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A Bad Idea Poorly Executed

Last Build Date: Tue, 17 Apr 2018 13:26:56 +0000



Thu, 27 Oct 2016 01:29:00 +0000

All right folks, it's time to learn about where food comes from!Specifically today, it's peanuts.Peanuts come from the ground!  And the sun!  Like all food, when you get down to it, including meat, since animals eat plants.  But really.As you no doubt vaguely remember from school, a peanut is a legume.  A simpler word would be "bean."  Yes, peanuts are beans.  So are chickpeas and favas and snow peas; hummus is just bean dip with a better agent.  Peanuts are unique in the bean world, though, because they're more or less the only bean that grows underground.  (Okay, so, there are about 70 species in the peanut genus, some of which share the peanut's frankly bizarre growth habits, and one or two from related genera, but that's it.  There are over 19,000 species of beans.)Say you want some peanuts and there are no stores anywhere around because of a recent zombie apocalypse (which has apparently since subsided, but that's another story).  But luckily you happen to have a raw peanut (why?  I don't know; again, there's clearly more to this story).  (Also, this doesn't work with a roasted peanut.  Cooked seeds mostly don't grow very well...although I once had an ash tree seed germinate after it went through the dryer in the pocket of my shorts so maybe this needs to be investigated more thoroughly.)So anyway, you stick that raw peanut in the ground.  You should shell it first; wild peanut ancestors have much thinner shells that allow water in and the germinating seedling out, but we've bred peanuts for tougher shells so we can roast them and ship them and eat them at ballgames and litter the floors of "roadhouse" style restaurants with them. If the ground is warm enough, the peanut will germinate and grow.  It's a pretty little plant.  After a few weeks, it will start flowering.  These pretty yellow flowers are a nice treat.  Notice how many there in just a small area!They don't have much smell.  Anyway, an individual flower is only open for a day.  After pollination (it's self-fertile, so if the zombie apocalypse in this scenario also affected bees, you're still okay), the flower drops off, and the stem becomes what's called a 'peg,' a stiff downward pointing stem with a slightly hardened tip.  This tip penetrates the soil--hopefully you planted it is some nice sandy loam, and not clay--and once the plant perceives that it is below ground, the end of the peg starts to swell.  (Yes, plants perceive whether they are receiving light or not, but not in a way you'd recognize as 'seeing' and not in a conscious sense.  It's all electrobiochemistry and fairies.)The peg, you see, had a secret--it was actually the peanut ovary.  You just wouldn't have noticed because it was tiny. Once below ground, the ovary swells into a little peanut, and eventually into a big peanut.  The plant will continue to flower and produce new pegs and peanuts for quite a while, as long as it stays sunny and warm.  As autumn comes on it will stop flowering as much, and gradually start to die back; peanuts are annuals and don't live through the winter.  But if you wait for the plant to die, you're too late: most of the peanut shells will have succumbed to the constant assault of water and microbes that life in the soil entails, and you'll have mostly a bunch of rotten garbage.  So you want to harvest in mid-Autumn sometime, before any frost but after the bulk of the heat of summer is past. And this is what you'll get: a bunch of peanuts in various stages of ripeness. Generally if the peanut looks like a peanut, it's edible.  In this picture there are some little proto-peanuts, but mostly good mature peanuts.  You can see how they are attached to the pegs, and the pegs are attached to the stems of the plant.  So there you have it: peanuts grow below ground, like potatoes and rutabagas.  (Not that they are at all related to either of those things.) You may wonder, why on Earth does the peanut do this to i[...]

Sorghum breeding

Thu, 04 Aug 2016 02:05:00 +0000

Strictly speaking I work in corn breeding.  But that's just what I do at work.  (I also have some at-home corn breeding experiments planned for next year.)  At home, I breed pumpkins and sorghum. Here is some sorghum.This is a mix of things.  The paper bags on two of the plants are there mainly to keep the birds from eating all the grain (although they're really pollination bags).  You may notice a single very tall plant in the back (it's hard to see because it's so narrow and the grain head hasn't emerged yet).  That is a breed of popping sorghum called Allu Jola, which I've never grown before.  But in front of that are six plants of the variety I call Smitty's Dwarf.  You may notice that the three on the left are not especially short.  They're a bit shorter than the grain sorghum I started with, but they're nothing special.  The three on the right are a bit shorter.  None of these are great, though.  (Still, I want the grain this year.  Last year the birds ate almost everything.)Last year I planted about 40 plants of a standard white grain sorghum originally from Kansas.  The average plant was about five feet tall.  I want a dwarf plant.  (Why?  I don't know.  I just wanted a project.  I tell people my goal is to breed up a high-yielding dwarf that I could grow to sell to brewers for a gluten-free malt.  But that would probably require that I actually malt the grain, and I don't have the capacity to do that.  If you'd like to donate to a Kickstarter that would allow me to buy both a set of commercial ovens and 25 acres of farmland....)After last season I selected the two shortest plants, and retained the grain from them.  I would have preferred four or eight plants, but have I mentioned the birds?  Grosbeaks LOVE sorghum.  This sorghum is a good bit shorter than that in the first picture.  You can see one of the regular-height plants here on the far right, and the six shorter plants in the plot to the left.  You may also see the popcorn that's growing behind the six shorter plants.  I strongly suspect proximity to the much more vigorous popcorn might have something to do with how short these plants are relative to the ones in the first picture.  It's tough to say, and I'll include these plants among the total when I select the shortest ones for next year, but it's impossible to say whether this is the genetics or the environment at work.  (Notice also the big batch of river oats intruding from the left side of the picture; this sorghum is hemmed in on all sides.  Next year the sorghum is getting a big plot all to itself.)So.  Sorghum is self-fertile, like most plants.  This means that I could plant a single sorghum plant and, assuming there was a bit of wind while it was shedding pollen, the pollen from that one plant would pollinate the ovaries on that plant and I'd get fertile seed.  The fertilization rate wouldn't be great, although I could slip a bag over it and capture the pollen and hope to get better fertilization. When multiple plants are around, though, sorghum plants can cross-pollinate.  Pollen from one plant may get blown around and fertilize ovaries on another plant.  There's no way for the plant breeder to know when that happens (hence the paper bags).  Plants in the field like mine, left uncovered, are referred to as "open-pollinated."  I'm not deliberately trying to self- or cross-pollinate them.  In an open situation, the percentage of seeds that arise from pollen from a different plant is referred to as the "outcrossing rate."  In a large field of grain sorghum outcrossing rates may range from about 7% to 35%, although research has reported outcrossing in certain varieties and environments all the way from 0% to 100%.  The 100% rate seems impossible and I'm suspicious of the methods of the researchers who reported it.Anyway, in my yard, since the sorghum isn't terribly clo[...]

Cotton Blossoms

Sun, 03 Jan 2016 02:10:00 +0000

Cotton is nifty.  You may not know very much about it; I didn't, when I started working in crop science.  We have a lot of cotton plants growing in the Phytotron at NC State, and today at work I took some pictures of various stages of cotton flowers. Cotton is a tropical perennial, and can live for several years and grow quite large.  Unusually for perennials it blooms in the first year on new growth, so we culture it as an annual.  Typically for a perennial, it is slow to germinate and seedlings are not vigorous.  It develops branches at each leaf node on the main stem, and a boll develops at the leaf nodes along the branches.  You get more cotton with more branches, but the more branched the plant is the harder it is to grow as a row crop, the more likely the leaves on the lower branches won't get much sunlight, and thus the less likely that the lowest branches won't ultimately develop bolls.  Most of cotton breeding has consisted of managing these variables: stronger seedlings, taller, straighter plants with upright branches that can capture enough sun to produce multiple bolls in a single growing season.  A researcher here at NC State is even trying to manipulate the shape of leaves at different levels of the plant to allow more light through the top of the canopy while capturing as much as possible at the bottom.Anyway.Here we see some little wee leaves and blossoms just getting their start in life on a new stem.  Your T-shirt and jeans start here.Another day or two goes by and the flower bud becomes clearly visible.On the left is another flower bud.  I could not find anything between the stage there on the left, and the fully open flower on the right.  Note the fully open flower is white with widely separated petals.  This will last for just a few hours.This is just a few hours later.  Still white, but the petals are beginning to fold up.A few hours later still.  The petals have all folded.  Note that the flower is open for just a few hours of a single day.  Still white, though.Here just the barest hint of pink is beginning to show up at the edges of the petals.Just a bit more pink.Now we have quite a nice slightly pink flower.  This flower is done; it's been pollinated by now, if it's going to be, although pollination isn't necessary to get a boll.  A bit more time passes, a bit more pink.As you can see the petals are starting to wilt and sag.Even as it wilts this a really pretty flower.  They have a nice aroma, too.The last stage.Suitable for dried arrangements.The dried flower separates from the boll.And the green boll begins to emerge.  The boll at this stage is referred to as a square.Okay, this is pretty much the same stage as before, but it's a nice picture.The square expands.At this point I think the square looks like a lime.The square opens...And the boll emerges!And, voila!  Cotton, ready to be picked.  Bolls in the field are likely to be much bigger and fluffier, but in the tightly controlled, windless atmosphere of a greenhouse chamber, this is what you get.Here you can see flowers in many stages at once on a stand of plants in the greenhouse.I took all these pictures today.  One plant will have flowers in all stages at once.  Now of course the plant is producing flowers, squares, and open bolls all at the same time, being a perennial, and so if you simply ran a cultivator through the field you'd end up with a bale of cotton consisting mostly of leaves and dried flowers.  So once you have a good number of open bolls--and decades of breeding have produced , you have to spray a defoliant on the field to kill the plants and get the leaves to drop off.  It may be some weeks before you're ready to pull the cotton out of the field; those of you who've driven through the South around Thanksgiving time have seen the fields of cotton ready for harvest.  I think the most interesting thing is the greenhouse chamber with all the[...]

This is just to say

Sun, 31 May 2015 18:56:00 +0000

Life is confusing.  Things are going well for me right now.  One of my closest friends, though, is going through the worst string of difficulties us first-world types are likely to have to suffer through, while trying to manage an already-stressful career change and grad school and...  I don't know how she does it.  There is so much that I want to do for her (everything) and so little that I actually can.  I want to fix everything for her.  I can't.  I can't do anything.  I can keep saying, call me, ask me, I'll help you no question.  She knows that.
Sometimes I almost feel guilty talking about things in my own life with her.  I have complaints, but they are few and generally, even the a/c being out for a week and the high cost of the replacement unit, pale in comparison to any one of the issues she's dealing with.  I'm mostly satisfied.  But I'm a naturally melancholy person; I want to just take her pain for her and hold onto it and let her get on with life.  I can't do that.  She wouldn't let me if I could.  She would be horrified at the thought that I might ever feel guilty because I'm not dealing with the stress she is.
I'm supposed to be an adult.  I am an adult.  I'm plenty old enough to have already figured out how to handle situations like this, except, I'm starting to think we never really figure out exactly how to handle anything.  We just fake it.  We just try to make something up on the fly and hope it works.  We can't make up generic patterns for every situation we're likely to find ourselves in; every situation is different.  All we can do is try to look at the past and apply the lessons to the present.  And even that's not as easy to do as it is to write.
Life is confusing.  Bad stretches come and go; good times, too.  I guess we just keep making it up as we go along.

Thu, 01 Jan 2015 14:44:00 +0000

Another year come and gone.  For some time I've traditionally made a New Years post here, even when I haven't been blogging actively, which I certainly have not been doing this past year.  And while writing more is on my list of things to do for this year, making a big introspective post on this the most inward-focused of days is not actually that exciting a prospect.  But I can't resist the opportunity to point out something that I noticed over the last three or four days of 2014.Many people--perhaps a majority--on my Facebook feed seem not have had a particularly good 2014. I had my ups and downs; it wasn't a year where I accomplished as much as I wanted, but it was a year when I started some really big projects.  It's easy for me to complain that I didn't do this or I didn't do that, that I suffered this or that setback (certainly true), that I once again put off this or that big life goal (also true).  But these things are always true.  And I suspect, on reading through the things people were saying about 2014, that this was true for most.  No, it wasn't a great year.  It also wasn't terrible.  Some folks I know did have a rotten 2014, but for most people, what it really was, the strongest nail in 2014's unlamented coffin, is that it was just more of the same.  The same tendencies and habits ruled our lives.  The same worries kept us up nights, and the same complaints drove our friends and family crazy.  Deep-rooted patterns that can't be undone in a week or a month with a fervent resolution remained in our lives and we did not change them.  In 2014, what most of us did--and what was so dissatisfying--is the same thing we were doing in 2013, and 2012, and every other year.  2014 is not a year when we grew or a changed much.  But that is true every year.  It will be true in 2015, too.  That's the nature of life.That's not meant to be depressing.  That we can look at ourselves and see where we need to change and improve and grow is great benefit.  We first world types give ourselves grief for complaining about little things when billions of people don't have clean water...but that's the great good fortune of our lives.  We can complain that we don't care for our jobs, avoid the gym too often, need to eat better, and spend too much time on Facebook, because we don't have to worry about other things.  Is it depressing that in our lives of plenty we still find things we would like to change?  No!  Gracious, what would we become if we decided we were all satisfied with what we have simply because we know, deep down, that we have enough, indeed more than enough, to survive and be happy?  We should consider our tendency to be negative about ourselves as a great driving force that can better the world, if only we learn how to harness it.Maybe what 2014 was, then--and I'll say this, outside in the world at large, it was dreadful, almost all the news was terrible and our leaders made everything worse--was a year when we all collectively realized we--we as individuals, we as a community, and we as a collective humanity--can do better, and there's no reason why we shouldn't.  What a fantastic thing that would be for us as people and our world at large.Yesterday and today, then, my friends who'd been negative the previous few days suddenly switched tunes.  It's traditional to bring in a new year with a sense of hope and optimism.  I wondered based on the negativity I was seeing whether that would be true this year.  It was.  Most of us are glad to see the back of 2014, but I note that many more of us are glad to see the start of something new.  That after a dissatisfying year our sense of optimism still abounds is the best news I've seen in a long time.So, then, what about Smitty?  What are Smitty's goals in 2015?  Why, they're the same as all of yours.  I want[...]

SNAFU Actually Does Mean Something, You Know

Sun, 21 Dec 2014 21:33:00 +0000

It should come as no surprise to anyone, least of all me, that the day after I wrote the last post, my laptop gave up the ship.  I'm not sure exactly what happened.  It had been running clunkily for some time, but there was no problem I was able to identify and virus scans detected no problems.  Several blue screens of death later I decided it was time to replace the machine.  The old one had its own special problems anyway; the cooling fan had burned out within a year of purchase, and I'd recently spilled some tea on the keyboard and fritzed out the touchpad, so I was using a USB mouse.  (I'd like to point out that the tea-spilling was cat assisted, but it's totally the type of thing I'd do.)
And then of course it was several days before I could replace it.  Naturally the next day was the day I had to turn in a big project in an effort to save my grade in my English course, so I spent much of that day in a dingy computer lab trying to make myself care about my grade enough to turn in work slightly better than awful.
I did not, in the absence of my computer, spend time each day writing in a journal or anything.  Why would I do that?  That would require work.
The new computer seems to be okay mostly, but the wireless adapter is clearly garbage, can't find a strong signal if I'm sitting next to the antenna and drops out all the time.  On the one hand, yaay, force me to be productive instead of surfing the internet!  On the other hand, what the fuck, you know?  Anybody know anything about replacing/upgrading wireless receivers in laptops?
Now I'm struggling to figure out what exactly went wrong with the previous computer.  I plugged the hard drive in to this new machine to extract the valuable data from it and unfortunately, a significant portion of the data appears to be corrupted.  I don't understand how this came to be, since the data didn't seem to be corrupted before the blue screens of death.  In Windows Explorer now, I can see the folder the file I want is in, and I can see the file.  But when I try to copy it from the hard drive to the new computer, it tells me that the file is no longer in that location and can't be copied.  Weird.
Some of the files that won't copy--no doubt a lot of them, in fact--are of no importance, but there are a handful of things there that would be nice to have back, including among them a bunch of edited files for a game that would take probably twenty to thirty hours to recreate.  It's not that I can't do that...but gosh, that's a lot of time to spend for something that ultimately is not worthwhile.  Plus there are some pictures and stuff that I would like to have back.  Not sure what to do about those, but I'll try to find someone who can help.
Is it worthwhile to recreate all those game files?  I don't know.  On the one hand I enjoy playing the game more with those edits.  On the other hand the time invested is pretty high; redoing it all seems like a waste.  How do you value time spent on something that is ultimately unproductive?  I enjoy the game, certainly, it's good recreation, but at the same time so are lots of other things.  Maybe I should just download a copy of SimCity 4 again and roll with that.

Is longform blogging dead?

Tue, 09 Dec 2014 02:07:00 +0000

A friend recently asked this question on Facebook.  I noted that at the very least my own longform blogging seemed to be dead.  But the question did get me thinking. 
Meanwhile another thought occurred: when I’m writing, I generally feel better.  I’ve noticed this before but I’ve never meditated on the problem.  Do I feel better because I’m writing?  Do I write because I’m feeling better?  What the hell do I mean by better, anyway?  Isn’t this more clear in my own head than it is when I put it down on “paper” anyway?
The answer to the last question is “Yes.”  Not a surprise.  I always write for an audience, not for myself, even if, on balance, the audience I have in mind is a whole bunch of identical copies of me. 
Lately I’ve become obsessed with chicken and egg questions—what is the cause of this or that tendency or behavior pattern that I want to correct.  It’s a very handy obsession, because it’s so easy to convince myself that I can’t take any action toward changing said pattern I want to correct until I understand precisely where it comes from. 
This is a load of bull.  I’ve been seeing a therapist, just for a couple of visits to sort through some questions for myself.  My anxiety is getting worse as I get older and it’s holding me back more than it’s protecting me; I’d like to know what I can do about it.  But I feel compelled to start by asking where it comes from.  On this question my therapist’s views are clear: what’s the fucking difference?
It’s one thing if you have some hidden desperate family secret you’ve been repressing for ages, but for me, I had a typical, unexceptional childhood, marked out by certain patterns that probably affect my behavior but which don’t rise to the level of tragedy, or even to the level of mattering to anyone other than me.  So why does it matter to me? 
The bottom line is, it shouldn’t.  I don’t need to know exactly whether the egg preceded the chicken or vice versa, all I need to know is that I can fry the eggs up for breakfast and roast the chicken for dinner.  What matters is not where a behavior comes from but whether it’s worthwhile now, and if not, how to change it.  Change can come without an explicit understanding of history. 
So, do I write when I’m happy and feel like my life is going well?  Or does writing make me happy and help my life go well?  Well, who cares?  Can  I write?  Yes.  Do I want to write?  Yes.  Why don’t I?  Um…. . .  .  .   .   .    .    .     .      .       .       .

So, yeah, anyway, here’s a low-threat way to face down an anxiety and set the pattern to face down more in the future: write!  Something, at least, every day if possible.  Why shouldn’t I?  I don’t need to come up with a theme, I never had one in the past.  I just need to write.  And so write I shall.  

An Old Story

Thu, 30 Oct 2014 12:11:00 +0000

I'm applying to study in Costa Rica during Spring Break next year.  The application asks a number of questions, among them the following:The nature of study abroad programs often entails unexpected changes in schedules and activities as well as changes due to unfamiliar cultural norms. As such, an individual studying abroad should possess patience, the ability to be flexible, and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Thinking about patience, flexibility, and adaptability, describe an example in your life where you demonstrated these qualities and discuss how it might relate to your experience abroad.I'm sure they were looking for something short and sweet.  I wrote this.  Then, of course, I forgot to finish the application and the deadline closed and I was all upset, and then, glory of glories, yesterday I got an email that they'd extended the application.  Yaay!  So now I can apply and maybe have an awesome time in Costa Rica next March.  Anyway.  I reread this little ditty and it reminded me of a very wonderful trip I took long ago.  I thought it was a charming enough story, so here it is:I was visiting Carnac, France, and had spent an afternoon walking amongst the stones, and was due to catch a bus back to the train station in Auray, about 20 km up the road.  I stood at the stop where I had gotten off the bus that morning...but of course the bus was northbound, now, and thus on the other side of the road, and though there was no bus stop sign over there the bus did not stop for me.  It didn't stop at all, in fact, just drove on by, since no one was waiting by the road.  This could be a serious problem; I had very limited French language skills, no personal contacts at all, and no idea how I was supposed to get where I was going--I was expecting to spend the night in the Quimper, a two-hour train ride away.  What to do?I hadn't been by the center of town, but I assumed there might be a tourist information center, so I started walking.  I walked back through the standing stones and around the north side of town, because I had no idea which direction to go.  Finally I saw a street sign indicating the center of town, and I headed that way.  On my way I passed by a sign in someone's front yard: taxi.  I didn't stop.  I went into town and saw the museum dedicated to the stones (closed, as it was an off-season weekday), and the tourist bureau, which was also closed.  The sign said it would re-open in a couple of hours, but by that time my train was going to have left.  I was starting to think I needed to find a place to stay the night, and then I remembered the taxi sign. I walked back up the road.  I didn't speak French and didn't know this person and couldn't have been farther outside my comfort zone, but I knocked on the front door.  In halting French I explained that I missed my bus and needed a ride to the train in Auray.  I'm sure it came out like "no bus I was missing Auray train station.  Please."  The gentleman looked at me, then put up a finger, telling me to wait.  He reappeared after a moment with a young girl, maybe 12 years old.  "English?" she said.  I explained what had happened. Then I stopped myself and explained it again more slowly.  She smiled and translated for us.  Her father would take me, it would be 40 francs (this was in the pre-Euro days, when a franc was worth about 1/7 of a dollar), but he would need two minutes.  Then he disappeared.  His daughter stood in the doorway and looked at me.  "Did you lose your way?" she asked.  I smiled nervously. "I just didn't make it to the bus on time."  "I won't be able to ride to Auray with you," she said, and then disappeared, leaving me standing at an open front door.  Was I supposed to g[...]

Just a morning rant

Sat, 31 May 2014 13:24:00 +0000

This working poor stuff has long since worn thin; earning enough to cover bills and naught else is really not enjoyable, and this morning I just need to vent.Earlier this year after I'd bought the house and settled in things were looking good: my job paid well enough for me to actually eat out from time to time, go have beers with friends like once a week, that sort of thing, and I had put together a savings plan and some financial goals for the year, and it really looked like it was going to work.  I wanted three months' expenses set aside in one account, and in two other savings accounts I was putting money so I could travel (two exotic trips, to Virginia and Ohio), buy a sound bar (I'm tired of listening to music through my television speakers, so I don't listen to music any more; my ex-wife sold my old speaker set at a garage sale and I can't for the life of me imagine why I let her), pay for a personal trainer certification course, and other small things.And the thing is I just about got all three accounts filled up.  The two-months-expenses one is good.  The savings for travel and other things are basically where I want them; I overestimated travel expenses and other costs so that, even though I'm about 10% shy in both accounts, I think I'll be good.  And I've got some cash stashed away for the travel expenses that probably more than makes up the shortfall.Of course, I could just turn all the money out of all three accounts and finally pay off the goddamn credit card (I finally made the last payment on the second one earlier this year, hooray), but what is the point of this life if I can't get out of town once in a while?  Well, that's the nature of low income.  You don't get to do the stuff you want.  Piss.And of course, I went and bought a new mattress a couple months ago.  Wasn't planning to do that, either, but it became obvious that my old mattress was the cause (or at least a cause) of my back and neck pain.  And it was expensive, and I'm still paying for it, and it was sooooo worth it.  The new mattress is fantastic.  I love it.  It hasn't helped with the anxiety and stress that keep me from sleeping well most nights, but I don't wake up in pain any more, and it's hard to put a price on that.  But there was a price on it, and I'm still paying it.Nonetheless, with a new roommate helping me pay for the mortgage and bills, my savings accounts look good enough that I've been seriously shopping for a new bike.  My current bike is a ten-year-old mountain bike, but I don't trail ride any more and don't care to.  I'm going to use the bike as a daily commuter to campus, and have been thinking it would be nice to have a more efficient one, something designed for roads where the high gears are actually, you know, high gears, and where the top speed is better than 20 mph at full tilt.Road bikes are expensive.  You can find some really cheap ones on line for as little as $300 from Bikes Direct.  And they are worth $300.  According to most of the reviews they'll get you about 1000 miles.  They are intended as "intro" bikes for new riders who will either ride for a while and decide they don't like it, or will quickly want to upgrade to a better machine.  I'm not the target consumer there; 1000 miles is somewhat less than one year's commuting (assuming I bike in 4 days a week), which means sometime next spring I must either buy another $300 bike or replace all the components on the old one.  That just doesn't make sense.And I thought to myself, you know, I just spent $350 I didn't have on a brake job on my car.  My whole goal here is to put more miles on the bike around town in the next year than on the car.  Shouldn't I at least consider spend[...]

Happy International Introspection Day

Thu, 02 Jan 2014 00:52:00 +0000

I like getting the first of January off. It’s the most introspective day on the calendar, and one I think most people take part in. There’s a reason it’s a national holiday all over the world.Often I’ve looked back over the previous year in horror or disappointment, but 2013 was different for me. For the first time in a while I took control of events this year in a way I often avoid. It’s been good. And as I look around at what may be coming in 2014, I see a lot of sprouts from seeds planted in the past year. Things are working pretty well.I decided in 2013 that I was going to go back to school. Not only that, I decided where to go and what to study. I decided I wanted to own a home again, own land (I still say all I really need is a big field with a kitchen and bath), be able to make it my own. And here I am, in a different city in a different state in my own living room. I raked mulch and cut the grass today. I organized seeds and made arrangements to get a few yards of compost delivered. Last year I planted several trees I’ve been growing in pots for the last few years. I’ve had a delay in my school plans, but it’s just a delay, and that, too, is my own doing. It’s not like I planned to fail a class this spring so I’d screw myself over later, but at least I know where the issue is, whose fault it is, and what to do to fix it. I can quite comfortable look at 2014 and say it’s the year I will go back to college, and that’s a good feeling.Not that 2013 was perfect. Not that I did everything I wanted or should have done, or refrained from doing everything I should have avoided. No year is perfect. It would have been nice not to fail that class this spring but there you are. I might have hoped to move into my home earlier, to pay less for it. I would have liked to pay off my credit card debt sooner, and fully (there’s still a little chunk sitting there laughing at me). I really wanted to go home to see the family but never made the trip. And the job I’m working…well, it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.Still, on balance, 2013 was one of the better years I’ve had of late; we’d have to go well back into the last decade to find one that went as well. And so it comes to look forward to 2014. I have some travel planned already, which is good, and I have a steady paycheck to start the year with. I have a class scheduled for the spring that should be tons of fun (and where I should get a solid A, which I need), and look forward to starting full time in the summer or fall. I have lots of plans for the yard, for the vineyard and the sorghum patch and the vegetable and herb gardens.But some things do need to change. I’m not big on New Years Resolutions because I think too many people (myself included) tend to look at them as a New Year New You proposition, and nobody and nothing changes overnight. But there are things I need to work on. Budgeting is a problem, so I’ve come up with a list of financial goals—amounts I want to get stored up in my savings accounts to pay for stuff like travel (I have two trips planned, three more in the planning stage) and a new sound bar (I’m sick of listening to music through the TV speakers), and to have a nice three-month cushion in the main savings account. And I have a plan to get there.I need to carve out time in my days to meditate, something I didn’t do often in 2013. But I’m not going to say I want to meditate for 20 minutes every day. If I could do that starting today, I would have started months ago. I figure if I can manage five minutes a day that would be a good start, but even that could be tough so I’m saying five minutes a day, at least four days out of the week. That’s an attainable goal, and by the end of January if I’m managing that, I can add minutes [...]


Sun, 07 Jul 2013 23:11:00 +0000

I really need to update this a bit more frequently. I have at least three hikes (and some wineries) to cover and another post more in line with the historical tenor of this blog. Some may ask what it is exactly I'm thinking of doing with the current incarnation of this site. For example, I've asked myself that. The rest of you I don't know about.

I blogged a lot more when I was single than after I got married. Now that I'm not married I thought maybe I'd blog more because I don't have anyone to share stuff with. That hasn't happened. Maybe I don't need to share as much anymore. I try not to think too much about that sort of thing.

But I do have a thing in mind here, see. I want to hike every trail in the Triangle before I start school next year, and I want to put at least some comment about each one of them here. I always wanted something like that when I lived in Greenville, or Tampa, or, really, every place I've ever lived. You can look for a list of Triangle Hikes, and there are many such, but I saw no site at all that mentioned every trail in the area. Indeed, some of the trails I've found aren't really mentioned on any hiking site.

That's not entirely a criticism; I mean, if you're looking to put together a list of Triangle-area hikes, you start with Umstead and Eno River and after you get about ten trails or so, you figure you're done. It's good enough to get the best or most popular trails because that's what people are really looking for. But I want all the trails. So that's what I'm working toward here.

The problem here is that every time I look for a hike, I find new places I didn't know about before. There must be 120 discrete trails in the area depending on how big "The Triangle" is (I haven't really decided myself yet). So the project is getting bigger faster than I'm actually completing it. And now that I'll be working (yaay, by the way) all week I'll only have at most two days to hike. So it's going to be interesting to see whether I actually get through this, but it's fun to try. At least you can hike in all seasons here.

