Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sad Sacks

We've had another loss of a notable person... this time, neurologist Dr Oliver Sacks succumbed to cancer after a long, productive life.

Dr Sacks was one of the great popularizers of science- writing entertaining, accessible books, some of which were made into popular movies. My personal favorite book by him is Seeing Voices, a book about the development of sign languages and the rise of deaf culture. Dr Sacks had a knack for covering neurological topics in an approachable fashion, and his compassion was evident on every page.

We lost one of the good ones- anyone who is able to teach scientific concepts to lay persons is doing important work, and Dr Sacks was prolific. In a culture which seems to be sliding towards idiocracy, people like Dr Sacks are more important than ever- we are sadly diminished by his passing.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ten Years Post-Katrina

It's been ten years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the Gulg Coast and damn near wiped a major U.S. city off the map. Ten years since a jackass president played air guitar while a national tragedy was unfolding (at least Nero was reputed to have fiddled while Rome burned), ten years since an out-of-his-league frat bro botched the rescue efforts, ten years since a TV jackass described U.S. citizens in a racially insensitive manner usually reserved for victims of third-world disasters. Ten years after the media's racial bias was made clear in stark black-and-white.

Besides the loss of life, the worst legacy of Katrina was the destruction of a neighborhood marked by a high degree of home ownership among the African-American population, the destruction of family property that made exacerbated intergenerational poverty. The population of the devastated Gulf Coast was not only displaced, it was disinherited.

I spent an hour this afternoon listening to a post-Katrina on This American Life. The stories of individuals who survived the hurricane and subsequent failure of the levees and flood walls will drive home the horror of the tragedy better than dry prose from a high-and-dry guy thirteen hundred miles away ever could.

Better keep some hankies on hand.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Found Another Time-Sink

Today, I found the Piece of Shit Book Club- they read shitty books so you don't have to. The glorious thing about the site is that, purportedly, they invited the internet infamous Chuck Tingle to review a children's book. From creepy PUA how-tos to creepy fundamentalist child-rearing how-tos to creepy dinosaur erotica, they run the gamut of, you got it, piece of shit books.

Be forewarned, though, this site will have you wondering how the hell you lost so much time reading these reviews. That's better than losing that time reading those shitty books, though.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Media Shows Again and Again how Rachel Points out the Folly of Men

Over the course of my five years and eight months of blogging, I have only written about Donald Trump a handful of times. I've avoided writing about him in this campaign season because I think he'll get bored with campaigning and drop out of the race in a few months. I figured I'd mention The Donald in light of Rachel Maddow's comparison of his feud with Fox News as a Godzilla vs Mothra style battle. Yeah, Trump is kinda like Godzilla, stomping the GOP that awakened him from his slumber in abyssal slime, and Trumpzilla has become a meme, with this image being a particular favorite of mine. I don't see myself giving much coverage to The Donald, but snark is paramount to me, so without further ado, here's my concise take on Trump's campaign:

With a purposeful grimace and a terrible rug,
He stinks up the TV with his godawful mug.

Helpless people on the campaign trail.
Scream bug-eyed as he rants and he rails.

He picks up a mic and he talks with a frown
As he blames all the problems on the people who are brown

Oh no, they say he's got to go go go Trumpzilla
Oh no, there goes Rubio go go Trumpzilla

Media shows again and again
How Rachel points up the folly of men

This doggerel, based on a comment of mine on the linked story, is a parody of a classic Blue Öyster Cult song:

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I cribbed the BÖC-lyric-as-post-title schtick from these fine folks- if you're going to steal, steal from the best.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Meanwhile, on the Workfront

Yesterday, I got a call from one of the guys in my department... he had taken a bad spill and broke his humerus (not funny at all) a few inches down from his shoulder joint. It was a bad break, and he will find out later if he will need pins or a full shoulder replacement (he's no spring chicken). At any rate, he will be out of work for at least three weeks. As luck would have it, another of the guys in my department is out on vacation- he's out of state, and I wouldn't even think of calling him on his time off. Needless to say, only half of the department is available to work this week. The department head told me that overtime would be authorized (a rare enough occurrence).

