Monday, February 25, 2008

Computer Update

Progress Report on hard drive replacement: Changing the hard drive was no problem. I mean, anyone who can remove and reinstall four screws and two plugs can handle that job. Getting our personal files restored was also no problem. Getting all the programs (and updates) reinstalled is a different matter. That's not really a problem, but it certainly is time consuming when I need to download an up to date version of a program, and while I'm downloading, I cannot do anything else online. Over the past couple of days, I've spent a lot of time singing The Dialup Blues.

Getting Windows fully re-patched took around 18 hours, and today I think I set a world's record for the largest single file ever downloaded at 21Kbps. If it wasn't a world's record, I'm sure it was at least a state record. For several years we've been using the OpenOffice suite for our word processing and spreadsheets. We've needed to update the program for a long time, but haven't due to the large file size. Today, I decided to go ahead and tackle that 120MB file. It took 14 hours to download.

Late in the process I checked the progress and saw that the download was 99% complete. Just as I walked out of the room, I heard the computer redialing after dropping the connection. I think my heart skipped a beat or two. However, the download manager I was using worked just like it was supposed to do and resumed and completed the download as soon as the connection to the Internet was re-established. Whew!

I think I can see light at the end of the tunnel -- and with any luck it isn't an oncoming train. I'm sure I'll be tying up loose ends for a couple more weeks, but I'm close to getting the bulk of the restoration done. I should be able to start getting back to my routine computer activities (like blogging and visiting blogs) in another day or two. I certainly hope so.

Nature Note: The geese seem to think winter is nearing and end. I saw three flocks heading north today.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Computer Problems

Sorry for my abrupt departure and absence. Briefly, the hard drive on my computer is failing. Substandard mechanical performance was announced by a screen upon start up and confirmed by running Dell's 90/90 diagnostics analysis of the hard drive. Because I have been very negligent in backing up my system, I ordered and external hard drive, then shut down my computer until receiving it. I've now got everything backed up in a variety of different ways ranging from a full image of my boot drive to individual copies of important files and folders.

The old hard drive is still working, but as I understand it, could crash at any time. I don't see any reason to wait for the crash, especially since the backed up copy of my drive will become out of date and need to be redone. I've got a replacement hard drive ordered and it should arrive on Friday (2/22). I plan on installing the new drive and re-installing Widows and my files upon arrival. I've never done any of this before, so wish me luck.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wordless Wednesday


Tuesday Ice

We received just a little taste of freezing rain Tuesday morning. A new cold front moved through with rain ahead of it. Rain and below freezing temperatures overlapped for only an hour or so -- and , fortunately, the ground was still warm enough that no ice formed there. Only objects up off the ground received a thin coating of ice.

If the forecast is correct, we may not be so lucky later in the week. Another blast of Arctic air is headed our way. NOAA says freezing rain is supposed to start falling Thursday night and continue through early Saturday. I hope they're wrong. It's hard to imagine keeping electrical power with that much freezing rain. We'll see.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sunday Walk

Tuesday morning we woke up to a thin layer of ice covering everything that was up off the ground. Overnight we'd experienced a series of small thundershowers that dropped about an inch and a half of rain. There was some thunder and lightning, but nothing severe. Sometime during the early morning, the temperature dropped below freezing.

Monday was overcast and damp with a gusty south wind blowing, our typical weather prior to the arrival of a new cold front.

The attached photos were taken on our walk on Sunday, a beautiful day that was great for being outside.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Northern Paper Wasp -- Part II

Why I NEED BugGuide

A Norther Paper Wasp (Polistes fuscatus) found in eastern North America would probably look more like the one in this photo taken in New York. Note the darker abdomen. The only yellow present is in bands circling the abdominal segments. (This specimen is a male as indicated by the sharp curves at the tips of his antennae.)

An entirely different species of native paper wasp is found in the west. Polistes aurifer has much more yellow on its abdomen, particularly large yellow spots on the second segment.

Here in the Midwest we have various transitional color patterns. The P. fuscatus I found in my basement has yellow spots on her abdomen, but they are not nearly so pronounced as those found on P. aurifer. The ultimate visual distinction between the two species is that P. fuscatus has dark antennea while those on P. aurifer are lighter colored.

(Note: Some entomologists do not consider P. aurifer a separate species but a sub-species, P fuscatus aurifer.)

Field guides are useful and I consult many of them, but when it comes to insects, I'm glad I live in the age of digital cameras and Internet resources like BugGuide. I would never be able to identify more than a fraction of the insect macros I take were it not for help from the experts there.

On his blog Myrmecos, Alex Wild speculates that digital cameras and macro photography may be generating an interest in arthropods akin to the popularization of birding that resulted from the publication of Roger Tory Peterson's first field guide to birds.

Wild concludes:

What are the implications of a larger general interest in arthropods? I don’t know, but I would like to think they would be similar to those of Peterson’s guide. An elevated interest in biodiversity could help sustain conservation efforts. It certainly means a greater appreciation of life’s diversity, and that can’t be a bad thing.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Northern Paper Wasp -- Part I

Northern Paper Wasp (Polistes fuscatus) -- Female

During one of the warmer days last week, I found this Northern Paper Wasp wandering around in my basement shop. Her behavior was sluggish because it's still too cold for her to become active and it's way too soon for her to begin nest building. We will have many more sub-freezing temperatures and no food for her or her developing larvae is available. I hope she was able to return to hibernation.

