Saturday, 29 December 2007

The Flying Trilobite - Highlights of 2007

This has been an important year for my artwork. I began taking my paintings and drawings online last March, and this blog quickly saw a lot of changes in layout and tone. Yes, it has always been to promote my artwork and find future contracts and a wider audience; it has also allowed me to meet a number of talented artists, scientists, writers and bloggers from around the world -check the sidebar! I feel welcomed by the people who've taken an interest in my mythical flying trilobite fossil paintings, and interacting with people in comments and on their own blogs has been a rewarding experience so far.

In this post, I thought we could look back at what I consider some of the highlights of the year, and my fledgling career.

Page 3.14 profiles Glendon Mellow
May 2007, Virginia Hughes of SEED magazine interviewed me for their Page 3.14: Best of ScienceBlogs and Beyond. This was pretty exciting; a peak moment of my year, for sure. I'd been online only two months, and the attention from Ms. Hughes and SEED gave me me a boost. Ever since a zoology-major asked about the tardigrade in one of my paintings, I have planned to get my paintings in front of as many scientists and science-enthusiasts as possible. My work is niche, and this is the niche. The painting featured was the Mythical Flying Trilobite Fossil from my banner. Oil on shale.

Retrospectacle banner for Shelley Batts

There are a lot of of interesting sites on the ScienceBlog network of sites that SEED magazine runs. One of my favourites has been Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog. After making on a comment on one of Ms. Batts' posts, she checked the link back to me and asked me about doing one of her new blog banners. The other, featuring a nautilus and African Grey parrot was by Carl Buell, (scientific illustrator of great repute)! Working for Shelley was a pleasure, as was reading all the comments that followed on her site after she posted a making of the blog banner, with narration by yours truly. I went for a "Valkyrie" motif, to incorporate the wing of an African grey while highlighting the ear, and spotlighting a portrait of Shelley. A spiral in the title completed the reference to the cochlea.

A large portion of my visitors continue to come from Retrospectacle. My first professional work since taking my art online this year! The banner is a mixture of mechanical pencil, oil paint, and digital manipulation.

The Eloquent Atheist features Symbiosis
One of my personal favourites of all my paintings is one I did in university, called Symbiosis. It contains the aforementioned tardigrade (also known as a "water-bear"), a microorganism that can survive hundreds of years when dried out, only to start swimming again when placed in water. It also depicts some of my DNA-candles, and a figure in green writhing/dancing/falling in the foreground. It was the painting featured in my university's graduation show, and I've submitted to a competition in the past, though it was not picked.

It is fairly obvious from looking here at The Flying Trilobite that I consider myself a Bright, an atheist, a person who understands science and the power its rational checks and balances has for revealing the world as it is to us. I came across an exceptionally well-done site, called The Eloquent Atheist, and asked if they were interested in featuring any of my paintings. After some discussion with one of the editors, Michael W. Jones, an engaging writer himself, The Eloquent Atheist profiled Symbiosis, as the online-magazine's first visual art feature. Oil on canvas.

These may be the highlights of my art being showcased this year, and there is so much more. I have enjoyed comments and correspondence with the artists I have met on DeviantArt, and the illustrators Gina Mikel introduced me to on the sciart listserv.
I'm thankful in particular to some of the following:
This post from Tangled Up in Blue Guy , and being a part of Dale McGowan's Ten Wonderfull Things for a little while!
All the wisdom and shenanigans from Leslie Hawes, Fresh Brainz, Traumador the Tyrannosaur, Jesse Graham, Nancy Eldridge, Shelley Batts, PZ Myers, Metamagician & the Hellfire Club, Carl Buell, Jacqueline Rae, and Luna_the_Cat! Deep thanks to anyone who added me to their blogroll or linked to me this year as well. It is inspiring.

For 2008, I hope to produce more work of quality than ever, and to gain some more freelance contracts; sometimes the best work is though project collaboration. To all the commenters and regulars who have commented and encouraged and thrown eggs at me this year, my sincere thanks.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Gordo Romps at R.O.M.

Dec 16 2007 was one of the worst snowstorms in the last 60 years here in Toronto, lotsa snow, whiteout conditions, yadda yadda. I had to go see me some dinosaurs.

In my last post, I wondered -and worried and fretted- if the Royal Ontario Museum would have the same kind of information in its new Age of Dinosaurs and Age of Mammals displays as I witnessed this past summer at the Royal Tyrrell Museum; I need not have lost sleep.

Just brilliant.

I decided not to go all the way through the Stairs of Wonder in the new Crystal at the R.O.M., and instead wanted to seek out the way in from the original second floor galleries. So I walked down a small flight, into the Age of Mammals, and there is information everywhere for the active self-educator. This was the opening weekend, and there are a few specimens lacking info-cards (some with no identification at all), but clearly they are putting the finishing touches on the displays.

For example, I was not aware that our parasaurolophus is called the halotype, the specific fossil to which all other parasaurolophus fossils are compared. Fancy that.

At right is an early mammal, an oreodont, and it looks like some predator only licked out the soft middle and left the cookie parts intact.

One of the biggest -haha- reasons for the delay in being finally prepared, has to be Gordo, the barosaurus found after being lost in the basement for the last 40 years, and hastily, carefully, accurately put on display in time for the opening. Named after the late curator Gordon Edmund who acquired him for the R.O.M., Gordo is a thrill.

Gordo the barosaurus shakes-that-thing and shows why he is called "The Moneymaker". Check out those hips baby!

At about 85 feet long, you can't actually stand back far enough in the gallery to take him in in one view without at least flicking your eyes from tailtip to dashing smile. There are videos of David Evans, the palaeontologist who rescued Gordo, discussing some of the more important fossils on the display. Perhaps my one complaint is the volume on these needs to be turned down a bit.

A great day. Excellent casts from the feathered dinosaur exhibit that toured from China a while back, and the Age of Mammals is so full of specimens and placards, you could spend a couple of hours looking at our fuzzy cousins.

A look at Gordo from outside.

At the dromeosaur display, I had to whip out my sketchbook and just start drawing. There were some fossil birds in there, wing-feather impressions clearly visible, and I just had to draw. Other itchy-finger artists out there will know what I mean: Leslie, Nancy, Jesse, and the other artists on my blogroll know what I mean! You see it, you just have to capture it. I'll refine the sketch a bit more and post it later. Perhaps after that bird gets identified.

Back into the snow, exhilarated, inspired, happy and proud of the museum I have loved my whole life. The new Crystal addition is shaping up to be grand. I paid a visit to the original facade that had me entranced so much as a child.

And so, to home.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Tyrrell Dinosaurs educate, will the R.O.M.?

Later today the Royal Ontario Museum will open the second floor of the Michael Lee Chin Crystal to card-carrying members who want to see two new galleries: Gallery of the Age of Mammals, and even further back into prehistory, the (takeadeepbreath!) James and Louise Temerty Galleries of the Age of Dinosaurs.

This got me thinking back to my seminal trip to the Royal Tyrrell Museum this past July, and what I liked about how the Tyrrell displayed it's prehistoric beauties. And something in particular comes to mind.

Education.

The most effective displays are the ones that let everyone, young and old, explore the featured fossils at their own level. Like this globe wall (above) at the Royal Tyrrell Museum highlighting ceratopsians. Or the Tyrrell's Cretaceous Garden, complete with waterfall and humidity.

What's most effective is when there are three levels of text, allowing people to read as deeply as they choose. Something like this:


Glendon Mellow, 80' long, 90 tons. b.1974
-

This species of artist grazed on the fossil-fields
of prehistory to create his paintings.

The Glendon was discovered by Page 3.14 and featured in a ScienceBlogs interview. He later went on to produce a logo for Shelley Batts of Retrospectacle, and this led to
fame and fortune. Eventually, he blew this fortune on a new micron brushes and began a series of dinosaur paintings on shale, all of which featured barosaurus with large moustaches and Rip Van Winkle beards rendered in stunningly tiny detail.
The three layers of text allow each visitor to become as engaged as they like. For myself, and many other children, I can remember poring over these captions and devouring each word.

I am a big fan of the R.O.M.'s Crystal, and I have high hopes about how the dinosaur collection will fill the industrial-postmodern caverns. The lights that pores into the Crystal should heighten the drama.

Here are some photos I took at the Tyrrell this summer of how the information could look at the R.O.M. if they let Gordo the barosaurus write his own entry.


These two skulls are part of a larger display explaining the varieties of ceratopsians. The Tyrrell is well-known for its Centrosaurs, (the one on the right), as the nearby Dinosaur Provincial Park is home to a staggering number of their fossils.

Also, check out this howling Dire Wolf display from the Tyrrell's prehistoric Mammal Galleries(rampaging Orcs not included). It's chillingly posed as though still alive, and the wall behind is a montage in information in easy to chew on morsels, (much like this blog).

Both museums have impressed me a lot this year, and as I've stated elsewhere, I've had a lifelong fascination with the Royal Ontario Museum. It was my birthday destination of choice as a child and pre-teen. A spectacular illustration at the Tyrrell; unfortunately no artist credit!

The Royal Tyrrell Museum has a more robust collection of prehistoric fossils than the R.O.M., and that's appropriate, it is specialising and near bone beds. My feeling is that dinosaurs and mammals will be stunning in the Crystal; I just hope the information is there for kids like I was to explore as much as they can.

All photos above taken at the Royal Tyrrell Museum; photo credits to G. Mellow and an unnamed family member of his. Copyright the Tyrrell and the animals pictured. They love the paparazzi.)

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Fake bomb at R.O.M. as art object

An art student from the Ontario College of Art & Design planted a fake bomb sculpture on November 28th outside the Royal Ontario Museum has certainly inflamed passionate opinions on all sides. He sure did inflame mine too. This trilobite almost shed a carapace over this art project.

There is coverage at the National Post
here and here. Some from Toronto Star here. Opinions rage here. A couple of quotes from a student in support of the project can be seen at the end of the Toronto Star article here.

The basics seem to be this: a student, last name Jonsson, made a film for class showing a woman walking into the ROM gift shop, and an apparent bomb going off. This video was subsequently uploaded onto YouTube. Later, he planted a fake bomb outside the museum with a note on it saying "this is not a bomb". He called into someone at the museum and said, "Listen, there is not a bomb outside the museum". The fake bomb was apparently wooden dowels painted to look like metal pipes, bound together with batteries, wire and a motherboard.

An AIDS research fundraiser was disrupted by the hoax, possibly costing them an estimated $100 000 in donations, and traffic was of course tied up while police sent a robot to have a closer look at the not-a-bomb. Jonsson later said he had no idea a fundraiser was going on.

There are some quotes in the media about support from some of the students toward Jonsson's project. Some have said that "art is what makes you think". Or that he had recontextualised (non-explosive) objects in the manner of Duchamps' urinal.

Okay, my thoughts on this. I went to a heavily conceptual university art program too, and I am a passionate lover of the sciences, and of the ROM in particular. So sure, what I say is critical and coming from my particular background.

You want to call it art? Fine. It's art. There. The whole production is art. Kind of been-there done-that derivative shock art, I'd say, but go ahead and say it's art. The definition of art is as ephemeral as the definition of religion, or what constitutes "good" music. To a large extent, in the post-modern realm, art is in the eye of the creator and sometimes the beholder, though the beholder is often increasingly irrelevant in the naval-gazing world of post-modernism.

But I believe this young immature shock-auteur is still responsible for his actions. Two things I learned in university are 1) the value of research, and; 2) to tailor your artistic creations to your audience, and accept their reactions.

The first point is I don't (bloody well frickin') care if he knew there was a fundraiser or not. I read how he says it in the news as though he is trying to absolve himself of being responsible for an event he was unaware of. Well, he should have done his research before picking that day, at that time, and that end of the museum to do his project. He cannot be absolved when he didn't do the research. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and neither was ignorance of what was happening inside the museum.

There is an absurdity to Jonsson's claim that he was unaware of what event was going on. He has made statements about how he was surprised by the police's overreaction to the art event/hoax. But they did not know what was going on with the bomb-shaped object! It is the same as his statement. He cannot claim to be unaware and by implication not responsible of the fundraiser and then disingenuously claim that the police overreacted when they were not aware! Poorly thought-out hypocrisy.

That is the second point. Who was his audience? His classmates and professors? It ended up being the police and emergency services, participants of the CANFAR fundraiser and the rest of the downtown core. He needs to accept the audience's reaction.

I hope in the end he does some growing up, perhaps sentenced to some community service helping roadside bomb survivors from the armed forces. And I hope the ghost of Rene Magritte kicks him in the backside for recontextualizing (ripping off) the "This is not a bomb" statement from Magritte's "C'est ne pas un pipe" Treachery of Images series.

You want to call it art? Fine. You put it out there, now face the rabble and be responsible.

Monday, 3 December 2007

The Flying Trilobite Business Card




The winner!

Thank you so much to all those who helped this one along. In
my previous post, I asked and received tons of help deciding between two new business cards.

The image on the winner is Photoshop adapted from an ink drawing I have done. The image is meant to be for a (non-winged) tattoo I will likely get in the spring when this blog is one year old.

9 people preferred the first card, 2 the second. I myself preferred the second choice as well. As Lim Leng Hiong of Fresh Brainz called it, it has "extreme quirkiness". I will likely still use this image somewhere, and tweak it some more. Chadmac pointed out that its centre of mass is misplaced, so I'll need to fix that.

But I am very happy with card #1, and it does have my core image. As Leslie Hawes and Rudi pointed out, it needs to be a card that shows off the art. The wings are popular for this artistic ancient aquatic arthropod, as Dale McGowan, Lauren, Traumador the Tyrannosaur, Gastrolith, and Luna_the_Cat and Shelley Batts all agree.

For the final version depicted above, I tweaked a couple of things based on some reader's suggestions. Lauren suggested I shrink the trilobite image slightly, and I think that works well. As Leslie had pointed out, I could also have blown the image up to make it more abstracted. I think shrinking it works a little better, as some people have no idea what a trilobite is, let alone a Mythical Flying Trilobite Fossil. Lim Leng Hiong thought it might work better to have more contact between the trilobite and its wings, so I added some crumbly bits to make a better connection between the disparate parts.

I'd like to thank everyone who gave me an opinion, both online and offline, especially my wife, Michelle who watched me seesaw back and forth. Shelley of Retrospectacle also pointed out a business card service that she highly recommends, Moo, so I will probably look into that. This whole process really helped me out. I started this blog to promote my artwork, and also to get feedback on my work. Sometimes an artist is throwing so much into the process, it is easy to become myopic about how well the final image works.


My gratitude to each of you.

(Edit: whoops! Earlier today, the card I uploaded had an older version of the text layout on the card. All fixey-fixey now. No more blogging without the morning coffee. )

Monday, 26 November 2007

Business Card - decisions, decisions...

I need some help. I haven't updated my business card since starting this blog and taking my artwork online last March. I am openly fishing for comments about the two designs I have cobbled together with the help of my trilobite army.

Criticisms, derisive laughter, suggestions to tweak or change, all comments are welcome. But whatever you say, at least make it funny. Scratch that - too much pressure. I am not really a designer, more of an illustrator. I am happy with both of these cards, indeed I am even leaning toward one more than the other. Can you guess?

Real printable sizes are 3.5"x2". I will likely print them on Fredrix canvas paper or Fabriano Pittura paper. The former has a canvas texture, the latter is used with oil and acrylic, but has a soft press watercolour texture, not quite as rough as a cold press. Here they are:

The Flying Trilobite Business Card concept #1 (links go to my DeviantArt gallery.)

This one has the wing, has a design of the elrathia kingii trilobite tattoo I drew that I plan on getting this spring. I usually draw the wing either with a damselfly/dragonfly concept if the trilobite is alive, or with bat wings if fossilized because mammals are so much cooler than wussy modern dragonflies. In both designs I have not included my phone number, since the email would be easy enough to use to get a contract started.

The Flying Trilobite Business Card concept #2

This one doesn't have the Mythical Flying Trilobite wings, and instead has a trilobite fossil being chucked along Galileo's concept of equations for falling bodies. As the hapless 550 million year old arthropod reaches its apex, it will continue moving forward at the same rate while accelerating downward until it reaches terminal velocity and we've lost a precious artifact. Don't worry, the bottom of the business card is padded, and it's a stunt fossil. I referenced some nice diagrams by Yuta Aoki and drew my own and tweaked from there.

So, if you've read this, may I call upon you to lend an opinion below? Whether you are an artist or designer yourself, or someone who has seen business cards before, I'd appreciate the comments.

Next week I'll put a comment and reveal which one so far I think I like better, and which one I ultimately choose. Thanks!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

The Golden Compass hullabaloo

The Golden Compass movie coming out on December 7th sure is causing a lot of hullabaloo here in Ontario. (Spoiler alerts!)

I am a fan of this series, called His Dark Materials, written by English author Philip Pullman. Here are some quick points about all this.

The Books
The Golden Compass is the first of the three books. The title was originally Northern Lights when it was first published in England, in 1995. They've won several awards. There is more at Wikipedia, and at Pullman's site. The sequels are The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

The story starts out in a parallel universe, at Oxford. There are many differences with that reality and our own, the most striking that people's souls exist outside their bodies, and are called daemons. (You can view my damon here; there's a little quiz at the movie site to figure out your own. ) The daemons can change animal shapes until a person reaches puberty, and then they stay in one form for the rest of the person's life. They tend to be opposite the gender of their person, (except a few peoples', presumably gay? It is not explained.) The daemons can talk, and it is considered a breach of the highest order of personal space to touch another person's daemon.

The golden compass in question is an alethiometer that the heroine of the story carries. An alethiometer is incredibly difficult to read, and tells a person the truth.

The heroine of the story is a precocious and mouthy girl named Lyra, with her daemon Pantalaimon, who travels to the cold North to rescue her friend who has been kidnapped by a group called The Gobblers. The Gobblers at first sound very much like an old wives tale to keep children near home, and turn out to be very real and despicable.

The controversy in Ontario
Some Catholic school boards are reviewing whether or not to remove the books from the shelves, following complaints, seen in this article in the National Post. All of this is apparently a normal process. For a book that won the Carnegie Medal. For a book that has presumably been sitting in the library for about 10 years. While in review, students have to ask for the book at the desk. And you know how much kids love to ask for stuff from authority figures.

PZ Myers on his Pharyngula blog has brought up the major complaints with the Ontario schools for pulling the books. Namely, why stop there? PZ has his mad on, and takes the issue of censorship on books to task.

My thoughts on the issue
On the face of it, why should a religious school be expected to stock books espousing a different way of living? Easy. They already have the books. I don't know when they got them, but The Golden Compass was published in North America in 1996. It has won awards for children's literature, and the dubious distinction of being singled out by the archbishop of Canterbury as being adequate for teaching about opposing views to Catholicism in religious classes. Why pull them from the stacks now? Because there is a movie and a video game?

Atheism, fantasy and skepticism
It's a strange thing about these books. Are they really atheist in nature? By the end of the series, we do meet the powerful being known as the Authority who tyrannizes the afterlife and started many biblical legends. Is it the all-powerful God? Hard to say. The Authority 'has no clothes' by the end, and very little power above some of the other characters who do his bidding (Metatron) or challenge him (Lord Asriel). Where all these dimensions come from is not discussed in detail.


These books are fantasy. There are plenty of sci-fi elements, like dark matter and multiple dimensions, but also things like witches flying on tree branches and astrology-like predictions from the golden compass itself. It is not as though the books are about Lyra showing the witches that their incantations do nothing without medicinal ingredients, or that she proves that the daemons are just imaginary friends and everyone has gotten carried away. Skepticism and debunking are not present. Attacking authoritative tyranny over life and death are certainly Lord Asriel's goals, but the point of view is Lyra's.

His Dark Materials have magic and adventure, and an unlikely hero triumphing while trying to save what matters most: her friends. Kids should read them if they like, and make up their own minds about talking polar bears, the nature of their conscience, and where the universe came from.

Edit: The National Post, which carried a below-the-fold front page story about all this in the weekend edition, also carried a massive flyer about the upcoming Golden Compass movie. It unfolds into a poster, Chapters/Indigo/Coles will give you movie snack coupons if you spend money in their stores...it's huge. It's great. It flopped out and dominated the other flyers. Nice giant pic of Iorek the polar bear-blacksmith. The Post's story was largely uncritical of the issue, and tried not to come down on either side.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Beyond Good & Evil - A Review

For skeptics and naturalists, what could a videogame look like? How about a game where one of the main objects of the game, is to photograph as many vanishing species on the planet as possible? How about using those photography skills to find solid evidence of a government conspiracy? A future where different races live together without strife?
Beyond Good & Evil is that title. Created by Michel Ancel, this game came out back in 2003, and won tons of praise from critics, and failed to sell enough to the public to warrant a sequel. I played it a few years ago, and now I'm photographing my way through it's pretty natural environments and industrial rust once again.

The setting is the planet Hillys in the distant future. Humans and other races based on animal-human hybrids inhabit the pastoral and island-dotted land peacefully. An alien invasion by a species known as the DomZ disrupts day-to-day life, the invasion consisting mainly of aliens crashing like meteors from the sky. An army known as the Alpha Sections attempts to protect the populace, usually arriving too late.

The protaganist is a brash and confident 20 year old orphan named Jade. Jade is presented in a much more realistic fashion than most women in games, and there is no need for a love interest for her to hang her feminity on. Her endearing, tough-guy adopted uncle Pey'j is a Sus Sapien, or pig-human hybrid. The pair live on an island in a lighthouse, struggling with money while taking care of orphans who've lost their parents in the war. Jade and Pey'j own a hovercraft, an airship, and eventually a spaceship. Jade works mainly as a photographer and reporter, taking stock of the planet's biodiversity before too many species are wiped out in the fighting. Eventually, she joins the Iris Network as a photographer, a pirate broadcast group trying to expose the government's lies.

The game still holds up graphically, and the soundtrack has some excellent music, latin techno and classical score, depending on the scene. I love just toodling around in the hovercraft, visiting different islands through the night and day cycle, especially after a long steathy trip through industrial buildings exposing the conspiracy taking place. It's one of those games that just makes you want to revisit it from time to time; hang out at the Akuda Bar, talk to the kids at the lighthouse, or just explore the oceans of Hillys.

The details in the game are interesting and scientific, though fictional. Aim your camera at the sky, and it will label the different constellations, even indicating how much radiation comes from celestial objects. Each new species, like the anemonia mutabilis pictured at right is fascinating, and many of them fly or hover through the air. You can interact to some degree with each animal as well, and you find them all over the planet. There are different whales in the ocean, nautilus creatures that float in the humid air, and even a trilobite crawling around if you look hard enough. This part of the gameplay, cataloguing the different species, is made to feel so crtitical, I even found myself getting bitten by more aggressive species in my unrelenting effort to take their picture.

(This whole idea of taking photos would be great in a game about prehistory and dinosaurs...as fun as the fauna in Beyond Good & Evil are, imagine a similar game where one had to catalogue dinosaurs from each era? Tutorial in the Devonian! Bonus level in the Pleistocene! Since Michel Ancel also made the prehistoric-looking King Kong game, he'd be just the guy to blend the two ideas. ) Evidence is a key to winning this game. There are occasionally some battles which Jade handles with her fighting stick, but methodical presentation of evidence and love of family are the main triggers to propel the plot forward. Rumour has it Michel Ancel might finally be returning to this story again - I hope! - and who knows what alien fauna might be found on the next planet? I hope Jade brings her zoom lens.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Have you seen this Barosaurus?

A missing Barosaurus skeleton, 45% intact, has been found in the stygian depths of the Royal Ontario Museum.

Dazed and blinking, the barosaurus known only as Gordo was led out of the basement of the R.O.M. by his rescuer, Dr. David Evans. Gordo has not seen daylight since 1962, or his parents since 145 million B.P. (before present).

An appalling quantity of coprolites were found in Gordo's confined area of the museum's basement.

It has been speculated largely in the media that it may be difficult to reunite the long-confined sauropod with his family. Sources say they have not been sighted for about 145 million years, and were last seen carrying what may have been luggage, or a fern. Why they chose to leave the vulnerable 20 m ton Gordo behind remains a mystery.

Gordo, obviously shaken by his long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long ordeal, tried to lash out at photographers with his whiplike tail, and knocked a hotdog cart onto the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art's staircase. No one was injured and the steps are in good condition. Sources on the scene speculate this act may be due to Gordo's vegetarian lifestyle.

Artist Glendon Mellow rendered this conceptual drawing (above left) of what a missing poster may have looked like during Gordo's original estrangement from his parents and subsequent disappearance. An image like this is thought by some to have been circulated, possibly on a milk carton, or at least the Jurassic equivalant. Sources inside the museum claim there were no cows yet evolved when Gordo went missing. Other sources say, any artist who habitually paints wings on extinct aquatic arthropods is just nuts, but Mr. Mellow claims they are understandably jealous of his genius.

An excellent rendering by Michael W. Skrepnick of a barosaurus accompanied the newstand version of the story in the National Post.

Dr. Evans, the hero of this news story, has plans to reintroduce Gordo to society at the R.O.M.'s unveiling of its revamped dinosaur exhibit in the new Crystal galleries. The late Dr. Gordon Edmund is credited with the acquisition of this exciting fossil skeleton.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Hyperferrule - a painting device

Brushes are much like pencils, in that they are a simple and effective design, and they have changed little in conception since they were first made.


Most brushes consist of a handle, usually wood or plastic, followed by the metal ferrule, and finally the bristles or hairs that contact with the surface. Artist-scribes in ancient Egypt used reeds, and spread apart the fibers to lend flexibility, binding the brush at the point of of the split fibers to make a ferrule that way. There have been some variations of design, constrained by local materials and ideas.

Sometimes I toy with a sci-fi novel that warps and moulds inside my head. One of the ideas I drew for it was this piece, called The Hyperferrule. Paint tubes surround the forearm, using vacuum-suction and a tiny valve to release paint. The crinkled, discarded tubes are popped out. Microservomotors control the teeny robotic arms while delivering the paint into the brush-hairs. Directions: Make a fist, hold forearm parallel to the painted surface, and concentrate on the image in your mind.

Some artists enjoy the process of making art more than the result. For better or worse, I am not in that category. I enjoy painting some of the time, but much of it is a struggle, (I've talked about my
Ugly Phase before), and much of that struggle is against time. I have lots of ideas, but it takes me time to put them down onto paper or canvas. I'd love a wired-up ferrule that could take the image in my head, and manipulate multiple brushes to quickly scatter and refine the paint. Happy accidents would still occur, as the image in my head and the image on the canvas would grow together, and my internal concept image would refine with the picture. The same device could be used by hyper-adept trauma surgeons.

Perhaps after the transhumanist movement finishes making everyone immortal, idle body modification like cyborg paintbrushes will have their day. (Thanks for George Dvorsky over at Sentient Developments for introducing me to the modern concept of transhumanism...radical and hopeful and strange, like the future. )

Of course, to lend the artist that tragic air, the Hyperferrule would not be able to be removed. I find the image above a bit steampunk-ish in my execution, which I think comes from drawing organic rather than industrial forms most of the time.

Okay, now Paleo-Future can bookmark this, wait 40 years, and laugh at me after all art takes place inside Matrix-style virtual galleries. Or wait 3000 years for us to use nebulae gases to make portraits of Carl Sagan across the night sky.

Uh-oh. Speculation is running rampant. I'd better finish packing for my trip to Montreal.

Monday, 29 October 2007

D.N.A. Candle - Vanitas




This oil painting was done for my good friends Michele & Chris for their wedding.

The DNA Candle image is one I began using with Symbiosis, a painting of mine recently featured on the online magazine, The Eloquent Atheist. It's one of my favourite concepts that I have come up with. Back in March 2007, when I was frustrated that I had not done anything with my art and I started this blog one blustery day, I almost chose the name "DNA Candles" instead of The Flying Trilobite. Yeah, I'm proud of these.

Vanitas painting is an old tradition, especially popular in the Northern Renaissance. Usually, it is a still life, depicting perhaps a skull, a broken watch, a candle just snuffed out with the smoke trailing in the air, a book half-read, a tipped over water glass....Pieter Claesz, trained by Franz Hals, is one of my favourite masters of this art style.

The image is one of mortality, with a kind of knock-you-over-the-head symbolism. The message intended is a kind of carpe diem, or "seize the day".

After reading about how telomeres may play a part in the aging process, and that their ends snip off when they replicate, I started coming up with the DNA Candle image. I remember reading something in the 90's that suggested if one could extend telomeres, one may be able to stave off death. The candle melting and the telomere shortening just seemed a natural image. I used DNA as a wick since it is more readily recognisable by most people.

So the ultimate message of the DNA Candle Vanitas is one of seize the day, life is beautiful but finite. The candles are lit and glowing, a loving image and the wax has melted together in union.

Variations of this image will return to The Flying Trilobite from time to time. The banner below and in my sidebar give a detailed view.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Return of the Pharyngula Mutating Genre Meme!

...this time it's personal.

I have already been tagged by this meme once, and now again! It took me a while to respond to the second one, by Dale at The Meming of Life. What can I say, I was gestating.

The meme has an elaborate set of rules, you can read at my first post about it. The whole thing was started by PZ Myers at Pharyngula. Now Dale, being sly and sneaky, has turned the tables and asked to spread the meme back to those previous to himself in the lineage! Rather than use phrases like "blog-the-casbah with Grampa" I prefer to think of these posts as organisms, and the blogs they sit in as environments. The organism's descendants change when they wander through each blog. (My blog environment is murky and oily in case you were wondering. Sometimes there is strange smoke.)

So then here is my lineage:
My common ancestor is Pharyngula.
My great great grandparent is Metamagician & the Hellfire Club.
My great grandparent is The Flying Trilobite.
My grandparent is Leslie's blog.
My parent is The Meming of Life.

My new contribution to the meme, following The Meming of Life, is as follows:
The best romantic movie in scientific dystopia is: Gattaca (1997). Same as my 1st post.
The best sexy song in electronica is: "Angel" by Massive Attack on the album Mezzanine (1998).
The best satirical movie in comedy is: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990).
I will add one new statement:
The best hot coffee in beverages is: caffe macchiato.

To continue the meme this time, I choose:
Frozen Toothpaste

Forms Most Beautiful

Primordial Blog

Please make a comment on this thread if you are participating. Hope you do, it's crazy-weird-fun. On another note, while checking Technorati for my links, I can see this has gone quite far. I am a 5x great-grandparent already. One of the interesting links I found down the line was from Really Small Fish. It contains Darwinian poetry, at Code As Art. That's been my favourite thing about this meme so far; finding blogs and ideas I may not have found through search engines since to find it that way, you have to know what you are looking for.

Surprise is living.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Life Drawing - Female

While literally naval-gazing, one of the interesting things I've been mulling over is that human bodies are made up of a multitude of creatures, working symbiotically together.

This idea has fascinated me for a long time, and was the impetus for my Symbiosis painting, recently featured on The Eloquent Atheist. Only recently did I come across an explanation for where the microflora largely come from.

Most of the symbiotic bacteria are transferred to infants from the mother, mainly during birth, and from the breast-feeding and foodstuffs to follow. I thought this topic would be an interesting counterpoint to these life drawings I did of a model at the Toronto School of Art last spring. Less so simply because the model was female; moreso because of every move, every pose we all make every day, we are a multitude of organisms working together, resting together and just being together.

While reading Daniel Dennett's Breaking The Spell, he makes another arresting point. Not only do you have an entire ecosystem of bacteria in your body, on your skin, "your body is composed of perhaps a hundred trillion cells, and nine out of ten of them are not human cells! (p.86)" The important point is that they are not transmitted genetically.

Some people say we are really all alone trapped inside our own minds and bodies. We seldom think of what organisms we share our bodies with, and that our whole lives, the ecosystem living within us and on us, is still evolving.

Bacteria can evolve at a prodigious rate; and for men, we carry them around, populations evolving as we subject their environments to espresso and fine cheeses, beer and pizza, until our whole system collapses. For women, it goes further. Women pass on their evolved-since-birth microflora to their children, when they give birth. As Dennett points out (p.86 again), since it is not a genetic inheritance, and so a surrogate-mother still gives her infant a large portion of its future health during the minutes of birth.

In an interesting turn in one of my favourite sci-fi series, a few characters in David Brin's Heaven's Reach , part of the Uplift Storm trilogy, find themselves becoming symbiotically entangled not only with other similar, oxygen-breathing aliens, but also with the mysterious hydrogen breathers that live inside gas giants. All of them are swallowed up, to transcend into being part of a new organism known as 'Mother'.

There are more interesting things to learn about this subject. Check out the Wikipedia entry, and more at ScienceBlogs.

Amazing. No person is an island; but we are all ecosystems.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Vote for Shelley Batts!

Shelley Batts at Retrospectacle is one of 20 finalists for a blogging scholarship!
The competition is fierce, and Shelley needs help from readers of The Flying Trilobite. Please take a moment to cast your vote. You can do it anonymously, or leave a message encouraging others to vote for Shelley. You'll find the voting site here.

I mean who else writes about knitting teratomas, special nerdy cakes, parrot comprehension, the neuroscience of ADHD, and puts up more pictures of brains than a zombie. (If Jared Leto is reading this, please contact her directly). Besides, she is the only blogger I know studying her PhD, and has wings on the side of her head.

Cast a vote for Shelley Batts!

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

The Pharyngula Mutating Genre Meme

A blogging and scientific experiment.

There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is ...".

Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:

*You can leave them exactly as is.

*You can delete any one question.

*You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is..." to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is...", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is...:, or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is...".

*You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...”.

*You must have at least one question in your set, or you’ve gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you’re not viable.

Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the "parent" blog you got them from, e.g.
The Flying Trilobite to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.

Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.
---------

My grandparent is
Pharyngula.
My parent is
Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.

The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is:
Hyperion by Dan Simmons.

The best romantic movie in scientific dystopias is:
Gattaca (1997).

The best sexy song in rock is:
#1 Crush by Garbage from William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack.

The best cult novel in Canadian fiction is:
JPod by Douglas Coupland, 2006.

I call upon the following to continue this scientific experiment:

Fresh Brainz

A Blog Around the Clock

Life Before Death

Leslie Hawes (after you finish your excellent series, of course.)

Pro-Science

Fish Feet

Anyone else who wants to play out this science experiment, please do, and let me know!

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Glendon Mellow featured on The Eloquent Atheist

The Eloquent Atheist, an online atheist & humanist magazine, has featured one of my paintings, Symbiosis.

This is the first entry by a visual artist on The Eloquent Atheist, and naturally (not supernaturally) I am very excited to be a part of it! From The Eloquent Atheist:

"Our intent is to expose people to the positive aspects of Atheism and
Humanism through various types of the written arts..."

I do consider myself to be a Bright , a term coined a few years ago for one who believes in a natural universe. It is an umbrella term, or at least it seeks to be for people who variably describe themselves as atheists, humanists, rationalists, Darwinists, skeptics and freethinkers. Some find the "Bright" name unappealing, and worry it is too arrogant or silly. A proposed term (I believe by Daniel Dennett) for people who believe in the supernatural, is "Supers". I have chronicled my growth out of agnostic-pagan thought before, and I like the Bright label. Hard to say you're a Darwinist when you are talking about astronomy or quantum mechanics, since evolution by natural selection doesn't enter into it.

Just to be all linky about it,
the article is here.

A bio about me is on
The Eloquent Atheist here.

My original post about the painting
Symbiosis is here.

I also posted
a sketch I did of the painting here.

There are a lot of great articles and pieces of poetry on The Eloquent Atheist. A special piece by Harvey H. Madison called Cosmic Connection struck a chord with me, it is secular numinism, if I may say such a contradiction in terms. As well, Michael W. Jones' short story, Night Sky is a thoughtful portrayal of realising which universe we really live in. Fans of astronomy should check these out.

Thanks to Michael W. Jones and Marilyn Westfall at The Eloquent Atheist for creating a great magazine, and for showcasing my artwork.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Life Drawing - Male

Nothing is as interesting to human beings as looking in a mirror, or looking at each other. Humans evolved on the African savannah and as a species became very good at some specific things.

We can hurl medium-sized rocks and sticks a medium distance. We can run and throw at the same time, better than any other animal.

We are excellent at recognising patterns, to the point of finding frequent, imaginative false-positives.

We can instantly see the mistakes or novelties in depictions of the human form.

A strange thing has happened while reading two different books at the same time. I was reading the hard-sci-fi novel about global warming, Fifty Degrees Below, by Kim Stanley Robinson, and I am still enjoying philosopher Daniel Dennett 's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, and both of these books are mentioning Acheulean hand-axes.

I had never heard of these before, and they are a fascinating part of our prehistoric heritage, throughout the Old World continents, really, that I am quite upset this was never mentioned in school. I mean, they were in use for almost a solid million years! Some mysteries still elude us as to their use, but they were obviously important enough to be so abundant, and in my book, by age 12, should have been mentioned, studied and discussed.

One of my favourite characters that I have read in years, is Frank Vanderwal in K.S. Robinson's Fifty Degrees Below. He finds out about these hand axes from some target-frisbee-throwing freegans, and decides it is a nice neolithic way to get exercise.

After a nearly a million years of making and teaching about Acheulean hand-axes to generation after generation, might there be a propensity for making and caring for tools, and feeling satisfied when using them well that is reinforced neurologically? Do we have a receptor that releases a trickle of endorphins when tool use is successful? As an artist, I feel it seems likely. However, that is anecdotal, and not worth as much as evidence pursued, double-blind trials followed, and theories confirmed.

In the spirit of our forebears, those deadly upright artisans, this post contains images of life drawings I did last spring, where the model was holding a long pole throughout the poses.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Banner for Retrospectacle

The artwork is done, the neuroscientist is happy, and the banner is up! This was a great opportunity for me, and the first piece to come to fruition and publication since I took my artwork online last March. Thanks to Shelley Batts of Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog for contacting me and making the process so enjoyable.

If you are not familiar, Retrospectacle is part of the ScienceBlogs network run by Seed Magazine, an editor of which did a profile of my art on their Page 3.14 back in May this year.

Here is the finished piece for Retrospectacle:
This looks cooler on the site...follow the link!

As I mentioned in my last post, Ms. Batts wanted to have a rotating series of blog banners running through her site. She already had her cheeky "50's advert"-style banner, and now she had enlisted the likes of your trilobite-truly, and also the esteemed Carl Buell! Mr. Buell is a prolific scientific illustrator, and you can see some of his stellar artwork at Olduvai George. I had actually linked to one of his pictures in an earlier post, my review of Paul Quarrington's boy on the back of the turtle. The link was to one of his drawings of Carl Buell's drawings of a probable ancestor to whales, pakicetus. Mr. Buell's banner is the one featuring the shell and African Grey; a tough act to follow, but I'm happy to be in such great company.

Shelley Batts also suggested posting an "Evolution of a Blog Banner", and has posted it on Retrospectacle. I won't repeat the whole thing here, but I will post the drawing I did partway through my art process. Please follow the link and take a look. As usual, comments on my work are encouraged.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Trilobite's out of the bag

I've made a couple of vague statements about being hard at work on something in my last couple of posts. Well, for fans of ScienceBlogger Shelley Batts over at Retrospectacle: a neuroscience blog, they know what it is. She made the announcement here.

Shelley approached me about making a new banner for her blog, so she could have a few to rotate through. The other new one is already up, a beautiful and sleek piece by professional scientific illustrator Carl Buell. It's the banner with the shell and African Grey parrot. Be sure to check out his detailed and fascinating work at Olduvai George!

My banner is almost done and ready, and I'll be sure to post a link when it's up.

I started this blog to promote my artwork; I have been exceedingly pleased with the people I have met online, and what a rich community there is out there for artists and scientists. And I thank Shelley Batts for the opportunity.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Richard Dawkins Portrait Revisited

Back in June (has it been that long?) , I began a portrait of one of the sources of my artistic inspiration as an adult, Richard Dawkins.

I did not pick Prof. Dawkins because of
The God Delusion, although I do think that is a tremendously important and well-written book. I picked Richard Dawkins mainly because of River Out of Eden, The Ancestor's Tale, and Unweaving the Rainbow.

River Out of Eden, as I've mentioned before, was the first book by Dawkins that I read. I was struck by how intelligently the armchair logic strung together, and how much sense it all made. The world could make sense, with the right mindset and tools to investigate. Even the mistakes along the way could be valuable. It is a beautifully written book, and there is more of the sublime in wondering about 'Mitochondrial Eve' than the Biblical Eve, in my opinion. It's a short but nourishing read, and if you are wondering about Dawkins' "voice" in his books and are feeling trepidation about The God Delusion, start here, and you will quickly find that there is nothing 'shrill' or 'strident' about his writing.

Back to the portrait. It has stalled somewhat for me at the moment. A while ago, I reported that is was in its Ugly Phase, which most of my paintings go through. I was trying out a new material to draw and paint on, and I am not happy with the result. Oil paints sometimes suffer from what is known as "sinking", when they absorb into the surface enough that the normally glossy oil becomes dull in some places, giving it a patchy look. There are retouching varnishes on the market that can fix this problem, but I feel I may have to abandon that painting and print out another copy of the drawing above to carry on from.

After reading an article in Art Scene International, featuring the stellar Donato Giancola, I tried a few tips. Drew out the portrait as you see above, and then painted a clear gesso primer over top so that if I felt it was not going well, or I accidentally gave Richard Dawkins a huge handlebar moustache, I could use a small bit of solvent and scrape back the painting to see the original drawing underneath.

Scraping it back to the see the drawing underneath didn't really work. *sigh*

So, at least I have the scan. I am currently working on another piece that is occupying a lot of my attention (I'll be sure to crow about it if it works out), and I am trying something new. I drew the piece out on my favourite Strathmore Bristol vellum finish, scanned it, and printed the piece (with heightened contrast) onto canvasette paper (aka canvas paper). Now if I mess it up, the drawing still exists. Much better.

Richard Dawkins' books on evolution contain so much beauty and wonder in them that I know I will attempt this portrait again very soon. Besides, there are other scientists and sources of inspiration I'd like to paint as my own little egotistical tributes. Hmm, I can already think of a diptych companion to Dawkins...perhaps Sagan...

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Flying Trilobite recommends...

I've been working a lot on some new pieces lately. I've finally got my studio space set-up so it's a joy to sit down to the work, instead of awkward.

These are some of my favourite places online recently. You'll find them at right in my sidebar. Everything in my links to the right there are places I enjoy or frequent; but the ones I'm highlighting today are ones I wanted to share with my blog-o-viewers (cue theremin).

The artwork and banter over at Leslie Hawes' blog is always a lot of fun. Great sense of community there. And, hey, print out a fairy & lion to colour!

I find myself checking out the antics of the slender protagonist at
xkcd more and more often. His equally slender girlfriend is a riot too.

For some pure quality writing in a grab-bag, never-know-what-you'll-find kind of way, click through to Unkie Herb. Great photos from his world travels as well.

If you feel like being all scientific & rational and have a fire in your belly, there's lots of entertaining ideas to rail against at Xenophilia. And Lego M.C. Escher!

And for the scientific, secularist parent, check out The Meming of Life. I love the writing found here.

If the weather is gettin' chilly, you need a Cambrian hoodie. Shop at Trilobite Clothing! Warm, fuzzy arthropods...

Alright, now back to that studio of mine...

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Alex, Scientific Luminary, passes away at age 31

Image used without permission, but with the deepest respect & appreciation.

Alex, the African Grey parrot who taught the world so much about animal cognition, passed away at the end of last week. He leaves behind his friend and co-scientist, Dr. Irene Pepperberg, as well as The Alex Foundation.

As a former parrot owner, I was always feeling a slight bit of awe toward my own avian friend after reading about Alex. There was so much clearly happening inside his mind. And 'mind' is what it is for these intelligent, curious, and vocal animals. Alex showed the world that it was possible for parrots to comprehend and not merely mimic.

