Field of Science

My perspective on vaccines

 TPP admits that he does not understand the thought processes of anti-vaxxers.  What are they thinking, or maybe no thinking is involved.  But it struck TPP that his attitude may well be the result of life events. As it turns out TPP is a boomer and he remembers very well that in grade school every class would have one or two kids wearing leg or arm braces or were confined to a wheel chair, so prevalent was polio.  So when a polio vaccine was announced no one wasted any time getting inoculated, and then a few years later the polio vaccine was administered orally in a sugar cube soaked with vaccine.  And polio has essentially disappeared such that modern parents have forgotten what a common and scary disease polio was.  Part of the problem seems to be that Covid isn't scary enough.  And people with poor critical thinking skills are not listening to medical advice, but are listening to vaccine nay-sayers.  As a result in certain areas measles has lost its herd immunity, and if unvaccinated people travel to certain places where measles still occur they can bring back a local outbreak.  Unfortunately this is where anti-vaxxers can have a negative impact on other people when a herd-immunity doesn't exist.  The crazy thing is that anti-vaxxers are protected by everyone who gets vaccinated, giving them the freedom to make poor, ill-informed choices.  So this senior citizen will get the covid vaccine as soon as it is available.

Sumo Citrus - Non-GMO?

A new Citrus fruit has appeared in markets, and TPP is not certain how "new" it actually is, although the name Sumo is certainly novel.  Now TPP has looked into similar fruits (Here, here, and here) some time ago, and he is just not certain how novel as in new this fruit is.  TPP's initial reaction is that this is just a tangelo, a hybrid between a tangerine and an orange.  They also have the protrusion at the stem end of the fruit and they also have a pretty easily removed outer fruit wall.  At least one internet entry says that the sumo  is a hybrid between a mandarin and a naval orange.  But whereas mandarins are smallish this is a big fruit, and mandarins are also called "oranges", especially when they come peeled and as de-membraned sections in little cans.  So the sumo would seems to make it very similar to a tangelo, except bigger (thus the appellation suggesting large size?).  Interestingly enough the label clearly states that this is non-GMO, but how can you say that a hybrid organism is not a genetically modified organism?  Hybridization in the genus Citrus is pretty common way to genetically modify the offspring, thus the seedless clementine.  Equally stupid is the fact that the fruit has no glutin.  Now glutin is a protein found only in the endosperm of certain cereal grains and so the list of plants whose fruits lack glutin is quite long.  Seems like this is just a marketing ploy for a rather largish tangelo.  Enjoy.  

Friday Fabulous Flower - Paper white

 Having flowers in your house in winter is a good thing for your attitudes and mental health.  Paper white Narcissus are perhaps the easiest plants to coax into flower.  The bulbs are placed on top of a bed of marbles in a tall narrow vase to keep them propped upright.  They seem to like cool window sills and light from eastern windows.  When flower buds appear you can move them to other locations where you want something cheerful.  They are also nice things to give people as a present.  Not only are they attractive but they have a lovely fragrance.  Too bad scratch and sniff monitor screens don't exist.

Beautiful destruction

 So far the weather of 2021 has been rather unkind.  The initial part of the event was an ice storm and as those go this was not anywhere near the worst of it kind, about 1/4 " of ice was deposited rather evenly on all the exposed limbs and leaves and needles.  This brought down 4 or 5 big limbs but our inspection indicated nothing too severe.  But over night 3-4 inches of nice sticky wet snow blanketed every thing.  And suddenly the amount of limb breakage increased by about a factor of three.  The damage may actually be more extensive depending up which bushes and shrubs bent to the ground recover and straighten.  So far the power has gone out twice, the same 12 houses each time, of which ours is the last of the group because our neighbors get their power from a different direction.  Here's an iced up young pine (P. bungeana) just beginning to collect snow, so this is just the beautiful part.  

Botanical tree decorations

 Probably the best thing about Christmas is that the many pagan symbols used for our decorations are largely botanical.  As the decorations were getting packed away for another year, TPP took the opportunity to grab an image of the many tree decorations that were botanical. The most unusual is probably the passion fruit (between the pickle and the maize).  And the very common but a bit confounding fly agaric mushroom.  The most realistic is the head of garlic cloves.  These are all glass except for the sprig of mistletoe (upper left).  The oldest, a real antique, is the silver walnut in the bottom row.  And of course just because, there is a magnolia flower, and even some holly and holly berries a favorite pagan symbol of the season.

Thoughts on a New Year

 Nothing actually different from one day to the next, but we rather like having even arbitrary reasons for doing things. After some serious thought TPP decided that the problem was too much consumption of bad news; items that left a depressing frame of mind, and mostly things that nothing whatever can be done about.  Doing small things for a stranded, alone, and lonely student proved to be way more worthwhile.  So ditching the 24 hr news cycle, ignoring the constant feed of bad news to phone or laptop was helpful in developing a better frame of mind.  If Trump's name never again is in a headline, would make things a lot better.  Finding out that some of my tropical friends in Australia are pretty much going about normal lives was frustrating news because so many in the USA can't even wear a mask, too much inconvenience.  Also noted that a short walk away a real micro brewery has a smallish beer garden, no inside service at all, and at temperatures in the 20s and 30s, people were sitting around drinking beer, it was a very cheerful thing, so much has this pandemic resulted in isolation.  This lack of basic socialization was clearly another reason for a down in the dumps attitude.  A little more social distancing would have been nice though.  At any rate TPP is determined to find some things, some topics, to blog about in an effort to improve his mental health, and maybe yours too.  So happier New Years to everyone because it doesn't get much badder than it is.

Christmas eve

 Happy holidays everyone!  Having just celebrated the winter solstice, and recognizing that most of the images and trappings of Christmas are of pagan origin, TPP has no particular religious connections with Christmas, but most of my childhood memories were born of the American Christmas traditions, so all the decorating done by Mrs. Phactor make me quite happy.  The weather here in the upper Midwest has turned quite cold for a couple of days after highs in the upper 30s and 40s.  Late season garden work included picking up lots of small limbs from several windy days and fencing several garden areas where otherwise the bunnies would damage many smaller trees and lots of shrubs.  Later in the season and the stakes for the fencing wouldn't push into the frozen ground.  

The interesting transition taking place is the invasion of chipmunks (now in hibernation) and gray squirrels, where formerly it was only fox squirrels, a bigger, but slower species.  In an area near us and often including our garden, a melanistic black form of the gray squirrel has also appeared.  No idea why these darker coats might be of some advantage, if they are; the black coats seem quite obvious to our eyes.  But the grays are becoming more numerous.

The longer nights help promote flowering in house plants that have been in the garden until well into October.  First the "Christmas cacti" and an Aeschynanthus flowered.  Then the Queen's tears flowered (see the last FFF blog) and the Christmas azalea, which looks much better having been cut back to promote some denser growth.  Now a large Hatiora salicornoides cactus.  All the orchids are putting up new flowering stalks.  So it seems a bit silly to sprout paper-white narcissuses, but the bulbs were a gift, and they do smell great. And all of these plants are in the same room with the Christmas tree, a Frasier fir.  We are taking a number of precautions in order to have the F1 over for Christmas, along with a refugee from Australia who remained rather than travel back to down under.


A couple of emails have enquired about my blogging hiatus

 A couple of concerned followers/readers have enquired as to TPP's well being.  Thank you very much for caring. TPP is just fine, and not at all interested in becoming a pandemic statistic.  When not much is going on day to day there just isn't anything much to blog about.  Several more out door tropical plants have begun to flower, an orchid cactus and one of TPP's favorite flowers, the Queen's tears (and here) are flowering right on schedule (almost to the day) and they do make one happy.  This year a hort student who received a chunk of its rhizome is thrilled to see it flower again; quite reliable this plant. The flowers do not last long so do enjoy them.  

