Happy Halloween…

…from Miss Halloween New Hampshire 2007.


I spotted her this morning, tending her clutch of eggs in the autumn sun. The spiderlings need to get a move on – we are supposed to get a couple hard frosts this week.

Halloween movie recommendations (yes, I know, you didn’t ask):

And a picture of New England fall foliage:

Mr. Big Stuff

Air. I recently finished William Gibson’s latest: Spook Country. A bit part is played by the Hook, a Soviet-era heavy lift helicopter. I’ve long been a fan of the American CH-54/S-64 Skycrane – I built a plastic model of one years ago (you could run the winch line up and down by rotating the main rotor) and I find it’s minimalism appealing.

S-64 in firefighting mode – a shout-out to my friends on the West Coast.


I have to confess total ignorance when it comes to big Soviet/Russian choppers, but not to worry – the Google can help! While nosing around for info on the Mi-6 Hook I found another great Soviet heavy lifter. Before we go there, though – the Mi-6 is big!

If you still doubt the size of this machine, consider this – the Mi-6 can carry twice as much as the largest American helicopter, the CH-64 Tarhe “Sky Crane” – in fact, it’s capable of lifting a Tarhe. The accompanying sign said that it had often lifted MiG-17s and MiG-21s; the Vietnamese would conceal their aircraft in servicing areas in the jungle and airlift them to a roughly prepared field for takeoff, then return them to the jungle afterwards. Most remarkable perhaps is the Hook’s ability to transport up to 120 people when it’s in its high-density seating configuration!*

Even larger and much more bizarre (therefore, cool in my book) is the Mi-12 Homer prototype. Two main rotors arranged transversely (left and right, rather than the front and back we’re used to) each powered by two engines. According to Wikipedia, the rotor/powerplant combo was lifted directly from the Mi-6 (get it? Mi-6 * 2 = Mi-12). Choppers start off as improbable objects – add in that Russian air thing (think ekranoplan) and you get:


Land. I’ve been wanting to post on this bit of gorgeousity for a while. I’m very partial to the union (set-wise) of Africa and Garratt. Having grown up on a diet of Big Boys, Challengers and the like, Garratts are strange, alien and – you guessed it – way cool. How do I love this steam engine? Let me count the ways:

  • Beyer-Garratt 4-8-4 + 4-8-4 – the largest locomotive ever built for 50 lb (light!) rail. Meter-gauge!
  • May have crossed the bridge at Tsavo (in my mind, it certainly did)!
  • Shares a nickname with Walter Dalrymple Maitland Bell, who used a 7×57 (among other light calibers) on elephant.

The Kenya Uganda Railway No. 87 Karamoja:


Beautiful model (be sure to click through and check out the 3-D view):


Not Karamoja, but a Garratt at Tsavo:


Sea. Via the Telstar Logistics blog, a pointer to John Konrad’s thoughts on the Pasha Bulker incident report. The Pasha Bulker ran aground June 8, 2007 on Nobby’s Beach, Newcastle, New South Wales (if you don’t know where New South Wales is – I’m not going to name the country – spend the rest of the day with an atlas, please). New vocab word for the day – hogged – and an incredible Flickrset. The gCaptain blog where Mr. Konrad’s post appears looks like something I’ll need to visit from time to time.

The title of the photo is “Correctly parked”.


Curious Expeditions have posted a Flickrset taken at the Haus der Natur in Salzburg, Austria. Included are a bunch of wonderful gaffs – certainly worth a look.


There’s also a nice group of Papuan skull pix – something that ties back (indirectly) to a project I’m working on.

I wish I could get back down to Brooklyn on November 2 for The Secret Science Club’s third annual Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest – looks like a ton of fun.You can see some work done by last year’s winner, Takeshi Yamada, here.

Mixed Media

  • Book – peacay at Bibliodyssey recently announced The BibliOdyssey Book. I think I’m going to request one through my local bookstore – they’ll often order an extra for the shelves.
  • Radio – I heard a song for the first time the other day – The Smith’s Girlfriend in a Coma. Bwaaa-haa-haa-haa! I was never much of a Smith’s fan – it always seemed to me a bit unseemly to be that whiny self-pitying introspective without at least a half gallon of brown liquor in your belly. Girlfriend in a coma?!? Case closed.
  • DVD – 29 years worth of National Lampoon? I’m in. I’ll spare everyone the fogeyniscences – suffice it to say, I remember very clearly the moment I first clapped eyes on a NatLamp.
  • Paper – papercraft Japanese trout. Remember, “If the trout are lost, smash the state!” (Tom McGuane?) Aside – coming up on smash the state time anyhoo, methinks. Your tax dollars at work (the Higazy case).
  • Later – Newspaper illo – Dan Zettwock – amazingly good:

The Pratt Engine Room

I traveled down to Brooklyn last weekend – it was Homecoming/Parent’s Weekend at Pratt Institute, a Certain Design Student’s base of operations. While there, he took me to see the Engine Room. What a place! It currently generates electricity in the winter – exhaust steam goes to the main heating system. It’s the most beautiful co-gen facility imaginable.

Some notes cribbed from the handout that details the Engine Room’s history along with some pictures:


Three 75KW generators driven by one-cylinder steam engines. Installed in 1900, they replaced two steam engines driving three generators. Originally a third engine powered machine shops via the classic flywheel/belt arrangement.


In 1927 the switchboard reached it’s current size.


Sometime during the 1980’s the three steam machines passed the million hour running time mark. Planned obsolescence? Nay – back then, they built to last.


Feline staff members are well taken care of. They have their own entrance, there is a wall of ribbons recognizing their achievements, and one has her own memorial.


Snakes ‘n bugs

Off I went to the semi-annual herp show in Manchester to pick up supplies – frozen mice, calcium powder, tomato worms (treats for the chameleon), etc. As always, a great venue for people watching and great prices on the weird items that local pet stores charge an arm and a leg for – when they have them at all.

I’m not wild about designer reptiles – not a big deal – just a pretty minor matter of taste. That being said, this Gonysoma oxycephala x G. janseni is a stunning creature. In some ways it reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of Green Mambas. It may be just that both snakes are green (duh – though the mamba is greener) and the scalation is striking; I don’t know.



There was a vendor there with phasmids! Hello, Ms. Stick Insect. This one is a female Eurycantha calcarata. Big and interesting – the size makes her something more that just another bug. You can see joints and jaws and antennae without a hand lens. Very cool.



Not my arm – not that I would have minded – just didn’t want to take credit. On the subject of stick insects – a bleg – I’d like to get my hands on this – anyone out there with access to it?

Later – the oxy x janseni’s head shape helps a lot with it’s mamba-ness. On a mamba, it gets described as coffin shaped (wonder why?). On the stick insect front, an email today from JM – he’s got some Peruphasma schultei nymphs – beautiful creatures.

Diecast fun

COOP’s post and Flickrset caused me to dig out my (very) old box of Matchboxes, Corgis, etc. I took one set of photos, but the sun isn’t above the big pine tree in the back yard yet – I don’t have any fancy flash equipment – so I’m going to start over in an hour or two. The pictures will be uploaded here; in the meantime, something to prime the pump:


Blooming Heliamphora neblinae

I like carnivorous plants. There’s the man-bites-dog aspect, of course, but there are also all the interesting adaptations that make bug (and frog and mouse and…) eating possible. I grow a few different types – I’ve never had any luck with the canonical carnivore: the Venus Flytrap, but I do have pitcher plants (Nepenthes, Sarracenia and Heliamphora), sundews, pings (butterworts), and utrics (bladderworts).

Heliamphora have a special place in my heart – blame it on George Edward Challenger. I read The Lost World as a kid; a little later when my family was living outside Pittsburgh, PA – I was about ten – the Carnegie Museum or the Pittsburgh Zoological Society (or somebody in Pittsburgh – I can’t find any references on the web) sent an expedition to Auyantepui that got a lot of coverage in the local paper. One of the pictures that sticks in my mind to this day was of a scientist and an enormous clump of helis. For those of you who don’t know from tepuis, click here – they are fascinating mesas in southern Venezuela – sky islands isolated from each other by distance and from the surrounding Gran Sabana by altitude/climate.

With all that as background, a few weeks ago my largest heli, H. neblinae, started sending up an odd looking spike.


I wasn’t sure what it was – flower spike? Keiki (though I’d never heard of Heliamphora keiki-ing)? I posted a query on a carnivorous plant forum and found out that it was, indeed a flower spike. I suppose I could have waited a week and found out for myself; here’s what happened:



Notice the very pitcher-like top on the flower scale/sheath – is this a cool plant, or what?

While trying to find some reference to the Pittsburgh expedition, I ran across this:

It was Im Thurns accounts that also attracted British mountaineers Hamish MacInnes, Joe Brown, Don Whillans and Mo Anthonie to Mount Roraima in 1967. They wanted to climb the mountain by a new route and chose ‘the prow’ located at the northern end of the plateau that juts into Guyana. MacInnes’s account can be read in his book Climb to the Lost World. *

Hmm – interlibrary loan time…


Many things to post about (sub-prime mortgage mess, backing up PCs, dogs), but not much time. I did want to get this one out there though, just because it’s so much fun.

I had a birthday this past weekend. The daughter and her boyfriend took me out to dinner; I chose The Friendly Toast – a local alt.food establishment – big plates of food, ridiculous decor, and, as far as I’m concerned, comfortable.


There were presents, oh, were there presents. Wrapped in brown paper and tied with brown wool – it makes me smile just thinking of it.


Two nice books (Gorey and Airstreams) and two toys. Did you know that koalas, penguins and seals used to prey on cetaceans? True! The cuddly ones almost drove narwhals into extinction – something narwhals have not forgotten. Thus The Avenging Narwhal Play Set:


Four interchangeable magic tusks! Three adorable animals to impale!


Thanks J – the Tusked Avenger is on a shelf in my office using the crystal tooth on a koala.

The daughter gave me some temporary tattoos suitable for the elderly. I’ll post a picture when I apply one – I think the first up will be a snake coiling around one of those pill organizers with compartments for each day of the week.