Thursday, December 30, 2010

Don't Want to Be Your Monkey Wrench

For years I have been hearing the Foo Fighters song Monkey Wrench on the radio. All this time I thought that Dave Grohl was yelling 2010! 2010! The year 2010 is ending, and I was planning to write a post about it. I got the idea to use a reference to Monkey Wrench as the introduction to the post, because, after all, the song contains repeatedly mentions the year 2010.

But, in researching the lyrics, I found that it actually says one in ten, not 2010. All these years I'd been hearing it wrong. And so my planned blog post was undone.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Photograph for Christmas

(The full-sized original is here.)

This is a picture that I took in Eisenhower Valley in the late afternoon on January 1, 2010. For some reason it is one my favorites out of the thousands of photos that I've taken over the years. You really should take a look at the full-sized original.

Some might find this to be a melancholy scene. But to me it is almost comforting. It seems to say: It's a winter day, maybe it's been a bad day, but it's over now, and you can go home. And that's what makes it a fitting picture for Christmas, one of the few days when almost everyone can go home and rest.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Sparrow Has Landed

(The full-sized original is here.)

I have put in a lot of work trying to get photos on my flickr page linked to the blog. I eventually got it to work, but I could only get the photos to show up in two sizes, Too Big and Too Small. In order to get things Just Right, I had to adopt an awkward approach in which I made a smaller version of the picture on my computer and uploaded the small version to the blog, with a link posted to the full-sized version on flickr.

So anyway, here is the picture of the dead immature House Sparrow that I promised in earlier posts.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Anole Embarrassment

At the beginning of October I went to Florida for a few days. (The trip will be blogged in more detail when I get the photographs on the internet and finish all the species identifications.) For me perhaps the biggest attraction in south Florida is the large number of lizards, mostly introduced, which can be found there.

The most diverse of these lizards are the anoles, a group of iguanians common in the American tropics. I have been interested in anoles for most of my life. I even owned one when I was younger. And all that time I have pronounced the word as "anoel" (to rhyme with goal). But when I got back from Florida, I was talking to someone who had grown up there, and he pronounced the word as "anoe-lee" (to rhyme with goalie).

It turns out that "anoe-lee" is the correct pronunciation, even though to me "anoe-lee" sounds like some kind of Italian dessert. (If you are doubtful, you can hear the word being spoken by someone who sounds like Michael Caine.)

The really embarrassing part is not just that I've been mispronouncing a word for decades, but that everyone else whom I know has mispronounced it the same way—which makes me worry that the reason that they pronounced it as they did is because of the way that I pronounced it, because I was the one who was supposed to be the reptile expert.

This anole understands my embarrassment.

Monday, December 6, 2010

People Whom I Have Known Part II: Basketball

Whatever shock I might have felt to learn that my former middle school classmate Paul DePodesta would be portrayed in a major motion picture by Jonah Hill was far exceeded on the day after Thanksgiving, when my high school classmate, Rey Deceraga, accidentally elbowed President Barack Obama in the upper lip during a basketball game, causing an injury that required twelve stitches to close.

As I understand it, things went something like this: Rey zigged, the President zagged, zig met zag, and all hell broke loose. And we were left with the conclusion that they play some smashmouth basketball in the Federal government. (At least I think that it is smashmouth basketball. Smashmouth is a word that sports journalists seem to like to use. Of course, Smashmouth was also a catchy/annoying band from the Nineties. Anyway, I am discussing the actual smashing of a mouth, so I am probably right in my usage.)

By this point the story has crested and subsided, but it was briefly big-time news. I cannot hope to recap all the serious coverage; if one wants that, I would recommend a Google search. Instead, I will note a few of the odder references to Rey in the media/entertainment universe.

Over the weekend following the incident, Rey inspired the Drudge Report headline Elbower doesn't say sorry.

On Monday, November 29, Jimmy Kimmel in his monologue referred to Rey as "Roy Deceraga" and identified him as Mexican, although in reality Rey originally hails from Panama.

On Tuesday, November 30, Jay Leno showed footage from a news report concerning the incident, and at the point where Rey's name was mentioned, the real video was replaced with a scene of a man being thrown out of an airborne helicopter. (The helicopter scene was presumably meant to show the retribution exacted against on Rey.)

As a final comment, let me say that no one who knew Rey would have expected him to become involved in a brouhaha, or even worse, a brouhahaha, with a sitting President. In our senior class, Rey was voted both Most Popular and Most Mature, and he is widely known for his natural diplomatic skills.

Friday, December 3, 2010

People Whom I Have Known Part I : Baseball

About a month ago I was watching Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The guest was Jonah Hill, an actor best identified as Seth Rogen's mini-me. Hill discussed filming a movie called Moneyball starring Brad Pitt. Hill will play a character based on Paul DePodesta.

Paul DePodesta is a baseball executive who rose to fame in 2004 as the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, making him one of the youngest general managers in Major League history, at the age of 31. Unfortunately, as best I can understand with my feeble knowledge of professional sports, things, um, didn't quite work out right, and he was fired in 2005. He then worked for the San Diego Padres as a "front office assistant", which is presumably more prestigious than it sounds, before being hired by the New York Mets as the "vice president of player development and scouting", in which role he does important baseball stuff.

I am not a baseball fan, and indeed all that I know about managing a baseball team I learned from George Costanza. What makes all this interesting to me is that from around first or second grade until eighth grade, I went to school with Paul. I was even the campaign manager in his failed run for sixth grade class president. (Do not trust me for political advice.)

Of course, there are probably hundreds of people out there who went to school with Paul at one time or another, but that's not important, because none of those people is me (or, more grammatically, none of those people is I, although that sounds weird). And I would like to take this opportunity to wish Paul well in his future endeavors, and to thank him for giving me this brush with fame—fame in its most modern sense, which translates as someone having his own Wikipedia entry.

In a final odd sub-coincidence, while researching this post I learned that, before the DePodesta-derived role went to Jonah Hill, it was set to be played by an actor and comedian named Demetri Martin. I didn't know him, but he was in my class in college.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I Force Myself To Blog About a Dinosaur Coincidence

I wish that I had the energy to blog more, but most of the time I am too tired. When I have blogged, I have mostly blogged random thoughts and meaningless flights of fancy. I'd like to blog about more serious, science-related stuff, but that generally requires too much work in terms of research and making sure that I actually get things right.

I am forcing myself to blog about something interesting in the realm of dinosaurs that I noticed yesterday. There has been a lot of news related to ceratopsians in the last few months; I mentioned one piece of news here. In a new development that some would describe as ironic, but which would probably better be described as appropriate, paleontologists have announced the discovery of a new dinosaur from Korean Peninsula, named Koreaceratops . . . just in time for the artillery attack by North Korea on South Korea.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Is Going

Halloween has come and gone, and the evil pumpkin-headed dude did not show up. He could appear next year, though. Or perhaps evil rat-men will emerge from the sewers. There is always hope.

Sunday afternoon I was in the Old Town section of Alexandria, Virginia. There were a few people wearing the evening's costumes early. And I also saw some people, mostly women, dressed in such a way that made me ask myself, "Is that a costume, or just a questionable fashion choice?"

With men it is usually clear cut as to whether clothing is a costume. I did see one guy, however, who led me to wonder, "Is that a costume, or just a questionable beard choice?"

Another seasonal milestone that will soon pass is Election Day. And that means a (temporary) end to political advertising. This year there have been so many political advertisements that we almost ran out of commercial space for things like Skittles. Just about every television ad for the last month has consisted of angry people glaring into the camera and delineating why a particular candidate is a bastard. (Bonus points were awarded if one of the glaring angry people wore a hard hat, because that made him the Authentic Voice of the Working Class.)

We are supposed to love political advertising, because it's America, and freedom, and democracy. But I hate it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Halloween Is Still Coming

I am going to write about Halloween again for no good reason. If I have the energy to write something, then I might as well write something about something.

Halloween comes at a good time of year. Dead leaves lie in the street to rustle eerily in the breeze as we walk by. The sky at sunset looks spookier than it does in other months. (Or do I just think that it looks spookier because I am seeing it through the lens of the Halloween season?) Yet Halloween lacks any real monsters, because they do not exist. And I have to wonder, if Halloween monsters were real, how would they affect your Halloween?

If, on Halloween night, you were to walk outside and see a dude with a flaming pumpkin for a head standing there, would it make your Halloween better or worse?

Or, what would you do if you saw a mummy, with a kopesh, and other historically accurate ancient Egyptian accouterments, and he started to chase you, and you ran, and as you ran you could hear the creaking of his ancient joints behind you, coming closer and closer, as he relentlessly pursued a quest to enact vengeance on the world for disturbing his eternal rest?

Or, for some true and crazy fear, how would you react to a horrid chimerical beast with the body of a bull and five heads, each head belonging to a different panelist from The View?

What I'm really trying to say is that I don't know what I'm trying to say. But I do think that Halloween might be better if its characteristic supernatural monsters were real. Candy sales would plummet because trick-or-treaters would stay inside for fear of being ripped apart by fleshing-eating goblins. But when we would hear the werewolves howling around our kitchen doors in tribute to the late Warren Zevon, it would be worth it.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Halloween Is Coming

Halloween is fast approaching, and I have marked the occasion by using AppleWorks to draw a crude jack-o'-lantern. The mouth didn't work out right, but Appleworks wouldn't let me "undo" it. As a result, I can't tell if he is happy, worried, or nauseous.

Halloween is one of my favorite times of year. When I used to blog at Wandering Army I wrote several posts about Halloween. Maybe one day when I put those posts back online somewhere I can link to them.

Much as I enjoy Halloween in theory, it doesn't have any real impact on my life, other than as an occasion to sit around and think scary thoughts. I have not been invited to a Halloween party since 2001. And I can't say that I'm surprised. I am not the sort of person that one would want at a party, because I am naturally morose.

If I ever were to take part in Halloween festivities, I would have to get a costume, which would be problematic. Judging by the commercially available costumes that I've seen, it would be hard to find something that would be both scary and an expression of my personality—something along the lines of an evil rhynchocephalian with extremely high SAT scores.

(I will note here that many paleontologists and zoologists prefer to use the name Sphenodontia in place of Rhynchocephalia, because at one point Rhynchocephalia accumulated some fossil taxa that didn't actually belong there. I, however, support the use of Rhynchocephalia in the sense that it originally intended, as a classifier for the tuatara ((Sphenodon)), and thus also for the tuatara's legitimate fossil relatives. Also I will admit to being biased in favor of Rhynchocephalia because it sounds cool. Sphenodontia sounds cool as well, but the same basic word is in use elsewhere, in the genus name Sphenodon and the family name Sphenodontidae.)

And finally, if I can provide any real insight here, which is unlikely, it would be an idea as to one reason why Halloween is as hugely popular as it is. Halloween is not like other holidays. On Christmas, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Martin Luther King Day, and almost any other holiday, we are constantly being urged to suspend our unthinking enjoyment to contemplate the "real meaning" of the day. And we probably should contemplate the real meaning of those days. But Halloween has no real meaning. It's pure fun.

Monday, October 18, 2010

No Pictures

After two failed attempts to get my flickr pictures to show up on this blog, I was faced with the choice to either figure out how to resolve the problem, or give up on it, at least for the time being. I decided to give up, because I am too tired to try to work out this problem.

There are all kinds of things that I want to write and post on this blog, but working at a full-time job makes me too exhausted to do much blogging, or anything else. It makes me long for the days when I was in school, because I got a summer vacation. It even makes me long for the days when I was unemployed, because then at least I had the energy to do . . . something.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Photo of the Week #1 . . . (failed again)

Here's another try at the photo that I tried to put in my last post.

UPDATE: . . . failed again.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Photo of the Week #1 . . . (not really)

I felt that it was time to force myself to write another blog entry. And it was also time to push out those horrible pictures of Ke$ha and Adam Lambert as the top post on the blog.

I finally got around to setting up a flickr page. My plan is to feature one photo per week from flickr on this blog, thus generating some regular content.

The most significant thing that I learned in setting up the flickr page is that, of the 3,700 digital photographs that I've taken over the last eight years, almost none of them are good enough to post on the internet. And the very few that are good enough are extraordinarily hard to find among the 3,700 photographs in my iPhoto library.

The first photo in the series is of a dead juvenile House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) that I found lying on the sidewalk in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia, this spring. Some might say that a dead bird is too macabre for the blog. But I'd rather look at that than Adam Lambert.

UPDATE: I can't get Blogger to load the picture from flickr. I'll have to try again later.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Modern Music Can Be Confusing

There is a lot of serious and artfully crafted material that I want to put on this blog, but I am too tired to do so, so I will make do with more pop culture foolishness.

While looking at the iTunes top 100, I noticed that the only difference between Ke$ha . . .

. . . and Adam Lambert . . .

. . . is about 45 degrees of rotation.

They both have the same facial shape, the same facial expression, and the same loose lock of hair flying off over the left eye.

And they are both people whom I hope are in no earlier than the fourteenth of their fifteen minutes of fame.

Well, okay, maybe there are a few differences. For instance, Adam Lambert appears to be wearing more eye make-up.

Today I listened to Dire Straits Makin' Movies, the first two songs of Bruce Springsteen Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., and the Cars Door to Door.

Rock on.

Monday, August 16, 2010

This Dream Has Been Brought To You By NBC

As I was driving around Saturday, I saw a man on the sidewalk with a Dunder Mifflin t-shirt.

Relatedly or unrelatedly, that night I had a dream. In the dream, I needed a haircut desperately for some reason. When I got to the barber shop, night was falling, and the shop had closed. Then I discovered a seedy bar (which does not exist in real life) next to the barber shop. Somehow someone found out that I needed a haircut, and told me that there were people in the bar who would cut my hair. I was escorted to the back of the bar, where I met the man who would cut my hair, who was Ed Helms, who plays Andy Bernard. And then I said, "Aren't you Jason Sudeikis?", because I frequently get the two of them confused in my waking hours. But then I realized that it was Ed Helms, and felt embarrassed.

Am I the only one who gets Ed Helms confused with Jason Sudeikis?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Dessert and the Formation of Deserts (Loosely Speaking)

I have been thinking that most of the basic concepts of geology can be explained in terms of cake:

If you take a crumb from the cake and look at it under a microscope, that's petrology.

If you investigate the icing, that's surficial geology.

If you examine the layers of the cake, that's stratigraphy.

If you slice the cake, that's tectonics.

If you put the cake on a plate and slide it around, that's plate tectonics.

I suppose that I could extend the analogy further by saying that if you study the dead animals that you find in the cake, that's paleontology, but no one wants to find dead animals in a cake.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mister Mojoceratops

Mister Mojoceratops

Mister Mojoceratops

Got to keep on ceratops

. . . or words to that effect.

Mojoceratops perifania is a new ceratopsian dinosaur discovered by Yale postdoctoral associate Nicholas Longrich in the basement of the America History Museum in New York. The fossil had been excavated decades earlier, but was incorrectly identified as a different kind of dinosaur.

Most museums have large specimen collections, only about 5% of which are publicly displayed. There have been many cases in which new species were discovered among old material in such collections. My favorite such incident involves another Yale researcher, John Ostrom, whose revolutionary theory that birds are descended from dinosaurs was inspired when he found a skeleton of Archaeopteryx that had been misidentified as a pterodactyl in a Dutch museum in 1970.

If Longrich is poking around in the basement of the American Museum of Natural History, maybe he can find Amphicoelias fragillimus.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I Saw a Goose Die

A few weeks ago I was walking in a park. In the large pond in the park I saw a Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) floating motionless with its neck bent against its back. I wondered if the goose was dead, and if it were dead, if it could still continue to float.

After about half an hour I came back to the same spot. The goose had drifted in toward shore. Suddenly it started thrashing around. In a few seconds it went belly-up, and soon became totally motionless.

I felt oddly honored that the goose had died in my presence.

I suppose that if I had had a child with me, I would have had to say that it was alright and the goose was only doing the backstroke.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Live in Eighty-Five

Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Live Aid concert. I remember listening to it when I was a kid on the headphones of my portable radio/cassette player.

After researching the matter, I conclude that the line-up at Live Aid was much better than the line-up at Woodstock. Part of this is probably that there were simply more acts at Live Aid. And another part is that Live Aid had a lot of Eighties bands, and I like Eighties music. But even in terms of pre-1980 classic rock alone, Live Aid was better; it had Led Zeppelin, the Who, Bob Dylan, most of the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, and Queen, among others. (Not all the performers were legends, though, particularly on the British side—who or what were The Style Council?)

I've spent my entire life hearing about Woodstock and how wonderful it was. But I've heard virtually nothing about Live Aid in the quarter century since the concert ended. As always, the Eighties get no respect in the eyes of the Baby Boomers who run our world.

Monday, July 12, 2010

On Boredom

It occurs to me that there are two kinds of boredom.

Type A Boredom is being bored because one has nothing to do.

Type B Boredom is being bored because one has a lot to do, but no interest in doing it.

I find that childhood contains abundant Type A Boredom, but as one grows up it is replaced by Type B Boredom. And I miss Type A Boredom. I can't remember the last time that I had nothing to do. (I can remember many recent times that I have done nothing, but there were always quite a few things that I should have been doing.)

I view Type A Boredom as primarily beneficial. I suppose that for some people it led them to do things like drive around breaking mail boxes with a baseball bat. But for me it put me in a position to try various non-destructive things that I had long wanted to do. And, if nothing else, it would have been a lot harder to go back to school in the fall if I hadn't been bored in the summer.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Words of Wisdom II

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.

Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

Slap a man with a fish, and you define British comedy for a generation.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Other William DeWitt Robertson (1937-2010)

I have a pretty unGoogleable name—William Robertson. There are too many people with that name for a web search to turn up anything on me. Even a search including my middle initial, D., will only turn me up on the third page, where, when last I checked, the link for Scaly Distractions resides. Before that, one will read about many other William D. Robertsons, such as the one after whom is named the Robertson Tunnel, a light rail tunnel in Oregon.

My full name, for those who do not know, is William DeWitt Robertson. A few years ago I did a Google search for that name and found birth records for a William DeWitt Robertson Jr. and a William DeWitt Robertson III in Texas. Those names imply the existence of a William DeWitt Robertson Sr., meaning that there have been at least three other William Dewitt Robertsons in the history of the world.

Last night I randomly decided to do another search on my full name. I found that William DeWitt Robertson III died in February of this year.

He was a carpet salesman.

He lived in Detroit, Texas. He is survived by four children, fourteen grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

He went by the name Billy. (I always hated that name. At a certain point in my childhood I insisted that all my relatives stop calling me that.)

There is no sign that he had any interest in dinosaurs, synthesizers, pretentious British classic rock, snarky intellectual humor, wildlife photography, science fiction, pond gardening, or committing himself to writing a blog that he generally didn't feel like writing.

Thus, despite sharing a name, it looks as if we shared little else.

A mystery remains. The obituary lists a son named Billy Jack Robertson and a grandson named William Robertson V. Are they new generations of William DeWitt Robertsons, or only William Robertsons with different middle names?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I Must Force Myself to Blog

I still can't get any motivation to blog. There are a million things that I want to write, but I can't force myself to write them.

There was an episode of Seinfeld where George talked about getting a new position at work, one that had a lot more responsibility but not a lot more money. In the past few weeks I have found myself in a similar situation in my own job—more responsibility, but not much more money. I think that the additional responsibilities may be making it even harder than normal to make myself write anything. I hope, though, that the new responsibilities will only last for a few more weeks.

One thing that I can force myself to do is to gripe about elements of popular culture. The movie Grown Ups opens this weekend. It stars Adam Sandler, David Spade, Chris Rock, and Rob Schneider. There are also appearances by Colin Quinn, Tim Meadows, and Normal MacDonald as "Geezer". In terms of casting this is Saturday Night Live circa 1994. I don't think that I will see this movie, but I can't help wondering if it will stop in the middle for a musical guest and a comedy news segment.

Friday, June 4, 2010

I Had an Idea

Early tonight while I was eating dinner I had a thought. It would have been a perfect thought to put on the blog, pithy and funny. But now I can't remember it.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bigfoot in Northern Virginia

Extensive bigfoot activity has been reported in the Lake Anna area in Spotsylvania County, Virginia.

Bigfoot is strangely addictive to me. Even thought I think that there is virtually no chance that he is real, I can't resist reading about him.

If anyone out there should ever encounter bigfoot, please, please make every effort to capture him . . . for the sake of science.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Gary Coleman 1968-2010

Gary Coleman has died. I am reminded of the death of Michael Jackson last summer, as in both cases a once-beloved but now largely forgotten pop-culture icon of the Eighties with a troubled personal life suffered premature mortality.

Coleman's claim to fame was the series Diff'rent Strokes. My biggest memory of that show is the theme song, or, more specifically, the last line of the theme song. (I don't remember the rest of the the words, and when I try to think of them I think of the theme from The Facts of Life.) That line was (I thought) It takes diff'rent strokes to rule the world. That sentiment sounded pretty awesome to me, because, as we well knew in the Eighties, everybody wants to rule the world. (In retrospect, though, the idea of diff'rent strokes ruling the world conjures the incongruous image of Arnold and Willis leading a Mongol horde across the steppes of Eurasia on a journey of conquest.)

