Field of Science

Almost, almost a great idea!

Here's a link to a fun article about a brewery in Bruges building a pipeline to the bottling plant to keep hundreds of beer tanker trucks off the roads. Now this is a pretty good time, energy saving idea, but it could have been a great idea.  Why not just cut out the middle step, the bottling, and pipe the fresh beer right into your abode?  Yes, yes, right there with the running water, hot and cold, and fresh draft beer. Just a bit more creativity was all that was needed. But, good job otherwise guys.

Messing with gravity

There are things you'd like to count on, and gravity is one of them, yes, even when you're at the top of a ladder.  Here's the thing. Ice has mass; it's heavy because it's water, which is pretty heavy, just ice is just a tad less dense than water, which is one of the few substances whose solid form is less dense than it's liquid phase. Now what is happening is that a lot of ice is melting in Antarctica, so much that the loss of this mass is ever so slightly altering gravity; it's a tiny bit less down there now. When you start messing with gravity, people should start paying attention. Just think how much ice has to melt to affect gravity! It's that darned old global warming to blame. Oh yes, and the water that was ice, what about that?  Well, goodbye Florida, goodbye Louisiana. Will their governors go down with their states denying all the way? Sure.   

Water, water everything

This time of year is tricky for gardening especially when mild warm weather predominates, but things aren't growing so much. Gardens just don't look like it's the end of September out there, and it's easy to get lulled into complacency. So here's the thing: keep those newly planted trees and shrubs, especially conifers, well watered. Remember winter survival is more about desiccation than it is about cold. Deciduous plants drop all those water-wasting leaves, but most conifers are evergreen, and while their leaves have relatively small areas and correspondingly less water loss, as the air gets colder it gets drier and when the soil freezes water is really "hard" to take up. So it's easy to lose track of rainfall and let plants dry out too much before the cold really sets in. TPP is now certain that his prize conifer died during the winter not because of cold but because of the severe drought the summer before.  And that combined with less well established roots was a deadly combination. Remember, half an inch of water a week is needed at a minimum to keep things growing well, and water those newly planted trees and shrubs deeply.   

Counter productive health care plans

If you need any evidence about why the USA needs more stream-lined, efficient health care plans, today's mail brought a datum, actually data. Yes, the Phactors needed a new post-65, post-retirement (for TPP) health care plan, and this required a considerable amount of paper work. Today's mail delivery consisted of two huge packages, one for each Phactor, a couple of booklets, or rather health care catalogs that would have made Sears & Roebuck proud, a total of almost 10 lbs of paper! What a tremendous waste! No one noticed that two identical documents were destined for the same address, for two people with the same last name. Probably verification of marriage was not provided. Also, one of us had already gotten these same documents. This waste costs money and is it counterproductive too? Yes, the poor mail carrier got a hernia hefting our health care plans! Poor guy. He'll need a good health care plan. 

Re-unite Pangaea

With all of this secessionist politics in the news, you might want a t-shirt like this to voice a more united position.  A number of years ago the paleobotanists had a button that said "give Pangaea a break", and this is the same joke just from a different perspective. Of course it would be more appealing if they had spelled Pangaea correctly. After all you wear such a shirt to look a bit clever, but in this case, not. 

TALL grass prairie vegetation

One obvious aspect of field research is that you cannot apply treatments or gather data if you cannot find your permanent plots. Now least you think TPP is careless or an amateur, several precautions were taken this spring, and in prior springs, to mark and map the 100 or so meter square plots out there on our research prairie. There is a permanent spike in the SE corner and smaller markers in the other corners, and in the late spring a 30" piece of white pvc pipe is pushed in over the spike.  Then in early summer 4-6' bamboo poles are placed within the pvc pipe with a bit of gaudy flagging on the top in those areas where the prairie vegetation is known to grow the tallest. TPP's September assessment is that tall grass prairie had a very good year; the vegetation is thick and tall, and even the bamboo poles are all but invisible. The tallest vegetation reaches 8-9 feet tall and it's solid up to 5-6 feet tall, so dense that TPP had difficulty even pushing through it. Armed with maps and familiarity and experience, it only took us 5 hours to find most of the plots and remark them so samples could be easily collected next week. It was exhausting work and at times my colleague was totally out of sight even though only a handful of meters away. These plants are all herbaceous perennials so all of that above ground biomass grows annually, and in this case on some very poor, low nutrient soil. Still you would have to experience such vegetation to truly appreciate just how amazing the prairie is this time of year.  And in case you wonder, very few short students have been lost in the course of our research. 

