Monday


22
Jan 24

Short, but there’s a video and nine photos

We loaded up the car in Connecticut and drove back on Saturday. Luggage, two cats, two cat carriers, and all of their stuff, which we brought up in plastic bins. Poseidon knew what those were about. When the bins appeared, he knew he was ready to travel.

  

For the entirety of the drive back, they told us about the great time they had at my in-laws. Meow this, meow that.

While we were enjoying our visit in Connecticut, it was snowing here on the inner coastal plain — where the heavy land and the green sands meet. We had six inches or so. When we got off the highway, the surface streets looked like this.

And the neighborhood looked untouched. But it only looked that way, one of our neighbors cleans the road for us. Handy, helpful guy. He makes the roads passable, which is more than the county does.

Had to guess at where the driveway is. And then had to guess where the turn in the driveway is. At least the pear tree helped us find the right hook.

So we shoveled. It was cold. Never got warmer, despite the shoveling. Just stayed cold. We dug out around the new tire tracks, decided the rest will melt by Wednesday, and went inside.

The cats settled themselves in just fine. Phoebe got right back to her observation post.

Poseidon, of course, jumped on everything, immediately.

If the idea of all of that snow is discomforting, let’s go back to Cozumel!

No! Really! Let’s go back. It’s warm there. And you can take your time and enjoy the staghorn coral formations.

Also, they have the The stoplight parrotfish (Sparisoma viride).

And blue sponges!

And juvenile stoplight parrotfish!

And the yellowtail snapper! Which isn’t that rare! You can see it from Massachusetts to Brazil! But see it in Cozumel!

This is brief, because, having spent an afternoon prepping, I have to go to class now. Time to shape minds once more.


15
Jan 24

We’re back, but I’m still diving in my mind

We are back in the United States. Snow is coming down. Saturday I was sweating in pure humidity. Today I am wearing layers and not going near doors or windows. Going to Mexico in January was a smart move. Coming back to winter wasn’t as smart.

Put another way, when I walked onto the tarmac yesterday afternoon at the aeropuerto in Cozumel it was 84 degrees and brilliantly sunny. When I walked out of the airport at the end of our travels, it was 26 degrees, with a wind chill at 15. A 70 degree swing is inconsiderate.

But the trip back was easy. We’ve been to Cozumel once before, around spring break last year, and the airport there was a disaster. Even the locals were stunned. On this trip, we asked several of the frequent visitors about their experiences and they’d never had a problem. They assured us that two hours at the airport is plenty, when three hours wasn’t close to enough last year. Spring breakers breaking things, then. That had to be it.

Sure enough, two hours was about right. Returning the rental car, easy. Checking in, no big deal. Security, moving briskly. (Though the Yankee lost two plastic-tipped crocheting needles to the security theater gods. Just two. They overlooked, entirely, a whole sleeve of other equally dangerous plastic pointed weapons of the fabric arts.) We made it through and only had to wait about 10 minutes before the plane started loading.

Outside, then, one last time in the Mexican January. On the plane, and into the air. We landed in Atlanta, got through Customs — Atlanta does this better than anyone else on this side of the country, in my experience — found a little spot for a bite to eat, and a TV with the playoffs. It was in Atlanta where we said goodbye to my mother. Her plane was this way, our plane was that way. It was in Atlanta where she booked a hotel. Better to extend your vacation in a Holiday Inn Express for a day or two than spend the last few hours driving through ice. The weather, yesterday, was worse in Alabama than it was in the northeast. We got snow today, but they had snow and a dangerous few layers of ice beside.

We got about four inches.

They had about seven inches. Plus the ice. Also, most of the roads around here will be treated and passable tomorrow. down there? Who knows.

But enough about the cold stuff. Let’s look at a few more shots underwater.

It’s even warmer in video! Please press the play button and float along some of the beautiful formations around the Palancar reef.

Fish and coral and sponges of Palancar reef, Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico.

She doesn’t breathe. She really doesn’t.

While we devotin’ full time to floatin’ under the sea!

Here’s another perfect brown bowl sponge (Cribrochalina vasculum) specimen.

Under the sea we off the hook
We got no troubles
Life is the bubbles
Under the sea

My mom, getting her dives in …

This is the blue chromis (Chromis cyanea) — a damselfish. It is a shallow water fish, living on reefs, or swimming just above them for plankton. They are often collected for aquariums. You can see why.

Their biggest threat is the expansion of the lionfish, which is an invasive species throughout the Caribbean and Atlantic east coast. Another concern is the loss of live corals, but there’s not a lot of data there yet, apparently.

Here’s another example of some beautiful purple rope sponges.

And so we’re back, but I have enough photos and videos to pad out the site for days and days.


8
Jan 24

*Making the international signal for ‘Go down’*

I don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but it is in the 80s here. Here being the key term. We are in Mexico this week, diving the Palancar Reef off the island of Cozumel. We flew down yesterday. One stop in Atlanta, an easy trip right to the island. Rented a car, picked up a few things at the big grocery store and then drove to the place where we are staying.

We slept in this morning, which was great since, despite it being an easy flight, yesterday was a long day. But, this afternoon, we got on a boat.

We slipped below the waves and went down to the sandy bottom. Look who I found!

So the three of us are underwater this week, my wife, my mother and me. Well, some other people, too, but they don’t really figure much into the tale. Here’s my other dive buddy, now.

That’s a pĂ­ntano, or a sergeant major fish, in the photo with her, but we’ll get to that. But, first, enjoy this yellowtail snapper (Ocyurus chrysurus). It’s a member of an abundant species usually found around reefs. The biggest one ever caught was 11 pounds, it is a commercially important species, both farmed and is fished. In places like Cuba and Brazil it is overfished. The species is at some srisk of overfishing in Mexico, as well.

The yellowtail snapper was first formally described in 1791 by the German naturalist Marcus Elieser Bloch. He said it was local to the “Brazilian seas.” Bloch was an important ichthyologist of the 18th century. A medical doctor by training, Bloch got interested in fish in his 60s when he found fish Carl Linnaeus didn’t identify. He started a collection of specimens from around the world, wrote a 12-volume collection on the subject and is, today, credited with the description of at least 267 new species and 19 genera.

The queen angelfish (Holacanthus ciliaris), notable for the crown it wears. They live in harems. It is a popular fish in the aquarium trade, and you can see why.

The queen angelfish eat sponges, jellyfish, corals, plankton, and algae. Juveniles act as cleaner fish, removing parasites from bigger fish. Carl Linneaus first described the queen angelfish in 1758, in the 10th edition of his Systema Naturae.

Settle in! We have a lot more fish to go. I’ll be dragging out these photos and videos for weeks.

It’ll be a good way to wade through winter, which is a strange thing to contemplate when you’re deep in Mexico.

Hard life, I have to say.


1
Jan 24

2023 2024

Happy New Year! Are you over it yet?

Bah humbug to that, I say. This is going to be a great year! For a time. We’re in control of our perceptions about things from there. So, I say to you, have a great 2023 2024. Happy new year. Peace on earth, good will toward man. Additionally, here’s to food in your belly, spare items when and where you need them, and minimal downtime of your internet connectivity.

Let’s look at some photos I took last week, which will be the official wrap up of last year, here, on the official keeper of such things.

(kennysmith.org, the official keeper of such things — since 2004.)

I’ve come to think of this as the daily commute of the Canada geese. I don’t know why they’re still around here. Shouldn’t they be flying south? Instead, it’s just to the southwest in the morning, and the northeast each evening. Maybe they’re doing test flights or getting in the base miles.

So there I was in a Mexican restaurant, washing my hands, and I saw this by the door. At first, I was amused by the name of the product. And then, I chuckled at the location of the can. That gave way to appreciating the accidental photo composition, which was quickly replaced by wondering why I was doing all of that before dinner.

I went to the bank, a branch, or possibly just a company itself, that never gets visited. The one teller was surprised to see a person walk through the front door. It was all solid and old and quiet and vacant. But I liked this chair.

Same seat, from the other side, just so we can admire the craftmanship of the upholstery.

The branch manager was a young woman, swift and certain and equally surprised by seeing a human being in her workplace. It struck me as a nice place to spend a part of a career.

I wonder if the chair was comfortable.

In my life, I have traveled some, I have not seen every place and every thing. So this is probably in error, but: I’ve never seen these colors of winter anywhere but in the ancestral haunts. They’re limping through a severe drought just now, and so the clover is a mystery, but the grass is always like this in the winter, and the leaves are always like that this time of year, curled, desiccated and showing no hint of their previous beauty. Here, though, it always just feels like a pause between seasons rather than an end of one. I don’t know why that is.

I saw this house one night. I don’t know the story of that pig, but you get the sense it must be important to someone inside. There’s just the one, and they carefully spotlit the thing.

I believe this one was taken the same night. We were standing in the driveway talking to the neighbors when I looked up.

I haven’t done a lot of running this year because, well, I’d rather ride my bike. Or swim laps. Or do most any other thing I can think of. And so the running has been minimal. I did a two-mile run in the neighborhood, and late in the week we did the dam run. My lovely bride likes the dam run, an out-and-back that we do on most every trip back to the valley. You park in a park’s parking lot, run a mile over a long bridge, then up a hill for three-tenths of a mile, and then work your way along some beautifully maintained TVA trails, until you get to the Wilson Dam. We run halfway across the dam, and then turn back. Here you’re looking back at the bridge, the Singing River Bridge, from the dam.

That route gives you a 10K. I haven’t run a 10K since last December, in Savannah, because see above. With that in mind, given the cool air, the late hour, and the unambitious mist that couldn’t turn itself into a real rain, I told my lovely bride that I would run with her until I couldn’t. And then I would trail along, and double back when she met me again. So there we were, still together at the dam.

And there she went, back across the dam and back toward the car. So I just … kept on running. Caught her, passed her and then we wound up finishing the run together, victorious yawp and all.

That night, I believe it was, my mother suggested Chinese takeout food. We went to pick it up and, there on the counter next to the register, were these two boxes. For some reason, the idea of buying fortune cookies by the batch amused me.

When we got back, I passed out the food and my lovely bride quickly pronounced the little soup chips to be the good ones. I’m not sure how she knew that while they were all still in the baggie, but she was correct. And they were better, and less expensive, than the cookies.

We saw this in the airport on Saturday night in Nashville. Sunday morning, after weather elsewhere delayed our plane, we got back home long after 2 a.m. But we got back. The night before last, then, I made it to bed at about 3:30 a.m. After a week of almost getting on a regular sleep schedule, establishing a routine that would approach a normal person’s sleep schedule, I am immediately back to this.

But the art dangling from the ceiling was cool. We looked at that wondering what it was made of, and how many different sorts of places you could install that. (Not many.)

Last night, we did a thing we weren’t able to do before Christmas. We went to one of the charming nearby small towns and walked among the lights and looked at the store fronts along a half-mile stretch on Main Street. We drive through it from time to time and, daylight or at night, it is perfectly charming. But, finally, we walked and lingered and enjoyed. Lots of antiques, two book stores, three chiropractors, boutique clothing, rental spaces, restaurants and so on. Perfectly charming. It only took us six months to explore it a bit.

This was on one end of our little walk.

I know this fire company traces its roots back to 1704. (The oldest formal unit in the country is found in Boston. It is only 25 years older.) Given the age, and the prominent placement, there’s a great story behind that bell you can see upstairs. I’ll have to ask around about that.

Tomorrow, I’ll show you what was on the other end of our walk. And, probably, talk about riding bikes and whatever else comes up.

Happy 2024!


18
Dec 23

I have five spreadsheets running for some reason

We attended a birthday party for a 3-year-old on Saturday. The theme was pink and purple. And also mermaids and unicorns. I don’t have any mermaids or unicorns, so I wore a pink shirt and a purple tie, and a purple pocket square. The 3-year-old was still better dressed.

The parents got some balloons with giant bits of confetti in them. Sadly I was in another part of the party when this happened, but it was decided to pop the balloons and record the pop in slow motion. Confetti was everywhere. They’ll be discovering it for weeks. The cake was a unicorn. Our present was a dress that was reminiscent of a mermaid, but also included about four layers of multicolored tulle.

The birthday girl is the cutest thing. Every present is just the greatest present that was ever presented. I could have gone outside and found her some pine cones and put those in a gift bag and she would be thrilled. But when she gets mermaid stuff, it’s a different level of joy, entirely. It was all very cute.

Elsewhere, just grading and emails and watching final exams come in. And, also, verifying that my spreadsheets and my formulas are all accurate. The sun, you could say, is setting on the term.

I have the last class meeting of my semester tonight: more video projects to screen. After that, there’s only a small handful of things to score. I’ll submit grades later this week and, finally, all of those long-suffering students will be done with me.

I hope they have all learned as much as I did. I always hope that.

It’s time for the site’s most popular weekly feature. Let’s check in with the kitties.

Phoebe has been enjoying this little box on one of the cat trees. The other archway gives her great views of the flowerbed. They like that for all of the birds, but there aren’t a lot of birds around right now. I’m not sure if she believed me when I told her they would be back.

What does a cat know of patience, anyway? Just put your head between your paws, the birds will reappear.

Poseidon likes boxes. This time of year, Poseidon loves the space heater. So I put a box near a space heater, thinking he would love this arrangement. Now he’s taking naps beside the box.

Last weekend I got a strangely shaped box. Poe likes that one, too.

Such a goof.

My closet has some wire rack thing and it was not conducive to my closet system. But I found a solution that did not involve redesigning the whole space. It just required a quick order from Amazon. I thought it would take the better part of a day to implement the new closet setup. It took about 20 minutes. And now we have to watch out for a cat in this long, slender, box.

I officially gave up on outdoor bike rides for the year. The remaining forecast does not look promising and more days in the 30s didn’t seem exciting and I rode outside until mid-December anyway. Time, then, to set up the smart trainer and update Zwift.

It’s flat here, so of course I chose a route that features 2,700 feet of climbing.

The first trainer ride of the year always feels like a first. It’s easier, but more demanding, than riding on the open road. Putting some simulated 10-14 percent gradients in your legs right away is the smart move. Right?

Let’s see if I can move around in a classroom after 90 minutes of that.