Saturday, December 8, 2012

Former Ga. Homeless Vet Pays it Forward

A year ago, Curtis Butler, III was homeless and sleeping in his car. He attempted suicide twice. This week, he is giving money to those less fortunate. 

Butler, 45, is a two-tour veteran of the Iraq war who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. When he returned home with his disability, he was initially denied benefits and he fell on hard times. He lost contact with his children. He had no home, no money and no hope. Twice, he overdosed on pills and alcohol. 

"I figured nobody cared about me," Butler told ABC News. "I had to worry about paying bills. I didn't love myself or anyone else." 

But Butler finally did get his benefits and turned his life around. On Monday, he made the holidays a little bit easier for two dozen strangers. Butler was standing in line at a Georgia Power office waiting to pay his utility bill. He heard another customer talking about how difficult it had been to make ends meet. He paid that couple's $230 bill and then kept going. When he was finished, he had doled out $2,000 to pay power bills for 20 people. 

"This was the anniversary of me being homeless and now I am putting smiles on other people's faces," Butler told ABC News.

One woman's power had been turned off at her home because she didn't have any money to pay her bill. Butler paid it for her and then gave her more cash for her children.

"I told her, your kids can't open their presents on Christmas morning with no lights on… And now, they have more money for food or presents," Butler said.

Genice Harris, a clerk at the Georgia Power office told ABC affiliate WSB that everyone was stunned. "I could tell it was spontaneous and he was smiling and people were like, 'I can't believe this.' They actually started taking pictures with this guy," Harris said.

She choked back tears as she talked about Butler. "There really is a God and…. He does send people to help others that are in need," Harris said. 

"I have been there and done it, been close to eating out of trash cans….I was the one on the street with my hand out asking for some change," Butler told ABC News. "God put me in that predicament, so that one day I could help others." 

Butler has written a book about living with PTSD and he has a website to promote his efforts advocating new programs for disabled veterans. In his book, "PTSD: My Story, Please Listen!" he writes about returning home and falling on hard times. 

"Just because we have PTSD, doesn't mean we are not good people," Butler said. "We come back from fighting in a war and we can't get a job… It is hard to tell your kid that 'I can't support you because I am homeless after fighting for our country.'" 

But Butler now is getting the help he needs. He gets counseling through his church. He reconnected with his children. And now he owns an apartment and is about to get married.

"One night I prayed and I asked God, 'can you reveal to me my wife?' And he said, 'Yeah stupid, you sit next to [her in ] church every Sunday'....God works miracles and wonders every day," Butler said.
This is not the first time he has been a Good Samaritan. Last year, he bought haircuts for 200 homeless vets and the people of his community.

Butler says he knows all about falling on hard times and is happy now that he can be generous with others. As for next year's good deed, Butler hasn't decided. "Me and God are going to talk about that," he said.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

YikeBike review

Want to meet a bunch of random strangers everywhere you go? Start riding around on a neon green electric bicycle that looks like nothing this world has seen before, something tossed out of a passing UFO that some New Zealand shepherd found glowing slightly as it rested in the middle of a smoking crater. This $3,595 electric bicycle with a 15mph top speed and six mile range does come from New Zealand, but the YikeBike is very much a product of human ingenuity, or so creator Grant Ryan claims, but that doesn't stop it from giving us a riding experience that is nothing short of other-worldly. Unfortunately, that doesn't necessarily equate to a entirely perfect experience.


A penny-farthing for these times

Yeah, we're not particularly keen on the name "YikeBike" either; it sounds like a Ferengi gambling term or an epithet hurled in some harsh foreign language. Over the course of our testing we were asked many times "What is that thing?" Each time we responded with "YikeBike" the follow-up question was "What?" Perhaps this is proof that the name doesn't exactly stick, but it is certainly odd enough to describe this very odd cycle.

