Day: 12/08/2012

Weekly Photo Challenge: Changing Seasons – First Snow

Death of the Dinosaurs: The Asteroid Didn’t Act Alone

See on Scoop.itTraveling Through Time

dino_decline_0502

There’s never a good time to get clobbered by an asteroid — something the dinosaurs discovered in the worst way possible. It was 65.5 million years ago when an asteroid measuring 6 miles (10 km) across slammed into the earth just off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, blasting out a 110-mile (180 km) crater and sending out a cloud of globe-girdling debris that cooled and darkened the world. That spelled doom for species that had come to like things bright and warm. Before long (in geological terms, at least) the dinos were gone and the mammals arose.

That’s how the story has long been told, and it’s still the most widely accepted theory. Now, however, a study led by scientists at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and published in Nature Communications suggests that the asteroid might not have affected all dinosaur species equally. Some, including the well-loved triceratops and duck-billed dinosaurs, might have been on their way out already and were simply hastened to the exit by the asteroid blast. The reason for their weakened state — and the way the investigators discovered it — provides both new insights into the fate of the dinosaurs and new methods with which to study their world.

The asteroid impact — known as the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) extinction — was always thought to have been an equal-opportunity annihilator, and there was good evidence to support that. Tracking the rise and fall of the dinosaurs was always done simply by counting how many species were around at any given moment in history. The more species there were, the better the overall clade was doing; the fewer there were — particularly after the K-T — the closer to extinction all dinosaurs came. But that method was never entirely reliable, mostly because paleontologists do their digging in so many different places.

“Results can be biased by uneven sampling of the fossil record,” says Steve Brusatte, a graduate student at Columbia University and one of the participants in the new study. “In places where more rock and fossils were formed, like in America’s Great Plains, you’ll find more species.” Similarly, in places that didn’t fossilize remains easily, you’d find far fewer — even if at one time there were just as many animals there.

Hadrosaurs by a lake.

Hadrosaurs by a lake. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Natural History team, led by paleontologist Mark Norell, thus decided to take a different approach — looking at the biodiversity within different groups of dinosaurs. If one group — the carnivores, say — was thriving, it ought to be producing more species than groups that were struggling just to hang on. When the investigators looked at things this way — sampling 150 species across seven major groups — they were able to paint a much different and much-less-uniform picture of how all the dinosaurs were faring before the asteroid arrived.

In general, the number of species in the small herbivore group (the ankylosaurs and pachycephalosaurs) was stable or even increasing. The same was true for the carnivores (the tyrannosaurs and coelurosaurs) as well as for the largest herbivores (the sauropods). Things were not so good for the slightly smaller herbivores known as bulk feeders because of the wide range of vegetation they ate (the hadrosaurs and ceratopsids). They appear to have been in decline for a good 12 million years before the K-T wipeout, with their species head count dwindling steadily over that time.

“People often think of the dinosaurs being monolithic,” says Richard Butler of Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, who also participated in the study. “We say, ‘The dinosaurs did this, the dinosaurs did that.’ But dinosaurs were hugely diverse. Different groups were probably evolving in different ways and the results of our study show that very clearly.”

So why were the hadrosaurs and ceratopsids having such a hard time? Geography may explain at least some of the problems. The bulk feeders were especially common in North America, a continent that was then bisected by the Western Interior Seaway, a wide and deep body of water that ran from what is now the Arctic Ocean to what is now the Gulf of Mexico. Changes in the depth, width and temperature of the sea might have reduced the food supply or altered the surrounding ecosystem in other ways that made it hard for the hadrosaurs and ceratopsids to survive. The tectonic collisions, which gave rise to what are now the Rockies and the other mountains of the west, might have had a similar effect.

Tyrannosaurus rex, a theropod from the Late Cr...

Tyrannosaurus rex, a theropod from the Late Cretaceous of North America, pencil drawing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whatever the cause of the two groups’ decline, it’s not certain that their condition was terminal — that they would not have somehow stabilized themselves if the asteroid hadn’t come along and rendered the whole question academic. Indeed, throughout the whole of the Mesozoic Era — from 250 million to 65 million years ago — diversity within dinosaur species was known to fluctuate quite a bit. “Small increases or decreases between two or three time intervals may not be noteworthy within the context of the … history of the [groups],” says Norell.

Of course, the asteroid did come along and did render everything academic. But if all of the dinosaurs left history’s stage at more or less the same time and for more or less the same reason, they now appear to have strutted their hour in ways that were more varied — and in some cases more fraught — than we ever appreciated before.

See on www.time.com

Have a laugh … on me!

It started out as a joke. My husband sent me an email and I thought it was funny. It made me laugh, so without worrying much about the source, the deeper truths, the verifiable facts of the matter, taking into consideration only the fact that it made me laugh, I published it.

It is called “The Man who saw the future” and you can click on it and see the source for all of this brouhaha (google it if you don’t know what I’m talking about).

I have been accused — me, the queen of geeks — of being anti-technology! Imagine that. A woman who owns three computers, an electronic reader, a tablet, a smart phone, three external hard drives, 4 digital cameras and Lord knows how many accessories, has DVRs and Blu-ray players all over the house … I am anti-technology? If I am not pro technology, no one is.

My laptop. Today's super little machine.

My laptop. Today’s super little machine.

But I am not in favor of letting technology replace human relationships, of instant internet searches replacing research. I’m in favor of using technology intelligently and using intelligence and creativity to define what technology is good for, not the other way around. Tools are intended for use by human beings for human pursuits.

I’m a big believer in facts. I research. I check and double-check sources even though I know that it’s impossible to completely verify any fact or statistic because the act of interpreting information alters it. Most important, I learned that not everything is equally important. I spent decades documenting and verifying … but there are things that do not need to be verified, double-checked, or confirmed. Among these things are jokes.

Not only do I like to laugh, I need to laugh. What is more, I think we all need to laugh.

So, in pursuit of brightening my own and maybe your life too,  I publish jokes which I think are funny. I do not verify the source of the joke. I do not research the origin of laughter. If it’s funny, that’s good enough for me.

Lighten up America!

It’s been a rough period. Not everything is life or death. Laughter can be a bridge over troubled waters. Nothing else, not pill, drugs, or therapy can uplift you the way laughter can.

As far as trying to prove that technology is “bad,” I love my electronic gadgets and goodies. However, you need to recognize what these things are good for and not try to use them to replace the world. Too many people, especially young people, confuse the means and the end.kindle fire

They substitute electronic communications for relationships. I watch my granddaughter and her friends sitting next to each other on the sofa texting. How do you learn to have relationships if you can’t have a conversation? If you use computers to think for you, you never learn to think, especially considering that computers can’t think. They are processors. Very fast, efficient information processors. Anyone can use a computer to collect information by the bushel, but most people can’t connect two related ideas without a flow chart and maybe, not even then.

In a society where we have to warn people not to text while driving, something is seriously wrong.

Information is not knowledge. It’s human minds and creativity that change raw data into concepts, inventions, and ideas.

Blackberry TorchInformation is not communication. You can provide all the information in the world, but if you don’t disseminate it in a form that others can understand, it’s just noise. We collect information at the speed of light. The dumbing down of society is not because of the tools we have available, it’s because we’ve forgotten they are only tools.

We have fantastic resources that we waste on drivel. Technology has not improved our ability to communicate, relate, think, or create. If anything, our dependence on them has reduced these uniquely human qualities. Without a human context, all our fancy technology will remain trivial. Time wasters. Stupid toys.

THAT is the message beneath my humor. NOT that tools are bad, but that we misuse them, fail to use them to any worthwhile end. We have come so far … and remarkably, advanced very little. Our civilization is not one bit more advanced that it was in ancient days.

I suggest that instead of analyzing my jokes to see if they contain accurate attributions, that you analyze your life and see if it’s worth living. In the meantime, have a good laugh on me.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin | [Erik Larson]

I loved it … and hated it … simultaneously.

I have rarely been more conflicted about a book than I was about this one. In many ways it was gripping and sometimes mesmerizing and then again, it was also annoying and at the same time, utterly appalling.

The indifference and callously entrenched anti-Semitism of US State Department officials and their consequent tolerance for the atrocities of the Nazi government is hard to stomach.This is not an image of our government that could make anyone proud to be an American.

The failure of all the western nations to do anything to stop Hitler while they could — with relative ease — have done so is difficult to fathom. The feather-headed self-absorption of Dodd’s daughter is like a case of hives: the more you scratch, the more you itch.

Most of the people in the book are awful in one way or another. Dodd, the ambassador, ultimately grows to become, in his way, heroic. He, at least, saw what was happening and tried — within the scope of his position — to do what he could. That no one listened to him is part of the heartbreak.

dodds

Dodds Embassy in Berlin  (Photo credit: island home)

Worse is that those who failed to act more often than not did so not because they didn’t believe him (although some truly didn’t), but because the majority of them were hardened anti-Semites and/or because they thought Hitler was going to rid Europe of the menace of Communism. Viewing Hitler as the lesser of two evils? How revolting is that? And all of this led to the bloodiest war in human history, a conflict wherein more than 30 million people died.

The banality of evil has never been more clear or more terrifying. Read it and weep.

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