Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Winter's (Bayou) Tale

Clark and I ready to start the Winters Bayou section of the Lone Star Trail.

About an hour from Houston up hwy 59 lies Cleveland, TX. Another five minutes past that is the Sam Houston National Forest which is probably the best place to hike near Houston. By best I mean "relatively pretty if you like pine trees and mostly unused except for the occasional weirdo"...wait, does that make Clark and I weirdos?!

View Winter Bayou in a larger map
Southern trail head parking on FM 2025, northern trail head parking about six miles away on FM 2666. Sidenote: the north trail head is on the north side of FM 2666.

Here is our GPS track. The diagonally line between FM 2025 and 2666 is where my GPS lost signal under the trees while driving between the trail heads.

Clark updating our progress to Note his surroundings. Winters Bayou trail is 8.4 miles of that.

Winters Bayou
Sometimes it looked like this. That isn't the trail but rather a dry stream bed.

On the topo map it looks like the Winters Bayou trail tracks a lovely stream for most of the way. With that easy access to so much water I was going to just bring one water bottle and a filter to cut down on carrying weight. At the last momment my normal dehydration paranoia kicked in and I threw an extra liter of water in my bag along with two Gatorades. Turns out I was right to be paranoid. The big, thick blue line on the map had been shrunk down to an occasional muddy, scum-filled puddle every mile or so due to the current drought conditions here. My filter probably would have got me through the hike but ended up clogged and trashed by the end.

One of the puddles was filled with frog eggs. That was kind of cool.

A widowmaker.

Primitive camping is allowed anywhere along the trail as well as in two designated campsites. A forest fire cleared out most of the underbrush so finding a good spot to pitch camp will be easy for a while yet. Keep in mind though that some pretty big trees were badly burned and killed by the fire and are just waiting to fall in a big wind! The tree Clack is standing next to had a full diameter of over two feet but the base had been burned down to less than one foot. No way would I camp anywhere near that!

One of two primitive campsites.

There are tails of Bigfoot being sighted in these woods but we didn't see anything so mysterious...except for the Very Mysterious Clam.

The Very Mysterious Clam. It was large, intact and a long ways away from any water. How did it end up on the trail? Mysterious I tell you. Very mysterious!

Later on we cam to a a Very Mysterious P. Why was there a P on this tree? What mysterious meaning did it have?

Pond stood for "pond". Not all that mysterious after all.

A partially-burned footbridge. No mystery there. No water underneath it, either.

Clark's lunch.

Clark is a outdoors gear product tester form and so he's constantly sent all sorts of outdoorsy stuff to test. This time he had assorted foods including a GoPicnic picnic pack thing. He wasn't impressed. Calorie-wise, it was much more useful for a Jazz festival or some other passive outdoors event rather than hiking for miles.

He also had to test some electrolyte-replacement drink mix.

It made his water explode and got everything sticky.

Overall, the hike was still very good time for no other reason than it was a long walk outside, the weather was perfect, yet it was close to Houston. Clark and I both agreed that adding animatronic orcs that we could hit with swords would be an awesome addition to the trail but I don't see those being installed any time soon.

If you go be warned that during the summer the mosquitoes and horseflies can be thick and bloodthirsty. During the fall and early winter hunting is allowed in certain sections of the Sam Houston National Forest, so wearing bright orange clothing is strongly recommended. Early spring is probably the best time to be on this trail though it's also probably visually the least entertaining then. But hey, it's a day (or more) out in the woods. After heavy rains the trail is reportedly very muddy, especially along the bayou itself so be ready for that. Other than the Very Mysterious Clam we saw no wildlife, though we did pass some pig hunters (I assume) coming out of the woods right at the start so they may have scared away any animals.

Other sections of the Lone Star Trail I've done:
4 Notch Loop
Little Lake Creek Loop and Pole Creek Loop
Stubblefield trail

Adventure! Excitement! Pine trees!

Monday, February 21, 2011

A time for sand.

They will remember this.

The wethergirls have been begging to go back to Galveston for months. Seeing as how Misseswether and I were married on a beach and this weekend was our thirteenth wedding anniversary we decided it would be a good time to go back to the beach, play in the sand and get some wonderful seafood. However, Misseswether managed to give herself a bad sunburn while being outside at a park all Friday for a homeschooling event, so she ended up staying at home while me, Mambowether and Miniwether hit the beach.

According to my folks up in Minnesota, they just received another 15 or more inches of snow. Meanwhile we're at the beach. The Gulf waters were still pretty chilly but it was warm enough to run around in swimsuits. A heavy fog covered the beach reducing the visibility down to very little. Add to the fact that we pretty much had the beach to ourselves made this both awesome and a little spooky...

The girls didn't mind the fog or the spooky, they just wanted to collect shells, dig holes, run around, make sand castles and eat Girl Scout cookies.

Preparing a sandpie.


Merriwether gets artsy.

Cookie time!

Beach, fog, ocean, Miniwether.

The girls didn't find many really nice shells so I bought them each a big pretty one at a gift shop. They are both sleeping with them so as to keep this day close. It was a very good day.

Misseswether also had a very good day. She watched the BBC adaption of North and South all the way through...several times.

Adventure! Excitement! Memories!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How to win a science fair.

Okay kids, this one is for you. As a yearly science fair judge, I want to give you some pointers that will get help you score high on your project:

1. There's a BIG difference between science and a demonstration. A baking soda/vinegar volcano is a demonstration, a potato or lemon-powered clock is a demonstration. Demonstrations make sci-fair judges weep. Science involves discovering something that no one else knows. It doesn't have to be important information just new information. There are many mysteries in the world waiting for the light of science to be shined upon them. For instance, which fast food hamburger will decompose the slowest when left on a window sill for two months.

