Plant Eyeballs

plant_eyeballsPlants need eyes, right?  Maybe not.  But these floppy heaps of native grasses that my HOA planted in front of my house needed something, especially for Halloween.  Giving your plant eyes is easy.  These were made out of ping-pong balls (with circles drawn on with permanent marker) hot glued to wooden skewers.  You just stick the skewers in the ground and you’re good to go.  If you had a shrub, you could glue a loop of string instead of the skewer and hang them on a branch like Christmas ornaments.  I have been contemplating how to make teeth for my little grass buddies next, you know, just to make sure the neighbors really question my sanity.

Marxan Table Relationships


Marxan is confusing.  There’s lots of pages of documentation and tutorials, but as a visual learner, all that text makes my head spin.  I find myself drawing pictures once I understand what’s going on so I can refer to them later.  The diagram above is a cleaned up, attractive, and cheerful rendition of the diagram I drew for myself on the whiteboard in my office (thank you, Inkscape, for having way more colors than I have for whiteboard markers).  The idea is taken from database diagrams.  The bold text is the table name and I put the recommended file name under it for easy reference.  The list beneath this is the column names for each file.  The lines connect columns with data that match (primary keys and whatnot).  So there you have it.  Maybe later I’ll post a new version with more notes about each file.  Let me know if that would be helpful.

DIY Fish Bowl Gravel Vacuum


At the pet store every now and then, I see a staff person vacuuming out the gravel in the display tanks.  It’ s so efficient to just get under the rocks and siphon out all of the gunk that settles in there.  But I’ve got a little fish bowl, well, really and indoor pond since I don’t have fish, just live (and plastic) plants and some aquatic snails.  One of those big fish tank vacuums would be overkill.  And, yes, I can drain out all 2 gallons of water and wash out the gravel, but the plants really don’t like having their roots disturbed very often.  You can’t leave the scum in there because it will rot and take all the oxygen from the water.  That’s what killed my shrimp.

One day it hit me: a turkey baster.  Yup.  Simple, cheap, effective.

How it works: squeeze the air out of the blub before you put it in the water.  Bubbles disturb things too much.  Then gently nestle the end of the baster down into the rocks, particularly around the live plants where the majority of the debris collects.  Ease pressure off of the bulb and watch the brown water slide up into the baster.  Just squirt the water down the drain and you’re well on your way to a cleaner tank.  Sometimes small rocks or snails end up in the baster.  When that happens, I empty the baster into a cup to keep the rocks or snails from going down the drain.  Then I return them to the bowl.

Which baster should you use?  Get one that the bulb fits on the end of the tube nice and tight.  Mine comes off frequently and it makes the job much harder.  Also, a plastic tube is a good idea since you’re jamming the end into gravel.

The turkey baster cleaning method isn’t something that you can use all the time.  Occasionally, you’re going to have to do a full cleaning including removing and cleaning the rocks.  Plants, get over it!.

Floral Tape Alternative


I’m the family florist.  My freshman year of high school, I took Floristry to fulfill my art requirement (Tangent: Why didn’t I take the drawing class?  Who can remember that now?  Logic isn’t the forte of a 13-year-old.) and ever since I’ve been providing floral services for family members.  I’ve done countless arrangements for my mom (parties, work events, etc.), arrangements to cheer people up (the snowman made out of mums was EPIC), and now I’ve made the bouquets for my cousin and my sister’s weddings.  This last one presented some unique challenges and I’m going to tell you how to solve them: Masking Tape!

The goal: turn several dozen roses, mums, stock, and freesias into 4 bouquets, 2 corsages, and 4 boutonnieres using an ample supply of wire and ribbon and 3 rolls of floral tape.  That’s not unreasonable.  But the floral tape was terrible.  It stuck to itself fairly well with some coaxing, but it really would rather stick to my fingers.  I taught another bridesmaid and a groomsman to wire and tape roses to make things go quicker, and about 30 minute into the process of making the bouquets, we were all so sticky that the tape would only stick to our fingers and not to the flower stems.  We muddled through, washing our hands when things got too sticky with harsh dish soap to get the wax off.

Masking tape!

Masking tape!

When all the roses were wired, I started putting the first bouquet together and disaster struck.  The tape wouldn’t hold around anything larger than 3 stems.  I had a dozen roses to get into this bouquet plus other flowers.  The boyfriend cocks his head to the side, knits his eyebrows together, and says, “What about masking tape?”  Genius!  Since the individual stems were already wrapped, the masking tape wouldn’t get wet and fall apart.  So, the clumps of stems got a heavy wrap of masking tape, then the ribbon wraps went on so no one knew what was holding it all together.

Can't tell what's under that map ribbon, can you?

Can’t tell what’s under that map ribbon, can you?

Social Media

I am on the Board of Directors for a professional dance company in northern California.  At this weekend’s board meeting, we spent a lot of time discussing social media and how we can use it more effectively for promoting the dance company.  Not surprisingly, I am in charge now of the company’s blog.  Easy.  I already know how to do that.  Someone else is handling Facebook and another member is starting our Twitter account.  All of these ideas were new to several board members.  They just don’t use social media.  They find “old school” (their term) communications like e-mail work best for them, and that’s great.

The meeting’s discussion got me thinking about how I use social media for promoting Experimental Craft and my own research, which shows up here from time to time.  I am not new to social media.  I’ll admit that I didn’t jump on the bandwagon right away, but I did get a Facebook account way, way back when you had to have a .edu email address to sign up.  I’ve come to expect social media in my life (heck, I’ve got a blog! … well, now two) and use it as a tool for keeping up communication with far-flung friends and finding out what’s going on.  I get the vast majority of my breaking news from social media, not the traditional media.  But I also don’t use every form of social media – no one can, at least not effectively, unless they have a staff just for that purpose (i.e. a publicist).  I have my cozy niche of personal and professional sites I use and that’s that.

If my fellow board members can make the stretch to accept social media (even some of them are signing up for new accounts for the first time just to follow the company), I can expand my horizons.  I’ve been resistant to Twitter, so I’m giving that a try.  You can now follow Experimental Craft on Twitter @artsciencelove .  I’ll let you know how it goes.

See Spot

Spotting. It’s that seemingly magical movement of the dancer’s head that is supposed to keep the dancer from getting dizzy and stabilize a turn. It also helps a dancer know how many revolutions they have finished.

How does it work? The dancer focuses their eyes on one place in the room or theater, keeping their head still as long as possible, even though their body is rotating in the turn. When the dancer can’t keep their head still any longer, they turn their head in the same direction as their body is turning but faster, and focus their eye on that same place in the room again. The visual result is only a brief moment of spinning, rather than the sensation of spinning for the whole turn.

But is it just an illusion? Sometimes when I practice turning over and over, I start to wonder if the act of spotting is just something we do to trick ourselves. Maybe it’s just a myth.

To test if spotting is an observable phenomenon, I strapped a GoPro point of view camera to my forehead and did some turns. The footage was rather informative. First, you CAN see the effect of spotting on the footage. I suspected that you might be able to see it, but I was surprised how clear the spot was. Second, the video lets you see just how quick a turn is. A double pirouette takes about 2 seconds! In the moment, a turn feels much longer since you’re constantly making adjustments.

I used the footage to make the video you’ll find embedded here.

My conclusion is that spotting is a real, observable phenomenon. Thank goodness!

Call for Guest Bloggers

Home-made kite tail for kite aerial photography

Home-made kite tail for kite aerial photography

One of the fascinating things I find about doing biological and geographical research is the tools that scientists make for themselves to help them in their research.  For example, I designed and my dad constructed a set of quadrat frames for me.  I’ve also constructed two low altitude remote sensing platforms and the accessories that go with them like a fuzzy tail and camera housing for my air photo kite.

Now it’s your turn!  What tools have you made or re-purposed to help you collect or process data?  Do you have a creative use for straws?  Have you constructed a tool you couldn’t buy anywhere?  I’m looking for researchers of all kinds who have made their own tools to write a blog post about their creation.  The text can be as short as a paragraph or as long as a page and should describe what the tool is and how you use it.  It can also include instructions for how to make it, if you would like.  All submissions should include at least one photograph of the tool.  Submissions should be emailed to micheletobias [at] yahoo [dot] com.


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