I have to compile the schedule for our big October events before the end of the month- right now, I have to work on the assumption that my co-worker will be back in action by then, but I'm not too optimistic. I figure I'll have a month to reconfigure the schedule... right now, I think I'll just write in "then a miracle occurs".

I'm not holding my breath here. Of course, the most important thing is that my friend recovers... I can deal with whatever work throws at me.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Grand Theft: Garbage

This year, the raccoons seem to be more incorrigible than ever- they really don't exhibit the least bit of shyness, even when confronted by a foot-stamping primate with a high-powered flashlight:

It's hard for me to gauge whether or not this year's garbage is more delicious than previous years' garbage, but the procyonid population sure seems like it's beating a path to our trash receptacles.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Remember these Two?

For the past two months, I'd been bouncing from worksite to worksite in order to make up for some staffing complications. As a result, I hadn't been to my principal workplace before 9PM for a while. As a result of THAT, I didn't see my co-workers in the Rodent Abatement Team in the daylight for weeks, and I didn't bother trying to photograph them in the darkness.

To make up for a lack of kitteh content, here is a picture of my co-workers Fred and Ginger on their matching pedestals:

We had a nice opportunity to watch the sun set over the property, at the onset of the regular walkabout. It was good to share a lovely moment with my four-legged friends, and it's even better to be able to share this moment with my readers. I wasn't neglecting them for the past two months, I was neglecting YOU, and for that, I'm sorry.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

We Lost a Superheroine

I was really bummed out to learn of the death of Yvonne Craig this week. Ms Craig had a pixie's face, a pinup's figure, a ballerina's athleticism, and an activist's heart. My first introduction to Ms Craig was on syndicated network television, but she had had a long career as a dancer with the Ballet Russe, a model (holy cheesecake, Batman), and actress on the large and small screens.

One of Ms Craig's most, ahem, memorable roles was playing the most infamous of original Star Trek's infamous hawt green chix:

I'd like a heaping helping of sex appeal with a side of menace.

Ms Craig's most iconic role was as Batgirl in the 1960s television show Batman. This version of Batgirl was pretty much Emma Peel with the camp factor turned up to eleven- curvier and gaudier, but every bit as brainy and badass. Ms Craig did her own stunts, and she always looked like she had a ball delivering a variety of BAM's and KAPOW's to a weird variety of malefactors:

It's noteworthy that Batgirl was portrayed as the equal of her male counterparts. To the extent that she was a "damsel in distress", well, her male counterparts didn't have such a great track record. Offscreen, Ms Craig appeared in a public service announcement informing viewers of the Equal Pay Act. She was a supporter of labor unions and believed that poor women should receive free mammograms.

It's sad to see another childhood icon pass away, but she lived a good life... while Batgirl was a fictional character, Yvonne was a superheroine.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Old Man of Providence's 125th Birthday

Today marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of H.P. Lovecraft, a pulp horror/science-fantasy author who lived in obscure poverty, but whose legacy has, over the past four decades become as vast as an extraterrestrial monster/god. I have been a fan of HPL since my adolescence, as a perusal of my blog will reveal, but I am aware that the man was a racist even by the standards of his less-enlightened age. It's the typical conundrum of the fan- how does one separate an artist's oeuvre from that individual's racism, sexism, homophobia, or other form of bigotry.

There's a great post about Lovecraft on the website of The Atlantic which perfectly encapsulates the complexity of Lovecraft's legacy. Lovecraft was a nativist antisemite who married a Jewish immigrant from the Ukraine and mentored a teenaged Jewish kid from the Midwest. Much of the horror that Lovecraft tried to elicit was rooted in fears of race-mixing or biological regression. His fear of a multicultural society is palpable in one of his infamous lesser works (the idea of Lovecraft feeling a frisson of horror as he passed the anything-but-sinister Ferdinando's Focacceria reduces me to a gale of guffaws).

