Biochemical Soul Musings on Nature, Science, Evolution, Biology, and Education

10Feb/09Off

The Firefly and the Deer – “Moonbeam Death Ray”

Since, it seems that I've been on an art post kick for the last two days, I thought I'd toss one more out for you. This is on oldie for me, but I'm betting that few if any of my current readers have seen it.

Way back in 2006, a buddy of mine (Joshua Robertson) was in a band called "Bronze Fawn," a progressive, instrumental group based in Seattle.

One of their songs (9 minutes in length) was called "Moonbeam Death Ray". Listening to it in the car one day, I had a "vision" (i.e. a cool idea).

I had just recently picked up a copy of the 3D computer animation software, Maya 7. So I thought, "what better way to learn to animate than by practicing with my idea for Bronze Fawn. I'm sure they will appreciate the surprise video!"

That, in essence, is how the following music video was made.

Josh was more than a bit surprised.

The video was written, directed, and animated by me with Maya 7 Unlimited. It took 200 hours over 4 months plus 600 hours of computer render time (i.e. I would set up the render and let my computer crunch out the stills while I was at the lab finishing my PhD). I modeled and textured the deer and firefly based on deer in my yard and fireflies I caught. I initially mixed the song down to its current 3 minutes length.

The YouTube version of this video has currently been watched about 478,000 times.

I have many, MANY problems with the animation (like some horrible deer movements, texture problems, lighting, etc...), but overall I was pretty happy with it for a first animation.

If anyone wants to learn animation - I say just do it.  Download the free and opensource Blender software and start doing tutorials!

My interest in animation started when I needed a good animation for my dissertation defense on frog heart development. This was the result (intended to be illustrative, NOT 100% accurate - and yes, that is what early Xenopus larvae look like):

And one more just for fun (no sound).

"Feeding Time"

You can see more of my animations HERE.

9Feb/09Off

Tooting my Own Digital Horn – The Oyster’s Garter

I recently offered to put in a design for a new blog banner for the extraordinarily nerdy and equally awesome ocean blogger, Miriam, of The Oyster's Garter.

She didn't hate my design, which now adorns her digital abode.

If you haven't been to The Oyster's Garter, or if you find yourself thinking "what the hell is an oyster's garter?" then I highly recommend you stroll through your nearest tube over to her place to figure it out for yourself. I particularly enjoyed her recent poetic, lyrical edition of the Carnival of the Blue #21.

The Oysters Garter

The Oyster's Garter

8Feb/09Off

Cephalopodtastic Wooden Art!

It is well past time that I used my connection with you ocean/invertebrate blogging types to point you all to one of the most artistically talented branches of my family tree.

My cousin, Steven Garrison, has been an accomplished sculptor and artistic engineer for as far back as I can remember. My favorite of his types of work is his series of nautiloid carvings. Be sure to check them all out at his website, www.stevengarrison.com.

Update: (2/9/09) Steve has informed me that he managed to get his work in del Mano Gallery in Los Angeles (considered the premier gallery in the nation for woodwork - you'll find his work there sometime this summer). Congratulations Steve!

Eastern Red Cedar Shell

Eastern Red Cedar Shell - Steven Garrison

Fiddleback Nautiloid

Fiddleback Nautiloid - Steven Garrison

Aromatic Red Cedar Nautiloid

Aromatic Red Cedar Nautiloid - Steven Garrison

He also makes all sorts of other crazy sculptures, the accomplishment and engineering of which can boggle the mind.

You MUST check out his elliptical gears about halfway through this clip.

And one of his latest pieces: wooden gear driven window blinds!

And finally, his own favorite piece:

All Screwed Up

"All Screwed Up" - Steven Garrison

Obviously, I've always harbored a bit of jealousy at Steve's talent.  But that's ok - the artistic thread runs cleanly through his lineage. My Uncle Bill and Aunt Gloria are both highly accomplished artists as well, with Bill focusing on oils and Gloria on watercolors (and oils).

Leatherwood Creek

"Leatherwood Creek" - Bill Garrison

A Fine Pair - Gloria Garrison

"A Fine Pair" - Gloria Garrison

8Feb/09Off

The Great Blue Heron and the Catfish (with Video!)

Note: If you do nothing else, check out the videos at the very bottom before leaving!!

What a day! A two post day for sure.

The morning started off with an entertaining and educational tour of the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, NC (blog post to follow).

Next, my wife and I were off to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, where I had a birding opportunity heretofore unprecedented for me.

