Category Archives: cool stuff

Clovis cache

I found out yesterday that a guy in Boulder, doing some landscaping last year, shoveling, literally, uncovered a Clovis cache 18″ under his front yard. The cache contained over 80 items, ranging from small tools to the characteristic large platters of stone found in other Clovis caches:

clovis1

Can you imagine? Finding something like this in your yard? Thirteen thousand years old. And rare — Clovis caches are so rare. A quick Google search comes up with only seven other known Clovis caches. The only reason I know anything about this is because the Fort Collins Museum is one of the lucky holders of a Clovis cache — the Watts cache, donated in 1941 by Ira Watts, who found the pieces when plowing his farm field in nearby Timnath. The six pieces of the Watts cache sat unremarked upon for decades until a specialist in prehistoric lithics saw them and realized what they were.

But — what were they? Tools? Weapons? Raw materials? Offerings? Legacies for the future? Maybe all of those — and other things we can’t guess at, being so far removed in time. Some of the pieces in the Mahaffy cache from Boulder are fashioned from beautifully patterned and striped stone, which tempts you to think they weren’t just utilitarian. And imagine the landscape! Camels, horses, the American lion, the giant short-faced bear. Perhaps all now sleeping beneath our feet, our homes, our front yards.

I won’t reiterate the details of the story, the analysis that’s been done on the pieces and so forth; it is fascinating, so do read it if you care to. The part I really liked was the plan to re-bury some of the pieces, to put them back where they’d been left, 13,000 years ago. Someone was expecting to return.

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Final word on Spring

This morning, out at the Coyote Ridge Natural Area, I heard my first meadowlark of the season!

WWVB in Fort Collins

I had one of those fantastic experiences today, serendipitous, where I closed a 35 year-old circle, quite unexpectedly.

I travelled north of Fort Collins this morning with my colleagues from the Fort Collins Museum and Discovery Science Center to visit radio station WWVB, which broadcasts the atomic time all over the country and the world (their shortwave signal, broadcast as WWV, has been picked up as far away as South Africa and the South Pole). Do you have a “radio controlled” watch or clock? It gets its signal from WWVB in Fort Collins.

We were visiting as part of our larger project of talking with the science and cultural groups in the area, which is in turn part of our exhibit master planning process for the new museum. Basically, we’re going on cool field trips to find out what’s going on in our community. Besides visiting WWVB, we’ve talked to New Belgium brewery, and are scheduled to meet with the Seed Repository at CSU, the folks at WaterPik, CSU’s Atmospheric Science research center, and the Vestas wind turbine people.

We spent several fascinating hours at the facility, which is part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is ultimately part of the US Department of Commerce. The “official” atomic clock is at NIST in Boulder; but we learned today that the signal broadcast from the antennae in Fort Collins (there are two) comes from a duplicate “clock” on site here, which is synchronized several times a day to the one in Boulder. So, although the “official” time is kept in Boulder, the signal you get is generated by the clock in Fort Collins.

We learned just a bazillion fascinating things today, and probably that many more went over our heads. The guys out there were fantastic and showed us all around: time stamp generators, transmitters, the cesium clock itself, the antennae, and the immense gridwork of towers and cables that support the antennae. We honest to god saw the, I’m not kidding, switch that they throw — manually — to send the “bit” that goes out in the signal when it’s Daylight Savings Time. Some of — much of — the technology looks like mid-1960’s Star Trek. There are Dymo tape labels on the electronics cabinets and dot matrix printers. But this stuff was built to last — and when it gets replaced, often the “new” technology doesn’t last as long (as they found out a few years ago when a new support cable for one of the towers fatigued unexpectedly and snapped). We also learned about leap seconds; they keep track of the discrepancy between the atomic clock and the actual rotational speed of the Earth (which is tending to slow down), and when that discrepancy reaches a nice round number, in this case, a second, the “Leap Second” switch gets thrown and we get an extra second. We just had one not too long ago. Currently, the discrepancy is at .409 milliseconds, so it will be awhile before we need another leap second adjustment.

