Brought the cats to the vet today for their annual checkup and vaccine boosters. Here is how Martha looks at the vet:

At the Vet

And here is how Amelia looks at the vet:

At the Vet

Amelia has a bit of gingivitis and will need daily applications of gum gel. You can tell which cat was much less happy about this trip.

Bill Murray on Mendel and the Philippines

Interesting quote from the Bill Murray Reddit AMA thread about how a visit to the Philippines made him think of Gregor Mendel:

But I would like to know about Mendel, because i remember going to the Philippines and thinking “this is like Mendel’s garden” because it had been invaded by so many different countries over the years, and you could see the children shared the genetic traits of all their invaders over the years, and it made for this beautiful varietal garden.

Gregor Mendel was the Augustinian friar and gardener whose experiments with peas laid the foundation for modern genetics, in what would become the Czech Republic, back in the 19th Century.

The Philippines, of course, has been colonized by Spain and the United States, and its people have always been a mix of Southeast Asian, Chinese, Spanish, South American, and Pacific Islander genes since prehistoric times. Basically, Bill Murray said we’re a lot like Gregor Mendel’s peas. Some time I will need to write about my Genographic Project DNA test results; they were surprising.


Sometimes Amelia Cat likes to hang out on a shelf and ambush me with a grab as I pass by.

This reminds me that both cats are about due for a claw-trimming.

Natural History Sunday

Spent Sunday afternoon after church browsing through the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Did you know the Fénykövi Elephant in the museum rotunda is affectionately known as “Henry?” And the Morganucodon is named “Morgie.”

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Technological artifacts reveal themselves in the Gems and Minerals galleries: interactive touchscreen kiosks from the 1990s with old Apple Computer and EAI Interactive logos.

Old interactive touchscreen

And while everyone likes to gawk at the Hope Diamond, I personally prefer to watch the radioactive zircon sample spin past this old school Geiger counter.

Chastised by Chewbacca

Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in the original Star Wars films, is on Twitter as @TheWookieeRoars. He runs a fun and engaging stream for fans, posting historic behind-the-scenes photos from Star Wars production and other fun imagery. But when he posted a photo of an “awesome” standing cat wearing a Chewbacca bandoleer I had to point it out — the accessory was added on to the original image much later.

He didn’t take kindly to this and actually replied back — which, snippy response aside, is a real credit to the high level of Mayhew’s engagement with fans and critics alike.

Of course as a longtime internet pedant I can’t agree: lots of people don’t care about original authorship, and they build whole moneymaking websites around passing off images with modifications and without credit, to the original creator’s detriment. Whether a pasted-in bandoleer makes the image more awesome is up for debate but sometimes you you do have to be the bearer of bad news and speak truth to power — or in this case, “Photoshop” to Wookiee.

Further replies to the tweet have only pointed out how willing people are to defend the Photoshopped work over the original. It’s really not a big deal — I felt a bit bad being the guy to point it out to a [literal] giant like Mayhew — but there’s a wider Barthes-ian message here about the inherently postmodern nature of internet culture as an authorless environment in which the dialectic between creation, modification, and originality renders those concepts increasingly amorphous and meaningless in a sea of 4chans and 9GAGs. As for me, I try to credit original photographers where possible. (Can’t find the original photographer for Mewbacca, though; just the Reddit thread which popularized the image.)

Mayhew is also the subject of Standing in the Stars, a crowdfunded documentary about his time with — and since — Star Wars. Mayhew has giantism, which, while it gave him the physical stature to portray Chewbacca in the films, has also limited his mobility and caused him pain. Proceeds from the Kickstarter go to his and his family’s aid as he undergoes surgery to help him walk unassisted.

Also check out Mayhew’s book, Growing Up Giant, an autobiographical graphic novel.

Twelfth Winter

The snow started out picturesque, dry flakes coating the business parks and parking lots of suburban North Virginia.

Winter in Herndon

It wasn’t quite as picturesque the next day, and thawing and refreezing turned the parking lots into skating rinks.

Winter in Herndon

Then came the Polar Vortex (fortunately after a relatively warm rain and melt that removed the parking lot ice sheet). That gave me a good reason to pull out my Russian ushanka hat.

Ushanka kind of day

It’s been twelve years since my first winter in the U.S..

Capitol Sunset

It was one of those perfect “golden hour” moments; the setting sun shining through a hole in the clouds on the shortest day of the year, just as we were walking by the West side of the Capitol to get to the Metro. I got the picture, and mere minutes later, the tawny glow was gone.

Capitol at Solstice Sunset

And so ends 2013. We got new kittens (a few months after Pandora’s passing). I lost a job (Rickrolling everyone on the way out) and got a new job (and a FIAT 500). I saw the first Antares rocket launch and we had a horsey summer at Chincoteague. We rode roller coasters in Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Hersheypark, and heritage railroads in Cumberland and Romney. More happened, but for now I’m kinda glad 2013 is over.

ISS and SL-16 R/B

Got a little bonus with my ISS flyover long exposure on Friday 12/27: an SL-16 R/B (spent Russian Zenit rocket booster) orbiting from North to South faded in and crossed paths over the station:

ISS and SL-16 R/B 2013-12-27

This was one of my best ISS long exposures thus far, on a nice, clear night with no wind, with camera jitter minimized by using a simple 10 sec delay after pressing the shutter. Photoset of my ISS long exposure attempts through the years here.

Christmas Photos 2013

Christmas scenes from around DC this December:

Decorated station manager booth, Farragut West Metro station Capitol Christmas Tree
US Botanic Gardens Christmas Tree First Baptist DC with Christmas Wreaths

And from around New Jersey, where we spent Christmas with Amy’s folks:

Scary Christmas Yankees and Vader
Christmas Lights in NJ Christmas Lights in NJ

Also this Santa Claus-themed Christmas card is the most brilliant riff on Matisse’s The Dance I have ever seen:

Matisse Santa card