Victor's Pictures: Blog en-us (C) Victor's Pictures [email protected] (Victor's Pictures) Tue, 15 Dec 2020 22:56:00 GMT Tue, 15 Dec 2020 22:56:00 GMT Saal Book

In October, I was invited to create a book printed by Saal Digital for review. I didn't have anything prepared for a book, so my first efforts were spent in deciding what to include in a book, selecting photos, sorting them, and arranging them in a way that made sense for a book. I spent some time doing some cleanup, but not as much as I would have for a productional product because of the limited time frame.

After selecting the photos, the next task was to arrange them in preparation for printing. Saal Digital has software to download to assist with the layout and organization of the photos and text. The software is quite capable, but it is not as intuitive as it could be.

Note: project files are saved in
~/Library/Application Support/SaalDesignSoftware/Local Store/projects

folder on a Mac. My system is currently dual boot (Catalina and Mojave). When I started the book project I was using Lightroom 6, which is incompatible (sort of) with Catalina. So I initially installed Saal Design Software on Mojave. In November, I signed up for Lightroom CC, so I'm primarily using Catalina now. To migrate project files over from one OS to the other, it seems simply copying the project folder works. The software also has project import and export functions which I could have used, but that would have required switching to Mojave and back to Catalina. By doing the copy, I was able to stay in Catalina. Note that once the book is ordered, there is an additional folder, orderedProjects beside the projects folder.

When I say the software is not intuitive, what I'm referring to is that things are not where I expect them to be. Most software, for example, has a menu bar at the top, with things like File, Edit, etc. Not so with Saal Design Software. Instead, you have to learn where all the panels are, and where the various tools are in each panel.

One of the panels is an Image sources panel. The way I worked this project was to add a batch of photos and lay them out, then add another batch of photos. Unfortunately, the Image sources panel doesn't automatically refresh when files are added. There is a refresh icon that you can click to refresh, but it refreshes the entire contents of the panel, which can take some time. Similarly, if an image turns out to need editing, saving a new copy to the Image sources area is not sufficient to refresh the project. You have to drag the image from the Image sources area over to where it's used in the project. Apparently, that's because the software keeps its own copy of all the sources in the above mentioned ~/Library/ folder.

The software provides a number of predefined layouts. You can use those, or you can create your own. Layouts you create can be added to the list of available layouts. The software has tools to align and size images. I found that there is a potential issue with images that abut each other. The software rounds sizes and locations to the nearest 1/100", apparently. This seems to sometimes cause thin white lines between images that were intended to abut. I didn't submit my project this way. Instead, for layouts with abutting images, I increased the size of the images by 0.01" without changing the position so that they barely overlap. This seemed to result in an acceptable solution. I reported this issue to the company, and they were responsive, so there may be a software fix in the future. Here is an example of what I mean. The weevil pictures are laid out to abut each other. Adjusting them to barely overlap avoided the issue, and there is no visible overlap.


The page layout shows a thin red line in the layout software, where the edge of the paper is. This is useful if you have full bleed designs, so you get an idea where the image will be cut off. I found the position of the indicated line to be very accurate, when I compare the printed product to the image displayed in the software. A good feature of the software is that if you lay out components too close to that red line, i.e., too close to the edge of the paper, and the components are not full bleed, the software gives a warning and gives an opportunity to correct these situations before the project is committed.

Very useful is the PDF preview feature. There is a setting to enable (default) or disable addition of a watermark on the PDF file. For internal use, there's no reason to have a watermark, so I disabled it for a more accurate image of what the result of the print would be. The resulting PDF file seems very close to the final product. Colors are accurate, and the layout is accurately reflected in the PDF file. However, one thing I didn't do but should have: I did not print a sample page on paper. I very much recommend doing this, printing to the size of a book page, especially if you use text. I wound up using a larger font size for most of the book than I should have because I was viewing the preview PDF at a smaller size than the final print size. Make sure to view your preview or a print sample at actual size in order to determine things like font sizes. The software has a preview function, but the scale is not accurate: 100% in the preview screen does not display the page at the size it will be printed. On my computer, 183% is close to the size of the final product.

My project was for an 8x12 photo book using matte photo paper (Fuji Crystal Archive paper) with a leatherette cover. There is an option to include a title on the cover, but I didn't see it before placing my order. There is an option to use a photo cover, but after reading another review, they said that the cover picture scratched easily when shelving the book, so I opted not to have a photo cover. I plan to add a cover title by using a foil tool to lay down a metallic layer displaying the title. I'll probably do it with gold foil, which will contrast nicely with the black leatherette.

The printed book has arrived. It's a lay-flat design, but I found it doesn't really lie flat. Here, the book is opened to the first page. Since the inside cover is glued to the cover, it lies flat, but the opposite page lifts up a bit.

If you open the book to a page, one page or the other sticks up a bit. It's possible that with use, this will resolve itself, and I haven't made any effort to exercise the book. The binding is nicely done. The leatherette has a nice feel to it. Since there is no design on the outside of the book, you can't tell which side is up. That's a problem I'll fix with the foiling. On opening the book, the first thing I notice is how thick the page glued to the cover is. I contacted support to find out more information about that aspect of the binding. The inside cover is used for images. I was told that the same stock used in the rest of the book is used for the inside cover. It's no thicker than any of the other pages. However, that does not seem to be the case. Here is a closeup of the spine, where the thickness of the pages is clearly visible.

The left side of this image shows the inside cover page. The top layer is the printed paper. Below that, there are apparently two layers of a different material. This three layer sandwich is glued to the cover. If I get an explanation from support for this design, I will update the review. In the mean time, this sandwich results in the inside cover feeling like it's a couple of pages that need to be opened.

Maybe the extra thickness helps to hide the lumpiness that would result from the edge of the leatherette folded over the edge of the cover, under the inside cover page. In any case, this may take some getting used to but shouldn't be an issue.

Here you see the inside cover angled so that the lumpiness I referred to catches the light. It's not really noticeable, but it would be more noticeable if those extra two layers were not there. Another option for binding would be to have the extra two layers stop short of the edge of the leatherette. I think that would be a better solution, and the best thickness of material would match the thickness of the leatherette.

