Thursday, March 29, 2012

Assume Cylindrical Sharks

Apparently someone in my social circle at college (possibly me) regaled everyone with a math or science question that began "Assume cylindrical sharks..."

I'd forgotten the incident, but it does sound very familiar now that someone has brought it up.  But I still don't remember the context at all.

So of course, I promptly googled "assume cylindrical sharks," and here was the first hit:
Kitefin Shark - Dalatias licha WHAT TO LOOK FOR
This is a medium-sized cylindrical shark with a short, blunt snout, and thick, fringed lips. Its spineless dorsal fins originate behind the pectoral fin rear tips, with the base closer to the pectoral than the pelvic fin bases; the second dorsal fin is larger. It has a weak ventral caudal fin lobe, and most of the posterior margins of its fins are translucent. 
So apparently cylindrical sharks are for real!  Who knew?  (Certainly not me --  I took physics, chemistry and engineering classes in college.  No biology.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Butterflies and Hunger Games

My mom had 4 hours in town, so I took her to the Museum of Natural History.  The tickets (for admission + one special feature) were a lucky draw from a Christmas gift exchange.  We chose the live seasonal animal exhibit: butterflies.  Amazing.  We spent a vast amount of time in there, gazing, photographing with a low-quality phone camera, and (most thrillingly) having them land on us.  One of the large, lovely black-and-white ones actually landed on my right eyelid and stayed there for a while.  There were also large butterflies whose wings, when closed, showed a sort of soap bubble or peacock design in muted browns and taupes... but offered brilliant flashes of bright iridescent blue when they flew about.  And solid orange  ones with elongated wings.... And more.  Afterward, we passed through my favorite Pacific Northwest exhibit (with all the cool multi-part masks) and dined at a museum cafe.  Probably should have gone to the food court; the cafe is not the grown-up-oriented stronghold they suggest (we had two kids circling our table and yelling as they chased each other).

I dropped my mom off for her return journey and then met up with G-san for The Hunger Games.  I thought it was really good, and found some of the scenes incredibly moving.  (I was wiping away tears even for scenes I'd seen before in the trailer.)

The changes from the book bothered G-san, but they mostly didn't bother me.  I love seeing how books are translated onto the screen, especially when they don't add gratuitous love interests (Jurassic Park) or introduce clich├ęd "inner conflicts" which change the essential nature of beloved characters without improving the drama (LOTR) or try to spice things up by throwing in pointless, dead-end adventures (Prince Caspian).   I don't mind addition of love interests, inner conflicts, or entirely new incidents when it's done in a way that feels true to the spirit of the original, and ultimately deepens and enriches the cinematic experience ... but so often it looks more like someone said "This needs element X.  Where can we glom it on?"

A few semi-random observations on the Hunger Games movie:

  • President Snow reminded me of an evil Professor Dumbledore.  He conveyed just that mixture of grandfatherliness and deep insight.... all in the service of Pure. Evil.  (Now that I think of it, perhaps Dumbledore and Snow are equally ruthless, when it comes down to it; it's just that their motives and goals are very different.) 
  • I liked that Seneca Crane was sent to ingest nightlock berries. Very fitting.  And very powerfully done - to leave us knowing what will happen without showing us the result.  I'd say that maximized the impact.  (It was a cool and mildly surprising twist for me.  I initially suspected the bowl contained berries when I first saw it, but then I got fooled because the bowl looked too clear to contain anything and the room seemed so hermetically sealed that I thought maybe he was going to be gassed.)
    • My one question is what they will do for the quarter-quell preparations, since it's not so obvious how they will flaunt Crane's fate to the current game-makers (dabbing the dummy's mouth in purply red and writing "Crane" on its torso just won't have the same impact as hanging the dummy).
  • I felt that the Capitol caved too quickly to the nightlock berry threat.  It didn't seem like much of a threat in the movie.
  • I was disappointed that the Muttations became generic panther-like creatures.  They weren't that scary or even seemingly that deadly -- and they completely lacked the element of horror, the psychological terror found in the book.  (The Capitol again deploys similar psychological techniques in the quarter-quell, with the rain of blood section and -- even worse -- the jabberjay section where Katniss and Finnick hear the tortured screams of the people they love most in the world.)
  • I didn't mind the elimination of Madge and an alternative source for the mockingjay pin.  Even finding the pin at the Hob, giving it to Prim to "protect her" and having Prim re-gift it to Katniss is at least potentially OK.  What I had a problem with was Prim's explanation for why Katniss should take back the pin: for "protection".  Yeah, right.  The pin didn't protect Prim in the slightest -- she got selected, against all odds, as the female tribute -- so for Prim to offer it as protection raises the very troubling possibility that Prim is maybe hoping Katniss won't come back!!!  I half-expected her to yell "Sucker!" and call dibs on Katniss' clothes or something.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Watch Out for That 100% Mortality Rate

A friend of mine recently posted (with suitably snide remarks) an article about how to "get more gasoline for your dollar" at the pump, by taking certain steps to improve the efficiency of your vehicle.   (There are, of course, ways to get more gasoline for your dollar at the pump, but I'm pretty sure they're illegal.)

This sort of thing is nothing new, especially when journalists are trying to show the practical relevance of a scientific study; we are often told, for instance, that "Too Much Red Meat Can Increase the Mortality Rate" or some such nonsense.

But it's not fair to pin this on harried journalists and headline-writers, with blithe assumptions that their math and science training may not have been particularly recent or rigorous.

To the contrary, the brilliant and talented Dr. X recently advised that "if left in place, this ancyfay Atinlay aymnay is 100% guaranteed to become malignant" -- and that cannot be literally true.  The statement needs a footnote such as "Should you be fortunate enough to live that long" or "As long as you don't die first from other causes."  (If I had decided to forego the surgery and then got run over by a truck, those poor maligned cells would have remained benign my entire life.)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lewis & Tolkien Wordles

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Breakin' out the 'Blades

Today was my first skating adventure of 2012!  I went all the way up to the end of the path (beyond Fairway to about 138th St, I think) or about 17 miles round-trip.

Somewhat mixed messages with those gates yawning wide open... 
The surprise for me this time was that there were cherry trees everywhere on the north end of the path!  According to a plaque on the path, this part of the Hudson River Greenway is known as the "Cherry Walk."

George Washington (Bridge) + Cherry Tree
As you can see in the photo above, the wider lane is supposed to be two-way wheeled traffic (bikes and skates), and the  narrower lane is supposed to be two-way pedestrian traffic.  A lot of people ignored this instruction.

St. John the Divine (W. 112th St.)

I did a double-take when I saw this; it looked at first
like a flowering vine encircling the trunk of the cherry tree.

Willow tree & the New York Central Railroad 69th St. Transfer Bridge
This half-sunk metal "sculpture" was apparently the New York Central Railroad 69th St Transfer Bridge.   Apparently there have been some noises from time to time about making it useful, and indeed there was some evidence of recent construction work in the area (a crane and a walkway).

The transfer bridge is listed in a very non-thrilling way on the National Register of Historic Places. (You'll find it listed under "NEW YORK, NEW YORK COUNTY")

The Intrepid!!!

Rain was supposed to start around 1 p.m., and it did cloud over around that time, but luckily the weather held.  What a beautiful day.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Park Slope & Grand Army Plaza

Omnipresent magnolias...

A sunny burst of color

Gotta love the holiday spirit!

Oh, come on -- it really wasn't THAT windy today!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Case Study: The Sunny Side of the Block

Two magnolia trees on the same block, one on each side of the same office building.  Both presumably planted and maintained by the same landlord.  But it's not only the Force that has a light side and a dark side.  There's also duct tape.  And (more to the point) this office building.  
Northern exposure (shadowed side of One Battery Park Plaza)

Southern exposure (sunny side of One Battery Park Plaza)

These pictures were taken within 5 minutes of each other, but they really look like they're months apart, don't they?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Blazing Peaches

The conditions were about as favorable as they could be, so I decided to brave the ascent up the rock face following the mysterious peach blazes.  Was it a real trail, or a will-o-the-wisp?  Where would it lead?  The pale peach markings looked like faded paint, rather than lichen, leading straight up where the yellow Undercliff Trail curved around the base of the bluff...

So I began the climb.

A view from halfway up.
I stopped to take a few photos, of course....

... but soon reached the top of the bluff.  This is where I saw the four hawks.

View from the top of the bluff: Hawks circling overhead

I noticed many rocks with these kinds of notches on the corners.
I wandered around for a while into the forest, and there really weren't any more trail markings that I could see.  But when I came back to the scenic overlook I was able to confirm that the peach splotches did in fact mark an honest-to-goodness trail.

End of the peach-blazed trail!
As it turns out, the peach trail was just a short spur from the Undercliff trail up to a scenic overlook.  I thought I might have to go back down the same way, but then I saw an unmarked path leading down a gentle slope toward a yellow blaze in the distance.  Hooray!  No re-tracing my steps!

Hudson Highlands Hike - Sounds

I went up to Cold Spring to do my favorite Undercliff / Breakneck loop, and I did NOT miss the turnoff to stay on Undercliff this time!

