Archive for nature

That’s No Moon…

Posted in Projects, Space with tags , , , , , , , on September 14, 2010 by badhex

(Okay actually I tell a lie, this is a moon. Couldn’t resist the title though)

Space is awesome.

Literally awesome. I’ve always be really interested since I was a kid. Not surprising I guess, given the other types of things I really love.

So, this weekend I went back up north where you can actually see stars with the naked eye, and I was having a good peer through the Celestron Astromaster 70AZ telescope we bought for my mum’s partner; As you may or may not know, Jupiter is really bright at the moment, and at 90x magnification I could even see the Northern Equitorial Belt, and the four largest so-called ‘Galilean moons’  Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto (hint: they were discovered by Galileo). I also saw – as one would expect – the moon, which was  extremely clear on the two nights I was viewing. On the second night I managed to get a few photos using my sister’s digital camera (harder than you’d think), one of which is the above, the rest are here on flickr. Pretty impressive stuff.

I also went to see my grandparents that weekend, and my Granddad being very interested in such things, I told him and showed him a few of the photos I’d taken. When I was a kid, and we stayed at my grandparent’s house, I remember frequently pestering my Granddad to get his telescope down from the loft. I used to love it, peering into the lens of this instrument, a window into the vast, black unknown in which reside planets, stars and galaxies of ages and sizes that are hard for us mere humans with our feeble 80-odd year life-spans to comprehend. I truly think experiences like this are instrumental to my love and wonder at the complexities and general awesomeness of the universe in which we live.

Anyway, so whilst talking with my Granddad, he mentioned the old telescope, and basically said he’d been trying to return it to the observatory from whence it came – as it was slightly dilapidated and he hadn’t used it in years – but if I wanted it and could house it, it was mine. I had forgotten but it’s actually better than I remember, a Charles Frank 6″ motorised Newtonian reflector.

I was overjoyed.

He told me it needs the mirror re-aluminising, but other than that, as far as he knew it was in working order. We popped out to the garage to check if the motor was still going, and sure enough it whirred up into life. Amazing. I almost immediately set about looking for places in or near London where I could get the mirror sorted, and found a couple of candidates. (Later still I found somewhere that would do it for about £40 – a very small price to pay for something so brilliant).

So, at some point, I need to convince my parents to bring it down to London for me, but in the mean time I’ve been doing some research. I couldn’t find anything about my specific model although this one is very similar. I did find however, that it’s probably about 40 or 50 years old.  I also found a book written by Charles Frank called ‘Frank’s Book Of The Telescope’, a book explaining telescope basics for newcomers – which I duly bought from Amazon Marketplace for the princely sum of one pence, plus a huge £2.75 p&p.

A quick note – before any of the more cynical astronomers among you start telling me it’s pointless trying to see stuff in London – I know what you’re about to say. However, I’m hopefully going to have this telescope for a long time, certainly longer than I’ll live where I am now. It’s an heir loom, of sorts, and has a history attached to it. Plus, I’ll be able to see some stuff – just not as much – and the further I get away from the light pollution, the more I will see, so it’s an investment for the future.

Here’s to some future stargazing. I’ll leave you with some awesome, humbling, inspiring words from Carl Sagan,  whom I consider a personal hero, and one of the greatest people who have ever lived.

Peace.

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Pulsar Is Dead; Long Live Nebula

Posted in Decapods!, Nature, neverbeengood with tags , , , , , on August 27, 2010 by badhex

I’m really sad to inform you that over the last weekend, Pulsar, the smallest of my two crabs, unfortunately died.

I’m not sure what exactly was the cause, whether it was stress from attempting to moult, crab battles or just nature winning over. I was quite upset at the time, but I guess it’s just nature. He seemed to be doing much better, but he must have given up the ghost sometime about midday. He will definitely be missed; he was my favourite, the poor little bugger.

What I will do in the future with regards to tank occupants I’m not sure, but I think I’ll have to leave it a little bit first either way.

That’s all for now.

Peace

😦

Being A Crabdad Isn’t As Easy As It Sounds & An Apology

Posted in Decapods!, Nature with tags , , , , , , on August 13, 2010 by badhex

I have to admit, I’ve been a little bit lame with new posts recently. I apologise, but I have been busy! We’re still friends, right? Good. Secondly, I have to assure you that despite this post being about Crabs again, my blog is going to have other things on it too! I promise. I’ve got a couple of gaming related posts to come, and a certain person has promised me a gaming laptop to review – so I really hope that comes through.

Well anyway, after a couple of nail-biting weeks of thrill and suspense, things have started to settle down a bit at Crabby HQ. If you have not read my other recent crustacean related posts then you might be a bit nonplussed, so go read ’em!

Since my last update I’ve most definitely been educated, and it’s been distressing, to tell you the truth. As you know, I was told to leave my new tank to mature for between 2-4 weeks, by several sources. Turns out that was cobblers. As were a lot of other things I have been told. It also turns out, you can’t even trust half of the LFS (Local Fish Stores. See? I’m getting the lingo!), which I guess is understandable (but still not good) given that they just want to sell you stuff. So the internet is full of lies, and supposed experts are full of lies, so what’s a boy to do? Well, get on some good forums (like Fishkeeping.co.uk and Practical Fishkeeping), and find expensive (but knowledgable) LFS, is what.

Basically, after getting them, I noticed a sharp raise in Nitrites (NO2) and Nitrates (NO3), whereas before getting them it was very low level. For those not familiar with the aquarium nitrogen cycle, this is bad. So, I hoped this would be maybe just a little spike, but I turned out not to be so lucky. After consulting said forums and knowledgable LFS, it appeared that my tank had not cycled properly, which means the water quality wasn’t good for my little beclawed friends. In fact, many people have said that keeping aquariums is not about keeping animals themselves, it’s about balancing water chemistry. So having already given them a home, the only option was to wait for the tank to complete its cycle while they were actually in there, doing partial water changes every day, continuing to test and treat the water, and keeping it as clean as possible.

I felt really bad. Some people probably can’t understand this, and might think “Well, they’re only crabs” – but it’s just not the way my head works. I’ve become attached to them both very quickly, they are absolutely fascinating and I have found myself just gazing into the tank for ages, watching them going about their crabby business. I genuinely wish that it were possible to communicate with them.

So during the worry of all of this, I encountered another issue.

Fighting.

I’ve determined recently that they are both male – which does make my writing easier – but has issues of its own. Pulsar, the one with the missing leg, looks at first glance only slightly smaller than Nebula – but that is from a human’s perspective. I really did try to get two that were about the same size, but relatively speaking, the difference is probably more akin to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito. So, inevitably Nebula bullies Pulsar to the point of  having lopped off two more of his legs – a fact I’m not too happy about. Nature is indeed a harsh mistress. The two legs Nebula has taken off are also on the same side as Pulsar has one missing already, so now he’s down to only one leg and a claw on that side. I stayed over at Clare’s for a day, and I honestly was half expecting to come back and find Pulsar belly up with no limbs left, but in this matter (so far at least),  I have been pleasantly proven wrong. In fact, when I got back,  for a crab with 30% of his limbs missing he was doing a remarkably good impression of an acrobat, hanging upside down on the piece of wood I have in there. He also likes chilling in the pretend plant,  opening up his tail flap on the underside of his abdomen. I’m not entirely sure what this behaviour is, but for now I’m just assuming that it’s the crabby equivalent of getting your balls out.

Well, fast forward to last Saturday, and I got my first completely clear reading in terms of NO2 and NO3 in the tank, which was obviously great news. After some rearranging of the tank, there are plenty of places to hide, and it looks a little like Pulsar has learnt to keep away from his bullying big brother. With a bit of luck, Pulsar will get his legs back over time when he moults, a process which is as disgusting as it is amazing.

Right, enough from me. I’ve added more photos to the Crabbage! flickr set, and there are more to come. As usual I can be found ranting away on twitter.

Peace out, crablings.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, I arrived home to find that Nebula has moulted! Now he’s even bigger than he was before! Let’s hope Pulsar catches up soon. Photos in the flickr set.

March of the Crabs!

Posted in Decapods!, Nature, Space with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2010 by badhex

Well, it’s finally happened. I’ve got crabs.

‘Ho ho ho,’ I hear you cry, ‘ever the comedian’. No, not the nasty little ones associated with nefarious ladies of the night of course, but two little Red Claw Crabs,  as previously mentioned. I was originally going to get just the one and name it Nebula, but I didn’t want him/her to be lonely so I got another, called it Pulsar.

I haven’t found out their sex yet, I need to see their underbelly but they’ve not really sat in the right place yet. I really need to find out soon thought because typing him/her every time is a pain the arse, frankly.

Anyhoo, meet Nebula:

I don’t currently have any pictures of Pulsar that I can upload, the crafty little bugger ran off and hid for the whole time I was taking photos.  I think they were a bit stressed from the move, but then they both seemed to liven up a bit after a couple of hours in their new home. Pulsar is a little smaller than Nebula and I didn’t realise till I’d gotten home, but he/she’s missing a back leg – hopefully it’ll grow it back after a couple of molts.

