Friday, November 11, 2022

Kalanchoe collection: K. marmorata flowering

 When we last saw this little fellow, Kalanchoe marmorata, back in May, he was a big, fleshy bedding plant with presence but not that Kalanchoe oomph. 

Guess what. It's flowering season, and he's showing normal Kalanchoe behavior. 

The flowers aren't open yet, but are forming. The plant has been repotted twice as it grew and eventually I had to stake them as the stems wanted to be "decumbent" as the literature has it, which is Latin for "they flop over."
The stakes show the height of it - the stakes are three feet long. The plant is just topping out at five feet (1.5 meters). 
I'm not sure what will happen next. The stems are not showing any signs of growing branches, and there are no offsets or plantlets, which is uncommon in Kalanchoe. Hopefully, there will be some way to cut it back after flowering and grow it again next year.  

Monday, October 31, 2022

Bonfire Night (short story)


Bonfire image created with 

My writing class prompt this week was to write about Halloween. I did a Halloween story last year and I didn’t want to write about Halloween this year. We didn’t celebrate it growing up (although it’s taken off in the UK now). Our celebration was called Bonfire Night, November the 5th.  People nowadays light bonfires in memory of Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. A human effigy, called a Guy, is placed on top of the bonfire. However, the tradition dates back to the Celtic feast of Samhain, when the veil between the spirit world and our world is thin.

Note: A Recce is a recreation area [play area for kids]. An allotment is a personal garden that is not attached to a house.



“Penny for the Guy,” Mark says hopefully.

The shopper turns and stares at the boys sitting on the flagstones in front of Woolworths. “Call that a Guy? It’s just trousers and a cardigan sewn on a pillow.”

“Ain’t got no money,” Andy explains. Andy’s body has begun the process of growing up. At eleven he’s almost a foot taller than the two ten-year-olds beside him.

“If you buy a Guy Fawkes mask for it, I’ll give you fifty pee.”

“Wor, fanks,” Andy says, catching the heavy coin.

“Bonfire night’s tonight,” she says. “Get a shift on.”

When she’s out of earshot, Andy says to Sid, “Nick a mask from Woolies. Save us a bob or two we can spend on fireworks.”

“I’m not nicking noffink,” Sid says. “Buy a mask, and me sister will sew a pillow for the head and put the mask on it and we’ll be laughin’.”

“He’ll burn good and proper,” Mark says.

“We need more wood for the bonfire,” Sid says. “I know an empty house with wooden floors.”


The bonfire is behind Mark’s house, in a Recce near the allotments.  There’s nothing nearby except clumps of Fireweed that sprang up after last year’s celebration. Sid’s mum has a shed in her allotment, and that’s where they keep the fireworks.

As Mark arrives with the last armful of floorboards, Sid and Andy are arguing. Sid’s refusing to put his new-found floorboards against the half-built cone.

“Me Dad said you shouldn’t actually build the bonfire until day of,” Sid was explaining. “We have to move it and pile the wood up again.”

“It’ll take too long,” Andy replies.

“Day of. Or it’s bad luck or sa’ink, I dunno. But me dad said…”

“Your dad’s dead,” Mark says.

Instantly, Sid’s eyes redden. “What’s that got to do wiv it? Being dead don’t make you wrong.”

Seeing the smaller kid about to cry, Andy switches sides. “Come on, Mark. Maybe Sid’s dad has a point.”

“Had,” Mark says, sotto voce.  Sid doesn’t notice.

“How far are we moving it?” Andy says.

“He just said ‘build it on the 5th, not before,’” Sid says.

“Move it…what…six feet toward the house. That way we can use a pallet as the new base.”

Andy drops a wood pallet in the new spot. The kids grab the wood and start building a new cone.

“Fuckin’ ‘ell,” Sid suddenly shouts. “I caught me hand on a nail.”

“You should wear gloves,” Andy says from his lofty height.

Sid feels between the two planks. “It’s not a nail.” He reaches into the dark interior of the woodpile. Rolls something out.

“It’s a hedgehog,” Mark says.

“I can see that,” Sid says.

“It’s all in a spiked ball, like in a kid’s book.”

“I can see that,” Sid says.

“You have to take it home and feed it milk and bread,” Andy says.

“Why? I don’t think mummy and daddy hedgehog fed it milk and bread,” says Sid.

“Hedgehogs are mammals,” Mark says, knowledgeably. “They eat milk.”

“I’ll put it in a cardboard box in the shed,” Sid says. “Until the fires are all out and the smoke’s gone.”

“That’s what your dead dad meant, innit,” Mark says. “He meant don’t burn wood until you know what’s under it.”

Sid nods and resumes stacking floorboards on the new pile.

It’s getting dark. In two hours, Sid’s sister will bring out the Parkin and Bonfire Toffee. His Mum will open the box of fireworks and hand out sparklers to the little ones.


Sunday, October 30, 2022

The House on the Hill Opposite is in Spooky Mode today

 Having given up lighting up at dawn, the house opposite was in full Halloween mode at dawn today. 

