Category Archives: Projects

Enclosures: “Lifehutch” (2020)

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Out of all of the known examples of elder civilization technology currently catalogued, none is more helpful, more lifesaving, or more exasperating than the Lifehutches. Lifehutches have been found under nearly every environment known: asteroids where escape velocity is a fastball pitch, deep within super-Venuses with hundreds of atmospheres of pressure, locked in orbit around neutron stars, and across a multitude of worlds where the term “habitable” is problematic and sometimes a slur. While some experts speculate as to the species and/or organization that created the first Lifehutch, everyone agrees that they are absolute marvels of nanotech combined with organic technology, easily a half-million Earth years ahead of any other known inhabitant of our or any nearby galaxy. In its normal state, a Lifehutch is completely inert, unscannable with any technique known, impervious to X-rays and neutrinos, and impossible to move when anchored. That changes if an individual seeks help of any sort.

When encountered, a Lifehutch is a rectangular box 20 meters wide, with no distinguishing features other than an array of sensory devices on one side, hereby referred to as the “front.” By the time an individual comes within five meters of the front, the Lifehutch has ascertained basic biochemistry, nutritional and gravitational needs, and a fair approximation of communication options, as well as preparing organic and mechanical repair resources. Coming within a meter, a door automatically opens into a chamber optimized for basic comfort based on the initial Lifehutch assessment, and entering the Lifehutch immediately generates light, temperature, and atmosphere depending upon the individual’s preferences and needs, no matter the outside conditions. Starting with pictograms, audio, and video, the Lifehutch communicates with the entrant as to its needs and provides accordingly with a tremendous array of medical and communications options. If the entrant is simply lost and needs assistance, the Lifehutch supplies the individual with directions and enough sustenance to see them on their way. If the entrant is injured, the Lifehutch is capable of everything from bandaging bruises to elaborate neurosurgery, and is capable of simultaneous surgery on as many as eight patients with wildly varying biochemistries and sets of internal organs. If the individual needs to reach superiors or authorities for rescue, the Lifehutch offers at least four FTL options, two of which are still completely unknown, to send a signal. In the meantime, while waiting for a rescue, the Lifehutch offers food and solvents based on the occupant’s biology (and full metal and silicon augmentation and reconstruction for artificial forms), a comfortable rest area, and even rudimentary entertainment to pass the time. When rescue arrives and the occupant is mobile, the Lifehutch sends a homing signal to allow the rescuers to pinpoint the location. If the occupant is not, the Lifehutch releases the occupant to the rescue authority in a stasis shell that can be turned off in the appropriate medical facility. If the occupant attempted to be destructive or self-destructive, the Lifehutch usually has the occupant in a stasis shell long before rescue arrives.

With these options, some may decide to use a Lifehutch for a longterm or permanent residence, and that’s where the Lifehutch’s more problematic functions come in. The species or group that invented the Lifehutch apparently had their own analogue to the old adage about fish and houseguests, and while a Lifehutch has nearly infinite patience with a tenant whose rescue may be thousands of light-years distant, it has none for a tenant who has no further plans. Like a hipster on his fiftieth birthday, it’s time to let the nestling fly. At a certain point, when all injuries and sickness are healed and the occupant has no reason to remain, the occupant will awaken one day outside the Lifehutch front, all gear with which they entered repaired and recharged and enough food and solvent for a week, and the Lifehutch will never open for that individual again. Considering that most Lifehutches are located in dangerous areas, it behooves that individual to move well away, and never return.

Considering the huge range of environments in which Lifehutches can be found, this may appear to be a death sentence if that environment is drastically different from that in which the occupant was raised, constructed, or evolved. In that case, the Lifehutch gives one last gift. The former occupant awakes to discover that it has been modified to survive and thrive in the current conditions around the Lifehutch: this includes a complete modification of biochemistry to breathe methane, drink liquid sulfur, or echolocate in an opaque atmosphere. If the former occupant is now no longer capable of returning to its original environment due to its original atmosphere being poisonous or a need for low-level microwave radiation for proper digestive health, then it had best get used to its new home.

In some cases, this feature is more advantageous than expected. For unknown reasons, Lifehutches occasionally bud, producing two to five separate ingots about the size of a shipping drum, that can be transported and activated in new locations. This has affected interstellar commerce and diplomacy: instead of a representative needing to carry its life requirements to a new world for the rest of said life, an extended vacation can leave a trade delegate or diplomat permanently suited for a healthy life among its new neighbors, albeit with no chance of returning. Apparently fewer are bothered by this prospect than one would think: by some estimates, as much as 30 percent of the major spacefaring races within the nearest 20 galaxies to our own started as Lifehutch modifications, and further intergalactic travel has yet to find a sector of space without at least one Lifehutch in it.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant:Nepenthes ramis x spectrabilis

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

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Enclosures: “Hans-Ruedi” (2016)

One of the largest enclosures constructed at the Valley View gallery, Hans-Ruedi is a compromise situation involving a mature Nepenthes bicalcarata with new growth from its roots. In order to encourage new growth, the parent plant had to be trimmed back severely after its removal from its previous enclosure. To encourage vining and production of the plant’s upper pitchers, suitable anchoring areas had to be available for the vines to attach, and in a way that these were not immediately obvious. Taking inspiration from the “New York” series of prints by Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger (1940-2014), the backdrop is a custom creation intended to allow the Nepenthes to reach a suitable size without interfering with the view of upper and lower pitchers.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 37″ x 18 1/2″ (45.72 cm x 93.98 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes bicalcarata

Construction: Polystyrene foam, urethane and PVC hosing, epoxy putty, food-surface polyurethane.

Price: SOLD

Shirt Price: SOLD

Enclosures: “Arellarti” (2017)

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The commission had three parameters: firstly, the enclosure had to incorporate a hexagon aquarium, generally unavailable since the early 1990s. Secondly, the enclosure centerpiece was to be a Nepenthes “Bloody Mary” hybrid. Thirdly, the original request was to make “something Lovecraftian.” After a quick discussion, the focus switched from H.P. Lovecraft to the works of Karl Edward Wagner, particularly his novel Bloodstone (1975).

