Sunday, May 3, 2009

Eye Candy

Dinosaurs Attack!

Because there have never been dinosaurs living on Earth with humans, there are aspects of dinosaur life which will always remain a mystery. Most of what we have to study them are bones and teeth. Occasionally, other fossils, such as footprints, skin impressions, and even dinosaur droppings can help us understand how these creatures behaved. Fossilized skin impressions show that many dinosaurs had scaly skin, similar to that of living reptiles. A few fossils found in China show that some actually had coatings of fluffy down, or even feathers! These findings are helping to redefine our picture of Mesozoic life.

Knowing what an animal eats is extremely important, since eating takes up so much of an animal's time. Fossilized feces, called coprolites, contain bits of the last food a dinosaur was eating. A surprising number of coprolites have been found. In a few cases they were discovered inside the dinosaur's skeleton, but in most cases there is no way of knowing for certain which coprolites belong to which dinosaur. Carnivore dung is more common than plant-eater, probably because of the high proportion of bone in their food.

Other kinds of dinosaur fossils give scientists additional insights. A single animal leaves millions of footprints in its lifetime. If any of these footprints are preserved, it can give lots of information about the animal's lifestyle. Footprints were the first clue that many dinosaurs lived in large groups. They also show whether an animal walked on two legs or four, and can be used to calculate how fast it moved.

Sets of footprints, called trackways, tell us if an animal was traveling alone, in a pair, or in a group. Sometimes we find different sizes of the same footprint, telling us that some dinosaurs raised their young. Some trackways have been traced for hundreds of miles!


It had always been assumed that dinosaurs laid eggs, as all large reptiles do. In the 1920's, an expedition into the Gobi Desert uncovered several nests and skeletons of the Protoceratops. Most dinosaur eggs have been found in nests. These were usually holes in the ground without much preparation.

The total number of eggs in a single nest is usually about 22. The eggs themselves came in all shapes and sizes. Some were circular and the size of a tennis ball, others were up to 21 inches (53 cm) in length.
For the dinosaur-enthusiast, a few gift ideas...

National Geographic Dinosaurs, by Paul Barrett has lots of great information on dinosaur behavior, and includes some interesting parts on marine life. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs, by Dougal Dixon is the book you wanted as a kid that had every kind of dinosaur in it. It has the dossier on 355 varieties. Both have awesome artwork, naturally!

If you happen to be shopping for a child under 12 who likes dinosaurs, check out Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs, by Eric Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart. It's a pop-up, and it's cool as hell!



My previous posts on dinosaurs are here.

Eye Candy

The Planets

Our Solar System represents a lot of good blog posts. For one thing, the planets are so pretty to look at and I like to make Hansisgreat as eye-catching and attractive as possible. For another, there are a lot of interesting "tidbit" facts about them that can be shared in a paragraph or two. Most of us don't feel like reading a long essay.
There's a good book on the subject called Astronomy: A Visual Guide, by Mark A. Garlick, if you find the subject interesting and want a high-quality, glossy coffee table book to flip through.
Today, the outer three planets...

Uranus:
Diameter: 31,763 miles (400.7% of Earth)
Mass: 14.5 x Earth
Mean Surface Temperature: -355 F (-215 C)
This is a featureless blue-green ball, the color created by the high methane content in the atmosphere. There are none of the distinctive bands or storms that mark Jupiter or Saturn, and the rings are dark and narrow. Curiously, Uranus is tipped over on its side. It could be that, long ago in its history, it suffered a glancing collision with another massive proto-planet. As a result of its strange axial inclination, the seasons on Uranus last over twenty years.

Neptune:
Diameter: 30,778 miles (388.3% of Earth)
Mass: 17.1 x Earth
Mean Surface Temperature: -265 F (-220 C)
Neptune is similar to Uranus in size and appearance. However, Neptune has more detail visible in its atmosphere. There are a few atmospheric bands, some wispy cirrus clouds made of methane crystals, and even occasional storm systems. The planet also features a very faint ring system and a small army of satellites. Triton, the largest, is very strange since it orbits backward compared to the other satellites. Moreover, despite its cold surface, Triton is volcanically active, with frigid geysers spewing miles into the air.

Pluto:
Diameter: 1429 miles (18% of Earth)
Mass: 0.002 x Earth
Mean Surface Temperature: -380 F (-230 C)
The last planet is smaller than our moon. It is mainly rocky but covered in ice. Pluto orbits the sun in a region known as the Kuiper Belt, home to ice and rock bodies that are remnants from the formation of the Solar System. If discovered more recently, Pluto would be considered a large Kuiper-Belt object, and not a planet at all. Pluto is the most mysterious planet because it's so far away, and exists almost completely in darkness.

It's funny... you spend your whole life in the Solar System but never see these things until someone comes to visit.
Previous post on the planets here.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Eye Candy

Playing for Pizza

Playing for Pizza, by John Grisham
$12.07 at Amazon.com

ISBN: 1846053684

John Grisham is most famous for writing legal thrillers like The Pelican Brief and A Time to Kill. Here, he's tried something different and it's a credit to what a good writer he is. Bravo, Mr. Grisham!

There's an old saying that God never closes a door without opening a window. This is the delightful story of Rick Dockery, a 28 year-old professional football player. The story begins after a catastrophic game in which Rick loses the championship for his team, the Cleveland Browns.

He's injured and briefly in the hospital, fired by the Browns, and no NFL team will hire him after his now infamous fumble.

Miraculously, Rick's agent manages to find him a job playing for a team in Parma, Italy.

That's right, American football, which apparently many Italians love. I learned something new.

The job doesn't pay enough to keep him in the jet set lifestyle to which he's accustomed, but he has few prospects in the US and takes what he can get.

When he arrives he knows almost nothing about modern Italy. He is almost a dumb jock at this point. In time the beautiful culture matures him. He develops a friendship with a beautiful opera diva who guides him through some of Europe's most beautiful cities, and for the first time imagines himself with someone other than a one-night-stand cheerleader.

My favorite scenes were the ones with his football teammates. They're a real fun group of dudes who indeed get paid little more than pizza yet dream of winning the Super Bowl.

Playing for Pizza is great for a guy who hasn't read a good book in a while. It's not too long (258 pages), is easy to get into, and full of sophisticated European adventure but with a rugged, sporty American protagonist.

There are some suspenseful scenes on the football field, but you needn't be a fan or even know the rules of the game to follow along: it just gives the novel some much-needed tension. It's mostly the tale of a handsome athlete who visits a beautiful city. A surefire crowd-pleaser!

Eye Candy

Quotations

When in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns.
Raymond Chandler (1888-1959)

Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long.
Ogden Nash (1902-1971)

It is not true that life is one damn thing after another, it is one damn thing over and over.
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1956)

When there are two conflicting versions of a story, the wise course is to believe the one in which people appear at their worst.
H. Allen Smith (1906-1976)

I have found little that is good about human beings. In my experience, most of them are trash.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another.
H.L. Mencken (1880-1936)

Gaiety is the most outstanding feature of the Soviet Union.
Joseph Stalin (1879-1953)

Philosophy is to the real world what masturbation is to sex.
Karl Marx (1818-1883)

If only it was as easy to banish hunger by rubbing the belly as it is to masturbate.
Diogenes the Cynic (412-323BC)

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