The Liebster Award and Other Things Interesting

It's amazing how busy a summer can be for an unemployed college student. I haven't done half of what I intended when the spring semester ended, but I can't say my time has been wasted. As is my usual this time of year, I have spent a majority of the past two months playing babysitter for my sister. For the uninformed, four kids make reading difficult, especially when the book in question has dinosaur pictures in it. Luckily, I have managed to get some learning done and feel that I'm ready to springboard into some of the more brutal material.

Since I have more fun stuff to talk about, I won't spend much time on details about my reading, but I'll hit the main points. Up first, I finally managed to find the time to get through Dinosaurs Under the Big Sky by Jack Horner( My nephew and youngest niece really enjoyed sitting in my lap and asking me questions about all of the pictures. This effectively caused me to give up on my reading while at their house, but I digress. While I enjoyed most of this book, I found the sections detailing fossils found in the various formations to be systematic and tedious. The section I found to be most informative was the final appendix that detailed skeletal structures and commonly used directional references. This was definitely helpful for the two papers I read this week.

Due to my growing interest in pachycephalosaurs, I decided to check out the latest work from Dr. Joseph Peterson and company regarding potential head-butting behavior( Some Googling was required but I managed to understand most of the material when I was finished. I didn't draw any conclusions from the paper, but I did appreciate the amount of time put into researching the nature and location of the dome lesions. Without more of the skeleton though, everything just seems like a guess. If I got nothing else from this paper, at least my reading of it reminded me of a classic commercial and led to this Twitter hypothesis from Dr. Peterson:

For the sake of being thorough, here's the ad, courtesy of the good people at YouTube:

The other paper I chugged through was the new publication regarding the most recently named centrosaurine, Nasutoceratops titusi, courtesy Dr. Scott Sampson and a plethora of other folks, including Dr. Andrew Farke( What I gained from the paper, other than a few (re: a lot of) new words, is that Nasutoceratops is the first piece in a much bigger puzzle. I appreciate that it represents some level of confirmation for the idea of provincial dinosaur behavior during the late Campanian, but until more information comes to light, I shall remain guarded. Despite my caution, I anxiously await future discoveries from the region that can provide more insight on the subject.

I think that the most important thing about the two papers I read is that I had no problem accessing them. Praise The Duke for open access! (Yes, I mean John Wayne. Has a nice ring to it.) Admittedly, as a student currently enrolled at MSU-Bozeman, I have access to most of the popular life science publications through the library reserve, but tapping that well is laboriously inconvenient and most people don't have that luxury. If science is meant to better society, than society should be able to read what science has to say!

I know that the title of this post leads off with something called a Liebster Award, but I was compelled to put that off until the end. I don't feel like explaining exactly what it is, but since Dr. Penny Higgins, vertebrate paleontologist/geochemist/Western martial artist/mom/chicken farmer, nominated me for it, I'll let her post explain the details: (She blogs a lot of interesting stuff. I strongly suggest keeping tabs.)

Now that we're all caught up, I'll start by pointing out that I won't be nominating others for this award, as the blogs I read tend to have a large following as it is, and to be honest, I don't feel like picking any. The other two parts, eleven factoids and answering the questions, sound like fun, so I'll play.

11 Interesting Factoids About Me as Determined by Me
  1. My sense of smell is limited due to a sinus infection I had in 2001.
  2. I've all but stopped reading fiction because I need to catch up on a lot of science.
  3. I don't like the taste of coffee, but I drink it anyway.
  4. I have been a Chicago Cubs fan for so long that I don't remember why.
  5. I have nine plants in my apartment, but I only bought four of them.
  6. My roommate is a hedgehog named Spock Leonard Nimoy Prime.
  7. I still own a VCR, just in case.
  8. I am a mediocre whistler.
  9. The Old Spice Guy, Isaiah Mustafa, follows me on Twitter.
  10. Nearly half of my freezer space is occupied by Girl Scout cookies to be rationed out over the next year.
  11. I absolutely refuse to ever wear shorts or sandals.
11 Questions as Posed by the Nominating Party and Answered by Me
  1. Got any hobbies? What do you do when you have a day to play around?--I read science books and watch movies. I really am that interesting.
  2. How about pets? Anything more exotic than dogs or cats?--As stated above, I have a hedgehog.
  3. Sports: Watch or participate? Or neither? I follow hockey, football, and basketball, but I love baseball. Would play if I could.
  4. Original Star Wars (Episodes 4-6) or new Star Wars (Episodes 1-3)?--The ONLY Star Wars (4-6)
  5. What part of the world would you most like to visit?--I've seen enough of it. Any future travels are bonus.
  6. Do you think there is life in other parts of the universe?--Given the size of the universe, the odds seem pretty good, but I don't expect to see any of it.
  7. What’s your favorite season?--I'll go with summer because frostbite will jade a person.
  8. If you had the chance, would you go back to school to study something new? What?--Vertebrate Paleontology, because construction engineering is a joke.
  9. What’s the strangest thing you have sitting out in your dining room?--Nintendo Entertainment System with Legend of Zelda and Kirby's Adventure.
  10. What’s your favorite type of music?--Older country.
  11. If you could go back in time, when and where would you visit?--I would take a camcorder back to Maastrichtian Wyoming and get conclusive evidence regarding T. rex feeding habits and the purpose behind the domes of pachycephalosaurs so people would stop asking about it.
I hope this brief insight into my last month of randomness has been pleasurable and I plan to cobble together some more thoughts in the near future. The Dino Shindig in Ekalaka is coming up, featuring some cool paleontologists and a field expedition day, so I'm sure I'll come up with something for that(Details here: Thanks to Dr. Higgins for the award nomination and helping spread my admittedly bizarre signal and thanks to everyone that took the time to read this whole thing. You all are awesome and it has been and will continue to be my genuine pleasure. Here's a song to close this thing out:

Notes: I don't know what all I'll be reading or blogging about over the next couple of months due to my unpredictable schedule, but I will most definitely find it interesting. As per usual, I appreciate feedback and/or suggestions in the comments or via Twitter.

Twitter handles: Dr. Joseph Peterson - @JPTaphonomy, Dr. Scott Sampson - @DrScottSampson, Dr. Andrew Farke - @AndyFarke, Dr. Penny Higgins - @paleololigo, Old Spice Guy - @isaiahmustafa

Dr. Derek Main: Farewell to a Man I Wish I'd Known

I had never heard of Derek Main before news broke Wednesday of his passing the day before. (There are quite a few paleo folks that I'm still not familiar with, so this doesn't surprise me.) Despite this, I have felt a profound sense of sorrow and regret these past few days, presumably because I will never have the opportunity to meet him. I don't generally get emotional about death, but the reactions I've seen tell me that he was a wonderful person and a true credit to his field.

Photo courtesy of the Arlington Archosaur Site Facebook page

Despite my previous unfamiliarity, I have learned that Dr. Main was the director of the Arlington Archosaur Site in northern Texas( and taught courses at University of Texas-Arlington. He was a guest speaker at TEDxUTA(bio here: in April and had just received his Ph.D. last month. More specifics about Dr. Main can be found at UTA's Shorthorn website( and a brief obituary is available from Donnelly's Colonial Funeral Home( There is also a news report from ABC's WFAA affiliate in Dallas that I've included below.

To me, Dr. Derek Main serves as both an inspiration and a cautionary tale. I only recently began to truly delve into paleontology and biology, and as I push toward 30, I tend to wonder how seriously I can pursue these avenues as more than a hobby. The fact that Dr. Main didn't receive his Ph.D. until the age of 41 reminds me that I still have time for higher education. It is with sad irony that he also reminds me that no one really knows how much time we have to do anything.

Given the circumstances, I can honestly say that I wish I hadn't heard of Derek Main. He should still be down in Texas, living the life of a paleontologist and advancing the knowledge of his students and the public. My first exposure to his name should have come through a great discovery or a chance meeting later in our lives. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and those who cared about him are left with nothing but happy memories and a sad truth. Life is a wonderful but cruel thing, and time catches us all eventually. Society's most common wish is for the deceased to rest in peace, but in this case, I like to think that Dr. Main is now walking with the dinosaurs.

(Since I usually include a song somewhere, I felt that a sad song with a dinosaur in the title would be appropriate.)

Note: The Arlington Archosaur Site is currently accepting donations in tribute to Dr. Main. Some have suggested the donations to be in the amount of $41, one dollar for each year of his life, but any denomination is welcome. Head over to the AAS website( to contribute if you can.

Waking the Bats in My Belfry

I'll start by apologizing for the lack of new content over the past several weeks. With baseball season in full swing and family events taking over my life, I've been short on time to put order to my thoughts. With the way ideas fly around in my head, such a task can be arduous for me. I think my greatest hurdle to more consistent posting is my preference for writing each entry without interruption. Now that I've made excuses, I think the time has come for me to sculpt my next compositional masterpiece.

While I have a variety of ideas for future posts, I thought I should take some time to write a bit of a "potpourri" entry as a way to generate some momentum and ease back into blogging. I openly admit that this style is inherently flawed due to inconsistent flow and a seemingly random nature, but I will do my best to minimize the damage. (I should be okay, since my writing style often provides a sense of randomness to individual concepts. Today is just a chance to reverse the trend.)

I suppose I should start by summarizing what I've been up to lately. Aside from my gratuitous baseball watching, I've actually done a fair amount of reading. I finished Written in Stone by Brian Switek a while ago and recently read through Your Inner Fish by Dr. Neil Shubin. (I'll be writing an in-depth review of each book once I get back in a groove. I'm also waiting to get my copy of the latter back from my dad.) I'm now about knee deep in a change-of-pace book, Baseball in the Garden of Eden by John Thorn. Pretty cool read so far, and I recommend it for anyone that enjoys the game. (Probably no review coming on this one, though as the saying goes, "Never say never.")

I know I usually include images from the books I've read, but I don't have any right now. Instead, here's an historically accurate depiction of life during the Late Cretaceous.

With as much reading as I've managed to do lately, I shudder to imagine the progress I would have made if I wasn't so busy back home in Big Timber with the family. For the sake of brevity, I'll stick to highlights. I had the pleasure of attending a Missoula Children's Theatre production of The Pied Piper, starring my older nieces, Jillian and Paige, in key supporting roles. (They were key because they're the only reason I'd pay money to see the play.) I also spent a couple of weekends in Big Timber so I could watch the girls in their youth-league basketball games. 

The best part of the past month though was probably taking Jillian to see Jurassic Park in 3D. At 9, she's only a few months younger than I was during the film's first theatrical run. I wasn't impressed with the 3D, but I'm not a fan of the medium. At least it gave Universal an excuse to put the movie back in theaters. Anyway, while I did some other interesting things over these past few weeks, I think I've made my point that being a good uncle is hard work.

Speaking of hard work, I can pretend I did some during the whole Makoshika State Park fiasco here in Montana. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, I blogged about it. For those who have not kept up with the bill's progress, over the past several weeks it met little resistance in either house of the Montana state legislature. (For the full rundown of events, here's the link: I am proud to report that despite the misguided and uninformed intentions of "my" legislators, Governor Steve Bullock emphatically vetoed MT House Bill 392 on 25 April. (They are clearly "my" legislators by default. I wouldn't trust them to decide what I should have for supper.) Here's a re-enactment of the governor flexing his veto power:

I believe this is a great victory for paleontology, helping to ensure that recovered fossils will stay within the scientific community and keeping government officials from sticking their noses into our business. (As a testament to their poor grasp of this matter, here's audio from one of the bill's hearings: Skip ahead to 1:26:47 for some real talk from the bill's sponsor, Representative Alan Doane.) As a final note on the subject, the "Current Bill Progress" on the bill's official page is listed as "Probably Dead", making it one of the few dead things that don't matter to paleontologists.

The letter from Governor Bullock announcing his decision to veto HB 392.

I must have rambled more than I originally intended, as I've reached a desirable length for this post and I still have a number of topics I meant to cover. I guess that means I've got something to blog about later in the week. I'm definitely looking forward to it. 

For those of you who've waited patiently for me to come back to my writing, thanks for keeping hope alive. For anyone that didn't, I forgive you. Unfortunately, the time has come for me to sign off and take my brain train to another station, so I'll talk to you all the next time I come around. Goodnight, everybody!

Notes: Dr. Neil Shubin is on Twitter(@NeilShubin), though he doesn't use it much. (He uses his more than Jack Horner though...) John Thorn(@thorn_john) uses Twitter as well. Not sure how many people are interested in the thoughts of the Official Historian for Major League Baseball, but at least he's not a Kardashian.