Sunday, November 15, 2020

DInosaurs Without Bones – Book Review

Dinosaurs Without Bones
by Anthony J. Martin

Fossils. What does this paleontological word conjure up when you read or hear it? You may instantaneously get a vision of the humongous skeleton of Brontosaurus, the spine-tingling skull of T. rex, or something non-dinosaurian but memorable, such as the beautiful, coiled shells of ammonites. These are genuine fossils and there is nothing wrong with that. However, it seems that there is this strong tendency in the public mind to associate this term only with such relics of ancient life. We do need to realize it is not only body fossils (teeth, vertebrae, spikes, etc.) but also trace fossils which constitute the fossil record, the latter unfortunately appearing to be overlooked by a significant portion of the hoi polloi. Dinosaurs Without Bones by Anthony J. Martin is a book with a hugely important role to endow dinosaurian trace fossils with their well-deserved glory.

Ichnology is a branch of science that deals with traces and trace fossils, and Dinosaurs Without Bones, written by an ichnologist, covers this academic discipline with a focus on the traces that dinosaurs left in their lifetimes; a few examples of these behavioral remnants are tracks, nests, burrows, and gastroliths. With his comprehensive coverage of the subject, the author has done a great job in making the case that this dinosaurian legacy is massively important to our understanding of this incredible group of animals and that we would be indigent without the knowledge acquired from studying these prehistoric clues. Although Dinosaurs Without Bones is intended as an ichnological discussion of non-avian dinosaurs, extant dinosaurs, namely birds, have their share as well, and this book ends with a commentary of the future of dinosaurian ichnology. Dr. Martin has also suffused this book with a good sprinkling of fresh humor, which has successfully made me burst out laughing now and then. In short, this volume on ichnology is a must-read if you want to see a more complete picture of the world of dinosaurs.

There are two other points I'd like to raise before I conclude this review. Firstly, I noticed that Dinosaurs Without Bones is special in respect of science education that it can impart to its readers. I have gained valuable insight into how science works, including the process scientific papers need to undergo in order to be published in a scientific journal. Secondly (and lastly), in my opinion, Dinosaurs Without Bones is the best book I have ever read in terms of sentence complexity. So *calling out to my EFL students*, if you badly need to prepare for the IELTS Writing test, you may want to consider perusing this superlative read.

Have you read Dinosaurs Without Bones? What are your thoughts on this book? Share your opinion in the comment section below!
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Saturday, November 14, 2020

Quote #62

"Imagine how stupendously more advanced & civilized humanity would be if all the constituents were free from the hampering manacles of mumbo-jumbo." - Klinsman Hinjaya
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Friday, October 9, 2020

Ins(t)an(t)ity

This is a special day for me! Not only has my new bookrack come to my home and been neatly assembled (get ready for a second batch of multiple orders, Better World Books and Book Depository!), but my superbly cute, beloved nephew is also celebrating his 8th birthday today! Like avian dinosaurs, time does fly indeed – especially in these pandemic-stricken times. Nevertheless, this global health crisis should not hobble our precious productivity; therefore, since I have a sufficient amount of time available this day off of mine, I thought I would write an article to address a notion which is perhaps commonly propagated by those working in the marketing field.

I feel uneasy about an advertisement I saw one day, probably on Facebook although I'm not entirely sure (not about instant noodles though). It said something along the lines of "Speak English like a native speaker in 3 months!" or "Be fluent in English in 3 months with a money-back guarantee!" This sounds like a heaven on earth, doesn't it? Nevertheless, however enticing this language improvement offer is, how much truth actually lies in this sort of claim?

Despite the dubious legitimacy of the fully expressed form of the title of this post, I reckon that it is no sweat to work out the meaning which I would like to get across to my readership. For me, it seems to be a far-fetched idea that someone can accomplish such a linguistic goal in such a smidgen of time. The next couple of  paragraphs will detail my argument explaining why this is very likely unrealistic and unachievable.

