Archive for the ‘Off The Wall’ Category

8 January, 2013

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Changes, Changes, Changes…

I have come to the conclusion that I am one of a dying breed: an invertebrate zoologist.  There are two reasons for this supposition, the first and most obvious is that I am an invertebrate zoologist who is getting along in years, and sooner or later, hopefully much later, I will shuffle off this mortal coil, and presto…  By being alive 🙂 , and then by being an invertebrate zoologist, I suppose, I am a “dying invertebrate zoologist”.  However, there is another, more subtle reason.  I think the discipline that has been called “Invertebrate Zoology” is disappearing, being eaten from within by the larvae of its successful progeny: other more specialized disciplines.

Courses in, and therefore, the discipline  of, what could be called “Invertebrate Zoology” appeared in universities around the turn of the twentieth century as the modern natural sciences shook themselves out of the earlier realm of study referred to as Natural Philosophy.  About the only remains of the latter these days is the most common terminal degree in the sciences, the Doctorate of (Natural) Philosophy ( = Ph. D.).  The major science disciplines that first appeared were physics, geology, botany, and zoology, concerned, respectively, with the study of: 1) energy, mass, and motion, (physics), 2) the earth (geology), 3) plants and microbes (botany), and 4) animals (zoology).  

Each of these major disciplines encompassed a great deal of disparate study areas, but botany and zoology were the most wildly diverse.  In botany, this overt diversity was dealt with by the erection of microbiology/bacteriology as a separate entity later in the first half of twentieth century.  Zoology, on the other hand, had more of problem, the array of described different animal types – as opposed to simply the number of different animals – was relatively vast, and while they all shared some characteristics, they all were quite different, too.  However, this problem relatively soon solved itself.  As most zoologists studied animals with backbones, or vertebrates, the study of vertebrates assumed “center stage”.  As a result, zoology was informally subdivided in vertebrate zoology, the study of animals with backbones, and invertebrate zoology, the study of everything else.

While vertebrates can be easily defined by their characteristics, it is impossible to set apart or define the invertebrates by some common structure or characteristic shared by all of them.  Instead, the invertebrates were/are defined by what they lack, a backbone.  It really is logically impossible to prove a negative proposition and it is just as impossible to define something on the basis of what it isn’t.   Nonetheless, the convenience of this division was well recognized, and zoologists could be informally divided in vertebrate zoologists and invertebrate zoologists.

Well, that’s enough for today…  🙂

More tomorrow!

Cheers, Ron

7 January, 2013

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Beating My Head Against A Brick Wall…

According to the joke – and folk wisdom, one should enjoy the above activity because it will feel so good when one stops.  I hope I can put that thought to the test soon.

My old computer is now residing – temporarily – I hope – on the desk of our local computer technician and guru.  Theoretically, it might be discharged from that facility and able to go home some time today.  Or not…  What a mess!!!  My productivity – not so high to begin with –  is definitely approaching the zero level.  Oh well, right now there is really nothing I can do about those problems, and although fretting about them is fun, I gues, it doesn’t get the computer fixed any more rapidly.

Then there is my car.  Last Friday I drove that old beast, a 1996 Subaru Legacy Outback, into our local Subaru dealership for them to hopefully solve a problem that had developed rather suddenly about a week before that.  The car was running very roughly (but it was running…), the gas mileage had plummeted, and the “check engine” light was blinking at me.  I had learned long ago that there was really nothing I could ever do for these sorts of problems myself except get the vehicle into the Service Department of the local Subaru dealership.  And I had also learned the hard way, through the years of owning Subies, that only the “certified” service folks know how to take care of these vehicles.

Anyway, early Friday morning, off to the service department I trundled.  I took along my Christmas gift, a  Kindle Fire HD, as I figured I would be waiting in the dealership for an extended period, possibly the majority of the day.  I also prepared myself for the possibility of having to pay a bill some greater than the gross national product of a moderately-sized banana republic.

