I didn't do it–well not all of it

So Much Mischief in One Small Genus–But For Once It’s (Mostly) Not Mine

The human female has traded the frustrations of ordering and riding herd on techs and grad students for the hair-pullingness of botanical scholarship. She is part of a team writing volume two of a book about the flora of East Texas. If it is anything like volume one, which she was also involved with, it will be hailed and lauded as a seminal work in the field abhorred for its sheer size and weight. There should be a warning on the frontispiece of tomes like this, an admonition to wear steel-toed shoes in case the book happens to fall afoul of gravity and plummet floorward.

At present, she is working her way through the draft manuscript on the largest, most contrary of the dicot family, the Asteraceae or Sunflower Family. There are a lot of them, their anatomy is fiddly and usually quite small, and the distinctions between species can be blurry at best.

For each genus, she has to check the description, test run the genus through the two keys to genera to make sure it comes out where it is supposed to, verify which species are in the region’s flora, and check the key to species, along with the supporting citations. For each species, she has to check the description and then see how the gazillions of specimens in the herbarium contribute to the stated season of bloom and the county dot maps that illustrate distribution.

As you may have guessed, it’s slow going. Today she’s working with the genus Hymenopappus, commonly known as wooly-white or old plainsman.

Accordingly, she has the genus pulled up in the herbarium database:

She has about a dozen very full folders of specimens out and is going through them, one by one, to make sure they’re correctly identified. In theory, it should be easy. One species has pink flowers, one has yellow, and the others have white. One prefers heavy clay and two like sand, with one known only from sands of a particular geological formation. Some have fat-lobed leaves and some have skinny-lobed leaves. Some have undivided lower leaves and some have very divided lower leaves. You’d think that would be enough to work with, wouldn’t you?

Ehehehee. No. I had nothing to do with it, but the pink and yellow pigments don’t always show up in pressed specimens. All the flowers have dried a sort of creamy beige. Many of the older specimens have no habitat information and thus no indication of soil type. Where the soil is mentioned, there’s no guarantee that the plant was growing on its preferred substrate and not being an opportunist somewhere else. A fair number don’t include the diagnostic lowermost leaves. Most have floral characters that are exactly in the overlap between measurement ranges. Some don’t even note which of Texas’ 254 counties they’re from.

Then there’s the nomenclatural fun surrounding some of the species. Locally, there is Hymenopappus artemisiifolius, with two varieties, var. artemisiifolius, which is widespread, and var riograndensis, which grows down in South Texas. We also have Hymenopappus scabiosaeus, also with two varieties, var. corymbosus, which is common, and var. scabiosaeus, which grows in Louisiana to the east and needs to be mentioned in case it takes it into its head to sneak over the border. So after checking the species ID, the human female has to deal with variety.

Now, here’s where the fun comes in: H. artemesiifolius used to be spelled “artemisiaefolilus“, so there are plants and records with the outdated spelling. In a book from the last century on the flora of the Southeast U.S., only H. artemisiifolilus was listed, so there are old specimens of H. scabiosaeus with the wrong name on the label. Later, other botanists combined the two species under H. scabiosaeus, so there are a LOT of specimens of H. artemisiifolius languishing under the wrong species name. There are old sheets marked H. corymbosus that need to be updated to one or another variety of H. scabiosaeus. There are a handful of old sheets labeled H. robustus, which is a synonym of H. flavescens, the yellow-flowered one, but the names can’t just be updated, the plants have to be keyed—and behold! All the ones in this collection are actually H. scabiosaeus. Another few have been identified as a species that doesn’t grow in Texas. Since the name on the label refers to a yellow-flowered species, one can only assume they belong to H. flavescens, the yellow-flowered kind that does grow here. There are older sheets of H. carrizoanus hiding in with other species, because H. carriozanus was only recently described.

