Book Review: “The Cure” 0/5*

I do not know why I wasted my time reading this dumb book by Robin Cook. I guess giving it a 0/5 stars is a bit overdone but I am surprised this was even published. I give myself 0/5 for persevering and finishing it. The plot was formulaic, the characters were cliché and the end of the book was clearly an afterthought to wrap up the story in a hurry.

I have enjoyed some early titles by Robin Cook like “Coma” and “Contagion” but this one is really dumb. The story starts by confusing the reader with insane Japanese names that I had to write down to keep straight. You probably think I am bad with names, and that is sort of true. Here are some examples of the names thrown at the reader in the first few chapters:
Hisayuki Ishii
Susumu Nomura
Yoshiaki Eto
Hideki Shimoda
Carlo Paparo
Brennan Monagham
Louie Barbera
Yamaguchi gummi
Saburu Fukuda
Hiroshi Fukazawa
Tokutaro Kudo
Satoshi Machita
Mitsuhiro Narumi
Hisayuki Ishii
Kenichi Fujiwara

There are more; you get the idea. Note to authors: if you have a lot of characters, make them simple names, starting with different letters of the alphabet so your readers can tell them apart. For example, do not have John, James, Jim, and Jerry as your character names. There are other letters out there. And cool it with the foreign names, too. Those names are probably common names in Japan, but I AM NOT JAPANESE. Sheesh.

To sum up my review of this book, it should only be read on a beach, wearing sunglasses, while drunk. Then you will enjoy it. In Japan.


Movie Review The Town 5/5*

Movie poster showing the bank robbers in disguising masks during a robbery.

Ah, there is nothing quite like a really great heist movie! Ben Affleck stars in and directs Hollywood’s latest addition to the genre. Lots of action, cool Bah-ston accents and an excellent storyline gives ‘The Town’ a five star rating. Affleck plays a bank robber who has conflicting emotions about his chosen career and a girl. Very cool edgy movie. I cannot tell you too much, but if you love a good heist, see this one.

A Contest!

These are the fan-shaped leaves of the Gingko tree.

Today we have a very exciting development. We are having our first contest on the blog. The contest is sort of like a baby pool where people guess the date a child will be born, only we will guess the date the Ginkgo in Infamous’ back yard will shed its leaves. In case you did not realize it, the Ginkgo sheds all its leaves in one day. It is the most synchronous shedder I have ever heard of. The tree makes abscission layers at the base of the leaves and for some reason, they seem to all reach the same level of development on the same day. One gentle breeze and Poof! all the leaves are down. So I will start the pool off with my guess that the leaves will fall on October 23. No one else can take that day. Submit your guesses in the comment section. When the day arrives, we shall see who is closest. There will be a special prize of no monetary value awarded. The winner will be announced on this blog. Deadline for your submissions is September 30th so do not delay.

Woolly Aphids

Our pest today is an unusual version of a common insect. Most people know what an aphid looks like. They are soft bodied tiny insects that suck plant juices by inserting a pointed snout into the plant. They are very common in most gardens. Colonies of mothers and daughters are fairly well known on the new growing tips of plant shoots like roses. One other kind of aphid that is not so well known is the woolley aphid. They are called woolley because of a white waxy covering on their backs that keeps them protected from the elements. When giant colonies of these insects cover twigs it can look like the branches are coated with snow. When you take a closer look it is appalling how many thousands of individual insects are attacking the plant and sucking plant juices. The branches can be overwhelmed and dry up and die. This is a picture of a fine big colony attacking my ornamental cherry tree.

The white stuff on these branches is wall-to-wall insects attacking the twig.

Although I may have been a little late discovering what was going on, they have now all been sprayed with Orthene insecticide. I hope they are incapacitated and I will not lose this branch.

Book Review: Packing for Mars 5/5*

Mary Roach’s new book is a nonfiction work about what we have to consider if we send humans into space. She writes with a very witty turn of phrase that is cute and entertaining. She starts out by going through Nasa thinking out loud about how inconvenient the human payload can be. Humans can only live in a narrow range of temperatures, humidity, gas ratio in the space capsule etc. making the human being extraordinarily difficult to work with. She has the sense of humour of an 8th grader which is hilarious and irreverent when dealing with a humorless government agency. She answers all the questions we have always wondered about but were too polite to ask. Topics like eating, drinking, going to the bathroom, having sex, living in space and other controversial but fascinating areas are covered or rather uncovered as the case may be.

My only problem with the book was on my end. I read this book on my Kindle. Kindles are great but she uses many footnotes throughout the text. On a Kindle you have to hover your cursor to jump to the footnotes which are all clustered at the back of the book at about 99%. Then you cannot go back to where you left off reading in the middle of the book because Kindle thinks you have now read 99% of the book. I found some of the funniest parts to be in the footnotes. I ended up writing down the location number, clicking through to the footnotes, and entering in the location to regain my place.

Except for my footnotes problem I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot. It is not too technical for non-science folks and funny enough to keep your interest. I would rate it a “must read”.

Martians Have Landed

If you believe in little green men, look no farther than our own planet because there are some strange organisms out there. Infamous was paddling around last week in a fresh water lake and found this unusual life form.

A colony of Bryozoa peeled from a submerged log.

I first thought this was some form of frog egg mass or a glob of algae. Being the curious type, I scooped up this sample and put it on a plate for photos. ]

A colony of the organisms on a paper plate for scale.

I hope the blog police do not catch me for putting an animal on a Botany blog. For it turns out, that gob of stuff was, indeed, an animal. I found a picture of it on Wikipedia under the topic Bryozoa. Being an ever alert blogster, I thought I should bring it to the attention of the proper authorities. This is not a plant. It is a colony of lower animals that hang together like coral. It is soft and squishy so not quite like coral, but that is the closest thing my mind can come up with. The little animals wave tiny tentacles in the water and sweep particles of food into their mouths.

A cross section sliced through the colony to show the clear soft interior.

According to the Wiki article, they reproduce by having both male and female parts inside their bodies. The sperm are released into the water to float around and fertilize the eggs. The black specks in this picture are the reproductive “seeds” (only they are animals so not seeds).

Small black reproductive units that overwinter and start a colony again in the spring

Book Review: The Help 4/5*

If you are ever lucky enough to get a book published, it must be good enough to grab an editor’s attention. I find first published books by an author are invariably excellent. The Help by Kathryn Stockett proves the rule. This is the first book by the author, written loosely about her childhood in Jackson, Mississippi. The book is about a book being written. The protagonist is Skeeter, a young lady, educated at a fine southern University, looking for a job in journalism. She is living in a time and place that has severe black/white rules for separation and behavior. She is both a member of Jackson’s Junior League and someone who can see that the status quo must be left behind as the era of civil rights begins in the Deep South. She starts a secret book of interviews of African-American women who serve the Junior League women as maids and more. She explores the ways these women begin to become more than The Help as they run the homes, raise the children and feed the families they serve.

I really enjoyed this book. The love/hate relationships between the Southern ladies and The Help was done very well. This book is recommended.

Drooping Leaves are a Problem

Much of the USA has had a hot, dry summer this year. Plants burst forth in the spring with good amounts of rainfall, only to be tricked by hot dry weather later. If you are trying to cultivate special plants, be aware of dry spells and try to water at least once per week, deeply.

Wilted leaves on a Burning Bush, Euonymous alatus 'Compacta'

There are some interesting things about the response of plants to dry weather. In fact, they have developed a special hormone to deal with drought. It is called abscisic acid. ABA as it is known to botanists, is produced in the roots when the soil gets hot and dry. It travels up the plant stems in the xylem tubes and gets into the leaves. There it alters the osmotic potential of the cells which keep the stomata open. Stomata are like little mouths in the back of the leaves. The little mouths are normally held open by the plump guard cells so the leaves can breathe gases and perform photosynthesis. When the guard cells soften up in response to ABA, the stomata close and insure no water loss. This is a very clever thing for the stomata to do since most of the rest of the leaf is covered by waxy coverings and is quite waterproof. Anyway, the ABA is a signal that the weather is hot and dry and is a time of stress, so shut down everything and wilt. When water is again present, the ABA dissolves away and causes no harm.

A large Rodgersia spp. wilted down from drought

Another thing ABA does is prepare plants for dormancy. ABA is produced seasonally at the end of summer in response to the stimulation of shortening daylengths. Different species of plants are more or less sensitive to ABA, so it is one of many factors involved, but the bottom line is it makes the leaves fall off. That is why it is called abscisic acid, it makes leaves abscise. Some species of plants will shed a part of their leaves after a single wilting event. Some plants will not shed them until shortening days, cold weather, and other signals tell them it is time for winter dormancy. In many plants, ABA will stimulate the growth of corky cells located at the base of leaf stems. These corky cells sever the connection between the twig and the leaf. After no more water or nutrients are coming INTO the leaf, and no more carbohydrates from the leaf are going INTO the twig, they feel they can do without one another. The leaf begins to starve, and it loses first its chlorophyll, then its carotene, then its will to live and lets go. That is why leaves turn from green to orangy red (in some species) as they go into autumn. It is getting to that time of year, people…fall.

Movie Review: The American 4/5*

After a long summer hiatus, we found ourselves at the movies again. We saw the new George Clooney movie (my “other” movie-star-boyfriend) called The American. It takes place mainly in Italy in a picturesque medieval town. Clooney is a spy/assassin type guy who is growing weary of the work. He meets a hooker with a heart of gold, and considers retirement. The love interest role is played by Violetta Placido, a lovely portrayal and just right for the movie. No other well-known actors are in it but it was really good. I enjoyed it, and expect Clooney to get another Academy Award nomination since he has reached that point in his career.

Other movies coming up this holiday season seem good too, so get out there and go to the movies again. It’s fun.

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