Posted onMarch 31, 2014|Comments Off on All-Con 2014: The Aftermath – Finale
As a final comment about All-Con 2014, after a few years, you start to notice trends. At any given show, the costumes range a wild gamut, and there’s no telling who’s going to come in with the outfit that stops the entire show. Half of the fun at the convention is people-watching, and with so many great costumes coming through the front doors, half of them pass right by the Triffid Ranch booth. With that many people, as mentioned, you notice trends.
The first trend that I’ve noticed for a while is that the comics character of Poison Ivy is an extremely popular as a costume subject, and I’ve seen some incredibly detailed and composed Poison Ivy oufits over the years. The odd part, considering the obsession the character has with plants, is that I’ve met all of two Poison Ivy cosplayers who had any interest in plants whatsoever. The second one was one of the first people to stop by the Triffid Ranch booth on Thursday afternoon, and she asked nothing but fascinating questions about the various plants on display.
The other surprising trend? While I don’t regularly meet Poison Ivy cosplayers who like plants, I have yet to meet a Wonder Woman cosplayer who didn’t. This young woman not only had the look and the attitude down pat, but she made me wish I had miniature roses in this year’s assemblage. She was incredibly happy with her Nepenthes arrangement, but somehow it didn’t seem right to let her leave without roses, and I don’t know why.
And that finishes up the overview of All-Con 2014. As explained earlier, the Triffid Ranch won’t be out at All-Con 2015, but expect to see a whole new presence in March 2016. At least, that’s the idea. See you then.
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Posted onMarch 31, 2014|Comments Off on All-Con 2014: The Aftermath – 9
Each Triffid Ranch show is a surprise, considering that most customers never know what they’re looking for until they see it. I regularly bring succulents to shows, and I never can tell which one will bring the best response. This time, the belle of the ball was our old friend Echinocactus texensis.
Now, both horsecripplers got quite a bit of attention, but this gentleman came through on Sunday after taking a break from his space in Artist’s Alley. When he learned about horsecrippler fruit and the need for two to produce viable fruit, well, two went home with him right then. I regularly get photos from customers who want to show off their plants after they become established, and I fully expect to see photos of many happy horsecripplers before too long.
Posted onMarch 30, 2014|Comments Off on All-Con 2014: The Aftermath – 6
While it may seem understandable that these show and convention reports focus on Triffid Ranch customers, I also have to give credit to and a shoutout for the other vendors who make these shows so much fun. Among many others, I was lucky enough to have Tracy Robertson of Azrael’s Apprentice Designs as a next-door neighbor. Since All-Con started as a costuming convention that expanded its focus, it has an understandable reputation for excellent costume and couture designers, and having one of the best as a neighbor was an honor.
Likewise, it’s always a joy to talk to the folks at the Half Price Books booth, even though we were all so busy that we only had a chance to say hello on Sunday morning before the vendor room opened for the day. In the process, I had a wonderful talk with the HPB district manager, and that leads to a big project to be announced soon. Let’s just say that between the new Day Job and this project, there’s no time to slack off.
Posted onMarch 29, 2014|Comments Off on All-Con 2014: The Aftermath – 3
I’m regularly asked by showgoers about where I get my containers and pots, and I answer honestly “From all over.” Among other things, I take advantage of everything from going-out-of-business liquidations to estate sales, all with the idea of finding something different. Half of the fun is finding something horribly inappropriate for its original intended use, but that works beautifully with carnivores. I regularly tell people “If you like it, grab it, because I doubt I’ll be able to find another.
One of the best examples involves the inexplicable boom in miniature aquaria from the 1980s. Starting around Christmas of 1987, stores were packed with two-liter to four-liter aquaria, all advertised as “everything you need”. Without fail, the packaging showed off a completed and filled tank with dozens of fish inside, never bothering to tell novice aquarists that the horribly underpowered air pumps and completely inadequate filter systems would be lucky to keep a single betta alive, much less dozens of guppies or tetras. Many were bought and discarded when the piscine massacre ended, others were put into storage with the idea of trying again one day, and others were purchased as gifts and never opened until the executors of the estate had to clean out the house for its eventual sale. Having bought one in 1988 for a then-girlfriend, I knew that most were designed by companies that wanted to cash in on the trend but that didn’t really care about whether or not they’d work as promised. I also knew that while they were deathtraps for fish, they’re absolutely exquisite for displaying and raising terrestrial bladderworts.
Case in point, the enclosure above was quite common in department stores in the US around 2001, as well as in the now-defunct line of Discovery Channel Stores in shopping malls through the US and Canada. As advertised, it included a built-in periscope to watch your fish at bottom-level, a fish food holder so you could submerge food and watch the fish as they ate, various plastic reefs, an air pump and airstone, and a pocket full of gravel. Oh, it also came with a clear blue plastic top to keep fish in, and a cardboard backdrop of an exciting ocean scene. The latter was what made things interesting.
Shortly after the Czarina and I started dating, she expressed interest in both getting a betta and in getting a small tank so she could enjoy said fish on the kitchen counter. Having had a bit of experience with bettas, I figured that a small tank of this sort might work, especially with additional aeration provided by the included air pump. I knew better than to try to keep anything else in the tank, so I figured that this wouldn’t be too bad of an investment. And it wasn’t. The Czarina was thrilled, and it was a reasonably happy home for her betta until he died of old age several years later. At that point, she hung onto the tank for a while, and then gave it to me so long as I could do something with it. And I had ideas.
The biggest problem with the Underwater Explorer had everything to do with that top and the backdrop. This is why it’s so important to distinguish between cookie jars and apothecary jars when building terraria. A good glass cookie jar will have a lip on the inside of the lid, right next to the rim, to deal with condensation from the natural moisture of the baked goods. If it were to escape, the cookies would go stale, so any excess moisture condenses on the inside of the lid, rolls to the lip, and drips off into the bottom of the jar. An apothecary jar, though, is to deal with trying to control humidity from the outside, so its lid allows condensation to the outside of the jar, helping to keep the contents as dry as possible. With cookies or aspirin pills, condensation on either is barely noticeable. However, with lots of fluid in each type of container, it becomes very noticeable, very quickly.
That’s where things went wrong. The designers of this setup apparently went crazy with the ingenious periscope, and probably never bothered to test how well water spray from the aeration system would impact the cover. Turning on the air pump meant that spray condensed on the inside of the lid, and it promptly dripped off the cover to the outside of the tank. Since the backdrop was just printed cardboard, it rapidly got soaked and mildewey, and nobody apparently thought of sealing it in plastic to extend its life. Within a week, it peeled off and had to be cut free, and use of the air pump had to be cut way back to keep from coming home to a half-empty betta tank in the middle of a large pool of dribbled water. Keep the lid on, and it inhibited air circulation to the surface, preventing more dissolved oxygen from infiltrating the tank. Take the lid off so the betta could breathe, and her cat Tramplemaine because a lot more intrigued by the new playmate. It just wasn’t going to work as a fish enclosure.
For terrestrial bladderworts, though, it was a dream. Many of your tougher species of terrestrial bladderworts, such as Utricularia sandersonii and U. lividia, thrive on extremely boggy soils, and this enclosure was very good at retaining water. The sides were clear, meaning that a windowsill or a good desk lamp offered enough light for proper growth. The periscope allowed plant’s-eye views of the bladderwort foliage, seeing as how it looks like turtle grass at that scale, or of the bloom spikes in spring. The interior kept up the plant’s beloved humidity. Best of all, this container had a story behind it, and that story was enough to get someone to take a large U. sandersonii clump home that day.
Other people say “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” I say “That’s my story, and do you want to hear more?”
