//I added the following metatags
 
Jun
30
    
Posted (crates) in Uncategorized on June-30-2007

      

 

As a child

On the way to school

My pants were painted

With daubs of yellow

As I walked through

 Fields of nodding flowers

 

I’m not sure how it all came on…this feeling of loss.  I was thinking how as a child, my friends and I would hike across a grassy prairie to Jim Miller Woods in Pleasant Grove, now a suburb of Dallas, Texas.  This land on the prairie was the thick, black gumbo typical of this part of Texas, rich and deep, ideal for cotton and any other crop you cared to grow.  From our houses the prairie stretched for several miles to the intersection of Bruton and Jim Miller, where the Austin Chalk erupted from the dark soil to support a wide diversity of trees on a bluff overlooking the White Rock Creek Bottoms and the skyline of downtown Dallas.   Many of my fondest memories involve roaming these woodlands, digging nodules of iron pyrite from the limestone rocks and watching the gradual encroachment of bulldozers and developers until most of it was turned into a residential area.  Fortunately the developers had enough sense to preserve most of the trees.

     On the praire that we crossed, the appearance of building stakes were an unwelcome sight.  Then with the naivete of youth we would pull up the stakes and hurl them across the grasslands, enraged that anybody would dare to build on our territory.  It was merely tilting at windmills, however, and we knew it at the time.  Now on the once empty prairie are old residential areas with large trees in the yards of the brick homes, and I doubt if anybody remembers back to when that entire area was open grasslands.

     With this on my mind I happened across a website talking about the Pleasant Grove First Baptist Church, established over a hundred years ago, being closed and sold.  This was the church that my family attended faithfully for over forty years.  I was baptised in this church along with my father and my brother and my sister.  I was married in the church.  I passed it everyday on the way to and from school as a child and watched it grow.  When my father had to work, my mother would take us children and we would walk the long distance to the church in order to not miss a single Sunday. I intimately knew and went to school with many of the members. We all literally grew up in the church.   My mother taught in the Sunday School for many  years, was president of the WMU and was active in many other capacities.  This church whose steps I have not darkened for many years, was, I found to my intense sadness, an intimate and integral part of what I was.  I was overwhelmed with memories of that long ago time and was surprised at the depth of feeling I had on learning that it was due to be sold and destroyed.  I saw a later newspaper article that said that an arsonist had caused major damage to it.

       To top all this off, I came across a cemetery record of a dearly beloved person from that era of my life when I teetered on the brink between childhood and manhood, and then saw the photo and a podcast interview with another beloved one from the past.  Listening to her voice brought back an absolute avalanche of memories.

     It was as if so many ties and roots from long ago had been severed and I felt liked a drifting raft that had lost its moorings.  

                 “So lonely am I
                My body is a floating weed
                   Severed at the roots…”

  Ono no Komachi



 
Jun
29
    
Posted (crates) in Ecology on June-29-2007

Not too many  years ago, a French company after comparing satellite images said that Washington state had cut relatively more forest than had been cleared in the Amazonian rain forest.  This came at a time when alarms were being spread around the world concerning the rate at which the rainforests of that area were disappearing.

Weyerhaeuser (“the tree growing company”) responded indignantly by saying that most of these clear cut areas had been replanted with trees whereas the Amazonian rain forest clearcuts had not been replanted.  I’m sure that some people were reassured by learning that this company, the largest private owner of softwood forests in the world, was diligently replanting the denuded forest land which they had cut.

There are at least a couple of questions a person might ask:

  • Are these replanting efforts by timber companies effective in re-establishing the same type of forest that was removed by clearcutting?  Are these “tree farms” ecologically equivalent to those that were cut?
  • Is Weyerhaeuser only cutting trees from their “tree farms?”  Are their replanting effforts enough to enable the company to conserve their old growth forests?

To compare these replanted tree farms to a mature natural forest would be tantamount to comparing a wheat or corn field to a natural grass prairie.  When the first settlers came to the great grass prairies of the midwestern United States, they found an extremely diverse community of plants and animals comprised of many species which had evolved together to form the tall and short grass ecosystems of the area.  When the settlers first plowed these virgin prairies and planted their crops, often wheat or corn, they supplanted this diverse, well balenced community with a monoculture.

Monocultures in this context refers to a single crop species that is grown in an area.  The increase of large areas planted in a single crop reached its zenith with the advent of corporate farms, and has both pros and cons.

The pros:

  • It is more efficient in the SHORT run.
  • The grower can use machines that are specifically designed for a particular crop.
  • The grower can apply the same fertilizers and pesticides.
  • The harvesting, processing and marketing can be streamlined with a corresponding savings.  And that of course is the bottom line–money.

