FEBRUARY DINOSAUR OF THE MONTH: PROTOCERATOPS ANDREWSI

This being Valentine’s Day, here’s my second monthly post featuring a new dinosaur discovery. Astute readers know that Protoceratops andrewsi, which is a predecessor to the ever-popular Triceratops, is hardly a newly unearthed species. However, a recent study of thirty specimens of these intriguing, sheep-sized dinosaurs looked at a specific physical trait that these dinosaurs might have found attractive in a mate. Like other Ceratopsians, Protoceratops possesses a distinctive and elaborate neck frill whose function is not immediate apparent.

The new study relied on 3D scans to document growth patterns of Protoceratops’ neck frills, and included specimens ranging from day-old hatchlings all the way up to full-sized adults. The evidence established that the neck frills grew at a faster rate than the dinosaurs’ skulls, thus ending up disproportionately large. While it is difficult to ascertain the onset of sexual maturity in an extinct dinosaur, the rapid growth of the neck frills appeared to be a sexually-selected trait.

Of course, anatomical features can serve multiple purposes, Previous hypotheses have suggested the neck frill served to protect the dinosaur’s vulnerable neck from predators such as Velociraptors found in the same environment. It’s also possible the neck frill helped in regulating internal body temperature, thereby preventing over-heating. Another idea is that the frills permitted individuals to more easily recognize one another, perhaps from a distance where there is a clear line of sight. Perhaps the frills enabled Protoceratops to appear bigger and fiercer than they were, thereby prompting those Velociraptors to go after smaller and less intimidating prey.

Where does this leave us? I, for one, am rather drawn to the idea that seventy five million years before Valentine’s Day was a thing, the Laurasian Protoceratopsians were eying each other’s neck frills.

Come back next month for my St. Patrick’s Day dinosaur.

DINOSAUR OF THE MONTH CLUB

How many dinosaurs are there? People ask me this from time to time and it’s a harder question than you might think. Do they mean how many individual critters trod the Earth or how many different species of dinosaurs were there? Those aren’t easy questions either, given that they reached every single continent, including Antarctica. Also, vast areas were not conducive to preservation. While we know quite a bit about some species in certain regions and time periods, more are discovered every year. In fact, dozens of “new” species are announced, named, analyzed, and/or sketched every year.

Yes, I said dozens, which means I can’t keep up! However, I can focus on some neat new discoveries. With that, I am launching a regular (here’s hoping!) new feature of Blogging the Mesozoic: a monthly post about a neat new discovery. Here’s the first one:

Ubirajara jubatus hails from Brazil. I picked it because South American dinosaurs simply don’t get nearly enough love despite being some of the largest dinosaurs ever found. But not this one, which is about the size of a turkey. It’s a carnivorous compagnathid from the Crato Formation 110-120 million years ago.

What makes it cool?

  1. It’s the first South American non-avian dinosaur fossil to show indisputable evidence of fluffy feathers, or perhaps proto-feathers. Plus it had spike-like projections from its shoulders.
  2. The coloration is rather a guess, but it might have been as brilliantly plumed as parrots or macaws, Or possibly it was more sedate. Until we have traces of pigmentation, it’s hard to say.
  3. We don’t know which direction those stiff filaments pointed. Here’s a neat article with illustrations as to some possibilities. I’m fascinated by how paleontologists and illustrators work together to develop various alternatives from crushed and incomplete fossilized remains.
  4. The name combines the indigenous Tupi word for “lord of the spear” with the Latin word for “maned” or “crested.”

What makes it controversial?
The specimen was exported from Brazil to Germany for study in 1995, where it still remains. The legality of the export is under investigation.

WRITERS AND READERS: WE NEED EACH OTHER MORE THAN EVER

2020 was a very tough year for readers seeking signs of hope for the future or solace in a brief respite from reality. It was an equally tough year for writers trying to string words together into something that felt meaningful. When our work did find its way into print or on line, all too often it didn’t attract the attention it merited. It’s time to remedy this! Writers: your readers, both new and old, need to reconnect with your insights. I urge you to put out on social media your 2020 year-end retrospective. Yes, many of cringe at the prospect of doing so. Here’s a bit of advice I wrote on SFWA’s blog as to how you might go about this without coming across as self-absorbed or grubbing for award nominations.

My 2020 YEAR IN REVIEW

I’m pleased to announce that I had several articles published in 2020, all of which you can read for free:

  • Monumental Thinking, which is in the January/February issue of Analog, is my take on suitable replacements for statues being torn down these days.
  • Elections Past, Present, and To Come is a reprint plus update of an article from the March 2016 issue of Analog talking about what it’s like to serve as an election official/poll worker. I’ve done this a bunch of times, including the 2020 Presidential primaries. (Do those ever seem like a lifetime ago!).
  • What I know about writing about dinosaurs was posted on Cath Schaff-Stump’s Fantastic History blog.

My year end retrospective would normally include a list of my fiction that also appeared in print. Alas, 2020 has not been kind to the publishing industry. I was slated to have three science fiction stories make their print and/or on-line appearances. None of them did. Writers: This is why it’s important to make sure your contract addresses rights reversions and provides a kill fee if publication doesn’t happen within a stated time period. Sigh. These stories are all out to other markets once more.

Most Unexpected Pleasure: Serving as a judge for the Endeavour Award. It’s great to have a role in recognizing fine work by my colleagues who don’t make the choice easy!

Best Trip: Philadelphia Flower Show in early March. Have a look at some of my photos from it.

Best Bookstore Book Launch: Docile by K.M. Szpara at One More Page Books in Falls Church. I love listening to authors reading there own work and this one was a particular treat.

Best Educational Opportunities: Smithsonian classes went on line. You don’t even have to be a member (a/k/a Smithsonian Associate) to take them. I loved learning about how birds talk, parent, and think. I also sank into lectures on Paleolithic Cave Art, Santorini, Apollo 13, the Etruscans, Machu Picchu, and the Art of India.

Best Pandemic Antidote: Monthly flower deliveries for Zoom arranging with friends. If you are interested, check out revased.com. Or just have a look at some of my creations on my Flowers page and on Instagram.

Late to the Party: This summer I read and binge watched Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

Most Fun New Series: The Queen’s Gambit. This show reminded me so very much of my own days as a kid and high school student when I threw myself into the world of competitive chess tournaments. While my experiences took place somewhat later in time, the gender disparity had not changed much from the 1960s depicted in the series.

Guilty Pleasure: Tiger King. The less said the better.

Things to Come: What will the weeks and months ahead bring? Watch this space for announcements of:

  • The Next Frontier: my novelette forthcoming in Analog.
  • My first flash fiction (under 1000 words) to be published in a horror anthology.
  • My first blog post on a different site aimed at professional writers.
  • More good things I can’t disclose yet!

MONUMENTAL THINKING IS HERE!

Seeing my work published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact never gets old and especially not when I have an opportunity to write about a timely topic from my perspective as an archaeologist. The January/February 2021 issue features my guest editorial about efforts to remove statues and monuments dedicated to various prominent historical figures whom many believe have committed reprehensible acts sufficient to disqualify them from such honors. I’m mindful that these monuments, as well as the names we give highways, plazas, and public buildings, reveal our values to those who will come after us. Thus, I’ve come up with a different approach to creating worthy replacements.

I hope you’ll read the editorial, entitled Monumental Thinking, and then check out all the wonderful fiction and articles in this issue of Analog.

51ST ANNIVERSARY OF APOLLO 12 LANDING ON THE MOON

Give yourself a gold star if you recognized this iconic image of the Apollo 12 Lunar Module known as “Intrepid” sitting upon the Ocean of Storms. (Apollo 11, of course, landed in the Sea of Tranquility.)

Aboard Apollo 12, Commander Pete Conrad and Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean swung open that hatch and descended to the dusty surface. Make no mistake, their accomplishment marked the second stunning success for NASA’s Moon missions coming just four short months after the first Moon landing on July 16, 1969.

Yeah, we all know, the second of anything doesn’t get even half the love of the first. More’s the pity in this case. Consider:

  • Apollo 12 landed in more challenging terrain than the Sea of Tranquility, where Apollo 11 set down.
  • Apollo 12 stayed on the Moon’s surface longer than Apollo 11, permitting the astronauts to spent more time making scientific observations and performing experiments.
  • The Apollo 12 astronauts collected 75 pounds of Moon rocks as compared to the 48 pounds of rocks collected by the Apollo 11 astronauts
  • Even though Apollo 12 was struck by lightning twice when it launched, the mission was a stunning success.

Apollo 12 was intended, in part, to serve as a backup in case Apollo 11 did not come off without a hitch. President John F. Kennedy had famously kicked off the “Moon Race” in 1961 when he announced the plan for the United States to “send a man to the Moon and bring him safely to Earth by the end of the decade.”

While the Apollo Space program assuredly fired the imaginations of many science fiction writers half a century ago, I’m here to tell you that it still does! In looking back at the 50+ years of the space program, I can’t help but wonder what if things had gone a little bit differently? How might the subsequent exploration of the Moon, Mars, Venus, comets, asteroids, the Sun, and the outer planets have played out?

So I’ve written a story that’s due to come out next year. Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll tell you more from time to time as we get closer to publication. I’ll talk about how I got the idea, the times I kicked around some thoughts with other writer buddies, how long it took me to actually write that story (hint: longer than you might expect), and my process for doing research and finding experts who could check my science and history. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

ENDEAVOUR AWARD WINNERS AND CEREMONY

Congratulations to Matthew Hughes and Louisa Morgan/Louise Marley for their excellent novels, What the Wind Brings and The Witch’s Kind, which were named co-winners of the 2020 Endeavour Award. I had the honor of serving as one of the judges for the award. And a hearty congrats to the authors of the other nominated novels: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire, Merlin Redux by Dave Duncan, and Shadow Stitcher by Misha Handman.

The award honors a distinguished science fiction or fantasy book, either a novel or a single-author collection, created by a writer living in the Pacific Northwest.

My thanks to Michael Capobianco and John G. Hemry, who served as my co-judges, to Jim Fiscus, the award administrator, as well as Helen Umberger and Orycon for a fine ceremony indeed.

Now go read them!

Watch the Endeavour Award!

Virtual Orycon is Friday-Sunday 11/13 to 11/15 and it’s free. Come watch the Endeavour Award presentation at 6 p.m. PST Friday. I was a judge for the award and they say they will recognize me. https://www.facebook.com/orycon/photos/a.10150789749745833/10158765348735833/?type=3OryCon

The rest of the programming looks like there’s a lot of great discussions coming up.

NATURE DOES THE WORK

My faithful blog readers see my occasional posts about flower arranging replete with my flower photos. Here’s a new one, a simple autumnal photo I took the other day. People sometimes compliment me on the beautiful flowers and foliage. For that, I take no credit. Nature does the work, not me.

My aim is simple: celebrate beauty and provoke a few smiles. It’s my way of providing a bit of calm during a stressful time for a lot of folks.

VOTING: OUR RIGHT, OUR DUTY, OUR PRIVILEGE

Four years ago, Analog Magazine readers had the chance to read my thoughts as to what it’s like to serve as an election officer or poll worker or judge helping to make democracy in the United States run smoothly. Today I am pleased to say that Analog has posted my guest editorial on its blog for free. I’ve also added a quickie update as to what’s changed since 2016 and what hasn’t. This topic is near and dear to my heart as I spent over 25 years as an election lawyer. Hope you’ll have a look at my thought, maybe even while you are in line to vote.

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