Not having Lovecraft's hangups and, indeed, being the descendant of immigrants that Lovecraft would have considered "undesirable Latins" or "wild Celts", I find most of Lovecraft's horror tales overwrought and somewhat comical, though at his best, Lovecraft could be genuinely unsettling. Lovecraft did, however, conjure up an "eldritch" image of the universe, with humanity being an insignificant link in a chain of being spanning vigintillions of years and the breadth of the universe, seen and unseen. Given his view of ignorant, beleaguered humanity facing an uncaring universe, Lovecraft's racism is particularly vexing- if we're all we've got, why would we allow our small differences divide us in the face of an existential threat from powers that we can barely comprehend?

There is evidence that, shortly before his death at the age of 47 from intestinal cancer resulting from decades of poor (literally) eating habits, Lovecraft was beginning to engage in a bit of self-analysis. From a 1937 letter to fellow pulp author Catherine L. Moore, Lovecraft lambasted his thirty-three year old self:

I can better understand the inert blindness & defiant ignorance of the reactionaries from having been one of them. I know how smugly ignorant I was—wrapped up in the arts, the natural (not social) sciences, the externals of history & antiquarianism, the abstract academic phases of philosophy, & so on—all the one-sided standard lore to which, according to the traditions of the dying order, a liberal education was limited. God! the things that were left out—the inside facts of history, the rational interpretation of periodic social crises, the foundations of economics & sociology, the actual state of the world today … & above all, the habit of applying disinterested reason to problems hitherto approached only with traditional genuflections, flag-waving, & callous shoulder-shrugs! All this comes up with humiliating force through an incident of a few days ago—when young Conover, having established contact with Henneberger, the ex-owner of WT, obtained from the latter a long epistle which I wrote Edwin Baird on Feby. 3, 1924, in response to a request for biographical & personal data. Little Willis asked permission to publish the text in his combined SFC-Fantasy, & I began looking the thing over to see what it was like—for I had not the least recollection of ever having penned it. Well …. I managed to get through, after about 10 closely typed pages of egotistical reminiscences & showing-off & expressions of opinion about mankind & the universe. I did not faint—but I looked around for a 1924 photograph of myself to burn, spit on, or stick pins in! Holy Hades—was I that much of a dub at 33 … only 13 years ago? There was no getting out of it—I really had thrown all that haughty, complacent, snobbish, self-centred, intolerant bull, & at a mature age when anybody but a perfect damned fool would have known better! That earlier illness had kept me in seclusion, limited my knowledge of the world, & given me something of the fatuous effusiveness of a belated adolescent when I finally was able to get around more in 1920, is hardly much of an excuse. Well—there was nothing to be done … except to rush a note back to Conover & tell him I'd dismember him & run the fragments through a sausage-grinder if he ever thought of printing such a thing! The only consolation lay in the reflection that I had matured a bit since '24. It's hard to have done all one's growing up since 33—but that's a damn sight better than not growing up at all.

In his seminal essay Supernatural Horror in Literature, Lovecraft wrote: The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. By Lovecraft's admission, he was secluded, and had a limited knowledge of the world- it is no wonder that he was afraid of the "other". For this reason, I look on the man with more pity than contempt- his bigotry was a product of his terror, a terror that insured the two main aspects of his legacy- his cringeworthy racism and his fantastic literature.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Secret Science Club Lecture Recap: The Coming Epidemic of Neurodegenerative Diseases

...and what Medical Science Can Do about It.

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture, featuring neurologist Dr Gregory Petsko of Weill Cornell Medical College and the Appel Alzheimer's Disease Research Institute. This lecture was sponsored by The Lasker Foundation.

Dr Petsko began his lecture by noting that his grandparents died while in their 50's, and noted that this was far from uncommon. In contrast, today, throughout much of Europe and in Japan, over 20% of the population is over the age of 65. In the year 2050, it is expected that this will be true throughout the world, except for Africa, where AIDS skews the numbers. Since the 19th Century, life expectancy has been increasing in a linear fashion. Dr Petsko noted that, in the time it would take to deliver his lecture, the average life expectency would increase by four minutes.

As life expectancy rises, fertility rates tend to decline. In societies in which the average life expectancy is over seventy, families have an average of two children. Currently, there are two billion children on the planet- Dr Petsko noted that the world may be at "peak children"- the number of children is likely to remain constant over the course of this century. The fastest growing demographic group on the planet is the over-eighty cohort. If current trends continue, there should be 31.6 million individuals over the age of eighty.

