Thursday, July 27, 2006

Apple #186: Anoles

I'm back from my vacation. I had a very nice time, thank you very much. I went to Florida to visit a friend and while I was there, I encountered many topics that piqued my curiosity. So the next few entries will be related to stuff I saw or did while in Florida.

I have to start with the lizards. In case you don't know this, little lizards run around everywhere in Florida. They sit on rocks, on window screens. They cling and hang upside down on signposts or tree trunks. They'll dart out of the way as you walk past. Sometimes, if you approach them slowly, they'll do this neck-flare thing. They have a secret flap of skin under their chins and they'll inflate this thing. It doesn't blow up like a bubble but it unfolds more like a wing or a sail of a ship. On some lizards, this flap is red in the center, and on others, it's orange or a yellow-orange.

So I want to know, what is the name of these lizards, what do they eat, what's that flap thing called and what's it for, and what do they do when we're not looking?

This lizard is hanging onto the tree, hoping we don't see him, hoping we'll go away
(Photo from Todd Campbell's page)

  • These types of lizards are called Anoles (pronounced uh-no-lees). The most common are the Brown Anoles. Green anoles live higher up in the trees and have become less common.
  • Anoles can change their color, but unlike chameleons, they don't change color based on what they're standing on. Their color varies depending on the temperature or their mood, and it takes a bit longer for their color to change.

A green anole, showing its magic flap
(Photo from Cerci's Journal)

  • Anoles are usually about 5 to 8 inches long. They have long, thin tails that they can abandon pretty easily, and the tails will continue to wriggle on the ground to confuse or entertain would-be predators while the anoles escape.
  • They have little toe-pads at the end of their long, slender toes, which help them to climb and cling to surfaces that appear to be quite smooth.
  • Anoles eat little bugs. Sometimes they eat wood roaches or other bugs that can be almost as large as they are. They are sometimes recruited into a yard to help gardeners get rid of pesky insects, though they probably don't consume enough mosquitoes or roaches for people to notice a real difference.

Green anole eating a dronefly
(Photo from Wikimedia)

  • Males tend to hang out in visible places, like on the sides of tree trunks or the sides of rocks. Females tend to stay hidden under vegetation or near large rocks.
  • Males can afford to be more visible because they have bigger dewlaps. That's right, I said dewlaps. That's what the neck flap thing is called (it's also sometimes called a throat fan). There's a flexible rod of cartilage in the outer ridge of it, and when the anole flexes the cartilage, the dewlap swings into view.

Brown anole with dewlap displayed
(Photo from a blog called Resurgemus)

  • The anole will often bob or bounce its head a few times and maybe throw in a couple push-ups just prior to swinging out its dew lap.
  • Males display the dewlap to defend their territory, trying to scare off other creatures by flashing the warning red color. They also display the dewlap during courtship.
  • The color of the dewlap can change, depending on temperature, time of day, or if the anole is feeling especially ticked off or amorous.
  • Anoles came from Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean and were introduced in Florida in the late 1800's. They have since spread from Florida into Georgia and are working their way into other neighboring states. They have been seen hitching rides on the undercarriages of cars, on boats, and even on windshield wipers.
  • Their prevalence notwithstanding, they do have many predators, especially cats, snakes, birds, and small children who try to catch them. I guess it doesn't have to be children who try to catch them, because I tried a couple times (and failed; they were too quick for me).
  • If an anole gets in your house, the safest way to catch it is to corner and trap it in your hands as gently as possible. The anole will try to look fierce to scare you away, but it's only 5 inches long, is not venomous, and has only little bitty things for teeth. Just drop it back outside and it'll scurry off, glad to get away from you.
  • It's best not to keep anoles as pets. They're wild animals and are happier trapping bugs out in the yard where they can find them on their own.

Brown anole, relaxing in grassy comfort
(Photo from

Florida Gardener, Florida Garden Critters, Green Anole and Cuban Brown Anole
Institute for Biological Invasions, The Brown Anole, by Todd Campbell
Howard Youth, "Florida's Creeping Crawlers," Zoogoer, Smithsonian National Zoological Park, May-June 2005

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Apple #185: Vacations

  • Vacations were established in the United States in the late 19th century.
  • Lots of people used vacations, even then, to accomplish things they couldn't otherwise during their regular work days, such as attending religious lectures, taking classes in how to be a teacher, embarking on rigorous programs of exercise, and so on. They saw idleness as a danger to be avoided.
  • Resorts, which had long been used as places to go for "cures" for various ailments ranging from tuberculosis to a vague malaise, now became places to go for self-improvement.
  • However, people realized that visitors to the resorts could adopt alternate personalities. Someone claiming to be a wealthy socialite might actually be a poser or worse, a con artist. Someone claiming to be a renowned artist might actually be a stuffy businessman. And so on. So those resorts became suspect, in some cases.
  • At that time, white collar people got paid vacations, about a week to two weeks. Blue collar workers didn't get paid vacations. They did have time away from work, but it was called "unemployment."
  • Blue collar workers didn't start to get paid vacations until the 1920's and 1930's.
  • In Europe, employees are given four to six weeks' worth of paid vacations each year. These longer paid vacations are considered a right of employment.
  • One scientist who researched what people do on vacations found that people generally watch less TV, they exercise more, they talk to other people more, and they learn more.