Firstly, let's investigate this matter by taking a look at the most responsible organ for the learning activity: the brain. While I completely agree that the capacity of this jelly-like asset of ours is absolutely wonderful, we need to keep in mind that it is not "perfect" and does possess limitations. The evolution of humans has allowed such a remarkable contraption to equip us in 21st-century life, but it is not an ├╝ber-powerful tool that we can employ to do anything we want. Think about the speed at which we process information and how much our brain can really retain. Think about the fact that our education system involves a good number of stages that we have to pass step by step, with the lower levels being prerequisites for the higher ones. Just like evolution itself, it is observable that graduality is a huge norm in our day-to-day life.

Now let's turn to our role models in regard to language abilities: native speakers. Did it take them only a couple of months to master their mother tongue from when they were born? Well, one could argue that the brain was not fully developed when they were babies, but if you think about it, it is the numerous years an adult native speaker has spent which imparted to them a whole armamentarium for native-level communication (lexical resource, grammatical range and awareness, etc.). A significant amount of exposure is definitely important to language acquisition and, admittedly, it is a privilege that native speakers automatically have – this should not discourage us from improving our proficiency in the target language, however.

I think it is safe to say that the same concept can be applied to not only language learning, but other areas as well. Promotional messages such as "Be the next Ade Rai in 6 months!" or "Master piano skills and outdo Jay Chou in 3 months!" sound alluring indeed although I probably have (almost) never heard such arresting utterances.

Of course, notwithstanding what I have laid out, I could be wrong. Probably those kinds of companies have devised super methods that enable their customers/clients to acquire a certain set of skills at lightning speed, as if defying the laws of nature. Could this involve some sort of lobotomy or otherwise advanced body modifications? If true, then it is very interesting and I would certainly love to know the mechanisms that make such mind-blowing attainment possible. I am also aware that humans are born with different innate traits and qualities, with a handful of them being extraordinarily quick at mastering skills. Thus, there is a caveat indeed.

That being said, rather than actively seeking for seemingly implausible ways to instantly crank up my English proficiency, I myself would prefer to stick with what I have always believed to be the fundamental values in learning – love, enjoyment, curiosity, and the like.

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Sunday, September 6, 2020

My Thoughts on Religious Terrorist Bombings

I have been wanting to write an article on this subject but it is only now that it can be accomplished – the draft has unfortunately languished in its depository for one reason or another. This issue is real in the face of humanity, hence deserving to be discussed and pondered about.


At first blush, religious terrorist bombings seem mind-bendingly counter-intuitive. How could a human take out another human being (and even themselves) and feel that it is the right thing to do? October 11, 2002 is an impossible day to forget for some people. It was the day when the first Bali bombings unfolded, tragically claiming not only 1, but 202 lives on the beautiful Indonesian island. The planner, Imam Samudra, confessed to being religiously motivated in that appalling attack, and the execution of him and two other perpetrators caused their supporters to rise up, many of them lauding the convicts as martyrs and heroes. Yes, you read it correctly: this horrendous act was shockingly justified from the point of view of a certain group of fellow humans.

So what is it that can explain the justification of and even reverence for an action committed by a human (or a group of humans) that is aimed at vanquishing others of their kind? Here is my analysis which attempts to answer this seemingly puzzling question.

My opinion is that this comes down to our selfish genes. Naturally, we try our best to survive on this planet for as long as we can; that's why we consume food and drinks, take a rest when necessary, cross streets with caution, and so on and so forth. We would like to preserve our genetic materials and pass them on to our offspring (the fact that the population of our species is continuously growing speaks volumes for this). Death, by nature, is of course an unpleasant experience, marking the end of a human's existence. We are making as much effort as we can to keep this macabre line at bay, hoping not to step over the life-death threshold anytime soon.

The bad news is death is certain to happen. But what if I told you that you can still live happily after you die? What if I told you that your genes can still rejoice after your bodily form has even completely decomposed? Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing?

This is what I think deeply clings inside the mind of religiously impelled terrorists. In one way or another, they believe that a perfect gene-preserving/"propagating" place or such is reserved for those who exterminate others matching particular criteria. Their selfishness kicks in and these horrible events happen. In other words, in my scenario, the same kind of survival motivation is what underlies the condemnable deeds of these people.