For the past 12,000 years, the assumption was that there would be more healthy young people than sick old people- Dr Petsko joked that life is a Ponzi scheme, the age "pyramid" will become unstable when there are as many "sick olds" as there are "healthy youngs". Dr Petsko offered three possible choices for this conundrum: global thermonuclear war, plague, or keeping elderly people healthy.

As individuals get older, their brains get smaller. Dr Petsko asked if this were a problem, and noted that we really don't know if it is. He then noted that aging individuals are at risk for three major neurodegenerative diseases: Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and Lou Gehrig's disease.

There are over three-hundred thousand new Alzheimer's patients in the US yearly, with a new diagnosis occurring every seventeen seconds. Alzheimer's is inherited in classical Mendelian fashion. The average post-diagnosis lifespan of an Alzheimer's patient is twelve years, ten of them horrible. The incidence of neurodegenerative diseases is rising, and there are no effect treatments for them. Currently, there are approximately five million individuals with Alzheimer's disease in the US- by 2050, this number is projected to rise to thirteen million. Worldwide, this number is projected to hit 135 million by 2050. Dr Petsko noted that, if dementia were a country, it would dwarf Russia. The cost of caring for individuals with neurodegenerative diseases is approximately 250 billion dollars a year, while the annual NIH budget is approximately thirty million dollars. By 2050, the estimated cost for taking care of individuals with dementia will approximate one trillion dollars, while the GDP will be approximately seventeen trillion dollars. Unless there is a change in these statistics, this problem will bankrupt the country in forty years. For every neurodegenerative disease patient, there are an average of three caregivers- by the end of the century, there will be three billion caregivers by the end of the century.

Dr Petsko compared this to a comet about to hit the Earth. We know it's happening, we know when it's happening, but there's not enough money being spent to combat the problem. He noted that Alzheimer's spending is equal to AIDS spending, even though there are more Alzheimer's patients- he was quick to state that this is not an argument against AIDS spending. There was a request for two-and-a-half times more spending on Alzheimer's%, but this is still not enough. Since 2000, there has been a 99.8% failure rate for clinical trials for Alzheimer's treatment. Compared to research on cancer, Alzheimer's research lags by forty years- the medicine is equivalent to 1970s cancer medicine.

There are difficulties in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. Animal models are poor- lab animals don't live to their 80s, and animals don't have quite the same brain functions as humans. Not only are animal models poor- they may be irrelevant. The clinical trials for neurodegenerative diseases are poor- clinical trials are designed to fail, and there is a lack of understanding regarding who to include in clinical trials. It's unclear when to begin treatment for neurodegenerative diseases, and there are no objective clinical end points. The clinical trials tend to be based on cognitive ability, which is hard to define. Dr Petsko quipped that we can cure mice, but we can cure anything in mice. In order to conduct clinical trials, researchers need to use human neurons, not lab animals. He also noted that trial subjects should be individuals with a genetic predisposition to neurodegenerative diseases, not end-term patients. A good validation of human targets is needed, one using patient derived neurons. In one projected model
skin cells could be changed into stem cells which could be changed into neurons. Dr Petsko opined that not only must no stone remain unturned, but that new stones must be sought out and turned over.

Dr Petsko then shifted the topic to a history of Alzheimer's disease. In the early 20th century, German physician/psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer examined a patient named Auguste Deter, who exhibited early onset dementia while in her 50s. After Deter's death, Alzheimer examined her brain and detected "senile plaques", now known as amyloid plaques and tangles of what are now known to be misfolded and aggregated tau proteins. Alzheimer's examination of Deter's brain occurred before the science of genetics was understood- luckily, scientists located samples of Deter's brain cells recently and discovered a new mutation that is associated with early-onset Alzheimer's.

All neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by aggregates of misfolded proteins that mess up the brain's "machinery".
In the amyloid plagues, APP (amyloid beta precursor protein), which may play a role in the brain's development, is cut into peptides which aggregate and tangle. Most clinical trials have involved attempts to dissolve these plaques. Dr Petsko asked, what if the plaques are not the problem? What if the plaques are a "dumping ground" for the real problem? How can a disease be treated if the cause is unknown? If the protein aggregates are the problem, how can the "cutting" be stopped?

The inside of a neuron is crowded, Dr Petsko likened it to Times Square on New Year's Eve. In order to figure out treatments, "landmarks" must be found, once locations are located, trafficking procedures must be noted- traffic problems in the brain are responsible for Alzheimer's. Are proteins recycled or dumped? If proteins are dumped, they can become toxic waste? Continuing the sanitation metaphor, APP "bags" the proteins- proteins are recycled by the Golgi apparatus and they are dumped in the lysosomes. A suite of proteins known as retromer determines the balance of dumped proteins to recycled proteins. Too little retromer cause plaque accumulations. It is possible that boosting retromer levels could result in better cleanup. Individuals with a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's have a mutation which affects retromer. Perhaps pharmacological "chaperoning" could make retromer more stable, chemical glue would bolster it- if retromer is not degraded, it builds up. A similar pharmacological approach is used to treat Fabry's disease. Retromer is a huge protein compex, the weak link in retromer is the protein Vps29.

A new drug has been developed to stabilize retromer, which results in plaque reduction in patient-derived neurons. The drug also reduces tangles in the neurons. Unfortunately, the drug is not safe enough to give to patients for the ten or so years that they would need to use it to combat Alzheimer's. Dr Petsko then asked, who do we conduct clinical trials on? He indicated that the drug which is too dangerous to administer long-term could be use to treat people with acute traumatic brain injuries, which also result in the buildup of plaques and tangles. He cited the case of NFL player Junior Seau, whose brain was characterized by the plaques and tangles typical of an 88 year-old. In the case of a traumatic brain injury, the experimental drug could be administered immediately after the injury.

Oddly enough, Alzheimer's patients tend to have reduced cancer risks while cancer patients tend to have reduced risk for Alzheimer's. Dr Petsko ruefully noted that cancer researchers and Alzheimer's researchers don't talk, with one exception- his own Weill Cornell Medical College.

Dr Petsko gave us some tips on reducing our risk of neurodegenerative disease. He indicated that caffeine may play a protective role. He told us to avoid head injuries- wear a helmet if you must. He told us to avoid bird flu, which may increase the risk of Parkinson's disease. He told us to eat more fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids, but to avoid fish with high mercury content, but put the burden of shopping for the right fish on us (here's where I note that my beloved purslane has a high Omega-3 content). He told us to keep our blood pressure low. He told us to stay mentally stimulated, to exercise regularly, and to support biomedical research. He then delivered a line from Macbeth Act 5, Scene 3: Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased? His answer was yes.

Dr Petsko noted that the history of medicine is the history of patients such as Auguste Deter. He mentioned Doug Whitney (PDF), a resident of Washington state whose family ,embers are typically beset by early onset Alzheimer's- one of out every two members of his family dies of Alzheimer's by the age of 55. He was found to have the same mutation that Auguste Deter had, but he doesn't have Alzheimer's at age 63- what protects him? Is there a way to beat Alzheimer's?

In the Q&A session, the Bastard was unable to get a question in- the house was packed for the night. The questions were really excellent though. Women are more likely to get Alzheimer's than men, but men are more likely to get Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's diseases. Alzheimer's disease pathways are better understood than those of the other two big neurodegenerative diseases. Alzheimer's is primarily genetic, there are no known environmental factors, though Parkinson's risk may be increased by exposure to certain pesticides. At any rate, aluminum cookware is safe to use. As far as the retromer glue side effects, it caused death in lab animals- it's not terribly toxic, but each dose lingers in the body, and high doses are applied often. Regarding plaques in non-Alzheimer's patients- most people have plaques, but not tangles, some people have tangles but not plaques... at any rate some memory loss is normal with aging. Regarding the role of the glia, which don''t convey information like neurons, but provide structure, research is in its initial stages- Parkinson's might start in the glia, then spread to the neurons. We don't know where to look yet.

Here's a short video of Dr Petsko delivering a condensed version of his lecture:

Chug a beer while watching that, and you can capture some of the Secret Science Club magic, which is merely a sufficiently advanced technology.

Once again, the Secret Science Club dished out a fantastic lecture- here's a heartfelt show of gratitude to Dr Petsko, Margaret and Dorian, the Lasker Foundation, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House. Kudos to all.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Mary Poppin' Caps

Now, from the "uniquely American" files, we have a charming story of a woman who was arrested for firing a gun at two kids she was supposed to be babysitting. Obviously, she was a responsible gun owner until she got liquored up and decided to shoot at the children.

While she blamed her actions on a combination of alcohol and meds, but I suspect that the kids were acting up and she figured that she'd use her gun to show the kids that she wouldn't tolerate any disobedience- after all, an ass full of bullets makes the discipline go down...

I think Wayne Lapierre should hire her as an au pair, or at least an ak-pair.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Dock, a Second Opinion

In the Spring, I wrote a post about curly dock, an invasive weed, related to buckwheat and knotweed, that happens to produce delicious, slightly tangy leaves in the Spring. Now that Summer is in full swing, the plants produce a plethora of rust-colored seeds:

The seeds are easy enough to harvest, just grab a stem and run it between your fingers to loosen the seeds and their accompanying tubercules:

You can eat the seeds out of hand for a quick trailside snack (they are good, but the husk-to-seed ratio is not in your favor ). I imagine they are much better hulled and ground into a substitute for buckwheat flour, something I haven't tried yet, but I'll do it before week's end. I figure I'll place the seeds in a sack and beat them with a stick, sort of like a quick-and-dirty substitute for a threshing flail, then winnow them and grind them up to make pancakes. There are tons of dock seeds available, I just have to get the preparation down pat.

You see, if civilization ends, you don't need buckets of overpriced crap sold by racist grifters, you just need to know your delicious weeds.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Temporary Return to Normality

For the past two months, I have been bouncing between two worksites on Saturdays and Sundays. One of my part-time subordinates had to alter his schedule to accommodate his full-time job, so I had to jump through hoops to properly cover multiple sites with too few staff. Thankfully, his situation on the other job has changed somewhat, so we were able to return to our traditional schedule. I don't miss bouncing between sites, but I am now working at a different site than the one which has all of the gorgeous fruit trees, and turkeys. Le sigh... I'll have to go in on a day off and grab a bunch of peaches now.

The good thing is that I am back to spending more time with Fred and Ginger on the weekends... I love those two cuddly cutups.

The return to normal routine is going to end shortly. Yesterday, there was a hiring meeting for a bunch of seasonal workers for our Fall fundraiser. Most of these individuals are students from a local college, and there are many repeat hires that I have come to be very fond of. I was especially pleased to see a diminutive pixie with some serious nerd chops- the first time I met her, we had a nice long conversation about the Uncanny Valley, so I instantly too a liking to her.

The artistic director of our Fall fundraiser, who I have known for five years, quickly became a good friend of mine. I am happy to say that he has expanded his operation and will be concurrently running a similar event in the larger millieu of New York City. For years, I have told him that he needed to delegate more tasks to his talented underlings and to design multiple events if he were to make a full-time living as a creator (when we first met, he had a daytime job crunching numbers for a bank). Of course, I expressed it in kookier aphorisms, stuff like: "You are a crustacean, if you are to grow, you need to break out of your shell." He's a stand-up guy, and it's good to see him diversify.

I figure that I have about a month and a half before things get totally crazy, but once November rolls around, things get r-e-a-l-l-y quiet. It's kind of odd that, in the midst of a sweltering August, I am occupied with October, but my normality is pretty abnormal.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Starlit Stridulator

While on my typical nightly walkabout, I encountered a rather spectacular insect, a bright green katydid approximately as long as my thumb:

If I had to guess at its identity, I'd say it's an oblong-winged katydid (Amblycorypha oblongifolia) Here's a nice video of a katydid of this sort stridulating. There's a nice feeling of a shift change in the insect chorus, with the cicadas making a racket during the daytime and the crickets and katydids playing throughout the night.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Pull up a Chair for the Celestial Dance

This time of year, the we are graced by the Perseid meteor shower, which occurs when the Earth passes through a field of debris left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle. Luckily, I work at night, and my job entails spending quite a bit of time outdoors. On Saturday night, I was lucky enough to see a spectacular fireball that left a brief, incandescent smoke trail blazoned across the Big Dipper.

