Monday, December 24, 2012

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

On the Saturday night before Christmas, I went with my friends Andrew, Adam, Kevin, and Brian to see The Hobbit.  We attended the latest possible screening, and were thus alone in the theater as we enjoyed the adventures of Bilbo Baggins. 

Our enjoyment of what we saw in the film was overwhelmed by our surprise at what we found when we left the theater.  While we had been watching the movie, the snows of Christmas had come early.  The snowfall was prodigious; it was piled to our knees, and glistening flakes continued to fall. The roads had vanished, disappeared under the thick blanket of cold white.  No one was to be seen anywhere, and we could find no reason to think that anyone would be stirring again until well after Christmas.  

As we contemplated the seeming impossibility of returning home, we noticed a dark object moving high in the sky. When it came closer, we saw that it was an ornate sleigh pulled by deer; it flew down through the snowflakes, and slid to a stop in the street before us.  The red-clad man driving the sleigh, the man who could only be Santa Claus, addressed us.

"Ho, ho, ho," said Santa, "What are you boys doing out here in the blizzard?" 

"We just got out of the late showing of The Hobbit, and now I fear that we are stranded," I replied, "But we could ask the same of you.  What are you doing out three days before Christmas?"

"The sleigh needs testing, and the route needs charting," laughed Santa, "It would be foolish to travel without rehearsal when a world is depending on my prompt arrival.  You, though, look as if you may not be traveling at all; come, I can offer you passage, there is always room on my sleigh."

And so we climbed onto the sleigh, and it launched into the sky.  We conversed with Santa, and, spurred by talk of the movie that we had seen, he spoke of the long-gone days before he had become Santa Claus, or Sinterklaas, or even Saint Nicholas, when he himself had lived under another name among the peoples of Middle Earth.  He recalled times spent with the elves, the dwarves, and the hobbits, and how his counsel had been sought by Gandalf and other wizards. He told us wild tales of orcs and trolls, of dragons, and of magic, as all the while we soared through the falling snow, high above the lights of the city, high enough to see the dark mountains to the west, and the dark waters to the east.   

And then, when his store of stories was exhausted, Santa brought his sleigh back down toward the ground, and returned us all to our homes, where we had nothing to do but rest without a care and await the joys of Christmas.

* * * * * * * * *

Okay, none of that happened.  I did try to get some friends together to see The Hobbit, but it proved more difficult than averting the Fiscal Cliff, and after three weeks of negotiations things broke down at the last minute.  

And needless to say it almost never snows here in the DC area, especially on or near Christmas.  

Also, Santa Claus doesn't exist.  Middle Earth doesn't exist.  I might not even exist; that is still controversial.  

Friday, December 21, 2012

. . . and I Feel Fine

Today was supposed to be the end of the world as we know it, but as of this writing we seem to still be here.  The idea that the world would end came, of course, from a misunderstanding of the Mayan calendar; someone assumed that the date for the ending of a large-scale cycle within the calendar was instead the date for the ending of everything.  

Beyond the misinterpretation of the Mayan calendar itself is the question of why anyone would think that an ancient civilization could correctly predict the end of the world.  And even if one does think that an ancient civilization could accurately make such a prediction, why limit oneself to the opinion of the Mayans?  Did anyone ask what the Incas thought?  Or how about the Aztecs? Or what about the Sumerians? Did anyone consult them? Or maybe . . . I don't know . . . the Carthaginians . . . or something . . . 

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Middle of December

Here it is the middle of December, and I am still having trouble dealing with how fast November went by.  Of course, November felt over by the 19th, which was the Monday of the week of Thanksgiving.  

As always, I have a lot of blogging that I want to do, but realistically I doubt that I will ever do it.  I just don't have the energy, or the self-discipline.  When I started this blog in 2010, I hoped to put up two posts per week, but in practice I feel lucky to do two posts per month.  

I will end this post with another poor-quality picture of a slug, which looks a lot like my last poor-quality picture of a slug.  At least for commercial purposes, the Christmas season seems to begin around Halloween, which is way too early for me.  But now we are past December 15th, which I see as a good starting date for the Christmas season, so please consider this a Christmas slug.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Twinkie Is Dead

The Twinkie is dead.  The Hostess corporation, with manufactured the Twinkie, has gone bankrupt due to a labor dispute.  I used to enjoy the occasional Twinkie in my youth,  but I probably haven't eaten one in twenty years. The Twinkie likely isn't truly dead, though.  Some other company may well acquire the rights to produce them, possibly a company in Mexico, where sugar is cheaper than in the United States, where tariffs keep the price artificially high.  

