Tag Archives: Paleontology

Is Google Glass dead? I don’t think so, and here’s why

Subtitle: A short essay in which Kelsey proves she is an extremophile of Sci-Fi literature

People love to make predictions of success and failure. Star Trek is commonly cited as one of the first tv shows to predict the flip phone, ipad, and smart phone. ‘Back to the Future II’ predicted the hoverboard, Arthur C. Clarke first conceived of GPS, and Ray Bradbuy, in ‘Farenheight 451’ predicted earbuds, giant TVs, and mechanical hounds…and cats*. Compared to all that, digital glasses (a la William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’) seems like a slam dunk. Plus, Google is like the Pixar of the tech world. They’ve has had so many wins, how could they fail? Yet, two years and thousands of selfies later, the predicted revolutionary impact of Google Glass now seems to be going the way of the Segway.

Dronte_17th_Century_Segway

Restored 17th C. sketch of Raphus cucullatus by Dronte (Wikimedia)

However, like the Segway, Google has not tapped into the true market for the glass: the primary (raw materials) and secondary (manufacturing) economic sectors. Stay with me here and I promise this leads back to Paleontology. How handy would it be for an inventory screen to pop up in the right upper corner of a person’s vision? Or for a logging company to keep track of where and how they are cutting down trees? You could even keep a record of what each tree looked like before. A surgeon used the Glass to record his procedure, but in the future I can see EMTs sending reports and pictures of the patient to the hospital before they arrive, so the staff are better prepared.

No one would judge a person wearing Glass to inventory or save a person’s life. Instead of trying Glass out in the shower or at a wine bar, we as a society should focus on what technology can contribute to humanity, not how it can enhance a Facebook status.

“Really, Captain, I don’t feel silly at all wearing this…” (ST DS9)

Currently, the University of Texas at Austin’s Non-Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory (NPL) has a team of volunteers using three Glasses to conduct a cursory inventory of their 3.5 MILLION fossils. Chase, one of the employees at NPL, calculated that it would take him 90 YEARS to catalog all the fossils currently at NPL the “traditional way.” The pictures produced by Glass are sharp enough that they are already being used for reference. It’s a damn good start.

If the 2015 Consumer Electronic Show (CES) is any indication, wearable tech is the way of the future, but a future that must be as useful as it is flashy. Gadgets can’t just be useful for the consumer market, the have to blend into the background of a “normal” life. However, in an industrial or scientific context, normal is shoved out the window in favor of innovative tech, and most importantly, gadgets that make people’s lives easier.

So, there you have it. Google Glass is not a Segway (which, by the way, has been adopted in large manufacturing facilities and by security companies), but a useful tool for the future.

And don’t forget: there are plenty of wrong futuristic predictions as well.

*And let’s not get into how accurate Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ turned out to be. I’m just glad that fannypacks aren’t nearly as popular as he predicted.

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Google Glass and paleontology collections: keeping a level head

Author: Kelsey

Today we continue on our Google Glass adventure! Check in here and here to see what we’re doing and why.

Confession time: At this point in time I know only a rudimentary amount of programming. This only becomes a problem when I get a brilliant idea (my Morse Code App will exist… one day) or Google Glass doesn’t do something I want it to do. Well, short of taking a crash course in shoddy programming, I decided to create a “physical app” to address my predicament.

The quandary: To take a picture with Glass, you say “Ok, Glass, take a picture”. The computer then beeps happily to you as it takes a ‘screen grab’ of your life. Now, our version of glass did not get the update to aim Glass’ camera before a picture is taken (this is a common complaint among those wandering Google Explorers). So, every time I took a picture, I found I that I tilt my head about 30 degrees to the right.

DrawerLean

Either that or we have a serious problem with our drawers

I’m not sure if this is because all the weight of Glass is on the right, or I naturally incline my head about 30 degrees, but I needed a way to keep my head level as I took pictures. When I was a kid, I used to play with my dad’s level, assessing the stability of my Barbie house and bunk bed (yep, I had a bunk bed/fort/space ship… on reflection I’ve significantly downgraded since then). So I decided to create a device to hold a small level in front of my left eye.

After a quick trip to JoAnne’s, I acquired a teeny level my kid-self would be jealous of. I raided the NPL supply closet and came away with tongue depressors, B-52 (an adhesive), and twisty ties. One hour later, it lived!

PatentedDesign1

Behold! Our product shot

Notice how far out the level is compared to the glass. That’s because Glass uses refraction to make the image appear farther away than it actually is. The level uses good old-fashioned corneal focusing. That day I achieved two goals: I provided the entertainment for the day by strutting around and I also managed to take level pictures.

