Sunday, September 16, 2012
Thursday, June 16, 2011
The Human Body gallery includes a pickled elephant heart, smaller Arbour sibling for scale.
Friday, April 29, 2011
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
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, Eyjafjallajökull 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
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
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
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
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 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...
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
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
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.
That’s all for now – more Mongolia posts in a few days. Cheers all!
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
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
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?
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!
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
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.