It's something like a modern interpretation to the penny-farthing style bicycle. You know, the old timey ride with a giant wheel up front, tiny one out back, bowler hat wearing gentleman perched precariously up top, high enough to make one wonder how he got there in the first place.

The YikeBike is thankfully much smaller, its front tire having a diameter of just 20-inches. This is a little bigger than that purple or blue (or both) Huffy you had as a kid, with a rear wheel just 8-inches inches across. It's a strange looking bird, but it isn't odd for the sake of turning heads. That little rear wheel collapses and tucks inside the front, which is almost entirely enclosed by an all carbon fiber shroud containing the battery pack, motor, and probably some kryptonite too.

Likewise the handlebars fold down, the seat tucks away, and the whole thing turns into a puck that, with the addition of a padded shoulder strap, becomes a 23lb back appendage that is, unfortunately, rather larger than George Jetson's briefcase and a bit too large to carry on to a flight. However, it's plenty small enough to work on a subway or other means of public transportation where it could fill the gap between the closest stop and your destination. It's also light enough to carry up some stairs, but we wouldn't recommend lugging it for too long. We think your chiropractor would agree.

The folding and unfolding process takes about 20 or 30 seconds, naturally getting quicker the more times you do it, involving a handful clamps and folds. Sadly there is no button you can press to have the thing automatically furl and unfurl, an addition that would really knock the socks out of those slack-jawed passers by -- adding unneeded cost and complexity in the process.

However, one simple thing that really is missing is some form of kick stand. There's simply no way to keep the thing from falling over except for leaning it against something. When folded it's basically round and decidedly top-heavy, so even propping it up can be a challenge. Some sort of little fold-down center stand is really needed.

On the back is an array of decidedly conspicuous LEDs that act as brake and turn signals -- yes, there are little buttons on the handlebars that let you indicate a turning direction. Just in front of those buttons are a pair of even brighter LEDs that act as makeshift headlights. No, they won't deliver sweet comeuppance to those xenon blinders in their luxury cars, but they will at least let you see far enough to get home safely after yet another late-night production deployment.

Learning to ride

Five wobbly feet into our first ride on the YikeBike it became painfully clear that motorcycle and bicycle experience isn't going to help much here. The YikeBike is steered by handlebars that sit at your sides, on stalks that extend from behind the seat. Turning the bars turns the front wheel, feet either side on pegs that fold down from that swoopy carbon cowling. Meanwhile the seat is really attached to the rear wheel.

It's a bit odd, to have your feet and the front wheel turn while your body keeps looking straight. If you want to experience it, hop on the handlebars of a friend's bike and have him let you steer, just be aware that if you fall over and break something we will not be held liable.

Thankfully on the YikeBike you're much lower, so falling over is a lot harder. Squeeze the throttle too hard (a trigger on the right grip) and you might just lose your balance, but you can always just put a foot down. Alternately if you hit the brake too hard (a trigger on the left grip) the bike does an immediate endo, bucking you out of the seat. This may sound dangerous, but it actually feels quite natural: you just stand up.

Regardless of how cool such a dismount may look the idea is naturally to ride in control, and YikeBike the company recommends 30 minutes in an open area of slow-speed riding to get used to things before you get too crazy. There's even something of a grenade pin that fits in the throttle (which is cheekily shaped like the bike itself), preventing newbies from inadvertently quick getaways.

It took us about 15 minutes before we felt comfortable pulling the pin. Rebels, we know. Like snowboarding or riding a motorcycle it actually got easier the faster you went, so once we got over our early wobbles we felt comfortable giving it a bit more stick -- with restraint. An itchy trigger finger can still send you into a wee tank-slapper, and the touchy regenerative brakes do take some practice. But, we didn't fall once and didn't scrape a single knee, which is more than we can say for learning to ride a bike as a kid. All this without training wheels!

