Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Adventures in formal wear, part deux

Misseswether, Miniwether, and I are spending the weekend in California for a wedding. Not exactly an adventure into the borderlands, but what the hey. A husband has got to do what a husband has got to do. The main reason to attend is so Misseswether's aunts, uncles, and cousins can finally met Miniwether. The wedding itself should be fun. Miniwether likes dressing up in fancy dresses, so she'll be excited. I'll have to wear a suit, but I guess that's okay. The right clothes for the adventure are important.

We won't have much time for sightseeing but that's okay, we've been there before. I'm just looking forward to three days of pool-side rest, fancy food, and generally sucking in the joy of a 4-star hotel. Mmmmm, four stars... Sometimes being an adventurer means drinks by the pool, room service, and cable TV.

We'll be getting back in the late afternoon on the 4th of July. That's kind of a bummer because I won't be doing the normal 4th of July fireworks super-show. Oh well, probably for the best. It hasn't rained here in six weeks and one spark could probably burn down the neighborhood. That would be bad, or as Miniwether occasionally says, "Too much adventure! Too much adventure!!".

Monday, June 27, 2005

Fossil hunting report

Some people may get excited about 3/4" long sea shells from 34 million years ago (we met several), but I have to confess I am not part of that crowd. Up at 4:30am to load my gear, on the road with Clark by 5:30am, and arrived at Whiskey Bridge about 7:00am. Less than four minutes later I turned up my first fossil, a lovely Cochlespiropsis engonata. Two hours later and about a thousand more of those fossils we called it quits. We did pull out a few nice Conus sauridens, but no shark teeth, crabs, or live rattlesnakes.

The area itself was quite peaceful and pretty. Fish were jumping in the river, swallows circled overhead, and traffic was a distant hum. The river was very, very low so millions of years of sediment were exposed. While we didn't find the fossils all that impressive I did bring back about forty pounds of interesting geological material including a number of geodes and petrified "burrows". The geodes are about 220 million years short of becoming the beautiful, crystal-filled rocks seen in giftshops. They still contain their original nucleation bodies, probably dolomite and no crystals. I cut one open with the rock saw at work and most people thought they looked like a brain. Ugly, but still cool from a geological point of view. The burrows were also pretty groovy. Millions of years ago some creature dug a twisty home in the bottom of the ocean. This hole eventually filled up with silt and over time and was compressed into a twisty, branched tube of rock.

Like I said though, after two hours of tiny fossil shells Clark and I were ready to try somewhere else. On the way back to my lil' RAV4 were encountered a group of people from the Dallas Amateur Paleo Club. They asked us if we had any luck and we dejectedly showed them the few shells we'd decided to keep as souveniers. They got really, really excited. I mean. almost jumping up and down with joy and thrill. They started asking Clark and I all sorts of questions like we were some expert fossil guys or something. They seemed shocked when we told them that we were just two guys on a lark of an adventure and that we didn't think this was the coolest thing ever... I've been to Dallas. There's lots to do in Dallas. These people did NOT seem like they got out much though...

After leaving Whiskey Bridge we headed east on Highway 30 towards Anderson, TX. That road was voted one of the top motorcycling roads in Texas and I used to ride it back when I had my Virago. We stopped by a few steam banks but didn't see any areas worth exploring in depth. Then we began just cruising down dirt roads to see where they went. It was a blast. I wish I had taken some pictures of that part of the adventure. :-( There's just something mystical about a dirt road that goes on and on through the borderlands. We passed long-horn cattle, oil wells, and the occasional ramshackle homestead (probably haunted!). Then out in the middle of nowhere we came upon a giant building under construction. We could see it from miles away and so we had to check it out. Turns out it's the future headquarters of the First American Bank. Apparently they plan on hiring cattle or something to work there...

After that it was more dirt roads, more discussions on how to fix the world, what do women want, etc... We stopped for lunch in the Sam Houston National Forest, called our wives, and ended up having to drive like a bat out of hell to make it home in time to make them happy. All in all a most excellent adventure into the borderlands!!
IMG_7232 IMG_7228

Friday, June 24, 2005

Fossil hunting

Saturday Clark and I are heading off to hunt fossils at Whiskey Bridge, near Bryan, Texas. This is an outcropping of Eocene sea bottom (approximately 35 million years old!) sedimentary rock which is filled with assorted prehistoric shells and creatures. I'm hoping to find a petrified crab and a shark's tooth. Whiskey Bridge is about three hours away, so we'll be starting out at 5:30am. Sometimes adventurers don't get a lot of sleep. The weather is supposed to be HOT, but this means the river will be low and more fossil beds exposed. This also means the rattlesnakes might be out early. We'll see. Being and adventurer means you sometimes have to deal with snakes.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Hug a tree!!!

