Maps Make Art Come Alive!

We all know that maps have unlimited uses–from way-finding to problem-solving.  Now computer mapping is being used in Japan to create rice paddy art.

The Great Wave

In 1993, the village of Inakadate, Japan, began using different varieties of rice (purple and yellow-leafed kodaimai and green-leafed tsugaru) to create vast murals in paddies.  Their goal was to draw money-spending visitors, and come they did, over 15,000 of them this past harvest season alone.

The Grains

Early in the process, before computer maps became a necessity, mistakes were made.  The giant Mona Lisa was too fat and lacked proper fingers.  Villagers appealed to a teacher to create computer-generated maps in order to calculate color proportions, plant numbers, and placement of stakes to serve as planting guides.  Over a thousand villagers volunteer each spring, but never see the “grains” of their labor until harvest.

Three-fingered Mona Lisa

Now that mapping is a staple in the process, the paddy art gets more and more sophisticated every year.  Tourists trek to see this living art exhibit from the faux medieval castle on top of the Inakadate village hall.

Time Lapse

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsxjqM6f-Gw?rel=0]

Islands on Islands on Islands

Here is something fun and inconsequential to think about over the Thanksgiving break:  islands on islands on islands, or, as they’re known, “triple islands.”

sweater within a sweater

Triple islands are a relatively recent geographic phenomenon du jour, likely aided in popularity (at least on some level) by the successful, though somewhat-laughable and oft-meme’d, blockbuster film, Inception.  There are at least three recognized triple islands on the planet: one in the Philippines known as Vulcan Point, and two in Canada — one on Victoria Island, part of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and one on Glover Island in Newfoundland.  Vulcan Point in the Philippines can be read about in more detail here, which includes a nice zoom-in slideshow of the island.  Below I’ve compiled zoom-in Google Map images of the two in Canada, for which information is a little more scarce.

Read more

Aurora Borealis Visits Chicago

If you live in the Chicagoland area (as we do), you’ve probably heard about the northern lights show that graced our part of the country last Monday night.  According to astronomers it was the first significant event of Aurora Borealis to appear in Chicago in the last seven years.  The phenomenon occurs when high energy protons and electrons released by the sun (solar wind) interact with our planet’s magnetic field.  However, if you live in the city (where light pollution restricts visibility) or were inside (where walls and ceilings restrict visibility) between 8 and 9PM last Monday, you most likely missed it.  Fortunately, NASA has released some truly spectacular images and videos of the show.

(click for larger image)

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/31157013 w=500&h=331]

(image and video courtesy of NASA)

Another angle:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MADz6fsC3Nw?rel=0&w=475&h=352]

Things I Saw on a Beach in Oregon

Last week I went to Oregon with my family, which involved a lot of driving around and not paying sales tax, though we also spent a day, a night, and another day on the coast in a small town called Newport.  On our second morning, during low-tide, I had a chance to do some lone-man walking and thinking on the beach.  My destination was this one lighthouse in the distance that was supposed to have a golf course attached to it but it turned out to be much further away than I anticipated and I never made it.  Here’s a few low-tide curiousities I encountered along the way:

This is a dried-up sea anemone.

I generally try to stay away from things that look like this, though I found out much later that this is just kelp.

This is also kelp. I learned kelp can grow up to a foot and a half a day in some species. That bulb is called a pneumatocyst and (when the kelp is alive) is filled with gas in order to help keep it buoyant.

Kelp is an important part of coastal ecology. It provides food and shelter for a variety of animal speices, and prevents coastal erosion by damping incoming waves. Kelp has also been explored as a possible source of renewable energy due to its efficient yield of methane.

For more info on kelp check out The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s kelp forest exhibit, which includes a live kelp web cam.