Sunday, August 7, 2016

A penguin encounter

Last month, as boxes of clay penguins were piling up for the Potters' Penguin Project, I wondered whether one could see real live penguins anywhere in North Carolina. Google quickly pointed me to the Greensboro Science Center, where one can not only see African penguins in the "Sciquarium" but also experience a "Penguin Encounter." So I made reservations, and on a blisteringly hot Saturday two weeks ago, E and I headed to Greensboro with friends.

African penguins are found along the coast of southern Africa. Their status went from vulnerable to endangered on the IUCN redlist in 2010, with their decline attributed to overfishing and changes in prey sources. The African penguins at the Greensboro Science Center are part of a Species Survival Plan that coordinates and monitors breeding to ensure genetic diversity. The Science Center currently has 20 penguins, with space for 25, and has successfully bred nine chicks, some of which have been sent to other zoos.

The penguins we encountered up close were juveniles: Pat (female) and Nigel (male). Nigel wasn't wearing a tag because he was bulking up to molt. We weren't permitted to hold the penguins ourselves--both for our safety and that of the birds--but we were able to pet Pat while a keeper held her, and we were all surprised to learn that penguins have surprisingly silky, soft feathers.

Penguins are social, interactive birds, with individual personalities and individual relationships with the keepers.

African penguins are also called Jackass penguins because of the sounds they make.

The keepers were generous with their time and answered all of our many questions, and it was thrilling to meet these beautiful birds up close. We'll likely head back next spring for the Science Center's Tuxedo Trot, a 5K fundraiser for SANCCOB (the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds).

Monday, August 1, 2016

Return to Wadlstrumpf

Time for the annual visit to the old blogging stomping grounds...

August 1, descent into KEF, 11:30pm

Friday, July 22, 2016

Steins 2016

I apparently forgot to take photos of my steins for the past two years of Steinfest, but last year I did measure the volume of my steins, and they each comfortably held 24 ounces. That's about .7 liters--way more than my 2013 Prohibitionist steins held, of course, with ample room for a Hoibe Bier, but not quite enough room for a Maß. Someone told me they needed to be bigger, so this year my steins all hold a full liter and then some. I stuck with the zigzag design but switched from white-on-black to blue-on-white. I didn't make them with Bavaria in mind, but blue zigzags recall blue diamonds, so I'll pretend the Bayerisch flair was intentional. Prost!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Necco wafers

When I was in high school, my calculus teacher liked to talk about Necco Wafers. He described them as having a thickness of dh and showed that if you integrate the area of a Necco Wafer over a roll of height h, you get the volume of the roll. We were supposed to imagine the Necco Wafers as infinitessimally thin, and the simile helped us understand that little things add up.

I use the Necco Wafer simile when I teach pottery classes. When you make a cylinder on the wheel, you do several "pulls," thinning the wall with each pull and increasing the height of the cylinder. If you pull the clay up too quickly--before the wheel has an opportunity to spin around a sufficient number of times for each wall slice dh--the cylinder wall doesn't thin evenly, and you create thin sections that coil up the pot and make the wall and rim uneven. If students don't know what I mean by dh, I tell them about my high school calculus teacher and ask them to imagine their cylinder as a stack of Necco Wafers. Usually everyone gets the idea, although sometimes I have to explain to the young'uns what Necco Wafers are.

Last week, one of my students brought me a roll of Necco Wafers that she found in the retro-candy section of a store. Turns out the only thing Necco Wafers are really good for are similes. Tip: avoid eating them, but if you feel you must, DO NOT eat the green or purple ones.

Misty day at Hanging Rock State Park

The guy on the right biked 102 miles to go camping with us!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Findus gets a hip name

We have friends who gave their son a distinguished first name and a hip middle name. Their son went by Hipname until middle school, when he decided to create a new middle-school identity by going by Distinguished (Dist for short). Those of us who have known him since he was a wee babe have trouble remembering this, and we have to work at not calling him Hipname, but most of his current peers have only known him as Dist.

Based on this model, I have suggested to E that we gave Findus an official hip middle name. The cat can continue to use his distinguished name (Findus) when he goes to the vet or applies to college, but at least while he's still a kittenish cat, I think we should call him by his hip name. Hipname is not to be confused with assorted nicknames: E will probably still call Findus "Baby Cat," and I will probably still call him "Bitey Beau." But Findus seems to be communicating to us, through his behavior, that he wants to go by his Hipname now, and we should try to honor that. So for the next while, we'll be calling him "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

Here's a film in which Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde chases Schroeder up the stairs.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Photographs of a spotted teapot

Thanks to penguin-photographing needs, I've finally found a practical location for the Flotone graduated background. The background is taped to the living room wall, tucked away into an otherwise unused corner. It drops onto a small table that S made years ago for plants, but that we use now to semi-hide Kapla blocks and Space Chips. I leave the bottom half of the background rolled up against the wall when not in use, and I unroll it and tape the edge to the table when taking photographs. The table sits next to a large south-facing window that looks out onto the porch, so the space gets natural light but is shielded from direct sun. This set up works reasonably well for daytime shots, but sunlight from a west-facing window sometimes casts undesirable shadows. If I'm feeling energetic, I tape a big piece of cardboard over that window; otherwise I work around the shadows. Nighttime sessions are better: I set up my snazzy 55W bulb in its diffuser and have more control over the lighting.

Below are some nighttime shots of a non-penguin. As my holes addiction wreaks havoc on my wrists (and would wreak havoc on a teapot), I'm experimenting with spots. I think I showed admirable restraint in this piece.