Day 55: The Experiment Ends

54 days ago I decided to set myself a goal to work on during my period of unemployment and social isolation: I would publish a blog post every day, and spend at least 30 minutes on each. I’m proud to say that I was able to achieve that goal!

Tomorrow I start my new job at NVIDIA, so I don’t anticipate having the copious amounts of time on my hands as I have had these past few months. I will still blog occasionally, but only when I have something to write about, and time to write it.

What have I learned by doing this experiment? Well, to start off with, I learned that it’s very difficult to let go of something without polishing it to death. That is my normal mental state when I write, and as a result I end up not publishing a post if it doesn’t feel perfect. But setting the one-edit rule helped a lot. At first I would examine every single character to make sure I didn’t have any mistakes, or could have used different words for better clarity, or… the reasons go on and on. But after doing that for a few days, and realizing that the world didn’t collapse around me, it got much easier.

Another thing that made it easier is realizing how few people actually read these posts. I have tools that generate daily stats for number of visitors, and how many times any given post was read, and believe me, they were pretty low. The one exception was the post about finally getting a new job: that got over 300 views! I find that encouraging: that people were truly happy for me, and interested in how I was doing.

One other thing I learned is that writing any particular piece gets easier once you start. Most days I didn’t have a clear idea about what I would write, and would procrastinate until I either had to start something or break my streak. I’d start by writing whatever I could think of on the topic, and it was usually crap. But after a bit it would start to flow, and I’d end up deleting the first few paragraphs whose focus meandered aimlessly, and post the rest.

I’ll close this with a caterpillar update: Lazarus is still in his/her chrysalis, but so far 9 of the new brood have emerged as adult butterflies! Unfortunately, one of the 9 had deformed wings and couldn’t fly.

I took this picture this morning of one of the enclosures: you can see butterfly #9 up at the top getting ready to leave, several pupas attached to the stick assembly I made (and one pupa attached to the enclosure itself in the top right), and two caterpillars crawling on the cup of parsley, with their little poops dotting the paper towel flooring. It’s a butterfly production line!

Day 46: The First Emergence

Today was very busy, but doing lot a lot of different things rather than one main task. So it’s the early evening and I’m finally sitting down to write.

The day started off early: I had just put water on for our morning coffee, and while it was heating I checked out the caterpillar enclosures. I saw a lot of fluttering in one, and sure enough, there was a male butterfly trying to find its way out.

First butterfly of the brood

When the butterflies emerge, they typically hang out for a couple of hours until their wings are fully expanded and dry before they try to fly away. This guy must have emerged a few hours earlier, because he was raring to go. I took the above picture as he was crawling up the side of the enclosure. Once he reached the top, off he flew!

This was the first adult butterfly that came from this large crop of eggs that I found a few weeks ago:

29 swallowtail eggs!

The enclosures have been filling up with pupas from that brood. Here are a few of them:

Lots of pupas!

You might recognize the contraption made of sticks from an earlier post; there are now 7 pupas attached to it! the five unattached pupas are either caterpillars that attached to a sprig of parsley, which will dry up in the enclosure. Notice that the one on the right still has a bit of parsley stalk attached to it. Other caterpillars sometimes give up trying to find a place to attach themselves, and just curl up on the ground. I’ve had that happen before, and they result in normal butterflies, so I’m feeling positive that these will too.

There are only a few caterpillars left who are still munching away and getting bigger. The rest have pupated, so in the coming days I’m sure I’ll find a lot more butterflies emerging from those pupas. I just hope that they have the decency to wait until I’ve had my coffee before doing so!

Day 42: One Step At a Time

Lately I’ve been reading people who are upset at the state of the world, and are angry that it won’t change fast enough. It’s absolutely true that Joe Biden isn’t the guy who is going to change everything. It’s true that the Democrats have done more than their share to get us to where we are, and have a vested interest in not shaking the boat too much. It’s true that they won’t be leading the charge to overturn the institutions that have gotten them to where they are, as most of them have done pretty well under the current system.

Given that disappointment, many are falling prey to the “it doesn’t matter” attitude about elections. Why bother voting for Biden when he won’t do nearly enough to make the country as good as it should be?

Because improving this country is a journey, not a single step. The end game may be an ideal that we can never reach, but we need to keep moving toward it. This November, one of two old white men will be elected President for the next 4 years. Neither of them is exactly what this country needs. But it should be clear that one of them will move the country closer to where we need it to be than the other. We’ve seen how disastrous the Trump years have been, and there is no reason to think that he will mellow or see the error of his ways if he were to have a second term. He has always shown us exactly who he is.

We have to have a much longer viewpoint than just the next election. One election will never make enough change; it is a much, much slower process, with the old two steps forward, one step back dynamic. Remember how exciting it was watching Barack Obama take the oath of office, thinking that a new era of racial equality was upon us? Yeah, that didn’t exactly work out. But it did provide a glimmer of hope that will keep us moving toward our goals.

We need to start electing people who want to make radical changes. AOC is one of the young voices who is saying the right things; we need to get more people like her into office. It’s telling that she is characterized in the press as an “extremist”, yet nearly all of her main policies enjoy a large majority of approval among the nation as a whole. By electing more and more people who aren’t afraid to call out the faults in the current system, we can make some actual progress in creating a better system.

