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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My pin oak is sick!

Have you ever heard of wasps laying eggs into a leaf?  I had not either until my pin oak got sick this year, perhaps just to teach me an extravagant biology lesson.  

A few weeks ago I noticed some swollen brown bumps on its leaves; the back of the leaf was covered with a fine white dust.  Therefore, I wrote to the Plant Doctor at the Botanical Garden here in St. Louis.  Like this:

Dear Plant Doctor,

My pin oak needs your help.  The symptoms are: many round brown bumps on the top of the leaves that correspond to brown stains on the back of the leaf.  There also seems to be some whitish dust on the back of the leaves.  The unfortunate thing is that I believe the whole tree is affected by this. 

I was wondering if you can tell me what the disease may be and if there is any treatment for it.  I am attaching a few photographs.

And the good doctor wrote back with unbelievable news: 

Hello Gabriela,

Your good pictures tell us that your pin oak has been attacked by two different organisms, a small wasp and a fungus. Neither is life-threatening, but each can make the leaves unsightly. They also make good clean-up of affected leaves and their disposal very important.

The wasp causes those bumps, called leaf galls. The female wasps inject the leaf tissue with a growth regulator during the process of egg laying. There are many types of leaf galls. For more information, see our web page on the subject at:

The fungus causes the whitish-gray material, called powdery mildew, on the undersides of your tree's leaves. For more information, see our web page at:

We don't recommend spraying for either leaf galls or powdery mildew.

Thanks for visiting GardeningHelp. We like to hear from our members.

So, I have a pin oak inhabited by wasp larvae.  There must be thousand of them, because every leaf of this immense tree is affected.  When they mature, the wasps fall down, "released" by the leaf, get buried in the soil, from where they emerge to fly around a bit before resuming the cycle.  

The blind cycle of life.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Vintage Missouri

All this more or less is stuff I have come across in my daily travails in or around St. Louis in the past few weeks.  In no particular order, the glorious Amorphophallus titanum  at Missouri Botanical Garden and  how to shoot fish in Missouri river.

Enjoy Vintage Missouri.

Here it is.  Amorphophallus titanum, Her Royal Stinkiness in all its
 mummified glory.  Blooming Day, only happening every few years...

And then, a few days later, poof!  The tip of the Universe falls over.

Two days later, it was Poof!  Major Poof!!!

Now to the more serious matter of killing jumping fish in Missouri river.  This is how you shoot fish --- well - you shoot, all right, 'cause you have the tools.  They (the fish) jump like devils from water just to drive you mad 'cause it's impossible to hit them.  

It's a lottery and they are holding the winning numbers.  They are just too damn fast.  But the river runs furious at your feet, the  morning is lovely - what's to stop you?   

... a method to the madness, right?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Kindle Unlimited and the end of roylaties

Today amazon announced Kindle Unlimited, a Netflix-like subscription program that gives readers access to 600,000 e-books, 2,000 audible books and a variety of other minor other perks for a total price of $9.99/mo. 

 "Enjoy unlimited access to over 600,000 titles and thousands of audio-books on any device for just $9.99 a month."

The news is great for readers, of course.  But for independent authors (and potentially all authors) ...that's a different story.  With Kindle Unlimited, a new club has just been formed and the price for admittance is exclusivity.  Because, my dear friends, exclusivity is wonderful when you are the owner of that exclusive property, not when you are the entity owned.  

As far as this club goes, being outside of the club is bad (terrible visibility and the fact that someone will have to pay outside a subscription for you to make a sale) and being in the club is not much better (loss of control over revenue per book; phasing out the royalty system) 

This seems like a great idea for amazon but my two cents is that really it will not survive in the long run.  Let's analyze this: first, as a KDP Select author, you are trapped in the KDP Select $ pool.  The size of the $ pool is controlled 100% by amazon and changes monthly.  And then comes the juicy part: more total readers of the books included in the pool, less money per author.  Now that spells out brilliance ...or  not. 

This program seems to be a desperate measure on amazon's part to offset some of the pressure that's building in the industry due to others (oyster, etc) migrating to a subscription model.  It doesn't seem that the KDP Unlimited business model is well thought through in its many details and implications. If anything, it lowers the $ amazon pays each individual author/publisher and it smartly gets itself (itself being amazon) our of obligation to pay contractually-enforced royalties. 

Let's hope KDP Select reflects just one of amazon's growing pains.  Let's hope it's temporary.  Let's hope amazon identifies and hires a more inspired (pray for a visionary one) long-term strategist in its Corporate ranks.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Nabokov: The pencil that needs resharpening, the bladder that has to be drained, the words that I always mispell and always have to look up...

If you have the patience to listen to (and therefore forgive) the old-fashioned, pretentious tone of this video, you will discover something long gone: wisdom.  Pure, burdensome and necessary as water or air.

I can not think of any contemporary writer (American or otherwise) who forces us to remain honest to our principles with such brutality and such grace. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Time travel to 1911: The world according to Meyer Brothers Druggist

Ahh!  The good old times in therapeutics, when syphilis was "treated" with arsenic...when everyone had his or her opium little bottle in their armoire....or when radium became the panacea for all ailments...

Here is how the world looked like in early 1900 according to vol.32, 1911 edition of the Meyer Brothers Druggist {published "In the interests of the Entire Drug Trade"} 

"Radium as a Therapeutic Agent.— The Department of Commerce, of Vienna, issues a warning to the effect that great caution must be observed in the use of radium in the treatment of disease. It is stated, however, that radium therapeutics has a great future, especially as it maybe applied easily both externally and internally and the effect is constant. (page 42, 1911)

Also, in case you did not know, the same magazine informs us that at the beginning of the twentieth century, "The most expensive medicine is radium, which at present has a market price of about $5,000,000.00 an ounce."

Just saying.

Finally, the pharmacists turn to arts, for a change:

"Are You Familiar with Emerson's Writing? — If so, perhaps you can tell which, if either of the following quotations are from Emerson. If you can locate just what Emerson said on the subject it will please the editor of the West Publishing Company's Docket, and satisfy the curiosity of many other persons:
  • "If you write a better book, or preach a better sermon, or build a better mousetrap than your neighbor, the world will make a beaten path to your door.
  • "If a man can preach a better sermon, write a bettor book, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though h* build his house In the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.
  • "If a man can build a better mousetrap or preach a better sermon than his neighbor, though his house be built in the woods, the world will find him out and wear a beate-i path to his door."
The quiz is followed by the following piece of information:
"Saccharin was discovered in 1887."

Sunday, January 5, 2014

I miss McCourt...

Sometimes, you come across a book that just explodes in your head, like crazy fireworks on a  July evening.  Such was Angela's Ashes for me. 
The Dickensian dimension, the unbearable decrepitude of Irish life in that period!  The father coming home drunk, waking up his children, aligning them by the side of the bed and forcing them to sing along patriotic songs... 
How I know all that although I have never been to Ireland and those things  never happened to me.  But... thinking more about it... those exact particular things never happened to me, but similar, tangential, or maybe just barely comparable things DID...and my mind was so hungry to listen to them, so avid to listen to McCourt story because, somehow, in small subtitles, in small metaphors or sometimes as loud as a gun pulverizing human life without scope or justification, his story was also the story of children who lived in poverty - material or spiritual - and in fear.  In an interview   on Academy of Achievement McCourt talks about the Ireland of his childhood:
" economic circumstances it was desperate. It was Calcutta with rain. At least they're warm in Calcutta. But it was desperate because of certain things, ingredients like my father being an alcoholic, my mother having too many babies in too short a time, no work available in Ireland, and even when my father did get a job he drank the wages. Then there was the harsh kind of schooling we had with school masters who ruled with a stick and then because of the overwhelming presence of the church, which imbued us with fear all the time. So it was fear, dampness, poverty, alcoholism, fear of the church, fear of the school masters, fear in general."  

But also, scarcity made things precious.  This is how you learn the value of a slice of bread...

Monday, November 25, 2013

Reality is not always probable...

File:Borges y Sabato - 1.jpg
Borges & Sabato
 I love this picture.  This is what I imagine these two guys are saying to each other:

"I believe" says Sabato, "that truth is perfect for maths, chemistry and philosophy, but not for life. In life, in this reality we are dealing with on a daily basis, aspiration, imagination, yearning and hope are more important." 

[In passing being said, only a scientist who quit science (nuclear physics, of all...) to  play with  a different fantasy could have come up with something like this.]

Borges (he's the quiet one), seems to ponder, then says, dryly:

"My dear Sabato, keep in mind, kindly, that reality is not always probable, or likely."