Saturday, July 31, 2010
Friday, July 30, 2010
'Dinosaurs were shape-shifters', says the feature. 'Their skulls underwent extreme changes throughout their lives, growing larger, sprouting horns then reabsorbing them, and changing shape so radically that different stages look to us like different species. This discovery comes from a study of Triceratops and its close relative Torosaurus. Their skulls are markedly different but are actually from the very same species, argue John Scannella and Jack Horner at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana.
Triceratops had three facial horns and a short, thick neck-frill with a saw-toothed edge. Torosaurus also had three horns, though at different angles, and a much longer, thinner, smooth-edged frill with two large holes in it. So it's not surprising that Othniel Marsh, who discovered both in the late 1800s, considered them to be separate species. Now Scannella and Horner say that Triceratops is merely the juvenile form of Torosaurus. As the animal aged, its horns changed shape and orientation and its frill became longer, thinner and less jagged. Finally it became fenestrated, producing the classic Torosaurus form. Shape-shifting continued throughout these dinosaurs' lives, Scannella says. 'Even in the most mature specimens that we've examined, there is evidence that the skull was still undergoing dramatic changes at the time of death.'
What a bugger eh? Bronto is gone and now, maybe, Trikey. Pterodactyl was never a proper name anyway. All they have to do now is discredit Stegosaurus, Diplodocus and T Rex and my childhood favourites will have all been wiped out as surely as they were wiped out by the Chicxulub meteor.
You can read the whole story here. Image courtesy of Live Science and shows growth stages of Triceratops.
Monday, July 26, 2010
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Sure enough, almost as soon as I crossed the county line near Launceston, it began to rain. And as I drove down the A30 across Bodmin Moor, the mist came rolling in settling over Rough Tor and Brown Willy like heavy clouds fallen to Earth. I drove to my brother Simon’s house wearing a suitably gloomy frown. ‘Brought the weather with you as usual I see’, he said as he welcomed me inside the house. I wanted to point out that if you counted how many days per year it rains in Cornwall, my humble contribution amounted to a tiny percentage. However, I drank a nice hot tea instead and planned what I would do for the next few days – bearing in mind that wet weather gear would be most likely needed. The day ended with a walk around the wet but incredibly imposing old mine workings of the Great Flat Lode. You can never fail to be impressed by these cathedral-sized buildings, imagining what they were like 100 years ago when the site boasted some of the richest tin and copper mines in the world.
The following day began with thunderously heavy rain and more mist and fog so I decided on a drive about. Feeling somewhat nostalgic, I firstly drove to Helston where I filled up with petrol at the very filling station I used to work at in my teens. Of course, it looked very different then; there was no roof and only two pumps that were manually operated by me when I started there. Later, they upgraded to self-service pumps and I got the be the lad who sat behind the counter taking the money. I was only 16 at the time. They’d never allow it these days because of the cigarettes, over 18 magazines etc. but, back then, all we sold was petrol. We doled out Green Shield Stamps back then too and I was supposed to ask every driver if they wanted them. I didn’t. And I certainly didn’t ask the hundreds of foreign tourists as they had no idea what they were. That meant that I kept the stamps. I can’t tell you how much I bought with them, but it included my first electric guitar and a giant black ‘ghetto blaster’ cassette radio thing. As I filled the car up, I looked across the nearby road junction and could see the house I lived in for five years. It didn’t look any different except that it now has PVC double glazing and is a gold-top creamy colour rather than white. Oh, and the trees Mum and Dad planted are a lot taller.
I took a slow drive through the town, past my old school, past Tenderah Road and my first home in Helston, past the houses lived in by old school mates, past the newsagents – now a nail parlour – where I did my paper round from and down through Coinagehall Street and past the famous thatched Blue Anchor pub where I spent most evening from the age of about 16, drinking their home brewed Spingo and playing folk music.