After arrival, on what I must say was a beautiful morning drive, I consigned my car to those wizards versed in the manner of things Subaruish, and I walked to their comfortable waiting room, grabbing a cup of some really good organically grown coffee, along the way.  In the customer lounge/waiting room, I sat down in a comfortable chair, turned on my Kindle and continued reading Peter Ward’s book, “Flooded Earth”, a book, like many of Peter’s books, I find an interesting, although somewhat depressing reading experience.

Some several dozen electronic page flips later, here comes the technician who drew the short straw and is working on my care.  He pulled a wire out of his pocket and asked if I knew what it was.  I guessed, correctly, it was a spark plug wire.  However, it looked terrible, with all sorts of rips, tears, and scratches in the insulation.  I mentioned as much.   He laughed and pointed out one hole where the internal wiring was missing.  That missing piece of interal wiring had apparently caused my vehicle’s problem.  Only 3 of the 4 cylinders were firing.  Replacing the spark plug wiring array would cure that problem.  Great, I thought!!!

Then, with a twinkle in his eye and quite a chuckle, he noted that the horrible condition of the wiring was caused by mice eating the insulation and wiring…  Mice.   I have got to admit, of all of the potential causative agents for car troubles, mice eating my car (in small part, admittedly, but still…) would never have even been on the list.

There were a couple of other minor maintence issues that were also resolved at the time, and I was back on the way home in under two hours, and although the credit card whimpered a bit, it still was more-or-less undamaged, compared to what I thought was going to be the problem.

Mice….  White Footed Deer Mice, specifically… Egad.

Until next time…

3 January, 2013

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Not much to add today.  The computer saga continues… and gets better or worse depending on one’s frame of mind.

The short version…  The trial version of the program to reload my backed up files works like a dream – and not a nightmare, a very pleasurable dream.  So all of the files were restored or resurrected or magically transformed, and all was good.  So, instead of leaving things as they were for a while, I decided to “tidy up”.   I had gotten rid of a lot of useless stuff and decided to tweak my weather station program (I have a small weather station on my roof and have a display on my computer).  So, I attempted to change some settings in good ol’ Windows XP.  Dumb move…  The machine locked up again and so, again, it is in with our local computer wizard.

There are a lot of times where I wish I had more money for various things.  But right now, purchasing a new computer would be right at the top of the list.  Oh well,  these travails will soon pass.

And tomorrow, I get to take my car to the shop because of rather serious problems that seem to have developed.  This year really could be starting out better.  🙂

Anyway, all of these hassles are delaying my work on this blog.

But, sooner or later, it will begin to look better.

Until later, then,


And So It Goes…

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Hi Folks,

The New Year has rolled on in, and right over me, starting about a month ago.  The saga is thus:  I decided in my infinite wisdom to purchase and download Windows 8 on my old desktop.  To this end I had to increase its RAM, and flip a few switches in the BIOS.  This I did.  And I was off and waddling.  I downloaded the program, which took about 6 hours.  When the download was about 90% complete, the program said it needed to restart the computer a couple of times.  And yup, it did this.

And died.

A rather cryptic error message was displayed on the screen and I could get the machine to do zilch.  It wouldn’t even boot up so that I could get into the Windows Safe mode.   After a lot of machinations, I finally resorted to breaking out my credit card, and calling the Windows “Pay Through The Nose Help Line”.  Long conversation- short…  Windows 8 was not able to install on my machine because of some hardware (= CPU) problem, and because there was no Win 8 problem, they wouldn’t charge me – through the nose or any other handy orifice.

After beating my head against the nearest wall for a while, I went on to desperate step number two, and took my computer to my local handy-dandy computer tech.  He allowed as he thought he could fix it for me.  To fix it needed a replacement DVD/CD drive as both of the ones on my machine were toast.  I knew one of them was dead before this all started, but the remaining one died during the process.  The only way to fix the problem was to re-install the OS, which, of course loses all the data on the hard drive.

Okay, said I, feeling reasonably intelligent for the first time in this process.  This flash of misplaced hubris was due to the fact that I had been backing up my hard drive weekly; my data were all safe and secure on an external hard drive.

