Something to thank some keel slugs for


Thanks to some evil keel slugs, I’ve discovered that cardoons have scented flowers.

We have a huge and handsome cardoon that somewhat dominates one corner of the garden. Early in the year it gives us impressive silvery leaves. Now it has huge stems, around 7 feet tall, bearing enormous fist-sized spiky thistle flowers. Unfortunately, I hadn’t noticed that a small group of Milax budapestensis and Milax sowerbyi had set up home in the bottom of my Cynara cardunculus, and the former chewed through the stem of the latter and felled our beauty as a hairy checked-shirt-wearing Canadian might fell a spruce. Woe indeed.

Determined not to have all our gardening fun destroyed, I immediately set about a scorched-earth treatment of the garden with small blue metaldehyde-laced bran pellets, with the result that there are now corpses everywhere. I also cut the fallen stem and put the thistley heads into a vase on the dining table.

This morning, as I came into the conservatory (where our dining table resides), there was a distinct scent of honey coming from the cardoon flowers. This explains why bees are so attracted to them and is a discovery I’ve made thanks to the intervention of the evil keel slugs.

Any gain in high gain?

I’ve recently purchased a new wireless router here – a LinkSys WAG354G – and I’ve been thinking about fitting a high gain antenna (probably the LinkSys HGA7S) as the signal drops about two or three times an hour when I am in my office. The router sits on a shelf in the kitchen and my office is in the summer house, so the signal passes through about ten feet of clear conservatory; then through the window; across around twenty-five feet of garden; through a thin wooden wall and some rockwool insulation; and then a further three feet to my laptop. I currently get between 49% and 61% signal here and transmission speeds between 2.0Mbit/s and 11.0Mbit/s.

I have no experience of using a high gain antenna and all I can find online are endless repetitions of the LinkSys blurb, which naturally espouses the virtues of the device. Have any of you had any experience of using antennas? Would I be better advised to upgrade my 3Com 3CRWE154A72 WiFi card?

UPDATE: I’ve ordered a cheap DabsValue 5dBi antenna to see if it makes a difference. I did get tempted by some very expensive kit that would have permitted me to wander off across four or five fields, park myself and my laptop under a tree and still listen to the live stream of Arrow Jazz FM; but that would have been, well, unnecessary.

When a book would be better than the Internet

I’ve just seen a lovely bumblebee in the garden. I like these fuzzy-bottomed creatures, but I’ve never seen one quite like this one – a slightly tapered bum (abdomen, I think) with three distinct amber-coloured stripes around the tip. The problem I have is that I’d like to know what type of bumblebee it is and whether I’ve spotted something rare or unusual. It’s this sort of thing that shows the limitations of the internet. If I had a book of insects, I could open the page of bees and compare all the different sorts until I spotted an illustration that best represented the creature I saw. However, the net relies on me making a search using the name of the creature I am seeking (looking for "bumblebees" is too vague). Wikipedia only offers a detailed description of the most common species.

Any suggestions? I’ve had a similar problem when I’ve spotted an unusual butterfly or moth. Birds are another group of creatures where I go straight to the bookshelf first.