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November 29th, 2009 - The Ashland Zone

After returning from my hometown of Ashland, Wisconsin, where my wife Sharon, dog Happy and I spent Thanksgiving with my mom, I was struck by the town's ability to consistently come up with surreal imagery, both natural and man-made.
Lying just forty miles from Michigan's 'upper-peninsula', and just sixty miles from the moderately-sized Minnesota port city of Duluth, Ashland has always been a crossroads.
It is a Lake Superior bay town itself, having once maintained seven ore-docks that loaded thousands of Great Lakes ships with raw material commodities such as iron ore, coal, lime, and timber.
At one time it sported a population of over 28,000 sailors, farmers, loggers, and railroaders, now whittled down to just over 8000 northern Wisconsinite families of the former sailors, farmers, loggers, and railroaders, along with college-students, resort traffic entrepreneurs, aging retirees, outdoor sport enthusiasts, and regular small-town folk.
There seems to be something here that brings out the surrealism in people. Maybe it's something about the long winters, or living next to the ionic field of one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, or the magnetic fields given off by the residual iron ore permeating the streets that makes people want to paint mini-murals on their garage doors and decorate their trees with Easter eggs. No one really knows for sure, or at least is afraid to ask.

Here's one of my mom's dried flower arrangements. This is only the slightest bit surreal, I really just liked the light.
The real surreality comes later, as one of our usual field trips with my mom this time of year always involves finding milkweed pods that have gone to seed by driving slowly down country roads, then hopping out of the car, fording drainage ditches and throwing as many as possible into the trunk of the Buick before we get shot, as it is in the middle of deer gun season and we don't have a stitch of blaze-orange clothing on. More surreal still is the ultimate goal: Bring them home, dry them out, and paint them with white and pastel enamels. This is what we do. We don't ask questions.

Of course there is also the City of Ashland, with it's myriad of questionable surreal decisions, such as building an expensive pedestrian tunnel to basically nowhere under the main street, and repaving all the sidewalks in a rural town of 8000 that no one uses except the mail carriers, and they generally skip the sidewalks and go house to house anyway.
Then you have the above park bench with the 'protective' but not well understood snow-fencing. Possibly handed down from the folks that put plastic on their living room furniture to protect it and then never take it off...?  Keeps the resale value high, we presume. Not that it would keep you from sitting on it, but it would make you conspicuous... Okay, we're moving up the surrealistic ladder now, I must admit.

Next, on the back of a garage facing the lake along the 'walking and snowmobile corridor' we begin to visit the domain of the self-styled the garage artists, with this rendering from 'VAN'. The rather forlorn sailor-cat waiting to go back to sea with his table of sunflowers, speaks to us on many levels, including, if not primarily, the surreal.
Below, the comedic (we think) representation of the unknowing property owner proudly polishing his car while a large red Cardinal waits on a telephone wire above, thinking the thought-balloon of "You are mine, all mine.." Um, gives one pause.

 Of course what surrealist art collection wouldn't be complete without surrealist food sculpture, and Ashland never disappoints in this media.
As we were packing up the car to leave, our long-time neighbor Cathy dropped by with some 'cute food' for my mom, which of course had us wondering if she will ever eat it, or perhaps varnish it and add it to the plethora of usual Thanksgiving decorations.

There was 'Tiny' the high-calorie mouse with his chocolate-cherry derrière, and Herseys-Kiss head, with sliced almond ears, of course.
As a companion piece there was the stunning high-calorie dessert turkey representation, with peanut butter chip feet, candy-corn head, bonbon torso, and dipped cookie tail fan.
Um, what more can I say. Words fail me.

Again, not to be outdone in the public works department, Ashland provides for the  "Considerate Pickup of Pet Feces"; the "Mutt Mitt" stations. Presumably for those ill-prepared to bring their own bags for the purpose of self-disposal of pet feces.
The 'Mutt-Mitt' itself is quite a piece of work. Think thick plastic mitten with 'splash-guard' cuff built-in for handing everything from Chihuahua to Great Dane sized 'materials'. I am a little disconcerted that it is called a "degradable" device, instead of "bio-degradable". Perhaps this is so you don't forget that the whole picking up of your pet's feces can be a bit degrading, especially if there is a breach of Mutt-Mitt integrity.

But, in case you are unfamiliar, instructions are provided to avoid mishaps:
Grab it, turn it (they are getting a little too close to the payload for my tastes in the diagram there), and TOSS, NOT DROP it into the proper receptacle. They left out the turning away of the head and facial expressions of disdain for foul smells, as a public service to you. It's hard to make out in the small image, but there are what look to be 'flames' coming off of little Scottie's dookie. Meanwhile he's wearing his "Get it while it's hot, Jonesy, I'm outta here" expression.
I also thought it subtle that they never mention the real fecal material by the harsh terms of the English language, referring to it only with the neuter pronoun "it."  "Grab it." You know what we mean.

Below we have an interesting graphic that I noticed at the Cenex station as we were gassing up to leave town. The buzzphrase under the gas pump handbill was something on the order of "The Cenex Card - Why not...?!"

Notice that the only person of the three having a great time riding down the hill on the back of shovel with the handle between her legs is the woman of the group. The men meanwhile are standing at the top of the hill waving, going, "Ha ha, see ya! Have a great ride...!" All the while wanting to cover their genitals as they watch her bounce down the hill, and taunting each other with "You go first, Bill...", "No no, you're older, you go first Bob, I've got a family to sire..."
I'm not at all sure what any of this has to do with a Cenex card, but I guess "Just Do It" was already taken.

Other surreal but somewhat more real-worldly objects that we came across on dog walks and the like included the 'Parade of Giant Rivets' along the top of the viaduct on Vaughn Avenue. Had I not grown up in a town with a viaduct, the probability is low that the word would be  so ingrained in my vocabulary that I would have been able to play it in a game of Scrabble last week. Score one for rural America. It's just another warping of the time and space that is Ashland. A viaduct rusts it's rivets in Ashland while a typhoon narrowly averts landfall in the Bahamas. We are all part of the wonderful chaos and uncertainty that stems from what we think we know as "physics." Psh.

This whale of a weather vane has graced this blog before, and it is still kicking. It seems to be slowly becoming Moby Dick, the White Whale, and looked to be pointing dead-north at the time of the photograph.
You pretty much have to have a garage in Ashland, as it is such an outlet for your creative expressions and ornamental bric-a-brac, that one would be out of place without it.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, after successfully harvesting our fill of milkweed and goldenrod gauls for my mom to paint, I humored my passengers into scouring the countryside to find a place to photograph the sunset, which was shaping up to be a doozy.

After stopping by the cemetery to pay our respects to my deceased relatives, and after leaving with the melancholy feeling I usually get from the family cemetery, we ended up on a road that I don't think any of us, including my mom, had ever been on before.
This is strange as she has lived in this town her whole life, but there are country roads zig-zagging everywhere, and if you don't know anyone down that road, you may never end up on it.
Just as dusk began to fall, we came upon an old farmstead that was empty and for sale. It had the greatest old house, oak tree, and classic windmill across the road. I took a couple pics of the windmill and wish now that I had had more daylight to photograph the whole place, as I didn't have a tripod with me.
I loved the place and fantasized about living there on the drive back to mom's. Not sure what I'd do to pay the rent, but that doesn't matter in a fantasy of these proportions.
It was a cool place, and definitely surreal.

The topper though was the view from the White River Dam at sunset. This was one of those 'changing by the microsecond' times of the sunset, and it was dramatic. The sun was projecting this orange beam from below the horizon that persisted quite long after the sunset had faded, and also somewhat of an 'orange halo' or semi-circular ring through the clouds that you can just barely make out through the top of this photo.
As I jumped the guard rail and ran across the highway to find a solid object to put my camera on and start shooting, another car quickly pulled over and out jumped a couple with cameras in hand that quickly set up to take some photos as well.
I secretly hope that my stopping there was what inspired them to take the time to stop. It too, was a surreal moment.

November 20, 2009 - Black & Blue or Blue & Black?

Is it just me, or has there been a shift of preference of which ink comes out of your ball-point pen over the last few decades? Beseemingly, (I just made that up) when I was kid, (like in the 60's & 70's, er, the 1960's and 70's) "pens" were blue.

Ink was blue. You wrote in blue ink most of the time, except if you were writing in a legal ledger, then you used black or red.
Nowadays, (thumps his cane on the floor) it seems to me that most pens are black. Blue is still available, but not as preferred as black. Hear me out though. I too, prefer black. I always wanted black when I got blue. But blue was all they had.
Was there some slow evolution of ink color over time, or am I just imaging this? Was it too expensive to produce black ball-point ink? That can't be because before ball-point pens, India-ink was black. Black as ink. Pure and simple. Tattoo your brother on a Spanish galleon. It was black.

Was there some check-writing legibility propaganda that prompted marketeers to create more black pens?
People wanted real answers in 'black & white'...?
Black washed out of a pocket-protector easier than blue? (I hardly think so)
"The 60's Blue-collar Society"...?
Something subliminal about the 'blues' that came through between the lines...?
Granted, more colors are available to us now in our jet-set, multi-colored world, but when it comes down to the real meat & potatoes of writing with a pen; it's still black or blue. Or blue or black. Seems to me.
I turned to the internet for answers, but was not able to find anything conclusive. (That means on the first page of Google. heh.)
I was able to find however that there is a fear of writing - Graphophobia.
And a fear of writing in public- Scriptophobia.

Someone even asked, "Is there is a phobia name for fear of writing with blue pens?"
Answer: "No and I wouldn't worry about it."


However, they go on to say:
"I prefer to write with black ink and sometimes I haven't been paying attention when I have bought the pen and end up with blue ink. I'll write with it, but don't like it (don't like the color on the paper) and as soon as possible will go out and buy the black pen. The odd thing is, I don't mind red ink on occasion."

Ha ha! I think I'm on to something here! Somewhere the tables have been turned. I knew it! (Spoken like a true conspiracy theorist)

I also found out that "Few words enter more largely into the composition of slang, and colloquialisms bordering on slang, than does the word BLUE. Expressive alike of the utmost contempt, as of all that men hold dearest and love best, its manifold combinations, in ever varying shades of meaning, greet the philologist at every turn."
[John S. Farmer, "Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present," 1890, p.252]

Near as I can tell, blue and black pen refill prices are the same.
Further research has turned up little.
I did find something called the "Dong-A Miffy Scented Gel Ink Pen" which "Comes in 10 great sweet scented colors!"
I thought not applicable to the conundrum at hand, but nonetheless a bit surreal.

From the Cosmopolitan magazine troop I also came across a "Pen Color Quiz" which foretold the "Color to Fit Your Personality" with results in "Black, Red or Purple" from CosmoGIRL!
It seems blue isn't even on the radar with teens nowadays.

And from one of the by far greatest volumes of hits on my keywords searches - Promotional pen marketers - there was this brief but rather cryptic opinion: "Pen manufacturers will agree that the most common ink color in use today is black ballpoint pen ink. This is the case because most people who order customized pens are those who are professionals in their fields including top business executives, sales people, and those who are self employed."
They went on to say, "Blue and black ink are the most common because they are the most professional, but that is not to say that you do not have any other options for ink colors.
Black ballpoint pens are among the most common for those who are office workers and sales people, but if you are a children's clothing or toy producer, pink, green and red are might be ideal ink colors for your needs."

Further explaining their philosophy of aesthetics, "Choosing a black ballpoint pen is wise, even if the ink color is not black. This is because black goes with everything and makes it easier for your clients to carry their personalized pen along with them on their business ventures." Clever marketers. They are always thinkin'.

However, maybe that is the crux of the ink choice: "black goes with everything."

I may have to go undercover and find an insider at the Bic company to see if there is a true paradigm shift. Meanwhile...

Please oblige me, gentle reader, by taking the pen color preference poll above.
I must have answers...!

November 18th, 2009 - Bric-a-brac

Rather than resort to conventional photography for this post, I thought I would remind you, gentle reader, that it is possible to scan three-dimensional objects with an ordinary flatbed scanner. And what's more, it's fun!

