Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I know I have been sort of remiss in posting lately... but I have been writing, I swear!

About a month ago, I had a piece published in the Hartford Courant about my latest addiction, the online quiz site called Sporcle. You can check out the piece here.

And today, I had a piece published on a cool site called The Faster Times. Described as "a new type of newspaper for a new type of world," The Faster Times attempts to redeem the dying art of great journalism. Really, an impressive site, with a great mission and some great content.

This week, the Faster Times folks were generous enough to publish something I wrote, a piece entitled "When Did Studying Dinosaurs Get So Complicated?" You can check out the article (and my goofy mug) here.

The "initial shiver of inspiration" (Thanks, Nabokov) for this article came from my nine-year-old son, who has long been a huge fan of dinosaurs. Not that that's particularly remarkable: he is a little boy, after all; he has to love dinosaurs. (I think there must be with some kind of dinosaur chromosome or something.)

Personally, I know I was fascinated by the things when I was his age. But as I read his dinosaur books along with him, I realized something strange has seemingly happen in the past thrity years: we have new dinosaurs.

Hey, I know, I know. How can there be new dinosaurs? They've been extinct for, like, six gazillion years. Then how do you explain all these new-fangled dinosaurs that appeared in my son's books-- dinosaurs I had never heard of before?

Parasaurolophus. Coelophyses. Troodons. And others whose names I couldn't even pronounce. (My son, of curse, had no problem with the names: I remember stumbling over a particularly prickly name while reading a book to him, and he said, slightly exasperated, “Daddy, it’s Compsognathus!”)

So I asked myself, "Where did these crazy things come from, anyway?" When I was a kid, there were maybe five dinosaurs: Tyrannosaurs Rex, Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, and Pterodactyl. That was it--except for maybe an occasional reference to Diplodocus. Are paleontologists inventing new dinosaurs, just to mess with us?

All that dinosaur angst ended up inspiring the piece that eventually became the one currently appearing in The Faster Times, which is less about terrible lizards and more about the loss of childhood innocence. But I had some other dinosaur-related observations, ones that I ended up cutting from the piece, that I thought I could re-print here. (Ah, praise be the junk-heap that is the blogosphere!)

First off, while writing the piece, I found myself wrestling with one of those overwhelming questions: Why doesn't anyone talk about Brontosaurus anymore? Are you telling me they've not only added dinosaurs, but they've taken one away?

Well, I did some research (i.e. I checked Wikipedia), and apparently, the Brontosaurus was a grown-up version of Apatosaurus, which had been discovered first; thus, the name “Brontosaurus” became extinct.

That Bronotsaurus tangent got me thinking about Fred Flintstone, who loved nothing more than his Brontosaurus Burger after a tough day working for Mr. Slate. Then I started thinking about the Flintstones' bizarre longevity. I mean, they still make Fruity Pebbles cereal and Flintstone Vitamins-- despite the fact that most kids, I'd wager, have never actually seen a Flintstones cartoon.

Think about it: Magilla Gorilla, Captain Caveman, Snugglepuss-- they've all faded from the cultural consciousness. But as long as kids eat breakfast, the Flintstones will live on. Capitalism rocks. (I can't decide if that's a pun or not.)

Final observation that never made it to the final piece: about fifteen years ago, I went to the Museum of Science in Boston and saw a new exhibit for a dinosaur named...Ultrasaurus. And I distinctly remember thinking, “Oh, come on. Now they’re just getting ridiculous.”

I mean, honestly: Ultrasaurus? Doesn’t it sound like a Marvel Comics cartoon super-lizard or something? “An asteroid is careening toward the planet to wipe out dinosaur life as we know it. This looks like a job for—Ultrasaurus!”

Anyway, check out the articles. Till then, enjoy the Bronotosaurus Burgers.