Of light, pressure, Jewish DNA, and lobster trap Christmas trees

Lobster_trap_Christmas_tree_Rockland_Maine_2014-cPanbo.jpgI hope that Panbo readers everywhere enjoyed Hanukkah, the winter solstice, Christmas and/or any other way you celebrate the holiday season. We deserve all the light and cheer we can find, especially when the shortest days are as dreary as they were here on the coast of Maine this year. Instead of cold gray drizzle, my almost-Christmas-eve photo above might have shown sparkly snow highlighting the Rockland Public Landing and the islands across the Bay, but, hey, our area does lay claim to the “World’s Largest Lobster Trap Tree“…


This photo taken Christmas afternoon tells more of the weather story. While the new Starpath Mintaka Duo barograph doesn’t agree about the exact pressure with the Weems & Plath model I’m also testing, both their 24-hour graphs illustrate the fairly steep low that unkindly coincided with the holiday. But I’m learning to appreciate the value of a recording barometer again and will post a comparative review soon. (Incidentally, attendees of my all-day Trawlerfest “Soup-to-Nuts” nav seminar on January 21st in hopefully sunny Riviera Beach, Florida, will get some nice chart tools, thanks to generous Weems & Plath sponsorship.)


Meanwhile, I had plenty of indoor time to explore the somewhat wild world of lobster trap Christmas trees. It seems that Rockland’s “World’s Largest” claim may be off base at 35 feet, or at least it was in 2010 when Beals Island put up this monster. In fact, the next year Beals and neighboring Jonesport went even bigger, stacking 1,364 traps 60 feet high, and both the Bangor Daily and the New York Times covered the “friendly competition”. I don’t know if those way-Downeast lobstering towns have maintained their stride, but it seems that Gloucester had a 45-foot tree last year and while the Provincetown Lobster Pot Tree doesn’t look as large, it does have its own Facebook page.


It turns out that there are many ways to style a lobster trap Christmas tree. I’m particularly fond of ones that use the now antique bowed oak traps, like this Cape Porpoise creation I found on A Traveler’s Photo Journal. But our local Rockland tree remains a pleasure of the season, and I applaud everyone who brings light and fun to the long nights.


I’m also enthused about Gloucester’s new lobster trap menorah, which may be a first. We’ve celebrated Hanukkah in my household for decades, but it took on new meaning when I discovered that my own DNA is almost 25% Ashkenazi Jew. We all joined the 23andMe DNA program long ago, mainly because a family member works there, and both the medical and geneological information has been interesting. But it was a real surprise when the 23andMe researchers decided they had enough data to identify ancestral origins.


I thought that I knew a lot about my seemingly 100% WASP heritage, but the graphic above shows how almost every one of my chromosome pairs contains Ashkenazi DNA. The fact that it’s just in one of each pair indicates that it’s all from one parent and its presence in my X chromosome means that the parent was my mom. Beyond that is a fascinating mystery for me. I’m trying to solve it via traditional geneology, which has become amazing in our connected world, but the possible secret in my family past may only get solved with DNA matches. As a good friend likes to say, “Don’t believe everything you think!”

Incidentally, I have very high confidence in the 23andMe analysis because my daughter’s screen shows about 12% Ashkenazi, my Jewish second wife about 98%, my stepdaughter 49%, and my stepson 49% with his X chromosome indicating it all came from his mom. The science doesn’t factor in relationships, but this all makes total sense, apart from the mystery on my side. The cool part is that my daughter and I feel like we’re more connected to a bigger world than we thought we were, and even closer to the extended Ashkenazi family we already felt close to. DNA is certainly an interesting technology, but be aware that another possible outcome is sometimes phrased as: “My daddy’s not my daddy!”


OK, so I’m probably writing the most off-topic Panbo entry ever, and I may as well conclude with the photos of our home’s traditional rubber plant Christmas tree and the magnificent light beams that emanate from our granddaughters a block away. I wish you all a new year full of gorgeous clear high pressure systems and light of every sort. May you enjoy lobster trap Christmas trees and may any DNA surprises be as pleasant as mine. Regular marine electronics content will resume shortly.


Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

13 Responses

  1. moose says:

    merry everything to all 😀 its sunny and warm and long days down here in australia atm 😀

  2. Don Joyce says:

    Great way to note the end of 2014. Happy New Year!