I didn't have any two page full bleed layouts. This was as close as I got. Full bleed on two pages with a couple of extra shots with drop shadows. Speaking of which, I like the rendering of the drop shadows. There are some options for that, but I think I used the default settings.


Single page full bleed images can run up to the center of the book. The transition of one image to the other matches the crease in the page very well. I did not find any errors in registration.


There are a number of tools to handle text. I didn't experiment much with different fonts, but there is a whole suite of fonts available. I did experiment with text layout. Text is arranged in text boxes. Images are arranged in image boxes. These boxes can be opaque or transparent. Here, I've made the text boxes transparent so that a full bleed image shows as the background.

The text or image boxes have various properties. For example, you can set borders with square or round corners. You can add drop shadows, as I previously mentioned. You can overlap the boxes and adjust which one is in front. In the above image, boxes overlap, but the text boxes on top are transparent. I did not use any layouts with overlapping images, but that is possible.


Here I tried a couple of different layouts to fill the pages with a grid of images. On the left, I used black borders with image boxes abutted together. On the right, no borders with image boxes equally spaced.

One final note about the binding. Ideally, the folded edges of the pages should all align. There is a bit of misalignment that may affect the way the pages lie flat or not. There's also a spot of glue at the left, which can probably easily be cleaned off. This misalignment is not really noticeable when using the book.

Throughout the process of creating the book, I had occasional questions. I emailed support with my questions, and I generally got an informative reply within a few minutes of my query. The support was excellent.

[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) book saal Tue, 15 Dec 2020 22:05:49 GMT
Oak Work Update About five years ago I decided to do some work on a Chinkapin oak in my front yard. My yard has two Chinkapin oaks, both apparently planted at the same time, before I bought the house in 2002. The one on the north side of the driveway was growing significantly faster than the one on the south side, which seemed to be languishing. Upon investigation, I realized it had some significant issues, relating to errors that occurred at the time of planting. Roots were extending east and west, but not north and south, with the result that the tree rocked back and forth in the wind. Excavating the roots revealed some other issues.

This post revisits the work I did and includes updated pictures showing progress.

Quercus muehlenbergii from northQuercus muehlenbergii from northThis tree came with the house I bought in 2002. Unfortunately, there were some issues with this tree, and I set about diagnosing the problem. Last year I concluded it was planted too low and had potentially strangling roots. Here you see the result of my efforts to jack it up last year. The tree has responded by thickening, especially where it is in contact with the brick. The boards will eventually rot. I will periodically monitor activity around the brick, and remove it when the tree has grown enough to not need its support. I may also leave it. I can't think of a reason it would be harmful to the tree there.

This picture shows the tree about a year after I jacked it up. I had placed wood and bricks under the jacked up tree.

Nearly 5 years later, the brick is still there but the wood has rotted away.

View from SouthView from SouthThis southerly view shows clearly the section I excised from the wrap-around root. There are new roots growing toward the east and toward the south. I will nurture that small root heading south. It may eventually turn into a major root for this tree.

You can't really see this very well, but the cut root closest to the camera has built up a callus where it is in contact with the brick. This helps to firm up the tree's anchorage. Unfortunately, there are no new roots growing from this cut root.

To the left is a picture showing where a section of root was excised. The two roots going to the right are on the east side of the tree. The nearer one is actually the root that was severed. It had grown over a lower root and grafted to it. My plan in 2011 was to take out that section of root and graft a seedling to the stub on the left, the south side. The problem the tree had was that there were no roots growing to the north or south. Grafting the seedling was intended to remedy this problem. In retrospect, I should have used an older plant with a longer root, but I didn't have one at the time.

The brick you see here is opposite the one seen in the picture above. I jacked up the tree by using the trunk as a lever, rocking it back and forth, each time scooting the bricks further under their side of the tree. In all, I think I elevated the tree 5-6 inches this way.

Southeasterly view of graftSoutheasterly view of graftAnother view of the graft -- also a good view of the callus on both sections of severed root.

The seedling is approach grafted. For the first attempt, shown here, I simply wrapped the join with tape. That did not actually work, I suspect mainly because of the tree rocking back and forth from the wind.

Here you see the graft a couple years later. I redid the graft by first making fresh cuts, then nailing the seedling in place and wrapping in parafilm. Another issue with the tree involves the roots on the far side. They are crossing each other, which is not a good thing. It's not as bad as it could be because they're fairly far apart. That top root arches completely out of the ground now that the tree is jacked up. It was underground before I jacked up the tree. I'm thinking that in a year or to I may switch those roots' positions, severing them both and reattaching them so that they don't cross. I'm not doing that now because the tree is actually finally solid, and it looks like that arching root is primarily responsible for the tree's stability.

South view of approach graftSouth view of approach graftUsing a gouge blade on my Exacto knife, I removed a section of wood from the cut root. I also removed a thin layer of bark from the adjoining portion of the sapling. I tied it securely with green tape and then wrapped that with parafilm (not pictured).

Front view of the graft. The small right to the right of the cut came from another plant and was removed.

Several years later, the seedling has grown up and branched out. I expect that as it continues to grow, it will thicken substantially more below the graft than above it. We already see a hint of this, but on the other hand, seedlings also show the same feature as you can see in the left picture.

View from EastView from EastFrom this view you can see how the roots are really parallel to each other, offering very little north/south support. You can see bricks under the tree both on the north side and the south side, and a board on the east side.

Side view of the graft site before the graft was made. This view is interesting because it shows more clearly than other views how much the tree has grown. Note the thickness of the roots compared to the size of the space between them.

To stabilize the tree I pounded a steel stake into the ground and held the tree with a wire. The tree grew over the wire, and when the wire broke, I added a rope. Today I removed the rope and cut off the wire. The tree is very solid now.

[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) graft oak Sat, 05 Mar 2016 22:34:05 GMT
Tile Rotation Part 2 In my previous post, I describe a tile rotation app and a couple of ideas for implementation of a stone moving game. This post describes another possibility. 

The players take turns adding stones to the board. Only one stone is allowed on a tile at a time. After all stones are placed, each player is allowed to rotate tiles in order to create the maximum scoring possible. Points are awarded based on number of stones that are mutually touching. Following are some screen shots that illustrate.

