Field of Science

Monday morning matters?

Monday is off to a slow start.  TPP has a mid-morning appointment right across the street, so going for coffee or going to the office would just be a waste of time.  Better to waste time blogging.
Item 1: Graded exams.  Quite a bit of time was spent this weekend reading the first exam in my economic botany class.  These are upper class students who obviously find botany interesting, and economic botany does a good job of convincing people of that.  The results were pretty good in fact the best class TPP has had in years (10 of 24 aced the exam).  Had to work hard, almost to the point of quibbling, to deduct 1 point from one exam, in two half-point increments to demonstrate that a perfect paper is a theoretical construct.  You should know that TPP grades one question at a time and has no idea who wrote what and no idea how a particular student or exam is doing.  Two other students will be surprised to find they did not get the highest grade.
Item 2: International Blasphemy Rights Day - Sept. 30.  TPP has never had the urge to hurt anyone's feeling about their particular religious beliefs, but in places with blasphemy laws and a state-supported religion, sometimes just being an evolution-teaching biologist is enough to break such a law because science causes some religious people discomfort.  Boo-hoo.  Glad the people who want the USA to be a Christian nation remain a minority, although it would be a grand fight over which flavor would get top billing.
Item 3: Barely some rain event.  TPP was completely correct. The recent rain totaled a scant 1/4 inch.  Some bulbs needed planting and beneath the mulch is was just dry.  Terrible. 
Item 4: Garden work.  Planted some yellow-flowered trout lily in the woodland garden.  Transplanted some Japanese peony 2-year old plants from a seed bed to the woodland garden.  Decided where to plant the Persian ironwood (look back a blog - too lazy to link it).  Did some weeding. How do they grow so well when it's so dry?  Removed tropical floating fern from the lily pond to transport to the university glasshouse for the winter.  Harvested some very fine oak-leafed lettuce and had a dynamite BLT. 
Item 5:  Mrs. Phactor tried a new recipe, a tian.  A baked casserole of slices of tomato, zucchini, salami (rustic Italian), and mozzarella cheese, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with mixed herbs.  Wonderful.
Item 6: Shopping.  TPP needed some clothes so he went shopping which he does religiously, about twice a year. A more interesting sale was at the local garden shop, which  had an end of season, "under construction" sale, but there wasn't much that we needed.  Mrs. Phactor bought decorative gourds and a couple of colorful mums.  TPP was called on to be the resident expert.  They like me at this establishment.
Item 7: Summer continues.  Highs in the low 80s for the next few days!  It's the end of September and it's still summer.  Tropical plants get to extend their summer outdoor sojourn another few days. 

Nice new tree - Persian ironwood

Well, it remains too dry, but TPP could not help himself when a visit to a favorite nursery found a great tree, Parrotia persica, sometimes called Persian ironwood [a native of Iran]at a bargain price.  This is a small tree that's in the same family with witch hazel; the leaves look quite similar and provide nice color.  A lot of people would miss the flowers, which are also similar to reddish flowered witch hazel.  Dirr raves about this tree, and if you don't know what that refers to, then you shouldn't be buying trees like this anyways.  This specimen has a stem diameter of over 3" and it's nearly 8 feet tall and a nice tear-drop shaped crown, and at under $200 this is a great deal.  This is usually a good time of year to plant trees, and there are often sales.  So it'll need to be watered, but what you gonna do?  An old spruce along the sidewalk in the front of our house is in serious decline after last year's drought, aided and abetted by current conditions, so a new tree/shrub will be needed in this location, but nothing that will get too big because the back ground is handsome and screened from view. 

Another treacherous rain event

Last night's rainfall "event" was another treacherous rain event.  It was almost a no-show, but things look wet this AM so it will give people the impression they don't need to water things.  It's been more than 3 weeks since there has been significant rainfall, and cracks are opening in the ground that my hand fits into.  A neighbor dug a 3' deep pit, and it was dusty at the bottom.  Plants are really beginning to suffer.  Perennials are going dormant and trees are dropping leaves, which they do this time of year, but for different reasons.  Yesterday TPP watered a number of youngish trees and today we'll continue watering.  TPP sees seriously stressed trees all over.  Yes, watering costs you money, but do does replacing trees.

Friday Fabulous Fungus

TPP has been wanting to use the FFFungus for some time, but no appropriate "critters" presented themselves.  Since fall field work in under way and fall is a great time for fungi, except for how dry it's been, it was only a matter of time.  This is quite a handsome, although not large, example, the "apricot jelly fungus" (Phlogiotis helvelloides).  Now please understand; these are a jelly fungus whose color is apricot, not a fungus named after apricot jelly, although it might work just as well that way.  The fruiting bodies generally appear out of cracks in dead branches usually following a rain and what with their color they are quite conspicuous in spite of their smallish size (~1 cm).  The spatulate shape is pretty typical.  Found these two weeks ago but now they've disappeared until the next rainfall rehydrates them. 

Thank you Stanislav Petrov!

On this date in 1983 the world "dodged a bullet".  The USSR defense's warning system recorded multiple ICBM launches in the USA, and the Soviet's had a launch on warning rule, a cold war rule too very much like the doomsday machine featured in Dr. Stangelove, a great cold war movie.  However, Lt. Colonel Petrov decided that these were false warnings and stopped the "retaliation" strike.  TPP too clearly remembers the Russian-Cuban missile crisis of the 1960s and our school days' "duck and cover" drills which we called kiss-your-ass-goodbye drills.  In those days TPP actually helped people build bomb shelters in their basements.  Everyone was just sure there was going to be a nuclear war, and these two events are as close as the world ever came.  On the whole Petrov should be made an international hero of world peace.  More on the story at Treehugger and Dr. Strangelove movie pics too!  Image of a USA nuclear test blast in the south Pacific (bikini atoll?).  Man, that would really ruin your beach vacation.

What is a nectarine?

Someone asked an interesting question, "What is a nectarine?"  A nectarine is a fuzzless peach, no more, no
less, a peach with a smooth skin.  Although considered a different fruit and a variety of peach (same species), the genetic difference is trivial.  A dominant gene produces the fuzzy hairs on a peach, and if only recessive genes are present, the skin is smooth.  Whether the nectarine is redder or just looks redder skinned when hairless is hard to determine, but the nectarine is not the result of hybridization with a plum although both are in the same genus, Prunus.  The fuzzless condition probably arose via a mutation in a bud resulting in a branch bearing fuzzless peaches, a so-called "sport".  Sports arise fairly often because plants sequester germ tissue from somatic tissue annually in a woody perennial.  Taking buds and grafting them to peach root stock propagates the mutation.  The nectarine mutation has probably occurred several times arising from several different peaches and they show the same range of general diversity: white or orange flesh, cling or free-stone.  However, in TPP's experience, nectarines never taste as good as a peach, and it may be because peaches arrive in farmer's markets fresh, directly from the orchard, but in our locale nectarines never do, so the nectraines in markets are probably picked under ripe to reduce bruising damage and they then do not ripen to full flavor.  Nectarines tend to be smaller and sweeter, often with white flesh, perhaps again reflecting whatever peach variety they arose from.  Image courtesy of Flagstaffotos

Hawk hyjinks

As my readers well know, TPP has been encouraging top predators to reside in our estate.  This AM our breakfast amusement was watching at close quarters a young red-tailed [?] hawk try to obtain a squirrel for breakfast just outside our kitchen windows. 
The most amusing aspect was the extreme audacity of the squirrels who feeling invincible when in a familiar tree at times actually aggressively confronted the hawk who was quite confused by it all.  What fun!  Although on the whole, too bad the hawk was not winning.

Hysterical distinction of historical science

Do you know the difference between “historical” and “observational”/experimental science?  Well, it makes a big difference to creationists!   You see in an effort to discredit the fossil record and all of geology, it is necessary to make a big distinction (link to discussion at National Center for Science Education) that doesn't exist.  The assumption here is that you can only know something if it was directly observed.  Amazing!  Creationist students are being taught to ask science teachers “How do you know?  Were you there?”  Without direct observation, you cannot know something.  Think about how much knowledge that rules out.  Inference is just so much wishful thinking.  This is a made up distinction that is just plain silly.  Creationist also made up the distinction between “microevolution” and “macroevolution” because it has become basically impossible to argue that “microevolution” doesn’t happen.  No such distinction is made in biology, but what do you expect?  These people don’t know science and they don’t want to know science.  It further demonstrates that creationism is actually know-nothing-ism. 

Is your garden trite and boring?

