Wednesday, November 16, 2011

java fern plantlets

So my java ferns are starting to produce little plantlets on their leaves. I don't know whether this is a last attempt to get some offspring before they die, or because they are flourishing in my aquarium and are thus healthy enough to produce offspring. They do have some brown spots on their leaves, but apparently that's normal for java fern, so I don't know...

For now, I'm just happy to have baby plants and hopefully I'll be able to pluck them off the mother plant soon, so I can try to plant them.

Monday, October 31, 2011

virtual life

I'm a real sucker for artificial life games, although it seems like no one makes them anymore. My favorite game of all time is Creatures 2. It had 3 species of creatures: the cute Norns, the industrious Ettins and the dangerous Grendels. Each individual creature has it's own digital DNA, with genes that control their biochemistry, organs, brains and appearance.

Creatures 2 Ettin, Grendel and Norn
Raising Norns was a challenge, they were very dumb and hard to keep alive. It wasn't uncommon for a Norn to die of starvation, surrounded by cheese blocks, and me telling it to "EAT FOOD", damnit. But all those hardships made it so much more rewarding. They lived in a world that had an interesting ecosystem: plants, insects and animals that lived their own life cycle, independent of what the player is doing, though you could also influence them. There was a splice machine, vulcano, oceans, deserts... I loved this game so much that I started working on my own Norn breed, which looked like red squirrels, although I never finished it.

my  own Norn breed

Now, it's about 10 years ago that the last creatures game was released. The docking station servers are down, downloadable content is no longer available, none of the games work properly on the newer operating systems anymore...the games are truly dead. And there haven't been any new games in the artificial life genre that I know of. It seems to be a niche that no one cares about, and no one wants to develop games for. It's such a wide, open field,  with a lot of possibilities...It's a shame. I wish that I was a programmer, so I could develop my own artificial life form.

Currently, a new Creatures game, Creatures 4, is being developed by the Belgian indie game studio Fishing Cactus. I've never heard of them, but I hope that they'll do a good job. The game should be released early 2012.
The graphics look very simplistic and colorful. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I just hope that it's not an indication that the rest of the game will be simple, childish and lax any complexity. The Norns look so different from all the previous games. They just aren't cute. Their eyes are too small, and they look like little trolls. On top of that, there won't be any Ettins and Grendels in this game. I just hope that they don't downgrade the importance of ecology, biochemistry and genetics, which were very present in the previous games. I'm a little concerned because only genetic feature that I've heard them talk about in their interviews is colour... Let's hope that they didn't dumb it down to just that.

After I found out about the new Creatures game, I started playing Creatures 3 again. Boy, what I've seen of Creatures 4 looks very bad compared to it predecessor. But there's another type of virtual life being developed that looks a lot more promising...Grandroids!

This is a new game/research project of Steve Grand, the person that was responsible for making the artificial life engine used in the Creatures series. It will have real virtual alien life forms that can live in a virtual world.

I'm not talking about a computer game designed to simulate lifelike behavior; I mean genuine artificial life. I mean virtual creatures constructed from complex networks of virtual brain cells and biochemical reactions and genes. They'll learn things for themselves and have their own thoughts. I don't program them to behave in a certain way - they make their own decisions. If they get sick it will be because something has disturbed the delicate balance of their biochemistry, and remedies must be discovered that can rebalance it. If they evolve new traits or suffer from unknown hereditary diseases it'll be because nature has taken its course, not because it's part of the plot. If you conclude that they're conscious, thinking, feeling beings then it won't be because I've somehow fooled you. I'm not here to fool you; I'm here to celebrate the beauty and complexity of life with you...I think I have the key to an artificial life form that can actually think. Norns could react but they couldn’t think – they couldn’t make plans, have hopes or intentions, dream dreams, learn physical skills, etc. Higher consciousness can’t exist without an imagination either. It remains to be seen how smart they actually prove to be but they’ll certainly be much more realistic than the norns in lots of ways and hopefully a lot more fun to look after.

Seriously, that stuff is so interesting. He's a computer scientist and life philosopher, and what he's basically doing is being a God, creating new life that lives in a virtual world... And by doing something like that, you can learn a great deal about what life is really about. It's a different approach than scientists use in the lab; instead of researching life that's already there, making life of your own. Both ways will teach you a great deal about life forms.

These games are a perfect mixture between fun and educational for me. They stimulate my mind in many ways.

