'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Weevils at the NHM

One of my very favourite places in the whole world is London's Natural History Museum. It has been since I first visited when I travelled with my parents back to their 'Home' when I was about ten years old. As soon as I'd saved up enough after University I was back there. And I've been back twice again since with my children.

An added bonus when I go is to enjoy the detailed and somewhat fanciful architecture, inside and out.

But of course it's the collections I really love. There are over 70 million specimens at the NHM. And I can access a vast database online too, which is marvelous. They tell me, and I believe them, that there are also over 1 million books, 20,000 scientific journals, and 500,000 works of art. (A drawing or painting was the most convenient way of establishing the existence of a specie in the pre-camera days.)

I'd so love to be able to take the tube 'up' to London (it's always up to London, even if you're coming from the North - isn't that quaint?) and spend all day looking at the Coleoptera (beetles) drawers.

For some reason I've become interested especially in the weevils.
'Why?', you ask.
I think it's because they are small yet beautifully formed. And because I think their long, trunk-like 'noses' give them a slightly ridiculous but vulnerable air. I know they are much maligned because they are often eating food we have gathered for ourselves, and we are, rightfully, indignant. They are often overlooked in favour of some of the bigger, showier beetles, and I am somewhat of a champion of the underdog.
In fact, I think I'll just go virtually and look at weevils. Right now.
Here's where I am going to start. It's somewhere I've been before: Looking at Mark Ines Russell painting weevils at the NHM.

(This is not one of his paintings)
Attribution: Sorry. I've forgotten where I got this from.
If you took this image please contact me and I'll immediately give benefit where due.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Unannounced Visitors

One of the many fun things about doing study at distance is that I can ask for library books to be sent to me.
I can go online and peruse the books in all the libraries in New Zealand (actually, they will even send away to other parts of the world for me too!) and all the academic papers, and find what I want to read.
Then, within days there are footsteps on the steps and some courier man leaves behind these delicious presents on the mat. It's rather like Christmas! They even come with their own return envelope for when I'm finished with them.

Regularly I have other unannounced visitors. Each morning I check the back of the linen cupboard. It's dark in there. I dread what I might find...

Auugh! Yes. Another one this morning. Thank goodness my son is home to cast them over the retaining wall into the long vegetation down the bank.

I just wish he'd get up a little earlier.

It's hard to do my work knowing the little grey corpse is still there.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Lego Art

Another quick post - I have deadlines looming, but I just wanted to share this.

I hope you will enjoy this wondrous contraption that reminded me a little of Fischli and Weiss's 1987 art movie Der Lauf der Dinge ('The Way Things Go')

I glanced at the length - 'this is long' I thought, 'I've too much to do to watch an eight-minute clip.' Eight minutes later...

Thanks again Flatattack.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Strawberry Guava

A few years ago my daughter encouraged me to plant a strawberry guava in the garden. She used to pass by a bush that overhung a suburban fence, and had fond memories of eating the little round fruits on her way home from school.
From year to year I forget about it. And I'm afraid this last year it has become rather overgrown. So when I went past the other day, I was humbled to see that despite its weedy home and neglect, it was again laden with fruit.
Every year this little bush puts forth its inconspicuous tasseled cream flowers and then follows masses of the fruits. They are sweet and soft, and delicious. And they make wonderful aromatic jelly!

Saturday, 16 April 2011

'Quake Map

Paul Nicholls of the University of Canterbury's Digital Media Group has published a very interesting website that allows you to 'see' the quakes that have been occurring down in Christchurch, in New Zealand. I should mention that the size of the circle is indicative of the size of the quake only, and it doesn't show directly the size of the area that is affected, which can be a lot greater (if the quake was shallow) or hardly noticeable if very deep.

The colours show the depth of course.

The redder the circle, the closer to the surface, and the deep quakes are the greens and blues.

You can zoom in and move about using the magnification bar and arrows on the left, or use your scroll wheel and mouse.

As I've mentioned, I was in Christchurch on the 22nd February. My partner and I were staying in the suburb of Riccarton. Our motel was concrete block and completely undamaged, but the parked cars outside were rocking back and forth a couple of metres, and there was a lot of noise. My heart was certainly pounding.

I've been thinking about Christchurch folks again tonight because there was another significant jolt down there about tea time which put the lights out to a lot of the city. I hope power's restored by now.

(When you go to this site, the clock begins on the 22nd February, which was when a very bad aftershock occurred. But you can go back further, to the initial quake, if you wish. Click on FAQ to find out how.)

Through a Market, Darkly.

Friday, 15 April 2011


"Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world."
- George Bernard Shaw.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


Thinking about the population of our world... (click to enlarge)

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Gettin' darker and cooler

Here are more amazing images from Erik Johansson.

Well folks, it's that time of year when we are getting about half light and half dark in each day.*
I've had a couple of fires, but just for the novelty really. Winters are not long here compared to some places. But it's probably time to stop eating ice-cream† and start making soups...
Handing the torch over to you, Northern hemisphere.

*About midnight on March 20, actually.

† Well, might make an exception for you, J.

Sunday, 3 April 2011


I am writing an exegesis at some stage in the next two years.

To this end I have been thinking about issues around jargon/ specialist terminology vs. plain English, clarity vs. simplicity, ambiguity vs. transparency etc.

It's a fraught area in every specialist field I can think of - sales and marketing, politics, science etc.
It seems to me that the real reasons behind the use of, let's call it 'specialist language', are at the crux of the matter. Obviously if the obscure language is intended to hide unpleasant or unwelcome messages, then there is little to justify the use of such language.
However even if this less common language is used to make ideas or situations clear, precise and unambiguous, this can still result in the message not reaching people it should or could.

What is the answer? Regarding 'art-speak' which is intended to elevate the 'aesthetically cultured' speaker or writer, obviously clarity is not the intention and the language is often newly fabricated and metaphorical to the point of obscurity.

But what of genuinely complex and new ideas which require language not in common use?

Say I want to try and explore a way of depicting the beautiful iridescence of some scarab, yet, (not surprisingly) fail to do this. And if I then try and describe my process of exploration in language, is it possible to do so without resorting to metaphors or big words and you having to look up every second word in a dictionary?

Do you think I should try and write my exegesis in plainer English?