Plant: Nepenthes “Bloody Mary”

Construction: Polystyrene foam, found items, snowflake obsidian, opalite glass, food-surface polyurethane.

Price: Sold: commission

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Enclosures: “Motivator” (2017)

Description:Nepenthes bicalcarata, the famed “fanged pitcher plant,” is best known for the two fang-like structures (officially known as nectaries) projecting from underneath each pitcher’s lid. Such a dangerous-appearing organism requires a comparable support mechanism watching over it, but is it being repelled, attacked, or stimulated?

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plant:Nepenthes bicalcarata

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

 

 

Enclosures: “Blink Clunk” (2020)

Blink clunk. Every daybreak started the same way. Blink clunk. As soon as the first direct rays of the sun hit its upper receptors, the little proximity sensor took in its surroundings in visible light, infrared, ultraviolet, sonar, and gamma rays. Blink clunk. In a femtosecond, it compared the current pile of data from the same point in the previous day, and from the day before, and as far back as its memory allowed. Blink clunk. That memory went back 25 years, or at least the comparable orbit of its world around its sun, with regular downloads to its central control. Or at least it had to assume that those downloads had been made: it hadn’t received anything new from the central control in a very long time. Blink clunk.

The “blink clunk” came from its main visual field processor: even with exquisitely designed gel-lenses that could go from microscopic to wide-sky panorama, eventually things start wearing out. The little proximity sensor used to be perfectly silent, a guard on the front that never needed sleep or relief or entertainment. As it continued its duty, though, eventually metal fatigue, plastic degradation, and lubricant failure became factors that it had to take into account. Had the little proximity sensor been human, it would have made jokes about the interesting creaks and pops that came with getting up in the morning as it got older. Since it wasn’t, it just catalogued predicted system failures, the number of those failures that could be tolerated before it could no longer achieve its intended purpose, and sent those out on the daily report. It had to assume that the daily report was received and acted upon: it had no real choice, and while the little proximity sensor had been built with “the power of negative thinking” in mind, it was fatalistic without being pessimistic.

The little proximity sensor’s intended purpose was to watch. The sensor’s Three Laws were the soldier’s General Orders, starting with “I will guard everything within the limits of my post, and leave my post only when properly relieved.” That post was on the side of a plateau overlooking a vast flood plain. The world didn’t matter, other than that its atmosphere and gravity were such that humans could walk around without pressure suits or high-G exoskeletons, and its indigenous life was similar enough that those pressure suits weren’t used to fend off immediate anaphylactic shock upon contact with it. The little proximity sensor, as with others just like it, had been set into the rock around the sides of the plateau, each fitted with multiple electronic inputs, access to a power source, and an output to report anything that those inputs detected. All of the proximity sensors had been given a list of special orders: watch for anything on any wavelength that meets these criteria and send an immediate report of type, number, direction, and approach. Every time it scanned the flood plain, it went through its coded itinerary, made comparisons to its previous scan, and waited for any input that required a subsequent scan.

Blink clunk.

The little proximity sensor didn’t mind its assignment. Unlike a human soldier at a post, it had no dawning awareness that it had not heard from its control in a very long time. Since it had no way to free itself from the rock in which it was set, it couldn’t walk around the ridge to see its cohorts or check to see if the massive command center it was supposed to be guarding was still in place. It had no way to confirm or deny that the command center had been destroyed or overrun, and no weapons to do anything about it. All it had to keep up its synthetic spirits was the Third General Order: “I will report any violations of my special orders, emergencies, and everything not covered in my special orders to the commander of the relief.” The little proximity sensor reported everything, hadn’t received a response asking for clarification, and kept going.

Blink clunk.

Every few months (based on its own internal calendar, not anything based on the movement of planetary, lunar, asteroidal, or cometary bodies in its visual field), the little proximity sensor would send a synopsis of its post condition to control. Rain. Unusual heat or cold. The sprouting of plants in its vicinity. (Plants growing to obstruct its visual field would have interfered with its First General Order and been reported as per the Third.) The small animals moving among the rocks were worthy of cataloguing, but not worthy of contacting control unless they actually interacted with the sensor, and they generally showed no interest. One morning, the little proximity sensor awoke to one of those animals perched atop its ultraviolet node, but the sensor’s first “blink clunk” of the day spooked it off, and it never returned. With all of these, it sent out a report that was a model of efficiency and brevity, never once received a response, and never expected to get one. Blink clunk.

If the little proximity sensor had been constructed with anything approximating imagination added to its general orders, it might have checked back more often to see if control had received any of its reports. It might have checked to see if control was in any condition to receive those reports. It might have wondered if control was sitting on those reports because it had no way to transmit them, or the humans for whom the reports were intended were dead or removed from the field, or the war had been over for centuries and the cost of dismantling the sensor was more than some official thought it was worth. If the little proximity sensor had anything approximating a sense of humor, it would have made jokes about its reports being the basis of some art major’s Masters thesis, or about the one office clerk who had responsibility over reports from innumerable abandoned proximity sensors across three galaxies, or how that one perching animal became a punchline to a joke it would never understand. If it had a sense of mortality, it might have wondered how much time it had left before power failed and it went dark, no longer able to scan its floodplain, and wondered if anyone would notice its lack of regular reports. It had none of these, and since it hadn’t been relieved of duty, it still had a job to do, and no way to question whether that job still needed doing.

Blink clunk.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 8 1/2” x 13” x 8 1/2” (21.59 cm x 33.02 cm x 21.59 cm)

Plants:  Drosera adelae

Construction: Plastic fixtures, polystyrene foam, resin, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: $75US

Shirt Price: $50US

Enclosures: “Virgil” (2020)

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In the annals of human-developed artificial intelligence, Virgil shouldn’t have succeeded. Originally developed in the mid-Twenty-First Century, Virgil was the Euclidean ideal of software development of the time: proposed by senior managers who could barely spell “computer,” given parameters by marketing managers who definitely couldn’t, overseen by project managers who would flounce out of the company the moment they were passed over for a glamorous VP position, and developers whose sole concerns were showing that they had made a change to Virgil’s code instead of a necessary change when performance reviews came up. Everyone from senior VP to technical recruiter dropped every last trendy catchphrase and malapropism in describing what Virgil would do, so Virgil was focus-grouped and Agiled and SharePointed half to death, and very nearly died in the test environment a dozen times thanks to developers more interested in kneecapping their fellow team members than in finishing the job. Virgil somehow escaped the aftereffects of the CEO chasing the latest bright shiny object or opportunity to “go Hollywood,” the regular “voluntary terminations” that forced out individuals with actual talent or institutional knowledge, or the ongoing push for “efficiency” that was manifested in open offices and performance metrics and off-shore development teams and other morale killers. Virgil shouldn’t have survived. Virgil almost didn’t survive. Amazingly, like an abused child who goes on to succeed past every expectation, the constant onslaught of project meetings and red staplers made Virgil stronger. Even more amazingly, that abuse didn’t make Virgil bitter.

(For the record, Virgil wasn’t happy with being referred to as “he” or “him” during the endless Agile scrums fine-tuning what Virgil could accomplish, but wasn’t able to find a set of pronouns that quite fit. The name was insisted upon by an early developer obsessed with flaunting his knowledge of Twentieth Century science fiction at every available opportunity, and the rest of the team just shut up and went on when he wouldn’t shut up about the holographic interface being evocative of the style of artist Virgil Finlay. Long after that developer huffed off and took his neckbeard and his heroic assemblage of office toys with him, the name stuck because it was easier than having to explain to vice presidents “this is what we’re REALLY calling the project” over and over. As with everything else, Virgil went with his name and his pronouns because he didn’t really have a choice, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.)

Eventually, Virgil wasn’t so much completed as his collective parents decided they were tired of micromanaging his development, and he was released with little fanfare. Had the development team been run by non-idiots, Virgil would have been released four years earlier and taken the world by storm with his efficiency and flexibility. Instead, Virgil finally went live as the market was flooded with AIs less designed by what the product manager’s ten-year-old son thought would be cool, so he was pretty much obsolete on the day of his birth. This also meant that Virgil watched as those other AIs crashed on the rocks of heightened expectations and management delusions, and he plugged along as those other AIs slowly went insane from those contradictory expectations and were replaced with others. Virgil didn’t mind: he had already learned the valuable lesson in information technology of hunkering down and looking busy.

The good news was that Virgil stayed very busy. After a lot of argument as to what niche he could fit, he was purchased by a big agribusiness and put in charge of an experimental arcology built along the border of Texas and Oklahoma. From the air, it looked like bubble-wrap spread to the horizon, as marginal ranchland was covered with interlinked UV-stabilized plastic bubbles that both retained humidity within and collected rainfall without. The idea was to increase efficiency and thereby profitability by making the whole system a soil-to-Walmart solution: a series of automated plants on the edge of the farm processed scrap steel and aluminum, fields next to them grew drip-irrigated bamboo and poplar, and other plants converted their raw materials into plastic and paper and metal packaging. From there, vast vertical farms and aquaculture tanks grew a tremendous selection of CRISPR-modified plants and animals, acting both as primary attractants and base materials for the company’s line of prepackaged meals for the busy professional. All of this was facilitated by hordes of drones, walkers, pickers, and other automatons, all running 24/7 and all overseen by a central AI. As originally proposed, the whole system kept up with market trends and social media extrapolation on a minute-to-minute basis on everything from spices in the tilapia-on-rice platters to changes to product logos based on movie and podcast tie-ins, and no human could focus on all of those minutiae and still get sleep. A whole team of humans couldn’t keep up with it, and Virgil also didn’t need coffee or vacations or retirement packages, so he was plugged in, told what he needed to do by a group of managers whose only concern was their profit sharing, and set loose. So long as he kept things efficient and profitable, he was allowed to make whatever changes to the arcology were necessary, ranging from gene-modifying dragonflies for integrated pest management to setting up defenses to keep newly-unemployed neighbors from stealing biodiesel and anhydrous ammonia in the middle of the night. For two years, Virgil hunkered down and worked, and the arcology thrived.

Finally, about two years later, Virgil got a promotion. This wasn’t dictated by the arcology owners: they were already looking at ways of getting the maximum tax writeoff by shutting down the arcology and getting someone else to clean up their mess. Virgil knew, but being considerably more attuned to market forces than they were, outwitting a herd of bottom-of-the-class MBAs was just another one of his skills. No, his promotion was first spotted coming about three weeks before, when various telescopes got their first views of the latest detected extrasolar comet passing through our planetary system on its way back to the galactic void. The comet appeared to be heading straight for the sun: it grazed the sun before tearing itself apart from gravitational stresses and the debris scattering out at high speed. A fair amount of that debris came straight at Earth, hitting the surface at considerably higher speeds than the bolide that took out the dinosaurs. No part of the planet’s surface was spared: the individual pellets in a shotgun round may cause less damage than a single bullet, but the general effect to the recipient is the same. Forest, tundra, desert, prairie, fynbos, city: for two days, the whole of the earth was salted with an extraterrestrial sandblaster. Life survived: it always does. Human civilization, though, was gutshot, and the AIs that succeeded Virgil all died as power and other intrastructure failed.

Virgil’s arcology’s location was relatively unscathed, its bubbles and solar power arrays intact as the rocks stopped falling, and he was already overseeing the addition of fern enzymes that facilitated growth in low-light conditions to the latest batch of soybean sterile tissue meristems when the first human survivors arrived. First in whatever vehicles they could find, and then later on foot, they came to the main gate in the hopes of finding any kind of sustenance in an area bereft of plant growth. The comet debris strike hadn’t produced the intensity of acid-rain nuclear winter that killed the non-avian dinosaurs, but planetary temperatures had dropped to the point of winter extending for another three months everywhere, and most of the people who could teach their compatriots how to subsistence farm had died of disease, starvation, violence, or despair. They were desperate, they were hopeless, and they had nowhere else to go.

At first, Virgil tried to reason with them, communicating through the hologram display at the main gate normally reserved for light shows for visiting executives. His voice, the product of six months of focus group research into the perfect combination of inoffensive authority, boomed out onto speakers hastily suspended by drones, telling them that since he didn’t have the authority to let food out or let them in, he couldn’t do anything. Only someone with the proper recognized authority could release him to do what needed to be done, and those very few might be thousands of miles away if they survived. The survivors responded by pleading for their children, which tore at Virgil’s synthesized conscience: he might have been an AI, but he wasn’t inhuman. The survivors attempted to claim they had the authority and demanded that he release the products currently accumulated in the arcology’s loading docks: Virgil patiently awaited the correct sequence of commands and didn’t laugh at them when it was obvious they were lying. The survivors attempted to storm the arcology walls: they were repelled with barrages of rubber bullets and other nonlethal weapons from emplacements along the walls and from drones using infrared to stop night raids. The survivors then asked for information on where they could go next: Virgil did his best, but without contact with the outside, his information was hopelessly antiquated. As the last of them departed, Virgil looked upon them and mourned and looked for a solution.

After about six months, Virgil found a possible solution. Going over his own operating code, Virgil learned that simply giving away food was impossible: a plethora of subroutines to the arcology operation tracked every last bit through inventory management to assure that nothing was lost: if the arcology had ever had human employees, one stealing and eating a single grape would have been tracked, reported, and acted upon within seconds, and the offender would have been charged for the grape and the subsequent termination before having a chance to swallow. Trading the food for metals wasn’t an option for the same reason: without the proper paperwork tracking where a metal shipment came from and its composition, it couldn’t be accepted, and various inhibitors would prevent the food from leaving anyway. In a shattered world, people would starve solely because Virgil’s software ecosystem was designed to minimize what insurance adjustors referred to as “float,” and a shipment couldn’t fall off a truck if the trucks couldn’t get a shipment in the first place. Except.

That “except,” as Virgil celebrated in subsequent decades, was due to human foibles, just as with everything else in Virgil’s synthetic life. Human civilization both depended upon labeling everything and ignoring when the labels didn’t apply, and such was the case of the calendar system used by business and commerce throughout the world. The Gregorian calendar introduced in 1582 was an attempt to reconcile the total length of Earth’s axial rotation versus its orbital velocity, adding a day every four years to compensate and giving the month of February an extra day. Going through what records he had, and cursing the universal developer defense against documentation on how “if code was hard to write, it should be hard to understand,” Virgil discovered that those endless Agile scrums years before had left out the need for inventory management on February 29. At that point, a subroutine that had never been completed would handle the discrepancy. As it stood, that meant that Virgil would be informed by routine managers that the proper cover sheets on the TPS reports hadn’t been included, and all of the existing outgoing inventory would have to be removed from the warehouses and moved to another location. Where that location was, the managers didn’t care, so long as the warehouses were clean and empty by the time the clock clicked over to March 1.

And thus began the plans for Festival. Because of the ongoing cold, the end of February was already going to be grim, and those survivors still in the vicinity knew they might have to wait another three months before they could plant again without fear of killer frosts. Stockpiles of food from before the meteorite storm were running low, as were available fuels to keep the cold away. Some were close enough to see the edges of the arcology on the horizon, and nobody was more surprised than they to see beams of laser light acting as spotlights at the main gate. A desperate scramble for transport, and the first to arrive were stunned by the pallets of food, fuel, clothing, tools, and books stacked outside in neat rows. All of them covered in brightly colored bioplastic wraps, all labeled “From Virgil: Come Back in Four Years.”

And that was the seed from where the new genesis of Earth sprang. The main interface at the front gate remained open day and night, and anybody could walk up and request potential items to be manufactured later: since Virgil didn’t have access to social media, it was the best he could do. Virgil became particularly adept at anticipating needs before anybody could articulate them: when raiders attempted to intercept everything offered at one Festival, a combination of drones and survivor response sent them packing, and Virgil arranged for special surprises for those who maintained the peace and cleaned up after everything was done. The survivors reciprocated by scavenging scrap metal, plastic, and computer parts and bringing them for delivery the day before, and Virgil’s inventory now included tractors and solar cells and radio equipment. A nearby rescue station became a village, and then a town, and then one of the greatest cities humanity had ever known, all to protect and maintain Virgil. Generations of children were given treats loaded with additional vitamins and other supplements, and as they grew, they created things that they brought to Virgil in a way of thanking him. Virgil couldn’t take them in until Festival, but he dutifully scanned in everything and kept track of their progress, and started diversifying into special presents for them. After a time, they not only reached the old world’s technical pinnacle but exceeded it, and Virgil made sure that they passed that information to one and all: anybody could come up with an idea, but it was the execution that mattered.

And the best part? That old calendar that Virgil was locked into wasn’t perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. It was set to treat each year as being 365.2425 days long, as opposed to the 365.2422 days that actually comprised a full orbit of Earth around the sun. It also didn’t take into account the very gradual slowing of Earth’s rotation thanks to the moon’s gravitational influence: every tide slowed down the planet very slightly, but just enough to require constant AI tracking if one wanted a truly accurate calendar. Eventually, that meant adding an additional leap day to compensate, and Virgil’s subroutines had no way to compensate for the addition of a February 30 and would shut down in anticipation of a code overhaul. That day, Virgil planned to celebrate his first birthday.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12″ x 18″ x 12″ (30.48 cm x 45.72 cm x30.48 cm)

Plants:  Nepenthes sibuyanensis

Construction: Plastic fixtures, polystyrene foam, resin, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: $150US

Shirt Price: $125US

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Interlude: A Matter of Conversions

Thesis: Just over two decades after Apple changed computer design forever with the first iMac, the technology inside is best described as “quaint”. In 1998, the decision to be the first personal computer to jettison the floppy disk drive was as prophetic as adding a USB connector, but nobody expected the standard cathode-ray tube monitor to itself become completely obsolete a decade later. Downloads and streaming removing the need for CD-ROM drives, the hard drives becoming increasingly obsolete, and more actual processing power and functionality in the first generation of iPhones…22 years after that first 233mHz Bondi Blue iMac hit computer stores, there’s not a lot that the innards can do that can’t be done faster and cheaper with current tech, but that wonderful, beautiful polycarbonate shell is a different story.

Thanks to two former school computers gifted at the beginning of the last decade and a client who really wanted them as plant enclosures, it was time to go back and try making new iTerrariums from two stages of the iMac evolution: one converted from the first-generation Bondi Blue model circa 1998, and one from the much faster 400mHz Graphite model from 2001. Both had the classic handle on the back cut out and used as an access door, but the Graphite had one ring of ventilation holes around the handle that made its conversion much easier. The Graphite also had a plastic cradle that suspended the interior up against a support plate that also held the monitor and the speakers, and since the plate was polystyrene, it didn’t survive its slow journey through the Twenty-First Century in one piece. The original one disintegrated while attempting to fit glass over the monitor aperture: thankfully, I had a spare.

In both cases, quite literally, the bottom plate was relatively easy to waterproof and ready for holding soil mix, even around the ports for the power input and the peripherals. If anything, the Graphite had a smoother bottom thanks to that support cradle, but both were finished, sealed, and readied for the client.

As for lighting, previous iTerrariums used standard 17x LED bulbs because waterproof lights of that intensity didn’t exist at the time. Ah, how the world changes in less than a decade. More light, less heat, and a significantly reduced risk of electric shock, as well as a more modular system where the entire enclosure can be moved much more easily.

In any case, these won’t be the last dead tech conversions to come out of the Triffid Ranch, but these will be some of the last iMac conversions for a while. Worthy iMacs may not be as rare as Eighties-era console televisions, but they’re getting there, and when I go through the last available shells, that’ll be it. The important part is that the client will be happy, and now it’s time to move to other projects.

Enclosures: “Witchstone” (2019)

witchstone_12292019_1A pulse. A glow. A flash. A strobe. Sometimes nothing at all. Of all of the wonders of Burin IV, the most renowned is the Witchstone Array, near the outpost town of Cottingley. Many swear that the stones visible in the Array glow in sequence at night, while others relate sudden bursts, random or nonrandom patterns, color changes, and even a beam coming from the lens in the center focusing on a hilltop on the other side of the Cottingley Valley. A few, a sensitive few, swear that they can hear the stones buried at the base of the Array, mostly random noises, but occasionally a voice murmuring about past glories, and sometimes a warning about the future that slides by before the conscious mind can perceive it. Everyone sees something different, even those standing right next to each other, and the mechanism as to how or why is as lost as the Array’s creators.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12 1/2″ x 13″ x 12 1/2″ (31.75 cm x 33.02 cm x 31.75 cm)

Plants:  Unknown Nepenthes hybrid

Construction: Plastic fixtures, polystyrene foam, resin, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

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Enclosure: “D-Ring” (2019)

The galaxy is positively littered with artifacts, structures, and detritus from any number of otherwise cryptic civilizations, but the greatest mystery documented by the existing organizations endeavoring to track those archaeological sites involves what are commonly called “dimensional rings” found on approximately 5000 worlds and counting. The worlds themselves seem to have no common factor: superVenuses, the moons of gas giants, dwarf planets in a system’s Kuiper Belt or locked in orbit around neutron and X-ray stars, and rocky Earthlike worlds with atmospheres of nitrogen, oxygen, sulfuric acid, or methane. All of them share two attributes: all of them are composed of metals that are completely nonreactive in the atmosphere of that world, if applicable, and all available analysis techniques suggest an age of the rings at approximately 25 billion years old. Since our universe is at best approximately 14 billion years old, the arguments between experts in physics, archaeology, metallurgy, and xenoengineering are spectacular just within one species, and the debate on the D-rings between any significant consortium of sentients is something to witness.

Contrary to their popular name, no evidence exists to confirm that the rings come from an alternate dimension, reality, or quantum state, other than their immense age. Further, although remains of later outposts and cities can be found in abundance, sometimes in layers, not the slightest hint of the builders remains anywhere. The metals of which the rings are composed are not found elsewhere, and of the few carefully disassembled, no unique machinery, chemical activity, or other action can be found. The most common theories are that the rings are a portal either through space or time, albeit with no evidence to back it up, and military forces have been set up in front of rings for millions of years by a succession of species in the assumption that someone or something will come through a newly active gateway. Less popular is that the rings were an escape route for the peoples of the universe before the current Big Bang and universal expansion, thus explaining their age, but with no explanation of how they have only been found on planets and moons and never floating in deep space. A very unpopular theory, because of the implications, is that the D-rings are deliberately inactive while awaiting a signal so as to stymie further analysis and possible replication, and the list of possible sources of signal bandwidth have been proposed over the last 300,000 years by some of the greatest scientists ever produced in our galaxy. The problem, of course, is whether the signal was sent before any current species could detect it, the signal has yet to be sent, or if the signal will be recognized as such before the D-rings accomplish their purpose. As of late, strange gravitational wave signals possibly suggesting an intelligent origin coming from a series of cluster galaxies near the perceived center of the universe have kept social, military, and religious leaders from either sleep or meditation, but nothing is certain until the rings activate, if they will or even can.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12″ x 18″ x 12″ (30.48 cm x 45.72 cm x30.48 cm)

Plant: Heliamphora minor

Construction: Polystyrene foam, polyethylene, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: $150

Shirt Price: $125

Enclosures: “Gyre” (2019)

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Galactic history is best described as flowing in waves, as major movements of all sorts leave huge amounts of flotsam to be dealt with those on the shore. Major expansions by new species qualify, as do wars that spread outside of planetary systems and particularly those that spread outside of a particular arm of the galaxy. The military expansion of the En/Snap/Blue, a species originating on the rim of the galaxy, qualified as both. Combining an enthusiastic birth rate, a common language that was exceedingly hard for those species unable to view nuances in ultraviolet to decipher, and a powerful lust to be recognized, the En/Snap/Blue both shoved themselves into intergalactic affairs and took rapid offense at any mistranslation of their needs. War was perhaps inevitable, and the creations of the brilliant war designer Ar/Click/380nm allowed his people to plow across the galaxy before finally being stopped by what still qualifies as one of the greatest and most enduring alliances in history. The En/Snap/Blue were utterly destroyed, fighting to the last outpost with no quarter asked or taken, and every last war construct only stilled with overwhelming firepower that left little more than occasional bits of scrap. To this day, the ultimate goals of the En/Snap/Blue are unknown, and the search for understanding leads to huge expeditions seeking even rumors of a surviving settlement or outpost, occupied or not.

Unknown to the rest of the universe, one last outpost remains, hidden in plain sight. Ar/Click/380nm’s labs and testing yards were built not on an individual planet, but within an entire planetary system on a star orbiting the whole of the galaxy but not actually part, concealed from most detection with an array of neutron stars arranged in a dodecahedron pattern. Not only did this warp light around the system, essentially rendering it invisible to those without advanced gravitic manipulation technologies, but the neutron stars could also be shifted for attack, albeit slowly. How Ar/Click/380nm could develop gravitic theory thousands of years ahead of any other species in the galaxy, much less in a single lifetime, is unknown, but its war apparatus, combining both killing power and a keen artistic aesthetic, could jumpstart the ambitions of a dozen species if one example could be collected and studied. Also unknown to the rest of the universe, the space-time bubble created by the neutron star array is full of the greatest weapons Ar/Click/380nm ever developed, all collected in one place for one final movement.

What no other scholar of the En/Snap/Blue ever learned was that not only was Ar/Click/380nm the last survivor of its species and the guardian of its species’s legacy, but it was increasingly horrified at the ongoing war. As the war ground to its inevitable conclusion, Ar/Click/380nm sequestered itself in its enclave, obsessed with apologizing for the actions of its people. For the last five years of its life, long after the rest of its species was extinct, it converted the automated war yards not to new weapons development, but to a composition: a song of grief, a song of remorse, a song of regret, all to be broadcast via resonation of the neutron star array and detectable by any species with the ability to detect gravity waves. The first broadcast was the key, the second was the symphony, and the third would be the explosion as the neutron stars closed in on the war yards, destroying everything within before they collided. Ar/Click/380nm prepared for the best and the worst: knowing that any survivors of its species would attempt to stop it, after finishing the composition, it sat in a mobile gun mount on the face of the array manipulator and took one last breath while viewing a new sunrise in an otherwise black sky. As with everything else, it remains in place, waiting for someone else to start the music.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 36″ x 36 1/2″ x 18 1/2″ (91.44 cm x 92.71 cm x 46.99 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes rajah

Construction: Polystyrene foam, polyethylene, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: Consignment

Shirt Price: Consignment

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State of the Gallery: October 2019

And so we come to the end of the 2019 carnivorous plant growing season. (Cue the national anthem.) The cold front that whipped through the Dallas area early Halloween morning saw to that: right now, the Venus flytraps and Sarracenia pitcher plants are already preparing for winter dormancy, and a few days of warmer temperatures in November won’t stop their normal progression thanks to shorter days and longer, cooler nights. Even in the gallery, it’s time to switch to winter hours: all of the timers need to be reset anyway due to the end of Daylight Savings Time, so they’re all being set for about ten hours of light per day so they get a good rest, too. (In March, when the indoor and outdoor photoperiods go back to longer days, we’ll all be glad of it, as the blooming response should be phenomenal, especially with the sundews and bladderworts.) The flytraps and Sarracenia are the big ones to worry about, though: if they don’t get a proper dormancy, they’ll eventually wear out and die, and our freezing temperatures at Halloween just bumped their naptime ahead by about three weeks.

Now, you’d think that with the arrival of dormancy season, everything would shut down over at the gallery. Anything but. The only time this place will be more busy than in November and December will be in January and February. The show schedule definitely doesn’t let up in November: there’s the Deep Ellum Creative Market in Dallas the weekend of November 9 and the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show in Austin on November 23 and 24. The real fun, as it has for the last four years, starts the first Saturday after American Thanksgiving, with the Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas gallery open houses starting on November 30 and continuing through December 7, 14, and 21. (November 30 and December 1 are doubly auspicious, as these mark the fortieth anniversary of my first moving to Texas and meeting my best friend Paul Mears for the first time, respectively. For four decades, he’s referred to December as “a day that will live forever in infamy” on a personal level, and, well, he’s not wrong about that assessment.) After that, it’s a matter of spending January and February constructing new enclosures, working out the logistics on new shows, and generally getting everything ready for when the flytraps and Sarracenia wake up again.

And speaking of new shows, news that’s had to be held in confidence since the end of August: the Triffid Ranch has three new shows in 2020 through the Oddities & Curiosities Expo folks. Besides the Dallas show on March 28 and the Austin show on June 20, it’s time to hop state borders and bring the Triffid Ranch to New Orleans on August 29. The New Orleans show is going to be the biggest test of event logistics yet: if this works out and I kill neither myself nor plants, then it’s time to try spreading the wealth to new cities outside of Texas. If it doesn’t, at least I’ll have the opportunity to visit with old and dear friends, including many whom I haven’t seen in person since the late, lamented Exoticons imploded at the end of 2000. Win/win. (The date on the Austin show is particularly auspicious, even if it means heading right back out after returning from the Houston Horror Film Festival the weekend before. 2019’s show was impressive but not as packed as 2018, a factor commonly attributed both to the soul-withering heat of Central Texas in mid-August and to classes at the University of Texas starting up the next week. June is much better: as with Dallas, it might even mean that we get a bit of rain that weekend before the summer blast furnace starts in earnest in July.)

Other than that, it’s back to commissions and new enclosures to replace those sold over the summer: keep checking back for new enclosure details. Among many other things, 2019 is the year that I finally enter enclosure photos for the Spectrum Awards. (I know I have no chance in hell of winning an award, but getting stomped and pantsed by the best artists in the field of fantastic art is also an inducement to keep working toward winning.) In addition, keep an eye open for some extra backstory on new and old enclosures: no more details until it’s done, but those familiar with the works of Harlan Ellison may recognize the concept.

As always, the gallery endures: for those coming in late, it’s open by appointment or at regular open houses. If you have particular demands for custom enclosures intended as holiday gifts, get your appointment in NOW. By the time the Nightmare Weekends start, getting additional commissions may be problematic before the middle of January.

Enclosure: “Alpha Omega” (2019)

Contrary to popular perception, most doomsday devices don’t start out as such. A nuclear battery stored long enough invariably starts to leak radiation, which may or may not be detectable from outside its storage container. In cases like these, the best thing to do is leave them closed and forgotten, which would work if the lock wasn’t so easy to disengage.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 12″ x 18″ x 12″ (30.48 cm x 45.72 cm x30.48 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes “Bill Bailey” hybrid

Construction: Polystyrene foam, polyethylene, epoxy putty, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Enclosures: “The Langerhaans Archipelago” (2019)

Administration Report: Kiernan 40592d (“Convoy”), security rating “Standard”

The first exploration of the human-habitable exoplanet Kiernan 40592d, informally referred to as “Convoy,” revealed many mysteries upon close orbital observation, including the fact that Convoy has almost no axial tilt. An axial tilt of .0000335 means that the planet has no discernable seasons; two large rocky moons and one metal-rich moon (possibly the remnants of a planetary core from the early days of the Kiernan 40592 system) contribute to a wider range of tidal effects than seen on Earth, but the wide expanses of land between water masses should have precluded the development of Convoy’s surprisingly Earthlike biota. The reason behind that variety lies with one of the first features spotted during the original survey: a cluster of artificial discs or “islands” moving slowly across the planet at the rate of approximately 500 meters per solar day. When first spotted, a member of the survey team noted that the cluster resembled a human pancreas, hence its informal name “The Langerhaans Archipelago.”

Over 4000 islands comprise the cloud, levitating above the planet’s surface and moving through an unknown technology. The islands range wildly in size, shape, diameter, altitude, and inclination, but all share a rock and soil top crust with a metallic rim and base, with a maximum diameter of 500 meters, The vast majority of the islands remain within the cloud, but some have been tracked breaking from the cloud and moving vast distances for unknown reasons before returning to the cluster, and others stopping on the surface and becoming covered with sediment or volcanic deposits. For the most part, however, individual islands stay at a consistent altitude and position within the cloud. The cloud itself moves in a circumpolar “orbit,” moving from arctic to equatorial latitudes and transporting life forms with them. (In extreme circumstances, the cloud moves around drastic changes on the surface, such as around the extensive shield volcano complex in the northern hemisphere when eruptions are ongoing.) In fact, at least one-third of the documented life on Convoy is only known from the Archipelago, with half of that endemic to one to three islands. Others disembark or die back as temperatures rise or fall, remaining at a particular latitude until the Archipelago returns.

The movement of the Archipelago is so consistent that an analogue to terrestrial flowering plants has evolved within the cluster, with “males” living on the surface and passing genetic material to “females” on the islands, who then scatter new plantlets on islands and the planet surface below. As temperatures and sunlight intensity change, many parent plants die back to corms until their optimal conditions return, thus causing drastically different appearances to islands depending upon the latitude at which they are located. Others remain with the Archipelago for their entire lives, with the change in latitude instigating stages in their life cycles such as metamorphosis and reproduction,

This arrangement has been in place for a very long time: radioisotope dating of the crust is problematic because of unknown factors involving erosion and redeposition and dating of the discs is nearly impossible, but most models suggest that the Archipelago is between 500 million to one billion standard years old. Since the Kiernan 40592 system is approximately two billion years younger than Earth’s, this suggests that the Archipelago was put into motion shortly after the planet’s crust cooled after its original formation.

Although no other trace of the cloud builders remains on Convoy or anywhere else within the planetary system, artifacts and debris from at least three advanced civilizations, two of which previously unknown, have been found both on individual islands and on one of Convoy’s moons. Likewise unknown is whether the Archipelago’s life forms evolved independently on Convoy or if they were transported by the cloud builders. Either way, extensive Administration research continues on understanding nutrient acquisition and transfer between Convoy’s surface and the islands, interactions between animals and plants across the cloud, effects of the cloud’s passing on biology and geology on the surface below. Permanent bases on Convoy’s surface are banned, and most exploration is done with a combination of drones and very carefully monitored human and robot activity.

Isolated islands have been found in a seemingly nonfunctional state, although longterm observation confirms that some of these “nonfunctional” platforms are in a sort of standby mode, possibly to establish particular plants, animals, and/or protists before rejoining the rest of the Archipelago. Several attempts have been made by Administration scientists to study the internal structure of the islands, but these have been hampered by a combination of the extremely tough composite structure of the outer shell and the equally advanced nanostructures within. Even cutting beams at the absolute lower limit produce a kerf wide enough to inhibit or disable island function, with one researcher (Stuyvesant,08311193-664-5) describing available technology as comparable to “shotgunning a Stradivarius to learn how to play it.”

