January 18th, 2012

caroline prisse

Dutch artist Caroline Prisse.

December 16th, 2011

love at first bite

Photo: David Paul/Mark Norman.

Neatorama has a round-up of the most bizarre mating mechanisms in the animal kingdom. That of the Anglerfish seems so impossibly beyond our reality that it’s spine-chilling and awe-inspiring at once…

Anglerfish, a deep sea fish named for the spiny appendage on its head that it uses as bait to “fish” its prey, has an unusual mating habit. As it spends its time in the bottom of the ocean, finding a mate is a problem – but the species solved this evolutionary challenge beautifully.

At first, scientists were perplexed because they’ve never caught a male anglerfish. Also, all female anglerfish have a lump on their body that looks like a parasite. Only later did scientists discover that the lump is the remain of the male fish.

The tiny male anglerfish are born without any digestive system, so once they hatch, they have to find a female quickly. When a male finds a female, he quickly bites her body and releases an enzyme that digests his skin and her body to fuse the two in an eternal embrace. The male then wastes away, becoming nothing but a lump on the female anglerfish’s body!

When the female is ready to spawn, her “male appendage” is there, ready to release sperms to fertilize her egg.

More at Neatorama

November 24th, 2011

formation of brinicle, brine icicle, caught on film

The BBC has caught a spectacular undersea phenomenon on film. Watch the video on the BBC website.

The science behind the phenomenon:

Dr Mark Brandon Polar oceanographer, The Open University

Freezing sea water doesn’t make ice like the stuff you grow in your freezer. Instead of a solid dense lump, it is more like a seawater-soaked sponge with a tiny network of brine channels within it.

In winter, the air temperature above the sea ice can be below -20C, whereas the sea water is only about -1.9C. Heat flows from the warmer sea up to the very cold air, forming new ice from the bottom. The salt in this newly formed ice is concentrated and pushed into the brine channels. And because it is very cold and salty, it is denser than the water beneath.

The result is the brine sinks in a descending plume. But as this extremely cold brine leaves the sea ice, it freezes the relatively fresh seawater it comes in contact with. This forms a fragile tube of ice around the descending plume, which grows into what has been called a brinicle.

Brinicles are found in both the Arctic and the Antarctic, but it has to be relatively calm for them to grow as long as the ones the Frozen Planet team observed.

BBC Nature

November 17th, 2011


The International Space Station has a nice camera on board these days… View fullscreen.

Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König.

Another (see previous post) impressive time-lapse video found via kottke.

November 17th, 2011

365 skies

(watch fullscreen)

A camera installed on the roof of the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco captured an image of the sky every 10 seconds. From these images, I created a mosaic of time-lapse movies, each showing a single day. The days are arranged in chronological order. My intent was to reveal the patterns of light and weather over the course of a year.

A simple experiment that is almost profound to watch unfold. My favourite part is the way the sunrises and sunsets flood in and out.

Ken Murphy’s “A History of The Sky” (via kottke).

November 17th, 2011

life on the inside

So far the Catalogue of Life has indexed over 1,368,009 species and the latest edition features a database from Jeya Kathirithamby of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology detailing Strepsiptera, a strange order of parasitic insect.

Strepsiptera are endoparasites – they live inside their host – with almost all females spending their entire lives inside the body of other insects and males emerging as free-living adults to mate before they die, just five or six hours later.

‘The females are totally endoparasitic for their entire life history (except in one family) and all that is visible of an adult female is an extruded cephalothorax,’ Jeya tells me. ‘The female is nothing more than a “bag of eggs”, having lost all structures such as eyes, antennae, mouthparts, legs, wings and external genitalia any other insect would possess.

‘This dramatic difference between male and female makes Strepsiptera interesting model organisms for studying such aspects as mating and reproduction.’

Jeya is a world authority on these parasites where males and females can have such different lives that they even choose entirely different hosts:

‘There is a family where the males parasitize ants and the females parasitize grasshoppers, crickets or mantids. Due to the extreme sexual dimorphism and dual hosts, the sexes could not be matched until recently. We have achieved this using molecular data.’

Surprisingly, although Strepsiptera can infect and live inside the host insect for almost its entire life, the host seems unaffected and can even have its lifespan extended.

More on Physorg: Parasite lives ‘double life’

November 11th, 2011

the importance of treehouses

More accurately, the importance of dens in general. From the Guardian (2006):

New research by academics in the US and Scandinavia is showing both that dens are crucial to children’s development – and that the opportunities for and inclination of children to make them are in danger of disappearing completely.

When Roger Hart, New York’s City University’s environmental psychologist, researched dens in Vermont in the 70s, he found that 86 children, aged three to 12 years in one town, had made at least one den. His follow-up research is showing that, today, hardly any of the children in that same town have dens at all and, those who do, have pre-manufactured ones. One child, when asked to name his “secret place”, called to his mother for help in identifying such a spot.

Hart believes a variety of factors are affecting children’s lives out of doors. Families are generally smaller in number and often both parents work, so scarcer time together means that fewer children get less attention, and when they get it, the parents tend to feel more anxious about their children’s welfare. Outdoor spaces are also becoming increasingly limited in what they offer because of fear of litigation, and the increased availability of electronic media lures children indoors. But, perhaps, above all, there is parents’ fear of letting children out alone.


November 11th, 2011

composers as gardeners

Brian Eno on “the composer as gardener”:

Of course, I was also familiar with Cage and his use of randomness, and new ways of making musical decisions. Or not making them. What fascinated me about these kinds of music was that they really completely moved away from that old idea of how a composer worked. It was quite clear with these pieces, for example “In C,” that the composer didn’t have a picture of the finished piece in his head when he started. What the composer had was a kind of menu, a packet of seeds, you might say. And those musical seeds, once planted, turned into the piece. And they turned into a different version of that piece every time.

So for me, this was really a new paradigm of composing. Changing the idea of the composer from somebody who stood at the top of a process and dictated precisely how it was carried out, to somebody who stood at the bottom of a process who carefully planted some rather well-selected seeds, hopefully, and watched them turn into something. What we did have, though, was cybernetics. And I became very interested in the work of a cybernetician called Stafford Beer. In fact, I became friends with him, ultimately. Stafford had written a book called The Brain Of The Firm, The Managerial Cybernetics Of Organization, which came out, I think, in ’72 or ’73. And it was a very exciting book because it was essentially about this idea, again, unspoken at the time, of bottom-up organization, of things growing from the bottom and turning into things of greater complexity.

Now, you must understand why this was surprising at the time. It’s surprising for the same reason that evolution theory is still surprising to most Americans. Which is that the concept of something intelligent coming from something simple is very hard to understand. It’s not intuitive at all. The whole shock about Darwinian evolution is that simplicity turns into complexity. It’s not obvious that that should happen.

What happened in Stafford’s work was that he was talking about organization and how things organize themselves in this new way. And there was one sentence in the book which I think I still remember, he said ‘instead of trying to organize it in full detail, you organize it only somewhat and you then rely on the dynamics of the system to take you in the direction you want to go.’ And this became my sort of motto for how I wanted composition to be.

From a transcript of a talk found here in video & audio (via 3qd)

September 26th, 2011

bornean beards

Borneo is home to the bearded pig. Via Tetrapod Zoology blog

September 14th, 2011

saturn abides

If you look to the top left of Saturn, seen here eclipsing our sun, you can see the planet Earth as a tiny white dot in the background. The perfect order of such a massive object and the debris bound by it’s pull, and the perfection in turn of its alignment in space, is glorious.

From Nasa’s image of the day September 04 2011.

August 13th, 2011

we aren’t alone in the universe, we are the universe

From Alan Watts, Out of Your Mind:

We define manliness in terms of aggression, you see, because we’re a little bit frightened as to whether or not we’re really men. And so we put on this great show of being a tough guy. It’s completely unnecessary. If you have what it takes, you don’t need to put on that show. And you don’t need to beat nature into submission. Why be hostile to nature? Because after all, you ARE a symptom of nature. You, as a human being, you grow out of this physical universe in exactly the same way an apple grows off an apple tree.

So let’s say the tree which grows apples is a tree which apples, using ‘apple’ as a verb. And a world in which human beings arrive is a world that peoples. And so the existence of people is symptomatic of the kind of universe we live in. Just as spots on somebody’s skin is symptomatic of chicken pox. Just as hair on a head is symptomatic of what’s going on in the organism. But we have been brought up by reason of our two great myths–the ceramic and the automatic–not to feel that we belong in the world. So our popular speech reflects it. You say ‘I came into this world.’ You didn’t. You came out of it. You say ‘Face facts.’ We talk about ‘encounters’ with reality, as if it was a head-on meeting of completely alien agencies.

people say there was a primordial explosion, an enormous bang billions of years ago which flung all the galaxies into space. Well let’s take that just for the sake of argument and say that was the way it happened.

It’s like you took a bottle of ink and you threw it at a wall. Smash! And all that ink spread. And in the middle, it’s dense, isn’t it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see? So in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread. And you and I, sitting here in this room, as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it. Very interesting. But so we define ourselves as being only that. If you think that you are only inside your skin, you define yourself as one very complicated little curlicue, way out on the edge of that explosion. Way out in space, and way out in time. Billions of years ago, you were a big bang, but now you’re a complicated human being. And then we cut ourselves off, and don’t feel that we’re still the big bang. But you are. Depends how you define yourself. You are actually–if this is the way things started, if there was a big bang in the beginning– you’re not something that’s a result of the big bang. You’re not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. When I meet you, I see not just what you define yourself as–Mr so-and- so, Ms so-and-so, Mrs so-and-so–I see every one of you as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I’m that, too. But we’ve learned to define ourselves as separate from it.

