Monday, June 11, 2007

Moving my blog

I am shutting my blog down on this site and moving it all to my new blog established on using wordpress, an extremely flexible open source blogging software. You can access my new blog here:

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Squeezing masses of caterpillars to green mush

Spiders...yes, great clumps of spiders all over the place! They appeared about two days ago: tiny spiders all clumped together in large masses, recently hatched out and huddling together before they embark upon their individual journeys out into the great world. What were the factors that caused them to all hatch out on the same day? It reminds me of when ants or termites all take it into their heads to embark on their great mating flights all at the same time. Yes, certain environmental factors: temperature, moisture, etc., etc. blah, blah...but how can these factors determine these events so precisely? I found several of these spider clumps, all apparently hatching at the same time. I suspect that they are all the offspring of the common Neoscona sp. that is so conspicuous here in the waning days of fall when the cool nights and shortened days tell these beautiful creatures that their days are numbered.

I noticed something that I have seen before in other poikilotherms. Such creatures' temperature depends upon the external environment, and on cool days they often clump together in large masses which tends to raise and maintain a higher temperature than if they went their separate ways. I used to notice this is especially in web worms.

These accursed creatures used to infest my apple trees. I noticed that on cool days these caterpillars would mass together and allow their dark bodies to soak up the heat. I knew this because I would go around and... Let me interject here that I LIKE animals. Today I won't hurt anything unless they bite or otherwise feed upon me (mosquitoes and fleas come to mind). But at this time I would become inordinately angry at these caterpillars that would devastate my apple trees if I would let them. Also I loathe pesticides. So, as I was saying, I would go around, take the large mass of squirming caterpillars in my hand and squeeze. As their little bodies burst and released the green contents, I noticed that without exception that they were extremely warm. On warm days the individual caterpillars would leave the large mass and disperse in all directions, only to return at night or when the weather became cooler.

These little spiders seem to do the same thing. Usually these little "superorganisms" don't last too long since the individual spiders usually wander off, or balloon off in a strong breeze.

Ok, I finished reading my book on HTML and am ready to begin experimenting. As usual I seem to be re-inventing the wheel. I had the bright idea of making templates of HTML code that was commonly used which would save me the effort of typing all that obscure stuff over and over as I did my pages. Then I heard about HTML editors and found that this has all been thought out before, and these nifty little progs will automatically do most of the tedious work involved in writing the code out. Ok, so I won't be inventing the wheel all over again. But now I can modify and interpret the existing code that I do find!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

I am not a groupie!

I really, really do not consider myself a groupie. I mean really! However, I have begun to realize that I do have some very intense enthusiasms about some things. I never thought of these enthusiasms as falling into the realm of "groupie," but...well, I dunno. So I looked up the definition of groupie and found the following:

1. A fan, especially a young woman, who follows a rock group around on tours.
2. An enthusiastic supporter or follower: a ballet groupie; a fashion groupie.
3. An admirer of a celebrity who attends as many of his or her public appearances as possible.
4. An enthusiastic young fan (especially a young woman who follows rock groups around).

So, since I'm not that young ::cough::, and I'm not female, and I don't follow anybody around, then I must not be a groupie. The term "enthusiastic supportor or follower," however, might apply to me in so far as my enthusiasms go.

For example, I used to have an inordinate passion for Tom Sawyer. I had read the book at least twenty times by the time I was ten, and could quote entire passages by memory. I copied my life after Tom, emulating him in every way that I could imagine. I eventually shifted my interests over to Huckleberry Finn as I got older, and even today I still re-read Huckleberry although I have largely abandoned Tom.

As I write this I am reminded more and more of various books and authors that I have developed a great liking for. In the late sixties I became interested in Tolkien's Ring Trilogy almost concurrently with Casteneda's early books on his apprenticeship with the brujo, Don Juan. In the early seventies I also developed a passion for Mary Renault's books on ancient Greece. Years ago I became enamoured with Roger Zelazny's books on Amber--a series of ten books compiled together in the Great Book of Amber (see the Amber Chronicles). More recently I began an interest in Anne Rice's vampire books. Oh and Colleen McCullough's series on ancient Rome. When I say that I became interested in these authors and their books, I mean that I read and re-read these books over and over and have for years. Yes, I have read more of the high brow classics than the average person, but with a few exceptions, I never had the slightest inclination to read them over and over. The only movie that I developed an intense liking for was Blade Runner which I still can't get enough of.

