Friday, April 13, 2018

Wheel Bugs

Wheel bugs have a very legitimate claim to their name; they are true bugs (order Hemiptera) and they have a protrusion on their back that looks like a wheel. They are predators on caterpillars and other such creatures, so they are described as beneficial insects, like ladybugs.

Like other true bugs, wheel bugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts; they stab prey and inject enzymes that dissolve tissue, then suck it all up. When provoked by humans, this stab-and-inject routine apparently turns into one of the more painful insect bites one might have the misfortune to experience. The field guide I was consulting says the pain generally lasts for ten days, but followed with "In the case of multiple bites, the discomfort gradually decreases over six to nine months."

Having read that, I think I'd rather have ladybugs in my garden.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Fun in the Sun

Recently, I've gotten into the habit of wearing sunglasses. I've spent a lot of my life under the sun, but I'm not very keen on cranial adornment, so sunglasses (and hats too) haven't been on the menu until now. I suppose I always just squinted.

The big change, I suppose, is work that requires me to drive around on sunny days, and squinting or looking away while behind the wheel seems like a bad idea. That being said, I've found a new appreciation for sunglasses while on foot as well. I walk east to get to work in the morning and west to get home, so it's nice to not be blinded both ways.

In a few more months, I might even start wearing a hat instead of shading my eyes with a hand.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Scientific Integrity

I recently got a subscription to the magazine Popular Science and was disturbed to find a two-page ad for a water distillation machine that is said to produce healthier water by increasing the hydrogen bond angle of the molecule. This high-energy water supposedly cures all sorts of diseases and keeps its drinkers in peak physical condition.

Now, this product might sound bogus because it's too good to be true or it's chemically unviable or it lacks proof of efficacy, or all of the above. In the case of this water machine, the ad is full of red flags beyond the basics, from ridiculous claims (drinking this water will multiply the battery life of your watch tenfold) to earnest assurances that it is not a con (the creator of this device received a grade of 100% in his college engineering course). An attempt is even made to turn scientifically-grounded criticisms of the product into a selling point: "Like Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense, anyone not generating controversy isn't doing much of anything."

An advertisement like this is perhaps itself a test for common sense, but while the untruth of it may be clear upon reading or investigating the claims made, the larger problem for me is that my trust and interest in Popular Science has taken a severe hit. Printing ads like this in a scientifically-inclined magazine is either reckless or mercenary, and I can't think of any positive explanation for it. I suppose the 'popular' in the name of the magazine has greater emphasis than the 'science'.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Wall Art

As the stocking and decoration of my apartment nears completion, one living room wall remains blank and lonely. The chairs and couch in the room are facing this wall, so it would be a good place to put a TV or fireplace, but I doubt I would use the former and I doubt my landlord would appreciate the latter.

Since many of the items in my apartment came from large retailers such as Amazon and Target, I looked up 'art' on Amazon to see if they had anything interesting to place on the wall, but everything that I saw was about as soulless and uninteresting as you might expect mass-produced art retailed by a large corporation to be. A replica of a famous painting might do nicely, I suppose.

Alternatively, I could leave the wall blank; in a way--not a particularly inspiring way--a work of art all by itself.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Home Cooking

In the past few years, I've been trying to slowly expand the list of things I can cook. Staples like rice and pasta were among the earliest items in my mental recipe book, and poached eggs are a highlight added last year.

After enjoying cooking with cast iron in the Yukon, I've acquired a cast iron skillet of my own for all frying purposes. I'm certainly attracted to the idea of a pan being imbued with all the flavors it encounters over time. Experiments with steak have been tasty, but not really restaurant quality. Burgers seem to be much easier. In fact, after making my first simple burger, adding nothing but ketchup and a slice of cheese, I became impressed by how bland and dry McDonald's burgers are. Maybe it's something about mass production. Alternatively, overcooking burgers is probably a good way to avoid food poisoning liability.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Insect Sleep

When people talk to a pest control technician, they generally expect that the technician will know a lot about pests. This is very reasonable, but knowing things about stuff doesn't happen automatically. Earlier today, I was trying to think of questions people might ask me that I wouldn't know the answers to, and I eventually found myself wondering-- do insects sleep?

A quick web search suggests that insects do indeed sleep; having a central nervous system seems to be one of the major prerequisites for sleeping and insects do check that box. There have been several experiments in insect sleep-- in one instance, researchers kept a vial of fruit flies awake by regularly tapping on the glass. When the tired flies were finally left alone, they were much less active than flies in another vial that was undisturbed. I can just imagine meetings in this lab to brainstorm how to keep flies awake. Apparently, a later insect sleep study found that caffeine would also have done the job.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Motivational Poem

The first best time to plant a tree
Is twenty years ago or so
The next best time to plant a tree
Is right today, then watch it grow

The motivation from this verse
Is strong until the thought begins
The third best time to plant a tree's
Tomorrow, so just do it then