from the Mount Allison University Pub, where in 2001, Drew Dudley decided that he would try to set a world record for the most consecutive people taking shots of tequila. The whole point of the exercise was to be a fun & unique way to raise money for Shinerama. Everyone who participated paid $10 to join, and all that money went as a donation to the Shinerama campaign. The folks who distribute Jose Cuervo tequila made arrangements so that someone could cover the costs of the tequila consumed. Here is the video, filmed in the Pub one afternoon just before supper:

YouTube Link:

There's also a page on the Pub website that has more details:

Looking back, it's neat seeing a ton of my old friends and staff members on the video. And strangely enough, even though it was about six years ago now that this event took place, several of those people are still working at or near Mount Allison. Also notable: as much as Drew was able to set a lot of records during his years as a Shinerama Director, both at Mount Allison and in other parts of Canada, I think this is probably the fastest time (four minutes) that he was ever able to raise $2000.

I'm going to try to tag a bunch of the people I recognize when this feeds out to my Facebook Notes - so far, I can see about fifty people that participated and who are in my Facebook friends list. It's pretty entertaining, at least for any of us that were there when it happened, and it's making me look forward to Homecoming Weekend at the university in just another three weeks or so. I'm going to have to keep digging around and see what other old videos I can find to share around.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

That's What Friends Are For

I don't usually re-hash articles that were in the news, but this one really caught my attention this morning:

TOKYO, Japan (Reuters) -- A Japanese biker failed to notice that his leg had been severed below the knee when he hit a safety barrier, and rode on for 2 km, leaving a friend to pick up the missing limb.

The 54-year-old office worker was out on his motorcycle with a group of friends on Monday, west of Tokyo, when he was unable to negotiate a curve in the road and bumped into the central barrier.

He felt excruciating pain, but did not notice that his right leg was missing until he stopped at the next junction, the paper quoted local police as saying.

I don't know, but you'd think the missing leg would throw him a little bit off-balance.

Monday, August 13, 2007

You Can Do It, Put Your Back Into It

I have a motto in life. It goes, “Anything is possible. Sometimes it just takes a little while to figure out how to do it.” I would describe myself as more of a realist than an optimist, but others would disagree. I’ve developed that mindset after a number of seasons of tree planting. It’s a pretty tough job, so obviously a person has to be fairly stubborn and have a great deal of perseverance to do the job well. Running a crew is even harder. I am working in an outdoor environment, in rugged conditions, with equipment that frequently breaks down, while babysitting about sixty people for three months.

After a couple summers of being a foreman/supervisor, I thought to myself one spring day, “I’ve seen it all. I know how to do this job as well as anybody could. I am ready for anything. I’m not going to see anything new this summer that I don’t already know how to deal with.” However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. That was over a decade ago, and I still deal with new challenges and learn new things every single week that I’m out here. And I don’t mind that – I always did like puzzles and challenges when I was young.

[Note, August 12th: I wrote the rest of this post a couple weeks ago, but I'm only getting around to posting it to my blog today].

I’ve mentioned before that I keep daily diaries of my planting adventures on my website. However, most of those are just “quick summaries” of what happened on a particular day. For example, the other day I wrote, “I got stung a couple times in the corner of the eye and eyelid by a wasp today.” You might think to yourself, “That’s crazy!” But a planter wouldn’t find it to be very out-of-the-ordinary. If I mentioned that in camp at supper, people around me would nod their heads, and maybe say, “yeah, lots of wasps on the block today,” and go back to eating their dinner. I might get some sympathy and attention for all of about four seconds. However, I get a lot of emails from people (non-planters) who think I make up most of the stuff in the diaries, because so much of it seems ridiculous. Not so – I just describe “normal” everyday events.

Anyway, today was an interesting day. I was supervising three employees who were planting a fairly unique block. Most cut-blocks are big chunks of land that were harvested in some sort of square or rectangular or amoeba-like pattern, depending on where the good timber was. However, this particular block was an old road, so it was about eight trees wide and several kilometers long. In other words, it was a very unconventional and awkward shape. The block had been “furrowed” once with some sort of skidder or tractor, to try to loosen up the soil, but it didn’t do a very good job, so it was really hard to drive our shovels into the ground in many places. We didn’t think we could get the block done by ourselves, but we worked pretty hard and we finished at around 6pm despite the temperature hovering around thirty degrees Celcius all day.

