Tuesday, September 30, 2008

And on the third day: Houston, we have pupation!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The cat alarm clock, a work in progress

In theory, a cat toy could make a great alarm clock. That is, if your cat jumped on the bed precisely at the time you desired to wake up every morning and started batting his toy around the foot of the bed. As most cat owners know, this is almost never going to happen.

Not only is my "jingly-bell feather" alarm highly variable, it is very hard to turn off, and there is no snooze feature. In the throes of sleepiness, my solution is a little sleight-of-hand. I snatch the toy and quickly stash it under my pillow. Max is baffled and rather quickly exits the mattress.

IF you could set the alarm for the same time every morning and IF you could develop reliable snooze technology (getting up, throwing the toy down the hallway, then waiting for the cat to bring the toy back to the bed exactly 9 minutes later), then the cat alarm clock would surely be a hot ticket item. The folks in R&D should get right on that.

For some non-feline related snooze button lore and advice, read on:

Why are snooze alarms on a 9-minute cycle, rather than a more logical 10-minute increment?

Jeff Elder at Jewish World Review offers one answer: "By setting the snooze time to 9 minutes, modern digital alarm clocks only needs to watch the last digit of the time. So, if you hit snooze at 6:45, the alarm goes off again when the last digit hits 4 — at 7:54. They couldn't make the snooze period 10 minutes, or the alarm would go off right away — or the clock would take more circuitry."

And how many of us actually use the snooze?

More from Elder: "If you smack a snooze button, you ain't sleepin' alone. According to USA Today, more than a third of American adults hit the snooze button every morning an average of three times. Snooziest group? The 25- to 34-year-olds — 57 percent of them hit the snooze button daily. Peppiest risers? It's the seniors. Only 10 percent of Americans over 65 regularly use their snooze button."

For those who can't resist postponing their day just a little longer, psychology professor Ken Carter has this advice:

"I always tell my students to avoid the snooze at all costs! It's basically forcing yourself to relive the worst part of your day over and over and over again."

Oh, Dr. Ken. You feel my pain.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Japanese anemone

The first time I've ever had a Japanese anemone bloom before I killed it! This one's happy as can be, in fairly moist 2/3 shade, keeping company with an ostrich fern.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Carla revisted

Hurricane Carla, for whom I am not named, slammed the Texas coast Sept. 11, 1961, and at least for now, holds the record for the highest storm surge in the Lone Star state. Writes Jeff Masters' at Weather Underground: Carla was a Category 4 hurricane with 145 mph winds at landfall, and drove a 10 foot or higher storm surge to a 180-mile stretch of Texas coast. A maximum storm surge of 22 feet was recorded at Port Lavaca, Texas. Despite the fact that the center of Carla hit over 120 miles southwest of Houston, the hurricane drove a 15-foot storm surge into the bays along the south side of the city.

Curiosity compelled me to learn more about the hurricane with my name. I found a colorful recollection of Carla by Texan Adela Kutch Farley, who was 31 years old at the time. When the stormwaters sucked their back door from the hinges, her husband Virgil shored up the front door with boards to keep the cows on the porch from smashing in. Adela, Virgil, the kids and the dog made for the attic, where they braced against the spray of saltwater through the roof vents. After the storm, rattlesnakes were everywhere, she said, "blinded by saltwater." "I hope and pray Carla was the 100-year-hurricane for us," she wrote in a special storm retrospective in the Jan. 6, 2005 online edition of the Palicios Beacon.

Though the "during" and "after" parts of Farley's account are evocative, my favorite anecdote is about her pre-storm restlessness. A woman after my own heart, Adela started cooking.
"Sunday night before Carla came in, I couldn't sleep, so I got up and started frying chicken and baked two cakes, as I knew we would be without electricity and water. When I turned the kitchen light on, I was met by millions of ants on the cabinet and crawling up the wall on both sides of the window, up to the attic. Were the ants trying to tell me something? I sprayed and sprayed everywhere, cleaned them up and started cooking."
If my math is correct, and if she is still alive, Mrs. Farley is around 77 now. Judging from my map, Palicios, known as "The City by the Sea," looks to be smack dab at the halfway point between Galveston and Corpus Christi. As Hurricane Ike approaches, mandatory evacuation has been issued for Palicios. I hope Mrs. Farley is far from there.

An interesting TV footnote:
All those intrepid (or foolish) wind-battered reporters who must suffer the obligatory "seaside report" have Dan Rather to thank. Says Wikipedia: Then little-known newsman Dan Rather reported live from the Galveston Seawall during the storm, an act that would be imitated by later reporters. Hurricane Carla marked the first live TV broadcast of a hurricane: "Our graphics were a little unpolished, but that day we did something that had never been done before: put a live radar image of a hurricane on television," said Rather.

