Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Happy Xmas everybody!

Image copyright 2009 Grace Dalley, all rights reserved.
[Where X=appropriate festival! Thanks to Tim Michie for that great definition :-)]

Giant eagle at Macraes

The extinct Haast eagle was the largest eagle ever known, so big that it preyed on giant moa. In the bird-dominated New Zealand ecosystem, the Haast eagles filled the niche of the big cats, or of bears - the largest land-based predators. When the giant moa were hunted to extinction by humans, the giant eagles also became extinct.

At the Macraes gold mine site in Central Otago, soon to be the site of Macraes Heritage and Art Park, a giant eagle sculpture made of stainless steel has been erected. The eagle was made by Queenstown sculptor Mark Hill in his studio in Arrowtown. It is 8m tall and has a wingspan of 12m, roughly four times the scale of the extinct bird, so it will be a landmark in the area. And how did it get from Arrowtown to Macraes? It flew, of course!
The ODT has more information about the sculpture here and there are details of the installation, plus a picture of the eagle arriving by helicopter, here.

You can read more about the Haast eagle on the excellent New Zealand Birds site here.
And because I couldn't resist it, here is a video dramatisation of a Haast eagle attacking a person. Please bear in mind there's no hard evidence that the eagles did attack humans, although there is evidence that humans hunted the eagles. Anyway, the video gives you an idea of the size of the birds!

Another highlight of the Macraes Heritage and Art Park is a vast installation of speargrass and snow tussock by Auckland artist John Reynolds. You can read about it in this Art New Zealand feature .

1970s design strikes back!

I've lived in plenty of flats and houses with 1970s decor, and especially the 1970s curtains with wriggly swirly patterns.
I thought I was safe here with a plain-looking room in neutral grey, cream and off-white, but alas, when the sun shines there is no escape from the wriggly swirliness...

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Simon's cat

This is just so funny I have to post it.

Photographic anxiety

You'd think that perusing stunningly beautiful photos of meteorological phenomena ( would be a nice soothing thing to do before bed, right?
Well, it gave me nightmares!

In the dreams I would see an amazing spectacle unfolding (mirage, halo, clouds, whatever) and reach for my camera. There are a number of ways this plays out:
1) I have left my camera at home
2) I reach for my camera but it is not in the case/bag
3) I have left the camera in the car, which is parked on the far side of a busy highway, which I have to cross (twice), Frogger-style, before I can attempt to take the picture. I think there was even a variant of this dream in which, having crossed the highway, I had lost the car keys, and could only look yearningly at my camera through the car window.
4) My camera battery is flat
5) When I press the shutter button nothing happens. This is actually the worst, since I can see the amazing scene framed by the lens, but can't record it.

In each scenario the amazing spectacle disappears unphotographed.

Do other people have these sorts of terrifying nightmares?? clouds

Thursday, 18 December 2008


On August 7th, in the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska, Kasatochi volcano erupted. I don't remember reading about this at all in the news at the time, but the whole thing was rather dramatic: a remote island not known to be volcanically active, home to 100,000 breeding seabirds, and 2 biologists studying the birds, stages a series of massive eruptions which transform the island! The biologists are rescued by a fishing boat with only minutes to spare. Thousands of seabird chicks are killed, no trace is left of the research station, the island's shoreline is extended 400m out to sea, and the formerly-lush island now looks like the surface of the moon.

You can read the whole story of the eruption here. And there is a "before" picture here and "after" pictures here, here and here.

And material thrown out by the volcano has caused dramatically-coloured sunsets over a huge area of the Midwestern US. You can see some examples here. And there's a neat animation of the spread of ejected dust and sulphur dioxide around the northern hemisphere here.

Bionic eyes

San Francisco artist Tanya Vlach plans to replace an eye lost in an accident with a webcam which she can control by blinking, if she can get someone to design it for her. That fascinating story is here. But this idea is not as new as you'd think: Canadian filmmaker Rob Spence, who also has a prosthetic eye, is retrofitting it with a camera so he can use it to make films. Wired has an article on him here.

Both of these people will be using their eye cameras to film with, not to see with, but the Daily Mail has this article on pioneering work providing digital imaging implants into totally blind patients, which provides rudimentary visual information to the retinal nerves - true bionic sight!

