Saturday 20 April 2013

Five years on

On April 22, 2008 I started writing this blog without any clear thoughts on the direction it should take or how successful it should be.  I still do not know how successful it actually is, as the niche this blog occupies is so specialised. Even though I cannot compare the blog easily to other blogs, I can show you some results of the last five years.

A few days ago the count stood at 172 posts with over 225,000 page views, 1042 comments and 131 followers. This results in a mean number of page views per post of 1303. Most views last less than 15 seconds, so most viewers probably people leave the page after a quick glance, which is to be expected. Every now and again someone spends 45 or 90 minutes, though, and old posts keep on being read. I will show a number of lists to illustrate how viewers behave.

First, here are the 10 most-visited posts preceded by the number of page views:    
  1. 6565 Swimming in Sand 1: the Sandworms of Dune /  Feb 2011
  2. 3113 Warren Fahy's "Fragment" / Aug 2010   
  3. 2814 A century of thoats / May 2012
  4. 2544 Avatar's 'Walking with hexapods' or 'Don't walk this way' / Feb 2010
  5. 2529 A future book on future evolution from France / Nov 2011
  6. 1451 "A Venusian Bestiary", in Which Greg Broadmore Ill... / Apr 2011
  7. 1408 Future evolution in Brussels / Feb 2009
  8. 1353 How many legs are best for megamonsters?  / May 2011
  9. 1345 Ballooning animals and Newtonian fitness / Jul 2011
  10. 1312 How much more Speculative Biology is there? / Mar 2009
The list suggests that a post may become popular for three reasons: in some cases a large spike in views was generated when a large newspaper drew attention to my blog (Der Standard from Austria). Referring to popular films (Avatar), books (Fragment) or well-known names (Greg Broadmore) seems to help, and finally key words such as 'future evolution' and 'speculative biology' draw attention. Still, there are two 'biomechanical' posts with some hard science in the list. When I started doing those I wondered whether people would skip them. Apparently not; good!

Here is a list of the most often used search terms resulting in people being referred to my blog:
  1. 1122 speculative biology
  2. 612 future evolution
  3. 566 dougal dixon greenworld
  4. 262 furahan biology
  5. 210 cladogram
  6. 204 henders island
  7. 200 planet furaha
  8. 197 bobby chiu
  9. 190 creature journal
  10. 190 furahan
There is a definite interest for Dougal Dixon's Greenworld, so I hope it will see an English version in addition to the existing Japanese one. I was much surprised by 'cladogram'. When I use 'Google images' to find out how that word leads to my blog, a familiar cladogram appeared on the second row. Someone has copied Evan Black's Nereus cladogram from my post here to his own blog (here), with a clearly stated reference to my blog, so that is all right. I can only hope that that roundabout route also led people to Evan's own Nereus page

There was also some bad news: my posts were copied verbatim on someone else's blog. I am at present busy with having these posts deleted through Google, citing a breach of copyright. That seems to be working well. I will not provide links to these blogs; these people are stealing page views from my blog, so I certainly will not direct attention to them. Away with parasites!

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk

That's enough about the blog. I have not done much with the main Furaha site, as I spent the little time I had on new digital paintings. The image above shows a study for one. I sculpted the head of an 'Ochreback Thresher' (Ira tarda) in Sculptris as a help with perspective. Its nasal horn can be used to ward off predators, but is also used in intraspecies conflicts. The horn fits under the opponent's parietal shield bosses, meaning the combatants obtain a lock on one another in which the one with the most stamina wins. The ridges on the side of the face are meant to protect the eyes (four, not well visible) from damage, but loss of one eye in dominant individuals is not uncommon. The painting will not show such a combat, by the way.

I will end with some good news and a question. I produced a 20-page sampler of The Book and have finally started sending it to publishers! I hope one will be interested, but do not dare expect much. After all, the book is as specialised as the blog, so the potential readership might be small. In my covering letter I wrote that it should appeal to people who like science fiction art and biology. If you have made it to the end of this post, you must be one of the interested people. Is that a good description of the possible readership? Is there a better one?  

Epilogue, May 2, 2013

After the post was published I noticed a surge in page views. The source was easily identified: the Austrian newspaper 'Der Standard' had published an article about the post above, in which I had drawn attention to the fact that their earlier messages had resulted in clear spikes in the number of page views concerning the posts they had drawn attention to. Confused? You may be after this epilogue, because their article not only resulted in a spike in views of the post 'Five years on' (the one you are reading now), but also in the posts already in the top ten. The top ten for the last week was:

1. 267  Swimming in Sand....
2. 239  Five years on
3. 162  A Venusian bestiary...
4. 131  Avatar, or how...
5. 91    A century of thoats    

See the list above for the links.  To close the circle of references, you may visit the article at the site of 'Der Standard'. It is entitled 'What fascinates people about fictional life forms' (but in German, obviously). You will find it here.  