20140815_113107_357

This represents a beautiful moment in my life

In the end, the device is more of a training tool than a permanent addition. Once I had the feel for what “level” was, I was able to remove the device and still take even shots with Glass. Then again, why would I want to take off such a classy addition?

 Level2

NPL: they tolerate me so well

Special thanks to Angie and Cissy for the photoshoot.

Questions? Comments? Leave them below.

Google Glass and paleontology collections: what we learned, Part II

Author: Kelsey

Recap: One of my projects this summer was testing Google Glass for the Nonvertebrate Paleontology Laboratory (NPL) here at the University of Texas Jackson School of Geosciences. We are interested in testing curation potential. After many rather artistic drawer shots and some casual photograph comparisons, I decided to suit up and get systematic. If you’re just joining us, check out Part I here!

Goals: My primary interest is in data preservation, so I’ll be focusing on the object and text resolution, including degree of pixelation, lighting conditions, and glare. I decided to compare Glass against another small, mobile device: the iPhone5.

IMG_2194

Setting: The set of drawers I decided to photograph houses a set of preserved insects (sadly, no DNA here). The external dimensions of the bottom cabinet are 59.5 x 71.2 x 121 cm (w x l x h). The average drawer width and length is 54 x 66 cm. The only light sources are overhead fluorescent bulbs. The temperature was around 85 degrees F (29.5 C) with a humidity around 60%.

GlassComp_iPhone_05

Not shown: cabinet of extra undergrads

 

Parameters: I am testing the “hands off” potential for Glass, so I only used voice commands and the touchpad when I had to. None of the pictures needed to be “shared,” just saved on the device, so no wi-fi or Bluetooth connection was necessary. I wore the glasses lanyard to prevent slippage (discussed in Part I). For comparison, I used the NPL’s iPhone5. Both tests weretimed and any label I removed from a bag to photograph for one trial, I would have to for the others as well. Both the outside (“Out”) and inside (“In”) were photographed.

Scoring System: The recording device with the the greatest object resolution and text resolution would be tallied for each drawer image. If there was no appreciable difference or both could work just as well, both were tallied for that picture.

TestComparison

 

Results:

Time: Glass 15 minutes 32 seconds, iPhone5 21 minutes 15 seconds

Table

Discussion

There you have it! Both the iPhone and Google Glass have good resolution to record object data (i.e. the fossils are recognizable). The iPhone outperforms Google Glass in text resolution, but Glass only takes about 75% of the time. This is only a pilot study with one trial (I know, but n = 1 sounds like a better and better plan as the temperature rises in the cages!), but it is very important in determining our next step. Mainly, we need a higher-resolution camera in Glass. At this point more information is lost to resolution, lighting, and glare than is made up for by the hands-free Glass experience…for now, anyway.

The pace of not only technology innovation, but technology adoption, is increasing. We could fear change and criticize the hiccups, or we can work to understand these emerging technologies and use them in novel ways no one ever thought possible. Personally, I love a bit of constructive criticism (it’s the only way I stopped being the “know-it-all” kid in high school), but too much negativity only highlights technology’s Orwellian uses. We expect Glass and similar devices will catch up with smartphones in no time. At that point we (NPL) plan to acquire a second Glass.

Our future projects include training volunteers, testing the screen projection capabilities, tagging images, linking images, app programming, and virtual field trips. Living on the bleeding edge definitely has its drawbacks, but this summer has been a fascinating experience and I can’t wait to see what is next.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series: how to deal with the dang drawer tilt.

Questions? Comments? Leave them below.

Google Glass and paleontology collections: what we learned, Part I

PFL16A_Glass

Author: Kelsey

Part I in the Google Glass series. Other posts: Part II.

The Lowdown: Google Glass has remarkable potential as a curation and documentation tool, but what it gains in efficiency it loses in picture resolution and lack of updates. Before we acquire our next one, we will wait for a newer version with a better camera, but we are stoked by this new piece of technology.

Background: This summer the Nonvertebrate Paleontology Laboratory (NPL) acquired Google Glass, version 2 of the explorer edition. NPL is part of the University of Texas Jackson School of Geosciences, where I go to grad school and study Australian agamid lizards in all their cranial kinetic glory. Full disclosure: I was working at NPL and had suggested to Ann (Curator and Collections Manager) earlier in the year that we try out this new technology. The idea of augmented reality or forehead cameras is not a new one—sci-fi writers have been heralding their coming for over half-a-century—but here was a chance to test a tangible piece of the future.

