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ggreig: (Western gentleman)

God help us! The Iguanodon's loose!

A tranquil street scene – just before the populace become aware that an Iguanodon has escaped from the Zoological Gardens.

There’s a Highland company called Antediluvian Miniatures that have started producing proper miniatures of dinosaurs, taking into account the very latest scientific thinking – of the 1850s. As yet their range is small, but includes the two most iconic early representations of dinosaurs: the Crystal Palace Iguanodon and Megalosaurus! (Also, not included in this post, but I have to mention them – three intrepid adventurer figures including Shug McClure, Raquel Scotch and the finest of all: Professor Peter Cushion, adjusting his monocle and preparing to fend SOMETHING off with a furled umbrella.)

I should also mention that Antediluvian Miniatures have a very cool t-shirt, featuring their mascot Professor Buckland.

The real Crystal Palace IguanodonsThere’s a good chance you’re aware of the Crystal Palace dinosaurs, if not, then Wikipedia and other places are your friend.

The Iguanodon figure isn’t a perfect replica of either of the ones at Crystal Palace, but it’s more like the one standing upright.

The Crystal Palace dinosaurs are often given as an example of how scientists of an older generation got things hilariously wrong, especially the Iguanodon with the horn on its nose (now known to have been a thumb-spike), but the Iguanodons actually show a greater humility from Sir Richard Owen than our caricature allows. The two Iguanodons are different, with the one that Antediluvian have taken as their inspiration standing upright, while the other one is more lizard-like, and lounges on the ground with one paw up on a tree-trunk. There was doubt even at the time that these reconstructions were correct – they were just the latest theory.

When painting these two I tried to get something in between the look of the statues and something that could be a real beast, so the Iguanodon is a bit more vibrant than one of my paint jobs would usually be, making the faded shade of the statue look more lively. That’s the current colour of the statue, of course, as that's what I could find in photos; the colour they’re painted has changed over time as well as our theories of what the beasts were actually like.

Iguanodon wandering the Zoological Gardens

I defy you to spot the joins – both the Iguanodon and the Megalosaurus come with separate legs. I did apply a bit of Milliput as filler, but the fit of the moulded parts was really good, to a level that I know must be difficult for figure designers to achieve, judging by the frequency with which they don’t attain it. I was really impressed with these models. The Iguanodon is resin with metal legs, while the Megalosaurus is all resin.

Iguanodon figure inspired by Crystal Palace - right sideIguanodon figure inspired by Crystal Palace - left side

Rather annoyingly, there’s a mould-line that shows up in these photos of the Megalosaurus that’s actually hard to pick up with the naked eye under most conditions. The light in these photos hit it just right – or wrong. It’s also intended to look like a potentially living version of the real statue. The Megalosaurus also comes with scale replicas of the original fossils (not included in these pictures, and not yet painted, though I have some other scale fossils for them to go with).

Megalosaurus figure inspired by Crystal Palace - right sideMegalosaurus figure inspired by Crystal Palace - left side

ggreig: (Bah Humbug)

Walking With Dinosaurs movie poster

I went to see this today, because Walking With Dinosaurs. It is both good and awful.

The awful comes first, because it really is important that you know about it before considering watching this movie (I did and took my chances).

Like many wildlife films, Walking With Dinosaurs sets up some of the animals as characters to follow through the movie. The awful bit is, it gives them voices. Actually no, the really awful bit is that the script for those voices is straight out of a bad Saturday morning cartoon. There are two American kid brothers growing up (pachyrhinosaurs). One is stronger but a bit less bright than the other – the underdog’s the hero of course – and there’s a girl pachyrhinosaurus who becomes a love interest. Then there’s a wise-cracking Mexican bird (John Leguizamo – perhaps he’s fed up with being a sloth). There’s no attempt to lip-synch the dialogue – although actually this might be a good point, as I’ll explain below – so there’s a further alienating disconnect between what you’re seeing on screen and what you’re hearing.

Maybe all this will draw in a big junior audience; but I wouldn’t bet on it. I’ve been to some fairly sparsely attended cinema showings, but I don’t think I’ve ever had Cinema 1 at the NPH to myself before (at least the circle – I can’t swear to the stalls being empty but it was awfully quiet). On a Saturday evening just before Christmas. Maybe it clashed with a lot of Christmas parties?