Next stop was another town I grew up in; Penzance. That's Penzance harbour above and a wet fishing smack coming sensibly in to hide. By now the rain was appallingly drizzly and horrid but that didn’t stop me having a short and very damp walk on Marazion beach. Amazingly, the mist was so thick that St Michael’s Mount, usually just a short 1/4 mile walk from the shore was completely invisible. That morning there had been a feature on the BBC Breakfast Tv show about the dangers of ‘tombstoning’; jumping off high rocks, piers and breakwaters into the sea. It was something we did all the time as kids off the Porthleven harbour walls, and here in Penzance, off the steps that led down to Harvey’s Dry Dock. Despite the name, the dry dock was full of water most of the time. It was only drained when work needed doing on the lower part of a vessel’s hull. A steep set of granite steps led down to the dry dock from Morrab Road above and we would dare each other to climb one more step with every jump, getting higher and higher before each cannonball plunge into the often oily water. Just opposite is the main harbour itself where I would often dally on my way to school to watch the fishing boats off-loading their catches bound for Newlyn fish market. I was trusted to walk to school in those days and I was no older than eight or nine. Here's part of the prom in all its sodden glory.
Next, it was on to Hayle to visit mum, drink tea and hear all the latest gossip about people I don’t know. That’s the thing about time and distance; my mum has moved house five times since I left home in 1980. And I’ve lived in six different houses. We have no common shared points of interest any more other than the family. She doesn’t know anyone I know and vice versa. Still, a pleasant evening and I may have picked up an amazing story to turn into a book. More on that anon … here's the Hayle estuary taken from Lelant saltings.
Wednesday it was much brighter with gloriously warm sunshine. My Rain God status appeared to have been rescinded. I decided to make the most of the unusually clement weather and took the park and ride train from Lelant Saltings into St Ives. It has to be one of the prettiest short train routes in the UK. The little train shuttles between St Erth and St Ives several times daily and the route goes along the cliffs above Hayle, Carbis Bay and into St Ives itself. You get wonderful views of the sweep of St Ives Bay, right up to and beyond Godrevy lighthouse. It’s wonderful. I’m amazed they haven’t stuck a steam train on the route and turned it into a tourist attraction yet. Amazed but quite pleased. This is one commuter route I'd love to do every day. Just look at these views, taken from the train.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
BIG BANG BIG BOOM - a new wall-painted animation by BLU. (Thanks to @saliwho for making me aware of it). Amazing.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
A couple of days ago I finally broke through the 1000 followers barrier on Twitter and, to my delight, my thousandth was my good chum Dan Schreiber, co-creator and co-producer of BBC Radio 4's The Museum of Curiosity. Admittedly, he did cheat by first unfollowing me and then re-following. Nevertheless, I felt that some kind of prize was in order. This picture was the result: Dan in a bizarre hat doing an impossible interview with a brontosaurus. There is a reason why that's what he wanted I'm sure. all I know is that I'm rather pleased with it. Click on the pic to see a larger version.
Interestingly, if I ever got well-known enough to be a guest on his show, poor old brontosaurus could quite possibly be one of my donations. It was one of the iconic dinos of my childhood and it's such a shame that it no longer exists. What we had been calling 'brontosaurus' for decades turned out to be a diplodocus skull on an apatosaurus body and, because they were classified first, bronto had to go. Such a shame. I keep wishing that some researcher would re-use the name for a newly-discovered sauropod. That way Bronto will be back for good.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Saturday, July 10, 2010
But on the subject of wheezing, may I draw your attention to the musical instrument in the same photo? You'd be right to spot that it's a penny whistle. You'd also be right if you spotted that it's made of copper. My brother Simon made it a few years ago - for those you who Tweet, he's the Cornish photographer @kalannstudio - and it's the most unplayable instrument in the world. Not that it hasn't got a pleasant and unique tone, mind you. No, it's because copper tastes bloody awful. I challenge anyone to keep the thing on their tongue for longer than a few seconds. This makes it the most pointless wind instrument ever. However, I understand that it was actually made as a kind of prototype trophy and looks beautiful when polished.
All I know is that I have no idea what to do with it. Nor why he gave it to me. So I'll probably give it back to him. Or maybe I'll carry on trying to play it in the hope that copper absorption speeds the return of my immune system.
The TV news reporting has been the most fuck-awful I think I've ever seen. I won't name names. There's no point. They've all been as bad as each other. The 24 hour news channels have been the worst culprits, however, with ridiculous interviews, aimless site visits and pointless speculation. They've pushed cameras in people's faces just to watch them break down and cry because a loved one is inside the armed exclusion zone. They've showed us still photographs of drains. They've wheeled out a surfeit of experts who - with no information whatsoever at their disposal - have done what we've all done: guess what's going to happen. I particularly enjoyed the number of people who said that it was 'ridiculous the police haven't found him yet'. Oh really? I bet you I could stay hidden for weeks if I wanted to if I had access to as much dense woodland as he had. Plus, of course, it's really quite hard to spot someone who's in a drain under your feet.
