Monthly Archives: December 2012

Adrenaline!

Queenstown, in the southern end of the South Island, markets itself as the “adrenaline capital of the world.”  We’ve had the pleasure of visiting it several times since we’ve been here, averaging about one visit a month. We’ve gone skiing in the area twice, once to The Remarkables and the second time to Cardrona (our preference of the two was Cardrona).  We once drove north from Queenstown to Glenorchy and the Paradise Valley.  But, this trip…  OH BABY!!!  🙂

 

 

Over Christmas, we lived it up, and some of us more than others!  Muir is visiting us, as he’s on college break from American University.  Since we have someone here now who is younger and more foolish than us, we decided to have more fun.

 

 

On Christmas Day, after opening our few presents, we drove up to Skippers Canyon, which is west of Queenstown.  Skippers Canyon is a part of the original New Zealand goldfields from the early 1860’s.  Today, it’s a beautiful little canyon for jet boats and four-wheel drives.  Our little Subaru was easily up to the task.  Christmas Day here was hot – ~80 degrees F – and Skippers Canyon seemed even a little warmer.  It was a pleasant drive, except for the part where I backed off of the road, trying to get out of the way of a tourist bus on a very narrow section of the road.

 

 

The day after Christmas was one of the more exciting days of Muir’s life.  For a Christmas present, we gave him the gift of adrenaline – his very own bungy jump experience!  It was so interesting to enjoy the mixed look of excitement, happiness, joy and fear on his face.  And, me being me, I had all kinds of fun making jokes about his impending doom.  🙂

 

 

Now, just to be clear, I would have bungy jumped, too – it’s something that I’ve wanted to do for quite some time.  However, I have a couple of doctors who have advised me against it – something about my weak, old eyes and the distinct possibility of blindness.  So, I had to live vicariously…

 

 

The main bungy jump company in these parts is A.J. Hackett.  They operate three different bungy jumps in the Queenstown area.  Since this was Muir’s first time, we decided to go with the historic, first bungy jump location of the Kawarau Bridge for him.  There’s a location in Queenstown, but you jump off of a platform and head down toward a mountain slope which isn’t as exciting as jumping towards a river.  The other option is a major undertaking, Nevis Bridge, and it’s a bit higher – 143 m, vs. the 43m that Muir did at Kawarau. Without further adieu, here’s Muir (just click on the blue link below):

 

 

Muir at the Kawarau Bungy

 

 

Yep, that’s him, screaming like a big baby!  And, since he told me that he did feel a little uncomfortable hanging upside down with the blood rushing to his head, maybe it’s a good thing for my eyesight that I was just a spectator.

 

 

There are a lot of other things to do in Queenstown – horse riding, riding the gondola, eating (try Fergburger – it’s famous in these parts, but too much for us), riding the jet boats on the Shotover River, watching and feeding trout at the underwater world observatory, enjoying the zip line, shopping (ugh!), four-wheeling, riding mountain bikes, hiking, and a lot of other things…

Now, one of those other things is the Skyline Luge. OMG, what a great time! We went on the luge a couple of months ago, on our second or third trip to Queenstown.  Since Muir was here, we just HAD to do it again!  I remember riding my wagon down the little hill in our yard with my brother when I was growing up.  I have to say that the thrill is very similar, if not better, now that I’m older.  The luge tracks are a few hundred meters long and slope downhill with several twists and turns.  The scenic track is for beginners and it’s a bit slower, more twisty and the corners have cobbles on the edge to help slow you down when you miss the corners (which you will).   The adventure track is a bit steeper and faster, with a couple of slight jumps and the cobbles on the corners less aggressive.  The first time that you ride the luge each day, you must start on the scenic track; after that, you’re free to ride on either track. We rode the luges three times this day and I was smart enough to remember to try to capture a video on my second (and last) ride on the adventure track.  Yes, that’s me laughing in the video.  Also, I will say that it is more difficult to steer a luge when you also have your phone in your hand…  (just click on the blue link below)

 

 

Skyline Luge Adventure Track

 

 

My only question is why don’t they have a luge track and bungy jumping at Wisconsin Dells?  🙂

 

 

So, I hope that you enjoyed a part of our adrenaline rushes in Queenstown and I sincerely hope that you’ll have the opportunity to do the same!