Someone else's picture of the interior of the NPH, taken from the circle. There were fewer people there tonight than there are in this photo.

So what are the good bits? The visuals, as you would expect from the Walking With Dinosaurs brand, are really good. Without the physical models that distinguished the earliest Walking With Dinosaurs output, you’re often aware you’re watching CGI, but it’s still pretty good. There are a few places where it’s played for laughs visually, but these are generally not too intrusive. The most gratuitous example is our hero suffering a terrible indignity under the tail of a much larger adult. Other examples are along the lines of dinosaurs slipping on ice and aren’t too overstated. I rather suspect the facial expressions are a bit anthropomorphised, but again it doesn’t seem too heavy-handed.

Given what I said above about the awful script for this movie, it may come as a surprise that I think it actually tells a powerful and effective story. Visually, considering they’re clearly targeting a young audience and have complete control over what happens, few punches are pulled. While it’s not totally nature red in tooth and claw, animals die in this movie when they’re attacked by carnivores, including some we care about. The terrible dialogue detracts from the impact of the scenes, which is perhaps to some extent what it’s supposed to do.

This could actually be a good and quite moving movie, if it had a completely different soundtrack. If you’re an adult, wait until it’s available cheap on DVD, and play it on mute. The lack of lip-synch will help here, as it's not obvious the animals are talking. It would be great if someone could create an alternative score to accompany it.

In the category of “noteworthy, but why?” bits:

  1. The story’s book-ended by scenes with some kids and a palaeontologist played by Karl Urban (Éomer in LOTR, Judge Dredd, and Dr. McCoy in the rebooted Star Trek). He’s totally wasted in this role and I don’t know why they spent money on getting a decent actor for a few insignificant scenes when they don’t even use him in any way to promote the film.
  2. A herd of migrating Edmontosaurus are accompanied by Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. Er? OK, it’s a nice track and I guess it’s for the rhythm, but the first thing it made me think was, ah, these must be Iguanodon (because of the thumb spike).
  3. New dinosaurs were introduced by a brief freeze and text labelling as to what they were. Perfectly fine in a documentary, weird in a film. Given it probably did have to be there, I think I would rather have had more information.
  4. The 3D is nice but not compelling most of the time; they succumb to gimmickry at one particular point that was effective enough to make me jump, but it’s not part of the main body of the movie. I feel as though I should be a bit offended by that, but ho-hum. Other stuff offended me more – see above!
ggreig: (Default)

During the week, I also walked along this short stretch of the Fife Coastal Walk, the last part in the East Neuk that I hadn’t been along.

Being fairly short, there’s not a huge amount to report, but I had been looking forward to it because it’s this stretch that contains the St. Monans windmill and salt pans. I’d seen the windmill from a distance, but wasn’t sure what to expect of salt pans.

Looking towards the windmill from St. Monans - Pittenweem in the background

It seems it’s possible to inspect the interior of the windmill, but you have to either turn up between 12:00 and 16:00 in July or August, or borrow keys from the Post Office or Spar in St. Monans. I didn’t pass either of these on my way through St. Monans so perhaps there’ll have to be a return visit some day. The windmill isn’t operational, and has skeleton sails in place.

On getting closer, it turns out that the salt pans are immediately below the windmill. There’s not much to see. Most look like this:

Ruin of a panhouse at St. Monans salt pans

That’s the ruin of a panhouse, of which there were once nine. Out beyond it, you can just make out a couple of holding tanks cut into the rock of the shore. The salt water was pumped up from the holding tank, probably using wind power from the windmill, then distributed to the panhouses by pipes or a cart. There’s one ruin that’s uncovered, so you can get a better impression of what’s there, with aid of a helpful diagram (click through for larger version).

Uncovered ruin of a panhouseDiagram of a panhouse

From there a pleasant but fairly undistinguished walk took me past a shag drying its wings with the Bass Rock in the background…

Shag drying its wings with Bass Rock in background

… to Pittenweem.


