Monthly Archives: December 2016

Have a Great New Year’s Weekend

And now probably the most appropriate soundtrack for the 20-kilo kidney stone that was 2016:

Have a Great Weekend

Nearly the end of the year, and if you’re still seeking that perfect unorthodox gift, the Triffid Ranch gallery will be open on Christmas Eve until 6:00 p.m. After that, well, Monday’s an office holiday, right?

Have a Great ARTwalk Weekend

Well, we’re down to the last ARTwalk of the year this Saturday, and the Triffid Ranch will be open along with the other galleries from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. OOOo or whenever we close up. Carnivorous plant enclosures, books, T-shirts…we’re all set. Combine this with an early 14th wedding anniversary celebration, and you have reason to come out and see the gallery, eh?

Information, Even If You Don’t Want It: Integrated Pest Management

One of the issues with which we struggle at the Triffid Ranch is a bit of a logical leap in what carnivorous plants can do. Based on phone calls, emails, letters, and incessant queries at shows and events, the logic starts with the given “Carnivorous plants attract, capture, and digest insect and other animal prey” and veers Immediately into “carnivorous plants will take care of my bug problem.” This leads to calls and queries. “My house abuts a stream, and the stream attracts mosquitoes. I need a pitcher plant to eat all of the mosquitoes.”  “My kids leave the door open all day, and we need a Venus flytrap to eat all of the flies they let in.” “My roommate won’t take out the garbage, so I need a flytrap to eat the flies on the garbage.” Sometimes this goes to extremes: “I saw ants at the end of the driveway, and I want to build a berm around my house and cover it with flytraps to get the ants.” Or my personal favorite and a reason why I refuse to return to one show at which I displayed plants in 2013, “Cool! Got anything that will eat bedbugs?”

To all of these, I try to explain, over and over, that while you can get great satisfaction in watching a Cape sundew digest mosquitoes, and even add Battle Boy sound effects to liven things up, one plant or even a thousand won’t get rid of every insect in your time zone. It’s not even a matter of picking wildly inappropriate plants, such as the people who ask repeatedly about using Venus flytraps to control fleas. (The simple answer: they won’t. Even sticky-trap carnivores such as sundews and butterworts may catch fleas, but they won’t break the life cycle.)  Besides, as entomologist and brilliant bug blogger Gwen Pearson notes, you’ll never bug-proof. your house. We lost the war against bugs, spiders, and other exoskeletal creepies about 400 million years ago, and barring a mass extinction that wipes out every arthropod (up to and including the millions of skin mites that eat dead skin cells on your body), we stand no chance of changing that.

That said, while wiping out pests is a lost cause, it’s possible to keep their depredations down to a dull roar. That’s the basic idea behind the concept of integrated pest management, which attempts to minimize horticultural chemical use by understand that complete annihilation is impossible, but cutting populations down to a dull roar isn’t. 

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“You are Number Six.”


For example, one of the more pernicious pests in most households this time of the year is a recent invader, having only been documented in large numbers since 2004. Since then, the shelf elf has been found in living rooms and bedrooms across the United States and Canada, never appearing in the same place twice during the holiday season, and resisting all attempts at capture or restraint. Not only will they return each year, but they have a propensity for breeding out of control, and all efforts at spaying and neutering have been complete failures. They also have a distinctive hive mind, reporting back to a central dominant individual known as a sinterklaas, thereby making efforts to collapse the hive structure nearly impossible. Recent reports suggest that they’re able to communicate with the sinterklaas from considerable distances, but whether this is by telepathy, by Extra Low Frequency vibrations through earth and water, or by pheromones or other vaporous output is unknown. What IS known is that they seem to be especially astute at viewing and modifying the behavior of children, merely by watching and waiting, and the intimation of a reward in exchange for those behavioral changes. Also unknown is the reason for initiating the behavior changes, but research suggests a model comparable to that of the pathogen Toxoplasma.

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“It’s an ugly planet, an Elf planet, a planet hostile to life as we know it!”

Thankfully, there are ways to deal with this menace using IPM, so let’s fire up the appropriate soundtrack and get going,.

The first and most obvious control, chemical, is problematic for multiple reasons. In fact, that problematic nature is why integrated pest management was founded in the first place, because the overuse of pesticides was becoming a significant issue in both farmlands and in residential areas. As a last resort, chemical repellents and poisons have their place, but be warned that most of the effective options for invasive elves also have negative effects on the human population. Butyric acid in aromatherapy bottles works sporadically as a repellent, but the enterprising and cost-conscious homeowner should consider making a custom mix of 75 percent potassium nitrate, 15 percent sulfur, and 10 percent charcoal, or an equal weight of gasoline and polystyrene foam. When ignited, both have an effect on local elf populations: when mixed up in sufficiently large quantities, the effects may be seen from low Earth orbit.