How to define the Triangle, though? Obviously it has to include Wake, Durham, and Orange counties (Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill). I've done at least two hikes in Chatham County already, but that is a big damned county and I'm not going to try to do the whole thing. Johnston county doesn't seem to have any hiking trails at all so I'm including it because it's easy to do. It does have four wineries, though. I figure if I can cover every trail in the three core counties, and maybe in eastern Chatham and in Johnston counties, then I can just look out at the counties farther out and do whatever trails strike my fancy. I'm still torn about this. Every trail in the three core counties is definite. But the other counties I guess it depends on how much time I have. Maybe I should sit down and actually try to find every trail... Anyway, if you have any suggestions for trails or how to define the Triangle, please say so. Also if you know how I can create and post a map of the region with a pin at every trail that links to the review post, I want to do that but I'm not sure how.


Sat, 22 Jun 2013 21:35:00 +0000

I don't fish. It's not that I don't enjoy the idea of fishing. It's just that, like golf, something that should be purely a leisure activity with no goals or purpose, people have turned into some hugely expensive racket with goals and tools to buy and thousands of dollars needing to be spent. If you go out on a golf course just to have fun wacking a ball around in the wilderness, everybody else on the course hates you. If you go fishing in a kayak with a bamboo pole and some bread... well, at least nobody will yell at you. But all the real fisherman think you're a fool. And in some sense they're right.Then there's the sort of thing that happened to me today. I went out to Lake Wheeler Park and rented a kayak. It was a sit-on-top kayak, which I always find incredibly uncomfortable (I miss my old kayak, which was very comfy but also 16 feet long and a bit of a nightmare to take places), so I spent much of my paddling tour sitting lotus-style on the back end of the boat. This is very peaceful and calming but not conducive to getting anywhere very quickly. I paddled down one arm of the lake to find the end. It was very quiet; there was a little drizzle, and consequently very few people on the water. I drifted along the shore, past what looked like an anhinga (couldn't have been though, right? This far north?) resting on a branch sticking out of the water, and down a small stream lined with alders. It was peaceful. I drifted by a turtle sitting on a log and the turtle didn't even feel the need to dive into the water.The alder-lined stream got too narrow, so I went back out by the anhinga-lookalike and down the next channel. This was all rushes and cattails and willows, completely different from the almost exclusively alder community down the stream literally forty or so feet to the south. I pulled the paddle out of the water and laid back in the kayak and just drifted.And a fish jumped in the boat.Actually this was entirely terrifying. You don't expect a fish to jump in your boat, especially when you haven't seen any fish all day anyway. And it was so quiet and peaceful, light rain, almost no sound at all, and then *splash* there's a fish flopping around by your feet. It wasn't a mullet, either (that would have been truly shocking in a small lake in inland North Carolina). I don't know what it was; I would guess some sort of lake bream or something, but it was pretty big, 14-18 inches. I've honestly never seen a bass in my recent life except in that Dan Aykroyd SNL commercial (and that may not have been a bass) so I wouldn't recognize one. This fish was not tall like a bluegill or crappie, though, so that's what it may have been. I did not fall out of the boat but if I'd been sitting up lotus style on the back of it I definitely would have. As it was I struggled to get up and tried to grab the poor thing, but he kept slipping out of my hands. After probably two seconds (it seemed longer) the fish flopped out of my hands and out of the boat and back into the water. I watched him go; he stirred up the dirt on the bottom, and then jumped again a few feet away from the boat. Maybe he had a parasite he was trying to dislodge.In any event, given the ease with which fish simply present themselves to me, it seems unsporting to actually go fishing. Oh, hey, there aren't any trails at Lake Wheeler Park that I know of, apart from a par course. There's the lake. That's enough reason to go, right? Kayak rental is $5 an hour (they also have canoes and other sorts of floating things). You can park way closer to the rental building than I did; when you go for the first time, just keep driving toward the water and you'll see the final parking lot on the right when the only alternative is to drive into the lake.[...]

Swift Creek Nature Preserve (and Crowder Park)

Wed, 19 Jun 2013 05:06:00 +0000

Yesterday (17 June) I developed terrible cabin fever. I'd spent all day at the apartment waiting for a phone call that never came. Even two glasses of wine (Hinnant Family Vineyards' Norton 2008) couldn't help. I decided I needed to get out of the house, and was just about to leave for Eno River State Park when apartment maintenance showed up to fix the fridge (water has been dripping from the freezer into the fridge since before I moved in). I was the only one home so I had to stay; twenty minutes later it became apparent we needed an entirely "new" fridge. (You must use air quotes when describing the fridge. It is not the same fridge we had before, but it is by no means new. However, it works, which is all that matters.) Thank goodness my roommates finally came home (they were at, like, class or something. Productive people make me feel bad), but by the time I was able to go for my hike, it did not make sense to drive all the way to Eno River any more. Instead, I discovered the Triangle Land Conservancy, and their Swift Creek Bluffs Preserve. Swift Creek Bluffs is in Cary off Holly Springs Rd, a short jaunt from Raleigh. But you'd never know it was there; it's not advertised, there's very little signage, and your GPS will not lead you to the parking lot (don't turn on Birkhead, the parking area is actually next to the pumping station just before Birkhead). But the difficulty of getting there means you'll have the place mostly to yourself, and that's often why we wander off into the woods anyway. Right? The first thing you see starting on the trail out of the parking lot is this seriously messed up pine tree. I have no idea what caused that; the scars go most of the way up the trunk. This is maybe 20 feet from your car. By this point if you haven't already found and started using a spider stick you need to do so. Seriously. Remember how I said you'd be the only one there? Yeah, possibly the only one in several days. You want a spider stick. Another 20 feet along the trail and you come to the first junction... and just down the junction you see this. The rest of this tree is scattered around the grounds. Several others are downed across the trail. The trail is actually closed here and you really should not cross the "closed" sign. Really. Don't do it. Okay, fine, so you're going to go where you shouldn't, huh? You just have to follow every single trail in the park? Who does that? I mean, apart from me. First, let me suggest to you that Swift Creek Bluffs won't be in such disarray for all that long; I'm sure they have a work day planned, and I've emailed Triangle Land to ask when that might be so I can go help out. Believe me, the lower part of the trail (through the "Chestnut Oak Swamp") is really in bad shape. It's possible that Tropical Storm Andrea did this much damage, but that seems unlikely; the size and number of trees that are downed throughout the preserve makes me guess that after Andrea's rain, one of the storms later in the week probably produced a microburst or mini tornado. You've got to go to really get an idea of the amount of damage. And if that's not enough to dissuade you from crossing the Do Not Cross barriers, examine this downed tree. That's a maple tree. But that maple tree had a very healthy poison ivy plant climbing up it, and all those leaves you see are ivy, not maple. You cannot climb over this tree. You cannot walk around it. You cannot avoid it in any way. So when you come across this tree you will get poison ivy oil on you. (Immunity to urushiol is my superpower, so I was okay.) Along the closed trails I did come across this wonderful hickory. Hickories are even harder to differentiate than oaks are; they all look the same [...]

