Saturday, 28 June 2008

Asparagus On Mars

The news from the Mars Lander expedition gets more exciting every day. Picked this up over on the BBC - analysis of a Martian soil sample has shown that it is not the highly acidic stuff scientists were expecting. It is alkaline, and indeed appears to have traces of magnesium, potassium, sodium and other elements - much as you might find in your own garden. "You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well" said Sam Kounaves, the project's lead chemist.

You can keep up-to-date with the mission on the Nasa site.

You Know You Have So Done All These Things...

Are you having a boring/miserable/angry Saturday? I know I am. This may or may not cheer you up. Whether it does or not, I bet you recognise yourself in it, if you have ever entered the slightly scruffy cybermart that is Ebay...

What's the worst thing you've ever found yourself successfully bidding for? Amongst my own personal fave worsts have been an ancient portable typewriter, which looked gorgeous but which I was never going to use, let's be honest - it's gone to the charity shop now, and probably hence back onto Ebay. And I did once buy some unstrung beads - who knows what planet I was on when I bought them...

Friday, 27 June 2008

Electronic Bees

A random Friday bit of human ingenuity...picked up over on Boingboing

Clever isn't it?

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Life Photo Meme - Ancient

The most ancient living thing I could think of around here was the Scots Pine - Pinus sylvestris. I am lucky enough to have four very old specimens in my garden, and this is the biggest and grandest of them:

Scots Pine, despite their name, are the most widely distributed conifer in the world, according to Trees For Life. Nevertheless, we do feel a special bond with them here in Scotland. Much of the North of Scotland was once covered in forest it is believed - an almost mythical forest known as The Great Caledonian Forest. There are only a few 'islands' of ancient woodland left in a sea of commercial forestry, but conservation work is being done to try to redress the balance.

The ancient forests had several hardy tree species in them - birch, pine and rowan - but the grandest, largest and most striking were and are the Scots pines. Each one is different - a unique individual. Eleven different growth forms have been identified, from tall and straight to spreading and multiple-trunked and this must help explain the great variety in their appearance. One of the pines in my garden was struck by lightning a few years ago and lost its growing tip. Now a few years later, it is bravely sending out a new leader skewed off to the side. Another one is tall and straight, but with many dead branches, and is a rather scruffy looking individual. The one in the photo above is the grandest - standing in the centre of the lawn and dominating (and dwarfing) everything around. I measured its girth at 8ft and 9 inches this morning, which makes it an extremely old specimen - 300 years or more.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Life Photo Meme - Home

Home is the theme this week so I thought this pair of photos fitted the bill rather well. The first shows that most domestic of settings - washing (namely a very tasteful sock) hanging on the line

But look closer at the clothes peg...


I loved the way that my faded, weathered clothes peg provided the perfect camouflage for this beautiful moth. I don't know what kind of moth it is, but its common name is now The Sun-bleached Clothes Peg Moth!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Where in the World...?

I don't know about you, but I am embarrassingly rubbish at geography. I can just about point to Paris on a map, but anything east of Germany and I am really struggling.

Do you remember those old jigsaws we used to have at school in the good old days? The ones that were in the shape of the counties, and you fitted them together to create, in my case, a lovely map of Scotland? That's what I need now, I thought, a painless way to get all this information into my ageing brain in a visual way. I've been hunting but couldn't find anything that really worked, until I came across a pretty good substitute, on the Ordnance Survey website.

There you can complete electronic jigsaws of England, Scotland or Wales(satisfyingly like the old primary school county jigsaws), of Europe (I found this very difficult), or of the World.

Have a go - treat your brain to a workout and banish those embarrassing geographical gaps too - maps this way...

(Redneck map above courtesy of

This'll make you smile...

Thanks to Bear over at A Toy's Own Story for bringing to my attention The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain - I know, it sounds like a hideous idea, but they are wonderful - funny and sometimes rather profound - honestly. I'll never hear Wuthering Heights any other way now - listen and marvel for yourselves:

But I have to say that their version of Smells Like Teen Spirit is my absolute favourite:

Find out more about them on their website. You can hear clips, buy their CDs (yes really) and you might even be lucky enough to find they are playing a gig near you.


Thursday, 5 June 2008

Life Photo Meme - Honour an Invertebrate!

Dorid has nominated this week Honour an Invertebrate in her Life Photo Meme.
I am thrilled about this as it gives me the chance to post one of my favourite photos - of a Great Black Slug delicately nibbling a mushroom:

I took this picture a few years ago. I saw from the window this black creature getting stuck into a mushroom and rushed out with my camera, thinking it must be a vole or a shrew. I didn't know at that point either that slugs could be so big (and handsome!) or that they eat fungi. In fact, if you see holes in a toadstool in the garden or out on a walk, it is most likely that it was a slug that did the eating, and not a little furry mouse.

After watching this guy for ages, slugs became a favourite of mine. This one in particular is so beautifully marked. It reminds me of Durer's Rhinoceros, with its armour plating effect - see the pic full size to see the detail.