As usual, some of the best stories that have been posted about Alex come from members of the Scienceblogs.com community.

Shelley Batts at Retrospectacle has re-posted previous entries about Alex, including an interview with Dr. Pepperberg.

At A Blog Around the Clock, you can find a brief but eloquent obituary by Coturnix.

There is a typical and hilarious story showing just how much Alex understood what he was saying over at Neurontic.

There is a tribute on the Alex Foundation site as well, by Elaine Hutchison.

I do not have a lot more to add, having always been an interested spectator in Alex's accomplishments. I will say that I have always thought of Alex and Dr. pepperberg's contributions will resonate further down through history, for centuries to come.

In David Brin's Uplift science fiction novels, in the far-flung future, humanity becomes lonely enough in the universe that a process called 'Uplift' begins. Chimpanzees and dolphins are selected to receive genetic tinkering and a slow process to become as intelligent as humans, and integrate into Earthly culture. This may sound far-fetched, and I only mean this with the utmost respect, but I often looked at Alex and Dr. Pepperberg's contributions to science as something similar: a true attempt to bridge the species gap in understanding. As has been said when talking about speaking to alien life should we ever encounter it, how will we be able to understand aliens if we cannot yet understand what other species on our own Earth are saying? Alex went further than we did, by speaking in our own language on topics humans asked him about.

Alex's work continues with Wart and Griffin, and all those at the foundation. My deepest sympathies to all those who knew him.

-Glendon Mellow

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Arthropod Meeting


Being human is awesome. I like this image a lot. It's the meeting between two species separated by about 550 million years. The trilobite is similar to elrathia, (it's missing some segments, elrathia had 13).

I like this scene. You can imagine any number of things. Hot young ladybug with a penchant for wearing red with polkadots, meets worldly, older trilobite with a scottish brogue. He's aloof, an old world reserve in his demeanor. She's desperately hoping to ask him out for a cappuccino, and who knows where the evening will go? Back to his shale for a nightcap?


Or perhaps they are from the arthropod U.N., and he's concerned about dragonfly larva settling in the coastal waters of his brethren, and she is there to negotiate a truce.

Probably though, he's just thirsty, hoping she has some nice squishy aphids he can devour.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Awash in Fishy Froth

An amazing news story about a massive wave of froth washing up in Sydney. Check out the pictures at the Daily News!

(photo from Daily News - Icon Images)

What I want to know, is how does it feel "like clouds of air - you could hardly feel it," when it is made from decomposed fish particles?

How does seaweed excrete, exactly? If it is oxygen, then the foam should be almost -almost- like a cappuccino. Mmmm. Cappuccino.

Mysteries and strangeness abound. I suppose Lake Ontario's foamy edges are less likely to confound and provoke awe. Unless it's not really sewage, and it's really Cthulhu Deep Ones getting ready to invade the Toronto waterfront. That would be newsworthy.

A tip of the hat to Kalliopi Monoyios for the Sci-Art post about the article...make sure to check out her sublime fossil fish jaw illustrations. Gradations as smooth as a finely poured latte...

What? We're not doing coffee metaphors anymore? It ended with the fish guts?

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

the boy on the back of the turtle

Brief Book Review of...
the boy on the back of the turtle:
Seeking God, Quince Marmalade and the Fabled Albatross on Darwin's Islands
by Paul Quarrington

The title immediately caught my eye, and well, you can't judge a book by its cover, but I am a very visual person.

I actually have a copy signed by the author that my wife bid on at a fundraiser here in Toronto, so that's a lot of fun. I had never read Paul Quarrington's work before (that I know of; now I am noticing his writing cropping up in front of me in magazines, since the name is distinctive). I also have a copy of his book, Storm Chasers.

I took this book with me on my trip to Alberta in July, and I whipped through it much faster than I usually do on vacation. Perhaps there is a subtle quality in the writing of a fellow Torontonian that made it feel like an especially rich conversation. And it was a conversation, since it made me laugh, and shake my head, and look forward to my time with it each evening or lazy afternoon.

The story is a biographical one, with the authour going on a trip to the Galapagos with his 7-year old daughter and 77-year old father. Mr. Quarrington immediately caught me with a high-falutin' opening paragraph that quickly tripped over some vulgarity on it's way to conclusion.

A lot of research into Darwin's life, and the history of the Galapagos (or 'Encantadas', Enchanted Isles) was poured engagingly into this book. Which is why the following had me whipping out my own pen to retort on the margins of the book:

"Whales are interesting. They are in a sense the largest example of Paley's hypothetical watch, because there are no clear evolutionary ancestors for them, no proto- or mini-whales. They seem to have been popped into the waters by the Almighty. " (p97)

What about pakicetus?! Ambulocetus? The ancestry of what evolved to modern whales is almost as clear as the horse, or our own primate ancestors and relatives. I flipped out, grabbed for a pen. (Cool skeleton re-created here.)

As my fervour abated, I flipped to the frontspiece of the book. Ahh. Published in 1997. That may explain it. On vacation and without easy internet access, I resolved to check when the amazing discoveries in Pakistan were published. It seems that in 1996, J. G. M. Thewissen, S. I. Madar, and S. T. Hussain published their work. It hardly may have been seeping into the consciousness of a Toronto writer by that point. The stellar Walking With Beasts t.v. series by the BBC had not yet aired.

But still. Although this was a footnote in a relaxed style, the book was well-researched and insightful. It was a bit of a shock to see the authour jump from no current evidence to the Almighty in the span of a footnote. It happens again later in the book, when he refers to "the unliklihood of complexity arising out of chance," (p175). However, you can't throw the whale out with the flood. (Or something. ) What a truly excellent book while I was on vacation looking at fossils! Part of the arc of this journey was to come to what Quarrington referred to as the Big Insight, and discover something meaningful in his family for his daughter, and perhaps about his father.

I think he did. The book leaves you with an intimate sense of travel, family, and how searching for self-discovery can be done in the outside world. I found the story to be a gripping one with how a person (perhaps agnostic), can search to be moved, and find it in the natural (not supernatural) world. I would recommend this book heartily to other members of the BrightsOnline, Atheist Blogroll and PaleoWebRing communites.

The rollicking history and natural history lessons of the Encantadas in Quarrington's "voice" make this a great book for people interested in science, family, or just curling up and relaxing.
Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 Glendon Mellow. All rights reserved. See Creative Commons Licence above in the sidebar for details.