See you in a week!

(Photo from Villa Rental & Marketing in Bali)

American Public Media interview with Cindy Sondik Aron, discussing her book, Working at Play: A History of Vacations in the United States. Interview available on RealPlayer
Summary of radio piece called Vacation, produced by the Infinite Mind public radio show, broadcast the week of June 29, 2005

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Apple #184: Syd Barrett II

I recently learned that Syd Barrett, the psychedelic genius behind early Pink Floyd, died on July 7. He was 60 years old. He had been diagnosed with diabetes in 1998.

Good-bye, Mr. Barrett, and good luck.

(Photo from the Scotsman)

John Pareles, "Syd Barrett, a Founder of Pink Floyd, Dies at 60," The New York Times, July 12, 2006
Andy Greene, "Syd Barrett (1946-2006): Founding frontman and songwriter for Pink Floyd dead at 60," Rolling Stone, July 11, 2006

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Apple #183: Mrs. Robinson

I heard Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" on the radio this morning. It reminded me how much I like that tune. I might even go so far as to say I think it's their best song. Yes, maybe even better than "Cecilia."

Anyway, I was singing along and I realized, the lyrics don't make a whole lot of sense, taken all together. They sort of do, in patches, but I couldn't put the whole picture together. So I decided to find out if anybody had any insight into the overall meaning of the song.

If Mrs. Robinson knows what the song means, she's not telling
(Photo from

  • Turns out, there's a reason for my confusion. Simon and Garfunkel -- some sources say that Paul Simon was the lone songwriter -- were working on a song about Mrs. Roosevelt. As in, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, a.k.a. Eleanor. When the songwriters couldn't get it to go anywhere, and they dropped it.
  • But then they were asked to write a song for The Graduate (movie starring Dustin Hoffman in his first role with the steamy Anne Bancroft). They said at first that they didn't have anything they could use, but then they got the idea to use their song about Mrs. Roosevelt and change her name to Mrs. Robinson.
  • As for the bit about Joe DiMaggio, in one interview, Simon said he used DiMaggio's name simply because the rhythm fit the song. But later, he said he truly respected DiMaggio's humility in the face of his popularity, and regarded him as a true hero because of his character.

Joe DiMaggio, baseball star/normal guy
(Photo from Baseball Hound)

  • Okay, now that I know these facts, let's see if the lyrics come together:
And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know
whoa whoa whoa
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey hey hey
Hey hey hey

  • Even if I mentally substitute "Mrs. Roosevelt" for "Mrs. Robinson", I still can't quite put it together.

We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files
We'd like to help you learn to help yourself
Look around you, all you see are sympathetic eyes
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home

  • That line, "We'd like to know a little bit about your for our files." The way Simon sings it, it sounds sort of sneaky, sinister. It makes me think of all that distrust of government business (although Watergate didn't break until five years later). But were the lines supposed to refer to someone talking to Eleanor Roosevelt? Or her talking to someone else?
or ?

(Photo of Nixon from U Wisconsin's American History 102
Photo of Eleanor Roosevelt from

  • And what grounds are we strolling around? I've always taken that to refer to insane asylum grounds, just because I've often heard other references to such places made in similar ways. But is that true for this song? Or are the "grounds" the lawn and environs of the White House?

And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know
whoa whoa whoa
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey hey hey
Hey hey hey

Hide it in a hiding place where no one ever goes
Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes
It's a little secret, just the Robinsons' affair
Most of all you've got to hide it from the kids

  • Just what are we hiding in the pantry with our cupcakes? I mean, it's easy to make some assumptions given the decade, but are those assumptions borne out in the song? Especially if it was supposed to be about Mrs. Roosevelt. Or, if this part of the lyrics was supposed to connect to the movie, I'm not sure how that works either. As far as I can find out, there's no scene involving a pantry or cupcakes in The Graduate.

Maybe not these kinds of cupcakes

Koo koo kachoo, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know
whoa whoa whoa
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray
Hey hey hey
Hey hey hey

  • Is the koo koo kachoo supposed to refer to the goo goo g'joob that appears in "I Am the Walrus"? That song was written in 1967, and so was "Mrs. Robinson." One source thinks that Paul Simon was, in fact, referring to The Beatles, but I couldn't find anybody with any ideas about why the reference is there.

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Going to the candidates' debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you've got to choose
Every way you look at it you lose

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you
woo woo woo
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Joltin' Joe has left and gone away
Hey hey hey
Hey hey hey

You see, many questions. Even so, I still like the song. Maybe it is all as Simon remarked in a 2002 interview:
  • When I wrote, 'Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?' I wondered, 'What does that have to do with "The Graduate"?' Can I say that? I'll just say it. It sounds right.
If anybody has any new bright ideas on the subject, I'd love to hear them.