The cons:

  • Pests that feed upon the crop often explode in numbers as they react to the huge new food supply.
  • The use of chemical pesticides are often applied in greater quantities to keep up with the burgeoning pest population (e.g. the boll weevil and the drenching of the South with DDT).
  • The large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides don’t just stay on the applied areas but spread throughout the ecosystem, often with dire results.
  • The soil condition often is neglected in these large fertilizer-dependent monocultures which eventually results in the application of more fertilizer than was initially needed as the soil becomes depleted.
  • In addition to various animal pests, disease organisms often become established.
  • Since the monoculture crop is often genetically similar, they usually have the same genetic susceptibility to diseases (and other pests).  In a genetically diverse crop some individuals by chance would have a genetic resistance to these diseases.
  • Many species are eliminated.

Healthy ecosystems have a tremendous amount of genetic diversity.   This usually means not only a large number of species, but a large amount of genetic variation within the species–various geographic races, etc.   As the genetic diversity is reduced for any reason, the ecosystem becomes more unstable.  On these tree farms, usually a single species of tree is planted (e.g. Douglas Fir), and often it is a particular variant of a species that is planted.  For example in some areas the trees have been selected for their rapid growth or some other desirable trait, and entire forests of this same particular variation may be planted in rows.

Some of the forests in the northwestern U.S. are thousands of years old with a corresponding huge amount of genetic diversity in the form of thousands of species, not only plant species, but mammals and birds, insects, spiders, and soil organisms.  The claim of Weyerhaeuser that their monoculture tree farms are equivalent to the mature forests in the area can be viewed in several ways in my opinion:

  • They could have made an honest mistake.  This is doubtful since they employ thousands of employees, many who have advanced degrees in the science of forestry.  Of course forestry majors may not have the same perspective as forest ecologists!
  • They may have simply suggested that the forests they plant are equivalent to the mature forests of the area.
  • They may have deliberately lied in a despicable attempt to cover up the fact that they are currently denuding the mature forests in over eighteen countries, including the United States, Canada, Uruguay, Australia, New Zealand, China, Mexico, Ireland and France, and causing irreparable harm to the ecosystems and species of the area.  This site may help answer that question.

Which brings up the second question listed above.  Are these timber companies simply “harvesting” second or third growth trees on the tree farms that they have planted? Are they managing to leave the mature forests alone?  They are approaching this goal in Washington and a few other places but see the above link and this quote from the Seattle Times which tries to answer that question.  The Seattle Times article also talks about Weyerhaeuser’s history and presence in Canada.

But it’s in Canada, where trees take 40 to 100 years to reach a size worth felling, that Weyerhaeuser is logging hard. Despite decades of cutting, there are not enough mature, second-generation trees to maintain the industry at its present production levels. So Weyerhaeuser and other companies are targeting an ever-widening arc of first-growth forests, which may have been singed by fire or infested with beetles but have never before been logged.

Here is another quote concerning Weyerhaeuser in British Colombia:

“Vancouver Island, British Columbia, was once graced with one of the most magnificent forested ecosystems on Earth.

After 150 years of industrial logging, more than 80 per cent of the primeval forests have now been destroyed. 85 of a total of 91 watersheds have been roaded and gutted in the most thoughtless and brutal manner, and what is left is being cut down at the fastest rate ever. It took 120 years to cut the first half of the island’s forests, and it’s taken 30 years to clear the remainder. 20 per cent of Vancouver Island is logged without any regulation at all as ‘private land,’ – much of which is ‘owned’ by Weyerhaeuser.

Last year [2004], Weyerhaeuser destroyed a 50 hectare stand of single aged 1000 year old western red cedar in the Walbran Valley, not three hours away from Victoria, British Columbia, from where I write to you. This magnificent ancient forest is now a mass of stumps on average about four meters in diameter.

Weyerhaeuser is now invading East Creek, one of the last of five intact and unprotected primeval watersheds on Vancouver Island. The company wantonly mows down the forests even as First Nations struggle in Kafkaesque negotiations to get back their territories which have never been ceded. I have directly seen  the horrors that Weyerhaeuser has inflicted on our forests, and I understand how this giant American corporation is enabled to continue on with the invasion.

Of course the depletion of these forest which store vast amounts of carbon contributes to global warming.  What? Me worry?



 
Jun
28
    
Posted (crates) in biology, Birds, Ecology, Endangered Species, nature on June-28-2007

     There was an article in the paper a few days ago talking about how the common birds of Washington State are diminishing drastically in numbers.  Today they took the American Bald Eagle off the endangered species list, but unfortunately many of these common birds don’t have the glamour nor do they occupy public awareness as does the magnificent Bald Eagle.

     According to annual bird counts and an analysis of breedng records, in the past forty years birds such as the Evening Grosbeak and the Bonapart’s Gull have dropped 97%!  The Purple Finch populations have dropped 87%; the Yellow-Headed Blackbird 72%, and the Western Meadow Lark 60%.  See this and related articles here.  The reason most likely is destruction of habitat.  For example as the prairies and open areas are built up the Meadow Lark has no place to live.  Destruction of forests (see post of two days ago) and other habitats are also responsible.