 

 

46 S EnZed signing off…

 

 

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Flying Lessons

(or, how I learned to love the fiscal cliff and stop worrying…)

Faith

When you walk to the edge of all the light you have

and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown,

you must believe that one of two things will happen:

 

There will be something solid for you to stand upon,
 or, you will be taught how to fly…

© Patrick Overton

The Leaning Tree, 1975

Rebuilding the Front Porch of America, 1997

So, like many Americans, this whole “fiscal cliff” issue has been on my mind.  It’s sort of nice to be able to watch it from afar.  The Kiwi press is not as obsessed with the issue as is the American media (when the media isn’t focused on gun violence in America).  But, since I’m well connected to the internet, the fiscal cliff is still in my face.

There are a lot of pundits out there giving their opinions, and I feel like giving mine – what the heck, eh?

My basic position here is that we all should just let this go, relax and enjoy the political theater in Washington.  No matter how much we common folk complain, it’s not going to make a difference.  The politicians are taking their signals from their “values,” their lobbyists and Wall Street.  Unfortunately, we can’t ignore Washington and hope that it and this problem will go away.  Let them do their thing (which is???) and enjoy your holidays.

First, I fully expect that we’re going over the fiscal cliff.  The folks in Washington will not be able to come to a compromise before January 1st.   Prior to going over the fiscal cliff, the poker players in Washington will be quite happy to stand firm in their positions, as well as play fast and loose with everyone else’s retirement savings.  Each party will remain entrenched in its positions and that’s where we’ll be on the morning of January 1st.  Happy New Year!

After January 1st, those folks in Congress will come to their senses.   When the stock market starts to tank, our elected leaders will begin to accommodate each other’s positions.  Why?  They may be highly principled people there, but they’re also greedy.  When our members of Congress see their portfolios start to head down the hole, they’ll start to have second thoughts about compromising.

Now, here’s an interesting possible twist.  If we head over the fiscal cliff, as I expect, a lot of people will be panicking the last few days of 2012 and start to sell stocks as the stock market is heading downhill as they try to save their money in a savings account or something similar, while also using other trading strategies to produce more money.  The smart and patient people (vultures) in Wall Street will swoop in and gladly take those cheaper stocks – and then sit back and wait for the market to come back up once compromise is achieved.   My suggestion, if you’d care to consider it, is to just hold tight.  Yes, your portfolio will decline for a few days and then come back up, just like it always does.  But hey, I’m not a certified financial analyst…

Sorry, but too much of this whole situation is just political theater and posturing.  Yes, there are some very serious, significant ramifications of the decisions that are to be made, but when most of the discussion in the media is about a few of the incendiary, marginal issues, the real meaty issues get lost…

After the New Year and some kind of “patch” is put into place, there will be continuing theater as the politicians continue the fiscal circus discussions and try to create their “grand bargain.”  So, we’re just in the current “scene” of the fiscal/political theater.  Sorry to be so forlorn (we all have our Eeyore sides…) about this situation, but I’ve been watching the same show for the past several years…

Now, if you really want to learn and be able to contribute something constructive to the discussions with your friends, here are some suggestions.  For example, EconomistMom.com, Diane Lim, has some very interesting, intelligent and deep discussions on these various issues.   I’ve subscribed to her blog for about a year and find the information that she provides to be very refreshing, mature and, I believe, politically neutral.  The difficulty that you’ll have with EconomistMom’s writings is that you’ll actually have to read, consider and think about them, rather than just react to the pablum that the mainstream media feed you in their thirty second sound bites.

And, here’s another piece that I just came upon.  Brown vs. Gray – no this isn’t a legal decision, but a discussion about our government’s financing of social programs for younger and older people…

In the mean time, learn how to “fly” and look beyond the histrionics in Washington.  Yes, their decisions are consequential, but there’s not a whole lot that we can do about it until they’re ready to have some meaningful discussions.   Be prepared to meaningfully contribute.

More importantly, enjoy your friends and family these holidays – this is where your true treasure lies, in the love of others.  Do something nice for a stranger – random acts of kindness…

Remember, in a democracy, we get the government that we deserve, not the one that we really want…  And, economics is not just the study of money and how it flows in our society; it’s also the study of our emotional responses to money and these societal flows…  🙂

Happy Holidays everyone! It’s already Christmas here and the kids have opened their presents…

46 S. EnZed signing off (and, going for a hike!)

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Sunburned

 

 

(or, thoughts on atmospheric chemistry…)

 

 

As usual, we were out tramping this weekend.  We hiked across New Zealand! To be more precise, we sorta hiked across Stewart Island/Rakiura from Mason Bay to Freshwater Landing – a whopping 14 kilometers!  I’ll write more about that at a later date when I figure out a way to make it sound more exciting and adventurous than it really was…

 

 

So, yes, sunburned.  You know, when your skin receives a bit too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and then turns red and hurts a little or a lot.  In my case, the pain is relatively mild.  I’ve had terrible sunburn in my life, like the time when I fell asleep in a canoe in the middle of the Missouri River reservoirs in Montana – that was a bad one!  Or, at the beginning of the summer when I was a swimming pool lifeguard about 35 years ago.  As I reflected on this sunburn, I wasn’t too surprised.  I’m not a person who enjoys wearing sunscreen unless I know that I’ll be able to take a shower and wash it off – I just don’t like the feel of it on my skin, clogging my sweating pores.  I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, shorts and my ever-present cap while we were hiking, here at the beginning of the austral summer.  The season here is akin to June in the northern hemisphere, and I lost the bit of sun tan that I had from my boreal summer before we moved to New Zealand in August.  It’s time to get my skin back in shape.

 

 

The other reason that I reflected on my sunburn is because I had a bit of sunburn back in September here – at the end of the austral winter, when the daylight periods are so much shorter – and I remember being surprised that I had a sunburn.  I know that a lot of people get sunburned in the winter in the States, particularly when they’re skiing and the sun is reflecting off of the snow and up into their exposed faces.  But, in our winter in New Zealand, there wasn’t any snow and the sunburn on my hands, face and lower lip only came from direct, overhead exposure to the sun.  I remember in August and September that there were various admonitions to put on sunscreen, particularly coming from the teachers at our kids’ school.  And, I also remember thinking at the time that this was quite odd – why would folks put on sunscreen in the winter??  Yes, I’ve been exposed to many cultural  differences here in New Zealand, but this one just didn’t quite click for some time…

 

 

And then, in late October/early November, it struck me why I had received a sunburn in September here!  Ozone depletion!  I learned quite a bit about ozone depletion back in the day when I was a real environmental scientist and I’ll try to share a bit about ozone depletion.  The difference now is that I’m living in a place where ozone depletion has consequences!

 

 

Way back in the 1970’s, we all became aware of the likelihood of ozone depletion and then the actuality of it.  If you’re about my age or older, you’ll likely recall that aerosol containers, like deodorants sprays, were pressurized with chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases and refrigerators and freezers used halocarbon gases in their vapor compression/energy exchange cycles.  I once visited a US Department of Energy installation that was losing a million pounds of CFCs a year!  (I can’t say where because they might terminate me!)  Most of these CFCs were lost to the atmosphere. (We still use CFC-like gases in our refrigerators and freezers, but they’re now more benign and we’ve gotten much better about capturing and recycling these gases.) Once in the atmosphere, sunlight dissociates the CFCs into chlorine and bromine radicals (I’ll try to keep the chemistry to a minimum).  Basically, though, a chlorine radical is extremely reactive and it loves to react with an ozone molecule and destroy the ozone molecule.

 

 

The ozone is in our atmosphere and is created when the high energy sunlight (UV radiation) reacts with oxygen molecules (O2) to form oxygen atoms (O).  These oxygen atoms react with oxygen molecules to form the ozone (O3).  This whole cycle goes on and on, creating and destroying oxygen and ozone molecules.  The UV radiation is absorbed in the process and releases infrared/thermal energy.  In this way, the ozone molecules protect us from excessive UV radiation: continuously (and slowly!) absorbed by various forms of oxygen- pretty cool, huh?  [And, if any of my former professors are reading this, yes, I know that my ozone chemistry presentation here is simplistic…  🙂 ]  So, if something comes along and destroys the ozone, which is a good absorber of UV radiation, then we have a problem.

 

 

Now, here’s the really interesting part of all of this chemistry (yes, I know that you’re on the edge of your computer chairs, heavily panting) – these ozone-destroying reactions occur at a greater rate/frequency in the Arctic and Antarctic atmosphere! Why? you ask…  Catalysis!  (Here we go again with the chemistry stuff!) A catalyst is a compound that accelerates a chemical reaction, but doesn’t participate in the reaction and isn’t changed by the reaction. As atmospheric scientists were monitoring atmospheric ozone concentrations back in the 1970’s, they were (unpleasantly) surprised to find that ozone depletion was greatest over the North and South Poles, and that “ozone holes” were forming in the respective winters of the Poles.  During these polar winters, the cold atmosphere more readily formed ice crystals in the earth’s stratosphere (between about 20 kilometers and 50 kilometers above the earth’s surface) and these ice crystals provided a “catalytic” surface on which chlorine atoms very readily destroyed ozone.  The quantity of ozone destruction is so great over the Poles that we now have seasonal “ozone holes.”  When these ozone holes appear, greater quantities of UV radiation reach the earth.   And, when people (and any organism, for that matter) are beneath these ozone holes, we are at risk for sunburn and other UV-inspired damage.

 

 

I don’t know why (I can’t find the information, but I hope that someone knows), but the Arctic ozone hole does not seem to be as large as the Antarctic ozone hole.  This means that those people who live in the Southern Hemisphere, and particularly those live as far south as we are currently living (~ 46 degrees southern latitude) have greater potential for UV exposure than folks in the Northern Hemisphere who live at ~46 degrees northern latitude.  Since we are living as far from the South Pole as someone who lives in northern Wisconsin lives from the North Pole, you’d expect to see ozone hole/UV issues in northern Wisconsin, if the ozone depletion was the same in each hemisphere, but we I don’t recall anyone in northern Wisconsin being told to put on sunscreen in the winter.

 

 

Here’s a time-lapse ozone monitoring animation from over the Antarctic, starting on 1 July 2012, courtesy of NASA on a separate page (please “click” on the link below to open it).  The dark blue area represents the extent of the ozone hole.

 

 

2012 Antarctic Ozone Monitoring Animation

 

 

 

I hope that you’ll notice that in the lower right-hand corner, down by the date, that’s the southern tip of New Zealand – where we’re living!  We’re definitely NOT under the worst area of the ozone hole, but occasionally the fringe of the hole floats over southern New Zealand, which helps to explain (in part) my September sunburn.

 

 

This has been a long post about sunburn and ozone depletion…  But, this isn’t the point of the post.  Read on, if you dare…

 

 

When the science of ozone depletion was being discussed in the 1970’s, there was quite a group of naysayers.  Yes, I know – GASP!  How can that be?   Here’s are some lines that I’ve copied from the Wikipedia page regarding ozone depletion:

 

“The Rowland–Molina hypothesis was strongly disputed by representatives of the aerosol and halocarbon industries. The Chair of the Board of DuPont was quoted as saying that ozone depletion theory is “a science fiction tale…a load of rubbish…utter nonsense”.[66] Robert Abplanalp, the President of Precision Valve Corporation (and inventor of the first practical aerosol spray can valve), wrote to the Chancellor of UC Irvine to complain about Rowland’s public statements (Roan, p 56.) Nevertheless, within three years most of the basic assumptions made by Rowland and Molina were confirmed by laboratory measurements and by direct observation in the stratosphere.”

 

 

Does this sound remotely familiar to you???  Does this sound like a position that’s similar to the contemporary climate change denial community??   I’ll readily grant you that proving that the annual cycles of ozone depletion are real was a whole lot easier than proving that slow and noisy climate change is real.  Ozone depletion and changes to how we use CFCs were a whole lot easier to tackle than making the necessary changes for climate change.  But, climate change is real.  Deny it, if you will, not at your own peril, but at the peril of your children and your children’s children.

 

 

In the twenty plus years that I’ve been living in Wisconsin, there are too many anecdotes of my life there that have changed in that short period:

 

  • Winters are warmer; it used to be common to spend a week in the -20 degrees F range; now, we hardly see -10 degrees F;

  • The winter and spring of 2012 that wasn’t – have we ever had such a warm spring?

  • Superstorm Sandy – tell it to New York City and the East Coast.

  • We went to Glacier National Park in 2011 – the glaciers are receding and may be gone in fifty years.  The glacial retreat in New Zealand is similar.

  • Polar bear lives are seriously disrupted by the lack of Arctic sea ice, which means that they’re unable to fish, feed and survive as in the past.

 

 

These are all just anecdotes – points on the noisy, discontinuous, apples & oranges continuum…  And, I’m as guilty as anyone else about the size of my carbon footprint.  I don’t always make the best choices.  But, I’m also not able to make as good as choices as I’d like to make because of the society in which I live and the technologies and ways of living that it encourages (like our increasing use of natural gas and the loss of methane [another extremely strong component of global climate change] through our new found interest in “fracking” – and, don’t get me started about all of the groundwater pollution that comes from fracking!) and the technologies and lifestyles that are not encouraged like more solar power and a focus on more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly communities.

 

 

If you haven’t seen it and are so compelled, I highly recommend the movie An Inconvenient Truth.  As a person who enjoys charts and graphs, the charts and graphs presented by Al Gore seem to me to be beyond compelling – and that was in 2006!

 

 

So, my blog about CFCs and ozone depletion is over.  Unfortunately, global climate change is just beginning.  Which leaves me with the question: how will your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren survive?  I’m scared for my offspring…  toasted and roasted…

 

 

Dr. Tim Mulholland (a.k.a. 46 S EnZed) signing off…

 

 

Posted in climate change, New Zealand, ozone depletion Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Mt. Burns Tarns

Like many of our weekends, we were off hiking recently – this time to the Mt. Burns Tarns.  A tarn is a small pond or lake that sits on the side of a mountain and they are formed by glacial activity, freeze-thaw conditions and erosion by ice.  Photographers and hikers are drawn to them because they tend to be a little remote, they’re very picturesque and they’re also very relaxing and serene.

 

 

Unlike in the United States, a great deal of New Zealand’s more remote country is not very accessible by land vehicles.  These Kiwis like to tramp!  But, the Mt. Burns Tarns are easily accessible from the Borland Road in Fiordlands National Park.  Borland Road is basically a utility service road so that the electric company can keep track of its transmission line pylons from the Manapouri Hydro station up and over the Hunter Mountains as the line works its way south and east towards Invercargill and the Tiwai Aluminum Smelter.

 

 

Driving to the Mt. Burns Tarns parking area on the Borland Road is pretty straightforward.  But, once the hike starts, it’s fairly vertical.  The hiking is through mounds of tussock grass along the ridge of a hill; it’s a long kilometer from the car park to the beginning of the tarns and even longer when your kids are whining.  But, once you get up to the tarns, the views are wonderful!

 

 

Enjoy!

 

 

46 S EnZed signing off…

 

 

 

Posted in Fiordland, New Zealand Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Otago

A few weeks ago, we finally made it to the nearest big city of Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula.  As usual, the weather was alternately windy, sunny, rainy and grey.  We had been looking forward to visiting Dunedin as it was our first choice of a place to temporarily live in New Zealand, based on a visit our friends Marian and Eric made here several years ago.  But, it also seems that there are a lot of people who would like to live in Dunedin, so it didn’t come to fruition for us.