However, these aren't real people! The only real person that I have such an enthusiasm for and whom I actually might follow around (if he were still alive), and about whom I continually read biographies of is...Charles Darwin. I mean it's not that unusual to light candles before his portrait in my home is it? And incense...and just because I call him "Saint Darwin" doesn't make me a groupie does it?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Choking on Acronyms

You resonate
Like a harp
Left on
Apollo's altar,
Catching the wind
At the end of day
Giving forth music
As the westering sun
Turns the
Wine dark sea to gold.

I haven't been idle...really. Joomla has just put out a second Beta prior to coming out with a new release candidate. Supposedly the new version is much better than the old. I was faced with the prospect of using the older version or waiting until the bugs had been worked out with the 1.5 Beta 2. This new Beta version was "primarily for the developers and designers" which I decidedly am not. Also the more I read about such things, the more I realized that I really needed to know HTML, not to mention PHP, etc. Otherwise, I would just be blindly following directions with little knowledge of the subject.
So I have decided to learn HTML, CSS, PHP, and whatever; I am terrible at understanding acronyms. I have been reading a book on HTML and have just begun reading about CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), and have been surprised at how uncomplicated it looks. I hesitate to use the word simple, because it isn't, but it really does not seem that difficult to understand. Of course, I haven't gotten past the basics, so I should keep my astonishment to myself, because I'm sure I shall have to eat these words later. After I have learned my basics, perhaps then the new version of Joomla will be out, and I will be able to make a better decision as to the best way to proceed.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Joomla...I'm getting excited now...

I opened up Joomla the other free open source web maker that comes highly rated, and have been looking at the EXTREMELY well written directions! Thus far, it seems light years ahead of Drupal in the way that it is explained and the way that it operates. Everything is so logical and so incredibly well presented. I haven't finished going through the directions yet and have yet to make my trial web site, but I'm already many days ahead of my pace studying Drupal.

Drupal is "said" to be the most powerful and the most flexible, and where I am at right now I certainly can NOT see this. Joomla's user manual is so well organized and so clear in its presentation, that it seems to be inspired. The Drupal instructions seem to be so diffuse and disorganized that it makes the entire learning process a slow and laborous process--more than the content warrants.
So, I am sure that I shall be commenting further on the two programs in the future.

The weather here has been sunshine interspersed with rain--mostly rain all day today in fact. The wind is blowing the little paper-like cups that cover the growing tips of the Douglas Fir all over the place. As the twig tips grow, the little brown cups fall off. Many flowers, too numerous to mention now, but soon I would like to post some photos.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Drupal, drupal...bah...

I think that I have been wasting my time trying to figure out the basics of the web building program, Drupal. I have no idea why I attempted this time consuming project. My current website,, is run by a very easy and intuitive program. Supposedly Drupal is able to be expanded more and has an active community of people who are continually modifying and developing the program. So far though I have seen nothing impressive about it, and I think that I might try Joomla next.

After over a week of effort I have finally been able to construct a very basic site (not put onto the web yet--if ever!), but so far it seems cumbersome and non-intuitive. Now I am speaking as a complete novice as far as my knowledge about such things goes. I sometimes spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out the directions which assume a modicum of prior knowledge at least.

I feel sorta like the non-mechanical fella who is trying to put some oil in in his car. The directions say to find the oil cap, remove and add the oil. The poor guy looks all over the car trying to find the right place before finally realizing that the the directions have failed to say to open the hood! There have been a couple of incidents like this for me in following the directions.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Musings on the Human Heart

Charles Darwin was riding a train coach and noticed a lady staring impassively out the window. Suddenly with no warning her face crumpled into an intense expression of grief, perhaps at a thought of something sad in her life, he speculated. I think of this sometimes, how we pass each other on the street, eat beside other in restaurants, go about our lives, only seeing the exterior that we present to the world.
Of course our literature is full of comment about how we are all separated from each other, unable to effectively communicate the panaroma within us all. I think that our opportunities to really get to know one another are limited, and that when we are able to communicate in ways beyond the superficial, we are often surprised at what we find in each other.

We more often than not find that there is gold within us all. When we dig down and get to really get to know somebody, we often find that underneath that outside mask is a warm, loving individual, full of doubts and fears, pain and hope...we find a person with whom we can forge empathetic bonds, a person whom we can grow to like and to even love.

