Field of Science

Produce bus for food deserts

There are places even in small cities where grocery stores
are too far away for walking/biking access. This is especially important when it comes to fresh and sustainable produce. In urban areas with well developed mass transit, there will often be small, strategically placed markets at major transit hubs, but neither of these is common place in the USA. This produce bus idea makes the produce market movable and capable of serving several neighborhoods. Many parts of the world still operate with lots of small markets, many specializing in just one component of groceries: green grocers, butchers, bakers, dairy, but in the USA someone invented the car and then someone else invented the super market, and while it had everything it isn't convenient for in and out shopping, so people had to buy a week's worth of groceries. This then requires much bigger refrigerators and more storage, a whole cascade of inefficiency. So it's fun to see this all devolving change back toward small and local. Friends of ours retired to a Chi-town high rise over looking Lake Michigan, a non-gardeners paradise, and they have a convenience store for dairy, produce, and meat in their building. TPP's own neighborhood has just barely walkable shopping; it takes about 20 min to walk to the "people's" market and about the same to walk to the small business areas on either side of our campus, but those areas are both bereft of real grocery shopping. While TPP does this regularly, few of his neighbors do. While living in Zurich, TPP was quite enamored with small, convenient groceries at tram stops selling food in smaller quantities, e.g., eggs come in cartons of 4, 6, and 8. Beer came in 3 bottle packs. Fresh pastas and sauces were just enough for 2, and so were smaller loaves of bread. In all of this TPP sees some hope. For example, the USA has gone through a beer revolution. There was a time when every city had one or more breweries; our own little city had up to 5, the influence of German immigrants. Then someone invented pasteurizing and bottling for beer, and bigger breweries bought up small breweries, closed them and then distributed their product over that area. And of course the beer was brewed to be all things to all people, so mediocre at best. This continued until there were only 37 breweries left in the whole USA! Now microbreweries have proliferated and more craft beers are consumed than Budweiser, once the number one beer. So smallifying and local is good if a trend.

Squirrel olympic training

The primary training season for the squirrel olympics is underway. The primaryevent is always the same: get into the bird feeder and hog down all bird seed. So far this year the event has mainly involved the long jump and who knows how far the squirrels can be pushed to go. But that's part of the training, to push the athletes to ever higher and longer distances. The event used to involve a lot of pole climbing, but the advent and application of fairly effective baffles has pretty much ended things. Yes, the young ones try it a time or two, and that's it. A change in the garden configuration resulted in a repositioning of a bird feeder on a pole to a position that was further than ever from a large sugar maple tree. It seemed a safe bet because no squirrel had ever jumped that far before. But that was before this year! Please understand that these are fox squirrels, big, husky, handsome, and well-fed. Our gardens are prime fox squirrel habitat and that's why some 12 to 18 of them live here abouts. At any given time you can see 8-10. Well, an olympic aspirant found out that you could jump from higher up in the maple tree and land on the feeder. Others soon copied the example. A cage around the feeder did not deter the squirrels either, finding their way in withint 2 hrs of its construction. So during the weekend's break in the cold weather the bird feeder was moved another 3 feet from the maple tree. Several squirrels were seen sizing up the distance yesterday, but no one was attempting the new jump. But this morning, a squirrel was sitting in the feeder having his breakfast. No official were present so the distance of the jump could not be verified, and as certain as possible without making them all wear numbered shirts, only one squirrel has thus far qualified for the long jump. The training will continue

Great seasonal garden decorations

This little garden just wowed TPP when he noticed that the grasses in the center of this little traffic island had been bundled for the winter, a practice not all that unusual, but then enhanced by some choice additions of greens, and reds, and ribbon.  The over all effect, augmented by a bit of clinging snow, was terrific.  No idea at all who was so creative. Generally this bed is planted and kept by the
campus grounds crew, but they have never done anything like this before, nothing quite so ornamental, and as usual, the budget is always tight. Maybe a demonstration horticulture project by a student?  Technically the island is in a city street, so perhaps the city's crew, but somebody deserves some credit for a job really well done.  The golden brown tops enhanced by some red and white twigs contrast so nicely with the green and red sprigs hanging down.  So simple, yet so effective. Anyone ever seen something like this before?

Friday Fabulous Flower - Tea

The best thing about having a glasshouse at your disposal, more or less, is that things are always happening in there plant-wise. The glasshouse plant collection is support of teaching and research, so specimens tend to fall into certain types and one of those categories is plants important by virtue of their importance to humans. Although it isn't very big this little shrub flowers every year although the flower isn't as big or attractive as some of its ornamental relatives. Did you recognize this flower as a Camellia? For a long time, tea was Thea sinensis, just the Latinized name for tea, but modern systematic analysis places Thea smack dab in the middle of the genus Camellia, so now tea is Camellia sinensis, however the family remains Theaceae, based on the genus Thea which is now Camelia.  Not sure about why that name is conserved after the genus has been subsumed into another. At any rate once you know tea is a Camellia, the resemblance is pretty clear. 

Gotta get one of these! Starry, starry bike path

TPP often blogs about bicycles; always liked them. But never before has there been a reason to blog about the bike path.  This is just super duper, although it has been years since TPP road a bike at night, this bike path would change my mind. Isn't this just great! Hopefully you didn't need TPP to point out that this glow-in-the-dark bike path has a design based on Van Gogh's famous painting. It's as iconic as art gets. To heck with bikes, TPP wants this for a pathway through his garden, oh yes, a glow-in-the-dark starry night garden path!  Wow!  This is just way too cool. Now what kind of music to have piped in?

Snow snow snow

Western upstate New York is getting some snow, like 77 inches of snow with another foot or two on the way. This is the stuff of lake effect snow storms. These storms pick up moisture as they move across the Great Lakes and then when they reach colder land, it all gets dumped as snow, snow that can fall at the rate of 3 to 5 inches an hour. TPP grew up there and attended college there and personally witnessed a 104" snow fall in 48 hours. Yikes!  What else is there to say. The pictures from the Buffalo region, studies in frozen black and white taken about 60 miles from TPP's childhood home near the shore of Lake Ontario, are familiar reminders of those winter snows, although TPP has not seen that type
of snow for more than 40 years now. TPP has had lake effect snow clog the space between his eyes and his glasses, a real white-out. Lake effect snow sometimes moves in as a wall-like front, one minute no snow is falling, then a few flurries appear, and then a curtain of snow is drawn across the scenery in front of you. TPP got caught about a mile from our campus when one of these snows moved in. Creeping along the road, or where you thought the road was because  nothing was in sight, but it was West Lake Road, so the shore of Lake Ontario was right there to the left, somewhere. And then out of the white a telephone post appeared just feet in front of the center of the hood of the car. Great! To which TPP had to ask, well, does anyone remember if the telephone poles are on the lake side of the road or not?  It seemed important to know. So far out here in the upper Midwest, it's been bitter cold and windy, terrible really, but no snow accumulation of any sort yet. TPP prefers the nostalgia to the real thing.

Retirement project for the garden

Somehow the Phactors managed to accumulate a few hundred green wine bottles all cleaned up nicely. The idea was to commission a glass artist to do something for our garden with all those bottles, but that idea collapsed when the warehouse studio of this young fellow also collapsed. But the bottles remain, and for some why valuable stuff like that begins to annoy Mrs. Phactor, a trait perhaps inherited from her Mother who tossed anything without immediate utility. Not sure how TPP managed to survive those early years. But when it comes to creative recycling one must keep their minds open to possibilities. Something amusing, something fun, and quirky, but without going all Magic Gardens on the estate. So perhaps some type of bottle wall mosaic
defining a garden bed or seating area would be nice, someplace to set your wine glass in between sips. Could this be a retirement project? This might work out if a lot more wine bottles are needed. 

Water, fire, & insects

These are three primary worries of herbarium curators. The collection TPP curates is small, only 50,000 or so specimens.  Some of them date back 200 years, some were collected by famous people, and some are precious records of prior diversity. Basically our herbarium is a teaching facility. Still such collections are irreplaceable so their safety must be insured. Insects have not been a problem for us, and the sealed cases work well. However, the collection is on the first floor of a 4 story building and the infrastructure is crumbling particularly the plumbing. See where this is going? Leaks are quite common, and were even more common, and more noxious, when some chemists lived up stairs. When you turn on the tap in a sink in TPP's lab the water runs brown for quite awhile. Now some of the plumbing is due to be replaced, by necessity, so when maintenance people say there may be some unanticipated leaks while repairs are being made, us herbarium curators sit up and pay attention. Oh, and while fire is a long-shot problem, you have to make certain that water isn't used to put out a fire in the herbarium, and you hope no fire must be put out on the floors above. Water always finds its way down. So during the rest of this week TPP will be fitting some plastic sheeting over the rows of specimen cases to offer some protection should the worst happen. Ironically, while doing this the message arrives telling us that the building will be without water over the Thanksgiving break except maybe for leaks. TPP took some time to show the plumbers what the worry was, and interestingly enough, they were impressed by the age and condition of old specimens, and the size of the collection. The next day a big roll of plastic sheeting arrived.

Far out, man!

Consider TPP's mind blown!  One mighty strange nostalgia trip that came from reading the Chi-town Trib this fine Sunday AM, and that doesn't happen very often. This was a time machine instant trip to 1968 where there were lots of trips you could take, good trips, bad trips, tripping trips. Now to be quite honest, 1968 at a state college in upstate NY was nothing like 1968 in San Francisco. TPP was not a monk, but being in a cultural backwater was probably why he remembers so much of the 60s so clearly. Nothing was more emblematic of the late 60s than Zap Comics, the creation of R. Crumb, who if you don't know is one seriously, cosmically, weird dude, still! You do have to wonder about the creative mind that produces such art, but that was what was so enthralling, that someone could make such art, and as an art minor (oh, yes!) it was fascinating. So what a surprise to see the entire collection of Zap Comics for sale in a boxed set (What's happened to you R.?) for what must be more than 100 times their original price!  These were not the comics of my childhood, and they still are not for anyone that is easily offended. OK, that's not fair. They are sure to offend just about anyone at some level because of R. Crumb's artfully tasteless sense of humor (?) if that's what it's called. Still it was a strange comic for a strange time. 

How to make someone happy

Based on a recent observation, it's pretty simple to make someone really happy - send them cookies.  This morning while waiting for my pusher to prepare my caffeine fix, a couple of foreign students came in with a package from home (the post office is nearby). There was such excitement.  The box wasn't very big, but it was packed with different kinds of cookies, in this particular case Chinese cookies, familiar treats for a student studying a long ways from home. There was pure joy and happiness in that moment. So think about it; send someone some cookies.