Field of Science

Field trip packing

The only thing worse than packing for a field trip is repacking everything for the trip home.  All the careful packing has degenerated into near chaos as students have pursued their projects, and then revised their projects, and then punted, and then finally succeeded in wringing a bit of information, some data, some new understanding, out of the rainforest.  Now all this stuff has to get put away.  You figure out that biologists use way too much plastic; what would happen without Tupperware and zip lock bags?  Biological progress would grind to a halt. But you get real pragmatic on the way home and you have to make room for some Costa Rican coffee, a lot of coffee, 40-50 pounds of coffee (it's 15 people after all).  If you get to Costa Rica, do visit Café Trebol on the Calle Ocho side of the Mercado Central. Getting everything clean including your boots is difficult; getting it all dry is next to impossible especially as it is pouring buckets outside.  The troops are sorting everything on the veranda of their cabina, so it continues.  Unfortunately, the students don't/won't pack for their instructors.  Go figure.  Monday the trip will start at 5:30 AM bus loading to reverse the trip down.  Too bad all that coffee is packed away and inaccessible. 

Gift for the bicycle rider wine-lover

OK, firstly, TPP abhors the rush into the Christmas season, so he is very happy to be avoiding some of it.  However, TPP does not live in a cave so it is hard to ignore all the ads.  This particular item caught his eye, and it's the one time he wishes he had a standard bicycle rather than his BikeE.  You know you can tuck a loaf of bread under your arm and put a cork screw in your pocket, but then what do you do with your bottle of wine?  Well, this wine carrier certainly solves that problem.  My colleague, a commuting biker, only had one question.  What do you do with your second bottle of wine? 

Friday Fabulous Flower - Lipstick plant

Well, how ridiculous is that?  TPP is in the tropics and he allows a Friday to sneak by without posting a flower picture! So here you go.  This plant has several nicknames, but the most common one is lipstick plant (Psychotria elata) in the Rubiaceae (coffee family).  Up in the northern temperate zone this is not an important or common family, but down here in the neotropics rubiads are everywhere.  There are over 45 genera here at the field station and more than a couple of dozen species in the genus Psychotria.  Most of them have fairly small white or yellowish tubular flowers, and not very conspicuous, so like many such plants, the flowers are surrounded by pairs of very conspicuous red bracts.  The bracts persist into the fruit stage surrounding the several sky-blue berries. Several flowers have already bloomed and several more fuzzy buds indicate it will flower for several more days.

Thanksgiving in Costa Rica and with young people

Costa Ricans, Ticos, are some of the nicest people in the world.  They prepared a 1st class Thanksgiving dinner for us gringos, a dinner that was good enough and fancy enough and pretty enough to impress almost anyone, especially at a rainforest field station. And everyone had to really work like dogs (the station manager was washing dishes!) to do so because 44 hrs earlier a kitchen fire in a warming oven came very close to putting the kitchen out of commission.  If you didn't know otherwise, you would not have known anything was amiss to see the results. Simply amazing!  What great people! 

Among our students there was much discussion of Thanksgiving traditions and how they differed.  And what foods they liked and dislikes (marshmellows and sweet potatoes - yikes!).  Yes, TPP has a Thanksgiving tradition in answer to their query, he always listens to Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant. A gallery of blank looks. One asked if Arlo was related to Woody because she'd learned something about an inherited degenerative disorder he had in a genetics class.  Yes, they are father and son; both folk singers.  More blank looks.  Folk?  Ah, well. No need trying to explain.  No one had heard of This land is your land either.  Anyone want to listen to the Alice's Restaurant song?  How long is it?  Probably about 25 mins.  No. And no need really because a protest song about a war they probably don't know about would not make much of an impression.  Makes you feel old.  Did TPP mention that they did clean up and dress up nicely for the dinner?  Still TPP was thankful, so he retired to his casa and listened to some Sidney Bechet recordings.  Who?  (Sorry can't provide the link to an earlier blog about Sidney; search function isn't working.)    

