Sunday, 24 May 2015

Unveiling cloakfishes' cloaked filters

I stopped blogging, so what is this post doing here?

Well, I never said I would stop altogether, and I would return if there was something of special interest to report. Yesterday, I received my advance copy of  'Demain, les animaux du futur' from the authors, Marc Boulay and Jean-Sébastien Steyer. I am quite impressed and will return to write about it, in a week or so. Writing the present post is to get me in the mood again.

A main reason to reduce blogging was to spend more time on producing The Book, and that worked quite well: without blogging, I manage to produce one two-page spread every month, meaning one full painting, accompanying text, scale drawings and usually a minor illustration. At 24 pages a year there is definite progress (and I intend to increase the output). Sadly, Fishes I, II and III together only get one spread, while terrestrial hexapods get many. To illustrate the mechanics of some groups, I have stumbled on a three-spread theme: one spread for explanation, one to show diversity, and one showing a single species in a full painting. Groups that get this treatment are spidrids (half finished), rusps (all done), tetropters (not yet) and cloakfish: half done.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk
The early beginnings of cloakfish are shown here, and the latest instalment of their physique was posted here. Like it or not, that particular form, shown above, has now been scrapped. As you can see I played with putting the mouth in the cone forming the 'snout' of the animal. Well, not anymore. While sketching I drew a cloakfish cut in two and that gave me the idea of making a 'cutaway' version to explain how it works. Unfortunately, that meant that I could use very little 'handwavium'. Without a cutaway drawing I could just write something like this: (imagine an Attenborough-style voice-over) "Hidden from view by the animal's cylindrical body wall, its food rakes, next to the gills, steadily filter the nutritious plankton so abundant in these waters." How they look is left to the imagination.

With filters unhidden, the problem presented itself that I never really understood how filter feeding works, which is no wonder as I never looked it up. Many animals use it, from sharks and rays to bony fish and whales. So it works, but consider a whale shark or a basking shark as a gigantic sieve sweeping through the ocean. After a while, the filter will have sieved lots of food particles, now stuck against the sieve. The animal will have to scrape the food from it, not only to swallow it, but also to prevent the sieve becoming clogged. Remember that the gills are there as well, and you do not want to ruin respiration, not even for feeding. What bothered me is that whales might use their tongues to scrape clean their baleens, or so I supposed, but I was not aware of scrapers inside a whale shark's mouth.

Click to enlarge; Source: Brainerd, Nature 2001; 412: 387-388
Well, reading a few papers later I found out about something called 'cross flow filtration'. Naively, I had imagined the filter as a sieve at a right angle to the flow of water, allowing water to pass while particles get stuck. That's not how all filters work, though. The image above explains the process nicely. In 'cross flow filtration', the surface of the filter is parallel to the flow of water. Behind the filter there is a low pressure area, so water flows there. Apparently, particles move on parallel to the water, staying on one side of the filter, where they are  concentrated more and more. The papers then mention things like 'near the oesophagus', suggesting that the animal then merely has to swallow the concentrated particles and there you are. If you want to read more, I found a site where you can obtain a Nature paper for free here. Mind you, the fact that this was worthy of publishing in Nature in 2001 means that this is still all fairly new. The papers are somewhat vague on why the concentrated particles bunch up in a cul de sac waiting for the oesophagus to gulp them up, but I will accept this leap of faith; it cannot be easy to do an oesophagoscopy on a freely swimming whale shark.

So I sketched some more, filling in the inside of cloakfish contours, giving it a cross flow filter with a cul the sac leading to the oesophagus. Actually, since we are talking about a tetraradiate animal, there are four filters and four oesophagi leading to one stomach. I paint but am not a technical artist, so I needed some help with the perspective and also with visualising the insides of the cloakfish. I used Vue Infinite to provide me with as many perspectively correct views of the animal's inside as I wanted to help draw the cutaway.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk
What you see above are some aids in doing so. The holes help visualise the flow of water (but I must add that the gill design was changed afterwards). The painting, based on this design, is nearly finished, but I will not show it: there should be new material in The Book. My first look at the 'Demain' book showed a very large amount of previously unpublished animals, and that strengthened my resolve to keep much hidden. I must say that writing this post did remind me why I did it for a long time: it is fun; but time is short...                          

