The shittier posts matter too! Here’s why!

My writing on the blog has been a bit sketchy lately. Posts haven’t been very long or very detailed. Some might say boring, even. This may all very well be true. I ended yesterday’s post with the question why I would write a post anyway, if I know it is gonna suck. There’s a couple of reasons, some good, some silly, but they’re good for a post.

1. A post is a post – This sounds silly, but it isn’t. At least I think not. If you want to write, or become better at writing, the best thing you can do is write a lot. Only by writing more you get better. It doesn’t matter what you write. It can be a pile of horse shit. As long as there are words that form a sentence or two, it counts as writing. Nobody said that writing needs to be good. But practice makes perfect. Even a shabby post will train your writing. Better to write a failed post and learn from it, than to not write it at all. So you need to train regularly, which brings me to:

2. Writing routine – I decided that my writing routine would be daily. It has become a daily grind for me, and some days a bit of an obsession. I think the routine bit is important. We all complain that we don’t have time, and that we can’t do stuff we want to. It’s bullshit. If you don’t do something that you claim to want, often it’s because you don’t want it enough. Everyone can schedule in a 15 minute slot per day to work on something, whether it’s something creative like painting, drawing or writing, or even sports. I’m guilty too. I complain that I don’t move enough, don’t do yoga enough. Reality is that I could work on all these things, and still have time left. I just don’t want to do them bad enough. I bet the same is true for you too. For me, writing was important enough to schedule it in every day. A routine. It doesn’t take me long to write a post, usually anywhere between 5 – 60 minutes, with most posts below half an hour. By making it a routine, it becomes a non-negotiable part of the daily grind. Like taking a shower, preparing coffee, having dinner, or putting the kids to bed. It helps to have a routine. There’s no debate what to do with the time, you already know. It is hard, and it is definitely hard to keep up. What helps me is:

3. Momentum – Once you have reached a certain point, it becomes a bit of a prestige to yourself to keep the hard work going. One of my strong drivers for writing daily is that I take pride in being able to say I wrote 250+ daily posts in a row. The first posts were hard to write, and awful to read I guess, but once you get that momentum going, everything will be easier. For keeping momentum, not breaking the chain is somewhat essential. If I skip it once, I’ll skip it again. I’m a lazy fucker, trying to find a way out. Maintaining the daily momentum is key to this blog’s survival. Once I decide not to post for one day, I can assure you that this lazy behaviour will become a recurring pattern. Until I stop posting entirely. It has to be daily.

4. Some readers like crap – This is a bit silly, too. I generally don’t enjoy writing the shorter crap posts, and I’m not proud of them either. However, it seems like the posts that I find poor – or wrote almost jokingly – get better views, while the posts that I’m proud of – and wrote with the hope that they would help someone – barely get attention. I can’t really grasp why and how these numbers work the way they do. There doesn’t seem to be a law for this.

5. The golden percentile – It is very hard to predict what a post will do. Some will fly, some will die. There’s a very very low percentile of posts that is somehow picked up by the masses, and gets the deserved readership. Now, if you post three times a year, that’ll happen once every three decades. Maybe. If you write every day, it might just happen that you strike gold a few times per year. I’m not in it for the numbers – I write whether there are three or three hundred people reading – but I have to admit, it feels good when people show appreciation for some of the work. The golden percentile becomes a side goal, but s goal nonetheless.

6. Storytelling – There’s story in everything. Most of us just aren’t very good at telling it. I’m not saying I am fantastic at it, but I appreciate the art form. I want to achieve the level of storytelling skill where I can make you sit on the edge of your seat with a story about tying shoelaces, or whatever. I know, there’s a long way to go. But coming up with story out of nothing is a very unique skill that not many have, and everyone should desire to have. Good storytellers are the most fun people. I wouldn’t mind being part of that group. Would you?

So there you go, six reasons why I write daily, even if I don’t have shit to say.

Complete

Nine hours of driving today. One longer pit stop to let the kids, wife, and sister in law (who traveled back with us) blow of some steam in the forest playground, and let me pick up the latest, and for now last addition to my snake collection. It now feels complete. (Pictures will follow soon.)

As you can imagine, I’m pretty tired. Why do you even write a post then, you might ask. That I might write about tomorrow!

A horrible snapshot of just one of the animals I picked up yesterday. A lavender masque cornsnake with a bunch of hidden genes. This is going to be a pretty boy, I just know it!

Uncomfortable

After waking up in our Airbnb recreation home – or trailer if you wish – I planned to spend my Sunday morning and early afternoon visiting a small reptile expo. The main reason for this was that a breeder I know would be there, and I had to pick up some stuff. The expo itself was interesting in many ways. Small enough to spend less than 30 minutes inside, and it was somehow combined with some spiritual wacko event, where people sold crystal balls, magnetic rocks and fake advice on how to live a better life. I don’t know how the two audiences combine, but it seems to me that it’s a bit of a mismatch. Perhaps I’m not the average reptile fair visitor either, although I fulfill the long hair and tattoo requirements. And the reptiles. Those too.

