Archive for the 'dude' Category

Tales from the Crypt (or, some things that happened on the internet yesterday and today)

10 July 2013

Yesterday’s XKCD makes a good point except of course that belief in the supernatural and cryptozoologic can be stoked, but never be crushed by iPhones or instagram. The ability to construct and disseminate hoax, fraud and rumor follow similar but maybe steeper curves. Not that this is all a grassroots phenomenon.

The following exchange took place in my oceanography class this summer:

student: I know this is going to sound stupid, but I have to ask you this.

me: Go for it.

student: Ok so, I’m a nerd, and I watch the Discovery Channel.

me: I watch Discovery, what are you saying? [note: this is basically a lie, but I thought it would make for humorous banter]

other student: Ohmygawd I LOVE River Monsters.

other other student: I’ve watched that like ten times. It’s ALWAYS a catfish.

original student: No, no, I have to ask this. Is there like a small chance, I mean like ANY chance that mermaids are real?

me: [literally SMH]

Coincidentally (OR IS IT!?) today’s Tet Zoo deconstructs some best of Nessie photos (aka NOW that’s what I call Nessie Vol. IX). Toward the end of that post, Darren reports that props from cryptozoological television specials are now apparently being repurposed to foist new hoaxes on the loch … which no doubt will attract new television crews … who will build more props …

None of which–the sorry state of “scientific” television programming, the slimy hucksters that pose as outsider scientists, the general dumbness of people–particularly gets me down.

Except! I was getting terminal facemelt from today’s B^3 post when it hit me: there are many, many, more people who are obsessed with animals THAT DON’T EXIST, than people who even just maybe know about actual live living real life actually really real magical monsters like Fiery-throated Hummingbirds, or even Resplendent Quetzals (a bird which is, quite literally, money).

Which, I’m too old to be crotchety anymore, but just seems, well, kinda sad.

But then you see an amazing video like the one up top there where a fantastical animal that shouldn’t even be there, calmly waltzes into view and you remember that there is magic in the world that could never be touched by profit-crazed production companies or pseudoscientific fame-whores.

Thanks internetses!

What the huh?

14 March 2013

back in bad old days I would have taken the discovery of extensive hind-limb feathering in Mesozoic birds (Zheng el al. 2013 just published in Science) as an invitation to leap off into half-formed speculations about serial homology and scansoriality, or launch a never to be completed series of posts about phugoids, or try to coin some dumb, clonky neologism like “glight.”

Or at least tilt, askance (if that’s not overdoing it), at some windmill of a science writer, and flail and froth against some perceived distortion or mislocution, all pshaw and tsk and really? I mean, really? I mean. Come on. My disheveled and worn tibiotarsal feathers would have literally ruffled in a sadly unconvincing bluff.

These days I just fly over all that crap. Like glorious tropic bird, I soar far above and beyond  gliding on trade winds over the horizon until my luminous volant form becomes one with comet Pan-STARRS.

But. Let me swoop down among the motley enantiornithine fray for just one sec to say,

The 150-million-year-old Archaeopteryx from Germany, sometimes called the first bird, probably had feathers on its forelimbs. But recent fossil finds question whether it was a birdlike dinosaur rather than a dinosaurlike member of the true bird lineage. So the Chinese team wrote that, only until now, no examples of the unusual four-wing structure “have so far been reported in basal birds.”

…what the huh?

Archaeopteryx “probably had feathers on its forelimbs”?

Perhaps, “hindlimbs” is what is meant. If so this passage resolves into semi-comprehensibility. But the whole “birdlike dinosaur” vs “dinosaurlike member of the true bird lineage” circumlocution still bugs me. It underscores why the apparently irrepressible urge to draw a line in the sand with “birds” on one side and “dinosaurs” on the other is entirely misbegotten. Especially with deinonychosaurs and scansoriopterygids and Xiaotingia and even Archie herself dancing around the avialan tree like some drunken dryads at an absinthe party.

Wait. What was I saying? Never mind. Got it out of my system.

Aight, dudes, imma go back to high-fiving Beebe in my celestial pleasure dome. Smell you later.

Interview with an owl is an owl is an

4 December 2012

microecos: Hey dude.

Dr. Neil Patrick Kelley: ¿sup?

m.e.: been awhile!

me: no doubt. did that video though.

m.e.: whatcha been up to?

me: finished my dissertation! also, freelance herp ids on the blogs.

m.e.: big ups. and you had a kid right?

me: Yes! She’s a year old already.

m.e.: explains the slow down around here, I guess.

me: Oh. yeah. sorry. Have you seen my Tumblr?

m.e.: um. yeah. how much of that is “you”.

me: depends. sometimes I append lengthy comments to things there, so I “engage” with the “material” at least.

m.e.: I don’t think that’s how Tumblr works. Anyway with the theme you are using you can’t even see that stuff.

me: you’re probably right.

m.e.: so.

me: so….


me: I was thinking though, now that I’ve got that out of the way I can start reblogging in earnest. I mean, resume blogging. Original stuff.

m.e.: well you’ve got the domain so you need to do something with that.

me: Ugh. that sounds like so much work.

m.e.: love “Dust. Wind. Dude.” though. Classic shit.

me: Yeah.

m.e.: can I level with you?

me: of course!

m.e.: I don’t know. I’m not sure that I can get back to that, *level*. What do people even blog about NOW?

me: Shut up, you read 172 blogs religiously.

m.e.: Srsly.

me: You know that blog, Ichthyosaurs: a day in the life?

m.e.: Love it.

me: I did this:

m.e.: Yikes.

me: …

m.e.: Ease up on the distortion. Everyone knows you can’t sing. But you are stomping on your jokes there.

me: Jokes?

m.e.: “Nobody was really sure/If she was a stem-archosauromorph?”

me: zing!

m.e.: I like how you break the rhyme there. Very Sir A. L. Webster. But  breviceps is still in Ichthyosaurus right?

me: I think I meant <i>jancieps</i>. Ugh. how did I pass?

m.e.: Generosity. I don’t think we’re in an html interface.

me: This seems indulgent.

m.e.: which?

mi: right

yo: You’ve still got the 15 valid thalattosaur species to blog about right? Everyone’s waiting.

i: depends how you count, <i>Anshunsaurus</i> is a little volatile … ?<i>Blezingeria</i>

m.e.: Dude. Markup.

me: Dude. Marker’s Mark. RIP:

m.e.: Nobody will watch that. WordPress enforces a strict 1 video embed only policy. To preserve people’s sanity.

me: Good for them. ALL of them.

m.e.: I was going to title the one about the North American species: “North American Scum”

mi: I get it, they’re all so fragmentary. Agkistrognathus is pretty sick though, not nearly enough play in the liberal media.

m.e.: Whooping Cranes nearby. Maybe 10 klicks.

me: Private property. Can’t see them.

m.e.: Good for them. ALL of them.

me: Is the Marker video working now?

28 October 2012

Some millennia ago receding tides of ice left boulders scattered about Toronto and the city has made do from there.

Some punks accost us on the steps of the hostel. A raccoon scales the building effortlessly. I fight, physically, my female Chinese colleague over a check for Delirium Tremens in a hipster bar while Ray Davies whines in a weird, cool, way.

The interpreter walks into the memory hole and may never walk out again?

These are latter days, we know.


Only later did I stumble across this footage of the aforementioned procyonid. Would love to recut the above to include this, along with various additional salamander sequences that turned up in post production. Alas, who has the time?

But I don’t even *like* tyrannosaurs…

22 May 2012

Drama in real life by the inimitable Valin Mattheis.

I mean, I don’t not like them, but they always seemed bit … gauche you know? Like truck nuts or something. No, no … truck nuts are obviously odious, but for me those bone-crunching Cretaceous behemoths are just, a little much. I mean like speed metal, metal. I mean if that’s your thing, great. More power to you. I’ll stick with my thalattosaurs and Indonesian garage rock thank you very much.

Anyway, so it was an odd weekend.

Late Friday afternoon, moments before leaving to pick up my father and step-mother from the airport I posted a petition at In short, the petition was a response to a letter by the President of Mongolia calling attention to a lot of fossils, including a nearly complete Tyrannosaurus/Tarbosaurus bataar, which went up for auction on Sunday. Soon the petition had picked up a hundred, then five hundred, then, shortly before the sale went forward crossed one thousand signatures. I am not going to reiterate the details of the situation which you can dig into in great detail by checking out the petition page (and you can sign it if you’d like while your there) and by reading Brian Switek’s coverage of the auction and attendant backlash.

I’m not yet convinced that online petitions are worth anything but it seemed like literally the least I could do, aside from doing nothing. Not because I felt a particularly strong personal attachment to the issue of probable looted Mongolian fossils going up for auction. I do think that it is an affront to science and more broadly to the dignity of both land and people to skirt local laws and regulations, rapidly and often recklessly digging up potentially invaluable fossils shipping them overseas and raking in millions by selling them to some overly-wealthy douche who wants a dinosaur for his den or whatever.

But it happens everyday, and I’ve never before been moved to try to get out and effect change on this issue. And I’ll readily admit that things get complex. In the United States fossils found on private land are treated as property of the landowner just like mineral rights and it seems to me that this is not out of keeping with broader U.S. social and legal culture and that’s fine. It’s regrettable when it means that scientifically important fossils are lost to the scientific community, but it’s the law and I accept that. If you have fossils on your land in the U.S. you can build a cabin out of them, sell them to a creationist museum or grind them up and smoke them. Knock yourself out, I guess.

But there is something decidedly different about going to a country that has clear laws in place to protect its fossils and exploiting the inability of that nation to effectively enforce its laws and get rich by ripping off its resources. Sure, maybe Western scientists operated in a similar fashion decades ago, though often minus the “clear laws in place” and “get rich” parts. And sure, maybe you invested thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars to find, collect (steal), transport, prepare and mount your plunder. And maybe if you are sneaky enough to get it out without detection and manage to destroy or obscure any evidence of criminal activity and get your ill gotten gains to another country the actual sale itself might be perfectly legal.  None of these excuses, which appeared in various forms in statements by the auction house and in the fascinating and at times brain-crushingly frustrating comment thread on Switek’s post, make it an ethical thing to do.

As to my prior ambivalent feelings about tyrannosaurs, let’s just say they’re “evolving.”



Almost, but not quite, entirely unlike a squirrel

6 November 2011


Tortured analogies, dissimiles and overwhelming exceptions are pretty much par for the course in the paleo-press. From the weirdly enduring characterization of plesiosaurs as “snakes drawn through the body of a turtle” (and that analogy is a story in itself but I’ll try to stay focussed here), to the hilariously grandineloquent attempts to explain what a raoellid looked like that flooded the media a few years ago its enough to make a baraminologist’s head explode.

And if you thought that was a clunky bit of exposition check out the first paragraph of this story from NPR about the recently described (and awesomely named) dryolestoid Cronopio from the Late Cretaceous of South America:

Imagine a critter about the size of a squirrel. Imagine it with big eyes and a long snout. Now imagine it with canine fangs about one-fifth the length of its head. That’s the kind of a mammal that scientists said today was walking among dinosaurs more than 100 million years ago.

Calls to mind that old riddle:

Q: How is a raven like a writing desk?

A: Neither have handle bars.

Or something like that.

And speaking of Poe, sorta, NPR doubly drops the balls by not seizing the opportunity to introduce us to Julio Cortázar, the Argentine author whose cronopios, those “greenish, fizzly, wet objects,” loan their name to the newly described Mesozoic mammal. Instead we get a hyperlink non-sequitur to some Livescience schlockalism about cryptids. Complete with broken image links … ooh “king cheetah” those are cryptic.

Not that I don’t sympathize. Dryolestoids really are like brave firemen, dysfunctional politicians, or shallow Kardashians … with sabre-teeth. These small, largely insectivorous mammals pretty much embody the traditional view that Mesozoic mammals were retiring, shrew-like animals that spent the majority of their time not getting stepped on by terrible, really horrible, lizards. The reality turns out to be rather more interesting, but with things like Repenomamus, Volaticotherium or Castorocauda to freak out about it is easy to forget that a substantial portion of Mesozoic mammals really were skittering little bug-eaters.

As are many today. Not that that makes them boring. I mean, dude, man, tenrecs! Solenodons! Shrew caravans! Mother fucking boogie-boogie hedgehogs!

I mean, I get it. Most people have seen Ice Age. Tragically few know what a solenodon is. Almost nobody has any fucking clue what a dryolestoid is. But here a chance to attack that latter deficiency is more or less squandered by a lazy pop-culture reference.

And, for that matter, why don’t we have more major motion pictures starring solenodons? I mean, Dreamworks, really? Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted? That doesn’t even make any sense. Hey Jeff, let’s just scrap this Madagascar 4 nonsense and go full bore into this Hispañola project I was telling you about. Toussaint the solendon (I’m thinking Ed Norton), survives a scary run-in with a vodou practicing gigantic barn owl and feuds with a hutia named Duarte (I was thinking Patton Oswalt but maybe that’s too on the nose? Jonah Hill?) before the two set their differences aside and team up to spearhead a major reforestation initiative that improves air and water quality across the island. Think Fern Gully meets Princess Mononoke. I smell Oscar….

Minimalism as a trope in Early Triassic cephalopod artistic traditions

10 October 2011

The recognition that Shonisaurus death assemblages preserved in the Late Triassic aged Lunning Formation represent large-format self portraits created by hyper-intelligent Kraken like cephalopods marks the beginning of a dramatic paradigm shift in paleontology. This break-through insight requires cold reappraisal of 200 years of research and a thorough re-imagining of more than 200 million years of evolutionary history. Here, we report surprising evidence that minimalist artistic traditions were already deeply entrenched among cephalopod artists by the late Early Triassic. A single small ichthyosaur vertebrae set in a lime mud matrix confronts the viewer with ambiguous questions about mortality, corporeality, decay and emptiness. Although the precise social context of this work remains unclear, perhaps the single bone was placed in an unusual setting that undermined the “authenticity” of the piece, and underscored the inherent absurdity of art à la Duchamp’s Fountain (1917).

It seems surprising that this abstracted form antedates the highly figurative I, Kraken piece which dates to the earlier late (or perhaps later early) part of the Late Triassic. Assuming this work of understated irony is  a response to bourgeois excess, widely emulated figurative traditions must have been developed by the Permian. Alternatively, perhaps the historical trajectory of of cephalopod aesthetics followed a very different course than that of 20th Century Western societies (human). The identification of  hyper-minimalist tropes approaching the Suprematism of Malevich or the early works of Rauschenburg, could help to better establish the temporal polarity of the evolution of aesthetic movements in Mesozoic (and even Paleozoic) cephalopod art.  Thus particular attention should be paid to works of cephalopod art that show no clear signs of being “made,” whether they be barren bedding planes, massive mudstones entirely devoid of fossils, or even paraconformities.