Sep 29, 2010

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug in Northwest Ohio?

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Possible Northwest Ohio sighting of the brown marmorated stink bugLeft: possible Northwest Ohio sighting of the brown marmorated stink bug

I have been reading about the rapid spread of the brown marmorated stink bug in parts of the U.S., especially along the eastern seaboard. So it was with some surprise - and a bit of trepidation - that I noticed what appeared to be a brown marmorated stink bug crawling up the siding of my house today.

The insect, also known by the scientific name of Halyomorpha halys, gives off a pungent odor when crushed, and homeowners in problem areas are having a difficult time getting rid of the pests. While the insects are not harmful and do not carry disease, their telltale aroma has frustrated many U.S. homeowners. They are attracted both to landscape lighting as well as warmth, but most folks seem to find that there are few preventive measures one can take to make a yard less attractive to these bugs.

The reason I think that this is the brown marmorated stink bug is the presence of white bands on the antennae, which is supposed to be the signifier of the species. Unfortunately, I did not think to collect the creature and ship it for analysis, but I am sending along to entomologists the photograph for study.

On Ray Padula, Disappointing Purchases, and Poor Quality Merchandise

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Ray Padula hose nozzle: creative design but cheap constructionRay Padula hose nozzle: creative design but cheap construction

Before recently purchasing a Ray Padula thumb control hose nozzle, I was just remotely aware of the multi-million dollar business that Ray Padula has developed. Since a 2007 push to enter the national retail market, Padula's company has developed 300 newly patented, patent pending, and exclusive hose-end products, according to the corporate website.

When I needed a new hose nozzle, I was intrigued by the new design on the Series R hose nozzle I saw at a local retailer. Instead of squeezing a trigger, you simply flick a lever with your thumb to turn on the water.

For the first two weeks I was quite happy with my $10 purchase, but today I learned that this hose nozzle is a poorly-constructed waste of money. I reached for the nozzle after dropping it on the ground and I noticed that the mechanism upon which the nozzle adjustment is seated had cracked.

A closer inspection showed that this mechanism is plastic, and that even a three-foot fall onto the lawn was enough force to break the nozzle adjustment device, rendering the hose nozzle worthless. The internal mechanism looked to be PVC coated with a shiny metallic finish, a far cry from the "die cast metal inner housing" the website claims for nozzle construction.

So, potential buyers beware: my experience with Ray Padula hose nozzles has been a bust. The traditional metal trigger-handled hose nozzle looks a lot more enticing right about now, and I doubt I will ever purchase a Ray Padula product again after this disappointing experience.

Sep 27, 2010

On the Merits of Driving Used Cars

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Pictured on your left is the 1995 Hyundai that I purchased approximately 40 months ago for $700. In the period of time that I have owned this vehicle, I have spent approximately a thousand dollars on various mechanical issues, including brakes, shocks, a tuneup, a set of tires, and a pair of door handles.

A friend once kidded me about the "clown car" I bought, citing its purple color and relatively small body as evidence of its supposed hilarity. Yet when I crunch the numbers, this vehicle has cost me about $42 a month in initial investment and repairs, and with only 104,000 miles on the odometer, I suspect that this car has many more years of reliable service left.

So to those of you contemplating the purchase of a new automobile or truck, I suggest that you take a closer look at buying a used vehicle. Sure, my 1995 Hyundai is nothing special to look at, but in my 30 years of driving I have never owned a vehicle that cost me so little while providing almost uninterrupted service.

Moreover, the body on this car has just a handful of rust spots and even fewer dings. It is true that purple is an unusual color, but the vehicle still has a glossy sheen to its paint job. If I choose to continue to drive it at the rate of 10-12 thousand miles a year, I might have ten more years of life left in the machine, and that overall cost of ownership continues to shrink every month I keep this vehicle on the road.

Think about the money you are tossing away on a brand new vehicle every month before you sign that loan agreement for a shiny car at the dealership. Consider also the lost income from investments that $200-$400 per month in savings might bring you, and then look me in the eye and tell me a new car is worth every penny.

Sep 24, 2010

Microsoft CAPTCHA Hell

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Unintelligible Windows Live - Microsoft screen CAPTCHA Left: Unintelligible Windows Live - Microsoft screen CAPTCHA

All I wanted to do was unsubscribe from an annoying email from Microsoft. However, I wound up with a 30-minute ordeal trying a variety of methods to get the Microsoft Windows Live site to issue me a new password so I could remove my email address from their system.