So. how should points be counted? One possibility is to simply count the number of connected stones. So in the above illustration, black gets 6 points, and white gets 7 points (but maybe only two touching shouldn't count, in which case it would be 4 and 5, respectively.

Another possibility is to count the number of touches each stone has. For black, each stone touches 2 others in the square and 1 other on the left, so the total point count would be 8 for the square and 2 for the others, for a total of 10. For white, 3 stones touch 2 others and 4 stones touch one other making the total 3*2 + 4 = 10 points.

Or maybe the longer the string, the higher the reward should be. Powers of 2 would be the obvious choice, but powers of 10 would be easier for most users, so I'll describe that. Essentially, one 0 is added for each additional stone in the chain. 

So for white, there is a 5 stone chain (100,000 points) and a 2 stone chain (100 points) for a total of 100,100 points.

And for black, there is a 4 stone group (10,000 points) and a 2 stone chain (100 points) for a total of 10,100 points. 

Now let's look at a screen that has been completely filled with stones (note only one stone is allowed on each tile).

In the above illustration, the tiles have been rotated to form a checkerboard pattern. No attempt has been made to optimize score. Using powers of ten scoring, the score is:

Black: 10,000 * 2 + 1,000 * 5 + 100 * 6 = 25,600 points.

White: 10,000 * 3 + 1,000 * 2 + 100 * 10 = 33,000 points (note the 3rd white triangle at the top joins the third white triangle at the bottom forming a 3 stone grouping).


Here the tiles have been rotated in order to cause more stones to touch each other. I won't add up the total score, but I will point out the highest scoring grouping of each color, which likely determines the winner.

Black: 9 stones: 1000,000,000 points (the string of black at the top continues with the string of stones at the bottom.

White: 8 stones: 100,000,000 points.

Here black has a 7 stone string. White has a 6 stone string.


Here white has a 10 stone string.


Here black has an 11 stone string.



[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) scoring tile rotation Sat, 08 Mar 2014 21:32:46 GMT
Tile Rotation This blog post is a departure from previous posts because it doesn't include any photographs. Instead, it includes screen shots of an app I'm working on. The app, for now, is called Tile Rotation. The basic operation of the app is described on the app's website.

I've decided to start brainstorming for a board game based upon the second phase of that app using stone movements in addition to tile rotations. Here are some sample screens to show possibilities.

Here stones have been added to all the tiles that are on either end of the board. Black stones are on one end. White stones on the other end. Players can move stones and/or rotate tiles. To move a stone, it is dragged to the new location. White stones always sit on the white portions of the tiles they sit on. Black stones sit on the black portion. To rotate tiles, the user taps once to rotate it clockwise or double-taps to rotate it counterclockwise. In either case, either a whole column or tiles or a whole row of tiles is rotated in order to keep neighboring tiles touching with the same color.

Here is an example of what the screen looks like after each player has moved one stone and tapped one tile to do a rotation. At this point, I need to decide what moves should be legal. There are many possibilities. Perhaps stones should move only by one tile at a time. Perhaps they should be able to move multiple tiles, as long as they go in a straight line. That's what's shown, above. Perhaps captures should be allowed.

Here, each player has made several moves, and white has just placed a stone on the same tile that's already occupied by a black stone. Does this constitute a capture?

Anyway, the rules are not set yet. If you have an iOS device and would like to join the test team to help decide on what rules should apply, let me know, and I'll add you and give you additional instructions.

Here is a sample tic-tac-toe-like game. The board starts out with no stones. Players take turns adding a stone and optionally doing one rotation. First person to get 5 stones in a row along the same color wins.

[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) board game tic-tac-toe tile rotation Wed, 05 Mar 2014 00:37:58 GMT
Bluebonnet Update

Maroon Bluebonnet December Bloom I have an update to my previous blog entry about the bluebonnet with the strange inflorescence, where it looked like the flowers were turning out to be leaves. Now it is producing actual flowers.

The plant is in a bed where I planted maroon bluebonnet seeds in the fall of 2011. This particular plant sprouted almost exactly a year ago. Perhaps I'll search for older photos of this plant.

It bloomed for the first time in the spring of 2012. It survived the summer, and now it's blooming again in December.


[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) Sun, 02 Dec 2012 17:20:15 GMT
Unusual Bluebonnet Odd Bluebonnet Bluebonnets usually sprout from seed some time in autumn and then grow throughout the winter. This gives them plenty of energy to burst into bloom in spring. After blooming, it makes seeds and dies. The plant lives less than a year, but is sometimes considered to be a biennial because it crosses the calendar year boundary.

This particular plant is unusual in that it is still flourishing in November. Maybe flourishing is not the right word. It already bloomed this spring, but instead of dying, the plant continued growing as a small plant throughout the summer. Earlier this fall, I noticed an inflorescence and wrote about it to friends and relatives. I figured I'd take pictures when the flowers were more fully formed.

Well, they never did. Instead, the plant is turning into a tall vegetative plant with no flowers. What appears at first to be flower buds is actually leaf buds.

Closeup of buds

[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) bluebonnet inflorescence Mon, 12 Nov 2012 00:41:52 GMT
American Snout Migration American Snout (Libytheana carinenta) It looks like we're in the middle of another massive American Snout migration.

The first time I paid attention to American Snouts was in the fall of 2006, when they were migrating by the millions. Oddly (to me, at least) they were all flying north. And so they are doing right now.

The fall of 2006 was the beginning of a very rainy season. In fact, I think the calendar year 2007 was the rainiest year since I've been in Austin.

American snouts are known to have massive migrations spaced years apart, but I haven't read anything about what triggers the migration. Now I'm wondering if it's timed to coincide with the onset of El Niño.

If you read this post and know of references explaining the migrations of this species, please add a comment to the blog post with your information or a link to a website.

There is more information and references at the bugguide article on the American Snout butterfly.

Here's an article with much more information.

[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) American Snout El Niño Libytheana carinenta butterfly rain Fri, 19 Oct 2012 20:11:17 GMT
Arroyo Seco Seedlings and Erosion Issues Oak seedlings in Arroyo Seco In an earlier post, I documented erosion in Arroyo Seco and some of the plant life growing along the sides and in the creek bottom. This is an update to that post.

I'm on record as stating that newly planted trees do not need to be watered as much as most people claim. The seedlings along Arroyo Seco are a good test of my assertion. Last year, after the acorns dropped in the fall, we had sufficient rain for acorns to sprout. I took pictures of some of the seedlings and wondered how successful they'd be. Some of them met their demise because of the mowers. The mowers tend to mow from the curb up until the drop off into the creek bed. That area is also the place where the seedlings would otherwise be best off, because downward growing roots are perpendicular to the surface and grow far away from the area that dries up from evaporation. Unfortunately, they don't fare well against lawn mowers. They can survive by resprouting at their bases, and the oaks that grow around here are actually pretty good about that. I didn't spend much time looking for plants that had survived that way. At this time of year, I think they're more likely to hunker down for the year and come up again in the spring. So I'll look again in the spring and carefully examine them to distinguish whether they are 2012 plants or 2013 plants.

Bur Oak Seedling

Most of the seedlings I saw were bur oaks, like the one, above. Some were shumard oaks, like the one, below. I didn't see any live oak seedlings, but I also didn't look very hard. 

Shumard Oak Seedling All our local oaks send a main root down deep into the soil when they sprout. Then they send a sprout up above the soil and unfurl a handful of leaves. Vertical growth is minimal for the first year. The plant concentrates on the portion below the soil. A surprising amount of girth is added to the root during the first year. This is not exactly a tuber, but it serves a similar function. The plant can tap into the moisture reserves of the thick root if it gets dry.

As I stated earlier, most of the seedlings along the top were mowed down. But there were plenty along the steep edge:

Seedlings along embankment and in the creek bed:

Oak seedling in creek bed In the middle of the creek bed is not the best place for trees to grow up. Well, good for the tree, but bad for erosion. Objects in the center of the creek will force water flow to the edges. Then you get a situation like this where a concrete channel under an intersection dumps silt in the middle of the creek causing the creek to go to either side, thus eroding the edges.

Silt accumulating in the center forces erosion on the edges There are places where the soil has eroded from around the base of grasses, which are typically thought of as good erosion control plants.

Soil eroded from beneath an oak and grass

But enough about erosion. The rest is simply a gallery of interesting plants along the arroyo.

Viola sp. Some sort of violet.

Commelinantia anomala Commelinantia anomala Commelinantia animal growing among violets and horse herb.

Other miscellaneous plants:

Neptunia pubescens var. microcarpa Ragweed and Four O Huh? What's this last one? The time of day is wrong, but that is a Four O'clock plant and a ragweed plant growing together. Maybe I'll get another picture when the four o'clock flowers are open (not 4 o'clock).


[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) Arroyo Seco erosion saplings seedlings trees Wed, 19 Sep 2012 19:56:11 GMT
Grape Harvest Black Spanish grapes

Vitis vinifera, the European grape that has been cultivated for millennia, does not do to well here in Texas. Fortunately, there is a grape that does quite well here. Its origins are not entirely clear, but it appears that it was imported to the United States from Europe after an American grape was imported to Europe. I'm speaking of 'Black Spanish' or 'Lenoir' as it is also called. There is more than one kind of 'Black Spanish', unfortunately, and they are not related to each other. These days, though, anyone talking about 'Black Spanish' is likely talking about the variety that is the subject of this blog post.

I have a plant myself that has just had its second year of production. Interested in learning more about this grape, I set up a google alert to notify me of any postings indexed by google. I did this after a search revealed that I had missed out on the first 'Black Spanish' symposium. I don't know if there will be another one. But if there is, I want to find out about it.

Shortly after I set up the alert, I was alerted to a 'Black Spanish' harvest a few hours' drive away at Polvado Vineyards.

Ready to be picked I sent a message out to neighbors to see if anyone wanted to join me. One person volunteered, and we set out. I used the instructions on the blog entry to find the exact spot where the vineyard was located and entered the coordinates into a GPS navigation app on my iPad. Most of the apps I have for GPS navigation don't work very well for destinations in the country. They want you to enter a cty-type address. One app wouldn't work at all unless a city was entered. Entering coordinates should work perfectly. Oh, well.

We found the vineyard without any trouble, introduced ourselves to the people who were already there and took a quick look around. At left is a sampling of what the grape vines looked like before we started harvesting.

We were asked to sign in, then given breakfast, and a pair of brand new pruning shears to do the harvesting. The best way to do the harvesting is for two people to work together, one on each side of the vine. This way, if there is a cluster that is awkwardly placed for one person, the person on the opposite side can usually get it without a problem. Each person was given a couple of buckets, and we were instructed to cut off the clusters and place them into the buckets. Someone came along and replaced full buckets with empty buckets, and so we were able to harvest quite efficiently. The buckets were emptied into white plastic bins.

The white plastic bins had spaces in the bottom so that a fork lift could move them around as needed. Once a bin was filled, it was taken over to a central location, weighed, and set aside until a flatbed 18-wheeler arrived to pick them up.

In all, I think there were 25 bins, each holding 600-800 pounds of grapes, so we picked over 20,000 pounds of grapes by lunchtime. This is from about 2000 plants over 8 acres. The vineyard was started in 2006, so all the plants are relatively young.

For lunch we had barbecue, "adult beverages", and musical entertainment all under the shade of some nice live oak trees.

Barbecue and music after the harvest

[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) Black Spanish grapes Thu, 09 Aug 2012 19:31:41 GMT
Unicorn Caterpillar - Schizura unicornis Unicorn Caterpillar Noctuidae - Schizura unicornis I found two of this Schizura unicornis caterpillar devouring my apple. I have two apple trees, an 'Anna' apple and a 'Dorsett Golden' apple. Additionally, I've grafted a couple of branches of each onto the other. These caterpillars were munching on the 'Anna' branches of the 'Dorsett Golden' tree.

A unique feature of this caterpillar is the horn on the first abdominal segment. It's equipped with a gland that produces formic acid. They can spray formic acid several inches with that horn. Formic acid is what gives ants their generic name, Formica. Ants use it as a poison. If you've ever been bitten by a fire ant, you have experienced an injection of formic acid by an ant.

