Thursday, September 30, 2010


Some day, some lucky person will listen to this as they watch the Earth diminishing in the distance.

Goodbye, Earth. Thank you.
Now...what is out here in this universe?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ibex and Fox

Just for sheer enjoyment, beautiful woodcuts of ibex and fox from Edward Topsell's 1607 "Historie of Foure-footed Beastes, Describing the True and Lively Figure of Every Beast."

Images are archived at the University of Houston Online Special Collections Library.

Evolution book is looking to wrap up at about 250 pages, exactly as specified on the contract. What an adventure it's been! One week to go I think.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Another Figure

New figure for gestural communication in dogs, elephants, and humans. I've wanted to use these images for years. Caption in progress; submissive dog shows antithesis to every element of the aggressive dog posture; male African elephants flap ears (top) and touch trunk to forehead in warning; detail from an 18th-Century French guide to painting showing postural language of different social classes, including 'proper' way to hold items (lower left). As usual, printed here in white on black, which is what I prefer.

Some monstrously complex issues to wrestle through tonight but I have two years of notes--actually, twenty--guiding me.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Just cracked 100 pages on the evolution book; another eight hours down in this basement and things are falling into place. A new figure regarding levels of biological organization, above. Tomorrow, more of the same.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

'Anonymous Blobs'

Image and caption for "Chapter 3: The Fact of Variation" of the evolution book.


For example, in the top section of Figure 3-2 we see a schoolbook diagram of the lifecycle of the moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita). At (A) you see the adult form of the jellyfish, which has released a proto-offspring, the planula larva (B) after about a week of growth. The planula settles onto a rock (C), where it develops into the scyphistoma (D and E) with tentacles allowing it to feed on passing nutrients. Eventually the scyphistoma develop into the strobila, a sort of stack of immature jellyfish on a stalk (F) that can bud off offspring (ephyra) for several years. When one of the ephyra are released (G), if all goes well, they develop into the immature medusa (H) which grows to adulthood (A). Note that this schematic drawing shows a single, largely-symmetrical ephyra (G). Seeing such a depiction in a textbook, we internalize a fixed image in our mind: this is how Aurelia ephyra look. But look at the lower part of the diagram, which shows the actual appearance of twelve Aurelia ephyra captured off the coast of California in 1996. Note that no two are identical; for reasons we'll examine in this chapter, there is always variation--even in this world of ‘anonymous blobs’.

Text and image (c) Cameron McPherson Smith 2010.

Friday, September 10, 2010

All Thanks to Ted Edwards

My story of thorablott, the Icelander's Winter Feast, is now available in The Best Travel Writing 2010. The publisher, Solas House, will be publishing the whole book from which this is an excerpt in 2011 or 2012, under the title "The Frost Giants".

It all began with a book, Ted Edwards' 'Fight the Wild Island', a tale of his trek across Iceland in 1985, which I read in Canada in 1996. If a proximate cause for my getting drenched, frozen, thawed, wind-whipped, tumbled, humbled and addled in Iceland's wild wastes winter after winter, it is having read that book. Although my manuscript of "The Frost Giants" is in rough shape, and I can't even start on reworking it until next year, I'll be sending it to Mr. Edwards for his amusement before long.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Fireflies and DNA Transcription

Two new figures for chapter 2: a schematic of how DNA keeps cranking out near-perfect cells, moment by moment, and the complexities of mate-recognition in the world of a female firefly. Captions below. These images are inverted because I prefer them that way; in the book, the DNA image will be black-on-white. About 29 days to go, now.

CAPTION for Figure 2-1: Multicellular life forms (metazoa), such as a human (A) are composed of a wide variety of cells (B). Each cell contains a nucleus (dark spots in B) which contains chromosomes (C), the ‘nuclear threads’ observed under the microscope even in the 1800’s. Each chromosome (D) is actually a long ‘thread’ of the DNA molecule, tightly wound like a telephone cord (E). The twisting-ladder-shape of the DNA is composed of the phosphate rails (white and black ‘strips’ in E) that connect the rungs (F) of adenine, cytosine, thymine and guanine (A,T,G and C, becoming visible just to the left of label (G)). Although there isn’t room to show a whole gene in this figure, animal genes are normally around 1,200 ‘base-pairs’ long, schematically shown as a set of base pairs from (F1) to (F2). Base pairs are arranged in triplets (codons) such as (G), the codon TAC, which specifies the production of Tyrosine. When DNA is used to make a protein (e.g. to build cells to replace dead cells) an enzyme called helicase (the long gray oval, (H)) runs down the length of the DNA (moving to left in this image), ‘unzipping’ the DNA double helix, separating the base pairs. The helicase copies the base pair codons of one side of the DNA ladder (lower and middle rows) and streams them off in a tail-like chain. That chain (I) eventually moves out of the cell nucleus, merging with a ribosome (J) which attaches free-floating chemicals (A,T,G and C) that will only bind to the appropriate codons, together in the appropriate sequence (K). The resulting amino acids (in this case, lysine, aspargine and glutamine, assembled in (L)) eventually assemble in the production of proteins, assembled as body cells (M). This figure is schematic, and a universe of detail lies beyond every single thing I’ve shown. Having said that, what I depict here is enough to understand the system.

CAPTION for Figure 2-3: The night-light world of the firefly. To find a potential mate, a female has to sort through the light signals of (in this case) nine other species. Typical tracks of those other species are shown; some fly higher, some low to the ground. Some flash as the ascend (top line), some flash in repeated sequences (the eight 'blips' repeated occasionally on the fourth line down, on the left). A slight variation in the female's ability to perceive these signals, and sort through them, could prevent her from mating successfully.

(c) 2010 Cameron M. Smith