Of course the flatter the object the better, as a flatbed scanner is designed to scan flat objects well, however it is not limited to scanning two-dimensional objects. Actually, the more you play with them, the more you will see they are like big cameras, with a surprising amount of depth-of-field, and with the added aspect of 'time' as the scanner 'records'. More on that in a sec. Pardon the pun.
Okay, let's scan stuff. We'll start out fairly flat and work our way up. How about a flat pick? (Also known as a 'plectrum')
Makes sense to me. We can't decide if this Haight pick belongs to me or Sharon. Or Jerry Garcia, Jefferson Airplane, or Big Brother & The Holding Company...

Here is definitely one of my picks with a fair amount of 'pick drags' showing on the edges. You have a black Kramer guitar, you have to have a black pick. One of my friends said never to buy a black guitar because those are the ones the manufacturer messes up and has to paint them all black to cover it up. Hmmm. That thing never did stay in tune very well.

It may look like a little paper envelope, but no! It's yet another innovative idea for people on the go! Bottoms up!

This is classic. I may have gotten these with the paper drinking cup. I was travelling to Europe once and I bought this "Travel Kit" at an overpriced airport shop containing a disgustingly plaid inflatable neck pillow (still have, use it all the time) a disgustingly plaid snap-on elastic uni-goggle for sleeping on the plane, and one pair of yellow foam ear plugs. Also included in the kit were these stickers, with a set of "DO NOT DISTURB" stickers on the back. I always wanted to snap on my goggles and put one "PLEASE WAKE UP FOR MEALS" sticker over one eye, and one "DO NOT DISTURB" sticker over the other, just to see what the stewardess would do.
I need more of these for when I retire.

Another piece of classic innovation that never quite caught on. Someone really put some serious thought into this one. What you did was slip this plastic piece behind your guitar strings on the proper fret, and looked at it sideways in front of a TV set. You could then see the vibration of the strings with a sort of 'strobe-effect' and begin to tell when they were in tune as the strobing was eliminated. Note: "begin."
We're going back, back, back...
It's the 'Nixie tube'!
Before Plasma displays, before LCD's, before LED's, even before clocks with flipping metal plates with numbers on them were known as "digital", we lived in the domain of the Nixie tubes. By hitting one of the wires on the bottom with about a jillion volts of electricity, you could make one of the cathodes shaped as numbers from 0 - 9 inside the tube light up with a dim orange glow.
Keen! See, we have evolved.
You can imagine a how hot a calculator as big as a desk became after running eight digits of these babies all day. I scanned this by laying it on the scanner, putting a wad of toilet paper over it and pointing a flashlight at it while the scanner bar went by. Hey, we're gettin' all three-dimensional now.

And what bric-a-brac shelf would be complete without: "The Pink Hand Grenade...!"
I love this thing! Such symbolism. So graphic. And, it squeeks! Loudly!
Make pink hand-grenades, not war.
So here's where the 'time' thing comes in. Say you put an object on the scanner. Say you set the scanner to like 50 dpi so it scans pretty fast. Say as the scan bar moves down the scanner, you move the object along with it, at relatively the same speed.

You begin to 'stretch' the object because the scanner is recording as you are moving over time. Cool no?
I have also heard of people opening up their scanners and putting them on their speakers while their favorite song is playing to 'see' what the music 'looks' like.
I wish I had thought of that.
That's all for now, see ya!
Have fun scanning!

November 15th, 2009 - Natura Ex Machina

I was reading my friend Kirk's blog yesterday (Twin Cities Naturalist), and he was describing how they believe a bird dropping bread crumbs into an opening in the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider is what caused it to overheat, causing a multi-million dollar stoppage and much down time.
Isn't it amazing how as scientists we can be smart enough to build an extremely complex machine such as this, but as humans we somehow lack the common sense to prevent what could be a serious and expensive problem by simply foreseeing a vulnerability?
It brings to mind an episode out of my time as a maintenance technician at a large 24 hour photolab.
I was off-shift, but the lab was coming off of a long overnight shift of photo-processing, and trying to finish up their work right around dawn.
One technician was on staff at the time, along with the maintenance supervisor. Please realize that a photolab is a noisy, active, smelly environment, with buzzers and alarms going off at regular and irregular intervals, much machine noise, people talking, and often the radio playing over the PA system.
People are in and out of darkrooms, going through light-tight doors, and working behind curtains. Techs often have their heads stuck into large noisy machines, and everyone is focused on their assigned tasks at hand, or zoning off into the repetition that is their assigned task at hand.
Photolabs require uninterrupted power. If that power goes out during printing, it sucks, you have to reprint, and it becomes an expense. However, it's not the end of the world.

