Portraits of Wildflowers

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Posts Tagged ‘Texas

Spider enclosure

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On November 1st I came across this small spider enclosure on a
purpose-bent stalk of little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium).
Three weeks later the enclosure looked about the same.


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Why don’t problems that are easily fixed get fixed?

So I was checking out at Whole Foods a couple of months ago. Because of the pandemic, many credit/debit card terminals have been upgraded so that now you can tap a card on the device instead of having to swipe the card or insert it. The problem is that a customer doesn’t know exactly where on the terminal to tap the electronic chip in the card. My first taps didn’t work, so I asked the checker-outer specifically where I needed to hold my card. She indicated a place a bit further back from where I’d tried. That worked.

I pointed out to her that the store could head off this problem by putting a little sticker with the words TAP HERE in the exact place under which the hidden sensor sits inside the terminal. She and the bagger seemed not to understand what I was saying, or else didn’t think it was important. I went on to explain that different stores use different kinds of terminals, and some of them are finicky about exactly where a card needs to be tapped. Employees who work the registers learn where that spot is, but customers can’t be expected to know, so a little sticker or some other symbol would show us the right place to tap. Eventually, one right after the other, the two clerks suddenly changed demeanor and said my suggestion was a good one and they’d pass it along to the management, but I got the distinct impression they were just saying that to get rid of me. If I go back to that Whole Foods a few months from now, I seriously doubt I’ll see a little sticker on each terminal showing where to tap a card.

Store bathrooms often present the same kind of problem in automated sinks, hand dryers, and paper towel dispensers: where exactly to put your hand(s) to make the device come on. I often have to move my hands around to various positions until the device finally activates—and sometimes no hand position ever manages to make the device come on. The easy fix would be to use a sensor that responds to a broader range of hand positions. If the concern is that a more-sensitive sensor might cause unintentional activation by people relatively far way, then a device could have two or three less-sensitive sensors spaced out to cover different hand positions. That would raise the machine’s cost a little, but I think reducing customers’ frustration and wasted time would be worth it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 30, 2021 at 4:28 AM

Sunlight from behind versus flash from in front

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Behold two takes on flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata, from November 1st along Spicewood Springs Rd. In the top view I took advantage of the sun in front of me for backlighting; in the other picture I used flash. You might say the second view isn’t “natural,” but then neither is photography.

Only when processing the pictures a couple of weeks after I took them did I notice some sort of translucent insect. You can make it out near the center of the lower photograph. Higher up you can also make out a tiny lacewing egg attached by a filament to one of the leaflets. Now that you’re aware of those two things, you can also see them in the top picture.

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The other day I learned about an important court case from 2008 involving free speech. It’s described in an Inside Higher Ed article and you can watch a half-hour video about it produced by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 29, 2021 at 4:31 AM

Insects on goldenrod

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From the morning of November 9th on the shore of the Riata Trace Pond, here are two views of flowering goldenrod plants, probably Solidago altissima. In the top photograph you may strain your eyes to make out the Ailanthus webworm moth (which I didn’t even notice when I took the picture), but you sure can’t miss the umbrella paper wasp (Polistes carolina) shown below.


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UPDATE. Last month I reported on the way the public schools in Wellesley, Massachusetts, were purposely segregating students by race. Now I’ve learned about intentional racial segregation in a New York City junior high school. Needless to say—except that I find myself having to say it—racial segregation has been illegal in American schools ever since the Brown vs. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 28, 2021 at 4:24 AM

Gulf muhly on a breezy day

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On October 29th, when I drove up to the adjacent Austin suburb of Cedar Park looking for poverty weed at its fluffy best, I also came across some gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) that looked good enough for me to get on the ground and aim up toward the clear blue sky. The top left portion of the photograph confirms the breeze I had to contend with that morning. Note the moon.


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The technical definition of a word sometimes differs from the common one. For example, most English speakers use the word bug to refer to insects in general or even other little critters like spiders. In contrast, etymologists use the term bug only for members of a certain order of insects, the Hemiptera; some sources say true bug to indicate the restricted scope.

