Monday, December 30, 2013

Interview: Gettin' Zeigy With It

*Because any post that starts with a Will Smith reference is gonna be awesome.

This October Amy sat down with her mentor, professional geologist Dr. Kate Zeigler. Yes, that means this interview contains everything from A to Z. Also Z to A, since Kate was the one actually being interviewed. Kate is the sole owner of Zeigler Geologic Consulting and adjunct faculty at New Mexico Highlands University in Albuquerque, a kick-ass rock-climber, and she likes finding out which direction minerals in rocks point (which is a lot more important than you might think). 

Poor/Lucky Kate was assigned to work together with Amy as a mentor/mentee pair through the Huffington Post's Girls in STEM blog where they both write about their experiences as female paleontologists, both student and professional. Amy and Kate met up this year at the annual Geological Society of America's (GSA) meeting in Denver, CO. Below is the result: a glimpse into Kate Zeigler's life as a badass-mofo lady paleontologist (Slow Loris Rarely Included). 
Many imaginary friends including Meaghan and Mary Anning made guest appearances in the following interview with Dr. Kate Zeigler

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Awesome Dead Shit: Prototaxites

When Amy has nightmares, they take one of two general forms: either all prosimians go extinct (OH GOD NO!) or it somehow involves giant mushrooms, of which she is irrationally opposed. So today to be an asshole, Meaghan is going to tell you all a lot about Prototaxites, the giant mushroom!

Prototaxites: Nature's threatening fungus-dildo

Monday, December 9, 2013

Paleontologists Give the Best Presents

Last year, Meaghan made epic personalized nerd mugs and fake tattoos for her lab mates. It was a great Christmas - she got to not be poor AND be smug, which is a difficult combination to come by. Naturally this year, she wanted to outdo her previous year's efforts and come up with something crafty and sciencey that could solidify her position as the Martha Stewart of Science. Fortunately for Meaghan, there exists such a thing as "Non-Toxic Food-Grade Silicone Paste."


This is a little different from the typical casting supplies that paleontologists work with, in that it is meant for eating and is incredibly easy to use. Select or make the item you would like to mold, mix equal qualities of blue and white, and smoosh the mixture all over the item for about an hour. Boom. Silicon molds. 

Initially Meaghan had grand plans of using the new 3D printer at University of Oregon to print out mini replicas, but they have some daft rule about "academic intentions" and she couldn't figure out how to bullshit her way through it. Instead Meaghan made small sculpey clay replicas of an oreodont skull, and a flat medallion of a Dunkleosteus head, and a flat giant ground sloth. She also grabbed a bear skull that was just lying around (long story).


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Support Meaghan & Amy's Beer Fund!

Wanna purchase a sweet Christmas gift AND support a good cause at the same time? Well, look no further than the fantastic science gifts at Borealisbones and our CafePress stores! All the money made through these fantastic venues will go directly into the Vengeance Team beer fund, aka magic "write more dumb stuff on our blog" juice. 

See, while Amy was being job-blocked by the government shutdown she started making really incredible earrings out of caribou antlers. All the antlers were naturally shed and collected by Amy outside of the park's boundaries, so have no fear: Alaskan, but still legal for sure. 

Caribou Antler Earrings with Garnet Accent
AND GORGEOUS

Monday, November 18, 2013

Awesome Dead Shit: Squaloraja


Yes, that is a fossil not a sedimentary rorschach diagram - in fact, it is a cartilaginous fish. Our very own patron saint of paleontology Mary Anning found this bad boy in the early 1880's. Mary Anning sold the fossil to John Nash Sanders, but either she hadn't found the tail at the time that she prepared the fossil, or simply hadn't finished prepping it, but either way Squaloraja polyspondyla was originally described sans its tail, and sketched by Mary Anning as follows:




The body and tail were never reunited. Sad times... except that the body got asploded during the Bristol Blitz, and so the tail was the only part that survived (being housed elsewhere at the time). So yay?

Different Squaloraja, not exploded

So why was Squaloraja such an important find? Mary noted that the specimen shared characteristics of both living sharks and rays, causing general confusion. Remember how everyone thought nothing went extinct back then? Now we know that it is a member of the Order Chimaera (ratfish), one of the oldest and most diverse family of cartilaginous fishes. The closest living relatives of Chimaera are ratfish, though cartilaginous fish  split nearly 400 million years ago. Squaloraja showed up around about 200 million years ago, and it should not be too surprising that, considering its ancestry, it looks like a shark/ray hybrid critter. While epic in appearance, the Squaloraja lifestyle was pretty tame; it was a bottom feeder that lived in shallow marine settings.

Squaloraja is at the bottom
The Vengeance Team shares a little place in their hearts for cartilaginous fishes, especially since their Vertebrate Paleontology class. While studying the evolutionary history of fishes (fascinating mmhmm zzzzzz) they realized something, cartilaginous fish had bones, but then they lost them! Sharks and chimaera stem from bony fish ancestors (see shark family tree below) and some of these guys had bones. This means sharks and rays secondarily lost bones in favor of cartilage, oh snap.
Ray Troll beautifully illustrates the evolutionary tree of fish. Squaloraja would fit in up by the Chimaeras.


http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=oxwrAAAAYAAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA386&dq=squaloraja&ots=GFfdeitjry&sig=xQGXm8OtdEjEw2dm4dJsyIxaS7s#v=onepage&q=squaloraja&f=false

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Message in a Bottle Privileges Revoked!

(Maybe this post should be called "When Douchebags Visit the Parks" but we're trying to be less abrasive in our titles.)


Last week, Amy found a message in a bottle (see exhibit A). 

She was hiking near the savage river with the park’s geology crew when she noticed the glint of green glass near her feet. The object caught her off guard: there isn’t much litter in Denali, and it was the first she’d seen all year. As a good Samaritan she picked it up, intending to recycle it, when she realized that there was a note inside of it bound with rubber bands.



Exhibit A: Treasure Map???


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

GSA 2013: The Good, The Bad, and The Coyote Ugly

GSA was full of its fair share of tummy aches, talks where squinting was the only option, and hilarious, fabulous geology. First off, I finally physically met my mentor, Kate Zeigler!
Amy, Kate, and their Paleozoic pal eurypterid!
Our meeting in person was almost more than the geology gods could handle, but we fortunately weren't struck down and made into fulgurites (heh) as we dined on burgers and milkshakes. I could finally ask some questions that are hard to phrase over email ("Erm soo paleomagnitude... that's like, yeah, basalt points north? Poles switch and it blows my mind?") I also got a chance to grill her on some hard hitting paleo-questions which will be featured in an upcoming Vengeance Team interview (Meaghan guest stars and wow, what a guest she makes...).

I hadn't realized how much I had in common with Kate, who has been my mentor through the Huffington Post Girls in STEM program from afar for a few months. We have plans to rock climb in New Mexico whenever my skin becomes so pale that the SW sun is the only cure to my vitD deficiency.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

SVP Summary Part 1: Dinosaurs are Surprisingly Relevant

We know, we know, there was no blog post last week. We're sorry. We were doing a science. We'll make up for it by posting too much this week instead!


Amy is still trying to pull together her thoughts from GSA (the beer there was free), but Meaghan has decided that instead of creating a cohesive summary she's going to vomit some grey matter on the page and let all y'all just deal with it. Today we're going to talk about Meaghan's favorite non-poster presentation which was, surprisingly, a dinosaur talk!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Infiltrating the Old Boy's Club

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, the Old Boy's Club (OBC) is comprised of the old (and typically white) men who dominate the top tiers of many industries. This phenomenon is pretty apparent in most fields, but especially so in academia where female presence at high levels caps out at 35% at most. 


Now, we could shout about that endlessly in bitter, bitchy terms, but we’ve taken a dose of the considerate pills today (V.T. South’s roomie made pumpkin cake, V.T. North has a job again, all is awesome in the world) and decided to give the benefit of the doubt to members of the OBC: maybe they just don’t know about ladies’ struggles! Also, they probably don’t know about all the awesome ladies they could be hiring, because OBC members don’t network with ladies, they network with dudes.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Awesome Dead Shit: Macrauchenia

We were going to call this "Awesome Dead Thing of the Month,"  but let's be real: creating a "monthly" event is just going to end in disappointment for all. So here we are instead, scrounging for titles and trying not to commit to a temporally-set re-occurrence (DON'T BOX US IN), and the first one we're going to talk about is Macrauchenia.