On the other hand, if the power goes out during film processing, it is nearly the end of the world. Film that belongs to a lot of people who care about it very much becomes irreparably destroyed.
The customer service department of the lab likes you even less than usual, if that is even possible.
The lab uses large machines that need to be kept at a precisely consistent temperature and if they vary from that temperature, they take time and hence expense to readjust.
This in principle is very similar to a Large Hadron Collider.
Little or no output can be achieved during this downtime.
Also, almost all of the machines in a photolab use a lot of gears, belts, and pulleys to drive or pull film or paper through them, so if you shut off the power while they are in the middle of what they are doing, they tend to keep doing it as long as inertia will allow, and then begin to do it in a way in which they were not designed, with much munching, crunching, swearing, and groaning.
So loss of power is a bad thing.
That is why facilities such as this have a backup generator. If the power goes out, or actually even thinks about going out, there are complex circuits which sense the drop in source power, and within milliseconds switchover to batteries and/or generator power if necessary.
Of course, this doesn't happen very often. In the U.S. it happens very seldom. Power in most parts of the United States is amazingly consistent compared to some other countries and is normally pretty predictable considering it's demand. That is why we don't often check the backup generator. Hey, it'll work, it's almost new, it never gets used!
One day, on a nice sunny fall morning in Minnesota, a squirrel was busily storing it's nuts in a far corner of the roof on top of the photolab building.

As it ran along the wires and jumped from place to place it happened to jump to place it had never jumped before. As it's front feet touched one point of contact on the sub-stage transformer and it's back feet touched another at the same time, the moisture in it's little mammalian body provided the equivelant of a little mammalian connecting wire which short-circuited the transformer providing power to the building, thus heating up the fluids in it's little mammalian body with much alacrity. However, not with enough alacrity to avoid placing a large load on the transformer, which caused it to overheat, explode, and reduce power output to the building to approaching near zero in a matter of milliseconds.
Thankfully, the complex circuits attached to the backup generator decided that the voltage coming into them was too low, and started up the generator. In a matter of seconds the power was back up to normal levels and the large machines didn't change their temperature due to having their large tanks of fluids already warmed up, or notice much of a change in their transport systems, due to inertia of their moving parts.
Objects in motion tend to maintain that motion, while objects at rest tend to stay at rest. These objects had been in motion all night.
Inside the lab, the tech was busy working on some piece of equipment, and the maintenance supervisor was having a cup of coffee and a smoke in the breakroom. (Yes, there was a time when you could have a smoke in the breakroom.)
Neither noticed the pop of the transformer, or the alarm way back in the corner of the building that said that the generator was now powering the building.
The big machines rolled on.

However, the small machines that had their own little computers controlling them began to hiccup. A few milliseconds is a long time to a computer. Some computers have batteries built into them that can keep them going for 'a while' and some do not. Those that did not began doing strange things. Well, strange from the perspective of what they normally did in a photolab, probably not so strange from the perspective of a computer that had it's power shut off and then turned back on for a second.
So suddenly the tech had a few more things to fix and called the maintenance supervisor who stubbed out his cigarette and downed his coffee. They both began to fix the machines weren't working right, as they always did when things stopped working, and the big machines rolled on.
Outside, a puff of smoke that smelled like burnt fur and insulation dissipated into the air at dawn in the big city, and no one noticed. Nearby, the generator that the photolab designers created to insure that their livelihood wouldn't be interrupted puttered on, sucking up diesel fuel from a tank attached to it though it's fuel pump. God was in his heaven.
Inside, the tech and the maintenance supervisor focused on fixing their machines' problems, and cursed the world for presenting them with so many things to do when they just wanted to go home and sleep.
After about twenty minutes, they had almost all the problems fixed (well, you never have all your problems fixed) and were breathing a sigh of collective relief.
Just as the maintenance supervisor was about to light another cigarette and bemoan his fate with the technician, the fuel pump on the generator was sucking up the last drops of the two gallons of diesel fuel that had been the only two gallons of diesel fuel ever put in the one hundred gallon tank for the generator, because why would anyone spend money on a lot of diesel fuel to sit in a generator that was rarely used...?

