No Dinosaur After All

Front Yard California Poppies

“Damn, I’m good!” That’s what Anne said, when I told her that she had in fact spelled correctly, the names of these two dinosaurs, struthiomimus and pachycephalosaurus. Later she added in all humility, that years ago our then six-year-old nephew Rey had to correct her pronunciation of these names. I had asked her to write them on a Post-It note for me, because as all long time readers of this little blog know, I can’t spell worth a damn.

It has been a tough week for Anne. It was report card week at school. This meant she had to additionally work two evenings, for parents and teachers conferences. Thursday night, she was so conked out on the couch that I could not wake the dead. Friday was an easier day; it was a professional development day. This meant that the students were excused from class and the teachers met to improve their educational skills. The subject of dinosaurs came up during these meetings.

The topic under discussion was complex text in reading. The teachers were covering the importance of complex text, when Anne spoke up, “Prior knowledge and subject matter interest often facilitates the use of complex text.” At this point the speaker said, “That’s a good point, save it for later.” Anne thought he had said, “That’s a good point, say it louder.” So she repeated herself, “PRIOR KNOWLEDGE AND SUBJECT MATTER INTEREST …” In Anne’s defense, all the teachers at her table had also thought that the speaker had said, say it louder too. Eventually though, Anne was able to complete her point, “Many children are so interested in dinosaurs that they learn complex words like struthiomimus and pachycephalosaurus.” The crowd laughed at the introduction of this vocabulary and the speaker asked if she knew how to spell those words, but he thought better of this implied dare and moved the discussion onward, smart man.

Quest for Fire

Patrick and his King Salmon that he caught, cleaned and cooked

“Quest for Fire” is a 1981 film that depicts Paleolithic Europe, 80,000 years ago, its plot surrounds the struggle for control of fire by early humans. “Quest for Fire” is a film that I’m sure anthropologists love to hate and since the movie is based upon a 1911 novel, you can be sure that it is totally up on the latest research. In the movie’s sex scenes, humanity’s evolution is encapsulated by the transition from one sexual position to another. I’m sure Ron Perlman is proud to have this film on his IMDb resume. 😉

I raise this topic because I’ve recently read L.V. Anderson’s Slate article, Who Mastered Fire? This article dubs mastery of fire as both the first and greatest intellectual property claim known to mankind. It goes on to claim that mastery of fire alone is what defines us as human and separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. The crux of this article is that scientists can’t agree on whether people mastered fire 1.8 million years ago or only 12,000 years ago. The question left unresolved is whether humans proved their humanity almost two million years ago or only a couple of thousand years before the dawn of civilization.

This article distinguishes between opportunistic use of fire and the ability to spontaneously create fire. The movie “Quest for Fire” also made this distinction. The protagonist tribe is only capable of harvesting natural fire, like from lighting strikes, because they don’t know how to make it themselves. They eventually meet a more advanced tribe who have mastered this technology and learn from them.

Mastery of fire provided mankind several benefits. It provided both a source of warmth and protection from predators, but most importantly is allowed for cooking. Cooking our food made the food taste better, more nutritious and more digestible. Scientists say that the invention of cooking has led to the development of our enlarged brains. The calories once spent digesting raw food could with cooking, be redirected to feed our brains.

I think that this Paleolithic pedigree manifests itself in modern life with the foodies movement. Once people learn how to perform a task, then it soon becomes a competition to see who can do it better. This is what modern cooking is all about. You see this on TV in show after show. I also see it at work among some of my co-workers.

I work with a lot of people who enjoy food preparation. They like to cook, but more than that they revel in the entire process of food creation. Whether it is growing, hunting, brewing or what have you they collectively run the gambit. I’m just pleased that they occasionally bring some of the fruits of their labors into the office to share. Burp!

Transit of Venus

Transit of Venus

I captured the above passable photograph of the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun. Venus is the black dot near the bottom of the disk of the Sun. The picture was taken somewhere after about an hour after the transit had begun. At about 6:30, I packed it in, because it looked like the sun was going to set below the houses across the street. The Sun is an oval, because I had to shoot the picture at an oblique angle, so as not to block the image of the Sun. The below photo shows my rig, two tripods, a pair of binoculars and a white sheet of paper, all held together with electrical tape. I did this in front of the house, so a few of the neighbors stopped to see what I had. It was hot standing out in the June Missouri sun.

My Rig

Our BIG Baby

Modeling the effects of sensorineural hearing loss on temporal coding in the auditory nerve

Dave came into town tonight. We fed him at Houlihan’s and on returning home Anne began a conversation with the neighbors. Gracie, the little neighbor girl piped up with the question, “Do you have a baby?” Anne got that grin across her face that I have come to fear, and answered. “Yes Gracie, I do have a baby inside. He is my baby. Do you want to see him?” She didn’t have to ask twice. Gracie was initially nonplussed with Dave, but Anne explained that Dave has a big brother, just like Gracie does, and that made him the baby of the family. She bought this with the exclamation, “He’s a big baby.” Yes Gracie, he sure is. He dwarfs his lilliputian parents. Dave is no baby, but a grown man. He is in town to attend a wedding. On Sunday, he flies to Hong Kong. He will present the poster that he holds in the picture above.

On a less celebratory note, tonight is the vigil of the first anniversary of my mother’s death. This has been a hard year for my father, her life partner, and my brother, who has lived with them for many years. A few weeks ago, my dad and Chris resumed the international travel that my mother and they all enjoyed for many years, before she became too sick to travel. They took a riverboat cruise down the Rhine. As pleasurable as this trip should have been, it was overshadowed by their still all too raw grief.

I just wish that my mom could have seen our two sons now. I think that they would have lifted her spirit. I know it will, my father’s. They are Anne’s and my future, and in part dad’s too. It should be interesting , when we conclave in Monterey later this year.

Super Maroon

Tomorrow night, is the night of the super moon. This full moon is the biggest, 14% larger than normal and the brightest, 30% brighter, of the year. This is because it is at the moon’s closest approach to earth for the year. The following photo was taken yesterday, two days before full.

Super Moon

While this post is ostensibly all about astronomy, it is really all about the good doctor, Gerry. He prefers to be called Gerald, but I am old and set in my ways and have always called him Gerry. Gerry sounds cooler than Gerald and Gerry really is cool. Besides, the only other Michigan grad named Gerald that I know, was also named Ford.

Gerry happens to play in a band named Super Maroon. Originally, they were going to go with Super Moon, but too many other bands had already adopted that name, including one in Alton. Hence the name Super Maroon. Physicist by day, Rocker at night, it is quite the combination.

Midwest at Night

The above photograph is a NASA picture, taken from the International Space Station (ISS). Taken on a crystal clear night,it shows the American northern Midwest. Above and behind the Midwest is the Aurora Borealis and a portion of the ISS. You might think of this as the moon’s view of us.

Baseball, Space, Guns and Mitt

In the ending of the movie, “The Natural”, Robert Redford’s baseball is propelled out of the ballpark, winning the game. Against a black background with molten sparks descending like falling stars, the ball arcs higher and higher into the night’s sky. It floats across the screen, as it floats across both time and space, and eventually drops into the glove of his son. Glenn Close watches her two men play catch. Redford looks content, at peace with himself. Fade to black.

Apollo 11 vs MLB Map (Click to Enlarge)

The graphic for this post comes from NASA. NASA has superimposed a map of the first moon walk, Aldrin and Armstrong’s strolls around the Sea of Tranquility onto a standard baseball diamond. They didn’t cover too much ground, it turns out. Both stayed close to the mound where the Eagle set down, except for Armstrong’s quick jaunt over to the rim of East Crater to photograph the outfield.

The NASA map is in honor of the World Champion Saint Louis Cardinals. Today is the Cardinal’s home opener. They’re playing the Cubs. Unfortunately, I do not have tickets to the game. Besides, it is day game and I have to work. On opening day, not even the sky is a limit, but it will be tough to top last year. Go Cards!

Traffic was horrible on Thursday night. An extra long commute combined with two accidents on the new I-64, one blocking the east-bound lanes and one the west-bound, all combined to create a ninety-minute drive. So, it is with some trepidation that I look towards Friday night’s commute. Home Cardinal games always exacerbate traffic. A daytime home opener is about as bad as it can be, except that this is not all of it, not even by half.

The NRA is holding its national convention in Saint Louis. I briefly toyed with the idea of going to it. It is sure to be a spectacle full of much worthy blog fodder. I could be the sinner in an unholy land. Alas though, commonsense won out. That and cheapness, the $30 membership fee seemed too steep for just a blog post or two.

Now there is news that Mitt Romney is coming to town, to speak at the convention. As the newly anointed Republican candidate-elect, he plans on trying to convince the gun-toting tourists downtown that he never meant it when he said that he would never be beholden to the NRA. “Leave it to Mitt Romney to shoot himself in the foot with a gun he doesn’t own.” Good luck with that Mitt. 😳

As bad as Thursday’s commute was, Friday’s looks to be a trifecta of pain worse. The combination of a Cardinal’s home opener, a major convention and the visitation from a Presidential candidate ought to ensure traffic snarls galore. This is why I am posting early. I may not make it home.

Happy Friday the 13th!