I read a story once about a man facing the final judgment after his life was over. He was facing a group of judges who were once men and who had lived on earth before passing over that great divide. God was present, but only as an advocate for the accused. The final judgment as to the man's fate rested solely upon the judges. All the man's past sins were brought forth before the judges. It was shown how from an early age the man had lied and cheated. He grew into a thief and a murder. He became a despicable person full of sin and all sorts of vice of the lowest sort.
God told the judges about how he knew the motivations that drove the man. He talked about how he was born a sweet baby, full of the special goodness that all children have. He talked about how he was beaten by a drunken father, how he stole food in order to feed his mother and his many brothers and sisters. He told the judges how the man's environment had twisted and changed him into what he was. He told all the man's inner feelings and how at heart he was still good and true.
The judges took all that into account in their judgement, but in the end they condemned the man to Hell. They said that all men have their own peculiar motivations--both good and bad, but not all men act upon them. This man acted upon whatever it was that formed and made him, and that is what made the difference. This man had acted, and they were judging the man for his actions not his motivations. Hitler, I assume, was once a sweet child, full of dreams and aspirations as all children are. What were the factors in his environment, what were his motivations that turned him into a monster? To human judges that is all irrelevant. History judges him on his actions.

And so that I suppose is what we do in our lives. We usually have, unlike God, no idea as to a persons motivations, and so we usually are reduced to forming judgements and opinions concerning someone on their actions. When I see a person acting offensively, I form a reaction based on his actions without regard to what made him act in such a manner. That is all I can do with somebody whom I don't know. I can make a mental note to be more understanding, but that understanding doesn't always go very far when a person acts in such a way.

But what about a person whom you DO know very well...or think you do? What happens when such a person treats you with contempt, hurts you in mean sorts of ways, and in general seems to loathe the very ground you walk upon? How should you react when this happens?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


The past two days here have been very warm actually getting up to 73 degrees yesterday. I actually heard people complaining about the heat, and of course, many people are wearing their skimpy summer clothes. People here really can't take any kind of heat whatsoever.
The vegetable seeds that I planted are germinating and poking their heads up. I can tell that I'm going to have to thin them out, which is always difficult for me because I don't like doing that. If I don't do it though then the plants will be stunted. I think that I will replant the thinned seedlings...somehow that makes me feel better about it all.

The wind picked up in the afternoon, and when I left the house the porch and driveway was covered with the tiny dried up corpses of male Douglas Fir cones...yes the ones that spewed out so much pollen a while back. I can always tell the time of year just by looking at my driveway. The plants go through their annual cycles and shed their various structures just like clockwork. There were a few yellow Madrone Leaves on the driveway also, foretelling the month of June when they shed all their old leaves.

My new project is to learn all about the program, Drupal, which I want to learn in order to be more flexible in posting my web site. I'm not quite sure about it yet, and I can tell that it will be a time consuming process.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Turdus migratorius Grease On My Windows

That’s right, the crazy robin is back again this year! Two years ago I was awakened at sunrise by a series of loud taps on my bedroom window. I dismissed the noise at first and drifted off to sleep only to be awakened again by more loud taps on the glass. I discovered upon raising my shade that it was a robin who was valiantly fighting it’s reflection on my second story bedroom window. “Why couldn’t it have picked a down stairs window,” I wondered blearily. I opened the window and shooed it away, went back to bed and once again was awakened after I had gone to sleep. After a moment’s thought, I went into the next bedroom and retrieved my daughter’s large Raggedy Anne doll and placed it on the window sill so that it stared sightlessly out with it’s large eyes. I had no more problems with the robin.

That is I had no more problems with THAT window. The robin then proceeded over the next few weeks to attack every single window on the east side of the house. It didn’t merely give the windows a few dusultory pecks. No, it acted as if its territory (my front yard) had been invaded by an army of other robins, and it spent every waking moment fiercely attacking its reflection—over and over and over. At the end of this campaign, all my windows had been smeared almost completely with what I could only call…Robin grease.

The material on the windows appeared to be some type of oily substance which was very difficult to wash off. I assume it was the oil that the bird rubbed on its feathers which it got by rubbing it’s head on it’s pygidium, sometimes indelicately called the “Pope’s Nose,” which forms that little stub which most people call a tail.

Last year I only heard a few pecks from the robin. I assumed that the original robin had possibly moved on to that worm farm in the sky and breathed a sigh of relief. But now it’s back, back with a vengeance. At the moment it is only attacking the top three panes of my large front living room window…just those three. And sure enough, I see the tell-tale smears of robin grease. I watched it today as it sat in a bush outside the window. It would sit there impassively, staring with it’s crazed beady eyes at my window for a few moments, and then with no discernable change in it’s demeanor it would launch itself like a rocket at the window.

