Crowblocked!

I have a fifty tits of grey post lined up, but a quick interlude about predators, social birds, and cooperation.

I think I didn’t mention it here, but this winter, I started leaving walnuts out for the crows – leftovers from years past that we found in the storage room, but still good. To be honest, this started when I noticed a ragtag group of corvids (crows, jays and magpies – not explaining the word ‘corvid’, all three were members of this loose affiliation of walnut aficionados) eating the few nuts we had straight from the tree. It was a small crop anyway, so I don’t feel too bitter about it…

Getting rid of the evidence on the neighbours’ roof…
(c) rq, all rights reserved

Thief, caught red-beaked. (c) rq, all rights reserved

Just taking a stroll… (c) rq, all rights reserved

Anyway, I started feeding them through the cold snowy months, and while the jays and magpies haven’t been sticking around, there’s a small flock of 4 or 5 crows (family group?) that regularly cleans out the (much cheaper, if buying) peanuts.

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Evasively Cute

As mentioned previously, tufted tits (more correctly, European crested tits) have been a tough customer for me. They are shy and hyperactive, plus their camouflage markings make them difficult to see, as they prefer to remain in the hedgerow as opposed to coming out in the open. So today’s exemplar is uncooperative. In other words, find that tit!

Such a pretty little bird, as you can see… (c) rq

A little bit of yoga, to stretch the neck and spot those seeds! (c) rq

Not looking at you… (c) rq

Unfortunately, that’s the best I could do. I really love them, but they could manage to hold still long enough, couln’t they…?

Here’s someone else’s photo to get a better view:

And in honour of today’s Perseverance rover landing (hopefully!) On Mars – David Bowie’s “Life on Mars.

 

Great Tits!

The visual tour of our local tit diversity continues. Today: great tits! They really are great, also larger than other tits – really big tits. They’re also braver than other tits, as they have safety in numbers. In bright lemon yellow, so quite the cheery addition.

Checking out the first feeder (it broke), there’s rarely just the one. (c) rq

Also not shy about the acrobatics! (c) rq

Excellent form. Thought there’s no seeds down there… show off. (c) rq

Given to curmudgeonliness, despite the bright colours! (c) rq

And not shy about tackling walnuts or buried seed. (c) rq

Floosh! (c) rq

Concentration… must get that seedy goodness! (c) rq

Next up I think will be tufted tits, which are devious to the core and absolutely refuse to hold still for any kind of decent photo. Tough customers but adorable in the extreme.

Red Moon by Tom Jackson

I watched CBC’s Trickster and just love the soundtrack.

 

Blue Tits!

Here’s the first set of this winter’s tit pics. The blue ones are rather rare this year, but there’s one or two regular visitors willing to put up with the great tits and sparrows. I have to say the weather this weekend was that perfect winter mix of sun and frigid, no wind.

So, let’s all be 12 together and check out some blue tits, shall we?

Blue tit with walnut (c) rq

At the other feeder (c) rq

The walnuts are for the corvids, but they haven’t been by for a while. (c) rq

Warming up… (c) rq

… for the acrobatics! (c) rq

Note: most photos are taken through a selection of windows, one of which is tinted, so the lighting can be a bit odd.

Another cover today, but hey, it’s winter, warmer under the covers!

Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat”, performed by Eivør.

WHOOSH

 

Whatever anyone says, the kids aren’t alright. Emotionally speaking, that is. But we deal, even if the current state of affairs makes it hard to be there for them. That’s today’s sad comment.

These motion shots always remind me of Caine (I miss her) and somehow I forgot to transfer the best one (working from my phone). But I’ll find it! There’s also still plenty of bird to get more.

Consider these teaser tit pics. But I will call them by their adorable Canadian name this time, because I also miss Canada. My mum is still being responsible and not flying back. So there’s that, too.

Chickadee whoosh… (c) rq

More chickadee whoosh… (c) rq

Chickadee whoosh while told off by a brambling. (c) rq

 

The Bangles – Hazy Shade of Winter

The original may still be the best, but I love this cover.