Hug a tree!!!
Originally uploaded by merriwether.

I've been watching the news reports about the 11-yr. old scout who had become lost up in Utah. Luckily he was found alive and in good health after four days in the wilderness. In an interview on Fox News the parents stated that they had never thought their child would get lost in the woods and so they never taught him what to do if that happened. The only thing they ever told him was, "Stay on the path and don't talk to strangers." It turns out the child spent days hiding from the searchers because of the whole "Don't talk to strangers" thing. Then the parents stated that they didn't even know where to start as far as what to teach him to do if he got lost. I found this very frustrating. Any kid who is going out into the woods for any reason under any circumstance should be taught what to do if lost and they should also have a small "lost" kit with them at all times.


For children under 13 years old they should ALWAYS carry a belt pouch containing

1. A whistle. A whistle can be heard farther away and can last longer than just shouting. If nothing else, the kid should have a whistle!

2. Large, orange contractor's trash bags. These are cheap, waterproof, relatively puncture-resistant, and versatile, and highly visible. They can be used to make a weatherproof poncho, a sun shade, to carry water, or to signal a searcher. Have at least two of these bags. You can get them at Home Depot or other hardware stores.

3. Cylume light sticks. These will give comforting light all night long. Two is also probaly enough.

4. Cap. A simple baseball cap can offer shade, warmth and protection from rain. Like momma says, wear your hat!

5. Water. At least 12 onces. A quart if the child can carry it comfortably.

6. Candy. 3-4 peices to help the child keep her/his spirits up.

Notice I left out knives or materials for making a fire. I feel a young, UNTRAINED child could end up making a bad situation worse when they start fiddling around with knives or fire. However, if you take the time to teach your child responsibile firecraft and blade use then feel free to add them to the kit. Other optional gear include bugspray and suntan lotion. Some might say a compass should be in there, but my feeling is that a compass could tempt the child to keep wandering.


1. Stop! Once you realize you are lost don't go any farther. Pick a tree and hug it. Stay by this tree! The more you wander the harder you'll be to find.

2. Pull out your kit. You have it with you, right?

3. Tear one of the orange bags in half and tie the peices to the ends (away from the tree) of the branches of your tree as high up as you can reach as a signal to searchers. Don't climb the tree.

4. If the weather is cold or wet take the other orange contractor's bag, tear out a hole for your face along the edge of the bag about eight inches up from the bottom (sealed) edge of the bag, then place the bag over your head/body. Your face should be sticking out of the hole you made (see the picture). Crouch down and wrap your arms around you legs inside the bag if you are cold.

5. Start blowing your whistle. Blow three times as loud as you can, then remain quiet for a minute or two and listening for a response.

6. Have a peice of candy if you are feeling sad or scared. Drink some water.

7. Stay by the tree and keep blowing your whistle even after you hear people responding. Don't run away from them, they are trying to help you. Don't leave your tree to try and find them! Stay by the tree, blow your whistle, and let them find you!

8. If night falls don't panic. Activate your lightstick and stay by the tree.

9. Once found, tell the rescuers and reporters that you owe your survival to Merriwether the Adventurer at :-)

The above information can also be found at

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Thoughts at 4:33am

As an adventurer I spend some time on internet forums dedicated to outdoors activities. Invariably someone on one of these forums always makes a statement about how, "Mankind is the only creature that poisons his own environment.". Being the scientist that I am I have to correct this person and point out that three billion years ago the anaerobic bacteria managed to wipe themselves out after they excreted enough oxygen to screw up their cellular functioning. The usual response is, "That doesn't count, it was way back then. Only man destroys his environment now!". To which I respond, "What about beer or wine?". The alcohol in beer and wine is a by-product (aka doo-do) of yeast breaking down sugar (aka fermentation). The alcohol content of these drinks can only get to about 14% (28 proof) before the alcohol kills the yeast. In other words, the yeast excreted enough poison to destroy its environment's ability to support life (and at the same time  it made a tasty beverage!).

Okay, so I'm thinking these about these arguments while driving into work at 4:30am when suddenly I had a thought. What if the Earth was just a fermentation vessel for some super-being and us human are just its yeast? Perhaps this super-being finds the mix of Styrofoam and carbon dioxide to be a delicious and intoxicating drink? You know what? For some reason I'd be okay with that.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Father's day

Father's day Dad & Tyler 02292003_1 My Friend_2
Father's day
Originally uploaded by merriwether.

