Book Review: The Convict and Other Stories by James Lee Burke 5*/5*

I usually do not like short stories except when reading magazines, but The Convict… has changed my mind. This collection of stories is fantastic. They are war stories, prison stories, and slice of life stories. They really capture whatever scene the author is exploring. Burke is a fantastic writer. I really enjoyed reading his collection and will read more.

James Lee Burke is a famous writer who has a series of detective stories set in the New Orleans area. His main character is Dave Robicheau, a homicide detective. I am embarking on a read of his books now starting in order with

    The Neon Rain

. My summer reading of them will take me through fall.

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Book Review: Think of a Number 4.5/5 *

New book by John Verdon

I have a theory about first books. The theory is that there is a lot of competition to get your book published, as a new author. If anyone ever actually gets his book published, his first book is usually a great one. My theory holds true with

    Think of a Number: A Novel

by John Verdon. I fully expect this to make a great screenplay too; it could be very commercial.

The story starts in bucolic upstate NY where our protagonist has recently moved. He and his wife have retired to the country after his active career catching bad guys as a NY city homicide detective. Oh yes, and one more thing, he specialized in serial killers.

Guess what? Some serial murders start happening and he is pulled back into the fascination of cracking the case once again. The murderer sends a letter that says some odd poetry and then, tells the recipient to “Think of a number.” When the person has a number in mind, he is directed to open a little enclosed envelope where the victim, amazingly, sees the number he has just thought of. This psychological thriller is just excellent at clearly building the situation and suspense. I won’t spoil it for you, of course, but it is a very good story.

I hope this new author has more books for us in the years to come. I thought his plot was well-developed and the characters believable. Well done but don’t read this one in the dark!

Apical Dominance

This is the time of year to go outside and check on how your plants are doing. One thing that is super easy to do and will give lots of return for hardly any input is nipping off the tip of terminal shoots. It is so easy to do and will bring bushier plants and more flowers quite quickly.

Plants have a growing tip that contains a bunch of cells called the meristem. One location of meristematic cells is in the growing tip of the shoot. As the meristem differentiates and turns into more cells behind it, the tip grows forward. Along with growth, the area of the tip is the source of production of a whole class of plant hormones called the auxin group. There are many different types of auxins and they have many effects on the plant, but today we are learning about apical dominance.

The apex of the plant is the tip of the growing shoot. At the time of seed germination, the plant has to grow a stem and some leaves and start photosynthesizing. It must send up a shoot, first thing, to get everything going. As the shoot grows, a matching set of supportive roots must grow. Auxin is the hormone which tells the shoots to carry=on and extend, and the roots to get growing and proliferating. Auxin says, “I am sending out this shoot and I need lots of roots to feed it.”

Auxin also suppresses the growth of buds along the stem behind it. Plants make different amounts of auxin depending on their growth habit. A plant that grows mostly as a vine produces lots of auxin which suppresses the growth of branches and buds below it and allows it to elongate into one long growing shoot which we call a vine. You notice that vines are vine-shaped because they do not have a lot of branches, just lots of long terminal growth.

Vines are the extreme of the plant world when it comes to apical dominance. They stretch out and grow few growing points and each tip produces lots of auxin. If you nip off the growing shoot, the source of the auxin production is gone and the suppression of the lower-down side shoots and buds is gone. When suppression is gone, many growing points start to form and grow and the plant takes on a bushier nature.

All plants produce auxin at the terminal point so pinching that off will stop the growth of the branch you nip and allow side buds to grow. Since most plants produce flowers and fruit from the side branches, you can make a plant grow more compactly and flower more by pruning the tips.

But what about the root growth, you say, doesn’t the lack of auxin reduce the growth of roots? Yes, it will a little bit. You should wait for the plant to become established and medium sized before doing much pinching of apices. After it is growing well, it can handle the pinching and will do fine.

After a pinch two shoots will grow and the plant will be twice as bushy.

What is this world coming to?

First Pluto and now Triceratops. I guess science moves along, doesn’t it? I thought that in case you missed this, my readers would like to know that there never was a Triceratops.

“According to research by John Scannella and Jack Horner triceratops was just a young version of a different dinosaur known as a torosauras. John Scannella and Jack Horner are researchers at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. They have analyzed skulls from dinosaurs that had been categorized as triceratops and torosaurus. They are confident to declare that the dinosaur was actually just a young version of a Torosaurus.”