Occoneechee Mountain

Tue, 18 Jun 2013 22:06:00 +0000

I hiked Occoneechee Mountain State Preserve on a Sunday afternoon in June. The park is sandwiched in between I-85 and the Eno River and encompasses two high hills rising out of the Atlantic coastal plain, the namesake “mountain” and the smaller Brown Elfin Knob right next door. Really they're just big hills; actually, it's two peaks on one big hill. But we'll let it be a mountain if that's what it wants to be. This is a seldom-visited park. You will need to apply bug spray before you leave the parking area. Lots of bug spray. If you’re troubled by the occasional spiderweb running across the trail, this probably isn’t your park. That said, it’s a most fascinating hike, especially if you’re interested in seeing several different forest types in a short hike. I did not complete the entire trail network but hiked about 2 ¾ miles, during the course of which I passed through four distinct lowland forests and some upland areas. The actual summit of Occoneechee is owned by Orange County, not by the state park system, but a trail will take you there. I didn’t visit it, although at the time I thought I had. I started out heading left from the parking lot. This means that for the first part of the hike I paralleled the interstate, and although the forest is pretty and reasonably peaceful the traffic noise is actually pretty loud. We forget sometimes that our blueberries are but domesticated forms of plants that still grow wild in this area; the understory in this part of the park has at least three species of blueberries and huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.), in some places entirely covering the ground. The smaller huckleberry species in particular are more common farther west, but there were many lowbush blueberries as well. All were still green; some still had flowers. This would be a fun park to walk through in July when the berries are ripe, assuming the birds don’t eat all of them first. The trail is clear but relatively narrow and has plenty of roots and other trip hazards, and thanks to numerous climbs and descents this would not be a very good park for any but experienced trail runners. That said, experienced trail runners would enjoy what is probably the most challenging trail in the Triangle. As the trail turns north away from the interstate the vaccinium species thin out and are replaced by other understory plants including ferns and a large population of witch-hazel. You’ll notice huge chunks of quartz sticking out of the ground every now and then. On the north side of the mountain you’ll parallel the Eno River for a ways, and begin to see Mountain Laurel and some native azaleas. There’s a short spur trail to a very nice swimming hole, though it is apparently on private property. (Still, there were several people swimming and I don’t get the impression the private owners are terribly upset about it.) Past this short spur, both sides of the trail host quite the healthy population of poison ivy. Watch for it if you’re susceptible. When the trail turns away from the river it ascends some stairs and a spur leads off to the “Occoneechee Quarry.” I took the spur. The quarry turns out to be a huge face of quartz that’s been just torn to bits; unmolested quartz rocks like this are found throughout the piedmont with names like “Shining Rock” or “Looking Glass Mountain” because the smooth face of the rock reflects the sun in early morning when damp with dew. At one time, Occoneechee Mountain looked like that. No more. You are specifically told not to engage in any rock climbing or rappelling activities on this degraded rock face, which is good advice because the rock is just broken all to hell and very friable[...]

Cliffs of the Neuse

Thu, 13 Jun 2013 14:42:00 +0000

First off, before we start, I'll answer the question I know you want to ask: it's pronounced [noose]. Down towards the coast the pronunciation seems to change more to [nyoose]. It is not, however, pronounced [noiss], as I suspected. It's a bad English transliteration of a native American word, not the name of some German settler. So anyway, Cliffs of the Neuse. It's a state park outside of Goldsboro, which itself is about an hour from Raleigh. Not officially part of the Triangle, but a short drive and worth visiting. But be forewarned:The Neuse is extremely variable. Evidently even as far downstream as Goldsboro, during a drought the river becomes so minimal you can just walk right across it, but after a heavy rain it routinely floods, as it mostly flows through lowland swamps and there's nothing stopping it from just wandering across the landscape; more on that in a moment. Down at New Bern (apparently pronounced [NYOO-bern], which is just offensive. The word 'new' does not have a y.) it's more tidal and not quite so variable, at least not on the low end. And up here in Raleigh, it's dammed up at Falls Lake...which was created in the 70s to stop the river from flooding so much.So this is mostly a lowland flatwater river, right? Sure. Except right here, at the cliffs. On the south bank (where I'm standing to take this picture) the land is a big chunk of limestone 80 or so feet high uplifted during the last Ice Age. The river's trundling along through coastal sediment for hundreds of miles and then whangs into this limestone bluff--which, it should be said, has no business being in the middle of the coastal plain--and you get these nice 90-foot cliffs.Now if you notice this is not some tidy little blackwater river here. In fact if you look closely you'll see those willows on the left bank of the river (the bright green patch in the middle)... are all the way in the river. See we just had this thing called Tropical Storm Andrea. It was a few days ago up in the Triangle and for the most part although the lakes are all at full pool there's not water standing everywhere. But a few days' river flow means the Neuse is probably at maximum flood stage here at the Cliffs right now. I didn't really think about that.This is the fishing area near the parking lot. Well, actually, the fishing area is under there somewhere. I'm not really sure where. But check it out: in the back, the tree closest to the river? Baldcypress. Haven't seen any up in the Triangle, which surprises me. But that will change once I get mine back from SC and put it in the ground.Anyway. I came here for the hiking. Here's a picture of the bridge going to two of the three trails:Bear with me, this is a phonecam picture and I own the cheapest phone with the crappiest camera available on the market (actually, it's not even on the market anymore). A third of the way down at the center of that pic you see a little yellowish square? And a bit to the right of it, you can make out the right edge of a brown sign with white letters (click on the picture to blow it up). Those letters indicate the names of the trails. That's the trailhead, over there underwater somewhere. I'm standing at the edge of the water on some steps. There is, in fact, a bridge down there. Really. A whole bridge, all the way under the water.There was a lot of water in this park. For example, here's another fishing area. Actually, the fishing area is about 100 yards away through there. But the main trail was accessible, and by going off trail for a bit and getting lost in the woods (well, not lost, but let's say I had no idea where I was. I wasn't lost, though, because I didn't care wher[...]

Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve

Tue, 11 Jun 2013 03:29:00 +0000

Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve trail map: This is a little gem in the middle of the town of Cary, off Kildaire Farm Rd. It’s a reasonably quiet part of town, mostly residential, and the trails and nature center are far enough off the road that Hemlock Bluffs genuinely feels cut off, quiet, and peaceful. It feels like nature, not a scrappy little city park. I hiked every inch of trail, about 2.6 miles in all. The wide trail path is well maintained and laid with mulch; no roots or rocks sticking out. The main Chestnut Oak Trail is generally level with some mild climbs and descents but nothing untoward. The trail down to the Swift Creek loop is stairs, but the loop itself is flat and also well maintained. This is an excellent park for a trail run, especially for those new to trail-running. The Chestnut Oak trail covers a fairly typical coastal plain environment, with a forest of primarily chestnut oak, red maple, and beech; look for maple-leaf viburnum, a somewhat rare shrub so predominant in this park it might be the single most common understory plant. This park will be brilliant in early autumn thanks to a big population of maples; a good number of serviceberry and other small trees and shrubs should provide a decent springtime floral display though not spectacular. Follow the main trail to the right and you’ll come to the Swift Creek ravine. The trail descends the ravine on well-made gravel-topped stairs, and two spurs from the stairs allow you to look at the truly unique aspect of this park, the Eastern Hemlocks on the south wall of the ravine. This relict population of hemlock is separated from the rest of the species’ distribution by some 150 miles. The trees survive here (some of the trees are old enough to predate European settlement in the Neuse basin) thanks to an unusual microclimate on the steep banks of Swift Creek. Because of the disjunct nature of this population they have no woolly adelgid infestation; it’s possible, sadly, that this might be the last healthy population of hemlocks in the eastern U.S. in another 20 years. The hemlocks share the streambank with a large population of galax and several other plants more commonly found in the piedmont and mountains. The Swift Creek Loop is on lowland in the creek basin, below the ravines. This is a short, level loop through wet bottomlands. Bug spray is mandatory before attempting this trail. Throughout the park the squirrels are so fat and unmolested they don’t even run away from you when you walk directly toward them. And when they do scamper, it’s with the studied leisure of animals secure in their safety. Let them have their peace; please keep your dog on a short leash. Hemlock Bluffs preserves an interesting microbiome unique in the Triangle area. The park is very quiet and peaceful, and even on a nice Saturday afternoon was not particularly busy. It’s a real find this close to the center of town. id="mapmyfitness_route" src="" height="630px" width="100%" frameborder="0"> Create Maps or search from 80 million at MapMyRun The route with elevations. Note the actual elevation changes are pretty mild, despite the way the chart looks. If you wanted to do say a 5k trail run, you'd probably just want to circle the Chestnut Oak loop 3 times; the stairs down to the Swift Creek Loop (on the right in the map) could be a problem.[...]

