Wild Behavior – Jonathan Gill

My project was to develop a low-cost, open-source platform for testing the perceptual and cognitive abilities of animals in the wild. As a behavioral and computational neuroscientist, I design experiments and novel technologies to uncover and decode how perceptions guide actions in humans and animals. At Dinacon, I began to create a platform capable of precise stimulus delivery (e.g. sounds and lights in a multimodal game for treats), identification of animal participants (a sound/photo fingerprint), and wireless networking for the collection and sharing of data. The goal of this project is to unite DIY engineering with laboratory neuroscience/psychology to enable an open platform for “field neuroscience”.

With these goals in mind, Wild Behavior was born!

The general idea can be thought of as a “rodent arcade game”, where animals can approach a machine and get treats, or time running on a wheel, in exchange for participating in a simple game. The key is that their choices in the game can tell us about how well each animal can distinguish different sound frequencies (like a hearing test), or how well they can remember the order of different lights and sounds (like a memory game).

To do this I assembled a device combining some inexpensive off-the-shelf components, in the table below, that could be battery powered to be used outside on the island.

Island rodents respond to the stimuli by either sticking their nose across a beam-break, or by licking a tube which would dispense tasty liquid if they made the right choice. To start with, the device plays the game “only respond when I play a certain sound or flash a certain light” (programmed using an Arduino), then progresses into more complicated games if the animal is doing well.

I was also curious as to whether wild animals might be interested in running on a pet-store running wheel as a reward, i.e. would they even find domesticated toys fun? I spent some time trying to follow up on this fascinating paper which demonstrated that wild mice, frogs and other animals would spend time on a running wheel placed outside “for fun”, even though they could run anywhere they liked. I tried to capture some island creatures in the act at night using IR camera traps and a wheel baited with peanut butter.


By the end of my all-too-short stay, I had a prototype!

Now, after returning home to a land of millions of rodents, I’m planning to position new prototypes around the city. Who do you think are smarter, subway rats or park rats?

Jennifer Jacobs

Dates: July 1st – July 6th

Jennifer Jacobs is a Brown Institute Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University, working with Professor Maneesh Agrawala in the Computer Science Department. Her research examines ways to diversify participation and practice in computationally-supported creation by building new creative tools, software, and programming languages for creative expression. Jennifer received her PhD from the MIT Media Lab in the Lifelong Kindergarten Research Group. She completed a masters of science in the High-Low Tech group and an MFA in Integrated Media Art from Hunter College. Her work has been presented at international venues including CHI, SIGGRAPH, and Ars Electronica.

More of her work is located at jenniferjacobs.co

Dinasaur Illustrations

By Michelle Tan

I was at Dinacon for almost four days in the first week of the conference, and created illustrations and comics about my time on the island.

A Kayaking (Mis)adventure

Featuring Danielle and Shreyasi


Singapore Foodscapes Illustration

Created for Foodscape Collective, commissioned by Huiying; as part of a public letter about urban farming and agri-diversity in Singapore


I wanted to portray what alternative foodscapes, imaginary or otherwise, there are to standard food practices in Singapore. A little boy picking up a fallen fruit in a supermarket encounters a dream-like glimpse into another world where product and nature are entwined. It is a farmer’s stall in a luscious, colourful setting, glowing in stark contrast to his own sterile surroundings. I was inspired by the lush vegetation on the island.

Procedural Naturalist Drawings- Jennifer Jacobs

As a programmer and a visual artist, I’m fascinated by ways to integrate different forms of drawing. I arrived on the island with paper, pencils, a computer, and a 2 axis drawing plotter. I used these tools to create a series of procedural naturalist drawings: drawings that were produced through a combination of computer-generated effects and manual illustration. I stayed on the island for 5 days. After getting settled the first day, my goal was to create one new drawing per day. My process consisted of four basic steps:

Step 1: Observation

I spent time walking around the island looking for forms to draw.  I particularly focused on trying to find organisms or objects that would be compatible with some form of procedural creation. Complexity, fractal patterns, or symmetry are all possible to represent relatively easy with code, so I looked for organisms with similar properties.

Step 2: Code

After settling on an organism to draw for the day, I then used Processing to write a simple program that produced forms that represented some aspect of that organism. Because coding is a somewhat anti-social activity, I tried to keep these coding sessions short- no more than a couple hours at most.

Step 3: Digital Drawing

The programs I wrote in Processing were designed to function essentially as drawing tools in that they were designed to generate some form of procedural pattern based on mouse input. By hooking up a tablet and stylus to my computer, I could use the stylus to create different procedural drawings that transformed my manual line.  I exported these drawings as vector PDFs.

Step 4: Plotting

I experimented with different pencils and a 2-axis plotter to quickly generate physical drawings of the procedural forms I created in Processing. I love the plotter for its speed and ease of use, and also for the fact that you can use a wide range of different drawing media with it. It works well with pens, pencils, and even can be modified to support paint brushes- all tools that one can also use by hand. Using the plotter is also often a social activity. It’s highly visible without being disruptive or noisy, and people tend to come by and ask about it, or watch it while it works. I really like this quality.

Step 5: Manual Drawing

Once the drawings had been plotted, I used a variety of different pencils to manually finish them- adding in shading and different texture effects. While it would have been possible to add some of these effects with the plotter, the process of manually drawing on top of the plotted drawings gave them a different quality.  Unlike coding and plotting, which requires a linear-planning intensive process, drawing by hand enables me to work intuitively and serendipitously. I can quickly try something out, and if I like it, continue in that direction. Each stroke informs the next.  In addition, coding or the plotting required access to electricity,  whereas manual drawing enabled me to work anywhere on the island.By the end of my stay, I completed 4 drawings.

Drawing 1: Sea foam and waves

My first drawing was an abstract composition that  was largely inspired by the waves and foam on the shore of the island.

Since this was the first drawing of the series, it was the most experimental. I started with a program that repeated and scaled a single stroke drawn with the tablet. I drew with this program with wavy- undulating strokes,  then plotted a series of these drawings with a rough charcoal stick. 

I spend some time with a 6B pencil darkening corners of the plotted drawing before placing the drawing under the plotter a second time and plotting a second series of lines (blue) upon the original. I then shaded and reinforced some lines manually, producing the finished result.

Drawing 2: Fern

Plants are often extremely algorithmic. Inspired by the numerous ferns on the island, I wrote a program in Processing that repeated a simple leaf shape along a hand drawn line, and mirrored it on the reverse. I modified the program so that it scaled the leaf shape so that they grew larger towards the center of the line, and smaller towards the end. This way, I could quickly draw a variety of different fern fronds.

Rather than plot multiple ferns, I decided I liked the simplicity of a single frond. I plotted it with a light pencil and shaded the back of it by hand to create a contrast against the white paper.

  Drawing 3: Palm and Lichen

By the third drawing, I had started to get more ambitious. I loved the patterns the lichen made on the bark of the palm trees around the island. I wrote a program that repeated palm segments along a hand drawn path. I then wrote a second program that automatically generated lichen-like shapes by creating a irregular outline, and then repeating and scaling out that outline around the perimeter to create a set of rings. I used Perlin noise to create the variation in the ringed sections.  The math to generate the lichen took a little while to figure out, and as a result, I spent longer coding this pattern than I would have liked.

To take advantage of the plotter’s capabilities I added a complex hatched-background to the vector illustration. Below is the finished plotted result.

I wanted to use manual drawing to create sense of depth in the drawing by shading the smaller stalks a darker tone and keeping the larger stalks light. I liked this effect, but realized it didn’t work well with the complex hatched background, so I ended up removing it and shading it dark. Yet another great thing about working by hand after plotting- you can make changes at will, and in an improvisational fashion.

Drawing 4: Butterfly

By the final day, I had gotten slightly behind. The shading on the palm and lichen piece took longer than expected and I had to prepare a presentation for the evening. Therefore I decided to rely on a simple but effective technique for the last drawing: bilateral symmetry. I wrote a program that mirrored and repeated whatever I drew by hand on the horizontal axis. I then used this program to draw two insects- a butterfly and a beetle.

I ended up only having time to plot and shade the butterfly. I left one side of the butterfly plotted but unshaded. I liked this contrast. Sometimes simple is best.

Next morning, I packed, had breakfast, and took the boat off the island. Dinacon was a wonderful, unique, experience, filled with lovely generous people. I can’t thank Andy and Tasneem enough for organizing it and letting me be a part of it.

Smart environments: from natural to digital

In the future, we will live in “smart environments”. A smart environment is filled with smart objects, objects that can presumably react or show some sign of thinking. I have always been frustrated by this classification or trend, as it is redefining the word smart.  Does it also imply that some objects are stupid? Have we previously lived in a stupid environment? Etc… I am currently developing a learning platform for Internet of Things at my company Teknikio, so I should add that these concepts are extremely top of mind.

My original proposal for Dinacon was to create an environment in which the plants and trees could communicate with each other.  Upon arriving to the island,  I decided to d see what else might inspire me in this strange paradise.

I didn’t rule out the idea of a networked project though, and had brought several different bluetooth development boards just in case.

It started with the Mimosa plant. I had never seen one before and I was instantly fascinated by the way these plants that automatically closes its leaves. How does it decide when to close its leaves? Furthermore, is this a smart plant, or an emotional plant, or a robot plant? I decided the former- this plant is smarter than other plants that can’t control their leaves and just sit there like nothing happened when touched. What intrigued me most was that it felt like communication. And so, I started to look for other elements of non-human natural behavior in this environment that felt like communication. I started by exploring how to express this system of harnessing naturally smart things for our own digitally built “smart” environment. I decided to build a prototype of a natural to digital communication system in which a sensor would collect data from the mimosa or other “naturally smart thing”. This data would be transmitted via bluetooth to a human-made device that activates in response to incoming communication signals. Somewhat like this diagram:

I found some neat rip-stop in the scrap fabrics pile and folded it up into a herringbone origami shape, that could contract and expand and glued it to a base of woven palm leaves. I then attached a servo motor to the base to pull on the rip-stop, the idea being that the servo would move the ripstop to open and close the shape in response to the intensity of the incoming signal. The first signal I used was that of waves rising and falling. Although this is quite literal, it also communicates to us the coming of a storm and other environmental information. I used a float sensor that Yannick uses on the Diva and a micro:bit microcontroller to capture the data. Below is the first version of this system that was built at Dinacon:

A bit rough, but worked for a proof of concept! I would love to build a family of these objects and place them around the island. Looking forward to next time!

Drawing from Tinbergen

Margaret Minsky 2018

At Dinacon I did some drawing. I chose to copy drawings by the great ethologist Niko Tinbergen, from one of his lesser-known books: Kleew, a book for children about a gull.

Here are two illustrations from that book, and my rendering of the illustrations on the cover and page 23. I use the only drawing tool I can control yet, the PaperMate SharpWriter #2 mechanical pencil. I hope to learn how to draw with technical pens.

I learned so much from copying these drawings. One technical thing I love is Tinbergen’s construction of shadows and use of them to establish planes and surfaces.

My renderings:

My original Dinacon application proposed creating wearables based on “the drawing style of Tinbergen”. I wrote that from an intuition or memory that Tinbergen had any drawing style at all. I knew that his ethology books were illustrated, and I knew that my father carefully prepared slides of, and showed, a series of Tinbergen animal drawings in all his talks during 1973-85 or so. Tinbergen’s ability to make a theory of animals’ minds was one of the keys to my father’s “Society of Mind” theory.

Another intuitive basis for my proposal was Andy’s Digital Naturalism tenet of “seeing or sensing” from creatures’ perspectives in their natural environment, an idea that permeated the invitation to apply to Dinacon. I’d probably subconsciously absorbed that Andy himself was strongly influenced by Tinbergen, as mentioned in his Hacking the Wild book.