There are links for all this information, but I don't feel like going to the trouble of adding them.  Well, okay, there aren't any links about the fact that I haven't eaten a Twinkie in twenty years.  

But what is really important is that I tried to draw a Twinkie on my computer.  

I did not include a picture of a slug in this post because combining slugs and foodstuffs would be considered unsavory.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Now November Is Half Over and There Is a Slug

It seems as if I was just writing about how it was September and fall was more than one-sixth over, and now it is November and fall is more than five-sixths over.  And it is almost Thanksgiving, but it seems as if Halloween was only a week or so ago.  (Thanksgiving is on the earliest possible date this year, so there really are only about three weeks between the two holidays.)  Time passing way too quickly is a recurring theme at this point in my life.  

I notice that in my last post, I had a terrible time using AppleWorks to draw the pictures of jars, but the slugs worked out pretty well.  Maybe I should put drawings of slugs in all my blog entries.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Helpful Hint: How to Remove a Slug from Your Home

Perhaps there will come a day when you will find a slug on the floor of a building.  If you are like most people, you will want to remove the slug.  And also if you are like most people, you won't want to touch the slug or otherwise interact with it.  Here is a simple method for removing the slug without making contact with it. 

1) Place an empty jar or other open-mouthed container over the slug.

2) Wait a half an hour to an hour, and the slug will slide up the inside surface of the jar.  

3) Pick up the jar and place it on the ground outside.  

4) In another hour or so, the slug will have slid back out of the jar and into the surrounding environment. 

(Needless to say, the container used for this should be one which you wouldn't mind coming into contact with a slug and its associated slime.)  

In case anyone is unclear on how this method works, I have included two low-quality computer drawings illustrating a slug moving from the floor to the inside of a jar, viewed from the side. 

I came up with this method by accident many years ago, when I found a slug on the floor.  I didn't know what to do about it, so I put a jar over the slug to keep it from going anywhere, and then went away, intending to figure out how to deal with it later.  (I have a tendency to put off dealing with my problems, which usually makes them worse.) When I came back, I found to my surprise that the slug had gone up inside the jar.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

Our Abnormal Halloween Season

  Much has happened in the past week that feels catastrophic, if not outright apocalyptic: Hurricane Sandy, the lead-up to the presidential election, the sale of the Star Wars franchise to Disney . . .  In a recent blog post, I said that I wanted something cool to happen for Halloween.  Instead, a hurricane merged with a cold front to form a powerful hybrid storm that devastated the northeastern coastline and left millions without power.  It makes me want to shout "Uncool!", but that would leave me feeling too much like Joey from Friends.  

(By the way, in my last blog post, I used the redundant phrase "unexpected surprise", which was due to sloppy editing resulting from me trying to get the post up before the hurricane hit.)

In light of the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey issued an executive order postponing Halloween in his state until today.  I  am surprised that a governor or any other elected official would have the power to reschedule Halloween.  I would think that Halloween would be controlled by some special Halloween Committee, at least three members of which would be required by law to have pumpkins for heads.  

Another, perhaps final, Halloween observation is that today I saw that a lot of people have left the Halloween decorations up on the outside of their houses, even though it is almost a week after Halloween.  Was this practice common in the past, but I never noticed?  Or is it part of a recent societal trend?  Or is there a specific desire this year to extend the Halloween season longer than usual to make up for Halloween being overshadowed by the hurricane?

Monday, October 29, 2012

You, Claudius

In the spirit of staying up too late, which I often do, I spent many Saturday nights/Sunday mornings in September watching episodes of the 1976 BBC series I, Claudius on WETA UK.  The show, based on the book by Robert Graves, is a false autobiography of the Roman emperor Claudius.  The characters are mostly a bunch of Roman dudes with bowl haircuts and names like Gaius Drusus Germanicus Triceratops. Many of them are at least partially insane, most of them  want to rule the Roman Empire, and all of them are being poisoned by their wives.  I found portions of the story extremely confusing, but was able to navigate much of it using knowledge left over from my high school Latin days. 

