It’s too early for Friday notes, or is it?

21 09 2007

Some time ago I confessed my overall ignorance when it came to pterosaurs, so I was definitely happy when a 1966 reprint of H.G. Seeley’s Dragons of the Air arrived yesterday. Being written in 1901 it’s bound to be a bit dated, and Seeley seems to focus on the European pterosaurs more than anything else, but it’ll make for an interesting and quick read. I hope to finish G.G. Simpson’s Attending Marvels and Simple Curiosity during the course of the weekend as well, which should be an easy task as I’m more than halfway through both.

I do make time for fiction every now and again, though, and I was definitely pleased to find that Terry Pratchett’s newest book, Making Money is now out. Being that Going Postal is my most favorite of the Discworld series to date, I am certainly looking forward to reading of the continuing trials and tribulations of Moist von Lipwig.

Lycaenops at the AMNH

Tomorrow morning I’ll be hopping the train with some Rutgers students to the AMNH to teach them something about Deep Time and paleontology. The Big Bang, stromatolites, fossil horses, and whatever petrified critters they take an interest in will be covered, and I am definitely looking forward to using the 4th floor fossil halls as a sort of classroom. I’ve only got them for about 3 hours, however, so I’ll have ample opportunity to run around on my own for a bit afterwards. I have to start making up my PPT presentation for next week as well, so this weekend will be a busy one. If the weather is good I want to try to visit Haddonfield on Saturday to see the site where Hadrosaurus foulkii was discovered and see if I can’t find the chocolate marl from which it came, but that might have to wait.

Finally, although it only appeared in the news reports for a quick moment, a new paper in Science seems to show evidence of feathers on Velociraptor in the form of quill attachments. Unfortunately I can’t access the journal from home, but I am not glad that I was delayed in writing about another recent feathered dinosaur in the news so I can put them together in one post. Speaking of journals, I finally was able to get someone to sign my membership form for SVP as well, and I am looking forward to receiving the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology in the mail. My post on “wee little sauropods” is still in the works as well, but I have many more papers to read before I can be sure I’m actually making sense and not just writing fiction myself.

Who, me?

19 09 2007

The news section of The Scientist has an article about the ever-growing number of science blogs, asking readers for their thoughts as to who has the “must read” blogs out there. Coturnix was kind enough to list Laelaps as one of his recommendations, and I am certainly humbled (and many thanks to the commenter Steph who is a fan as well!). It’s strange for me to think that this time last year I was just cutting my teeth in terms of blogging over at ProgressiveU (winning a scholarship based upon my blogging abilities definitely encouraged me to keep going), not even moving to WordPress until January. Given the welcome reception I’ve received from so many other writers, however, I am certainly glad I spend exorbitant amounts of time with my nose in a book or fingers on the keyboard, and I am inclined to agree with my wife when she told me that blogging about science is just about the most valuable thing that I have yet done.

So if you’ve got time today, head on over the list mentioned above; check out some blogs that you have never heard of before, and please add your own favorites into the comments. It looks like Pharyngula and John Hawks are really cleaning up, although there are plenty more to choose from (definitely have a look at Creek Running North and Pondering Pikaia if you’re not already reading them).

Tuesday Lunchtime Notes

18 09 2007

I am absolutely awed at the massive response my horse evolution post(s) have received, and I certainly appreciate all bloggers who plugged the work (The Sandwalk, Pharyngula, A Blog Around the Clock, Greg Laden, John Hawks, The Ethical Palaeontologist, physicshead, Darwiniana, The Lord Geekington, Quintessence of Dust, Solo’s Scent Trail, Good Tithings, KABT Resources, and any others that I may have forgotten. Hopefully I’ll be able to do something similar for artiodactyls, but that will have to wait for a bit.

Indeed, my attention (for the moment, anyhow) has turned to sauropods, more specifically involving questions about ontogeny, physiology, and lifestyle. Julia has helped me to form my ideas a bit, and Matt has already published some papers on the subjects I’m interested in, so I should soon have something covering, as the subject line of my e-mails to Julia read, “wee little sauropods.”

