A Glittering Ichthyosaur

24 09 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

It’s fair to say that TTT has been a bit of a “ghost blog” for a few weeks now: a result of my crazed academic schedule to which I’ve yet to fully grow accustomed. As if this weren’t enough, two of my brand new courses are conducting their mid-term examinations early next week, a fact which has forced the hostile takeover of virtually every ounce of free time I’ve managed to scrounge up lately by excessive studying.

Ah, but misery loves company. The fact that mid-terms are a thorn homogeneously spread throughout the sides of undergraduates across the nation affords me the opportunity to occasionally relieve myself from my own scholarly preparations in order to assist my friends in executing theirs. One of my room-mates is an English major whose particular topical line-up for this examination period involves developing an acute knowledge of Joseph Conrad’s melancholy and profoundly disturbing “Heart Of Darkness”, which I, myself had read a few years ago (the horror!). Whilst quizzing him on the book’s finer points via “cliffsnotes”, I noticed that one of the words defined in the volume’s glossary was “Ichthyosaurus“. My curiosity piqued, I scourged the novel for the reference to this most famous of fossilized marine reptiles, leading me to stumble upon the following passage:

“A deadened burst of mighty splashes had reached us from afar, as though an ichthyosaurus [sic] had been taking a bath of glitter in the great river.”

A large ichthyosaur meanders about the famed Crystal Palace Park in London. According to palaeos.com, the first-known ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs "had a strong effect on the 19th century Victorian imagination".

 

Prehistoric reptiles are hardly unknown for their ability to tus make literary cameos, as evidenced by Mark Twain’s occasional dinosaur references to say nothing of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s groundbreaking masterpiece, “The Lost World”. 

Right, then: back to my bloody mathematical formulas!!!





The Simpsons On Evolution

9 03 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

It’s mid-terms week here at MCC, and consequently, I’ve hardly had any free time of late (don’t worry… there WILL be a ‘spotlight’ post this week). In the meantime, check out the Springfield front of the incessant evolution/creationism “debate“.





A Proboscidean Family Portrait

25 01 2010

Good tidings and well-wishes!

At the onset of last Saturday’s ‘Weekly Wonders’ post which featured Prodeinotherium, I lamented my inability to locate any reconstructions of the intriguing animal. Fortunately, however, I’ve recently stumbled upon a wonderful digitalized version of the following image which originally appeared in Jeheskel Shoshani and Pascal Tassy’s incomparable compendium “The Proboscidea: Evolution And Paleoecology Of Elephants And Their Relatives”, which features Prodeinotherium bavaricum (number 4) along with a number of its relatives. Rather than merely inject it into the aforementioned post, I’ve decided that it deserves its own article and consequently obliged.


The animals depicted in the above image are as follows:

1=Moeritherium trigodon

2=Numidotherium koholense

3=Barytherium grave

4=Prodeinotherium bavaricum

5=Palaeomastodon beadnelli

6= Mammut americanum

7= Gomphotherium angustidens

8= Platybelodon grangeri

9= Rhynchotherium tlascalae (which I’ve covered previously here)

10= Cuvieronius hyodon

11= Tetralophodon longirostris

12= Anancus arvernensis

13= Stegolophodon cautleyi

14= Stegodon ganesa (for an interesting article related to which, do go here)

15= Primelephas gomphotheroides

16= Loxodonta africana

17= Elephas maxiums

18= Mammuthus primigenius

May the fossil record continue to enchant us all!





My 2009 Booklist

31 12 2009

Good tidings and well-wishes!

In light of the fact that 2010 (and, by extension, the decade’s conclusion) is fast upon us, I’ve recently been forced to make my resolutions for the approaching year. These decisions are to improve my physical health & appearance and to increase my personal rate of literary consumption. While the confines of this blog inhibit my capacity to translate the former declaration into any sort of meaningful post, I’ve decided to erect an annual chronicle of each book I’ve read in the preceeding year so that I may better regulate the latter. Additionally, I hope that the following miniature reviews of the aforementioned books will prove to be useful to any of my readers who might consider reading them. Thus, without further ado, I humbly present this year’s entry (in chronological order):

NOTE: This list only contains those volumes which I’ve read cover to cover to the exclusion of those I’ve merely referenced (most of which can be found within the citations of earlier, more technical posts).

‘The Top 10 Myths About Evolution’ by Cameron M. Smith & Charles Sullivan

My Thoughts: If you’re already familiar with the most abundant ill-informed critiques of evolutionary theory, this book most likely isn’t for you. However, both authors receive an enormous amount of credit for re-articulating a number of concepts into terms anyone can understand.