There are some obstacles for the urban stargazer, specifically, the light pollution from nearby New York City. Not quite two hundred years ago, Washington Irving wrote of the celestial phenomena visible in the Hudson Valley, about thirty miles north of midtown Manhattan:

From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this sequestered glen has long been known by the name of SLEEPY HOLLOW, and its rustic lads are called the Sleepy Hollow Boys throughout all the neighboring country. A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was bewitched by a high German doctor, during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his pow-wows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given to all kinds of marvellous beliefs; are subject to trances and visions; and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her whole nine fold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.

It's harder to see the shooting stars and glaring meteors these days, but I figure I'll see a fair amount of meteors if I hunker down outside for a few hours. I'll just hunker down with a a couple of good friends in a comfortable spot, and I'll watch as much of the skyshow as I can.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Life Is Just Peachy

I really don't have any complaints about my job, I am generally left to my own devices (it helps being the only human on the property about 75% of the time) and I actually enjoy the tasks that I have to perform. There are fringe benefits to the job as well- for instance, I can anticipate a golden-and-pink bounty in a few days:

In the midst of the apple, pear, and cherry trees on the site, there is a solitary peach tree that I always seem to forget. Every year, I am pleasantly surprised to stumble upon the pretty little tree. While the peaches look perfect at this time, they are still quite hard- I periodically check up on them to see if they are ready. Soon, my precious peaches... soooooon...

While I will probably just eat the majority of these beauties out of hand, some of them are destined to become wine-and-peaches, a traditional end of summer treat. By the time the Feast of San Gennaro rolls around, I should be positively swimming in the stuff...

Red wine
White wine

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Trolling the Gobblers

On the weekends, I work at a site which houses a considerable wild turkey population. Typically, three wild turkeys, two males and a female (the boys have snoods, dewlaps, and tassles while the girls present a sleeker, less baroque profile. About a week ago, I had a lull between performing the necessary work tasks and picking wild raspberries, so I poked around on the internet and found a wild turkey soundboard. I then began "calling" the turkeys from my phone.

After a couple of plays, the turkeys started gobbling back at me, and the boys puffed like they were posing for Thanksgiving greeting cards:

I reached a point where I decided that I didn't want the turkey to see me as an amatory rival, and more importantly, I didn't want to harass my feathered compatriots, so I ceased my trolling. The boys usually engage in their conflicts in June, when they strut like ugly peacocks. There's no need to confuse them in August.

Friday, August 7, 2015


At one of the sites at which I work, the combination gift shop/office/employees' lounge is in an antiquated building. I don't know how it happened, but somebody messed with the doorknob, which had to be removed from the door (for the record, I didn't pull the doorknob out, even though, as a bit of a brute, I am typically the number one suspect). The knob looks like it could be used for a fitness routine involving low weight and a whole lotta repetitions:

I call it a doorbell.

Advice to Live By

I've been catching up a bit with the GOP debate and the last episode of Jon Stewart's run on The Daily Show. While I have only paid scant attention to the debate, I did watch the final episode of TDS, and I have to note that Jon Stewart's final segment was a great coda to his sixteen years of parsing news media nonsense. These are words to live by:

A well-calibrated bullshit detector (whether in the garage or not) is a necessity in this day and age of non-stop marketing. It's nice to see that Jon Stewart ended this phase of his television career with an admonition- it's up to his viewers to do the work now.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Change of Lifestyle

A couple of days ago, while working in the wee hours of the morning, I saw one of the local denizens which had just undergone a significant lifestyle change:

If I had to venture a guess, I'd say that this particular cicada is an annual cicada of genus Neotibicen. The local seventeen-year brood emerged a few years back. At any rate, I came upon this creature soon after it emerged from under the ground and shed its "baby skin". You can see the newly adult insect next to its exuvium. The adult cicada will trade its former life among the roots of trees to one in the crown of trees, though it will still maintain its sap-sucking habit.

