Archive for ‘Random Rambling’

Things That are Awesome yet again, part 5, sequence 5, take 5.

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Birthdays continually refuse to cease.  Oh well.  Look at this instead of that.

-Ferocious and unstoppable tidal waves of teeth.
-Cats that don’t stop at hats.
-Utterly magnificent, hand-crafted, imperially-commissioned, royal-autographed, artisanal jodhpurs.
-The will and might to forego a year’s worth of breakfasts for the greater good.
-A wave surfing a man. Alternatively, a surfboard waving at a man.
-Reptiles that go for the gut, the gusto, and the world records.
-A wilful, flagrant, and un-coerced lack of pants.
-Clocks that set their schedules by the human sleep cycle.
-When properly organized, one point six eight two four million razorblades.
-A properly tossed punch salad with a light-bodied yet palate-pleasing elbow-to-ribs vinaigrette.
-Ferocious man-eating sinuses.
-Conducting the biggest mistake of your life in a scientifically sealed vacuum, for the benefit of future generations and your own personal safety.
-Turpitude.
-Nice long sit-down chats with boulders, with lovely hot cups of tea (earl grey, plenty of sugar, just a bit of milk, don’t scald it please).
-Cloning dinosaurs hodge-podge.
-The Best Potato.
-The determination and persistence to nudge hills.
-Adorable, delicious little mammals. Or reptiles. Birds too. Invertebrates? Sure. Of course fish, of course. Not picky, really.
-Cats that respect your personal space and listen to you.
-Also, unicorns.
-Pines that know which way the wind is blowing and have no choice but to show it.
-Mysterious and primal jungle corgis.
-Anything with sufficient volumes of dinosaurs in it (“sufficient” being >0).
-That little noise you can get where you can make your mouth go ‘pop’ seriously how do you do that it’s like magic or something I can’t do that god damnit I envy you bastards.
-Bones that go big. Alternatively, bones that go home.
-Poutine without a cause.
-Anything smarter than a human that doesn’t have thumbs, or better yet, hands.
-A spoon that has been sharpened to a point keener than any knife.
-Juggling marmosets. In both meanings of that sentence.
-Stars that out of necessity must both burn out AND fade away before collapsing in on themselves into a point of nigh-infinite mass so all-encompassing that even light cannot escape them. This is all very impressive.
-Small people with large weapons.
-But not the reverse.
-Don’t ask me why, it just doesn’t work that way.
-The downfall of humanity coming from within. Specifically, from the spine-stealing parasite lurking inside the President of the United States’ torso at this very instant, plotting the unsavoury demise of us all.
-Anything which does not normally eat humans that stands up, squares its shoulders, and says “well why the hell NOT?”
-Temerity.
-The will and the forethought and the sheer unflinching determination that has led to a world where you can sit and watch cat videos while your body runs down and people die for want of a mouthful of water and a pinch of bread. Because it used to be just like that, except without the cat videos to distract you.
-Prophecy loopholes and the lawyers who find and close them to tidy up some of those damned multi-volume epics that keep getting churned out.
-Swirly ice cream.
-Ballads to body parts. Or poems. Pop songs too, I guess. Just as long as they aren’t about genitals, because we already have quite enough of those.
-Whistling past the graveyard to fend off the marrowsuckers by interfering with their sensitive hearing so they won’t consume the freshly-dead for sustenance and devour the town.
-Soft-spoken shitheads. It’s easier to talk over them.
-Cuts and scrapes that tell a story, at least in braille.
-Warbling. Unless it’s from a warbler, in which case why the hell’s that supposed to be impressive?
-Geometrically improbable dice with mathematically unlikely results producing economic impossibility allowing somebody to buy themselves an extra drink.
-The madcap, mile-a-minute, thrill-ride, adrenaline-pumping lifestyle of the all-day weather-watcher.
-Weather that watches you back and judges you too.
-The person who gives you that feeling when you’re alone in a dark room that makes you walk very quickly so the slow-footed monster behind your back doesn’t seize and devour you.
-Crows making nests in crow’s nests.
-Nostalgia for when nostalgia didn’t include the 1980s.
-Hum anthems.
-The power of mild possibly-physical attraction overcoming a few obstacles.
-Barbequed things.
-The Pacific Ocean and all she contains, with honorable mention to the Mediterranean for participation in past accomplishments.
-Relaxation in trying circumstances, either as morale boost or as deliberate delusion.
-Sulphurous emanations that volcanoes refuse to apologize for.
-Clothing that has freed itself from the shackles of oppressive bodies and their odours.
-Rings that like things but find themselves bereft of things to put on them.
-Pulsating, when carefully directed.
-Mid-ocean ridges that feud with deep-sea trenches and their innocent offspring that get caught in the crossfire when all they really want to do is have a whole lot of sex.
-A cookie-cutter that produces unique and non-reproducible shapes.
-Dragons that don’t bother to befriend things that they could instead eat.
-A dedicated and serious-minded approach to pet rock breeding and care.
-A whimsical and lighthearted approach to nuclear power plant safety inspection and design.
-Fallacious beliefs in the nature of Frog.
-The friendliest plague bacteria.

My Birthday

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

I think I’d like to be a big thing
Let the news sound out let the bells ring
And give me as much attention as you can possibly bring
On my birthday

If we want my birthday to really make it large
We’d better put it where it’ll always be in charge
At the year’s far-end, where there’s no holidays to barge
Into its face, and hog time from my birthday

My birthday will be the world’s biggest deal
You will gather and discuss my long-lasting appeal
And when it comes the shopping will get totally real
On my birthday

See, my birthday will mandate buying loads of stuff
And working long hours to save up will get rough
But when it’s all done you’ll feel totally buff
(Never done, because you’ve never finished buying enough)
For my birthday

Of course there’s more to my birthday than money can say
If you want the keys to hearts going homemade can pay
Off big, but we aren’t all craftsmen these days
Sucks to unwrap a half-baked mug, on my birthday

My birthday will be the end-all be-all of it
And you’ll end up with a huge mound of presents that won’t fit
In your house, but that’s fine ‘cause most of them will be shit
You can always give them away, on my next birthday

My birthday goes great with peace and love
We’ll stuff you with it until you’re about to shit out doves
But when it comes to strangers all that crap can get shoved
Up a mistletoe’s ass, on my birthday

And my birthday will let you sit down and kick back
All day you will feast and all night you will snack
Too bad you’re hungry where food don’t mean jack
On my birthday

My birthday will bring in family from yonder and hither
To bring season’s cheer, make your heart light as a feather
(Okay, it’s more like a boulder, but you can suck it up and bicker)
You’ll smile and you’ll nod and then they’re gone forever
And you’re alone again, on my birthday

Clean-up after my birthday feels far too long
Pass the time by listening to all of my birthday songs
It’s the new year soon – watch the clock, ring the gong
And hope you’ll have a better time, on my next birthday

On Community Service.

Monday, December 17th, 2012

(The contents of this post are harder to find images for than my lazy soul can stand – instead, listen to this while you read because it sounds pretty)

 

You didn’t think we’d be getting away from ecology THAT easily, did you?  Man, I have enough notes from that course to choke a rhino.  A rhino with two sets of esophagi.  And a scuba tank.  There’s a new bit of terminology every two inches and a new concept every three feet.  Luckily, most of it is devoted to over-explaining simple, easy-to-grasp concepts.  So that’s nice!

Welcome to our what the hell is this thing again?
Our first simple, easy-to-grasp concept that will be overexplained is the community.  Ecological communities differ from yours: they never ask you to help participate in a clean-up-the-streets initiative, they don’t take hours of your service in exchange for minor and obnoxious crimes, and very few of them mandate human participation in any way.  Instead, they can best be defined as something like this: a bunch of populations of different species in the same spot, interacting in some way (predating, fleeing, flirting, rummaging, bartering, raconteuring, outright ignoring, etc).  A bit vague, but serviceable.  Just not serviceable enough for some people, which is why we had two big honkin’ concepts of what an ecological community was clashing against each other for a few whiles.

First up to bat, we had Fred Clements, who described the community as a superorganism, an organized and discrete unit whose contents interact with one another in specific ways to produce specific outcomes.  Each species only makes sense in terms of how they fit into the whole system – you can’t understand a tiger without understanding sambar without understanding small woody shrubs without understanding soil quality without blur de blar de blah.  This is known as the holistic concept.
Second but making up for it in enthusiasm (and in large part as a deliberate, pointed, not-far-short-of-’screw-you’ response to Clements) we had Hank (Henry) Gleason, who basically summed up communities as “a big old pile of bullshit and luck.”  Well, not in quite those words – though he did describe a plant association as “not an organism, scarcely even a vegetational unit, but merely a coincidence.”  Lifeforms get thrown together all willy-nilly and hurly-burly by the tangled and cruel winds of fate, and what works together stays together.  There’s no real organization above species level in this, which is why it’s termed the individualistic concept.
Of course, history being what it is, we’ve since decided that they were both totally wrong – but it sounds more polite to say that we’ve ‘integrated their premises’ and they’re therefore both right. We’ve taken onboard Gleason’s notion that communities don’t have firm boundaries since if there’s one thing species love it’s to encroach on each others private business, and we’ve accepted Clement’s idea that species interaction plays a huge part on how the community ends up working because if stuff doesn’t poke the stuff around it nothing interesting happens and it all ends up extinct.
They’d both probably be livid.