An unexpected surprise was the appearance of Patrick Stewart in the role of Sejanus, who was prefect of the Praetorian Guard during the reign of Emperor Tiberius.  

A week or two after seeing Stewart in this role, I was struck by the realization of a shocking coincidence which, I felt at the time, would rock our view of the universe itself.  Patrick Stewart, who played Captain Jean-Luc Picard, earlier acted alongside a character named Tiberius . . . and Captain Kirk's middle name was Tiberius!! (Kirk's middle name was not presented as Tiberius in the original series, however, it was presented thus in the animated series, and was one of the fews elements of the animated series later accepted as canonical.)

The whole thing can be presented in a circular progression, as follows:

Captain Jean-Luc Picard --> Patrick Stewart --> Sejanus --> Emperor Tiberius --> Captain James Tiberius Kirk --> Captain Jean Luc Picard

This coincidence has a big impact on me because, due to my participation in Latin club/Certamen activities and my own inherent nerdiness, Star Trek and the Roman Empire both took up large amounts of my time in high school. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Word of the Day (October 28, 2012)

The word of the day is anquilosaurio.  I ran into it recently in a scientific journal, and thought that it had an interesting story.    

All scientifically-classified animals have a scientific name, and most modern animals also have one or more common names.  For example, there is a bird, common in parking lots, known by the scientific name Passer domesticus (indicating the genus and species) and the common name house sparrow.  A scientific name is Latinate in form; it is usually formed from Latin or ancient Greek roots, but it can be formed from elements of any language as long as they are rendered compatible with Latin grammatical structures.  And a common name is in whatever language is used where the animal lives.  

Non-avian dinosaurs have no common names, as they lived millions of years before any humans were alive to bestow common names. But a dinosaur is often given a sort of improvised common name by "de-Latinizing" the scientific name (or a name higher up in its taxonomic nomenclature).  For example, the dinosaur Tyrannosaurus is given the common name of tyrannosaur by dropping the Latinate -us ending.  And any dinosaur in the family Tyrannosauridae can be called by the common name tyrannosaurid, which results from dropping the Latinate -ae.

This principle, applied to dinosaurs of the suborder Ankylosauria, results in the English common name ankylosaur.  And, as I recently learned, that English common name, rendered into Spanish, yields anquilosaurio.  I had never considered the possibility of the improvised English common name of a dinosaur being changed into a foreign common name, but evidently it does happen.  A word is built from ancient Greek roots, given a Latin suffix, has the Latin suffix removed to form an English word, and then has its spelling changed to fit the rules of Spanish . . . all for an animal that lived more than 65 million years ago.  

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Convention Will Be in R'lyeh This Year

When I was writing my last post, I felt that I needed a link to explain Nyarlathotep.  I went to Wikipedia, and, as always, strayed from the path and became lost in the vast information swamp that is that website.  And somehow it became relevant to our current election season.  I ended up reading about Robert Bloch, a horror writer most famous for the book Psycho, on which the movie was based.  Bloch began his career as a protege of H. P. Lovecraft.  Bloch later worked for the Milwaukee mayoral campaign of Carl Zeidler, during which, according the Bloch's autobiography, he conceived the idea of dropping balloons from the ceiling at political rallies.  The balloon drop, of course, became a inevitable feature of every major party convention of the modern era.

And so you can see (in case you ever had any doubt) that the tentacles of Cthulhu have left a lasting imprint on the American political process.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Now It Is Late October, and We Think of Halloween

Fall continues to, um, fall.  We have moved from the era in which Carly Rae Jepsen sang "Call Me Maybe" to the era in which Carly Rae Jepsen and Owl City sing "Good Time".  And Halloween will be here soon.  I have covered my feelings about Halloween on this blog many times before.  I still can't help feeling that, because it's Halloween, something cool should happen.  And it never does.  It's not as if I'll look out the window and see Nyarlathotep. (Or maybe you're not down with Nyarlathotep.  Insert your preferred Halloween horror.)

I get the same feeling in the summer.  It's summer.  Something cool should happen.  I don't know what.  But something should happen.  And it never does. 

As last year, I want to write a blog entry about the semi-comedic and semi-pathetic story of the last time that I went to a Halloween party, back in 2001.  But, as last year, I don't think that I'll have the energy to actually do it.  

Anyway, if you get the chance, sat hi to Nyarlathotep for me. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Word of the Day (October 5, 2012)

The word of the day is Bodendenkmalpflege

I don't know what it means, but I know that it is German.  Also I think that it's scientific.  

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Steve Higgins and Robert Gibbs . . . Separated at Birth?

This presidential campaign, which seems as if it has being going on since I was in eighth grade, continues to go on.  By this point, I have seen so many televised political ads that I've developed an almost uncontrollable urge to end my blog entries by writing "I'm Mitt Robertson, and I approved this post."

Discussing controversial political opinions is the last thing that I want to do on this blog.  My only vaguely political observation at the moment is to point out the uncanny physical similarity between Steve Higgins, who stands behind a lectern on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and Robert Gibbs, who stood behind a lectern at the Obama White House.  

Steve Higgins:

Robert Gibbs:

Maybe it's the lectern that does it.  

I'm Mitt Robertson, and I approved . . . oh, wait. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A New Case of Celebrity Confusion

I spent most of last week thinking that Saturday Night Live would be hosted by Shia LaBeouf.  On Friday night, when I started to actually pay attention to ads for the show, I found out that the host was Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I have developed another case of celebrity confusion, in the manner of my Ed Helms-Jason Sudeikis confusion

There was a time when I would never have confused the kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun with the kid from Even Stevens. But somehow, in the last few years, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Shia LaBeouf turned into the same person, at least in my mind.  I can't explain it, though they do kind of look alike, and they are former child actors who are now starring in major movies, so maybe that does explain it.  

I have occasionally confused the title 3rd Rock from the Sun with the title 30 Rock, although the shows themselves are nothing alike. 

And up until a few years ago, when I would hear that Shia LaBeouf was going to appear on a talk show, I would expect to see one of the daughters from The Cosby Show.  

Friday, September 21, 2012

Three Weeks into September

It's hard to believe that it's twenty-one days into September. Not only is summer gone, but fall is already more than one-sixth over.  (I go by meteorological summer, and not astronomical summer, as I mentioned earlier.)  Now the air grows cool and the evenings grow dark; this spooky time of year makes me think that I should write a scary story, and try to get it published.  And some years I will start a story, but I never finish it, because I don't have the energy, and I don't really have any stories to tell.  

It always makes me a little sad when the summer ends.  It might be because the kids have to go back to school, and I  can still remember what it's like to have three months of freedom, and then feel it slip away.  But maybe more than that, I know that the end of summer means that the season for reptile and amphibian observations will be coming to an end soon.  I am happy to say that I did meet one of my herpetological goals for the summer.  I had my first field encounter with the Green Treefrog (Hyla cinerea).  I didn't see any, but I heard them calling one night at Huntley Meadows in Fairfax County.  I made some audio recordings, and maybe one day I will figure out if it's possible to post them on the blog.  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Random Observations (September 4, 2012)

1) It has been announced that the upcoming season of The Office will be the last. The Office is one of only three prime time shows that I watch on a regular basis; one of the other two, 30 Rock, will also be ending after this season.  This will be the ninth season of The Office, which is a pretty good run for a comedy series, so I can't complain too much on that front.  What does worry me is that the producers plan to "do justice to the existing characters in the most creative and explosive way" and "blow up things and take some chances", which makes me think that they will ruin the show.  

2) In reference to my last "Random Observations" post, I need to issue a retraction. Taylor Swift is not moving to a mansion in Hyannis Port, and I need to stay away from the celebrity gossip, so that I don't have to issue retractions. 

3) Also from my last "Random Observations" post, I would like to reiterate the part about the toothpaste, because I feel that it has been underappreciated.

4) Ten years ago, who would have thought that Britney Spears would be having a conversation (using something called "Twitter") with a robot probe exploring Mars? Or, more accurately, that Britney Spears would be having a conversation with someone from NASA pretending to be a robot probe exploring Mars? Or, perhaps, that someone from Britney Spears' management team pretending to be Britney Spears would be having a conversation with someone from NASA pretending to be a robot probe exploring Mars? At this point I'm not really sure what I'm trying to say.  

