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Sean's Blog

Government, Religion, and Science

Second day in London: I took the bus to Westminster, getting off right near the houses of Parliament.  I first walked around looking for breakfast, and ended up getting pastries (including a pecan roll) in a sandwich shop.  Then I took pictures of some oft-photographed stuff.

Like this place:


I took pictures of it from the other side, as well, standing on Westminster Bridge:



Here’s the view upriver, alongside Parliament:


And here is the London Eye, on the downriver side of the bridge:


There are various statues in this area.  Of course, in England you would expect to find a statue of Abraham Lincoln:


There seem to be a few leaders from other countries there, actually, such as Mandela:


And there is the obligatory statue of Mr. Churchill:


This memorial has an interesting way of depicting its subject (click to enlarge):


I also wandered by Westminster Abbey, and thought about going in, but it would have cost £20, so I contented myself with taking pictures of the exterior:






This column was near the abbey:


After walking around there, I took the underground a few stops west, and then walked to the Museum of Science.

On the way there, I spotted this sign:


which I thought was an odd name for a hotel.

I spent most of the afternoon at the Science Museum, as there was plenty to see.  It included several early steam engines.  This is an early locomotive:


This began a long hall that followed the development of technology over the past 2 centuries.  Also in the beginning of that hall was a piece of Charles Babbage’s difference engine:


(more Babbage stuff later)

A lighthouse lens:


Planes and cars:



There were a few computer exhibits near the end, including an Apple I:


The NeXT machine that was used as the first world wide web server:


and a Cray supercomputer:


On an upper floor was a hall of math and computing, and it included a larger difference engine model:




As well as a model of the analytic engine:


with punch cards for programming it:


In another display case was a portrait of Babbage, some of his notes…and his brain:


When I had finished at the museum, I got dinner at a nearby Mediterranean place (lamb with couscous, and an orange-almond cake for dessert), and then rode the subway back to Westminster.  I walked north to look around St. James Park, since it was still light out.  This park has a small lake in it, and has many, many waterfowl, some of which were imported to it by the royal family.

Here are a number of the denizens:


There were black swans:


and gray swans:


And coots, which have neat feet:


I don’t know what these red birds are (and did not get a good picture of them):


I thought this bicyclist was topiary at first:


but it’s actually some kind of vine on a frame.

As it got dark, I saw a fox bound across the path I was walking on, so I followed it for a bit, but could not get a good photo.

I made my way back to the Thames, and took a night picture of the London Eye:


As well as this walking bridge (the Golden Jubilee bridge):


I’d had enough walking for the day at that point, so I hopped on a bus and headed to the airbnb apartment and bed.


Posted by seaking on 11-18-2014 at 12:11 am
Posted in Science, Travel, Wildlife with 0 Comments

Whales of a Time

The second half of my birthday in Boston involved a lot of aquatic life.  After having lunch I headed to the waterfront, and the New England Aquarium.  I had bought a combo ticket in advance for the aquarium itself and a trip on their whale watch boat.

The aquarium had a new exhibit (though the whole place was new to me, as I’d never been there before) – a touch tank.  That is, you could stand by the side of a big, shallow tank, reach in and touch rays and small sharks.  There were a couple kinds of each swimming around in the tank.

If you can’t tell from the photo, the background is painted on the wall.

Here are some of the rays:

Those are cownose rays, which I got to touch a couple of (you’re only supposed to touch them on the middle of their backs – otherwise you might freak them out).  I also touched a bonnethead shark and an epaulette shark (for them it was more like petting a cat).  All of these animals are about a foot or so long, I should add.  It was pretty neat – the rays felt pretty slimy, whereas the sharks were rougher.

Moving into the main part of the aquarium, there is a large central tank that takes up multiple floors, and on each level there are smaller tanks around the periphery.  Below the ground floor are various kinds of penguins:

They have a lot of rocks to sit on, surrounded by water for swimming.

Before heading up the various levels, I took a detour to the seal and sea lion area:


I then made my way past various tanks on my way upward.  Some highlights included the sea dragon tank:

At first I thought this next one was a piece of seaweed floating around.  That would be its camoflage:

It was hard to get a good picture, unfortunately.

When I got to the top level, I was able to look out over the surface of the large ocean tank.  They have a big, fake coral reef in the middle which goes up to the surface.  I saw (but failed to take a picture of) a moray eel swim upward and (mostly) hide itself among the convolutions of the reef, then sit there with its mouth opening and closing, as morays are wont to do.

There was an aquarium employee at the top talking about the big tank and some of the animals in it.  In particular, it was mentioned that their large green sea turtle (named Myrtle) is about 80 years old.

As I headed down the spiral walkway along this tank, I got a good view of Myrtle, just after she’d come to rest:


When I finished going through the place, I headed outside to line up for the whale watch.  It was an early evening boat trip, starting at 6:00.  Here’s the aquarium as seen from the boat:

And looking back at the building once we got underway:

I had figured that the boat ride would be chilly compared with the city, especially as it was so late in the day.  So I had worn jeans instead of shorts for the day, and brought a long-sleeved shirt in my backpack.  I’d been hot at points earlier, but dressing warmly was well worth it once the boat got going (with its attendant wind).

Here’s a view of the harbor once we were a ways out:

The boat headed about 30 miles east from the harbor to get to whale feeding areas.  We remained in Massachusetts Bay the whole time, and at our farthest point out we could see the tip of Cape Cod just to the east.

The boat slowed down once whales were spotted, and a crew member called out whale appearances at various angles around the boat.  There were a number of appearances I couldn’t get on camera, as I wasn’t quick enough, or the whale was too far away, or other passengers were in the way.  But I got a few good shots:

We saw 2 species: humpback and minke.

After about 45 minutes in the whale area, the boat headed back, and soon the sun was setting ahead of us:

It was dark by the time we returned to the dock.  From there I hopped on the blue line train and headed back up to Revere, then took the bus to near my hotel (and walked the last few blocks).

Next: the ride home.

Posted by seaking on 07-24-2012 at 11:07 pm
Posted in Science, Travel, Wildlife with 1 Comment

Wings over Deerfield

In February, we celebrated our anniversary by going to visit Magic Wings, a butterfly conservatory in the town of Deerfield, Mass.  I had passed by the place before, but never been there.  After living in this area for more than 6 years, it was about time to check it out.

Once you pay admission and are let in, you start out in a room full of terraria.  There are various bugs, reptiles, and amphibians kept in here.  Here is a yellow frog (I didn’t note what type it is or what its native region is):

And here are 2 specimens of one of a few varieties of walking stick type bugs they had:

Hint: the bugs look like yellow leaves amid the green leaves.

Once we finished with that room, we headed through a positive-pressure chamber and then into the conservatory proper:

What you see in that picture is only about 10-20% of the space.  There are lots of species of butterfly and moth in the place, just flying around free.  Fortunately, they land a lot, which makes it easier to get pictures:

This is called a glasswing, for the obvious reason:

The big, red object that it’s perched on is a feeder, filled with nectar of some kind.  There are a lot of these around, as well as actual flowers for the insects to feed on.

In the middle of our visit, one landed on my leg:

It slowly walked upward, and I had to just let it do its thing, as they have a strict rule against touching the animals (because of potential contamination).  Once it got near my hip it decided to take off again.  You might think that the butterflies would often land on people in this space, but it’s apparently a rare occurrence.

Here are 3 ricepaper butterflies at a feeder:

This is some type of moth:

An owl butterfly:

IIRC, below is a blue morpho.  The inside of its wings are the really vibrant, blue side, but it only showed that side when in flight (and it was hard to get a good picture of them in motion):

Here’s a video of one feeding, and not sitting still:

The place also had birds in the conservatory.  This is a Gouldian Finch:

There were a bunch of them perched in a few trees, and some more (younger ones, maybe) in a couple of cages.

Also, running around the ground were these little quails:

They were funny to behold.  They mostly kept to the dirt areas under the bushes and trees, but would occasionally hop down into the walkway, run across, and hop up into the next dirt area.

Not pictured, we also were able to look in some windows at their nursery, where they’ve lined up bunches of cocoons, and you can occasionally see one break out as a newly-winged organism.  Also, apparently when they’ve recently finished metamorphosis, their wings are a bit too wet for them to fly.  We encountered one on the path that was having a hard time getting off the ground.  An employee said it was probably newly released from the nursery and still needed to dry out a little.  He picked it up by letting it walk onto a foam paintbrush (no touching, after all), and then he deposited it on a nearby branch so it would be out of harm’s way.

That was pretty much it.  If you like butterflies, or insects in general, the place is well worth the $12 admission.  I might like to visit again in the summer, when they’ll have their outdoor garden in bloom, attracting native species to it.


Posted by seaking on 03-25-2012 at 11:03 pm
Posted in Science, Travel with 3 Comments

Twelve Months Bid Goodbye

Once again I attended a concert by They Might Be Giants.  Like the previous 2 I went to, this one took place in the Calvin Theater in Northampton.  Unlike any other TMBG show I’ve been to, this one was on New Year’s Eve.

I took pictures using both my regular camera and my iPhone, so the quality varies.  Some of the images have been enhanced because they were too dark (at some point I will play with the iris settings on the camera so that it doesn’t darken down stuff when the flash is on and the subject is far from the camera).

Here’s the stage setup:

They had plastic pigeons all over the place.  Here you can see a couple on the main drum kit:

I was pretty close to the stage, having a depth of 2 people in front of me at first, more like 1 as the night went on.

There was a brief opening set by Peter Stampfel, who is formerly of the group The Holy Modal Rounders, and his daughter Zoe.  I was not familiar with Stampfel or the Rounders before this.  It was sort of folksy, bluegrassy, irreverent, and odd all at once.  Fun stuff, though Peter seemed to forget some lyrics a couple of times, and he didn’t seem to have a lot of physical stamina for performing.  The only pictures I managed to get of them are overexposed:

That set only lasted 30 minutes, and then approximately 45 minutes passed before TMBG took the stage.  They had horn players with them once again, in addition to the 5-member group they’ve been for years now.

The stage layout was different than they’ve ever done before, as there were 2 drum sets, one on each side.  John Linnell’s keyboard was at the front of the stage, but was directly in the center, rather than its usual location off to one side (generally he’s been stage left).  Here’s Linnell at the keys:

I took notes on the setlist on my phone, so I can reproduce all the songs in order here:

  • Dr. Worm
  • Withered Hope (always excellent with horns)
  • Birdhouse in Your Soul
  • The Guitar
  • Dig My Grave
  • Meet the Elements
  • Take out the Trash

At this point in the show, Marty moved to the electronic drums, and John Flansburgh talked about how Marty had programmed them with special sounds.  Marty demonstrated the odd sound samples that corresponded to the different pads, and then they played

  • Why Does the Sun Shine? (the Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas)

Marty on the little electronic set:

Marty changed the sound of the electronic drums to more normal sounds for

  • Meet James Ensor

After that, the special guest of the show arrived: The Deranged Millionaire.  This character, played by John Hodgman, first appeared on the band’s DVD Venue Songs, in which he was the driving force behind the band creating special songs for each venue they played in on their 2004 tour (apparently he had bought Brooklyn, and was going to kick them out if they didn’t do the songs).  During this concert segment, they played several of those venue songs, with Hodgman talking about each venue and its city, and maybe explaining the song.  He appeared on a projection screen:

but was doing his thing on stage in front of a little video camera (which was mounted on a lone bass drum):

He clearly didn’t have all his lines memorized, as he kept looking at what I assume was his iPhone:

The venue songs that were played:

  • Los Angeles
  • Anaheim
  • Albany
  • Dallas
  • Vancouver
  • Pittsburgh
  • Glasgow
  • Charlottesville
  • Asbury Park
  • Brooklyn

These songs were done with Marty on the usual drums, and without the horns.  After these, they played:

  • Museum of Idiots
  • Clap Your Hands
  • Whistling in the Dark
  • Seven
  • Istanbul (Not Constantinople)
  • New York City
  • The Mesopotamians
  • They Might Be Giants

Here are some shots of the horn players (I don’t remember exactly when in the concert they occurred):

The band exited the stage, and then came back for the first planned encore.  In this, John and John got in front of the video camera with some knit sock puppets:

Here they are on screen in a couple of blurry shots:

Dan Miller, the guitarist, went to the keyboard at this point, and Marty got out a board with 3 “ring for service” type bells on it.

And with this setup, they played:

  • Shoehorn with Teeth
  • In the Middle, in the Middle, in the Middle

and then they took up their normal instruments for

  • Damn Good Times

They left the stage again, and came back for one more encore, which contained 2 songs:

  • Alphabet of Nations
  • Mr. Me

In this show, they had their normal confetti cannon, which was fired off near the beginning of the evening.  However, they also had a different cannon, which kept firing confetti into the air continuously for a minute or more, fired during the second encore.  I turned around and got a picture of the stuff floating above the audience:

And that was pretty much the night.  It was a good long set – the total time TMBG spent on stage was about 1 hour, 45 minutes.  We got out of the place a little after 11:00, and I headed for home, ringing in 2010 in my own living room.

Posted by seaking on 01-10-2010 at 10:01 pm
Posted in Arts/Media, Science with 0 Comments

They forgot H.G. Wells

Another quiz, again discovered on Matt’s blog (and I like his result better than mine).  My post title refers, of course, to this movie (hmm, which is actually from ’79 – oh, well).


Your Score: Ray Stantz

168 Heart, 154 Genius, 128 Cool, 156 Excitability

Dr. Raymond Stantz – (Dan Aykroyd)

Ghostbusters (1984)

You are Ray Stantz! The heart of the Ghostbusters. You’re well-meaning, smart, and you have a childlike sense of wonder about the world. You might get taken advantage of, every once in a while, but it’s okay… You’re doing your part to help save the world.

“Gozer the Gozerian… good evening. As a duly designated representative of the City, County and State of New York, I order you to cease any and all supernatural activity and return forthwith to your place of origin or to the nearest convenient parallel dimension.”

Other scientific possibilities:

Gary Wallace

Wyatt Donnelly

Peter Venkman

Jordan Cochran

Egon Spengler

Doc Brown

Newton Crosby

Paul Stephens

Ben Crandall

Wayne Szalinkski

Winston Zeddemore

Ben Jabituya

Lazlo Hollyfeld

Ray Stantz

Buckaroo Banzai

Chris Knight

Link: The Which 80s Movie Scientist Test written by xxyl on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Posted by seaking on 11-29-2007 at 11:11 pm
Posted in Humor, Links, Science with 0 Comments

Bugs as bugs

So it seems that DARPA is interested in making cyborgs. Animal cyborgs, at least – both flying and swimming ones – to gather intelligence in otherwise hard to reach places.
I have to confess, I find this almost as cool as I find it scary. Cybernetic organisms have only been in the realm of science fiction until now, after all.  The insect kind are the ones that scare me more, as they could easily be used for, dare I say it, domestic use. Of course, the U.S. government wouldn’t spy on its own citizens, would it?

Thanks to smb for the links.

Posted by seaking on 03-26-2006 at 09:03 pm
Posted in Links, Politics, Science with 2 Comments

It’s what’s inside that matters

Went to Philadelphia this past weekend, and took in the Bodyworlds exhibit at the Franklin Institute. It was extremely fascinating. Seeing real human internal anatomy in person was well worth the admission price, especially since one’s only other option would be going to med school (the only other legal option, anyway).

In addition to seeing things I’ve never seen, I learned stuff I hadn’t known. For example, that the 2 ventricles of the heart pump blood to different areas.

Favorite items:

  • exact “castings” of vascular systems
  • brain slices
  • smokers’ lungs compared to clean ones
  • whimsical poses

Unfortunate part: we didn’t allow ourselves enough time. If you go, you may want to spend more than 2.5 hours. 🙂

Posted by seaking on 02-08-2006 at 09:02 am
Posted in Links, Science with 3 Comments