The ants are coming

Today, Susan saw our first ant in a while, a sure sign that spring is coming, even if the snow hasn’t heard the news yet.

Then, I saw the New Scientist article, 3D-printed bionic ants team up to get the job done. Festo, the company featured in the article was perhaps thinking that there aren’t enough ants in the world. They probably know that it was once claimed that ants collectively weighed as much as all the humans. However, while that was possibly true in the past, human size has expanded both collectively and individually, putting us well in the mass lead.


Perhaps to remedy that situation, Festo is creating artificial ants about the size of a human hand. They make individual decisions that result in cooperation to achieve a common goal, which they couldn’t accomplish alone. Using a GoPro-like head-mounted camera and floor sensors, they develop a sense of their surroundings, then communicate using a wireless network. Their bodies are 3D-printed with electronic circuits overlaid. When they need to recharge they can go automatically to a charging station to be ready for more work.

This is not a far-out experiment, but an example of how assembling various state-of-the-art technologies can lead to impressive, sometimes surprising results.

The ants remind me of the “brownies” in The Mote in God’s Eye (Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, 1974). These were small, dextrous beings who could build or repair anything in an efficient, organic way. They also reproduced at an explosive rate. The Brownies seemed to help humans in many ways. In the early days of their interactions, humans developed an affection for them. But later they discovered that the Brownies posed a dire threat.

Our Wellfleet Public Library now has a MakerBot 3D printer. Maybe we can make our own bionic ants.

First encounters with snow

Preparing to face the snow

Preparing to face the snow

OK, I confess.

All those about me were complaining about the never-ending snow and what accompanied it: bitter winds coming off the ocean ice, people trapped in their homes, snowplows closing off newly shoveled driveways, while burying or knocking over mailboxes, falling on the ice, roofs collapsing, and such. Meanwhile, I prayed for it to continue. I wanted it to be here for my family from Austin who were to visit during spring break.

Front yard

Front yard

They had never seen snow before, at least not of this magnitude. But they prepared as well as they could.

We prepared for the visitors as well. I had stored some clean snow in the freezer for making snow ice cream, just in case the outside quality wasn’t up to standard. We had sleds, extra hats and mittens, and topped off the propane tank. We’d also made a list of indoor activities–the Brio train, the dollhouse, piano, rummy for indoors for inside the house; the visitor centers at the National Seashore’s Salt Pond site and at the Audubon sanctuary, to get out in case of freezing rain.

Out the garage window

Out the garage window

When they came, we took full advantage of the snow. we had snow ice cream in the classic vanilla as well as the maple syrup varieties. We made snow angels and devilish snow balls.

We made a snow dog (aka Ripley), when our planned snow man didn’t cooperate. We also got to see how much fun it is for a three-year-old boy to jump on top of a snow dog and scatter the snow in all directions. And how annoyed his six-year-old sister can be whenever he does something like that.

Frozen Ripley

Frozen Ripley

And we went sledding. There were awards for being the first to go beyond the end of the run into the sand road, for going furthest off the main track, for unintentionally going down backwards, for getting buried the deepest in a drift, and for screaming the loudest.

The visit was wonderful for me, although way too short.

Testing out the equipment

Testing out the equipment

Now that we’ve completed it, I’d like to amend my earlier call for lots of snow. It’s still beautiful to see, but it makes it hard to walk in the woods without snowshoes or skis. I’m starting to tire of putting out a special bin for mail with the mailbox packed in ice. I sympathize with the friend who’s decided to move after five weeks of being shut in. So, let’s have a few more days of sledding or skiing, then move on to another season.

Daniel Dejean, cartoonist extraordinaire

Daniel Dejean

Daniel Dejean

Daniel Dejean, a Wellfleet artist, is best known for his acrylic or oil paintings. These have been shown in galleries around Cape Cod and exhibited at a wide array of venues over 25 years, including recently at the Éspace Croix Baragnon in Toulouse and the Galerie Charlotte Norberg in Paris. See http://www.danieldejean.com and below.

Squash fashion

Squash fashion

Daniel’s paintings are often stunning, and always interesting. Like the best contemporary conceptual art, they invoke inversions of our usual ways of thinking. But whereas that art is sometimes thin to the point of obviousness, Daniel’s paintings are rich and generative. They invite repeated viewing and study.