They relished the half a frozen mussel I gave them to munch, tearing it to bits with great gusto. I can’t wait to feed them tonight. There’s also a dry food the shop recommended called Crab Cuisine, but Clare and I keep wanting to call it Crab Crunch, the tasty new cereal for Crabs™. Let’s see how that goes down.

Anyway, there will be more crazy crustacean antics I’m sure, so I’ll keep you updated – and you can also follow me on twitter. I’ve posted a new set on flickr which has about ten photos in so far, and here for your delectation and delight is a video of Nebula eating. I defy you to think he’s not cute!

Laters.

Crustacea Update; Space Is Cool

Posted in Decapods!, Nature, Space with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 22, 2010 by badhex

Well, shit.

It looks like I can’t have a crayfish after all. Fear ye not, my blog-reading friends, for I am resolved in my decapod devoted deeds. There will be exoskeletal life in this tank yet!

I’m getting a crab, and I’m gonna call it Nebula.

I’ve done my research, as you would expect, and with pretty minor adjustments to my tank (i.e. making it of a tropical temperature, brackish and semi aquatic) I can get  (ironically) a Red Claw Crab, Pseudosesarma moeshi, AKA Perisesarma bidens.

Turns out these crafty little buggers are just about the right size for my tank, and by most people’s estimations make great pets, albeit great escapologists. Not only that, I can procure one from the pet shop round the corner from me. I’m also looking into the possibility of some little shrimp of some description – being detrivores they’re very good as an aquatic cleaning crew.  That in mind, surely I’ve got to call them Stoppit and Tidyup?!

So my spoiling for the shelled ones will soon be realised. I’m mega excited! Hopefully I’ll get him/her this Saturday, I do need  to get one or two more bits before I do but in general I’m pretty much set.

For those of you who don’t understand the relevance of the name (and all you astronomy lovers), here’s a few factoids:

  1. The Crab Nebula is a nebula formed from the supernova SN 1054 which occurred, surprisingly, in the year 1054 and was named for its crab-like appearance.
  2. The supernova event was seen from earth and recorded by Chinese, Japanese, Native American, and Persian/Arab astronomers. It is believed that the Anasazi recorded the event in a cliff painting called Supernova Platograph
  3. At the heart of the Crab Nebula lies the Crab Pulsar, a neutron star around 12 miles in diameter which rotates about 30.2 times a second. It’s also very pretty.
  4. The Crab nebula is often used to calibrate X-Ray astronomy detectors – as a result, ‘crab’ and ‘millicrab’ are sometimes used as units of flux density. I don’t know what flux density is, but wikipedia gives me the awesome, awesome news that “very few X-ray sources ever exceed one crab in brightness“.

Anyway – enough rambling from me. You’ll no doubt see some photos soon enough!

Peace.

Aquatic Goodness: Pet Crayfish T-Minus…

Posted in Decapods!, Nature with tags , , , , , on July 12, 2010 by badhex

Well, as it appears topical at the moment and my last aquatic post did so well (my blog got over 4,000  hits for the 24 hours it was featured on freshly pressed – thanks guys!) I thought I’d carry on in the same vein.

As I mentioned before, I’d really like to get a pet Octopus but from the research I have done, it seems like a lot of hard work, expense and messing about – not to mention the short life span of small Octopodes. So, instead, I have opted for my second most wanted aquatic pet: a Crayfish.

There is of course the first question to get out of the way: Why a crayfish? Most people think I’m a little weird for this. I’m fascinated by underwater life, and nature in general; throughout my entire life, David Attenborough has been the golden-voiced guide in my quest for knowledge of the natural world. I will probably never meet him, which saddens me somewhat, but I will always remember what he has taught me. Endless evenings and lazy Sundays have been whiled away in front of my 50″ television, basking in the glory of expertly delivered facts.

Forgive me, I digress. So insects and crustaceans have, to me, always been nature’s robots – another subject for which I have an extreme fascination – but I had not ever really considered having one as a pet, until the arrival of Colin McCrayfish. Colin deserves a post of his very own, but that’s another story for another day. Rest assured however, I learnt a lot on the subject of keeping Crayfish as pets.

Basically in the UK, there’s only one type we can keep, aside from our native ones, and that is the Red Claw Crayfish, Cherax quadricarinatus, pictured above.

As you can see, they are pretty little buggers.

I’ve started the setup for my tank as it needs to have matured for 2-4 weeks before it will be ready. Here’s a few pictures of it before and during setup:

I hope he/she will like it. I may have to reorganise as and when he or she turns up, depending on how suitable the current setup turns out. Trial and error, I guess. The tank maturing process is quite interesting; I’ve added the ‘good’ bacteria, and definitely seen a bacteria bloom in the last few days. Apparently, that’s all the good bacteria and the bad bacteria having a fight. I wish I could see this epic biological battle! Despite the fact that my vision isn’t microscopic, I can’t help but keep peering in!

