Sunday 28 June 2009

The Networking of Maize

Months ago, a friend sent me an article about how people who are part of the same social network - even if they do not know each other personally but are friends of friends - can influence each other when it comes to happiness, weight, health issues and so on (you can read the full articlet here: )

While I was walking home from work across the sunlit fields the other day, I was wondering whether plants know some form of networking, too.
Of course they do, to a certain extent, "network" when pollen is passed from one plant to the other. But is there more?

Looking closer at the field of maize I was walking past, I noticed that, in spite of the field having been worked on with the most efficient and modern machinery agriculture knows in this part of the world, the plants were far from uniform.
The rows were not entirely regular; the single plants seemed to be spaced at intervals resembling a barcode with some narrow bars closer together and then a gap slightly wider and then maybe only two bars close before the next gap, and so on.
No obvious pattern that I could detect there and that could have been caused by, say, the rhythm at which the sowing machine had dropped the seeds into the soil earlier this year.

Also, there were whole clusters of plants that did not grow as high and did not look as healthy as the others. None of those smaller plants stood single, there was always a patch of other, similar-looking ones around, as if they had been grouped according to size and health on purpose.

No other obvious factors were present to explain the (mostly oval or round) patches; no nearby tree was casting its shadow across, no pieces of rocks broke the uniform brown of the soil, and they were too far from the path and too big in size to be caused by dogs leaving some unwelcome chemicals behind in their irrigational efforts.

Now, of course I know that plants do not walk about and choose freely among their fellow plants where they want to take root and grow.
But still, the grouping is there, clearly visible even for someone like me who does not know much about plants in the first place.

So, is there such a thing as networking for maize and other crop?

If anyone knows, please tell me. It sounds like it could be a fascinating topic to follow up on.

Tuesday 23 June 2009


...comes in various forms.

Sometimes it is about things that seem so irrelevant they are hardly worth mentioning, let alone writing about them, like going to a party you were really looking forward to and then it was all a bit dull really, or you went to this fancy restaurant, expecting a delicious and outstandingly excellent meal and instead were served, at best, average food.

We can tell our friends, family members and colleagues at length about such minor disappointments, and most people will readily contribute with similar stories or recommendations about what they would have done and what you should have said and so on.

Then, there are those incidents when life itself throws a stick in between the wheels that we like to think we keep running so smoothly; when things happen (or, in some cases, do not happen) and occurrences occur which thwart our plans and intentions.
These disappointments cut deeper, leaving us with futile preparations and crushed hopes, when the barbecue we had been shopping for can not come about due to bad weather, or the far-away living friend we were so much looking forward to seeing on a certain day can not make the trip because other obligations take precedence.

The more or less helpful comments of well-meaning people on how to deal with this kind of disappointment are usually not very welcome, and so we tend to talk a little less about these.

But the disappointment that - at least for me - truly cuts to the bone is when I am disappointed with myself.
There are no extenuating circumstances and there is no such thing as mercy when it comes to me having let myself down, truly or merely in my imagination.
This does not happen often, mainly because I do not have very high expectations towards myself, but it did happen last week. Combined with the not-so-good news from a friend and some harsh words spoken at home (all three completely unrelated to each other), it was enough to almost reduce me to tears, something that happens very, very rarely (yes, the cold-blooded thing again: ).

Why was I disappointed with myself?
Because I did not feel like running. I found it a drag. I found it too wearisome and arduous. It wasn't as much fun as it usually is, I felt unfit and, in simpler words, just couldn't be arsed.
So I walked about half of the time I actually had meant to be running, and came home grumpy and angry at myself (there really was no-one else I could have blamed).

The remedy?
On the next day, I was out again, and this time, the joy was back, the motivation was all there, the fitness level what I have come to realistically expect of myself. It was fun!

Sometimes I suppose I just have to give myself a chance. A second and third one, if necessary.

Friday 12 June 2009

Should I Have Helped?

Two incidents, both happened yesterday, and while I mentally shrugged off the first one, for some reason I do not fully understand myself, the second one is still niggling at my conscience (or, what's left of it - I've never been very good at this part of the average human's mental make-up, I'm afraid).

On my way home from work, I had to wait at the train station a bit longer than usual, since it was a bank holiday in my part of Germany, with trains running less frequent than on a normal working day.
The other people waiting on the platform were mostly cyclists and grandparents with small children, turning in from daytrips that had probably been quite adventurous, judging from the excitement in the kids' voices, the tiredness on the grandparents' faces and the mud splashes on the bikers' legs.

One youngish woman stood a little apart from the rest, next to a bench where she had placed her handbag. She stood there at an odd angle, not unlike a tree that will fall down with the next gust of wind. And she did not stand still, she was swaying. Sideways.
Then some coins fell out of her hand, and she slowly bent down to pick them up. She didn't get back up, but instead first knelt and then sat on the ground, her head slowly sinking to her chest.

People did look in her direction, and then quickly the other way. Those with children pulled them a bit further along the platform.

I walked up to the woman and asked her whether she needed help.
She shook her head and, the effort visible on her rather pale face, scrambled back up to her feet, not taking my oustretched hand.
Once again, I asked whether there was anything I could do for her. No, was the answer.
So I suggested she sit down on the bench, next to her bag. Again, no. "I get dizzy when I sit down." Oh yeah, right. Logical, that.
She did not smell of alcohol, but she was clearly drugged up with something, and apparently there really wasn't anything I could do for her at that moment, so I went back to where I had stood before.

When the train arrived, I watched to make sure she was actually getting on safely and not falling down the gap between train and platform, and when I had to get off, she was still on the train.

Later at home, the doorbell was rung. Not once or twice, no, three times in what I can only describe as a frantic manner.
I didn't expect anyone, and our front door is not visible from the street, so it is normally just people who know either me or my neighbours, or the postman to find their way here.

Looking out of the window (because no-one replied when I pressed the intercom and asked who was there), I saw a man with Asian features, who in almost unintelligible German tried to explain something about a restaurant, a train ticket, and money. At least those were the words I thought I made out. He said a lot more, and the most clearly understandable two bits were "Entschuldigung, mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut" and "No, no English, solly" (he really said "solly").

When I thought I'd understood he urgently needed money for a train ticket, I asked "Wollen Sie Geld?", to which he replied with yet another stream of words, which sounded almost exactly like what he had said before, so I still wasn't any the wiser.

In the end, I just watched as he, obviously frustrated by his lack of success in explaining or my lack of success in understanding, threw his arms up in the air and left.

It still puzzles me why, if he really needed money for a train ticket, he rang my doorbell. I live about 10 minutes from the station, where there are plenty of people hanging about he could have asked, and like I said, our front door is not even visible from the street.
He probably was asking for help with some entirely different matter, and I just got it completely wrong.

The man did not look like a criminal (now, I know criminals rarely have "I'm a criminal" stamped on their forehead), his overall appearance was normal and clean, and yet I did not even go downstairs to try and work out what he really wanted by talking to him on the same level.

I wonder whether I should have simply gone down and give him a tenner and see his reaction.
It wouldn't have killed me.
Should I have helped?

Sunday 7 June 2009

About Running

Running on a regular base is something I have started only recently, and so I am still in the process of discovering new aspects of it.

One thing I realized from the start was how much more detailed my perception of the topography of the area has become.
Even the slightest gradient of slope, be it up- or downhill, makes itself noticeable when I run.

Of course, to a certain extent, I was already familiar with the same effect while cycling (my bike is not one of those with dozens of gears so that you can tackle anything without much of an effort; we are talking a more than 30-year-old racer here which really makes your legs WORK), but not in such detail.

Apart from that, I enjoy the way running helps me get rid of the restlessness I so often feel. My mind ceases, at least for a while, to spin on overdrive (as it sometimes does), and gets a rest while my body does all the work and thus has almost all the energy directed to where it is currently needed.

I don't like forced interruptions, for instance having to stop at a road with heavy traffic and wait until I can cross it, and I have even daringly run across at a red light (those of my readers who know me personally are allowed to raise one or two eyebrows now) when it was possible.

At this time of the year, the gardens and fields are so full of scents and colour and sound from the birds, that it is simply a pleasure being outside, and running past those gardens and scented hedgerows is something I truly enjoy.

Take last night, for example.

It had been raining on and off all day, and was rather chilly. But at some stage, the sun decided to break through the clouds, and there was even some blue visible.
And I so wanted to be out and run!
So I jumped into my running shoes and went.
One tour all the way around the perimeter of the biggest park my hometown has to offer, plus the time it takes from my house to get there and back; all in all, 55 minutes of running.

About 30 minutes into the run, it started to drizzle.
Then it stopped, and started again. But it didn't bother me, because it was really only a drizzle and I was heading back anyway.

When I came up the last slope before the almost even stretch to my street, I was rewarded with the sight of a rainbow.
It was beautiful!

Friday 5 June 2009

What Happened?

Indeed, what happened?

As of late, I can not help having the impression that I must be going through a rather boring period.
Not that my life in itself is boring - far from it, I am way too busy for that, and I am certainly not boring myself with all the things I want to do, read, think and write (and am indeed doing, reading, thinking and writing).

But I have noticed a certain... well, let's call it slackening in some of my relationships to other people, be it personal contacts or correspondents.

Some of these friends, acquaintances or whatever else they may be called have become reluctant in responding - if they do respond at all - to my attempts of interacting with them.
Be it that they do not reply to messages (or, if they reply, only write briefly and without actually referring to the topics I have come up with) or not get in touch when they said they were going to get in touch, or not picking up on suggestions I make about doing stuff together, and similar.

So, what causes this apparent slackening?

Am I too wrapped up in myself, going on too much about subjects that matter to me, and not pay enough heed to their needs and wants?
Are my topics being repeated too often, to the point of boring the poor recipient of such messages or conversations to death or just getting on their nerves?
Have I lost my spark and turned into such a dull person people do not really want to spend an evening with?
Or are they simply too busy with other things going on in their own lives to have much time and attention left for someone like me?

It could easily be a combination of all of these factors.
I wish I knew.

Because I miss the sparks of inspiration to new things, new thoughts and new activities, the sparks that have been flying back and forth between myself and others.
And I want to offer my own spark, which to me does not feel as if I've lost it.

Not lamenting here, just really puzzled.
Writing this down was supposed to help me find the cause.
No luck yet.
Oh well.