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Blog halts after nearly seven years...

I thought I might as well convey my main message in the title, so there you are: The blog 'Furahan Biology and Allied Matters' will not see new posts with regular intervals.

There will be the occasional post now and then, but those will be limited to announcements of something interesting, such as me giving a talk somewhere, a conference with speculative biology in it (perhaps Toulouse later this year). I will definitely provide a review of my French friends' work as soon as I have the book in my possession, which will be four to six weeks from now. But there will no more posts on biomechanics and no discussion of exobiology in films or the work of other artists.

The reason is not that the well has dried up. There are many interesting artists who display their work on the internet, and I could write about the consequences of more effective photosynthesis, or why Furahan trees have a 'clastocyte' layer of cells that breaks down wood. Of course, my 'long thought experiment' on the purpose of toes would deserve a post, and a comparison of Boston Dynamic's Big Dog and the apparent new Chinese equivalent provide an interesting comparison on whether legs of alien animals should have zigzagzig or zagzigzag patterns. But no...

The reason is time. My job requires 50% of my waking time, so there are not many hours left. A simple blog post such as this one takes over two hours to produce and put up. However, the really complex ones, the ones that required me to read books, study papers and provide additional illustrations, could run up to more than eight hours. The blog competed with painting and writing, so progress on The Book was slow. The Book is about one third finished, and a two-page spread usually shows one main painting, and additional illustration, a size sketch and text. Of all these things, writing is by far the fastest element. A two-page spread probably takes 20 hours, and The Book is supposed to have up to 140 pages. It dawned on me that giving up blogging would allow me to increase my painting output considerably.

There is another element involved. Painting is –obviously- an acquired skill, and you have to keep doing it simply to avoid losing your skill, and to become better requires even more work. I have blogged in the past about crossing over to digital painting. Its main advantage is the enormous increase in speed of production that also translates to an increase in learning speed. But you still have to keep doing it. For years I found it difficult to start up again after a hiatus, and because of that I needed to be relaxed to do it well; hence the low output. I reasoned that, if I painted something every week, my skill level might not deteriorate so I could put in an hour here and an hour there. That seems to be working, and I now plan to produce at least one spread a month. When will The Book be out? An optimistic count would be three few years, an a pessimistic one never (in which case I will dump all the material on the internet) I guess. There is a chance that it may appear in French... Any news on that will certainly merit a post.

So there you are. I would like to finish by thanking all the readers who showed enthusiasm for my work over the years. Their comments often made me think again, or more, about any subject. And once in a while those comments produced a new Furahan animal. The Book will have six pages on rusps (already finished).  I will show one species to be shown on one such page, born from a discussion of high-feeding rusps. That particular discussion mostly featured Jan and Petr, but they are not the only ones providing inspiration. Thank you all! 

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk
The grey outline shows the brontorusp for size. The new species, provisionally named 'Giraffacrambis sp.', is much narrower and less massive than the brontorusp. It still is a formidable animal, though. 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Starting up again: the future is back in France, and a Furaha talk in The Netherlands

The renovation of my house is nearly finished, meaning that life is slowly returning to normal again. One of my new year's resolution was to resume blogging, and I will. Actually, that was the only 'new' New Year's resolution; all the ones from last year had hardly been used and so were still as good as new.

The year's first post will be short and simple. Let's start with a long-awaited arrival, a book about which I have written before in 2011: 'Demain, les animaux du futur'. The literal translation is 'Tomorrow, the animals of the future'. Here are two older posts on the subject: here and here. As I wrote then, the book will be written by Jean-Sébastien Steyer and Marc Boulay. If you search my blog for their names you will find out more about them, and then you could also have a peek at their work, for instance at Marc's site. Actually, Marc's website shows some giant posters on bus stands and buildings, but that is not all. There are also some very nice images from the book on his site, so if you will simply browse through it, you will find the following images, and more besides:

Click to enlarge; copyright Marc Boulay 2000/20015
Click to enlarge; copyright Marc Boulay 2000/20015
I must say I love these landscapes, particularly the bottom one, with its trees with aerial roots, suggesting heavy flooding at times. But we'll find out soon enough, in April.

