30 October 2019


Four or five days to rest up and spend time with family.

29 October 2019

Seeking advice re dahlias

I am new to the world of dahlias.  I've been told it should be "in my blood" because my Norwegian grandfather used to dig up his dahlia tubers to store in the root cellar in the winter (probably buried in sawdust or sand) along with carrots and potatoes.

I grew up living not far from the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, which has a section devoted to dahlias (photos above and below).
Each year the Dahlia Society of Minnesota plants a new selection of hybrid dahlias (Dahlia var.) which are then monitored by the Society for growth, habit, disease, flower quality and other guidelines and makes recommendations to The American Dahlia Society. Therefore you will only find numbers and letters on the labels - not names. 
The blossoms are sometimes spectacular:

But the naturalist in me noted that the bees prefer the more basic (?more primitive) flowers -

- rather than the complex ones that the hybridizers prefer.   I've noticed that with other types of garden flowers - convoluted ones probably have less accessible nectar and pollen.

The other thing I noticed about the arboretum dahlias was the impressively robust stems (tip of my trekking pole for size comparison in the photo above).   Clearly these particular specimens are several years old and have had their tubers protected through multiple Minnesota winters.

This year I decided to add dahlias to our garden.  This past spring at our local Farm & Fleet I purchased a couple dahlia tubers.  I didn't think to take any "before" photos, but they were basically small scrawny shriveled things that were totally unimpressive.  I tilled the top couple inches of an unused portion of the garden and stuck them in.  By midsummer I had to add some vertical supports because they were already 3 feet high.  By the end of the summer they were about 5' tall, with fist-sized attractive blossoms.

After the first frost but before the hard freezes to come, it was time this past week to dig up the tubers.  I wound up having to dig a rather deep trench to be able to get under them (and note the plant stems are still rather gracile compared to the old-timers at the arboretum) -

The digging entailed a bit of work, because the plants had sent roots below the topsoil into the clay underneath, and I didn't want to fragment the cluster of tubers while getting them out.

I checked out a couple library books for advice on how to overwinter the specimens.  The first step seems to be to "hang them up to dry", so I've got them sitting in an elevated wire basket on the wall of the garage -

After they dry out a bit I'll clean them up by brushing the dirt off, but won't wash them because moisture increases the risk of mold.  I plan to wrap them in newspaper and keep them in the unheated garage, which in midwinter will get below the recommended 40-50 degree optimal storage temp, but should protect them from the subzero temps that will occur outside.

When spring arrives I apparently will have the choice of subdividing those clusters or replanting them as they are.  I'll probably choose the latter.

I'm posting this partly for family but also to ask readers here for any advice you may have to offer on the management of dahlias.  The books and website I've read offer some variations on how to store and how to replant the tubers; I'd love to hear comments from any readers who have actual hands-on practical experience with these plants.

RelatedFirst prize at Corso Zundert, 2012.

Update:  After the tubers sat on that rack in the garage for a week, the soil around them dried out enough that I was able to brush it off without damaging the tubers themselves:

Now I need to store them in some material that will keep them not-wet, but also not dried-out by the winter air.  Lacking sawdust and sand, my choices are probably clean cat litter, potting mix, or straw.  I'm concerned the cat litter might have desiccant properties.

Update summer 2020:

Mixed success.  Some nice blooms starting to appear -
- but the local rabbits have found the plants quite tasty.  I've lost many of them, despite having fenced in the main dahlia patch (the baby rabbits went under the wire).

First snow of the year

Wet snow falling on a windless night turned the pagoda dogwood, the elm, the crabapple, and the Monarda into what would be devilishly difficult jigsaw-puzzle images.

It's distinctly unusual for Madison to experience measureable snow in October (this was the heaviest October snowfall in a decade).  More is expected on the 31st, so I suspect we will have lots of Halloween treats left over.


Snowiest Halloween in the history of Madison, Wisconsin.   Didn't melt until November 4.

9-year-old boy in Amsterdam during the hunger winter of 1944-5

The Dutch famine of 1944–45, known in the Netherlands as the Hongerwinter (literal translation: hunger winter), was a famine that took place in the German-occupied Netherlands, especially in the densely populated western provinces north of the great rivers, during the winter of 1944–45, near the end of World War II.

