Field of Science

Botany 2016

Each year the Botanical Society of America, with a number of its sister organizations, get together for a 4 day phantasmagorical orgy of botanical science and socializing. As you may guess us botanists are spread rather thinly across the landscape, and since the human bio-medical tail, and its attendant money, wags the biological dog, there just aren't that many of us. So getting together once a year is a big deal. Some of these people are our bestest buddies, colleagues, collaborators, former students, former mentors, and so on. This year the event is in Savannah GA, and you're saying TPP, isn't it a touch hot and humid this time of year. Well, yeah, which is why the botanists get such a good deal here, and other places like NOLA, Mobile, San Antonio, and Stillwater (actually still can't believe this last one), but the meetings are indoors in refrigerated conference centers except when way back they were on university campuses.  
So the Phactors are enroute and stopped for margaritas in Chattanooga, not famous for its drinks, but if you look back a couple of blogs you'll see that some people travel with their own supply.
The next few days will be jam packed with research and teaching talks, and posters, and meetings (don't like them, but you have to do science's business too.), and social events too. Ah, you're jealous. TPP has been to all but a hand full of these annual meetings since 1972. Understand the schedule doesn't leave much time for blogging.  

Friday Fabulous Flowers - a Grass

TPP admits to some bias with regard to flowers: the grasses, the sedges, and the rushes tend to get ignored, so here's a large semi-showy grass that is growing in a plot outside our building having been transplanted there by a colleague a couple of decades ago.  This is Eastern Gama Grass, Tripsacum dactyloides.  Here in the upper midwest this robust grass can be seen particularly in unmowed ditches.  This grass is in the same tribe as it's much more common, but non-native, cousin, maize.  Here you can see the staminate spikelets with the dangling anthers common to many wind-pollinated grasses, above a double row of pistillate flowers that are quite like those of teosintes, maize's direct ancestors.  Big, feathery, purple tri-branched stigmas, also quite common to many wind-pollinated grasses, are gone as this is just past pollination. It has a handsome teosinte like quality.

Goodies for being good



Since TPP was holding down the fort, while Mrs. Phactor, F1 & her Guy were off to Oxford Univ. for a graduation ( a niece) and some fish & chips (can't get good ones locally), Mrs. Phactor brought home a present for not getting into trouble during her absence.  Doesn't that look good? A whole array of sour gumminess at its best!

Today is International Tequila Day

What? Today 24 July is international tequila day?  TPP doesn't understand, every day is international tequila day!  In a remarkable coincidence, six years ago today, TPP provided you with his margarita recipe for travel and survival of vehicle breakdown in Provo Utah (where you certainly cannot get a margarita unless you be having your own materials (salt was borrowed from a tolerant motel host as the camp kitchen was inaccessible.)). Cannot understand how this has not become a way more popular post than artichokes.  A bit later today tequila shall be celebrated including road trip memories, and to help withstand the heat index which is around 110 or basically miserable.    

Ants! Cats!

Ants! You really do have to admire them! Although tiny they function as a super organism, and when you've spent any time in the tropics you begin to appreciate their ubiquity and diversity.  The field station where TPP does research and teaches claims upwards of 500 species live there.  Up here in the temperate zone they aren't quite so plentiful, or so diverse, but we do seem to have lots of them around, and you forget their corporate determination.  Unfortunately one of our kitty girls is both a nibbler and a damned messy eater, so lots of little crumbs are left even if you have a member of your household staff watch over her bowl constantly.  Now the trick will be to find the chink in our stucco armor, actually more like finding which chink in the stucco is the problem area; so it is with old houses.  Actually just so identified the location and it's half way around the house from where the ant problem is manifest. These are little (1/8th inch long), black bitey ants and based on the traffic pattern a nest of a few billion jillion ants probably resides beneath the stucco where it has somewhat detached from the lath beneath (the problem is on the house entropy list, but maybe needs to be moved up), but finding a stucco person, a good one, is not easy as the craft has largely disappeared.  The houses last pretty well, but nobody builds them this way any more.
And then to buy some time you decide to relocate the cat dining area just a few feet, to remove the attraction of food, and put down a nice place mats for messy eaters and not quite so messy eaters, and what a problem you create.
You want us to eat where? But I eat over here, where I am now. In unison: Which bowl is mine (although relative positions and distance were maintained)? Where did my bowl go?  Why? Why? Why? Ants? What ants? Gads, somethings are in my bowl!  This is intolerable!  Who runs this place?
Cat confusion and indignation knows no bounds when it comes to feeding time, and place. Good thing it wasn't new food to boot.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Clivia


This time of year it's unusual for a house plant to be the featured FFF, but this is one of the house plants that could go outside for the summer, but doesn't. Not sure why.  This was a gift from a friend who got the plant from her Mother (?) and having propagated some off shoots decided to hand them out.  Clivias are pretty easy, pretty spectacular house plants. There are lots of varieties and TPP doesn't know how many species are in cultivation; this is probably cultivar of  Clivia minuata.  It's pretty obviously a amaryllid and they are native to S. Africa.  The dark green leathery leaves are quite handsome and it does well in bright indirect light. Around here it would grow outside OK, but as it prefers very well drained soil and drying out between waterings, the upper midwest is probably too wet, too humid (right now our weather is beastly hot and humid).  Every now and again, about once a year, a many flowered inflorescence appears from within a fan of leaves.  The flowers are large, bright, and long lasting. It almost thrives on neglect. Maybe Linda will give you a plant too.

Fermented nectar - key to primate evolution?

This is sort of a neat observation, based on 3 captive animals, so you know, let's not go crazy and suggest things like preferring fermented nectar has anything to do with primate evolution.  It's just that beetle grubs taste better when served with the correct vintage. Every one knows that. 

Very uncomfortable weather

Today is a hot, humid day, the worst so far this summer.  Some thunder storms may roll in later.  Hmm, the actually humidity is 70% and the temperature 91 F, so the heat index is 109, swell. You can look up a chart to figure the index out. The kitty girls are used to lounging in north window sills, but under these conditions the windows will stay closed.  TPP got caught up on lawn mowing this morning when it was somewhat cooler. The crab grass is trying to take over the world along with a number of other summer weeds. This is when mulching earlier in the year will pay off. 
Our house handles the heat fairly well, but it has limitations. When the night time temperature drops into the low 70s or upper 60s, the house will stay comfortable without AC. But under these conditions the low tonight will probably be in the upper 70s.  The house is massive, white, and well-shaded for much of the day. It has good flow through ventilation and a lot of rooms have ceiling fans.  An evaluation for solar power came out as are you kidding?  So the economics may not work out so well for us although the shading is nice. Our electrical usage is below average anyways. 
TPP must venture out again soon because even though it's hot out there several plants may need water especially those in pots or planters, or those that are just newly planted period.  

Plagiarism, never a good thing and always so obvious

Plagiarism, now this is something us oldish professor types know about. No question about it, entire sentences from Michelle Obama's speech were lifted and used in the speech written for Melania Trump. This tells us two things: one, Trump employs some really dumb speech writers because no way does anyone let Melania Trump write her own stuff, two, yes, it was plagiarism, but what were they going to do, footnote the first lady? You see no one and no way, anyone even when writing about the exact same thing gets things that similar. So the lame excuses of same topics, same ideas, same feelings, being offered don't cut it, and these days all you have to do is take a phrase of sentence like that and search the internet, and up pops the source. But, it takes a special kind of dumbness to plagiarize the President's wife.
Once upon a time TPP had twins in one of his classes, one of several bad experiences with twins, and you know the old, they look alike, they talk alike, they act alike, they finish each others sentences, and they liked doing one report and each getting credit for it. Well, one their reports was just too, too similar to the other so TPP didn't give them credit and like good little entitled students they complained to a student judicial board who were far more credible.  Well, we both were taking the class, we study together, we work together, and of course, we are twins (said in unison with a cute little head nod), so naturally our reports come out sounding alike. Well, none of the other student reports are even remotely similar and there are at least 3 study groups in the class, so it all must be the twin thing, so let's test it, TPP suggested.  Let's give them both a couple of minutes to write 2 or 3 sentences about something that they shared and knew intimately. And further suggested that the judicial board make the final pick. The topics were things like: a favorite pet, the house we grew up in, our favorite food, our best birthday ever.  The board decided this was cool, and each twin wrote about the house they both grew up in.  Ta da!  No similarity in the descriptions at all. And then TPP suggested that they might examine the twins' records to see in how many courses they should have gotten half credit for their shared efforts. So back to the writers, Trump should fire them; it's something he really can do.  

Nausea and dread - Was it something I ate?

Woke up this AM feeling unwell; it was the usual time when the black paws alarm went off, but usually Mrs. Phactor turns it off (diverts its attention), but she's off to merry old England for a niece's Oxford graduation. The feeling is just a general ill feeling of foreboding and it had nothing to do with anything TPP ate or drank.  But of late just reading the newspapers or online news services provides very little good news and plenty of bad news such that TPP has totally stayed away from blogging therapy so as not to pass it along and bum out readers. The other problem is being at a rather loss for any words of wisdom or even any lofty thoughts.  
With regards to all the policing gun violence, tit for tat is always a losing strategy, and then when some moron of a mayor or chief of police or congress person says this isn't a "gun problem" you want to give them a dope slap because that is exactly why all of this is killing so many people. When everyone is carrying a gun around you can't tell who the supposed "good" guys are, and they carry guns because they're scared, and then they scare everyone else including police who are just trying to do their job, and unfortunately making too many mistakes in the process.
The nausea may well be related just to listening to news snippets and nibbling upon choice tidbits from the GnOPe convention like good old Jovial Giuliani. So much doom and gloom that only the chosen one, a great leader who has never led, can save us from. The politics of fear never does good things, ever. It is sadly disappointing that so many people fall for this line of crap.
TPP understands that people want to be better off than they are/were and they want to be safe, but fails to understand how anyone can think a narcissistic billionaire who was born on 3d base and thinks he hit a triple can help. It's the ultimate in trickle down, voodoo economics. Such people don't care about the little people.
Lastly, T-rump reminds TPP of a type of person you sometimes meet in the academic world. They have a pretty good opinion of themselves; they feel pretty smart, but they usually have a rather insular, or limited background, lacking wider experience beyond their particular expertise, which is often education administration, for example. OK in the academic world, no one is a total slow coach, but you do run into some very, very smart people to help you keep your own ego in check.  Where in a world of business where money equals power does a bully ever discover just how smart he isn't, and even if he proves to be fairly smart, it's a largely untrained, un-exercised intellect. And it shows, but it can still seem impressive to others. 
Are others out there suffering as well? Time to work out the rest by mowing some lawn.