So, what measures do we need to take to prevent such deplorable acts from happening again? I think the first step is to recognize that this social phenomenon is real and not to dismiss it. Next, we need to pin down the real cause of such dreadful acts and preempt any potential actions by any effective means. It is important that there be no wall of resistance that precludes thoughtful discussion on this issue simply because it is religion-related. Lastly, scientific and critical thinking has to be fostered, promoted, and instilled in anyone since it provides us with trustworthy paths to walk into a bright future.

References:
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Friday, July 31, 2020

The Amazing World of Dinosaurs – Book Review


The Amazing World of Dinosaurs
by James Kuether

Needless to say, the world of dinosaurs is amazing. These unique creatures have ceaselessly captivated and intrigued the human race and prevail in the mind of numerous children all around the world. However, what we really encounter at present are their lifeless remnants in the form of fossils. By means of science, paleontologists attempt to work out the veritable reality of their world, but we need a kind of tool for "reviving" these remarkable animals in our mind, enabling us to visualize what the dinosaurs would have been like when they were alive. Paleoartists are people who fulfill this noble & crucial role, and it is a blessing that James Kuether, a member of this profession, brought to us The Amazing World of Dinosaurs, a dinosaur book that he wrote himself and filled with his own beautiful illustrations.

The Amazing World of Dinosaurs is a great summary that gracefully guides readers through the Mesozoic history of the non-avian dinosaurs. The author uses elegant language which is couched in conversational style, guaranteed to entertain the readers and keep them hooked on the subject throughout. His lifelike illustrations are absolutely stunning and they are certainly delights for those who appreciate these incredible creatures. To my mind, these are two things that stand out in this book.

This 176-page volume starts with a concise discussion on the history of dinosaurology, paleoart, and the importance of imagination in science as well in reconstructing these breathtaking animals. Then, the readers will be guided through the dawn of the dinosaurs in the Triassic Period up to the demise of the non-bird kind at the end of the Cretaceous Period around 66 million years ago. I am heartily glad that this book includes information about new discoveries such as Medusaceratops and Dakotaraptor, which I was not very familiar with. What is more, The Amazing World of Dinosaurs contains a pronunciation guide (which would help with the often daunting act of saying the names of prehistoric animals and plants correctly) as well as a glossary (which would greatly assist readers in understanding unfamiliar paleontological terminology used in this book). Overall, The Amazing World of Dinosaurs is well worth reading & collecting and it will be a nice addition to your dinosaur book pile.

This book is complemented by a deck of cards which is offered separately. Click here to purchase the cards.

Have you read The Amazing World of Dinosaurs? What do you think about this book? Share your opinion in the comment section below!
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Monday, July 20, 2020

The Ends of the World – Book Review


The Ends of the World
by Peter Brannen

If you are a reader who has traversed my blog and (hopefully) enjoyed my posts for quite some time, you must be aware of my unmistakable infatuation with the iconic fauna of the ancient past: dinosaurs. Devoting an enormous share of my life to learning about these fascinating creatures has inevitably led me (as I believe it would do to anyone else) to a more global picture of the veritable nature of life itself. Dinosaurs are part of the wondrous tapestry of life forms that have taken up residence on our planet and, thus, they, we, and all other organisms share the same, single story of occupancy on this celestial body. With that in mind, exploring the wonderful world of dinosaurs often means to take a further step to understanding more geological & paleontological facets, which can include the ultra-tragic events that have shaped the Earth into its current state. That's where The Ends of the World by Peter Brannen comes into play.

