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Here in America, November 11th is Veteran’s Day, but elsewhere 11/11 is a very different holiday indeed.  China celebrates November 11th as Singles’ Day AKA 光棍节 or “bare sticks holiday” (a sad metaphor for flowerless & fruitless family tree branches).  The day is an opportunity for Chinese singles to party and hang out together…and buy crap online (more about that in a moment).

Single-Day-Dia-Soltero-China-2014

China has ancient romantic holidays with roots stretching back thousands of years into the mythic past.  Singles Day is not like that at all—it was invented in 1993 as “Bachelors’ Day” at Nanjing University when some guys without girlfriends realized the calendar date consisted of four ones.  They decided to go out and try to meet women, or, if that failed, to at least treat themselves to fancy dinners and little luxuries. The holiday gradually spread to the sprawling cities of the Chinese coast and then was popularized by Alibaba, an online merchant.  The hallmark of the holiday is a giant orgy…of consumption (sigh).  People spend a ton of money on online deals and at karaoke clubs, bars, and restaurants

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Perspicacious readers may be starting to note that this seems a lot like other lame contemporary holidays such as “Cyber Monday” &“Black Friday”(which it to say not really a holiday, but an excuse for selling stuff that nobody needs).  That seems about right: the main holiday tradition of Single’s Day (other than bemoaning one’s singleness or buying discount goods online) is eating fried dough sticks in the shape of the number 1.

Worker piles up manufactured goods at a plastics factory in China

Worker piles up manufactured goods at a plastics factory in China

This is disappointing. The Chinese are not prudes—they have no trouble with freaky sex stuff, and I was hoping to highlight some of that in this entry, but alas, everything I have found out about Singles’ Day emphasizes online sales numbers and the potential buying power of China’s vast middle class.  It’s too bad, I have “The Carnal Prayer Mat” right here on my shelf (a hilarious and horrifying bawdy Chinese novel from the 17th century), but I guess I need to write about online shopping at Alibaba instead.

Speaking of which, I have found things I like online on Alibaba, but I have never been able to figure it out—it seems like a wholesale site where one could buy multiple 2 ton stone garden fountains or a shipping container of paper lanterns (?).  But it must be a lot different in Chinese, since Alibaba sold 4 billion dollars worth of goods in the first hour of 11/11/15 alone. However, I am not a toymaker anymore…I have no skin in marketing and sales.  I don’t really care about how much junk sells online…not here and certainly not in China.

Oh, well that explains it then...

Oh, well that explains it then…

If you Chinese ladies get sick of buying discount hotpots and eating sticks of dough, give me a call.  I’ll be right here in my luxurious pajamas reading “the Carnal Prayer Mat” [opens book, reads sentence, and blushes]. *Cough* Splutter* Oh my goodness! Then and again, I guess I could use a shipping container of paper lanterns….or maybe I’ll just give up on Singles’ Day and reminisce about the heroic sacrifices of America’s proud military veterans or about the end of World War I.  This is a strange day worldwide.

Get your act together, humankind

Get your act together, humankind

Doodle (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015 colored pencil and ink)

Doodle (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015 colored pencil and ink)

I carry around a little Moleskine sketchbook and a tin of pencils and I doodle whimsical little scenes on the train and at lunch.  Here are some scenes from the last fortnight!

Make the Moche of Life (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015 colored pencil and ink)

Make the Moche of Life (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015 colored pencil and ink)

After writing my Halloween-time post about the Moche and their bat-theme pottery I was not done with their exhilarating & scary style.  This is a cartoony-yet somehow intense and impressive picture of spirit beings from the long-lost world of the Moche, brought to life again after all of these years by the magic of art.  The decapitator is there in the right.  Various night creatures and spirit folk surround the great murderous sea god…his claws twitch open, hungry for necks to cut….

Toy Windmill Plan (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015 colored pencil and ink)

Toy Windmill Plan (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015 colored pencil and ink)

For Halloween I was Don Quixote.  I carried a little model windmill around so I could say “Forsooth! I caught this baby monster!” I made the windmill myself out of detritus I found in the recycling pile—in the same style as my unpublished book of toy vehicles.  This was the preliminary sketch for my toy windmill, but I colored it in and added little autumn figures around it.

Costume Party (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015 colored pencil and ink)

Costume Party (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015 colored pencil and ink)

Speaking of Halloween, here are some revelers at a costume party I attended: it was a party for a theatre-troupe “One Year Lease” which puts on thought-provoking (or otherwise provocative) plays in Manhattan and Greece.  The woman with the goat legs was dressed as some sort of androgynous Welsh nature spirit—she had one of the best outfits I have ever seen.  The person dancing in the middle was supposed to be a time traveler from the future world of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”  His suit lit up and made loud futuristic rock-and-roll noises.

In the Realm of the Mech Hippo (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015 colored pencil and ink)

In the Realm of the Mech Hippo (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015 colored pencil and ink)

Also with a fantastic bent, here is a drawing of a giant mechanized hippopotamus surrounded by fairy folk and oddballs.  There is a bear with pantaloons, a composer, and two sentient hot-dogs (?).  A willow tree buds in front of the dazzling sun. What does it all mean?

Traveler with Smart Phone (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015 colored pencil and ink)

Traveler with Smart Phone (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015 colored pencil and ink)

Finally here is a woman with pink accessories riding the train. She was completely lost in her cell phone and never once looked up at the crazy spectacles in the train car.  Fortunately I was there to sketch it all down in my little book.

