Monday, 29 July 2013

Badly Placed to Adapt to Global Warming

...we don't even have (very many) wild variants of crops to help alter them. Because they are considered "weeds." Because of agrilogistics. Oh dear. Thanks Cliff Gerrish. (Not for the lack of crops, of course.)

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Saturday, 27 July 2013

California Stripped for Export

@twitter, you really do need to look at your abuse policy. Like, formulate one, you know?

Anyone who wonders what it would be like to live in a world where Spinozism actually ruled need only consider the gigantic descent of conatus upon the head of feminist Caroline Criado-Perez on Twitter today, for the successful campaign to put the head of Jane Austen on sterling notes.

Blogger, Twitter, and Facebook are California, the dark side of, stripped for export, in a box. A world of dirty looks and instant judgment.

What can a body do? Gang up on others...

I fear that Mary Beard had it quite wrong when, having been dive bombed similarly a while back, she argued that in the end people would learn some kind of etiquette online.

Hmmm, online etiquette--let's call it "netiquette"...only that already happened, in about 1990. Now that everyone is online, as it were, we have descended from the vaguely libertarian days into pure superego suction.

Mary Beard had it backwards. Etiquette came first. That was when there was the illusion that online space was a kind of suspension: a world separated from the physical one by an irreducible gap. Then came the Spinozan collapse.

It's the dark undertow on Stinson beach, dudes...

OOO and Quantum Theory

Told you! Been thinking about this for about three years now.

The thing is, I've been reasoning that if tiny things can behave in a quantum way, it's because there is something about objects in general that enables this. So that larger things might also be able to behave in a quantum way, validating the idea that there is something general about objects. Which is why after reading a lot of quantum theory textbooks I got very interested in OOO.

A thing is incapable of being grasped in some decisive way, even when it's considered as a unit such as a quantum. Even when it is totally isolated, beyond relations with others. It sort of aesthetically ripples: it is a little bit displaced from itself. It is not fully present, even to itself.

Relation and processes don't account for why things are flowy and permeated with nothingness. They are like that all on their ownsome...

Remember, the object these guys use is way, way bigger than the quantum scale we've become used to.

Besides Aaron O'Connell, these guys are also figuring out how things are not metaphysically present, yet real. They breathe. It's basically a logical conclusion from the OOO definition of objects and the difference between real and sensual.

Discoveries like this provide the empirical support for some of the arguments in Realist Magic. Very nice cartoon. Thanks Cliff Gerrish!


Friday, 26 July 2013

Speculative Tate

Also adieu to the speculative Tate. Reza Negarestani, Robin Mackay and I and others wrote these weird labels for existing paintings by the Romantics. Such as the now absent Richard Wilson.

That was in 2010 and would now be impossible.

The nonhuman is nowhere to be seen in this new setup.

Which proves the conventional wisdom that art history is usually about 15 years behind philosophy and literary criticism.

The obviously post colonial vibe of Tate 2.0 sits uneasily inside its post-imprrial Tate sugar BP sponsorship shell.

Reza--oil sponsoring history!

Forwards--into the past!

Jackboot Subtlety

The horseshoe in a boxing glove obviousness of the Tate Britain 2.0 omits the following lineages from its modern and thus less than contemporary purview:

Ecology
Nonhumans
Things

As a result, the following and more are nowhere or stuffed in corners:
Bridget Riley
David Hockney
(Even) Francis Bacon
Ian Hamilton Finlay
Vanessa Bell
Richard Long
James McNeil Whistler
John Sell Cotman
John Everett Millais
William Blake
...

Dude who stole my Tate?

My Tate got me to environmental philosophy, OOO, thing theory, Romanticism. Some of the things that will eject us from modernity with its complicated wheels, as Blake would say.

That Tate is now a relic of the 70s, consigned to the dustbin of history as is the old ecology exhibit at the Natural History Museum, whose refit is now also sponsored by--BP.

It's sad that the 1970s is now in the future.




"This is Art: You Will Like It"

This kind of injunction, identical to "Perfectly Ripe Mangoes," is why I don't visit the Tate Modern.

But now the Tate Britain has been sucked into the orbit of Philistinism 2.0. It's an upgrade because now you are welcome to enjoy contemporary art: just look at how valuable and famous it is! And just like what the Americans and French had in the 1950s! I feel so cool Britannia!

It's like commerce without imperial guilt! Seriously Guilt Free Money!

What is now the entrance hall is bedecked with something like Matisse's snail, only it isn't. It's a huge waste of wall that says "Hey kids, this is modern art and it's fun. Enjoy!"

Please please give me my blank fucking walls back.

Then the central hall is empty, and impassable: no one, quite literally, is in it. Because a sound piece is enjoying it on your behalf. I'm a fan of pieces that roam around with cameras, the way it does. The dark ecology piece at the Gemeentemuseum in the Hague was all over that. But this is just a fairground ride around the hall. A ride that no one is enjoying.

Net result? It's like watching a deserted helter skelter on Brighton Pier from the corner of your eye as you try to take your mind off the ghettos in which the "historical" art is hanging.


The Smell Remains the Same

At the Tate Britain, from the 70s, when I first started to dig it.

But that's about it.

In this and the next couple of posts, some thoughts about the major, entirely wrong restructuring--or destructuring, or actually, destruction.

The net effect: cynical reason plus presentism plus big Britart money minus meaningful British patronage of the arts in the 50s and 60s and 70s = good old British philistinism 2.0. Throw millions of pounds at some new stuff because it's less guilt inducing and more obvious, like the elephant with the machine gun and the flags: geddit?

The aesthetic of much of the contemporary art and its curation is precisely the identical cynical reason that uses Earth as an exploitable resource.

And of course, as we all know (as they knew in 1807, or 1660), the present is the best: finally we are out of that awful history tunnel!

Then outsource the "history" to BP and have it compressed into the smallest possible space. Use decades rather than periods because it provides a way to justify the contemporary stuff ("1960," "1970," "1980" -- but only "1540" then "1620" then "1750"--just making these dates up but you get the picture--and of course the curators also just made them up).

Net effect: the core of the Tate, the Romantic period and Victorian period art, disappears (in the former case) or is crammed into a single room (the latter). Exhibit the latter pictures Academy style, cramming them on top of one another. How marvelously of the period darling. But how convenient: we can stuff all the Whistlers and Pre-Raphaelites together to provide lots of space around the elephant and gun.

The Romantic period is disappeared entirely. Blake has been put in a ghetto up a small flight of stairs in the corner of the Turner rooms: I had to ask. When I was a kid he was front and center. In a hushed, beautiful dark space with glass cabinets. Now he's in a deep ultramarine room, the pictures crammed again one on top of the other, a huge slice of wall devoted to "look how nice to Blake we've been over the years."

This was a poor guy who made next to nothing doing illustrations while alive. Not being bought by the Tate (if it had existed).

The Romantic period and the march of the isms that followed has to do with the discovery that Joe Public has (infinite) inner space.

By contrast, there are about three quite meaningless, contextless, eighteenth-century art rooms. It figures: that was also an age of commerce uber alles.

Bridget Riley and David Hockney have been crushed into two contextless hangings in intersitial spaces.

Francis Bacon. Where are you sir?

The net effect: it is as Adorno said. Interiority and freedom have had their day and no longer juice the bourgeoisie. And Adorno said it back in the 40s.

British philistinism is now where American philistinism was in 19 fucking 45. Congratulations kids! Welcome to the mid twentieth century!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

No Thugs in Our House

This is for you Zimmerman.


The Disco of the Present Moment (Madrid)

These guys created some musical pieces called Hyperobjects last year. Now they are making a piece for the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Madrid called The Disco of the Present Moment, which is a section from Realist Magic. Forthcoming...

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

"Congratulations on the Birth of the Young Prince"

Obama had to say it. Having to say it. In a week in which issues of "blood" reared their ugly heads for him and the rest of the US.

"Strong Blood'

That was the other thing the Royal commentator said about the Royal DNA.

Beam me up Scotty.

"Back to Stability"

I just heard a fatuous Royal commentator talking about the Royal labor and the Royal birth of the Royal boy.

"Now it's back to stability."

Which translates to:

"The DNA of the scapegoat, Lady Diana Spencer, is now fully incorporated into the DNA structure of the Royal family."

I'm having another death-of-Mrs-Thatcher moment. A moment in which I am glad I don't actually live here.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Monday, 15 July 2013

Searched at the Airport

...and when I say that my black step dad Maurice was searched at the airport I mean every time. Every single time he went through customs, at any airport, anywhere in Europe or the USA. At the age of forty something.

"White Men Are Allowed to Get Angry"

This is a good line from a good piece about the Trayvon Martin Zimmerman trial fiasco. I got pretty nauseated at a dinner a while back when someone accused Obama of being an Uncle Tom--a white man accused him that is...I wanted to smack him. Of course if Obama so much as pounded a desk (as Clinton liked to do) he would be instantly vilified. I have a lot of feelings about that as my step dad was black and was always being stopped and searched at airports, having to remain ever so calm. There is a certain aspect of what has been labeled the emo-prog reaction to Obama that just totally sucks.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Standing on the shoulders of giants

When doing a lot of research with older literature, you start to gain a strange sense of respect and familiarity with authors that are by now long gone. I've written about this before, with regards to Samuel Hildreth, but lately, I've had a different connection with another scientist who has passed.

Usually, when I visualize these old scientists, I imagine senior scientists writing with a large degree of certainty, brought on by their age. Of course, this isn't an accurate visualization, but it's been my go-to imagery. It's sort of a pleasant surprise when I find out an author is younger, especially when they're in their early 20s, since that's where I am right now. It's easier to connect with another 23 year old than a 35 year old. It also impresses me and motivates me to match that level of commitment.

Those were the thoughts swirling around my head when I came upon the papers of Charles Harvey Bollman, born in 1868 in Monongahela City, Pennsylvania. He went on to attend the University of Indiana at Bloomington, and apparently took quite an interest in the myriapoda of the United States: the millipedes and centipedes, along with their lesser-known relatives, the symphylans and pauropods. Bollman had a pretty open field, so he chose well. C.S. Rafinesque published the first recognized work on myriapoda in 1820. He was followed by Thomas Say in 1821, which helped in cracking open the door for others to tackle the creatures. Notable scientists working on the American myriapod fauna throughout the 1800s included Johann Friedrich Brandt, George Newport, Carl Ludwig Koch, Oscar Harger, Jerome McNeill, Horatio Wood, Edward Drinker Cope, and Lucien Marcus Underwood, among others. Despite the work of these scientists, the knowledge at the time was characterized as "fragmentary."

Since standardized methods and descriptions were still being worked out during this time, the literature can be confusing to go back to due to changes in nomenclature and many species being synonymized (after a species has been described more than once, unknown to other taxonomists). This primary literature is still important, however, as some of the species accounts have information that's difficult to find anywhere else. It's also a historical curiosity to read the descriptions--they look positively barren compared to how myriapods are described today, with many characters being discussed that can go on for paragraphs and pages.

It was into this atmosphere that Bollman entered. There was no BugGuide to post photos of specimens to be identified by experts, nor was there much of an alternative to sending a letter to an expert with a question and hoping to hear back. After being spoiled by the internet and its treasure trove of resources, I consider that kind of terrifying. The way I've learned about millipedes and centipedes has been to use the internet to pull journal articles from decades, even centuries ago, and read them. A healthy dose of searching for photos to compare with (followed by crying over the paucity of verifiable photos online) has made learning about myriapods pretty easy as of late. Yet Bollman jumped at the challenge, and intended to synthesize the contemporary knowledge of North America's myriapods while simultaneously adding to it.

He really did relish the challenge: he published his first paper, Preliminary descriptions of ten new North American Myriapods, in 1887. He was 19 at the time.

 Charles Harvey Bollman, courtesy of Dr. Rowland Shelley from his site, NADiploChilo.

Remember how I mentioned my image of senior scientists writing papers? That fact definitely turned my mental picture on its head. Bollman was described as an "exceptionally bright student," and his published papers reflect that. The president of the university at the time, David S. Jordan, thought of him as "one of the most brilliant and promising" students he had known--quite a compliment. This sentiment was shared by many, it seems. Bollman graduated with the class of 1889, when he was just 20, and then took a job with the United States Fish Commission in Georgia. By this time, Bollman had published 15 papers on Myriapods in just a few years, quite an accomplishment. He described 31 new species and 3 new genera. You could say he was pretty active.

He was getting off to a great start after university, but on July 13, 1889, he died at Waycross, Georgia.

That's 124 years ago today.

I can't find any reference to how he died, but that's not really important. Bollman wasn't yet 21 when he died, but it didn't stop him from publishing prolifically. After his death, Bollman's papers were purchased by the Smithsonian Institution, and in 1893, his published and unpublished papers were collected and published as The Myriapoda of North America, edited by  Lucien Marcus Underwood. This was done as a memorial to Bollman and his work. In addition to his 15 published papers, it included 11 unpublished papers that he had been working on.

I encourage you to take a look at it: it's free on GoogleBooks, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and elsewhere online. It truly is a fitting memorial for Charles Harvey Bollman, and it struck a particular note with me. I'm older than Bollman was when he died,  but not by much. When I found out he was so young when he died, it shocked me in a profound way. It's not often that I'm faced with the unyielding fact that indeed, I am mortal, and I will die someday.

I've been thinking lately about my "legacy," if you'll excuse how pompous that sounds. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I've deposited over 300 specimens into the Marietta College arthropod collection, and I strove to prepare the specimens correctly, so that they could still be useful long after I'm gone. When I did that, I was thinking about Samuel Hildreth, and how some of his collection is still with us, and remaining useful. After learning about Bollman, my perception has changed a little, though I can't quite explain why. Perhaps it's because Bollman worked on myriapods, a group that not many scientists pay much attention to. I feel more of a connection to old works focused on myriapods, since it's a smaller community that can be inaccessible at first, and that connection extends to the old authors of various works.

I mentioned to a friend recently that I enjoy visiting insect collections and libraries, due to the connection I feel to the past as I look at specimens and old works. They wouldn't exist without the hard work of people who are long gone...dead for years, decades, centuries. I have a deep respect for those people: painstakingly collecting, writing, and labeling for whatever goal they considered bigger than themselves. Some (such as Hildreth) led long lives, while others (like Bollman) made the most out of the short time they had. The thread connecting them to the present day, to those of us currently using their research for our own purposes, isn't even broken by time. We have a powerful responsibility to do what we can to preserve that knowledge and hard work so that it can keep connecting onwards to the future, and I've come to understand this:

There's nothing as humbling as reading about the past lives, hard work, and trials of the scientists who have preceded you.

I'm going to keep thinking about the story of Charles Harvey Bollman, and do what I can to preserve his legacy through my small contributions. It's easy to forget that science is linked together by personal stories. There's a face behind every discovery (in the vast majority, it's many faces), and we'd do well to not forget those faces.

Reference:
Bollman, Charles Harvey. Ed. Underwood, L.M. 1893. The Myriapoda of North America. Bulletin of United States National Museum 46. 210 pp.

Millipede Mystery

My millipede research always seems to throw me into new adventures. Neat information just sort of hangs out in the old literature, sometimes in the form of a new species that no one is quite sure about.

The species in question is Chaetaspis albus. Sort of. First, we'll go over the information we have about this species.

Chaetaspis albus (no common name, sorry) was described by Charles Harvey Bollman in 1887 (Entomologica Americana, II, 1887, pp.45-46). It's a millipede in the order Polydesmida and family Macrosternodesmidae. His description was also included in an 1893 publication of his works, which is great, because that means I can post the whole thing here without having to worry about copyright. If it's tough to read, you can click the photo to enlarge it.

From Bollman 1893

So there's our information on the original specimen. It's white, less than a centimeter long, less than a millimeter wide, and was found in Indiana under a log. That's a millipede that's easily missed, but it was later found in Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Virginia as well.

Now we come to the real mystery. In 1928, Stephen Williams and Robert Hefner published The Millipedes and Centipedes of Ohio in the Ohio Biological Survey Bulletin. In it, they noted a few specimens of C. albus from Washington and Athens Counties which were much larger than those in Bollman's description. Williams and Hefner noted the species from the two counties was 15mm long and about 1mm wide, quite a difference from 6-7.5mm long and 0.3-0.5mm wide. Reluctant to declare a new species based on size alone, they left it alone with an acknowledgement that it was strange.

 Williams and Hefner, 1928.

Fig. 12, with gonopod of Chaetaspis albus? outlined in black. Williams and Hefner, 1928

It was an oddity that was left alone until 1950, when Dr. Nell Causey revisited it, noting the illustration of the gonopod differed from Bollman's description. She deemed it distinctive enough to be its own species, which she named Chaetaspis ohionis. It's unclear whether or not she was able to examine the type specimen, which was listed by Chamberlin & Hoffman (1958) as being in the Miami University arthropod collection. Somewhere along the line, however, the type specimen was lost (Lewis & Slay 2013). That means now no one can look at the specimen Williams and Hefner were looking at to see what it actually was: all we have is figure 12 and their description.

So...that leaves us at a brick wall. Hoffman (1999) wrote that the millipede isn't even a species of Chaetaspis, and is probably part of a different family, in his opinion. But if it's not a Chaetaspis sp., then what is it? Williams and Hefner were convinced that it matched Bollman's description of Chaetaspis albus, except for its larger size.

This might seem like a waste of time, since we have no type specimen. But it's an intriguing mystery to me, since I'm from Washington County. It would be super neat to mount an expedition and find the millipede that Williams and Hefner did (albeit a difficult one, since they didn't specify the locality), and it could corroborate (or not) Chaetaspis ohionis being a new species.

Think of it as CSI: Millipedes.

References:
Bollman, Charles H. 1893. The Myriapoda of North America (A posthumous edition of Bollman's works by L. M. Underwood). Bulletin 46, U.S. National Museum. 210 pp.
Causey NB. 1950. On Four New Polydesmoid Millipeds. Ent. News, vol. 61, No. 7, p. 197
Chamberlin RV and Hoffman RL. 1958. Checklist of the Millipeds of North America. United States National Museum Bulletin 212. 236pp.
Hoffman, R.L. 1999. Checklist of the millipedes of North and Middle America.Virginia Museum of Natural History Special Publication. v. 8 p. 1–584 Lewis JJ and Slay ME. 2013. Chaetaspis attenuatus, a new species of cavernicolous milliped from Arkansas (Diplopoda: Polydesmida: Macrosternodesmidae). Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, v. 75(1): p. 60-63.

Yes Henry Warwick

Do read Henry Warwick's comment on my post on Roger Dean and Avatar. It makes a lot of sense and has a good link in it. And way to call this issue years ago!

I too am not totally convinced that Dean can successfully sue. You can copy people's ideas so surely you can copy their imagery. Unless there is some more strict copyrighting you have engaged in.

It was rather silly, and disingenuous, of Cameron to talk as if he'd never heard of Dean though. Why not just say "Yeah I love Yes and I love Dean's art" and so on.

Indexing Hyperobjects

The trick with indexing is not to be a control freak. If you try to index everything, you end up with an unworkable index that approaches the size of the book itself. I think I did all right. It's actually quite a nice thing to do, somewhat like getting the dandruff off your lapels on a suit. You want to attend the funeral for your book in a suit without dandruff.

Mega Trip

This is the most extraordinary trip. Eight weeks. Four people. Three countries. Planes, trains, automobiles. Beer. Curry. Snails. Cardamom gel. And so on and so on.

I believe the Byron and sound talks have gone quite well. Next up, a Wordsworth talk in Cumbria.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Roger Dean versus James Cameron

Avatar may have been his "most personal film to date" (as he says) but part of that may well have been having very personal connections in the early seventies to the Yes album art of Roger Dean, who is now suing for copyright infringement. How hard would it have been to get Dean involved from the start in any case?

This is the art from the cover of An Evening of Yes Music Plus for instance. Erm...

And the whole theme of a fragile planet. One assumes he dug Olias of Sunhillow, Jon Anderson's solo album based on Dean's paintings. For heaven's sake.

Roger I'll be happy to testify mate if you are reading this. Thank you Gerry Canavan for this. Fairly shortly my essay on Avatar will be published (thanks again Gerry) in which the resemblance (more than that even) is noted. And there's this.




Sunday, 7 July 2013

Wimbledon on Acid

Does anyone have a copy of Crass, "Wimbledon on Acid"?

Plurnstyle



Ed moved to Colorado, after I had left--too bad for me! But nice for him no doubt, good for you sir.

Before that he lived on Wimbledon Common, right opposite the Hand pub. Oh the evenings outside on the lawn. That was very much the Colorado of Wimbledon, right old friends?

This might be one of the best mysterious chill tracks they've ever done. Look at that nice photo of my old mate Zia the bassist, with whom I used to play songs such as "Twine Snipper."

For Saatchi and Lawson

Using PR to influence the other. But somehow unable not to come to blows when PR is turned on himself. I remember the election campaign of 1979, "Labour Isn't Working," cynically rehashed for Romney. These guys just split because Saatchi couldn't agree to the PR about the public strangling incident...


We are so addicted to looking outside ourselves that we have lost access to our inner being almost completely. We are terrified to look inward, because our culture has given us no idea of what we will find. We may even think that if we do, we will be in danger of madness. This is one of the last and most resourceful ploys of ego to prevent us from discovering our real nature.
So we make our lives so hectic that we eliminate the slightest risk of looking into ourselves. Even the idea of meditation can scare people. When they hear the words egoless or emptinessthey think that experiencing those states will be like being thrown out the door of a spaceship to float forever in a dark, chilling void. Nothing could be further from the truth. But in a world dedicated to distraction, silence and stillness terrify us; we protect ourselves from them with noise and frantic busyness. Looking into the nature of our mind is the last thing we would dare to do. -- Sogyal Rinpoche

Thursday, 4 July 2013

WTF Is Going On?

"Up until now thought has changed the world. The point is only to interpret it in various ways."
Discuss.

Medium Sized Unit Shifter

PublisherUniv Of Minnesota Press (October 1, 2013)
LanguageEnglish
ISBN-100816689237
ISBN-13978-0816689231
Product Dimensions8.5 x 5.5 x 1 inches
Shipping Weight1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
Best-sellers rank#38,718 in Books 
#7 in Politics & Social Sciences - Philosophy - Criticism

Distinguished Professor Harman

Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy in my opinion. The American University in Cairo has recognized Graham as Distinguished University Professor. There can be only one! Congratulations sir.

If you don't know of him yet, I really do think that Harman is the most important philosopher to have emerged in the last decade. For me he shows a way to proceed into a truly post-modern (rather than postmodern) era of thought, an era I take to be ecological.

Talk Location Again

Here are some more images of the chapel at KCL. Quite extraordinary. It was a nice place for my silly ecosermon...





Brutalism plus Ecology

I like brutalist architecture. Don't ask why--I have no idea. When wet that much concrete with that kind of texture has a very earthy smell. Perhaps that's it. Perhaps it's the way the buildings look like Alien's body.

Anyway here is an incredible use of brutalism: as a vertical garden. It wraps around the whole structure. Brilliant. It's a UK kind of Target like store in the high street where I'm staying in London. There's something very beautiful about this idea of using brutalism this way. And just a few years ago vertical gardens were just contemporary art. I prefer this (kitsch). Yes New York, maybe we are exiting modernity after all.

Brutalism as gigantic flower bed. Agrilogistics rotated 90 degrees. Love it.


Spontaneity versus Confusion

This is actually quite sad and it's everywhere in London. Sharipova is trying to look like she did when a baby. Babies don't try that. Which face is more manifesting the nature of mind? Take a wild uneducated guess...


This Is More Tricky Than You Think


In meditation, as in all arts, there has to be a delicate balance between relaxation and alertness. Once a monk called Shrona was studying meditation with one of Buddha’s closest disciples. He had difficulty finding the right frame of mind. He tried very hard to concentrate, and gave himself a headache. Then he relaxed his mind, but so much that he fell asleep. Finally he appealed to Buddha for help.
Knowing that Shrona had been a famous musician before he became a monk, Buddha asked him: “Weren’t you a vina player when you were a layperson?”
Shrona nodded.
“How did you get the best sound out of your vina? Was it when the strings were very tight or when they were very loose?”
“Neither. When they had just the right tension, neither too taut nor too slack.”
“Well, it’s exactly the same with your mind.”
--Sogyal Rinpoche

Why is it tricky? Because it takes a while to figure out whether you are a too tight or too loose person in this particular situation. I'm clearly a too tight person. That means when I meditate, if I feel it's going wrong--I'm doing it right. 

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Malaise Traps and Mites

I'm now officially a graduate student at the University of Arkansas--kind of my way of starting July off with a bang. My first two days have been jam-packed with information that I'm still trying to digest, and what better way to do that than to share it?

I started off my first day by assisting another student in the lab in setting up a few malaise traps. Our goal for the day: set up four of them. Spoiler alert: we only set up two of them due to a broken trap and not nearly enough cord. But hey, two is better than one. Or none.

We set out for Lake Wedington, west of Fayetteville, and found a nice spot on a slope in a patch of secondary succession forest. It looked like a good flyway for insects, so we set up the trap. A malaise trap catches flying insects and funnels them into a container (usually filled with ethanol), from which they're collected after a few days. We felt good about the location we chose, since we were already seeing some flies, wasps, and other insects flying around us as we set up.

Lycomorpha pholus - Black-and-yellow Lichen Moth

The blurry picture above shows the Black-and-yellow Lichen Moth (Lycomorpha pholus), which kept landing on me as we set up. I noticed a few of these moths flying around brazenly, seemingly protected by their mimicry of the Lycid beetles. Its common name is something of a misnomer: it's actually orange with bluish-black wings. It looks similar to a moth I've often seen in Ohio, the Orange-patched Smoky Moth (Pyromorpha dimidiata).

To ensure that our prey didn't simply fly under our trap, we stacked up a few rocks and logs at the bottom of the trap. The first log I picked up had a pretty garter snake under it, which promptly disappeared under the leaf litter. Another had a caterpillar.

I thought it was dead at first.

I'm not sure what species it is, but it blends in well with the wood.

Next we trudged up the slope to an oak opening that was filled with grasses and the song of a nearby cicada. We searched for a nice flyway, and decided on a spot near where we found a ladybug, parasitic wasp, and metallic wood-boring beetle (Buprestidae). On our walk to the site, I glanced down and noticed something hidden in the grasses.

Small flowers, or huge fingers?

I knew it was an orchid, but didn't know anything more. I remembered seeing a photo of this species before, however, thanks to Andrew Gibson, so I sent it to him. He promptly returned a species ID: Grass-leaved Ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes vernalis). The orchid is about a foot tall, and the small white flowers wind up and around the stalk. 

After we finished setting up the second malaise trap and had thoroughly complained about the broken trap and lack of cord to set up anymore, I heard a buzzing sound and looked at a nearby oak branch. At first, I thought it was a leaf-footed bug (Coreidae), but realized it was something more interesting.

Of course it's an assassin bug.

A stout assassin bug, one of the Bee Assassins (genus Apiomerus), had flown nearby. This one is Apiomerus crassipes, an assassin that ranges from the central to eastern US. I don't often encounter these guys, so it was an exciting find for me. Other species in the genus can be brightly colored in red and yellow, but this species apparently opts for a sophisticated black with red accents.

After my foray in the field, it was time to sort some leaf litter samples. I found some interesting beetles, a few centipedes and millipedes, and other miscellanea. However, I'm working in a mite lab, so it was time to learn some mites. Mites 101 consumed my second day.

To summarize, there's more to mites than just velvet mites, which are the ones I'm vaguely familiar with. Much of the diversity in mites is in the suborder Prostigmata (which does include the velvet mites), and I took a few photos of various groups within the Prostigmata for my notes. I'll include a few here, if for no other reason than to show some mites you may not know about. All these mites are pretty tiny, so these photos were taken through a microscope.

Labidostommatina mites. Large chelicerae (can't really see in the photo), predatory.

Whirligig mite, family Anystidae. Legs appear to originate from central point.

Snout mites (Family Bdellidae, genus Bdella). Look kind of cute.

Smarididae. Mites with mouthparts inside their body, which they can vomit up. Have setae on their bodies that make them look oddly fuzzy.

I'm still processing a bunch of mite information, so I'll stop here, rather than write something potentially wrong. It's neat to learn about this group and see the diversity, and hopefully I'll get it organized in my head soon.

Now to get some sleep before heading back to the lab tomorrow.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Tuned City Brilliant

It was both very political and very contemplative, at the very same time. I couldn't attend all the events, as I was there with my family. But it sounded like the city was being walked, camped in, sat in, stood in, recorded, heard, and on and on. All over the shop. You could put on Victorian period acoustic glasses and hear certain tones emanating from plants. You could do a Debord and discover Japan is actually at the end of a strange alley round the back of the canal. And on and on. What I did hear was incredibly rich.

For once the tech people were absolutely and totally in charge of the machines we all have to use: of course! They are musicians!

Thank you Raviv, Ann and a huge host of others. Hillel Schwartz's talk was awesome, as was meeting him. Termites!

It was great to meet everyone. I was very touched to find that people had been influenced by my stuff on ambience and music, and it's a line I continue to develop. In fact I'm pretty sure my talk is a slightly more rigorous and also practical account of things than the one I outlined in Ecology without Nature.

As part of the build up to the conference, workshops had been teaching my stuff on that, and this was an incredibly nice surprise.

Earworms (MP3)



Sound, noise, ambience, OOO, music, with some nice examples (Felix Hess and Subject 13). Really an OOO theory of sound. From Tuned City Brussels. Gernot Böhme, whom I've been wanting to meet for ages, was very into it. And I believe that at some point it will be published. Christoph Cox also spoke: I shall upload my notes as soon as I can. Very nice chap.

Earworms