I’m taking no chances; I’m looking high and low for the Raggedy Anne Doll.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Dr. L. Frank Brown, a Teacher for the Ages

A while back I wrote something about crossroads that we all encounter in our lives--certain events whose significance at the time we often are unawares. There are events, however, whose significance is well realized at the time. Events which shake us and leave us changed.

I had a teacher once whose words spoken with a quiet intensity changed my life forever. It was on a limestone hillside in Texas many years ago. It was spring and the Bluebonnets and Indian Blankets covered the land in the warm sunshine, and the song of Meadowlarks filled the air. Students in my Historical Geology class were every where over the hillside, but I only had eyes and ears for Dr. L. Frank Brown who was my teacher.
I had just caught a young snake whose identify I didn’t know, and I was a bit disappointed that Dr. Brown, a geologist, said he didn’t know what kind of snake it was when I asked him. The snake must have been a guide, leading me to my teacher, for Dr. Brown motioned to me and another student as he knelt down and picked up the fossil of a clam from the limestone outcrop that we stood upon.

“Look at this!” he said, holding the fossil out in his hand, his voice intense and directed right at me. “This area is filled with these broken clam shells. Look…you can see where the shell was broken after death, and you can see that the broken edges of the shell are smooth and worn. These shells of these clams were washed back and forth by wave action to form this ripple mark made of clam shells which was on the floor of a shallow Cretaceous sea. If you could find an adjoining ripple bed, you could calculate the depth of water that these shells were in by the distance between the ripple marks. These clams were probably just offshore, their shells worn smooth by the wave action. Listen! Smell! Can’t you just hear that ancient sea and smell the tidal flats these clams lived in?”

And so, in an instant was my life changed forever. That moment was inscribed on my being never to be erased. I can remember it exactly. The sun warm on my neck and bare arms, the snake wriggling in my hands totally forgotten, the buzz of grasshoppers, the smell of that good Texas country…engraved forever along with those simple intense words spoken with a fervor that spoke excitedly of momentous secrets being revealed.
I simply felt doors swing open in my mind and through them I had a far off glimpse of lands never before dreamed of. The idea that from a few simple observations the ecology of a land gone to dust over sixty five million years ago could be deduced was something absolutely inconceivable to me. And it was far more than that…it was an introduction into a way of looking at things that I had never experienced.

I finished the course with an “A,” and received in the mail a copy of Loren Eisley’s The Immense Journey with an inscription on the front page by Dr. Brown congratulating me on my achievement of making the highest grade in the class. In the future I took additional courses from Dr. L. Frank Brown—two semesters of Invertebrate Paleontology and a course in Sedimentology/Stratigraphy. All of these courses involved weekly field trips with some of them extending all week end. The Stratigraphy course also involved one on one trips with Dr. Brown who dedicated all his weekends during that semester to his students. I often wondered how his wife tolerated his being gone constantly.
In all of these courses, Dr. Brown taught with an intensity and enthusiasm which captured and riveted the attention of his students. His dedication and single-minded pursuit of teaching excellence has remained with me all my life. It was quite simply impossible to be around him without catching the fire that he gave off—a fire that made one want to know more about the secrets of the universe that he imparted with such ease and facility.
When he had to leave our school at the end of my senior year, all the students were devastated and appalled. He burned so brightly that he showed most of the other faculty in the Baylor Geology department to be dim and dusty cinders. He had to move on. This was my first glimpse of what envy on such a level could do to the best and brightest.

I never saw Dr. Brown again. However, because of his incredible influence I went on to finish my Bachelors, then my Masters and eventually my Doctorate. I have taught many hundreds of students since those days, and every day that I do so, I think of Dr. Brown and wonder just how he would explain a particularly difficult concept, or how he would try and enthuse students in the subject that he loved so much. What a role model he was!
And just before he left I had intended to write him and tell him how much he had influenced and changed my life, but…I never did, he left before I wrote the letter. And all these years I have regretted not writing that letter…until now. I recently to my astonishment found him online and wrote him at his email address repeating much of what I have just written. I can't begin to say how pleased I am to tell him how much he changed my life.
I don't think it would be an invasion of his privacy to provide this link to his profile. You can go here and see how he has progressed since he left the narrow strictures of Baylor University.