My question is not of whether it was the squirrel's fate that made it step where he had never stepped before, nor if it is man's fate to have the folly to build insurance into something and not adequately use it, but rather, did anyone ever put a cover over the contacts of the sub-stage transformer?

November 11th, 2009 - Mold Monsters, Teddy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

All photos by Ted K.
My friend Ted has a Master's in 'Urban Exploration.'
Well, as close to a Masters as you can have in a somewhat clandestine field. He is a trained anthropologist, experienced climber, and hole in the fence passer-througher. He likes a good abandoned building, broken down millrace, or remnant of a grain-elevator to explore and analyze for anthropological evidence.
I've come along on some of his expeditions.
Growing up in northern Wisconsin on Lake Superior with it's many abandoned coal & iron oredocks, sawmills, and boathouses, we didn't think anything of "inviting ourselves in" to have a look and a poke around. It's what you did to see some history in your town.
These days the legalities are a different story, but I have to say it is so interesting to see how things change, even by looking at abandoned things from our relatively recent past.
Ted posted a couple pictures from some adventures I missed that piqued my interest. More than that, they had me saying to myself, and Ted, "No F'ing way. You put that there. You made it, and staged the shot." But no.
After seeing what looked like a tinker-toy spider made out of those plastic stick-together modelling parts they use to make molecule forms in chemistry class (above) I had to call him to the carpet on it. It looked so artificial, yet so organic.
He said no, they were there exactly as photographed, and what was even stranger, one was in Ohio, and one was in downtown Minneapolis!

I asked if he could write up a little description of his experiences (and his brother's, who was along on one of the trips) with what he called "The Mold Monsters."
The response was as follows:
"Again, it was pretty humid in both places, as in: wet. The first location was in an abandoned underground steam tunnel (in Ohio, under a boarded-up college, under the Sciences Building, no less. Figures.) The second was in the basement of an abandoned army base HQ here in Minneapolis.
In size, both were about the size of an old 50 cent piece (JFK)" (Like anyone is going to know what that is, Ted, sheesh).
"Up close they looked less like they were the remains of spiders, and more like they were growing on filaments of some kind--i.e. spider webs. They had a fuzzy/hairy surface to them and were pure white. The balls themselves varied in size but I would guess were roughly 3 cm on average. We didn't dissect or find any broken open."
My first thought was that the white balls were actually egg sacs belonging to some spider, but I had never seen anything left in such a symmetrical pattern like that.
The weird thing I noticed about the first one is how the 'white orbs' descend in size as they get further and further away from the main 'body orbs.' And that they look to be on every joint of a 'spider's legs'. (There are eight, coincidence...?)
To me, the first one's shape looks to be basically that of a "Cellar Spider" (commonly called a "Daddy Long-Legs", but this is a confusing entomological 'misnomer'. The Daddy Long-Legs name is also applied to two distantly related arthropod groups: the harvestmen (which are arachnids but not spiders), and crane flies (which are insects). I'm not sure who's daddy was first or who deserves the name more, but the spiders I'm thinking about are from the Pholcidae spider family in the suborder Araneomorphae.
The second photo looks to me like the basic shape of some of the Crab Spiders, in the Thomisidae family of the order Araneae.
As I was showing these images to Siah St. Clair, the director of the Springbrook Nature Center and describing my thoughts about them, I began to come to the same hypothesis he did, and almost said it before it came out of his mouth.
He said, "I think it's one of two things. Either it's a spider's cast-off molt that has become a skeletal structure for some type of 'mold balls' to grow upon, or it's a dead spider corpse itself, now growing mold on it's body parts in the same manner."
It makes sense.
The areas where the 'orbs' are found concur with where the 'fleshy' exoskeletal areas of the spider are thickest, maybe harboring moisture and providing a start for mold growth.
Er, well, that's the theory anyway.
Anyone ever seen anything like this...? I'm wondering if this particular mold is picky about where it grows. Does it seek out spider corpses exclusively? Since they were both found in areas 'man-made', (and I personally haven't seen anything like this anywhere else, but I would like to hear from people with more sightings) is it related to human activity from when the locations were inhabited?
Keep your eyes peeled for moldy spiders. Or whatever you think they are.
And if you see a dim headlight in a boarded-up building, cut Ted some slack. He's probably documenting histories of ancient societies and strange life forms...

November 3rd, 2009 - Specimen Day

Walt Whitman pronounced his autobiography, 'Specimen Days,' to be "the most wayward, spontaneous, fragmentary book ever printed" (That's probably because "On the Road" hadn't been written yet.)
Be that as it may, I'm stealing his title, or at least part of his title, for my post. (I thought 'Specimen Days' was a great book, BTW)
Partly because I'm normally wayward, spontaneous, and fragmentary myself, and partly because I was out gathering glowing UV pumpkin gut specimens with a tongue depressor at Springbrook the other night.

Autumn Leaves - 'The Blair Witch' shot.

I worked the desk at SB during voting night (they are a polling place, the election was another story in itself) and decided that as long as I was there I would stroll out to the pumpkin mess and scoop up some gooey samples for future observation under UV lights and a microscope.

The travesty of "The Killing Fields." Note the handy bludgeon.

I would try to keep the glowing samples separated by color and see if I could figure out what was glowing, or if they changed on their own after being separated from the pumpkins.

"The horror. The horror."
The horror of bad teeth.

It was misting/sleeting as per usual every time I even think about hiking at Springbrook (kind of an inside joke), so I decided I would focus more on the specimen gathering and just bring "The Little Camera" (Olympus Stylus - 850SW) this time.

"Yes, Mr. Jones, I think we have discovered your problem. It's Pumpkin Rot. There, there, don't take it so hard. Look at the upside. You'll be able to read at night without turning the light on!"

So I scooped my goop and took a few quick pics.
Here is an interesting series:

Mansonite pumpkin.

The Enemy Within.

Spooky bottom lighting. The oldest trick in the book.

Things were getting pretty gooshy. Good thing I hadn't cleaned my boots from the last time.

And so it goes. More later on the microscopy, after the biological and toxicological results come back from the lab. Hopefully we won't have to call in Steve McQueen, the National Guard, or Harry Potter.
But you never know.

November 2nd, 2009 - An Evolution of Thought

Lying in bed this morning I was thinking of some video footage I saw last Friday night. It was my 'last' night of work at the nature center (I'm currently a seasonal naturalist) and we had nature videos playing on the big flatscreen all night.
I was going about my naturely business, cleaning out the Cecropia moth exhibit and doing animal care, etc. all the while watching the "Be The Creature" series from National Geographic with one eye as I moved about the exhibit room. The two brothers were following a pack of wild dogs in Africa, and it was really interesting.
The images still stuck in my head were of course of the mother regurgitating up her food for the pups to dine upon. They were more than happy to see her coming and pounced upon the bloody scraps of whatever the lion had just killed about as fast or faster than she could get it out of her mouth.
This had me thinking about what the wolfologist was saying when our group visited the International Wolf Center up in Ely, Minnesota. He said that when your dog comes to greet you and wants to lick your face, it all comes back to that regurgitation imprint and that what your dog would really like is for you to barf up something nice and tasty for him. That this is some left over imprinted knowledge that has been passed down through the generations, evolved if you will, or at least was carried through the genes and not connected to actions from a previous experience during the life of the animal.
I have also witnessed this with snakes. We were all crowding around the snake eggs in the incubator at the moment of the cutting of the leathery egg shell with snake's the egg tooth is just beginning, all keyed up and wondrous, ready to snap our photos as soon as we see the expression on the baby snakes' face as they experience our world for the first time. The snake cuts it's shell, and pokes it's head out, along with an amalgamation of gelatinous goo.

Ne're but a few minutes after the snake completely emerges from it's egg, and this is a CORN SNAKE mind you, it begins to shake it's tail in it's best imitation of a rattler to 'scare' us off and let us know it means business! Corn snakes don't have rattles. How did it know that we should be intimidated by a snake that rattles...?  It seems this behavior came from some place other than the snake's life experience to that point, as it really had none.
This got me thinking about humans. Why is it that we humans always think we are beyond animal behavior? The world was disgusted when Darwin blew us away with this radical theory that we evolved from monkeys, or lizards, or even worse, snails! This is a preposterous insult! Much of the world is still disgusted by it and can't accept that we could be animals.
So when I go to my psychologist to find the root of my anxiety and she asks me, "What's the earliest disturbing thought you can remember...?"
We find that thought, we talk about my childhood issues, and she bases her whole treatment and philosophy of my problem on something that happened in my childhood... because with humans it couldn't possibly come from anything except what I have experienced during my lifetime... right...?
Aren't we jumping the gun a bit? Why can't we humans have thoughts, fears and mannerisms imprinted from our close and distant relatives, whoever and whatever they were, just like all other animals?
How do we know that my mother-in-law's fear of putting her face into deep water isn't because her relatives grew up on a barren sand plane and now she lives on an island in the pacific?
I described this scenario to my wife Sharon, and she pointed out, "It's Nature versus Nurture."
Wow. She's right, it is. That classic argument as to whether we are influenced by our environment or our genes.
Do our thoughts evolve? Are we really in control of ourselves? Am I shaking a tail I no longer have...?
Time to let the dog take me for a walk.

October 31st, 2009 - Pumpkin Guts, Part II

On Friday night October 30th (& 31st) Jade, Josh, Alicia, Ted and I walked back out into the smashed pumpkin patch in the lightly wafting sleet and dim glow of the masked moon over the Springbrook Nature Center.
We came armed with a multitude of UV flashlights, and our ever-present curiosity. This was a follow-up hike to the one on the previous Friday night to see how the decay of 796 pumpkins from the facility's "Pumpkin Night in the Park" was progressing.

Things were jelling nicely. One question that was beginning to be answered was as to what effect the petroleum jelly applied to the carved pumpkin areas after the carving to "preserve" them was contributing to the UV reactivity.
The previous visit, after colder temperatures and after the pumpkins had been sitting smashed outside for a week, it was observed that the petroleum jelly wasn't directly responsible for much glow on its own. Most of the glowing was coming from mold growth on or in under the surface of the pumpkins themselves.
This week however, the areas with surplus Vaseline were glowing more brightly on their own and had mixed with the pumpkin juice and precipitation to create even more colors and brightly glowing areas. The colors ranged from oranges, pinks, and magentas to yellows, greens, blues and violets even beyond the incidental glow of the direct UV and the moonlit reflections.

Ahab sailing his tiny craft down the whale's enormous gullet.

Looking into Jack's head.

Bit of a skull fracture there.
Jade is a bio-chemist and commented on the weirdness of petroleum products actually molding themselves, or being a carrier for mold. They were definitely contributing to what was going on now, but were neither the source nor the result exclusively.
I was thinking yeah, that's weird that oils can mold, but then remembering back to my days working in photolabs when we would find some sort of tenacious algae growing in the bleach tank of the photo processing machine.
I remember thinking then, if you believe in reincarnation you must have done something pretty bad to come back as a lowlife slime growing in the bottom of a photo processor's bleach tank. Some thoughts are better just left alone.

This guy (or gal) seems a little perturbed that their face has caved in. However, it let in just enough air, light, moisture, bacteria, and god knows what else to create a intensely glowing tumor for us to enjoy. And a second childhood for the pumpkin head. Thank you, mold makers.

I call this one "Gag Reflex."

Things were getting pretty soupy at this point, what with the sleet blowing in, and us crunching and sclurching among the pumpkins. My boots and tripod legs were getting covered in pumpkin guts and Vaseline and were glowing almost as brightly as the pumpkins. I took a stick and poked and stirred up some pumpkin soup to see if it increased or reduced the amount of glowing. Seems like neither. It just mixed up the glowing pigments.
I seemed to be having the best results photographically by setting my camera on "P - mode" at f5.6 - 8, and "painting" the insides of the pumpkins with a single UV flashlight until the camera sensor decided it had enough light to close. Usually somewhere in the range of 5 - 15 seconds depending on the scene.
I think the next thing to do would be go out there before the snow and cold and gather up some samples of the different colored goos for observation under a video microscope.
I would be interested to see if things are crawling around on their own inside all of that.
All in all, some very interesting goo. Happy Halloween, everyone...
Like Ted says, "Who needs candles...!?"