Tuesday, August 31, 2010



James Ng: Asian Steampunk Art

Posted: 12 Aug 2010 10:00 AM PDT

[ By Marc in Art & Design, Technology & Gadgets. ]

James Ng is a Hong Kong-born artist who has utilized inspiration from his worldwide travels to incorporate asian traditional beauty with Western themes in his work, with a steampunk sensibility that inextricably links man and machine. James’ art is unique in style and content, revealing a world in which every person is an individual, and every machine is a one of a kind beauty designed for form and long-lasting function. All of his artwork is done on the computer, though it would be hard to guess. Here are some of James Ng’s best works:

(Images via enworld, emptykingdom)

James Ng’s work often features captivating and interesting characters. The steampunk tradition is readily apparent in all the contraptions and accessories that inevitably accompany his well illustrated creations. One can easily see the relationship between these characters and their contraptions; in contrast to today’s throw away mentality, these characters have a personal connection to the technology they use.

(Images via steampunklinks, jamesngart)

Towering monuments reflective of asian architectural styles are found throughout James’ work, and they bring the beauty of architecture to a new audience (and medium), renewing a sense of wonder in these age-old designs. The flying castle reveals an entire city flying above the clouds, while the fortress is incredibly grounded.

(Images via jamesngart, enworld, emptykingdom)

Steampunk fans love steam powered contraptions and machines, the more convoluted the better, and James Ng doesn’t disappoint. With harvesters, carriages, and entertaining contraptions appearing throughout his work, James populates an entire world with a cohesive syle and aesthetic. The lack of mass production in steampunk worlds is something the real world should strive for – building to suit a need rather than utilizing resources and energy for entirely disposable results.

(Images via conceptart, imaginefx)

James Ng’s world isn’t without its corruption, so enforcers of justice are required. Melding the spirit of invention with the poignant power of a righteous warrior, James promises that no crime will go unpunished.

If any of these prints really pique your interest, support James by purchasing one in his store.

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A Look Inside: Spectacular X-Ray Nature Photography

Posted: 11 Aug 2010 10:00 AM PDT

[ By Delana in Art & Design, Nature & Ecosystems. ]

The natural world is full of surprises and hidden beauty. It’s so easy to simply walk right by countless amazing things every day without noticing just how many wonders are all around us. That’s part of the inspiration behind Hugh Turvey‘s X-ray art. He looks inside the things most of us ignore, taking an inside view of the natural world and inspiring a truly delightful sense of wonder.

Hugh Turvey is fascinated by the idea of X-ray specs: those novelty glasses often advertised in the back of comic books. The idea that one can put on an accessory and suddenly see a deeper truth appeals to Turvey and inspires his art. He likens X-ray art to the movie “The Matrix;” specifically, when Neo is suddenly able to perceive his real environment.

Although Turvey isn’t the first artist to use X-rays as art, he is one of the most well-known and respected. His art depicts familiar items in wholly unfamiliar ways. Turvey’s X-ray photos reveal hidden characteristics of ordinary things; sometimes amazing qualities can be found in the most unassuming objects.

Originally trained as a designer and art director, Turvey didn’t discover his passion for photography until he was grown. He retrained in his new craft with master photographer Gered Mankowitz and began experimenting with the X-ray art that would later become his hallmark.

These colored X-ray pictures help us get a closer look at the complex beauty of the natural world. Flowers which look so uncomplicated on the surface reveal their hidden inner structures; plants that may look plain and boring with the naked eye take on an exotic and truly wonderful quality when seen in this new way.

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Coprolites: A Few Words On Prehistoric Turds

Posted: 10 Aug 2010 01:37 PM PDT

[ By Steve in Animals & Habitats, History & Trivia, Science & Research. ]

Coprolites, or fossilized excrement, is commonly found throughout the world – somewhat surprising considering the ephemeral nature of the source. Though the process of mineralization has made them hard and (thankfully) odorless, coprolites can still tell us much about the extinct creatures who created them so long ago.

Living In A World Of Poop

(images via: WIRED.com, Jacob Berkowitz and UCMP Berkeley)

If one considers the number of living creatures who have walked, trod, swam and flown through Life’s billion-year reign, it’s a wonder we’re not up to our eyes in excrement today! Or maybe we are and just don’t know it. When excrement fossilizes, minerals replace the organic matter and to the casual observer the result (a coprolite) is indistinguishable from a rock, stone or pebble. Paleontologists and the rather more specialized Paleoscatologists, however, know turds from treasure when they see them. Sometimes, in fact, the former can be the latter!

(images via: SuperStock and Amazon.com)

Meet Karen Chin, one of the world’s most well-known paleoscatologists – she’ll understand if you don’t want to shake hands. Chin is the curator of paleontology at the University of Colorado Museum in Boulder – no pun intended – and her work with dinosaur coprolites has enlightened us to some important aspects of dinosaur behavior and lifestyles.

(images via: Denver Post, Hanscom Family and Tea Cozy)

For example, Chin noted worm tracks in coprolites that indicated the big beasts were afflicted by worms and other intestinal parasites. She also discovered bones – both whole and crushed – in T Rex’s fossil dung that indicate the dainty-fingered dino wasn’t a dilettante when it came to downing its dinner.

Ex-Stinkers From The Extinct

(images via: NHM and Wyoming Dinosaurs)

Coprolites have been found to have come from all manner of creatures, great and small, fish or fowl, but dinosaur coprolites seem to have inspired the most interest and fascination. Perhaps seeing their poop brings these large, fearsome creatures down to size, so to speak. Maybe it’s just that for most of us excreta is a passing thing – yet these dino dumps appear pretty much “as left” even though they first saw the light of day tens of millions of years ago.

(images via: Fossils For Sale, It’s A Hard Rock Life and Science A2Z)

Paleoscatologists state that coprolites from carnivores are more easily preserved than those from herbivores – a somewhat surprising fact given that some of said plant-eaters were the largest creatures to have ever walked the Earth. Cretaceous carnivores were no lightweights however, and that goes for their dung as well.

(images via: RSM, Prehistoric CSI and Oak Park Journal)

The monster loaf above was thought to have been pinched by a Tyrannosaurus Rex some 65 million years ago, presumably during a commercial break. Discovered in 1995 by Wendy Sloboda of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, the dino dropping measures 17.6 by 6.4 by 5.2 inches (44 x 16 x 13 cm) and weighs over 15.5 pounds (7 kg).

Mammoth Dung: A BIG Problem

(images via: PPSC, SEAC and Discovery.com)

Mammoths and Mastodons were big, they ate during the bulk of their waking hours – and they ate in bulk, period. What goes in, must come out as the old saying goes, and it’s likely these extinct shaggy pachyderms had a significant impact on their environment. Images of several fossilized “impacts” are shown above.

(image via: Green Diary)

It doesn’t take long (on a geologic scale) for dung to fossilize and in some cases the process is over and done with in just a few hundred years. Not so in the earth’s frozen tundra where generations of Woolly Mammoths roamed for hundreds of thousands of years, doing what Woolly Mammoths do… and doodoo. Some scientists speculate that as global warming heats up the Arctic, dormant microbes in the dung could wake up and go back to work, in the process spewing forth significant amounts of methane. Kinda like letting your dog do his business in the yard all winter and next spring when the snow melts… uh oh.

Regurgitalites: Jurassic Barf

(images via: WordSpy and Karen Carr)

Closely related to coprolites are Regurgitalites, or mineralized vomitus. If that’s not plain enough for you, we’ll call a spade a spade: fossilized vomit. One of the most, er, exciting regurgitalite finds occurred in 2002 when Peter Doyle of the University of Greenwich described a conglomeration of belemnite skeletons believed to have been coughed up by a marine reptile called Ichthyosaurus approximately 160 million years ago.

(images via: New Scientist, Prehistoric World and Tonmo.com)

Belemnites are ancient relatives of squid that had hard, calcified skeletal structures. It’s thought that once a certain number of these shells had accumulated within an ichthyosaur’s stomach, it would vomit them up much the way owls do with indigestible rodent bones. As for the British regurgitalite, Doyle stated that “We believe this is the first time the existence of fossil vomit on a grand scale has been proven beyond reasonable doubt.”

Pseudocoprolites: If It Ain’t Crap, It’s Crap

(images via: WAMS and Wikipedia Japan)

Sometimes what looks like a coprolite is really just a crappy rock. Various geological processes can conspire to create these so-called pseudocoprolites, most involve water and a variety of chemical reactions. Paleontologists and paleoscatologists can determine if a coprolite is the real deal by examining it under a microscope and by treating it with chemical agents. Coprolites of carnivores will have a high calcium phosphate content due to their high bone content.

Ground Sloths: Paleofeces Of The Pleistocene

(images via: NMNH and NHM)

Giant Ground Sloths were once relatively common in North and South America, and were the poster kids of the megafauna. Some species weighed up to 5 tons and stood up to 20 feet tall. Though most giant ground sloths died out thousands of years ago, a few may have survived in Cuba and on some Caribbean islands up until the mid 16th century. These massive creatures liked to make their dens in sheltered caves – those in dry or desert regions contain remarkably preserved samples of their dung.

(images via: Cryptomundo)

These massive creatures died out too recently for their dung to become completely fossilized as coprolites. Instead, what friable droppings remain are described as “paleofeces”. Samples found in Arizona caves have been extremely well preserved, and a cave in Chile was found to contain not only paleofeces but surprisingly fresh-looking sloth skin and hair. The photo above shows the interior of one of the best-known Arizona “sloth caves” with piles of dung scattered across the cave floor – not a candidate for a Good Housekeeping profile. No recent, color photos of the cave exist because a careless human smoker accidentally started a fire in the cave which consumed most of the flammable dung.

Dung Deposit Leaves Ancient Viking Thor

(images via: Guardian UK and York Daily Photo)

Human coprolites? In my bank? It’s not the deposit one normally expects to find but workers digging a new bank vault for Lloyds Bank in York, England back in 1972, found exactly that. At first, the 9-inch (23cm) long object was thought to be a chunk of old refinery slag but upon further investigation it was determined to be a rather large mineralized human excrement over 1,000 years old. According to paleoscatologist Andrew Jones, “This is the most exciting piece of excrement I’ve ever seen. In its own way, it’s as valuable as the Crown Jewels.” No shi-, er, no kidding!

(images via: Jorvik Viking Centre, BBC and Sports Illustrated)

The area of northeastern England including the town of York was under Viking occupation in the 10th century so it’s reasonable to assume the originator was a Viking. The Lloyds Bank Coprolite‘s impressive length and girth led student conservator Gill Snape to comment “Whoever passed it probably hadn’t performed for a few days, shall we say.” This makes sense, what with all the rape, pillage and games against the Packers that kept the Vikings busy. The coprolite is currently on display at the Jorvik Viking Centre in York, which invites you to come face to feces with the Vikings.

Who’s Laughing Now?

(images via: Personal Money Store, Gawker, Odd News Articles and Earth Magazine)

A remarkable discovery in Gladysvale Cave near Johannesburg, South Africa, has extended the age of the oldest found human hair from 9,000 years to over 200,000 years – thanks to the caveman’s ancient nemesis, the hyena. The hairs – about 40 of them – were discovered when coprolites of prehistoric Brown Hyenas were dissolved and analyzed. As the only human (hominid, to be exact) species known to inhabit the area 200,000 years ago was Homo Heidelbergensis, thought to be ancestral to Neanderthal Man, it’s extremely likely the hairs were ingested by a hyena that either killed one of our ancestors or scavenged a predeceased carcass.

When Poop Mines Were Goldmines

(images via: Welcome To Boyton, Factoidz and One Suffolk)

Not the most prestigious address perhaps, but the sign above marks a curious chapter in British history: the Great Coprolite Rush of 1849! It seems that in the early 1840s, coprolites aplenty were discovered in the hills of Suffolk, England. Processing with sulfuric acid released copious amounts of phosphates which were used for fertilizer. Most of the refining took place in the city of Ipswich, where the above street sign is located.

(image via: Suffolk Booklover)

The coprolite industry declined in the 1880s when other, less expensive methods of producing phosphates were discovered but Ipswich holds dear to its unusual claim to fame – and woe be it that anyone call the town a dump.

Polishing A Turd

(images via: Witless Wanderer, Bellerustique, Ken Grant Jewelry and Contrariwise Ramblings)

Who says you can’t polish a turd? Some may be familiar with jewelry made from polished dinosaur bones but coprolite jewelry is also available from the same manufacturers – and is often quite beautiful. Thank the natural process of mineralization for providing the coprolites with such a wide range of contrasting and complementary colors… and thank the dinosaurs for taking time out to produce those gaudy baubles in the first place.

(images via: FOX News and Telegraph UK)

As long as we’re co-opting old expressions, how about “I don’t know whether to sh*t or wind my watch”? Now you can do both… well, sort of, courtesy of the Dinosaur Dung watch from Artya. The Swiss-made timepiece features a polished coprolite face sourced from a herbivorous dinosaur’s dung dropped 100 million years ago. A bronze casing chosen to match the “warm and matchless tints” of dinosaur dung and a strap made from American Cane Toad skin completes this piece of… art? All for only $11,900.

(images via: BoingBoing and EW.com)

Whew, I need a break, and not that kind of break if you know what I mean. Writing about poop can leave one feeling flushed, pooped even, but it does stimulate some speculation such as: how appropriate it is that remains… remain? Coprolites offer us a unique way to get down & dirty with the daily details of ancient life – without all the actual down & dirtyness working with fresh pre-coprolites entrails. I mean entails. That’s it, I’m outta here.

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Insular Dwarfism: 12 Species that Evolved to be Small

Posted: 09 Aug 2010 10:00 AM PDT

[ By Steph in Animals & Habitats, History & Trivia, Nature & Ecosystems. ]

Island life isn’t all sandy beaches and coconuts. Sometimes, it’s rough, with very little food or freshwater available, and if you can’t get off the island, you’d better adapt. That’s exactly what these 12 miniature species did over thousands of years due to scarcity of resources, eventually becoming smaller versions of their mainland relatives. They’re not all insanely adorable tiny animals that melt us into big piles of fawning goo, but they are fascinating, rare, and all too often endangered or extinct.

Little People of Flores

(images via: wikipedia, science daily)

Could a tiny sub-species of in the genus Homo have co-existed in Indonesia with humans as recent as 12,000 years ago? First dubbed a "hobbit-like human ancestor", it was soon discovered that Homo floresiensis was in fact its own species, standing just three feet tall, about the height of a modern human toddler. Nine skeletons were found in Flores, Indonesia in 2003 and have been studied extensively since then, with some scientists still arguing that they are actually deformed Homo sapiens. The team that discovered H. floresiensis believe the species is an example of insular dwarfism, with their growth restricted by a limited choice of food on the island.

Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth

(image via: bbc news)

When it comes to sloths, opinions tend to be radically divided: some people think they’re adorable, while others find them absolutely terrifying. But the critically endangered pygmy three-toed sloth, found only on the tiny island of Isla Escudo de Veraguas near Panama, is a miniature version of its mainland relatives, and is especially cute when swimming – it almost looks like a fuzzy turtle!

Channel Islands Pygmy Mammoth

(image via: wikipedia)

When you hear the word "mammoth", you think of something epically huge. Not that the Channel Islands Pygmy Mammoth was a dainty little creature at 2,000 pounds, but it would still have been easily dwarfed by its 20,000-pound ancestor, the Columbian Mammoth. Remains of this species, which evolved to fit within the ecosystem of the now mostly-submerged Santa Rosae island off the coast of California, were first discovered in 1856.

Dwarf Elephants

(images via: wikipedia)

Unlike today’s pygmy elephants, which are subspecies of their own, prehistoric dwarf elephants evolved to be much smaller than modern elephants due to their insularity on islands around the world including Crete, Cyprus, Timor and the same island of Flores, Indonesia where pygmy human relatives were found. And unlike prehistoric dwarf mammoths, dwarf elephants really were small: the Cyprus dwarf elephant likely weighed around 440 pounds.

Channel Islands Fox

(image via: just chaos)

Aww, isn’t that a cute little kitten… oh… wait. It’s not a kitten at all. The Channel Islands Fox first evolved from the Gray Fox when they "rafted" over to the islands off the coast of California over 10,000 years ago and were faced with limited resources. They’re easy prey for eagles, being smaller than domestic house cats, and also highly susceptible to parasites and diseases brought over from the mainland.

Pygmy Hippo

(image via: soham pablo)

Pygmy hippos are about the same size as pigs – though technically, hippos are more closely related to whales and dolphins than to any of their fellow land animals. Semi-aquatic vegetarians, these miniature mammals are difficult to study because they’re nocturnal and very shy. Only about 3,000 remain in the wild, mostly in Liberia.

