30 April 2011

Royal Wedding? Mad Dogs and Englishmen!

OK, let’s face it.  By now you have had your fill of gorgeous dresses, fabulous uniforms, centuries old pageantry and possibly weddings in general.  Yet, as Kate and William zoom off to their honeymoon, no doubt pursued by the paparazzi you we should take a second or two (and no longer perhaps) to raise our hats, metaphorically, to those people without whom a royal wedding would simply not be the same.

So, thank you mad people everywhere!  The manner in which you surpassed yourselves exceeded our every expectation. You may be bonkers but we love you! So let’s take a look at some of the mad dogs and Englishmen who ventured out in the mid morning sun (or before in some cases) on April 29. Ah, those crazy Brits.  Did you know they used to run half the world?  There's a lesson there somewhere...!

Oh yes.  Below are those mad dogs we promised you.  Excuse me?  What do you mean? Well, you might say that - I couldn't possibly comment!

...and finally, because everyone loves a happy ending!

Manul – the Cat that Time Forgot

Over at our sibling site the Ark in Space a question is posed. Have you ever wanted to take a trip through time to see what animals looked like millions of years ago? When it comes to cats there is little or no need.  This beautiful specimen is a Manul, otherwise known as Pallas’s Cat.  About twelve million years ago it was one of the first two modern cats to evolve and it hasn’t changed since. The other species, Martelli’s Cat, is extinct so what you are looking at here is a unique window in to the past of modern cats.

Clikc HERE or on the picture to see more of this fascinating cat.

29 April 2011

Yareta –Alien Life in the Andes?

There is something green and alien looking, growing in South America.  On first inspection you might think that it is some extraterrestrial species, using the remote grasslands of the continent to establish a foothold on planet Earth. Yet however alien this looks, this green mass of cells has its origins very much on this world.  This is Yareta and it lives in colonies which can be thousands of years old.

Also known as Llareta in Spanish it is found in only a handful of countries – Chile, Argentina, Peru and Bolivia and grows at altitudes of between 3200 and 4500 meters – below these heights and you will simply not find the plant.  It looks huge but is in fact a colony of thousands of tiny individual flowering plants in the Apiaceae family, formally classified as Azorella compacta.

Yet why does it look so alien, like a green fungus flowing over the ground? It is because of the environment in which it grows.  It is extremely compact so that it will lose as little heat as possible in the extremely cold evenings at this altitude.  Additionally it grows as close to the ground as possible as there the temperature is a good two degrees higher than the mean air temperature of its natural ecosystem.

The yareta is so compact that when local people who used the plant occasionally for fuel for cooking had need for it they were forced to use pickaxes to remove the plant from its home. The dark and compact innards of the plant can be used to create a flammable resin.  As well as being used to cook it is also commonly used to help encourage a fire to start.  At least it was until recently.

The amount of yareta being removed had become so significant the ecologists feared that the plant would become extinct.  So, the four countries in which it grows have now prohibited its extraction – and it is hoped that the yareta will, over time restore itself to its former coverage. Time and solitude are friends to the yarata.

The Yarata stays in leaf all year and is a perennial evergreen and its flowers, when they appear, are pink or lavender in color.  The flowers are hermaphrodite and have both male and female elements meaning that, although it is pollinated by insects, Yarata is self-fertile.

As a native to the Puna grasslands of the Andes the plant has to be hardy but if you still have reservations about the veracity of its earthly origins, try not to worry about an imminent invasion of Yarata in your back yard.  The plant growth rate has been estimated at about 2 centimeters per year maximum. Plus you are more than likely to be living at a low altitude in which the yareta will not grow, let alone thrive.

Although the plant is not used synthetically to create industrially produced medicine, research is being conducted in to its medicinal qualities.  Local people swear by the plant in terms of reducing the pain from rheumatism.  A tea made from its leaves is said to help control blood pressure and diabetes and it was also used as an appetite represent by local people who wished to slim down a little.

It is also known as the cushion plant – when it was given this common name is unknown but the reason remains self-evident.

There is one other odd thing about the Yareta.  They are ancient.  Many colonies of yaretas are thought to be well over three thousand years old which means they started growing before recorded history began.

Window Painting by Dan Berglund

We have previously featured the work of artist Dan Berglund on Kuriositas and it was received so well that when we heard that he had created a new video, we just had to post it up for your pleasure!

This time all the action takes place in an extended series of windows (presumably of the same shop) and the artist also takes time out to incorporate the musings of Momus about the animals he is drawing. The lovely music is by Tona Serenads.

It is subtly done work with a combination of stop motion and animation that makes you pause the video – did that animal just blink? 

Stanley Kubrick - A Filmography

Stanley Kubrick was not a prolific film-maker but those that he did direct are some of the most influential movies ever made. If you are a fan of his work then you will love this. Martin Woutisseth has created an animated filmography (a brilliant idea in the first place but flawlessly executed here) of Kubrick’s films.

It begins with Kubrick’s own somewhat iconic self-portrait, taken in the forties and then visits each of the feature films that he created.  It does omit1953’s Fear and Desire, starting instead with 1955's Killer's Kiss, yet instead of a précis of plot or a video clip of each movie what you get is an alternative poster, sprung from Woutisseth’s imagination. You will then travel through the decades, taking in such classics as Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, Spartacus and, of course, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It concludes with a later self-portrait, rounding off the journey extremely well. This is, altogether, a fantastic piece of animation and a wonderful homage to Kubrick.