Here's a list of garden plant varieties that can elevate any garden to the level of trite and, yes, even boring.  If you have 7 or more of this list in your garden, you might think about finding a garden shop or nursery, or a gardener, with a bit of imagination.  Knock-out roses and Stella d'Oro daylilies are just totally, completely over done and now rank as purely boring.  Even wave petunias are way too common although their vivid colors do look good spilling out of a window box against a white house.  But if you want a plain white bread with the crusts trimmed off garden, well, go for it. 
Score - 7 or more = Trite, boring.  A yawner.
Score - 5-6 = Need more imagination; try harder.
Score - 2-4 = Iffy; Depends on how many and what else you got.
Score - 0-1 = We'll give you one, for a tough spot.
HT to the Garden Rant.

Treacherous rainfall & garden watering

Things have been dry here abouts for a month now.  A few days ago storms passed through over night and in the morning everything looked wet and fresh.  Great!  Actually not so great with another week of dry, seasonally hot weather in the forecast.  Do you have a rain gauge?  If so, you would have recorded barely 1/4" of rainfall, and you need at least 1/2" of rain a week to keep a garden going, but in a dry spell, 1/4" just wets the surface.  This is exactly the type of situation where amateurs make the mistake of thinking it rained more than it did, or that the rain did more go than it did, and they get behind in watering.  So get out there and keep watering!  Water those things newly planted!  Water your fall garden!  Water less well established trees and shrubs!  This is the type of weather and the rainfall conditions where you kill trees, but you won't know until next spring, and then people will say "winter kill".  But no, it was lack of water several months earlier.  Which is now!  A neighbor was surprised TPP was watering just after we got a rain.  Well, dig into that mulch a bit and look at the soil underneath.  Dry, dry, dry.  He began watering only a short time later. 

Timing is everything - household jobs edition

September is always a schizophrenic weather month, in like summer, out like fall, and here in the Midwest the changeover can be sudden.  Last week you needed the ceiling fan on one night, and the next night it was 45F and you had a cat snuggling in bed with you.  Except for late August and early September temperatures around here were pretty reasonable this year, so reasonable there was little need of the AC.  As a result TPP got the window screens installed on the south end of the sun room, and then a distraction occurred of some nature, so he never got the screens in the north windows, although there is a screen door there.  So for 3.5 months those two window screens have leaned against the wall a testament to procrastination and distraction.  Each time TPP spied them launched a very brief self-recrimination that was quickly squelched by good mental health, and then forgotten until the next time they were noticed.  Now comes the realization that it didn't matter. The screens now can be returned to the garage attic until next summer, a quite happy thought, and then brought out again with all the best intentions.  The sun room needs to be warmed up because several tropical plants want to come inside; 45F is a temperature they don't like.  Although it doesn't damage them, some of them metabolically shut down for a spell.  The bonsai figs are very tough plants and don't seem to mind a bit so they can stay outside for a bit longer. 

Advice on political strategy

University politics are vicious because so little is at stake, so TPP has a career's worth of experience in tactics and strategy.  One of the best ways to get rid of some really terrible, awful, no-good, very bad idea is to let the proponents give it a try.  When TANGVB ideas utterly fail to deliver, they can be easily removed and discarded, and so-labeled TANGVB so as never to appear again or be tried again.  So why is the GnOPe so opposed to allowing the Affordable Care Act to be enacted?  If as TANGVB as they say, and they certainly have said so, ACA will be a huge failure and they will easily be able to repeal the law.  Why are so many GnOPe controlled states stone-walling implementation of the Affordable Care Act?  If ACA is as sure to fail as they say, then why not let it fail on its own merits while crowing, "We told you so!"  Could it be that they really think ACA will work so they don't dare give it a try?  The fanaticism over defunding ACA would then make sense because when ACA works well in state A, then GnOPe controlled state B citizens would actually see that their elected officials have stiffed them, so you can't let ACA be enacted at all in the fear of ACA's success!  That's what the GnOPe is so afraid of!  Oh, these guys are so transparent!   

Math and aquatic plants arrive at the same answer

Click on over to Doc Madhattan's blog to find out what an amplituhedron is.  TPP remains uncertain, but when the small image of one appeared on the FoS banner, he was certain he was looking at the anatomy of a hydrophyte stem!  See for yourself!  The tissue so formed is called aerenchyma and is common in aquatic plants.  Cell walls expand between points of cell to cell contact forming large intercellular spaces.   

Friday Fabulous Flower - Yellow Alder

Here’s a nice FFF – Turnera ulmifolia,yellow alder (not an alder really) (image courtesy of Prenn, Wikimedia Commons).  It grows in our glasshouse, but TPP misplaced his image of it and was too pressed for time to take another.  In related news. Turnera diffusa, a similar species, is a neotropical shrub and an herbal remedy that functions as a mild stimulant.  But a court in Munich Germany ruled that a homeopathic preparation of this herb was ineffective in treating “sexual weaknesses” (one can only imagine) and further that there was no scientific evidence of the effectiveness of homeopathic products in general.  Imagine that!  When you dilute an iffy herbal remedy to the point that not a single molecule of the herb still exists in the “magic water” so the only effect it can have is as a placebo, which may well cure your “sexual weakness”.  Think a court in the USA would so rule on homeopathy?  Nah. 

How to determine science textbook content in Texas

Just recently TPP wrote about efforts to alterscience textbooks in Texas.  Here’s a comment from one of the people, Karen Beathard, who was appointed to the panel to review the content of science textbooks.  "Creation science based on biblical principles should be incorporated into every biology book."  Well, that’s clear enough.  To Karen the Bible is authoritative, but in science?  Does she care to explain?  “Any statements made were my own personal beliefs.”  Now isn’t that the way to determine the content of science textbooks?  You can see what expertise Karen brings to the textbook panel discussion.  Dear Karen, what makes your own personal beliefs so extra special that they should be presented to every student in Texas?  Does everybody get to have their personal beliefs taught as science?  How about math?  Do you have any personal beliefs about the value of Pi?  The Bible does say that King Solomon had a vase whose circumference was exactly three times its diameter, so on biblical principles pi = 3.  Yes, it’s just an endless non-repeating set of decimals dropped off, so what does it matter?  Once again, like creationism, it just isn’t wrong, it’s useless. 

Any useless species?

A question sent to the Guardian's answer board: Are there any genuinely pointless species in the world which, if they were extinct, would have no material impact on the food chain or general homeostatis? Surely no one would miss wasps, for example. 
A quick glance through the comments provided no good answers in TPP's view, so here goes.
What a pointless anthropocentric perspective you have!  Species aren't there for humans, although many aren't here any more because of humans, and some have benefited from their interaction with us.  All species interact with some other species.  When a species goes missing, one or more interactions in the great network of being are lost and the fabric of life unravels a little bit more and becomes a tiny bit more fragile whether we would notice this difference or not.  Your question illustrates one of our great problems.  Humans see themselves as apart from nature rather than part of nature, and to place values on nature from just a human-perspective is just wrong.  And, yes, you would probably miss wasps, although probably not directly. 
Any readers want to provide an answer?

Stress management program with obvious problems and omissions

Our institution's "wellness" office, from which oft springs well-meaning out-pourings, issued forth an invitation to attend an eight week stress management course for faculty/staff.   The description of the program says it uses "support (one supposes a comfortable easy chair), meditation (for people who have nothing whatever to think about), breathing practices (rule 1: practice, practice, practice makes for a long life), self-discussion ("alone: in good company".  Ambrose Bierce), exercise and nutrition (pointless exercise and quinoa?), and journaling (Where you write down everything you were not meditating about.) as resources to manage stress.  What a pile of namby-pamby, introspective, new-agey crap!  And someone gets paid to do this?  You can be they are fun people!  If this load of stuff works for you, well, no wonder you're having trouble dealing with life!  So let's get real.  You need to get stuff done.  Nothing reduces stress more than that and nothing gets less done than self-discussion, meditation, most exercise, and journaling.  You see that's the crux of the problem; the aim is to reduce stress, not get stuff done.  Does anyone think these are the tricks used by highly effective people?  No mention is made of taking time for a daily cocktail hour, and nothing reduces stress more than sitting on your patio (using a comfortable "support") with a nice margarita and looking at the hawkmoths visiting the hosta in your garden.  You say you don't have a nice garden wherein hawkmoths forage?  Well, then let's move on to the fifth of the six points.  Start gardening.  You need a garden as a place for not thinking anyways (point two), so get going.  You need exercise and you need good nutrition, and it gets something done.  Plant that kitchen garden and kill two points with a simple spade.  Gardening is a great reliever of stress, and some years you get tomatoes, which with bread, bacon, lettuce, and mayo makes for good nutrition.  For example, get a hoe and rename the weeds.  Ah, there's a "provost", lop, off with their head.  You do that a few dozen times and it's amazing how good you will feel!  And what's with this journaling stuff?  Why not write a blog so your blatterings about your terribly stressful your life is can be read by hundreds of people whose lives are so equally pathetic that they have nothing better to do than read your blog and write comments about how much their lives improved after learning introspective BS from their own wellness offices.  Boy, getting this off my chest makes me feel much better!  Time for a cup of coffee. 

