Chrysanthemums and Aphids

December 22, 2014

I bought myself a bouquet consisting of several kinds of flowers for the birthday more than a month ago. In no more than two weeks, all the flowers withered away except for the two branches of white chrysanthemum. Surprisingly, these outlived not only their peer flowers, but also my expectation and lived vigorously to welcome a new neighbor – a dark red Betta fish. I scarcely changed water and never cut away the bottom bits, although I was instructed to do both everyday. They remained in their loveliest blossom, not showing any sign of weariness from day one. My boyfriend once joked that I had bought plastic flowers. But yesterday :(

As I was about to drink my morning water, a miniature bug floating in my glass caught my attention. I quickly realized that it must have come from the only plants in my room, the chrysanthemums. A close observation had me totally stunned and disgusted. Numerous small bugs similar to the one dead in my glass are found everywhere on the topmost flower of the four. The other three flowers adjacent were also speckled to various degrees. I straightened up and looked out of the window, not able to believe what I just saw. I moved my line of sight back again and confirmed this horrible scene. This time I noticed how these insects firmly remained static in their respective positions on the petals, unlike what I would imagine that they would crawl all over the place. I couldn’t give more description because I couldn’t stand it and trashed the flowers immediately.

After that, I gave much thought about it and felt sorry for the chrysanthemums. If only I had given them more attention maybe I’ll notice some early warning of the pest attack. How come that it seemed like it was all fine for over a month until suddenly there appeared such huge number of insects? The only possibility I could think of is there was already larvae when I bought it. They simply hatched at the same time suddenly and started their feasting.

Recently I’m reading Insect Plant Biology by Schoonhoven et al. The bugs I just saw reminds me of something I’ve read in the book. After some searching I’m convinced those belong to the common pest family of aphids. From what I read online it seems their usual place of appearance is the leaf surfaces. If the ones in my case also hatched on the leaves, possibly on the undersurface since I didn’t see them, and moved from the leaves to the flowers, that means they had been around in my room for much longer time, which makes me sick even more. Although I took comfort in thinking that usually monophagous species are very specific in their food choices. This means that they choose not only a particular plant but also a particular part on that plant. According to Wikipedia, aphids feed on sap rather than chew on plant tissues. This on one hand explains why they sit there motionless but on the other, it’s strange why they target flowers where I suppose there’re no phloem vessels.

Above all else, the biggest lesson that I learned is that there are actually home-friendly ways to kill the aphids and preserve the plants. If I had examined my chrysanthemums throughly thoroughly – petals, leaves and undersurface of the leaves, that would have given me hints on abnormalities and would have enabled me to take early preventive actions. This combined with the spray method that should have been used after the pest attack happened, could have saved my chrysanthemums. Sigh.


A General Launches a War for Wildlife

July 22, 2014

Chapter Six of Alon Tal’s book Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel. This chapter talks about the activities of the Nature Reserves Authority, mainly when Avraham Yoffe was in charge. I’m left with an impression that under his command, the new born authority secured an astounding fraction of Israeli land for reservation, albeit small and scattered. His successful campaign to stop the dirty habit of wildflower-picking remains the single legend that never repeats. Along with the anecdotes, for instance

walking into the kitchen of his host, opening the refrigerator, and pulling a leg off of a chicken without being invited,

or another, he hired two female scientists and threw out the grumbling male staffs saying

he had ‘enough balls’ already and wanted some brains,

as well as Figure 13 which depicts a Yoffe in full army uniform, feeding a cute little baby herbivore (I’m guessing gazelle?) with a milk bottle, which easily reminds me of that famous picture of Ariel Sharon with a lamb slung over his shoulders – all these make me take a great liking to him.

However now, many weeks past, Claude Lanzmann’s Pourquoi Israël that I watched much earlier somehow surfaced again. And I remember there was an interview with a retired military man who turned to wildlife advocacy. I opened the DVD package and found indeed the name Abraham Yoffe there. In the film, aside from telling us about his dream of rehabilitating the biblical animals in the land of Israel [1], he also offered his opinion on the political conflicts, in which he clearly aligned himself with the school of “Greater Israel”. For Egypt, he said the Sinai

is not important to them, but important for us… It can act as a buffer zone, which is good for us, good for them and good for the world.

