Wednesday, 28 September 2011

News story of the week- Hummingbird Smuggling

Welcome (back) to Weirdbeautiful.

Strangest story of the week is this piece about a Dutchman arrested in French Guiana whilst attempting to smuggle live hummingbirds out of South America in his underpants-->

You can read the full story in (the British tabloid newspaper) the "Daily Mail"  [here].

Many animal species have been made extinct or nearly extinct by export for the pet trade- most famously, Spix's Macaw (below), although, in the case of the macaw, several other factors also contributed to the creature's decline. The hummingbird story above, does at least have a happy ending, since the hummingbirds were captured alive.

Spix's Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) .
Picture by Joseph Smit, 1878, copyright lapsed.  
-   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -   -

Friday, 23 September 2011

Links of the Week- Siberian Tigers, Talking Gorillas and Exceeding the Speed of Light

Welcome (back) to Weirdbeautiful.

The big Science news story of the week is that scientists at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland believe that they may have broken the speed of light.If they have, indeed, succeeded in accelerating neutrinos faster than the speed of light, this essentially disproves Einstein's theory of relativity. The researchers have requested that other laboratories check and attempt to duplicate their findings-

Weird story this week is the case of an Irish coroner ruling that a 76-year old Galway man died of spontaneous human combustion-you can find the full story here-->

One of the most beautiful or heartwarming stories in recent weeks has been this piece-->
originally published in The Sunday Telegraph about a journalist's visit to Koko the Gorilla at her home in California. Koko, who was rescued by Dr Penny Paterson of The Gorilla Foundation from a zoo, has learned to communicate with her keepers using a form of sign language and has a vocabulary of around 1000 words, but can understand around twice that number. For the full story, click [here].

Finally, picture of the week is of a dog wet-nursing Siberian Tiger cubs at a zoo in China after their mother is unable to care for them-

Friday, 16 September 2011

Quote of the week- the importance of finishing things- Charles Babbage/ Lord Moulton

Welcome (back) to Weirdbeautiful.

Quote-of-the-week this week is somewhat longer than usual:-

One of the sad memories of my life is a visit to the celebrated mathematician and inventor, Mr Babbage....He took me through his work rooms.
In the first room, I saw parts of the original calculating machine, which had been shown in an incomplete state many years before...I asked him about its present form. “I have not finished it because, in working at it, I came on the idea of my Analytical Machine, which would do all that it was capable of doing and much more.”
We went into the next work-room, where he showed and explained to me the oworking of the elements of the Analytical machine...” I have never completed it”, he said, “because I hit upon an idea of doing the same thing by a different and far more effective method...”
Then we went into a thirds room...I saw no trace of any working machine. “It is not constructed yet, but I am working on it and it will take less time to construct it altogether than it would have taken to complete the analytical machine.”
I took leave of the old man with a heavy heart; when he died a few years later, not only had he constructed no machines, but....everything was too incomplete to be capable of being put to any useful purpose.
--         - Lord Moulton (John Fletcher Mouton)
-          British Mathematician,
-          (1844-1921)
Source: Inaugral Address to the Napier Tercentenary Congress, Edinburgh, 1914, printed in Napier Tercentenary Memorial Volume 1915.

This quotation comes from the “Eccentricity” exhibition which is currently on in the Museum of The History of Science in Oxford. "Eccentricity" is an appropriately eccentric exhibition, with a collection of typewriters and moveable type jostling for space with tables for microscope slides and cabinets of hand-painted projector slides. 

For details of this and other exhibitions in Oxford’s Museum of the History of Science, take a look at their website [here]. Materials from their previous exhibitions are online [here]. The Museum, which is one of the hidden gems of Oxford, also contains a blackboard used by Albert Einstein and still covered in equations written in his own hand. Admission to the museum is free.

More information on Lord Moulton is available online [hereand on Charles Babbage [here].

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Autumn in Oxford

Mid September, Oxford, England: most of the tourists have departed and the students have not yet arrived. The leaves are just starting to exchange their summer greens for warmer autumn colours and the air is just starting to feel that little bit cooler. On the river, this year's ducklings have long since grown and the cygnets are almost fully grown swans. In short, the city is pretty close to idyllic- certainly as good as it ever gets- and, above all, it is quintessentially English.
It is odd then, that some of Oxford's greatest sites at the moment are entirely foreign flowers growing in the city's ancient botanic gardens. Today's post is a photogallery of some of the weirder and/or more beautiful ones:-

Cygnets on the Thames (aka "Isis"), Oxford.

Spider web on one of the entrance gates to Oxford Botanic Gardens

Hypoestes sp. currently in flower in one of the botanic gardens' glasshouses

Flowers of Phytolacca americana , the "Pokeberry"- a weird and dramatic plant (the leaves are bright pink and green) with a weirder role in history: the American declaration of independence was signed in pokeberry juice.

Thunbergia mysorensis- a southern Indian plant with weird and beautiful hanging blooms that is currently flowering in the Botanic Gardens.

Haemanthus albiflos - a South African flowering plant blooms at the foot of a large Euphorbia Abyssinia.

Specimen of the Brazilian plant Schaureia flavicona flowering in the Botanic gardens.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Cute Baby animals and "Swifts, Swallows and Butterflies" on Quazen now

How would you describe an English summer? 
Is there a characteristic set of wild animals and plants that epitomise Britain in August? 
My attempt to answer that exact question turned into a series of articles, which I am slowly publishing online. The first of these- "Swifts Swallows and Butterflies"- (written back in August 2009) was published today by the website Quazen. You can find it here-

This summer, I have been back in North Yorkshire and the wildlife here has been quite different. The cabbage white butterflies of the quazen article have been replaced with a plethora of bumblebees across much of the (Hambleton) region this year, last winter's bitter cold has killed many common garden plants; the mild weather and light winds in April gave masses of pear blossom and now a huge crop of fruit. It is not exactly surprising but still interesting to observe just how much the flora and fauna of an area can vary from one year to the next.

Link-of-the-day today is this selection of 70 wonderful animal pictures that goes by the very appropriate title "70 Cutie Baby Animals Bring you a good mood".
Thanks to for the cute animal links.