Jane Returns with Irish Whiskey

So Jane got back a few hours ago from her trip with her mom to Ireland, and she brought many presents -- including a bottle of Irish whiskey that supposedly isn't available in the U.S.

So we sat on the front porch and listened to the stack of Irish folk music CDs she brought, and I sipped Irish and Jane drank wine and we watched the rain that's been falling all week. I read that

we've had more rain in the past two days than we had during the infamous Hurricane Floyd in 1999, which put most of the area around Plymouth under eight or 10 feet of water. But since the wetlands around the Roanoke River here haven't been developed, we stayed dry.

Anyway, Jane brought me a bottle of Green Spot Irish whiskey. I've been drinking scotch for years. The Irish whiskey is sweeter than scotch, but not as sweet as bourbon, which I've never cared for.

She also brought me a mini-bottle of Irish potcheen, or moonshine, as it's known in these parts. Note that the label says it's "Now Legal" in Ireland. Haven't opened that yet.

And, oh yeah, while in Ireland she went to some restaurants and visited an old castle, and some writer's thing in Dublin.


OK, OK, I'm Finally on Facebook . . .

. . . but I'm a tad uneasy about it. And the story by David Carr in the Sunday New York Times Arts & Leisure section about the new movie, "The Social Network," didn't do anything to diminish my uneasiness about plugging in to this giant online virtual-socializing and snooping enterprise.

The movie is based on the story of the creation of Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg, a socially clumsy young man at Harvard who, in a sense, executed the uber-geek's ultimate ironic twist. He channeled his frustrations, social ineptitude and exceptional intelligence into creating what the Times calls "the largest engine of social interaction in the history of mankind."

And he made a gigantic amount of money in the process.

Here's how the Times described both the movie and the phenomenon of Facebook: "Social media -- with the technology that allows people instantly to inform dozens or hundreds of thousands of people about where they've been and what they've done, in pictures and in words -- become a kind of self-replicating organism in the film, feeding and consuming all who mouse over it."

So Facebook ranks up there with the invention of the printing press and the telephone in terms of ideas that have altered our world. Many innovations have claimed to make the world smaller, but Facebook has used the Internet and the proliferation of personal computers to reduce the world to the size of a telephone booth, if anybody still remembers how small a telephone booth is.

And, like a cranky hermit living in a cave high in the mountains, I've deliberately avoided Facebook until it seems like I'm the last person in the civilized world to join the fun. Even people whom I thought had jumped off the grid long ago have Facebook pages. The New York Times says there are 500 million people with Facebook accounts. So, clearly, the rest of the world doesn't have the reservations about Facebook that I have.

Why have I avoided it? Partly just simple orneriness. The older I get, the less comfortable I am with cutting-edge technology. And there's also the fact that I'm lazy, and maintaining a Facebook page is a form of work.

But mostly, I've avoided Facebook because I'm afraid of it. I read George Orwell's novel, 1984, a long time ago, and it affected me. 1984 describes a world in which an oppressive, authoritarian government knows everything about you and can observe your every move.

Facebook is a massive central data base into which one deposits detailed acounts of one's likes and dislikes, comings and goings, political and religious beliefs, sexual preferences, favorite colors and football teams, and recent purchases. That's an awful lot of info for someone somewhere -- or anyone, anywhere -- to have access to at the click of a mouse button. It's like Big Brother with a smile, to borrow a phrase I picked up somewhere, probably while browsing the Web. And I worry about what some people might do with that info.

Still, it's fascinating and absorbing to be able to tell the world about your favorite movies, your favorite books and quotes, and post favorite pictures of your cats or your friends in unguarded moments. And I'm enjoying it.

And if you're wondering why I finally decided to jump into Facebook, you'll have to go to my page to find the answer. I'm going there now to add 1984 to my list of favorite books and add a personal news update that I've posted a new entry on "Drye Goods." 


Hurricane Karl Floods Mexico

Hurricane Karl made landfall earlier today near Veracruz, Mexico. Here's a link to a story I did today about Hurricane Karl for National Geographic News.

Meanwhile, a weakening Hurricane Igor is expected to diminish to a Category 2 storm (winds of 96 mph to 110 mph) as it passes just east of Bermuda late Saturday. If Igor follows the forecast, Bermuda will be on the weak side of the storm.


Monster Igor Won't Bother Us

Hurricane Igor has become the most powerful hurricane of the 2010 season, but it's not going to threaten the U.S. So it's OK to breathe a sigh of relief and milk an obvious laugh from the fact that this year's monster storm carries the name of one of Hollywood's funniest characters -- the misshapen, bug-eyed lab assistant Igor played hilariously by Marty Feldman in the movie "Young Frankenstein." In the movie, Feldman's character insisted that his name be pronounced "Eye-gor."

Hurricane Igor's strongest winds reached 150 mph earlier today, an intensity that put it on the verge of becoming a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. But it looks like that intensity may have been Igor's peak because as of 11 p.m., the storm's strongest winds had diminished to 140 mph.

Here's a link to a story I did earlier today for National Geographic News about why Hurricane Igor is expected to stay well offshore.

NOTE: The photo illustration at the top of this post is a composite of a graphic from the website Weather Underground and Marty Feldman as "Igor" in the movie "Young Frankenstein."


Igor is Out There

Tropical Storm Igor has formed from a tropical wave that rolled off the west coast of Africa a few days ago. The storm is expected to become Hurricane Igor by Saturday and strengthen as it rolls across the unusually warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami are saying that predicting the intensity of Igor during the next few days is "tricky." But it's a different story when you look at Igor's prospects for strengthening 10 days or so from now.

"There is plenty of warm water and light shear forecast in the path of Igor, which would promote development of a large and powerful hurricane," the latest NHC forecast says.

If Igor does become a powerful hurricane, it would be in keeping with many of the storms that have received the "I" name since 1995, when we entered a pattern of more active hurricane seasons.

Only in 1997 was the season not active enough to produce the nine storms needed to reach that year's "I" name. And three times in the past seven years, the "I" storm became a memorable monster hurricane.

In 2003, Hurricane Isabel formed from a tropical wave on September 6. Isabel reached its peak intensity as a Category 5 hurricane with winds of 165 mph. Thankfully, the storm weakened before it made landfall at Cape Lookout, North Carolina. But it still did massive damage and blasted us back into the 19th century for a couple of weeks when its eye passed over us here in Plymouth.

Hurricane Ivan, which formed September 2, 2004, became one of the worst hurricanes on record when it devastated the Caymen Islands as a Category 5 storm (see here for a 2007 post about the awful power of Hurricane Ivan).

After smashing the Caymens, Ivan entered the Gulf of Mexico and struck Pensacola, Florida as a Category 3 hurricane with winds exceeding 120 mph.

Hurricane Ike formed September 1, 2008 and peaked as a Category 4 storm with 145 mph winds. Ike lost most of its fury as it crossed the length of Cuba, but still caused major damage when it struck Galveston, Texas a few days later.

There's no way of knowing for certain what this storm will do, but given the severity of its infamous "I" predecessors, it's a little unpleasant to contemplate a Hurricane Igor -- especially with a name that is straight out of Hollywood monster movies.


Maybe It's Time for Butch Davis to Go

North Carolina nearly pulled off an amazing win over Louisiana State this weekend, losing to the Tigers 30-24 when a Tar Heel receiver dropped what would have been the game-winning pass in the end zone as time expired. Replays showed that a Tiger defender probably should have been called for pass interference on the play.

Chaz Misenheimer and I watched the LSU-UNC football game Saturday night at his home in Richfield. It was the kind of game that should have had us on our feet and screaming, especially when UNC staged a remarkable second-half comeback that put them within a questionable officiating call of winning the game.

At halftime, it looked like UNC was going to get blown out by LSU, a Southeastern Conference powerhouse that won a national championship just two years ago. Carolina trailed 30-10, and was playing like a clumsy, poorly coached high school team. Two or three times, the center and quarterback couldn't even execute the snap, resulting in a fumble that was recovered by LSU. And on one play when quarterback T.J. Yates was standing in a shotgun formation in his own end zone, the center snapped the ball past his ear and out of the end zone when Yates wasn't expecting it.

Yet the Tar Heels still made a game of it. Despite Carolina's remarkable second-half performance, however, I watched the game quietly, but it wasn't because I was indifferent to the outcome. I was subdued because what I feared would happen when UNC hired Butch Davis as head football coach in 2007 apparently has come to pass. The NCAA is investigating the Tar Heel football team for possible rules violations. Carolina's near-miraculous comeback against LSU is even more amazing when you consider that more than a dozen players -- including most of their starting defensive team -- were held out of the game because of the investigation.

