May 31, 2008

Close Encounters of this Year

Glendon over at The Flying Trilobite had a cool piece of art with a character who had the Mars face as its own. As I haven't been in a paranormal mode for almost a year, this picture of course helped trigger this years wander down the unreal road.

Now first off I'm not a true believer. Far from it. At best I could accept some paranormal phenomenon as the product and evidence of a multi dimensional reality as outlined by modern string theory. At the same time I emphasis I'm still a skeptic. The closest to a story I find compelling is the Skinwalker Ranch (warning if you click around this website it has annoying noises if you out click from the Skinwalker story pages), but I'll be blogging about this later in the week.

To me the paranormal is more just really good horror fiction "based on" real life. Normal horror doesn't real grab me, but the idea that these things could be real has hooked me right in since the X-files.

This year I had two quick funny stories that emphasis how 99% of "phenomenon" sightings.

So me and Andy were hanging out in the senior wing stair well, which is an open windowed room. I noticed these two very bright lights hovering in the sky, and they tracked with our field of depth when we moved around looking at them.

Immediately, I noted that an odd thing was we were seeing these lights through another room's window. Technically the lights were behind the corner of the building, but that corner's room's curtain was open allowing us to see through it to the botanic garden. However the lights moved perfectly in the sky as we moved around our limited vantage point, but they appeared to be legitimate objects in the air.

So trying to confirm this we went outside, but due to our now being at ground level there was too many obstacles to see that area of the sky...

It was enticing to think we were seeing flying saucers.


That is till we got back to the stair well and moved the couch. Suddenly one of the lights continued to move from the sky onto the curtain of the room!

Further investigation by looking outside I found two tall bright lights on the other side of the building which would be the perfect distance to mimic our field of depth when reflected by that window.

So much for my UFO sighting. It just goes to show that one needs to REALLY think about and investigate these things looking for rational and ordinary explanations. This UFO held up to 15 minutes of rigorous investigation before we figured it out. So it shows that people can see things that they really believe and doesn't become clear right way, but it still wasn't real!

The Monster

So one night during my student teaching I got up to go to the wash room in the middle of the night. Looking up in my sleep haze I was scared awake by this scene you see here (taken about a minute later). Yes it is just a box with my hat on it, but out of the corner of my eye it looked like Freddie Cougar for a moment.


Well one more issue settled in my attempts to work in this country.

I've acquired transport, which for substitute teaching is vital. The funny part considering just how much money and paperwork I've thrown into stuff so far (such as VISAs and teacher registration) apart from the cost of the car itself it was comparatively cheap and easy to transfer ownership.

May 29, 2008

Not liking this new pattern

Well it's slightly old news, but one of my job search leads came to an end the other day. Sadly it is in the vein of the Dinosaur Park outcome. Which is a trend I want to stop pronto in my employment efforts.

The Otago Museum opted to inform me through a letter, that they did not require my services. I suppose it could have been worse. They could have interviewed me and than told me I needed more experience with children... So this could be me climbing away from the DPP thing, and back into the black.

May 14, 2008

Boneyard #20: Meeting a Prehistoric Creature: The Un-Professional Palaeontologist

Though my life has turned out fairly well (ignoring my current teacher registration and immigration issues) I've always had one regret.

I didn't grow up to be a professional Palaeontologist.

Now there's all sorts of reasons for this. My lack of great marks throughout school, my inability to apply math to the real world, and just frankly it wasn't in the universe's cards that were dealt to me.

It's not too say I didn't manage to grow up to be a palaeontologist of sorts. In fact, considering my education and work experience has been constantly building towards working with kids and teaching, I think I've done a pretty good job leaning my life expereince towards the prehistoric.

Having failed to achieve a formal approach into science at a university level, I wrote off the dream of working with dinosaurs or fossils throughout the first few years of my post high school life.

However when I started to (appear to) out-grow summer camps my mother made a fateful intervention into my work search that reignited the seemingly lost dream. She checked the Royal Tyrrell Museum's website for job openings.

They were looking for educational interpreters. A job that required a whole scattering of skills: dinosaur and science knowledge, public speaking, experience with kids, acting and creative imagination. A list of things I happened to have (and still have!) in some abundance.

Long story short I got the gig, and frankly I think I appreciated my experiences of "meeting prehistoric creatures" all the more than if I'd become a true academic Palaentologist.

