Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Monday Goodies: Tarantulas

Well, darn. Yesterday was a day off from school, which in my brain made it not Monday. So, I wrote up the Monday Goodies really late, uploaded the pictures, and then fell asleep without posting them. My comeback is not off to a great start. Bear with me.

I thought I'd start this week with some spiders. While we're on the topic, are you on Google+ yet? If so, add me! Also, every Sunday I curate a group of really awesome spider photos with two other Google+ friends, Kjetil Greger Pedersen and Chris Mallory. If you like my spider pictures, come check out a bunch more good ones on the Spider Sunday page. And join in next Sunday!

So this week's spider ... That big spider you had in your house was probably not a tarantula, especially not this time of the year.

I say this because, about once a month (last week was the most recent one), someone will send me a photo or tell me a story about a "HUGE spider," ask me what I think it was, and then cut me off to tell me never mind, it was probably a tarantula. Usually, it's a wolf spider, maybe a giant crab spider, or just a house spider and a really scared homeowner who swears "It must have at least been a baby tarantula."

That's not a tarantula. This is a tarantula.

Once you've seen a few tarantulas, you won't make the mistake again. Adult tarantulas are all-over bulky, not just long-legged. And they're hairy. To use a Dave Barry quote, they're more like “spiders so large they appear to be wearing the pelts of small mammals.”

Of course, Mr. Barry also asserts that menfolk are the spider killers, and women the spider haters. Which of course gets both me and my husband dead wrong. The point is, we know our spiders. (He, so he can run the other way; and me, so I can get closeup photos and be a know-it-all online.)

Our local tarantula is the Arizona blond; also called the western desert, Mexican blond, and probably a few names I haven't heard before. They tend to be in 1- to 2-inch burrows anywhere where saguaros and other desert flora abound. As you can see in the photo below, they blend in surprisingly well, until Agh! When did that get here?! The stocky females, which reach sexual maturity around seven to 10 years old, are a uniform brown color. The slightly lankier males, which are the ones most commonly encountered, have copper-colored bodies and black legs.

Also, if you're my son, you think they're absolutely adorable.

More on the Arizona blond tarantula soon, because it's also in my Species a Day, which is getting a big boost as soon as I catch up. As soon as Monday: The Sequel (known to more responsible individuals as Tuesday) gives me a breather. Happy week, everyone.

Monday, January 9, 2012

What do I think? (A rant)

I wanted to focus on editing some bug and landscape photos. Really I did. However, I received just one too many of these in my inbox today. Most of the time, the sparkly-kitty, America-and-Christendom-under-attack, send-a-hug junk just makes me chuckle. I might read them to my husband, and I usually consider replying with Weird Al's sentiments, before figuring that it's best not to rock the boat. Medical myths extra bug me, though, as some of you might have previously noticed. And this message did include a "What do you think?" solicitation, so I decided to be consider and reply.

I'll say this up front: I don't think this person, or the thousands or millions who pass these on, is stupid. That's kind of what bugs me. These are perfectly intelligent people, accepting (or halfway accepting) claims that take literally thirty seconds to debunk. And what's the harm? Well, nothing, just from following ridiculous urban-legend advice about placing onions all over your house (except maybe taking a hit socially). But there's very real harm in trusting cut onions over medicine; and even more pervasive harm in the backward mentality that the less elite someone is, the more they're to be trusted; the more ridiculous and hokey something seems, the more legitimate it must be: Why would people do these ridiculous things, otherwise? Sorry, no. Someone going out on a limb and doing something silly isn't exactly proof. Why, just an hour ago, I got this e-mail:


In 1919 when the flu killed 40 million people there was this Doctor that visited the many farmers to see if he could help them combat the flu.. Many of the farmers and their family had contracted it and many died.

The doctor came upon this one farmer and to his surprise, everyone was very healthy. When the doctor asked what the farmer was doing that was different the wife replied that she had placed an unpeeled onion in a dish in the rooms of the home, (probably only two rooms back then). The doctor couldn't believe it and asked if he could have one of the onions and place it under the microscope. She gave him one and when he did this, he did find the flu virus in the onion. It obviously absorbed the bacteria, therefore, keeping the family healthy.

Now, I heard this story from my hairdresser in AZ. She said that several years ago many of her employees were coming down with the flu and so were many of her customers. The next year she placed several bowls with onions around in her shop. To her surprise, none of her staff got sick. It must work.. Try it and see what happens. We did it last year and we never got the flu.

Now there is a P. S. to this for I sent it to a friend in Oregon who regularly contributes material to me on health issues. She replied with this most interesting experience about onions:

Thanks for the reminder. I don't know about the farmers story.. but, I do know that I contacted pneumonia and needless to say I was very ill.. I came across an article that said to cut both ends off an onion put it into an empty jar...placing the jar next to the sick patient at night. It said the onion would be black in the morning from the germs.. sure enough it happened just like that.. the onion was a mess and I began to feel better..

What do I think? Well:

I think the "onions fight the flu" story is bullshit. I think it's been debunked for quite some time now, and the most cursory amount of searching for any combination of "onion" and "flu" will set you straight.

I think this is hardly a new or particularly clever idea, and I don't think it came from a hairdresser in Arizona. The "onions are magical germ zappers" myth goes back to about 1900 at least, and before that there were all kinds of folk myths about keeping onions around for various reasons. (Once I read that keeping an onion under your pillow led you to dream of your true love. I was 13, and my friend and I tried it. My next dream was about lions. She got Montel Williams. Let's just say I call that myth busted.) I think onions, while great, do jack-all to combat anyone's illness in the way described.

I think it doesn't really matter what I think, because these are all matters of fact, which you can look up from well-established sources. I think you should want to know if something is true, not take an opinion poll.

I think you lack a fundamental curiosity and intellectual rigor to really find these things out, or you would have looked these facts up for yourself, or at least tried to find any credible accounts that weren't told thirty-second-hand at best.

I think it's kind of silly to suppose that a farmer's wife would spontaneously decide that onions might de-germ her home and family. I think it's even sillier that folks are quick to mistrust actual experts about scientific and medical issues, but can't wait to find some folklore, golly-gee, just-so story about someone discovering a cure "they wouldn't want you to know about." If this wasn't total crap, I could almost see someone with a working knowledge of disease trying it and stumbling upon a novel solution, but this was (supposedly) a farmer. That would be a little like me saying "Hey, you know what? I know I'm not an athlete; hell, I trip over my own feet; but for some reason today I thought, 'What if I stuck baby carrots up my nose? I bet I'd have killer balance and speed, and could suddenly play football at the pro level.' And so I did it! And I haven't fallen since! AND, I made my husband do it, and we played football, and won! Carrots up the nose, everyone. Miracle sports trick."

I think if the doctor saw the flu virus in the onion and concluded that it "absorbed the bacteria," he might not be such a good doctor.

I think correlation is not the same as causation. Learn that, and you're halfway there. Furthermore, we don't even know that there was a correlation, and beyond that, we don't even know if these stories are legit or totally made up.

I think coincidences happen all the time. Let's assume no one in the hairdresser's salon got sick. Fine. I've gone without a vaccine before, and been fine. I went without one year, and got really really sick. You might luck out. Then again, you might not. "We did it, and never got the flu." Well, bully for you. I crossed my fingers before turning my ignition key last time the car wouldn't work, and it turned over. According to you, I've stumbled upon a genius mechanical strategy. Shall I start the chain letter or will you?

I think a "hairdresser in AZ," while not the last person from whom I'd take medical advice (she'd probably rank above Wakefield, for instance, or this guy I used to know who didn't shower), is pretty far down the list.

I think you, message originator, are full of crap. Your friend who "regularly contributes material to me on health issues?" Um, no. I regularly contribute to publications. Your friend sends you spam. I guess, technically, she "contributes material." On a related note, would you like to take posession of a veritable wealth of "contributed material" I have sitting in the cat's litter box right now?

I think it's sad, tragic, illogical, and totally unnecessary that people turn to chain e-mails and salon rumors when flu vaccines and other real medical advances exist.

I think I can just as easily debunk your other miracle onion claims. Don't stuff them in your socks. They don't cure fevers that weren't going to break anyway. They're not a miracle cure for pneumonia, or the black plague, or cancer. They also don't cause cancer. More importantly, though, learn to apply rational thought. Some totally weird things are actually true. It's not so important what you know, or what you think, as it is learning how to think and learn. And you don't do that by forwarding crap and taking opinion polls.

I think onions have various beneficial properties. When eaten.

I think your brain, and medical science, have nigh-limitless potential. When utilized.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's not-resolutions

I never make New Year's resolutions. I'm too backlogged. By business. By family stuff. By photos, writing, my blog queue, my pitch queue, the queue of people outside the door every time I open it. And most of all, by my own internal clutter. I dwell on everything, and it guarantees I'll stay stuck in the backlog, rehashing and revisiting things for months after they happen (or don't).

See, I make resolutions all the time, and I'm stoked. Then, when things don't go smoothly, I get majorly stuck in this evil feedback loop of what-ifs and I-wishes.

So here are the things I wish, which I know will never happen, followed by what I do have, and a to-do list, from my 2011 self to my 2012 self. Maybe I can publicly shame myself into purging the I-wishes and getting my ass in gear on the to-dos.