Supper was at 6:30pm, but we realized that we’d be a bit late. First, we had to walk out to the front of the block, since we finished off the day near the back. Then we had to walk back out to the truck; a bridge had been removed from our access road, so we had to park about four kilometers from the beginning of the block this morning. I had a quad to move trees around today, but it wasn’t very healthy. In fact, during the day, it burned five litres of oil and two litres of gasoline (it needed a ring job). If you know anything about motors/engines, you know that’s a big problem. Anyway, the quad died as I was about to drive it out to the truck, so Kristin and I ended up having to push it several kilometers back to the truck, while Colleen steered it. And before we got there, we had to push the quad through a river (which the bridge no longer crossed) to actually get to the truck.

When we got to the truck, I had a new challenge. I didn’t have quad ramps, and even if I did, I couldn’t exactly drive the quad up into the back of the truck since the motor had seized. At first, I considered lifting the quad into the truck by myself. I’ve done it before, but it isn’t easy (actually, that’s a huge understatement – I’ve had an easier time flipping full fuel barrels into a truck, and they weigh 460 pounds each). The last time that I had to put a quad into a truck by myself, it took me a while to stand it up vertically (using rocks to brace the tires), then I backed the truck up “under” the front wheels, pushed the front wheels over onto the tailgate, and then lifted the back end of the quad into the truck. However, I did that with a Honda 350, and this quad was a 450, which was considerably heavier (over 500 pounds). Besides, Joanne and the other two girls would be there waiting to see how I’d deal with the problem, and I didn’t want to embarass myself by saying that I could lift it into the truck by myself, and then be the brunt of a bunch of “so you can’t get it up” jokes if it turned out to be too heavy. So I tried to think of a new plan. I figured that I could find a four-foot-high bank somewhere within a kilometer or so, then push the quad up onto the bank, then back the truck up to the bank, then push the quad into the truck. But before I got to that point, I miraculously found a pair of long planks, and I was able to use them as ramps so I could push the quad up into the truck, while the girls kept the quad steering straight. Problem solved.

Then, as I was fastening the quad into the truck, I discovered a new problem – a flat tire on the rear of the truck. I figured that it was a slow leak, and I could probably just pump the tire back up and make it back to camp. I smiled to myself and pulled out the brand new electric tire pump that I had bought from Canadian Tire a week ago, still in the package. The girls were impressed. I tried to inflate the tire and discovered that the cord on the pump wasn’t long enough to reach the back wheels. The girls were no longer impressed. Neither was I. If anyone from Canadian Tire is reading this right now, please tell either your engineers or your purchasing managers that they are morons (and yes, I’m also a moron for not having taken it out of the package and testing it before I assumed that I could rely on it).

So, I needed to change the tire. The spare was pretty muddy, so I had to chip off a bunch of mud then wash the lug nuts so I didn’t strip the posts while taking the nuts off. The axle-jack wouldn’t raise the truck high enough to let me “spin” the wheel wrench, so I got smart and dug a hole beside the tire so I could do that and get the nuts off more quickly. Then, when I tried to put the spare tire on, I had a similar problem because the jack would not go high enough to give it enough clearance to go onto the hub, so I dug another hole under the tire. Eventually I got the tire changed and all the gear loaded. Of course, that was another story, considering that we also had a dozen boxes of trees left over, plus the gear, plus the quad, plus the garbage, all to be fit into the back of just one open-back pickup. But with some creative packing, we got it all into one load, and we even brought home the two large planks that I had used as ramps, for no apparent reason.

I considered this to be a typical day.

You can see the kind of challenges that we have to deal with pretty much every day. None of the girls were the slightest bit surprised that “so much” could go wrong, nor were they surprised that we managed to successfully deal with all the problems in the space of not much over an hour. That’s just the mindset you need to have if you’re going to mentally survive as a planter. It doesn’t help to sit on a rock and wish that someone would come along to make your problems disappear. You have to rely on your own ability/creativity, and try to be prepared or at least try to anticipate possible problems in advance. Getting mad doesn’t help. Having a breakdown doesn’t solve your problem. Having a positive attitude is your biggest asset.

We made it home for supper by 8:30pm, so it wasn’t that big of a deal – just another day in the life. We had enough problems to be a bit annoying, but nothing that I wouldn’t have expected. Earlier though, when we were pushing the quad through the river, Kristin had taken her boots off so they’d stay dry, and waded through in her bare feet. The bottom of the river had some nice round stones which were comfortable on her feet, and she suddenly stopped and looked at me. Despite the hard day we’d had and the problems we were trying to deal with, she seemed to have faith that everything would work out well in the end, and she didn’t seem the slightest bit concerned or impatient. She smiled at me and said, “You know, tree planting really makes you appreciate the little things in life.”