This photo (above - copyright Newsgroup Newspapers) was on screen for something like an hour at one point yesterday. A taser is clearly visible in the hands of the officer at far left. Flicking channels, I heard at least five people ask their experts, 'Why don't they just use the taser?' Every time, the answer was the same; because the electric shock causes spasms which would probably make Moat pull the trigger. Just one expert answer would have been enough for all of the newspaper and TV news reporters on Earth. But no, they kept on asking and asking simply to fill time. And on and on it went, hour after excruciating hour, like some super-extended episode of 'Just a Minute' where the likes of Kay Burley were forced to keep talking without hesitation, repetition, deviation or, indeed, information.
The constant use of opinion instead of facts has been the worst I've ever seen. When was carte blanche given to news teams to simply make stuff up? This, from the respected BBC news website this morning:
'Senior officers will be relieved that a man who threatened to kill police and members of the public was successfully contained with only one further casualty - the gunman himself.'
They will? Oh good. No source quoted but it's probably true, maybe. The SKY News website carries a story that centres on the fact that one of their reporters was close by. No, really. That's the story!
'Sky Reporter Watched Metres From Moat Drama.
James Matthews watched as police negotiators tried to persuade fugitive gunman Raoul Moat to surrender.'
Well, that and the fact the reporter was an arse. The report goes on with:
'At one stage the police were reassuring him and saying no one would hurt him.
"Raoul there's no one behind you," he said."No one has hurt you yet and nobody is going to hurt you."
It was a constant process of reassurance, as though Moat was hidden and the police were trying to coax him out.There were repeated reassurances, trying to build up trust.
But I was behind Moat.
Without hearing the approach of a heavily armed officer, I almost felt his breath on my cheek as the officer crawled behind Moat high on the riverbank.Using industrial language, he whispered his instructions to me and my cameraman that we should make our exit fairly sharply.'
Fucking right you should! (Apologies for my own 'industrial language'. Whatever happened to the terms 'swearing' and 'bad language'?) Police negotiators are trying to reassure a dangerous, armed and suicidal man that there's no one behind him ... so why are you there you oik?
The press, of course, have treated the whole incident with customary calm and collected wisdom and advice. The Sun's sensitive headline today is 'Moat dead: Madman dies in hospital one hour after shooting himself.' Oh, so he was mad? Thank goodness for medical experts. The Mirror is slightly better but the story is already as cold as Moat himself and entices us instead to look at:
'Cheryl Cole, JFK, Genghis Khan and the top 10 famous people to be struck down with Malaria ...'
I gave up buying newspapers a few years ago because standards of journalism semed to be sliding down the pan. Papers regularly publish stories based on personal belief, opinion and prejudiced vitriol. We've seen the survivors of the Dunblane shootings accused of wasting their lives. We've seen Stephen Gately's death blamed on the fact he was gay. It's sickening. And the fact that so many sub-editors are being laid off means that a lot more of this crap is slipping through the sieve along with a welter of basic spelling mistakes and poor grammar. I didn't think that the newspapers would survive with the arrival of 24 hour news channels. They have done so by not being newspapers any more. My worry now is that TV news - even the BBC - is starting to slide into that same pit. The Moat coverage was shoddy, piece-meal and mostly pointless.
Oh, and before I go, I have to have a slight dig at the Twitterati too. I'm a huge fan of the service. I'm also someone with a deeply black sense of humour, honed during 30 years as a cop. But even I couldn't believe the sheer tastelessness and heartlessness of some of the supposed jokes people were posting. Come on guys ... the injured were still critically ill in hospital and his first murder victim was barely cold before you started. Have a heart for those left behind. I've lost count of the number of times I had to knock on a door and tell someone that one of their most beloved relatives was dead. It's heart-wrenching, stomach-churning stuff to watch pure unalloyed grief. Until you've seen it yourself, don't casually inflict it. At least leave it a few days eh? Then we can all laugh - albeit uncomfortably - with you.