Thursday, May 23, 2013

Distribution Maps X: Bearded Manakins

Bearded manakins are small birds found in Central and South America. I learned about them by reading a scientific article entitled "Comparison of Species Tree Methods for Reconstructing the Phylogeny of Bearded Manakins (Aves: Pipridae, Manacus) from Multilocus Sequence Data."[1] Within the article was a map representing the ranges for the four species of bearded manakins. I redrew the map as an .svg, separated it into indivual maps for each species, and uploaded them to Wikimedia Commons. And, of course, I inserted them into the appropriate article over at Wikipedia.

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

The filmmakers of Star Trek Into Darkness played coy with us (and in a few cases outright lied to us). They said the villain (played by Benedict Cumberbatch, of Sherlock [1] fame) would be "Harry Mudd, or Trelane, or Gary Mitchell, or the Talosians or the Horta."[2] Later as trailers, screenings, and interviews began we were given the name for Cumberbatch's character: John Harrison…which wasn't any of the three we were originally told. Then things really started getting fishy. One of the new characters was revealed to be Dr. Carol Marcus. And there was a trailer with some highly evocative scenes reminscent of a previous Star Trek movie.[3] If you haven't already figured it out, I reveal the identity of the villain below. Proceed at your own risk.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Product Review: Neal's Yard: Ticklemore cheese

My in-laws are in town this week and a few days ago we all took a trip up to Capitol Square. We wandered around for a while and entered a few shops.[1] One of the shops we hit was a cheese shop, called Fromagination. They had a decent selection and an impressive amount of cheeses out for sampling. Ostensibly one of the purposes of our trip was so that I could buy a goat cheese or a sheep cheese. So I did. (This one is a British goat cheese.[2]) After that we went to a Japanese restaurant for dinner and then, after Lilli went to bed, Leann and I went to a movie (Star Trek: Into Darkness).[3]

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Distribution Maps IX: Hammerhead Sharks

One day I was reading about hammerhead sharks on Wikipedia.[1] There are two genera of hammerhead shark: Eusphyra and Sphyrna. Eusphyra has a single species, while Sphyrna has eight species. The characteristic shape of their heads improves their peripheral vision and their ability to detect electrical charges (electroreception). As I was reading, I noticed that they had distribution maps for the different species, but they were all ugly, low-resolution .png images. So I created new, crisp .svg images and inserted them into the appropriate articles. You can see them below.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Many Movie Reviews II

This is my next round of mass movie reviews. We'll start with The Adjustment Bureau, a tale about a Democratic [1] presidential candidate who discovers that there is a secret (and supernatural) organization trying to put him in office. After that is The Big Year, a film about competing birders that is loosely based on the real Big Year competition of 1998.[2] This is followed by my thoughts on Captain America: The First Avenger. Then we have The Conspirator, a film by Robert Redford about a woman, Mary Surratt, accused of involvement in the plot to assassiante Abraham Lincoln because the conspirators assembled at her hotel. Next up is Dante's Peak, a thriller about a man whose dire predictions of an impending volcano are ignored. This is followed by my thoughts on Jeremiah Johnson, a film loosely based on the real-life mountain man, Liver-Eating Johnson. Then I review Legend, a fantay film from the early 1980s, which draws a lot of imagery from the Bible (Garden of Eden, Fall, Redemption). Following this is Alfred Hitchcock's classic film, Rear Window. After that is Return to Oz, an attempt by Disney to start an Oz film franchise. Next up is Season of the Witch, about a woman accused of causing the Black Death. And I wrap things up with a review of Star Trek, the recent reboot of the series by J. J. Abram.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Book Review: The Alchemy of Air

I was given this book by my postdoctoral advisor as a gift. One of the graduate students in my lab recommended it to him and after he'd read it he decided to buy a copy for everyone else in the lab.[1] It is primarily a biography of two men, Fritz Haber (1868–1934) and Carl Bosch (1874–1940). Fritz Haber was a German chemist who developed a chemical process to convert inert atmospheric nitrogen (N2) into ammonium (NH3), which can then be used to make fertilizer or explosives. Carl Bosch, a chemist employed by the German chemical company BASF, perfected this process and scaled it up to industrial levels. Thus this process is usually refered to as the Haber–Bosch process. For their work they each received a Nobel Prize, Haber in 1918 and Bosch in 1931.[2] This book also details the role fertilizers played in world history before the development of the Haber–Bosch process as well as the involvement Haber and Bosch (and their process) had in World War I and World War II.[3]

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Easter 2013

Well, I must apologize. I had every intention of posting about our Easter this year within a few days after it happened. But for some reason I forgot. I only just discovered the pictures and videos on the camera. So I've quickly thrown together a little post showing some of the highlights of Easter this year.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Cheese and Cracker Reviews

This year for our anniversary (we've been married for six years, now), Leann let me pick out a few new cheeses to try. I decided to go with Roaring Forties Blue, which is made by King's Island Dairy. It gets its name from the Roaring Forties gales, >100 kmph westerly winds that hit the King's Island, which lies between Australia and Tasmania on the 40th parallel south.[1] I also chose a cheddar-style cheese made right here in Wisconsin, called Pastures (shown to the right), from Saxon Creamery.[2] The third cheese I chose was Caerphilly, a crumbly white cheese from Wales.[3] To go with these I bought Milton's Crispy Sea Salt baked crackers.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Many Movie Reviews I

Well, dear readers, things have intervened in my life here and there and I now have a huge backlog of review posts. In order to trim this down I'm posting several at once. This saves me time because I'm not writing a full intro for each one. Hopefully you can still get something out of them. In this post I'll share my thoughts on Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which is about a kid who is just starting middle school and wants to improve his popularity—at almost any expense. After that is Driving Miss Daisy, a movie about an aging woman who has to start using a chauffeur even though she doesn't want to. Incidentally, it is also the last PG-rated film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture (in 1989). This is followed by a review of L'Illusionniste (The Illusionist), a 2010 French cartoon about an out-of-luck magician (not to be confused with the 2006 American live-action film about an audacious magician). Then I review I.Q., a romantic comedy about Albert Einstein's neice and an auto mechanic. This is followed by Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, a road-trip comedy about incompatible traveling companions. Next we have Pries☩, a 2011 post-apocalyptic film about vampirse and the Catholic priests who hunt them, based on a Korean comic book. After that I review the 2010 film RED, which is based on a comic book about a retired CIA black ops agent (the title of the movie stands for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous."). Next up is S1m0ne, a film about a down-and-out movie director who tries to pass a digital actress off as a real person. Then there's The Social Network, which tells the story of how Facebook came to be, followed by Unstoppable, which is based on the CSX 8888 incident of 2001.[1] The last review is for Yogi Bear, a live-action/computer-animated version of the classic cartoon show.

Video Game Review: LEGO The Lord of the Rings

After getting to play awesome LEGO versions of Star Wars [1], Pirates of the Caribbean [2], and Harry Potter [3], I (and probably many, many others) began to fantasize about what other movie franchises would make great LEGO video games. Among my favorites were Alien, The Chronicles of Narnia, Jurassic Park, The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, The Mummy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Terminator, and X-Men.[4] But the one that absolutely just had to happen was LEGO The Lord of the Rings. I mean there's a character named Legolas, for crying out loud! On top of that, Warner Borthers owned the licensing rights and they'd already licensed several other properties to Traveller's Tales (Batman and Harry Potter) for LEGO games. But even though I was sure it was going to happen I was still pleasantly surprised when the announcement finally came out. Leann gave it to me for my birthday last year.

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

I hated the 2002 Spider-Man movie almost from the instant it began. The voice-over narration at the beginning was cheesy and having Tobey Maguire be the actor to read it only made it worse. What a terrible case of poor casting. To make matters worse, the power went out halfway through the movie so we had to come back another day to re-watch it.[1] However, Spider-Man 2 was good enough that it redeemed the first movie enough that I now own them both. We do not speak of Spider-Man 3. The Amazing Spider-Man is a reboot of the series. Unfortunately that means that we have to rewatch a lot of Spider-Man's origins (the fateful spider bite, Uncle Ben's demise, etc.) as well as rewatch him discovering his new powers and learning to use them.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Movie Review: John Carter

I first saw a trailer for John Carter when I went to see Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 3D.[1] I thought it looked pretty awesome and I was eager to see it. Leann and I don't make it to the movie theater that often, anymore, so it's taken me a while to actually watch this film. But in the meantime I read several of the books in the 'Barsoom' series. This one is actually based mostly on A Princess of Mars.[2] but also incorporates a few elements from The Gods of Mars.[3]

Friday, May 3, 2013

Book Review: The Master Mind of Mars

The Master Mind of Mars retreads the "super brain at the expense of everything else" vs. "average at everything (but really super brawn)" theme from The Chessmen of Mars.[1] In that book there are creatures, called kaldanes, which are little more than large-brained heads that can switch bodies (which they call rykors) at will. The kaldanes didn't care what gender of rykor they assumed; it just had to be humanoid. In this book, a mad scientist has been experimenting with swapping brains between the bodies of different creatures, but he has no reservations whatsoever—a woman's brain into a man's body, a man's brain into an ape's body, two halves of different brains into the body of a third, and so on. An Earthman (not John Carter, this time [2]) discovers this scientist and helps him with his gruesome work for a while until he falls in love with one of the female subjects. He inevitably defies the mad scientist and the rest of the novel ensues.

Book Review: The Chessmen of Mars

Despite the title of the book, the Earthly game of chess is never played by any of the characters. Instead, Edgar Rice Burroughs invented a new chess-like game for the Martians to play, with its own unique pieces and rules: jetan. But that left Burroughs with a conundrum: to entitle the book The Jetan-Men of Mars might be confusing or even offputting to potential readers but to entitle the book The Chessmen of Mars would be inaccurate. He finally went with the latter. Jetan is supposedly a representation of the ancient animosity between the Yellow Martians and the Black Martians. However, the reason it appears in the title is because at one point a giant jetanboard is introduced and live players are forced to take the place of pieces and fight to the death to capture a given square. As far as I can tell, Burroughs was the first to write such a scene.[1]

Book Review: Thuvia, Maid of Mars

After three books about John Carter, Edgar Rice Burroughs finally decided to try writing about another character in his Barsoom series.[1] This time we're reading about Carthoris, John Carter's son (though the apple doesn't fall far from the tree). Burroughs also switched from the first person narrative he used while telling about John Carter to third person with an omniscient narrator. So in a few instances we actually get to see some scenes from the point of view of the titular character, Thuvia, who first appeared in the second book, The Gods of Mars.[2]