[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) acid ants apple caterpillar formic formica unicorn Wed, 01 Aug 2012 02:05:18 GMT
Stones Added to Troll Art TodayJuly 21, 2012

Today I added some stones to my troll calendar yard art. I collected the stones from Shoal Creek. They're actually pieces of pyrite. Without the stones, the yearly cycle is 365 days. The stones are used to implement a leap day scheme. Here is how it works.

Each of the seven platforms has a Towers of Hanoi puzzle, which the troll solves optimally by moving one tile each night. After one tile has been moved on each of the seven platforms, the troll surveys his handiwork to see if there are any towers of 9 tiles.

Each platform has three towers which contain anywhere from 0 to 9 tiles. If the closest tower contains a stack of all nine tiles after the troll makes his move, then he does his leap day calculation:

First he checks if the platform with a stack of nine tiles has stones on it. If it doesn't have stones, the calculation is complete and the troll goes back to sleep.

Next he checks if the platform to the left of that platform has stones on it. If it does, then the calculation is complete and the troll goes back to sleep.

At this point, if the troll is still awake, then the platform in front of him has at least one stone. The troll takes one stone from the platform and places it onto the platform to the right. He then turns around to face away from the platform with the completed tower and goes to sleep.

The troll sleeps until midnight of the following night. If, when he wakes up, he can't see any platforms with stones, he turns around to face a platform with stones and then goes back to sleep. No tiles are manipulated. This simple procedure introduces just the right amount of leap days to cause the device to track the spring equinox.

[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) calendar equinox stones troll Sun, 22 Jul 2012 04:04:06 GMT
Flies and Fire Ants Phorid FlyPseudacteon and Solenopsis geminata There is a new genus of flies on now. It's not a newly discovered genus. The website just happened not to have any information on it yet. The genus is one I've had my eye on for years, pretty much since I moved to Austin. I recall that in the mid-90s, Dr. Gilbert was doing research on these flies. They're special because they keep Texas native fire ants in check. They do this by laying their eggs on fire ants. The grubs burrow their way into the heads of the fire ants, where they live until they emerge as adult flies. They're commonly called phorid flies, or Phoridae, but this is a large and diverse family. The members of this family this blog entry is about is just one of the genera in the family, Pseudacteon, the fire ant decapitating flies.


Fire ants -- those two words are enough to strike fear in many people. Listen to the radio or watch TV for a period of time and you will eventually see advertisements to get rid of these pesky creatures. The fire ants the ads are about, though, are the imported fire ants from South America, Solenopsis invicta.Solenopsis geminata large workerHymenoptera - Formicidae - Solenopsis geminata Why are the commercials about the imported ants rather than the native ones? They're closely related. The ones native to Texas are Solenopsis geminata. But the imported ones don't have to worry about the parasites that haunt the natives. That includes species of fire ant decapitating flies. The thing is, though, that the flies that infest one species of ant don't infest the other. Interestingly, Texas fire ants have been introduced to South America just like their ants were introduced here. And the bigger pest to the South Americans are the Texas native fire ants, because the parasites that keep them at bay are not found there.


Most Texans know that fire ants are evil and that they wreak havoc on other wildlife, including other ants. When I first became aware of Dr. Gilbert's research, I heard him speaking on the radio how the imported fire ants had killed the native ones all over the countryside. Interestingly, in town, there were pockets of the natives. The explanation for how the natives survived in town but not in the country goes something like this.


Phorid fly and worker fire antPseudacteon and Solenopsis geminata The imported fire ants, having effectively no predators to worry about, wreak havoc wherever they go because there is nothing to stop them. Mounds frequently have multiple queens, thus allowing them to multiply rapidly. If they expand into the territory of other ants, war ensues, and the imported ants typically win the battle, because they have allies -- the predators of the native ants. However, people generally hate fire ants, they buy poison, and kill the fire ants.


Because they don't have a fear of predators, they build large mounds, and boil out of them when the mounds are disturbed. This catches the attention of people, who dispatch them pretty quickly. However, not everyone poisons ants, so there are areas around town where they are safe. If they don't move, they don't get killed, and imported fire ants that try to settle next door are dispatched by the neighbors who hate fire ants. It's an interesting scenario, because it requires both people who kill fire ants and people who don't.


Anyway, in the mid-1990s, Dr. Gilbert was looking for areas around town where there were pockets of native fire ants. There are some miniscule details that can be used to tell them apart, but the easiest way is to look for the largest workers. The ones that are native to Texas have huge heads (see the picture on the right, above) compared to the size of the rest of their bodies. The imported fire ants also have large and small workers, but the large ones just look like bigger versions of the small ones.

Solenopsis geminata drone and workers and female phorid fly

So today I was out in the yard and noticed the ants were swarming in my black bamboo pot. Like bees, ants periodically swarm. New queens and drones emerge from the nest with wings. They fly off to start a new colony somewhere else. Pictured here is a drone. A drone has a large thorax and a relatively small, dark head. They exist only to procreate at the start of a new colony. After they've done their duty, they die, and the queen takes over running the colony. She instructs the workers what to do using pheromones, chemical signals that they pick up with their antennae.

Queen Solenopsis geminata and workers

An alate queen is about the same size as a drone, but her head is bigger, and it's a brown color rather than being nearly black. The queen also has a larger abdomen. The queens are also more fastidiously cared for by the workers. During a swarm, the queens typically will be surrounded by workers, while the drones wander around mostly solitary. Alate queens are new queens that have wings. Mature reproductive queens lose their wings when they settle in to their new home.


Queen Solenopsis geminata surrounded by workers in a defensive posture

When phorid flies are around, the ants don this curious defensive posture, tucking their abdomens forward, under their heads. However, as the Borg say, resistance is futile. The flies have the advantage of the air, and they're quite nimble fliers. A gravid female swoops in on the ant, laying her egg on her. The egg hatches, and the larva eats its way into the head of the ant.

[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) ants fire ant fly geminata phorid pseudacteon solenopsis swarm Tue, 15 May 2012 07:01:50 GMT
Woodpeckers vs. Tree Maintenance Consult any arborist worth his salt, and he'll generally tell you that when maintaining a tree, you should prune crossing limbs and dead branches, at the very least. These items don't require any artistic talent -- just some basic observation. Look at a branch, and if it's dead, cut it off.

