One of my tweets featured at 99U

I tossed this one out there because I thought it was a lot of fun at the 2009 North American Paleontological Conference.  They were looking for looking for creative ways to mingle–so props to the student group at NAPC for being creative!

The blog post is just a bunch of tweets, but it’s nice to see mine on the list, you know?

99U | The 1 Question You Can Answer To Help Us Improve The 99U Conference


Proof of Concept – Paleogeographic Maps and _Diplodon_

This figure has taken me a good deal of time to make. Not really in the actual production, but it’s been a long time gestating since conception.

Dissertation - 220Ma for arrow maps 2012-06-21

The genus Diplodon, as determined by the specimens to which that name has been applied, has been around since the Middle to Late Triassic. In the dissertation dataset, this works out to the 220 Ma time slice, or the Carnian stage. This is a map of what the world may have looked like at about that time period*.

Why is this important? In general, it’s important because it shows the geographical relationship among these occurrences as it may have been when these organisms were alive. Many paleogeography or historical biogeography papers ignore what the past geographic relationships may have been and focus on mapping a paleolandscape or biogeographic distribution onto a modern map.

Consider the possibility that these occurrences are not the earliest record of this genus (you would be right). If you were looking for additional material with only these four occurrences on which to base your search, you would look geographically nearby. Looking at a modern map would limit you to southern and eastern North America, but as you can see from the figure here, the paleogeography could support a South American or even African population. (I’ll tell you later why this this probably won’t work out.)

For the dissertation, this map is important because it (and others like it) can help show how far this genus is about to spread, and how long this is going to take. You may remember that I’m more interested in names than evolutionary relationships, so I hope to answer the question: how much time and space does there need to be between occurrences before we throw up our hands and say “this genus can’t possibly have survived that long?” The map series will help define where (and where not) there was a chance for lineage continuity.

*The background map, an achievement in itself that I take no credit for, is a product of Ron Blakey and Colorado Plateau Geosystems Inc. The positions of the continents are supported by Chris Scotese’s plate tectonic reconstructions as part of the Earth System History GIS collection. The positions of the Diplodon occurrences were mathematically rotated to these positions using the PointTracker software, also from Scotese.

Open-Access Journals

The current annoyance on the VRTPALEO list is the academic publishing industry, who will publish your work in exchange for owning the copyright (meaning that you, as an author, cannot distribute your own work without permission). A simplified but good analogy is made by Scott Aaronson here:

I have an ingenious idea for a company. My company will be in the business of selling computer games. But, unlike other computer game companies, mine will never have to hire a single programmer, game designer, or graphic artist. Instead I’ll simply find people who know how to make games, and ask them to donate their games to me. Naturally, anyone generous enough to donate a game will immediately relinquish all further rights to it. From then on, I alone will be the copyright-holder, distributor, and collector of royalties. This is not to say, however, that I’ll provide no “value-added.” My company will be the one that packages the games in 25-cent cardboard boxes, then resells the boxes for up to $300 apiece.

But why would developers donate their games to me? Because they’ll need my seal of approval. I’ll convince developers that, if a game isn’t distributed by my company, then the game doesn’t “count” — indeed, barely even exists — and all their labor on it has been in vain.

Admittedly, for the scheme to work, my seal of approval will have to mean something. So before putting it on a game, I’ll first send the game out to a team of experts who will test it, debug it, and recommend changes. But will I pay the experts for that service? Not at all: as the final cherry atop my chutzpah sundae, I’ll tell the experts that it’s their professional duty to evaluate, test, and debug my games for free!

We need to figure out a way to exchange information without making people pay exorbitant fees for it, but in the current situation we could be sued for distributing our own work in PDF format. I’m no opponent of paper copies of Journals, but if all you want is a PDF of a work that is peer-reviewed, there’s no reason you should have to pay for it.

EDIT: This person has something to say about it too, with an analogy to the QWERTY keyboard.



. . . is usually my most productive day. Today was no exception:

I am excited about paleontology again.

Not just any paleontology, not the random idea of paleontology, but the stuff I’m actually reading about. It’s fun! Just like italics are fun. I actually know what is going on, and the fact that I know more about the world than I did this morning fills me with joy. I may be going over the top, but it was a realization to me that here I am, tired and with a headache, a point at which I would consider a nap more appropriate than reading a paper on a subject I know nothing about, but I’m reading this paper, and I am enjoying it.

The problem, I think, comes from trying to read too fast. You just can’t digest things quickly, things like paleontology papers. This one is within my comprehension, and even though I usually hate [why such a strong word? 2014-03-05] reading about stratigraphy, I was paying attention and thinking about it all, and how it all went together. It took me a couple hours, but it was worth it.

Now if I can find a way to be able to focus this much all the time and have time for cycling and/or running (although I prefer the former, of course), things will be right with the world again.

There is a cycling race here on the 29th I believe. There is also a road race, just in case I’m wrong about the cycling. Prizes and everything. Who knows, maybe I’m good for something after all 😀