Showing posts with label not work. Show all posts
Showing posts with label not work. Show all posts

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Fine Feathered Friends

The Royal Alberta Museum is also currently hosting a temporary exhibit on the use of feathers in hat-making (millinery!) and fashion, called Fashioning Feathers. I'm not usually all that into the history of costume and fashion in museums, and so I was pleasantly surprised by how interesting I found this particular exhibit. I think it was the intersection of biology and fashion that was so neat.
There was a wide variety of taxidermied bird specimens showing what species were used for different styles, like in the photo above.
Besides the usual pheasants and roosters, there were some really unusual birds on display, like this Western Crowned Pigeon (Goura cristata).
I was pretty shocked to learn that many brilliantly coloured tropical birds, like birds of paradise, were dyed black for use in hats.  These three parrots are actually dyed Carolina parakeets (Conuropsis carolinensis), which, through a combination of hunting, habitat loss, and the plume trade, went extinct in 1918.
Audubon's Carolina parakeets, via Wikipedia.
Why not use naturally black or dark-coloured birds? Whatever would possess someone to harvest such colourful birds only to dye them black, when there are SO MANY shiny black birds present in North America? The mind boggles.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Ontario Science Centre

I’m back from a vacation to visit various family members scattered around the globe, including a stop in Toronto. It was time for a long overdue visit to the Ontario Science Centre, which I hadn’t visited since I was in my early teens, but which was one of my very favourite places when I was younger.

The Ontario Science Centre was built in 1969 and was a pretty revolutionary place at the time, as instead of the stereotypical ‘static’ museum displays pretty much everything was hands-on in some way. There are great exhibits on astronomy and the human body, an indoor rainforest with some really cool poison dart frogs, a fin whale skeleton, and the Science Arcade, which is probably one of the most fun science exhibits to play in.

The Human Body gallery includes a pickled elephant heart, smaller Arbour sibling for scale.
The only exhibit that I couldn’t make up my mind about was A Question of Truth, which purportedly attempts to examine bias in science. In essence, I like what this exhibit is trying to do – there are some good demonstrations of how unconscious biases about gender, race, and culture can affect your interpretations of various phenomena. For example, there was an excellent display about IQ tests that did a really great job showing just how subjective measures of intelligence can be. On the flip side, there were some really questionable ideas being thrown around, and a fair amount of support for woo in the form of ‘alternative medicine’. An example I’ll take from their website: “Compare different models of our Solar System and discovery that there’s more than one correct way to look at the skies...”. No. It is ok to discuss the history of our interpretations of the solar system, and to explain why there were different theories, but to imply that there is more than one right answer is misleading.


And speaking of space, our favourite find at the centre was this incredible exhibit on cosmic rays. Cosmic rays striking the super-cooled alcohol vapour leave bright tracks like contrails. (Fun fact: the narrator is Canadian astronaut Julie Payette.) A minor criticism is that the cosmic ray exhibits, being set in a small room across from the planetarium, are not particularly well marked, and it takes a bit of hunting through the placards on the walls to actually figure out what you’re looking at. But what a reward when you do! I’ll admit that I watched this for far, far too long.

One thing I hadn’t realized was that J. Tuzo Wilson (of plate tectonics fame) was a director of the Ontario Science Centre. His contributions to geology are recognized outside the centre with an ‘immovable stake’ showing how much the North American plate has moved since he was born.

Even though there are no fossil exhibits at the Ontario Science Centre, there was a wall of dinosaur stuff in the gift shop. Did you know that ankylosaurs were the laziest of dinosaurs?
Poor ankylosaurs just can’t catch a break.

Friday, April 29, 2011

"Best" and "Worst" Dinosaur Names

A couple of articles I've come across recently have gotten me thinking about dinosaur names, in particular a pair of (admittedly fluffy) articles on, the "10 Worst Dinosaur Names" and the "10 Best Dinosaur Names".

It is interesting but somewhat disheartening to see how the public (and even other scientists, to be honest) react to certain dinosaur names, identifying them as 'good' or 'bad'. What makes a dinosaur name good or bad? I would argue that good names include something descriptive about the animal that sticks in your head, and that can be as simple as a location-based name or as complex as a clever word-play about the morphology or behaviour. Personally, I enjoy when new words, languages, or ideas are introduced into the name, things that haven't been used much previously. There's a lot of 'eo' and 'giganto' out there, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, I certainly derive enjoyment from something unique. I'm not sure what would make a really bad name...perhaps something deliberately meant to look or sound similar to an existing name, thus causing confusion? Something offensive or rude? I can't think of any off the top of my head.

I am therefore disheartened when I see names considered 'bad' because they are too hard to pronounce. You know what? Lots of the dinosaur names are hard to pronounce...if English isn't your first language. In the "10 Worst" list, Futalognkosaurus (with futalognko derived from Mapudungun) sounds "like a hot dog", and Piatnitzkysaurus (named after a Russian-born Argentinian palaeontologist) has perhaps the worst writeup: "...the problem is that some paleontologists have cooler names than others." Yeah. By this logic, people with non-English names have less cool names, and that strikes me as an awfully wrong sort of thing to say or think. I see a lot of complaints whenever a Chinese dinosaur has a (gasp!) Chinese place name, and Zhuchengtyrannus comes to mind. Zhuchengtyrannus is a perfectly fine name. If you're not sure what to do with the 'zh' combination, look it up.

Just as an example, let's look at the list of names in the 10 worst and 10 best lists and see what languages they're derived from.

The ten worst:
1. Becklespinax: after fossil collector Beckles (England), spinax is either Latin or Greek
2. Futalognkosaurus: futalognko is from Mapudungun (Argentina), Greek saurus
3. Leaellynasaura: after the collector's daughter Leaellyn (Australia), Greek saura
4. Monoclonius: Greek
5. Mymoorapelta: from the Mygatt-Moore quarry, pelta from Greek
6. Opisthocoelicaudia: opisthocoel from Greek, caudia from Latin
7. Pantydraco: from Pant-y-ffynnon quarry (Wales) and Latin draco
8. Piatnitzkysaurus: after palaeontologist Piatnitzky (Russia) and Greek saurus
9. Sinusonasus: although I'm not sure, pretty sure sinusoidal and nasus are both Latin
10. Uberabatitan: from Uberaba locality (Brazil), Greek titan

The ten best:
1. Achillobator: from Greek Achilles and Mongolian bator
2. Gigantoraptor: Latin or Latin and Greek
3. Iguanacolossus: Latin
4. Khaan: Mongolian
5. Raptorex: Latin
6. Skorpiovenator: Greek
7. Stygimoloch: Styx is Greek, moloch is Hebrew
8. Supersaurus: Greek
9. Tyrannotitan: Greek
10. Vulcanodon: Greek

I think it's pretty safe to say that the 'best' names are overwhelmingly Greek and Latin, and therefore relatively easy to pronounce by English speakers. I realize that this is a very small sample and perhaps I should not read so closely into it, but it bothers me when I hear people complain that dinosaur names are hard to say just because they are foreign-sounding. Palaeontology is not just for anglophones.

To end on a lighter note, here are a few names incorporating non-Latin or Greek words that I really, really like.
1. Balaur (a dromaeosaur): Romanian for dragon
2. Banji (an oviraptorosaur): Chinese for striped crest
3. Citipati (another oviraptorosaur):  Sanskrit for funeral pyre lord, and a character in Tibetan Buddhist mythology
4. Ilokelesia (an abelisaur): Mapuche for flesh lizard
5. Jeyawati (a basal hadrosauroid): Zuni for grinding mouth
6. Kakuru (a theropod, maybe a coelurosaur): Guyani (Australian) name for the mythical Rainbow Serpent
7. Kol (an alvarezsaur): Mongolian for foot
8. Seitaad (a prosauropod): a sand-desert creature from Navajo mythology

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fossils and Visual Design

It is not a particularly inspired title for today's post. This semester I am taking a course on introductory visual design through the U of A's faculty of extension - I figure that scientists need some graphical literacy in addition to numerical literacy and regular ol' literacy literacy. But I'm cheating a little: I'm having fun with fossils and science in my art class. Here's a few things I've made over the last few weeks:

Learning about the value scale with ammolited ammonites!

A series of quickie paintings to study negative and positive space AND the analogous colour scale.

And my favourite so far, a piece inspired while learning about line. This wasn't strictly homework, but I had done a similar one of a pear (our homework was to draw four different versions of said pair) and wanted to do something slightly more awesome. I think Styracosaurus lends itself quite nicely to funky lines!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


This Christmas break my family decided to trek down to Pompeii to visit the ruins and Mount Vesuvius, something that I have wanted to do for a long time. If you’ve ever taken an introductory geology class, then you’ve probably heard the story of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, as it is used to illustrate several concepts about volcanic eruptions. The 79 AD eruption began with a Plinian eruption, where a large column of ash extends high into the air, as far as the stratosphere. The term “Plinian eruption” is derived directly from the 79 AD Vesuvius eruption – Pliny the Younger was one of the first people to describe a volcanic eruption in detail. There are many examples of Plinian eruptions from the last few decades – Mount Pinatubo in 1991, Mount St. Helens in 1980, and most recently, Eyjafjallaj√∂kull in 2010. After a day of Plinian-style eruption, several pyroclastic flows covered the cities of Pompeii, and, in particular, Herculaneum. Like many other volcanos, Mount Vesuvius is found at the intersection of two plate boundaries. The African Plate is subducting (diving down) beneath the Eurasian Plate, and as this occurs, melted rock moves up towards the surface and eventually erupts from the volcano.

The volcano was steaming away when we climbed it last week – a good reminder that Vesuvius is just snoozing, not dead.

Wikipedia directed me to this very interesting article about the danger Vesuvius poses today to an ever-growing population along its flanks. A future eruption by Vesuvius could seriously affect at least 600 000 people who live in the ‘red zone’, and up to 3 million people in the surrounding areas. There are emergency plans in place to evacuate these people, but there is concern that they may not be adequate. During our walk up the volcano, I did spot a lot of interesting looking monitoring stations, and you can see what Vesuvius is up to at this website.

On a somewhat lighter note, you can get Pizze Plinio in Pompei! (It has bufala and parmesan cheese, prosciutto crudo, tomatoes, and rocket lettuce...which I suppose is like a volcano...a delicious, delicious volcano...).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Being a palaeontologist is awesome!

...because on your birthday, you get cool dinosaur toys.

(Thanks Mom & Dad and Pete.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Hey look, a Christmas tree!

But what's that lurking in the plastic foliage?

Why, it's a tree composed of 80% small plastic dinosaur ornaments! How lovely!
(The remaining breakdown is 10% hilarious cellphone charms, ironic because neither of us have cellphones, and 10% real ornaments given to us by our families [at least 40% of which are Disney-related in some way].)

You may wonder why a festive witch adorns the top of the tree. In Italy, Santa Claus was not really a big deal until after World War II - before then, Christmas gifts were given not on Christmas Day, but on the Epiphany, and were delivered by La Befana. Last Christmas I got my very own Christmas Witch complete with sack full of delicious candy.

Pete and I have been having a lot of fun transforming dollar store plastic animals and dinosaurs into Christmas ornaments. I also had a great set of really cool dinosaur skulls from a Safari Toob, which turned into AWESOME decorations. The set included traditional Christmas favourites such as Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus, Diplodocus, Brachiosaurus, Velociraptor and Parasaurolophus, the slightly more obscure Carnotaurus, Dilophosaurus, and Oviraptor, and the newcomers Nigersaurus and Dracorex! Isn't that neat?

Are you getting festive with dinosaurs this year?

***and yes, I realize it's pretty early for a tree. But we had these awesome ornaments, and we were excited, and besides, why not?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Victoria in Victoria

In addition to visiting the Royal BC Museum last week, I also spent a bit of time wandering around Victoria. It is a very pleasant city and it was nice to wander near the ocean again, even if only for a day.

Hey! That person has the same name as me or something.

This is the Fairmont Empress Hotel, something of a landmark in Victoria. Also note the presence of a palm tree in Canada.

I stopped by the Pacific Undersea Gardens, which seems to have bad reviews on a lot of tourist sites, but that I rather liked. You go down a cool tunnel and view fish in what is essentially a fenced-off portion of the harbour. It's all sealife that can be found in the area, so they aren't necessarily as showy as tropical fish, but it was very interesting. There were lingcod, spiny rock cod, a silvery school of salmon, anemones, bright purple starfish, and kelp. The neatest part of the experience is the live theatre, where every hour a scuba diver enters part of the tank at one end of the boat and shows off crabs and starfish, feeds the fish, and plays with the amazing wolf eel (named Eli) and giant pacific octopus (named Armstrong).

Here's some video I took of the dive show! I was very excited to see the octopus. This was the first time I've seen a live octopus that I wasn't about to eat.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

A visit to the Jurassic Forest.

The University of Alberta has a pretty active Palaeontological Society with undergrad, grad student, and faculty members, and when we can we try to organize palaeo-themed field trips. Lucky for us, this summer Edmonton had a very cool new dinosaur attraction open called the Jurassic Forest, so of course we had to check it out.

I should probably point out that winter arrives early in Edmonton...we had our first snowfall earlier this week.

One of the nicest things about the Jurassic Forest is that the animatronic dinosaurs are presented in what is probably close to their ‘natural’ habitat. Many of them are partially obscured by the trees and the effect can be quite convincing as you come up on these little vignettes. Here an Albertosaurus charges a herd of Styracosaurus, who wave their frills and roar.

One of the favourites was the pair of Edmontosaurus. I think it was the combination of the position in the forest, the lighting, and the fairly anatomically correct animatronics – all the details added up to really transport you back in time. Plus, Edmontosaurus may even have seen the occasional weather like this...

Another favourite was the duelling Pachycephalosaurus!

Most of the animatronics were pretty good, and Scott and I are pretty sure they are done by the same company that did the ones we saw at Dino Dino Dream Park back in Beijing this summer. The only ones I was really disappointed with were the Pteranodon, which were standing on their back legs, leaning forward, wings spread and ‘flapping’. Why won’t people show quadrupedal pterosaurs? They would still look cool!

I was also pleased to see two ankylosaurs make an appearance! Although both were labelled “Ankylosaurus”, they were clearly modeled off the British Museum’s Euoplocephalus specimen, but that’s ok. They were trying.

Tyrannosaurus closes the show at the end of the trails, of course. Somewhat bizarrely, he is roaring while eating a baby Corythosaurus and stepping on another somewhat indeterminate hadrosaur.

The Jurassic Forest also has a playground and sand pit for digging up fossils, and a multi-purpose educational room. I hear that their first summer of operation went pretty well, and I’m glad – the experience is pretty fun, and although Alberta has a lot of dinosaur attractions, we didn’t really have anything near Edmonton besides a small display at the Royal Alberta Museum. Some of the models are a little off, and there isn’t a whole lot of coherency to what dinosaurs appear in which order. But the placement of the dinosaurs in the forest is really great, there’s lots of signage about the science of palaeontology, and I think that with a tour guide for a school group this would be an excellent educational resource. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to go back in the spring or summer when it’s a bit greener!

Friday, October 15, 2010

All work and no play....


Here's a short video showing just how long the tail of the Carnegie Apatosaurus is. It just keeps going and going and going...


Each year the SVP hosts a benefit auction to support society activities. And each year the auction committee has a fun theme that they dress up to - previous years have included Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, James Bond, and Monty Python. This year we got Star Trek! So an already nerdy bunch of nerds got even nerdier. I was rather excited by the presence of tribbles.

Tribbles are dangerous and should be avoided by people who like to collect stuff.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Back to Ulaanbaatar.

I’m back from the Gobi!

The Korea-Mongolia International Dinosaur Project’s final field season was excellent and I will post some Gobi photos once I get myself sorted out in Edmonton in a few days. Dinosaurs were collected, friends were made, and many miles were walked.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a few photos of some of my favourite Mongolian things, besides the dinosaurs of course. We were able to catch a performance by Tumen Ekh, the national song and dance ensemble. It was fantastic, and showcased many of the different songs and dances of Mongolia. The first photo above is of a Tsam Dancer. Tsam dances are Buddhist ceremonies imported to Mongolia from Tibet, and feature elaborate decorated costumes and giant masks. Our performance had many interesting characters, but my favourite was this fellow, Tshoijoo, God of the Dead and Defender of the Faith.

There were several numbers by singers and the orchestra, which featured the morin khuur (horse-headed fiddles). The singer in this photo is performing a short-form song. There were also examples of long-form singing and throat singing.

One of the most impressive performances was by the contortionists. They are so strong!

That’s all for now – more Mongolia posts in a few days. Cheers all!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Happy Suwon

Before we headed to the Korean Folk Village we had a bit of a stroll around the streets near the Suwon train station. There is a great pedestrian street with lots of interesting shops and restaurants.

I loved the jumble of signs! Although it was quiet in the morning, by the time we returned for dinner it was bustling with lots and lots of people.

The sign says “bee-eh kae-been” – beer cabin. Moose! Feels like home?

For dinner we ate at a Japanese-Korean fusion restaurant and had some very tasty chicken and seafood dishes. As appetizers, however, we got a bowl of interesting looking pine-cone-like things...silkworm larvae! Presumably this is a byproduct of the silk-getting (silking? Seriously, what do you call it?) process. They were cooked, and not squishy but not exactly crunchy. It took me a long time to decide to eat it. They tasted like Zojig’s canned crickets smell. I will probably not partake of the cooked silkworm larvae again.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Korean Folk Village, part 3: in which there is general silliness

For an extra 3000 won (about $3) you could go in the Korean haunted house! Spooky! It was just about the best 3000 won I’ve ever spent. Winding through dark corridors you would occasionally set off a blacklight-lit scene with little animatronics. Spooky characters included a bat eating a person, giant Arthropleura-like centipedes, someone getting pounded to death in a grain mill, and a snake coiling around a person. There were frequent appearances by a monster with a red face and a horn coming out of its forehead – presumably a monster from Korean folklore?

A popular Korean historical drama was filmed at the village, and there are costumes to try on for photos. I figure the hat fits pretty well.

Robin liked the Korean hats! (They were hot and strange.)

Scattered around the grounds were recreation pavilions with musical instruments and board games. There were also these really strange wicker tubes that you were supposed to lie down and hug. Very strange!

Korean Folk Village, part 2: in which there are flora and fauna

A traditional folk painting in Korea includes a tiger, a magpie, and a pine tree, and is called a jakhodo. The pine tree is a symbol of the first month of the year, the tiger has power to chase away evil spirits, and magpies were good omens that brought good news. I like these very much!

One of the very best things we saw at the Korean Folk Village was the process for getting silk from silkworms! I never had a very good idea of this process, and it was really neat to see how it was done in the old days. The silkworm caterpillars are allowed to create their cocoons, and then the pupae are put into boiling water. A few strands are caught from 5-10 pupae, and then wound up onto a rotating wheel. It was really fascinating but also kind of gross, because the pupae bob around in the water in a very disturbing way.

We were also quite delighted by these amazing red, black and white beetles. They could really jump! Any bug people out there have any idea what kind of beetle we saw? (His head is towards the top of the picture.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Korean Folk Village, part 1: in which there is edutainment

Last Saturday we headed in to Suwon to visit the Korean Folk Village. I would highly recommend making the trip in to Suwon if you’re ever visiting Seoul or other nearby cities in Korea. The village is a reconstruction of many different styles and types of Korean buildings – scholar’s homes, temples, palaces, governor’s mansions, or the farmer’s thatched roof cottage (THATCHED ROOF COTTAGES!) shown here. There are so many interactive elements to the whole place - you can learn to make paper, straw sandals, and pottery, or you can try your hand at farm machinery, try catching a mudloach, wear traditional clothes, sit in a palanquin, and tons of other little activities. The three of us learned a lot about traditional Korean culture, AND had a lot of fun – true edutainment. The whole place is a little bit like Fortress Louisbourg in Cape Breton, or Fort Edmonton Park.

Robin and I wrote wishes on little pieces of paper and tied them to the strings on this rock pile. I wished for good specimens during my Gobi fieldwork in August. Robin wished for something lame like health and happiness for her family...

There appeared to be a working Buddhist temple set a little ways off the main paths. Up many sets of stairs and gardens was a beautiful building with this gold Buddha and fruit offerings.

One of my favourite things we saw on Saturday was a traditional farmer’s drum and dance performance. Several of the men were wearing these amazing streamer hats. The sticks on the back of the hats can swing around freely in a circle, and attached to the end is a streamer. By flicking their heads in different directions, the dancers could produce amazing streamer patterns that were completely amazing to watch.