A German blockade cut off food and fuel shipments from farm towns. Some 4.5 million were affected and survived thanks to soup kitchens. Loe de Jong (1914–2005), author of The Kingdom of the Netherlands During World War II, estimated at least 22,000 deaths occurred due to the famine. Another author estimated 18,000 deaths from the famine. Most of the victims were reportedly elderly men.

The famine was alleviated by the liberation of the provinces by the Allies in May 1945. Prior to that, bread baked from flour shipped in from Sweden, and the airlift of food by the Royal Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the United States Army Air Forces – under an agreement with the Germans that if the Germans did not shoot at the mercy flights, the Allies would not bomb the German positions – helped to mitigate the famine. These were Operations Manna and Chowhound. Operation Faust also trucked in food to the province.
More at the link, including this interesting bit:
The discovery of the cause of coeliac disease may also be partly attributed to the Dutch famine. With wheat in very short supply there was an improvement at a children's ward of coeliac patients. Stories tell of the first precious supplies of bread being given specifically to the (no longer) sick children, prompting an immediate relapse. Thus in the 1940s the Dutch paediatrician Dr. Willem Dicke was able to corroborate his previously researched hypothesis that wheat intake was aggravating coeliac disease. Later Dicke went on to prove his theory. 

Air raid shelter for the King's Guards

Looks a bit like a dalekVia.

Vintage footage from the London Underground

This brings back fond memories for me from a 6-month sabbatical there decades ago.  Source, via.

Cabbie takes passengers for a ride

Distance from restaurant to hotel was seven blocks.

28 October 2019

Harvest time

My weekly drive to the local Target takes me past cornfields and soybean fields.  This time of year I'm always fascinated to see how the harvest is done, with equipment that not only reaps the beans and corn, but mulches the stubble and spreads it back on the field.  In my grandfather's time the broken cornstalks would have been left standing through the winter, then plowed under during the spring cultivation.  Not much cover left nowadays for pheasants and other wildlife.

One of the Photos of the Week in the recent Atlantic was this image taken in a Chinese sorghum field:

The same essential process - "harvesters, stubble choppers, and soil preparation machines" - deployed on an industrial scale.

Drawing dotted lines

A gif of this video was posted at Reddit; I was startled to note numerous comments indicating that people didn't understand that the split nib was designed to hold ink (they thought it was a clamp).  I still have two drafting kits that my father owned, with precision instruments embedded in velvet-lined custom cases.  I try to find uses for them when I can, because they are a joy to use.

But for drawing dotted lines on a chalkboard, there is a different technique -

Cordyceps on a tarantula

I've previously posted a David Attenborogh-narrated video of cordyceps in ant brains and emerging from a leaf-roller.  Now here it is affecting a tarantula, via BoingBoing.

Reposted from 2012 to note that the "gold rush" for cordyceps in Tibet is fading.  The Economist reported on the phenomenon last year:
Children are at the front line of the armies of Tibetans (almost every able-bodied rural resident in Yushu) who will spend a frenzied month scouring the hills for what they call yartsa gunbu. In Chinese its name is dongchong xiacao, literally “winter-insect-summer-grass”, for that is what it resembles...

This is Tibet’s annual gold rush. Yartsa gunbu is so highly valued as a medicine that it often sells for more than its  weight in the metal. It has many purported benefits, ranging from preventing cancer to curing back pain. But what makes it so prized is its supposed ability to improve sex lives. It is often described as a “Himalayan Viagra”, good for treating erectile dysfunction and (in women as well) low libido...

The children’s good eyesight and short stature make them the best spotters of the fungus among blades of grass and stalks of ground-hugging cinquefoil shrubs that soon, as the weather warms, will dot the slopes with bright yellow flowers. It is not a job for those unused to the plateau’s thin air. Caterpillar fungus, as yartsa gunbu is usually called in English, is generally found at altitudes above 4,000 metres (13,100 feet). That is higher than Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) which borders on Yushu and occupies about half of the plateau...

Digging them up requires painstaking effort. A small pick is used, with great care taken not to break the sprout from the caterpillar’s body. There is little demand for separated pieces; yartsa gunbu is dried and consumed whole. Aficionados gauge the quality of a caterpillar fungus based partly on the relative lengths of body and sprout—impossible if there is no way of being sure whether they were once attached...

