Now gluten-free!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Remembering Pluto

Sure, Pluto's path around the Sun is rather eccentric, maybe even chaotic. But it has three moons -- Charon, Hydra, and Nix -- and its gravity is strong enough to cause perturbations in the orbit of Uranus (which isn't nearly as horrible as it sounds). And yet it has been demoted from planet to planetoid.

Make that plutoid.

According to the International Astronomical Union, "plutoids are celestial bodies in orbit around the Sun at a semimajor axis greater than that of Neptune that have sufficient mass for their self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that they assume a hydrostatic equilibrium (near-spherical) shape, and that have not cleared the neighbourhood around their orbit."

I know exactly what you're thinking: "Ceres is a dwarf planet. Does that mean it's now a plutoid too?" The answer is no. Ceres is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, so it doesn't fit the definition of a plutoid. (Duh!) The IAU has not yet decided what to call Ceres-like dwarf planets.

Alas, Pluto, we hardly knew ye. You may no longer be considered a planet, but that doesn't mean we can't still be friends.

Friday, June 20, 2008

We Need a Bearded President

Eureka! I get it now! This is what's gone wrong with the White House. Too many clean-shaven presidents! Think about it. There's been no presidential facial hair at all since Taft, and you have to go back to Benjamin Harrison to really find a proper beard! Imagine what a little beard growth could do to encourage some manliness, intelligence, and respectable gravitas in our executive branch.

The move is on. You can go here to let your voice be heard...we demand a bearded president:

Ah...can't you just picture it?

Oh, and for Lee's sake, here's a little compensation for that offending picture of Lincoln:

Monday, June 16, 2008

It's Not Over Until The Fat Lady Shrinks

Opera isn't what it used to be. Stage directors are starting to insist that opera singers actually do some acting, and that they should actually "look the part" for the role they're singing. This is apparently causing some weight discrimination issues for a few stars, though! This story appeared today on the CBS News website:

Deborah Voigt is back, in black.

The American soprano returns to the Royal Opera House stage Monday, four years after the company fired her for being too big for the little black dress chosen for the title character in Richard Strauss' "Ariadne auf Naxos." The decision sparked a fierce debate about weight discrimination in opera.

Now a slimmer Voigt is back in the same opera, the same role - and wearing "that" dress.

Full story here...

Well, I guess this is inevitable, since opera is starting to attract a new crowd. I think it may have skipped a generation, because when I go to the opera, I see a lot of old folks, and a lot of young twenty-something folks, and often not much in between! And that's just among the fans. I'm a volunteer chorus singer for a small opera company here in the Des Moines, IA, area. Aside from a few volunteers, though, the company fills out most of the chorus with young paid (barely) apprentices. There is definitely no shortage of young talent now trying to get into opera. As one who has to share cramped backstage space with them, I must say I am grateful for thin sopranos.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Scientists Find Monkeys Who Know How to Fish

No kidding.

What's really interesting, however, is that they seem to get by just fine without having to worry about licenses, size and possession limits, or angling method restrictions. And they certainly don't concern themselves with fishing only when it's in season.

It's like that old saying: Give a monkey a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a monkey to fish, and he'll violate every Minnesota DNR regulation in the book.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

As if We Didn't Have Enough to Worry About...

WCBS TV reports that the Long Island home of 45-year-old Nina Bradica was infested with "blood-sucking" bird mites. When EMTs responded to her call for help, she was taken from her home in a hazmat suit to be quarantined at Nassau University Medical Center. The source of the infestation was a bird's nest in a bathroom vent.

"My whole shower was covered with them," Bradica said. "I didn't even know they were there at first, I was drying myself with my towel in the bathroom. That's how they got on me. ... They do go inside you. They go in your nose. They go in your ears. They go in your mouth."

As if that wasn't creepy enough, one of Bradica doctors, Dr. Kenneth Steier, told WCBS News, "They can be a nuisance and some people have been infected for years with these bird mites and have had difficulty eradicating them."

After reading this news story, I did a little more research. This kind of thing isn't as uncommon as you might think. A family in Fayetteville, North Carolina, went through the same thing.

I also ran across, a site "dedicated to finding effective solutions for bird mite infestations of humans and their environment, encouraging those afflicted, facilitating research and a better understanding of human parasitosis." If you want to know just how serious this problem can be, and learn about some ways to deal with it, check it out.

In the meantime, I think I'm going to put bird-proof screens over all exterior vent openings on our house.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Scientists save us from global warming!

How's that, you ask? Well, scientists in New Zealand have developed a fart vaccine. No, really, that's what they're claiming.

The concept is simple: Give sheep and cows a shot that prevents the production of methane, and voila! Greenhouse gases are cut in half.

This is considered to be a huge improvement over their previous solution...

