Dave took me to Año Nuevo for my birthday (and to escape the
It's up the coast from Santa Cruz, really not that far from home,
but somehow I'd never been there.
The park is famous for elephant seals, and
during the breeding season it's necessary to make a reservation
and go on a guided tour, so the tourists don't disturb the seals
-- and vice versa (the male seals can get very aggressive and
territorial during mating season). But during the off season,
things are much lower key, the seals are moulting (which means
they spend most of their time lying around on the beach) and you
can get fairly close to them.
Volunteers man the observing stations at the ends of the trail
spurs, and provide information on the elephant seals and other
Most of the seals were so inert that one might wonder if they were
actually alive. One big bull, flopped in a nest of seaweed on a
beach away from the others, looked particularly lifeless, though
occasionally his sides would move as he breathed. Apparently the
birds were fooled: one gull, poking through the nearby seaweed,
hopped up onto the bull's side, perhaps thinking it was a rock,
and the bull exploded into life, snapping at the gull as it
hastily made its escape.
Harbor seals, California sea lions and Stellar's sea
lions live on the island and make a huge and constant racket with
their barking; and a couple of sea otters have been spotted nearby,
but nobody had seen them today, unfortunately.
Birds are plentiful: I bagged (photographically) several new birds,
and also got some decent shots of pelicans and gulls in flight.
But the highlight was neither bird nor marine. Dave spotted it
first, and pointed. It looked like a squirrel -- a rather tall,
skinny squirrel with a white belly -- but we don't have squirrels
colored like red foxes here in California. Then the animal came down
off its haunches and bounded across the trail and into some tall grass,
waving its long, thin, and distinctly non-squirrelish black tipped
tail. A long-tailed weasel! The first I'd ever seen. It was a nice
[ 23:14 Sep 05, 2004
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We've been reading for two days now the story of how LAX (one
of the nation's busiest airports) was closed down for several hours
after a flashlight exploded while it was being examined by a
I'm still waiting for details. Doesn't this story seem a bit odd?
Isn't it fairly unusual for flashlights to explode?
Wouldn't you think some reporter, while writing up this story,
might think that readers might wonder whether their flashlights
were at risk of blowing up, and might want to report on what
specific circumstances caused this incident and how to avoid it?
Chron story has the most detail I've seen so far, which still
The Los Angeles Police Department bomb squad examined the flashlight
and determined the explosion occurred because the batteries inside
That still leaves me wondering: what sort of battery, and how big?
How badly eroded? Is this something we should be checking for in
our flashlights? What was the screener doing with the flashlight
which caused it to explode right then?
A web search on "flashlight batteries explosion" doesn't turn up
much more information. There are lots of pages warning against
trying to recharge regular (non-rechargeable) alkaline batteries
since they explode. We know lithium-ion and lithium-polymer
batteries can explode, but I've never seen a flashlight which
I did find one NIOSH Fact Sheet
called "EXPLODING FLASHLIGHTS:
ARE THEY A SERIOUS THREAT TO WORKER SAFETY?", which mentions
hydrogen gas being produced in zinc/carbon batteries and alkaline
batteries as the zinc electrode corrodes in the aqueous electrolyte,
and that it's more likely to happen if batteries of different types,
brands, or ages are mixed.
Googling for "flashlight batteries exploding" gets a bit more,
mostly recall notices for specific flashlights shipped with
batteries which might explode.
Still seems strange that it doesn't seem to have occurred to any
of the reporters covering the LAX incident to ask about this and
find out what happened in this particular case. I wonder -- is
this another "fox terrier", where someone writes an initial story
and everyone else just paraphrases it without adding anything?
Certainly the new stories coming out don't seem to add anything
to the initial report yesterday morning.
Do reporters not ask questions any more, and journalism schools
merely instruct on different ways of re-wording a press release?
(Stephen Gould wrote about wondering why so many books mentioned
that Eophippus, the "dawn horse", was the size of a fox terrier.
Why that specific breed? Upon investigation, he was able to trace
the origins of the comparison, and show that successive authors
merely repeated the assertion verbatim. Unfortunately, the syndrome
works just as effectively in cases of missing or incorrect
information, as long as authors are willing to repeat stories
without checking them.)
[ 12:53 Sep 05, 2004
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