If you want to read more about Grandroids: faqinterviewkickstarter

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

ordering jewelry on ebay

One of my newest discoveries: there is cheap jewelry for sale on ebay. For about $1-3, you can buy very nice and fashionable necklaces, including free shipping from China. Sometimes they look a bit different than in the ebay photo, but only minor differences and they always look nice.

Some examples of things that I bought:

owl; the colors looked less intense on the ebay picture

another owl; it had white diamond eyes on the ebay picture though


eaten apple

Sunday, October 23, 2011

aquarium update

I added 3 more Endlers, so now I have 9. I think that I'll add 2-3 more, and that should be enough. I really don't want to overstock.

I've also added 2 red ramshorn snails to the tank. They add some extra colour and life, but..they also proliferate like crazy.

Ramshorn snail eggs on the glass. They almost exclusively lay
eggs on the plants, though.

This is how big the babies are, 3 weeks after I put the parents in the tank.
They sure do grow fast.
I also have small pond snails that probably came with my plants. I've started removing all the snail eggs that I can see from my tank, so I don't get a snail plague. But because I also feel bad about just throwing the eggs away, so I put them in a cup next to my window with salvina natans in it and give them small pieces of vegetable as food. I'm hoping that they will start proliferating less rapidly. If not, I'm thinking that I should get one of those cool assasin snails (Anentome helena). Would surely make things more interesting, but I'm not sure that my aquarium is big enough to keep one fed without completely destroying my population of other snails. 

The mondo grass was starting to look bad, so I took it out of my aquarium and planted it with my sanseveria's. As compensation, I added a moss ball to my aquarium. They seem pretty neat, because they are actually algae, they should prevent other algae from growing by competing with them for nutrients. I've  also read that fish sometimes nibble on it, which could help them survive the weekends, when I can't feed them.
My aquarium as it is now. Note the moss ball (right).
As floating plants, I have salvina natans, duckweed and some unknown plant. I got the latter two from the water in which my Endlers were transported. They all seem to be thriving in my aquarium and have grown quite a bit.

Top view of my aquarium

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A song of ice and fire

About a month ago, I ordered a boxed set of the first 4 books of George R. R. Martin's series "A song of ice and fire" on I did this after watching the HBO series "A game of thrones", of which the first season is based on the first book. The TV series was very good, so I decided to give the books a try, after reading a few chapters online first.

By now, I've read the first book and I must say that George R. R. Martin writes very well. The story is very intriguing, and although I already knew what was going to happen because I watched the TV series, it was still a good read. 

Before buying the boxed set, I was pondering for weeks whether to buy it or not. Mostly, I was worried about the quality of the print. I had read some reviews saying that the cover breaks easily, the paper being too thin and the print too small. But I finally decided that it was worth the risk of paying €15 for about 3500 pages to read. (Damn, just checked and they sell it for €13 now! I feel so ripped off...)
So, I'm posting this review to help other crazy people like me decide to buy it. I really am crazy in this aspect, I looked at any review I could find, photos of every detail. These pictures were taken today, after I read the first book. I took it with me on the train, bus, on the plane to Africa and it even survived the horrible mess that was my suitcase while I stayed in the middle of the Kruger park. You can see that the edges have a bit of damage, there's also a crack in the middle of the spine. But those things are very minor and don't bother me at all. The print is fine and the paper is thin, like other reviewers said, but still it's easy enough to read. All in all, I think it's very good value for the small price that I paid for it and I'm looking forward to reading the second book.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

and then there was life

I decided that it was time to add fish to my aquarium. Because my aquarium is only 37 liters (10 gallons), it's best to keep smaller fish. I was thinking of Boraras brigittae, Endler's Livebearer and Ember Tetra. After reading up about these fish a bit, Endler's Livebearers seem to be the hardiest, which makes them a good choice for me. This is my first aquarium ever, so I'll probably do a lot of things wrong. On top of that, this is a dorm aquarium, so they'll have to survive weekends without feeding and getting moved over the breaks. I already feel bad for my fish, heh. If I go for Endlers, I'd have to get all males because they breed like crazy and I don't have any idea of what to do with all the babies.

After visiting several local fish stores, I found one that sold Endlers, but they didn't look very pure. They all had different colours and patterns, so they were probably hybrids that had been crossed with guppies. And they were very expensive. So I looked at online ads, and found someone that sold Endlers. I bought 6 male Endlers from him, 5 adults and 1 juvenile. To get them to my dorm room, they had to survive a car drive to my house and then a train and bus trip to my dorm. They got there safely, and they're already happily swimming around.

This is what my aquarium looks like now, with the 6 small Endlers in it.

These fish are very lively, they are swimming around and playing with each other all the time. It's very entertaining to watch, but hard to take pictures of.

Here's a short video of my aquarium:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

things had died while I was gone

After I got back from my vacation, I saw that my CFL had broken while I was gone. Could've been because of some water that got in the hood, or because the lamp was kinda squashed between the glass and the plastic of the hood. Who knows. Either way, I wasn't going to risk buying another €18 lamp just to have it break again.

On top of that, some of my plants had started rotting and died while I was gone. Most of the salvina natans was falling apart, and the bacopa lanigera was gone altogether. The water was brown, and very hot. I bought a thermometer, and apparently the thermostat didn't work correctly. It should have kept the temperature around 25°C, but instead it was about 30°C in there. I solved this problem by turning the thermostat down a bit. It does keep the temperature constant, but always warmer than it's supposed to be.

Without a lamp, I wouldn't be able to keep any plants, and I saw no way that I could keep a decent lamp in this hood. I went to the aquarium store to see if they had any solutions for me. They had 18W clip-on lights but they were €40, more than I had paid for my aquarium originally. It just seemed too much money to spend. After all this, I didn't feel like carrying on with the aquarium.

Luckily, my boyfriend convinced me to just buy that clip-on light, because I had been wanting an aquarium for so long. So I bought it, and after removing the hood and spending quite some time cutting through the plastic on my aquarium with a butter knife, I was able to attach it to the glass. I also had some glass cut to act as a cover for my aquarium.


I removed all the water from my aquarium twice, because it was really a rotten mess. Most of the plants survived though, and all seems well for now.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Monday, August 29, 2011

birth of an aquarium

A few months ago, I decided to get an aquarium on my dorm room. So I purchased one on a second hand site, only to find out later that it had an incandescent light bulb instead of TL lighting which is usually used for aquariums.

But that wasn't something that couldn't be overcome. I would just go buy a CFL with 6500K light (you need that kind of light to be able to grow plants in an aquarium) and small enough to fit in the hood. Only I couldn't find a CFL like that anywhere, not in any of the 4 DIY stores that I visited. Luckily, I found one eventually, but it was very expensive and needed an E27 socket. The socket in my aquarium was an E14, much smaller than the E27. There are adapters that can convert an E14 socket to an E27, but they weren't available in any local store. My only option was ordering one online in China; it didn't cost me much, but...the first one they shipped me got broken, the next one got lost during shipping, so I only got a working one after 1.5 month.

Finally, I was able to put the lamp in the hood. I decided to put in some plants right away:
-salvina natans, a floating plant that I got from my pond
-hygrophila guanensis, which I planted in the left background
-bacopa lanigera, which you can see on the right of the aquarium
-microsorium pteropus or java fern, which I tied to the driftwood
-java moss, which I also tied to driftwood
-Ophiopogon japonicus, better known as mondo grass

After buying the plants, I looked them up and found out that the mondo grass isn't a real aquarium plant, it's actually a garden plant and will die and rot after being submerged for a few months. I decided to keep most of it as a house plant, and put a bit in my aquarium to see how it

Because I was going on a vacation, I decided to just leave the aquarium on my dorm to cycle until I was back.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Schmidtea mediterranea

Wanted to share this little fellow with the world: Schmidtea mediterranea, a planaria species that we're doing toxicology research with at university. I find them absolutely adorable; too bad that we have to kill them in the name of science..

On the pictures, they are shown on milimeter paper. One little square is 1 mm, the whole photo is 1 cm².

If you look closely, you can see that they have these cute little eyes (photoreceptors).
To me, they look like this:

All cute and innocent, heh.
But actually, they don't have a mouth there. They have one in the middle of their body. This is a more realistic drawing, with the circle being the mouth:

One photo a day

I thought that I'd try taking a photo every day from now on. Seems like a nice experiment.

These are the rules:
-one photo has to be taken every day
-no more than one photo can be taken; if it's a crappy photo, so be it
-the same camera will be used to take all the photos
-no editing of the photos

I will use a very old and bad webcam/camera. But the crappiness of this camera is part of its charm, if you ask me. We got the thing for free a long time ago. I don't know exactly how long ago, but probably before 07/05/2003. Why do I think that? Well, it marks every photo as being taken on 07/05/2003. It's a pretty odd camera









EDIT: ah well, this project got cancelled because the old crappy camera, being old and crappy, dies within 2 hours of charging it (even if I leave it turned off). fail.