Thursday, 20 April 2017

A devil-horned spider

Of all the wildlife and living creatures I saw during my recent trip to Costa Rica, this spider has to be the weirdest and most fascinating. It's an Arrowhead Micrathena, and it's a female.

The guide we had for our visit to Manuel Antonio National Park, on the Pacific coast, spotted it and made sure we saw it close up, both with our eyes (it was close to the path) and then an enlarged version through the scope he carried with him. It's quite small and we were able to get close to it.

At first I couldn't make out which was the spider and which, as I imagined, was its prey, as I thought it had caught a large insect. But no, Andres our guide assured me that it was 100% spider, and that the two horns at the end of its body aren't something it's caught. 

What was also interesting is that this particular spider spins a web with no centre. Instead of there being a central point in the web, there is a hole. The spider sits in the hole, its legs clinging to the sides, and through the hole it has access to both sides of the web. We speculated on how it began spinning its web - this one was large, vertical and the silk threads looked strong - without the usual central starting point.


Friday, 24 March 2017

Quiet - the Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

In a world where outgoing confidence, having plenty to say and being expected to assert oneself in the marketplace and workplace are the "norm", it's refreshing to hear someone speak out for the introverts - those quieter people - who aren't naturally up front.
Quiet people tend to be introverts, and at least one third of the people we know are introverts. They prefer listening, they may not like speaking too much and when they do speak they will have considered their response rather than jump in spontaneously to say something. 

As I read this book I became increasingly comforted by the fact that I'm an introvert. I don't like to shoot my mouth off without a bit of reflection first; I prefer working alone and in silence and although I have worked in a team in an open plan office, I really found it distracting and not conducive to creative thought or productivity. Susan Cain's input on these very issues resonated strongly with me. Starting from the Myers-Briggs concept of Introvert and Extrovert personality types, she outlines some of the traits the of the introvert in an interesting and very readable way.

Not all introverts are hermit-types or shut themselves away. Some are accomplished public speakers, but what they do need is essential down time after giving a talk, lecture or presentation, to recharge their batteries and offset the feelings of being drained. Many introverts who have to perform publicly can develop a public persona which they assume for the period of time needed to be "on stage". She gives the example of a high-powered public speaker known to her who retreats to the bathroom and shuts himself into one of the cubicles in order to regain his personal recovery space.

Introverts can be very creative and inventive. Cain offers many examples of people who are content to beaver away alone in order to produce something which may benefit all. Here she discusses Chopin, Dr. Seuss and Steve Wozniak, all of them introverts who have contributed something to society.

This is not only an interesting but thought-provoking book, and if you wonder if you might be an introverted type, it will act as reassuring confirmation that all is OK for you to be just the way you are, too.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Doggy Bark Parks

Millie Bush Bark Park, Houston 
I can only speak from my own observations, but it appears that dog ownership is taken quite seriously here in the US. A few years ago, when visiting New York City, I noticed a dog-specific area in a public park. I'd not seen one before and stood for a while, as a dog owner, watching the dogs and their owners in this fenced off area. The owners were sitting on benches chatting or throwing balls for their dogs; many of the dogs were playing or running together. They were all well-behaved and looked happy. There was a grassy area and some hard tarmac in this dog park, and when people arrived, their dogs were always on a lead (or leash as it's called in the US). Likewise, when they left, the dogs were all under control and on leads.

Cut to being in Houston, where I'm now staying for a while. During my first visit here I went to George Bush Park (that's George H.W. Bush's park - the former and 41st president). It's a vast area of parkland, some of it cultivated with grass, trees, open spaces and children's playgrounds, other areas are left as wild swampy habitat for javelina's, coyotes, opossums, alligators and birds. One interesting feature was the Millie Bush Bark Park, a large grassy fenced off area where dogs and their owners had plenty of recreational space. There was even a dog pond where dogs could take a dip during hot weather. Millie Bush was, I gather, one of the Bush family's spaniels.

Walking around in Houston, I notice that dogs are always on leads and are well-behaved. If a dog moseys over to greet me as a passer by, the owner will always apologise and pull the dog back to heel. There seems to be a far greater awareness of dog control so those people who don't like dogs aren't annoyed by them. As a dog lover I'm always happy to say hello, make a fuss of the dog if it comes my way and exchange a few words with the owner.

The attitude towards dogs and dog ownership, in my US experience, is far better than that in the UK. People seem to take greater responsibility for their dogs, and being on leads rather than unleashed may even be a bye law of some kind. I'll have to check that one out.

There is noticeably very little dog poo around too.