Week 11 and 12 – Returning to Bristol, coding, the thrill of discovery and dinosaur memes

Measuring skull traits

A morphospace plot. Each colour denotes a family. Triangles are Triassic taxa, squares are Permian taxa and the circle is a taxa which survived the PT extinction

I hadn’t done too much work during my trip in India. My aim was to start the measurements as soon as I arrived at the office. For this I needed to make sure I knew what traits I was going to record. So when I had some spare time in India, I refined the list of skull traits I had decided to measure. The big challenge was trying to understand where a certain measurement started and ended – e.g. the length of adductor muscle attachment on the mandible. To do this I had to read through the literature to see if there were any consistent points on the skull I could use to start and end my measurements. Unfortunately, I did not finish this during my time in India and had to carry on with it in Bristol.

Fortunately, this did not take up much of my time and I was able to get my supervisors up to date with my progress and start the measurements. This was a very tedious task. I was aiming to be done with the measurements by the end of the week but I soon found that was an underestimation. The trouble was that the skulls of anomodonts are not the same so the points of reference I was using for my measurements would sometimes be absent or not so clear. As a consequence, it took me a while to get used to recording the measurements. On average for each of the 148 species I had to measure 20 traits. Of course, some species had images that didn’t show a certain view of the skull or no specimen images at all. For these I had to miss out all or some of the measurements. Despite this it still took me a few days to get into a flow and in the end it I finished the measurements a week and a half later.


Finally we could start coding. I say ‘we’ because the coding required for the analysis was beyond my skillset. My supervisor, Suresh, was the man for this as he already had some coding from a prior project which we could use as a template for mine. Surprisingly, this was very exciting for me. I say surprisingly because coding is not one of my strengths but since I had Suresh to help me things were made much easier. And when the first morphospace diagrams loaded up the results were not disappointing. Before I could process the figures Armin and Suresh were going back and forth on what the figures could mean. I can’t pretend to know what they were discussing although I did get the general gist of what they were saying. To put it simply my results seemed to contradict Professor Benton’s hypothesis that the P-T extinction event created an anomodont bottleneck from which they never completely recovered. This thrilled my supervisors which I found quite funny because it reminded me of the reaction of when friends beat each other in a video game. In the end most palaeontologists do their job for the same reason someone may play a video game so perhaps such a reaction shouldn’t be surprising!

One of the more tamer memes from the facebook group

Dinosaur memes

This can be seen in simply what post-docs and PhD students talk about in their spare time. During this week, as part of the Benton lunch group we went to a nearby restaurant called Beerds where we ate some pizza. Most of the students there were involved in Palaeo. One, a published author named Vicky Coules was conducting research into Palaeoart. She has been blogging her experiences here. Therefore, a lot of the conversation was around how dinosaurs had been represented in the media. At certain points in this conversation, one student Steven Zhang started making statements as if he was quoting from something. The statements themselves weren’t strange but the manner in which he said them were peculiar. I looked at my supervisor Suresh and his expression was as though of a person who had heard a bad joke. He explained to me that Steven was repeating lines from the Walking with Dinosaur series. Although this was perhaps the nerdiest thing I had heard of (this coming from a big fan of the Walking with… series), I did find it funny. However this was only the start as Steven started showing everyone something on his phone which he clearly found hilarious. He showed it to me and low and behold there was something I never thought I would see. It was a ‘Walking with dinosaur…’ meme. In fact, it was a whole private facebook group dedicated to memeing the series. Again nerdy but funny and refreshing. I say refreshing because back at UCL I’m not friends with anyone that has the same fondness of the series as myself although I must say quoting lines from the series during lunch perhaps goes too far.

At the time of writing this I have joined the esteemed facebook groupĀ  and I can confirm the memes are as cringey and funny as they seemed when Steven showed them to me!

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