Blogging, Google+ and tangled networks

Dave Bonta’s post about Google+ had me thinking about my relationships with various social networks.

I remember being rather resentful of Facebook because I had carefully carved out a space on the web: this blog. I liked being able to change the way it looked, and to fiddle with the internal workings; and above all I liked being able to post to my own space, without someone else’s corporate logo at the top of it, and someone else’s advertising running down the side.

And having gone to that trouble, it annoyed me to have to set up a new, separate web presence in Facebook’s walled garden, where my stuff would be presented the way Facebook thought was best. At least it wasn’t as bad as MySpace, but it still had a shitty user interface, and a cavalier approach to privacy, and I had to jump through hoops to get the material I was posting to my blog mirrored inside Facebook, and it never quite worked the way I felt it should.

But, that was where my friends were. So that was where I needed to be. And since RSS feeds never quite broke through as a mainstream technology, if I did want any of them to read my blog, there had to be some way to let them know when I posted something. And over time I’ve got used to it and it doesn’t bother me much anymore… until I need to change a setting somewhere, when it drives me nuts.

So that’s Facebook: whatever its other faults, it’s the social network which actually has my friends on it. Perhaps they could use that as a slogan.

Then there’s Twitter. In some ways, Twitter is Facebook with all the crap taken out; no stupid games, no ads, just a string of status updates. Which I like. And I like the fact that the relationships are asymmetrical; you can read their updates without being their ‘friends’. It makes it sort of semi-social in quite a nice way.

But not many people I know are really active on Twitter. The people I follow are mainly a mixture of celebrities, journalists, science writers, nature bloggers and so on. So for me, it’s not actually a social network at all; it’s just an RSS reader with ADHD.

I don’t have a Google+ account yet, but from what I’ve seen it seems like a nice balance between Facebook and Twitter: it has less accumulated cruft than Facebook (so far at least), better privacy controls, and asymmetrical relationships. It’s somewhere between a streamlined Facebook and a beefed-up Twitter. Which sounds like it might be a perfect replacement for both. Except unless the whole world agrees at once to ditch Facebook and Twitter, it won’t actually replace either of them: it will just be another endless stream of stuff to distract us.

Which brings me on to Tumblr. I didn’t actually join Tumblr for its social networking; I was posting lots of links on this blog and wanted to spin those off into a separate site and leave this blog for longer pieces. And rather than create yet another WordPress installation, joining Tumblr seemed an easy way of doing it. But in fact I got sucked into the ‘social’ aspects of looking through other people’s posts, and liking and reblogging them. Not that it feels remotely like a genuinely sociable activity — there’s not much personal connection there — but scanning through other people’s posts is fun, and when they like or reblog my own posts there’s a little hit of positive reinforcement, so it’s quite addictive and a complete timesuck.

And I’ve been enjoying it, but I can’t help feeling that the result has been to weaken this blog and to fragment my online presence even further. I’ve even thought of posting a weekly Tumblr roundup here, of some of the more interesting stuff… which might work quite well but just brings me back to doing a manual version of the automated links which Tumblr was supposed to replace.

In some ways I do want to try Google+; partially because it’s a new toy but also because they seem to have learnt from the mistakes and successes of previous networks. It looks genuinely well-thought-out. But another part of me thinks it’s just madness. I’ve already got an RSS reader, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr on the go, not to mention Goodreads and Flickr: surely I have enough information streams to keep me busy.

And this continuing fragmentation brings me back to my initial objection to social networks: I already have a bit of the internet, thank you, one which I set up years ago and I administer. And I want to be able to put my own website at the centre of my online identity: not my Google profile, not my Facebook page, not my Twitter stream. I know it’s a terribly retro idea, but I like the idea of my own website being my ‘homepage’.

However. That personal preference of mine is hardly the point. I’m sure the last sad users of MySpace had a strong personal preference as well, but in the end they just turned out to be a load of Cnuts. And the number of visitors to this site has been slowly but steadily declining. That is no doubt mainly my own fault for not being interesting enough, but whatever the reason: it’s depressing.

So where does all that leave me? I don’t know, really. Dissatisfied with the status quo but without any good ideas for how to change it.

» The spiderface image is a combination of Hendrik Goltzius’s woodcut portrait of Gillis van Breen from 1588, and The spider, a lithograph by Lily Blatherwick from 1927. Both via the British Museum.

Physical tumbling

I went along to the V&A today to check out the second phase of their new ceramics display. The first phase was arranged by technique and theme; the new bit is by place and date. Some of the displays have helpful information, but much of it is effectively the collection being stored in plain view: all-glass cabinets with shelf after shelf of ceramics packed five or six objects deep.

It means that they’re not always as easy to see properly, and there’s no accompanying information, but it’s a way of making as much of the collection visible as possible: over 26,500 pieces in the new section, apparently.

I’ve actually spent a lot of time recently browsing the V&A’s collection online find things to post to A London Salmagundi. It was a healthy reminder that, although it’s marvellous that they are making such an effort to digitise their collections, and no matter how endlessly fascinating it is searching through museum collections online, there’s nothing quite like being close enough to appreciate the actual physicality of an object: the textures, the way it catches the light.

Or even more basic, the size. I posted this picture of a porcelain goat made by Meissen in 1732, and it’s a striking image; but nothing about that picture prepares you for the fact that it is over two foot long. Nearly life size — for rather a small goat, at least. Apparently it weighs 25kg.

Unfortunately the technology is not yet there for me to have a physical tumblelog. Although having an image blog is a kind of curation, I can’t, sadly, actually choose real objects and put them in front of my readers.

I suppose the closest I could come would be if the V&A gave me a long display case and the licence to roam the museum, picking out objects. Then I could put each new choice at one end of the case and shift all the rest a few inches further along; and as each one reached the other end, I would take it out and put it back where it belonged.

In fact, if anyone from the V&A is reading this: have your people call my people. Let’s see if we can work something out.

Happy Birthday Clouded Drab

Clouded Drab — my photoblog — is one year old today. And despite occasional fallow periods, I have posted 92 photos in that year, which seems a respectable number.

This puffin is not one of those photos. I don’t quite know why I only posted one of my puffin pictures from Wales, but here’s another one.

I’ve just installed a random redirect plugin, so click on this link for a random photo.

Sir Lattimore Brown

If you haven’t been following the superb series of posts about the soul singer Lattimore Brown at music blog the B side, now would be a good chance to catch up. It starts with the chance discovery that Brown is not as dead as had been thought, and takes a road trip with him while telling the story of his career, and providing some fine music along the way.

The posts in order: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

As you’ll read, Brown, who was living in New Orleans when Katrina hit and had a pretty awful time of it, has been screwed over again by Hurricane Gustav, so if you enjoy the music you might want to show your appreciation with actual money (via link 7 above).

Another one bites the dust

Sad to see the nonist, always a reliable source of neat stuff, is going the way of all blogs. Still, it’s an opportunity to do a quick greatest hits post — ‘greatest hits’ in this case defined as ‘stuff I linked to earlier’.

antique microscopic slidesfire markswatermarks — eugenics materials —  Native American totem symbolsx-rays of paintings — hand guards from Japanese swords — old scissors — science fairs — C19th tonic wine — nuclear fallout calculatorscarousels — Native American costumehornbooksPolynesian stick chartslibraries 

When so much of the designy/visual culture blogosphere deals with such a limited range of material (retro Americana, mid-C20th graphic design, the latest quirky bit of typography, music videos, objets d’interior design and so on), you’ve gotta love someone who digs out pictures of renaissance scissors.

Links

  • 'Giving ugly animals their day in the sun. We avoid the simply tragic, diseased, or maimed. Rather, these creatures are only as hideous as nature – or their owners – intended.'
    (del.icio.us tags: animals blogs ugly )

In non-Internet Explorer related news…

The release of WordPress 2.3 is my cue to release my photoblog onto the world.

Since this blog, which is comparatively simple in terms of layout, still isn’t working properly in Internet Explorer, I shudder to think what Clouded Drab will look like. But hey-ho, let’s press on regardless. There’s only one photo at the moment, but I’ve got more queued up, so I hope you’ll check in regularly. Or of course subscribe to the RSS feed.

Blogger Bio-blitz #3: Lasithi plateau

blogger bioblitz

The last of the three locations in Crete that I bio-blitzed was the Lasithi plateau, where I was from the 27th-28th of April. The plateau is just the prettiest place in the world, as well as providing some good birding for me. Apparently, it’s formed by the build-up of silt from the surrounding rivers creating a little flat fertile area high in the mountains. It’s like someone has taken a little slice of Holland nine kilometres by five and placed it 840m up in the middle of Crete. It even has windmills—little ones for pumping water, since although it floods in winter, in summer it gets dry enough to need irrigation.

Spring was a bit less advanced here; whereas on the south coast the flowers were looking a bit sun-blasted, here they were absolutely amazing. Real alpine meadow stuff anywhere there was enough room for it; higher up the mountain, where it got really rocky, lots of tiny little flowers growing amid the rocks. I was particularly pleased to find about 7 species of orchid.

Which makes it slightly embarrassing to admit that I didn’t actually blitz the flowers; I did have a couple of flower books with me with that in mind, but I found I was only able to ID such a small proportion of them to the species level that my list would have been seriously unrepresentative. So I’ve just got a bird list. The bird I was most pleased with was Wryneck, but there were lots of good things. The list appears below, but first, a selection of photos. The first three (the wheatear, lark and warbler) weren’t actually taken on the plateau, but they were at least taken while I was in Crete.

You can either navigate using the strip at the bottom or just click on the photo to see the next one in the set.

Common Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Eurasian Griffon Vulture
Common Buzzard

Common Quail

Yellow-legged Gull

Eurasian Collared Dove
Woodpigeon

Common Cuckoo

Eurasian Wryneck

Crested Lark
Woodlark

Barn Swallow

Tree Pipit
Yellow Wagtail

Common Blackbird

Sardinian Warbler
Great Reed Warbler

Spotted Flycatcher
Blue Rock-Thrush
European Stonechat
Whinchat
Northern Wheatear
Black-eared Wheatear

Great Tit
Blue Tit

Woodchat Shrike

Common Raven
Hooded Crow
Eurasian Jay

House Sparrow

Linnet
European Goldfinch
European Greenfinch
Chaffinch
European Serin

Corn Bunting
Cirl Bunting

That barn owl bio blitz button is derived from a photo on Flickr by Nick Lawes used under a by-nc-sa licence; the button is available under the same licence. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Jennifer’s BBB buttons, but I wanted something to match my colour scheme.

Blogger Bio-blitz #2: Paleohora

blogger bioblitz

Paleohora is a little town on the south coast of the western end of Crete. It’s an expanding resort town with plenty of tavernas and cafes, but still small and quiet compared to the established resorts. Especially quiet in April, which is really before the tourist season starts in earnest. The town sits on a little headland with the ruins of (Venetian?) castle on the end. Immediately behind the town is the start of the mountains, all rocky scrubby stuff, and to one side there’s a little river valley with olive groves and trees and things, which goes down to form a little reed-lined pool. So there’s a range of habitats present and it’s well-placed to pick up migrant birds. This is a shot of the town looking back from the castle site; I haven’t got a picture of the castle because it’s just a few wall-bases and really not picturesque at all.

Paleohora

My best birds here were Common Quail—a species that is relatively common across Europe but very difficult to see—and, especially, European Roller, a great big blue thing I’ve wanted to see for years and is even a rarity for Crete. Oh, and a whole flock of eight Golden Orioles, spectacular yellow birds that are normally shy and reclusive, but which I had a good view of as the flew one by one across the olive groves. But I don’t have any bird pictures from here; I didn’t feel like carrying my telescope around. So here’s my bird list for April 22nd-25th with interspersed photos of the area just for local colour.

Squacco Heron
Purple Heron
Little Egret

Common Buzzard
Peregrine Falcon
Common Kestrel

grasshopper on prickly pear
A big grasshopper/locust thing perched on a prickly pear. Prickly pear is an introduced species; from Mexico, I think? that’s fairly common in various places around the Med.

Common Quail

Common Sandpiper
Yellow-legged Gull

Collared Dove
Turtle Dove

river valley
This is part of the river valley from up on the hill. You can see olive groves, obviously; the common tree tended to be some species of plane.

European Scops Owl (heard)

Common Swift

European Roller
European Bee-eater

Silene
I’m pretty sure that’s some species of Silene, but I don’t know which one.

Crested Lark

Barn Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
House Martin
Sand Martin

Tree Pipit

wasp nest
An empty wasp nest on what I think might be myrtle. Taken down on the beach.

Common Blackbird

Sardinian Warbler
Common Whitethroat
Blackcap
Garden Warbler
Wood Warbler
Cetti’s Warbler
Great Reed Warbler
Sedge Warbler

pebbly beach
A shot of the shingle beach. There’s a sandy beach on the other side of the headland, but it seemed less productive for birdwatching so I didn’t go there much.

Spotted Flycatcher
Whinchat
Common Redstart
Common Nightingale
Blue Rock-Thrush

Great Tit
Blue Tit

Woodchat Shrike

Hooded Crow

Golden Oriole

waves breaking on the rocks
Waves breaking on the rocks.

House Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow

European Goldfinch
European Greenfinch
Chaffinch
European Serin

That barn owl bio blitz button is derived from a photo on Flickr by Nick Lawes used under a by-nc-sa licence; the button is therefore available under the same licence. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Jennifer’s BBB buttons, but I wanted something to match my colour scheme.

Blogger Bio-blitz #1: Ayia Lake

blogger bioblitz

On April 21st, I went birding to a reservoir near the village of Αγια, written as either Agia or Ayia in Roman characters. Ayia is about 9 km SW of Chania, the capital of the westernmost province of Crete, and the reservoir is a good spot for migrating waterbirds. The reservoir is surrounded by reedbeds and then agricultural land; the walk down to the lake goes past orange groves.

To quote the post I wrote on the day, now with some pictures: “The guide to birdwatching in Crete listed, among the possible birds for the site, Little Crake, Spotted Crake and Baillon’s Crake. I’ve never seen any of those before, but I didn’t get my hopes up because all the crakes are notoriously difficult to see; they skulk.

So I arrived and pretty much the first thing I saw? A crake! In full view! And I had one of those panicky moments of trying to put down the telescope in a controlled fashion and get a proper look at the bird and check the field guide, all at the same time, thinking I had to make use of my lucky moment, while the crake just kept pottering about at the edge of the reeds. After I’d had a long look at it and decided it was Little Crake (plain blue underside and no barring on the flanks, since you ask) I had a quick check in the other direction along the lake, and there was another one! And it became apparent that not only were they not bothering to skulk, they were extremely approachable.

male Little Crake

I can only assume that they are so tame because they’re on migration and their priority is eating furiously to get their strength up. From Africa to, say, Poland is a long way to fly for a little bird with stubby wings. I also got incredibly good views of a Little Bittern that just sat and looked at me as I approached instead of ducking into the reeds. Again, it was probably knackered from all the flying.”

female Little Bittern

All that black around the edge of the picture is vignetting from the scope. Normally I’d zoom the camera to cut it off, but the bird was so close that I’d have to cut off its feet.

Here’s the rest of the list for the day, with a few comments:

Linnet
European Goldfinch
European Greenfinch
Chaffinch
European Serin

These finches are all residents on Crete, and may well have raised one brood already, even though the passage migrants are still heading north.

Spotted Flycatcher
European Pied Flycatcher
European Stonechat
Whinchat (below)

Whinchat

Nightingale (only heard)
Great Tit
Yellow Wagtail (the black-headed subspecies, Motacilla flava feldegg)
Sardinian Warbler
Cetti’s Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Common Blackbird

Barn Swallow
House Martin
Sand Martin

sand martins and swallow
Barn Swallow and some Sand Martins resting in the reeds. Most Barn Swallows in Europe have pure white underparts; the reddish breast of the one here is typical of the eastern Mediterranean. And I’ve just learnt that what I call a Sand Martin is known as a Bank Swallow in the US, so if you were thinking they looked familiar, that might be why.

House Sparrow – the subspecies known as ‘Italian Sparrow’, Passer domesticus italiae.

Hooded Crow

Common Swift
Alpine Swift

Eurasian Coot
Common Moorhen
Little Crake

Little Bittern
Black-crowned Night Heron
Grey Heron
Little Egret (below)

Little Egret

Little Stint
Common Sandpiper
Black-winged Stilt
Yellow-legged Gull

Common Kingfisher (below)

kingfisher

Common Cuckoo (below; another surprisingly tame bird)

cuckoo

Little Grebe
Ferruginous Duck
My second lifetime tick for the day, after Little Crake. I was just settling down to a coffee (Greek, medium sugar) and saw a couple of birders intently peering through a scope at something which, when I wandered over, turned out to be a distant but definite Ferruginous Duck. It obviously pays to be nosy.

European Marsh Harrier
Common Buzzard
Peregrine Falcon

And one non-bird:

European Tree Frog

tree frog

That barn owl bio blitz button is derived from a photo on Flickr by Nick Lawes used under a by-nc-sa licence; the button is therefore available under the same licence. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Jennifer’s BBB buttons, but I wanted something to match my colour scheme.

Blogger Bio-blitz: Crete overview

blogger bioblitz

Well, I’ve got back from Crete, and now’s my opportunity to write up some of my birding as full Blogger Bio Blitz posts. Now with pictures!

Some general scene setting, first. Crete is a beautiful island, mainly consisting of spectacular mountains surrounded by blue Mediterranean water. But it’s not a forgiving place; in the interior of the island you’d be hard-pressed to find a patch of flat ground big enough to lay out a tennis court. Apparently, a few thousand years ago, Crete and the rest of the Greek islands were covered in forest, but thanks to a thriving goat population, they are now mainly bare, rocky terrain covered in low, scrubby, thorny vegetation, which, thanks especially to the wild thyme, the locals boast is the source of the best honey in the world. And where possible, they grow olives—there are miles and miles of grey-green olive groves—or if there’s a bit more water, grapes, oranges and other crops.

In January or August it must be a seriously harsh landscape; but in spring the island is covered in wild flowers. There are more species of plant in Crete than Great Britain, and 1 in 10 is endemic. And even more than the flowers, the reason I went in April is for the spring migration. The list of breeding birds for Crete is surprisingly short, and many species that are common all over Europe—Grey Heron, Cuckoo, Hoopoe—are missing. But in the spring, many of the birds migrating from Africa to Europe stop in Crete on their way over the Mediterranean.

I went primarily for the birding, and I was hoping to ID a few flowers for the Bio Blitz; but I found the flower guides I had just weren’t adequate to confidently identify many flowers down to the species level. So I’ll be posting a few pictures of flowers, but not, generally speaking, confident IDs for them. I do have lots of birds to report, though :)

That barn owl bio blitz button, btw, is derived from a photo on Flickr by Nick Lawes used under a by-nc-sa licence; the button is therefore available under the same licence. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Jennifer’s BBB buttons, but I wanted something to match my colour scheme.

First Annual Blogger Bioblitz

blogger bioblitz buttonJust a heads-up for anyone who’s interested: the First Annual Blogger Bioblitz, ‘where bloggers from across the country will choose a wild or not-so-wild area and find how many of each different species – plant, animal, fungi and anything in between – live in a certain area within a certain time’ will be run from April 21-29.

You can read the annnouncement here, and they’ve set up a discussion group on Google Groups here.

I’m thinking of participating but some kind of weird bug in Google Groups means I haven’t registered yet. I’m going to be in Crete at the time, and I’ll be taking a bird guide (obviously!) as well as a guide to the wild flowers of Crete, but I won’t be able to do any insects or fungi or anything. I’m a little intimidated by the expertise of most of the people taking part, but on the basis that it’s an exercise in mass-participation rather than a rigorous scientific study, I thought I’d do what I could.

British food

I’m always somewhat irritated when someone from The Land of Industrial Food is rude about British cooking. If it comes from one of the great foody cultures (the Italians, the French, the Indians, the Japanese…) I’m willing to admit they’re talking from a position of strength. But the country of processed cheese, marshmallow fluff, and beer brewed with rice? Not so much.

That gripe aside, the blog is worth reading.

Stereotyping, cultural appropriation and such

Alan Sullivan has posted a poem called Long Bay Jump, both to his blog and to Erato, which is in a West Indian voice. It starts:

Sun drop down with a flash of green.
Moon lift up, and the palm tree lean.

Jack fish bake in banana wrap.
Pi-dog snatch all the table scrap.

Ganja and rum, ganja and rum–
Long Bay jump ’til the morning come.

Not surprisingly, some people were uneasy with it. Or, as Alan put it:

I posted this reggae-style lyric at Eratosphere today and got a face full of PC, just as I expected.

Full disclosure: I haven’t read the whole thread at Erato because, well, other people’s pissing matches get dull fairly quickly. But I was somewhat struck with this comment:

Although I can see why someone might be offended by the association of a whole group of people with ‘ganja’ and a careless demeanor, the practice of friendly caricature is generally accepted. No one would bat an eye at a poem that portrayed a British man with a cup of tea in one hand, a cane in the other, and a ‘Jolly good day’. No one would be shocked at a poem about a racist Southerner who irresponsibly uses Biblical quotations to justify cruelty — a far more offensive caricature, in my opinion, because it is a negative and unsympathetic stereotype. No one would even blink at a poem about fat and boisterous Americans visiting foreign nations. So what’s wrong with a friendly caricature of a non-white group of non-European descent?

Nothing, in my opinion.

Now there are various cans of worms there which I think I’ll leave unopened, and just comment on the bit which jumped out at me. “No one would bat an eye at a poem that portrayed a British man with a cup of tea in one hand, a cane in the other, and a ‘Jolly good day’.” Umm, well actually, speaking as an Englishman, that would annoy the fuck out of me. It’s outdated, inaccurate and patronising. So I guess that’s one point – you may not be as good a judge as you think of whether a caricature comes across as ‘friendly’.

I’m not going to try to judge how Alan’s poem would come across to someone from the BVI . But actually it makes me uneasy without having an opinion about whether it’s inaccurate and/or insulting.

It’s not the fact that it’s ventriloquising a West Indian voice, although that’s certainly relevant. Nor is it related to post-colonialism or the legacy of slavery or any other specific political issue associated with the region, though those are also relevant. It’s that it’s a stereotype. Not just a stereotype, but the stereotype of the Caribbean – rum, ganja, palm trees and music. Alan says, in response to some of the comments:

I tried to avoid a POV in the poem. It bears witness. It does not judge. Every detail is true, and known to me at first hand.

I have no doubt that every detail is true. And yet somehow all they manage to add up to is the obvious stereotype. That’s the thing about stereotypes – they usually have some basis in truth. There really are effeminate gay man and Nigerian con artists. The reason stereotypes are insidious is precisely that they are somewhat true; that you can look at the person and just see the stereotype. It’s a short-circuiting of thought.

I think I’d have been happier if he had offered a POV, if he had judged. That would at least be an explicit attempt to engage with the culture. Attempting to neutrally portray a culture which is not your own strikes me as fraught with difficulty, not from any kind of cultural relativism but because the perspective of the visitor is so partial.

This is perhaps an over-analysis of a light poem that doesn’t seem to be attempting much more than local colour. I just wanted to try to articulate my sense of unease.

9rules Writing Community

9rules strikes me as potentially a great idea. It’s basically a conglomeration of blogs, each of which has been approved as reaching a certain standard of quality.

The 9rules Network is a community of the best weblogs in the world on a variety of topics. We started 9rules to give passionate writers more exposure and to help readers find great blogs on their favorite subjects. It’s difficult to find sites worth returning to, so 9rules brings together the very best of the independent web all under one roof.

They have periodic application periods when they winnow out the sheep from the goats and accept the sheep. The approved blogs are then sorted by subject.

Since blogs are many and multiplying, any way of finding the good stuff has to be a good thing. But I decided to look at the blogs which have been accepted into the 9rules Writing Community. It hasn’t given me great faith in their quality control. One of the various principles they claim for themselves is that

A nicely-designed site might draw readers in, but it’s the content that keeps them coming back.

But given that at least two of the ten in their ‘writing community’ are blogs which are nicely designed but whose content is seriously poor (1, 2), I find myself unpersuaded. The most likely scenario is that the people who selected the blogs just weren’t very literary by inclination; my point really is that they aren’t doing their credibility any good.

In the interests of balance I’ll point out one more 9rules literary blog, PoetryReviews.Ca, where they review Canadian poetry books and seem to do a good job of it.

But generally the 1rule which is most important seems to be ‘style over content’. Perhaps that’s unfair. Perhaps the many good blogs that can be found among my long poetry blogroll just haven’t applied, so 9rules don’t know what they’re missing.

More vespal entertainment

Sherry mentioned my wasp nest on her blog and via the comments was revealed this hand-made hornet’s nest by papermaker Gin Petty. You can read her full account of making it here.

And browsing around Flickr I found these pictures by Andrew Dill of a wasp nest built on a window:

Here’s something I learned today. ‘Hymenoptera’ (i.e. bees, wasps and ants) are not called that because of all those virgin workers, as I’d always vaguely assumed. Rather it’s

from Greek humenopteros ‘membrane-winged,’ from humēn ‘membrane’ + pteron ‘wing.’

Which perhaps I should have realised, since Hymen wasn’t god of virginity but marriage.

And here’s a good word: haplo-diploid.

The Hall of a Thousand Columns

Tim Mackintosh-Smith at a Makdunaldiz in Sharjah:

An occasional meaning did rise out of the nonsense. For instance, a child with a wide and poetical vocabulary might be puzzled by his hābī mīl (‘Happy Meal’) – ‘My serpent is an eyeliner pencil’.

An enjoyable book, so far. Though I’d suggest you start with Travels With A Tangerine.

And there’s ‘benumbed hot vegetables fries fuck silk’ on the menu over at Language Log. And fairness demands that any comment about dodgy Chinese translations of English is compensated for by a link to Hanzi Smatter.

Creepy-crawly goodness

If you like invertebrates (and who doesn’t?) check out the Circus of the Spineless at Burning Silo.

I take a casual interest in insects and other invertebrates, but one thing you quickly realise is that they’re really hard. I first really appreciated this when, quite pleased with myself for recognising something as a ‘scorpionfly’, I tried to look it up in a book and discovered there are something like 28 species just of scorpionflies in the UK. And that’s relatively modest compared to the beetles and things. So I mainly stick to birds.

Since I’m on natural history, check out the dioramas at Pruned; it’s worth clicking through the links in that post as well.

And in the beginning was the video

According to TUAW:

This video was ripped from a videotape (which explains the lack of video quality) of the 1984 Apple Shareholders’ meeting, where the original Macintosh was unveiled.

It’s either a very good spoof, or… well, genuine.

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