Saturday, December 30, 2017

Christmas Music Contradiction

Christmas itself is passed, but I think that by most people’s accounting, we are still in the Christmas season (although Christmas music is no longer being played on the radio).

One popular modern Christmas song is “Please Come Home for Christmas”, the first version of which was sung by Charles Brown in 1960.  It has since been recorded by musicians ranging from Willie Nelson to Kelly Clarkson, but the most famous version, which I hear every year, was released in 1978 by the Eagles.  

  There is a huge internal contradiction in the lyrics that bothers me every time that I hear it.  

Starting with the first four lines of the song, we have:

  Bells will be ringing this sad sad news
  Oh what a Christmas to have the blues
  My baby’s gone I have no friends
  To wish me greetings once again

Then we get to lines ten and eleven:

  Friends and relations send salutations 
  Sure as the stars shine above

  But how can friends send salutations to the narrator of the song if, as we learned in the third line, HE HAS NO FRIENDS??!?

Saturday, December 23, 2017

And Soon It Will Be Christmas

It will be Christmas again soon, when I like to think that everyone can just fall down into the holiday and rest.  

I need a Christmas picture, but the best that I could find was the above.  It shows some pyracantha berries.  Is that Christmassy? It would be better if they were holly berries, but I couldn’t find any holly berries to photograph.  

Let’s all pretend that they’re holly berries.

And, if you have any spare time, read (or re-read) my classic Christmas post from 2012.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Dramatic Sky Pictures

Is it too soon for more dramatic sky pictures? 

Over the years I have taken many pictures like this, particularly in the area of Alexandria along Holmes Run between Duke Street and Eisenhower Avenue, which has very few buildings that block the view of the sky.  

The camera made these three scenes darker and more orange than they were in real life.  

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Feeling Crabby

It might not be the Thanksgiving feast for which you are looking, but my friend Mike sends along a link to a news story with a video of a Coconut Crab killing a Red-footed Booby for dinner.  

Actually this video is creepy enough that it might have been good for Halloween, especially considering the associated story that crabs of this same species may have eaten Amelia Earhart.  

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Trying To Find Something Scary for Halloween

It’s Halloween, when zombies run amuck, or whatever.  Well, really, it’s not zombies, it’s mostly little kids, and they’re usually carefully supervised by parents rather than running amuck.  

On my old computer I had a drawing program that I used for Halloween graphics, like the Scary Pumpkinhead Dude.  But with my current computer all that I have is my photographs.  

I suppose that I should try to find something scary for Halloween. 

Let’s see . . . scary . . . scary . . . scary . . . 

The best that I could find was this picture from a few years back.  It’s taken at a cemetery, but really it’s not so much scary as it is just a wistful autumn sunset that reminds us of the lost days  of our youth, when time passed slowly, and our lives stood waiting before us, ripe and full of promise.  

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Osteology of Decorative Plastic Halloween Skeletons, Part 4: The, Um, Spider

For our final installment, we have the Halloween spider skeleton, available for $20.99 from Target.  

I don’t know if I even need to say this, but . . . SPIDERS ARE INVERTEBRATES!!!  THEY DON”T HAVE SKELETONS!!!!! 

My series is at an end.  And, as I said earlier, maybe it is wrong for me to provide osteological criticism of plastic Halloween skeletons.  And maybe that is why I don’t getting invited to Halloween parties.  Or maybe it is because none of my friends ever have Halloween parties.  

In any event, I feel better.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Osteology of Decorative Plastic Halloween Skeletons, Part 3: Assorted Mammals

Next in our series, we have what first inspired me to write the series.

There is the cat skeleton, available for for $25.59 at Amazon (and eligible for Amazon Prime).  

There is the dog skeleton, available for $15 from Target.

And there is even the rat skeleton, available for $8.99 from Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores.  

And there are many more examples of plastic skeletons for each of these mammals, and I could probably find other types of mammals with the same problem if I looked.  

In case you haven’t noticed, I will point out that all of these skeletal animals have external ears. And the external ears are shown as bony elements projecting from the skull.  External ears are cartilaginous.  They are not part of the bony structure of the skull.  

(Perhaps the designers think that the skeletons would be unidentifiable to the general public without an appropriate set of ears.  Years ago I volunteered at a museum that had a horse skeleton mounted in the center of the main exhibit area.  Visitors frequently assumed that it was a dinosaur.) 

I guess that I should be glad that external ears aren’t added to human Halloween skeletons (as far as I’ve seen).  

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Osteology of Decorative Plastic Halloween Skeletons, Part 2: The Raven

Moving on to living species, but staying in the theropods, we come to the subject of our second installment, a (supposed) raven skeleton, available for $7.99 at Party City (and elsewhere). 

Noticeably weird is the fact that the ribcage is completely open in front, with no sternum to connect the ribs.  

But, even more weirdly, whoever designed this skeleton seems to have been under the impression that birds have bones in their feathers.  In the areas corresponding to the flight feathers of the wings and tail, there are elongate rows of bones similar in appearance to the fingers that support a bat’s membranous wings.  (Birds do have remnant finger bones in their wings, but they very small and do not parallel the flight feathers.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Osteology of Decorative Plastic Halloween Skeletons, Part 1: The Home Depot Tyrannosaurus

We are deep into October, and the Halloween craziness has begun.  Perhaps you do not like the Halloween craziness, but consider this—the Halloween craziness may be the only thing that prevents the Christmas craziness from starting in September.  I am fascinated by the Halloween craziness, because I remember the time before Halloween consumed the entirety of October.  One topic that I find particularly interesting is the wild profusion of yard decorations now available. (During my childhood, it was a jack-o’lantern or nothing.)

One type of yard decoration that I seem to be seeing more and more is the plastic animal skeleton.  A variety of animals are represented, but in all cases something in wrong with the morphology of the skeleton on a very basic level.  Thus I am beginning a multi-part series of blog posts that will examine decorative plastic Halloween skeletons from a zoological/paleontological, and, more specifically, osteological perspective.   

Maybe it is wrong for me to scientifically critique Halloween decorations.  Maybe I should put aside my criticisms and blind myself to everything but the fun of the season.  But I can’t help it.  Errors bother me.  (I am someone who is annoyed when people describe food as “healthy” rather than “healthful”.)

The subject of our first installment is a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton (with LED illuminated eyes) available for $299 from Home Depot.

There are a lot of inaccuracies here, including the head being too large for the body, the almost-nonexistent pelvic bones, and, well, the LED illuminated eyes.  But what really gets to me is that the forelimbs have three digits.  As anyone with a basic knowledge of dinosaurs knows, having only two fingers per hand is a defining characteristic of the tyrannosaurs.  

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Fungus

Here is something that I encountered a while ago.  I’m not wholly certain what it is, but it looks like some kind of fungus.  The wine color looks nice in contrast to the green of the lichens on the dead tree limb on which the fungus was growing.  

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Reflections on an Egret

Here is a Great Egret (Ardea alba) (and its reflection) from the Potomac River a few weeks ago, when there were egrets all over the place.  There were also lots of Ospreys (the bird, not the plane, though I have seen some of those too recently).  

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Wings of the Dragonfly

A great many years ago I read an article about scientists studying dragonflies.  The method for identifying a dragonfly in the field was to shoot the dragonfly with a shotgun shell filled with dirt.  The body would be damaged, but usually enough of the wings would remain intact to determine the species.  (The patterns of veins in insect wings are a key factor in establishing and identifying insect taxa; in fact, wing veins can be preserved in fossil insects, and used in the naming of species from millions of years ago.)

I’m not up on the state of the art in dragonfly research, but I have to wonder if the shotgunning is still necessary now that we have digital photography.  Even with my amateur-level camera, I can get pictures of perching dragonflies that clearly show the details of wing venation. 

Here are some from the last few years:

Monday, July 31, 2017

November Sunset for July

Just to make sure that I have a post for July, here is a picture of a peach sunset.  It is from last November.  

Note the airplane above and to the right of the solitary grey cloud.

(As always, click to enlarge.)

Friday, June 30, 2017

DePauw, DePaul

I recently learned that there is a college called DePauw University.

All these years I had thought that people were just mispronouncing DePaul University.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lights for May

I’m almost always too busy or too tired to blog, but I try to have at least one post per month.  I’m putting up this picture to give me something for May.  It’s one of the results of my failed attempt to photograph the Pink Moon.  

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Virginia Cactus

In my recent internet browsing, I happened upon an odd fact of botany—there is a cactus which is native to eastern North America, the Eastern Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa).  It occurs across the eastern half of the United States, and even in a few locations in southern Ontario.  

It turns out that I saw, and photographed, some of these cacti during my vacation in Virginia Beach a few years ago.

Here are some prickly pears interspersed with other vegetation, near the beach.

Here is an isolated example from First Landing State Park.

I had previously thought that the cacti which I saw in coastal regions were exotics which had been introduced by humans, and then thrived in the sandy, desert-like beach conditions, in much the same way as the Texas Horned Lizard.

In fact, according to this site, the Eastern Prickly Pear is native to Fairfax and Prince William Counties (although I can’t think of any possible location in Fairfax or Prince William County that would be suitable cactus habitat). 

(Well really that site says that the Eastern Prickly Pear is “naive” to Fairfax and Prince William Counties, but I assume that they meant “native”.) 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pink Moon

I happened upon some news reports today that tonight is the night of the Pink Moon.

This is nothing particularly unusual, or particularly pink, it’s just the name given every year to the full moon that occurs in April.

(Earlier tonight the moon had an eerie mustard color, probably as a result of intervening cloud cover, but I couldn’t convince my camera to focus for a picture.)

If nothing else, it is a good night to take a drive in your Volkswagen Cabriolet

Friday, March 31, 2017

Rough, Tough, Chough

There are a few words in the English language in which the letter combination GH is pronounced as F.

These include rough, tough, enough, and Julianne Hough.

Given how rare such words are, I thought that I knew them all, and was surprised in the last few days to learn a “new” word in which this linguistic oddity occurs: chough.  

The name chough is applied to two Eurasian bird species in the family Corvidae; they are generally crow-like in appearance, but have orange or yellow beaks.  The name is also applied to an Australian bird in a different family, Corcoracidae.

Therefore this example of a linguistic rarity is entirely unknown to English speakers in North America, but (presumably) well-known to English speakers in the British Isles and Australia.  

Incidentally, this GH-as-F phenomenon reminds me of something that happened to me in second grade: I was reading one of the later books in the Wizard of Oz series.  I understood every word in the book, except one: laughter.  I thought that it was pronounced “lawter” (which would rhyme with slaughter, although I’m not sure if I knew that word either).  For the entire book, I couldn’t figure out what “lawter” was, but I was able to deduce from the context that “lawter” occurred in mirthful situations.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

I Don’t Know What Happened Here

I was trying to take a picture, probably of a herd of deer, and something went wrong.

It does look kind of cool, though.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

First Post of the Year

I wanted to do one more post for 2016 on New Year’s Eve, but then I forgot.  Then I was going to post on New Year’s Day, but forgot that too. 

Here it finally is.  I didn’t feel like writing anything, so it’s a picture of some lotus leaves at night, taken on the same occasion as pictures in a previous post.