Northern Parrot Substitutes

Hi everyone, things are nuts, but what can you do. I’ll complain later.

Winter has come, with so much snow, it’s wonderful. Never a better way to get the kids outside.

This year I also decided to tame some crows (progress: none), since they were stealing the walnuts anyway. As a side effect, I decided to feed all the little birds, too. I put out large nuts for the large birds, and keep the others supplied with sunflower seeds and pork fat. The nuts disappear, but I still have no crow friends to gloat about…

Anyway, I can’t compete with Charly’s amazing birds, he’s certainly got some wonderful rare species showing up, but I’m quite pleased with this year’s feeder flock. Tit pics later, currently I’m most proud of my bullfinches because at least two couples live nearby and visit.

They obviously don’t mind each other’s table manners… a match made in heaven!

Taking care of the competition… (c) rq

 

Wipe your beak. (c) rq

 

I got one photo of both together, then the male walked out of the frame. (c) rq

 

No napkins in nature, I guess! (c) rq

 

Cooking with Escher: A Practical Solution to a Geometric Problem

This is from my own Facebook post from a few years ago, during the winter holidays, when I had a boatload of gingerbread cookie dough to go through. I’m not always a fan of baking, but I don’t mind the meditative aspects once the kids have gotten over their helping phase (they do fine, it’s just not very relaxing).

Anyway I had some thoughts about women’s work and its devaluation and how simple actions that we learn to do can have complicated underlying rules. I’d either recently bought or recently read a book on Escher with the kids, and so I imagined a book that took the idea of tiling and applied it to baking – a book that analyzes the concepts of positive and negative space and their optimization to get a maximum yield of cookies, given a plane with defined boundaries, and also a known quantity of cookie dough.

Of course, you have to calculate the rate of expansion during the actual baking, because while ordinary problems of tiling require the entire surface to be covered, you don’t want one large mass of cookie (generally speaking – of course there are exceptions). I wrote a short summary for the book jacket:

An exercise in the ancient question of tiling a regular surface with irregular shapes in order to produce a maximum yield with a minimum of fuss, “Cooking with Escher” examines several distinct categories of shapes. Inspired by the enigmatic mathematical genius, this is a purely practical analysis of the unique challenges presented by each individual shape. The categories explored in this edition are: basica, exoticb, roboticc, patrioticd and erotice. Final results are not available due to extreme consumption.

Citos vārdos, dziļi matemātiska nodarbe ar noslieci uz ģeometriju. (In other words, a deeply mathematical activity with an inclination towards geometry.)

I still imagine what this book could be, with diagrams and arrows and lots of calculus formulas.

a – Basic shapes adhere more-or-less to regular geometric shapes, in this case, a square.
© rq, all rights reserved

c – Robotic shapes are defined by their resemblance to anthropomorphic appearance and yes I know it’s a snowman.
© rq, all rights reserved

e – Erotic shapes in this case are defined by the jargon term for female genitalia, i.e. squirrel.
© rq, all rights reserved

d – Patriotic shape, self-explanatory.
© rq, all rights reserved

b – Exotic shapes are tropical animals not usually met in the wilds of the northern hemisphere.
© rq, all rights reserved

This is my idea of a fun quiet time with myself.

What Remains After

Because I have so many links about art saved (>200), I’m trying to group them by themes. Today’s theme is abandoned spaces, and although the title seems a bit dark, it’s not a commentary on current events in the world. 

What remains after we are gone? After the life industrial has faded and transformed into its modern, shiny, robotic cousin? (Well, that’s how the moving pictures show it…)

The end of everything? The slow decay of silent things, with no one to witness their passing? The carcasses of once-great buildings, now uncertain in their unstable uselessness and sharp aura of danger? There is potential in these abandoned and lost spaces – but a melancholy potential, the complete opposite of new beginnings, a potential that is meaningless and only full of the possibilities of what could have been, what never was, what never will be. A lot of never will be.

From THE END OF EVERYTHING, by Jan Erik Waider.

Still, what it can be is a whole lot of art.

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The Importance of Having Soft Tissues

Everybody knows dinosaurs are awesome, but it’s also commonly known that scientists and artists are extrapolating heavily from the available fossilized remains – in other words, reconstructing the Jurassic past requires a lot of guesswork. What we think dinosaurs look like is a carefully estimated probability of which muscle attached where, based on the (sometimes very) few bones that are found.

However, from time to time the circumstances align just so and some soft tissues are also preserved – as formerly squishy soft things and also in the bones of dinosaurs.

Anyway, the whole point here is that I like to look at paleoart. But how do we know they are right? (Spoiler: we don’t, not really.) What C.M.Koseman has done is examine some modern day animals and try to reconstruct them from the point of view of a fossil hunter millions of years in the future (personally, I think there might be a multi-leg bias in future interpretations, but Koseman has done his best):

C.M. Kosemen is an Istanbul-based artist and author (along with John Conway and Darren Naish) of the 2012 book, All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals. A long-time creature designer, Kosemen had always had an interest in dinosaurs, but he embarked on his book with Conway after they began to realize that something was a bit off. “We were both dinosaur geeks, but the more we looked at these skeletons, and the more we looked at the pictures, we noticed that most mainstream dinosaur art didn’t look at dinosaurs as real creatures,” says Kosemen.

Most serious paleoart bases itself on the detailed findings of paleontologists, who can work for weeks or even years compiling the most accurate descriptions of ancient life they can, based on fossil remains. But Kosemen says that many dinosaur illustrations should take more cues from animals living today. Our world is full of unique animals that have squat fatty bodies, with all kinds of soft tissue features that are unlikely to have survived in fossils, such as pouches, wattles, or skin flaps. “There could even be forms that no one has imagined,” says Kosemen. “For example there could plant-eating dinosaurs that had pangolin or armadillo-like armor that wasn’t preserved in the fossil. There could also be dinosaurs with porcupine-type quills.”

I think he undervalues the vast majority of the artists who do draw prehistoric art, because the process involves a lot of imagination and creativity, with the added pressure of scientific accuracy. Certainly we don’t know the outer shapes of dinosaurs or other prehistoric creatures, so artists must work with what little scientific information they do have, and look at animals existing today, and then add layers of interpretation – not easy by any stretch. If Koseman is just arguing for more flamboyance, though, I’m 100% on board.

Anyway, the Atlas Obscura article has some examples from C.M.Koseman, and they are suitably creepy:

How a baboon skeleton might be interpreted by future paleoartists. via Atlas Obscura

My favourites are the swans, though – not going near those anymore!

Swans imagined as though they were featherless dinosaurs. via Atlas Obscura

Are these overexaggerations? Maybe. But until we see some real dinosaurs (someone invent that time machine and make it back alive, please), there is no way to know how accurate today’s interpretations (which have already changed so much).
The closest we can get, though, are the afore-mentioned paleoartists, and one of my favourites is Mark Witton:
Two main aspects of my life have, for as long as I can remember, been art and palaeontology. I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil and have stubbornly refused to grow out of the dinosaur/palaeontology craze that afflicts most children. The latter proved so hard to shake that I studied for a degree in Palaeobiology and Evolution between 2002 – 2005 at the University of Portsmouth, UK and stayed there for my PhD studies between 2005 – 2008. I have since held a research position at Portsmouth. In 2010 I was honoured to be part of a joint University of Portmsouth/Royal Society exhibition which installed several models of giant flying reptiles in the centre of London (image of me and Bamofo, one of our giant azhdarchid models, right). In 2013 my book, Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy was published by Princeton University Press to critical acclaim. I now make a living as a technical consultant on palaeontological documentaries, palaeoartist, graphic designer and author.
He’s got a great collection of prints and books, and… household products. There’s a certain appeal to hiding behind a large T.Rex while enjoying a hot shower, I have to say.
Do check out his gallery, I will end with a small sample here:

Go look at more.

Mountains and Dreams

This is a small piece (finished painting 10x15cm) for a colleague-friend, who I have now known for a couple of years but who only recently asked for a painting. Since I used his expertise to find out interesting information about my mitochondrial DNA at no cost, I figured it’s a fair trade.

Now before anyone comments on the fact that this scene is astronomically impossible, I would like to say that this scene is astronomically impossible. The mountain is a real mountain, but in real life its orientation is such that the constellation Orion would probably not appear above it at that angle. I think the same about the full moon.

The main reason for drawing a scientifically inaccurate scene, however, is because the original sketch idea is based on Mount St Helens, where this astronomical alignment is perfectly possible.  At least, possible enough for my artistic license (except for the full moon again, I think – not both together like that). But since Friend is from some other mountains, it would not do, so I had to substitute in something from the Alps.

First, a teaser – a by-product of the process, the process below the fold.

©rq, all rights reserved

 

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Segmented Glass

After that delicious cheese interlude, here’s something a little different via This Is Colossal:

Driven by an interest in the biological process of cell division, artist Jiyong Lee (previously) fabricates translucent sculptural works of segmented glass components fused through coldworking techniques. Some pieces purposefully take the form of organic life with titles such as “White-orange Chromosome Segmentation” or “Geometric cell membrane segmentation” while others are decidedly more geometric in nature. Born and raised in South Korea, Lee has helmed the glass program at Southern Illinois University since 2005. He most recently had a solo exhibition with Clara Scremini Gallery in Paris, and you can see many more of his pieces on Artsy.

They’ve got a lovely soft feel to them – knowing they’re made of glass just adds to the compulsion to touch them and run my fingers over all the surfaces and the edges and the lines.

I think this one’s my favourite:

white Drosophila embryo segmentation, 6.5h x 14.5w x 5.75d (inch), 2014, from This Is Colossal

There’s plenty more examples from Jiyong Lee’s website:

white segmentation-construction, 9.25h x 11.25w x 11.25d (inch), 2013

Green cosmarium segmentation, 7.25 x 10 x 7.25 inch, 2018

Blue-Yellow cuboid segmentation, 10.5 x 9 x 5 inch, 2015

Go look! With other interesting stuff, too.

 

 

Musical Cheese

This story has aged well in my archives, like a good, sharp cheddar (or perhaps flat?).

Last September, Swiss cheesemaker Beat Wampfler and a team of researchers from the Bern University of Arts placed nine 22-pound wheels of Emmental cheese in individual wooden crates in Wampfler’s cheese cellar. Then, for the next six months each cheese was exposed to an endless, 24-hour loop of one song using a mini-transducer, which directed the sound waves directly into the cheese wheels.

So, what kind of music does cheese enjoy?

The “classical” cheese mellowed to the sounds of Mozart’s The Magic FluteThe “rock” cheese listened to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” An ambient cheese listened to Yello’s “Monolith,” the hip-hop cheese was exposed to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Jazz (We’ve Got)” and the techno fromage raved to Vril’s “UV.” A control cheese aged in silence, while three other wheels were exposed to simple high, medium and low frequency tones.

Well, that’s not a huge range of choices, plus six months of the same song, over and over? It’s enough to curdle the blood in my musical ear, that’s for sure.

Ah, you say – cheese doesn’t have ears! True. This issue was resolved by applying music directly to cheese:

The wheels were stored in wooden crates and played 24 consecutive hours of either classical, hip-hop, techno, ambient, or rock and roll. Rather than speakers, the researchers attached small transmitters to the wheels to relay the sound waves directly into the cheese.

Bern University of the Arts

I have my doubts, of course, but until I have my own dairy farm and cheese making equipment to attempt a reproduction of this experimental method, it sounds pretty good to me.

In anticipation of the annual celebration of, among other things, cheese, here’s an indirectly thematic song:

Tales from the Loop!

Simon Stålenhag was featured by Caine back in 2016, and there is some interesting news out: a TV series based on his Tales from the Loop is coming out April 3! I’m a little bit excited because I had no idea this was in the works, and also I just bought his book The Electric State. Soundtrack composed by Philip Glass and Paul Leonard-Morgan.

Here’s the trailer, it looks suitably unfathomable and weird and slightly creepy to me:

Looking forward to this very much!