NOT FOR NESSIE ... Although it may sound plausible, a new "marsh cam" in the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve is not a new method to hunt down the Loch Ness Monster. The piece of educational technology, installed at the former Sea Scout building now known as the EcoCenter, provides an intimate look at the 2,000-acre preserve. The video camera displays live views and information on the Bayland's tidal marshes to anyone with Internet access. The nonprofit Environmental Volunteers, which provides science education in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, is using the marsh cam to expand its reach. Donations to the EcoCenter Education Fund and a Whale Tail grant from the California Coastal Commission supported its installation. Among the plants and animals in the Baylands are native cordgrass, pickleweed and the endangered clapper-rail shorebird. The marsh cam can be viewed at www.EVols.org/marsh-cam.
JAPAN SAYS DOMO ARIGATO ... Longtime Palo Alto resident Peter Duus has been awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese government. The national decoration was established in 1875 by Emperor Meiji of Japan and honors exceptional civil or military merit. Non-Japanese were first awarded the decoration in 1981. The Order recognizes Duus' "contribution to Japan Studies in the United States and the promotion of mutual understanding between Japan and the United States." Duus is a Stanford University history professor emeritus who, from 1974 to 1989, was executive secretary for the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies, a consortium school in Japan established by Stanford that provides 10 months of intensive training in advanced Japanese. "When I embarked on a career in the field, Japanese language training was haphazard, to say the least," Duus stated in an announcement about his honor. "At the end of four years in graduate school, my recognition vocabulary included 'frankincense,' 'bread of life,' and 'aircraft carrier,' but I did not know how to order a cup of coffee. Thanks to the IUC, students do not have to suffer that fate today."
TAPPING THE BRAKES ON GAS ... Palo Alto's gas customers will get a mild reprieve on their utility bills this winter. The City Council this week approved lowering the gas rate for the average customer by 2 percent because of a regional squabble over PG&E's proposal to include a "transportation charge" in its gas rates (Palo Alto's gas utility relies on PG&E pipelines). Staff had included this charge in the rates that went into effect in July. But now, a dispute over whether the charge should be borne by ratepayers (as PG&E anticipated) or by investors has kept the charge from being implemented. With the California Public Utilities Commission currently considering the two sides in the dispute, Utilities Department staff recommended lowering local gas rates — a suggestion that the council swiftly approved this week without discussion.
50 YEARS OF REMEMBRANCES ... The nonprofit Palo Alto organization that assists children and adults with disabilities, Abilities United, will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2013. To honor that milestone, the organization launched a weekly online storytelling blog by clients and their families. The first story is by retired Palo Alto pediatrician Dr. Harry Hartzell, who could not bear to place his son in an institution and instead worked to raise him with help from Abilities United. The organization will host classes for the community and other events throughout the year. The stories and more information can be found at www.abilitiesunited.org.