Pick up a specimen. Assess the leaves. Look at the flower bits under the microscope. Compare to illustrations, known specimens, and online specimen photos. Consider the label data. Make a determination Correct the name on the sheet. Update the database. Over and over and over. At the end, go back a second time and see if anything needs a different ID, given that a hundred other specimens have now informed your mental image of the species. Refile, relabeling some folders that have been switched to


She has been at this for days. Slowly, she’s making sense of it. She’s been able to identify most of the specimens. There is a LOT of green in the database, indicating where the information has been updated, and because she’s a diligent rather anal-retentive worker, she has taken the time to enter the location and habitat data for specimens whose information wasn’t captured in previous databasing passes. Not to mention she’s found a good few that were never databased at all! And she’s “neatly” colored in a bunch of counties on the distribution maps:

So what is my part in all of this? I’ve been the one hiding the extension cord for the powerstrip for her computer, misplacing first her ruler than her pencil, kicking her ultra-fine red pen off the table and bending the nib, rolling the database up or down a row when she’s trying to enter data, hiding the stack of specimens that was right there, whispering in her ear that maybe the leaves are not quite divided enough for H. scabiosaeus and she should rekey it and all the other H. scabiosaeus, distracting her with funny/stupid things on the internet when she should be checking references, and suggesting that perhaps a nap would be good right about now.

I know *I* could use one!

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I Didn’t Do (Most of) It, Part III: Mmmmbleargh

I swear by my pointy helmet that this was NOT my idea.

But did I encourage the demented mortals who thought these up?



Yes, I did.


You can’t unsee it now, can you?

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I Didn’t Do (Most of) It, Part II: Got the Kaboom

The humans were more than a little disappointed that the Old State Chemistry building on campus is being crunched apart bit by bit rather than blown up in one glorious, earth-shattering kaboom.  The male looks so pouty that I simply must try to cheer him up.

He’s heating up some smoked brisket for lunch.  He has it covered and everything (he’s been well-trained) but there’s nothing stopping me from nudging the timer dial a smidge or three.


boom in microwave

Ehehehehehe!   Got what you wished for…

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I Didn’t Do (Most of) It, Part I: Depriving the Humans of a Spectacle

I have sneaked back onto the campus to ascertain the status of a little enterprise that will annoy the humans.

Fenrir’s whiskers!

old state chem

Not only has the project begun—they’re making excellent progress!


This is a very old, very shabby building which was supposed to be imploded last year.  Then over Yule break.  Then over Spring Break…  Then they decided to knock it down instead.  Everyone was a little sad about that.  Humans really do love a good implosion!

The contractors kept finding reasons to delay.  Little things like, oh, the gas meter for one of the other buildings being right next to this one.


The human female’s office window is actually right behind this building.  She was so looking forward to watching the demolition from a ring-side seat.


But now it’s all going to happen while she’s stuck at home.

I’m not the one who made the decision to tear it down.  Or to knock it down rather than making an earth-shattering kaboom.

But did I fiddle with the timeline so she couldn’t watch?

Is it too late to watch the destruction?



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Let’s Play a Little Game

Mischief is my raison d’etre, my very dear hobby, and my middle name—no, really!  “Loki Mischief Laufeyson” is what it says on the tags in all my clothes.  Still, not everything can be laid at my doorstep.  Your job is to figure out which of the following are my pranks and which are someone else’s doing.

  1.  All of the human female’s rubber bands are brittle and break-y, and all of the paperclips are conjugating.


2.  One of the Christmas mousies is already minus a tail


3.  Glass + tile countertop = smash


4.   A really Texan, really stupid way to announce,”It’s a boy/girl!”


5.  And if you don’t have a gun to do number 4, you could win one!


6.  Pretty sure the sign for the shocky-thing should not be on the floor.


7.  The break-room fridge makes wicked, pointy ice cubes!

weird ice

8.  This plan for a busy local intersection, which will eventually feature the  Diverging Diamond of Death and about a million opportunities for collision.

9.  A couple of fun little bugs:


10.  And finally…

Ready for the answers?  Scroll down…



Keep scrolling…



  1.  Totally me
  2. Not me.  Probably Taffy
  3. Me again
  4. The explosion part is cool, but the whole idea is so stupid, only a mortal could have thought it up
  5. This one’s on the Governor
  6. Me
  7. Also me
  8. This one scares even me.  Blame TexDOT
  9. Can’t pin this on me, but oh, the schadenfreude!
  10. Oh, sure, blame the Frost Giant!  Since the human female was not personally affected by the horrible winter weather, you can assume it wasn’t me.  Wait until the weather goes to Hel when it’s time for her to order termites and then we’ll revisit the question!

Getting Sucked Into Another Hobby, Part IV: Look What She Found

The human female has just remembered that, somewhere, she has a calligraphy fountain pen with a whole assortment of nibs.  She is off to go poking about in the “craft room” to see if she can find it.  (That room has so many UFO’s—unfinished objects—that it’s become known as Area 51.)

Well, would you look at that.  She actually found it!  I’m impressed.


This could be fun to play with, don’t you think, Sigyn?


Oh.  Sorry.  Not for left-handers, apparently.  But we can at least look at what’s inside, right?  Maybe there’s an instruction booklet or some old samples or something.


Huh. The human female already has a distinctive hand.  That constellation of age spots is unmistakable.  (As is the scar from where she caught it on a chain-link fence while shagging tennis balls for a friend–when there was a gate not twenty feet away.  Brilliant she is not.)


I am more used to runes, but I will admit this Roman hand has a certain bold appeal.


Sign likes something a little more flowery.

Look at all the nibs. Do you know, I don’t think they’re all from the same set–some have a gold ring and some don’t.


And they’re not all clean, either.  Someone put them away inky years ago.  Look–the human male has put them to soak and think about their sins.


Very naughty, indeed.  (And since this was long before my advent on this planet, there is no use blaming me.  I didn’t do it.)

Here’s what I need for that Roman hand.


Sigyn has the long, pointy nib that the human female would need for her Copperplate writing.


Hooray!  Now she doesn’t need to buy an expensive fountain pen to do her thing, because she already has one!  What good luck!  What thrift!  What enterprise!


What a pity that once it’s screwed into the handle the cap doesn’t fit.


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Mischief update

I’ve been fairly busy. Nothing major, you understand. Just enough to let the human female and her cohorts know that I’m not to be trifled with. Mischief level 6.

The Great Temperature Wars at the workplace rage on. I’m still knocking out the heating and/or cooling at least once per week. This week, I took the chillers off-line, so things got very warm. When the Fixers came to Fix things, whatever they did made some sort of unsettling burning-electrics smell. Such odors make the building’s occupants more than slightly skittish, so this is how we spent the last hour of the workday:


The human female, officious wench that she is, derived a great deal of pleasure from telling passersby that they could not go down the sidewalk because there was a Fire Emergency of indeterminate origin in the building.

On another day, I may have dropped a whisper in a student”s ear that this simple item of lab equipment:


When introduced into an electrical socket, produces an exciting noise and a lovely light show. They ALWAYS end up trying it, resulting in more unsettling burning-electrics smells.

This was not my doing: http://www.kbtx.com/home/headlines/Texas-AM-Data-Breach-Leaves-Thousands-at-Risk–296337441.htmlhttp://www.kbtx.com/home/headlines/Texas-AM-Data-Breach-Leaves-Thousands-at-Risk–296337441.html. However, as irate as the faculty are and as much trouble as they are having with little things like filing income taxes and combating identity theft, I think I may have to brush up on my hacking skills, as the Return on Investment, mischief-wise, appears to be very great for this sort of thing.

But I was responsible for some domestic trouble. This morning, I induced the feline to hop up on the coffee table (strictly forbidden) and leave something more than a cat-bum-print upon a freshly written letter to the humans’ friend in a foreign realm. Her after-hours howling is going very well, too.

I have sown weeds in the front lawn, helped one of the human female’s favorite houseplants to that great compost bin in the sky, and altered the contents of two library books so that what looked like an interesting read in the library turned out to be–what’s the term the human female uses?– ah, yes: “drek.”

It is the season for “floppies,” large, awkwardly-flapping insects which blunder in and bounce around each evening. They can get in through any open door or window, and I do like to be hospitable. The feline finds them fun to chase, and I am often rewarded with the pounce-gobble-barf sequence that annoys the humans most.

That’s about it. I think I’ll go buy something inappropriate from an online auction using her ID and password. I’m thinking bright green, sequins, and a death metal band logo…

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