Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Is Here

Christmas is here.  But it seems like just yesterday that Halloween was here.

In fact, it seems like just yesterday when it was September and I was back on the Patapsco River.  

That's the way that the last three months of the year are.  They throw up milestones at the end of each month.  First you're getting ready for Halloween, then suddenly Halloween is over and it's almost Thanksgiving, then suddenly Thanksgiving is over and it's almost Christmas.  It really makes one feel how quickly time passes.  

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Evening Sky

Here's a picture of the sky from last weekend.  

It's easy to go out at sundown and take pictures of the sky looking like a painting.   I could probably fill up the blog with pictures like that.  But that would be boring.

(Click to enlarge.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

My Star Wars Worries (or, Star Worries)

The new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, will be opening on Friday.  I don't plan to see it until the end of December, and I will do my best to avoid reviews until then.  But I'm going to go ahead and express my worries.  

I come from the generation whose younger years were essentially defined by the original trilogy–the movies, and, maybe even more importantly, the associated toys, provided the common mythology of our childhoods.  And it was my generation whose entrance into adulthood was greeted by the prequel trilogy.

The prequels clearly weren't as good as the original trilogy.  But I still enjoyed them.  I remember walking out of The Phantom Menace and feeling the old feeling of wanting my own lightsaber, wanting to swing it as I sneaked around the dark corners of a space station, and hear the vroop vroop sound that it made as it cut through the air.  

At the time of the prequels, the general feeling was mixed—that there were some good parts, and some parts that weren't good.  But in the ensuing years, popular sentiment was evolved such that now the only socially acceptable opinion on the prequels is the following three statements:

1. "The Star Wars prequels were the worst movies ever made."

and therefore

2. "They ruined my life."

and therefore
3. "George Lucas must be killed."

(And, I would note, the omnipresence of these sentiments has pretty much destroyed what enjoyment I did get out of the prequels.)

I doubt that the new movie will generate the ill will that the prequels did.  I'm sure that J. J. Abrams knows which buttons to push, as well as which buttons not to push (such as the Jar Jar button), to get the desired audience reaction.  But at the same time, I can't help thinking that the new movie might come across as a transparent copy of the original trilogy.  

The comparison that comes to mind: The prequels were like what would have happened if the Beatles had gotten back together in the late Seventies and made some albums that nobody liked.  The Force Awakens is like what would happen if somebody were to hire professional songwriters to write an album in the style of Sixties Beatles, and then get America's best Beatles cover band to record the album.  

And so, ultimately, I worry that with the new movie, the situation will be the reverse of what happened with the sequelseveryone else will love it unreservedly, and I will be left feeling that maybe it wasn't quite satisfying.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


When I was young, there was fog.  I remember going into school in the morning when the fog was so thick that I couldn't even see the athletic fields from the front of the school.  But after that I went years without seeing any fog.  I wondered if there hadn't been any fog during my adult life, or if it was a matter of fog being limited to the early morning, and my not getting up early enough any more.  

I did see some fog one morning a few weeks ago.  And there has been a lot of fog in the weather forecast recently, including predictions of "zero visibility" for some areas. I have never been in conditions of zero visibility, but I would like to be.  I imagine, though, that zero visibility can be simulated by standing very close to a wall, and staring directly at the wall.  

I also like to imagine fog so deep and thick and enduring that the government announces that the only way to deal with it is stay inside and sleep for days on end. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Bird and Turtle

These images are from April of this year.  They are details from larger pictures, and they are not well-focused.  They are, however, interesting for what they show, a Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) perched atop a Red-bellied Turtle (Pseudemys rubriventris) on a log in the Potomac River.  (The Red-bellied Turtle is endangered in Massachusetts, but it is fairly common in the Washington area.) 

I imagine that the bird had no idea that it was standing on a turtle , and the turtle had no idea that it was being stood upon by a bird.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Woodrow Walk

Here are some pictures that I took when I walked across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge on the day after Thanksgiving in 2014.  (As always, click to enlarge.)

It's hard to believe that it's been a year since I did this. It feels like only a few months.  

And now Woodrow Wilson is in trouble for his racism.  

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Is Here

Don't be scared.

It's only Kevin.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Creepy Dead Snake

Here is a creepy dead snake that I found in May; I believe that it is an Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

We Can Do Better Than the Bunnyman

Now is the Halloween season, when we are inclined to consider the tales that bring fear.  Here in Northern Virginia, we have only one horror-related urban legend—the Bunnyman, a guy in a rabbit costume who assaults people with an axe at a railroad bridge in southwestern Fairfax County.  (And I doubt how widespread the legend really is. I grew up in this area, and only heard about the Bunnyman sometime in the last ten years via the internet.)

In my opinion, this Bunnyman, or really any bunnyman, is too silly to be scary.  Northern Virginia needs something better.  Can't we find a ghost, or a werewolf, or a zombie, or some sort of giant evil bird, or a possessed lawn mower, or even a big creeping mound of peat moss with strangely human-like intelligence?

