Sunday, June 24, 2012
Oh, you have to laugh at these things.
I was also able to go to E3 this year. That was...you know, stressful. I lost some weight but none of meds were interrupted (miraculously). You can read all about E3, including several articles from me, over at Nintendo World Report. Now then, the bad news. I'm about a year out from completely recovering from my brain abscess. At that time, I had concerns because my desire to draw and write had both taken a nose dive. But my brain surgeon was reasonably confident that my creative tendencies would come back. They really haven't. Hell, I barely even play video games anymore if they're on a handheld. Isn't that weird? I think it's weird. However, I have taken up podcasting more seriously. I've been on NWR's Newscast/Connectivity podcast for about three years now, but I started up my own show, the Frozen North Dinnercast, over at www.crosstawk.com and it's great fun.
And I'm forcing myself to write again. Hence this post. Sure, I'm doing writing for NWR, but it's not creative. It's not about science or dinosaurs. I may quit this particular blog entirely and start a new one, I haven't decided yet. It won't be on Blogger. I didn't like the format before and now they've changed it and I HATE it. I already have a Wordpress blog (Dirty Little Figures) that I just posted two articles on, so the next iteration of When Pigs Fly will probably end up there.
So that's the update. Don't know if the drawing bug will come back, but the writing bug is coming around. I have a post written and ready to publish, but I just need to draw some crayon drawings. It should be pretty good, as I'm in full-on condescending snark mode--my favorite mode. Stay tuned!
Saturday, March 31, 2012
Have you heard? Two new basal neoceratopsids were discovered in Canada. Their names? Unescoceratops koppelhusae and Grphyoceratops morrisonii. They’re leptoceratopsids, a somewhat hazy-but-currently-monophyletic group of small-bodied, small-frill horned dinosaurs from (mostly) North America. Unescoceratops was named based on a fragment of the left mandible. Originally regaled into the genus Leptoceratops, Michael Ryan realized it was unique. Gryphoceratops is known from a piece of lower right mandible. Among its interesting features is size: an adult would not have grown two feet long, making it one of the smallest—if not the smallest—adult dinosaur known.
This is all well and good. It increases the diversity of the group and gives us information about the initial dispersal into North America. It’s also nice to find small dinosaurs, period: fossils of anything smaller than, say, a troodontid, is pretty hard to come by. Tiny things just don’t fossilize very well. Here are the mandibular fragments from both taxa!
Wow, there's just not a whole lot there, but it hasn't stopped Julius Csotonyi from painting that beautiful life reconstruction of both animals (above)!
Gorgeous thought it might be (and it is), one wonders what the utility of such a painting is, given that these two animals are known from...say it with me...fragments of the mandible in both cases. This painting is begging to be invalidated down the road. Oh, sure, phylogenetic inference can tell you something about the general form of these animals, but nothing specific: there's considerable morphological distance between, say, Udanoceratops and Cerasinops. It's a beautiful picture, but I have a hard time with the idea of painting an entire animal based on the most fragmentary of material.
Tuesday, March 06, 2012
The following blog post is about "Toroceratops." I've taken heat for my views on "Toroceratops" in the past, and I expect this time to be no different. You should know that it is EXTREMELY ranty and, at times, kind of pissed off. I am FULLY aware that my frothing guile may have caused me to misunderstand or misconstrue certain things. If that's the case, please correct me in the comments. This rant is not so much an actual, serious rebuttal of "Toroceratops" as much as it is my personal problems with how the discussion is being carried out.
THAT SAID, please continue.
As Quilong said over on his blog, the "Toroceratops" controversy continues, but in an excellent way: each new paper that comes out not only attempts to rebut the previous one, but also provides priceless new information on Triceratops and Torosaurus in the meantime. Perhaps the best part is that this back-and-forth is available (mostly) freely to the public thanks to that bastion of our Shiny Digital Future, PLoS One:
The initial paper, unfortunately published in JVP;
Andrew Farke's redescription of Nedoceratops;
Scannella & Horner's reassertion that Nedoceratops is a transitional Trike;
Longrich & Field's attempt to suss out age based on skull suture fusion.