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Lazy Lawn Care

I grew up in the country where the lawn was just the area of weeds that you mowed. Now that I'm a suburbanite, I've had to adapt to at least a few expectations about keeping one's lawn up to snuff. In a little over ten years, I've learned a few lazy ways to keep your lawn looking nice, even above average, while breaking minimal sweat:

1) Don't cut your grass so short. Leave your mower deck up at it's highest, or maybe second-highest position. The grass stays greener with less watering, and better shades out weeds if you let it grow long. Grass that looks "too long" is really just grass that's uneven. You don't have to mow any more often to keep long grass looking just as neat as short grass.

2) Get a mulching mower. Really, do you actually enjoy bagging all those grass clippings? Knock it off and just mulch. Over the course of the summer, this is the near equivalent of one whole additional application of fertilizer. Of course, this means you do have to mow a little bit more often, so that the mower can effectively pulverize all the clippings. But I don't think that's any more work than bagging a ton of grass after it gets too long to mulch. Side discharge mowers are low-labor, too, but if you can avoid visible grass clippings altogether and get the fringe benefits of mulching, why not?

3) Fertilizer: good timing is more important than quantity. Given the fertilizing benefits of that mulcher mower, and the greener, healthier-looking grass you get by letting it grow a little longer, quit doing all that labor-intensive fertilizing. There really is only one important time to fertilize. Sometime in early to mid-May (before the lilacs bloom) put down a coat or two of that spring fertilizer with the crab-grass preventer in it. This will greatly minimize crab-grass later in the year (crab grass is an annual, not a perennial), and the spring fertilizer is not as harsh as the stuff they sell for summer application. It doesn't "burn" the grass when you accidentally get a little too much in one spot. If you're going to go to the trouble of treading all over your lawn with a spreader, you might as well be killing two birds with one stone by both fertilizing and stopping the crab grass. As for that "weed and feed" stuff they sell for later in the year...that's time and effort you could much better spend lifting a beer. It's too easy to burn your grass with it, only does a so-so job of killing broadleaf weeds, and does nothing about crabgrass. If you need to kill some weeds, it's better to get the liquid weed-killer that you mix with water, and one of those cheap pressure-driven pump-up garden sprayers, and spray directly only on the areas that need it. No, don't buy the liquid ready-mixed in those spray bottles. You'll use it all up right away, when the concentrated stuff will last you a couple years for the same money. Besides, ever try to cover your whole yard while bending over and constantly pumping that spray trigger with your hand? Ouch!

4) Watering: Don't go overboard. If you've got the money for a monstrous water bill and an irrigation system, fine. But I have to haul out sprinklers when I have to water, so I keep it to a minimum. When it's needed during those long, hot, dry days in July and August, I do just enough watering to keep the grass reasonably alive, and not too brown. Then I use one of those little yellow "tractor" type sprinklers that will move itself from one end of the lawn to the other. Water sooner than later, before the grass goes dormant, and don't waste your time watering in the middle of a hot sunny day when half the water you spray just evaporates in the heat. They say early morning is best, because watering in the evening and leaving a lot of moisture in your grass overnight can encourage fungus growth, but I'm not a morning person, and I don't water enough to keep fungus alive...only grass. And, again, that's grass that's left longer, not mowed short. Longer grass stays greener with less water.

5) Planting and over-seeding grass: timing is everything. Look, it's up to you. If you gotta fill in that bare spot NOW, and you really want to fuss with planting new grass seed in the spring or summer, and babying it constantly for weeks on end, go right ahead. But can you just wait for fall? And I mean late fall! Wait until you're done with all your mowing and raking, and you're not going to be bothering the lawn anymore until spring. Then, just before the snow flies, spread some grass seed around in the thin spots. If the spot is totally bare and hard-caked, you should probably till the soil up just a little bit with a rake, but otherwise just let the snow-pack drive that seed in all winter long, and let the snow melt and early-spring rains provide all that extra moisture grass needs as it's just getting started. Presto! You'll have grass there the next spring, and it'll fill in all on it's own within one season if you'll just have a little patience.

6) Got trees? Especially pine trees? With thin, weedy, slow-growing grass underneath? The secret is not fertilizer, it's lime. No, not the fruit; garden lime (pulverized limestone). Farmers know about because it's great for neutralizing on barn floors. Besides neutralizing that kind of acid, it also neutralizes the acid in your soil caused by decomposing tree leaves and twigs. Fertilizer in those areas is counterproductive, only raising the acidity of the soil even further. And lime is way cheaper than fertilizer. Spread some of that under your trees at the same time you throw that grass seed down in the fall (and make the grass seed a shady-area mixture). Presto! Next year you'll have happy, healthy grass there.

In my experience, that's about all you need, in a northern climate, to keep the neighbors saying "nice lawn", so long as they're looking at it from a comfortable distance.

Don't ask me for gardening tips. I don't do gardening. All that crawling around in the dirt, pulling weeds by hand, bending over below your waist...yech! I grow grass because you can take care of it with power tools! Be a man! Mowers, weed wackers, and those motorized leaf vacuum/chipper/shredder units are all good for raising your garage's all-important "cylinder count". Maybe sometime I should write another one of these on keeping small engines running smoothly and tinker-free from season to season. It ain't a labor-saving device if it doesn't start on the first or second pull!

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