Bali Tiger

(image via: wikipedia)

The Bali Tiger may have been more comparable in size to leopards than to other tiger subspecies, but they were no less fierce. Sadly, these animals disappeared by the middle of the 20th century, though scientists believe there were never very many of them in the first place. These dwarf tigers were found exclusively on the island of Bali where they were hunted to extinction due to perceived threats and also the desire for jewelry made from their teeth and claws.

Cozumel Island Raccoon

(image via: animalesextincion.es)

Weighing just about 8-9 pounds, Cozumel Island racoons look exactly like their mainland relatives except for their diminutive size, the black bands on their throats and their golden yellow tails. They live on Cozumel Island off the coast of the Yucutan Peninsula in Mexico, and less than 300 remain. The Dwarf Coati, a relative of the raccoon, and a species of dwarf gray fox are also found on the island.

Balearic Island Cave Goat

(image via: mongabay)

The extinct Balearic Island Cave Goat wasn’t just a shorty at only 19.5" tall – its isolation on the rocky, nutrient-poor islands in the Mediterranean caused it to develop some even more unusual characteristics. Like crocodiles, this goat was able to grow at flexible rates, halting the growth process when food was unavailable. As far as scientists know, this goat was the only mammal ever to adapt in this way, and it probably helped the goat survive for five million years before being driven into extinction by human hunters.

Mindoro Dwarf Buffalo

(image via: edmond valerio)

There are so few Mindoro Dwarf Buffalo left, it’s rare for anyone to spot more than a solitary individual. Originally found all over the island of Mindoro in the Philippines, its range has been dramatically reduced by human civilization, hunting and logging. In fact, sightings of this mini water buffalo are so unusual that scientists know very little about its ecology. After being declared a critically endangered species, the Mindoro buffalo population has experienced a slight but very encouraging uptick.

Bernissartia – Tiny Crocodiles

(image via: wikimedia commons)

Imagine a cute "baby" crocodile that never grows up. That’s basically what Bernissartia, a prehistoric reptile from the Early Cretacious period around 130 million years ago, would seem like to us. Smaller than a house cat, Bernissartia looked just like modern-day crocodiles but had jaws more suited to catching fish than dragging a full-grown man underwater. It would have stood at sharp contrast to the nightmarishly enormous crocs of the day, like Sarcosuchus.

Key Deer

(image via: wikimedia commons)

Key Deer may not be around too much longer. Native only to the Florida Keys, this offshoot of white-tailed deer tops out at about 75 pounds and the antlers of males bear a signature white, velvety coating. Because of human encroachment, their habitat has been shrunken to a handful of lesser populated keys, and they swim from one island to another in search of fresh water.

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Green Light! Algae-Powered Lamp Needs TLC to Provide Light

Posted: 07 Aug 2010 10:00 AM PDT

[ By Delana in Art & Design, Energy & Fuel, Technology & Gadgets. ]

New energy sources are being developed and uncovered nearly every year, reducing our reliance on the traditional grid-based electricity. One of the oddest forms of alternative energy is one developed in 2010 by Stanford University and Yonsei University scientists. Their method uses the power of photosynthesis to produce a small electric current. Designer Mike Thompson exploits this new technology in a speculative product he calls the Latro Lamp.

The name Latro, which is Latin for “thief,” alludes to the fact that the lamp “steals” power from the process of photosynthesis to supply light. The glass chamber of the lamp contains green algae, which needs little more than sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to survive. The lamp needs to be stored in a spot where it receives the sunlight it requires. The water is enclosed in the glass chamber along with the algae. The only other element required by the living lamp is carbon dioxide, which we humans conveniently produce through another natural process: breathing.

The lamp’s owner has only to breathe into a small opening in the glass chamber to send a dose of CO2 in to the algae. Another opening allows the user to add water and also provides an escape route for the oxygen generated by the algae. Special sensors in the lamp’s machinery measure when the algae has all of the nourishment it needs, ensuring that the lamp’s light bulb will only draw energy from the plants when the plants are well cared for. In this way, the lamp acts as both an appliance and a pet, only performing its practical function when it has enough attention and care from its owner.

This concept is not yet being produced as an actual commercially-available product, but it does provide some food for thought. How much more careful would we be with our energy usage if we had to produce that energy first? The photosynthesis mini-power plant will probably never be able to power an entire house, but it could be very useful for power outages, natural disasters and camping, or any time when grid electricity just isn’t available.

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