Observations on students on a tropical field trip

One of the more rewarding aspects of TPP's work is taking students on field trips, and none are better than rainforest ecology.  Here are some observations.
This year's class is very observant; they are noticing lots of things that most people would simply walk past.  Learning to observe is really important so this is quite pleasing. 
Typical of students from the Midwest, many of them are not adventurous about food and they approach new foods with suspicion.  They are really picking eaters.  And we're not talking about terrible stuff either. About 50% passed on the best fried plantains ever; the other half of the class finished them off so nothing was wasted.  Fish is avoided by a significant number of them; they don't like things that are "fishy" even when they don't taste "fishy".  On the other hand their reaction to the fresh fruit juices has been very different from previous classes.  Fresh fruit is blenderized, and large, heavy pulp is sieved out, and then diluted with cold water. In the past such juice was only palatable when rendered drinkable by several spoonfuls of sugar.  This year's crew are not such sugar freaks.
The students this year are showing some pretty good work ethics.  They have more energy than TPP, so you have to be good at providing direction.
Students have been good this year about wearing their boots, which deal with the water and mud, and the risk of snake bite.  They worry more about the snakes than the mud.  Smart. 
Spiders are a hot topic this year, orb-weavers, jumping spiders, wolf spiders, but they give one student the creeps.  What fun! 
It takes about two days here for the students to change, in their minds, from newbie tourists to jaded old rainforest veterans heaping scorn on other newbies.  No hazing is allowed. 
It takes several days for students from two different universities to begin to mix, to socialize, and then it's usually female-female or male-female interactions. 
Some of our students always look totally clean and even pressed, downright neat!  Others always seem to have been wallowing in the mud.  They all have nicer field attire than TPP whose field gear has seen many seasons.
For the undergrads, this is often their first time to attempt a research project, and some of them are finding that it's rather satisfying to figure out something real.  Yes, in a manner of speaking this course is proselytizing, trying to convert passive learners into active learners, and trying to recruit people who will develop a life-long love of learning and a passion for finding things out.  And it's working.  Yea!  This is why we do it. 

Rainforest understory

Rainforest is hard to describe, hard to show to anyone who
has not experienced it first hand.  Of course, that is why TPP is here to give his students that experience.  Here and there in the forest are views that give you some sense of what the forest is like, but they are somewhat hard to find and very hard to photograph.  And long time readers might remember that TPP has tried (sorry no links, the search function isn't working).  Rainforests are layered: herbs and ferns, shrubs & palms, understory trees and larger palms, subcanopy trees and palms, canopy trees, and emergent trees.  Vines, lianas, lace themselves through all of this.  All in all this presents a wall of vegetation where the tallest trees reach 50 meters.  So here's this years attempt at photographing the rainforest understory with some real depth of field. Tell me what you think.

The secret to feeling safer - 1984 version

"In the light of all that we have learned in the last few months, let’s recap where we are: We have a government that collects everyone’s communications data in secret and stores them, justifying the practice by using secret interpretations of the law and getting authorization to do so from a secret court that issues secret rulings, telling a handful of congresspersons in secret just a little of what they are doing, and putting people on secret kill lists and secret no-fly lists on the basis of criteria that are secret."  Can't put it any more succinctly that that.  Thanks Mano.  You'll have to click over to see the oh so perfect cartoon. 

Rainforest AM and a fig

It's 8 AM, on one hand it seems early, but it's not.  The rainforest day shift began their activities about 3 hrs ago at first light, when you first can perceive that it's gray not black out there.  Everyone is done with breakfast; everyone has gotten going on their research or other activities, and TPP is just waiting to see if anyone needs any help before he too heads out onto the trails to find some trees.  The morning
mist has already burned away and the sky is blue, but there was no rain last night and today promises to be quite hot.  Our students are showing a lot of effort and a very sound work ethic.  They want to accomplish something in a short period of time whether or not nature cooperates. 
Today's image is a fig (Ficus)in fruit that are nearly ripe.  These figs are about the size of a marble and a very large number of species loves them.  They actually don't taste too bad.  Figs have a complicated reproductive interaction with fig wasps, tiny wasps that both pollinate and reproduce in the figs.  Best if you don't think about the implications of this when you eat your next fig.  However this fig will be a great place to watch for birds.  You might get to see 30-40 species in such a fig in just an hour or two if you get up early enough, or sit where you can watch the fig and still have your coffee. 

It's a Monday?

One of the stranger things about staying at this tropical field station is the timelessness of the place.  Days and dates just don't matter except to the outside world.  You begin adjusting to the natural rhythms of the rainforest because you must  sync your activities to those of the organisms you want to study.  Some of our students were off to the field early on; others will be working tonight; some will be doing experiments throughout the day.  TPP has a problem with his day:date disconnect anyways.  Yes, something is to happen on a certain date, but he's often unaware that the date is today.  This is the problem with operating on a M-F schedule with little regard for the date for over 30 years.  Now it's a long engrained habit.  But here in the rainforest all of that matters not at all.  Day of the week, the date?  Who knows or needs to know?  This is quite dangerous, and TPP must actually keep a diary, or check the date reminder on his own blog to figure out when things are happening.  Like leaving for home. Here's a neighbor who was unusually active this morning and having a breakfast of Cecropia (at the top) and Pentaclethra (the feathery mimosoid leaves).  This was a hard shot to get because of the bright back ground and the blinding speed of the animal (OK it was just the former).  This 3-toed sloth (it's head is at the bottom) is lucky because the day before a gust of wind (unusual) ushering in a short, heavy rainfall snapped off a couple of limbs from the neighboring tree.  TPP's colleague was lucky too because he was nearly clobbered by those limbs.  How fortunate; the university paper work for losing a colleague would have been awful.

Rainforest birding in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a hot bed for birders, and the La Selva field station is a hot bed for Costa Rica.  Over 400 species of birds have been recorded here.  TPP is not a very good birder (that's Mrs. Phactor's arena); birds do not hold still so you can pick them up and look them over.  However every now and then a bird cooperates in such a way that even yours
truly can make an accurate identification.  So while looking for passion flower vines for a student deep within the darkest rainforest, this bird happened upon us.  Apparently a nearby fig tree had fruits just ripening and it was beginning to attract all sorts of attention.  Now in spite of its diminutive size and great distance the characteristic markings of a great curassow were unmistakable.  Quite simply TPP would not grab this bird even if he could.  The males (shown here) do some elegant courtship dances and offer their potential mates food treats.  So lots of birds have been seen but so far nothing new for the personal list, but then again, over a 20 year period of visits you do get to see quite a few species even if you aren't a very good birder.  How fortuitous that a curassow shows up so conveniently close to Thanksgiving!

Castilla rubber

One of the trees that is fairly frequent along water courses here on the warm, wet side (east of the mountains) of Costa Rica is the native rubber tree (Castilla elastica – Mulberry family).  It’s not really very impressive and students who just go ga-ga over some little lizard look upon trees dully and fail to understand the importance of these rubber trees in ecology and in history.  Castilla rubber was an important rainforest product for Costa Rica about a century ago and the source of all those rubber balls the Aztecs used for sport.  However para rubber (Hevea brasiliensis – Euphorb family) became the predominant rubber of commerce, and castilla rubber sort of faded into history.  So to give the troops something to remember, TPP tapped a tree by puncturing the outer bark (hard) into the softer inner bark that has lots of latex secreting cells.  The wound was small but the amount of latex that oozed out in just a few minutes was quite impressive, and when it coagulates, it is quite elastic.  On to chicle. 

Just hanging out in Costa Rica

Not!  Walked several kilometers today just doing natural history of rainforest organisms with a very observant and knowledgeable naturalist, one of the best and certainly the most modest. Seriously, these are some of the best naturalists in the world in terms of how well they know their home turf.  At any rate our students really benefit from the expertise of these local naturalists.  Some of the highlights include seeing both two-toed and three-toed sloths (Do you need to have it explained how to tell them apart?) because sloths are hard to observe in general.  Broad-winged hawks were migrating south and large flocks could be seen overhead.  The river was clear so the fruit-eating fish were easy to see too, but no one had a banana to sacrifice (in pieces) to see their aggressive behavior.  Students got their first taste of a tropical shower, especially those who had not brought along an umbrella (Yes, they were told it would be a good idea.).  Here's a couple of green iguanas, a male and female, (easy name, although not very imaginative - Iguana iguana) that were just basking on this tree that had fallen along side of the river.  The male is probably at least 2 meters long although a lot is tail.  This is somewhat how TPP's chair views what happens on field trips.  Just wish it were true. 

