Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Inkman Cometh

I'm sure you all have read about my exciting adventures in "The Inkyssy" - an Internet novel recounting my journey home after a fruitless search for the Illustrious Khan. I imagine you were all enthralled during my sword-fight with El Cacaracha Libre in the flooded bowels of the Museum, and laughed out aloud at the section when the Starfleet decided to live by the tenets of the Amish while in Deep space. You cheered when I led the rebellious crowd and chased the eight-legged tyrant from his lair in the Kingdom of Sealand. You all heaved a contented sigh at the end of the chapter in which all the staff of the Museum, the peoples of its neighboring states, and all the cyber-world wept and sang my praises for releasing them from the evil tyranny of El Cacaracha Libre and his minions thus returning the world to peace, harmony and prosperity. The penultimate chapter brought tears to your eyes as I went in search of my soul-mate Cog and found her incarcerated in the deepest bowels of the museum. Finally, you were all deeply touched by my modesty and humility in refusing a Triumph worthy of a Caesar and merely requesting instead a short holiday to pursue interests close to my heart.

Those of you who haven't read the novel will either have seen the movie, flipped through the illustrated novel or taken part in one of the countless chat-room debates. Needless to say, everybody is pretty much up to date about my activities over the Festive Season.

After my exploits of the previous month I decided to spend January wandering alone throughout the land. Disguised, I walked amongst the people talking with them, sharing their labours, and sharing their pleasure at the new freedom and happiness they enjoyed. I decided that never again must the cyber-world be dragged to the brink of total war by the actions of madmen like El Cacaracha Libre, William Shatner, Dick Cheney et al. I have decided to dedicate my life to the pursuit of peace and will destroy anybody who attempts to stop me.

PS: To all those conspiracy theorists out there. I can assure you I have El Cacaracha Libre tightly sealed in a jar of formaldehyde on my desk! I wish I could say the same about Cheney, but he was spirited away by the so-called "Coalition of the Willing" disguised in a wig of Britney Spears' hair and an ill-fitting track-suit lent by John Howard; Curse him!

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Diatom Diatribe cont.

The flood of inquiries I have received about my diatom mural has been astonishing! Who would have thought that so many out there share my love for these astonishing microscopic lifeforms. But what’s not to love? Diatoms, like my other all-time favourite, slime mould, are neither fish nor fowl. Which is to say that they are neither plants nor animals, and are not bacteria or fungi either.

In fact they are one-celled protists which, like plants, contain chlorophyll but, uniquely, diatoms are encased in an asymmetric silica shell that is like a shoebox with a bottom and a slightly larger top.

Only infinitely more attractive and multimorphic.

Diatoms are, in fact, a major group of eukaryotic algae, and are one of the most common types of phytoplankton. Most diatoms are unicellular, although some form chains or simple colonies. Some even move around under their own power, although others rely on the kindness of the currents to keep them suspended where they’ll thrive. Not only are there more than 100000 species of the cute little critters, they are found everywhere that there’s water including on and in soil. Of course the average person’s closest noticable contact with them live is as the slippery brown stuff on rocks in rivers, but some lucky folk get to experience their efflorescent ‘red tides’. Dead they have a thousand and one uses around the home including making nail polish shiny. They make superior dust of course. They also have a fossil record stretching back to at least the Jurassic. Only slightly longer than my own, I’d like to point out.

Anyway, I could go on and on about them – especially since pointy-headed science types are now looking at using them as components of nano-machines, but it was the mural and diatoms use in cultural activities that have excited most of my correspondents.

I wish that I could claim to have invented diatom art instead of simply being its (potentially) greatest exponent, but unfortunately other’s achievements in the area are too well known. As everyone knows, diatom art has been HUGE since Victorian times, when well-brought up young ladies would produce kaleidoscopic slide mounts to delight and amuse their friends and family. Indeed, I myself learned the art from one such microscopic enthusiast. MoD, naturally, has a collection of these Victorian mounts – although it is small, I can safely claim it as unparalleled by any other held by a public institution. The example above provides an indication of the sheer visual excitement of these specimens.

Additionally, we have a small collection of note-worthy but unattributed pictorial mounts. This, of course, is housed near our collection of pictures constructed from butterfly wing scales.

I have to fly – there’s been a reported sighting of El Cacaracha Libre lurking near the Chambre Ardente! (Inky swears he’s dealt with the putative revolutionary, but frankly, I have my doubts). But when I’ll be back, and then I’ll show you around a few modern diatomic creations.

Diatom Art >
Nature’s Blueprint: Mimicking Nature's cleverest designs >
"Scientists Learning To Create Nanomaterials Based On Micro-Algae Patterns"
in Spacemart >
Becker's Diatom Index >
Montana Diatoms (mounted arrangements showing the effect of imaging under different conditions -- recommended! Also the home of the micromanipulator) >

PS A note to Norman Ingram Hendey: next time you want to donate a large number of diatoms to somewhere, I would much prefer it if you came straight to MoD rather than going to obscure institutions such as the Natural History Museum in London. Just because you're dead at 101 is no excuse! A forensic scientist of your calibre SHOULD have known better!


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Monday, February 19, 2007

Diatomic Disaster


Did no one think that it was strange that I hadn’t been seen for a while? Did none of the highly-paid mooncalves that clutter Museum of Dust stop, for just ONE nanosecond, and thinks “Golly I wonder where the Director has got to?”

You would think that panic would ensue after the first day or so and that no effort would have been spared in a frantic attempt to ascertain my whereabouts. You’d think that a top-to-bottom search of the museum would have been the obvious first step, with a worldwide coordinated rescue effort planned if that failed.

You’d think.

Instead I’ve been trapped in the Oubliette for what seems like an eternity but turns out to have only (!) been a couple of months. I’m finally released by Inky, who has, at last, returned from the Space Race against Republic of Tinsleman (victorious I’m sure – although I’ve yet to hear his report), and discover that the place is deserted. Worse; I find the place strewn with evidence that El Cacaracha Libre seems to have moved in. He was MEANT to be managing the situation in RoT, instead he seems to have abandoned the whole thing to fritter his time festooning MY museum with pointless placards.

I’ve a good mind to invest in some Blackflag or other air-borne nerve gas…

Not to mention sacking the entire sorry bunch of useless oxygen-thieves who masquerade as museum staff. Especially Administration, who I specifically informed that I was ducking into the Oubliette to work on my magnum opus, a mural composed entirely of diatoms depicting Inky’s spectacular space victory with side panels celebrating peak moments in my favourite arachnid’s career. There I was, carefully positioning a rosette of dinoflagellate (Karenia brevis to be precise), revelling in the improvement that purchasing a Klaus Kemp Micromanipulator had made compared to the old pig’s-eyelash brush I’ve been using, when BANG! Not only had the door slammed shut but somehow it seemed to have locked and bolted itself. No matter how much I hammered on the door, shouted and even screamed, no one seemed to hear me. Perhaps I shouldn’t have made the soundproofing quite so industry-standard… Still you would imagine that SOMEONE would have come looking for me.

My incarceration has been a disaster on every level. Not only have the staff blatantly abandoned their duties, El Cacaracha Libre scuttled wild, and Dog only knows what has become of poor RoT without my benign protection, but I was forced to survive by eating my entire diatom collection. You have no idea how long it took to compile and what microscopic rarities it contained. Not to mention the sheer beauty of the mural that will now never be seen. I simply don’t have the heart to start over…

I’m attempting to comfort myself by reviewing our Haekel diatom exhibit – what would Art Nouveau have been without his inspiration? – and I suppose I’ll think of something.

Oh well, I suppose I’d better put on my happy face and go hear how Inky’s mission went.

Ernst Haeckel: Kunstformen der Natur 1899-1904

Giorno Nuovo Haeckel lithographs >

Addendum: I have discovered the direct supplier for my diatom micromanipulators and Zrax patented diatom mountant! MicrAP Enterprises >

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