Day 41: Grammatical Pet Peeves

For better or worse (mostly worse), I had to attend 12 years of Catholic school when I was a kid. My parents (well, mostly my Mom) were very religious, and wanted to make sure that I had lots of God in my daily routine. Grades 1–8 were in a school run by nuns, and for the most part they were nice enough, but there were several who definitely had a sadistic streak. We even had one nun whose main M.O. was to make you place your hand palm down on your desk, so that she could whack your knuckles with a metal ruler. These nuns ruled by fear, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I was deathly afraid of incurring their wrath.

One of these scary nuns was our English teacher, and that included learning all about grammar. In everything you said or wrote, your grammar had to be impeccable, or you risked injury. As a result, these things are etched deeply in my brain, and to this day I still can’t relax when I hear incorrect grammar.

The thing that set me off on this line of thought was yesterday being the 4th of July (American Independence Day, when we declared our independence from England), there was lots of quotes from the 18th century founders floating around. The one that irritated me, and has irritated me since I first read it, is in the Preamble to the Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Preamble to the US Constitution

Why should that bother me? It’s the phrase “a more perfect union”. The word “perfect” is an absolute: something is either perfect, or it’s not. Therefore, one thing cannot be “more perfect” than another. You can get better, you can become closer to perfect, but once you are perfect, you cannot be more perfect.

Now why does this matter? It doesn’t! Everyone who reads that understands that it means “a better Union”. No one thinks the authors are treating perfect as a matter of degree; the intent of the words is clear. Yet every time I hear it, a voice in my head screams “No!!! That’s wrong!!!”. I think that this is the result of childhood trauma brought about by those sadistic nuns – a sort of long-term PTSD.

Speaking of absolutes, here’s another one: unique. It means “one of a kind”. It means that there is nothing else like it. So why do we hear things “one of the most unique experiences you can have!”? Or “she dresses in a very unique style”. Again, the meaning of those sentences is understood: they are using the word “unique” to mean “different”, as things can differ from each other by varying degrees. Still, every time I hear unique used this way, I cringe.

There are some grammatical patterns that have arisen long after my childhood, so I guess I can’t blame the nuns specifically for my aversion to them, but I think my tendency to notice these things is their fault.

Have you every heard someone say something like “I’ll try and do that by tomorrow”? The phrase should be “try to do that”. The first form says two things: “I’ll try”, followed by “do that by tomorrow”, neither of which makes sense by themselves. This is a form of lazy expression, like when people say “I should of left earlier” instead of “I should have left earlier”. “Should of” is forgivable in speech, as it sounds nearly identical to “should’ve”, but in writing there is no excuse for it. But there is no such similar-sounding justification for saying “try and” instead of “try to” – it’s just wrong.

So how about you? Are there any particular phrasings, ungrammatical or not, that irritate you when you hear them? Or are you one of the fortunate people who can accept that communicating meaning by emitting a series of sounds is amazing in and of itself, and leave it at that?

Day 38: Comes With the Territory

I was very excited when I discovered the huge crop of Eastern Black Swallowtail eggs a few weeks ago, but at the same time I also knew that that would mean having to deal with several caterpillars that wouldn’t make it all the way to adulthood. There can be many reasons caterpillars die: poison/insecticides, virus/bacterial infection, or just a genetic fault.

A healthy crop of caterpillars!

I took the photo above after changing the food supply and water for one of the enclosures. Those critters strip the rue and parsley pretty quickly, and many of their droppings end up in the glass. I also change the paper towels at the base of the enclosure, as it is also littered with caterpillar poop and pieces of the plants. I count at least 13 caterpillars in that shot; there are probably a few more hidden on the other side.

But when I clean out the enclosure, I often find several caterpillars on the floor of it, unresponsive. I remove them to a separate container, in case they are infected. A couple of days ago, I gathered 6 such sad critters from the two enclosures.

I puts bits of food in front of them to see if they start munching, a sign that they are still healthy. In the photo above, both #1 and #4 eventually “woke up” and began eating, so I returned them to the enclosure with their siblings.

#2 didn’t look very good at all. In the 15 minutes between when I placed them on the paper towel and when I took the photo, it had oozed a blackish liquid. It did twitch for a little while, but was soon dead.

#3 just looked deformed. I don’t know if it had some disease or a genetic fault, but it didn’t last long after this.

I had some hope for #5 and #6, as they are in the “J” shape that that swallowtail caterpillars form themselves before shedding their skin to become a pupa. They were smaller than pre-pupas typically are, but these little guys have surprised me before. I’ve had a few that laid on the bottom of the enclosure like this, and after a couple of days I’d look in on them and they had become chrysalises! They eventually emerged as perfectly normal adult butterflies, so I was hoping that that would be the case for these two. They were both wriggling from time to time, similar to the motion they make when getting ready to molt into a chrysalis.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. #5 turned dark and stopped moving in a few hours. #6 remained twitchy for 2 days before finally dying.

It’s always hard to see these tiny creatures hatch from eggs, and slowly grow bigger and bigger, only to die suddenly for no apparent reason. But it’s part of nature, and it helps to keep in mind that by keeping them away from predators and keeping them well-stocked with food, a much greater percentage do make it maturity. All you can do is your best to help them along.