Apr 29, 2013


Arizona inspired me to draw a bunch of cactuses.  There were so many cool and weird ones out there!

Apr 23, 2013

Ever Been Mauled by a Cougar?

We just got back from a delightful trip in Arizona, where we had a great time visiting friends and doing a lot of hiking.  One of those funny things about the Midwest is the fact that there's almost nothing that can harm you.  Um, yeah, that's not true with Arizona.

I have a bad habit of researching the wildlife of whatever place I'm traveling to before going.  Sometimes that's cool.  Sometimes it just convinces me that I'm going to die.  This time, it was the latter.  Turns out everything in Arizona can kill you.  If it's not a saguaro cactus falling on you, it's a mountain lion mauling you.  Or a scorpion stinging you.  Or a black widow biting you.  Or a rattlesnake striking you.  Or a tarantula chomping you.  Or a gila monster chewing on you.  Or a javelina charging you.  As far as I can tell, you pretty much can't go outside without automatically being preyed on by something.

Luckily we beat my mind's odds and survived all our hikes.  They were beautiful, but I did spent the entire time absolutely convinced that this is what was happening:

Now I can just look forward to the next time I go swimming and get eaten by a shark.

Apr 17, 2013

Elephant Light Studies

I should be on an airplane to the sunny southwest right now, but there's a massive thunderstorm going through which has delayed my flight.  Therefore, I decided to do some light studies with elephants.

Apr 16, 2013

Orcas in a Plane!

Not quite Snakes on a Plane, but close enough.  I just found this commercial, which I remember thinking was the coolest thing in the world back when I was a kid.  I was sure that they really put whales in there.  It came out in 1992.  Pretty effective ad, I daresay.  Though more of a joke now, with all the annoyances of airlines taking away any semblance of comfort.

Zombie Dodos and Pigeons and Mammoths, Oh My!

A stranger thing that's been going around the science news lately (and around science for a decade or two) is the idea of de-extinction, or bringing back currently extinct animals:

That sounds so cool, right?  Do it!

Well, maybe not so fast.  Like any act of 'playing God,' this kind of thing could have serious and unintended consequences.  Just ask Dr. Ian Malcolm.

However, before we get too excited, we need to make a few things clear.

  • Jurassic Park won't be happening anytime soon.  Why?  Well, DNA has a half-life of 521 years, which means that after 521 years under normal conditions, half of the DNA sequence will be gone.  After 521 more years, half of the remaining half will be gone, and so on.  Scientists have estimated that the farthest back we could go with DNA would be a few hundred thousand years under ideal conditions.  Therefore, dinosaurs aren't the focus here.
  • More broadly, we need DNA to recreate anything.  If there aren't samples that have at least somewhat retrievable DNA, we won't be able to bring it back (unless we use the less exact method of selective breeding, which I'll discuss below).
  • I'm not going get into whether this the right thing or not to do.  That is a philosophical debate more than anything, with legitimate arguments on both sides.  But the 'cool' factor is pretty powerful.
  • We've actually already done it. (???)  That's right, we have, a decade ago, when a group of scientists brought back from extinction the bucardo, an ibex species in Spain and France, which had gone extinct in 2000.  However, the little bucardo that was born had an extra lobe on its lung and died after only ten minutes.  So, for ten minutes in 2003, we had de-extincted the bucardo.

So, how exactly does this work?  Simply enough, actually (in theory).  Let's assume that you have a full or nearly-full DNA sequence contained in a surviving cell.  You find yourself a suitable host (which can be difficult if the creature has no close relatives) and take an egg from the host.  You then scoop out the DNA of the egg and replace it with the extinct animal's DNA.  Then you implant it into the host.  Lather, rinse, repeat, and hope one of them sticks.  For that poor little bucardo who ended up dying, they tried 57 different hosts.  Only seven had successful implantations, and only one of those carried to term.

Now, that raises the question.  What happens if we can't find a suitable host?  Some extinct animals, such as the woolly mammoth, the passenger pigeon, and the buscardo have close relatives that are still living (Asian elephant, band-tailed pigeon, and domestic goat, respectively).  Others, such as the Tasmanian Tiger, the dodo, or the giant sloth, may prove more difficult (though for a dodo, you'd probably just need a big enough egg, which may not be that hard to procure).