That kind of difference between a technical definition and a common one came up recently in reference to some incidents this past week that you may have heard about in which organized “smash and grab” groups in the San Francisco Bay area stole lots of merchandise from high-end stores. In connection with that, I came across a report from station KABC with the headline “Experts caution use of ‘looting’ in describing rash of Bay Area smash and grabs.” The report notes that “The [California] penal code defines looting as ‘theft or burglary…during a ‘state of emergency’, ‘local emergency’, or ‘evacuation order’ resulting from an earthquake, fire, flood, riot or other natural or manmade disaster.” Because authorities hadn’t declared any state of emergency or issued any evacuation orders before the thefts, the argument goes, the stealing at the high-end stores shouldn’t be called looting.

Some would say that that’s just quibbling. It got me wondering how the average person uses the verb loot, so I checked a few online dictionaries:

Merriam-Webster:

1a: to plunder or sack in war
b: to rob especially on a large scale and usually by violence or corruption
2: to seize and carry away by force especially in war

Oxford Dictionaries:

Steal goods from (a place), typically during a war or riot. ‘desperate residents looted shops for food and water’
1.1 Steal (goods) in a war, riot, etc.

American Heritage Dictionary:

1. To take goods from (a place) by force or without right, especially in time of war or lawlessness; plunder: The rebels looted the city. Rioters looted the downtown stores.
2. To take by force or without right; steal: broke into the tomb and looted the grave goods.
v.intr. To take goods by force or through lawless behavior.

So yes, the verb has a historical connection to war and rioting and natural disasters. At the same time, definition 1b in Merriam-Webster and definition 2 in the American Heritage Dictionary show that people have also been using loot more loosely. It’s a truism of linguistics that words often change, both in how they’re pronounced and what they mean.

In looking up loot, I found that the word came into English from Hindi, presumably as a result of British colonialism in India. For a list of other English words borrowed from languages spoken in India, you can check out a Wikipedia article. You may be surprised that some very common English words make the list.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 27, 2021 at 4:28 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Dew, dew, dew what you did, did, did before

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From November 9th at the Riata Trace Pond, look what the dew did to this gulf vervain (Verbena xutha) inflorescence. For a closer look at the effects of the roration, click the excerpt below.


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As a Thanksgiving follow-up, you can check out an appreciation of America by Jewish Iranian refugee Roya Hakakian, A Modern-Day Pilgrim From the ‘Land of No,‘ that appeared in Common Sense by Bari Weiss.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 26, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Catching up with cowpen daisies

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I saw some pleasant cowpen daisies (Verbesina encelioides) this fall but didn’t manage to squeeze any pictures of them into my recent parade of posts till now. The view above of a fresh flower head comes from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 11th, while the portrait of flower-backed seed head remains is from October 6th along Rain Creek Parkway in my neighborhood. Even now I’m still seeing some cowpen daisies.

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Happy Thanksgiving today to those of you in the United States—and for that matter to those of you in other countries. Here’s an article appropriate to the occasion: “Grandma accidentally invited a stranger to Thanksgiving. Now, they are ‘all set for year 6.'”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 25, 2021 at 4:32 AM

After Lost Maples

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You’ve heard that on November 10th we spent a couple of hours at Lost Maples, disappointed that the fall foliage this year fell far short of what we’d seen there in 2014. Our route home took us along TX 39 by the Guadalupe River, which also proved not as fall-ful as in 2014. Finally, coming northeast from Kerrville along TX 16, Eve spotted something off to the side that I as the driver with my eyes glued to the road in front of me had missed: three strands of brightly reddened Virginia creeper vines (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) climbing diagonal branches of a live oak tree. I made a U-turn and went back to do my photographic thing. Later I thought about wordplayfully labeling the view “Red-olent of fall.”


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UPDATE. After yesterday’s commentary appeared, I was made aware of a Newsweek opinion piece entitled “I’m a Black Ex-Felon. I’m Glad Kyle Rittenhouse Is Free.”


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It’s not unusual on intelligence tests to see a question like this: What’s the next number in the sequence 2, 4, 6, …? All such questions are inherently invalid because they incorrectly assume there’s only one right next number or even one “most likely” next number. A better question would be: Give a possible next number in the sequence and a reason to justify it. For instance, if you say the next number is 8, a reason would be that you’re continuing with the consecutive even integers. If you say the next number is 9, you could be following the rule that each new number has to be larger than the one before it. If you say the next number is 6, you could be following the rule that each new number has to be at least as large as the one before it. If you say the next number is 1, a reason could be that every number in the sequence has to be a positive integer. If you say the next number is 50, a reason could be that the English-language word for every number in the sequence has to begin with a consonant. If you say the next number is 7, you could be alternating between numerals that have a curve in them and numerals that are written entirely with straight strokes.

