Airplanes used to be made of
wood, leather and canvas. Modern
aircraft use lightweight steel,
aluminum and titanium. At this
writing, fiberglass, Kevlar and carbon
fiber composites are increasingly
taking the place of metals in
critical airframe structures.
But don’t count metals out just yet. British scientists at the University
of Liverpool have revealed a process that can significantly
reduce the weight of titanium, stainless steel and other metals.
Unlike conventional solid-metal components, the new parts have
a porous, lattice-like structure, similar to scaffolding, but with
support rods twice the diameter of a human hair, making them
ultra-light. Because loads are channeled along the rods and opposing
surfaces, structural components can comprise up to 70
percent air while remaining strong enough to do the job.
Scientists say that such components could replace solid metal in
integrated circuits, automotive applications and other fields of
engineering. Aircraft parts, for example, could be produced that
are more than 50 percent lighter than conventional alternatives.
The world’s first commercial-scale system for the rapid manufacture
of such new-generation metal components is being developed
by engineers at the University of Liverpool. The new manufacturing
system initially went into commercial use in 2006, but
it may be years before the new materials find their way onto the
If these materials can indeed function safely while being mostly
empty space, this could lend a whole new meaning to the term
My wife Sheila and I started making mosaics together over a decade ago. It started as a project for some visiting kids, but after a while we came up with the idea of making some giant mosaic birds and decided we needed to populate our Long Branch home with them. Eventually people began asking us to make mosaics for them too. One of the benefits for me of going on the Miles Hearn nature walks has been to see birds in their habitat, learn to identify them and build up a collection of my own photos to use as reference material for our mosaic work.
Many different species of birds have become our subjects. The most recent project consists of 3 goldfinch which we installed at a home in Paris Ontario last week. This bird presented us with a special problem, since it changes appearance during winter, losing much of its bright yellow colour. Our client wants to hang the goldfinch group all year, but creating a second winter set was not going to be possible, so his home will feature the brightest goldfinch in the neighbourhood during the winter months.
Other recent projects include a male cardinal, which hangs at a home in Brampton, a nuthatch in downtown Toronto, and a cedar waxwing near Perth Ontario, which we constructed with a berry in its mouth. We also created a boreal chickadee this year in support of the Pelee Island Bird Observatory. This mosaic was auctioned off at their fundraising gala.
Although the majority of our mosaics have been oversized birds, we’ve branched out some along the way. Last year we supported the Baycrest Brain Project and created a monarch butterfly mosaic on the three dimensional giant brain-form they provided for us. We’ve done a number of butterflies, at times more fanciful than accurate to anything you might find in nature.
Sheila with big monarch
Another fanciful piece is the Candlestick Moth. Even the keenest naturalist out there may not have seen this rare insect in the wild. And then there is the grizzly bear. You have to be careful when you’re out in nature. This big guy hangs on the back wall of our client’s home, overlooking the pool – watch out, swimmers!
We generally depict our birds perched on branches. While we go for enough naturalism in depicting the bird for identification, we allow ourselves to have some fun with perches they sit on. The exception to this is the Magnolia Bench. We created a bench made from a slab of granite and two granite boulders. The mosaic work on the bench proper depicts a magnolia in bloom and sits near our client’s actual magnolia.
We do two types of mosaic work. Traditional grouted mosaics are constructed from Italian Smalti glass tiles, the same kind of tiles used in the mosaics in many cathedrals. The other approach, which tends to be more improvisational, is to use broken crockery and other small objects, from buttons to bits of floor tiles to erector set blocks. These mosaics, which contain a myriad of textures, are never grouted. For both approaches we use a birch plywood ground, sealed against the elements. Many of our mosaics have lived outside through the seasons for up to a decade and remain in good shape.
Our mosaics are all custom work and no two are quite the same. We’re always happy to talk to people about adding some birds or buttferflies or whatever (we were asked the other day if we would consider making a wolf!) to their home or garden. Additional photos can be found at longbranchmosaics.com
The McCracken cardinal
Winter is a time when we receive
many visitors to our area: Gray
whales, Elephant seals, Townsend’s
warblers, and your cousin
from Cincinnati. And then, there’s
‘Flu’ is short for influenza, and
stems from the ancient belief that our health can be affected
when we come under the influence of a bad star – the literal
translation of dis-aster.
We now know that the flu results from exposure to a very
earthly virus that usually originates in Asia. Flu viruses are interesting
because they jump the ‘species barrier’ – moving from
farm animals such as pigs and ducks to humans. The virus then
travels in the old-fashioned way, from hand-to-hand, hand-tomouth…
person-to-person. And considering today’s high speed
transportation systems, diseases like the flu can spread clear
around the planet in just a few days.
Mostly, the flu causes fever and aching discomfort for a week or
so. In less than one percent of the cases, however, the flu can
cause death in the very young, very old, or in people whose immune
systems are already strained.
Every so often, an especially virulent flu strain arises with catastrophic
consequences. Near the end of the First World War, the
“Spanish Flu” killed between 20 and 40 million people around
the world. More than half of U.S. casualties during the War were
killed, not by enemy action, but as a result of this flu virus.
Let’s hope this year’s flu is a mild one. Be sure to wash your
hands regularly and check with your heath care professional – a
dose of flu vaccine might be just what the doctor orders.
I love it when people send me their own nature walk reports! Thanks to Richard and Maria for this.
10 degrees and raining at the start.
Bird highlight: Egret
There are not many not-traumatic
medical conditions that require aggressive
surgical intervention. But such is
usually the case for appendicitis, an inflammation
of the appendix. It most
commonly strikes healthy young people
between ages 10 and 30, and usually without warning.
The appendix is a dead-end sac that hangs between the small
and large intestines. It’s about ½” in diameter and 3″ long. Scientists
used to think that the appendix was merely a useless evolutionary
leftover, but we have since discovered its importance.
As quickly as 11 weeks after conception, the appendix starts
making endocrine cells. These cells secrete useful chemicals like
regulatory hormones that help with the developing fetus.
After birth, the appendix mainly helps the body stave off disease
by making white blood cells and antibodies. The appendix also
produces certain chemicals that help direct the white blood cells
to the parts of the body where they are needed the most.
The digestive tract is a good training ground for young white
blood cells. The appendix, routinely collecting and expelling
foodstuffs, exposes the white blood cells to bacteria and viruses
passing through the gut. In this way, the white blood cells learn
to fight potentially deadly pathogens.
Doctors would routinely remove the appendix during other types
of abdominal surgery – just in case it might some day become
infected, but this is no longer the case.
In fact, later in life, we can often use the appendix in reconstructive
surgery of digestive or urinary defects without having to resort
to transplants. Totally tubular.
This is the common Buteo of the southern farmland of Ontario, usually seen soaring in lazy circles overhead, or perched conspicuously on a big dead tree in the midst of a farm field.
Occasionally you may see one hovering over a field, then folding its wings to make a spectacular plunge upon some luckless mouse. Most enlightened farmers now encourage this bird as a prime aid in rodent control and leave its big stick nests strictly alone. Sometimes one will take up residence in the city, where its rodent and pigeon control may also be appreciated.
The ample wingspan and fan-shaped tail and soaring flight mark it as a Buteo.
The adults are easily identifies by their rufous-red tail and white underside of the wings in flight.
The immatures have dark brown tails with rather fine black bars, but their large size and white wing-linings also identify them.
Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk Marie Curtis Park
The other large open country Buteo is the Rough-legged Hawk which has conspicuous black patches at the bend of the wing.
Rough-legged Hawk (Audubon Guide)
Both of them are larger than a crow.
The harsh guttural scream of the Red-tail is a good means of identification once learned.
Dr J. Murray Speirs