Sunday, 31 January 2010

Two rescues

I usually have a very short stop in New York on the way to Tucson. This year there was one day of heavy rain and strong winds. I went with a friend, Martha, to the cinema - a twenty minute walk. Very quickly, the wind and rain got far worse and we were completely soaked through. Broken umbrellas were all over the place. We weren't too far from the cinema when a bus pulled over beside us. The door opened and the driver leaned out. He asked where we were going and told us to get in. Martha said she didn't have her Metro card, but he said she didn't need one on a day like this. There were no other passengers and he had been on his way back to the depot.

As he drove us to the cinema he asked me where I was from and why I was visiting, etc. Martha noticed his accent and asked where he was from. Haiti. We asked about his family, who were all okay. He said however many images you saw on the television, it couldn't convey how terrible the devastation was. His mother-in-law had found a homeless, orphaned twelve year old girl and taken her in. The driver and his wife had two kids, one who had left home and one who was just about to. They felt they had room in their life for another, so his wife was spending the day faxing copies of her passport from New York to Haiti to allow the girl to come to join them in New York, where they would be able to formally adopt her.

We wished him well and he dropped us off beside the cinema.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Free spending, not freewheeling

Been at the show in Tucson for a few days now and have nearly finished buying. One more day should see me spent up. Ticked off most of the list, but won't be able to get it all.

The container with my shipping crates has been held in US customs for ages and has still not reached the hotel. The container has been x-rayed, unpacked, and inspected by customs, at their leisure. Not only has this taken up a great deal of time, preventing a number of dealers setting up their selling rooms, but the customs folk charge for each stage of this procedure to add insult to injury. Department of Agriculture were also called into have a look, adding to the delay. They didn't know why. At the moment, everything should be ready to go, but it's now the weekend, meaning nothing more will happen until Monday morning. It's looking like the stuff will finally get here on Tuesday, a week after it was supposed to arrive, and six full selling days lost. Very bad. All it means for me is that I can't load my crates, but for the sellers involved it's a lot of lost trade. A great deal of money gets taken in the first few days of the show, and by the time their stock arrives, many of their customers will have left for home.

See comment for an update.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Zombie cattle

Alright! Italian scientists are trying to resurrect the auroch, Bos primigenius, the wild ancestor of domestic cattle. They died out only a few hundred years ago after roaming the grasslands and forests of Europe and Asia, eating grass and scaring children. They were enormous, standing 2m high at the shoulder and weighing a ton. The last female died in Poland in 1627, so there is still plenty of intact DNA sample material floating around.

Remember those famous cave paintings in Lascaux in France? Them. For cavemen, spearing an auroch made you a bit of a superstar. These were some fearsome cows. Hitler thought so too, and supported the zoologist brothers Heinz and Lutz Heck in the early 1920s in their cross-breeding program to bring them back. Quite how they fitted into his dribbling plans for world domination, I'm not sure. Perhaps he envisioned a new ox-borne cavalry. It's unfair to cast them as Nazi cows, though. Angry and aggressive, maybe, but in a non-specific way. The results of the program - Heck cattle - are still around. There are a couple of thousand scattered around the world and I saw some at Edinburgh Zoo last year.

Anyway. Why I'm excited about this is because it's a step closer to bringing back the mammoth. That's what scientists should be doing. Mice with human ears on their backs are all very well, but bring me woolly rhinos and saber-tooths, get me glyptodonts and gomphotheres. And hurry up. I can't wait forever.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010


A few years ago I bought a huge collection of Triceratops horridus teeth from a guy in Montana. Because I got so many at once, the price was really good and I've had them on sale in the shop since for £4.50 and £7. Pretty good. They've gone steadily enough, but they are outsold by the Spinosaurus teeth by a huge margin.

Everyone loves dinosaurs and Triceratops is one of the best known - so why don't the teeth sell as well? Mainly, I think it's because they aren't very tooth-like. The Spino teeth are long and pointed, and you can imagine the Spino biting through your arm and waving it around in its mouth spraying blood everywhere. Trikes were huge animals, up to 9m in length and maybe 12 metric tons in weight, but they had tiny little stumps for teeth.

They were herbivores and cropped vegetation with their beak before chewing it with four batteries of small teeth at the back of their mouth. In each of these chewing plates, there would be between 108-200 teeth, depending on the age of the individual. So a fully grown animal might have 800 little teeth at any one time. Continuous growth meant worn teeth were replaced - for every one animal there would have been an awful lot of teeth produced over a lifetime.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


The NASA website has put up an amazing image of the surface of Mars. I've had a good look but can't see any buildings or anything. The site also has a story about how the Kennedy Space Centre has been helping save turtles from the cold. I reckon they have plans to fire them off to Mars to battle the Russian monkeys.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Happy birthday, eggheads

It's the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society, the world's first academy of sciences. The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge was founded on November 28th, 1660, when twelve natural philosophers met after a lecture by the architect Christopher Wren. The group had been meeting informally since the 1640s as an 'invisible college', but they decided to reveal themselves and become a bit more formal.

Wiggy Cromwell-victim and tree-hider Charles II was king at the time and he gave the proto-geeks his backing. They began to meet regularly to conduct experiments and chat about all things scientific. They settled at Gresham College in London, and set about building a library. Publishing began in 1662, and three years later started to produce their Transactions. Ever since, they have been the source and channel for an astounding amount of scientific research material, and is a centre of scientific advice for the government. They are now housed in Carlton House Terrace and have a core staff of over a hundred.

In celebration of their official birthday, loads of normally unavailable material from their archives has been made available online until the end of February. Have a look - there's a breathtaking amount of fascinating sciencey stuff for you to trawl through. Palaeontological material is in Philosophical Transactions B. The evolutionary material, which I'll be looking through, is here.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Back to work

Happy New Year.

Supposed to be opening up again tomorrow, but still having a bit of being-snowed-in trouble. Fingers crossed there's no more tonight...