The process seemed simple enough, as there was a friendly "Forgot your password?" prompt. However, most of the written CAPTCHA character collections contained at least a few indecipherable squiggles, and after about a dozen CAPTCHA failures I decided to try the audio CAPTCHA.

Fail.

The audio CAPTCHA used by Microsoft has a woman speaking numbers as several other voices speak, making it difficult to even hear the 10-digit sequence, let alone type it in as the voice rapidly ripped through the numbers. On top of that, it sounded like the Microsoft CAPTCHA designers deliberately added electronic hiss and crackle to the mix, making for an audio production almost beyond comprehension.

After about a half-hour of frustration, bouncing back and forth between audio and written CAPTCHAS, I managed to get lucky and find a written string that I could actually read. This, however, was a heavy price to pay for unsubscribing to Microsoft's emails, and it leads me to believe that this is a deliberate attempt by the Windows Live folks to make it almost impossible to stop receiving their quasi-spam.

Sep 23, 2010

Facebook Fail: Popular Social Networking Site Crashes

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Left: screenshot of Facebook's DNS message to users Left: screenshot of Facebook's DNS message to users

In what is probably evidence of the popularity of the social networking site (yet an event that will likely double the productivity of American workers), Facebook has been unavailable to users for at least an hour today.

Facebook down? Perish the thought.

This comes on the proverbial heels of yesterday's outage, though the official Facebook statement (via their Twitter page) denies a connection:
We’re currently experiencing some site issues causing Facebook to be slow or unavailable for some users. We are working to resolve this issue as quickly as possible. This is unrelated to yesterday’s outage.
Judging from the hundreds of Tweets and blog posts already floating around the Internet, I suspect that "some users" is probably a number in the millions.

I began noticing slow page loading around 1:00 PM EDT, and by 2:00 PM or so the site was offline. As of this writing (4:09 PM EDT) the site remains unavailable, and the half-dozen or so people I conversed with on other sites confirmed that this is a systemic problem.

On the Beaches of the Outer Banks

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An acquaintance sent me a link about a house built by Carolina Designs that caught my eye, and I thought back to several trips we have taken to the Outer Banks. While the weather is still quite warm in Northwest Ohio, I have fond memories of times spent on the peaceful beaches of the Outer Banks.

Some of my favorite vacations have been those laid-back trips where there are no significant plans beyond sitting in the sun and watching the waves roll in, like a vacation a few years ago to Atlantic Beach. While there are sections of the Outer Banks that are certainly commercialized, much of the region is still relatively undeveloped: lots of uncluttered beaches and a sense of time unchanging.

Such pristine settings are more likely to be found in a Southern Shores vacation, as other stretches of the Outer Banks have become tourist meccas. I recall driving for long stretches in the Southern Shores without seeing the sort of commercial and residential sprawl associated with overdeveloped places like Nags Head.

The end of the fall semester is a long ways off for me, but for a few moments this morning I allowed myself to pine away for some time at the beaches of the Outer Banks.

Sep 22, 2010

On the Restorative Powers of Green

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I was out working in the yard for a few hours, time I should have been spending on lecture prep, when I paused to wipe my brow. I was taken aback by the brilliant green colors that surrounded me, and I went inside to fetch the camera to try to recapture the moment.

The image on the left gets some, but not all, of the powerful hues of green that caught my eyes. My lawn is a work in progress, and truth be told there are plenty of weeds and non-fescue grasses in the mix, but I generally keep the lawn watered throughout the summer. With the recent rains my lawn is a collection of brilliant green hues, and I stood for a moment in awe of the strength of the green that seemed to blanket my yard.

There are certainly other angles of my yard that lack eye appeal, but for this one moment the yard seemed more than just a collection of plants and lawn: it seemed to be animated and burgeoning with life.

Sep 21, 2010

Two Pretty Girls

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Pictured are Missy (left) and Candy (right), two rescue dogs we have adopted over the past few years. They both just returned from the grooming salon, and if I might be so vain, they are the prettiest girls around.

Of course, they had only been home an hour or so before the squirrel-chasing and grass-rolling began to tarnish their newly coiffed fur, but after all: they are just dogs.

Just glad I was able to take a picture before the canine hijinks commenced.

Sep 20, 2010

Rapid Rhetoric: RANGIFERINE

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Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word or phrase I came across that I have never previously used.

rangiferine (rahn-gee-FAIR-een) adj. related to or like reindeer; belonging to the animal genus Rangifer; resembling a reindeer.