Saddling up

The seat on the YikeBiks is, in bicycle terms, rather generously sized and padded -- more Huffy than Selle. That said, after a few minutes of cradling it with your nether regions it begins to... irritate. That's thanks to the riding position that sees you placing almost your entire weight on that seat.

On a bicycle some amount of your mass is supported by the handlebars and some by the pedals. Here, though, with your feet out front and your hands down at your sides most of your weight is on your kiester and, well, after a little while things start to get a little sore. We're thinking frequent cyclists won't mind so much, but if your cheeks haven't embraced a bike seat in awhile prepare for an acclimatization period.

Try as we might we alas weren't able to get up to that 15mph top speed, at least not according to GPS, not even with a slight downhill run. Our best was about 13.5mph, though perhaps with a little more breaking in than our virgin steed had experienced things would roll more smoothly. Also, due to a series of blizzards we haven't been able to get as much road time as we'd have wanted, but battery life thus far has given us little reason to doubt the six mile range estimate from the company.

It's abundantly clear that this is not an all-terrain machine, though: the tire is a slick and the only suspension is provided by whatever cushioning nature gave you. YikeBike assured us the machine is fully waterproof, and indeed we bisected some puddles without getting electrocuted or a skunk stripe up our backs, but it seemed like a shame to get something this lovely all covered in excessive road grime.

When depleted you'll need to break out a generously sized charging brick, which has an annoying little fan that spins away to presumably keep the aluminum box from combusting. A charge takes about 45 minutes, which is quite acceptable, but having to use that charging brick is a bit of a bother. If you're looking to charge on the go it means you'll either need to take it with you or cough up another $100 for a second one. Given the weight of the brick and the total cost of the bike we'd say the extra $100 isn't so bad.

One thing we wouldn't spring for is the paint. This is actually the first painted YikeBike in the world -- initial shipping models are available in any color you like so long as it's carbon fiber. That early status shows, with a few paint flaws jumping out at us as soon as the bike sprang from its container and a couple scratches seemingly self-manifesting through the course of our testing. The company will soon offer a range of colors for those with a bit of patience, but we'd stick with the raw carbon.

If all the import tuners can flaunt their carbon wings and other meaningless add-ons to their cars, why can't you show off the weave of your bike that's entirely made of the stuff?


We obviously can't wholeheartedly recommend that everyone go out and buy a YikeBike because it is, after all, a somewhat goofy and rather niche product that costs over $3,500. But, happy day for those who fit in that niche: someone who doesn't have a particularly long way to go; someone who wants an EV but has to charge it inside their home; someone who likes to support innovation; someone who, it must be said, has a fair amount of disposable income. If that's you, break out the credit card and get ready to have some fun.

And that niche will be expanding a bit soon, with extra battery packs that will extend the bike's range and turn it into more of a practical commuter. Even then the YikeBike won't fit into the lives of an awful lot of people, and we can't help feeling intense jealously toward those for whom it does.

First marine wilderness in continental U.S. is designated

The U.S. Interior secretary refuses to extend a permit for a commercial oyster farm operating in Point Reyes National Seashore. Sen. Dianne Feinstein had championed the business.print

Oyster farm
Drakes Bay Oyster Co. worker Jorge Mata carries strings of the shellfish at the farm, which operates in the Point Reyes National Seashore. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The federal government cleared the way Thursday for waters off the Northern California coast to become the first marine wilderness in the continental United States, ending a contentious political battle that pitted a powerful U.S. senator against the National Park Service.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar settled the dispute by refusing to extend a permit for a commercial oyster farm operating in Point Reyes National Seashore. Congress designated the area as potential wilderness in 1976 but put that on hold until the farm's 40-year federal permit ended.

As the expiration date approached, the farm became the center of a costly and acrimonious fight that dragged on more than four years, spawned federal investigations and cost taxpayers millions of dollars to underwrite scores of scientific reviews.

"I believe it is the right decision for Point Reyes National Seashore and for future generations who will enjoy this treasured landscape," Salazar said Thursday. The area includes Drakes Estero, an environmentally rich tidal region where explorer Sir Francis Drake is believed to have made landfall more than 400 years ago.
Salazar's decision drew a sharp response from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who had championed the Drakes Bay Oyster Co. in its fight with the government. Feinstein said in a statement that she was "extremely disappointed" with Salazar's decision.

She had argued that the National Park Service contorted scientific studies to make the case that oyster harvesting operations caused environmental harm to Drakes Estero, a dramatic coastal sweep of five bays in Marin County north of San Francisco.

"The National Park Service's review process has been flawed from the beginning with false and misleading science," her statement said. "The secretary's decision effectively puts this historic California oyster farm out of business. As a result, the farm will be forced to cease operations and 30 Californians will lose their jobs."
Feinstein had attached a rider to an appropriations bill giving Salazar the unusual prerogative to extend the farm's permit. The company was seeking a 10-year extension of its lease.

Salazar said he gave the matter serious consideration, including taking into account legal advice and park policies. He directed the park service to develop a jobs-training plan for the oyster company's employees and to work with the local community to assist them in finding employment.

The company will have 90 days to remove its racks and other property from park land and waters. When that occurs, the 2,500-acre Drakes Estero will be managed as wilderness, with prohibitions on motorized access to the waterway but allowances for snorkeling, kayaking and other recreation.

The new wilderness will become only the second marine protected area in the national park system and the first in the Lower 48 states. The only current marine wilderness is 46,000 acres in Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

Environmental groups applauded the decision, which they lobbied for.

"We are ecstatic that this ecological treasure will be forever protected as marine wilderness," said Amy Trainer, executive director of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin.

The heart of the debate is an agreement that Kevin Lunny and his family inherited when they took over a failing oyster operation in the park in 2004. That lease with the park service stipulated that the business would cease operations in 2012.

Kevin Lunny has from the beginning sought to stay on the property and continue harvesting oysters. His farm has an extensive record of violating state and federal agreements and permits. The California Coastal Commission has fined the farm for various violations, issued two cease and desist orders and repeatedly requested that the Lunnys acquire a coastal development permit.

The state agency initiated another enforcement action against the farm earlier this month.
Lunny could not be reached for comment.

The farm's mariculture operation has found support among west Marin County's advocates for sustainable agriculture, who agreed with Lunny that federal and state agencies were unfairly hounding his operation.
His travails have caused alarm among the historic cattle and dairy ranches that operate within the national seashore in a designated pastoral zone. Park officials have repeatedly said they have no intention of curtailing ranching operations, and Salazar echoed that, adding that he wished to extend the terms of the ranch leases from 10 to 20 years.
The Lunny family also has a cattle operation in the park.,0,6358160.story

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range

2012 Bait Trap Gather Video (may take several seconds to load)

Click here for full-screen download (larger file size).

News and Information

Starman, a stallion of the Pryor Mountain herd, is now back within the wild horse range boundary after wandering outside of the range this past spring.

About the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range

A horse on the rangeMontana is home to only one herd of wild horses, located in the Pryor Mountains south of Billings along the Montana-Wyoming border. There are no wild horse herds in the Dakotas. 
For more than a century, the Pryor Mountains have been home to free-roaming bands of wild horses.  In 1968, Interior Secretary Stewart Udall set aside 31,000 acres in the Pryor Mountains as a public range for the wild horses living there. Subsequent to Udall's order, the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act in 1971 allowed for expansion of the range to areas where horses were "presently found."

The Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range is unique in both its setting and for the wild horses that inhabit it.  Many of the horses have primitive striping on their backs, withers and legs, and are reputed to be descendents of "colonial" Spanish horses.

To assist in educating the public about the Pryor Mountain wild horse herd, the BLM partners with the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center located in Lovell, Wyoming.  For more information about the center, please click here .

HVAC boot cleared of Asbestos in Los Angeles