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How monoculture farming changes biodiversity

This image, taken by artist David Liittschwager shows the plants and animals collected in a square meter of South African public park over the course of 24 hours.

This image, from National Public Radio, illustrates the plants and animals found over the course of two nights and three days in an Iowa cornfield.

Robert Krulwich has a fascinating piece about the ways food systems affect ecological systems. How efficient is too efficient?

Via On Earth

Beautiful art from used glasses of Scotch (Plus some nifty fluid mechanics)

After you drink some Scotch, there's usually a thin film of the liquor left clinging to the bottom and sides of the glass. If you leave it out overnight, it'll dry and be a pain to wash off in the morning. But the same dried booze leavings can also be the beginnings of some really lovely art.

Ernie Button takes photos of the waving, swirling patterns left behind on Scotch glasses. This one — part of a series called Vanishing Spirits — is a picture of glass that once held a nice measure of Balvenie.

The idea for this project occurred while putting a used Scotch glass into the dishwasher. I noted a film on the bottom of a glass and when I inspected closer, I noted these fine, lacey lines filling the bottom. What I found through some experimentation is that these patterns and images that can be seen are created with the small amount of Single-Malt Scotch left in a glass after most of it has been consumed. It only takes a very thin layer of Scotch to create; the alcohol dries and leaves the sediment in various patterns. It’s a little like snowflakes in that every time the Scotch dries, the glass yields different patterns and results. I have used different colored lights to add 'life' to the bottom of the glass, creating the illusion of landscape, terrestrial or extraterrestrial.

Interestingly, there was a recent article that was published in the Journal of Nature (I think) by Dr. Peter Yunker on the Suppression of the Coffee-Ring Effect by Shape-Dependent Capillary Interactions i.e. how are coffee rings made. I contacted him to see if he could see any obvious connection between the two liquids and the rings / patterns they create. He got back to me and unfortunately could not explain what was happening with the Scotch.

That paper Button mentioned was published in 2011. It explores the physics of particles suspended in liquid — not just coffee, but lots of things. Turns out, if you put a drop of liquid on a solid surface, it will tend to dry in a circular shape. As it dries, anything suspended in the liquid will migrate to the outside of the circle. If you put a drop of coffee on a table and leave it to dry, what you'll get is a round spot ringed by a narrow band of dark coffee gunk.

Why does the gunk form a ring, instead of evenly covering the whole circle? Yunker's research showed that it has to do with the shape of the particles that make up the gunk.

Read the rest

Petri dish Christmas ornaments

Is it too early to talk about how much I like these? I hope not.

Please note these are not actual bacteria, but watercolor paintings sealed in resin inside real petri dishes.

Check out the full collection at Etsy

This NASA simulation of a galaxy is begging for a snazzy soundtrack

This computer simulation uses what we know about physical forces in the universe to model how a galaxy might have been born, and how it might grow over 13.5 billion years.

This cosmological simulation follows the development of a single disk galaxy over about 13.5 billion years, from shortly after the Big Bang to the present time. Colors indicate old stars (red), young stars (white and bright blue) and the distribution of gas density (pale blue); the view is 300,000 light-years across. The simulation ran on the Pleiades supercomputer at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and required about 1 million CPU hours. It assumes a universe dominated by dark energy and dark matter.

The result is a beautiful (if silent) video that is significantly labeled as public domain. It seemed like something you guys might enjoy playing around with.

Check out this Wikipedia article for more information on the growth of galaxies

Via labgrab

Protein art

Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids, folded and twisted in on themselves to make incredibly complex shapes.

The human brain, it has been said, is kind of a pattern-finding machine — prone to spotting faces on the moon, fat bunnies in the clouds, and Jesus on slices of toast.

When the two meet, you get Protein Art. May K., a Russian-born artist who lives in Germany, takes actual protein structures, sees the other things those structures seem to look an awful lot like, and then draws cartoons based on the resulting apophenia.

For instance, take a look at the protein structure above. After the jump, you can see the picture that May K. saw in its folds.

Read the rest

NYCC: Issa Ibrahim's "Love Among the Ruins"

One of the booths at New York Comic Con that caught my eye was the one above, by artist Issa Ibrahim, who specializes in (sometimes risqué) pieces featuring comic book characters. "Love Among the Ruins" is not only a take on one of my favorite pictures ever, "The Kiss" by Alfred Eisenstaedt, it brings together two "warring factions" of pop culture -- Marvel and DC. If there's anything we need in our deeply divided country right now, it's seeing a Marvel character (Captain America) passionately kissing a DC character (Wonder Woman).

What the world needs now is love, superhuman love...

Paintings of Minneapolis and St. Paul, by the author of the Madeline books

In 1936, Ludwig Bemelmans painted scenes of the Twin Cities to illustrate an article in Fortune magazine. If the style looks at all familiar, it's probably because you're remembering Bemelmans' most famous creation — a Parisian schoolgirl named Madeline.

In this painting, you can see the Cathedral of St. Paul and what I am pretty certain is the James J. Hill House — a massive, red sandstone mansion that is actually across the street and down a half block from the Cathedral. Bonus fact: The Hill House was built by the railroad magnate behind what is now Amtrak's Empire Builder route from Seattle to Minneapolis. In fact, that was his nickname. James "The Empire Builder" Hill. I'm not kidding. The house is open for tours and it's pretty fantastic. Plus, you get to watch a nice video which assures you that while James J. Hill was, technically, a union-busting robber baron, he also really liked kittens. Again, not kidding.

Check out the Nokohaha blog for more of these paintings

Thanks Andrew!

Great Moments in Pedantry: Librarian critiques Twilight Sparkle's professional practice

At Neatorama, librarian John Farrier helpfully points out some places where fictional pony librarian Twilight Sparkle could stand to improve her professional practice. It is simultaneously a dedicated bit of pony fandom and an interesting overview of the many responsibilities of a real-world librarian.

Conducting a reference interview is the act of translating a patron’s request into terms that are congruent with the library’s resources. It may surprise non-librarians to learn this, but yes: reference interviewing is a skill. And it is one that Twilight should develop.

A good reference interview begins with the librarian conducting him/herself in a manner that is welcoming. Helping the patron is the first priority of a librarian working the reference desk. The patron is not a distraction or an annoyance. In the first reference interview in the series, Twilight interacts with her patron, Rainbow Dash. “Can I help you?” is a good beginning. But her tone and body language suggests that she would rather not.

... Twilight has some good reference interviewing sense. One pitfall that rookie librarians fall into is to give professional advice instead of information—especially medical and legal advice. In “Cutie Pox,” Applejack and Applebloom visit the library and asking for medical advice. Twilight, aware that doing so could expose the library and herself to liability, deftly avoids doing so and refers Applejack and Applebloom to Zecora, a qualified medical professional.

Read the rest of the story at Neatorama

Cool ceramic jewelry for scientists, skeptics, and fossil lovers

A friend pointed me today toward the awesome work of Surly Amy (aka Amy Davis Roth), who makes really neat ceramic jewelry with science/skeptic themes. Some of her pieces are really simple and not super artsy—a pendant that says "This is what an atheist looks like", for instance. That's fine, but it's not the stuff I'm super excited about.

Instead, I really dig Roth's work that focuses on archaeology and paleontology—like a necklace printed with the silhouette of an archaeopteryx fossil on a crackled background that makes me think of broken stone; earrings decorated with ammonites; and a kick-ass bracelet that manages to make trilobites look just a little punk rock.

I also enjoyed reading Roth's bio on her Etsy page. It's long, but the two key takeaways are great:

1. I'm not as surly as I used to be.
2. Life is hard and it often sucks but sometimes, if you keep trying, things will get better!

Surly-Ramics wearable art

Great moments in science education

And now, let us pay tribute to the 1992 winner of the Ig Nobel Award in the category of Art: Jim Knowlton's informative poster "Penises of the Animal Kingdom". (Bonus: The U.S. National Endowment for the Arts shared the award with Mr. Knowlton, for suggesting that he continue his work in pop-up book form.) (Via Josh Rosenau)

Minneapolis: Home of the first (annual?) Internet cat video film festival

Well, it's been a quiet week in Minneapolis, Minnesota, my hometown. The heatwave broke. There was a giant tomato fight downtown. And the Gonzo Group Theater is performing Aristophanes in the middle of the lightrail construction zone. But out on the Internet, everybody is talking about the fact that Minneapolis will, on August 30, play host an Internet cat video film festival.

Yes, a film festival of Internet cat videos. Curator Katie Czarniecki Hill is accepting nominations through July 30, so you should totally submit your favorite.

But I also wanted to talk briefly about the context of this, because it's awesome, and you should know about it. Czarniecki's Cat Video Film Festival is part of a summer-long program at the Walker Art Center (our fabulous modern art museum) called Open Field. If you're not familiar with Minneapolis, the Walker sits at the base of a big hill. Part of the lot is covered with art museum, and part of it is given over to a broad, grassy slope*.

That's where Open Field happens. What's Open Field? Partly it's just a reminder that this big public greenspace exists behind the Walker and, hey, maybe you should come hang out there. But it's also sort of an ad-hoc, crowd-sourced, summer-long festival space, where both Walker artists-in-residence and average folks can stage unique community events, skill-shares, workshops, and projects. Today, for instance, you could go down to Open Field and team up with a group of knitters and fiber artists who are building an interactive fabric installation; join the band Dear Data for a low-key acoustic campfire sing-a-long; watch your own (and other people's) old, film-based home movies and learn about film preservation; and participate in an interactive workshop about the history and future of print-letter writing and the post office.

Basically, you should know this—Walker Open Field: It's like a Happy Mutant smorgasbord.

See the Open Field Schedule, including the Cat Video Film Festival

*And an absolutely awesome installation piece that takes the form of a semi-hidden, ancient-temple-looking room cut into the side of the hill. Seriously, go check it out. Preferably after dark because it's most awesome then.

Beautiful watercolor notes from the Aspen Environmental Forums

I've been live-tweeting today from the Aspen Environmental Forums. But in a session this morning, I noticed that my friend Rachel Weidinger—director for the ocean advocacy group Upwell—had a far niftier way of taking notes and communicating what she was learning. While I opened up my iPad, Rachel opened up a full set of watercolor paints.

What she produced was something more akin to illuminated manuscripts than paintings—collections of short quotes and key ideas, done up in vibrant colors and surrounded by thematic doodles. It's great stuff, and a really interesting way to process and present information.

Rachel was kind enough to let me post her notes here. This page comes from the panel we attended this morning, all about climate change and the long-term impacts those changes are likely to have on regional weather. Check out more of her illuminated notes at Flickr.

Preview of incredible science fiction and pulp art auction

NewImage
On Tuesday June 26, 2012, Heritage Auctions is hosting a reception and preview of its upcoming illustration art auction featuring The Jerry Weist Collection of science fiction and fantasy art, pin-up, pulp and paperback art, and classic golden age/mainstream illustration art. Above: Gil Elvgren's "Skirting the Issue" (1956). Below: Wally Wood's "Mars is Heaven!" complete 8-page story, Weird Science #18 (EC Comics) (1953).

NewImage

Cool collages made from vintage science media

Artist Peter Madden builds these cool collages out of photos he cuts from back issues of National Geographic, vintage encyclopedias, and old nature books. They're really lovely!

Via Thisiscollossal, thanks to Steve Silberman

The beautiful shapes of neurons

I had no idea that neurons came in such a beautiful diversity of shapes. Each of these neurons has a different function, too: A. Purkinje cell B. Granule cell C. Motor neuron D. Tripolar neuron E. Pyramidal Cell F. Chandelier cell G. Spindle neuron H. Stellate cell.

The image, drawn by science journalist Ferris Jabr, comes from a post of his on the Brainwaves blog, explaining the discovery of the neuron—and the first realizations that not all neurons looked the same. It's the first part of a new series he's working on called "Know Your Neuron".

When the leading anatomists of the 19th century examined fragile nervous tissue with the best microscopes available to them, they identified cell bodies that sprouted many tangled projections. German histologist Joseph Gerlach’s observations convinced him that the fibers emerging from different cell bodies fused to form a continuous network, a seamless web known as the “reticulum.” His ideas were popular. Many researchers accepted that, unlike the heart or liver, the brain and nervous system could not be split up into distinct structural units.

In 1873, Italian physician Camillo Golgi discovered a chemical reaction that allowed him to examine nervous tissue in much greater detail than ever before. For some reason, hardening a piece of brain in potassium dichromate, and subsequently dousing it with silver nitrate, dyed only a few cell bodies and their respective projections in the tissue sample, revealing their complete structures and exact arrangement within the unstained tissue. If the reaction had stained all the neurons in a sample, Golgi would have been left with an unfathomable black blotch, as though someone had spilled a bottle of ink. Instead, his technique yielded neat black silhouettes against a translucent yellow background.

Read the rest of Know Your Neuron: The Discovery and Naming of the Neuron

Urban plant tags

I'm amused and charmed by this theoretical public art project proposed by Minneapolis' Carmichael Lynch Creative. Urban Plant Tags explain the care, placement, and proper feeding of inanimate objects like benches, streetlights, and fire hydrants.

You can go to the website to read those plant tags more clearly. But I love the care instructions for this bench: "Apply Real Estate Ads Annually — Occasionally Wipe Clean — Keep Warm With Butt."

Side note: Perhaps you are confused by the fact that this fire hydrant appears to be on a stilt. That's because it snows so much up here in Minnesota that they have to build the fire hydrants tall enough to clear the winter snow cover. An amusing regionalism.

See the whole set of urban plant tags

Via Andrew Balfour

Butterfingers may cost magazine photographer $300,000

During a photo shoot, photographers working with Art+Auction magazine picked up an irreplaceable 2600-year-old terra cotta statue from Nigeria's Nok culture so they could move it into a better line for a shot. Yada yada yada ... they're now being sued for negligence. (Via Dr. Rubidium)

Art and science: "Your Inner Neanderthal"

If you're in the Twin Cities area on Saturday, April 28th, I recommend going to check out artist and science geek Lynn Fellman talk about the Neanderthal contribution to the modern human genome, and how art can help people understand complicated science. "Your Inner Neanderthal" is part of the Hennepin County Library's DNA Days events. It's free, but you need to register.

Art about climate, sustainability, and risk

Science is about facts. But how you convey those facts matters almost as much as the facts themselves. After all, if people can't understand what you're talking about enough to apply the information, it doesn't really matter much how good your data is. This is particularly true when you're talking about stuff like climate change. If you can't connect with people in a visceral, emotional way, will they remember or listen to what you're trying to tell them?

Science journalist Eli Kintisch is trying to address that problem by using public art to help people better understand the science and the risks surround climate change. Earlier this year, he organized To Extremes, a contest and exhibition of proposals for large-scale public art projects centered around the theme of climate science.

If you're in the Boston area, you can check out the proposals at an exhibition that runs April 20th through April 29th in MIT's Maseeh Hall dormitory. There's an official reception for the even April 23rd at 7:00 pm.

The image above comes from the winning proposal submitted by UK artist Sam Jury. Called "All Things Being Equal" it involves a series of commissioned films about the personal impacts of extreme climate events. The videos are paired with an algorithm that chooses which clips to play based on real-time weather data from around the globe. Plans are currently underway to install "All Things Being Equal" at a public site.

Get more information on the To Extremes exhibition and upcoming events.

Incredible art made with open-source weather data

This is what the wind over the United States looked like on March 27th, 5:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time. It's beautiful. And it's even better if you go to the project page, where you can watch real-time wind currents move around the map.

