Sunday, March 30, 2008

Google Maps Street View van stops at McDonalds on the way up Concord Pike

I was using the new Google Maps Street View to check that I had the correct gas station on Concord Pike (202) north of Wilmington the other day and I discovered something humorous. Normally the street view just shows the view progressing step by step along the road. As I "travelled" up Concord pike with street view we suddenly turned into the McDonald's and went through the drive through. It was unexpected. The Google Maps software thought that we were on 202 and the official yellow line that indicates the street also says Concord Pike, but you can clearly see that they went to McDonald's. The animated gif below shows the detour.

avatars myspace at

At Google Maps, you can see the street view just before the McDonald's, and then in the drive through. You can click on the arrows in the links to duplicate the path in the animated gif. I never would have found this except by accident.

I guess they got hungry. Looking up and down Concord Pike in street view shows that they turned into the parking lots a few times.

Hardy Palms for Delaware?

I always wanted to grow a palm tree in my garden. However I live in Zone 7. As nature would have it there are a few palms that are hardy to this zone. This is not an isolated phenomena and there are a few websites devoted to the topic. I have complied a list here for future reference of some choices I am seriously considering.

  • Trachycarpus fortunei or Chusan Palm is a palm from China that is hardy to -15C to -20C. There is one that has grown since the 1980's in the Brooklyn Botanical gardens so it seem like it might survive Delaware. It likes sun to part shade. This is an honest to goodness palm tree that can grow to 45 ft.
  • The needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) is native as far north as South Carolina, but is hardy all the way to Zone 6. This clustering trunkless palm likes the summer heat but can survive to -23C. They don't get much large than a few feet.
  • The Butia palm (Butia capitata) has apparently been grown experimentally in Delaware, but technically is only hard to Zone 8 or 9. I am wondering if having the creek in the backyard and being down in the valley next to it might mediate the lower temperatures in our yard and allow me to stretch the zone limits. It's hardy down to -12C. It also produces a fruit that is made into jelly in the South.
  • The dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) is native to the Southeastern United States which I could claim Delaware to be in if I needed to stretch it. It's hardy down to -18C and is a fan palm that grows to 3 to 4ft. The McCurtain strain grown in Oklahoma is one of the sturdiest strains of this palm. Wikipedia says (without citation!) it has been grown as far north as Rhode Island.
  • The Chilean wine palm (Jubea chilensis) can survive temperatures down to -12C but does not like hot humid climates. I am not sure if that means that it cannot survive a humid Delaware summer. It would be cool to have this one because it is a close relative to the extinct palms of Easter Island, and that would be a good story to tell on a garden tour. The leaves are pinnate and it grows to 70ft tall. Probably too tall and too hard to get for the garden, but one can dream.
As to things that look like palms trees and are hardy to Zone 7; I already have some yucca growing in one of the beds, as do the neighbors. I am hoping that this year they flower. Ailanthus altissima (Tree of heaven), which looks like a palm and grows everywhere, I root out and destroy every chance I get, even in other people's yards, because it is invasive and nasty. My across the creek neighbor has a big stand of bamboo that I can admire from across the creek. I won't plant that in the ground because it can go crazy as well.

I am also torn between having these palms and going against the local and native plant philosophy we have been trying to stay closer to as the theme of the backyard. I think the them will hold as long as it doesn't stop us from getting a really cool plant or tree. No invasives though, that is a hard and fast rule.

Some other links with others trying to grow or find cold hardy palms and similar plants:

This Canadian site sells hardy palms.

Pennsylvania cold hardy palms

Hardy ferns and palms around Washington, DC.

Zone Denial, a blog devoted to this task.

More examples of growing plants north of their regular zones in the Delaware Valley are on this page and the following pages.

Does anyone out there have any experience growing hardy palms or trying to grow palms outside of their "regular" zone? Drop a suggestion in the comments please.

Friday, March 28, 2008

KITES license in Delaware

I assume this person likes to fly kites and not that they like to pass bad checks.

What other implications of this license plate am I missing? Please leave your suggestion in the comments.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Crocuses celebrating Easter and Spring

Our efforts planting crocuses in the Fall are being rewarded in the Spring.

The next one includes a tiny insect visitor on the lower petal

Which of these pictures is your favorite artistic attempt. Please comment.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Do you know your alcohol and drinks test

I guess I know my drinking.


Read nothing into this but that I like an occasional libation and that I know a lot of trivia.

March Madness for 2008 - reviewing the links

This week I have gotten a lot of search traffic based on search terms like "march madness statistics" and "march madness stats". Welcome to you all. I have in the past tried to use analysis of the past NCAA College basketball tournaments to try to improve my March Madness picks. In the past several years I still haven't won, but at least I know that I had a statistically good picks. To help you make your picks this year I suggest the following past posts:

  • For the Final Four and the Championship only certain seeds have ever made it that far. These frequency charts might help you to ensure your picks are not outrageously different from the past history.

