Sunday, September 30, 2007


If you thought my eyes looked like ancient-person eyes last week, you should see them this morning. I'm functioning on a few crappy hours of sleep, a cup of nasty cafeteria coffee and the hope that one day I will be doing what I want, instead of sitting in this office. I have a headache...which has been tripled in strength by the natural gas main that ruptured over on central campus. Supposedly, the gas didn't reach my building, but the funny smell in our office suggests otherwise.

I got into a fight with J last night about the presidential candidates. I HATE politics. I really really hate talking about politics...which is funny, because I'm the one who brought them up last night. I did some research yesterday after hearing that three of our candidates do not believe in evolution...and then I ended up researching Ron Paul, because he fascinates me (also because I was curious to see if he believes in evolution). I took my findings home, presented them and then preceded to get all bugged out when J asked me a few questions. And of course, when I want to talk about dinosaurs and rocks, he listens and is supportive and wonderful. When he wants to talk about politics and conspiracy theories, I am mean and defensive and irrational. I don't know why I get so upset. Maybe I just don't like stating an opinion without facts to back it up because I'm terrible at arguing. The thing is, he says he doesn't want to argue...just discuss, but I seem to be incapable of doing that, since I treat our discussions as if they were arguments. Maybe it's my whole no-information thing...I really don't know. But it makes talking about 9-11 unbearable. Anyone else get all bugged out?

I had my chem lab last night and I am utterly blown away by the stupidity of some of my classmates. The girls that use the bench next to mine didn't seem to understand that anything to the left of the bench divider was my space. Apparently, the also didn't understand that the glass pipe was supposed to be above water level to avoid poisoning the whole room with bromine gas, because they laughed when I asked them to fix it. I don't think I was out of line...I just didn't want to inhale bromine gas. And the kid next to me that thinks it's fun to light unknown chemicals on fire near the hydrogen generator...he's also the one who publicly announced that he farted. I can't stand him. My lab partner may be the worst of all. She's nice enough, but she's got this high-pitched, squeaky voice and acts like a 7-year old. She seems to think our lab TA is there for us, and only us, because if she has any questions she immediately waves her hand and shouts, "hey, 'scuse me Mr. TA Guy," no matter what he's in the middle of. He has a name. He also has thirty other students. And seriously, she needs to stop calling me "Ms. Perfectionist" and following it up with "but there's nothing wrong with that." I HATE that. I prefer to be thorough when working with dangerous substances...and I like earning good grades. If there's one thing I'm going to be a perfectionist about, it's school. I'm certainly not a prudish rule-follower anywhere else.

I began painting a picture of a Triceratops skeleton last night. It’s coming along nicely and I only have one complaint: it’s not original. Paleo art is tough because there’s no way to photograph the subject and in order to paint something with skin and hair and feathers, you need to be able to visualize what a skeleton would look like with all that stuff attached. And to do that, you need an understanding of how muscle attaches to bone. I work mostly from photos because my visual memory sucks. All the photos I have of dinosaur skeletons have been taken by someone else. It looks like a trip to the museum (generic, since I have to travel a few hours to get to one) is in order. I’d love to paint some close-up skulls. Close enough to see the little details and fill the canvas, but not so close that the dino is unrecognizable. For now, pictures from books will have to do.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

For a good laugh...and Adventures of Dimetrodon #3

Take a look at this:

The link takes you to drjonboyg's photo set from his visit to the new-ish Creation Museum. The comments are hysterical, as are the captions. Many of the photos feature the information posted at each exhibit, instead of the actual exhibit.

In other news:

Dimetrodon may have met his match.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Adventures of Dimetrodon #2

Last night, after a full day of work and school, I was about ready to give up on my calculus class; the sun was getting low, my eyes burned from eight hours of computer exposure and the realization that I would not have any free time for another three days was dawning on me. I don't skip class, well...not anymore, but I wondered how I could possibly make it through another night without a few moments of relaxation. Nothing seemed to brighten my mood...until this arrived in my inbox:

Just knowing that I wasn't the only one struggling to find her place in this world was enough to keep me going. I went to class and at the end, took a few moments atop the hill to sleepily take in the view of the lake and consider where my courses might take me next.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On a lighter note...(or Adventures of Dimetrodon #1)

I purchased a copy of John Acorn's Deep Alberta after the Dinosaur Mailing List mentioned it (I'm a sucker for buying anything DML-endorsed). The book was beautiful, with great illustrations, equal attention paid to all creatures (not just dinos) and an easy-to-read, story-like narrative. It had less information than I was looking for, but I REALLY enjoyed reading it.

J read it, too, and we both had a good laugh at the Camelops illustration, featuring a camel-like creature gazing at the skull of another animal. The caption read something like this: "Camelops gazes mournfully at the tusk of a mammoth and wonders what it all might mean." Apparently Camelops was having an existential dilemma.

The Camelops caption was fodder for some good text-message humor.

In the spirit of recent Dimetrodon conversations, this one arrived in my email this morning:

Nothing like a few fossil jokes to lighten the mood.

I wanna know what the scientists think...

I HATE that I'm posting about this, but I'm going crazy over here in this corner of the U.S. and I need some information.

I've been thinking about conspiracy theory all morning. Global governments, corporate control, the idea that the trade center collapses were set up by our own government. I get so pissed off when I hear people talking about that stuff, and not because I don't agree with their ideas, but because I can't seem to formulate an opinion.

Here's my stance on it all: There's not enough information to even begin taking a side. My inclination is to think that conspiracy theorists are a bunch of paranoid people, but I'm not dumb enough to believe my initial inclination. Immediate disbelief in conspiracy theory, on my part, is not due to facts, because I don't have enough of them. It's a result of living in the society that is supposedly conspiring. It's partly me just NOT wanting to believe that people are capable of doing the injustices that they're blamed for.

But my initial disbelief is not unwarranted. I am wary of information that presents itself in a one-sided, in-your-face manner. And that is exactly how conspiracy theory surrounding global government and 9-11 has been presented to me (it is also how media presents information on the other side of conspiracy theory). I don't want my information to come in a completely bias manner. I want to have discussions with people who have first-hand information on ALL sides of the story. I don't trust the information my friends relay to me (that they acquired from a video made by the 9-11 Truth Organization). I just don't. I also don't trust news media when it refers to conspiracy theorists as "crazy," because it's obviously an attempt to discredit those theories without properly addressing/arguing them.

I also don't trust that my government isn't influenced by money and by powerful corporations. Of course it is. It' s also lead by a man who probably believes that Earth is only 6,000 years old and believes that religion has a place in politics.

I can find hundreds of sources that back up conspiracy theory, but VERY FEW scholarly sources that argue against conspiracy theory. At this point, I feel like those in power are dismissing conspiracy theory claims as if they aren't important. And they are. They are entirely warranted claims, based on the information that has been provided (though I STILL don't trust the information to be complete and without bias).

I want information. I want information that is presented in a non-threatening manner by people I can trust.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Back to Basics #1 - Punctuated Equilibrium

Today, in a desperate attempt to find a hint of paleontological research at OPU, I typed "paleontology" into the search field on the university's home page. Though there wasn't much in the way of dinosaur research, I was surprised to find a few interesting articles on evolution, which is something I don't know much about, but should.

My favorite article was "Opus 200" by Stephen Jay Gould, published in Natural History, August 1991, 100 (8):12-18. You can read the paper here.

I was SO impressed with the article. I don't know what the current opinion of punctuated equilibrium is, but it's a fascinating concept. Gould's article has done something that Julia over at The Ethical Palaeontologist has done; it has turned science into something less superhuman and more accessible while maintaining its complexity. When I decided to go back to school, I was overwhelmed by the amount of information that presented itself to me. I was even more overwhelmed by the nature of the information; it was in a different language and in order to read a paragraph in a journal, I had to use a dictionary. I felt hopelessly stupid and incapable. After reading this article and some of Julia's posts, I feel capable of grasping the "impossibly" complex concepts of paleontology.

Punctuated equilibrium suggests an alternative to the gradual evolution of species. It suggests that speciation occurs rapidly (but only in a geological time frame) and reaches a point of stasis in which a species remains stable and fairly unchanged. The rapid speciation occurs as a result of small populations becoming isolated from larger populations. The small population undergoes change much more rapidly than a small population, speeding up the process (Gould, 1991).

What fascinates me about punctuated equilibrium (p.e.) is that it attempts to explain the "gaps" in the fossil record. If speciation occurred as the p.e. model suggests, then the "gaps" are not gaps at all, but evidence of equilibrium and rapid change (Gould, 1991).

I also like the history of Gould's theory. It fascinates me that his theory was used by Creationists to disprove the theory of evolution...that they could conclude from his argument that no intermediary specimens existed and therefore evolution was a lie. Gould refutes this well, saying "punctuated a different theory of intermediacy for evolutionary trends—pushing a ball up an inclined plane for gradualism, climbing a staircase for punctuated equilibrium" (Gould, 1991). Either way, the ball is heading up the hill...

This, of course, just confirms my belief that creationists are experts at using rhetoric to argue science, rather than science itself.

I'm going to continue searching for articles, but meanwhile, I'd like to know what you all think about punctuated equilibrium.

Stephen Jay Gould, "Opus 200," Natural History 100 (August 1991): 12-18.

Weekend Re-cap

What a wonderful birthday! I woke up at 6:30 as usual, thinking I was going to drive J to work. He didn't seem to be in any hurry so I asked if he was going to work and he told me he'd gotten the day off. It was so nice to spend the morning with him. He got me a great oil paint set, SmartWool socks, and two packages of gummy bears. Naturally, we stayed in bed eating the gummy bears and watching Dr. Who for a good portion of the morning.

Later, the dojo threw me a surprise party. A bunch of people gathered on my porch and we had vegan pizza, vegan chilli, cornbread and vegan chocolate cake. I got some more neat gifts; a piggy bank that says "Saving up for therapy," a book called T-rex and the Crater of Doom, a Diva Cup, a few gift certificates and art. The art was beautiful. My friends Christy and Alex cut out pictures of "dinosaurs" from an old book and fit them to tiles, covered them with a sheer coating of polyurethane and VOILA!: dinosaur coasters. There's a Coelophysis, a T-rex, a "Brontosaurus," a Dimetrodon and an Archaeopteryx. So...they're not all dinosaur coasters, but still...beautiful. J was so amused by the Dimetrodon that he made up a song about it. It goes like this: "Oh Dimetrodon, how come you show up where you don't belong?..." I couldn't date a guy who thought Dimetrodon was a dinosaur!

On the school front, I got my first Chemistry test back today. I was really worried about it because I've spent EVERY spare second I have doing chemistry homework and if it didn't pay off, there wasn't anything more I could possibly do. I was also worried because the test consisted of very basic questions, which was the last thing I expected. I had gone over all of the complex problems and have actually woken up at night with them in my head, but I just ignored the simple stuff. Of course, the test was on all the simple stuff. Anyway, I did well. In fact, according to WebCT, I did better than was possible: 142 points out of 140! I'm really proud of myself. I've put a lot of work into school and it's paying off.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Let's get a T.A.R.D.I.S. in here...

J is obsessed with the T.A.R.D.I.S. (that's Time and Relative Dimension in Space) machine from the new BBC Dr. Who series. Last night, we spent some time playing the opening sequence of the show in slow motion, trying to photograph the T.A.R.D.I.S. with our camera phones. We got some pretty shoddy shots. The goal was to have a good picture of the ship for the wallpaper of Jordan's phone. He decided that the caption would read, "Let's get a T.A.R.D.I.S. in here." We shared a nice hearty laugh over that one.

*Update* I just received this in my inbox:

Now that I've made a commitment to keeping up a blog (this isn't the first time), I have been noticing little things that I never have before. For instance, last night, I ordered a pizza from Leonardo's and the receipt that came attached to the box said "The Creative Quality Pizza." After a quick google, I found out that the business was started in 1990 claiming a creative, quality pizza. That's different. A creative quality pizza has the implication of creative quality. A creative, quality pizza implies creative and quality pizza. I don't want the quality of my pizza to be creative. I want the quality to be quality. The pizza can be creative...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

But I want it NOW!!!

This Saturday marks my 25th birthday. Before you conjure up any images of a youthful, radiant young woman, I'd like to show you this:

This is not the eye of a 20-something. It is the eye of an overworked student working 40 hours a week and having severe problems with sleep and mood swings *.

That said...I don't have time for an undergraduate degree. I haven't really explained how this whole school/work thing works (or doesn't) for me, so here's the general idea:

I have a bachelor's degree in Professional Writing. I love paleontology. I chose writing over paleontology because I was afraid that a getting a science degree would be challenging and that I would fail. I'm sick of being afraid and I know I'm capable of succeeding, so I'm going back to school. I need very basic science courses, plus a whole slew of not-so-basic courses, in order to obtain another bachelor's degree, which is why I am not getting my master's degree. I cannot afford to go to school full-time because the government thinks that one bachelor's degree is enough and refuses to give any "need-based" aid. As a result, I am working full-time at a university and taking 15 credits a year for free. At this rate, I will have my B.S. in XXX (insert name of self-designed major) in about 6 years.

SIX YEARS!!! If I work really hard I might have a PhD by the time I'm 40.

I want to read as much as I can, keep up with the latest discoveries, get a grip on sauropod phylogeny...but I just don't have time.

I don't want to complain too much. I know that the courses I'm taking now will provide me with a nice foundation for the courses I'll be taking later on. And why not enjoy the process, right? Introductory chemistry is actually really interesting and calculus is fun...sorta like doing a lot of little puzzles.

*I'm pretty sure I can blame the Nuva Ring for my mood swings. Despite claims that side effects are minimal, I just can't believe that adding a dose of hormones into my body every day doesn't have any effect on my emotional state.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Labor Day Weekend

Aside from the usual family drama, my trip home to Connecticut for Labor Day weekend was a success. As usual, J accompanied me on the 4-hour drive. We met my mother for dinner at her favorite bar, talked about my pressing need to see a dermatologist and lit a bee hive on fire...a normal evening with mom.

The point of the trip was to get in one last weekend of fun before school began (well, before school began for J...I started in August). I've been keeping a folder at work called "Stuff I Want to Do," and inside was a printout of instructions on how to make a plaster cast of Eubrontes footprints at Dinosaur State Park. In a last-minute attempt at doing something out of the ordinary, J and I decided to do dino stuff...which is not out of the ordinary...for us. We also decided to spend an afternoon in West Stafford at Diamond Ledge, digging for quartz crystals.

Prior to Labor Day weekend, I don't remember when my last visit to Dinosaur State Park was. I do remember being slightly disappointed about the size of the museum, but that was probably because before that, my last museum experience was at the Peabody, which is huge.

Anyway, I was REALLY impressed with Dinosaur State Park. It's small, for sure, but it's got a lot of good information about the Eubrontes trackway that was uncovered at the site. They had a "garden" with varieties of trees descended from those of the Mesozoic. The museum also had a really impressive gift shop and book store.

J and I spent a good amount of time there, reading all the information the museum had to offer, deciding which fossil replicas to buy, making a cast of a footprint and walking on the various trails behind the museum.

Diamond Ledge was perfect, too. We met a family from Rhode Island in the parking lot and hiked out to the dig site with them. They were wonderful company and we all found a lot of nice specimens to take home.