Once or twice I read that people doubted the book was really on its way. Well, if anyone still thiks it is a hoax, perhaps the following link will convince you otherwise: have a look at the French Amazon site. That shows you that the book will cost 23 Euro and will be published on April 10, 2015. You can find it on the UK Amazon site too. I pre-ordered mine already! But I'll want to have it autographed too, so I will have to go to France to see the authors and toast their success...

After my Loncon adventures someone asked me why I did not give similar talks in the Netherlands. Basically I hadn't thought of that, I am sorry to say. But after that I did look around for Dutch SF conventions and contacted the organisers of one. The happy result of that is that I will present a talk on Furaha during the Imagicon meeting, on March 21, 2015, in the town of Ede in The Netherlands. The talk will be based on the London one, but it will be a bit longer; I will show paintings, including a few never published, videos, etc. The talk will obviously be in Dutch though! Dutch readers can access a bit of blurb regarding my lecture on the page reached by clicking 'programma/lezingen' (lectures).  

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Righting a wrong farf

Please read the previous post first, if you haven't done so already. I ended that post with the observation that the wings might bend in the wrong direction. To see whether the opposite looked better, I inverted the warping of the wing and decreased its amplitude as well.

So here is the same farf but with wings that flex the other way. This one is better, I think.


Addition made December 2, 2014

Here's another small improvement: the plants in the background are completely static, whereas they should sway a bit in the wind. That is something Vue can take care of, so after some careful additional programming here is the result. Mind you, the video represents a time lapse shot of the tetropter in flight, and the relative speeds of motion of the tetropter and the plants have not been adjusted yet to look correct in relation to one another. But it works. Somewhere in the future the body of the tetropter needs to become more detailed and more mobile, etc., etc....


Saturday, 22 November 2014

The wrong farf (Tetropters VI)

I made a few animations especially for the Loncon3 convention, some of them concerning tetrop
ters (see here for the previous tetropter post). The reason was that I wanted show some of the 'flight platforms' that tetropters could conceivable evolve into. So far, there are the 'standard, 'rowing', 'helicopter' and 'farf' modes.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk

These modes all have to do with the relative amount of movement in all the four ways a tetropter wing can move. The image above shows the idea: there is a general tetropter body, characterised by its vertical position, four jointed legs at the bottom and a head with sensors at the top (there is a head with smaller eyes and a mouth at the bottom end of the body, not visible here). The red, blue and green axes run through the attachment point of one wing and concern the movement of that wing. There are similar axes systems for the other wings, but these are not shown (the wings are, though, just). The arrows indicate the direction of rotation of each axes. A to and fro movement around the blue axis will result in a clockwise and anticlockwise movement. If you combine that with an up-and down movement around the red axis you get interesting patterns: the wing could describe a circle, but the most common pattern is a horizontal figure of eight. The wing moves clockwise and down, then at the end moves up quickly, so it can move down again while moving anticlockwise. That just leaves the green axis, which rotates the wing around its own longitudinal axis, allowing it to achieve the proper 'angle of attack'.

I said there are four ways to move a tetropter wing, and the fourth is not a rotation around an axis as are the first three, but warping the plane of the wing. Well, if you followed that an can envisage it, top of the class. Its more or less what you need to describe the movement of the wings of animals with hovering flight, so we are on common ground here.

I will probably come back to the other tetopter flight modes later, but let's talk about the farf mode. A farf is short for farfalla, the name the Furahan citizen-scientists gave to tetropters with a very long wing base. In fact, the image above has just such a wing membrane: you can see that the membrane lies against the vertical blue axis over its entire length. Actually, the wing membrane shown here would not be an actual one. It is just a rectangular placeholder, but is does show the principle of the thing nicely. This arrangement means that movement around the green axis cannot take place, and to get a good angle of attack the wing will have to warp considerably. If you think this scheme reminds you of a butterfly, you are right: butterflies also have wings with a broad long wing base. In fact, 'farfalla' is Italian for butterfly.


So here is an animation of a farf, made for this post, showing the placeholder wings. Not too bad, is it?


And this is the one I showed at Loncon3, with colours etc. Just about the day before I showed it, it dawned on me that I probably made a mistake in warping the wings. When the wings clap together, they have to be more or less flat, and then they should peel apart, first at the top, and then downwards towards the bottom. Well, that bit worked, but for some reasons I had also warped the wings in such a way that the distal end of the wings –that is the bit farthest away from the body- leans into the movement, so it moves before the part near the body. But the wings would encounter resistance from the air, and so the tip of the wings should probably lag behind the proximal part instead of leading it.

I do not think anyone noticed, but I also did not give the audience a long time to think about it. I will have to do another animation with the opposite effect, to see whether that looks better. But there's no time for that yet... Meanwhile, I hope you still enjoy the 'wrong farf', warped as it is.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Sean's 'spineless' story

With builders all over my house there is still no time to write new blogposts, but I have found a few minutes to bring you the second of my Furaha stories. Those who do not like them need not worry, because these are the only ones I ever wrote. So, here we go, with another glimpse at life in a culture dominated by the Institute of Furahan Biology.

Sean’s 'Spineless' Story

‘Spine Country is not for the spineless’, Sean Nastrazzurro said to a crowd of undergraduate students. They had just come bustling in and had sat down at Sean’s table, which had been the only one with any vacant chairs left. They were sitting on the terrasse of the Bar des Biologistes, where Sean used to go after having given his afternoon lectures, to drink some spiked coffee and also to look at the young female students passing by. The undergraduates had begun talking about the prospects for their first Field Trips, one year from now. Sean had heard countless such conversations, but listened because they he could not help overhearing them anyway and because he was a bit bored. A thin boy had mentioned Spine Country, where Sean had worked for several years. At that point he had decided to join in their conversation. His remark had had the desired effect: they had stopped talking and were looking at him.
‘That’s what they told me when I went there: Spine Country is not for the spineless. In fact, they tried to warn me away from it, when I was up for my Field Trip, as you are now.’
He looked over the rim of his glass at the students, particularly at the girls, to see if they were impressed. They looked at best mildly interested, so he decided to put in a bit more effort.
‘But I didn’t listen, and went anyway. The place nearly killed me on several occasions. I remember three Class IV Danger Situations in the first two years I was there. But what I really learned from my FT was that you have to rely on your own ingenuity, and shouldn’t just go by the Book’.
This was a shrewd move on Sean’s part, because he knew that undergraduates became restless before their Field Trips and always felt that the Institute restricted them too much. The ‘Book’ he referred to was the Institute’s Handbook for Field Trips. It represented the IFB’s hard-learned lessons how to survive in Furaha’s unknown wildernesses, and students were told again and again to go by the Book. In most cases the Book was right: the lessons in it were quite often hard-won, but that didn’t keep the students from disliking it.
‘Tell us what happened, Dr. Nastrazzurro’, a somewhat plump blond girl named Hilde with a tight shirt asked. ‘Did you get to add a Caution?’
In her eyes, adding a ‘Caution’, a cautionary addition to a Rule, was probably heroic hard-won proof of having survived a dangerous situation. Sean looked into her eyes with what he hoped was a wise expression.
‘No, I didn’t. But I can tell you what happened, so you will now that there is more to FTs than going by the Book.’
Sean pulled up his left trouser leg, and bared his leg, which still had enough of a tan from his last holiday on it to look manly. The students all looked silently at the ragged scar running down the side of this leg.
‘See that scar?’ Sean asked needlessly. ‘I got that in Spine Country’.
He dropped his trouser leg and sat back. He could see that he had their full attention now. Hilde leaned forward over the table with great interest. Sean sipped his spiked coffee without taking his eyes away, and nearly spiked his right eye with his spoon as a result.
‘Hmph’, he said, blinking his tears away, ‘Let me think for a minute now’.
This was no exaggeration, because he needed to come up with a good story.
‘Let’s see… Well, I first travelled to Spine Country as a botanist to study thornbushes.’
At this, Hilde backed away a bit with a vaguely disappointed look on her face. Sean, who was indeed a botanist, silently asked himself for the thousandth time in his life why the girls always went for the Carnivore guys.
‘I mean’, he added quickly, ‘that my Professorandus wanted me to study the way thornbushes lock their branches together with their spines, but I did a double task. I also studied the impact of large animals on the Thorn Biome’.
That went down a lot better, as Sean knew it would: ‘Large Animals’ usually got people's attention.    

