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Sunday, 30 November 2014

More Octopus Stinkhorns

Monday Mushroom #61

Just some more photos of the wonderful Octopus Stinkhorn - Clathrus archeri. I'm pleased to say it seems to be a very common, easy to spot mushroom in parks and gardens around Auckland. Its 'tentacles' are quite variable in form and colour.

Octopus Stinkhorn - Clathrus archeri

Octopus Stinkhorn - Clathrus archeri

Octopus Stinkhorn - Clathrus archeri

Octopus Stinkhorn - Clathrus archeri

Previous post with more photos is here:

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Mantis Hatchlings

I had been watching the ootheca of a springbok mantis - Miomantis caffra - on the wall next to my front door since I moved in here five months ago, then suddenly, last week it was covered in a swarm of tiny little mantis nymphs, each about 7mm long.

There were twenty on the first evening. With smaller numbers emerging over the next three days - all in the late afternoon.

I caught the hatching process on video a couple of times, but it is a long, slow process - emerging as a worm-shaped thing, and then wriggling to unfurl their limbs.

They then hang around on the ootheca until they have hardened and turned brown, after which they mostly seem to wait nearby until nightfall before dispersing.

These little guys still have a way to go to become a fully-fledged adult:

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Hochstetter's Frog

 Here is Hochstetter's Frog - Leiopelma hochstetteri. This is probably the most endangered animal to be featured in this blog so far and it is also the first native terrestrial vertebrate I have found in New Zealand after 7 months of nature rambles.

Hochstetter's Frog - Leiopelma hochstetteri

The last few decades are full of tales of calamitous population crahses of various amphibians and while this frog is more widespread than the other native New Zealand frogs, it's habitat is fragmented and more in contact with the upheaval caused by human factors. 

Hochstetter's Frog - Leiopelma hochstetteri

An Enigma: I was recentlly reading Joel Samuel Polack's New Zealand Journal 1831-1837 (much recommended for the curious anecdotes and outrageously florid writing style!) He mentions frogs being widespread in swamps in New Zealand three times in the book. Each time he describes them as swamp dwelling creatures that croak loudly when it rains:

p150: ...became continually fearful of the croaking of frogs, who congregate in the adjoining marshes in great numbers, from the ridiculous superstitions of these 

p305: Their notes partake of the melodious croaking of the frogs, whose vocal powers are exerted for their own satisfaction in the adjacent swamps and morasses. 

p318: ...toads, frogs, with their barometrical croak! croak! abound in the swamps. These subsultive reptiles do not differ from the species in Europe, each being animated with a similar determination to subjoin their remarks with open throat on approaching rain ; and, near to mountainous districts, the situation of these hydromancers is no sinecure, from the frequency of the falling fluid.

The native New Zealand frogs are all practically silent - they don't even have the physiology to be capable of loud croaking. None of the existing species are swamp dwellers either. It would be interesting to see if anyone can find corroborating notes from the early years of the colony.

I found this article on the same topic form 1962:

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Austroboletus Niveus

Monday Mushroom #60

This is Austroboletus niveus - a fairly large and handsome bolette native to New Zealand.

Austroboletus niveus

It has a soft, spongy texture and is the only mushroom I know which, on handling, imparts a sticky, resin-like substance which is difficult to remove from the skin.

I haven't been able to find much written about it at all... :-/

Austroboletus niveus

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Contoured Rust-scape

Fencepost of the Week #65

Not sure I've covered any metal fenceposts before - they don't generally have much growing on them, but the corrosion itself can bring forth beautiful forms.

Anyway, these are from an old metal gate on Long Road Track in the Waitakere Ranges.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Space Ribbon reveal

I've been messing around with an idea for a procedurally generated racing game: One player (can be AI) flies a spaceship which vomits racetrack out of its rear end as it zooms through space. The other players drive along this road and try and catch up!

The prototype is producing some really fun, vertigogenous courses. It will probably work best as quick-fire races 1-2 minutes long with scoring done over several races.

Anyway, here's a video of 4 AI drivers chasing me down:

Not sure when something playable will be available - it has some rough edges, no scoring, no sound and I need to attend to the graphical styling before unleash it, too.

Watch this space, but don't hold your breath! :-P

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Favolaschia calocera

Monday Mushroom #59

Favolaschia calocera - sharing a rotten twig with some blue-green lichen.

This is a favourite fungus from my first mushroom season in New Zealand. But the small, bright orange fruiting bodies only arrived in this country about 50 years ago.

Favolaschia calocera - growing on a pine cone in a plantation.

