Sunday, September 3, 2017

Lake Isabelle

In the background: Apache Peak, Shoshoni Peak, Pawnee Pass and Mt Toll, all close to 13 thousand feet

Having Wednesdays off has its advantages.
Norine and I dropped off Paolo at school and then headed to Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Look it up and consider visiting it, if you live in the Front Range of Colorado, because it is fantastic.
For us it is surely one of the most beautiful hikes in the area.
A moist forest, soft walking path, the sound of water, a peaceful high mountain lake, plenty or mushrooms (even edible ones) and wildflowers and my best friend forever.
Many more peaks and trails to discover. Maybe next year we will come camping here.

Here is a link to the hike profile:

"porcino mushroom - the best to find"

Lake Isabelle, 11,000 feet

"goodbye for now"

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

In the path of totality - August 21, 2017 - Nebraska

Isabella and dad decided to brave the forecasted terrible traffic and drive to Nebraska to watch the total solar eclipse. This is the tale of their short adventure.
Alarm sounds at 2:45am in order to meet with Kirk and his children at 3:30.
The morning air is brisk but pleasant. Food and water were prepared the night before but we want to get an extra container of gas, just in case. The first gas station pump I try does not dispense gas. Maybe they turn it off at night? So we get gas at a second one.
We meet our friends, cram 5 people in a Hyundai and are on the road toward the Scottsbluff area by 3:40am. Surely one of the earliest departures ever.
We have plenty of food, water and entertainment, a full tank of gas as well as three full 5-gallons gas containers in the trunk. Unfortunately, one of them has a tiny little leak next to the cap and the smell comes into the car. So we spend the day opening and closing the windows for fume control.
As we drive up E470, there is a steady stream of red car lights ahead of us and we wonder how bad traffic will be. Yet, our fears never materialize. We reach Fort Morgan, then head up country roads to Nebraska. The young people in the car sing: "Take me home country roads, to the place I belong...."
The stream of car continues but it's the fog in northern Colorado, not the traffic, that slows us down to 40mph for a while. We cross I-80 and stop in Kimball, NE for a break. About twenty people are in line for one bathroom at the gas station in town, so we decide to keep going and stop by the roadside on a small country road instead.
The Nebraska radio station we tune is talks with excitement about "Nebraska being in the path of totality" and says that the stadium in Scottsbluff is getting filled with eclipse watchers. It's 7am, so we decide to head for the country instead. We turn onto CO RD 88 and then north to stay out of town. In the meanwhile the radio features the daily value for corn, hay, wheat, alfa-alfa and other vegetables on the farmers' stock market (corn $22.50 up 2...) along with the list of people that will be selling cattle this morning at the market. Quantity, price and breed are all mentioned. I wonder if anybody will buy cattle today....
4 1/2 hours after our departure we drive over a large rail road crossing and enter into Morrill, NE (population 912 according to the 2010 census). It is small, quiet and rundown. The local gas station does not have a line for the bathroom. Plus they still have plenty of eclipse glasses for sale along with eclipse T-shirts. It seems like the right place to stop.   Besides, there is a well maintained, green park in the center of town. So we set up camp for our observation point.
The sky is blue, not a cloud in sight.
Coal trains stream by next to main street with a loud whistle about every 20 minutes; full trains come from Wyoming to the west and empty trains come from the east. There is a pattern.
The town seems to be in existence because of a "bean plant", but apart from that there is not much life here.
The police station has two cars that drive loops around the few streets and the green park.
We play some frisbee and tennis, do some homework, Isabella naps on her portable hammock while people start trickling in. By the time the eclipse starts at 10:30am there are probably 60 to 80 people mostly from Colorado and some from Wyoming, where we hear the traffic is terrible.
Ha, ha, good choice not go there.
The viewers include a group of 4 Asian people (Chinese?) each wearing the equivalent of a homemade, full body suit including gloves, hoodies and face masks. Then they lay on the ground on their blankets to watch the natural show.
An older man from Fort Collins sets up a telescope with a 90 degree lens that projects the sun onto the bottom of a cardboard box. Very simple but ingenious. A line of curious people quickly lines up to see the setup. We can see the sun spots that way. He says he observes them regularly and they usually last from a few weeks to a few months.
A woman gets out from a Colorado SUV wearing a low cut shirt which says something like: "Stop staring here, look at the sun instead". I did NOT stare, so I am not sure of the exact wording, but we get the idea. :)
I did not want to drive all the way to Nebraska for a two minutes total eclipse. I thought: "how different can 93% in Denver really make?" Well, it did make a big difference. Only when the sun is almost fully covered does the lighting really changes and super interesting effects take place. Isabella and her friend see "shadow snakes", a 360 degrees sunset happens within literally a few seconds. The temperature drops, the corona of the sun becomes visible and people start applauding...
I am so glad I came. Thank you Isabella for insisting. My only wish is that the full eclipse would last longer, in order to be able to observe all the effects more closely. We may have to go chase another one somewhere. By the way, did you know that other known planets do not experience such perfect full eclipses as we do on earth? The dimensions and relative distances of sun, moon and earth allow for that to happen. God surely knows what he is doing (for more info on this see:

When light returns we say goodbye to Morrill and head back south. Fearing traffic again, we decide to go through gravel roads all the way to I-80. The result is a lot of dust but not one car for about 54 miles.
Once we reach good pavement again is time for saying the rosary and then there is still one more exciting event. The traffic slows down right at the border between Nebraska and Colorado. I look at Google maps which predicts that the drive home will take another 10+ hours. I freeze and everybody in the car panics. But the traffic eases again and I look at the phone one more time. Google maps direction for set for bike instead of car.  We all breath a sight of relief. It will take us 5 hours to get back. In total 9 1/2 hours in the car for a two minutes nature show.
It was all worth it. Thanks Isabella for convincing me to go. Thanks Kirk for driving and thanks God for such an amazing design, once again.
We all learned a lot today.

Waiting for the exciting time


Sun spots

This projections were made with a telescope, a deflector and a cardboard box

total eclipse moment - camera - no filter - no magnification

total eclipse moment - no camera filter - full zoom

picture above cropped

A cool sign for a very tiny village in Nebraska - Thank you Morrill, NE

Morrill's sights

More Morrill's sights

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Gloria Dei est vivens homo!

"The glory of God is man fully alive," so said St. Irenaeus many centuries ago and this is what Pietro, Isabella and I experienced yesterday as we climbed Quandary Peak (14,265 ft - 4347 m).
While, as St. Paul reminds us, we will only experience our true fulfillment in Heaven, it is also true that God is glorified when we live the life of grace he has called us to live here on earth.
So, climbing a mountain and using our human gifts to praise Him and do His will are activities we should enjoy and share with others. I am convinced God smiles when we do that.
The highlights of the climb:

- meeting mountain goats along the way

- 360 degrees view of snow covered peaks from the top
- bragging rights of climbing 3500 ft elevation over 3.5 miles
- just being together in God's peaceful nature

Early start - 6AM on the trail

Sunrise on the high mountains

Close encounter

On the top... what was he doing there? There is no vegetation at 14200 ft elevation

4th 14er for Isabella and daddy. 2nd 14er for Pietro

We made it!

Proof of having reached the top - time, elevation and heart rate

Monday, May 29, 2017

Devil's Head Trail - Sedalia Colorado.

Beautiful hike with Isabella for her (belated) birthday.
Devil's Head is a Fire Observation point for Pike's Peak National Forest. There is 360 degree view that goes from Pike's Peak on the south to Longs Peak on the North.
Than you God for such great beauty and our bodies that allowed us to experience it.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Benedictine college, Atchison, KS

Why many of the most orthodox catholic colleges are located in small towns? We wondered about  that while driving for 9 hours in the rain to Atchison, Kansas, home of Benedictine College.

The Monastery

Atchison is on the Missouri river, at the border with..... yes, Missouri

Campus view from the river

The Ravens
Campus church

Stations of the cross in the woods

Walking on campus

What did we learn (or were reminded of) on this trip?

