Archive for May, 2010


20 May 2010

Blogs are for posting adorable pictures and videos of your pets.  Mostly.

Ours is not to look back. Ours is to continue the crack.

14 May 2010

Our traditionalist is now beginning to worry, but he will grant this one last point pour mieux sauter.  OK, the very first Cambrian fauna included a plethora of alternative possibilities, all equally sensible and none leading to us.  But, surely, once the modern fauna arose in the next phase of the Cambrian, called Atdabanian after another Russian locality, then the boundaries and channels were finally set.  The arrival of trilobites, those familiar symbols of the Cambrian, must mark the end of craziness and the inception of predictability.  Let the good times roll.

This book is quite long enough already, and you do not want a “second verse, same as the first.” I merely point out that the Burgess Shale represents the early and maximal extent of the Atdabanian radiation.  The story of the Burgess Shale is the tale of life itself, not a unique and peculiar episode of possibilities gone wild.SJ Gould Wonderful Life (1989)

Had it in my head, tindered by a typically turgid comment I left over at Jerry Coyne’s blog, to write something about the phantasmic Fezouata fauna. About contingency and determinism and prehistoriography.

The first god had, in his garden, one of these I'm sure. Ordovician marrellomorph from the cover of this week's Nature / Van Roy et al. 2010. A strong contender for my next paleo-ink.

About Wonderful Life and Crucible of Creation. About broken molds and Technicolor films. About checking the guy’s rock record and replaying life’s wobbly mistracked tape.

this is what the late eighties was like

[I biked over the library after Schluter’s talk and grabbed some books.  “That’s a small book,” the librarian remarked about the paperback version of WL, recut into hardback form, “but I’m sure it’s filled with big ideas”]

And about GOBE and rocks from space. About evolutionary anachronism and steampunk anomalocaridids and Schinderhannes. About Chengjiang and Emu Bay and Orsten.

[I Googled.]

About Caratacus and the Ordovices and predictable outcomes. About the Cincinnati arch and Creation Museum atop it. About how those that ignore history are doomed to not worry about it too much, along the way.

[I read.]

And yes about the other big and massively under-celebrated early Paleozoic news this week: Cambrian Bryozoans (!) and Gondwanan echinoderms.

[I typed.]

And ultimately about how, really, all of this maybe shows not so much about the fickle nature of history or the inevitability of intelligence or even about foolish it is to draw deep philosophical lessons from a crappy fossil record.  But that, well, the Earth was a really weird place 550, 450, 250, 50, 5 million years ago and that we have a lot more surprises in store and a lot more to learn.  But we will, in fits and starts, and what we do discover will change our picture of our place in the universe.  Or maybe it won’t.

[I hit delete.]

Because it’s Friday afternoon, and that all sounds pretty damn pretentious and sappy and inconclusive.  Why not throw together a link-heavy meta-post [I thought], then sit back and watch the links decay over the years until all that’s left is an ambiguous smear that’s difficult to make any sense of.

Then I remembered that it’s post a Fall song on your blog day.

Small, Old, Dead Things

9 May 2010

A few weeks ago I shared a trick (I guess the cool kids call these ‘hacks’) that I learned from Alex Wild for getting decent makeshift macro shots with a cell-phone camera. By placing a magnifying lens in front of the camera lens, one can shorten the focal length of the phone camera allowing decent close-up shots of relatively small objects.

Lately the geobloggers have picked up on this technique, not surprisingly as geologists tend to always have a hand lens at the ready, and posted some great closeup shots of, well, rocks. Mountain Beltway started the trend (I guess the cool kids call these ‘memes’), Highly Allochthonous and Looking for Detachment have posted some nice comparison shots illustrating the potential, and limitations, of this technique.

I’ve been playing with this a lot over the last few weeks – mostly with bugs but also getting some nice atmospheric (I guess the cool kids would say ‘pornographic’) floral shots.

Inspired by Callan and co. I decided to turn my lenses toward the various bits of small, dead, old things scattered around our house. My mom asked for a rock for Mother’s Day, so, until I get one in the mail these will have to suffice.

I’m to lazy to ID these right now, so have fun guessing in the comments:

All photos taken with an iphone 3GS and 10x triplet hastings lens.

Cranchid Crankiness

7 May 2010

It seems the Conservative, uh victory?, in the UK is having an effect on the state media already.  Check out this extremely toned-down version of the classic squid/whale/bus chart.  Gone is the blue gradient fill, exaggerated length estimates, hey, even the scale bar has been cleaned up.  And we haven’t lost our scepticism about whether this squid is truly colossal or just ‘colossal’.  It’s a new era of teuthous responsibility I suppose.

Though, not so much with the ‘facts’:

Its large size and predatory nature fuelled the ancient myth of the underwater “kraken” seamonster and modern speculation that the colossal squid must be aggressive and fast, attributes that allow it to prey on fish and even give sperm whales a hard time. “Monster colossal squid is slow not fearsome predator” Jody Bourton BBC April 7 2010

It is not quite clear to me how a squid native to Antarctic waters and discovered in 1925 influenced Medieval European mythology, but, hey, you know, whatever.  I also like the image of Mesonychoteuthis giving Physeter a ‘hard time‘:

“Hey sperm breath–where you going?  Oh, you’re going to eat me?  Ooooh I’m soooo scared…”

To be fair, the general tone of the article is pretty true to that of the new study on which it is based (Rosa and Seibel 2010).  It’s a neat, albeit rather hypothetical paper, that takes what little is known about the anatomy of the world’s largest invertebrate and plugs it into a model based on the relationship between water temperature, body-size and metabolism observed in other squid species.  These parameters suggest that Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni is a cool and calculating cold-blooded killer that ambushes its prey.

Both Rosa and Seibel and the BBC article insinuate that this is something of a surprise, flying in the face of previous theories that Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni was an active predator.  However, it seems to me that a low metabolic rate, with reduced feeding rates and activity patterns, would be the default assumption for an enormous ectothermic invertebrate living in very deep, very cold waters.  It would be interesting to know how the metabolism and activity pattern of juveniles, which start out life only a few millimeters long and generally live in shallower waters, differs from those of 15 m long adults.  Well, interesting to me anyway.

Photo from the awesome Te Papa museum Colossal squid dissection blog

At any rate though, I’m with Arch Anemone on this one.  By the BBC’s criteria, crocodiles, anacondas and bird-eating spiders aren’t fearsome like chihuahuas and dragonflies.  Okay, chihuahuas and dragonflies are pretty fearsome.  But I think a 15 meter long squid lurking in the darkness  just waiting for something to bump into an enormous tentacle lined with swiveling hooks which will drag it down into its snapping beak?  That’s pretty damn fearsome too.

Plus anything that eats Toothfish is worthy of respect.  Unless you call them “Chilean Sea Bass.”  Then you should be ashamed of yourself.

Rui Rosa and Brad A. Seibel 2010 Slow pace of life of the Antarctic colossal squid. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, Published online by Cambridge University Press doi:10.1017/S0025315409991494


7 May 2010

Thee all the mountains praise,

The rocks and glens are full of song to Thee;

They bid me join my lays

And laud the Almighty Rock,

Who safe from every shock

Beneath Thy shadow here dost shelter me.

I hear the waters rush

Far down beneath me in the hidden glen,

They break the quiet hush,

And quicken all my mind

With keen desire to find

The Fountain whence all gladness flows to men.

Unbegreiflich Gut, wahrer Gott alleine” Joachim Neander 1677, trans. Catherine Winkworth 1869

Joachim Neander, so the apocryphal tale goes, composed this ode to nature [spoiler alert: nature = God] in a cave overlooking the Düssel river.  He had just been relieved of his post as headmaster at the parochial school for radical activities–you know, preaching in the countryside, making unauthorized alterations to school buildings, skipping communion to avoid the unconverted, riling up the youth.  Neander sought refuge in the karst gorge known in his day as Das Gesteins, “The Rockiness”, turning grottoes into makeshift chapels and writing hymns inspired by the landscape around him.  The pastor eventually settled in Bremen, contracted tuberculosis, and died in 1680 only 30 years old.

By the 19th century locals were calling the valley Neandershöle (which, by the way, anyone want to start a black metal band with me?) and eventually Neanderthal and then by the deus ex lexica of “Orthographic Reform” Neandertal.

In 1856 another teacher in the valley Johann Karl Fuhlrott was called by quarry workers that had cut into a cave.  Within the cave they had found bones, which they took to be bear bones.

Carl Zimmer  picks up the story from there.

Mandalatory Reading

5 May 2010

Go read this. Seriously.  Now.  Live fish dumped from airplanes.

Harissa Grilled Trout:

Clean trout and remove head (optional)

Rinse trout and pat dry with paper towel

Make harissa (ask Jessica, but basically this just involves re-hydrating some dried chiles and pureeing them with some olive oil, garlic and spices, probably coriander, cumin, and maybe pepper, super easy and will keep in the fridge for a week or more)

Spread the harissa, liberally, all over the myomeres I don’t know what you call them in fish, subcostalis?

You can thin the harissa out with some water if you want first use your best judgement here

I don’t know, you can squirt some lemon on there too if you want

Let fish sit in a closed container in the fridge for a “while”

Start the grill, and allow to come to uniform high temperature

You can oil the grill to keep the fish from sticking

Or, Actually like to make a bed of rosemary on the grill and put the fish skin-side down on that, genius

It will be done eventually, you don’t even have to flip it, just cook skin side down for with the cover on the grill till the harissa is dark and delicious and the fish is cooked all the way through – maybe 6 minutes depending on the size of your fish.