That’s the kind of attitude you need if you’re going to be happy as a tree planter. And that kind of attitude will probably make you a lot happier about life in general. God bless that girl.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

CN Rail Derailment

This past Saturday, we had a bit of local excitement, as CN Rail had yet another train derailment which made the national news. The accident happened just a couple kilometers from our office (which is located in the railway industrial site in Prince George). The track that was involved in the accident actually passes about ten feet behind our company’s garage before it swings out and along the Fraser River.

I’ve got a friend who works as an engineer at CN, so I got the whole story that evening, but the simple version is that a train was unable to stop in time and hit another train that was crossing that truck, and the engine and a couple cars derailed. The engine caught on fire, and a load of lumber and a diesel tanker also burned. Since the accident was right across the river from the center of the city, pretty much everybody in Prince George was able to get a good view of it. And of course, there was a lot of anger and concern because this was just another in a long string of recent railway accidents in western Canada, and because the diesel may or may not have spilled into the Fraser (endangering the Sockeye salmon, which are just starting to spawn). Here’s a photo:

They also had water bombers circling for several hours, so it was pretty good entertainment for a Saturday afternoon of a holiday long weekend. I was working through the day, so I didn’t manage to go down to the park across the river from the accident to get a better photo. But you can probably find a decent photo at this link:

Anyway, the thing that struck me as being kind of ironic about this was listening to everybody talk about the accident. People seemed pretty angry about this being such a huge environmental problem (especially because a body of water was involved). But really, it wasn’t very big compared to other environmental problems that we cause. The government probably introduces far more oil into the environment every year just by putting used motor oil on forestry roads around here for dust control. And there are lots of other much larger (global-scale) environmental problems happening around us every day that nobody gets worked up about, which I think is rather frustrating. Take the case of all the plastic accumulating in our oceans as a prime example.

In the center of the Pacific Ocean, there is apparently an area that is approximately the size of Texas, literally (litter-ly?) covered with plastic trash. Due to the specific currents and wind patterns, this area is sort of like an oceanic desert with very little marine life or biodiversity – it is just a large featureless geographic area of little interest to humans. The winds are very minimal in this area, so the entire area just sort of swirls around extremely slowly, without much happening for excitement. The water is deep, and no plants are able to grow on the bottom of the sea since sunlight doesn’t penetrate that far. The bottom of the ocean is nutrient-rich from millions of years of organics sinking through the water, but the fish and aquatic life generally can’t get down to this nutrient layer, and there are no winds or strong currents to stir it up and get it near enough the surface to be used as a source of food for marine life. The only real food supply in the area is the development of plankton (based on photosynthesis) but there isn’t much in the way of traditional fish, just lots of jellyfish and similar species, which have no commercial interest to humans.

Anyway, plastics don’t really biodegrade. Most other trash does, but the only thing that plastics do is break down (after a number of years) into smaller pieces of plastic. Eventually, these plastics will break down into individual molecules of plastic, so they are out of sight, but not out of mind. Many scientists figure that these individual molecules of plastic may remain intact for centuries before they are finally naturally torn apart (in a chemical sense). Unfortunately, these molecules of plastic enter the food chain in smaller organisms, and eventually many of them make their way up into the bodies of larger marine or avian organisms (or even into peoples’ bodies), where they become toxic in significant quantities.

Studies of the large oceanic accumulation of plastic, the area known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, have shown that the volume of plastics floating around is about six times the volume of naturally occuring zooplankton. For every square kilometer of surface area, there are many kilograms of discarded plastic items of every type imaginable. Now this isn’t something that is completely covering the surface of the water, but there is enough material there to make the ocean’s surface look like a McDonald's parking lot at 1:30am on a Saturday night.

Hundreds of thousands of marine birds and mammals are dying from the plastics in our oceans every year. No national governments seem to care about the trash accumulating in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, because it is not in any nation’s territorial waters. Since it isn’t a rich aquatic zone, no nations rely on it for commercial fisheries. I wish there was a way that some nation could provide funding for some ships to go out into that area with large surface trawl nets of some sort to collect the plastics (without somehow snaring the marine life) and then incinerate the trash. In the coming decades and centuries, even though this area is not a major source of food for people, it would still be nice to clean it up. I’m not a big fan of leaving garbage everywhere, as you can probably guess.

Here’s a photo of a dead seabird, which has decayed somewhat so you can see the stomach contents:

Basically, untold numbers of animals are dying of starvation, while their stomachs are actually quite full. It’s a shame that they are full of the trash that humans are producing, but it’s just one more example of how we’re destroying our planet.

And for all the people who complain about how global warming is causing the ice caps to melt, which is raising the levels of the Earth's ocean by a couple millimeters per year, maybe it isn't global warming? Maybe the levels are rising because we're filling our oceans up with garbage.