So, aside from checking the pH, Ammonia and Nitrate levels and some other bits, I just have to wait – then I can order my Red Claw. I’m going to keep checking over the next few weeks, but provided nothing disastrous happens, I’m plumping for 3 weeks. I’ll keep you updated, and I’m sure to be banging on about it on twitter.

I suppose that gives me plenty of time to think of a name… suggestions on a postcard! (or comment box)

Meanwhile, have a look at a young Red Claw:

Ten Things I Love About Octopodes

Posted in General Chang, Nature with tags , , , , , , on July 8, 2010 by badhex

Well, I was going to write a post called ‘Ten Things I Hate About Entourage’ but then I stumbled across a story about an Octopus named Otto, so what with Octopodes being one of my favourite creatures on the planet, I decided to write this article instead. Before I get to the ten facts, I should tell you the story of Otto.

Otto lives in the Sea Star Aquarium in Coberg, Germany, where one day a mysterious thing started to happen. Staff were dismayed to find that the power to the aquarium was blacking out, stopping all the pumps for the tanks and threatening the very life within said tanks. They were obviously worried about these odd occurrences, and so they took turns sleeping in the aquarium.

Eventually they found the source of the problem.

Otto, the 2 foot 7 inch Octopus, apparently annoyed by a 2000w overhead light had discovered that he could swing himself up onto the side of his tank and bullseye the light with a carefully aimed water jet, extinguishing it and causing the aquarium-wide power outages at the same time.

The crafty little Cephalopod is already known for his mischievous nature, periodically rearranging his tank, throwing stones at the glass and damaging it, and – my favourite – juggling hermit crabs.

What an absolute legend! Stories like this are why I adore my aquatic friends. Anyway, as promised, my ten things, in no particular order:

  1. Octopus arms are commonly referred to as tentacles, although this is not strictly speaking true. The Octopus arm is a muscular hydrostat, much like the tongue of a human.
  2. Over half of their nervous system is in their arms – A severed Octopus arm will still pick up food and push it towards where the mouth used to be.
  3. Although they can use any arm for any job, researchers have found that they have a favourite arm or two, which they will often use in preference.
  4. As of 2009, they are the only invertebrate to have been observed using tools – a trait once only thought to be human.
  5. Not only can they use tools, but have both a short-term and long-term memory, excellent cognitive and problem solving skills – and there are many examples of this behaviour. Opening jars, playing with toys, escaping tanks to eat stuff, and as mentioned above, shooting at lights are all documented Octo-acts.
  6. They are masters of disguise and camouflage, to the point of becoming effectively invisible. They apparently also change colour according to mood. Red means happy.
  7. Most species of Octopus have no bones or shell whatsoever, the only hard part of their body being a beak. this means that they can squeeze through tiny gaps many times smaller than themselves.
  8. The Octopus’s Garden, while it sounds jolly, is actually a collection of bones, shells and spines outside the entrance to the Octopus’s den, the discarded remains of its many meals.
  9. The female Octopus in some species can have a couple of hundred thousand eggs, which it will gather in its arms, and hide in its den, attaching in strings to the roof. It will care for them for about a month, blowing streams of water over them for oxygen, until they hatch.
  10. During the egg-caring period, the mother Octopus will not hunt, instead sometimes choosing to eat a couple of her own arms if she gets peckish. Eventually when they hatch, she will not be strong enough to defend herself, and will shuffle off somewhere to either die or get eaten.

So there you have it. Octopodes are fully awesome. I’ve included a cool video below, plus a couple of other Octopus-related link for your delectation. Something I should point out, by the way: Octopi, Octopodes and Octopuses are all current, allowable plural terms. I prefer the term Octopodes.

Advanced Aquarist – Housing An Octopus

Octopus basics – Keeping an Octopus as a pet

Wikipedia entry

On a final note, I guess everyone who is paying any attention to the world cup will also be aware that “Paul the Psychic Octopus” correctly predicted all of Germany’s outcomes in this world cup, including their defeat by Spain last night.

For the record I think a psychic Octopus is about as likely as a psychic human, dog or blade of grass.

UPDATE: I’ve had lots of positive comments about this post, thanks so much for all your kind words and link backs! I’m really glad everyone enjoyed my article! I’m @badhex on twitter if you want to follow me.

I’ll leave you with one more bonus fact: Octopodes have not one, not two, but THREE hearts. That’s enough love for anyone!

😉