The woods were rich with bird (and frog) song from the very start of the hike, although I did not know I'd been hearing frogs until late in the day.  Even at the top of the first hill, there was bird song aplenty:


Because the weather was so fabulous, I also followed a peach-blazed trail up a steep scramble to the top of a bluff, where I saw four hawks circling around. (The peach trail had caught my eye before, but it's not marked on the maps and I wasn't sure where it would go.)  It was pretty neat from within the trees, because when the hawks would swoop low, their shadows loomed large over me...  I wasn't quite able to capture that on camera, but here's the best I could do.

Enraptured by raptors:


There was a group of kids (maybe college kids) who were gathered around a pond high up on the Breakneck trail.  The pond was thick with frogs -- the water was roiling with them -- and two of the guys were trying to catch them in their baseball caps.  (They caught one while I watched.)


This particular hike was 11 miles (including walk to/from the train station), and I once again failed to set any land-speed records: it took me about 6.5 hours, including photo stops etc.  

The Hiker's Hamlet

The Nelsonville Footpath is apparently the Hiker's Hamlet.  

"To walk, or not to walk: that is the question."

A yellow arrow PLUS two yellow blazes within 30 feet?
You really can't ask for a better-marked trail.  

Not sure what made these holes.  Any ideas?

I saw two of these butterflies, or possibly the same one twice
(once in the morning, once in the afternoon, in different locations).

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fat = Sin

In an article, Q contrasted her approach to fat-fighting (constant vigilance + a serious action plan at the slightest sign of weight gain) with her lackadaisical approach to sin-fighting (she's willing to overlook the small symptoms and let them build up).

But Q herself is so skinny that I can't help thinking: Listen to your body, my dear!  It is trying to gain a few milligrams of fat because it wants to be healthy!!

I think I'll sit down with a pint of ice cream and practice coveting something.

David's Peach: Photo Essay

This tree was really lovely from every angle.  A small sign at the base identified it as "David's Peach."

Saturday, March 10, 2012

On the Night Train

When I got home, E called to finalize our reunion plans for the evening.  C and I met up at Grand Central and went up to White Plains to meet E's kids (who are absolutely adorable - age range is 9 months through 9 years).  We left E's husband with babysitting duty while we enjoyed a nice meal with live musical accompaniment at Cafe Mozart in Mamaroneck.   

Back in the NYC subway after midnight, I witnessed a small piece of drama unfolding as a guy on the platform asked two girls for directions.  They were all in their 20's, and the guy was wearing a backpacker-type backpack.  He said he'd just arrived from Kansas three days ago and was "looking for adventure."  The girls tried to be helpful, but they really didn't have a clue about how he could get to 12th Avenue and 43rd Street from Grand Central.  (Hint: Go west, young man, go west.)  The guy went and asked someone else for more information, then came back and said he'd figured it all out: he needed to get from Grand Central to Times Square, and then he could walk the rest of the way to 12th Avenue.  Then the train came and he got on board with them.  Unfortunately, the train was on a north-south line; he would never, ever, get to Times Square or points further west on that train.  

So I was tempted to speak up, and I felt a little bad for remaining silent ... but it seemed to me that he was looking (as he said) for adventure and also (as he did not say) for cute new friends, rather than accurate transit information.

Saturday Afternoon BBG

I went to yoga in the morning, did some light cleaning, then lazed around in my apartment enjoying the sunshine streaming in.  On a crisp, sunny day like this one, if I'm at home in the afternoon, it's so tempting to stay in and read in the sun-dappled room -- to enjoy the great indoors.  But then I saw a message on twitter that some of the cherry trees were in bloom, so I headed over to check it out.  

The garden was gorgeous - and much new growth since last weekend.

Contrails dissect the sky

Yellow flowering tree (dogwood?)

A scene from Hansel & Gretel? 
Buds & bloom

Backdrop to the Hill-and-Pond Garden

Spring motif?

Trellis at the Hill-and-Pond Garden

Primrose (but neither Everdeen nor Evergreen)

This statue in the Shakespeare Garden reminded me of the butterflies that would come through our backyard  in Illinois - if you held still a minute or two and held an arm out, they would land on you.  So cool.

Girl with Butterfly
 This one reminds me of a pansy, but I'm pretty sure it has a different name:

Magnolias in bud & bloom
A tangle of magnolias

Goldfish in the lily pond (no lilies or lotuses yet)

White flowering trees

Crocuses decked out with seeds from a neighbor tree

Attercop! Attercop! Down you drop! You'll never catch me up your tree!




Weathervane over the Children's Garden


Young willow leaves backlit in the late afternoon sun

As it turned out, just two cherry trees -- one on the Cherry Esplanade, and one further in -- were blooming.  The rest were bare.  

Cherry Esplanade - with X's carved in the ground (for fertilizer?)
Daffodils & violets?