I stumbled upon the adjective rangiferine today while perusing a 2001 book entitled Infectious Diseases of Wild Mammals. Humans, it turns out, are prone to debilitating infection by all types of animal brucellosis, including rangiferine brucellosis. The disease typically can be found among reindeer and caribou in northern Canada, and the transmission between members of the genus Rangifer and humans is usually caused by ingestion of unsterilized milk or meat from infected animals.

Interestingly, the U.S. experimented with a variety of brucellosis bacteria known as B. suis as a potential biological weapon. B. suis became the first weaponized biological agent in its development at Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas, but brucellosis did not prove to be deadly enough to warrant mass production. I suppose we will really be in serious trouble when (not if) biological weapons experts figure out a way to weaponize a disease like malignant Mesothelioma.

Sep 18, 2010

Dog Days of September

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I spent most of the day at the annual Dog Days of September, which is held at the Lucas County Fairgrounds. Non-profit organizations and a wide variety of commercial vendors related to dogs gather here each year, and the event usually draws a few thousand people and their canine pals.

Interestingly, I saw new Lucas County dog warden Julie Lyle at the event. In the many years that I have attended this event (and other area events associated with dog ownership) I never saw the previous warden Tom Skeldon in attendance. It was refreshing to see the dog warden walking around, chatting with people and petting the numerous pooches.

Left: Dachshunds running in the Wiener Nationals

Another component of the Dog Days of September is the annual Wiener Nationals races, featuring local Dachshunds and their owners competing to see which of the short-legged rascals is the fastest. There was quite a crowd for the four-plus hours of Dachshund racing, though admittedly many of the dogs need coaxing to reach the finish line on the 20-yard course. Of course, I would want to make sure that my laptop insurance was paid up before bringing along the computer, but that is another story altogether.

So, if you have a few hours to kill on this day next year, you could do far worse than the Dog Days of September. There are lots of dog-related activities and some food vendors (human as well as canine), and non-profit organizations like Planned Pethood benefit from greater exposure and the material and monetary donations collected at these events.

Sep 16, 2010

Blog Slackery - An Apology

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slacker post-it note My apologies for the lack of posts the last few days: I am eyeball-deep in work right now, and after a series of 14-hour days (plus some extra duties playing nurse as my wife recuperated from a two-week illness) I have found myself both exhausted and time-limited.

I hope to return to some semblance of "blog-active" in the next few days. If not, I might always take advantage of the energy boosts associated with a product like a fat burner in order to improve my levels of motivation and concentration.

Sep 13, 2010

The Quote Shelf

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Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.
-- Franz Kafka

Sep 12, 2010

Denard Robinson: An Early Assessment

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Denard Robinson stiff arms a Notre Dame defender; Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Like all Michigan fans, I was wowed by the superhuman performance yesterday of Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson. The sophomore rolled up 258 rushing yards and 502 yards of total offense against Notre Dame, rushing for two TDs and passing for another score.

While Robinson's season is only two games old (and these are the only two games in his career that Robinson has started at quarterback for Michigan), I think a few observations are in order.

1. Robinson reads defenses well. I was impressed with the way the young quarterback changed plays several times after getting a look at the defensive packages shown by both Connecticut and Notre Dame. Robinson also made adjustments after the snap, and he has excellent vision of the field for such an untested player.

2. Robinson has a stronger arm than we were led to believe. The passes that were most off the mark in the first few games tended to be those beyond the reach of receivers on deep patterns, and if I were a football coach, I would much rather have a quarterback overthrow a receiver than to loft up an underthrown, easy-to-intercept pigskin, like a dieter choosing a thick juicy steak instead of the best OTC appetite suppressant.

3. Robinson has confidence. Tons of it. What most impressed me about Denard Robinson in these first two games was how self-assured and poised this kid looked. After most plays he had a smile on his face, and on the game-winning TD drive Robinson looked positively unflappable.

4. As good as he has looked, Robinson can play better. While Robinson has a solid grasp of the offensive system, he will begin to better finesse the possibilities. This is especially true at the tight end position, as Robinson has yet to fully exploit starting tight end Kevin Koger and his running backs.

5. Robinson needs to temper his killer instinct. While I liked his aggressive decision making, there were several third down short-yardage situations yesterday when Robinson should have focused on getting the first down instead of taking shots downfield. This is especially critical in closer games, and one might argue that several offensive drives were stalled by Robinson's eagerness to target an open receiver deep downfield.

