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Fly on the Wall 

February 24, 2011

Weaving a fence

Most of Charlie Kennard’s weaving experience has been with baskets. But lately, he’s been weaving a sinuous 150-foot-long fence in the Academy’s east garden. The fence, made from the branches pruned off of the iconic sycamore trees in the Music Concourse and Opera Plaza each winter, is now complete after four days and three miles worth of branches. While the format is larger, the principles of fence weaving are quite similar to those of basket weaving.

Kennard employed a California Indian weaving technique called twining, in which two bundles of branches are simultaneously woven through a series of fence posts on opposing sides, effectively wrapping both sides of each post in a sturdy sheath of branches. Woven fences have a minimal environmental impact and have probably been around since the beginnings of agriculture, though most use a technique called wicker weaving. He decided to twine this particular fence, and top it off with a special twisted weave at the top, to withstand the wear and tear of children’s curious hands and the beaks of local birds looking for nesting material.

A variety of native plants have been planted on the hillside beyond the new fence, so this spring, stop by the east garden to see thimble berries, California poppies, and a host of other colorful California native wildflowers in bloom.
Twining techniquewattle_enclosure11th_s1

Above: Kennard’s twining technique, and an illustration of a wattle fence from an 11th century Welsh manuscript
Below: Academy Landscape Exhibit Supervisor Alan Good (L), weaver Charlie Kennard, and the finished fence


Filed under: Other News,Sustainability — Helen @ 3:07 pm

July 15, 2010

Summer Reading Suggestions

Galapagos expedition

Beach reading? No, these intrepid explorers have landed on the Galapagos to study its wildlife. This photo was taken during the Academy’s 1905-06 expedition.

Summer is a famous time for beach reading. Fortunately, you don’t really have to sit on the beach to read. It’s delightful but optional. You can use a Kindle or an iPad to read, but I’ve also heard that in the old days people used a remarkable technology based on paper to store text. Rumor has it that they could read print on paper during takeoff and landing. Now that’s an idea!

Here are suggestions of three good summer reads, each having to do with Academy themes of science and exploration. I’ve read them all and stayed awake with a minimum number of short naps to freshen the little gray cells, as Monsieur Poirot would say.

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time
By Dava Sobel
A major development in the 1700s was a means to determine longitude. Determining latitude had been relatively easy, but there was no reliable method to accurately determine longitude on a ship far from land. As a result, ships occasionally plowed into land with predictable consequences. This was such an important challenge that the British Government established a prize of 20,000 pounds for the person who succeeded in developing a method to determine longitude, a sum equivalent to about $12 million today. Ultimately, the problem was solved by John Harrison, a Lincolnshire carpenter with little formal education. He devised a portable clock that kept very precise time even on a ship in motion. After considerable controversy, he was awarded the prize in 1773, three years before his death at 84. It didn’t allow for much time to enjoy his newfound wealth. This book by Dava Sobel tells Harrison’s story. I recommend it.

The Victorian Internet
By Tom Standage
This book recounts the invention of the telegraph in the 1800s, and the profound impact it had on the world as the “Internet” of its day.

The Lost City of Z
By David Grann
In 1925, British explorer Percy Fawcett disappeared during an expedition to find Z, a fabled city in the Amazon rainforest. Fascinated by this mystery, author David Grann embarks on his own quest to learn more about Fawcett and the City of Z. This book is available in the lending library of the Naturalist Center (Level 3 of the Academy). Borrowing privileges are a member benefit, so during your next visit, don’t forget to come browse our wide selection of books and DVDs.

Have you read any of these books already? Or do you have other summer reading recommendations? If so, share your comments below.

Filed under: Other News — Greg Farrington @ 3:20 pm

April 20, 2010

“Pierre the Penguin” Hits Bookstores

Courtesy Sleeping Bear Press

Courtesy: Sleeping Bear Press

Two years ago, you may have heard the story of Pierre, the eldest member of our African penguin colony. He was losing his feathers, and this bout of baldness left him shivering on the sidelines while the other penguins frolicked in the water. Pam Schaller, our chief keeper of the penguins, and Celeste Argel, Early Childhood manager (and couturier), designed a neoprene wetsuit to keep Pierre warm. Remarkably, Pierre’s feathers began to grow back. Pam suspects that because he was no longer using all of his energy to stay warm, Pierre was able to divert calories to feather production once again. Now he no longer needs his wetsuit and is content in his natural tuxedo.

Watch a clip of Pierre’s story on Anderson Cooper 360.

Since then, we have been working on a fun project – a children’s book about this endearing true story. I am happy to announce that Pierre the Penguin hits bookstores across the country this month. The book is told in rhyme by noted I SPY author Jean Marzollo, and paired with gorgeous paintings from acclaimed wildlife artist Laura Regan. Here is a sample:

One day aquatic biologist Pam
Observing the penguins, saw one in a jam.
Gently, gently, she examined Pierre.
His feathers were gone.
His bottom was bare.

The story and pictures will make you smile. If you think your children, grandchildren, kids in the neighborhood, or people you meet on the street would like Pierre the Penguin, you can find it in our Academy Store. And during your next visit, don’t forget to say hello to Mr. Comeback Kid himself, Pierre, at the end of African Hall. He has a blue band on his right wing. You can also view the colony from the comfort of your own home using one of three live penguin webcams.

Filed under: Aquarium,Education,Other News — Greg Farrington @ 3:30 pm

November 30, 2009

Ants march online

In an effort to increase accessibility, the Academy’s AntWeb project recently loaded more than 31,000 images onto Wikimedia Commons, an upload which took several days to complete. Whether you’re an entomologist, a backyard enthusiast or just a fan of unique photographs, an up-close look at ants is fascinating. Their bodies can be as small as the point of a pin, or as big as a walnut; as sleek as sports cars, or as bulky as tanks.

Ants are a vital part of ecosystems around the globe, and scientists like the Academy’s own Brian Fisher are hard at work cataloguing new species, and using data like that collected in AntWeb to inform conservation decisions. After all, while tiny, the collective weight of all the ants in the world is equal to the weight of all the world’s humans – they’re a force to be reckoned with.

Those interested in using the photos can do so subject to a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license.

Filed under: Other News,Research Departments — Helen @ 1:03 pm

October 13, 2009

Help for coho

Every so often at the Academy, we hear about how some of the equipment used at our temporary Howard Street home is now meeting other organizations’ needs in unexpected ways. When all the animals had been moved out of Howard Street, we donated aquarium tanks to a number of institutions, including the Tiburon Salmon Institute.

This week, we heard from them that the National Marine Fisheries Service has been deeply concerned about their coho salmon hatchery near Santa Cruz, ever since the area was hit by wildfire this summer. The first rains of the year (now upon us) are expected to wash ash, silt, and other debris into the creeks which feed the hatchery, changing the pH of the water, and potentially clogging the gills of the endangered coho. So, NMFS called the Tiburon Salmon Institute, and is borrowing several of the donated 500-gallon tanks in order to protect the hatchery’s coho population from those harmful contaminants. We wish them every success! Read more about the situation here.

Filed under: Great Migration,Other News — Helen @ 12:08 pm

July 15, 2009

Penguin about town

The Academy’s “Chief Penguin” Dr. Greg Farrington is one of a handful of San Franciscans selected to participate in Google’s new Favorite Places campaign, which launches today. Unlike his cousins in African Hall, this “penguin” needs a dry cleaner’s help to keep his tux looking tidy…via the map below, you can check out his favorite spots in San Francisco (restaurants, venues, local businesses, etc.), all marked with custom penguin pins.


View Greg Farrington’s Favorite Places in San Francisco in a larger map

Filed under: Other News — Helen @ 1:01 pm

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