“The Times. The Times!”*

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I work hard and I get everything done in a day that needs to be, but I do spend snippets of time in between checking invoices and posting bills scrolling through facebook.  Now don’t give me that scoff.  Although it can be a terrifying sociological and psychological experiment, facebook has value too.  Mostly in those who ride that invincible hydra to defend good rather than evil.  Folks and projects like these:

Tysonism – All things Neil deGrasse Tyson, and stuff Tyson fans might enjoy.

George Takei – Just all manner of fuel for a good mood and an optimistic outlook.  LGBT haters especially need to study this one.

I f’kin’ love science – Science, new science, old science, blinding science.

Word Porn – Poems, quotes, words, and all the marvelous and beautiful things you can do with them.

I could go on, but it would take a while and a lot of space.  I’ll likely include more eventually because my list of fun stuff to research, think about and write about expands due to my facebook glances.  I’m including these links because I want you to follow them if you don’t already.  Why?  Because there are a million things between them that will make you think, get you curious, and entertain and educate you for hours.  Tysonism alone could be published as an anthology of fascinating information that teaches this former educator at least a dozen new things a week.

All the corners of facebook have been riding that mean ole’ hydra for all its** worth lately.  My friends list is comprised of people from all walks of life, all religious beliefs, all political bents, and a multitudinous measure of experience.  And many of my friends go “share” crazy like I do.  Political views, memes sneering barbs concerning some frivolous outcry, some strong belief that blots all others from importance in certain minds, lists of fantastic puns, adorable critters from around the world, cats that can’t spell and dogs that can’t bark, the list goes on.  Some are entertaining and funny, informative and hopeful.  Others surprise or disturb, and still others confuse and perplex.  A lot of them leave me unmoved.  I don’t always agree with what I read or see, but these people are still my friends and family.  I’m not going to debate with them until neither side makes a lick of sense.  Because in the long run, neither side does.  What is, is.  What we perceive is flawed, skewed, and manipulated.  My perception certainly isn’t any more immune than yours.  But good luck convincing either of us.

So I take pleasure in simpler things.  In life as in facebook.  New information, interesting studies, really incredible photos and beautiful videos.  That’s my usual fare in between trading witticisms with high school classmates I wish I’d talked to more, watching my beautiful nieces and sweetheart of a  nephew grow up at alarming rates in real-time pictures, and having the opportunity to wish somebody a happy birthday every day.  It’s much more fun and less stressful to cruise the wall in this manner than getting pissed off and insulting everyone you don’t agree with.

But I’ve fallen victim to the negativity that is required to keep the milli-capitated beast  running.  And it’s true.  The nature of everything is the balance between negative and positive, and facebook is part of everything, so you can’t separate the two poles even if they never come together.  It’s so easy to be sucked in when words flow free and unfettered from a keyboard.  They’re good and necessary things, these negative facebook experiences.  Even in the throes of an enraged diatribe, that “wrong” post may teach you to see something in a different light or from a more empathetic point of view.

That’s the key word, there, y’all.  Empathy.  I don’t see much of it lately.  Even if it’s impossible to fully appreciate the condition of others, surely every human being has enough imagination to  consider the comfort and quality of anyone’s shoes.  Wouldn’t that dreadfully offensive (oh dear!) opinion you read on your wall seem somewhat fair and understandable considering this person’s background, situation, or experience?  You know.  Those things you sometimes can’t help.  Like how stubborn you are; just like your grandmother.

As is true of every foolish idealist, I’m not anywhere near as perfect as my imagination.  So I verbally balk, I verbally protest, and I sometimes share a meme that might offend (oh dear!) any number of my friends or family.  But I think we all need to be offended sometimes.  A species that doesn’t know how to take a thrashing can’t survive long enough to see who was right.  The way things are going we won’t survive, and we won’t quit bickering over bullshit long enough to inspect the evidence and make a decision.

But there are some who are willing to stand up on a chair and say, “Hold up!”  I think we ought to quiet down and pay attention to them.

Meanwhile, these are for you:

 

Also:

A post from the blog “social media rabbit” about witnessing a Neil deGrasse Tyson lecture.