6. Robinson has displayed remarkable accuracy. The statistics tell a considerable part of the story: 69.4 percent completion rate, 138.3 passer rating, and zero interceptions in the first two games. Yet even some of Robinson's incompletions were remarkable, including a beautiful pass in the corner of the end zone that was dropped by the wide receiver.

7. Robinson should be a surprise early favorite for the Heisman Trophy. Yes, it is only the second week, and we really do not know the true quality levels of opponents Notre Dame and Conneticut, but the numbers Robinson has posted in two weeks are jaw-dropping. The second half of Michigan's season is brutal, though at least the Wolverines get to play Iowa and Wisconsin at the Big House. Still, even Heisman frontrunner Terelle Pryor cannot match the yardage totals Robinson has accumulated thus far. Landry Jones, the Oklahoma QB, has been impressive (albeit while throwing a few picks), while Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder probably torched his Heisman chances in an ugly loss to the Sooners yesterday. Boise State's Kellen Moore has been consistently strong, but the Broncos never seem to get enough love from experts and voters. At this point I see Robinson and Pryor as the top two Heisman candidates.

Sep 10, 2010

Deadheading Sunflowers

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I began experimenting with the process of deadheading sunflowers by accident, as I merely wanted to remove some of the unsightly half-chewed flowers heads that the squirrels and goldfinches have attacked. After a few weeks, though, I noticed that the plants in which I removed dead flower heads seemed to undergo an additional burst of flowering, as though they suddenly found the horticultural equivalent of a product like apidexin UK.

In years past I simply allowed the sunflower plants to bloom, wither, and die, after which I chopped down the stalks for compost. However, this year the plants seem to be productive much longer, and the pruning of dead flower heads and withered leaves seems to force the plants to continue the mechanism by which flower buds appear.

The flowers that appear after the deadheading process commences tend to be smaller and a sometimes bit on the spindly side, but I suppose this is the price one pays for screwing around with natural plant rhythms. I also would not recommend sunflower deadheading if you plan to collect seeds, or if you plant sunflowers to feed the local wildlife. However, if sunflower blooms are what drives you to plant the seeds in the first place, consider aggressively pruning your sunflowers to stimulate more blossoms.

Sep 9, 2010

Woodland Sunflower: Helianthus Divaricatus

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Woodland sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus) Last year I scavenged from an abandoned commercial lot a sample of the woodland sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus) that are pictured on your left. The plant did not seem to be thriving when I transplanted it, and I had doubts as to whether it would return this year.

Alas, my fears were unfounded, and this plant spread into several dozen four-foot stalks loaded with yellow blossoms. The first flowers appeared around the 20th of July, and seven weeks later the plants are showing no signs of letting up with the color extravaganza.

I have no magic formula for the success with these flowers beyond the fact that I simply transplanted them in an area that was partly shaded, just like I found them, though one might suspect that I used the horticultural equivalent of a product like HGH. The spot the plants occupy has traditionally been a poor place for plants to grow, as road salt from the winter tends to run off my driveway and the street into this spot. The woodland sunflowers, though, seem to be thriving in the slightly salinated soil.

Sep 8, 2010

Mystery Plant: Seeking Suggestions

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Pictured on your left is one of several mystery plants that sprouted in a shady area of my yard. As I mentioned in previous posts, my purchase this year of four cubic yards of topsoil brought with it a variety of unexpected plants and weeds.

Due to the fact that the leaves first appear as tubelike protuberances that unfold from a roll, my wife suggested that these plants might be a variety of Canna lilies. This would be especially strange, as Canna lilies generally do not survive the colder winters of this region, and I am sure that I did not plant any Cannas in this area. Of course, it is possible that the vendor's mounded topsoil in which the seeds or rhizomes were then transferred to my house was deep enough to have protected any material fit for propagation in my yard, like a weightlifter finding a free dietary product after ordering a protein supplement from proteinpowder.net.

Anyways, feel free to take a guess in the Comments section. I hope that the plants will take on an easily identifiable form before the first frost.

Sep 6, 2010

On the Dove World Outreach Center, Religious Belligerence, and Common Sense

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Left: the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FloridaLeft: the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida

I have been reading with some concern the news that the non-denominational charismatic Christian church Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida has plans to burn copies of the Qu'ran on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The event is likely to spark worldwide protests by all sorts of people, not the least of who happen to be Muslims, and General David Petraeus suggested that American troops might be put in danger by this act of religious belligerence.

Church member Fran Ingram, posting on a blog on the church website, offered the following reasoning for the upcoming book burning:
We are using this act to warn about the teaching and ideology of Islam, which we do hate as it is hateful. We do not hate any people, however. We love, as God loves, all the people in the world and we want them to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Setting aside all the other issues related to why this is an idiotic idea (and setting aside my despair at the growing irrationality of a rising number of anti-Muslim Americans), I would like to focus on the last clause in Ingram's statement: "we want them to come to a knowledge of the truth." I suspect that if members of the Dove World Outreach Center were really concerned about saving the souls of adherents of the Islamic faith, they could begin by adopting a less confrontational approach. Every faithful Muslim who hears of this abominable act of religious bigotry will be disturbed by the news, and I highly doubt that angering the people you want to persuade of the righteousness of a cause is an effective method of "outreach."

There is also an element of conspicuous and deliberate antagonism here that as a Christian I find reprehensible. Instead of leading by example - in the manner of Christ Himself - the folks participating in the book-burning are sinking to the very level of inflammatory zealotry that they supposedly deplore in the actions of the radical Islamic extremists who attacked the World Trade Center. Sure, it is only burning books and not thousands of dead civilians, but the sentiments are eerily similar between the book-burners and the 9/11 terrorists: each despises those whose creeds they hold to be heretical.

On a side note, my Lebanese neighbor (whose family happens to practicing Muslims) came by my house this evening to ask if he could borrow my 3/8" power drill, as his was broken. When I walked over to the house to drop the tool off, I saw that they were installing a set of vertical blinds. I ended up spending an hour drilling holes, hanging vinyl blinds, and chatting with the Yussef family about the weather and the excellent fattoush Mrs. Yussef has been dropping off each night (this is Ramadan, if you were unaware, and practicing Muslims share their nightly feast with their neighbors).

So, getting back to the point, I pose the following question. Which practicing Christian do you suppose made a better impression on "heathen" Muslims: me, by loaning my drill and time to hang some vertical blinds, or folks like Fran Ingram, whose idea of "outreach" involves the immolation of the book considered to be most sacred to people of the Islamic faith?

And for the misguided zealots who plan to burn books next week: I pray for your lost souls. I highly doubt that God looks upon your actions with favor, and I suspect that one day you will be called to account for your recklessness and bellicosity in the name of Jesus Christ.

Sep 4, 2010

Wintercreeper

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I have been experimenting this year with different plants in some shaded areas of my yard in which previous efforts to produce healthy plants have been unsuccessful. In one area under a tall pine tree I have long struggled to grow even grass, though I think the wintercreeper (pictured on your left) that I planted will break this trend.

Also known by its scientific name Euonymus fortunei radicans, wintercreeper is a hardy vine that can withstand cold winters and fairly dry conditions (though the plants are not drought resistant) and wintercreeper seems to be thriving in the shaded area under this tree. The plants fall under the category of broadleaf evergreens, and they propagate fairly easily from cuttings: several cuttings I took I simply soaked in water for an hour, planted them in moist soil, and watered regularly.

My goal is to produce a dense ground cover that will inhibit weed growth, while providing color most of the year.

Sep 2, 2010

Out-of-Season Ditch Lily

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This has been a strange year for the perennial plants around my house. Spring arrived a few weeks early, and many of our perennials appeared 8-10 days or more ahead of schedule. A few weeks ago I had some Easter lilies blooming in late August, and today I noticed another unusual event: the blooming of a ditch lily in September.

Normally the last of these flowers has blossomed by mid-July, but for some reason one of the lilies decided to grace us with a few extra orange flowers. Now, if I can just keep the dogs away from the spot to enjoy the last few orange lilies of the summer.

Sep 1, 2010

Dining Monarch

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Yes, it was just a Monarch butterfly, one of the most common members of the Nymphalidae family in North America. And yes: it was just feeding at a plain old sunflower, one of the more common members of the Asteraceae family in North America.

So sue me: I spent a few minutes when I should have been grading papers just watching this non-event.

I found the act of butterfly-watching to be peaceful, bringing me a sense of calm in the middle of a hectic day. At least until my Puggle, whose name is Chauncey, decided to thrash about and send the Monarch floating away. Even still, I could not get irritated at the dog in my brief moment of quietude.