You might be saying, WTF guys, way to not start out strong, what is this animal that looks vaguely like the word macaroni? Well, that's actually a pretty good comparison: this is an animal that had a body sort of like a llama (hence the "chenia" in the name, which is a reference to the old genus name for that group), with a face very much like a macaroni noodle. Observe:
Yeah, it sorta looks like Dumbo got teased one-too-many times about the size of his ears and went to visit Michael Jackson's all-natural-plastics doctor, or perhaps a llama got too invested in sniffing at a tube sock. But of course, as is ALWAYS THE CASE IN PALEONTOLOGY, Macrauchenia was related to neither of these.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Shutdown: A Poem


On the 1st Amy woke without work
Because Congress is being a jerk
Deemed "nonessential"
By those influential
She must keep from going berserk.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Awards for Amos, Not for Amy

A common misconception is that most scientists get paid to do science, where in actuality most scientists get paid to teach, but only get hired or promoted or respected because they do science. In fact, despite the fact that academic scientists are largely paid for their teaching time, that is taken into almost zero consideration when they are being hired... but that is a topic for another blog post. Today we are talking about GAF(C??), those magical beasts that allows researchers to sort of, sometimes, get paid to do their science... or at least get the costs of their science paid for. That's right, Grants, Awards, Fellowships and (Crowdfunding??), the last of which is a new and fancy addition to the triumvirate of other people's money that scientists spend so much time begging for.
Fake it 'til you make it baby.

2013-2014 GAF(C??) application season is almost upon us, which means Meaghan and Amy are getting ready for another round of talking ourselves up and finding ways to make their research sound important to people who don't know anything about it. And in a surprising* twist of fate, Meaghan and Amy have to work harder to get these than their penis-posessing** counterparts. We've talked about some of the disparity in hiring processes before, but now let's delve deep into the sad topic of GAF(C??) discrimination.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Summer in Paleontology

The summer is stuttering to a premature end as it always seems to do. In Oregon, everything is still smoking from fire east of the mountains and the leaves are all turning west of them. In Alaska it's snowing and they've begun to experience the phenomenon known as "nighttime." With school looming on the horizon for Meaghan, and 30 Days of Night coming for Amy, it's time to prepare: Winter is Coming.


But if you've been climbing in a cave or out on the mountains all summer like the Vengeance Team, you may need a quick catch-er-up on all the important goings-ons that went-ons while you were out of cell service. No, not that stuff about the hiccuping murderer or the fact that Bill Nye is busting a move on Dancing with the Stars. No, we're talking the really important stuff: Paleontology. Because what's more news-worthy than things that have been dead and stagnant for millions of years, right???


Wait. Science was happening and we weren't there??

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Squirrel Nuts and Guts

"Squirrels may be small but the meat is good eating" -Alaska Department of Fish and Game 

In our continuing quest to force our readers to aspirate their own vomit, we have decided to present you with photos and descriptions of a squirrel dissection that Amy and her boyfriend Kelly participated in a few weeks ago. Many paleontologists shy away from the fleshy bits, but not us: we celebrate in the goopy, meaty, nastiness. In fact, while Amy had many spectacular experiences this summer working at the Murie Science and Learning Center at Denali, one of the best days of all was when Dr. Link Olson came to visit and bought with him a cooler full of frozen red squirrels.

In case you haven't already bailed out with pre-emptive stomach acid in your mouth, here is your official warning: It is well known in the scientific community that staring at defleshed bodies of small animals can cause the thoughts "OMG it's so cute!" to pop into your head, which is a thought you can never unthink while looking at a photo of a corpse. NSFW.
Prof. Olson helps his students with projects on small arctic mammals including the red squirrel, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus. The point of documenting and sampling everything is because these are all museum specimens. Not only will Dr. Olson's students benefit from researching these little guys, but also visiting scientists from all over the world can visit the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North and gather all sorts of data, whether it be on size variations, genetic sampling, or reproductive cycling. Amy and Kelly were cheerful volunteers in this very important process; Meaghan right now is examining the skulls of camels and sheep acquired and prepared in a similar manner.

It's not creepy if it's science!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Dinosaur Porn: It's a Thing That Exists

Here's the Vengeance Team, bringing you your daily dose of trauma! If you haven't already questioned the world you live in today, here's some truly horrifying links that will guarantee the taste of stomach acid in your mouth. But first, a story on how we stumbled across this miasma of WTF:

One day innocent(ish) little Meaghan was creating a review powerpoint for the Dinosaurs class she was TAing. She decided to illustrate it with adorable pictures of the characters from the Land Before Time movie series. Her Google Safe Search was off - why wouldn't it be? What menace could lurk within an images search of her favorite childhood movie? 