For example, not only the the forests and prairies are disappearing, in Eastern Washington the shrub steppe prairies, wetlands and grasslands are also rapidly disappearing along with the species that depend upon them.

     Of course the factors involved can be quite complex.  Pollution and global warming no doubt is having an effect.   As species such as the herring and crustacean populations of Puget Sound plumet it has an inevitable effect on the species on the uppper part of the food chain, such as the Bonaparte’s Gull.  The delicate web of life is being torn and shredded with unpredictable effects.

    

    One of the shocking things is that these are not the already endangered or rare species, but once common species that we see at our bird feeders.  The disappearance of common species will have a much larger effect upon our ecosystems than if the problem involved only rare species.

     Audubon lists some things that everybody can do to help.

    



 
Jun
27
    
Posted (crates) in biology, nature, People on June-27-2007

     Everybody is familiar with the pervasive bigotry and racism that has so long run like a dark strain of feculence through so many societies.  Today,  in our society at least, most of us join together in condemning these destructive attitudes that have caused so much pain, suffering and death.  We do this despite the fact that such terms often tend to be thrown loosely about and are often overused.

However, I believe that this tendency of people to discriminate and look down on other races or cultures reflects a basic intolerance that is pervasive throughout our psyche. People have a tendency to set themselves up on a particular cultural prominence, and then sneeringly look down on all those that don’t share their particular “elevated” position.

It might be instructive to look at some definitions:

 Intolerance: an unwillingness to share or grant social, political, or professional rights. I would extend this unwillingness to all aspects of human endeavor.

Bigot: One who treats or regards the members of a group (as a racial or ethinic group) with hatred and intolerance.

Snob: A.  one who tends to rebuff, avoid, or ignore those regarded as inferior B. one who has an offensive air of superiority in matters of knowledge or taste.

       There seems to be a sort of commonality here, especially when comparing bigots and snobs.  Bigots seem to be the more extreme with their attention more  directed  at ethinic and racial groups.  Snobs seem to me to be part and parcel of the same disease that we all have–a tendency to smugly regard anybody outside our little group (whatever the group is) as somehow inferior.  I tend to use the two terms synonymously since I believe they are basically the same.

     This tendency occurs in almost all areas of human endeavor, not only the well known intolerance towards other racial and ethnic groups, but also in politics, religion, sexual preference, music, art, etc.  When carried to the extreme, it tends almost in some cases to lead to a sort of prim Puritanism with the advocates recoiling in horror at those that transgress their narrow rules of behavior. 

    

    For example, I have often seen this in the area of food.  Now I myself, sympathize with some of these positions, but I try to draw the line once the positions lead into the slippery areas of intolerance.  For example, organic food advocates sometimes become extreme in their denunciation of the food and chemical industry  and their attempts to “poison” our bodies (I have done this myself!).  Vegetarians are another example of food bigots.  Some “vegans” tend to get on their soap box and rant at the barbarians that continue to kill, yes actually kill innocent animals in order to eat their flesh.

Music is another area that brings out the basic intolerance that courses through all of our veins.  Not only do we often denigrate particular types of music, but we ascribe unsavory characteristics to the people that like these types.  Sometimes we think of them as being of a lower order of humans, unwashed, uneducated and unreachable.

     We have also what I call the provincial bigots.  These people sneeringly put down entire peoples based on where they live.  It’s like an automatic reflex with some of these snobs/bigots.  For example think of people from the southern United States.  What immediately comes to mind?  Where did you get this impression of this large area of the U.S.?  What about Texas?  New York?  San Francisco?  Each area often automatically elicits certain preconceived ideas about the people there, their sexuality, their religion, their reading habits, their politics, etc. 

      Stereotypes are an important aspect of this intolerance, I think.  Stereotypes can be a lazy way of immediately categorizing complex subjects.  Often stereotypes do have a basis in fact.  It often summarizes and typifies large masses of information, but…it panders to racism, bigotry and snobbery and should be avoided whenever possible.

This intolerance can be found in almost any realm of endeavor.  Take fishing for example.  Yes, fishing…how can anybody be snobbish about their fishing?  I have found that there are various levels of intolerance amongst certain categories of fishing.

     Below are the categories ranked in order of increasing uncouthness:

a. Dry Fly Fishing

b. Wet Fly Fishing

c. Fishing with artificial lures

d. Fishing with bait (live or dead)

The dry fly purists tend to turn their noses up at wet fly fishermen, and so on down the line.  Probably the lowest of the low would be the stink bait fishermen (which is one of my favorites).