A house on a hill with a wisp of fog hanging in front of it
The House on the Hill Opposite

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

The House on the Hill Opposite That Lights Up at Dawn

 I normally feature The House on the Hill Opposite That Lights Up at Dawn during February, when it lights up at dawn to presage the coming of spring. 

Of course, it also lights up at dawn just before fall starts in earnest, in mid-October.  Many Ides of October are overcast here in So Cal and so the viewing isn't as good. It's been misty in the early morning for weeks, and just recently it rained for a solid day. (It started approximately an hour after I finished planting our mandatory drought-resistant plants, which replaced our lawn. Good luck with avoiding root rot, my little Kalanchoe friends!) 

But it cleared up on Monday, so today and yesterday were the days The House on the Hill Opposite That Lights Up at Dawn to presage the coming of Autumn. 



You can see from the telephoto shot that the debris around the house, the number of broken windows and the slope erosion are all getting worse. The upper floor is still poised to Light Up at Dawn, though and the last time we visited the property, it looked like the slab was in good condition.  May it continue to presage the autumn. (And spring.)


Friday, August 12, 2022

Jimmy Page & Roy Harper - St Ives, UK 1984 (New Video)

Wonderful new video posted by Mark Zep on August 11, 2022 - in other words, on the anniversary of Led Zeppelin's appearance at Knebworth on August 11, 1979. 

Beautiful dual acoustic performance of Roy Harper's Same old Rock. Nice to see Jimmy Page playing well and looking healthier in this one. The audience must have been stoked to see the pair of them together. 

(Found via Mark Donohue's Heart of Markness podcast.)

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Sir, I exist.

A Man Said to the Universe


A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

I first learned that poem under the name "sense of obligation," as that was the title of a 1961 Harry Harrison story serialized in Analog. The poem was quoted at the beginning of the text.

I was reminded of it when I saw the James Webb telescope pictures this week. Stephen Crane's universe replied to the man, albeit dismissively. The universe in these pictures does not pause to answer, not even to dismiss our concerns.

Here, the universe says to man, "I exist."

And that's all she wrote.

Ayoung, star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. Brown clouds under blue firmament speckled with stars.

Analog cover "Sense of Obligation"

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

My story "Jump Jiving" is in Eldritch Science (short story, SF)

I'm pleased to let you know that my short story "Jump Jiving" is published in the Spring 2022 edition of Eldritch Science, the magazine of The National Fantasy Fan Federation (N3F), edited by George Phillies. 

Singer Eric Barker knows Swing Revivals are inevitable, but infrequent. His Swing band skips decades at a time in Cryogenic Sleep. After an unprecedented 150 years, Eric wakes  to find there are no longer any Billboard music charts, no Variety, no streaming services, no vinyl. Who has paid for them to play in a world that doesn't buy music?

You can read a free PDF of Eldritch Science here. It's packed full of great stories - a bumper edition! "Jump Jiving" starts on page 45. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Guardian asks us if we need a new theory of evolution

Betteridge's Law of Headlines: If the headline poses a question, the answer is "no."

illustration from a Guardian article with jungle imagery and the words do we need a new theory of evolution

Although it's interesting, I'm not sure what this Guardian article is trying to achieve. If there's a problem with the theory of evolution known as the Modern Synthesis, it's that every time you criticize it, it adds your objection to itself as a complexity or wrinkle, so it's hard to falsify. It certainly isn't "wrong," though there are many ways you could look at it from a different angle and see a completely different emphasis, which some contemporary theorists do.
The article itself is harmless, waffling about some dusty corners of evolution that are fascinating, weird, and wonderful, but not in themselves threats to what most people know as "evolution."

What was really off-putting was the article starting out upfront with the Creationist's Gotcha: Where do eyes come from?

"The usual explanation of how we got these stupendously complex organs rests upon the theory of natural selection. You may recall the gist from school biology lessons. If a creature with poor eyesight happens to produce offspring with slightly better eyesight, thanks to random mutations, then that tiny bit more vision gives them more chance of survival. The longer they survive, the more chance they have to reproduce and pass on the genes that equipped them with slightly better eyesight. Some of their offspring might, in turn, have better eyesight than their parents, making it likelier that they, too, will reproduce. And so on. Generation by generation, over unfathomably long periods of time, tiny advantages add up. Eventually, after a few hundred million years, you have creatures who can see as well as humans, or cats, or owls. This is the basic story of evolution, as recounted in countless textbooks and pop-science bestsellers."
He goes on, "The problem, according to a growing number of scientists, is that it is absurdly crude and misleading. For one thing, it starts midway through the story, taking for granted the existence of light-sensitive cells, lenses and irises, without explaining where they came from in the first place."

And yes, it would be crude and misleading, but unless he went to school in 1859*, it isn't described that way. Professors do not postulate that some poor creature somewhere was born with a bad retina, poor lens, substandard optic nerves and rubbish rhodopsin, but over subsequent generations each of those things got better. What is taught, I hope, is that even very simple creatures can have light-sensitive pigments that allow them to sense whether they are in the dark or in the light, and every "innovation" thereafter exists in a living thing today or is clear in the fossil record. We can still see (sorry) single-celled animals with eye-spots, insects with compound eyes, octopuses with their right-way-up eyeballs, and vertebrates sporting the weird eye configuration humans have, with blood vessels and nerves on top of (and therefore obscuring) the retina.