I can’t decide if to say he was naive or if he was intentionally blind. As regard to the Palestinian problem, he said

We should learn to live together. and I’m ready to give them all rights as Israelis.

This is of course one basic underlying belief for any one-state solution advocate. But when questioned by the director “what about the Jewish state”, pointing to the demographic problem, Yoffe said

I’m not afraid… You see when I was born in this country, the percentage between Jews and Arabs was 1 to 10… Today it’s 3 Jews to 1 Arab. So why should I be afraid?

Well I don’t really want to give an analytical comment on this bizarre statement. The point is, it is really interesting to get accounts of things and people from different places. Just as reading the Israeli environmental history gives me a unique feeling when looking at these less known but no less inspiring, exciting, heroic or heartbreaking deeds against the most familiar Israeli modern history, the association of different depictions of this person evokes a similar curious sentiment. As a result, Yoffe’s image is now more complicated in my mind than before.


[1]. This biodiversification effort – the Hai Bar project – is also documented in the book. It is quite a subject of controversy. On one hand it collected a lot of endangered animals, opened up a safari as a tourist attraction, on the other hand some predators were confined in small areas, and the indigenousness of some of the species were questionable.


More Sea Turtle Days

June 30, 2014

I went to the sea turtle center twice more over the past two weeks. And new experiences.

Eran uploaded a video of the turtle release from the first week.

For week 2 I went on Thursday and met some regular volunteers there. Among the four coworkers, I spoke with Shir the most. She is a high school graduate and has been working here for a year now as her national service. On that day I realized the toughest work wasn’t touched at all during my first visit. Lettuce!

… I was happy to be invited to go on a trip to collect lettuce for our green turtles. Sat in the car, watching the fields, groves and clean handsome village houses of the nearby moshavim, we arrived at a vegetable company – but it was a big warehouse sort of, waste plastic bags and other materials piled randomly on a sandy ground. In front of the warehouse was a shady working area for their employees. There were two groups of workers, on one side were Muslim women and on the other were Asians. It seemed the two sides didn’t communicate at all. One curious Asian girl came up to me and asked me in English where I’m from and if I work or study here. I explained my turtle mission and learned these people are from Vietnam. Indeed, look at the conical Asian hat!

They cut the bad leaves away from the lettuce and washed it. And it is our mission to take in the bad leaves – bad in human eyes – and fill as many plastic bags as possible. It’s a piece of cake to bring a handful of leaves from right to left. But a hundred pieces of cake is quite a big thing. All the time I bent down and lifted up. The plastic bag was like a black hole, whenever I thought I finally fill it up, Shir would shake her head and violently give it a push – what power of compression that the bag was half empty again. Although dismayed, I kept going. I guess the efficiency ratio between Shir and I was 2 to 1. I was truly happy we didn’t have to continue after I collected three bags. But that was too early for celebration. What comes after loading the giant lettuce babies unto the car is of course, unloading them. Then we teared these bags open and released the lettuce into a metal cart, from there we had to transfer the lettuce again but into another white numbered bag and weigh according to the data on the daily sheet. I am going insane just by writing all these down. In short, everything about lettuce is labor intensive. read more …


Final Project 236861

June 25, 2014

This June has witnessed a rapid development of situation woven by a sequence of events. That’s quite extraordinary for my usually laid-back lifestyle. In retrospect, this is clearly due to the “I’ll-do-this-and-that-after-draft-submission” mentality. Now in between the stages of research, with more time at my disposal, one of the outcomes is the long overdue completion of the final project for the course numerical geometry of images.

Regularly I only spent 2-3 hours every Thursday evening from March till May with some holiday on-and-offs, during which I, or rather Roy, finished the bulk of the project – the MSER part. Starting from June, I implemented the remaining 10%. And with some very dragged-on Q&A sessions due to my TA’s upgraded status to post doc, I finally got my grade yesterday. In March, some of my classmates already presented their final results of a few days of concentrated work. Although our coding load was allegedly much more than theirs, to my peace of mind the actual number of hours we spent on it is very similar to that of my classmates.

