Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The New Pink Floyd Album

I don't normally review music on this blog.  I am big music fan, but not a fan of reviews, because opinions about music are entirely subjective, and why is one subjective opinion any better or more useful than any other?  (And, perhaps more importantly, there isn't much music being released these days that I like.)  

I am making an exception, though, because Pink Floyd has released a new (and final) album, and Pink Floyd is one of my top three all-time favorite bands.  

The Endless River consists largely of tracks composed and recorded with late keyboardist Richard Wright during the sessions for their previous album, 1994's The Division Bell.  New material was added by guitarist David Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason. (In case you're not up on current events, I'll inform you that bassist Roger Waters has not been involved with the band since the early Eighties, with the exception of one brief reunion performance.)

The Endless River is not as good as classic Floyd from the Seventies, but it is a very good album. In places I find the music to evoke the sounds of Wish You Were Here and Meddle, as well as David Gilmour's first solo effort. But my biggest impression is that, being almost entirely instrumental, and largely ambient, the album doesn't so much sound like Pink Floyd as it does the ghost of Pink Floyd, haunting some abandoned London recording studio late at night.

And, beyond this, I can't help thinking that, in our current horrible world of Sam Smith, Meghan Trainor, Nicki Minaj, and Justin Bieber, The Endless River might just be the ghost of good music in general. 

In Reference to My Earlier Parks and Recreation Question . . .

In reference to my earlier Parks and Recreation question, the next/final season of the show will in fact be set in the year 2017, at least according to the ad for the new season that I've been seeing on NBC.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Five Questions About The Hunger Games

Since the premiere of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 a few weeks ago, I've developed some questions about the series.  (I could probably answer these questions by reading the books, or watching the movies, or just doing some internet searching, but I have no desire to read the books or watch the movies, and I am too lazy to do the internet searching.)

1. What is a mockingjay? Is it a mockingbird, or a blue jay (or some other kind of jay)?  Or is it some kind of bird that doesn't exist in our world, which would imply that the setting of The Hunger Games is an alternate universe which diverged from our own sometime after the evolution of anatomically modern Homo sapiens around 200,000 years ago, but still long enough ago to allow for the evolution of a novel species of songbird?

2. Why is everyone hungry? Since they live in an advanced technological society, shouldn't they know how to grow crops?  Did they lose the knowledge of how to plant corn?

3. Why is a brief period of gladiatorial combat between teenagers sufficient to distract an entire population from the fact that they're starving?

4. Why does everyone love Jennifer Lawrence so much?

5. What is a mockingjay? 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Year Is Suddenly Ending

It seems as if only a few weeks ago people were getting ready for Halloween, and stores were advertising candy and costumes and decorations.  And then suddenly it was Thanksgiving and now it is almost Christmas.  

I haven't done much blogging this year, even though I have a million topics about which to blog.  After spending most of my days at work, I don't have the energy, or the self-discipline, to write in my free time.

I'll be taking time off over the next few weeks, so maybe I can catch up on all my unblogged blogging.  

Or maybe I'll just end up sleeping and watching TV.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Stores Are Open on Thanksgiving

Today (or, more accurately, the day that just ended) was Thanksgiving.  The big trend in recent years has been for stores to open on Thanksgiving in order for people to start their holiday shopping. I'm not a fan of this trend, because people who are employed at the stores have to go into work, and I think that there should be at least a few days where as close as possible to everyone can just stay home and rest.  (I feel the same way about the longstanding tradition of people seeing movies on Christmas Day—other people have to give up their day off to run the theaters.)

I'm not even that big on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving on which people used to being holiday shopping.  I like the idea of people eating a lot on Thanksgiving, then sleeping through Black Friday entirely, waking up sometime Saturday or maybe Sunday.  

But then I like to sleep.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Candy for Breakfast

On Friday, one of the local radio stations, WASH-FM 97.1, started playing Christmas music.  I like Christmas music, but I really don't feel like listening to it before about the middle of December. (I know that I've addressed this issue before, either here or on the Wandering Army blog, but I'm too lazy to look it up.)

I've come up with some words of wisdom to best describe the situation: 

Listening to Christmas music in November is like eating candy for breakfast.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Trevor the Hobgoblin

As I noted in my last post, it is the Halloween season.  The Halloween season always makes me feel that something cool should happen, and of course it never does, and every year it prompts me to blog. (You can click on the Halloween tag at the bottom of this post to find my old Halloween entries.  Indeed, I should probably click on the Halloween tag to see what I've written in past years.)  

Among other things, Halloween make me wish for something scary—not Ebola-scary, but scary in a fun, fantastical way. Things like that don't happen in our limited world, but I like to think that, in a world of limitless possibilities, a hobgoblin named Trevor could show up at my door.  

It would go something like this:

Trevor: Hi, my name is Trevor, and I'll be your hobgoblin for the evening.

Me: Huh? What does that mean?

Trevor: Basically, I am a hobgoblin, and later on tonight I'll  be haunting you.  

Me: Really? So how is this going to work?

Trevor: I think that we'll be going with the standard package.  You'll enter the cemetery late at night in an attempt to uncover an ancient secret, then at some point I will surprise you and chase you out of the cemetery and across the darkened landscape, until you evade me by crossing a stream, taking advantage of the well-known fact that supernatural beings can't cross running water.  And it will all be over in time for you to be home safe in bed by midnight.

Me: Could we maybe have me home safe by 11:35?  I'd like to catch Kimmel's monologue.  

Trevor: Yes, we could arrange that, but you should keep in mind that Kimmel normally shows a rerun on Friday nights. 

Me: Yeah, that's true, but he said on his show Wednesday night that he'll be doing a new episode for Halloween.  

Trevor:  Well, okay then, that's good to know.

Me: So is that all there is to it?

Trevor: We could do the expanded package, which contains an ironic twist in which, as you try to make your escape from me by the crossing the stream, you're attacked by a swamp monster in a nearby mire.  That would require more time and effort, though, and I'll need eight hours advanced notice in order to schedule the swamp monster.  

Me: Okay, let's just stick with the regular package.

Trevor: Very well then, I look forward to seeing you tonight.

Me: Before you go, I have a question—if you can't cross running water, how were you able to get here today? Didn't you have to go over some streams?

Trevor: We have our ways, sir.  

And then Trevor would be on his way to prepare for the night's events.  And even though I would have thought about it, I wouldn't have asked him what the difference is between a goblin and a hobgoblin, because maybe that would be a sensitive subject which he wouldn't want to discuss.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Pumpkin-Spiced Latte

The Halloween season is here again, and this year it is being marked with endless humorous references in the popular culture to pumpkin-spiced latte.  I can't get in on this trend, because I don't drink coffee, and indeed it confuses me, with all its endless variants with names like latte, java, espresso, cappuccino, and frappuccino.  (Some of those things might not actually be coffee.  Some might not even be real. I don't know.)

The only time that I have ever been tempted to drink coffee was many years ago when I was walking by a Starbucks and saw a sign in the window saying that they were serving, for a limited time only, "Komodo Dragon Blend".  I am a huge fan of the Komodo Dragon, and for an instant I thought that I should order some Komodo Dragon Blend to find out how it was different from other coffee.  But then I remembered that I never drink coffee, and thus would have no idea how Komodo Dragon Blend compared to anything else.

Now I have told a non-entertaining story that is not relevant to the topic at hand, whatever that might be. But I felt that I should write something.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I, Carlius

I don't watch the Nickelodeon network, because I am not a kid, nor do I have kids.  And in general I have a hard time even keeping straight which shows have been on Nickelodeon, and which have been on the Disney channel (although, from what I can tell, child actors from Nickelodeon are less likely to develop serious drug problems than their peers from Disney).  

But unknown elements of the popular culture will sometimes float up into my view. An indeterminate amount of time ago, I saw a reference somewhere to the Nickelodeon show iCarly.  I was bored, and decided to research the show on Wikipedia.  I read about the premise (a comedy, that ran from 2007 to 2012, about teenagers who produce a popular webcast), and the characters, and the various seasons, and even the cross-over episode with the show Victorious, starring, among others, Ariana Grande, who sounds like something that one would order at Starbucks.

And then I had an even better idea for a cross-over episode—iCarly meets I, Claudius

I, Claudius (which I discussed earlier) is a classic BBC historical drama from the Seventies, dealing with ancient Rome and the ambitions, schemes, and outright madness of those who ruled it, or sought to. 

And when wholesome teen internet celebrities meet depraved, insane Roman emperors, you get fun for the whole family!  Well, maybe not for the whole family . . .  I, Claudius does contain material that is unsuitable for children.  Indeed, I, Claudius contains material that is unsuitable for adults.

Still, I can't help thinking that an iCarly and I, Claudius cross-over would be a landmark television event just as powerful and crazy as Emperor Caligula himself.  And maybe if we're lucky Patrick Stewart would reprise his role as Sejanus.  Of course, on the downside, there is the reasonable chance that some of the iCarly characters would end up decapitated and/or crucified.

The pitch meeting with a Nickelodeon executive would run something like this:

Me: Okay, I have a great idea.  All that you need to do is to put iCarly back into production, then make an extended cross-over episode utilizing the characters from the BBC show I, Claudius.

Nickelodeon Executive: Hey what what??

Me: It's a can't-miss concept.  Take one of your popular comedies, and combine it with a 1976 TV show based on a 1934 book about the early days of the Roman Empire.  It's what today's tweens are clamoring for.  

Nickelodeon Executive: I don't see that working out on a lot of different levels.

Me:  It would be ground-breaking television.  It would win all kinds of awards.  It would get raves from both twelve-year-olds and classical scholars. Of course, on the downside, there is the reasonable chance that some of the iCarly characters would end up decapitated and/or crucified.

Nickelodeon Executive: Did you just say "and/or" in casual conversation?

Me: Yes.

Nickelodeon Executive:  I just don't think that it would fit with our demographic.

Me: You've got to do it.  The kids will love it!  It'll be awesome!  It won't just be awesome.  It'll be . . . it'll be . . . supercalifragilistic!!

[long, awkward silence]

Me: What?

Nickelodeon Executive: That's Disney.

Me: Oh . . . um . . . sorry.

Nickelodeon Executive: Get out.

Friday, September 12, 2014

People Whom I Have Known Part IV: Gubernatorial Aspirations

("Gubernatorial" is a funny word.)

It is time to return to my series about people whom I encountered in my past who have gone on to some level of fame.  (See Part I, Part II, and Part III.)  Today's entry concerns Zephyr Teachout, a law professor who challenged Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary for the New York gubernatorial race.  She lost in her primary bid, but still collected an impressive 34% of the vote.  

Zephyr was in the class two years ahead of me when I was in college.  I didn't know her all that well, but I did frequently see her working at her job in the dining hall; most of my memories of her involve her serving "meatless baked ziti", which was the staff of life in the college's meal system at the time. 

And it is impossible to forget someone named "Zephyr Teachout".  I imagine, though, that there is no possibility of her remembering me. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Summer Has Slipped Away

Summer has slipped away again.  And I am writing about it again.  

At the end of November, I never feel like writing about how autumn has slipped away.  But summer exemplifies the two things that I hate most about being an adult.  One is that I don't get a summer vacation.  But the other, bigger thing is how fast time goes by.  When I was young, each summer lasted for an entire lifetime, a lifetime of heat and humidity and freedom and boredom and air conditioning and television.   Now it's May, and then there are a few weeks of warm weather, and then a few weeks of cool weather, and then it's January, and then a few weeks later it's May again.  Nothing seems to last.  It's like perpetually falling over a waterfall.  

But I can look on the bright side—since I've never managed to become famous, I don't have to worry about anyone nominating me to take the Ice Bucket Challenge. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Mystery Goose Update

On July 20, I saw the Old Town mystery goose again.  This time it was slightly upriver, in the water at Oronoco Bay Park.  

I also discovered that the mystery goose is on YouTube, in a video from last August that shows the goose in the same place as my most recent sighting.  

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Crash Bandicoot's Eponymous Ancestor

I am interested in cases in which organisms, and particularly extinct organisms, are given non-typical scientific names.  Mostly I concentrate on prehistoric animals named after rock stars (and I have a few of those still to blog about).  But today it came to my attention that paleontologists have named an extinct bandicoot from the Miocene of Australia after the video game character Crash Bandicoot, under the binomial Crash bandicoot—yes, that's right, genus Crash, species bandicoot.  (For the record, I have never played that game, as it came out at a point in my life when I had mostly stopped playing video games.)

What is really surprising to me is not that an extinct animal was named after a video game character, but that the name was used in an entirely unaltered form. Normally when scientists name a species after someone or something from pop culture, they make some effort to Latinize . . . or, um . . . Greekify the name.  For example, a pterosaur from China was recently named in honor of the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but the name was rendered using Greek roots as Kryptodrakon

And thus we are left with the irony that Crash Bandicoot himself is not a Crash bandicoot, but (according to his Wikipedia page) an Eastern Barred Bandicoot (Perameles gunnii).

I will note that, if I wanted to, I could update the Crash Bandicoot Wikipedia page, which as of today does not reflect that a prehistoric species has been named after the character, but I just don't have the energy.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Mystery Goose of Old Town

On Saturday I saw a goose that I couldn't identify among the Mallards and Canada Geese in the Potomac River at Founders Park in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia.  I got a few pictures, including the one above. 

I later consulted my Peterson guide and found that the bird resembles a Greater White-Fronted Goose (Anser albifrons). This was unexpected (although not as unexpected as the announcement that Pink Floyd will be releasing a new album in October), since the Greater White-Fronted Goose is not a resident of the mid-Atlantic states; it spends its summers in Canada and its winters in the Gulf of Mexico region.

I did some checking on the internet, and found that this individual bird has been seen in the area last year (pictures here, discussion here and here).  The speculation is that the mystery goose is not  a pure Greater White-Fronted Goose, but a hybrid with some other species.  If if is a hybrid, it doesn't show much physical input from the other species, having just about all the characteristics of a Greater White-Fronted Goose with the exception of the white line on the sides (which doesn't occur in juveniles).

(I sometimes think about starting a separate blog to document my wildlife observations here in Alexandria, but since I don't even have the energy to update Scaly Distractions more than twice a month, I don't know if I should be undertaking any new blogging projects.)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Mosquito Hopes and Theories Are Dashed

The Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus) is an introduced species of day-biting mosquito which has been making summers unbearable in parts of the Washington area for the last fifteen years or so.  The adults die off during the winter in temperate climates; populations survive via eggs.  

   Much of the country experienced an abnormally cold winter in 2014, which, I thought, might have had an effect on this obnoxious species. A recent study discovered that Aedes albopictus eggs will suffer 100% mortality after being exposed to temperature of 10° F (-12° C) for four hours, or 5° F (-15° C) for one hour.  On January 7, the low temperature at Reagan National Airport was 6° F; on this day the temperature may possibly have met the condition of four hours at 10° F or lower.  For most of the spring I held out hope that the cold might have locally eliminated the Asian Tiger Mosquito (until it could recolonize from warmer areas, which one hopes would take a few years).

   But then on May 21, I received the first Asian Tiger Mosquito bite of the year.  Asian Tiger Mosquitoes are still here, bringing another summer of misery.  I assume that ultimately it was a problem of microclimate. Members of the species lay their eggs in holes in trees and other cavities where rainwater accumulates.  These cavities presumably created sheltered environments in which the temperature was significantly warmer than that of the surrounding air.  

Friday, June 13, 2014

Presidential Longevity

Former President George H. W. Bush marked his 90th birthday yesterday by skydiving from a helicopter.  This sort of longevity is seemingly universal among chief executives from the last few decades.  Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford both lived to be 93, and Jimmy Carter is still alive and active at 89.

I have read (although I don't have any relevant links) that modern presidential campaigns are so strenuous that only the most healthy candidates can endure them.  It seems reasonable that such a process would select a group of Presidents healthy enough to generally live abnormally long lives.

Presidents from before about forty years ago did not tend to reach such advanced ages, however.  Richard Nixon lived to 81, Dwight Eisenhower died at 78, and Lyndon Johnson only made it to 64.

Was  this because health care at the time was less advanced, or were campaigns in that era less grueling, and thus less likely to select Presidents with the potential to live to 90? 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

It's Time to Blog Again

It's time to blog again, just to keep up my minimum of one post per month.  Unfortunately, I haven't had time yet to move my blog notes from my old computer, which, after refusing to turn on for weeks, suddenly started working again when I took it in to be repaired.  

Maybe I can do some better blogging tomorrow.  

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I Blog Again About Television Because That's All That I Can Do

 I always seem to end up blogging about television shows or some other shallow element of entertainment culture.  And I'm going to do it again.  Unfortunately blogging about anything more substantial requires too much research, and I generally don't have the energy.  And it doesn't help that my old computer, which had all my notes for future blog posts (and lots of other stuff) on it, stopped working a few weeks ago, and I haven't had the chance to see if I can get it repaired.  

Two things are weighing on my mind concerning television.

The first is last week's Parks and Recreation season finale, at the end of which the show jumped three years into the future, and possibly jumped the shark as well.  Does this mean that next season will be set in 2017, or that all the past seasons have been set three years prior to their broadcast dates without us knowing it?

The second is Craig Ferguson announcing that he will be leaving his late night show at the end of the year.  I'm sure that Craig Ferguson will appear in other venues in future years.  But I can't imagine that we'll have any opportunity to see Geoff Peterson again.  And that is what is truly sad.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Later Late Night

Late Night with Seth Meyers has been on for a few weeks now, and I can't say that I like it.  (I addressed the show in an earlier post, in which I erroneously said that it would be airing at 11:35 pm, rather than 12:35 am, but I never felt like making the effort to correct the mistake.)  

One of my first thoughts upon viewing the show was that watching it is like eating an ice cube made of Windex. Upon further reflection, that impression may have been entirely visually-based, as backlit blue rectangles are a prominent element of the set.  

Still, I can't say that I like it.  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Snow Thoughts

As I noted in my last post, I love snow.  The Washington area got some snow yesterday, even though it's March, and it's time to let the snow go, and yield the world to the frogs and the flowers.  The predicted accumulation was 6 to 10 inches, but where I am there was only 4 1/2 inches.  As I have probably written before, over the course of a life spent mostly in northern Virginia, I have seen countless days when there was less snow than predicted, but I can't recall a single snowfall that was bigger than predicted.  

A few weeks ago, I went into the District on a Saturday afternoon on the Metro.  It was supposed to snow that afternoon, but there was no snow.  I could only think how much better it would have been if it had been snowing.  

Since then, I have been thinking how fun it would be to have to make my way home from DC at the beginning of a huge snowstorm, a storm that would shut the city down for days. At my journey's start, there would already be six inches of snow on the ground, with another foot of snow expected over the next 24 hours.  I would catch the last Metro train out to the suburbs, just before the Metro shut down completely, then walk home through deserted streets, with snowfall so thick that I could barely see where I was going.  It would be a really awesome adventure, and afterwards it would feel really good to relax and have a nice snack.  

(Some of the same sentiments may have shown up in my Christmas story from last year.)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


I love snow.  And I don't particularly mind cold weather, as long as I'm experiencing it in the later part of the day.  But I hate having to get up early in cold weather to go to work.  I'm pretty miserable any time that I have to get up before noon. Getting up when it's before noon and below freezing is almost intolerable to me. That is why I sometimes think that it would be nice if humans were to hibernate through the winter.  

In my plan, the natural period of human hibernation would be December, January, and February.  We would, however, force ourselves to stay awake through December, so as not to miss the holidays.  We would continue to work for the first three weeks of December, then close down business for the year, and relax and enjoy Christmas.  And we would celebrate New Year's Eve as normal.  But instead of getting up on January 1, we would stay in bed until some time at the end of February or the beginning of March.  

As I said at the beginning of the post, though, I do love snow.  Here is the one problem with my hibernation plan—we would miss out on the snows of January and February. And so perhaps we would not sleep solidly for two months, but instead wake up enough to sit drowsily by the window and enjoy the beauty of the falling flakes.  

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Two Score and Ten Years Ago Today

Today has seen a lot of commemoration of the first appearance of the Beatles on American television.  In watching footage from the occasion, one is reminded that the band, particularly in their early days, was in some ways what we would today call a "boy band"—young men whose popularity depends not on the music that they play, but rather on the fact that they are found attractive by hordes of irrational, screaming teen-aged girls.   

John, Paul, George, and Ringo were, of course, much more than a boy band.  But understanding this aspect of their appeal helps to explain why there will never be, and indeed can never be, another rock band as big as the Beatles.  The Beatles came along at a time when rock music had not yet diversified into myriad genres and sub-genres, and so the Beatles could be all things to everyone. They were One Direction, and Metallica, and Sigur Ros, and Vampire Weekend, all at the same time.  No band today could be regarded as both a boy band and a serious rock band, let alone simultaneously satisfy the fans of pop rock, hard rock, art rock, blues rock, and all the rest.  

(As I wrote this, I noticed that the spell-check function on my computer was flagging the word "Beatles".)

Friday, January 31, 2014

Running out of January

It seems that we are rapidly running out of January.  As always, I have an endless amount of ideas for things about which to blog, but no energy to do the actual blogging. 

But I also wanted to post at least one entry per month. And so I am putting up this entry, even though it really isn't about anything.  

I only hope that I don't do this again on the last day of February.