  3. Jeffrey says:

    Nice holiday story Ben – Keep up the great work you do all year long…Much appreciated.
    Happy & Health New Year to you and your family.
    Jeff, Miami, FL

  4. Richard C says:

    Happy Hanukkah, Ben. What a pleasant post for the holiday season.
    I did the 23&me DNA thing as well and was disappointed to find that I’m 100% “northern European invader”. I thought I might be related to royalty or something, but in fact have a higher contribution of DNA from Neanderthal then most. Oh well, so much for that genealogy search:)
    I’m looking forward to the review and evaluation on the two electronic barographs. A few years back I purchased an identical looking unit to the Weems & Plath model and sent it back as it was wildly inaccurate compared to the NWS. I did like the Gale Warning alarm feature it had and the size of the screen made it easy to read the graph.
    However, with todays electronics you could have a highly accurate black box Barometer sending N2K data to a MFD and show the barometric graph, alarm and other features in great detail.
    Happy New Year to you and family
    Rich C, S/V Gray Eagle, Annapolis, MD

  5. Chris L-S s/v/ Pelican says:

    Thanks for your wonderful work in 2014. I maintain several blogs and sites and I know what a (more than) full time job it is. I appreciate your work, and look forward to more in 2015. On topic, one barograph you’re missing (and we have on our boat) is the Meteoman Barograph ( http://www.nasamarine.com/proddetail.php?prod=MeteoMan ).

  6. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Hi Richard, Sounds like the same electronic barograph but maybe you got a faulty one. Results are tentative but it seems like the W&P one I have is quite consistent with the high precision Starpath model. With both adjusted to my altitude the W&P reads about .08 inch lower than the Starpath (which matches local weather service readings closely) but the error remains the same no matter the pressure and thus can be adjusted out.
    Hey at 2.8% I too am slightly more Neanderthal than most, but let’s take solace in the 23andMe caveat: “There are many intriguing theories about what traits the smidgen of Neanderthal DNA may have imparted on modern humans, but we don’t know yet if having a little more than average Neanderthal DNA could explain why someone is extra brawny, short or boorish. Those traits might just be regular human characteristics.”
    Incidentally, I’ve been trying to recall the euphemism DNA researchers use for the “who’s your daddy” issue and while I haven’t uncovered it yet, I did learn that there are two mobile DNA labs driving around New York City no euphemism needed:
    At any rate, it was nice to learn that 23andMe found that 50% of my daughter’s DNA matches mine. And further proof that their testing is valid, as so far I have no other 23andMe match closer than 0.92%.
    Plus one guy toward the top of my match list at 0.87% recently turned out to be the distant cousin 23andMe predicted. We’ve been comparing notes and there’s no doubt that my 2nd great grandfather was his 3rd great grandfather. Coolest part is that I’m now in touch with his mother, who knew a grandmother I never met or even have a picture of.

  7. Neanderthals have been unfairly dissed ever since they were discovered.
    “[…] but we don’t know yet if having a little more than average Neanderthal DNA could explain why someone is extra brawny, short or boorish.”
    To bring back your Neanderthal Pride, read this:
    If you find that too long, skip to the last “In Conclusion”.
    Happy Y2K+15

  8. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Norse. I’m really feeling my Neanderthal now. The barrel chest and inability to throw fit me well.
    And I have a self-gift idea for you. These shirts don’t read “I’m Neanderthal and I’m proud!” but they’re darn close:

  9. keith says:

    Merry Christmas and a very happy new year to you Ben. I enjoy reading your blog and appreciate the time that you put in to share your hard won knowledge about marine electronics. Wonderful stuff! Good surf here in Margaret River, Western Australia.
    Keith from SURFMACHINE….

  10. Richard C says:

    Norse, Thanks for the link to the Neanderthal analysis. What a terrific article. I forwarded it to my daughter who is studying evolution at the University.
    Ben, We should have the “I’m Neanderthal and Proud” tee shirts made up. None of the others really say it like it is.

  11. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Richard, I had to buy myself a 23andMe 2.8% shirt once I realized that it was illustrated by my stepdaughter. She also created their Human Prehistory 101 videos, which you may well enjoy:
    Her side of our family are all a little light on Neanderthal DNA but I don’t hold it against them.

  12. Ken Weinstein says:

    A very interesting post and a real departure from your usual technical posts. I enjoyed it and wish you all the best this winter.

  13. Re: “I wish you all a new year full of gorgeous clear high pressure systems”
    Thanks, much appreciated!
    As you wrote that, Seattle was experiencing its highest pressure ever recorded.
    Cliff goes on to explain how high pressure lowers sea level from the tide tables predictions, which is interesting and important to us.
    The Cliff Mass blog is always entertaining and informative, even if you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest.

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