The problem I see with such a scheme is that a very important part of the environment gets excluded that way. Death is part of life and has a value. I suggest this value is not just a concept, but can be important to us.

To illustrate, I note that this year we seem to have more woodpeckers than normal. Is this related to the drought? I don't know, but I love having the woodpeckers around.

Red Bellied WoodpeckerRed-bellied Woodpecker Here is a picture of a red bellied woodpecker that has been hanging around the Buckley oak (often referred to locally as a Spanish oak) growing between my yard and my next door neighbor's yard.

I don't think I've ever seen a red bellied woodpecker prior to this year. Maybe I just haven't been observant enough. It's fun to have him around.

If you hear something that sounds like a squirrel barking, check to see if it really is a squirrel, or maybe it's a red bellied woodpecker. I find the calls to be similar, and more than once, I've thought a squirrel was scolding, when it was really this woodpecker.

Woodpeckers are creatures that depend upon death. Not just the death of the food they eat, but other death. They nest in the hollows of trees. These hollows are generally made in rotten wood. Why? Because it's easier to dig. If you had to make your home by bashing your head repeatedly into wood, you'd prefer it to be soft, wouldn't you?Red Bellied Woodpecker hunting borersRed Bellied Woodpecker

Dead wood is not only for their housing, though. Many species of woodpecker rely on grubs under the bark for sustenance. The branch of the tree may die, but the reason for this death may well be a meal for a beautiful bird.

Here you see the woodpecker probing under the bark of one of the tree's limbs for food. I'd thought of trimming off the dead branches from this tree, but if that means no more woodpeckers, I'd rather not. Besides, the tree is technically in my neighbor's yard.

Woodpeckers peck wood not just for building their homes and for finding food, they also do it for communication.

I've noticed that in our neighborhood, the red bellied woodpeckers like to pound on the horizontal pieces of the utility poles. I guess they're using the telephone poles for their wireless telecommunication.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) red bellied woodpecker tree woodpecker Mon, 30 Apr 2012 00:49:09 GMT
Portraits and Instruments Partly as an aid to myself to learn musicians' names, I started organizing pictures of musicians on facebook.

John Mills rests during a Suzi Stern solo at the Elephant Room.John Mills Unfortunately, facebook has had issues recently with pictures disappearing, so I'm moving that project over to my own site. This will give me more control of the pictures, too. The advantage of facebook is that friends can help me identify people I've not been able to identify. I think facebook will remain the best way to do that. Meanwhile, I'll start working on using my site to show the best portraits. It's a work in progress, so bear with me as I work through all the pictures.

I've also added a folder of collections of instrument pictures. This way, I can look someone up by what instrument they play. I'm not quite sure at this point whether this should be a public or a private folder. So you may or may not be able to see it.

Actually, it's not so much pictures of instruments as it is pictures of the musicians sorted by what instrument they play. If they play multiple instruments, they will be listed in several categories.

I'm learning that I need to get better at recognizing instruments. I suspect, for example, that I have some alto and tenor saxophones confused. At a glance, I think most tenor saxes have an inflection point in the neck that is not present in altos, but that's not a universal generalization. And, of course, tenors are bigger than altos.

Also, I'm not sure I know the difference between bongos and congas. I guess congas are taller.

Sometimes there will be specific significance to an instrument, and I may pay special attention to it. An example would be Tony Campise's bass flute, which, last I heard is being kept by Kris Kimura.

I do miss hearing Tony play that flute. The sound he was able to produce with it was hauntingly beautiful, even able to quiet a rowdy crowd. I do have pictures, but they're not on the website yet.

It is still possible to hear bass flute at the Elephant Room by going there when Kris Kimura is playing.Ephraim Owen I was going to go last night, in fact, but it was too difficult for me to stay away. I ended up going to bed instead. Perhaps next month.

Every now and then, I'm fortunate enough to witness the first public playing of a new instrument. The most recent occurrence of this was Ephraim Owens' new flugelhorn. Ephraim explained during the New Year 2012 show, that he bought a flugelhorn that was too difficult to play in tune. It was not in tune with itself, and it was too much work to compensate. He returned it and got this one instead. It's a beautiful instrument. Time will tell whether this instrument passes his quality test. It sounded great to me, other than the issue with the condensation. There's a spit valve, but Ephraim used a baton twirling-like motion to clear the condensation that was apparently more effective than using the spit valve.

Another special instrument was the accordian played by George Oldziey. I had no idea until the song was announced, that there would be a debut performance. I decided to record the performance and ask permission afterward. Fortunately, Suzi Stern approved. You can watch this performance on my vimeo site or on youtube. The song was written by Suzi Stern in memory of her dear friend Tina Marsh.

Again, this is a work in progress. If you see anything filed incorrectly, please don't hesitate to let me know, so I can move things around appropriately.

[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) Campise Elephant George John Kimura Kris Marsh Mills Oldziey Room Stern Suzi Tango Tina Tony accordion bass bongos congas flugelhorn flute for instruments portraits Wed, 04 Apr 2012 19:15:41 GMT
Root Zone Surgery I have a couple chinkapin oaks in my front yard that have not been growing as fast as I would like. A couple years ago, I excavated one of them because it was swaying side to side in the wind and not growing as fast as the other one. As I suspected, there was evidence that it had been planted too deep, so I proceeded to jack it up. Since the tree freely swayed from side to side in one direction, I took advantage of that to use the tree as a lever to jack it up: tilt it one direction, then place rocks, bricks, and boards underneath, then tip it the other direction, and place more debris under it. In so doing, I successfully jacked the tree up about six inches.

A year later, I excavated again to check on the progress and to plant a seedling whose purpose was to grow roots perpendicular to the other ones. I wrote about it before my site had a blog feature. Open each image to see commentary.

This weekend, I excavated the other one. It was also planted too deep and additionally had an encircling root.