The National Digital Forecast Database is a weather forecasting system that provides open access to weather data collected all over the United States. The National Weather Service has field centers all across the country, that collect information about things like wind speed/direction, precipitation, and barometric pressure. They combine this data with big-picture satellite tracking and algorithms that are based on what we know about how weather patterns work, and that's how you get the kind of daily forecast we rely on to plan our days.

In the process, the National Weather Service generates a lot of data—data that has not, traditionally, been accessible to just anybody. We saw the forecasts, but it wasn't as easy to see the measurements the forecasts were based on. The NDFD changes that. It's a really great example of publicly funded research being made available to the people who help provide the funding.

And when that happens, you get cool projects like this one, where data on wind direction and speed are used to create truly amazing art. The information on current conditions, and predictions for the future, are updated hourly. When you look at the animated version of this map, what you see is the most recent forecast playing out.

Thanks to Chris Noble for sending this in on Submitterator! It's grand!

Read a previous BoingBoing story about using wind forecasts to improve renewable energy.

Woodcut maps

I really dig creative work that turns a sense of place into art. That's why I'm really getting a kick out of WoodcutMaps.com, which uses Google Maps to create really great geometric art—some clearly map-like, others much more abstract.

It all depends on what view of the map you choose to have turned into a woodcut. You can do a tight crop, or wide pull-out. Basically, you choose the view that matters to you. They make it art. Above is what my neighborhood in Minneapolis would look like as a woodcut.

At $100 for an 8x8 square, this isn't cheap. But it is very cool and strikes me as something that would make a nice housewarming gift for a special friend, or an anniversary gift for parents who've lived in the same place for decades.

Via Flowingdata and Ryan Sager.

Quilts inspired by the Large Hadron Collider

Last week, while I was on a train, researchers at CERN announced that neutrinos are probably not traveling faster than the speed of light. Last year, as you'll recall, the OPERA experiment clocked the neutrinos breaking that speed limit. Unfortunately, it looks like those measurements were probably caused by one or more problems with the GPS system used to synchronize clocks between the neutrinos' point of origin and where they were speeding off to.

That's disappointing news. To make up for it, I offer you this art chaser—a gallery of beautiful quilts inspired by CERN's Large Hadron Collider.

The quilts are the work of artist Kate Findlay, and they're completely amazing. The one pictured here is called "Inner Eye." It's based on ATLAS, one of the major detectors built to encircle the Large Hadron Collider and collect information on what's going on inside it. Comparing the photo with the quilt makes both images doubly awesome.

See the rest of the quilts at Symmetry Magazine

Via Alexandra Witze

White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" performed on things found in a laboratory

The Blast Lab at Imperial College, London, is a place where scientists study how explosions affect the human skeleton, and try to find ways to mitigate some of those effects. As you can imagine, this involves blowing stuff up fairly regularly and The Blast Lab is a pretty loud place.

But the team of students behind PLoS' Inside Knowledge blog noticed something cool about that. The sounds in The Blast Lab weren't just loud noises, they were loud notes. Edit them together, and you could reproduce a whole song, using nothing but sounds recorded in a working scientific laboratory.

In this video, the Inside Knowledge crew plays The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" on the Imperial College Blast Lab. In case you're curious, here's the breakdown showing what lab equipment the team used to replicate the sound of which instruments.

Bass Guitar: Main sensor output cable
Bass Drum: Blast Rig
Toms: Hammer & Storm Case
Hi-Hat: Oil Spray
Cymbal: Blast Plate
'Vocals': Laces to contain dummy leg during blast
'Guitar': Accelerometer cable & Fastening Strings

Video Link

Submitterated by Ben Good

A greeting card for Valentine's Day

If that special person in your life has the right sense of humor, this card, designed by dandee and for sale on Etsy, may be just the thing to make them feel all smooshy inside without playing in too heavily to the Valentine's Day prisoner's dilemma game.

Luckily for Christopher Baker, who showed me this card, I do have the right sense of humor. Happy early Valentine's, babe.

The history of timelines

The earliest timelines, published in the 1500s and 1600s, were difficult-to-follow mashups that attempted to place all of human history into a list of numbers or an elaborate graphical metaphor. (I imagine the people who made these being somewhat stoned ... "So the fourth millennium before the birth of Christ was totally like a dragon! Here, let me show you ...")

By the 19th century, though, the art of the timeline had progressed significantly, and people like French engineer Charles Joseph Minard were creating infographics that look recognizably like infographics. This one, from 1869, traces the routes taken by Hannibal on his march through the Alps and Napoleon on his march into Russia, showing, through the thickness of the bars, how both armies dwindled during the journey.

This is from a great collection of historic timelines published on The Morning News website. Definitely worth flipping through the entire slideshow!

Via Philip Bump

Graffiti artist in Urbana, Ill. has an upbeat message for you

This bit of graffiti, spotted by entomologist and photographer Alex Wild, seems like the perfect way to start off a Monday morning. Thanks, anonymous tagger! I feel better already!

How to build an art shanty

Earlier this week, Mark told you about a couple of the cool art projects happening on a frozen lake in Minnesota.

Read the rest

Collection of Etsy products inspired by exobiology

The discovery of Kepler 22-b, a planet that exists in the habitable zone of a star 600 light years away from Earth, lead Etsy user Alisa to curate a collection of really neat products themed around space and exobiology.

My favorite: A set of plush dolls designed to demonstrate the evolution of a fuzzy blue monster from a single-celled organism.

Thanks, artologica!

Roomba art

A Flickr pool for art made using colored lights, long exposures, and Roombas. (Via Sii Bo)

Can Lego be considered art?

In The Cult of Lego, my co-author Joe Meno and I devote a whole chapter to art, both works created with bricks as well as art using more traditional media featuring Lego as the subject matter.

Despite the success of museum exhibitions such as Nathan Sawaya's nationally-touring "Art of the Brick", inevitably some people claim that Lego is not a serious artistic medium. While I don't see how someone can look at Sawaya's amazing works, or those by such mainstream artists as Olafur Eliasson and Douglas Coupland which feature the bricks, and not agree it's art, nevertheless there are doubters.

Enter Lego fan and philosophy professor Roy Cook, who wrote an essay contending that yes, Lego can be art.

From The Cult of Lego:

As Lego makes its way into galleries, it’s sure to provoke a reaction from visitors who don’t think it belongs there. Conversely, the artists featured in this chapter obviously disagree. Who is right?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Scholars have debated the concept’s definition for centuries and continue to do so to this day. However, most theorists agree that art involves three criteria: form, content, and context. Roy Cook, a Lego fan and professor of philosophy at the University of Minnesota, wrote an essay arguing that Lego, by this definition, can clearly be called art. He uses the following criteria:

Form refers to the medium and the skill used to manipulate that medium, Cook’s essay explains. A work must typically display masterful technique to be considered art. Surely numerous models demonstrate a high level of skill. As with any technically demanding medium, there will always be works that stand out as being exemplary.

Content is the statement the piece makes or the meaning behind it. Even if this message is so obscure that only the artist can grasp it, there has to be some sort of thought behind the piece. It seems like a given: If artists desire to make a statement with a Lego model, they can do it.

Context refers to the culture and artistic tradition into which the work is placed. Andy Warhol’s soup cans outside the context of Pop Art probably would not have been considered art. As Cook points out in his essay, there is no widespread artistic tradition surrounding Lego. Just as novels were considered trash literature in the 18th century and graphic novels battle for legitimacy today, Lego simply doesn’t have the acceptance it needs to be considered legitimate art. That doesn’t mean that Lego can’t be art; there simply is no longstanding body of formal, accepted Lego art to place a model within.

[The photo at the top of this post depicts art by James "AME72" Ame, whose work may be found in The Cult of Lego.]