I made some nature terrariums. These have got to be the easiest, cheapest terrariums you can make, because everything you need (besides a suitable container) can be found in nature. As with all my terrariums, I used coir soil as a medium because it holds moisture very well, is not too acidic, is slightly more sustainable than standard peat-based composts (but also maybe not...) and isn't prone to going sour. I never bother with activated charcoal, I consider it optional. I've never used it and no harm has come to any of my terrariums so far.
P.S. When taking anything from the natural world, do so with the least disruption possible and be careful only to take small amounts that can be easily regenerated. The moss and plants you see in these terrariums are common species taken with care from my own garden (or from my friend's). Btw, larger images of these terrariums can be found on my flickr.
This one is a sealed terrarium I made using a Kilner type jar from a charity shop, a few species of moss that I found in my yard and a tiny fern that was growing on my wall. If you look carefully, you can see tiny slug trails on the glass. I'm inclined to let the little guy stay (it is a nature terrarium after all) but I may turf him out if he becomes bothersome.
This mossarium might be one of my all time favourites. You may remember it as the spice jar that housed succulents from a failed experiment (succulents are rarely happy in closed terrariums). The mosses contained inside are much better suited to this kind of container. In the last day or so, something looking wispy like a money spider web has appeared at the front of the terrarium. I hope that's what it is, because if it's mould that's bad news for the longevity of this little terrarium (mould is always a risk factor, it exists pretty much everywhere in nature). Only time will tell... But to be honest, I think it really is just a spider web.
This is my sister's gay dog. He's called Geoff. I bought him a muscular wolf toy for her birthday and he loves it.
Micro Terrarium Update
Summer is a distant memory (although we've had some sunshine today) and the growing is slowing, so now is as good a time as any to see how our micro terrariums are fairing...
All of these little guys are looking like miniaturised cacti! I had a bit of a mishap with this one because I dropped it and lost all the soil. It all turned out for the best though, because I don't think the soil disk that shipped with the kit was very good, so I replaced the soil with cactus compost and they are doing better than ever.
This one has turned red though I'm not sure why... Could be stress, or perhaps this is the plant's natural colour? I almost lost this one because I forgot to water it and it started to shrivel, but It's OK now.
This one is doing very well and looks more and more like a classic cactus as time goes by. It won't be long before I need to replant this little dude.
The marimo terrarium is also doing fine (but is in need of a water top-up, which I did after typing this up). All in all, everything is doing well and although the third cactus seedling never sprouted, I think I can still call this experiment a success.
You broke it, you bought it.
A long time ago I might have felt some shame or embarrassment for my country. Now I just feel curiously numb. I think it might be a good time to stock up on tinned food and medicine.
Trip to New Brighton + Micro Terrarium Update
My sister and I went on a nice day trip to New Brighton the other day. The weather was fine, a little grey perhaps, but not too hot or bright. Unfortunately, my hay fever was terrible. I could not stop sneezing and sniffling all day, but I still managed to enjoy myself anyway. We did the usual things, like walk along the beach and play games in the arcades (we won some knock off Lego Dinosaurs). We also watched ships and birds with my binoculars. I saw a tern diving for fish (which was a first for me) and incredibly, a seal swimming up river. I think it was a Grey Seal because I read there's a small colony of Grey Seals on the other side of the Wirral at Hilbre Island. I'd never seen seals before...
But before that we had a little browse in an excellent secondhand book shop called "Literally..." which is just by the train station. I had totally forgotten it existed, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it still trading. I picked up two books while I was in there:
The first book is a collection of funny epitaphs (some are more amusing than others). I love how the book itself is shaped like a headstone. The second is a nice little book about non flowering plants. The information is somewhat out of date but I bought it mostly because I like the illustrations. These cost me a grand total of £1.50 altogether. Bargain! The book shop also has a fantastic collection of old Sci-fi novels, which are always fun to look at because the cover art is almost always excellent or just corny as hell (or both).
Above is a page from "A Small Book of Grave Humour".
And as promised, an update on my micro terrariums. Two out of the three show signs of life. Success! Look at these cute little guys. Don't they look like they have cat ears..?
Well this is unexpected... A small species of fungi has taken up residence in my bottle garden! It seems to have hitchhiked among the root system of a fern that I planted in there a few months ago. I spent the morning trying to identify what it could be but had no joy. Perhaps it will be easier to identify as it matures? I did find, however, that mushrooms with white gills are most likely poisonous, so I definitely won't be eating this one.