"Epioccipitals? Please. We've found Trike skulls with asymmetrical numbers of epioccipitals. There is an insane amount of variation there. Orbital horn core angle? Dude, are you kidding me? Nasal horn size? Well, Nedoceratops might be clear at one end of the spectrum, but let me tell you--there's a spectrum. I've seen it!
"Skull suture fusion? Allow me to break up the party: we've got Triceratops skulls that are from big adults who don't have all their skull bones fused up. And the opposite, too: small Triceratops skulls with fused skull sutures! See what I did there? I blew your effing mind. Tatankaceratops, baby. Think about it."
Now, look: I am fully ready to accept that there are some freaking wierdos out there, but you haven't shown your work. You have given me one transitional morph: Nedoceratops--one of the most controversial ceratopsid skulls in history. It has three names. Out of hundreds of Triceratops skulls, this is the only one you can point to that has parietal fenestrae? And even then, these particular fenestrae are in wierd places that don't match up with Torosaurus really at all. And it's got that irritating squamosal fenestra that just doesn't look healthy.
Please dig through your massive collection of Triceratops skulls (over 100, apparently, in Montana alone!) and pull out another contender. I know you've got one. Don't hold out on us.
Oh, and the epioccipital thing? You'd like to think that the reason Torosaurus has more epioccipitals than Triceratops is due to two factors: epioccipital count is apparently extremely variable in that basement full of Triceratops skulls you have (thus influencing how many the eventual Torosaurus morph would have); maybe--now work with me here--the epioccipitals in Triceratops split, like an amoeba, into two distinct epioccipitals. As evidence, you're point me toward...
The episquamosal of MOR 2975. The point has been worn down, which you folks suggest is because of "splitting." Yes, good. That's the most likely answer. Has epiocciptal splitting been demonstrated in any other ceratopsid? Hell, the fact that you can't find more than one potential example of epioccipital splitting--what with your baseball stadium filled with Triceratops skulls--is just a hair troubling.
In fact, remind me which ceratopsid currently known from a good growth series (like Pachyrhinosaurus, Centrosaurus, or Ajugaceratops) demonstrates such a spectacular morphological change late in life. Now Pachyrhinosaurus, man, he goes through one helluva puberty phase. But it happens surprisingly early, and at a constant rate. And it seems like lil' Ajugaceratops provides a damn good basis for adult Ajugaceratops. And in all three examples (Centrosaurus included), the juveniles have parietal fenestrae!
For Triceratops to transition into Torosaurus requires some pretty heavy special pleading. I'm not comfortable with that. I need more evidence. I need people to show their work. You've got a boatload of Triceratops specimens? Great. Publish some kind of photoessay, either in a print or online journal or, hell, Ye Olde Internet, showing me and everybody else the full goddamn range of Triceratops variability, which as you keep saying, is insane. Prove that there is not a single effing skull variable that cannot be explained away as either age-related, and therefore not phylogenetically informative, or individual variation, which must be staggeringly huge. Midline epioccipital? Nope. Number of epiossifications? Sorry. Horn size/angle? No dice. Basic things like timing of age-related characters? Not gonna happen.
Look, Pachyrhinosaurus lakustai displays some pretty widespread individual variation, too, but at least we know it's Pachyrhinosaurus lakustai! It's not like Einiosaurus has a mid-life crisis and transforms overnight (thus hiding all transitional evidence) into Pachyrhinosaurus. That's not really how this works. Pachyrhinosaurus is diagnosable across the spectrum of individual variation. And hey, Triceratops clearly is, too. The question is whether all that individual variation has anything to do with what Torosaurus looks like.
I mean, it's one thing to say that Triceratops occupies a wide range of individual morphological variation. I can buy that. But it's tough for me when you start saying that Triceratops exhibits an incredibly wide range of individual growth timing variation. I know, I know, you've got that warehouse full of Triceratops specimens. One might be a big individual with little skull suture fusion, and one might be a small individual with lots of skull fusion. So, in theory, ANSP 15192 could just be a Trike that hit its growth spurt way too early, and Tatankaceratops is the Trike equivalent of Benjamin Button. But here's where my problem is: given that Triceratops apparently ages as fast as it goddamn pleases and exhibits more variation than Varanus, how can we adequately test the "Toroceratops" hypothesis?
Is nothing sacred? What kind of rubrik can you use when there is no rubrik? Scannella continues to argue that bone histology and microstructure is the only real way to figure out who's who, but we've already seen that the growth dynamics of Triceratops are apparently not set in stone. All you can really tell is whether Triceratops (or Torosaurus) is still growing or not. Just because your Triceratops is still growing does NOT mean that Torosaurus is the obvious next step. Can we get some postcranial, long-bone histology done? If all the Torosaurus skeletons are older than Triceratops skeletons, then slap my mouth wide open--THAT is good evidence.
Or wait, maybe it's not. After all, Triceratops wasn't keeping a firm growth schedule. ANSP 15192 might just be a Triceratops that started its transition really early, while the Triceratops individuals who appear to be older than ANSP 15192 just decided they liked having short frills. It's hard for me to believe that Triceratops figured out how to avoid the age-related growth dynamics that shackle the rest of us.
You can't sit there and tell me that, out of all the ceratopsids known and studied, and in fact most animals in the world, Triceratops was unique in its growth timing and morphology. Tyrannosaurus rex has a wierd growth curve for a tyrannosaur (or, indeed, any big theropod) but guess what? It's consistent! You can age a tyrannosaur. You apparently can't age a Triceratops. There must be certain morphological characteristics that appear at certain age ranges. Hell, it's been demonstrated for Triceratops by Horner & Goodwin! Are we abandoning that research now? The full range of variability in Triceratops apparently wipes out the morphological characters that define each age class, so are we just fucked?
I need consistency. I cannot abide it when Farke or Longrich & Field come up with testable cranial characteristics and they are basically brushed aside with this "that variable is too variable" comment. Meanwhile, Torosaurus must be Triceratops. Because THAT variable is not up for debate. It's clear as mud.
And what about all the strange variations on Triceratops that have cropped up lately? Tatankaceratops, Ojoceratops, and Eotriceratops? Are they all just somewhere on the incredibly generous bell curve of individual variation on Triceratops? I mean, they probably are! Shit, you could probably find other chasmosaurine genera that fit in that range of variation. Let's get Arrhinoceratops in that line! Aside from the slightly squared-off frill, he doesn't look too horribly different. And there are probably plenty of Triceratops specimens with slightly squared-off frills.
My point is that there needs to be a testable rubrik for "Toroceratops" to work or even not work. You can't just say "Triceratops is really variable, therefore Torosaurus." There have to be established baseline growth trajectories. I will say this: I am NOT opposed to the "Toroceratops" hypothesis. If it's true, it's intruiging and, apparently, unique among ceratopsids. But there is SO much more than needs to be done, and I don't like how the conversation is going. I don't care how much data you have if you're not sharing it with the rest of the class.
That is all. Rant over. I have a PowerPoint to work on.
Friday, February 24, 2012
Thursday, February 16, 2012
This is PeeGee as drawn by Amanda Conner, who as far as I'm concerned is the only artist who should be allowed to do so. This picture illustrates everything I like about the character: she's brash, tough, willing to punch first and ask questions later, and she has a unique body type among all the DCU women. Power Girl is a little heavier than your average Starfire or Black Canary. Her breasts are bigger, her hips are hippier, her figure is more hourglassy. And, for the most part, she's always been portrayed like this.
Her costume has always been pretty consistent, aside from some bizarre and ill-advised changes, like this one:
That is HORRIBLE. I cannot unsee it, and there's a similarly terrible costume that's white and gold and it's a full body suit and I'd rather not talk about it. I blame the 90's. But the traditional Power Girl costume has been a white one-piece bikini, blue boots, blue gloves, a gold shoulderpad, and a red cape.
Oh, and a "boob window." Although she hasn't always had it (scroll up a bit), Power Girl's costume usually includes a hole where Superman's symbol would be, displaying her not-inadequate cleavage. I certainly don't mind this, and most readers probably don't, but unfortunately, Power Girl has come to be defined by this "boob window" almost as much as her short blonde hair and color scheme. And it's been the source of some amount of scorn: Power Girl's cleavage gets an undue amount of hate, especially in the face of characters like Starfire:
Power Girl's suit seems downright conservative by comparison, but her rack is bigger, she's bigger, she gets an undue amount of hate.
Look away, kids! It's a healthy-looking woman with superpowers!
Anyway, the point of this post is that after Power Girl's solo title disappeared after 27 issues and DC did a "soft reboot" of the DCU, Power Girl was nowhere to be seen, presumed dead. Ironically, she had survived all the previous reboots, and in fact one of her major story arcs (in JSA Classified) basically makes fun of all her origins and powers. But she survived through it all, and we were sad to see her supposedly go in the New 52.
Spoke too soon.
She's back--or rather, some version of her is back. She and Huntress will be starring in a new series out in May called World's Finest. That's supposed to be Power Girl on the left.
Say it with me now: What. The. Hell.
She suddenly looks like June Cleaver. Her entire costume has changed from the iconic colors and, yes, cleavage, to something about as generic as you can get. They've exchanged her striking blue boots and gloves for gold boots and gauntlets. I'm not sure how her cape is staying on. This is the most shabbily designed superhero outfit I've seen in a long time. Now, just to refresh your memory, this is what Power Girl has looked like for about fifty years:
Oh my gosh, she's been with Huntress before, too. But whereas Huntress' costume and color scheme have been largely unaffected, Power Girl drew the incredibly short stick. My working hypothesis is that, in an effort to expand its readership to, I dunno, more women (?), DC decided to cover up everybody's favorite Earth-2 Supergirl, shrink her down to a more waif-like form, and halve her cup size. Oh, and give her a haircut that would look dated in 1965. And in the meantime, DC is doing this to their other superheroines:
If you couldn't figure out who that last one is, I don't blame you: it's Harley Quinn. No, I'm NOT kidding. Figure THAT one out. Now then, what's especially vexxing is that all of these character redesigns are a part of the New 52, so three of the DCU's characters are getting really sexed up, but Power Girl, who for whatever reason got a lot of flack for having cleavage, is being scaled back WAY too much. See why I'm confused? I'm confused. Yeah, close the "boob window," but why are you changing HER ENTIRE COSTUME? It's no longer iconic--it's unbelievably generic. None of that costume says "Power Girl."
I'm incredibly disappointed that my favorite super heroine is getting the shaft because of overcompensation on DC's part, and it's unfair to her. Power Girl is big, beautiful, and proud of it. DC is doing the character an incredible disservice, and I am very disappointed. Rest in peace, Power Girl, you deserved better.
Sidenote: My Art Evolved (!) friends are you to give me grief if I don't list some image credits. I'm FAR too lazy to searching through comic archives to see who the illustraters were for the comic art here, but thanks to Glendon Mellow, we know the grey-background Power Girl is by DeviantArt's own Pyrotech07...now known as Pat the Wanderer. The bottom picture is my favorite picture of Power Girl EVER, and it's by the incomparable Bruce Timm.
So credit where credit is due.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Sunday, January 01, 2012
‘n’ spikes (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4), my back-and-forth with Tracy Ford (Part 1, Part 2), and my love-it-or-hate-it critique of the “Toroceratops” hypothesis (Part 1 and Part 2) (I think I’m off Denver Fowler’s Christmas card list). Let’s do something different this time: let’s just talk about the animals. So consider this post to be the beginning of series of posts about my favorite ceratopsids, period. We’ll start with my second-favorite: Pachyrhinosaurus.