Three years ago, I made a blog post titled "Go Tar Heels -- I Think," At that time, Davis was in the news because he was expected to bring a "new culture" to Carolina's football program. Presumably, that new culture involved putting the football program on an equal footing with its stellar basketball program. Tar Heel basketball teams have won six national championships without even a hint of NCAA violations.

In that 2007 post, I wondered whether Davis -- who had a 71-38 record and three Big East championships at the University of Miami -- could steer clear of NCAA violations and build a national powerhouse football team at a university that takes academic standards seriously. Among the possible violations being investigated by the NCAA is an allegation that an academic tutor may have improperly helped some football players write term papers.

To their credit, UNC officials prohibited the players being investigated by the NCAA from playing in the LSU game. They probably forfeited a huge win by doing that, because if those players had been in the game, they probably would not have made the mistakes their inexperienced substitutes made that gave LSU at least 16 points.

UNC is one of the best public universities in the nation, and a degree from UNC is a source of pride among its graduates. If the investigation reveals even questionable conduct by Davis in supervising his players, he should be fired. Anything less would cheapen the value of a UNC degree.


Blogging Hurricane Earl

Monday, September 6: Here's a link to my National Geographic News story explaining why Hurricane Earl weakened as it approached the Outer Banks.

Also, got an email today from Arlene Vadum in Worchester, Massachusetts that included a brief comment on Hurricane Earl's visit to New England a couple days ago. Worcester is well inland from Cape Cod, where Earl was expected to pass near or over Saturday afternoon as a Category 1 hurricane. But Earl weakened to a tropical storm and was pushed a little farther out to sea by that Canadian front, and so the blow to the Cape and the Northeast was much less than had been feared.

Arlene writes: "We got the rain, pretty hard for a time, and virtually no wind. People didn't do anything special in Worcester because we were told that Earl wouldn't affect us. I saw on the news that people were not going to the Cape and the islands because of Earl, but in the end the news seemed to say that there was 'much ado about nothing,'"

Thing is, you can't decide what to do during the next hurricane warning based on what you did during the previous storm because the next hurricane might make a last-minute turn in your direction and be far worse than expected. But anyone who's lived on Cape Cod any length of time knows that.

9:15 a.m. Friday: We're getting light but steady rain here in Plymouth as Hurricane Earl moves away from us. The storm made its closest approach toward us a few hours ago. I stood on our side porch a few minutes ago and took a quick look around the neighborhood, and I didn't see anything that looked like damage. Didn't even see any limbs in my back yard from the huge pecan trees that usually drop limbs even during a light breeze.

We sat around last night with our neighbors, Jennifer and Ben, and watched some of the local coverage of Hurricane Earl. Almost felt sorry for some of the local TV news reporters. They had been prepared to do the Jim Cantore-style standup-in-the-storm spots, and nothing was happening -- no driving horizontal rain, no fiercely gusting winds to shove them around, no loud crashing waves or wind-driven debris in the background.

I don't mean to make fun of Hurricane Earl's visit, however. We were lucky. The storm weakened some and turned slightly away from the Outer Banks, and so things were not nearly as bad as they could have been.

But we may not be so lucky for the rest of the month. Tropical waves are rolling off the west coast of Africa, and conditions are still ripe for hurricane formation. And this is the time of year when the so-called Cape Verde hurricanes form. These are storms that begin as tropical waves and quickly become tropical storms as they pass the Cape Verde islands. These are the breeding grounds for monster hurricanes such as Hurricane Ivan of 2004.

There's a tropical wave that recently rolled into the Atlantic that's likely to become Hurricane Hermine. There probably also will be a storm that gets the "I" name that the monster Ivan got six years ago. The name for that storm this year is Igor. If a hurricane does get the "I" name, it could become a very bad storm. And contemplating the possibility of a monster storm named Hurricane Igor makes me a little uneasy.

11:30 p.m.: Light steady rain started about an hour and 15 minutes ago and you can tell the streets are wet when cars pass because they make that "skish" noise that tires make on wet pavement. My barometer has dropped in the past few hours, but the winds are light and essentially it's a damp, breezy and very muggy evening. Reminds me of Key West this time of year.

As of 11 p.m. Earl had weakened to a Category 2, which means that its peak winds are 96 mph to 110 mph. Judging from the radar images, the storm is no longer moving westward and is starting a turn to the north well before it approaches Cape Hatteras, which means that it's probably not going to come as close to the Outer Banks as was predicted earlier.