Pretty smooth road trip

Left Lincolnland this morning at 6 AM and now it's 5:20 PM and TPP has set up shop in a casa at the field station and is awaiting din-dins.  No airline problems at all, which is pretty amazing.  No luggage problems, even more amazing, and even the Kentucky snake bite medicine arrived intact, a very good thing.  Our coach was awaiting us and the trip took just over 2 hrs making very good time. Just a bit hungry at this point, a problem to soon be remedied.  Things here are hot, humid, yet surprisingly dry, a rather unusual situation. This will affect some organisms, so we shall see which ones.  At any rate, we'll try to keep Mrs. Phactor updated. 

On the road again - rain forest field trip

TPP has been trying to catch his breath since early October, but he's getting no breaks.  Just cleared up the manuscripts and grant stuff and gave an another exam to grade today; now off to Costa Rica with 12 eager
students.  Yes, you think, how tough is that?  OK the field station is pretty nice, and certainly there's nothing not to like about rain forest, except when it keeps stiffing me on tree flowering, but this is work.  A field trip is informal instruction, but it starts at breakfast and goes all day long ending at bed time, which is usually earlier for TPP than his charges.  Some will find they are dragging tail in the mornings as they learn their new daily schedule means earlier to rise and earlier to bed.  In addition the travel arrangements and watching out for the students adds quite a level of stress.  At any rate, even the blogging has been more infrequent, but hopefully a few posts from the field can be managed to keep everyone amused.  Here's a nice buttressed tree with a promise of more.  

Bishop to 21st century

Catholic Bishop Thomas Paparazzi is going to exorcize evil,or the devil, or demons, from Lincolnland this Wednesday at about the same time the Governor signs the gay-marriage bill into law.  Of course Bishop Paparazzi was bleating the usual silliness about the destruction of marriage, religious freedoms, and so on.  This event will demonstrate the power of prayer, a bishop’s prayer no less.  The bill will become a law and gay people will get married, and our dear bishop will have demonstrated the impotence of his prayers.  This assumes that the devil is real, and that demons are real, and that prayer is effective, and evil can be exorcized by certain ancient rights.  Of course, if the bishop really did manage to exorcize evil, how many pedophile priests would disappear from Lincolnland?  At the same time some diocese here abouts was in the news for getting some relic, some piece, a bit of something gross, of a former pope, and thereby worthy of veneration.  Zounds!  Would someone please tell the Catholics what century we’re in?

Horrible, terrible no-good, very bad weather

The weather service predicted violent weather today, and boy they were not kidding.  This weather system spawned not only very violent thunderstorms but some massive tornadoes.  The nearest tornado was NW of us by 30 or so miles, but the thunderstorm that swept through was the most violent TPP can ever remember.  There were gusts of wind in the 50 to 60 mph range that bent tree crowns to the absolute limit.  During heavy rain some of these gusts reduced our visibility to just a few yards.  Tree limbs were dropping like the leaves were dropping just a few days ago.  Hail stones the size of chicken eggs came down leaving 1" deep dents in the lawn.  Our street flooded, over flowed, and watching stoopid drivers try to drown their cars provided some comic relief.  The kitty girls were quite nervous and required much attention.  After the storm passed and while surveying the damage came the discovery that a 13-15 inch diameter section of trunk split off the back side of a large hackberry tree, and the 60-70 feet of crown attached came down across the rear gardens like a giant fly swatter and a number of shrubs and flowering trees will need some serious pruning once we get the bloody hackberry cut out of the way.  My prized parasol pine escaped a near miss by a large oak limb fall.  Lot's of other minor damage occurred, but nothing too serious.  Next year's supply of fire wood has been taken care of.  But others had it much worse. One of my students' homes was in a neighborhood hit by a tornado and suffered some severe damage and loss of power.  The weather service said they were moving at 65 mph!  And she's worried about taking an exam tomorrow.  Naturally she'll be cut some slack, especially if she comes over and drags some limbs to the curb (a joke!). 