So…  With some optimism, just before New Year’s Eve, I collected my computer from the tech and took the olde beastie home.  It turns out that my machine was one of the earlier Dell Dimension 8300s; consequently, it has an early Pentium 4 processor.  And it turns out that over the production run of Pentium 4s, according to the computer guy, the chip was changed so that chips made near the end of the production run could do several more computational functions than those made at the beginning.  And, if I had had one of the later Pentium 4s, Windows 8 would have loaded without a hassle.

For joy…

So…   Now, I have my desktop running bare bones, and I decide to restore my backed up files.  Un…huh. All of my restored files were on an external hard drive, and I thought I had copied my backup program there too.  Well, the saga continues – the backup program is nowhere to be found.  Not a problem says he, thinking to download a copy from the www.  And then I find that while I had version 2, we are now up to version 9, and a new copy costs the proverbial arm and leg.  I was able to download several versions that should have allowed me to restore my backed up files, but no joy.  No matter what I did, nothing would get backed up.

I contacted the tech support of the company now selling the software program (the third since I got my original copy as a freebie with a Western Digital hard drive I purchased about 10 years ago).  The rep wrote back and said that none of the versions I was able to get online would work to restore my files – uh, pardon me, but isn’t that what I said?  However, he went on to give me directions to download a trial version of the latest backup software, which, he said, would restore my hitherto unrestorable files.

So… here I sit.  The trial version is some 350 Mb in size, and is downloading as I am typing this.  And maybe I am nearer to some resolution than I was yesterday.  Maybe…

As Scarlett said, “Tomorrow is another day.”  And I guess we’ll see then.

I hope your New Year Initiation was less stressful than mine.

This site is still in the throes of construction, so expect some changes over the next couple of days/weeks.

Cheers, Ron

My Meandering Musings

Monday, December 31st, 2012


Well, the times they are a’changin’

My time as a moderator on the Marine Depot forums is over.  This was not unexpected, the traffic on my forum had slowly become pretty cold, just slightly above absolute zero.  The folks at MD were good enough to support my little forum for 7 years, and even though I wasn’t paid a lot, when the full length of time is factored in, the total they spent was a not-inconsiderable amount, and I really thank them for their support, they are a fine bunch of folks.

But… it is time to move on.  And I am moving on to here.  In a day or two, I hope to start daily posting.  These posts will be separate from any larger articles I may write for the site.  The larger articles of various sorts that I have written, and will write, are filed under one of the “Categories” headings at the top of the column to the right.  To get to those articles, it is probably easiest to click on the category, and then scroll down to find the article.  The short daily posts will be filed under the “Off the Wall” category.  At least that is where things stand right now.  Nothing on this site is written in stone, or even sand, though,…  I expect to make a lot of changes over the upcoming weeks as things shake down here.

Comments on any of these are welcome and I will reply to them  as necessary.  However, remember, all comments to the site will be moderated, I have sort of grown old(-er)  as the internet morphed into the www, and usergroups developed into forum constituencies.  The anonymous nature of all of these forms of interaction seems to free people from the standard social graces of politeness and restraint.  Additionally, some people are just seem to simply like emulating the north end of a south-bound horse.  In any case,  to be posted, comments will require the poster to have  a recognizable (by me) name, not a nickname or some cutesy web name, and the comments will have stay within my bounds of civility.

I also hope to set the site up to answer questions about reef – or other – stuff.   Posting the questions will be free.  Answers will cost the person wanting those answers.  I haven’t yet decided on how much, but it will probably be a flat PayPal fee of a few dollars per question; as the immortal Janis Joplin once put it, “Ain’t nothin’ honey chil’, it ain free”.  Answers to reefish questions included…

That’s all for now.

More soon!!

Wilsall, Montana

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

As any of my regular readers, either here or on my forum know, I live in Wilsall, Montana.  Located in South-Central Montana, the scenery of the area around my home is striking.  If one can ignore the right-wingnut politics of rural Montana, which are rather like those of the communist-scare era of the early 1950s, but not as progressive, it can be a nice place to live.  However, because of the overabundance of nutcases, this is kind of  an odd place to be if one has any sort of decent liberal arts or science education; it keeps feeling like being transported to an alternate universe.  I keep wondering, “What is IT with these people?  The basic motto seems to be “On my honor to do my best to help myself and forget the rest.” 

