Monday, July 31, 2017

Operating on zeros

A million years ago I had a professor named Al Andry.  I encountered him in a mid-Western airport one Friday as I was returning from a job interview and he was jetting off to a conference somewhere.

We chatted socially for a little while even though I was a student and he was a prof.

He shared his theory of testing.  For one thing, he thought that the test lacked resolution if everybody passed, that is, if all the students scored between 70% and 100%.  In his mind, he had written a great test if some students scored 5% and others scored 95%.  That would make him an unpopular professor today.

His tests always had four problems.  Each problem was worth 25%. Two were exactly like the homework.  Those problems were floaters drifting down the center of the strike zone.  You were virtually guaranteed  at least 50% on his tests if you simply did all of the assigned homework and understood it.

One question was "fringes of knowledge".  You had to be diligent to get any traction on the third problem.

The final kind of question was sneaky.  Diligence often worked against you on this kind of problem.  You needed perspective to make headway on the fourth kind of problem.

One of Professor Andry's sneaky questions involved multiplying three, massive arrays.  It may have been finding the kinetic energy of system when the velocities were expressed as three-component vectors.  The formula for something like that would be something like 0.5w^2(U^t)[M](U) where U (the displacement) was a 7X3 array and the M was a 7X7 matrix.  It works out to something like 170 separate multiplication operations and a bunch more addition.  At any rate, the number of computations was staggering for a college kid with a TI-30 and fifteen minutes left on the clock.

Andry was a bit disgusted when he handed back the tests.

The key, he said, was to LOOK at the problem.  Look at the mass matrix.  Look at the U matrix.  There were lots, and lots of zeros.  In fact, if you thought to look for a pattern you would quickly see that there was only one path where the "answer" did not get cock-blocked by a zero somewhere. 

And, if I remember correctly, the answer was 1.0*1.0*1.0, an answer easily found by inspection.

I don't know if he intended for this to be a life lesson although it turned out to be good advice.  Don't keep pushing against stones that won't move.  Don't waste love on people who it bounces off of.  Don't put emotion into events you cannot influence or prepare for. Don't invest in stale cigars.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Run #8: 2.5 miles

A day late and a half mile short of goal.

My goal was to run 3.0 miles on Saturday but I ran that on Thursday so I am going to take a mulligan on that.

The good news is that it is a half mile more than I had been running most of last week and I RAN up the hills instead of using them for my "walking break".  In all, it was a good jump in difficulty.

Gratuitous pictures

Mrs ERJ shops for a necktie.  She heard that "cougars" had been sighted in Abie's Bar.
A moth

Problems are opportunities wearing work clothes

The recent winds blew down one of the Box Elders that was upwind of my "serious" orchard.

The serious orchard is on a knoll that sticks up 30 feet above the ambient.  This photo was taken with magnification.  The tree line is more than a half mile from the orchard.  This photo was taken looking west-southwest.  That is the direction of our prevailing wind.

Knolls are great for growing fruit primarily because they are less prone to frost than low pockets.  Cold air is dense and slides off knolls and slopes while puddling up in low pockets.

The downside of knolls is wind.  Even species and varieties that are generally considered hardy can take a pounding during winter winds.  Another issue is that graft unions can break.  A third issue is that a strong wind can discourage pollinators even if the day is warm and sunny.

The answer, of course is to plant a windbreak.  It does not need to be very tall as my trees top out at about 12' in height.
If you are counting on your windbreak to jump-start your bee population then be sure to plant the pollen/nectar plants on the lee-ward side of the windbreak.

I really don't have a lot of room to shoe-horn in a multi-row windbreak and I want to get extra utility out of the windbreak.  For instance, it would be grand if there were species that bloomed through-out April to boot up the native pollinator populations before the apples bloomed in early May.  I also value plants that have persistent fruit or produce hard mast.
This is a work in progress.  A few of these are already growing where the windbreak needs to be:  Autumn Olive and Gray Dogwood.  I have others growing in my little nursery: Hazelnut, Pussy Willow, Chinese Chestnuts.  Still others are on the property and I can liberate suckers and move them: Witch-Hazel, Elderberries, Lilacs, Prickly Ash.
This is a list of, mostly, native shrubs that are about the right height, have some shade tolerance and might have enough stem density to actually break the wind.  Yellow toned shading indicates that some species bloom in the month before the apples pollinate.  Orange toned shading indicates mast production and/or persistent fruit.
Photo taken July 28.  Apple cultivar is Novaspy.  Lesions are Cedar-Apple rust.
And here is Typhoid Mary (a Red Cedar), just across the fence on the neighbor's property...immediately upwind of my orchard.
You won't see Red Cedar/Juniper on this list because it is the alternate host for Cedar-Apple rust.  Unfortunately, Red Cedar keeps reseeding and I need to sweet-talk my neighbors into letting me kill them off.

You also won't see sumac.   I like sumac.  It grows well and produces fruit that sustains birds on their spring, northbound migration.  The problem with sumac is that it is too coarse.  The stems are large and sparse.  You can look right through a sumac thicket.  It will not provide much resistance to the wind.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Pray's Sweet Corn is in

The Prays are a local family who specialize in growing super-sweet sweet corn.

While the name sounds redundant, it is not.

Normal sweet corn has one gene that cripples the individual kernel's ability to change sugar to starch.  Sugar is soluble and is how the plant ships carbs to the kernel.  In the usual scheme of things, the seed converts the sugar (which is soluble) to starch (which is not) so the plant can roll the sugar molecules downhill, osmotically speaking.

Super-sweet sweet corn has multiple genes that inhibit and enhance the sugar concentration and the mouth feel of the kernels.

Super-sweet sweet corn is a bear to grow.  The seeds are shriveled and have almost no get-up-and-grow.  That means that the seed is extremely finicky regarding planting depth and soil temperature at the depth they were planted.  The soil must be moist but not muddy.  The seed must be pressed into the soil crumbles just-so.  Weed control is critical because the young seedlings are puny, spindly little things.

Let's face it.  Almost anybody can grow Iochief (1950s technology) but relatively few can reliably grow Bodacious (2010 technology).

Most of the folks around here gave up.  They let the Pray family, who obviously figured it out, grow the sweet corn.

Please excuse me while I scratch an itch that has been waiting eleven months.

Corn tassels

The corn is tasseling out and I am struck by the difference in size between "Heirloom" varieties and modern hybrids.
These tassels have enough pollen to attract pollinators and wasps.
This is not really an heirloom variety but a combination of two, very old varieties: Santo Domingo Blue and Silver Mine.

This is the tassel of a modern hybrid.  One is Dolly Parton, the other is Kate Moss.

Here they are shown side-by-side.  My rough estimate is that the tassel from the older style corn is 20-to-50 times more massive than the modern tassel.

But why?
Source of image.
The photo shown above was taken in 1944 and shows traditional Pueblo dryland farming; melons in the foreground and maize (corn) in the background.  Estimating from the size of the person in the picture, they both appear to be planted on 8' centers in both directions.  That is approximately 700 hills to the acre.

Corn is primarily wind pollinated.  8' is a long way to throw pollen, consequently each plant must produce prodigious amounts.

A secondary factor is that traditional varieties are not so much "varieties" in the modern sense but land-races or swarms-of-similar-looking-individuals.  The inherent variability provided adaptability to large year-to-year changes in the weather.  This was survival corn, not win-a-blue-ribbon corn at the county fair corn.  The genetic variability also meant that tassels were emerging and shedding at different times, further diluting the pollen density.

Modern hybrids, on the other hand, are planted much closer together.  A farmer targeting 300 bushels per acre will likely plant more than 35,000 seeds per acre.  That is fifty times what the traditional Pueblo farmer will have in his field.  (Note:  The traditional farmer plants more than one seed per hill  but will thin to 1-to-3 plants after they emerge.)