- You can truly perceive the virtues and the development of the whole person are at the core of the education on these campuses. The openness and love are palpable in people's smiles, their demeanor and the type of activities and events that are offered.
- All of our children need to take some theology classes before they graduate from college, even if they decide not to attend a catholic college.
- There are plenty more FedEx trucks on I-70 and I-80 than there are UPS trucks (Paolo's count was 105 to 35).
- Mom and dad like the small town atmosphere and simplicity of life.
- According to some locals we talked to, the legalization of marijuana in Colorado has made the small towns along I-70 in Kansas less safe. That's very sad.
- Daddy can drive for long hours on uncrowded highways. He likes to space out and he enjoys even the flat landscapes.
- We love traveling together and we missed Isabella not being with us, but the boys probably did better in the car without her.
- Paolo decided that one of his goals is to play at least one game of bowling in each one of the fifty states. In Kansas we played at the West Lanes bowling center. His score was 93. He can only improve from here.
- Daddy said he wants a US political map on the wall and highlight all the highways we drive on. There are already a lot of them.
- Next stop: University of Mary, in Bismark, North Dakota, probably in September.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Undeniable - a book about Intelligent Design

I recently read a fascinating book about Intelligent Design. I wanted to make sure not to forget its content and main arguments so I wrote a review of it that I am now pasting below. A week later, I found out that the author had just made a presentation of the book at a church in Texas. So I watched the recording. If you do want to spend the time to read the book, but this subject interest you, take an hour to watch his presentation.
I hope to write more about this again, as it is a subject I want to learn more about. Maybe it is because I am getting older. :)

What will Heaven be like? Will there still be room for learning or will we grasp and know everything instantly, the very moment we wonder about things? Learning is such a part of who I am that it is difficult for me to imagine living without it. I have so many questions for God and for the people I want to meet once I get to Heaven. One of those questions surfaced again recently after reading a new book about Intelligent Design (ID). Despite the criticism it received from darwinistic, evolutionary websites that ID is dead and that the arguments made by Douglas Axe, the author of “Undeniable, how biology confirms our intuition that life is designed” are old and unscientific, I found the book fascinating. Mr. Axe’s book claims that random, accidental evolution is fantastically impossible and it also cannot explain how life came to be in the first place, even before it started to evolve, if it ever did. I think it is sad that the attacks I read made toward Mr. Axe, a microbiologist Ph.D. and to his book are so emotionally charged, full of angry words but themselves lack scientific evidence. Engineers (as I am), physicists and scientists always need to prove their discoveries and their theories with facts. We thrive in the satisfaction of testing a hypothesis and finding that we were right. And, we all enjoy the challenge and energy that is needed to defend such discoveries from being disproven. Yet, it seems to me, that, when it comes to the origin and the presence of life on this earth, our scientific approach often goes out the window and Darwinism becomes a religion that cannot be challenged even though it is not proven and actually relies on very many assumptions.  Douglas Axe tries to point out exactly that in his book relying on his scientific experience working with proteins, on statistics and on common sense. After all, aren’t experience, statistics and common sense \well-respected tools in the intellectual world? 
So what are his main points? I summarize them below, mostly for my own benefit. I don’t claim to be exhaustive in my summary nor that these short bullets can be a substitute for reading the book, but I hope they may encourage you to pick it up.