My first year at the museum was a steep learning curve on the "practical" side of Palaeontology [note this photo is not from this point of my life, but rather it was taken on my last DAY working at the museum ever... *tear*]. Being a childhood dino geek I knew lots of theoretical stuff that you find in books. However, skills like finding fossils and digging them up were all completely new to me.

I managed well enough. Though I won't claim to be a professional I've got a pretty firm grasp on everything from prospecting, excavating, preparation (though I did damage my first Hadrosaur Phalange), and even casting. At the same time, I was not one of the museum's "pros" I did get paid!

One of the key things I definitely learned that not all professionals know, is how to commincate and relate these cool prehistoric creatures we've met from the deep past to the public.

My main love from this time was dinosaur and palaeontology promotion and education. Sadly as a teacher I don't get to do this anywhere near as much as I like, and only manage it by sneeking my puppet Traumador the Tyrannosaur into some of my lessons as a hook. The kids just can't get enough of him!

So when I wasn't showing off palaeontology concepts in such entertaining ways as mock ceratopsian duelling with my colleague Peter Bond (check out his awesome Boneyard entry by clicking here!), I had the oppurtunity to really engage in some real palaeontology.

The kid in me, who is still sticking around, treasures these experiences like few others, and they show that even if you can't become a "proper" palaeontologist you can come pretty darn close!

Prospecting : At the Burgess Shale... Sorta

At the end of my first year at the museum in 2003 we had an unbelievable oppurtunity to go on an out of season trip to Mount Stephen in Field, British Columbia. Now for those of you who don't know the signfiicance of Mount Stephen it is part of the Burgess Shale. It is however, a less famous site than the Walcott quarry located on the connecting ridge of Mount Field and Mount Wapta directly across the valley from Mount Stephen.

Having just gotten hooked on the bizarre wonders of the Burgess Shale this was the trip of a lifetime.

It was also my first chance to hunt for fossils outside the Badlands. By this point in my 4 year run at the Tyrrell I was pretty good at determining fossil from rock, but it was this trip where I started my progress to the next level of knowledge in trying to identify the fossils I found.

The benefit of Mount Stephen vs. the Walcott quarry is that there is a near infinite number of specimens to be found. This slab full of Trilobites was found on the trail nearly 200 metres below the fossil producing plain.

The drawback of Mount Stephen is that it only produces hardbody specimens of trilobites and a handful of other arthropods. On the other hand, The Walcott quarry contains a massive array of excellently perserved specimens exhibiting the spectacular diversity of the Cambrian. Only there, you have to actively split shale to get to these treasures. On Mount Stephen there were more fossils than I could have ever imagined possible!

The actual fossil plain is atop the Mountain, and requires a very arduous hike. It is worth it though.

As the Burgess Shale was part of a UNESCO heritage site, and thus partially protected, half the hill was off limits to perserve this site for future generations, though erosion in my opinion negates the point of this rule. This meant we could only search part of the slope.

You couldn't help but wonder at the time whether the best fossils would be contained within the no go zone...

With this simple mat of shale in front of you, you could look at the more impressive layered outcrop in the protected area of the plain and wonder wistfully what you could find.

It turns out every 2nd or 3rd piece of shale in THIS photo had at least one trilobite fossil in it!!!

If you don't believe me this photo was taken within 3 minutes of our starting to look!

This trip also was my first experience to engage in real field work. The then curator of invertabrates at the Tyrrell, Dr. Paul Johnson was here to collect samples of rock for his upcoming paper on his theory of the Burgess Shale ecosystem forming around volcanic thermal vent environments.

It was a very enlightening and educational trip for me. Not only did I help collect some of the samples, but I was able to ask him all the questions that my heart desired. Those were the days.

Here are samples of our finds.

Lots of trilobites.

A few species of them too! Olenoides and Naraoia. I am hoping here that memory serves me well, as sadly my palaeontology books are all still stuck in Canada.

Trilobites weren't the only thing to be found though.

Among the most exciting finds of my life was this little beauty... An Anomalocaris claw!!! One of my favourite prehistoric creatures ever...
Though rarer than Trilobites there were few of these to be found.

New Responsibilities... New Oppurtunities

For my 3rd year at the museum in 2006 I returned as a founding member of the brand new Badlands Summer Science Camp. I was a natural to help pilot this program having had 3 years previous summer camp experience, and some palaeontological experience.

Combining the two has been thus far been my most statisfying work related experience.

As the kids were coming out for a whole week of 24/7 palaeontology experience we needed our programs at camp to be a lot more extensive than normal tourist programs. As such I got to do a lot of developement that required far more extensive palaeontology activities than I'd done as an interpreter.

Excavating- Dinosaur Provincal ParkOne of the most hands on experiences was working closely with the Museum's Senior Curator Dr. Donald Brinkman to develop a Micro Fossil sorting program. In addition to the educational presentation, which this photo of Traumador and Dr. Brinkman is from, I also helped collect the fossils. What made this cool for the kids, and cooler for me was that we were helping sort these for actual research!

The best part was the camp team accompanied Dr. Brinkman to do this excavating in Dinosaur Provincal Park which is among the most dinosaur rich sites in the world.

As this trip with Dr. Brinkman included teaching and supervising our work, every single one of us are now pretty competent micro fossil experts.

This was our quarry. Unlike macro fossil digs it wasn't the most elaborate of digs.

At the same time I have to say I enjoyed the "one day and you're done" aspect compared to week long macro digs.

Fossil digging whether micro or macro is great excercise. In the case of micros carrying them and the matrix they're in out of the field is a lot heavier than it looks.

As the micro fossil program was mine to develop I was put in charge of cleaning and screening them for our use.

Which just made working with these fossil all the cooler. I found em, prepped em, and finally..

with the help of the kids sorted them.

Casting- The Corythosaur of Doom!

Another of my development projects was refurbishing an old cast skeleton of Corythosaurus into a program prop usable by children. Sadly I only managed the refurbishing part of that task. The skeleton had been a test bed for a number of experimental casting materials in the 80's and as such a lot of it was made of fairly brittle, or worse, heavy stuff. This made it impossible for me to make it truly kid friendly.

Not that we didn't try it out with the kids. Sadly it was too hard to make it engaging for them as the hands on part had to be strictly supervised, and we adults did the "fun" work of putting the skeleton together. For example, the arms required two of us to attack. One person would hold up the heavy cast and the other would bolt it to the frame.

We retired it from the camp program roster after 2 failed attempts.

That having been said the 2 months I spent repairing the skeleton was a very indepth expereince in cast and mounting techniques. Though I couldn't nessecarily mould a new specimen, beyond wielding the underlying frame, I could put together the mounted cast skeleton now with what I learned in this project.

Much like the whole program's tragic outcome, due to the hectic pace of that pilot camp year I stupidly never had a good photo of me and my creation taken though I believe there is one out there somewhere!

Lost Quarries

In my last year I decided to develop a program around one of my personal favourite research projects at the Tyrrell. For the last decade or so, Darren Tanke has been hunting down the lost dig sites of such legends as the Sternbergs and Barnum Brown throughout Alberta.

I approached him about developing a program in which our kids are given a simulated lost quarry on the camp site, and using Darren's techniques figure out who dug it up, when they carried out the dig, and what dinosaur it was. Darren not only agreed to help me with the program, but he personally got involved!

These photos you're seeing are those taken of me and Darren in the early 20th century costumes that were used in the program.

Considering he's hunting for unrecorded spots all throughout the extensive Badlands of Alberta it seems incredible that Darren has found as many sites as he has so far.

Using nothing more than old expedition photographs, like the ones we simulated in these photos, garbage, old newspapers, and some good old fashioned detective work Darren now routinely pinpoints anywhere between 4 and 7 of these sites each summer. Considering he does this during his off time on current digs he's working on I think that's amazing!

Darren's guidance and assistiance led to this being my most successful program out of the lot. My only regret was a few authentic artifacts (like glass bottles and broken wooden crate) had to be substituted with child safe proxies.

The kids loved it. Being presented with the method of how Darren finds them they really enjoyed finding out the mystery of which dinosaur was found at camp.

This outcome was of course ficticious, but for the record it was the Hypacrosaur George Sternberg "found" in 1914. My Corythosaur cast was to stand in for the Hypacrosaur, but of course that didn't happen.

So I guess I sort of lost my target of meeting a prehistoric creature here at the end. To salvage this premise on this last photo I'll relay the best connection to palaeontology I made with my kids.

Having had a very long day most of the camp staff were incredibly exhausted. They just wanted to get back to the camp site and sleep. I offered for any who wanted to go on the Lost Quarry photo hunt.