In the meantime, however, I have to write up a summary for my Topics in African Prehistory course about the significance of living primates to fossil studies, especially in terms of Richard Wrangham’s idea of an almost cladistic analysis of primate behavior to infer what behaviors were present in the last common ancestor of chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and humans. Some points he makes are good (i.e. shared behavior despite differing ecologies makes it more likely that the common ancestor exhibited such behavior), but overall I found the method a bit weak. In terms of thinking about ancestors, I’m biased towards the view of whatever we glean from living animals only works if it makes sense with the fossil data we have, otherwise we run the risk of thinking that we essentially evolved from chimpanzees, playing down what evolution has done in both humans and Pan since the divergence. This is the same problem I have with many of the modern books about human relationships to primates; there is a lot of focus on chimpanzees and bonobos, and the fossil record is typically only briefly mentioned (if at all) in many popular works. Such was part of the reason why I didn’t particularly like Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee, and I think what is really needed is a more comprehensive approach that can help reconcile the fossils with living species rather than reinforcing the divide between primatologists & evolutionary anthropologists (and as an aside, my wife just read Guns, Germs, and Steel and didn’t particularly care for it, either).

I also have some “minor” blog announcements, too. My blogroll has become something of a monster, and I’m soon going to review it in order to categorize it properly, and I’m also going to run an “open enrollment.” Also, it turns out that I accidentally ordered two copies of the same book (it was republished with a different title); Edwin Colbert’s Men and Dinosaurs. I’m considering running a sort of contest, the winner of the said event winning the book, although I’m not sure what to do yet. I’ll make an announcement when I have the 2nd copy in hand as well as an idea.

I’ll be headed to the AMNH this Saturday with some Rutgers students as well (I actually like using the Hall of Advanced Mammals as a classroom), the week after which I’ll be presenting two lectures to their class; one on Darwin, one on intelligent design. I don’t have the ability to videotape the lectures, but I’ll probably make the Power Point presentation available to anyone who’d like to see it (although I can’t promise that it will tell any readers of this blog things they don’t already know). I’ll also post my analysis of Wrangham’s “behavioral cladistics” later this evening for anyone who is interested, although I’m not sure what sort of reaction I’ll get from the professor and grad students tomorrow being that I’m fairly critical of the approach. Either way, I’m sure it’ll make for some interesting discussion.

And now I need to head back up Rt. 1 and eat something before my computers class. Again, many thanks to everyone who linked to, commented on, and helped proofread/correct my history of horse evolution post. I hope that I’ll be able to again raise the bar for myself in the near future. Here’s some more outro music, this time courtesy of The Fray;

A wasted Sunday…

16 09 2007

Hello everyone! Just a few notes on this rather “brisk” Sunday afternoon;

Yesterday I, along with my compatriots Tim and Victor, visited the Renaissance Fair Faire in Tuxedo New York (there’s still one more weekend to go see it if you’re in the area). I brought along the camera so I’ll have some photos up soon for your enjoyment (I would do it now, but ever since I updated Firefox on this aged iBook things haven’t been going quite right and WordPress freaks out when I try to upload the pictures).

After the festival my friends and I headed back to Clark to regroup before heading over the Cranford to see a free concert. We missed Chuck Berry (I didn’t know he was still alive, honestly) and Fountains of Wayne (damn!), but we did catch Live’s set. They were ok; I wanted them to essentially play Throwing Copper from beginning to end, but most of the songs were more in the vein of “adult contemporary” than alternative. Still, it was still pretty good and I won’t complain too much about a free show.

A few more books arrived this weekend as well; a three books about dinosaurs by Edwin Colbert and (a purchase I was much more excited about) Xenozoic Tales Vol. 1: After the End. I had never seen Mark Schultz’s comic since I had never been able to find it, but I was able to snag this copy for about $14.00 and it was well worth it. Infinitely better than the “Cadillacs & Dinosaurs” cartoon (see the video below) and arcade game, Schultz’s work is a must-read for any fan of paleo fiction. I don’t think I’ll be able to read the 2nd volume anytime soon, however, as the remaining copies for sale are prohibitively expensive.