‘One day, I was very far away from my camp. I had gone out very far, near to Coogan’s Bluff, at the transition between Spine Country and the Hopeless Desert. That’s a place you don’t want to be unless you’re well prepared. Come to think of it, perhaps you shouldn’t want to be there at all. But I had come well-prepared. For instance, I always had my nose filters in. You need nose filters because there are microtetropters there that zoom in on moisture and will burrow right up your nose, if you aren’t careful.’
At this, Hilde turned up her own nose and shivered delightfully.
‘I also wore my protective goggles, and wore my belt with positioning equipment, my emergency medkit and my EK. So, I…’
'What is an EK?’, the thin boy interrupted, the one who had brought up Spine Country in the first place.
 ‘An Emergency Kit, that’s what an EK is. Don’t get caught without one. Now, let me go on’, Sean said, looking reproachfully at the boy.
‘So, except for all the usual tools, such as a corder and a CRM analysis kit, I…’
‘Plant CRM in Thorn Country is similar to Bogorian geneshards, right?’ the same boy asked, who apparently badly wanted to impress the girls. As everyone knew this about complex replicating molecules this feeble attempt did not earn him any respect.
‘Obviously, my dear boy, obviously’, Sean said, to add insult to injury.
He was pleased to see that some the girls frowned at the boy, who seemed to shrink a little. Sean finished his cup and paused to look into it. Unfortunately, none of the students got the hint and offered to get him another one, so he sighed and went on.
‘I was weighted down with all this equipment, and that didn’t even include the sample cases and portable immobilisers to hold the specimina’.
He said ‘specimina’ instead of ‘specimens’, because jargon helped to impress the students. They tended to copy it immediately. 
‘One day, I stopped to drink some water, and set down my pack under a Bruja Tree. I don’t suppose you’ve heard of Bruja Trees?’
They all looked at him blankly, which he took as a sign of interest, which it was not.
‘Bruja Trees, or Knuckle Bushes, are large mixomorphs that compete with desert plants in arid regions.’
Sean started to speak about the mixomorph-plant interactions, and about the way thornbushes curved their spines around one another to create an impenetrable wall. This was something he was really interested in, but he saw that they were losing interest quickly, and changed tack.
‘All of a sudden, a big Thornrunner came out from under some thorn bushes near my shelter’, he said. ‘It looked ferociously at me, and I knew I shouldn’t disturb it, but nobody had told the Thornrunner that it shouldn’t disturb me! Now thornrunners are kind of stupid. They are the only animals that can run through thornbushes, because they are so tough that the thorns can’t puncture their skin. This thornrunner did not like my looks, or perhaps I startled it, but it did its thing: it turned its eyes out of the way and made a run for it. It came straight at me, so I had to jump aside to avoid it taking a bite out of my hide!’
He paused to add drama.
‘I couldn’t jump far enough though, because the ground was covered with footspikes and blister roots. Footspikes are barbed sticks growing out of the ground. Sometimes they are hidden just beneath the surface. If you step on one, it will go right through your shoe and leave a nasty barb in your foot. Blister roots are even worse, because they are poisonous, and even a light touch will burn your skin. Because of them you can’t run fast in Spine Country, because you have to look where you put your feet at every step. So I couldn’t get away from the thornrunner fast enough, and it took a swipe at me and bit a chunk of flesh right out of my leg. I was lucky it didn’t get all four of its jaws around my leg, because it would probably have bitten my foot off entirely.’
Caught up in his own story, he picked up his cup again, only to discover that it was still empty. He looked around at the students, none of whom made any attempts to order him another spiked coffee. Still, they were all looking at him earnestly, except for the thin boy, who seemed to have lost interest. He had dug out a link and had started to work its controls. Sean didn’t much care for him anyway.     
‘That must have been really awful’, Hilde said, once more leaning over the table.
‘What did you do then? How did you get back to camp?’
‘Well, that took some doing, I can tell you’, Sean said happily. ‘First, I started to...’
‘I don’t get it, dr. Nastrazzurro’, the thin boy interrupted, ’You said we shouldn’t rely on the Handbook too much, but what did you do that wasn’t in it?’
Sean was surprised for a moment, at a loss for words. In fact, what he had said earlier about the Book was only meant to get their interest, and he had more or less forgotten about it. He started to think of a reply, but the boy, tapping at his link, beat him to it.
‘This is strange’, the boy said with a frown. ‘I've called up the Handbook’s link version, and I can’t find anything about any thornrunner attacks on humans. I thought animal attacks resulting in injury were all supposed to be on the link?’
The students looked from Sean to the boy and back again.
‘Of course they are’, Sean tried, ‘But you must have the general version there, not the detailed one for local researchers.’
‘Oh no, doctor Nastrazzurro’, the thin boy said in a high-pitched voice. ‘You see, I want to go to Spine Country for my Field Trip, to do research on thornrunners. I want to become a Zoologist.’
Sean began to really dislike him.
‘I have requested access to the full records, and got it. I just linked into them. There is not a single record of any thornrunner attack on a human being on record. Let me see…I’m down to Class VII Danger situations now, but still nothing… maybe if I look for events at Coogan’s Bluff…’.
Sean saw that this irritating spotty pre-zoologist was really spoiling his story, and tried to change tack again.
'Never mind all those old records, let me just get back to my story now. With the wound in my leg, I had to…’
‘Aha!’ the boy yelped, without listening to Sean at all.
He stabbed at the display with a bony finger.
‘There was an incident at Coogan’s Bluff, reported by automatic medsoft. A junior botanist was treated for a stab wound in the left leg, caused by stepping on a footspike! Let’s see, there’s a link to Records… Here it is: there is one reprimand on record for someone not wearing class II leg protectors.’
The boy looked up, a grin on his thin face. The other students seemed unsure what to do. They looked at Sean now, waiting for his reply. Sean knew he was beaten.
‘Oh well’, he said. ‘I might have touched a footspike, it all went so quickly, but only because the thornrunner pushed me aside. And if you wear Class II Leg protectors in Spine Country, you’ll get toerot.’
The students’ expression did not change, even though that bit actually was true.
Sean added: ’Anyway, se non è vero, e molto ben trovato.’
‘What does that mean, doctor Nastrazurro?’, Hilde asked. She was leaning backwards now, her arms crossed in front of her.
‘It’s ancient, it's Italian, and it means that it’s a good story even if it isn’t true’, Sean mumbled. The students looked silently into their glasses and cups. Sean sighed and did the same, but his cup was still empty. He stood up, bade the students good-day, and walked to the bar to get himself another cup of spiked coffee. While he waited at the bar he thought to himself ‘No sense of humour, undergraduates don’t have a sense of humour. And I hate zoologists anyway’.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A story from the Archives

At present I am quite ready to resume blogging!

But some time ago I decided to have my house renovated, and anyone who had done so will know that it is exciting to decide to do so, and pleasant to have the process behind you. The bit in the middle is where I am right now, however, and that part leaves no time for... well, anything, really. So expect the blog to resume in January. Meanwhile, I may delve into the Archives to see whether there are snippets there that can be posted with little effort.

I found something never shown before: I once wrote two small stories, or rather sketches, of human life in The Institute of Furahan Biology. Mind you, I have never claimed to be a writer, but for what it is worth, here we go.

In the New hades book shop on the Furaha site there is a book by Sigismunda Felsacker, titled 'Paleo days'. The story below is supposed to be a chapter from that book, called 'Landfall in North Palaeogea'.


From ‘Paleo Days’, by Sigismunda Felsacker
Landfall in North Palaeogaea

North Palaeogaea, I found, was quite different from the other palaeogaeas. Compared to the humid jungles of South Palaeogaea the landscape of North Palaeogaea is much more open. Although it was still warm in ‘North’, as we quickly came to call our new home, the heat was much more bearable because it was not nearly as stifling and damp. I grew up in the temperate climate of Bogoria, where my family was involved with the Institute, as was of course everyone else’s. Perhaps because of that I have never been able to like a hot climate, so the stay in South was at times hard for me.