Encircling root of chinkapin oak

This is not such a bad encircliing root, but I decided to cut it off. While I was at it, I thought I'd try my hand at grafting the root. If you look carefully, you can tell the root already has a natural graft. When I cut the root near the base on the right side, I also had to sever a root going straight down. This freed up the root, which I intended to graft to the trunk with a sort of veneer graft. Unfortunately, I cut the root too short, so I didn't get the kind of approach I wanted. I may have to add a bridge graft to it.

Veneer graft of chinkapin oak root

On the right side of the image about 2/3 of the way down, you can see where I severed the downward root. To complete the graft, I nailed the root to the trunk. I didn't drive the nail all the way because I couldn't get to it without damaging the tree. That doesn't matter. The nail will do just fine like this. After nailing, I painted with a grafting seal.

If this graft doesn't take, it's no great loss. My first thought was to just prune it off. This graft is really just grafting practice for me. I may attempt something similar on the other tree.

[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) Mon, 26 Mar 2012 03:05:34 GMT
Carpenter Bee Video This post is really just a test to see if I can include a video on the blog.

[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) Sun, 25 Mar 2012 07:01:00 GMT
Arroyo Seco Arroyo Seco, Austin, Texas Arroyo Seco is a street in Austin, so called because it meanders along each side of a dry canyon creek. Heavy rains turn the creek into a raging torrent, which carves a path through the rock, resulting in a small canyon. It's usually dry, hence the name Arroyo Seco, which is Spanish for dry canyon. For those people who live in canyons big enough to get lost in, bear with us as we use our imaginations to pretend our canyon is bigger than it is.

During the autumn of 2010, several neighbors and I did some guerilla gardening, spreading bluebonnet seeds along the edges of the canyon. There was a very poor showing last year because the weather didn't cooperate. Thankfully, we are past that drought now and are in a new wet period. I'm thinking this year will be more like 2007 than like 2011 weatherwise, but I'm not holding my breath. Fortunately, bluebonnet seeds will last for years, not sprouting until the weather is just right. So I thought I'd pay a visit to the canyon to see how many bluebonnets there are this year. It's still early in the blooming season, so things should get better from here unless mowers knock them down.

Bluebonnets in Arroyo Seco

What do you know? There are bluebonnets -- and actually quite a few of them. They're mostly along the slopes on the inside of the canyon, although there are some on top, too. In some places, the other plants have grown so tall it's very difficult to see the bluebonnets.

Bluebonnets crowded out by other plants Bluebonnets hidding among other plants

How about a closer look at some of these other plants?


yellow clover

Yellow clover


variegated coreopsis

An unusual, variegated coreopsis. I'm going to have to go back when the flowers open up to see what they look like. I was tempted to dig this one up and plant it in my garden, but I decided to leave it here for others to enjoy if they want.


blue eyed grass at the bottom of Arroyo Seco

Blue Eyed Grass at the bottom of the arroyo


Coreopsis, and bluebonnets

Coreopsis and a small vetch


Evening Primerose and Horse Herb

Evening primerose and horse herb



Sunflower and live oak catkins





legume Vetch



Yellow clover-like plant


Bur Oak Seedlings

Bur oak seedlings are very common this year. I hope some of them will be left to grew up.


Bur oak seedling in eroded soil

Here is a bur oak seedling growing in the side of the berm where erosion is occurring. I'm not sure how the plant got a foothold, but it did. I hope it survives. The large acorn is still attached at the base of the stem.


Speaking of erosion, we have a serious erosion problem in Arroyo Seco. Left to itself, the creek will meander from side to side, taking out more and more of the edges, until it undercuts the road. Floods deposit silt in the middle of the creek, and new flow diverts around it.

Erosioin of Arroyo Seco Erosion in Arroyo Seco The trees planted alongside the creek are not terribly effective against erosion. Bur oaks have evolved to grow in deep, silty soils and send their roots deeper than many other species, but they're not fibrous enough to hold the soil.

Tree roots don Not only are we losing the soil, we're in danger of losing these trees, too.

Bald Cypress roots Bald cypress trees have a completely different kind of roots. They have evolved in areas that regularly get inundated with water. In our part of the country, they are found along rivers and creeks. Surrounding the tree, the roots periodically send up knees. It's not completely understood what the function of these knees is, but in my opinion, one of the main functions is to hold on to rocks and soil. By carefully root pruning bald cypress trees planted along the creek, we should be able to control the flow the way we want it to go. Unlike smaller plants, which can be washed away completely, mature bald cypress trees are very large, and no flood going down the arroyo would be able to uproot one. Soil and rocks move around, but the roots of bald cypress trees remain anchored where they are allowed to grow. They catch debris, which in turn modifies the flow of the stream.

I think we should plant more bald cypress trees, and carefully take care of their root systems to guide the creek where we want it to go. It could meander when flow is slow. Root-controlled dams could create small ponds, and large, erosion-prone areas could be guided to not undercut the roadway.

[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) Arroyo Seco bluebonnets creek erosion wildflowers Sun, 18 Mar 2012 20:51:39 GMT
Bee Swarm in Crestview Crestview bee swarm When I checked my email prior to going home from work for the day, I saw a post about a swarm of bees by the IGA. This called for a detour. I went a block out of my normal way home taking Woodrow instead of Grover, so that I could drive my motorcycle through the parking lot to scope out the situation. It looked promising enough to return with my camera and get some pictures and maybe even some footage.

Swarming is a natural part of the honeybee life cycle. Most swarms occur during a short period in the spring when the queen leaves the hive in order to establish a new hive elsewhere. Some of the workers accompany the queen. Others stay behind to tend to the new queens that probably haven't hatched from their cells yet. Since the queen bee is heavy, the swarm generally stays close to the original hive. They remain in the swarm until scout bees return with exciting news about a prospective nesting site.

Here you see such a scout bee returning to the swarm.

Update: The bees were collected by a beekeeper shortly after this picture was taken.

[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) Littel Deli bee swarm Tue, 13 Mar 2012 00:44:38 GMT
Sundew Gemmae A couple weeks ago I ordered some carnivorous plants from Cascade Carnivores. One of the items was described as Drosera sp "Lake Badgerup" gemmae. Stupid me, I didn't know what gemmae meant and assumed it was part of the name of the plant. It does look Latin, doesn't it? It didn't fit the binomial naming convention, but not all names do, and sometimes people depart from official names. Besides, it looks like there's a cultivar name stuck in there, too.

