Growing season is upon us

Here come the peas!
Here come the peas!

We’ve significantly expanded our gardening this year. Last year, we had a single raised bed with lettuce, peas, spinach, and a few measly carrots, three or four mounds for squash and cucumber, and three extremely fruitful tomato plants. This year we’ve upped the ante significantly:

  • One raised bed with peas, lettuce, spinach, and green onions ( all but the last are already in the ground and sprouting).
  • A new second raised bed with sweet onions and potatoes.
  • three mounds for squash and cucumber (not planted yet)
  • a carrot patch (not planted yet)
  • one patch each of rhubarb and asparagus, which won’t yield this year but should in future years.
  • Three tomato plants and several pepper plants (not planted yet).

We’ve also installed a rain barrel. Of course, in the days before I put it in, lots of rain. After I got it installed, it took nearly two weeks to get some more. But now we’ve got a full barrel to water the garden.

The Animal Garden
Last time they visited, Jenny’s parents gave Avery a book about wildlife in the backyard, full of projects and activities to learn about the nature that’s right around the house. Avery has come to call this the “animal garden” book, and constantly wants to do projects in her “animal garden.” We made a bird bath from an old frisbee, and will likely be hanging a bird feeder soon. So far no birds have shown up.

My favorite moment with the book so far came when Avery explained the nest project from the book. (She closed the page too fast for me to see what the author’s description was, but as far as I can tell, it’s a building project that encourages birds to nest. Like a birdhouse platform):

Avery: We can build a nest and birds will come and egg in it and birds will come and the babies will patch out of the eggs and that will be cool!

Me: Do you like nature, Avery?

Avery: Yeah, cuz there’s lots of silly things.

Planting sweet onions
Planting sweet onions

2009-08-30 Tweets

  • oh man, my fish have been ravenous lately. I feed them and they go CRAZY! #
  • Oops. I just checked my email, scanned a document, updated my desktop computer, looked at Facebook, and read an article about how mult … #

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Random bullets from the day

I spent all day in a retreat, and plenty of good stuff came out of it. Bad stuff too, though:

  • Big meetings like that make me feel like a jerk, but I can’t help grouching to myself.
  • Favorite comment (from a friend): If you’re merely well-informed, you’re useless.

From home:

  • Three dead fish in the tank today. That’s roughly 1/3 the total population. I hope this isn’t a trend.

It rises!

MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror
by Steve Alten

MEG eats a surfer
MEG eats a surfer (concept art from the dead-in-the-water movie)

There’s a preposterous moment in Mega Shark versus Giant Octopus when a ship captain, anticipating an attack from the 2000 foot shark, murmurs with religious awe, “It rises!” MEG is much less preposterous, for the most part, but is still interesting and amusing. Good summer reading before I settle down to review the books I’m teaching with this year.

MEG tells the story of a Megalodon, a prehistoric shark that was thought to be extinct (but for which there is no proof of that). Because so much of the very deep water is unexplored, Alten proposes that Megalodons dwell in the volcanically-heated waters at the bottom of the sea, and if given an opportunity to get past the thermocline, would wreak havoc on shipping lines and people today.

  • The characterization is a bit clunky, but it works fine for this kind of book. The back cover compares the novel to Crichton and Cussler. I’d put it in-between. The writing is less ham-handed than Cussler (even better if you think about this as a first novel), but not nearly up to Crichton’s skill. That said, the book has a moral tenor that’s pretty interesting: if you’re a jerk, you’ll get eaten. Probably.
  • The action sequences work pretty well, with lots of good people-eating by the shark.
  • Alten goes out of his way to include the science of the shark — sometimes even hounding it a bit too much. Nonetheless, extrapolating from Great White biology, he does an excellent job of explaining how and why the Meg would hunt and, more importantly, why it would attack people.
  • I wonder how much of the idea for Mega Shark‘s shark was swiped out of this book. But then again, this book swipes much of what makes JAWS great. And JAWS is just Moby Dick without all the smarts. The circle of art continues.
  • It’s interesting to read the background story of this book. It was written by a butcher at a grocery store during his evening hours, and purchased days after he was fired (presumably for being so tired from having stayed up until 3am writing every night) for bazillions of dollars. It’s not Ray Bradbury paying for time on a library typewriter, but it’s the inspiring story of the Great American Beach Novel nonetheless.

Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus

Of course, you were as excited for this film as I was when you saw the Youtube trailer. Some thoughts:

  • I don’t mind my movie science shaky, but I like them to try, at least. My biggest complaint has to do with the classification. The scientists unblinkingly call this shark a Megalodon. Megalodons are the biggest documented predatory fish in history, reaching upwards of 60 feet in length. But this shark is more like 1200 feet. Or more. Look at the picture of the shark holding the sub in its mouth. They mention that this is a Sea Wolf sub (part of a “Wolf pack”). The sea wolf sub is 350 feet long. By the looks of this image, the shark has to be at least four times as long or more than the sub. That’s fine. I don’t mind the ridiculous size, but give the biologists a line like “We’ve never seen anything like this!” Also, notice the changing scale: the shark isn’t too much bigger than the plane, but it absolutely dwarfs the submarine.
  • Lorenzo Lamas and Deborah(!) Gibson do fine in their roles, as do the other players. I think it would be fun to do a movie so shamelessly entertaining.
  • Most of the dialogue is entirely utilitarian. It’s too bad they couldn’t get the script a bit more punch. There were a few good lines though…

    Alan Baxter: And now what activity do we see? (Points to the radar screen.)
    Emma McNeil: None.
    Alan Baxter: Score one for Ms. Fancypants.

    Crewman: All five ships destroyed by Octopus, sir.

    Alan Baxter (referring to a plan to use pheromones to attract the beasts): How do you know this plan will work?
    Lamar Sanders: If you’d been frozen for millions of years, you’d be pretty horny, wouldn’t you?

  • The film had a vaguely environmentalist message, ala Godzilla. The low-frequency sonar beacon covertly dropped by a navy pilot in the arctic is what actually breaks the monsters loose. Emma McNeil wonders if we are reaping what we’ve sown.

Probably not worth watching unless you know ahead of time that you like this sort of thing, in which case I look forward to your comments.

Aquarium Update

Because I know you’re dying to know:


“New” residents (acquired since the last update) :

  • Two Red-tailed Black Variatus
    Red-Tailed Black Variatus
  • One Clown Loach (snail eater)
    Clown loach
  • One Common Pleco (algae eater)
    Common Pleico
  • One Upside Down CatfishUpside Down Catfish

Older tennants still kickin around:

  • Two Bloodfin Tetras
  • Three Tuxedo Guppies
  • One Dalmatian Lyretail
  • Two Zebra Danios
  • One Blue Dwarf Guarami

New scenery: Grecian columns, and new backdrop, a fish-themed quilt made by Jenny’s Grandma.

Animal care

Aquarium Care:

I’ve been somewhat lax in my weekly 10% water swap of my aquarium, so when I did it several days ago, I found that enough water had evaporated that the tank (35 gal) was about 5 gal short of full. So after giving it a few days to acclimate the new water, I added 5 more gallons today. It’s amazing how much quieter it is when the water isn’t falling 2 inches from the filter. Loads quieter.

The battle of the snails continues. I scraped about 75 out the other day, and another 20 or so today. There are still a bunch in there, but when I was at the pet store I found out that Clown Loaches, cool looking fish in their own right, will eat snails. Kick ass. I’m going to get me some of those. They cost $9 each, but it will be worth it. At the same time, it feels a little weird setting up a predatory environment in my otherwise pleasant aquarium. But those snails are annoying.

Kitty care:
Hermes has a bunch of mats, so we’ve been cutting and pulling them out when he deigns to rest on our laps. With the windows open now, he’s not really deigning much today.

Dog care:
A confluence of bad weather, very busy schedules, and laziness meant that it wasn’t until today that I had sufficient time and energy to tackle the horrible task of picking up the winter’s harvest of dog poop from the yard. It took me nearly 90 minutes, and I would say I netted somewhere in the realm of 30 pounds. Between that and the two bags of dirty diapers in our trash can, I do not envy the can explorer who opens that blue plastic cylinder of death. And to make it worse, I’m slogging my way through the audiobook of The Scarlet Letter, so I was pretty bored too.

Where have all the silver lyretails gone?

In the wake of my dead fish last week, another fish, the silver lyretail, started acting weird.  He would rest on the bottom most of the time, and when he swam to the top of the tank, he did so using just his side fins (letting his tail rest, kinda).  I worried each day that I would find him floating upside down when I came into my office for the morning fish feeding.

Instead, he vanished.  Lit out for places unknown.  So here’s my question, while fish like mine are technically not agressive to one another, do they devour corpses of other fish?  I can’t explain his absence any other way.  Check that, I do have one more idea.  The back of the aquarium has a narrow slit (about 1 inch across) that is open to the air.  He could have leaped to his death, only to be eaten by the cat or one of the dogs.

I am doing the weekly 10% water swap today, so I will check inside the big hollow rock for a dead fish, but otherwise it’s a mystery.

RIP Zebra Danio 3

Well, Zebra Danio 3 died yesterday.  The rest of the fish seem pretty cool, so I think it’s probably an isolated incident.  If not, you may see more death notices as the days or weeks go on.

I learn about fish poop

I got two new fish last weekend, a Dalmation Lyretail and a Silver Lyretail.  Each has already given me an interesting fish-gazing experience:

Dalmation Lyretail
This dalmation is pretty skittish, darting around the tank whenever I come near (or when Avery pushes her nose against the glass, as she’s wont to do despite my pleas).  At one point, he disappeared for a while.  Finally, I spotted him hiding in the cave inside the rock.  I could just see his nose and one eye.  Crafty devil.

Silver Lyretail
The Silver Lyretail, on the other hand, scared me by looking dead.  When I came up to the aquarium on Sunday night, he was floating, motionless, at the top of the tank.  He wasn’t upside down, but he also wasn’t moving at all, and one of his fins hung suspiciously limply below his silver flank.  Fearing the worst, I peered close and studied him.  Only then could I see his gills slowly fluttering.  I think he was sleeping.  Shortly afterward, he started moving around again (probably because I turned on the overhead light).

Blue Dwarf Guarami, pooping
When I went to shoot photos of these new fish for your edification, I noticed one of the blue dwarf guarami trailing a strange thread (it looks a bit like a string of sausages in the photo above).  At first, I thought it was one of his little antennae-thingies, dangling limply.  (I’m a bit of an ichthyo- hypo- condriac, obviously.)  Then I noticed that, no, he had both antennae working fine.  As I watched, I noticed another fish with a similar dangler.  I took a couple photos and kept watching.  Sure enough, a minute or two later, these danglers dropped to the aquarium floor, and I’d officially witnessed my first fish poop.

New Friends to taunt the cat

New fish in the aquarium

I got some new fish today for the aquarium. I got two Blue Dwarf Gouramis and three Bronze Tuxedo Guppies. Click the photo above to go to the Flickr page to see which is which.

Something Fishy

Hermes watches the new fish

My father-in-law gave us his old fish tank, which I set up over the holiday break. I had fish when I was a kid and have always enjoyed having them.

After a couple days of running the tank, we got some “tester” fish — a couple Zebra Danios and a couple Blood Fin Tetras. They seem to be settling in okay.