An island of calm

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A friend sent me this recently, and it brought me some peace on a particularly hectic day. So I thought I'd share it with you.

Yes, it might appear to be merely a 55-second video clip of a cat with a frog on its head. But it's so much more. It's a lovely little injection of calm. Watch the breeze gently stirring the cat's whiskers, the contented closing of the cat's eyes, the frog's stillness as it perches atop the head of an animal capable of consuming it for a snack. Here we find a tiny island of serenity to carry forward into the fall.

From Barbara J. King at Cosmos and Culture.

There's an app for that

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The Botanical Information and Ecology Network (BIEN) recently released Plant-O-Matic (available on the App Store). Here's what Brian Enquist has to say about it on his blog:

plantomatic.jpgWe (the BIEN working group) just released version 1.0 of Plant-O-plantomaticMatic, a new smart phone app that will generate plant species lists for the plants that likely surround your present geographic location. It is free! What we are excited about is that this should work anywhere in North and South America (in the middle of the Amazon, on the top of a isolated mountain range, in the middle of the Yukon etc.) . This app helps answers the questions - What plants can I expect to see today? The BIEN Plant-O-Matic generates a list of plant species at 100 sq. km resolution for any location in the Americas. Pictures and information from the Missouri Botanical Garden help you identify and learn about each species. What is exciting is that this app will work for all plants (Embryophytes - bryophytes, ferns, gymnosperms, and angiosperms . . ).

Plant-O-Matic uses over 3.5M standardized plant observations with geographic range models to produce the species list, and it uses location services on your iPhone to identify the center of the range for prediction. In addition to the list of species you might expect to see, it includes images for many of them. The images are relatively low-resolution, but if you're in an area where you're not familiar with the flora they should be good enough to let you know if you're at least in the right genus.

I haven't been able to find the source of the taxonomy BIEN is using, but I'm guessing that since one of their other projects is the Taxonimic Name Resolution Service, they're running the names in Plant-O-Matic through that. 

If you have a smartphone, it's also worth your time to head over to Emilio Bruna's web site where you can find an extensive list of smartphone apps for field work.


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Quiet-cover.jpgA couple of years ago Susan Cain published Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. The blurb at Amazon1 says, in part,

Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so...She questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked.

I read Quiet shortly after it came out. As those of you who know me will testify, I am an introvert. I find crowds difficult. While several of my closest friends and colleagues thrive on crowds and seem to draw energy from them, I've learned to "pass" because my work demands it. But "passing" takes a lot of energy, and I leave large parties drained, and I am almost always upset with how awkward I was. I often feel the same way after much smaller gatherings, even when it's with people I know pretty well.

I've taken a couple of online personality tests. Both of them tell me that I'm a little more than just introverted. I am just shy of having Asperger's syndrome. I've learned to compensate - mostly - but I often fail, and I'm often discouraged.

I mention this because Maria Popova links to a couple of videos that feature Susan Cain. Both give a very nice introduction to her thinking. I'd like to believe that our extroverted culture needs to rebalance to take advantage of what introverts like me have to offer but (a) I don't see that happening any time soon and (b) I'm not sure that we need that much rebalancing. What we need is more help for folks like me in learning how to cope with an extroverted culture.2

In the meantime, watch Susan Cain's TED presentation below and head over to BrainPickings if you'd like to see Maria Popova's take on introversion.

Losing Louisiana

Losing-Ground.pngThe image above shows the far southeastern part of Louisiana - what's left of it. There is very little dry ground, and what dry ground there is is rapidly disappearing.

In 50 years, most of southeastern Louisiana not protected by levees will be part of the Gulf of Mexico. The state is losing a football field of land every 48 minutes -- 16 square miles a year -- due to climate change, drilling and dredging for oil and gas, and levees on the Mississippi River. At risk: Nearly all of the nation's domestic energy supply, much of its seafood production, and millions of homes. (source)

ProPublica recently published an interactive multimedia visualization from which this image is captured ( The images and explanatory text are fascinating and informative. The depressing conclusion is that "[e]ven if Louisiana's coastal restoration plan is fully implemented, the state expects to lose more land than it gains until 2060."

If you find the presentation informative, you might also be interested in an article describing how it was produced.

Hat tip: Alberto Cairo

Beyond the Bug Box

The National Science Foundation and the American Institute of Biological Sciences have announced a competition that will award $1 milliion "to the person or or team who creates a technology that increases the speed and accuracy of digitization of a drawer of insect specimens and their associated data." If you're interested, head over to and sign up for e-mail alerts. Or check back at in a couple of weeks for more information.


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Every fall Tom McBride and Ron Nief produce The Mindset List. This year's list has just appeared. If you have a couple of minutes, head on over and enjoy yourself. In the meantime, here are my favorites.

4. When they see wire-rimmed glasses, they think Harry Potter, not John Lennon.

7. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has always been the only news program that really "gets it right."

11. The water cooler is no longer the workplace social center; it's the place to fill your water bottle.

13. Women have always attended the Virginia Military Institute and the Citadel.

21. Nicotine has always been recognized as an addictive drug requiring FDA oversight.

40. They have no memory of George Stephanopoulos as a senior White House advisor.

Monday photo from Yellowstone National Park

Several years ago I made a series of posts I referred to as my "Monday Pen" posts. They consisted of photos and a few words either about a fountain pen I own or one that I found interesting (and maybe really hoped that someone would buy me). Today I'm starting a new series of Monday post inspired by my recent trip to Yellowstone National Park after Botany 2014.

As a few of my readers1 know, I grew up in southern Idaho. From about 1964 to 19742 my parents, my little brother, and I took a camping trailer from our home in Burley and spent 1-2 weeks in Yellowstone National Park at least once a year. Often we went 2-3 times per year, once in June for the mayfly hatches and once in October for the run of trout up from Hebgen lake. I worked in Bud Lily's Trout Shop for two summers, the summer right after I graduated from high school and the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college.3 That's a long way of saying that I know (or knew) Yellowstone pretty well. I've only been back a couple of times since graduating from college, and I greatly enjoyed the chance to get reacquainted at a leisurely pace. I'll be posting one photo a week on Monday morning for the next few months to share a little of what we saw.

Here's the first one - a great blue heron along the banks of the Madison River. Click on the image for a full-size version.


Creative Commons LicenseThis work by Kent Holsinger is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.