Photo of Hurricane Carla aftermath from MSNBC archive
I.D. of woman unknown

Mexican sunflower & bengal tiger canna

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Is the answer really blowing in the wind?

As if the constant blather about "clean coal" weren't irritating enough, here's another energy "solution" that has me scratching my head: the flying turbine. Hyped by the Discovery Channel, the project is spearheaded by a dude named Fred Ferguson, a "Canadian engineer specializing in airships." He envisions:
"...launching millions of helium-filled aerial turbines to break the world's dependence on fossil-fueled energy. These turbines, held by tethers, would float up into high-wind conditions where their spin will power generators with electricity flowing through the tethers. By harnessing wind energy properly, the team believes they can reduce the amount of fossil fuel used today. According to their research, 20 percent of the power generated by global winds in a year could meet the world's annual energy needs six times over."
Now, though I love science, I'm not a scientist. What I don't know about science—and pretty much every other subject—could give chronic acid reflux to a black hole (interestingly, a Yale scientist is purporting that black holes have their limits). Still, this idea sounds pretty kooky to me.

Here's what a fellow on a bat Listserve I subscribe to wrote in a recent post to BATLINE:
Of all the farcical ideas we hear, this looks to be on the sillier extreme. Also somebody can't do sums. On inland sites you are lucky to get a wind factor of 20%, say 30% to prevent an argument. Therefore, to supply the UK average load, these would have to have a peak generating capacity of 20% of 40GW times 3.3 equals 26GW. This is about the off-peak "base load" which is already supplied by generators which can't be shut down, so these turbines would have to be shut down (how) in off-peak periods which makes a mess of the wind factor figure above.

In gales, these assemblies would have to be winched down into protective hangars to prevent damage. You can't "feather" a balloon like a turbine blade.

Elementary mechanics show that the torque generated by the horizontal axis turbine (old technology) has to be counteracted to stop the generator spinning as well. More helium balloons and guy wires. Helium leaks through plastic balloon material and would need to be piped up to replace this loss.

Say these were huge and could generate 20 KW, the UK would need 1,300,000 of these with hawsers, cables and pipes up to 300 feet. Apart from the visual amenity question, That would be a considerable human, let alone wildlife, hazard.

Reworking the figures for a more realistic practical wind factor (including gale shutdowns) of 10%, the UK would need more like 4,000,000 balloons, turbines, hawsers, cabling and hangars. And I haven't even started on public health and safety. :-)

David Brinicombe
North Devon, UK
I'm one of those people who "can't do sums," but D.B.'s argument sounds sound.

OK, by now (and probably way before now), you're probably wondering what the hell this photo has to do with turbines? It's Ferguson's turbine "tether test":
"The team tested the strength and conductivity of two competing tethers by using them to lift a string of cars, each car weighing about a ton. The cars were hung from 15-foot sections of steel, then Vectran tethers."
Does anyone else find it ironic that they used automobiles?

The facts of life

For all the entomologists in my life (and let's be honest, everyone else too).

*original source
*shout out to hipparchia for the find—love the blog

Ailanthus webworm moth on dahlia

Too lazy to pore over my bug guides, I e-mailed this photo to my trusty friend Mike, who ID'd the insect as an Ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva punctella). "One of my favorite little moths," he wrote. He said they are commonly seen this time of year on goldenrod. I want a better macro lens. Waaaaahhh! This is a species dahlia—D. atropurpureathat I bought from Old House Gardens this spring. It hasn't grown as much as I'd hoped. Maybe next year. It got knocked silly during T.S. Hanna last weekend—from the torrents, not the wind. We got 4.75 inches of rain on Sunday. Another 2 inches fell today.

The weeds are taking over now that there's moisture. That cybernetic organism nutgrass (keeps coming back, just like the Terminator) has invaded even more beds. It is creeping in from the lawn. Bermuda grass is snaking underneath the agave. I worked it a little bit and managed to avoid falling into the prickly pear cactus. I went out this evening and weeded in the drizzle for about a half hour—until my Keds got good and waterlogged. I came back in soaked and defeated. Nutgrass. Sigh.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Note to self

Self: When you are weeding next to the agave—taking great care not to skewer your eyeballs on its fearsome spines—be sure to keep your balance. Otherwise, you might fall ass backward into the prickly pear cactus hiding under the gigantic brugmansia.

I'm just saying.