Ethan Schlussler has been building a tree house. It’s nine meters (thirty feet) from the ground – quite a long climb by ladder. Ethan decided there had to be a better way, and built a lift using an old bicycle. It reminds me of the lift I built to get to my treehouse when I was about eleven years old. Mine wasn’t as sophisticated, nor did it need to climb so high, but it worked quite well.

The full story on Ethan and his lift is here.

Watch Ethan’s own video of the lift in use:

Stormy weather

I often feel fortunate to live in Australia. We have a whole continent to ourselves, we are relatively free from earthquakes and extreme weather, and wars have mostly taken place far from us. And we have friendly cousins close by across the Tasman Sea.

Things like supercell storms happen in other places, and that’s fine with me – I don’t think I’d like to have one of these things bearing down on me. Wikipedia says, “A supercell is a thunderstorm that is characterized by the presence of a mesocyclone: a deep, persistently rotating updraft. Of the four classifications of thunderstorms (supercell, squall line, multi-cell, and single-cell), supercells are the least common and have the potential to be the most severe. Supercells are often isolated from other thunderstorms, and can dominate the local climate up to 32 kilometres away.”

The time-lapse video below was made by storm-chasing wedding photographer (his description) Mike Olbinski on June 3 near Booker in Texas. The roiling clouds look ominous and threatening… and I’m glad I wasn’t there!

A supercell near Booker, Texas from Mike Olbinski on Vimeo.

Mike talks about the storm, and how he filmed it, in two blog posts Timelapse of a supercell near Booker, Texas and A supercell near Booker, Texas.

In July 2011 a huge dust storm rolled across Mike’s hometown, Phoenix, Arizona, and he caught that on video, too:

Imagine how that much dust must choke everything in its path!

You can read more about Mike in The monsoon becoming big business.

Sad Legacy

SBS reports that “Nearly 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War, its youngest victims are still in their infancy. Across the country, some babies are still being born with defects as a result of their parents’ exposure to dioxin found in in the crop-killing herbicide Agent Orange.” The US military sprayed about 44 million litres, or 12 million gallons of the substance over the country between 1961 and 1971.

The article tells the story of three year old Dang Hong Dan, who was born with a cleft lip and deformities in one hand and foot. Dan’s parents take work where they can get it, but their income is not consistent, and they have trouble caring for their young son.

There are about 1.2 million children in Vietnam who are living with disabilities. Of those, 150,000 are believed to be victims of Agent Orange. What a sad legacy of a sad war – one that should not have involved either the USA or Australia. Chemical warfare has no place in a civilised world.

“Last year,” SBS says, “the US government agreed to assist in clean-up efforts of Agent Orange, after a long period of bilateral discussions with the Vietnamese authorities. Australia is not involved in the clean-up effort, but through AusAID is funding programs to help those affected by the substance as well as other children with disabilities.” Dan’s family is one of those receiving help.

AusAID director Peter Baxter says the decision to provide aid is not related to our involvement in the war, but it is “not only the right thing to do, it’s a smart thing to do to ensure that the human resources that are available in developing countries are actually used to benefit those societies.”

While Australia did not use chemical weapons in Vietnam it is gratifying to see that we are helping in a small way to help the people there cope with the aftermath of the war.

Headbangers’ delight

The crazy US electoral system delivered good and bad in Tuesday’s elections.

Sanity prevailed, and Barack Obama was given a second term. I shudder to think how things might have been had Mitt Romney won. Interestingly, a few states voted differently in the different elections. For example, Montana, Missouri and West Virginia elected Democrat governors and voted Democrat for the Senate, yet voted Republican in the presidential election. North Dakota elected a Republican governor, voted Democrat in the Senate, and Republican in the presidential election. The Democrats actually won several Senate seats from the Republicans.

The bad was the House of Representatives result — which sees the Republicans still in the majority, and probably another four years of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object.

Satire Wire summed it up nicely… “Americans went to the polls Tuesday and voted overwhelmingly to continue banging their heads against a wall.”