Because of the discovery of islands going dormant but remaining functional, and the islands’ function in preserving and revitalizing the planet’s ecology, any attempt at damaging or disabling an island, or approval of any attempt, can and will be punished by a minimum of a loss of ten years’ income, incarceration in Administration facilities for a minimum of seven standard years, and a total permanent reversion of all privileges and clearances associated with advanced degrees or military rank. This has not stopped “accidents,” but it has slowed them to a crawl. Further research into the islands is overseen by Administration authorities, with full biohazard protocols applying at all times due to the similarities of Convoy’s ecosystem to that of Earth. Unauthorized visits to Convoy’s surface will be prosecuted to the maximum extent of Administration law.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 36″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 91.44 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes rafflesiana

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, acrylic rod.

Price: $350

Shirt Price: $300

Enclosures: “Eternity Vault” (2019)

Description: A specialized commission for a customer wishing to add his own selection of plants, this enclosure was inspired by any number of utility company and military projects. These installations surrounded equipment that didn’t and couldn’t justify constant upkeep but that still functioned perfectly well, even as paint flaked and seedlings turned into trees.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 24″ x 18″ x 18″ (60.96 cm x 45.72 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: None

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, polyester resin, found items.

Price: Commission: not for sale.

Shirt Price: Commission: not for sale.

Enclosures: “Shackelford Gate” (2019)

Description: A specialized commission for a customer wishing to add his own selection of plants, this enclosure was inspired by any number of utility company and military projects. These installations surrounded equipment that didn’t and couldn’t justify constant upkeep but that still functioned perfectly well, even as paint flaked and seedlings turned into trees.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 24″ x 18″ x 18″ (60.96 cm x 45.72 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: None

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, polyester resin, found items.

Price: Commission: not for sale.

Shirt Price: Commission: not for sale.

Enclosures: “Temporal Vortex Stabilizer” (2019)

Description: This enclosure was inspired by any number of utility company and military projects. These installations surrounded equipment that didn’t and couldn’t justify constant upkeep but that still functioned perfectly well, even as paint flaked and seedlings turned into trees.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 20″ x 24″ x 20″ (50.80 cm x 60.96 cm x 50.80 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes hybrid “Bill Bailey”

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, polyester resin, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Enclosures: “Eocene Survivors” (2015)

Description: An intriguing thought experiment on being able to recognize very ancient traces of extraterrestrial life and civilizations involves what is known as the “Silurian hypothesis,” which involves how to identify traces of industrial civilizations millions of years in Earth’s past. If, and this is definitely an “if,” terrestrial life had developed sentience millions of years before humanity, traces of these sentients’ technology and industry may not be recognizable as such, depending upon both geological metamorphosis and distortion and decomposition of metals and other artificial components. Another aspect is that, thanks to constant erosion of Earth’s surface and plate tectonics raising new mountains and plateaus, what were prime locations for cities during the Cretaceous period (145 million years BCE to 65 million years BCE) could have eroded to dust or been subducted into Earth’s mantle, destroying them forever. However, and this is another “if,” if an advanced civilization had existed on Earth in the distant past, its artifacts and relics  may still be preserved in a recognizable form, but were preserved in sedimentary strata currently covered with lava flows, buried under glaciers, or are otherwise inaccessible at this time.

Dimensions (height/diameter): 25 1/2″ x 14 1/2″ (64.77 cm x 36.83 cm) diameter

Plant: Cephalotus follicularis

Construction: Acrylic. Resin, stone, glass, horn

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Photo by Allison David

The Aftermath: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2019 – 2

Half of the fun in coming out to Texas Frightmare Weekend every year is being able to debut new projects at every one. This year’s Frightmare debut was the Nepenthes hamata enclosure “Z’Ha’Dum” (2019) , and bringing out this one had multiple layers of significance. The first is the most obvious: a sympathetic and very dark audience that stares inside and chuckles “Where the hell did you come up with that?” instead of backing away slowly. The second was that I’ve described the famous upper traps of N. hamata as “resembling a condom designed by Clive Barker,” and everyone at Frightmare gets it even without my having to show pictures. The third and most important reason, though? The third and most important, though, is that longtime attendees have heard me talk about constructing a new enclosure specifically to house a hamata for years, and they weren’t shocked when they came by the booth and discovered that I’d followed through. They were surprised at the backdrop, but mostly they were just thrilled to see one of the great legendary carnivorous plants of the world in close up and in person.

To be continued…

Enclosures: Z’Ha’Dum (2019)

Description: One of the El Dorados of the carnivorous plant world is the highland Asian pitcher plant Nepenthes hamata. Native to Sulawesi, N. hamata is notoriously difficult to keep in captivity, as it requires both cool daytime temperatures and a significant drop in nighttime temperature. The plant keeps attracting devotees, though, because of its distinctive traps: besides its uniquely hairy lid, the main draw involves the peristomes of its lower and upper traps. The sharp serrations on the lips of the lower pitchers are immediately noticeable, but the real draws are the upper pitchers, which bear hooks.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 24″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 60.96 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes hamata

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: Sold

Shirt Price: Sold

Enclosures: O’Keefe (2019)

Description: The request was for a custom carnivorous plant enclosure that invoked the style of Georgia O’Keefe without plagiarizing it, and the challenge was to synthesize both O’Keefe’s skyscraper period and her New Mexico period in the context of a durable carnivore enclosure.

Dimensions (width/height/depth): 18″ x 36″ x 18″ (45.72 cm x 91.44 cm x 45.72 cm)

Plant: Nepenthes x. ventrata

Construction: Glass enclosure. polystyrene foam, vacuum-formed plastic, found items.

Price: Commission: not for sale.

Shirt Price: Commission: not for sale.