 

And:

a book dies

*My title quote is from a scene in “Becoming Jane,” a movie based loosely on a novel based kind of on Jane Austen’s life.  I haven’t read it yet (it’s on the list), but as I understand it’s mostly speculation, but that makes it  no less entertaining or relevant.  It involves this characterized Jane Austen (played beautifully by Anne Hathaway) and her brazen beau, LeFroy (played brilliantly by James McAvoy) telling LeFroy’s conservative, old fashioned, and extremely dickish Uncle about meeting Ann Radcliffe, a Victorian Gothic novelist who influenced countless greats.  This pompous, old-fashioned Tory is amazed that a woman has been allowed to make money off of anything literary and managed to avoid his courtroom (or so I glean).  This quote is his reaction to learning about how much money she makes.  It’s a voice I hear in nightmares.

**Yes, that is supposed to be possessive.  I like the possessive better than the contraction here.

 

 

Varnish, Wooly Aphids, and the Mimosa Tree

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My boyfriend and I watched “The Red Violin” last night, which is one of my favorite movies.  The idea is so fascinating to me: the life of an object and all its owners.

I want to do some research on The Red Mendelssohn, which is the violin that inspired the story.  Although I understand its history is not nearly as romantic as that of “The Red Violin” in the movie, I’d still like to learn a little bit about famous instruments and how they’re identified.

What caught my curiosity during this viewing of the movie is how varnishes were made in the 1690s, then what the basic components of varnish are.  In the movie, the violin maker mixes a varnish that’s made with a certain compound which I will not give away lest I be guilty of posting spoilers.  I noticed him take two jars from his work table in addition to that compound, so I assumed varnish is made of three different ingredients.  And I was actually right!

The ingredients of (classic) varnish:

1.  A drying oil:  like linseed or walnut oil.

2.  Pure Resin:  resin is considered by some scientists to be a waste product of photosynthesis in trees although no one is exactly sure of what it is or why plants produce it.  And no, it’s not the same thing as sap.  Examples would be rosin (pine resin), amber, and balsam.

3.  A solvent:  usually it’s turpentine. Although I know what it’s used for, I didn’t know exactly what turpentine is, so I looked it up.  I discovered that turpentine is essentially distilled tree resin.

(Source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varnish)

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I was getting out of the car today and realized that some manner of insect had landed on my finger.  When I looked at it closely, I discovered it to be some kind of blue gnat.  Sadly, I wasn’t able to find any information on this blue gnat, but discovered it may have actually been a fruit fly, which can apparently be blue.

Although I couldn’t confirm what the deal was with the little blue fly, it made me think of several summers ago when I started seeing fuzzy little white gnats flying around.  Nobody believed me when I described them except those who had seen them.  Why?  Because nobody had ever seen these little critters here before.

Luckily, I did find some information on these “fairy flies.”  Come to find out, they’re not flies or gnats at all, but aphids.  They’re called wooly aphids, and they live off of tree sap.  And the white fuzz isn’t actually fuzz, but a waxy substance that the aphids produce as a sort of protection.

These are not native, but have immigrated from Japan.  They can cause some trouble for your yard from what I understand, because the larvae often congregate on tree branches and do some harm to the trees in such large groups.

I haven’t seen them more than once or twice since that one year when they were so rampant (2004 was likely the year since I saw the most message board posts about wooly aphids were posted in 2004) and I suspect it’s a good thing I haven’t.  But they sure were pretty and gave a little otherworldly charm to a humid Georgia summer.

Main Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eriosomatinae

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Between the lawyer’s office where I work and the real estate business next door, there are a few skinny trees that don’t entirely fit in with the white oaks and hickories of Northwest Georgia.  They have fern-like leaves and puffy little white flowers with pink tips.  Very pretty and sweet-smelling.

This is a mimosa tree, which is another Japanese import cultivated here as a decorative tree.  (Reckon the wooly aphids hitched a ride on a mimosa tree?)