The second control, mechanical, applies to most traps, grinders, zappers, or pitfalls. Repeated vivisections of shelf elves reveals no vital organs or internal structure particularly susceptible to anything other than overwhelming force, and documented sightings exist of shelf elves recovering and attacking immediately after crushing or flattening that would kill most Earthly life. With this in mind, further research continues with finding all-inclusive mechanical controls that can anticipate and neutralize shelf elves before the sinterklaas can give them new orders. The choice of mechanical control is up to the one applying it: from personal experience, while American, Chinese, and Australian controls are have their advantages, Russian controls are low-maintenance, exceeingly durable in multiple environments, and extremely effective.

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“Elbow rocket…NOW!”

This leaves the obvious and logical choice: biological controls. Since shelf elf study really only started a decade ago, many “facts” about their behavior, reproduction, natural history, and evolutionary history are little more than assumptions, and are forcefully disputed. One of the most disputed involves predators in their original environment before coming in contact with humans. Due to their lack of internal structure, which leads some palaeontologists to make comparisons to the extinct Ediacara faunas of the Vendian Era (Crusher, Franklin, & Shaw, 2010), nothing other than highly contentious fragments exist in the fossil record, and genome sequencing has been stymied by a complete lack of sequenceable DNA (Banner, 2011; Richards, 2012; Hoshi, 2012). One thing is certain, though: in multiple tests in captivity, a wide variety of predators actively attract, capture, consume, and digest shelf elves (Logan, West, & Furter, 2015). No widespread field tests on predator selection have been done to date, and the understandable concern is that any effective introduced predator may itself become an invasive species, as demonstrated with the introduction of the cane toad (Bufo marinus) in Australia (Benway, 1959; Duke, 1971).

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One very promising avenue of biological control involves the use of exoparasites, which utilize host organisms during stages of their life cycle. Again, the largest concern involves whether the exoparasite stays with one host or utilizes multiple host species. An equally vital concern, based on recent studies, is whether shelf elves will evolve changes in structure or behavior to bypass parasitism, causing the exoparasite to seek out new host species or become extinct. Using cicadas as a model, extreme predation or parasitism may cause shelf elves to spread out infestations over multiple years, in an attempt to keep parasites from depending upon them every holiday season. Alternately, shelf elf emergence may start earlier in the year: reports of shelf elves being spotted as early as July may be examples of this new behavior.

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“It has a funny habit of shedding its cells and replacing them with polarized silicon.”

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“I could lie to you about your chances, but you have my sympathies.”

Due to the challenge of the shelf elf life cycle, with large populations accumulating only in the month of December, the secret may be in finding a combination parasite/predator. A predator that subsists through the rest of the year either in hibernation or on the occasional early emergence, only to reproduce during the height of the shelf elf cycle, may be the only effective way to get populations into something approximating control.

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“Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.”

In some cases, while biological controls may seem to be the best option, the available biological controls may be organisms that may themselves become pests under the right conditions: for instance, Asian ladybugs becoming pests in vineyards when they feed on ripening grapes and taint the resultant wine. Sometimes the best option is to use several types of control organisms, especially when needing to ensure that one species doesn’t become a threat with increased numbers.

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Finally, one remaining option is now available due to advances in technology. A possible alternative to wiping out the shelf elf may involve introducing organisms that outcompete it for available resources, such as food or nesting sites. In many areas, the beneficial Bench Mensch has made inroads into shelf elf habitat, but future control may involve a combination of mechanical and biological controls. A competitor that can remain in hibernation for years or even centuries between shelf elf infestations, with an active resistance to retaliation, and a built-in weakness should it become a pest: the future is here.

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“Shiny and chrome!”

Have a Great Weekend

The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For The Holidays – 5

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Well, that does it for the overview of Horror For the Holidays, and now it’s a matter of getting word about next year’s show. If it remains a one-day event, I’ll make the trip, and make sure that the hotel doesn’t “accidentally” lose the reservation this time. If it ever becomes a two-day show, the problem will be getting me to leave. I’d avoided Austin for years because of horrible experiences in the past with certain elements of Austin’s fan community, but I obviously never met any of the horror fans. They’re good people, and comparing them favorably with Dallas’s horror fan community is the highest compliment I can pay. Selah.

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The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays – 4

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For folks in the Austin area, this is Bunny, the vendor liaison for the Horror For The Holidays event. Please buy her drinks, or whatever she wants, and put them on my tab. Whatever it costs, it’s not enough to compensate for her kindness and professionalism. Thanks to her, Horror For The Holidays was as much fun for the vendors as the attendees, which is saying something.

