Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nasty weather challenges but doesn't cancel Fifth Annual Giant Pumpkin Regatta

Giant Pumpkin Regatta
The show must go on, and it did. The Fifth Annual Pumpkin Regatta, cosponsored by the UW-Madison Horticulture Department and the Hoofers Sailing Club, took place this afternoon. The good news is that, unlike previous years, there were no major disasters to either contestants or spectators. The bad news is that, unlike previous years, this year's event took place in some of the nastiest early October weather in years. (Snow flurries welcomed us when we set off for the Farmers' Market earlier.)

Nevertheless, two intrepid competitors set off into stormy seas in their fragile craft, into stiff gale force winds out of the northwest, forced to do their utmost just to keep from getting blown into the treacherous rocks of the UW Memorial Union Terrace. The short video clip below probably gives a better idea of the challenges they faced than any still image.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Green Heron making itself at home along the shores of Lake Wingra

Green Heron Closeup
Green Heron Striking a Picturesque PosePretty crappy weather today. The bad news was we had a gloomy afternoon, with a cold drizzle coating everything in a fine mist. The good news is there was virtually nobody on Lake Wingra, allowing a shy bird like this Green heron to prowl the shoreline and strike picturesque poses on the pilings.

Souvenir of last beautiful day for awhile

Union Terrace
Now that our unseasonably cold, dark, wet weather had settled in again, here's a souvenir of yesterday's glorious afternoon, seen from one of the city's best vantage points, the UW Memorial Union Terrace.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Broken links just one more example of's decline into irrelevance

I have a long history with Madison Newspapers, now Capital Newspapers, the corporate home for The Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times and their increasingly intertwined operations, including the combined website, I was a State Journal carrier as a kid, back when kid on bikes delivered papers instead of adults in cars. Both papers published some of my first freelance photos. I was a Cap Times subscriber right up to the bitter end, when the daily print edition went away. But I've had it.

The internet is sweeping through print journalism like a tidal wave. I've long thought that, as local news coverage migrates to the web, daily newspapers are the least likely to emerge as major players on the local scene. They have their legacy print operations that are bleeding money to worry about. Good, user-friendly design has never been their forte and is important on the web. They just don't think in web terms and face a host of competitors who seem more nimble and comfortable with the conventions of the web -- ranging, here in Madison, from Isthmus and Dane 101 to a host of local bloggers and, increasingly, the rapidly improving news websites of the local TV stations, and who benefit from being able to promote those sites on-air.

The redesigned is the last straw. Just when I start thinking that, as a disappointed former print edition reader, I may be too hard on them and should be more sympathetic, they prove me right all over again.

It's not mainly the redesign itself, although I find it cluttered and confusing, and it doesn't run well on my older computer -- something that for some reason is not a problem on either locally or nationally. It's not even their restricting access to their older archives. Sooner or later, we readers will have to start paying for content in some way, if we want to keep receiving content. (Though I do think they have an obligation to make the archives available -- and affordable -- for libraries.)

No, what really ticks me off is that they broke all the links to their existing content during their website redesign. Every link to a Capital Newspapers story in Letter from Here is dead. This violates one of the most basic tenets of good netiquette -- you don't just break a lot of links for no good reason. Sure, stuff happens and some break over time. But wholesale slaughter like this? Just one more example of how the organization doesn't like or understand the web. To them, I guess it's just a high-tech printing press, to do with as they like.

So that's why I won't be linking to them anymore. I'm just one little blogger, but I suspect I'm not alone. Why link to something that may just disappear with no warning? And that -- broken link by broken link -- is just one more way a website slides into irrelevance. It's a matter of trust.

Not much time (or weather) left to bike out to Pluto before they pack up the planets

Quick -- if the sun were a sphere represented by a circular flower bed 24 feet in diameter just west of Monona Terrace, how far away would Pluto be, and how big would it be? The answer might surprise you, because most representations of the Solar System are so wildly out of scale. If you actually published a diagram to scale in a book, most of the planets would be invisible.

The answer is that Pluto would be in Mt. Horeb, about 23 miles by bike path from Monona Terrace, and Pluto would be the size of a marble. If it weren't marked by this special sign, you could easily lose it in the grass. The sun, the planets and one asteroid standing in for all the others are all marked by informative signs along the UW Space Place's Dane County Planet Trek Scale Model of the Solar System that's laid out along bike paths all the way to Mt. Horeb. Check out the map at the link.

Physically visiting the sites is a great way to stretch your imagination and develop an appreciation for just how incredibly vast -- and mostly empty -- this little corner of the universe we call the Solar System really is. You might not be up for a bike trip all the way to Mt. Horeb, but you can experience a lot of the impact right within the city limits. All the planets out to and including Saturn are within the Beltline.

So, if the weather picks up a little and makes biking less dreary, you might want to try the inner leg of the journey soon. The display was up all summer, but after October 17 the planets will be packed up for the season. Even the shorter route is filled with surprises and insights. If, for example, Pluto seems incredibly tiny and far away, it's also surprising just how close to the sun Mercury really is.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

At the Laurel Tavern watching a former Packer retiree put on a football clinic

At the Laurel Tavern Watching a Former Retiree Put on a Football Clinic
You know how it goes. Everyone dreams of retiring someday, but when someday comes, a lot of people are ambivalent. Some feel they have skills that can still be productively employed, but often their employer wants to move on without them. Sometimes they're encouraged to retire (remember the $5 million the Green Bay Packers offered Brett Favre last year not to play?), sometimes they're shoved out. Or they just get tired and retire on their own. But soon hunting, fishing, golfing or sitting on the tractor -- whatever -- gets tiresome. They decide to go back to work. The Brett Favre saga seemed to involve a little bit of all of the above. Some, like Favre, choose to go back to work if they can. Often it doesn't work out. Sometimes it does.

Tonight the Packers gambled that they'd win if they could shut down the formidable running game of their arch rivals, the Vikings. They accomplished that goal, and in effect, dared Favre to beat them. Did the former retiree still have what it took to win a big game that mattered? Well, let's see -- the Vikings won, 30-23, and Favre had a career night: 24 of 31 for 271 passing yards, 3 TDs, no sacks and no interceptions. And a QB rating of 135.3. In his last game as a thirty-something, Favre added another record to his long string, becoming the only QB ever to beat all 32 NFL teams.

I don't get ESPN because I don't get cable, so I listened to the first half on radio and then watched most of the second half at the Laurel. As a radio listener, I was able to hear sportscaster Wayne Larrivee's immortal words as Favre picked apart the Packers pass defense.
Any true Packers fan is sick to his stomach at what Brett Favre is doing to the Packers.
The Vikings are 4-0 and lead the division, Favre will be 40 in his next game and says he just wants to play in another Super Bowl. I wouldn't necessarily bet against him.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Getting ready for winter at Wingra Boats

Wingra Boats: October 4, 2009
That was then. This is now -- a cold October Sunday afternoon when the temperature never gets above the low fifties and the sun is nowhere to be seen, and the annual hibernation ritual of the boathouse on Madison's Lake Wingra is under way. The piers have to be taken down. Just what wet suits were invented for.