There are a total of three fruiting bodies so far. Here are some photos:
In this photo you can see the mycelium in the bottom right hand corner (those fuzzy white spots). You can also see white spores deposited on the orchid bark.
An alternate view of a fruiting body.
Here is one of the mushrooms from above.
To be honest, I'm not really sure what to do about these little guys. They don't appear to harm the plants and they add a little extra interest I think. Then again, I don't exactly want them to take over the bottle garden. And I'd likely have to dispose of all the plants currently in there if I wanted to get rid of it. I don't really want to do that. So I'm inclined to let them stay for the time being.
We had a brutally hot summer last year here in the UK (thanks a bunch, climate change). And honestly, if we have too many more like that I'm emigrating to Iceland...
Anyway, as a consequence I lost almost all of my cape sundews (link). To be fair, it was my own fault really. Being such a hot summer, I should have watered them everyday (during a typical summer, they would only need watering once or twice a week). So I lost all but one tiny little baby sundew. I can't express how small this little guy was. We are talking millimeters in size, but look at it now!
It's all growed up! The neat thing about some plants is their ability to effectively clone themselves. Cape sundews tend to grow in clusters, so if you have one cape sundew, it won't be too long until you have quite a few...And if you make a mistake like I did last summer, as long as something survives of your plants, you can always start again.
This is something I've wanted to try for a while now: making my own cacti mini terrariums. Who knows, if the experiment is successful, I may even decide to sell these things as DIY kits (though a quick look on Etsy tells me the terrarium business is already a pretty crowded market). I bought some small bottles from a craft shop (each bottle is about 4 cm tall and about 2 cm in diameter at their widest point) and some cacti seeds from a garden center. I filled each vial with a small amount of gravel and cacti soil, then planted a seed in the center and added a tiny amount of water. They may look like boring bottles of dirt right now, but with some luck, warmth, light and the right level of humidity, hopefully we will see some baby cacti growing in these... There's no knowing if the seeds will take weeks or months to germinate, but I'll be sure to post an update if something interesting begins to happen.
I also made a micro marimo terrarium, using wisps of algae harvested from the larger marimo, some aquarium gravel and a tiny shell from my shell collection (I may take a better photo of this before adding it to my terrariums page, though). I have a few more bottles left that I might fill with interesting mosses but I haven't decided yet...
A quick update to share a Terrarium design Youtube channel that has somehow escaped my notice. It's calledSerpaDesign (link) and his terrariums put my sorry efforts to shame. His artistry is next level stuff.Anyway, here are some links to a few of my favourites to get you started:
This underwater terrarium that lives at the bottom of an aquarium.
This set of micro terrariums.
Collins Gem Collection
I wanted to share my small Collins Gem book collection (to be added to my miniatures gallery eventually). I have other similar books from rival publishers, but these ones are the smallest in size, measuring just 8x12 cm. I'm not sure if anything like Collins Gem exists in other parts of the world, but these little pocket-sized books have been available for a long time here in the UK. There aren't quite as many as there used to be and they're getting harder to find in recent years, but I'm glad to see there's still just about a market for this sort of thing. Back when I was younger, it wasn't unusual to see little stands of these books anywhere that kids might be parted from their pocket money. From SAS survival guides to ghosts, pirates and dinosaurs, if you can think of a subject, there's probably been a Collins Gem published about it.
There are hundreds of these books out there and I think it would take a long time to collect them all. The most commonly available books are still the language dictionaries, followed by the nature related ones, but the more specialised books you might still be able to find in touristy gift shops.I prefer to collect the older, out of print ones though. They have hand drawn art ranging from the pretty (link) to the pretty goofy (link). At a time when most people (at least in the west) have a device in their pocket capable of accessing quantities of information that would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago, these little books feel like quaint anachronisms. Maybe that's why I like them... In any case, I hope they stay with us a little longer...
I love a neon sign. Who doesn't? There's something about the soft, gentle, vivid glow of neon that feels more like magic than technology. There are few places on planet earth so closely linked to a night time illuminated by neon lights as Hong Kong city. But this may not be for much longer... The place that inspired the enduring cyberpunk aesthetics of films like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell is changing. Through disrepair, new city regulations and losing the battle against newer, cheaper, more energy efficient LEDs, the neon is slowly disappearing. It makes me feel a little bit sad that I'll never get to bask in the glorious neon hum of a 1970's Hong Kong city street, but we can take comfort in the knowledge that there are people trying to save what they can of the city's neon heritage. Like M+ (a yet to open visual arts museum in West Kowloon) who put together this online neon signs museum (link). Anyway, I think it's interesting and beautiful and I thought it might be worth sharing.
Game of Thrones Finale
So that was the last episode of Game of Thrones...
And it was easily the cheesiest episode of the lot: Dany's ubervillain heavy metal album cover / Nuremberg rally speech, the lords and ladies of Westeros having a good old chuckle at Sam's toe-curling democracy speech, Drogon melting the Iron throne and Tyrion's speech about "great" stories being stand out moments (this last one might have had a bit more weight if he/we hadn't just been rooting for a character with one of the best stories in the show. Stories are what got us into this mess!).
I feel strangely deflated, but not in the sense that I'll miss my favourite TV show of the last decade. Instead, there's a feeling I wasn't expecting at all: indifference.I don't know how to articulate exactly why, only that it's a weirdly flat, far too conveniently tidy an ending for a show like Game of Thrones.
But the "Happy" ending isn't the only thing that surprised me. Who would have picked Bran, of all people, to lead Westeros into the future? That was a blindside for me. I got the impression he was no longer a man but a supernatural entity. A seer of the past and the future, detached and ambivalent to the mundane realities of humanity. What are the writers trying to say? He will be a better ruler because he's not like us? Because he doesn't have wants, desires or ideals? Because he has a godlike power of foresight? Most rulers don't have such luxuries. It's a fine ending, I guess, but feels like a bit of a cop out to me. I was so sure his story arc would play out in the battle with the white walkers and would go no further than that, but I guess I was wrong (again).
At least the people of Westeros can breathe a sigh of relief that it's not Jon in charge (who ends up, frustratingly, pretty much where he started. I think he should have been roasted by an inconsolably angry Drogon. This would mirror Eddard Stark's end, who also did the "right" thing and it got him killed by a capricious, angry child. But who knew Dragons had such restraint and understanding? I guess you can't make a Jon Snow spin-off north of the wall if he's turned into crispy bacon...).
Oh well, if this really is what Martin had in mind for his story, I'm sure he will be able to tie it all up in a much more satisfying and convincing way. I look forward to that. But for now, this is the only ending we have and I feel a bit... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
If the final two series of Game of Thrones can teach us anything, it is this: You cannot skip to the end of an epic fantasy story. People might grumble about his glacial pace of writing, but there's a reason why it's taking George R R Martin such a long time to finish his books. Doing this genre justice can't be rushed. Even those of us still enjoying Game of Thrones at this point can agree. A combination of jarring time compression, brutally truncated plot and character arcs and dialogue shaved to the absolute minimum, have conspired to make character motivations and major plot developments seem comically absurd at times. If the show runners had no desire to give us at least two more full length series, they should have done the right thing and handed the reins on to another creative team. But they didn't and I can't help but feel some disappointment. I will not be watching their Star Wars movies at the cinema, I can tell you that much.
I can't fault the main cast or the thousands of extras, crew members, designers and artists that killed it in each and every episode for 8 long years. It's just such a shame that in the last stretch, the show runners / writers dropped the ball big time.
Game Of Thrones
(To be clear, this blog entry is only about the TV show, not the books. It also contains SPOILERS. You have been warned)
Whaaaaaaaat. Just. Happened?
I think it's fair to say that the last two series of Game of Thrones have been criminally short, with some badly underwritten characters as a result. But boy did Daenerys get the worst of it. Full disclosure... I've been team Dany since I started watching and while I wouldn't have been massively pleased to see her go full crazy bananas, her big heal turn might have made a bit more sense if it had actually been earned. You can't turn a flawed character into an irredeemably evil one a mere TWO EPISODES before the end. That is cheap as hell. I feel like I got played.
When did she stop rooting for the little guy (albeit with a bit more brutality than I would have liked...)? Yes, her ruthlessness was always present, but tempered by a compassion that seems to have disappeared all too quickly. I felt such a combination of traits made her the show's closest thing to an "ideal" ruler (after all, Westeros is a mostly lawless land full of endless medieval brutality so, you know, baby steps...). Bronn did a good job of summing up the ways of the world: Cutthroats willing to kill their way to the top win the day. If you can be a cutthroat, but still retain a slither of compassion, you're already better than 99% of rulers on both sides of the Narrow Sea. I guess I was wrong. I thought this show was all about ambiguity and nuance? That in Westeros, making only "good" moral choices is likely to get you killed (probably along with a lot of other people). I thought Dany might win the throne, but not without making some very big moral compromises along the way. The show could have had the battle go badly, with Cersei using her human shield of civilians to frustrate her advance, forcing Dany into a position where she had no other option but to go nuclear or go home. That would have been a more interesting end to her character arc. Jon, Davos and Tyrion could still have found legitimate issue with her choosing the nuclear option. But no, we get the "bitches be crazy" ending and see her go full comic book villain at the eleventh hour, burning an entire city to the ground with little provocation. All because "the gods tossed a coin"? It's giving me mad whiplash.
So the whole thing leaves the nasty taste of cheap shock value behind and I'm a little disappointed...
On the plus side, direction was top notch and the dragon scenes in this episode are so good they give the best Kaiju movies a run for their money. Really sold the terror and chaos of a dragon attack. Thumbs up for that. The final shots of charred bodies, ash drifting in the air, were the clearest allusion to Dragons=A-bombs, yet. Because That's what dragons really are: a Westerosi version of the ultimate terror weapon. To use it even once against the innocent is impossible to justify.
Anyway, Dany's as good as dead next episode, so let's look at who else is left to win the throne and see how they stand up, shall we?
No. Just no. No, no, no. He could not be less suitable. He never learns from his mistakes, doesn't have the guile to see a conspiracy against him, is every bit Ned Stark's son (always making the morally right but ultimately worst possible choice in any given situation) and he is the worst military commander in the seven kingdoms. I don't know how he is still alive. If not for the Red Woman, he wouldn't be. And if he can leap frog the women who saved his brave but stupid arse because of a birth right, it will be such an unsatisfying ending. Better than a murderous tyrant? Sure, but then almost everybody fits that qualification. He is courageous to the max and has a limited knack for uniting people who hate each other, so he's not all bad. But let's be honest, peace would last five minutes with Jon in King's Landing.
Some people favour her but I don't see her really in the running. She's doing what every smart Stark should be doing right now: busy rebuilding a power base in the north. Her immediate interests are protecting her family and her homeland. But if she has any other ambitions, she'd be wise to give them up and do whatever the Dragon Queen says from now on. But for arguments sake, say she did win the throne, how could she maintain rule? She has the support of the north and the Vale, but she would never win the support of the southern lords. Especially not since they'd see her as a former ally of the hated Dragon Queen. Besides that, she learned everything she knows about power from scheming Cersei and Littlefinger, could she ever be a "good" ruler and not just a smart and ruthless one?
And... That's it. Is there anybody else left at this point? Anybody with a credible claim who isn't tainted by association with a brutal conqueror? More importantly, why would anyone want the throne? It seems like a curse.
Oh well... At least if Dany survives she will probably be able to keep the peace (for a time, provided she doesn't go burninating the countryside). Otherwise, it's a probable civil war and for this whole mess to start all over again.
My predictions? Arya will kill Dany or Bran will warg permanently into Drogon and eat her or something, putting Jon on the throne and disappointing millions of viewers worldwide with such a cliche ending.
I've worked hard on this website for the past few weeks (from a standing start of knowing almost nothing about html and CSS) and I finally feel like it's coming together nicely. It's as basic as a website can be but there is, at least, something for visitors to look at. I still hope to keep it as light as possible, I even tested how a visitor using a 56k modem might experience the site by using a bandwidth manager called trickle. It's.. a little slow, but still works OK if you're patient. I think as a goal, having a site work for 56k and still have it be visually interesting by 2019 standards might have been a little ambitious. So instead, I'm going to keep each page well under 500kb and see how that works out.
But I'm not finished. I still have plenty of plans for other things I'd like to share. Like my small collection of working miniatures, the home brew computer I built and my custom made Sci-fi Animal Crossing New Leaf clothing (lots of Star Wars, Star Trek, comic book outfits). Maybe pretty esoteric stuff, but that seems to be what neocities is all about. I've really enjoyed surfing around the community so far. Even if what I find is some bewildering anime thing that I'm too impossibly ancient to understand, or some headache inducing explosion of colour and gifs, it really does feel like I'm going on the kind of adventure that just isn't possible anymore in the new mediated internet landscape of algorithms and filter bubbles. Anyway, stay weird neocities. Don't ever change. I hope the community continues to grow.