Autumn is really starting to take hold, however, and the drop in temperature/shortened photoperiod is affecting my mood more than usual this year. I was hoping to squeeze out a few more warm weekends at the shore or in the field, but unless things suddenly heat up again, I don’t think I’ll be taking another dip in the Atlantic until next year. Speaking of strange moods, my thoughts today have turned to Baltimore, MD this afternoon. This is a little odd, but I was watching Black Hawk Down and I had left the room as the film was ending. When the menu screen came up again and started to loop, it started to play a very light, ethereal song primarily featuring a piano and strings, and for whatever reason it reminded me of 1) the time I visited Baltimore with Tracey last year for her birthday on September 30th, and 2) of the time that we visited Baltimore in August the first summer we were dating. There’s no reason that I should directly associate the song with my visits to that city, but the sweeping score calls back to sunset and the long (but pleasant) drive home from the Inner Harbor. Speaking of Baltimore, I definitely want to go back sometime soon and visit the Science Museum again, as the last time I was by (in February of 2005, I think) I was very tired and didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have if I were rested. That trip was also of note as a blizzard struck just as Tracey and I started for home, and much of I-95 in Pennsylvania is not illuminated at night. The drive home took 6-7 hours and was very frightening, so I am a bit leery of going back in the winter (at least without checking the forecast before the trip).

As for the beginning of classes, things are going pretty well, although 1) Precalc is kicking my butt, as predicted, and 2) I fear that I may have to drop one of my “fun” anthro courses. This past week I had to miss a class to take care of something at my job, and I don’t know if Tracey and I will be able to support ourselves if I’m only able to work 15-20 hours a week instead of full time. On the other hand, I’m going to do well in the electives and they’ll provide a big boost to my GPA, so I would be forfeiting that benefit. I know this is not news to anyone who’s done the same, but it really is difficult to try to work as much as possible while trying to stay on top of classes, although my predicament is of my own doing (being I was a lazy student early on, thus digging a really deep hole for myself).

In any event, I’m going to get back to Edwin Colbert’s Men and Dinosaurs, and here’s some outro music that’s been on my playlist quite a bit lately;


15 09 2007

Content might be a little light today, folks. I’ll be visiting the Renaissance Fair in Tuxedo, NY with some friends, and I have no idea when I’ll be back home. What you really should check out during my absence however are the newest version of Oekologie up at Fish Feet and the latest manifestation of The Boneyard up at The Ethical Palaeontologist. Sarda did a great job, and Julia’s edition (when it goes live this afternoon) is going to be fantastic, so make sure that you give both a look.

Also of note, I saw the South Korean film D-War (or Dragon Wars) last night, and it is by far the worst movie I’ve ever seen in a theater (even beating out One Night at McCool’s). It’s so bad that if you’re a fan of MST3K you’ll get lots of laughs out of riffing on the utterly terrible film. Many of the special effects are impressive (well, except for the “deflated elephant”) but the plot, acting, and direction are absolutely odious, so don’t bother unless you got a high score while rolling for constitution and have a good sense of humor.

If you really want to see a good South Korean monster flick, check out The Host; It’s surprisingly good (mmm… fish monster filling….).

Thursday Midday Notes

13 09 2007

Things have slowed down a little bit over this past week; my new schedule is a bit problematic. Right now I’m taking about 16 credits and working 3 days a week (15-20 hours a week, plus 4 hours a week of commuting back & forth), so I’ve been getting up about 6 and not returning home until 12 hours later. Part of the reason for the slow down, outside of time constraints, has been my desire to finish my post about horse evolution, a subject that I’m not especially familiar with so I’ve needed to catch up on some background reading (especially the more modern stuff). It’s about 3/4 of the way done, and it should be complete just in time for The Boneyard (have you submitted yet?).

I also must admit that I’ve been a bit depressed over the past few days. For whatever reason (I’m thinking it’s the temperature/photoperiod + bad memories) I’ve been rather down on myself, and I’ve been plagued by a lot of self doubt. Especially in terms of blogging, I’ve felt something like a little fish in a rather big pond, full of more intelligent and capable science bloggers who are actually doing scientific work whereas I only read about it in my free time. This isn’t a signal of the end of blogging here, and I’m sure my mood will improve eventually, but for lack of a better term I’ve felt a little intimidated lately, especially since I don’t regard myself as especially talented or bright.

In terms of books I’ve slowed down a little as well, although I hope to finish the wonderful Bones for Barnum Brown tonight. Sometimes I wonder if I should just be an AMNH historian, being the amount of time I spent reading about their collections and paleontologists of years past, especially given my recent book purchases. I was able to find a whole slew of cheaply-priced books by Edwin Colbert and G.G. Simpson (between $0.01 and $1.50), and I’m sure I’ll especially enjoy Simpson’s works (next to Stephen Jay Gould he’s probably my favorite evolutionary scientist).

I’m also thinking that I need to really get serious about my work on my book. I think I’ve taken in enough information at this point that I at least have some decent ideas, and even though I have a lot to learn it might be more productive to pick a topic, dig through the stacks of books I’ve accumulated, and write on a topic instead of trying to condense entire works. Down-time between classes, especially as things get colder, might provide at least a few hours a day to work.

I’m thinking of taking a paleontologically-oriented trip or two in the near future. I haven’t yet visited the Big Brook area in New Jersey, nor the trackways in Connecticut, nor the Calvert Cliffs to the south, so even though it’s getting late (and I really should have gone out more in the summer) I hope to make a few field forays before things get too cold. Many of the fossil sites in New Jersey are inaccessible to me because of development of property rights, so I’m going to have to do a bit of traveling if I want to give myself some more experience in the field.

So that’s how it stands now. And I will get something up tonight, as I definitely want to write my own response to Matt’s on-target critique of modern natural history museums.

Tuesday Morning Miscellany

11 09 2007

I know things have been a bit slack here since the weekend, but I hope to have something rather substantial up later today. Outside the realm of massive science posts, however, here’s what’s been going on lately;

1) The Boneyard will be coming up at Julia’s The Ethical Palaeontologist this coming Saturday. Get your links in to me or Julia by Friday evening if you want in on the aggregation.

2) I read the companion book to the AMNH’s fossil hall restorations of the 1990′s, The American Museum Of Natural History’s Book Of Dinosaurs And Other Ancient Creatures, in it’s entirety yesterday. It proved to be a good source of historical information (i.e. freelance bonesharp Charles Sternberg’s financial woes making the purchase of some fossils especially difficult as he’d pack them up before H.F. Osborn’s men could have a look at them, hence being unable to make a proper assessment and causing Osborn to have to decide “sight unseen,” as in the case of the Edmontosaurus “mummy”), but many of the species descriptions were a bit lacking. Being that the book was put out by the AMNH, some of the inaccuracies that still remain in the fossil halls were played down, but it still is a good dump of information, photographs, and sketches not otherwise available to the general public.

I’m currently reading R.T. Bird’s Bones for Barnum Brown and, despite Bird’s fawning over “Mr. Bones,” it is an excellent book, especially if you’re interested in the sauropod bone bed at Howe Quarry and the discovery that sauropods had “whiplash” tails. Bird’s quarry map is especially interesting, and within the assorted materials the sacral regions of the vertebral columns seem to have been the more well-preserved (even though they had become disassociated with the rest of the body they belonged to). Don’t let the fact that the book is relatively large and thin (taking the appearance of a children’s book) fool you; it is an excellent resource and first hand account of Bird’s work in the field.

The book that I’m currently toting between classes if Konrad Lorenz’s On Aggression, which I have been meaning to read for some time. I did start Simon Singh’s The Big Bang as well, but it will have to wait until I finish Bird’s autobiography tonight. If the Louis Jacobs book Quest for the African Dinosaurs arrives today though, Singh’s book may be waylaid once again.

Oh, and lest I forget, I read George McCready Price’s 1929 creationist “booklet” The Predicament of Evolution (available for free online)over the weekend as well. It is amazing how little creationism has changed since Price wrote his short work, many of the same arguments are still used today with just as much belief that they refute evolution as in 1929. Change a few references and Price’s book could very well be an AiG tract like The Lie, although there is one major difference. Price appeals heavily to anti-communist sentiment in one of the latter chapters, and even though he does not closely associate Darwin with Marx or Lenin, he does try to associate evolution with communism, deeming both to be utterly un-American (because when the Bible falls, America falls, he says).

3) Julia has a must-read post about her experiences working on Cetiosauriscus named “Hopalong Cassidy” and how a little grey Diplodocus saved the day. While already on exhibit, I hope this coming Saturday’s traveling program will give the article a proper place of appreciation.

4) Why isn’t there an Anomalocaris on your shirt? If you want to fix the problem, visit Marek Eby’s Trilobite Clothing online store and get stocked up on your Cambrian clothing needs. There’s no Opabinia or Hallucigenia just yet, but there’s still plenty to enjoy. I’m definitely going to pick one up and wear it proudly.

Speaking of shirts, I also ordered a “Scientific Accuracy Isn’t for Wimps” shirt from and two shirts (one with skeletons from one of Cuvier’s works, another with fossil hominids) from Skulls Unlimited. My clothing has become decidedly more geeky over the past year, with my favorite is still my “Future Transitional Fossil” shirt.

5) The documentary Flock of Dodos is now officially out on DVD and available for purchase. I initially saw the film just short of a year ago at a screening at the AMNH, and even though I definitely enjoyed it then (and have subsequently praised it on this blog), I have become more ambivalent towards it as time has gone on. When I get a copy I’ll write up another review, perhaps from a more seasoned perspective, about what I liked and didn’t like about the film.

6) If you’ve got a profile on Facebook, be sure to add Eugenie Scott and the NCSE to your friends. Oh, and you can always add me, too, if you’d like to.

7) Classes are moving along well, although I’m still not used to having a few hours in between meetings where I don’t have enough time to run to work. Such breaks could definitely end up being productive in terms of posts and the book that I’m still working on, but it is weird to have the day broken up again. The only class that seems like it is going to give me trouble is Precalc, but as long as I get a C I will be more than happy and count my blessings that I survived.

8) Have you registered for the next North Carolina Science Blogging Conference yet? I’ll be there, and even *gasp* speaking on a panel of other graduate and undergraduate students like Shelly of Retrospectacle and Anne-Marie of Pondering Pikaia, and I’m sure this year’s conference will turn out to be even more exciting than the last.

And don’t forget to nominate your favorite science blogging posts, from here or elsewhere, for the next installment of the Open Laboratory. Click the purple button to the right (or here) to nominate the best of science writing over the past year, regardless of whether it can be found here on Laelaps or elsewhere.

So, now that the shameless plugs and other notes are out of the way, off I go to work on a new massive post about science and the history of ideas. I hope to finish it tonight, but I make no promises…

When blogs attack…

6 09 2007

*pant**pant**gasps for air* I hope you can see why I haven’t been very active the past few days… Like I said, not much new for those who have been here for a while, but I thought I would try to connect what I’ve learned in a larger context. New material will be coming soon, promise (in the meanwhile, pay Carl Zimmer a visit and learn how Mahakala is bringing sexy back…)

My current school schedule has kept me pretty busy too, although today was a bit unusual. Here are the highlights from the last few days;

At the beginning of my “Fundamentals of Ecological and Envrionmental Modeling” class, the teacher held up a book entitled Calculus for Biology & Medicine; I didn’t know whether the laugh or cry. I sat through the class, jotting down function equations, and then I promptly set off for home and dropped the course.

So, down 4 credits (but still packing 13 total) I went in search of another class to take, hopefully one that would actually boost by GPA. Most of the evolutionary anthropology courses (i.e. Intro to Human Evolution, Social Games, Primate Social Evolution) all conflicted with courses I already had and was loathe to reschedule, but I did manage to find my way into one 3-hour topics course; Topics in the Prehistory of Africa. I missed the first class (d’oh!), but I’m meeting with the professor tomorrow to get the readings and get up to speed for next week.

I had my first Survery of Living Primates class today too, and it looks to be the best class I’ve signed up for yet. I had a brief conversation with the professor about le Gros Clark and Robert Sapolsky after the lecture, and I definitely want to get the most out of the course (although I think I had enough of a background where it should be more fun than anything else).

I had a meeting before lunch to nail down some future plans as well. I won’t divulge all the details as yet, but it looks like I’ll be teaching two lectures (one on Darwin, one of the flaws of intelligent design) at the end of the month. I can hardly wait.

Soils and Society is about as exciting as it sounds, although it is not nearly as difficult as last years “Soils and Water” course. I’m sure I’ll get through just fine, although it meets during the time of the day when I’m usually crashing from my sugar high and I need to fight to stay awake.

This weekend I’m headed to the Philadelphia Zoo, so I hope to have lots of pictures up this weekend. I’ll also be in search of a bookcase to hold the many volumes stacked next to the couch. It will surely be interesting when it comes time to move my library…

It’s odd getting home later than I usually do during the work week; I feel like I have no evening at all. Granted, I read on the bus, in between classes, and in the case of Intro to Computers, during class, but I still feel a bit hurried. Oh well, I don’t suppose there’s much I can do about that.

I am utterly amazed at all the compliments and links this blog has been showered with over the past few days. There are so many people to thank, I simply don’t know where to start. A more formal “thank you” will soon be forthcoming, but I really do appreciate all the support from other writers. Indeed, it’s odd that as soon as I recieved so much attention I had to run off for a day or two, but I hope to be back on track now. Still, as many readers know, I generally suffer from a lack of self-esteem and I always feel a bit behind the curve with what I write; at times I feel that I’m not really adding much to the conversation outside of random noise. I would keep writing no matter what, this blog being a catalog of my thoughts as much as anything else, but it certainly would not be the same without the support from the blogging community at large and the few regular readers/commenters/friends who keep me trying to outdo my previous work. I wish there is something more substantial I could do, but for now, thank you all for everything.

And now to open a can of Pepsi and turn on the Simpsons for a bit until my brain recovers. More of your regularly-scheduled paleo-posting will resume shortly…

Wednesday afternoon notes

5 09 2007

Just a few quick notes;

1) I didn’t disappear entirely; expect a big essay on convergent and parallel evolution combining many of my recent posts on here lately (it’ll be old hat for regulars, but I still hope it’ll come off alright).

2) Working on a big post all about Tyrannosaurus, although I’m waiting on some books to make sure I get the details of its discovery right. I’m reading I Married a Dinosaur (click the image of Barnum Brown next to the AMNH T. rex) while I’m waiting for Bird’s Bones for Barnum Brown.

3) I finished A Fish Caught in Time and it’s a fair book. It starts off strong, chronicling the discovery of Latimeria, but the later chapters (those primarily dealing with conservation) fizzle out a bit, making more rather ambivalent towards the whole thing. Not a bad book to pass the afternoon with, but it’s no Beak of the Finch.

4) I started on The Antecedents of Man last night and it’s incredibly prescient for it’s time. It draws a lot on the mammal work of G.G. Simpson, but overall it anticipates the modern view of human evolution even though some modern authors have said that the book puts for the ladder-view of human evolution. Some of it can get a little dry (dental formulas aren’t for everyone), but I was quite surprised by how excellent it was.

5) I found out that I’m getting more money back from college than I first though. That might allow me (outside of paying off some debt) to finally replace the desktop computer that burnt out last fall, which could mean more (and better) posts for all of you (I don’t like working on the iBook we currently have).

6) Apparently I can win $10,000 if I enter this College Blogging Contest. I don’t know if I’ll win, but I’ll certainly give it a try (winning a $500 scholarship was how I got started in the first place). [Hat-tip to Terra Sigillata]

7) The buses at Rutgers are all Standing Room-Only, so I need to run if I’m going to catch a bus and not miss class. You would think with all I’m paying they’d provide adequate transportation between campuses, but then you’d be unfamiliar with the RU Screw.

Sunday Afternoon Dispatches

2 09 2007

Autumn crept into the late-night air along 287 South early this morning. After a pleasant day, I stepped into the minutely chill air that had settled in New York State, taking in the my first realy breaths of fall air as I walked down to the car. Despite the 3rd season wasting no time in claiming September evenings, I had a pleasant day with my wife’s aunt in the Chappaqua area, hiking along a local reservoir and enjoying a meal that seemed to come a little late; corn on the cob, all-beef hot dogs, potato salad, and summer squash. The trails we traveled were much more flat that the AT, the hardscrabble climb of the scree laying me out the rest of last weekend, and mica washed out of the glacially-deposited rocks glinted on many the trails wer traveled. If time permits, I’ll post pictures from the trip later tonight.

I also managed to finish The Bonehunter’s Revenge last night after dinner, although I still have to read the latter half aloud to my wife (I am definitely glad she’s so interested in the famous “Bone Wars”). Wallace’s book is singularly excellent, and although there are a few flaws, he gives the story a cultural background that is also lacking. Also of great importance is his treatment of Cope’s “ghost”, exhumed by Louie Psihoyos in the lavishly-illustrated book Hunting Dinosaurs. Not to spoil the tale for those who haven’t yet read Wallace’s book, Psihoyos absonded with Cope’s skull, taking the Philadelphian all over the country to meet the likes of Paul Sereno (who identified an absess tooth in Cope’s skull) and Bob Bakker (who boiled pasta and poured it into Cope’s skull to help determine his cranial capacity), all under the auspices of bringing attention to Cope’s “dying wish” to be the type specimen for the human species. Cope never had such a hope, and the body of Linneaus had long been nominated to have the prestige ages ago, and so it seems that Psihoyos either missed something in his research or didn’t do any, Wallace rightly (but fairly) chastizing the National Geographic photographer for undertaking a stutn to shocking that it would be fit for the pages of the Herald that printed Cope and Marsh’s famous fossil fued. Wallace also notes how little society seemed to care for dinosaurs during a time that many paleontologists deem pivotal to our understanding of dinosaurs, O.C. Marsh’s discovery of the toothed Cretaceous birds and a seemingly-straight line of horse evolution (and T.H. Huxley’s visit to discuss these finds) gaining much more coverage than any dinosaur find. In case I have not made a strong enough case, read Wallace’s book; it is a must for understanding the tragic figures that helped form the basis of modern vertebrate paleontology.

I also started a book consisting of essays about the “strip-mining” of American culture called Dumbing Down, and already I am partially disgusted by it. I am not one to ignore problems in our consumer-driven society, Megachurches with their of McDonald’s Drive-Thru and libraries that suffer destruction of many of their books because a local radio station hides money in some of the books as a promotion, but the introductory portions of the book take something of a condescending tone to what they identify as the provincial rabble that has undermined high-culture. Part of this seems to stem from an affinity for bits of “high culture”, a sort of post hoc nostalgia developing that ages past surely must have been more sophisticated and refined than today’s culture of amateurs. From what I can tell there has never been nor ever shall be a “golden age” of refinement, the high-brow and the low-brow constantly existing and harboring greater or lesser amounts of contempt for each other. There are intellectual blessings and curses to every age, and I don’t believe that people are becoming “dumbed down” as much as distracted by a culture that values high-tech gadetry over a good book. The simple mental and cultural capacity to break free from many of the societal strangeholds that we are often warned are choking off blood-flow to our collective brain is present, as ever it has been, and I believe things can be changed, but bemoaning others as stupid, ignorant, and uncultured if they have never read Hamlet or Crime and Punishment is not the way to open minds.

I also will finally have the chance to watch the Planet Earth series in full as it was meant to be; with David Attenborough providing the narration. I’ll probably write up something of a review at some point when I’m finished, but despite what I feel are some ill-written lines of narration, the series is probably the most visually stunning I have ever seen, and I doubt that anyone will be able to watch it and find wonder in nature.

On a different note, I have registed for the 2008 North Carolina Science Blogging Conference coming up in January. I’ll be driving down to arrive on Friday and will be there all day on Saturday, so if you are going to be there let me know so I can at the very least get to say “hello” in person. If you haven’t already registered, or need more information about the event (did I mention that it’s free?), Coturnix (who has used his Herculean blogging and organizational powers to help make the event a reality) has all the links you’ll need.

And don’t forget, if you see a post on here that you especially enjoyed or think is of outstanding merit, please nominate it to be included in the 2007 edition of the blog anthology The Open Laboratory. You can nominate posts by clicking the purple OpenLab 2007 button on the right hand side of this blog, and you can nominate as many as you would like.

That about does it for me for now, although I hope to write something a bit more scientific later on today. If anyone has any topics they’d like me to cover, don’t hesitate to mention it in the comments as I’m a bit dry on subject matter today.


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