If anyone out there is attacked by the Bunnyman, I hope that he at least has the decency to sing you some Eighties alternative before chopping you with his axe.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Halloween Gets Real

The Halloween season is coming, or perhaps it has been here for a few weeks.  As my friend Brian recently said, Halloween has taken over the whole of October, just as Christmas controls the whole of December.  And I can't help noticing that a Spirit Halloween store has been operating in the site of a closed Office Depot in the local shopping center since late August.  

I have blogged much blogging about Halloween over the years.  (Just click the Halloween tag below to read the old posts, and analyze them for inconsistencies.)  Halloween fascinates me because it's the time when we pretend that our monstrous fantasies could be real.  But mostly Halloween for me has been an abstraction. No one ever invites me to any Halloween parties, and I am probably too old to go trick-or-treating (based on the fact that if I want candy, I can drive to the store and buy some.)  That changed last year, when my place of employment held an event in which we were invited to come to work in costume.  I went with my Spock costume from 2001—pointy rubber ears, a blue pullover sweater, and a Starfleet insignia that I made by cutting out a piece of cardboard and painting it gold.

Now I am starting to worry about what to do this year.  Should I be Spock again, or try something else?  I want something simple, because it's just a work event and there's no cash prize for best costume. Possibly the simplest costume would be Han Solo, because it requires only a white shirt, black pants, and a black vest.  But I don't think that I could carry it off.  Han Solo is a charismatic figure, and I don't have that kind of charisma, or really any charisma at all. 

Another simple option would be to dress like Harry Potter, because, well, I kind of look like Harry Potter already.  But I've never read any Harry Potter books or seen any Harry Potter movies, and generally have no knowledge of Harry Potter.  And someone would say to me, "Are you ready to stop Wingledorf from stealing the magic Thumblewump?"

And I'd just say, "Whaaaa . . . ?"

Or maybe I could try a noncommittal and apathetic costume, in which I wear a really long scarf, and tell people that maybe I'm Harry Potter, or maybe I'm the fourth Doctor Who.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

An Observation on Tectonics

Tectonics, or, as it is also known, structural geology, is the study of the movements of large rock masses.  I have noticed an odd coincidence in which the words for most of the concepts used in tectonics begin with either the letter S or the letter F.  

Or, to put it most succinctly:

Structure is shear, strain, stress, and strength in faults, folds, fractures, and foliations.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


The inside of the Currituck Beach Light, a lighthouse in Corolla, North Carolina, as seen from the bottom.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Political Questions

I don't blog about politics.  I think about politics a lot.  I read about politics.  But, the older that I get, the more I think that there is no point in discussing politics with anyone else, because most people aren't open to reconsidering their political positions, and the only thing that I would accomplish would be to get other people mad at me, or maybe to get me mad at other people.  Yet I worry that people will think that I'm shallow because I don't blog about politics, as political interest is seen as the mark of intellect, especially here in the Washington area, where people eat, drink, and smoke politics.  

Today, though, I am making an exception; I have decided that, in honor of the 2016 presidential contest (which has been going on for maybe three years now, and will probably continue until at least 2019), I will share some of the deeper questions that I am contemplating regarding today's political landscape:

  *Did Carly Fiorina sing "Call Me Maybe"?

  *Am I correct in my impression that Bernie Sanders is Doc Brown from Back to the Future, and in order for his policies to work we would all have to drive at exactly 88.8 miles per hour?

  *What is the difference between Rand Paul and Paul Ryan?  Is there some simple mnemonic that I could use remember that difference?

  *Never mind Hillary Clinton's e-mail problems . . . how was Bill Clinton able to avoid being caught up in the Ashley Madison hack?

Monday, August 31, 2015

Blurred Mushrooms for August

I have a lot of things about which I've been wanting to blog, but as often happens I haven't had the time or the energy or the self-discipline to do so. 

Here's a blurred picture of some mushrooms.  

Friday, July 31, 2015

Better Than Nothing (A Post for July)

    And in music news, number one on the college charts this summer was Better Than Ezra. And at number two: Ezra.   —Norm MacDonald

Is the George Ezra who sings "Budapest" the same Ezra that Better Than Ezra is better than?

I would tend to doubt it, since Ezra was born five years after the band Better Than Ezra was founded.  

Still, I have to wonder.   

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Some Turtles for June

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

Sunday, May 31, 2015

My Cardinal Prediction Comes True

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Yoda Best

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Questioning the Nerd Prom

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

In Honor of Pi Day: Deriving Pi from a Pie

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

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

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

2. Measure the diameter of the pie. 

3. Divide the circumference by the diameter.  

Thus you will have derived pi from a pie.  

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

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

What would Masiakasaurus knopfleri think?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

I Am Envious of New England

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

In the News: Slash Is a Big Fan of the Tuatara

  Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise, but Slash is a big fan of the tuatara. And I don't mean the band of that name, but the actual rhynchocephalian reptile:
    If your name is Hendrix and you're a Hamilton-dwelling tuatara, a rock and roll legend would like to meet you.
    Slash, the former lead guitarist with 1980s/90s band Guns N' Roses, said he'd like to meet the city's resident tuatara when he's in town next month for his Claudelands show, alongside his band Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators.