'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.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Gilbert White on the Field Cricket

The post today is a delightful piece of writing that I have just read and which I'd like to share with you. It ties in nicely with a particular consistency I've observed in the survey results - the pleasant association of the sound of crickets and cicadas with the joys of summer. Gilbert White was the first great English field naturalist. A country parson, he spent virtually all his life in the Hampshire village of Selbourne. He is still quoted as an authority on the field cricket in some works on entomology.

(The original had those long 'f' shapes for every 's', but I've made it easier to read and changed them all to 's'.)

Selbourne, September 2 1774.

There is a steep abrupt pasture field interspersed with furze close to the back of this village, well known by the name of the Short Lithe, consisting of a rocky dry soil, and inclining to the afternoon sun. This spot abounds with the gryllus campestris, or field-cricket; which, though frequent in these parts, is by no means a common insect in many other countries. As their cheerful summer cry cannot but draw the attention of a naturalist, I have often gone down to examine the economy of these grylli, and study their mode of life: but they are so shy and cautious that it is no easy matter to get a sight of them; for, feeling a person's footsteps as he advances, they stop short in the midst of their song, and retire backward nimbly into their burrows, where they lurk till all suspicion of danger is over.

At first we attempted to dig them out with a spade, but without any great success; for either we could not get to the bottom of the hole, which often terminated under a great stone; or else, in breaking up the ground, we inadvertently squeezed the poor insect to death. Out of one so bruised we took a multitude of eggs, which were long and narrow, of a yellow colour, and covered with a very tough skin. By this accident we learned to distinguish the male from the female; the former of which is shining black, with a golden stripe across his shoulders; the latter is more dusky, more capacious about the abdomen, and carries a long sword-shaped weapon at her tail, which probably is the instrument with which she deposits her eggs in crannies and safe receptacles.

Where violent methods will not avail, more gentle means will often succeed; and so it proved in the present case; for, though a spade be too boisterous and rough an implement, a pliant stalk of glass, gently insinuated not the caverns, will probe their windings to the bottom, and quickly bring out the inhabitant; and thus the humane inquirer may gratify his curiosity without injuring the object of it. It is remarkable that, though these insects are furnished with long legs behind, and brawny thighs for leaping, like grasshoppers; yet when driven from their holes they show no activity, but crawl along in a shiftless manner, so as easily to be taken: and again, though provided with a curious apparatus of wings, yet they never exert them when there seems to be the greatest occasion. The males only make that shrilling noise perhaps out of rivalry and emulation, as is the case with many animals which exert some sprightly note during their breeding time: it is raised by a brisk friction of one wing against the other. They are solitary beings, living singly male or female, each as it may happen: but there must be a time when the sexes have some intercourse, and then the wings may be useful perhaps during the hours of night. When the males meet they will fight fiercely, as I found by some which I put into the crevices of a dry stone wall, where I should have been glad to have made them settle. For though they seemed distressed by being taken out of their knowledge, yet the first that got possession of the chinks would seize upon any that were obtruded upon them with a vast row of serrated fangs. With their strong jaws, toothed like the shears of a lobster's claws, they perforate and round their curious regular cells, having no fore-claws to dig, like the mole-cricket. When taken in hand I could not but wonder that they never offered to defend themselves, though armed with such formidable weapons. Of such herbs as grow before the mouths of their burrows they eat indiscriminately; and on a little platform, which they make just by, they drop their dung; and never, in the day-time, seem to stir more than two or three inches from home. Sitting in the entrance of their caverns they chirp all night as well as day from the middle of the month of May to the middle of July; and in hot weather, when they are most vigorous, they make the hills echo; and in the stiller hours of the season, their notes are more faint and inward; but becoming louder as the summer advances, and so die away by degrees.

Sounds do not always give us pleasure according to their sweetness and melody; nor do harsh sounds always displease. We are more apt to be captivated or disgusted with the associations which they promote, than with the notes themselves. Thus the shrilling of the field-cricket, though sharp and stridulous, yet marvelously delights some hearers, filling their minds with a train of summer ideas of everything that is rural, verdurous, and joyous.

About the tenth of March the crickets appear at the mouths of their cells, which they then open and bore, and shape very elegantly. All that ever I have seen at that season were in their pupa state, and had only the rudiments of wings, lying under a skin or coat, which must be cast before the insect can arrive at its perfect state (We have observed that they cast these skins in April, which are then seen lying at the mouths of their holes.) From whence I should suppose that the old ones of last year do not always survive the winter. In August their holes begin to be obliterated, and the insects are seen no more till spring.

Not many summers ago I endeavored to transplant a colony to the terrace in my garden, by boring deep holes in the sloping turf. The new inhabitants stayed some time, and fed and sung; but wandered away by degrees, and were heard at a further distance every morning; so that it appears that on this emergency they made use of their wings in attempting to return to the spot from which they were taken.

One of these crickets, when confined in a paper cage and set in the sun, and supplied with plants moistened with water, will feed and thrive, and become so merry and loud as to be irksome in the same room where a person is sitting: if the plants are not wetted it will die.

Source: Gilbert White. The Natural History of Selbourne, 1788.

Post script: The Natural History Museum says that this is now one of the rarest insects in the British Isles and it was restricted to only one site (Near Coates Castle) by 1988. However a captive breeding programme at the London Zoo had been successful in establishing two more separate populations by 1990, and I think I read somewhere that there are now a total of five populations.

Sunday, 21 August 2011


I have to admit I am getting used to Auckland. This is the third Residential this year, and the third time I've stayed in a mid-city high-rise apartment, and this time I have a view and a balcony, and it's all very compact and modern and warm, and after each grueling, soul-searching, critiquing day I do rather enjoy going back to my little cosy haven.

I have lots of view...

And a tree down there...

And the sky tower to look at when I return from socialising in a pleasant little tapas bar with my art-y colleagues. Very nice.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Swarmanoid

My insect project is progressing well, thanks to the input of many of you! (See questionnaire last post).
Here's something that appeared in my inbox this morning. A swarm of robots behaving 'cooperatively'. In many ways it echoes the bee hive/ant nest cooperation and separation of roles that we find so intriguing when watching these creatures. In reality, studies suggest that each insect is probably quite simply 'programmed' to respond - I'm reluctant to use the term 'mindlessly' (because insects can learn) - to a stimulus. For example, in a flock, school or swarm, there is evidence that each creature is only taking notice of about seven others - the ones closest. And the incredible complex behaviour we see - twisting and turning, predator avoidance etc, is actually the result of a relatively small number of cause-and-effect behaviours.

Anyway, I thought this clip was worth sharing. Enjoy.

Source http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20791?DCMP=NLC-nletter&nsref=robot

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Critter Questionnaire

Critter Questionnaire:

Please excuse this mass-produced format, but time is of the essence in my academic life at the moment.
Regular visitors to this blog might know I have undertaken a two year Masters degree in Art and Design. My project is exploring if I can use artworks to explore people's opinions about bugs and other little critters.

I need to find out some information in order to do this.

I wonder if you would take ten minutes out of your probably already busy day to answer a couple of questions?
I need to have a certain number responding to get a good sample size. Your names or details won't be connected with the project in any way, as all the information will be used in collated form).

Thank you!

1. What are your least favourite 5 insects and why?

2. What are your favourite 5 insects and why?

Note, you can include spiders, in fact, any other creatures like worms, centipedes, snails, slugs etc, if you wish. We're not going to get pedantic here. If there is one particular species of beetle or butterfly or spider etc. you particularly dislike or like, please name it if you wish. Do this list quickly and don't think too much about it. Your first reaction is good. Don't worry if your reasons seem emotional. Bugs can be an emotional issue.

Here's a list of some small critters. There are plenty more!:

cockroaches, butterflies, worms, slugs, centipedes, mosquitos, click beetles, spiders, ticks, weevils, grass grubs, moths, leaches, huhu beetles, wetas, caterpillars, ants, bees, mites, millipedes, flies, longhorn beetle, ladybird, borer beetle, sandfly, slaters (woodlice), silverfish, fleas, praying mantids, dragonflies, earwigs, stick insects, stink/ shield bugs, crickets, grasshoppers, aphids, whiteflies, mealybugs,cicadas, planthoppers, craneflies, mayflies, midges, damselflies, wasps, ichneumon wasps, leeches, katydids, water boatman, diving beetles,masonbees, bumblebees, fruitflies, glowworms, stag beetles, jewel beetles, tiger beetles, ground beetles, katipo, white-tailed spider, harvestman, dust mites, thrips, headlice, monarch butterflies, fireflies...

You can leave your response as a comment here, or send me an email directly (address is on my profile). Mention at the end if you'd like to be kept in touch regarding the kind of art that will result from this survey.

Thanks for reading this.

If you can think of anyone else, please forward this questionnaire to them. I need swarms of responses!

Finally, special thanks to all those I have contacted personally already. Your contributions have been much appreciated!

Monday, 8 August 2011

On Paradoxes

Extremes touch each other. Since the Cretan Epimenides said: 'All Cretans are liars,' philosophers have built a discipline out of such paradoxes. In trying to resolve this particular one Bertrand Russell said he was reduced to 'wandering the common at night and staring at a blank sheet of paper by day'. I don't know what he concluded but Samuel Butler decided one one thing was certain, which was that nothing is certain. Including that it is not certain, that nothing is certain. When I was in my thirties I knew so much as to be sure of nothing anymore and could hardly express an opinion of any sort for a decade. The same ambiguities apply to the visual paradox. Now you see it, now you don't. Possibilities are shown to be impossible, and impossibilities probable. Although some of us find conundrums exceedingly irritating, this could be because they pose an unwelcome challenge to our perceptual apparatus - they are not unimportant. They remind us forcibly that things are not necessarily what they seem. "Art is a lie,' Picasso slyly explained, 'that makes us realise the truth.'

The grey line in the image above is horizontal, by the way.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Shadows and Ways of Thinking

Sometimes our attention becomes focussed on not an object but its shadow.

I came into the lounge one sunny morning recently and the low light angle striking a model beetle I'd made, suddenly helped me see not it, but its cast shadow. This in turn made me remember this photo by André Kertész I'd seen once.

Seeing the shadow and not the object is rather like realising one has a paradigm.
However, usually the object, or way of thinking, just is. We don't question. We live day-to-day, doing what we have to do: eating, filling up the kettle from the tap, gardening, chopping the firewood, washing the dishes with detergent, working, filling up the car with petrol or groceries, emptying the car again, taking out the rubbish bin to the gate, seeing people, saying words, reading books, checking email.... The alternatives, the negative, different, or opposite views are sometimes hard to see. Because our Usual is so entrenched or accepted, it is hard to notice it, let alone question its validity.

Freidrich Hundertwasser was an interesting person. Among many of the interesting things he was and did and thought, is the idea that the straight line (in architecture) is bad for us. He considered it unnatural, and like toxic chemicals in our environment, slowly 'builds up' and causes illness and dis-ease. You can read more about a heating plant he designed for Vienna here.

He also liked to imagine the environment that surrounded us like a series of skins. Here is a little diagram he drew. Does imagining your life like this, change anything about the way you think, I wonder?

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Naked Bus Saga 1.

Naked Bus is brilliant*. I would recommend this nation-wide New Zealand company for any bus travel here. Their prices are cheaper than the competition, and, if you book early enough, you can get a seat for free. If you wish to change your booking, and re-book for another date and/or journey, you just have to remember to do this not later than 24 hours before your journey was to occur.

More wonderful stories of the lovely drivers and excellent service another time.

This time I have a story to tell you that's still unfolding. How will it end? Only time will tell. Will it be a Good story? Or a Bad story? It's in the hands of Tim. Or Helen. Or someone else at the Naked Bus email-ending-up place.

Chapter one: I decide I can't take the time off to travel to Hawkes Bay after all. Can't get to the 'change a booking' form on the Naked bus website. Can't get anyone on the phone on the number given. Can write on the 'questions' form. Yay.

Subject: Change a booking
Name: Katherine
Email: ---------
Booking reference: --
Regarding bookings 0412707-11C1-ROAHAS
and 0613107-11C1-HASROA:
Hello Naked Bus. I cannot make the journey Rotorua - Hastings - Rotorua this week and want to change it to the same days of the week in SIX WEEKS time: that is: September 7th Rotorua to Hastings, and back September 11th Hastings to Rotorua.

But, frustratingly I cannot make the booking change because the booking page will not load , and when I try to phone the call will not go through either. I guess this might have something to do with all the snow...?

Unfortunately in less than two hours my 24 hours before the journey will expire and I am very concerned to get this changed before then as obviously I don\'t want to lose out on my money.

This is by way of ensuring there i s a record that I\'ve tried to do this. Please respond to my email address. Thanks.


* Unlike the USA, bus-travel in NZ is not just for the poor and carless.