"American Linda Moorfoot was totally blind for more than a decade before becoming one of the first patients to test the new technology.
She told Sky News: "When I go to the grandkids' hockey game or soccer game I can see which direction the game is moving in.
"I can shoot baskets with my grandson and I can watch my granddaughter dancing across the stage. I can see ... things! It's wonderful."

Read the whole article here.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Classic Ready to Roll!

The New Zealand film archive has made 100 New-Zealand-made music videos available online here! They're wildly assorted, from middle-of-the-road to wildly experimental, and from historical to recent, so there's something to interest most people.
Some of my personal faves include this Chris Knox from 1984, and this Split Enz clip from 1976, and the lovely Bic Runga from 1997.
Nod to Russell Brown for the link.

And if those don't make you feel nostalgic, try watching the intro to RTR Countdown from 1983!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

More chances to see

Last Chance to See....

When Douglas Adams and Mark Cawardine wrote their brilliant conservation book Last Chance to See.... in 1991, they visited kakapo on New Zealand's Codfish Island, along with a host of other critically endangered animals around the world. Adams himself died tragically in 2001, but zoologist Mark Cawardine is teaming up with the delightful Stephen Fry to revisit the animals described in the book and check on their progress. Fortunately, most of the animals featured have increased in number, the kakapo among them.

Stuff has an item on Cawardine's and Fry's visit to NZ, and says they will be visiting not only kakapo on Codfish Island, but also black robin on the Chathams, kiwi in Waipoua Forest and tuatara and giant weta in Karori Wildlife Sanctuary.

There will eventually be a BBC television series, but in the meantime Fry promises to post detailed updates on his redesigned website. And if you haven't already read the book, go to it!, it's hugely entertaining as well as informative and insightful.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Feathered Dinosaurs: The Origin of Birds
Feathered Dinosaurs: The Origin of Birds

Modern birds evolved from a group of carnivorous dinosaurs which included Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor. Feathers are in fact modified reptilian scales!

What has become clear recently, from a number of sensational finds in Asia, is the sheer diversity of feathered dinosaurs. While very few of them could fly, their feathers must have served all sorts of other purposes, from insulation to camouflage to display to the ability to run faster and escape predators by gliding.

This beautiful book has a very detailed and absorbing text, and sumptuous illustrations which attempt to recreate the appearance and behaviour of the feathered dinosaurs, based on comparisons with modern birds and other animals.

You can buy it from Fishpond

Better-educated cats

In answer to the lax grammar and phonetic spelling of the lolcats on , there is , where the cats know their English. It's very funny.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Eileen Duggan: stunning poetry

Eileen Duggan (1894–1972) was well-known in New Zealand in the 1930s and 1940s as a leading poet; she supported herself full time as writer for 50 years, producing not only poetry but essays, reviews and journalism.

I first came across Eileen Duggan's work in the beautiful anthology My Heart Goes Swimming: New Zealand Love Poems , which also contains other New Zealand greats such as Katherine Mansfield, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, Cilla McQueen, James K Baxter, Hone Tuwhare, Bill Manhire, Fleur Adcock, Lauris Edmond, and many others. Unfortunately this book is currently out of print.

Duggan's poetry is polished and formal, which will alienate some readers, and at its worst can be sentimental and contrived, but at its best I think it's breathtaking! I haven't been able to locate any of her books of poetry still in print, but some can be found in libraries. Meanwhile here are three poems to whet your appetite:

The tides run up the Wairau

The tides run up the Wairau
That fights against their flow
My heart and it together
Are running salt and snow.

For though I cannot love you,
Yet heavy, deep and far,
Your tide of love comes swinging,
Too swift for me to bar

Some thought of you must linger
A salt of pain in me
For oh what running river
Can stand against the sea?


You are the still caesura
That breaks a line in two;
A quiet leaf of darkness
Between two flowers of blue

A little soft indrawing
Between two sighs;
A slender spit of silence
Between two seas of cries.


The leaf was dark until a wind
Flung it against the living sun
And all the little cells behind
Were lit up one by one
Lord, if my green has power of fire,
Fling me against you love or ire
That I may give you out again
In one green, luminous amen.

You can read more about Eileen Duggan on her Book Council page, and there are some photographs of her here.