So…are you familiar with a skill, a profession,  a realm of endeavor that has these levels of hierarchies?  And at the top of the hierarchies, are there the elite, the cognoscenti, the true “in” group?   I tend to be reminded of the dominance hierarchies in social primates.  Perhaps these are just other ways of establishing our dominance in our complex societies.

    



 
Jun
26
    
Posted (crates) in biology, Ecology, Plants on June-26-2007

     For many years I have admired this incredible stand of Western Redcedar beside the road that I travel.  Almost daily I rested my eyes upon the lush beauty of this thick growth of evergreens which appeared to form an impenetrable wall along the road.  It was dark beneath the trees in the few places that I could see an opening, and I could almost imagine that they were part of a great forest that extended for miles and miles.  I would fantasize about hiking through this forest, smelling its sweet incense and listening to the wind soughing in their branches.  In the winter they presented an indescribable scene, with their thick boughs weighed almost to the ground, their tops bent over with great masses of snow.  As the years passed, I grew fearful for their safety living as they did in a city dominated by Weyerhaeuser (“the tree growing company”) and which seems to have no zoning, allowing developers to strip vast swathes of forests to the bare earth, removing every bush, every hint of vegetation, in order to put in new housing editions, shopping centers and storage units.  I assumed they were spared because I knew that this magnificent tree loves having its roots wet, and I thought that perhaps these trees were growing in a boggy area.  I also had the naive thought that they were part of a local watershed that was being protected.

I just drove past where my old friends have been growing since time out of mind.

The trees are gone.  Only stumps remain along with “slash,” the broken branches and detritus left over from the logging operations.  A pile of these giants lie stacked awaiting the logging trucks.   A great bleeding wound is left on the earth. 

It’s not the first time that I’ve shed tears over such.



 
Jun
22
    
Posted (crates) in Uncategorized on June-22-2007

I am left handed, my mother was left handed, and her mother was left handed; beyond that I am unsure.  Lefties have always been not only passively discriminated against but also actively.  My grandmother was forced to only use her right hand in school and ever after did so when she wrote.  A friend of mine had his hand slapped repeatedly with a ruler by nuns in the Catholic school he attended because he persisted in using his left hand.

 

In English the etymology of left is ‘lyft’ which means worthless.  The word sinister came from the Latin for left.  Witches always proceed widdershins or counterclockwise (left) in their practices.  Some say that part of this bias may proceed from the fact that the sun in the northern hemisphere rises and proceeds to one’s right in it’s course across the sky. In primitive societies to go against the sun would not be wise.  Other terms like “gauche,” and “droit” reveal the bias against the left.  One could go on and on in this vein, for example our guardian angels stand to our right and the devil to the left.

 

And then there are the medical claims about left handers (90% of women and 86% of men are right handed) that have been made: they don’t live as long; it’s the result of brain damage; the immune system of lefties is lower; disorders such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorders, learning disabilities,  mental retardation, Alzheimers, and bed wetting.  Much of this was claimed by Geschwind, Behan, and Galaburta (GBG Theory) in the eighties and much of since then has been discounted or modified.

 

    Since the left hander tends to be right brained dominant, it would follow that lefties might show a predominance in fields utilizing the superior visual-spatial abilities of this side of the brain which would include math, music, architecture, etc.  Other studies claimed links to homosexuality, which could never be conclusively demonstrated.  Another study suggested that lefties had an advantage in hand to hand combat which would be selected for in more primitive times.  They point to the prevalence of left handers in some sports.  In my fencing class I was able to consistently beat the rest of the class possibly in part of my left handed fencing style!

 

Evidence has also accumulated refuting the early deaths of lefties…in fact much of the claims listed above have either been shown to be disproven or doubtful.  Obviously further studies are needed to conclusively prove any of these claims.

 

  One of my favorite quotes is as follows by Rudolf Steiner:

In general, you will find that those children who have spiritual tendencies can write with either the left or right hand without trouble, but those children with materialistic tendencies will become addled if they are allowed to write with both hands.



 
Jun
21
    
Posted (crates) in biology, Evolution, Genetics on June-21-2007

Sometimes in an effort to understand something, I’ll read about it and make an outline for myself which helps me to grasp the main ideas. I’ve been reading about the Y chromosome, and about some of the implications of recent research about this gender determining chromosome.

You may already know that sex in humans is determined by the Y chromosome. Females have two of the X sex chromosomes, whereas males have XY. These two chromosomes, although probably very similiar originally, diverged more and more after the male determining gene became ensconced on the Y chromosome probably over 300 million years ago. Below is an outline based on information presented by a paper by Willard in Nature and a medley of other sources.

