Saturday, February 22, 2020

Review: A wonderful Dunkleosteus model from Paleozoo

It might be possible to make a better model in the "under $100" category of Dunkleosteus terrelli replicas, but I doubt it. Even the gorgeous CollectA Dunk has to nod its bony head in salute to the latest entry, from Paleozoo in Australia.  
Thanks to great work by paleoartist Bruce Currie and the technology of 3D printing, the Paleozoo model is amazingly detailed: when they say "museum-quality," they're not kidding.  

Paleozoo image: my pedestrian pictures of the model I received are below.  

Anatomically, I think Bruce got it right.  The armor plates are covered by skin, but the joints and wrinkles allowing for movement are easy to see.  Currie used as source material a skull that was then in the Queensland Museum, along with articles and three papers linked to in the very good discussion Currie has prepared on the Paleozoo website. (I used two of these in my recent Prehsitoric Times article: if you're curious, they are here, here, and here,) 
The dorsal fin size is logical, the other fins all look good, and the tail is in line with the latest arguments that it was more shark-like than eel-like.  There's sculpting inside the open mouth, too. The coloring, if necessarily conjectural, makes sense and is the most detailed pattern I've ever seen, and while the pose is pretty much straight-line, the model projects the presence of a real animal.  The skin is textured all over, with a feel a bit like fine sandpaper.
The production using 3D printing has its advantages and a couple of slight disadvantages. The advantage is the detail I've been raving about: every fold, wringle, and bump is rendered to a level I've seen on no other Dunk model at any price.  The disadvantages are that there's a finger-sized hole on the bottom and there are small striations running longitudinally on the flanks if you look closely. 
The use of 3D printing means a different plastic composition that the vinyl models. It's inflexible,  allowing for all that detail to be scuplted in but also meaning you have to be a little more careful in handling it.  Despite elaborate packaging, mine came with a couple of millimeters of the upper tail lobe broken off. Bruce immediately offered to replace it in line with Paelozoo's 100% no-damage guarantee, but I think I can fix it with a tiny dab of superglue. The finish applied over the model makes it a little less reflective than on some of the vinyl Dunks, further adding to the realistic appearance.  The model even comes with a cool specifications card on the animal.
Recent Dunkleosteus replicas, especially from CollectA and Mojo, have raised the bar considerably for Dunk model-makers. This one is much more expensive than most rivals, about $64 U.S., but it's worth having.  Trust me. 

Monday, February 17, 2020

Book Review: Monsters of the Last Frontier

David Weatherly
Eerie Lights, 2020.

For a lover of monster legend and lore, this is a delightful book, with something interesting on almost every page. The book has a critical weakness (below) that prevented me from rating it as high aa it would otherwise deserve, but I read it avidly and was sorry when it ended.  Weatherly does not accept all the creatures here as real, but he doesn’t throw everything into the “hoax or myth” bucket, either.  Weatherly is always respectful of the First Nations/Alaska Native traditions but does not insist they have to be literally true.
Before I go on, I should mention Sam Shearon’s cover. The artwork, front and back covers, is gorgeous. 
The book is pretty comprehensive, covering everything from sasquatch to otter-men to thunderbirds (always a fun topic). It deals of course with the Iliamna Lake “monster.” Weatherly includes most of the stories I know of and a few I did not, although I wish there was some reason to believe the wilder “it snapped the fishing line” tales.  There are other water creatures of lake and ocean, as you’d expect in the state with the longest seacoast and the most lakes in the U.S.  I'd thought the biggest reported creature, that on the MV Mylark sonar trace, was almost universally discounted these days, but it still intrigues Weatherly.  A giant platypus report is, umm.. unique. 
 I've read some stories of large wolflike canines, known as waheela and other terms, and I agree with Weatherly that matter still merits some thought even though he has no new reports here. As to other critters, did you know an “African lion” has been reported from Alaska?
Hairy Man, sasquatch, call it what you will, there are plenty of hairy primates in modern reports and the stories from Native cultures.  He prominently mentions an old incident at Lake Iliamna which may be a hoax, but there are newer stories here, too, and they come from all over the state.
Weatherly, an Alaskan himself, has done a great job of collecting materials, and his writing is good. The only real disappointment is in the documentation. While many sources are mentioned in the text, they are not listed or detailed in any way that would enable readers to look them up. Indeed, the book has no footnotes, no endnotes, no bibliography by topic or chapter, and no index.  A couple of dozen books and three websites are listed, but that’s it. The website offers nothing more except the note David is “The Renaissance Man Of The Strange And Supernatural.”
So, to cryptozoologists and other readers: buy it. You’ll enjoy it whether you believe it or not.  To the author: please consider a future edition with thorough citations.  I’d buy a few of those.       

Friday, February 07, 2020

Dr. Paul LeBlond: R.I.P.

Dr. Paul LeBlond has passed away. 
He had a long and influential career as an oceanographer and professor at the University of British Columbia (see his UBC bio here). He studied waves, salmon runs, and many other aspects of the ocean, and was conservationist who was recognized with an award from the North Pacific Marine Science Organization.  He was also a cryptozoologist, one of the founders of the unfortunately defunct  International Society of Cryptozoology and the still-thriving British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club.  He studied with an open mind reports of unclassified large aquatic animals, especially "Cadborosaurus." We met only once, but he was gracious with his time and we had much email correspondence. He came to believe there was a real species (Cadborosaurus willsi)  inaccurately called the "sea serpent" and published a (controversial) paper and two books on it. He was a friend and mentor to everyone in that field of inquiry. 

Waves in the Ocean, his textbook on waves

The second of his two books on Caddy.

Goodbye, Paul: I hope you have your answers now.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

A rocket-load of space news

As readers know, I'm a space nut, and to some degree an established one, with a lot of articles and papers and the book The First Space Race to my credit (or to shared credit as I often had co-authors).  So I try to keep up.  The space news these days is flying so thick and fast that it's all I can do to keep a general awareness.  But a few things stand out.   
The US Air Force has put together its plan to organize the Space Force.  Some people are opposed to Space Force, for reasons financial or diplomatic, but the debate should be carried on with the understanding that that the USSF is not doing, at this point, anything the Air Force was not already doing in space.  (The bucks may shift, but still no Buck Rogers.)  The Air Force and Space Force commanders will be equals under the Department of the Air Force, a structure something like the Marine Corps' role in the Department of the Navy.  
Then there are the microsats. I was right about this in the 1990s, but nobody was interested, when I wrote papers and studies about their promise for the future.  That caught some flak, especially concerning imagery, where "immutable laws of physics" decreed that mirrors on imagery satellites be huge to get high-resolution photos.  The critics reckoned without the ingenuity of engineers and their ability to advance technology.  A string of technical tricks like "folded optics" made the mirrors much smaller, and then the power of software an d processing put what used to cost a billion dollars into a shoebox, as the company Planet provides the kind of worldwide coverage militaries never could.  A new example consists of two 3-unit CubeSats (about 5 kg), Rogue Alpha and Beta, which, as Jeff Emdee, of The Aerospace Corporation says. “contain both visible and infrared sensing, as well as a laser communications downlink, that will allow us to explore operations in low earth orbit to benefit future system concepts.”  In a 5-kilogram satellite. When I started writing about microsatellites, that might have taken a thousand-kilogram spacecraft. Now even organizations like Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), famed for developing exquisite satellites costing hundreds of millions of dollars, has come around.
In-space propulsion is a knotty problem, and the gains come slower, but the tech is advancing nonetheless. Ion engines were a big step forward for craft that did not need rapid changes of orbit or acceleration.  One company is taking them further,  with tiny thrusters and nontoxic propellants..
Another question is whether the small satellite industry can be as profitable as it hopes, thus attracting more capital to take its capabilities still further.  Can the industry handle the debris problem? Can it keep growing as it is now? An interesting Space News report discusses that one,.
All for the moment, more to come! 

Monday, February 03, 2020

A Unique Astronaut Memorial

To Commander William C.McCool, US Navy, pilot of the space shuttle Columbia. Photo US Navy.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Spectacular New Species Claimed, but....

Sometimes you don’t know what to make of a new-species claim.
New species are created and “destroyed” all the time by taxonomists and biological scientists re-evaluating existing specimens, especially in the age of DNA analysis.  (There were once 86 named species of the brown bear in North America, not one.) Sometimes we get a real surprise when a pretty clearly delineated species has been overlooked entirely due to a similar-looking species, the most spectacular example being Omura’s whale (Balaenoptera omurai, 2003).
Some animals are named and then disputed. Dr. Marc van Roosmalen has described many new mammals from Brazil, most of them without controversy, but there are sharp divisions over whether his dwarf manatee is real or a juvenile of the known species thereabouts. (There are similar doubts about his tapir and some of the monkeys, although everyone agrees he’d added much to primatology.) Here’s Dr. Darren Naish’s take.
Then we have a case from India which is considerably weirder.
Here at, we have the statement of an Indian conservationist that he’d proved the existence of a new big cat. If he’s right, there’s no overstating the importance of the find. While there have been large land mammals created or lost by reclassification, a completely new big cat would be biggest find since the Vu Quang discoveries of the 1990s, and maybe a lot further back than that. 
Its location is in the western Ghats, one of India’s major mountain ranges. The discoverer estimates only 30 exist.  If they do. Dijo Thomas isn’t making this easy to verify.    His website (a little disjointed looking, although it is an English-language site for a man for whom this is a second language)  states he “Discovered & Scientifically Proved a NEW Species  + New Family, 1. Neelagiri Kaduva, {Neelagiri Tiger = Tiger of the Blue Mountains} {as Big as Tiger} which is Critically Endangered, …”
It then adds, “Dijo Thomas also Discovered & Scientifically Proved Raktha Athika {as Big as Dog}, a Vampire Kangaroo, the New Species + New Family, closely Related to Kangaroo Family, in Pavaratty, Thrichur, Kerala, India ...”
OK. Stop right there. There are no kangaroos in the Asian mainland, anywhere.  Thomas posted a photograph of some poor caged mammal with mange.  (A palm civet has been suggested).  The support consists of photos which don’t appear to show any type of kangaroo.
It doesn’t help that Dijo Tomas claims “a NEW Species was Scientifically Proved without 1. Photographs or 2. Direct Sighting !!!!” based on a formula he invented called  Features Based - Species Elimination Method [FB-SEM]}.
So what have we got? From this distance, I think it most likely the gentleman is sincere but has let this enthusiasm get way ahead of his science. WAY ahead.  Are there any new animals involved? There could be, but most scientists would need a lot more information to buy in.
Or maybe there’s no science at all, since he also says,   I made some elephants obey me by giving instructions in my mind alone.