July 10th, 2011

the mechanics of nightjar noises

The sounds of the common nightjar/nighthawk explained.

June 8th, 2011

an explosion a million kilometres wide


As you can see in these videos, not only is some of the surface ejected into space as a result of the explosion, some of it returns to crash back into the Sun. The videos are being provided through Helioviewer.org which is an open-source project, funded by ESA and NASA, for the visualization of solar and heliospheric data. It seems the video of the solar flare was so popular on Tuesday that some visitors to Helioviewer.org had long movie waits due to the increase in traffic.

More video, photo and background info at geek.com.

May 24th, 2011

the workings of the yeasty soul

I’ve wanted to share this text for a while, but I couldn’t find it online anywhere. I thought about just quoting the parts I like, but I felt like quoting most of it. So now I’ve typed out the whole text, a chapter out of the book The Use of Imagination by William Walsh (Chatto & Windus, 1959).

Even if you don’t agree with all Lawrence’s ideas (and in the latter part there is admittedly a rather questionable proposition for the realization of his philosophies), you can still even just appreciate the elegance of his expression, his clarity of vision, and the poetry of his words.

The book is a collection of essays exploring what some of the biggest names in literature have to teach us about imagination. The book is written for educators, but the insights are universal. This chapter is on D. H. Lawrence’s insights. The chapter is called The Writer as Teacher

Read the rest of this entry »

May 22nd, 2011

what the degraded soul unworthily admires

From Wordsworth’s Ruth, or The Influences of Nature:

But ill he lived, much evil saw,
With men to whom no better law
Nor better life was known;
Deliberately and undeceived
Those wild men’s vices he received,
And gave them back his own.

His genius and his moral frame
Were thus impair’d, and he became
The slave of low desires—
A man who without self-control
Would seek what the degraded soul
Unworthily admires.

The entire poem is on bartleby.

May 3rd, 2011

hymn to the spirit of nature

P.b. Shelley:

LIFE of Life! thy lips enkindle
With their love the breath between them;
And thy smiles before they dwindle
Make the cold air fire: then screen them
In those locks, where whoso gazes
Faints, entangled in their mazes.

Child of Light! thy limbs are burning
Through the veil which seems to hide them,
As the radiant lines of morning
Through thin clouds, ere they divide them;
And this atmosphere divinest
Shrouds thee wheresoe’er thou shinest.

Fair are others: none beholds thee;
But thy voice sounds low and tender
Like the fairest, for it folds thee
From the sight, that liquid splendour;
And all feel, yet see thee never,
As I feel now, lost for ever!

Lamp of Earth! where’er thou movest
Its dim shapes are clad with brightness,
And the souls of whom thou lovest
Walk upon the winds with lightness
Till they fail, as I am failing,
Dizzy, lost, yet unbewailing!

April 27th, 2011

pure cinema / 6.18.67

At the end of his tenture at USC, 24-year-old George Lucas went to Arizona to follow the production of the western, McKenna’s Gold for three months. He made this short visual tone-poem while there.


Pure Cinema is the film theory and practice whereby movie makers create a more emotionally intense experience using autonomous film techniques, as opposed to using stories, characters, or actors.

Unlike nearly all other fare offered via celluloid, pure cinema rejects the link and the character traits of artistic predecessors such as literature or theatre. It declares cinema to be its own independent art form that should not borrow from any other. As such, “pure cinema” is made up of nonstory, noncharacter films that convey abstract emotional experiences through unique cinematic devices such as montage (the Kuleshov Effect), camera movement and camera angles, sound-visual relationships, super-impositions and other optical effects, and visual composition.

Pure cinema.

April 25th, 2011

the tabacco hornworm & bioaccumulation

The Tabacco Hornworm or Manduca Sexta. Photo: Daniel Schwen.

Some animal species exhibit bioaccumulation as a mode of defense; by consuming toxic plants or animal prey, a species may accumulate the toxin which then presents a deterrent to a potential predator. One example is the tobacco hornworm, which concentrates nicotine to a toxic level in its body as it consumes tobacco plants. Poisoning of small consumers can be passed along the food chain to affect the consumers later on.

Other compounds that are not normally considered toxic can be accumulated to toxic levels in organisms. The classic example is of Vitamin A, which becomes concentrated in carnivore livers of e.g. polar bears: as a pure carnivore that feeds on other carnivores (seals), they accumulate extremely large amounts of Vitamin A in their livers. It was known by the native peoples of the Arctic that the livers should not be eaten, but Arctic explorers have suffered Hypervitaminosis A from eating the bear livers (and there has been at least one example of similar poisoning of Antarctic explorers eating husky dog livers). One notable example of this is the expedition of Sir Douglas Mawson, where his exploration companion died from eating the liver of one of their dogs.

Bioaccumulation @ wikipedia.

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