That innocent girl died that day, her naivety crushed beneath the steel-toed-boots of the shitshow that is the internet. See, the fundamental rule of the post-1990's world is that "If It Exists, There Shall Be Porn Of It." Meaghan did not know that then; now, soulless and shattered, she does.

WARNING: NOT SAFE FOR WORK. NOT SAFE FOR COMPANY. PROBABLY NOT SAFE FOR YOUR MENTAL HEALTH. If you thought the tapir's penis was a horrifying blog post, you had better save yourself and abandon ship. If your curiosity has still got the best of you, rest assured that we will not be putting any of these traumatic images in our blog post (we refuse to sully ourselves that way) but will provide links for you to scar yourself with.

Playful bath time, or playful bathhouse time? Fuck you internet, fuck you.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Adorable Art With Dead Things




IT'S BEAUTIFUL
We've often described our decorational scheme as Serial Killer Chique, largely because as paleontologists we are both inclined to think of bones as beautiful rather than icky. To make animal innards palatable decorational choices for our friends and guests, we've started to experiment with different craft techniques.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Cope Loves Marsh 4Eva


Somewhere Cope and Marsh are rolling over in their graves right now... in order to gaze lovingly in the direction of the other. If you don't understand the context of this glorious drawing, please click here... it's not quite fanfic, but it definitely is the most productive Meaghan has ever been while suffering from a cold.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Bears, Bugs, and Bogs, OH MY! (Aka, Fieldwork In Alaska)

The Vengeance Team are old pros at dealing with fieldwork in some pretty desolate places, including the bowels of Eastern Oregon and the red rock desert of Southeast Utah. We've always got our sweat glands operating at full capacity, and we typically guzzle gallons of water by the hour while hiding in the postage stamp-sized shade offered by emaciated juniper trees, fighting the temptation to jump into the swimming pool mirage we've just hallucinated. Not only are we used to the heat, we've also got the certifications to keep us safe out there, too. We are both wilderness first responders, which in theory means we can help keep you safe in a wilderness setting but in practice just means we get to drunkenly brag about the awesome ways we've set fake femur fractures.

So naturally Vengeance Team North Division had little fear as she headed up to the great state of Alaska to work in Denali National Park and Preserve. Amy had read the job description, convinced herself she could handle it, and them promptly stopped thinking about it. Now, after a few months of work, she is ready to share her experiences in the North, and help you, gentle readers, prepare for any fieldwork that you could (and should!) be doing in Alaska. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Blackout Science Rage: Proposal Edition

No introduction today, we're just going to dive right in: Meaghan recently received the following critique for a proposal requesting funding for her oreodont research.

"The premise that by examining extinct organisms we know what modern organisms are threatened is fundamentally flawed, unless you can demonstrate that the causal mechanisms are identical. Is it really the teeth that define the successful (or not) morphologies?”
Please allow Amy to nerd-translate:
"Studying dead critters to understand modern living critters is horse shit unless you can show that they were influenced by the exact same forces. Do funny shaped teeth really determine the success of certain oreodonts?"

Originally when Meaghan read this she didn't get past the first sentence because she flew into a paleo-rage; upon second glance she is still a grumpy Gus but less likely to make noises that make her roommates think she is possessed by demons or possibly hoarding a room full of cats in heat.



Tuesday, July 30, 2013

1800's Paleontologists Say the Darndest Things

The best part of lit review is the google images.
Meaghan has been doing a lot of literature review lately. This requires a lot of scouring the back pages of Google Scholar for 200-year old articles, and whining incessantly to her office mate about how people from the 1800's couldn't cite each other (stop making up page numbers and publication dates, Cope!!!). It's sort of like dumpster diving at a really boring library. But sometimes there are gems amidst the miasma of scientific horse shit, and Meaghan presents to you now some of the more bizarre things she's found recently in the dung pile that is Oreodont Taxonomy.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Disturbingly Cute Things

Sometimes, we find really messed up things kind of adorable. Here are some hauntingly cuddly things that will make you question whether you're a really bad human being, or just really accepting




1) Bat Embryos
 Yeah, we know, that sounds gross. But the truth is, they look like pale squishy jelly-beans wearing a bow tie, which is way better than it sounds.



Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Nerdy Shit to Give Your Friends When You're Too Poor For ThinkGeek.com

So, it's wedding season, as well as our annual celebration of the consequences of the midwinter doldrums (aka, summer birthdays) which means that everyone is walking that fine social line between not looking like a cheap asshole, and abject poverty. While we can't say that we have a DIY nerd!gift for everyone, here are a couple of Meaghan and Amy's favorites!


1) Homemade Temporary Tattoos 
Cuz you can't buy gold like this in the stores.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sloth Rap Battle



For weeks, you've been waiting, impatient, for the sloth rap battle we promised you. Meanwhile Meaghan has been bleeding from her ears while listening to the shitshow that was the first recording of the sloth rap, trying to construct a backbeat much in the same way a witch doctor tries to conjure the dead... but with a lot less confidence. Again and again, Meaghan got as drunk as she could get while remaining functional and opened up her audio file, only to run away screaming from her inability to match beepy electronic sounds to apathetically-delivered nerdy lyrics. But fear not, dear readers, for there was always a light on the horizon: Graduation.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Utah's Cock Rocks

Utah: a land rich with red rock outcrops, dinosaur fossils, Mormons, and extremely repressed sexuality. This state is so pure, in fact, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have no data* about the sexual behaviors among high school students (grades 9-12):

*Absence of evidence IS NOT evidence of absence.


But if you're so lily pure, Utah, why is your geology so completely filthy? Wind and water have carved out sandstone schlongs across the state. Here we reveal a few of the more, ahem, prominent cases of dirty-minded rock formations via our favorite form of communication: limericks.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Paleosol Cupcakes, Part 2 of 2

We hope you're ready, world.

You're probably not, though, because this blog post contains scientific sketches of cupcakes and there ain't nobody prepped to handle that shit. Let's delve deep into the world of paleopedology baked goods, a sentence that by all rights should never have entered this universe but is somehow here anyway.


CUPCAKE #1: MOLLISOL
Mollisols are grassland soils. Because grass forms a thick blanket of vegetation on the ground, it creates a lot of organic material (chocolate cake and white cake mixed together). Mollisols often have calcareous nodules ("pearl" sprinkles) and gypsum layers (silver sprinkles), but also have crumb peds which are basically small lumps of dirt inside the overall dirt. Here we have a well-drained mollisol - the small Bt horizon  wasn't constantly soaked with water, so instead of turning green it oxidized (rusted) into a reddish layer, or in this case, red velvet cake.

This one comes with a super epic cooking video, in which Meaghan pronounces 'calcareous' the Canadian way (aka... incorrectly).


Disappointingly, Meaghan's camera battery died soon after that video was filmed. The rest of these cupcakes shall have to stand without explicit, Star-Wars-style cooking directions.



CUPCAKE #2: HISTOSOL

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Paleosol Cupcakes, Part 1 of 2

For those of you not in the know, some people study dirt. While this is fortunately not an affliction either member of the Vengeance Team suffers from, it is an actual thing, and sometimes it is actually a very interesting thing. Of the poor souls who study dirt, paleopedologists are probably the best off because at least their dirt is really really damned old: they study paleosols, literally "ancient soils."  Paleosols record evidence of past climate, organisms and ecosystems, which grants them an automatic +10 interest points over modern soils.

Paleosols tend to have poorly articulated layers (soil horizons) only visible to very experienced dirt-interpreters. In this way, they are much like most of Meaghan's experiments in baking ("Is this a layer cake that has suffered some sort of faulting? Did you mean to leave large unconsolidated lumps in this cake for some reason?"). As such, Meaghan felt that baking paleosol study tools was the perfect way to celebrate the completion of her first year of graduate school. That's right: when Meaghan thinks of celebrations, she doesn't think about drinking, she thinks about nerd-baking... and that's why she's in graduate school.

Schools out - it's time for SCIENCE! And baking!

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Moment of Silence for Omomyids

There's plenty of good news from Vengeance Team North - not only has Amy not been eaten by any bears, her Honors College thesis is officially printed and turned in!  Now that the thesis process is over, Amy has made herself quite comfortable in the Alaskan wilderness, focusing on Cretaceous age organisms including, of course, dinosaurs. As absolutely stoked as she is for this exciting new adventure in life, Amy is also finding herself sad to be leaving (for the moment at least) her beloved omomyids. In order to mourn the commencement of this project and properly move on, Amy has decided to cathartically explain the fantasticness of omomyids. And you should pay some attention because this shit was funded by a very competitive national scholarship, therefore solidifying what Amy has long known to be true: cuteness is a fascinating and intriguing scientific phenomenon.
Goldwater-funded adorableness.
Other than cooing about how cute omomyids are, Amy spent her senior year using phylogenetics to explore some of the evolutionary patterns of this group.