Sun, 09 Jun 2013 02:20:00 +0000

tumblr is getting hard to use the way I want to use it. For an idea of what I want to be doing with my blog, you could go read my Everglades post (I think it's linked over there on the sidebar). It's hard to use tumblr's interface to produce that sort of post, and that sort of post is what I want to produce. Ergo, no more tumblr for Smitty. Instead, let's try a new thing! Let's try Wordpress. You can find exciting things both old and new over at A Bad Idea Poorly Executed. Thank you for your consideration. I'm editing this post here instead of writing a new one: Ahem. Blogger, why did I ever leave you? I can directly edit code on this site, which I can't do on wordpress any easier than I could on tumblr (which is to say, not at all). Look how much prettier I can make these hiking posts, with the pictures and stuff sized and placed where I want them (close enough), and putting that trail map in is a snap whereas in Wordpress it took me 15 tries and I never got it to appear, despite explicitly following Wordpress' instructions. So... this blog will live here at this site, and that's that. Thank you for your support during this period of transition...

I Think I'm Going to Move to Tumblr

Sat, 14 Jan 2012 16:28:00 +0000

You can find me there. I've tentatively named it "A Bad Idea Poorly Executed." Or just search for, as always, thehappysmith.


Sat, 05 Nov 2011 14:42:00 +0000

I'm trying to get a good "tropical" muffin recipe together. I have lots of crushed pineapple and dried coconut and I finally went out and bought a one dollar beat-up muffin pan from Goodwill, and this morning I made my first attempt.(image)

This isn't quite the right recipe. I can't put my finger on exactly what needs to be changed, but no question I need more pineapple, less coconut, and probably something other than guava juice (really? On a blog called "Gin & Guavas" I'm posting a recipe that I need to cut the guava juice out of). But they are tasty.

I use the following recipe for my dry muffin mix:
1/3 c white whole wheat flour
1/3 c teff flour
1/3 c flax meal
1/3 c + 1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Mix together and combine with 1 egg and 1/4 c applesauce, and you have a basic muffin mix. Of course I use teff and flax instead of just wheat flour because they have more fiber, more vitamins and minerals, and quite frankly more flavor. I think everyone should add flax meal to their recipes; the teff flour is harder to come by. But of course you could just use 1 cup of regular flour. And most people would probably use closer to a full cup of sugar (but I was adding pineapple, and that's plenty sweet).

What I added for the tropical part of it was:
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/3 c crushed pineapple
3 tbsp guava nectar
3 tbsp chopped coconut (rehydrated)
1 tbsp chopped rehydrated banana chips (I'd prefer a banana, but I didn't have any).
fresh grated nutmeg (maybe about 1/4 tsp?)

This made six muffins. I'm single; I don't need to be making a dozen muffins at a shot.

Next time around I think I'll try mango or maybe passionfruit juice instead of guava, and less almond extract (perhaps none at all), and a little more pineapple, and maybe one less tbsp of the coconut. Still, a good first effort.

Four Random Photographs

Sat, 05 Nov 2011 14:05:00 +0000

I haven't posted any pictures in a while. Well, I haven't done much with the blog in a while, but, more to the point, I have some pictures I took over the last couple months that I guess I intended to blog, but never did. And I also have two I took this morning.My okra has succumbed to frost, and I don't think the tomato is long for the world (it's still ripening tomatoes, at about 1/3 normal speed, but we've had three frosts so far and it has managed to survive. I don't expect it make it to Thanksgiving but I'm also not going to complain if it does).But with the end of one season comes the start of another, and I have Brussels sprouts and arugula and fun things like that. And, this amusing little seedling. This is a red buckeye (Aesculus pavia), not a tree I even had on my list of trees to try to grow, mainly because my list is a couple years old and I don't know of any red buckeyes around here. But I collected this seed from a buckeye tree up at Biltmore, in Asheville, about six weeks ago. I brought it home. It sat on the kitchen counter for about three weeks. According to my notes the seeds need to be kept moist and planted immediately; if they dry out at all, they die. Very finicky seeds apparently. Or not. I soaked it overnight and stuck it in a pot and figured there was no way it would grow. But here we are! I have no idea what this is going to turn into--I can't even tell if those are leaves or what. But it's sort of exciting. (The plant next to it is New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus), which has been growing for about two months. I have several of them sprouted now and I'm looking forward to actually trying the tea from them next winter.)Back in the summer I made several ratatouilles. They were all delicious. I should post a recipe sometime. But it's a lot easier to just post this picture of the stew in the pot. So colorful. Of course summer is over; now it's gumbo season, so I'll have to blog the next time I make one of those.I grew a lot of vegetables this summer and enjoyed them (the tomatoes and tabasco peppers were particularly great), but nothing was as exciting as this.I have three grape vines in pots here; some year soon they'll go into the ground but grape vines can live for 100 years or more so they'll be fine in pots for a few. How exciting to harvest my own grapes off my own vines... while living in an apartment. They were really good, too--although they were sold to me as "seedless," and they are anything but. But these are Concord grapes, the native Vitis labrusca, the ones Alton Brown talks about in the tv commercials for Welch's. Maybe some year the vines will be big enough to get enough grapes to try a few bottles of homemade wine. Not any time soon, though.I've mentioned Schrodinger before. He needs a picture. Like all black cats he is very difficult to photograph. Most of my pictures of him are a black smudge with glowing green eyes. I have not yet managed to get a picture that matches up with the best picture ever taken of his mother, Batgirl, but eventually.[...]

Thoughts on Occupy Wall Street

Fri, 04 Nov 2011 16:32:00 +0000

This is the first essay-length philosophical thing I've written in four years. It took two hours to get everything right and do the cost research. It felt wonderful. I was going to title this “What the Occupy opponents don’t get” but then I realized, heck, this is Occupy we’re talking about, and most of the protesters don’t get it, either. So instead it’s just some thoughts. So, you’re a member of the non-struggling middle class. Perhaps you’re just an intelligent and reasonable person who knows what you want and doesn’t spend your time desperately trying to live a life well beyond your means. Lord knows that a real middle class salary can buy you a very nice life without credit, but if you’re constantly striving for more you’re going to always be unhappy and always be struggling. Or, more likely (since there aren’t so many reasonable and intelligent people out there who live within their means), you’re actually part of the upper middle class or even the upper class but refuse to admit that to yourself or anyone else. In either case perhaps you’re happy, satisfied, and not afraid, and you could care less about the Occupy protesters or the Occupy movement. Great! Good for you. You can stop reading now because I’m not talking to you. You don’t need a talking-to. You need to put a little money aside for a nice vacation and go pick up the kids from school. But maybe you spend an inordinate amount of your time thinking about why the Occupy movement is wrong, why the protesters are boneheads or hypocrites or worse. Maybe you think that in reality if you just work hard and keep your expectations attainable you can live a perfectly happy life and shouldn’t be asking for handouts. Ha! You’re funny. You need to keep reading. And maybe you think of yourself as just smarter than those idiot protesters, and you like to laugh at how they turn down job applications or refuse to offer their tents to the homeless. You, my friend, you are afraid of them. (And I haven't noticed you offering your living room to the homeless, either.) You don’t want to hear it—in fact, I just lost ALL of my readers who fit into this category because I’m not part of their preferred echo chamber—but the truth is, you are afraid of them. You are afraid because although you are comfortable now, you lack the requisite faith in yourself, your religion, or your society that, were things to change, and change meaningfully, you might not be able to make it. You are afraid that you could become one of the people Occupy is protesting for (or wants to think they’re protesting for; I suspect the majority of them are protesting to annoy Mom & Dad, who, ironically, were hippies themselves and protested mainly to annoy Mom & Dad. Who, of course, fought World War II and built the greatest nation-state the world has ever seen.) The truth is, you’re afraid of something the protesters symbolize for you. It might be that you simply are afraid of anything that’s different; xenophobia is so third-millenium America, after all. Or it might be that, on some level, the bastards are actually right about something. But it’s too big of a problem or too difficult to really wrap your mind around and frankly life is so much easier and better if you don’t actually have to think about it. After all, the reason the echo chamber that is the modern opinionews industry (like that one? Infotainment is not the right word, since modern news doesn’t rely on[...]

Hey, Asshole!

Wed, 02 Nov 2011 21:12:00 +0000

Yeah, you! The asshole who lives at 331 Shadowmere Dr., Pelzer, SC, 29669. You.

You know that fucking piece of shit dog of yours is going to attack anybody who comes onto the property. You know that.

You know somebody from FedEx (and probably somebody from UPS, too) is going to come to your house every single day, because you are constantly getting shit shipped to you for some sort of home-based cosmetics related business.

So you know a delivery person is coming to your house every day. And you know that fuckstick dog of yours is going to attack.

And you leave said fuckstick dog out, unchained, every. Mother. Fucking. Day.

You, sir, are the fucking lowest form of human life present on this Earth. I sincerely hope that your dog will die, your business will fail, your home will be reposessed, your wife and family will leave you, and you will die miserable and alone.


Fuck you.

Your (ex) FedEx man

Lunch Break

Tue, 25 Oct 2011 17:13:00 +0000

This morning Schrodinger (the cat) brought a squirrel in the house. He brings animals in from time to time, though I always cuss at him and squirt him with the water bottle when I catch him doing it. Which I usually don't. At least one morning a week I wake up and find a dead mole in the herbarium (the rental company calls it a "dining room," but as I have no dining table and eat on the porch or standing at the counter I don't use it for that; it's where I keep my seedlings and tender plants and seeds I'm trying to sprout), and earlier this week there was bird a loving left for me on the edge of the couch. The brand new clean couch.

I can't get too upset at him for this. First of all I rarely actually catch him bringing an animal in, and you can't discipline an animal after the fact. But I know he's doing his part for the household, and after all, he is a once and future barn cat; I don't want him not hunting at all.

But it would be nice if he would at least kill things before he brings them in the house (he comes and goes through a window in the herbarium). About a month ago I came home from work and there was this odd sound coming from the laundry room, which I eventually determined was a baby squirrel, hiding in the utility closet. He was okay; tail was a bit mussed and bloody but Schrodinger had clearly brought the squirrel in as a toy and hadn't actually hurt it much. But the thing was little and terrified. I put on an old flight suit and gloves and collected the squirrel, put him in a box with water and food, and let him calm down, then deposited him in a pine tree outside about two hours later.

But this morning takes the cake so far. This morning as I was making breakfast--in fact, just as I was finishing up and looking forward to eating--Schrodinger bounds through the window with a live and squealing squirrel in his mouth. I cussed at him and squirted him with the water bottle, which was the wrong thing to do. He drops the squirrel and ducks back out the window, but does the squirrel follow? No. Squirrel goes nuts. Runs in circles around the room, through the kitchen, into and around the living room, then back into the herbarium where he takes up residence behind the bakers rack.

And then the cat comes back in.

You've seen Christmas Vacation. You know what happens when Snots the dog gets scent of the squirrel. This is what it felt like in my house this morning. I opened all the doors in the vain hope the squirrel would run outside, but no. Eventually he hid behind the entertainment center, so I jabbed an old tv antenna down there to flush him out. Didn't work. So I pulled it away from the wall far enough for Schrodinger to get back there, which he did. The squirrel disappeared. I didn't ever actually see it leave from behind the television. It could have gone outside but if it did, it gave the slip to both me and the cat. It's not under any of the furniture or in the dvd rack, and I had the bedroom and bathroom doors closed. So I assume it's gone.

I had a massage scheduled for this morning. This was a good morning for it. Now I'm having lunch, and I assume the squirrel is gone. But I have a lot of cleaning up to do this afternoon...

BMW Interview Process: Physical

Tue, 18 Oct 2011 19:12:00 +0000

Okay, so, we're on to step four in the process of getting hired on at the BMW plant in Greer (Spartanburg County).Step four is the physical. Assuming you make in through the first three steps and get your conditional offer of employment, this physical represents the condition. Now, I don't know exactly what they're looking for. I am neither a doctor nor an HR person at BMW. But here's what the physical consisted of.First, a ten-page booklet of questions for you to fill out the night before the physical. Not hard questions, mostly "have you ever been treated for X." When you arrive at the clinic (there are two, one in Spartanburg and one in Pelham village (which needs to incorporate already so it doesn't just get absorbed by Greer)), you'll have four or five more pages of things to fill out. You should arrive early, although I managed to scrape in just one minute before my appointment time and didn't get tossed out.A nurse or technician will call your name. First thing she'll do is take your blood pressure and pulse (with an electronic monitor, which I maintain are vastly less accurate than the old-fashioned kind), weight, and height. Then you'll go through a series of little exams in whatever order the stations are free. You'll have an eye exam (I was evidently the fastest eye exam any of the techs had ever done), a hearing exam (I passed and I have lousy hearing, so you should be fine), and a breath test. This is a weird test; you blow into a tube as hard as you can. I have no idea what the purpose of this test was. Per the description of the exam I failed; however the doc later said I did fine.You'll also have your samples taken for drug testing, urine and hair both (not mixed together). Finally you'll go to a little exam room and have an EKG. Last time I had one of these (ten years ago) it took 15 or 20 minutes. This one took about one minute, maybe less.Then you get to stay in the exam room and change into a hospital gown and await the doctor. The doctor will come in and ask you a few generic questions, test reflexes, check for a hernia, that sort of thing, standard exam stuff. Then he'll go through your medical history that you wrote out on all those pages and ask any questions that seem significant. I have a history of lower back problems and depression. I was very concerned about the history of depression, for which I've actually been hospitalized (it was voluntary, at least). But I'm used to flight physicals. He didn't ask one question about that and didn't seem to think it would make any difference at all (I asked). About the back, he had lots of questions. So you get an idea of what BMW is mainly concerned about. The only medical records I have relating to it (apart from some chiropractic adjustments) are from the Air Force; doc said, well, I don't know how long it will take you to get military medical records... to which I was able to respond that I had a copy of all my records. This made things much easier; he said BMW would want to look over the records pertaining to my back, and if I could just make copies and bring them by that would speed things up a great deal.The book of paperwork I'd brought home last night mentioned getting all your medical records and having to sign papers to allow them to be shared with BMW. I'm touchy about that (the hospitalization), but doc said just get the ones related to the back problems and that was all they'd really be interested [...]

Guava Buttermilk Biscuits?

Tue, 18 Oct 2011 19:12:00 +0000

To the person who landed at this blog after doing a google search for "Guava Buttermilk Biscuits:" did you find a recipe? Were they any good? Will you share the recipe with me?