The partial, holotype skull of Pachyrhinosaurus canadensis was discovered in 1946 and named four years later by the great Charles Sternberg. He dug up a big ol’ skull that was missing the frill and rostral, and some other bits of skull from different individuals, in Alberta’s Scabby Butte formation. So different was this “thick-nosed lizard” than its horned colleagues (seeing as it lacked a horn) that Sternberg erected a new subfamily, the Pachyrhinosaurinae, to be held to the same taxonomic level as the Centrosaurinae and the Ceratopsinae (Chasmosaurinae). His life restoration, shown below, looks something like a Protoceratops with a drink coaster on its nose. More material was discovered at the nearby Little Bow River Formation, and Wann Langston, Jr. unearthed a second good skull Pachyrhinosaurus from Scabby Butte in 1955.
Langston continued working on the genus through the 1970’s, and determined that it was a member of the well-established Centrosaurinae, or short-frilled ceratopsids. Though to this day, no complete frills exist for the species, the 1955 skull does preserve some proximal aspects of the frill, and an associated bit of the parietal’s outer rim. During the 1970’s, somebody (anybody out there know?) suggested that the characteristic, though bizarre, nasal boss that defined Pachyrhinosaurus actually represented the base of a massive, broken-off nasal horn. The idea actually gained some traction, and in fact a DinoRiders toy of a particularly well-endowed Pachyrhinosaurus was produced and released to an unsuspecting public. However, the hypothesis was quickly overridden by the unfortunate fact that no Pachyrhinosaurus skulls had anything taller than a big, molar-shaped boss (and besides, the recently-described Rubeosaurus ovatus fulfilled the “giant nasal horn” dream quite nicely).
The morphology of the boss became especially clear in 1972, when Alberta school teacher Al Lakusta stumbled across a massive Pachyrhinosaurus bonebed in that province’s Pipestone Creek Formation. Dozens, if not hundreds, of individuals died there most likely due to an unfortunate river crossing. Plenty of skull material and postcranial remains gave paleontologists previously unthinkable clarity into the morphology and, importantly, ontogeny of this hornless horned dinosaur. Decades of work were put into the bonebed and, in 2008, Currie, Langston, Jr., and Tanke published the results: a new species of Pachyrhinosaurus called P. lakustai, named after the bonebed’s discoverer.
Apart from their temporal separation, P. lakustai is distinct from P. canadensis in a number of ways. The shape and structure of the nasal boss, and that boss’ relationship to the postorbital bosses, differs considerably. While P. canadensis has a molar-shaped boss that rises more or less vertically from its base, P. lakustai has a more rounded boss that tips in back and rises up from before ending in a “spout” (in some individuals) that overhangs the rostral comb. The nasal boss is clearly separated from the postorbital bosses, even in old individuals, whereas in P. canadensis, the three bosses come together late in life. As in most horned dinosaurs, however, the most telling differences are in the frill. Aside from the significant differences in P3 morphology, P. lakustai differs from P. canadensis in having a large “unicorn horn” growing from the parietal bar. This does not occur in all individuals and could be a sign of age or sex.
The growth of Pachyrhinosaurus is also bizarre. Juveniles start life with a narrow, though proportionately large, nasal horn, and small postorbital horns. As they grow, the postorbital horns are reabsorbed and the nasal horn’s base elongates (back-to-front). It assumes a pyramidal shape; then the weird stuff starts. In every other ceratopsid with a nasal horn, the horn grows more or less vertically. In Pachyrhinosaurus, that pyramidal horn grows laterally, its base becoming wider and its upper surface becoming rugose and honeycombed. With age, the boss’ structure changes further—in some individuals, it becomes concave as bone continues to be reabsorbed and remodeled. While the overall form of the parietal’s outer rim remained consistent in each example of that bone, a surprising amount of individual variation is present.
While the authors state that almost every bone in the skeleton is represented, they do not provide a description of the post-crania (I can only assume that’s being saved for a later publication). I assume it’s similar to other related centrosaurines for whom relatively complete post-crania are known (Centrosaurus comes to mind). Of course, that old generalization may not be valid—-among the chasmosaurines, Anchiceratops has very different proportions from big bruisers like Triceratops.
Wonderful illustration of our new Alaskan species by Karen Carr.
As it turns out, Pachyrhinosaurus is not restricted to Alberta. No, sir, this ceratopsid lived all the way up on the North Slope of Alaska. A nice, but obliquely crushed, skull was discovered up there and provisionally described for Fiorillo in 2010’s big ceratopsid volume published by Indiana University Press. There’s actually a lot more unprepared material, just sitting in field jackets, and I can’t wait for that stuff to be described. Anyway, after extensive preparation, the holotype skull was written up and awaits publication in Acta Palaeontologica Polonica (where you can read the in-press draft). The authors of that paper have given this species a distinct name: Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum. It is the northern-most ceratopsid in the world, and also the youngest occurrence of the genus.
It differs from its more southerly cousins in not too many ways. In fact, it looks kind of like P. lakustai, but, again, it's the structure of the parietal that makes this guy different. The two P3 spikes are there, but this species expresses P1 spikes that grow down and overhang the parietal fenestrae, similar to the situation in Centrosaurus apertus and Centrosaurus brinkmani. This big guy would have lived in some cold temperatures in the winter--it probably got down below freezing for a few months a year, and believe it or not, the North Slope of Alaska was further north than it is today back in the Late Cretaceous, so that means even longer periods of darkness.
Exactly how Pachyrhinosaurus and its neighboring frozen north dinosaurs survived in these extreme conditions is unknown, but it certainly speaks to their hardy nature. Living alongside our boy here was a large form of Troodon formosus, good old Dromaeosaurus, Edmontosaurus, and one or possibly two tyrannosaurs--one of which was Albertasaurus.
UPDATE: I actually wrote this post a week ago, but only now found the motivation to post it. I may actually add to it later, including references. So look for that!
Monday, December 26, 2011
I'm changing things on this blog. Haven't decided exactly how yet, but I do intend to start blogging more regularly. I've actually got three blog posts in the "editing" stage and I want to put them up fairly quickly, after the new year. My health is more or less back to the normal. I've still got a PICCline in, but it's kind of my new routine now. My only excuse is not having any motivation at all to be creative--that might be caused by the abscess back in May (no joke). I don't really draw anymore either. It's wierd, and annoying, and a little worrying.
I'm also forcing people to register. That blows, I know. Would comment moderation be better? Let me know. I'm so tired of getting spam comments. I'm going to go through all my posts at some point and wipe out all the spam.
I might also just start a brand-new blog and let this one fester away. I'm so far behind in the literature it's stunning, but I need to catch up, and I need to write about this stuff. For me, for you, for my own sanity.
What are your thoughts, dear readers? If anyone even checks this blog anymore, that is. And I don't blame you if you don't!
Saturday, September 17, 2011
Monday, August 22, 2011
Look, kids! I'm not dead!
I got my third IV out on the 1st, started back on my normal med routine, and BAM, two weeks later and I'm already developing symptoms associated with another lung infection. I'm going into the doctor tomorrow. Hopefully it'll be nothing but a cold, but I just never know anymore. Follow me on Twitter (@zmiller1902) for updates.
But now is not the time for worry--now is the time for showing off horrible sketches! I'm again working on my "Life on Leather Wings" story. I've got a lot of the storyline worked out and the three main characters well-defined. This is a prelim sketch of one of them--Angol Fear (name taken shamelessly from the Soul Calibur IV character), one of Heaven's Vanguard. She and her squad of Angels is in charge of hunting and killing soul-harvesting Succubi. She is young and brash, but determined and gets the job done. She and Lily have a tenuous truce: Angol won't go after Lily as long as Lily continues harvesting souls that are already Inferno-bound. But the second Lily goes over that line, Angol's coming after her.
I'm having a difficult time imagining the armor for Heaven's Vanguard and Angol in particular. I want it to be imposing but breathable. I don't want Angol to have a helmet, either. But her silhouette is different from Lily (or Gwendolyn): Angol's widest point is just below hips, at the top of her thighs. She has short blonde hair and, of course, those big Angel wings. This is the only drawing I've done in the last month that I've considered good enough to keep, but I'm glad I'm getting back in the groove, slow though it may be.
Ignore the "LeBouf" scribble. I forgot to erase it, and I was trying to figure out if The Beef's name really meant "the beef." Turns out it doesn't--what a shame!
Now then. To lunch!