One* lesson to take from this is that many possible explanations exist for an occurrence. If it’s important to know how or why something happened—as for example in a legal trial—then we have to investigate and try to find the actual explanation for the occurrence. Jumping to a conclusion without enough evidence can and does lead to mistakes and to injustices.

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* I started to write “The lesson to take from this” but I realized I’d be making the very mistake I’m cautioning against because more than one lesson could be drawn from this discussion. One obvious point is the one I suggested at the outset: people who design tests should stop asking what the next number in a sequence is. Another lesson I could go on to elaborate—and used to when I taught high school math but will spare you the details of here—is that if you tell me what you want the fourth number to be, within a few minutes I can come up with an algebraic formula such that when you put 1 into the formula it produces the value 2; when you put 2 into the formula it produces the value 4; when you put 3 into the formula it produces the value 6; and when you put 4 into the formula it produces the value you wanted for the fourth number. In fact I can come up with as many formulas as I like that will produce the same four values—a reality that reconfirms the important idea that there can be more than one explanation for something.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 24, 2021 at 4:22 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Lost Maples 2021

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Turns out that 2021 hasn’t been a good year for fall foliage at Lost Maples State Park, which lies about 160 miles west-southwest of our home in Austin. We spent over three hours driving there on November 10th, only to hear from the ranger at the entrance when we arrived that while 2020 had been very good, this year a lot of the leaves were turning brown and falling off. Still, I did what I could. The pleasant scene above caught my attention because it embraces two things: several already bare flameleaf sumacs (Rhus lanceolata) still adorned with prominent fruit clusters, and a few bigtooth maples (Acer grandidentatum) whose leaves were among the more colorful ones we saw of that species there this year. The branches below, festooned with ball moss (Tillandsia recurvata), give you a closer look at some bigtooth maple leaves turning colors

None of the trees we observed there this year came close to the display they put on during our 2014 visit.


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Facts Matter

I’ve prefaced a couple of my recent commentaries by saying that I strive for accuracy. I’ve asked anyone who catches an incorrect statement of fact to let me know and to point me to a reliable source of information so I can correct my mistake. Who wouldn’t want to get things right?

Alas, many mainstream news outlets in recent years haven’t been so conscientious, despite (presumably) having an ethical code that requires the checking of facts. The Kyle Rittenhouse trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which concluded last week with a jury acquittal on all charges, is a recent example. Those charges were for four shootings by Rittenhouse, two of which were fatal, one of which wounded a man, and one of which missed. Rittenhouse claimed self-defense, and the jury concluded that prosecutors had failed to provide evidence to disprove self-defense. In the more than a year leading up to the trial, many media outlets had been making factually false claims about what occurred.

One much-repeated false claim was that Rittenhouse had carried a rifle across state lines. It turned out that Rittenhouse, who lived in Illinois, actually crossed into Wisconsin without a gun, then retrieved the gun from storage in Wisconsin. Another claim was that Rittenhouse, 17 years old at the time, wasn’t legally allowed to carry the kind of rifle he carried. When people finally checked the relevant statute in Wisconsin, they found the statute did not prevent Rittenhouse from carrying the kind of gun that he did.

Another much-repeated false claim was that Rittenhouse chased after the people he ended up shooting, as if he had been out hunting for innocent people to kill. The evidence presented at trial showed that actually all of those people had chased Rittenhouse, who shot them only after they attacked him first.

Aside from outright false statements, many media outlets slanted their coverage of the case to such an extent that readers and viewers came away with a false understanding of what had happened. The repeated harping about crossing state lines—notice the plural—was intended to give the impression that Rittenhouse had traveled through a bunch of states to carry out some nefarious action far from home in a place where he had no reason to be. Conveniently not mentioned was that only a single state line was involved, the one between Illinois and Wisconsin just a few miles from Rittenhouse’s home. (It’s the same state line I crossed a bunch of times in 2016 when we stayed at two hotels in far northeast Illinois and took day trips into Wisconsin, including Kenosha.) Also rarely mentioned in most media was the fact that Rittenhouse had been spending plenty of time in Kenosha; his father and a close friend live there; he was working as a lifeguard in Kenosha County. It takes just half an hour to drive to Kenosha from Rittenhouse’s home in Antioch, Illinois—about the same time as the average American spends commuting to work.