A few weeks later, preparing for Dinacon, I thought it best to check whether Tinbergen did indeed do his own drawings! Yes, he did, and in fact was an artist before he became a scientist. In a lovely piece of scholarship on Tinbergen’s life in art, Robert Root-Bernstein tells of Tinbergen’s teenage magazine cover sales, and later during his faculty years of his tutelage by a master artist while imprisoned in an internment camp for his non-cooperation with the Nazi regime.

During the internment, Tinbergen created illustrations for his own children that he later turned into children’s books. One of those books, Kleew, is findable on the used market. I haven’t been able to find the other one about sticklebacks. Tinbergen published many other books for the public and for children, some including his photos as well as writings.

Before I set out for Dinacon, I collected all my existing Tinbergen books, and ordered the others that I learned about during this research. Here’s the whole collection, all are recommended. Tinbergen’s drawings and photos, are integral to his work.

Copying these drawings is sweet and hard work. It is window into a great mind. Learning the techniques to use in illustration and drawing, is a meditative work in progress, difficult and rewarding. To work on that surrounded by the people of Dinacon 2018, on the Andaman Diva and in the main house, was a joy.


Minsky, Marvin, Society of Mind, Simon & Schuster, 1986

Quitmeyer, Andy, Hacking the Wild https://www.scribd.com/document/267993491/Hacking-the-Wild-Making-Sense-of-Nature-in-the-Madagascar-Jungle

Root-Bernstein, Robert, “Niko Tinbergen’s Visual Arts”, Leonardo, Volume 37, Issue 2, April 2004

Tinbergen, Niko, (you can see citation info on the spines above. The orange one is Tracks, Ennion and Tinbergen)

Robot Language Music Video-by Albert and Mary (Dezmediah)

with help from Maggie Kane, Tasneem Khan, Mark Lifana, and Andy Quitmeyer

Make a kickass music video, with only the tools at hand; this was the challenge Mary and Albert set for themselves while on Koh Lon at Dinacon.

Spouses Mary and Albert came to Dinacon as their last stop on a seven-month long traveling stint, mostly in Southeast Asia. They knew they wanted to make something great at Dinacon, but also knew they wouldn’t be able to bring many supplies, as they’d have to carry it on their backs for months.

Mary is a musician, and while the thought of being apart from a guitar or piano for seven months made her jittery, she also relished the idea of being forced to learn the ins and outs of the iPad GarageBand app. So, she got her fingers used to the tiny keys of the on-screen keyboards, spent hours combing the built-in samples, and recorded vocals in bathrooms, on quiet beaches, and in backyards and forests in Croatia, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. In May, she finished her EP, entitled Beep Boop. Pretty soon she and Albert realized that Robot Language, the first track on the album, could make a pretty fun music video.

Albert has a filmmaking background, having graduated from NYU Film School in 2005. In addition to filmmaking, Albert is a visual artist and had recently begun exploring making video art using one of the portable, affordable, pico projectors that have come on the market in the last few years. It was in Croatia that Albert first showed Mary his technique. He created a feedback loop between the projector and the camera, which resulted in interesting color distortions and multiplication and tilting of image elements.What was captured on the camera was fed into the projector, which projected onto a surface, which the camera filmed, which was fed into the projector, etc. The result was a fun, trippy “reality distortion” beam, which Mary thought would be perfect for a music video.

They knew what the story of the video would be, and had an idea of how they would film it. Once they got to Dinacon, the challenge was how to make a robot costume using only the tools at hand. Thankfully, they met Maggie Kane (Streetcat), a genius inventor, hacker, and cosplay costume designer. Maggie worked with Mary for several days to make the costume from primarily trash and duct tape.

Albert and Mary also enlisted the help of Mark, a great videographer who could film the scenes where Albert would need to be in costume as the robot. Andy and Tas, being the amazing people they are, offered to stick around for the filming, and brought down to the beach an assortment of bright lights, which they kindly held during filmmaking. They also gave valuable input on shots and angles.

The result is “Robot Language,” the music video. The video can be watched at https://tinyurl.com/dezmediahrobotlanguage

Tree Area Network (TAN) – a private Network for trees and humans

A TAN is a Network using plant-infrastructure to transmit data over trees.
(Ingo Randolf)

Introduction – Personal Area Network (PAN)

In his book “When things start to think” (Owl Books – 1999) Neil Gershenfeld writes about how they found a Private Area Network using the body as data-channel: When trying to find a “bug” measuring the hand-position of violinist Ani Kavafian he and Thomas Zimmerman found that human bodies can be used as a data channel using capacitive coupling.

“… the source of our problem was immediately clear: part of Ani’s body was in the [electric-] field and part was out; … Tom [Zimmerman] then realized that we should be able to detect the part of the field that was passing through her body. This creates a tiny current. … In other words, we could transmit data through a body. The bug could become quite a feature.”

There are Wide Area Networks (WANs) to link up cities, and Local Area Networks (LANs) to link up buildings. They have created a Personal Area Network (PAN) to connect parts of a body.

Thomas Guthrie Zimmerman wrote his master thesis (1995) with the title “Personal Area Networks (PAN): Near-Field Intra-Body Communication”: http://www.cba.mit.edu/docs/theses/95.09.zimmerman.pdf

Research in the last years was conducted to use electrostatic communication and waveguides (galvanic coupling) to transmit data through or from within a human body. This research mostly was done in the medical field for applications to monitor the body and send data from internal sensor-data to a base-station outside the body, where data then can be analyzed. This also is called the wet-net or internal-net.
The focus in this research varies from the physical layer to the communication layer, an international standard (IEEE 802.15.6) was developed to standardize the way of communication.

Around 2005 Japanese company NTT developed a product named “RedTacton”, but it is removed from their webpage and it is unclear what happened to it. When looking for consumer or pro-sumer devices in 2017 i could find none. The only way to experiment with humans as data-channel was to build a sender and receiver from scratch.

PAN @ Dinacon: TAN (Tree Area Network)

At dinacon i was interested in experimenting with this devices in the wild to send data over a tree, or in the best case to send data from one tree to another. Is it possible to send data from one side of the jungle to the other? The jungle as a network. I wanted to tackle this questions by starting out using the device on a single tree to see if it is possible at all.

In theory it should be possible to use capacitive coupling on plants. Like a human biological conductor also a plant consists of an internal wet system and an isolating layer on its outside, the bark. The internal system (phloem) is used to transport nutrients and food to and from the roots and consists mainly of water. The phloem also acts as a communication system within the plant; see: “Electrical signals and their physiological significance in plants”, Jörg Fromm & Silke Lautner – Plant, Cell and Environment (2007)


The used devices are the same as in the human coupling experiments documented here:

The first experiments were to try if it is possible to detect a simple pattern. The pattern used was a carrier-wave of ~333kHz turned on and off in short pulses of ~200us. This is also the preamble used to establish communication before sending data

Materials used:
– electrodes (sender and receiver): copper plated ripstop – woven textile – Statex, Shieldex® Nora
– sender / receiver: see link above
– amplifier op-amp: from MCP629x family

First experiment:

– unmodified PAN sender and receiver on different trees and plants
– 3.4V input to resonant tank, resulting in ~30V peak-to-peak on the transmitter electrode.
– electrodes: sender: 45 x 52 mm, receiver:

It was possible to pick up the signal a couple of centimeters (~10 cm) away from the transmitter. Different plants worked different well.
On one plant it was only possible to receive the signal on a branch of the same sub-branch, but not on the upper-branch.
Using a steel-needle penetrating the bark as the transmitter electrode, improved transmission. The needles was in the bark for ~1.5 cm. While this showed better results we distanced from such practice as we did not wanted to violate the bark of the tree.

Second experiment:

– modified transmitter to send with higher voltages
(12 .. 24 V input, ~80 .. 180 V pp on output)
– modified receiver with a third amplification step (MCP6292)
– same electrode configuration as in the first experiment

As expected the signal could be picked up better with the stronger signal and the more sensitive receiver. It was possible to receive the signal from ~1m away from the sender on the same branch. The signal did not travel across branches.

Third experiment:

– sender with higher voltage: approx. 17V input and ~100 V pp output
– using circular electrodes around the branches for transmitter and receiver electrode.

Using electrodes around the branched we could picked up the signal unexpectedly well. It seems that encircling the branches with the electrodes perturbs the phloem well enough to send the signal over branching from the top of a tree to it’s stem close to the ground.
Different input voltage ranging from 12 V .. 24 V with a resulting output voltage of ~80 to bigger than ~120V peak-to-peak on the sender resulted in different signals-strength picked up by the receiver. All input-voltage configurations could be picked up.

With this setup it was possible to send sensor-data measured at the top of the tree to the stem close to ground. When the receiving electrode was too close to ground it was not possible to receive the signal anymore. (as deflected to ground?)
The signal passed 5 branchings and covered a distance of around 5,40 meters.

Costuming TAN

Mika Satomi built an interface for TAN enabled tree. This tree-hugging garment is used to receive data from the tree:

That Strange Sensation by Dezmediah

My main project at Dinacon was to write a short story inspired by one or more things I saw there. What came out was a story about a marine biologist who finds herself on a tropical island (Dinasaurs will guess it’s Koh Lon) in an unspecified future (Dinasaurs will guess it’s 2561) with a bunch of other scientists and artists. Nobody knows why they’re there and so, in addition to surviving, etc., they’re going to try to figure that out. At Dinacon I wrote about 4,000 words and I realized that I wasn’t nearly finished yet. So, since the thing had a sort of pulpy, classic science-fiction feel to it, I thought I’d serialize it.

Following is Part One. New parts get released on the first of every month and can be read at thatstrangesensation.com. The project will (hopefully) continue until late spring.

Part One

Lately, every time L ascended, she felt on the verge of passing out. About two meters from the surface, she’d find herself needing to grasp onto the inflater nozzle of her BCD in order to remind her body of the task at hand. The water would squeeze her, the churning, womb-like sounds surrounding her and disorienting her. The sun, filtered by the water into individual rays, would hit her like a spotlight, causing her to shield her eyes even as she felt herself hungrily drawing toward it.

And now, once again, she finds herself on the surface, back in her right mind, back on solid ground, which is in fact the choppy surface of the water. The sun steady, the physics standard. Escaped. Just a weird sensation was all.

Ever since she was a beginner diver, she’d felt a whiff of this sensation, but in the past few weeks it’s become stronger every dive. Glancing around to check that the interns she’s been diving with are well, she actually wonders—if she were to let herself go on autopilot during ascension, allow her mind wander even just a bit, would she make it? Or would she pass out, sink to the bottom, die immediately?

What an unscientific thought. Likely she was becoming dizzy as a result of a slight physiological malfunction. An inner ear issue. Or maybe it was simply that this feeling mimicked that of not wanting to wake up from a good dream—it was so peaceful under there after all, so cozy, meditative. Your mind couldn’t be scattered. The water directed your focus, plied your attention toward what it wanted to show you.

“My god, I know how you feel,” her colleague, E, tells her as they unsuit back on the boat. E grunts as her tank clinks into its holder. “Sometimes I just don’t want to leave that world.”

“Maybe that’s all it is,” L replies, but still she can’t explain why the sensation is getting stronger, or—could she say—worse?


Two hours later she is entering the day’s data into the Thai governmental database. On that morning’s dive, she and her team of interns completed a fish survey and noted this bounty: forty-five butterfly fish, nine bream, five parrot fish, three angel fish, twenty-five wrasse, forty-five cardinal fish, and one soap fish. Still much fewer snapper than she’d like to be seeing, but the other fishes were doing well.

