Backcasts archive: Through March 16, 2007


Blog calendar: March 16 | March 15 | March 14 | March 13 | March 12

posted March 16, 2007

Next up for researchers: A bass robot?

You may have read recently scientists are taking a high-tech approach to the primordial mystery of how ocean animals became able to crawl onto land.

It's thought the first creature to make the adaptation looked something akin to a salamander, according to Associated Press science writer Randolph E. Schmid, and researchers in Europe have created a robot with an archaic "nervous system" they claim mimics the switch from swimming to walking.

A team led by Auke Jan Ijspeert of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Lausanne, Switzerland, observe the salamander gadget walk across floors, crawl down the beach and swim in Lake Geneva.

The point is to understand how a spinal cord developed to direct a swimming motion could handle the different coordination needed between a body and its limbs for walking, the AP reports.

The Swiss team calls the exercise "a demonstration of how robots can be used to test biological models."

If that's true, then we would like to suggest it next build a robobass to better understand the nature of big bucketmouths, then share the information only with anglers whose largest largemouth is 4 pounds or less.

Imagine if information was deciphered on their metabolism. If bass are most active between 60 and 75 degrees, what would entice them to bite at temps above of below that range?

Why are bass such opportunistic feeders and would a robotic crawdad, sculpin or minnow help us to understand how to make bait looks like easy meals?

What is it about bass that they are such lovers of edges? And can there be a simulation developed to help me improve my angling skills when a bait is tossed near the confluence of current and still water or deep and shallow water, or adjacent to the junction of small and large rocks or wood cover and weeds?

There would be good money to be made on these scientific findings, and, heck, who wouldn't consider owning a bassbot.

Maybe therein lies the solution to my angling woes: Employ a bass robot each time out on the sweetwater. Dial in the settings to easy, moderate or difficult and launch that sucker. If it's not biting, just hit the remote autopilot to "strike" and reel that bad boy in.

Just make mine 5 pounds.

After all, the other half of the research equation is "how biology can help in designing robot locomotion controllers," the scientists reported.

In other words, why stop at a 5-pound RC bass. Biology can be a friend in creating a lifelike 10-pound metal hawg, a 15-pounder behemoth and even a 25-pounder that will eclipse the world record … the world-record robobass, to be sure.


posted March 15, 2007

Rest in peace, Mr. Turkey, your congregation will honor you

The Lambs United Methodist Church will soon be recognized for another animal.

Yes, this Sunday a moment of silence will be held for a wild turkey considered by the pastor of the Wales Township, Mich., assembly to be a model member of his congregation.

The turkey, which died last week after being struck by a vehicle, was a steadfast parishioner that regularly attended Sunday services and greeted people as they arrived, the Associated Press reports.

"He would kind of wait for me to come in," Rev. James Huff told the Times Herald of nearby Port Huron. "He knew when I got there. Service was about to begin, and then he would sit on one lady's car until we were done."

Douglas Bishop — a wonderful name for the church's music director — called the bird a mascot for the faithful.

It was not uncommon to find members taking snapshots of the gobbler, which was said to frequently chase children at the community's bus stop and strut down the street, trying to impress the ladies — the lady turkeys, that is.

"We've got so many pictures of it," Bishop said.

Oh, what a dear bird.

It's no wonder ol' Ben Franklin wished to see the wild turkey as the national bird. We can scarcely imagine a bald eagle attending church services with the regularity of its bearded cousin.

Unicorn alibi a misunderstanding. Go figure

If unicorns are made up, then Billings, Mont., prosecutors are real good at making things up.

Yesterday we blogged right here that a prosecutor had told a district judge a man claimed a unicorn was driving when his truck crashed into a light pole earlier this month.

Now the chief prosecutor says it was all a big misunderstanding, the Associated Press reports.

We'll say. It turns out the man apparently told police an unnamed woman was driving when his truck hit the lighting fixture — not a unicorn.

According to County Attorney Dennis Paxinos, the mix-up occurred when a deputy prosecutor misunderstood an e-mail from a colleague who used the phrase "unicorn defense," thinking it was an actual statement from the man involved in the accident.

"Unicorn defense" is a slang term used by prosecutors when a defendant blames some "mythical" person for a crime, he said.

"It's kind of a code (between prosecutors) and the code was misinterpreted," said Paxinos, who apologized "to the public, the court and to (the defendant)'' for the confusion and claims to have chastised the prosecutors involved.

We'd like to introduce the code "Bigfoot" to Billings prosecutors. It's when the prosecution plans to call Sasquatch as a witness.


posted March 14, 2007

So how do you score a unicorn?

Just exactly how is a unicorn scored?

We're wondering if that's what Phillip C. Holliday Jr. was thinking when the unicorn he said was driving his truck crashed into a light pole.

It's not often you see a unicorn, let alone have the chance to say one was at the wheel of your rig.