One thing that struck me right away when I entered was that even though QR codes were scanned at the entrance (this is clearly a smoother situation than in Germany), and apparently the audience was tested or vaccinated, I was the only one wearing a mask. The only person. Inside. With hundreds of other people. After having lived in Germany for almost two pandemic years, I couldn’t get used to this sight. I can’t help but feel uncomfortable around crowds of unmasked people – vaccinated, tested, or otherwise. It is becoming clearer and clearer that vaccines, although they protect you from severe disease, don’t prevent spread of the virus. I’d rather be elsewhere, so I picked up my package, quickly glanced over the few other stand holders’ tables and left within less than half an hour. The shortest I’ve ever been to any reptile expo.

This evening I played tourist in my own country, and we did something we never did when we lived here. We went to a pancake restaurant. Mostly because it was down the road of our Airbnb’s trailer park, and because we didn’t have much else to eat. I took a foolish decision to go for a Tex Mex pancake. I should’ve known better. Stick with the classics. All these specials only give you stomach aches, and they’re not that special either. In the restaurant I felt similar to the expo. I get that we have to be maskless to eat, but I felt wildly uncomfortable. It was the first time eating inside a restaurant since the pandemic began. I’m so traumatized by this whole thing, it makes me wonder if I’ll ever get over it. Maybe I should’ve bought a magnetic rock to protect my soul.

Regardless of the conflicted feelings around how people behave, I was happy to be home. I was cruising down the A1 highway, and just felt a sense of belonging. I need to go back. Now, if someone has a permanent job for a mediocre ecologist, should me an email. I’ll try to give a better sales pitch then!

As long as it’s daily…

I have little to write today. I’ve done a lot of driving in the morning, and I’ve spent the day with family in the Netherlands. What I do with family is both wildly uninteresting, and, to be fair, none of anyone’s damn business. Hehe.

I will instead spend the evening watching horrible Dutch Friday evening television. Which is so horrible, and such a rare thing for us – our German house doesn’t have a TV connection, or an option to get it – that it becomes an event in and of itself. I’ll write something more interesting another time.

And that concludes my post for today. Nobody said daily blogging should consistently result in high-quality literature, but I believe it should be daily in order to fit under that label. Daily rubbish is allowed… Works for me.

Hectic

A hectic day today. Important meetings in the morning, but very fruitful ones. In between meetings, I insisted with my boss that we take critical decisions today, regarding our climate chamber experiment, which yesterday we discovered was infested with thrips. I think, no, I know I pissed him off today, but so be it. The safeguarding of the minimal data we could still collect from our experiment, and the safety of other experiments running in neighboring chambers, are more important to me than my social status. The two doctoral candidates working on the experiment acted swiftly, and carefully. I wish for them that there’s still something to learn from this experiment. (I for one learned a lot about the dos and don’ts of our model system, which will be valuable for the future)

In between arranging the emergency harvest, I was teaching our bird course in the afternoon. In this practical part, we mostly gave the students the chance to look at our stuffed bird collection – ducks and geese today – up close. I was a bit nervous, for we had to channel a potential 180 students through our exposition room. It turned out that all students that showed up, had their vaccination reports at the ready, making for a smooth, and hopefully safe experience for everyone.

From teaching, I pretty much jumped in our campervan, to start our flash visit to the Netherlands. Our friends’ wedding this Saturday. We parked for the night in Diez, which leaves us another two hours to the border tomorrow. It was a smooth ride, with little traffic, and two happy little monsters. It could be much worse. Let’s hope we can continue this smoothness tomorrow. Tomorrow, we’ll visit grandma 1, and the day after, we will see grandma 2, before going to the wedding party. Sunday, I will have to visit a reptile fair to pick up some goodies, and on Monday, we’ll drive back to Bavaria. It’s, uhm, action packed, but I guess it’s worth it.

Now I need sleep. Let’s hope that it doesn’t get too cold this night.

Run, run, run

Lately, I feel like the ‘Red Queen Hypothesis’ has been haunting me a lot. In our tansy chemodiversity project, we have been doing a lot of running. Yet, I feel like we’re not moving a centimeter in any direction. We just run, and run, and run, and then we run some more.

God, it’s exhausting.

We have had a fantastic summer season, with three field experiments started. The main one has been highly successful and has yielded lots and lots of data for the project. The two other ones were started late in the season, and have now firmly established, and will offer a great set of opportunities for next year. We’re good on the field work. We ran a lot, but we clearly moved forward.

