Thursday, May 9, 2019

A failure of deductive reasoning

New Guinea Impatiens, sweet alyssum spilling over the front, cooking herbs like rosemary, basil, mint and oregano hiding in the back.
Last year Belladonna told me that she wanted a couple of planters for the front porch of the townhouse she lived in.

She gave me some rough specifications. I texted pictures from a store that sells such things. She made her pick.

Later that week she came home. We went to Hastay's Greenhouse and Roger helped her select the plants to put into it. Bella humored me and allowed me to sneak a few edibles into the pots.

The center-piece of the pots were ferociously vivid hybrid impatiens. Roger's only caution was that the plants would stop flowering if they were not fertilized. The flower buds originate from the new growth. He also warned that the impatiens are very sensitive to over-fertilizing. His advice was to dilute any reputable house-plant fertilizer to 1/3 the listed strength and to use the fertilizer water once a week.

It took me a couple of weeks to purchase the fertilizer and get it up to Belladonna.

She used it the next day. The day after that plant in the pot were fried as crisply as a potato chip.

She blamed the fertilizer and I felt that I was getting blamed.

I was certain that she had not followed the directions on the bottle of liquid fertilizer. She is a kid, right?

Eleven months later....

Belladonna still had the pots. She still wants plants. She said, "Do it exactly the same way as last year but DO NOT give me any fertilizer."

That is when I suggested that maybe she made a measurement error.

I got 'that look'. "Dad. I used a gallon jug and measuring spoons. I DID NOT SCREW UP!"

In my mind I thought.....


Then, a few days later I was telling the ever wise and talented Mrs ERJ a story of an experiment where the researchers proved that animal's brains are not totally transparent to magnetism. They designed and built a huge electro-magnet and designed special iron funnels to focus the magnetic field on the volunteer's brain.

In the absence of human volunteers they chose a rooster to put in the magnetic chair.

After adding more and more current to the magnet, they finally succeeded in getting the rooster to squawk.

Emails flew. This was huge news in the field. The Rock Star of the field was scheduled to fly to the lab to observe a repeat of the experiment.

The experiment replicated perfectly...and then the Rock Star asked if anybody had a set of Allen wrenches. They found a mechanic in the back room who had a set of Allen wrenches.

The Rock Star went into the chamber and tightened all of the screws holding the iron funnels to the support structure and then commanded the director of the lab to re-run the experiment.

The rooster did not squawk.


Back to Bella's fried plants.

The two pots of plants were clearly fried by a gross over-application of fertilizer. Not only were the impatiens fried but the rosemary and sweet alyssum, plants that should be much more resistant were also fried.

Bella said that she did not do it.

Obvious answer: Somebody else did it. Like her butt-head roommates.  It would be like them to watch Bella and decide that 1/4 teaspoon per gallon wasn't going to be enough. It seems unlikely that it was a wandering drunk peeing into them. If so, he managed to hit both pots.

Ultimately I chose to follow Bella's advice. Instead of liquid fertilizer I put some Jobe's plant spices into the pots. The best way to avoid process control failures due to improperly set knobs is to remove the knobs.

Oh, and she has different room mates this summer.


  1. Ah yes, 'helpful' roommates... Sigh... Caused me to kill a damn cactus by OVERWATERING it...

  2. Yes, well, I don't get the rooster story. Did I miss something? What did the rock star know about tight screws, iron funnels, and magnetism? I suspect an elaborate pun setup.

    1. the horn was vibrating at a pitch only the rooster could hear. Painfully.

    2. The iron funnels became magnets that attracted each other. Over the course of multiple tests the screws holding the brackets loosened. The iron funnels moved closer toward each other pinching the rooster's head.

      The rock star inverted the problem in his head. "If I wanted to make this phenomena appear, what nearly invisible variable would I twiddle with.?

      That, and I have seen electricians in the industrial environment (Pontiac Truck Assembly, Body Shop, Zone B respot) go into junction boxes and automatically tighten every screw as a matter of course. It was faster to just do it than to trouble-shoot the diagnostic tree and eliminate it as a cause.

      And it solved the problem.

  3. You put "edibles" in them?
    My how hat term has changed.