But apparently that's what Holliday initially told police at the scene of the March 7 accident in Billings, Mont., according to the Associated Press.

Prosecutor Ingrid Rosenquist said Holliday originally denied driving the truck and put the blame squarely on the one-horn beast.

Perhaps that's why Holliday, 42, pleaded not guilty yesterday to felony charges of criminal endangerment and drunken driving.

The explanation seems entirely plausible to us.

Here's how the incident breaks down, the AP reports:

A pickup truck drove through a red light and nearly struck another truck in the intersection, according to court documents. The driver then made an erratic U-turn through a gas station, crossed the street and crashed into a light pole. Nobody was injured … and that presumably includes the unicorn.

No word, yet, on how or when the unicorn took the wheel and what became of it afterward.

Holliday has five drunken-driving convictions, according to the AP. But despite the unicorn theory, District Judge Gregory Todd kept Holliday's bail at $100,000, even after his lawyer argued that Holliday's last such conviction was 14 years ago.

We'll keep you posted on developments in the case, but more important than understanding the nuances of scoring a unicorn is figuring the odds of actually pulling a tag in the unicorn lottery. They've got to be very long indeed, am I right?

And when do you know a whale is saying sorry?

The unicorn story brings to mind a whale of a tale I've been holding on to for a couple of months.

That's when, according to Reuters, New Zealand sailor Lindsay Wright said the humpback whale that had destroyed his brand-new trimaran yacht had swam back to say it was sorry an errant flip of its tail had opened a large hole in one of the vessel's three hulls.

Wright said he had been sleeping when he was awakened by a loud noise and rushed up on deck to find himself staring at a whale's head about a foot away.

"I got good vibes off him. I thought he was trying to say sorry mate, I didn't mean to," Wright told New Zealand television.

We have to wonder if Wright was more than just drowsy when he came to his conclusion after the Jan. 9 run-in with the whale — apparently a large male in a pod of about six humpbacks.

Wright activated a distress beacon as his yacht took on water and lost electrical power some 80 nautical miles off the west coast of New Zealand's North Island. He was winched to safety aboard a rescue helicopter about five hours later, Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio reported.

Tragically, this whale has a sorry way of saying thank you

In a related story with a dreadful ending, Reuters reports that a Japanese fisherman drowned yesterday after a whale he was trying to rescue capsized his small fishing boat.

The denizen apparently panicked after three fishermen attempted to assist the 30-foot-long sperm whale that had strayed into a bay off the southwestern island of Shikoku, some 500 miles southwest of Tokyo. That's when the whale struck the boat, according to a coastguard official.

Two fishermen were rescued, but a 58-year-old fisherman drowned, he said.


posted March 13, 2007

Tarantula: It's what's for dinner

In 1904 the annual dinner at the Explorers Club featured roast polar bear and creamed cod roe.

Indeed, exotic fare has long been the signature of the black-tie celebration of consummate adventurers, scientists and explorers, according to the Newhouse News Service.

But this Saturday the 1,400 guests at New York's Waldorf-Astoria will be in for a meal not to be forgotten. Included on the menu:

• 30 pounds of maggots
• 2,000 earthworms
• Cockroaches
• Alligator
• Mopani worms from Zimbabwe

Oh, and also expected is some sturgeon from the Pacific and 7-foot-long king crab.

You'd pay at least $300 for this buffet, wouldn't you?

And whatever dessert is dreamed up will be washed down with, get this, coffee made from beans eaten and then vomited or defecated by weasels in Vietnam and civets in Sumatra, the new service reports.


Actually, that all seems pretty tame compared to the dinners Gene Rurka has served to the club since he took over as exotics chairman in 2001.

Consider last year's annual dinner, which included rosemary-herbed rattlesnake cakes; ostrich tortilla; pickled duck tongue; kangaroo balls bourguignon; Tibetan yak loaf; and roasted feral hog seasoned with garlic, lemon, paprika and chili peppers.

Oh, and don't forget the variety of animal eyeballs marinated in a delicate herb sauce; tempura battered tarantulas; North American crickets; mealworm sushi; and honey-laden Madagascar hissing roaches.

Club members may have been everywhere, but that doesn't mean they've eaten everything, according to the Newhouse News Service. So Rurka expanded the menu and all culinary horizons.

"The hard part was to get guests to open up a little bit more, be more adventurous," said Rurka, 59. For the Explorers Club? Go figure.

In Vermont, man's best friend has four legs … and a scaly, green body

"They just don't warm up to people. They don't ever become friendly. They don't make good pets."

Take a guess at what Michael Ralbovsky of Rainforest Reptiles of Boston is talking about. I'm giving you a major clue, so think reptiles. Maybe a lizard? A snake? Turtle?

Nope, the coldblooded vertebrate of which Ralbovsky is referring happens to be the American alligator.

Who would've thunk it? Whaddya know, alligators apparently don't make good pets!