5) I need to find some new topics about which to make random observations, other than shallow pop-culture television and music news.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Death Comes for Bigfoot

A man in Montana was recently killed while attempting to hoax a bigfoot sighting.  He ran onto a highway while wearing a ghillie suit, and was hit by two cars.  (A ghillie suit is a form of camouflage used by hunters and snipers, with a texture that resembles shaggy fur, and a name that recalls an unfortunate Kristen Wiig character.)  

I have wondered for a while about a similar potential situation.  What would the legal fallout be if someone dressed in a bigfoot costume in a forest were to be shot?  Would the shooter be charged with murder or manslaughter, on the grounds that he should have known that bigfoot does not exist, which is the overwhelming consensus among zoologists?  Or would he be charged with some lesser offense, or not at all, because he legitimately believed himself to be killing a non-human creature, even if such a belief is not scientifically supported?  I don't know enough about criminal law to provide an answer, but someday someone may have to provide the answer in real life.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Random Observations (August 16, 2012)

It seems to take me days or weeks to write a traditional blog entry, so I am trying some smaller random observations.  

1) When I hear the new Taylor Swift single, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together", the spoken word section reminds me of the Frank Zappa song "Valley Girl".  For what it's worth, though, Taylor Swift is moving to a mansion in Hyannis Port, and not to a really good part of Encino.  

2) On television commercials in which people brush their teeth, they never use toothpaste.  

3) This is not exactly current events, but I have been thinking that virtually every character on the show Happy Days had a name that ended in an "e" sound—Fonzie, Richie, Potsie, Joanie, and Chachi.  The only one of the younger generation of characters whose name ended with a consonant sound was Ralph Malph. (When I watched Happy Days as a very young child, I was not clear on phonetic concepts, and so I thought that Ralph Malph was Ralph Mouth.)

4) I recently learned that former Dire Straits keyboardist Alan Clark and former Dire Straits saxophonist Chris White have formed a band (along with the drummer from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and some other people) called the Straits to fulfill the demand for public performances of Dire Straits songs.  (Dire Straits, in case you didn't know, broke up twenty years ago.)  That is not too surprising.  What is surprising is that they are writing and recording an album of new material, presumably in the style of Eighties Dire Straits.  But what will it sound like without Mark Knopfler (who will be touring this fall with Bob Dylan)?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Muskox Musings

In old news, over a month ago I read that a Muskox (Ovibos moschatus) had been seen in the the forests of northern Alberta, five hundred kilometers south of where it would normally be found. (I first learned of the sighting on Cryptomundo, which is a good place if you want to keep up on what's happening with Bigfoot, which you probably don't.)

The appearance of a Muskox in the boreal forest is perplexing given that the Muskox is is currently found only in the tundra, and is considered to be ecologically limited to that particular habitat.  I speculate, though, that the Muskox's restriction to tundra habitats maybe be an artifact of thousands of years of hunting by humans.  The tundra may simply have been the only part  of the Muskox's natural range in which human population density was low enough that Muskoxen could avoid being completely wiped out.  Now that the Muskox enjoys legal protection from hunting, it may be expanding southward into suitable areas.  A good analog might be the Caribou (Rangifer tarandus), which inhabits both the tundra and the taiga, and in historic times was found as far south as Maine.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Iguanodon Thumbs

Over the past few days I've been reading a book about the famous Iguanodon site at Bernissart, Belgium.  (Well, okay, maybe the site is only famous among vertebrate paleontologists.) 

Iguanodon is a dinosaur perhaps best known for the spikes on its thumbs.  It is unknown if the spikes were used for defense against predators, in intra-specific combat, or in feeding. I've been thinking, though, that the thumb spikes would have been perfect for hitch-hiking. 

This theory could have been the basis for a Far Side cartoon, showing an Iguanodon standing next to a highway thumbing a ride, with the caption "The real reason Iguanodon had thumb spikes", along the same lines as the famous "The real reason dinosaurs became extinct" cartoon.  

Or, alternately, the cartoon could show a car pulling up to an Iguanodon on the side of the road, who angrily declares, "I'm not hitch-hiking, I'm an Iguanodon!", with the same sense of saurian outrage displayed in the "Well, of course I did it in cold blood,you idiot! ... I'm a reptile!" cartoon.  

(I was surprised to learn in researching this post that there is apparently no official online archive of Far Side cartoons.)

