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Bike Ride, 1-NOV-08

Posted by trktos on 1-November-2008

We got out on the bike trail today, headed west and rode about 17 miles total. It was almost 70 degrees out, not bad of the first of November. Finally, the leaves here have some vibrant color – almost all through October, they were just brown and dying and falling off too early. I’m glad some held on long enough to change … saw lots of brilliant yellows, reds and oranges today. Unfortunately, there weren’t many leaves on the trail yet, so I didn’t get to watch them blur by as I rode over them, looking down with unfocused eyes … I should really try to take a photo but I’m afraid that would end up in a tangle of bike and Jill and camera.

We didn’t see much wildlife today … a few squirrels and one very persistent lady bug, who kept landing on me, flying away, and returning while we sat on a trail-side bench … I think she was attracted to my sunscreen?

I did get a chance to watch a deer for a little while … Evin had rode on ahead and missed out. I suppose she was a doe – no antlers and it wouldn’t be hunting season if deer didn’t have antlers now, would it? – but she was kinda big. As I rode by, I saw her, off the trail, and down in a little valley by a stream. I stopped my bike, got off and walked back, pretending not to be looking at her. At first, she couldn’t decide if I was a threat or not and kept turning to look at me with those big, brown eyes. She was only, maybe, 40 feet away. I could see her swallowing (the food she had grazed before I came along, I guess.) While she was looking directly at me, I tried not to look directly back at her, so she wouldn’t run off. At one point, she lifted her nose high in the air, slightly bobbing her head, to get a better scent from me. Those big ears forward, listening. She eventually decided I wasn’t going to bother her, and went on about her deer business, which was eating leaves off the little scrubby trees along the embankment. After a few minutes, she slowly moved behind some bushes, and I couldn’t see her anymore.

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Trader Joe, I`m coming and I want my $3 back.

Posted by trktos on 11-September-2008

In a effort to post at least one non-political something …

I recently was happy to re-discover that Trader Joe’s sells their organic tofu for $.50 less/pack than Whole Foods. We eat a lot of tofu ’round here, so that’s sorta a big deal! TJ’s tofu is also much firmer and, as I was cubing the first block purchased from TJ since -I don’t know, a really long time – I had decided to make the effort to buy TJ tofu from now on.

So, this was a week or two ago … I cubed this block of tofu, threw it in a pan with no oil or soy sauce, and cooked it a while, to cook some of the water out. Later added soy sauce and oil, and cooked as I normally do.

Went to eat and I thought the tofu tasted a little sour. Evin couldn’t taste it, said it tasted fine to him. I remembered that this used to happen occasionally and wondered if I somehow curdled the tofu, trying to cook the water out of it? Evin pointed out that tofu is already curdled. So we started wondering if maybe they use a different firming agent than WF – they do – and if maybe that attributed to the slightly sour taste?

Fast forward to last night. Two remaining packages of TJ tofu. I open one and smell of it – slightly sour! Evin can’t smell it … I open the other package, with an even later expiry date, and it’s worse! Evin could even tell something was wrong with this one. So, I open a package of WF’s tofu and, thankfully, it smelled just fine. (And curiously like the inside of a carving pumpkin.)

Evin had the bright idea to smear a bit of the most-sour tofu on a slide and look at it under the microscope. I had little hope that he would see anything. But he did – thousands and thousands of little rod-shaped bacteria!!! Just for good measure, we also looked at some WF tofu, thinking we’d see a few bacteria but we saw none.

Soooo, that means, not only a few weeks ago, but several times over the past 3-4 years, we’ve had bad tofu from Trader Joe’s (used to buy from them exclusively, before Whole Food’s opened in Alexandria) … and here I was thinking all along that maybe I cooked it “wrong” or something, and Evin could never taste anything sour – seriously, what does this say about Evin’s sense of taste?!? But, really, we were just eating bacteria!

See all the dark blue, little rods in this (not very good) photo? Bacillus! And let me tell you, were they swimming, twisting and darting about – just having a blast!

So, Trader Joe, I will be coming to get my $3 back. On principal, if nothing else. And I won’t be buying tofu from you again. Disgusting!

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Pond Life, 10-AUG-08

Posted by trktos on 10-August-2008

Today, we looked more at our pond water samples from yesterday. We saw lots of euglena, and I saw some in the palmelloid stage (which I just learned is where they roll up into a ball and discard their flagella). Saw another paramecium with its trichosysts deployed, more cyanobacteria.

We observed a few new creatures, including a testate amoeba – he was really cool. He had a orangish golden colored shell, or test, that was slightly ovoid in shape with a four-leaf-clover-shaped opening at the smaller end. Through the opening, he sent out thick psuedopods, which were a dark purple under phase contrast. He made his way over to a mosquito larva and disappeared into or under it. His psuedopods disappeared first, leaving the test still visible for a while. It was fun to find something moving slow enough that keeping up with it wasn’t a struggle.

We also saw a new rotifer, but further identifying him is pretty much impossible without pictures to look back at and compare with images online.

We looked at some slices of zucchini and carrot, which underscored our need for a microtome. The zucchini was rather boring but with the carrot, we could see orange stringy looking structures inside the cells – carotenoids, I guess? We also saw a lot of small, white spherical bodies that seemed to be energized and vibrating. Have no idea what they were … and I don’t know if it’s a good idea to keep looking at food that closely as we probably won’t want to eat it!

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Pond Life, 09-AUG-08

Posted by trktos on 9-August-2008

A few weeks ago, I (finally) bought a microscope on e-bay. “Finally” as in I’ve wanted one for a really long time … Ironically, it was in Annandale, VA but the seller insisted on shipping it and for some reason, it took almost two weeks to arrive.

In theory, we can attach a camera to the microscope and take photos with it … in actuality, the top tube, for taking photos, is way too long to take good pictures, so Evin is trying to figure out how to make a replacement.

Anyway, we’ve done the standard onion skin and check cell slides and looked at some permanent slides I purchased online. Peppy’s been sick and I’ve looked at some his droppings, too. I accidently cut my finger tonight with an exacto knife, so we got to look at some blood. Either the glass slide messed my blood up or I have kidney disease. Or was recently bitten by a rattlesnake. I will be ordering plastic slides soon. (And cutting my finger again, I guess!)

But this afternoon was the first time we looked at pond water. I actually feel a bit guilty about it, because all those little critters are going to die, trapped under the cover slip.

Since we don’t yet have our camera attached to the scope and working, I thought I’d list the stuff we saw (at least, the stuff we could identify later, online).

The biggest thing we saw was a Great Blue Heron, down at the “fishy end” of the pond – wonder what he was doing down there?? – where we were going to get some pond water. He watched us for a while, and then flew off, staying low over the water and complaining a bit about being disturbed. What a wing span!

  • Paramecium bursaria
  • Parmecium – either aurelia or caudatum – some with their trichocysts deployed
  • Euglena of some kind, best guess is from Catilliferae, maybe Euglena calvata
  • Cyanobacteria with heterocysts (for fixing nitrogen). We didn’t see as many as is in the linked photo, though.
  • Euchlanis rotifer(?) – whatever they were, these little guys were really cute! And really fast. Well, not really fast or we couldn’t have “chased” them … the non-bursaria parameciums were really fast! But the Euchlanis had a little forked tail, two retractable red eyes, and retractable horns on its head. We could see the internal organs and one little fella found the edge of the cover slip and kept trying to “escape”. At first I thought they were water bears but they aren’t. Evin thinks they were rotifers, I’m not sure, now, after looking at more photos online.
  • Closterium – a common desmid; we could see the gypsum crystals, dancing around, in its tips.
  • mosquito larva (that Evin inadvertently squished under the cover glass)
  • possibly Bacillaria paxillifer, the carpenter’s rule diatom, although all the images online seem to have more-square ends than ours had.

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More Bike Trail Wildlife, 20 & 15-Jun-08

Posted by trktos on 20-June-2008

20th June:
We rode about 33 miles today, west on the W&OD, 08:30-14:30, between miles 8 and 23. Trail wasn’t too busy, since it was a Friday … today, we saw:

  • 2-3 chipmunks
  • Red Winged Black Bird
  • Hawk
  • lots of cardinals; few squirrels, including one who tried to run into my front wheel.
  • a bird either working on her nest, or feeding babies, in a nest close by a bench we stopped at; couldn’t tell what kind of bird, though.
  • groundhog, snuffling about, on the side of the trail.
  • some kind of big fish, over a foot long, in a pond we frequently stop beside … it kept surfacing and slowly swimming amoung some really huge lily pads.
  • a vulture, being chased by some kind of brave little bird, who, at one point, landed on the vulture, hitching a short ride, while pecking away at the vulture’s back! Immediately afterward, the vulture had had enough, and flew off.
  • a small, maybe young? woodpecker, who was flying around and pecking every tree he landed on. Maybe it takes woodpeckers a while to learn what types of trees have bugs? This little fella seemed to be using trial and error!
  • 5 deer! The first group was of 3 large does (unless bucks are without antlers at this time of year?) crossing the trail. The second group was a mom and a fawn, probably one of the smallest baby deer I’ve seen (certainly had spots, although I couldn’t see them in the light) … they crossed the trail right by the Vienna Whole Foods.
  • lots of white, yellow and orange butterflies … also, lots of tiger lilies in bloom.


15th June:
Westward on the W&OD between 08:00 and 10:30. Trail was fairly busy and there weren’t as many critters about as last time. We saw a couple of scurrying chipmunks, along with the usuals.

We stopped at Whole Foods and got to watch some sparrows and a gray catbird “dumpster diving” – around the picnic tables, they would perch on the edge of the garbage can and then plunge in, looking for food. The catbird found something (really bright yellow, don’t know what it was but he thought it was worth flying off with). We also got numerous birdy-eyed stares from the sparrows – we were sitting at those tables and, clearly, should have been eating something and dropping lots of crumbs! Really cute, how they’d line up on a near-by bench, waiting to for their turn in the garbage can.

My bike’s in the shop, currently, for a week or so. :(

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