The Ends of the World is a glorious volume that explores and details the apocalypses that our planet has undergone in its history of complex life (this is the first book focusing on the subject I've ever read). Gaia is never steady and there have been five (5) mass extinctions pummeling our beloved planetary home and exterminating the majority of life at particular moments in time. These are known as the Big Five mass extinctions and include the (in)famous end-Cretaceous die-off, which wiped out our non-avian-dinosaur relatives, and the unimaginably grim & horrendous end-Permian massive annihilation, which nearly zapped all life on Earth to total extinction. An award-winning science journalist, Brannen hops from one spot to another to examine the reality of these planetary-scale mass deaths. In this book, you'll encounter many experts giving their takes on the horrific mega-events, which do not necessarily present agreeing views. The author has a brilliant knack of engaging readers with his deft use of words (and a modicum of humor), and his writing will teleport you to a realm where you can seamlessly marvel at the grandeur of the natural history of our planet, albeit it involves the macabre quality of global massacres.

Nevertheless, Brannen does not stop at that; his discourse also touches on other issues, such as whether or not we are currently experiencing a legitimate sixth mass extinction. Not only does The Ends of the World cover the past and present, but it also comments on the future fate of our planet, with the last chapter dealing with the ultimate extinction that will befall the Earth eons from now. There are certainly many things that people can learn from this book – two that I found intriguing are the fact that we actually live in an interglacial (i.e. a brief warm period sandwiched by ice ages) and the effect of agriculture on the explosion of the world's population. However, the most relevant one to our current situation undoubtedly has to do with the way we humans treat our sole home in the universe: whether we stick to the present careless & environmentally-damaging behavior or switch to more prudent attitude towards the Earth will determine its course for many, many years to come. Grab The Ends of the World and learn something new about our planet today.

Special thanks to Steve Brusatte (who is also featured in the mass extinction volume) for recommending this book! If you haven't, you must also check out his magnificent book on the history of the dinosaurian dynasty The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs (to read my review, click here).

Have you read The Ends of the World? What are your thoughts on this book? Share what you think in the comment section below!
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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Stoicism

Philosophy is not much of a big appeal in my life. As most of you are probably aware, aside from the English language, it is the field of paleontology (and particularly dinosaurology) which entrances me the most and takes up a great portion of my life – even though gaining knowledge about this subject has inevitably philosophical consequences, as evident in the grand dinosaurian volume Why Dinosaurs Matter by Kenneth Lacovara. However, recently (and possibly even before that) I discovered an amazing TED-ed video explaining a school of philosophy called Stoicism, and I honestly was awestruck by the brilliance of this framework of thinking.


My dearest online dictionary, Macmillan Dictionary defines "stoic" as "someone who accepts things without complaining". While this covers part of the philosophy, Stoicism is actually more than that. As you can learn from the animated video, the stoics hold four (4) cardinal values: wisdom, temperance, justice, and courage. Nevertheless, it is true that the most striking point, at least to me, is the practice of endurance and resilience, which is attained by a genuine understanding of how the universe works.. The narrative goes like this: We live in a super complex world system and, regardless of our wishes and hopes, there are events that go as we want and those that run off the course, which naturally would give people displeasure and disappointment. While we do have control over some events in our life, there are certainly others that happen entirely independently of our own actions. And it is these controllable events that have to be our focus and deserve our attention – otherwise, our life will be overwhelmed by negativity, shattering emotions, and toxic experiences that drag us backwards and even fell us into abysmal gloom. This tenet is in alignment with what the philosopher Epictetus wrote: "We suffer not from the events in our lives, but from our judgement about them!"

One excellent example comes from another TED video by Massimo Pigliucci, the same philosopher who gives us the lesson in the short, but insightful animation. Pigliucci takes an instance from a major element in most humans' lives: romantic relationships. The success of a relationship is determined by both the parties involved in it. A man can love his girlfriend in the most sincere and kindest way, but no matter how magnificent his love is, he literally cannot make her respond in kind since her very reactions are not under his control – they are up to his girlfriend. Stoicism teaches us to focus on being the best version of ourselves, i.e. the most lovable person for our partner, because it is what is actually under our control.

This principle can extend to and be applied in many aspects of our life: participation in competitions, job promotions (also mentioned in the TEDx video), raising children, and so on and so forth. Stoicism is a very relatable philosophy indeed and I love the fact that being a stoic means to perceive the world as it is, without sugarcoating the reality or distorting views of what really happens.

So, what do you think of Stoicism? Are you a stoic? Leave your comments below!
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