Archive for September, 2008

Walter returns

One of Walter's babies on a 5 pence

Walter reappeared in the tank. As there were no signs of a forced entry, we presume he never left. We also discovered a new clutch of eggs so it seems Walter had tucked himself away to give birth. Maybe the labour was induced by the excitement of the Russian TV crew? Walter is alive and well and the enclosure is now peppered with his children. If anyone would like one or two of Walter’s offspring we can post to mainland UK for a small fee…

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Walter & the Cucumber

After spending a day filming with Russian NTV presenter Evgeny Ksenzenko on 4th September 2008 we took a quick roll call of the snails before heading home. Counting only seven of the eight agents we checked them off by their ID number. Agent 011 aka Walter was nowhere to be found. Recently the snails had started burying themselves in a spell of feverish egg laying. A more exhaustive search of the substrate reveal two more pockets of eggs (bringing the total egg count to approximately 360) but no Walter. Both Vicky and our four year old son Lorne joined me crawling around the office looking for any sign of snail or slime.

Earlier, during the interview, the cameraman, Boris Khalfin, had been standing with his back leaning against the open tank; could Walter have slithered from tank to shoulder. Was he defecting? Had the interview been a cover for a snail jacking? Was Walter’s mangled body pressed between the treads of a Russian boot? Should we phone them? What would we say? We drove home inventing more improbable scenarios and coming to terms with the loss of one of our agents. Walter had been carrying an email when he disappeared and we had not planned for this eventuality. Should we reassign the email to the next available snail or should we also allow it to mysteriously disappear.

Later that evening a routine check of the snail stats online revealed that Walter was now available. He had posted his message. How could this be? we have yet to discover but over the weekend his performance has rocketed. Evgeny Ksenzenko brought a cucumber for the snails; a rare treat. Is Walter in orbit, rippling around the outside of the tank, desperately trying to get back in for his share of the cucumber. This would allow him to pass by the readers, possibly getting a small electrical buzz as he slithers over the exposed circuitry. When we return to our office this week will we find him frizzled onto the back of one of the readers or peering wistfully through the glass at what remains of the cucumber?

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It’s hot in our office on the fourth floor at Bournemouth University. Concerned with the wellbeing of the snails we decided to relocate them to our home in the forest. Since the move we have noticed a clear increase in performance. The change also triggered new and fascinating behaviour. One day three snails vanished. A multiple breakout was our first thought and we examined the walls for traces of slime. With no evidence to support an escape we searched the enclosure leaving no bowl unturned. We were amazed. Our snails had started tunnelling. With no arms and only one foot they had built three independent escape tunnels, being defeated only on reaching the 10mm thick toughened glass bottom of the tank.

Were we doing something wrong? Were things really so bad in there that our inmates had hatched a coordinated escape plan? As it turns out the recent boost in performance has been short lived as the conditions are ripe for egg laying. They can bury themselves for up to 48hrs. Not only is this extending their average transfer time but, when Beatrice (pictured left) decided to deposit her eggs by the pick up reader, she prevented the others from collecting new messages, until she was finished.

We have relocated the eggs to a hatchery where we look forward to the slither of approximately 280 tiny feet, (one each) hopefully in four weeks time. We hope to bring them up to a serviceable size so they can follow in the foot-slime of their ancestors. The surplus may like to offer themselves to the restaurant trade to fund the good work of their siblings!

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RealSnailMail was premiered at SIGGRAPH2008 in the Slow Art Exhibition, Hybrid Section at the Los Angeles Conventions Center (11th-15th August 2008). Alongside artworks by Dennis de Bel (Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam), JooYoun Paek (Eyebeam Resident NY), Jason Freeman (Georgia Institute of Technology), Armella Leung (Art and Technology of Images-Université de Paris), Anab Jain & Alex S. Taylor (Microsoft Research).

We exhibited the webmail service on a terminal in the exhibition and visitors could view the live SnailCam and prerecorded footage of the enclosure at Bournemouth University UK. It was a good opportunity to showcase RSM alongside other research projects and contextualise the work in our artist talk and we had great feedback from participants, visitors and staff during the week.

Leonardo contacted us during the conference in reference to submitting a paper to their journal documenting our RSM research and development. This is an ideal opportunity to publish a paper which presents our findings over the last six months and we are keen to discuss our struggles in avoiding the temptation to make the system more efficient. We will be collating all our project research over the next couple of weeks and aim to submit the paper to the publication before the end of 2008.

A big thank you to Daniel Cox, Sofronis Efstathiou, Steve Harper, Susan Sloan & Adam Vanner from the Visual Research Group, Bournemouth University who spent quality time nurturing the snails and looking after the equipment whilst we were in Los Angeles. We had great fun watching the snails relish their gastronomic delights on the SnailCam during the Slow Art exhibition.

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