Phylogen-what-now? some of you may be saying (we have a substantial readership in the shocked-grandma demographic). Despite what it sounds like, phylogenetics isn't the science of wrapping extinct organisms in flaky and delicious phyllo dough crust and devouring them. It's actually a type of research that shows the evolutionary relationships between organisms. It's the science of creating meaningful family trees. Many of the scientists who do phylogenetic research are biologists who use molecular sequencing data that they extract from living creatures. Contrary to Jurassic Park, fossils are A) super dead and B) usually lacking DNA, so how do paleontologists use this particular toolset?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Where's the Vengeance Team?


Yes, dear readers, we are still alive despite the pit of Carkoon known as "editing a rap song when you know nothing about rapping." Resting gracefully on the event horizon of total musical despair, we decided to take a break to fill you in a little bit on what's new in the Vengeance Household!

First and foremost, science. Meaghan and Amy recently(ish) went to Berkeley to collect data on oreodonts and omomyids. Meaghan has been doing a lot of preliminary research on character variation in oreodonts and in camelids, so spent most of her time measuring skull after skull after skull, as well as taking pictures to do some geometric morphometric analyses. Amy spent some time measuring itty bitty adorable primate teeth fossils, but mostly was finishing up her thesis so spent most of her time crumpled over her computer cursing at Mesquite, a phylogenetic software program.

We managed to also get some climbing in, heading to Smith Rock, Yosemite, and Indian Rock State Parks for Meaghan's first multi-pitch and some awesome bouldering. Meaghan and Amy shared a tandem rapel, which was made even more special by the lovely song that Amy serenaded Meaghan with the whole way down.

Meaghan is the milk in Amy's cocoa puffs, apparently

Meaghan just won prizes at the 3 Minute Thesis competition and the Graduate Student Research Forum, while Amy passed her Honors College thesis with distinction (ahem, the highest honor) and moved to Denali National Park, where she will be working for the Park Service finding and mapping Cretaceous dinosaur trackways. This summer Meaghan will be working as a field biologist, but will be interspersing that with a trip to the Chicago Field Museum as well as a trip to the American Museum of Natural History, courtesy of the Teddy Roosevelt Grant she's received. So while Vengeance Team North tracks dinosaurs, Vengeance Team South going to molest oreodonts.


View A Summer of Science! in a larger map

 But don't fret, dear readers - the blog will not be abandoned. Not even for fossils. Meaghan is still hard at work on editing the sloth rap into something that is funny and not just horribly, horribly cringe-worthy (RAPPING IS REALLY HARD GUYS!), and Amy is working on a few posts about the sequester suckitude and how she hasn't yet gotten eaten by bears in Alaska. We're also working on figuring out google chat to schedule a few more interviews, compiling all the worst possible scientific concepts you can google with your safe search filter off, and drawing ancient fish carrying basketballs (it will make sense, just trust us).

But in the meantime, here is an excellent youtube video you should all enjoy about a cat experiencing ennui.


And if you liked the Sloth Rap Battle trailer before, imagine how much you'll love the extended version! Hint: you'll love it a lot. Like... a whole hell of a lot.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Canada's Putting a Price Tag on Science

Dear Readers, we have two great shameful secrets to reveal to you today. Secret number one is that Meaghan has a hidden past, buried deep in her DNA: she is half Canadian, born in the frozen wastes of the North and holding citizenship both there and here.

Sorry aboot that?


Whew. That feels good to get off of our chests.

Secret number two is a little less shameful for us, but a whole lot more shameful for Canada: apparently they, too, have morons in charge. Essentially, the guy in charge of the National Research Council (Canada's equivalent of the National Science Foundation) has declared that "scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value," and that the NRC will be shifting its focus accordingly. A short glance at the webpage for the NRC reads very much like a business - their new tagline (and isn't it great when a government agency decides it needs a tagline??) is the catch-all bland statement of "working with clients and partners, we provide innovation support, strategic research, scientific and technical services." If you took out 'scientific' you'd have the generic business model for any IT or marketing company. Given that the focus has gone commercial, it sounds like removing science from their science foundation is exactly what they plan on doing.

"Our organization is now easier for business to understand and access," says John McDouchnozzle, the guy in charge of the new changes in town. And that's great, it really is - because big business is exactly what has driven great research in the past. In fact, commercial viability of research has led to such great discoveries as the fact that whale ears AREN'T hurt by sonar, scientists don't think the climate is changing, and the fact that tobacco isn't bad for us! Oh wait... all three of those particular findings were funded by extremely biased, often commercially-driven sources and have since been contradicted? Hmm.


Dr Joe Camel, PhD in the Science of Marketing

The truth is that sometimes scientific discovery is not only commercially nonviable, it is directly contradictory to the interests of the industry involved. Putting a price tag on science will not just eliminate basic research that contributes to the whole (which has no immediate monetary effect but may add to future research that does). It could also directly inhibit research that doesn't say what commercialism and industry want it to say.

Meanwhile, Canada's health organization says it's totes cool to use homeopathic alternatives to vaccines. Why get a shot when you can drink tiger's blood? It's ALL THE SAME, SAYS CANADA. In fact with this new regime, it's probably good for the tiger, too! Removes weaklings from the gene pool, and everyone knows a smaller gene pool is a better gene pool, amiright??

Seriously. Did you guys have a real harsh winter up there or something? Sounds like the Canadian government got a nasty case of frostbite on the brain.

WTF, Canada. WTF.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Sloth Facts, a Rap Battle Primer


Listen. Shit’s about to get real epic up here in this blog. We’re talking full-on rap battle, with poorly produced background beepy sounds and some real feats of coordination in the dance sequences. Basically if Flynt Flossy rapped about science, he’d be hella jealous of our style.


But we recognize that not all of you are as up-to-date on your sloth facts as the Vengeance Team Rap Duo, which might make you miss some of the SHEER BRILLIANCE of our lyrical majesty. To avoid your own disappointment in yourself, we’ve provided a background info sheet to catch you up on what’s hot and trending in the world of sloth biology.  


The Three-Toed Tree Sloth
Genus: Bradypus

Here’s a handsome little sloth hangin’ out in a tree. These guys literally are made to hang; they have a suspensorial locomotion system that is so specialized they actually struggle to get around on the ground and are forced to drag themselves like a drunken Lindsey Lohan because they don’t have the musculature to crawl. They try not to go down to the ground much because that’s how they get their asses eaten, but unlike birds who shit wherever and whenever they please, sloths seem embarrassed to let loose their stools from the sky. To meld these two issues, sloths poop only once a week. They crawl down from their trees, their tiny bodies filled to the brim with heavy fecal matter (up to 37% of their body weight is gut contents) and take a shit at the base of the tree, like the civilized creatures they are.


The winner of 2013's first annual sloth marathon
Top sloth speed is 0.24 kilometers per hour (0.15 mph), and they are so slow that they actually have algae growing on them, and several specialized species of moth that live in their fur. Of course, that could also be because up to 75% of their time is spent sleeping, with a further 10% spent resting; they’re barely more mobile than a rock. At some point in their evolution sloths didn’t have teeth, and when they re-evolved them they forgot to make enamel. So now they just have dentine (the pulpy innards of our own teeth). Good thing they just eat plants.



They don’t maintain a constant internal temperature (aka, they’re cold blooded), which is part of why they’re restricted to warm, tropical environments. Oh yeah, and like the little creepy stalkers they are, they are capable of turning their head up to 270 degrees. 


Giant Ground Sloth
Genus: Megatherium
"Stop pointing at my crotch!"

Pertinent fact number one: they’re extinct. Pertinent fact number two: they’re still pretty awesome. Ground sloths were big, knuckle-walking oafs that lived from the Oligocene through the end of the Ice Age in much of the Americas. They lumbered around in their furry pimpsuits (which covered up a skin full of hard bony knobs called osteoderms), and they walked on their knuckles to keep their huge claws sharp.


Why the huge claws? Great question, lots of different answers. Slapping fools is a pretty obvious choice - either out of righteous indignation or for defense. Though there have been some that thought they might have been carnivores, there’s caves full of giant sloth turds lingering around, and it’s full of plants including extinct yuccas. Fun extra fact: when you rehydrate said poo, it smells just like fresh poo!


Though originally from South America, giant ground sloths showed up in North America in the Miocene which was before that convenient land bridge (currently known as Panama) showed up. Supposedly there were enough islands between the two continents that giant ground sloths were able to just swim right across! 

REFERENCES

Hayssen, Virginia. 2009. Bradypus tridactylus (Pilosa: Bradypodidae). American Society of Mammalogists.


Marshall, Larry. 1998. Land Mammals and the Great American Interchange. American Scientist volume 76.

Thanks to Edward Davis and Nick Famoso for some sloth fact tips!


Monday, April 29, 2013

Sloth Rap Battle Trailer


That's right. Not only are we intelligent, witty, beautiful young ladies, we're also rappers. Hardcore, straight-up science rappers. Our current masterpiece is being heavily mixed for release later this week month, but to get everyone pumped up we've created a trailer for it.

We don't want to get you too excited, but this is about to be the best thing you've ever seen.





Yeah. You're welcome.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

PaleoArt: 2 Really Nerdy Illustrated Paleo Jokes

Hey guys, just a short sweet post to whet your appetite for the sloth-nanigans that are gonna be going down this week. Shit's about to get real. And real slothy.
 
Didn't get it? Well, here's the nerd breakdown so you can see Meaghan and Amy's true comedic genius. On the left is a mylagaulid, or "Horned Gopher." Most rodents are r-selected - they make lots and lots of babies and hope that some of them survive - as anyone who has ever owned a couple of hamsters or rats can tell you. So technically speaking, yeah - all rodents are horny, even if mylagaulids got a lot more heat for it (because they have horns).


Didn't get it? Well, you've clearly missed out on some very critical parts of pop culture. Also that's a Dunkleosteus, and they're straight up terrifying.


All drawings were made by Meaghan with Artist's Loft Watercolor pencils and outlined in Uni Superink, then edited and cropped in GiMP with the blessed, wonderful pathway tool. They were then put on mugs using the magic of Target, and given as Christmas presents.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Sequester and Science, Part 1

Whether we're creating a mass extinction event of gummy invertebrates in the kitchen, or whining through the most depressing grant-writing parties at the dining room, life at Vengeance Team Headquarters is always a little stressful... and recent federal budget cuts haven't helped. See, in academia science is funded primarily by grants and fellowships, those sweet monetary unicorns that sequestration is making even more rare and competitive, and 20% of those are federal funding sources. As students, Amy and Meaghan apply for a lot of these, which feels like spending hours crafting arrows that you then shoot into the dark. Even the most highly recommended grant applications aren’t always going to get funded at the best of times, and the best of times for funding are going to soon seem like a distant memory. The National Science Foundation expects its overall budget will be cut by five percent and it is likely that new grants will take a major hit—a thousand fewer will be funded this year.


We've already seen the competitive aspect coming out to play, with scientists and the public tearing each other apart over the merits of their research. But worse than the infighting, and worse than poor funding rates for grants, are the insidious impacts of these cuts which hit deep at the core of everything that we (mostly Amy) love. That’s right - the sequester is hurting lemurs.




Within the article, Lemur Center Director Anne Yoder laments about the impacts of budget cuts, “In our case, it would mean the loss of jobs, and consequently, our ability to care for our lemur colony would be compromised.”

Compromised. Lemur safety will be compromised by the sequester. We (mostly Amy) cannot emphasize this enough: the sequester is dangerous for lemurs.

Of course upon hearing this we (mostly Amy) flew into an angry angry rage.       




"This is ridiculous. This country values military funding, patriarchal, capitalistic mind numbing bullshit. Lemurs are gonna die, while our government representatives make more money that some african countries. It may not be evident quite yet how bad this is, but the long term effects of these science budget cuts will be severe. Does this mean no more bananas or tamarinds for lemurs (THEIR FAVORITE TREATS), they’ll have to suffer through generic fruit like the rest of us? Or god forbid, RED DELICIOUS APPLES?"




But don’t worry everyone (Amy). The Vengeance Team is on it. We’ve created a petition (wow, they really don’t check those do they) and have contacted Sarah Mclaughlin to use her heart-wrenching song in a promotional lemur video. We’re sure she’ll get back to us soon, but in the meantime here are some of our favorite lemur videos, which you can feel free to link to when you sign our petition.





In Prosimian Solidarity
Meaghan and Amy (Seriously, mostly Amy)