I’ve been to Pittenweem before, so I didn’t revisit St. Fillan’s Cave…

St. Fillan's Cave, Pittenweem

…but I did make the obligatory visit to the The Cocoa Tree Café. The Cocoa Tree is a serious chocolate shop that also sells some other food, and if nothing else you should try their hot chocolate. You don’t even need to visit Pittenweem to do it; they have a stall at the monthly Farmers Markets in St. Andrews and Cupar where they serve Milk Hot Chocolate, White Hot Chocolate and their speciality, Caliente.

Caliente is their chilli hot chocolate, and it is to other hot chocolates as espresso is to other coffees. It’s thick and smooth and intense, and just hot enough, and yes, it’s served in espresso-size cups.

If you despair of visiting Pittenweem or the farmers markets in person to have Caliente prepared properly by the Cocoa Tree, you can order a sachet of four servings of Caliente powder online. There are instructions (which should be followed), and the recommended approach is to make up the whole batch at once, and keep unused servings in the fridge for reheating.

Clockwise from top: Cerise (whole cherry in Kirsch), Wasabi, Prickly Pear, Tequila & Chilli

ggreig: (Default)

I’ve been on holiday this week, and it’s been a chance to tinker with stuff that I struggle to make time for at the weekends. One of those things is a peg sculpture of a Neanderthal head (pegs à la forensic reconstruction, that is). I found it being remaindered in a toy shop last year when I was looking for a present for my godson.  I figured it was a bit old for him, but something that I would love to play with… (He did get something else, don’t worry!)

I had a choice between this and a gorilla, and according to the advertising material inside there were also a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Julius Caesar and a horse in the range, but I think this is the one I would have chosen anyway – the T-Rex obviously wouldn’t have been 1:1 scale, and a Neanderthal beats old Julius for interest any day.

There were some reasonably detailed instructions inside the kit for reconstructing the Neanderthal’s face, but one vital piece of information was missing – what is this stuff you’ve given me to build the face with, and is it going to set? It was referred to in some places as “clay”, and on the packets as “modelling material”, and it looked a lot like Plasticine.

Without a very definite idea of how the “modelling material” was going to behave, I wanted to have enough slack available to be able to just keep going if time proved to be an issue, so it became top of the list of things to do this week.

Here’s what I started off with; a skull (cream) with some moulded muscle (yellow) and fat (white) on top. Not quite sure why the fat was there, as ultimately it didn’t contribute much to the shape of the face, but I guess I was being informed as well as entertained:

The moulded skull, with muscle and fat attached.

The first thing to do was to cut the red pegs off their sprue and insert them into their matching numbered holes.

Moulded skull with depth pegs now attached

Then the first of the “modelling material” was applied, to bulk up the cheeks. The “modelling material” turned out to behave awfully like Plasticine, as well as looking like it, and I think from now on we’ll assume that that’s what it is. Here the aim was to build the cheeks up until only the small pips on the end of each peg were still visible – the little dots you can see in the picture. I moved to paper towels here as I realised the newsprint was leaving marks on the back of the skull:

Building up depth in the cheek

Next, apply eyes and former for nose, and suffer accusing glare. Eyes and nose were cast in white plastic, with water-slide transfers for iris and pupils:

Nose former and eyes applied

Roll out a sheet of Plasticine to 3mm (roller and depth-graded tray provided) and apply from brow to back of skull:

Skin attached over top of head

Do likewise with a couple more sheets to cover the sides of the skull:

Skin attached to sides of head

Then apply another sheet from the bridge of the nose down to the chin, and form tightly around the mouth and nose:

Neanderthal 021

Apply another sheet from just below each eye down to under the jaw line. This builds up the cheek, and gives it a nice smooth surface, unlike the slightly rough surface built up by hand before:

Skin applied over mouth and nose

Apply eyelids. Ned now looks bored rather than accusatory. This stage was a bit tricky, and the waterslide transfers suffered a bit here, although not enough to be a disaster:

Eyelids applied

Build up the nostrils (compare with previous picture):

Nostrils built up

Form the lips and filtrum (groove beneath the nose):