One might instead think of the traditional style of art prevalent in Cape Cod galleries–seascapes and boats, wildflowers and ponds, portraits and houses. Daniel’s work then appears anarchic, conversing in some of the same language, but with an exotic dialect and a unsettling vocabulary.

New directions

Mozart on a snowy evening

Mozart on a snowy evening


Daniel’s artistry has recently expanded into what appears to be a new and growing venture, cartooning. I first became aware of this when his tromboncino cartoons, such as “Squash fashion” (above), began spreading uncontrollably across the ether. Whatever the topic, DeJean cartoons began to capture the essence of what was happening, bringing together humor, critique, and insight. I especially like his “Mozart on a snowy evening,” but also a new one about the major sport on Cape Cod this winter.

Skiing on the backside

Skiing on the backside

Some of Daniel’s graphic art has assumed a programmatic direction. For example, Women Directors: Navigating The Hollywood Boys’ Club, developed by Maria Giese and Heidi Honeycutt, is a website for people to share experiences with discrimination and explore strategies to create gender equity among directors of film, television and new media. It is “the world’s foremost website to explore, expose and remedy discrimination against women directors – because global culture depends on who tells the stories.” Daniel has created a wonderful series of graphic representations that tell the story in a succinct and memorable way.

Where are the women directors?

Where are the women directors?

Women directors: The coming tsunami

Women directors: The coming tsunami

Restoring the Chestnut

The Chestnut canoe company of Fredericton, New Brunswick, was a preeminent producer of wood and canvas canoes. Teddy Roosevelt purchased their canoes for his South American expedition. Before aluminum, fiberglass, ABS, Kevlar, and other synthetic materials, Chestnut used wood to make canoes for every purpose.

Around 1954, they produced a green Prospector Garry, serial number CHN47317M75J, 8770HF. I don’t know all the waters that boat traveled, but somehow it wound up as a display item at Wilderness House, an outfitter on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. Hanging from the rafters as a signature trophy was some kind of honor, I suppose.

However, Prospectors were canoes made to be used–for work and expeditions. They had no keel, high gunwales, and wide ribs and other features to make them whitewater capable. They could carry a half ton of people and cargo. Unlike canoes made from most of the new materials, wood-and-canvas canoes are infinitely varied, beautiful, quiet, repairable, and sensual.

The Story of the Chestnut Canoe

The Story of the Chestnut Canoe

Three decades after it was made, my friend Brian Smith called from Wilderness House. He said that WH had decided to sell the Prospector and that he was waiting in line to buy it for me. There was a clear assumption that I would come up with the cash. His action was simply to make sure I didn’t lose the opportunity, not a major gift. And Brian already had a Chestnut himself. So, shortly before Emily and Stephen were born I adopted a 30 year-old canoe.

It’s an oxymoron today to say “whitewater, wood-and-canvas canoe.” But before the 1950s, wood-and-canvas was the material of choice. We took this particular canoe on some rough waters, including the Oxtongue River in Ontario, although to be honest, we didn’t run Ragged Falls.

The canoe performed well in every setting, in salt water, ponds, and rivers; in wind and rain, carrying four people or one. But like everything it aged. There were some small dings from expeditions; the paint faded and peeled; the canvas sagged; some gunwales had separated; and two ribs broke, probably during our move to Massachusetts. It was time for a makeover, for what was now a 60 year-old canoe.

Walter Baron, a neighbor and expert boat builder, agreed to take on the task. In the photos below you can see some steps in the process. Walter removed the canvas and stripped the inside.

I asked him to add a beautiful new portage yoke I purchased from Essex Industries in New York. Essex is a sheltered workshop, which unfortunately is facing difficult times. It seems to be one of the success stories for that type of facility.

Today, we took final delivery on the rejuvenated and now, brick red, Chestnut Prospector. I wanted to try it out, even in the cold, but the local ponds are covered in 14″ of ice. So it now hangs in our garage. much as it did at WH, but knowing that its true destiny is to be loaded with gear, carrying its passengers silently and safely wherever their adventure leads them.

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The Chestnut family started marketing canvas canoes in the late 1890′s in Fredericton, New Brunswick. The early Chestnut canoes were modeled after a canoe built by B. N. Morris, and indeed, these early canoes clearly show the influence of Morris canoes. . . The Chestnut factory burned down in December of 1921, and was quickly rebuilt. Chestnut Canoe Company and Peterborough Canoe Company merged under the holding company Canadian Watercraft Limited. Canadian Canoe Company joined them in 1927. . . Chestnut shipped its last canoes in early 1979, then closed. Most of the Chestnut molds survive, and are being used in several wooden canoe shops in Canada. For more details about the history of the Chestnut Canoe Company, see Roger MacGregor’s book When the Chestnut was in Flower. via Chestnut Canoe Company.

Frozen

“The snow glows white on the mountain tonight.”

We and all our neighbors have given up on seeing an end to this winter. The mail is no longer delivered because the mailbox is encased somewhere within a large snowbank, well packed by the city snowplow. We know that the days are few until everything will be covered in snow and ice. We resist through cross-country skiing, sledding, or sculpting snow, but we know that those efforts are futile.

Most of the garden plants are deeply buried, but an hydrangea pokes its branches up only to be ice wrapped. What we used to call the front entrance has become a pile of snow. The propane tank is hardly uncovered and accessible as the supplier requires, but our iron sculpture marks where we remember it being. The deck looks like a comfy pillow, rather than a site for cook-outs.

One massive icicle comes off the back roof, drops down eight feet to connect with an ice-encased iron fish, then continues three feet below the deck. It must weigh over 50 pounds.

 

 

Canoe sculpture

Monochrome for Austin, Nancy Rubins

Monochrome for Austin, Nancy Rubins

While we were in Austin last week we saw a dramatic 50-foot diameter structure composed of roughly 75 canoes and a few rowboats jutting out at various angles. The boats are suspended from a steel framework by cables, with a design claimed to withstand Austin’s winds.

Some of the boats are damaged boats donated by canoe rental companies, still showing their logos. I tried to imagine the rapids that could lead to such a massive, beautiful disaster. The structure represents the far end of a spectrum that has my wood and canvas canoe quietly plying a Wellfleet pond at the other end.

A few students, assuming that the sculpture was funded through tuition, started a change.org petition asking the University to return their tuition money.

Unveiled on January 17, the canoe nest is the newest piece in the Landmarks collection, the University’s public art program. It sits in front of the Hackerman Building at the corner of Speedway and 24th Street. Eventually it will be part of a larger outdoor art project stretching a half dozen blocks along Speedway, with a pedestrian walkway.

New 50-foot-tall sculpture makes waves on campus | The Daily Texan.

Scleral lenses

Scleral and corneal RGP lenses

Scleral and corneal RGP lenses

It’s not a serious health problem, but it has been annoying. About eight months ago I injured my left cornea, down to the limbal stem layer, which ordinarily can regenerate the rest. It was slow to heal because of a variety of conditions whose very existence or the treatment of interacted in unfortunate ways.1

There was a little pain, poor vision, and light sensitivity. I couldn’t wear the contact lenses that were the only way to correct my vision and had trouble finding a glaucoma treatment that my eye could tolerate. During this time, I had many appointments with various specialists, and tried a variety of topical medications and an oral one that made me ill.

Scleral lens in my eye

Scleral lens in my eye

But now, a solution is in sight. Despite some last-minute delays, including one caused by the Blizzard of 2015, I just got a scleral lens for each eye. My lenses are new, so it’s too early to say for sure, but my eyes already feel better than they did with ordinary contacts or nothing at all. And I can see again.

A scleral lens is a large contact lens that rests on the sclera, the white portion of the eye, rather than on the cornea. The lenses bulge outward, creating a tear-filled vault which protects the cornea and allows it to heal. You can see in the photo how it compares to the regular gas permeable (hard) contacts I had been using. Prototype scleral lenses were made in the late 1800’s. Lenses would be shaped to conform to a mold of the eye. But without oxygen permeability they weren’t very practical. The modern lenses are made possible by the development of a highly oxygen permeable polymer for the lens itself and digital imaging techniques (including optical coherence tomography) to record the shape of the eye’s surface. That information allows creation of a virtual 3D scleral lens design.

Because the lenses are rigid and fluid-filled the correction can be better than with glasses or various kinds of contact lenses. That fluid, and the fact that the lenses don’t touch the cornea, means that they feel better and can help the cornea to heal. I’ll have to allow some time to see whether those promises hold true. There’s also some work involved in learning how to insert and remove the lenses.

Sclera lenses

Sclera lenses

A scleral lens is not the same as a sclera lens (see left). Either might invite thoughts of extraterrestrials.

Notes

(1) Keratoconus, glaucoma, dry eye, astigmatism, etc.