Tuesday, 30 March 2010

In a spin

So - today in Geneva the Large Hadron Collider got switched back on with a loud click and started spinning tiny bits of stuff round and round. Things collided, and... the world kept turning. For some reason, hordes of the stupid feared the Earth would be sucked into a newly created black hole and we'd all end up in some weird new galaxy being chased by enormous worms with ant-like eyes.


Instead, one of the most eagerly awaited scientific research projects ever undertaken has finally kicked into action and we can await a string of interesting new discoveries at mind-bendingly small scales. Good.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Fire in the sky

You may have seen in today's papers the great shot of the Monserrat volcanic ash cloud taken from a passing jet. Had a bit of a surf around and found the site for the Monserrat Volcano Observatory, which has a live webcam, news and photos of the site. Have a look - some of the photos are fantastic.

I also found some footage taken of an eruption in Iceland, taken from a helicopter. This is just slowing down at the moment, and most of the residents of nearby homes have been allowed to return. Near the end of the clip there's a guy on the slope with a hi-vis vest on. That'll protect him from the flying, thousand-degree, sticky, molten rock. No problem. Look closely and you can see he's holding a marshmallow on a stick.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Mongol hoard

A new type of Dromeosaur has been found in Inner Mongolia. Linheraptor exquisitus is about 2.5m long, and the skeleton is not far off complete - a great find sparked by the discovery of a claw sticking out of a cliff face. A couple of PhD students made the find. Jealous.

I've been out looking for fossils plenty times in my life, and have yet to actually find something halfway decent. I've found fair examples of common things, and poor examples of rarer things, but have still not stumbled over a complete, previously undescribed dinosaur. What am I doing wrong?

Thursday, 18 March 2010


This year in Tucson I bought a few Ptychodus teeth, the first time I've had them in years. Ptychodus was a shark around in the Cretaceous and for a little while after, and there are a few species. It doesn't fit most people's idea of a shark, as it lived on a diet of giant clams and has been described as a 'sluggish bottom-dweller' - not something you'd really want on your gravestone. The teeth I have are rounded, stumpy pegs, used for crushing heavy-duty shells rather than ripping fish into fleshy shreds. Ptychodus had big tooth-plates, like some vegetarian dinosaurs, and while interesting, they don't quite capture the imagination in the way a huge megalodon tooth does.

Anyway - I noticed a new discovery of Ptychodus mortoni had been made in Kansas, dating to about 88-89 million years ago, when that area was covered by a vast shallow sea. This one was a lot bigger than previously known, clocking in at over 30 feet long. Would take a lot of clams to keep it happy. It doesn't come as too much of a surprise that a clam-eater could get to be monstrously big. Walrus also eat mostly clams, and they seem to do alright by it. Wouldn't want to sit next to a walrus on the bus.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


Work is well underway for the new Mr Wood's Fossils eCommerce site. In the past week I've talked over a couple of early visuals with the graphic designer and met with the site designer to get an idea of the mechanics and give him an idea of stock categories and so on. Also been going through my image library and listing what I think can go onto the site to begin with. It looks like I'll have a lot more up there than I had originally expected.

It's an important step for the business, and one I've known I needed to do something about for a long time. Not expecting anything significant from it to begin with, but I hope it will gradually become a decent contributor to turnover. Sound like a businessman now, don't I? Maybe I should get a tie.

Thursday, 11 March 2010


Corundum is an aluminium oxide. Maybe you haven't heard the name before, but you know the stone. When a corundum is red, it's called a ruby. When it's any other colour, it's a sapphire. So rubies and sapphires are pretty much the same thing. It's chromium that gives the red colour, and in sapphires the colour will similarly be influenced by trace elements.

Lots of stones are called semi-precious. Semi-precious stones are ten a penny. For precious, you're limited to only four stones, and oddly, two of these are ruby and sapphire. The other two are emerald, which is a beryl variety, and diamond. Other beryls include aquamarine and heliodor. Why these two don't make the grade I have no idea. Diamond is carbon; the only other example of pure carbon is graphite - pencil lead - and I know why that's not considered precious. These intricacies in nomenclature are at least partially down to the differences between the geological world and the gem business. Probably if it were down to geologists it'd just be red corundum and blue corundum. Green beryl and yellow beryl. Hard carbon and slippery carbon.

Once had quite a long conversation with a customer who had come in wanting a piece of beryl. I said I had either aquamarine or emerald, but he was adamant he wanted just beryl. I think eventually he bought something else.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Rock the world

I read today that the huge earthquake in Chile last week shook the planet enough to tilt its axis by 8cm. This axis is not the North-South axis, but the figure axis, the rotation line for the mass of the Earth. The effect of this is to shorten the length of a day by 1.26 millionth of a second.

The Chilean event was a biggy, but other earthquakes have had a similar effect. Quite how the balance is changed depends not just on the scale of the event, but also its position relative to the equator.

If this carries on, we'll end up with a mini-day. We'll have to find some way of shortening lunch breaks and quicker ways of cutting the grass. Earthquakes seem to not be content with smashing our cities, killing, maiming and ruining lives. Now they want our time.

Monday, 1 March 2010


"Wow! Look at this, look at this! A turtle skull.
I didn't even know turtles had skulls."