In all fairness, I have to admit that it can’t have been too easy for my co-workers, because I tend to get crabby when the heat gets to me, or at least that’s what people say. Everyone else probably felt the heat in south just as badly, so I don’t think I was the only irritable soul around. My touchy state may explain how Gianfranco Mascalzone got to be so mad at me. I still think it was his own fault, so he had it coming, but anyway, here is what happened.

The flight from South to North was as boring as these flights always are. The lack of windows in the cabin did not help at all. Apparently, flyers in the past had actual windows, but the Management must have decided at one time or another to stop putting them in. I suppose they discovered that windows were expensive. We had screens, of course, but their small size -another cost-saving measure?- made everything look unreal. After a few hours of looking at the sea on a small screen from a few kilometres up we were all anxious to do something.

When we finally set course for our chosen landing area in the middle of North, the members of the out crew made for the 'outroom'. The outroom is a space in the flyer specifically adapted for exobiological surveys. Its most important feature was that it could be sealed from the rest of the flyer. After so many years of human habitation we knew there wasn’t any microbial danger, but Furaha had surprised us with stinging animals and other nasty surprises before. I was in charge, I wanted no mistakes, and so I insisted on going by the book.

Our impatient out crew was hardly able to wait for the doors to open. When they did, we saw that the pilot had set us down at the shores of a then unnamed lake surrounded by low hills. We saw grasses in the usual colour mix, from red and ochre to green-gold. There were trees and slender mixomorphs, and we heard the familiar sound of chikking spidrids. It looked good, sounded good, and smelled good, so we all wanted to go out.

The procedure held that we should only pass the screen after putting on our gear. But Mascalzone didn’t even bother to put on his Class I suit. He just jumped through the screen, wearing his normal clothes, and ran through the waving grass towards the lake. This was stupid, even for Gianfranco, because we had no idea whether there were any dangers hiding in the grass.

‘Gianfranco’, I yelled, ‘Get back here, you fool! You don’t know what’s out there!’

At that, he turned back to us and hopped up and down, waving his ungainly long arms in the air. I remember the sun reflecting off his glinting bald head. Shaven heads for men were the fashion that year, I think.

'What is there to worry about?’ he shouted back. ‘There’ve been surveys for over a hundred years, and what did they show? Nothing!’

What he didn’t mention was that the surveys of North had been Landscape Class only, and could easily have missed anything up to 50 kg in mass. He knew this, obviously, but Gianfranco never could be bothered to actually use his judgement. He drove me crazy.

The worst thing was that he had had ample opportunity to learn better, because his recklessness had landed him flat on his face in the past. In fact, it did so again now, literally. He kept on running and milling about, stupid grin and all, when his legs suddenly appeared to be yanked back from under him, throwing him face forward to the ground. He disappeared from sight into the vegetation.

Everyone in the outroom of the flyer froze on the spot, waiting for Gianfranco to get back up again. But he didn’t; instead, something thin and threadlike seemed to move and wave at the spot where he went down. We realised that this was something we hadn’t seen before. He could be in real trouble, and certainly wouldn’t be the first to die for no good reason. Helmut was the first to react; he had been putting on his environment suit, according to regulations, when all this happened. He only had his feet in the legs of the suit when Gianfranco dropped from sight. Now he went into high speed. I’ve never seen anyone getting into a Class I suit that quickly. He somehow managed to jump to the ground while getting his arms into his suit and closing it, all at the same time. He ran towards Gianfranco. The rest of us were either standing there, frozen, looking at the moving grass, or fumbling with our own suits, which seemed to resist being put on.

Helmut got to where Gianfranco was, and was cool headed enough to actually follow regulations: he stopped several meters away from Gianfranco, and carefully took the situation in. For what seemed like an eternity he did not do anything but just looked. Anyone who has ever been in an emergency knows how difficult it is to force yourself to take the time to think. Most people just start doing something, anything, no matter what. Helmut didn’t. Suddenly, he must have reached a decision, because he got out his knife, bent down, and started to saw at something near Gianfranco’s legs. When he had cut whatever it was he was sawing at, he again withdrew again to a distance of four meters, and froze in place again. Gianfranco, however, did nothing of the sort: he started to roll around on the ground and to scream. We could clearly hear him. “Get me out, you coward. Help me! Get on with it, you dumb bastard”.

At this, Helmut did nothing at first, and kept on staring at the tendrils at Gianfranco’s feet he had just cut. Gianfranco kept on shouting abuse at Helmut and slammed his fists against the ground. Helmut only reacted when he was satisfied the tendrils did not look dangerous anymore: he slowly stepped up to Gianfranco, and maliciously, with clear forethought, kicked him sharply in his left side with his Class I Environment boot. Gianfranco made an “oomph” sound and shut up.

Helmut stepped back, and when some of the rest of us finally got there, turned away and walked back to the flyer, looking very irritated. I knelt down near Gianfranco’s feet. A single tough-looking loop of fibrous material had wrapped itself around his right ankle, and had caused him to fall. The loop was still very tight around the ankle, and both cut ends were waving like crazy. That was all; other loops could be seen in the grass, but they moved only slowly, and did not look very menacing. That was it; there were no gaping maws, no venom-filled pits, nothing particularly dreadful.

Gianfranco was by now sufficiently calmed to look at his feet himself. He had gotten his wind back after Helmut’s kick, looked around at us, and said, stupid grin and all: “Look everyone! I just discovered the first new North species. I’ll call it a something mascalconata! I discovered it.”

At that we all stepped back. Not only could the fool have killed himself and perhaps Helmut as well, but he actually had the affront to suggest that a species be Named after himself. That's something you never do. Names are decided upon by an entire expedition, and only at a Naming. Suggesting your own name is barbaric, and I never would have expected any Institute member to do it.

I admit I wasn’t thinking too clearly, feeling the effect of the heat, still surprised by his complete disregard for proper procedure, and his bad manners. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have done it, but at the time I swear I just saw a red haze before my eyes. I stepped up to Gianfranco, who looked at me expectantly, with his big grin. And I kicked him in the precise spot where Helmut had kicked him, only harder.

Later, we of course studied Gianfranco’s tendrils more closely. Apparently, they are mixomorphs, forming loops that lie hidden in the vegetation. When small hexapods or other animals get their feet snagged in the loops, the tendrils tighten, partly passively, and partly actively. Other tendrils in the near vicinity become active, swaying around for something to tie down. The tendrils are very tough, and can keep smallish animals tied down for quite some time. Long enough for predators to get there and kill off the unlucky animal, which is devoured on the spot. It has to be, because the tendrils keep it, or at least one of its legs, in place. The 'morph gets its reward by taking in some of the nutrients leaking out off the carcass into the ground. 

We had never seen anything of the sort in South or anywhere else. The ecological communities of the Palaeogaeas are so old that there are many more species per square kilometre than in places with more recent biotopes. The ‘holdit’ was a good example. We later called it that because that was typically what you said when you got one of your feet in one. It did not occur all over north, but only around the lakes we had just landed near. We learned to avoid them. When we did get snagged, the loop could be cut relatively easily with a knife.

When we later held the first Naming in North, the expedition almost unanimously decided to call it the ‘Supplantator incuriosorum’, meaning the ‘tripper of the careless’. There was only one abstention. That particular Naming ended in a still-famous party. Mascalzone’s feelings were seriously hurt though, and he chose not to talk to the rest of us for several days, which suited us perfectly.

But that was later; that particular day, we hauled a protesting Gianfranco to the flyer. He was subjected him to a full medical by a very unsympathetic doctor Dendycke, who could have an awful bedside manner when he chose to. The rest of us had to stay in the flyer for at least a whole day, according to Regulations. So we spent our first evening and the next day in North in the flyer, grumbling about Gianfranco’s folly. Helmut, usually not that popular, received some well-meant slaps on the back. People grinned at me; I knew they wouldn’t exactly dare to slap my back, but anyone who had kicked Gianfranco was popular that evening.

But it was that day of delay which probably got me to be the first to ever see a Bogorbes, which is one of the best memories I have of North Palaeogaea. That discovery was worth kicking Gianfranco for; in fact, if it had given me a pair of Bogorbesses, I would have kicked him some more.