However, we decided it would be fun to do an experiment with different chemotypes in a controlled setting. But somehow luck, this time, has not been on our side. This is mostly due to the season not being optimal for growing our plant species. The plants took a long time to establish. But in the end we got them where we wanted them. But it took a lot of running.

For our experiments, we need aphids. Although we had some hiccups to get the colonies going initially, some keen efforts from our PhD candidate ensured several thriving colonies. She helped her first struggling colonies overcome parasitoids, bacterial diseases, and suppressed an upcoming mildew infection. For three weeks, it seemed that we had the wind in our sails. The colonies were clean of disease and any nasty hymenopteran that wanted to insert their ovipositors into our aphid ladies. We were running, but our efforts seemed to move us forward. I don’t know when, where, or how it happened, but over the past few days, a lot of mummies have developed, especially in one of our rearings. Generatio spontanea. No seriously, I haven’t got a clue! These cages had been clean for weeks, so I can hardly believe that there was a ‘toid in there! It must have come in from outside? I’m any case, one (of four) rearings developed (pretty inconspicuous) parasitoid mummies, that were mostly hidden in the lower leaves. Over the weekend, an army of parasitoids emerged. It is safe to assume that after a couple of hours, no aphid in this particular rearing would be unparasitized. I think there were that many… There was nothing we could do but dispose of everything. Luckily, we already established fresh cohorts yesterday, far away from the ovipositors of any Aphidius and the like. We ran a lot, but, well, at least we’re still in the same place.

Parasitoids, I love you dearly, but stay out of my aphid rearing. How did you get in anyway?

Then there was our plant situation. We had grown our plants under the best conditions that we could provide in this time of the year. They weren’t growing fast, but they.were growing. I saw no reason to fear or despair. Early October, the time had come to transfer them from the greenhouses to the climate chambers that we reserved for our aphid experiment. Cool. What could go wrong? It almost went too smooth. One week in the climate chambers, the plants started to develop some early signs of nutrient stress. Sure. That I can recognize, and deal with. And so I ran. (Well, technically I drove, but for sake of story, just believe that I ran to my car) Off to the nearest garden center to pick up fertilizer. Within four days, my efforts paid off. New fresh leaves were growing, and it seemed that with a regular fertilizer treatment, all would be good and well. And maybe that was the problem? Nice and juicy plants taste well. It now seems that we have some unwanted visitors that have arrived somewhere between the transfer from greenhouse to climate room, and now. Teeny tiny visitors. Visitors that will have to be dealt with this week.

And so we’re running again, because running is so much fun.

God, I’m so bloody tired of running.

Can I just sit?

My level of nerdiness!

Most people that know me, will know me for being a plant guy, and an insect guy, or perhaps both. For a long time, however, these were only a side project. Something I decided to pursue as a means to make a living – perhaps not the wisest choice, given the low success rate – because the number one passion had an even lower chance of success. Reptiles, and snakes in particular, are somewhat of a core part of me. I have kept reptiles since I was six years old. Snakes since I was ten. It took me four years to drive my mother nuts and convince her I needed snakes in my life. Reptiles never left, so that’s almost thirty years of reptile-keeping.

I used to be pretty outspoken about my reptiles. I was obsessed with them. In primary school I made some friends that had similar interests, and a good click. Then when I was about ten, I moved to the other side of the country, and arrived in a new world. A world where I was not understood. A world where I was laughed at, ridiculed, and bullied, because I was different. I was not one of the soccer kids. In my free time, I was monitoring local frog and lizard populations, thinking that I was their local guardian angel. (I wasn’t, nothing could protect them from dumb actions from municipality and water boards.)

At high school, it was pretty clear that I wasn’t going to make friends with my reptile enthusiasm. This was around 2001, where internet became somewhat of a real thing. I developed a life in a parallel universe. Online I found like-minded people that were like me. People that wouldn’t shut up about reptiles. People that had encyclopedic knowledge of species, distributions, and behavior. I’m high school I did absolutely nothing related to school. I spent every waking hour reading or talking online about reptiles. I made friends that I still am connected with to this day. When I wasn’t doing that, I was hanging out with a small group of friends. I wouldn’t talk about reptiles, they would tolerate me in return. I’m no longer in touch with most of them these days. I learnt the hard way to shut up about my passion. Most of the people I talked to online, were far away. Although I met several a couple of times a year on reptile events, I had no close-by fellow obsessed nerds, like me.

I sort of accepted that the crazy level of nerdiness that I expressed, was a rare trait that I wouldn’t encounter often. And so for the past fifteen years or so, I have not really shared much about my love for reptiles, and many people that know me well, may not even be aware that this is ‘my thing’.