Wikipedia has a discussion here. (And before anyone starts, Wikipedia's main problem these days is that it's not simple enough. It's certainly not that it's biased (at least in this case) or over-simplified.) If you want a more scholarly explanation, here's one, and here's another.

*Because that's the speculation Darwin himself engaged in back in 1859. It was rapidly improved upon.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Ants in my bioactive vivarium


Green and red day gecko on a bamboo log with plants in the background
Mrs. F being miserable in her temporary cage

Does anyone know any good ways to get rid of ants in a bioactive vivarium?

The vivarium is on a cart whose wheels are treated so that ants can't climb up them. There's a tablecloth velcroed around the cart to hide its utilitarian nature. A couple of nights ago, when the cart was on concrete, a blade of grass from the flower planter was long enough to touch the fabric. By morning the ants had made that tiny bridge into a thoroughfare and moved in. The ants are the ones with multiple queens that can set up a nest with just a few migrants. Obviously I've relocated the geckerino, trimmed the veg, and evicted the vast majority of ants but there are a few still in there.

Will Neem Oil work? So far it's lived up to its hype of killing every single thing I don't like while not harming a hair on the head (or leaf) of anything I actually cherish but I would not be at all surprised if that didn't hold for geckos.

My experience of ant baits and ant hotels has been that ants see them a mile off and never visit. But spray chemicals are spray chemicals. 

Mrs. F is a day gecko who eats baby foo and crested gecko food so I don't have to introduce crickets after treatment for weeks, or even months. 

But what kills ants?

Monday, June 27, 2022

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - When the Levee Breaks (Glastonbury 2022)

I don't have the main strength to go to festivals these days, but I sure appreciate the live feeds they have. 
This is the sort of performance I'd have given my eye teeth to have seen back in the day. Robert Plant doing Levee with a kind of Kashmir vibe. The audience don't seem to know what it is they have in front of them. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Led Zeppelin - Live in Landover, MD (Feb. 10th, 1975) - 8mm film

I love the way new Led Zeppelin films and tapes continue to surface after all these years. Enjoy this slice of history. 

You all follow Heart of Markness, I hope? 
Mark Donohue's podcast plays selections from the new soundtapes as they arrive. Bookmark it!

Monday, June 20, 2022

Jackson's Chameleons hanging out

 Khachaturian (Mr K for short) is a Jackson's Chameleon. It's not his birthday. But behind him, being almost invisible, is his wife, Mrs K. She was one year old in April. It's not long since I saw her being born. (Jackson's are live-bearing; they don't lay eggs.) She's certainly grown into a big, bossy adult but it's the male of the species that has the spectacular looks. 

chameleons in a cage

Mr and Mrs K here are enjoying the morning summer sunshine in So Cal. (They're not tropical lizards so they get put back into the shade before midday.)

hatchling chameleons on twigs, with plastic plant behind

Ms F at a few days old - well, it could be her. She was in a plastic tote with her brothers and sisters. 

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Mr F the giant day gecko is 26 this month

 My Grandis Day Gecko - formerly known as a Geico Gecko - was 26 this month. At least, that's his observed birthday. His vet records show him as an adult in late 1996 and he was fully grown at least a few months before that, when I got him.  

Books generally say Phelsuma grandis lives around 13 years, but Mr F has beaten those odds. He's not exactly in prime condition, I have to admit. He's been blind for years and we hand feed him with fruit-based Crested Gecko food. (Day Geckos love fruit as well.) He seems to mostly enjoy life. His favorite things are warmth, sticking to vertical glass surfaces, hiding in bamboo tunnels and fruit-based gecko food. He had all of these things for his birthday party. 

Happy Birthday, Mr. F!

Day gecko lying on a bamboo log
Mr F sitting on his bamboo hide-away

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Hopwood Hall opening for tours

 Hopwood Hall.

According to the BBC, Hopwood Hall, built in the 1420s, is being restored by an American, Hopwood DePree.

I've forgotten what my part of the family's association is with Hopwood Hall - ISTR the name coming from service there, rather than being the owners - but I'm glad a Hopwood has come forward to restore it. It seems he thought it would be a fun thing to do, but found it intricate and tedious. Still, he's sticking with it. Part of it is opening for tours this month. Sadly, I'm where DePree is from - I'm near LA, he's back in Lancashire.

Last I heard the hall was full of monks or the RAF or something but I guess they went away and the roof started to fall in, as they do.

I might even buy his book.

black and white aerial photo of Hopwood Hall

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Kalanchoe collection - update on K. millotii

Correspondent Kyle lets me know that the plant labeled K. millotii which I described here is most probably Kalanchoe x gildenhusii.  That's a hybrid of K. millotii and K. tomentosa, and explains why it's showing characteristics intermediate between the two. 

Here's the page on the International Crassulaceae Network with the deets. 

Mine was labeled (incorrectly) as K. millotii. Kyle says that this hybrid is often sold under the invalid name Kalanchoe 'Behartii'. 

Kalanchoe plant in clay pot


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