· Our experience tells us that “anything genius can only exist because of a genius mind”. 
None of us has ever experienced food ingredients randomly mixing together to create an appetizing meal. None of the inventions that exist today have been created by pure chance of random parts getting together to make something function. Yes, sometimes ideas and discovery happen by what we call “accident”, but they are no accident really and they still need our human mind to give them form and bring them to life. The discovery of penicillin on a petri dish left by mistake in a laboratory is a good example of that.  No bestselling book has ever been created by the random typing of pages and pages of words. Books, sculptures, paintings, music, all require painstaking hours of work, revision and touch-up. Even scientific articles do (yes, peer-reviews).
· All life forms present an incredible level of what Douglas Axe calls “functional coherence”.  They are not just made of a blob of matter that somehow exists. They are all made of several layers of perfectly shaped, positioned, highly sophisticated and inter-correlated functioning parts. Can all of these parts truly have come to be by accident? Could they have come to be, not independently of one another, but all together and coordinately to form each and every single existing organism? If evolution is truly random as Darwin claimed, then each part should not know about the other parts developing concurrently and coherently. Mr. Axe points out that if, sitting at a dinner table, we were presented with an alphabet soup showing words rightly formed and positioned, our common sense would tell us that somebody has arranged such letters. Even scientists would. Yet, evolutionists do not question complicated organs and parts getting formed and organized into highly efficient organisms. Simply Google cyanobacteria to see how intricate unicellular organisms are.
· Even if evolution were able to create more complicated organisms from simpler organisms, there would still be no explanation for how simple organisms came to be in the first place. And what does “simple organisms” refer to anyway? As mentioned above even unicellular organisms are made of innumerable parts working seamlessly together. 
· Mutations are permanent changes that affect an organism or one of its part (macro mutation) or a molecule inside an organism (micro mutation). For example, the change in length in the beak of a bird can be considered a macro mutation, while the change in how a cell can defend itself from a certain bacteria can be considered a micro mutation.  Mr. Axe acknowledges that mutations are indeed possible, but points out that the following points about mutations are usually overlooked. In fact, the fact that a mutation might happen does not mean it will survive or “evolve the population”, in fact, for that to happen:
· The mutation needs to happen independently in enough individuals of the population to be able to be transmitted to the next generation.
· It needs to become dominant to the point of taking over within the existing population.
· In order to improve a species, it also needs to represent an advancement with respect to the existing characteristic(s) it is replacing (after all if mutations are random, then a mutation does not necessarily have to be an advancement. It could also be a regression, which would move the species in the wrong direction).
· The advancement needs to be significant enough to cause a change in the population. A mutation could be so small and insignificant as to promote no change. For example, a protein within a cell could mutate how a cell perform a certain cellular process without actually affecting the outcome of the process.
And all of these things, of course, need to happen…. Not just one of them.
· Mr. Axe is a protein biologist. Proteins are large molecules that can be considered the basis of life, as they perform many (or most) of the basic functions that happen inside living cells. Proteins are made of long chains consisting of hundreds to thousands of smaller molecules called amino-acids. Break or change one of the links or one of the amino-acids in the chain and the protein will not work properly. Only estimates exist for the number of different proteins existing inside a human body. Those estimates range from tens of thousands to millions. Douglas Axe and other scientists with him have tried to mutate a protein in a non-intelligent way, trying millions of different random mutations without success. This work has been published in scientific journals and, according to Mr. Axe, it is not usually questioned by evolutionary biologists. Apparently, this is because many of these people claim that proteins have now evolved to their most perfect state and so we are no longer able to mutate existing proteins into new and better working ones. (I’ll have to do some more research on this subject to see if this what many affirm)
· Based on the possible combinations of amino-acids, the likelihood of accidentally generating just one good protein sequence was estimated by Axe to be 1 in 1074, or  100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Any experiment, which has such a likelihood of success would be considered by any world scientist statistically impossible. In comparison, the likelihood of randomly dropping a pin from space exactly over any random place on the earth surface, for example over the Four Corners (the exact intersection of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico) is 1 in 1020, or 100,000,000,000,000,000,000. You can try to do that yourself here: Good luck!
· For any macroscopic level mutation to happen, very many coordinated microscopic level mutations need to happen. How can significant evolution at a macroscopic level even be considered feasible when the likelihood of a protein level mutation is biologically impossible?  
· Human life consists of more than just the cells that make up our bodies. Our brain is the interface between the material world and thoughts, feelings and desires. These are all non-material realities, but the materialistic view of the world wants to reduce humans to “clump of cells”. Yet it is not able to explain how the brain can, among other things, store memories and provide emotions.
· And finally here is a basic calculation I came up with. It is not meant to prove anything, but simply to present another numerical consideration about the arguments surrounding evolution. Estimates for the number of cells in the human body range between 10 and 1000 trillions. On the other hand the age of the earth is estimated at 5 billion years. This means that at least 2000 changes a year (10 trillion ÷ 5 billion) each adding one cell would have needed to happen to evolve a single cell organism into a human over that period of time. Of course, this does not take into account any cell specialization or functional coherence and microscopic mutations. Nor does it account the huge number of animal life forms that exists, all of which would have to also have evolved during the same time period. 

It seems that many people feel that evolution and faith in God are completely irreconcilable. Or maybe it is that evolution supporters are concerned about moral limitations on their freedom of research that an acceptance of God would impose. Or, are we humans too proud to admit that we cannot explain and control everything? 
To me, the existence of God, science and evolution are not necessarily incompatible. If God exists, then science is just God’s tool. God could have created the creatures we now know as they are, without a need for evolution. Or maybe evolution did actually happen to some degree, but it was not random and accidental. Instead, God could have created creatures over a long period of time, starting from unicellular life forms and moving toward more complicated life forms. He could have decided to promote microscopic and macroscopic mutations at specific time points. See the Cambrian explosion of species for example… A touch of humility is helpful in so many aspects of our life. It may actually even help us to become better scientists.  To be continued...