At some later point in my life I found out the the lyric was actually It takes diff'rent strokes to move the world. Moving the world as opposed to ruling the world came across as much weaker, like some leftover hippy-ness hanging on a decade too late. And the theme song didn't sound as awesome to me as it once had.

But none of that was Gary Coleman's fault.

Requiescat in pace.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Blogging Remains Dead

I suppose that I should do some blog posts while the opportunity remains. Unfortunately, I haven't had the inspiration to blog (except to blog about how I can't bring myself to blog). My only option at this point seems to be to turn the blog into a blog about my inability to blog. Through my life I have often had the inspiration to start things, but very rarely enough inspiration to finish things. Or maybe it's not inspiration but something else . . . dedication . . . devotion . . . turning all the night time into the day . . .

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Blogging Is Still Hard

Also, Generalíssimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

I am four days into my nine days off from work, and I still can't get any motivation to blog. There are many different things that I'm trying to get done, and even with all day free there's not enough time to do them. I suppose that I could drop some more ironic references to Justin Bieber, but without context, what would be the point?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Blogging Is Hard

It has been over three weeks since my last blog entry. That pretty much kills the promise that I made to myself when I started the blog of doing ten entries per month. It's not that I don't have anything to say. It's just that, like most things in life, blogging is too hard for me. Most entries take me at least two days to compose. And after being at my job all day, forcing myself to work, it's hard to force myself to blog.

I will be taking next week off from my job. Maybe I can post a few of the entries that I've been planning.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Roll the Bones

I went to the dentist on Tuesday. He said that I have the jawbone of a fifteen-year-old. Apparently, as one gets older, the bone structure of one's jaws degrades significantly. But the bone structure of my jaws has not degraded, for whatever reason.

The condition of my bones is not newsworthy in and of itself. What stands out to me is that if I say I have the jawbone of a fifteen-year-old, it sounds as if I buried the other parts in the woods.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

It's the Eye of the Turtle, It's the Thrill of the Fight

In addition to starting a blog, a recent goal of mine has been to create a Flickr page for my photographs. If I did that, I could cross-post the pictures here, giving the blog a much-needed graphical element. Unfortunately, as with many things that I want to do, I haven't had the time or the energy. Until I can get the Flickr page established, this close-up of the head of a Red-bellied Turtle (Pseudemys rubriventris) will have to suffice.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Saturday Night Live-Blogging Considered

Sometimes I think that I should live-blog something. Live-blogging is the process of watching an event, usually on television, and posting commentary on a blog in real time as the event unfolds. Live-blogging is often used by political bloggers for things like Presidential debates.

One candidate for live-blogging would be Saturday Night Live, a new episode of which airs in a few minutes. Of course, live-blogging Saturday Night Live in its current state would probably consist of writing That wasn't very good over and over. Also, I like to eat during the show, and then sometimes play my keyboard when I am done eating, and too much multi-tasking can ruin a man.

Tonight the show is hosted by Tina Fey, with musical guest Justin Bieber. (I cannot resist linking to the Justin Bieber official site, but please understand that I am only linking ironically.) If I were writing for the show, I would suggest a cold open in which a middle-aged man visits his doctor, complaining of high temperature, sore throat, heart palpitations, etc. The doctor would diagnosis the patient with severe Bieber Fever, and ask the patient if he had been listening to the music of and watching the videos of Justin Bieber. The patient would say that he hadn't, but that he had been bitten by a tick.

"That'll do it too," the doctor would say. Then he would get out a medical book to look up how to treat his patient. At that moment, the other cast members would burst into the room, wearing surgical scrubs, and busting out their best hip-hop dance moves, all the while jubilantly singing, "There is no reliever for the Bieber fever!!"

As the musical number builds to a fevered pitch, one of the cast members, probably Andy Samberg, would point at these same words written in giant letters on a poster, using a telescoping metal pointer. Then the music and dancing would end, and the patient would collapse lifeless on the examination table.

"He is dead," the doctor would say, "and live from New York, it's Saturday Night!"

