Random Thursday

Photo: Two male Northern shovelers in Pecan Creek, Texas

Howdy, buckaroos. Today is National Opposite Day, which, if I were truly serious about such things, would prompt me to write an earnest and fact-filled — perhaps even edifying — post. But that’s just silly talk. However, it is worth noting that the opposite of ambidextrous is ambilevous (according to the preceding link), meaning that one is equally lousy at doing something with either hand. I’ll pause a moment to let the implications of that sink in.

[momentary pause]

But forget about yaD etisoppO lanoitaN [see what I did there?]; what I really want to focus on is the fact that last Tuesday was National Pie Day, not to be confused with Pi Day, which itself should not be confused with Friday (although next year, Pi Day and Friday will coincide/collide; never believe for a moment that the Gazette staff shirks its research responsibilities). Uh…I forget where I was heading with this…


Oh, yeah, I remember. So, NPD (as we pieologists refer to it) is one of the very few hallowed holidays, the others being The Big Three: Easter, Christmas, and January 28, the latter date commemorating the day the Dallas Cowboys last won a Super Bowl, 27 years ago (and counting…and counting…and…), because who doesn’t love pie? OK, I know one person who prefers cake, but that’s it. Anyway, here’s the deal about NPD: back in the 1970s, when the Cowboys still had a good football team, some random guy named Charlie Papazian declared that his birthday — January 23 — would thereafter be known as National Pie Day. And it was. And it is.

So, how does that even happen? How does one command the attention of the entire nation in such a way that one’s name is forever associated, albeit obliquely and probably obscurely, with a delicious pastry? Of course, Mr. Papazian already had some street cred, as he founded the American Homebrewers Association, earning him the title of the Godfather of Bathtub Brewing (not really; I just made that up). Nevertheless, I think each of us should give some thought to declaring a National [insert your desired comestible or beverage] Day and associate said day with our birthday.

I shall lead by example. My birthday is June 28 [please make a note of that, and I like cherry pie], and after a fairly signficant amount of cogitation and research (to make sure no one else has claimed it first), I hereby declare June 28th to be National Molten Lava Cake Day. So let it be written; so let it be done.

Feel free to stake your claim to your own National Day, and document it below in the comments. I’m pretty sure that will represent a binding legal declaration that will stand up to rigorous judicial scrutiny*

*Although, probably not.

Moving on to more serious matters, for which I apologize, let’s discuss…

Dabbling Ducks

We’ve had some pretty decent recent rainfall, the result of which is a rather swiftly flowing and muddy creek behind our house. A couple of days ago, I noticed that there were two duck-like creatures spending a lot of time with their heads under the water. I grabbed my new camera (did I already mention I got a new camera for Christmas?) with an 80-200 zoom and took the following photo:

A pair of male Northern Shovelers in Pecan Creek

I’m not entirely pleased with the quality of this photo. The ducks were at least a hundred yards away, but I couldn’t use the autofocus feature on the lens because of the tree branches between me and creek (that’s those out-of-focus things in the foreground…feel free to rewatch My Cousin Vinnie for additional context), and my manual focusing skills could use some work. Nevertheless, the photo was clear enough to be able to identify the birds as Northern Shovelers (Spatula clypeata), a species of duck that belongs to a group known as dabblers.

Not being wise in the ways of aquatic fowl, I never considered that ducks fell into two categories: divers and dabblers. Dabbling ducks don’t, you know, dive under the surface of the water in search of food. Instead, they float on the surface and submerge only their heads in order to use their spoon-shaped bills to strain water and collect food such as seeds and small crustaceans and invertebrates.

The bills on the shovelers are rimmed with tiny “teeth” called lamellae which act as strainers. This is not unlike the mechanism employed by baleen whales, albeit on a tremendously smaller scale.

For the linguists in the audience, you might be interested in knowing that the Spanish name for these ducks is cuchara comĂșn, the literal translation of which is common spoon. And, of course, the Latin name includes the word spatula, which should be self-explanatory, as well as quite descriptive.

It’s not uncommon for Northern shovelers to appear in our area, although we’re not within their breeding range. But this is the first time I can recall seeing them in the creek.

Bling of the Day: Self-Leveling Wheel Caps

Any idea what the following image is?

If you guessed “an icon of an alien entity,” you are literally wrong but perhaps figuratively accurate, assuming that the thought of spending $200,000+ on a car is an alien concept. Here’s that figure placed in context:

Now, the first image is the symbol that appears on the wheel caps of most (all? I have no idea, TBH) models of Bentley automobiles. Here’s what it looks like in real life:

Closeup of a Bentley Batur wheel, which is complementary when included with the $2.1 million purchase price of the car.

I suspect that there’s very little that would be more embarrassing to a Bentley owner than to have the iconic “B” rest on its side when the car is stopped, and that’s why Bentley has created self-leveling wheel caps to ensure that the “B” remains upright while stopped (and also in speeds up to 70 mph, in case you need further identification of the vehicle with the bejeweled poodle in the front passenger seat that just passed you in your old and busted Escalade in a school zone). It accomplishes this important task via a set of special bearings and a lead fishing weight** at the bottom of the “B.”

Given that my daily driver is a fifteen year old Honda pickup with over 200K miles, I’m not the target audience for such gewgaws, and so it was news to me that Bentleys aren’t the only car with self-leveling wheel caps. They are on Rolls Royces, some models of Volkswagen (which, after all, owns Bentley, so that’s no surprise), as well as some models of BMW. And, in fact, there are after-market caps for many more plebeian models. Then there’s this one for your Benz that not only floats but also lights up.

All of this is just more proof that we live in a time of signs and wonders.

**Unverified conjecture but not completely out of the question.

Parting Shots

But is the crime scene tape still up?
You say that like it’s a bad thing.
Visual learners rock.