Alternatively, suppose we have a host (such as an Asian elephant), but we are still struggling to find a full DNA sequence (such as the woolly mammoth).  In that case, I don't quite know what happens.  In Jurassic Park, there's that goofy video where they say they've replaced DNA holes with frog and lizard DNA.  I'm not a scientist, so I'm not sure if you can do that.  You probably can do something like it, though.  However, if they could use the soft tissue from mammoth remains to get a full DNA sequence, that would be just plain awesome.

And that's generally the situation we're in right now.  We're trying to patch together sequences of DNA to get a complete sequence from long-dead species.

One of the other de-extinction methods (though I don't think this one is really what it claims to be) is, by selective breeding, to reverse-engineer an extinct animal.  The most notable of these is the Tauros Project, which seeks to bring back the aurochs, the ancestor of the modern cow.  This is made possible because (a) the species only went extinct in 1627 and (b) there are many, many old breeds of cattle, which, genetically, are very similar to the aurochs (for example, see the image below, which shows the male and female of many breeds of cattle, with the aurochs at the bottom):

However, does that mean that a reverse-engineered aurochs would be an aurochs?  I don't think so...I think it would just be a cow that looks like an aurochs.  But, as I already mentioned, I'm not a scientist.

For a good discussion from a TED Talk on the state of de-extinction, check this one out:

Assuming this can actually happen, here's my top five list of animals that absolutely need to be brought back from the dead:

  1. Woolly Mammoth - luckily, this one is actually pretty likely.  There are tons of examples of soft tissue and hair, which may contain full DNA sequences.  Plus, we have Asian elephants, which would be great surrogates.  However, shockingly, we've never harvested elephant eggs before, so that's kind of a hangup right now, beyond the DNA issue.
  2. Tasmanian Tiger - We have videos of the thing, so know a lot about it.  We also have samples of it (I think).  I hope someone's working on this one, since it would be a cool, weird animal.  It also only went extinct in 1936.
  3. Saber-toothed Cat - Really any of them (since there are a few different species).  It would just be way too cool to see how one of these things eats and whatnot with the ginormous teeth.  I haven't heard anything about anyone trying to bring this one back, though.
  4. Dodo - Does this even need an explanation?  It's a dodo, people.
  5. Baiji - This poor little river dolphin recently went extinct (like, in 2004), which is totally sad.  There aren't enough river dolphins in the wild.  There should be more.

Honorable mentions go to the Passenger Pigeon, the Carolina Parakeet, the Great Auk, and the Giant Sloth.

I really want to see this thing happen.  For reals, y'all.

Apr 11, 2013

More Henry Stuff

I've been working on environments for the last few days, playing with what a Tudor-era village street would look like.  The buildings are a ton of fun to create, with all the interesting wood patterns and outcroppings and whatnot...

Apr 10, 2013

Anne Boleyn

As a followup to yesterday's post, here's a design for the ill-fated queen, Anne Boleyn.

Apr 9, 2013

Henry VIII Character Design

I've been doing a bunch of character designs lately, but one that I've been having a lot of fun with is crazy ol' King Henry VIII.  I was playing with giving him a nutty face, crazed eyes, and a nice complementary color scheme, with fiery reds and oranges for his clothing and face to push his temper and intense personality (and the fact that red was the kingly color of the middle ages), tempered by some bright blue-greens, which in my designs of him and his wives, is used for lusty desire.  So, as he he falls for new women, they are in greens, but as he falls out of love with them, they devolve into grays and browns, with the next in line being replaced by the greens.  I may have more on that later.

But here's Henry!

Apr 2, 2013

Finding Dory

UPDATE: Plot line will be roughly as follows (h/t Buzzfeed):

In 'Finding Dory,' she will be reunited with her loved ones, learning a few things about the meaning of family along the way."

According to Stanton, "Finding Dory" takes place about a year after the first film, and features returning favorites Marlin, Nemo and the Tank Gang, among others. Set in part along the California coastline, the story also welcomes a host of new characters, including a few who will prove to be a very important part of Dory's life.

Pixar, via Ellen Degeneres, has announced that the rumored Finding Nemo sequel is, indeed, moving ahead.  The title will be Finding Dory.  What I wonder is whether this will be a true sequel (Dory gets lost and needs to be rescued/found) or a prequel (the story of Dory) or a mid-quel (what was happening to Dory up until the moment she ran into Marlin).  It could potentially also be her finding out where she comes from/who she is.  I have a hard time imagining Pixar passing on the chance to have an entire family of Dories floating about, forgetting everything.

Either way, having just recently watched Toy Story 3 again, I'm content that Pixar can make some pretty darn good sequels.