Our garden, a dumping site!

While on a routine inspection of our grounds today, TPP came upon a pile, not a large pile, but nonetheless a pile of construction trash: pieces of concrete, polyurethane foam, plastic frame pieces, pieces of wood.  They were heaved over the fence from one of our five back yard neighbor's.  The neighbor is not a problem; he's a very nice fellow, but he's hired some dumbass redneck clod of a contractor who saw our yard as a convenient way to get rid of a pile of construction trash.  TPP does not know about you, but he finds this extremely annoying.  After photographing the trash pile, an attempt will be made to locate this class act contractor and have them clean up their mess.  The things you have to put up with when you have a large garden that tends to be ever so slightly wild around the edges.  For some reason spaces such as this seem to invite trespass.  What gives?  What do these people think? 

Yesterday's page views = 666! Does this mean anything?

Nah!  But today is Friday the 13th!  Don't you just love coincidences? 

Texas and textbooks

Oh, Texas, don’t ever…evolve

The bible is my textbook;
It’s the only one I need
It’s got all the information
That a person ought to read
Any open-minded scientist
Would certainly concede
It’s a better book than Darwin’s is, by far!

It’s the universe’s history—
All several thousand years—
And it shows how evolution’s
Not as strong as it appears
(Cos it’s atheistic scientists
Just covering their fears);
God created things exactly as they are

So it’s time to put the bible
Into all our Texas schools!
It’s against the constitution,
But they always say, of rules,
That they’re there for us to break them,
So watch out, you godless fools
We will have our way, through providence divine!

Yes, we’ll earn our reputation
As a stubborn, backward state
Though it’s really not the people,
It’s the board that guards the gate
So the people watch in horror
As creationists debate…
See, it’s what you call intelligent design.
Once again the science textbook debate focuses on Texas.  Some Texans want science textbooks to be written in such a manner that children can decide for themselves if evolution is a valid explanation or not, as if the experts really don’t know, and kids could think so critically.  The critics of science don’t want textbooks to say that anything is known; they want analysis, they want science evaluated, as if this never happens in science itself.  Said one textbook evaluator (from the Huffpo), “I’m just looking for evolution to be presented honestly and not be given a materialistic slant that’s not warranted by the evidence”.  That’s quite a statement.  Science is operationally “materialistic”, that is science acts as if the supernatural doesn’t exist, and given the evidence that’s a reasonable enough position, but science operates this way because no one has yet been able to figure out how to do science any other way.  In other words materialistic science works.   There are no examples, no studies, no breakthroughs, no advances in knowledge, in medicine, in agriculture that have used a non-materialistic, let’s call it magical, approach.  So this fellow thinks a materialistic approach that works is a “slant” and he prefers that be balanced by a magical approach, and for the purpose of enhancing science education.  How ironic then that this fellow thinks evolution is not being presented honestly, although certainly in textbooks the presentation is often overly simplistic, and over the years no one has been more critical of how science is presented in textbooks thanTPP.  Of course, that statement is meant to sound reasonable, like who can argue with balance, analysis, honesty, and evidence?  When you dig deeper you find out that critics of evolution don’t want evidence to be presented if they don’t like its implications.  After all you hear over and over and over again that the fossil record doesn’t support an evolutionary explanation, which is so totally at odds with what you actually know, which means that a subtle dishonesty is being presented here where you make the skeptics, real scientists, sound dogmatic, while the religiously dogmatic are made to sound reasonable, as if by magic reversing their true positions.  Yea, Texas! Oh, wait, isn't that Ted's state? 