You see Darren often finds the unknown dig site locations by matching land marks in the antique photos with the landscape of today. Taking the kids on a hike with this series of photos we followed a trail of landmarks that brought us to this lookout.

In the "modern" day this spot is camp itself, and though simulated the 6 kids who came with me forgot this wasn't real, and ran into camp to excitedly inform everyone that George Sternberg had been digging AT camp!

So, I may not be a professional palaeontologist, but I've had my fair share of run-ins with prehistoric creatures. Perhaps more importantly, I've facilitated and shared these encounters with a whole new generation of potential palaeontologists. Or at least I can try to comfort myself with that thought next time I start to regret my life's outcome.


Prehistoric Insanity Unity

Be sure to check out the rest of the Prehistoric Insanity Productions affliate blogs' entries into the Boneyard #20 contest.

Also be sure to hit Laelaps to check out the other entries, and most important to vote. You simply have to leave a comment to register your vote.

Thanks for stopping by, and hopefully see you again in the future!

May 8, 2008

The Music of My Childhood at last!

The annoying thing about soundtracks is that their a specialty music niche. At the best of times I'm lucky if I can get my hands on the music of a movie close to after seeing it. With the advent of the internet things are getting much better, and a lot of the big franchises are now pushing their music before the release of the film (this trend being one of the few cool things to come of The Phantom Menace).

Most modern movies typically release their score. Though they can still be frustrating to get, and still sometimes aren't released till WELL after the movie. Transformers being a good example (finally 6 months after the film was the score put out).

In the case of older films, well before the digital expansion of the music industry, getting their music was only a fantasy up until recently...

Two of the big Dinosaur movies of my childhood had music that has been on my wish list since I was 10.

Finally a decade and half later I've gotten my hands on them!
Ringo Stars spoof of Caveman/Dinosaur epics has one of the catchiest and cute themes ever. Helping forever etch this song into my musical psyche was its use in the introduction to my fav video game of all time, Dinosaur Wars on the Amiga. In it a Ringo style caveman walks along the screen to the song until suddenly the music stops the caveman turns to the audience, screams, and is instantly squished by a Tyrannosaur foot and leg from off screen.

This CD was released in 2005, but as it was a specialty label I didn't catch wind of it until a random internet search last year. It wasn't till this week when whining about wanting the album that Rhonwyn suggested I check on Itunes for it. I have the best girl friend ever! She not only suggested the place to get it, but also let me use her account and puter to download it. All for the low cost of $14 NZ! It would have cost me almost double that to ship it down here!

Caveman while making my wish list was more for the cute theme song than the whole album. It also is by a composer that hasn't ever been on my radar.

My other acquisition this week on the other hand has been at the top of my list forever...

Jerry Goldsmith's score to Baby Secret of the Lost Legend, has been a lost legend in and of itself!!!

Sentimental aside. This was the first film I ever saw in a theatre (that I can remember anyway). Though an awesome Dinosaur film for its time, it was also a little brutal for 4 or 5 year old me. The part were the daddy Sauropod gets blown away by the Army was a very traumatic scene, and I can still remember how terrified I was of seeing the Dinosaur pumped full of lead... However once I was older 8-9ish this was a staple film of my childhood rentals.

This film had two major themes that have been in my head since those young me rentals. Their in my top 20 themes of ALL time, and my favourite of Goldsmith's. Which is saying something. I love Goldsmith. He was way more diverse and talented than John Williams, and I have many favs of Jerry's, but the themes from Baby are always in my head.

The foremost being the action suspense theme. Whenever I find myself humming a "made up" soundtrack for something I inevitably base it on this brilliant bit of Goldsmith. Now that I have it my plagiarism finally comes home... Not having it in pure listenable form made it sort of imaginary if that makes sense ;p

Also the theme for the adult Sauropods is the music of finding a Dinosaur for me. The scene where the heroes come across the Sauropod in the swampy clearing for the first time is up there in the greatest Dinosaur scenes ever filmed. Aside not sure why those always have Sauropods in them? Their not even my favourite kind of Dinosaur.

For the last couple of years I'd futilely check every 6 months or so on the Internet for a possible release of this score. Nothing other than a substandard bootleg, and a unbelievably expensive special edition Jerry Goldsmith compilation album that had the adult theme on it, but costing $200!

So like usual in the cycle the other day I plug this into Google to be astonished by real hits!!!

After all this time it had BEEN released... Haza! Than I track down the company that is selling it... It was released exactly a month ago from when I found it. Perfect I think time to get me a copy. Till I see the most dreaded words on these sort of releases. SOLD OUT!!!

There is this unbelievable stupid aspect to soundtracks of collectors wanting them to be collectors items... So the record labels print ridiculously small runs. Like in the case of Baby a mere 3000 copies. Meaning that unless you're on top of it, and buy in the first few days of an albums release you're hooped. I missed Ghostbusters by a day!

Needless to say I was way too late on finding out about this one to buy a copy (for less than $100 bloody dollars!!!).

Thankful salvation came in the form of Alex who helped me secure a copy of the disc (for way less than a $100!!!!). He is the dude!

Now I can listen to music easy having two of my all time most wanted scores of all time. All that remains is Ghostbusters... Stupid limited runs!

May 5, 2008

A Year Later

So a year ago was the Salmond Ball.

It turned out to be a very big event of last year.

For the simplest of reasons...

All because a girl sat down beside me on the bus. An innocent thing you might think, but it brought her to my attention...

So I set about to get myself to her attention. Long story short it worked!

Here we are still together one year later... Hopefully for a while yet.

May 4, 2008

Iron Man was the Awesome!

The weather in Dunedin has decidedly turned winter, and it's been miserable. Mind you as always the kiwis (not to mention a certain girl from Australia) still have no idea what horrible winter weather is. Still Friday it hailed 9 times! That was over the whole afternoon, evening, and night. Meaning you couldn't escape it.

Yesterday kept the unpleasant up with the chilly (though still ABOVE zero!) and weather. In this case rain.

Meaning there was only one thing to do. Go to the movies!

Especially with my #2 most anticipated movie of the year hitting theatres this week. Iron Man.

Now as most of you know I'm a "bit" of a comic fan. At the same time I don't read a lot of "mainstream" Marvel, and haven't really read any classic line Iron Man. However the comic that single handily got me buying and collecting comic was the Ultimates, Marvel's relaunch and retooling of the in my opinion dated and cheesy Avengers. One of my favourite characters of this cast was Ultimate Tony Stark who of course is the man inside the Iron Man armour.

So with what I knew of the character from his revamped version, and the stuff Mike's told me about regular Iron Man how did the movie hold up.

In a word (Olav's word to be specific) TA-Awesome!

Robert Downey Jr makes Tony Stark such a memorable, entertaining, charismatic, and most important intelligent character. Downey's amazing performance is backed up by the equally amazing dialogue his character is given. Stark is portrayed very close to his Ultimates version (before the stupidity that Orson Scott Card plugged into the Ulti verse anyway) of being so intelligent and capable that he is detached from the world, and it is the realization of the consequences of his actions that bring him back into the world.

Jeff Bridges (aka the Dude... I just can't separate him from The Big Lebowski) as the Iron Mongol another awesome casting call giving the movie a strong villain. Sort of. The thing about Iron Man I liked was the varied and grey nature of the good versus evil conflict, and how there was an ever diversifying range of villains and antagonists. The Iron Man vs. F22 battle being a highlight example of this.

My other favourite character was fire extinguisher bot. Without ruining the film for you I'll just say go see it for the extinguisher bot, I was rolling in the isles at its antics.

The movies plot was spot on. Tony fights the consequences of his actions. It also manages to incorporate, from what I've gathered from Mike, the Iron Mongol perfectly, and aspects of the cool sounding Armour Wars (which I DO want to read one of these days).

My only complaint about the movie, which is a tiny one, is the lack of a major SHIELD presence. Sure they were in the movie, but I was looking for a Nick Fury appearance the whole movie (however not knowing when I heard they'd cast Samuel Jackson to play ULTIMATE Nick Fury that the Hulk movie was this year too I'd thought Fury was going to be in Iron Man).

The soundtrack was negligible, and apart from a fairly simple theme for Tony building the suits of armour the music didn't leave any sort of an impression at all. Which is sad. I want my superhero movies to have really memorable scores...

I obviously haven't seen Iron Man a second time, but I'm next to certain that unlike say Transformers this movie will stand up to multiple viewings. Not being too long, drawn out, or slow in building up.

I'm not a pro reviewer, and would rather go write my own stuff (Traumador specifically) than waste more time writing about theirs so just go see the movie okay ;p