Monday, March 31, 2008

The Occasional Fossil

This is a crinoid, an animal vaguely related to starfish, sea urchins and sand dollars. They are not extinct, but they are not nearly as common as they used to be. There was a time when the bottom of the continental shelf was teaming with these things, now they seem to be mostly restricted to hyper saline environments. Below I have a reconstruction.

Once again this is an animal, it moves using a water vascular system, it can pump water in and out if it's various parts and when it does so it moves. In graduate school I was once caught in an argument between two professors about whether or not the water vascular system extends all the way to the bottom of the animal. I knew enough to keep my mouth shut. (I just hmmmmed and nodded a lot)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

4000 Dead

Plus tens of thousands wounded plus no one is even sure how many dead, wounded, homeless, displaced Iraqis, but all told probably millions
And why? I have yet to hear an official reason that makes any sense. Meanwhile the people who actually attacked us are running wild in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
And here we are.... 4000

Monday, March 17, 2008

Paleo 101 Pt 1 What, if anything, is paleontology

One of the reasons I started this blog to was to give myself an opportunity to write about issues in paleontology and science in general. Things have been a bit light on that front so today I start a new feature: Paleo 101, just a very brief run through of what paleontology is and what paleontologists do. There are a lot of misconceptions out there . I aim to clear them up, at least among my readership (all three of you).

Ok first things first, what is paleontology?
Paleontology is the study of the history of life.
This is a pretty good definition but it's awfully broad and could be taken to mean a variety of things. So lets talk for a moment about what paleontology isn't. Paleontology isn't Archeology. We don't care about ancient civilizations, temples, pyramids, arrowheads any of that stuff. Once humans evolved to the point where they are "anatomically modern" we no longer care about them, that's where Archeology picks up. In fact, the study of human evolutions is paleoanthropology and is usually studied by people who are more anthropologists than paleontologists.
Paleontology is not the study of fossils. Although fossils are the primary tool we use there is much more to it than that. Nor is paleontology the study of dinosaurs. There is a LOT more to the history of life than just dinosaurs.
Life on earth goes back about 3 billion years. On both ends of this things get a little hinkey. (if you want to be a paleontologist you have to learn technical terms like hinkey) Let's say you're walking along the beach and you find a shell.
1) Is it a fossil? and
2) would a paleontologist be interested?
In order 1) probably not. Fossils are usually older than the shells you find on the beach (although there are places where fossil shells are washing up on beaches). Exactly how old something has to be in order to be considered a fossil is open to some debate but just about everyone agrees that most shells on the beach aren't. Also, fossils have usually undergone some sort of physical or chemical modification that has allowed them to remain intact for thousands to billions of years. Shells on the beach haven't.
2) Maybe so. Even though it's not a fossil, paleontologists spend a great deal of time studying the patterns and processes of life in modern environments in order to understand what's happening in ancient environments. If your shell is abraded or broken or fell victim to a predator of some kind or is laying in a bed in a particular way with a bunch of other shells we may be very interested in it. The philosophical underpinning for this way or doing science is called uniformitarianism which is such an important concept that we'll have a post on just that in the near future.
On the other (hinkey) end, the oldest undisputed fossils look something like this:
Got it? That's a fossil. It's a stromatolite. A mat of sediment that was trapped by a microbial community then was turned into rock. We know it's biological in origin because it has a particular chemical signature. This is the thing with really old fossils, we're not dealing directly with the remains of a organism we're dealing with the chemical signature of the organism in the rock. Consequently, you'll find a lot of disagreement out there as to how old the oldest life actually is.

Ok that'll wrap us up for today. Next time: Uniformitarianism.

Friday, March 14, 2008

I have the best wife in the world

Archaeogrrrl went into the pool store to get some chemicals and stuff leaving me in the car with the dog and the A/C on. She came back, not only with the chemicals, but with this

radio control boat. Now I just need some ducks to chase.

ok, I'm freaked out

So I get in the elevator the other day and the phone starts to ring (the elevator's emergency phone, not my cell). I don't answer it but apparently it answers itself. There's someone on the other end saying "hello, hello" so, being the generally genial person I am I say "hello". The person on the other end asks who he's called. I tell him that he called the elevator in this building of this campus of this college. There is a long pause followed by "boy did I dial the wrong number".
You can call an elevator??? Not to be paranoid but a person could call the elevator and just not say anything and listen.
Just because I'm paranoid doesn't meant they're not out to get me.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

at last our long nightmare is over.

Seriously isn't there anything more important. I mean... DAMN

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Something nice

I do so much bitching about students that I feel I need to share something nice. I made a small mistake when I wrote my last test for lab. This mistake made one of the problems MUCH harder. Most of my students were on auto pilot and did what I did. They didn't even notice mistake and did the problem what way I intended it to be done. BUT I had a few who noticed the mistake and did the problem as written and GOT IT RIGHT I was so proud of them. (I gave them extra points) it was great to see them take what I taught them and then ramp it up two or three levels.
I'm having one of those Maybe-this-isn't-such-a-bad-way-to-make-a-living moments.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

anyone want to buy a television?

I won't be needing mine any more.
The Wire. The best show on television EVER is over. It ended after 5 seasons but more importantly it ended when it finished telling its story. Unlike another HBO drama (you know ... the "S" one) it didn't linger on life support for three or four seasons. If Shakespeare were alive today and writing for television he would write The Wire. I just thank god for my DVD's.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The occasional fossil

oh why wait
I was rooting around the net and found this:

It's a 125 million year old cicada from china. Click on the image to make it bigger, it's worth it I promise. You can see the segmentation of the body and the veins in the wings. That level of preservation is remarkable. I don't know for sure but this was probably preserved in a lake. A lot of the material coming from China is from ancient lakes. Because they usually have very fine sediments and not a lot of water movement lakes are ideal environments for preserving fine detail.

Spring Break

It's spring break so blogging's been a bit light lately. Fear not gentle readers I have plans for the coming week including an effort to drag the blog back into more G rated territory.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

getting her bag on

The girl went to Macy's Lancome counter the other day for the free gift with purchase event. She came out with not one but TWO gifts. They had neglected to call her about this event (she heard about it on TV) so rather than have to choose a gift they gave her both. She's very excited, apparently they're very Jackie-O.

I'm having a project runway moment. Make it work people!

could be a while...

Archaeogrrrl just read the last blog entries and was not amused. I offered to take the offending entries down to which she replied "oh no leave them up it's your blog"

"of course it's my body"

could be a long self-induced dry spell.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

equal time

I'm not gay but if I was...

cookie time

It's girl scout cookie time!!!! Oh yeah baby. I always appreciate the way they pack the thin mints in those single serving sleeves. Two servings per box. None of the girl scouts around here seem to look like this though (and frankly if they did I'd be scared)