10:15 P.M.: We had brief intermittant showers here about an hour ago, but for the most part it's been a pleasant evening to sit on our neighbors' porch and drink beer and enjoy the breeze. I'll update later.

7:31 p.m.
: Hurricanes are just fiendishly unpredictable, even in this era of weather satellites and sophisticated computer software designed to make them more predictable.

The latest update for Hurricane Earl has it weakening considerably before it blows past North Carolina. Earl is now a Category 3 storm with peak winds of about 115 mph, and it's expected to diminish to Category 2 before it approaches Cape Hatteras. That means its peak winds will be no more than 110 mph.

Earlier forecasts had it maintaining at least Category 3 strength as it passed the Cape. Had it stayed that strong, its peak winds could be approaching 130 mph.

This is why being a hurricane forecast specialist is such a difficult job. When you put out a warning that a hurricane is approaching, you have to convey to the people on the coast that they're in a dangerous area. You don't want to overstate the danger, but the consequences of understating the danger are so dire that you can't afford to be responsible for giving thousands of people an excuse to stay put instead of getting out of harm's way. There's always a good chance that the hurricane will be worse than expected, and those people who got complacent because of your understated warning suddenly are facing a deadly situation.

There are some subtle signs of Earl's approach here in Plymouth. Jane and I sat on our enclosed front porch for about 90 minutes and had drinks and watched the weather. The very tall trees on our neighbors' lots across the street are swaying the way they do only when a major storm is approaching. So Earl's approach is subtle but noticeable.

Stay tuned.

5:45 p.m. My story about Hurricane Earl has been posted at National Geographic News. See this link:

5 p.m. Barometer down slightly, from 1013 mb at 2 p.m. to 1011 mb at 5 p.m. I did a story about Hurricane Earl for National Geographic News that will be posted shortly. I'll post a link here when it's up.

The satellite image shows Earl as of 5 p.m. EDT. More of eastern North Carolina is now covered by the edges.

2:53 p.m: As of 2 p.m., Hurricane Earl is offshore from Charleston and has weakened a little since the 5 a.m. update. But Earl's strongest winds are still around 125 mph, and it's expected to strengthen a little and have winds exceeding 130 mph as it aproaches the North Carolina coast tonight. Earl is expected to make its closest approach around 2 a.m. Friday, when it'll be offshore from Cape Hatteras.

As you can see from the above satellite image, we're starting to see the edges of Hurricane Earl here in Plymouth, which is about 100 miles south of Norfolk and about 80 miles west of Cape Hatteras. If the storm maintains its projected path, we're not likely to see any fierce winds tonight. But hurricanes are unpredictable, and I spent part of the morning clearing small objects out of our yard, fueling up my pickup truck, and making sure the gas-powered generator was working.

My barometers are slowing starting to fall, an indication that there's a bad storm out there somewhere.

I'll have another update around 4:30 p.m.

Powerful Hurricane Earl Headed Our Way

Hurricane Earl is expected to be an intense Category 4 hurricane when it makes its closest approach to the North Carolina coast early tomorrow morning. The current forecast predicts that Earl's strongest winds will exceed 140 mph around 2 a.m. Friday when the storm's eye is about 40 miles east-southeast of Buxton, a village at Cape Hatteras. At that point, Hurricane Earl will be about 115 miles east-southeast of Plymouth, North Carolina, where Jane and I live.

If Earl maintains this intensity, it'll be among the strongest hurricanes north of the 35th parallel, which falls roughly halfway between Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras. Hurricanes draw their strength from warm ocean waters, and the water temperatures usually aren't warm enough to sustain the storms this far north. But ocean temperatures off the coast of the Southeast are well above normal this year, and there's plenty of fuel to keep Earl stoked as it moves northward.

As I'm writing this, I just got an email alert saying that a hurricane watch has been issued for portions of the Massachusetts coast. A hurricane watch means that hurricane-force winds -- that is, winds of at least 74 mph -- are possible within the watch area.

By contrast, a hurricane warning has been issued for the North Carolina coast. A hurricane warning means that hurricane-force winds are expected within the warning area.

I'm going to try an experiment in live-blogging as Hurricane Earl approaches North Carolina. The storm is expected to be offshore and due east of Savannah, Georgia around 2 p.m. today. I'll start a new post then and make updates as Earl gets closer. Please check back.

NOTE: The graphic at the top of this post is from the website Weather Underground.