Today, for the first time in 15 years, I met two people that were exactly as crazy as me. They wouldn’t bloody shut up about their reptiles. What great people! It’s probably not surprising that I met them when I picked up a couple of new animals for my collection. It’s not every day you get invited to a basement that must have had 500 snakes, kept under perfect conditions. These people were completely and utterly nuts about their snakes. I spent around an hour with them, and this certainly was one of those ‘kid in a candy store’ moments. For the first time ever, I was invited to a reptile nerd club! A reptile Stammtisch!

The best part? They breed great animals, and are only half an hour away from me. I may have to spend a couple of hours there at least every breeding season…

Below a couple of horrible pictures of my new lovelies. These ones are already pretty as they are, but also include a bunch of greatness behind the scenes, being heterozygous for a range of fun genes that will make for great breeding projects in the future.

Caramel striped female
Caramel striped male
Pied-sided amelanistic bloodred male
Pied-sided bloodred female

I’m not sure it’s edible…

My vegetable harvest this year sucked big time. The summer has been particularly mild and very wet. My garden is in a relatively shady side of the house, and although we picked the sunniest patch for our potted tomatoes, they all perished. Many of them developed disease. Brown rot, weird speckling, and overall, those tomatoes that did survive – mostly from two plum tomato varieties – took ages to ripen.

On the other hand, my chilies went berserk, and my eight chili bushes, grown from tiny seedlings, had a good time. I found this odd, as they are generally much more heat loving than tomatoes. Whatever. Weirdos. Six out of eight plants were habaneros. And so I had quite some fruits, to… Well… To do what really? Who in their sane minds considers eating these things. Sure, I cook with them, but there was a bit of a discrepancy between what I need on a yearly basis, and what I harvested. I harvested what was ripe, and had about 40 fruits. The bushes were all still filled with unripe fruits, but the low temperatures of last week have killed the plants. They now found their final resting place on my compost pile.

The ripe habaneros I kept on the kitchen counter for quite some time. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. Slowly, one by one, they were turning bad over the past weeks, and yesterday, Heike told me I should do stuff with them. What could I do but obey? I froze the fresh-looking ones, cut up the more wrinkly ones, and threw out the bad ones this afternoon.

It’s not even that much chili… It looks so innocent…

I had about six habaneros that were wrinkly, and not super fresh. Still totally acceptable for a sauce. To be fair, what else would you use these fucking hell berries for anyway? I sauteed the chili chunks with some garlic in a bit of olive oil, until the bits were soft and tender. It was evident that these fuckers were strong. Capsaicin concentrations in the air were high. No kidding, the air tasted spicy. As there was no way on earth I could eat this shit, I had to dilute. I grabbed the most sensible options – tinned tomatoes (but good ones, not the cheap shit), and cloudy apple juice. About one Liter of this concoction has been brewing on the stove for a while, while I was cooking dinner. Just before we got to the dinner table, I decided to have a small taste. It was full of flavor, but I certainly didn’t taste my dinner, as my taste buds were calling it a day after a few drops of whatever it is that I designed. Who’d have thought that dragon vomit would have such taste?

This just looks like a badly made tomato soup. It’s not. It’s a horribly made tomato soup.

I guess I now have a five year supply of volcano juice, as this can only be consumed in droplets. Now all I need is a set of small containers and a safe space to store it, far away from children’s hands…

Duplo and children’s stories

The past two days have past in a bit of a blur. The entire family has been sick over the past week, with the kids starting – one first, then the other – last week. Heike followed in Thursday, and is still not in the best condition. I am waiting for the bomb to drop, my throat and head are telling me that I’m not fit either.

It’s on weekends like this that I just get annoyed too easily. I don’t want to sit inside all day. However, I also don’t want to take a hike around the block. I guess I’ve seen the block a few too many times. The weather was amazing all day. I had hoped to go to the mountains. But with none of us really fit, it just simply didn’t work. My son didn’t want to walk outside this morning, and kept saying he wanted to play inside. Going on a hike with him was not a great plan. And so we sat inside for most of the time.

I try to read a bunch of articles online, but whenever I’m three sentences in, there’s someone interrupting. This is probably what frustrates me most as a parent. I’m no longer in charge of my own life. There’s just no time alone anymore, either. Therefore, work days start feeling more like holiday. Weekends sometimes feel like stressful work days. The world has turned upside down. And it also feels like my brain is falling apart. I somehow need to feed my brain information, but satisfying it doesn’t work out, at all. All it gets are Duplo and children’s books. An alternative to keep my brain happy is exploring new places. When it doesn’t get either of those two things, it gets grumpy after a while. So today I just feel like a grumpy asshole. I hate myself for it. I’m just not fun to be around anymore.

I wonder how other parents deal with this. Where do you schedule your self time?