Songfacts, Mrs. Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel
Jew Eat Yet? blog by Danny Miller, God Bless You Please, Mrs. Robinson, May 7, 2005
NZGirl, The Meaning of Songs
Wikipedia, Mrs. Robinson
Wikipedia, I Am the Walrus
Art of the Mix, Don't You Think the Joker Laughs at You? note #9
Steve Knopper, "Simon takes new sound, old hits on the road," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's JS Online, June 29, 2006

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Apple #182: Brain Freeze

I was watching a movie the other night in which someone drank a slushie really fast and got a brain freeze (a.k.a., ice cream headache).

Brain freeze, coming at you

This led me to wonder, what makes that happen? And why do you feel it in your head and not, say, the roof of your mouth or the back of your throat or even in your stomach?

  • When cold things touch the roof of your mouth, they activate a particular nerve, or bunch of nerves, in the sphenopalatine ganglion (sometimes known as the pterygopalatine ganglion).
  • The spheno palatine nerves are responsible for sensation and glandular work in your palate (roof of mouth).

The sphenopalatine ganglion, shown as a yellow cluster, comes down sort of behind the roof of your mouth, at the back of your upper jaw. This is what reacts to cold foods.
(Image from Bartleby's searchable version of Gray's Anatomy, section on the Trigeminal Nerve)

  • If the roof of your mouth doesn't have time to warm up and those nerves don't have time to relax, the nerves will tell the blood vessels in your brain to swell. The theory is that these nerves do this as a sort of misguided way of trying to keep your brain warm.
  • When blood vessels in your brain swell, you experience that as pressure, or a headache.
  • The headache will usually subside on its own within 10 to 20 seconds.
  • But if you want to make the headache go away faster, you have to warm the roof of your mouth. You can do this by pressing your tongue to the roof and waiting a bit, or by drinking warm water.
  • 7-11 owns the trademark to the word "brainfreeze."

P.S. The full moon you're seeing tonight is known as the Hay or Thunder or Buck moon. For more, see my entry on full moons.

Kidzworld, The Chilling Truth About Brain Freeze
Howstuffworks, What causes an ice cream headache?
The Straight Dope, What causes "ice cream headache?" June 28, 1991
Biology Online, definition of sphenopalatine ganglion and definitions of related terms
Joseph Hulihan, Ice cream headache, British Medical Journal, May 10, 1997

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Apple #181: Lasagna and Tomatoes

I made a pan of lasagna last week, and it was big enough that I had a piece just about every day until yesterday. Super-yum.

Those of us who ate it were wondering, what does the word "lasagna" mean anyway? Cheese pie? Pasta with cheese and sauce and cheese? Cheese and good gooey cheese?

(Photo from Pierre J. Mejlak's blog)

  • The word lasagna actually means "pasta in wide sheets." Or, of course, it also means a dish of layers of pasta, sauce, and cheese, all baked together.
  • The Italian word actually comes from the Latin word lasanum, which means "cooking pot." That Latin word comes from a Greek word lasanon, which means "pot with feet" or "chamber pot." As in, the pot where you go to the bathroom when you don't have a bathroom in your house.
  • Fortunately for us, connections no longer exist between lasagna and chamber pots.
  • The first version of lasagna was described in the 13th century. That recipe did not include tomatoes, since tomatoes at that time were unknown to Europeans (including Italians).
  • Before tomato sauce, pasta was eaten dry, with the fingers.

Before tomatoes, this would be finger food, as is.
(Photo from Katura Henlley's site)

  • Which of course makes me wonder, where did tomatoes come from, if not Italy?
  • Answer: the Aztecs.
  • When the Spaniards showed up in Mexico & Central America and conquered the Aztecs, they sailed back home to Spain with, among other things, tomatoes.
  • At that time, the Aztecs' word for the fruit (yes, tomatoes are fruit) was tomatl. When the Europeans got hold of it, they changed the l at the end to various vowels, until finally the o
  • At first, the Europeans were wary of the tomato and wouldn't eat it. It is a member of the nightshade family, after all, and many plants in this family are poisonous. But the tomato, happily, is not.

These tomatoes were grown at Impossible Acres, a farm outside of Davis, CA

  • It was actually Italian peasants who figured out that the tomato wasn't poisonous. They ate it because they didn't have a whole lot of other stuff to eat, and there were tomato plants growing here and there for decorative purposes. So they ate the tomato. And as far as I'm concerned, you can say that pretty much all Italian cuisine comes from there.
  • Okay, so, once the Italians were making pasta with tomatoes, or pasta with sauce, they couldn't eat it with their fingers anymore. Many people think that this is when the fork became widely in demand, "and the manners of the common man were changed."
  • The Spaniards also brought the tomato with them on their exploring/conquering missions to the Philippines. People there got hooked on the tomato, and soon people throughout Asia were enjoying tomatoes, too.
  • Long before that time, Marco Polo went on his famous trip to China. He said that he saw people there eating "a lasagna similar to that which we prepare." Of course, at that time, neither Marco Polo's lasagna nor the Chinese lasagna would have been made with tomatoes. He was really only commenting on the similarities in the pasta itself.
  • Because back in the day, Marco Polo's dish of lasagna probably included....


Online Etymology Dictionary, lasagna, lasagna, tomato
Inmamaskitchen, The History of Pasta
Concetta's Cucina, Pasta History