Large tassels are not necessary because there are far more tassels, closer than the traditional dryland field.  And the modern corn tassels and sheds all at the same time.

Furthermore, the sunlight intercepted by the tassel is sunlight that is not available for photosynthesis.  I would not be surprised if corn breeders figure out how to "eject" the tassel after it has done its job so it cannot shade corn leaves.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Birds and the Bees

Ducks, pheasant and turkeys nest on the ground.

Robins prefer fruit trees.

Orioles usually nest in elm trees.

Honeybees are usually found in old Sugar Maples.

Yellowjackets prefer nesting in dry sandy ground or old tires.

Wasps are found beneath eves and below the front seat of old, aluminum boats.

Any questions son?

Note:  I just got whacked by a couple of wasps that were not where they were supposed to be.

Fake News Friday

Unsubstantiated reports from Eaton Rapids, Michigan indicate that an amateur scientist found a way to exceed the speed of light.

Smedley Dorfenknocker, amateur ornithologist was experimenting with various concoctions for his hummingbird feeders.  In his own words, "I stumbled onto something special just the other day.  It was 10 Hour Energy Drink with a dash of Habanero, a sprinkle of boron and a freckle of thorium."

When asked how he knew that the hummingbird had exceeded the speed of light he responded, "The birds kept getting faster and faster.  Then, one day there was a violet colored flash and a boom.  Looking around I noticed that all of the clocks had been set back exactly one hour.  Furthermore, every X-Ray plate in my house had been fully exposed.  Close examination of the ground beneath the feeder showed an accretion of carbonaceous materials consistent with the fusion of Boron nuclei."

Remember, you read it first on ERJ.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Run #7: 3.0 miles

I cheated.  I ran in town.  There was about 10 feet of vertical over the three miles.  The pavement was smooth asphalt.  My round-the-block run has about 100 feet of vertical.

Belladonna rode her bike while I ran.  Her job was to video the event in case I had a coronary.  We were going slowly enough that we could chit-chat.

I am celebrating with a beer.

Patterning Belladonna's new shotgun

If you have been following this blog for a while you know that I recently bought Belladonna a new shotgun.

It is a single-shot, 16 gauge shotgun with a 30" barrel.  The choke is not specified anywhere on the barrel.

Wirecutter, I know what you are thinking.  But I assure you that I emptied the box first.
Find a box.  Choose something to use as a target.  I used a standard 9" diameter paper plate.

Step off the distance you are most likely to shoot at.  In my case I stepped off 25 yards.  Make sure that have nothing important downrange and that discharging firearms is legal at your location.

Load the gun with the load of interest.  So far the only ammo I have on hand are Federal, one ounce of #6 shot.  For the record that should be about 225 pellets.

Aim or point the gun in your usual manner.  In my case it was to lay the top of the front bead at the bottom of the paper plate.

Shoot the gun.

I counted 129 holes in the plate which is over 55%.

Counting holes is tedious.  I chose to circle groups of ten holes.

The pattern has fantastic density across the center of the pattern.

Laying the bead at the bottom of the plate worked well.  Shotguns are pointed more than aimed.  That means the shooter can fully see the target over the top of the front sight/bead.  Manufactures tune the guns/stocks so that is where the gun will hit for the average shooter with the average load.  In this case it worked like a champ.

The pattern thins out near the top of the plate (groups 10, 20, 30).  A lucky red squirrel or starling might get away.

Changing from one ounce of #6 shot to 7/8ths ounce of #4 shot will halve the number of pellets in the load.  That would drop the number of hits to about 65.

Kinds of shooting
My other shotgun(s) have very open chokes.

My usual hunting is to plod through cover.  If/when I see game it has always been rabbits.  20 yards is a very long shot for this kind of hunting.  Furthermore, the game is moving and changing direction.

The choke on this gun is suitable for knocking squirrels out of fifty foot trees.  Squirrels tend to flatten themselves against high limbs. When hunting for squirrels you are not looking for squirrels.  The squirrels will "clock" around the limb or trunk of the tree to keep the limb/tree between you and them.  You are looking for a bit of squirrel tail or a couple of ears and an eye.

Consequently, when you bring your gun up to fire at game in a tree, you don't have a target the size of a squirrel (or raccoon or possum if those are your quarry), you have a target the size of a squirrel's head (or raccoon's head or possum's head).

And while fifty feet of vertical is not 25 yards, it is almost exactly that if you factor in 50 feet of horizontal.

It is my judgement that Belladonna's new shotgun is going to be an death-ray in the squirrel woods.  So far it has already collected a raccoon and a woodchuck.  The only trick will be to get her to "aim" four inches below the squirrel's head.

A gun for non-hunters
Another market for this gun is for non-hunters.

While that may sound like a very small market but it was, in fact, quite large.

Consider the traditional farmyard with a chicken coop.  No matter how tight the building/run was when first built, time, rot and decay make the fortress less secure.  In time, every coon, possum and fox sees your egg-making-machines as God's drive-through window.

This kind of gun, a single-shot shotgun of modest gauge, is just the tool for knocking those thieving varmints out of the mulberry tree over the chicken run.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

How to write a bad book review

From Alinsky's Rules for Radicals 
Ridicule is man's most potent weapon
It is my intention to add to this tutorial as I gain more insight.

First, explain that you did not actually buy this book to excuse yourself from a "bad decision":
This book, A Thousand Pearls of Light by Willy Pete was given to me by my favorite  cousin, Nymphaea.
Then express the pain this book caused you while simultaneously signaling how sensitive you are:
It took me three pages to realize how terrible this book was.  I shrieked.  I tore the clothing from my body.  I had no relief until I poured bleach into my eyes.
Explain how you were tricked into reading it because you were sure it was something else:
My cousin Nymphaea is a graduate student at NSCC in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and I assumed that this book was either about the reproductive requirements of Obliquaria reflexa (Threehorn Wartyback clam) or a juicier, indie version of 50 Shades of Gray.
It was neither.
Having thoroughly established your impeccable credentials, launch into ad hominem attacks:
Mr Pete is undoubtedly one of those Neanderthals who longs for the return of the KKK, Jim Crow laws, Trial by Ordeal and the rollback of Women's Suffrage.  His rapid segue into the use of force to resolve differences of opinion proves that he is anti-diversity, an Islamophobe, drinks tap-water and kicks puppies.
It causes me mortal anguish to realize that there are still people in the world who do not understand that we cannot have peace until we all just slow down and take the time to understand each other's viewpoint.  Clearly, as a white cis-male, Mr Pete is one of those privileged few who can afford to indulge in those kinds of destructive military fantasies.  I have no doubt that he drives a Hummer or a diesel truck and does not believe in manmade global warming.
Nothing proves how angry you are by misspelling a few words:
I was so distressed that I thru this book at the recycling bin.  My frustration was conpounded when  it knocked over the chamomile tea that my mother was making for me to take with my meds.  I totallly blame Mr Pete for distresssing my momma.
Finally, end by showing that you bear no personal animus and that you hove to the high road for the entire review:
May he rot in hell.
Perhaps we can use this template to create some one star reviews that will get voted to the top of the "helpful" pile.

For Sale, Part III




#25.  I could not stop because this was in a construction zone.  This shot was through the windshield of the truck.

#26, also through the windshield as driving.

#28.  A 5.0 liter convertible.  It won't make you 17 again but it would be fun.

A sticker seen in a back window.  Just for fun.

For Sale, Part II







#19 and #20

He also has another one in back of the barn.
I am not going to count this one.  He does not have the For Sale sign in it, yet.


Point of clarification:  The camper is for sale, not Lisa.

For Sale, Part I

Seen about town

Attack cat.  It only looks like a rabid, roadkilled raccoon.

#1 $3000


Comes with a trailer and ramps.  Handy.


#8...a SCREAMING deal.