I wish I could get to write the stories I know are good, instead of sitting on great ideas while waiting to hear back, only to have someone write in my place who thinks psychics are real and St. Nick's name is spelled "Santa Clause." I wish I weren't so dumb as to worry about it instead of sending off the next batch of great ideas. I wish I could know for sure my ideas were great.

Well, I can't. What I do have: ideas. Some of them, I'm almost certainly sure, are pretty great. And if that one idea that got turned down multiple times "because there won't ever be that much interest," in favor of a really dumb article -- If my story did turn out to be a big story, months and months after I first pitched it, and Big National Publication did a big national thing about it ... well, at least my husband saw it, and got furiously indignant on my behalf. And whether or not Big National Publication's version actually "sucked all kinds of ass" as my husband asserted, it was nice to have someone on my side.

[To do: Just write the damn pitch, you self-absorbed moron. If it tanks, write another. Repeat for all of 2012.]

I wish everyone in my family enjoyed perfect health. I wish no one was hurting, or suffering, or in the hospital ever. I wish this could be a migraine-free, puke-free, fever-free, surgery-free, mortality-free, pain-free, just normal ... year.

Not going to happen. Not everyone escaped unscathed this year, and they probably won't in 2012. Not all of them. It's horrible, seeing people you love hurting. I don't really have anything to say except that it's a terrible, helpless feeling, and I hate that most of you probably know firsthand how awful it is. We won't be pain free. But my family is a together, tough bunch. We don't hand out I-love-yous and you-can-do-its like crazy, but in a way, that's better. We just help, we're just there. We're sarcastic, we quote stupid movies to ease the tension, we nag one another, and when we bring out I love you and You can do it, it strikes home -- I'm really saying you can actually do it. Now get to it. And I really, really love you. If I don't have anything better to offer than a listening ear, chauffeur services, and situation-appropriate quotes from Monty Python and Mel Brooks; then I'm glad I'm good at those things, at least.

[To do: Be more helpful. Reach out. Do more. Make more phone calls, even though you hate it. Also, find new movies to quote. "Put ze candle back" and the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow are only applicable so many times.]

I wish I had money. Not a ton. Not even lots. Just enough to avoid waking up in a cold sweat at 3 a.m., wondering who's going to call and harass us today.

Well, I have enough. Not enough to avoid cold sweats, but enough to wake up in a bed, in a house. That really is something.

[To do: Get finances in order, and who cares if no one ever taught you. You're a grown-ass woman, and your husband's a grown-ass man. This is getting ridiculous. Then, help others. Even a little.]

I wish I had time. Again, not a ton. But here's the thing -- I want consecutive minutes. This minute here, minute there, half-hour if I'm lucky AND if I stay up until 2 a.m. -- it's making me insane. I cried the other day because I couldn't find the margarine. I just a moment of calm. I need my mind to work like a normal person's mind.

I don't have time. At least, it never feels that way. I don't have big chunks of time, and I can't focus in little bite-sized chunks. My brain is focused on a million things at once, and that's usually a bad thing. Then again, connecting disparate things is occasionally wonderful. The really important things always seem to carve out their own time. Sometimes I really don't notice or deal with things like everyone else does, and that's OK.

[To do: Calm the hell down. Stop trying to steal time -- stop even trying to make the time -- and just make do with the time you have.]

I wish I could travel. I want to go to the Galapagos Islands, Tanzania, Yosemite, the Congo and the Amazon, Antarctica, Borneo, with sharks, with bugs, in the air, in the water ... yeah. I'd like to travel, one day.

Yeah, right. Like, who doesn't wish this? (Answer: My husband. He told me I could go to Borneo when we have the money, as long as I don't make him go. I'm penciling it in.) Seriously, this isn't a unique wish, nor a unique failing. My failing is, of course, neglecting my backyard. I live in a freaking awesome place. I haven't even been to the Grand Canyon in years, to say nothing of a thousand other trails, hikes, climbs, drives, and haunts. And that's not even counting my own backyard. This to do almost goes without saying.

[To do: Travel, just in the state. Travel travel travel travel. Travel some more. Travel to the Grand Canyon, those hikes I grew up on, that place I got lost once, new hikes I've been wanting to try, and ones I've only just heard of. Check out side roads and creek beds, cliffs and mountains; and, of course, my own backyard. Take photos. Write words. Share. Repeat.]

I wish you all a happy New Year, and a happy entire year, full of love, beauty, health, sunsets, spiders, giant beetles, rattlesnakes ... wait. Those last three were wishes for myself. That other stuff is for everyone. Take care, everyone. Happy 2012.