I suspect the real problem is that many of the folks here haven’t had the dubious pleasure of living someplace else, so they don’t know how good they have it, and because of that it is easy for them to trash it by simple neglect and the inability to see that the government has a positive role to play in the process of maintaining the region’s well-being.  And –  shock of shocks!!! – that the taxpayers have a responsibility to fund it.  Not so for these dorks!   They want the ability to trash the place, and many of them are hell bent on doing so – and regretably they are succeeding. 

Fortunately, at the present time, at least, the process is still a relatively slow one.  With the increasing degradation caused by climate change, coupled with the inevitable population growth, the time will come soon enough when the children and grandchildren of the present folks will curse the lack of foresight of their progenitors.  And because, that time will mean the absolute loss through death and destruction of a lot that I hold dear about this place, I am glad I won’t be alive to see it.    

Oh well, for the present, here we are, and here we will stay.  Among things we simply can’t afford to move to anyplace else.    

The political and social environment aside, the area’s physical and biological environment is spectacularly beautiful.  Wilsall is in the Shields River Valley, which is bordered on the west by the Bridger Mountains and on the East by the Crazy Mountains.  The illustration below, courtesy of the remarkable software of Mr. Google et alia, shows the lay of the land pretty well.  The northern end of the valley is north of Ringling, Montana, where there is a watershed divide between the Shields River and the Smith River drainages.  The south end of the valley terminates in the  Yellowstone River valley, a few miles east of Livingston, Montana where the Shields merges with the Yellowstone.  I thought I would use the next few blog entries to showcase some of the spring and early summer scenery and wild (mostly birds) life found either in our yard in the small cowtown of Wilsall, or in the nearby region.  Some beautiful and interesting bird life is found in Wilsall, for at least the present.  And even though the changes for the worst are relatively slow, they are accelerating and are noticeable, so … that will not be too long, at all.

A Google map image showing the Shields Valley from south of where the Shields River empties into the Yellowstone River. Our house's location is shown by the small yellow marker. Wilsall is located at the east end of "Battle Ridge."

Sunset over the Crazy Mountains to the east of Wilsall, Montana. The highest peaks in this range are a skosh over 11,000 feet above sea level.


The Bridger Mountains to the west of Wilsall, as viewed from the Wilsall Reservoir a few miles north of town. As with the Crazy Mountains, the highest peaks top out at around 11,000 feet.

One of my favorite Wisallian birds – for that matter one of my favorite birds at all – is the Western Tanager.  Not only do they have spectacular coloration, they have neat behavior.  When I grew up in Great Falls, Montana, about 150 miles north of Wilsall, I had no idea such gorgeous creatures even existed, let alone could be commonly found at times within 100 miles of my home.  At the time of my youth, Great Falls was the city of small, brown sparrows.  It was home to a giant population of one of the curses of the North American avifauna, the damned English sparrow.   I pretty much thought that in a town, any town, about all one was likely to see were these small, nondescript or cursed ugly brown birds.   My dear wife disabused me of that stupid idea, and has shown me the absolute pleasure of looking at our little flying dinosaurs, for which I am truly grateful. 

With that background, you probably can imagine my wonder and delight at seeing my first Western Tanager here a few years ago!  I simply couldn’t believe my eyes.   Wow!!  I still can’t get over them.  NOR DO I WANT TO!!!  These lovies are here for a while in the beginning of summer.  This year we appeared to have 4 pairs which were here for about a month.  So for your viewing pleasure, in this post I have uploaded a few images of  some Western Tanager males.  Most folks know that there are some wonderfully descriptive names for the aggregations of some birds, probably the best known of these is, “An Exultation of Larks.”  After watching the 12 pairs of Western Tanagers that were around our yard last year, we decided that a fitting descriptive name for a small aggregation of this wonderful species would have to be,  “A Squabble of Tanagers.”  What feisty birds!!!  And how absolutely wonderful to watch their interactive behavior!!!

A Western Tanager Male, in our silver poplar tree giving me an askance glance while I focused my camera on him from within my office about 20 feet from him.

A Western Tanager Male in our "fly-through" bird feeder located about 20 feet outside my office window. I think these males KNOW how good they look! This year we had a series of males ranging from ones with almost no orange/red on the head to ones that looked like their heads had been dipped in brilliant red/orange paint. There was quite a difference in aggressiveness - and even the most "laid back" Western Tanager males are AGGRESSIVE!!!

A Western Tanager male checking out some food. Unlike a lot of birds, these guys (and their gals) tend to closely examine some foods with one eye or the other before picking it up.

Well, that’s it for today!

More soon, there are some nice critters found around here.

Until later,


Sky Sharks And SCUBA

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Hi Folks,

My wife and I got treated to quite a show yesterday.  For several hours, a male prairie falcon was cruising around our yard hunting doves.   These latter birds are Eurasian collared doves, one of several introduced pest birds (think large white/gray/tan pigeons) found locally – thesea are  probably descended from birds released by some non-thinking idiot who decided it would be cool to release doves symbolizing something or other at a ceremony somewhere near here.  Anyway, said skyrats appeared about four years ago, and have been doing well here.

Eurasian Collared Dove

Periodically, though, a truly native sky shark comes by to thin the herd a bit, and that is what happened yesterday.   It was great entertainment to watch the falcon, though I doubt the doves thought so. 🙂  I saw him miss his target by inches on one pass; the dove was surprisingly agile in the air when the situation warranted!   The falcon was around for a while, and then vanished.   I hope he finally got dinner and settled down near by to enjoy his repast.

Almost exactly a year ago, we had a similar opportunity to watch a goshawk for a few days, and the second picture, below, shows the final outcome.  The first picture was taken a few days before the second one, and it appeared to be the same animal.  In the second image, the hawk is standing over his plucked prey that he has been eating.

Sharp-shinned Hawk in the poplar outside my office window.

Sharp-Shinned Hawk and Dinner

It was an amazing show.

Of such events, are the sciences of behavioral biology, or ethology, and ecology, made.  And people who study these things in terrestrial environments truly lose out.  I used to tell my students that one of the very neat things about being an ecologist who worked subtidally using SCUBA was that one got to see a lot more interactions than one’s terresterially-bound counterparts.

If you think about it, how many times have you seen a predatory animal in nature around you (excluding those events caused by humanity or human pets ) actually kill and eat a prey organism?  I would wager that the total sum of those events witnessed by anybody is pretty small; I know it is with me, and I look for them.  It is possible to calculate some sort estimat of the odds of seeing such an interaction at any given moment.  For example, if a person is 35 years old, that person has been alive about 1 billion seconds.  If each second is a discrete a moment of observation, the rough, back-of-the-envelope odds of having seen such an event through that person’s lifetime are easy to work out.  First, assume that about of the third of the time has been spent sleeping, so subtract a third of the billion away, phffftt!, and now there 667,000,000 million potential moments of observations.  Then assume that for the first third of the persons’s life she or he was effectively unaware of the world (childhood, teen-aged years, and so forth), so subtract a third of the previous remains and now there about 444,700,000 million potential observational moments.  Now, drop out a another third for meals, and other daily mindless activities, and now there about 296,400,000 million observational times.  Being generous, let’s say our victim subject was outside observing nature 1/10 of each day (and I think that will be a vast over estimate for most folks, but, what the hey, let’s go with it), so now there are 29,640,000 potential moments of observation.  And if that person witnessed 10 natural events wherein one animal killed and ate another (and I suspect that would an overestimate), that means our subject’s odds of seeing such an event were 10 in 29,640,000, or 1/2,964,000, or (very roughly) 0.0000003.

Pretty slim odds (!) of seeing some interesting natural event such as predation.

Back to my point about working underwater in the marine world, I could see animals kill and eat other animals many times during a hour’s dive, and often did so.   Below are a couple of images  recording some of those times (and be sure to click on the sculpin image to see the shrimp’s antenna).   Obviously, the moral of the story, of course, is that one must dive to really observe and understand nature.

A Buffalo Sculpin, Enophrys bison, that has just eaten a shrimp, note the antenna visible protruding from the mouth.

A red rock crab, Cancer productus, eating a scallop.

Yeah, sure!!!

But the point that visible large animal to animal interactions are more evident in the marine environment is, I think, a valid one.

Behavior and Marine Aquariums

Thinking about the point made above, and making a not-so-tortuous connection to marine aquaria, those boxes of water full of critters may be (depending, of course, on how the boxes are set up, and what’s in them) quite reasonable analogues to a natural environment.  And that means, any aquarist with such a tank should expect to see predatory (and other “natural” ecological or behavioral) events occurring with some reasonable frequency in their systems.

And, of course, all of us aquarists (or at least of us who observe our systems) do see these events.  Everytime we feed some live animal to our livestock, we see predation, albeit those are staged events, but with suspension-feeding animals, corals for example, within the staged event, the actual feeding behavior on the part of the coral, is likely essentially the same as when the “real thing” occurs in nature.  But even if those “wo/man-made” events are factored out, all aquarists have seen unintened predation occur in our systems, and sometimes rather frequently, as when when a newly-observed acoel flatworm on the aquarium wall is seen to capture and eat a copepod.  In fact, by observing some of these types of events any aquarist worth their artificial (sea)-salt can – for some animals, at least – see interactions that have never been seen in nature, and depending on the interaction – such as with the flatworm and copepod example – such events may be exactly what occurs in the real world, or a mimic so close that the difference is immaterial.

So, folks, on this cold winter, while the snow outside blankets the northern hemisphere, those of you with coral reef aquaria kick back and relax and enjoy the tropical world in your living room.

It’s a world of your making and if you have done your job, properly, it is a VERY real world.

For the rest of you, it is time to shovel snow!

Until later,


Pre-Iridiana, A Found World

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Early in the last century Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about Professor Challenger, a “scientist” who found bits and snatches of the world of dinosaurs still living, most famously, on plateaux in the Amazonian jungle. There he found living pterosaurs, dinosaurs,  and all manners of strange and wonderfully monstrous animals. Alas – maybe – the animals that Doyle wrote about vanished from the living world in the aftermath of an impact of a rather small asteroid with the Earth, some 65.5 million years ago. During the vast span of intervening years, the Earth has changed. Very dramatically!! The world of the dinosaurs really was not the world of man, but it has only been in the last couple of decades have we been truly able to realize how different these two worlds were from one another.

Until recently, except for the foolishness of the massive floods and perfect gardens found in some of the religious mythologies of the world, if people thought about what the world was like in the distant past, they visualized it pretty much as the world they saw around themselves.   As a scientific viewpoint developed in the nineteenth century, particularly within the basic science of geology, there were many acrimonious debates between those individuals who contended that all changes were gradual and based on the same or similar processes as were seen in action today, the uniformitarianists, and the catastrophists, who contended that many calamitous changes, mostly floods of a truly biblical nature, radically altered and changed both the landscape and the life on it. By the beginning of the 20th century, the catastrophists were pretty much considered to be all wet, and uniformitarianism carried the day, the week, the month, the year, the decade, the generation… but not quite the century.

By the beginning of the 21st century, thanks to some brilliant insight, and a lot of hard work, it had become clear that although the world’s environments had stayed rather consistent for long periods, there have been times of drastic change, after which literally everything, from climate to biota, changed. For most folks, the most notable of those drastic changes was the one that ended the domination of the world’s bioata by the larger non-avian dinosaurs, the Cretaceous epoch, about 65.5 million years ago. Although, by far and away, not the largest of these mass extinction events,  the devestating changes triggered by the impact of a small asteroid off shore of the northern presumptive Yucatan peninsula were damaging enough;  resulting in wholesale changes in the Earth’s biota, virtually every large terrestrial animal species went extinct, along with many marine species.  Subsequent changes in the Earth’s climate resulted in today’s world; a much different globe than that the larger dinosaurs dominated.

Although this event, the Cretaceous/Tertiary Mass Extinction, closed the door on the non-avian dinosaurs, it allowed mammals, more-or-less by default, to adaptively radiate and come to dominate the world.  Nonetheless, the extinction event, while it changed the biota, did not wipe away the evidence of the world that had existed.  That world holds, for many people, particularly evolutionarily oriented biologists, a fascination due the awesomely different biosphere that was present.  

About a month ago, I received as a gift, the book titled, The Cretaceous World, by Peter Skeleton and his coauthors. Over the last few weeks I have been enjoying learning about that long gone world. Very well-written, and exceptionally well-illustrated, the book is designed as a text, but unlike many texts, this one is as alive as the inhabitants of the world it describes are not. Pulling together geological, oceanographic, and biological data, much of it gathered in the last few years, the authors create a world that is awesome in its differences from the present one. From discussing in detail forests at the latitude of Pt. Barrow, Alaska, to describing ferocious storms in the central Tethys seaway, along with the immense deserts of the equatorial latitudes, the authors take the reader on a memorable mental tour of a long-lost world.

I have so enjoyed this book that I want to tell people about it.  In a way, it is the most wonderful type of science fiction, although I am certain the authors would not appreciate that description.  However, they describe in detail a world that changed over the 80 million year history of the Cretaceous, a world based on very hard, and very good science, and have assisted the reader to clothe this world with their mental images.  We really will never know what the Cretaceous world looked like, nor will we ever find out much about the vast majority of the animals that lived there (because they were invertebrates and didn’t fossilize), but we have a good basis for knowing the world itself.  So, what we see in our mind’s eye may be “science fictional,” but it is the hardest of science fiction, that based on and consistent with all the facts.  This world would not be the benign, kind and friendly world of  Jurassic Park.  Humans in the Cretaceous would find the climate oppressive, the flora unfamiliar, the oceans utterly strange, and full of dangerous reptilian predators, although those are not discussed in the book.  And, in general, the megafauna positively frightening and exceedingly dangerous; Cretaceous Park would be a great place for a well-prepared scientist to visit, but you really wouldn’t want to live there. 

The animal life, however interesting, is not the center of the discussion.  While putting the story together for their students, the authors have really given the rest of us a rare glimpse of an alien World, from a geologist’s perspective.   We become aware of the almost familiar orientation of the continents,  but the huge oceanic areas render the land masses of those continents much smaller than what is experienced today.  While the continents are tectonically moving, they haven’t – yet – encountered each other in the massive collisions that have characterized the last 50 million years.  There are not a lot of impressive mountains.  Lots of hills, to be sure, but nothing like the Himalayan plateau, and the Alps are in the future as well.   Coral reefs are the dream of the cnidarians’ future, but – Wow!, this is the world of the Clamrades!  There are huge expances of clam beds comprised of, in many cases, huge clams.  What most geologists don’t really seem to flash on, the author’s of this tome missed it as well, is the amount of biomass that must have existed planktonically in the shallow seas.  These seas were not the clear blue seas of today’s coral reefs, they were gorpy, green, and thick with life.  The huge carbonate “platforms” of the Cretaceous had to feed on something, and clams have a lot higher metabolic rate than do corals. 

And the temperatures!  Baby, it’s hot out there!!!  Diving in the shallow equatorial seas would kill a scuba diver.  There would be no way to dump the body’s excess heat, and any exertion at all would be lethal.  Rather like diving in the hottest extremes of the Persian Gulf today, one could not spend a lot of time in those oceans.  One probably wouldn’t want to, though, as humans could have been considered to a good snack for some of the mosasaurs and other swimming arrays of teeth; LARGE swimming arrays of teeth, that dominated those seas. 

The  Cretaceous world that the authors describe in detail, really for the first time, is in effect, like an extrasolar world, only one that is 65.5 million light years away in space and time.  This world would be a great star of documentaries, although you couldn’t pay me enough to go film the action; nonetheless, I would love to see it.

Enjoy the book and learn about a wholly new place, the Olde Earth.

Until later,