Typical Lifecycle: Only fertilized females survive the winter by hibernating in piles of wood, crevice in tree back and in piles of vegetation. When the weather warms enough, she will construct a paper nest and lay eggs. All the eggs laid during the early part of the summer will develop into infertile females, workers that will expand the nest and help feed the larvae that develop from eggs laid by the queen. As the colony matures, males and fertile females are produced. The females that successfully breed will hibernate over winter and become the next year's queens while the males, workers and former queen all die.

Food: Paper wasps eat nectar. They also use their stingers to kill insects, usually caterpillars. The caterpillars are chewed into mushy bits and feed to the developing grubs.

Sources and additional information:
Cirrus Images


Friday, February 08, 2008

Armadillo Redux

When the local armadillo population learned about my recent blog post featuring one of their dear, departed brethren, they dispatched a representative into the backyard during daylight. I understood that I was supposed to photograph an intact member of the species, so I did. You'd think that a professional model armadillo would have learned to stand still during a photo shoot, but this was not the case.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Wordless Wednesday


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Ichneumon Wasp

Our warm weather also started bringing out an assortment of insects including this Ichneumon Wasp that joined me in my basement shop. According to BugGuide, the Ichneumon Wasp family (Ichneumonidae) is one of the largest families of insects, with over 60,000 species worldwide and over 3100 in North America. A few of the Ichneumons are distinctive, but most are difficult to identify even to the genus level.

According to the University of Illinois site:

Ichneumons are parasitoid: The larva feeds and develops on or in a single host that it eventually kills. Some attack a wide variety of hosts, others are highly specific to one or a small group of host species. A female wasp locates an appropriate host, and she
lays an egg on or near it. After hatching, the larva feeds either from the outside of the host (external parasite) or within the body cavity (internal parasite).

The hosts are often caterpillars, but can be anything from aphids to spiders. The essay by Stephen Jay Gould listed below has a more detailed description of the larvae feeding process.

One characteristic shared by most Ichneumons are long, slender antennae made up of many (at least 16) small segments. If you click on the photo above and enlarge, you can see the numerous tiny segments in this Ichneumon's antennae.

Sources and additional material:


Warm February Day

There's nothing like a day with the temperature up in the mid-seventies to get your sap flowing.

NOAA says there's a new cold front on the way down and we're going to have to pay for this unseasonably warm weather with a possibility of severe weather on Tuesday. Our rain chance probability is 100%. It doesn't look as if I'll get much wandering in the woods done on Tuesday.

Box Turtle Shell


Monday, February 04, 2008

Bobwhite Quail

Why this female bobwhite quail was sitting on our porch steps around eight o'clock Sunday evening, I do not know, but she was. And, she allowed me to take several photos before tiring of my nonsense and flying off into the darkness.


Sunday, February 03, 2008

Longhorned Beetle

Photo from 6/13/05


Saturday, February 02, 2008

A Little Bit Of Snow

Okay, all of you fine readers from the frozen north can go ahead and chuckle, but I just couldn't resist posting a few photos of the Great Non-Blizzard that hit the Ozarks on January 31st. A mixture of sleet, rain and/or snow fell most of the day on Thursday, but our temperature remained slightly above freezing. During the evening, the temperature finally dipped below freezing and we received a little more snow, enough to at least last over night. I've been saying that we had at least 3/4" in some of the deeper drifts, but it actually may have been a little bit more snow than that -- maybe 3/4" total.

Friday was sunny and the temperature made it up into the lower fifties so there's very little of the snow left. Thanks to Jo and the dogs for getting out and taking these photos early Friday morning.

The road heading down to our house.

Ice covered St. John's Wort seed pod.

Snowy, icy pine needles.

Weeds covered with ice beads.

Bamboo weighted down with enough snow and ice to lean over into the creek.

Another ice encrusted weed (with a "sparkle" that looks more like a dead cluster of dead pixels).

Friday, February 01, 2008

Bee Balm

Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa)

Under a January sky.

There's little left of what once was.
Just a cluster of empty vessels falling into disarray.

How different it was in mid-June.

Other common names: Oswego-tea or wild bergamot

A member of the mint family (Lamiaceae). The leaves are used in herbal teas and the flowers are edible. Some say the leaves have an oregano scent. Historically, oil from the leaves was used to treat respiratory ailments.

Grows in almost every state and province in the U. S. and Canada and isn't picky about location. Habitat - Prairies, fields, open rocky woods, glade margins, thickets, roadsides, railroads. Preference is full or partial sun, and moist to slightly dry conditions.

The root system consists of deep, strongly branched roots, and shallow rhizomes that are responsible for the vegetative spread of the plant. These rhizomes typically send up multiple leafy stems in a tight cluster, giving Bee Balm a bushy appearance. The rhizomes can survive earth-moving and bulldozing operations, and send up plants in unexpected places. Can also be grown from seed. This plant often spreads aggressively. (Of course, it does. It's a mint.)

The nectar of the flowers attracts long-tongued bees, bee flies, butterflies, skippers, and hummingbird moths. Hummingbirds also visits the flowers. Mammalian herbivores usually avoid bee balm.