Monday, January 8, 2018

Is your house radioactive?

Posted by Kirk
The definition of nature is elusive. We often think of nature as those naturally occurring things outside like trees and lakes and birds but there is so much more. There are rocks, enzymes, stars and gravity. All of these things are more are part of nature.

 The natural world encompasses more than we can see with our eyes or touch with our hands. The parts of nature that we can't see are particularly fascinating.

This winter I've launched a new web series on my Secret Nature YouTube channel to explore one of these hidden secrets of nature. That secret is radioactivity.

Growing up during the cold war, radioactivity was closely associated with nuclear war and I learned to fear the sound of a Geiger counter. Those clicks always meant contamination in movies. They always meant something had gone wrong. There's nothing inherently wrong about the process of radioactive decay though. It is completely natural, the result of the underlying physics of particles. Sure, too much is bad for you but humans are bathed in radiation daily from both terrestrial and cosmic sources and our bodies have evolved to tolerate the daily small doses. If they hadn't life would have perished millions of years ago on our radioactive planet.

My online web series is called "Your Radioactive House" because I explore the everyday common objects around your house that are radioactive. You might be surprised what things you can find when you start to look.

Armed with a Geiger counter I go exploring and reveal what I find. Come along on the journey. You might just learn some physics and history along the way!


Click the video to watch the teaser trailer for Your Radioactive House


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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Nature Videos from Twin Cities Naturalist

Posted by Kirk
Hello Twin Cities Naturalist readers,

I haven't written here in a while as I've been focusing my efforts on my new project, Secret Nature.

Secret Nature is a video based format that allows me to show as well as tell. I haven't been good about sharing those videos here with you so I'll be presenting some of those videos here over the next week. I hope you enjoy them!

Up first is a playlist of the Secret Nature Vlog. These short impromptu videos are a glimpse into the daily life of a professional naturalist.
Click image above to watch the Secret Nature Vlog Playlist

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Facebook doesn't want you to see my videos...

Posted by Kirk
It has been a while since I have posted to the website. I've been focusing more on Social Media as of late. It seems easier to reach people where they already are and while there are lots of things I really dislike about Facebook there certainly are a lot of people that follow Twin Cities Naturalist there rather than coming here to the website. Of course, there are those who get these posts via email as well.

I've been experimenting with YouTube more lately as I think it is a fantastic platform. I have always loved video as a medium and I re-branded my channel as "Secret Nature" as I have a lot of videos sharing the secrets of nature coming up. The challenge there is that I tend to have big ideas and a simple seed of an idea for a video soon balloons and spirals out of control as I think up all of the amazing information I want to share and the creative ways I want to share it.

I have a dozen videos mostly scripted out but they keep growing and I keep wanting to refine them, find better locations, wait for the right weather or season, etc. I fear I am letting perfect be the enemy of good. For that reason, I have started to put out short Naturalist Vlogs. If you are not familiar with vlogs, the are video-logs or the video version of a blog (which is short for web-log.)

These are not polished. They are simply a glimpse into my current thinking and observations as a naturalist.

If you follow the Twin Cities Naturalist page on Facebook you MIGHT have seen one of these videos. I stress MIGHT because Facebook really hates YouTube. The two platforms have completely different ideas concerning video and content creators.

YouTube views me as a content creator, in other words, I produce their product. You can think of me as an employee in one sense. If I choose to put advertising alongside or before my videos they will even give me a cut of the profits. This is a great model that encourages content creators to create more content. The better the content, the more view and the more views the greater potential profit sharing. This encourages people to create high quality content.

If you have a google account then you also have a YouTube account. If you have not already logged into YouTube while visiting you are missing out on a great experience. YouTube learns what kinds of things you like to watch and serves up fantastic recommended videos. You can learn about creators doing work of interest to you. If you don't log in, it just suggests trending videos of celebrities or cats whatever other random topic. You can subscribe to a channel, like Secret Nature, and it then automatically alerts you when a new video comes out so you don't miss it.

This contrasts vastly with Facebook. If you manage a page on Facebook they don't consider you an asset, partner or creator, they consider you a customer. They routinely ask me to pay money so they will show my content to people that have already asked to see it. If I post a video they will show it to, say, 20% of the people that have subscribed to my page. If I want more people to see it I have to PAY Facebook to show it to you. I don't get any benefit for you seeing it. I am creating content for Facebook so they can get you to come to their site and make money off you and I have to pay for the priveledge of helping them make money. This might make sense if I was a corporation selling a product, for example a soft drink, and my video is essentially an ad for that product. It makes sense for a company to have to pay to have Facebook show their ads to people. It does not make sense for purely educational videos.

YouTube will pay ME for bringing you to YouTube. Facebook wants me to pay THEM to bring them revenue.

The solution would seem to be to post my videos on YouTube and then share them on Facebook but Facebook doesn't want that either. They want me to only upload videos directly to Facebook. I did an experiment last week. I posted one video directly to Facebook and another to YouTube and then shared on Facebook. For the video I posted directly to Facebook they amazingly put it into the feed of all but one of my followers. That's pretty good. 48% of those people actually watched the video. What happened to the YouTube video? Facebook put it into the feeds of just SEVEN people who had said they wanted to see my content by following my page. Of those seven it looks like ONE person might have watched it. Facebook severely punishes creators for sharing YouTube content on their platform. They want all the money for themselves and they want me to pay to essentially work for them.

I have no control over this. I refuse to create content for Facebook for free and then have them make me pay to show it to people who have already asked to see it. I'm not doing this because I am selling a product and I am not doing it for the vanity of having views. I make videos simply because it is yet another way to educate people and share my love and knowledge of the natural world.

If you would like to actually see the content I am creating on YouTube come on over and subscribe while you are there. There are lots of other amazing channels from science communicators there and you will enjoy them as well. Stop watching what Facebook tells you to watch and choose for yourself. You'll start enjoying your time online a whole lot more.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

A Summer of Secrets

Posted by Kirk

Summer is here and it is time to launch the Secrets of Summer video series. If you are reading via email. Check out this link:

I'll be bringing you a series of videos all summer long debunking the top nature myths I encounter in my job as a professional naturalist. Be sure to subscribe on YouTube to see them all.

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Friday, June 5, 2015

Watch out for White-crowned Sparrows

Posted by Kirk
As the white-throated sparrows move through in the spring keep your eyes open. All may not be as it seems.

Here in the Twin Cities and in countless other areas, we get thousands upon thousands of white-throated sparrows migrating through in the spring as they head north. They don't stick around long but their distinctive white throat and "Oh Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada" call are a much welcome sign of spring. 

Seeing the first one each year is a treat but keep looking, you might be missing out if you start to ignore them. Mixed into flocks of white-throated sparrows will often be a white-crowned sparrow.

White-crowned sparrows belong to the genus Zonotrichia along with the White-throated, Golden-crowned, Fox and Harris's sparrows.

At a quick glance it is easy to dismiss these beautiful birds for yet another white-throated sparrow so keep your eyes open. They often hang out in flocks with white-throats sparrows so you need to look carefully.

White-crowned sparrows are found in the from mid-Iowa south in the winter and in some places out west year-round but are only in Minnesota during migration. They will soon leave for the very northernmost parts of Canada to breed. Get out there and enjoy them while you can.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Warm Weather is a Disaster for Maple Syrup Season

Posted by Kirk
There's no denying this unseasonably warm weather feels great but not all is sunshine and gumdrops. The rapid switch to all warm all the time means it is not dipping below freezing at night. This spells disaster for the maple sap run.

Maple trees will not run if the temperature does not dip below freezing at night. Last year at work we collected 700 gallons of sap by the end of the season. Right now we have maybe 30 and unless it rest cold again fast the season may be over. WCCO news came out the the nature center to do a report about the poor season. Their embedded player doesn't actually work so I'm afraid I have to go old school and offer you this link to their site.
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Monday, February 2, 2015

Official 2015 Twin Cities Groundhog's Day Report

Posted by Kirk
The 2015 Report:

What a difference a year makes!

On Groundhog's Day 2014 we'd just pulled though yet another "Polar Vortex" and there were high snowdrifts everywhere. Here we are today and solid snow cover is hard to find anywhere in the Twin Cities.

Last year I took a new job at Lowry Nature Center in the west metro after a 12 year stint at Warner Nature Center in the east metro. This means that last year I missed out on seeing my old pal "Stuff Stanley" the groundhog of record for many of the Official Twin Cities Groundhog reports over the years. I decided this year to pay an early morning visit to Stanley to see if he saw his shadow. Did he? You'll have to watch the video to find out!

The official Twin Cities Groundhog Prediction:
Just like last year, the groundhog DID see his shadow in the Twin Cities so we have six more weeks of winter to look forward to. That's the story anyhow. Last year we had a huge warm-up right after Groundhog's day that saw us flirting with 50 degrees before plunging down again at the end of the month. This year could be a bit of the same. While the forecast calls for a few days near zero this week the longer range forecasts are looking at us going up near 40 degrees again. 

Personally I'm going to have to predict against the groundhog this year. We have very little snowfall and a warm spell in the 40s could melt what we do have away. Once the ground is exposed, the longer days and more direct sunlight we're getting are going to help warm up the ground and create  more warm days than cold days all things being the same. 

That's my personal prediction, we'll see who's right, me or a stuffed groundhog.


What's the connection between Groundhogs, shadows and the seasons?

The connection is tenuous at best. Further south than Minnesota, male groundhogs do come out of hibernation early to scope out and check on their breeding territory. In Minnesota, February 2nd is usually too early for this to happen. Seeing the first groundhogs checking out their territory is surely a sign of spring though. Okay, but what does seeing a shadow have to do with it? The connection to shadows has to do with prevailing weather patterns. We often associate sunny days with warmth and the coming spring but sunny days in the winter aren't always warm. Clear winter days are often the result of cold Canadian air that has settled over the state. A shadow in the winter often means we're in a pattern of cold air flowing south. It can take many weeks to break that pattern and warm the area. All of the snow we have will also keep us cold longer.

Celestially, February 2nd is an important day. According to the solar calendar, it should mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring.

Forty-two days ago was the winter solstice, the day of the year when we have the least sunlight. From that day on, the amount of daylight increases until the day when there are equal amounts of night and day. We call this day the equinox and it falls around March 21st. February 2nd falls half way between the solstice and the equinox so in theory it should mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring.

Has anyone seen any crocus flowers blooming?

Obviously the winter solstice is not really mid-winter. Why do we call the solstice mid-winter if it is really more like the day winter begins? This has long been a puzzle and even caused a few arguments between astronomers and meteorologists. The answer is something we call the lag of the seasons and it affects Groundhog’s day as well. Yes, it is true that Groundhog’s day technically marks the beginning of spring from a celestial point of view but our experience tells us otherwise. Our seasons lag behind what the sun tells us in the sky.

Saying spring starts on Groundhog’s day is a little like saying a frozen dinner is ready to eat as soon as it is pulled out of the freezer. The northern hemisphere has been cooling down for months by the time the solstice arrives. Forty-two days with just less than a minute more sunlight each day is not enough to thaw out the frozen landscape into a lush vernal garden.

The established pattern of cold weather continues for many weeks after the beginning of the increase in daylight. This lag makes it seem like mid-winter actually falls on Groundhog’s day rather than the solstice. Rest assured though that on Groundhog’s day, even if it feels like the middle of winter, we are getting an hour and seven minutes more daylight today than we did just forty-two days earlier.

Groundhog’s Day may marks the beginning of spring according to the sun but it will be about forty-two more days until we feel the change enough to call it spring. It may seem like winter has a grip on the land but the sun has been working hard to reverse the trend for over a month and we’ll soon start to see those effects.

Incidentally, the legend tells us that if the groundhog sees its shadow it will be scared back into the den and we’ll have six more weeks of winter. Why six weeks? How many days are there in six weeks? Forty-two. Six weeks takes us exactly to the spring equinox.
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