Anonymous said...

That is great! I would certainly buy it.

Evan Black said...

Excellent post! I plan on doing something similar on my own blog soon (just to recognize some milestones)

"There is a definite interest for Dougal Dixon's Greenworld, so I hope it will see an English version in addition to the existing Japanese one."

Me too! I love his work! I've only been able to see snippets here and there of Greenworld, but what I've seen looks fascinating.

"I was much surprised by 'cladogram'."

I'm not. Much of my site traffic comes from you, whether it's your link to me from the Furaha page or from links in your blog.

There was also some bad news: my posts were copied verbatim on someone else's blog.

Sad to hear. I hope everything can be resolved with that soon. People don't realize the ramifications of plagiarism.

"I sculpted the head of an 'Ochreback Thresher' (Ira tarda) in Sculptris as a help with perspective."

Interesting creature. When I look at the model, it seems that there is morphology similar to both the marshwallows and the shuffler. Are those three lineages closely related? Which one is the thresher more closely related to?

"In my covering letter I wrote that it should appeal to people who like science fiction art and biology.... Is that a good description of the possible readership? Is there a better one?"
Congratulations on getting it out there to publishers! Readership may be relatively small, but it will be avid! The description of the potential audience seems like a good one to me. If you didn't already, I would suggest including a nod in your cover letter to similar works out there: Barlowe's Expedition, Dixon's body of work, Cameron's Avatar, and anything else that seems to inhabit the same 'niche.' It might help publishers get ideas for where and how they could market the book.

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Anonymous: thank you.

Evan: Still, there must be a reason for the prominent place of the Nereus cladogram on Google searches; perhaps people click on it often because it is attractive?

As for the thresher: yes, it is related both to the shuffler and the marshwallow; I should think of a clade name, probably with 'large' and 'horns' in it.

Thanks for the suggestion; I will use it.

Nicky said...

Congrats on your blog's 5th birthday, though i still seek of you making an entry concerning your opinion(s) about the Croods film. If you watched, good for you. If not, do so, it maybe a family film, but the creatures are something you can't miss.

Evan Black said...

There are two things I note about the cladogram that was copied onto that blog. One is that it doesn't seem to be a blog with any specific biological focus, let alone speculative biology. I agree it's a pretty cladogram, but it's not even real critters! Why did they pick it?

The other thing I note is that it's incomplete. That's obviously because your post was published before I finished the first set of nereophytes. There's a completed one out there now, and for those who are interested, I'm also working on a great big cladogram that includes the nereophytes too.

You could always call the clade of threshers, shufflers and marshwallows Keratotheria, Greek for "Horn beasts". That's just the first thing that came to mind, so maybe there's something better.

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Nicky: thank you. I haven't seen it yet and had read a review that did not suggest interesting animals. I tried a Google search but did not find many animals there either. I guess I will have to see the film, unless you know of a site that shows the animals in question.

Evan: I checked Yahoo, and found that your cladogram appears on the first page there too (twice, in fact, and both came from my blog this time). perhaps it is popular because it is circular, as the only one on the page. Perhaps that makes it stand out?

As for clades on Furaha, a long time ago I had long lists of species, genus, familia, ordo, etc., but with the advent of cladistics I threw those away. I think I will show a minor branch of a cladogram here and there, without going for a complete full one (mind you, I have been thinking about making 3D cladograms. A sphere instead of a circle?

Evan Black said...

From what I've seen, The Croods seems like an enjoyable family film dramatizing a paleolithic interaction between Neanderthals and modern humans. From what I can tell of the trailer, while the plot may be inspired by some scientific theories, its focus is more on a "whimsical journey" type of story than depicting anything plausible.

And I think the creatures reflect this too. I haven't yet seen the movie, but this wiki seems to have at least a brief description of creatures associated with the movie. The names alone indicate that the creatures are arbitrary hybridizations of disparate species, and clicking on any of them seems to confirm that idea. The one I find most interesting is something called the 'ground whale,' a creature that's apparently a humpback whale with four stubby legs that can dig into the ground to avoid predation from swarms of piranhakeets. Eat your heart out Shai-Hulud...