It takes a bigot to love a bigot

How else can you explain Ted Cruise?  He wants another 100 guys like the late Jesse Helms in congress.  Sadly stuff like will not end his political career, but how can anyone even in the GnOPe think this guy is presidential material?  Oh, of course, they're bigots. 

Fun galore!

Today we'll have some fun!  If you have some free time, stop by and join the fun!  It's harvest season and it's how we get our data.  Last week the above ground portions of this experiment were harvested, but now it's the below ground portion that gets harvested.  Now here's the thing about roots; they branch and branch again and again and again.  And they really hang on to soil, intimately intertwined you might say.  Extracting roots from soil is never easy especially when you want to save the soil and use it for phase two.  A student is also harvesting their experiment and is washing the soil away from the roots, which while a tough job, is much easier than what we are going to try.  This is the sort of thing that makes you want to be a tube-sucking gel jockey.  It's soil, not dirt.  Dirt is something that you find under your finger nails and in certain types of books and movies, but somehow in the process of doing this, soil becomes dirt.  TPP hopes he can find his apron. 

No such thing as typical meets non-observers

In trying to teach students about floral parts and the diversity of ways they get put together you quickly come to understand that there is no such thing as a typical flower.  Now, as always, patient observation and thoughtful study usually get them to a satisfactory understanding of the specimens provided.  Did you detect the flaw in this last statement?  Today's students are not patient, observant, or particularly thoughtful.  The biggest problem they had in figuring out the imperfect flowers of Begonia was reading the sign that said "two types of flowers; take one of each".  Yes, even that tiny bit of instruction was too much for some of them.  Hosta (Don't tell you-know-who her flowers were stolen for a lab!) and Aloe did not seem alike because they were different colors!  Hmm, where's that section of the lab guide that says lavender and orange flowers can't ever both be monocots.  Anthurium was just a total puzzle, and nobody in the entire class had any idea what a jack-in-the-pulpit was!  Isn't that one of the more easily recognized and common wild flowers in this area?  Doesn't anyone go outside any more?  No wonder plant identification is such a rare skill anymore; people don't even know the common things any more.  You tell them that Kohleria is a gesner, nothing registers, so you say it's in the African violet family, still nothing registers!  Not only don't they go outside, they don't bring any nature inside either!  TPP needs a drink; hold the nectar. 

Serious case of camping desire

There was a time when the Phactors were big time campers, but then life got in the way.  Now with retirement looming the time is coming when we may be able to resume our camping, but our bones are no longer so well padded.  In other words while we like the great out doors, a bit of padding between the ground and our aging bodies is a great idea.  Now this is one neat little tent trailer and basically we want it!  Badly!  How cool is this?  Go look at the various options.  Oh, yes, this is one nice little outfit.  But where is the solar power?  And why is it named after an insect?    

Humanitarian options

TPP is no foreign policy expert, but it would seem that there are options other than bombing the crap out of Syria because the gov't used poison gas on its own citizens, and doing nothing.  After all what does a bombing accomplish for the Syrians?  Let's see, there are over 2 million Syrian refugees.  What say rather than making boomy thing go boom, the USA launches a serious foreign aid program to ease the suffering of all those refugees.  Why at some point in the future, some Syrians might remember our help and think well of our country.  In fact, if we are concerned about the people and their country, why isn't the USA doing this already?  The answer is that in all probability the fate of the Syrian people has no interest for our government at all and other political interests shape our foreign policy and action is only seen from the military perspective.  At any rate, when in doubt, help people; it's a hard policy to argue with, except for those GnOPers who think people who need help are slackers or cheats.  

A little drought relief

A band of mild-mannered thunderstorms rolled through the are about 3 am and we became aware of this when a nervous cat clambered onto the bed to tell us about it.  She doesn't like the noise and needs some reassurance.  Things were so very dry that watering required making tough decisions about what to water next, and it was not actually possible to keep up.  It had been so long since the last rain that a spider had built a web down inside the rain gauge, and this sort of webbed up the works, but the storms provided somewhere near 3/4s of an inch of rain giving us just a bit of breathing room.  Hardly know what to do today without watering.  If this type of late summer hot weather drought becomes a regular pattern then some plants may become untenable in this area, e.g., red maple is already iffy.  Plant more oaks people.  A long dry spell also gives you an opportunity to see a lot of poor watering, just wetting the surface and doing no real good at all.  Watering must be long and slow; it takes patience and depending upon the sprinkler and area, one to several hours.  A nozzle on a hose is for washing your car; it's not for watering plants.   

Backyard death match

In answer to one of our top predator wanted ads, a juvenile red-tailed hawk stopped by last evening to entertain us during our cocktail hour (and a half).  This is the biggest bird ever to visit our yard, an impressive beast.  Bird-watching turned into rollicking good fun as we watched this youngster do their level best to obtain a squirrel dinner.   You don't get this type of amusement just every day.  Our hawk moved around the yard from perch to perch, both chasing squirrels up and down trees, and then almost had dinner when a squirrel struck out across the yard and the hawk swooped in from a burr oak.  And while no squirrels actually died in the making of this spectacle (drat!) that one had a very, very close brush with death as both squirrel and hawk dove into a bed of dwarf dahlias (oops!), a very near miss. Mrs. Phactor decided it was not a good evening to take her kitty out for a walk least the two inept predators should meet in utter confusion.  Not a rabbit in sight. 

Gardening shoe?

These shoes are presented not because TPP has any pretense of knowing where the forefront of fashion is, or even which direction it is from his present location, but they are consistent with the blogging principle of "all things green".  Some how one doubts these are green in way but color.  So what think you ladies?  Are these some "flash" gardening shoes, or what?  Does anyone out there ever go any place where you could wear these?  And with what outfit?  How many degrees of fashion reside between these and Sketchers? 

Khat is a no-no in Lincolnland and the USA

Small article in the Chi-town Trib says a midwestern man was arrested at ORD for having about 85 pounds of khat in this luggage.  He didn't know it was a "controlled substance", a list of prohibited plants and substances that makes little sense other than they are legally no-nos and their possession gets you into trouble.  Khat (or kat) is Catha edulis, a shiny-leafed shrub in the bittersweet family.  It is not a narcotic; it is a stimulant.  In eastern Africa and parts of central Asia khat is chewed as coffee is
drunk for a morning pick-me-up.  When the USA was planning another of its foolish military adventures in Somalia, the USA's military issued a warning to its troops about "drug-crazed" war-lords and other nonsense.  One of my students showed us the warning; he was with a med-evac unit in the air-force reserves.  After doing a bit of research he wrote his commanding officer a memo suggesting that such mis-information was not even slightly helpful and he was told he was being insubordinate.  No surprise there.  Knowledge is like that when it comes to military "intelligence".  Now, of course, stuffing a wad of rather nasty tasting leaves in your mouth (yes, many of our vices are an acquired taste), is not the western way of starting your morning with a pick-me-up, so it's obviously not to be trusted.  Wonder if betel, also a mild masticatory stimulant, is a controlled substance too?  But on the grand scale of addictive substances let's look at just how awful khat is.  This graph shows the relative addictiveness on one axis and it's physical harmfulness on the other.  The further the substance to the top right (the heroin neighborhood), the worse it is, and the closer the substance to the bottom left, the more benign it is.  So where is khat?  Lower left.  Lower than the relative positions of alcohol and tobacco, a depressant and a stimulant both legal and condoned by our culture.  Oh, and cannabis too, which is nearly legal for medical use.  Sadly if you visited many parts of the world, and saw all the khat being sold in markets, you would never guess it could be illegal here in Lincolnland.  So this poor fellow will undoubtably be severely fined if not imprisoned for having khat.  The report says his 85 lbs of khat has a value of more than $12,000!  Over $140 a pound?  In the USA?  In what market would that be?  The Somalis would find that figure outrageous and start smuggling if they thought that kind of money could be made in the USA.  Let's stop 1000 people in downtown Chi-town and see what they'd pay for a pound of khat.  Think you'll find one that even knows what it is?  File this one under crazy, useless, destructively stupid drug laws.

Uh, oh. Some students are annoyed with their botany professor.