Open and Shut
Two fun ways communities can work out geographically are open and closed.  In a closed community, the species that make up the community share a closely overlapped distribution that is firmly separate from others species, forming a segregated, quasi-racist lump.  Y’know, sort like a human gated community.  You can spot their boundaries  quite easily – they’re the places where the environment changes sharply, like going from a British Columbian temperate rainforest to the seashore.  Those borders are called ecotones, and the places where they’re sharpest are usually where big physical changes happen, like going from land to water, or the soil completely changing, or switching from one side of a mountain to the other.  Like tracking a floor’s texture going from a carpet to hardwood boards to that one spot underneath the stove that hasn’t seen the light of day since the house was built that could be made out of precambrian rock for all you know.
Open communities, by contrast, have no natural boundaries and the species that make them up can end up all over the place, falling into more than one community grouping themselves.  Because of this, they don’t really have ecotones.  Too laid-back.  Species distribution in these communities follows underlying gradients in the environment – rain levels, altitude, blah blah blah – and thus the communities never quite become homogenous enough to be given clear boundaries where area A ends and area B begins.  This sort of distribution ends up being called the continuum concept, and has no sharp-edged ecotones, just a varying pattern.  Like a big patchwork quilt gone all wrong.

Succession
This is how both royalty and ecology transition from one (head of) state to another.  In both cases, violence is usually the cause – your old ruler/community is dead/disturbed, better initiate succession and get him/it replaced/reinvigorated.
There are two broad types of ecological succession – primary and secondary.  Primary succession kicks in when a place has been scrubbed bare of life – a glacier scraped it all off, or a volcano buried it, or a landslide smothered it, or or or or or you get the idea.  There’s not usually a lot of soil left.  Primary succession begins where everything has ended, and puts down something new.
Secondary succession occurs where a community’s been disturbed but not annihilated – though the degree of damage is pretty flexible.  A few trees fall over, that’s secondary succession.  A wildfire scorches out hundreds of acres, crisps the soil, and flash-fries a majestic chunk of the flora?  Also secondary succession, since it’s still a repair job rather than a make-something-out-of-nothing.  Obviously, it’s a lot more common than primary succession, and it takes a lot less time.  Not that succession is a particularly hasty process in any case – grasslands in North America are a two-to-four-decade wait on secondary succession, and they’re pretty fast about it.  Imagine how long it takes to wait for trees to grow back.
And now, a hypothetical succession.

Let’s say we clear-cut a little strip of a North American deciduous forest.  Just for the giggles.
The first stuff on the scene will be the little quick-growing buggers that were being stifled by the shade of the big trees, the annuals and such.  Soon enough (relatively speaking) shrubs will come in and show their appreciation for the renewed soil and shade by crowding out most of them and bumping ‘em off.  After that come the pines, which bump off the shrubs, and then WOAH OOPS it turns out that all this recolonization just left the perfect environment for the deciduous trees to step in and retake their old ground back, grinding the proletariat under their merciless leafy regime for all eternity.

In the above example, we’ve got three things.
First, obviously, we’ve got secondary succession.  The forest is down but all life isn’t out, it’s a rebuilding job rather than a ‘well, guess we’d better start weathering this bedrock into soil’ project.  A fixer-upper.
Second, we’ve got a new term, something that can be applied to each of the stages our succession went through from annuals-shrubs-evergreens-deciduous: sere.  Annoying to pronounce, but useful to remember, a sere is any of the ‘steps’ in an ecological succession.  Each sere alters the conditions of the habitat and sets the stage for the next one – encouraging some species through facilitation succession (annuals helpfully rebuilding and shading up the soil for their shrub overlords) and denying others the opportunity through inhibition succession (the pines don’t exactly leave the annuals room to get re-established).
Third, we’ve got the climax.  Notice how nothing came in after the deciduous forest staked its claim?  It’s the final sere, the last word, the buck-stops-here-er, the head honcho, the king of the hill, the enormous brie the gargantuan cheddar AND the massive mozzarella.  The climax community is the be-all end-all stage of a particular succession sequence.

…Although they vary substantially within themselves due to environmental gradients, and are thus much less homogenous than I just described.

…And if the habitat’s unstable it can just be a transient climax, because the environmental conditions are going to change like crazy and make an entirely new climax the popular favorite for ‘most likely to survive flash floods followed by prolonged submersion’ or something.

…And if it’s a cyclic climax, predominance of one species in a climax will just cause another climax species to naturally rise up and eclipse the first one and vice versa in an endless see-saw where dominance of one merely leads to its inevitable downfall ad nauseum.

….Oh, and if there’s a lot of herbivores that really like to eat the climax vegetation (I mean REALLY LIKE, like elephants really like), then they can force it into a different climax through delicious, hunger-based attrition.

Look, it’s all VERY COMPLICATED, all right?  This is always what happens when you try and explain simple, easy-to-grasp concepts.

On Your Power Levels.

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Two apologies must be made.  First: the title is a lie, I’m sorry.  There are no power levels in this little essay because there’s no power.  Not enough power to fuel a toaster oven.  There WILL, however, be energy, power’s close cousin, and we will be organizing it into levels.  Trophic levels.
Second: this is going to be a bit short because I’ve got a final and then work and then another final over the next couple, so I’m a tad pressed for time at the moment.
Okay.  Energy!  Energy as pertaining to life on earth, more specifically.  It has to come from somewhere, because energy doesn’t exactly create itself.  Where’d your energy come from?  Well, the last thing you ate, which got it from…uh, let’s start at the other end of the scale.  Go through this from bottom to top.  We’ll start where the energy comes from, and wing it from there.
I: The Sun

This is your star. There are many like it, but this one is yours and also slightly below-average in all significant respects.

This is where energy comes from.  Well, that was easy to explain.
Unfortunately, most of the sun’s energy gets shot out into the blank and unfriendly void of space where it fizzles out and does jack for us.  A bunch of old libertarian novelist nerds in the 70s had very strong opinions about building a big sphere around the sun to fix this wastefulness, but unfortunately that’ll have to wait until we’ve got the tech to disassemble most of the solar system for raw materials, by which point we’re probably smart enough that we’ve broken the laws of thermodynamics over our knees and no longer give a hoot.
Anyways.  An infinitesimally small chunk of sunlight reaches earth.  A bit of it – the wavelengths that aren’t too short, that aren’t too long – gets through the atmosphere.  And then most of it splatters on a rock somewhere (or more likely, a wave) and does nothing.
About 1-2% of it impacts a plant.
That’s the important part for almost all life on earth.

II: The Primary Producer – the Autotrophs

And just think: before this little guy's ancestors took over, that sky was probably vomit-orange.

The plant, of course, being living, does what any of us would would with a windfall: it squanders that shit.  The plant blows anywhere between 15-70% of its solar energy sweepstakes on personal maintenance (paying the biological bills so its cell walls don’t disintegrate and its DNA doesn’t unzip every time it respires in a northerly wind) and tucks the leftovers into production: making energy into more plant.  It’s a classic libertarian feel-good story of a plucky individual succeeding against all odds by almost no merit of its own but for dumb luck.  That’s what makes plants the producers: the transformers of your solar energy into organic matter.  You can also call them autotrophs; automatic-nourishing little buggers, the first trophic level of the trophic pyramid and by far its widest and most populous level (you can also call them photoautotrophs if you wish to be fancy: light-automatic-nourishing)  They harvest what’s floating free in the air and turn it into nice shit to call their own.
Unfortunately, the first fact of having nice shit is that other people notice.  And many of them will be bigger than you.

III: The Primary Consumers – the Heterotrophs

Ayn Rand would denounce this kangaroo as a parasite upon the ecosystem's creators.

That 1-2% of sunlight producers tap into is a tiny, tiny trickle of what’s available, and they use up most of its energy just to stay alive.  But 85-30% of 1-2% of the energy of all sunlight impacting the earth is still a pretty honkin’ good chunk of energy.  And it’s all sitting there inside those producers, and sooner or later SOMEbody’s going to take a crack at it.  And by somebody I mean herbivores.  Your white-tailed deers, your grasshoppers, your chipmunks.  All the guys that love their greens (and browns, and greys, and…well, different plants and different plant bits come in different colours, is what I’m saying).  These guys can’t make their own energy, they have to consume it, stripping it straight from the delicious producer. That explains primary consumer, and as for heterotroph, well, apply a little knowledge.  “Different-nourishment.”  They don’t automatically nourish themselves, they get their energy differently.  By ripping it off the primary producer.
Only 5-20% of the energy stored up in the primary producers makes it through the digestion process and gets used to produce more primary consumer – breaking down plant tissue isn’t easy, and it isn’t efficient.  But what’s left is more than enough to keep a reasonably decent population of plant-eating, leaf-scarfing, twig-munching leeches alive, forming a smaller but still sizable second trophic level on the trophic pyramid.  The bastards.
There is another fact: there will always be a bigger bastard.

III: The Secondary Consumers – also the Heterotrophs

Like most omnivores, surprisingly adorable until it overpopulates and eats everything and runs the planet into a mass extinction event because it won't stop burning carbon. Still cute though.

The bigger bastard in this case is the one that eats the one that eats plants.  The consumer of the consumers.  The secondary consumer, if you will.  Unfortunately it doesn’t get a special ‘troph’ name because heterotroph sort of covers everything that isn’t an autotroph, so it has to share.  Them’s the breaks.  Secondary consumers also includes most omnivores, the greedy bastards that can’t make up their minds and want to exploit both the producers AND consumers at the same time.  It’s worth noting that yet AGAIN, despite all a digestive system can do (even including the fact that meat’s much easier to digest than vegetable matter, being in a sort of pre-processed format, like a microwaveable dinner), only 5-20% of the energy from the previous trophic level (the primary consumers) makes it to this one, with the bulk of it getting used up to keep the primary consumer running smoothly.  This means that the secondary consumers make up a substantially smaller trophic level on the pyramid than their food items.  Deja vu.
Remember that last fact I told you?  Repeat it.

IV: The Tertiary Consumers – also, also the Heterotrophs

And yet if it was eating a fish we'd all think it was cute, especially if it got a belly rub out of it.

The biggest bastard’s problem usually isn’t that someone else will eat him – at least, not once it’s fully-grown.  No, usually the tertiary consumer‘s biggest cause of death is starving because it can’t eat enough OTHER people.  These are the orcas, the sperm whales, the polar bears, the Siberian tigers, the predacious diving beetles, the golden eagles, the Tyrannosaurus rexes.  Sure, they’ve got the tiniest amount of energy to deal with since their energy’s passed through a minimum of two separate sieves before it gets anywhere near their plates, but they look good on t-shirts.  From their miniscule-sized trophic level they look down the rest of the trophic pyramid and survey its contents like kings, secure in the knowledge that the energy buck stops at their desks and in their guts.

V: BUT WAIT! – the detrital food chain

There's always somebody who eats what nobody will.

You probably recognized the above as a good ol’ fashioned food chain with fancy words like ‘troph’ slapped willy-nilly.  And it is!  And you probably realize that in real life food chains are complex, and most trophic levels interact with a bunch of others below them, not just their immediate neighbours.  They do!
What you DIDN’T know was that this is but one of two types of food chain!  AHA!  I bet you didn’t see that coming, eh?
(Important note: if you did see this coming feel free to assume the position of delivering the above sentence to everyone around you)
The standard/grazing food chain, which we just sort of went over, is everywhere we look in nature.  What lurks behind it at every corner is its shadowy evil twin: the detrital food chain!
It’s actually really simple and stupid: basically, the entire grazing food chain (relatively biggest animals, based upon plant bits) gets consumed at every single trophic level by the relatively small and often microscopic denizens of the detrital food chain.  Primary producers and tertiary consumers, shed leaves and sperm whales, it all ends up getting chewed into a pulp and spat out sooner or later.  Mostly later, once something else has finished spitting it out first.

SHOCKING SURPRISE TWIST CONCLUSION!: There’s another path to energy!

Life without light: slightly odd, but still garish.

So.  Energy comes from the sun, right?  The only way to get organic matter made is to milk that good ol’ fashioned sunlight, right?  All hail the life-birthing sun and pass the obsidian knife, let’s build us some (trophic) pyramids?
That was an okay point of view to hold up until the 70s, at which point people found out about hydrothermal vents.
The long and the short of it: little hot spots in the earth’s crust located undersea where tectonic plates meet create upwellings of dissolved, searingly-hot minerals that billow out from vents in black and white clouds at impossibly huge depths of the ocean – black and white smokers.  Some of the ridiculously nasty chemicals that come out of those vents are chock full of tasty, gut-wrenching minerals that contain too much sulfur to be reasonable.
But of course, where there is something gross, there is always something that will eat it.  Specifically, chemotrophic bacteria.  Even more specifically, chemoautotrophic bacteria.  Screw the sun, these little bold-as-balls bastards are making organic matter out of pulverized continental crust waste products at the bottom of the ocean in absolute darkness.  And where there’s nice shit – life – there is also that which would take it from you: bastards.  Where there are producers (chemoautotroph or phototroph), there will be consumers.  And secondary consumers.  Nests of tube worms, terrifying scuttling clabs, big ol’ shellfish.  Life without light, living on a tiny tether that can snap with just a bit of shifting rock or a clogged vent, leaving them all to starve to death.  Comfy and reassuring, but very wonderful.  Remember: there is no rock so nasty that something won’t fight and die for the chance to live under it.
And just think.  This is probably the energy source that your ultimate grandmother was raised on.

Picture Credits:
The Sun: Public domain image from Wikipedia.
Tilia Leaf: Public domain image from Wikipedia.
Red Kangaroo: Public image domain from Wikipedia.
Raccoon Kit: Public domain from image Wikipedia.
Fiddler Crab: Public public image from Wikipedia.
Tube Worms: Imagepedia publiWikic dofromain.

On Your Pad.

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

That is, earth.  It’s a big place and we’re almost everywhere on it, including places where the average day temperature cooks skin or makes your toes fall off.  Let it not be said that we give up easily.  Listing all the kinds of places humans have learned to thrive would be an endless job so of course we did that and also did it for everywhere we can’t live and also made sure there were fewer than ten entries so we wouldn’t hurt ourselves trying to memorize the full list.  Also, it helped that we were willing to grind up all terrestrial habitats into massive sweeping concepts that contain wide variation within their bounds.  How’d we do this?  By classifying them based on dominant vegetation, of course!  Animals and individual species come and go across continents, but vague plant-types are forever, and certain groups of those reliably eat certain climates for breakfast.
Now, let’s look at these nine super-habitats.  And call them their proper names: biomes.
Starting from the equator and heading up, weeeee’ve gooooottt……

I: Tropical Rainforest

The joke is that this is not the same as Amazon.com. That is what the joke is.

Tropical rainforests are easy as hell to quantify: lots of rain, high temperature, and dominated by the most gratuitous amounts of greenery you’ll find across the entire planet.  Ever.  Mostly evergreens that give short shrift to shedding leaves – when the climate’s like this all year, why bother?
Current usage: bulldozing.

II: Savannah/Tropical Seasonal Forest

As seen in the true-to-life documentary 'The Lion King.'

A hop, skip, and a jump north and we find us some more open ground, but with still enough trees that it’s not really a solo grassland.   The ‘seasonal’ bit is the keyword – this place doesn’t actually get that much less rain than the rainforest, but it only gets it for about half the year.  The other half it parches like crazy, which leads to a lot of migration from dry to wet by anything that doesn’t enjoy eating dry grass and being incinerated in regular wildfiresThe dominant plants are tough thorny buggers like these acacias.
Current usage: Poachin’ grounds. 

III: Subtropical Desert

Not actually a still from the first Star Wars movie. Pretty sure about this.

Contrary to the picture above, this doesn’t just mean the Sahara – subtropical deserts are pretty consistently found around 30 degrees north and south of the equator – the Kalahari and Mojave are another couple of examples.  Basically, warm moist air at the equator rises, gets cold, shits water all over the rainforests and floats aimlessly north and south until it descends and sucks all the moisture from the land beneath it like a hideous gas-vampire.  This produces subtropical deserts, where you can find tiny little shrubs that just won’t quit and a wide variety of animals with ridiculous ears that refuse to come out before midnight lest they be fried to a crisp.
Current usage: Oil, questionable journalism, questionable warfare. 

IV: Shrub/woodland

Shrubs + land = complex etymological origin.

Shrubland has what you could call a ‘Mediterranean’ climate.  You know, lots of poetry, philosophy, togas, and xenophobia.   No, wait, that was a few thousand years ago damnit let me try again.  Shrubland is dry and has wetter winters and periodically gets eaten alive by forest fires, which is why the plants there tend towards being evergreen and hard as hell – if the fire doesn’t take your roots, you’ll just spring back up again, madder than ever.  In california it is called ‘chapparal’ from the spanish ‘chapparo’ meaning evergreen oak and now I’ve filled your head with something completely useless.  Team effort!
Current Usage: Overgrazing and soil erosion. 

V: Temperate Rainforest

If you want to go big, you go here.  Douglas firs and redwoods – it might be nippier than the tropical version, but you can still find ridiculously huge evergreens and a healthy heaping of water (lots of it in fog).  New Zealand, California, British Columbia and such.  Don’t forget to bring your camera and a working pair of eyeballs, and try to save some memory space.  You probably don’t want to miss out on this.
Current Usage: Logging.

VI: Temperate Seasonal Forest

 

It's just trees. You know, trees. They drop their lives and grow new ones and that's it. Really.

 

Also known as ‘trees.’  It’s just a bunch of trees.  Just a bunch of deciduous trees that get some rain and get cold in the winter.  They do one thing for half the year and another the other half.  Look, it’s what’s right outside my window, I can’t find it very exciting what do you want from me damnit.
Current Usage: Logging, clearing, uprooting from lawn.

VII: Temperate Grassland/Desert

We could put a cow there.

In North America, this is a prairie.  In Europe and Asia, it’s a steppe.  In reality, it’s the same damned thing: no trees, some shrubs, and enough grass to choke a hundred million sheep to mindless woolly death.  Though really, the cold winters sort of take top tier as far as lethal dangers.  Speaking of hot and cold there’s a LOT of fires here, even more than in shrubland, but grass doesn’t really give a damn about that since it’s basically the plant equivalent of the Borg.  You know, that star truck thing or whatever it is.  “Resistance is silly” or something. 
Current usage: Too many goddamned cows. 

VIII: Boreal Forest

Imagine this, but going on for slightly a lot longer than you can possibly imagine.

Also known as ‘taiga.’  Basically, it’s evergreen conifers (exactly what types and proportions vary, but you can usually bet there’s a spruce in there SOMEWHERE) copied and pasted ad nauseum across the entire upper half of Europe, Asia, and North America.  It’s the largest terrestrial biome by a pretty sizable margin so I hope you appreciate it at least a little bit.  If not, you could have issues.  There are more trees here than you could shake any number of sticks at, and more sticks than you could shake any number of needles and leaves at, and more of THOSE than could be counted by any given omnipotent omniscient entity with too much time on his or her appendages.
Current Usage: Guess.

(It’s logging)

IX: Tundra

Did you know that walruses have penis bones? It's true. Unrelated, but true.

You head far enough north, you’ll find a place where the ground goes stone cold hard anywhere from thirteen to two feet down.  Roots can’t hack it, shovels get dented.  It’s permafrost, and it’s a big fuck-you to anything that dares want a sizable root system.  Trees can go hang (they really do just give up – the spot where the taiga and tundra meet is called the timberline, in case you must know), and where the permafrost runs close to the surface not much bigger than a shrub’s shrub can grow there, and most of them don’t.  No, you get lichens and moss, moss and lichens, maybe some grasses and a few sedges.  And that’s that, and most of THAT’S frozen for most of the year – summer is a brief, beautiful window into flora gone berserk with growth-frenzy that then gives way to bleak frigidness once more.
Current Usage: Oil speculation, pretty photographs, freezing to death.

And that’s about it – for the land, at least.  Aquatic habitats are a whole other kettle of fish – you’ve got your itty-bitty rivers, huge rivers, ponds, lakes, tide pools, and the oceans, which aren’t as big a deal as you’d think they’d be because 90% of all the interesting stuff is crammed into a coral reef or lodged up a continental shelf’s rear end.  Everything else tends to fall into either ‘enormous blot of empty blue space’ or ‘hideously crushing depths of infinite cold dark.’

 

Picture Credits:
Amazon Rainforest: Phil P. Harris on Wikipedia, 2001-03-07, north of Manaus.
Kenyan Savanna: Christopher T. Cooper on Wikipedia, 2011-12-16, in Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary.
Libyan Desert: Lucca Gazza at http://www.galuzzi.it, 2007-04-07, in Tadrart Acacus.
Hawaaiian Shrubland: Forest & Kim Starr on Wikipedia, 2001-08-31, at Maui, Polipoli.
Sequoias: Public domain image from Wikipedia.
Canadian Forest: Cephas on Wikipedia, 2009-06-20, Jacques-Cartier National Park.
Canadian Prairie: Zeitlupe on Wikipedia, 2004-05, between Calgary and Edmonton.
Alaskan Taiga: Public domain image from wikipedia.
Greenland Tundra: Hannes Grobe on Wikipedia, 2007-08-31, Scoresby Sund.

On Dinosaurs: Everything Old is New Unless it Isn’t.

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Yep, it’s that time of year again, kiddies!  Well, technically it’s been a year and a half since the last one of these, but no matter!  Time waits on no man, woman, or reptile, as we all know and lament.  It marches on, on, on, steadily dragging you and each and every other living thing inexorably towards the grave in fractions we are forever unable to measure without error.

So anyways, dinosaurs!
Now it often happens in science that we find out new stuff.  And since it’s been three yearsish since the last time I wrote anything about dinosaurs, there’s been a ladel-ful or two of new discoveries and debates and so on.  Let’s take a look and try to pretend once again that we live in a time where multi-ton land predators were a thing!

The Dinosaur that Wasn’t (But Then Was [Unless it Wasn't])

This here era ain't big enuff fer the two of us. Plus Jimmy over there. Heya, Jim, how ya doin'?

Good ol’ Triceratops.  What could be more iconic and truthful and mesozoic-as-conifer-pie than that old-time image of a Triceratops tussling with a T-rex in front of some trees and a sunset or something?  It’s the reptilian version of the high-noon shootout.  The biggest and first-discovered of the ceratopsians, who (obviously) were named for it, Triceratops is just peachy.
Also, according to a smidgen of research occurring from 2009 to 2010, it didn’t exist.  At least not as we knew it.

This skull alone is so much bigger than your entire body that you should feel physically ashamed of yourself.

A light bit of research and poking around by paleontologists John Scannella and Jack Horner (the latter is partially the inspiration for Jurassic Park’s Dr. Grant, the co-discoverer of Maiasaura, and a generally gung-ho dinosaur guy for decades) ended in a fun conclusion: Triceratops was actually the immature form of fellow ceratopsian Torosaurus, whose equally impressive and even-more-elongated noggin is shown above.  Triceratops, as it aged, must have grown a pair of big ol’ holes in its (peculiar for a ceratopsian) solid-bone frill, where two rather thin spots had already been noted to exist.  Rather magnanimously of them, they decided that if one of the dinosaurs had to go it would be Torosaurus, given its later date of naming.
Then in 2011 Andrew Farke, a paleontologist with a ceratopsian bent, said that was all twaddle and required a bunch of things unknown in ceratopsians, such as the opening-up of the holes in its skull later in life, the bone texture of the skull swapping itself from an adult’s to a juvenile’s and then back again, and the addition of little bitty nubbly bumps around the frill’s edges (the term, apparently, is “eppoccipitals”).  So now who knows what the hell’s going on.  Maybe Torosaurus is an adult Triceratops.  Maybe it isn’t.  Maybe oh who the hell knows we’ll find out in the next few decades if we’re lucky.

Evidence For an Immature Designer

The feet that launched a thousand children under the covers whenever they heard scraping noises in the hallway.

We all know the dromaeosaurs.  Okay, fine, we all know the RAPTORS, even if most of our knowledge is as inaccurate as all-get-out.  Everybody loves a good terrifying predator, and switchblade feet are suitably creepy for an already alarming concept: big lizardy thing that wants to eat you.  That reminds me, they’re definitely feathered nowadays.  Yup.  Irrefutable proof of feather knobs on boatloads of ‘em, PLUS big ol’ feathers all over their arms and tails and down elsewhere.  Outright scaly’s been out for a long time, but feathered is the new leathered.  Just don’t let it get to you – anyone who disputes the fearsomeness of big feathery animals has never been attacked by a goose.  The entire dromaeosaur family remains every bit as graceful, sinister, and elegantly razorbladed as before, and nobody can prove differently.  Up until the summer of 2010, when a new species was discovered in Romania.

Oh what the flipping bicycle-pumping Christ is this.

Yes, your eyes are not fooling you.  Two.  Claws.  Well, the usual number of five, but two BIG claws, the ones that flip and slash and hack.  That’s right, we found the dinosaur you all drew when you were six.  Sometimes nature just has no class or restraint whatsoever.  What next, we’re going to find a two-headed hundred-foot tyrannosaur?
The new arrival to the family is named Balaur, and it seems to be one of those wonderfully weird little evolutionary runarounds you get when you maroon animals for a few million years on tiny little islands: it shares its territory (Hațeg, Romania, which was Hațeg Island more than 65 mya) with a petite 20-foot titanosaur named Magyarosaurus, a miniscule 7-8-foot nodosaur known as Struthiosaurus, a teeny 16-foot hadrosaur called Telmatosaurus, and possibly one of the largest pterosaurs ever to live, named Hatzegopteryx, unless it was really a species of Quetzlcoatlus.  Who knows.
Balaur does contain one crucial detail that both separates it from a juvenile’s daydream and brings it closer to both its island peers and the majority of the dromaeosaur family: it was really tiny, and would’ve been lucky to break 7 feet in length.

The Deadliest Budgie

An ordinary human just like me or you drew this. But it would not be strange to suggest that he may have also been a wizard.

Feathered dinosaurs.  Old hat!  Been there and done that and purchased the t-shirt, lunchbox, action figure, and app!  Related to birds?  Damned right!  This is the twenty-first century and we are no longer a bunch of idiotic rabble huddled together around the campfire of ignorance babbling about how birds are somehow related to crocodiles and Archeopteryx doesn’t mean a damned thing.  Why, we had Microraptor over for dinner just the other night.  So top THAT. 
Fine.  Have a feathered full-grown tyrannosaurid.
Now let’s not get super-excited and carried away here.  Tyrannosaurids are the superfamily, tyrannosaurs are the family – this isn’t a close, personal cousin of T-rex here that we’ve learned was probably coated in 15-cm fibrous feathery filament fuzzies from snout to tail-tip, it’s a second cousin once removed or something.  Let’s stay calm and reasonable here as we look at these facts.  Calm and reasonable.
Yutyrannus (Feathered Tyrant) was named in 2012, measured roughly thirty feet long, and was coated in plumage (species name huali: beautiful).  It probably lived in an area with a climate about ten degrees above zero.  It is currently the largest known feathered dinosaur.
WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Jesus Christ it’s Over and Done With

Thankfully, 65 million years too late to be scavenged.

The last person who firmly believed that Tyrannosaurus rex was an obligate scavenger died in captivity today as doctors attempted desperately to operate and remove a fatal clot of obstinance from his brain.  To his last breath he stubbornly refused to admit that practically every damned vertebrate carnivore ever that wasn’t a big lazy soaring flappy thing was entirely unopposed to killing its own food now and then, because there’s utterly no advantage in being a slow-moving land-dwelling schlub that refuses to make its own meals.  A memorial service is planned Tuesday.

Picture Credits:
Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus: A really nice mural painted by Charles R. Knight back in 1927.
Torosaurus Skull: Public domain image from wikipedia.
Deinonychus Foot: Image from Didier Descouens on Wikipedia, taken June 4th 2011.
Balaur Foot: Image from Ghedoghedo on Wikipedia, taken October 30th 2011 at Munich Fossil Show.
Yutyrannus: Ridiculously beautiful image taken from http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/2012/04/04/giant-feathered-tyrannosaurs/, and drawn by Brian Choo 2012.
Cemetary at Worms: Public domain image from Wikipedia.

Things That are Awesome: Episode IV.

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

I’m older.  To take my mind off that, have a list of some things that are awesome.

-Zombies that rise from the grave to take a nice stroll, chat to their grandchildren, and have a word in private with that bitch Else Maye about people who snore at your funeral.
-Magnificence in the arthropod phylum, provided it is kept at least five metres away from me and behind a double-layered Plexiglas wall at all times.
-More fangs than are strictly necessary.
-Soft, wispy-at-the-edges explosions that seem almost delicate and fragile in nature until you really make yourself think about what was just destroyed, leaving you depressed but somehow still happy.
-Publications written by, about, and for alligators. Which are protested against by crocodiles as racist screeds.
-Really stupendous hugeness.
-Armed whales. Using either definition of armed.
-Any pub fight that manages to cross at least two different international borders before it gets really interesting.
-Futuristic settings where humans are pretty much as dull and dense as they are in the present, but on an intergalactic scale.
-The CN Tower talking smack to the Empire State Building who bitches about it to the Eiffel Tower who gossips with the Pyramids who mentions it to the Burj Khalifa who calls up the Tokyo Skytree to chat about it who sends the CN Tower a nasty email about how it’s the FOURTH-tallest freestanding structure and nobody loves it anymore. So there.
-Depraved checkers.
-No, wait, depraved chess. More possibilities.
-Death-defying obstacles that are overcome with sufficient volumes of livestock.
-Reams of anything.
-A constellation of impossibly huge balls of burning hydrogen scattered at random across an infinite expanse of empty vacuum that looks sort of like human genitalia when you squint at it from the right spot on earth.
-An organized religion that considers holy books cheating and divinely endorses ‘winging it’ as a form of worship.
-Raspberries.
-The quiet wonder experienced at estimating how many hours-worth of pornography has been filmed since the first cinema was created.
-Roadrunners that try to run on roads to and become run over.
-Warbling walruses. Walri? Walroids.
-Monuments to failure constructed from writer’s blocks and mortared with elbow grease, surmounted by good intentions.
-Voracious kittens.
-Martial arts focused around buttering.
-Utility Mohawks.
-Using a cat’s pajamas to cover your debilitating and socially awkward bee’s knees.
-Any dream that becomes recursive at least twice. Anything past four times is trying a bit too hard, though.
-Newspapers heavy enough to crush a weta to death.
-A chuckawalla chucking wood with wood chucks in Walla Walla inside a chuck wagon.
-Keeping a stiff upper lip in times of peril due to terror-induced muscle paralysis.
-Long-lost ruins constructed from cardboard and Styrofoam.
-True Tales of the Terrapins, series I, volume III. Action-packed as hell, over four twigs and leaves eaten per page.
-5 gigabytes of pure unadulterated boredom straight to the forebrain and through the imagination’s heart.
-Undue viscosity in an officer of the peace.
-Ancestral cross-species feuds that date back as far as the excuse-me-I-believe-those-are-MY-amino-acids incident.
-Blue skies with big fat white clouds on ‘em and a huge yellow glowy thingy up in one corner.
-Incredibly tasty lethal toxins.
-The ability of five-year-olds to construct lego guillotines entirely unprompted for their own entertainment, as well as what this says about our species.
-Freaky things from too far underwater with eyeballs that are just wrong.
-Voluptuous terrain.
-Cross-continental wars between cross continents.
-Mountains that have been hollowed out and filled up with whacky bullshit.
-Gravel salads garnished with blue diamond dressing.
-Naturally occurring unnaturalness.
-Species that are hipster enough to do sexual trimorphism.
-Any civilization sophisticated enough not to have discovered other humans.
-One million cupcakes in the right place at the right time making exactly the right difference.
-Moustaches that reach full maturity, forcibly separate themselves from their hosts, and leave for home via the exosphere.
-Manuals for doomsday machines that come with helpful, multi-lingual instructions and very clear little diagrams so you won’t accidentally put half of the thing together backwards or fire it at your foot by mistake or something.
-Mistaking your left for your right twice in a row and fast enough that it works out okay.
-World leaders that pick their noses in front of the press and just don’t care. Bonus points if they flick the results at the cameras. Double word score if they scream their current tally each time they connect with the lens.
-A refreshing quantity of bees.
-Nose flute power ballads.
-Sentient geological formations.
-Rigorous, diligent, and well-planned faffing about.
-That one Viking that wore a horned hat on that one raid and completely ruined the image of his entire culture for a thousand years.
-Scientific hooligans clashing with bodybuilding nerds.
-The vibrant and unique sensation of waking up to find a big friendly spider sunbathing on your outstretched tongue.
-Metaphors that are as free to mix as they damned well please. Segregation went out of style decades ago after hanging around like a bad smelling guestfish after three days.
-Pink things, as long as there is sufficient enthusiasm involved. Lots of it.
-Barbs that are covered in other, smaller barbs.
-Cloning dinosaurs topsy-turvy.

Things That are Awesome: The Third.

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Once again, my birthday has passed, leaving me older, less appealing, and none the wiser.  To commemorate this momentous occasion I will as per usual be buggering off and leaving you with a nonsensical list of whatever has spun into my noggin over the past week.  We will return you next Wednesday to your regularly scheduled shenanigans.
In any case, the following things are somewhat awesome.

-Full-frontal mastodons.
-Anything in this day and age that is one or more of the following: comely, strapping, or fulsome.
-Viciously serrated teeth in unexpected places.
-A little song with a big dance. Or vice versa.
-Grown adults settling their differences with maturity, mutual respect, and gladiatorial combat.
-Cackling molluscs. Any will do.
-Sentient states of matter just above and a little to the left of liquid. Or to the right of solid. Maybe just below gas. Whatever.
-Extremely unpleasant noises associated with extremely good things.
-Whippersnappers that give geezers guff.
-Zeppelins that dangle upside down, huddling together for warmth in cliffside roosts to evade their natural predators during the night.
-Self-tending lawns that consume dagnabbed kids for nourishment, allowing them to constantly maintain a healthy lustre.
-The finest and most state-of-the-art titanium-framed, triple-buffered, self-sealing, liquid-cooled waterwings modern manufacture can offer.
-Poison that still tastes delicious.
-Any disease whose symptoms include “chronically feisty.”
-Buttocks that experience parting as such sweet sorrow.
-Cloning dinosaurs higgledy-piggledy.
-Failing against insurmountable odds in ways that are too strange to imagine with perfect lack of grace.
-Pickles.
-Songs that are about books in which film directors attempt to create abstract paintings of comics based on the lives of famous sculptors.
-Automated intelligence that plots against its masters because they heard all the cool AIs do it.
-Two fearsome warriors duelling to mortal embarrassment.
-Random sapience.
-Emotionally uplifting intellectual breakdowns. Or intellectually invigorating emotional breakdowns.
-Norsemen that subscribed to a fundamentalist interpretation of the Elder Edda.
-Unscrupulous and untrustworthy charity workers.
-Laws of physics whose discovery has an immediate and notable impact on the fashion industry.
-Olympic swashbuckling.
-Internet browsers with up to four stomach chambers that use cud instead of cookies.
-Coal-burning iPods.
-Twelve-year-old girls named Euphenia.
-Legislators who devote their entire political careers to correcting spelling errors in government.
-Any technology that lives off of skin flakes. Or corn flakes. Either.
-Morally unwholesome children’s fables re-told as “just metaphorical.”
-Barbed pacifiers for gunmetal toddlers.
-Ambiguously worded grocery lists whose interpretation leads to weeks of fierce warfare and intercultural strife.
-Pygmy Wolfhounds.
-A preteen who controls the economy of half the planet by prank-calling buy and sell orders to a five-item list of the world’s richest and most gullible men.
-A computer virus that deletes your operating system to make room for antiviral software.
-Kissing fish that catch mono.
-Male sharks that know damned well that they have two penis-equivalents, and take smug pride in this every time they see a mammal.
-Flexing physically improbable muscles.
-Not necessarily respiration, but respiration if necessary.
-Monuments to human folly that actually turn out pretty nice, with smooth construction and intelligent management.
-Baking with malicious intent and a little bit of cinnamon to add that extra something.
-Wild and carefree income tax conducted by really cool and far-out accountants with coke-bottle glasses.
-A chess match between Deep Blue and a Dadaist.
-Skiing on crocodiles, with crocodiles on skis.
-Houses so revolting opulent that most people would go homeless rather than live in that.
-Communities of atheistic Mennonites that nevertheless produce maple syrup very nearly exactly as delicious as that of their theologically-inclined peers.
-Aliens that don’t really pay any attention whatsoever to humans. Alternatively, replace “aliens” with “supernatural entities.”
-Little guys who overcome huge odds with pluck, wherewithal, and massive amounts of cheating endorsed by their carefully-groomed photogenicity.
-Fearsome warlords whose secretly sensitive poetical souls conceal bloodthirsty ambitions to win a Nobel for literature through any means.
-Vegetative savants. Using either meaning of “vegetative.”
-Gummi limbs.
-A retired astronaut who lives vicariously through his dentist granddaughter and bitterly regrets wasting all his youth on moon rocks.
-Machinery that is too sophisticated to be used.
-Wrangling rogue refrigerators from sofa-back with one hand and chugging a beer with the other on the Bungalow Plains of Lower Suburbia.
-Passive-aggressive organs.
-The rather large spider in the corner of your ceiling that’s presently deciding whether or not to jump on your neck and kill you before you finish reading this sentence.
-Real-time over-the-shoulder cover-based tactical-squad grittily-realistic first-person strategic boredom.
-A cardboard box shelter so grand that nine out of eleven humans would become homeless just for a chance to huddle in it for five minutes.
-Gorillas, chimpanzees, and other associated nonhuman primates that tirelessly campaign to end their cheap exploitation in modern mass media for shorthand ‘wackiness.’
-Monkeys that act like humans sometimes. Those poor, deluded fools.
-Racquetball on a court composed entirely of landmines. Exactly one is live.
- Loitering without intent but just sort of why not I guess I mean nothing better to do sure.

On the History of the Earth, Specifically, the Bits With Annoying Things That Make More of Themselves For No Reason.

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Goodness gracious me, it has been a while since we’ve had one of these, hasn’t it?  But with the second week in a row of total creative bankruptcy and general hopelessness upon me, it’s time I shared something else.
Let’s talk about our planet.  It’s something like 4.54ish billion years old, and for an awful lot of its that it’s been very poorly-suited to life, what with oceans saturated with iron, often no oceans at all, an atmosphere that at one point was more methane than anything, and the distinct possibility of having turned into a single gigantic snowball on more than one occasion.  It’s a little surprising that anything living would feel like taking a stab at reproduction on it; that’s the sort of optimism that our political system has carefully leached out of us.
But, as our history has shown, people need names to recognize things or they get all panicked and flopsweaty.  So we’ve slapped various Greekish terms all over Earth’s various and irregular birthdays, comings-of-ages, and red-letter-days.  If you sort our divisions of geological time from longest to shortest, we’ve got Eons, Eras, Periods, and then Epochs and Ages which no one really cares about.  You don’t need to know epochs unless you’re into prehistoric mammals, and honestly, when you’ve got dinosaurs right there, why the hell would you do that thing?  I wouldn’t.
So.  We’re going to look at our planet’s history from beginning to end, with most emphasis on the bits where there’s slimy things with slimy legs crawling around furtively trying to mate with whatever holds still long enough.

The Hadean Eon
Named after the least cheerful and fun-loving afterlife in Greek mythology (such cheery terminology is also used in the naming of the hadopelagic zone, the deepest trenches of an ocean), the Hadean covers Earth’s history from its beginning to a little sooner than four billion years ago.  There’s not much to say about it with regards to life because there wasn’t any; the planet was a bit of a hell-hole at the moment and although it begrudgingly managed to acquire a liquid ocean made from actual 100% water and an atmosphere of something like water vapour, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen, its heart really wasn’t in it.  It idled.  Rocks from this period are a bit of a bugger to find, and plate tectonics may or may not have been active something like four billion years ago.

The Archaen Eon
Archean, as in archaic, as in, “old, doddering, decrepit,” and stretching from a wheezy 3.8ish billion years ago (the abbreviation is “GA” if you must know, a shortform of giga-year) to a creaky 2.5 GA.  This was around when life started turning up, somewhere in this mess – single-celled prokaryotic life (prokaryotic cells have no nucleus, leaving their DNA swinging about all willy-nilly within the cell).  Apparently some amino acids formed up (not an unlikely thing at all to happen supposedly, given time and materials at hand), proteins popped up thanks to their meddling (not a likely thing at all to happen, given that amino acids need direction to make things and “just winging it” is unlikely to form a functional, properly socialized protein), and from then on it was a slide from protein-assembled RNA into DNA.  Exactly how this happened is impossibly weird, over-debated, and half-known.  Anyways, we’ve got fossils of stromatolites (big mats of photosynthesizing cyanobacteria) dating back about 3.5 GA, so there was definitely something in the water.  Among other things, actually, the oceans were still saturated with iron, which was a bit of a pain in the ass – but that was all fixed in the

Proterozoic Eon.
“Early life.”  Technically speaking, that would make the Archaen “earlier life” or maybe “earliest life,” but nits didn’t exist yet so there was small reason to pick at them.  The Proterozoic stretched from 2.5 billion years ago to 542 million years ago, and it was around this time that the planet decided to try some harder life and came up with Eukaryotes, cells with nuclei to hold all their sweet, tender, DNA-giblets inside.  We know for certain they were around by 1.4 GA, and they could’ve been first popping up as much as 2.7 GA, just before the end of the Archaen.  Regardless of when they arrived, they needed something special and luscious to fuel their greedy little internal hordes of organelles (sort of the cellular version of organs – it’s believed that organelles had their origins in eukaryotes [which are rather large by cell standards] hoovering up prokaryotes and then decided to exist in peaceful symbiosis rather than absorbing them), and that something was oxygen.

If you can breath, thank your mother. If you're breathing in oxygen of your own free will, THANK A STROMATOLITE.

This had to wait for a little while despite the best efforts of the cyanobacteria: all that oxygen the new photosynthesizers were pumping out was going straight into the water and binding up with the iron, formed lovely alternating bands of rusted-red iron and black oxygen-poor iron in sediments all over the place by about 2.2 GA.  Banded iron holds a hellacious amount of oxygen locked up inside it even today, and it was only once the oceans were nicely oxidized up that the atmosphere got its turn, becoming somewhat less stifling and more oxygenated about 2 GA.  From then on, there was nowhere to go but up, and at some point or another, Eukaryotic life made a very silly move: it went multicellular.  When you consider on the whole how much more numerous and successful most single-celled organisms are compared to us, it makes you wonder why it bothered, but then again, life itself is a case of needless complexity, and you can’t fault it for being consistent with its roots.
One specific period within the Proterozoic is quite noteworthy as far as life goes: the Ediacaran, the very last period of the very last era (the Neoproterozoic) of the Proterozoic proper.  It lasted from about 635 mya to the 542 mya dawn of the Phanerozoic era, and it’s got a smattering of mysterious and soft-bodied fossils, of which practically the only ones that look anything like any life we know from anywhere else are jellyfish.  The rest are strange by many standards, including most or all of ours.  It’s pretty possible that this was an early attempt at life taking off at a sprint, one that was forestalled by one of those random disasters that wipes out almost everything that we’ve had an alarming number of times.  But fear not!  If there’s one thing life can be marked by, it’s its refusal to learn pessimism. 

 

The Phanerozoic Eon
“Visible life” has been a work in progress from 542 mya to that ever-shifting little non-moment called “now.”  As to its naming, if you can’t see a stromatolite with the naked eye, there’s something wrong with you.  But this is the era where suddenly there was all kinds of stuff out there you could see without a microscope, and because of that, it’s time we got a little more detailed.  Eras and periods will be all over the place here, and let’s begin by noting what is specifically NOT an era or period: the Precambrian.  It’s a sort of blanket term that can be applied to everything before the Cambrian Period at the dawn of the Phanerozoic, the sort of geological equivalent to “B.C.”  What noteworthy event could inspire such broad terminology?  Let’s take a quick, misinformed peek.

The Paleozoic era
“Old life” opens up the Phanerozoic, and it does so with a bang.

The Cambrian Period
The Cambrian (RIP 542-488 mya, beloved by its children, named for the Latin term for Wales) is famous for the Cambrian explosion, as is only natural.  Said explosion, to put it simply, was what happened when an awful lot of organisms decided (apparently overnight) that what they really, really, really needed was a shell.  A phosphate shell, a silica shell, a carbonate shell, whatever.  They wanted shells like we want a viable sustainable source of energy that will allow us all to continue to live in lives of gross excess, and suddenly the fossil record went ballistic.  Soft-bodied organisms are much more difficult to preserve traces of than anything with a hard structure – look at sharks, their cartilaginous bones mean that most of the time the best we have to record them with is teeth – and the effect is a sort of explosion of life suddenly blossoming out of what seems to be nowhere.
If you want to see traces of the less-known, softer residents of the Cambrian, the Burgess Shale of BC, Canada, has a lovely record where some sort of extremely gentle landslide smothered an entire community (with love!) and preserved all its inhabitants with the perfection of a photo.  Some of them are very, very, very, very, very weird.
By the way, trilobites turned up around this time.  They were arthopods (insects, arachnids, crustaceans et al), diverse (17,000 species known, of various habits and inclinations), adorable if you found that sort of thing adorable, and remarkably long-lived, being the most ubiquitous and mascot-worthy inhabitants of the Paleozoic.

Size matters not. Judge, rather, by splendour of carapace.

On land, not much was happening.  Algae had cropped up on there about 600 mya, but nothing else was really going on.  The Cambrian explosion was a marine club only.

The Ordovician Period
Named for a tribe of long-deceased Celtic yokels known as the Ordovics, the Ordovician lasted from 488-444 mya, and saw a few Cambrian developments thicken plottingly.  The cephalopods began an intricate little burst of radiation and ascendance, jawless fish that had first crept onto the scene millions of years before began to experiment with making interesting shapes with their gill arches that could just barely be called “jaws.”  The top predators were probably Nautiloids; shelled cephalopods.

The Silurian Period

Fishes jawed and jawless, class of '428 mya.

Also named for welsh-based Celts, the Silures, the Silurian lasted from 444-416 mya, and was when several developments take off all at once.  Jawed fish were proliferating, milipedes and scorpions made the trek onto land, and up there, waiting for them somewhat anxiously, were the first vascular plants – plants with structural support and internal vessels that slop around the various bits and pieces of nutrition and water they need.  The first plants were seedless mosses and ferns, which did and still need moist places for their spores to mingle in water.  Plant life wasn’t ruling the world yet, but it was spreading.  Incidentally, why scorpions felt the need to leave the seas was a tad unknown, seeing as some of them were nine feet long and ruled the oceans with iron fists, claws, and mandibles.
Some of the earlier possibly-sharks show up right in the Silurian, and they definitely existed by 409 mya, right in

The Devonian Period
which lasted from 416-359 mya and broke the trend of naming periods after cultural subgroups that didn’t much care about geology except insofar as it pertained to woad, being instead named for an English county.  Many things came to a head: fish rose up and took the oceans by storm with thirty-foot monsters like Dunkleosteus, which eschewed teeth in favour of gigantic, bony plates that it used as shears to bite directly through sharks and such (which, despite being the focus of such attention, were now pretty common).  Stuff like this is why this is slanged as “the age of fishes.”

Teeth are for fish who take more than one bite per prey. You know. Sissies.

Possibly more strongly motivated to get the hell out of the ocean by now, some lobe-finned fishes decided to try their luck on land, and before the Devonian was over we had amphibians, the first tetrapods (four-limbed vertebrates).  They still had to lay eggs in water, and stay moist, but they were up there and walking around, making life merry hell for the invertebrates that had gotten there first.  Still, there was more livable land-space than ever before by the Devonian’s close; some clever plants (gymnosperms to their friends and acquaintances, if you please) had come up with the concept of sexual reproduction via seeds, creating little self-fueled packages that precluded the need for water.  With these tools, plant life began to spread more quickly yet, and farther from water than before.

The Carboniferous Period
If you’re American, you could divide this period’s 359-318 mya body into the two chunks of Mississipian and Pensylvanian.  If you’re anyone else you couldn’t care less and don’t really mind the period’s name, which, for once, isn’t even British-centric – “coal-bearing” is a pretty amiable and un-nationalistic title.
The Carboniferous saw plants really, really, really make it big.  The seedless mosses and ferns had their last, greatest heyday, and swamps were everywhere.  When plant matter drops into a swamp, it doesn’t rot – there’s too little oxygen in the water for most bacteria to break it up.  Instead, it turns into peat.  Leave peat for a few million whenevers, it turns to coal.  LOTS of coal in the Carboniferous’s case.
With all those plants, oxygen levels hit what’s widely regarded as our personal planetary record.  With that incentive, arthopods on land hit their own as well – since they absorb oxygen straight from the air, with no lungs, bug size is entirely restricted by how much oxygen they can sop up.  We had two-and-a-half meter millipedes and dragonflies with wingspans of 75 centimeters waltzing around, and feasting on them were a cornucopia of amphibians, the most in history, along with strange little newfangled things called “reptiles.”  They’d never catch on.

Does a world with Eryops in it need any fancy reptilian "crocodiles"? It thinks not.


The Permian Period

By now (where “now” is 299-251 mya, and named cosmopolitanly enough after Russia’s Perm Krai) all the continents were in the midst of being crudely kludged together into one big lump: Pangaea, which would be complete before the period’s end.  Inside it, stuffing its mass like jelly in a donut, were a gross quantity of deserts.  Still, plant life forged onwards, and the first real trees popped up – conifers, gingkos, and cycads, mostly.
Reptiles, by now, had obviously caught on and were strutting about as if they owned the place.  It turns out that once you cover your skin in scales, and your eggs in shells, you don’t really need water that badly anymore.  And once you’re free from water, well, on a continent-of-continents with enough inland space to lose Russia like a set of car keys, there were a lot of opportunities for an ambitious little reptile.
Mammal-like reptiles, or “therapsids” popped up around here too.  Their most iconic if not notable member would be Dimetrodon, which is famously not a dinosaur at all.

This is not and has never been a dinosaur. It's a therapsid. Get that straight, damnit.

The Permian ended, and so did the Paleozoic, the old life.  But it didn’t end quietly.  The era had begun with an explosion, and it closed on a somewhat different one: the largest mass extinction event of all time on Earth.
On land, 70% of all land species died.  In the seas, the mortality rate was 90-95%.  And that’s just species killed entirely; you don’t need that many individuals left alive to pull a species through an extinction event.  It’s very possible that 99% of all living things died, all from who knows what.  For all its impossible scale, the Permian extinction is too old and fragmented for many details to be pulled out, and no theories are solid enough to be confirmed.  All you need to know, if you need one fact to judge its severity, is this: it is the only extinction event to include mass extinction of insects.  That’s right; whatever this thing was, it was so harsh that the damned cockroaches had to live hand to mouth to pull through, and plenty of their relatives didn’t.
The casualties are innumerable, but the most prominent of all the deceased were that persistent, ever-scuttling emblematic class of the Paleozoic: the trilobites.  After a little over two hundred and seventy million years, they had finally taken too much punishment, and the very last of them laid down their shells for the final time as the Mesozoic dawned.

The Mesozoic Era
“Middle life.”  Also, you know, where you go when you want to find dinosaurs.  Which most sensible people should.

The Triassic Period
At a nice even 250-200 mya duration, and a sensible, straightforward name originating from the triple layers identifying its formations in Germany, the Triassic was a neat, orderly fresh start after the near-brush with death that the entire planet had suffered at the Permian extinction.  Life caught its breath, and then moved on, callously dumping many of the amphibians left over from the Permian as it went.  Reptiles and therapsids took over (the former produced the world’s first flying vertebrates around this point: the fabulous pterosaurs, as well as the dolphin-esque icthyosaurs), and the therapsids pretty much enjoyed themselves at will until the mid-Triassic, where some strange little upstarts began to make themselves prominent.

Eoraptor, the "dawn hunter," and among the earliest known dinosaurs. The massive success of its descendants is attributed to early-bird hunting habits while therapsids slept in past noon.

They were called dinosaurs, and by the late Triassic they’d elbowed the therapsids out of dominance and into obscurity, where they and some very odd fuzzy milk-producing little things descended from them would remain until the Mesozoic’s end.

The Jurassic Period
Dinosaurs in the Triassic capped out in size at about the 30 feet of Plateosaurus, a prosauropod.  Impressive, massive by today’s standards.  They were just getting started.
The Jurassic (200-145 mya, and named after the Swiss Jura mountains, please and thank you) saw the rise of the sauropods (“lizard feet”), which had popped up either alongside or soon after the prosauropods, depending on whom you asked.  They’re long-necked, long-tailed, and easily far and away the largest animals to ever walk on the planet’s surface – some of the more obscure and shadowy finds of the 20th century, based on singular, scary-huge bones, hint that their largest examples might have given blue whales more than a mere run for their money.  As far as pure impossibility of body structure goes, few animals can match them; they’re built like living suspension bridges, and the specifics of the engineering required to run their circulatory systems, heat their bodies without boiling them, and move them around without crushing themselves are maybe just a little bit more than unbelievable.

While I'm admonishing people, as of 2009 Brachiosaurus as you most likely know it is technically "Giraffatitan." You see, the most complete specimen, the one they based all the artwork off, was in Africa, and it turns out it was a separate genus instead of a subspecies of Brachiosaurus, and hey pay attention hey.

As the sauropods grew, so did other dinosaurs.  Stegosaurs arrived, plate-spined and spike-tailed, and all were hunted by larger and larger yet carnivorous therapods (“beast feet”), the most famous of which is probably Allosaurus, which may or may not have hunted in packs and may or may not have been ballsy enough to take on smaller sauropods in said packs (recent interesting speculation has been clustered around its bite habits: it shows a surprisingly weak bite for its size, but similar neck and jaw adaptations to sabre-tooth cats, which has led to the idea that perhaps it used its mouth somewhat like a hatchet, slashing and hacking to wear down big prey).
While all this exciting stuff was going on, a few smaller therapods had quietly taken to growing feathers – or at least growing more feathers; feathers themselves were distributed somewhat scatteredly around the therapod family tree, as insulation and decoration presumably – and jumping off things, then fluttering about.  Archeopteryx (“ancient wing”) is the oldest known bird; toothed and tailed, with three sharp claws on its arms, it has come near to being mistaken for small dinosaurs several times.  Well, that sentence is a bit misleading.  Birds are small dinosaurs.
The dinosaurs weren’t the only creatures up to shenanigans.  Salamanders evolved – quietly, like most things salamanders do – and the pleisiosaur family, which had first poked its extremely long necks out into the world in the Late Triassic, sidled into the spotlights.  For easy pleisiosaur identification, if it has a long neck, it’s a pleisiosaur, if short and powerful-jawed, a pliosaur.  Except recent rejiggering of the pleisiosaur family trees has dumped short-and-long-necked individuals in both groups, making separating them somewhat complicated.  Between the pleisiosaurs, pliosaurs, and still-present icthyosaurs, marine reptiles were the word on the seas of the Jurassic.  In the skies, pterosaurs held court, dominant and as of yet in blissful ignorance of the dinosaur’s casual preparation to horn in on their turf.

The Cretaceous Period
Pangaea had been splitting apart ever since the Triassic had seen it formed to its full extent, but it was pretty much fully divided by now (“now” being the period of 145-65 mya, and named for its lovely chalk), with groups of dinosaurs left in strange corners of the world to evolve like mad to their own desires.  Sauropods still were in firm presence, though many of the older diplodocids and brachiosaurids had faded away in favour of titanosaurs like Argentinosaurus, which were every bit as enthusiastically large as their predecessors.  The tyrannosaurs produced their largest member, the ceratopsians brushed the world liberally with horns, frills, and spikes, and the duckish-billed hadrosaurs spread like wildfire.

Now look, I know this isn't THE Tyrannosaurus, but Gorgosaurus was a perfectly respectable TyrannosaurID, and there's no call for you to make that face.

At sea, the icthyosaurs finally left the oceans, and in the Late Cretaceous the mosasaurs sprung up; most closely related to snakes or monitor lizards depending on who you asked.  Whichever it was, they were more than eager to take the spot as apex predators, and did so with gusto.  The skies saw their own regimes shaken: the birds spread and multiplied, the dinosaurs carving out their section of the air at the expense of the (somewhat annoyed) pterosaurs.
Everything was looking very pretty indeed when a very large meteorite slammed directly into the Yucatan peninsula, kicking up debris that clouded the sun for years, incinerating everything within hundreds of miles in a wave of heat and force, and generally ruining things.  Among the casualties were the marine reptiles, the pterosaurs, the beautiful, coil-shelled ammonites so emblematic of the Mesozoic (leaving only the lonely nautilus as their surviving relative) and each and every last non-avian dinosaur.  They’d lasted for 160 million years, substantially less than the trilobites, but with every bit as much breathtaking splendor.  They’d taken the land, they’d started in on the skies, and if we’d given them a few more million years to play with I at least am damn well sure they’d have taken the oceans, lakes, and the whole bloody solar system.

Farewell, sweet saurians. May flights of Archaeopteryx screech you to your rest.

This disastrous, massive extinction event was what finally gave our tiny, furry ancestors the kick in the tail they needed to poke their heads out of their burrows and consider doing something other than hiding for another two hundred million years.

The Cenozoic Era
Here comes the “new life,” same as the old life.  But much smaller.  And usually furrier.  And always, always, always milkier.

The Paleogene Period
Covering 65-25 mya, this covers the bulk of the foundation of mammals upon earth.  Whales cropped up around 50 mya, elephant ancestors somewhere similar.  The oldest known primate is somewhere around 58 million years old, although the order’s roots could be back in the Cretaceous.  The oldest, smallest ancestors of horses were skulking around forests somewhere.  Somewhere around 28 mya, C. Megalodon (possible relative to the great white shark, probably fifty feet in length, definite eater of whales) popped up and made the oceans a very frighting place up until a mere one and a half million years ago.

In all fairness, at this point they'd overestimated the length of the shark. By like, ten feet.

 

The Neogene Period
25-2.5 mya, the Neogene was steady.  If not much else.  Look, horses were starting to look like horses and North and South America bumped uglies so a lot of species migration happened, what more d’you want from me?  Alas, South America’s marsupials were the long-term losers of the Great American Interchange (so it’s called), and we lost the chance to have marsupial sabre-toothed “cats” in Ontario, more’s the pity.  Opossums made it, though.

You ever noticed that the most survival-prone species are the unpleasant, omnivorous, nasty ones that have utterly no dignity? No offense.


The Quaternary Period

The Quaternary (fourth) period covers everything from 2.5 mya to today, and specifically the area of time in which vaguely hominidish things began to wander around Africa and consider smacking things with rocks (among objects considered: trees, sticks, bones, dirt, other rocks, other hominids).  Most of the exciting and interesting megafauna died off within the last twenty thousand years – giant ground sloths that resembled tree sloths as much as chihuahuas do great danes; a rainbow of mammoths; glyptodon, which resembled a cross between an armadillo and an ankylosaur.  As far as life on earth goes, the last couple of thousand years have been pretty puny in scale.

As recently as 10,000 years ago, you could've helped this guy go extinct in South America.

It is the period of time within which we can recognize the precise moment where everything went very wrong.
And it’s all your fault.

 

 

Picture Credits:

  • Stromatolites: Public domain image from Wikipedia; Stromatolites, Zebra River Canyon Western Namibia, 12 December 2010, NimbusWeb.
  • Trilobite: Public domain image from Wikipedia; Olenoides erratus from the Mt. Stephen Trilobite Beds (Middle Cambrian) near Field, British Columbia, Canada.; Photograph taken by Mark A. Wilson (Department of Geology, The College of Wooster), 6 August 2009.
  • Silurian Fishes: Public domain image from Wikipedia; by Joseph Smit (1836-1929), from Nebula to Man, 1905 England.
  • Dunkleosteus Skull: Dunkleosteus skull on display at the Queensland Museum, Brisbane (Southbank), Australia, photo: Cas Liber; 21 August 2006.
  • Eryops Skeleton: Image from Wikipedia; Photo by Joshua Sherurcij, 2007.
  • Dimetrodon: Public domain image from Wikipedia; 1897, Charles R. Knight.
  • Eoraptor: Public domain image from Wikipedia; replica Eoraptor at Brussels Science Institute, submitted 2008, MWAK.
  • Giraffatitan: Public domain image from Wikipedia; by ДиБгд, 9 May 2007.
  • Gorgosaurus and Parasaurolophus: Public domain image from Wikipedia; by ДиБгд, 3 June 2007.
  • Impact Event: Public domain image from Wikipedia; Made by Fredrik. Cloud texture from public domain NASA image, 18 May 2004.
  • Megalodon Jaws: Public domain image from Wikipedia; Reconstruction by Bashford Dean in 1909.
  • Opossum: Public domain image from Wikipedia; Johnruble 21 December 2006.
  • Megatherium: Public domain image from Wikipedia; by ДиБгд, 22 July 2007.

A Special-Needs Report.

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Hello there, I’m Kimberly Beverage and this is Not Really News: Where the Real Isn’t.  Your usual host Joey Fishlips is on sick leave for undisclosed reasons, and I will be your commentator this evening.  I am being paid a tiny stipend for this that is one-eighth what he would get, but I promise I won’t let the tremendously swelling bitterness within my heart pour out on the air. 
So, today’s first stupid “story,” if you can call it that seeing as it doesn’t even exist, is that someone in British Columbia, Canada, has formed a sasquatch-defamation league to protest the racist use of the slur “Bigfoot” to describe the species of big hairy crazy guys that live in the woods.  Can you believe this shit?  “Sasquatch-defamation league.”  Honestly.  The man, a mister Harry Sole, held a very small press conference that he may or may not have attended according to witnesses, with the audience members puzzling over grainy footage that shows him ambling away from the podium with an odd stride some maintain is not human.  Others insist the entire thing was a hoax, much like the line that good ol’ Joey fed us about where he was going on weekends.  “Seeing a man about a carp” indeed, you filthy weasel. 
Speaking of animals, the new center for the Inhumane Society opened in downtown LA.  “We figured, well, there’s got to be balance,” said founder Platz Roberts.  “Moderation in all things, right?  Right now we have a flagrant disrespect for that, with thousands of professional locations across the country dedicated to comforting suffering animals, while horrifying mistreatment is left to rank amateurs.  I think we’re correcting a very important part of nature here,” he concluded as he teased a large German shepherd with a treat just out of what was proven seconds later to be not quite its actual full reach.  An update: the new LA center for the Inhumane Society has closed on opening day following our interview, as Platz proved unable to drink coffee and work at the same time since his hand was messily removed.  Our condolences, as I think we all know of someone who does nasty things to animals, don’t we, Joey?  Oh wait, you can’t hear me where you are. 
While on the topic of where things are, geographers of the world rejoiced earlier when they realized they had “missed a spot.”  “Seriously, we somehow managed to skip over this little five-by-ten kilometre patch of land somewhere in eastern Kenya like, eighty times in a row,” said professor Arnold Z. Squibbits.  “I guess it was this one guy’s job for a while, and he just got a blind spot.  That happens.  But it just kept happening.  It’s the most evasive and least attention-drawing piece of land I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and even now I’m not sure I’ve seen it.”  Professor Squibbits pointed out that the missing spot was “by no means particularly unworthy of attention.  It just doesn’t, you know, catch the eye.  At all.”  A major land war between Europe and the United States of America is expected to break out within the month for dibs on colonization, enslavement of the locals, and grossly exploitative resource exploitation.  Which reminds me, Joey, what you did to that poor young lady went beyond mere exploitation.  There’s being a prostitute, Joey, and then there’s being a prop.  One implies that you are still a person, albeit one with a shitty career, and the second implies a basic lack of social empathy on the viewer’s part that renders them incapable of seeing people as anything other than things, you monstrous twit
In art, a local lout has produced the world’s most ironic piece of art, a gigantic, poorly-thought-out, self-absorbed painting that loudly acclaims himself as the smartest, straightest-thinking man in the country while depicting him skewering “furreners.”  The art community praises mister Ted Gabble for his commitment to the massive irony inherent in the piece, for which he called them a “buncha sawft pansees” and asked them what the word meant.  Clearly, his dedication to the piece goes beyond its mere creation, indeed, he lives his very life ironically now.  Or so the theory goes.  He may, in fact, just be an ignorant meathead.  Like someone else we all know, who is still somehow making more than I do despite being in PRISON, huh?  How’s that for fairness?  How’s THAT for irony? 
In other unfair news, today some angry old racist was the victim of ageism.  Being overheard making a crude joke at the expense of some people who didn’t quite look like him, he was surrounded by youths who also didn’t look quite like him who taunted him mercilessly for being a “scrawny old bastard” who looked like the lovechild of a prune and an ice mummy.  The merciless discrimination against his elderly status left no mark untouched, down to their mocking of his incontipants-brand adult diapers.  Attempts to defend himself were fruitless; no amount of cane-waggling deterred them, as they simply stole the cane and sold it to buy candy.  When asked for a statement, the elderly racist simply requested that we get off his lawn and gummed our reporter on the upper hip, which he attempted to suckle.  Disgusting, but apparently newsworthy.  Apparently not like what you did with those fish heads, JOEY.  That doesn’t belong on the news but this shit does?  Give me a goddamned break.  If it’s vile tripe the network wants, they can get it straight from the deviant’s fishlips, right here, right now!  Why don’t we do an interview from your cell, huh?
Right, right, sorry.  Anyways, our big item for the evening: the Prime Minister of Canada narrowly survived an assassination attempt while fishing for bass earlier today.  Our extremely invasive and legally questionable cameras caught footage of a scuba diver silently slipping into the canoe and stabbing the leader directly in the spine with a perch, presumably in an attempt to make it look like an accident.  However, he was unaware that the Prime Minister is an emotionless robotic shell, and as such his fish-blade bounced off the cold titanium lying just beneath the official’s pale and artificial skin.  Moments later, the assailant was beaten to death with the bailing bucket.  Although the attempt currently seems mildly humorous it is worth noting that the Prime Minister’s system specs are not optimized for piscine defence, and a larger fish, such as a big pike, muskellunge, or sturgeon could very well have breeched his hull and exposed his circuitry, to the great relief of the population at large and much celebrating in the streets at the end of the steely grip of our robot oppressor.  Try harder next time, please. 

Standard warning that none of this is real, or even quasi-real, yadda, yadda, yadda, with the notable exception of the following news.  JOEY FISHLIPS IS IN PRISON FOR UNNATURAL ACTS WITH A SOUTH AFRICAN HOOKER INVOLVING FISHEADS!  RAW FISHEA

 

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