The circular format of the nereozoa cladogram may help it to stand out, but I can't claim that as an original idea. The Wikipedia page on Evolution (and I daresay other pages there) show this image, and it's there that I got the idea for how I could show the complete cladogram of featured nereids and manage to save space in the process.

I hope you didn't completely throw away your original taxonomy for Furahan life. The nomenclature and arrangement could still have some value when examining cladistics. Or am I wrong?

A circular cladogram would be a fascinating construction, but I wonder how it could be presented in a way that's clear and easy to interpret.

Dromicosuchus said...

I probably contributed more than my fair share to the views of the biomechanics pages; I've found both invaluable when working on my own speculative fiction, and have consulted both more than once when trying to figure out whether some particularly large or particularly floaty animal is viable.

I don't have much in the way of helpful suggestions for making The Book attractive to publishers, but I hope very much that it gets accepted by some party or another. I've loved what I've seen of Furaha thus far, and I'd be elated to get to see more.

Oh, and I enjoyed The Croods immensely, personally. It's true that the creatures shown are implausible as all get-out, but they're also very imaginative and beautifully animated. The piranhakeets*, particularly, are amazing. They're biological eye candy, really; probably not very good for you, but nonetheless very, very sweet.

*Is that becoming the accepted name for swarming carnivorous fliers? I seem to recall having encountered that name before, in the same speculative fiction world that featured "Ktulu" squid and screaming ninja penguins of DEATH!!! (the three exclamation marks are necessary, yes), but I didn't know that it was being used more widely.

I heartily approve, in any case; it's a fabulous portmanteau, with much of the same appeal of "ballont" (which has become the mental label I tend to apply to my own attempts at viable floating beasties).

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Evan: I'll keep my eyes open as regards the Croods and the creatures in the film.

As far as a 3D spherical representation of clades ec., that is certainly doable, but the real problem is whether adding a dimension adds meaning. So far, I only managed to add 'prettiness', which is not enough.The circular 2D image you used is attractive while not doing more than needs be done. I'll not do more unless I'll find a reason to do so.

Dromicosuchus: Thank you; if only the Publishers In The Skies would listen...
I wouldn't know about the term 'piranhakeets', really; Evan used it, and as he is a moderator at the Speculative Biology forum he would know more about its use than I do. I do like it though! Who came up with it first? Some things are important enough to get the details right. As for 'ballonts', well, please forgive me for being flattered...

Evan Black said...

That's my concern about the spherical cladogram too: what does the third dimension represent?

The 'piranhakeet' is a specific creature from the Croods movie, which I ended up seeing, incidentally. It was an enjoyable movie, and I would recommend seeing it should the mood strike you, but the creatures were predictably more on the whimsical end of the continuum than the plausible. Though they were certainly conceptually interesting, I'm not really sure what purpose a serious analysis of the featured biology would serve.

As far as adopting the term 'piranhakeet' in a more general sense, I don't know if it will catch on. These things are socially driven, after all, and while there are many things that the term has going for it (you hear 'piranhakeet' and you immediately have a general image in your mind) it all depends on what the community thinks is worthy of adopting as part of the local jargon.

Evan Black said...

I'm just now noticing your epilogue. I know I've said it before, but I think it's remarkable that your blog attracts some widespread attention. My own website/blog draws quite a broad readership in terms of location, but I'm fairly confident that it's several views from repeat visitors spread across the globe. Congratulations on another spike!

Dromicosuchus said...

Here we go: Matti's Evil Piranhakeet, from the Specworld project ( Although the page is dated to 2012, it's been going on for far longer than that; I'm familiar with it from an older site that seems to have been devoured by the internet at this point in time, but which was referenced in a 2008 post on the Tetrapod Zoology blog (, and which apparently was extant six years previous to that, at least according to one of the commenters. I slightly misremembered Spec's piranhakeets; although they are swarming birds, they're carnivorous penguins, and prey on large whale-like cephalopods. I wonder whether the developers for The Croods stole the name, or came up with it independently?

Warren Fahy said...

By the way, the sequel to Fragment, Pandemonium, is out now... -Warren

Sigmund Nastrazzurro said...

Evan: concerning a 3D representation of a cladogram, Attenborough used one in a documentary on plants, and there are some serious attempts elsewhere, I will look for links and report back afterwards.

Dromicosuchus: Aha; so the word 'piranhakeet' has been around for some time. I guess it's possible that it came up independently.

Warren: excellent. I'll buy it as soon as I find a paperback version. I'll probably write a post about it too!

Petr said...

awesome! I love that herbivore head concept! goblin shark meets a ceratopsian. wonderful! :D