Leaf elves came but other things make for busy life

One day our yard is solid leaves so deep you can't see any lawn; the next day they're all gone.  Actually the leaves have been shredded and piled in places for spreading around.  With so many gardens the Phactors don't waste leaves; they all get mulched.  That left us free to finish other gardening chores: moving fences to protect shrubs from the bun-buns, clipping back some perennials, deleafing the pond (the one place the elves ignore), emptying rain barrels, planting more bulbs (species tulips in this case), pulling more redbud seedlings, and getting other outdoor stuff ready for winter.  Finished the main tasks just as some rain moved in.  Tropical low is colliding with the jet stream and the weather promises to be pretty bad.  So switched gears from gardening to cooking for two dinner parties, tonight and tomorrow night.  Makes up for eating out two nights in a row, an unusual event when not traveling.  Out of town guest arriving soon, and TPP is packing for a rainforest field trip to Costa Rica.  Where has the bloody semester gone? 

What's the deal with rechargeable battery availability?

The last time TPP was in the market for rechargeable batteries most stores that carry such a product had a reasonable selection.  Your basic hardware store chain had a big display and many options along with versatile rechargers.  That must have been just about 3 years ago.  So imagine the surprise when nobody has nothing in this department.  The hardware store was obviously just selling out a few leftovers.  Other outlets in the battery business only had AA or AAA batteries, and then very few of them.  Clerks acted like "What?"  So what has happened?  The start up costs, the initial purchase of such batteries seems expensive, but they quickly reach a payback.  The average comsumer just may not be astute enough to see the bargain, to understand their value, and this does not factor in the cost of recycling and use of materials.  So is demand just so low rechargeable batteries are just disappearling?  Or is there something going on here that has escaped my attention?  Why the dirth of rechargeable batteries?  In particular taking batteries into the field is an issue.  With a rainforest field trip coming up, battery use will be going way up.  Understand that there is no dark like rainforest dark.  And with a new toy, a trail camera, some new rechargeable C-cells were needed, but none were to be found.  The field station insists that no batteries be discarded, so you must bring home every battery you bring and wear out.  Anyone out there have any ideas on this topic? 

First it snowed, then it leafed

Our area got about an inch of snow last evening, the first of the winter, and not so unusual for November 12.  And then the temperature dropped to 19 F (-7 C) over night. Again nothing so unusual for this time of year.  But the fall has been lingering and late, so this is rather sudden cold and a hard freeze.  TPP decided that the gardening season was over and harvested the last of the bok choi and moved a couple of small boxes of parsley indoors.  Several of our trees really never did change color, and they were holding fast to their leaves.  Only the sugar maples had really dropped most of their leaves.  But this morning if leafed.  To explain, TPP's book editor is big on parallel construction, so "snowed" "leafed"; that's parallel right?  All those leaves that were hanging on literally dropped all at once.  It was leafing hard on the back half of the estate this morning and it was kind of magical and sort of pretty; if you had stood there with a basket it would have filled pretty quickly.  It was quite a sight except for all the leaves falling into the lily pond.  A sudden leaf drop usually this happens with ginkgo trees, but these other trees not so much.  Now there's a leaf-snow-leaf sandwich on the ground that's 3-5 inches thick.  Raking season has officially begun. 

Great news! Thylacine probably not extinct!

Wow!  This is such great news!  The thylacine, the Tasmanian tiger, a marsupial carnivore, might not be extinct!  So often it's the other case, and so often it's the loss of habitat due to human activities that are the cause.  This is such a great animal, and it was thought to be extinct some 8 decades ago.  The thylacine is sort of the polar opposite of a koala or a wombat.  The idea that a rare animal is extinct stops lots of people from looking, probably a good thing, and in some very remote part of Tasmania it's quite possible a population still exists based on DNA tests on feces.  TPP has seen a lot of great animals in Australia, a side benefit of doing rainforest research: platypus (lots), echidna, cassowary (truly impressive in the field - convinces you that birds are dinosaurs), tree kangaroos, crocodiles, and more.  But he's never been way down south to Tasmania, now it's on my bucket list.

Blogging for bigotry by the Catholic Conference of Lincolnland

Robert Gilligan writes pretty plainly so you don't have to look very hard for the main message here.  Robert puts it right up front: religious liberty had ended in Lincolnland.  Here's a choice morsel.  "If a current church employee chooses to "marry" a same-sex partner, the legislation offers no specific protection regarding the church being forced to pay -- from funds collected every Sunday from faithful church-goers in the pews -- for benefits for the "spouse.""  So here's a church so tolerant that they actually have employed someone who was gay, although they probably carefully hid that fact to get the job.  So now their employee gets married to someone of the same sex and the faithful bigots in their pews have to pay for benefits for the "spouse".  Yeah, that's right.  First, paying somebody what they are due is just the right thing to do  because your church decided to enter into the employer-employee relationship.  Second, doing so is not an endorsement of their lifestyle, it's just legally required.  Thirdly, as Catholics you've been paying for pedophiles for years, and they are yours, all yours.  Here's Robert's closing message: "And hold on to the religious freedom that allows us to practice our faith beyond the four walls of a church."  Let's see when was the Equal Rights law passed around here?  How many decades ago?  That's right, this new law doesn't change the fact that you cannot discriminate in hiring no matter what you religious beliefs.  How long ago was it that Robert's church would have forbidden interracial marriages?  And they never liked the idea of someone of any other faith marrying a Catholic without all kinds of concessions.  Yeah, that's their idea of tolerance, concessions, where you basically acknowledge that there is one true religion and it's not yours.  Imagine the arrogance it takes to ask a non-Catholic to raise all your children to be Catholics.  To Robert religious liberty means just what you'd think, the right to be a bigot.  No question about it, Robert is a great spokesperson for the Catholic Church; it convinces TPP he was right about the decision to make no concessions all those many years ago to marry a nice Irish Catholic girl.  And what was his leverage?  The justice of the peace would be just fine.

University landscaping put to good use

TPP thinks with some justification that the entire campus grounds functions as his classroom.  In particular just a one building from TPP's office is a crabapple tree that is a true champion.  All crabapples did well this season with loads of fruit, but this particular variety has really big fruit, well over 1" diameter apples, dark red, hard, and very tart.  This year the tree's branches are bent down under the weight of the crop.  Some years ago, actually a couple of decades ago, TPP discovered that these crabapples made damn good jelly, and the Phactor household has been enjoying tart/sweet red crabapple jelly all of this time by taking advantage of this otherwise wasted resource.  The campus landscaping provides a number of such goodies that no one else ever takes any advantage of.  To get native pecans you must compete with the squirrels.  One year a local microbrewery harvested all the hops growing up the side of our building, the greedy buggers.  TPP had to take it out in trade - value added hops, so to speak. One of the best trees died and hasn't been replaced unfortunately - a butternut tree.  As a graduate student TPP discovered a trove of butternuts on another campus, and kindly made some butternut tarts to soften up his examing committee.  The department chair took an inordinate interest in the tarts and demanded to know where the nuts had come from (and their species name - easy).  Who knew he hadn't had any nut gathering competition for years and thought of them as his personal property. After all, what other than who gets there first determines ownership?  This year quite a number of people asked my students what they were doing, and if they had permission (of course TPP gave them permission) to pick crabapples (you didn't think he picked his own did you?).  This week's lab on gels, waxes, oils, and latexes will give them a chance to make some jelly of their own.

Keeping entropy at bay

Today was a typical enough Saturday.  All those little things that needed to be done to keep entropy at bay were beckoning: extracting Jove's testicle from the pond pump, fixing the water hookup on a new washing machine, winterizing some doors and windows and fans, and all the while getting both students and himself ready for a rainforest field trip up coming.  But TPP was feeling pretty good because this is the first day in over a month when deadlines were not looming ominously overhead so he felt quite carefree.  And a book manuscript was sent back to the editor (a very good editor) all 700+ pages, a grant proposal was submitted after quite a struggle with both the govmint web site and the collaborators in chief, and a journal article was proofed, and summarized, in Portuguese, and returned to the editor.  In the meantime classes were taught, labs were prepped and presented, and all the rest.  It was an exhausting month just past.  This upcoming week is busy with other things, an out-of-town academic guest, several social events, and something else that is slipping my mind. 

Friday Fabulous Fall Color

It's a late fall this year and a lot of plants are slow in developing fall color.  Here's witch hazel showing you why you should plant it.  It grows in the shade, it's a pretty tough plant, it flowers very, very early in the spring, and it has great fall color.  In general it's an under planted, under appreciated shrub that is a bit too subtle for your average suburbanite.   

What, right here in Lincolnland, Dr. Strangebrew?

Now how did this escape TPP's eagle-eyed attention?  He must apologize because he knows you expect more.  So nothing to do but steal the story and run with it, but thank Agricultural Biodiversity Blog for bringing it to our attention. At any rate Scratch Brewery a full half day's drive south of here in Ava, part of the deep south of Lincolnland, is making some mighty strange beer.  Hops has not always been the flavoring of choice, so lots of other things can be used, and these guys use lots of strange local things to flavor their beer.  Not sure what to think, only a taste will tell, so Scratch, send us a sample if you want the full TPP endorsement.  Now how annoying is this?  His timing is so bad. Why nearly 40 years ago when TPP was doing research in the nearby Shawnee Nat'l Forest, a microbrewery would have been a most welcome watering hole; at the time the best local stop was for pork BBQ in a diner in Murphysboro, and you had to put dimes in the old Coke machine in Ray's garage to get a beer, if you were a friend.

Foiled by Jupiter's testicles

On standard time, it's pretty dark by the time TPP gets home, but after changing clothes and throwing some kibble toward the kitty girls, the lily pond's leaf skimmer net would surely need to be emptied what with the maples dumping a couple of tons of leaves during a day of rain.  Sure enough, the net was almost too heavy to lift.  But then in the fading twilight he notices that the cascade, usually a lively singing display was down to barely a trickle.  Drat!  TPP has been here before. This would be caused by one of Jupiter's testicles. Perhaps you don't know walnuts by this name, but there it is, Juglans. And the round black ones are just the right diameter to jam in the intake port of the pond's pump.  No problem really, except it's dark, and the intake is at the bottom of a black box filled with damned cold water.  After unplugging the pump, water and electricity together always makes TPP nervous, especially you know with Jupiter and lightening bolts involved, what could go wrong when you tempt fate so blatantly?  So you go fishing for the testicle, and almost get it, but because it wasn't being held in place any more by the suction, it slips away and is gone somewhere down there.  A futile fishing around for the offending spheroid continued until TPP could not stand the pain any longer, so the pump will remain off until this weekend. It's not as if this happens regularly, just twice before. The skimmer net is large and collects everything floating in, and then there is a brush filter, but when the pond is completely full from recent rain, and the skimmer fills with leaves, and sort of makes a dam against the brush filter, it provides an opportunity for the occasional testicle to bypass the barriers, float over the top, and play havoc with the water circulation. Either that or this was sabotage by a terrorist squirrel, always a possibility. 

Same sex marriage now legal in Lincolnland

Yes, much to TPP's amazement, the Lincolnland legislature rounded up enough votes, virtually all Democratic, to pass the law.  The opposition made the same weak arguments that have been making the rounds.  Our local representatives all voted against the measure, with Dan saying "This ignores 4,000 years of history."  Dan, the state, the country, and even your religion, haven't been around that long so WTF are you talkin' about?  This is the dumbest thing he's ever said, so he officially is being docked two votes in the next election.  And folks, he's the best the GnOPe has to offer in this state. Naturally the even dumber factions like the Lincolnland Family Council say the state just got in the fast lane to the Apocalypse and eternal ruination, all while proclaiming themselves not to be bigots. Sorry, people, religion doesn't give you a pass; it's just the reason you're a bigot.  Our church (Unitarian) will probably be fully booked next summer with people who have just been waiting for this, some of whom will be getting married after having been previously joined because now the commitment will be legal.  

Cashew nut - the human cost

TPP has been in southern India twice.  In this region the cashew is an important crop, but you can't buy any in the local markets; cashews are too valuable as a cash crop export, one of India's 4 top agricultural commodities(the others being tea, spices, and basmati rice). Here in North America and in Europe the cashew is a much favored nut.  Just watch and see how many people pick out the distinctive nut from a bowl of mixed nuts.  At this great distance it is hard to know about the human misery caused by this crop.  First, the cashew is a funny looking fruit; it looks like the seed is outside the fruit handing below the seedless "cashew apple".  The fleshy accessory fruit is very tasty, sort of like a mango to which it is related, but they are soft and not exported or shipped to temperate markets.  The asymmetrical "seed" is actually the whole fruit, a sort of hard drupe with a leathery outer layer and a hard inner layer, a "shell", surrounding the cashew embryo which is what you eat.  This is  where the hard, hand-labor part comes in, de-shelling the "nut".  Now here's the other thing to understand.  Cashews are in the Anacardiaceae, the sumac family.  So did you think poison-ivy?  Mangos are also in this family, a fleshier drupe, but the pitted seed still has the same asymmetrical shape. The sap that oozes from the fruit stalk gives TPP the same itchy rash as contact with poison ivy.  The women who crack the cashew pits to release the nut suffer from the continual occupational exposure to these toxic oleoresins, and for near starvation wages.  Why hasn't someone invented a shelling machine, something like the "crackers" used for pecans and walnuts in the USA?  The answer is that India has so much cheap labor available there is no demand for a machine that would put thousands out of work. Yet boycotting cashews won't do much good.  Middle men make the most money, but if demand for cashews drops, then near starvation becomes starvation.  So far there doesn't seem to be any "fair trade" cashews, and it TPP is wrong about this, please let us all know. 

Standard cat time

It's funny what difference an hour makes and even the 1 hour day-light-savings time/standard time shift causes some discomfort and disorientation.  Resetting all the time pieces in the house, not to mention the car, is quite a bother; there are more than you realize. Then you have to remember the "fall back" "spring forward" helper or you end up 2 hours off.  This isn't all that hard, but in our household there are two fixtures that do not reset so easily, two black cats although the color probably doesn't matter. They have no buttons or stems to twiddle (yes one clock still has a stem to reset the hands (Hands!?)).  The kitty girls have a very accurate tummy alarm that only gets turned off by pouring in kibble. So it really doesn't matter when the time is reset because the kitty girls don't reset so quickly; it takes a couple of weeks.  In the meantime, inquiring paws poke at your face to find out why you are so very, very late with something so very, very important as feeding time. 

“Is Earth F**ked?”

Scientists are beginning to question whether business as usual remains feasible because it's pretty obvious that the one thing capitalism cannot fix, that capitalism won't fix, and that capitalism actually produces is environmental problems.  Thus the question is asked pretty bluntly.  It's something to think about, and this is a pretty thoughtful article.  When you have to choose between Coca-Cola and a 10 km walk for drinking water, it becomes a pretty easy choice.    

NPR, gray hair, and money

Last evening the Phactors attended a fund-raising event for the local national public radio station, very posh, very interesting and engaging speaker, OK food (what do you really expect?), and everyone dressed up nicely.  A great many of the attendees are among our larger social circle. The F1 and her BFF attended because one of her parents is very generous, and without question they were the youngest people in the room except for a couple of student interns who were working the reception desk or waiting tables.  At 33 they were the youngest by a lot.  This tells you what age group has money and supports NPR, and they all have gray hair. What was sort of worrisome was the virtual absence of 40 and 50 something people.  The average age must have been in the upper 50s at a minimum.  TPP has a whole slew of colleagues in this age range, but none of them attended.  Nor did many others of this age. Do younger couples need baby sitters which are hard to come by on high school football Friday nights?  Is it just a matter of disposable income?  Or is the next generation going to drop the ball when it comes to supporting the arts and things like NPR?  Last evening's demographic was not encouraging.

Pumpkin mosaic art

Well, it wouldn't be fall, the harvest season, or Halloween without some sort of pumpkin post, so here you go, a link to an article about the king of pumpkins (spoiler alert: it's a person.).  What a great idea using pumpkins to make mosaic pictures, if you have enough room, and enough pumpkins.  These are great especially the sauropod.