I’ve done a few book signings now and here’s my checklist of stuff to bring. The first three items on the list are asterisked because they may be provided by the venue, but they may not. Sometimes the venue will have tables for rent but not for loan. Don’t assume, do check in advance.

  1. Table.*
  2. Chair.*
  3. Tablecloth.* Yes, really. Even if the table is really nice, it will look even better with a tablecloth. Black, so it won’t show ink spots or stains, and long enough to reach the floor so visitors don’t have to look at whatever weird thing your legs and feet look like when you’re sitting in a chair. (There’s no tablecloth in the photo above because I had loaned it to Brian Engh to cover the much uglier table he had next to mine.)
  4. Books.
  5. Book stand, to hold a display copy of the book vertically, and – assuming the book is illustrated – open to a good ‘splash’ page.
  6. Clear plastic standees for signs, book covers, notes. Having the list price and the discounted price (assuming they’re available at a discount) is good. If there are positive quotes from reviews, put ’em on a sign.
  7. Blue Sharpies for signing books. Blue because it stands out, Sharpies because they’re permanent and the ink dries wicked fast. If you have doubts about the ink bleeding through, test in advance.
  8. Post-It notes: for people to write down names so you spell them correctly in the inscriptions, for you to write notes to send with people, to put names on reserved or pre-paid books, and for the thousand or so unforeseen circumstances where having a sticky note might be useful.
  9. Scissors: for opening boxes, cutting plastic off books, cutting paper signs to size on short notice, etc.
  10. Masking tape for fixing up ad-hoc signs, repairing boxes, hanging things from the wall or table, etc.
  11. Business cards to easily hand out email address and URLs.
  12. Full-size envelope or wallet for holding bills: full-size so you don’t have to fold and unfold bills, zipper top with no flap for easy access and equally easy closure, opaque sides so people can’t see how much is in there, and ideally a vibrant color so it will be hard for you to lose and equally hard for someone to swipe without drawing attention.
  13. Folder with discount fliers (or info fliers) for people who can’t buy a book right then. Don’t underestimate how useful these can be. There are a host of reasons why a potential buyer might not want, or be able, to purchase a book right that moment. Maybe they want their hands free as they’re walking around, if it’s an event with other exhibitors. Maybe they have no cash and can’t get a signal for PayPal (in which case, you probably won’t be able to get a signal for your Square card reader). Maybe they just want time to think about it. Whatever the reason, a tactile reminder of your book is a helpful thing to be able to send away with a potential buyer.
  14. Speaking of payment, set up for yourself a PayPal.me link, like this one. It’s fast and free, and the URL will be short enough that you can write it on a Post-It. At one of my signings this spring, there was no cell or wifi access inside the building. But a customer was able to go outside, get a signal, pay me using my PayPal.me link, get a screenshot of the confirmation, come back inside and show me the confirmation, and get their book. Seriously, do this.
  15. Plastic dinosaurs to set on the table and serve as long-distance visual cues. Don’t work on dinosaurs? Find some physical object related to your book to set on the table.
  16. Hand specimens for guests to examine while their books are being signed. For me that’s a chunk of petrified wood from the Morrison Formation, and a sectioned ostrich vertebra showing the internal structure.

In the photo up top, all of the little fiddly stuff – items 7-13 – is hidden behind one of the stacks of books, or behind the open book when the stacks get depleted. You can hide all kinds of mess behind a stack of books and still have a nice presentation.

I keep all of this stuff in a cardboard box that is clearly labeled “Book Signing”. So when an event comes along, all I have to grab are the books and that box and I’m good to go.

If you have further suggestions for improvement, let me know!

Publishers provide certain services (peer-review management, typesetting, brand badges, sometimes proof-reading or copy-editing, archiving, indexing) to the scholarly community.

Those services are of greater and lesser value, provided at higher and lower levels of quality, and cost greater and lesser amounts. Of course, we in the scholarly community want high-value, high-quality low-cost services. This is true whether the publisher in question is a multinational corporation with a multi-billion-dollar turnover, or a tiny boutique press run on a non-profit basis for the sheer love of the process.

Since the scholarly community (researchers, authors, peer-reviewers, academic editors, etc.) is spending money in exchange for publication services, and since publishers are providing publication services in exchange for money, it is clear that the goals of these two groups cannot be aligned. Any money that the scholarly community can save on publication costs is income lost to publishers; and any additional money that publishers can charge for their services is money lost to the scholarly community. I hope that so far, this is uncontroversial.

In the same way, if you sell me a second-hand car, then however well you and I might get on in civilian life — we might support the same football team, drink the same beer, discuss the same novelists, watch the same films — then for the purposes of that transaction, what is good for you (a high price) is bad for me; and vice versa. Note that in saying this I am not condemning or even criticising you. I am just stating a fact about transactions.

Now, suppose my wife and I sit down and decide that we need to buy a new car. We consider Hondas, Fords and Fiats. We weigh up various models on their merits, compare their prices with their features, and reach a decision on what we want to buy and how much we’re prepared to spend. We then approach the various Honda dealers (or, as we may have decided, Ford dealers or Fiat dealers). We negotiate with them to agree a price that we are happy with for a model that is in good enough condition. Different dealers compete with each other to win our custom by offering good cars at a low price. This is a functioning market.

What we don’t do is invite all the dealers to come and join us in our initial conversation. When my wife and I are discussing how important it is to us that our new car has variable-speed intermittent windscreen-wipers, we have that discussion in an environment quite free of car dealers telling us how great Fiat’s intermittent-wipe feature is. How could we possibly reach a coherent decision on what our own requirements are if we’re bombarded by the claims — some competing, some in collusion — of all the car dealers? And how can we think sensibly about what we’re prepared to spend if we’re surrounded by the dealers’ defences of the various financing arrangements they offer?

So in the same way, I feel that the scholarly community needs to figure out what publication services it needs, free of the influence of publishers who (and again this is not a criticism) have their own agenda. Then, when we know what we want, we can go to the publishers who offer the kinds of services we’re interested in, and invite them compete for our business on the basis of features and price.

But involving them in the initial what-we-want discussion can only lead to confusion, and a compromised outcome. Which is what we’ve seen for the last 50 years. This was the fatal flaw that led to the deeply flawed Finch Report and to the erosion of the RCUK’s initially very progressive OA policy.

As a side-note: my wife and I may end up deciding we don’t need a car at all: we might decide we can walk, or cycle, or take public transport. Car dealers would hate that: they would advocate against such an outcome with all their might if they were involved in that discussion. Which is why they can’t be.


Note. This post is adapted from a message to the Open Scholarship Initiative mailing list.

Promoting this to a post of its own, because dang, it deserves it. Frequent commenter Warren just brought to our attention this video, in which legendary* make-up artist Michael Westmore reveals that he based the design of the Klingon foreheads in Star Trek: The Next Generation on dinosaur vertebrae. Lots of discussion on this point between 3:40 and about 5:40 in the video.

*Westmore has won an Oscar and nine Emmys for his make-up work, and made make-up kits for CIA spies. His Wikipedia page is worth a read. If you saw some weirdo in a Trek series between ST:TNG and Enterprise, it was probably Westmore’s design.

Many thanks to Warren for letting us know about this. Fittingly, he put it in a comment on the final post in the Umbaran starfighter saga, in which we hypothesized and then confirmed that the Umbaran starfighters from Star Wars: The Clone Wars were based on cervical vertebrae of Apatosaurus.

I wonder how many other sci-fi universes will be – or already have been! – invaded by dinosaur vertebrae?

Old drawings (of heads)

June 25, 2017

I was organizing my files in DropBox and I found a folder of old drawings I’d almost forgotten about. I drew this back in the late 90s. It was used on a t-shirt by the OU Zoology Department. I got the general idea of making a head out of animals, and the specific idea of using a butterfly wing for the ear, from Wayne Douglas Barlowe’s cover for the novel Wild Seed by Octavia Butler. The snake I stole from ancient Egypt. I think everything else is in there just because I thought it was cool. Note that inverts, fish, herps, birds, and mammals are all represented, with a good balance of aquatic, terrestrial, and volant forms. It looks awfully hippie-dippie from 20 years out, but heck, what doesn’t?

“Solitude” by Mathew Wedel. CC BY-NC 4.0.

Well, this, I suppose.

I drew this about the same time. I was reading The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels and lots of stuff about ancient monastic traditions and thinking that if the world is an illusion that must be penetrated, then the evidence of one’s senses can only mislead. Also, Vicki was working for the state medical examiner in Oklahoma City and they used wooden dowels to represent the paths of bullets when reconstructing the skulls of those killed by gunfire. So here’s the skull of a monk, with all of the lethal pathways of distraction and temptation clearly marked as such. At last he can contemplate the eternal mysteries in perfect solitude.

Obviously I didn’t get on board the world-is-an-illusion, sensation-is-bad train – skewed pretty hard in the opposite direction, in fact. Possibly because years earlier the Chessmen of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs had shown me that pursuing ‘pure’ intellectual and spiritual inquiry would ultimately lead one to a pathetic existence as a disembodied head living in a cave (high culture, meet low culture). Anyway, whatever interest I might have had in that philosophy I exorcised through this drawing. Stripped of any art-making-a-point baggage, I still think it’s pretty bitchin’. I should make t-shirts.

Actually, I probably will make t-shirts of this one if there’s any interest. Hence the CC BY-NC license I put on it, as opposed to the normal CC BY for almost everything else on this site. Look at me, boldly experimenting with new licenses.

This, obviously, is a lot more recent. I was collating all of my scanned drawings and I realized that I’d gone to the trouble of drawing the cranium and lower jaw of Aquilops separately, but I’d never posted the version from before I composited them back into articulation. It is very unlike me to do work and then hide it, so here it is.

It wasn’t until I the post mostly written that I realized that all three drawings are of heads, none of them are saurischians (although the first includes a saurischian, but not the cool kind), and two are stinkin’ mammals (and not the cool kind). I stand ready for your slings and arrows.

For previous posts on my drawings, see:

This week, psychologists are the newest group of scholars to learn that their “publishers” are dedicated to preventing their work from being made public. The American Psychological Association launched a pilot to monitor and seek removal of unauthorized online postings of APA journal articles. What this meant in practice was sending DMCA takedown notices to researchers, telling them to take copies of their own papers off their departmental web-pages. This has raised predictable and justified anger in the community.

Was this legal on APA’s part? Unquestionably, yes. They own the copyright in the articles, and determine how they can be used. But that does not make it acceptable. As Rik Smith-Unna‏ put it this very morning:

Absolutely, academic publishers requiring copyright transfer is always predatory. They don’t say it before submission or explain it clearly. Once the paper is accepted, to say “We’re not publishing unless you assign copyright”, is highly unethical. Months of your time and energy held to ransom.

The APA has since backed down — or “refocused”, as they put it — which is to be welcomed. But it may be too late. They may already have made an important contribution towards radicalising a new segment of the scholarly community. Psychologists are now more aware of how much control they give up to the APA when they publish in their journals.

The thing is, there is simply no need for us authors to put ourselves in this position. As copyright specialist Charles Oppenheim explains:

Journals do not need copyright in articles to publish them. They never have. It’s only tradition that means they keep asking for it. In other areas — novels, for example — it’s completely routine for the author to remain the copyright holder, and for the publisher merely to be given a licence to publish. And this is how it should be for scholarly articles as well.

None of this a new insight, of course. Just last month, Times Higher Education urged its readers that academics ‘should not sign over research copyright to publishers’, citing a report that discusses the matter in detail. And of course we’ve discussed such matter many times here on SV-POW!. Here are a few:

There is absolutely no legitimate reason for journals to take authors’ copyright away, and a journal that exists to serve scholarship will not do so. Which leads me to …

Fair OA Principle 2. Authors of articles in the journal retain copyright.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a database of all dinosaur specimens?

Well, there is — or at least, it’s on its way. Gunnar Bivens, who we know from SV-POW! comments as bricksmashtv, in creaing a vast Google-Docs Spreadsheet which at the time of writing has the following entries in various tabs:

  • 1446 sauropods (Yay!)
  • 50 theropods
  • 2 thyreophorans (Hey, you gotta start somewhere.)
  • 3 ornithopods
  • 25 marginocephalians

Other tabs yet to be populated: basal dinosaurs, basal sauropodomorphs, basal ornithoscelidans, basal ornithischians.

(I think it’s a mistake to leap at the Baron et al. 2017 Ornithoscelida hypothesis, abandoning so precipitately the well-established Saurischia/Ornithischia division, but that’s how things stand.)

You can help

The spreadsheet is set up so that anyone can leave comments. Gunnar has done lots of work to get it going, essentially just by reading a ton of papers and entering all the details of dinosaur specimens — but no one person can possibly cover the whole literature.

Here’s what I think is the most efficient way to contribute: if you set up a Google Docs spreadsheet of your own, with the columns in the same order as Gunnar’s, then you can enter a bunch of specimens. When you’re ready, leave a comment on the relevant tab of the master spreadsheet pointing to your additions, and Gunnar can copy-paste them in.

Here is the link to the spreadsheet again. Get building!


  • Baron, Matthew G., David B. Norman and Paul M. Barrett. 2017. A new hypothesis of dinosaur relationships and early dinosaur evolution. Nature 543:501–506. doi:10.1038/nature21700

I floated this idea on Fist Full of Podcasts, and Andrew Stuck gave it a shout-out in the comments, so I’m promoting it to a post.

The idea, briefly, is that sauropods grew fast and had enormous energy demands and even though horsetails and pine needles are surprisingly nutritious (Hummel et al. 2008), they probably suck to eat all the time. Extant herbivores are notoriously carnivorous when no-one is looking, and it’s silly to assume that extinct ones were any different. It seems likely that a big, hungry sauropod, gifted by natural selection with more selfish opportunism than compassion, would probably have viewed a turtle as a quick shot of protein and calcium, and a welcome hors d’oeuvre before stripping yet another conifer or tree fern. Furthermore, said sauropod would have been well-equipped to render the unfortunate chelonian into bite-size chunks, as shown above. The first time might even have been accidental. (Yeah, sure, Shunosaurus, I believe you. [rolls eyes])

Given that sauropods and turtles coexisted over most of the globe for most of the Mesozoic, I’ll bet this happened all the time. I don’t know how to falsify that,* but how could it not have? You’d have to assume that sauropods didn’t run into turtles, or that their mercy outweighed their curiosity and hunger. That’s even more bonkers than turtle nachos.** As Sherlock Holmes almost said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains – no matter how stupid/awesome – was probably done by sauropods.”

* “Oh, you found a boatload of turtle shell pieces at your fossil site? How tantalizingly unprecedented – please tell me more!” said no-one ever. Seriously, everyone who works on stuff younger than the Early Jurassic seems to bitch about all of the turtle frags they find, whether they’re looking for Apatosaurus or Australopithecus.

** Not to be all navel-gazey, but that is conservatively the greatest sentence I have ever written.

In conclusion, sauropods stomped on turtles and ate them, because duh. Fight me.

Further Reading

For more sauropods stomping, see:

And for sauropods not eating, but gettin’ et:


Hummel, J., Gee, C. T., Südekum, K. H., Sander, P. M., Nogge, G., & Clauss, M. (2008). In vitro digestibility of fern and gymnosperm foliage: implications for sauropod feeding ecology and diet selection. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 275(1638), 1015-1021.