Monthly Archives: February 2016

Moving Time

The last several weeks have been busy, for me, beyond the standard Christmas/New Year’s holidays/back-to-school shenanigans. Three weeks ago my wife was invited to give a workshop at the Foro Latinoamericano Por La Protección Y Defensa De La Herencia Biocultural Y El Territorio De Los Pueblos – the Latin American Forum for the Protection and Defence of the Biocultural Heritage and the Land of the People. They were so impressed with her that the president of the municipality offered her a job, and a house to live in, if she wanted to move and take it. He was drunk at the time, everyone was doing shots of mezcal, but she accepted and he kept his word.

So today is the kids’ last day at school, a special leap-year farewell with pizza and juice boxes, and this week we’ll be loading the car with bags of clothes and a coffee machine and driving down to Tututepec, Oaxaca.

This will be a huge change.

MovingTimeNeri500We currently live in an urban environment, the state capital, walking distance from the town centre. We have a three bedroom house with lounge room and kitchen and indoor plumbing, and a garden that we can muck about in. The new house is reportedly a single room – a large room, as it was described, but a single room. The plumbing situation is unclear.

A document was sent to us, a diagnosis of the municipality, and the first thing it does is assure the reader that there are roads to the town. Most of the communities have telephone and electricity, but not every house, and drainage was recently installed in the three largest towns…but it doesn’t work yet. Pretty much the entire economy is agricultural. There are a lot of problems with unsustainable farming practices that were introduced over the last few decades, new towns built in inappropriately flood-prone areas, deforestation, resource theft and so on.

My wife is going to organise environmental education for the entire municipality, which will be very beneficial for everyone if they pay attention to her. A lot of the problems – not all, but a lot – can be solved with a bit of informed and considered environmental action. Also, common solutions to other problems, such as overpopulation and energy generation, tend to create their own problems to be solved, but these new problems can be avoided if people consider what they do in light of how it will affect their environment.

So I believe my wife can make a huge and positive impact in this region.

As for me … I’ll still be writing, but I don’t know if it will be easier or harder. I haven’t really written anything since the end of my short story course, though, so it can’t get any worse. I’m going to take the opportunity to shake up my routine – well, it’s going to get shaken up whether I like it or not, my goal is to have it resettle in ways that are more productive for me. More writing, more editing, and more experimenting. I will blog my experiences, and I’m thinking of starting a podcast as well, and maybe some kind of photo journal. The idea is to see what works best for me.

I’ll also be recording the flora and fauna I find in the area, such as I’ve been doing for my current home.

So whether you’re into writing, dramatic changes in lifestyle, the environment, biology, or watching the slow mental meltdown of someone who has moved to a house with no internet access … stay tuned.

Crimson Patch

A bunch of these butterflies were flitting around our garden today – I saw four together, so at least that many. They’re quite common here. Crimson Patch, Chlosyne janais, ranges from Southern Texas to Colombia, and we’re right in the middle of that. I haven’t seen the caterpillar about, probably because we don’t have the food plant. These photos were taken in Cuernavaca at an altitude of 1580 metres, on February 28th, 2016.

Upperside of wings

Upperside of wings

Underside of Wings

Underside of Wings

White-rayed Patch

This is pretty cool, because we have almost the entire cycle (I just don’t have photos of the eggs). It’s a White-rayed Patch butterfly, Chlosyne ehrenbergii, and caterpillar, and chrysalis, all in Cuernavaca Mexico at an altitude of 1580 meters, in October 2014. They even picked the plant as Buddleja cordata, the genus of which is called Butterfly Bush. In Spanish the name is “Mariposa parche negra”. It grew out of a drain, and I tried to kill it for a few years fearing it would block the drain but I failed. So it grew to a few meters in diameter and these butterflies were over it for years, until a particularly heavy load of caterpillars ate enough of it that it didn’t recover.

White-rayed Patch Caterpillar

White-rayed Patch Chrysalis

White-rayed Patch Butterfly

Automeris Moth

This caterpillar was spotted crawling across our steps, a fair distance from any plant. It looks like it’s a moth in the genus Automeris, but I haven’t been able to narrow it down to a particular species. The photo was taken on November 11, 2013, in Cuernavaca Mexico, at an altitude of 1580 metres.


Common Ringlet

This seems to be a caterpillar of a Coenonympha tullia, or Common Ringlet, based on a similarity to the photo on this page. There are some obvious differences – the head is white, the tail prongs are far longer, and the caterpillar in my photo has orange horns…but there are a great deal of sub-species and I can’t find any other caterpillars with similar body shape and colouring Opsiphanes cassina, identified by Keith Wolfe on the Insectos en Mexico page. The photo was taken on November 11, 2013 in Cuernavaca, at an altitude of 1580 metres.


Magical Realism Actually Exists

I recently heard an off-hand comment that magical realism was just another term for fantasy, used by people who don’t want to admit they read fantasy. While I agree there are plenty of pretentious people who go through dramatic convolutions order to claim they don’t read genre stories, I don’t think this is the case with magical realism.

The key distinguishing factor of magical realism is that the fantastic elements cannot be proven within the story, whereas in typical fantasy they can be. The main fantasy stories in the general zeitgeist currently are “zombie apocalypse” and “superhero” – both of these are fantasy stories, and for both there is no dispute within the world of the story that the fantastical elements are real. These are a form of alternative universe stories, where the rules are fundamentally different to the rules we accept in the “real” world.

Magical realism, on the other hand, has fantastical elements that are not provable even within the world of the story. For example, in “100 Years of Solitude” Gabriel García Márquez has ghosts, prophetic visions, and people who reportedly live for longer than is realistic, such as a 145 year old brother owner. If they wanted to prove this to the satisfaction of the outside world, they wouldn’t be able to do so. There is a guru in India who claims to be more than two hundred years old, and no-one can really prove that he is or isn’t based on record keeping. In the book there’s a women who ascends into the sky, which would be quite a metaphorical ending for her if it wasn’t written so literally. Again, except for the witnesses all anyone has to go on is hearsay.

Most fantastical elements in magical realism have real-world counterparts, legends or stories which are accepted by some people as true but dismissed by most as fabrications, not because there is any evidence against them but because that’s simply not how we think the world works. But sometimes, the world works in ways that are different to what we expect, and people do experience things that they can’t explain in terms of “the real world”. That doesn’t mean those things have no explanation, of course, but it has to be taken on faith that there is a “reasonable” explanation that is simply unknown.

That is what distinguishes magical realism from other fantasy genres.

14-Spotted Lady Beetle

This photo was taken on October 23rd 2015 in Cuernavaca, at an altitude of 1580 metres. I’m going to go ahead and call it a 14-Spotted Lady Beetle, Propylea quatuordecimpunctata. I’m almost completely certain the ladybug in the picture is the same species as the larvae gathered near it. There were lots more around the tree, but this was the best shot I could get. It also looks remarkable like Coccinula quatuordecimpustulata, which is a page in Swedish, and I don’t know if they’re different species that look similar or whether there’s taxonomic confusion/rivalry going on. Apparently they’re invasive in North America.
14-Spotted Lady Beetle

The photo below was taken on May 15, 2015, in Cuernavaca at an altitude of 1893 metres. It could be the same species with the yellow dots joined up. It’s on a castor plant.
14-Spotted Ladybug 2
Here’s a better photo from September 10, 2015.
14-Spotted Ladybug3

Sci-Fi Didn’t Warn Us About This

A lot of predictions have been made in science fiction, some that happened and some that didn’t. There were predictions of humans replacing body-parts, lost or otherwise, with cybernetic machines; there were predictions of regrowing lost body parts; even predictions of people growing clones for use as spare parts. However, I don’t remember any story predicting that body-parts would be simply printed as they’re required.

3D printing breakthrough produces functioning human-scale bone and muscle tissue

From: Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine

From: Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine

ITOP tackles the problem of structural integrity by printing a biodegradable plastic structure onto which living cells are applied using a water-based gel ink.

The problem of keeping the cells oxygenated and fed was solved by building microchannels into the structural plastic so nutrients and oxygen can reach all cells.

Tissue printed this way can be kept alive long enough to be implanted into a patient and for the patient’s body to grow necessary blood vessels as the structure dissolves.

So, that’s pretty awesome.

Apparently I missed one:

Orange Owl Caterpillar

This photo was taken on Novemeber 17, 2014, in Cuernavaca – altitude 1580 metres. This is identified as “Orange Owl/Owlet (Opsiphanes boisduvallii, subfamily Satyrinae)” at This was probably about 6 or 7 centimetres long.

Opsiphanes boisduvallii