‘Mind of the Raven’ by Bernd Heinrich

My Thoughts: I’ve already highlighted a few excerpts from this deliciously intriguing volume here. This has got to be one of the most philosophically stimulating ‘hard science’ books that I’ve read in quite some time, one which should force every reader to at least consider the idea that Homo sapiens is most certainly not the only form of intelligent life on this planet. My only substantial criticism is based upon Heinrich’s writing style which, while clear and coherent, contains an appreciable amount of undue rambling. Nonetheless, if you’re even remotely interested in psychobiology, ornithology, or naturalism in general, I wholeheartedly recommend this evocative book.

‘Mammoth’ by John Varley

My Thoughts: I don’t often read fiction, but when I do, my fodder of choice almost invariably falls within three categories: literature, philosophical thrillers, or sci-fi. I doubt that I’ll need bother mentioning by which title this novel is generally cited. I found it to be vastly entertaining, despite the fact that it inaccurately depicted a handful of its Pleistocene cast members.

‘Your Inner Fish’ by Neil Shubin

My Thoughts: This book is almost immeasurably more satisfying than the mere discussion of Tiktaalik roseae and its discovery I’d anticipated. Instead, it’s an exquisite introduction to the study of the evolutionary path upon which our bodies have traveled for the past 3.5 billion years which has been blessed with the amazingly readable prose of an obviously passionate author. Additionally, it clearly demonstrates that the human body, complex and engaging as it is, is far from perfect and is riddled with fairly obvious design flaws.

‘Mammoths: Giants Of The Ice Age’ by Adrian Lister & Paul Bahn

My Thoughts: I simply cannot think of a better volume through which to introduce the scientific study of the various Mammuthus species than this well-organized and masterfully illustrated compendium. However, I do wish that Lister and Bahn had included a more comprehensive review of early proboscidean evolution: although I realize that, as the title suggests, this wasn’t the point of the book, it would have been very much appreciated.

‘The Search for the Giant Squid: The Biology And Mythology Of The World’s Most Elusive Sea Creature’ by Richard Ellis

My Thoughts: This one was another recipient of its own review back in February, and my opinion of it has scarcely changed since then: had Ellis spent more time ‘covering the basics’ by further discussing the biology of cephalopods rather than dedicating a third of its textual content to essentially highlighting the giant squid’s celebrity status in pop-culture, it could have easily become an indispensible classic rather than the entertaining but ultimately hollow tome.

‘Ishmael’ by Daniel Quinn

My Thoughts: It’s been said that all novels are, in essence, philosophies expressed through an artistic venue. I can think of no better way to describe Dan Quinn’s ‘Ishmael’.  This is a fiercely intelligent cavalcade of earth-shattering philosophical observations guaranteed to spawn an immense amount of self-consideration long after its completion.

‘The Ghosts Of Evolution: Nonsensical Fruit, Missing Partners, And Other Ecological Anachronisms’ by Connie Barlow

My Thoughts: Barlow does an exquisite job of combining personal experience with scientific inquiry to create what can only be described as a highly thought-provoking review of one of the most interesting aspects of evolutionary biology which had me closely scrutinizing any produce I happened to come across for months thereafter.

‘New Rules: Polite Musings From A Timid Observer’ by Bill Maher

My Thoughts: Although I’ll readily concede that his well-documented disdain for Western medicine and crass overall attitude are simply inexcusable, I can’t deny the fact that Bill Maher often raises some excellent points via his televised program and stand-up routines. Nevertheless, this particular volume is naught but a greatly disappointing collection of recycled material, nearly all of which can be found on Youtube.

‘Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers’ by Brooke Allen

My Thoughts: This is required reading for anyone who has even considered becoming involved in the ongoing controversy about the desired strength of church/state separation in the U.S. Allen completely obliterates the mythology surrounding the concept and its annals by providing an arsenal of historical evidence against such unsubstantiated claims as ‘the founding fathers were deeply religious men’ (the most influential ones were primarily deists, agnostics, and universalists), and ‘the United States was founded as a Christian nation’.

‘Why Evolution is True’ by Jerry Coyne

My Thoughts: From now on, when anyone asks me for a fairly comprehensive overview of the evidence for evolution, Jerry Coyne’s new book is the first thing I’ll suggest. Coyne utilizes examples I’d never heard or thought of to make monstrously-effective points which expose the reader to the absolutely mountainous evidence which supports the theory of evolution and by extension, shows him or her precisely why the scientific community accepts it on a universal scale.

‘The Moral Animal (Why We Are The Way We Are): The New Science Of Evolutionary Psychology’ by Robert Wright

My Thoughts: I have to say that, even in the face of such worthy competitors as ‘Your Inner Fish’, ‘Mind Of The Raven’, ‘The Selfish Gene’, and ‘Ishmael’, this was by an appreciable margin the most evocative and eye-opening book I’ve read this year. Evolutionary psychology is easily one of the most controversial subjects in modern science, recruiting such prestigious supporters as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Pinker and such eminent adversaries as Stephen Jay Gould. Wright does a superb job of introducing the reader to this unambiguously captivating, yet divisive, topic. He also earns extra credit in my opinion for highlighting the philosophical struggle which accompanies the discipline by providing a detailed discussion about why the way things are isn’t necessarily the way they ought to be while simultaneously defending a personal allegiance to John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism.

‘Carl Sagan: A Life In The Cosmos’ by William Poundstone

My Thoughts: It’s no secret that I’m an enormous Carl Sagan fan. As an avid proponent of increasing and improving science communication aimed at the public, I can’t think of a better model upon which to base my own efforts than this eloquent messenger of the cosmos. Poundstone’s comprehensive biography delves beyond the mystery to reveal not only an entirely human story behind the scientific celebrity, but also some of the most destructive and divisive forces and biases which inhabit the scientific community itself.

‘The Selfish Gene’ by Richard Dawkins

My Thoughts: Though I don’t particularly care for his aggressiveness on the subject of religion, Dawkins is an excellent writer: a contention which, I feel, can be substantiated more effectively by no volume of his other than ‘The Selfish Gene’, which remains one of the most influential books in the history of modern evolutionary biology over three decades after its publication. However, due to the massive exposure the volume’s central concepts have been given by a plethora of subsequent narratives, they didn’t really offer me a challenge when read in their original context. Still, I found “The Selfish Gene” to be well worth my while.

‘Notre Dame de Paris’ (aka: ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’) by Victor Hugo

My Thoughts: I opted to read this one after hearing wonderful things about Hugo’s work from my well-read friends and later growing addicted to the song ‘Heaven’s Light/Hellfire’ from the Disney adaptation (the beautiful lyrics and animation of which force me to excuse the indefensibly-comical statues that occupy the first quarter of the piece). This oft-discussed novel has utterly dazzled me, and I now consider Hugo to be one of my favorite authors, for I can think of very few writers who can hope to compete with him in the art of mounting suspense and perfectly capturing the intricacies and subtleties of human emotions. Nowhere is this latter skill more apparent than in Hugo’s execution of Archdeacon Frollo, a complex and somewhat tragic character who fully deserves a place in any discussion regarding the greatest literary villains of the previous millenium.

‘Why Geese Don’t Get Obese (And We Do): How Evolution’s Strategies For Survival Affect Our Everyday Lives’ by Eric P. Widmaier.

My Thoughts: Though I fully realize that the two sciences are fundamentally intertwined, I’ll admit that I’ve always found anatomy to be far more interesting than physiology. Having made such a contention, I can’t help but feel far more enthusiasm for the latter discipline following the conclusion of this readable and passionate compendium. Widmaier clearly adores his area of expertise and has given it’s broader scientific implications a great deal of thought, as evidenced not only by the book’s introduction and epilogue, but nearly every paragraph of its being. However, this esteem appears to be somewhat reserved for physiology to the exclusion of certain other fields, as Widmaier occasionally exhibits factual errors when discussing paleontology (such as claiming that Dimetrodon was a dinosaur) . Still, this is a minor point which no way prevents me from highly recommending ‘Why Geese Don’t Get Obese’ to anyone with an interest in the biological sciences.

Happy new year and may the fossil record continue to enchant us all!





Art Evolved: The Pterosaur Gallery

3 07 2009

Good tidings and well-wishes!

If you haven’t been checking out Craig Dyke’s “Art Evolved” paleoart blog, which sports (among many other things) a bi-monthly gallery containing reconstructions of a featured prehistoric group from all around the paleo-blogosphere, you’ve been doing yourself a great dis-service. Previously, the ceratopsians and synapsids have entered their spotlight and this month, the ever-popular pterosaurs have been called to the stage. For its next installment, the blog will take a break from vertebrate galleries to feature the weird and wonderful anomalocarids.

One of these days, I have got to submit something!

May the fossil record continue to enchant us all!