E types away beside her, probably messaging with a prospective intern: an eager undergraduate or beleaguered graduate student, looking for a suitable research site to host them as well as an exciting Southeast Asian experience. A storm has rolled in. L’s nostrils are alerted to a metallic smell as large raindrops begin to fire away on the roof like they mean to put a hole in it. She feels as if the space has become smaller, as if the world would be happy to do them in.

L leans her forehead on her hand, rubs her temples. “I’ve got a bit of a headache now,” she says. E turns toward her and frowns.

“Take a paracetemol,” E says and, sighing, turns back to her computer. Then she groans. “This student wants to bring his girlfriend. But she’s not going to do any research. She just wants to hang out. ‘She won’t take up another bed,’ he says. ‘I don’t see why she has to pay.’” She rolls her eyes.

L gets up and heads to the kitchen to get a drink of water. On her fourth step, a curtain comes over her vision and all she can see is black. “I’m going blind,” she says as she collapses to the floor.

When she wakes up, E is standing over her. Her face looks old, and the geometry of it evokes an ancient math. L is sure, then, that there have been hundreds of people throughout human history that looked exactly like E.

And then she feels her heart beating faster than it should be beating. Her breath is deep and rapid at the same time, as if she can’t get enough air. But her breath moves in and out, her heart beats, and she can see.

“I’m okay,” she says.

“My god, what is wrong with you?” E yells, her Russian accent really coming out now. “Do you want me to call an ambulance?”

“No, no,” L says. “I just stood up too fast I think. Something a little off with my circulation lately, maybe my blood pressure.”

Maybe I’m fucking pregnant. Fucking pregnant, that’s a funny phrase.

“My god, go home,” E says. “Take the day off.”

“But new students are coming, I have to orient them.”

“Honey, you need to take some time off.”


A couple hours later L is in her house, in her bed, inside the mosquito net. Her headache has faded and she feels fine. The storm has passed away, leaving behind thin, shifting, planes of air. She’s reading a dense, poetic book about water and how to interpret it. She’s enjoying the language, but can’t process much meaning from it. She puts the book down and looks at her nightstand. Two pregnancy tests rest there, staring up at her with two blank eyes. No results.

How is this possible?

Pregnancy was unlikely, as she and her various partners on the island always used condoms, but you never knew. So she could understand a positive result and she could understand a negative result but a non-result was perplexing to say the least.

Just a little low on iron from my last period. Something, something like that.

It is barely five o clock. A breeze blows in and a rodent scampers across her roof. The cicadas are quieting down to a low, tired, scratching, only needing to cool themselves down a little in this breezy landscape.

“We will look at water as the subject. Mammals and insects are interesting, but they will only earn their place in this book to the extent that they can explain the behavior, the signs and symbols of water.”

She puts the book down and falls asleep. She sleeps 12 hours. At 5 am a gecko lands on the wall of her bungalow just outside her head and calls out, loud and clear, “unh unh, unh unh, unh unh,” and she jolts awake, thinking the gecko is in her bed, that someone put it in her bed to wake her up, but there’s no one in her house, not even a gecko.

She can’t believe she slept 12 hours.

Maybe I am fucking pregnant.

Suddenly she feels tough and lichenous, tucked away inside herself from whatever might be happening outside.


On her motorbike drive to work, a rabid dog lunges at her, causing her to swerve sharply. After driving off a safe distance, she stops and looks back at it. It lies in the middle of the road, sunning.

She gets to the lab before E and spends a quiet morning drinking coffee and looking over the data. The coral bleaching is getting worse and what to do, what to do about that. 50% bleached already and it’s only the beginning of the hot season. At some point in her meager little life, she’d decided that the best thing she could do was have this field station and report the data. Tell the authorities. Alert people in power. Bolster the science, strengthen the argument. Not shut up. Perhaps she should do more.

E enters the room with a clanging of bags and various attachments. Her motorbike helmet falls off her arm and rolls toward L. E’s eyes go wide and she feigns anger. “My god, what are you doing here?”

“What do you mean?” L says.

“I thought you’d take the day off.”

“Oh I’m fine. Got a good night’s sleep.”

E tuts and shakes her head reprovingly.


Two hours later they’re diving again. It’s been determined L will be divemaster for two of the more experienced students and E will take the newbies. That way, the experienced students can cover some of the more routine data gathering and L can be free to focus on her pet research project, which tests whether smaller solitary corals are less resistant to bleaching than larger solitary corals.

E’s group lays out the transects while L and her interns hang back and look at coral. She breathes out and sinks closer in to some branching coral, the home of twenty or so baby, white and yellow butterfly fish, who dart in and out like bees. She wishes she were doing a fish survey so that these lovely, tiny fish could be counted. If only their presence could be felt, could matter in the world. But probably they don’t care either way, probably that doesn’t matter to them.

Now it’s time to go and she motions the students to go ahead of her. With the lab’s underwater camera they take a picture of the transect measuring tape every 50 cm. Back at the lab they will need to go through every one of these 300 pictures and identify the coral just to the left of the transect. She removes her underwater slate from her BCD pocket and begins counting. Everything is slow, deliberate, meditative. She breathes slowly. It’s arduous counting all the solitary corals—there are so many. The students’ frog kicks are too frequent, they are going too fast—almost out of her sight now. No matter, they are safe and experienced. She finishes her survey and meets them at the end of the third transect at 50 minutes into their dive. Together they reel up the transects, spiders assuming the thread of their web back into their abdomens. She directs one of the students to take the transect bag and hook it to her kit. The three of them look at each other in the eyes and L makes the hand signal for “let’s ascend”—a thumbs up.

She doesn’t think about that strange sensation. She’s thinking about the data she gathered and about what conclusions she might begin to draw. Slowly, slowly, she swims up, not even needing to think about moving her feet, just willing herself up. And then, at three meters from the surface, once again, it hits.


The pressure is more intense this time, the movements of the water like a thousand little flies distracting her attention. The light hits and she feels the heat of the sunrays on her body. The rays form a cone, which twists around her, and she is an unwilling dancer, moving her limbs oddly, floating six inches above an empty stage.

And then she is elsewhere. Her face is naked—no regulator. She feels sand in her nose and on her lips. She sputters, rubs her nose with her index and thumb, sticks out her tongue. Opens her eyes. She’s on the beach. Or a beach, rather. She doesn’t recognize the topography of this beach, with its thick forest, its meters of white sand. All the beaches on her island are short, with sparse, low vegetation and pieces of trash strewn about. This beach is pristine. A breeze tumbles down the white sand, unobstructed by a single other person. She is alone.

Excerpts from Dinacon

I came to Dinacon with the intention of writing and reading for TIGER, the next performance in my life-long project, The Unreliable Bestiary – a performance for each letter of the alphabet, each letter represented by an endangered animal or habitat.  So far my collaborators and I have made MONKEY, ELEPHANT, WOLF, and BEAR.  I’m aiming to have TIGER ready by Fall 2019.  Here are some raw excerpts from what I was writing. 


June 5 2018 Tuesday

Flying to Hong Kong. 12 hour layover before flying to Phuket. Then a 2 hour taxi to Chalong Pier. And then I wait for a boat. And then I take a boat. Out to an island.  Koh Lon. That’s the island. To the Baan Maai cottages. I hope this is how it all works out. We flew past Churchill Manitoba and Hudson Bay. I have a card of a polar bear cub with me. We flew next to Lake Michigan and over Lake Superior. Now we must be somewhere… Northwest Territories? Siberia? Well. We’ve only been flying for 3 1/2 hours. It’s going to be a total of 14 hours and 50 minutes. We pulled away from the gate around 3:35 PM Central Time. We taxied for a long time.  Finally took off at 4:10 PM. So we should be flying until 7 AM Chicago time, or 8 PM Hong Kong time. I’m glad to be sitting next to the window.  Wait… Is my seatmate going to pee? No. He’s gone back down into his seat. Seems that he’s jacking into a movie. He doesn’t speak English. The pilot or copilot sounds Aussie.  The stewards and stewardesses speak English and Chinese, Maybe other languages. The man next to me was reading a Chinese newspaper and the stewardess would switch to speaking in Chinese when talking to him.


Yesterday was very full. And so was this morning. Everything gets scaled to the expectations of the journey. If you expect a 16 hour flight, the 2 Hour drive up to Chicago isn’t a big deal. The hour-long wait in the security line isn’t either, just glad that I gave a three hour cushion. After the long bus ride to the terminal and the security line – I only had 45 minutes until boarding.  But here I am with 275 passengers and I don’t know how many crew.  Boeing 777. 


June 8 2018 Friday 

T-shirts worn by Chinese tourists; CREATE ACTICITY enjoy leisure (no typos there – that’s what it said). A small child with a black T-shirt wandering on the beach. In white block lettering the shirt says I am drunk.  But I look again and the shirt says SLAM DUNK.


Numbers. 900 languages in India. How many in North America?  300 before European invasion – according to Robin Kimmerer.  Tigers can do it – sexual relations – 50 times in one day? Two days? How does it work? Need to look this up. 


“She announces her fertility by repeatedly scent-marking the borders of her territory with a pungent, thick, musky fluid and roaring lustily until one or more males respond.  The embodiment of liberated lascivious female desire, she allows them to fight without quarter for the privilege of enjoying moonlit nights and torrid days of violent unremitting passion, in which the victor may mount her as many as 50 times.  Even today, Rajasthani men boasting of their masculine potency refer to themselves as ‘two-legged tigers.’”  p. 36 Tiger by Susie Green (Reaktion Books)


A tiger population can bounce back pretty quickly if there’s enough food. And for there to be enough food, they need to have solid habitat. (There is a cat lying on my feet right now. I like it. He’s cleaning himself.   His name is Turtle.) I’m sitting on the porch of my cabin. I’m on Koh Lon. Which I think translates to Lone Island. My cabin is surrounded by palm trees, myna birds, and at 6 AM this morning, a huge amazing chorus of cicadas. Totally amazing.  A slow, very slow crescendo. Five black heron-ish birds on the beach. There was a lot of wind. The tiniest bit of rain. Threats. Here at the beginning of the monsoon season. 


Yesterday, in the Hong Kong airport, there was heavy rain. We had to be bussed out to the airplane. While standing in line, the stewardesses would check your boarding pass and hand you a small plastic bag which was filled, packed, with the flimsiest of throwaway ponchos. They packed us on two buses. When we were coming up to the checkpoint, I could see the rain coming down in buckets. Like a fire hose. The flimsy ponchos– they really felt like slightly, barely organized saran wrap–as if you were a bowl of cold tuna salad and the purpose of the poncho wasn’t really to keep off the rain (or torrential downpour depending on the moment) that was actually intended to simply prevent the other food in the fridge from becoming infected with your fishy onion stench. They packed us onto the buses. The buses were under an overhanging roof – so no threat of the rain here. But standing there on the bus looking at the rain absolutely DRIVING DOWN out of the sky – well, I put on my saran wrap. Most other people did too. But then, as we stood there, on the bus, more and more people packing on, the rain let up. And then the rain stopped. Finally the bus drove out to the plane. Right up to the canopy stairway that led up to the airplane door, so when it came down to it, there was about… 6 feet that was unroofed, uncovered, unprotected from the sky. 6 feet and hundreds of bags of organized saran wrap, liberated, free and wild and open and loose–this saran wrap could go back to its natural habitat: the Pacific ocean Northern Gyre. Great garbage patch of the north. Does the Indian Ocean have a gyre? Are the waters in Hong Kong the China Sea? How does this work?  I can talk to Mr. Google I guess.


I drove up to O’Hare on Tuesday morning. Left at 10:15, got there by 12:15, driving 80 most of the way. (Oh – the cicadas have started again– it’s very subtle– who starts it? Why does it start? What is the initiating factor? Barbara Ehrenreich quote “an emergent quality.” That’s what was happening at 6 AM. I don’t often find myself paying attention to a sunrise. Actually there was no sun this morning. Just a brightening of the clouds and the ocean. Chalong Bay. Cicadas. Ocean. Herons. Wind. Palms in the wind. Myna birds. Cats. Bugs are holding still in the wind.) It took a little longer than usual to park. The train–shuttle to the terminals is on the fritz, so, buses to the terminal. The international terminal was last. Cathay Pacific. Hardly any line. Checked my bag all the way to Phuket. Makes me a little nervous. 12 hour layover in Hong Kong– will the bag make a dash for freedom during its 12 hours in non-transit? But I go with it. I have prepared for this journey. A 14 hour and a 50 minute flight from Chicago O’Hare International to Hong Kong… whatever that airport is called. I have a seat next to a window: 69K.  When I check in to claim my seat, the chart doesn’t have many openings. There is an open row at the back, in front of a row of seats that are all marked “U”. I look at the keys. What does “U” mean? “U” stands for unaccompanied minors. Ah. A row of lost children. This, clearly, was a wildcard. Which way could it go? Terrified, silent, wide eyed children? (Possibly the best kind of children on long plane trips.) Loud belligerent tweens, nonstop computer games, kicking the seats in front of them. Or babies that scream. For 14 hours straight, with the 50 other minutes spent drinking water because they are so parched from the screaming. Well, as it turns out, the row designated reserve for unaccompanied minors is actually just old folks on their way to Kolkota. They are quiet. They are sleeping. They’re watching action movies with headphones. There is a Chinese man that sits down next to me. A large round Indian woman sits next to him on the aisle. Across the way is her husband. He is also large and round and has dark circles under his eyes. The man next to me has unruly gray eyebrows. Lots of personality. He has gray hair. Not quite a flat top but close. He’s pretty low to the ground. A collared sort of striped golf shirt. He does not speak English. I do not speak Mandarin or Cantonese or whatever they mean when you say “I don’t speak Chinese.” He reads his Chinese newspaper.  I give him my chocolate bar.  He gives me some peanuts.


There are moments in the itinerary that I’m anxious about. These are moments that I might label “unknown.” Or, “things I’ve rarely done.” Like Getting a Taxi. Or Getting  A Boat That Will Essentially Be A Taxi.  Or Going Through Immigration and Customs In a Foreign Land.  Or Finding the Hotel That is Supposed To Be In the Airport, And it Pretty Much Is In The Airport, But You Still Have To Go Through Immigration To Get To The Airport Hotel.  That was brilliant.  A 12 hour layover.  Five hours of solid melatonin induced sleep and then waking up at 2:30 AM, because it’s really 1:30 PM… and why, for God’s sake, are you asleep? Wake up. There are some flashes in the dark, and I think to myself, “Lightning?” And I’m surprised. Because it all feels so hermetically sealed. So canned and bottled and completely free of the uncontrolled. It is 70°. Probably 68. So everyone has to wear a light sweater. There is a low hum. A fan. A motor. A mechanical drone to bring us back to the swoosh and slosh of the womb. Ebbing tides. In the morning. At 5:30, I head back to the terminal. It’s pretty quiet. The only time I’ve really had to wait was the security line in O’Hare. But it worked out. Otherwise – everything’s been fast and smooth. I have not had to take off a single shoe. I have not had to take off a belt or unpack a bag. I did have to remove one laptop. So everything is quiet. Everything is white and metallic and bright. Everything is both in English And Chinese. There are beautiful blond families and advertising.  There are beautiful square jawed Chinese men and women.  There is the dream of luxury and leisure. And there are expensive watches.  Images of expensive watches that are – what – 4 feet across? So there’s the picture of the Bulgari watch. On a bright white background. All glowing, lightbox. Lit from within. And under the watch is a sign that says TYPHOON ADVISORY, FORCE 1.  A hurricane bearing down on the Hong Kong International Airport?Should I be worried? Should I figure out how I can elevate my lifestyle so I can achieve this magnificent timepiece – a mark of excellence, a mark of the very best. A watch that is powerful.  A watch that is a force of nature.


June 9 2018 Saturday

What does typhoon mean? What does Force 1 mean?  Is it related to hurricane categories? Will they eventually give us Category 6 with Category 5 becoming ordinary? Will the coming years bear Category 7 or 8 what would a Category 8 hurricane be? 360 mile/hour winds? Raining knives. Tsunamis as a matter of course? Who will be our heroes? Who will save us? The last hope. Will Turtle or his father, Colonel Turtle lead us? Will the Pacific Reef herons lead us? The mynabirds. The hornbills. The palm trees. The coconuts. Pythons and pit vipers and hermit crabs. The wind. The rain. The sky.  The ocean. The Buddha on the mountain. The bros that just arrived for their weekend with their dance music.

There are bros everywhere. All around the globe there are bros. And some of them are here. I have a cat in my lap. Named Turtle. I love this wind. It’s low tide right now. So what about heroes? Based in stories. We tell ourselves what we can do and what we can’t do. And this limits us. Heroes (are stories about) throwing out the limits– stepping outside the boundaries, outside the box. Beyond our mortal selves. Hanuman – bigger than a mountain. Smaller than a mouse. Saving the world. The lynx water-god. The amphibious Tiger God. They are not friendly. They are not happy. They have enormous power and that power can go in every direction. When you are sitting in a fantasy… well, no, not the fantasy, sitting in the real world but surrounded by all the elements of what people fantasize about: beach, palm trees, ocean, mountains in the distance, birds calling, Last night I saw my first flying fox. A bat as big as a red tailed hawk.  Fuck.  Amazing. Also: hermit crabs with their vast array of varying show houses. And then two very big crabs that scuttled into big sand holes. Where am I?