Mouth built up

Build ears around white plastic formers, remove the place-holder pegs that have been in their place up until now, and stick on head. The ears I made are pretty rubbish and I have a whole newfound respect for anyone who can get ears right, whether drawn or sculpted. The ear doesn’t look too bad in this photo, but I could easily have picked a less flattering angle:

Ears applied

Add final detail to the face; lines around mouth and nose and under the eyes, and dots for pores/bristles. Apparently there was a hair pack for the Neanderthal sold separately, but I couldn’t locate one to buy and decided to go ahead without it. Having found a picture online, I think perhaps I wasn’t missing much:

Final detailing; lines and pores

I lent him my glasses for this picture, to counter Neanderthals’ image of being lacking in intellect. This Neanderthal looks down his nose at me because I neither know nor care what the semiotic thickness of a performed text is.

"Tell me, what do you think of the assertion that the semiotic thickness of a performed text varies according to the redundancy of auxiliary performance codes?" 

So now I have a creepy Neanderthal head to keep about the house and gather dust. Every home should have one! It’s a shame that it does appear to be Plasticine and therefore not as permanent as it might be; so at some point in the future I suspect it will be reduced to its component parts and/or discarded. However, for now, it’s kind of satisfying to have the result of a (very long!) day’s work to look back on.

ggreig: (Default)

Red Squirrel at a bird feeder

ggreig: (Ribart's Elephant)

The Bell Pettigrew Museum of Natural History, which I visited and reviewed a few years ago, will be open on Saturday and is well worth a visit. Forward notice courtesy of Event: St Andrews, which is collated on a voluntary basis by [livejournal.com profile] flybynightpress (and which has an RSS feed).

ggreig: (Default)

Ever since Windows 7 came out, I’ve fancied putting together a Windows theme, and a couple of recent blog articles finally prodded me into action.

The obvious choice was the more exotic locations that I’ve got photos of, so I set out to create a California theme and went back and reviewed all my photos looking for scenes that could be turned into a package of decent wallpapers. After a bit of selection, cropping and culling, I came up with 24 that I put together.

It took the best part of three evenings to work through everything, but I was quite happy with the result. I don’t feel the need to do another one straight away, but it would be nice to have one that’s closer to home, so look out for a possible Scotland or even St. Andrews theme in the future.

Download in whichever format’s more useful to you:

Moon at Sunset, Joshua TreeColour coordinated carSunrise on Ventura Boulevard, Woodland HillsJumbo Rocks Campground, Joshua TreeFallen HackberriesLocomotive cab, California State Railroad Museum, SacramentoSnowy Plover, Monterey Bay AquariumPrickly PearCalifornia Sister Butterfly (Adelpha Californica)Wah Hop Store, ColomaFloss Silk Tree, Costa MesaAnemones, Monterey Bay AquariumRock Fish in the Kelp Forest, Monterey Bay AquariumAmerican Mastodon, La Brea Tar PitsMall Sign, SolvangMining Cart, ColomaChipmunkPacific WavesPalm trunk, TustinWorkin' on the Railroad, California State Railroad Museum, SacramentoOutdoor pool, Hearst CastleCalifornia Ground SquirrelRedwood Glade, Humboldt Redwoods State ParkWedding Rock, Patrick's Point
ggreig: (Penguin tank)

Heroic journalism by the bravely desk-bound Deputy Editor of the Telegraph has exposed a fiendish Oriental plot to violate the blessed sanctity of the United Kingdom. Deadly guided pandas are to be dispatched to the rebel base of Corstorphine on the planet Edinburgh, from where the evil duly-elected leader of the Scotch peasant army, Alex Salmond, will be able to deploy them at will on a wicked charm offensive. It’s believed that the weapons of cuddly disruption could be deployed against English tourists within 45 seconds. Oi, China! It’s a black and white issue; don’t panda to these separatists!

A photograph of a Panda A photograph of Alex Salmond

Alex Salmond

A Panda

Also uncovered in the same story, it appears you can buy Wales cheap, if you fancy it; Benedict Brogan doesn’t.

What an idiot.

ggreig: (Default)
A Sequoia and Me

Me and a RedwoodWell, who knew that they weren’t the same? Not me, but once you see them in person they’re not alike at all; apart from both being mahoosive!