I could go on and on, even worse than I’m doing now. (It was just so dang cool!). But back to my “circle.” We also visited the shortwave signal generator, known as WWV. Besides the time signal, the shortwave also broadcasts an audio component — listen to a recording (not live) here. I’m such a geek, but it was so freakin’ cool to listen to the signal, right there in the room where it was being generated! And watching my atomic wristwatch tick along in perfect synch — it was like my watch had returned to the Mothership! But the best part was suddenly remembering, when I heard that sound, how I would take Dad’s shortwave radio out to my observatory, when I was a teenager, and listen to the signal while I made my astronomical observations. I reasoned, if I saw anything noteworthy, I would need an exact time stamp for my report! I haven’t listened to that signal for 35 years.

My friend Sarah

I know you’ll be jealous when you see what I got in the mail today:

sarah001

Yes, addressed to me, personally. Because me and Sarah are tight. A little bit like her hair. And total credit goes to Carol for suggesting that, along with the FREE Alaska travel guide, as a special bonus gift they could include a guide to Russia as well since you can see it from there …

Reporting from Wind River

I can never quite decide if it’s weird or kinda exciting to settle in to some funky motel room in some funky place like Riverton, Wyoming. Not the strangest place I’ve been, but it definitely has that … certain something.

We drove through at least six distinct weather patterns on our way up here today from Fort Collins, including a really sucky snowstorm west of Laramie on I-80 around Elk Mountain. It’s windy and 40 degrees right now, at a bit after 6 pm, but we had both clouds and sun earlier this afternoon as we crossed the Great Divide Basin and made our way through the wild and wonderful high, dry geology of central Wyoming. Once on the rez I scored some freakin’ primo footage of prairie, grazing horses, and several hovering, soaring, and diving hawks. Yeah. I can relax a little now.

I snapped a bunch of pics (mostly through the car window) on the drive:

Black clouds over Rawlins

Black clouds over Rawlins

Cloud, mountain, highway

Cloud, mountain, highway

Sweetwater Junction historic markers

Sweetwater Junction historic markers

Wind-whipped

Wind-whipped

The Sweetwater Valley

The Sweetwater Valley

The long road

The long road

Red rocks outside Lander

Red rocks outside Lander

Clouds and landscape

Clouds and landscape

Veteran's Day in Lander, Wyoming

Veteran's Day in Lander, Wyoming

Shoshoni cemetery at Ft. Washakie

"The Only Man": Fort Washakie

Looking Presidential

A big shout-out to my dear friend Jon Slater, who I found in the Coloradoan today looking every inch the dedicated public servant that he is. Jon was elected to the Windsor Town Board earlier this year and this picture accompanied an article about some (rather mind-numbing) planning for upgrading the I-25 interchange at Windsor. Better you than me, Jon!

jon

That's Jon, second from left.

Love ya, man!

“Illegal in 50 states”

Just a short run-down of one of the most absolutely glorious, wall-to-wall fun days of my life — Homecoming 2008 at my alma mater, the University of Missouri.

Mizzou 58, Colorado 0

And how delightful that the win — the thrashing — the crushing — the utter and complete humiliation — came against the University of Colorado. We’ve beaten them by a combined score of 113-10 over the last two years. It just makes me happy all over.

“The Tigers abused the Buffaloes last night in ways that are illegal in 50 states and the District of Columbia,” according to Columbia Daily Tribune columnist Joe Walljasper. I marched in the Marching Mizzou Alumni Band, Carol was there to see it all and to experience what a real college football game is like — all on a warm, crystalline fall day with not a cloud in the sky. It was everything I could have ever hoped for.

Carol and me at Mizzou Homecoming 2008!

Carol and me at Mizzou Homecoming 2008!

[where:600 E Stadium Blvd, Columbia, MO 65201]