Monthly Archives: August 2009

The waning weekends of summer

We’ve had a nice weekend, even if the best of goals were not achieved.

I started out on Friday afternoon by accompanying one of our faculty scientists to a talk at a nearby retirement community. The talk went well, but only about 8 of the residents turned out. I need to talk with their activities organizer. If they want us to come back, we need a few more bodies to make it worth the effort. Our break-even target is an audience of at least 20.

Saturday was spent doing household chores and running errands. I did get excited about one purchase. (It doesn’t take much. As Mrs. Poolman says, I’m easily amused.) We have a Goodwill Store nearby.Chair It is in the same strip shopping center as the local Ace Hardware Store. Since I am in Ace at least once every weekend, I usually pop into Goodwill to see what they have. I have purchased books (50 cents for paperbacks), a golf club and putter ($5 each) and other miscellaneous stuff. Well I have been shopping around for a desk-chair to go in my “home office” (work in progress.) Even the less expensive ones of the style I want are $50-100 at Office Max or Staples. But “lo and behold”, there in Goodwill Saturday morning was an almost-new desk-chair for the exorbitant price of $19.99. Sold!

Goodwill rocks!!!

Saturday evening Mrs. Poolman and I went to a fundraiser event at Ft Jackson, a local historic site. One of Writer Princess’s best friend’s husband (who we know) is the site manager and organized the event. We went to show support. It was a nice time. Silent auction, music, beer, wine, barbecue and low country boil. Ft Jackson eventThe evening was capped with a cannon firing (I thought Mrs.Poolman was going to be knocked over by the shock wave.) and fireworks. I was outbid for a James MacPherson Civil War history book. I told the folks who put in the winning big that the book stunk and they wouldn’t like it. They didn’t listen and outbid me anyway. In any case, it was a good time had by all.

The fort overlooks the Savannah River and I did get a couple of shots of sunset. Nothing spectacular, but it was colorful.

Sunset blog

Back to work tomorrow.


Rainy Friday

It’s Friday and it’s raining here on Savannah, again. You would think we live in Washington State.

"...the old man is snoring."

"...the old man is snoring."

Lots of people are saying, “Well, we need the rain,” but actually we are way ahead of pacing for annual rainfall right now. If it continues through the weekend, it will give me a good excuse to stay inside and get done a long list of tasks.

My niece’s wedding is coming up in a week. I have been asked to be the official photographer. I have done some family weddings in the past, but I’m a little nervous. This is the first one I will shoot on my digital SLR. This weekend I want to practice a little with my new strobe to make sure I have it “down.” I don’t want any surprises. I also have Photoshop Elements, but I have not taken the time to really get into it and learn all the nuances. I could afford to spend a few hours this weekend in front of the computer playing around and learning the program.

I do have a new flat-screen monitor that I picked up last night. I discovered my older, fairly small-screen CRT monitor (that actually dates back to a previous computer) really doesn’t do well for working with digital photos. The new one is very pretty! Thanks to Poolboy, Princess Writer and SIL for the Fathers Day gift certificates that paid for much of the cost.

I’m checking-in from work on my lunch break, so I gotta go. I am accompanying one of our faculty scientists to a talk at a local retirement home. Should be interesting. We’ll see.


A burning question

I heard a news report earlier this week regarding the latest numbers on the spread of AIDS. Apparently, the disease is growing in the South faster than ever. It made me think of the whole issue in a way I hadn’t before.

Why are people in this country still contracting AIDS?

Or to put it another way, why is AIDS still considered to be a major health issue in the USA.

aids-ribbonMy question is restricted to the US.  Africa, as I understand it, has an entire different set of issues that I cannot begin to fathom.

When you step back and look at it, the spread of AIDS really doesn’t make a lot of sense. The disease is:

1. Really fairly difficult to contract. It doesn’t sneak up on you and catch you when you’re not looking. Unlike the current disease de jour, the H1N1 flu, you can’t catch it by having someone sneeze on you, by shaking hands, or even sharing a drink or cigarette. For the most part, a person has to engage in some specific activities to be in danger of contracting AIDS. According to the CDC’s statistics for new AIDS cases in 2007 (the most recent year I could find), four categories of activities accounted for 99% of the causes of transmission.

a.) Male to male sexual contact

b.) Injection drug use

c.) Male to male sexual contact AND injection drug use

d.) Heterosexual contact with a person known to have or be at high risk for HIV infection.

Hemophilia, blood transfusion and perinatal exposure add up to just 1% of the new cases.

Despite the best efforts of some “AIDS activists” over the past 25 years to portray AIDS as a disease that can strike anyone, that is clearly not the case.  As the numbers show, if you don’t engage in high-risk, unprotected sex or use IV drugs, you aren’t in serious risk.

2. It is relatively easy to prevent. Just using condoms for male-to-male or high-risk sex and  and staying away from  IV drugs would prevent nearly all new cases.

3. All this information is very well known. In the early to mid 1980s the argument could be made that the causes and prevention measures for AIDS were not well known. That was a quarter of a century ago. AIDS and HIV have probably received more air-time, column inches and outdoor advertising space than any other cause I can think of, with the possible exception of breast cancer with its massive PR machine. Is there anyone who is old enough to spell AIDS and use a TV remote control who doesn’t know how AIDS is spread and how to keep from contracting it?

What this means is for nearly all cases, contracting AIDS is not an accident, a random occurance or an “act of God.”  A person has to undertake some specific activities to contract AIDS. The victim acquires the disease because he or she decided the upside of participating in unprotected, high-risk sex and/or IV drug use outweighs the risk of contracting AIDS.

Don’t take this to mean that I don’t have sympathy for those who are suffering from this disease, especially the unsuspecting wife of a philandering husband or another segment of the 1%.  For most AIDS victims, I have the same sympathy I would have for someone with cancer or heart disease — actually, maybe slightly less. My sympathy for them would be more in line with a life-long smoker with lung cancer, the tremendously obese person with heart disease or the alcoholic with a failing liver.

So what can public health officials do to prevent people from undertaking short-sighted and self destructive actions? I certainly don’t know. Does anyone?

Rasslin’ with the kids…or not

We’re running a little low on energy tonight. Mrs. Poolman and I spent last night in our church’s parish hall as overnight hosts for three homeless families. It was really OK, and we’ll probably do it again when our parish’s next host week comes around. A group of churches rotate the program among them, each taking a week at a time. The adults and the children were all very nice.

Since we were on the overnight shift, we didn’t get there until after 8 pm, when things were starting to settle down. One of the families was set up in a meeting room. The other two had partitioned-off “rooms” in the larger gymnasium. Mrs. Poolman and I had cots in the other meeting room, which is also where the toys and VCR/DVD player were located.

Mrs. Poolman's digs.

Mrs. Poolman's digs.

My bunk.

My bunk.

Before they settled into the “rooms,” I was sitting on the floor playing with a three year old boy and his two year old sister. We were playing with some cards (as opposed to playing cards) when someone said, “Look at that” and pointed to the TV screen where The Lion King was playing behind me. I just laid back and looked at the TV upside down. The next thing I knew, the girl had sat down on my chest and was babbling at me. She was quickly replaced by her bother. He got on all fours on my chest and began growling like the “lion king.”

I thought “OK. Game on! This child wants to rough house.” Mrs. Poolman saw the look of eager anticipation in my eyes and stopped me before I ever got going. She pointed out the child’s mother would be angry if I got him riled up just before bed time. So I was good and didn’t toss him in the air, spin him around in circles or flip him into somersaults. However, that didn’t discourage him from climbing all over me and generally having a good time. We did a couple of piggy-back rides, but nothing more energetic than that.

Later, I talked with his mom and told her that I was sorry her son was such shy young man who didn’t take to strangers and didn’t like to rough house. She agreed and said that her son was just very quiet and didn’t really like to wrestle or rough house. Huh? I wonder if she has another son I didn’t meet.

I’m such a nerd

I just finished watching a “Celtic Woman” special on PBS.  As much as I realized they are “pre-packaged” for maximum impact, I really like them. They have beautiful voices and I love their music. It doesn’t hurt that they are also… How shall I put this? …very photogenic.. Celtic 2

Another summer weekend

What started as a quiet Sunday afternoon picked up a bit. Mrs. Poolman and I were planning on just hanging around our pool, catching up on reading, blogging, etc. Then a handful of the neighborhood kids rang the doorbell and asked if they could swim. They have been asking all summer and my answer has been the same each time. “You need to have a parent here with you. Go ask your Mom or Dad.” In the past couple of summers, we let the kids swim on occasion. An attorney friend told us that we were absolutely crazy to do that without at least one parent from each family there to assume responsibility. Well today, for the first time all summer, one of the Moms called to confirm the invitation and to say she would be down with her kids and a couple of the others that she was looking after this afternoon.

What's going on here?

What's going on here?

So we spent a couple of hours watching a group of 9-12 year olds trying to drown each other. Loads of fun.

Yesterday, we did our neighborly good-deed and had a small dinner party for a couple of friends and two couples who have just moved to the area. The wife-half of one of the couples is our new business officer. The other couple I met through work, and then discovered they had moved ito a house about 100 feet from our front door. Small world.

We did a “low country boil.” It’s also known as Frogmore Stew, after a town on St. Helena Island, SC, in the heart of Gullah country.  For those of you now familiar with the term, this is a popular regional “party meal,” similar conceptually to a clam bake in  Maine, a full-steer barbecue in Texas, etc. It usually involves a social gathering.

You start with a set-up like this.

The 'rig"

The 'rig"

Into the pot of water you add some “crab boil” seasoning,  red potatoes, short-ears of corn (I don’ t know why you use short ears, you just do.) and a sausage,  like kielbasa.

Everything except the shrimp

Everything except the shrimp

Cook that until it is good and done. I usually remove the sausage and vegetables before adding the final, most important ingredient – shrimp. (If you are feeling elaborate, you can also add some crab legs. That gets away from the traditional “low country” part of the recipe, however. The only Kind Crabs or Snow Crabe you will find in this part of the country are in the frozen food section of Publix. We stuck with the traditional recipe this time.)  It is amazing how quickly the shrimp cooks. It usually turns pink and plump in about a minute or so.

You take the whole mess and dump it onto a newspaper-covered table or large platter. This arrangement is much neater than a typical presentation, courtesy of Mrs. Poolman.

The end product

The end product

Throw in some garlic bread and maybe some cole slaw and you have an excellent party-meal.

Back to work tomorrow. Later this week, we will be the overnight hosts for several homeless families who will be staying at our church this week. We’ve never done anything like that before, so it should be interesting.

Dress for success?

For most of my adult life I worked in television stations. I was either on the air or in a management role. In either case, the “uniform of the day” was a dress shirt and tie with a jacket available as needed.  It was the same when I moved into university PR, except during the summers and when students were on break, we could adjust down to “business casual.” Then I came to work at my current post at a marine research laboratory. What a change.

I almost always dress in the “business casual” manner, usually an open collar shirt and/or sweater in the winter, casual Docker-style long pants and deck shoes (with socks!). I will wear shorts only if there is a work-related reason, like going out on one of the boats or stomping through the boonies, etc. Otherwise, I am frequently the best dressed person on campus. Occasionally when I have some off-campus activity that requires it, I’ll wear a suit and I get all kinds of weird looks and comments here. Tee-shirts, jeans, shorts, and sneakers are much more the norm, especially among the science staff.

The well dressed scientist -- "summer edition"

The well dressed scientist -- "summer edition"

For some reason, I still cannot bring myself to wear jeans or shorts to work or church.

I remember a day last summer when we had one of our occasional road trash pick up activities. For obvious reasons, I wore shorts that day. It happened it was a Friday and my cousin and family had arrived for a weekend visit. His first reaction when he saw men was, “That’s not what you usually wear to work? IS IT?”

Sometimes it gets to be amusing. About a year ago, we got a call that a high ranking state senator was visiting town and wanted to come and visit us on about 30 minutes notice. I walked down the hall to tell my boss. He looked at what he was wearing, golf shirt, khaki cargo-style shorts and deck shoes minus socks, and said, “Oh heck. I don’t even have time to run home and change. I guess he’ll just have to take me the way I am.” Later, when I met the senator outside in the parking lot, he got out of his car dressed exactly the same as my boss, right down to the color of his golf shirt. We all got a laugh out of it.

The issue of dress came up today because the chancellor (#1 guy) of the university system is visiting us tomorrow. I sent out an email to the staff asking that they pay a little attention to their appearance tomorrow. We don’t need “Sunday best,” but it would be nice if they saved the ratty tee-shirts for another day. It probably hacked some people off, but that’s life.

Don’t try to fool the robot!

I don’t have much to write about today, so, instead, I’ll leave you with a funny story from my friend Stenodawg.


John was a salesman’s delight when it came to any kind of unusual gimmicks. His wife Marsha had long ago given up trying to get him to change. One day John came home with another one of his unusual purchases. It was a robot that John claimed was actually a lie detector.

It was about 5:30 that afternoon when Tommy, their 11 year old son, returned home from school.. Tommy was over 2 hours late.

“Where have you been? Why are you over 2 hours late getting
home?” asked John.

“Several of us went to the library to work on an extra credit
project,” said Tommy.

The robot walked around the table and slapped Tommy, knocking him completely out of his chair. “Son,” said John, “this robot is a lie detector, now tell us where you really were after school.”

“We went to Bobby’s house and watched a movie.” said Tommy.

“What did you watch?” asked Marsha.”The Ten Commandments.” answered Tommy.

The robot went around to Tommy and once again slapped him, knocking him off his chair. With his lip quivering, Tommy got up, sat down and said, “I am sorry I lied. We really watched a tape called Sex Queen.”

“I am ashamed of you son,” said John. “When I was your age,
I never lied to my parents.” The robot walked around to John and delivered a whack that nearly knocked him out of his chair.

Marsha doubled over in laughter, almost in tears and said, “Boy, did you ever ask for that one! You can’t be too mad with Tommy. After all, he is your son!”

The robot walked around to Marsha and knocked her out of her chair.


It’s all in the words

One of the fun things I do at work is to try to translate science into something that can be understood by the general public. This is often an interesting challenge. At the level I am dealing, the general scientific concepts aren’t usually that difficult, but the language is.

For example, I got a call yesterday from our local congressman’s office. They wanted to produce a news release from their office on a new National Science Foundation grant we have received. They needed a brief, “plain English” project description and quote. The title of the project –

“Collaborative Research: Does competition for nitrogen between autotrophs and heterotrophs control carbon fluxes in the western coastal Arctic?”

Right off the bat, I was in trouble. The single-spaced one-page project summary wasn’t a lot better. The issue was, as usual, with the language. What are autotrophs and heterotrophs? Actually the answer, it turns out, is simple. Autotrophs are organisms that utilize photosynthesis, aka plants. Heterotrophs are organisms that do not, aka animals. Why is this so difficult?

Actually, after some consultation and interpretation with my boss, I found the project is actually fairly interesting. It stems from the warming climate; the resulting loss of sea ice and increased river flows; and their effect on the basic food web in the Arctic Ocean.Arctic icebreaker Here is what I came up with for the congressman’s office.

Description: A warming climate is causing significant changes to the Arctic ecosystem, including reduced sea ice and increased river discharge. This research will investigate the cycling of nitrogen and carbon among the different components of the food web in the Arctic Ocean and especially the role of bacteria in that process.

Quote: “We are most appreciative to the National Science Foundation for funding this significant research. A warming climate is causing significant changes in the Arctic marine environment, including reduced sea ice and increased terrestrial discharge from rivers of nutrients such as carbon and nitrogen. It is very important that we understand the way these changes will affect food web dynamics and, ultimately, the entire Arctic marine ecosystem.”

I run into the same issue when I attend one of our fairly frequent science seminars here on campus. These are informal scientist-to-scientist “brown-bag” presentations that essentially break down to “Here is what I am working on these days.” I usually try to attend in the hope I might actually glean some bit of useful knowledge. Too often, I don’t understand a work the presenter is saying after he gives his name. Although, I later discovered I would probably understand more of the science, if I understood the acronyms and technical “shorthand” they usually use when communicating with peers.

I was walking out of one such program one day and expressed my frustration to one of our faculty scientists, who happens to be a chemist. I felt better when he said, “Heck, you’re not alone. I have a PhD, but it is in chemistry. That guy was a biologist and I don’t think I understood any more than you did.”

It’s nice to not be alone.

Quiet weekends and hurricane season

We had a fairly quiet weekend, which was just great. I slept late on Saturday and then spent most of the rest of the day running errands on the far side of town. Saturday evening mass and then off to eat some seafood at a casual beach restaurant with two other couples. Sunday was spent cleaning up the yard and the pool, doing laundry and other equally exciting chores. We have such an interesting life.

As the summer winds down in this part of the country, there is a mix of emotions. You hate the see the summer end, but on the other hand the college football season is right around the corner. Around here, that is about as exciting as Christmas is to a small child.

Here on the coast, there is another issue that raises its head this time of year – hurricane season. Every day, people who for the rest of the year, are only casually interested in the weather make sure they check in on the Weather Channel or Weather Underground every day. Although they are thousands of miles away, cloud formations off the west coast of Africa are the topic of conversations in the aisles of the grocery stores. There is a little edge — a little anxiety — that sticks with you all the time.

When a storm actually does hit somewhere else, you have mixed emotions. “Gee, I’m really sorry you were hit by a hurricane, but I’m even happier it didn’t hit me!

Hurricane Floyd September 1999

Hurricane Floyd September 1999

It’s been ten years since Hurricane Floyd threatened this part of the coast before making one of those famous right hand turns and heading north to North Carolina.  The evacuation is legendary among Savannahians. It is fortunate we weren’t hit by a major storm in the ensuing couple of years. I know many people, Mrs. Poolman included, who said, “I’d rather sit here and suffer through a hurricane than spend another 23 hours stuck on the road to Atlanta.”

There is a local myth that Savannah is protected from hurricanes by the curvature of the coast. There is actually a little truth to the legend, but it certainly isn’t a bullet-proof shield. The rotation of the Earth tends to make hurricanes curve to the right (north.) They also feed off of warm water, and the north-flowing Gulf Stream runs about 100 miles off shore here. Both of those will give a storm a tendency to turn to the north, but they are only two of lots of other factors, most of which  I do not understand.

So as of this evening, we have a tropical storm in the Gulf that appears to be heading for Alabama, and another out in the Atlantic, heading who-knows-where.

I guess I’ll be joining everyone else watching the Weather Channel for the next two and a half months.