Posted onMarch 28, 2014|Comments Off on All-Con 2014: The Aftermath – 2
This year, in addition to the usual vending appearance, I was invited to suggest possible panels and lectures for the convention. Last year’s general lecture on carnivorous plants was so successful that I was asked to reprise it for Thursday night, but Friday night was special. This year was the first public test of the ultraviolet laser array I put together to view the fluorescence in various carnivores, and it worked even better than I’d suspected. Some of the most UV-fluorescent species in my collection were still in winter dormancy, such as the various Sarracenia, but enough tropicals were out to make up for it. Among other things, we all observed that not only does the wax on the inside of Brocchinia bromeliads fluoresce, as I already knew, but that the plant has distinct bands in UV that are impossible to see in visible light.
The real surprise? I had one Mexican butterwort, Pinguicula moctezumae, in the middle of an early bloom. I knew from experience with other butterworts that this one’s trapping surfaces wouldn’t fluoresce, but the attending audience still got to see the slight fluorescence from chlorophyll, like the last light from formerly red-hot steel. However, its sole flower fluoresces like a sign, with a distinctive white stripe in the upper portion of the bloom apparently intended to attract hummingbirds. Obviously, a lot more work needs to be done on fluorescent attractants in carnivorous plants, both in the traps and in the flowers.
Posted onMarch 28, 2014|Comments Off on All-Con 2014: The Aftermath – 1
Four days. Two lectures. More attendees than I could count. In many ways, in years of Triffid Ranch shows, All-Con X was the best one yet. All-Con already had some of the most enthusiastic crowds I’d seen in thirty years of attending, appearing at, and vending for science fiction conventions, but this year? For the first time since the 1980s, I was glad that the show was ultimately over, but I also wished that it had been able to run for another week. For those with familiarity with convention organization or vending, you’ll understand why this is saying something.
Suffice to say, the number of people coming by the Triffid Ranch booth was simply phenomenal. This year, instead of the usual three-day event, the organizers decided to take advantage of Spring Break, and offered free admission on Thursday to anyone who wanted to show up. Since so many liked the taste and bought passes for the rest of the weekend, the hotel and immediate environs were absolutely packed. And since half of the attendees were out in costume…well, All-Con continued its reputation as a perfect place for people-watching.
And in a tradition for guest appearances on Cat Monday, let me introduce you to Darla, the former cat. Five years ago, this little fluffball literally trotted up onto our front porch, having seen the big ultraviolet sign reading “SUCKER” on my forehead from a few miles off. She had no collar and no claws, suggesting that there was some reason why a tabby-point Himalayan was wandering loose in the neighborhood, but that reason wasn’t good. We put up signs announcing a lost cat, but without a response, and we prepared to take her on as a permanent part of the family. That might have worked, too, if Leiber hadn’t pitched such an outrageous fit at being at the absolute bottom of the food chain that we had to find her a new home before he exploded.
As it turned out, my in-laws both fell in love with her, so she got another new home and promptly took over. She also got a new name, as my mother-in-law didn’t approve of the placeholder “Fuzzbutt”. In fact, she became so used to the new situation that she now runs and hides whenever I come over to visit, as she’s afraid that I’m coming over to take her back. Five years in, and she’s now completely in charge, just the way she planned when she first meeped on the front doorstep.
In retrospect, Darla’s arrival was just one of many unannounced arrivals over the years. Cats, a couple of dogs, turtles, snakes, a screech owl, Harris’s and red-tailed hawks, possums, and even a pair of white goats when I was in high school…I step outside, and the critters just look at me as if to ask “Where’s breakfast?” I’m only half-joking when I tell people that it’s a matter of time before I step out the garage door and trip over a snoring tyrannosaur in the driveway. It would definitely be par for the course.
Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and that means one very important thing in the Dallas area. As of today, you can be reasonably sure that we’re not going to have any more subfreezing weather until next December. I wouldn’t recommend planting any tomatoes or peppers for at least another week past this, but gardening season starts today. If you’re looking for inspiration for this year’s horticultural carnage, head out to the Texas Discovery Gardens for some well-placed inspiration on Texas-friendly plants. While you’re at it, spend some time in the butterfly garden, just for relaxation’s sake.
Oh, and while you’re at it, keep an ear open for possible TDC events involving the Texas Triffid Ranch. Nothing’s cast in stone, but here’s a hint: