Wednesday 27 May 2009

Guest post at Alternate Reality Existence

Recently, I attended SciBarCamp here in Toronto where scientists and artists were thrown together to create a conference. One of the most vibrant and energetic contributors was Star Spider of Alternate Reality Existence.

Star describes herself as a science cheerleader, and works as an alternate reality event planner, and is helping organize the upcoming Subtle Technologies Festival here in Toronto. Anyone interested in the intersection of art and science in Ontario should seriously consider attending. Looks pretty fascinating!

Star was kind enough to ask me to guest blog at A.R.E. and here is the result:
An Increase in Our Allegorical Vocabulary

Flying Trilobite irregulars (you people are not normal! Heh.), feel free to comment at A.R.E., or right back here.
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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.
Flying Trilobite Gallery ### Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ###

Monday 25 May 2009

Art Monday: Trilobite Nest

A detail from a drawing I spent some time on while at Lake Simcoe a few years ago. The whole piece is called Trilobite Eggs For Cooking. In it, a young woman is being harried by a couple of flying trilobites after harvesting eggs. I just kind of liked the nest, drawn without reference despite me being surrounded by nature.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.
Flying Trilobite Gallery
### Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ###

Sunday 24 May 2009

Satan planted Ida *cough*

Hell is a fascinating mythological idea, in much the same way as Poseidon's kingdom is. There are no nymphs or demons, but they can inspire interesting stories. I was not raised with religion, mainly encouraged to read a lot, and so Hell has never made any sort of sense to me except as a manifestation of human fears.

I've read a fair few ideas about it, just as I have about many other afterlives from many other religions. I went through a strong pagan-ish phase for many years, and read as many mythologies as I could get my hands on. One of my favourite science fiction artists, Wayne Barlowe turned his sights on Hell a number of years ago, creating Barlowe's Inferno, and in so doing, took care to state his was a work of fiction.

Of all the hype surrounding Ida, the Darwineus masillae fossil unveiled this week, the um, backlash (like lashing a wet noodle) from Satan-believers strikes me as the most sad. Where is human reason?

From this article:

"... it is also an equally interesting coincidence that Ida was discovered within a ‘volcanic lake’ and was preserved by an ‘unknown force’ because such descriptors blatantly match the profile of Satan.

"Hell is the most volcanic lake in existence and Satan is well known for his interest in paleontology, as it begets the Lies of Evolution.

"The scientists in this survey do not know when to quit, as they have also claimed Ida was a vegan and refused to eat meat, going as far as to state she supported ‘green energy’ too as she lived in trees around the lake, instead of building a house and burning fires to cook her meals."

It's a head shaker. "Satan is well-known for his interest in paleontology". Hm. That's not in the Bible. It's not in Dante's Inferno. (I highly recommend the Robert Pinsky translation.) It reads like it is made-up, which it is of course. I'd love to see the support that states an early primate "supported" green energy.

Instead, check out these excellent drawings of a living Ida. Inspirational.

Enough un-reason. I'm going to get back to what I do. Art in awe of science.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.
Flying Trilobite Gallery ### Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ###

Saturday 23 May 2009

One comment dissing supernatural forces later...

...And suddenly I'm getting creationist diatribes in my inbox. I've painted Darwin, drawn Dawkins, supported the Beagle, sported a scarlet "A", repeatedly stated how old trilobite fossils are, and now I get these?

Some people calling themselves Alex & Sue in the U.K. sent me email regarding apes and humans not being as closely related as once thought, with restraint shown to the amount of Biblical quotes thrown in. And another about the Flood and dinosaurs and the Earth being 4,300 years old. Weak attempts at quoting New Scientist and Stephen Jay Gould.

From some folks calling themselves "mail for truth at sky dot com". Future emails from them will be blocked.

As I said in my last post, please remove the holy book from your mouth before you start speaking. Otherwise I can't understand you. I really don't mean to be flippant, but starting from the end you wish to reach is no way to make an argument.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.
Flying Trilobite Gallery ### Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ###

Gift from god? I don't think so.

It happens to artists. Surgeons. When someone marvels at the eye, or bacterial flagellum.

"Your art ability is amazing. A gift from God, no doubt."


Just because something is hard to understand, just because complicated processes occurred that you did not witness, does not mean it was caused by a benevolent mythical being who hands out aptitudes like Santa with presents.

It has been a source of fascination to me, -and not a little frustration- that the ability to create art and the complexity of biological features each sit in the blind spots of members of the devout populace.

Like a gift from god. It's throwing your hands up in the air and casually (lazily) admitting ignorance.

I get it: it's supposed to be a compliment. But it actually insults me, though I usually reserve my cringing to myself. I have worked really hard to get where I am in my artistic ability, and I still reach and try to learn. There was no magic *poof* granted to me as a child that allowed me to render a decent life drawing or balance colours in a composition.

That was studying. That was attempts at keen observation. That was making countless mistakes I attempted to learn from. Feedback. Crits and criticisms. Learning from indifference. Trying new materials. Replicating happy accidents. Sharing techniques.

If this happens to you, encourage a bit of reasoning. I don't like being a jerk. Somehow, any response I can think of seems like a rebuke.

"Those years of school I paid for were earned. Not a gift. " (Those heart-wrenching hours when you push a painting too far and ruin a perfectly good life drawing don't feel like gifts either.)

How does one say it? How do you lead a person to reason? How do you encourage them to pull the holy book out of their mouth before they speak?

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.
Flying Trilobite Gallery ### Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ###

Monday 18 May 2009

Art Monday: Migrations - final workflow

This is Part 2, Final Workflow.
Go to Part 1, Concepts.
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Recently, I noted to a colleague that it is virtually impossible to become an illustrator today and not have some phase of digital interpretation in your workflow. At the least, it passes through a jpeg phase on the way to publication.

It can go far beyond that. Although I may not be up to a fully-digital painting yet, I'm practicing and finding new ways to make use of my Wacom Intuos 3.

The Migrations blog banner for biologist-conservationist blo
gger Dan Rhoads came together thanks to oil and digital techniques. Here's how I arrived at the final based on this sketch, below.Dan had a couple of requests for this one, including making the branches olive branches, native to Cyprus where he resides. He had also sent me some gorgeous photos from the coast of Cyrus, so I tried to capture that brilliant blue light. Totally cool - these are the types of detail sharing sketches with someone bring out.

Began with the sketch of the Red Knot plover. Luckily,my grandmother-in-law recently gave me some birdwatching books, so I found additional resources at hand beyond Google image search and Wikipedia. If not for that, it would have been a trip to the library. Restricted myself to 8.5x11, the size of my scanner so I can easily bring things togetherBegan with the hand and arm sketch, using my own outstretched as a model. The fingers are exaggerated slightly to give a more dynamic feel.Printed the bird and hand out on canvas paper. In particular, I worried about getting the ruddy colour of the plover's neck and breast right. I don't know why I fret so much, most people's computer screens are calibrated slightly differently anyway. In the end, four different colour were used, for that orange-y red, including Naples Yellow Red & Cadmium Orange Hue.

Then the traveller's hand and arm. Added some scratches and pinky patches as though healed from a scrape. That's really what Flesh coloured paint is good for. It's far too pink for any human being.Painted the background in oil, which then eventually stuck to scanner and created a weird shadow effect in the middle. So I re-painted some areas of the water digitally in Photoshop. I also used Photoshop to punch up the greenish patch of water, the scan was too dark. Used a size of about 4"x12" to mimic the proportions of the final banner.Another trick for aspiring artists moving from to digital from traditional, is before scanning, take your darkest black paint (I use Lamp Black or Iron Oxide Black) and put an opaque stroke of it in one corner below the scan. Do the same with Titanium White. Then, in your imaging program, use the droppers found in Levels and click on those black and white blobs. This is the fastest way to colour-correct a piece. It will snap all the other colours to the right contract between those black and white blobs, making everything look much closer to your eye.

Even with Micron series brushes (love the one bent like a dental tool!) I had trouble rendering 4" high bushes of olive branches. I tried for a while, and then decided to paint a single branch to lay over top to give it recognizable leaves and olives. That branch took about 90 minutes from pencil to oil to give you an idea of my speed much of the time.
I still find it fascinating to note there is no final physical painting: it exists in my studio as four separate elements. This is a type of painting that a few years ago would not have occurred to me to do. However, it minimizes mistakes, and allows for some flexibility. If the client wishes for a particular element to be nudged to the left, or slightly larger, I have that ability on the major elements.Assembled in Photoshop, and overlayed the olive branch numerous times. I performed different effects to each one: flipping it horizontally, changing the scale, erasing parts of it, and adding slight drop shadows to a couple of them to give variation. I think in the end there are about five or six of them overlaying the green oil base.

Added the v-formation of birds at the approximate middle, nudged to the right a little because of how the eye sees the center with the olive branches dominating the left.

This banner was great fun, and thanks to Dan, I felt the visualization of the Mediterranean came through clearly. While painting this, I was mainly listening to the new Prodigy album, The Cranes, and two of the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtracks.

Visit Dan's blog banner ensconced in its proper home!

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite: Art in Awe of Science
Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery
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Friday 15 May 2009

SciBarCamp: can art benefit science?

This post is meant as a summation and continuation of the session I suggested at SciBarCamp last weekend. Please feel free to send me an email or make a comment regarding any corrections, attributions or new thoughts based on the talk. For those who read The Flying Trilobite and were not at SciBarCamp, please jump right in. You can read tweets about the art session and other sessions here.

(Not all ideas below are my own, and I may not be quoting directly, but grabbing the idea from my quickly scribbled notes. I'll attribute where I can, and feel free to correct in the comments)
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Notes on the session:

->Tried to lay a quick ground rule that although I'm sure we agree any human activity requiring skill can be described as being performed "artfully", we should be talking about things usually associated with art: visual image-making, performance, music. Not the art of being a chef, "she's like an artist preparing those cell cultures" or stuff like that.

->Posed 4 questions to kick things off.
1) Can art direct research?
2) How can art advance the basics of science? Will there be written a Harry Potter-sized success about science?
3) For the scientists in the room - have you invited artists into your lab or research space?
4) Does art obfuscate understanding? Does it do more benefit than harm?

->Previous to this session, I had only heard of one specific instance of art directing an area of research (see comments here), which I related to our group. Artist Paul Walde opened the topic wider, and pointed out that that's what science fiction does all the time. Communication devices. Google maps from Snow Crash. Space elevators.

->Walde: By imagining things we've never seen, and explaining them, we form a sort of hypothesis similar to scientific hypothesis. By imagining, understanding.

-> Reflecting now, I wonder whether biology from science fiction will come into its own some time this century, the way technology already has.

->Jim Ruxton mentioned artist Ned Kahn's environmental work, making people stop and think about the breeze blowing down a street they might use every day. Calling attention to scientific principles using beauty to make people question.

->Joel Sachs described Feynman's drawings of gravity and its behaviours as an example of art clarifying though not literally being accurate. Laurence Middleton mentioned a horse's kidney looking more like what we think of as a kidney than our own. Art can clarify by reducing, especially in medical illustration.

->Artist Paul Walde and biomedical simulator David Steinman debated the importance of accuracy in science-art.
Walde states that many scientific experiments are themselves fictions; removing conditions that may affect the data is unreal.
If it's inaccurate to the data, scientists will not necessarily want you in their lab, Steinman argues. Experiements are 1st order approximations, art further removed.
Which is why scientists have such bad P.R.! artist/science cheerleader Star Spider laughs.

-> Are art and science two cultures? This came up. Surprisingly when I compare it to the consensus at the ScienceOnline09 session, the answer here at SciBarCamp was yes, they are driven to be that way in popular culture now. They aim for different things.
Steinman points out that unlike previous centuries in science, scientists now have little training to do their own drawings from nature, the night sky or microscope lens.
Middleton suggests it is because there are fewer generalists now, and people are forced to specialize as much as possible.
I wonder if that's why so many people switch careers at different points in their life?

->I mentioned that although there are exceptions,
in fine arts there's sometimes a "Frankenstein" idea of science. Eva Amsen sent tweets, and had a brief exchange with Beagle Projecteer Karen James during the session about the session! (This what I love about Twitter.)

->Almost invisibly, science and especially chemical technology drive painting. Consider the story of the colour mauve, which only became available to painters in the late 1800's. The 1890's Symbolists are sometimes referred to as painting in the "Mauve 90's". Many red paints fade quickly, and are known in painting as "fugitive colours". Modern reds made from quinacradone, are now widely in use because the do not suffer from this problem.
Sachs joked he wanted to commission a painting called "Fugitive Colour" painted entirely in this pigments, I guess so he could watch it fade to a stain.

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A great session everyone! Lots to think about. I felt my brain stretch. Head here for some more photos.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery ### Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ###

Thursday 14 May 2009

Guilty Planet stirs it up

Have you ever had a sublime and awe-shaking moment in the face of the natural world? How about with art? Were they equivalent?

Head over to the new blog Guilty Planet and discuss urbanization and art, and nature's supremacy at instilling awe. What a terrific and thought-provoking discussion Jennifer Jacquet has begun.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.
Flying Trilobite Gallery ### Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ###

Monday 11 May 2009

Art Monday: Migrations banner concepts

This is Part 1, Concepts.
Go to Part 2, Final Workflow.
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Collaboration can lead to wonderful places.
I've done a few blog banners for other bloggers before, (Retrospectacle, Of Two Minds, The Meming of Life) and I think it can be incredibly beautiful for a serious blogger to hire an artist to do some custom work. Look at Carel Brest Van Kempen's exemplary A Blog Around the Clock banner, or Jessica Palmer's own Bioephemera banner. This is serious art conveying information on the diverse moods and interests of the blogger. Perhaps a review of blog banners is in order some day.

Dan Rhoads is a molecular biologist and avid naturalist who moved from America to the island of Cyprus. His blog Migrations ranges in topics such as bird-watching, conservation, science in society and whatever else catches his keen eye. After a rocky patch of non-connecting emails ("What do you mean I am having trouble sending instantaneous messages halfway around the world?! Preposterous!" I spluttered), and with some help from Mike Haubrich, Dan and I got started.

Initial ideas that were tossed into the salad bowl of my brain:

-Fibonacci sequence. Archaeopteryx. Cyprus. Human migration out of Africa. Bird Migration, v-formations. Darwin's finches.
-Dan's personal migration to Cyprus.
-Looked up cellular migration, realized it's poorly understood.
-Read about
Dictyostelium discodeum, an amoeba useful in studying cellular migration, has a slug-form it adopts when moving. I like saying "dicty-disco" out loud.

Starting with these ideas, here are some of the images developed in the rough conceptual stage.

Archaeopteryx on a slab in the shape of Cyprus with a shadow of a modern bird, pencil:A spiral emanating from archaeopteryx's eye, birds following the path, human footprints, dictystelium amoebae tracing a path. Cool tones, digital painting:Same spiral, archaeopteryx. Warm tones in oil paint:Wedge-shaped concept, flight of birds in center, Cyprus on right, amoebae moving from left. Pencil:
Wedge concept simplified. Dan suggested amoebae in positions of Mediterranean islands, but I kept a wedge shape. Oil paint:

There were a few other pencils in similar vein. I worried the concepts were missing a human connection for the blog-reader.

On my walk to work one day, I stoppe
d in the park and scribbled out an idea. Take it right back to the human traveller. I touched up the pencils with india ink, scanned it and did a slapdash colouring job with digital painting in Photoshop. Included the image at the last minute in an email to Dan:


I'll conclude this "Making of the Migrations banner" in part 2 later this week! In the meantime, make sure to view the final in its proper home.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.
Flying Trilobite Gallery
### Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ###

Sunday 10 May 2009

Thoughts about SciBarCamp

(I will write a follow-up of resources for the "How can art benefit science?" discussion we had in another post shortly.)

Yesterday SciBarCamp took place here in Toronto, at University of Toronto's gorgeous Hart House.
Friday night, participants (about 100) gathered to meet, drink, introduce ourselves and decide on a program. Like ScienceOnline09 I attended in January, it was an unconference format, where participants are encouraged to be as active as possible. Ideally no lectures, more a facilitation of conversation.

So, some random thoughts I scribbled in my sketchbook throughout the highly active and thought-provoking sessions:

->The phrase "semantic web" was used a lot. A lot a lot. So much so, I began to count how many times. I noted it being said 36 times, and the word "semantic" even more.

->Science Commons, an extension of Creative Commons faces unique challenges to helping place scientific findings, developments and discoveries in the public domain. Unique challenges, country by country. One participant asked if Science Commons can't aggressively pursue a discovery by its nature belongs to everyone as part of reality, and short circuit notions of ownership over discoveries in court. Science Commons rep Kaitlin Thaney replied they prefer to remain an honest broker, and get people and group's buy-in on the concept.

->Science Communication discussion with Alicia Grubb had a lot of interesting ideas thrown around
. Did science sell-out, leading to an image problem? Is Kuhn's idea of science as being periodically overthrown in massive revolutions causing skepticism toward acceptance? Citing open notebooks instead of journals gaining acceptance in physics- and the potential problems if popular media starts to do so. Amazing way to achieve optimization of music data on a disk by using a collaborative system building on many individuals' work.

->Met Joel Sachs, amazing guy with a mind clearly running through possibilities much faster than mine (I think my mind divides its time with impossibilities).
With Jesse Greener, Joel discussed ways to harness groups to gather data on environmental impacts. For example, tons of of people recording local observations of migrating birds and plant buds year to year would give an idea of geographical places to look for climate change, such as the BioBlitz.

I couldn't help it: maybe just because I was watching The Matrix and Sara Connor recently, but I began to wonder if this is the type of data that one day would be used by an A.I. to create an artificial reality. A non-scary one. Let's say someone took at this data and merged it into Second Life. People would be able to virtually push themselves forward and backward in time and observe local phenomena simulations. If used long enough -let's say 10 million years, 'cuz why not- I could imagine future intelligences wishing those lazy folks back in the 21st century had at least gotten more data while despoiling the environment. Hopefully this "experiment" with our world isn't likely to happen again, and decentralized amateur records of as many local areas of flora and fauna would be great to virtually walk through. (Imagine a similar situation taking you back to the days following a K-T event).

->There was so much more. Getting away from "spatial determinism" with Sara Neault, the Encyclopedia of Problems and managing problems at cross-purposes and in feedback loops with Mark Tovey....

Thanks again to Eva Amsen for inviting me to such a great day. An thanks to the other organizers and sponsors! The day felt like big brainstorming sessions - no specific call to mobilize or solution to problems shone through, but I expect everyone had lots to walk away with and ponder. Who knows where it will lead?

As mentioned, I'll follow-up the discussion session I led about "Can art benefit science?" in the next couple of days.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.
Flying Trilobite Gallery
### Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ###

Friday 8 May 2009

Protomammal Fallacy

A lively discussion is taking place in the comments at Art Evolved in the new Permian Synapsid Gallery. Are terms like proto-mammal or stem-mammal appropriate? I tend to think they confuse more than help. I understand evolution by natural selection is a sequence, but by defining an extinct creature by its descendants, I think we run the risk of promoting the facile and erroneous amoeba-->fish-->lizard-->mouse-->monkey-->ape-->human progression diagram. That is why for the Synapsid Gallery, I wanted to show a dicynodont with human arms erupting from its own shoulders (and a gorgonopsid with human legs threatening it in the background). To echo Dawkins, Permian synapsids were not half-evolved, not "on their way" to becoming us. They were successful animals living in their own niche.

Successfully made my point? Well, perhaps as an illustration to this blog post.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.
Flying Trilobite Gallery
### Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ###


I'm headed to SciBarCamp this weekend! A science-filled unconference. Should be great. The participants list is staggeringly interesting. I"ll need to pack a lunch. Chocolate-covered espresso beans should do it.

If you're attending, I'm the guy with the winged trilobite tattoo on his left arm. Don't be shy.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.
Flying Trilobite Gallery ### Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ###

Thursday 7 May 2009

New blog banner at Migrations!

The past several weeks I've been working on a new blog banner commission for blogger-scientist-bird-enthusiast Dan Rhoads of Migrations.

It's complete! Check it out over at Dan's blog, and I encourage you to leave comments there.

I'll see if I can whip up a 'making of" post for Art Monday. Most fun: the olive branches and the red knot's wingtips. Thanks Dan! Great to work with you!

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.
Flying Trilobite Gallery ### Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ###

Monday 4 May 2009

Art Monday: Synapsid peek

There's been a delay in the second ART Evolved gallery, our gallery of Permian Synapsids. So I thought I would show a teaser of the face of my dicynodont drawing. ART Evolved is a delicious visual treat cooked up by Craig Dylke and Peter Bond, with input from the rest of our paleo-artsy-bloggy crew. We launched a couple of months back in an attempt to showcase some of the best paleo-art being produced by bloggers. In addition to posts about technique and subject matter, every two months we aim to create a themed gallery that anyone can submit to, making for a lively a vibrant gallery. The first gallery featured ceratopsian dinosaurs, y'know, like triceratops.

I've added a self-updating blogroll of the whole regular ART Evolved gang in my sidebar (look down, way down below the flying trilobite button), so I can easily keep up with the diverse gang of artists involved.

The synapsid gallery should be up soon, thanks to the hard work of our tireless moderators. I've heard the expression before that organizing atheist freethinkers is like herding cats; I think organizing paleo-artists is probably closer to teaching velociraptors to drink tea properly.

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Original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow under Creative Commons Licence.

Flying Trilobite Gallery ### Flying Trilobite Reproduction Shop ###
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