  • Our March Madness pool gives points based on the seed of the team. If the team you picked wins then the points you get are the seed multiplied by the factor for the round (1,2,4,8,16,32 for the Round of 64, Round of 32, Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final Four and the Championship). I analyzed the data from 1985 to 2005 to find what the maximum points a perfect winner could get to help see if my picks were optimistic or pessimistic.

  • The final useful detail is that though their will always be upsets, you can win a pool by picking which teams will upset. I use the Sagarin ratings to get some idea of which teams are seeded correctly and which are over- or underestimated. It is surprising how the seeds often don't follow the ranks or the ratings. Also remember that any given day any team can beat any other team no matter the rating.

All of the posts above are chuck full of statistical analysis, charts and data. I have even offered some tentative advice. Good luck with your pool, but hurry tomorrow is the start. Perhaps this year I will update two years more data and finally analyze the Sweet 16 and Elite 8. The data is in a spreadsheet just calling to me.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Salamanders near Shellpot Creek with video

Preparing to move a granite paver that the previous owners had left in the middle of the backyard we encountered many salamanders under it. I grabbed my camera to record them and then we carefully placed the paver back in place, taking care not to crush the salamanders underneath.

This closeup allowed me to identify this as an Eastern Red-backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereus). This salamander is the most common on the Delmarva peninsula and the description of its habitat, forests floors under rocks and logs and can be observed in every month of the year. I usually don't turn over rocks because I don't want to disturb the animals that use them as shelter. Today was a fluke because we had had enough rain over the last few weeks to clearly demonstrate there was a paver where we had thought there was just dirt, so we were going to move it to a more useful spot when we found wildlife.

There were many salamanders under the paver, this picture shows a red-backed morph and a lead-backed morph (darker one). For identification I used my trusty Amphibians and Reptiles of Delmarva by James F. White, Jr. and Amy Wendt White. (at Amazon also) I highly recommend it if you live in the area (more even for identifying snakes).

Here is a video of the red-backed morph scrambling under the lead-backed morph, who seems non-plussed.

This video shows the just red-backed morph looking for shelter again.

Post your salamander finding stories in the comments.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Happy Days near Saint Patrick's Day

I have to wear this today because good catholics know that we will not celebrate St. Patrick's feast day on Monday March 17th because this year it is in Holy Week and that takes precedence. Many bishops have moved the feast to today or some yesterday so that it can be celebrated.

St. Joseph's Feast Day on March 19th is being celebrated today in many places for the same reason.

Oh yes it's Holy Week. It's Holy Week. Oh what a Week.

Oh yes it's Holy Week, and the altars neat. Oh what a Week.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Happy Pi Day 3.14159...

Today is 3.14 so it is Pi Day. You could do an extra celebration at 1:59 if you like.

So much fun from the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. It's just not rational.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Baseball is coming - even the license plates know

This guy has his spring or summer HOMERUN license plate on. I suppose in the winter it might say GOAL or TOUCHDOWN. Can you feel that baseball is coming soon?

Anyone else out there glad that baseball season is almost here?

Crocuses - a sign of Spring

Technically we still have a week until Spring but these crocuses wanted to get a head start. And there is the last frost date to consider still almost a month from now.

Clearing the yard and gardens last year freed up bulb plants that we didn't see last year due to weeds, which is nice. The bulbs we planted in November are in different spots. I am sure they will make there appearence at the appropriate time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Shuttle launched in the wee hours of the morning

Today's 2:28am shuttle launch was a rare night launch that was probably spectacular to view. I am sorry that I missed it. While we were in Florida in February our Valentine's Day was spent at the Kennedy Space Center (just call me an incorrigible romantic). We intended to watch a Shuttle launch that day but Endeavor was delayed until today because Atlantis, the previous shuttle launch, had been delayed until Feb 7th.

Nevertheless, our Valentine's day included the bus tour that went closer to the Launch Pads and past the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Inside they were assembling Endeavor for this mornings flight and I got some good pictures of the bottom of the Shuttle Stack as it was being assembled. They were expecting to move the Shuttle to the pads one evening that week. It turns out that they actually pack the Shuttle bay while it is on the launch pad by means of a huge movable building that can be sealed to the Shuttle so they can open the bay doors and out in payloads. Unfortunately there were no tours of that.

Here is Endeavor peeking through the VAB doors.

Here is Launch Pad 39A sans shuttle.

We did see pieces of the Japanese built Kibo lab that Endeavor took into space on this mission. The lab was being assembled in the Space Station assembly building where each piece of the Space Station is shipped before being prepared for flight.

