Minor note…

27 09 2007

Sometime during the night this blog passed the 100,000 views mark. Many thanks to all the visitors, especially regulars, who helped make this blog what it has become (although this is not the end-point in the evolution of Laelaps).


Tuesday Morning Notes

25 09 2007

So many papers, so little time… Thus far I’ve had a relatively busy start to the semester, especially in terms of having to prepare and give presentations. Every week I have to team up with another student from my Topics in African Prehistory class and present a summation of a few selected papers, and then there’s the new stuff coming out in the journals and what I need to read for my blog posts. Obviously schoolwork gets the priority (expect something about the Mt. Assirik chimpanzees tonight or tomorrow), but I am absolutely inundated by literature as of late.

I also will be giving my Darwin lecture this afternoon, which should be easy enough. I don’t know how much of an interest the students will show, but I’m sure the presentation will come off without any problems. I also want to start planning some talks for Darwin Day (it’s never early to start getting ready) in February, and I really wouldn’t mind being a TA or even teaching a course on evolution if I had the chance. For now, though, I’ll continue to take whatever I can get as far as making presentations, which reminds me I need to resume work on my human evolution review paper.

My trip to Haddonfield this past weekend was a bit of a bust, but I’m going to try to make it down to Big Brook this weekend (or the week after next) in the hopes of having some better luck. Shark teeth and bits of mosasaurs and plesiosaurs show up pretty frequently (Hadrosaurus and Dryptosaurus remains being rarer at the site), but even if I come up with nothing it’ll be a more productive adventure.

I’ve still got posts on juvenile sauropods and the history of Tyrannosaurus cooking, although both are going to require a lot of work and will probably have to wait until I have a weekend (or other time when I have 4-6 hours of free time to work). Even though such posts take a long time to construct, I do enjoy writing them up; I learn a lot more by trying to ingrate various resources to reveal the big picture and presenting it than just reading papers on my own. While such mega-posts have been relatively frequent as of late, I’ll try to keep up with new studies & stories as well, especially given the fact that not everyone has time to read through what I write.

In terms of books, things have slowed down a bit lately. Over the summer I was able to get through a new book every 2-3 days, but now it’s taking a bit longer. Still, I carry books with me everywhere and try to get through a few pages on the bus or before class, and I am definitely enjoying Adrian Desmond’s The Hot Blooded Dinosaurs. It’s a bit dated, but Desmond has an appreciation for the history of the debate as well as for the science, and it has plenty of illustrations to help drive home the points made in the book. I’ve really only started it so I can’t say much about the work as a whole, but the first two chapters were very enjoyable, even if I had heard the stories about Cuvier, Owen, Hawkins, mosasaurs, Iguanodon, etc. a thousand times over.

For now I need to finish up getting ready for the lecture, however, but (as I stated above) I should have something up on chimpanzees that use tools and live near open habitats later this evening.

8 things about me[me] returns

23 09 2007

Mark, of The Divine Afflatus fame, is back, and upon the occasion of his triumphant return has tagged me with the “8 Random Facts” meme. Although I was tagged by Bora back in June, I figured I might as well give it another go, especially since I would hope that there are least 8 more things of potential interest about me.

1) My wife and I drove down to Haddonfield, NJ today to visit the site where Hadrosaurus foulkii was discovered. I’m planning an uber-post about it’s discovery so I won’t go into those details here, but I have to say I was extremely disappointed with the “park.” After driving about an hour, we made our way through the suburban sprawl to a dead end, a commemorative plaque plastered to a rock sitting right across the street from a newly-built house. Thinking there must be something more to see, Tracey and I made our way down the embankment to the fetid, mosquito-infested and trash-ridden streambed below. While the Cretaceous marl was easy to locate, the only thing of note we found was a discarded Sears credit card. Further exploration was blocked by vast pools of stagnant water and the fact that the “park” was a patch of land surrounded by private property, the monotonous whir of a nearby lawnmower letting us know we were practically in someone’s backyard. Rather unfitting, overall, for one of the most important sites in the history of paleontology.

2) I heard the New Found Glory cover of Go West’s “King of Wishful Thinking” yesterday and I can’t get it out of my head (trust me, the NFG version is much improved over the original). The song can be found on the band’s new album From the Screen to Your Stereo II.

3) Although I would have normally waited for the paperback, I purchased the newest Terry Pratchett book, Making Money on Friday and have been reading it aloud to my wife. Although we somewhat fell out of the tradition, for the first 6 months or so of our marriage I’d read some Terry Pratchett to her every night before bed.

4) When I was in preschool I once played a Stegosaurus pitched in battle with Allosaurus during the ever-popular “Dinosaur Night.” While I was expected to lose, at the close of the confrontation I pleaded my case to the parents on scientific grounds that Allosaurus wouldn’t dare try and take down such a large and spiny critter, but my protest ended up being in vain. At least I got some dinosaur-shaped cereal out of it. (My later high school stage appearances included Eugene in Grease!, Mr. Kraler in the Diary of Anne Frank, and Father Drobney in Don’t Drink the Water).

5) Many people once had imaginary friends, but I had an imaginary enemy. Named “Snuff,” he was a demonic, shortened version of Sesame Street’s Mr. Snuffleupagus, and if touched by his trunk you would become paralyzed (and subsequently eaten). You know that high pitched whine you sometimes hear when a television is on even if you can’t see it? I thought that was the sound of his impending arrival, and I once heard it while riding my tricycle in the driveway. I abandoned my vehicle, which my mother ran over while backing out of the driveway, and although I did get in a bit of trouble spare parts were found and all ended well.

6) During the last year of high school and the first years of college I used to frequent the local clubs, seeing a punk/emo/ska band just about every other weekend. The first show I ever went to was for a local group called Shades Apart (they had a song, “Stranger by the Day,” on the American Pie soundtrack), although they are long defunct. The place that I saw them and many other bands, The Birch Hill, was torn down a few years ago, and now most of the shows are at The Starland Ballroom (although I haven’t been there in at least a year and a half).

7) Up until recently I wanted to study marine ecology at Rutgers, specifically what was happening to sharks off the NJ coast (no one seemed to be studying it, given the funding cuts to the EPA, DEP, and Fish & Wildlife in the state). When I told one of my professors about this he replied “What are you ever going to do with that? No one studies sharks” (which was the entire point, from my perspective). Frustrated with the academic wall I kept running into, I ended up taking a course in paleontology & “evolution and geologic time,” which definitely helped establish my current line of interest. Overall, I think I’m better for it.

8 ) This blog, as you and I know it, will soon become extinct. I know I’m using on of the oldest tricks in the book and that I’m terrible because I’m going to leave you all hanging (at least for a little while), but some big changes will soon be going into effect. I think you all will be pleasantly surprised, but for now mum’s the word. In time all will be revealed, but I’ll still be writing regularly until I can divulge the secrets in my possession.

So there you have it, 8 little tidbits of information that may or may not have replaced something more important that you were supposed to remember (i.e. the location of the car keys). Everyone who immediately comes to mind as far as tagging goes has already been tagged previously, so I’ll leave this one open ended; if you feel compelled to write, just leave a comment and I’ll set up the links. And now to finish up the scraps of reading I have left over…

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;