They may be native to Madagascar, where they were first recorded, or their true origin may be somewhere in Asia. Either way, they are firmly established in New Zealand - very common even in the native forests where most foreign fungi cede the field to New Zealand's distincitve native biota.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Translucent Egg Cards

I found that some of my ink drawings on certain kinds of paper looked really beautiful when viewed from the back of the page while held up to the light. I wondered how I might use this property - lapshades that reveal extra detals when the lamp is turned on sprang to mind.

So far all I have done with them is to turn them into greetings cards. I paint the picture on the front of the card, then completely cover it with a cut-out drawing of an egg. When the card is held up to the light, the original painting is revealed, shining through the egg.

Tui Nestling painting ready to be covered up by an egg!

You will need to do some tests to find a paper and painting technique that works well when held up to the light. Also a way of attaching the egg to the front of the card that doesn't show up would be good - spraymount is probably ideal, I have used double-sided sticky tape here, but you can see its outline a little.
Tui Egg and Nestling

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Clouded Agaric

Monday Mushroom #58

A large and quite distinctive mushroom that appears late in the year.

Clitocybe nebularis - Coulded Agaric. New, half open fruiting bodies.

The name refers to the cloudy colouration of the cap - usually a gray-brown in the middle of the cap, fading smoothly to white around the edge.

Clitocybe nebularis - Coulded Agaric

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Waitakere Dam Tramway

The Waitakere Dam Tramway is a divertingly different hiking route in the Waitakere Ranges. It follows the line of a - still well maintained - tram route and also a water pipeline. There is little gradient and the path is broad and clear and as the track hugs the steeper slopes, you get good views out across the Waitakeres over the tree tops.

Waitakere Dam from the tramway.

There is one short tunnel on the route and a couple of (station?) platforms, one of which has a picnic area attached. The tramway runs from the Waitakere Dam - also worth a nosey - for a little under two Km.

The short tunnel.
Siding near the Scenic Drive end.

At the far end it enters a very long tunnel under Scenic Drive, which is barred and locked. From there you can retrace your steps back to the Dam, or climb up to Scenic Drive via the Anderson Track, although this is a much rougher track than the tramway.

One of the 'Platforms'

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Leaf-veined Slugs

Athoracophorus bitentaculatus? Leaf-veined Slug. Compact, dormant posture.

While on a walk in the Waitakere Ranges, I found this weird, gelatinous blob stuck to the underside of a leaf - perhaps some kind of egg-sac? But then as I examined it more closely it sprouted eye stalks, became slug-shaped and shot off at speed across the leaf!

Athoracophorus bitentaculatus? Leaf-veined Slug. Active - moving at speed.
This is no ordinary slug. With its leaf-vein pattern and distinctive body shape. It lacks an obvious mantle - the lump on the back which makes European slugs slug shaped. It belongs to a group called leaf-veined slugs - many are native to New Zealand, the rest come from neighbouring islands and Australia.

Athoracophorus bitentaculatus? Leaf-veined Slug
I haven't been able to find much information on these creatures either on line or in Auckland library. Particularly no mentions of what struck me as their remarkable alacrity. Here's one of the more informative websites: link! The two that I have seen so far look very like Athoracophorus bitentaculatus, which seems to be the most commonly encountered species in New Zealand.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Velvet Worms last!

Peripatoides novaezealandiae - Peripatus

I first read about velvet worms - aka. peripatuses - in Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life - a book about the burgess shale fossils (among other things) and immediately went to look them up on youtube and wikipedia. They are beautiful creatures that, unfortunately, live nowhere near scotland.

Peripatoides novaezealandiae - Peripatus
However I had noted that they do live in New Zealand, so when I decided to take a trip to Auckland, peripatus went straight to the top of my list of things to see!

Over the weeks and months of looking under logs and asking people, I slowly came to the realisation that they are a pretty rare and hard to find animal in New Zealand. Perhaps their range and fecundity have been affected by the massive environmental upheavals of the last few centuries - like so much of the rest of the native fauna.

After three months of nothing, I eventually engaged the enthusiasm of a very experienced local bush man, who had seen peripatuses before and thought he might know a likely spot in the Waitakere ranges.

Peripatoides novaezealandiae - Peripatus
Sure enough, under the first log we looked at we found a small, formless, velvety blob. As I held it in my hands,  it extruded feelers and legs and elongated until there was a fully formed, caterpillar-like creature gliding sinuously over my palm.

We placed it back on its log, and took some photos and videos as it walked about. They are nocturnal, and it was obviously uncomfortable being out and about during daylight on a cold winter's day.