2. It is your job to present to us your project. This means you need to have a well-practiced presentation about your research. You need to tell us why you became curious about the thing you researched, what your hypothesis was, why you came up with that hypothesis, how you tested it, what the results were, what you concluded from your results, was your hypothesis correct, and if not what new hypothesis did your results lead you to. You NEED to do this. Have your presentation polished, practiced, and down pat. It's true, a good presentation can turn a lame project into an award-winning first step towards world domination.

3. Label all the data presented in your graphs. It's very frustrating to a judge when they find an interesting project with an excellent presentation, then look at the display and see a piece of paper containing a bunch of unlabeled colored lines taped to the tri-fold cardboard. Label name of your x-axis, label the units of your x-axis, label the name of your y-axis, label the units your y-axis, label the individual lines or bars of your graph or chart!! You are trying to convince us of something. Unlabeled data is meaningless data. If you can't figure out how to label these things in Excel (or whatever computer program) then just write them on the graph after you've printed them out.

4. Understand the components of your project and how they could affect your experiment. If you are using vinegar in your project then spend a few minutes looking up the chemicals in vinegar and their percentage. Same goes for lemon juice, milk, batteries, Coke, dish soap, bean plants, etc... This is especially important in regards to your hypothesis. If you tell me something like "My hypothesis is that orange juice will be the most corrosive to the paint on my mom's new boyfriend's Jaguar because it is the most acidic." then you should be able to tell me the pH of the different fluids you tried.

5. Your display should be bold, colorful, attention getting but also clear and easy to pull information from. Some people get upset that a lame experiment can still win if it is presented with flash. Those people are usually called "underlings". A truly bad project won't be saved by a great display, but many average ones can win with an exceptional display. Colors are great. Big CLEAR pictures of your experiment are great. Your actual plants, hamster, assassin droid, or whatever is great. Having things organized in a way that makes sense is great. You want to attract the judge's attention with what appears to be an interesting subject so have your picture or actually experiment components front and center of your display. Place your hypothesis statement in the upper left side of the display because that's where we look to start reading, just like in a book. Print the hypothesis in a big, bold, easy to read font, and don't have any other words on that piece of paper, though artwork is okay as long as it doesn't interfere with reading the hypothesis.
Below that on a new sheet of paper tell why answering this question was important to you along with interesting background information.
Next have a sheet clearly describing your experiment. Also place on this sheet a list of sources of possible errors in your measurements.
In the center goes the big pictures of your experiment and clearly-labeled raw data.
On the top of the right side place a write-up of you conclusions. What did you learn? If possible include a summary graph comparing the important values/data after analysis.
Below your conclusions have a short paragraph on whether or not you hypothesis was found to be true. If your hypothesis turned out to be false add another paragraph explaining the flaw in your original hypothesis. Make sure there are 3-4 blank lines between this explanation and the discussion of your hypothesis above it.

6. Your eyeball is not source of scientifically accurate measurements. For instance, if you are comparing the oil-absorbent capabilities of cotton, silk, and wool then actually weigh the different materials out on an accurate scale. If you are delivering a certain amount of fluid to a system then use a graduated cylinder, syringe, measuring cups or some other device capable of delivering an accurate, repeatable amount each time. Tape measures, volt meters, and other measuring devices are critical to true scientists. They need to be for you, too.
Here's another tip, if you are comparing the amounts of bacteria growing on a plate don't just eyeball the different plates. Take a digital photograph of the plates, print it out, cut out the bacteria colonies out of the picture and weigh the resultant pieces of paper. It's still a crude method, but it's much more scientific than saying, "Uh, it looked like that one had more...".

Hope this helps.

Adventure! Excitement! Oh no, another lemon battery!


Happy birthday Mambowether!

Misseswether and I are very traditional people, especially when it comes to birthday parties. Cake, ice cream, and balloons. As for entertainment, kids are kids, put a group together and they'll figure out a way to have fun. There's no need to go to some over-priced venue or hire a petting zoo to come to your home...

For some reason we didn't realize just how much damage 17 sugar-powered kids between the ages of 2 and 9 could do to a house.

Adventure! Excitement! Next year, Chuck E. Cheese!!

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Still not there, now with ice.

Sorry folks, I seem to be going through a blogging-blah period. For those readers who aren't in Texas we did have a nasty ice storm come through Thursday night. Work was canceled Friday giving me the day off. However, many government offices were still open so I spent most of the day driving around ice-covered Houston roads to try and register my new trailer. Turns out registering a trailer in TX is tricky business that requires secret and arcane knowledge that I did not have and that the government agents reveal only a bit at a time. As far as I could tell no government official in a single office could give me the full list of paperwork and so forth needed to register a trailer. On the plus side I got to show off my Minnesota winter driving skills to many Texans. Note to Texans: that white stuff on the road...that's ice. Trying to drive on it at 70 mph will result in a very graphic example of assorted laws of physics. I had one guy fly by me at high speed, hit the ice and go spinning across several lanes. Luckily I saw it was going to happen and took proper evasive action. Other people around me weren't so observant or versed in the art of driving on ice. It's scary to watch several $40,000 vehicles start playing bumper cars.

You are probably wondering why I even chose to go out in that mess. Well, there weren't any lines in the government offices. That alone was worth the risk to life and limb.
Plus, now I have a trailer!!

Adventure! Excitement! Steering into the slide!