Yellowstone Halloween

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Halloween is a special time for young buffalo in Yellowstone. Most of their days are scary enough but Halloween is extra scary because that’s when all the wolves dress up as buffalo calves and go play special tricks on the herd.

Since wolves are very good at making costumes and applying makeup they can sometimes look just like your little herd buddy until suddenly you’re the trick and they’ve gotten a treat.

Add some snow to the mix and you can’t tell who that is taking your best friend Iggy, for a walk into the woods. Best stay real close to Mom, at least you know she’s not a wolf in Buffalo’s clothing, Right?

A Remarkable Discovery

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For some time one of our more promising projects here at the Institute has been in the field of Thermodynamics as Applied to Migrating Species as a Method of Determining Geospatial Locations and Direction. Or in other words “How do birds like the Sandhill crane know where they are and how they got there as well as where they’re going and how they’re going to get back”. I know right, That’s a big hairy question.

As you know we send out researchers to all parts of the globe to study thorny problems like these. Most of them have had some training in the field that they’re working in, especially the PhD’s, and those that we can trust to come back, are provided with all the necessary equipment and materials to do a bang up job. To ensure they do we hold back their per diem until we get results and as they get hungry we usually have an immediate inflow of data. It’s been found through trial and error that not feeding them until the uplink starts working, regularly gets more uniform results. Send us data, we send you a Hostess Ho-Ho. That’s our deal.

What about the quality of the data you might ask, well go ahead ask, it had better be good that’s all we say, the data, I mean. We have a dialup connection to the internet where we can cross check this information, so they better not try any funny stuff. The internet is pretty darn powerful and full of information, sometimes I wonder why we even bother sending some of these people out on these jobs, but we’ve found that dialup is so slow that many times we can send someone to Dubai for instance, and get the data back by UPS faster than we can over our dialup connection. Our ISP has told us that there is something new on the horizon called DSL that will work really, really fast and if we get caught up on our bill and stay current for 36 months they will install it here at the Institute. Then those guys better watch out.

The initial data we have received is promising if not electrifying.  Our researchers tell us that on some of the more remarkable birds they have found a direct connection to the Sandhills cranes ability to get somewhere and our project. It appears that some of the more mature cranes have primary feathers that are actually IFR sensors that are hard-wired directly into their bird brains and that as soon as their wing tips are struck by the early morning rays of the sun, their primary feathers turn golden with the heat of a non-sensical bio-directional whammy, chock full of data, and they get all the information they need to get wherever they are going.

It’s an instant download, apparently from one of those super-secret spy satellites that we used to use to spy on Cuba, that gives them real-time information on wind-speed, barometric pressure, GPS coordinates, maps, updates on how successful the NRA has been in expanding Sandhill Crane hunting seasons, a currency converter, what kind of harvest they had in the Ukraine, a universal translator so they can talk to cranes from any country, etc. Anything and everything they need to know in a nano-second. If you have ever seen one of these cranes falter as they begin their ascent, or gone all over wonky of a sudden, that was exactly when the download hit. The feathers light up, their little bird brains go all Jesus Christo and it’s done. They got it. The reason all cranes do not have this ability is due to the fact that it takes a mature, reasonable, old brain to receive this mega load of info and that means a mature stable adult.

Of course any theory this important must be tested to make sure our researchers aren’t making this crap up, and test it we did. Since one of our researchers here at the Institute is a fallen away NSA techie and knew all the frequencies that those old Cuba spy satellites used, we were able to reprogram his remote that he uses to fly his new HydroSpiff drone and take over control of some of the Sandhill cranes leaders and make them do all kinds of goofy stuff.

He made them fly straight down the highway about 8 feet off the ground to see how many Winnebago’s he could put in the ditch. He’d take the flock up to about 800′ and make them spell out dirty words. But the kicker that nearly got the entire program shut down was when he had them occupy the drive thru at the Socorro McDonald’s so no one could order. Man you do not mess with the franchises  during peak periods. Those guys know people. They had the FCC down there so fast we barely had time to hide the gear and say “No we don’t know nothing about that”.

So far the research looks promising, it’s not done yet but we’re saying there’s a paper in here, and we’re going to publish. Nature, Scientific American, Ham Operators Gazette, Huffington Post, we don’t care. We publish, we get paid. Remember it’s the Institute bringing you the information the others won’t print. So watch for it at a newsstand near you.

The Ugly Elkling

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Since the majority of my readers are barely out of their teenage years, or wish they were, it won’t be a stretch to remember what it was like being a teenager. I know I can remember every agonizing moment. It’s that time where absolutely nothing is right, you feel like everybody’s looking at you, they are by the way, your coat feels funny, you walk stupid, and your antlers, your poor antlers. You can’t even grow a pair of decent antlers.

The young cows are now looking at the herd bull with his magnificent antlers with an appraising eye and totally ignoring you except when they’re humiliating you with agonizing comments of “Hey Dweeb, nice antlers” or “Great set of antlers you got there Skippy, didn’t they have them in your size?” It is the worst time of your life.

But and this is a big but, things change. I know right now that doesn’t seem possible, but they do. Next year you’ll have filled out a little more, the big bulls will let you hangout around the edge of the herd so you can learn how to walk and act cool, your voice will change and it won’t be long and your squeaky call will morph into a full-throated bellow, things will be looking up.

And your antlers, whoa dude are you going to have a set of antlers. They’re going to rise up out of your forehead, spread four feet across and three feet high. They’ll fork into needle sharp spears and be 5 or 6 points a side by your fifth year and weigh twenty pounds. Big heavy beams, gorgeous polished tines, you may be even be a Royal. Anything’s possible. Then it’ll be your turn to say “I don’t know babe, maybe later”. So hang in there, better days are coming. But for right now, honestly, go hang out in the bushes til those things fall off.

Life’s Little Problems

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Remember that big job you left on your desk to finish after the weekend. Well it’s after the weekend. And now that big job has spawned a lot of little jobs to compound your misery. Individually the small jobs are fairly easily dealt with, but collectively they present a much bigger problem. Kinda of like when your check doesn’t clear and it was the one you wrote to the credit card company to pay the minimum payment on your credit card, and suddenly there’s the OD charge at the bank to deal with plus a huge fee on your credit card statement, and the hours spent and all the other crap it takes to clear that up with the credit card people, and what was just a simple little problem now involves the Consumer Credit Protection Act with the word plaintiff before your name. Not that that has ever, ever happened to me but I’ve heard of it.

You must deal with the small stuff before you can get back to the big picture, which is exactly as you left it Friday, except now you’re down a half a day or better, you’ve only handled one or two of the smaller things and you still have the rest of the flock to deal with and they’re beginning to sense your weakness.

My strategy in a situation like this is to run into the flock, scatter them, then drag the big problem over to someone else’s desk when they off screwing around at the water cooler, and take a break. When you get  back amidst all the chaos, sit down calmly as if everything is under control and read the Entertainment news on CNN to see who just split up. Everyone else will be trying to figure out how you manage to keep it together and you can leave for an early lunch. Just make sure there is enough stuff piled on your desk so that no one can stuff a big problem on It while you’re gone. OK then, problem solved, see you tomorrow.

Love for Sale

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The Rut. Although it sounds like the opening to a Monty Python skit it is deadly serious for this bull elk. For the last year he has done nothing but make himself ready for this annual adventure. He has watched his diet, worked out, taken much care with his personal appearance and now he is ready for the main event.

This isn’t just singles dating for this guy, this is the real deal. He is determined to collect as many mates as he can as quickly as he can and he won’t be deterred by anything or anyone. This is Polyamory in its truest form. He has just this one shot, if you will pardon the expression, to pass along his genes to as many of his spouses as possible. It is a lot of work but he is highly trained and more than up to the contest.

He has several major problems to overcome. One is collecting as many females as he can, he has to set the mood, run them down, hustle them back to his harem, impregnate them and go after another one.

Another problem is keeping them. During the rut this guy is not the only male working here. There is always somebody lurking in the bushes trying to take his women away from him by hook or by crook. This naturally causes hard feelings and things are said that cannot be taken back and before you know it the Battle Royale is on. My money is on this guy, he didn’t grow those enormous antlers for show.

The last but not least problem he has is keeping his rich tenor voice in shape. It has to have that Barry White sound for bass and Harry Connick Jr for the mid-point with a touch of Aaron Neville at the end to make him irresistible to the ladies and really cheese off the other males. There is nothing more pathetic than having a squeaky, lame song, I mean nobody takes you seriously.

The rut lasts a couple of months or more and then the parties over. He heads back up into the mountains, sheds his antlers, kicks back and rests for a while, then starts all over again. His main concerns at this point are not letting anyone he knows see him without his antlers, not getting eaten by wolves, and making certain he takes care of his voice. Other than that everything’s a slice.


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As usual to qualify for the status of a commercial Non-for-Profit organization dedicated to the service of our country and to keeping as much cash running thru our shoddy books as possible, we here at the Institute have to provide a beneficial service to the community at large. To do this we occasionally run Public Service Announcements to keep our readers as informed as possible and to protect our phony baloney jobs, I mean keep our unblemished reputation intact.

So this quarters’ PSA is about the dangers of Tessellations and their effect on the new photographer specifically. As any student in their 25th or 26th year of study knows Tessellations are included and are a major portion of the study of Noneuclidean Tessellations and their groups, in which there are discontinuous groups and triangle Tessellations, Contiguity-based weights which are weights based on shared borders, Local Indicators of Spatial Association (LISA), and my personal favorite, the bivariate Moran’s scatter plot. (I used to think that read as a Moron’s Scatter Plot, just a little PhD humor there.) You have to have a high school diploma or three years active service in the Marines for me to even begin to get into what that is. Seriously, don’t even ask me to explain that  to you.

What that boils down to for the novice photographer is ‘Repeating Patterns’. Yes, Tessellations are just simply a pattern that repeats itself over and over like in the image above. Don’t be fooled by the simple definition however, for in that simplicity is the very danger we’re warning you about. This is something that most photographers only learn the hard way. If you’ve ever been out where there are a group of old-time photographers standing around, like in the Hayden valley waiting for a grizzly to wake up or anywhere for that matter, where they’re complaining about the weather, the lack of animals, what Nikon is or isn’t doing well, or about some tourist walking up and asking what they’re looking at so they miss the shot of their career, you will often notice that one or more of them have at least one or both of their front teeth chipped, or sometimes even missing completely. This is a result of Tessellation Disorder.

What happens is this. You see an interesting pattern that might make an unusual image and you begin to zoom in and isolate the pattern core, a meaningless photographic term, and as you do you notice an adjacent portion of the pattern and then another and another until you’re drawn in and you go all over dizzy of a sudden and fall down and chip your tooth. Yeah I know you’re going to say this can’t happen to me but you’d be wrong Mister, it could happen to you. I’ve heard from secret sources that even Ansel Adams the Godfather of Nature photography had a chipped tooth. It’s why you rarely see him smiling in any of his photographs. So unless you’re better than Ansel Adams you’re at risk.

“What do I do then?” you ask ” I live to take pictures of patterns out doors, what can I do to protect myself?” Well outside of wearing a protecting helmet like the ones those goofy professional bike riders wear, plus some kind of mouth guard, and carry one of those little push button medical warning devices in case you can’t get up, not much. What you have to do is train yourself to notice those patterns when they occur but do not focus on them until you’re ready to take the picture. Set your tripod up as if you’re going to shoot a bird or a mountain or something but not a pattern and generally point your camera at the pattern but do not give it the impression that you are aware of its existence, make sure you have your remote triggering device hooked up and it has fresh batteries, look quickly into the viewfinder and then quickly turn your head away, do not make eye contact with it, and press the shutter release on your remote. That will do it. As your experience grows you will be able to look longer at  the pattern until you can start to analyze it and soon you will be shooting these pesky Tessellations like a pro. This information should help you to become a better photographer, allow you to shoot your life’s dream and not fear those harmful Tessellations anymore. But more importantly it will help keep you safe in this dangerous world we live in.

So once again we’ve gotten this chore out-of-the-way, cleared the decks so we can proceed with our next grant proposal and make a buck and provided a worthwhile service to those in need. Not a bad days work.

Note to Newbies: Add dental to your company insurance.

Let’s Play What Is It

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Everybody’s been a little down around here ( here being the Institute) since the shutdown started. What with the furloughs, and the food shortages, the staff has rebelled and no amount of beating will get them to eat one more serving of Lamprey, in fact there have been two suspicious fires at the Lamprey storage locker, and on top of that we still haven’t had any contact with Les Firgotin, other than finding a few tooth marked baseball caps, she is still missing. People have gradually been finding their way back to the compound, I mean campus and trying to put their life and careers back together.

Generally the morale has been totally in the crapper. Nothing seemed to cheer these people up, not even the somewhat vague promise of a payday in the near future… perhaps. However just in the nick of time a good thing has reared it strange but weird-looking head and has helped a little towards lightening the mood. I’m talking about our 26th annual game of “What Is It?” a fun-filled loony exercise in which our contestants who also happen to be our very own employees try to identify a common object and win big prizes. Due to the hardships of the last several weeks we have pulled out all the stops in selecting prizes this year. Third prize is a  full month of not having to eat Lamprey in the commissary, Second prize is two weeks in Hawaii with the director, First prize is a 5lb. ham.

So once the prizes were announced and the picture posted the game began. The following choices were put up on the bulletin board and people started making their selections. The first correct answer, time stamped using the PhD’s Time Clock would be the winner, the next closest would be second and so on, and since we rarely get more than two correct answers in any of the contests we run, the third place award would be given to the one who managed to get the check mark in any of the boxes.

The choices for “What Is It?” were

(A) The spiritual representation of Ted from the planet Itchy.

(B) Something the cat threw up

(C) A gay Ping-Pong ball

(D) A flower

As expected we only got one correct answer, which was (A) of course, but surprisingly there were 31 votes for (C) but then we pride ourselves on having a very free thinking, desperate, I mean, spirited staff here at the Institute. We just didn’t take in how nuts they were. Everyone seemed to have great fun anyway and their was much jostling and friendly eye-gouging as they tried to exit the building after the director announced that since no one had claimed second prize he would personally select a winner for that award.

Hopefully things will continue towards the healthy healing we all need here in our wonderful nation, America, or America the Great as we like to call it, and that we will be back to normal before the next crisis looms, which is scheduled to occur on February 7th, 2014, that would be another occurrence of the chaos we just went through. But that is 10 long weeks away, surely they’ll be able to work things out by then. Of course given the caliber of those representing us in Congress I can’t see any cause for worry, can you?