Winter day in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park

So I took a little hike on the Towpath Trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, thinking I’d have the place pretty much to myself. I was mistaken. The place wasn’t especially crowded, but there were cars in the parking lots, a few hikers and a few more cross-country skiers. Plenty of birds too. More on that later.

But first, pretty pictures!

I saw a fork in the stream.

The colors in winter are often so muted, it's hard to tell if the image is color or black and white. Bluish clouds kinda give this one away.

Plain lady cardinal. Seems kind of cruel that in the world of birds, the guys get all the looks.

These nuthatches are surprisingly aggressive!

About the chickadees and nuthatches. I noticed as I was walking from the Bolanz Road trailhead toward the beaver pond that the birds seemed to be following me. Which I thought was a tad odd — usually they scatter, especially goldfinches. But he chickadees were definitely following me. “Maybe they’re curious,” I thought. While returning from the pond, I noticed the birds were following me again. Then one swooped right out in front of my face. Then it did it again. Kind of freaked me out. They can’t be protecting a nest in winter, can they? I mentioned the chickadees to a woman on the trail and she says, “Oh, they think you’re feeding them. They’ll eat right out of your hand.” Memo to self: Next time bring bird seed. I initially identified the bird above as a chickadee, which if my too-big-to-be-field-portable field guide is correct, is actually a nuthatch. They’re similar in size and coloring and they often can be seen in the same places. I believe there were chickadees around as well.

The snow and ice make the beaver dam more obvious.

The transition from land to pond is in various degrees of freeze and thaw.

OK, I tweaked the contrast on this a bit (OK, a lot) to make the image more obvious.

Some critters were light enough on its feet to cross on this thin ice.

Indigo Lake

The train was running today. I didn't see it, but I heard it.

Watch out where the huskies go ...

Winter sky

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SOPA is DOA, RIP

Buh-bye, SOPA, we hardly scorned ye.

So just for the fun of it, let’s do a poll!  *

* Not a scientific poll. Results likely to be unreliable and far removed from reality.

 

 

What I said two weeks ago about SOPA: Swatting skeeters with a bazooka:

A fracking dilemma

Faithful readers of AkronDave, all three of you, probably know that I have written from time to time about hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a drilling technique to release natural gas trapped in underground rock formations, particularly certain shale beds.

Generally, my posts have been framed in the context that fracking might not be a good thing, that there have been lots of anecdotal bits of evidence, if not much (if any) empirical evidence, to support claims that hydraulic fracturing poses a big threat to the environment. Complaints of fracking wells contaminating well water on neighboring properties have been around for years. Worries that sewage treatment plants can’t adequately treat fracking wastewater before it is released into streams where it can contaminate drinking water downstream have been around for a while.

And most recently, a series of low-grade earthquakes over the past year in the Youngstown (Ohio) area have been pretty convincingly traced to a wastewater injection well, culminating in a rather large (for here) 4.0 quake in December that prompted (oil-friendly Republican!!) Gov. John Kasich to shut down the well until further study.

So, just to sum up: Fracking wells themselves are seen by critics as threats to environment. The effluent from these wells are seen as a threat. And the injection wells, that is wells in which fracking wastewater is injected deep underground as a means of “safe” disposal, are now seen as potential threats.

Defenders of the injection wells say (correctly, apparently) that this is the first injection well among hundreds to have any such trouble.  Apparently there is some sort of undetected underground fault that may have been “lubed” by the injected brine. OK, fair enough. Let’s beef up geological surveys for these wells, take a little more cautious approach, and make sure this stuff stays in the well and doesn’t seep (or God forbid gush) out.

Defenders of the fracking wells have said (much less convincingly, in my well-reasoned and carefully thought out opinion) that the fracking techniques pose no threat to neighboring wells, that the chemicals (most of which they decline to specify, although that’s about to change) in the saline solutions they inject into the ground won’t harm farm animals, Bambi or your grandchildren.

Sorry, not buying it.

But … 

The Vallourec seamless pipe mill is going up in Youngstown.

The fracking boom is creating jobs.

There are so many fracking wells going into the ground in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and West Virginia that demand for steel pipes for these wells has spawned plans to build a new steel plant in the Youngstown area. Real jobs. With good pay. Not some crap jobs schlepping pizzas or slinging burgers for minimum wage. You can’t live on that, and in your desperation to take those jobs you’re (by “you’re” I mean “I was”) stealing those crap jobs from teenagers, who end up without even a crap job.

How many jobs? Industry estimates claim 200,000 jobs will be generated by hydraulic fracturing wells. The Youngstown plant will employ about 35o workers. For an old Rust Belt city that has nearly disappeared altogether, that is some badly needed good news.

And 21,000 tons of steel is going in to build the pipe plant itself. So there’s that. More jobs.

So I’m pretty conflicted about this.

We sure could use the jobs. We could use the oil and natural gas, to reduce our dependence on imported oil even a little bit.

But …

There’s that contemptible But again – we can’t continue to frack if it’s going to poison the water hole or trigger more earthquakes, release a plague of locusts, etc.

And so I’m going to say it, even though it’s sure to send oil-industry types eye-rolling themselves dizzy:  We need better regulation of the whole hydraulic fracturing industry. And we need to restore home rule in places like Ohio, which took that away while the general public slept a few years back.

Let’s embrace what science — real science, not industry whitewash — finds and embrace it, one way or the other.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) – swatting skeeters with a bazooka

So there’s a bill floating around in Congress. It’s called the Stop Online Piracy Act. The idea is to protect the intellectual property rights of artists, studios and large media companies.

But beneath the covers lie some pretty interesting unintended consequences – or maybe they’re not unintended. Maybe there’s a killjoy who really wants to destroy YouTube and any other Internet-based social medium that thrives on sharing of photos, videos, audio clips and so forth.

Wikipedia describes some of the provisions (Because I’m too lazy to drill down deeper, let’s be honest): “The bill would make hosting unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for 10 pieces of music or movies within six months.

“Proponents of the bill say it protects the intellectual property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, and is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws especially against foreign websites. Opponents say that it infringes on First Amendment rights, is Internet censorship, will cripple the Internet, and will threaten whistle-blowing and other free speech.”

Once some observers realized what might happen, they started making noise. GoDaddy publicly supported the bill, which triggered a wicked backlash of customers dumping GoDaddy as their web host. GoDaddy quickly backpedaled, but enough former customers are angry enough that the PR damage has been done. And they’re trotting out Danica Patrick to save the day.

And the big social media companies are contemplating thoughts of uncorking a “nuclear option” – going dark simultaneously to demonstrate their displeasure with the bill. Of course, they risk annoying users left in the cyber-darkness unless they rally the troops to join in solidarity.

But now that a lot of voices are rising in opposition, the chances that this bill will pass look pretty slime.

When people pay attention to the crap that’s being done in palaces in the Middle East or corner offices on Wall Street or the hallowed halls of Capitol Hill, when we actually pay attention and decide we’ve seen enough of this crap and make some noise, real change can happen. Not always, and not always right away, but enough to give the knuckleheads in charge pause.

Maybe this time the voting public will remember come November.

Nah, who am I kidding?