Mark Kosnoff
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Nov. 28, 2023

Machu Picchu, built around 1450 A.D. high in the Chilean Andes for the Incan Emperor Pachacuti, is one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” (along with the Great Wall of China, Petra in Jordan, the Colosseum in Italy, Chichen Itza in Mexico, the Taj Mahal in India and Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil). Speaking to 45 Y’s Men of Meriden on Nov. 28, avid hiker Mark Kosnoff gave an illustrated talk about his 2008 seven-day trek with a friend to visit the ruins of this remarkable ancient city, which at one time oversaw South America’s vast Inca Empire (larger than the Roman Empire).

The actual hike began following a required three days of acclimating to the thin air in the city of Cusco (altitude 11,200 ft.); Kosnoff’s friend promptly suffered from altitude sickness, requiring temporary supplemental oxygen, but recovering within three days. This city was the capital of the Inca Empire for three centuries prior to arrival of Francisco Pizarro and the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s. Kosnoff visited local ruins which included extensive terracing (originally used for raising crops) and remarkable buildings and walls built with enormous stones (some the size of a small house) and precisely set together.

The three-day trek to Machu Picchu then followed. The hiking pair was required to be accompanied by a guide, two porters and a cook. Hiking was easier following the previous acclimatization, but trails reached their high point at 13,729 ft. and required a bridge crossing over the Urubamba River. The dirt trail on Day 1 passed numerous Incan ruins, with walking on the same level as surrounding clouds and viewing snow-capped peaks all around. Kosnoff became very sluggish and short of breath at one point, but quickly recovered. Day 2 required additional climbing up to Dead Woman’s Pass along a path made with flattened stones, reaching a high point at 13,729 ft. Then Day 3 started the descent into Machu Picchu (located in a valley at about 8000 ft.) along a partially-overgrown trail, with views of numerous Incan ruins.

Machu Picchu

Mark (right) and friend (left) with guide at Machu Picchu

View of trail and valley

Ruins along the Inca Trail

Trail leading to Dead Woman's Pass

The final day began prior to 5:30 am in an effort to view the legendary “Sun Gate” at sunrise, but the sight was thwarted by rain and fog (“We couldn’t see a thing!”). Kosnoff proceeded to show a series of slides from this fabled city, with views of roaming wild llamas, Huayna Picchu (the peak seen in most photos of the city), and the well-preserved two-story Tomb of the Princess.

Ken Morgan
Meriden Fire Chief
Antarctica and the Penguins
Nov. 21, 2023

“Antarctica and the Penguins” was the subject of an illustrated talk to 33 Y’s Men of Meriden on Nov. 21 by Ken Morgan, Meriden Fire Chief. Providing details of his Jan. 2023 summertime trip organized by Norwegian Cruise Lines, Morgan also concentrated on the environmental damage occurring due to global warming.

Antarctica is the coldest, driest and windiest of the seven continents, with a summer population of about 5000 (mainly researchers), a number that shrinks to about 1000 in the Antarctic wintertime (when Americans are enjoying summer weather). Temperatures vary from 50+ degrees F. in summertime to a rock-bottom -128.6 degrees F. in winter (a record global cold recorded at the Russian Vostok Station in 1983).

This cruise also included Argentina (the world’s 6th largest producer of beef and home to soccer star Lionel Messi), as well as a visit to the beautiful city of Buenos Aires, eagerly sought by tourists. The tour also encompassed a visit to the Falkland Islands, known for rough weather and seas and becoming newsworthy following an Argentinian invasion of these British dependent territories in 1982, a 10-week conflict won by the British. At that time, Argentina was close to war with Chile, and so sent its best troops to guard the Chilean border, leaving less-trained troops to take part in the invasion.

And Chile itself, the longest country in South America, was a tour highlight, known for its great camping, hiking and fishing. The country is heavily populated by Magellanic penguins, named after Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who noticed them in 1520. Morgan displayed numerous photos of these human-friendly birds that feed in the water, often diving to depths up to 150 feet, to feed on krill and other prey. These penguins have poor eyesight on land but excellent vision underwater. Their biggest threat to survival: humans, through oil spills and other ecological disasters.

Gentoo penguins

Magellanic penguins

Antarctic Coastline

Access to the Antarctic coastline required sailing through Drake Passage, renowned for gale-force winds and icebergs, with wave heights up to 30-40 feet; it is here that the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet unimpeded. Shrinking of glacial ice shelves and calving of icebergs are increasing due to climate change. Morgan’s photos included an ice station and the Antarctic coastline. The continent is also home to the remarkable Gentoo penguin, which can swim underwater up to 25 m.p.h.

Pam Fields
CEO of MidState Arc Inc. and ATECH
Using Technology to Stay Independent as we age
Nov. 14, 2023

In this age of ever-expanding utilization of computer technology and artificial intelligence, there is growing hope for those with disabilities (including aging, autism, and intellectual and physical incapacities) to remain independent in their own homes, rather than relying on round-the-clock nursing or institutional care. Speaking to 39 Y’s Men of Meriden on Nov. 14, Pam Fields, CEO of Midstate Arc Inc. and ATECH (Assistive Technology Training Center, a growing commercial spinoff) described in detail how this occurs.

Fields first described how technology can assist people with living on their own and aging in place, including robotic vacuums and mops, window blinds that adjust by remote or voice controls, pull-down cabinets, and temperature control. Doors may be opened or relocked by voice commands, and cooking may be automated using smart burners and pans (which adjust cooking time and then shut off). If you leave your stove (e.g. for more than five minutes), it will shut off if you don’t reappear within the set time, and microwave ovens can be regulated to shut off if a burning odor is detected.

Health of the home’s occupant can be enhanced using automated medication dispensers (which alert you when it’s time for your next dose, or call a friend or family member if you fail to take it). Blood pressure and pulse oximetry can be computerized. Visual impairment is being conquered; BlindSquare technology will walk you through a building to your destination, warning you of objects in your path, and an OrCam device (attached to your eyeglasses frame) can read text to you and identify people in front of you. For the hearing impaired, an automated bed shaker will alert you in case of fire.

Technology Equipment used by ATECH

And speech barriers: devices are now being developed to “degarble” jumbled speech. Several programs are now competent to verbally or textually translate languages (e.g. Spanish to English). GPS devices tracking one’s location can now be incorporated into patches sewn on clothing. Fall pendants are common, alerting authorities if you should tumble. But today, ATECH has teamed up with Mule Security Systems, assisted by artificial intelligence, to create devices which after a two-week training period can send an alert if your toilet flushing routine deviates significantly from your norm, or provide smart door locks (activated by eye gaze, fob, or fingerprint recognition).

Peter Picone
Wildlife Biologist at DEEP (CT Dept of Energy and Environmental Protection)
Managing the Invasive Tree of Heaven
(host of the invasive Spotted Lanternfly)

Nov. 7, 2023

Connecticut is currently draped by some 2800 plant species, of which 1800 predate the colonization of the state and about 1000 were subsequently introduced by later settlers and travelers; however, among these newer types are 97 invasive species which aggressively affect the surrounding flora and destroy surrounding habitats. Speaking to 38 Y’s Men of Meriden on November 7, Peter Picone, Wildlife Biologist with DEEP (CT Dept of Energy and Environmental Protection) provided a colorful slideshow and talk about the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), one of the more aggressive species.

Picone noted that this species was introduced from Asia to America in 1784 by a gardener from Philadelphia. In Connecticut, it was first identified along the Housatonic River, with seed spread via the river’s stream. If unchecked, this species may grow to a height of 80-100 feet (with trunks up to three feet in diameter) and multiply via the 350,000 seeds created by each. Furthermore, the Tree of Heaven acts as host for the Spotted Lanternfly, a destructive insect also introduced from Asia, which infests food crops including soybeansgrapes and stone fruits.

Removing this plant species remains challenging. It is best to remove it early in its life cycle, because of its logarithmic growth if unchecked, displacing native vegetation. Simple felling is ineffective, as the extensive root system responds by creating additional plants. For removal, large trees require girdling, while smaller trees are cut down and the stump treated with a foliar herbicide which is absorbed into the root system.

Invasive Tree of Heaven

Spotted Lanternfly

Picone has devoted special attention to scenic Charles Island, located a half-mile off the coast of Milford and accessible by land only at low tide (during a full moon) via a tombolo (sandbar); visitors are sometimes trapped as the tide comes in. Vigorous action by Picone and others has successfully eliminated the Tree of Heaven along with planting benign trees on this Natural Area Preserve. A flurry of questions from the audience followed this presentation.