Realistically, I predict , of course, a Tina Fey Sarah Palin sketch . . . and maybe something along the lines of Leave It To Bieber.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A New and Exciting Lizard

Biologists have announced the discovery of a six-foot-long fruit-eating monitor lizard from the Philippines. It is called the Northern Sierra Madre Forest Monitor Lizard. (In case anyone is confused here, it refers to the monitor lizard, not the Philippines. The monitor lizard is called the Northern Sierra Madre Forest Monitor Lizard. The Philippines are called the Philippines.)

When I read the headline Philippines Dragon-Sized Lizard Is a New Species, I was hoping for an animal that would truly rival the size of the Komodo Dragon. But at six feet and only twenty-two pounds, the newly-discovered reptile is quite a bit smaller than its Indonesian cousin, which can grow to ten feet long and several hundred pounds.

Although I am not one to court controversy, I will go on record as saying that the world needs more giant lizards.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Personally I Am Not That Hungry

I haven't written anything here in a while, so I thought that I'd note something interesting that I read recently. Scientists have released a fly in Florida whose larvae eat the brains of fire ants, a pest accidentally introduced from South America.

This is good news, unless of course you are a fire ant. But I doubt that fire ants read this blog, so I am probably safe.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Next Blog

At the top of Scaly Distractions, as on all Blogger blogs, is a link that says Next Blog. The name of the link implies that blogs are arranged in an orderly sequence, a grand chain of millions that eventually loops back to where it started. But in reality the link brings a random blog hosted by Blogger.

My repeated clicking of Next Blog has yielded almost nothing interesting. Virtually all blogs encountered are used only for the bloggers to express their "progressive" political views or post pictures of their infant children. Only two that I've seen stood out at all.

Here's a blog that's noteworthy only as an example of the strange style of writing that people adopt when they're trying to be "literary".

But it pales next to the political musings of the real-life Paul Blart Mall Cop.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

At the Rock Bar

Mid-Ocean Ridge Basalt is a big deal for hard rock geologists. (When I write hard rock geologists, I am not referring to geologists fond of loud, distorted electric guitar tones. Rather, I am using a somewhat archaic term that differentiates igneous and metamorphic petrologists from those who study softer, sedimentary rocks.)

Mid-Ocean Ridge Basalt is a rock that forms at the mid-ocean ridge when magma from the mantle leaks to surface and cools—the innards of the world spilling forth, the Earth's rocky blood bleeding out and scabbing over.

I like to think that somewhere in the world, maybe in Boston, there is a bar. But it's not just any bar. It's a bar where all the patrons are different types of rock. And when Mid-Ocean Ridge Basalt walks in, they all yell, "MORB!"

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ride the Supertrain

The internet is an amazing thing. It has everything that we need. Or, rather, it has everything that we want. Or, rather, it has everything that could possibly waste our time, including an extensive fan site for the 1979 NBC television show Supertrain. The series centered on a fictional oversized luxury train, featuring a disco and a swimming pool, that traveled from New York to Los Angeles in only thirty-six hours—which would have been a great idea if the airplane had never been invented. (Warning: Supertrain is not to be confused with Supertramp.)

I never watched Supertrain. In fact, until recently I had only the vaguest idea of its existence. Then, a few weeks ago, the title showed up unbidden in my mind, and I decided to see if the show had been real, or just a joke concocted in the tradition of Manimal and Cop Rock. That's where the magic of the internet came in. From available information, the show sounds awful, but it sounds awful in a fascinating, unique, Seventies way.

I am fascinated with the Seventies for a variety of reasons. For years I have wanted to write an essay about the Seventies, but I have never had the energy to do so, so for now I have to settle for writing about Supertrain.

I like to think that somewhere, somehow, it is still 1979, and Supertrain rolls on in the darkness of the heartland, the rhythms of the engine blending with the drumbeats from the onboard disco, down an improbable route to the continent's edge, through air soupy with polyester and malaise.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I Am Reminded of a Clever Idea

Former Friends star David Schwimmer is engaged to be married. This news is in no way at all relevant to anything at all in any way. But it does remind me of my plan from years ago to make a television show starring David Schwimmer, Jonathan Silverman, Ben Stiller, and Jon Stewart. I can't guarantee that it would be funny, but I can guarantee that it would be confusing.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Both Halves Taste Like Chicken

The BBC is reporting on new research on gynandromorphous chickens, whose bodies are half male and half female, divided along the plane of bilateral symmetry. The article is unclear on the exact process that causes the condition. It is apparently the result of entanglement between two separate embryos, the process which, at a later stage of embryonic development, leads to two-headed snakes, and conjoined human twins.

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.

I suppose that if I really wanted to know, I could do some research to find the answer, but I am too lazy.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Words of Wisdom

Keeps your friends close, your enemies closer, and your frenemies somewhere in the middle.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Trilobites Rock the Eighties

In 2001, paleontologists unveiled a new dinosaur, a small theropod from the Cretaceous of Madagascar. The discovery made headlines because the dinosaur was named Masiakasaurus knopfleri, after rock star Mark Knopfler, former leader of Dire Straits. The discovery caught my attention both because of my interest in dinosaurs, and because, in my purely subjective opinion, Dire Straits was the absolute greatest band ever. But keep in mind that this is my purely subjective opinion, so please don't waste your precious time arguing over it.

Recently I came upon a paper (abstract here) in the December 2009 issue of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. In the paper, Neo E. B. McAdams and Jonathan M. Adrain from the University of Iowa investigate trilobite fossils from the Ordovician of Nevada and Utah, and establish the new genus Heckethornia. Within Heckethornia they establish the following new species:

Heckethornia smithi

Heckethornia hyndeae

Heckethornia numani

Heckethornia bowiei

Heckethornia morriseyi

Heckethornia ballionae

Perhaps these names look familiar to you. The full text of the paper reveals that the trilobites are named after Robert Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Gary Numan, David Bowie, Morrissey, and Susan Ballion (who, Wikipedia informs me, is better known as Siouxsie Sioux).

I support this trend of naming extinct taxa after Eighties musicians. But I also think that some guidelines need to be put in place, lest anyone name a conodont after Vanilla Ice, or a benthic foraminiferan after the New Kids on the Block.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Giant Pleistocene Beaver

Cryptozoology is the study of wacky, but allegedly real, creatures like bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster—a field generally not pursued by professional scientists. I must admit to having been fascinated by cryptozoology since I was a child, even though realistically speaking I estimate that 95% of it is bogus. (And, realistically speaking, there is also the problem of being considered insane for having such interests.) Part of the appeal is simply entertainment, willingly suspending my disbelief to imagine how cool it would be if sea serpents and the like were real. But there is also the intellectual opportunity to analyze cryptozoological claims as they relate to areas of science that I find interesting, such as paleontology, zoology, and ecology.

A few months ago, I came upon an article concerning John Warms, a man from Canada. He claims to have seen a giant Pleistocene beaver (Castoroides ohioensis), and the burrows of such a beaver, in his native Manitoba. Fossils of the eight-foot, two-hundred pound animal are well known in North America; the species is thought to have become extinct at the end of the last ice age, along with the other megafauna of the era, including mammoths, saber-toothed cats, and ground sloths.

The article profiled Warms as he traveled to Utah in search of other legendary animals. (That seems like a mistake—if you get a lead on a giant Pleistocene beaver, stick with him; don't go running off to Utah.)

His web site, illustrated with elementary school-level drawings of supposed Canadian monster animals, does not inspire confidence. However, a modern population of the giant Pleistocene beaver strikes me as being in that 5% of cryptozoological phenomena with some possibility of existence.

Are there giant Pleistocene beavers frolicking in the waters of Manitoba?

On the positive side, I have long thought that the Canadian boreal region, which is heavily forested and very sparsely populated, would be a good place for an unknown animal to live undetected. The giant beaver only disappeared from the fossil record about 10,000 years ago, which is the blink of an eye (or some other cliche) in geological terms. And a recent study of the isotopic composition of the giant beaver's teeth indicates that its diet was mostly aquatic plants, and not trees, which might diminish its impact on the landscape and allow it to more easily escape detection.

On the other hand, no one has ever acquired a modern specimen of the giant Pleistocene beaver; it's hard to accept that even in the wilds of Canada a giant beaver could escape not only science but also the fur trade. Millions of regular North American beavers (Castor canadensis) were trapped for their pelts, to the point that the species was eliminated over most of its range, but there is no record of giant beaver skins.

A potential complicating factor is Bergmann's rule, a trend in warm-blooded mammals that the size of individuals increases as one moves northward through the animal's range. What appear to the casual observer to be members of a distinct, giant species might be regular beavers at the high end of their natural size variation.

In any event, I much prefer a giant Pleistocene beaver to a giant Pleistocene Beiber.