The mornings have been so nice. When the sun actually crested the mountain today– just for a little while– there was a time when all the color came into the world. Pinks and teals and tangerines and aqua greens/blues… I had looked down to read for a little bit, and when I looked up– the world had gone from the latent quiet potential of grays and blacks and silhouettes and shadows to full kinetic color. Like someone had flipped a switch. The cicadas. A Hornbill in a tree 15 feet above me. The cats returning to hunt and mew and jump into my lap.  

Just got back from a tidal walk with Andy, scouting for a drone shot with mangroves. The tide was coming in, but still low enough to walk out along the rocks and sand, out past the Muslim Village, around the bend. The ocean side of this island was pounded.  Devastated by the 2004 Christmas Tsunami, this side was flooded.  LOTS of garbage and debris left over. Today, less, but still plenty of garbage. Here are some of the things I saw:  a flip-flop (left foot) covered with barnacles. A fan, somehow all the parts within a couple of yards from each other. Big woven plastic sacks for grain. A motorcycle helmet. A dead puffer fish as big as a motorcycle helmet. A big chunk of thick green rope. Plastic bags. Plastic water bottles. Beer cans. Beer bottles.  Broken glass.  Netting.  A dead ray with it’s wings cut off.

Maybe today I will write about Monster, Kris Schwartz and the night of 1000 orgasms? Ha ha. 4. Tigers. 50. What? How? Why? When does it flip into pure mechanics? Maybe it’s always mechanics? Pure electrochemical biology.  She worked at the Lifetime Channel as an editor. Her soft stomach was crisscrossed with scars. Lots of long scars, making a kind of raised skin network. I asked her about them. She didn’t want to talk about it. Her fallback, resting state was dour and depressed. She didn’t seem to stand out in any way. She had dirty blonde hair. Her shoulders hunched. She could be coaxed into a kind of braying, chatty humor –– and she assumed, well, of course if we’re having this frank talk– we are talking honestly here, right? Well, if speaking frankly– of course you’re going to agree with her. And that whine, that… whine, with its assumed,”We’re all friends here” talking about the agreed-upon ways of the world– this whine was soaking in the assumption that the world was fucked.  That – yes, we can make jokes about it, you know, to lighten the load– but through and through, deep down, at the core of all humanity–everybody everything is darkness.  Everything was fucked. And there was nothing they could change that fact. And apparently, she wanted to go out with me. She didn’t tell me directly. She told me through a friend. I’d never met her. I knew nothing about her. But somebody wanted me. Sadly, that’s all I need.


We went to a bar.  We drank beer.  She talked about her favorite bands.  She said she wanted to sleep with me.  We went to her apartment.  She had a cat named Monster. He was a pretty nice cat. At first. And then he was less than nice. He was big. Maybe he was gray. Whatever color he was, he weighed over 30 pounds. Kris’s apartment had a small entryway, a small kitchen. Small bathroom. And a bed. Kris lived in this small place with her big cat. They had figured out how to live together. But if you brought in anyone else– the balance was off. I think Monster slept on the bed with Kris. So when I slept over– Monster was shoved aside. Onto the floor and the barely used cat bed. Monster did not like this.  So the first night we went to bed– to her bed, to Monster’s bed, Monster the mid size predator, not a 500 pound tiger, Monster the 30 pound house cat who had been displaced from his bed.  Kris did not want to sleep.  Kris wanted to have sex.  Kris wanted to come.  Over and over.  And she wanted me to come.  Over and over. Maybe there are people out there who know what normal is.  I have no idea. Is it normal to have sex and fall asleep?  Let’s say you’re with someone for the first time. It could be kind of great. It could be exciting and new and thrilling. I’ve heard stories of famous athletes sleeping with literally thousands of women. So, okay, so that’s one kind of normal. I guess. You’ve got Tom Brady and Gisele. First night. How many times? Now for these two, I’m not sure if they’ve even actually had sex– like I bet they bought those kids online. I can’t imagine them spending any time not looking at themselves in the mirror. Or working on his website – how to live forever and for a small monthly fee, he’ll tell you how you can live forever too! How about Wilt Chamberlain– a legendary lover. Or Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan. I am not Wilt the Stilt or Ghenghis or Tom or a two-legged tiger.


Ok.  So it’s somewhere in the middle of the sex and the not sleeping and the bleariness.  I get up to pee.  Standing in the doorway between the bed and the toilet is Monster the 30 pound predator.  I have to step over this enormous cat.  He is clearly not having it.  He is a step away from bristling and hissing.  I am naked.  I have to make a decision about my dangly cat-toy-ish bits which may or may not entice Monster the 30 pound predator and his claws.  I survive the passage.  I come back to bed.  There is Kris. Mousy. Trying to smile.  Trying to get over her shyness. Trying to put on a show, get out past her usual desolation … or at least put on a funny front where we can join, meet each other in mutual darkness.


Just got back from a 5 1/2 hour interruption. Just in time for the family down the beach that likes having babies, playing shitty music, and grilling. Grilling. A verb. At 12:30 Andy got his drone going and we shot some mangrove stuff.  The roots that come up, out of the sand or the mud. Like a small field of them. Oh God… the wind has started. It’s so good. It feels so good.


The first morning when I woke up early here, I lay out on the porch, in the dark, 5 AM. And the wind was up. And it’s warm. It’s not hot outside at night, but it’s not cool. But the breeze comes in. And it’s all over your body, very gentle. And for a little while, with the cicadas, very slow dawn, the herons walking on the beach in silhouette –an emergent quality–the breeze, the perfect wind on me–the world as a lover. Yes yes yes–it can smack you down too. So can a lover. But this felt so nice. So soothing and perfect. It was a very hot day with sun – so even hotter. So the wind, now, quiet, on the porch with Turtle the forgiving kitten– Ah. So nice.


Deke Weaver

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