Got most of my shopping done for the immediate family.  Extended European 
"family" have their gifts on the way, particularly the candied, spiced pecans for the young woman with the big sweet tooth.  The gifts aren't much, but its nice to remember people.   Sort of self guaranteeing for the sake of some holiday visitors.  So staying away from shopping crowds seems like an excellent idea anyways.

TPP has been wasting way too much time worrying about our lame duck president who wants to demonstrate just what a poor loser he is, and he doesn't care if he does damage to our democratic traditions in the process.  That so many people (gullible?) believe his fabrications is quite troubling.  Supposedly the whole process should end today, but TPP doubts it because he craves attention probably more than anything, and he must do something to avoid severe withdrawal symptoms.

The house is beautifully decorated as a result of Mrs. Phactor's efforts.  It is quite cheerful and much needed, even if not seen by anyone but us.

Hope the rest of you have a nice, safe holiday season.  

Staying safe and mentally healthy during times of plague

 Like many other people the Phactors have pretty much stayed hunkererd down although the new propane patio heater has been used to keep the cooler temperatures at bay for a few days longer.  However having a big thermos filled with hot gloggwine also definitely helps.  In an effort to not let culture totally take a vacation, an exhibition was mounted to visit Chi-town and see the Monet exhibit before the 30 paintings privately held by local people once again retreated from public view.  It was a good exhibit and the museum did a good job of keeping people spread out.  Unfortunately the state of the 'ronavirus here in Lincolnland has led to the Art Institute reclosing for the time being.  Good timing.  

Gardening came to a rapid halt with a huge leaf round up effort.  A bit of parsley in very good condition is all that remains of the 2020 garden.  A nice late crop of dill weed was put to good use with goat cheese and thinly slice smoked salmon.  

After having elected a new president, who knew it would be so difficult to get the old one to leave?  Can't figure out if T-rump believes his own fraud fibs or not.  At least the courts somehow keep demanding evidence although none seems to be forthcoming.  If this was all a giant conspiracy against him, how the heck did he get elected in 2016?

The Queen's gambit was a very enjoyable series set in the height of the cold war, when even playing a Russian game made you a bit suspect in the eyes of ever suspicious spooks and politicians.  Our recommendation is that you give it a try.  The chess parts were well researched and TPP loved seeing a cute Corvair coupe (he had 2, a sign of a definite slow learner) Interesting that the only place where success at chess was extolled was Russia. 

Only us and the F1 and her personal philosopher will be doing Thanksgiving.  Ms. Phactor is a world class pie maker, so in addition to apple using Norrthern Spys, should it be pecan or pumpkin?  This is important.  

New plant - a succulent

 A friend gave TPP several new plants, all part of a decorative pot of succulents.  All of the plants have some features associated with living in sunny, xeric environments.  My friend lacked the space and light needed to over winter such plants, but he decided we had more.  And well, he's sort of right.  

At any rate this plants leaves are shaped a bit like a banana, round in cross section and tapering to the apex. The most striking feature though is the darker green strip funning from the base of each leaf to the tip.  This is actually the top of the leaf, and far from being pigmented, the tissue is transparent, clear.  The photosynthetic portion is a relatively thin layer wrapping around the rest of the leaf leaving the center of the leaf filled with clear water storage tissue.  But more importantly, this tissue lets light enter the interior of the leaf to illuminate the chloroplast containing cells. TPP suspects that this clear tissue is a multiple layered epidermis.  Such windowed leaves are fairly common in succulent plants.

This plant is not a cactus although many people think succulents and cacti are the same thing.  Sorry, no.  This plant is a member of the aster or daisy family in the genus Senecio, one of the world's biggest genera containing over 1200 species.  TPP thinks this may be S. radicans, but there are several succulent species in this genus.  So pictured above is an inflorescence composed of about 15 5-lobed disk flowers (that would form the button of a daisy).  Each flower has a column of anthers and the pollen gets pushed out the top of the anthers as the style pushes the stigma up and out.  The two halves of the stigma then uncoil sort of looking like an antenna. Also of interest the flowers seem sort of spicy scented, a bit allspicy.  Generally the plant isn't raised for its floral display.