Most of the information I found online about these trees includes some lamentation about their being invasive plants.  From the Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants (at The University of Florida) website’s information, it makes sense.  The seeds spread easily, the trees produce A LOT of seeds (it’s actually a legume), and the seeds can survive for a long time and still germinate.  This makes it easy for mimosa trees to take over where there should be native hardwoods and conifers.

But they certainly are pretty, and I suspect if you keep an eye on it, it might not take over your yard.

Source:  http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/node/29

All the Birds in the Yard

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This morning, I was sitting outside on my porch and saw a bird that my boyfriend has said is an oriole.  We’ve seen it around the neighborhood, and I never really got a good look at the critter.  But I was convinced it was a female robin.

Turns out, neither of us is right.  I got a good look at both a female and a male this morning, as they were foraging on the ground in front of my apartment.  So I looked it up.

This is an Eastern Towhee, a type of sparrow named onomatopoeically for its call.  The female was brown, which was the only discernible aesthetic difference between genders.  I found some really interesting information about this little guy at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.  They’re ground foragers and nesters, which explains why I saw them hopping along the ground.  The coolest thing I learned from this site is that the Eastern Towhee and the Spotted Towhee (a Western version) used to be categorized as the same species until a few little differences were noticed.  Apparently, they can interbreed.  The reason the Cornell site gives for this is that the North American continent used to be separated down the middle by an ice sheet, which made the two species evolve differently even though they’re basically the same critter.

Speaking of foragers:

This is Georgia’s state bird, the brown thrasher.  When I was younger, I never really looked very closely at them, thinking them dull little brown birds.  But there are a couple who hang out in the yard and I was able to notice their spotted bellies.  They love the holly bushes in front of my porch, so I now have plenty of time to watch them.  They really are very pretty little birds, and I’m perfectly happy to share my grass with them.

There’s also at least one woodpecker near my place.  I know not because I’ve seen it, but because I’ve heard it.  I actually did manage to kind of see one at a distance last summer, but I couldn’t see it well enough to pick out any characteristics.

So I’m only guessing that our particular woodpecking friend is a red-bellied woodpecker because I know it’s a Georgia species.  The other possibility is the pileated woodpecker, which is another Georgia species.  It may actually be this pileated species now that I’m thinking of it, because the one I saw was larger than the red-bellied appear to be.

But of course I have no idea.  If anyone reading this has better knowledge of such things, please don’t hesitate to comment or email!

Red-bellied fun fact:  They can stick their tongues out over two inches past their bills so they can get to the nummy insects they’re pecking for.

Pileated fun fact:  Their “excavation” holes are rectangular and can be so big that a small tree can break in half from them.

Other birds in my yard:

I don’t see red-tailed hawks ALL the time, but I see them quite often.  Although I always side with the hawk when I see it, there’s not much in the world more entertaining than watching a couple of mockingbirds dive-bomb a hawk. Mockingbirds are mean.

I occasionally see a bluebird too.  I’ve only seen one this year, but the rarity of seeing one makes it that much more special and enjoyable when you do.  These little guys are just so pretty and so blue, you can’t miss them if you look.

SO YOU HAVE TO LOOK.

What birds do y’all have in your yards?

(And seriously, y’all.  Click on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology link above.  It’s a GREAT site.)

Why Am I Doing This?

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In recent years, I’ve pined for graduate school, but my situation makes that dream rather difficult to achieve.  In other words, freakin’ money.

But I needed a way to keep my mind active and to keep me happy, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.

So I’ve been collecting books (including text books) and trying to figure out a way to go about my self-education.  Thanks to the internet, ebay, used book stores, and friends who have books they want to get rid of, it’s easier than ever to undertake one’s own education.

And soon, it’ll be even easier.  Harvard and MIT have combined forces to launch edX, an online education program that will allow would-be scholars to participate in online courses for free.  Yes, for free.  Yes, Harvard and MIT.  Granted, you can’t get a degree this way, but a degree is just a piece of paper.  And it will be fantastic preparation for grad school if you need that piece of paper.

But until then, I’ll undertake all this my own way.  And of course I’ll share it with the vast expanse of the internet.