(Helpful Hint #1: Click pictures to see larger versions)

Monday, August 27, 2007

159 inch Gargantuans

That's 13 feet, 3 inches. (4 meters)

So the tallest one of them all, Chief Sequoia, is also known as Lurch, and Lurch has finally bloomed!

(And if I'm lucky they won't grow any taller, so that I don't get in trouble for violating city ordinances for scaring people.)

When you stand next to these things, you kind of get this odd feeling like you might be in a prehistoric forest.

Actually this past week, you might possibly have heard on the news that there were some tornadoes and crazy storms that passed through Chicago. I missed the 90mph winds in downtown Chicago as I was in the suburbs when the worst hit there -- then just after I left home to visit a friend in Plainfield, the storms hit our area. But situating the sequoia monsters in a corner proved to be fortuitous -- they got rained on pretty heavy, but were protected somewhat by the house itself -- and that twine stuff, tying it around them, helped.

The junior varsity team got hit a little harder, but if it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger, as the saying goes. This is a rare shot of one of the junior varsity flowers actually leaning back and gargling. Or perhaps it is in the act of swallowing one of the wasps that wandered too close. (The one on the right is spitting out a small rat.)

This is a slightly odd thing for a train station to say so early in the morning.

No modem. Ok.

To give the station credit, it was just after all the storms and mayhem had passed through, after the electricity had been shut down all around, and so on.

A modem is what a computer used to have so it could dial up other computers and engage in meaningful conversation.

And to bring crowning glory to Chief Sequoia and the mighty band of warrior flowers, the Daily Herald article ran today. It made me laugh out loud. I needed that; I've been taking myself so seriously lately.

Looking at this picture I realize that at the time, I wasn't really paying attention. It appears that Gigantor was leaning down to give me a playful bite on the shoulder, to teach me a lesson about not keeping my guard up.

Sometimes while I'm tending to them, they like to reach down and pick me up by the nape of the neck, and shake me around a little and pretend I'm a muppet. One or twice they've actually ganged up on me when I've been weeding, picked me up by the feet, and tried to shake my cell phone out of my pocket. (I've lost several phones in this manner, so I always get the replacement insurance.) I think they just like the taste of cell phones.

(Click on image to see larger version)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sunflower Seeds

Picking up on the topic of sunflower seeds, it was brought to my attention that there is an organization called the Gerbil Liberation Front, which is keenly interested in the availability of the sunflower seeds. They are a group of mutant gerbils from an experiment gone wild at University of Chicago, and they claim that "they want to plant some sunflowers". But I suspect the sunflower seeds would not make it very far.

Their motives are a bit questionable I think.

For example, this character showed up on my doorstep, who "just happened to be passing by".

He was asking about when sunflower seeds might be available for "planting in his garden", but he looked rather suspicious, and kept rubbing his hands together in anticipation and wrinkling his nose.

My suspicions turned out to be true. Due to some careful investigative reporting, I was able to uncover video footage of members of the Gerbil Liberation Front voraciously consuming sunflowers, in this video that was posted to YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jkOeJ5T3Lg

And an anonymous source provided another piece of evidence; a poem entitled "Sunflower Seed", which reveals the true clandestine purposes of the Gerbil Liberation Front. To listen to an audio recording of the evidence, right click here and save the mp3 file to your computer -- then you can double click to listen to it, or import it into iTunes and put it on your iPod.

Note: If you listen to the evidence, you may have trouble making out the words, since a gerbil's voice is a bit high pitched, and when they get excited they become unintelligible, maniacally babbling on about sunflower seeds, which they dearly love. So I've included a transcript to help you follow along:

Sunflower Seeds

I see you coming with that look in your eye
I see you coming with a gift from on high
Vast fields of beauty, stretching for sun
you played the Reaper, harvest time has come

I know you've got the goods
You know I want the goods
I love I love I love my sunflower seeds
Oh yeah, sunflower seeds

I'll pay the price of what you've got in your hand
From south dakota from the promised land
They photosynthesize my seeds of destruction
They drive me wild to heights of mindless consumption

I love I love I love my sunflower seeds
Oh yeah, sunflower seeds

yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum yum
more more more more more more more more more more more more more more more more

I'll do some tricks I'll pick up sticks I'll run around I'll make a sound
I'll spin the wheel I'll do the deed
name anything, just one more seed

I love I love I love my sunflower seeds
Oh yeah, sunflower seeds

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

156" and fend off the paparazzi!

Today was fun; it's been raining a lot lately -- hazy, muggy, the sunflowers were not having much fun, although I guess they enjoyed the water. But today the sun came out and peeped over the rooftop, just about the time the Daily Herald photographer showed up. The paper doesn't send you copies of the pictures, so I tried to recreate the spirit of the photo shoot below with my rinky dink camera. The photographer was good natured and agreed to shoot some silly shots, but I don't know if any of them will end up getting in the paper, so here goes:


This is where it all begins. With a seed.

(Note: I haven't worn a friendship bracelet in a long time, but I was kind of blown away by a recent visit to the offices of Warm Blankets Foundation, where they gave me this bracelet, and where I learned more about how they rescue kids from all kinds of situations in Cambodia and the Sudan. I guess kids are a little like seeds -- they need water, and food, and sun and fun. If you like you can read more about the visit at my other blog by clicking here.)

Start with a seed -- then, before you know it, you have a bunch of monsters growing in your back yard!

At first glance, this looks like a normal everyday picture of 12 foot tall sunflowers. But wait, what's that in the background, right by the tallest sunflower?

If you look closer to the right of the tallest flower in the middle of the picture, below you'll see the measuring tape sticking up. Thanks to my friend Mark Neal, who knows about these things, there's this special technique for measuring something that is twice as tall as you are. You basically set the end of the measuring tape on the ground, get it up to about your height, and then bend the measuring tape around, hold the part pointing towards the ground, let more tape out, and then kind of push the angle up. Then it's kind of tricky when you try to figure out how many inches tall the tape is telling you that your carnivorous sunflowers are, because you can't quite see the measuring tape, and you're keeping an eye on the sunflowers in case they didn't succeed in ushering very many squirrels into squirrel heaven the night before. So it usually takes two people, one standing from the angle of this picture, telling the "taper" when to stop.

Or something like that.

This past sunday morning as I was about to head out the door, the doorbell rang, and I was surprised to find two young ladies who asked if they could see the sunflowers. It was actually raining, but it didn't stop them; their friend evidently walks the neighborhood and saw one of the lovely brutes sticking his head around the corner of the house. (It was probably hungry and looking for a yappy dog or it may have just been defending itself from one of the crazed vampire rabbits that frequents the area.) So I was happy to oblige them and they gave me their camera so I could take their picture with the sunflowers. I guess that means that sunflowers can actually have fans Watch out Brad Bitt and Angelina Jolie, here come the sunflowers!

A recreation of the sunflower fans, showing a curious onlooker, entranced by the wondrous power of the sunflower seed:

It's important to realize that when sunflowers get hungry, they get kind of crabby. They're friendly enough creatures, but after all, they're sentient beings, and they're not vegetarian.

So if it's been awhile since a careless goat or an unsuspecting yak has wandered by, it's a good idea to carry an ax with you. You don't need to actually use the ax, you just need to brandish it a little. Sometimes you can even catch the sunflower in the right mood, and get it to ham things up a little:

The end of the summer is not too far away; lately things have just been . . . well . . . surreal.

How can you have 13 feet worth of sunflowers growing nearby and not get that summery autumn surreal feeling?

For anyone who made it this far, especially if you're visiting from the Daily Herald article, or for anyone else for that matter (like if you want me to let you know if I end up giving away or selling monster seeds), who has a comment, a question about the sunflowers or who would like to arrange a visit or to get the sunflowers' autographs, here's my email address:

Also if you enjoyed this blog it would also be really cool if you could click the little envelope icon (below and to the right of this sentence), and email this blog to 1 or 2 friends, and ask them to do the same if they dig it. Spread the word about the monsters!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

News Flash - The Origins of Sunflowers

My cousin Kendra is a biologist, and now has some progeny as well. (If you can't tell, I like playing Scrabble). Kendra contributed some information about sunflowers:

"A recent paper showed that they were domesticated from their wild ancestors in North America about 10,000 years ago-- much earlier than previously thought. They are from a plant family (Asteraceae) with incredibly high diversity. The picture you have of "daisies" is another member of that family, Rudbeckia hirta, native to North America and now in horticultural production."

Rudbeckia hirta it is -- as long as they don't turn into rutabeggas that hurt you.

Ok so if they've been around for 10,000 years -- doesn't that make you wonder?

Perhaps the mammoth greystripes are a breed that were like munchies for dinosaurs, and the dinosaurs went away, but the sunflowers stayed around.

10,000 years is probably enough time to develop a latent form of conscious that awakes when you add 50% peat moss and 50% poo as fertilizer . . .

Thursday, August 9, 2007

147" - defying gravity

Ok I thought things were ridiculous before, but now they're really getting ridiculous.

Check out my "Illinois Tech" t-shirt. I was down on the IIT campus in Chicago today and realized here I am working on my PhD dissertation and I don't even have a t-shirt!

(I was down there having lunch with an IIT student from Sudan, trying to understand more about how things work in Khartoum, the seat of government, towards the end of seeing if there's a way to provide free learning material to Sudan in both the North and South. This sort of idea is along the lines of my dissertation.)

Ok back to sunflowers. Yes you heard it right; 147" -- that's 12 feet, 3 inches -- taller than the tallest man in the world. A Ukrainian guy just broke the record, taking it away from a Chinese guy, and the tallest man on record was from Illinois, but he was somewhere down in the ten feet range. And we're talking TWELVE feet, 3 inches.

I think I'm calling the tallest Gigantor.

Take a close look at the picture again -- it's like 2 x me = scary.

And in the backyard we have the junior varsity league, with a bloomer on the far left.

These sunflowers are more "normal" sunflowers.

This is an interesting creature that I found in one of the experimental gardens. I have no idea what it is, but he was hoping for more rain, or more tasty edible bugs to happen by. I can't tell by the looks of him whether he's a vegetarian or carnivore or insectivore or whatever it would be.

And I figured I'd better take a picture of these dandies in the very back, while they're still in bloom. What a gardener I am, I didn't even plant them (previous owner) -- and what's more, I'm only half certain of what they're called; daisies I believe?

If you take a real close look at the first picture, you might notice this little friendly flower, one of the less monsterly types, in with Gigantor and the senior varsity sunflower squad.

Special news flash, courtesy of friend Mash from UK:

"pulled off http://www.sunflowernsa.com/

What is the height of the tallest sunflower?
A sunflower grown in the Netherlands holds the record for being the tallest sunflower in the world. It measured 25 feet, 5.4 inches. (Source: 2004 Guinness World Records"

Thursday, August 2, 2007

137" and starting to eat the livestock

Ok. Let's admit it. Things are getting out of control. When a sunflower mistakes you for a small yappy dog and looks down at you with that gleam in its eye, you have to wonder about the theories of supposed science. I mean, hasn't science told us that sunflowers are not capable of thinking, much less eating? Look at the sunflower in the picture above, for example.

Does this sunflower look unintelligent?

Or silly?

No, the flower's name is morpheus, and he looks like he is ready to consume a small yappy dog. But since he is trained not to eat it, he'll just set it down again when it stops yapping.

Mathwise 137" equals, um, 11 feet and 5 inches.

What is wrong with this picture above? I think the score is:

Sunflowers = 10
House = 0

I hope that sunflowers don't eat houses.

But it's nice to know their outside my window, in case dracula comes along.

Ok, to go on a completely different note. Here is a another sunflower, much smaller, but just as wonderful:

It is the green laptop from One Laptop Per Child. A group of fun professors from the MIT Media Lab who got together and thought, ok, let's make a laptop as inexpensive as possible, with the latest technology, able to withstand heat, direct sunlight, and be quite fun to explore, and make them available to the developing world. And a lot of people said, no way, can't be done. But they did it. As a personal note, what I'm hoping to do as a volunteer, is to help make some learning material on the laptops, so little kids and can grow up in their minds and learning. Like sunflowers? I suppose so.

And here are some more sunflowers; some patient friends at work with a lot of knowledge in their heads, who were willing to come out to lunch today in Chicago, and brainstorm with me on how to go about saving the world.