Apparently a couple in Vermont were unaware … right up until the time the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife came to their home last week to seize their 6-foot-4-inch gator, according to the Associated Press.

Yep, the scaly, green critter had been living in a wood and glass enclosure in their basement for the past seven years. It was estimated to be 17 years old and, at 125 pounds, small for its age.

While the gator was well cared for and fed chicken parts from the local grocery store, the AP reports, state wildlife officials moved it to a more appropriate environment out of safety concerns.

"This animal could have harmed a child, not to mention the people who were taking care of it," said Ralbovsky, who assisted in the removal of the animal.

Vermont Game Warden Col. Robert Rooks said his department learned about the alligator through a tip.

He said no charges would be filed against the couple who had the alligator because they cooperated.

Still, this gives a whole new spin on man's best friend.

Quick, call Pepe Le Pew. He's gotta hear about this stenchful city

Residents of the southern California city of Torrance are finding out that development stinks. Drum roll, please.

I can't take credit for the lead; that's all the Associated Press, or from whoever it picked up the story.

But it couldn't be truer.

Apparently more skunks appear here as more houses are built.

"We're seeing more of them because their habitat is being destroyed,'' said Jeff Rudolph, an animal control officer.

As Torrance has seen the development of 1,398 housing units in the past six years, the city's Animal Control department is dealing more with the malodorous, black-and-white creatures than anything else, the AP reports.

"We're constantly getting calls about skunks," said department supervisor Shayne Brinkerhoff. "They're under houses. They're getting hit on streets."

One local skunk even gained international attention when it crawled into a rubber hose and got shipped to Canada. The stowaway skunk, nicknamed Dorothy, wound up hitching a ride in a delivery truck for a weeklong, 2,200 mile trek.

Way to goof on the Canucks, Torrance!


posted March 12, 2007

Fore: Four legs — and two sets, at that — make this golf cart trip indelible

Rabbit and bobcat go golfing.

Sounds like a lovely children's story, doesn't it?

Except in this version the rabbit's the prey, the bobcat's the pursuer and the golfing, well, there really isn't any golfing, but a golf cart does serve as the punch line.

Mitch Walter is the author of this wild fairytale, and, as proof, he's in the middle of being administered a series of rabies shots for his role in the bizarre ordeal.

It seems the Cape Rock Water Treatment Plant worker was inspecting the grounds of the Cape Girardeau, Mo., facility last week when he became the unsuspecting victim of a bobcat attack, according to the Associated Press.

During his rounds a rabbit jumped into his maintenance cart, which must have seemed innocuous enough … until, that is, a 25-pound bobcat with blood on its mind followed the furry critter in.

The bunny apparently outwitted the stub-tail feline and quickly bounded out of the vehicle, leaving Walter to deal with the consequences … mano a gato.

"The cat went from a sleek predator after fast food to a ball of fur trying to jump through the windshield of the golf cart," said Walter, who received scratches on his neck while shoving the bobcat out of the four-wheeler, the AP reports

Besides the precautionary medical injections, Walter appeared to be otherwise unscathed.

But he'll carry emotional scars that might render anything he pens titled "Rabbit and Bobcat Go Golfing" wholly inappropriate for kids.

For pursuers of black bass, March comes in like a lion

The third month of the year is a fine time to target big freshwater bass.

As proof, BASS Times magazine in its current edition offers three enormous black bass taken during the month of March:

• Largemouth bass — 22 pounds even, caught March 12, 1991, at Castaic Lake in California. This bruiser, taken by Bob Crupi (who boated a 21-pounder 368 days earlier at the same locale) ranks No. 2 on The Bassmaster Top 25 list of the largest largemouths of all time. The top hawg on the list is George Washington Perry's legendary 22¼-pounder from Georgia's Montgomery Lake in 1932. (That behemoth was caught in the month of June, however.)

• Smallmouth bass — 9 pounds, 1 ounce, caught March 20, 1976, at California's Clair Engle Lake. The world record is the controversial 11-pound, 15-ounce bronzeback caught at Dale Hollow Lake, Tenn., in July 1955.

• Spotted bass — 8 pounds, 15 ounces, caught March 18, 1978, at Lewis Smith Lake in Alabama. The record spotted is 10¼ pounds, which was brought up from California's Pine Flat Lake in April 2001.

Those are certainly in the cream of the crop for big bass.

My apologies to the fine folks at BASS Times, but one notable omission is the 25.1-pound bucketmouth taken March 20, 2006, at tiny Dixon Lake in southern California.

Sure it was foul-hooked and the angler, Mac Weakley, ultimately decided not to pursue the fabled largemouth world record. But it is undeniably a March catch to be remembered.

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    About the author: Brett Pauly spent nearly six years editing and publishing ESPNOutdoors.com before moving on to produce the ESPN.com Sports Travel site.

    He is a national award-winning writer and editor with 14 years of experience in the newspaper trade. The Evergreen State of Washington is where he makes his home. Click here to email him.

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