The Fortingall Yew

The Fortingall Yew

It’s 2015 and anything is possible these days, but Ferrebeekeeper was still surprised to see a stolid old friend showcased in the international media for changing gender!  A while ago (for us humans) I blogged about The Fortingall yew, which may be more than 5000 years old (and may also be Great Britain’s oldest living thing).  The Fortingall yew is a male and has been so for several millennia.  However, this year the ancient tree started to produce berries from a limb near its crown.  Yews tend to be male or female, though it is not entirely unheard of for male conifers to have a female branch.  Of course the Fortingall Yew predates Christianity (and possibly the pyramids)…and it has returned from the dead, so a bit of gender bending may not be so noteworthy considering its astonishing nature.  Hopefully the berries will be fertile, I would like the tree to have some known offspring (although probably most of the yews in Great Britain are already descendants if it has been around for so long).

The Fortingall Yew then and now: partying with Victorian dandies in 1822 on the left, and switching gender at present time on the right

The Fortingall Yew then and now: partying with Victorian dandies in 1822 on the left, and switching gender at present time on the right

Omura's whale or the dwarf fin whale (Balaenoptera omurai)

Omura’s whale or the dwarf fin whale (Balaenoptera omurai)

At the end of last month (October 2015), marine researchers in the Indian Ocean captured the first ever moving images of Omura’s whale (Balaenoptera omurai) a “dwarf” rorqual about which very little is known.  I put “dwarf” in quotation marks because Omura’s whale is still a rorqual, a family which includes the largest animals to have ever lived. Adult Omura’s whales range in length from 9.6 to 11.5 meters (31.5 to 37.7 feet)—not exactly a miniature animal.

The whale is mysterious because it is rare.  The specimens which were observed (or killed) were thought to be a small subspecies of Bryde’s whale.  Only in 2003 did Japanese cetologists demonstrate incontrovertibly that the whale was a separate species (largely through genetic evidence preserved from specimens taken in infamous hunts/research expeditions).

An Omura's whale underwater lunge feeding (photo by  Cerchio et al. 2015, Royal Society Open Science)

An Omura’s whale underwater lunge feeding (photo by Cerchio et al. 2015, Royal Society Open Science)

Insomuch as we know anything about it, the Omura’s whale (which is named in honor of a famous Japanese whale scientist) is like other rorquals.  It is a huge pelagic filter feeder which captures plankton or small fish and invertebrates in its great baleen mouth and strains the water out.  It superficially resembles Bryde’s whale, however DNA reveals that it is an early offshoot from the rorqual lineage (its skeleton also differs greatly from Bryde’s whale)

We didn’t even know this was a species until 12 years ago—which illustrates how vast and unknown our own oceans still are. The Omura’s whales in the video/film were spotted in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Madagascar.  Hopefully they are not as isolated as they seem and the oceans will continue to be graced by this mysterious creature far into the future.

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The North Pole of Enceladus during the October 30th, 2015 Cassini Flyby (NASA/ESA/ASI)

The North Pole of Enceladus during the October 30th, 2015 Cassini Flyby (NASA/ESA/ASI)

Since 2004, the Cassini spacecraft has been in orbit around Saturn. The robot probe (a joint effort of NASA, ESA, and the Italian space agency) received the most press when it launched a flying saucer lander onto Saturn’s planet-like moon Titan, but it is still out there doing amazing work. Last week, while I was busy writing about Halloween themes, the probe made its closest pass yet to Saturn’s ice moon, Enceladus. Enceladus is only 500 kilometers in diameter and it is coated in ice, but it is of great interest to scientists because ice plumes venting from the moon’s south pole seem to indicate a large polar subsurface ocean of liquid water. Warmed above freezing by tidal flux, this ocean beneath the ice probably has a thickness of around 10 km.

View of Enceladus’ south pole geyser, backlit by Saturn

View of Enceladus’ south pole geyser, backlit by Saturn

On October 30th, Cassini flew by the icy moon at the dangerously close distance of 30 kilometers (18.6 miles). The probe was directly above the south pole of Enceladus and it collected a little flake of ice to analyze (which strikes me as incredibly amazing and beautiful). It will take some time for the ship’s devices to assay the drop of water from an alien ocean, but Cassini also snapped some photos which we already have. These are taken from point blank range above the south pole. The ocean is down there beneath the scratches and scars. What is the nature of this icy ocean? How long has it been there? Could it possibly harbor life?

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Here is a stamp which combines two of my fascinations—catfish and Namibia.  Of course Namibia is a vast and profoundly arid desert—literally a sea of sand—so perhaps you are wondering how a catfish made it onto their postage.  Well the African sharptooth catfish (Clarias gariepinus) has a habit of getting everywhere.  It lives throughout most of Africa and the Middle East and (though ill-conceived aquaculture) has established colonies in Vietnam, India, Brazil, and Indonesia.  The catfish is an air breather.  It can sip pure air without the use of its gills, so it can survive in puddles, mud wallows, and even in filthy anaerobic water.  Some of them have moved into the sewers of big cities.  Speaking of big it is arguably Africa’s largest catfish with an average adult length of 1–1.5 m (3 ft 3 inches –4 ft 11 inches).  Even in a dry land like Namibia this tough persistent catfish manages to find watercourses of one sort or another.  Like its close cousin, the walking catfish of Asia, the African sharptooth catfish is a remarkable creature.

African sharptooth catfish (C. gariepinus)

African sharptooth catfish (C. gariepinus)

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