Tag Archives: Nature

Meet New Jersey’s Biggest Polluter

Along the New Jersey Turnpike, it comes into view: a massive complex of tanks, smokestacks, and tangled pipes. This is New Jersey’s biggest polluter: the Phillips 66 Bayway Refinery.

The Phillips refinery releases far more toxic chemicals than anywhere else in the state, and more than twice as many as the runner-up (another refinery). Some of these chemicals may cause cancer.

Where do these chemicals go? Into poor communities in surrounding Linden, NJ:

“We live in a very low-income neighborhood, so we’re advocating for food, and shelter and everything else. I don’t believe we can get to the point where we’re able to advocate for the smells or the chemicals that are released in the air,” she said.

Despite its staggering environmental toll, the plant employees just 800 people and, even at full capacity, produces only 155,000 barrels of gasoline daily. This is less than 0.05% of the gasoline the US uses every day.

Even those far from New Jersey may have cause for concern: the plant sits two miles from Arthur Kill, the waterway that separates Staten Island from the Garden State and feeds into the Atlantic Ocean. I shudder to think what could happen in a natural disaster, to say nothing of a man-made one. Indeed, the refinery had to shut down prior to Hurricane Sandy.

We have a dangerous plant in the middle of one of the most densely populated places in the country, leeching out toxins. Its damage falls disproportionately on the poor and nonwhite. Its economic impact is modest.

Perhaps it’s time for a change?

More on New Jersey:

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This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

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The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

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Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

Why Are There Cars Full of Bulletholes in Ringwood State Park?

As I walked up the beginning of a trail covered in red and orange leaves last fall, I saw a dark form to my left. What is that, a rock, a downed tree? As I got closer, I realized it was the shell of a vintage automobile.

Coming closer, I realized this was not your average junker. The car appeared to be from the 40’s or 50’s, and it had more than mechanical trouble. Along the side was a series of large holes that appeared to have been made by a powerful firearm.

Did the car belong to an old time mobster, perhaps rubbed out in some gangland dispute and then dumped in the woods? If so, was there also a body nearby? And are there more cars in this woods?

This interesting find occurred to me again last night, so I did some Googling this morning but was unable to find any information about junked cars or dumped bodies in Ringwood State Park. The park is under an hour from New York City, so it seems entirely possible that it could be a mob graveyard. But the secret may have died with whoever was in that car many years ago.

Mysteries aside, Ringwood State Park is a beautiful and accessible spot that I highly recommend. Its undulating terrain affords beautiful views any time of year but especially in fall. Despite its proximity to New York City, I’ve found it to be generally uncrowded and quiet. The trails are not always marked well, so I’d suggest bringing a GPS unit if possible, although we were able to manage without one.

If anyone knows anything about the history of this area and what’s going on with that car, please leave a comment at the bottom of the page!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Dig into these posts for more on the outdoors in New Jersey:

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Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

A Hidden Castle…In New Jersey?

As you round a clear blue lake, a second, smaller path winds away from the main trail. Up this path, on a peak covered with flowers, lie the remains of a vast stone edifice.

This is Van Slyke Castle in Ramapo State Forest in Oakland, NJ, just 30 miles from midtown Manhattan. I visited with a friend last week and was mesmerized by the spooky ruins and the beautiful natural setting.

Van Slyke Castle was built by a wealthy stockbroker named William Porter at the beginning of the 20th century. After his death in a car crash, his widow Ruth married attorney Warren Van Slyke, who lent his name to the manse.

After Ruth’s death, the castle fell into disrepair, and burned down in 1959:

Ruth died in 1940, leaving the castle without an owner for nine years. It was finally purchased in 1949 by a couple who subsequently resold the property two years later to Suzanne S. Christie. She abandoned it shortly after. No one knows why she left the place, though it’s suspected it could have been the result of a bitter divorce.

After years of desertion, the mansion met its fiery demise when vandals broke in and set the place ablaze.

More on the history of the castle here.

The stone ruins are expansive. Though the structure is overgrown, the pipes are still visible and behind the house is the remains of a large swimming pool.

Beautiful flowers are everywhere. Perhaps Ruth Van Slyke planted them? From the peak, you can see the New York City skyline in silhouette in the distance, a marked contrast to the woodsy surroundings.

My friend and I lied on a rock near the castle and enjoyed the sun, flowers, and beautiful lake view. As we descended, I reflected on how amazing it is that inside this beautiful woods was a grand castle we could’ve easily missed.