Poor taste marketing

TPP is late to this issue; so what?  In one sense Urban Outfitters marketing a bloodied Kent State University sweatshirt almost deserved no comment, so utterly tasteless is this idea. Who in bloody hell would order one?  If you actually remember the event at Kent State that spurred this product then you are over 60, and if you think such a shirt if clever, then you never gunna grow up. It does occur to TPP that all discussion about militarization of the police, Kent State is what happens when you let the military take care of something that should have been a police problem. Innocent people get shot. This was the event that produced the anti-war national student strikes across the country that disrupted TPP's senior year. Nothing like having to cross picket lines to take organic evolution to make you think about what was important. People too young for the Vietnam War era wouldn't get the "message" Urban Outfitters was selling, so what demographic were they aiming (sorry) at? The whole thing boggles the mind. In protest the administration building was occupied immediately; ended up playing cards with the undergraduate dean, which seemed pretty non-violent. So this still just leaves one big question: what kind of person of what age actually thought this was a pretty good idea? TPP's boycott of Urban Outfitters will continue, as will his boycott of HoJo's. So don't risk his fiscal wrath.

The green wine bottle challenge

Somehow over the past several decades the Phactors have accumulated 300 or so green wine bottles of the standard type with shoulders. All of them have been cleaned of labels and there are a variety of green hues from dark green to pale green. Now having expended this much energy just recycling these bottles into more glass seems a waste. What the Phactors want is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, something fanciful and perhaps aesthetically pleasing, perhaps whimsical, perhaps something funky to grace some spot in their gardens. But what? So this is the reader challenge. What can be done with these wine bottles to enhance our gardens? Your ideas are welcomed. Point us to somebody else's great idea. This doesn't have to be a do-it-yourself type of project. Just as we were to pose this question to a local glass artist, a young ambitious fellow, the old warehouse that housed his studio and ovens collapsed and rather abruptly brought an end to his glass workshop, a bloody shame. So let your imaginations run wild.

Those who do not learn from history.....

Here the USA goes again. You think this country would learn, but noooo-oooh.  Once again Tom Tomorrow nails it.  What can possibly go wrong? 

Early fall lawn grooming tips

Ah, the smell of freshly mowed creeping Charlie in the morning; nothing quite like it. Although the Phactors have extensive gardens, so big is our city estate that enough lawn remains to more than equal the amount of lawn on 3 or 4 or 5 standard-sized city lots which around here are 50 x 150. Now this would be an onerous task except that much of our lawn is in light to heavy shade so it doesn't require mowing very often. In these circumstances nothing beats creeping Charlie or blue violets, except maybe a shade-loving sedge. Lawn purists will wrinkle their noses and not a month goes by but when some chemical lawn care company leaves its toxic brochures tucked in our front door. Creeping Charlie and blue violets only grow so tall, and today's mowing was the first mowing of the shadiest area in 2 months. Apply chemical lawn killers to this area and nothing would be left but bare ground, and while this might be turned into forest understory, it really only looks good in the spring. This is because some of our other lawn "weeds" (trillium, wild ginger, blue bells, Solomon's seal) are not apparent because they are spring ephemerals. So tip number one is do not mow too often certainly no more than once a month. Tip number two is do not obsess about grass even if it is a minor component of lawn. Tip number three: buy a lawn mower capable to dealing with bits of bark, twigs as big as your fingers, and a smattering of leaves. This is part of having an ecological lawn. You know you're dealing with an obsessive when they speak of mowing the "grass" as if in some suburban universe a monoculture of grass is a desirable thing. As this blog is being written a neat, undulating sward of green spreads before the perennial gardens beyond. At this distance no one can identify the plants composing the green: neat, green, aesthetically pleasing, so what more is needed? Ah, just one thing, affirmation from an expert! And now you have it!