Drawing Nature

I recently took a free online MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on "Drawing Nature, Science and Culture: Natural History Illustration" that is offered by the University of Newcastle (UOM Australia) that is now included in the edX platform.

If you are new to MOOCs, they are online courses that are offered for free. They are usually university courses, though many are hosted by MOOC providers (edX, Coursera etc.). To many people the experience will not be at all like "taking a course" at a university. It might be your first time learning online, and that is odd for anyone. They are "massive" because you probably will be one of thousands of students in the class. The "lectures" are probably videos and probably (thankfully) much shorter than the 90-minute ones you had in college.

Learners may take a MOOC for credit or to get a certificate of successful completion (it is an option for many courses) and pay a fee (generally far less than typical tuition). But the majority of learners take them for lifelong learning and perhaps professional development with no desire to get credit.

This particular course is an "archived course" which means there is no active instructor. The six-week course was first offered with an instructor in October 2016. EdX keeps courses open for enrollment after they end to allow learners to explore content and continue learning. All features and materials may not be available, and course content will not be updated, but courses are sometimes offered "live" again.

UON has a prestigious Natural History Illustration program. I do some drawing and painting, but I am certainly not an aspiring scientific or medical illustrator. That is one of the great things about these MOOCs. There is very little pressure and no prerequisites to taking a course. A middle school student could attempt one. You need no artistic background. You might want to take it to learn about the topic and not even expect to try drawing yourself.

I audited a few art courses as an undergraduate. I was an English major and they didn't count towards my degree requirements - and I wasn't really good enough to be in those courses, but professors often allowed a few extra students. Professors made it clear that you needed to attend classes and do the assignments, but you would not get the same attention as the tuition-paying students. The MOOC model is similar.

This course is about observing and illustrating subjects from nature, science and culture, with their linkages to the environment being central. My interest is half art interest and half my interest in nature.

My own artwork is not "realistic" so it was a challenge to try creating accurate replications of subjects from the natural world.

Topics included:
- Core scientific observational skills
- Field drawing and sketching techniques
- Concept sketch development
- Composition for natural history illustration
- Form, proportion and structure essentials
- Drawing and rendering techniques

There are sample videos from many edX courses on YouTube and that's a good way to get a taste of what is in a course.  Here is an intro on the illustration course.

When the Sun and Clock Agree

One of my daily web stops is EarthSky which reminded me that this is the time of year that for a few days clock time and sun time agree. As someone who has a sundial in the garden since childhood, I do pay attention to that shadowy movement.

When the midday sun climbs highest today, if you have a sundial, it will read 12 noon and your local clock will also read 12 noon.

I have always had a sundial in my garden. It keeps me in touch with the movement of the Sun during the day and during the seasons.

Of course that pesky daylight savings time game we play might make your clock say 1 pm today when the sundial says noon. It's all so confusing.

Your local clock time is standard clock time, as long as you live on the meridian that governs your time zone. Denver and Philadelphia, for example, are on the meridian for their respective time zones. East of the time zone line, then your local time runs ahead of standard time and west of the time zone line, local time lags behind standard time.

The sundial and clock agree four times a year: on or near April 15, June 15, September 1 and December 25.

My simple sundial shows a shadow from its style onto a surface marked with lines indicating the hours of the day. The style is the time-telling edge of the gnomon, the straight edge. As the sun moves across the sky, the shadow-edge aligns with hour-lines.

There are plenty of sundials available to you at a wide variety of prices and complexities.

Sundials that directly measure the sun’s hour/angle must have that edge parallel to the axis of the Earth’s rotation to tell the correct time throughout the year. My simple one needs some adjustments during the year and I do play with time and move it to match my clock time every once and awhile.

Isaac Newton had a pretty interesting variation on the sundial. He used a small mirror placed on the sill of a south-facing window. The mirror would cast a single spot of light on the ceiling and, depending on the geographical latitude and time of year, the light-spot on the ceiling was pretty accurate to the marking he made.

I think it's a good idea to pay attention to the cycles in our lives, both natural and man-made. They are very much a part of us, whether we pass attention to them or not.

Copernicus Armillary

I would not mind having a Copernicus Armillary in my home, though I suspect my wife would not think it appropriate to our decor - and might not appreciate me paying $3000 for it. It is an astronomical instrument that would have been found in libraries and laboratories of the past. I did find some online for less than a hundred dollars so maybe...

More on sundials at Weekends in Paradelle 

The Pain of the Long Distance Runner

I was a runner in high school. I was a sprinter and I never had that gift (or desire) for going long distances. I was opposed to my coaches who required the sprinters to run miles of laps to "build endurance." If you want me to run faster for 100 meters or anything less than a half mile, let me run lots of sprints.

But running is very popular and distance running, including that 26.2-mile marathon, certainly has its advocates.

My knees are not able to handle running any more, so I am a big advocate of walking - at any speed and distance.

I recall two friends who ran their first marathons and then looked horrible for days after. They were mentally great, but physically lousy. Why would you do that to yourself?

Yes, our earliest ancestors certainly walked and ran longer distances than we do today. They had no choice. They would have prefered to have a vehicle I am sure.

So, I did get a bit of pleasure in seeing that researchers are looking more closely at the many ways running a marathon destroys your body. Even with the proper training, marathoners end up with ravaged joints, shredded muscles and more.

Acute kidney injuries occur because of the flood of chemicals during the run that can overload internal organs. Dangerously low sodium levels, bloody urine and compromised immune systems are some of the side effects of a lengthy run.

They did find that runners seem to bounce back to normal levels within a few days, but nearly half of the marathoners studied experienced kidney damage.

Our immune systems are compromised as the body diverts resources to the running, so colds and fevers following a race are fairly common.

But, as the article I read concludes, "tens of thousands of people run marathons every year, with no long-term ill effects." And there are health benefits. It has been shown to decrease the risk of diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, and depression while improving bone density and supporting weight control.

When done with proper training, nutrition, rest, attention to form and pre-screening for heart conditions, biomechanical issues or other risk factors, long distance running show benefits.

I will be there on the track and trails walking briskly as the runners shoot past me. I will limit my marathon activities to books and movies like Marathon Man and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.