Sunday, November 29, 2015

Dinosaur Descendants

The Donald Trump bird.
See the hairstyle?  And the flamboyance?

On the day after Thanksgiving in past years we have gone ice-skating.  But last year we noticed that the teens seemed more interested in watching the horse-drawn carriages than in skating.

This year, we decided to do something different: The National Aviary (I'll bet you didn't know the National Aviary is in Pittsburgh!).  Lots of other people had the same idea, and we had to park very far away.  This was not a total loss, as the long walk made me feel entitled to another piece of pie when we returned home.

I'm not deeply interested in birds, but I really like going to the Aviary.  It is not huge (compared to, say, the Zoo), and can be fully visited in part of an afternoon.  The Aviary works hard to give a conservationist message to the public, without being obnoxious about it.  Spending time around birds makes me feel glad I have limbs.

I viewed our visit to the Aviary as a photo assignment.  This was challenging to me for various reasons, mostly that I don't know what I am doing as a photographer.  (That video photography tutorial I downloaded remains unwatched, due to excessive actual events taking place.)  Visual obstructions included fences, tree limbs, dirty glass, humans, and other birds.  Most birds do not sit still for a photo portrait.

Without further ado, here are the 35 photos of birds and a few mammals which I feel are passable photos, out of the 200 photos I took.  Don't the birds look really prehistoric?  Please click to enlarge and see the photos up close and personal-like.

Andean Condor

Bald Eagle

Another bald eagle

Scarlet Macaw

Golden-breasted starling

White-crested laughing thrushes

White-crested laughing thrush

Scarlet Macaw, smiling

This looks like some kind of macaw.  But really,
to me it looks Very Like A Dinosaur

Hyacinth Macaw

Victoria Crowned Pigeon.
Imagine combing that hairstyle in the morning.

A shiny blue bird whose name I couldn't find.

Rainbow lorikeet

Rainbow Lorikeets grooming.
If the photo had turned out better, it would have been
great for Valentine's Day.

As near as I can tell, this is a Southern Bald Ibis, except its
beak is the wrong shape.

Close up of the potential Southern Bald Ibis.  To me it looks
like a Grandpa Bird.  So that's what I'm going to call it.


Eastern Screech Owl.
I think this was my favorite.  Those tufty things are not ears.

Keel-billed toucan.
Did not ask us for any Fruit Loops.

I could not determine from the Aviary photos what the
name of this bird is.

Two toucans

The bird with the ridiculously long tail is the Paradise Whydah.
We called it "Miss Lolla Lee Lou." It was an obnoxious bird,
flying all around, dive-bombing humans and birds alike.

Well-behaved shaft-tailed finches

Shaft-tailed finches again

The one in the middle is called a Red Bishop.

Roseate spoonbill

Flamingo, feeding

Talk about your gorgeous colorings.

A flying fox, a type of fruit bat

These bats did not even bother to sit upright for their meal.

Penguins waiting for their dinner.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thankful scientists: survey results

Here is how Younger Daughter answered the first question in my “survey”
(a mathematical concept for which you are grateful). First she quoted a song by John McCutcheon, and then added her own thoughts.

We are thankful for the food,
Thankful for the company,
Thankful for the things that we do and say,
Thankful for the friends, thankful for the family,
Glad to be together on Thanksgiving Day.

May the way that we treat others
Be the measure of our worth.
May our memory be a blessing
On the future of this Earth.
                                    -John McCutcheon

We are thankful for songs and music,
Which are a bit like mathematical progressions.
We are thankful for time,
which constantly keeps us moving forward.
We are thankful for molecules,
Such rigid structures and constant angles.

So, if I’m thankful for these,
Then I have to be thankful for the homework I do with my brother.
Thankful for 5*, which Dad will constantly mention.
Thankful for calculus and its uses in chemistry.
And hopeful that the turkey is done on time.
                                                                        - Younger Daughter

For the record, here are some of the Common Household extended family’s answers to the survey.  Not all of us are scientists, but clearly science is influential in our lives.  I have to note that pi(e)-related answers were a good chunk of the responses.  That is as it should be.

1. Name a mathematical concept for which you are grateful, and explain why.

-  Pi!

- , and Beyond!

- The theorem that says the Halting Problem is undecidable. 

- The distance between the real numbers 1 and 2 is infinity. I'm grateful for this because I never run out of irrational sheep to count when I'm trying to sleep.

- Ratios: an important concept so that everyone can get a piece of the pie.

- Fractals, because they add beauty to the world.

- The difference between things that are discrete and things that are continuous.  The discrete nature of matter is very important in understanding the basic idea of chemistry.  You have to start with the knowledge that atoms are discrete particles.  Hard to believe when you are observing a soup that, on the macro level, is quite continuous.

- Area of a circle – Pi R Square, to help me know how big the pumpkin pie is (Actually pie are round not square)

-  I am grateful for the Pythagorean theorem so I can say "I don't know how to do taxes or what a 401k is, but thank GOD I know the Pythagorean theorem!!!"

- The combinatorial formula (for calculating the likelihood of something happening given a certain condition) – because it tells me that there is order to the universe.

- The most basic math concept- Numbers, because things need to happen in order: First the turkey, second the pies, third nap.

- The Fibonacci sequence, because it appears in nature.

2. Name a number that will be useful to you on Thanksgiving Day.
- "Seconds"

- Pi!

-  π, obviously.

- Six.  I hope there will be lots of pies, each of which can be divided into six parts.

-  6, because I anticipate that will be the number of pies available.

-  50 sprouts: the minimum number of Brussels sprouts required to satisfy our Thanksgiving guests.

-  348 kelvins.  That's the temperature you should cook poultry to in order to kill the salmonella.

3.  What time do you expect your Thanksgiving dinner to begin?

- 4 times (LOL)

-  I expect it to begin when the fat lady sings.

-  Whenever the turkey is done.

* Whenever the Common Household Dad doesn't know an answer to a question, he says the answer is 5.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thanksgiving Survey: Numbers

Thanksgiving survey:

It's time!  It's what you have all been waiting for!  It's a semi-reasonable excuse to stop cooking and sit down for a few minutes!

1. Name a mathematical concept for which you are grateful, and explain why.

2. Name a number that will be useful to you on Thanksgiving Day.

3.  What time do you expect your Thanksgiving dinner to begin?

Please include units (inches, years, nanoliters, etc) in your answers, if appropriate.

Both a number and a dessert

How many raisins belong in a pie?

A large number of boiling beets

Not enough Brussels sprouts for our Thanksgiving guests

This many shoes by the front door means a delightful  number of guests
If you just love surveys unscientifically designed by a mediocre statistician, here are my Thanksgiving surveys from past years:

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Apps and Books

Through the wonders of modrun technology, Younger Daughter and I recently had the chance to chat face to face with my son who is away at college.  He told me all about the classes he signed up for next semester, including “Making Really Tiny Things” class, a.k.a. “Chemical Engineering Applied to Microfabrication.”

While he was talking to us, he started fiddling with his phone.  Then he said, “I have to take a break – I’ll be back in few minutes.”  We waited, staring at the empty walls of his dorm room.  He soon returned with a foil-covered package. 

I said, “What is that?” 

He opened the foil and showed us a whole bowlful of chocolate chip cookies.  He said, “I have an app on my phone – whenever I push this button, I get cookies delivered within two minutes.”

Ah, if only!  It turned out the cookies were from Older Daughter, who came over to visit her brother.  So I got to chat with her, too.  I was a very happy mommy, with all three of my kids in the room, if only virtually.

Older Daughter asked her sister, “Have you ever read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?” 

She replied, “No, I didn’t want to read it.” 

I asked, “Is there a book called The Girl Who Made Dinner And Then Cleaned Up Afterward?” 

My son said, “Isn’t that called The Little Red Hen?”

* * * * * *

I haven’t read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I don’t intend to.  But so far this month, I finished two books that I enjoyed.

The first was Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.  I did not expect to even be able to get through this book, as it involves gruesomeness.  The main topic of the book is about the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, but also includes a psychopath.  It’s ostensibly about architecture, landscaping, and one really sick mind, but more broadly it’s about America in that era.  For me, Erik Larson’s prose carried the day – the book reads like fiction, although it is non-fiction (the author admits to doing some educated imagining for some of the parts about the psychopath).  It was cool to be reading it while we were in Chicago.  It looks like Leonardo DiCaprio is going to make a movie out of it.

The second book was The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  This is like the flip of Larson’s book – it’s a fictionalized account of real-life people.  The story begins in the voice of Handful, a young girl born into slavery in the household of a judge in South Carolina.  We also learn the story of Sarah Grimke, one of the judge’s daughters.  Sarah Grimke and her younger sister Angelina Grimke have a place in history - they were quite famous in the early 1800s as outspoken abolitionists and feminists at a time when women were not allowed to speak to mixed audiences (men and women). The Invention of Wings is at once heart-rending and hopeful; it's the story of both Handful and Sarah finding their voices, and seeking their freedom. This book was approved by Oprah, which normally would make me wary of reading it, but it was a great read and quite thought-provoking.

What are you reading these days?