 

 

Dunedin is a more cosmopolitan city than Invercargill, but that’s expected.  Invercargill is a smaller and more agricultural city.  Dunedin also has the oldest university in New Zealand – University of Otago.  I’ve been trying to encourage the older son to study there for a semester, but I don’t think that it’s going to happen while we’re here.  And, Dunedin is nestled amongst the hills and harbor and has a more three-dimensional feeling to it.   But, some of those hills are pretty steep.  In fact, Dunedin boasts the steepest street in the world – Baldwin Street – which we walked up & down and drove up & down (driving was much more fun).  The main reason that we did visit Dunedin was because it was raining on the Otago Peninsula.  🙂

 

 

Most of our time was spent on the Otago Peninsula, which bills itself, along with Dunedin, as New Zealand’s ecotourism capitol.  Getting around the Otago Peninsula is slow – the roads are narrow and winding.  But, that’s OK because the views were spectacular!  We drove on the harbor side coast rode through Portobello a few times, and up and over Highcliff Road which sort over crosses on the central spine of the Otago Peninsula.  At the tip of the Otago Peninsula, Tairoa Head, we visited the Royal Albatross Centre.  But, our favorite places to visit on the Otago Peninsula were Sandfly Bay (twice) and Allan’s Beach.  Why?  First, the kids could run around to their hearts content, dig in the sand and enjoy a bit of the surf (even if the water is a bit chilly).  Second, we were able to see yellow-eyed penguins (hoiho) returning to their nests (keep your distance!), and there were Hooker’s Sea Lions (whakahao) basking on the beach and even a New Zealand Fur Seal (kekeno) enjoying the rocks.  In spite of his ugly teeth and terrible hygiene, the old bull sea lion was the highlight of my weekend…

 

 

As usual, enjoy the galleries!

 

 

46 S EnZed signing off…

 

 

Otago

 

 

 

New Zealand Fur Seal

 

 

 

Hooker’s Sea Lions

 

Posted in Dunedin, New Zealand, Otago Peninsula Tagged , , , , , |

Christchurch Milford Tour Gallery

I’m not going to write a whole lot in this posting, and I’ll leave it to my photographs to tell the story.  Returning to our saga, in the first half of October we went on a campervan trip from Queenstown to Mount Cook/Aoraki, Lake Tekapo,  Christchurch, Arthurs Pass, Hokitika, Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Haast and back to Queenstown, and then on to Milford Sound for a cruise.  Along the way, though, we got sidelined in Milford Sound by a rockslide.  Since we’ve been so busy with travels, I never really got around to posting any of my landscape photographs of this trip, although I did publish a quick gallery of our fun photos at Holiday Photo Gallery.

Here’s the gallery of landscape photographs taken from that trip.  Turn the screen size up to Full Screen, sit back and enjoy!  This will take a few minutes…  🙂

46 S EnZed signing off…

Posted in Arthurs Pass, Campervan, Castle Hill, Milford, Mt. Cook, New Zealand Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Queenstown

We were fortunate to spend some time in the area of Queenstown and north of there a few weeks ago.  As with most of New Zealand, it’s a stunning place – lakes, rivers, mountains, glacial outwash, forests – and rain.  🙂  Queenstown and Wanaka are two of my favorite cities to visit and use as a central base in southern NZ, but it’s even better to leave them behind and head out into the wilds and the parts of NZ that are less visited, like Glenorchy and Kinloch…

46 S EnZed signing off…

 

 

 

Posted in New Zealand, Queenstown Tagged , , , , , , , |

Catlins IV

Here’s another post about The Catlins!  It’s nice to have this pleasant area so relatively close to us, starting less than an hour to the east of Invercargill.  There are hikes in the forests, hikes to waterfalls and a lot of coastline to explore, along with the wonderful small towns and cafes.

 

 

Our goals for this trip were to go to Matai Falls and hopefully to Cathedral Caves.  Well, Cathedral Caves was still closed because of lambing season and the higher winter/spring tides, but we did get to enjoy Matai Falls.  Matai Falls is about a twenty-minute walk from the car park, and it’s worth the bit of effort.  It’s character is that it’s smaller than some of the other waterfalls and more intimate.  It’s sorta tucked into it’s little valley rather tightly and pleasantly.

 

 

After Matai Falls, we drove over to Nugget Point so that Asta could enjoy her first taste of it.  The weather wasn’t as nice as the first time that we were there, but Asta got the idea.  We also managed to see some New Zealand Fur Seals, and that’s always a treat.  And, again, we enjoyed the small communities along the way!!!

 

 

Enjoy,

 

 

46 S. EnZed signing off…

 

 

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