If you haven’t been to Ramapo State Forest, I strongly recommend it! The scenery is beautiful and the hiking is easy. Add great views and the odd chipmunk, and it’s hard to beat!

Dig into these posts for more on the outdoors in New Jersey:

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Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

The Real Groundhogs of New Jersey

You look out onto a small grassy area in a nearby park. Surrounding you are tall brick buildings and in the distance, the New York City skyline. Wait…is that something moving?

A few days ago in West New York

This is how I discovered the adorable groundhogs of Auf der Heide Park in West New York, NJ two years ago. I’ve seen as few as one and as many as five or six, and they can be found reliably spring through fall every year. In winter, they hibernate deep in their holes, the way we sometimes wish we could!

Last summer

My favorite groundhog was an older gentleman I met last spring. It was early April, during the worst part of the COVID crisis. There wasn’t much to do really, besides walk. One day, I figured I’d bring up a few snacks for the little guys. They love fruits and veggies but don’t care for carbs. Perhaps they’re on the Atkins?

That’s when I came across an adorable Grandpa Groundhog. I fed him a few veggie snacks, and as he ate, I noticed his back right foot was severely injured and barely attached. I later spoke with staff from the Animal Medical Center in New York as well as animal control, but they recommended against trying to trap a wild animal for treatment. So I just kept visiting him.

He soon became so tame he would sit on my foot and eat like a dog. Then, after a week or so, I stopped seeing him. The other groundhogs weren’t very nice to him and tried to steal his food, probably knowing he was weak. But not too weak to give them a penetrating stare that had them backing off in a hurry.

Here’s a video of him:

I don’t know what happened to him, but I assume he may have passed away. I’m happy he had at least one friend in his last days, and I’m honored I got to be that friend. At that time, I needed a friend too.

Dig into these posts for more on the outdoors:

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/etc. using the buttons at the bottom of the page. This helps more people find the blog! 

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

Is this NJ’s Most Beautiful Spot?

Our car wound into the hills along deserted roads. The scenery went from small towns to vast woods. We crunched down a gravel path to a secluded camp site along a lake. This was Stokes State Forest.

This weekend, I went camping with some friends in this beautiful spot in northwestern New Jersey. I can heartily recommend it for its varied scenery and peaceful ambience. Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect if you visit:

Location: About 70 miles northwest of New York City in the beautfiul Delaware Water Gap, just a few miles from the Pennsylvania border. If you’re in the NYC area, this is one of the more convenient campgrounds to visit.

Scenery: The most varied I’ve seen yet, after having been to Harriman State Park and the Catskills in New York and the Pine Barrens in South Jersey. We saw small mountains, ponds, lakes, marshes, and plains all within a 5 mile hike!

Wildlife: We saw squirrels, a beaver dam, and even a bald eagle circling above us! You’ll see a lot of signs warning about bears. Be sure not only food but anything aromatic like lotion, toothpaste etc. is inside your car or in a bear bag when you go to sleep. Don’t take chances.

Amenities: There are water spigots with fresh, cold H2O everywhere. The nearest was about 50 feet from our camp site. There were also nice, clean bathrooms just a couple hundred feet away. The only available showers, however, were in the Lake Ocquittunk area, which was so far from our campsite we had to drive. This was a definitive negative, but at least the water was hot when we got there! The fire rings and the campsites in general are beat up from heavy use, but functional.

Cost: $40 for two nights. Split between the three of us, it was negligible.

Unexpected benefit: Compared to the Pine Barrens, where we often camp, Stokes State Forest has fewer ticks, which makes it a good summer camping spot.

Watch out for: Fire bans. Because it had been windy the day we arrived, there was a fire ban that lasted most of the trip. This is a real problem: you don’t have a heat source or a way to cook. I’d strongly recommend bringing a butane camp stove. Ours is a Coleman and it’s great. It cost about $30.

We sat around the fire (once the fire ban expired) and gobbled up pork chops, sausages, and s’mores. When nature called in the morning, I enjoyed a beautiful sunrise over the nearby lake.

This is a beautiful spot! If you’re in the area, I encourage you to check it out!

For more on camping and the outdoors, check out these posts:

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Did You Know Dragonflies Can Do Backflips?

I came across this interesting new study today showing dragonflies can do backflips, even unconscious!

They found that conscious dragonflies, when dropped from the upside-down position, somersaulted backwards to regain the rightside-up position. Dragonflies that were unconscious also completed the somersault, but more slowly.

Check out the video below!

I happened to be watching a wonderful David Attenborough documentary on insects, including dragonflies, last night with my wife, so this interesting tidbit caught my eye! Nature continues to amaze me, day after day.

See the full study here.

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Photo: “White-faced meadowhawk dragonfly” by Tibor Nagy is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0         

What I Learned From James Watson, Co-Discoverer of the Structure of DNA

We wish to suggest a structure for the salt deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest.

So begins the famous Nature paper by James Watson and Francis Crick, who discovered the structure of DNA in 1953. Their discovery revolutionized biology and won them both the Nobel Prize.

I just finished reading Watson’s book The Double Helix, and as a layman I found the inside view of the process of scientific discovery intriguing. What struck me most was the importance of collaboration.

We are used to thinking of scientists as lone geniuses hunched over a lab bench until they exclaim “Eureka!” But Watson’s book makes clear how important the many scientists surrounding him at the University of Cambridge were to his discovery. He repeatedly checks his findings with others more experienced than he in a particular area, like structural chemistry. And without the long conversations with Crick, the discovery would never have happened in the first place.

Being in the right environment was so important to Watson that he left the University of Copenhagen, against the terms of his fellowship, when he realized he needed the expertise of the Cambridge circle to make a real breakthrough. He did what was necessary and asked for permission later. What would’ve happened had he sat around waiting for permission?

The casual sexism with which Watson treats Rosalind Franklin, the expert in X-ray photography that wound up playing a major part in the discovery of the double helix, was striking to me reading the book in 2021. Watson tends to characterize her opinions and insights as obstinancy or rudeness. He doesn’t view his male colleagues the same way.

If cooperation is so critical to science, I can’t help but wonder what Watson could’ve achieved with a more collaborative attitude toward Franklin. Would the breakthrough have come even sooner? Would they have been able to make even more discoveries together if Watson had been more open to her expertise?

I loved getting a view of what is in a scientist’s mind as they make a major breakthrough. Watson was by no means certain he was right at first, but he worked methodically to prove what he suspected. That even such a genius has doubt in his ideas can cheer the rest of us!

The great chemist Linus Pauling had suggested a different structure of DNA, which turned out to be incorrect. But when he saw the elegance of Watson and Crick’s double helix, he was in awe and thrilled, rather than upset at being proven wrong.

I find that attitude to be one of the great things about science. There is both collaboration and competition, but in the end, everyone is working toward one goal: understanding.

In all, I found Watson’s book interesting and instructive. Since it was written in 1968, I’m not sure how many people are still reading it, but it’s worth a look. Check it out!

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I Just Went to a Lecture at the World’s Premier Genomics Institute. Here’s What I Learned.

This little guy has superpowers.

I just attended a fascinating talk from the Broad Institute at MIT on how the genomes of other species relate to our DNA as humans. Drs. Elinor Karlsson and Diane Genereux of the Broad Institute are intensively studying other mammals, working to uncover the genetic basis of their superpowers.

For example, the thirteen lined ground squirrel can hibernate, the teeth of the North American beaver include iron and are thus nearly indestructible, and the Jamaican fruit bat can eat all the sweets it wants without diabetes. What if we humans could do those things?

Any such applications are a long ways away, if ever, but learning about these incredible animals was definitely interesting.

Karlsson and her colleagues have sequenced the genomes of 240 species. Some spots on those genomes change little if at all, indicating they probably have a crucial function that can’t be changed. Others change faster than the normal rate of mutations, indicating a survival advantage to mutations in that area.

The researchers also noted that in the 100 million years since all mammals shared a common ancestor, every possible genetic mutation has been tried, given the base rate of random mutations. So, if we don’t see a mutation in living mammals, it probably was tried and failed. Dr. Karlsson likened this to nature’s clinical trial, an excellent analogy.

This genomic research is likely to have more and more applications because the cost of sequencing a human genome has dropped from $2.7 billion for the first one to under $1,000 now. The Broad Institute sequences one every 10 minutes.

This is an explosion of data similar to the development of the internet. It took years, but companies like Google came along and harnessed that data, with profound effects on society. I anticipate enormous advances will come from this research in the future.

If you want to watch the lecture in its entirety, it should be up on the Broad’s YouTube channel soon. And to register for future lectures like this, check out the Science for All Seasons website here.

Thanks to Drs. Karlsson and Genereux, moderator Tom Ulrich, and the Broad Institute for this awesome talk!