Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bird Days on the Shellpot Creek

Every so often it seems that a large number of birds and a large variety of birds visits the bird feeders in the backyard near the creek all at once. I try to take pictures and identify them, but I am not very good at being fast enough, or steady enough and the camera is not all that great.
I saw but did not get a picture of a Red-bellied Woodpecker. The description is funny in that it says that rarely can you ever see the red-belly, and the most obvious markings are a red head and black wings with spots. I wonder who named it? I saw a juvenile fly through and peck at some trees. The young do not have as red a head, more brownish. After that an adult came through and you could not mistake it for anything other than a woodpecker. I have been seeing and hearing these birds all summer, yet I have not been lucky enough to get even a bad picture.

I saw and documented with a blurry picture my first blue jay of the season by the creek in the backyard. I see blue jays all the time, just not in my own private bird sanctuary.

We have a lot of cardinals (Northern Cardinal) that feed at the feeder and at the seed that falls on the ground. The males are the showy red ones, while the females are more brown and drab, but you can't miss the orange seed breaking beak. Often the males chase each other and solitary males are often following or being followed by several females.

There is a little blue bird that often runs up and down the side so of the trees, sometimes upside down. I figured that it was an insect eater of some sort and after hunting through the bird books have decided it is a White-Breasted Nuthatch. The photos, blurred by its movement, seem to support that identification, as does the description of its behavior.

White-Breasted Nuthatch moving up the tree

Travelling sideways

Hopped to another tree.

The book I am using lately to identify these birds is the Smithsonian Birds of North America by Fred J. Alsop III, but I do also like the Peterson's guide to Eastern Birds and for a closeup of Delaware I use Birds of Delaware by Gene K. Hess, Richard L. West, Maurice V. Barnhill III, Lorraine M. Fleming which doesn't have photos, only hand drawings, but is a comprehensive list of birds and even data on number of sightings, nests and locations. For me it is important not only that the picture match, but that the bird has been seen in my area at the correct time of year and that the behavior matches. Still it is nice to try to get a picture.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Dolphin Jumps and Science Fiction

While at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore on Sunday we made the required pilgrimage to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. I insisted on seeing the Dolphin Show. The bottle-nose dolphins (Tursiops Truncatus) performed a great many fun tricks.

Here is Maya or Spirit in mid-jump busking for its fish supper. The show interspersed the tricks with video of the training and lessons on the dolphins. These dolphins were born at the aquarium, I suppose it is kind of like having pets.

Seeing dolphins always reminds of my favorite science fiction references to dolphins.

In the short story collection "The Last Man on Earth", Damon Knight's short story "Second Class Citizen", tells the story of a marine biologist who is attempting to teach dolphins how to speak and is pretty successful at it, but has misgivings about dolphins fitting into human society. The twist in the story occurs when the world gos to war and drops bombs that heat the air up to an unlivable degree so he escapes to the ocean to avoid the heat and his dolphin friends teach him to fish. Thus the tables are obviously turned and he must live like a dolphin.

A short story "A Deeper Sea" by Alexander Jablokov in "The Year's Best Science Fiction: Seventh Annual Collection" is about a man who figures out that the ancient Greeks taught dolphins to speak. It turns out that all of the cetaceans are much smarter than people gave them credit for. He uses sound imagery of underwater earthquakes and eruptions to torture the dolphins into revealing the secret that they can speak. They speak Attic Greek. It turns out that the dolphins, whales and orcas are foul mouthed and unpleasant. This story was expanded into a novel with the same title. (review fifth paragraph down)

The most famous dolphins in science fiction have to be the dolphin crew of the Streaker in David Brin's novel Startide Rising. This novel is part of Brin's Uplift Universe in which humans finally encounter a thriving billions of years old intergalactic society of aliens in which advanced races uplift unintelligent ones to sentience. The only reason the humans, a wolfling race because they appear to have not had an uplift patron, are not immediately given to an elder race to uplift is because we had already started uplifting dolphins and chimpanzees ourselves, proving our sentience. The dolphin and human crew of the Streaker discover some unpleasant secrets about galactic society and must hide from the consequences of their activities. I wholly recommend the entire Uplift saga, these are fantastic books.

Are there other famous science fiction stories with dolphin main characters that should be added to this list? Please comment.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Arbitrary Roman Empire based length milestone 3000

Yesterday I reached 3000 miles in the Prius. I still enjoy it and I am still getting around 45mpg. The tank is only 10 gallons or so but it is still a kicker when you put $40 of gas in at one shot. At least I don't do it as often.

Does anyone out there know if I get even more benefit than just high gas mileage due to the fact that the gas engine on the prius shuts down while I am stopped in traffic or at stop lights?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Body Plastination sensation

We visited the Body Worlds 2 exhibit at the Maryland Science Center when we were in Baltimore on Saturday. The exhibit is made up of many bodies and body parts that have been subjected to plastination, a process that leaves the bodies looking very realistic but preserved. This one focused on the brain as an underlying theme, but explored all parts of the body and plastinated corpses in various poses.

I snuck a picture even though there were signs saying no photography permitted. The had scared people so much in the exhibit that even the other patrons were warning me I could lose my camera. I must have missed a more full speech about camera confiscation at the entrance.

I should have taken a picture of the look of horror combined with fascination that was on our faces during the tour of the entire exhibit. It was very interesting to see the body parts and the exploded anatomical displays. Many of the veins, arteries and nerves were colored differently for easier understanding, some bodies had the skin left on in strips to be artistic, but you couldn't forget that these used to be people, and I am not a big autopsy, dissection or corpse fan myself.

The room showing the stages of human development in the womb was especially interesting even as it was vaguely unsettling. Even though I had seen pictures in books it is amazing when you see the real thing and how tiny a fetus is in the early stages, yet it has all of the features of a baby at the small size. Some of these displays were soft tissue in formalin some were pregnant woman who had died while pregnant (apparently) and were plastinated.

Wikipedia lists the steps of plastination. First the body is embalmed with formaldehyde as a regular burial might be, then the body is dehydrated by soaking all of the tissues in acetone, the acetone is boiled out by reducing the pressure which sucks the polymer in during the impregnation step, then comes hardening or curing step and finally posing. The bodies in the display were posed in all types of ways, the one seated as above was the mildest. There were upside down skateboarders and yoga practitioners, an ice skating couple and a baseball player in mid-swing.

I recommend the exhibit.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Sousaphone destroyed in parachute accident

A parachutist overflew his landing site and plowed into a military band at a military review in Kansas Thursday, hurting several band members and destroying at least two sousaphones.

After some concern that there would not be enough members to continue the ceremonies, the band played on.

I am worried that incidents like this will quell the recent enthusiasm for playing the tuba and sousaphone generated by the advent of the Sousaphone Hero video game. Once kids realize how dangerous playing the sousaphone can be they may think twice about taking it up. Or it may have the opposite effect, as thrill junkies hop on the sousaphone bandwagon due to the romance of braving danger to play the instrument they love.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mathmatical Rice Krispie Treats

A square plate and a coincidental cutting and stacking of (approximately) square Rice Krispie treats produced a tasty square pyramid with some interesting mathematical qualities. The layers of the pyramid are each a square, 1, 4, 9, 16 (Integer sequence A000290), they form a pyramid and summing each subsequent layer yields the (obviously called) square pyramid numbers, 1, 5, 14, 30 (Integer sequence A000330).

Two other interesting properties of the square pyramid numbers:
  • The sequence contains exactly one square greater than 1, namely 4900.
  • Gives number of squares formed from an n X n square. In a 1 X 1 square, one is formed. In a 2 X 2 square, five squares are formed. In a 3 X 3 square, 14 squares are formed, and so on.
Compare the suare pyramid number sequence with the triangular numbers, 1, 3, 6, 10 (sequence A000217). These are like the bowling pin two dimensional pyramid, but each level has fewer treats than the square pyramid stacking above. I think I like the quantity from the square pyramid better.

The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences is fun for looking for interesting sequences of integers, if you like that kind of thing. They even have the Lost numbers (4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42, sequence A104101). The encyclopedia generates lists and graphs of number sequences, but even more interestingly, though less useful, it will generate a sound file of the sequence as played on an instrument of your choice.

First Cucumbers of the season, tomatoes soon!

Last week afforded the first ripe and ready cucumber of the season. We like them best in a cucumber salad that is merely vinegar, sugar and cucumbers.



One of the grape tomatoes is almost red enough to pick, soon there will be many. Other notable tomato varieties this year are (from left to right above): Rutgers (a big slicing tomato), the Grape tomatoes I already mentioned, San Marzano (a plum, saucing tomato) and Yellow Pear (a small bite size variety). We threw down some ground up left over egg shells for calcium to prevent blossom end rot, but this year it is the irregular rain that is killing us and giving some of the tomatoes dreaded blossom end rot.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Monkey mask in the trash

Why is there a monkey mask in the trash at the gas station? I can think of several scenarios. Maybe it was thrown there after someone robbed the gas station in disguise. Although it seems that you would want to get away without leaving behind pictures of your face or fingerprints. Perhaps it was thrown there when the owner decided not to rob the gas station.

We are left with a mystery.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Belated Independence Day Fireworks Pictures

Wilmington, Delaware had really good fireworks on the Fourth of July this year and we were able to see them up close down on the Christina river on the Riverfront. My technique this year was to watch the fireworks and enjoy them while taking plenty of pictures with my camera, but not pay to much attention to the camera so I could enjoy myself. It worked reasonably well. It doesn't waste film, it's just 1's and 0's in the memory. Here are some examples that I like.

The Building in the background is the River Tower of Christiana Landing, a condo high-rise intended to bring people to live at the Riverfront, which mostly seems to have brought real estate speculators regretting their purchases instead.

They seemed to shoot the fireworks from the base of Christiana landing, I think that if you were watching them from the building you would have been too close, if you can imagine that.

There were fireworks that exploded into smiley faces which I did not catch but there were plenty of pretty blue ones and ones with streamers.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Delaware Crazy Blue Hen Criminal Roundup with extra fireworks

This chapter of the Delaware Crazy Blue Hen Roundup features the intentional and unintentional lawbreakers of Delaware.

A Fowl Crime Indeed: I wonder if taxidermy has as many regulations as tax preparation. This taxidermist was caught illegally stuffing some birds without a permit. He needed a permit to keep migratory waterfowl in his shop and he was busted by an undercover Fish and Wildlife Enforcement agent. There are undercover agents that actually investigate these crimes? That is more surprising than the crime itself. (plush blue hen with sound at Amazon)

Numismatastic: This couple remodeled their home recently and were rewarded with an extra bonus of $1,100 in change, pennies, quarters, and silver dollars, that they rescued from the previous owner's bar and kitchen counter decorations. They freed the hundreds of dollars in embedded coinage by soaking the coins in paint remover to unstick them from countertop and each other. A penny remodeled is a penny earned?

Bananas stolen, Monkeys questioned: The Port of Wilmington is the major northeast port for the Dole Company. Apparently fruit master criminals know this as well as they stole $40,000 in bananas from the port. Obviously authorities are looking at know monkey crime bosses in the area for clues to the whereabouts of the missing fruit. I have seen bananas for around $1/lb or even less so that is a 20 ton load of bananas in two trucks. How the crooks will fence these bananas is anybodies guess. This theft is on the heals of the theft of a truckload of chickens donated to a local food bank. Police are questioning foxes guarding the henhouse where the incident took place.

Fireworks are illegal in Delaware - even the Billboards advertising them say that: Just before the 4th of July is the season for fireworks billboards in Delaware. Delaware is such a small state that one can be shopping in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey in only a few minutes, especially to beat taxes on gas or alcohol or restrictions against fireworks. I know that the fireworks stores in Pennsylvania are not even allowed to sell fireworks to Pennsylvania residents. Thus Delawareans can buy them but you can't use them. Not just bottle rockets and big stuff, but no sparklers or even the snaps that you can throw at the ground to make a little noise. Worse, the State Police and Fire Marshall watch to see Delawareans purchase fireworks in PA and then stop them when they cross the state line with the fireworks. I suggest not obviously buying huge quantities of fireworks on July 3rd while undercover police are watching. The police confiscated $1000 worth and arrested five people the week of Independence day.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Simpsons invade the backyard

I wish my mom liked or just knew of the Simpsons as much as this mom does. Apparently she made all of these Simpsons cutouts from scratch and then placed them in the yard of the family home as a present for her son who just graduated from high school. The yard, in Whycocomagh, Nova Scotia, looks like the shot in the beginning Simspons credits where the camera pans quickly across all of the Simspons characters.

The whole set of pictures of the Simspons characters is on flickr.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

HO HORC license in delaware

I was stumped as to what a HO HORC license plate could mean. It sounds like the noise you make before you hork up some phlegm. But then I realized, as I eventually do, that sometimes you read the license as a word and sometimes you say the letters. Thus this license says HO HOR C (cee) - "ho horsey". Which makes much more sense when you consider the horse painting on the spare tire cover. Mystery solved. I would have understood it better if it was on the back of a horse.