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kyle cassidy

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Goodbye Emily the Spider [Nov. 15th, 2015|04:58 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |hopefulhopeful]
[music |tom petty: free falling]

It's been a month since I've seen Emily the Spider.

She's likely either dead or hibernating.

(photos behind a cut for the arachnophobic.)

The last photo I took of her was on October 6, 2015. She was just sitting in her web doing nothing. I saw her a few more times after that but sometime within the next week she vanished. She'd done that before and I wasn't terribly concerned, although I was worried enough that I put a box under her web so that if she died & fell out I'd be able to find her (nothing) and I've sifted through the dust on the porch but haven't found anything -- though she's tiny and would be easy to miss. It's possible she's gone into hibernation, in which case I'll find her again next year.

I first noticed Emily in May of 2015 while sitting on the back porch reading -- I'd notice her every day and started to wonder what her life was like, I got worried about how she'd weather a rainstorm one night and spent the next three hours watching her. The first photograph I took of her was on the 24th of May and after that I started watching her daily and she became a not insignificant part of my life, and in the lives of people on the Internet. She was, I discovered, a feather legged orb weaver, from the uloborid family. She was without venom -- but not without charm. Her feet were rainbows, but only if you cared to look, very, very closely.

Early this year someone weeded the sidewalk in front of my dad's place and they tore up a piece of crabgrass and threw it into the street. My father thought this was sad so he rescued it and planted it in a gigantic planter on his porch. He'd send me photos of it every couple of days: "My crabgrass is thriving!" he'd say. And it did. It bothered him that someone would carelessly, though intentionally, kill something for no reason. He really enjoyed watching that clump of crabgrass grow and somewhere during the summer I realized that was something I'd learned from him -- that you don't necessarily need to go someplace else to find something grand that you care about, you just need to care about something, and it can be something very small, and very close. There's something worth caring about wherever you are, if you just invite it into your life. He sent me photos minutes apart from before and after watering his crabgrass and you can actually see it change. (The last time he sent me a photo, his crab grass was at least two feet tall.)

Emily the spider laid eggs several times during the summer and all but once they were killed by parasitic chalcid wasps -- the wasps lay eggs inside the spider egg sack and the wasp larve eat the young spiders before they're born. It was crushing to watch, again and again, wasps hatch out of her egg sacks. Towards the end of the summer I started intervening and bringing her eggs inside and protecting them. Eventually four spiderlings hatched, only one of which survived to young-adulthood. I named him Chumley. I haven't seen Chumley since the end of October. The last time I photographed him was October 24th. By that time I hadn't seen Emily in a few days and Chumley was hunting in her web -- his web, normally very meticulous, had started to fall apart. As male uloborid spiders reach sexual maturity, they lose the ability to spin webs, so this might have been a reason for that.

I'd been worrying about this day for a while and had asked some spider experts if I should bring Emily in for the winter and they decided that her chances were best if I left her outside to deal with winter the way that spiders do. What happened/happens depends on how old she is. Uloborid's hibernate once -- if she was born this year she'll over-winter, but if she was born last year, she's probably gone forever. Chumley though, he's most likely holed up somewhere in a crack.

Emily's web is still there, and all of her empty egg sacks -- and it's a bit sad to look at them, though if I hadn't invested the time, it would just be something I'd sweep up in passing, but there are hours and days of my life in those tiny little things now.

And hope for next year. I'll be out looking, and hoping.

Emily the spider, in my life May 24, 2015 - October 6, 2015.

Emily the Spider book info coming soon.

[The last photos of Emily & Chumley behind this cut]

Last photo of Emily. Clickenzee to embiggen.

The last photo of Chumley. Clickenzee to embiggen.


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i remember when i was that guy. [Nov. 9th, 2015|07:40 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

So, we've got a house full of college students whose balcony is right by our bedroom window. Like many college students, they're completely nocturnal so they're often out there at 3 or 4 in the morning, smoking, drinking, singing, and throwing up and during the fall we usually have the window open so it's like they're practically in our room, smoking -- because they're actually only three feet away, but they think they're completely alone in the world.

We only know them by their voices, but we've named them there's Puker, the Philosopher and Daisy. Twice during the fall Puker has gotten really sick over the balcony in long, extended vomiting sessions, once with the Philosopher sitting with him and nonstop wondering if people on other stars were looking at them.

Anyway, last week at 3:30 in the morning I'm jolted awake by Puker screaming: "MY HEAD! MY HEAD! MY F@#$ING HEAD!" and then this horrible cry like he'd been stabbed. I shot bolt upright in bed.

"What! What's wrong!" says the Philosopher.
"My head!" screams Puker, "My head! I saw the future!"
"I'm psychic! I've been psychic ever since I was a little kid!" Clouds of cigarette smoke drift into the bedroom.
"Oh my God!" says the Philosopher.
"Sometimes I see the future! And it hurts! It hurts so bad! Aaaaagh! Aaaaagh! I'm seeing the future!" (they're both really drunk.)
"Oh my God!" says the Philosopher again.
"Aaaaaaaagh!" wails Puker as another vision of tomorrow tears through his skull, "I KNOW HOW YOU'RE GOING TO DIE!"

At this point I've whipped out my phone and I'm trying to record this gem but I'm so sleep starved I can't figure out how to make the recorder work.

Instead of asking how he dies the Philosopher says "Do you ever wonder about people who are suffering? Like, we're very comfortable, we have a house and sh!t and there are some people who don't have a place to sleep."

"I can't unsee the future!" Puker wails, "It's a curse!" obviously he wants to talk about his magic powers but he can't hook the Philosopher. He flings his cigarette in an arc into the back yard and goes back inside. The Philosopher drops a beer can after it and follows him back in.

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Trillian got the Gin Blossoms to Play My Birthday Party [Nov. 2nd, 2015|07:57 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

Trillian Stars got one of my favorite bands to play my birthday party.
How awesome is that? Clickenzee to experience the Hey Jealousy!

I ran a Rock n' Roll Half Marathon 2 years ago and found it ridiculously expensive and then Competitor Group which owns RnR announced they's no longer be paying Elite Runners (pro's) to run in the races which sort of turned the whole thing into a giant fun run instead of, you know, trailing along behind professional athletes and helping the actual Sport of Racing (running is perhaps unique in that everybody who wants to gets a chance to compete with the absolute best in the field -- because they're gone by the time you get there, it doesn't present a problem to have 10,000 people on the same course with you -- this wouldn't work in golf or football.) After that I thought "OK, I'm done with these guys." And then somehow last year, Competitor re-invited elites, the price of the race dropped through the floor and the the Half Marathon was scheduled on my birthday -- halloween. I figured with all this I had to sign up.

I grew my beard for two months so I could dress as a credible Jeff Lebowski and run 13 miles in a bathrobe carrying a quart of White Russians.

Clickenzee to Emduden!

There were a lot of costumes. For a while I ran along with a telle-tubby (he was yellow) here's a self portrait. You can see antenna. There was a Pappa Smurf, and a gingerbread man.

Clickenzee to Embiggen!

My Personal Record for a half marathon was 1 hour, 49 minutes and some change sent last January in Chicago. I'd gotten faster after that, and ran the Broad Street Run (which is only 10 miles) very well, but a long hot summer caused me to skip a lot of my long runs and I'd fallen out of shape, 8 minute miles were no longer as easy as they'd been last April. But I knew that I'd also ran my record-setting race badly, and that if I'd been more careful I could have gone faster. So I figured I had a chance at breaking my PR but it was all going to be psychological. I'd have to power through the pain and speed up when I wanted to slow down. As they say in the West Philly Runners, I'd need to find "beast mode" -- even in a bathrobe.

The first four miles go through the city and they were fun -- the difficult thing here is not going out too fast and burning up all your energy because, hey, fast is easy in the first few miles; It's later that someone hands you a piano.

I was in a pretty speedy corral, #5 out of 30 or so (corrals are groups of like-speeded runners they put together to avoid traffic jams -- theoretically you're always running with the same group of people who are your speed, in practice it doesn't work like this because people are bad at figuring out what corral they belong in) but in the first mile I passed a lot of people who had already started walking, either because they sprinted out way too fast or because they injured something or because they put themselves in the wrong place.

After mile 4 the course goes out onto the Schuylkill River Trail -- an 8.5 mile loop that's familiar territory to any runner from Philly. I felt a bit of a home-court advantage because I knew how far away everything was. Miles 5-10 are sort of grinding and maintaining, you settle in and it's maybe not so fun, but it's not bad. By mile 10 it had completely ceased to be fun and summoning Beast Mode was sort of like kicking a hornets nest. I'd fallen 20 feet behind the person I'd decided I was "racing". But I kept surging, looking at my watch and trying to remind myself that setting a PR on my birthday would be awesome. I was on track for this but falling apart fast. At three miles from the end though you think "ok, it's only three miles" and you start trying to do math in your head but it's useless because your head's not working so you push on. Trillian was on the course at mile 12.8, with only a few hundred yards to go and I pushed with all I had left finishing in 1:50:10 -- missing a PR by 30 seconds or so and a sub 1:50 time by ... well, 11 seconds. Someone put a medal around my neck and gave me a bottle of water. I realized that I hadn't given my all -- that those 30 seconds were out there on the course somewhere, I was just too afraid to summon the Beast that I needed because of what that beast demands in return. They call it an endurance sport for a reason -- it's all about dealing with discomfort when comfort is right ... there ... all you have to do is stop ... and ... walk ... and all the pain goes away. That's difficult and I'd slowed when I knew I should have goed.

BUT. I ran a race in my bathrobe, my wonderful wife was at the finish line, and one of my favorite bands was playing my birthday party. So I stuffed the pockets of my bathrobe with bananas, powerbars, granola, pickle flavored cashew nuts (they were actually great), channeled my inner Dude, and immediately my lost PR drifted from my mind like a tumbleweed.

Post Race. Clickenzee to Embiggen!

Better beast next time, Dude.

Clickenzee to Embiggen the medal!

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Get one of the custom vests from Hedda Gabler! [Oct. 28th, 2015|11:42 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |motorhead: choking on your screams]

When the play's over and the movie's wrapped, you can own one of the vests worn by George, Judge Brack, or Loveborg. They're available for a $75 backer reward which includes a digital download of the movie.

Get them here.

Do you know someone who'd look great in one of these? Be the best dressed person at the ball and be able to say "oh yes, it's a screen used costume."

Clickenzee to get one of these vests!

(See the photo larger by clicking here.)

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(no subject) [Oct. 27th, 2015|05:21 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |motorhead: choking on your screams]

I'm a bit giddy that when Princeton University Press was looking for a collection of posters about Hamlet they chose three by a place called the Royal Shakespeare Company and three by ... me. Two of which feature trillian_stars. Get the book here, nerd.

Clickenzee to Embiggen the state of Denmark!

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Hedda Gabler Stretch Goal! [Oct. 25th, 2015|05:56 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |motorhead]

We've hit our base goal on Hedda Gabler, which means all the actors get paid. I'd like them to get paid more and I'd like to be able to rent additional equipment for filming the movie -- so I'm going to bribe you with a stretch goal.

I'm completely overjoyed that after Top Sekrit negotiations War for the Oaks novelist Emma Bull has agreed to write a short fantasy / science fiction story based on Hedda Gabler which we'll let loose into the world for free IF we can get to $8,300 by TUESDAY, October 27, 2015. (Click here to go to the Kickstarter copies of the movie, tickets to the play, costumes, props, and a way to get your vacation photos onto the set of the play are all backer rewards.)

Click to visit the Kickstarter page

Emma's groundbreaking Urban Fantasy "War for the Oaks" tells the story of a young woman trapped in a supernatural faerie conflict between good and evil. I'd love to see how she'd bridge 1890's and 2015's Philadelphia.

Territory is her most recent novel.

The last time Emma Bull & I worked together The Strange Case of the Dead Bird on the Nightstand is the beautiful thing that came out of it.

I'd love to be able to do a short film of Emma's story featuring actors from the cast and add it in the special features. Can you help make this happen?

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Chumley the spider and his fly. [Oct. 24th, 2015|05:35 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

A big fly landed in Emily's web today and she was like "holy smokes, freaking Godzilla hit my web" and she took off. About 20 minutes later I came back and her son, Chumley, was wrapping the fly up, despite the fact that it was caught in Emily's web.

Male uloborid spiders lose their ability to make webs at some point -- not sure how long it is. Chumley's web is nearer to the outside and it's taken a hammering lately and he hasn't been fixing it. For a while his webs were immaculate. Not sure what any of this means.

You can clearly tell Chumley from Emily because of his gigantic pedipalps -- the small demi-legs it the front of his face that look like boxing gloves. Chumley's legs also have brighter rainbows.

It's getting a little chilly outside and the fly count is down, but the spider's seem to be doing ok so far.

Photo of Chumley, his pedipalps and his fly behind this spoiler cut.

Any spider news in your world?

[Spoiler (click to open)]


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NPR's Peter Sagal will host a Hedda Gabler Cast Party [Oct. 22nd, 2015|10:29 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

Seriously. Peter Freaking Sagal will be hosting an after party for the cast & crew of Hedda Gabler and the 25 people in the audience on Friday December 11th, 2015. (OMG GET ME TICKETS NOW!.) Apart from being the chief chief fart-joke teller at NPR's Wait .. Wait Don't Tell Me! Peter is an accomplished actor, director, playwright and screen writer. While he loves many things, including dogs and motorcycles, it's probably safe to say that his first love is the theater. We're over the moon to have him come out to Philly to host this party. Tickets are $100 and for that you get a ticket to the show, the after party, and a digital download of the film which will include a video of Peter discussing the importance of Hedda Gabler in the special features.

Clickenzee to go to the Kickstarter & reserve a ticket

However cool and interesting you think Peter Sagal is, he's cooler and more interesting than that. Come see a play, talk theater, support indie filmmaking and find out.

Link to the Kickstarter for tickets here.

If you've already backed the Kickstarter at another level, you can change to this one. Once the tickets are sold out, no amount of banging on the door will get you in.

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Emily and Chumley -- guarding the house, like mother like son. [Oct. 16th, 2015|04:34 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |Gene Loves Jezebel: Gorgeous ]

As the weather gets chillier outside there are fewer insects on the back porch and the flies seem to have moved into the house. Emily and her son, Chumley, have kind of a prime spot between the inside and the outside and in order to get in, flies have to go past them.

I was standing out on the porch watching them yesterday evening when a giant housefly hit Emily's web. She ran to the opposite corner of the web, which seems to be a change in behavior for her -- she'd always run straight toward Huge Dangerous Animals caught in her web, I don't know if it's the season, or if it's something she sense in the web strands. But she sat there for a while while the fly twitched and eventually she ran over, wrapped it up in silk and chowed down on it. One fly that won't get in the house. While she was still eating Chumley caught something I didn't see. It was nice to see them both doing well, even while I worry about what's going to happen when it gets really cold out.

I like that they're guarding us. These flies are a serious nuisance.

Photos of Emily & Chumley behind this cut for the spider afraid.

[Spoiler (click to open)]

Emily catches a fly! You may clickenzee to embiggen!

Chumley catches something! Clickenzee to Embiggen!

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Meet Chumley the Spider! [Oct. 14th, 2015|05:45 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

Yesterday Emily's baby was two months old and look how he's grown! He's had his web in essentially the same place since he moved out of the vegemite jar, about two feet away from Emily's. Male uloborid's stop making webs after they become sexually mature and spend the rest of their lives wandering around looking for women. With the help of the Interwebs, I've decided his name is Chumley.

His webs are much more evenly constructed than Emilys, whose creations often look like rats nests and he's already started making his own stabilimentia, the web decorations nobody completely understands. Chumley's not as friendly as Emily, or maybe his eyesight is better -- if I come up to his web too quickly he'll run away.

It's getting chilly outside and there aren't as many insects as there were a few weeks ago. As it gets colder in the coming weeks, Chumley is going to find a spot to over-winter -- at the moment I know nothing about uloborid hibernation -- not sure if he's just going to curl up in a crevice or if he's going to build some sort of silk spider house. We shall see.

Telling the sex of a spider can be a tricky thing if you only have one spider. The Pedipalps, the little feet, in the front that many people mistake for fangs, are the giveaway. In this case Chumley's pedipalps look like a set of boxing gloves, Emily's are much smaller.

Adorable baby photos behind this lj spoiler cut for the arachnophobic.

[Spoiler (click to open)]

Chumley! You may clickenzee to embiggen!

Clickenzee to Embiggen!

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I'm hosting the Kickstarter Film Festival this Thursday October 15, 2015 at the Roxy in Philly [Oct. 12th, 2015|06:02 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

Top Sekrit No Longer!

In Ye Olden Days a filmmaker would go to a Hollywood studio and say "I need a zillion dollars to make a movie" and the studio would make them do all sorts of terrible things in order to get the money. Today, filmmakers can ask a broad group of people for a small amount of money and not have to compromise their vision.

Kickstarter, the place where all this is happening, have asked me to be the host of the Philadelphia Kickstarter Film Festival. This is at 7:00pm at the Roxy, I'll be introducing Afronauts (13 minutes):

and the vampire film What We Do in the Shadows (85 minutes):

Crazily enough, the event is already completely sold out but, you know, you can pregame your celebration for next years festival by backing Hedda Gabler.

Let me know if you have tickets to the festival and want to hang out.

Thanks to everyone who's helped make something happen with Kickstarter.

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The importance of Hedda Gabler [Oct. 9th, 2015|06:25 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

George Tesman's smoking jacket has been claimed as a backer reward, so has naming General Gabler, but there still a lot of rewards, like copies of the film and tickets and we're only 1/3 of the way to being able to make this happen at all.

Here's trillian_stars and director Josh Hitchens talking about why this is an important play.

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Hedda Gabler backer rewards [Oct. 7th, 2015|07:31 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

One of the omissions in our movie of "A Doll's House" was that the costumes weren't entirely period. When we set out to do Hedda Gabler we had much more time to plan and wanted everything to be perfect. We contracted designers to create custom costumes which are also Kickstarter backer rewards.

One of these is George Tesman's smoking jacket. It's dark blue with working pockets, velour trim and frog closures, size 44 regular. It was custom made for the production by petitbout. When the movie wraps filming, this can be yours to lounge around stylishly in.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Praise? Sound off!

Click here to go to check out this and the rest of the backer rewards.

Click to get this jacket
(or any number of other cool things).

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Top Sekrit no longer! We're making a movie! (and a play!) [Oct. 6th, 2015|07:12 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

Clickenzee to visit the Kickstarter!

We're making a movie (and a play) and we need your help. Two years ago I used Kickstarter to make a movie of Henrik Ibsen's masterpiece A Doll's House and a lot of you helped make that happen. I came into Doll's House late, in the last week of an actual run of the play directed by Josh Hitchens at the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion museum and cobbled together a movie shoot to keep a beautiful thing from disappearing. This year I want to continue that and bring Ibsen's Hedda Gabler to your screen. This time I've been a part of it from the start -- there are separate film and theatrical scripts, twice as many shooting days, a top notch cast, custom costumes, a soundtrack written especially for the production, upgraded equipment and lighting and I really think that I can make the best movie of Hedda Gabler that exists.

Here's a short video showing off some of what we have to work with this time.

Click to play the trailer

Kickstarter backer rewards include tickets to the performances in Philadelphia and digital downloads of the finished film as well as original custom costumes made specifically for the production -- 19th century mens cravats, Hedda's beautiful black mourning dress and lots more.

If you can't make it to the play, you can also buy a ticket and leave it at the door for someone who can't afford one.

Please have a look at the Kickstarter here. If you can't back the project, I'd love a shoutout, a share with your theatrical friends and some love on the Internet.

There are comparatively few great roles for women in theater, Hedda Gabler is one of those and it's one that not many people know about. I'd love the opportunity to bring it to a larger audience.


If the Kickstarter makes it to $2,000 today, I'll post a photo of Roswell dressed as George Tesman.

(If there are backer rewards you'd like to see, or questions you have about this production, shout it out in the comments. Thanks.)

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Kyle's Essential VAMPIRE MOVIE LIST [Oct. 4th, 2015|08:40 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |the gin blossoms something about chocolate]

I never eat, cat fud! Clickenzee to Embiggen Count Roswell!

Did you know that trillian_stars is playing Dr. Van Helsing in this month's production of Dracula at Hedgerow Theatre?

While they're in rehearsals, Trillian has been watching non-stop monster movies as research. I wanted to share my favorite vampire moves and ask you what ones I'm missing. Here's my list:

1994's mostly unknown story of Dracula's daughter living in New York city. Shot partly in pixelvision with music by portished. It's moody and at times funny. It stars Peter Fonda as Van Helsing, an actress named Galaxy Craze who has the best name ever, as Lucy, and the dude who played Lane in Madmen gives an awesome performance as Dracula's morose long haired son.

He's half vampire, he hunts vampires. With a sword. Duh.

Only Lover's Left Alive
2014, Tom Hiddelton and Tilda Swinton as stylish vampires with hundreds of years of history and memories who are somehow obsessed with classic guitars and motown music, but it looks beautiful and you should watch it.

The Hunger
You know this one. It's got David Bowie and Bauhaus in it. It's about as vampire as you get.

The Lost Boys
This was really the vampire movie of my formative years. It's not just about vampires, it's about being young and at the beach in the summer. This movie gave me a powerful yearning to have that summer that always really eluded me. Plus, Kiefer Sutherland and Jami Gertz, sweet barking cheese.


Possibly the best looking vampire movie, Ok, a lot of them are beautiful, but Byzantium has beautiful sets, scenery and cinematography. To women vampires making their way over hundreds of years, currently down on their luck but tired and looking for someone to trust.

Let the Right One In
You've probably seen this or the American remake. Beautiful film.

John Carpenter's Vampires
James Woods hunts vampires with a crossbow in the desert. Plus JOHN FREAKING CARPENTER.

30 Days of Night
From the graphic novel. Vampires finally figure out that they can party for a month in Barrow Alaska without the sun coming up. Great action film from Sam Rami.

Curse of the Undead
I was never a huge fan of the Hammer Dracula movies -- the sets and lighting always bothered me. Curse of the Undead I saw once on Dr. Shock probably when I was 7 or 8 at my grandparents house in New Jersey and scenes from it have stuck with me ever since. It's a western with cowboys and horses and gunfights, except one guy who gets shot all the time never goes down. And we never see him in the day. Couldn't find a trailer, but (as of right now) the whole movie is on Youtube. It's only about 65 minutes long.

What am I missing??? What are your favorites? What disappointed you?

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A long overdue entry about Emily the Spider [Oct. 3rd, 2015|07:53 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |proud grandfather]
[music |sisters of mercy: emily]

I realize that I've left everyone with a cliffhanger about Emily the Spider. When last we checked, Emily's egg sac, which I'd taken from her web like a thief after parasitic chalcid wasps had killed all of her other babies, and kept in a jar in my room, had hatched four babies. Four. I'd really no idea how many spider babies came out of an uloborid egg sac, but now we know, not many. These kids took up residence in a Vegemite jar that I'd set up a baffle of sticks inside for their web building. (You can see them here.) They were adorable glass-like creatures, translucent and soooo small maybe 1/4 the size of a pinhead. I put a banana in front of their cave and over the next two weeks that banana was turned into its exact weight in fruit flies which turned into a food cloud for the bubs.

Emily's babies got bigger -- and how could they not? The fruit flies they were eating were four times their own bodyweight. Eventually they moved out of the Vegemite cave and found their places in the world (very close to the Vegemite cave).

Photo behind this spoiler cut for the arachnophobic.

[Spoiler (click to open)]

This is actually Emily's baby BIGGER.
But still almost impossible to see with the naked eye.

Over the next few weeks three of the babies slowly vanished -- I don't know what became of them. I can't imagine something found and ate them, though it's possible. I like to think they wandered off, but I can't figure how they could have gone so far that I couldn't find them.

Right now she has one baby who's moved up very close to Emily's web, about a foot away, and taken up space of his/her own. It's about 1/4 the size of Emily. And ... it needs a name.

Photo behind this spoiler cut for the arachnophobic.
[Spoiler (click to open)]

Emily compared 1:1 with her baby.
You may clickenzee to celebrate!!

You'll notice that Emily's baby is more festively patterned than Emily is. I know nothing about what this means. Is it a boy? Does this change? Is this just genetic variation? Who knows.

So ... names for Emily's baby?

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Mayor Nutter's Unexpected Gift to Philadelphia [Sep. 29th, 2015|05:25 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |Chelsea Lankes "Too Young to Fall In Love"]

Sometimes a disaster produces beneficial side effects that could never be otherwise experienced because of the terrible cost. When the FAA shut down all airline traffic after 9/11 scientists got their first chance to study the effect of airplane contrails on temperature.

This weekend the Pope came to Philly and the city shut down virtually every bus, train, and street for three days -- the bridge between New Jersey and Philadelphia was closed, concrete barricades went up at major intersections, "Walking Dead" jokes abounded on the news media and the city got a chance to see what a life without cars might be like. Runners and cyclists spilled out onto the streets, joyfully running and biking in places that are normally both unsafe and illegal.

Running across the bridge to New Jersey.

When the Pope's visit was announced, Philadelphians were on the whole very happy about the idea. But as plans progressed and the city announced seemingly more and more bizarre security measures people got either outraged or incredulous, depending on the makeup of your Facebook feed. One of the most baffling was the plan to shut down the Benjamin Franklin bridge and have pilgrims park in Camden and walk three miles in to see the Pope and then three miles back. Early plans were to install TSA style screening on the bridge which the city said would be performing more security checks than the airport during that time. The Pope's official biographer called the security measures (which included confiscating apples) "pathological".

Clever people mocked the city's planning producing things like this map:

Certainly if terrorists had been able to shut down every street in the city, block traffic, and cut it off from New Jersey for three days they'd be pleased with themselves. We got our car free experience at a significant cost to businesses who lost untold amounts of money, some closed because workers couldn't get in to the city and others who did open found that nobody was shopping.

I'd been initially planning on locking myself into my house and watching Netflix for three days, but when initial reports started to come in from runners about the multi-million dollar limited time playground open in center city, I jumped into my shoes with the West Philadelphia Runners and we ran an amazed route through the city, proverbially slack jawed with disbelief at the pedestrian wonderland which had opened up.

No wait at the Genius Bar.
Employees at the completely empty Apple store
stand at the window and wave to people.

The city's newly formed Indego Bike Share shined during this time, setting up permanently open kiosks with people to check in bikes even if all the racks were full. The able bodied rejoiced while the most Catholic people I know stayed home, scared off by the thought of trying to push a wheelchair for six miles, navigate closed streets and go through unknown TSA security checkpoints.

Route 76, the normally jam-packed beltway around the city was shut down.

It was a runner's paradise in many ways, one of which was the installation of thousands of portable toilets all throughout the city as well as massive icebergs of free bottled water at strategic locations. These are things that runners want often, people walking miles want eventually and homeless people want constantly. By providing public amenities in vast quantities our eyes were open to how much we were missing constantly. Runners map water fountains and plan their runs around them -- access to public water is a sadly rare thing.

The race course everybody wants.

We saw for the first time how long it actually takes to get places on foot without traffic lights. I'd recently just experienced this in Wyoming, where you can point to a spot three miles away and know pretty much exactly how long it will take you to get there. I discovered that things were much closer to my house than I'd realized, that the density of the city and, especially the impact of cars, stretches miles. That much of our time moving in a city is actually spent standing still in an incredibly inefficient way. Our run to the bridge, which I think of as "There be Dragons" far from me took much less time than I'd expected.

The shutdown brought things closer together, it brought us together, even if as gawkers, to meet one another, we got to see a city as it could be, and as a lot of people have envisioned a city as being -- truly walkable, truly bikeable, uncongested.

You may have seen this photo from the Australia Cycling Promotion Fund showing the amount of space taken up by pedestrians, busses, bicycles, and cars:

This is the world we live in and for a moment, we got the chance to see other options. Years ago, playing Sim City, I designed a city with only public transportation, cars were parked in a ring outside. My city had extremely low pollution levels but the rents skyrocketed and eventually I was hung in effigy, but I do imagine this type of world where streets are limited to mass transit, delivery and emergency vehicles. I've never known though if it would work -- and I still don't. If this persisted would the Mayor become a hero or would the city just die? I don't know.

All traffic in and out of the city, shut down.

There's a huge down side to this as well. I don't know if anybody will ever be able to accurately figure out how much this experiment cost the city. I've read that among the hidden costs, 75% of the babies born that weekend weren't able to be born in the hospital of their parents choice because of transportation difficulties.

The West Philly Runners on the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Philadelphia's expanding its bike and pedestrian trails, we have miles and miles of them along the Schuylkill river, though for the most part, they go to nothing -- they're recreational rather than functional paths. What would it be like to be able to easily and safely bike to center city? Having seen free and open streets, can we now be satisfied without at least protected bicycle lanes? Is it the job of a city to encourage people to adopt healthy lifestyles? There are obvious financial benefits in terms of healthcare costs to encourage walking and biking, but should we do a thing just because it's good for us? How difficult would it be to pry us away from our cars?

This thing wasn't the thing that the Mayor thought he was giving us. But having seen it, we want it, I want it anyway. I know that the thing we have now isn't the thing that I want.

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This is not a fitness blog, but I just won a medal [Sep. 27th, 2015|07:59 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplished ]
[music |van halen: panama ]

According to my records, my first 5k was on November 21, 2012, almost two months after I'd started going to the gym. It took me 37 minutes and it was awful. I couldn't walk later that night, but I felt a great sense of accomplishment. My pace chart tells me that's an 11:55 mile.

Last week I ran the 5k for the IOA in Philly ... I did significantly better.

Apart from being a very accessible distance, 5k's are a way that many "serious" runners use to judge their progress. I hadn't run one seriously (meaning "full-tilt damn the torpedoes I'm coming in first or my heart will explode trying") for a year. Coming off my disappointment at the Philly 10k -- where a dearth of training and skipping long-runs because it was hot and I was being wimpy left me unable to do six miles at a pace I'd managed for 10 in April -- I'd decided to run the 5k for the IOA as hard as I could. It was small and I figured if I ran my guts out I might be able to place in my age group.

Running is a sport of the young, and pretty much every 5k ever is going to be won by someone in their 20's or early 30's because that's when peak fitness is (long distance runners peak later, go Meb). By letting people in their 30's, 40's, 50's and 60's run, essentially, against one another, you can add layers of competition to a race. While I had no chance of winning the race overall, I figured I had a fair chance of being one of the three fastest people over 40 if I ran until I threw up, as long as I threw up after the finish line.

Before the race I scoped out everybody who I thought was competition, our age groups were in small print on our bibs, and I stuck myself in a group with the two guys who I thought were going to be my biggest problem. "I won't let myself get more than three steps behind either one of these guys," was my plan.

I are serious.
You may clickenzee to embiggen.

We went out fast. I'd run the course the Wednesday before and burned myself out completely, barely staggering in at 26:00 I figured that if I paced myself better, I could come in possibly at 24:20, which is a 7:50 pace. I'd been able to keep up 8:05 for roughly five miles during the Philly 10k and it seemed reasonable that I could hold 7:50 for three miles. But the guys in front of me were tearing up the road. At the end of the first mile my watch said 7:10, which is only 20 seconds slower than the fastest mile I'd ever run. I knew this pace was going to destroy me so I decided to drop back and hope that my competition would burn out. I fell back to a 7:30 pace, still faster than I'd planned but I was afraid that anything slower and I'd just be too far back to matter and now it was a question of just keeping the wheels on and hoping everybody else flared out. This turned out to be a good idea. I caught up to one of the guys at about mile 1.7, he was flagging after a strong start. I passed him keeping my 7:30 pace. The other guy was about 20 yards ahead of him. I caught up to him in spurts and stuck one step behind him, he was flagging a little but I didn't want to risk passing him too soon. Once your competition is behind you, there's no slowing down because you can't see where they are. He kept slowing down by inches though and by mile 2.25 I couldn't justify staying behind him any longer because my maintenance pace was bringing me up past him anyway. So I passed and threw some extra effort into it. I was committed at that point.

It was pretty awful by this point.
Running isn't so much about being fast as it
is about being able to put up with extreme
discomfort longer than the next guy.
You may clickenzee to embiggen my pain!

I dumped on whatever I had left and passed everybody who was near me, starting to feel like I was going to puke. As I rounded the final corner I could see the clock at 22:30 which was crazy fast. It said 22:44 when I crossed. I staggered off into a field and walked in circles, dumping the water someone had handed me over my head. Everything hurt but 22:44 was a pretty respectable time. In fact, it was a completely nuts 7:19 pace.

I wandered around in a daze for a while thinking that I'd had a good chance of placing, but I couldn't be sure the guys i'd been racing against were the only ones I had to watch out for. I figured I had a good chance of a second place.

The 5k for the IOA was really well done, there was a great selection of post-race food, I ate part of a giant veggie hoagie, some pumpkin protein bars from Trader Joe's, a banana ... I texted trillian_stars to let her know I might have done well.

When they called my name at the awards ceremony I found out I'd come in first in my age group, almost a minute ahead of the next fastest person.

With some scientists who are actually doing something useful with their lives,
fighting dementia and other age related illnesses.
You may clickenzee to Embiggen

So ... a long way from November 2012.

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Look at this, isn't it beautiful? [Sep. 24th, 2015|07:02 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |Amanda Palmer: Smile]

So, unless you've been living under a rock, you know that my friends Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman have made person.

I've been photographing Amanda for more than a decade now, maybe it's 15 or 16 years or something like that. When she got, very pregnant she asked if I'd take some photos of her. I was in Boston at the time for something and climbed in a taxi only to get a call from Amanda saying she couldn't do it, she'd just gotten some terrible news.

She'd had, what turned out to be, a false positive to a genetic test telling her that there was something dreadfully wrong with her foetus -- Neil was in Europe, chaos and uncertainty reigned, I wished her the best I could and eventually returned to Philadelphia. She called a few days later saying that the test results had been wrong but she still wanted ... for the sake of any better term, maternity photos so we looked at our schedules and picked a time, right up by the little Palmer-Gaiman's exit date for maximum giaganticness.

I didn't want photos of Neil staring longingly into Amanda's navel, or kneeling in a field, or some weird midriff shirts, I wanted them doing the stuff that they did every day, if it wasn't authentic, I wasn't really interested.

We got a room at the Gables bed and breakfast in West Philly. I photographed Neil & Amanda lounging around, working on their computers, reading, doing all sorts of Neil & Amanda stuff. I used a Leica M9 and a Canon 50mm f 1.8 Serenar as well as a Voigtlander 35mm f 1.7.

Amanda and I walked downstairs to the living room. She passed a stained glass window that the sun was coming in through.

"Look at this," she said, looking down, "isn't this beautiful?"


Welcome to Earth little Anthony.

They got dressed, put their bags in the car and headed off to Tennessee to bring Anthony into this world. And in those days all the naiads and dryads & fairies & novelists & publicists & magicians & comic book illustrators came out and offered a gift of hope and a promise to help. My gift was this memory of Anthony and Amanda's last moments as one creature. I think it's probably better than a golden plate.

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Love from Down Under! [Sep. 9th, 2015|10:53 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |Emigrate: Rainbow]

Our cry was heard from down under and this showed up in the mailbox last week. Thanks for the love! We shall enjoy this very much!

I'm not sure that I like best that Vegemite's scantron code is PUSGOD or that it expires in six months....

Thanks!!! You may clickenzee to Embiggen!

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Theater Posters [Sep. 9th, 2015|10:41 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |Chelsea Lankes "Too Young to Fall In Love"]

The phone rings late at night and it's Curio Theatre saying they need a photo really fast for a newspaper article the next morning and you're in your pajamas watching Longmire like an old man and then they say that it's for The Handmaid's Tale and suddenly this image pops into your head and you have to photograph it....

That's pretty much how it went down. We tried a couple variations with the wimple all the way on and with a bit of hair peeking out and some with a tube of lipstick and some with a cassette tape, but ultimately the original idea was really the best and we were done in 30 minutes.

I'd tell you when the play opens, but, you know, it's on the poster.

Isa St. Claire in Curio Theatre's
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood</i>
You may clickenzee to Emiggen

Photo geekery: Leica M9, 50mm Canon Serenar. Alien Bees flash, Pocket Wizards and a 3 foot Lite Dome softbox.

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race recap [Aug. 31st, 2015|08:17 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |Motley Crue: God Bless the Children of the Beast]

Running is sometimes fun.

Racing is never fun.

The goal of a race is to figure out exactly how much energy you have in your body and how much tolerance for discomfort makes up your mettle and have both of those expire one step after the finish line. And since there's always more in you than your brain wants you to give (your brain's job, after all, is to conserve your energy, so it wants you to stop wasting calories running while dinosaurs are not actively chasing your and eat cheese fries instead) it's a fight between your will and your being. You have to overcome the cheese fry craving not-wanting-to-run with that part of your brain that says "screw you, I'm in charge here". It's never fun, because it is exactly the opposite of what you want to do, and when you're racing -- by definition you're trying to be the fastest you can be. You can run on a saturday morning and enjoy the birds and the flowers and whatever, but when you're racing, you don't really notice any of that.

The catch is that without racing your running doesn't get better. The only way to run faster is to run faster -- each time you push the envelope, your capabilities are that much more.

I raced the Philly10k this weekend, which is a 6.2 mile race through South Philadelphia -- it's an odd distance but I hadn't raced all summer because it's too freaking hot to do anything and I wanted to support Philadelphia Runner, who came up with the idea. I'd run it last year and totally bombed -- clocking in at 52:51 and 527th place.

My Personal Record for that distance as 49:49 which I ran a little over a year ago. I wanted to beat that. So my goal was 49:48.

Mile 5 was pretty terrible.

Weather conditions were nice, for the time of year and right out of the gate I found someone running pretty much exactly the pace I wanted to do, vacillating back and forth between 7:50 - and 8:00 and I stuck one step behind her. It's easier when you have a pacer. We stayed pretty much shoulder to shoulder and everything faded away but the discomfort of running.

I always thought that if I ran fast it would be effortless -- I would be like a gazelle, I'd be this perfect, joyous form but that's not how it works. I've come to realize over the years that no matter how fast you are, it still hurts. For me it just felt awful mostly the entire time. Miles 1 and 2 were ok and then I just hated it.

One depressing thing is that I've gotten slower over the summer. Doing ~8:00 miles for six mile distances is something I'd done relatively effortlessly in April, but lately I'd been fighting to do a 24:30 5k. My training's been a bit lax. I've skipped a few long runs in the past few months and it's been showing.

Some of the West Philly Runners enjoying an 8:20am beer.
Like you do.

was waiting for me at mile 5 waving and cheering but I was a broken shell by then. I missed the marker that said "Mile 5" and misread my watch and thought I was much farther from the finish than I actually was. I thought I was still a mile out when I turned a corner and saw the finish line two blocks away. I had little left for a mile, but plenty for two blocks and sprinted my way to a finish in 49:51 -- two seconds slower than I wanted.

Here are my splits, you can see where I came unglued.

1 7'53"/MI
2 7'57"/MI
3 7'50"/MI
4 8'04"/MI
5 8'13"/MI
6 8'24"/MI

Back in April for the Broad Street run my pace never dipped below 8:05 for ten miles. I took too many days off over the summer. Blah. One of the things you tell yourself when you're racing is that you won't remember how much it hurt the next day or a week or a year later, but that number will always be there on the Internet.

I wish I could have squeezed another two seconds out of it somewhere in the middle where I was flagging, I wish I'd realized sooner how close I was to the finish but in the end -- hey, I ran the race, I learned from my mistakes. I, hopefully got a little bit faster and pushed that envelope a little further.

Many of the other West Philly Runners jumped on the bicycles at the end and rode off to do another race that started at 9:30 in the morning (it was like 8:15 am when we finished -- and I accurately told Trillian when I'd pass her, to the very second) but all I wanted to do was come home and collapse.

I'll do better next time.

Hope your races, actual and metaphorical went well this weekend.

The day before I went on a fun run with comedian Kevin Hart and 4,999 other people. I ran a loping 27 minute 5k and had a great time.

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(no subject) [Aug. 23rd, 2015|05:01 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

Amanda Palmer called a few weeks ago and asked if I wanted to be part of a project to help the New York Public Library. How could you not? Plus I'd been trying to figure out how to help librarians anyway. Amanda wanted to parody a Damien Hirsh sculpture as performance art and get people to donate children's books to the NYPL. This because she's about to have a baby and she'd recently read about the benefits that children experience when their parent's read to them. (She wrote about that here.) So why not collect a bunch of her fans who may or may not be old enough to have children but are old enough to buy books and have them come donate books to the library? It was funded through her Patreon page which is a way to crowd fund artists to do art projects they might not otherwise be able to do -- like a recurring monthly kickstarter.

Her performance art was going to be out in front of the library, my thought was to do a studio portrait inside first with lights and a backdrop and then go take a few outside.

Naked pregnant lady collecting books for kids and teaching a lesson about contemporary sculptors. Right here. At the New York Public Library.

I'd planned on shooting this whole thing with a Leica M9 to keep my kit small, with a 28, 35, 50, and 90mm lenses along with two studio flashes, four radio triggers and two light stands to keep the amount of stuff I had to carry small, because I was also packing a giant 10 foot by 20 foot muslin backdrop which weighed a lot. I packed the night before but when I got up the next morning, I added a Nikon d800 as a backup with a 28-70 f2.8 and a Fuji x20.

I took an Amtrak to NYC, sitting in front of a guy who was trying to pick up the woman in the seat next to him by telling her he "edited Lovecraft anthologies" (note: this probably would work on me). Not to be outdone she said "I know the drummer from The Band." He paused and said "What band?" "The Band," she said, like he was an idiot, "he dedicates songs to me when they play."

Luckily I'd packed a pair of noise isolating earphones and I cranked up "heavy rainstorm" on my white noise generator and read a book. By the time we got to NYC he's looked up "The Band" on wikipedia surreptitiously somewhere and was telling her that the drummer died years ago. I grabbed my bags and fled.

Longtime Dresden Dolls vibes man Ryan Anas met me out front and with great joy we carried all the gear to the NY Public Library.

I hadn't seen Amanda in a while. She flashed her gigantic belly at me ... it's really ... big.

I took a selfie with the PalmerGaiman, about to be the first of his generation and then Ryan, said "hi" to the people who are probably behind the @NYPL twitter feed, and while the hair and makeup team started, I went off to lunch in a gloriously empty pub where I had a terrible veggie burger and we went back and set up my studio. Michael Pope was there with his team, videotaping everything in time lapse and real time and occasionally Pope would run through blasting photos with his iPhone doing something that I didn't understand. The makeup team was laboring through anything (ahem) painting half of Amanda bronze and the other half see-thru.

This is designer Anya Klepikov, who's done some amazing NY theater sets
and was responsible for much of this happening.
Half painted! Clickenzee to EMBIGGEN!

Nicole Blackman arrived, who happens to be my favorite poet on Earth. She's friends with Amanda somehow. I was very influenced by her performance art piece "The Courtesan Tales" when working on Who Killed Amanda Palmer and I thanked her in my credits for the book. Three years later someone forwards me this Tweet from Nicole Blackman that says "Who the heck is Kyle Cassidy and why did he thank me in the credits for this book?" And now there she is, sitting in a nest of clothes, constructed mostly of feathers, writing something.

Nicole and Ryan helped me fine tune the lights and just as the makeup was finishing, Neil Gaiman came in with novelists Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman at the last minute, second-guessed my whole lighting setup and started rearranging it. I took a test shot and the display screen on my M9, instead of showing what I'd just photographed, showed only a series of vertical lines.

"Ok," Amanda said, "let's do this," and she stepped onto the set. I pulled the radio trigger off my Leica and put it on the Nikon and started shooting. This is the essence of being prepared. Have a plan, assume that plan will fail, have a backup plan. I bring a backup for everything. Lights, cables, cameras. It doesn't have to be identical, or even equal, but you need to know how you're going to get something done if the way you'd planned it isn't going to work out.

So this is it. You pack for hours, you travel for hours, you setup for
hours and you take photos for 4 minutes. Clickenzee to EMBIGGEN!

The Nikon worked fine, and we shot for about five minutes. At the very end John Cameron Mitchel, director (and star) of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus walked in, gasped at Amanda's belly and made a joyful scene.

Not sure what happened to turn my Leica into a necklace. It seemed to recover later.
I suspect it might have been related to the flash trigger. Not sure if that's my hope
or not. JCM & AFP. Clickenzee to EMBIGGEN!

My photos done, we went outside in a line where a crowd was already waiting, unsure of what was happening, books clutched in their hands, waiting for the magic. Amanda climbed up through the crowd onto the platform of bookshelves, raised her sword and a cheer went up.

She stayed there for about fifteen minutes (which is a long time to hold a sword up over your head) people came along in a line and deposited their book donations to the NY public library, then Neil helped Amanda down, kissed her on the makeup covered cheek and went back. The library hauled off their score in a gigantic cart. I stayed around and talked to people outside for a while, then went back, tore down my kit, headed off for a late night snack with some friends and headed home.

The next morning I got up and edited photos and read on the Internet all the outrage about pregnant breasts and children's books not going together. I'll leave you to Google "advantages of reading to your children".

Ok. I'll also leave you with this photo of a giant crate of books that now belong to the New York Public Library that you can borrow and read to your kid. Or someone else's.

Giant tub-of-books. Clickenzee to see if yours is one of the ones
on the top.

You can read Amanda's blog about the whole thing, see more photos and shiznit here.

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I'M A FATHER!!! [Aug. 17th, 2015|05:02 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |Holst: The Planets ]

I've waited on the details of this because I was afraid it might be another disaster. About three weeks ago, Emily the Spider made another egg sack. She'd made two before, the first was destroyed by chalcid parasitic wasps that laid eggs inside her egg sack the the larval wasps ate her babies. The second egg sack she made I took down from her web and brought inside and kept in a jar, three weeks later chalcid parasitic wasps hatched from it. It was heartbreaking. When she laid eggs again last month I took that one too and last week, four babies hatched. If you're wonderng how many spiders pop out of an uloborid egg sack, the answer is "not a lot". They immediately spun webs on the sticks I'd put in there. I took the lid off and transported them onto the porch with some fruit to attract small prey for them. They are actually smaller than fruit flies. I hope this won't be a problem for them.

Here's how they look in their habitat right now.

Emily's babies! In their spidey playpen!
Clickenzee to see them larger!

[super closeup photo of one of the bubs behind this cut!!]

They are so small it's almost unimaginable.
Smaller than the head of a pin.
Parts of their bodies are clear. Little bubs!
Clickenzee to Embiggen!

I imagine these next few weeks are the most critical when they're so small and defenseless. A housefly getting in their jar and getting tangled in their web could be a catastrophe for them.

They are such frail things. How can they survive in this gigantic world?

I'll protect you as much as I can.

I'm off to go running and watch the sun come up. Tell me about something you saw today. Or give me your best names for spider babies.

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Who's the biggest jerk in Stars Hollow? [Jul. 31st, 2015|07:12 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

Ok, time for important shiznit -- help me rank the best and worst Gilmore Girls characters. Who would you let move in to your spare bedroom and who should be cast adrift in the Indian Ocean? trillian_stars and I have been watching this show for a year now (we're somewhere in Season 5) and it occupies way too much of my spare brain cycles.

YOU CAN LOG IN WITH ALMOST ANY SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNT. You don't need an LJ. That's just so it's one person one vote.

Caveat: Sebastian Bach only appears in the "best" list because he is awesome.

Poll #2018404 You may vote for multiples, but please don't vote for everyone.


Lorelai Gilmore
Rory Gilmore
Luke Danes
Emily Gilmore
Richard Gilmore
Paris Geller
Dean Forester
Jess Mariano
Kirk Gleason
Michel Gerard
Jason Stiles
Logan Huntzberger
Mrs Kim
Taylor Doose
Taylor's Beard
Sookie St. James
Lane Kim
Dave Rygalski
Brian Fuller

Who are the BEST people in Stars Hollow?

Lorelai Gilmore
Rory Gilmore
Luke Danes
Emily Gilmore
Richard Gilmore
Paris Geller
Dean Forester
Jess Mariano
Kirk Gleason
Michel Gerard
Jason Stiles
Logan Huntzberger
Mrs Kim
Taylor Doose
Taylor's Beard
Sookie St. James
Lane Kim
Dave Rygalski
Brian Fuller
Sebastian Bach

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Dream [Jul. 30th, 2015|08:41 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |Who's Making Noise Tonight? In my head]

Had a cool dream I was in a recording studio with every heavy metal star on earth. They were recording a song with Ozzy called "Who's Making Noise Tonight?" (that was the chorus, at the end Ozzy sings "I YAM!") Unfortunately though I spent most of my time in the dream talking to Kip Winger, but I did get to watch some pretty crazy guitar solos and some rawkus partying.

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The Drowning Girl may be an actual movie now.... [Jul. 29th, 2015|08:26 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |a whisper in the noise]

Back in 2011 I read the manuscript for Caitlin R. Kiernan's (aka greygirlbeast) "The Drowning Girl A Memoir" and I wanted to make a movie out of it, but I knew I couldn't, because I didn't have six million dollars. But Caitlin and I did a Kickstarter and raised enough money for me to do a series of still photos from the movie that never existed. It included original artwork from Michael Zulli and Zulli even shaved his beard and appeared as a character in the story. I kid you not.

We hired a perfect cast and a crew and went to the actual locations from the book and shot photos. you can see them all here.

We also shot a trailer, a teaser trailer, and a making of video. The best place to find those is Director of Photography Brian Siano's page about them here. <--- YOU SHOULD WATCH THESE.

Well, now four years later, both The Drowning Girl and Caitlin's previous book, The Red Tree have been optioned for movies.

So you may see this thing after all. Congrats to Caitlin, Zulli, Brian, and everybody who worked on this.

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Emily the Spider Update [Jul. 28th, 2015|05:48 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |Ani Difranco]

There's some news on the Emily front.

Lately she's been building a new web every day or so but not taking down the old one, she'll just move a foot to the west and make a new web that attaches to about 3/4ths of the old web. Right now she's got four webs together. I don't think she's hunting on all four of them, but she is hunting on the most recent two together.

No idea what she's doing, but it involves moving a lot.

I've been spending a lot of time just watching her in her web. She's catching more food than I'd thought before, though she certainly goes through spells -- maybe it's related to temperature and when trash day is. She's amazing to watch when she catches something. In the photo below she's wrapping up a small fly. Emily is hanging from her web by her two front legs, holding the fly in the middle four, and with the back two pulling silk from her spinnerettes while she twirls the fly like it's a Rubic's Cube.

I've seen her now catch three flies within a few minutes of one another -- catching and wrapping one while eating another, stashing it in her web and then catching and wrapping a third. I wonder how much more difficult it is to wrap up a fly when you've got one in your mouth. She seems pretty good at it.

This is a nice photo, by the way -- if you're like "eh, not sure if I'm going to bother clicking on stuff today."

[emily wrapping up a fly behind this cut]

George has completely vanished -- haven't seen him in weeks.

In other news, my dad's growing crab grass in a flower pot. One of his neighbors pulled it up and threw it on the sidewalk and my dad figured it deserved to live so he planted it. Every couple of days he sends me a photo saying "My crab grass is doing great!" and I tell him how my flies my spider ate. This is how the Cassidy men roll.

We're exciting like this.

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Peter Sagal and the running and the rain [Jul. 27th, 2015|07:49 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |Ratt: Round and Round]

So, years and years ago now, Peter Sagal convinced me to take up running. (If you're new to this blog, here's a good place to pick up that story.) A few months ago he emailed to say he was going to be in Philly at the helm of his NPR fart-joke juggernaught Wait ... Wait ... Don't Tell Me! the funniest most inexplicably punctuated news quiz in history. So I started planning some possible runs around the Mann Music Center (where Wait Wait was going to be). Some of Philly's best views are up in that direction.

This all got clobbered a few days before the event when WHYY, the Philadelphia NPR affiliate decided to host a run with Peter (This turned out to be fine since it was hot and miserable out that day and all my plans involved running six miles from the hotel to the Mann Music Center). So instead a couple of the West Philly Runners & I ran down to center city in the pouring (and refreshing) rain, picked up Peter at his hotel and ran to WHYYFM.

With my friends Rebecca & Arwin from the West Philly Runners.
Clickenzee to Embiggen!

They were supposed to run across the Ben Franklin Bridge and back, which I was pretty excited about, having never run across the bridge, but somehow it was decided that the bridge might be too slippery and WHYY staffers would slide off into the Delaware. So the route was changed to a four mile loop along the waterfront, which was fine with me.

Some peeps from WHYY, throwing down the West Philly Runners gang sign.
We better not run into any Fishtown Beer Runners or there's going to be hill sprints.
You may Clickenzee to Embiggen!

Then we ran back to the hotel and I had a break of dawn breakfast with the Wait Wait crew including Ian Chillag the man behind Sandwich Monday.

Later that night trillian_stars and I went off to the Mann. I'd never been backstage at the Mann before, though it's actually really close by. Trillian and I found ourselves sitting at table with WHYYFM's "Fresh Air" host Terry Gross and Legendary Anchorman Bill Kurtis. Trillian and Bill are both from the midwest and started talking about farms and that was pretty much that, but every time Terry Gross opened her mouth, Terry Gross' voice came out, which was weird. No matter what you think someone on the radio looks like, they don't look like that. This lead to some on-stage banter later between Terry who said people always tell her "you sound taller on the radio" and Peter who said someone once told him "you don't sound bald on the radio". It must be an odd world to have people wig out a little whenever you ask for something at the hardware store. We were also very happy to discover that our awesome friend Amy Dickinson was on the panel that night. She could walk into the Met and class the place up.

Backstage. Pointless to embiggen, all back stages look the same.

Anyway Robert Plant had just played the Mann and he either went home sweaty or used one of these showers back stage. It's infuriating not knowing which one.

One of these showers was Robert Plant's. I stood in both of them to be sure.

Anyway, eventually we wandered out into the seating area to watch the show. If you've never been to the Mann, it's an outdoor theater about half of which is under a giant awning (there are two floors of seating) and then a lawn that just goes off for a long way off. It looked like an ominous night for the people on the lawn, as clouds rolled in and eventually the heavens opened up. Like seriously the biggest rainstorm you've ever seen. This failed to wash everybody away as many stalwarts remained with ponchos and blankets and seemed to be giddly enjoying themselves in the deluge. The thunder and howling wind got so bad that when the show was over they actually had to go back and retape some of the segments.

Terry Gross was the guest. You can listen to the show (and see what Terry Gross looks like here).

From our seats half way back in the Mann. It went faaar out into the lawn.
No point in embiggening. It's just to show you how small everybody is.

After the show we went out for a nightcap and to celebrate producer Eva Wolchover's last night on the crew. I'd been meaning to give Peter a copy of The Bed Song Book, this giant 16x20 inch book I did with Neil and Amanda but I'd been very reticent to carry it to the post office because the thing weighs 30 pounds so I realized I could just hand it off to him and make it his problem and there began one of the coolest parts of a pretty cool day -- Peter went page by page through the book, showing it to the Wait Wait cast & crew and giving a running narration of why and how it was a great thing.

Made it home to bed at about three in the morning, a little damp, a little sore, a lot tired, but very content.

Peter showing The Bed Song Book to Legendary Anchorman Bill Kurtis and Amy Dickinson
and the Wait Wait crew. This one you can Clickenzee to Embiggen!

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These People Shot a Freaking Rocket to Pluto [Jul. 19th, 2015|06:53 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |Queen: We are the Champions]

Scientists, engineers, rock stars.

Click here to see the photo essay on Slate.com

Friday evening I got a text from Kate McKinnon asking if I'd be interested in coming to Maryland and photographing the scientists behind the New Horizons Pluto expedition, essentially, immediately. At the time I was out at dinner with trillian_stars. "Do you want to go?" Trillian asked. "No," I said, "I'm really tired. But I know I'll want to have gone when I get back." I've learned that over the years. It's not how you feel about it at the time, it's how you think you'll feel about it next week.

We raced home and I threw a bunch of stuff in camera bag and jumped on a train. On the train I called Jordan Teicher from SLATE and asked if they'd be interested in running it if I could get a series of portraits. He said they's push everything out of the way for it, and then there was no turning back.

Camera Geekery: Leica M9, 50mm Canon Serenar, 28mm Voigtlander f2, 35mm Voigtlander f1.7, Panasonic GX7 (backup), Pocket Wizards, Lastolite triple-fold umbrella flash, batteries, two lights stands, Kindle, Paper notebook, Monteverde Intima fountain pen, card reader, collapsable backdrop. Kitten optional. I used everything but the two extra Leica lenses. You may clickenzee to embiggen.

I took an Amtrak to Washington DC and met up with Kate and some of the scientists for dinner and was able to get in a quick set of portraits after -- this made me feel much less apprehensive -- I'm always a wreck until things get underway and with five portraits taken care of ... things had started so I felt I could relax. (I was also pleased to discover that a table full of proverbial rocket scientists has the exact same level of difficulty splitting a check that the rest of the Earth has.)

I went to bed late and got up early. Everybody else got up early too. For the scientists at the Applied Physics Laboratory the day starts with an early morning briefing where each of the five teams discuss what they've learned the night before. After the meeting, they go off to work on all the things they have to do and in between, Kate would catch people and bring them over to the small studio the Laboratory was kind enough to let me set up near the lobby. Everybody, in fact, was super nice.

Behind the scenes, photographing Dr. Hal Weaver.
You may clickenzee to embiggen!

Kate did interviews, I grabbed portraits while people scurried from one place to another. I had usually between a minute and two minutes with everybody. Kate did quick interviews. It's a very simple setup with a single shoot-thru umbrella and a Leica M9 rangefinder camera.

Later in the day there was a recap for the public about the most recent findings (if you've been watching on TV or the Internet, this is likely what you've seen.) Kate and I sat down in the front row in the press section and I started working on processing the morning's images. About 15 minutes after it started, Brian May (aka Dr. Brian May, astrophysicist, AKA Brian May guitar player from Queen) and Casey Michael Lewis from the Applied Physics Lab sat down next to us. That's just how things happen.

Plutopalooza with Brian May & Kate McKinnon.
Photo by Casey Lewis

The Applied Physics Lab let me set up another studio in a classroom and Kate went out and found all the key scientists and brought them in.

They're all amazing people, and that's -- I mean, that's nonsense talk to say "amazing" it's like calling a mountain "big" -- it's just the only thing I can think of because my brain overloaded thinking about the scope of what they'd done. These people, starting 15 years ago with an idea, built a space probe, built a rocket, figured out where a planet nobody had ever seen a full orbit of was going to be in a decade, shot this thing into space and it hit it's target and -- it sent back data to Earth, from three billion miles away. I don't know what to call it -- I'm just dumbstruck. But in any event, they're all amazing, but my brain melted when I met Yanping Guo, the "trajectory designer", which is a really elegant phrase for the most elegant job I've ever heard of. She's the one who figured out where to shoot the rocket to hit Pluto ten years later, and not in a straight line.

You can see the trajectory of New Horizons here in this animation -- it uses the gravity of Jupiter to help give it more speed and fling it into space.

While she was talking about what she did my jaw just kept dropping further down. One of the things she had to factor in was the time dilation caused by fact that New Horizons was traveling 36,000 miles an hour, so time actually goes slower on the spaceship. At the end of it all, after nine years and three billion miles and one whip around Jupiter (which added 9,000 mph to it's speed) New Horizons arrived 70 seconds faster than Yanping predicted, but not through any fault of her own, but because Pluto was bigger than they expected it to be. You turn on the TV and someone says "blah blah, scientists shot a rocket to Pluto" and you're like "oh, that's nice, pretty photos, ice, cool ..." but it doesn't sink in ... scientists (and engineers) shot a freaking ROCKET TO PLUTO.

The scenes, you are behind them! My Leica was a point of continual interest among the scientists and engineers. One asked if I built it. The optics team discussed, at great length, how modern lenses are built to disperse less light in the rear optics of because of the digital sensors. On the left Dr. Henry Thoop plays with my camera (and is carrying some big glass of his own.) Center Dr. Brian May discuss Dr. Alex Parker's animations., and on the right, Dr. Alex Parker himself. You may clickenzee to embiggen!

You may also see some of Dr. Alex Parker's celebrated animations here.

My photography deals a lot with contexts, seeing people in or out of their contexts and for me, seeing these people not in mission control doing what they do, but seeing them in the really neutral environment of a studio with a simple backdrop and one light made me realize that there are very concrete individual components to "scientists (and engineers) shot a rocket to Pluto" -- individual people solving individual parts of a problem that's too big for any of them to solve alone.

There are all sorts of accomplishments -- from "I got out of bed this morning" to "I worked my way through college" but when confronted with "I shot a piano sized computer three billion miles and hit a really small moving target" just pushed the needle into "there be dragons" -- I had no words. I still have no words and I've been thinking about it for two days now.

Anyway, I posted a selfie with Yanping and people agreed.

I've met a lot of interesting people, but not many who impressed me as much as she did.

Me and Yanping Guo. Within an hour of me posting it to Twitter
it had been retweeted hundreds of times.
You may click here to make this larger!

A Tumblr post of it is at the moment rapidly approaching 150,000 notes.

Brian May also came down and was perfectly charming. He's been really interested in three dimensional photography and has a huge collection of Victorian sterioscopic images and so we did his portrait in 3d. I've no idea if Brian May is interested at all in talking about whether or not he'll ever get around to remixing Under Pressure the way he thought it should have been done, but I know he'll talk endlessly about 3d victorian photography and how mind bendingly spectacular astronomy and space exploration are. Guitar-shirt and all, he was geektastically indistinguishable from all the rest of the scientists and engineers down there.


After I posted my original 3d photo of Brian May he fixed it up in
Photoshop and as his version is much better than mine, I reproduce that one here.

Scientists make the rockin' world go round.

Kate and I met up with shadowcaptain and we went off to a restaurant where I worked on picking photos and Kate typed up interview transcripts, then I got on a train and kept working on photos. Got home at midnight and fell asleep so fast I don't even remember making it to the bed (though I do remember checking on Emily the Spider who was enjoying a fly). This afternoon I talked to Slate, sent them the photos and text and did an interview. Now I'm off to bed again.

It's been a crazy, wonderful weekend.

I'm so glad to have been able to spend a small amount of time with some of the most brilliant people on Earth and use whatever skills I have to amplify their voice. These people are doing the most important thing that humans can do, they're trying to answer the biggest questions -- what is everything and how does it work? And they're doing it to make us all better, and it's long, hard work and the answers don't come easily. I don't know how to properly say "thank you."

This is all I can do.

You can see all of the scientists & engineers I photographed here.

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Some thoughts on web construction. [Jul. 16th, 2015|07:45 am]
kyle cassidy
[Current Location |the web]
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |the police: murder by numbers]

trillian_stars has been getting up at 5 am to go to kickboxing, so I've been getting up at 5 am to go running and, lately, when I get back it's been just in time to watch Emily build her web, which seems to happen around 6 am. It's very peaceful to stand there, listening to the birds chirp, drinking a cup of tea and watch this little creature do this amazing thing.

Web building is a lot slower than I'd thought. Each strand it painstakingly placed, slowly ... she uses three or four of her legs to hold on to her web, the front two often waving in search of the next radial, and with her back two feet she pulls silk from her spinnerettes and carefully places it. She uses her own body to measure distances. (Scientist Bill Eberhard discovered that spiders brains can be larger than their head, sometimes even filling up parts of their legs to provide them with everything they need to perform these complex tasks.)

Once the web is done, she sometimes signs it with some stabilimenta, then she sits down in the center and waits.

She's a sentry out there protecting our picnics from flies.

[photo of Emily sitting in her newly constructed web behind this cut]

Emily, protecting the humans. You may clickenzee to embiggen!

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Were it not for Emily, we'd be hip deep in flies [Jul. 15th, 2015|05:20 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |Damon Buxton]

Emily's been doing some interesting things over the past week. She's been moving, every day or two, about a foot to the south. She doesn't take down her old web, she builds a new one right next to the old one, and attached to it. Right now she's got four orbs together (Like OOOo), and she's hunting in at least two of them. No idea why she's doing this.

She's been catching and eating flies like gangbusters. Often I'll go out back to check on her and find her wrapping one fly while still eating another one. It's amazing how much her size changes after she's eaten, her opisthosoma can double in size from one day to the next if she's been particularly lucky. I've no idea how many flies she's actually eating since it doesn't take her long to dispatch with them -- it could be one a day, or it could be ten. But she's guarding my door, which is nice of her.

Here she is hanging on to her web by two legs, (like she's doing a spidey pullup,) twirling a fly in four, and guiding silk from her spinnerettes with the back two. The whole thing is happening very fast, she's twirling that fly like it's a Rubik's cube and she knows the solution. Hackled orb weavers like Emily use about 450 feet of silk to wrap and crush their prey.

[photo behind this cut in the event youd rather not see cute spiders.]

Emily wrapping a fly. You may clickenzee to embiggen!

trillian_stars is out at 5 am kickboxing. How's your day?

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Emily three webs [Jul. 13th, 2015|08:02 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |emigrate: babe]

So, interesting things happening with Emily's web. That tangle of silk wrapped around an egg sac? She moved it. The whole thing. The moved it about a foot North. No idea why.

She also has done some very interesting web construction. Over the last four days she's built two additional webs both connected to her original one. So she has three orb webs that she's currently the owner of. One more and she can put a hotel there.

This is the spider equivalent to having a car on blocks in your front yard for two years.
Clickenzee to untangle the mystery.

Spider Expert Catherine Scott turned me on to this textbook written by a guy with one of the best names on Earth, Rainer Foelix called The Biology of Spiders, so I've been reading that in addition to Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating by Leslie Brunetta & Catherine L. Craig (in odd weird fact, Leslie Brunetta tweeted at me after a photo of Emily got picked up by the Spider Community and sent around -- she may even be reading this). Her book is fantastic, it's funny and all about the very complex biology that allows spiders to do this crazy thing -- spinning silk with their bodies and forming it into complex designs all with a brain smaller than a pinhead.

Anyway, reading about Uloborus and webs ... maybe this offers some insight into her recent construction kick.

"If the web is only slightly damaged, as, for instance, after catching small prey, the spider may or may not mend the hole. In general, repair does not consist of reconstructing the original design but of patching the holes to make the web stable again. The cribellate orb weaver, Uloborus, however, often performs elaborate reparis, sometimes repalcing the entire half of a web in an orderly fashion." Rainer F Foelix, Biology of Spiders

[pix of Emily & her web behind this cut.]

Clickenzee to Embiggen!

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Emily's little feet. [Jul. 8th, 2015|06:51 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

Nice portrait of emily and a quote from a book about spiderwebs I'm reading

[behind this cut]

Clickenzee to embiggen!

Clickenzee to embiggen!

Share the photos if you'd like to.

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Emily's babies are all dead. [Jul. 7th, 2015|07:18 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |sadsad]

There was some activity in Emily's egg sac the other day and I discovered Pteromalidae Parasitic Chalcid Wasps emerging from it. They lay their eggs in spider egg sacs, the larvae eat the baby spiders and then hatch from the egg sac and fly away to do more evil. If you look closely, you can also see what look like some sort of worms burrowing in or out -- not sure what they are, if they're related or not. And also, a mystery.

You'll notice in the upper right, that thing that looks like an alien skin? That's a spider moult. I don't think it was one of Emily's babies though, I think it was another spider that just happened to moult near the egg sac.

Happy to hear input from spider experts.

It's worse than a sad day at Fortress Hennepin. I was looking forward to Emily's babies. She was unaware the entire time, just sitting there in her web. No idea where George is. I've gotten used to him vanishing though.

Wasps ate Emily's babies.

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Oddities of Emily's Web [Jul. 4th, 2015|09:02 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |Andy Guthrie: You be King.]

So ... not a whole lot of action lately. Emily's just been hanging out in her web, sometimes she faces one direction, other times she faces another. I haven't seen her catch anything in a while and she doesn't seem to want any help. She IS gaining weight & girth, which makes me wonder if she's thinking about laying more eggs. Who knows. This might be the best photo I've taken of Emily just chilling. This is what she looks like. You can see her web which is vaguely orb like, and you can see her stabilimentia. Her abdomen seems to be getting larger again.

[photo of emily behind this cut]

Emily in her web, clickenzee to embiggen!

I wish I knew more about spiders. About Uloboridae, or cribellate orb weavers specifically. Why isn't there a book? Then maybe I'd have some idea what the heck is going on. All I know is that I've gotten involved in the life of this little thing and I don't know what's going on in her life and that I'll be ... inexplicably sad when there's no life to be a part of anymore.

Sometimes Emily makes a ... relatively nice web, it's never immaculate, and then other times she's like a drunken frat boy with a can of silly string. Case in point -- this ... which has been in her web for a few days now.


I've no idea what she's thinking when she leaves this.
You may clickenzee to figure it out yourself.

No idea what purpose it serves, what it's supposed to do ... although, only while looking at the photo I noticed that there's an egg sac buried in there, so maybe she's doing this to protect the eggs? But it's not on all of her egg sacs, so ... why this one? Was she like "oh heck! Can't stop the spinerrettes!" -- No idea.

So many questions, Emily. I wish I knew what you were up to.

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George is back [Jul. 3rd, 2015|11:45 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |buffie st. marie]

No fanfaire, George just showed up again. No idea where he's been.

He's back to splitting babysitting, or eggsitting duties with Emily.

The other night George caught a beetle I can't ID -- any thoughts? You have no idea just how varied the insect kingdom is until you start paying attention to a spiders web and realize that you've never seen ANYTHING that she catches before.

He's about 1/3 the size of Emily and you will notice that his pedipalps are larger.

Yesterday while cleaning the house a fly was killed (by me), it was a gigantic thing and I thought "why not recycle it?" so I tossed it into Emily's web and she Freaked Out, screaming "Godzilla attack!" she ran off to a corner of the roof. Later she came back and cut the fly out of her web and threw it on the ground like a petulant child. I've decided not to try and be helpful anymore.

[photos of George the spider and his dinner behind this cut]

George finds a beetle. You may clickenzee to embiggen!

George finds a beetle. You may clickenzee to embiggen!

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Tall Ships and History [Jun. 29th, 2015|06:55 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

So the Tall Ships came to Philadelphia last week. One of them was a French ship named L'Hermione which is a recreation of one of the ships that belonged to the Marquis de Lafayette, who, if you remember your American History, arrived in the colonies in 1777 and proceeded to save our bacon from the English with all his tactics and genius. He was 19 years old at the time and wildly popular with ... everybody. L'Hermione (the recreation of it) took 17 years to build, with the express purpose of sailing from France to America to deliver us Lafayette -- or at least someone playing Lafayette.

trillian_stars who is in on the ground floor of these things, told me that her friend, John Lopes, who plays General Washington was taking Layafette out for dinner after the arrived in Philly and they did their thing on the tall ships. SWEET BARKING CHEESE! HOW DO WE INVITE OURSELVES TO THIS?!? I wanted to know. I seriously wanted to be a fly on the wall of conversations between learned scholars who spent their lives figuring out what Washington and Layafette would have said to one another.

And, since Washington and Elizabeth Powel were BFF's (According to historian Richard Beeman: "there was certainly no one in Philadelphia… whose company Washington enjoyed more" than Elizabeth Powel") and I knew Eliza Powel (or at least the woman who plays her on TV) I thought it would be nice to get them all over to the Powel house (which still exists as a museum) and photograph something that might have happened right around this time in 1777 and then, you know, casually suggest that since we had such a good time taking photos that I should get to go along for dinner..... Which left convincing the Powel House that they should let us in for 20 minutes after hours and that I'd be really fast and that I wouldn't break anything and that I'd send them copies of the photos after. (One of the big lessons I learned from Mary Ellen Mark is that photography isn't about f-stops and shutter speeds, it's about being able to talk to people. It doesn't matter how great a camera you have if you can't talk a historical landmark into staying open late so you can bring some people in costume in to use their museum as a set.) The Powel house was super nice about it and they sent someone to let us in and we did some quick photos. The best part was that they all talked like they would have talked had they been in that situation, so the Marquis told a very funny story about Marie Antoinette and how she stopped a ball to point and laugh at him because he couldn't dance very well and everybody laughed and I, for a brief moment found myself peering through a hole in time to something that might have happened in that very spot.

(Photo Geekery: I shot this with a Leica M9 and a 35mm f1.7 lens using all available light, plus the skills that I picked up from Mary Ellen.)

Then we all went out to National Mechanics and met some of the crew of L'Hermione who didn't speak English (but Layafette did of course) and had a splendid time.

That was our Friday. How was yours?

Layafette plots with General Washingon. Mrs. Powel enters the room.
You may clickenzee to embiggen!

Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette, Marquis de Lafayette,
The 19 year old Major General with no troops or battle experience, won over not just
General Washington, but Hamilton, Jefferson, and all of Philadelphia society.
You may clickenzee to embiggen!

Layafette, Elizabeth Powel and General Washington.
You may clickenzee to embiggen!

The Powel's ballroom, which celebrated all of Philadelphia society, exists as it did in 1777.
Something very much like this probably actually happened.
You may clickenzee to embiggen!

Spying on the Chew family who lived next door.
You may clickenzee to embiggen!

Behind the scenes photo by Mickey Herr from Philadelphia Landmarks
who was kind enough to let us into the museum.
You may clickenzee to embiggen!

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Spider happenings [Jun. 26th, 2015|06:09 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |sad for george]

George is gone. I haven't seen him in days. He's gone missing before but returned -- and by "missing" -- he might have moved a foot into the rafters and then back, but no. Emily's in the web by herself now. All the spider experts have told me that females don't eat the males so I've no idea what happened to him. No real idea what eats spiders either. There are plenty of possibilities -- someone walked past while he was dangling on a thread and they carted him off on their clothes -- he fell off the web and is now making new webs somewhere by my feet -- he wandered out ... But anyway -- Emily is a single mother.

I find myself oddly saddened by this. I was a little attached to this spider I'd anthropomorphized into some unlucky guy who couldn't catch a fly, who built his webs in crappy places where no bugs went who was just waiting his opportunity to be a dad.

Emily, on the other hand, is still performing like gangbusters. The other night I was standing on a chair watching her when some insect flew into her web. She was already eating something in a silk feedbag she was holding in her mouth but that didn't stop her from pouncing on this thing and wrapping it up.

She's very elegant, and yet mechanical and also precise. All of her eyes are on the top of her head and she's doing all this wrapping by feel.

[nice photo behind this cut.]

Clickenzee to figure out what this is that Emily's eating.

I read online on io9 that hackled orb-weavers will wrap their prey in more than 450 feet of silk.

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This is Not a Fitness Blog: You Win Some, You Lose Some [Jun. 25th, 2015|07:03 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

I've run the Oddyssey Half Marathon twice before. (2013 race recap here. The next year I finished 40 minutes faster in one hour fifty-seven minutes.) It's a great race, if your understanding of "great" means "it has lots of hills and it's in the middle of the summer where you will bake like a pie". But it is fun and pretty and people often wear costumes doing it. This year I decided a while back that I wasn't going to kill myself running it because it's in the middle of the freaking summer and that's awful. Lately trillian_stars has been watching this TV show called "Outlander" where everybody wears knitted things and makes outlandish decisions and the "hero" is a dude in a kilt named Jamie Frasier. I told Trillian that if she came out and watched the race, I'd shave my beard, dress up as Jamie Frasier and run the whole thing in a kilt and long sleeved shirt. (You may think this erases any benefit you might get from running the race "slow" and you would be right.) Oddyssey isn't Oddyseey unless you're suffering -- which is why it's in the middle of the summer. The only goals I had really were to finish respectably under two hours and I wanted to sprint up the giant hill at the end. It had totally wrecked me the first two times and I wanted to have enough steam left to charge up the hill yodeling a battle-cry.

To make things more ridiculous I signed Trillian and myself up for a 5k race the day before.

Things were going well until two days before the race when I injured myself in a completely inheroic way. I was loading the dishwasher when I felt this searing pain across my tramp-stamp area, like my spine had become disconnected from my pelvis. Like, serious, incredible, stabbing pain. I couldn't stand up. All I could do was lay on the floor for a while feeling very old and doomed. I was seriously worried that I'd completely screwed my race. I managed to get up after a while and found that it only hurt when I bent. Left, right, forward, backward, searing pain. But standing up and laying down, I was mostly fine. I couldn't sit in a chair, but I could lay in bed.

I went to bed early and nothing had changed by Saturday morning. I decided to try and run the 5k slowly to see if it would be possible to still do the half marathon. I was mostly fine walking, so who knows.

Saturday's race was hot and miserable but they'd turned all the fire hydrants on, so every half mile or so, there was glorious rain. Trillian ran it with me in the event that I collapsed and died she could point and laugh.

Hot, wet, slow 5k

I did the 5k in 35 minutes mostly pain freeish. That's about 11 minutes slower than my normal 5k and like 15 minutes slower than my best. I figured I coud do Oddyssey. Or, at the very least, I'd just stop at one of the aid stations and the medics would have something to do.

My favorite costume. You may clickenzee to embiggen!

It was brutally hot and the start was moved from 7:00 to 7:30 because some technical problems kept a few hundred runners from getting to the start on time. Every minute the sun got higher, it got worse. Finally the race started. I ran slow, then I ran slower and around mile 10 I pretty much gave up and ran even slower. If I ran bolt upright I was ok, but anytime my form started to collapse and I leaned forward or slumped, the dagger shot up my back. I finished in two hours and five minutes, which is six minutes slower than I'd hoped to do, but still 30 minutes faster than my first half marathon.

Jamie Frasier is Finished! Clickenzee to Embiggen!

I got home by 10 am. Took a glorious hot bath and I've been standing up ever since.

Back hasn't gotten better. I have a doctors appointment (July 10th). My insurance company's healthcare plan is to cleverly schedule appointments so far in the future that their patients are dead or healed by they time it comes around and nothing needs to be done.

How's your week been?

(Also, if you're one of the millions of people dealing with chronic pain, I'd love to hear your story.)

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In which Runner's World steals my free photo [Jun. 23rd, 2015|08:14 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |oh the humanity!]

***EDIT*** Eight minutes after I posted this to Twitter and after a quick firestorm of retweets, Runner's World added my credit & apologized for the oversight. The benefits of having a big voice on the Internet. ***EDIT***

I noticed last night that Runner's World was using one of my photos (I noticed this because I subscribe to their magazine and I follow them on twitter.) The photo they're using is one I put in the Creative Commons, so it's great they're using it. But clicking on the article, I see they didn't bother to credit me. Seriously, like the meme says YOU HAD ONE JOB.

How hard is it to type "Thanks to Kyle for letting us use this free photo". (Hint: not hard, I just did it.) The big problem is that if people, like Runner's World, DON'T do this, then nobody is incentivized to let people use their photos for free and the people who suffer are the bloggers & schools & libraries that rely on the creative commons. Just BE NICE people and the wheel keeps turning. That's all that's required.

Clickenzee to Embiggen!

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It's not all spiders [Jun. 20th, 2015|09:14 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

Today I photographed an event at one of the West Philadelphia libraries and I heard songwriter & record producer Keith Pelzer say the wisest thing I've heard in a long time ... which was "Do not confuse success with significance."

That's the warning label I want to see on every issue of People magazine.

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Stabilimenta: Emily the Spider Artist [Jun. 18th, 2015|10:23 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

A few interesting things happened since Emily picked up shop, moved over by George and laid her eggs.

One is that her web spinning has changed. She moved from the top of the screen where she'd been making webs about six inches across that looked like a tangle of hair you'd find in the drain. But now she's moved over by a wall and begun spinning proper orbs. Her most recent web is three feet across and looks like birds have been flying through it all day. There are several large holes where, I'm guessing, large insects have collided with it and either escaped or been eaten.

I'd thought she was rebuilding her web every day, but I'm not sure. Her current one has sustained a lot of damage and I think it may be several days old. I've started mapping the holes so I can better tell what's been rebuilt and what's brand new. Her web is very difficult to see during the day. It's easier at night with a flashlight to see the individual strands of silk that make it up.

But on to the topic at hand....

One really interesting thing is that she's started creating "stabilimenta" or web decorations. The word comes from the original belief that the designs were meant to make the web stronger. Scientists don't think that's what they're for anymore, but nobody is really sure why some spiders draw designs on their webs, though there are some theories.

E.B. White apparently spent a lot of time reading about this and bugging araneologists about it while researching Charlotte's Web and by the number of spider experts who quote him in the introductions to their books, he got a lot of things right.

So that those of you afraid to click on the lj-cut for fear of seeing a spider, (no matter how cute) I've made an edited version that I'll put here in front of the cut so you can see how cool what she's doing is.

Some of Emily's web art. Spider replaced with non-threatening artwork for the spiderphobic. Uncensored photos behind the cut.

Any thoughts on why she's drawing things?

[photos of Emily and her web art behind this cut]

Emily's artwork! Clickenzee to Embiggen!

Emily celebrating her art opening with a tasty fly. Clickenzee to Embiggen!

Emily's art. Clickenzee to Embiggen!

Some spiders have up to six different types of silk to choose from and choose the silk used for their artwork very carefully. I believe Emily, being a hackled-web spider has only one variety of silk, cribellate, which is not sticky.

Entemologists please chime in.

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Behind the Scenes Spider Photography Primer [Jun. 17th, 2015|06:34 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |emigrate: baby]

Since a lot of people asked, here's the behind the scenes on how I'm photographing Emily and George.

Initially I was using a Nikon d800 and a 100mm 1:1 macro because that gave me a 36 megapixel image and the 1:1 macro means objects are the same size in real life as they are on the film (aka "sensor) so I'd get the absolute best opportunity for enlargements. The problem with this though was that looking through the eye-level finder it was extremely difficult to focus. Especially if I was holding a light in the other hand. Mounting the light on a stand frees up a hand, but then moving the light even a small amount becomes a chore.

So I tried switching to the Lumix GX7, which is a 16 megapixel micro four thirds camera, and the Leica 45mm f2.8 macro lens, which is also 1:1. The Leica lens has auto-focus which I thought might help, I quickly discovered that the lens just hunts, zooming back and forth before finally settling on some bit of wall two feet away. Even less useful. However, setting the focus manually and using the articulated rear screen to focus by moving the camera forward and backward worked. This is the setup I eventually stayed with.

It doesn't matter what flash you're using as long as you can get it
off the axis of your camera (with a wire, or wirelessly) and that
you can adjust the power of it. Getting an expensive flash won't add
anything to this setup.

One thing about macro photography is that at wide apertures your depth of field is microscopic, which means you may have one eyeball in focus but not two. In order to increase the depth of field (the depth of space that's in focus from the plane of the film) you need to lower your aperture (the control that lets more or less light into the camera) and in order to do that, you need more light. And the easiest way to get more light is to bring your own. So I'm using a flash tethered to the camera's hot-shoe with a cable. You could also use a wireless system if you'd like.

Photographing spiders with a Panasonic Lumix G7 and an off camera flash.
Clickenzee to Embiggen!

I'm also using a second piece of equipment; a flash diffuser. The sharpness of shadows are controlled by two things 1) the size of the illumination source and it's distance from the camera. The larger and closer the source of illumination the softer the shadows will be (on a sunny day, your shadow is razor sharp, when the source of illumination is the sun, which you could cover with your thumb, and on an overcast day you can't even see your shadow because the source of illumination is the clouds which stretch as far as you can see).

You can get all sorts of flash diffusers, from umbrellas to softboxes to beauty dishes, and you can spend a ton of money on them. I'm using a reusable grocery bag from Instacart, I just hold it over the flash and it more or less keeps its shape. The source of illumination is this ball of cloth now and not the very thin bulb of the flash.

Clickenzee to Embiggen the Spideybox!

Example photos and more tutorial [behind this cut because there are spider photos]

Here's a shot with the flash diffuser, I think the soft light makes the spiders look more friendly. There's an even illumination over everything. The softbox cuts down on the flash power, meaning that you have to open up your aperture a bit, so the depth of field is usually shallower than with a direct flash (though you can increase the power of the flash as well). I tend to usually go with wider apertures when I'm using the softbox because the out of focus areas I think also help make everything look friendlier.

Key thing: If the eyes aren't in focus, your photo is going to have less impact (unless your photo is highlighting something else, like spinnerettes) so pay attention to the eyes.

With the spidey softbox, clickenzee to embiggen!

The background in the place Emily & George have set up their web isn't very interesting, it's particle board, blah. It would be nice if it was some green field, but that would up emily's chance of being eaten by a bird and who want's that? One thing you can do do de-emphasize a background is only light your subject. Here I'm doing it with a direct flash

Without spidey softbox, clickenzee to embiggen!

The direct flash hits the spider and the web more than it does the background, giving greater contrast, so use this if you're highlighting webs. It also gives a greater sense of drama. Shadows are also useful for helping to see thing, sometimes sharp shadows across an object give you a much better idea of the texture of that object than a softly lit photo would.

And that's that. Feel free to post your questions or your own bug photos in the comments.

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Big Spider News! [Jun. 15th, 2015|07:02 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |hennepin chirping]


A few days ago several things happened. One, Emily vanished and two, George caught something big in his web.

I was very concerned about Emily, she hadn't been spinning webs for a while, opting instead to just hang on one small patch without moving. I got a flashlight and Roswell and I went over every square inch of the porch (Roswell assisted chiefly by chasing down and eating a large moth that looked like a piece of bark). I was worried that Emily had gone outside where it would be very difficult for me to find her and where it would also be a lot easier for something to eat her.

After an hour and a half I gave up and, with great sadness, went and took some photos of whatever it was George had in his web. It was leaf shaped and thick in the center, sort of like an irregular flying saucer.

Emily and George with their eggs, behind this cutCollapse )

While I was doing this, I saw little feet moving behind whatever it was -- Emily was on top! cocooning it in silk! Wot Wot? I ran inside and googled "feather legged orb weaver egg sac". Boom, a photo popped up of exactly the thing I was looking at. I went back and examined very closely the things that I had thought were her eggs, they were small, onion shaped, and under extreme magnification I could see there was a tiny hole in each of them -- whatever was in them had already hatched. Like the Nazi's at Tannis, I'd been digging in the wrong place.

Over the course of the next day or so she made three egg sacks, all leaf shaped and fat in the middle, hanging around the web in a circle. Sometimes I'd come out to find her sitting on one, and other times I'd come out and find George sitting on one. I'm not sure if they were actually doing anything intentions by sitting on them (i.e. guarding them) or if it's just a nice spot in the web to sit in.

I also can't tell if they have two webs near one another, or one web they're sharing, but she moved several feet to be closer to him.

I still haven't been able to find a good book about Uloborus spiders, so I'm mostly in the dark as to what's going on. Will her eggs hatch soon? Or will they over-winter? Are there things that eat Uloborus eggs that I should be watching out for? What will the little spiderlings eat? How many babies will she have? Will I need to buy glasses for a two hundred kids with eight eyes each?

Who knows.

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Learn About Spider Body Parts with Emily the Spider! [Jun. 12th, 2015|02:33 am]
kyle cassidy
[music |100 period drama movie trailers ]

What's the difference between an opisthosoma and a cephalothorax? What things do you and spiders share in common?! Emily explains what some of her body parts are and what they do in a photo

behind this cut!Collapse )

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Big Spider News! (Not a Big Spider, but Big News About a Small Spider) [Jun. 11th, 2015|05:13 am]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |emigrate: babe]

Early morning, sitting on the porch with the spiders.

I sent some photos of Emily and George to Dr. Jerome Rovner from the American Arachnological Association and he wrote back that I had mis-identified her as a branch-tip spider.

Emily is a hackled orbweaver, specifically Uloborus glomosus the featherlegged orbweaver. Which sounds like the name of a sword from Tolkien:

Elrond looked up, his brow furrowed "This blade the runes name Uloborus glomosus the featherlegged orbweaver. Keep it well."

"I shall wear this with honor!" replied Thorin.

I have learned some really interesting things -- specifically that Uloborus is the only family of non-venomous spiders -- Emily and George have no venom glands -- they kill their prey rather by constriction, wrapping it up tightly in silk. And also that the cribellate spiders, of which Emily is one, are what is know as "hackled web spiders" -- their silk is not sticky, may be the reason why her web is a total mess and not some fancy geometric pattern -- it's more of a net than a tar pit. When something flies into it, it gets tangled, not stuck, and she has to leap on it and wrap it up before it escapes (this crazy procedure I was lucky enough to see a few days ago.) There's also some amazing science-stuff that I've read about the hackled web silk that I'll post later.

Also, another entemologist known as Dr. Bug wrote to tell me that as Uloborids provide parental care, including the male, and the big news is that George and Emily will move into a web together once the spiderlings appear and raise them together!

I'm not sure why the thought of a two parent household fills me with joy -- probably mostly because I like the idea that George isn't a deadbeat, even if he's useless at catching flies. I also like the thought that tiny little babies aren't left alone in the world to be eaten, but that their parents look out for them.

(Also, since people seemed concerned in the comments, Dr. Bug said that apart from Black Widows, female spiders do not eat their mates, and among Black Widows, it rarely happens outside of a laboratory.)

click here to see Emily stop a fly from getting into our house.Collapse )

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Geek Knits: Behind the Scenes [Jun. 8th, 2015|11:52 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]

One of the most difficult things about working on Top Sekrit Projekts is that while you're working on them, you can't really tell anybody about them and you do your thing, and you make the thing that's exciting and interesting and that you're bursting with pride over and then you have to sit on it for a year.

I'm glad Geek Knits is out and I can finally start telling people about it.

When Joan and I decided to do this book together (or when she decided I could work on it with her), Neil was one of the first people we thought of to be in it and he said "of course" without pause, because he's that kind of guy.

Joan had come up with two things for him to model, a deerstalker Sherlock Holmes hat and a black scarf.

From Geek Knits. Clickenzee to Embiggen!

(Get a copy of Geek Knits here.)

It worked out that Amanda wanted to do a whole bunch of publicity photos at once that she could use for the next tour so trillian_stars and I went up for the weekend, right around Christmas of 2013. It seems so long ago now, and it was. Neil and Amanda were living in Boston at the time and it conveniently snowed, creating a winter wonderland perfect for hats and scarves.

We did the Geek Knits photos right at sundown. Photo geekery: I shot with a Nikon d800 and a 50mm f1.8 lens with an sb800 flash off camera (which I used for some and not for others).

Clickenzee to embiggen the outtake!

It was a lovely leisurely weekend. We built a snowman, we sat around and read books, Neil read us stories.

Clickenzee to embiggen the AFP!

We talked about where our lives were going, we went jogging. Amanda and I have managed to keep a close friendship for fifteen years based on stolen moments back stage, social media, and the occasional times that our schedules allow things like this; and they're luxurious, rarefied days.

Clicenzee to embiggen the everything!

Amanda had somehow wrangled the use of a restaurant, the whole thing, for some period of time and we did a whole lot of publicity photos that are just now starting to bubble to the surface.

(as far as I know, this one hasn't shown up anywhere yet)

Clickenzee to embiggen!

They were moving out of the house that week and a lot of their stuff was in boxes and they were a bit sad, but a bit excited about what was happening next. Trillian and I packed up our scarf and our hat and the memory of three days off where we actually accomplished a lot of work and we got on a plane and came home. A year and a half went by, and Geek Knits came out on June 1, and shot to #1 on the knitting charts (look ma, I've got a best selling knitting book!)

I'm proud of Joan, I'm happy to have been able to work on this book, I'm excited to see what people will do with it, and I'm also really excited because now I can finally talk about all these photo shoots.

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Emily the Spider update [Jun. 7th, 2015|05:36 pm]
kyle cassidy
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |emigrate: babe]

Today was an interesting day in spider news. Emily's web is gone. Zup. Vanished. Emily's still in the same spot but both her original and her replacement webs are now gone. Does she still eat? Is she waiting for something to come by so she can grab it? I've no idea.

I did manage to set up a tripod and get closer to her than I ever did before (part of this is on account of my next door neighbors throwing out a milk crate that I can now stand on and get closer to her).

And upon examining the super-close close-ups I discovered that the tips of her legs are rainbow colored. Cute, adorbs, dainty little rainbow feet.

Not sure what she's going to do next -- if she got rid of her web herself or if something else tore down, or ate it. I'll let you know what happens.

I shot this one with a micro four-thirds Panasonic Lumix GX1 and a Leica 45mm f2.8 macro lens.

super closeup of Emily, her rainbow colored feet and her little eyes behind this cutCollapse )

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Emily's Fascinating World [Jun. 6th, 2015|10:55 am]
kyle cassidy
[Current Location |the antipodes]
[mood |accomplishedaccomplished]
[music |Emigrate: Let Me Break]

I got home from #DrinkBeerSaveCats, the City Kitties fundraiser late last night and decided to check on Emily just before I went to bed.

The instant I turned my flashlight on Emily shot across her web with a jangled gait and pounced on a fly which had smacked into it at that very second. She moved fast and with great determination and mechanical precision. In a fraction of a second she was on the fly, had bitten it and was looping ribbon after ribbon of silk over it, twirling it around as she did, like someone solving a Rubik's Cube. It took me maybe 45 seconds to get my camera up and focused and by that time she was nearly done wrapping it.

One amazing thing is that she had something in her pedipalps already, the last bits of something she'd been "sucking on like a frappacino" to quote someone in the LJ comments. She stashed the new fly in a far corner of the web and went back to the spot that she's been sitting in.

Everything about her fascinates me -- why does she sit in that spot? Why did she abandon her previous web and move five inches to the left? How does she know what she's caught in her web isn't dangerous? Would she ever run away rather than toward? What's going to happen when her babies are born? Does she check on them? Will they find her?

I've noticed there are a number of very, very small insects stuck in her web that she seems to ignore, but they're probably baby spider size. Will she share her food with her babies?

I need to find a book about branch-tip spiders.

George's life, possibly due to his ineptitude at finding a high traffic area for his web, remains uneventful.

photo of Emily and her fly behind this cutCollapse )

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