Duke Gardens is a massive cross between city park and botanical garden, sprawling with trails and ponds and happy people. My goal was to simply find some interesting natural wonders to photograph, as it's been a while since the weather has allowed me to partake in my outdoor hobby.

We began at a nice looking little pond where my eyes became drawn to a set of cypress knees under a beautiful sun.

For oxygen or support? The jury is still out...

For oxygen or support? The jury is still out...

After snapping a few shots, I looked way across the pond and saw a Great Blue Heron patiently fishing. I've photographed many herons - in fact, I had previously considered my coolest heron spotting as last summer when one let me get within about 15 feet. Normally in the wild, I've found that blue herons get rather irritated when a human passes too closely, letting you know quite vocally before taking flight that you've mucked up their fishing.  If you've heard their loud angry squawk, then you know exactly what I mean. If you use your imagination you can almost hear the word "asshole!" escape their beaks as they take off.

If only I could get closer...

If only I could get closer...

I have a decent (non-professional) camera - so the above image was taken with 12x optical zoom - further than it looks.

Immediately after getting this shot, a couple of kids approached the heron and started throwing bread at it.

"Damn," I think, "now they're gonna scare it away."  I look over at my wife, shaking my head. "They don't even eat bread!"

But the big bird doesn't move. In fact, he gets closer to the the kids and begins staring at the water where the bread floats by. The heron had become completely acclimated to people! (note: I'm using "he" but herons are not sexually dimorphic, so I have no idea its gender)

"I've got to get over there to get some pictures - mind if I run ahead?" I ask my wife, as I begin sprinting down the trail around the far side of the pond - just knowing that the bird will be gone by the time I get there.

It was my lucky day - it was still there!

I immediately (and slowly) perched about 15 feet away and started shooting.

closer...

closer...

See the arrow? (S)he let me get that close!

See the arrow? (S)he let me get that close!

I decided to test his comfort zone limits and slowly moved to the arrow in the above image.

He still remained statuesque. In fact, the kids continued to thrown bread into the water, even pelting him a couple of times. At this point it became quite clear that this bird had learned to use human behavior as fish bait.  He stared intently directly over the floating bread, waiting for any fish to nibble.

This went on for ten minutes (no fish), so I just began taking as many cool shots that I could.

No sexual dimorphism?

No sexual dimorphism?

Blue Heron Feathers

Baby got back!

You know I can stab you with this, right?

You know I can stab you with this, right?

Next I took a quick video of this beautiful bird.

And then - for the climactic ending.

I was in the middle of setting up for another shot when the heron lunged into the water in about a third of a second! I immediately tried to switch to video mode as quickly as possible, which took about two seconds.

THIS is what followed:

Truly amazing!

I was a bit sad to have missed recording the actual capture - but hey - how much can I really complain after witnessing it myself AND getting all these cool shots.

As an aside, after this event we went to watch "Coraline 3D" (an insanely creative movie by the way). This required wearing special polarized glasses.

Which got me thinking - any fisherman knows the value of a good pair of polarized glasses for reducing surface glare. Do herons and other fishing birds have polaroid filters in their eyes? I found one mention that this is the case in the abstract of a paper from 1973, but I haven't absolutely confirmed this.

And finally - check out this video of a green heron actually fishing with a piece of bread - utterly astonishing behavior!

17Sep/08Off

Biological Databases and the Logos I Designed

I recently designed a couple of logos for Dr. J. Christopher Ellis to adorn his biological database website. I thought I'd throw him a link as well as showcase the two logos I made.

The first is for the frontpage of his site evolveathome.com. I made this using the 3D animation software, Maya 7, and Flash. Note: if you click on the logo, there are three possible animations that will occur. I know next to nothing about flash animation, but I managed to get it so that it picks one of the three events at random. As such, you may have to click several times to see all three. Yes - they are completely pointless - but I wanted to learn at least a little ActionScript. The pixelation is due to resizing to fit into this blog.

I also designed the following logo for his snoRNP database. For those of you not in the know, snoRNP stands for "small nucleolar ribonucleoprotein", which bind to snoRNAs, or "small nucleolar ribonucleic acids". Together they are involved in modifying rRNAs, or "ribosomal ribonucleic acids", which are themselves part of the structure and function of the ribosome (your protein making machines).

So for those of you involved in snoRNA research, you may find his database useful. He also has a couple of applets for finding motifs within UTRs (untranslated regions). FYI: the sites are still in early construction.

The snoRNP Database