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I’d also like to give a shoutout for Dan and Courtney above: Dan used to be my editor for a while at the long-dead comics activism Webzine Savant (it wasn’t the venue that created the term “Cat Piss Man” to describe the worst members of comics and science fiction fandom, but, to steal from Bette Midler, it certainly brought it to its high level of popularity), and I owe him for not killing me when he had the chance. Courtney deserves the same credit, because of the fact that she was never an editor of my work. They both deserve both deserve free drinks, too, for his taking the bullet she dodged.horrorholidays_11132016_15horrorholidays_11132016_16

The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For The Holidays – 3

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One of the reasons I love showing plants at horror shows are because of the kids. Having had 40 years to look back and see the end results, horror movie fan kids usually become the most well-adjusted kids you’ve ever seen, and they become well-adjusted adults. I don’t recommend going for the heavy stuff first (there’s no reason to start out with Dawn of the Dead when The Creature From The Black Lagoon is a great introduction), but speaking as a kid who bawled his eyes out at the end of Alien when the most interesting and well-developed character besides the cat was blown out the airlock, it honestly depends upon the kid. Twenty-three years ago, when The Nightmare Before Christmas first premiered, a few of us watching it had one big issue with the movie’s resolution: if we’d received any of Jack Skellington’s gifts, we’d have shivved Santa if he’d tried to take them back. Nearly a quarter-century later, we’re now parents and grandparents, and our descendants are Just Like Us.

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The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For The Holidays – 2

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A not-so-subtle peeve about many shows and events is the presence of an on-site DJ. We’re not talking about professional DJs: we’re talking about the friend of the  organizer who is willing to do the job for free in exchange for the exposure. This also isn’t a problem, unless the DJ is one of Those. “Those” entail the trilby-wearing twerps with a Macbook under one arm with playlists composed either of high school top-40 hits played “ironically,” or the worst sort of Portland whiner rock. (You can only listen to so many covers of “Waaaaah! Mommy Won’t Let Me Buy Heroin With Her Credit Card!” Before death by tree mulcher loses its sting.)  Either way, since the venue isn’t a bar, people are there to converse instead of dance or drink, so they talk over the music, and the DJ gets so peeved at the neglect of his art that he cranks up the music to cover over the background noise. The cycle repeats until the only communication possible is with text, semaphore, or random sharp objects thrown at the DJ, and it only ends when either the venue organizer pulls the plug or random commenters scream a rejoinder enough to offend the DJ’s paper-thin ego. Based on several experiences on this line, any show that advertises “Live DJ” is an automatic rejection, because people can’t and won’t buy plants unless they can ask questions, and they can’t get their questions answered if their screams can’t be heard over the DJ’s theme song, Beck’s “Loser”.

The exception? Horror for the Holidays. A little music to get people into the mood is always welcome at a holiday show, and the DJ here had an excellent list of appropriate music for a dark holiday event, including some choices that actually stopped people to exclaim “I’ve never heard that before!” I honestly wish that I’d been able to break free to tip this DJ (something I have NEVER done at a previous show), because anybody who could play Concrete Blonde’s “Bloodletting” and Richard Cheese’s cover of “Get Down With The Sickness” is someone who deserves someone buying him or her drinks.

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To be continued…

The Aftermath: Blood Over Texas Horror For The Holidays – 1

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The updates on the site may have stopped for a while, but that’s because life continued to surprise us all. A lot of this involved further projects over at the gallery (and no, we don’t know when the mall is supposed to be demolished, but we haven’t heard anything to the contrary), but some involved the first non-DFW Metroplex Triffid Ranch show, down in Austin. The Blood Over Texas crew already had a great reputation with horror-related events in the Austin area, I’d heard plenty of recommendations about them from Texas Frightmare Weekend patrons, and Austin is just far enough to be a good test of travel options and logistics. One straight blast down Highway I-35, and pull into Austin three hours later. Easy, right?

Well, as demonstrated by the last Texas Frightmare Weekend (the lightning hitting my truck while I was in it isthe reason why my nickname among the Frightmare staff is “Sparky”), generally the better the show, the worse the trip getting there. This one involved getting to Austin, finding that the hotel claimed they had no reservation and no way to contact the chain’s reservation support crew (amazingly on a weekend with a big University of Texas alumni function), and having to find a new hotel at 2 in the morning. The biggest worry about shows outside of the immediate area is that of forgetting something important and not being able to go back to get it, and this time it was the tables. Thankfully, both the Blood Over Texas staff and the staff at Grizzly Hall, the venue hosting Horror For The Holidays, had a spare table to borrow. The only final regret? That the show wasn’t two days or longer, because it was worth the aggravation getting there.

Oh, and the customers? Between them and a few chats with organizers at shows in San Antonio and Houston, 2017 may be a very good reason to take the Triffid Ranch on the road. I just have to remember the tables.

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To be continued…

Have a Great Weekend