Here is a picture under brighter light, highlighting the bright green mottling of the adult cicada:

For the record, I did not eat this particular cicada, though I have eaten them in the past, on occasions which involved substantial quantities of beer. I'm not in the habit of drinking on the job.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Good to See Everybody

Today was the day of our company picnic, and I have to say that I enjoyed myself immensely. Lately, I have been working from stupid o'clock to crazy o'clock, so I don't see too many people in the course of a week. It was really nice to see the people from the day shift, and people who tend to work at locations I don't get to that often. I like my co-workers, so having an opportunity to socialize with them was a privilege. The food was good, especially trays and trays of empanadas. To continue the Latin theme, there was a live band playing salsa and merengue throughout the day as well. These guys were tight, and there was quite a bit of dancing going on despite the heat.

The director of conservation of a park adjacent to our property was present as a guest of the organization. She gave us a brief lecture about her site and led a couple of hiking groups. During the hike, she gave us some plant identification pointers and brought up the topic of invasive plant species (I made sure to tell her about the wonderful Eat the Invaders website after we exchanged jokes about Japanese knotweed).

There were also the typical panoply of lawn games, with horseshoes being the departmental favorite... all of us took turns playing horseshoes with the boss. I have to say that I suck at horseshoes, but I'd probably be a lot better at it if I played buzzed.

There were a couple of contests for the more competitive employees- a dessert contest (the winning dish was an intriguing blueberry and lavender trifle- the lavender gave a subtle hint of flavor that complemented the dish beautifully) and a workplace trivia contest, won by our Chief Operating Officer, who has been with the organization for a long, long time. Gotta love friendly competition, especially if it involves snacks.

I'm happy to say that I recognized a former contractor as a new employee- in fact it was her first day on the job. She's still a college student, so her hours will be catch-as-catch-can, but I was happy to see that she had joined the organization. On a more melancholy note, one of my favorite co-workers, a seasonal part-timer, will be going off to college in a couple of weeks. She's an adorable girl, a sweet nerd who studied Latin in high school, and has some funny T-shirts to commemorate the fact. I'm happy that she's moving on to bigger and better things, but I will miss her. She'll be back on her breaks from school, she's been with us ever since she was eligible for working papers, and is universally well thought of.

All told, it was a fun day. I like my co-workers, and I tend to see so little of them. I also enjoyed the combination of pigging out, hiking, and engaging in friendly competition. Even though it's only August, the general feeling is that our busy fall season has pretty much begun, so this was our chance to enjoy each others' company before things get hectic... and enjoy each other's company we did.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Armadillo: 1, Armed Dildo: 0

Finally, some good news out of Texas... a man has been hospitalized after allegedly shooting an armadillo, causing the bullet to ricochet and hit him in the jaw. It's the old story of an armed dildo attacking an armadillo, and the armadillo won.

While the story, as reported, has a certain appeal, especially in the wake of the lion assassination that has dominated news and social media for the past week, the story doesn't exactly square, as commenter David Emghee pointed out in the comment thread of the linked story. Armadillo shells are composed of a combination of bony scutes and keratin scales, not steel, their bullet-resisting capacity (carapacity?) is questionable. Given the fact that this gun mishap took place around 3AM, I suspect that the shooter's real opponent was not an armadillo, but an Amontillado.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Love Shouldn't Be so Melancholy, but Loss is a Different Matter

Here's another celebrity death in the news, the death of country singer Lynn Anderson at the age of 67. Five years ago, I mentioned Lynn
in a post about a tune by Canadian electronic dance music act Kon Kan which appropriated the chorus of Ms Anderson's (I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden. There was a brief trend of EDM acts featuring vocals by 1970s country music divas, for some inexplicable reason. Anyway, (I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden is a fine tune in its own right:

For more extensive coverage, I'll defer to the redoubtable M. Bouffant.