Friday, 12 June 2015

The Fantasy Dilemma - Is There A Solution?

I originally posted this on the Edmonton Writers' Group Blog way back in January 2012. And while a couple of members (Natasha and Simon) were kind enough to comment on it, I still believe it is a question that needs solving. I haven't posted to this blog in a year, as nothing much has happened, and  I find writing about day-to-day events rather boring, after all this is Twitter.

So anyway here is my question ...

Having just finished the fourth book in the series by Chris Paolini I must say it was an interesting read. I found the world to be fairly well designed, but for the most part the story was way too long. Which brings to mind a bit of a curious question, that has been bugging me for many years and that so far nobody has ever been able to adequately answer. So now that our group has this little blog running, I thought I try once again to solve this little mystery.

Now I realize we don't have a whole lot of fantasy authors in the group, and while this message is directed at this genre, I trust that others will chime in.

So here it is:

"Why is it that fantasy authors (in general) seem to feel the need to create multivolume stories when just about every other genre seems to be able to tell a story in one book?"

Now I know the first thing your going to say is "because they are creating a whole new world" - okay fair enough, but so does every science fiction author, most mystery, adventure, and romance authors. In fact with the exception of historically based novels every author creates a new world to some extent. So why aren't these all multivolume tomes? Are they all trying to emulate J.R.R. Tolkien, or is it something else?

I agree that the Asimov's Foundation Trilogy; A. C. Clarke's 2001, 2010, 2060, & 3001; as well as the series by Ben Bova (one book for each planet) exist. However these are the exception, and I'm not whining about books set in the same universe (like those I just mentioned), I'm talking about those 3+ book series that are essentially one continuous story, sometimes with little or no break between volumes. Virtually every fantasy author seems to churn out multivolume sets - some to ridiculous lengths such as those by David Eddings and his ilk.

So why? Is it a bad case of authorial diarrhea?

Anyway getting back to Chris P. there are numerous examples in this last book where he spent inordinate amounts of time (writing wise that is) detailing each and every movement, that each person made during a fight sequence. This was unnecessary, and at times downright boring to read. In fact it reminds me somewhat of when I used to play Dungeon and Dragons and the rules say that during a fight sequence each round is 10 seconds long - think of life going in slow motion.

So that's my question. Anybody got any words of wisdom that'll solve it?


Friday, 13 June 2014

Dino Lab 2

Well here we are with part 2 of what I do during the day. …

When I last wrote here we had looked at a field specimen, and figured out what it was supposed to be based on it field code, and then looked at what a hadrosaur is.

The first thing to do is to open the field jacket. Depending on what the jacket is made of determines how this is done. For small specimens we typically use a material called Gypsona, which is plaster roller or sheet bandages (the stuff they used to use to make a cast when you broke a limb). This material is nice to work with as all you have to do is unroll the amount you need, get it wet, and place it on the specimen (after you put on those layers of paper towels that is). On the big jackets we make our own plaster slurry, and coat burlap sacking in it and put this on the specimen.

So back to the specimen, if it has a Gypsona jacket then using a standard X-acto knife will easily allow you to gain entry. On the big guys we need to use power tools, and we've found that a saw with a vibrating blade works very good for this. The saw itself was originally designed for doing finish carpentry & cabinet making.

Once I opened the jacket open what I saw was the following:

Figure 1: After removing jacket cap
After trimming the edge of the jacket, and taking out a bit more matrix we get the following:

Figure 2: Jacket trimmed, and some matrix removed

When I took a bit more of the jacket off, it became obvious that there was some damage to the front of the mandible

Figure 3: Damage to front of mandible
Removal of more jacket at the back of the mandible showed there was more damage there, and as this was the area I concentrated on first.

Figure 4: Damage to rear of mandible
The rear was easily fixed with the use of 5-minute epoxy, and a chunk of modelling clay to keep things in position while it cured.

Figure 5: Close up of damage to rear
While it was drying, I started work on the front and exposed the surrounding bone. The damage here was mainly due to erosion, so for the most part nothing could be done, therefore I stabilized the bone, after cleaning it.

Figure 6: More damage, but this was due to erosion
We typically stabilize the bone using either Vinac (Vinyl-acetate) or Paleobond® Stabilizer (essentially super glue, that is very thin and absorbs into the bone). Both products work quite well, the advantage of Vinac is that it is able to be removed with a little acetone. The Stabilizer is permanent, so it is only used when the parts fit real well, and we are sure that nothing will have to be changed later on. The darker brown area surrounding the crack on the left of figure 6 is vinac.

As you can guess this type of work takes a relatively long time. The work on this specimen was done between June 21 and 27, 2013. So far it has taken me about 7 hours to get to this point.

To be continued ...

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Dino Lab 1 "An Introduction"

As usual it's taken me longer than anticipated to post to this blog, but now that auspicious moment has arrived. Okay, so it may not be auspicious, but it could be suspicious I suppose. So without any further adieu …

The other day I tried to explain to someone what I do for a job. Unfortunately I could tell by the look of utter confusion on their face that I must have failed miserably. With this in mind I'm going to make another attempt at it, this time with pictures, so hopefully I won't totally baffle you as well.

I started working in the palaeontology laboratory "DinoLab" back in 2010 during my education degree, and I found it was a great change of pace from studying. Upon completing my Bachelor of Education I came back to the "DinoLab" as I found that had lost pretty much all interest in teaching in a school setting (at least as far as a full-time classroom teacher is concerned).

Anyway enough o' that!

I'm back doing preparation work in the lab. Which if you haven't tried it is a great activity, and I believe I can honestly say is one of the things that I could easily do for a living without any regrets!

As I said up above I tried to explain what I do, and failed so to begin things I'm going to take you on a brief journey to take a look at what it's like to work in the lab. Very briefly we take the specimens that are brought back from the field, and clean off all the matrix (dirt, sand, tree roots, etc.), and restore the fossils themselves into the best condition we are able to.

So here goes ….

The above picture is essentially how a specimen arrives in the lab from the field. To the top left you see two containers, and even though I didn't set up the photo so you can easily read them they are "VINAC" and "ACETONE". Vinac is short for Vinyl Acetate, which is liquid vinyl we use to stabilize the bones themselves as it is easily absorbed by the bones, and strengthens the fossil. The acetone is what the vinyl is suspended in, and therefore is also what we use to remove the vinac if necessary. It's also really useful for cleaning 5-minute epoxy from your fingers, and if you're not in a hurry unsticking fingers after using Dino-bond (cyano-acrylate / super-glue). These latter two adhesives we use in fairly large quantities so the acetone is nice stuff to have handy.

The above photo shows a fair number of the tools we use such as (top-right going clockwise) air-scribes -a miniature jackhammer, a rock hammer, assorted dental picks, forceps, toothbrushes, pin-tools with carbide tips, probes, brushes, hearing protectors (when using the scribes), the vinac and acetone mentioned above, glues, and in the white tubs two-part epoxy putty. The work can take a fair bit of time, but the days go so fast when you are doing this work that a 7 hour day feels like a few minutes.

Now getting back to the specimen itself, as you can see it is coded in a certain way. The DPP.2013.206 means it was collected in Dinosaur Provincial Park, in 2013, and is specimen number 206. By checking this against the collection data we find it is a hadrosaur mandible. So what's a hadrosaur? A hadrosaur is the family name of a group of eight species of herbivores that lived in the Cretaceous Period (from 140 to 66 million years ago) of what is now North America, Europe, and Asia. These animals are lovingly known as "The cows of the cretaceous". They are also described as duck-billed dinosaurs due to their head's resemblance to that of your typical duck.

From Accessed on June 29, 2013

The jacket you see in the photo above contains a specimen, but along with the bone itself there is (working outwards from the bone): dirt matrix, vinac (vinyl-acetate), paper towelling, and finally plaster soaked burlap sacking. In smaller specimens plaster bandages are sometimes used in place of the burlap as the strength provided by burlap isn't required. On larger specimens the jackets are typically reinforced with tree branches or dimensional lumber to ensure the jacket stays solid during its transportation to the laboratory.

As you can expect the size of the jacket will depend directly on the size of the specimen. In extremely large specimens the field teams have in the past had to extract the encased fossils with a helicopter, as they can weigh a lot and trucks etc. are sometimes unable to get near to them. It's almost as if the dinosaurs knew that sometime in the future someone would be digging them up, and they wanted to make it a bit of a challenge.

Later on I'll go into more depth on how the jacket is put on it, how the specimen is removed from the ground, and so on.

To be continued ...