Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Some Turtles for June


Here are some turtles, a Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) and two Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegant), just to give me an entry for the month.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

My Cardinal Prediction Comes True

Way back in 2010, when I first started this blog, I wrote a post about a news report on the phenomenon of gynandromorphism (a condition in which half the body is male and the other half female) in chickens.  In that post, I engaged in some speculation:

 I am wondering—is this kind of gynandromorphy unique to chickens, or does it occur in other birds? It would be barely noticeable in many species, but obvious in sexually dimorphic birds like woodpeckers and certain songbirds. When a half-male, half-female Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) shows up at the bird feeder, that would attract some attention.

  And now it turns out that a gynandromorphous Northern Cardinal has been observed, and is the subject of this video that was posted on the online magazine Slate in January.  

I am not an expert in bird genetics, but I do notice one significant error in the video: it shows sex as determined by the X and Y chromosomes (as occurs in humans), but birds have the ZW chromosomal system for sex determination, in which males are ZZ and females are ZW. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Yoda Best

A week or so ago I was walking by some tennis courts in a park adjacent to the local public high school.  I noticed a great deal of writing in chalk on the concrete walkways near the courts.  From what I could tell, the writing was a tribute from the members of the high school's girls tennis team to two team members who were graduating.  

Part of the tribute was the words "YODA BEST" (i. e., "you're the best"), accompanied by a drawing of Yoda's face. Normally, observing the activities of today's high school students makes me feel really, really old—or rather it makes me understand that I am really, really old, because I actually feel very young; deep down I feel as if I'm only a few years older than a high school student myself.  But here was something that made me feel that maybe I wasn't all that old after all—high school students referencing a character whom I knew when I was in high school.  

Indeed, by the time that I was in high school, Yoda already seemed like a relic of the distant past, just as Yoda probably seems to the student who did the chalking (although, to them, the distant past might only mean the prequels).


It's been almost exactly 35 years since we first saw Yoda.  

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Questioning the Nerd Prom

Last weekend, Washington witnessed the 2015 White House Correspondents' Dinner, or, as it's come to be called, the "Nerd Prom".  I object to this name, because I don't think that any of the people involved are actually nerds.  They may not be football players, but successful journalists need un-nerdish traits like charisma, well-developed inter-personal skills, and some measure of physical attractiveness.  At the same time, they don't need knowledge in any sort of technical or abstract field. (I imagine that if the average White House correspondent doesn't hit a key on his computer for fifteen minutes and the screen saver comes on, he immediately panics and calls in the tech support person.)  

Or, to look at it another way, have any of those people ever even played Dungeons & Dragons?

Someone should walk around the room with a camera and ask the assembled personages their opinion on the following controversial topic: "Should elven fighter/magic-users be allowed to wear metal armor while casting spells?"


And we could see who is capable of formulating a response.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

In Honor of Pi Day: Deriving Pi from a Pie


Yesterday was Pi Day (and I intended to write this last night, but overslept in my evening nap), the day on which the abbreviation for the date (3/14) consists of the first three digits of pi (3.14).  And yesterday was a very special Pi Day, on which the abbreviation for the date including the year (3/14/15) consisted of the first five digits of pi (3.1415).

Some people like to incorporate pie (the pastry) into the celebration of Pi Day.  I think that if you include pie in your Pi Day, before you eat the pie, you should do the following:

1. Get a tape measure, and measure the circumference of the pie. 

2. Measure the diameter of the pie. 

3. Divide the circumference by the diameter.  

Thus you will have derived pi from a pie.  

(I imagine that I am not the first person to think of deriving pi from a pie, but it makes me feel clever, so I am putting the idea on my blog.)

I tried this exercise myself to see how well it works.  I didn't have a pie, but I measured a roughly pie-sized circular plate.  I got 3.11, which is within about 1% of the correct value.  

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Potential Sign of the Apocalypse: The Rap Version of "Money for Nothing"


I have learned that there is a new rap version of one of my favorite songs, "Money for Nothing", originally recorded by my favorite band, Dire Straits.  The new version was featured on a show called Empire which I have never watched.



The song is performed by "Jussie Smollett" and "Yazz".  Jussie Smollett is an actor on the show, but I'm having trouble figuring out who "Yazz" is.  It's not the band Yaz that recorded the song "Situation" back in the Dire Straits era, nor, as far as I can tell, is it this other Yazz.  

The original "Money for Nothing" was perhaps the ultimate mainstream rock song of the Eighties.  It was also a huge pop hit, spending three weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100.  From a modern perspective it seems impossible that a song with such a bone-crushing guitar riff could top the same chart now controlled by acts like One Direction and Selena Gomez. 

This new recording bears only limited resemblance to the original masterpiece.  The chorus is there, and some of the original guitar part shows up, but most of the song is unrelated rapping.  

What would Masiakasaurus knopfleri think?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

I Am Envious of New England


I am envious of eastern New England, which this week experienced a huge snow storm.  As usual, the Washington area, where I am, received under an inch.  

I would like the Washington area to have a giant blizzard.

I would also like the Washington area to have a giant lizard. 

But the giant lizard should wait for the summer, because I wouldn't want the lizard to get too cold.