Category Archives: Nature

Damned Tornadoes Interfereing with My Art

All I wanted to do today was to go to Eastfield College in Mesquite, Texas and install about 700 arrows in the ceiling of a hallway there for an exhibition at the school called “Temporary Occupants”. My piece is called “Inhale-Exhale” and it involves the arrows interacting with the intake and output air vents in the ceiling of the hallway…

But just like every other time it seems like I have to install or transport artwork, mother nature just HAS to show me who’s boss… Fifteen tornadoes were spotted in the DFW area this afternoon, many just miles from my location, and so two hours of my precious install-time were spent sitting in the basement awaiting the impending doom…

And if that image is not enough, here is a video from the same storm of some semi-trailers being tossed about like balloons… And THAT is the tornado that was still headed toward Mesquite, exactly where I was installing artwork.

Amazingly, we dodged that bullet and my truck survived without even a hail dent. I was finally allowed to continue my installation and I was finished by around 9:00 tonight. So at least mother nature was simply a road-block and not a wrecking ball for my artwork…In retrospect, the mechanics of fluid motion that are at play in a storm are exactly the things I am interested in with the air currents in this piece on a much smaller scale. Coincidence? I think not… 😉 Here are some images I got of the finished work tonight.

"Inhale-Exhale" 2012 detail image

"Inhale-Exhale" 2012- detail image


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Tree Lobsters On Ball’s Pyramid

 No, it’s not a Roger Dean album cover.  It is a real place right here on Earth.  Ball’s Pyramid rises like a wizard’s hat out of the Pacific Ocean 12 miles off the coast of Lord Howe Island between Australia and New Zealand.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and probably warrants a post all to itself.  But the remarkableness of this remarkable piece of rock isn’t the most remarkable thing about it.  This is:

That is a pair of Dryococelus australis, aka the Lord Howe Stick Insect, aka the “Tree Lobster,” aka the world’s rarest insect.  It was believed to have been  extinct since the 1930s.  But in 2001, two Australian scientists scaled sheer face of the tiny island on a hunch that perhaps a few of the insects were hiding out there.  On their first excursion, they found an encouraging sign– bug poop.  They returned at night to find about 30 of the handsome critters gathered around a single plant.

I recommend reading the entire story of the expedition at Robert Kurlwich’s NPR science blog.

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Holy Cow!

Photograph by Mariajoseph Johnbasco

Today’s National Geographic Photo of the Day is divinely bovine.  Or is that bovinely divine?  Maybe I should let the photographer clarify:

“I shot this calf on the road in 2011 on the eve of Diwali at Neyveli, which is my hometown. Due to crackers going off everywhere, the cows couldn’t rest near homes so they sought the middle of the road for rest. The fog, noise, and the backlighting of the streetlight made me take this picture.”

Now, I’m from Texas and when you talk about crackers going off shooting calves, it means something completely different.

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Live Science has a nice gallery of deep sea creepies, including the sea cucumber pictured above.  It’s called the Halloween Holothurian, but I call it Destroyer of Worlds.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s a face not even a mother could love.

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The Museum Of Life

My mom tipped me off to this really nice BBC series about the Natural History Museum in London and how it functions as not only a repository of artifacts, but as an active research facility.  I have to say the star of the show is the building itself.  Built in 1881, its impressive facade and exhibition halls only tell part of the story.  Many of the museums real treasures are housed in the labyrinthine halls, corridors, and basements, which are not open to the public.  The series gives a decent look at what goes on behind the scenes in the building and in the field.  If you enjoy visiting natural history museums, this series is pretty hard to beat.

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Something From Nothing ? A Discussion between Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss

It is definitely worth your time this weekend to sit down with this discussion. Two of my favorite thinkers hold a two-hour discussion on the really big topics of life and the universe, as well as thoughts on the ever-expanding frontiers of those two hefty subjects.

Join critically-acclaimed author and evolutionary biologist Richard
Dawkins and world-renowned theoretical physicist and author Lawrence
Krauss as they discuss biology, cosmology, religion, and a host of other

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Meet The Micro-meleon

Whachoo lookinat? The newly discovered Nanosaurus Rex

Via Live Science— Scientists announced the latest contender for the title of World’s Smallest Vertebrate (competition includes the world’s smallest frog and the world’s smallest angler fish) in the shape of this micro-mini dinosaur.  Pictured on the match head above is a juvenile Brookesia Micra, one of four new species discovered on a tiny island off the coast of Madagascar.  The adults reach a staggering half an inch in length.


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Mind-Melting, Award-Winning Microscopic Photography

Stem section of garden bamboo at 200X and under flourescent light by Gerd Guenther -- Honorable Mention, BioScapes 2011

My search for interesting wallpaper landed me on Olympus’ BioScapes International Digital Imaging contest page and I’m glad to report my brain is finally beginning to recover from the overload of awesomeness.  But I have not recovered to the point where I could add anything cogent or meaningful to the images.  Sometimes, words fail.

Black fly using stereomicroscopy by Fabrice Parais -- honorable Mention BioScapes 2010

One of the reasons I love these so much is the subjects are things we take for granted.  The magic comes from the change of perspective.  It’s thrilling to think of an entire universe of beautiful things right under our noses, completely hidden from our vision– a universe where fly heads and stink bug eggs appear as giant alien life forms.

Stink bug eggs under brightfiled illumination by Haris Antonopoulos -- 6th place, BioScapes 2011

On this scale, wildflower seeds look like an exotic sushi dish from the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

Seeds of wildflowers under brightfield reflected light by Yanping Wang -- 9th Place BioScapes 2010

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More On The Bowerbird’s Construction Skills

Paul’s post about the bowerbird’s prowess as a builder reminded me of the David Attenborough special, The Life of Birds, which has a segment dedicated to this fastidious and fascinating species.  Not only do the birds use perspective to entice their mates, but the bowers themselves may be used to amplify the birds’ songs.  They are also known to be formidable immitators.

I seem to recall a show– Attenborough has filmed many with the bowerbird– where the venerable host places a few sticks or leaves out of place and the bird comes back immediately and removes the trash and rearranges the space.  It was pretty cute.  But I can’t find it on the youtubes.


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Bowerbird builds a house of illusions to improve his chances of mating

I have been a fan of Mo Costandi’s blog called Neurophilosophy for a while now. His blog has recently been picked up by The Guardian, so congratulations to him.

As a visual artist, I am interested in why people began making art in the first place, so his recent post struck a particular chord with me. Check out the entire post. But here is a bait to attract your attention:

Male bowerbirds use their intelligence to impress the females, constructing elaborate structures called bowers to attract mates. They are not only master builders, but also accomplished artists. Males of some species decorate their bowers lavishly with flower petals and sparkly manmade objects. The Satin bowerbird even paints the walls of his bower with charcoal or chewed up berries.

Male Great bowerbirds are even more remarkable. Their bowers, which are among the most complex of all, are true marvels of avian architecture. But as well as being builders and artists, males of this species are also magicians – the bowers they build are like a house of illusions, with built-in visual tricks that manipulate females’ perceptions and increase their likelihood of choosing the builder as their mate.

Bowerbirds are a family of twenty species that are native to Australia and New Guinea that are renowned for their unusually complex mating behaviour. The Great bowerbird of northern Australia is the largest species in the family. Males sport brownish-grey plumage build bowers, and spend many months building their bowers. The bowers consist of a thatched twig tunnel forming an avenue of approximately half a metre in length, opening out onto a court whose floor is covered with bones, shells and stones. When a potential mate steps into the avenue, the male stands in the court just by the avenue’s exit, displaying to her the colourful objects he has collected, one after the other.

Two years ago, John Endler of Deakin University and his colleagues reported that the males use visual illusions when constructing their bowers. They do so by arranging the objects covering the floor of the court in a particular way, so that they increase in size as the distance from the bower increases. This positive size-distance gradient creates a forced perspective which results in false perceptions of the geometry of the bower, which is visible only to the female when she is standing in the avenue. From her point of view, all of the objects in the court appear to be the same size. Consequently, she may perceive the court as being smaller than it actually is, and the male to be bigger.

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