Redwoods grow along the northern half of the coast of California; they’re fairly numerous and commercially harvested. They are home to small tree villages of Ewoks, although if I’m completely honest I have to admit I never actually saw any of those. Redwoods are tall and thin, although thin is relative when you grow that tall; they can still be over 20 feet across at the base of the trunk. Compare that with a 10' x 10' room, and you’ll see that if you find the right tree and you’re careful about it, you could fit the room inside the tree.

Sequoias are protected. They’re much less common, and are quite picky about the environment they grow in, preferring a fairly narrow band of altitudes in the mountains – between 5,000 and 7,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada. A couple of thousand feet may sound like a lot, but maybe not when you consider the trees themselves can grow to over 300 feet tall. They don’t grow quite as tall as the redwoods do - there’s about 50 feet in it - but they’re a lot bigger in the more general sense of the word, because they don’t get much thinner as they get taller. For all their size, they look pretty stocky.

[livejournal.com profile] msinvisfem's master-plan for the first part of my recent visit to California was to see big trees, since they were the most obvious Californian icon I’d not seen on previous trips. The day after arriving, [livejournal.com profile] msinvisfem, her Mum and I set off to travel north. More about other aspects of the trip another time, as I've decided to do themed posts this time rather than a travelogue, but here’s the overview of the route: from Anaheim we went up the Coastal Highway past Monterey (which I visited last time I was in the States) and San Francisco, then the Redwood Highway as far as Patrick's Point. After that we cut inland towards Redding, then south through Sacramento and Fresno, before heading further inland to Sequoia National Park. The final haul was back down to Anaheim, arriving eight days after we'd set out.

The trees are interesting enough in themselves, but there’s a human history to some of them too, particularly the larger sequoias. A fallen sequoia may be big enough to live in, if you don’t need a lot in the way of space. Tharp’s Log (interior below) was inhabited every summer from 1861 to 1890 by Hale Tharp, the first non-Native American to enter Giant Forest. Sequoias are very slow to decay, so trunks that fell over 100 years ago can still be in a good state today. Tharp’s Log was hollowed out by fire.

The age of the living trees is impressive too. They’re not the world’s oldest, but a sequoia cut down in 1893 for the Chicago World’s Fair comes 8th or 9th in the top ten (3200 years old, by ring count), and many are between 2000 and 3000 years old.

Interior of Tharp's Log, a cabin made of a single hollow sequoia trunkRoots of a fallen redwood

And yes, we drove through a tree:

ggreig: (Astronaut)

While I was in California recently, I visited Monterey Bay Aquarium. I’m not sure that there’s an awful lot to say about the aquarium itself – you know what an aquarium is, right? – apart from a couple of quite interesting nerdy facts. The money to set up and run the aquarium was largely supplied by David and Lucille Packard, also of Hewlett-Packard-founding fame; and although it’s here that they filmed the aquarium bits for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, there have never been any whales here. The tanks aren’t big enough, for a start, as is obvious when you visit.

I tried taking photos, but as very few of the beasties were willing to cooperate in behaving predictably for the camera – especially the otters – it quickly became obvious that video was the only way I was going to get anything half-decent; so here’s my inaugural YouTube video for your delectation. It’s available in resolutions up to 1080p (full HD).

Camera shake is all my fault, as is jerky zooming. Video quality is not great when the lighting is low, though it improves noticeably when the lighting is good; it's a stills camera that does video, not a dedicated video camera. I'm quite pleased with how it copes. If the video is at all sticky I blame Windows Live Movie Maker. I found it quite nice on the whole for editing my first video, but it is a bit buggy. The most noticeable flaw to you may be some slight stickiness on scene changes; the most noticeable flaw to me is that you’re not seeing all the scenes I wanted you to. When you select a clip from the middle of a longer video, Movie Maker sometimes seems to randomly start playing from the start of the video file, rather than the start of the clip. Needless to say, this is very annoying, but as I wasn’t able to figure out why it was picking particular clips to do this on, I eventually settled for the output you see above, which contains a very low number of unwanted substitutions that don’t affect my vision too badly.

Camera shake in particular is something I might have done better on. I had in my backpack a commercially produced version of The Poor Man’s Steadicam, which I chose not to use. This was mostly due to embarrassment (it’s taken me ages to get used to just using a camera when there are people around), but shhh! That’s just between us. I intend to claim it was really an altruistic move, to avoid clouting small kids around the head with the weight on the end.

ggreig: (Blockhead)

Today’s festive photo, taken about an hour and a half ago:

Robin )


Sep. 28th, 2009 12:47 pm
ggreig: (Vacant Podling)

The cougar that’s been sighted on the Microsoft campus has a Twitter account: @microsoftcougar. Not worth following, but amusing for a quick look.

ggreig: (Blockhead)

Taken this morning at the bus stop:

Baby swallows )

La Brea

May. 25th, 2009 11:02 pm
ggreig: (Simpsons)

Having failed to visit the creationist dinosaur museum at Cabazon, it was time to come a bit more up to date in a couple of ways; by visiting a more reputable scientific establishment, to see more recently extinct beasties.

Into the pit )
ggreig: (Simpsons)

Our second tourist trip in California was a bit less clichéd than Disneyland: the place where the Mojave Desert and Colorado Desert meet, in Joshua Tree National Park.

Long, and photo-heavy )
ggreig: (Chair)

I’ve just returned from setting up Mum’s new broadband connection, having agreed that dial-up is no longer the way.

I got the connection up and running within an hour on Friday (there were some networking issues to sort out, so it wasn’t a completely straightforward five minute job), then spent much of the rest of the weekend bringing software up to date. A four-hour power cut due to high winds actually meant I was a bit pushed for time, but I got all the important stuff done and had no major disasters.

I’ve left new shortcuts on the desktop for Remote Assistance and The Archers “Listen Again”.

Yeah, yeah. What about the rain forest? )
ggreig: (Sister)
It's that time of year again, and the office oystercatchers have returned. For the last three or four years, a pair have been coming to raise their offspring in our car park. They seem to think that the gravel verge outside the meeting room at the back of the building, a good mile or so from the tidal River Tay, is a good stand-in for a stony beach. They are not popular with the car dealership that operates in the other half of the building, as they tend to depreciate the cars a bit - clawmarks, and other hazards of having birds around - but we like them.

Follow the bird-seed... )
ggreig: (South Park)
A strange fruit has appeared in the supermarket over the last couple of weeks. Fortunately, despite the recent foolishness in Big Brother, it is not the sort that Billie Holiday sang about.

So what is it then? )
ggreig: (Sister)
I got a phone call from my sister on Thursday to let me know she'd be in Anstruther with the reindeer for their Christmas procession on Friday (about twenty minutes away on the bus), so [livejournal.com profile] msinvisfem and I went along to say hello. We got there a bit early, so strolled along the harbour front in the dark and the cold, admiring the fairground stalls and checking out places to get warm again and have something to eat.

The procession turned up in due course, and we tagged along behind the reindeer and Santa in his sleigh, until they were safely ensconsced in the grotto and my sister came out to let us in.

It turned out that the most convenient place to keep us out of the way of the kiddies visiting Santa was in the pen with the reindeer, so we stayed there chatting until Santa had finished doling out presents and it was time for the reindeer-wranglers to pack up again and go. It was nice to get so close to the beasts, though a bit disconcerting for a big wimp like me when they sweep their antlers around a foot or less away.

[livejournal.com profile] msinvisfem got to feed lichen to the reindeer, and managed to remember all their names, which is more than I can do. Afterwards, considering the size of the place, Anstruther did better at providing vegan food for [livejournal.com profile] msinvisfem than I had feared would be the case, though I think she still found it a little disappointing, and I had garlic mushrooms followed by a sea-bass, which was quite satisfactory.

Reindeer photos )
ggreig: (Saint George)

A Victorian Natural History Collection

Sep 15, 2006 by
photo Gavin T.D. Greig
The Bell Pettigrew Museum of Natural History


Today I visited the Bell Pettigrew Museum of Natural History for the first time, and jolly interesting it was too.

Dissection... )


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