Ah, Father's Day! The day when fathers around the nation kick back and have their every whim catered too. Or, in my case, the day when I got up, made waffles for myself and Miniwether while Misseswether slept. Then we all went to church where Miniwether turned into the Squirmy, the worm that doesn't stop moving! After that we came home and I skipped lunch and began working on the yard. I haven't mowed it in two weeks or weeded in over a month, so it was looking pretty ragged. Four hours of 97F temperatures and non-stop labor I got it looking mostly presentable again, assuming one does not look too close. After that I helped a friend move some furniture, then made my yummy tacos for supper. We all gorged ourselves on the tacos, then I took Miniwether to the community pool. She LOVES that, though it seems her favorite activity there is to be carried back and forth between the kiddie pool and the big pool. We did this for almost two hours, then back home to call my dad. He's the one who blessed me with my desire for adventure, excitment, and exporation. He's the biggest hunter/fisher you'll ever meet. Growing up he always took us camping, fishing, hunting and generally made sure we knew our way around the borderlands. He was big into Scouts and later helped develop Capable Partners, a group dedicated to helping handicapped sportsmen (and women) get back out hunting and fishing. His idea of fun (when not hunting/fishing) is to get into the car and drive off to some other state from their home in Minnesota. He had one car that covered over 300,000 miles in travels running from Florida to Alaska to Texas (with assorted side trips to Montana, Wyoming, Iowa, etc...). Oh man, the stories I could tell about my Dad!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Miniwether the Adventurer

Thursday nights I play volleyball after work and don't get home until after Miniwether goes to bed. Well, apparently she thought I had gone back to Mexico so last night she stuck a bowl on her head (safety first!), hopped on to her tricycle, and announced, "she was going to ride her motorcycle to Mexico". Something tells me I'm going to have to keep a close eye on her.  :-)

No adventures planned for this weekend other than maybe waffle experimentation on Father's Day. Oh, for Father's Day I'm getting a custom topographical map of my favorite borderland and a new backpack with a hydration bladder. I'm really looking forward to the map. I love maps!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Miniwether's Birthday

Cake! Balloons! Gifts!
Birthday2 Birthday1 Cake

And then a trip to the science museum!
KikiChemistry KikiOil
KikiButterfly1 KikiButterfly TreeFrog

Adventure! Excitement! Exploration!

Monday, June 13, 2005

More Mexico

Wow, looking over my last several posts I noticed a very negative trend. That's not good and so I'll try and balance it out some.

The area around Poza Rica was quite beautiful. Low mountains covered in orange orchards and cut through with fast moving streams surround the town. Along these steams grew clumps of giant bamboo, each cane 4-6 inches in diameter. I would love to have a bunch of that bamboo to build a raft. The orange trees filled the air with the smell of citrus, though in some places banana, papayas and mangos ruled. Flowering trees called "naked coral trees" were everywhere. These are medium-sized trees with weird, alien-looking trunks/branches and coatings of bright red flowers. These trees go through interesting cycles where they start the year covered in green leaves, then the leaves drop off and the red flowers bloom, then these flowers fall and the leaves come back. They go through this cycle of green/red like giant traffic lights several times a year.

Flying in and out of Poza Rica I could see all sorts of footpaths winding around the mountians. I wish I had had time to explore these paths. One could walk for miles while plucking oranges and other fruit from the trees for nourishment. Water wells dotted the orchards. Hmmm, the funny thing was oil wells were pumping away all through the city, but I saw very few in the wilds. One oil well in the city really suprised me as it was on an elementary school's property wedged in between the main school building and the soccer field. There wasn't even a fence around it to keep a child out of the machinery. I guess Mexican kids are smarter than American kids.

Most of the building in the city were painted bright shades of yellow, blue, teal, red, etc... It made everything look gaily festive and rustic at the same time. I loved the drives to and from the worksite as there was so much to see. School kids in their uniforms, taxi drivers drinking orange juice from 1-liter plastic bags, tropical plants spilling down walls like coats of paint, funky little cars not available in the USA but still made by Ford, Volkswagon, and Toyota. Each morning we'd load up on Cokes and fruit juice from a vender on our way to the site. The "store" was just a iron cage about ten feet by ten feet stacked with merchandise and an old lady in sitting in the center. You passed her the money through a small window and she'd hand you back what you wanted. I think the Cokes were the only thing "American" that I ate or drank the whole week. My theory is when you are travelling why eat something you can get at home? Most of the time this led to all sorts of culinary delight, though the glass of beet juice remained untouched after the first sip. I also passed on the fresh cocconut milk after having a bad reaction to the stuff in Hawaii. Tastey, but it kicks the colon into overdrive. Maybe I should have warned my co-worker of that... Oh well, he learned.

The steaks, the fish, the shrimp, the soups, the fruit, and the pastries were all awesome. Normally I'm not a big fan of papyas or mangos, but like most other things they tasted hundreds of times better straight off the tree rather than shipped in to a grocery store. Same with refried beans. The stuff you get in cans is mucho bleho compared to beans made from scratch.

A note about the hotel, the Feista Inn. Wonderful, wonderful people work there. They bent over backwards to understand us crazy gringos and never lost their smiles. It was a two-star hotel with a five-star staff. It was the first place I've ever stayed where the waitress greeted me at supper with a hug and the maid neatly folded and packed my dirty laundry the night before I left!

Adventure! Excitement! Exploration!

Well, that wasn't much fun...

I'm not sure what the touristy areas of Mexico is like, but Poza Rica is definately third-world. We're talking hovels, donkeys, armed military checkpoints, crooked police, unreliable power, and bad water.
PozaRica1 PozaRica2
On the plus side the people were absolutely fantastic (other than the cop who tried to shake us down). They found my attempts to comunicate with them very entertaining and laughed a great deal, but that was okay because I did get my beer cold (Negra Modelo, por favour.) and steak well done (Grande inferno, no rosa.). The broiled catus for breakfast was a must, though the fried pork rinds on English muffins were also interesting.

I wasn't able to make it out to the ruins. The company that I was visiting decided to change all the test requirements, so I was in the lab from 8:00am until 8:30pm every day trying to get through all the new tests. It was ugly. The lab had almost no equipment and they used Coke bottles for glasseware (beakers, flasks, graduated cylinders). The air was filled with benzene, acetone, and mosquitoes. When it'd get too bad someone would stick a fan in the window to draw some of the fumes out. Like I said before though, the people were wonderful and that saved the trip. After a few days you don't actually need to know the language to tell a joke.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

From China to Mexico

The Children's Day event at the Chinese consulate was...entertaining. It really did feel like we we back in China. Awesome food and a hundred people squeezed into a room with no air conditioning. It was neat to see all the kids and Kiki had a blast running and yelling and dancing. She also LOVED the giant dragon.

Meanwhile, Mexico. My flight leaves at 7:50am Monday morning, which means I have to be at the airport around 5am which means I should already be in bed. Ugh. I just checked Poza Rica's weather forecast. Tomorrow's heat index is supposed to be 130F. Luckily the humidity will be half of what I'm used to here at home. The thunderstorms originally predicted there for early this week have faded away so that should leave the weather clear to visit the ruins! Adventure! Excitement! Exploration!!

Friday, June 03, 2005

Power outage

This is fun. The power is out to our facility. Anything made of glass or metal has a layer of condensation on it and only emergency lighting is on. It's about 87F outside right now and is supposed to get up into the high 90's with humidity also above 95%. I can either drop the shades on my windows and work in the dark or let light and a whole lot of heat in with the shades up. I guess it really doesn't matter since the fume hoods are down. Can't run any reactions if there's no power to the safety equipment. The latest announcement stated that the power company will be here in three hours but they didn't say how long it'll actually take to fix the problem.

I'm a little concerned as I need to make copies of a bunch of pawerwork for the Mexico trip. *sigh*

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Yep, Mexico.

Well my boss walked in and handed me tickets to Poza Rica, Mexico. There's still a tiny chance that my co-worker's passport will show up in time, but it doesn't look good. Supposedly there are some really nice ruins outside of town, but I'm not sure if I'll get a chance to poke around them. Here's to hoping.

Uh, Mexico?

From the department of poor planning may come a short-notice trip to Mexico. The company I work for has been doing some testing for people down in Mexico. They want the testing repeated at their site, so the lab tech that did it is supposed to fly down there Monday. No one bothered to ask him if he had a passport or at least a copy of his birth certificate. Well, he doesn't. I tried to become invisible but the tech spotted me and said, "Hey, he's been to China. He must have a passport.". Normally I'd be all, "Yeah, send me! Send me! Adventure!!", but the timing of this trip impacts Miniwether's birthday and missing that would be a major bummer. I don't want to be one of those dads. We'll see what happens.

Adventures in formal wear

Well, this coming weekend will bring and adventure of a totally different type. Miniwether has been invited to a party at the residence of the head of the Chinese consulate in Houston. June 1st was "Children's Day" in China and so the Chinese consulate is holding a party for children adopted from China. It should be interesting and I'm looking forward to meeting the head Chinese honcho. It is always good to have powerful friends in far-off places if you are an adventurer. I spent my 36th birthday climbing the Great Wall of China. Who knows, maybe next time I can ride a camel through the Gobi desert? Yeah, I dream big, but it keeps me young. I'll get pictures up after the event.

Oh, and it isn't a tuxedo event, I just liked the title. Sounded kind of James Bond-ish, didn't it?