For all of its quirks, imagine what the Space Shuttle represents in terms of mankind's technological development. What wonderful hubris as many nations combine their efforts to build a station in space. How can this effort not count as one of the pinnacles of humanities achievements? Pardon me, as I always speak expansively and supremely positively and even get a bit overcome when I talk about the space program. I am sure there are some of you out there that are the same way. Leave a comment to express your opinion.

ONYX C4 license plate

A black corvette with license plate ONYX C4. What more can be said? I hope there are no explosives inside.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Videos of the raging Shellpot Creek

Yesterday the Shellpot Creek was as raging as I have ever seen it. We had a lot of rain which continued all day. Several trees whose bases we have always used as a marker for the height of the creek were covered. I realize my pictures have failed to do justice to the raging of the creek so I thought I would add a little motion with some video shot from the sunroom during the height of the rain and creek.

A 35 second closeup of the torrent going by.

34 seconds of raging creek with lots of cool debris floating by.

17 seconds of the water fall with logs going over.

In case you don't realize how close the creek is to the house. This video shows it well.

Postponing Judgement Day - Terminator style

The advent of the new chapter in the Terminator saga, The Sarah Connor Chronicles had prompted someone to ask me the other day, just exactly when is Judgement Day, the burning of the world to come when the computer Skynet becomes self-aware, declares war on mankind and launches the world's nuclear arsenals to protect itself.

I know that it had been postponed a few times as movie time caught up with real time, in an effort to keep the movie series current. Conveniently, the characters in each movie and the series also spend a lot of time trying to postpone Judgement Day as well, typically by killing the people or the machines that would be the source of Skynet. In fact postponing Judgement Day is the theme of franchise. Let's see how they do:

In Terminator there is no mention of the actual date of Judgement Day, just that there is one. That's too bad, it might have answered some questions. More importantly Kyle Reese goes back in time to protect Sarah Connor, mother of the future hero John Connor. Conveniently Kyle impregnates Sarah with John.

In Terminator 2: Judgement Day the good terminator tells Sarah Connor that Skynet went online on August 4, 1997, learns at an exponential rate and becomes aware at 2:14am on August 29,1997 and then launches a nuclear war to prevent humans from tuning it off. The rest of the movie has them trying to kill the scientist at Cyberdyne that creates the technology for Skynet in the first place. That technology came from the leftover chip from the terminator from the first movie. Who made Skynet? Skynet made Skynet.

In Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines it appears that the success of the previous movie has postponed Judgement Day 7 years to July 4, 2004. The same day that Skynet is hooked up to the net is the day it starts the war. It seems that Singularity happens.

The new TV series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is supposed to happen in a parallel universe to the movies, but also has a postponed Judgement Day from the third movie. It's Judgement day is set at April 21, 2011, two days after Skynet goes online. Of course that whole series is about preventing that and fighting the multiple time traveling robots sent by Skynet with some help from time traveling humans sent by future John Connor. In the series the Connor family with a helpful Terminator jump over Sarah's death and the previous version of Judgement Day. Maybe John caused that 2004 one but didn't when he skipped it in the series.

I suspect that the date of Judgement Day has more to do with the release date of the movies or series that with any preventative activity on the part of Sarah Connor. A graph shows Judgement Day receding away from the present with a close call of only a year away for T3: Rise of the Machines on 2003. I have helpfully added a line representing the asymptote of Judgement Day occurring on the release date of the movie or series. We seem to have gained a three year head start with the series. Let's see how long they can keep it up.

The pictures are from the recent series of Craftsman ads which built human anatomy from Craftsman products. The results look like Terminators to me. Perhaps Craftsman is building Skynet and the Terminators? Sarah Connor better get over there and stop them!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The highest I have ever seen the ragin Shellpot Creek

It has been raining all day and we still have some afternoon thunderstorms to go. Shellpot Creek behind my house is the highest I have ever seen it. I can usually gage the height by the bases of several trees on the opposite bank and those are covered now.

This picture is taken from the sun porch to give you an idea of just how close the creek is to the one corner of the house. It is about 10 to 15 ft. I am not worried because we still have 4ft of bank and several more feet of elevation above that before it reaches the house. But it sures makes noise. I have also seen many branches, a soccer ball and a few kids toys float by.

I have some video that I will post later.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Some people love their guns (and stick by them)

This guy must really like his guns. It took me a while to figure out that this was the loading end of a Smith and Wesson with 44 Magnum rounds that is the design of his trailer hitch decoration.

Perhaps he is a Dirty Harry fan, who used a Smith and Wesson Model 29 with 44 Magnum rounds. I am not sure what the message is. It is as confusing as the people with the balls (testicles) hanging from their trailer hitches. Given the link of guns with manhood and the exhibitionism required to have this on your SUV, perhaps it is the same message as the balls.