You know this happens from time to time that some students become annoyed with TPP.  In this case they had an assignment, and while there were some suggestions, some directions, some questions, their responses, their reactions were basically left unspecified.  In other words TPP did not spell out in detail exactly what they were supposed to do as some sort of a fill-in-the-blank answer sheet or a check-off list of items to include.  As a result some students were way more thoughtful than others, some students put in more effort than others, some students showed more insight and creativity than others.  Some students surprised TPP with their unique and unexpected perspectives.  And wouldn't you know, it's the hand full of students who didn't do these things that are annoyed. Why if they had only known what other students were doing, they might have shown more initiative too.  This is why a university is not a high-school, although not all administrators get this.  The students were asked to comment about photo-essays of a week's worth of groceries from different places around the world (links: here and here).  The students were instructed to be thoughtful and given some leading questions.  What did they notice the most?  The different amounts people paid for food ranged widely (over 200 fold).  How terrible some people's diets were (the USA did not do well especially North Carolina).  Most of them thought the Egyptian diet looked the most interesting and healthiest (Ecuador and Turkey followed).  Many of them commented on how inadequate some diets were in all respects.  They noticed which diets seemed to have lots of fresh food and which didn't.  They noticed the large amount of soda and candy in some of the piles of groceries.  Thoughtful students had no problems finding a number of significant things to comment about.  Open ended assignments, up to a point, leave it to students to show their interest, initiative, energy, and creativity, and that makes it easy for TPP to sort the sheep from the goats, which is my job.  Now this is early in the semester, and maybe, just maybe, a couple of the goats will think about trying a bit harder on the next assignment, after all TPP doesn't operate on some sort of quota system, but we often take the blame. 

How does blue taste?

Yesterday's laboratory covered starchy staples, not the most exciting topic, but more interesting than most students think at first.  Actually their interest level was pretty good.  Taro and cassava were new things for most of them; several expressed disbelief that they were purchased in a standard big grocery store where some of the shopped, but never noticed them before.  A surprising number had never encountered sweet potatoes as food before!  Unfortunately our glasshouse yam, while prolific, produces aerial tubers and like potatoes exposed to light, the chloroplasts in the cells beneath their corky skin develop and along with the greenish tissue comes toxic compounds with a bitter taste.  Real yams never show up in our markets although sweet potatoes are routinely so labeled.  The genetic diversity of potatoes in our markets is a relatively new thing, and most of them had never noticed blue potatoes before.  After examination of the items they were sliced thin and fried into "chips".  One young woman who was a bit reluctant to try new things asked, "How does the blue taste?"  "Amazing," a clever fellow replied, "best blue ever".  Blue has a flavor?  Oh well.  The examination of starch grains using polarized light microscopy was also something new for them and they got to add "birefringence" to their vocabulary.  On the whole this was quite successful because one of the primary purposes is to awaken students to things around them of which they were totally unaware.  And there are lots more awakenings to come!  (Image from Eat the Rainbow.)  

Sounds like and goes together

Grocery stores are often a source of amusement especially with regard to mistaken labels most of which seem to occur because the people doing the labeling don't have any idea what they are labeling.  Today's example was pretty amusing as it sort of worked.  TPP cannot remember when he learned that plantains could be a starchy banana rather than a lawn weed.  At any rate, plantains are now common place so when looking them up in the store's scanner checkout database, the first try was under P.  Nope, so then you think it's under banana, but in looking through the choices there were "bananas - bulk", "bananas - red", "bananas - baby", and then there it was "bananas - plantation".  What?  Plantation?  Now of course banana plantation does make sense, but as it was priced by the pound rather than by the acre you could guess they meant plantain not plantation, but clearly somebody in their IT department had heard of the latter and not the former.  A helpful young clerk confirmed, "Those are plantation bananas, sir."  This may be how languages change when such a mutation sweeps through the population.   

Standardized zucchini

Us scientists often have problems with less than precise instructions and let's face it, recipes are often a prime source of loosey-goosey instructions.  So when a recipe asks for you to grate a medium-sized zucchini, just how much zucchini is that anyways?  Now TPP has often seen and occasionally raised zucchini the size of naval destroyers.  Now if that's a big zucchini, then how big is a medium?  No mass, no size measurements, no means of determining how much zucchini the recipe really calls for.  Medium?  This is quite annoying.  Now in my general judgment a zucchini  that is 9-10 inches long and probably about 2 inches in diameter at its thickest part is a medium-sized zucchini.  The navy calls to put in dibs on any that are larger.  Nobody should let zucchini get any bigger than 9-10 inches, but sometimes they can grow from 6-7 inches to 9-10 inches in a matter of 2 hours or less.  How a fruit so big can hide from view also remains an interesting question.  But it would help a great deal if recipe authors would attempt to quantify their amounts a bit more.  Is it too much to ask for some zucchini standardization out there?