My project topic was changed to implementation of Sparse Modeling of Intrinsic Correspondences at the TA Yonathan’s suggestion. But the major part of the work is on the precondition of this method, MSER in deformable shapes. I was really interested after understanding how it works; at the same time I was worried about graphs and trees. Certainly I understood them conceptually, but it was hard to imagine how to put them into codes. But it was never a serious concern because of my top-programmer-class boyfriend. Every Thursday he came back and came to the school, we sat together in my office. I would explain how things work and what needs to be done. Then as I watched him coding, he would explain how to do a certain thing or why he did it that way. I still chuckle when I recall that Roy compulsively argued to correct my bad coding practices which too often occurred, and that during the break we ordered pizza or hamburgers. Sometimes he’d plan out the next things to do and write down the pseudo code for me to implement as a homework. This indeed is the most complicated programming I’ve been involved to day. Eventually by the time we joyfully witnessed the stable features detected on Homer and Armadillo, pointers and classes are no longer my enemies; trees and graphs are my frequent guests.

Kudos also go to my friend Alexandre, with whom I had meaningful conversations about the half-edge representation and whose triangulation infrastructure we used to process the discretized shape. And of course the very dedicated, patient, encouraging, busy and lively teaching assistant Yonathan. Whenever I encountered problems or uncertainties I turned to him. By emails, FaceTime and Monday meetings, nothing was unresolved in the end.


First Day Helping The Sea Turtles

June 18, 2014

A bit history first. On the last day of the summer Ulpan, everyone was asked to go in front and make a small speech in Hebrew about oneself and the future plan here. I remember saying אני רוצה לעזור לחיות בים among other things. The seed of green Zionism was already there even in the earliest days. As the second semester was just begun, I heard from Reuven that he had a friend who helped the sea turtles near Caesarea and it was a once-a-week thing. I carefully remembered this information since. In a recent trip along the seashore from Akko’s Argaman beach with Roy, we found two very big sea turtles on the sand, but dead for long. One of them was entangled in fishing net. I was saddened by the scene and made up my mind to volunteer for this good-natured animal soon. Now that I finally finished the paper draft, caught a break between the stages of research, I have to seize this chance to make the seed grow.

The early Zionist pioneers saw returning to the soil not only through a pragmatic perspective, but also as a means to rebuild, strengthen themselves in body, characteristics and identity. Parallelly, I think practicing green Zionism both does good to our nature and liberates myself from the unhealthy state of office-sitting and computer-staring. So much for the ideological babbling, here is my first day helping the sea turtles.

Israel Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is in Michmoret. It isn’t as easy to reach the exact spot by bus as with nearby places like Caesarea or Netanya. After a constant fear of getting late for the bus or missing the stop to get off since 5 a.m, I got off at Yannay interchange and walked for half an hour to the center. Along the way I passed the Alexander Stream National Park. I should walk inside of its more pleasant and shadier wood in the future, as I was later told that it’s straightforward to reach the center along the beach.

Dotan, a heavily tanned guy in clothes that rejoice to  be untidy, received me with warmth and I walked with delightful curiosity among many sea turtles – all in various water tanks. Each water tank has inflow and outflow of fresh underground sea water, underground for stable temperature. One turtle is very uneasy. it constantly splashed the surface with its fins and tried to get out. But I learned this one is blind because of a collision accident and can no longer be released back to the sea. In the same tank is another one, a quieter one. It doesn’t really surface so I could only vaguely see some plate attached to it. This one is called חופש, it lost two left fins due to lack of blood circulation when entangled in fish net. They attached a flipper to help it balance when it surfaces to breathe. This is actually widely reported in the news. I was also impressed by the messy staff office. But that only makes sense for people dealing with wildlife and work often in the sea. Shortly, another new volunteer Avi came to join us. He looked around 50 and was tall and fit. We gathered in the main working place, a space with a dozen water tanks. read more …