Tag Archives: dinosaurs

Child of Velociraptor

This is my "velociraptor"

Ever since I read Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park and saw the movie, I sensed a kinship between Velociraptors and Basenjis, like maybe they shared a common immediate ancestor. Not exactly, of course, but on some philosophical level. There’s the scene at the end of the movie when the ‘raptor attacks the T. rex — without even pausing to take a breath and think maybe it would be a bad idea.

When I walk out the front door with my current “mini-raptor” I have to make sure I have a good grip on the handle of the flexi-leash and my thumb on the brake. There’s always the chance that one of these might be driving by…

This is his "T. rex"

More wonders at HMNS

What with all the blogging and tweeting about last Saturday’s WordCamp at the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS), I suddenly realized that I had never written an account of my trip to Houston last September to see the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit at HMNS. I was spending a hell of a lot of my time back then firing off job applications, and the rest of my time I spent wringing my hands and wondering how long before I’d be living on the street if I didn’t find a job. Not exactly conducive to generating the kind of energy to write a bunch of upbeat blog content. Nevertheless, I knew I would hate myself later if I passed up the chance to see that exhibit, in spite of how much it might set me back in groceries.

While it didn’t register in my mind at the time that there was any particular significance to the date, I went to Houston on a Wednesday, September 9 (yeah, 09-09-09). (Oh my, oh my, oh my. If stuff like that is supposed to mark significant changes… well, we got some rain here a few days later, after several months of drought. But my job drought continued.)

I took my brother’s camera, and then found out I couldn’t take pictures in the exhibit. I don’t know if taking pictures would be harmful to the terra cotta figures, or whether there are just different policies set up by the owners of each exhibit (I would have been allowed to take pictures of the fossils in the Archaeopteryx exhibit if I’d had the camera with me then). There was a whole little shop full of T.C. Warrior merchandise at the end of the exhibit, so that might have been the deal — don’t let people take their own photos and they’ll buy books and miniature figures, etc. However, there were two figures at the entrance to the exhibit that it was okay to photograph, so I did. Then I proceeded to go around to other parts of the museum and take some more pictures, which I have been meaning to share.

I failed to write down the scientific names for the stuff I was taking pictures of, so we’ll all have to be content with names like “really big geode,” etc. Sometimes I get caught up in being an enthusiast/tourist and forget to be anything else (like scientist, journalist/photojournalist, whatever).

Kneeling terracotta archer

Terra Cotta archer

Terracotta Official

Terra Cotta Official

Marlin "trophies" and mural

Marlin "trophies" and mural

Armadillo ancestor

Really big 'dillo

Ankylosaur and his groupies

Ankylosaur and his groupies


Part of the seashell display

I love seashells. The more the merrier

Giant snail shell

Imagine if you will, a snail the size of a six-year-old

Giant amathyst crystal geode

Really big geode

A cube of quartz

Really big quartz crystal

WordCamp and Archaeopteryx

WordCamp was yesterday. As I mentioned elsewhere, I planned to be there, and I was. I drove down in the early morning (had to be there a little before eight to start serving kolaches and coffee) and didn’t get unduly hot on the way, in my un-air-conditioned car. I was able to listen to the keynote address by Matt Mullenweg, one of the founders of WordPress and native son of Houston (although he lives someplace else now), and it was quite entertaining. I got to talk face to face with Houston blogger Shawn Quinn. He and a few other Houstonians started following me on Twitter after I posted the first bit about WordCamp, and I started following them, too. So it was cool to meet Shawn.

The first session I went to was about WordPress 3.0. And why did I think I’d understand any of that? It was in the “Developer Track,” which is that whole other country I mentioned in the earlier post. But the speaker, Stephanie Leary, wrote a book, and if the sample chapter I downloaded as a PDF is any indication, I think I could learn a lot about that country from the book. After that I wanted to sit in on one of the “Blogger Track” sessions, but the room was overflowing with people, so I thought if I was going to have to spend an hour on my feet, I would go see the Archaeopteryx fossil that was on exhibit only for another month (and was the other reason for me to be there in the first place). So I went upstairs to get my ticket. And let me just say how nice it is to have a membership in the museum and be able to go over to the ticket window just for members, where there was no line, and then get the discount on the ticket itself. Sweet.

For those who aren’t fossil fanatics, paleontology buffs, or evolutionary biology groupies, Archaeopteryx (“r-kee-OP-ter-iks”) is one of those precious “missing links” between one major ancient form — in this case dinosaurs — and a more modern one — birds. The first one of these fossils was found in a quarry in Germany famous for its limestone — and its fossils. In fact, fossils often occur in limestone because limestone is formed in marine environments (or formerly marine environments) and objects can become entombed in marine sediments and remain there as the sediment turns to stone. Anyway, the German quarry is at Solnhofen, and in 1861, just a few years after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, a single fossilized feather was discovered. Later, a complete fossil of an animal resembling a lizard but covered with feathers was found in stone of the same age — approximately 150 million years. Eventually nine more fossils were unearthed, and debates carried on for decades over whether they were true birds, true dinosaurs, or a true transitional form from one to the other. There’s not much argument that they are some of the most famous fossils around, though. The one visiting the Houston Museum of Natural Science normally lives in Wyoming, and it was sharing the exhibit with an assortment of other fossils from the same limestone quarry at Solnhofen, Germany.

A lot of the fossils were of fish, which makes sense if the limestone started out as ocean bottom sediment. There were even fossil Coelacanth (SEE-la-canth), a type of ancient fish belonging to a group called the “lobe-finned fish,” which were thought to be the transitional form between fish and amphibians. A few living Coelacanths (the scientific name of the surviving form is genus Latemeria , with two distinct species) were found in deep ocean environments off the coast of South Africa in the late 1930’s, and Indonesia as late as 1998. Hanging on since the Cretaceous Period, when they disappeared from the fossil record.

After I worked my way through the fossil fish, turtles and lizards, a few plants, and some surprising insect fossils, and some truly gorgeous brittle stars, I arrived “in the presence.” The “Arky” fossil was grouped with some other fossils I wasn’t expecting, and the planners of the exhibit had truly saved the best for last. Pterosaurs! I went to see Archaeopteryx because it’s a beautiful fossil with a unique place in the fossil record, but I was always nuts over pterosaurs — the flying dinosaurs. I have a book about them. I have a… well, let me illustrate.


"Swoop," with a Cretaceous friend

Yes, it’s a Beanie Baby. Yes, there were Beanie Baby dinosaurs. Yes, I had to have the pterosaur. Funny thing, too. The first  pterosaur fossils, of Pterodactylus, were not a whole lot bigger than my beanie baby. They were about the size of sand pipers, according to the labels next to the fossils. As a kid I had imagined them as monstrous huge, which maybe said more about my imagination. But I kind of like the idea of little flying dinousaurs that I could hold in my hands. Okay, more wild imaginings.

Maybe I’ve picked up a bit of computer geek gloss, but I’m still a science nerd at my core. This is still the stuff that rocks my world. I only wish I’d had my camera with me, because they were allowing people to take pictures — something I couldn’t do last fall when I went to see the Terra Cotta Warriors.

Oh, well. I went. I saw. I marveled. Then I went back to Camp.

I want to be a Stegosaurus

If I have to be a dinosaur, let me be a cool one.   I always thought Stegosaurus was one of the coolest looking dinosaurs, with it’s showy ridges of bony plates down it’s back, and that wicked spiked tail.  You could just see it thinking, “Yeah, I’ve got your snack right here, you frakking tyrannosaur.   Come get it.”

The last few weeks, I’ve felt more than ever like a dinosaur.  I had this idea (some time ago) that it would be cool to launch my blog/website on Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday, which was the next day (at the time).  I’d been learning about “professional” blogging — the kind where your blog is on your own website, not on the Blogger or WordPress sites.  I already had my domain name registered, so all I needed to do was sign up for web hosting, install the blog software, and hit the ground running.

Ha.  For all the information that is in the books and on the sites about blogging, what’s not in there is what I didn’t already know…and needed to.  Like I didn’t know that the web hosting people would not automatically “move” my domain to their servers.  First I called the web hosting people and asked them why my website was still a place holder.  Then I found out I had to call the people I had my domain name registered with and give them the names of the servers to move my domain to.  Ohhhh.  And there were other things they didn’t tell me, like how to use file transfer protocol (FTP).  And like how you have to have some kind of FTP software (and I hope I’m even using these terms correctly) on your computer, and an FTP account on your host server that can talk to the FTP on your computer so you can upload your files to the server.  Ohhhh.

And then it turns out that there’s a button on the “cPanel” that says “Upload” on it, and all you have to do is click on that button and tell it what file to move from your computer to your site.  Ohhhhh.  Duhhhhh.

So my plan to launch my blog/website on Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday went belly-up.  My first post was going to be all about Darwin and some of the things he wrote.  I’m reading his book “The Voyage of the Beagle,” and my plan was to review the chapters as I went along.  All that would have to wait, and won’t be as timely as a result.  But, oh, well.  It’s never a bad time to read a good book.  I’m just hoping that the natural selection process of the blogoshpere is kinder and gentler than this “learning experience” has been.