Although we continued looking, that was the only velvet worm we found, and it may be a very long time before I see one again.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Caravan Defender

It's been a long time since my last successful game jam - that was the dotBrighton Game Jam in september 2012.

In the meantime I have tried to do Ludum Dare a few times, working at home, on my own, but I never get close to a finished product in the time allowed.

So it was great to sign up for Kiwijam 2014 - they set up a maker space in Auckland University and did a great job of organising stray individuals like me into teams ready to attempt the impossible - make a game in 48 hours!

Kiwijam maker space - humming with energy on Sunday afternoon, as the clock ticks down - will we get our games done?

My team decided to use Unity3d - such a good tool for rapid prototyping - and eventually we went with the idea of doing an RTS game about creating and defending caravan trade routes, and although we didn't have time for graphical niceties, or game structure, we did get the game engine functional within the time limit.

Screenshot from the version of Caravan Defenders presented at the end of Kiwijam.
I've published the game on for anyone who would like to mess around with the system. There is no way to win, unfortunately.

Click here to play!

Markov Text Generator

I wrote this simple Markov text generator last week - mostly as an exercise in getting to know the Dart programming language and tools.

The generator works by being presented with a body of text, and it goes through the text, recording statistically what letters tend to follow on from the various sequences of letters. Then it uses this data to generate more text using the same statistical probabilities for each letter sequence. See this wikipedia link for more details.

For such an inanely simple algorithm, it is capable of coming up with beguilingly complex results:

Seeded with a 234k chunk of The Lord of the Rings.

I'm scheming on how I might use it in computer games... NPC background chatter might be one use, or libraries full of books - you could insert useful text on a particular page, and have the players get a clue about what to look up in the book to get useful results, rather than just inane babble!

But text is only a sideline - Markov Chains might also be useful in ai routines, random level generators - anywhere where you want to approximate a complex system without modelling all the underlying processes.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Octopus Stinkhorn

Here's an outlandish-looking stinkhorn from New Zealand - the octopus stinkhorn. 

Clathrus archeri - Octopus Stinkhorn

Clathrus archeri - Octopus Stinkhorn

Clathrus archeri - Octopus Stinkhorn

Clathrus archeri - Octopus Stinkhorn

Monday, 7 April 2014

Millhouse Post Office

Here are a couple of photos of Millhouse Post Office.

One from about 1980 maybe? (I'm afraid it has no date on it)

And a second one from 2014:

You can see the results of combining the two here: Post Office

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Fallen Tree Lingers

I'd just like to show you a couple of photos I took of an alder tree that fell across a river near here. The first pic was taken just after it fell - May 2003:

The second was taken in February 2014:

 I am amazed that a tree could hold on in a fast flowing burn like this for such a long time. Some of the beggest differences in the images are due more to the time of year, rather than the decade that separates the them. Hopefully I'll remember to revisit in May and get a clearer comparison...

Tuesday, 4 March 2014


I wrote a while back about how elegant spirals can be in computer games - in particular, they are useful if you want to iteratively cover a space with evenly distributed points, with the range expanding out from a single starting location and with one growing tip - I have used them in the past for searching for a suitable placement point in a landscape for a game object, but I'm sure there are many other applications.

Anyway, I didn't include any code in that post, so here below is a Spiral function that is ready to use. This is written in C# for Unity, but should be easy enough to convert to whatever you happen to be using.

Vector3 Spiral( float dist, float spacing ) {
float rad = Mathf.Sqrt(  dist / (Mathf.PI*spacing ));
float angle = Mathf.PI * 2.0f * rad;
Vector3 retVal =;
retVal.x = spacing * rad * Mathf.Sin( angle );
retVal.z = spacing * rad * Mathf.Cos( angle );
return retVal;

'dist' is the distance along the line of the spiral from the origin, and 'spacing' is how far apart you want the coils of the spiral to be from each other (this spiral has the handy attribute of maintaining a constant radial distance between each concentric coil.)

To achieve an even distribution of points, increment the distance param by the value of spacing - that way points will be equally distant form their neighbours on the line as they are from the neighbouring coils.

Here is a screen shot of the points generated by calling Spiral( dist, 1.0f ) with dist = [0,1,2,3...] As you can see, the unit spheres are packed pretty close to 1 unit apart:

Changing the spacing to 2.0f and iterating Spiral( dist, 2.0f) with  dist = [0,2,4,6,8...] will lead to each of the unit spheres having 1 unit's space between them: