The Martian, by Andy Weir

April 14th, 2014

I’m about to finish up reading aloud the Martian, by Andy Weir. Which has an interesting story behind how it was written.

Anyway, I would rate it a 4 out of 5. Its a very solid book, though not perfect. There is a certain degree of “What NOW?” to Mark’s series of never ending problems. But then, being stranded on Mars will do that to you…

Pam is enjoying it. She forbid me from reading ahead, so I’m finding out about things at the same pace she is. Which increases the pressure to read, I’ll give you that… Anyway, its an excellent example of how math can be solidly useful. The science is neat, and the drama is intense.

Chimney swifts are here!

April 8th, 2014

Today is the first day I’ve seen Chimney Swifts! There were four in Canton, and a bumble bee queen foraging on some Holly. :) Thats only the second bumble I’ve seen this year. Lots and lots of carpenter bees, but only two bumbles.

Trout lilies coming up

March 10th, 2014

The trout lilies down at the beaver pond are just now waking up. Some have been up for a while, but yesterday when I went to check on them, many were just starting to peak out of the ground. I wonder if some of them stay awake year round?

Learning to code

February 10th, 2014

Learn to code vrs learn computer science

See, this is a wonderful point. Learning to code translates roughly to “learning a skill for a job” where learning computer science is “learning how to think”. Teaching toward a job produces morons – you get trained monkeys who can’t do anything outside the parameters of their training. If you know the theory behind something (and how to do it) then you can fix things when they go off the rails.

Just add water

February 10th, 2014

We’ve been doing a lot more with the birdfeeder this year. As in, keeping it stocked. Its proving a treat, providing a good bit of enjoyment. We’ve both spent a fair bit of time watching the birds come and go.
During the recent snowpocalyse thaw, I watched quite a few birds bathe in the temporary puddles left in the drive. Which, naturally, means that I now want to add water to the area.
I started today with a simple pan of water on top of a tree stump. I put a brick in it to weigh it down, and some gravel in the bottom just because. Within an hour a chickadee and a tufted titmouse had checked it out, but were leery of it. The first bird to use it was a goldfinch, who was like “Hey! Water! “Slurrrp”!. Pam later saw two mourning doves in it, and I saw a cardinal drinking from it before the end of the day.
Day one of the “just add water” experiment was a success!

Bird Sense, a book by Tim Birkhead

January 2nd, 2014

Bird Sense is an exceptional book.

First, its well written, and wide ranging. Tim Birkhead is not at Stephen Jay Gould’s writing level, but he is close.

Second, its a very good example of how science works, of how science is always “the truth as we know it now”. Science can, and does, change, getting ever more refined. This book is an excellent exploration of that fact. Examples include Audobon’s exploration of scent in vultures (which he got wrong through flawed experiments). A better example is Hugh Cott’s work.

Minor observations in science can lead to major work. One lovely example here is a couple of pages devoted to Hugh Cott, who did some work exploring bright plumage and a link to bad taste. (Note: I wonder how macaws taste?)

He was on a week’s leave and was skinning some birds he had shot and preparing them as museum specimens. As did so, he noticed something unusual. Beneath the table at which he worked lay the carcasses of a palm dove and a pied kingfisher. Hornets were feasting on the palm dove, but ignored the pied kingfisher lying alongside it. The dove was cryptically coloured, the kingfisher a striking black and white. This set Cott thinking.(pg 261.9 Kindle)

And, further down

Cott’s study, however, is full of holes. Part of the problem, it would be fair to say, is that the nature of scientific investigation has changed enormously since the 1940s, and Cott’s methods, which at best seem merely quaint, are by today’s standards simply inappropriate. In scoring the plumage brightness of birds, for example, Cott used only females, ignoring the (inconvenient?) fact that males and females are often strikingly different. He assumed (but never checked) that males and females tasted the same. Cott also tasted only the flesh, and cooked flesh at that, unlike Dumbacher, who (albeit accidentally) tasted the pitohui’s feathers – which, after all, is what predators would encounter first. As we have seen, human senses do not necessarily provide a good measure of avian senses, so what tastes bad to us may not taste bad to a raptor or a snake. We also know that some of Cott’s informants were unreliable – to say the least.

Another thing that is stressed in the book, is that bird sense can be very different from human senses. A quick example – dogs, which see in black and white, have two cone types in their eyes. Humans have three. Birds have four (one is for Ultraviolet) and one of the other three differs slightly. Thus we can’t take it for granted that what something looks like to a bird is the same as what we see.

All in all, the book is utterly fascinating, from several angles. It will obviously appeal to bird lovers, but it will also appeal to anyone who loves scientific history.


December 12th, 2013

Just a quick “test” post.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Andy Jassy misses a key point

November 14th, 2013

From this article

“I think a lot of old-guard technology companies aren’t so thrilled about how fast things are moving to cloud,”

No, the old-guard companies aren’t – but the NSA absolutely *adores* the trend.

This book is full of spiders

October 28th, 2013

First paragraph of the epiprologue

So here’s how fucked up this town is. My friend John and I were out celebrating his birthday last summer. At the end of the night we were good and drunk and we headed outside of town to go climb up the water tower and piss of it. This had been John’s tradition for the last twenty years (if you do the math, you’ll realize that goes back to when he turned five, which really says more about John’s parents than John). This was a special year because they were in the process of tearing down that old water tower to build a new, more modern one, and it didn’t look like the new one was going to have the kind of platform that you could piss off of, because this is no longer a world of men.

This book is full of spiders, by David Wong.

Another Poem

August 25th, 2013

On Love, on Grief

On love, on grief, on every human thing,
Time sprinkles Lethe’s water with his wing.

Walter Savage Landor

Bugs n stuff

August 8th, 2013

Just got back from a lovely walk with my sweetie. We went to check out the Paw paw patch about 10 miles from the house. Its being a very, very good year for paw paws – there are tons of them! They should be ripening soon.
We found a nest of those big old european hornets. You know, the ones that look like two inch long yellow jackets. We spent 20 minutes or so trying to see some of the narrow mouth toads calling in a big ditchwater mud puddle. We didn’t succeed. There was a small caterpillar pretending to be a twig.
When we got home, there were bumblebees (drones?) hiding in the oregano, preparing to overnight there.

It was a good evening.

Edit add:
Oh yeah, there was a Kentucky Warbler that took a bath in the ditchwater mud puddle while we were looking for the toads.


July 30th, 2013

Today was an interesting day for pollinators. This morning, it was quite cool (60 degrees – almost unheard of for July). One species of Bumblebee was on the oregano plants, mostly torpid. I suspect these are either two spot bumble bees, or the lemon cuckoo bee. A large carpenter bee, and a much smaller species of bumblebee, was active on the lobelia up near the folks house. A yellowjacket was also flying around.

This evening, walking out to talk to my mom, Pam pointed out a bald faced hornet nest in the cedar tree in their front yard. There was a small sphinx moth feeding on the Lobelia as well. It was *quite* an interesting day, pollinator wise.