  • The two human sex chromosomes, X and Y, originated about 300 hundred million years ago from the same ancestral autosome — a non-sex chromosome — during the evolution of sex determination
  • They gradually diverged in their base sequence.
  • At either end of the Y chromosome, however, there are still regions that are similar to the X chromosome with crossing over occurring between these areas.
  • 95% of the Y chromosome is specific to this chromosome (about 23 million base pairs) which is referred to as the Male Specific Region of the Y, or MSY and involves no crossing over with the X chromosome. This includes the gene that determines maleness (SRY) and any other genes beneficial to males.
  • 10-15% of the MSY include sequences (the X transposed) that moved from the X chromosome only in the past few million years, and are still 99% identical to the corresponding sections on the X chromosome.
  • Another 20% of the MSY consists of a class of base sequences that appear to be more distantly related to the X chromosome and probably are pieces of ancient autosomes from which both the X and Y chromosomes evolved. These are the X-degenerate sequences. The rest of the bases are specific to the Y chromosome, and tend to be repetitive palindromes—reading the same on both DNA strands (the ampliconic sequences).
  • Insights have been made into the evolutionary strategies that the Y chromosome has made in order to survive.
    • Unlike the sequences on the ends, the MSY section of the Y chromosome does not exchange segments with the X chromosome. This can be seen to be necessary to prevent complications. If it did occur, then males would be missing both essential Y chromosomal genes and X chromosomal genes, and females could have extra genes on their X chromosomes which were obtained from the Y chromosome. Females could also end up missing essential X chromosomal genes.
    • Selection appears to have occurred on the testis specific genes that may enhance fertility.
    • Most of these genes occur in the palindromes mentioned above.
    • However, as crossing over between the Y and X chromosomes ceased, the danger of accumulating mutations that would inactivate the Y chromosome genes would tend to increase.
    • These mutations, no longer eliminated through recombination, would eventually cause the demise of the entire chromosome.
    • Apparently to prevent this from happening, the sequence on one arm of the palindrome can alter or convert the sequence on the other arm—crossing over (recombination) between the two DNA strands. Apparently this has been happening in the larger primates at least since the line leading to humans branched off (five million plus years).
    • It was calculated that as many as 600 base pairs in each new born male must be converted in this way.
  • This led to the conclusion that this gene conversion may be more common in other areas of the genome, especially in palindromic and other duplicated areas.
  • This supports a dynamic view of genome change in which not only do mutations occur (as much as 100-200 base pairs per person), but that thousands of gene conversions occur also. Skeletsky et al. sequenced the Y chromosome.
  • Theoretically if the Y chromosome was eventually reduced down to just the gene causing maleness (SRY), then the gene could attach to either an X chromosome or another non-sex chromosome (autosome) which would create a new Y chromosome. Another possibility could involve a piece of an autosome attaching itself to the sex chromosomes. Both these things have happened in other organisms.

Out of curiosity I took a test on bias. There were several tests on the subject, and I took the one dealing with gender bias in the sciences. My results were: “Slight association of males with science and females with liberal arts compared to females with science and males with liberal arts.” In my opinion the way the test was given automatically predisposes the results towards this sort of bias.



 
Jun
18
    
Posted (crates) in biology, Birds, Evolution on June-18-2007

Ever wonder why some organisms occur on all or almost all the southern continents?  Paleontologists noticed that a certain plant fossil, Glossopteris, was found in rock deposits (Permian-Triassic) of  Africa, South America, Anarctica, Australia and India.  This led some to believe that there was once a large southern land mass that was eventually named Gonwana after the district in India where this plant was found. Quite a few species show this southern distribution pattern including the Ratites.

These are the large flightless birds of the southern continents, characterized by the absence of a keel on their sternum (breast bone).  Sternal keels act as attachments for muscle in birds that fly.  Since the ratites are flightless, they have no need for such a structure (ratite: from latin ratis for raft). These Paleognath (old jaw) birds are grouped together based upon their unique palate, and are all flightless, although fossil forms show a keel on their sternum which indicates that the living forms evolved from early Cenozoic ancestors that could fly.  The flightless habit has arisen independently and many other flightless birds such as penguins and rails belong to the NEOgnathae along with most of the flying birds. 

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Superorder: Paleognathae
Order: Struthioniformes
    

 Families:      

        Struthionidae (ostriches)
Rheidae (rheas)
Casuariidae (emus etc.)
Aepyornithidae
          (elephant birds)
Dinornithidae (moa)
Apterygidae (kiwis)

 Order: Tinamiformes                 (Tinamous) 

Some sources:  Wikipedia article    DNA of ratites     Eating ratites

 

Having nothing better to do, I just took the nerd test.  I mean, I thought that perhaps I was slightly nerdy…maybe…ya know?  Like in a kool sort of way.  Imagine to my surprise when I scored 91% which ranks me as…well look what the results said:

 

 What does this mean? Your nerdiness is:Supreme Nerd. Apply for a professorship at MIT now!!!.

There has to be a mistake…dontcha think?

UPDATE: December 13, 2011:  I took it again:

 

Here is your nerdy image:

How can this be?  I am becoming more nerdy…::sob::

However, when I took version 2 which narrowed the nerd evaluations to subjects, I did better, or worse…

 Looks as if I am not a dumb dork anyways. 🙂

UPDATE: May 12, 2015–this time I got 97 as a Nerd Score: All hail the monstrous nerd. You are by far the SUPREME NERD GOD!!!

Well…I don’t care. I guess that I AM a nerd.  Any nerdettes out there?

I went ahead and took the “advanced” nerd test:

For Dumb/Dork/Awkwardness:

98% scored higher,
2% scored the same, and
0% scored lower.

Does this mean I got a 2? ::counting on fingers::

From this time forward, you’ll hold the title:
Uber Cool Nerd King



 
Jun
17
    
Posted (crates) in biology, nature, Personal Stuff on June-17-2007

 This (June 16) is one of my long days beginning just after 6 am and ending in a couple more hours around 2 am. 

I’m trying an experiment by not putting a heading for this entry yet.  Yesterday I tried to add to a previous entry that had a heading and got error messages about the heading when I published it.  I ended up losing the original entry. So I will publish this entry and will try again later in the day, adding a heading, and will see what happens.

I just took a personality test (Meyers-Brigg typology test)  here, and found out that I’m classified as an INTJ or a  mastermind rational, also see here.

This is 18 hours later.  I had a nice afternoon eating lunch with Jessica and her fiance.  It was a nice Father’s Day and I appreciated being invited very much.  I also talked with my father.  From last summer throughout the fall and early winter, it was very dry in that part of Texas and the lake had already retreated far out from the normal shoreline when I was there last summer.  However, they have been having lots of rain now and the lake is full to overflowing, and it keeps on raining.  Nobody, of course, wants to complain about the rain since it’s alway on the verge of being too dry there.

Last summer we walked down the dry lake bed that extended up to where his house was and found the dry bed littered with dead freshwater mussels.  There are at least 18 species of mussel in this area and about 52 species in Texas as compared to almost 300 species in the entire United States and only 12 species in Europe.  See here for a photographic collection of these critters that are found in the Dallas area. 

The life cycle of these molluscs are interesting.  The female has to suck in spermatozoa from males which release their sperm into the water.  They enter through the siphon and fertilize the females.  The young are released as larvae (glochidia)  which must temporarily parasitize fish for a while before dropping off to complete their development in the bottom of the river or lake.

Some mussel species mimic small fish or other food items like worms or insects in order to attract fish.  When the fish is sensed by the mussel the larvae are released and thus have a better chance of finding a temporary fish home without which they would perish.

     In many places of course mussels are endangered and efforts are sometimes late in trying to perserve them.  Besides having interesting sex lives and of great interest to biologists and people interested in nature, they are often indicators of water quality, and a flourishing population indicates a healthy freshwater ecosystem.

    



 
Jun
15
    
Posted (crates) in Uncategorized on June-15-2007

Why do my thoughts keep returning to Hotel Angela?  Why do I long to return to this little funky hotel on that muddy street in Bocas del Toro, Panama?

Perhaps it is because of it’s remarkable owner, Claudio, who will bend over backwards to help you in any way possible;  perhaps it was the clean and simple establishment that dscn0300copyweb.jpgClaudio started back in the nineties when, as he said, he was looking for a place to put his boat and do some fishing.  I know that much of its appeal is the restaurant set over the water, where I would come down at 6 am and help myself to the free coffee from a large silver urn.  I would then sit at the second table from the left (looking at the rear from the perspective of the photo) and drink my coffee from the china cup as I watched the sun rise.  There was always a cool, mild breeze and sometimes the tide flow would make little noises against the pilings.  I would look over the side of the railing and watch colorful tropical fish feed on tiny delectables that the tide brought.  After a while my Dad would come down, and we would both drink our coffee and watch the panorama on the water.  Soon dugouts would be passing by along with motorized boats of all descriptions.  The light on the water would continue to vary as the light changed, and soon it would be breakfast time.     

The free breakfasts were delicious and the people that worked there were always exquisitely polite and helpful.  All the meals that we ate there were delicious without fail and were very reasonable.   For about $15 you could take day-long boat expeditions to the surrounding archipelago.  This was an incredible bargain since private agencies would charge almost twice as much for the same trips.  We went to Coral Cay where we ate a delicious fish lunch at a restaurant set on pilings over the blue water.  As we waited I went snorkeling in the clear waters among the schools of tropical fish.  There were dolphins in Dolphin Bay feeding on schools of fish, their backs grey against the blue water as they sounded.  On the way back we dropped by RedFrog Beach with it’s bright red poison arrow frogs sounding like chirping birds in the surrounding vegetation.    Other trips included a boat ride to Bird Island, a small rocky island, where Red-Billed Tropic birds (Phaethon aethereus)wheeled and soared, their white bodies with their two long tail feathers distinct against the green vegetation of the island.  This is the only Caribbean location where they can be found.  Starfish beach, Boca del Drago, a cave full of bats and the incredible rainforest with it’s luxuriant bromeliads were also visited.   

               We went to other places in Panama, but when I think of the visit there, I think most often of Hotel Angela.  Don’t go there if you like luxury or fancy, but if you like a clean, simple hotel with excellent food and employees, internet access, and an owner who is simply charming and wonderful, set in a beach combers paradise, then you should seriously consider this marvelous place.



 
Jun
12
    
Posted (crates) in Uncategorized on June-12-2007

         A while ago, I noticed that my tooth paste was almost out and bought a new tube.  It was a new flavor and I was looking forward to using it.  However, I was too much of a cheapsk… thrifty person to toss the old tube away until I get every little bit of toothpaste out.  So, I diligently started at the bottom of the old tube and carefully pushed all the tooth paste to the top.  As expected I had enough toothpaste to keep on using the old tube for a while longer.  That was two weeks ago.  Every time I expect the old tube to run out, but every time I am able to squeeze out just a little bit more–just enough to brush my teeth.  I am beginning to think that I will never be able to start on the new tube.   Has anybody else experienced this, or is it some sort of strange phenomenon that I have never heard of before?

     It reminds me of my computer monitor.  It’s one of the old CRTs, a big clunky thing that takes up lots of room…and looks so uncool.  The first CRT that I had lasted only 9 months before giving up the ghost: this one has lasted over nine years and shows no sign of expiring.  I should be rejoicing, but I really am very anxious to replace it with one of those wide screen LCD monitors that is about the thickness of a paperback book.

      It reminds me of an old refrigerator that my family had.  I grew up with this refrigerator, left home, came and went, and twenty years later the refrigerator was still chugging away in the kitchen, albeit with a new coat of paint that my dad had thrown on.  My mother eventually tired of the chocolate brown thing (yes, it had been painted brown) and told my dad to get rid of it.  We hauled it out behind the house and left it on the side of the major road that ran by the house, and ten minute later somebody had picked it up.  It still worked, but its looks and interior had become sadly outmoded.

     Speaking of things that won’t quit, somebody stole my air conditioner this past winter that sat in the window of my unoccupied Texas house.  My father lives next door and noticed that somebody had burglarized the house by taking out the air conditioner and entering through the window.  Nothing else was noticed missing, except for the air conditioner which had been in the family since 1956, just over fifty years and it worked like a top.

     The more I think of it the more I realize that I have several things that just won’t quit.  Like the cheap Sears lawn mower that I bought back in 1984 and continues to start every time despite the fact that I have never replaced a spark plug or performed any other maintenance.  I have checked the oil but it never needs any, and I have never changed or sharpened the blade despite the numerous rocks that I occasionally mow over.

   Oh and the old Sears tv that I bought in 1986, that is a cube about three feet on a side and weighs 7,000 lbs.  It’s another very uncool piece of equipment that just keeps on going.   The Sony tv that I bought for the other room lasted less than 6 years before suddenly refusing to start.  The Sony tv that I bought to replace the first one (I know!) lasted less than two years.  The old Sears just keeps on playing.

     I shouldn’t even mention my Ford 150 truck that I bought new in 1975 and drove it every day until I finally got another car in 2004 and gradually weaned myself away from my old van, neglecting it until it finally refused to start after sitting for six months.  I still feel guilty about abandoning it like that–my old friend of thirty years.  I feel sad every time that I pass it beside the house, covered in moss and lichen.

       I think of these things and marvel at their durability in this age of planned obsolescence.  So many things seem to last only a short while before stopping, and it’s usually cheaper to throw them away and buy a new one.  In this world of 6 billion plus human beings all wanting a bigger piece of the pie, it seem the height of folly to waste our diminishing resources so.  

      Except for my computer monitor, and that curious tube of toothpaste…



 
Jun
11
    
Posted (crates) in Uncategorized on June-11-2007

I just installed wordpress on my site, texafied.com and am now orienting myself to the program and all its options. After looking at all the difficulties some people have had and the confusing directions posted on the help sites of bluehost.com (which is my host site), I am unsure that this installation has been successful.

It appears that the program was installed successfully (crossing fingers!), and thus far I am impressed with the ease with which the program manipulates the blog. I am certainly pleased so far, and I plan to pursue these options:

  • Change the appearance (I have already begun this).
  • Import my other blog, texified.blogspot.com, to this blog.
  • Investigate further all the options available.

I just imported my blogspot blog, texified, with absolutely no problems! I am more and more impressed with wordpress.

     Later:  I’ve been tweaking the site and snooping about.  WordPress is extremely flexible and subject to manipulation–and this is me speaking, a person who knows nothing about such things!



 
Jun
06
    
Posted (crates) in Uncategorized on June-6-2007

Spiders…yes, great clumps of spiders all over the place! They appeared about two days ago: tiny spiders all clumped together in large masses, recently hatched out and huddling together before they embark upon their individual journeys out into the great world. What were the factors that caused them to all hatch out on the same day? It reminds me of when ants or termites all take it into their heads to embark on their great mating flights all at the same time. Yes, certain environmental factors: temperature, moisture, etc., etc. blah, blah…but how can these factors determine these events so precisely? I found several of these spider clumps, all apparently hatching at the same time. I suspect that they are all the offspring of the common Neoscona sp. that is so conspicuous here in the waning days of fall when the cool nights and shortened days tell these beautiful creatures that their days are numbered.

I noticed something that I have seen before in other poikilotherms. Such creatures’ temperature depends upon the external environment, and on cool days they often clump together in large masses which tends to raise and maintain a higher temperature than if they went their separate ways. I used to notice this is especially in web worms.

These accursed creatures used to infest my apple trees. I noticed that on cool days these caterpillars would mass together and allow their dark bodies to soak up the heat. I knew this because I would go around and… Let me interject here that I LIKE animals. Today I won’t hurt anything unless they bite or otherwise feed upon me (mosquitoes and fleas come to mind). But at this time I would become inordinately angry at these caterpillars that would devastate my apple trees if I would let them. Also I loathe pesticides. So, as I was saying, I would go around, take the large mass of squirming caterpillars in my hand and squeeze. As their little bodies burst and released the green contents, I noticed that without exception that they were extremely warm. On warm days the individual caterpillars would leave the large mass and disperse in all directions, only to return at night or when the weather became cooler.

These little spiders seem to do the same thing. Usually these little “superorganisms” don’t last too long since the individual spiders usually wander off, or balloon off in a strong breeze.

Ok, I finished reading my book on HTML and am ready to begin experimenting. As usual I seem to be re-inventing the wheel. I had the bright idea of making templates of HTML code that was commonly used which would save me the effort of typing all that obscure stuff over and over as I did my pages. Then I heard about HTML editors and found that this has all been thought out before, and these nifty little progs will automatically do most of the tedious work involved in writing the code out. Ok, so I won’t be inventing the wheel all over again. But now I can modify and interpret the existing code that I do find!



 
Jun
05
    
Posted (crates) in Uncategorized on June-5-2007

I really, really do not consider myself a groupie. I mean really! However, I have begun to realize that I do have some very intense enthusiasms about some things. I never thought of these enthusiasms as falling into the realm of “groupie,” but…well, I dunno. So I looked up the definition of groupie and found the following:

1. A fan, especially a young woman, who follows a rock group around on tours.
2. An enthusiastic supporter or follower: a ballet groupie; a fashion groupie.
3. An admirer of a celebrity who attends as many of his or her public appearances as possible.
4. An enthusiastic young fan (especially a young woman who follows rock groups around).

So, since I’m not that young ::cough::, and I’m not female, and I don’t follow anybody around, then I must not be a groupie. The term “enthusiastic supportor or follower,” however, might apply to me in so far as my enthusiasms go.

For example, I used to have an inordinate passion for Tom Sawyer. I had read the book at least twenty times by the time I was ten, and could quote entire passages by memory. I copied my life after Tom, emulating him in every way that I could imagine. I eventually shifted my interests over to Huckleberry Finn as I got older, and even today I still re-read Huckleberry although I have largely abandoned Tom.

As I write this I am reminded more and more of various books and authors that I have developed a great liking for. In the late sixties I became interested in Tolkien’s Ring Trilogy almost concurrently with Casteneda’s early books on his apprenticeship with the brujo, Don Juan. In the early seventies I also developed a passion for Mary Renault’s books on ancient Greece. Years ago I became enamoured with Roger Zelazny’s books on Amber–a series of ten books compiled together in the Great Book of Amber (see the Amber Chronicles). More recently I began an interest in Anne Rice’s vampire books. Oh and Colleen McCullough’s series on ancient Rome. When I say that I became interested in these authors and their books, I mean that I read and re-read these books over and over and have for years. Yes, I have read more of the high brow classics than the average person, but with a few exceptions, I never had the slightest inclination to read them over and over. The only movie that I developed an intense liking for was Blade Runner which I still can’t get enough of.

However, these aren’t real people! The only real person that I have such an enthusiasm for and whom I actually might follow around (if he were still alive), and about whom I continually read biographies of is…Charles Darwin. I mean it’s not that unusual to light candles before his portrait in my home is it? And incense…and just because I call him “Saint Darwin” doesn’t make me a groupie does it?