Many media outlets failed to mention that all of the people Rittenhouse shot were convicted criminals, not the “protestors” or “heroes” that some tried hard to portray them as. Here’s a summary of their backgrounds: “Rosenbaum was a registered sex offender [he’d raped boys] who was out on bond for a domestic abuse battery accusation and was caught on video acting aggressively earlier that night. Huber was a felon convicted in a strangulation case who was recently accused of domestic abuse. Grosskreutz was convicted of a crime for use of a firearm while intoxicated and was armed with a handgun when shot (he testified in court that he carried it concealed despite having an expired permit; Wisconsin law requires a valid permit to carry a weapon concealed).” That’s from a Wisconsin Right Now article, which offers documentation to back up the summary and also goes into much more detail. And the fact remains that all three of the people who got shot had taken part in a riot.

There was a huge campaign to racialize the case, despite the fact that Rittenhouse and the three people he shot were all white—an inconvenient truth that many accounts purposely failed to mention. American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, said last week that the three largest newspapers in Brazil had all been reporting that the men Rittenhouse shot were black, an impression the Brazilian newspapers had incorrectly picked up from the way so many American sources had reported the events.

It’s a sad state of affairs that even after all the evidence presented in the televised trial, some people in the media are still making factually untrue statements about the case. You can read more about that in an Epoch Times article.

Opinions, of course, differ from facts, and people often draw different conclusions even from agreed-upon facts. I think most people, including me, will agree that a 17-year-old with a powerful rifle shouldn’t have gone to a riot thinking that he could offer aid and protect stores. The fact that he felt he needed to help is an indictment of the authorities in Wisconsin, especially the governor, who had done and continued to do little to stop the nights of rioting that ended up causing tens of millions of dollars in damage in Kenosha.

UPDATE. After this commentary appeared, I was made aware of a Newsweek opinion piece entitled “I’m a Black Ex-Felon. I’m Glad Kyle Rittenhouse Is Free.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 23, 2021 at 4:31 AM

Mexican hat in autumn

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Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) in central Texas typically reaches its colonial peak in May. That said, individual plants can often be seen flowering here for the rest of the year. So it was on October 6th along Rain Creek Parkway in my neighborhood, where I found a modest group of them.

At the top, you see a Mexican hat inflorescence beginning to form on a gracefully curving stalk. The other two views show a fresh flower head from above and from the side.


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Time to remind you about the Good News Network. “The website, with its archive of 21,000 positive news stories from around the globe, confirms what people already know—that good news itself is not in short supply; the broadcasting of it is…. Thomas Jefferson said the job of journalists was to portray accurately what was happening in society. GNN was founded because the media was failing to report the positive news.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 22, 2021 at 4:33 AM

It’s not just flameleaf sumac’s leaves

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It’s not just the leaves of flameleaf sumac (Rhus lanceolata) that turn warm colors: its fruit clusters at their most vivid become bright red. In the second view, nary a colorful leaflet remains.

Both photographs are from November 1st at the corner of Spicewood Springs Rd. and Old Spicewood Springs Rd. (Because that description could apply to either of two intersections about a quarter of a mile apart, I’ll have to specify that it was the one a block south of Capital of Texas Highway.)


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From 2019, you’re welcome to watch an interview by Malcolm Gladwell of Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, authors of The Coddling of the American Mind, and Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free-Range Kids movement.

Here’s a blurb for the discussion:

Civil discourse is in decline, with potentially dire results for American democracy. On college campuses across America, visiting speakers are disinvited, or even shouted down, while professors, students, and admini-strators are afraid to talk openly, for fear that someone will take offense. Political discussion on social media and television has devolved into a wave of hyper-partisan noise. A generation of overprotective parents are reluctant to let their children play outside without supervision. How did we get here? And how can we change the way that we engage with one another?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 21, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Posted in nature photography

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