On a side note, from what I understand, hitch-hiking is still popular in Europe, but it has been virtually extinct in the United States for decades.  In the course of my entire life I can recall seeing only one or two hitch-hikers.  There is an odd sort of "mutual assured destruction" doctrine in people's minds—if you go hitch-hiking, the person who picks you up will murder you, and if you pick up a hitch-hiker, the hitch-hiker will murder you.  

Perhaps we would be less apprehensive about hitch-hiking if we had thumb spikes to defend ourselves.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

One for the Taphonomically Inclined

(Click the image for a larger version.)

About ten days ago I found this dead hawk.  I think that it is a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), but hawk identification is not one of my strong points. It was lying on a nearly vertical stream bank, about a foot above the waterline.  

It had been lying in this position long enough for several twigs to accumulate on it, without having been disturbed by scavengers.  The feathers were still in a configuration which was nearly perfectly life-like. At the same time, what appear to be the neck vertebrae were exposed, indicating that the hawk's soft tissues had been removed, presumably by the action of insect larvae.

The hawk reminds me somewhat of Archaeopteryx specimens with preserved feathers.  It is interesting to consider the length of time that the hawk's feathers and skeletal structure had remained undisturbed, and how this would affect the potential for long-term preservation, in the rare event that such a dead bird would eventually be covered by sediment.    

Thursday, June 7, 2012

An Important Ridley Question

The movie Prometheus, from director Ridley Scott, will be opening Friday.  I don't think that I will see it, because I don't see a lot of movies, and in general I am really tired. But for years, every time that a Ridley Scott movie has come out, I have been plagued by a vexing question: If Ridley Scott were to fight the Ridley Sea Turtle, who would win?

I suppose that, since the turtle only weighs around 100 pounds, the director would win.  But, as in many things, the outcome of the battle would probably be determined by where it took place—on land, or in the water. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

American Idolatry

Last week American Idol crowned this season's winner, who was . . . um . . . somebody.

I have never watched a single episode of American Idol, and I am proud of that fact.  The entire point of America Idol is to find the next Celine Dion.  I don't think that we need another Celine Dion.  I'm not even sure that we need the Celine Dion that we have now. 

(I once tried watching Dancing with the Stars, but every time that they would dance I would fall asleep, and I would only wake up when the dancers were being criticized.)

For the first two or three years that America Idol was on the air, whenever someone mentioned Ryan Seacrest, I would be reminded of the time that he proposed to Angie Harmon on The Tonight Show.  But it turns out that that was actually Jason Sehorn, who is an entirely different person.  

When I was young, we didn't have American Idol; all that we had on television was Urkel.  (Urkel was on Dancing with the Stars recently, but that's beside the point.) And when I was really, really young, we had Fonzie.  But that's a whole other story.  

Maybe what stands out most in my mind about American idol and other competition-based reality shows is that when we watch them, we see people being told that they are no good and having their dreams crushed. Do we really need television shows doing that?  Doesn't real life crush people's dreams enough as it is?  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Kentucky Derby and Geology

  I noticed that there were not one but two horses at last week's Kentucky Derby with names related to somewhat geological topics. 

First there was Gemologist.  A gemologist is, of course, someone who studies gems. 

Then there was SabercatSabercat is a term used for extinct felids such as Smilodon, which were once known as sabertoothed tigers, but which were not closely related to modern tigers.  

(The Kentucky Derby website has a page for each of the horses, as linked above, but the information  there was mostly genealogical.  I wish that the pages had included more personal details, such as the horses' favorite movies and television shows, where the horses went to college, and who their horse role models are.)  

Monday, April 23, 2012

One Word

I don't watch much prime time television.  The only three prime time shows that I watch on a regular basis are The Office, Parks and Recreation, and 30 Rock.  (Fortunately they are all broadcast on the same network on the same night.)

I noticed something while watching the April 12 episode of 30 Rock.  Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) was told that his mother had been fitted with a heart pump. He replied that it was the the same kind of pump that "my good friend Dick Cheney had".  But the word had sounded a little off.  I imagine that the phrase was originally "my good friend Dick Cheney has", because the show had presumably been taped prior to Cheney's March 24 heart transplant.  And that one word had to be changed in post-production to keep the show's story seemingly up to date.  

I'm probably not the only person to have noticed this.  But I am too lazy to do the research necessary to find out.  

If nothing else, though, I have learned that the name Cheney is not accepted by my computer's spellcheck feature.  

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Skinks Are Out Early This Year

There is often news about the sort of paleontological and zoological topics that I find interesting.

To cite a recent example, paleoanthropologists have announced the discovery of the Red Deer Cave People, a potential new species of hominid that lived in China only about 12,000 years ago.

Or, to cite another recent example, an entirely new species of Leopard Frog has been found living in the vicinity of New York City.

Sometimes I think that I should blog about these topics. But if I did, I wouldn't have anything new to add; I would only be repeating what could be read elsewhere.

Now I do have something original to say, on a zoological topic that I've discussed before, the Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus, formerly known as Eumeces fasciatus). The unseasonably warm weather in northern Virginia over the past two weeks has brought the skinks out of hibernation at an abnormally early date. On Thursday, March 22, I saw Five-lined Skinks out and about at two localities, Huntley Meadows Park in Fairfax County, and the African American Heritage Park in Alexandria. (The skink pictured here was at Huntley Meadows.) This is a good month before I normally first observe their spring activity.

But due to the near-freezing temperatures predicted for Monday night, the skinks will have to go back to hiding under rocks and inside logs.

I sometimes wish that I could hide under rocks and inside logs.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Things That Are Stupid

I don't normally like to blog about anything even remotely serious. And I also don't normally like to blog about my alma mater, Yale University. But I am making an exception because of a story that gained a fair amount of traction on the internet a few weeks ago (I always come in late in my blogging), and which is way too stupid to be allowed to pass without comment.

The story in question appears in the Telegraph under the title "The Plot to Create Britain's Super Race". And in general it appears to have been accepted uncritically.

The Yale Herald's blog described the story as "very unsettling and creepy" and "disturbing stuff". (I used to write for the Yale Herald, but that was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.)

The story consists of two facts:

1. During World War II, members of the Yale faculty invited 125 children of Oxford faculty members to live in New Haven.

2. Many member of the Yale faculty at the time were interested in eugenics.

Supposedly these facts mean that there was a secret plot in place in which the Oxford children would return to England after the war and form the basis for a new, intellectually superior population. There is, however, absolutely no evidence presented to link Fact 1 and Fact 2, only wild speculation. Nor is there any indication of how 125 individuals could make any difference in the hereditary characteristics of a nation of millions of people. This entire idea of a secret eugenics plot is completely unsupported, yet it was published in a major British newspaper, and believed in its entirety at Yale, where people are supposed to be smart.

Maybe if someone had succeeded in creating a super race, those superbeings would have been able to understand how ridiculous this story is.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Oscars

For the first time in my life, I find myself caring about what happens at the Oscars. I want to see Moneyball and its cast win in every possible category, and particularly I want to see Jonah Hill win in his role as a character based on a guy with whom I went to school.

I am entirely unexcited about any of the other films of the year. For example, I'm not interested in the movie in which Glenn Close portrays Conan O'Brien.

But then, maybe I should be interested, because when I was in high school the college guidance counselor claimed that he was Glenn Close's uncle.

Yet the college guidance counselor was a little odd in the head, and said some pretty strange things, so in the end I don't know what to think.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Politics As Usual

There are many subjects about which I want to blog. Politics is not one of them. But when I saw news about the Iowa caucus, I could not help but be reminded of my long-standing wish that the Democratic Party had held a caucus in New Jersey in 1988, so that we could have seen the headline Dukakis Wins Secaucus Caucus.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Blogging Has Been Unbloggable

I haven't been able to blog in January, because between the second day of the month and the end of last week, my computer was crippled by problems with the display.

My first step was to go to the local Apple Store, where I was told that my six-year-old computer is considered "vintage", which means that it is so old that Apple doesn't stock parts for it anymore.

And so, if you were wondering who that guy was walking around Pentagon City Mall forlornly clutching a laptop from the Sumerian era, now you know.

But some good did come from my this event, because a man saw me holding my ancient iBook, and asked me if there was an Apple Store in the mall, and I could tell him that it was "one floor down and kind of over that way".

And indeed even more good came from this event, because, despite not being able to repair the computer, the people at the Apple Store correctly diagnosed the problem. I was thus able to overrule the technician at the non-Apple computer store who did not correctly diagnose the problem, and wanted me to spend $350 on a component that I didn't need.