We had one “simple” goal at the beginning of our adventure: test the camera and video for curation potential. Ten to twenty thousand fossils are added to NPL every year. Only 1/8th of these are digitally recorded in our database. Inventory is a careful balance of speed and detail. Whole drawer contents and individual specimens are often recorded. Our fleet of staff and volunteers have begun using cameras, ipads, smart phones, and now Google Glass. In science (and, I suspect, academic institutions in general) simple goals often turn into reticulating fractals of fascinating sub-tests, sub-questions, and side studies. Fortunately, that’s why I got into this business.

Requirements: We are interested in devices that reliably and repeatedly capture images with a high enough resolution that all text in the field of view is readable and the fossils are individually recognizable. These photos would then be saved in our database for future research and inventory reviews

Stats: The Google Glass Explorer Edition comes with a 5MP fixed-focus CMOS camera capable of taking 2560 x 1888 resolution images. The fixed focus means the glass is set to capture as great a depth of field as possible and will not adjust, automatically or otherwise. Glass will tune the ISO (shutter and aperture controls) from as low as 60 to a high of at least 960. Videos are shot in 720p only. The aperture size of about f/2.5 with a focal length of 2.7 mm.

Start: I found taking pictures with glass is like switching from a go-cart to a normal car, you have to get used no longer aiming for the middle of the road. When you are wearing glass, the screen is above your right eye (NOT in front of it), and the camera lens is to the right of that, so you will have to aim your head at left side of the drawer while taking the picture. The camera app for our edition does not have an aiming feature, so getting the correct angle and resolution takes practice, patience, and intuition.

Observations: Hands-free is great! When I used the iphone to take pictures (more about that in a part II), I had to constantly put down the phone to move drawers or reposition specimen labels. It was incredibly handy to have both my hands free. Additionally, glass really is comfortable to wear.

OkGlassOk Glass, point the laser at…

However, I found I was never truly hands free. For every single picture you have to backtrack (the “swipe down” action) to the glass home screen (above) and ask it to take a picture. Glass saves all pictures, but immediately prompts you to share an image immediately after you capture it. This could be solved with a simple picture app that bypasses the social media features. Once I get my mad programming skills up to snuff, this is one of the first projects I’d like to tackle.

Pictures: I found the large depth of field meant I often underestimated how much of the drawer was in view, or I’d overcompensate and get WAY too close and personal with the fossils, which just resulted in close up shots of fuzzy fossils. Most of these can be solved with practice and the addition of aiming software.

AimingTroubles

Aiming Troubles

The camera is very sensitive to light levels and has no internal regulatory mechanism. Even a slight adjustment in head angle can make the difference between a dim or overexposed picture. Wearing a baseball hat or wide-brimmed hat does not help, only squishes the glass down to uncomfortable angles.

 TooBrightTooDim

This analysis? Just right.

I also had a problem tilting my head to the right. I suspect most people to not hold their heads perfectly upright, which results in a tilt to the picture. More on how I dealt with this problem in an upcoming blog post, “Keeping Level-Headed.”

Looking down to photographs low drawers caused the glass to slip, so I added a lanyard in the back. This was easy for one side, but the battery on the right necessitated a duct tape solution. The addition does not compromise comfort too much and helps really secure the glass to my head. Fashion may also be compromised to a certain degree.

GlassLanyard2

Google Glass: Nerd Edition

Overheating was also an issue. Our collections spaces (“the cages”) are, for the most part, not climate controlled and summertime Texas heat and humidity are high even early in the morning. However, even in the climate controlled areas, continuous use causes glass to flash a warning message after about 15 to 20 minutes. This is an oft-cited problem in the glass community, and comes as a consequence of clashing optimal operating temperatures.

Is the text readable? Sometimes. The smaller the text and the worse the lighting conditions, the more likely it is to lose data. Also, it’s impossible to check the pictures until they are loaded onto a larger screen. On the other hand, when I had to leave a project half-way through and wanted to pick up where I left off, I could simply review the most recent pictures or videos and quickly start where I left off.

 DocumentComparison

 If I never see this label again…

So, is NPL a victim of the Gartner Cycle  or are we pushing the boundaries of museum science? Once I had a handle on the initial pros and cons (hands free, trouble aiming, trouble with light balance, overheating, and resolution) we decided to conduct a more formal study comparing the iPhone 5 to Google Glass. See “What we learned: Part II” for results and my preliminary conclusions!

Questions? Comments? Leave your reflections below.

What I pack for paleontology field work

Author: Brianna

I’m about to take a weeklong trip to the high desert in eastern Oregon, where I get to hang out with the paleontology section of geology field camp. (See this post for why I love field work in the first place.) I remember the first time I went out to do this sort of thing I was all “INTERNET! What do I pack to go do paleontology field work?” but I didn’t find all that much. So here’s the post I wish I found, geared towards the kind of field work I have done, which is almost all in the high desert. Understand that you will probably want different things for different kinds of trips.

Pants! Some people wear shorts, but I really prefer pants. Cheat grass is nasty, nasty stuff (and sage, and rocks, and bitey little ants…). I usually wear Kuhl because they make stuff for men and women that is comfortable, quick-drying, and thick enough to not catch every little sharp thing that comes your way. Go look at some in the store, because I can’t tell which ones on their website are actually made for work and which are all thin and stretchy and will fail you in your quest to not get sharp plant bits embedded in your skin.

Shirts! I wear long sleeves because it’s easier than putting on lots of sunscreen, and also if you’re finding tiny fossil bits it’s easier to just crawl along on the ground; with long sleeves your elbows don’t get all scratched up. Light fabric good. Did I mention it’s the desert? Something like this or this (plaid optional but it makes you look more like a real paleontologist or something). Except don’t go buy one of those new, because that is way too much money for a shirt. REI garage sales or Goodwill is the way to go.

Socks! No cotton. Do not bring cotton socks. (Okay, I bring some for evenings or if someone drags me out on a run in the mornings.) Wool! Coolmax! Whatever your preference. Just not cotton. And they don’t have to be super thick, although that is better than cotton; SmartWool, at least, makes some pretty sweet super-thin hiking height socks. They won’t have padding on the bottom but it will be less hot.

Underwear! Do you know how awesome it is to have quick-drying underwear when you’re in the field? Because it’s awesome. Examples: synthetic stuff, more synthetic stuff, really thin merino wool stuff, etc. Men, I cannot advise, except that there probably exist quick-dry versions of whatever you normally wear too. And that is all I will say on the matter of underwear, because you can figure your own underwear out.

A hat! Keep that sun off your face. And neck. You can go all Indiana Jones if you want (I know people who do…) but I prefer lightweight and vented. Something basic like these women’s hats or this men’s hat. I myself got a nifty fly-fishing hat on clearance at the Columbia outlets or something. It has plaid on it!

I am the one in the middle. With the sweet, sweet plaid hat.
I am the one in the middle. With the sweet, sweet plaid hat.

Also pictured: the taller half of Fossilosophy adjusting my pack, and Win supervising like a good grad student. Note that we are all wearing pants. Different shirt choices, though.

And then whatever other clothing you feel like. Swimsuit of some sort if there’s water anywhere, warm coat because the desert gets damn cold at night, shorts for chilling in camp after a day of hard work, pajamas, whatever else you’re convinced you can’t live without. Probably a rain coat, just in case. Also a towel.

Sunglasses! Necessity. All fancy and UV-blocking and stuff.

Hiking boots! Make sure they fit and are broken in, etc. Your toes shouldn’t hit the front when you’re walking downhill. I got a pair of very light, vented Keens because I knew I was going to be in a dry desert and Keens fit my feet. Your mileage may vary.

Also sandals or something for wandering around in camp.

Equipment! Water bottles and/or water pack (like a Camelbak), field pack of some sort to carry fossils and lunch and water and pin flags etc (I use my Camelbak pack), rock hammer (I like the chisel-edge ones because it makes digging trenches easier when you’re measuring section), a belt of some sort on which to hang your hammer holster, a waterproof field notebook, knee pads, work gloves, a pocket knife and/or multitool of some kind, a watch, a head lamp, and perhaps a scratch awl.

The usual toiletries, except find some biodegradable products if you’ll be washing yourself anywhere outside. Baby wipes are useful too, and you definitely want sunscreen.

Camping gear depends on your situation. We camp in tents, so I make sure I have a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, pillow, and either a tent or a promise from someone else to share their tent.

Foooood! Usually when you’re going in the field as someone else’s crew, you get fed. I tend to bring some of those awesome foil packets of tuna and a hard salami or something, because when I’m in the field I am a salt- and protein-craving fiend. So if you have any strange food preferences, maybe bring some of your own to supplement the communal fare.

Finally, miscellaneous things: a book, phone charger, any necessary medications, a travel mug for your morning coffee, pencils, pens, cards, music device, belt, chocolate, rope/string, repair kit for sleeping pad/tent. Perhaps a small first-aid kit, though whoever is running the field crew should have a good one.

Did I miss anything? If I did, better bring it up quick, because we’re driving off to the fossiliferous wilds in an hour or so!

Harmful or Helpful? YouTube Edition

Author: Kelsey

Greetings friends and colleagues! Today we would like to introduce a new, ongoing segment that takes a critical look at popular cultures’ interpretation of paleontology. Someday we promise to cover the incredibly handsome elephant in the room, Indiana Jones, but today we are going to focus on YouTube videos.

YouTube is a popular, inexpensive way to convey ideas. While most of us initially associate YouTube with hilarious feats mortification or iconic movie clips, an impressive number of successful “TV shows” have established themselves from people’s basements all around the world. In fact, these shows have become so successful that they become self-sustainable and all mass media companies today make sure that they are represented on YouTube in some way.

Some of these are more or less educational and delve into the concept of extinction! If my hotlinking has not derailed you by now, here are some examples of paleontology in popular media shows:

1)      Good Mythical Morning (Subscribers: 2,072,139)

Comments: While I applaud the use of the more unusual animals, it was disappointing to see that they just Google searched for facts and images about these animals instead of reading any actual research. The also mispronounced “Miocene” and never connected the idea of extinct animals with the term “Paleontology.” Is that so hard?

Comments: Rhett and Link exonerate themselves here by linking Paleontologists with dinosaurs. Good job, boys. The Cenozoic spirit in me is still a bit disappointed. Perhaps I am being too harsh. After all, this is a comedy show first and a science show second.

2)      DNews (Subscribers: 803,950)

Comments: DNews is part of the Discovery Communications Network Inc. (which includes the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, How Stuff Works, Hard Science, SourceFed.. etc.). The hosts are likable, come from diverse backgrounds, and share the ability to talk fast and clearly. From the look of the show they have more time to whip up sweet graphics and research. My favorite part is when they mention how much of the dinosaur was ACTUALLY found.

Another video from DNews.

3)      Sesame Street (Subscribers: 935,401)

For our younger readers, I even looked up the screamingly popular Sesame Street to see what they had to say about Paleontology!

Comments: Okay, so if I were a five-year-old I would know that paleontology is a thing, maybe something having to do with helmets and shovels. It’s also worth noting that the main topic of conversation in the comments is Elmo’s voice. Considering I start seeing red if I have to listen to Elmo longer than the length of this clip, I’m not sure how anyone can tell.

4)      Dark 5 (Subscribers: 166, 477)

Comments: To be honest, this one just creeps me out. Between the lack of a host (I’ll never understand the trend to just put up text in a video) and interpretive windchimes (plus a lack of cited sources), I’ll have to give this one a “meh.” Why does this have over two million views?

Here is another video in the same vein, this time about animals that will go extinct, thoughtfully set to bagpipe music.

5) The Brain Scoop (subscribers: 218,584)

Whew- ok, let’s end on something a bit more uplifting.

AND

Comments:  The Brain Scoop is hosted by Emily Grasile at the Chicago Field Museum and includes a whole variety of episodes, from Q & A’s to interviews to dissections and random bits. The Brain Scoop is closely associated with a network of progressive science YouTube channels, including SciShow, Michael Aranda, Vi Hart, and Minute Physics. Emily has captured the museum side of a biologist’s (here I include paleontology within biology) life perfectly! One reason why we love our jobs almost obsessively is because it really is a variety show. There is even occassional singing and dancing (much to my co-worker’s chagrin).

And, yes, like all scientists, paleo peeps deal with social issues as well. That’s honestly my primary motivation for blogging in the first place. Now if we could just get more people to watch The Brain Scoop with dinner (or after digestion for the squeamish), maybe paleontology could become known for its content, not “what those khaki-wearing people do in action movies.”

CONCLUSION:

Paleontology has a long way to go in popular culture–the standard response is still, “Oh, like Indiana Jones?” or “Oh, like Ross from Friends!”– but I think we knew that already.  The number of subscribers as well as the number of $$$ backing the show really dictates quality and accuracy.  Good Mythical Morning has the largest audience (and is easily the funniest show on this list), but is pretty lazy when it come to conveying actual facts. DNews has accuracy, but less than half the audience. Sesame Street needs to up their game if they want to create the next generation of a critical, informed public (and entertain that generation’s parents), while random people making quick pseudo-science videos add little to the conversation.

What is needed is a show that is poop-my-pants funny and accurate (The Brain Scoop, you are almost there). This is asking a ton out of society, though, so in the meantime perhaps us scientists can make ourselves more available to entertainment. Popular media has no idea how many scientists would be willing to contribute/do the writers’ work for them if given the chance. Ring me up!

 

 

Why I love paleontology field work

Author: Brianna

Lately I’ve been thinking about summer paleontology field work. (Field work? Fieldwork? I never know which to use.) The endless Boston winter has called up this nostalgia, because I am tired of the cold and slush. I want to be back out in Oregon’s high desert in the summer, taking painstaking field notes in little yellow Rite in the Rain notebooks, shivering in the cold morning while staring at the pot of water on the camp stove willing it to boil faster dammit I need my tea, hiking through sagebrush or climbing dry riverbeds up the valley, scrambling up crumbly slopes to measure section, holding in my hand an actual fossil that I just found….these are thoughts to get a person through.

I love paleontology field work because it connects me to my research in the most basic way: I am crawling around in the dirt, sometimes with my nose inches off the ground, and finding fossils that no one has ever found before. And they’re fossils that contribute directly to research. The first paleontology project I finished was completely digital: we did some stats on some data that came from other papers and a database. We found some neat things, and I got hooked on how awesome it is to find out something that nobody else knows. But it was pretty far removed from any physical specimens, for me. So the first time I went out in the field, when I got to find real fossils and take notes on them and bring them back with us to go in the museum…that drove home the connection. It brought a very nice sense of continuity to my grasp of paleontology.

I love paleontology field work because I get to go camp and hike with fellow scientists for a week or two, many of whom are my close friends. Better yet we’re in the desert, where my hatred of thermoregulating in the cold is offset by my complete and utter happiness in unreasonable heat. It never fails to amuse me that the hot, dry air sucks the sweat from your skin before you even realize you’re sweating, until you take off your backpack or knee pads and everywhere underneath is soaked. I like feeling badass when, at the end of a long day of work, I hike back to the truck carrying a big sandbag full of matrix from a microfossil site. I like sleeping in a tent. I like cooking dinner on a camp stove and eating for lunch whatever bizarre combination of fruit, nuts, salami, cheese, and tuna-in-a-packet I happen to have packed that day.

I do not love spiders in the pit toilets. I do love my rock hammer.

I love paleontology field work because, I’ll admit it: I really like long car rides. I know that’s a bit weird. But some of my favorite activities are napping, thinking about stuff, reading, and having long conversations with people…all valid choices for long, dusty car rides between field sites, which for us are spread out across much of Oregon.

I love paleontology field work because it’s a major change from the usual computer-centric work I do. Sometimes it’s hard to feel satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment when you’ve been hammering away at the keyboard all day, you know? But there’s no denying that you’ve done a good day’s work when you hike out there and find a bunch of new specimens or track down an old locality, flip a plaster jacket from yesterday’s work, or maybe measure a bunch of stratigraphy and bring back samples from each layer. Bonus points if you’re taking field camp for credit and stay up til 1am lovingly finishing your strat column, cough. Oh, the howls of despair when you mess up one of the lines with your Micron pen…

If summer scheduling allows, I’ll be out doing all these things (except making strat columns in the wee hours!) this July. For now, I suppose there’s nothing to do but glare at the snow-fluff coming down outside my office window and get back to work.

A Gift Guide for Paleontologists & Other Science Nerds

Author: Brianna

Well, it’s that time of year! The end of fall semester, the spices-in-everything (we are a fan of spiced hot cocoa or cider), the snowstorms that dump a ton of snow on cities unsuspecting, the deliberating about what kind of gifts to bestow upon friends and family in the spirit of holiday consumerism. If you are having trouble deciding what to get the paleontologically-inclined among your loved ones, look no further! We have collected a series of gifts for people into science in general, though they may or may not reflect our own particular tastes.

Science Prints and Other Paper Things

Everybody needs beautiful wall art. This antler print would look great in any room, because headgear is awesome.

Antler Print

This shop has an amazing array of science prints. For particular inspiration, how about this Women of Science set? They also have t-shirts, if you were wondering.

Card: Irish Elk with a very sweet thought. Sure, it’s not holiday-y, but you could draw a Santa hat or whatever accessory will make it appropriate for the holiday you celebrate.

Cards: “Science is Magic that Works.” A Kurt Vonnegut quote printed beautifully with a hand-carved block.

Card: Cuttlefish. “Wanna cuttle?” Is adorable and just the kind of terrible pun that amuses anyone who is a child at heart. Like most of the scientists we know.

Games

Bone Wars! Classic, easy to learn, and great for parties. It plays on the epic story of the Bone Wars between Cope and Marsh, which you need to go read about if you haven’t done so recently.

Bone Wars card game

Often (though certainly not always!), a fondness for science overlaps with a fondness for videogames. Why not some Portal earrings or a beautiful “fossilized” Handheld Portal Device?

For a board game, try Dominant Species: survive the next Glacial Maximum! (If you don’t get sidetracked by arguing over who gets to be the mammals or the reptiles.)

Gifts for Kids Who Like Science

Things to get for the children in your life!

A cute “When I Grow Up I Want To Be A Paleontologist” print. Never mind everyone pointing out the lack of paleontology jobs! It’s still great fun. Too bad they don’t have a mammal on there for the less dinosaur-inclined…

Trebuchet kit!!! Need I say more? I need not say more. TREBUCHET. KIT. Take your pick – or, if you’d prefer to go the even cooler route, why not print off some plans, go buy the materials, and do it all yourselves? See here and here for some good starting points for small trebuchets.

Ichthyosaur plushie! Maybe not the most cute and cuddly, but cute and cuddly enough…

For a cuter and cuddlier one, how about a custom trilobite plushie?

Science Jewelry

This category is definitely influenced by my interest in making silver jewelry with lost-wax casting. Keep an eye out for my biologically-inspired work at some point, but for now, here are some awesome gifts!

For some lovely earrings and other jewelry made from Alaskan caribou antler, take a look at fellow paleontologist Amy Atwater’s Borealis Bones.

Caribou antler earrings from Borealis Bones

Here’s a beautiful silver trilobite necklace.

On the (much) less expensive side, a tiny pewter velociraptor skull necklace!

The Lost Apostles etsy store is full of absolutely gorgeous bronze jewelry, much of it skeletal in nature. Paleontologists love bones! How about a bronze antler necklace, lovely wolf skull pendant, or just a nice silver femur pendant?

Random

For things that didn’t categorize well.

A lovely throw pillow with line drawings of the occlusal surfaces of nine different horse teeth! (For a more colorful version, check out this mug of similar design.)

A Roomba! Kelsey is obsessed with these at the moment. Who doesn’t want a trainable robot to clean their house for them? Just, you know, take good care of it. That way you might be spared when the robots take over.

A Darwin’s Finches t-shirt, showing different birds and things they like to eat.

BONE WARS SHOES. Yes, really. Like Cope and Marsh. My mind is blown.

Cope and Marsh shoes

Nothing says “I love you” to a field scientist like a virtually indestructible, waterproof (and beer-proof, as it turns out!) notebook like Rite in the Rain.

If your friends are as strange as mine, they will probably love muscle leggings (no, like actual images of leg muscles printed on them).

For science-types who actually work with chemicals or whatever, how about a beaker coffee mug?

Trilobite rubber stamps, so your nerdy friends can mark everything from books to letters to their foreheads! These two are Triarthus and Cheirurus.

More on the plushie front: really adorable giant plush microbes! Because who doesn’t want to say they got malaria or the common cold from their friend?

And, finally, a Smilodon skull keychain!

Have fun and happy gift-giving! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some cats to snuggle. Being home for the holidays is awesome.

Phrases from scientific papers that would make excellent band names

Authors: Brianna and Kelsey

Every once in awhile, a phrase comes up in conversation that just rolls off the tongue. “That would make a great band name,” someone says, sarcastically or not. Well, we sometimes do this in other situations – like when reading scientific papers. Because sharing is caring, we bring you phrases from papers that really ought to be band names, divided by category and of course with citations.

Iguana iguana album cover
The first release from our fictional (but totally awesome) punk band Iguana iguana. Image by Kelsey T. Stilson.

Biomechanics

Extant Galliform
Hutchinson, J.R. and M. Garcia. Tyrannosaurus was not a fast runner. Letters to Nature 2002.

Paleobiology

Spatially Explicit Hypothesis
Waltari, E., Hijmans, R.J., Peterson, A.T., Nyári, Á.S., Perkins, S.L., et al. Locating Pleistocene refugia: comparing phylogeographic and ecological niche model predictions. PLoS ONE 2007.

Volcanoes, Rocks, Footprints, Fossils, Stars
Cleland, C. Historical science, experimental science, and the scientific method. Geology 2001.

Resampling the Dead
Miller, J. Size-biased modern bone accumulations can accurately record whole-community paleoecology. Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting 2013.

Ozokerite
Kotarba, M.J (Ed.) Polish and Ukrainian Geological studies (2004-2005) at Starunia- The area of discoveries of the woolly rhinoceroses. Państwowy Instytut Geologiczny 2005.

Biology

An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles
Possibly apocryphal quote from J.B.S. Haldane, in: G.E. Hutchinson. Homage to Santa Rosalia, or, why are there so many kinds of animals? The American Naturalist 1959.

The Osseous Labyrinth
– or –
Palpebral Conjunctiva
T.M. Oelrich. The anatomy of the head of Ctenosaura pectinata (Iguanidae). Miscellaneous Publications, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan 1956.

Hybrid Swarm
O. Seehausen. Hybridization and adaptive radiation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 2004.

Bonus category: fieldwork-isms that might also make good band names

Goat Mocha: what you get when you pour chocolate goat’s milk in with your morning field coffee. (Did I mention my undergrad advisor is the best for letting us get chocolate goat’s milk as part of our field rations?)

Cheese Lemmings: what the graduate student thought you said after a really, really long day. You said something about the constellations, but really, who’s counting?

But The Cake Was Delicious: follow-up to any situation that may or may not have led to death. Inspired by our thoughts on almost getting crushed by a garbage truck while driving out to the field to deliver said advisor a birthday cake.

Got your own scientific band name suggestions? Leave them in the comments.

Thursday Links: Fourier transforms, paleontology blogs, evolutionary tempo, adorable kittens

Author: Brianna

AKA, “Stuff I’ve read lately that is cool and/or still in an open browser tab.” Some are new, some are (very) old.

The math trick behind MP3s, JPEGs, and Homer Simpson’s Face, from Nautilus Magazine.
An article about how Fourier transforms are totally awesome. As a side note, I feel like Nautilus should replace IFLS on everyone’s Facebook feed. Plenty of “OMG science is AMAZING!” to go around, but without the factual mistakes and lack of attribution.

Why “unqualified personnel” is not a reasonable excuse for limited research at a PUI, from The Liberal Arts Ecologists.
About recruiting, expectations, results, and philosophies behind working with undergrads in a research context. As I noted on twitter, if it weren’t for my advisors being willing to invest in undergraduates as serious researchers – at an R1 university, not just a primarily undergrad institution – I wouldn’t be where I am today.

In defence of basic research, from Stuart Auld.
An interesting (first!) blog post about answering “What do you research?” when the answer is about basic science. I like this approach. When friends, family, and new acquaintances ask me what I work on, I’m not shy about relating my work to potential human benefits. But almost invariably I also flat-out state that some of my work is basic research. I then explain why basic research is important on several levels. Usually they don’t get too glazed-eyed about this, if I’m succinct.

K.Jones the Bones, a new blog about paleobiology!
And she has a recent post about morphometrics. Be still my heart! Don’t miss the descriptions of collections research in her first post. I too have some very fond memories of time spent in various collections, both paleontological and modern – mostly the Condon Fossil Collections at the University of Oregon, the Museums of Vertebrate Zoology and Paleontology at Berkeley, and most recently the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard. All kinds of smells, good and bad; the shadowy mounted heads of horned ruminants staring you down as you walk down the aisles before the motion-sensor lights turn on; the slight delirium that sets in after about 8 hours straight of measuring bones…

Don’t be a Nattering Nabob, from State Factors.
In other words, take the time to focus on what’s cool about the science before hunting for ways to rip it to shreds (and in general, don’t be a jerk). As a firm believer in the “constructive” part of constructive criticism, I really enjoyed this post. You don’t have to drop rigor to drop negative approaches.

In praise of exploratory statistics, from Dynamic Ecology.
Some nice love for mucking around in the data. Just don’t pretend you’re hypothesis testing. Brian McGill’s proposed solution: educate people better about exploratory stats, stop treating that approach “like the crazy uncle nobody wants to talk about and everybody is embarrassed to admit being related to,” and help people realize that a paper written without a hypothetico-deductive approach is okay.
Don’t forget to check out the comments section. I always love the comments on Dynamic Ecology.

I want one of these Form1 3D printers. I could have so much fun (and maybe do some Science!) with it. Anyone have a spare ~$4k they feel like spending on me?

Some pages from a beautiful comic book illustration, by Julian Peters, of the (also beautiful) T.S. Eliot poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

Graham Slater’s excellent talk from SVP is up on SlideShare: “Tempo or Mode in Evolution? The Case of Mammalian Body Size Evolution.” Comes complete with a discussion of adaptive zones a la Simpson that I particularly appreciated, having read that paper in depth earlier this year. Also illustrations that I think make the narrative mostly clear even without, well, narration.

A brief, useful post on momentum and side projects: “Picking Up Where You Left Off.”
I have been bitten before by letting research projects sit too long. In response, I started taking much better research notes that end with a list of next steps. Also, I began writing down the name, contents, and purpose of any new file. (That came about after spending a couple hours untangling “measurements.xlsx” from “camelmeasures.csv” and “updated-measures.csv” and…)

And finally, these kittens just about made me explode with cute overload. Sorry, curmudgeons of the internet. I can’t help it.