Jul 302007

It has been pretty good snorkeling in La Jolla this summer. A few weeks back I snorkeled goldfish point, and got to see a young sea lion up close in the water. It zoomed around me a few times, checked out my fins, and then avoided the kayaks to find a rock in the sun. Last week I did the shores after work to swim with the leopard sharks. They seemed to be much shallower than usual – 3 feet of water vs. their usual 5-6 feet of water. Could have just been the surf I guess.

Saturday we snorkeled the cove. It was packed with people, but thankfully fish as well. There were lots of critters out. I headed out to the kelp beds and swam among them for a while. Not a whole lot of fish, but when the bottom of the stalks are 25 feet down, you don’t have a lot of air time to slowly explore. Quite a few lobsters out roaming around though and the kelp itself is fun to swim through and around. It feels like a different world when the sun comes out and the visibility is good. Sharp rays burst in star pattern through the water, turning the kelp leaves transparent.

Jul 232007

For all you folks out there still bound to Windows XP for work and games, there is a number of ways to make look less ugly. You can install some 3rd party themes, or an explorer replacement, but they require messing with DLLs and I’m lazy. I hated the silver theme, so I turned it off and went back to Windows 2000 looking dullness.

Well I finally got around to installing the Royal Noire (aka Zune) theme released last fall for Windows XP. After tweaking the Royal theme for the media center, MS finally released a decent looking theme. It is easy on the eyes, and very usable.

You can download it from MS here

Or preview it here:
Zune Theme

Jul 102007

A few Sundays back I became PADI certified for open water. This means I can dive on my own without a dive master there. It is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but just never got around to doing it. I’ve snorkeled all over, but diving definitely is a different experience. I’m happy I did it.

I took a two weekend course through Auqatech; 4 days, 8-5 each day, plus a few hours of outside study. The first weekend was class and pool time, getting ready for the ocean. Two weekends ago we finally got into the ocean. Two dives at La Jolla shores, and two at the Coronado Islands (Mexico). Both locations were great. The shores had 20 foot visibility (despite a lot of surf and surge), and a lot of life around the shallow thermocline. We saw a huge sheep crab, a few giant sea bass, and a lot of guitarfish and other bottom dwellers. The giant sea bass were very impressive. The first two we saw were quite large, but didn’t stick around. The next one was a bit younger, but still a decent size (about 3.5 feet long, 2.5 feet high, and a bit over a foot thick). He swam up within two feet of my mask three times, just checking us out while we did our alternate air source practice. It was incredible to watch his saucer sized eyes swiveling around to look us over.

The next day we spent two hours by boat to travel to the lobster shack area of the north Coronado island. There were a lot of starfish and urchins along the bottom, with a few sea cucumbers and other goodies. We first checked out an eight year old wreck not far from shore. Apparently someone set out from mission bay, set autopilot, went to bed, and ran into the island. The ship is now in sixty feet of water and mostly covered with marine life – there was even a spanish shawl walking on it. There were a lot of different smaller fish, but nothing much larger than the garibaldi. Our next dive we went along the coast where the harbor seals and noisy sea lions have a little bit of a base. The seals and pups were curious, popping their heads in and out of the water to check us out. Some were curious enough to pop their heads around rocks about eight feet away, but most were happy to keep their distance from us. The sea lions on the other hand weren’t too shy. The huge patriarch was doing his rounds and swam within a few feet of us on his patrols around his harem. I swam back later came back after the dive was done to grab a mylar balloon and do some snorkeling. He swam right up to check me out with his slightly foggy eyes.

I loved our ocean dives, and it would be easy to see how you could get hooked. But it is an expensive (and bulky) hobby, so I don’t think I’ll devote myself full time. But I’m definitely going to have to grab some rental gear for La Jolla cove a few times a year. The Channel Islands would make a great trip as well, I’d love to hit the kelp forests.

Jul 092007

Reading the bottle of Dr Bronner’s Soap I’ve always got a wiff of crazy mixed with peppermint. But the soap was damned good, so I didn’t really pay much attention. Someone else figured there was a story there. Grist has a post on a documentary called Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox that tells us all about the good Dr and his life. Sounds interesting. Quoth the post:

It turns out that Dr. Bronner — his actual name was Emanuel, but he adopted the “Dr.” randomly at some point — was a German-born, eighth-generation soapmaker. His parents were killed in a concentration camp during World War II, but Bronner immigrated to the United States in 1929. In the U.S., Bronner began a crusade to “unite mankind and spaceship earth,” traveling around and talking to anyone who would listen about his ever-evolving 30,000-word manifesto that he called “The Moral ABC.” The ABC is an odd hodge-podge of rhetoric from various world religions, boiled down to the main message that we’re all one people united in one god faith, with the “All-One!” mantra repeated, uh, repeatedly. Bronner was so obsessed that he abandoned his three kids with whatever random family was willing to take them so he could focus on his mission to unite mankind….

… The film also gets into some of the great work the company does today, in addition to creating organic, planet-friendly soaps. They also pioneered the 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic bottle, and they donate nearly 70 percent of their net profits to social causes around the world. They family has even capped their own salaries, making sure that they make no more than five times as much as their lowest-paid employees. Even though Bronner’s descendents seem to realize their granddad was a little off, his philosophies about fairness, equity, and doing right by the world have carried on. Which to too many people probably still qualifies them as crazy, sadly.

Jul 052007

A tad on the dramatic side, but still a good read: UT story on Scott Cassell and the Humboldt squid.

“After hearing the red demon legend, Cassell researched Humboldt squid for two years before he began diving with them. Humboldts, named for a current in the eastern Pacific, have a sharp beak, eight muscular arms and two retractable feeding tentacles that they use to attack their prey with more than 40,000 needle-sharp teeth at once….

“..Cassell made his first dive with a group of Humboldts that were feeding off Baja California. The squid, which often grow to be 6 feet or longer, immediately attacked, Cassell said, pulling his right shoulder out of its socket, yanking him down so fast his right eardrum ruptured and cutting him so badly his wet suit was destroyed…”

“…they have three hearts, blue blood that is copper-based, the ability to swim at about 24 mph and excellent problem-solving skills. They live in water as deep as 3,000 feet, are as smart as dogs and are able to communicate with one another by changing their skin color from white to various shades of red”

Update: Outside magazine did a great article back in 2006 on the Humboldt squid and Cassell: Behold the Humboldt