Some time later, when I got my package, I realized my mistake. Other plants I had ordered were carefully planted with sphagnum moss and put in ziplock bags. One very small ziplock bag, though, seemed to contain only a small filter, like a tissue you'd clean a pair of glasses with, but folded over a couple times. It turned out, this contained the 15 or so gemmae of the D. 'Lake Badgerup' I'd ordered.

Gemmae, it turns out, are tiny leaves used for reproductive purposes. A single one is not much larger than the period at the end of a sentence. The package said to plant immediately. Well, I couldn't do that, but I did spend some time learning what gemmae were and how to care for them. I threw together a mix of ingredients that I thought might work and then used a pin to remove the gemmae from the tissue and place them on the potting media I'd created.

After I'd done that, I used a high powered lens to locate all the gemmae, and marked each one with a tooth pick. Here you see one of the gemmae next to a tooth pick.

Drossera After a couple weeks of growth, I finally have a plant that shows a typical sundew leaf.

First unfurled leaf of sundew growing from gemma I didn't know this until I read up on sundew culture, but a good way to grow sundews is to raise them in rather tall pots, so that the bottom can be sitting in a tray of distilled water. The potting medium surface should be about 4 inches above the water level. The plants send roots down as far as they need to in order to get whatever moisture they need. On this picture, you can see a purple-colored root being sent down from the gemma while the new leaves are growing upward in a whorl.

Young sundew sending root down and leaves up

[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) Lake Badgerup carnivorous gemmae plant sundew Sun, 11 Mar 2012 20:12:17 GMT
Fragrant Sumac Rhus aromatica I recently bought a couple Rhus aromatica plants. The tips of the stems have been loaded with flower buds for some time, so I've been looking forward to their opening. The name of the plant suggests the flowers have a good smell, and, indeed they do, smelling like honey, but the name actually derives from the smell of crushed stems and leaves. That's an activity I won't be doing until/unless the plants need to be pruned.

Leaves emerge shortly after the flowers bloom, or at the same time. When fully grown, the leaves resemble poison ivy, but the plant is not poisonous. In fact, it apparently is sometimes used to make tea. I'll add pictures when the leaves mature.

Fruit are red when mature and a valuable resource to wildlife.

The low growing, rambling plants readily produce suckers, and are effective at controlling erosion.

[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) erosion fragrant sumac rhus sumac Sat, 03 Mar 2012 18:54:56 GMT
New Acquisitions It's a weakness of mine to get more and more plants. I belong to several plant-related forums, and someone on the Quercustrees yahoogroup mentioned that Quercus corrugata was available for purchase. Not familiar with the species, I nevertheless looked into it. To make a long story short, I decided to get one. Additionally, while I was shopping at the nursery that grew the plant, I browsed around at their other selections, and ordered these additional plants:

  • Acer sempervirens -- ironically, of all the plants in the order, this one had the fewest leaves. This plant is eventually destined to be a bonsai (get used to that statement. I'll probably be using it a lot). To my eyes at least, this maple has a number of unique qualities, not least of which, is the shape of its leaves.Acer sembervirens leafAcer sempervirens
  • Agave parrasana -- well, what can I say? They were having an agave sale, and how can you have a yard in Austin without agaves? OK, so I have a few already...

    Agave parrasanaAgave parrasana

  • Agave parryi var. truncata -- please see comment to A. parrasana.Agave parryi var. truncataAgave parryi var. truncata
  • Lonicera crassifolia -- OK, what was I thinking with this one? It's cute. Yeah, that's it. But I'm guessing that of my new plants just listed, this one is the most likely to die, mostly because since I haven't looked into its requirements, that probably means that it can't take the heat. Well, maybe it will be a good houseplant.
  • Opuntia fragilis (debreczyi) var. denuda 'Potato' -- to my relatives in Saskatchewan, the cactus you have growing there is also O. fragilis. This is the same species, but the shape of the stems is much different. As the cultivar name indicates, they are shaped like potatoes. This species is the northernmost of all the cactus species, growing all the way up to zone 1. This particular variety comes from Colorado.Opuntia fragilis (debreczyi) var. denuda Opuntia fragilis (debreczyi) var. denuda 'Potato'
  • Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Purpureum' -- This plant is destined to become a bonsai.
  • Quercus guyavifolia -- love the leaves on this oneQuercus guyavifoliaQuercus guyavifolia
  • Quercus tomentella -- as the name implies, the lower side of the leaves is like felt. I got a bonus with this one. There were two plants.Quercus tomentella
  • Quercus vaccinifolia -- the name refers to the appearance like huckleberry leaves. Vaccinium is the genus containing such plants as cranberrry, blueberrry, bilberry, lingonberrry, and huckleberry.Quercus vaccinifoliaQuercus vaccinifolia
  • Quercus wislizeni -- I should have checked my records before ordering this one. I already have some growing from seed. This is destined to be a root over rock bonsai. This month's bonsai program was about root over rock bonsai. One of the things mentioned in the program is that usually the rock is chosen first, and a plant is found to suit the rock. In this case, when I cleaned the roots, I saw something the called out for it to be a root over rock bonsai. I went into the garage and looked through my collection of rocks just picked up at the TTSBE property, and there was one that fit the tree perfectly. It's now buried with the roots, to be revealed again in a couple years.Quercus wislizeni planted in preparation for root over rock bonsaiQuercus wislizeni


[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) agave bonsai oak root over rock Mon, 27 Feb 2012 03:44:13 GMT
Leaf Cutter Bee Adopts Mud Dauber Nest Yesterday I saw a leaf cutter bee hovering in front of a mud dauber nest. The mud dauber nest was abandoned last autumn, and is now available. If this is a regular thing, I'll be getting some pictures of it in the near future.

Pictured here is a leaf cutter bee, Osmia ribifloris ribifloris, in the foreground, and a mining bee, Adrena sp. in the background.

Leaf Cutter Bee (foreground)Osmia ribifloris

[email protected] (Victor's Pictures) adrena anna apple bee flower osmia ribifloris Thu, 23 Feb 2012 21:32:47 GMT