[d]espite much effort, no one has yet succeeded in producing commercially viable quantities of good-quality yartsa gunbu in artificial conditions. This means colossal dividends for Tibetans. In the TAR the retail value of the more than 50 tonnes of yartsa gunbu harvested there in 2013 was around 7.5 billion yuan ($1.2 billion), equivalent to nearly half its earnings from tourism..

To boost demand for the fungus, some merchants adulterate products made of it with Viagra...
Much more information at the long read at The Economist, including discussion of the social and environmental impacts.

This year there is evidence that the mania is subsiding:
The trouble is, it’s getting harder and harder to hunt down the caterpillar fungus, which can’t grow fast enough to keep up with Chinese appetites. Tibetan nomads told Frayer that the yield from this year’s harvest was the lowest they’d ever seen...

Meanwhile, prices for the fungus are falling, and harvesters fear China’s crackdown on corruption could hurt demand for the product as a high-value gift for officials. A recent health warning about arsenic levels in caterpillar fungus products is a further headache for cordyceps hunters.

“The locals know it’s a false economy, or at least temporary in many ways — one Tibetan man referred to the fungus as “fool’s gold” and he worried that one day they will be worthless,” Frayer said.
Photo credit Kevin Frayer (more images at the link) 

  Reposted from 2016 to add this new photo of an infected tarantula corpse (via):

24 October 2019

Rooster with an incredible tail

Created by humans with selective breeding.
The Onagadori (Japanese: 尾長鶏, "long-tailed chicken") is a historic Japanese breed of chicken, characterised by an exceptionally long tail. It was bred in the seventeenth century in Kōchi Prefecture, on Shikoku island in southern Japan, and was designated a Japanese National Natural Treasure in 1952. It is one of the ancestors of the German Phoenix breed.

The principal characteristic of the Onagadori is its exceptionally long tail, which exceeds 1.5 metres, and has been known to reach 12 m. The tail consists of about 16–18 feathers, which under the right conditions never moult, and grow rapidly, gaining some 0.7–1.3 m per year.

Just when you think you know all the mammals...

... someone posts a photo of a yapok (water opossum).
Being a marsupial and at the same time an aquatic animal, the water opossum has evolved a way to protect its young while swimming. A strong ring of muscle makes the pouch (which opens to the rear) watertight, so the young remain dry, even when the mother is totally immersed in water. The male also has a pouch (although not as watertight as the female's), where he places his genitalia before swimming. This is thought to prevent them from becoming tangled in aquatic vegetation and is probably helpful in streamlining the animal as well.

Assigned seating for school lunch

An NPR article looks at student life at the University School of Milwaukee, where students sit in assigned seats while having lunch:
The students are randomly assigned to eight-person circular tables, which rotate depending on that day's schedule. Each has a mix of kids from different grades, with one teacher whose job is to get the table talking. Kylie says it doesn't always go as planned.

"Sometimes it gets super awkward at tables," she explained. "Like the conversation goes, 'OK, what did you just come out of?' 'Math.' 'OK.' And that was really kind of where it ends."

But administrators say a little awkwardness is worth the trouble. Dean of Students Charlie Housiaux says forcing students to get out of their social comfort zones builds relationships that improve the school culture...

"A meal is the venue over which adults get to know one another and develop their social skills. But we treat that utterly cavalierly in most schools," Rice said. "I would urge schools to investigate what's going on in your own lunchroom... On top of that, we see students aren't rushing through the lunch line, they're not having anxiety about who they're going to sit with."..

"The lunch system is more kind of a relief from [the cliques,]" Burger said. "It doesn't reduce it in any way, from my experience. But it definitely, like, gives you a break."

Burger said there are times she would rather sit with her friends. But she thinks it's a good thing that at this school, no one sits alone. 
When I went to school in the 1960s, this was how our lunches were conducted - about seven students at a table with a teacher.  I don't remember whether grades were mixed, or how often the seating assignments were rotated, but it did serve a positive function in developing social skills.

Cool use of a heat-sensing drone

TBH, my first thought on watching this was that this would be an easy way to get the leaves in my yard into the woods where they belong.

Via Neatorama.

TYWKIWDBI supports Wikipedia

And encourages readers to do the same.


23 October 2019

Think about this for a moment...

This was a winning entry in the 2018 Small World in Motion microvideography competition sponsored by Nikon.  (Click the fullscreen icon in the lower right corner for enhanced viewing)

The subject matter is a 40-second timelapse of 16 hours of development of the nervous system in a zebrafish embryo.  Watch with awe the budding, branching, and interconnecting of the nerve tissue, and realize that an equivalent process occurred in you and your children.  Think then in terms of "what could go wrong," and if nothing went wrong, be thankful for your health and be amazed at the incomprehensible complexity of your body.

"Needle's Eye"

Interesting road site in New Mexico, destroyed years later when the road was widened.  Additional photos at Just A Car Guy.

Useful instructional video on burritos and tortillas

And a good discussion of the video at the Videos subreddit.   You learn something every day.

White bellbird

In the news recently for having the world's loudest birdcall.  Of more interest to me because of its unusual appearance...
Besides the screams, the male bellbirds display another weird trait the researchers suggest they evolved as a lure for females: long dangly nose ornaments called wattles, which make the males appear to be perpetually finishing up a lizard meal.
 More about wattles.

Chain reaction video

Interesting because it's created using things found around the house.

20 October 2019

Divertimento #169

6 weeks since the last gif and video-fest.  Here's what I've found since then...

Wait for the very end on this one
Yet another example of a gas station credit-card skimmer
Mother and child narrowly escape death
Hotel laundry
Another danger of plastic
Where 26-year-olds live (fifty years of data)
Scaling an "impenetrable" border wall

Nature and Science
Earthquake in a liquor store
A cluster of Monarch butterflies
"Glass" amphipod
Cone jellyfish eats another cone jellyfish
Pearls being harvested

Woman rescues a dog
Dog plays Jenga 
How to pick up a snapping turtle
Dog takes in a chicken
The size of a wolf 

For the "idiots in cars" category (not a fatal crash)
Bridge collapse
Instructional video.  First you coat a balloon with chocolate...
Keep your seat belt fastened
Kids like this are why you pay so much for auto insurance
Getting rid of an ant or wasp nest in your yard

A dominoes variant
Excellent Halloween costume
The latest creation by Boston Dynamics
Industrial label-maker
Drone light show
"Alien abduction" Halloween costume
"Book fountain" would be good in front of a library
Rapid access tool
Every home needs a stump grinder
I want to learn how to do this
Dashcam footage is excellent for encouraging seat belt usage
Stonecutter never misses
Flexible armor 
Machine harvests carrots 

Sports and Athleticism
Children's relay race
This is apparently called an "elbow strike"
Catch a bass with your thumb

Puzzle box
Clever lip-sync of Bo Rhap (best comment: "this is why girls take so long to get ready"
Who will catch the bride's bouquet?
Sexuality education video
Babies don't like to have grass touch their feet
Fire fighters in the Amazon celebrate
Oktoberfest ride 
Prank to pull on a small child (wooden spoon would be better than a knife)
Children surprise a classmate

The embedded images come from a gallery at Amusing Planet illustrating the phenomenon of vivipary.
Fruits contain a hormone that prevents seeds from germinating. Once the fruit dies or the seeds are removed, the seeds are no longer exposed to these chemicals and can germinate freely. These hormones are necessary to allow the fruit to ripen and fall to the ground where conditions are more favorable for the young plant to survive. But sometimes that hormone runs out, and the seed starts germinating.

Interesting sounds from a giant gong

Horseshoe crab Halloween costume


This letter was never sent

Received in an email.  I don't know the source and couldn't locate such with Google.  Backstory.

One to make you happy, one to make you mad

Her Reaction At The End (: from r/aww
Plastic rubbish being dumped into the Amazon river from r/videos
Another video (same location).  I note there is a cement block ramp at the dump site, so this is being done with some local governmental approval.

18 October 2019

Concern about climate change expressed thirty years ago

Thirty years ago.

Found this comment at the YouTube link: "Unlike many conservatives, she has her background in science (chemistry at Oxford), not business or the law. She understands that science is not a partisan issue. Facts are not a matter of political opinion."

Relevant articles in Scientific American and in The Ecologist,

Not narrated by David Attenborough

Listen for one minute and you'll hear what I mean.  Via my old friends at Neatorama.

17 October 2019

The Case of the Missing Sausage

Discussed at the Funny subreddit.

Library "late fees" are now relics of the past

I encountered a discussion of this topic in CityLab:
Chicago libraries will no longer collect late fees starting this month, becoming the largest public library system in the U.S. to do away with overdue fines. The city is also erasing all currently outstanding fees, which is good news to the more than 343,000 cardholders whose borrowing privileges have been revoked for accruing at least $10 in unpaid fines.

Chicago is one of a growing number of cities trying to make access to libraries more equitable. Its own data revealed that one in three cardholders in the public library’s south district, where many of the communities are of color and living in poverty, cannot check out books. That’s compared to one in six people in the wealthier north district. It’s likely that many who have unpaid fines fail to pay them because they don’t have the disposable income to do so...

“Overdue fines are not distinguishing between people who are responsible and who are not,” says Rogers. “They're distinguishing between people who can and cannot use money to overcome a common oversight.”..

He adds that research going as far back as the 1970s shows fears that eliminating fines will deteriorate people’s sense of civic responsibility to return books on time are unfounded....

For many libraries, fines make up just a small share of their operating budget. The Chicago Sun Times reports the Chicago Public Library system collects $875,000 annually in fines, which is not an insignificant amount. But the city says late fines constitute less than 1 percent of the library’s total budget.
The Madison, Wisconsin library system has been fine-free for quite a while now [photo].   Over the years TYWKIWDBI has accrued an uncommon number of librarians and library staff as readers; I'd be pleased to hear your comments and experiences on the subject.

TYWKIWDBI continues to support The Guardian

Try it.

Water gushing from a tree

Congratulations to the people of Montenegro for not creating a "legend" to explain the phenomenon.
"There is no legend.  We are not people who are inclined to invent something.  This is purely a natural thing." 
Our world would be a better place if more people accepted and understood basic scientific principles.

The big business of school graduation ceremonies

The red arrow shows the place to order just the cap, gown, and tassel.

Image amended from the original.



Photo cropped for emphasis from the one at the via.

USDA will now allow slaughterhouses to self-police

What could go wrong?
A new rule, finalized today, would reduce the number of government food safety inspectors in pork plants by 40 percent and remove most of the remaining inspectors from production lines. In their place, a smaller number of company employees — who are not required to receive any training — would conduct the “sorting” tasks that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) previously referred to as “inspection.” The rule would also allow companies to design their own microbiological testing programs to measure food safety rather than requiring companies to meet the same standard.

Equally alarming, the new rule would remove all line speed limits in the plants, allowing companies to speed up their lines with abandon. With fewer government inspectors on the slaughter lines, there would be fewer trained workers watching out for consumer safety. Faster line speeds would make it harder for the limited number of remaining meat inspectors and plant workers to do their jobs...

It’s not only consumers of meat who would pay a price for this misguided and dangerous new rule. There are more than 90,000 pork slaughterhouse workers whose health and limbs are already at risk under the current line speed limit of 1,106 hogs per hour. Pork slaughterhouse workers will tell you that they can barely keep up with current line speeds. They work in noisy, slippery workplaces with large knives, hooks and bandsaws, making tens of thousands of forceful repetitive motions on each and every shift to cut and break down the hogs.

The USDA is ignoring three decades of studies indicating that faster line speeds and the forceful nature of the work in meatpacking plants are the root causes of a staggeringly high rate of work-related injuries and illnesses.
Continued at The Hill.

Snow ravioli

Or a raviolo, to be more precise.  Image cropped for emphasis from the original.

Army ant bivouac

"At dusk, Kronauer tracked the colony of nomadic army ants as it moved, travelling up to a quarter of a mile through the rainforest near La Selva biological station, in north-eastern Costa Rica. The ants would use their bodies to build a new daytime nest to house the queen and larvae. They would form a scaffold of vertical chains by interlocking claws on their feet and then create a network of chambers and tunnels into which the larvae and queen would be moved from the last bivouac."
Photo credit: Daniel Kronauer, from the 2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year winners.
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